Thursday, March 31, 2016

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Press Release for The Four Keys

As next week's launch date for The Four Keys to Everlasting Love grows ever nearer, publicity efforts are ramping up. Ave Maria Press drafted this press release to give folks an idea of what can be found inside our book. If you like what you see, please share widely!


No marriage—even a sacramental one—is free from conflicts about sex, money, child-rearing, in-laws, and work/life balance. In their new book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, marriage columnist Karee Santos and her husband, Manuel, a psychiatrist who has been counseling couples for more than fifteen years, explore how applying the wisdom of the Catholic faith to marriage can free us to experience deep, lasting, and soul-satisfying love. 
The Santoses draw on real-life stories, scriptural principles, and the timeless wisdom of St. John Paul II to help celebrate the sacrament of Marriage without downplaying the difficulties of married life. In doing so, they will inspire readers to stay in love with each other, Christ, and the wisdom of the Church. 
The Santoses tell their own story as well: how they learned not to cling to personality, culture, or religious differences; how they learned to put family first; how they overcame health crises that exacted a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll; and how they navigated stressful holiday get-togethers with extended family. They let God transform them and make their marriage stronger. 
Each chapter provides discussion questions, action prompts, quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and various popes, and additional online and print resources to stimulate the couple’s conversation, mutual understanding, and positive change. Free worksheets and other supplemental resources are available on the authors’ website,


Karee Santos is a Catholic blogger and speaker and a writer for the Catholic Match Institute. She has written numerous articles on marriage and family for the National Catholic Register, Catholic Digest, Faith & Family magazine,,, and She blogs at Can We Cana?  
Manuel Santos, M.D., is a psychiatrist at Mercy Hospital, Rockville Centre, New York. He also reviews annulment cases for the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York. Dr. Santos is a member of the Sexual Abuse Review Board for the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei and also is a member of the Catholic Medical Association,, and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. 
The Santoses designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on called “Marriage Rx.” They contribute to FAITH magazine’s “Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple lives in Garden City, New York, with their six children.

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love
How Your Catholic Marriage Can
Bring You Joy for a Lifetime
By Karee Santos
and Manuel P. Santos, M.D.
ISBN: 978-1-59471-603-4
256 pages • $15.95
Marriage and Relationships
Also available as an eBook

Monday, March 28, 2016

12 Main Topics Married Couples Need to Know

Catholic couples today desperately need a transfusion of spiritual truths combined with solid practical advice. The Vatican identified the most crucial topics that couples need to know in its document Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage -- and our marriage advice book, The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, covers every single one. Each of the book's twelve chapters focuses on a different essential area of concern including:
  • personality differences,
  • sacramentality,
  • dealing with in-laws,
  • work/life balance,
  • finances,
  • community service,
  • sexuality,
  • fertility,
  • special family circumstances,
  • parenting,
  • prayer, and
  • imitating the Holy Family.

As far as we know, there is no other book or program
that addresses all these essential areas.
Take a deeper look at how we did it in this 
Pre-release Table of Contents Reveal:


Chapter 1    Turning Two into One: How to Overcome the Differences That Divide You

Chapter 2    Turning Good Marriages into Pathways to Glory: It’s a Sacrament; It’s a Vocation; It’s a Road Map to Heaven!

Chapter 3    Turning Union into Communion: Extending Your Love to Your In-Laws and Beyond


Chapter 4    Turning Meaningless Drudgery into Meaningful Work: How to Prioritize God, Family, and Work

Chapter 5    Turning Ownership into Stewardship: Six Tips for Trouble-Free, God-Centered Finances

Chapter 6    Turning Inaction into Action: Families at the Service of Other Families


Chapter 7    Turning Spouses into Life-Giving Lovers: The Creative Power of Sex

Chapter 8    Turning the Fear of Fertility into a Total Gift of Self: Finding a Better Alternative to Artificial Birth Control and IVF

Chapter 9    Turning Challenges into Channels of Grace: Big Families, Special-Needs Kids, Adopting, Fostering, and Stepparenting


Chapter 10    Turning Children into Adults: Forming Your Children’s Bodies, Minds, and Souls in Christ

Chapter 11    Turning Our Homes into Places of Prayer: The Eternal Consequences of Everyday Family Life

Chapter 12    Turning into a Happier, Holier Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Can Show You How


The books have reached the warehouse, and we have already held the first copies of The Four Keys to Everlasting Love in our hands! Pre-orders and review copies are being shipped out as we speak. Colleagues have told us that they feel "blown away by the gift this will be for couples." We hope you'll feel the same.

