Tea, giggles and teaching my daughter the feminine genius

I was 20 years old when I began using oral contraception.  About to be married and unsure of how pregnancy and children ought to fit with Holy Matrimony, I did what most women my age did: I went to the university health clinic, saw a doctor who spoke nary a word about the ensuing side-effects or possible long-term health complications, and procured a prescription for the birth control pill.

Unfortunate as my story is, it’s also anything but uncommon.  Countless women in my generation have spent some amount of time utilizing hormonal contraception, and a fair number of us have suffered for it, too.  I wasn’t Catholic back then but I am now, and I’m determined to pave a better way for my daughter.

At eleven years old, she’s slipping ever so slowly out of little-girlhood, and moving closer and closer to young womanhood.  And like any Catholic mother, I want her to grow to fully embrace her beauty and dignity as a woman, to feel empowered and comfortable with her body, and to have an overwhelmingly positive self-image.  She’s made in the image of God, after all.  I want her to marvel at the work of God in her life, and to understand her identity and preciousness in Christ.

So on Saturday, my daughter and I snuck away to a Mother Daughter Tea hosted at Holy Name Catholic Parish, in Sheridan, Colorado.  The event was organized by Carrie Keating, Certified FertilityCare Practitioner of the Creighton Model of NFP, who described the event as a way “for young girls to learn about health, beauty and virtue as they become women. Moms need more spiritual, medical and practical resources to help them.”

We arrived to find tables set with fresh flowers and white linens, and a rosary waited at each girl’s seat.  Music played in the background, and each of the participants received a folder containing relevant, thoughtful information.  Later there would be scones and jam, tea sandwiches, and the opportunity for the girls to make a craft while the moms listened to a presentation on the facts about contraception, delivered by a local Catholic doctor.

By the time Maye Agama and Cara Rhyne, consecrated laywomen with the Marian Community of Reconciliation, had opened the day with their talk about Our Blessed Mother, the tables were overflowing with thirty young girls and their mothers.  When I asked Carrie later why she felt it was important to include both mothers and daughters in the day’s activities, she responded that “at the ages of 10-12 there is an openness to hearing this information, and an opportunity for mothers to gather together to mentor their daughters.”  I couldn’t agree more.  As mothers we want to supply our daughters with the truth about themselves and about the world, but it’s an admittedly daunting task.  In a day and age where there is so much confusion and ambiguity surrounding gender identity–and womanhood in particular–we need the support of our faith community.  We need to encourage our daughters to embrace the strength of their femininity.  And every single one of Saturday’s thoughtful details served to do just that.

During the course of the tea we also heard from an enthusiastic Kim Perez about Blessed Pope John Paul II and the feminine genius, and Carrie Keating explained cycles and charting in a way that was accessible to young girls.  Then I confess that I had to keep myself from clapping and cheering, as Catholic physician Michelle Stanford asked us to have an open mind before detailing the significant medical problems and risks associated with oral contraception, not least of which is its abortifacient effect.  This was information I wish I’d had all those years ago, and which I believe is essential for all mothers to know—according to Dr. Stanford, by the time our daughters and their peers reach the age of 24, 82% of them will be using some type of hormonal contraception.  And not only that, but 25% of adolescent girls currently have a prescription!

There was room for giggling (lots and lots of giggling) during Lynn Grandon’s candid and ebullient presentation on the physical changes these girls will experience during their transition into womanhood.  If my daughter hadn’t been feeling confident and empowered about puberty before, she certainly is now.  To see this information presented within the context of who God created my daughter to be, with both humor and straightforward honesty, was unbelievably refreshing.  Best of all, it has begun a delightfully open and constructive conversation between my daughter and I, to be enjoyed for many years to come.

Back when I was a new bride coming from a non-Catholic background, I hadn’t yet connected the dots between how God created my body, and who God intended for me to be as a woman.  I speak from experience when I say that my marriage and my life are both so much better for having rejected the birth control pill, and since embracing an openness to life through Natural Family Planning.  It’s exciting to consider that, with the help of Jesus and Our Blessed Mother, I can now pass these incredibly beautiful truths on to my own children.  And I can say without reservation that we need more events like this, with faith communities coming alongside mothers and fathers to support them in this mission.

Armed with her new rosary, fresh and inspiring knowledge, and a pretty bag she’d been gifted with that morning (containing things like candy, and girly hand sanitizer), my daughter stepped out into the sunshine.  There was a confident, happy smile on her face.  She was beyond delighted to be a girl, and a beloved daughter of God.

Speaking as a Catholic mother to a Catholic daughter on the precipice of womanhood, I can’t imagine hoping for anything more than that.

Carrie Keating wanted me to tell you that this event  “was generously hosted by Holy Name Catholic Parish. Of the 21 moms who filled out the evaluation at the September 12 event, 20 of them would definitely recommend the Mother Daughter Tea to a friend. For those interested in hosting a Mother Daughter Tea, please go to www.mdtea.us.”

Brianna Heldt is a Catholic writer, speaker, and podcaster.  Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, and she has been a featured guest on BBC radio.  Adult converts to the Catholic Church, Brianna and her husband are parents to eight children–four by birth, and four by adoption.  They make their home in Denver, Colorado.  You can keep up with Brianna’s adventures on her personal blog, found at www.briannaheldt.com

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.