Thursday, October 29, 2015

Staying Faithful Despite Divorce (Guest Post)

Today, we welcome Linda George, a Catholic home-schooling mom of seven, whose husband divorced her after 17 years of marriage. Linda has made the choice to stay faithful to her marriage vows despite the civil divorce and regardless of the possibility of reconciliation with her husband. Here, she explains why and how she lives as she does.

Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn in a direction that was totally unforeseen to those involved.  Such was the case for my children and me back in June of 2007.  It was a year of surprises, but not the type of surprises that are received with joy and contentment.  No this was more of a thunderbolt that leaves a permanent mark on you and your family forever.  It is the evil consequences and results surrounding the end of a marriage.

Of course, if I could have repaired and restored our lives to what they had been prior to this dark time, I would have done almost anything within my human ability.  After all the role of a mother is to protect her children from the dangers that exist within our world. From a Catholic perspective we are to teach our children how to be Godly, caring, and Christ-like members of society, living virtuous lives.  Our hope as Catholic parents is to raise the next generation of saints and to teach our children to live as Christ did. The family is the most basic fundamental part of society and a broken family has a different impact on society.

After our lives were catapulted into uncharted territory nothing was the same anymore.  No event in the lives of my children would be comparable to the way things used to be.  We would never be able to do things as we had done before.  How could they be the same if there was a parent missing from their daily life?  There was no longer a father in our home.  As a result there would be none of our typical family dinners, or holidays, or vacations with their dad by my side.  We would no longer attend Mass as a family.  The milestones in the lives of my children were now marked with a permanent change.

At one point there was absolute uncertainty in every area of our lives.  Suddenly there was no longer a predictable direction for our family, the plans my husband and I had laid out together for our family had been shifted. There were so many unknowns. Thankfully, however there was one aspect of my life that I did have control over and that was my marital covenant.  I had a “safety net” so to speak because of our Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.  Although courts were deciding our fate in so many areas of our lives this was something that I could decide.  It was attainable by simply making a decision to continue to live as a married person after my civil marriage ended.  It was what the church had defined for us under the sacrament of marriage and this teaching became my safety net.

I was and am so grateful to God for giving my children and me a safe refuge to begin to restore the brokenness within our lives.  Living in a married state after a civil divorce and allowing Jesus to work on fixing me from the inside was the beginning of a healing process.  I am deeply moved by what God has done for us as a family and how He has made much good come from so much suffering and pain. Thank you, Lord, for loving me as your spouse and for caring for my children as a parent does.

Sacramentally Yours

On Sunday May 17th, 2015, while I was praying at the end of the Divine Liturgy, the words “Sacramentally Yours” came to me.  It is my belief that these words were divinely inspired and were to be used in connection with a religious order within our Catholic Church -- a third order community founded for those in our faith who have kept their marital covenant after a civil divorce.

As Catholics, our teachings on marriage are so beautiful and lasting. Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of our control many of us find ourselves in a situation we never imagined possible.  Families in the world are under attack and divorce is a destruction that is shaking the foundation and stability of families from the inside.  However, having hope in the midst of the darkness and ugliness of divorce for any that remain “sacramentally married” to Christ, the third person in the sacrament, we are given the graces and strength needed to endure the suffering and turmoil surrounding divorce.  By embracing the church teaching, we have been given a framework that supports our values and morals.  For those of us in these situations, creating an order where we can live a chaste and consecrated religious life would be a blessing in so many ways.  The mission of this order would be to pray for the families in crisis and to restore hope and love to the hearts of all of the families who are suffering through the painful results of divorce. The broken praying for the broken and giving each other hope.

Although the scars from divorce can last a lifetime, God in his mercy has restored my children and our family.  God became the father of our children and our family became whole again.  I believe that the blessing that Christ gave to our family was a result of continuing to live within my marriage vows.  I am deeply grateful that under the umbrella of our church I found a serenity and peace that was beyond my human understanding.  Through many hours of prayer, I began to understand and learn that Christ could fill the voids that existed in the spiritual dimension of a broken marriage.  As I mourned the death of my marriage, I began to feel in a very real way the glory of God.  It is my hope that by spreading a renewed awareness of an existing doctrine, we can share the healing and peace that our family found with many others.

My circumstances may not be much different from those of many who find themselves in a situation that was completely unexpected.  My husband and I were married for 17 years and had seven children together. We were a Catholic homeschooling family who was heavily involved in our church and community. As you can imagine, his desire to end the marriage and leave our family was not something for which I had prepared.  My children and I were faced with immeasurable uncertainty and grief.

Although it was painful for me as a spouse, my own suffering was outweighed by care for my children.  How could I make their lives better?  What could I do at this moment to decrease their suffering and, most of all, how could I continue to teach that marriage is for life? I wanted to bring peace into my home in the midst of my children's heartache. Thankfully, our Catholic doctrine on Sacramental marriage gave my children and myself a safe refuge and peace.  The kids began asking so many questions about marriage and divorce, since my older children had been taught about their sacraments.  They knew that marriage in the eyes of God and in our church was for life. I had no idea at the time how blessed and how many graces the kids and I would receive from this choice back then. Since then, I have been able to teach the children more about living out my marital commitment in the absence of a spouse. Christ is still in the center of the sacrament and can still bless us. We know as Catholics that the sacrament of marriage is so sacred that a civil court does not dissolve this union with Christ.  This union is still in existence for us to prayerfully embrace.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Grand Finale of Week Three of the Family Synod, or Now What?

The Synod on the Family's final act has concluded, and we can all relax. Or can we? Contrary to widespread concerns (or hopes), the Synod final report did not recommend a change to well-settled Church doctrine. Fortunately, we dodged that bullet. But we still don't know what Pope Francis plans to do next. My take on the Synod's final week.

1. Worldwide Smack-down: Africa vs. Germany, Round Two

Although probably the most well-known of the African bishops, 82-year-old Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria did not participate directly in the Synod on the Family. Nonetheless, in interviews with the press, Cardinal Arinze eloquently articulated the African position.

On the joy of being a Christian: "Christianity is good news in Africa. Young people commit themselves with serious sacrifice to Christianity."

On inviting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion: "We cannot improve on what Christ has said. We cannot be wiser than him, or say that 'there is a circumstance he did not foresee.' We cannot be more merciful than Christ. We must look for a way to help the divorced who are remarried, [but] we don’t help them by saying, 'Come and receive Holy Communion.'”

On decentralization of doctrine: "Are you going to tell me that we can have a national bishops’ conference in one country that would approve something which, in another conference, would be seen as sin? Is sin going to change according to national borders? ... It looks dangerously like nationalizing right and wrong."

Meanwhile, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany was reduced to taking potshots at more conservative bishops like Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who framed the debate over communion as a clash between supporters of Germany's Cardinal Kasper and followers of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Cardinal Marx publicly accused Cardinal Pell of being unhelpful and contradicting the Synod's spirit of cooperation. Cardinal Pell's spokesman responded that he was “delighted to learn that Marx has explained that there’s no contrast between the Kasper camp and Benedict XVI,” calling it “a welcome surprise.”

My vote: Germany loses. Thumbs up.

2. No Skipping School

A group of concerned Catholics began circulating a petition urging Synod participants who support the Church's unchanging doctrine to walk out in protest. The petition garnered more than 2,000 signatures. General public response viewed the petition as in somewhat bad taste and unlikely to accomplish anything. Ultimately, no one walked out on the Synod.

My vote: Thumbs down on the petition.

3. Pope Francis' Closing Speech Both Comforts and Disturbs

Many have questioned Pope Francis' decision to watch Synod combatants duking it out without intervening. The Pope explained himself well in his closing speech, delivered October 24:
Certainly, the Synod was not about settling all the issues having to do with the family, but rather attempting to see them in the light of the Gospel .... 
Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family, but rather ... carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand....
It was about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family.....
The different opinions which were freely expressed – and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways – certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue; they offered a vivid image of a Church which does not simply “rubberstamp."

One good thing to result from the Synod is that everyone's cards are now on the table. Second-hand stories of priests who have knowingly admitted the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion have circulated for years, despite this action being specifically prohibited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Now, the open secret is not-so secret any more.

Pope Francis' closing speech also included some encouraging words about appreciating "the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life." But the speech included some disturbing language as well.

Pope Francis sharply criticized those who turned the Gospel into "dead stones to be hurled at others" and those with "closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to ... judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families." I'm not sure who he's talking about, but I don't think it's the Germans.

Pope Francis also indicated that he favors some type of different treatment on a country-by-country basis, bringing up echoes of doctrinal decentralization:
apart from dogmatic questions clearly defined by the Church’s Magisterium – we have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion. Cultures are in fact quite diverse, and each general principle needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.

The two most hotly debated issues at the Synod -- civil remarriage and homosexuality -- both seem to be "clearly defined by the Church's Magisterium." Which begs the question of what else could Pope Francis possibly be talking about, or how narrow is his conception of  "clearly defined."

My vote: I'm still nervous.

4. Synod's Final Report: Yay?

The Synod fathers voted on the drafting committee's final report during the evening of October 24. The good news is that all paragraphs passed by the required two-thirds majority and none of them flatly contradicted Church doctrine. The bad news is, like most writing produced by committees, it's hard to understand what they mean. As the New York Times reported, "the document ... was so carefully worded that it was immediately open to competing interpretations and allowed both the conservative and liberal flanks in the church to claim victory."

Paragraph 76 on homosexuality strongly rejected same-sex marriage while emphasizing the dignity and respect due to all persons and the need to accompany and support people with gay family members. Paragraph 84 on the divorced and civilly remarried called for greater inclusion and integration. Paragraphs 85 and 86 focused on discernment, conscience, and priestly assistance in forming "a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church" by the divorced and civilly remarried. The possibility of Holy Communion was not specifically mentioned.

Of course, the issue has never really been what the final report says. The issue is what will Pope Francis do next. After the 2014 Synod, where many bishops expressed a desire for annulment reform, the Pope created a special commission that led to his amending canon law on his own initiative this past September. The pope has created a new Vatican office merging the existing pontifical councils for laity and family and the Vatican’s bioethics think tank. In addition, the pope may answer calls by some Synod fathers to create a commission to study the question of the divorced and civilly remarried.

My vote: It ain't over yet. Stay tuned.

Canva graphic created with image by Andreas Tille (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Announcing the Free Marriage Rx E-Book!!

50 Inspirational Quotes to Make Your Marriage
Better Today
We're so pleased to share a free eBook with subscribers to our newsletter.  In our newsletter, you'll find encouraging articles, helpful tips, and updates on our book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Will Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (available for pre-order here!).

Our free Marriage Rx eBook is meant to touch your heart and show you how God's everlasting love can improve your married life today and every day. We've included quotes from diverse sources like Shakespeare and the Bible, plus excerpts from many Can We Cana? posts, especially the popular series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some. You can click through to the full posts, if you wish -- we've provided the links right inside the eBook.

Inside you'll find useful and uplifting guidance on:

  • The ABCs of Communication
  • Work & Money
  • Friends, Family & Forgiveness
  • God & Prayer
  • Saints, Suffering & Sacrifice

Ready to be inspired?

Subscribe to our newsletter

May God bless you and your marriages!

Yours in Christ,
Dr. Manny and Karee Santos

Marriage Rx logo created by the awesome author, blogger & design guru Sarah Reinhard, to whom we owe a whopping debt of gratitude.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Best & Worst of Bishops Behaving Badly, or Week 2 of the Family Synod

As amply demonstrated by last week's synod proceedings in Rome, Pope Francis' brand of Jesuit or Ignatian spirituality is down and dirty. Cardinal Dolan of New York explained that in Ignatian spirituality, "a mess, confusion, questions are a good thing. Very often our desire for something very tidy, very predictable, something very structured, in itself sometimes can be an obstacle to the work of grace." Well, I don't know if my heart can stand it. Here's my take on last week's chaos.

1. Worldwide Smack-down: Africa vs. Germany

Along with Cardinal Kasper, the German bishops are pushing strongly for communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and acceptance of same-sex unions for gay couples. One German bishop called these issues cultural rather than doctrinal, and spoke in support of giving authority to “national bishops conferences’ to search for pastoral solutions that are in tune with their specific cultural context.” Jumping on the bandwagon, Archbishop Cupich of Chicago found the logic of allowing communion for divorced and remarried to apply to homosexual couples as well.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Sarah of Africa compared the idolatory of Western freedom to an apocalyptic beast. He identified as a major threat the family's "subjectivist disintegration in the secularized West through quick and easy divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, euthanasia et cetera," He continued: “We need to be inclusive and welcoming to all that is human; but what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated.”

Kudos to both sides for laying their cards on the table. My vote: Thumbs up for clarity. Thumbs down for eroding my peace of mind.

2. Minority Report: Practicing Catholics Edition

Cardinal Dolan recently blogged about the "new minority" in the Church, a minority also worthy of inclusion. Surprisingly, the "new minority" sounds a lot like Catholics who strive to follow the Church and practice their faith to the best of their ability:

Can I suggest as well that there is now a new minority in the world and even in the Church?  I am thinking of those who, relying on God’s grace and mercy, strive for virtue and fidelity: Couples who — given the fact that, at least in North America, only half of our people even enter the sacrament of matrimony–  approach the Church for the sacrament;  Couples who, inspired by the Church’s teaching that marriage is forever, have persevered through trials; couples who welcome God’s gifts of many babies; a young man and woman who have chosen not to live together until marriage; a gay man or woman who wants to be chaste; a couple who has decided that the wife would sacrifice a promising professional career to stay at home and raise their children — these wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!

This is encouragement that practicing Catholics badly need to hear from a prince of the Church. As popular blogger and mom of 10 Simcha Fisher wrote recently, the faithful sheep are suffering, too. She commented: "We can become so caught up in the great cultural and spiritual wars of our era — wars that swirl around avant-garde sins begging for extravagant mercy — that we forget the family back home, the poor family, the ones we’re defending when we go out to fight.... The Church is full of the obedient wounded. The flock who never strayed have troubles of their own." Amen. And thank you.

