Saturday, August 30, 2014

Listen in to Our First Radio Interview + More Media Appearances!

Manny and I were thrilled to have our first radio interview last Thursday on the Catholic Mompreneurs on Fire radio show, hosted by Christina Weber. As promised to all the CanWeCana-watchers on Facebook, here is a link to the show. Just click and listen!! (The interview segment of the show begins after about 4 1/2 minutes, if you prefer to fast-forward.)

In honor of our foray into radio, I've created a new Media Appearances page on the blog. It includes past web interviews like the one with Sarah Reinhard of CatholicMom for the Tech Talk: Catholic Blogger series. It also tells you where to find us next, like in the September issue of our diocesan magazine, The Long Island Catholic.

If anyone is looking for a speaker on Catholic marriage and family, particularly in local parishes around Long Island, please get in touch via the blog or email me at I'm putting together a series of articles on Pope Francis' upcoming Synod on the Family (Oct. 5-19) and would love to share what I know.

Thanks so much for your support and interest. God bless you all!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Just Judge or Just Another Judge? (Part Two)

In the second part of this retrospective on Justice Sotomayor, my husband Manuel P. Santos, M.D., explores the impact that the justice's career has had on her family and faith life. He continues his earlier analogy to the song The Impossible Dream, which was made famous by the musical film Man of La Mancha.


To bear with unbearable sorrow

Was there pain along the way in Justice Sotomayor's rise to the highest court in the land? To answer this question we turn to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, a novel which is, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a masterpiece though of a different genre. The novel begins, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Sonia overcame many obstacles, and indeed one could argue that obstacles are there to be overcome. Sorrows on the other hand are borne, and often accompany us for a lifetime.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sorrow as deep distress, sadness, or regret especially for the loss of someone or something loved. Did Sonia lose anything or anyone during her life?

Well, let’s see, at age 7 she was diagnosed with diabetes. Think of your own life and tell me, have you ever been sick? Have you ever been diagnosed with a serious illness? The realization that health is both tenuous and fragile comes at a price. For some, the price is anger. Such anger is often, though not always, directed towards God. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? For others the price is a slow and persistent sadness. For Sonia, as with millions of diabetics the world over, every insulin shot and finger stick is a reminder of their illness. Perhaps it is also a reminder that life is a gift, though that realization does not necessarily do away with the sadness that comes from knowing what has been lost. It is this sadness I speak of, the sadness which comes without warning, the sadness which lingers.

At age 9 Sonia suffered the loss of her alcoholic father to a heart attack. He was 42 years old and while it’s true that he had neglected and tormented his children and his wife, his death represents not only a loss but a lost opportunity. Gone is the possibility of redemption and with it any chance at reconciliation. It also complicates the process of forgiveness for past hurts, a process that research shows to be essential. Sonia admitted during an interview with Oprah Winfrey (April 1, 2013) that growing up as the child of an alcoholic affected her deeply. “You look for subtle physical signs that tell you trouble is coming,” She said, adding, “You become a watchful child.” This fits a pattern frequently seen in adult children of alcoholics (ACOA), marked by hyper-vigilance and a tendency to scan the surroundings for potential catastrophes. Such people also tend to have difficulty with intimacy, pronounced abandonment issues, and an intense fear of losing control.

As if playing out a script, Sonia married her high school sweetheart, Kevin Edward Noonan, on August 14, 1976. They had no children and within seven years were divorced. Reflecting on her failed marriage, Sonia has stated that, “the fact that I was leaving my home at 7:00 AM and getting back at 10:00 PM was not of assistance in recognizing the problems developing in my marriage.” Although her statement is rather understated and seems overly matter of fact, she would state along similar lines, “I have found it difficult to maintain a relationship while I’ve pursued my career.

The final loss is perhaps best referred to as a ‘loss in progress’, since it cannot be fully assessed until her death, and even then remains somewhat hidden from mortal eyes. I am, for those still wondering, speaking about her Catholic faith. If I am maligned for having the temerity to comment on this aspect of her life, I will accept such criticism as partially warranted. I do not presume to judge the judge, only to look at the facts and perhaps draw some conclusions, uncomfortable though they may be. Towards this end I solicit an unlikely ally, the New York Times.

In a 2009 article, the New York Times discussed Justice Sotomayor’s Catholic upbringing, as well as the fact that although she was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic high school she did not attend Mass regularly while at Princeton nor during her years at Yale Law School. Recall for a moment that she was married in 1976, and that furthermore she chose to get married at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Unfortunately this tells us little since many Catholics whether tepid, lapsed, or outright indifferent to their faith, seek to marry in the Church. The reasons for this are many, though the scourge of divorces (with or without annulments) testifies strongly that a problem exists. Is it a lack of religious formation before the wedding? Perhaps it’s a simple case of choosing the wrong marriage partner. Of course there are reasons when a separation or divorce truly is the only option. Too often, however, the culprit is a matter of priorities. In short, many marriages fail because there is an unwillingness to place the marriage first.