To get the book from Amazon, click here. To get the book from Barnes & Noble, click here. And to get a bulk discount on 5 or more copies from the Ave Maria Press website, click here and type in the promo code 4KEYS when ordering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Pornographic Culture (Part II): How to Protect Against the Damage to Intimacy

This is the second and final part of an essay on pornography by Amanda Zurface, a licensed canon lawyer working as the Catholic Campaign Coordinator for Covenant Eyes, a company committed to Internet accountability and filtering. To read the first part, click here.

Porn Harms Souls and Damages Intimacy

You have now seen how pornography is feeding and affecting our culture, as well as the direct impact it is having on our marginalized brothers and sisters in the sex worker industry. The next question is how does the Pornographic Culture impact those who view or use porn. If you use porn, ask yourselves: How does an addiction to pornography impact your vocational discernment? How does it impact your marriage? How it is impacting the development of your children? How is it impacting your participation at Mass, the Sacraments, and your involvement in your parish community?

To answer these questions, we must talk about sin. The struggles that are involved with pornography are sinful, and often times the activity is very serious sin, known as mortal sin. That’s right, no consumption of pornography can be justified. You have been lied to when you have been told that it’s not sinful or harmful to use pornography in certain circumstances. Some may have told you that it’s OK to use pornography as a form of therapy; that pornography can be a helpful aid in sexual development; or it can be helpful with intimacy between you and your spouse. You are owed an apology if you have ever been told one of these lies. Pornography is always sinful.

With any earthly pleasures that may degenerate into sin, we all know well that they are quickly accompanied by sadness, regret, guilt, deep pain and loneliness. This is especially the case when it comes to sins against the gift of our human sexuality and the misusing of our sexuality. As consumption of pornography grows, men and women begin to lie and cover up their pornography usage, domestic violence and child abuse can begin to occur, families fall apart from the many effects and hardships pornography brings into the family, crime may become an issue -- the list goes on and on. To put it simply, pornography turns us in on ourselves, it suffocates our vocations, it deadens our hearts to spiritual things and God and damages human relationships, and it erodes the family. 

The first to feel the violence of pornography use is always the spouse if the person is married. If the married couple has children, the next to feel its effects are the children. By the presence of pornography, intimacy is taken out of that household. Bishop Loverde says: “The use of pornography damages the very human qualities that make intimacy possible…” 

For more information on how pornography directly impacts one’s marriage, what are the effects of those who give their bodies as objects, particularly women, how it has impacted and accelerated the notion of free sex, and the connection to homosexuality and experimenting with one’s sexuality, I encourage you to visit and

We Can Protect Ourselves Against Porn

To quit viewing pornographic images is difficult, and it is especially difficult when you don’t know where to start. Or, if you’re seeking to protect your marriage and family from the culture’s effects, including protecting your children online, you might be wondering where to start. Here are a few tips!

  • Read the United States Catholic Bishops, Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography.
  • Set yourself up with the Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering Software.
  • If you have an addiction to pornography or other sexual addictions, frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also seek out spiritual direction. Through spiritual direction and confession, you may consider the benefit of seeking out a professional therapist.
  • Your children need you to guide them. Have ongoing healthy and God-centered conversations about sexual temptations and what it is they see and do online. Educate yourself with the free e-book Parenting the Internet Generation.
  • Renew your commitment to your spouse before God. Pray as a family. Pray the rosary and entrust your family to care of St. Joseph.
  • Keep the Sabbath holy. Go to Mass every Sunday and daily, if you can.
  • Learn about Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
  • Admit you are wrong and need to change. Seek to develop deep and authentic friendships.
  • Find one or two faithful Catholic friends who can hold you accountable for living your faith.
  • Fast and if necessary, discontinue your cable and Internet subscription. Avoid movies and TV shows that objectify the human body. It’s not worth it!
  • Pray for the victims of the pornography and human trafficking industry.

