Identical twin priests answer the call to priesthood

By Christina Ries

Family Foundations Assistant Editor

farm3-smAgnes Koenigsknecht had the look of an air-traffic controller, the one that strikes so many mothers of the bride.

“We need one round table on the stage,” she instructed on a Friday morning in June, the eve of the big day. Her legion was in full force, a swirl of activity in the church hall: hauling tables, wheeling chairs, folding linens, slicing carrots. A 72-year-old uncle surveyed the scene, while a 9-month-old nephew scooted about.

Agnes’ mind was on logistics, the “controlled chaos” she had been anticipating. But it was clear she was enjoying every minute. “This is all part of the celebration,” she told me.

It was a double celebration for Agnes: not a daughter’s wedding but the priestly ordination of her twin sons. Identical twins with individual callings to priesthood.

She likes to stress that part to the people who express incredulity or ask who had the idea first, Todd or Gary. Agnes and her husband, Brian, checked in with each of the twins as high-school freshmen to inquire about their future plans.

In private conversations, both teens expressed an interest in priesthood, unbeknownst to the other. The discovery of their mutual goal was a happy surprise – and an enduring blessing during eight years of seminary.

“It felt natural,” said Father Gary, now 26. “It was very helpful to have a twin brother to spur each other on.”

At 18, the twins from Fowler, Mich., made a big decision, setting out for college seminary in St. Paul, Minn. They made it after much prayer, with great maturity. Their 20s have been defined by intense growth: study, sacraments, service. Their work was embedded in a robust fraternity among their fellow seminaries, including some who’s-who twin hijinks. One involved drawing a mole above Father Todd’s right eyebrow to replicate Father Gary’s – hence, eliminating the most clear-cut distinguisher of the two.

In this day and age, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are mystified by the priesthood. The prospect of celibacy and obedience seem increasingly foreign, baffling even. But when you talk to Father Gary and Father Todd, there is no sense of angst or sacrifice. There is deep contentment bubbling into boyish joy. They can’t stop grinning.

Above all, the twins exude freedom – the freedom that comes from answering your call from God, going all in and never looking back.

“They’re both very intelligent,” Bishop Earl Boyea, head of the Lansing diocese, told me. “They engage people very easily. There’s a simplicity about them. They’re not complicated.”

That may be what I appreciated most, and it flows from their rural upbringing, a lifestyle farm1-smthat is fully integrated. Everything is home grown at the Koenigsknechts’ organic dairy farm, where Agnes gardens, bakes and fills the basement with canned foods.

She and Brian raised 10 kids in an old farmhouse that, absent a TV, centered on conversation, Euchre and prayer.

The fruits of their efforts were on full display June 14, when the twins received their holy orders. Agnes looked radiant in a layered ruffle dress that shimmered in the light, her silver hair neatly curled under.

As Father Gary and Father Todd processed into St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing, Mich., backlit by a two-story stained-glassed mural of Jesus, I was overcome by the moment: the trumpets, the incense, the opening hymn, “Go Up to the Altar of God.” Once they reached the sanctuary and looked out at their family, filling a block of front-and-center pews, the twins beamed. In a heartbeat, I felt a measure of Agnes’ maternal pride.

“How do you feel?” I asked her after Mass.

“Beyond words!” she said.

Expressions of beauty uncut

Expressions of beauty

A round-up of Catholic artists

Humans are drawn to beauty, and that tug is inherently spiritual. “Every expression of true beauty,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “can be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.”

Theology of the Body puts that concept into practice: Humans are set apart as reflections of the Creator, and hence, we are wired to create. The work of our hands can spread beauty, even in mundane tasks – snipping and scrubbing, tucking and twisting. A gift wrapped with flair and loving thoughts of the recipient. A shelf of canned food, lush fruits of summer preserved for brittle winter. A bedtime story read with silly voices and sound effects.

Family Foundations’ assistant editor Christina Ries asked six Catholic artists to reflect on the creative impulse. Here are their unabridged answers, which did not entirely fit in the magazine.

cookie-decorator-smGrace Osterbauer, cookie decorator

Age: 40

City: Columbia Heights, Minn.

Number of kids: 8

Website: yousmartcookie.blogspot.com

Years practicing her art: 6

What inspires you?

Other artists inspire me. To see their work and try to reproduce similar techniques is a challenge that I love to undertake. I follow other cookie bloggers and find a lot of inspiration on Pinterest.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

I’m a night warrior. Night time is the only quiet time around here. I switch on a mix of music from my iPad – from the Dixie Chicks to Bob Marley – and get into a decorating zone.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art? cookies3-sm

I feel happy, excited and challenged. It gives me a sense of satisfaction when I see a batch of decorated cookies that is exactly what I envisioned before starting.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I find that just jumping in is the easiest way to tackle a block. I often pray before I start, especially if the job is complicated. Once I get one cookie finished, I gain the confidence to keep going.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

You have to understand that your art can inspire someone even if it’s just a cookie. When people realize how special they are and that you want to create something

special for their day, I think it makes them feel worth and love. That worth and love is a reflection of the love God has for them. It’s important to celebrate, no matter how you do it: buy an awesome cake, invite tons of people or even order custom made cookies. It’s all good and necessary!

Can you give an example of this?

My husband and I are frugal and both grew up in homes where celebrating was minimal. It may have been just the times or lack of money or just realizing that money could be used elsewhere. However, I wanted to make the Catholic events of our lives super special. I took cake decorating classes early on in my marriage. I’ve tried to fill our home with simple and beautiful things. I like to use tablecloths and have separate spaces, dishes and even little things like

candles to make the most simple celebration a bit more special. My husband, Paul, has happily gone along with all of my fussing. But when he comes to me and says, “Thanks for making this special,” I know it’s in right order.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

I have to bring my faith into my work. My family comes first and cookies come way after that. I also pray for my clients while I’m making their order. Many of the celebrations people order cookies for are Catholic ones, so I’m happy we can be a part of that.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

My husband put up a shelf in my new entryway. It’s so simple, but I love it! It’s part of the space that welcomes others to our home, so I want it to be beautiful. I want it to say, “Yes, we’re glad you’re here so we took time to make a beautiful place for you!”

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

I have to come back to quiet times. Nursing my baby or helping my kids with a task is the great equalizer. It makes me feel humble before God and appreciate the beauty around me which is usually my children.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you? What does it mean to you?

I have had to embrace the theology of my body in my marriage. My husband and I were open to life from the beginning. We have since had eight children. Understanding my body and how that makes the tangible aspects of my faith is how TOB is a part of my life.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Because we’re open to life, our family comes first. If I’m pregnant, nursing or busy with other aspects of family life, cookies may not get made. I’ve had to turn down jobs because of my responsibility to my family. My body is for giving, so I have to give myself first to God through my family. If my family needs me, I need to be there for them. Cookies then get put on hold!

How has Theology of the Body influenced your creative life?

I wanted to have something I could do with my children while I home schooled them. Our cookie business was a product of that desire. God gave me these children so I want to enjoy them, be with them, and I want us to be a team.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.” -JPII, Letter to Artists, 1999

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

St. Martha because she was hospitable and worked in the home. I always ask her to help me with difficult jobs in my kitchen. She always comes through!

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Natural family planning has helped me understand how important I am in being a collaborator with God for the fruitfulness of my marriage. When I see my worth and value in that role, I feel confident that God has entrusted me with special gifts unique to me. When I create a beautiful work in my cookies, I feel inspired and blessed by God. Making cookies can’t compare to collaborating with God to bring forth life, but it does compare to making something beautiful for God. I can’t make a baby without God’s help just like I can’t complete a cookie order without his help either!

Has it made you a better artist?

I am a quick worker. I have to be because our family is large and has a lot of needs. If I want to get a job completed on time, I have to work quickly and well.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

I am always amazed when our children are born because it’s so incredibly risky. When I experienced my dad’s death, I made a strong connection between the births of my children and his passing. I could see how humbling it was that God would allow me to be a part of a life coming into and going out of this world. I see things very differently now. Beauty is so simple, so fragile and can be found everywhere. If one of our cookies makes you smile, then that beauty is found there too!

