Monday, May 2, 2016

3 Rocking Resources for Catholic Brides

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, that one of the best things about the Catholic blogging and writing world is the wonderful people you meet. Today I'm featuring fellow author Stephanie Calis, who wrote the recently released Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). I'm honored to be an endorser of Stephanie's book and thrilled to give you a peek into how this young mama of two survived launch week, plus links to her book, free eBook, and new image-driven website for Catholic brides!

1. Congrats on the launch of your beautiful book Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner.  How do you feel now that you can actually hold the results of all your hard work in your hands?

Thank you so much!  It's wonderful to hold my own book after three years of working on it.  Pauline Books and Media sent me a box of 20 copies tied together with lace and sprinkled with flowers!  But seeing the actual book is also a little unfamiliar, as strange as that sounds -- I've been so accustomed to sharing the cover image and talking about the content on social media over the last few months, but honestly, it's hard not to flip through and reread what exactly I wrote about certain topics while imagining what people's reactions might be to the way I've presented things.  In that sense, having Invited out there is so exciting, but also makes me feel so vulnerable!

2. What were the highpoints of launch week?

The weeks leading up to the launch felt insane.  My husband Andrew is working towards a PhD in English, and his comprehensive exams, which were 12 hours long and determined whether he'd be eligible for official doctoral candidacy, were two weeks before my book's April 1 release date.  I'd put off a few projects, like writing a supplemental eBook and creating a promotional video, until after the exams so we could prioritize Andrew's studying.  I was glad I could make that sacrifice for my husband, but he didn't really get to relax afterwards because of all the catching up I needed to do!  Even though that was crazy, it made it possible for the actual launch week to be more peaceful, because everything was done.  My favorite project was the eBook, Full of Grace (you can download a copy here)which features meditations for engaged and married couples to pray for each mystery of the Rosary.  Andrew helped, and since the Rosary has been one of our favorite ways to pray together from early on in our relationship, we loved getting to share some of our spirituality and offer marriage-related prayers specifically for couples.

I hadn't really thought to look at my book on Amazon before the release, after which I figured I'd be eager to read reviews and things, and was completely surprised when a few friends told me via Facebook that Invited reached #1 in the category of New Wedding Planners in the week before the release.  Naturally, that felt wonderful, but my prayer after seeing the ranking, and up through now, has been that I might thankful for those quantifiable measures of the book's success, but that at the same time, I can also be appropriately detached from them and focus my prayer on asking the Holy Spirit to bless the couples who will encounter what I wrote, that they might be inspired and challenged to radical love.

3. How did your husband react? And are your kids old enough to understand what's going on?

Andrew is amazing; such a man of praise, awe, and affirmation while somehow still helping me to feel little--that's a good thing!  He's consistently told me how proud he is of me and of my writing, and shows it in his willingness to take over our chores and caring for our kids during deadlines for the book.  Yet he is also so good at reminding me that God, not me, is in control.  As happy as I've been with the experience of writing Invited and working to spread the word and create an exciting release, I've also had so many instances of anxiety about whether I'm doing things right, whether I'm doing it too much for myself, and whether anyone will even care.  Every time I've gotten upset, he lovingly tells me all will be well and tells me to place everything in the Father's hands.  How I need that reminder, and how thankful I am for him.

My son Aaron is two and a half and my daughter Lily is five months, so they don't have a huge sense of what's going on, but Aaron does know that when his mama goes out to do work, it's for writing, and I showed him the book when I got the box in the mail.  He was more interested in the flowers that were in there and ran to put them all in a dump truck.  Perspective.

4. What was it like to work with a publishing house run by religious sisters? Did your editor wear a full habit?

Pauline is run by the Daughters of St. Paul, and their charism is evangelization through the media.  They do wear a full habit, and their joyful spirit was so evident through our correspondence.  My editor, Sr. Marianne Lorraine, particularly impressed me in her ability to critique my work with charity, and to hear out my responses to her suggestions as we worked through the text, also with great patience and kindness.  I worked with several laypeople whom Pauline employs, as well, on things like permissions and marketing.

Even though I'm joyfully married and knew for a long time that I was called to marriage, my friends in college and I used to ask each other what religious order we'd most like to hypothetically join (hashtag Catholic girl problems…).  I used to say I'd want to be in an order that specialized in a handicraft or food product (I'd explain it as "like Mystic Monk coffee, but with nuns"), but maybe after this experience I'd change my answer to an order like the Daughters, so I could write and edit!

