Habits You Can Start Now to Prepare for Married Intimacy

 

Reserving the gift of the sexual embrace for the one person you commit your life to in the sacrament of matrimony is a gift of self. A gift which embodies chastity, freedom, and self-control; virtues which continue to grow throughout married life—no longer by withholding, but precisely through physical intimacy. 

Teachings of the Catholic Church surrounding sex and marriage are not a set of rules to control our personal lives or for the sake of abstinence alone. Rather, these are beautiful teachings of the Church to emphasize authentic love through a freely given gift of self, with an openness toward creating life. In this way, we embody the love of God.

Physical intimacy is offered as a chaste gift is when it parallels the gift of Christ to his bride, the Church. Sex makes visible the glorious vows offered and received on the wedding altar. 

Conversations surrounding sex and marriage are not just about sex. The dialogue is rooted in reverence for the human person and virtue of the human heart. Regardless of our relationship status, we are all called to grow in reverence and virtue. 

Our actions involving sexuality are some of the most important ways we can fulfill the universal call of holiness. Yet there are many ways we can grow in chastity, experience collaboration with God, and offer a profound gift of self prior to or outside of intimacy with a partner. 

Receive the Eucharist 

Receiving the Eucharist in the liturgy of the Mass is the epitome of intimacy with God. This is the moment when God proclaims his love and desire for intimate union with his children. Receiving the Eucharist with a pure heart is the greatest experience of physical and spiritual intimacy with God. 

When God offers his body, blood, soul and divinity and we receive him through our mouth and into our body, we experience the fullest reverence, virtue, chastity, and gift that we can experience on this side of heaven. The Eucharist is an image of the embrace between bride and groom; images of infinite union, which God prepares in heaven for every person. 

Bringing your desires, longings and aches to the father in the Eucharist is the most holy place we can turn to for healing and strength. He knows what it means to experience the ache of the human heart and he desires to pull us into deeper and more chaste relationship with him and with others. 

Feasting and Fasting 

Scripture affirms “prayer with fasting is good.” Fasting, most often associated with the season of Lent, is an opportunity for the faithful to prayerfully give something up to elicit an experience of longing. When we abstain from a tangible or consumable good and experience the ache of desire, our hearts yearn for more. That deep emotional encounter is a moment we can turn to God in prayer and ask him to fill the void in our hearts, bodies, and souls. 

There is nothing on earth, including sex (even sex within marriage), that can completely fill our hearts’ longings. Saint Augustine understood this perpetual ache when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

Establishing a practice of regular fasting opens the heart to experience a deeper longing, raises our awareness of our hearts desires, and provides opportunities to grow in intimacy with God. Consider something small; for example, giving up fancy coffee drinks once a week as a prayer to experience desire, to grow in virtue and to understand freedom of saying “no.”

Relationships with the Saints

The saints are holy men and women who received understanding of God’s will for their lives and fulfilled it through their time on Earth. They are made available to us as spiritual—and very real—friends, mentors, and guides through prayer and devotion. 

Maybe the saints all feel like strangers to you, yet you desire some kind of mentor along this journey of chastity and self-control. Ask God to deliver you a holy friend and keep your eyes and ears open for the opportunity to dive into a new relationship with a saint. Perhaps there is a saint who has recently become more prevalent in your life. If you sense they are seeking your attention, turn to them in a novena or devotion for guidance along this journey toward holiness.  

Delayed Gratification 

In a culture where we can acquire information and products almost immediately through modern technology, delayed gratification is an underappreciated skill. Through delayed gratification, practice withholding a desire with a confident hope of acquiring it in the future. As a small example, delay how quickly after dinner you indulge in dessert. The time of waiting is an opportunity to grow in patience and self-control.

As you train these muscles of your head and your heart, you build a muscle memory which will be a strength if or when you are tempted to engage in sexual intimacy in an unchaste way. Practice saying “no” through the freedom of your self-control for something small so you can experience the fullest joys—the fulest yes—for something truly divine.

