Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gay Catholic Romance Novel Shows Sacrifice is the Heart of Love

Just as the movie Brokeback Mountain paved the road for widespread acceptance of homosexual love affairs, the novel The Lion’s Heart is poised to do the same for the Catholic view of homosexuality. Almost certainly the first of its kind, this gay Catholic romance novel was written by Dena Hunt (also author of Treason) and published by Full Quiver Publishing, a small Canadian company dedicated to promoting St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (“TOB”) mainly through the medium of fiction.

The love affair between the two main characters, Paul and Max, is real, raw, and tragic. Paul is an art gallery director comfortable in his homosexuality, but vaguely dissatisfied with his life of one-night stands. Max is the husband of an art gallery employee and father of two children. When the two men meet, Paul is drawn to Max because of Max’s maturity, stability, and deep-rooted intuitive grasp of the values of marriage and family. With deft skill, the author depicts a romance that is tasteful rather than crude. As the relationship between Paul and Max progresses, the affair erodes the qualities in Max that made him so appealing in the first place. Max’s views on love, parenthood, and society descend into a torturous confusion that even Paul cannot abide. “Falling in love with a man does not justify re-writing all of history,” says Paul. But for Max, it does.

The Lion’s Heart is part of a growing effort of faithful Catholics to reach out to the gay community. As admitted by the recent video The Third Way, featuring TOB experts Chris West and Jason Evert, the Church has not done a good job welcoming those with same-sex attraction. The idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” does not resonate with those conditioned to believe that what they do is synonymous with who they are. Since serious hatred itself is a sin against the Fifth Commandment, perhaps we should dispense with the language of hatred altogether. There is a similar problem with the terminology of disordered attraction. It shuts people down and makes them unwilling to hear. The Lion’s Heart acknowledges that homosexual desire feels like normal desire to those experiencing it, and homosexual love feels like true love. Where The Lion’s Heart sharply departs from the secular viewpoint is its message that true love requires what’s best for the beloved, and in the case of homosexual love, as dramatically depicted in the story of Paul and Max, what’s best for the beloved is to walk away.

The book is endorsed by the Executive Director of Courage International, the Catholic organization dedicated to helping people with same-sex attraction lead a chaste life. Despite or perhaps because of its fidelity to Church teaching on homosexuality, Courage comes under intense hostile pressure from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. For example, Courage made it into the news recently as the focus of a controversy involving Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. The school had arranged for speakers from Courage to make a presentation about homosexuality to parents, but some prominent gay alumni objected and the presentation was postponed indefinitely.

As public acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual relationships increases, the Church’s message of chastity and self-denial as proclaimed by groups like Courage gets thrown by the wayside. When confronted with the open homosexuality of a friend or family member, many people respond by encouraging those with same-sex attraction to enter into love affairs in the mistaken belief it will bring them happiness. This increasingly common reaction took center stage in 2013 when Ohio conservative Sen. Rob Portman reversed his stance on same-sex marriage because of his son’s homosexuality. Portman said he followed his heart in reaching the conclusion that he wants all of his children, including his gay son, to have the joy and stability of long-term marriage. As a nation, we are in love with love, particularly romantic and sexual love, and we can’t see the possibility of joy or fulfillment without sex to go along with it.

But the Church teaches that personal fulfillment comes from mastering our desires, not giving in to them. Chastity is demanded of all, not just the gay or unmarried. In our society, artificial contraception has perpetuated the myth of constantly available sex and disrupted the previously crystal-clear connection between marriage and the creation of the next generation of children. When the Church speaks out against the use of artificial contraception and in favor of methods that require periodic abstinence, it reminds us that marriage is more than religiously-sanctioned sexual pleasure. We as human beings are capable of intimacy that supersedes the sexual.

True love can exist between fathers and sons, and between mothers and daughters. True love can even exist between best friends. But true love never willingly harms the object of its affection. As anyone who has been in a bad relationship knows, a sexual bond with the wrong person – regardless of gender – can cause incredible psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage, even if it feels like love at the time. The Lion’s Heart treads a narrow line by vividly depicting the inherently destructive nature of the characters’ homosexual relationship, while evocatively portraying their love and affection for one another. In the end, it is love that pushes them to sacrifice for the good of the other.

