Friday, 18 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Green Goblin Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A few weeks ago I attended yet another beautiful Catholic wedding. Atypically, however, the couple in question is part of my "secular" friend group. As result, while I was aware of their quiet faith, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty and reverence of the Mass. However, another consequence was that of our group of friends present, I alone knew what was going on at the ceremony.

A few seats away was a handsome young man who, like me and unlike everyone else in the row, knew when to kneel and stand, knew the responses for the prayers, knelt in quiet prayer for a few minutes after the Mass as everyone else ran out, and sang along to the hymns in a charming off-kilter tenor. My little Catholic heart began to race, because it is not often that I meet a Nice Catholic Boy who isn't already married or in religious formation.

At the reception, I was introduced to this NCB by my friend X to whom he is engaged. I'd heard X was engaged but hadn't yet met the fiance. I was quite frankly torn between genuine happiness for my friend and horrendous jealousy. You see, X is a wonderful, hardworking woman of integrity, but she is completely irreligious and her morals concerning relationships/etc are quite opposite of mine. During the dinner X and I had a chance to talk a little bit about her upcoming wedding (planned as a Mass on account of his 'super-religious' family) and about the marriage prep process in our Diocese. She confessed to me that the required NFP course and Theology of the Body segments were upsetting to her because, as she put it, "it's just not what I believe." They plan to contracept, and while the priest who will marry them might not know that, she was very open with me about it.

Seraphic, now Jealousy was overtaken by Pride. I sat stewing for the entire drive home, rather angry. You see, while I spent my early 20s going to daily Mass and helping with mission trips, X spent hers partying and sleeping with many guys... and she's the one who ends up with a Nice Catholic Fiance, while I am still searching? It reeks of injustice.

Now, of course, I know that no one "deserves" a spouse and that husbands are only gifts from God. I know that my going to daily Mass is supposed to be about my growth in holiness, not finding a way to meet Nice Catholic Boys. But it's still frustrating!

I'm happy for X, certainly, to have found a spouse. But I'm still irritated that one of the few NCBs left was snatched up by a very not-Catholic girl. I also realize that putting it that way makes NCBs seem like a sort of rare commodity, like uranium or pro-life Democrats. How do I overcome my own sinfulness and try to be truly happy for her?

Green Goblin Girl

Dear Green Goblin Girl,

Back up a few sentences. Never mind the bit about your own sinfulness. It's the only fake bit of your admirably honest letter. You don't feel sinful. You feel mad. Heck, I feel mad on your behalf. If I were you, I'd be good and mad. I'd be on my way to church, steeling myself for a showdown with the Big Guy, as my brother Nulli calls Him.

"Hey," I'd yell (after doing a quick recce for priests, pious old ladies and napping street people). "Why her, eh? Why not me? HEL-LO? Service trips!"

And then I'd probably hear a silent voice in my head saying, "I thought you liked those service trips."

"Uh, yeah," I'd say. "I did."

"And I seem to remember you thanking Me for the graces and gifts of those service trips."

"Um. Yeah."

"So...what? I'm supposed to give you a big sexy reward now, too?"

And then there'd be a big scene like at the end of Job involving someone repenting in dust and ashes because that's how these conversations tend to end.

Lookit, it sucks. It totally sucks when girls who partied while you prayed get a great guy, and you don't. It totally sucks when girls on the Pill get the nice uber-Catholic in-laws and you don't. I know it sucks. Feel free to say "It sucks!" really loudly. Sucks, sucks, sucks. It sucks that virtue is its own reward with no cute man attached. I know that. You know that. We all know that.

But there is one great rule about men and love. And it is that men love whom they love and not whom we think they should love, especially when it is us. For some reason, this guy looked at Binky the Party Girl and said, "That's for me!"

The good news is that you just met this guy. You've seen him once. You're not in love with him. You barely know him. All you know about him is that he's been to Mass long enough to know when to stand and when to kneel and what to sing, but not long enough to know he is supposed to say, "Binky, the Pill is out of the question." He might be a (contracepting) NCB, but he's not really St. Thomas More, now, is he?

My guess, Green Goblin Girl, is that you would not want a man like this. YOU want a man who would stand up to you if you were tempted to contracept, and say "No! I love you, but I will not allow my marriage to be chemically sterile. I will not lie to God, the priest and all our wedding guests when we say we will accept children lovingly from God. I will explain to you the beauty of marital sexuality until I am blue in the face. I will swear to work my fingers to the bone in the unlikely event that we have more than 7 children. Perhaps you will leave me now, and my heart will break, but Green Goblin Girl, I am a Roman Catholic man and I will uphold the Faith. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Cue violins as you fall into his arms. The camera cuts to his face and, surprise, surprise, he looks nothing like Binky's fiance. Binky's fiance is a wuss.