Planning a Bridal Shower? A Catholic Perspective on Lingerie and Lingerie Shower Tips

ANNE MARIE WILLIAMS & BRIDGET HEFFERNAN

 

In the summer of 2018, Anne Marie received an invitation to a lingerie shower, co-hosted by her friend Bridget. She had some initial misgivings: she’d been to several similar showers in the past and distinctly remembered the discomfort.

At past parties I’d attended, it felt like we were all there to gawk and catcall, expecting the bride to be “naughty" wearing the gifts she opened. I felt like we were invading her and her husband's bedroom--what was supposed to be their sacred space. Furthermore, taste in lingerie is a pretty personal preference. .

In the end, however, I accepted this particular invitation because I trusted the women organizing it. Bridget and her co-host been my good friends for several years and were Theology of the Body enthusiasts. I didn't know what this party would look like, but I trusted it wouldn't be gross or weird.

The shower was beautiful and tasteful, from the decor and treats to games and the opening of gifts. At one point towards the end, the married women present were invited to share advice from their own marriages. Some of their words reflected tremendous vulnerability, and I truly had a sense of the sacredness of marriage.

Because there can be misgivings or hesitation with this topic among Catholic brides, I asked Bridget to share her perspective and planning tips.

Lingerie showers have a reputation for being more trashy than classy. As super classy ladies yourselves, why was it important to you to throw a lingerie shower specifically?

When planning this bridal shower, we wanted to celebrate the gift of intimacy in marriage--both in Katie, the bride, receiving the gift of William, her husband-to-be, and by giving herself to him.

When you prepare a special gift for someone, you adorn it with beautiful wrapping. That is exactly how we look at lingerie.

The purpose of lingerie, used appropriately, is not to objectify the body, but precisely to emphasize the gift of the body.

I would also add that, beyond the style, the woman's behavior and attitude when wearing lingerie can emphasize one or the other: gift or object. As with so many other things in life, if she has the right perspective towards her own body (and assuming she is marrying a good man), her husband will respond to that.

How did you determine the atmosphere and mood for the shower?

We used a lot of greenery and simple white decorations. A trip to Hobby Lobby resulted in garlands of greenery, some of which we separated from the stem and arranged around the room. In the end, the shower had a garden feel with a feminine flair.

For other Catholic women planning pre-wedding events, can you share the order of events for the day?

First, introductions. Once all of the guests arrived, we sat in a circle and went around the room introducing ourselves and how we knew the bride.

Second, food. We prayed and invited everyone to get food from the other room. We served an assortment of hors d’oeuvres and beverages, including bacon-wrapped, maple-soaked water chestnuts, tomato, basil, and mozzarella skewers, blackberry and basil-infused water, coffee, juice (with the option to add Moscato!), and Blueberry, Lemon, Poppy seed muffins.

Third, sharing stories. While we ate, we went around the room and told the group a fun or funny story about the bride. Before long, the room was filled with laughter. Laughter always bonds!

Fourth, a game called Mixed Up Wisdom. Each guest was given a 3x5 card; on the front, she wrote a common marital problem, and on the back, she a corresponding wise solution (for example: what to do for dinner tonight?). Once everyone was done, we stacked the cards and passed them around. Each person would read the top card’s problem and the bottom card's solution, then put the top card on the bottom and move the stack to the left for the next woman to read. The mixed up combination of problems and solutions was quite hilarious.

Fifth, real wisdom.

We opened the discussion for all the married women in the room to offer real advice or kernels of wisdom they’d learned about creating a happy, healthy, thriving marriage. It was so beautiful to see and hear what they had to share.

Sixth, a simple Mad Libs game we printed from online. We had two teams with different scenarios, which we read aloud at the end. Everyone was rolling with laughter by the time we were through.

Finally, we were ready for the opening of gifts. At this point, I said a few words about the dignity of women and about the beauty and importance of approaching marriage with that understanding of the gift of self.

