Examining my conscience

Hi there! It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve had lots of ideas floating around, but some of them haven’t fitted into the remit of this blog (i.e. not related to being in a mixed marriage). I’ve been contemplating whether to slightly readjust the premise of the blog to make room for a wider variety of topics – whilst still keeping the original theme the main thread – but I haven’t quite figured out how to do so. I’m praying on it! Meanwhile, I wanted to share something that I’ve found incredibly helpful, and I hope it will be for you, too.

Seeing as how I can’t get to Confession at the moment, I decided to do a proper Examination of Conscience and make a “spiritual Confession”, as it were, on Divine Mercy Sunday.¬† Although I always try to do an examination of conscience before going to Confession, I admit that I often don’t give as much time to it as I ought. So, this time I wanted to really set aside some time for it.

I remembered that on the Laudate app (free! highly recommended!) is an Examination of Conscience, and when I opened the app I realised that, even better, there’s one designed specifically for those whose vocation is marriage. The Examination is broken into various categories, one of which is something like “duties towards your spouse.” Now, without going into details… This was *definitely* the area where most of my sins occurred. The app is designed so that you check boxes, and at the end it provides you with a list of *your* sins.

It was quite a shocking realisation. I mean, I tend to think I’m a reasonably good wife ūüėõ But seeing these sins written out, unemotionally, disentangled from my particular marital issues… It made me realise that I leave a lot to be desired. A LOT. And it is also a very helpful starting point to try to do better going forward.

Pretty much anybody who has ever had a marital conflict has likely thought, at some point, that it’s mainly the other person’s fault. Why can’t they just do things the way I’m suggesting?! Is it really so hard?? But for Catholics married to non-Catholics, we may go a step further and attribute their ‘failings’ to their lack of Catholic faith. “If¬†only¬†they were also Catholic,” we think, “then they would be a better spouse.”

Oy. Way to fail to see the log in our own eyes! As Catholic wives or husbands, it is absolutely our job to start by doing the very best we can¬†ourselves.¬†And you know what the list made me realise? That my husband is doing *at least* as good a job of being a “good Catholic spouse” as I am, without even thinking about it.

I’m planning to make this Examination a weekly practise, and I invite you to do the same. Let’s strive to be the best Catholic spouses that we¬†can be, before we think of ruminating on our spouse’s shortcomings.

Why I’ve been quiet

It’s been a little while since I wrote on this blog. I think about it often, but I’ve been doing some reflection on my purpose in writing, and what exactly I want to achieve, or contribute, through this medium.

Did you hear about Joshua Harris, author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997) which was hugely popular in Protestant circles and had a huge influence on the chastity movement? He wrote the book when he was very young, and recently made a public apology for what he recognised as quite damaging rhetoric that was found in the book. He specifically highlighted that when he wrote it, he had very little experience of romantic relationships, and was not in a position to be a voice of authority on the topic.

Now, as of this moment, I am not being offered any major book publishing deals, so I don’t think there is too much risk of that! But it has made me think about my ‘authority’ to write about marriage to someone who doesn’t share my faith. I haven’t been married long at all, and I am certain that I have a lot of growth and learning to do, in¬†all aspects of marriage, and especially in living out my faith fully whilst having a successful marriage.

Furthermore, I am still early in my spiritual journey. I certainly have no voice of authority when it comes to matters of faith!

I am definitely still planning to use this blog, to keep writing about the same topics and sharing my experiences, but I want to be more careful and reflective about how I convey my message. I can tell you what is working or not working in *my* marriage and family life, but I can’t tell you what will work in yours. Of course, no one can – but someone who has been married for longer than I may be better qualified!

In any case, I am grateful for the people who do read this blog, and leave encouraging feedback. I try to remind myself that if my writing helps just one person, it is worthwhile.

When NFP… isn’t (NFP Awareness Week)

It’s NFP Awareness Week. For years – since before I became Catholic – I’ve been reading blog and Instagram posts by Catholic women (it’s always women) about the struggles, blessings, disappointments, and gratitude that come with practising NFP within a marriage. Some of these women experience hyperfertility and have struggled to space babies as they’d like. Others have used it to try to conceive, without success. And there are the couples for whom it seems to work perfectly, to space when necessary and conceive when desired.

But what about those of us whose spouses aren’t Catholic? What does NFP mean for us?

