Thursday, December 31, 2015

Improve Physically, Intellectually, and Spiritually in the New Year

A new year is like a bright, shiny package waiting to be opened or like that moment when you take a deep breath and prepare to ask the all-important question or sing the well-practiced song. It seems anything is possible, if we just have the will to see it through. God has plans for us, plans for good and not for evil. What dreams does he want us to dream? What good works does he want us to accomplish? How much closer can we get to heaven in the next 365 days?

New Year's resolutions are a call to self-improvement, but for Christians they are also a reminder that the main architect of our improvement is our God and not ourselves. Reforming ourselves does no good unless we're also conforming ourselves to the will of God.

As a wife and mother, I know that serving my family is my path to holiness and happiness. So, for 2016, I've resurrected my old habit of making each family member's resolutions my own and helping them to achieve their most important goals in the next twelve months. We all decided to concentrate on three areas: the physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual. You can do the same for your family and then see how far they've come by the end of the year. It's a great way to measure the seemingly unquantifiable goals of family life.

The Santos Family's 2016 New Year's Resolutions

1. Me: My physical health suffered a setback when I sprained my ankle just before Pope Francis' visit to the United States in September, and my lack of exercise has weighed heavily upon me (literally as well as figuratively). My prayer life has also been crowded out by the increasing demands of writing and speaking. And I haven't helped my kids with their homework as much as I'd like. Resolved: Weekly exercise, daily prayer, more homework help for the kids.

2. Manny: My husband fought a major battle to limit his commute time last year, and he won. This year, he should have time to make it to the taekwondo classes that he signed up for but can rarely attend. Because he's now home for dinner more often than not, we can try once again to institute a Spanish-speaking dinner hour so he can teach the Santos kids the language that befits their last name. Although the two of us already pray the fifth decade of the rosary pretty regularly at bedtime, we could make a firmer commitment to it. Resolved: Weekly taekwondo classes, Spanish-speaking dinner hour, daily couple prayer.

3. Lelia (14): A lot of things changed when our eldest daughter entered public high school, and surprisingly most of them were good! She'd like to join the school kickline (think teenage Rockettes) or the color guard. She's gotten out of the habit of praying before lunch in school -- in her parochial elementary school, they piped lunchtime prayers in over the loudspeakers, and of course they don't do that in public school. She's also gotten into the habit of watching TV on her smartphone (accursed gadget) instead of reading. Resolved: Prepare for kickline and color guard auditions, say grace before lunch, read more.

4. Miguel (12): This almost-teenager is already starting preparations to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in the next school year. He needs to choose a saint's name and a service project. He also needs to learn how to hold fast to his faith when he follows his sister Lelia to public high school in  a few years. With more practice and study, he will probably earn his black belt in taekwondo and at last be permitted to audition for the traveling soccer team. Similar to his older sister, he's been spending more time with his favorite technology, in his case video games, than with a good book. Resolved: Prepare for Sacrament of Confirmation, start travel soccer, read more.

5. Maria (10): Maria will probably also receive her black belt this year, and she's just started piano lessons. She wants to learn Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but I told her that Fur Elise was a more realistic goal. She'd like to take an online course through Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth and learn to use the microscope she got for Christmas. Also, she's committing to ten minutes of daily mental prayer. Resolved: Learn to play Fur Elise, take online course, 10 minutes daily prayer.

6. Marga (9): Marguerite would like to win more first place medals in her gymnastics competitions this upcoming year -- five would make her happy. She's also worried about doing well in the New York State standardized tests for fourth-graders. She rooms with big sister Lelia and they frequently say bedtime prayers out loud together, but Marga would like to add more mental prayer to that. Resolved: 5 gold medals, pass the state tests, add mental prayer to bedtime prayer.

7. Cecilia (7): Cecilia wants to win as many gymnastics medals in 2016 as Marga did in 2015, so she's aiming at fifteen to twenty. She's also preparing to receive her first confession and First Holy Communion. And her mother would like to finally find a school subject that flips the switch on and gets C.C. really interested. C.C.'s last book report said she wouldn't recommend the book because it didn't have enough tragedy. Huh. Resolved: 15 to 20 medals, prepare for confession and communion, discover academic interests.

8. Emma (5): Our cutiest still has trouble saying words like "straw" and "strong" and sometimes she can't pronounce letter sounds well when she's trying to read. Her report card was not, um, what a kindergartener's report card should be. Plus, everybody says I spoil her. What!? Resolved: Better speech, more fluent reading, no spoiling.