The situation is even more apparent in countries less fortunate than our own, where being faithful can require extraordinary sacrifice. For the Synod fathers to promote a worldview that renders those sacrifices worthless, impotent, and foolish is a crushing blow. A Romanian doctor who was invited to speak to the Synod made an impassioned plea on behalf of those who stayed true to their beliefs in a time of trial:

My father was a Christian political leader, who was imprisoned by the communists for 17 years. My parents were engaged to marry, but their wedding took place 17 years later. My mother waited all those years for my father, although she didn’t even know if he was still alive. They have been heroically faithful to God and to their engagement. Their example shows that God’s grace can overcame terrible social circumstances and material poverty....The Church’s mission is to save souls. Evil, in this world, comes from sin. Not from income disparity or “climate change”....if the Catholic Church gives in to the spirit of this world, it is going to be very difficult for all the other Christians to resist it.

It is good for these voices to be heard. My vote: Thumbs up.

3. Tempest in a Teapot, or the Lettergate that Wasn't 

A lot of ink has been spilled about a private letter written by 13 (or 9) cardinals to the Pope in order to express their deep disquiet about the direction of the Synod. The letter supposedly highlighted three concerns: the faulty document that the bishops were given to whip into shape, the new Synodal process for 2015, and whether the 10-member drafting committee will ensure that the final document represents the views of all bishops, rather than just a select few.

While it's good to know that some cardinals are concerned, the contents of the letter are hardly new or breathtaking. Kvetching (in public and private) is par for the course during a synod. Whatever the letter said (since there's confusion about the actual text), it doesn't sound any more critical than the public small group reports. My vote: Meh.

4. Lights of Hope: Canonization of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin

On Sunday, October 18, Pope Francis canonized the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, popularly known as the Little Flower. These saints of the ordinary are wonderful role models for all mothers and fathers, especially those practicing Catholics that Cardinal Dolan has reached out to support. As I wrote in my Catholic Digest article:

The Martins were not great philosophers, brave martyrs, or founders of religious orders. The most important thing they did during their lives was to create a family environment that nurtured the blossoming sainthood of their smallest child, Therese. This is what all mothers and fathers are called to do  -- to raise their children to be saints. The example of the Martins gives us hope that we can follow in their footsteps.

My vote: Thumbs up.

5. Decentralization Update: Oh noooo.....

After only a brief mention during the first week of the Synod, the issue of decentralization or "local-option Catholicism" has swelled into a chorus of howling by Church-watchers. Muddying the waters even further, Pope Francis gave a speech last Saturday on his vision of a "Synodal church." The speech stressed the ability of each one of the baptized to discern the will of God. Pope Francis also emphasized that bishops have the power to discern what problems exist in their local churches. It is less clear whether the power to discern equals the power to govern, in Pope Francis' opinion. To a certain extent, the speech reads like an argument for Church governance along the lines of a Constitutional monarchy, where the monarch -- in this case, the pope -- has no real power.

Allowing local bishops or councils of regional bishops to decide doctrine for their particular countries would quite frankly be an unmitigated disaster. As George Weigel explained:

  • it defies logic and theology to suggest that "what is sacrilege in one part of the world Church ... is a font of grace in another"
  • shifting political borders in embattled countries could cause shifts in doctrine
  • the world is becoming smaller rather than bigger because of revolutions in communications and transportation; universality has never been easier to achieve, why throw it away? 

My vote: Thumbs down!

Canva graphic created with image by Andreas Tille (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 15, 2015

BIG REVEAL: We Have a Book Cover!!

The thrill-ride of book publishing continues as we hit our next milestone: the cover of our new book, The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime!!! This Catholic marriage help book is already available for pre-order at (what a dream come true).

Our editor called publisher Ave Maria Press' art department their "secret weapon" because of how great they are at developing attractive cover art, so we were overjoyed to work with them. Like everything else in publishing, coming up with a great cover is a long process. First, they asked us for ideas. We were super-excited about the key motif, so dear hubby Manny sketched this.


Our publisher ran the idea past some focus groups and decided that the cover also needed to showcase the idea of marriage as a shared journey. So they combined both ideas in this stunning version.


But, because I'm a lawyer, I have to tinker with everything. My sister-in-law Nancy described quite well the difference between working for most people -- who say "great!!!" -- and lawyers, who say "great! Now change this, fix that, improve the other thing...." I asked the art department to  make the grass a little greener, because doesn't everyone want that? And I asked them to make our foreword writer Christopher West's name a little bigger, because we are Very, Very Excited that he is supporting our Catholic marriage advice book. (His Facebook page just exceeded 50,000 likes, which is pretty major. Plus, he's awesome.) So, the art department, gave us this, our final cover!!!


Don't you just love it? Please, please, tell all your friends and help spread the word.

