This content is restricted to subscribers
This content is restricted to subscribers
On December 2, 2012, I started the Can We Cana? blog on a wing and a prayer, hoping to provide support for Catholic marriages and families. Thanks to you wonderful readers, the blog reached its 1000th pageview in less than two months. By its one-year anniversary, the blog has attracted more than 30,000 pageviews from readers in all 50 states and in countries around the globe.
Blogpost topics have included everything from sexuality and the Theology of the Body to staying married through sickness and health, unexpected pregnancies, first-year disillusionment, and the pressures of raising a big family. There are parenting tips, household tips, and reviews of awesome Catholic family resources. I’ve even included discussions of difficult issues like marital abandonment, abortion, annulment, virginity, and rape. Thanks to the support of some amazing on-line friends I’ve made, Can We Cana? posts have also appeared on CatholicMom.com, CatholicLane.com, AmazingCatechists.com, MercatorNet.com (Australia), and MyYearofFaith.com.
Here’s a run-down of the posts you liked the best, and a request — tell me what else you’d most like to read about here!
Top 5 Most Popular Posts
1. Chaste Sex: Not What You Think It Is (more than 1200 views)
Most Popular Guest Post
Post with Highest Critical Acclaim
Post with the Most Comments
Many blessings on all of you for helping this Catholic marriage support community grow. If there are any topics you’d like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments!
It dawned on me recently when I was flying back from New Jersey that it takes tremendous trust to get on a plane: trust that the pilots are trained to fly the plane with precision, trust that the builders created a solid, well-performing plane, trust that the mechanics have serviced the plane properly. After all, which one of us wants to be 20,000 feet in the air when a mechanical problem happens or when a pilot encounters a situation he’s not trained to handle?
Of course, the same can be said for any situation. We trust our doctors, food companies, school bus drivers and many others. On a daily basis, we are called to trust those who are human and have the potential of making mistakes.
Consider how most couples “trust” with regard to their fertility. They take pills, get injections, apply chemical patches, insert devices, consent to operations. Instead of working with their fertility, they try to destroy it. Instead of embracing their fertility, they fight it. They “trust” that by using contraceptives, they will be able to “control” their fertility.
Newsflash: none of these chemicals, devices or operations are 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. No method, except for complete abstinence, is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. And yet millions of couples put their “trust” in contraceptive methods on a daily basis. If the methods “fail,” and a child is conceived, many will resort to abortion.
So what does this have to do with Advent?
Well, a lot. When told that she would be the mother of our Savior, Mary replied, “Be it done to me according to your word.” That took tremendous trust in God’s plan for her. She didn’t say, “Hmmm, let me think about that for a few weeks and I’ll get back to you.” Without her trust, without her yes, we would not be preparing to celebrate Christmas.
Admittedly, the times I’ve appreciated Our Lady’s fiat the most have been when I was expecting a child during Advent and Christmas. I loved being pregnant and feeling the movement of my babies. It definitely helped me to be more empathetic to what Mary went through: nine months pregnant, on a donkey and making a long journey away from home. It was equally difficult for her to give birth in a stable, surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals. And yet Mary trusted that this was God’s plan for her and accepted it without question.
So what is God’s plan for us especially regarding our fertility? I can tell you what it is not: God’s plan is not for us to destroy the gift of our fertility with devices, behaviors, chemicals or operations. This “trust” that many couples place in contraceptives can sometimes result in an unwanted, permanent loss of fertility and can lead to numerous other consequences as well. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, 1968) talks about one of the most common consequences of contraceptive use: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
God’s plan is for couples to embrace their fertility and to be generously open to life. Does that mean that God wants us to have as many children as possible? No, it doesn’t. God gave us the gift of reason and he also gave us a built-in natural method of avoiding pregnancy that works with fertility and not against it. God, the Author of life, wants to be part of our decisions regarding our fertility.
What about us? Who do we trust with our fertility? Is it God or is it a device, operation or contraceptive behavior?
Couples who want to trust God with their decisions will trust Him with all of their decisions, including the beautiful gift of fertility. When couples have serious need to avoid pregnancy, Natural Family Planning is a moral way to do so. NFP uses no devices and works with God instead of against Him. Wives who use NFP seldom feel used by their husbands. NFP also works well to achieve pregnancy. It’s healthy, effective and safe. NFP encourages good communication and strengthens marital relationships.