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes. Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we have to be creative. Just a breath of a human being is amazing. We color the world with our existence. That’s why even the most frail human being adds something to the world. We can create a part of a larger landscape by the very fact that we are here.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

Be open to God’s inspirations. Pray and act. God will bless you and your efforts. You’ll be surprised what can come from your existence, your hands, your mind, your abilities. God can work through all of it to make beauty.

 

embroiderer-smJenna Hines, embroiderer

Age: 29

City: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Number of kids: 2 (and 1 on the way)

Website: http://www.callherhappy.com, or etsy.com/shop/callherhappy

Years practicing her art: 1

What inspires you?

When I start a new project, I start seeing the whole world through the lens of my craft: cooking, I start thinking about embroidering onions; playing outside, I think about embroidering bugs; in Mass – wait, in Mass I shouldn’t be thinking about embroidery.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

On the couch next to my hubby while we eat sour candy and binge-watch something on Netflix – oh, and the kids are sleeping.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

It is actually a practice in patience for me. I am a finished-product person, and embroidery is teaching me to enjoy the journey.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I usually take time off. I have learned that if I force myself in anything, I become exhausted, bitter and bored. If I take a step back and focus on other parts of my life, I always come back with more energy.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?embroidery3-sm

I think we are given creativity and then challenged to find a way to use it to glorify God. Part of what faith-based art can do is become a conversation piece to talk about the faith.

Can you give an example of this?

I also run a blog where I write about lots of secular topics. But usually once a week I post something about Catholicism. I draw in a lot of non-religious readers and often wonder if they are touched by anything faith related. Would you believe that a pro-choice friend emailed me wanting more information on NFP? I was all over that.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

I think I see myself as an artist who is also Catholic. I love the idea of someone outside of the faith being drawn to my non-Catholic work and then learning more about Jesus as a result.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

We were stuck in a traffic jam the other day, and my 3-year-old exclaimed from the backseat, “Mom! We’re in a parade!” She was able to see an annoyance as a celebration.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you? What helps keep your eyes wide open?

My kids. You have to slow down with kids. And they find everything to be amazing. Not only that, but they choose me of all people to share all of that beauty with.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

I’ll tell you what: It’s something I wish I knew more about when I was younger. Knowing what I know now, I can view human sexuality as a gift and a responsibility. When I was younger, it was a selfish act that could be played around with.

embroidery1-smAre there traces of TOB in your work?

I wouldn’t think there are outright, but anything that makes you feel more beautiful and confident while respecting your body can’t hurt, right?

How has Theology of the Body influenced your creative life?

I wouldn’t have the life I have right now had the Lord not graciously taken over my heart and made some changes. I wouldn’t have my husband, my kids or the opportunity to stay home. Without all of those things, I wouldn’t have been led to this craft.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

Here is a classic from JPII: “Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.”

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

St. Dymphna has really been the patron of my whole life lately. I struggle with anxiety, and her prayers help me to find peace in order to be creative.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Ha! Yes. We’ve been blessed to not be in the position where we need to avoid pregnancy, so we have three kids in four years of marriage so far. That means I have to use my time wisely during the day with the kids so I can schedule time to be creative later at night.

Has it made you a better artist?

It’s definitely made me a smarter artist. Like I mentioned, I have to be very careful with my time. My kids and their needs have to come first (especially because they are all so little now), and my work and I must come second. Wait, that kind of sounds like an NFP concept.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

I’ve never thought about it that way. Really NFP has taught me that God is in control, and I need to lay down my life to His will. And now that I think about it, it is pretty awesome that He entrusts us with His plan.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes! It might just not be art. Parents need to be creative each day with discipline and, um, bribery. Those in the workforce need to use creativity to solve problems. And who isn’t creative when you look in the fridge before dinner and see there are only eggs, ketchup and lemonade inside?

How can our readers, busy parents, foster their creativity?

Schedule time to be silly with your kids. Be messy and loud and imaginative. Also, when you’re learning to be creative, be honest with yourself. If you don’t enjoy something, don’t ever feel like you’re supposed to like it. Move on.

Anything else you’d like to share?

When you’re learning to be creative, be honest with yourself. If you don’t enjoy something, don’t ever feel like you’re supposed to like it. Move on. I like sitting and relaxing and not folding laundry, so embroidery fits into that quite nicely.

 

TimothyJones-smTimothy Jones, painter

Age: 53

City: Minneapolis

Number of kids: 2

Website: timjonesart.fineartstudioonline.com

Years practicing his art: 9

 

What inspires you?

I love light and shadow and the forms of things, especially natural things. God called his creation “very good,” and I enthusiastically agree.

Describe your ideal creative setting.
Having a dedicated space is important, a place where I can focus away from distractions. The Chesterton Academy, where I teach, is very supportive and allows me to haunt our generously sized art room when I am not teaching. I usually have some music and like to mix up a fairly eclectic variety of my stations on Pandora – everything from bluegrass to classical, jazz to progressive rock, Palestrina to Audrey Assad! I also enjoy painting outdoors on location – en plein air – and just had a wonderful trip hiking, camping and painting landscapes along the Ozark National Waterway.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

Well, it all depends on how things are going! Often I’m caught up in the process and I couldn’t tell you what I’m feeling. There is excitement at times, frustration… A few times I have simply fumbled and dropped a brush loaded with paint, then watched it smear a glob of pigment on an area I’d already finished. I think my heart may have really stopped on those occasions. I lose track of time very easily when I’m painting, so I’ll suddenly find myself tired, sore or hungry and then it will occur to me, “Oh yeah, I’ve been painting for 10 hours.”

How do you overcome a creative block?

Work. Just start something. Anything. I agree with Chuck Close, who said: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.” William Bouguereau worked in his studio every day until it was too dark to see. My problem is having too many things I want to paint. It’s difficult to choose what to do next.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?painting1-sm

I don’t think either art or faith can be compartmentalized, if one is at all serious about them. They are both deeply embedded in my personality and touch every aspect of my life, so they can’t help but overlap. My faith is how I see the universe, so I believe it’s a constant presence in my artwork. In the same way, I suppose being an artist dictates how I look at the world. If I’m not working directly, I’m always observing, mentally taking visual notes. I find myself doing it without thinking. I might see someone across the room and begin painting their portrait in my head!

Can you give me an example of that relationship?

It took me a while to realize that a lot of my recent paintings have focused on light passing through and illuminating objects from within. That’s a tremendous metaphor for the presence of God, the action of the Holy Spirit or even the Incarnation of Christ. Yet I wasn’t consciously making those inferences. I was just choosing things that I found visually fascinating. One recent still life was just a collection of seemingly random things I’d had in boxes for the longest time. I set them up together and it turned into a Memento Mori (a very traditional Catholic subject). Without my intention, all these objects ended up saying something about the impermanence of earthly life and the passage of time. But there was an opened eggshell as well, which speaks of resurrection and hope! Again, unintentional.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

It’s incredibly exciting and a great privilege for me to have recourse to the tremendous heritage of Catholic art and to be able in some way to call it my own. I began studying the breathtaking images and architecture long before I became a Catholic (and even when I was hostile to the Church), but their beauty and depth, the mystery and vitality they conveyed was undeniable. I think it did prepare me to see the beauty and depth of the Catholic faith, as well.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

A striking half-moon the other night, behind driving clouds. The sumac leaves beginning to turn a burning red. Our daughter sleeping. Light rain on the surface of a pond. The color of a good amber ale.

painting3-smHow do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

I know certain things dull that awareness: television, too much time at a computer, commuter traffic, inactivity, lack of sleep. Things like prayer, being outdoors, taking a walk or enjoying a pipe on the porch, these things help me to see and contemplate the great beauty of the world.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you? What does it mean to you?

