Thursday, February 26, 2015

Marriage Rx: How to Get Your Husband to Go to Mass

Question: We go to church as a family every week, usually on Sunday morning. One time hubby worked all Saturday night. I needed the Sunday morning free -- don't remember why -- so the kids & I went to Mass Saturday evening. My hubby slept late on Sunday. When I noticed that afternoon Mass was approaching & he was just watching TV I asked him if he was going to church. He said "no." Then I asked why, and he said" I don't want to." I never expected that answer from him. He said that he wasn't a child and that he didn't like how I was treating him like I was his mom. To me it was my duty to ask him & advise him to go because he had no valid excuse. Is it wrong to check or ask hubby if he's going to Mass? And if the answer is no to ask why & advise that he should go? -- Patricia

Answer: Patricia, that's an excellent question. You'll often hear that the purpose of marriage is to get your spouse to heaven, but only God can really accomplish that. At best, we can help lead our spouse to heaven through prayer and example. We are not our spouse's spiritual directors.

First of all, give your husband the benefit of the doubt. If he worked all night on Saturday, he might still have been feeling exhausted and disoriented by the change in his sleep cycle. If he was genuinely feeling unwell, he had no obligation to go to Mass (CCC 2181).

Not everyone knows that skipping Sunday Mass without serious reason can be a mortal sin, since this doctrine has been dramatically under-emphasized in recent decades. Some people learned as children that we have to go to Sunday Mass, but never gained a mature understanding of why. If your husband attends Sunday Mass more as a habit or a family custom, it makes sense that he would not want to go except with the family at the regular time. His feeling that you were treating him like his mom signals that he may not have developed an intense personal appreciation and love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Pray to God daily that your husband will be granted the gift of a deeper and more mature faith.

In the meantime, thank your husband for working overnight to support the family and ask how you can help him and make it easier for him.  See if he has anything on his mind that he hasn't shared with you yet. He might be angry about something at work or something at home, and this anger may be keeping him away from God. You can suggest that the two of you pray a rosary for his intentions, spoken or unspoken, or you can arrange a family rosary night with the kids. Making a habit of praying the rosary together as a family is a great goal for this Lenten season.

Many people begin Lent by watching Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, which graphically depicts the suffering that Christ freely underwent to save us. There are other movies with subtler Eucharistic themes such as Rocky II, Rudy, Cinderella Man, and others listed here. Depending on how old the kids are, they can join you for a family movie night. While your children learn more about their faith, so will your husband.

Next Saturday evening, if your husband doesn't have to work all night, you can go to confession with the kids and gently invite your husband to come along. No need to push it -- remember that he might really have been feeling ill when he skipped Mass. Try to go to Mass at the regular time as a family on Sunday morning.

Becoming one with our spouses is hard work and takes time. We yearn for physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages, but spiritual intimacy may be the last thing to develop because it happens at the deepest level of our hearts. Keep loving your husband and praying for him.

God bless you and your family!

We welcome your comments. And please email us at if you have a question or idea for a future column!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When Infertility is a Gift: Why NFP?

Liz and Kent Gilges have experienced great joy and great suffering through their six children. Their eldest child, Elie, died at age 10 of an incurable brain tumor, which Kent chronicled in a heartwrenchingly beautiful memoir called A Grace Given.  In this latest installment of Why & How Natural Family Planning Works for Us, Liz and Kent explain how infertility -- which they detected by using NFP  -- can sometimes feel like a great blessing.

1. Why do you use NFP?

We had many reasons to use NFP, and they changed along the way. Although I believe it's what God wants, Kent wasn't Catholic when we got married and he wasn't fond of Natural Family Planning. He called it Natural Family Having.

I always wanted to get married and be a mom. When we got engaged, I started using NFP to track my cycles just as a matter of course, not to avoid or achieve pregnancy. I wanted a big family. But then we reached the point where we had four children under the age of 5 (including a set of twins), and our oldest child Elie was severely mentally and physically handicapped because of her brain tumor. It was a big strain on our marriage. Still, I wanted to have more children.

