Category Archives: Dating

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

By guest writer Kathy Clubb.

World-renowned speaker, Jason Evert, was in Melbourne last week for a series of talks on the true nature of love. Jason has spoken to more than one million people about the virtue of chastity and has been a keynote speaker at five World Youth Days. He has written several books, including “Theology of the Body for Teens” and “How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul,” and has studied counseling and theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was my great pleasure to meet him and ask him a few questions about how a return to chastity can put the brakes on the abortion culture.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

Kathy: Jason, can we win the battle against abortion without preaching the chastity message?

Jason: No. In order to be fully pro-life, we have to first teach them to be pro-love. I discovered that when doing sidewalk counselling in front of an abortion clinic for three years and I had an inescapable feeling of being late. “Now, why am I meeting this woman forty-five minutes before her abortion? You know –  why couldn’t I have met her when she was 15? Because maybe if she’d learned about chastity then, she never would have dated this guy to begin with, and wouldn’t be in this difficult situation at the age of 25.

And so I realized that I was kind of throwing sandbags on the banks of a flooded river, instead of swimming upstream to where the dam was actually broken. I figured if we could seal off the dam, then there wouldn’t be any need for stopping the flood damage downstream.

Kathy: Is that why you started this whole ministry? Because of that feeling of being late at the abortion facility? Pro-life got you into this?

Jason: Hmmm, yeah, that was a major reason. The other part was leading high school youth retreats, and the kids would open up about how much they were suffering in this area of life in particular. And I was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” and began to see that this was the antidote to both issues: to the chastity issue and the fruit of it, which is the abortion culture. Because you don’t have anyone going to the abortion clinic who hasn’t struggled with chastity.

Kathy: It’s been said that the journey to the abortion facility starts years before the appointment on that fateful day.

Jason: And when a woman is coming in to get an abortion, it might not be her first. It could be her fourth. And if she’s not being evangelized at that moment, perhaps through a crisis pregnancy center: “You know, it doesn’t have to be this way – there are many different choices you can make in life, so you don’t end up in this difficult situation a fourth or fifth time.”

Because it’s so important for a pro-life ministry to be pro-life –  not only before the abortion, and also after the abortion in supporting her – but also years beforehand. We have to see this as a preventative measure.

And some people are doing wonderful work sidewalk counseling. I was working with a nun once, and she saved 19 babies in one day. So you can’t underestimate the importance of the work they’re doing. It’s not one vs the other; they are two wings of the same plane.

I was once standing outside of a clinic, and I befriended one of the security guards out front. And one day he confided in me, and he said, “You know, every day I show up at work, and I just hear voices in my head, telling me to kill. And I don’t know where that’s coming from.” And I said, “Let’s try to connect the dots here.” And he said he struggled with alcoholism, and his marriage was falling apart, and I said, “Let’s pray together “, and he said, “Please.” And so we prayed together right outside the abortion clinic.

And I came back a week later and he had quit. Because I had told him, ‘You’re basically working in the vestibule of hell, here. So it’s probably better to find another place to work – get those voices out of your head.’

But then, they kind of had it out for me at the clinic. One day I was out there praying, and I saw them pointing at me. And my friends told me they were saying that that’s the guy that was with Joe before he quit.  A week later we were out there and a police car pulled up. And they came to me, and they pointed down at me, and the police came to me and they said: “Okay, charges are being pressed against you because apparently, you stalked one of the directors of the clinic, and you tried to offer her a coffee and she turned you down. And you asked her on a date and then you chased her into the abortion clinic and you tried to steal her purse.”

And I said, “Oh really? I missed that. When did this happen again?” And they took me to court, and the judge said guilty. And we went to a retrial before another judge and that judge dismissed the case. And I said I don’t even like coffee. (laughs) They were out to get me – you know what it’s like. Ethics are not their strong suit.

Kathy: Why are the pro-life organizations, in general, failing to talk about chastity?

Jason: Largely because they’re so focused on the immediate triage of trying to save the wounded on the battlefield. They’re just trying to save the life of amputees on the battle-field who’ve only got five minutes to live. They’re doing such an important, last-minute effort to save what they can, that it’s hard sometimes to lift up their eyes to see the horizon. Sometimes they may stop and ask, what could we have done to prevent this carnage sooner?

