Why it’s still worth saving sex during engagement.

[callout]This is a guest post by Stephanie Calis, the author of Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016) and the Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Spoken Bride, a ministry and lifestyle blog for Catholic brides and newlyweds.[/callout]

Something is up with me. Whenever I consciously make a choice in my work, my relationships, or my parenting that’s out of the mainstream, I want to hide it. I avoid talking about it.

Yet a part of me also wants others to find out, so I can talk about it. What is it that makes me a living, breathing contradiction?

To stand for something, to let your voice be heard and in doing so, to reveal who you are, satisfies the part of us that longs to be known, seen, and understood. Name a political or social matter, and you’ll most likely find a contingent speaking out against it.

And rightly so. Freedom is a gift; our voices are a gift, and the desire to make our opinions known is rooted in a good desire that speaks to how we’re created. Yet going against general opinion means something different than it did a generation ago. What was once considered progressive is now perceived as normal, and what was once considered traditional is now perceived as uptight and reactionary, particularly with regard to sexuality. Continue reading “Why it’s still worth saving sex during engagement.”

Yes, I am single.

[callout]This is a guest post by Rachel (Clare) Teague, who graciously agreed to let me share this with you.[/callout]

rachel clare
Rachel (Clare) Teague

Dear All Concerned with My Future: Yes, I am single.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to be single for the rest of my life. It doesn’t mean I can’t “get a man.” It doesn’t mean I’m depressed and terribly lonely.

What it means is:

God, my almighty Father, wants to take me on a walk, just the two of us, for a while. He wants to shower me with the beauties of life, even those that hurt and scare me like hell itself.

He wants me to be His little girl, until I am ready to grow into someone’s wife, support, soulmate, best friend, lover, debate partner, dance partner, and all around third-biggest fan. (God and Mama Mary are numbers 1 and 2, respectively.) Continue reading “Yes, I am single.”

[Guest Post] What are we so afraid of?

photo-14-Look at the world around us – you don’t have to go very far to see that dinners are being spent looking at phones instead of each other, young women are being asked on dates via text message instead of a real-life conversation, and people everywhere struggle with knowing their worth in relationships. All of these cultural standards come down to one simple truth: authentic relationships are not being formed.

Whether young or old, male or female, platonic or romantic, there is a fear of forming authentic relationships, which stems from a fear of commitment, and a fear of being disappointed. With all of this being said, I’d like to pose a few questions. If the three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity are in relation, if Christ founded His Church on a relationship between Him and Peter, and if the way He intended for His Church to be spread until the end of time was through relationships, what are we so afraid of?

This message of authentic relationships is something that was not popular or easily understood in the time of the apostles, and is certainly not popular or easily understood in our world today. As Christians it is our call, and our great joy, to proclaim that we know differently. To boldly proclaim that the truth of the Gospel is meant to change our lives, and certainly change how we form our relationships. And it is our great joy to prove by our life and our relationships that authenticity is worth striving for. Simply put, we are a relational Church.

The relationships that we are apart of affect every part of our being, and it is because of this that it is necessary to cultivate authentic relationships. Think about our friends – the people who understand us most in the world, and the people who we can be completely ourselves around. We feel so completely free around them because we are not afraid to ask for help when we need it, to love, and to be loved. Although we cannot be best friends with everyone, what we can do is enter into every relationship, big or small, with the Gospel mindset of authenticity and love.

Just as the earliest apostles spread the Church by proclaiming the love of the Father, we will fulfill our mission of proclaiming the love of the Father by forming authentic relationships with one another. Simply put, we cannot do it on our own. Each and every relationship we form needs the solid foundation of love, authenticity, and Christ Himself. Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans says, “For from Him, and through Him, and for Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever” (Romans 11:36). If everything we do is from, through, and for Him – then the relationships we form should be authentic and fearless. At its core, the Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. We need each other to confront the culture, to spread the incomprehensible love of Jesus Christ, and to grow in relationship with God our loving Father. It is a truth of Scripture that we need each other to grow in authentic relationships, and ultimately to grow in holiness.

We are called to fearlessly form these relationships – to reach out to others, and to build the relational Church by our words and actions. So let us pray for the grace to live this with our lives – to make eye contact with each other and not our cell phones, to have the cultural standard be a real conversation instead of a fleeting text, and to affirm each other of our God-given worth by authentic relationships. After all, there is nothing to be afraid of.

– – – –

About the blogger: Hailing from Minnesota, Lauren Scharmer is a senior at the Catholic University of America studying Social Work and Theology. Her current apostolate is bringing Midwestern hospitality to everyone she meets through her work with retreats and youth ministry on the east coast. She has a love for goldfish crackers, making loud noises in quiet chapels, short naps, and a good twitter hashtag (follow her @LaurenScharmer).

[Guest Post] Stephanie Calis: A case for chastity.