A priest told me to be grateful for what we had instead of wanting more. So we used NFP to avoid another pregnancy. That worked on my husband's heart to appreciate the kids that we had, and then he wanted more kids. It was a role reversal. We had two more children, and when our littlest was 11 months old, Elie died.

For years after that, we badly wanted another child, because we felt that our family was empty. We were actively trying, but the babies just weren't coming. Seven years after Elie died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went through a mastectomy, chemo, medication. I absolutely was not supposed to get pregnant while on the medication. At that point, I figured that God knew we were open to life, so we were definitely the exception to the rule against artificial contraception.

When I asked a priest what we should do, he didn't suggest artificial contraception, which was kind of shocking to me under the circumstances. Instead, he said to learn a new kind of NFP since the old way wasn't working due to how the medication affected my body. The new way of NFP showed that I wasn't having any cycles at all, the hormone levels just weren't rising or falling. I told my doctor, and even though he resisted the idea since I was only 44, he finally ran a blood test on my hormone levels. The levels were consistent with someone who had been in menopause for 5 years already.

I felt God had answered my prayers by giving me the gift of being infertile so I didn't have to worry about my health, the intimate part of our marriage, or about following God's will by remaining open to life. It was a win-win-win situation.

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?

In the beginning of our marriage, we used the symptothermal method because I was very regular. It really fit my lifestyle -- take my basal body temperature once in the morning, and done. But after the cancer, I wasn't cycling at all. My temperature was always low because of the drug, and in the symptothermal method that's an indication that you're fertile, so we couldn't have relations.

So we switched to the Creighton method, which tracks mainly cervical mucus, and the method itself was nearly unbearable for me. It required constant checking, always paying attention, and we had to pay for lessons with a Nurse Practitioner. Not everyone can do that. I thought God was asking too much. But it was the Creighton indicators that revealed my infertility and convinced my doctor to confirm it with a blood test.

3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?

The biggest pro is that God really knows better. He's the best planner. I had two miscarriages after our eldest daughter Elie was born, but she got so sick so young. She needed me. We also wanted another child very much after Elie died, but we actually needed time to grieve and the cancer was coming.

Using NFP to avoid pregnancy after the twins were born helped Kent to appreciate the good in our kids and to want more. The first babies were my choice but then later he really had a desire for us to have more children.

Cons: The culture tells us we can do whatever, whenever, and it's very countercultural to act with self-control and self-discipline. We're not one of those couples who say NFP's been great for our marriage and we love it! It's been challenging. It takes sacrifices, especially for the man.

But when you're sick with breast cancer and lying in bed for 6 months, you also abstain. At that point in our lives, abstaining wasn't something completely foreign to us. So NFP taught us how to sacrifice early on.

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?

We live in the Diocese of Rochester, and there's two teachers for the Creighton method and two teaching couples from the Couple-to-Couple League. The new bishop is wonderful, and we hope he will put even more NFP resources in place. [Editor's Note: The diocesan web site also provides links to two short YouTube video testimonials on NFP, as well as downloadable brochures and bulletin inserts.]

5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you?

We love the newsletter from the Couple-to-Couple League. Also, we used a very old book called The Joy in Sexuality and Fertility Control. We used it for more than 20 years.

6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?

I can't imagine it would have been better. I don't know if my husband would have been as wonderful as he was accepting all the changes in my body and sacrifices in our intimate life that came with the cancer.  I think it would have made it much more difficult. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Finding Truth, Goodness and Beauty in Hollywood: #ShowUsYourList

I could never resist a challenge. So when novelist Erin McCole Cupp asked for a list of entertaining, well-crafted alternatives to the 50 Shades of Grey movie that critics are loving to hate right now, I said, "I'm in!" In addition to the good, clean romance Old Fashioned that's playing in theaters right now, here's my list of three awesome Hollywood movies with excellent messages.

1. The Giver (2014): This dystopian science fiction movie draws us into a peaceful world where every minute of the day is controlled. All knowledge of war and murder has been erased from everyone except the Giver and Receiver of memories. People receive daily injections to keep them from feeling desire, so they won't have sex and get pregnant. Pregnancy is relegated to the profession of birth mother. Babies who don't gain enough weight within a few days after birth are cleanly and compassionately dispatched, placed in plastic boxes, and tossed down garbage chutes. The teen hero realizes, "They haven't eliminated murder, they just call it by a different name." Devastating indirect critique of the contraception-abortion industry. According to my teen daughter, the book was even better.