But there’s no competition in the body of Christ. This is something that we need to do together. Pro-chastity speakers need to have a very pro-life heart to their message. And the pro-life movement needs to realize the importance of saving babies five years before they’re conceived.

Kathy: Can you see a place in every organization for this message?

Jason: Oh, it’s essential. In my chastity talks, I’m holding up an ultrasound of my unborn son and it’s giving the message to the kids when they’re 14 or 15: ‘Hey, this is what ultrasounds are showing.’ You know, they have images of children who appear to be laughing in their mothers’ wombs! And I explain this to the kids. And you know, I’m not beating them over the head with some anti-abortion message. This is just pro-life, this is something that we’re for, not something we’re against. It’s very organically woven into the presentation and it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to indoctrinate them on some pro-life position. It’s just a picture of my kid in my wife’s womb. And how do you argue against that?

Kathy: From what you know, are couples who were chaste before marriage more likely to be open to life during married?

Jason:  I think there’s no doubt about it. Because the Catholic Church’s teaching isn’t so much, okay, good Catholics use NFP, bad Catholics use contraception. Good Catholics realize that children are the supreme gift of marriage. So if we have a serious reason not to have kids, we can fall back on NFP, but the default position is not NFP. The default position is an openness to life. Because children are the supreme gift.

If you were going to get married and you went to the reception, and you saw all these presents laid out, and one said, ‘The Supreme Gift’, you wouldn’t be like, I’ll open that in five years time when we know each other better. You’d think, no, we want to receive that gift as soon as we can. So the disposition to do the will of God with your body is something that naturally flows into wanting the will of God for your family. The Church will never tell you how many kids to have, but God will.

It’s a very dangerous thing to put that part of your life completely under His Lordship, because, you know – what if He’s asking more than we want to give because that’s typically exactly what He does? He stretches us far beyond what we expected, but when we look back when it’s all said and done, it’s like, ‘My goodness, if that had been left in my hands, how differently things would have unfolded.’ If I took control over my own fertility in such a way that was able to completely eliminate [the prospect of children]… it’s almost like we would get addicted to the ease. It’s like, oh wow – this is so easy having them all at school and not worrying about having another little one waking me up at night. This sin brings its own punishment.

Kathy: I was at a retreat one day, and it was Thanksgiving after Communion, and for the first time in my life I thought, ‘Oh, I think I might be done with having my family now.” And I got a very firm feeling from God – that we must never say never – and I had twelve children already! And He still seemed to be showing me that we must never say never. Then I had another child after that.

Jason: Slacker! (laughter) Didn’t Catherine of Siena have 20 or something?

Kathy: 26 or something, I think?

Jason: Good thing her mum wasn’t selfish and only had 25!

Kathy: Do you find this is the same for non-Catholics as well, though? Do you find that it goes together for everyone, or is it more of a Catholic thing because we have a comprehensive teaching?

Jason: No, I think they go hand in hand because it’s the proper use of our human sexuality. And if we know how to use sexuality properly prior to marriage, then it follows very naturally and seamlessly into marriage. And likewise, the abstinence required during natural family planning means that that’s ok – it’s an expression of love.

It’s not about withholding love, it’s about expressing love in different ways. And for someone who doesn’t know chastity prior to marriage, then chastity within marriage is a tough go. A lot of times, marriage will do what it’s supposed to do: it will bring your faults up to the surface. And I know a lot of couples who were not chastity prior to marriage, and then they try to practice NFP chastity in marriage, and it brought up a lot of stuff that it had covered up prior to marriage. Because I think chastity in marriage is more demanding than chastity prior to marriage.

Thanks, Jason for dedicating your time and energy to creating a culture of life and true love.

For more information, visit Jason Evert’s website, Chastity Project, for great articles and resources on the virtue of chastity, talking to children about human sexuality, transgenderism, the porn epidemic and much more. You can follow Jason and his wife, Christalina here on Facebook.

Originally posted at The Freedoms Project.

