Thursday, January 28, 2016

Have You Stuck with Your New Year's Resolutions?

Today's post is part of the Small Success Thursday series at

Surprise -- the first month of the year is almost over! If you don't want your New Year's Resolutions to fade away by the end of January, you've got to recommit to them. Accountability is a big help, and blogging and social media provide almost embarrassingly public accountability! Acknowledging failures and lack of progress can turn into a small success when you  realize what you have to do to prevail in the future. So here's my progress report on the Santos Family's 2016 New Year's Resolutions, including what I've learned from my mistakes.

1. Me:

  • Weekly exercise: I've kept this resolution, because it wasn't too difficult, although I haven't lost an ounce of weight! Strategy for Success: Choose an achievable goal.
  • Daily mental prayer: I haven't managed this, because I haven't chosen a time of day and stuck to it. Strategy for success: Better time management.
  • More homework help for the kids: I get fried pretty easily by the kids' bickering and constant requests for help, so I tend to shut down. I need the emotional equilibrium that comes from daily prayer. Strategy for success: Seek divine assistance!

2. Manny:

  • Weekly taekwondo classes: My husband hasn't made it to weekly classes, because he's too busy helping out with the kids. If I was better at homework help, he could make it to exercise class on time. Strategy for success: Better time management.
  • Spanish-speaking dinner hour: This has been an epic fail. The kids talk and sing at the top of their lungs, while eating as fast as they can and running away from the table after fifteen minutes. Strategy for success: Better discipline and manners!
  • Daily couple prayer: We've been really good at this, since I asked my husband to share the effort of suggesting prayer when I forget. Strategy for success: Seek spousal assistance.

3. Lelia (14):

  • Prepare for kickline and color guard auditions: Lelia's friend told her that color guard takes up a lot of time, with several practices per week. So she's rethinking her desire to join, which is fine with me. With better information comes better decisions. Strategy for Success: Investigate options.
  • Say grace before lunch: Lelia says she's doing well with this.
  • Read more: Lelia isn't reading more because I haven't taken her to the library. :( Strategy for success: Seek parental assistance.

4. Miguel (12):

  • Prepare for Sacrament of Confirmation: We haven't thought or done much about this. Strategy for success: Review and renew.
  • Start travel soccer: Miguel's taekwondo teacher says he'll probably test for his black belt in March or May, so Miguel will be ready for travel soccer auditions in June. Strategy for success: Follow the plan.
  • Read more: We haven't done well with this, mostly because he's been playing the PS4 he got for Christmas. Strategy for success: Less electronics time.

5. Maria (10):

  • Learn to play Fur Elise: Maria wanted to learn the Moonlight Sonata until I convinced her to tackle Fur Elise instead. But her piano teacher is willing to introduce her to the Moonlight Sonata! Strategy for success: Seek expert assistance.
  • Take online course: I missed the January deadline for the current set of online courses, so we'll have to try for the next set. Strategy for success: Try, try again.
  • 10 minutes daily prayer: This would be easier for her if we had a consistent bedtime. Strategy for success: More disciplined household.

6. Marga (9):

  • 5 gold medals: Marga has won some gymnastics medals, but no first place yet. It's difficult to juggle fourth grade homework and six hours of practice per week. Strategy for success: Better time management
  • Pass the state tests: We've asked the school district to give Marga extra help and her teacher is convinced she'll get it. Strategy for success: Seek expert assistance.
  • Add mental prayer to bedtime prayer: Marga still prefers to pray out loud. Strategy for success: Talk to her more about what mental prayer is and how to do it.

7. Cecilia (7):

  • 15 to 20 medals: C.C. has already won 5 medals at her first competition. This will be a piece of cake!
  • Prepare for confession and communion: C.C. has memorized her Act of Contrition, thanks to the parochial school teachers. Strategy for success: Seek outside assistance.
  • Discover academic interests: Nothing on this so far. Strategy for success: Review and renew.