What are your family's New Year's resolutions? Can you help them achieve their goals for 2016? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Merry Christmas from Our Family to Yours!

Our family has been through a lot of changes in the past year! Manny switched jobs from Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn to Mercy Hospital, part of Catholic Health Services of Long Island.

Lelia started high school this year in the Garden City public school system. She is on the honor roll and in the art honors program. She has lots of friends and has grown to be even taller than her mother.

At almost thirteen years old, Miguel is a few tests away from getting his black belt in taekwondo. Maria is not far behind him. Maria also took the School and College Ability Test for fourth and fifth graders, and her scores qualified her to take online courses with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

Marguerite and Cecilia are both competitive gymnasts. Marga is USAG Level 3, and C.C. is Level 2. In their first meet this year, Marga won medals for floor, vault, and uneven bars, and C.C. won a medal for bars also.

Our sweet Elisa-Maria (Emma) is the littlest one at only five years old. She just started kindergarten at St. Joseph’s School, and she’s very excited about learning how to read. We hope that 2015 was good to you and that 2016 will bring you many blessings!

With love from Manny, Karee, Lelia, Miguel, Maria,

Marguerite, Cecilia, and Elisa-Maria Santos

PLUS, BONUS VIDEO of Lelia singing O Holy Night in a stairwell.
Because ... stairwells.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Walk Softly, Pray Joyfully

Every year I try to limit my Advent commitments, and every year I don't succeed as much as I'd like. So when asked to review Teresa Tomeo's Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag: On-the-Go Devotions, I did exactly what the author recommends and tucked it in my purse to read whenever I could grab a few moments.

Each chapter of this charming book is a two-to-three page meditation on growing closer to God through prayer and laughter. Sometimes the chapter titles say it all:

  • Don't Just Do Something -- Sit There!
  • All I Want for Christmas Is a Good Night's Sleep
  • Don't Cry Over Spilled Perfume
  • Little Prayers Mean a Lot
By the time I finished Teresa's book, I felt like I'd found a new best friend. I felt cheered up, encouraged, and motivated to keep fighting the good fight.

Walk Softly includes some great advice from Pope Francis that speaks straight to my soul. I have a tendency to get down in the dumps. Aristotle aficionados would say I have a melancholic temperament. Fans of A.A. Milne would just say I'm a bit like Eeyore, the gloomy donkey. But here's what Pope Francis has to say about grumpy Christians:
Sometimes these melancholy Christians' faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.
Or as one of my spiritual directors once said, "Smile! We're on our way to heaven!" In response to Pope Francis' words about pickled pepper Christians (aka the Saturday Night Live Church Lady caricature), Teresa urges the reader to pray "that I can be a good witness by living out my life with a smile on my face and a real pep in my step as I proclaim and preach about your Son."

She also advises us to turn our misery into ministry. Our greatest hurt can intersect with the world's greatest need. A mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver started the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). A father whose son was abducted and killed cofounded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Teresa and her husband began a marriage ministry based on their struggles to overcome difficulties and challenges in their own marital relationship.

Turning misery into ministry allows us to make sense out of suffering. Deep in the thick of struggle, no one wants to hear "Everything happens for a reason." But once we reach the other side, we can discover that the lessons we've learned are not for ourselves alone. Sharing our knowledge with fellow strugglers does give purpose to our pain, even retroactively.

I know that the struggles our family has faced because of my husband's four brain tumors have tested my fortitude and my faith in God. As a newlywed, I had a tendency to idolize my husband and put all my hopes for a happy future in him. But he's not in control of whether tumors invade his brain, and obviously neither am I. God is the senior partner in our marriage, the majority stockholder, so to speak. God is in charge of our marriage and our future.

The bedrock of a successful sacramental marriage is a willingness to turn the reins over to God. It will take more than just the two of us, my husband and me. It will take trust in God -- which is why all the practical marriage or relationship or communication tips in the world won't do a darned thing without solid spiritual formation. So the yoking of the two -- the practical and the spiritual -- has become the ministry that has grown out of the misery that my husband and I suffered during his sicknesses.

Like her meditation on misery and ministry, Teresa has included many nuggets of deep wisdom worthy of long reflection in Walk Softly. Read it and see which one speaks most clearly to you.

Many thanks to the author for the free review copy of this book.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

12 Gifts that Keep Christ in Christmas

I love giving religious-themed gifts at Christmas. It's a great way to evangelize and keep Christ in Christmas. And if some people on your gift list are your godchildren, then giving a religious-themed gift helps you fulfill your promise to educate them in the faith. Here are our top picks from the past several years.