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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A Lesson for a Chaotic Soul

Recently I learned a hard lesson. It was a concept that I knew was coming, as people close to me had informed me of the changes I needed to make. But because I am basically an infant in the spiritual realm, it took me awhile to really get it. It was worth it though because it could basically change my whole life… hopefully, when I learn to unite with God’s will!

Now I normally don’t like to share my spiritual or life lessons that I encounter because I am very young (23 years old), and I am basically still in the process of learning to walk down the paths that I feel God has set for me. So I always feel that I have little credibility in the words that I write. Even so, I feel that what I have realized is very important for every person, no matter who you are.

In recent years, my life has been pretty hectic. I knowingly chose for things to be this way, but I never anticipated the amount of adjusting that I would have to do. Within the past 20 months, I quit school, got engaged, got married, was blessed with my first child. I’ve adjusted to being far away from any family or friends, and I’ve adjusted to my spouse’s crazy medical school life. I’ve adjusted to being a mother and I’ve taken on all of the changes required for the title. I’ve also adjusted to being in a new and intimate relationship with my husband.

That being said, I may have adjusted but I have not responded to my situations in the holiest way. The way I’ve reacted to my environments and relationships have caused me more anxiety and despondency than I thought possible. It caused me to resent my spouse, have a negative outlook on my life, and worse, it drove a wedge between God and myself. I found myself being overly fearful of the future and I didn’t even want to be open to God’s will. Then I started to be ashamed of myself in front of God, knowing that I was avoiding His gaze. What if God asks me to do something difficult? My spiritual director tells me that her priest says that we can’t reach Jesus unless we climb the cross. Well, the cross freaks me out!

When my husband and I would have a conflict, I would panic, shut down, and tell myself that I couldn’t handle his shortcomings. I would use up so much energy trying to change his perspective and then end up angry when I didn’t succeed. In reality, God was teaching us both a lesson in being patient and more aware of each other on our journey through marriage.

When we needed to consider big life decisions, I immediately assumed the worst and panicked. I scrambled to figure out how I could travel down the path of least resistance, even though we really didn’t know what was going to happen yet. In reality, God was probably giving me the opportunity to trust Him.

See a pattern? I was relying on myself and my will because I felt in control. I was also relying on my husband to be perfect and I expected him to respond exactly how I needed him to when in reality, he was learning as much as I was. And who was I not relying on? God the Almighty Father, who basically has the perfect plan for my life.

Here is my main point: If we do not involve God internally, our external reactions will reflect the chaos of our souls.

So how are we supposed to gain internal peace? That may look slightly different for each of us. For me, it entails the need to heal past wounds so that I am okay with myself as God created me. It also will require that I recognize in His infinite and perfect love for me. I have to be able to trust in His ultimate plan, no matter how hard the lessons of the cross will be.

When this happens for each of us, we will be able to carry the crosses and shortcomings of those we love without losing internal peace. No matter what happens, our souls will remain in an undisturbed state while God helps us to grow interiorly and draw into a deeper union with Him.

Romantic Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Terminate torment

Of love unsatisfied

The greater torment

Of love satisfied.”

— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Can Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, considering that Ash Wednesday this year falls on the same date? Is the feast of love compatible with the beginning of Lent? When the obligation to do penance conflicts with the convention of romance, which of the two should give way?

Because of our natural aversion to self-inflicted suffering and the contemporary view of love that equates it with pleasure, many of us may have initially reacted that no, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday do not mix; that the Church’s regulations on fasting and abstinence would spoil this year’s Valentine’s Day; that this year, we must choose one or the other. Some have proposed, as a practical solution, that Valentine’s Day be celebrated the day before – on what is traditionally known as Mardi Gras – or the day after.

But must it be this way?

It is an age-old tactic of the devil to exaggerate the hardship entailed by our obligations towards God. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent twisted God’s command not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and asked Eve if God prohibited them from eating of any tree in the garden. The devil continues using this tactic to today; thus, for example, we rebel against reasonable guidelines against wearing short skirts and low necklines in church because we perceive these guidelines as requiring us to wrap ourselves in sheets.

