Today, please welcome Laura Durant for part six in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of its teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 7 here.
I grew up in the Catholic faith. At about age 14 I was given the standard “sex talk” (i.e., sex was meant for marriage and not before), but there was no mention of contraception. I started using the pill in high school, due to irregular and heavy menstrual cycles.
I was unaware of the Church’s teaching on contraception (including within a spousal relationship) until probably in my late 20’s, when we began marriage preparation. As I slowly learned more about Church teaching in this area, I received mixed signals. For example, I knew devout Catholics who said it was okay to use the pill while married to space pregnancies.
As part of our marriage preparation, my husband and I had education on Natural Family Planning and learned the true teaching of the Church on human sexuality. Even then, I had a priest assure me I was not sinning by continuing to use the pill to avoid conception, as my husband and I at that time didn’t feel we were ready to have children right away and I was not confident in our ability to use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Having a priest, who must certainly know the truth, assure me I was not sinning eased my anxiety and fear that I was living in sin. I lament at how much damage is done by misguided priests, religious, and lay persons who do not speak the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. It confuses the faithful and those who desire to live by Church teaching but are struggling with it.
Continuing to use the pill did great spiritual damage, as I was not completely surrendering my marriage and my fertility to God. It also did emotional and physical damage, which I would not fully become aware of until a couple of years later when we felt we were ready to children.
Having used the pill for as long as I did caused challenges with my reproductive system and it took close to a year for my menstrual cycle to return to normal once I stopped taking it. I was blind to the spiritual void I was living in by not allowing God completely into our marriage. However, God is good and seeks to redeem us in our woundedness. This is an area He continues to provide great healing in each day.
We began to embrace Church teaching more fully, and began charting again. We visited the Vitae Clinic in Austin to determine the reasons behind our inability to conceive. I found the many tests and treatments exhausting and stressful, but always had a sense of peace that I needed to experience this. The staff and care at the Vitae Clinic was truly loving and compassionate.
After some time undergoing unsuccessful treatments, it was with a great sense of peace that we decided to discontinue actively pursuing pregnancy and leave our fertility in God’s hands. Since coming to live in full conformity with Church teaching on sexuality, we continue to give ourselves fully to each other and to our marriage. It is a continual process and requires ongoing discussion and discernment. Life is more fulfilling and our marriage is flourishing spiritually. We really do focus each day on helping the other to grow in holiness.
My advice to people struggling with this topic: Go to the source and learn what the Church teaches. Read the official documents. Do not rely on others to tell you what the Church teaches.
Inevitably, there will be some things about Church teaching that will concern you, challenge you, and you will not understand. Take all this to prayer and tell Jesus the areas you are struggling with. Ask Him to show you the truth. Learning to live with Church teaching will not always be easy, but as Christians, we are to live as Jesus did and Jesus’ life was not easy! Do not be afraid, as Jesus will give you the strength needed to live out your life as He wishes, even if it is difficult.
If you are in a marriage where your spouse is having a more difficult time with accepting and living out Church teaching in this area than you are, do the best thing you can do for them – pray for them and trust in the Divine Mercy of Jesus! Ask Him to show you how to love and accept your spouse for where they are. He will transform their hearts, just as He is transforming yours. Trust in His mercy! Trust in His love!
Early in my journey of understanding Church teaching, I began reading the Theology of the Body by Christopher West. I did not read the actual full document of Humanae Vitae until recently. I can’t help but wonder how my life may have been different if I had been exposed to this teaching in my teenage or young adult years.
I’ve enjoyed reading books by St. Pope John Paul II, including Love and Responsibility (by then Karol Wojtyla). I would also suggest reading the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs does not detail Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, however, many see it as a portrayal of ideal human love, also of the union of Christ and the Church – which is what marriage between a man and a woman should symbolize on earth. I believe until we fully understand what God intends us to experience in this union, the true extent and degree of joy we are to experience in our hearts, it can be more difficult to live out the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. The Song of Songs is a beautiful portrayal of mutual love in which the lovers give of themselves fully and completely.
The teaching of the Church leads us to experience this love in the way in which God intends us to – in complete freedom and as a total gift of ourselves to the other. Once we understand in the depths of our hearts what God intends, it is much easier to live with the sacrifice that comes with living out the teaching of the Church on marriage and sexuality. If we live out our marriage with total giving of ourselves to our spouse (or to the Church and God’s people, as a priest, religious or single person), it is a life that comes with experiencing pure joy, not expecting anything in return for the total gift of yourself, but somehow receiving more from your spouse (or from the Church and God’s people) than you could ever ask for.
Laura Durant blogs at HealingHeartofJesus.com. She is married to her husband of 10+ years, and is the mother of two fur babies. She enjoys spending time with Jesus in Adoration, pondering His mercy, healing, and many blessings.
She is a cradle Catholic Christian and member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites of the Province of St. Therese (Oklahoma Province). In living her Carmelite spirituality, she has been brought to a greater love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The fruit of her devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are the prayers and reflections she writes – which lead all to rest in the Heart of Jesus.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, and a master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Texas State University – San Marcos.
Want more of this series?
Part 1: My Introduction
Part 2: Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power with Amy Thomas of Catholic Pilgrim
Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry
Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself
Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day
Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and sciencewith Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb