Friday, January 31, 2014

Are Children a Burden or a Blessing?

Modernity isn’t sure whether children are a burden or a blessing. The percentage of childless couples in the U.S. has nearly doubled since 1980. The cover of Time magazine recently bragged that increasing numbers of couples are remaining childless by choice, because they subscribe to the philosophy that having it all means not having children.

Let's face it, raising children entails a great deal of work and they frequently act ungrateful for it all. (How grateful were we to our own parents when we were young?) Children are not unalloyed blessings. But neither can they be reduced to burdens that cramp our lifestyles or our pocketbooks. Children are people with their good points and their bad points. Their personalities are more immature and unformed than most adults'. But imagine how we adults appear in the eyes of God. How immature, whiny, panicky, and selfish do we normal struggling Christians appear as compared to the saints and the angels? Our children probably don't test our patience more than we test God's. In helping our children to set their feet on the path to heaven, we are doing God's work. We are also developing an awareness and gratitude for the unseen or even unwanted help that God gives us every day for the sake of our own spiritual progress.

Remember that children were always considered a great sign of God’s favor in the Old Testament. The Psalms joyfully proclaim to the righteous: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table” (Ps. 128:3) and “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.” (Ps. 127:4-5).

Many couples struggle with decisions on how many kids to have. I've spoken with several men and women who would cheerfully have had more children, but their spouses didn’t want to. Sometimes the fathers worry about providing for more children. Sometimes the mothers worry that they can't handle the physical or emotional stress. Ultimately, the decision should be a joint one between the couple and God. Husbands and wives should try to understand one another’s reasons and make peace with them.

The way we grow up has a powerful impact on our perspectives about children. My husband Manny, for example, grew up in a household with four children. His family in Spain produced untold numbers of cousins. One aunt and uncle held almost legendary status by bringing forth seven sons and no daughters at all.  In complete opposition to that, my parents had two children, carefully spaced eight years apart, so that we could be raised as two only children.

Added to our different family backgrounds are Manny's and my different personalities. My husband is cheerfully optimistic about nearly everything, and I spot disaster around every corner. Needless to say, this affects how each of us approaches making big decisions about our future. So far, we've compromised on six children (which, in all honesty, is more than either of us anticipated). Through constant communication, Manny and I have made sure that the issue of "how many kids" hasn't caused too much friction between us. Children can be both a blessing and a burden, but with God's help and both parents' cooperation, the yoke will be easy and the burden will be light.

The CatholicLane version of this article was listed on Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging on the National Catholic Register website.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

United in Heart and Soul to Our Beloved

Aimed at greater intimacy than the one-flesh union, married love "leads to forming one heart and soul,” states the Catechism. (Section 1643). How do married couples become one in heart and soul, especially when the demands of daily life keep getting in the way?

Becoming One Heart

Talk to your beloved about what's in your heart. Sometimes men don't talk enough and women talk too much. What do you think about all day? Do you share those thoughts with your spouse? If not, why not? Take your concerns and preoccupations to prayer and ask God to help you share them with your spouse in a productive and positive way.

Becoming unified with your spouse is a foretaste of becoming one with God, the Bridegroom of our soul. But union entails sorrow as well as solace. St. Catherine of Siena experienced a mystical marriage with Jesus, which both increased her love and familiarity with Jesus and gave her a more intimate participation in his sufferings. Do we offer to participate in our spouse's sufferings, or do we avoid them because we don't want to feel their hurt as our own? True unity requires compassion.

St. Catherine united her heart so closely to Jesus that she saw a vision of Jesus accepting her heart from her and, in turn, placing his own heart in her chest. Do we take care of our spouse's heart and our spouse's feelings as if they were our own? Or are we careless, or even critical? When your spouse reveals the secrets of his or her innermost heart, take care never to use that knowledge against them. Your hearts should be safe with one another.

Becoming One Soul

How do we become one soul with our spouse? The closer our souls become to God, the closer they will become to one another. Bound together in the Sacrament of Matrimony, husbands and wives have a special responsibility to help one another get to heaven. So pray for each other and your marriage. Pray that your love for each other and for God will grow stronger every day. Remember how much Jesus' heart is on fire with love for each of you. As Pope Francis expressed it, enter into the "fiery furnace of love that is the Trinity." In his October 30, 2013, General Audience, the pope said:
This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the “matrix” of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this “matrix”, this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions.
In the heat of God's tender love, let anything that divides you from your spouse melt away. Receive his love, share it with one another, and be at peace.

