Danger! Hormonal Contraception Use Doubles Risk of Brain Tumor in 15-49 Year-olds.

Researchers in Denmark have discovered that there is both a moderate increased risk of developing glioma (a type of brain tumor) among women who engage in shorter-term use of hormonal

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

contraceptives and a two-fold risk of developing glioma among 15-49 year olds who use oral contraceptives for 5+ years.

Every use of hormonal contraceptive was associated with an OR of 1.5 (95% CI: 1.2-2.0) and the OR increased with duration of use (long-term, ≥5 years: OR, 1.9; 95% CI: 1.2–2.9). The association between long-term hormonal contraceptive use and glioma risk was most pronounced for progestagen-only therapy (OR, 2.4; 95% CI: 1.1–5.1), especially when this regimen constituted the sole hormonal contraceptive therapy (OR, 4.1; 95% CI: 0.8–20.8). READ MORE

So many women are so careful about what they eat and how they exercise only to undo all that effort by poisoning themselves with oral contraceptives.  For more information on safe, healthy, effective methods of natural family planning, check out the USCCB’s NFP info page.  And check out Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving for answers to your questions about NFP and how it can benefit your health and marriage.

Pope Francis says many children are, “Orphans within the family.”

In his general audience, Pope Francis is asserting the importance of family life, repeating his exhortation to parents, and particularly fathers, to “waste time with your children.”  One even more shutterstock_163230620remarkable statement he made was that too many children are “orphans within the family.”

From Zenit

“Even as bishop of Buenos Aires,” the Pope recalled, “I warned of this sense of orphan-hood that children live today. And I regularly asked fathers if they played with their children; if they had the courage to have the love to waste time with their children. The answer wasn’t good, eh! The majority would say: ‘But, I can’t because I have so much work to do…’ And the father was absent from that child that was growing up and didn’t play with him, he didn’t waste time with him.”

The 78 year old Pontiff called on the Christian community to be more attentive to their children, saying that the absence of the father causes gaps and wounds that, over time, can become very serious.

Continuing his catechesis, Pope Francis continued to explain detrimental effects that a father’s absence can have on children. Due to this absence, children at times are like “orphans but within the family.”

Pope Francis highlights a problem Lisa and I speak about regularly on our radio program, the tendency for families to be little more than collections of individuals living under the same roof and sharing a data plan.  Family life has to be more than just the things that happen in the five minutes between all the other activities we’re involved in.  As a culture, we have completely lost the sense that marriage and family life are their own activities that require us to devote specific time to them.  Marriage and family don’t just happen because you occupy the same space.  Husbands and wives, parents and children need to make a special, specific, concerted effort to create rituals of connection that give them regularly scheduled, daily and weekly, times to work, play, talk and pray together.  This is what Pope Francis is calling families to–basic family life.

Evangelizing the culture doesn’t require much these days.  Simply by making time to be a family–and especially if dad leads the charge on this–will make your family a radical witness in the world and a light to all the other families you know.  Evangelize the culture!  Take up Pope Francis’ challenge to “waste time” with the people you love, so that the people you love don’t become orphans in your midst.

For more ideas for creating rituals of connection in your family, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.

Update from the Hutch: Pope Francis Praises Large Families

For all the cyber sturm und drang yesterday surrounding Pope Francis comment that Catholics don’t have to reproduce like rabbits to be faithful to the Church, many people forget that only a couple of short weeks before,

Image credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

(yes, I know, a millennium in the news cycle), at the meeting of the National Association of Large Families, Pope Francis said some very supportive things about parents who are heroically generous in the service of life.

The presence of large families is a hope for society….Dear parents, I am grateful to you for the example of love towards life, that you preserve from conception to natural end, despite all the difficulties and burdens of life, and that unfortunately, the public institutions do not always help you….Therefore, I hope, also thinking of the low birth rate that has long been in Italy, for a greater focus on policy and administrators on a public level, in order to give due support to these families. Each family is a cell of society, but large families are a more rich cell, more vibrant, and the State has an interest in investing in it.  READ THE WHOLE SPEECH HERE.

But…wait!  Pope Francis couldn’t possibly be holding two equally important yet somewhat distinct thoughts in his head at the same exact time, could he?!?  That would be MADNESSS, I tell you!  MADNESS!

