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Catholic Life the Hard Way Is Easier

Why do crazy Catholics live according to onerous Church teachings when secular sexual customs seem so much easier? Here's your explanation.

Susie Lloyd

Catholics do everything the hard way. Just look at our saints: rich people who decided to be poor, attractive people who became nuns, powerful people whom everybody respected until they decided to be all picky about doctrine this or dogma that. Then there are countless people who, in the prime of life, practically volunteered to be dead.

These people are the Catholic Church’s celebrities. The thing is, nobody thought so at the time. Everybody thought they were nuts. Nobody looked at St. Francis and said, “Someday you are going to make a great garden statue.” They said, “You just gave up a fortune to live like a leper. Aren’t you taking this God thing a little far?”

It was that way with all of them. They stood against the idols of their day—which practically no one saw as idols. It was only later that people came to see things the saints’ way. (“You know, Maximilian, I gotta hand it to you. Nazism really was twisted. You called it.”) Of course, the saint was usually dead by then, victim of the idol du jour.

Right now, the idol du jour is sex. A certain kind of sex: free, having no consequences, and ideally performed by people who are not married to each other and are really, really good-looking. Movies attest that this is how it’s done.

Then there’s the Catholic Church, which exists just to butt in and ruin everybody’s fun. If you follow its “rules about sex” (an oxymoron), people think you’re nuts. They drop little hints, like, “You are nuts.” It’s all for your own good. You obviously never heard that there was a sexual revolution, or if you did, you are in denial about how liberating it was. You are trying to live the way people did for 2,000 years. Just because the vast majority of people grew up in the same house with both of their parents and went on to have long-lasting marriages of their own does not mean their marriages were personally fulfilling.

How do nutcases like my husband and me begin to explain why we live according to Church teaching? Would we seem less crazy, and therefore more credible, if I told you the rules are hard for us, too? There are lots of sacrifices involved in living contrary to the idol du jour. Everyone thinks we’re nuts. Why make life harder than it needs to be?

Because it’s actually easier. Consider just three of the rules people find the craziest:

Sex is for marriage only. Dating anybody but a fellow die-hard believer is nearly impossible for Catholics, because the new normal is to get intimate after a couple of dates. Most young people have heard parents and teachers say, “They are going to do it anyway.” The only absolute rule is to use protection. (Parents and teachers don’t say this about other things. They want you to study hard and make sacrifices so you’ll have a great career. They don’t just hand you a cheat sheet.)

Once begun, there is little to stop people from giving themselves repeatedly. Some use sex recreationally. Others use it hoping they will find the one person who will love them. People are test-driving each other, and it seems to make sense.

But people are not cars. They are insecure beings looking for acceptance. They care if they get used and then dumped. Whoever says it’s healthy to experiment with sex overlooks the broken hearts or having to face a co-worker or classmate who has seen him naked. Sometimes they pick up diseases, too. Females get pregnant because, even without protection, “They’re going to do it anyway.”

Sometimes they choose to raise a child alone, because the days when a man felt he had to get married and take responsibility are over. Child support is the most an unwed mother has a right to expect. Many children grow up with cash as a substitute for the care of one of the parents who made them.

Sometimes this is avoided through abortion, wherein everybody pretends the pregnancy never happened. But the mother never forgets. The womb is designed to be the most protected place in the world—cushioned, tucked safely away right under the protective arms of the mother. Invading it, plundering its treasure, is always a violent act. Either she enshrines this right to violence—“We won’t go back!”—or she weeps alone at night for herself and her child, both victims of the idol du jour.

None of this happens when you wait. You give your most intimate self to a person who has asked God and your parents and all the people who love you to witness that he will be faithful to you. He has not presumed you would give him your body without this lifelong pledge of honor. He enters marriage with a proven record of being able to endure sacrifice. That person will make many sacrifices for you over the course of your married life. You will do the same for him. You both are worth it.

