Friday, December 21, 2012

January 2013 Grand Knight's Article: Pray For All Who Need Our Prayers

Grand Knight's message from the January 2013 bulletin:

On Monday, Dec. 10, I was heading into the office late in the morning, after digging us out from the first snow storm of the season. Then I received the most unfortunate call from the office. It was a coworker who was calling, and who informed me that a long-time college mentor and friend had suddenly passed away the day before while snowblowing his driveway. Scott Eskola had, for some reason, taken me under his wing and helped me grow professionally in the industry in which I work. His untimely death at the age of 55 has turned the world of his 19 -year-old and 22-year-old daughters upside-down, I am sure. His ability to make anyone around him laugh instantly will be missed.

 On my way home from his funeral I turned on the radio to listen to Christmas music, only to find out the horrific news of the latest school shooting in which 26 were killed (20 of them young children). I do not pretend to have insight as to what must be going on in the minds of the families of this tragedy. I certainly don’t have the qualifications to try and offer to you words on the meaning of times of such loss.

I simply ask you, in the time you would normal spending reading this article, to put down the bulletin and pray for the families in Connecticut whose world has been turned upside down. Pray for Scotty and his wife and young daughters who lost their father too soon. Take a minute to remember the ways in which God has blessed you and to pray for those who need prayers.

These are the only thoughts that come to mind for me as I consider what it must be like for parents sending their beautiful first- or second-graders off to school, only to discover that young child will never come home again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 2012 Grand Knight's Article: A New Beginning

Grand Knight's message from the December 2012 bulletin:

“Hail, Full of Grace” — Luke 1:28 

I promised myself this article would not be about the election. Personally, I feel the elections support a belief many of us felt: that our culture is sliding further from a just society—further and further into an unjust society. Many issues we hold in our hearts to be just and true were defeated. And what is important is seen as unimportant in our society.

Before I move on to the man point of this article, I feel it essential to recognize the courageous position the laity, priests and bishops took in speaking up on issues of morality. I have been Catholic for 18 years — and in the span of 2,000 years, that’s not much. However, I can say that in my short life as a Catholic, never before have I seen the Church defend her teachings so concretely. The next time you see one of our clerics, thank them for their bold proclamation of the truth. I am sure those who do not agree with their position on issues are more than happy to let them know what they think.

John Paul the Great, at the beginning of his pontificate, proclaimed “Do not be afraid.” In light of very uncertain times, Blessed John Paul always seemed to lead us with great joy and hope. The perfect response to poll results we do not like can be found in scripture:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent forth from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this may be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God, And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” — Luke 1:26-31
In the Incarnation, hope is never lost. In fact, we shall, in the words of John Paul II, “fear not.” In the great mystery of the Incarnation, we place all of our hope and joy in the victory yet to come. We look forward with joy to Christmas morning and hope for the fulfillment of time when heaven and earth are united for eternity. The season of advent helps refocus our thoughts of things of this world, and direct them to what really matters, the supernatural world. It helps us to remember that while we must live in this world, we are intended for another. We should see this season as a time to focus and prepare on the greatest gift ever — Christmas morning, and ultimately our fulfillment with God at the end of time. In light of this truth, this great joy, our struggles here begin to be put into place. And while even greater persecution shall come to us, our hope is not lost. In fact, it can become a cause for joy. For in times of great persecution, God always raises up great saints to help guide Mother Church. He is calling each of us to become the saint we were intended to be. We are placed in a society in which we will be given plenty of opportunity to die to self for Christ.

The Incarnation is God’s response to darkness. For He sent his son, the “Light of the World,” to illuminate our world, and so this light overcomes all troubles we may have.

In light of this great truth, we begin to move forward with hope. Our mission is to spread hope this Advent and to let those who may think differently that we are not defeated, but rather, rejuvenated in Christ. So in Advent, we hope in the possibilities of a new beginning.

Fraternally In Christ,
Mike Engel
Grand Knight, Council 4174

 P.S. I apologize that this article had more to do with the election than I had hoped!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Enjoy Our Christmas Social!

Brother Knights! You and your spouse are invited to join Council 4174 for a Christmas Social, Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Albert's Parish Hall.

Please come to enjoy a catered dinner, beer and other beverages, and Christmas fellowship and good cheer. Unlike recent years, there is no program for the evening, except a very short (20 min) business meeting beginning at 7. Our wives can continue to enjoy the evening while we attend to a few quick action items.