8. Emma (5):  

  • Better speech: I need to get Emma's speech evaluated to see if she qualifies for speech therapy. Strategy for success: Seek expert assistance.
  • More fluent reading: This is tied in to my resolution to help the kids more with homework. We haven't gotten far yet. Strategy for success: More parental assistance.
  • No spoiling: I didn't give her dessert when she refused to eat her meatloaf. Yay! Strategy for sucess: Rock-solid determination

Have you stuck with your New Year's resolutions? What about your family? Review those resolutions, and renew them!

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Miserere Mei Deus: 4 Video Resources for the Year of Mercy

Ever since Pope Francis announced that a Jubilee Year of Mercy would begin in December 2015, voices in the Church have been following the Pope's call to spread the message of mercy to all people. There are excellent video resources available to inspire and educate us, and many of them are free. Here's a sampling.

1. Ascension Presents An Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

This series of four short videos (less than ten minutes each) is available here. Each video features a different popular Catholic speaker. My favorite is this one with Fr. Mike Schmitz, explaining what a jubilee year is and why it's so important.

2. Catholic Conference 4 Moms Faces of Mercy

This online conference features more than 20 prerecorded presentations on the topic of mercy. Each presentation is about 20 minutes long. The conference will begin February 20, but individuals and parishes can register now. This trailer explains more about the conference.

My husband Manuel P. Santos M.D. and I will talk about Mercy in Marriage. Here's a sneak peek at our presentation, where we talk about grudges.

3. The Wild Goose by Fr. Dave Pivonka

The mercy of God flows through the work of the Holy Spirit, and so we're fortunate to have a new series of fourteen videos on the Holy Spirit, whom the Celts analogized to a wild goose because of the Spirit's vast potential to surprise us. The videos last between twenty and thirty minutes and are available online for free. Only seven out of the fourteen have been completed so far. The first video was filmed against the stunning backdrop of Niagara Falls where we can "literally hear the love of God being poured forth into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit."

4. Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus

Music inspires me more than anything else, so these recommendations would be incomplete without a music video. I leave you with this astonishingly beautiful performance of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere Mei Deus (transl.: "Have mercy on me, O God") by King's College Choir of Cambridge, England. You can hear the angels start to sing shortly after the one and a half minute mark. Enjoy!


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Monday, January 18, 2016

"We-Time" Is Better Than "Me-Time"

Long weekends are the perfect time to follow Pope Francis' now famous (and often-repeated) advice to "waste time with your children." Introverts like me definitely need to be reminded that fun time doesn't have to be alone time. Working for the family is important, but so is relaxing with the family.

Having a family can feel like you need to give of yourself twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This is true whether you spend most of your waking hours at your career or at home with the kids. And yet, this feeling is not limited to family life. It is part of the life of service to which every Christian is called.

Imagine the daily life of a priest in a typical suburban parish. Every minute of their days seems filled with celebrating Sacraments, saying Masses, and endless phone calls and meetings. Priests typically have more “spiritual children” than any layperson could ever have. Religious brothers and sisters are not exempt, either. The Benedictine philosophy of work, for example, is 8 hours of work, 8 hours of prayer, and 8 hours of rest. (Think prayer is not demanding work? You try praying for 8 hours.) In short, the life of a Christian always requires giving until it hurts.

This does not mean that leisure time or relaxation is bad (unless it's totally self-centered!). Leisure time spent in strengthening our relationship with family and friends can renew our spirits and bring joy to our life. Leisure time spent developing our talents can bring us closer to the person God wants us to be. It can also help us to enjoy God’s creation. For example, Pope John Paul II frequently spent time in the great outdoors, hiking and skiing in the natural beauty that God created.

Leisure time is actually a wonderful gift from God. On the seventh day of creation of the world, God rested and showed us that rest was good (Gen 2:2-3). Rest is necessary to restore our physical and mental health. You could almost call it a duty. Jesus himself once commanded the apostles, “Come away … and rest a while” (Mk 6:31).

Rest is not the same as “me-time,” which today’s culture relentlessly attempts to convince us we need. Can you imagine telling Mother Teresa that she just needed a little “me-time” at the mall, with a coffee-shop latte or a fast-food burger? True leisure is also not slumping on the couch watching hour after hour of questionable television shows that leave us feeling drained rather than rested. Healthy, holy rest rejuvenates us so that we can resume work more energetically and cheerfully, ready to share with others what God has given us.