I am not as familiar with it as I should be, but I appreciate that Pope John Paul II was interested in the redemption and renewed awareness of our physical, bodily life. God made us embodied souls, and that is not an accident but a glorious thing. It’s dangerous to ignore the importance of our bodies and the physical world.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Not intentionally, but my fascination with the tactile, palpable forms of things might speak to how the incarnation is about the redemption of the whole created universe. What we know of life, truth and beauty comes to us first through our senses and our experience of creation.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?

Only in a general way. I grew up with more Puritan leanings, and the Church’s enthusiasm for the created world was a joy for me to discover. I’m sure the Theology of the Body was part of that gradual conversion process. It’s not healthy to think “spirit = good” and “flesh = bad,” because God made us flesh, and Christ came in the flesh. I want to celebrate that. I think that realization made it OK for me to just paint things for their own qualities, without getting bogged down in a conceptual fog. I do presently have hopes for some more narrative works, however.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

Well, G.K. Chesterton put into words what the Council of Trent realized about the importance of art to the faith of the Church and how we need to be moved by the truth in beauty perhaps more than we need to be persuaded by the truth in argument. Chesterton said, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not pass through the intellect.” I’ve always liked that.

St. John Paul II said in his letter to artists: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art… ” This is one thing I teach my art students early on. We’re all called to be artists in this sense.

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

Blessed Fra Angelico is the patron of our art room at Chesterton Academy, and as an artist I have sought his intercession for much longer. His artistic, creative life was in perfect harmony with his personal and religious life, making a unified whole. I can’t think of anything better to strive for.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Not consciously, at any rate. But again, the enthusiasm of the Church for life – which is activity, variety and adventure – is certainly inspiring to my art. Children are all of those things!

Has it made you a better artist?

It definitely helped me to understand the freedom of discipline, which is very relevant to making art.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

That question comes back again to John Paul II’s idea of our lives as works of art. Having a part in making another life, another individual human being where there wasn’t one before, is of course the greatest creative act I can possibly imagine.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

By simply looking for ways to be creative. Everything we do can be approached in a creative spirit, if we are open to it. Packing a lunch, making a garden, making our own homes an expression of our love for beauty. It all makes a difference. Pulling back from electronic media is a great idea too! It’s nearly all passive, and I think deadens our creativity.

Anything else you’d like to share?

For the most part, our interaction with unique, hand-made art and craft items is a more direct and powerfully human experience than what we find in mass-produced objects or reproductions. Look at some art in a gallery or museum and see how much richer these things are than mechanical reproductions or machine-made articles. Support the artists and craftspeople in your life!

 

songwriter-smKevin Heider, songwriter

Age: 30

City: Dayton, Ohio

Number of kids: our first is on the way

Website: www.KevinHeider.com

Years practicing his art: 13

 

What inspires you?

Everything inspires me – life, love, adventures, misadventures, friends, family, conversations with strangers, the news, history, art, philosophy, the problem of violence, the struggle between virtue and vice, my wife, grace, good European beer, etc. Anything can inspire a song, really, if a thought hits me in just the right moment.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

Alone in my living room on a cool, sunny day with the windows open and a notepad, a gel pen, and a laptop (for research, if necessary, in lieu of the developing song’s subject matter) on the coffee table. Also, my wife is sleeping peacefully in the adjacent room, undisturbed by the repetitive, often-unpleasing-to-the-ears, trial-and-error nature of the songwriting process.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

Depends. Sometimes songs flow out naturally. Sometimes it’s a struggle, an aggravating (albeit necessary) fight to find the right words, melody or transition.

How do you overcome a creative block?

Sometimes it works to push right on through. Sometimes it’s best to move on and write as much as you can and then come back and re-edit and re-assemble the pieces as seems fitting for the song. Sometimes it’s best to just be patient, to let it go for the time being, to wait for the right moment, for the right words to come out when they’re meant to.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

Both faith and art involve a never-ending process of discovery, of “moments of grace” and “epiphanies of beauty,” as John Paul II describes it in his Letter to Artists. They’re reflections of one another; faith can influence art and art can influence faith. I believe that the greatest works of art come from artists who possess either an abundance of virtue or an abundance of vice. Both faith and art require an openness to and an acknowledgement of something that already exists and yet is shrouded in mystery. Art is an attempt to unravel and understand, at least in part, the mysteries of faith.

Can you give an example of this?

My song “The Great Flood” is a good example of this. I had my feet washed by the priest at a Holy Thursday service back in 2012. This experience led me to contemplate the use of water throughout Scripture, the Gospels and in the various liturgies of the Triduum. So my art became a channel for this reflection on faith, this experience that was, for me, a “moment of grace” and an “epiphany of beauty.”

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?song1-sm

Whether I’m writing in the style of the old hymns (such as “The Great Flood”) or a folksy European drinking song (like “The Salzburg Revolution”), I’m striving for a communal tone in my music, something everyone can relate to. The word catholic literally means “universal.” So my hope is that my songs will ultimately be a reminder of our shared humanity. Whether you’re rich or poor, from the Midwest or the Middle East, whether you wear a turban on your head or a scapular around your neck, you deserve and were created for love.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

My wife and I listened to our unborn child’s heartbeat using a home fetal heart monitor. What else need I say about that? It was beautiful.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you? What helps keep your eyes wide open?

Grace. I’ve always been a very conscious, conscientious and observant person. I don’t quite know why, so I have to attribute it to grace – and mercy. And a wife who keeps me accountable.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

It gave my old eyes fresh lenses, through which every facet of life is seen with new and deeper layers of beauty and poetry. In the midst of my first week-long TOB immersion course [via the Theology of the Body Institute], I experienced a growing sense of liberation. By the end of that week, I legitimately felt like I loved everyone more. It’s hard to articulate, and it kind of looks weird in writing – ha! – but that’s how I felt. It was beautiful.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

My songs “St. Brigid’s Fire” and “The Waiting” were both directly inspired by that first week-long TOB course I attended. “St. Brigid’s Fire,” which I actually wrote during the course, is an Irish drinking song about heaven with lyrics that allude to vocation, having a full heart, a full home and a full understanding of mercy. “The Waiting,” which I wrote almost immediately upon returning home from the course, is a love song in the purest sense of the word, a reflection on true love in a broken world.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?

TOB offers a profoundly poetic language for articulating and unraveling the mysteries of life, love, and marriage/vocation. The language of the Theology of the Body influences the language I use to articulate and understand my faith, which influences my worldview, which influences my art at its core.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation – as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on – feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole” –John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists”

song3-smWho is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

Probably St. Francis of Assisi. He was a poet, both in the prayers he composed and in the way he lived his life. “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” is language that can seem pagan, hippie-ish or liberal to us today, but for Francis, such language was his way of articulating his role in and relationship to the created order, as he understood it.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist? How so?

I think it does, though probably mostly on a subconscious level. Using NFP appropriately sometimes forces you to temper your immediate desires while at the same time opening you up to something so much greater than yourself. This changes your perspective and your day-to-day psychology in every possible way.

Has it made you a better artist?

Sure it has. Being open to life is not a purely biological concept. There are also spiritual lives, emotional lives and creative lives to which we are each called in our own way. It’s harder to hear and answer those calls when we’re not open to them.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

Yeah, I’ve always felt that way, in a sense, as a songwriter. But working within the parameters of NFP really brings this reality to life, sometimes literally.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Some kids are told that they aren’t artistic or that they aren’t creative, and so they start to believe it. Others are encouraged from a young age to develop their creativity or artistic skills. But the reality is that every kid has an imagination. We all have the ability to be creative, though some do seem to possess more natural creative abilities. Harnessing one’s creativity, even for someone who doesn’t consider him or herself naturally inclined, contributes to the wholeness of a person.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

I am constantly amused and amazed by the wild imaginations of children. I think encouraging children to be creative, encouraging children to use their imaginations and participating in that imaginative process with your children could be a great way for busy parents to get back in touch with that carefree and creative side of themselves they may have lost somewhere on the way to big-peoplehood.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to encourage folks to try hard to avoid the modern trap of viewing music and film purely as forms of entertainment. If we look at them as something more, as art, whether sacred or secular, they can be immensely transformative. In conjunction with that thought, if you find new artists or art that you really appreciate and enjoy, spread the good news about it. Artists will always need patrons in order to continue their work.

