Monday, August 31, 2015

Parochial School Girl Meets Public School World

When our oldest daughter graduated with her 40-person class from eighth grade in parochial school, all the girls hugged each other and cried. She's entering public high school in a few days, and it's totally uncharted territory. None of her parochial school friends will be with her, she won't be wearing her trusty plaid uniform, and the sprawling high school building with its 1,000+ students seems as vast as the Museum of Natural History.

Even the routine high school paperwork foreshadowed ominous threats ahead. The technology policy advised repeatedly that sexting and pornography are not acceptable on school grounds. Neither is bullying, defined as acting or speaking in such a way to make another feel afraid of physical harm. Skimming the four pages of legalese, I summarized to my daughter: "No nudity, no bullying, no nudity, don't be mean." She raised a quizzical eyebrow, but let it go.

The permission slip for the 9th grade welcome barbecue was even scarier. The opening words of the "Freshman BBQ Contract" robustly proclaimed: "I understand that the Freshman BBQ is a school sponsored event and that the use or possession of alcohol and/or illegal drugs is strictly prohibited. I understand that this rule includes not arriving at the school under the influence of alcohol and/or illegal drugs." I slanted a glance at my daughter. "No alcohol and no illegal drugs," I repeated weakly.

"Mom, why do you think you have to tell me that?" she asked with a smile conveying that she would never EVER do anything as silly as drink alcohol or take illegal drugs. "I'm more worried that THEY think they have to tell you that - to tell any ninth grader that," I replied. "They probably use the same permission slip for all the grades," she reassured me, "because they're just being cautious." The corners of my mouth quivered upward in an attempted smile.

The path from parochial school to public school seems perilous indeed. From no chewing gum to no drugs and alcohol. From a dress code that prohibits ballerina flats (too much toe cleavage?) to one that prohibits all "vulgar, obscene, or libelous" clothing items.

On the day of freshman orientation, my daughter collected all the duly-signed paranoid-inducing paperwork and stuffed it in her oversized purse. She was ready to go. Except.

"Can you wear the other shorts?" I asked her. The "other shorts" were a tiny bit looser and a tiny bit longer, so they would represent a major victory in the modesty department. A spate of fashion-ese poured out of her: "The other shorts are the wrong color and the wrong pattern and the wrong style for this shirt. See, the tiny diamond pattern on the shirt is vertical and the tiny diamond pattern on those shorts is horizontal. Do you HATE my fashion sense? :pout:" Trying not to collapse in a gibbering heap, I bundled her into the car and drove off towards the high school.

She blended in perfectly with all the other girls milling around outside the high school building. They might as well have been wearing a uniform. Blousy shirt, long straight hair, shorts cut so close to the body that they would make my thighs scream if I tried to squeeze into anything similar. Although I later discovered that the dress code required all shorts to reach mid-thigh, clearly not a soul was interested in following or enforcing it. If my daughter had worn anything else, she would have looked as out of place as someone wearing a 1920s bathing suit on a modern beach.

I know that modesty takes its cues from the surrounding time and culture (CCC 2524). When my mother was growing up in the 1950s, my grandmother was horrified by the idea that my mother would ever wear black pants. Oh, the scandal! In Victorian times, an ankle was taboo. And in the future,we might all be wearing skintight spacesuits like the Star Trek: Next Generation crew. But I also know that if modesty exists along a sliding scale, I'd rather my daughter be on the more modest end of what's culturally acceptable.

Still, I have great sympathy for my daughter's feelings. I remember being a teenage girl, equally perplexed by my parents' complaint that certain outfits were inappropriate and my peers' conviction that I was dowdy. I didn't care about fashion -- there were too many crossword puzzles to be solved, languages to be learned, and cool philosophical concepts to be grasped. I just wanted to escape the emotional pummeling and the certainty that, no matter what, someone would always think I looked ugly.

I want to protect my daughter equally from self-doubt and from external harm (i.e., boys). She is both more valuable and more vulnerable as she steps over the threshold of womanhood. While I will probably never have children again, her body is now capable of generating them. She bears within her the future: future children, future career, making her mark on a future society.

As my daughter grows inevitably, inexorably towards adulthood, the next stage of my life is creeping up on me as well. At age 14, I may not have been fashion-forward, but I felt like I had enough drive and determination to conquer the world. At age 44, I wonder when I can sneak my next nap. And I envy my daughter a little. She is bright with innumerable possibilities, alight with potential. She has never truly been hurt.