Ah, but the Catholic way, young padawan.  The Catholic way that is.

For more information about discerning God’s plan for your family size, check out, Holy Sex!  The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing,Infallible Loving.   

Hugs Not Drugs? Physical Affection Fights Disease, Study Says

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still take my Dayquil and my antibiotics, but maybe I’ll follow that up with an extra big hug from anyone who can stand to be around my snuffly self.  (from PsychCentral)

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission

It’s cold and flu season again — make sure you get plenty of sleep, take some extra vitamin C and … hug each other a little more. Yes, that’s right. A new study reveals that frequent hugging lowers your chances of becoming ill during times of stress.  

Prior research has found that high levels of stress can weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and infection. On the other hand, science has also shown that individuals with a strong social support system tend to enjoy a protective “buffer” against greater levels of stress.

 In a new study, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University decided to test this information a little further. They wanted to see whether hugs could act as a type of social support and, in turn, protect people from getting sick while under stress.

“We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety,” said psychology professor Sheldon Cohen.

“We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection.”

For the study, 404 healthy adults completed a questionnaire asking about their perceived levels of social support. They also took part in telephone interviews for 14 consecutive days, reporting on how many conflicts they had experienced that day as well as how many hugs. Finally, the participants agreed to be given nasal drops containing a common cold virus. They were then monitored in quarantine to see if they developed any signs of illness or infection.

Overall, those with the strongest feelings of social support had a decreased risk for developing an infection while under stress. Hugs accounted for one-third of the protective effect of this social support. Among the participants who did become ill, those with greater perceived social support and those who’d received more hugs had less severe cold symptoms, whether or not they had experienced stress-inducing conflicts. (READ MORE…)

The Crux of the Matter: Catholics and Contraception–A Challenge to Margery Eagan.

Over at Crux News the other day, Margery Eagan posted a column indicating that she was “devastated” that Pope Francis crushed her hopes for reform on pelvic issues by affirming Pope Paul VI’s

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image Credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

courage in promoting Humanae Vitae.  A snippet: “Although he has not lived it himself, I had thought he understood something about good people living real lives in real marriages. I had thought he even understood something about the beauty of sex in marriage, the need for sex in marriage.  I was wrong.”

She goes on to share how shocked she was by Pope Francis’ backward attitudes about contraception.  Doesn’t he know that contraception is the key to a healthy romantic sex life (she’s apparently unaware that the pill kills libido)?  Doesn’t he understand that the pill has led to freedom for women (because she is apparently unaware of the inequality of the hookup culture that is so damaging to women)?  Doesn’t he know that contraception is the key to ending poverty and  world hunger (because condoms are both  so tasty and the progressive Catholic part of a complete breakfast)?!?   In other words, the typical “let them eat condoms” faux-social-justice, feelings-before-faith, stuff one often hears.


Who People Like Eagan Are Hurting…


Because it’s such well-trod terrain, I wouldn’t normally bother to address her column except that people like Eagan really don’t understand how many people they are hurting, not really because of the confusion they spread–there’s already so much confusion on these points that one person’s drivel will ultimately come out in the wash–but because of the fact that their constant agitation gets in the way of the Church ever being more pastoral on these topics.  What do I mean?


Well, we all know that the Church does not oppose family planning.  In fact, she proposes a very reliable  means of avoiding pregnancy through Natural Family Planning.  In fact, as I recently noted, even CNN is taking note of the rising, popular interest in NFP.  The problem is that NFP can be difficult to practice. Not so much because it is all that complicated–it isn’t and it’s getting easier all the time. Rather,  it necessarily involves some degree of sacrifice and self-discipline and couples can struggle to understand how to deal effectively with the tension and frustration that can result from periodic abstinence.  And this is where people like Egan are–albeit unintentionally, I’m sure–a real obstacle to the pastoral efforts of the Church to couples.


Even if, as writers like Eagan would have you believe,  only about 3% of Catholics practice NFP, that means there would be more NFP-Catholics in the US alone than there are Episcopalians (1.8 million vs. 2.3 million respectively).   The Church really needs to do a better job supporting those Catholics who are trying with all their might, and against significant cultural pressure,  to live faithfully, but it can’t.  Why?  Because the second it tries to be more pastoral at all, the Egans of the world hijack that effort and say, “See!  The Church is FINALLY admitting it’s wrong!”  At which point the Church has to stop what it’s doing and patiently explain, yet again, that “No Virginia, there is no doctrinal revolution.” and “Yes, Virginia, the Pope is still Catholic (and in other news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead).”