1. Vatican Videos: The Vatican has come up with a list of great movies in the categories of religion, values, and art. We're giving a bunch of them as Christmas presents this year. Many of the films are on the older side (great for classic movie lovers), and some are more recent like Schindler's List, Gandhi, and The Mission (a personal favorite!).

2. Mass Bag for Little Kids: If someone on your list has toddlers and is new at the parenting game, they may not know about the Mass bag trick to keep their kids quiet in church. One Christmas, we bought all our kids these awesome Quiet Time Church Kit bags, easy to carry and filled with wooden rosaries, a prayer bear stuffed animal, holy cards, and a tiny kids missal to follow the liturgy. The kids loved carrying around the bright red bags and we did get some quiet moments out of them!

3. Donation to Charity: For the person who has everything, you can donate to a Catholic charitable organization in their name. My dad suggested that we buy a sheep for an African family (yes, that's a thing). But we have a local group, run by a friend of mine, which sends money to children in Kenya to help them get a private Catholic school education. Since my dad is a professor, we figured he'd like it if we helped poor children get an education instead.

4. Icons: One year, we bought icons for every kid in the family, since they were all named after saints. The artwork is beautiful, and kids are amazed to see their name on a gilded plaque with a picture of a supernatural super-hero. Icons can provide a cultural education as well -- one of our nephews belongs to the Coptic Orthodox church even though he's named after a popular Spanish saint, St. Francis Xavier. When we gave him his icon, he realized that the East and West both have a tradition of iconography.

5. Rosary Rings and Bracelets: Little girls (and big girls!) love jewelry, so rosary rings and bracelets are a great gift idea. You can include a tiny pamphlet on how to pray the rosary.

6. American Girl Doll - Catholic Edition: As each of our daughters got old enough,we bought them one American Girl doll from the historical collection. We bought our daughter Maria the Native American doll named Kaya, and Maria promptly renamed her Kateri after St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. There are also many other dolls on the market meant to resemble certain saints in the first place (no renaming required).

7. The Princess and the Squire books: Author Jennie Bishop wrote a beautifully illustrated book called The Three Gifts of Christmas about a spoiled princess who took Christmas gifts for granted until she learned that it's better to give than receive. The same author wrote excellent modern fairy tales for both boys and girls about guarding our love and remaining pure. The books are also available in Spanish, and some come with an audio CD. Although they impart Catholic values, they do it in a very non-obvious way, so they're a good choice for non-Catholics on your Christmas list.

8. Gifts from the Holy Land: One Christmas (probably the same Christmas we gave rosary jewelry) we gave all the boys on our list  gifts from the Holy Land. You can find carvings from olive wood, or vials of dirt and water from different places in Israel -- believe me, boys love dirt. Buying these gifts supports Christians in an often-violent area of the world, where they are frequently persecuted and struggling to survive.

9. The Weight of a Mass: The Director of Religious Education at our parish always recommends this book to First Communion parents. Similar to the Princess and the Squire books, it's a fairy-tale-like story, this time about the value of the Holy Eucharist. Spoiler alert: at the end, all the baked goods in the kingdom couldn't balance the baker's scales when a tiny scrap of paper with a Mass intention was placed on the other side. You can give the book together with a Mass card from your parish or a religious order.

10. Saints Biographies and Movies: Ignatius Press has a huge selection of saints biographies and movies. Besides plenty for adults, there is also a terrific series of saints biographies for children and cartoon movie versions of classics like Ben Hur and the life of historical figures like St. Bernadette and Christopher Columbus.

11. Gift Subscription: My husband Manny has an adult goddaughter named Helen, who converted when she was older. When Helen moved out-of-state, still as a newly-minted Catholic, we wanted to find a way to keep her grounded in her faith. So we bought her a subscription to the weekly newspaper, the National Catholic Register. You can also buy gift subscriptions to publications like the Magnificat, which has prayers and readings for every day of the month, or MagnifiKids, which is what it sounds like -- the Magnificat for kids.

12. JPII Paraphernalia: Thanks to Kendra at CatholicAllYear, I just found out about the JPII shop at Printable Prayers. It has quotes from St. John Paul II as framed artwork and on t-shirts, keychains, mouse pads, and even drinking glasses. I haven't gotten anyone something from this shop yet. And no one's gotten me anything from this shop yet, either. Ahem. Anyone?

Monday, December 14, 2015

Taking Baby Jesus on Retreat

"I feel strange," I told my husband as he dropped me off at the station to board the train bound for my annual three-day-long silent retreat.