It is time to let her meet the world. It is time for me to let go a little. It is time for me to pray harder.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Top 7 Online Resources for Divorced Catholics

In light of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the Synod on the Family in Rome, the Catholic Church's teaching on divorce is taking center stage. Pope Francis has urged greater compassion and outreach towards those who have undergone divorce. Here are seven terrific online resources to help.

1. The USCCB web site

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops devotes several pages of its site to the topics of divorce and annulment. The Divorce FAQs and Annulment FAQs list several additional print and DVD resources, and also link to current blogposts on the subjects.

2. The Catholic's Divorce Survival Guide

One of the resources highlighted on the USCCB site is The Catholic's Divorce Survival Guide, a 12 DVD series with guide either for personal use or as a parish program. The series features Catholic authors Rose Sweet, Dr. Ray Guarendi, Christopher West, and Fr. Mitch Pacwa. The accompanying website offers helpful answers to common questions about anger, hurt, and healing. It also includes advice on helping kids through divorce, learning how to forgive, and even the best movies for cinema therapy.

3. Lisa Duffy on Catholic Match Institute

Lisa Duffy has nearly 600 posts on Catholic Match Institute, the blog of the online dating service. Many of those posts focus on bringing healing to those who are separated or divorced. Lisa has been working in Catholic divorce ministry for decades. Her Journey of Hope program is now being used in more than 50 parishes in the United States and several parishes in Canada as well. She is a co-author of the 2007 book Divorced. Catholic. Now What? and the author of the 2015 book The Catholic Guide to Dating after Divorce. Her personal website includes podcasts and free downloads, and a special page for readers to send in their prayer requests.


Vince Frese, who co-authored Divorced. Catholic. Now What? with Lisa Duffy, has a helpful website called Through the website, people can order home study kits, sign up for online programs and subscribe to daily inspirational emails.

5. Catholic Divorce Ministry

The Catholic Divorce Ministry has been active since 1974. The organization "works with family-life ministries in various dioceses to help parishes reach people in the pews with workshops, programs and retreats," according to an article in the National Catholic Register.  The site has resources for catechists and leaders of peer ministries for the divorced and separated. One of its most useful features is a listing of dates and times for many different upcoming events available throughout the country.


This site is a blog started by two women, Carina and Manya. Their blogposts cover important issues like sharing the holidays, taking children's wishes into account when splitting up household items, and seeking spiritual support through mental prayer, novenas, and the intercession of the saints.

7. Mary's Advocates

The website of Mary's Advocates contains a detailed critique of the current annulment system, based on an exhaustive analysis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and canon law. The organization's founder, Bai Macfarlane, will be speaking at a Human Life International symposium in Rome, and her written presentation will be distributed to the bishop delegates at the October Synod on the Family. The organization's book, The Gift of Self, is meant to provide spiritual support for separated or divorced spouses who intend to stay faithful to their marriages.

If you are aware of any additional resources, please let us know in the comments below!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Top Tips for a Joy-Filled Marriage

My husband Manny and I had an awesome time last weekend giving a presentation to around 40 couples in the Archdiocese of Newark on how to live God's Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage. This great pre-Cana program covers the topics of sacramentality and sexuality, and it's chock full of quotes from Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body and his book Love and Responsibility. I gave the talk on the Wedding at Cana (understandably one of my favorite Bible stories), and Manny gave the talk on the Church's definition of marriage, annulments and impediments to marriage.

As is true in any large group, there was a wide range of knowledge and interest. Not everyone had heard the story of the Wedding at Cana, and some people were more familiar with the fictitious marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalen than the mystical marriage between Jesus and the Church. It was truly a privilege to be the first ones to introduce some of these people to the beautiful theology of Catholic marriage.

The Joy-Filled Marriage program is given several times a year, and attendees are always given the opportunity to place anonymous questions in a question box. Here are some of the most common issues and our top tips for dealing with them.

1.  The "Inter-Faith" Question

My fiance and are are of different faiths.  What problems might we encounter, and how do we have a successful inter-faith marriage?

  • The biggest problems that many inter-faith couples face are celebrating holidays and passing their faith on to their children.
  • Religious holidays can be celebrated at home as well as in church (or at temple). Customize your at-home celebrations to reflect aspects of both faith traditions.
  • When couples get married in the Church, the Catholic spouse needs to promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith. Discuss before the wedding how that promise affects church attendance, school attendance, and participation in religious milestones like First Communion or Confirmation. Don't sweep the issue under the rug.