Advent is the ideal time to rethink who we trust our fertility with. Do we trust a chemical company? Do we trust a condom manufacturer? Or do we trust God, the Author of Life?
Learning Natural Family Planning nowadays is as simple as turning on your computer. My husband and I teach NFP online through the Couple to Couple League. For more information on NFP classes or NFP in general, please comment below or email me: info(at)fullquiverpublishing.com.
Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach 2012
Like anyone, I love a good story, but I especially enjoy a compelling romance or suspense novel. As I grew in my faith, I no longer wanted to read fiction with explicit sex scenes. So I began seeking out Christian fiction. However, I yearned to read good, compelling fiction with Catholic themes.
Partly in response to this desire, I began writing my first novel, Emily’s Hope, in 2001. I’m a certified NFP teacher and I’ve debated the “contraception” issue with non-Catholics, liberal Catholics, ex-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics. So when I sat down to write my first novel, I knew that not only did I want to write a compelling story, I also wanted to include information on the Theology of the Body and NFP. I figured that if I was going to write a novel, I wanted to write one that had the potential of evangelizing.
Emily’s Hope is the story of “Emily” (loosely based on myself) and “Katharine,” my great-grandmother. In the seven years since it’s been published, I’ve received many letters from “fans.” One teenager approached me at a Catholic conference and said, “You know, Mrs. Hrkach, your book helped me to understand the Theology of the Body better than any textbook I’ve read.”
With my second novel, In Name Only, I wanted to write a Catholic historical romance that would be hard to put down, a romance that didn’t shy away from Catholic teachings on sex and marriage.
Amazingly, In Name Only won the Gold Medal for Religious Fiction in the 2010 IPPY Awards (the first Catholic novel to do so). It was in the top 100 of Religious Fiction and Christian Romance for six months and continues to sell extremely well on the Kindle. One reviewer on Amazon.com writes, “When I read In Name Only, I was floored. It was so good! I could not stop reading it! I read it in a weekend staying up until 2am on Sunday night/Monday morning to finish it even though I had work the next day… what really gripped me was how Ellen Gable took Theology of the Body (TOB) and turned it into a novel. TOB is near and dear to my heart. I loved how she incorporated the teachings of the Church and weaved them into such a complicated storyline…”
My third novel, Stealing Jenny, is a suspense thriller about the kidnapping of a pregnant woman. The husband and wife protagonists are open to life, NFP-using, devout (yet imperfect) Catholics. One of the main characters is not religious. Another character is a born again Christian. I purposefully created Stealing Jenny so that the teaching was more subtle. And, of course, I wanted to write a book that was hard to put down. Therese Heckenkamp of Traditional Catholic Novels, said “When I had to put this book down, I literally could not wait to pick it up again…Stealing Jenny is a smoothly written, chilling tale of gripping suspense. There are terrifying moments and heart-wrenching moments. Catholic faith and hope are tested. Above all, the sacredness and privilege of precious new life is made indisputably evident.”
A few weeks ago, Stealing Jenny hit #1 in Drama/Fiction/Religious on Amazon Kindle and has remained in the top ten for the past three weeks.
A warning: my novels, although not explicit, do deal with mature themes and are appropriate for teens and older.
All my books are available on Amazon.com in print or on Kindle.
Like many of the Amazing Catechists columnists, I’m giving away free books: one copy of each of my novels in print and Kindle editions, as well as both editions of my non-fiction book, Come My Beloved (that’s eight books in total). Enter to win by leaving a comment at ANY OF OUR COLUMNS, ANY TIME from NOW until December 15th!
Of course, my novels are not the only Catholic alternatives to secular “trashy” novels. Do you have a favorite contemporary Catholic novel? Please feel free to comment below.
Photo and Text Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach
The postpartum (after having a baby) and pre-menopause (before menopause) times are two very challenging periods to use NFP. Even more challenging is when a couple decides to learn NFP during these times. It’s not impossible, but more difficult to use NFP and it often necessitates longer periods of abstinence if the couple is avoiding pregnancy.
