Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 Theology of the Body Congress Round-up

A record number of nearly 1,000 Catholics gathered at the 2016 Theology of the Body Congress in Southern California last week. Participants attended three days of workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speeches by key figures like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

I'm so sad that I couldn't make it out to Southern California for the Congress, but I've gathered a few fun links from around the web about it.

1. Best Reporting

And... the award for best opening day reporting goes to Lisa Hendey of, who told us what she learned in talks by TOB expert Bill Donaghy and anti-porn activist Fr. Sean Kilcawley of Integrity Restored and the Office of Family Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Lincoln. Click here to read Lisa's post. 

Award for best after-the-fact summary goes to this excellent summary of talks on sexuality, celibacy, contraception, pornography, feminism, the single life, and communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. Click here to read the article from Our Sunday Visitor.

2. Best Wrap-Up

Ascension Press is offering an 8GB USB flash drive containing 39 talks from the 2016 TOB Congress in MP3 format for $149.95. Pricey, but less than a 3-day trip to the West Coast.

3. Best Tweet Conversation

The funniest tweet conversation about the TOB Congress highlights the dangers of using big words on Twitter. Starring chastity speaker, film critic, and religious sister extraordinaire Sr. Helena Burns.

I don't believe in panaceas. But Theology of the Body is a panacea.

I was skimming through tweets and thought this said pancakes. TOB is a pancake? 😳

I first misread this as "I don't believe in pancreas." I apparently need much more coffee on .

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How Catholic Geeks Schooled Me On Love #TOBTalk

The 2016 Theology of the Body Congress starts tomorrow in California, and I'm bummed that I can't go. But I still get to share the wonderful news about the goodness of God, of sex, and our bodies through the #TOBTalk campaign (search #TOBTalk on Twitter for more). And I'm hoping somebody brings home a program for me so I can see our book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love listed in the resource section!

I first encountered Pope St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) in New York City during the late 1990s, when I was still a practicing Episcopalian. The vibrant Catholic scene teemed with young professionals at the top of their game, working, playing, and praying in the city that never sleeps.

I was proud of my geek status as a Manhattan litigator who had graduated high school at age 14, college at 18, and law school at 21. But there ain't no geek like a Catholic geek. I couldn't hold a candle to these people. In addition to mastering their professional fields, these young Manhattan Catholics of the JPII generation read papal encyclicals on their lunch break and quoted the documents of Vatican II by paragraph number. In this hotbed of faith and learning, JPII's TOB was just catching fire.

In 1997, Pauline Books published the first full-length English translation of the 129 talks that made up TOB. Two years later, George Weigel's definitive biography of Pope John Paul II declared TOB to be "a theological time bomb waiting to go off."

Around this time, my Catholic suitor, one-on-one evangelist, and future husband Manny invited me to join a book club discussing the precursor to TOB -- the book Love & Responsibility, which was written when Pope John Paul II was still Karol Wojtyla. With its detailed analysis of complex theological and philosophical concepts, JPII's writing sang serenades to the geek in me.  The fact that his subject matter was love, romance, and sexuality didn't hurt either.

Like most 20-something urbanites, I had muddled ideas about sex. A part of me thought sex was the road to happily ever after, but that definitely hadn't worked out for me in real life."To find your prince, first you have to kiss a lot of frogs," one of my roommates cynically declared. I was tired of frogs.

My mother's birds-and-bees advice to the teen me had included lessons like "men think of sex like hamburger -- they might enjoy it, but no one actually remembers all the hamburgers they've ever eaten." The main idea was that for at least half the population, sex was a feel-good activity that had no emotional value, much less a transcendental one. From there, it was a short hop, skip, and jump to the notion that God didn't really care about sex either. In my mind, sex wasn't "right" or "wrong." It just was.

But if sex had no moral weight or transcendental value, then why did the break-up of a romantic relationship feel like the loss of a limb? Popular theologians like Christopher West (who wrote TOB Explained in 2003) pointed out that sex is meant to bond or unite two people together forever. When "two become one flesh" through sex and then break off that sexual relationship, they feel torn apart on the inside because they are.

