I wrote a (free) Elisabeth Leseur devotional!

For months now, I have been working on a short, 7-day devotional based on the writing in Elisabeth Leseur’s diary. After many stops and starts, it’s ready to go! It is meant to be self-paced, and is in the format of Meditate – Pray – Act. Elisabeth believed that our prayer lives must lead to action, and this devotional tries to reflect that. All the action points are things that can be done easily within the context of your day-to-day life, and don’t require any special materials.

It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this and it is very much homegrown, so in your charity, please forgive formatting fails and such! You can download it right here with the Download button below. I hope this will bless at least one person. Elisabeth Leseur, pray for us!

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.

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?

 

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.