In view of that, joined one another in giving to Katie, both with beautiful intimate clothing and with our support and prayers. It was beautiful. As she opened the gifts, she and each woman in the room had a sense of joyful reverence for what Katie was anticipating.

After she finished gifts, we all prayed over Katie, that she and William would share a joy-filled, holy marriage, giving witness to the call to give of themselves to each other--as Christ gave of himself to us.

What would you say to someone who might object that a bride's intimate attire--and the marital act it's meant for--is private, not for the theme of a party?

Great question! It goes back to the point of the lingerie. If the point is simply to make a woman  look like a sex object, then I think it has no place in a bridal shower--or frankly, in the bedroom, either.

But if the point is what it ought to be--namely, to adorn--then there is something very beautiful about other women gathering around the bride-to-be and helping her prepare to adorn herself as gift for her future husband.

What feedback did you receive?

We were blown away with how many women said afterwards how beautiful the shower was and how much it meant to them to witness such a reverent and holy, yet joyful approach to preparing a bride for marital intimacy.


About the Authors: Anne Marie Williams is a stay-at-home mom to Isaac and Eva Marie and is a part-time Intensive Care Unit nurse from central Illinois. She met her husband on CatholicMatch and they were married in April 2015. She's a firm believer that beautiful, strong marriages change the world. Anne Marie and her husband serve on the PreCana marriage prep retreat team for their diocese. She and Bridget met in 2013 and have been friends ever since.

 

As a single working professional, Bridget Heffernan enjoys working as a Lean Six Sigma Process Re-Engineering Consultant. However, Bridget's real passion is discovering, seeing, and talking about the beauty of God's handiwork, especially as regards the worth of the human person. As a team member for the monthly diocesan PreCana Retreats, she channels this passion by giving talks on the complementarity of masculinity and femininity, dignity and identity, and the power of sexuality & why sex is worth waiting for. Growing up in the middle of four brothers, she used to be a tomboy. As her understanding of the natural complementarity of masculinity and femininity grew, as well as her appreciation for the strength of the Blessed Mother, her love for authentic femininity grew, as well.

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Healthy Ways to Talk About You and Your Beloved's Pasts

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

Have you and your fiancé’s past relationships--and your actions within them--influenced your engagement?

Before our wedding, my husband and I spoke extensively about regrets from former relationships, in everything from physical boundaries to the ways we’d fought or solved problems with our exes. Our discussions generally felt constructive, and were probably aided by the euphoria of newer love, making us quicker to forgive and express empathy than we might have been otherwise.

It wasn’t until recently, several years into marriage, that the impact of the past hit home for me. My husband and I imagined what we would have thought of each other if we’d met at a younger age. With lightness, trust, and an innocent curiosity in my heart, I asked if I could read some of the messages he’d exchanged with an old girlfriend. That lightness turned heavy as I read through nicknames and jokes so similar to ones my husband had written to me. I quickly clicked the window closed.

I didn’t feel sad that he’d ever had feelings for someone else. It was the echoes of our own relationship I read in his teenage self’s words that unsettled me, making me feel as if our love were somehow less unique.

I should be clear in stating that I don’t blame my husband in any way for this. After all, we didn’t even know of each other’s existence at the time he’d written those words, and essential parts of who we are are consistent in every relationship, romantic and otherwise. Rooted deep in my soul is the knowledge that I have chosen, and been chosen by, a man entirely committed and faithful to me. But it hurt all the same.

What I know now is that my asking to read that correspondence was neither healthy nor constructive. Our relationship has thrived on honest vulnerability about our past mistakes, yet I’ve realized honesty and prudence aren’t always the same thing.

Having already known and discussed my husband’s thoughts and areas of growth from that relationship, my asking to know it in more detail than necessary was fruitless, inflicting fresh salt on wounds that had long ago been cleansed. I wish I’d been more at peace with not knowing. While, in my opinion, it’s important and good to gently reveal your past errors in judgment or sexual sins in a broad sense, I’ve also arrived at the opinion that delving overly into specifics often causes more hurt than healing.

