Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Six Ways to Pray Your Way Through Lent

Lent is coming soon, and many of us are already pondering what resolutions we'll choose this year. No resolution can succeed without prayer, however, so here's six ways to improve your prayer life this Lent.

1.  Make a daily prayer date with God. Best friends talk every day, so use the days of Lent to renew and deepen your friendship with God. If you don't pray every day, pick a specific time and commit to spending just five minutes telling God what's in your heart. If you already have a habit of daily prayer, add five more minutes to your regular time. For example, if you normally pray ten minutes a day, make it fifteen minutes a day for Lent. Scheduling prayer for the same time every day will help you keep your commitment. You wouldn't break a standing date with your husband, or your mom, or your best friend, unless you absolutely had to. So try to make and keep that daily prayer date with God.

2. Add a rosary to your day. St. Louis de Montfort said that praying the rosary was like giving a bouquet of roses to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, make your mother happy this Lent. Saying an entire set of mysteries takes 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how fast you recite the prayers. If that's too much time, just say the fifth Sorrowful Mystery -- one Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and one Glory Be while meditating on Our Lord's crucifixion. Say it with your spouse and your kids, and include your whole family in this beautiful tradition of prayer.

3. Make a morning offering. Offer your entire day to God, and he will bless you for it. First thing in the morning, connect with him and ask for his support and consolation throughout the day. You can recite this exquisite formal prayer, penned by St. Ignatius of Loyola: Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more. But you can also go a simpler route and create your own morning offering. Our family likes to say, "God please help me to do what you want today." It takes just a few moments and can bring so much peace to your day.

4. Ask for God's help more than usual. Sometimes when we feel stressed or overwhelmed, we forget to call on God's strength. Mini-crises hit us more than once a day, on average, and they give us ample opportunity to request divine assistance. Even if your schedule is too harried to carve out specific times for prayer, you can choose a one-sentence prayer (also called an aspiration) to reach out to God throughout the day. Many people use the Jesus prayer, which is "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner." Other possibilities are "God, make haste to help me" or "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."

5. Keep a prayer journal. If you decide to make Lenten resolutions, it's a good idea to keep track of how well you're doing. Writing down your success (or your failure!) is a great way to ensure accountability. So at the end of the day, you can note down in a journal whether you kept your resolutions that day or not. It will give you extra impetus to stay on track through the whole 40 days of the season.

6. Go to weekly confession. The Church encourages us to go to confession especially during Lent. Many people go at least once, but you don't have to stop there. Going to weekly confession during Lent will bring you an avalanche of graces. Telling the priest about your progress with your Lenten resolutions will enhance your ability to persevere. Take the whole family with you on Saturday afternoons, and everyone can benefit from this powerful sacrament.

May God bless you during this holy season of Lent! And if you have other ideas for improving prayer life during Lent, please let us know in the comments!


Photo Credit: Gerg1967 via Compfight cc. This article also appeared at CatholicLane.com, and was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging at the National Catholic Register website.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sneak Peek at Online Marriage Retreat Footage

The Can We Cana? online marriage retreat just finished, and the producers at Incarnate Institute/Word of the Vine made a 10-minute youtube clip from the first session. Check it out!




The retreat was a great success with almost 40 participants, including married couples, deacons, professors, and pre-Cana professionals. Some people even logged in all the way from Spain! Most participants gave the retreat a 4-star rating, and here's what some of them had to say about it:


  • "Very good content!" - Deric and Bonnie

  • "You ladies did a fab job." - Shawn

  • "I was very impressed ... the use of the technology was creative and very savvy." - Lisa

Thanks to everyone who participated. And remember to replenish your marriage every day. Don't wait until the wine has run dry!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Unmarried and Pregnant Accidentally on Purpose (A Review)

You should use Grammarly's plagiarism detection software because they're giving me a $50 Amazon gift card to say so!!! (Ahem.) You should use Grammarly's plagiarism detection software because a real wordsmith produces, rather than pilfers, his prose. (We now return to our regular programming.)
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Part mommy memoir and part single woman's lament, Accidentally on Purpose: The True Tale of a Happy Single Mother is an intimate look at one woman's choice to keep the baby she conceived on a one-night stand. Written by journalist Mary Pols and published by HarperCollins, the book did so well that it spawned a one-season CBS series starring Jenna Elfman.