 

photographer1-smTimothy J. Baklinski, photographer

Age: 36

City: Rockingham, Ontario

Number of kids: 5

Website: www.twotreesphotography.zenfolio.com

Years practicing his art (professionally): 14

 

What inspires you?

People inspire me. I am honored to be able to capture a passing emotion, a glance or a hidden moment. I am always amazed by the movement of the human body, from a child’s hand opening and closing for the first time out to the womb to the muscles and straining of a kayaker battling the current.

The natural world inspires me. Seeing the beauty each day, the light filtering through the clouds on a maple forest. The northern lights, mist rising off a field in the early fall mornings, cold steam rising from the river in the middle of below-40 degree winter.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

My creative setting is always changing and current, because I believe that I can capture and create wherever I am. I can look at any surrounding with a photographers eye. Any place is a great place to shoot. All I need is my tools: my Nikon D800, 24-70 mm 2.8 lens, Nikon Speedlight SB910, my Tamron 150-600 mm 5.6-6.4 telephoto lens and my 15” Macbook Pro.

I like having my family nearby when I shoot. I am constantly pointing out the things I see to my wife, Jenny, and to our children, Anya, Noah, Kai, Leo and Luc. The first joy of finding something worth shooting is magnified and reciprocated when I see them enjoying the same view.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

I am analytical. I am constantly trying to absorb as much information about the area and the subject in order to capture an authentic representation of what’s before me. My wife says I am like Sherlock, always taking everything in and processing the information: the texture of the clothing, what clouds are in the sky, the direction of the wind and what to intensity is my light source.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I push and I push hard. My mantra is “keep moving,” and this applies specifically when I hit a creative block. More often than not my block is actually acknowledging my artistic ability. I am constantly questioning my work, my motive and I feel driven by a fierce discontent that keeps me moving. C.S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle “further up and further in,” and I am constantly following that call. At the end of the day I come back to a (loosely translated) quote by JPII, “I am not the sum of my talent, my photos, my failures, but rather of the Father’s love for me.”

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?photograph9-sm

Everything I do is connected to what I believe. My photography is an extension of how I view the world. This particularly applies to persons. My starting point when I see any subject thru my lens, is acknowledging the value and beauty of what is before me. No matter what or how often I shoot, I have to always keep the knowledge of my place in creation before me. I am not the origin of the beauty in my photographs; I merely capture what is already there.

Can you give an example of this?

What the lens can capture is more than the human eye can absorb. When I look at the pictures I shot, days, months, or years later, I am struck with awe. I realize again I am not the origin of this beauty but I play a part in reflecting back and witnessing to this ordered creation. One of the best examples of this is when I see the northern lights. They move, snap and undulated, then quickly pass. When I capture that moment with my camera, I can absorb more light in the photograph than can actually be registered by the human eye. The resulting image is awe inspiring and humbling. All that beauty was already there, I just needed a new lens or perspective to witness it.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

To be a Catholic artist means to be humble about my place in the universe but to always really appreciate and rejoice in my talent and my art.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

This past week I shot a wedding in Owen Sound, Ontario. We finished the photo shoot at the water’s edge. I used a slow shutter speed to capture the ambient light of the nearby town, the twinkling stars, the wind moving the wedding dress and love between the two newlyweds standing before me.

photograph7-smHow do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

My eyes are always wide open. I live in a beautiful part of rural northern Ontario. I am constantly struck by the natural beauty around me. My children remind me to see the world through their eyes on a daily basis as well.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

It has inspired me to continually look at the person as an end in themselves. It has given me new words, new eyes and a new heart to order my work toward the good of the person.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Yes, I am a wedding photographer. I shoot about 15 weddings a year. I always try to meet the couple on that personal level to find out what makes them unique and individual and also what is it that brings them together. My starting point is always to acknowledge the subjectivity of each of the persons before me. The person is an end in themselves and never to be objectified, so even though I am freezing this moment in time with a photograph, I am still called to witness to and acknowledge the intrinsic value of that person.

Another element of TOB that has permeated my work is that my photographs have to be truly artistic and deeply ethical. Because I take a photograph of a person, I have to always look at the “full truth of the object, of the whole scales of values connected with it. [The artist] must not only take them into account in abstracto, but also live them correctly himself” (from Theology of the Body, page 227).

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

JPII pointed out that the problem with pornography is that it does not show too much but that it shows too little. I always strive to witness to the dignity of the person in each of my photographs, strive to portray the person “as they truly are.”

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

My newest patron is Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House Apostolate, whose cause is currently being forwarded. She writes repeated on the “duty of the moment.” She writes how “prayer and work are inseparable, and the duty of the moment is the duty of God…all work is holy; through it we walk the royal road to Christ” (Nazareth Family Spirituality, pages 35-37).

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist? Has it made you a better artist?  

Living out a life focused on the good of my family, through the practice of NFP, responsible parenting and self-mastery, has had a direct effect on my work as an artist. In Humane Vitae paragraph 21 it says that practicing self-mastery “bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility.” This serenity, peace and problem solving begins in our marriage and slowly has permeated other areas of life, my art included. I would say that through the journey of self mastery in fruitful, faithful love and responsibly parenting our five children I am continually becoming more myself. An artist is constantly finding himself, working to perfect his art and his expression. I am reminded by JPII in his Letter to Families that man finds himself in the sincere gift of self. Through living out this gift of self in my family life, I can slowly become a better artist and a better man.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes, everyone is creative. We know that the person has a beginning at the moment of conception, but that we have no end. There is no limit to what we are called to; there is no limit to who we are. We are always becoming more fully ourselves. In this way I believe that each of us has artistic, creative potential. Sometimes all we need is the challenge to take something and make it new.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

Never lose sight of the person. Open your eyes to the beauty that surrounds you every day, the beauty in the seemingly mundane tasks. Catherine Doherty said that when the duty of the moment is embraced, it becomes a joy.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My final thought is what constantly dives and moves me to go “further up and further in.” I am known to repeat over and over again that “there is always something more” and “a person is a person no matter how small” (Dr. Seuss). I live my life by these words and I am always pushing my limit while staying focused on the true, authentic value of the subjectivity of the person in front of me.

 

quilter-smBarbara Stein, quilter

Age: 52

City: Westerville, Ohio

Number of kids: 4

Website: prayingforgrace.blogspot.com

 

What inspires you?

Life in general inspires me, but I think nature inspires me the most. I am fortunate to live in an area that is wooded, we have a creek in the backyard, and I love flowers and birds — all the fabric of creation.

As most of my quilts are for babies, mothers and babies inspire me as well. I often choose fabrics for a specific mother’s personality or a baby’s nature. I just finished a quilt for a baby girl who is being adopted from China, and I noticed I was choosing many fabrics with circles. I finally realized it must have been the subliminal thought of this sweet baby girl being welcomed into the circle of a new family. I enjoy many crafts: I make rosaries, sew quilts, embroider and hand sew scapulars and have been known to sew costumes for my daughter’s dance school. I’m now busy making my future daughter-in-law’s wedding veil and sewing bridesmaids dresses.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

I feel most creative about quilting when I am with fabric, feeling it, placing one piece next to another, folding pieces and placing them all in a row to see if I like the colors and patterns. I just go through all of my fabric pieces and have fun. I often save pieces of my husband’s and son’s dress shirts when the cuffs or collar are frayed — they make great quilt pieces. And leftovers from my daughter’s clothes have gone into many a baby quilt.

Though I have a dedicated sewing space, in the basement, it usually ends up being a space to dump projects to be worked on at some time in the future. I need natural light to create a quilt, so the portable machine and the fabric travel to the kitchen where I have a nice big window and I can choose all the pieces I want to use for a quilt, cut them and start sewing.