No contraception or sterilization. Suppose you go on CatholicMatch.com, and you find someone to marry. Yay! Ready or not, you are going to become parents. Whoa! It comes as a big, huge surprise even if you are expecting it. Then, before your first child is out of diapers, you are going to have another one, and another and another. Even if you are fully on board with Catholic teaching, there will come a time when you will look at that little plus sign on the pregnancy test and weep.

You commence raising your family, AKA working your butt off. Three or four years in, you look back and remember that you and your spouse were both once really selfish. It was great. Parts of it, anyway. Like staying up late at parties. Or getting to eat what’s on your plate all by yourself. Your unmarried friends still get to—though they do have memberships at CatholicMatch.

What’s hardest about all this is not the hard work. It’s that society doesn’t back you up. Just in case you don’t know you have your hands full, people count your children and inform you of the fact. The rude ones tell you you’re nuts; the kind ones shake their heads as though you need a chaperone.

But I ask you, what’s nuts about respecting nature? Conversely, what’s sane about mutilating a perfectly healthy set of reproductive organs?

Why is it that everyone realizes that food has a biological function and that it’s disordered to eat only to throw up, but the biological function of sex is singled out for attack and destruction? The ability to generate new life is the body’s only superpower. And it’s not just any life. It’s life that you love the second you lay eyes on it. It’s life that looks like you and at the same time like this other person you love. You claim it together: “Our son. Our daughter. Our child.”

Granted, this is an experience most people want. It’s still recognized as one of life’s greatest joys. It’s just that most people want this top-shelf joy in moderation. Cheaper joys—money, cars, vacations—bring them on. Little people you love more than your own life? Let’s not have too much of a good thing. Such people feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. That’s why, after counting your kids, they tell you, “I could never do that.”

Look, don’t even get me started on feeling inadequate. I can’t do it, either! Money is tight. My husband and I both work so hard we need to make an appointment to talk to each other alone for more than a few minutes. And on top of all that, we’re crazy homeschoolers.

But people like us are not really doing it alone. Every new life that comes into the family is welcomed by the little lives that came before it. Your children help you raise your children. I don’t mean they change diapers—though sometimes they do. I mean their very presence makes it impossible to buy into expensive trends. You will not be able to afford a birthday party every year at an indoor gym. They will not get their own rooms. They will not be protected from trials or hardships or sacrifices. They will not be allowed to put off taking responsibility for as long as possible.

But these negatives are all positives. They learn to share, to be content with less, to get along when they don’t feel like it. (When they grow up, the very people who told you that you were nuts will ask you how you raised such great kids.) But it isn’t just the absence of being spoiled. Your children’s confidence that comes from belonging to a supportive community will last their whole lives. Love and attention do not get thinned out and used up as people suppose. The more it is shared, the more it multiplies. People should really come over to your house to see for themselves. There is always a party there.

Once married, always married. Even if you don’t like the person anymore, you’re stuck. And so is he. When you marry, you say words like “in sickness and in health, for better for worse.” “Until death” means that your spouse doesn’t get to desert you, even if you lose your looks or your health or even your mind. Even if you can no longer live together in the same house, you’re still married in the eyes of God. Your spouse can’t date. Your kids don’t have to call someone else “Mom” or “Dad.” They don’t have to struggle to be accepted in someone else’s home. You don’t have to be poor because you’ve spent your nest egg on a divorce lawyer and you now have to pay for two households rather than one.

This is all presuming that you meant your vows when you said them, which is what annulment tribunals investigate. If you meant them, they are binding. They will remain even if you can no longer live in the same house. But people who believe they aren’t allowed to scrap their marriage and start over have a good shot at staying together.

The Catholic Church’s rules about family life strike many people as relics of a past from which we have freed ourselves, while the Sexual Revolution has given us all happier, freer, more fulfilling lives. It’s like a product with gorgeous packaging that promises instant gratification and foolproof way to enjoy a successful life.

Someday, I am confident that future generations will say, “You know, John Paul, I gotta hand it to you. The sexual revolution really was twisted. You called it.” Until then, we nutcases will happily go on making our lives difficult—because it’s easier.

This article is adapted from Catholic Answers Magazine.


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