Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marriage Rx: How to Balance a New Marriage and a New Job

In the latest Marriage Rx column from me and hubby Manuel P. Santos, M.D., we talk about the difficulties of work/life balance, especially when you're a newlywed.

Question: Hello, my name is Sean, and I am a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I am currently engaged, and will be getting married this summer, presumably around the same time I will be beginning my first full-time job in Accounting. I was wondering if you had advice for balancing both a new career and the newness of the sacrament of marriage. What are good strategies to balancing time and attention? What are some common pitfalls to avoid?

The idea of not bringing work home is something I want to strive for -- would you recommend staying later at the office if necessary or would you consider that more of a case by case situation? Clearly being home on time and leaving work at work would be ideal, but as an entry level accountant, I know that busy seasons will demand a few more hours each week and I would love to have a good game plan in place before that becomes a reality. -- Sean H.

Answer: Sean, we're impressed by how much you’ve thought things through already. It will be
great preparation for the future! It's hard to know how to give God and our family top priority when we need to work 40 or more hours a week. But it can be done.

The most important thing is to devote all your attention to your spouse when you're together. Especially if your time is limited, make it count! Little family rituals like sharing a cup of coffee in the morning before you leave for work, always calling at lunchtime just to say hi, and taking some time in the evening to talk can make a big difference.

You can combine prayer time with together time, too. In the morning, thank God for bringing you into each other's lives. At noon, take a few minutes to pray the Angelus, a traditional Catholic prayer that combines Scripture and the Hail Mary. At nighttime, you can pray a decade of the rosary together or petition God for help in making tomorrow an even better day.

The most common pitfall to avoid is coming home later than you said you would, especially if your wife is cooking dinner for you! Sometimes work runs later than planned and coming home late is unavoidable, but let your wife know as soon as you can. Few things are more disappointing than having a hot meal ready on the table and then finding out that no one will be home to eat it for at least another hour.

Working in a field like accounting, which has a regular busy season, can actually be easier to handle than a field like law or medicine where emergencies can arise without notice. Ask your co-workers exactly when the busy season tends to hit and how many hours per day they usually work. If everyone else is working a 10-hour day, plan on working the same. If everyone else is working a 12-hour day, ditto. If your wife would prefer you home in the evenings, consider starting work at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. so you can still make it home at a reasonable hour.

A lot of employers will take all the time you have to give and then some. "In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week," says 20-Something Finance. Some employers won't even keep you around unless you're willing to work what seems like exorbitant hours. But in most cases, you can set boundaries. If you make it clear that you won't work on Sundays, for example, and you work reliably and productively the rest of the time, most employers will accept that. You might also be able to set one night a week, even during busy season, where you'll be home on time for dinner no matter what.

Working from home can be a blessing or a curse. If you're a workaholic, work can take over all the time that you could be spending with your spouse. On the other hand, if it's the only way you can get your work done and still make it to the out-of-town weekend you planned to spend with your in-laws, it can get you out of a jam. Just make sure you check with your employer first. Especially with sensitive financial data, your employer may not want anyone working outside the office.

Our last tip is to make sure you schedule a vacation when busy time is over so that you and your wife can spend some much needed time recharging and reconnecting. When you're working hard it helps to remember that you're working to make a better life for yourself and your family. Make sure you take the time to enjoy it when you can!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How Learning NFP Led this Couple to Convert to Catholicism: Why NFP?

Alicia and Thomas Sanjurjo have been married for 10 years, have 5 kids on the every-other-year-plan (ages 9,7,5,3,2) and have heard every inquiry about their family size as if it were bizarre. Is five really that many? Thomas works at Nativity Catholic School in Brandon, Florida as the technology teacher for grades K-8. Alicia is an accomplished librarian, channeling her book prowess into intensive home schooling / circus training (serious on the home schooling, only partly joking on the circus training). They've been using NFP since 2009.

1. Why do you use NFP?

The practical one in our marriage (Alicia) says we use NFP to space pregnancies. Which is absolutely true.  Otherwise, we'd have children one on top of the other. But we have also found a great many other benefits, spiritual, emotional, and physical, because of it. In particular, we credit learning about Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body while learning about NFP for our entering into the Catholic Church in 2010.

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?