Multi-dimensional and complex, The Lion’s Heart has something to attract and discomfit people at nearly every point along the spectrum of religiosity and sexuality – which is a good thing. At one juncture, I had to put the book down and walk away because it was too painful to watch the character of a good man slowly crumble. But I’m glad I returned to observe the romance’s bitter-sweet conclusion. If I had to pinpoint one flaw in the book, I would say that the ending has too much gratuitous tragedy for my taste. The love triangle between wife, husband, and gay lover is tragic enough on its own. But The Lion’s Heart is well worth reading for its bold and audacious challenge to prevailing perceptions and misperceptions of homosexuality. With broad enough exposure, the book may succeed in changing more than a few hearts.

This article appeared originally at Aleteia. It also was highlighted on the Women of Grace blog.

If you enjoyed this post, we highly recommend:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Walking the Camino de Santiago: 1,000 Years of Introspection

In honor of last Friday's feast of St. James the Apostle, here's a post by my father Hampden Smith (Chairman Emeritus of the Washington & Lee Journalism Department) about walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Santiago is the Spanish word for James or St. James, who is credited with evangelizing Spain. The 500-mile Camino ends at the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. In their golden years, my extremely active parents are up for almost any new experience, including making a Catholic pilgrimage when they're not actually Catholic. We keep hoping.

Last May and June, my wife and I and another retired couple (we’re all 70 or older) spent three weeks as pilgrims, or peregrinos, on the Camino. We began at the Pyrenees, on the French border, and walked about 250 of the 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela. It was a magnificent experience in many ways. 

We averaged 12 miles a day walking, a couple of times as much as 17 miles; it took us, including stops for café latte and lunch, most of the day.  Nearly all peregrinos carry everything on their backs: a change of clothes, a thin mattress pad, toilet articles, a guidebook. As old guys, we cheated; we carried backpacks weighing about 5 pounds and sent our full packs by carrier to the next night’s lodging. We also stayed in small hotels, not the alberges with dozens of bunk beds and communal showers that is the norm.

We were frequently aware of the 1,000-year-old tradition of the Camino that untold numbers of pilgrims have taken since the 11th century. There’s something deeply moving about walking on the remnants of Roman roads and over Roman bridges, along ancient paths trod by devout sinners to reach the cathedral in Santiago and hug the statue of Saint James there. You learn quickly you are a part of an historic tradition that has drawn believers to a religion and a culture that has largely created what we know as the Western world.

However, we also quickly learned how different our lives are from most of those who preceded us. On our bus days, it took us less than half an hour to cover a route that would take all day on foot. And then we realized: A hundred years ago, the pilgrims didn’t just reach Santiago; they had to walk back, to Paris or to Cologne or Amsterdam.

As you trudge along, there is determination and solitude and camaraderie. No matter torrential rain that floods your rocky, hilly path, nor blistering sun, you must continue if you are to reach the goal you set for yourself. No matter the many fellow pilgrims you get to know along this communal route, there are hours and  hours of being alone with yourself, with asking why am I doing this, with seeking answers to who I am and who I wish to be. Yet you learn to be open to everyone, to your fellow peregrinos, to the wrinkled and hobbling old lady who wishes you to “go with God,” to the farmers and merchants who wave and call out, “Buen Camino” – and the exhausted, despondent American judge who responded, “Don’t you “Buen Camino” me!”

The country is beautiful. The Roman breadbasket continues, with endless fields of wheat and dry rice and, thank goodness, vineyards. Snow-capped mountains line the horizon, and the hills are adorned with skyscraper-tall wind turbines that produce 17 percent of Spain’s electricity.

The church architecture is grand, from the stark simplicity of Romanesque chapels with primitive carvings of strange little beasts among the saints and angels, to the grandeur of Gothic cathedrals so astonishingly beautiful that tears come to your eyes. No matter how devout or doubting the pilgrim, you cannot be confronted by these examples of the highest creations of mankind without realizing how central to civilization and culture the Church must be.

At the end, there is the pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a breathtaking, soaring monument into which many pilgrims literally crawl on their knees, tears falling from their eyes. A nun with the voice of an angel teaches the peregrinos the refrains they will sing during Mass, and a priest reads out the names of all the countries pilgrims have come from. Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, England, Holland, Korea, Spain, Kenya.  United in an experience to some religious, to others spiritual, to a few cultural and, to a small awkward percentage, a lark.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some: Karee and Manny

The kick-off to this great new series How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some is written by yours truly, me and my husband Manny. Here are our prime bits of advice gathered over the years, and a few of our most cherished stories.

1. How many years have you been married and how many kids do you have?

Manny & Karee: We've been married 14 years and have 6 kids: Lelia, age 13; Miguel, age 11; Maria, age 9; Marguerite, age 7; Cecilia, age 5; and Elisa-Maria, age 3. Yes, we know that's a lot of girls.

2. Name 3 things that have helped you to stay married this long.

Manny: “Not staying married” was never really an option in my mind. So I would say that the first thing that has helped me stay married is a proper understanding of what marriage is -- a promise of forever. The second thing that has helped me stay married is that I meant what I said on my wedding day. The wedding vows I spoke were not flowery or cute, but rather simple and direct. They were spoken before God Almighty for all to hear, a promise that no force on earth could sever, save death. The third thing that has helped me stay married, and not just stay married but stay happily married, is a piece of advice a neighbor once gave me. Tony Imbarrato, who lived together with his wife Vicky next door to my parents, told me that marriage was like a delicate flower, responsive to love and care yet capable of wilting away if neglected or mistreated. That inspires me to nurture my marriage.

Karee: First, focusing on the positive things about my husband, my marriage, and my family. Focusing on the negative things doesn't make anyone happy, including me! Second, trusting that God has a purpose for our marriage and for our family. Manny told me when he proposed that there would come a time when he would let me down, not intentionally, but because he was human and he would fail. (The flip-side of that coin is that I would fail him, too, of course.) Only God never fails, and he will always bind up the little hurts we give each other. Third, allowing myself to become dependent on my husband. Total independence makes it too easy to walk out the door.

3. What role has your faith played in your marriage?

Manny: Safe to say that without my faith, I wouldn’t have seen a need to get married at all, at least not in the Catholic Church. Other churches have prettier buildings and better music. (Editor's Note: We got married in the beautiful Manhattan Church of the Holy Innocents, and our wedding Mass incorporated two choirs, two professional vocal soloists, an organist, two trumpet players, a flautist, and an original piece of music commissioned specially for the occasion. I defy anyone other than European royalty to produce proof of better music at a wedding ceremony.)

Karee: Faith has been a bedrock of our marriage. By putting God first, we avoid the potential power struggle over whose wishes and needs are more important. God's plans are the most important and they're better than anything we could imagine or dream of on our own.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Manny: I would ask them why. Why get married? If you don’t have a clear reason, you’re not ready to get married.  Physical attraction is a good start but most assuredly not enough. If  there’s also a compelling socio-economic reason, such as saving money, again, I would say it’s not enough. If it’s to please others, their pleasure (and yours) will be short lived. In my mind there’s only one reason, in the end, to get married. You want to be with this person for the rest of your life, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, ‘til death do you part. Looks fade, fortunes come and go, and pleasing others is rarely a good reason to make a life-long commitment.

Karee: When Manny and I were dating, he was very clear that the purpose of dating was to find out if we wanted to marry each other. No one had ever been so blunt about their intentions towards me, and it gave us an important incentive to keep trying to iron out our differences. So, be intentional. Date with a view towards marriage and don't be shy about discussing it openly.

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Manny: There’s something special, almost magical, about this time of life. In fact, for the first few years of marriage, you should feel free to consider yourselves newlyweds. Hold hands, giggle together, exchange glances when no one is looking, make time together a priority because it ought to be. And after the newlywed period ends, and of course it will, then make an effort to continue some of the things you loved doing when you were newlyweds. It will make a huge difference.

Karee: The best newlywed advice I ever got was from a priest in the confessional. He said to be patient, patient with my husband and patient with myself. There will be a lot of time to get used to one another and the changes that happen along with getting married. The changes can be exhilarating, but also a little nerve-wracking.

6. What advice would you give new parents or couples who are trying to have children?

Manny: Children are a blessing, and if received as such the joy and the laughs (kids are funny) will far outweigh the hard work and suffering that inevitably accompany parenthood.  