What is the source of the book's appeal? At 39 years old, the author Mary faced the all-too-common question of why she stayed single while her friends and siblings made it to the altar. When Mary became unexpectedly pregnant, her reaction was to keep the baby, but not the father. The father, despite his washboard abs, lacked ambition and, as he quietly confided, had no "J-O-B." Scarred by his parents' divorce, he had little hope in his own future. Nonetheless, he badly wanted Mary to keep the baby and was willing to help her as much as he could. They ultimately stumbled their way to a co-parenting arrangement that suited them both.

The book taps into a cultural zeitgeist of wish-fulfillment. Over 40 with no husband and no children? You, too, can get pregnant (even if it's on a one-night-stand with a man more than 10 years your junior), and everything will be fine. You'll have a baby and an involved father who won't control you or burden you. You can have your happy ending without the responsibilities of marriage or heartbreak of divorce. The target audience for this macabre modern fairy tale is huge. According to 2012 Census Statistics, about 40% of people over the age of 35 are unmarried. Moreover, the most recent data pegs the number of single parent households at over 14 million. There are a lot of unmarried almost 40-year-olds and a lot of single parents who want to hear that everything will be okay.

The book is the author's way of coming to terms with a turbulent and difficult period of her life. In convincing herself that everything turned out for the best, she succeeds half-way in convincing us. What could have been a tale of whiny self-justification instead touches on a nationwide problem of well-educated, professional women in their 40s who are childless and unmarried -- not by choice.

You can't help wondering why this woman who presents herself so attractively in words hasn't gotten married when she claims that's what she wants for herself. It's tempting to blame her habit of premarital sex, but many people who have sex before marriage go on to get married anyway. It's tempting to blame her focus on career, but careerwomen get married, too. More than these two things, what seeps through the narrative is her attitude of objectifying men and finding them good enough for sex, perhaps, but not much else.

The author relates the following conversation with herself:
"I should probably stop sleeping with beautiful young guys," the sensible me told myself. "But I like sleeping with beautiful young guys," I said back. "Yes, but it's not the path to settling down."
She asked the father of her child for a friendship, and then a friendship with sexual benefits, but wouldn't sign a lease with him because she considered him a rent risk. The clear message she sent him was that he was only good for one thing. She sums it up succinctly, "of course, I was using him."

Nevertheless, when faced with a situation in which many would choose abortion, these two imperfect parents chose life. The author Mary grew up as the youngest child of Catholic parents who were "pro-choice only in theory." Her parents, who had seven children, "didn't have a problem so much with using birth control, just a problem with making it work." Mary's story proves that even a Catholicism that doesn't play by the rulebook can bring some good into the world, and that good is a new human being with a face and a name. Mary's relationship with her son seems far more pure and selfless than her relationship with the father.

The story ends in the middle, so to speak, while the child is still a toddler. I can't help wondering if the story's epilogue isn't as painfully messy as its beginning and its middle. How will the author's son feel about the circumstances of his birth and about his parents' choices? They may not have been able to give him a stable home with two married parents, but they gave him what they could -- they gave him life. And with life, there's hope.  Not such a bad fairy tale ending, after all.

Content Advisory: Explicit sexual content, some drug use. Not for everyone.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Traditional Marriage Is an Icon of Humanity (Part 2)

This post is Part 2 of guest blogger Carlos X's defense of traditional marriage in honor of National Marriage Week. Part 1 of Carlos' post explored the common mythological roots of the male-female union as expression of the divine in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Part 2 details the scientific acceptance of male-female union as the essential archetype of humanity. Read on to enjoy Carlos' post, and for more National Marriage Week resources, be sure to check out Catholic Match Institute!