We use the Sympto-Thermal method presented by Couple to Couple League International. It's very easy to understand, not at all intrusive, and if you don't start in a post-pregnancy cycle, it's probably even really easy to learn (says the voice of experience). It works best for us because Thomas does the charting which allows us to both be aware of our fertility. Alicia points out that Thomas is at fault for being fertile all the time, which is true.

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

The cons are having to make our own choices about what constitutes a good reason to abstain. We have a running joke that the Church needs to develop a flowchart -- a quick, clear guide on what constitutes a valid reason to abstain.  But there's really no easy answer for it.

Ironically, the pros are getting to make our own choices about what constitutes a good reason to abstain. Everyone's situation is so unique, how we deal with our situation is unique too.

The other benefit that we've found with NFP is the constant awareness we have of each other, from the daily little stresses to the very big ones that would otherwise go unnoticed. We have to talk these through on a regular basis when we're discerning if we are abstaining. We're also very happy about the lack of adding extra chemicals to Alicia's system.

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?

There are several different teaching methods that work within the Diocese of St. Petersburg (Florida) to share NFP instructional opportunities. There is also a local OB/GYN practice, called Women First Center, which doesn't prescribe birth control. It's a wonderful practice with doctors (a married couple) who teach at parishes about NFP and other pro-life issues.

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

Couple to Couple League has been fantastic. We get a regular news letter from them, and it is always full of great articles, as well as having the ability to retake classes and keep contact with your teaching couple has been very useful. Learning about the Theology of the Body is helpful on a spiritual level, and finding other large families is a must on the social level.

Alicia says that the most beneficial resource she's experienced is going to an obstetrics/gynecology practice where she isn't treated like an alien for not being interested in contraceptives.

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

We both agree it would be a lot quieter around here! We both always wanted a large family, but we had originally talked about waiting to have kids. Then we were convicted about not using contraceptives due to a public service announcement on our local Catholic radio. The month we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, we had our oldest child.

When we look back now, had we waited, it's likely we would have decided there were too many risks involved in having even as many kids as we have now. Add to that the fact that we wouldn't have had to discuss *why* we were contracepting, and just lived with it as status quo until we wanted to try again.

Even without wanting a large family, making a choice to welcome a new life is much more immediate than waiting as many as three menstrual cycles to come off of a hormonal contraceptive. The reason we turned to NFP was because they started coming so quickly. :^) As is, five honestly doesn’t seem like that many, though. Just one handful.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

What I Told My Bishop About the Synod on the Family

Last week was the final deadline to submit comments to our local bishop about the agenda for the upcoming Synod on the Family, to be reconvened this October at the Vatican. The Synod's working document, or lineamenta, asked 46 questions about the pastoral care of the family, which the laypeople of our diocese were encouraged to answer.

Not being one to keep my mouth shut, I put in my 25 cents worth even when it touched on issues of priestly formation. Because, the way I see it, nothing's more essential to evangelization of the family than the knowledge and personal holiness of the priests who proclaim it. I also included lots of practical suggestions that shouldn't take much time or effort to implement.

What do you think of my suggestions? Do you know any parishes or dioceses that already incorporate these ideas in their programs? I'd love to hear from you about ongoing efforts across the country.


Your Excellency,

As a pre-Cana instructor and author of an upcoming book on Catholic marriage to be published by Ave Maria Press, I offer the following responses to the Lineamenta.

Q. 10. What is being done to demonstrate the greatness and beauty of the gift of indissolubility so as to prompt a desire to live it and strengthen it more and more? (cf. n. 14)

Most people do not undervalue the gift of indissolubility, they instead see it as an almost impossible goal far beyond their ability to achieve. This lack of hope is heightened when people’s own parents have become divorced and remarried, sometimes more than once. The most encouraging witness for these people is often the most simple – recognition masses for couples in the community who are celebrating their 25th or 50th wedding anniversaries. Masses for those who are celebrating their 10th anniversary might offer additional consolation, especially since these couples will be closer in age to the newly married or still single.

Q. 11. How can people be helped to understand that a relationship with God can assist couples in overcoming the inherent weaknesses in marital relations? (cf. n. 14) How do people bear witness to the fact that divine blessings accompany every true marriage? How do people manifest that the grace of the Sacrament sustains married couples throughout their life together?

People need to realize that a successful marriage does not depend on finding the “right person.” Every person is imperfect and many are wounded. A successful marriage depends on accepting your own faults and the faults of your beloved without ever giving up the constant struggle to overcome these weaknesses. Forgiveness can be learned in the Sacrament of Confession, which should be available whenever requested. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is a constant reminder that the one perfect person in our union, whose love is unquenchable and unending, is God.