Karee: My parents told us when I first got pregnant that raising children would be the hardest thing we ever did in our lives. We smiled dreamily and said, "We know." We had no freaking clue. Dads, your wife is about to become a superhero -- appreciate it and respect it. Moms, remember that no matter how steep your learning curve is, your husband's will be steeper -- be understanding. Couples who are aching to become moms and dads, pray that the time of waiting prepares you to be grace-filled parents. Trust me when I say you'll need all the grace you can get.

If you've enjoyed this post, we recommend:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forget Free Sex. We Want Free Chocolate!

The Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby allowing corporations not to pay for abortifacient contraceptives on conscience grounds infuriated many. Some activists responded by rearranging the goods on Hobby Lobby shelves to spell out slogans such as "Pro-Choice" and "All Women Deserve Birth Control" in order to demonstrate their mature femininity  fitness as sexual partners  political savvy  anger. (For more equally emotional responses, click here.) The battle cry seemed to be "We want our non-procreative sex and we want it for free!"

"There is this new attitude that 'if my pleasure is something I deem good, then you should pay into it and enable me as well,'" commented one of my friends on Facebook. With utterly inescapable logic, she concluded that, based on this reasoning, the government should subsidize her daily ration of dark chocolate as well. The argument is as follows:

  1. Many people want dark chocolate.
  2.  Eating dark chocolate every day has proven health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
  3. Decreased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease leads to lower medical costs to be borne by individuals and the healthcare system. 
  4. The government should therefore provide dark chocolate for free. 
The social, medical, and economic benefits of such a scheme are clear. Politicians would be wise to start a political party based on these principles, or at least incorporate these ideas into the plank of an already-existing party platform. Not only would chocolate-for-free garner even more popular support than contraception-for-free, it would also encounter less opposition. Consider this:

  1. Chocolate appeals to men, women, and children of all ages, whereas contraception would only arguably be beneficial for men and women of child-bearing age.
  2. Chocolate does not contain synthetic hormones that may raise the risk of cancer and harm the environment by polluting our streams
  3. Chocolate does not cause a small but real risk of increased blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke
  4. No one (as far as I know) has a religious objection to eating chocolate or providing free chocolate to others.
So I say, forget free sex. We want free chocolate. Are you with me?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Free Sex: A New Right?

Please welcome my husband Manuel P. Santos, M.D., as he pens his first Can We Cana? guest post on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. :cue applause:


Perhaps it is only a matter of time until the Supreme Court weighs in on the question of whether access to free contraceptives is a fundamental right guaranteed to us as Americans, tucked away in the penumbra of the constitution, much like the right to abortion, which was found hiding there in 1973 in the now infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision seems to have emboldened conservatives and outraged liberals, unmasking a deep divide in our country. How did we get here? Surely, the Affordable Care Act along with the HHS mandate on contraceptives didn’t just happen out of the blue. Or did it? Few would argue that Obamacare was bipartisan given that it was passed on party lines. The words “rammed through Congress” come to mind, despite assurances by our President that he would bring the nation together by ushering in a new era of non-partisan politics. Somewhere along the line the word healthcare was hijacked and redefined to include condoms, Viagra, and “the pill”. Over time, some women objected that if men can have Viagra covered by their health insurance, then as if channeling Saint Peter in a perverse turnaround, why not only the pill but also RU-486? And what about Plan-B? The stage is set, the savior arrives! Obama hands down the edict. Insurance companies must cover contraceptives for women. As if on cue, Sandra Fluke comes on the scene. The ersatz damsel in distress, deprived by a villainous Georgetown University Law School Health Insurance plan of her “god given right” to free contraceptives.      

Rarely do I have the opportunity to use the word Orwellian, but it seems appropriate given the way this administration has managed to impose its agenda. In the fourth chapter of his classic dystopian vision, Orwell describes the qualities of media entertainment for “Proles” (the 85% of the population that do not belong to The Party),
“Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs.” (1984)
The incorporation of recreation into healthcare had its origins, perhaps, in the idea that a happy and healthy individual will need fewer medical services in the long run. This is sound thinking insofar as it goes. And from an economics standpoint it makes perfect sense. Invest in a treadmill now and forego the agony of a triple bypass years later. From the perspective of the bottom line, a few thousand dollars now could save millions later. A charitable interpretation of the administration’s obsession with contraception, and I use the term loosely since those in the know are well aware that contraceptives are often abortifacients, would be that offering free condoms (at pennies each) or even a month’s worth of the pill (averaging $30/month) is a sound investment. After all, an unplanned pregnancy will bring an unwanted child into the world, doomed to suffer misery and the myriad indignities that of necessity come with being "unwanted".  And then there’s the financial burden that an unwanted child will impose on the rest of us.