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The Pioneer plaque, created by NASA

Love between a man and a woman has a mystical dimension in the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. But the ultimate manifestation of “the mysticism of sexual love” is when “the love experience becomes cosmic.”  (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces). So it's appropriate that when the world's scientists wanted to introduce humanity to possible alien races, they showed a picture of us as male and female.

In 1970 and 1973, NASA launched two far ranging spacecraft called Pioneer 10 and 11, on long-range interplanetary exploration missions. A small group of NASA administrators and outside scientific consultants, including the cosmologist Carl Sagan, decided to include gold-plated plaques aboard the spacecraft, depicting the nude figures of a human male and female. “It seemed to us appropriate,” the design team explained, “that this spacecraft, the first man-made object to leave the solar system, should carry some indication of the locale, epoch, and nature of its builders.” The team intended the naked couple to be “representative of all mankind,” as they explained in the March 1972 issue of Science magazine.

The Pioneer plaque was not designed solely according to scientific criteria, but relied on references from Greek statuary for its depictions, according to Carl Sagan's later book. The design team also conceded that the plaque could contain “anthropological” as well as scientific information about human beings. Most tellingly, Sagan originally intended for the human pair to be holding hands; he decided against it because feared that the two figures could be mistaken for a single creature if they overlapped. That bit of information reveals that the Pioneer pair was not intended to be “representative of all mankind” in the abstract (as if the male and female figures could have been plucked out of different continents and epochs), but in relationship to one another.  The plain correspondence of the nude man and woman in the Pioneer plaque to numerous depictions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is easy to perceive — they are essentially the same images.



INFERENCES FROM THE TWO IMAGES


The Genesis and Pioneer images, one religious and the other scientific, one intended to be mystical and primordial and the other intended to be modern and objective, show us that: 

(1) A man and a woman best reflect the entirety or fullness of what it means to be human.  The male and female are only whole in relation to one another: “Our state cannot be severed, we are one, One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.”  (Milton, Paradise Lost). 

(2) Man and woman, together, reflect the image of God.  (Compare that to John Lennon’s song “God,” which replaces God with a married couple: “I just believe in Me: Yoko and me—that’s reality.”  Moreover, the heterosexual couple is treated as a singular being—“Me”—to boot!)

(3) Only a man-woman pair can be representative of the entire race.  Like a pair of lovebirds in a cage, a man and a woman represent not just two individual members of the species; and not just specimens of the two sexes; they represent the total creative potentiality of the species.  They are a communio personarum, a communion of persons, in the words of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

(4) Because a man and a woman can create offspring, they are accorded a privileged standing amidst all relationships.  For example, if the world was ending and there was a single rocket ship leaving the planet with only room for two, is there any doubt that a male-female couple, and not a same-sex pair, should be aboard? There was a one-to-one male-female ratio aboard Noah’s Ark for a reason.

(5) A man-woman pair is the most inclusive and most “diverse” reduction of our species.  Such pairing was, in the words of Pope Francis, “forged according to nature and anthropology,” reflecting our biological integrity, gender diversity, and social history. We require “diversity” and “inclusion” in federal contracts, in hiring and education; why, then, should we overlook it with respect to the most important contract—marriage?

The expression of mankind as male and female, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, unpacks “everything that human science could ever say about the body as an organism, about its vitality, about its particular gender physiology.”  In short, said the late Pontiff, the formulation of man and woman as flesh of each other’s flesh “reveals Mankind.”  (General Audience of Nov. 14, 1979.)  For this reason, traditional marriage, which reflects the male-female dichotomy, is a living “icon” of our shared humanity.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Traditional Marriage Is an Icon of Humanity (Part 1)

In honor of National Marriage Week (Feb. 7 - Feb. 14, 2014), here's a fabulous defense of traditional marriage from fellow blogger and lawyer Carlos X.  Part 1 explores the common mythological roots of the male-female union as expression of the divine in Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. Part 2 details the scientific acceptance of male-female union as the essential archetype of humanity. Please welcome Carlos, who will celebrate fifteen years of marriage this year. He's the author of the Super Martyrio blog, which tracks the canonization cause of the Servant of God ├ôscar A. Romero, whom Carlos met when he was growing up in El Salvador.  Carlos also serves on the Board of Directors of the St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, California, a Catholic lawyers’ guild. Read on to enjoy Carlos' post, and for more National Marriage Week resources, be sure to check out Catholic Match Institute!

