Tag Archives: Freedom

Does Contraception Bring Freedom?

Today we have a guest post from The Practicing Mammal.  I encourage everyone to read it because it speaks well of her experience of moving from a contraceptive mentality to the freedom a life without contraception can bring.  I asked her to write this because it speaks of her experience of living these two realities and the freedom that is experienced in a non-contraceptive lifestyle.  Please keep the comments charitable.  I don’t post this to be antagonistic, but to offer the personal side of something Catholics hold dear and the freedom it brings.

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At the risk of sounding trite, I have been there.

I have stood firmly against the idea of a God at all, and I have stood firmly not caring if there was a God.  What possible impact could that have on my life?

I am a convert from the Dark Abyss.

I have walked the secular walk and laughed at the God fearing men and women beneath me whose lives were upheld by the crutch of religion.  I have viewed my own body as a useful tool.  I have had mountains of fun and have wielded my feminine power.    It was a lot of fun. Sort of.

For a while.

What would convict a young woman, the world her oyster to give up the life of freedom and fun?  I’m smart.  Smart enough to know that I wanted my life to have meaning.  Because smart women know there is so much more.

One day it occurred to me that I was worth so much more than this.  I actually remember the moment that everything changed.  I was young, travelling, in a bad marriage and, moments earlier, found out I was pregnant with an unplanned child.

I was euphoric.  Over the moon.  Exalted.  It was my first true experience of a profound joy.

In a bad situation, yes.  I realized that, but I also remembered who I was and how I had been raised.  And it was the first time ever that I considered that there must be a God.  This was too big.  Too big a gift.

This gift of a baby.  An opportunity for redemption.  Sound familiar?  Nobody knows the power of a baby like God does.

I grew up with a father who would have been called sexist.  He’s also the man a hundred women would have married.  Why?  He opens doors, he brings the first pussy willows every spring to my mom.  Never forgets anniversaries and birthdays.  He thanked my mom every night of my childhood for making him dinner. Nothing she ever did, no small menial task, was trivialized. He would have been ashamed to have his wife working.  Not because he didn’t think women had a place in the workforce.  But because he thinks that womanhood, motherhood is so valuable that you wouldn’t entrust in to anyone else.

He asked my mom to marry him and that meant, I love you and my love means that I will care for you and for the fruit of our love, our children.  I will make your life as pleasant for you as I am able, because you have a hard and profoundly important task.  And I should support and uphold and care for such an important vocation. Because it matters.  More than anything.

We are equal.  But not the same.  You are the life giver.

What woman doesn’t want to be upheld like this by a man?  What woman doesn’t want a dragonslayer?

As a young woman, I was honoured.  I saw my mom honoured.  No one had to ever tell me to fight for equality.  Equality did not come to me because I could get grades, pay scale or respect equal to a man’s.  The honour bestowed on me transcended equality.  Why would I settle for equality?

Let me give just one powerful example of how our culture is duped by the message of equality.   Contraception.

You cannot tell me that relinquishing the one profound thing that a woman can do that a man CANNOT do, carry and nurture a human infant, makes women equal to men.

It makes me a slave.  A slave because I am now making myself available to a man, or many men, without responsibility.  I am slave to a pill.  I am slave to the success of that pill.  I make myself lesser to be equal?

Not me.  No way.

Even as a non Christian woman, one using contraception, I thought this isn’t right.  I’m not broken.  My fertility means I’m working.  I’m healthy.  So now I am taking a pill which will take my perfectly healthy reproductive system and render it useless.  And maybe even cause it damage?

You see, we think the pill is going to give us freedom.  Freedom to get the career I want, freedom to earn what a man earns, freedom to choose my sexual partner, freedom of choice.  After choosing that life, I found I was not free.  I was enslaved and unhappy.

I chose again.  True freedom this time.

This is freedom; to marry a man, for life who will care for me and respect me and love me because I have intrinsic value.  This is freedom.  Freedom to educate myself, or choose a career, or work at something because I want to, not because I have something to prove or equality to attain. To love him and share union with him and have babies with him.  And not every worry about another pill, another unhappy chapter in the book of non committal relationships.

I have lived the last twenty years of my life without fear.  Of pregnancy, of contraceptive failure, of being dissatisfied with my life.

Hardship, yes I have experienced that.  What life doesn’t?  But fear enslaves us, hardship does not.

 

 

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How to Pray in a Distracted World – The Philosophy of Maurice Blondel as an Aid in the Spiritual Life

Maurice Blondel

In yesterday’s post, I spoke about the importance of prayer in order to become a saint, and I spoke especially about listening in prayer.  I would like to develop that thought a bit more with the help of a recently acquired new friend: Maurice Blondel.

Let me, first, tell you a little bit about Blondel.  He was born in France in the area of Dijon in 1861.  He is a philosopher who’s most popular work “L’Action” was defended at the Sorbonne in 1893.  Blondel was a devout Catholic and felt that philosophy gave way too much to positive science: philosophy was only being based on the quantifiable.  Blondel was not pleased with this and developed a philosophy of action.  It is in this philosophy of action that he demonstrates that philosophy cannot avoid the religious problem, though it also cannot answer it.  He was a major influence on many of the theologians who would give shape to the Second Vatican Council.  As Bishop Peter Henrici states: “Blondel is the philosopher of Vatican II”.