It seems to flow naturally from such logic that it is not only unfair to deprive a person struggling with an unplanned pregnancy of their "child-free" future, but that it would also be unfair to the unplanned child to allow it to come into the world unwanted. Better to avoid all these messy problems with that panacea which the left assures us is harmless, and which Obama wants to provide for us out of the kindness of his heart. The fact that half of his subjects don’t want it is irrelevant. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday July 2nd 2014 reveals that 33% of voters think Obama is the worst President since WWII (George W. Bush came in second with 28% and Richard Nixon placed third with 13%). It is curious that a man who promised to unify the nation has distinguished himself as being the most divisive.  

Rousseau, in his Discourse on Inequality, comments that in a tyrannical government we "should see the magistrates fomenting everything that might weaken men united in society, by promoting dissension among them; everything that might sow in it the seeds of actual division, while it gave society the air of harmony; everything that might inspire the different ranks of people with mutual hatred and distrust, by setting the rights and interests of one against those of another…it is from the midst of that disorder and these revolutions, that despotism, gradually raising up its hideous head and devouring everything that remained sound and untainted in any part of the State, would at length trample on both the laws and the people, and establish itself on the ruins of the republic.”  

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, President Obama’s response via his official twitter feed is not only overly simplistic and misleading, but also seems tailor made to stoke the fires of partisan hostility, since he describes the ruling as a “throwback to last week when a woman-not her boss-made her own decisions about her healthcare.” I doubt that even the Norse god, Loki, could have contrived a more divisive Twitter post…were he to tweet.

It appears that our discourse has brought us full circle, to a fundamental question which we as the guardians of our great nation must ask ourselves. Do we choose to wade in waters polluted by the penumbral waste of free condoms, Viagra and Plan-B, or do we take a stand and prevent the defenders of free sex from dumping their toxic interpretation of our constitution into our rivers and streams? The decision is ours to make. The consequences will be our children’s to absorb.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blogging through Self-Doubt

I'm sure that every Catholic blogger has asked themselves at least once why they do it. Is it really worth the time spent away from work, from family, from prayer? Is anybody listening? Does anybody care? One of my friends recently shut down his personal blog altogether, saying "While I have a lot of respect for many bloggers, I feel the blogosphere to be a net negative to the Catholic Faith.  ... It is the epitome of Francis' 'self-referential Church.'  Far from leading to a deepening of the faith, it has led to a corrosion of it." Could this be true?

My friend's words certainly don't describe the work of CatholicMom or any mommy blogger I know. But I've seen the corner of the Catholic blogosphere he describes -- the place where people attack one another viciously over minute points of doctrine or liturgical practices that baffle non-Catholics and fail to bring anyone to a holier and more peaceful frame of mind. I regularly engage in verbal fisticuffs with Catholics on LinkedIn who insist that if the majority of lay Catholics reject the Church's doctrine on artificial birth control, then the lay Catholics must be right and the Popes must be wrong. I have to ask myself if I'm really helping when I enter the fray.

And my answer has to be yes. Every blogger, like every Christian, is a witness to the strength of God's love alive in the world. Every one of us has a story of struggles, joys, heartaches, and glimmers of the salvation that awaits us. We follow Christ for deeply personal reasons that uniquely showcase the majesty of God's creation and the depths of his mercy.

As the beloved disciple John said in writing his Gospel, "there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." When we bloggers share the difference that Jesus has made in our lives, we are drawing on an infinite store of spiritual power and wisdom that could more than fill all the books in the world. When we blog from a place of prayer and compassion, keeping the ultimate goal of salavation of souls in mind, we are fulfilling our Baptismal mission to spread the Good News.

We don't, or shouldn't, blog to show that we're better Catholics than anyone else. Our blog should not be a trophy case displaying our own intelligence or faithfulness, because in our heart of hearts we know that we've all done stupid and faithless things. Our blog should feature installments in the story of our on-going love affair with God. Because no matter how mixed our motivations, if we weren't in love with God we wouldn't be blogging or commenting or arguing online in the first place.

