Monthly Archives: May 2013

5 Things I Wish Every Engaged Couple Knew

This past weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of teaching a “Pre-Cana” marriage preparation class to a group of 20 engaged couples. We use a version of the Evenings for the Engaged program, which has been converted from a six evening program to one all-day session, due to the large distances our couples often must travel to attend.

I pray that we have some small influence on the future course of these marriages, helping to prepare them for all of the challenges ahead. I know that my wife and I feel closer than ever each time we present.

There is so much to know and learn about marriage, that we can barely scratch the surface in one 8 hour session, but if I had to summarize five key things every engaged couple should know, they would be:

1. Every Marriage Goes Through Hard Times
Those hard times can come from external sources (like finances) or they can be bred within (like a deterioration of communication). But I can pretty much promise you that there will be a moment where you wonder if you made a mistake, where you question whether you should go on. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce because when those times come, couples too often give up.

2. Marriage Can Withstand the Worst
Adultery, addiction, physical or emotional abuse, the loss of a child,financial ruin. I personally know strong marriages that have withstood all of these painful experiences. Even in the wake of utmost betrayal, it is possible to rebuild a marriage. And it is very worthwhile. The more adversity you face, the sweeter the victory.

3. Nothing Strengthens a Marriage Like Faith
The statistics vary depending on the study, but the results are consistent: marriages in which both couples are dedicated to their faith are much more likely to survive the test of time, with the divorce rate dropping to as low as 98%. Couples who are serious about their faith understand that a marriage is a sacred institution created by God and not just another kind of human relationship. And as Christ said, “What God has brought together, let no man put asunder.”

4. Contraception is Poison to a Marriage
It is no coincidence that the huge rise in divorce rate, abortion, single parent homes, and pornography use has followed the broad cultural acceptance of contraception. Contraception fundamentally alters the sex act, turning it from a self-giving act that nourishes a marriage and brings it closer to God, to a selfish pleasure-seeking act that turns spouses into sexual objects. Everyone I have talked to who has stopped using contraception and kept that commitment has found that it improved their marital and spiritual lives.

5. Love is a Decision
This is a catch-phrase for many marriage-oriented organizations including, I believe, Worldwide Marriage Encounter. What this means is that the feelings you have, no matter how strong, are not love. Feelings go as quickly as they come. Instead, love is a decision you make, actions you take. When those warm and fuzzy feelings go (and they will), all you will have left is your ability to say, “I will contine to take take the actions. I need to take to keep this marriage together.” If you keep making that decision, the warm fuzzy feelings will come back.

Understanding these five simple truths isn’t a guarantee of a successful marriage, but it can save a couple from the most common pitfalls, and I do wish everyone entering into marriage could have that basic understanding.

16 Ways To Be a Radical Catholic Family, Because Pope Francis Wants us to be an Apostolic Nuisance!

Today in his Thursday Mass homily, Pope Francis called on each and every one of us to make ourselves a nuisance. To be annoying Catholics!
No, I am not kidding. He was talking about St. Paul:

“Paul is a nuisance: he is a man who, with his preaching, his work, his attitude irritates others, because testifying to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of Jesus Christ makes us uncomfortable, it threatens our comfort zones – even Christian comfort zones, right? It irritates us.”

But our pews today are not full of St. Pauls. They are full of St. “Bland”s who annoy no one:

“There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal.”

Our Holy Father is praying for something else, something far grander for us:

“So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!'”

So how can we as Catholic families, become “nuisances” like St. Paul? I am far from where I need to be, but here are sixteen ideas to get us on the path:

1. Be annoying to your kids and get the smut out of your home. Cancel cable TV or satellite TV or whatever you have. Get all TVs out of bedrooms, leaving only one TV in a family area. Police movie rentals and keep away anything with negative morals. Now go tell everybody at work.

2. Let your faith show in public. Wear prolife tshirts, crucifixes outside your clothes, crucifix rings. Put Catholic bumper stickers on your car. Hang a crucifix in your cubicle.

3. Write letters to the editor defending religious freedom or prolife values.

4. Say grace before meals at restaurants just as loudly as you do at home.

5. If someone is telling you about their divorce, be sensitive to them, but don’t pretend as if it is a good thing. Show sadness and ask if there is anything you can do to help them get back together. (Three times this has resulted in us being asked to help them, and divorces have been averted.)

6. If you have a big family, take it places and let people see the joy that choosing life brings.

7. If someone asks you to donate to a charity that funds abortion, population control or other immoral causes, refuse and tell them why.

8. Learn your faith so that you can share and defend it under any circumstances.

9. Be the person at work who always has something nice to say, always a good deed to do, and never complains about his work.

