I heard a radio talk show recently that fascinated me. The host is a man I admire in many ways. He is a very good, very ethical man. But I didn’t much admire him on this day.
The topic of this particular show, believe it or not, was whether or not a woman should breast-feed her babies, knowing that it will make her breasts less attractive for her husband. The answer seemed obvious to me. After all, God gave women breasts, and he fills them with milk immediately after she gives birth. That milk is filled with nutrients the baby needs, and antibodies to help that baby develop a healthy immune system. As I understand it, the composition of that milk actually changes as the months go by, adapting to the needs of the child at each developmental stage.
Incredibly, that was not our host’s attitude. His opinion was that, since formula-fed babies seem to survive infancy relatively unscathed, new mothers should take their husbands’ interest in perky breasts into account, and opt for formula feeding. He even went so far as to say that, if the baby gets three more ear infections in its first year of life as a result of being fed formula instead of breast milk, “so what?”
Look, I’m not a mother, and I have no personal stake in the breast-feeding vs. bottle feeding debate. That’s not my point. My point here is the motive for the decision. I was bottle fed, and seem to have turned out fine. I have no problem believing that there are good reasons for new mothers to choose to bottle-feed.
I just don’t believe that “maintaining perky breasts for her husband’s viewing enjoyment” should be primary among them.
The funny thing is, woman after woman called to say that their husbands wanted them to breast-feed – that the benefits the baby received far outweighed the resulting sag. (In fact, one friend of mine told me that the just the additional sleep he would get from foregoing the three hypothetical ear infections made the trade-off worthwhile to him.)
But our host insisted that all men lie about these things, and that if he could speak to the husband in private, the husband would admit that he would prefer his wife had chosen to bottle-feed.
This is where I had what I call one of my “JPII Moments.”
In the Theology of the Body, John Paul II spoke extensively about the Sermon on the Mount. You may recall that Jesus, in that discourse, said “You have heard it said, thou shalt not commit adultery. But I tell you, any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The Holy Father pointed out that Jesus didn’t say “Any man who looks at a woman who isn’t his wife lustfully . . .” He said any man. The American media, making the same mistake 90% of you are probably making right now, responded with great indignation about the crazy Catholic pope who said husbands shouldn’t be sexually attracted to their wives.
That’s not at all what he was saying.
Lust doesn’t mean “sexual attraction.” (Repeat: lust does not mean sexual attraction!) Lust is “the will to use another person for my own personal satisfaction, without regard for what is best for her.” Lust is using, not loving. And that sort of attitude is particularly inappropriate in marriage. Marital sexual union is total self-donation in love. It’s other-focused, not self-focused.
John Paul II went on to say that the audience at the Sermon on the Mount that day was shocked at what they heard. They knew that adultery – the act of sexual unfaithfulness – was wrong. But how could their looks be regulated? After all, men are very visually oriented. They can’t help looking lustfully.
Or can they?
That day, Jesus was saying “you have heard it said” that you are required to be pure in your acts. But now, there is a new standard. You are expected to be pure on the inside. You aren’t just expected to battle your nature. Your nature is expected to change.
How is this possible? It is possible in Christ. His appearance, His saving act gave us access to the Holy Spirit, through whom we become a “new creation” in Christ.
No, it is not normal for “natural” man, with his visual orientation, to choose saggy over perky in the interest of his child’s health. Nor is it “normal” for him to choose monogamy over promiscuity, or for a woman to put her husband’s needs before her own. A “good” man or woman will fight these natural tendencies, with varying degrees of success.
But truly holy men and women have an advantage. In turning their lives over to Christ and cooperating with His grace, those tendencies change over time. They become “new creations.”
John Paul II said that, after sin entered the world, the heart became “a battlefield between love and lust.” The only way for love to win out is to rely on Christ instead of ourselves.
In that context, choosing love over personal enjoyment, and saggy over perky, just isn’t so surprising anymore.