Please join us, and encourage new Knights to do the same. And if you have time, please let us know you are coming -- comment here or contact Jim Moore or Mike Engel.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Join Us on Nov. 29: "In Defense of Our Families: Battling Our Greatest Addiction"

Statue of the Holy Family, Michigan
Fr. Peter Richards and Knights of Columbus Council 4174 present "In Defense of Our Families: Battling Our Greatest Addiction," part of the Men’s Evangelization Series.

Join us Thursday, Nov. 29, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the St. Albert Parish Center, in Albertville. We will discuss:
  • What is the greatest addiction facing men today?
  • How does a man protect himself, his community and his children from it?
  • How can you help someone recover from this addiction?
We will be joined by Fr. John Acrea from St. John Vianney Seminary, who is the foremost reformer and speaker on this subject in the U.S. Fr. Richards and the Knights of Columbus invite all men to come and learn about the weapons we have available for the spiritual battle against the culture we live in. Please contact Mike Engel with questions or email

Sunday, November 18, 2012

We Need Your Help!

St. Nicholas Party
Over the next few weeks, we have several great opportunities to serve our church and community. Give the greatest gift you have, completely free of charge: your time and service!  

St. Nicholas Party 
Our annual St. Nicholas Party for St. Michael and St. Albert parish families is coming up on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at the St. Michael Catholic School. We need volunteers to assist with this event: decorating and set-up (4:30-6 p.m.); food service (6-7:15 p.m.); gym monitors and game leaders (6:30-8:30 p.m.); and kitchen and clean-up (7:15 p.m. to end). Please contact Mike Engel or Jeremy Rohr if you can assist. Thank you!

Cornerstone Women's Center
Cornerstone Remodeling
Cornerstone Women’s Center will be working to remodel their new building. They are asking for help every Thursday with various construction tasks. You do not need extensive construction knowledge, just the ability to pitch in and help. They are working all day long, so even if you only have a few hours to help – they would love to see you! Please contact Jim Patton to pitch in.

KC Christmas Tree Lot
Christmas Tree Sales 
Special thanks to those of you who helped set up the KC Christmas Tree Lot the last two weekends! We still need volunteers to fill several shifts at the tree lot, beginning this Friday through Sunday, Dec. 16. Please sign up online today.

 Please note: We try not to publish personal email addresses or phone numbers on this site. If you need contact information for the Knights listed above, please email Jim Thorp at Thank you all, and God bless!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Youth Support KCs;
KCs Support Youth

Click to enlarge.
Youth from St. Michael and St. Albert parishes joined several Brother Knights to help measure, mark and display Christmas trees at the St. Michael Catholic School Saturday morning. The teens pitch in to help the Knights, who in turn donate the proceeds from Christmas tree sales to Catholic education, youth, and community activities. Many of the teens are working to raise money to attend Winter Blast, Extreme Faith Camp, and an upcoming pilgrimage to Rome. The KC Christmas Tree Lot opens the Friday after Thanksgiving through Sunday, Dec. 16 -- consider purchasing your tree from us this year and support our Catholic teens!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Volunteers Needed to Staff the Christmas Tree Lot

Despite the rain, approximately 20 Brother Knights and teens pitched in to deliver trees and set up the Knights of Columbus Christmas Tree Lot at St. Michael Catholic School on Saturday, Nov. 10. We will reconvene on Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 a.m. to finish set-up.

The lot opens on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, and will be open daily through Dec. 16. We need men to take shifts selling and loading trees. Shifts are two to three hours long, and we have a heated warming house on site. This is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year, supporting Catholic education and youth programs -- so please give a little time and volunteer today!

You can sign up for shifts online or contact Council Director Jim Thorp at

Saturday, October 27, 2012

November 2012 Grand Knight's Message: Year of Faith

Grand Knight's message from the November 2012 bulletin
“Ever since the start of my ministry as successor of Peter, I have spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.” 
— Pope Benedict XVI, from the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei 

As people of faith, it’s never a bad idea to listen to the Roman Pontiff. Typically, it’s good spiritual direction to focus our attention on the areas to which he directs our attention. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed this year as the Year of Faith. It is my belief that our greatest failure as a society is our lack of faith. A faithless society is a hopeless society. It is this fundamental loss of faith and hope in our country that we currently face daily. As a parent of four small children, I see that one of the most essential roles I can play is to arm my children with faith. No matter how hostile society gets toward Christianity, no matter how much they are told Christ is not relevant anymore, faith will carry them through.