The New York Times article goes on to describe the conservative block of Supreme Court Justices (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) as committed ‘attendees’ at Mass. An odd phrase to be sure, akin to describing some Jews on the Supreme Court as regular ‘attendees’ at Synagogue, or pointing out that Malcolm X or other observant Muslims regularly worship in the Mosque. Be that as it may, the article notes that because Judge Sotomayor is by all accounts a ‘cultural Catholic’, she is more likely to be pro-choice and pro gay marriage (unlike most Hispanics, which the article notes are pro-life and not in favor of gay marriage).

So, is Justice Sonia Sotomayor a lapsed or cultural Catholic? The facts seem to support that conclusion. Some readers may applaud this as a good thing. Such readers may see her Catholicism as an unwelcome limitation and praise her courage for setting herself free of such bondage. Well, there’s a name for people who say or whisper such things, it’s called a bigot. Intolerance comes in all forms, and when it’s directed at devout members of any faith, be it Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, the bigotry is the same.

To run where the brave dare not go

The fourth and final line of this verse from the song The Impossible Dream asks that we take a look at what may be. What impact will this brilliant daughter of the poor and voiceless have on the nation? When President Obama called to tell her that he had decided to nominate her to the Supreme Court, he asked two things of her. The first was for her to accept the counsel of his advisors and in particular this meant Vice President Joe Biden since he had chaired every Supreme Court nomination hearing since 1987. The second request, that she keep in mind where she came from, that she remember her roots. As the story goes, she immediately replied that the second request was easy. Easy perhaps, though I suppose it depends on which roots one is talking about.  If it’s her Catholic roots, I submit to you that she has failed in her promise to President Obama.

There’s an old adage that most people have heard at one time or another and it states, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Well, when NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court it was making a very public statement that she was their kind of nominee.

In turn, she has been quite vocal about the importance of privacy rights (i.e. read the right to abortion), and her support of precedents which support those rights (i.e. Roe v. Wade). It is, perhaps, a magnificent example of irony, then, that on the very day that her confirmation hearings commenced, a woman by the name of Norma McCorvey (i.e. the actual Jane Roe in the Roe v. Wade trial) was arrested for disturbing the hearings. I quote her words, the words which she stated openly for all to hear and which got her arrested:

“I’m here to overturn Roe and defeat Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. She’s unworthy of the position. She’s Catholic. She’s even unworthy of taking communion because of her pro-abortion stance.”

Was it really necessary for us, reader, that NARAL Pro-Choice America endorse Judge Sotomayor before we could say with some confidence that she was firmly pro-choice? Well, perhaps for some the facade of impartiality is worth maintaining. You know the charade I’m talking about, the one where we pretend (or rather, some politicians pretend) that a Judge nominated to the Supreme Court by a Republican President or by a Democratic President does not, de facto, meet certain criteria. At the risk of being overly simplistic, a Republican President’s nominee must be pro-life and a Democratic President’s nominee must be pro-choice. To argue otherwise is foolish if not outright disingenuous.

It’s not difficult these days to be a Democrat and also be pro-choice. It’s expected. It’s not difficult to be a woman and be pro-choice. It’s expected. It’s not even difficult to be Catholic, albeit nominally so, and be pro-choice. Sadly, it’s the norm. I do not accuse Justice Sotomayor of cowardice. On the contrary, I think she has demonstrated herself throughout her life to be a woman of great strength and even tenacity in the face of opposition. I’ll say it loud and clear for all to hear, she is a brave woman. She is not, however, a brave Catholic. Catholics and other Christians are being persecuted in Iraq by ISIS and when confronted they are given a choice. Convert or die. Those Christians, those martyrs, are made of the same flesh and blood as you and me. And yet, they are willing to die for their faith. These too are Sonia’s roots, though she may not realize it. There is bravery in the face of criticism and then there is bravery in the face of death.

Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe), a convert to Catholicism, has come out bravely to be a voice for the voiceless. Who will listen to her? Will Justice Sotomayor hear her? Will she not only hear but listen? That remains to be seen.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Just Judge or Just Another Judge? (Part One)

This two-part post on Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the U.S. Supreme Court is the last in a series on this blog analyzing the family backgrounds of prominent pro-choice figures. This series, written by my husband and co-author Dr. Manny Santos, will continue on


Some children dream of being superheroes. It almost doesn’t matter which one they aspire to be. The dream is an impossible one, and as such doomed from the start. Such dreams are amusing despite being impossible, and most parents find them harmless enough. A different type of dream is the impossible dream in the quixotic sense, as highlighted in the song made famous in the 1972 film Man of La Mancha. The lyrics of this famous song give us a roadmap to the life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who by many accounts has achieved a dream that seemed impossible. 

I'll examine the following four lines of the song, showing how they pertain to Justice Sotomayor's life and choices, both the fortunate and unfortunate.

To dream the impossible dream, 
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has not only broken through the glass ceiling but undoubtedly inspired countless boys and girls to rethink the impossible and continue dreaming. Presciently perhaps, the justice's mother gave her the name Sonia, an English version of the name Sophia, which means wisdom. On June 25, 1954, when she came into the world, few could have dreamt that she would one day become the first Hispanic to sit on the Supreme Court (and the third woman ever to do so).