Some readers have called me arrogant and judgmental, and I have to accept those accusations as true since my husband and my spiritual director have echoed them on occasion. But those accusations need to lead me to greater warmth, greater compassion, and greater understanding. They can't sink me into self-doubt and despair. The solution for me and maybe for many of us is to give more, not to give up. Even from within a prison of our own inadequacies and sinfulness, we can still preach the Word of God.

St. Paul shows us how to continue our work of evangelization no matter what the shape or size of our prison. While St. Paul was in house arrest in Rome, he welcomed all who came to him and boldly taught them about Jesus Christ (Acts 28: 16-31). Under this same incarceration, he also wrote the great prison epistles of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians -- back when people wrote in ink rather than in bits and bytes. So, following the great missionary example of St. Paul, I will continue to pray, to write, and to share with others my love of God even from behind my own internal and often invisible prison walls.

Photo Credit: bhollar via Compfight cc

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Synod Considers Streamlining Annulments, Improving Marriage Prep

Preparations are heating up for this October's Extraordinary Synod on the Family, scheduled to take place in Rome. What will Pope Francis do? What can he do?  My debut post on the popular Catholic news website Aleteia answers some of these questions.


The recently released working document for this October's Extraordinary Synod on the Family presents a remarkably candid view of the troubles besetting Catholic marriages and families today. Young people are frequently afraid to commit, marriage preparation is often seen as a useless obligation, there is wide ignorance of Church teaching, few understand that using contraception is sinful, and many parents show limited interest in the religious education of their children. There are bright spots. In contrast to the wide-spread confusion over contraception, most Catholics realize that abortion is a serious sin. The faithful also expressed both a strong desire to know Sacred Scripture better and a deep devotion to the Holy Family.

The working document (or instrumentum laboris) summarized a vast number of answers to the questions posed in the Synod's Preparatory Document issued on November 5, 2013. In drafting the working document, the Synod Council considered not only official responses from the bishops but also observations by parishes, lay movements, academic institutions, and Catholic and non-Catholic specialists on marriage and family life. The tone and scope of the working document demonstrate Pope Francis' commitment to listening to others as the necessary first step in any dialogue. Pastoral dialogue, the Pope stated in The Joy of the Gospel, must be founded on "a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear."

Although touching on hot-button issues like same-sex union and reception of the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried, the bulk of the working document focused on improving pastoral care through changes to annulment procedures and marriage preparation, encouraging openness to life, and better communication of Church teaching. Pope Francis has strongly criticized attempts to reduce the purpose of the Synod to letting remarried divorcees take communion, emphasizing that the Synod has a much broader scope.

“I was both surprised and gratified, given all the media hype even within the U.S. Catholic media about this question [of pastoral care for the divorced and remarried], that it wasn’t dealt with more” by the working document, stated Deacon Dodge of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. While acknowledging the suffering of those who cannot receive communion because of their remarried status, “the Instrumentum does not lean heavily towards making accommodations for [them] … to start receiving communion,” he continued.  Jesus’ clear pronouncements on the indissolubility of marriage make this issue “no mere pastoral concession” but one that “goes to quite fundamental theological matters,” he explained.

Annulments and Marriage Prep

The most significant area of consensus among the bishops concerned the Church’s annulments process. “Very many responses … request streamlining the procedure for marriage annulments,” stated the working document. Changes could take two forms. One would be a formal amendment to the canon law, which could take several years. But other changes could be made by the Pope alone in a document called a motu proprio. “Amending canon law is done with some regularity via a motu proprio,” most recently by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, explained Deacon Dodge. "Even so, the most the Synod itself can do is recommend or strongly urge certain changes," clarified Aldean Hendrickson, canon lawyer and Director of the Tribunal of the Diocese of New Ulm.

The Synod appears open to exploring lack of faith as a ground for an annulment. Unfortunately, that conflicts with what the working document states is the common practice of warmly welcoming non-practicing Catholics who request marriage in the Church. There would seem little point in warmly welcoming people to a sacrament that appears invalid from the get-go. Deacon Dodge suggested that there should be at least a well-founded hope that the couple would practice the Catholic religion before they can marry in the Church. But Tribunal Director Hendrickson cautioned that "personal faith is a very difficult thing to measure, especially for a tribunal some years after the fact. ... Instead of worrying how many marriages might be foundering due to lack of faith, we need to be finding ways in the Spirit to ignite the fire of faith in marriages."

