Sunday, March 8, 2009

Penn is mightier

It was inspiring to attend the Philadelphia Natural Family Planning Network's annual conference yesterday, where I had the honor of being keynote speaker, and see the great good work that highly motivated lay people can do to serve the needs of the Church and world.

Conference organizer Dr. Lester Ruppersberger, a board-certified OB/GYN, did something highly unusual—and I would say quite daring—for an organization dedicated to promoting natural family planning. Normally, pro-life conferences focus directly on countering abortion and the contraceptive mentality, with perhaps one speaker discussing chastity. The PNFPN event, by contrast, was entirely devoted to promoting chastity as the foundation of a culture of life.

Particularly impressive was the breadth of perspectives from which the speakers addressed chastity. For that, credit must go to the local organization Generation Life, from whose current or former ranks all the conference's speakers except myself were drawn. I was especially impressed by engaged couple Jessica Bayer and Matthew Chominski, who discussed chaste dating, and Mark Houck, founder of The King's Men, an apostolate that encourages men to fulfill their roles as leaders, protectors, and providers.

I have high hopes for Mark, as he is a compelling and deeply authentic speaker who is providing a distinctively Catholic voice on a topic that is normally the domain of Protestant writers and speakers such as John Eldredge. Drawing upon his own experience in overcoming an addiction to pornography and its concomitant habit of self-abuse, he stressed the importance of building up habits of virtue and living a Eucharistic life.

It was refreshing to hear someone come out and say what I have personally felt since converting to Catholicism: While intending no disrespect to our Protestant brethren, Mark said, "you cannot be chaste without the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist."

Taken literally, it is an unfair generalization. Catholics certainly do not have a lock on chastity. But, from a practical standpoint, I know that I was unable as a non-Catholic to live chastely to the extent that I can now that I have recourse to the sacraments.

The Eucharist enables us to fully live out our liberty in Christ. This is part of the great good news of the Faith, and it is this joy that Catholics should be witnessing to the world.