To dream the impossible dream

As a young girl, Sonia dreamed of becoming not only a lawyer but a judge, admittedly a rather uncommon aspiration for a child living in an East Bronx housing project. Yet, if we wish to understand Sonia it is first necessary that we strive to understand her mother Celina. Born in 1927, Celina Baez grew up in Lajas, a small town three hours from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Although the countryside may have been idyllic, her life was not. Celina’s mother was long plagued with health problems, and died at an early age, leaving Celina (age 9) to fend for herself along with her siblings (Celina was one of five and shortly after the death of their mother, they were abandoned by their father). Celina Sotomayor, now 82, recalls that her family was so poor she and her four siblings had to share one pencil. Despite these hardships she was always driven to improve herself and at age 17 left Puerto Rico to enlist in the Women’s Army Corp, ending up in Georgia. Although her English was limited, the corps trained her as a telephone operator.

After leaving the corps, Celina met and married Juan Luis Sotomayor, and true to her nature sought and earned a high school equivalency diploma at James Monroe High School. Given her prior experience, she was able to land a job as a telephone operator at Prospect Hospital in the South Bronx. Lest you, reader, begin to think that Celina’s life of hardship and struggle had become a thing of the past it is worth noting that her husband Juan frequently sought comfort in a bottle. Although his drinking undoubtedly affected not only Celina but also her two children, his premature death at the age of 42 from a heart attack propelled Celina into the role of sole breadwinner and single mother. Undaunted by this newest obstacle in her life, the 44 year old mother of two managed to support the family whilst simultaneously pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse. She enrolled at Hostos Community College in the Bronx to become a registered nurse and after two years turned dream into reality.

Speaking about the years during which his mother balanced working full-time with being a student, Juan would later recall, “My sister’s strength was English, and mine was math. We helped her get organized because it was a big shock for her to go back to school. But she did very well.” This period, so formative in her life, was recalled by Justice Sonia Sotomayor during a 1998 appeals court awards ceremony. As quoted in the New York Times, “My mom was like no student I knew. She got home from school or work and literally immersed herself in her studies, working until midnight or beyond, only to get up again before all of us [the next day].”  Celina transmitted her determination and love of learning on to her children, stating in a matter of fact fashion that, “I always expected them to do their best.” Adversity did not seem to affect her priorities, and as her son Juan states, she saved every spare penny to pay for a Catholic school education for her children and to buy a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. “I remember the enormous financial burden that placed on my mother,” recalled Sonia.

By all accounts, Celina’s efforts paid off.  Her daughter Sonia went on to graduate as valedictorian from Cardinal Spellman High School (1972), Princeton University summa cumlLaude (1976), and Yale Law School (1979). Her son Juan earned his medical degree from NYU after attending City College, subsequently completing his specialty in Pediatrics at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse and specializing further in allergy, immunology, and pulmonology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (For more background on Justice Sotomayor, read here.)

To fight the unbeatable foe

In a recent interview with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked about a plaque which hung on her door and stated, ‘Well behaved women rarely make history’ (the original phrase: ‘Well behaved women seldom make history’ has been attributed to many people, including Marilyn Monroe and Eleanor Roosevelt, but most likely was coined by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich). By her own admission, Sonia is not a well behaved woman. She describes the sign hanging from her door as, “almost a life motto.” To describe her as a fighter may sound disrespectful to some but the facts, as they say, speak for themselves. Let’s take a brief inventory of the hurdles she has had to overcome on the road to the Supreme Court, a road that in more ways than one is certainly the road less traveled.

Her first obstacle was poverty, most assuredly an impediment to achieving the American dream. Not only was Sonia poor, she came from a very distinguished and well established line of poor people. As we’ve already seen, her mother was poor, and her mother’s mother was even poorer. Her father was not only poor, but poorly educated, and as if that were not enough he was an alcoholic. How did Sonia and her brother Juan break free from the vicious cycle of being among the have-nots? The key to this was their mother. Celina placed love of education amongst the few gifts she was able to bestow upon her children, second only to the life she gave them and the faith she raised them in. Further evidence of how far Sonia has travelled comes to us from a rather unique source. Rarely do I have the opportunity to quote a gravedigger, and it would be foolish to pass up such a learned source since even Shakespeare saw fit to impart the wisdom of a gravedigger or two in Hamlet, considered by many to be his greatest work. Thus it is that we turn to Mattias Sela, a 33 year old gravedigger from Lajas, the small town from whence Sonia’s mother hailed. There lies her father now, so soon taken from his son and daughter. “It’s a point of pride for all of us because she’s risen up from the bottom,” Mattias tells us, since “not many of us do.” Gravediggers have a way with words, don’t they?

The second obstacle on the road to success was the fact that she was Puerto Rican. Sure, the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City revels in the magnificence of La Raza, but behind the bravado there is the bitter reality that Hispanics are a minority and that they lag behind whites in almost every measure of achievement. Attesting to the not so hidden bias, Albita Rivera, a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico and president of the Women’s Caucus in the Puerto Rican House of Representatives says of Justice Sotomayor's appointment, “It changes the view that North Americans are racist and do not want us because of our color. It eliminates that obstacle.” Another testament comes to us from a woman quoted in the NY Times, Ela Betancourt, when she states, “We have to remove the stigma of West Side Story.” (Read more here.)