2.  The "Communication" Question

What are the best ways to improve our communication?

  • Don't roll your eyes or slam doors.
  • If you can't talk about it calmly, write it down instead.
  • Never let the sun go down on your anger. Give your spouse a hug or kiss of forgiveness before bedtime, and tomorrow begin again!

3. The "First Year" Question

What was the toughest part of the first year of marriage?

  • Sometimes couples with the best relationships encounter severe crises in the first year (we faced fears of infertility, death of a close family member, and the diagnosis of Manny's first brain tumor). Don't let it get you down.
  • Friends might complain that you spend less time with them than before. Make it clear that your top priority is your spouse.
  • You might be tempted to spend less time at work. Give in!

4.  The "Sexual Frustration" Question

If we choose to save sex for marriage, how do we deal with the unmet physical desire?

  • Amp up the romance. Channel the frustration into loving, non-physical demonstrations of affection.
  • Stay far away from temptation -- don't play with fire!
  • If you give in, go to confession. If you give in again, go to confession again. 

5.  The "In-Law" Question

My fiance has family that get into our personal business and I feel like they influence him/her more than I do sometimes.  Am I wrong to be upset?  What can be done?

  • Let your fiance know how much this bothers you. Agree to set firm but loving boundaries between you and both of  your families.
  • You and your fiance can listen respectfully and thank family members for their advice, while making it clear that the final decision is between the two of you as a couple.
  • Realize that what your in-laws really want in most cases is for you and your fiance to be happy.

God bless you and your marriages! If you have more questions like these, ask them in the comments or send us a private email at

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Your Marriage is a Pearl of Great Price

I never understood the parable of the pearl of great price until just recently. Why would a merchant sell all that he had in order to buy a single pearl, no matter how valuable? It contradicts the cardinal rule of investing: diversify your holdings. It conflicts with the commonsense rule of life: don't put all your eggs in one basket. It doesn't make rational sense.

Then one day, my whole perspective changed as a result of a casual encounter on the beach. I was introduced to Marian, an extended family member. As Marian and I stood on the sand exchanging pleasantries, a ray of sunlight glinted off the necklace I was wearing. "Oh," exclaimed Marian, "a pearl!" I explained that my husband had given me the pendant as an anniversary present, celebrating many years and many children together. Grinning, she remarked, "Your marriage is a pearl of great price."

Her words made the incomprehensible parable comprehensible. When I married my husband and promised to forsake all others, I gave away all that I was and all that I had. When I vowed to stay true for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, I (metaphorically) placed my eggs in one basket. I risked everything, and I made the right choice -- an irreversible one.

Marriage has no back-up plan, no escape hatch, no termination clause. Marriage is permanent, and the commitment to love our spouse is everlasting. We risk everything in the hopes of gaining everything. We sell everything in order to buy a pearl of great price.

This element of risk may make marriage vows seem rash. But every vow, every promise of future behavior, is dangerously uncertain. As G.K. Chesterton wrote:
The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one's self, of the weakness and mutability of one's self, has perilously increased and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind. ... It is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilizing spirit of modern pleasure.
What makes a vow sane, according to Chesterton, is the "transfiguring self-discipline" that leads a man to promise great things and never give up fighting to achieve them. But a vow is not only risky because of our own weakness and mutability. It's also risky in light of any weakness in the other person. Can we trust our partner to keep his or her own vow? What if the "pearl" turns out to be flawed or, worse yet, counterfeit?

Let's return to the parable. In Jesus' allegorical story, the pearl of great price represents the kingdom of heaven. As people of faith, we can be certain that heaven is never counterfeit and that God's perfect love is real and eternal. On a human level, marriage does not have the same degree of certainty. All human beings have flaws, some big and some small. One of those flaws is the tendency to overemphasize other's imperfections while minimizing our own. We suspect, when sorrow comes, that we've somehow been cheated out of our just due.

But sacramental marriage is more than a merely human endeavor. A sacramental marriage has God in the midst of it. It is a path to heaven, a way of achieving holiness in the world, a vocation of service to which we are called by God. By entering into a sacramental marriage, we don't just risk everything we have for the sake of another human being -- we risk everything for God. And, when all is said and done, that's always a good bet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Our Visit to the Only Carthusian Monastery in the U.S.

This past weekend, we spent the Feast of the Assumption at the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, the only Carthusian monastery in the United States. High on a Vermont mountaintop, the monastery is surrounded by the solitude so essential to the monks' way of life.