"I know," he responded, smiling. "You don't have a baby with you."

For practically every silent retreat during the past fifteen years, I had been either pregnant or nursing. I had gotten used to rearranging the furniture in the tiny retreat house bedroom, so the baby could nestle safely between my body and the wall while we slept at night. This year, my sixth and youngest child had already turned five years old. I wasn't sure what to do with myself on retreat without a baby.

To my astonishment, I could barely keep my eyes open for the whole three days. I nodded off during the lectures, dozed through the Rosary, and snoozed at Mass.

"Give your tiredness to God," advised my spiritual director. "He is happy with whatever we give him."

So I imagined sleepily cuddling with the Baby Jesus. I thought of how much loving care a baby takes, and how constant care can turn into constant prayer.

Many times in the past, feeling sorrowful and broken, I had imagined myself held on Blessed Mother Mary's lap, like the body of the adult Jesus in Michelangelo's famous sculpture, the Pieta. But this time, sinking again and again into rejuvenating slumber, I wrapped my arms around the Baby Jesus and invited him into my maternal heart.

This post appeared first on

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Loving through Suffering like Mother Teresa

I took the plunge last week and consecrated myself to Our Blessed Mother on her Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). Together with other bloggers from CatholicMom, I prepared by using the book 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC. Here's my reflection on Day 31, which summarized the Marian approach of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, better known as Mother Teresa.

33 Day_logo

Today's Reflection:

Today, we review the three elements of Blessed Mother Teresa's devotion to Our Lady: 1) thirst, 2) heart, and 3) covenant. A good way to sum up what Mother Teresa beautifully expressed is: "Jesus, I yearn to satiate your thirst for souls with all the love and suffering of my heart, through the total gift of myself to your beloved Mother." Our Lady knows better than anyone how much her son thirsts for souls. If we let her, she will inspire us to love Jesus with her own perfect love. If we give her our heart, she will give us her own. If we give her everything and become wholly hers, she will possess, protect, enlighten, guide, and transform us.

Mother Teresa is famous throughout the world for her good works with the poor. But very few people knew, until her death, that she labored cheerfully through an intense spiritual darkness that caused her immense interior suffering. Cheerfulness does not come easily to everyone. Most days, I would rather growl than smile. It is hard for me to serve anyone when I am suffering. I would rather curl up into a ball and cry bitter tears far away from any prying eyes. The strength to serve others the way that Mother Teresa did in the midst of her own suffering is truly strength from God.

We know that Our Lady, Mater Dolorosa, Mother of Sorrows, found the strength to stand -- not collapsed in grief and pain, but upright on her own two feet -- at the foot of the Cross that bore her son, crucified, bloody, and dying. By consecrating ourselves to her, we receive her ability to pray, to love, and to serve despite suffering, sadness, and worry.

To Ponder:

Do I sometimes allow my own sadness to prevent me from serving those whom I love?

Let Us Pray:

Our Lady of Sorrows, give us the same strength that you displayed at the foot of the Cross and that Blessed Mother Teresa displayed throughout her ministry to the poorest of the poor. Teach us to satiate the thirst of Jesus with the total gift of our hearts.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How 15 Minutes of Prayer Can Change Your Life

Gary Jansen's book on Ignatian prayer hit the number one spot in its category of Hot New Releases on Amazon within the first week of publication. It was my privilege to interview this fellow Long Islander and senior Penguin Random House editor on behalf of Catholic news site Due to word count limitations, the interview on Aleteia needed to be shortened. Here is the original, extended edition.

In The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, author and senior Penguin Random House editor Gary Jansen shows how a commitment to fifteen minutes of daily prayer can awaken a relentless desire to place God at the center of everything. Just as you don’t exercise one day a week and expect to see results, the same is true of prayer. Forming a habit of daily prayer can transform our lives, but many of us need help in developing or deepening that habit. Enter Jansen’s book.

I recently interviewed Jansen about the distinctive Ignatian or Jesuit approach he takes to progressing in the interior life.