Of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I rather suspect that there are many of us who are afraid to share our stories, worried that we will be judged or rebuked. And perhaps we will, but I am a firm believer that when we vulnerably share the parts of our story that we prefer to keep in the shadows, we are better able to connect with pretty much everyone.

So I’m just going to come out and say it: we don’t use NFP in our marriage. I wish we did. I pray that we will one day. Right now, though, we don’t.*

You see, for a while we did – in a way, at least (I’ll clarify what I mean by that in a minute). I explained to my husband why it was important to me, and he agreed that he was willing to try it and see if it “worked.” However, it would seem that I am on the very fertile end of the spectrum, and I fell pregnant twice during the few months that we tried it (one pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and the other was the baby I’m pregnant with now). This didn’t exactly fill my husband with confidence in the method, and the subject ended up putting a lot of pressure on our relationship.

I consulted a priest (a very orthodox, FSSP priest, fwiw) who provided me with wise and gentle counsel. He told me that I must pray sincerely for a change in heart for my husband, and that I should ask the Holy Spirit to guide me as to when to raise the topic with him again. I must not be the active user of artificial contraception, i.e. take the pill, get an IUD, etc. But if I’m doing these things, with a sincere desire to practise NFP, then my main duty is to nurture my marriage. I’m not “off the hook”, per se, but he advised me that if I keep doing the things mentioned, then I am not obliged to bring this to Confession every time (although, I usually do).

What did I mean when I say we used it “in a way”? As all well-formed Catholics know, NFP is about much more than the absence of artificial contraception. It’s about openness to life,¬† three-way communion between you, your spouse, and God, and an ongoing state of discernment. So although we went through a phase where we did not use artificial contraception, these other elements were impossible. They require¬†both¬†spouses to be committed to their faith, and to have trust in God. And my husband doesn’t.

You see, it’s easy enough to explain to a non-Catholic (or non-practising Catholic) why hormonal birth control is bad. There’s science to back it up, and secular culture is increasingly critical of it. However, it is much harder to explain the problem with barrier methods. To someone who doesn’t believe in NFP, there is nothing wrong with a couple simply deciding month-by-month whether or not they want to get pregnant, and deciding whether or not to contracept accordingly; there is no problem with postponing pregnancy simply because you don’t feel like having another baby yet (or ever).

Openness to life requires an understanding of your vocation to marriage that is meaningless without a true belief that God is calling each of us to sainthood. Discernment means you must be praying daily as individuals and, ideally, as a couple, to see what God is asking of you. And don’t get me wrong – I am blessed to have a pretty good communicator for a husband, and we talk openly and regularly about what we think our family life should like today, next week, next month, in a year, in a decade. You don’t need me to tell you, though, that these conversations cannot take the same shape that they would if we both had active prayer lives.

I could go on about this for another 1000 words, but I’ll stop here. I want you to know that if NFP isn’t a part of your marriage but you wish it were, then you are not alone. And if NFP¬†is¬†a part of your marriage and you think any Catholics who don’t use it are doomed to Hell… well, pray for us, before you condemn us. It’s likely breaking our hearts.

 

*Right now I’m pregnant, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. If I weren’t though, and once the baby is born, then NFP isn’t our reality unless a miracle happens.

St. Gina, Patron of Nominally Catholic Spouses

Sometimes – quite frequently – I ask myself the following two questions:

  1. What would I have to do, in my particular circumstances, to become a saint?
  2. Which living Catholics do I think should become saints?

The answers to both questions tend to lead me to the same answer, but unfortunately it’s one that I seem to forget even more often than I think about it. I think the answers are something like this:

  1. Seize every opportunity in my life that defines my life as my life to turn towards God.
  2. The people who seize every opportunity in their lives that define their lives as their lives to turn towards God.

Essentially, if I ever want to become a saint, I need to stay in my own lane and focus on getting holy right here. I think that many of us among the “non-(practising)-Catholic-spouse” crowd feel like we have somehow already excluded ourselves from the possibility of sainthood. The saints will be the ones who waited and waited until God provided them with the Perfect Catholic Spouse to raise the Perfect Catholic Family, we tell ourselves.