The third and perhaps most daunting obstacle on the road to achieving what many see as one of the most powerful positions in America was the simple fact that Sonia is a woman. When she attended Princeton, she was well aware that only three years earlier the prestigious University did not even admit women. As if to prove her worth, she graduated with honors. Her three years at Yale Law School were no less remarkable in that on more than one occasion she had to bear the scornful look of those who believed she was only there because of affirmative action. Her subsequent work as an Assistant District Attorney in New York under New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau ought to put to rest any question of her qualifications on the basis of being a woman.  Her subsequent appointments to the judiciary at successively higher levels, ultimately culminating in her nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court, should serve to silence any lingering doubts. She is not only a remarkable woman but moreover she is a remarkable person, period. The questions that remain are what might she have lost along her path to success and what impact might she have on the future of our nation.

Visit again later this week for the second half of this post.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pablo & Kristin's Tips on How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

For the second post in our series How to Stay Married 10 years & Then Some, we'd like to welcome the Gomez family. Pablo and Kristin are the godparents of our fifth child, Cecilia, because we couldn't imagine stronger prayer warriors for our daughter! Kristin actually guest posted for Can We Cana? earlier this year. Here are Kristin and Pablo's tips for living a long, happy, and holy marriage.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

We have been married 18 years and have 6 children, ages 3 to almost 16.

2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.

 Forgiveness, the Sacraments, and a sense of humor.

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

It has helped us always to remember that we are not in this alone...and that periods of suffering in our marriage can bring us, our family, and others redemption. It has made the permanence of the marriage a non-negotiable, which in turn makes the desire to make the marriage happy even greater -- because "the rest of our lives" (God willing) is a mighty long time!

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

First, make sure that each of you believes in the permanence of marriage, has a healthy understanding that suffering comes for us all and need not be feared, and that each is open to life. Secondly, make sure you know how to communicate. Healthily. And if you do not, ..LEARN!! Read great books by Catholic and Christian therapists, saints, life coaches, specialists, etc. Surround yourself with couples that respect one another and model good communication -- and seek their wisdom with humility. Thirdly, make sure each of you can and does ask for forgiveness and knows how to forgive others. And finally, have a similar vision for what you see as a mission for your life. This, we believe, helps one to know oneself, which adds greatly to the happiness and harmony of the potential marriage. If your dating partner has a chunk of any of these  fundamentals missing, we would say it is best to break it off, permanently or temporarily, to allow the areas of weakness to be identified and healed or strengthened before pursuing the relationship any further. This is not to say one should look for Mr. or Ms. Perfect, for they do not exist! But we feel these areas are crucial because a certain degree of health and mutual vision is necessary for a strong marriage. There are struggles in even a healthy, strong marriage, so it is best to have some of the fundamentals tied down first!

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Spend these first few months or years really getting to know the hopes and dreams of each other and those of your own! Delight in each other, but do not become TOO attached to the comforts and ease of a life pre-children as this can possibly lead to other difficulties later on. Try to make good couple friends who share your values and who have relationships you admire. Constantly seek to deepen your faith and your spiritual life -- try to use these years to develop a sense of how you will incorporate your faith and prayer lives into your marriage. And, again, enjoy getting to know each other, for this is just the beginning!

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

Raising children is a large and weighty task -- and an intensely joyful and incredible experience and gift! We think most, if not all, people are still unprepared for the level of constant sacrifice that is asked of us once we are blessed with a baby -- and increasingly so with every new soul in our care. Our advice is to RECOGNIZE these difficulties for what they are -- blessings! To paraphrase a little of what we tell our children regarding work in general, do not be afraid or hesitant when faced with the intense work (of raising a family). Do not dread or try to avoid the challenging workload, for life in general is largely a life of work. Be glad and grateful that your workload is so noble, so tender, and so eternally rewarding. Be grateful that these children have you as their parents for you will give them the loving, secure home that so, so many children long for and will never know. Give until it hurts, as Mother Teresa says...and then give some more! "Do not fear " is our mantra when it comes to children -- whether in bearing them, birthing them, educating them, raising them up in the Faith, delighting in them, disciplining them, protecting them, forgiving (and seeking forgiveness from) them, nurturing them,or letting them go when it is time. It is all a plan that we are just one  part of -- albeit an integral one.

In a nutshell, the bumper stickers are true! Babies ARE blessings! And, yes! Teenagers are too! Plus everything in between and thereafter! Savor the moments of childrearing! They DO go quickly!Expect to work hard, suffer much, laugh often, enjoy fully and push yourself to your physical, emotional, and spiritual limits on a daily basis! Family life is a beautiful path to heaven!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Kids' Book Picks: One Light, One Heavy

Since my children's school only assigned a grand total of eighteen books for my six kids to read over the summer, I decided to add a few more unassigned kids' books to my reading list this summer. Hah! If your local school is like ours and your kids need to read 25 books each just to complete the school year requirements, either of these two choices would be great picks.

1. Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra, by Jay Stoeckl. This graphic novel is the sequel to Saint Francis and Brother Duck, which I reviewed last year. I enjoyed Stoeckl's second book even more than his first, perhaps because our family loves St. Nick so much. Whereas St. Francis' sidekick in the first book was good mostly for comic relief, the Mouse of Myra is a real dramatic foil for St. Nicholas, who quietly converts this pagan and skeptical mouse to Christianity. Notwithstanding the deeper themes, the Saint Nicholas graphic novel still retained enough of the series' original lightness to prompt my 3-year-old to run away with the book and attempt to hide it in her secret stash.

Although recommended for all ages, Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra is written at a third- to fifth-grade level and would probably appeal most to kids of that age category. I can also imagine parents having a great time reading it to the whole family, especially as December approaches with its celebrations of St. Nicholas' Day (December 7) and Christmas. (To purchase the book from Amazon, click here.)

2. Children of Terror, by Inge Auerbacher and Bozenna Gilbride. Far heavier in tone than the Stoeckl graphic novel, Children of Terror is an autobiographical account of two survivors of the Nazi death camps -- Inge, a German Jew, and Bozenna, a Polish Catholic. The nearly unimaginable details of their young lives present a gripping portrait of the horrors of World War II. As the introduction explains, eleven million innocent people died during the Holocaust. Six million were Jews, and the remaining five million included many Polish Catholics. Children of Terror brings this reality home in an unforgettable way, reciting vivid details of this childhood trauma that seem engraved on the authors' minds.

I would recommend Children of Terror mainly for middle school and up because of the subject matter, although the reading level would make it accessible to younger children as well. Teachers have often chosen the book for classroom use because it recounts events of historical importance from a child's perspective and generates a lot of interest and discussion by young readers. Bozenna and Inge frequently travel across the country and abroad to tell their story. If you are interested in inviting them to speak to your local school or organization, they can be reached at or (To purchase the book from Amazon, click here).

My thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a free review copy of Saint Nicholas and the Mouse of Myra. My thanks to Bozenna Gilbride for providing a free review copy of Children of Terror.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Audacity of Being Born: Barack Hussein Obama II

This guest post, written by my husband Manny, is the second in a series about the family backgrounds of prominent pro-choice figures and the psychology behind their politics. The original version appeared at


The name, alone, demands respect. Barack Hussein Obama II, though born in Honolulu, Hawaii, bears a name that could easily belong to a sheik or a sultan. The fact that this has been used against him by some conservative pundits and lesser educated Americans is lamentable but almost inevitable. Born August 4, 1961 and destined to become the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama would have the honor of being crowned with many ‘firsts’. He would become the first President to win the Nobel Peace Prize before being President, the first President born in Hawaii and the first African American President. (As an interesting aside, Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while still in office in 1906 and Jimmy Carter after his tenure, in 2002.)

Among the many accusations levied against President Obama, perhaps one of the most pernicious has been to accuse him of being Muslim. Not only is it insulting to millions of Muslims worldwide to have their faith thrown about as an accusation, but it is simply inaccurate. In an interview with the evangelical periodical 'Christianity Today', Obama stated, “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.” Furthermore, on September 27, 2010, Obama released a statement commenting on his religious views saying “I am Christian by choice. My family didn’t - frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. And my mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew, but she didn’t raise me in the church. So I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead-being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.” These statements ought to retire any lingering doubt about the sincerity of his beliefs, at least among thinking adults.

Back to the historical and psychological assessment of Barack Obama, which is for those wondering why I’ve written this, the primary purpose of this article and it is with this in mind that we will now take a bit of a journey into the past.

Obama’s parents met in 1960 in a Russian class at the University of Hawaii at Manao, where his father was a foreign student on scholarship. The couple married February 2, 1961, when Obama's mother Stanley Ann Dunham was only 18 years old. The couple soon began living apart from one another when, in late August 1961, Obama’s mother moved with her one-month-old son to attend the University of Washington in Seattle for one year. In the meantime, Obama Sr. completed his undergraduate economics degree in Hawaii in June 1962, and subsequently left to attend graduate school at Harvard University on scholarship. Obama’s parents divorced in March 1964, after only three years of marriage. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya in 1964 where he remarried, visiting Barack in Hawaii only once, in 1971. He died in an automobile accident in 1982 when his son was 21 years old.

Now, using simple arithmetic and the fact that humans take 9 months to go from fertilized egg to “It’s a boy!” I can say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty (sorry, that’s a legal term of art I picked up along the way after being married to a lawyer for fourteen years) that President Obama’s mother was pregnant out of wedlock, and that her marriage to Obama Sr. was, as they say, somewhat of a shotgun wedding. How can I make such a bold assertion simply by counting the months? Well, let’s look at the facts. Obama was born on August 4, 1961 and his parents married on February 2, 1961 placing the two events only six months apart. (ABC News agrees.)

Young, pregnant, and without a means of supporting herself, Obama's mother may seem like the poster child for Planned Parenthood’s justification for why abortion must be available without restriction. Yet, this young woman chose marriage and life, and nine months later her son Barack Hussein Obama II was born.

Though he bore the name of his father, the father-son relationship was simply not to be.  Obama Senior, as we’ve noted before, divorced his son’s mother after only three years of marriage, moved back to Kenya, and remarried. So, Barry, as Obama was called in his childhood, grew up without a father figure until he was four years old, at which time his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, remarried. Fortunately for Barack (or Barry), he then moved to Indonesia along with his mother to live out his early adolescent years in relative stability.