The same goes true with the mandatory fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, and warnings against celebrating Valentine’s Day in a sinful fashion. With regard to the former, it is difficult, to be sure, as I can attest from my struggle to practice portion control on ordinary days. But we tend to exaggerate the hardship it entails. We forget that 1) nothing prohibits us from making the allowed full meal for the day a special one, and 2) non-meat dishes can be delicious.

As for the latter, why must we equate celebrating Valentine’s Day with sinful activities?  Why must we assume that certain prohibited activities are the only ways we can celebrate our love – especially our romantic love – on Valentine’s Day?

We forget that Valentine’s Day was – and still is – a Catholic feast; that love – including romantic love – is something of God.  It is true that this year, liturgically speaking, Ash Wednesday takes precedence over the feast of St. Valentine. There’s nothing wrong, too, with scheduling a Valentine’s Day celebration the day before or the day after Ash Wednesday this year. But neither is there any reason we cannot, within the limits imposed by the mandatory forms of penance, celebrate our love on Valentine’s Day this year.

In fact, this year is a good opportunity for us Catholics to reclaim Valentine’s Day, to use it as an occasion to remind the world what love really is. As we take our allowed full one meal on that day in special seafood grills or sushi bars with our dates, perhaps after going to the church together to have ashes imposed on our foreheads or after having spent time together in a wholesome yet no less wonderful way (which we are supposed to do anyway on any other time of the year), we are showing to the world what we have always known and which the world has forgotten: love is all about joyful sacrifice. As we enter the Lenten season together with our dates, we remind ourselves and others that suffering is the touchstone of love, that the point of penance is not to perform arduous feats of self-denial but to love God and others better, and that with love, suffering is turned into joy.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and Lent culminates in the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. History tells us that in the year AD 136, the Roman emperor Hadrian — in efforts to obliterate Christianity — built a temple to Venus, the pagan goddess of love, on the site of the crucifixion of Christ. It took great efforts two centuries later to uncover the True Cross beneath the ruins of the temple to Venus.

This Valentine’s Day, and hopefully on every Valentine’s Day after, we can bear witness to the true meaning of love after its supplanting for centuries by a perverted understanding of it. Let us show by our example of joyful sacrifice that we know how to truly love.

____

Image: PD-US

Review of “Christian Dating Simplified”

Aaron K. Torch’s Christian Dating Simplified: A Short, Practical Guide to the only Four Questions You Need to Ask is an enjoyable read, weaving scriptural exegesis and personal experience into a compelling analysis of how to date in a holy and healthy manner. As a Catholic who has studied scriptural theology, I have quibbles with some of his statements, but overall I agree with his advice.

Torch begins by describing his attitude to dating right after his conversion – it was legalistic, rule-bound, and ultimately illogical and stifling. While trying his best to live by the words of Scripture, Torch applied Holy Writ and friendly advice to his relationship in a strict, over-literal manner, and this caused him and his girlfriend no end of grief.

He writes: “Too often, things are over-complicated and made unnecessarily difficult, with the guise of being godly… [there is] the danger of putting a weight on your relationship that God never meant for it to bear.”

Torch begins with the story of redemption, going right back to Adam and Eve. He points out that Scripture presents marriage as a ministry of redemption (Ephesians 5:32), mirroring God’s love for us. Torch emphasizes the covenants of the Old Testament, culminating in the New Covenant, sealed by the blood of Christ.

I would have liked Torch to have mentioned the ancient definition of a covenant, being an exchange of persons, so that the other is received permanently into one’s family. Torch refers to the contractual understanding of an agreement, which does not capture the depth of a covenant, and lends itself more to the acceptance of divorce. Happily, Torch points out that the New Covenant demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us, and that divorce is not an option.

Torch then goes through three myths about dating, regarding soulmates, God’s will, and holding the other to a mental checklist of Biblical perfection. He emphasizes the need to look at the other through the eyes of grace, lest we crush them under the weight of our expectations.

He then address the question of compatibility in faith, the importance of true friendship with the other, the purpose of dating, and each person’s vision of the future and “what [their] relationship can offer the world”. He makes it easy to grasp each issue by outlining various hypothetical situations and posing relevant questions to ponder over.