How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

I feel useful when I am quilting. Quilting has become quite an art, but my quilting feels quilt3-smmore practical than artistic. I want my quilts to be used and used until they are soft and frayed. I love to think of a baby lying on his tummy looking at the colors of a quilt beneath him or scrunching it up in his fist at nap time.

In fact, many a quilter would look at my quilts and scoff at my technique. I don’t put a binding (an extra piece of fabric folded and stitched at the edge of the quilt) on my baby quilts because I want the quilt to be comfortable for baby, without heavy edges. And I don’t use batting (the fluffy material in between quilt layers) for babies because I want them to be useful for wrapping baby up or for baby to old onto – more like an old quilt after the layers have been flattened by use. I want my quilts to be useful, and their artistic nature is secondary.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I usually walk away when I experience a creative block. I can only quilt in fits and starts because of my family and homeschooling, so I usually don’t have creative blocks. But even just chopping vegetables for dinner can inspire me; colors and random patterns are everywhere. Think of the trees in autumn – a splash of orange, a cluster of yellow, random green and brown. Or an English garden, with patches of purple, pink, red with yellows in between. There is inspiration in all of God’s creations.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

My faith is in God who creates all beauty – even that which is man-made is inspired by creation. I know that without God I would not have the ability to create and all artists who have come before me – and I don’t even put myself in the same category with artists – have created with God-given gifts, whether they admit it or not. They paint, sculpt, sew, blow glass, whatever the gift, they have it as a gift from our Creator and they create in the image and likeness of His creations.

When I create a baby quilt, I am mimicking nature and all that God has created. Think of the image of a prairie as photographed from the air: It is a patchwork of colors and patterns. When I quilt, I try not to be too intentional about the colors and patterns I choose and just let the randomness, like that present in nature, take over.

quilt1-smWhat does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

To be a Catholic artist, for me, is to give back to my neighbor what God has given me. I love to sew baby quilts, especially since babies are such a beautiful gift from God, and I believe, as Catholics, we embrace that fact. We cherish our babies, as Our Blessed Mother cherished her infant, Our Savior.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

I can be inspired by just cooking dinner. This week I was chopping vegetables for a marinade, and I so enjoyed looking at the beautiful colors of purple onion, green peppers, red tomatoes, green herbs on my cutting board – all so vivid and all different textures, all gifts from God.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?
I think some people see beauty more and some people see it less. Beauty looks different to everyone. I see beauty in the sun shining through the window and lighting up the red oak floor, the contrast of a blue wool blanket draped over a linen sofa with a gold silk pillow. Our homes and our daily work are palettes of color, just as nature is.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?
Having learned about Theology of the Body as an older adult, it means to me giving God his due as Creator and participating with him, maybe not in creation of life, as I am past my years of childbearing, but in loving those babies who have been born to friends, family, and in the future, hopefully my own grandchildren. I am inspired to wrap those babies in love with each patch of colorful fabric stitched together. Families need to know they are not alone in their creation of life, that they are supported and loved, even from across the country. Many people say to me that they can’t believe I spent so much time on a quilt for their baby when I hardly know them. But I don’t think you need to be intimate friends with someone in order to love them.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?
I don’t know that you can look at my quilts and say there are traces of Theology of the Body in it, no. But you can see it in the intent, and in the practical use.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?
God as the Creator of all life influences my art. I don’t create, God creates. God created my ability to be artistic, and God creates all the little ones who inspire my creations. When I am quilting, I try not to be too intentional about colors and patterns I chose and just let the randomness, like that present in nature, take over.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

I think this quote applies to the patches of a quilt or the personalities of family members. We all, in God’s infinite wisdom, bring something different and beautiful to life.

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?
My patron is Mary the Mother of God because Mary is the mother of all. She loves all of us for our uniqueness, our own beauty and talents. I pray when I quilt, and each quilt has stitched in it the Hail Marys I pray for both mother and baby.

Door-to-door seminarians

Marion Fernandez-Cueto did a terrific job synthesizing Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in the latest issue of Family Foundations, drawing out 10 thought-provoking guidelines for evangelization. They ring throughout this story of faith sharing, a column I wrote in 2013, especially this statement from the Holy Father: “We need to develop a broad and profound sensitivity to what really affects other people’s lives (EG155). What has helped you to live and given you hope is what you also need to communicate to others (EG121).”

-Christina Ries, assistant editor of Family Foundations

 

Door-to-door seminarian finding new roads

door knocker

Going door to door to tell strangers about Catholicism and his plan to become a priest had to be the most daunting assignment Neil Bakker had ever received.

The 34-year-old from Austin, Minn., had never done anything like it – never gone door to door to sell coupon books or magazine subscriptions, let alone the Catholic Church. Before he entered seminary, the self-described introvert had worked in IT.

Yet there he was, a broad-shouldered 6’6” with a youthful face and a neatly trimmed goatee, staring down a long block, sweating in the summer heat and feeling totally unprepared. It was Neil’s first week participating in “Evangelization in Action,” a new program of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn., that enlists seminarians to study evangelization in the morning and practice it by evening. Neil and two other seminarians were asked to pound the pavement around a small parish in an old suburb, and they started on an adjacent street to the east.

The men took turns leading the conversation, a role that fell to Neil when they approached a red two-story house on the corner. A brunette Baby Boomer appeared, staying behind the screen door as she sized up the seminarians. She had been a member of the parish but was no longer Catholic, she said.

It almost sounded like a case-closed comment, but there was something in her voice that lacked finality. Neil stumbled through the script he’d been running in his mind until she interjected, signaling to the kitchen where she’d been making dinner.

“I’m forcing this,” he thought. He decided to ditch the script, look her in the eyes and ask why she’d left the church.

The question hung in the air a moment – honest, earnest. Decades ago the parish priest had made a comment she found offensive. It compelled her to leave the church.

“No one ever called,” she told Neil. “I just disappeared, and they didn’t care.”

She kept talking, Neil kept listening, and then she opened the screen door and stepped outside. Standing on the front stoop with Neil on the walkway below her, the two were eye level.

“I found the best thing I could do,” Neil told me, “was apologize and say, ‘I’m sorry that the priest said what he said. I’ll learn his lesson for him.’”

Those simple words unlocked her. To know her wounds were recognized and would go toward a future good was powerful. A wrong, at last, had been righted.

The conversation continued for half an hour. She’d been attending a Methodist church, but when they got to discussing the Catholic sacraments, Neil sensed a yearning in her, a wistfulness. “God loves you,” he told her, “and he’s always inviting you back into his church.”

The woman didn’t reclaim Catholicism on the spot, but Neil imagines that she feels less hurt when she looks out her back window at the steeple and bell that once drew her in. He prays for her often. The rest he leaves to God.

One in three Americans raised Catholic leaves the church. Neil wants to invite them back and help with the healing. He is challenged by Pope Francis’ call to action issued in his recent interview with Jesuit publications. “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent,” Pope Francis said. “The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

Santo Subito at Last!

pope-john-paul-II-250My co-workers and I are very excited about the canonization of Blessed John Paul II on Sunday. My DVR is already set for 4:00 am EST. I remember watching coverage of his funeral. People cried, “Santo subito! Santo subito! [Saint now],” as St. Peter’s Square busted far beyond its seams. So it will again on Sunday as an expected 7 million people gather to see this great man proclaimed a saint.

The question JPII sought to answer during his life was this: What does it mean to be human? The question of questions! Are we not a mystery to ourselves? Yet, the work of JPII unveils more than a bit of the mystery. There were so many things I didn’t understand about God and man until I learned about Theology of the Body. I didn’t understand what it meant to be created in the image of God. I didn’t understand the true nature of love; moreover that it is my primary vocation. I had a superficial understanding of femininity that was limited to wearing dresses and being dainty. And I certainly didn’t understand the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and sexuality.

My experience mirrors many of the couples we teach in our NFP classes. Fortunately, JPII has given us a language—the language of the body—which provides a background for understanding and appreciating the sacrament of marriage and the practice of NFP. Whether couples have been exposed to the teachings of the TOB previously or are hearing them in our class for the first time, JPII’s work is an integral part of the success of our mission. In his encyclical letter Fides Et Ratio JPII wrote, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth…” Similarly, CCL believes Theology of the Body and NFP are two components inexorably linked to bring about a culture of life.