1. How can fifteen minutes of prayer a day make a difference in someone's life?

At the heart of the book is a simple premise: there are 1,440 minutes in a day. One percent of that time is 14 minutes and 24 seconds, so roughly 15 minutes. What would happen if you dedicated just one percent of your life every day to God? Would it change your life? I asked myself those questions a few years ago and the answers revolutionized my life. Though I’m Catholic and spend a lot of time in church, I’ve always had a difficult time focusing on prayer. But once I made a deliberate commitment to daily prayer, almost instantly I felt more peaceful, more patient, more aware. Within a short period of time I found that one percent turned into two percent and then three percent and then I would find myself praying throughout the day. I would wake up and the first thoughts I had were about God, thanking God for the morning. Then something else exciting happened. The more time I gave to God, the more I felt God giving me back time. I seemed to have more time to do the things I needed to do in my life, not less. So this book is about deliberately setting aside time, getting back to the basics of prayer and being consistent. You don’t exercise one day a week and expect to see results. It needs to be a daily commitment. The same holds true for prayer.

2. Why did you decide to focus on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola?

What I love most about Ignatius’s teaching was the simple idea of searching for God in all things. How can I find God in nature? In my family? In adversity? At work? On the streets? I loved the idea that God was very close and not far away, that I could enter a cathedral of everyday living and be in the presence of God at all times. I focused on the Exercises because I truly love the idea of finding God in all things…in another person, in a paper clip, in science or even in a tattoo.

3. Do you think there's an increased interest in the Jesuit approach to prayer because of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit ever elected to the papacy?

I do. There is a lot of Ignatius in Pope Francis and how he stresses discernment and looking for Jesus in the eyes of the poor and those who struggle. In addition, many people have already been introduced to Jesuit spirituality in the U.S. because of Father James Martin and his books like The Jesuit’s Guide to Almost Everything and My Life with the Saints. He’s a terrific writer, he’s funny, and he has a gift for taking difficult concepts and making them very easy to understand. And he has sold a lot of books. He’s probably the bestselling Catholic writer in the U.S. today.

4. How much does your book draw on your personal prayer life? 

The short answer is a lot. Even though I went to Catholic school for 12 years, I don’t think I ever learned to pray much more than the Our Father and Hail Mary. But some years ago I decided to try a number of different prayer techniques including lectio divina and praying with the imagination (a favorite of Ignatius). How I prayed and what I prayed made its way into the book because of the profound effect on my life. Moreover, I’ve given workshops on a number of these prayer types and received very positive feedback.

5. Have you ever attended an Ignatian retreat? 

Yes, I’ve been on maybe 20 Ignatian retreats over the last 15 years.  When the Jesuits sold St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset  to land developers in 2013, I lost my home away from home. Those retreats brought me closer to Ignatius, Mary and ultimately Jesus. As I like to say: to Jesus through Ignatius, to Jesus through Mary, and to Jesus through all of creation.

6. As a senior editor with Crown Publishing at Penguin Random House, you have edited books by some of the best Catholic authors in existence, including Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop Robert Barron, George Weigel, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Scott Hahn, Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Chaput, Christopher West, Mike Aquilina, and many others. How has this experience informed your writing style?

I feel blessed to have worked with so many great, thoughtful, and intelligent writers, and I learn something new with each book I edit. An editor is a guide, like a shepherd helping to move the book through the wilderness of publication, pointing out when a writer might go astray, being his or her advocate and coach. My style developed through a combination of influences from various great writers, from the simplicity of Pope Francis’s prose to the poetry of Colleen Carroll Campbell’s writing to the logic of Bishop Robert Barron’s arguments. Each book is an education, and I’m so thankful to have been a shepherd for all these authors.

7. Is your book mainly for beginners in prayer or can it also help those looking to deepen their spiritual life?

It’s for both. My desire was to write a modern book about a traditional topic. I had two readers in mind when I wrote it, the beginner and the reader who has been praying all of his or her life. One of my favorite books growing up was The Little Prince, so I tried to write like that -- simply but in a way where the prose has layers of meaning. My hope is that no matter where you are on the spiritual path you’ll find something to make you ponder. For me the book is about returning to the basics, about putting first things first. I offer this book as a prayer to help others on their spiritual journey.

Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santoses designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute to FAITH magazine’s “Your Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple live in Long Island, New York, with their six children.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Men and Women Are Not Made to Be Alone

Our parish's monthly morning retreat for mothers continues to explore Love is Our Mission, the preparatory catechesis for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. The following reflects on Chapter 4, Two Become One. Last month's talk was on The Meaning of Human Sexuality.

"We are not made to be alone. Human beings need and complete each other," stated the organizers of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Friendship and community both fulfill our human need for connectedness, but marriage "is a uniquely intimate form of friendship," they recognized. Like all long-lasting friendships, marriages need work to survive.