So, why am I speaking about a philosopher with regards to prayer and the spiritual life?  It is because in his philosophy of action – which, admittedly, I have yet to finish – I have had  a spiritual encounter, all due to the fact that Blondel is an astute observer of human nature.  So, before I go into why he is important for prayer, I want to speak, in as simple a way as I can, about his philosophy of action.

Blondel argues that if we look into the life of our mind, we see a limitless number of choices.  Our reason goes through these tendencies and desires and we make a judgment: “This is the good thing to do.”  Yet, it is not enough to will to do a good thing.  Let us use a consistent example.  We are in the Church about to start praying a rosary.  Yet, just as we are about to begin, we find ourselves seemingly overwhelmed and outnumbered by many other desires and tendencies.  Perhaps we feel like going out for a coffee instead, making a phone call, checking our e-mail, talking to a friend, etc.  The other possible choices seem endless and the choice to just say the rosary seems overwhelmed by these other desires.  Blondel goes into some fine tuning with regards to this, but that is generally the point.  So we are faced with a choice: do we will to do the rosary or allow the variety of other tendencies and desires to overwhelm us?  Where does our true desire lie?  Before I go on, Blondel makes an interesting point: if we choose not to act, then we submit our self and our will to our tendencies, giving them more power over us.  We have a choice: to act or not to act (though to not act is itself an act, though not in the positive sense)

Let us presume we are holy people – or at least attempting to be – and thus say we see, in this moment, the greatest value to be the rosary.  But it is not enough to intend to say the rosary: one must say it.  Blondel states that the will is perfected in its choice only when it is acted upon.  Furthermore, action is a synthesis for the entire person: it “sums up” the person as both body and soul.  When an action happens – in this case saying the rosary – we become aware in a deeper way that this is our true value because it is the choice we have acted upon.  The action also sums up all our other desires and tendencies: they are given a new life in the action that has been chosen.  In short: action reveals our self to ourselves.  We see – either good or bad – what we are really like, what is really what we value, etc.  Thus, even bad actions have a positive end: if we choose them (and we do: we’re sinners!) then we are aware of what needs to be worked on in our life.  Furthermore, every time we act, we hone our will, especially when it is towards the same desire.  By constantly acting on the same desire over and over again – in this case prayer and love of God – then that virtue becomes habituated in us and the other tendencies, though present, lose their power over us.  In short: Blondel is promoting fasting, penance, asceticism: by saying yes to one thing, we are saying no to a seeming infinite.

This may seem a bit dense – I am still unpacking this myself – but the principle is really simple: action has consequences, both positive and negative for the spiritual life.  When we are praying, many thoughts enter our minds.  We often give too much credence to these distractions.  What Blondel has been helping me with in my spiritual life is to see that a) the spiritual life is a battle and b) that I have a freedom over what I act on with the grace of God as my help.

The Spiritual Life is a Battle

The fact that there is one thing I can only choose against an infinite number of other choices seems daunting, but my experience is in accord with that truth.  Thus, I allow myself to be overwhelmed with the infinite and do not see the power of the choice.  The choice for that deeper value, that truth – God’s love and grace present in my life – has a power over my other tendencies and desires.  In short, when I am praying or choosing to pray, I have a choice: I can listen to those distractions or I can shut them up.  Yet the only way I can begin to shut-up the distractions is by acting on the good grace that has been given me by God.  Action is the only means to experiencing the freedom of God’s love.  If I stand around and allow the distractions to overwhelm me, then I allow the distractions to take hold and either do nothing or allow the distractions to become habituated in my life through action.  We act no matter what: what will we do with this necessary action: that is up to us with God’s help.

So, it is a battle, a fight against concupiscable desires.  It means it will not be easy, but it means, in each moment, saying “YES” to the Lord and no to the other desires that hinder us from following Him.  As we continue the battle, we will find ourselves more attuned to the grace given then the possible sins.  Yes is the means to freedom.

Freedom to Act on God’s Grace

When we are praying, many distractions come up.  When we desire to pray many distractions come up.  Distractions are a natural part of life; they are the unfortunate adversary of our spiritual life.  When we are in prayer though, we may be praying the rosary when suddenly the idea pops in our head: “oh yeah, I need to get that organized for tomorrow.”  We cannot, per se, control that: distractions will lessen the more we choose in our actions the Lord.  However, when the distraction arises, we act on it: “I have a choice in front of me: I can either give into the distraction and listen to it while I say my rosary or I can concentrate on the mystery I am praying.”  It really is that simple!  Do you choose Jesus or the distraction?  This is difficult at first – unfortunately most of us are habituated to letting the infinite desires take a reign in our life – and thus it causes suffering, pain, and effort.  But the freedom that comes from it is worth it and we experience the joy of that when we make that firm choice in our action for the Lord: “I will focus on that mystery”.

These, in the end, are just preliminary thoughts I have had about Blondel and the prayer life.  I have found it helpful, and I know I have to “unpack” a lot more of his thought (I am only half-way through L’Action) in order to see how much benefit it has.  I have a feeling it will only get better.

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