NFP and Fasting

Tuesday, October 26, AD 2010

When trying to explain the Catholic understanding of sexuality to someone “outside”, I almost invariably find myself falling back on analogies relating to diet and gluttony.  It’s a natural comparison, and while modern society has lost any sense that it’s reasonable to have any less sex if you want to have fewer children, people are able to get more righteous then ever over the point that if you want to be fit you must, must, must eat moderately and exercise more. 

Indeed, diet and exercise may be the one thing relating to sexuality where modern culture understands a great deal of self denial.  After all, one of the motivations for all this diet and exercise is, I think one may honestly admit, to look better while naked.

Which leaves the obvious question: Why has a Church which finds itself swimming against a quickening current in regards to its teaching on birth control nearly totally abandoned any sort of severity in regards to fasting? 

Sure, we’re an “Easter people” and all that, but maybe some rigorous self denial for the sake of religion would help us with some rigorous self denial for the sake of our faith.  I’ve been pretty much as bad as the next fellow on this — doing the mental calculation of whether I can make one more cup of coffee and still make the hour fast before mass or falling to the “I’ll say some extra prayers tonight as a sacrifice instead” temptation on Fridays outside of Lent when meat is all that appears on the menu.  But this is, after all, part of the problem.  The constant NFP lament is “Look, we played by the rules all those years before we were married.  Why does there have to be frustration now too?” 

If virtue is a habit, perhaps it’s time to form some more habits around denial of appetite.

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11 Responses to NFP and Fasting

  • It seems to me that the Church, after Vatican II, relaxed the fasting and abstaining rules for Catholics because It felt that many could not fast or abstain due to the modern way of life, and therefore, possibly save their souls from being disobedient. Actually, we are still supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays as a sacrifice and penance in honor of Our Lord’s Sacrifice and Death, but if not, we must do some other penance or “good work!” But Our Lady has come to remind us of fasting and has asked us to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. Those who are in-tune with Our lady’s requests try to do so and there are millions of us out there in the world trying to do what Our Lady wants!

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  • Great point, DC. Thomas Merton wrote that none of his old friends could understand him sleeping on a cot, but they used to think nothing of crashing on the floor after a night on the town. We can endure inconveniences on our schedule, but never on God’s.

  • “If virtue is a habit, perhaps it’s time to form some more habits around denial of appetite. ”


    Although it’s so…. difficult.

  • When I think of “fasting” I assume it to mean not eating anything at all, or at least not any solid food. That would be analogous to a single, widowed, divorced or vowed Religious person living in celibacy.

    NFP practiced within marriage would be analogous to a person consuming a normal, balanced diet, neither overindulging nor completely depriving themselves. They might still “fast” completely at times, however.

    However, the kind of sexual indulgence that secular society advocates, complete with artificial contraception, would be analogous to attempting weight loss or maintenance via measures such as diet pills, or bulimia — an attempt to enjoy the pleasures of eating without the consequences.

  • We are a culture of indulgence. Food addiction and is just the latest attack by satan on life. That’s why they call it “morbid” obesity. Although I do see many protestants who understand moderation in lifestyle, only the Catholic Church really has teachings to back it up and if we were following those teachings, it would not be an issue. Seems to me that in a world where some are starving and others are eating themselves to death, there should be no fat Priests?

  • “Seems to me in a world where some are starving and others are eating themselves to death, there should be no fat priests”

    Ideally, I think that is true; however, most Catholics have not been brought up to see food as a moral issue or to consider gluttony as a sin — and this includes priests. Eating habits by and large are more ingrained and difficult to change than drinking or sexual habits (in my opinion) so I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every fat person is guilty of serious sin or of giving scandal. Plus there have been people of great holiness, even canonized saints, who were overweight by our standards (I think St. Thomas Aquinas was pretty hefty, and G.K. Chesterton certainly was).

    That being said, priests certainly need to live healthy lifestyles in terms of diet and exercise as much as possible, for the sake of their parishioners as well as for their own sake.