As you and your beloved work through your own past dating experiences on your path to the altar, here are other habits that have helped me do the same.

Ask yourselves the purpose of what you’re revealing.

The right sorts of disclosure--that is, the sorts that bring peace, restoration, and mercy--enable mature love to grow. If you choose to reveal parts of your past as solely as a means of feeling emotionally closer, as an occasion of pride that leads to feeling superior to your fiancé’s exes, or out of prurient interest, chances are these revelations will inspire more division than unity. Be real with yourselves about what purpose your inquiries and revelations serve.

As someone prone to nosiness, I’ve struggled in this area and have grown in greater wisdom and self-knowledge about why I might be asking about certain parts of my husband’s past. It takes ruthless honesty to admit to yourself that your intentions might not be the purest of heart, and to discern whether their fruits would be nourishing or bitter.

Get rid of all items from past relationships.

Though you haven’t yet made your wedding vows, engagement is a time of declared commitment that’s moving toward a specific end: your wedding day. In light of this gravity and forthcoming permanence, these months of preparation are an ideal time to get rid of any lingering possessions, gifts, texts, and emails from the past. Even if you and an ex have remained in each other’s orbit by choice or circumstance, it’s healthy to remove items with romantic significance from your life. It’s a gesture of faithfulness, and of turning forward in hope, to your fiancé.

Appreciate who you are now, not who you were then.

Conversion is a powerful thing. Saints are made along the path of reconciliation and virtue. Matters like past emotional entanglements and sexual sins, though, aren’t small; feeling their sting months and years later is normal. It’s valuable to keep in mind not just that the past is the past, but that who your beloved used to be--in all his or her weaknesses or poor choices--is also the past. Praise the Father for the gift of who your fiancé is, and for all the experiences that have brought you to the present.

If necessary, don’t fear professional assistance.

Premarital counseling or therapy doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Knowing when to invite the help of a professional shows great strength and dedication to your relationship.

If one or both of you have struggled with addictions and sexual sin, a Catholic counselor can provide spiritual and emotional tools to facilitate healthy communication.

And if one or both of you have been through any form of sexual abuse or assault, know, above all, that in the Father’s eyes you are nothing less than whole, blameless, and worthy of love. Working through these experiences together, with a counselor, helps cultivate trust, intimacy, forgiveness, and true peace.

Give every part of yourselves to the Lord.

If you struggle with aspects of your pasts, ask for the grace of healing. During a guided holy hour on a retreat I once attended, a priest advised asking Christ in prayer to reveal to us what wounds in our lives he desired to reveal. Sit with these wounds and confront them as they surface, he instructed, and then visualize giving them back to Jesus. Christ, the ultimate beloved of our hearts, desires so deeply to share our heartaches and, moreover, to redeem them.

Resolve to forgive, no matter what.

Forgiveness might take a long time. That’s alright. I encourage you and your fiancé, however, to promise one another that no matter what, you will eventually forgive all past wrongs. Grudges are poison; a source of doubt that limits true freedom. Trust in each other, and in your love, and you will reveal the Lord’s mercy to one another.

There have been times in our relationship where I’ve badly desired the will to forgive my husband and move on, even as I struggled to get my bruised heart on board. I feel thankful that even while upset, I’ve frequently sensed the Lord’s peace amid the storm within. In that peace, I have so strongly felt the certainty that I would forgive, even if I wasn’t ready at the moment. I never doubted I would, and prayed I could feel ready to do so quickly. Let me let go of this, I begged. Help me trust in this certainty.

Never lose sight of prayer for your fiancé, yourself, and your relationship. Prayers of agony, of asking for the grace to diminish or remove former sins from your memory, and even prayers of thanksgiving for the emotional weight of dealing with the past are all more than acceptable.

Our every prayer is a delight to the one who so ardently asks for our total trust: Jesus, I trust in you.