CCL thanks God for the life of John Paul II and looks forward to seeing the fruit of his work for years to come. Pope Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us!

– Sarah Drew

CCL Celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph

StJosephToday CCL joins the Church in celebrating the life of St. Joseph. It is only fitting that our volunteers chose St. Joseph to be among our patron saints. He is the model for husbands, fathers, and all men, having lived a life of humility and authentic masculinity.

In contrast to Jesus, who is perfect by nature, and Mary, who is perfect by grace, St. Joseph was an ordinary man. Yet, God chose St. Joseph for the extraordinary task of protecting and providing for the Mother of God and the Son of God. This was an uncertain and even dangerous mission at times. We admire St. Joseph because in spite of any fear, confusion, or struggle he placed his complete trust in God.

Like Mary, St. Joseph continually gave his yes to God. What is exceptional is that unlike Mary, St. Joseph never saw an angel with his own two eyes. He was never overshadowed by the Most High. He was given dreams, yes—but dreams are easily dismissed. Instead, St. Joseph did not ignore the call of the Lord. He didn’t need to be reminded or nudged. He acted.

St. Joseph exercised his strength in the service of God by doing His will, and for his family through his presence and hard work. This same strength afforded a chastity that did not limit his ability to love; rather it fueled his ability to love Mary rightly and be a good father to Jesus.

Today we thank St. Joseph for his prayers and intercession for CCL. With his guidance may we continue to use our gifts in service of marriage and the family. St. Joseph, pray for us!

Prayers to St. Joseph

– Sarah Drew, CCL

Interview with 1Flesh.org president

How 1Flesh makes NFP cool

1Flesh1Flesh.org was founded in 2012 by a group of college students who felt compelled to introduce more people to natural methods of family planning through dynamic social-media outreach and the tagline “Bring Sexy Back.”

Marie-Claire Reer, 23, a newlywed living in Austin and a graduate of CCL’s home-study course, serves as president of 1Flesh. She took time to brief Family Foundations’ Assistant Editor Christina Ries on the popular site, which generates several thousand views a week.

Describe the general approach 1Flesh takes to promoting NFP.

Because 1Flesh believes natural methods are an exciting idea worth sharing, we actively bring fertility awareness content to digital spaces where young adults are already engaged. We’re active on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and share our materials through graphics, GIFs, memes, tweets, blog posts and videos. Everything we share is backed by academic resources.

1Flesh focuses primarily on the benefits of natural family planning. We strive to present these benefits to the public in a way that transcends the contentious debate that often surrounds women’s health. Often, those who practice natural family planning promote it in the spirit of moral opposition to contraception. This practice has the potential to alienate those seeking non-religiously and non-politically tainted information.

1Flesh wants to provide educational materials for those seeking their best options in family planning. Women should be able to look at their options in a safe, non-judgmental environment. We want to invite people to consider what we and many doctors, couples and women believe to be the best option in family planning.

Do you have a certain target demographic?

In short, we are targeting women, men, and couples who do not use NFP. Most people have not been given the opportunity to understand its benefits and many have not even heard of it. 1Flesh believes that natural family planning can offer benefits for all women across religious and political affiliation.

Have you heard from anyone who tried NFP because of your site?

Yes! We get messages daily from couples and women with questions about NFP who want to know more and also from NFP users sharing their stories. We have even received many emails from women who started taking natural family planning classes after visiting our website!

Tell me about the thought process behind your tagline “Bring Sexy Back.”

We chose the tagline because we believe embracing a woman’s natural fertility cycle is, quite simply, sexy. In fact, natural sex is sexy. Natural family planning has no negative consequences on a person’s sex drive, hormonal levels or sexual pleasure. A woman’s natural sexuality and fertility cycle should not be hindered or altered in order to meet her needs.

If a couple is not in the position to have children, they should not have to compromise their bodies, and therefore the fullness of sex, in order to postpone pregnancy when needed. By promoting effective, natural methods of family planning, 1Flesh wishes to empower women to understand and work with their own fertility in a way that includes their natural, healthy sexuality.

GoslingI love the graphics section! The Ryan Gosling “Hey Girl” meme is so great.

Different 1Flesh leaders contribute different graphics, and we’re always open to submissions from our community. Graphics have incredible reach, especially on social media, where we often receive thousands of “likes” and hundreds of “shares” on a single image promoting fertility awareness.

Tell me about your university chapters.

We currently have six university chapters and are hoping for three new chapters in 2014. If any students are interested in starting a 1Flesh chapter at their school, they should feel free to contact us!

We have yet to fully integrate our university chapters with our mission, but already students have printed off 1Flesh material and handed them out at various “Sex Weeks” on campus. Other students have hosted NFP teachers to speak on their campus. We look forward to providing our university chapters with more materials in the near future.

Have you received backlash from any feminist groups? Do you consider any publicity good publicity?

No, I do not believe any publicity is good publicity. Thus far, however, we have not had any backlash from feminist groups. In fact, part of our promotion of 1Flesh is that natural methods are made for women. 1Flesh believes that women have a right to better options in family planning, and most feminists would agree. This has become increasingly true as many feminist circles have recognized the potential dangers of contraceptive devices on women’s health.

If being a feminist means wanting better or more for women, then 1Flesh is a feminist organization. Natural family planning, in our opinion, is by far the most pro-women option in family planning out there. Women should not have to potentially alter their bodies, risk their health or give up the fullness and enjoyment of sex in order to meet their needs. Fertility awareness does not ask her to do this but rather to embrace her power as woman.

I see that the Huffington Post’s Emma Gray wrote a critical, misinformed piece about 1Flesh. Was this frustrating?

Emma Gray’s article was partly misinformed and clearly coming from a defensive position. I cannot say, however, that her article frustrates me. She focused much more on 1Flesh’s disagreement with the use of contraception than on the beautiful option of fertility awareness that 1Flesh wants to present to society.

Additionally, the article was written back in 2012. At the time, 1Flesh was more focused on arguing against the use of contraception than promoting natural family planning as an effective, positive alternative. 1Flesh’s priorities have since changed. Many couples may not be in a position to have children and their concerns and needs should be respected. I cannot blame these couples for acting defensively when they believe their livelihood is under attack. Instead, we should present better options non-judgmentally. Natural family planning addresses a couple’s need for effective family planning and also gives them added benefits.

1Flesh has made a much more conscious effort over the last year to ensure that what we present to the public are solid facts, not mere potential causes from correlation. This makes it harder to get into sidetrack debates on sexual health and would make Emma Gray’s article much harder to write today.

On the flip side, have you received criticism from traditional groups for being too edgy?  

We have not received much criticism for being too edgy. We have, however, received criticism for not focusing on the moral reasons the Catholic Church supports NFP. We do not give much focus on the openness to children as gifts from God. While we do agree that openness to potential life within sex is important, our target demographic is not made up of devout Catholics who already use and support NFP. Nor is our target demographic those who opt to never use any method of family planning. We are trying to reach women, men and couples who need a better option in family planning and we need to address their concerns. These couples are generally concerned about NFP’s effectiveness, their health and economic benefit, their impact on the environment, their relationships and their lifestyle.

Our content generally focuses on these points. We pray that by embracing the power of their fertility, their God-given ability to create life, our audience will develop a deeper openness to God’s will and to children through their own free will.

 

 

Women’s magazines – Love ’em or hate ’em?

Verily-coverVerily has broken new ground in women’s magazines, and we were grateful for our chance to feature Verily’s co-founder Janet Sahm in the March/April 2014 issue of Family Foundations. But, evidently, it hasn’t been an easy road.

Weeks after our interview, and just as our issue was about to be mailed, Verily subscribers received this message from the editor:

We started Verily with the simple idea that women’s magazines could be a positive, uplifting experience. And publishing Verily has largely been just that. The editors and I have been thrilled with the tremendous reception of Verily, from coverage on the Huffington Post & The Queen Latifah Show to your heartfelt notes of gratitude. It has been a joy to publish each issue.