The self-sufficient private complex was donated by a wealthy inventor who began his career in World War I and II by developing mustard gas and fissionable uranium for the atomic bomb. When he died without biological heirs, he left the land and buildings to the Carthusian order as if in expiation, hoping to salve his conscience.

The monks now living on the mountain grow their own food and bake their own bread, limiting themselves to a strict vegetarian diet. They also generate their own electricity through small water-driven power plants. Living under a rule of silence, they have a bare minimum of contact with the outside world. The most garrulous of the men has the job of interfacing with outsiders. The monks have a phone number and an email address, but deliberately shun full Internet access because of its potential for distraction. Their website is maintained by the same lay couple who runs the gift shop at the mountain's base.

Visitors can pay to hike the grounds at a rate of $15 per car and driver, and $5 more per each additional passenger. Family members and special guests are allowed to vacation overnight at the complex only once a year. Our family stayed at the Windswept guest house, formerly the main residence of the inventor and his wife. Decorated in what was the height of style many decades ago, Windswept has been meticulously preserved by the monks. Walking through the door is like walking into a time capsule. Bedrooms are scattered across the giant space, enough for our family of eight and more.

Having the kids along was like going on a family retreat. The seven-hour drive from our home in Long Island to the Vermont monastery was marked by harpoon ("hairpin") turns and rubberduckers ("rubberneckers"), according to our son Miguel. When we finally arrived, we had to say a few Hail Marys to navigate successfully along the winding, unmarked gravel roads within the complex.

Our kids obtained a thorough education in the virtues as a result of the trip. During last year's visit, our daughter Maria cried when we wouldn't let her stay in a bedroom near the library because the room hadn't been prepared for us. We never mentioned anything to the monks, but this year the bedroom had been cleaned and decorated with a little lamp and pretty sheets on the bed. Maria learned that good things do sometimes come to those who wait. Miguel gained a little wisdom when we asked him to put our four-year-old Elisa-Maria to sleep. "I told her to go to bed, but she just ran away," he said. "Mom, your job is a lot harder than it looks."

The monks said a special Mass for us on Saturday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. Before Mass, Manny asked the kids what the Assumption meant. "When God took Mary's body into heaven!" they shouted, nearly in unison. "Why did he do that?" I asked. "Because God loved her and she was about to die," responded Marga. "And because she's AWE-some," answered little Elisa-Maria. Yeah, they nailed it.

The monks celebrate their own liturgy, called the Order of the Carthusian Mass. The priest does not give a homily, and the congregants don't exchange the Sign of the Peace. The priest faces the altar rather than the people. And instead of singing, there are periods of silent prayer. Inspired by the timeless ritual and intimate setting, our rising second-grader Cecilia begged to receive Holy Communion. "You have to wait for your First Communion next spring," we told her. "Wait patiently for Jesus. He's waiting patiently for you."

After Saturday's Mass, we went swimming and rowing on Lake Madeleine. Fields of yellow and purple wildflowers encircled the shoreline. The strong shoulders of the mountains protected us from anything that might mar the peacefulness of the day -- including cell phone signals.

In contrast to the dated sumptuousness of the guest house and the sprawling glory of the grounds, the monks' chapel and residence is simple and gray, made of concrete and cinder block. The men walk the halls of the monastery with their hoods up, obscuring their faces, to emphasize their similarity and oneness as brothers.

A sign in the hallway outside the tiny chapel proclaims: "In solitude one lives in all ages." As attractive as it may seem, the thousand-year-old Carthusian way of life isn't for everyone. Some people sign up for a three-month retreat at the monastery, only to give up and return home after a single day.

Silence and young children certainly aren't the best of friends. During Sunday's Mass, I felt like keeping the children quiet was as futile as hushing the constant noise of a roaring waterfall. Like a perpetual motion machine, they rustled and squeaked and asked questions in piercing stage whispers. Only for a brief second did the silence peek through the clouds of endless sound, and we heard the cry of a hawk, far away, like a soul calling out wordlessly to God. It was an image that stayed with me on the long drive home and that I hope will stay with me for months and years to come.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Meditations of a Young Priest

My grandfather was a Methodist minister, so I have a soft spot in my heart for the priesthood. In a very real way, young priests are the hope of the future. They give us hope that as parents we can raise our children to serve a goal bigger than themselves. They give us hope that the Church, as a Mother, is doing something right by raising up enthusiastic and dedicated spiritual children. Following is a guest post from a young priest meditating on the well-known parable of the talents from the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30).