5. What's next for you?

Two friends, both Catholic wedding vendors, and I are incredibly excited to launch a new ministry for Catholic brides and newlyweds, Spoken Bride, at the end of this month.  We've been talking for almost a year about the deep need to combine practical wedding advice with awe-inspiring images from beautiful real Catholic weddings.  Our goal is to create a resource that rivals secular wedding sites in beauty and creativity, while also emphasizing the unique truth and richness of our faith. In a major way,

I think planning a nuptial Mass with amazing prayer, music, and your witness as a couple, alongside a reception that's stylish, fun, and creative, lets the beauty of Catholic marriage speak for itself.  It serves as an invitation to your guests, meeting them where they are, drawing them into the sacred, and sparking a desire to share in the authentic freedom and joy experienced by the bride and groom.  We are currently accepting submissions from real weddings, membership in our vendor guide, and written contributions, and would love to feature you!  You can read more about us and our mission here.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Married Love is Total Self-Giving, Says Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia

This fourth and last in a series of posts on Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia looks at how love is a total gift of self. Earlier posts focused on the Pope's praise of the faithful, free, and fruitful aspects of married love.

Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love) should be required reading in pre-Cana classes, say commentators, because the Pope explains Catholic teaching on marriage so wisely and elegantly to the current generation. Throughout the papal exhortation, you can find the themes of the four marks or "keys" of married love: faithfulness, freedom, fruitfulness, and a total gift of self. The idea of a total gift of self was a cornerstone of Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. 

In embracing and beautifully restating this idea of John Paul II's, Pope Francis turns to the Old Testament's Song of Songs:
as the woman of the Song of Solomon will sing in a magnificent profession of love and mutual self-bestowal: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (2:16; 6:3).(12)

Because married love is total, it alone can "symbolize the union of the human heart with God" (142). Married love is pleasurable, passionate, and "all-encompassing," he says. It "is also exclusive, faithful and open to new life. It shares everything in constant mutual respect" (125).

Married love transcends the present moment and encompasses "a totality that includes the future," says Pope Francis (214). It is a living contradiction of today's "culture of the ephemeral," which "fails to promote love or self-giving" (39). Ultimately, marriage reveals divine love, "a love manifested in the total self-gift of Jesus Christ, who even now lives in our midst and enables us to face together the storms of life at every stage" (290).

The Pope wisely reminds us that a total gift of self is not the same as a total loss of self:
The ideal of marriage cannot be seen purely as generous donation and self-sacrifice, where each spouse renounces all personal needs and seeks only the other’s good without concern for personal satisfaction. We need to remember that authentic love also needs to be able to receive the other, to accept one’s own vulnerability and needs.... (157)
A call to marriage is not a call to martyrdom! It's a call for each spouse to become the person God wants them to be with the help of the other. According to Pope Francis:
As love matures, it also learns to “negotiate”. Far from anything selfish or calculating, such negotiation is an exercise of mutual love, an interplay of give and take, for the good of the family. At each new stage of married life, there is a need to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that there will be no winners and losers, but rather two winners. (220)

The total, self-giving love of spouses is meant to be shared with their children. Parents who continue to love "when children prove troublesome and ungrateful" are "a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus" (162). But selfless love can show itself every day, not only in times of crisis, Pope Francis says.
We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly (cf. Mk 10:21). No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). This is what we experience in the daily life of the family. We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention, since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father’s immense love (323).

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Fruitful Love Symbolizes God's Inner Life, says Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia

This is the third in a series of posts showing how Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia explores the themes of faithful, free, fruitful and total love (or The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, as we call them in our recently released book). The first two posts examined how sacramental married love is faithful and forgiving and respects personal freedom, according to Pope Francis. This post focuses on the theme of fruitfulness in Amoris Laetitia.

The night before Pope Francis officially released Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), I was chatting about it with Fr. Dave Dwyer on the Busted Halo radio show. Revealing that he had been able to get his hands on an advance copy, Fr. Dave told me, "You're going to love it. He says a lot about fruitfulness."