  • No, I don’t think every fat person is guilty of serious sin, and yes, I know about St. Thomas Aquinas, but he did not live in a day when so many people were eating themselves to death. Gluttony leads to sloth – and makes all of us less useful tools for God. I just keep thinking, though, that if any of us has enough to eat to weigh 300+ pounds, we certainly have enough to share. I have also noticed that the percentages of seriously overweight priests is not much different than that of lay people. I guess I just feel we should be able to look to them for examples.

  • @Amy @Elaine : I have been a FAT person. From my own experience it is because people are addicted to junk. We have a international problem since these companies know that by adding excess fat,sugar, and salt will have us hooked. In looking into my own faith, I agree that as catholics we need to start looking at this as a sin. Just as we fight in the prolife areana. I think we need to also look at what sloth has done to our society as a whole. I can also rap this up with fear. When I was a child i remember going out ( ridding my bike, swimming, etc.. ) I see less and less children doing this because of fear, junk food, television, video games .. etc… I am in IT myself and i see many people in my field to be also overwieght but that is a culture problem. We need things like more time off and less stress again many of these issues come down to both a micro level ( getting parents active and a macro level making the national, state, and local gov incentivise what we should be doing as a society. I think this post opens a can of worms that I would hope the people in this block will investigate further. Good Post and sorry if i ranted a little 😉

  • @Alex: I too used to be seriouly overweight – I was a little over 300lbs and lost half of it. Prayer was a HUGE part of my success. In fact, I often say that I asked for motivation to eat right and exercise and God gave me diabetes. So, I’m a recovering food addict myself. I am also a convert to Catholicism (and NO, you don’t want to get caught in a corner with me at a party!) 😉 Seriously, though, I have noticed how many things are sort of cross applicable to spiritual growth and weight loss: Obedience vs Desire, Structure can be applied to food plans as well as prayer life, and who knows more than Catholics about our body’s true role as a Temple of the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we have the ability to partake of the one and only food that has all we need. Contemplation of The Eucharist can teach us to desire what is for our own good, rather what creates instant gratification. I am sad to see what people are doing to their bodies – and to the Body of Christ as a whole with all the junk they are filling it with.

Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 1)

Thursday, June 17, AD 2010

If you move in conservative Catholic circles much, you have doubtless heard the phrase “contraceptive mentality”. Though used frequently and negatively, I think there is value in delving a bit more deeply into what we mean by the phrase. I was moved to write this in semi-response to an interesting post by Brett Salkeld a couple months back which sought to explore the bounds of what a “contraceptive mentality” is. Another good resource on the topic is this post at Catholic Culture on the contraceptive mentality.

While recognizing the dangers of trying to be too wide ranging in subject matter in the limited space of a blog post, my goal here is to set out answers to the following:

  • What is a “contraceptive mentality”?
  • How is a contraceptive mentality contrary to how humans are “meant” to function morally and sexually?
  • How, if at all, does NFP (natural family planning) relate to a contraceptive mentality?

I think it’s easiest to think about the idea of a contraceptive mentality against the backdrop of how we function sexually as human creatures — a term I use advisedly in that I want to emphasize our rootedness in a certain biological reality of being primates with certain biological systems and instincts, while at the same time not ignoring our rational, emotional and moral sensibilities in the sense that “human animal” strikes me as implying.

Uncertainty and Conception

One thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that humans have fairly even sexual drive all of the time. Or, at least, men have sexual drive pretty much all of the time. Women seem to have more variation in their level of interest, and indeed there is a fair amount of evidence that one driving (though unconscious) element of their drive is that they are more “in the mood” during the times of the month when they are fertile than when they are not. Another thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that a woman’s fertility is not marked by unmistakable physical signs (change of color and swelling of the genital area, changes in smell, etc.) (Though Bonobos have often been compared to humans in regards to their relatively constant sex drive, they are like chimps in that female fertility is readily apparent through external signs.)

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2 Responses to Real Sex vs. the Contraceptive Mentality (Part 1)

  • Though this doesn’t necessarily relate to the topic directly, according to a recent Gallup poll public opinion on same-sex relationships has shifted even more so toward moral acceptance. The two groups that shifted more toward approval were Catholics and men — the “contraceptive mentality” at work?

  • “the “contraceptive mentality” at work?”

    The older I get the harder it is to overestimate the pernicious effects of the “contraceptive mentality.”