Looking for ways to make your marriage stronger? Karee Santos will be hosting an online marriage enrichment retreat on February 3, 4, 10, and 11. Like an interactive webinar, the retreat offers talks illustrated by sacred artwork with a background of Gregorian chant. All you need to participate is high-speed Internet and computer speakers. For more information or to register, click here.

Artwork: St. Catherine of Siena at the Side of Christ, by Sano di Pietro, 15th cent.

Monday, January 27, 2014

NEW Great Give-away from Ellen Gable to Next Retreat Registrant

Following the success of the Sarah Reinhard give-away, here comes another great give-away from Ellen Gable of Full Quiver Publishing! Ellen has generously donated a hard copy of her pro-life thriller, Stealing Jenny, to the next registrant to my online marriage enrichment retreat. Register here, register now, because it starts next week and time is running out!

Stealing Jenny was a number one best-seller in its category on Amazon Kindle. I loved it for its honest and heart-warming depiction of the love between a married couple, as well as the believable portrayal of a twisted kidnapper who will stop at nothing to take away another woman's child.

Ellen has authored numerous Catholic romances, each with a different focus on the Theology of the Body. Stealing Jenny shines a spotlight on the worth of one single baby -- is one unborn baby worth killing for? Or worth dying for? I promise you won't be able to put it down.

All you have to do to win a hard copy of Stealing Jenny is be the next to register for the online marriage enrichment retreat. The first session is about marital unity--and the positive effects it has on the family. The second one tackles the tough balancing act of work, family, and finance. All four sessions still have spots available -- Monday afternoons, Feb. 3 & 10, at 12:30-1:30 pm EST, or Tuesday evenings, Feb. 4 & 11, at 7:30-8:30 pm EST. Registering for any session is enough to win. So, register now!

CatholicMatch + Can We Cana? = Love, Love, Love!!!

I'm thrilled to announce that my first post just appeared on CatholicMatch Institute, the blog for With more than one million visits per month, CatholicMatch is the largest online Catholic dating community in the world.

Realizing that just matching Catholic singles up isn't enough, the founder of launched the Institute to provide advice and formation for Catholics who want to get married and stay married. Read this deeply inspirational excerpt from their mission statement:

We also hope the Institute will serve as a platform for those who have a passion for better preparing single Catholics to discern the path to marriage. ... If we help single Catholics to properly discern their future spouses, with God’s grace there will be fewer struggling and broken marriages down the road.

"Fewer struggling and broken marriages" is definitely the goal of Can We Cana, which is why teaming up with CatholicMatch seems -- dare I say it -- a match made in heaven. And it opens up the opportunity of my being a guest on the regular CatholicMatch spot on EWTN Radio's Son Rise Morning Show, which is incredibly exciting!

My first CatholicMatch post, entitled "Get Me to the Church on Time," talks about the dwindling number of Catholics who choose to get married in the Church and what they're missing out on. Join the more than 900 people who've already read the post by clicking here. And for a sneak peek, here's a brief excerpt:
the top reason to get married in the Catholic Church is to open yourself up to receive a powerful flood of graces that will sustain your marriage in its darkest moments. Only a sacramental wedding in a church, blessed by a priest and witnessed by the faithful, can become a channel of grace into your married life. Single life can really be hard. As Our Lord said in the garden, it is not good to be alone. But married life—the exquisitely challenging and almost painful process of turning two into one—is so difficult that it requires a sacrament.

Please read on and enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Terrific Give-Away from Sarah Reinhard for Next Retreat Registrant

Can We Cana's First Ever Give-Away!

Awesome author Sarah Reinhard has generously agreed to donate a free copy of her book Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative, or Clueless to the next person to register for my online marriage enrichment retreat this February 3, 4, 10 and 11!! So be sure to join in Can We Cana?'s first major give-away by registering for the retreat here.