There will come a point in all of our lives, where we are confronted with a challenge which we think is far beyond our abilities. Whether it’s our coach, our boss, our parents, our children – we are asked to do something which we can’t imagine we’ll ever succeed at doing. The first few times I had to speak publicly – I did anything I could to get out of it. In some ways we’re humble, recognizing we have our limits, or maybe we’re too afraid of embarrassing ourselves, but it’s easy to refuse a challenge which seems beyond us. This challenge often lifts us to a higher level though – if we succeed we are amazed at how we can impress even ourselves. And if we fail, we can still be impressed by how well we did, despite our falling short.

Today, we hear the words of the master “You wicked, lazy servant,” and perhaps we think he’s being a bit harsh. Here’s a servant, pretty much a household slave, being given one talent – which at that time was the equivalent of maybe 15 years wages. So imagine being as unskilled in investments as someone like me, and being handed all that money. Maybe it’s understandable that he was afraid to do anything with it. Maybe there’s an honesty in admitting he wasn’t up for the challenge. But what does the master say – “Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?” The money could have made a profit itself, not requiring him to take a risk by trusting his abilities.

Now I don’t think our Lord is worried about us turning a profit on our investments. We too, however, have been given a great gift like the servant, the value of which is far beyond anything we have or can ever have. We have been entrusted with Jesus Christ. God gave His Son to die for us, to live in each of us, that we may share in his resurrection. We don’t deserve it, and it’s certainly beyond anything on this earth in value, and we’re told to make good use of it. So what do we do?

Well, if we’re being honest, our instinct is most likely to bury it in the same way. Because it is so intimidating, it is a task which seems impossible. We are asked to be like Christ – to empty ourselves of all selfishness, to control all of our desires perfectly, to live only for others and never for ourselves. Thank you Lord for thinking so highly of me, but I think this challenge is a bit too much. And this is very much what the world will tell you. Being a Christian is too difficult, it denies our human nature, it makes us give up what we want and will only make us frustrated and miserable. The culture we live in will tell us to settle for mediocrity – everybody does this sin, everybody does that sin, to expect to do better is unrealistic. God loves us even though we’re imperfect, so we’ll just leave it at that. But to quote G.K. Chesterton, and if you haven’t picked up on this yet he’s a personal favorite – “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult, and left untried.”

The world will point at the young pregnant woman and tell her it’s too difficult to have a child, she has to give up too much, it will crush her future hopes. The world will tell the young unmarried couple to surrender to their carnal desires and give up on trying for chastity. The world will tell all of us to take the easy way, to settle for a life lived for money and pleasure and comfort, because that’s the best we can do. The world has given up on the Christian ideal, it has given up on the fairytale ending – because it believes it’s unrealistic to expect people to live what the Church teaches, it is unrealistic that we could all be saints.

But the gift we have been given, it accrues interest, more interest than we could ever use. Our faith, the life of Jesus Christ in us, is the most powerful force in the world, it can make us saints! But we must let it, we can’t bury it. We can’t abandon hope of ever succeeding, because that is not humility, it is doubt of God’s power. While the world will seek to keep us down, our faith tells us – we are more than that!

Our faith tells the young mother that she holds in her womb a human life, and bringing that life into the world will be a heroic act of love which she is capable of and will bring her endless joy. Our faith tells the young girl she can meet her gallant prince, and the young man that he can find his pure princess, that sexuality is sacred and something which will bring the greatest joy when shared in the intimacy of a marriage. And our faith tells all of us, that we can live for more than ourselves and our comfort, that we can be different, that we can break the mold we’ve been given and prove to the world that there is something more. The world has rejected these ideals, even though they will make us far happier, because they require us to surrender to God. To allow Him to guide our lives, and move us in ways we are not prepared to move and which may make us uncomfortable.

Our faith tells us, that we can be heroes, if only we believe God can do it.

As we approach the altar today, we will receive that great gift, that talent which has a value beyond measure, our Lord’s Body Blood Soul and Divinity in the most Holy Eucharist. Let’s not bury him and settle back into our spiritual ruts. Let’s let him transform us, make us into heroes. Let’s reevaluate our lives – how much of my time and talents do I bury in the internet and TV and gadgets, rather than dedicating myself to prayer and learning about my faith and serving others. In what ways have I looked over a sin as something unavoidable, as something which is impossible to overcome – rather than seek every day to root it out. We should wake up every morning on fire, burning with the desire to be heroic, to be a saint – not because we’re great, because our God is great and he’s the one who’s doing the work. Let us prove to the world that there is something more to live for - that life is beautiful and epic when our lives are defined by that drama of our faith.