In other news, our awesome book editor Heidi Hess Saxton left to become the Editorial Director at Servant Books/Franciscan Media. Our book project is now being shepherded by Ave Maria Press' current Editorial Director Bob Hamma. We are honored to have worked with two people of such high caliber. And after Heidi left Ave Maria Press, CatholicMom founder Lisa Hendey joined them as editor-at-large. What a small world!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Best & Worst of the Synod on the Family's First Week

Last year's Synod on the Family was a nail-biter, and this year's continuation promises to be more of the same. Rewriting it as a drama, I would cast the Synod relator Cardinal Erdö as the well-intentioned but forgettable protagonist, progressive Cardinal Kasper as a villainous modern-day Martin Luther, and Pope Francis as the mysterious mastermind who keeps us guessing until the very end. The first week of the Synod was chock full of both encouraging and disturbing moments. Here's a recap.

1. The Synod's Marching Orders are to "Martyr" a Document

The task of the 2015 Synod is to rewrite the June working document, or instrumentum laboris. Opposition to this document is so strong that one writer called it the execrable instrumentum. Synod bishops have criticized the document for its flawed theology, its overly negative perspective, its incoherent language, and its illogical structure. Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, one of the Synod's organizers, said the text “must be ready to be martyred,” and definitely needs revisions. But, as any writer knows, revisions can't fix a document that is irredeemably flawed. And edits by a committee of 270 ecclesial alpha males are unlikely to produce clarity. In my opinion, there is a real danger of "garbage in, garbage out." 

My vote: Thumbs down.

2. Pope Defends Marriage as Permanent Bond Between a Man and a Woman

In his homily during the opening Mass of the Synod, Pope Francis went back to the beginning -- to the natural marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self,” Pope Francis said.

He also preached on Jesus' famous prohibition of divorce from the Gospel of Mark:
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.” But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Mk 10:4-9).
The Church's mission, according to Francis, is to defend "the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously." Pope Francis' words were somewhat undercut by a leaked comment by a Cardinal suggesting that the pope be "more merciful like Moses” rather than Jesus. But my money is on Francis following Jesus.

My vote: Thumbs up.

3. Cardinal Erdö Declares Communion Not Possible for Divorced and Remarried

In his role as the Synod's General Relator, Cardinal Erdö of Hungary got the first word. His opening address declared the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried to be non-negotiable. The cardinal explained that divorced people whose first marriage has not been declared null by the Church are in a state of continuing adultery if they remarry. Adultery is a grave sin, and people who have committed grave sin simply cannot receive the Holy Eucharist (unless they repent in sacramental confession and resolve not to sin again). “The integration of the divorced and remarried in the life of the ecclesial community can take many forms, [but it] is different from admission to the Eucharist,” he said.

The very next day, however, Italian Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli publicly announced that “the question" of communion for the divorced and remarried "is still open.” Certainly, the Synod bishops are still discussing it. Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge estimates that the Synod bishops are 65% against and 35% for admitting the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. Synod General Relator Cardinal Erdö clearly cannot control the end result. But he gets points for raising the issue and stating his position as clearly, bluntly, and forcefully as possible.

My vote: Thumbs up.

4. The Church is In Danger of Decentralization

One idea for resolving contentious debates among churchmen is to move authority to the local bishops' conferences and let them decide as they will. Surprisingly, Archbishop Coleridge estimates that the Synod bishops are evenly split on the wisdom of that proposal. At first blush, this proposal flies in the face of the catholicity (meaning universality) of the Church. As Catholics have said for centuries, "Roma locuta, causa finita,"or "Rome has spoken; the matter is finished." The saying derives from statements made by St. Augustine in the fifth century, supporting the primacy of the pope over the local bishops.

The primacy of the pope to resolve disputes can be traced to the role of Peter described in the New Testament Book of the Acts of the Apostles. When people in the early Church argued over whether Gentiles could be baptized into the Christian faith, Peter reported that he had a vision from God, showing him through the Holy Spirit that the circumcised and uncircumcised should both be received without distinction (Acts 10 & 11). When the factions heard Peter speak, "they were silenced" (Acts 11:18). Peter did not leave the dispute unsettled.

Allowing local bishops' councils to decide the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried would give the Vatican's tacit approval to the German bishops' June 2014 resolution to admit the divorced and civilly remarried to Holy Communion. This resolution was passed in advance of last year's Synod despite the clear prohibitions earlier stated in the authoritative encyclicals of St. John Paul II. Decentralization would thus be a huge win for the faction led by Cardinal Kasper and an unprecedented power shift.

My vote: Thumbs down.

Stay tuned for the drama of the second week!

Canva graphic created with image by Andreas Tille (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Choosing God through Confirmation: My Little Girl, All Grown Up

My eldest daughter Lelia just received the Sacrament of Confirmation yesterday from Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. As part of her preparation, she had to write a letter to the pastor requesting confirmation. When she showed me the letter, I was blown away by this privileged glimpse into her interior life. In honor of Lelia's special day, I'm sharing her letter with you.

Dear Monsignor,

On our journey of faith, we hit certain milestones. These “milestones” that we encounter throughout this journey are called sacraments.  On my journey of faith, I am getting close to the milestone of confirmation.  In order to reach one of these milestones, we need to be ready for it, prepare for it, and want it with all our heart, which I do. Therefore, I am writing you to request that I receive the Sacrament of Confirmation next fall.