Finally, Torch stresses the need for a supportive community to help your relationship develop into a fruitful, life-bearing witness to Christ.

As someone who has struggled through incompatible, unhealthy and Puritanical relationships, and has recently embarked on a delightful new one with a fresh convert who is doing his best to live a holy life and demonstrate his love in virtuous ways, Torch’s book really resonates with me. I recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed by conflicting advice about dating and relationships, and would like a simple, reassuring and frank analysis of how to date in a loving manner.

I was invited to review this book by Top Christian Books.

Identity in Relationship

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
– Jane Howard

Etymology: identity (n.)
c. 1600, “sameness, oneness, state of being the same,” from Middle French identité (14c.), from Medieval Latin identitatem (nominative identitas) “sameness,” ultimately from Latin idem (neuter) “the same”.

How are we identified? We are identified by our names, which have been given to us by others, usually our parents, and which display our relationship with them. Our surnames show the families which we have been born into, adopted by or married into. For humans, identity is found in relation to others.

When two people enter into a relationship, it is usually a cause for congratulations and celebration. Others recognize the glorious gift of finding someone with whom one can share a loving communion, embracing the trials and joys of life together, and helping each other grow in virtue and maturity.

On the other hand, for those who are emotionally insecure and uncertain about their own identity and purpose, a relationship can become an idol. They derive their entire self-worth and happiness from being loved by another creature, and fall apart if they lose the other person. This places tremendous pressure on the other person and creates a toxic relationship.

Ultimately, it is only in God that we find complete love, fulfillment and joy. It is only from our relationship with Love Himself that we can find our true worth, identity, security and purpose. When we recognize that we have been made in the image of Love and that He will always remain with us no matter what we go through in life, then we are able to love ourselves and our neighbor with a fearless love which accepts the beloved completely while purifying and transfiguring him. True love is a love that frees a spouse, child or friend to grow in wisdom and stature, fulfilling his God-given telos and not warping him to suit our limited vision or personal desires.

As the Persons of the Holy Trinity have identified themselves by their relation to each other, in an eternal generation of Love, so should we base our identities in healthy, life-giving relation to God and one another in the communion of saints.

Dear Future Husband

Dear Future Husband,

I wonder what you are doing at this moment. Are you studying for finals? Maybe you’re chatting with friends, or are laughingly lost in a field of dandelions.  Are you sitting in Adoration? Or are you thinking of me? I have thought of you often over the years, and not a day goes by that I don’t pray for you. Sometimes this makes you feel so close, even though I don’t know you yet.

I wonder what you’re like. Are you a sugar-and-cream person, or do you like your coffee tall, dark, and black like I do? Or would you prefer tea? Do you enjoy long car rides with the windows down and the wind in your face? Are you sci-fi or action, a comedy or a musical? Do you make cloud-pictures, and have you ever caught fireflies in a mason jar? Do you like to dance in the rain or watch a lightening storm? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you sweet or savory? I can hardly wait to discover all the little things that are part of who you are.

Dear sir, I hope you are the man who would help his children build a treehouse wear a baby-pack to keep track of the toddler on daytrips. I hope that you will find a bouquet of sunflowers as beautiful and romantic as I do… or almost as much. I’d find it wonderful if you enjoy all sorts of literature and the writings of St. Augustine, but have a special spot in your heart for Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. I hope that you will understand that sometimes I need to step away from everyone and relish the silence. I hope that our children will have many memories of your voice singing loudly around a campfire or softly as they drift to sleep. Please remember to remember that the value of a dollar isn’t as much as a single Hail Mary or the laugh of a child.

I pray that someday I will see in your eyes the same love that I’ve always seen shining from my parents’ from across the room. But most of all, I pray that you are a man of God who puts Him as his first criteria in choosing a career or buying a house. In our life together, let’s always put the spiritual well-being of the souls entrusted to our care as our highest priority in making decisions.