Each human being is unique and unrepeatable. Each one of us was created for perfect love. God wants infinitely more for us than what a Pornographic Culture has to offer us. Remember, in our weaknesses, he always offers his mercy, compassion and grace to persevere to overcome obstacles that keep us from fully loving Him and our brothers and sisters. So, here’s the last pointer, don’t give up! Trust in the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ.

This article was originally printed in Our Northland Diocese. It is lightly edited and reprinted here with permission.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Pornographic Culture (Part I): We Are Being "Groomed" For It

I am honored to feature an incisive two-part essay on pornography by Amanda Zurface, J.C.L., the Catholic Campaign Coordinator for Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is a company committed to Internet accountability and filtering, providing powerful weapons against the electronic encroachment of porn. Amanda Zurface is a licensed canon lawyer with undergraduate degrees in Catholic Theology and Social Justice. 

Our Culture is Grooming Our Appetite for Porn

We all know it’s there and probably have some idea of how we could access “it.” Yes, pornography. Although porn affects some of us more directly, there’s no doubt that porn is a problem impacting all of us, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Pornography has formed the culture we now live in - a “Pornographic Culture.” No one person can separate himself or herself from the scourge of pornography and then declare the battle won. Porn has created a culture of its own and this culture is influencing each one of us spiritually, physically, emotionally, and relationally – though to a greater or lesser extent depending on if we directly participate in the use of pornography. There are immense moral, social, and spiritual dangers.

Here’s a clear example of the Pornographic Culture in the works. The movies and television we watch, even our state and national laws, and our public schools now tell us how and what to think about in regard to our sexuality. Their main message: human sexuality has no God-given purpose. Society – the Pornographic Culture – says we can use our sexuality however we feel. And, guess what? It will have no consequences! Wrong! But, this is the message of the Pornographic Culture itself. That is, do what you want, how you want, when you want, and at the cost of the dignity of the human person, at the cost of betraying God’s design and purpose for the sexual act, at the cost of your marriage and family, your child’s innocence, your priestly or religious vows, and so on.

Author Kristen Clark, writing on the topic 5 Ways Our Culture is Grooming Your Daughter for Porn for Covenant Eyes, shares this: “Whether your daughter is seven years old or seventeen, our culture is grooming her for an appetite for pornography.”  Clark is speaking directly about our daughters, but this is also the case for all of us. Society is grooming girls and boys, men and women in a way that all of us may acquire an appetite for porn and even begins to lead us down a path of dehumanization. It may be subtle on some occasions, but it's happening and it has been happening. With every “sex scene” we innocently watch at the movie theatre to the advertisements we see in magazines and at the malls, romance novels we read, nude images we accidentally come across on social media, Clark expresses, "we are slowly becoming desensitized and our conscience and sensitivity to purity and morality is weakened and our view of sex is being watered down. We are one step closer to viewing porn as a harmless pleasure.”

The Porn Industry Unjustly Targets and Victimizes the Most Vulnerable

Pornography currently occupies over 12% of the Internet, with 25 million sites today, making $5 billion in profit a year. Those who work for the pornography industry are typically pulled into it by the promise of money that can be made easily and without an education, references, or prior experience. This industry doesn’t discriminate, and it targets the most vulnerable: the poor, the abused and marginalized, and even children. This probably doesn’t sound like the job market we’re used too, does it?

In his Pastoral Letter titled Bought with a Price, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, explains that the porn industry's “exploitation of the weak is gravely sinful. Whether need, confusion, or alienation leads men and women to become pornographic objects, their choice to do so certainly cannot be seen as free.” It is becoming increasingly known that more of the “workers” or more appropriately, the “victims,” are younger girls, sometimes they are even children. This is another example of what a Pornographic Culture looks like. The vulnerable are taken advantage of, dehumanized, and innocence is destroyed for profit: all acts of violence.