For the postpartum woman, it depends on the type of baby care whether her fertility will return immediately or up to a year or two afterwards.
The bottlefeeding mother will have an early return of fertility (which means that her periods and ovulation will start soon after birth). The part-time breastfeeding mom will generally have an earlier return of fertility. The totally breastfeeding mother will likely not experience fertility until her baby begins to wean or begins to take solids. All these factors must be taken into account when using NFP in the postpartum period. Regardless of how a mother feeds her baby, fertility observations are essential in determining when fertility returns.
It is typical for the postpartum woman to have longer cycles initially, but eventually her cycles will return to the normal pre-pregnancy length. Fertility observations are extremely important in this transition period and sometimes there are long periods of abstinence depending on how serious a need the couple have.
Pre-menopause can be equally challenging. For the middle-aged couple who are avoiding pregnancy, periods of abstinence can be lengthy. Cycles can become irregular: they can be shorter or longer. As fertility drops, cycles can often be anovulatory (without ovulation), can include breakthrough bleeding and/or weak or lengthy luteal phases (the time from ovulation to menstruation).
Women approaching menopause may also have to deal with hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, sleep issues and problems with concentration and memory.
The Couple to Couple League has published two excellent books on both the Postpartum period and Pre-Menopause (CCL Store). They also offer supplemental classes for both postpartum and pre-menopause. (These classes are free for couples who have already taken the regular CCL NFP course). If interested in one of these courses, please contact the Couple to Couple League at their website: www.ccli.org.
Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach
In his book, “Holy Sex: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind Blowing Infallible Loving,” Dr. Greg Popcak expertly dispels the long-held societal myth that the Catholic Church teaches that sex is bad. He explains that the Church teaches that marital sex open to life can actually be holy, satisfying and “mind blowing.”
And, despite the fact that this book has “Catholic” in its title, it is not just for Catholics. Every married couple interested in having a great sex life would benefit from this wonderfully candid book.
Dividing his book into four parts, in Part I, he introduces the truths of what he calls “Infallible Loving.” Part II gives the tools to tap into what he calls “The Five Powers of Holy Sex,” and how readers can learn how to celebrate the sacred, redemptive, heavenly, uniting and creative nature of holy sex. Part III gives readers the necessary information to apply the principles of holy sex to their marriages. Part IV offers practical guidance to overcome sexual problems and challenges.
As an NFP teacher for many years, I already knew much of what was included in this book, but I still found it to be helpful. The author’s humor and candor are particularly entertaining. Anecdotal stories of real couples from the author’s experience as a marriage counselor make this a most interesting and compelling read.
There are a few explicit parts and, therefore, recommended for mature readers. However, I highly recommend this book to any couple who truly wants to experience sacred sexuality.
Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Although there is less skepticism with regard to NFP’s effectiveness these days, Natural Family Planning still gets a bad rap from many in secular society. I’ve heard more than a few people say, “NFP didn’t work for us.”
When the rules are followed, NFP can be 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy.
First, a brief overview of how NFP works: a couple charts the woman’s signs of fertility and determines when she is fertile. If the couple is avoiding pregnancy, they abstain from marital relations in the fertile time and only have relations in the infertile times (the average amount of abstinence is between one and two weeks, depending on the couple).
Here are some of the most common reasons people think NFP isn’t effective:
1. The couple choose not follow the rules or they take “shortcuts.” I have seen numerous occasions where a couple indicated that they were using NFP to avoid pregnancy, then they became pregnant. Upon questioning them, the couple shared with us that they had relations during the fertile time. “It was only one time.” One time is all is takes for a normal healthy young couple to become pregnant.
2. The couple choose to use barrier methods in the fertile time. Couples who use contraceptive methods (condoms, diaphragm) during the fertile time may experience an unplanned pregnancy at some point if they continue contraceptive use. NFP’s 99 percent effectiveness rate depends on abstinence in the fertile time. If a couple do not abstain, the effectiveness rate will drop to whatever barrier they’re using. As well, contraceptive use is contrary to the teaching of the Church and is considered serious sin.
3. “We can’t abstain.” Abstinence is difficult. We don’t try to skirt the issue. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A strong sacramental life is essential to assisting couples having difficulties with abstinence.