The Inconvenient Catholics


Any institution only has so many resources.  Because of the advocacy of folks like Eagan, the Church has to spend all of its energy defending itself against willful stupidity, leaving it with precious little energy to do anything useful on this front for the honest-to-goodness, flesh and blood, real-life couples that are striving to serve as a witness to the world that the Church does, in fact, actually know what it’s talking about.  Too often, writers  like Eagan, give the impression that they would rather deny these couples’ inconvenient existence–or at least discount their honest experience (as she does in her rather dismissive follow-up column).


Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on Margery (bless her heart). After all, in her follow-up column she did plug my book, Holy Sex!  (which her colleague, John Allen, said read like, “Dr. Ruth meets St Thomas Aquinas) as well as Patrick Coffin’s Sex Au Naturel . Granted, she references them in a  tongue-in-cheek, “I wouldn’t read this crap, but you can,” sort-of way, but a mention is a mention and I thank her.


But after thinking on it for a few days, I decided to respond to her columns on this topic because, unlike Eagan, I actually spend my days in the trenches working with Catholics who really are trying, with all their hearts, to be what they genuinely believe Christ is calling them to be.  Couples who have invited Christ to be the Lord of every part of their lives, including their bodies and the most intimate parts of their marriage.  They do it out of love and they do it with a real heart of sacrifice and faith. I see how much these couples would really benefit from just a little more support from the very Church whose ideals they’re trying to live up to and I see how impossible it is for the Church to provide that support because its emotional and pedagogical resources are being taxed by the histrionics of the Egans of this world.  I, for one, am more than a little tired of watching those faithful couples go it alone so that Margery & Co. can feel affirmed in their okayness.


A Challenge to Margery Egan


In her follow-up column, Eagan calls herself as a “journalist.”  Indeed, from her bio,  it appears that she has some actual experience here. I would like to invite her to make good on that claim.  I’ve never gone to J-school, but as I understand it, a journalist is supposed to at least offer the pretense of being unbiased and go through the motions of becoming informed, something Eagan hasn’t bothered to do in either of these two pieces I’ve referenced.  If she really wants to be a journalist and contribute to authentic dialog, I challenge her to actually talk  to the faithful Catholics I know who are living the truth of the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics.  I challenge her to read the books she links with one hand but patronizingly dismisses with the other.  You want dialog?  Let’s dialog.  I have no interest in changing your mind, Margery.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  But I am interested in challenging your self-righteous desire to wish Catholics like me and the people I serve out of existence.  We’re here.  We’re sincere.  Get used to it.  If you’re honestly interested in following Pope Francis example of encounter, here’s where you can find me.


And for anyone interested in discovering how the Church’s wisdom on love, sex, and marriage can help you take your relationship to the next level, check out, Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving,   For Better…FOREVER!  The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage and Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.


Pope Francis and Catholic Rabbits–5 Points to Consider

Pope Francis raised more than a few eyebrows yesterday when he said, “Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits – but no.”  Pope Francis asserted

Image credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image credit: Shutterstock. Used with permission.

that the church counsels “responsible parenthood”  a phrase referenced in several Church documents, including Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families.

Doubling down, Pope Francis went on to recount the story of a woman he knows who doctors said was risking her life by getting pregnant after seven caesarean births saying it was “irresponsible” to risk depriving her existing children of a mother by “tempting God” by intentionally entering into repeated high-risk pregnancies.

A few points.

1.  He Didn’t Say Exactly What They Say He Said.  Contrary to headlines, note that Pope Francis did not use the perjorative word, “breed.”  Many people seem offended–more by what the press says the Pope said than by what the Pope actually said. So what’s new?

2.  He isn’t saying anything new here.  As I have argued in For Better…FOREVER and Holy Sex!  The church is quite clear.  Contrary to many people’s belief, the “default” in Catholic teaching is not to conception. It is to “responsible parenthood.”    As moral theologian, Janet Smith notes, “Although bringing new life into existence is a great good, spouses are not…obligated to have as many children as they can.”