In the times I experience that deep conviction of forgiveness, I thank God for these gifts of trust. Gifts that have affirmed to me my husband’s deep goodness and the ways in which our hearts are so specifically suited to one another’s. I hope, truly, for you and your fiancé to be flooded with similar graces: filled with his peace, living examples to one anotherof divine love and mercy.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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He Invites Us: Developing a Healthy Attitude Towards Chastity

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

I spent my engagement on a year of service, speaking about chastity to middle and high school students. It was...a time of paradox.

Talking to five classes a day about reserving sexual intimacy for marriage while being tempted to do the opposite. Advising seventh graders to draw physical boundaries at simple kisses while navigating the more complicated boundaries of being in a serious, yet chaste relationship in your twenties. A crucible of formation and prayer wracked with frequent attacks. Awaiting my wedding, a day I was pretty sure would be among the happiest of my life, while coming to terms with the awareness that even the most beautiful earthly gifts can be idols, just a flicker when compared to the fire of divine ones.

It felt good, in a way I hoped wasn’t prideful or self-glorifying, to share my story of having stuck around too long in the wrong relationship for me, one in which I let myself be used, of writing stacks of letters to my future husband, and finding even my biggest dreams insufficient to the reality of the man I would marry; someone so sacrificial, self-giving, and pure of heart. The girls I spoke to sometimes cheered when I revealed all the letters I’d written would be a surprise for my husband-to-be in a matter of months. “And then,” said one student, “you’ll be married and you won’t have to worry about chastity anymore.”

I paused. Her words, though clearly rooted in a place of innocence and good will, didn’t sit right. But I couldn’t immediately explain why. I bumbled through an explanation that chastity doesn’t end in marriage, feeling the frustration of what seemed like a missed opportunity. On the drive home, I challenged myself to better articulate exactly why it doesn’t.

If chastity is not defined as mere abstinence, not just a list of no's but as sexual self-control for the sake of freedom and authentic love, so that your yes can be truly meaningful, of course it doesn’t end at the altar. Chastity embodies love that is free, faithful, total, and life-giving, so much so that the self-discipline and disposition to being a living gift--in whatever way that looks like, to your spouse and to others--spills over in the best way possible, changing not just your sex life, but your outlook on life in its entirety. Practically speaking, what’s the best way to do this, throughout engagement and on into marriage?

It’s natural, and so good, to anticipate the fullest physical expression of your love within marriage. Yet my thoughts on that drive home, and in the months and years since, have emphasized to me the importance of viewing that anticipation in a healthy way. I realized the notion of abandoning chaste love after marriage could easily encourage a white-knuckle attitude of just “making it through” times of abstinence, could make an idol of sex, and could become a crutch enabling a lack of self-control.

I wanted something more for my relationship: true freedom to give of myself instead of license to do whatever I wanted, a healthy perspective and respect for the gift of our sexuality instead of elevating it out of proportion as a highest, pleasure-focused good.

If, like I did, you find yourself still refining your view of abstinence, chastity, and anticipation during engagement, I encourage you to pray for a spirit of reverence in your physical relationship. Don’t feel discouraged if you recognize the need for a shift in perspective, but fortified and resolved. Authentic love and freedom aren’t a destination, but a long path. One on which we still might stumble, yet one far more exhilarating and alive than any other journey.

Your walk up the aisle is, quite literally, a walk toward Calvary: the image of a life poured out and given without reservation, for the sake of pure love. Ask for the grace to give of your own life in the same way; to imitate and embody the love of the Cross. Christ gave entirely, and invites us to do the same. His Passion and love are just that: not a milestone to reach and then move on from, but a constant outpouring of self. An invitation. He awaits us, and our yes, always.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Chastity and the Battle to Let Love Conquer Lust

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

If you ever imagined and prayed once your finger held an engagement ring, your relationship and spiritual life would soar to the heights and become less complicated, only to learn the truth sometimes more resembles the opposite, you aren’t alone. The love of man and wife is transformative and real, life-giving, with the power to transcend and change this world. It’s obvious why the enemy constantly snaps at the the heels of something so good, so beautiful, so much more powerful than death.