And for some people, that¬†is¬†their path to sainthood. I am not undermining the goodness and holiness of spurning the ‘wrong’ men in the patient and unknowing wait for the ‘right’ one. Nor do I wish to undermine those Catholic families we all see on Instagram who celebrate several feast days per week, wear coordinating outfits for all the major Holy Days, and seem to have their entire existence infused with Catholicism. Those people do a genuine, holy service for many people by exemplifying how beautiful a devoutly Catholic family life can be.

But, God is not asking me to be one of those people. He genuinely isn’t. Nor does He think “well, you’ve made some wrong choices so I’ll just do my best with an already messed up attempt to be holy.” My capacity for holiness is no less than that of Mrs. Daily Mass with 12 Kids (that’s not meant to be aimed at anyone in particular!). My capacity for holiness lies in my willingness to trust God with the life He has given me, to turn towards Him¬†especially¬†in the moments where I can’t see Him, and to pray for the holiness of¬†everyone around me, regardless of where I think they relate to me on the scale of sanctity.

As a young Catholic woman, wife, and mother – early in her journey of each of those three things – what can I be doing to become holier than I am now?

  • Above all, praying for greater trust in God
  • Praying that I will be a good wife and mother
  • Praying that my husband and kids will see God’s light shine through me
  • Love and serve my husband and kids, even when I don’t feel like it
  • Prioritise prayer and Sacraments, avoiding excuses about why I don’t have time
  • Pray that I’ll be attentive to opportunities to grow in holiness
  • Love everyone I encounter to the best of my ability

That’s just an “off the top of my head” list, which could very easily be several tens of pages long. Many of the things I should be doing are the things that we should all be doing, and others are of particular importance in my life and situation. The point is, I mustn’t throw my hands in the air in despair and say “well I don’t have any chance anyway, so what’s the point?” I should be living my life as though my chances of making it to Heaven are just as good as anyone else’s – which they are.

I like to think that if I make it there, I’ll be interceding for people struggling with being the sole carriers of faith in their families. I would like to continue the work started on this blog once I have actual access to Jesus! What about you – what will you be patron saint of?

 

The wait is the cross

I recently finished reading My Sisters, the Saints¬†by Colleen Carroll Campbell (which I mostly enjoyed, with a few reservations). It’s a spiritual memoir that centres around her deepening relationship with the saints as she faces struggles with infertility and her father’s descent into Alzheimer’s. It’s a quick, easy read that I recommend for people on all stages of their spiritual journey!

Anyway, at one point in the book, Campbell recounts a conversation with her mother that goes something like this:

Campbell: I could handle the cross of infertility if I just knew for sure that we would never conceive, or else that we would, eventually.

Her mother: The waiting and not knowing *is* the cross.

It struck me that this could be applicable to many of us, who hope for our spouse’s conversion or reversion to Catholicism. I can’t speak for any of you, but I know that sometimes I get weary of praying when I think “is this ever actually going to happen? Will I spend my whole life praying and bear no fruit?” But of course, holding that uncertainty in prayer is exactly what God is asking of us. He isn’t going to say “If you pray for the next 12 years, 4 months, and 6 days, then your dear husband will come home to the Church”!

Faith asks us to pray in the face of uncertainty, and to believe in the goodness of God even when He doesn’t give us what we want. The more I think about it, the more “the cross *is* the wait” unifies the spiritual struggles of every Christian. Whether you are praying for a relative to be miraculously healed, or for a positive response to that job application, or to find a spouse, or for a child’s suffering to end… The cross lies largely in the not-knowing. And even when we have “answers” (you didn’t get the job, your parent dies a difficult death, your child struggles with a hard diagnosis), then the cross becomes the uncertainty of knowing how we will manage life with this new burden. Will we ever be OK again? Will our earthly lives be forever underpinned by sorrow? We don’t know. We can’t know.

I don’t want to be glib. So many people face suffering that I cannot begin to imagine. I have been blessed by a life which has so far been fairly free of major sorrow. I would not deign to tell someone who has faced excruciating heartbreak that “this is just your cross!”

However, it brought me some comfort to consider that in many ways, my cross – the cross of an unbelieving husband – is united with the crosses of all other Christians in its essence, and dare I say it, even with the cross of Christ.

Finding holiness in “it’s not fair!”