I know that all of this is years in the future, but I can’t help thinking about it and I can’t stop praying for you. Dearest, I pray that you are not waiting for me. I pray that you are not watching the clock tick away and the calendar roll past the years. Please, don’t wait for me. Rather, actively prepare for me. Use the time you have now to make yourself the man God created you to be. Learn, grow, and deepen your relationship with Christ. Don’t wait. Prepare in joyful expectation for the advent of our love. Prepare for the family we will have together.

Dear one, I have a song in my heart. Now and then I catch an echo of it, but it has never been played loudly enough for me to hear. Or maybe I haven’t been quiet enough to hear it. Dearest, one day- maybe when we meet in the Confession line, or in some small café, or when you ask me to dance the next slow song- maybe our song will be played. The melody of the deepest echoes of our hearts will begin our score. And we will know it is right. We will know it is time. Until then, please- don’t wait. Begin your life. Prepare for me; for us; for God. Run to him as fast as you can. I will run, too. And there we will meet.

I cannot yet say that I love you, as I do not yet know you. But I will be here praying for you and preparing to see your face for the first time. Because the time will be right.

God is interested in your love life

The Wedding Feast at Cana miracle is a manifestation of more than just Christ’s power. The story also allows us to see our Blessed Mother’s intercessory influence, Jesus’ approval of human marriage, and His care for humanity to the point of assisting us even with the more mundane items such as wine at a wedding reception.

I have come to know these truths through personal experience in my life. When I was 22 years old, I was totally head over heels in love with a girl. We began our courtship with a double date to see the movie Bella with Italian food afterwards. She was the star of my evening sky and I could barely take my eyes off her.

At the time, it was the best month of my life. I was always thinking about her.  More so, I had already mentally and emotionally committed to love her for the rest of my life. However, unbeknownst to me, she was not as excited about me as I was about her.

She broke up with me and I was pretty disappointed. Ok, absolutely devastated. I really had thought she was the one. We had a good friendship formed in the months before we went on that first date, so, while I still failed tremendously at guarding my heart, I had plenty of reasons stored up on why I found her to be so special. Moreover, I had thought that God had wanted us to be together and when she ended it, my newly-returned-to-the-faith heart was fairly confused as to what went wrong.

I thought that I was doing everything right, but I would soon see that I needed to mature in my faith. I would learn to truly discern what God wanted for me in my life and how much He was interested in my happiness. Kicking off the lessons, I met with my spiritual director who suggested I pray a novena to St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

By praying the Novena, I would ask the Little Flower to intercede for me and guide me to know whether I should wait for this beautiful woman to come back to me or move on to find someone else. The novena would either finish with a sign, typically a rose for St. Thérèse, or nothing. The sign would signify whether I should wait.

Needless to say I was terrified. Absolutely. I really wanted to wait for her. But, I desired what God wanted more, so I prayed the first day’s prayer. The prayer was beautiful and I enjoyed praying it as it seemed to help even in that situation. However, the next night the internet went out at my parents’ house and I gave up the novena. It was either the next day or the next that my spiritual director convinced me to pick up where I left off.

I did with great hope, but still some trepidation. It was winter, but I started seeing roses each day. However, it was the ninth day that counted. Furthermore, it seemed like the readings at Mass and the sections of the Imitation of Christ that I was reading at the time were speaking to me vividly in my heartache. There was no doubt that God was speaking to me to console and guide me.

I woke up on the ninth day, prayed the prayer for the novena, and committed myself to only do what others asked me to do. This was to help escape confusion of whether I made the sign happen or if it came from God. Honestly, it would have been super easy to just head over to the supermarket flower aisle.

A college friend was staying with us for Christmas break and I found him in the living room on my way to breakfast. He wanted to share with me something that stood out to him in the morning prayer that day. He said it really helped him with what he was going through. He read it to me:

“Trust in God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He shall direct your path.” —Proverbs 3:5,6

We talked about it and I shared with him that I found this helpful for my own life. Later, while enjoying my bowl of cereal, I could not take my mind off whether I would see a sign. I specifically had the thought that I would definitely not see it at my parents’ house as I had been living there and had never seen any roses or even rose-like items.