Before getting married, most of us construct fantasies around our future marriage and family life. Whether it involves building the best careers while raising the brightest kids, or peacefully creating the perfect home, these fantasies all contain some element of unreality. The danger is that when reality intrudes, as it inevitably must, we feel tempted to blame our spouse or our marriage or even marriage itself without acknowledging that bumps along the road are an inescapable part of life. So, what's a married couple to do?

First, make a conscious effort to let go of resentment. Resentment and disappointment fester and become bitter. Let it go! Be the one to break the stalemate. Say sorry first. Realize that clinging to resentment gives it power over you. Reconcile with your spouse. Admit that you're not perfect either. Get mad again, throw a plate or two (as Pope Francis is fond of saying), and reconcile again.

Second, have hopes rather than expectations. Expectations create an attitude of entitlement. I went to an Ivy League school, therefore I deserve a six-figure salary. I'm smart, therefore I deserve smart kids. I've prayed faithfully to God all my life, therefore I don't deserve this tragedy or that suffering. Hopes are different than expectations. You can hope for a high salary, a relatively trouble-free life, and brilliant, beautiful, and well-behaved kids. But don't feel deprived of less than your due if you don't get them all. Strive for St. Paul's peaceful sense of acceptance: "I have learned to be content with whatever I have. ...I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need" (Phil. 4:11-12).

Third, be grateful so you can be generous. It's hard to give when you don't feel that you have received enough. It's hard to give when you feel depleted and empty. Look hard at your life and fill yourself with gratitude. Do you have good health, a job, a house, children, an education, faith in God, someone to hug you? All these things are gifts, and not everyone has them. Realizing how much we have to be grateful for allows us to be generous with our spouses, our families, and our communities.

The Church wants to help married couples through their struggles. "In response to ... possible worries and fears, the Church offers Jesus, the sacraments, and the support of her own members in mutual fellowship," WMOF organizers stated.

Pope Francis said, "The Sacrament of Matrimony ... takes place in the simplicity and also the fragility of the human condition. ...The important thing is to keep alive the link with God, which is the basis of the marital bond." Jesus makes the impossible possible! We just have to ask him and trust in his response.

Christ himself works through the sacraments of Matrimony, Eucharist, and Penance and Reconciliation. Mass and confession are ever-flowing sources of grace. "The Holy Spirit is a fire in the sacraments," explained WMOF organizers. The sacraments can rekindle a burning desire to love one another, to accept whatever the present brings, to hope for a better future, and to be grateful for all God's good gifts.

As Christian spouses, we are blessed and beholden to accompany other married couples on on this pilgrimage through life. Building a marital relationship is like building a house, and "we build a house together, not alone!" said Pope Francis. Especially during this season of Advent, awaiting the coming of Our Lord, we can reach out and draw closer to our fellow pilgrims, sustaining them and being sustained by them, together in faith.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Lent, Join Thousands in Learning About Mercy in Marriage

My husband Manny and I are excited to join several stellar speakers for a February 2016 online event called Faces of Mercy, produced by CatholicConference4Moms. Over 4,000 Catholic women registered for last year's event. Manny and I will be speaking on Mercy in Marriage and the power of forgiveness to make your marriage strong, long-lasting, and joyful. Other presentations cover a wide range of topics such as teaching children how to forgive, overcoming evil through showing mercy, lessons on Divine Mercy from St. Faustina, and the role of mercy in combating pornography addiction.

This year's amazing line-up of presenters includes:

  • Jennifer Fulwiler, Sirius XM radio show host & author of the best-selling conversion memoir Something Other Than God;
  • Simcha Fisher, speaker at the World Meeting of Families and author of The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning;
  • Kimberly Hahn, Bible-study author and wife of theology professor Scott Hahn;
  • Mike Aquilina, author or editor of more than 40 books and host of several television series on EWTN; and

Conference organizer Tami Kiser has brought to life an extraordinary way of entering into the meaning of Christ's mercy during this Year of Mercy, starting on December 8, 2015, that Pope Francis has declared for the Church. Pre-recorded talks from the Faces of Mercy conference will be available to registrants on demand all throughout Lent. Plus, on February 20, 2016, Jennifer Fulwiler will be hosting live in the morning, and moms can gather virtually in the afternoon for live stream praying of the Divine Mercy chaplet.

A special option available this year is for parishes to host the talks as a Lenten retreat. This is a great way to rejuvenate faith and trust in God during the cold winter months before we celebrate Christ's resurrection! The CatholicConference4Moms website has all the information for parish participation here

Please consider registering either as an individual or on behalf of your parish, if you're a catechist or religious education director. May Christ shower his mercy and blessings upon you!