Further, it is becoming more apparent that there are critical links between the use of pornography and the prevalence of sex trafficking. A free e-book from Covenant Eyes, called Stop the Demand: The Role of Porn in Sex Trafficking addresses the connection between pornography and human trafficking: “A key ingredient to the success of commercial sex is the belief that people—women and children especially—are sexual commodities, and Internet pornography is the ideal vehicle to teach and train this belief.” Pornography destroys the lives of those depicted in porn, as well as the intended audience. While human trafficking – a consequence of pornography - may seem like an issue that has little to zero impact on our own community, we need to think again. Our own communities may be corridors for human trafficking.

This article was originally printed in Our Northland Diocese. It is lightly edited and reprinted here with permission.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Praise for our Marriage Video + Webinar Announcement

A big thanks goes out to Melanie Jean Juneau, the Editor-in-Chief of Catholic Stand, for her wonderful review of our video presentation on "Mercy in Marriage." Melanie writes at CatholicMom:

Karee and her husband,  Dr. Manuel P. Santos M.D., a Catholic psychiatrist, have put together a perfectly balanced talk for the Catholic Conference 4 Moms; it is warm, down-to-earth, yet informative and educational at the same time. In fact, their presentation itself is a practical demonstration of the mutual respect, tolerance, forgiveness, and mercy which is the foundation of a Catholic, sacramental marriage.

To read more, click here.

We'd also like to announce our webinar The Wedding Banquet: Inviting Couples to Experience Divine Love to be held on Tuesday, April 5, from 3:00-:00 p.m. EDT. Although open to everyone, the webinar is intended for people involved in marriage ministry.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sweet Spanish-Language Book Teaches Children Why We Pray

It was my pleasure to introduce my kids to Kimberly Cook's delightful little book Mami, Mami, Cuando Rezas -- the Spanish-language translation of her book Mommy, Mommy, When You Pray. It provided me with the perfect opportunity to make headway on my New Year's resolution to teach our kids more Spanish!

Mami, Mami, Cuando Rezas is a picture book of about 25 pages. The amazingly talented author also illustrated it herself. The color palette is a vibrant mix of turquoise, purple, and a sunny golden yellow, with some red thrown in for emphasis. Using just a sentence per page, the author explains how she prays constantly in gratitude for the wonderful children that God has given her -- a terrific message for any child to hear.

I was curious to see how much my children could understand based on their parochial school Spanish lessons of once or twice a week. Our fifth-grader Maria could understand the book on her own, with the help of the cheerful illustrations of the family members, playing, praying, and laughing together. My younger daughters, Marguerite and Cecilia, loved reading the book with me, pointing out the words they recognized and learning new ones, too. And our kindergartener Elisa-Maria was thrilled that the little girl in the pictures looks so much like her!

Spanish is becoming more and more important for our kids to learn, as the number of Spanish speakers in the United States increases year to year. In 2010, the number had reached 37 million. Approximately 30 million of those people are Catholic. Surprisingly, given such a large population, it's hard to find Spanish-language kids' books with religious themes. That's what makes Mami, Mami, Cuando Rezas truly a treasure.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lenten Lessons from the Bottom of an Ice Cream Pint

Late last Wednesday night, I snuck into the freezer when no one was looking. My throat felt sore, and surely ice cream was the only cure. Even though I had given it up for Lent. As the first few icy, creamy spoonfuls slid past my lips, I found the anesthetic effect I craved. Then the realization exploded that this new flavor was my top favorite EVER. When the empty container finally flopped on its side and stared accusingly back at me, I hung my head in shame. So much for that Lenten resolution.

The devil attacks at our moment of greatest weakness, or so it is said. That's why he tempted Jesus after 40 days in the desert with no food and water. It humbles me to learn that my greatest weakness may amount to a persistent winter cold and a full freezer. 

Many years, I'm excited about Lent and the chance it gives me to push the spiritual reset button, renew my resolutions, and revive my faith. This year, I'm as enthused about Lent as I am about the U.S. presidential race. Which is to say, not much.

I could blame my malaise on encroaching middle age (encroaching? who am I kidding -- it's already here), but I've known too many folks in their 40s and 50s who seem powered by nuclear engines. I could more realistically blame it on the approaching launch of my first book, to be published by Ave Maria Press next month. Waves of anxiety are already threatening to overturn my tiny kayak of tranquility.