One reason why I want to receive the Sacrament is being able to grow closer to Saint Bernadette whom I have chosen as my confirmation saint.  Another reason that I want to receive confirmation is so that I can grow closer to my aunt, Tita Nancy, who is my soon-to-be confirmation sponsor.  Although these are important, the greatest reason why I want to receive confirmation is so that I can grow closer to God and continue in my journey of faith.

I believe that I am ready to receive confirmation because I am at the age that I can make good choices. Over these past thirteen years, I have had time to form my conscience so that I can make correct decisions.  When we are babies, we receive baptism in which our parents say and choose everything for us because we can’t.  But now I believe I can.  With this freedom of choice and free will that God gave us, I will renew the promises made during my baptism by my own choosing.

I have prepared for confirmation in school, at home and through prayer.  In school we have learned about confirmation in religion class and we have completed a journal that helps us to realize how we feel about people, things and our faith.  At home we prepare through prayer and through the choices we make every day. In all truth we have been preparing for confirmation since we were first baptized.  Whether we did it knowingly or not, we have prepared for this our whole lives through developing our conscience through every prayer and every action.

Receiving a sacrament has a tremendous impact on our life. Almost every fundamental turning point in life is connected with a sacrament.  Just like every sacrament I have received so far -- baptism, first communion and first confession -- confirmation will have a tremendous impact on my everyday life.  Every time I go to church, every time I say a prayer, every time I look at a cross, I will know that I chose to go on this path willingly.  This is how the milestone of confirmation has affected me in the present, and how it will affect the rest of my future.

Yours in Christ,

Lelia Santos

Monday, October 5, 2015

St. Francis and the Synod on the Family

The date that Pope Francis chose to begin the second phase of the Synod on the Family could hardly have been a coincidence. When the Synod opened yesterday on October 4, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. And even more dramatically, the readings for the day celebrated marriage -- the marriage of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Jesus' plea that his people give up their hardness of hearts and treat marriage as indissoluble, the way it was meant to be from the beginning.

The readings from the day give us hope. And three major themes from St. Francis' life give us hints as to how the Pope bearing his name intends to conduct the Synod.

1. Rebuilding the Domestic Church

In a vision, St. Francis heard Christ telling him, "Go, rebuild my Church." Francis didn't understand at first what Christ meant. He wondered if his mission would be to repair a crumbling building. In time, St. Francis realized that the scope of his mission extended far more broadly. He was meant to reunite the people of the Church. In one of his most famous quotes, he described his calling: "We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way."

Pope Francis' task through the Synod of the Family and through his papacy in general is to rebuild the domestic church of the family.  The "domestic church" is an ancient expression, highlighting the role of "believing families ... as centers of living, radiant faith"(CCC 1656). In our families, we learn how to love, how to work, how to forgive, how to pray, and how to endure (CCC 1657). We learn how to be Christ for one another and how to see Christ in one another.

Today, the family is indisputably in crisis. Faith is in crisis as well. Young people are not getting married and they aren't going to Church. If the youth are our future, then where are we going? There is even a push by many German priests and bishops to reformulate Church doctrine on contraception, divorce, remarriage, and homosexual unions. Contentious arguments at synod meetings last October showed uncomfortable divisions between the princes of the Church. What we need badly from this year's discussions is for Pope Francis "to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way."

2. Taming the Wolf

In the story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio, the inhabitants of a small Italian town were being terrorized by a wolf attacking their livestock and even the humans themselves. The townspeople tried to destroy the wolf without success. But St. Francis went out to meet the wolf without fear. He invoked the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He spoke to Brother Wolf, told him to stop terrorizing the town, offered him mercy, and promised reconciliation with the townspeople. The wolf laid his paw in St. Francis' hand to show that he understood and agreed.

The characteristics of the saint meld easily with the characteristics of the pope. Pope Francis has never sidestepped a controversial issue or question. He has offered mercy over and over again, to the divorced, to homosexuals, to women who have gotten abortions. He has embraced everyone from the disabled to the dissenters. We can hope that he will wrangle a reconciliation between arguing factions within the Church.

3. Seeking to Understand

The famous Prayer of St. Francis contains a line: "grant that I may not so much seek ... to be understood, as to understand." Pope Francis' words are often spun by misunderstanding media. When he says "Who am I to judge" homosexuals, some people assume the pope will change doctrine on homosexuality. When he says "the divorced are not excommunicated," they assume he will allow the divorced and civilly remarried to receive communion. When he says that Catholics don't have to "breed like rabbits," they assume he disapproves of large families. From numerous, less well-reported papal statements, it is clear that none of these assumptions is warranted. But Pope Francis has frequently been misunderstood.