Like the annulments process, marriage preparation also seems in need of an overhaul. Whereas the bishops appear happy with the state of marriage preparation and proud of efforts to provide more information over longer periods of time, couples generally don't like longer programs and are largely indifferent to the information presented. As a supplement to pre-Cana programs, the Synod will likely consider a push for marriage education starting at a younger age as well as more support programs for the already-married.

Many of these supplemental types of marriage education were already recommended by the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1996, however, and these recommendations have gone largely ignored by U.S. dioceses. Deacon Dodge stresses the scarcity of resources for marriage preparation as the likely reason. “Our diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life has a staff of one part-time person,” he noted. Even if a post-synodal exhortation strongly recommended expanding current programs, Deacon Dodge does not think it's possible for most dioceses to follow through. Peter McFadden, pre-Cana instructor and president of Creative Marriages, Inc., agrees that there will be challenges at the parish level implementing any Vatican recommendations because of the need to rely on volunteers.

There’s a real danger that documents resulting from the Synod “will be well-received, but go unheeded” because of practical and financial difficulties, according to Deacon Dodge. Nevertheless, “any effort to put focus on what the Church can do to help couples succeed in marriage is an effort not wasted,” said McFadden.

Openness to Life

The working document provided some much-needed clarity on the issue of contraception. While acknowledging that many Catholics see nothing wrong with using contraception, the document nonetheless praised the Church’s long-standing stance against it, particularly as expressed in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The working document went so far as to describe Humanae Vitae as “prophetic,” words which Pope Francis has used before to refer to the genius of Pope Paul VI. The working document thus clearly indicated that the Synod “will neither ignore nor attempt to change the teachings” on this hot-button issue, according to Deacon Dodge.

“I like that the Instrumentum [section on openness to life] recommends the dissemination of Pope St. John Paul II’s teaching on theology of the body,” added Deacon Dodge. Prior to the working document, commentators such as Fr. Landry expressed unease that the Synod would disregard the seminal thought of Pope St. John Paul II on marriage, sexuality, and the family. The working document should allay such concerns by its frequent mention of the Theology of the Body and other works by the great pope. Moreover, the document's entire character bears the stamp of St. John Paul's perspective on the importance of being created male and female, particularly in relation to troubling developments like gender theory, or the idea that gender is a social construct rather than a biological reality.

Spreading the Word

One of the main concerns expressed in the working document was the Church’s need to communicate its teachings on marriage and family life more clearly to the faithful. This October’s Synod deals not just with the family but with the evangelization of the family. The survey responses revealed that most Catholics have not read the papal encyclicals of the last several decades, and the message contained in those documents just isn’t getting through.

Pre-Cana instructor McFadden is “encouraged to see the Church taking a more comprehensive approach” to sharing its wisdom on these issues. A lot of engaged couples are “naïve on their wedding day” and “underestimate how involved marriage really is,” stated McFadden. “There’s a need for on-going formation” starting in high school and continuing for years after the couple gets married, he added.

We can't expect laypeople to educate themselves by reading the original Church documents, noted Deacon Dodge. Evangelization is the responsibility of those of us who know -- whether we are clergy or laity -- to spread the message to those who don't know. Regardless of what formal changes might result from the Synod, it should serve as a call to action to all of us to spread the good news.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Now Writing for Major News Site Aleteia!!

Getting back to my roots as a reporter for the National Catholic Register, I'm now writing news analysis for the major Catholic web site Aleteia. If you don't know this site, you should definitely check it out.

From their About Us page:
Published in six languages, Aleteia keeps our readers up to date on global and regional affairs, while also serving as a source of reference on the Catholic Church (particularly Pope Francis), the family, social justice, international development and missions, bioethics, religious freedom, and evangelization.  
Aleteia--from the ancient Greek word for “truth”--exists also to host a deeper conversation on how daily issues in the news impact life, faith, and society. We aim to encourage dialogue based in friendship about the most vital questions of human existence, even as we proudly proclaim that the search for truth begins and ends in the Logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.  
My first post on the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family is scheduled to go up at 2 a.m. tomorrow. I can't wait!!