As you might suspect, a print publication is also an expensive undertaking that requires significant financial resources to become profitable. While we have had tremendous growth in our subscriptions, we were unable to secure the necessary funding to support the publication of future print issues. Therefore, it is with sadness that we must announce that we cannot currently continue to publish Verily as a print magazine.

While this means we must take a break from the print publication for now, we are excited to continue bringing you our unique and quality content at verilymag.com. We at Verily will continue to do what we set out to do—be a resource for women to celebrate the best of who they are. All the fashion, relationships, culture, and lifestyle content you’ve come to love will now all be online—and in greater abundance—just a few clicks away. We’ll also be working on other ways to grow the Verily experience, so stay tuned for what’s in store!

This is frustrating, not because we just featured the magazine to our readers but because the magazine has been so refreshingly wonderful! The issues they did produce have all been uplifting, positive and beautifully designed, which together reflected the dignity of their readers in an inspiring way – unlike any other women’s magazine on the newsstand.

It’s good to hear they are continuing their mission in an online format for now as they strive to find funding to go back to print.

What do you think about women’s magazines? Is Verily something you would like to have in hand for either yourself or your daughters?

 

Part 5: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 5: Dissenters and Living Martyrs

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. The final installment of this series honors those clergy who stood up in the face of dissent.


History is worth repeating. On the 25th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, a story[1] of the courage and humility of Archbishop J. Francis Stafford described the surrounding days, weeks, months, and years after Humanae Vitae. On the 40th Anniversary, Cardinal Stafford updated the original story[2]. It is obvious that dissenters are still among us. Acceptance of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs are the norm among large elements of the clergy and laity within the Catholic Church, and religious freedom can no longer be taken for granted. On this 45th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, it is worthwhile to re-consider the impact of the dissenters and the charitable response by today’s living martyrs.

Humanae Vitae was issued on July 25, 1968, and on July 30th, rebellious clergy had gathered over 200 signatures from prominent theologians and Catholics on a petition of dissent that was published in the New York Times. It was a “pivotal day in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.”

A week later, Father J. Francis Stafford was invited to attend a meeting in the basement of a rectory in Baltimore with 54 of his fellow priests. “The meeting was led by several priests from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and some local diocesan priests. Each attendee was asked to sign a statement of dissent that would be published the next day in the Baltimore Sun. The leader of the group, a former marine and a master of persuasion and intimidation, ’minced no words of his expectations’ of the group. There would be no time for discussion. They were to sign on the dotted line. One after another signed. Finally, this young priest was all that stood in the way of a document of unanimity. He stood firm. He didn’t sign. He said to his fellow priests that he didn’t sign for two reasons: (1) he had not read the document (and he also noted that none in the room, including the leaders of the group, had read it), and (2) he agreed with Pope Paul VI.

“The leader of the dissenters tried several times, using strong, coercive tactics and verbal abuse, to change the mind of this priest. None of his fellow priests came to his defense. Rather than the scorecard reading 55 to 0. It was 54 to one.

“A victim of tactics familiar to the counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time in Vietnam, this priest continued to find himself, and others like him, isolated and verbally abused. But as time passed, their allegiance to the Holy Father and the Church grew stronger. Within the Catholic Church, though, a major division was created which continues today. As he moved from Baltimore, where he became an auxiliary bishop, and then to Memphis, Tenn., and finally to his [next] archdiocese, he found that this isolation and dissent continued.”[3] The tactics were the same: abusive, coercive, judgmental, closed to the teaching authority of the Church, and increasingly abstract about the teaching of the Church.

Now, 45 years later, we continue to honor and thank those faithful priests, bishops, and theologians who, during those dark days of the summer of 1968, defended our Church and Her teachings, and still persevere today. God in His mercy and justice seemed to provide. This young priest from Baltimore later became a bishop, an archbishop, and a cardinal.

There are other faithful priests who, like Stafford, have equally moving stories about their defense of the Holy Father and the Church since 1968. All are living martyrs for the abuse they have withstood and continue to withstand defending the Church.

“The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour. The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church.

“. . . Ecclesial dissent can become a kind of spiritual violence in its form and content.  A new, unsettling insight emerged. Violence and truth don’t mix. When expressive violence of whatever sort is inflicted upon truth, the resulting irony is lethal.

“. . . But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies.  But I did discover something new.  Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be.   Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become ‘ashamed of the Gospel’ that night and found ‘sweet delight in what is right.’ It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance.

“. . . Paradoxically, in the hot, August night a new sign shown unexpectedly on the path to future life. It read, ‘Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.’ The violence of the initial disobedience was only a prelude to further and more pervasive violence. Priests wept at meetings over the manipulation of their brothers. Contempt for the truth, whether aggressive or passive, has become common in Church life.  Dissenting priests, theologians and laypeople have continued their coercive techniques.  From the beginning the press has used them to further its own serpentine agenda.”[4]

The liberal revolution against authority in the 60s and 70s touched both clergy and lay people alike. Today some clerics don’t discuss the subject because they either don’t understand it or are afraid that it will offend the congregation. Parents don’t want to discuss it with their children because they, themselves, contracept and/or are sterilized. One can’t teach what one doesn’t practice. Many pro-life organizations will adamantly oppose abortion, but take no stand on the use of contraception, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap., points out that the contraception dispute is “not merely a dispute about how to regulate family size, rather, at root, it’s a dispute about the very meaning of life and the essence of marriage. . . Much is at stake here – the authentic realization of our humanity and the survival of the Catholic family in the third millennium.”[5]

Dissent against the Church teachings delineated in Humanae Vitae  (as well as in other Church documents) has set the stage for the current attacks against religious liberty since Catholic public dissenters are now in the highest positions of government as Vice President, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. These same individuals support “same sex marriage” and the dissolution of marriage as we know it today. They have created the “perfect storm” by joining forces demanding mandatory free contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. Under the guise of human rights, these dissenters are contracepting and sterilizing future generations of Americans out of existence. Chaput and Stafford were right.

Archbishop Stafford was asked by the Holy Father in 1996 to leave Denver and become President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity and then raised to the rank of a Cardinal. He retired in 2012. He concludes his story of five years ago by stating that not much has changed.[6] He recalls a subsequent meeting with the ex-Marine priest.

“While my mind and heart were recalling the events of the night, he remained silent. His silence continued afterwards. Even though he had not forgotten, he made no comment. He didn’t lift his eyes. His heart’s fire was colder now.

“Nothing was forthcoming. I left the matter there. No dialogue was possible in 1968; it remained impossible in 1978. There was no common ground. Both of us were looking into an abyss – from opposite sides. Anguish and disquiet overwhelmed the distant hope of reconciliation and friendship.  We never returned to the subject again.  He has since died while serving a large suburban parish.  The only remaining option is to strike my breast and pray, ‘Lord, remember the secret worth of all our human worthlessness’.

“Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968.  Many in consecrated life also failed the evangelical test. …[T]he abyss has opened up elsewhere. The whole people of God, including children and adolescents, now must look into the abyss and see what dread beasts are at its bottom. Each of us shudders before the wrath of God, each weeps in sorrow for our sins and each begs for the Father’s merciful remembrance of Christ’s obedience.”[7]

 *    *    *

Bob and Gerri Laird have been a certified NFP teaching couple for the Couple to Couple League since 1984, and have written and spoken extensively on numerous topics related to family life, such as marital intimacy, natural family planning, parenting, chastity, post-abortion healing, reframing the abortion debate, and the HHS Mandate. 

 



[1]Bob Laird, “Living Martyrs,” Arlington Catholic Herald, August 5, 1993, 5.

[3]Laird, “Living Martyrs.”

[5] Bob Laird, “’Humanae Vitae’ – on Marriage and Family – at 30,” Arlington Catholic Herald, July 23, 1998, 3.

[7]Ibid.