Obama’s early education offers us a remarkable glimpse into how our future President’s character was shaped and molded.  From the age six to ten, Obama attended Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic School for two years and Besuki Public School for one and a half years, supplemented by English-language Calvert School homeschooling by his mother.  By all accounts, Obama would go on to become a devoted husband and a dedicated father to two lovely young ladies.  Perhaps growing up with a half-sister, Maya (daughter of Stanley Ann and her second husband, Lolo Soetoro), and a nurturing father figure contributed towards his caring and at times paternalistic attitude towards women.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Obama has been quite upfront and forthright about using alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine during his teenage years to “push questions out of my mind.”  He even admits being a member of the “choom gang”, a self-named group of friends that spent time together and occasionally smoked marijuana.

His openness and sincerity carry over to his candid description of his diverse and quite numerous relatives. In a 2006 interview, Obama stated proudly, “It’s like a mini-United Nations. I’ve got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I’ve got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.” Obama also has one half sister (from his mother) and seven half siblings (from his Kenyan father’s family).

It is safe to say that his extended family, given its size, did not benefit from the frequent utilization of birth control or the panacea of ‘safe and legal abortion’.  It is also fortunate for those who voted for Obama, as well as those who praise his efforts to defend a woman’s right to choose abortion, that his own unwed teenage mother did not make such a choice.  As a final thought, I wonder if the pro-choice mantra of ‘every child a wanted child, every child a planned child’ would have left us without our 44th president?  Was he planned?  If we are to judge matters by the available facts, the answer seems to be most definitely not. Was he wanted?  Absolutely, he was not only wanted but worth radically redefining and altering the life of his eighteen-year-old mother.  Which raises doubt in my mind about wisdom of the pro-choice agenda and existence of the right to abortion which it claims resides somewhere in the Constitution's penumbra.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Theology of the Body is More than Sex: Author Interview with Prof. Windley-Daoust

St. Pope John Paul II's general audiences known as the Theology of the Body (or TOB) are "a theological time bomb waiting to go off," according to papal biographer George Weigel. In my role as moderator of the TOB forum on Google+, I've encountered many people's testimonies that reading the Theology of the Body changed their life and often brought them back to the Church. TOB's message that sexuality and marriage are not just good but sacred is a powerful expression of what's best about Catholicism. But TOB was never meant to end there, and recent scholarship has pushed past earlier limits and demonstrated convincingly that TOB actually helps us to answer the eternal questions of what it means to be human beings with human bodies created in the image of God. Prof. Susan Windley-Daoust's recent book The Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying, is an important contribution to modern thought on TOB, and she tells us more about her book here in this author interview.


1. How did you become interested in the Theology of the Body (or TOB)?

My dissertation work in the early- to mid-1990s focused on humanity's creation in the image of God -- basically, a field called theological anthropology.  But I had barely heard of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body then. After teaching at the college level for many years, my undergraduate students kept bringing it up and wanting me to go into more depth about it. I finally broke down and began reading some of the material -- first, the secondary material my students were reading, and second, what the Pope actually said in the general audiences where he developed these themes. I was very intrigued and could see the appeal through my students' eyes...and I couldn't stop going back to the audiences. The more I read, the more I realized there was theological work to be done here.

2. How did you get the idea to expand the Theology of the Body out of the realm of marriage and sexuality and into other areas such as childbirth, disability, and dying? 

It just seemed obvious, honestly. The entire first half of the audiences is about what it means to be human, not about marriage in and of itself. And John Paul II himself encouraged theologians to "take it further" in the audiences. Another piece of it for me was that I was in a three-year program discerning a call and preparing to be a spiritual director. So much of the audiences are about how to see God's call for your life, and responding to that gift. Since spiritual directors help people see God's hand in the midst of everyday life, jumping to childbirth, impairment, and dying seemed very natural.

It's interesting to me that in the past year four books have come out attempting to expand and apply the insights of the first half of the audiences to a wider range of primordial human experiences, and three are by women -- my book, Emily Stimson's These Beautiful Bones, and Leah Perrault's Theology of the Body for Every Body. (The fourth is Fill These Hearts by Christopher West.)

3. What is the primary audience for your book? 

It's written as a "readable academic" text, aimed at upper-level undergrad or graduate students who want to study the Theology of the Body. The book would also be appropriate for a class on theological anthropology or systematic theology. It doesn't assume much prior knowledge of the Theology of the Body -- I reprise it a bit in the beginning, and every chapter has an opening summary section. I think if you are interested in TOB, you'll be able to read it.

4. I understand that well-known TOB expert Prof. Janet Smith made a surprise mention of your book in her keynote speech at the Theology of the Body Congress in Philadelphia this past July. Tell us more about that. 

Well, it was a surprise to me! I didn't know she had even read it. It was a very kind and unexpected plug for the work and the argument. I was sitting there in the audience with my mouth on the floor (and people at my table, who I had just met, whispering "hey, isn't that your book?"). I introduced myself to her afterward and she was very gracious and enthusiastic. It means a lot to get that kind of compliment from a person whose work I respect.