Energy-draining, soul-sucking thoughts parade through my head in no particular order, including: No one has ever heard of me. No one reads my blogposts, so why should they read my book. I haven't cut my hair in six months and it looks worse than Donald Trump's. I've poured ten years of my life into this book, and in the end it will not touch a single heart and it will accomplish nothing (nothing...nothing...). My spiritual director advised me to give the book to God, metaphorically speaking, and to tell God he can throw it in the ocean if he wants. Great advice, if I could follow it and really mean it.

Birthing a book has proved to be nearly as hard as birthing a baby. And I should know, since I've borne six children already. In her new book The Gift of Birth, theology professor and spiritual director Susan Windley-Daoust characterizes excruciating self-doubt as a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in the process. 

But it would be giving myself too much credit to say that I've surrendered to the Holy Spirit. I'm still clutching at control with both hands. I'm plagued by aphorisms like "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" and haunted by memories of when I did it all myself and it still wasn't enough. Besides, I don't think stuffing an entire pint of ice cream in my face would signify a heartfelt yielding to the will of God.

And, so, I must admit that the most likely diagnosis of my condition is the spiritual weakness or inattentiveness called sloth. I'm burning the candle at both ends, says my husband. Just as an example, in one upcoming April weekend, I must (a) sing in Carnegie Hall with our cathedral choir, (b) ferry two of our daughters to an out-of-town gymnastic meet, and (c) attend our second-grader's First Communion Mass and host the after-party. (Not to mention the ongoing post-launch book publicity.) This over-busyness is classic sloth. The busier we get, the less time and energy we have for God.

I have been guilty of ignoring my own advice to make daily prayer my top priority. My soul (and consequently the rest of me) is running on fumes. In showing me my personal weakness, this Lent has revealed to me that the source of my strength does not lie in me but in God. Fortunately, it's not too late to try again, to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). Yep, even better than ice cream.

Interested in our upcoming Catholic marriage advice book? Sign up here for The Four Keys to Everlasting Love newsletter and get your downloadable thank-you gift.

Monday, March 7, 2016

All Love Bears Fruit

Our parish's monthly morning retreat for mothers continues to explore Love is Our Mission, the preparatory catechesis for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The following reflects on Chapter 6, All Love Bears Fruit. My previous talk discussed how Men and Women Are Not Made to be Alone.
Fruitfulness is one of the essential gifts of marriage. We're all familiar with God's words to Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gn 1:28). God's directive to the mother and father of all humanity refers to physical fruitfulness. But Jesus in the Gospels speaks about a different kind of fruitfulness when he says: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit" (Jn 15:5). Jesus obviously doesn't mean "he who abides in me bears many babies." Jesus is referring to fertility in a spiritual sense.

As Love Is Our Mission explains, "every life is meant to be fertile. Every life has the power and the need to nurture new life -- if not through bearing and raising children, then through other vital forms of self-giving, building, and service." Married or not, every one of the baptized is called to spread the Good News by acting as God's hands in the world, serving others.

Everyone has the capacity for spiritual fertility -- parents, grandparents, godparents, couples struggling with infertility, priests, religious sisters and brothers, and single people. "Not everyone is called to marriage," Love Is Our Mission reminds us. Even those who get married do it at later ages -- the average age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men. Most young people can expect at least ten to fifteen years of living the single life. What this means for parents is that we need to teach our children how to be single.

One young woman recently complained that single people "are caught between a hyper-sexualized culture and a marriage-obsessed Church community." Single life is often reduced to a fruitless search for true love rather than a fruitful life of serving others. Living apart from their families, single people have the freedom to live life only for themselves, but that doesn't necessarily make them feel fulfilled or happy.

So, how do we teach our children to lead fruitful lives while they are still single?:

1. "Raise our young people to see that a romantic partner is not essential for human happiness" (Love Is Our Mission). Some parents and siblings tease even kindergarteners about having a boyfriend or girlfriend. "Oh, how cute," say the moms. "He likes you, he likes you," chant the siblings. In our house, we shut that down immediately, explaining that little children are way too young for that. We don't even allow that kind of teasing of our teenaged children. We encourage same-sex friendships instead, and so far everyone's been happy.