Moreover, he has been criticized for not being clear enough. But a hallmark of Pope Francis seems to be his desire to hear and to listen and to understand his people and their troubles. When he speaks, he responds in mercy to what he has heard. Truth is always clearer than mercy. It's more logical and it makes more sense. There is a certain illogic to mercy, but mercy nonetheless lies at the heart of Christianity.

In Pope Francis' homily at the opening Mass of the Synod, he explained this yoking of opposites:

I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock.

Like Francis, may we also seek to understand rather than condemn, to tame rather than destroy, and to bring home those who have lost their way.

St. Francis, intercede for us, for the bishops, the Pope, the Synod, and the Church!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Papal Pilgrims Struggle Through Massive Crowds in Philadelphia

Because of my sprained foot, my husband pushed me in a wheelchair for hours through massive Philadelphia crowds to see Pope Francis. And none of our six kids got lost! Philadelphia during the Popealooza was an almost surreal experience. Here's my report for Catholic news site

Papal events in Philadelphia this past weekend were too arduous to be called anything other than a pilgrimage. Travel tips warned visitors to “be prepared to walk up to 3-4 miles to your destination” in the city center. Many streets were blocked off with massive concrete barricades, feeding the crowds toward one of fifteen security checkpoints.

National Guard soldiers in gray-green camouflage, police in stark black, and volunteers in brilliant orange t-shirts thronged the city. Their most common response to a request for directions was “I don’t know.”

Past the security barriers, on the periphery, Spanish-speaking seminarians marched proudly, drumming and singing “Aleluya, Aleluya, Resucito!” Alleluia, alleluia, He is risen! A block away, a dark-haired, muscular man blared on a bullhorn that the Catholic Church was the Whore or Babylon and the pope was an anti-Christ. Slow-moving emergency vehicles patrolled streets closed to all other automotive traffic, adding an eerily apocalyptic feel.

The soaring high notes of a children’s choir, echoing from giant Jumbotrons, competed discordantly with the sirens of police cars clearing the papal motorcade route. Buskers played violin or electric bass guitar, hoping for coins. Tracks from the Priests of Beat album “Sanctus Electronimus” shuddered from speakers: “You are Peter. P-P-Peter.” Like the sun fitfully shining through the clouds, the City of God tried to break through into the earthly city.

Wheelchairs were a common sight. One mother in a flowered dress and white high heels tended her disabled daughter with the help of six of her other children, including 13-year-old quadruplets. Her oldest child, Benjamin, had auditioned and won a spot in the choir singing for Pope Francis. The mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter had tickets for the papal Mass, but the quadruplets were given the task of tending their two younger siblings behind the barrier in the non-ticketed area.

The separation between ticketed and non-ticketed areas gave many people only the tiniest chance to approach anywhere near the pontiff. But pilgrims still surged through the city, hoping. Jerusalem on Palm Sunday must have experienced a similar sense of excitement.

On Saturday, one mother stood with her children on the same square of asphalt for 17 hours in order to have a direct line of sight to the Holy Father. On Sunday, she gave up and returned home with her exhausted children, donating her four tickets for the papal Mass to another pilgrim.

People who attended the Mass felt the full power of Peter. Sitting in the front row, author and blogger Lisa Hendey described the atmosphere as “electric,” grace-filled and glorious. But outside the security barriers, “there were a lot of very disappointed people,” said one pilgrim.

Ticketed people who arrived two hours prior to the Mass discovered that they were already too late. They waited three hours in a line that moved forward by inches. Stuck in quasi-purgatory, they tossed plastic beach balls around for fun and sang Marian and Eucharistic hymns. By the time many of them reached the security checkpoint, the Mass had already concluded. “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” shouted one pilgrim hopefully.

Pilgrims who succeeded in passing the barriers to Benjamin Franklin Parkway were treated to a stirring homily by Pope Francis. He told listeners not to be scandalized by the freedom of God, and to bypass bureaucracy, officialdom, and inner circles. He proclaimed: “Would that we could all be prophets! Would that all of us could be open to miracles of love.”

In the quintessential paradox of Christianity, the way to accomplish this grand prophetic mission is by little acts of service. Dinners, lunches, hugs and kisses are all ways that families contribute to creating a culture infused with God’s love, said Francis. Wise pilgrims took note.

A pilgrimage to see a pope is a grand gesture, but only a few days in the life of a dedicated Christian. The real test is whether the patience and fortitude displayed by the pilgrims in Philadelphia will manifest itself in the progress of their daily lives.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

What it Feels Like to Concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father

Several fortunate priests and deacons from dioceses in New York State got the chance to assist the Holy Father at his Mass in Madison Square Garden on Friday, September 25. Reporting on behalf of, I interviewed two men about their experiences there -- Fr. Michael Duffy, a 30-year-old Associate Pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Farmingdale, N.Y., and Deacon Peter Haight, a 75-year-old married permanent deacon at Sacred Heart Parish in Newburgh, N .Y..