10. When people ask you how you succeed (at anything) give the credit to God.

11. Make regular use of the sign of the cross, no matter where you are.

12. Say “God bless you” not only when people sneeze but even as a way of saying goodbye.

13. If someone shares a misfortune with you, don’t just say “I’m sorry”. And definitely don’t say “I’ll be thinking off you”. Tell them you will keep them in your prayers. Better yet, tell them you’ll add them to your nightly prayers.

14. Be the person at work around whom people aren’t comfortable using 4-letter-words. Show them you don’t like their dirty jokes.

15. If someone trash-talks the Church, stand up for her. If someone blasphemes the Lord, defend him.

16. Love your spouse, and let everybody know it.

I know, simple stuff, and stuff that won’t make us popular. But if we want to be saints, we have to get started! Because some people will look at all this and go, “Huh? What’s motivating him, anyway?”

A Letter to My Daughter on Her Confirmation

Dear Elizabeth,

Wow. So often today, I looked at you and saw the little four-year-old Catholic school girl bravely marching in to her first day of Kindergarten. I saw the precocious four-year-old reciting the rosary in the front pew of the church. I saw the first grader whose voice somehow rose above all others during the hymns at Mass.

I saw the precious infant, cuddled in my arms, who I thought would never start putting on weight. I remembered the moment the tears came, as the baptismal water was poured over your forehead. And I remembered the task I was entrusted with, a task to teach you the faith, to raise you in the 2000 year traditions of the Church.

A New Phase

Of course, my task isn’t complete. It will not end until the day I pass from this earth. Still, a significant phase has passed. The formative years are behind us.

These first fourteen years, you have been a sponge, absorbing the teachings I have placed or allowed to be placed before you. You trusted me to bring you the truth, and I have tried to live up to that trust. Sometimes that meant putting you in the hands of other trusted teachers who could do what I could not. Sometimes that meant shielding you from influences that might pull you away from the truth, or corrupt your still delicate mind. Lately, however, in the past two years especially, I have seen in you a burgeoning ability to judge, to discern, to think critically. That is why, I think, the Church, in Her wisdom, confirms Her youth at this age. It is time for a more adult life in the faith.

Your Own Personal Pentecost

This was, though you may not be able to see it now, your own personal Pentecost. No, there were no tongues of fire, and there were no tongues in the other sense as well. Nothing quite so dramatic. Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit did descend upon you in a very real if subtle way. It is rare that God makes a big splashy entrance. Rather, He comes upon you the way he came upon Elijah. Not in the thunder, but in the whisper of the most gentle breeze. That gentle breeze brushed your cheek. Were you listening? Are you listening still? Because He is still speaking. He is always speaking.

Into the Battle

So now, as an adult insofar as your faith formation goes, you are now commissioned to march off to battle for our Lord. Wear your spiritual armor: your virtue, your innocence, your chastity, your charity, your love. Wield your spiritual weapons: the Rosary, the sacraments, your prayers. Head off to battle. There are souls to be won!

Yours, for starters. You can do nothing if you do not do what God needs you to do to preserve your salvation. So keep cooperating with His grace. But other souls depend on you as well:

1. The souls in Purgatory need your prayers to complete their holy transition.
2. Strangers still living need your prayers to help bring them the graces they need to persevere.
3. Your friends need your example of virtue and piety to help them to avoid the near occasion of sin and to help them see the value in living a holy life.
4. Your brothers and sisters need your exhortations and your spiritual advice. There my be times when you are the only person they will listen to.
5. Your mother and I need the spiritual sustenance we get when seeing you grow and persevere in the faith. Nothing gives me more strength than to see the fruits of my spiritual labors in you.

My Guidance to You
If I had to give you one piece of advice, it is this: keep learning about your faith. The beautiful thing about the Catholic faith is that intense and honest scrutiny always leads to an increase of faith. This is a hallmark of the truth. As someone who has focussed on learning his whole life, I can attest that the Catholic faith is unique in this regard. When you study history, you soon learn that history is written by the winners, and those winners let their biases show through. The daily news is written by people with an agenda, and the more you learn the less you find to trust. The more you study science, the more you find that we do not know, that the physical world is always much grander than we imagined.

But when you study the Catholic faith you find that what you learn reinforces what you learned before. You find a faith that is historical as well as theological. You find that every piece fits into a bigger whole that is more beautiful than you ever imagined. So learn. Read books. Listen to Catholic radio. Learn new prayers. Join study groups. Always have an aspect of the faith that you are studying. Then take what you have learned and go bring more souls to God!

I love you Elizabeth. I am excited for you as you enter this new phase of your spiritual life. And I am proud that you have made this very public proclamation of your faith.

God bless you on your confirmation, my sweet daughter.