3.  Who Decides “Responsible Parenthood?  Some respondents I’ve read are especially offended that Pope Francis would call the woman who has chosen repeat high-risk pregnancies “irresponsible.”  They correctly point to the fact that the Church gives parents the right to decide these matters for themselves.  Even so, while the Church does say that parents must make this decision, the Church assumes it will be part of the decision.  St Ignatius’ rules of proper discernment insist that discernment always requires consultation with the Church. Further, the Church offers guidelines that parents are obliged to follow in their discernment process.  Specifically, in Gaudium et Spes #50 the Church writes,

Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfill their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. (emphasis mine)

As the highlighted portions of this text show, Pope Francis has the right, as the Universal Pastor of the Church to offer his informed opinion on what behaviors constitute responsible and irresponsible parenthood and parents have a responsibility to take his counsel seriously in their discernment.

4.  Integral Procreation.   In The Family and Human Procreation (2006) the Pontifical Council for the Family refers to the idea of “integral procreation” which I discuss in several of my books.  Integral procreation refers to the idea that openness to life is not limited to procreation.  Saying “yes” to life means committing to meeting the needs of every child we have–at every age and stage–to help them become the fully formed people of God that they are meant to be.  As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Families, “Fatherhood and motherhood represent a responsibility which is not simply physical but spiritual in nature; indeed, through these realities there passes the genealogy of the person, which has its eternal beginning in God and which must lead back to him.”

A mother and father who are open to procreation to the degree that they risk being unable to attend to the needs of the children they have are, in fact, not respecting the call to integral procreation or embracing the fullness of the Church’s teaching on openness to life.  Their hearts may be in the right place, but–as Pope Francis notes–that doesn’t mean they aren’t coming to the wrong conclusion.

Incidentally, this is why I often take issue with parents who automatically assume that the return of fertility means its time to get pregnant again whether or not they are able to attend to their existing children’s attachment needs.  Attachment is essential for good mental health as well as proper spiritual development.  As Sirach 16:1-3 says, “Do not yearn for worthless children, or rejoice in wicked offspring. Even if they be many, do not rejoice in them if they do not have fear of the LORD. Do not count on long life for them, or have any hope for their future. For one can be better than a thousand; rather die childless than have impious children!”

Scripture and the teaching of the Church is clear.  The call to being “open to life” is a call not just to have children but to only have the number of children you believe–through prayer, consultation, and sober consideration of your circumstances (as per GS #50)–you can adequately form as people of God.

5.  But Don’t Just Take it From Me.  In the wake of Pope Francis’ comments, a friend of mine who is a faithful Catholic mom of 11 pointed out, “I am not insulted by the Pope’s actual words. You need not only the financial ability, but the emotional ability (my husband and I call it ‘bandwidth’) to parent a large brood. It’s exhausting to do it well. And I have met far too many large (9 or more children) families where the children grow up and leave the Church OR swear they will NEVER have a large family because they never felt personally loved and acknowledged by mom and dad. This is a delicate topic. But we need to be able to love our kids and know them as individuals if we are to treat them as God sees us. THIS is what ‘responsible parenthood’ is.”


For more help discerning your family size, check out our books, Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing Infallible Loving and For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

Pope Francis Encourages Breastfeeding in Sistine Chapel

This past Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by baptizing 33 babies in the Sistine Chapel, NBC News reports. During the mass, the Catholic leader encouraged the

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

Image via Shutterstock. Used with Permission

infants’ mothers to breastfeed their babies. “You mothers give your children milk and even now, if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them, don’t worry,” Pope Francis declared in his homily.According to Reuters, the written sermon used the Italian phrase for “give them milk,” but during his remarks, the Pope changed it to “allattateli,” which directly translates to “breastfeed them.”  READ MORE

If the reports are correct, it is remarkable (and wonderful) to me that Pope Francis actually changed the text of his sermon from “give them milk” to “breastfeed them.”

For more information on ways you can have a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your little one, check out Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood and Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Managing Conflict With Your Spouse

No one likes getting into conflict, especially with their spouse. Lisa Popcak, co-author of “Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage,” explains how to manage spousal conflict practically so as to not hinder but rather deepen your marriage relationship.