Pope Benedict urges the faithful to rediscover faith in our lives, and he has wisely dedicated this year to that end. “Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified,” he said, “so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing.” It is faith that penetrates beyond our intellect and leads us to a deeper understanding of Christ. Our intellect is limited, but our faith penetrates our hearts and allows the Gospel to resonate in our lives.

We have all heard the saying “The world can be a cold dark place.” Typically, this is said by a parent to a teenage son or daughter who thinks they know everything. It’s one of those statements made to teach children about the realities we face in the physical world, however, this saying is especially true in the spiritual world.

For children, now more than ever, the world IS a cold dark place.  Never before have had kids had such access to evil.  Never before have children had the power to access damaging material with only a few clicks on a computer mouse.  Never before have they had the opportunity to have alternative beliefs, lifestyles and morality thrown at them.  Sadly, I would guess every one of us knows someone who had a child who was just playing around on a computer or cell phone and discovered a cold dark place that begins to cast a shadow of doubt on their faith. Confronted with a world radically different from what they know, they begin to wonder, What is truth?

I myself am not gifted with great intellect. As much as I would like to be able to arm my children with sharpened reason and intellect, it’s just not who I am, however, I can show them that in a darkening world, faith sustains us. When times are tough, and I feel worn down or beaten by the enemy, my limited intellect fails me. However, I know HE has a plan. This simple truth will and does get me through.

Faith, Hope and Charity are the three theological virtues imparted to us in the form of graces so we can discover God. The secret of the great saints of the Church is not merely superior intellect, but that these men and women allowed these virtues and graces to transform them from within. It is for this reason that we honor Saints as extraordinary examples for us to live by, and that the saints sometimes look so shockingly different from the people around us. Some of the saints established and defended the Catholic philosophy that guides us still today, and some were merely uneducated children, who found the courage to say, “I would rather die than allow anyone to separate me from Jesus Christ in words or deeds.” These two radically different examples of sainthood have one unifying thread: FAITH.

We often see the world through the eyes of our youth. What kind of world are we leaving for them? The reality right now can make us feel hopeless, but if we can give our children a true sense of faith, we can arm them to confront the world they will face. If they can begin to see through the eyes of faith, then they can make changes in this world. It is a discussion I have had often with my 12-year-old daughter when we are praying outside an abortion clinic. If she can see through the eyes of faith, and thus live her life as God would have her live it and not conform to the demands of our culture, change will happen. In science, the term natural selection simply states that the strongest survive. If she can allow faith in Christ to guide her actions and be open to life—and to the conception of children one day, if that is her vocation—she can directly end the culture of death. You see, we have two cultures competing to survive. If every pro-lifer is open to life, receives children and gives them the tools to hold to truth—if one culture follows Gods will, “Be fruitful and multiply,” while the other rejects that will, and if the children whose parents were open to life can teach them to have deep faith and adhere to Jesus Christ, that lifestyle wins out.  Natural selection in a society can take place as well.

I realize this philosophy on life is very simplistic, but my point to my daughter is that even when the world seems hostile and dark, faith will see you through.
I wish I could offer up 10 ways in which we could all go stock up on faith. It is an expression of the heart that you cannot simply purchase. However, I can tell you something I personally know has helped me: Mary and her rosary. In the rosary we pray for an increase in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.  In the rosary, the graces we receive allow these virtues to transform our lives. Mary is our example of faith in her response to God: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy word.”  Want to grow in the virtue of Faith? Ask Mary to lead you—she always does the will of God.

Pope Benedict XVI has decided it imperative that the Christian faithful probe the mysteries of Faith to strengthen us and prepare us to wage war against the enemy. He sees that more than ever that the best defense against a hostile world is faith. He’s not a bad person to follow.  Lord, please grant that all our brother Knights and their families richly grow in the virtue of Faith this coming year.

Fraternally in Christ,
Mike Engel 
Grand Knight

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Council Donates $10K to Cornerstone

Pictured left to right:  Cornerstone nursing director Mary Lally, Council
4174 church director John Bonham, Grand Knight Mike Engel,
Cornerstone president Rhonda Zahler, Cornerstone board member
Joe Zahler, Cornerstone prayer team member Jeanne VanDrasek,
and past Grand Knight Steve House.