Now, the teaching against artifical birth control is a hard pill to swallow (har har), so I'm now going to cut Fiance and Binky some slack. It could be that marriage to Fiance is Binky's best chance at salvation. It could be that the Binky's heart is melted on her wedding day. It could be that Binky's heart is melted when she gets preggers anyway. It could be that Binky's heart will be gradually melted by her nice (if wussy) husband and her uber-Catholic in-laws.

So you can be happy for Binky because YOU want a REAL Nice Catholic Boy with GUTS anyway, and this wussy Catholic Boy mysteriously might be (despite his wussiness) Binky's great chance to become friends with our Lord Jesus Christ. At the very least, she'll have to settle down and give up serial monogamy.

That's my Auntie-eye view. Don't be happy Binky's got a great guy. Be happy Binky might have a shot at salvation through marriage to him. Now go read the bit in the Holy Bible about the Prodigal Son, concentrating on the good things the Father says to the Good Son, especially "Everything I have is yours."

Hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,
P.S. You couldn't force me to listen to a Theology of the Body talk. Boring and possibly dodgy. B.A. and I don't enjoy sitting with near-strangers listening to total strangers talk about sex. I know, I know: we're so vanilla.


some guy on the street said...

I could probably stand to listen to His Holiness (or Blessed His Holiness the Great of Beloved Memory) talk about TOB. I'm quite sure it would not be one bit dodgy.

This phrase: "He's not really St. Thomas More, now, is he," is going into my stockpile. I've a feeling that's going to be handy, one day...

hip2bsquare said...

Could you (perhaps in another post so as not to hijack this one) expand on your last point in re: Theology of the Body? Especially the dodgyness issue.

I have some priest friends who've given me the impression that they have some issues with TotB, especially as it's presented by its popularizers. But find it's hard to get them to talk about their objections in detail because of their fear of offending the legions of Chris West devotees among the young and Catholic.

Christine Pennacchio said...

Goblin, I empathize with your pain. It's hard to see [the seemingly few] NCBs end up somewhere besides with us. But Seraphic is right, he's too wussy for you. Great advice, Seraphic. :-)

fifi said...

Auntie, this post is a great example of the many things I love about you and your website!

Kate P said...

It might be a coincidence that I was thinking about the "Good Son" Prodigal Son a couple of days ago as well, because I too was having that "I didn't do any of that bad stuff and where did it get me?" feeling.

I'll say it sucks sometimes. Then I tell myself this too shall pass.

P.S. I did go to a TOB talk once and I didn't think it was too bad. . . and I think it would feel more awkward sitting among people I actually KNEW. :)

Seraphic said...

SGOTS, I have heard some dodgy-sounding things coming from a big Christopher West fan claiming to be quoting CW. So no disrespect to JP2 of happy memory although frankly I wouldn't have listened to him read a murder mystery, let along his own turgid prose: HOW he massacred the English language! Aah! Hearing him speak English was one of the great disappointments of my childhood.

Hip, more later when I've read more. I've read some of JP2 on TOB, but, zzzzzz. Possibly it is the priests who have studied systematic (dogmatic) theology (especially regarding the Trinity) who are getting icked out. Could it be that West is sailing dangerously close to some sort of Marital Sex=Grace theology? Yikes! I hope not.

Christine, thank you.

Fifi, thank you.

Kate, not doing the bad stuff may have save us from countless humiliations and holes in our souls. The next time you are having a grouchy, "where is my reward" moment, pray "Thank you, dear Lord, for saving me from so many snares."

BY THE WAY, Kissing Fan wrote in and her young man has been giving her hugs and pecks on the cheek, so he's not THAT afraid of physicality. I thought you'd all like to be reassured. As for me, I find I have a great auntly fondness for KF's boyfriend, just from KF's story alone.

Seraphic said...

By the way, KF, you must NEV-air, NEV-air tell your bf you wrote to me about him.

sciencegirl said...


Cordi said...

Wow, Seraphic, great post!

Seraphic said...

Thanks, Cordi!

Alisha said...

I too would like to hear some expansion on the TOB matter.
I think it's definitely unfair to criticize based on what some guy said CW said for 2 reasons.
First, people who are advocates for things are not always the best apologists or theologians and are often going to miss significant nuances, not to mention, they may attribute more significance to it than is warranted, based on their own experience and how it has moved them.
Secondly, CW's work, as I understand, consists in translating what are very complex and rich talks into something that average Joe and Josie Catholic can understand. Nowadays, average Joe and Josie are often not well catechized...and there is also the flip side issue that There were some acknowledged issues with the first english language versions (a variety of translators were used - resulting in the same term being translated differently from one talk to another...the new translation has apparently corrected this, with help from JP's original Polish notes). And I don't think it's fair to criticize the Pope's theology just because of his prose, particularly when it wasn't in his native language.

theobromophile said...