Photograph By Matthias Ulrich. The original uploader was Matteo3000 at German Wikipedia (selber fotografiert) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What Pope Francis Meant by Divorced & Remarried Aren't Excommunicated

Untangling one of Pope Francis' public statements often resembles taking a final exam. "How many inaccurate implications can be drawn from Pope Francis' statement? Explain why they are inaccurate, referencing canon law, Church history, and prevailing cultural trends." For example, take his recent statement that divorced persons who remarry outside the Church are "by no means excommunicated." This statement probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

What Excommunication Means

Excommunication is "widely misunderstood," according to the excellent manual Catholicism for Dummies. Excommunication is different from not being permitted to receive Holy Communion. It's true that a person who is excommunicated can't receive communion. But excommunication means more than that.

According to Canon 1331, an excommunicated person is also "forbidden to have any ministerial participation in celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist ... [or] to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions." Practically speaking, this means that an excommunicated layperson cannot function as a lector or Eucharistic Minister, explains canonist Edward Peters in his book Excommunication and the Catholic Church.

What Excommunication Doesn't Mean

Excommunication does not mean that the person is shunned. At some points in Church history, excommunicants were shunned, according to canonist Ed Peters. But that is no longer true today.

Excommunication does not mean that the person loses their Catholicism. Excommunication is a medicinal or remedial penalty meant to encourage the person to change their behavior and become restored to full communion. It can be reversed. Meanwhile, the person remains a baptized Catholic.

Excommunication does not mean that the person is barred from attending Mass. All Catholics, even the excommunicated, are required to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. They can listen to the readings and the homily even if they can't receive communion or exercise ministerial roles.

Who is Prohibited from Receiving Holy Communion

Excommunicants are not the only people prohibited from receiving Holy Communion. Non-Catholics cannot receive communion in a Catholic church, even if they're discerning a call to conversion. This is why many parishes have special processions at the mid-point of the Mass, when adults seeking baptism or confirmation are led out of the sanctuary while the rest of the assembly remains for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Someone who has not fasted from food or drink for an hour is not supposed to receive communion either. Christopher West tells a sweet story about asking his pastor for special permission at daily Mass for West's son to receive communion even though he just ate. The pastor refused, but then went on to give a fifteen or twenty minute homily. By the time the Eucharist was offered, an hour had passed since West's son had eaten and he was able to receive. That's a pastoral solution!

Anyone conscious of a mortal sin (even one as common as deliberately skipping Sunday Mass) should refrain from partaking of the Eucharist until that person has gone to confession and been absolved. In other countries, like Spain, it is far more common to see people remaining in the pew when it's time to join the communion line.

Why does everyone in the United States walk up to receive communion? This is probably a product of a Protestant culture, where the host is viewed as a symbol rather than the Real Body and Blood of Christ. But St. Paul cautioned: "whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:27).

These are strong words, so strong that a Protestant friend of mine stopped receiving communion in his own church because he couldn't reconcile his personal belief about the Eucharist with what he was reading in the Bible. These words ought to have even deeper impact on Catholics who believe in the Real Presence.

Pope Francis Hasn't Said Anything New

In interpreting Pope Francis' words, it's always good to remember that the Pope is Catholic. Blogger Jen Fitz provided an excellent key to understanding the Pope's statements. He's a high-context speaker, she explained, meaning that he takes a lot for granted, including the audience's knowledge and acceptance of Catholic doctrine. In U.S. Catholic thought, there are so many dizzying trends that people who accept every word in the Catechism have to define themselves by code words like "we are faithful to the Magisterium." Pope Francis doesn't need to use code words to prove that he will abide by the Catechism.

When we parse Pope Francis' recent words on the divorced, remarried, and excommunication, we can see that he hasn't actually said anything new. Here are the accurate implications that can be drawn from his words.

Under canon law, divorced people who remarry outside the Church aren't formally excommunicated. Historically speaking, divorced and remarried American Catholics were formally excommunicated. This penalty was imposed by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. The penalty was removed in 1977. So Pope Francis' statement was canonically correct.