A version of this article appeared first on


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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mercy Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

"Why do they only have 45 minutes for confession?" asked my Protestant dad when I was home over the holidays. "Well," I tried to explain, "Most church-goers don't go to confession that often. They don't really think they're doing anything wrong."

A senior deacon from one of the first classes of people trained in the post-Vatican II era told me that the deacons were instructed to excise the words "mortal sin" from their vocabulary. Or as one pre-Cana teacher asked me with wide-eyed honesty after teaching her class that they didn't really have to go to Sunday Mass as long as they had a personal relationship with Jesus, "Do Catholics believe in mortal sin any more?" I choked out with admirable self-aplomb, "Yes, we do have an obligation to attend Sunday Mass and yes, we do believe in mortal sin. It's in the Catechism."

Welcoming people and accepting them with love is one thing. Throwing the Catechism (and centuries of Church teaching) out the window or using it as a doorstop rather than a reference manual is quite another. The "I'm okay, you're okay" approach avoids offense and smooths ruffled feathers. But if I'm okay and you're okay, then why would God need to forgive us for anything? Why would we need the confessional? In the mind of modern man, we don't. That's why parish confession times last 45 minutes, and the line of people who show up often vacillates between few and none.

This obvious trend is what makes conservative Catholics really, really nervous when Pope Francis preaches about mercy. "Mercy" looks like carte blanche for bad behavior as long as we're still basically good people. Or at least better than our gossipy neighbor or mean boss or neglectful spouse. I mean, compared to them, what have we done that's really so bad? What do we have to say sorry for?

According to one Italian priest, Pope Francis' pontificate is making things go from bad to worse. That priest has observed "not only a further drop in the practice of sacramental confession, but also a deterioration in the 'quality' of the confessions themselves." The priest gave one example where he was encouraging a repeat offender to repent and resolve not to commit the same sin in the future. The penitent answered, "Mercy knows no limits! ... I am here only to have what everyone deserves at least at Christmas: to be able to receive communion at midnight! ...Who are you to judge me?” In another example, when the priest imposed a penance, the penitent refused to perform it on the ground that “no one must ask for anything in exchange for God’s mercy, because it is free.”

Without a doubt, these two penitents lacked a basic understanding of what sacramental confession is all about. The Catechism explains: "The movement of return to God, called conversion and repentance, entails sorrow for and abhorrence of sins committed, and the firm purpose of sinning no more in the future" (CCC 1490). This is why Mafia enforcers can't go to confession every weekend and be absolved of their sins as murderers-for-hire. They've got to intend never to do it again -- to "go and sin no more."

"The imposition and acceptance of a penance" is also an essential element of sacramental confession because it repairs the harm caused by sin and encourages the penitent to live in a more Christian way (CCC 1480, 1494). Penance requires us to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak. If we're truly sorry for the damage our sin has caused to God and to others, then we can prove it by making amends.

Although the anonymous Italian priest implicates Pope Francis as the guilty party, it's hard to lay the blame squarely at our pontiff's feet. I'm sure people say outrageous things in the confessional all the time. "A priest is surprised by nothing," says my husband. Much like a psychiatrist, a priest has heard it all.

The pastor in the little Virginia town where I grew up had very different stories to tell about Catholics' reaction to Pope Francis' call for mercy. As this country priest traveled throughout his rural territory to offer confession this past Advent, he saw many more people showing up in church. They told him that they came because of Pope Francis. Francis made them want to get closer to the Church and closer to the Church meant closer to the sacraments, closer to the confessional. "Pope Francis tells you to walk through the holy door during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Well, I tell you that you can accept that invitation by walking through the holy door of the confessional," the pastor said in his Christmas homily.

Pope Francis has just given the world a close-up view of his interpretation of mercy in his new book The Name of God Is Mercy, released this week. Confession does involve "a certain amount of judgment," acknowledged Pope Francis, and sometimes a priest cannot grant absolution. Pope Francis gave the example of his own niece, civilly married to a divorced man who hasn't obtained an annulment of his first marriage yet. His niece's husband went to confession every Sunday before Mass, telling the priest, "I know you can't absolve me but I have sinned … please give me a blessing."