I should be shot for this, but I'm going to go all Ayn Rand on this nice young Catholic girl:

Love is the deepest expression of values.

Love is not irrational; lust is.

Look, I spent the first half of my twenties crying over men who claimed to adore me, to be eternally thankful that I came into their lives and made them better people, but who simply did not love me the way that they love(d?) their drug-addicted, slutty ex-girlfriends. I wondered why I was so defective as to be lower on the food chain than these women. Then I woke up and realised that it wasn't my problem; it was that these men didn't have their values in place.

Then, rather than wondering why my best qualities weren't good enough, and feeling as if I was throwing away the best of myself on men who would never see me as good enough, I decided to wait for a man who loves me for my good qualities (and, hopefully, can lovingly help me to work on the bad ones). It was the end of self-flagellation.

(Yes, there is exactly one way in which I am not totally un-Seraphic about my Singleness and my past dating life. This is it.)

Alex said...

Something else I'd add is that there are plenty of men who would do all the outward things that this man did ("knew when to kneel and stand, knew the responses for the prayers, knelt in quiet prayer for a few minutes after the Mass as everyone else ran out, and sang along to the hymns in a charming off-kilter tenor"), and also do their best to respect the women they meet, yet still don't agree with or understand much of the Church's teaching. It might be that this man was not too "wussy" to stand up to his fiance on using birth control, but that he's one of the many mostly good people who recognizes all the good that the Catholic Church has done but actively rejects its teachings on contraception, and still calls himself Catholic because he agrees with the church most of the time.

This is particularly a possibliity in America, where too many of us think of the Catholic Church as a mere political party and the Catechism as a mere political platform that we are free to pick and choose from as we wish.

I used to be one of these people, and it wouldn't surprise me if the man your reader described was one of them too. It's not the worst thing in the world--he's probably a basically decent person who won't be abusive and probably has a lot of other good things about him. But you are right that your reader can do better than him, and probably shouldn't be too disappointed to have "missed out" on him.

aussie girl in australia said...

Not the worst thing in the world?

What was that about being lukewarm in the faith? And God spewing you out?
I actually think this is worse than being intellectually honest in your position. If you're a Catholic, be a Catholic. If you're an athiest, be an honest athiest. If you are a Protestant.....well you get the drift. Having grown up in a place where most other Catholics were merely "cultural" Catholics, it most certainly IS a big problem. I wouldn't describe this guy as a wuss necessarily but certainly dishonest.

Seraphic said...

I enjoyed calling Fiance a wuss, but I won't throw more stones at poor married couples who contracept. At least they are actually married.

Not everyone is brave and faithful enough to accept all the teachings of the Church and they are often encouraged in their pusillaminity by "right-on" priests and winking RCIA instructors. Most practising Catholics are indeed practising and few of us have got it exactly right yet.

There seem to be two orthodoxy tests that Catholics use to judge other Catholics: (1) birth control and (2) the woman priest issue. I think those are the two questions that most divide Catholics who go to church. And I would not be at all surprised if it really is true that most church-going Catholic couples (of childbearing age) use artificial birth control. However, I do not know anyone who does, probably because I am one of the LAST people in the world they would tell. I hear some NFP stories, usually accompanied with giggles or hisses of frustration of how complicated it actually turns out to be.

+Miguel Vinuesa+ said...

Seraphic: Have you thought about this the other way around?

I loved the conclusion you came to so, That you might consider marryin someone who is far from Faith to take him closer to the Church?

I met a good person, very clever, very handsome, but a little angry with the Church for some personal reason... You always have to work on their good side, expand it, fortify it. To pray together is a huge step for that... and I think this work both ways.

There's nothing in life than to believe that, through happiness, we can help save souls. That is a clear sing from the Providence that we are doing the right thing.

+Pax et Bonum+

ps. I see Mulier Fortis on the links. Kuddos for that. I love her blog as well.

Seraphic said...

I would never recommend that a faithful Catholic marry a cultural Catholic who hates the Church or anyone else who hates the Church. A nice, open-minded Protestant or Orthodox person might be okay depending on how you and they feel about artificial contraception, aborting babies with birth defects, etc.

It is difficult to walk "the straight and narrow path" at the best of times. Trying to do so with someone who hates Catholicism will make you miserable.

Be all means, be friendly and a good witness to those who are angry with the Church, but marrying or simply capitulating and going to bed with them (as so many of them wish their Catholic love interest would do) is out.

This kind of person is, of course, light years from the man described by GGG, who seems more-or-less a happy Catholic, though not strictly orthopractic.