This past weekend, my husband was out of town. My dad had come to stay with me and my toddler, which was lovely, but my toddler has been going through some major separation anxiety and melts down if I leave the room for even a few seconds. So, as Sunday rolled around, I realised I would just have to deal with taking her to Mass on my own. (My dad is a committed anti-Catholic ex-Catholic).

Perhaps I should have prefaced this by saying that I usually go to Mass alone, leaving my toddler with my husband. I know, I know, all the Good Catholic Mums would be telling me how important it is for her spiritual formation that she gets in the habit of going weekly now. But for the moment, that’s not where I am. Seeing as I don’t get any spiritual community at home, I enjoy being able to go to Mass and soaking in being surrounded by people who share my faith, without having to wrangle a toddler.

So back to the point. This Sunday, I had to take her. As it approached, I was overwhelmed with the “it’s not fair!” feelings that often accompany solo-parenting at Mass. It’s not fair that my husband isn’t here to help me. It’s not fair that I’m single-handedly responsible for transmitting the Faith to my child(ren). It’s not fair that my husband wouldn’t care if I just decided to skip Mass altogether, ignoring my Sunday obligation. It’s not fair that if the toddler flips out before we make it to the First Reading, I’ll have to choose between disrupting the Mass, or leaving, therefore missing out on the Eucharist. And on, and on…

It occurred to me as I inwardly whined, though, that this was an opportunity to do exactly what I’m always talking about on this blog. It was a chance to choose God, to choose to set a good example for my toddler, to choose to do what a saint would do: go to Mass, with my toddler, and do my best. Pray for my husband. Pray for my toddler. Pray for my baby in utero. Pray for myself, to grow in holiness. Pray for the grace to stop complaining.

Guess what? I went to Mass, and my toddler was an angel. She sat quietly for¬† almost the¬†entire¬†Mass in her stroller (with the help of an applesauce pouch). I received the Eucharist, she received a blessing. We left before the recessional, because she did start to get a bit cranky after Holy Communion. But God seemed to say to me, “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it? Your own anxieties are your worst enemy.

What’s more, when I looked around, I noticed that there were lots of littles running around, being rambunctious, and mainly just making other parishioners smile. It’s normal; most people realise that small children can’t be expected to be calm and reverent for an entire Mass (although I know there are some people who do expect this…). There was even a mum on her own with a girl around 5 years old, a boy who was probably the same age as my toddler, and she was pregnant. I have no idea why her husband wasn’t with her, but I admired that she had brought her children alone. When she knelt during the consecration, her toddler came and knelt beside her. I realised that if I don’t bring my daughter to Mass, I can’t expect her to start imitating behaviours of reverence and devotion.

I’m not delusional; I certainly don’t expect that my toddler will behave so well every Mass. That’s OK. Even if she doesn’t, God will still be happy that I showed up, and that I brought her to see Him. I’m not promising that I’ll start taking her every week, but I’m emboldened to make an effort to take her more often.

What about you? Where are you letting your own anxieties hinder you? And what’s making you say “it’s not fair!” that may actually be a chance for holiness?

Pope St. John Paul II: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful

When I chose the name for this blog – Faithful and Fruitful – it was simply because these adjectives expressed how I want to live my vocation to marriage:

Faithfully, to my spouse and to this sacrament;

and fruitfully, meaning that I want my marriage to bear fruit in terms of children and virtue, but also that I want my marriage to bear fruit for my spiritual life, even if that spiritual life is not shared with my spouse.

But would you believe, I had no idea that this quote is often attributed to Pope St. John Paul II, famed for his beautiful theology of marriage:

“True love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.”

Now, I have to be honest. After scouring the Internet and consulting a group of highly knowledgeable Catholic ladies, I cannot find the original source of this quote. It has been suggested that it may be some kind of paraphrasing of some section of Pope St. John Paul II’s extensive (and somewhat dense) Theology of the Body.

Even if that is the case, it seemed to me rather providential that these two words – “faithful” and “fruitful” – that I completely unknowingly chose for the name of this blog, should be words that Pope St. John Paul II likely used to describe a holy marriage.

For me, it was a timely reminder that this is truly our call, and our vocation, despite the difficulties that many of us face in not sharing our faith with our spouses. God has called¬†you to holiness through this most holy sacrament. Your call to holiness is not any less because your spouse doesn’t understand the holiness of the vocation to marriage. If anything, it is even greater – you are the spiritual leader of the family, and your commitment to living a Christ-centred life bears even more weight.