2. The Island (2005): The Island was 2005's version of The Giver. In a dystopian future, rich people create and warehouse their clones on the Island. When a rich person needs an organ transplant, a clone is killed and the organ is harvested. If a rich person wants to get pregnant, a clone is artificially inseminated. After labor and delivery, the "real parents" take the baby away and the surrogate clone is killed. The clones have full consciousness and no idea that this is their purpose in life, until two clones discover the truth and escape the Island. Rollicking adventure with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. You'll never look at surrogate pregnancy or human cloning the same way again.

3. A Walk to Remember (2002): Bring a bucket for your tears. My husband and I both love this movie, which is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. The female lead is caught between her overly repressive father and the ne'er-do-well who wants to be her boyfriend. With gentle grace, she teaches both the meaning of true love before dying of cancer. Sobs galore.

Are you up for the challenge? Show us your list! Keep spreading truth, goodness, and beauty.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Five Things You'll Learn from Our Radio Appearance on "Finding God's Grace"

My husband Dr. Manny Santos and I

Our recent 30-minute radio interview with Tony Agnesi from Finding God's Grace covered a lot of ground, touching on marriage preparation, my husband's psychiatric practice with couples, my conversion to Catholicism, and my choice to give up law to be a stay-at-home mom. Along the way, we dispensed as much as advice as we could, of course! Here's five things you'll learn from the interview:

1. how the Hollywood image of marriage contributes to the lack of marriages that last
2. how important it is to rely on the example of couples who model good marriage
3. how good marriages need to be nourished by spiritual and practical truths
4. how to deal with time famine, like juggling the demands of day jobs, six kids, and writing a book together
5. how writing our Catholic marriage advice book has strengthened our own faith and our own married life

Special bonus feature -- you get to hear how I knew Manny was "the one" (Hint: it involved me kicking a piece of furniture across the room!!). To listen to the show, click here for Segment 1 and here for Segment 2.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Restraints or Self-Restraint?: 50 Shades of Grey vs. Old Fashioned

Read my review of the movie Old Fashioned on Catholic Match Institute -- what a healthy and healing relationship actually looks like!

Publicity about 50 Shades of Grey is saturating the media. Promos and boycotts are battling their way to the Valentine's Day finish line. For anyone who believes that 50 Shades of Grey is sensationalized trash, there's an alternative view of love and romance to share. The well-acted, sometimes gritty independent film Old Fashioned with its message of healing and second chances will also be released in theaters on Valentine's Day. Don't just boycott 50 Shades of Grey, beat it at the box office.

Read below for excerpts of my review of Old Fashioned on Catholic Match Institute or click through for the entire article.

If you’re looking for a good date movie to see on Valentine's Day weekend, there is an alternative to bondage tutorial 50 Shades of GreyThe movie Old Fashioned, also to be released on Valentine’s Day, shows how a man with self-restraint has a far more powerful allure than a man who likes putting his girlfriends in restraints.
Even fiction can teach us truth, and even fantasies can be healthy -- or not. Why would someone want to settle for a titillating untruth like the dysfunctional relationship in 50 Shades of Grey? Bondage, while a turnoff to some and a temptation to others, has never been hailed as a healthy basis for life-long love.
The healthiest basis for life-long love is self-control, and the best place to practice it is while dating. The movie Old Fashioned shows how attractive a man can be when he controls his darkest impulses for the sake of a higher good.

Read the full review here. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Love is Patient, Love is Kind, Love is Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

I'm so excited to be partnering up with the producers of a great new movie about love, marriage, courtship, and deep emotional healing. The movie Old Fashioned will be released on Valentine's Day, going up against 50 Shades of Grey, which unfortunately promises to be a behemoth at the box office. Old Fashioned features a slow-talking Southern fraternity boy trying to make up for his misspent college years and a girl who talks like a free spirit but is really lost and aching inside. Their courtship, although mocked by almost everyone around them, eventually makes them whole again.