For those of you who don't already know Sarah, she describes herself as a Catholic convert/wife/mom/reader/writer enjoying the idiosyncrasies of life on a farm with critters and kids. She blogs at the National Catholic Register and has written five books for amazing Catholic publishers like Pauline Books and Ave Maria Press. She's heavily involved with and is always ready to lend a helping hand to beginning bloggers such as yours truly.

Sarah's book, Catholic Family Fun, is as great as the name suggests. It's packed with detailed instructions for nearly 50 fun activities, starting with the silliest ones. If you're looking for ways to pry your kids away from their electronic devices, Sarah's book is the best place to begin. Check out my full review of her book here.

So what does Catholic family fun have to do with marriage enrichment, you might ask? Everything! Fun times with our families can help us make it over the inevitable rough spots. Fun is a terrific unifying force that shouldn't be underestimated. To learn more ways that families can grow closer to God and each other, please join the Can We Cana? online marriage enrichment retreat. Live sessions are offered at mid-day and at evening, whichever is most convenient for you, and you can also view the recorded sessions through a link we'll send you afterwards. For more information, look here.

And, remember -- the next person to register here for the online retreat will win a free copy of Sarah's book. Go ahead and register today!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Announcing February Online Marriage Enrichment Retreats!!

           Looking for ways
        to make your marriage

Join me this February 3, 4, 10, or 11 in an online marriage enrichment retreat. Spend an hour or two, just in time for Valentine's Day, to make your marriage stronger! Similar to an interactive webinar, the retreat offers talks illustrated by sacred artwork with a background of Gregorian chant. 

If you've never attended an online retreat before, don't worry -- the technology is easy. All you need is high-speed Internet and speakers for your computer. You can ask and answer questions simply by typing in a chatbox. But if you wish, you can purchase low-cost earbuds with a computer mike and speak directly with me and the other participants. You’ll receive a link by email to enter the online environment and a friendly tech will help you get used to all the features.

You can participate as an individual or a couple, during the early afternoon or in the evening -- whatever works for you. And if you can't join live, you'll have access to the recorded session through a link we'll send you. Watch it just like you'd watch an online video.

We'll have sessions on two different topics, and would love to see you at both. To register for either session, click here. For more info on the great folks producing this retreat, go to Incarnate Institute.

I. Life-giving Unity: Becoming One with Your Spouse and Your Children  

The marital relationship is the bedrock of any family. Reignite your appreciation for your spouse, and let your renewed unity strengthen your relationship with your children as well. Learn how to communicate better, pray more together, and grow closer to God together.

Mid-day Session: Monday, Feb. 3, at 12:30-1:30 pm EST
Evening Session: Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7:30-8:30 pm EST

II. Holy Stewards: Making the Most of Your Time and Your Money  

We all struggle to find enough time for work, family, and God. We might also sometimes let worries over money and professional advancement affect our marital relationship. Maintaining a good balance is difficult, but not impossible. Explore useful ways to make the most of what you have.

Mid-day Session:  Monday, Feb. 10, at 12:30-1:30 pm EST
Evening Session:  Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7:30-8:30 pm EST

Cost: $ 10 for one session, $15 for both.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Does God Want You to Have It All?

Can women have careers without neglecting their children? Can women have children without neglecting their intellectual gifts? In short, can women have it all?

My mother taught me that the answer was no. She quoted former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fondly and often: "A woman can have a great career and a great marriage. She can have a great marriage and great kids. She can even have a great career and great kids. But she can't have all three." That kind of thinking leads a woman to wonder, as soon as she sees the first plus on the pregnancy test, is this the first day of a life filled with irreconcilable choices?

I know intelligent, educated women who became stay-at-home moms and never looked back. They love cradling a newborn in their arms, they feel fulfilled by baking, gardening, decorating, arts-and-crafts, and homeschooling. I wish badly to be like them.

But newborns exhaust me beyond measure. I should know -- I've had six. And domestic tasks drain me and bring me no pleasure. Finding innumerable surprises like ball-point-pen drawings on my fine china has made me wonder why I bother. More than 10 years of practice, and I'm still no Martha -- or Martha Stewart -- and probably never will be.