I hope you feel encouraged, and renewed in your desire to be the home of prayer and peace within your family!

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us!

A weary soul

I mostly try to use this space to stay positive and be encouraging – I want to help you (and myself!) to embrace the truth that our personal faith lives need not suffer because our spouses don’t share our faith. But I also want to be real; and really, I don’t always feel upbeat. Sometimes I feel defeated, hopeless, and weary. Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle to keep my faith alive and vibrant when no one in my home is encouraging me in that endeavour.

I’ve spoken many times about the power of the rosary, and what an important, beautiful devotion it is. I truly believe that. But… I can’t remember the last time I prayed a rosary. Life got hectic, and I let it fall by the wayside for a day, then a few days, then a week or two, and now it’s probably been a couple of months. I keep meaning to get back to it, but I feel very spiritually depleted at the moment. It’s a struggle just to say a few words to the Lord here and there throughout the day. It’s a long time since I’ve sat down with Scripture outside of Mass.

I want to try to do better – and I know there will be seasons of a richer faith life in the future. It can seem hard, even futile, though, when your spouse doesn’t see the value of prayer. It would be so much easier if he would say, “why don’t we pray together for a few minutes before bed?”, or even, “how can I pray for you?”

I’m saying this in the interests of transparency. I want to encourage you, but I also want you to know that a lot of the time, I feel like I’m failing. I think about what it would take for me, in my particular circumstances, to become a saint – and I feel crushed under the weight of my distance from sainthood.

So if your soul is weary, know you are not alone. And know that this too shall pass. In the meantime, let’s ask for Elisabeth Leseur, St. Monica and Our Lady to pray for us. If we feel up to it, let’s pray for each other, too.

A Lenten practice: fasting for faith

I just thought I would check in to share one of my Lenten practices this year. Some time ago, during Ordinary Time, I got into the habit of fasting from drinks other than water on Tuesdays as a small ‘fast’ for my husband’s faith. It reminded me to pray for him more during those days, and re-centred me on one of my primary duties as a Catholic wife: to get my husband to heaven.

However, over time, I let this slide. I kept thinking that I should get back to it, but I never did. Lent seemed like the right time to pick it up again. So I am doing exactly the same thing, but also making a point to pray for other people’s husbands by name. I am also praying the Litany of Trust on Tuesdays. This litany is a great way to remind ourselves that God is ultimately in control, and wills our good and the good of our husbands. We can’t ‘persuade’ God to place a love of Jesus in our husbands’ hearts faster that He wants! God’s timing is not our own, and He works all things together for His glory.

A decade for my marriage

I know,¬†I know,¬†I won’t shut up about the Rosary. And I am usually the first person to roll my eyes about people who go on and on about a particular devotion. It’s not like I think every single person must. pray. the. Rosary. every. single. day., but I think it can have so many benefits that I would really like to encourage everyone to just¬†try¬†incorporating it into their regular prayer life.

Probably the biggest thing keeping people from committing to praying the Rosary regularly is that it seems like a big time commitment, and not one that necessarily sounds like a lot of fun.¬†I still find that to be true.¬†Pretty much every day, when I think about when I’m going to find time to pray the Rosary I think “gaaaah, it’s going to take 15-20 mins of my time and it’s gonna be boring!”

To get around this, I promised myself that I would pray¬†a decade for my marriage¬†every day. If I stop after one decade, then I’ve still prayed powerfully for my primary vocation. I try to mix up my exact prayer so that it doesn’t become robotic: instead of simply saying, “I offer this decade for my marriage”, I might say “I pray that my husband and I will be attentive to each other’s needs, and be able to clearly express our own needs”, or “I offer this decade in thanksgiving for a trustworthy and hardworking husband.”

More often than not, once I’ve prayed that first decade, I want to keep going, and I manage a whole Rosary. But if I get into bed and I’m tired and want to go straight to sleep, and¬†then realise that I’ve forgotten to pray the Rosary today, a decade for my marriage usually still seems doable.

Not every time, and there are of course days when I don’t pray a single Hail Mary. I’m always working towards getting better and better about praying a full Rosary every day. But until I get there, I’ve found this to be a good way to pray at least a part of this beautiful prayer the majority of days.