Other partners committed to spreading the word about this movie, which actually models a healthy relationship (imagine that!), include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops For Your Marriage initiative, Theology of the Body Evangelization Team (TOBET), and The movie's endorsers read like a Who's Who list of Catholic personalities, including Sr. Helena Burns, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Teresa Tomeo, Matt Fradd, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle, Lisa Hendey, Sarah Reinhard, and Patrick Novecosky. Old Fashioned is also endorsed by the co-host of the 700 Club and folks from (remember Soul Surfer? my daughters sure do). It's thrilling to be one of their number.

If this movie is playing in your area, please, please go to see it opening week. And take your teen-age kids, if you have them. You won't regret it.

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Old Fashioned
Old Fashioned Opens In Theaters Valentine’s Day Weekend!
Question: When did God’s plan for romance and marriage become … OLD FASHIONED? With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, plan now to celebrate with a movie that highlights a God-honoring relationship! OLD FASHIONED is a relevant, powerful story that presents a clear and entertaining vision of what love and respect can be right here, right now—and that is something our world desperately needs.
Find a theater and buy your tickets for Valentine’s Day weekend, February 13-15. You (and your beloved) will be glad you did!
Find a Theater
Watch The Trailer
An Old Fashioned Story Everyone Will Love!
OLD FASHIONED is a faith-based love story about Clay, a reformed frat boy whose relationship with Christ impacts the way he looks at life and relationships; and Amber, a free-spirited woman who has felt the pain of dating relationships. Together, they attempt the impossible: an old-fashioned courtship in contemporary America!
OLD FASHIONED inspires a genuine hunger for godly romance. Be sure to check out to learn more about the movie and to locate a theater near you where the film will be playing. Talk about the perfect Valentine’s weekend movie!
Watch the Trailer
In Theaters Valentines Day
Please share this eblast with your friends and family in the 200 opening market locations. Let's sell out showtimes!
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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Learning How to Be Second Place: 10 & Then

Elizabeth and John, parents of three boys, just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and are still going strong! Elizabeth is a blogger, a Pastoral Studies graduate student at Loyola University Chicago, and an avid church volunteer. John, a former Army helicopter pilot who was deployed in Iraq, made it home safely and now works for the MA Environmental Police in Boston. Elizabeth and John especially love their shared ministry as Eucharistic ministers to the two nursing homes in their area. Find out why "more than comfortable with coming in second, it is in fact one of the things we love most about each other." You can follow Elizabeth at her blog,, or on FacebookTwitter,  Google+  and Pinterest.

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

We have been married 20 years this past May, and have three boys ages 18, 15 and 9. As friends during our undergraduate years, we were unexpectedly amazed to find each other so early in our lives. That day, I married my best friend and quite honestly I cannot imagine these years without his constant friendship, love, and strength.

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

At the top of this list has to be a strong faith life in prayer. In addition to attending mass we began by praying together at the close of each day. As we had children, this became a family prayer time where each of us lifts up our intentions and one another in prayer. Yet, over the years we find that we also join together to pray throughout the day. It could simply be a text, or the invitation to say a decade or two of the rosary together. “Where two or more are gathered in my name” truly has special significance in our lives.
Secondly, we have found it vital to support one another through life’s challenges as well as to fully celebrate life’s gifts.  In those moments when I’ve been given an overly demanding day, or sleep and serenity elude me, I know he’s there to listen and lend a hand. Conversely, when one of us has good news we appreciate that we have been called to joyfully share in it.  I’d venture to say that we are each other’s biggest fan!
Finally, communication is not just important but essential to both of us. This goes past daily pleasantries - so often requiring persistence, patience and desire.  Whether big or small, we always try to include one another in the decision making process. Even when we disagree, we strive to never go to sleep angry. 

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

From the beginning, marriage has been for us a lifetime commitment to a shared journey of intimate friendship. And while there are twists, turns, and speed bumps on this path, there are no viable exits. There is, however, a Guide who knows the terrain, holds the map, provides rest and sees the big picture. Faith for us requires trust- not only in each other but in God to see us though the difficult times. 
The year my youngest was born, I had lost my grandmother and later my mom to cancer. My husband, then an Army helicopter pilot, was shortly thereafter sent orders to be deployed to Iraq for an indefinite time. Through the many tears I found God right beside me, and peace came in trusting Him through the chaos. Not to be disappointed, God brought John home safely and much sooner than expected.