Q. 16. What initiatives in catechesis can be developed and fostered to make known and offer assistance to persons in living the Church’s teaching on the family, above all in surmounting any possible discrepancy between what is lived and what is professed and in leading to a process of conversion?

Catechesis must begin with the priesthood. Guidelines for ongoing priestly formation could include a requirement of catechesis on the family. Monthly confession and spiritual direction could also be offered to priests. Catechesis must be rooted in heart-felt devotion and closeness to Christ. Priests could then train, oversee, or approve the activity of lay catechists. No catechetical initiative can succeed without people adequately trained to carry it out.

There are numerous excellent catechetical programs available, but there is a tendency to remain with the familiar rather than attempt improvement. Lay people and movements have a tremendous amount to offer but there is a tendency to squelch initiatives that do not originate from within the church hierarchy. This dampens zeal and halts growth. Sometimes fostering spiritual renewal is just a matter of not standing in the way of it.

Q. 20. How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God? How can this truth be expressed in the Church’s pastoral activity towards families, especially those which are wounded and fragile? (cf. n. 28)

A deeply devout Spanish-speaking priest in Manhattan would shout to the overflowing number of people attending Mass – “I have helped so many couples who haven’t married in the Church yet! Come to me! I can fix this!” This joyful offer of convalidation acknowledged the truth of the situation and placed no barriers to the immediate resolution of the problem. Parish bulletins could include weekly announcements that convalidation is available. Parish offices and web sites could develop one-page fact sheets on the basics of divorce, annulment, and convalidation, with numbers to call in order to take the next step.

Q. 28. How is marriage preparation proposed in order to highlight the vocation and mission of the family according to faith in Jesus Christ? Is it proposed as an authentic ecclesial experience? How can it be renewed and improved?

Marriage prep is often overwhelmingly secular, because of deficiencies in the program, the administrators, the instructors, or all three. Engaged couples could receive better secular preparation (e.g., on work, communication, or finances) from a secular source. Receiving a second-rate secular preparation from a religious source demeans the core competence of Mother Church as a spiritual teacher. Pre-Cana should in fact be an authentic ecclesial experience, and too often it is not. At a minimum, Mass should always be included as part of the program. Opportunity for confession should also be available.

Q. 31. The pastoral accompaniment of couples in the initial years of family life — as observed in synodal discussion — needs further development. What are the most significant initiatives already being undertaken? What elements need further development in parishes, dioceses or associations and movements?

Some simple ways to accompany couples in the initial years of their marriage include: sending anniversary cards, offering blessings to all couples in the first year of marriage at a designated Mass each month, personally inviting these couples (and their children) to carry up the gifts at Mass and listing their names in the bulletin, and offering an annual day or evening of follow-up post-Cana instruction with free babysitting. All of this would of course depend on an organized system of creating and maintaining a database of couples married or registered in the parish.

Yours in Christ,

Karee Santos
Parishioner of St. Joseph Church, Garden City
Founder of Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages 

Photograph by Andreas Tille (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Great YA Fiction: Palace of the Twelve Pillars (A Review)

Following up on last week's post in the series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some, here's a review of post author Christina Weigand's young adult Christian fantasy book, Palace of the Twelve Pillars. 

Good children's literature is essential to building a Christian culture by showing rather than teaching the values of our faith.  Jesus spoke in parables because he knew the worth of a good story. Palace of the Twelve Pillars is exactly that.

Chris Weigand's entertaining book draws kids into a classic allegory of good vs. evil by focusing on the familiar tension of sibling rivalry.  The twin princes, Joachim and Brandan, are opposite personality types.  Faith and magic, learning and love, come easily to Joachim. Brandan, who constantly struggles, resents his brother's abilities.

Overlaying this central dramatic conflict is the battle between the forces of the good deity Asha, represented by the twins' father King Theodric, and the forces of the evil deity Sidramah, represented by the neighboring King Waldrom who once loved the twins' mother Queen Lilia.

Joachim is by far the most well-developed character. When he is captured by King Waldrom and exposed to the evil deity Sidramah, he becomes inwardly tortured by false memories of having killed his father.  Although I love the name of the character Queen Lilia -- it's almost identical to my oldest daughter's name -- the queen herself is over-excitable and somewhat unworthy of her role as a wise and just monarch. To my great delight, Queen Lilia received a much-deserved comeuppance at the end of the book.