5. In your book, you mention briefly that you and your husband adopted a son with cerebral palsy. How did that personal experience influence your thinking on the theology of disability? 

I could talk about this for an hour.... We have five kids, and our fifth child Alex was a gift through adoption. He does have cerebral palsy. But honestly, most of the book was written while we were going through the adoption paperwork for Alex -- we had not met him yet, since he was in Ukraine.

I had initially wanted to do my dissertation on the theology of disability, which is an increasingly thriving school of thought in contemporary theology. My dissertation director talked me out of it, but my interest remained. I saw lots of connections between John Paul II's focus on the vulnerable, the concept of receiving life as a gift, and the theology of disability, so naturally, it came out in the book. But I didn't write this book out of my experience of parenting Alex -- all I can say is that a number of things converged at once that year.

6. What's next for you? 

I've written a draft copy of a more "popular" (that is, not angled to the academic world) book that introduces a spirituality of childbirth influenced by the Theology of the Body.  Kind of like "what to spiritually expect when you're expecting." A publisher is looking at it now. I hope that comes to fruition, because so many women say that giving birth was one of the most spiritually rich moments of their lives, and that deserves to be explored from a theological perspective! I would be interested in doing something similar about a spirituality of dying.

In addition, I'd like to write some academic articles related to TOB. I've also been approached about presenting this material to diocesan pastoral ministers (which would be great, because I love the teaching/retreat mix model and would love to do more of that). But I also have a family of seven, and a full-time job teaching undergraduates theology. They take first priority! So we'll see what happens.

This book is available in hard copy through Amazon and in electronic format through iTunes.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Clinton's Choice

My husband Manny continues his series of guest posts here, this time taking a close look at the paradoxes underlying a certain politician's fight for the right to choose abortion.


It seems a curious paradox that sometimes the unplanned and unwanted choices turn out to be the best ones of our lives. At least, that’s the only conclusion I can draw from a series of observations I’ve made recently while looking into the past of some fairly prominent individuals.The first subject of my leisurely inquiry is our 42nd President, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (birth name William Jefferson Blythe III). An astute reader will be asking why, if God saw fit to grace William Jefferson with the surname Blythe, a name so mellifluous, so gentle, so easily rolling off the tongue, why would anyone then change it to Clinton? Clinton, for all its merits as far as surnames go, is far more brusque and shocking to the senses. To blithely go from Blythe to Clinton demands an explanation. Fortunately for us, history provides us one.  

William Jefferson Blythe III, in 1950 at age four
The fascinating part of my sojourn into the realm of history comes when we look at Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia Dell Cassidy (1923-1994). Virginia’s parents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, lived in Hope, Arkansas, where they owned and ran a small grocery store. When Virginia was six months pregnant, her husband William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (a travelling salesman) died in an automobile accident. A tragedy such as this is always unexpected. A tragedy such as this can never be planned for. And yet, here we have Bill’s future mother Virginia (I say future mother so as not to offend those liberals who might object to my conferring upon poor Virginia the title of ‘mother’ since at the time she had not yet given birth to Bill), widowed and six months pregnant. Surely, surely one could understand and hold off on passing judgment if she would have chosen to have an abortion, even in a back alley. But Virginia chose to carry her unborn child to term. Three months later, William Jefferson Blythe III was born on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. Is it appropriate to use the word ironic here? After all, Hope is the second theological virtue (Faith and Charity are the other two).

A single mother with no means of providing for herself and her newborn child, Virginia was fortunate to have her parents help her. She was able to attend nursing school and in 1950 she graduated and married Roger Clinton, Sr., who owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother. The family (I apologize for the use of this traditional term since I realize it may offend certain progressives who might prefer the use of a more generic phrase such as the ‘family unit’ but…too bad) moved to Hot Springs in 1950. Bill Clinton has said that he remembers his step-father as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., and things were so bad that he recalls having to intervene on several occasions with the threat of violence in order to protect them.   

As a child, Bill, or Billy as he was then called, attended St. John’s Catholic elementary school, and would later go on to attend the public high school. The lack of exposure to higher-level Catholic education may explain, in part, the fact that during his administration he championed policies which led directly to countless abortions throughout our country and throughout the world, though the early childhood exposure to Catholic teachings may have indirectly contributed to his campaign promise to make abortion “rare and legal.”  Or perhaps it would be helpful to glimpse through a more Freudian lens in order to see how his childhood, which his own wife Hillary described as an abusive one , may have affected or even determined his subsequent views (much like a set of billiard balls carefully aligned on a table can be setup in such a manner that striking the first will almost inevitably result in the last of the series falling effortlessly into the pocket). Such an analysis would focus on the curious way in which he, at the age of 15, adopted the surname of his abusive step-father, giving birth as it were to Bill Clinton and setting aside (as if blithely) his birthright to his actual father’s name. Such a gesture by a teenager, who was surely seething with anger towards the man whom he frequently saw abusing his mother, is hard to fathom, unless on some unconscious (or perhaps quite conscious and deliberate) level he was hoping it would appease the wrath this elder, less stately Clinton. Whatever the intention, the gesture failed, and abuse continued. 

