When I first started engaging in Catholic culture, I wondered why there weren’t any current Catholic books or musicians or artists. Then I realized that there are plenty — you just have to get out there and find them!
So, here’s a regular blog feature for people who want to reinforce their faith with good books. Honestly, for the first batch, I just bought all the books from The Catholic Hipster’s Catholic Book Cover Up. So as I read them, I’ll let you know the highlights and whether or not they’re worth your time. Since they already made his list, I’m pretty sure they all will be!
Ah, crap, you guys. I thought I had a book in me about sex and Catholicism, but Simcha Fisher straight-up already wrote it.
Even if you aren’t married. Even if you don’t plan to get married. Even if you aren’t practicing NFP. Even if you don’t plan to practice NFP (or even know what it is)…. “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning” will give you an opportunity to evaluate your view of sex and revive your relationship with your spouse, future spouse, or self.
Yes, it’s that good! It’s not about the basics or details of NFP. It’s just about Catholic sex within a marriage.
So with that endorsement, here’s on to the good stuff:
My Personal Reaction
From the start, Fisher made me feel part jealous of her kids, jealous of her husband, and jealous of her in general. BUT it was all good jealousy. Like, the inspiring kind of jealousy, not the envious kind.
I don’t “wish I was a wife like that,” so much as “I can’t wait to be a wife more like that after reading this book,” and “she makes me think I could be a wife like that,” and “OH! So that’s why it’s important I not do X or X!”
Furthermore, she put an arrow through my heart the way she talks about her 9 (NINE!) children. Reading this book felt more like being a 11-year-old at a party overhearing the women talk about how wonderful and special being a mother is. (Spoiler alert: that never happened to me… even among Catholics, it’s mostly complaining about pregnancy and motherhood).
There’s a fair amount of (hilarious) complaining in this book, but the overall vibe gave me several significant moments of peace and joy about potential motherhood. For a few moments, I had a very calm sense that I could do it and it would be okay. Those moments are few and far between for me, and I cherish every one.
Update: I wrote this review before I became pregnant — reading Simcha’s book definitely helped break down some fear-walls I had around becoming pregnant.
Amazing Quotes and Ideas
There were so many great ideas and quotes that I quickly ran out of pink paper tags while reading. That said, three ideas still jump out at me as inspiration for changing my heart about sex:
- Preventing pregnancy isn’t always about babies. This sounds vague and kind of liberal, but Fisher spends a lot of time talking about the nuances of procreation and God’s will for our lives. There are many things we can and can’t do in our lives (including having babies and not having babies) that will either move us closer to God or further away from God. In “The Golden Box,” she asks…
“What are the other things we have to discern, besides ‘having a baby vs not having a baby?’ We should try to discern if God wants us to learn self-control, or learn trust; if God wants us to focus more on the things around us, or focus more on the long-term view of our life; if God wants us to shower our spouse with extra care and attention for a time; or to stretch our concept of what our marriage is for…” p30
- We don’t know what we’ll be capable of in the future. This one really popped out at me because of a memory I have with my husband. We were sitting at the dining table before we were married and I was completely overwhelmed with wedding tasks and an injured back. Near tears, I asked, “How do people do this? Like, how would we ever add a kid to all that’s going on.” And like the great guy he is, he said, “We wouldn’t be adding a child to THIS, we would be adding a child to a different situation where we might have different stresses or even fewer stresses.” It’s fertility’s version of “our daily bread.”
“Can’t imagine yourself doing different things than what you’re managing now? Good news: the ‘now-you’ doesn’t have to. Your future self will, but your future self will have a whole new tool kit…. So if the idea of, for instance, yourself with seven kids freaks you out, that’s because you’re imagining the now-you with seven kids. If you do eventually have seven kids, you will have changed immensely in the process of having them, one by one.” (p35)
- Both spouses require sympathy. Throughout NFP, it’s not unusual to experience times where you need to abstain from sex. As you can imagine, this can be hard on a relationship for a guy who wants to have sex and a lady who wants to during ovulation (when she can’t) and doesn’t want to during infertile times (when she can). I see now how selfish it is to let the burden of fertility lead me to be less sensitive or sympathetic to my husband’s needs, or to dismiss them too quickly based on what I think I’m dealing with. As she says earlier, “A cross is a cross, even if you’re not the one carrying it.” For me, the particular line that stood out in glaring red curly cues is the following:
“I can see my fertility as a gift that I need help caring for, not as a burden that I ought to be compensated for.”
Available here on Amazon for about $10
Tangents Inspired By This Book
There are so, so many good moments to this book, politically! Especially the concept that the goal is not (and can’t be) equality and fairness, but “the rediscovery of the complementary.” In Fisher’s apt metaphor, you don’t tune two strings by pulling them tight to the same note (AKA what modern feminism tries to do by making women do everything men do and making men do everything women do). You tune them to their natural note so that they play in beautiful harmony. (In her words, “It’s not June Cleaver… it’s love!).
Finally, I also love the idea that natural laws don’t mean easy, care-free, and simple. They are laws that point us back to the nature of our humanity. So, NFP might be complicated, difficult, or frustrating… but it’s because it requires us to consider the purpose of our bodies, sex, and love. It pushes us to confront the true nature of sexuality (rather than sticking a sexy band-aid over it and saying it doesn’t matter like the secular world seems to think).
If You Only Get One Thing Out of It….
Sex is wonderful and meaningful, and directly connected to the relationship you have with your spouse; if you’re having any kind of issue, you identifying the miscommunication and removing the blockage to love will improve your marriage, relationship, and sex-life.
Don’t Stop Here!
Like the man said, if you don’t read good books, you’ll read bad ones. Here are more Catholic book reviews to keep you busy: