Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pieces of the Piñata

Much attention is focused on Pope Francis' attention to the needy. Whatever individuals may think of the new Holy Father, everyone seems to admire his love for the poor. Different eras appreciate different virtues, and this is a virtue that our time does honor. 
      The funny thing is that we tend to think, "Good for him! A lot of people need to be less selfish and give more to the poor." Too often we think about how much other people need to change without considering that we might need to as well.
     Americans are pretty generous in general; we have a reputation for that. We are especially giving after a natural disaster or personal tragedy. We also donate regularly to churches and charities.
     People like Pope Francis and Mother Teresa, however, raise the ante and keep us from thinking too highly of our generosity. After all, we are a prosperous people. The average American today has luxuries that even the wealthy of past ages could envy (air conditioning and automobiles for starters). Our homes are cluttered with things we don't need and perhaps don't even use anymore. We may give, but most of us could probably give a good bit more.
     Life is like a piñata scramble. The moment the candy bursts from the piñata and cascades to the ground is exciting, but hardly fair. There are always those who get more than others, being in a better location or being older or faster. Similarly, the world's goods aren't distributed fairly. We need to be as mature as those children who notice the little ones who didn't get much, and share with them.
     How much is enough? How much should one give?
     That is a question each must answer, after prayer. And more than once. It's something we should be talking with God about periodically, especially when circumstances change.
     But Mother Teresa gave a good rule of thumb: Give until it hurts. Give an amount that causes you to go without something. There should be some sacrifice involved.
     There's a touching example of this in Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek. Her family had just started a new farm and had very little money to spare. Pa had been saving up to buy some new boots, as his old ones were getting worn out. Finally, he had enough, and went to town to buy them. But he came home without the money and wearing his cracked old pair. While he was there, he heard that the new church needed so much more to buy a bell—the exact amount he had in his pocket. He gave it to them—all of it.
     If giving like this sounds hard—and it is—keep in mind that giving helps the giver too. We need to give, and give until it hurts, to rid ourselves of the things that hold us back. We are fallen, material beings, living in a materialistic culture; we become attached to things so easily. But life isn't a game in which the one with the most toys at the end, wins. If anything, those with the least attachments gain the highest rewards. 
     Greed is a trap. Consider how it ensnares the monkey: a banana is placed in a jar with a narrow neck; the monkey can get his hand in the jar, but once he clutches the banana, his hand can no longer fit through the neck. Rather than let go of the banana and escape, he hangs onto it and is captured.
     We talk about and value freedom so highly, not realizing that we are slaves to our possessions (and often our passions too).  True freedom is the ability to let go of anything that keeps us from the fulfillment of our being.
      God is our goal, our fulfillment; He alone is worth clinging to, indeed what we need to cling to.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Spelling Love as "T-I-M-E"

Not long ago, when I mentioned in confession that sometimes I was negligent about or inattentive during my prayer times, the priest said I needed to see my work as my prayer.
     Now, I do actually try to offer up my workas well as my play, my joys and my sorrowsas a prayer. But this idea of working as one's only form of prayer is not such a good one.
     Isn't that the point of today's Gospel? Jesus didn't say to Mary: "Go help your sister, and that will be as good as listening to me." Nor did He say to Martha: "What you're doing is wrong. Stop it, and get in here." He said that Mary had chosen the better part, not the only worthwhile part.
     We all need to do some work. We are embodied spirits, not angels. We have to attend to our physical lives and taking care of others too. So yes, we should work, and as members of the Body of Christ, we can join our work to His and consecrate it, make it a prayer. Absolutely, that is a beautiful and worthwhile thing to do.
     But we need to give God some undivided attention too. Yes, we can pray throughout the day, talking to Him as we go about our business. That's great. But it's not enough.
     A husband and wife can fulfill their family responsibilities individually and together, and talk about logistics and solving problems like the plumbingall that is good, but not enough. They need to have some couple time too. They need to look at one another and talk about deeper things, reaffirm their love for one another, share what's burdening them, share their joys. Be there for each other.
      So also in our relationship with God, we need to spend some one-on-one time with Him. He doesn't need to hear our burdens and our joys, but He wants to. And we need to share them with Him. We also need to hear what He has to say. We have so much to learn. And it's always nice to hear again His message of love and mercy.
     This little exchange sums it up well: 
     Jack asked a monk, "Can I smoke a pipe while I'm praying?"
     "Can I pray while I'm smoking a pipe?"