[callout]This post is one in a series of guest posts to appear Mondays while I recover from writing the book. 😉 Enjoy![/callout]

The year after I graduated college, I got to live my dream: talking to people about sex, and getting paid for it. Seriously. My time as a chastity speaker taught me how to actually articulate my conviction that being pure in one’s thoughts, words, and actions, while saving sexually intimate acts for marriage, is one of the surest paths to authentic love and a fulfilling life. It was a conviction I’d long felt, but could never quite verbalize.

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance messaged me, expressing that while she’s 100% on board with the idea of chastity, she wonders sometimes why it’s worth it when finding the One, and a chaste One at that, feels impossible. Actually putting reasons for chastity into words, I found, can be a huge source of encouragement when it seems like there’s no one out there like you and you’re wondering whether to just give up on the whole thing. As a speaker, I like to think I avoided the whole Mean Girls, don’t-have-sex-or-you’ll-get-pregnant-and-die approach, and though I wasn’t perfect at it, I also like to think I came to a few conclusions about a better approach, one that appeals not just to religion or morals, but to the heart.

I firmly believe every finite pursuit on this earth, sex included, is the pursuit of the infinite, something beyond ourselves and this life, whether one realizes it or not. There’s a longing in every human heart. Chastity, I think, really does help us aim that longing in the most fulfilling earthly direction. So, it’s with this in mind that I humbly present a practical, reason-based case for chastity:

It safeguards the future of your relationship. Studies show that couples who sleep together before marriage have higher rates of divorce and marital infidelity. Those who live together beforehand risk a “cohabitation effect” of staying in unfulfilling relationships longer than they would otherwise, and are statistically more likely to divorce than couples who did not cohabitate. Of course, there are lots of factors in why a relationship might end, but if you’re serious about the person you love, why not give yourselves the best possible fighting chance? Everyone wants to find love. No one hopes their love will end in a breakup or divorce.

Chastity makes sense within the natural order of things. Almost anyone can recognize there’s a natural order, and therefore natural outcomes. If we go against that order, natural consequences result–no matter how much I want to fly, for instance, the result of my trying will be falling from the sky every time. Taking sex out of the natural order has its consequences, too: before contraception was legalized in 1958, there were 3 known STI’s. Today, about five decades after the sexual revolution, there are over 50.

What’s more, oxytocin, the body’s bonding hormone, is released in greatest quantities during and after sex. Biologically, it’s intended to bond us to one person, forever. With each new sexual partner, the quantity of oxytocin released is a little lower, which erodes one’s ability to experience the fullness of that bond. Neither decreased bonding nor the proliferation of STI’s is anyone’s punishment; they’re the natural result of engaging in sex with more than one partner.

It lets you fall in love with your eyes wide open. Studies show that oxytocin also tends to make men and women see their partners more favorably, aiding in the forgiveness of flaws and boosting perceived attractiveness, helping the couple to stick together. That’s great in a lifelong marriage; not so great in a relationship that might be problematic. Without the blinders sex can introduce to a dating relationship, you’re better able to see the person you’re dating for who they are. Should you discern your relationship isn’t headed for forever, it’s easier to walk away.

But I’m not saying this to scare you. The title character of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome cheats on his wife with her cousin, and he and the cousin both end up paralyzed in a sledding accident. Hello, scare tactic (Edith Wharton: the Mean Girls sex ed teacher of 1911?). But chastity isn’t about fear. Abstinence is a series of “no’s,” and can lead one to live in fear of making a mistake or expressing love in the wrong context. Chastity does you one better. It’s not saying no, but saying yes: yes to putting the good of the other before your own, yes to love instead of lust. Anyone can start doing that today, no matter where he or she has been. That’s the beauty of chastity: you can always start over, virgin or not. Living purely and authentically as a man or woman, living a chaste life, has such power to heal and restore.

Speaking of saying yes: Consider a person who can’t discipline her sexual desires. What does it mean when this person says “yes” to sex? Nothing. It simply means she can’t say no. But for the chaste individual, someone who can and who has said no to everyone else (beginning at whatever point he’s chosen chastity), can truly mean “yes” to his spouse; his yes takes on deep meaning and intention.

You’re free. Truly. In my opinion, chastity and our identity as sexual beings goes far beyond what we’re doing (or not doing) in bed. They’re about who we are as men and women. True, living out chastity means you’re free from worries about pregnancy, STI’s, and certain regrets, but what’s more, I’ve found you become more and more able to be content with yourself, knowing your standards and sustaining your hope, and better able to rise above lies the culture tells us about how we should act, look, and date.

Chastity takes boldness and fortitude. The payoff is a more integrated heart and will, body and soul. Integration taps into the relationship between desire and the good. The closer what we want and what’s best for us are aligned and integrated, the happier we’ll be.

Integration. Sounds a lot like integrity.

– – – –

About the blogger:  Born a hop, skip, and jump from the Chesapeake Bay, Stephanie Calis now resides in Appalachia, thanks to love. Her sweet husband Andrew teaches English there. She delights in bike rides, good books, puddle jumping, The Avett Brothers, hammocks, avocados, and Andrew’s many argyle sweaters. She is thirsty. Knowing so many others are, too, she spent a missionary year with Generation Life speaking to students about human dignity and authentic love. Her passion is telling young women they possess immense worth and that pure, sacrificial love is real; she thinks a truthful understanding of sex and love is medicine for an aching culture. Stephanie blogs about love and wedding planning at Captive the Heart.