Part 4: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 4: Natural Family Planning…a loving response

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 4 of this series explores Natural Family Planning.

 

What is the role of Natural Family Planning (NFP) with regard to HV?

Humanae Vitae encourages married couples to understand when they are fertile and infertile.

“If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.”[1]

Blessed John Paul II reiterated the importance of NFP and made it an apostolate, “a tool for all to use on the path to holiness.”[2]

“The necessary conditions (for marriage) also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body’s rhythms of fertility.  Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors, and experts.”[3]

NFP is good because it does not treat a person as a thing or machine by altering a major, healthy, functioning part of the body.

Why NFP but not contraception? What is the difference?

Contraception alters a major, healthy, functioning part of the body, causing the reproductive system to malfunction, temporarily or permanently. On the other hand, NFP reveals externally what is occurring within a woman’s reproductive system internally. NFP is knowledge; it helps to read the language of the sexual powers and does not interfere with a couple’s fertility. Spouses do not change their bodies; rather, they change their behavior and choose to refrain from sexual intimacy during the fertile days when postponing a pregnancy. NFP does not control fertility; it enables a couple to control their behavior and thus grow in the virtue of self-control.

The reason NFP is moral and contraception is not – when they both have the same ends – can be difficult to see. But only with NFP are a husband and wife able to give a complete self-gift to the other. Every time they have relations, they give themselves completely as they are at that moment according to God’s design. Controlling one’s natural desires and sacrificing them for the sake of the spouse or family is a noble act. But engaging in the marital act and thwarting the natural design of such intimacy to serve one’s own purpose is selfish, and thus is a completely different act.

It is difficult for a married couple to act responsibly if they are unaware of the truth.  Many couples are unaware that the wife is temporarily, or permanently, infertile until they learn how to read their fertility signs through NFP. How can they make decisions about having a child if they have no knowledge of whether or not the wife is fertile and ovulating regularly?  Furthermore, it is a fallacy to think that NFP is only used to avoid pregnancy; rather, there are numerous couples whose understanding of NFP led them to a greater openness to children, and thus to greater generosity in other aspects of their lives as well.

But does NFP work?

NFP is knowledge.  When properly taught and understood, NFP reveals externally what is occurring within a woman’s reproductive system internally.  Charting the signs that occur throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle often unveils problems that need to be addressed in order for her body to function properly.  NFP is definitely working because it is alerting a woman that her system is not operating correctly.  It is the body that isn’t working properly; not the NFP.

There is nothing more frustrating than confused fertility signs.  NFP teachers need to be available to assist women/couples who are experiencing difficulties in reading and/or interpreting their signs, and women/couples should feel free to seek their advice and expertise beyond the completion of the course.

With proper education and the availability of NFP teachers for follow-up, NFP does work; it reveals whether or not a woman’s reproductive system is functioning properly.  But it is up to each woman (and her spouse) to follow this knowledge with actions that will improve her health. NFP is much more than just biology and physiology.  The knowledge of NFP is incomplete if it is not accompanied by a proper understanding of what it means to be a human person and how to act in accordance with our nature as human persons.

Marriage is about love.  Love is a decision – giving for the good of the other.  As images of God, we are called to reflect His love within marriage as well.  This means dying to self.  Each spouse must choose to give himself/herself as a permanent gift to the other.  This choice to become a self-gift involves knowledge of the value and dignity of the spouse.  Furthermore, man and woman are created so that this intimate physical gift of love can be life-giving.[4]

*    *    *

In Part 5: This series of articles on Humanae Vitae concludes with a gripping story of an American cardinal and the persecution that he endured throughout his priesthood for being the only Baltimore priest out of 55 to support Paul VI’s encyclical within a few days after it was published in 1968.



[1]Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae [On Human Life], #16.

[2]Revs. Richard M. Hogan and John M. LeVoir, Covenant of Love, 1985, 260.

[3]Blessed John Paul II, Familiaris consortio [The Apostolic Exhortation on the Family in the Modern World], Article 33, 1981.

[4]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, The Human Body…a sign of dignity and a gift (The Couple to Couple League International, 2005).

Part 3: Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Is it still relevant?

Part 3: Humanae Vitae in 21st Century Language

Bob & Gerri Laird

paulvi-e1309644693333-445x181This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 3 of this series explores Humanae Vitae’s arguments via the modern language of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

In his writings and talks, Blessed John Paul II gave us a new formulation for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, a way that speaks to a world that accepts behaviors that are degrading to our dignity as human persons. He begins with the human person and how we are unique: persons with bodies, made in the image and likeness of God specifically so that there would be a visible expression of personhood in the world.

The late Rev. Richard M. Hogan explained: “But if we are made in God’s image and likeness, then the body does more than reveal ourselves. It also reveals God when we act as God acts, and express those acts outwardly in and through our bodies. In this case, the body becomes a physical image of God Himself.  The body then has a dignity and value in its own right.”[1]

Hogan further states that

Blessed John Paul II revealed two worlds to us:

the world as God created it and the Church accepts as reality – that we are each unique unrepeatable expressions of God, possessing a dignity beyond compare; and that the body is sacred and holy because it is an expression of the human person and even an expression of God Himself, or

the world where the body is a machine and everything is possible – but the human person becomes an object and a thing with no dignity or value at all, and in which all human rights disappear.[2]

This is what Pope Paul VI was trying to convey in HV and what Blessed John Paul II continued to teach through his various writings and talks.

If the body is a thing, a machine which each of us owns and operates, then we can do anything we want with it because we own the machine: Pornography, lust, masturbation, contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, test-tube babies, homosexual behavior, fornication, adultery – everything and anything is possible – every teaching of the Church regarding sexual morality and reproductive technologies falls if we accept the premise that the body is just a thing.

But, a lot of other immoral behaviors become acceptable as well: If we own our bodies, then someone else can own them – slavery could become acceptable, and there would be nothing (no moral argument) to assail it.

Renting our bodies (with all that entails) is possible.  There should be nothing wrong then with prostitution or sex trafficking.  We are just using the thing (body) that we, or someone else, own.

Abortion is acceptable because the parents are the ones who “own” the baby since they “produced” him or her. If they produce “it,” they can destroy it.

Even child abuse becomes acceptable because the parents (or whoever owns the child) are not harming the person – just the exterior body that the person inhabits. (Rep. Chris Smith noted the current proposal by ethicists to allow after birth abortions.[3]  Since abortion is a more acceptable term than infanticide, the ethicists simply added the adjectives after birth. If abortion is okay, then after birth abortion should also be okay, and so would euthanasia.

Yet all of these are violations of the human person:

Pornography, lust, and masturbation involve the use of oneself (and sometimes another) as a thing for sexual gratification and thus violate the dignity of the entire person.

In vitro fertilization violates the dignity of husband, wife and child: each is manipulated; their bodies are treated as sources of biological material (much like vending machines).

Homosexual behaviors, fornication, and adultery all undermine marriage; while those involved may think they are in love, their actions violate human dignity because they are using another person as a thing and desecrating their own integrity as well.

Contraception and sterilization – the use of mechanical, chemical, or medical procedures to prevent conception from taking place as a result of sexual intercourse – involve the alteration of a healthy, major, functioning part of the body. They damage or destroy a healthy organ and treat the body as a thing or a machine.

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a newly conceived life – anytime after conception (not implantation) – and thus is the destruction of another person made in God’s image.

With regard to our sexuality, the Catholic Church teaches that we are male and female human persons made in the image and likeness of God. We are made to love, and we are made for love. The Church will defend behaviors that respect our dignity and oppose behaviors that do not.

*    *    *

In Part 4: Natural Family Planning (NFP) is knowledge that “reads” the “language” of the sexual powers. NFP enables married couples to make virtuous decisions regarding responsible parenthood.

 


[1]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, “Theology of the Body as It Relates to Sexuality,” The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide®, Second Edition, 2007, 2011. The Couple to Couple League International, Inc.,  57.

[2]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, as stated in several of his talks on marriage, family, and Blessed John Paul II’s new theological construct.