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Traditional marriage is unlike any other union because it is an “icon” of being human.  Two universal emblems of mankind—in the Book of Genesis and on a plaque sent aboard the Pioneer spacecraft—depict one man and one woman representing all humanity.  The two images help illustrate how traditional marriage is not just an arrangement between two individuals, but an emblem of all humanity, reflecting the biological diversity, and even social structure that has characterized our race.

“LOVE IS…”—A FOREWORD


This post extols the exceptional nature of traditional marriage between a man and woman, drawing on two particular images of heterosexual pairing and the meaning they convey.  But the fact that this is a love letter to the bond of woman and man does not make it a piece of hate mail to other unions.  It has become fashionable for perceived slights to be characterized as hate (or “H8”), but these characterizations, too, can show intolerance to sincere efforts to describe the nature of human bonds. By the same token, those of us who approach this issue, particularly in light of Christian love, must take care to proceed with “the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive” (Justice Benjamin Cardozo) to make sure our judgments are sparing, considerate, and clear that we never condone discrimination or marginalization; that we seek everyone’s integration into society; and always act with full respect for others and for their dignity as children of God.

Only then can we speak of Love, and say that, “the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing is come, and the cooing of doves is heard throughout our land.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

ADAM AND EVE


“The human creature is a wonder, placed at the apogee of creation in the story of Genesis.” -Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, L’incontro.

The beginning of the Book of Genesis is not a historical account, but rather a  myth, as Pope John Paul II noted in the the Theology of the Body (General Audience of Nov. 7, 1979).  Eden itself, the mythologist Joseph Campbell tells us, is a “mythological dreamtime zone.” It is “the Garden of Timeless Unity” where “there is no time, and where men and women don’t even know that they are different from each other.” According to Campbell, Adam and Eve represent a differentiation amid this “Timeless Unity” (what John Paul calls “Original Unity”), a separation from singularity into a world of opposites: “Adam and Eve have thrown themselves out of the Garden of Timeless Unity, you might say, just by that act of recognizing duality. To move out into the world, you have to act in terms of pairs of opposites.” A similar motif appears in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where the Primal Being is a nameless, formless power who splits in two, a male and a female primal couple out of which all the creatures of the earth come into being.

The concept comes into sharp focus when we turn it on its head: How to describe a reversion from the world of opposites to the primal, transcendent reality?  In words that are strikingly relevant to our discussion, Campbell expounds that “marriage is a reconstruction of the Androgyne.”  In rabbinic literature, the Androgyne describes the transcendent state of consciousness before the division into male and female.  And according to Campbell, marriage is a way to aspire to the transcendent ground of being from which we emanate.  Thus, “If you marry only for the love affair, that will not last,” Campbell explains.  “You must also marry on another level … to make the whole perfect, male and female.”

The Bible goes further, saying that Adam and Eve were made in the image of God—they both were, together: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This adds another layer of significance to Campbell’s hypothesis that marriage restores Godly qualities.  Man and woman most resemble God—together—in their biological ability to procreate.  As Cardinal Ravasi stated, “The love of man and woman, capable of generating life, is a sign that refers to God; in the sexually bipolar human creature, we see a real living monument to the Creator.”

A man-woman pair resembles God because they can create life. In Campbell's words, “through our own experiences of the union of love we participate in the creative action of that ground of all being.”


Check back later this week for Part 2 on the depiction of humanity sent aboard the Pioneer spacecraft!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Don't Let Money Be a Marriage-Killer


Money troubles are a leading cause of divorce, and studies show that the more frequently couples argue over money the more likely the marriage is to fall apart. So how can couples avoid this marriage-killer?

To start with, forget the idea of my money vs. your money, or his money vs. her money. That kind of outlook breeds dissatisfaction and is asking for unhappiness. It can foster a great deal of jealousy or resentment. “Why is she spending so much of MY money?” or “Why can’t HIS salary be higher than MY salary?” The answer to money trouble often lies in attitude.