This fall, Knights of Columbus Council 4174 donated $10,000 to the fledgling Cornerstone Women's Center in St. Michael to help get the pregnancy center up and running. Including this $10,000 donation, the proceeds from the ultrasound fundraiser event sponsored by eleven area KC councils this spring, and matching funds from Knight of Columbus Supreme Council, the KCs are contributing more than $50,000 to support Cornerstone and its mission.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ultrasound Fundraiser Nets $30K

Last March, 12 area Knights of Columbus Councils joined forces to raise funds towards the purchase of an ultrasound machine for Cornerstone Women’s Center in St. Michael, hosting a dinner, speakers, a Silent Auction and the Knights of Columbus Male Chorus at the St. Michael-Albertville High School.

The net income from the fundraiser hit $30,000, which exceeded the goal for the event by 75 percent. This means in addition to purchasing an ultrasound machine for Cornerstone Women's Center, the councils will have additional financial resources to contribute to pro-life organizations. Since Cornerstone is a new center that is just getting started, we are not yet able to commit the funds for the purchase of the ultrasound machine until facilities and medical personnel are in place and other milestones have been met—but thanks to strong community support, the money is in place.

Special thanks go to our special guests Fr. Michael Becker and Mary Ann Kuharski; the KC Male Chorus; Dave Ferry, who served as our master of ceremonies; Michelle LeMonds (Michelle LeMonds Photography) for taking pictures the night of the event (including those you see here); Katie Joslyn, who designed our event flyer; the many donors of items for our silent auction; the many volunteers who helped to make the event so successful; and most importantly, the generous people who attended and/or gave money to support this cause. We would also like to recognize our Brother Knights in the Annandale, Anoka, Clearwater, Coon Rapids, Dayton, Delano, Maple Lake/ Buffalo, Monticello, Rogers, St. Bonifacius and Waverly councils for their support.

Silent auction

Mary Ann Kuharski

Pro-Life Across America

Fr. Michael Becker and friends

Knights of Columbus Male Chorus (Twin Cities)

Cornerstone Women's Center

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chivalry Is Not Dead: Sacramental
Sexuality in an Age of Lust

"Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. ... A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once."
— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

by Jim Thorp, Council Director

I remember, a few years back, sitting around a little round table in a crowded Minneapolis bar with two former co-workers. They were talking about their work and home lives — their wives and children (one each at the time) and the challenges of unwinding after a day at work. One of the two enjoys computer games, but said he had to wait until after his wife — and especially his daughter — went to bed, because he didn't want them walking in on the particularly violent or sexual scenes in the game. The other agreed, saying very matter-of-factly that it was the same with viewing online pornography — you always had to be looking over your shoulder, not because your wife doesn't know, but because it's better for everyone if she doesn't see.

Only natural?
They spoke very openly about it, as though everyone does it and it's perfectly normal. I know only too well that these are common — even rampant — habits in our society, but I'm always dismayed when men pretend that they are natural, insurmountable, or even desirable as part of being an adult male. Another co-worker used to speak of men "in their natural state" as being herd bulls, biologically inclined to breed with as many females as possible — and he marveled that I could appear so happy in an intentionally lifelong and monogamous relationship.

The idea that men are nothing more than rutting bulls ignores God's intention in the matter, to be sure, but it also ignores anthropology and common sense. From a common-sense perspective, the drive to breed is not what motivates a lustful or promiscuous male — in fact, many go to great lengths not to leave offspring behind. From an anthropological standpoint, the idea that there were ever primeval human males, free of cultural constraints, who could breed with whomever they wanted, whenever they wanted, flies in the face of what scientists currently think about evolution. Current theory suggests that culture predates the modern human species by millions of years. In other words, even if you are convinced that God has nothing to say in the matter, we were already "artificially" overcoming our biology well before we were human.

That's not to say that our presumed prehuman ancestors were lifelong and faithful spouses — it merely makes the point that we have been re-writing the rules of strict call-and-response biology for eons now, so claiming that we can't do it today, or in this particular case, is a cop-out.

Pope John Paul II once wrote, "There are people who try to ridicule, or even to deny, the idea of a faithful bond which lasts a lifetime. These people — you can be very sure — do not know what love is." We can be faithful, lifelong spouses — knights in shining armor — and the Church shows us how.

Higher calling
The great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton discovered in the Catholic Church the wonder and hope and beauty that had inspired him as a child and helped him to understand the world. The romance of the Church struck him as a more Truth-filled worldview than the coldly scientific view of the cosmos that many of the great thinkers and writers of his day espoused. No doubt many of his contemporaries saw him as a hopelessly devoted to a way of life that was quaint at best, and dangerously outmoded at worst.

