Homeschool Connections class The Life and Legacy of St. John Paul II.
This means I am re-reading George Weigel's biography, A Witness to Hope, a book I originally read 17 years ago when I became Catholic.
This time, rather, I'm listening to the audio book version ... that is, until Weigel's unctuous praise of the Theology of the Body, at which point I could take no more and I had to shut it off.
Weigel is apparently the one who got the weird TOB train moving. There is something that is really cloying and a bit sick about the Pop-Catholic thrill over the Theology of the Body. I wrote about it at length on Waiting for Godot to Leave. The Wednesday Audiences (Pope John Paul's addresses that are loosely referred to as the Theology of the Body) themselves are fairly interesting, but they're about Marriage, not sex - and while sex is mentioned by JP2 in them, I certainly don't recall the apotheosis of so-called Natural Family Planning (NFP) that Weigel includes in his praise of the Wednesday Audiences.
Now, I know I'm treading on The Most Dangerous Ground There Is when I say this, for I know that of all the anger I stirred up on my old blog in my criticism of Torture, Lying, Pop-Catholic Theology of the Body, false prophets, bad bishops and other things - of all that anger, nothing came close to the furor over my criticism of so-called NFP. But here goes.
NFP is just a tool: a neutral tool. It is not a conduit of grace. It is a tool that is abused more than properly used, from what I can tell by talking to young Catholics. Periodic continence does not automatically make your marriage stronger, make you more holy, or make you a better Catholic in and of itself, especially if it is being used habitually as a way of avoiding babies (smell, messy babies) and for reasons that are as selfish as those of our fellow Catholics who, with less scruples but often the same intentions, simply cut the nonsense and take the Pill. Periodic Continence is not "birth control", it is not a contraceptive, and it is, therefore, morally licit. But the intentions behind its use may be self-giving or may be self-serving. You may occasionally abstain from sex with your spouse as a penance or in prudence; or you may do so in order to afford a boat and a nice vacation - or because you're scared to death of the discomfort new life in the house may bring. "NFP" may help you be mature or it may help you be infantile. It may help you be responsible or it may enable you to be self-indulgent. There is nothing magical about it.
But Weigel hails it as a kind of sacramental. As do most of its boosters.
Maybe this is because he's contrasting it with contraception. But we get into trouble when we measure ourselves not by the standards Christ sets for us, but by the standards of the world around us. Pope Francis has waded into very turbulent waters because he's trying to accommodate what sinners actually do rather than emphasize what sinners are called to do.
But if we congratulate ourselves and one another for being among the probably less than 2% of Catholics who avoid taking the Pill, we are not only measuring ourselves by the wrong standard, we are feeding a spiritual pride that is deadly. "I use NFP and how dare you criticize me!" That summarizes the hundreds of complaints I got when I last wrote about this - except I've removed the profanity.
And it's this odor that offends me. This praise of NFP stinks. It smells funny. It's not Catholic. It's not Christian. It's self-indulgent. It's bourgeois. It's having your cake and eating it too and bragging that you're on a diet in the process.