Powerless to save his mother, the young William Jefferson Clinton would go on to wield great power on the political scene, eventually as we all know becoming governor of Arkansas and then President of the United States. Despite holding the highest office in the land, a position that grants its holder the dubious honor of being referred to as the most powerful man on earth, Clinton had backed himself into a corner. With great power comes great responsibility and, one might add, less freedom to change one’s name professionally, for unlike the Pope, the President does not assume a new name upon taking office. Clinton, then, was powerless to shed the surname of his mother’s abuser despite being the most powerful man on earth.

And what of his many indiscretions? What can peering through our Freudian lens tell us of his seeming powerlessness over his own libido -- a powerlessness which nearly cost him the very power he fought so hard to obtain? Although we may never know (and some would never care to know) how many women, other than Hillary, Bill said “I do” to after his wedding to our future President (a reluctant nod here to those Democrats enamored with the notion of a Hillary Presidency), it may be safe to say that Chelsea might have many half-siblings if it were not for the widespread availability of contraceptives (and perhaps also those “rare but legal” abortions). After all, one wonders how except for the availability of condoms, the pill, and “safe and legal” abortions, could Clinton have remained childless despite decades of presumably discreet sexual encounters behind the back of his beloved wife? The Freudian lens allows us to see, albeit in hindsight, that it may not have been simply the party platform, nor an over-riding concern for the health and well being of women, that led to Clinton being the champion of a “woman’s right to choose”, but that perhaps there may have been a bit of self-interest in the mix.

So, then, let us close the circle by coming back to those unexpected and unplanned choices we sometimes make in life, those unexpected and unplanned choices which sometimes have far-reaching consequences that reverberate throughout our lives and throughout history. Let us return to that place, to those choices, and ask ourselves what would have happened and where we would be now, if a young, unfortunate 23-year-old named Virginia living in Hope, Arkansas had decided back in 1946 to choose death for her unborn child. Virginia's choice would have eclipsed all the choices and chances that her son Bill would ever have. 

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Roundup of Best Posts for NFP Awareness Week 2014

Last year's guest post for NFP Awareness Week by James of continues to be one of the most popular posts on the blog. This year, we'll give you a roundup of the best NFP Awareness Week posts from all over the web, including James', of course. Thanks to readers Tara, Scott, Ellen, Susan, Cat, and Mary Lou for their suggestions. If you know of other great posts that should be added to the list, please share the link in the comments!

1. What is Natural Family Planning, by James of RealCatholicLoveandSex. James emphasizes that Natural Family Planning is actually a misnomer. Charting the signs of a woman's fertility is more of an education in her own body. We endanger our own happiness by making idols of our plans, as many couples learn when they use artificial birth control to prevent pregnancy for many years only to face infertility problems when they finally "plan" to conceive.

2. The WINNER'S Guide to NFP, by Simcha Fisher. To much popular acclaim, Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher authored The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning, which was released by Our Sunday Visitor earlier this year. So for NFP Awareness Week 2014, Simcha is offering a bevy of free give-aways, including an autographed copy of her book, a ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor (which retails for $135 - $150+), and a copy of my friend Susan Windley-Daoust's new book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying.

3. The Paradox of Crunchy Women and Chemical Birth Control, on Ethika Politika. The post asks why anyone buying into the popular organic food craze would still willingly put artificial hormones into their own body every day. In addition to causing potential side effects like weight gain, depression, heart attack, and stroke, hormonal birth control has been shown to interfere with a female's ability to select a good mate or to attract one, according to certain studies.

4. Natural Family Planning Awareness Week: A few thoughts, by Deacon Scott Dodge. This post makes the important point that developing any virtue requires self-control and self-denial. The virtue of chastity is no different, and NFP helps us to attain that virtue.

5. Which Method of NFP is Right for Me?, on Although not an NFP Awareness Week post, strictly speaking, this short quiz is extremely helpful for people who are just starting NFP or who are not satisfied with their current method.

6. NFP Week! Theology of the Body in a Nutshell, by Ellen Gable Hrkach. Spousal love should be free, faithful, total, and fruitful, says Ellen, and artificial birth control can destroy all those aspects. It encourages an "I can't say no" attitude to sex, which keeps both husband and wife from loving in a free and mature manner.

7. My Husband, the Gentleman, by Sarah Hammond. This young bride explains how cherished she feels because of her husband's agreement to use NFP. Other couple testimonies are available on this page of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site.

8. The Fruitfulness of Truth, by DarwinCatholic. A lovely essay on how talking about being ready (or not) for another child can bruise feelings and egos, but since marriage lasts a lifetime, these bumps on the road can be seen as temporary setbacks rather than insoluble problems.


9. Naturally Healthy: So Why Artificial Birth Control?, by Mary Lou Rosien on This post provides valuable information on lawsuits filed against artificial birth control manufacturers because of alleged health risks. It also gives a useful summary of the top two forms of Natural Family Planning currently being practiced.

10. USCCB Declares NSA Awareness Week a "Smashing Success", by Prof. Susan Windley-Daoust. On her blog The Ironic Catholic, Susan presents (what else) an ironic take on the official hierarchy's sub-par publicity efforts for Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.