We live in the same world as he did — you could argue that we fight the same battle as the knights of the middle ages. In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell paraphrases another scholar of stories, Ortega y Gasset, in talking about the famous, foolish romantic Don Quixote:

Don Quixote was the last hero of the Middle Ages. He rode out to encounter giants, but instead of giants, his environment produced windmills. Ortega points out that this story takes place about the time that a mechanistic interpretation of the world came in, so that the environment was no longer spiritually responsive to the hero. The hero is today running up against a hard world that is in no way responsive to his spiritual need....

Now it has become to such an extent a sheerly mechanistic world, as interpreted through our physical sciences, Marxist sociology, and behavioristic psychology, that we're nothing but a predictable pattern of wires responding to stimuli. The nineteenth century interpretation has squeezed the freedom of the human will out of modern life.

But like Quixote, if we take a hard look at the world around us, we can see the marauding giants — especially with regard to marriage and sex. Divorce, in particular, is so widespread that many children shrug it off as commonplace, and men and women joke that marriage isn't worth it because the wedding is too expensive and lasts longer than the commitment. Roughly half of marriages end in divorce, and the results aren't significantly different for Catholic couples, because even with traditional Catholic marriage preparation, many couples simply go through the required motions and never actually come to understand the why behind the Church's teachings. Why does the Church oppose living together or having sexual relations before marriage? Why, in the 21st century, does the Catholic Church stand essentially alone in opposing artificial means of birth control?

According to Christopher West, the well-known Catholic speaker who has dedicated his life to spreading Pope John Paul II's Theology of Body teachings, in the past two millenia, the Catholic Church has written roughly 6,000 pages on marriage and sexuality — and 4,000 of those were written by John Paul II since the 1970s. Obviously he saw giants, too, and knew they must be fought and slain. He armed the Church with a renewed understanding of the essential relationship of marriage and sexuality to what it means to be human and created in God's image. Until recently, however, relatively few people had been exposed to these teachings.

Through the efforts of West and other impassioned lay leaders, bishops and parish priests, awareness is growing — and marriages are changing for the better. My own marriage is a case in point. My wife and I came late to understanding and embracing the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality. We've been married 13 years now, with four kids, ages 11 to 5. Catholic marriage preparation wasn't easy for me — while I admired the strength of my bride's faith, I didn't have a strong religious upbringing. Although I had been raised with many of the same values and was quite proud of the fact that we had both "saved ourselves" for marriage, I wasn't a fan of some of the Church's teachings, especially on birth control.

I'm sure the married couples who discussed Natural Family Planning with us at our Engaged Encounter weekend told us that NFP is a scientifically safe and sound way for couples to determine a woman's fertility each month in order to achieve or avoid pregnancy. I know they told us it was completely aligned with the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality — and while I argued with them about how NFP was different from contraception, inside I had two thoughts, one positive and one negative:
  • I thought that NFP might help me to better understand what made my wife tick as a Catholic and as a woman —
  • But I was sure it was going to take time to figure out and I wasn't anxious to have a child right away or to wait any longer than we already had after the wedding.
We tried — briefly — to teach ourselves NFP from a book, and quickly scrapped that idea. We agreed to start our life together using artificial methods of family planning until we had a chance to take an NFP class. We quickly became very comfortable with our artificial method and easily justified not exploring NFP further. We also quickly became pregnant with our first child and had visions of switching to NFP and winding up with several more in rapid succession.

During the next 10 years, my wife coaxed me back to the Church, we had three more children, and my conscience began to nag me. Our children had all been large at birth, and when our youngest arrived at 12 pounds 2 ounces, the doctor suggested we stop having babies. That was fine with my wife, who was feeling emotionally drained and exhausted — so the timing was less than ideal for me to start reading up on NFP, to decide after a decade to confess to our priest that we had been using artificial birth control, and to push her to try something completely new.

She wasn't convinced at first, and I was nervous, so for a year or more we discussed and prayed, took a class through the Couple to Couple League, and slowly came to share the Church's understanding that married love is supposed to mirror God's love: free, total, faithful and fruitful; sacrificial and life-giving.