My spiritual director has chided me often about my devaluing the work of the home. She urges me to focus more of my energies on the dishes, the laundry, and household organization. She warns me against distractions like writing and blogging. "Which will you choose?" she asks me seriously. "Your career or your home?" But like St. Therese of Lisieux as a little child, I want to choose all. St. Gianna Molla was a practicing physician and mother of four kids. The Blessed Quattrocchis, the only married couple to be beatified together, both worked in education while raising a family.

I know that marriage is my vocation, my primary calling. And yet God also gave me certain gifts. I graduated high school at age 14, college at age 18, and law school at age 21. On the cusp of partnership at a large New York City law firm, I gave up the practice of law to stay home and raise my children. "A law firm can always find another lawyer," my husband said, "but no one else can be the mother of your children."

That principle guided my choices for most of our marriage. About three years after I quit working as a lawyer, my former boss called to offer me a job. Four days a week, no in-court time, no business travel. But biology and vocation called the shots. I was pregnant then with our third child, due to be born in six months. My husband and I hadn't yet mastered NFP, so I spaced our children two years apart by on-demand breastfeeding, day and night. I couldn't take a job for six months, go on maternity leave for three months, and come back to work only to get pregnant again right away. It wouldn't be fair to my boss or good for my professional reputation. So I said no.

I met the woman who took the position my boss had offered. "It's a dream job," she enthused. I felt my heart crack a little, because I knew she was right. Part-time jobs in the legal industry, jobs that promise 9-to-5 and really mean it, are as rare as the Yeti.

The same choice faced me again recently, this time in a seemingly simple question, "Are you still available?" The question came from a lawyer in the area, whom I had met through a combination of fate, networking, and the possible intervention of the Holy Spirit. In December 2011, I received a fundraising letter from a fellow alumnus of the University of Virginia Law School. The letterhead bore the address of a local Long Island firm that specialized, like me, in intellectual property law. For six months, his letter sat on a corner of my desk. I didn't have time to go back to work. With six kids age 10 and under, I barely had time to shower. After eyeing that letter for six months, I decided to either call him or throw the letter out.

I picked up the phone. We agreed to meet over coffee. At the meeting's end, he told me that if he needed me, he'd call. Time passed, my youngest child started nursery school five days a week, and my husband and I learned NFP. A year and a half later, in mid-November 2013, the email arrived. "Are you still available?" The job was part-time, from home. The kind of job that doesn't really exist in the legal field. And let's just say that it pays better than blogging. I had found the Yeti, and it was in my backyard. Even though Christmas was hurtling around the corner and I was knee-deep in preparations to host my first online marriage enrichment retreat, I said yes.

How will I balance law, mothering, and marriage ministry? The short answer is trust in God's masterful planning skills and near-obsessive use of my smartphone's calendaring app. From a big picture perspective, I prefer not to see it as a conflict of interest, but rather a gift. My sister-in-law taught me that. When she was offered a moonlighting job to work on Good Friday, she snapped it up. The family fretted about it -- wasn't the job offer a temptation to take her focus away from God during one of the most sacred days of the year? With her characteristic sunny cheerfulness, my sister-in-law laughed at our worries. She needed the money, she said, and she saw the job offer as a gift from a loving God.

So sometimes we have to say yes to our gifts and our calling, and see where God takes us. Anything else would be ungrateful.

If you'd like to attend Karee's online marriage retreat about uniting more closely with your family and about work-life balance, you can register now for one-hour sessions on Feb. 3, 4, 10, or 11. Do you have particular questions about work/life balance? Ask them in the comments below!

 Photo Credit: Wondermonkey2k via Compfight cc. The CatholicLane version of this article was listed in Tito Edwards' The Best in Catholic Blogging on the National Catholic Register website.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Divorced and Remarried Man Yearns for the Eucharist

Ostracized by his former Protestant parish because of his divorce and remarriage and unable to receive the Eucharist at Catholic Mass because his annulment has not been granted after years of waiting, new Catholic convert Shaun Horner takes consolation in watching his children receive the sacraments. When asked what the future holds with respect to his annulment and his final, official acceptance into the Catholic Church, Shaun knows one thing: "I'm not going back." He's divorced, remarried, an ardent believer in Catholicism, and he's here to stay. (Read more of Shaun's on-going conversion story at Finding Christ Again.)