4. “My cycles are irregular.” NFP is not the old rhythm method. Most of the calculations and rules are based on a woman’s present cycle. Therefore, women with irregular cycles can use NFP very effectively. As well, irregular cycles can sometimes be an indicator that something else is going on in the body. Improved nutrition, exercise and simple changes in lifestyle can often produce dramatic results.
No method of birth regulation is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. NFP is around 99 percent when the rules are followed.
I think our own experience illustrates the effectiveness of NFP. My husband, James, and I were very young when we got married, so for the first four years of our marriage, we used NFP to avoid pregnancy. At the end of James’s last year of university, we decided to use NFP to seek a pregnancy. We became pregnant (with twins) in the first cycle. Over the next 23 years, we have been successful in avoiding pregnancy when we had serious need to do so; and equally successful in becoming pregnant when we have desired it. We were able to use NFP in the postpartum periods and have been able to use it effectively during pre-menopause.
When the rules are followed, NFP is extremely effective in avoiding pregnancy and can work equally well in helping couples to achieve pregnancy. (And is the only method which can work both to avoid and achieve pregnancy.)
We currently offer NFP classes online (classes are limited to five couples). If you’re interested or have any questions about NFP or its effectiveness, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach
Many Christians (and some Catholics) attempt to cite Scripture to justify their use of artificial contraception saying that the Bible has nothing to say on this topic. I agree that nowhere in the Bible are the actual words “birth control” (since this term was first coined by Margaret Sanger in 1914). However, Scripture does have a lot to say in support of the 2000-year Catholic teaching which states that the use of contraception and non-life-giving behaviors is immoral. Fertility and children are always seen as a blessing.
Genesis 1:27-28: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Psalm 127:3-5: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children on one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
Even from the moment of conception, children are seen as a gift from the Lord:
Psalm 139:13-14: “For You created my innermost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Isaiah 49:1,5: “Before I was born the Lord called me…and now the Lord says, He who formed me in the womb to be His servant…”
Barrenness is seen a curse:
Hosea 9:10-17: “And they became as detestable as that which they loved. As for Ephraim, their glory will fly away like a bird…No birth, no pregnancy and no conception!”
Exodus 23:25-26: “But you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water; and I will remove sickness from your midst. There shall be no one miscarrying or barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.”
Deuteronomy 7:13-14: “He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.”
The clearest indication that birth control and non-life-giving behaviors are immoral is the following passage about Onan, whose brother, Er, had died before he was able to father a child. Onan was being asked to follow the Levirate Law, which commanded him to have intercourse with his brother’s widow.
Genesis 38: 8-10: “Then Judah said to Onan, Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother. Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.”
The Levirate Law was in place in order to preserve the family line. If a man refused to perform his duty, his sister-in-law could strike him in the face with his sandal. The death penalty was never involved. God considered this incident more than a refusal of duty. It was such a serious offense that he killed Onan.
The following excellent article by Fr. William Saunders is an extensive list of the contraceptive references in the Bible:
“The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse.” Paul VI, Humanae Vitae
God’s natural and beautiful design is that women are only fertile for a short time each month. Taking into account ovum life (48 hours at most) and sperm life (up to five days depending on the type of mucus in the woman’s body), there are approximately seven days in each cycle that a woman is fertile. Other factors include each woman’s particular level of fertility: the type of mucus, their age (the younger they are, the more fertile) and the man’s level of fertility (sperm count and quality of sperm).
As Pope Paul VI writes in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life),”…new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse.” And contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church does not teach that a couple must actively seek pregnancy each time they engage in marital relations. But she does teach that intercourse must at least implicitly retain its procreative meaning. Contraceptives destroy the conjugal act’s procreative aspect. Therefore, if the couple has serious need, and spacing or avoidance of pregnancy is desired, they may use Natural Family Planning, that is, relations during the infertile time.
Natural Family Planning is safe, healthy and effective and works as well, if not better, than most of the popular birth control devices and without the unhealthy side effects.
Let us pray each time we approach the marital bed: “I promise to be faithful to you. I come here freely, I love you totally and I am open to creating children with you.”
Copyright 2011 Ellen Gable Hrkach