And Fr. Dave was right. Amoris Laetitia includes an entire chapter entitled "Love Made Fruitful," which praises both sexuality and fertility as gifts from God. The Washington Post trumpeted: "It is, perhaps, a strange lesson from a pope: Even the erotic can be divine." Never mind that popes, most notably St. John Paul II, have taught this lesson since the late 1970s. And although one blogger "derisively dubbed" Pope Francis' exhortation "The Joy of Sex," it could just as easily bear the name "The Joy of Fruitfulness."

Stressing the generous cooperation of parents in God's plan for creation, Pope Francis states:
The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life (cf. Gen 1:28; 9:7; 17:2-5, 16; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3-4). .... Seen this way, the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love (11).
Pope Francis sees a strong connection between the themes of faithfulness and fruitfulness. The "joys and sacrifices" of faithfulness "bear fruit as the years go by and the couple rejoices to see their children’s children," says the pope (231). For that reason, the Church is "grateful" for "the witness of marriages that have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving" (38).

Perhaps in penance for his earlier off-the-cuff comment that Catholics don't have to breed like rabbits, Pope Francis emphasizes that "large families are a joy for the Church" because "they are an expression of the fruitfulness of love" (167). He also reaffirms Catholic teaching against the practice of abortion and contraception.

But Pope Francis also goes beyond the concept of physical fertility by talking about "an expanding fruitfulness" (178-184). He encourages both adoption and foster care, saying that they "express[] a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. ....They make people aware that children, whether natural, adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in their own right who need to be accepted, loved and cared for, and not just brought into this world" (180).

The pope pointedly remarks: "We also do well to remember that procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love" (181). He gives examples of what our book calls "emotional" or "spiritual" fertility:
Each of us is a “fisher of men” (Lk 5:10) who in Jesus’ name “casts the nets” (cf. Lk 5:5) to others, or a farmer who tills the fresh soil of those whom he or she loves, seeking to bring out the best in them. Marital fruitfulness involves helping others, for “to love anybody is to expect from him something which can neither be defined nor foreseen; it is at the same time in some way to make it possible for him to fulfill this expectation” (322).
Pope Francis cautions that "no family" -- even one with many children -- "can be fruitful if it sees itself as overly different or 'set apart'" (182). All families are "called to make their mark on society, finding other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them" (181). By arousing a desire for God, reflecting the beauty of the Gospel, and serving the poor, a family's "fruitfulness expands and in countless ways makes God’s love present in society," he says (184).

Monday, April 18, 2016

Pope Francis Praises Personal Freedom in Family Life

The four keys to a lasting marriage are faithful, free, fruitful, and total love, as we explain in our newly released book on Catholic marriage. Pope Francis stresses these same four themes in his recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love). Our last blogpost looked at what the pope had to say about the first key, faithfulness, and this post looks at his praise of  personal freedom, the second key. 

Some people fear that marriage or family life will restrict their freedom. But in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis asserts that faithful love and personal freedom are not contradictory. He says:
“freedom and fidelity are not opposed to one another; rather, they are mutually supportive, both in interpersonal and social relationships. ... Honouring one’s word, fidelity to one’s promises: these are things that cannot be bought and sold. They cannot be compelled by force or maintained without sacrifice” (214).
Freedom is not the same as license, the pope reminds us. "It is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible," he laments (34). This false idea of freedom leads people to sweep aside their commitment to love "whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome" (id.). A self-centered lack of faith in the future is the opposite of true freedom.

"Free love" and "free choice" have become dirty words in some circles. But true "freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves" (33). A freedom enriched by "noble goals" and "personal discipline" is precisely what allows each of us "to give oneself generously to others" (id.).

A person who knows how to give love freely and generously will patiently wait for a free gift of love in return. "Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart,” states Pope Francis (99). A mature love does not fear:
we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. ... [T]his freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are (115).
A person who knows how to love freely and generously will also willingly take second place, realizing that the first place in every person's life, even a spouse, belongs to God. Francis explains: "There comes a point where a couple’s love attains the height of its freedom and becomes the basis of a healthy autonomy. This happens when each spouse realizes that the other is not his or her own, but has a much more important master, the one Lord" (320).