During my own engagement, I was suddenly more aware of spiritual warfare than ever before. In times past, to be honest, I’d always considered attacks from Satan more of a superstition than a reality, yet here came a hurricane of self-doubt, anxiety about the future, and particularly for my fiancé and I, battles with purity. At the time, I was serving a mission year as a chastity speaker, and my boss told us to expect a battle.

Photography:    Petite Fleur Studios

As I began my mission, and as my husband-to-be and I embarked on thirteen months of long-distance dating and engagement, we struggled constantly, spending our rare visits arguing about wedding matters and staying up too late, too physically close--sex was a line we were resolved not to cross, yet we’d inch closer to that line than we’d intended, all the same. The deeper I fell in love with him, the more I wanted to express that love fully.  

Don't misunderstand me. Desire for your beloved is good and it’s holy, but of course, its fullness is ordered toward marriage. Before engagement, our physical relationship was something I was proud of. The degree of purity my fiancé and I had preserved had deeply healed me from a past relationship, and I could honestly say I'd never felt lustful towards him, never felt the desire to overpower, to take from him, or to reduce the truth of who he was.

But the human heart is a battlefield between love and lust. When authentic love is what you prize and when you’re able to rise above the culture’s message that being lusted after is desirable, you still might find yourself sliding into habits of lust and use without even meaning to, and find yourself wondering if you’re worthy of your vocation. That’s a lie.

When I was with my fiancé--and even when I wasn’t--I couldn't get the enemy off my back.  Between my engagement and my work, I was determined to be pure in my thoughts, words, and actions, to become ever more free and fully alive. Yet I found myself constantly going back to confession for what felt like the same old sins, and there were a few times I just broke down with anxiety.  

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when Our Lady's conception crushed the head of evil, I was consumed with anxiety about my worth as a woman. Rather than looking to Mary as a perfect model of faith, beauty, and purity, I saw her as an unattainable ideal whom I could never come close to imitating. How could I--so imperfect and so unworthy--be a real bride when it was her who was the real one, the one seeking the will of the Father in all things and embodying a perfectly integrated sexuality? It became increasingly difficult to not view my marriage as a finish line I couldn't wait to just stagger across, when the whole fight would presumably be over and I could stop feeling so fake, keeping my battles a secret. Another lie whispered in my ear: if only they knew.

The world wonders why, if chastity is such a fight, not to just give in and plant a white flag in the sand. But I knew I wasn't just following the rules. I was so internally convicted of the right path, knowing it was the best way to show my love.

So live in encouragement. Live in the tension of awaiting the full expression of your love for one another on the day you become man and wife--become one.

Believe with your whole heart you are good. You are worthy. You are also human, and the Lord delights in our humanity, flaws and all. Looking back, I'm sure now that through every attack on my purity, I was receiving graces I didn't even know about. Ask for the grace to refuse your temptations, to silence the part of you that feels unworthy, and to endure whatever trials your relationship is going through. Run to his mercy as many times as you need to, and be renewed. The Father is so loving and so gentle with us. Remember to be that with yourself, too.

A Benedictine monk told me once to combat spiritual warfare by standing between the pillars of Our Lady and the Eucharist. He said when we recognize darkness, say, Evil, I reject you. I claim victory. I claim the Cross. 

I made a consecration to Our Lady in college. Sometimes I forget that behind every perfectly worn chain or Miraculous Medal is a very imperfect woman. I am inadequate, strengthened only by grace. These devotionals aren’t so much a desperate tether to stay close to her, I’ve realized, as much as a reminder that she has also chained herself to me. A loving mother never gives up on her children. Rest in her loving mantle, cling to her son, and even while storms rage and the battle continues, you will know peace.


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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