I come from a Southern Baptist tradition as does my wife Michelle. We are both divorced. I'm my wife's marriage #3 and she is my second. We have four prefab kids (my wife's kids), and one beautiful new daughter. Now the fairy-tale part -- we are both each other's first love from high school. One that we likely would have had for years had not a certain male teenager named Shaun gotten scared and dumped his first love. On Valentine's Day. Yeah, there was some baggage there that got mentioned at my first reconciliation.

As much as I love telling my fairy tale love story, this time we are talking about my spiritual journey. Or at least a part of it. Our annulments. My wife and I got married December of 2009, and we started RCIA in 2012. We still haven't formally entered the Church because of the long path of our annulments, and it's frustrating. Our new baby will be baptized in the Catholic Church before my wife and I officially convert. But both the Church and us, for that matter, believe that the annulment process is necessary. I've always thought the process is less about "following the rules" and more like the beginning of a truly healing process from a very painful period.

My wife and I were really blessed as we began our annulment process. Our priest explained it very well. By filling out the forms, and detailing the failures and other problems leading to your divorce, you (as well as the Tribunal hearing the case) get a picture of what went wrong and what failed. If I can lend a word of advice -- be brutally honest. It will only help. I'd pretty much beat myself up having stayed in a marriage about a decade longer than I should have. It was because of marriage and how I felt about it that I tried hopelessly to fix it.
"If I can lend a word of advice -- be brutally honest. It will only help."

During the annulment process you go over a ton of pain and hurt, often times (at least in my case) airing problems and issues that were never confessed to another human soul. Things that you have likely forgotten about or put aside. As you work with your advocate, the questions will likely come fast, furious, and deep. Your participation is vital to both the success and healing that are to come out of the process. Now I don't want to scare anyone but I don't want to sugar coat things either. The beginning of the annulment process is like treating a terrible infection. You will have to cut open your heart, expose the diseased tissue of your failed marriage to the light. This process hurts at first. That said, it's about the best relief (next to the Sacrament of Reconciliation) that we as Catholics will receive in this life.

You will also bring to light things that you NEED to keep from repeating in your "new" marriage. In order to learn from our mistakes, in order to get the most out of the annulment process, we must take all the failures (big and small) and apply them to our current marriages. In my own personal case, I was responsible for the separation and subsequent divorce. I was responsible for accepting distance and disconnect. I was also responsible for an accelerated courtship and marriage simply because it meant I wouldn't be living "in sin." Take that responsibility on yourself, take that right on up and offer it to God and get the heck rid of it. Bring that sin to light and burn the crap out of it. Take the failure, own it, learn from it, and become a better spouse and Catholic for it.

"Bring that sin to light and burn the crap out of it. Take the failure, own it, learn from it, and become a better spouse and Catholic for it."

You need to choose people to fill out witness statements for the annulment tribunal, and they should be brutally honest, too. In my case, I asked two friends and four family members to send in witness statements. Unfortunately, my family was reluctant to submit. I can only speculate that they really didn't want me to be Catholic, so in the end I only had two family members submit anything. Sadly for them, the annulment's success will not determine whether I convert fully to the Catholic faith. I'm not interested in going back.

Our priest also emphasized that the Marriage Tribunal wasn't adversarial. Meaning, that the Tribunal and your priest advocate work together to determine the outcome. Now, that's not to say that everyone is working for an annulment ruling. That's not the case. Certainly, I wouldn't want it to be that simple or that much like a kangaroo court. No, it means that the judges are careful to explore all avenues rather than rush to a quick and easier verdict.

During our annulment process my wife and I really thought that hers would be the most difficult since she was not only married twice, but to Catholics to boot. I was married to a Baptized Lutheran, and the wedding was celebrated in my home by a Presbyterian minister who was a friend of the family. It definitely seemed to us that I would be the easy one. Well, not so fast. Turns out both of her marriages to Catholics happened outside of the church, so they were never really a sacrament -- never valid in the first place. But because of the acceptance of marriages from other faith traditions, my annulment, sadly, has actually turned into the harder of the two. It's frustrating but it has been a great teaching tool as I've really done my own homework on the Sacrament of marriage and why it means so much.