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

Spend time to really get to know the person you love. While it’s not necessary to spend as great an amount of time as we did, really examine if you are compatible. It’s important to seriously consider if you can truly live with one another’s flaws. Jokingly, today my husband says that we can truthfully say that we successfully survived a 2 year interview process during our engagement!

 5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Love God and put God first in your marriage. Following the greatest commandment to, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). Yet, what does this really look like? Simply put, it means making space and time to talk to and spend time with God in your everyday- seeking Him in all that you do. If you can do this, you increasingly realize that you are capable of expressing even more love in all your other relationships. More than comfortable with coming in second, it is in fact one of the things we love most about each other.

6. What's your top parenting tip, or advice for couples who are trying to have children?

Elizabeth: For me, it’s patience and forgiveness.  Highly desired and but sometimes lacking, patience I believe is needed both in conceiving and raising children. I have come to recognize over the years that God’s timing is not necessarily my own. Hand in hand with forgiveness, patience is what God shows me as time and time again I slip and he gently picks me up.
John:  My advice for parenting is consistency. Consistently loving, but taking a steadfast and predictable course. Our children can faithfully depend on the fact that each decision has been carefully weighed, and made in their best interest. It is being able to say no when their eyes plead yes, because you want so much more for them. This is indeed a gift that they will value later in life!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Announcing Marriage Rx: Our New Marriage Advice Series on CatholicMom

I'm thrilled to announce Marriage Rx, a new monthly marriage advice column from me and my husband, Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Manuel P. Santos! It will appear monthly on on the fourth Monday. I'll also repost here on the Can We Cana? blog. My husband and I have already received lots comments and questions to feature in future columns. Please keep them coming!

How Marriage Rx Can Help You

Most marriages encounter bumps and trouble spots along the way. But Catholics don’t view marriage as disposable. We want to fix our marriage, not throw it away. If you’re looking for Catholic marriage advice from someone who understands the powerful and healing graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony, Marriage Rx can give you answers that will truly help.
It’s anonymous.  When you submit questions, you don’t have to use your full name, or even your real name. Just email us at and look for the answer in an upcoming column.
It’s free.  You don’t have to buy a book or attend an expensive therapy session. Asking us a question is all you have to do!

Who Writes Marriage Rx?

Dr. Santos and his wife Karee, the column’s co-authors, have been married fourteen years and have six beautiful children.  They began teaching marriage preparation classes together in New York City in 2003.  Their Catholic marriage help book will be released by Ave Maria Press in 2016.
Dr. Santos is a psychiatrist who has been helping Catholic and non-Catholic couples over rough spots in their relationships for almost fifteen years. In Dr. Santos’ psychiatric practice, he has brought healing to those who have suffered depression as a result of the abortion of their child and to those struggling to break free from addictions to pornography or serial adultery.  He has counseled couples who are negatively impacted by sexual misconceptions and neuroses and haunted by specters of past sexual abuse.
Dr. Santos also serves as a resource for the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York in determining whether there are mental health grounds for granting petitions for annulment.  He is a member of the Sexual Abuse Review Board for the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, and in addition belongs to the Catholic Medical Association,, and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.
Karee Santos graduated from law school at age 21 and practiced law for nearly 10 years in New York City before giving it up to stay home and raise her children.  She has worked as a freelance journalist for the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. She also writes for the Catholic Match Institute, the blog of, as wells as her personal blog – Can We Cana? – and various other places around the web.  She recently hosted a successful series of four marriage enrichment webinars.

What Topics Will Marriage Rx Cover?

All questions are welcome. We want to know what you would like to hear about most:
  • Financial struggles
  • Work/Life balance
  • Parenting disagreements
  • Religious differences
  • Unemployment or ill health
  • Sexual issues regarding anything from periodic abstinence to serial infidelity
  • Addictions to pornography, alcohol or other substances
What is most important to you? Respond in the comments below or email us privately at We look forward to hearing from you!