Palace of the Twelve Pillars is the first in a trilogy, followed by Sanctuary of Nine Dragons and Palace of the Three Crosses. I would recommend this book mostly for middle-schoolers, although I did ask my fourth grader Maria to read it since her level is fairly advanced.  We had a terrific time discussing the Biblical analogies that she did and didn't catch.  Here's her review:

Maria's Review of Palace of the Twelve Pillars
Palace of the Twelve Pillars combines fantasy and religion. I love both so this book is amazing to me! While I was reading I noticed that Asha is God's character and Sidramah is the devil's.
My favorite part of the book is when Brandan wants to go searching for Joachim even though he's a little jealous of him. This is my favorite  part because it reminds me of my sister Marguerite and me. Sure we get jealous of each other and it does include some pushing, shoving, and pulling hair, but we love each other so deeply just like Brandan and Joachim.
My least favorite part is when Brandan stabs Joachim in the shoulder. He literally stabbed him in the back!  Joachim was just trying to help Brandan because he was hurt. This reminds me of God and Satan. God created and loved Satan but Satan betrayed him. Just like how Brandan betrayed Joachim. 
Out of 10 stars I would give this book 9 1/2 and I'm a VERY hard grader! I think many religion and fantasy lovers would enjoy this book as much as I did or even more.

by Maria Santos, age 10 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Don't Put Each Other on a Pedestal: Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some

Christina and Al Weigand live in Pennsylvania where Jesus fills their home with love. They have four children and three grandchildren.  Chris has written three Young Adult Christian Fantasy novels; Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Book One, Palace of the Three Crosses: Book Two and Sanctuary of Nine Dragons: Book Three, as well as Women of the Bible: A Study. Helping children develop a love for reading and writing is her passion.

Chris & Al with their teenage daughter Anastasia

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

We will be married thirty-seven years on July 8, 2015. We have four children -- three grown and one teenager.

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

First, a commitment to each other and our marriage. When we got married we said that divorce was not an option for us.

Second, a willingness to fight for our marriage, to not give up when things got tough.

Third, a willingness to let each other grow. We are not the same people we were thirty-seven years ago, and at times that has taken a great amount of love, patience and understanding from one or the other of us.

Son Nicholas with his wife Christy

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

Although married in a Catholic church, we were quite young and I don’t think we thought about our faith as playing a part in our marriage.  It was only as we grew and learned that we realized what an integral part our faith held in our marriage. Our marriage has three people in it -- the two of us and God. That needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do. Not saying it always is at the forefront or that it’s easy to do, but God should be a part of everything.

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

Save yourself for marriage. Don’t let your partner convince you to do things you aren’t ready for. And whether you are male or female respect the other person, don’t abuse their love and trust, don’t put them on a pedestal, because like you they are only human and will invariably fall from the pedestal at some point in your relationship. Be willing to forgive and to ask forgiveness.

Oldest son Scott with his wife Stefanie and youngest daughter Arya

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Pretty much the same as for those dating and considering marriage. Have a lot of patience and understanding. You will be learning  a lot of things about your partner in this stage, and some you may not like. Just remember the reasons you married him/her, the things that made you fall in love. You are embarking on an incredible journey that, if nurtured properly, will grow beyond that first rose-colored phase of falling in love to blossom into a long-lasting love.

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

Our oldest will be thirty six this year and we don’t feel as if we have this parenting thing down yet. Every phase of a child’s life is so different, and your parenting has to change as they change. So be willing to grow with your child. Don’t become locked into a system, but embrace the fluidity of life and the idea that things will change. And if you have more than one child, acknowledge that each is different and what works with one will not necessarily work with the other.

Hold on tight, but be willing to let go when the time is right. Don’t smother them. Don’t force them to live inside a box of your creation, but let them make their own box. Let them be kids. In today’s world parents strive too much to get their kids grown and living like adults, and then everyone suffers because the kids didn’t have a chance to be just a kid.

Share your faith with them. Let them get to know God.

Most of all, love them. Most days that’s all they want from you.

Daughters Katie & Ana, Daughter-in-law Stefanie, Granddaughters Andi, Lily & Arya
& exchange student Freya Boehm