[Guest Post] John Janaro: A meditation on marriage vows.

JohnEileenJanaroPicThis post is one in a series of guest posts to appear Mondays until I finish writing the book. Enjoy!

– – – –

My wife and I married “late” (I was 33, she was 29). We were (and still are) best friends and also in love. Our married life has been a tremendous blessing. We love each other a million times more than on our wedding day. But we would also say that on that wedding day we had absolutely no idea of what the next 17+ years were going to be like. What has mattered most has not been “romance” or “being a perfect fit” (which never happens, although its a blessing to be a “good fit” in temperament and such). What has mattered is that we shared a commitment to Christ in the Church, that we trusted each other, and that we really felt “secure” with each other.

When people marry young they may have to build more of this trust and security as they mature together. I do think that older singles are more able to perceive that a relationship has a solid disposition and foundation for trust and security. These words may not sound very exciting, but they are the bedrock for fidelity. If you have this, and then it’s consecrated in Christ by the sacrament and its profound graces, you will discover that married love is deep and strong and difficult and enduring and forgiving.

My recommendation for singles young and older alike is to meditate on the marriage vows. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…” Don’t try to imagine what this will mean for you, because you can’t. It’s impossible. But you can look at the other person with an awareness of the fidelity you are going to promise to him (or her if you’re a man — men should do this too). And you can ask yourself (simply, not with scrupulosity), “Do I trust that when this person makes this promise to me, he/she really means it and will be able to keep it?”

“Good times and bad” — let’s be clear here: there WILL be bad times. The surprising thing is that “bad times” more often doesn’t have to do with misunderstandings and arguments and inter-relational dynamics (these happen, but they can be worked through). “Bad times” comes from the fact that STUFF HAPPENS in life. The hardest things are the stuff that comes from “outside,” that you have to face together. Someone loses their job. That’s a tough one. Problems in “the family” — a parent gets old and needs love and attention (perhaps a lot). This is very hard. It changes the way you live together.

“Sickness and health….” Most healthy young people barely think about these words when they say them. This is not about chicken soup and colds. People can get really sick. Spouses have to be primary caregivers. If you’re a woman, you will have health issues that your husband won’t understand. If the husband becomes disabled and can’t work, he will be emotionally shattered in a way that he will have difficulty communicating to his wife, or even admitting to himself. Disability is something we’ve learned a lot about in our marriage. But everyone faces health problems. If nothing else, people get older and they change physically and emotionally. And they suffer. It’s important to marry someone who will suffer with you, and with whom you are willing to suffer. There’s nothing “romantic” about the daily, ordinary, often banal suffering that you will have to share. But it’s there that your love grows as trust, commitment, and fidelity. But this is not a cold thing. A real and deep affection is born within this love. You begin to see the other person more deeply.

The mind blowing fact is that marriage is not just about you and your spouse. In a few years, God willing, you will be changing and adapting your lives in ways you never imagined. There are gonna be these other little people. They will need you both and they will need you together; they will change you so fundamentally that they will give you new names that will last forever: “Mommy” and “Daddy”! (Which later change to “Mom” and “Dad”.)

God willing, you’ll have a nice bunch of kids. But “kids” is an abstraction. These are going to be particular human persons who are “your children.” They will stretch you beyond anything you thought was possible for yourself, and they will make you work so hard, but they are so worth it! Don’t be afraid, because marriage is a sacrament and the grace that shapes your family flows from it. We have five kids, and three are teenagers. It’s an ongoing, wild and wonderful adventure, this family, these people mysteriously entrusted to one another.

It turns out those wedding vows are a commitment to the radical possibility of welcoming other human persons into your lives… permanently. It is a way of giving yourselves to God, through each other and through the awesome mystery of His creative freedom and love.

Its worth “holding out,” for the sake of marrying someone you trust and who trusts you. Lots of things can be “worked out” in married life, but trust is basic. Marry a person worthy of your trust, and of course trust in God. It is Jesus who establishes and sustains the bond that unites you. If you are not yet married, He calls you to use discernment in who you choose to marry. He will also guide you. His Holy Spirit will lead you. Mary will be a Mother to your heart and bring you wisdom.

Going on 18 years ago, I married the love of my life. We trusted the Lord, and in Him we trusted each other. Through that trust, and five kids and so many unforeseen changes of circumstances and health, our love continues to grow.

– – – –

About the blogger:  John Janaro is Associate Professor Emeritus of Theology at Christendom College. He is a Catholic theologian, and a writer, researcher, and lecturer on issues in religion and culture. His most recent book is NEVER GIVE UP: MY LIFE AND GOD’S MERCY. He is married to Eileen Janaro and has five children. Visit his blog at johnjanaro.com and follow him on Twitter.