Just as loving spouses don't seek total control over each other, they don't seek to micromanage their children's choices either, according to Pope Francis. Instead, the parents' responsibility is teach their children "the wise use of freedom" (274). He explains:
Obsession ... is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience. .... What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy. Only in this way will children come to possess the wherewithal needed to fend for themselves and to act intelligently and prudently whenever they meet with difficulties. The real question, then, is not where our children are physically, or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams (261).
As children develop their own personalities and talents and discover their own path, they can teach their parents as much as their parents have taught them. "Inevitably, each child will surprise us with ideas and projects born of that freedom, which challenge us to rethink our own ideas. This is a good thing," maintains the pope (262).

In short, freedom in family life "is something magnificent," he says (267).

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia Praises Faithful and Forgiving Love

Reading the full text of Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia, I experienced the odd sensation that the Pope and I must have been poring over the same exact Church documents for the past two years. The themes of faithfulness, personal freedom, fruitfulness, and total gift of self are woven throughout the Pope's exhortation, and of course they're the central points of our recently released book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love. This article looks at what Pope Francis says about the first key, faithful and forgiving love.

While advocating mercy and compassion for families who have been torn apart, Pope Francis is not forgetting those who have struggled and yet remain together. In his recent exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), Pope Francis thanks and praises faithful families:
With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to the families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. For they bear witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of marriage as indissoluble and perpetually faithful (no. 86).
Looking to Scripture, the pope points out that marriage is "a covenant before God that calls for fidelity" (no. 123). He quotes the following beautiful passage from the Old Testament Book of Malachi (2:14-16):

The Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… Let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord.
By "supporting one another, growing old together," a husband and wife reflect "God’s own faithfulness," states Francis (no. 319). But fidelity is more than "obedient resignation. Rather, it is a matter of the heart" (id.). Again and again, a husband and wife have to rekindle their desire for love and commitment, he acknowledges.
Every morning, on rising, we reaffirm before God our decision to be faithful, come what may in the course of the day. And all of us, before going to sleep, hope to wake up and continue this adventure, trusting in the Lord’s help. In this way, each spouse is for the other a sign and instrument of the closeness of the Lord, who never abandons us (id.).
In deeply poetic language, the pope compares a long-lasting marriage to a fine wine:
Just as a good wine begins to “breathe” with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and “body”. Fidelity has to do with patience and expectation. Its joys and sacrifices bear fruit as the years go by and the couple rejoices to see their children’s children. .... Saint John of the Cross tells us that “old lovers are tried and true”. They “are outwardly no longer afire with powerful emotions and impulses, but now taste the sweetness of the wine of love, well-aged and stored deep within their hearts” (no. 231).

What will allow married couples to remain faithful, to stay the course, and reach that final stage of contentment? In a word, love. "We cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love," states the Pope (no. 89). Of course, he is not referring to the ephemeral love of sit-coms and celebrities, but the love that St. Paul eloquently describes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, a love that is, among other things, forgiving. 

Forgiveness is not an action that happens once and is over and done. It's a continuing attitude. We don't have to solve everything before we forgive everything. "Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations," faithful spouses "daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving," states Francis (no. 163).

To forgive one another, we have to acknowledge our part in the conflict. The Pope advises: "In resolving sincerely to forgive the other, each has to ask quietly and humbly if he or she has not somehow created the conditions that led to the other’s mistakes" (no. 236). "Even if it seems clear that the other person is at fault, a crisis will never be overcome simply by expecting him or her to change. We also have to ask what in our own life needs to grow or heal if the conflict is to be resolved," he adds (no. 240).

To forgive someone, especially when they have hurt us, requires accepting and forgiving ourselves. Sometimes our loved ones tell us things that we don't like to hear. None of us is perfect, but it can hurt when someone points that out. As Francis says:
Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships. Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring. We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others (no. 107).
We are more able to forgive others when we have received forgiveness from God.  Forgiveness is a grace-filled gift from God, one that we frequently don't deserve. We love God because he first loved us, and we can forgive others because God has first forgiven us. In the Pope's words, "If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us. Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism" (no. 108).

We are more able to forgive when we pray. If our default attitude tends more toward resentment than forgiveness, we can change. We can change through (1) "a sincere self-examination," (2) "recognizing a need for healing," (3) "the determination not to give up but to keep trying." and most of all (4) "insistent prayer for the grace to forgive and be forgiven" (no. 240). Through all these ways, we can learn or relearn the art of faithful and forgiving love.