2. Cultivate a spirit of community service. At-home chores serve the nuclear family, and community service helps the broader human family. Confirmation programs wisely stress the importance of community service for seventh- and eighth-graders preparing to take the sacrament. The kids are old enough to learn to take responsibility not only for themselves but for the world around them. If they start a habit of volunteering during their tween and teen years, with grace and luck that habit will continue into their early twenties.

3. Teach them how to entertain themselves. An additional benefit of community service is it gives young people something good to do with their free time. Instead of spending their spring break partying in Miami or Cancun, they can go on mission trips to Haiti or Sierra Leone. While at home, instead of socializing in "clubs, pubs, and bars where promiscuity is normal" (Love Is Our Mission), they can join choirs, sports teams, art classes or chess clubs. This is the time when all those dollars spent on extracurriculars pay off, and you see that your kids have a wide range of interests that they can share with other people.

4. Leave their vocations up to God. Some parents badly want their children to get married, either because they're longing for grandchildren or they view priesthood and religious life as a kind of "second-best" alternative. Some parents have bad memories of ill-tempered nuns who whacked their hands with rulers in grade school. Maybe they've missed the great pictures of young religious sisters in full habit playing basketball. But the celibate life is not "sterile" or "isolated" (Love is Our Mission). It's a life lived in community, whether in convents or rectories. And it might be the most spiritually fruitful life of all, spreading the Good News, doing good works, and bringing souls to Christ.

Interested in our upcoming Catholic marriage advice book? Sign up here for The Four Keys to Everlasting Love newsletter and get your downloadable thank-you gift.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why God Sends Us Imperfect Popes

Pope Francis set tongues wagging again with his latest comments that contraception might be used to prevent birth defects caused by the Zika virus. The secular media seem delighted by the implication that the Catholic Church's traditional opposition to artificial birth control might be eased.

In response to reporters' questions during his flight from Mexico to Rome, Pope Francis compared contraceptive use during the Zika outbreak to contraceptive use by nuns to prevent pregnancy due to rape in war-torn countries. While the Catechism calls contraception "intrinsically evil" (CCC 2370), there are exceptions where the goal is not primarily preventing new life. For example, the use of emergency contraception (like Plan B) to prevent conception after rape is allowed, even in Catholic hospitals, based on the argument that the contraception is primarily a form of self-defense against the rapist (USCCB Ethical & Religious Directives, para. 36). The question is whether married couples using contraception to prevent conceiving a baby with birth defects is similar to victims of rape attempting to prevent conception of their rapist's child.

Honestly, I can't see portraying an act of love between spouses as comparable to rape or a disabled child as an aggressor equal to a rapist. And many Catholics who think similarly have felt betrayed -- again -- by Pope Francis' off-the-cuff comments. In the words of one mom in my Facebook feed:

This is what I think the Pope should have said: that every life is valuable, even the life of a baby with special needs, even if that baby dies or has many medical complications or can never add 2 + 2. There are never any guarantees. Your child can develop a virus AFTER birth. My very perfect baby developed Infantile Spasms, and was as alert and responsive as a newborn baby when he was 8 months old. He was floppy too - like a rag doll - couldn't hold his head. Now he is interested in books and letters and clocks and numbers, and he carries on amazing conversations. His doctors cannot explain how well he is doing. But we loved our son even when he couldn't respond to us. He was still a person, and he still had incredible value and human dignity. We should not be so scared of disabilities because in God's eyes, there ARE no mistakes, and every child is perfect in His eyes.
Jesus' constant compassion toward the sick and crippled is a hallmark of the Gospels, and the Catechism stresses that the disabled "deserve special respect" and "should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible" (CCC 2276). Pope Francis' comments don't seem to reflect the same concern for life. But here's why that shouldn't worry us.

Not the First Imperfect Pope

It's possible that Pope Francis spoke without thinking and without considering the hurtful implications of his statements. If so, he wouldn't be the first Pope to do so. In fact, St. Peter had a well documented habit of putting his foot in his mouth.