When we stop thinking of money as “mine” and start thinking of it as “ours,” then we can decide together the best way to use it for the good of the whole family. My husband Manny taught me the importance of this attitude early in our relationship. When the law firm where I worked increased my salary until it was above what Manny earned as a medical resident, I was terrified that his masculinity would feel threatened. Instead, he grinned and said, “We got a raise!”

By changing our attitude from “me-thinking” to “we-thinking,” we become more grateful for what each spouse brings to the marriage. When we acknowledge the financial needs of the family, instead of just our own financial needs, we become more responsible. We realize that our hearts should be more attached to our family than our money.

Detachment from money is the best way to avoid fighting over it. Has anyone ever encouraged you to take ownership of an idea, so that you will fight harder and more passionately for it? When it comes to marital finances, don't take ownership of your money in that sense. Take stewardship instead.

An attitude of stewardship recognizes that everything we have comes from God, even the talents and opportunities that enable us to earn a living. God gives us these things so we can use them to build his kingdom, not just accomplish our own personal goals. As the Catechism tells us, every owner is in reality a steward, who has the task of making his property fruitful and sharing the benefits with others, first of all his family (sec. 2404).  By moving from a me-centered to we-centered to God-centered vision of finances, spouses can become as united in money matters as they are in all other aspects of their lives together.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How Can We Work 40+ Hours a Week and Still Put God First?

How you manage your time depends on who or what you put first. Does your family come first or does your job? And what about God? Ideally, our priorities will be God, family, and work, in that order. But with only 24 hours in a day, it's hard to know how to give everyone their due. So here are some tips on wise stewardship of one of the biggest blessings God has lavished upon us -- our time.

How Do We Put God First?

How do we thank God for every breath that we take while still fulfilling the ordinary duties of our day? Go to him first. If you have time as soon as you wake up in the morning, take ten or fifteen minutes to pray. Ask him for help, for strength, for patience, for compassion. If you don't have time, just tell him in a few words that everything you do today is meant for him. Offer yourself to him, and let him take care of the rest.

When there's a conflict between religious duties and family or work obligations, don't be afraid to put religious duties first. You might be surprised how things turn out. On a particularly busy day a few weeks ago, I was torn between going to church for a morning prayer event or finishing up my writing. Following the advice of an older, wiser friend, I "put God first" and chose to attend the church event. Somehow the writing got done as well without too much additional effort or sacrifice. Trust God to safeguard your time. He knows what a valuable resource it is.

How Do We Put Family First?

St. Joseph had the luxury of taking his son Jesus to work with him, of inviting him to the carpenter's workbench in their home, and training him and taking him on jobs when Jesus grew older. Stay-at-home moms have the same luxury of combining their family with their work. But people who work outside the home can't merge their priorities as easily. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, however, family is never further than a phone call away.

My husband Manny commutes to work in New York City, and at noontime almost every day he takes a break to call me and say the lovely sequence of prayers known as the Angelus. The littlest children are usually at home with me, and we put Daddy on speaker phone so everyone can say the Hail Marys together. My friend Connie did something similar when her husband took extended business trips. Every day, he called home and spoke to each of their ten kids to remind them that he loved them and was thinking of them. It doesn't have to take long to show our family how much they matter to us.

Don't Make Work Your Idol

Through work, we use the talents that God gave us to serve others. By working conscientiously and well, we express our gratitude to God for the gifts he has given us. But we should never turn work into an idol, something to be done for its own sake, or -- worse -- a means of building a monument to our own supposed greatness.

“Work is for man, not man for work,” states the Catechism (sec. 2428). In other words, the person who does the work and the person who is served by that work are both more important than the work itself. It's good to ask ourselves whom our work serves. Does our work benefit our family and our God as much as it benefits our clients, our companies, and ourselves? If not, we might want to reconsider the place that work has in our lives.


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The CatholicLane version of this article was listed on Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging on the National Catholic Register website.