Pope Francis praised his niece's husband as "a religiously mature man," and added, “if the confessor cannot absolve a person, he needs to explain why, he needs to give them a blessing, even without the holy sacrament. The love of God exists even for those who are not disposed to receive it."

Sin is real, and Pope Francis isn't afraid to preach about it. Sin hurts: "sin is more than a stain. Sin is a wound; it needs to be treated, healed.” Shame is a grace: "it is good, positive, because it makes us humble." Shame for sin leads a penitent to the confessional and into the arms of God: “he ought to feel like a sinner, so that he can be amazed by God. In order to be filled with his gift of infinite mercy, we need to recognize our need, our emptiness, our wretchedness.”

Would Pope Francis agree that mercy means never having to say you're sorry? Not a chance.


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Monday, January 11, 2016

Living God's Will Mega Giveaway: Jan. 12-18 Only!!

My husband and I have teamed up with Catholic personalities like parenting expert Dr. Ray Guarendi and chastity speaker Jason Evert in a mega giveaway for this week only. I will definitely be claiming my free copy of resources like Dr. Ray's book When Faith Causes Family Friction. Religious differences are a problem in so many marriages, and people are aching to find good advice on the topic!

But the giveaway doesn't just offer marriage and family resources. The giveaway's organizer, Christina Weber of Catholic Women's Guide, has collected invaluable resources in the areas of spirituality, life vision, health, wealth and abundance, business and relationships. Each expert was hand selected by Christina. According to her, "the common denominator of all those invited is that there is something special in how they are attempting to live their lives in alignment with God’s will. Their lives reflect a sincere attempt to build Christ’s kingdom in both ordinary and extraordinary ways and I hope that their witness will be an inspiration and encouragement to you."

Christina asked us to share “the good stuff” in this giveaway – “meaty” training content, strategies, tips, templates and tools that you can put into place immediately to begin seeing results. She asked us to condense and share our secrets to creating God’s richness in our lives as a result of understanding, obeying, and living God’s will in our areas of emphasis. And we couldn't be more excited to share...

Already know you want in? 
Starting Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. EST, get access to your free gifts here:

Trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together in your life can be quite overwhelming. We can totally relate to the longing to please God, but not always being 100% confident we are on track in every area. Frustrated with seeming to excel in doing God’s will in one area, but recognizing you’re falling down in another...Worried you might not be covering all of the bases in the unique life mission God has for you...Tired of spending more time in discouragement, confusion, and being TOO busy (Satan’s acronym for B-ound, U-under, S-atan’s, Y-oke), than in living in the present moment with those you love and all God has created, basking in gratitude over the God’s great abundance in your life.

We are all in the same boat -- but with help and support of mentors willing to share their genius there’s no need to recreate the wheel on how to flourish. The more good people out there who are empowered to share their unique gifts and talents with the world, in service to others to build Christ’s kingdom...the better off the entire world will be! So accept these great resources. They're helpful and free!

Here’s a sneak peek of just a few of the gifts being offered in the Living God's Will 2016 Resources Extravaganza:

LIFE VISION – Learn a Powerful, Right & Left Brain Tool for Tapping into God’s Word for Better Clarity in Achieving Your Unique Mission for 2016
SPIRITUALITY – Gain Insights to Help You Know and Respond to Your Specific Heavenly Call
HEALTH – Learn Better Ways to Get Out Of Your Own Way and Let the Powerful Body God Gave You Activate Its Own Healing Process
WEALTH / ABUNDANCE – Integrate These Simple Tips to Keep the Domestic Demands of Daily Life from Crushing Your Spirit
BUSINESS – Cut through Satan’s Confusion with This Simple One Page Strategic Plan Template Designed to Help You Serve More Clients, Have a Greater Impact, and Live Out God’s Will in Your Business
RELATIONSHIPS – Incorporate These Inspirations on How to Tap into God’s Everlasting Love to Make Your Marriage Better Today

The giveaway starts Tuesday, January 12, at 11 a.m., and it will last until Monday, January 18. To claim your gifts, just visit Get the help and support you need to effectively live a Christ-centered life!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Best Catholic Books I Read in 2015

Here’s my list of best Catholic books I read and reviewed in 2015 — best books for engaged couples, married couples, divorced people, women, kids, and —  well — everyone. Enjoy!