Likely, there are many Catholics that are seriously considering ignoring the annulment process. Heck, they may even partake in the Eucharist. I mean it's not like they are checking your "Get to Partake in the Host" Card as you walk up. Some might even say to ignore the annulment because "God has already forgiven you; annulments are simply the laws of the church or laws of men." The truth of the matter is that we do have several "rules and laws" that we are to follow. None of them were meant to be easy or kind. It's not a deli where we get to make our own God sandwich. No. We need to actually pick up our Cross. It isn't meant to be easy and we're told that time and time again.

"It's not a deli where we get to make our own God sandwich. No. We need to actually pick up our Cross."

When my wife and I go to Mass, neither of us receives the Eucharist. It is painful, but it's been a fantastic witnessing tool. Every week the parish sees our family line up; and every week they see my teenage stepson and 11 year old stepdaughter receive the Eucharist. Then come me, my wife, my baby and my 7 year old receiving a blessing. It's hard, but we accept our current state and use it to show everyone that will listen why things are the way they are. In a nutshell, we take up this particular cross every time we go to Mass in the hopes that non-Catholics will be unafraid to join us in denying themselves the Eucharist, and current Catholics truly take the time to consider that annulment problem that they might be ignoring.

We're now entering year two of our annulment proceedings. I'm guessing that my wife's is pretty much complete and they are waiting to rule on mine. It's been an integral part of my learning about the Church. I have forty some odd years to make up learning about everything Catholic. It's a hard and challenging process and it's entirely possible that my annulment will not be accepted and I will be married to another woman according to the church. A scary thought indeed. That said, I'm willing to pick up my Cross, accept the grace granted to me and bask in my new faith tradition.

Cradle Catholics really have no idea of the gem they've had all their lives. The Church is one of the few places where the process/act/ceremony of marriage is still holy. Still valued, and most importantly still sacramental. I've always held marriage as a promise between three parties --  a man, a woman, and God. My dedication and the Church's dedication to the "institution" of marriage has made the annulment process that much easier to swallow and to endure.

Thankfully, my daughter of six months is going to know nothing but the Catholic tradition and for that I'm beyond thankful. So if you've been putting off having the annulment and it's prevented you from coming home to the Universal Church, stop that thinking right now. Start that healing right away rather than allow the infection to fester. Find a parish, a pastor, and a Church family that cares and wants the best for you. I'm a very lucky man to have found all of that in one try.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I Am More Than My Desire

I am a woman who desires men, but I don't define myself that way. Who I am depends equally as much on the parents who raised me, the town where I grew up, and the schools I attended. I am an introverted and somewhat socially awkward intellectual, who likes Renaissance music, science fiction, and macaroni and cheese. I am all of these things and I like all of these things completely apart from my heterosexuality.

I could identify myself as a Virginian born-and-bred or a New York transplant, as a blogger or a lawyer or a stay-at-home mom, but these categories don't constrain or pigeon-hole me. On a deeper level, I am a former WASP turned Catholic convert. I am a baptized Christian who bears on my brow and in my soul the seal of Him who died. I am bound to my husband through the Sacrament of Matrimony, and in some mystical way we have been made one. On a still deeper level, I am a creature of God brought into existence out of love and because He has a special plan for me.

So I don't post my sexual preference on my Facebook profile, parade it through the streets, wear certain colors on certain days, or join special-interest groups. Because I can't be reduced to a certain type of longing.

My sexuality didn't matter much when I was a child and likely won't matter much when I'm 90. While heterosexuality is an integral part of my marriage to my husband, our vows to love each other through riches and poverty, sickness and health, encompass far more than a ratification of our desire. As St. Josemaría said:
for normal people, sex comes in fourth or fifth place. First come spiritual ideals, with each person choosing his own. Next, a whole series of matters that concern ordinary men and women: their father and mother, home, children, and so on. After that, one's job or profession. Only then, in fourth or fifth place, does the sexual impulse come in.
Although sexual desire exerts a powerful emotional pull, it is not the most important aspect of anyone's life.