Finally, we made the switch, and that one change changed everything else. First and foremost, we (and especially I) learned self-control. Christopher West likes to point out that what many in our culture promote as sexual freedom — in particular, the capability that artificial birth control gives us to experience sex whenever we want to, without concerns about fertility cycles, pregnancy, parenthood, love or commitment — is actually sexual addiction. We get so accustomed to being able to indulge our urges whenever we want to that we can't say no, and we feel frustrated, angry or unwanted when our partners want to abstain.

This is not God's vision. He gave us free will so we can love freely. He allows us to say no to Him so that our yes means something, and same holds true between spouses: if we can say no, our yes mean something; if we can abstain together, our embrace becomes a mutual choice and a free and total gift.

For us, every month is like a honeymoon now: we watch and anticipate together, we don't pressure each other as much, and we pray together about our marriage and our family more than ever before. We communicate better in general and feel more deeply in love, because we understand each other and what God meant us to be to each other.

Truth works
People often have the idea that the Catholic Church is against sex, when in fact, the opposite is true. Properly understood, sexuality is sacred to the Church — it is considered so beautiful and good, so important and such a gift, that it is to be honored and preserved. Indeed, some use the term sacramental sexuality to underscore the nature and meaning of sex in Catholic marriage. Each of the Church's sacraments has form (the spoken words) and matter (the material sign of the sacrament) — so in the case of Baptism, the form is the particular rite read by the pastor and the matter is water; in the case of the Eucharist, the form is the Words of Consecration and the matter is the bread and wine.

What many Catholic spouses don't realize is that, in the case of the sacrament of marriage, the form consists of the questions of consent and the vows, but the substance of the sacrament is the "one flesh" union of husband and wife, mirroring the free, total, faithful and fruitful love of God. This understanding elevates sexuality to its true importance in the Church — as close to an experience of the life-giving love of the Trinity as we can have here on earth. Indeed, West opens the first chapter of his book, The Good News About Sex and Marriage, with this quote from Pope John Paul II: "The 'great mystery,' which is the Church and humanity in Christ, does not exist apart from the 'great mystery' expressed in the 'one flesh'...reality of marriage and family."

Shortly after we made our switch to NFP, our pastor connected us to a team of couples who put on Theology of the Body retreats for engaged couples in the parish. St. Michael Catholic Church requires these retreats in addition to diocesan marriage preparation for couple who wish to be married in our parish, and the results we've seen over the past two years have been inspiring.

Many of the young couples who attend these retreats are living together or are sexually active, few have been exposed to Theology of the Body teachings, and most know very little about Natural Family Planning. Using Christopher West's video series God's Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage (and his book mentioned above) as a framework, several married couples bear witness to the truth about sex and marriage in the Catholic Church throughout the morning and afternoon. Anonymous evaluations completed by participants ask about their religious upbringing, spiritual life, sexual activity, living arrangements and plans for children — regardless of their current situation, following the retreat, most of the couples indicate that they are planning on (or at least considering) abstaining until marriage, moving apart, and using Natural Family Planning.

The Truth resonates, not only with the engaged couples, but with the witnesses, too — we all grow in understanding, faith and love by sharing these powerful teachings. In fact, some have characterized NFP as marriage insurance: while the divorce rate among Catholics in general is similar to the national average — about 50 percent — the rate among couples using NFP is 1 to 2 percent. I believe this is in part because Natural Family Planning is a couple-based method of family planning that demands mutual participation, requiring spouses to act in loving but chaste ways at times and to learn and practice self-control.

Self-control is essential in an age of lust, when so much around us insists that "men will be men," and that we should do what feels good. When we first married, I thought that our love and lifelong commitment was justification enough for our private lives — like many well-meaning spouses, I overlooked the possibility of lust in marriage; of using my spouse rather than loving her selflessly. In recent years, it has been my personal experience that learning to control myself in our married relationship has strengthened my self-control in private — I am not tempted as strongly to selfish or lustful behaviors, and I am able to resist these temptations much more easily.

It is no accident that great warrior traditions from the world over insist that our greatest enemy is ourselves, that our greatest battles are within. As men, we are called to love our wives as Christ loved the Church: to death. Jesus came to serve and to die for his Bride, and we must do the same. This is the heroic calling — the great and noble deed — that we seek as Catholic men, husbands and fathers. Chivalry is not dead. It lives in the romance and teachings of the Church, and in the life-giving love and example of our Creator.

Suggested reading on marriage, sexuality and the Church:
  • The Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West
  • The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan by Blessed John Paul II
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
  • Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Blogger's Note: I originally wrote this article in summer of 2009; it was published in the Knights of Columbus Council 4174 newsletter.