Engaged Couples

Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner: I can't say enough about this great book. A real two-for-one deal, it includes help with the practical aspects of getting married in the Catholic Church plus a crash course in theology. All delivered from a fresh, young perspective that is utterly captivating.

Married Couples

The Journey of Our Love: St. Gianna Molla is hands-down the most relatable saint of the modern era. A working mother, she adored her husband Pietro even as she worried about his safety on long business trips away from home. This collection of the couple's letters and postcards is organized chronologically so you can follow their correspondence as if they were having a conversation right in front of you.

Adoption: Room for One More? What would might lead parents of seven biological children to adopt another child? Find out in this how-to book that guides prospective parents through discernment of the call to adopt.

Divorced People

Eve's Apple: This tell-all goes through so many surprising twists and turns that you'd almost think it was fiction. From meetings with European royalty to dusty ambushes in Somalia, the book chronicles the romantic and professional successes and defeats of a female soldier who found her way back to the Church and true love via her third marriage.


Walk Softly and Carry a Great Bag: On-the-Go Devotions: Written for a woman at any stage in her life, this small devotional is sized to fit into a purse and provide inspiration on-the-go. We may not think we have time for God, but with the help of this book it's surprisingly easy to turn to him for help throughout the day.


Palace of the Twelve Pillars: Dragons. Princes. Magic. Need I say more? A great read for middle-schoolers and up, this book provides good clean fun within the context of a classic battle between good and evil. The religious symbolism is understated but real. (The title's reference to twelve pillars is actually a nod to the twelve apostles.)


Trusting God with St. Thérèse: This spiritual memoir provides excellent advice within the Carmelite tradition. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter encourage us to dig deep and to progress in our interior life.

What was the best Catholic book you read in 2015? Would love to hear from you in the comments.


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Monday, January 4, 2016

Firsts and Bests for 2015!!

Proving that 45 may indeed be the new 35, the past year saw me doing a lot of things for the first time in my life. That's true of my husband as well. Bringing equal amounts of fun and fear, here are our firsts for 2015:

  • first time being vetted by the Secret Service for a press pass to a papal Mass
  • first vocal solo in a Cathedral
  • first asked to endorse a book
  • first asked to endorse a film
  • first child to enter high school
  • first child to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation
  • first time teaching pre-Cana for the Joy-Filled Marriage program of the Archdiocese of Newark
  • first attendance at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show
  • first filmed talk
  • first post to reach over 8,000 shares in five languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, & Vietnamese)

And here are the best Can We Cana? posts for 2015, according to you, dear readers!

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

1. Exciting New Resource for Brides-to-Be from Pauline Books!

2. Top 7 Online Resources for Divorced Catholics

3. Parochial School Girl Meets Public School World (awarded Best in Catholic Blogging)

4. HUGE NEWS: Chris West Will Write the Foreword to Our Marriage Advice Book!

5. Best Catholic Books I Read in 2014

6. 13 Resources on Sacramental Marriage for Everyone from Newbies to Catechists

7. What Pope Francis Meant by Divorced & Remarried Aren't Excommunicated (awarded Best in Catholic Blogging)

8. Your Marriage is a Pearl of Great Price

9. Top Tips for a Joy-Filled Marriage

10. Our Visit to the Only Carthusian Monastery in the U.S.

Top 3 Most Popular Guest Posts

1. How Learning NFP Led this Couple to Convert to Catholicism: Why NFP? by Alicia & Thomas Sanjurjo

2. How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some, Third Time Around: Divorce & Remarriage Edition by Marie Therese Kceif

3. Why NFP is Great for Men, Too by Daniel Stewart aka Daniel Bearman of Acts of Idiot Praise

Post with Most Likes & Shares on Social Media

Best Blogposts and Mileposts of 2014!!

Post with the Most Comments

Best & Worst of Bishops Behaving Badly, or Week 2 of the Family Synod

Many blessings on all of you for helping this Catholic marriage support community grow. If there are any topics you'd like to hear more about, please let me know in the comments!


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