Sexual desire can point towards our desire for loving union with another and loving union with God, but it can never substitute for true union. On the contrary, strong sexual desire can swamp our sense of right and wrong, dragging us under in an emotional flood, drowning our reason. Succumbing to the temptation of the moment is one thing. Turning our sexual desires or preferences into the keystone of our identity is quite another.

I am so much more than simply a woman who desires men. And since that is true, every homosexual is more than simply a man who desires men. Every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning individual is more than a disembodied sexual orientation. Each one is an individual, who is funny or reserved, impulsive or controlled, gregarious or shy. They might be musicians, doctors, actors, lawyers, or members of any other profession. They might be baptized Christians or a professed atheists. And, like all of us, they might be lonely, hurting, in need of friendship, in need of love, in need of being saved.

So when we say "love the sinner and hate the sin," perhaps we should think "love the person and weep for the desire that leads them to sin." Because we all have our temptations and our unhealthy desires, but we can't and shouldn't be reduced to that. Every one of us is more than our desire.

Photo Credit: andrew and hobbes via Compfight cc
A revised version of this post appeared on

Monday, January 6, 2014

Pope Francis Composes New Prayer for Families, Synod

On the Feast of the Holy Family, December 29, 2013, Pope Francis invited all Catholics to pray for families as the Church prepares for an Extraordinary Synod to examine the troubling disconnect between Church teaching and the reality of modern family life. In his Angelus address given to the crowds in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis recited for the first time his new Prayer to the Holy Family. (Full text available here.)

The prayer seeks the help of the Holy Family while at the same time revealing Pope Francis' vision of the family as it is and as it could be. It paints an ideal portrait of family life and yet acknowledges the severe difficulties faced by many. It concludes with a heart-felt petition for the renewal of the sacredness and inviolability of the family. Pope Francis' prayer is a short primer on the theology of the family and deserves careful contemplation. Let's see what he says.

The Splendor of True Love

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

The prayer's opening words about the splendor of true love echo Pope Francis' first encyclical, The Light of Faith, which emphasized the need for truth and love to co-exist: “If love needs truth, truth also needs love. Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives” (LF, no. 27). More than just a romantic phrase, "true love" points to the perfect combination of God's truth and God's love.

Pope Francis may also have meant to allude to Pope John Paul II's well-known encyclical, The Splendor of Truth, which cautioned against relativism and insisted on the primacy of objective truth. In The Splendor of Truth, Pope John Paul II told us: "No one can escape from the fundamental questions: What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil? The answer is only possible thanks to the splendor of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit." What must we do to solve the crisis of the family and above all the crisis of the family in the Church? The splendor of truth combined with the splendor of love will give us an unfailing guide.

Ideal of Family Life

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Here again, the ideas of Pope John Paul II take pride of place. The idea of the human person was central to John Paul's philosophy, and family to him was a communion of persons, introducing each newborn person into the human family and into the family of God. Within the tender, caring communion of the family, mothers and fathers should teach their children to pray -- to talk to God with love and trust. Through the witness of their Christian lives, parents are or should be the first heralds of the Gospel for their children. St. Thomas Aquinas compared the ministry of Christian parents to the ministry of priests, since both must nurture the spiritual life of those entrusted to their care. For this reason, the Catechism calls the home "the domestic Church" (CCC, sec. 1656). This is an ideal picture of family life, one that we can aspire to but one that we frequently fail to attain.

Reality of Family Life

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again 
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

In this plea for comfort to families in distress, Pope Francis' prayer recalls the earlier words of Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio: "There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life." But in raising the issue of scandal, these words do something new. It cannot be denied that priests frequently distribute Holy Communion to parishioners who are openly divorced and remarried outside the Church. In an effort to be inclusive, these priests often scandalize laypeople who witness repeated behavior that appears to fly in the face of Church doctrine. Without minimizing the hurt suffered by people whose marriages have fallen apart, this prayer seeks comfort for those who have been scandalized as well.

Renewal of Family Life

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful 
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

With these closing words, Pope Francis stresses that the family is a sacred institution instead of merely a secular one, and that God has a plan for it -- not just any plan, a beautiful plan. As the Catechism states, quoting the address of Pope Paul VI on the Feast of the Holy Family in 1964, "May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character." And may God bless the approaching Synod of Bishops!