When Jesus foretold his own death to the apostles, Peter blurted out: "God forbid it, Lord!" Then Jesus responded: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me" (Mt 16:21-23). On the mountain at the transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appeared in glory before Jesus, Peter -- "not knowing what he said" -- jumped in with the suggestion to build little houses for them (Lk 9:28-33).

Most dramatically, at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, Peter denied Jesus three times. Confronted by servant girls and bystanders with the truth that he was a follower of Jesus, Peter "began to curse, and he swore an oath, 'I do not know the man!" (Mt 26:69-74). We don't know what the bystanders wanted from Peter. Maybe they were on a witch-hunt, looking for the next person to crucify, or maybe they were searching for a reason to believe in Jesus. The answer they received made Christians look like cowards and liars. The answer was a betrayal.

So, why did Jesus choose Peter as the rock on which to build his Church (Mt 16:18)? Jesus could have chosen St. Paul, who traveled tirelessly throughout the Middle East, founding churches and carefully penning letter after letter to encourage, reprimand, and guide the fledgling Christian communities. Instead, God chose St. Peter, whose response to the appearance of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to give an impassioned homily and then baptize all 3,000 people on the spot, no catechumenate or RCIA or teaching or doctrinal formation required (Acts 2:41). Peter welcomed them all and trusted God to sort it out later. (Can't you just imagine Pope Francis doing the same thing?)

Peter was often the first to say things that he later regretted, but he was also often the first to proclaim and act on his faith. When Jesus asked the apostles, "who do you say that I am," Peter was the first to answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God" (Mt 16:15-16). He was the first to walk on the water towards Jesus (Mt 14:28-29). And he was the first to run into the empty tomb (Jn 20:6). Peter's passion for God could not be denied, although he was clearly an imperfect man.

So the question is not why has God sent us an imperfect Pope now, but why has God done so from the very earliest days of the Church? The first reason is to keep us humble, as individuals and as a Church. The second reason is to push us towards a more mature faith.


Pope Francis admits, "I am a sinner."   This is how a Christian says that he's not perfect, that he makes mistakes. Pope Francis has also reminded us that we are a Church of sinners. None of us is perfect, popes included. Sometimes we complain that it's too hard to imitate Jesus or his mother Mary because they were too perfect. We can't turn around and lose respect or love for Francis because he's not perfect enough.

The call to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) does not amount to a promise of perfection on this earth. "Be ye perfect" means failing -- sometimes spectacularly, struggling to keep trying, until at the end of our lives we throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Because we aren't perfect, we can't be perfect, we absolutely cannot even come close without him.

In explaining her "little way" to holiness, St. Therese of Lisieux described how she needed an elevator to heaven: "I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. ... The elevator which must raise me to heaven is your arms, O Jesus, and for this I have no need to grow up, but rather I have to remain little."

In other words, holiness is not a result of our best efforts to avoid ever messing up. Holiness comes from someone greater than ourselves. Pope Francis once asked, "how can a Church made up of human beings, of sinners, be holy?” Answering his own question, he continued, “We do not make the Church holy,” he said. “God, the Holy Spirit, does.”

An imperfect pope reminds us that each of us is imperfect, too, yet still welcomed, cherished, loved and called to follow Christ.

A Mature Faith

The clear teaching of Pope St. John Paul II has always consoled me. I was similarly consoled when Cardinal Ratzinger, John Paul II's close friend and adviser, became Pope Benedict XVI (although Benedict made some famous media missteps of his own). In contrast, Pope Francis regularly shakes me up. He unsettles me.  I find myself alternately exhilarated and aggravated. Rarely does he bring me consolation.

But a mature faith doesn't need consolation. Look at Jesus on the Cross, look at him weep tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, imagine Mother Teresa ministering to the poorest of the poor while mired in spiritual darkness unable to sense the love of God. We are called to a mature faith that stands firm regardless of internal and external temptations.

St. Paul explains that "infants in Christ" are fed with milk when they are not ready for solid food (1 Cor. 3:2). Consolations are like milk, given to us to make us strong. "But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil," as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 5:14). If through prayer and study, we are confident that we can distinguish good from evil and right from wrong, why be bothered by what our pope tells a reporter on the plane? Nourished by the solid food of Scripture and the Catechism, our faith can stand firm and our hearts can be undisturbed.

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