Divorced and remarried people are welcome in the Church community and at Mass. This is what Pope Francis signaled when he said, “they may live and develop their adherence to Christ and the Church with prayer, listening to God’s word, frequenting the liturgy, the Christian education of their children, charity, service to the poor and a commitment to justice and peace.” Divorce ministries have focused on integrating divorced and remarried people into the parish in this way for years.

Divorced and remarried people still cannot receive Holy Communion. This is what Pope Francis signaled when he said: "The Church is fully aware that such a situation is contrary to the Christian Sacrament." As the Catechism plainly states: "They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion" (CCC 1665). This prohibition does not apply to the divorced and remarried who have heroically chosen to live as brother and sister -- under these circumstances they can receive Holy Communion (CCC 1650).

We can thank Pope Francis for extending a warm welcome to a class of people who often feel rejected by the Church. But we can't jump to conclusions about what doctrine or policy he might or might not change in the future.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Eat, Pray, Lounge: 9 Tips for 9 Months of Pregnancy

With the feasts of the Assumption (August 15) and the Queenship of Mary (August 22) coming up soon on the calendar, it's a great time to talk about motherhood and pregnancy. My fifth child Cecilia was born August 13, and I remember that summer as feeling particularly hot! In honor of Mary and with special prayers for all you expecting moms out there, here are 9 tips for the 9 months of pregnancy.

Tip for Month #1: In the first month, you might not even know that you're pregnant unless your symptoms are really obvious or you're using a cycle-charting technique like Natural Family Planning. But if you already know that baby is on the way, then take a deep breath and follow this advice from Sarah Reinhard's A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: "pray a Hail Mary and brew some tea. Picture Mary across from you, smiling gently, and know that you'll be blessed."

Tip for Month #2: Research Your Medication! At your first pregnancy check-up, the doctor will probably prescribe medication like prenatal vitamins. All medicines are not created equal, even something as simple as vitamins. Although I experienced only mild morning sickness for my first two babies, I threw up like clockwork every morning with baby number three. Right after I took my morning prenatal vitamin. "It's your vitamins, dummie," exclaimed my outspoken mother with whom we were vacationing. I protested strenuously until she suggested I stop taking the vitamins for a few days. No vitamins, no vomiting. When I called the pharmacist, they explained that the brand of prenatal vitamins I was taking had more iron than many other brands, and that extra iron might have been irritating my stomach. So the doctor switched me to a different vitamin prescription. Problem solved, and thank goodness. If I had gone to my doctor complaining of nausea, he might have prescribed an anti-nausea drug like Zofran, which is thought to have awful side effects including anxiety, seizures, and even birth defects. So always research your meds, especially if you're experiencing problems!

Tip for Month #3: Look Cool in Your Clothes. When I was pregnant with our eldest daughter, I was still working. I wasn't sure how my bosses in the high-pressure law firm environment would react, so I hid the pregnancy as long as possible. Instead of buying maternity clothes, I just kept buying clothes in bigger sizes. The day I showed up in size 16 pants, one of the secretaries snarkily remarked that it looked like I had borrowed pants from my dad's closet. The pants fit on the waist, but were way too baggy on my hips and legs. Maternity clothes are sized for pregnant ladies. Surprise, they fit and look good! In the third month, it will probably be time to break down and buy some.

Tip for Month #4: Eat Well. In the second trimester, morning sickness tends to fade away. Then you can concentrate on eating something more than dry toast, crackers, and ginger ale. For our first baby, we had a super-cool Manhattan doctor who said I could eat pretty much whatever I liked - even sushi, if I trusted the restaurant. For every baby after that, we got different advice on what not to eat. No cold cuts, no soft cheeses, no this, no that. It reminded me of the advice my grandmother received on what to feed her baby. The pediatrician for her first child told her to add a raw egg to the baby's formula bottle, and so she did for every one of her five babies. Until she told the pediatrician for baby number five, and he freaked out. Diet advice will change. Follow what your doctor says, of course, but there's no need to stress or obsess about it.

Tip for Month #5: Adjust Your Wedding Rings. Like a lot of expecting moms, I had super-swollen fingers when I was pregnant. Apparently, this problem (called edema) gets worse in your fifth month of pregnancy and even worse in hot weather. Hello, August! I actually had one of my rings re-sized at the jeweler's since it was tight to begin with. But lots of moms just move their rings to a pretty gold chain around their necks. The problem should go away pretty soon after baby is born.