This outlook made sense, not just at an intellectual level, but at a gut level, too. Sex was made for lifelong union. And it was made for babies, also. Sex creates life, and that's part of God's plan. As I learned more about Pope John Paul II's teachings, I could feel my worldview realigning like a spine under the hands of a talented chiropractor. I was happier, healthier, and on my way to converting to Catholicism, marrying in the Church, and birthing a passel of beautiful babies.

So, TOB taught me the transcendental value of sex. God does care about sexuality and procreation. He's not a kill-joy, he's a generator of joy. The excitement of romance, the pleasure of sex, the satisfaction of lifelong married love, and the fulfillment of parenting are all joy-filled gifts he gives us. God's love is meant to excite us, please us, satisfy us, and fulfill us. This is the epiphany that TOB sparked in me, and one that I'm honored to proclaim.

This article appeared originally on Image Copyright 2016 by Bill Donaghy.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

St. Gianna & St. Josemaria: Patron Saints of Work/Life Balance

Everyone needs a few more heavenly intercessors. Sure, our guardian angels watch over us, but why not enlist the aid of the saints as well? "All Christians should adopt their own patron saints," it says on the Catholicism channel of There are patron saints of churches, countries, professions, and even diseases. Over the next nine months, we'll pick some new Patron Saints For Your Marriage.

Some of these saints are famous, and others are relatively obscure. But each one is a worthy heavenly helper. Since September began with a celebration of Labor Day, let's start with two patron saints of work/life balance: St. Gianna Molla and St. Josemaria Escriva.

St. Gianna Molla: Wife, Mother, Doctor

As a 20th-century woman, St. Gianna lived through experiences that are familiar to all of us today. She was an educated, professional woman who kept a close eye on family finances and worried when her husband went away on business trips. She enjoyed concerts, skiing, and family vacations. She volunteered her time to help the poor.

She also exemplified the principle of prioritizing well: God first, family second, and work last. Despite being a busy working mom, she took the time to attend Mass and pray the rosary every day.

Gianna was thrilled to be a wife and mother, nicknaming her husband Papa d'oro, or father of gold, and calling her children "my dearest treasures." She never considered her time spent with her children as less important than her time spent in the office. She loved mothering and doctoring equally well. Her attitude toward work could be summed up in her much-quoted saying: "One earns paradise with one's daily task."

Gianna's husband, Pietro, remodeled his parents' house into a clinic for her so that she could work closer to where they lived. She kept her hours short, sometimes limiting her working day to two hours. After their third child was born, Pietro suggested that Gianna give up her medical office. She responded with a chiding look, but then promised "when we have one more child, I will stop my medical work and will be a full-time mother, even though that will be difficult for me."

She never got that chance. Gianna encountered a serious complication during her fourth pregnancy due to the growth of an ovarian cyst. The doctors recommended either to abort the baby, perform a complete hysterectomy (during which the baby would also die), or attempt to remove the cyst surgically. Gianna chose option 3, saying, "I want them to save the baby."

After the surgery, Gianna was able to carry her baby to term. Doctors delivered the baby successfully through a C-section, but Gianna developed an infection and died in the hospital shortly afterward.

Gianna's husband and the daughter she died to save were both present when Gianna was canonized by Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 2004.

St. Josemaria Escriva: Priest, Founder, Lawyer

St. Josemaria was canonized in 2002, also by Pope St. John Paul II (there's a reason why John Paul was dubbed a "saint-maker"). Born in 1902, St. Josemaria died in 1975 after devoting his life to founding the organization Opus Dei, which means "work of God."

Josemaria was ordained a priest in 1925, just a few short months after his father died. The family was soon plunged into financial difficulties. As the oldest son, Josemaria felt responsible for his family's well-being, but his salary as a priest was minimal.

In 1927, Josemaria began studying law in Madrid so that he could earn enough to support his mother and younger siblings. In the meantime, he continued serving as a priest and laying the groundwork for the foundation of Opus Dei, which currently has around 85,000 members worldwide.