What was your role in the Mass?

Fr. Duffy: My role was quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and yet for me was tremendously grace-filled and important. I was one of the hundreds of concelebrants sitting behind the Holy Father. I had no public role, other than joining the Holy Father as he celebrated the Mass. As I stood there, participating with the Holy Father in the Eucharistic prayer, I couldn’t help but feel as though we priests formed a huge living wall, a living backdrop to the sanctuary. Anyone that looked at the Holy Father saw us. In a real sense I felt like we were there to silently say, Holy Father, we have your back — not just here and now, but always. We priests are your faithful sons. After the end of the Mass I heard one priest remark quite sincerely “after that Mass I would follow that man (Pope Francis) into battle.” I couldn’t help but think that we do that every day of our lives. We follow him into battle, the battle that is waged every day between good and evil, between light and dark. Thank God, we already know that we’ve won the war.

Dcn. Haight: My role was to distribute Holy Communion to over 200 people seated in section 210 of the Garden. In my white alb and diaconal stole, I gave the Bread of Christ to communicants of all ages, some wheel chair bound, parents holding tiny babies, religious sisters…. A true microcosm of the Church.

Have you attended any previous papal events? If so, how did they compare to the Mass with Pope Francis?

Fr. Duffy: Last year I was in Rome in October for the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops. I wasn’t able to concelebrate that Mass as I was this one. It was moving and solemn. The feeling at Madison Square Garden was completely different. I was sitting with well over a dozen brother priests. The camaraderie and fraternity was palpable. The joy of being in our own city and in the presence of the Successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ was simple overwhelming. Every other time I’ve prayed with the Holy Father I’ve gone to him. This time he came to us.

Dcn. Haight: I’ve attended several other papal events, both in the United States and in Rome. In 1995 when John Paul II came to Central Park, I was supposed to serve in the papal Mass but the bus for clergy never came to the parking lot, so they tried to fit everybody on only two buses. There was a feeble, elderly priest who couldn’t see or hear well. He said he would give his last dying breath to see the pope and serve concelebrate mass with him. When he was told there was no room on the bus, he cried. I gave my spot on the bus to him, but then I cried all the way home! I loved John Paul II, and I love Pope Francis because he is a people Pope and so aware of the needs of the poor. But it’s important to remember that every priest has the power to satisfy our spiritual hunger at every Mass.

What will you remember most about this event at Madison Square Garden?

Fr. Duffy: I think I’ll remember the prayerfulness and the silence most of all. This was the most well behaved, prayerful congregation I’ve ever been a part of. Real prayer was happening there. Serious prayer.

The second thing I’ll remember most occurred after the final blessing. After the Holy Father kissed the altar he turned around and waved to us priests. We all went nuts and waved back. A few of us shouted “Viva Il Papa”. Then the Holy Father simply blessed us. That simple sign of affection and love made the entire day.

Dcn. Haight: I will most remember the fact that I was able to share the Mass with my daughter Kristen who took the place of my wife, who stayed home due to health reasons. It brought back memories of how I held up Kristen’s older sister in the air so she could see JP2 in Yankee Stadium decades ago.

Has Pope Francis shaped your understanding of what it means to be a priest or deacon? And how has he done that?

Fr. Duffy: The Holy Father leads us by his own example. He teaches us what kind of pastors we should be by his own way of life. Even during his visit here to our country, in his attention to those on the margins he teaches and challenges us. He has helped me to remember the poor in our midst. Additionally, Pope Francis has reminded us continually of the importance of Joy. A joyful priest attracts others to his own vocation and to the one from whom Joy comes. The last thing this church needs is a curmudgeon. Pope Francis challenges me to be joyful every day.

Dcn. Haight: Agreed. Pope Francis reinforces what it means to be a minister/deacon by being a servant of God himself.

How do you think Pope Francis’ visit has impacted the local Church and all American Catholics?

Fr. Duffy: I pray for a new springtime in the American Church. I pray for a renewal among young people who yearn for fulfillment and completion, which ultimately can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. So many non-Catholics, or fallen away Catholics were fascinated by this visit and the message of Pope Francis. I pray that his words may attract them and encourage them to return to the faith. I think our local church will benefit from this visit for some time. Peter has come, Peter has encouraged and blessed us.

Dcn. Haight: A young girl Anna was serving me breakfast at a local restaurant, and I offered her my daughter’s extra ticket for the Mass. She yelled, “I got a ticket! I got a ticket!” and the entire place started cheering for her. She sat next to my daughter during the pre-Mass show and started crying when Harry Connick, Jr. sang “How Great Thou Art.” This 24-year-old girl said that it was her mother’s favorite song, and her mother died not too long ago. After speaking with my daughter and experiencing the papal Mass, she was convinced to try to go back to Mass regularly. I’m sure that there are many more stories like this one.

Image courtesy of Morguefile