Tip for Month #6: Have Fun Picking Baby's Name. If you're like me, you picked out your first child's name when you were twelve. If you're like a lot of other people, you've let it wait. Picking your baby's name is great fun. For me, it felt like naming the hero or heroine of your very own novel. In the South, there's a huge tradition of using family names. Catholics like to use saints' names, and Spaniards like my husband like to have a lot of middle names! If you want help with ideas, check out The Catholic Baby Name Book by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur.

Tip for Month #7: Lounge in the Pool. The seventh month of pregnancy can bring more aches and pains with it. Your hips can feel painfully stretched out, and it might feel hard to walk. And in the summer, the heat just makes everything worse. Especially if you have toddlers to take care of, baby pools can be the best. Slip on a maternity bathing suit and lounge in the baby pool while your toddler splashes around. You'll both be a lot happier.

Tip for Month #8: Make a Hospital Visiting Plan. The birthing class we took told us to pack a bag for the hospital, buy a car seat, and pick an object to focus on during contractions (like that worked! :not:). If they mentioned a visiting plan, I don't remember it. So for our first baby, my extroverted and enthusiastic husband invited the whole family to the labor and delivery wing. All one dozen of them, it seemed. I even met the sister of my husband's cousin's wife for the first time in my hospital gown. "En - can - ta - da," I puffed out in Spanish in between contractions while gamely extending my hand for a handshake. Years later, my husband still expressed surprise that I would have wanted it any other way. For babies five and six, I finally felt strong enough to voice my wishes that people visit me and the baby at home after I was discharged. Hospital time was my time. Whatever visiting rules you want to lay down, decide on them before you go into labor!

Tip for Month #9: Don't Forget to Pray! Childbirth can be a spiritual experience - not a hearts and flowers and dancing angels moment, but a reminder that weakness can generate greatness. We need help to get through this last stage of pregnancy -- help from medical professionals, birth coaching partners, family and God. Recognizing that we need help is a humbling but amazingly enlightening moment. Pray that God will bless you and your baby, and keep you safe for many years to come.

Monday, August 3, 2015

HUGE NEWS: Chris West Will Write the Foreword to Our Marriage Advice Book!

Many of you have patiently followed the saga of our Catholic marriage advice book through the stages of proposal, publishing contract, and editing.  Over the summer, we found out our title:

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love:
How Your Catholic Marriage Can
Bring You Joy for a Lifetime

And.... we found out that Christopher West had agreed to write the foreword!!!! In every informal poll we conducted on social media, when we asked who would be the BEST person to write a foreword to a Catholic marriage advice book, you overwhelmingly responded, "Chris West."

As many of you know, Chris is a best selling author, speaker, teacher and world-renowned expert in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Chris' book Good News about Sex and Marriage, published for the first time in 2000, is still one of the most popular Catholic marriage advice books on the market. His pre-Cana program God's Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage is used for marriage preparation in dioceses across the country.

Chris' latest book, Fill These Hearts, was released in 2013. From my review:

A recurring theme of Fill These Hearts is that we must learn to aim our desire according to God's design so that we can arrive at our destiny. Our destiny is to be totally united in bliss with Our Lord and Savior forever in heaven. "These heavenly nuptials are what we long for (desire); they're what we're created for (design); and they're what we're headed for (destiny)," states West.

We are beyond thrilled that he is writing the foreword to our book!

And here's more about our book from the publisher Ave Maria Press:

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love offers a warm catechesis that illustrates how God’s plan for marriage can turn self-centered individuals into a united couple capable of experiencing deep, lasting, and soul-satisfying love in their everyday lives. The Four Keys to Everlasting Love shows how the intentional practice of Biblical principles in key areas of life can inspire couples to stay in love with each other, in love with Christ, and in love with the wisdom of the Catholic Church.

In addressing universal issues like sex, money, health, child-rearing, in-laws, and work-life balance, this book incorporates examples drawn from Dr. Manuel Santos’ psychiatric practice, as well as shared stories from the authors’ family life. The philosophy of Pope St. John Paul II played a powerful role in shaping the contours of the book, which explores the sacramentality of marriage contained in the late pope’s Theology of the Body and his encyclicals on family life (Familiaris Consortio; Gratissimam Sane), sexuality (Evangelium Vitae), and work (Laborem Exercens).

Direct, informative, helpful, and encouraging, this book celebrates the gift of our Catholic faith without downplaying the difficulties we face in living in a world that no longer seems to believe in the permanence of marriage or the value of trusting in God’s will for us. This book does not adopt a one-size-fits-all spirituality.  It is distinctively and joyfully Catholic.