A main principle of Opus Dei is the sanctification of ordinary work. Josemaria saw clearly that all work was noble. "It is time for us Christians to shout from the rooftops that work is a gift from God and that it makes no sense to classify men differently, according to ther occupation, as if some jobs were nobler than others." (Christ is passing by, no. 47)

Like St. Gianna, St. Josemaria saw no inherent difference between work inside and outside the home. All work is a form of service to others, of love made manifest, of prayer in action, he believed. In this quirky and evocative word portrait, Josemaria revealed how it's possible to attain holiness even through housework.
You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. It is early afternoon. It is cold. By your side, your younger sister — the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full — is peeling potatoes. To all appearances — you think — her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is!
It is true: before she only peeled potatoes, now, she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes. (Furrow, no. 498)

In other words, intention is everything. Saints from Josemaria to Gianna to the recently canonized Mother Teresa have all expressed the same idea in slightly different wording. As we explain in our book The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, "the value of our work can be measured by the love and care we put into it. Even the smallest, most mundane task can be a kind of offering to God."

St. Gianna and St. Josemaria, pray for us, that we may learn to love our daily work.

Image of St. Gianna: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, via Wikimedia Commons; image of St. Josemaria: ©  Pablovarela (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons; other images  courtesy of Pixabay.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Faith on Facebook: 4 Keys to Everlasting Love Online Book Club

Many thanks to Michele Faehnle, co-author of  Divine Mercy for Moms, for helping to run the online book club for The Four Keys to Everlasting Love on Facebook  from Sept. 10 to Dec. 3. We now have 170 members and counting! Read Michele's post below for details on how and why to join. 

This past summer, more than 130 Catholic moms enjoyed spiritual fellowship on Facebook in the online book club for Divine Mercy for Moms. The group was such a terrific success that we decided to extend the fun. So I’m teaming with up with co-admins Amanda Torres and Aida Alaniz to delve into The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime by CatholicMom marriage advice columnists Dr. Manny & Karee Santos. The discussions will begin on September 10 and end on December 3. We would love for you to jump on this opportunity to make your marriage and your faith stronger than ever!

The Four Keys to Everlasting Love is practical, easy to read, and full of personal stories to help you develop a stronger relationship with your spouse. As it says in the book’s description on Amazon: “No marriage -- even a sacramental one -- is free from conflicts about sex, money, child-rearing, in-laws, and work/life balance. 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."

Daily Memes

Author Karee Santos will be posting daily memes based on The Four Keys, including super-helpful action steps for your marriage, and moving quotes from the book as well as from Scripture, the Catechism, and Pope John Paul II. Here's one of my favorites!

Share your reactions on the daily Facebook thread, and be inspired to deeper love for your family and a more constant prayer life!

Weekly Discussions

We’ll aim at reading one chapter per week. Every Saturday, the group administrators will moderate discussions based on the chapter of the week. On our start date of September 10 we’ll begin by chatting about the introduction.

The Saturday discussions will be based on the "Conversation Starters" (discussion questions) at the end of each chapter.  We co-admins will prime the conversational pump, telling you our answers and encouraging you to chime in with your own responses. You'll also be able to download free printable worksheets if you'd like to jot your answers down and share them with your hubby or with an in-person book club or prayer group.

The Facebook group is “closed,” which means that members of the group are the only ones who can see the comments you write. So no worries about too-personal musings showing up in the newsfeeds of friends and relatives!

How to Join the Fun

The Facebook group is called (simply enough) 4 Keys Online Book Club. Just click here and submit a request to join the group. Or, you can send me a Facebook friend request here, then message me and I’ll add you. Last but not least, you can email me at michele at faehnle dot com if you have questions or need help. Looking forward to great conversations and closer friendships with you this fall!

by Michele Faehnle

Image courtesy of Ave Maria Press.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I Know What You Did Last Summer! (Photo Gallery)

After a summer vacation that went all too fast, I'm back to blogging again, but at a slower pace. Look for posts once a week on Thursdays, and if you really, really miss me let's catch up in person or via phone line or Interwebs.

Herewith, lots of cute kiddie pictures plus some videos of Maria's piano recital and Miguel's black belt test for Taekwondo. Now you know what we did last summer!