     Yes, involve God in every moment of your day, whether you're working or playing. But also set aside some time just for Him. 
     He deserves it.
     And we need it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Church Teaching Is Greener than Medical Trend

Having teenaged daughters is reminding me how irresponsible doctors can be when it comes to their major blind spot. A lot of folks these days think Western doctors are far too quick to write a prescription, but at least in every other area they tell you what the possible side effects are. Apparently not in this one.
     When my daughter admitted that her cycles are slightly irregular, her new pediatrician offered to put her on the Pill. I remember one doctor after another doing the same with me when I was her age. (Caveat: there are real conditions in which the Pill can be therapeutic and a valid remedy; but neither my daughter nor I had such a condition.)  None of them ever told me about any side effects. They just talked up the advantages.
     None of them told me how it worked. They said it would make my cycles regular. Well…yes, there would be “regular” bleeding, but it wouldn’t be a real cycle. The Pill prevents one from ovulating at all, then produces an artificial monthly bleed.
     These doctors—excuse me, social engineers—seem to care more about preventing pregnancy than the health of their patients. That’s evident since hormonal contraceptives are pushed on adult women as well.
     This is despite the fact that pharmaceutical contraceptives can cause a variety of side effects, such as irritability, weight gain, nausea, depression, migraines, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, even heart problems, blood clots, cancer, and stroke.[1]
     Janet Smith, in her popular talk “Contraception, Why Not?” points out that back when scientists were developing the Pill, they were also experimenting with an oral contraceptive for men. Never heard of it, right? In the early stages, one man experienced shrinkage of the testicles, and all development for a male pill ceased. In the experimental stages of creating the female pill, three women died. Development of the Pill for women obviously went on. Death remains (fortunately, rarely) a risk of taking the Pill.
     Another, not very well known, side effect is the risk of sterility. Chemical contraception, in other words, may not only render you infertile when you don’t want babies, but even when you do.  It can also do this directly or indirectly. Girls and women using any sort of hormonal contraception are more likely to have more partners and less likely to use condoms … and therefore more likely to contract a sexually-transmitted disease. (Plus, condoms don’t protect you from HPV, a leading cause of cervical cancer.) One in four teenaged girls were found in 2008 to have an STD.  Some STDs can render you permanently infertile; some can cause cancer.
     Some years ago, I pointed these risks out to the editors of Prevention, purportedly a magazine promoting health, especially women’s health and including alternative methods. Nevertheless, they regularly included ads for hormonal contraceptives and even an occasional article on the subject. I don’t recall seeing anything about the risks. I know I never saw anything about a natural, safe alternative—even though there is one and I gave them plenty of information and sources about it. No response.
     Hormonal contraceptives also seem to be having an environmental impact. Fish have been affected—deformities and possibly sterility—by hormonal drugs that have ended up in the waterways. There is concern that these synthetic hormones—though the levels are very low—could also be affecting human health, as residues are present even in treated tap water. One study linked the use of oral contraceptives by women with an increase in prostate cancer in men, theoretically through the water system.
     The good news is that there is a natural alternative—Natural Family Planning—with no dangers. Most people don’t know it exists, or believe a number of myths about it.

Myth 1: Natural Family Planning is the same thing as the Rhythm Method.
Fact: The only thing that Rhythm and NFP have in common is that both are natural methods of regulating birth that have been approved by the Catholic Church. But NFP is far more effective. The Rhythm method was calendar-based, and so useful only to those with regular cycles. NFP is based on the reliable signs in a woman’s own body indicating fertility and ovulation.

Myth 2: Natural Family Planning doesn’t work.
Fact: Used correctly, NFP is actually more effective than the Pill. NFP is based on new scientific discoveries and backed up with much research and many success stories. It can be used to achieve or avoid pregnancy.
A 1993 study found NFP to be 99.8% effective in preventing pregnancy;[2] only sterilization or total abstinence have a higher rate of effectiveness.

Myth 3: Natural Family Planning is too complicated and difficult to actually be used.
Fact: NFP has been successfully taught and utilized by illiterate women in third-world countries as well as by busy professionals in industrialized countries.

     When my husband (then fiancé) and I were trained in using NFP, our instructor told us that we were only among about 3% of her clients who were interested in NFP for religious reasons. The vast majority of her clients came to her because they had had health problems from using other methods and/or wished for a safe and natural method.
     Ever since I first heard about NFP, my reasons for preferring it have gone well beyond the religious. I wouldn't think of using anything else.
     You hear a lot of talk about alternative health, natural foods, natural options, taking care of the environment, and so forth. Why are both the medical establishment and alternative health gurus mute on this one?