I stood up and walked over to pass a side table and saw something I had never seen before. Whether it had always been there or just placed there that week I could not tell you, but on the table was something I found quite remarkable. A ceramic cross with a rose on each end with the words of Proverbs 3: 5,6 inscribed in the center.

I was blown away. “Was this the sign?” I was not sure, but I had a good feeling. The plan for the day was morning Mass and then assisting a group preparing for a Medical mission to Africa with loading a container with supplies. I wondered if there would be more from God in confirming whether I should wait for this girl.

Needless to say, there was. It was January 2 and even though we were in the bleak midwinter, the statue of Mary in the sanctuary where we celebrated morning Mass was bedecked with roses including a rosary made of roses. I believed this was it. I was amazed by God’s love for me and desire to help me with my love life.

Furthermore, when looking back to this amazing moment in my life several years later, I found out that January 2 is the birthday of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I can now think of the ninth day of my novena as specially chosen by St. Thérèse to show me that it would be God’s will for me to wait. And on that day, January 2, 2008, I set my face like flint toward my coming spring semester with the divinely-affirmed plan to give this woman the time she needed to come back to me.

Truth be told I thought that it would only be a few weeks. She had just begun to study at my small Catholic Liberal arts school in the south and so I was still able to see her and try to be just friends. Very difficult, but I never told her about the novena.

I also never tried to make any moves on her. Somehow, I believed that she would come back to me and I should not pressure her. However, God was so good to me and let us spend time together sharing in grand memories, such as many meals amongst friends in the school cafeteria, going to a 90’s themed party closer to Atlanta where everyone assumed that we were still going out, and even traveling to New York to see Pope Benedict XVI at the Youth Rally. (An extraordinary moment in our lives. Both of us left Georgia without a ticket, yet were provided for in the end).

I was always careful not to come on too strong or express my feelings to her. I knew she needed total freedom to come back to me without my help. It was a long Fall semester, but I truly grew up and closer to God. I also found myself willing to accept His plan whether it did include my lady or not. He helped me to see that I had already had all the love I needed from Him.

And yet He gave me more. It was Monday December 8, 2008, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception when she came to talk to me in the school cafeteria to invite me to help a mutual friend move. Something seemed different that caused me to wonder… was this it? I had lead the Rosary each night in the school chapel at 9:45 pm and she started to show up each night. Sometimes it was just her, me and Jesus.

I would walk her back to her dorm and we would talk, but I still kept my secret. Furthermore, I learned my lesson and kept my heart guarded. It might have been the most mature I have ever been in my life.

The last day of finals was Friday December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. School was over and there was nothing left to do but relax. She and I shared a long conversation about life, school, and God amidst a greater group of friends who were all talking. However, it was as if it was just us, and it was very clear that we liked each other. We were together the whole evening.

That weekend we were at the house of the friend who had just moved and we had another conversation. The friend knew us both fairly well and he encouraged me to share my novena with her. I shared everything, but she did not seem as surprised or shocked as I thought she would. It was I would be surprised after I heard what she told me next.

She told me that she realized she had regained feelings for me back in November, but did not want to hurt a friend of hers who had feelings for me as well. To figure out what to do she prayed a novena to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. On the 8th day of her novena her friend gave her a medal of St. Thérèse without knowing about the novena or the reason for it being said.

However, it is the 9th day that really blew me away. Just before Mass she was praying on her knees before a statue of Mary in the chapel asking Mary what she should do. Right at the moment she asked Mary to let her know if she should move forward with her feelings, I came in and knelt right beside her. Truly remarkable as that was the first time we had ever knelt before that statue together.

She doubted though, went to her seat and continued her petition. Once again, at the moment she asked Mary to again make it clear, I sat down right next to her. To make this more amazing, this is something that I had never done since she stepped foot on campus. So for maybe 200 Masses, I had never sat near her, but sat right next to her on the ninth day of her novena, right when she asked Mary to make it clear whether she should move forward.

So move forward we did. We started to spend more time together and talk more. It was on January 20, 2009 that we agreed to officially be a thing again. God had kept His promise. And He showed me that whole year that He was truly interested in my love life.

Looking back He was there the whole time. At times it was painful, but I grew up a lot and learned to trust in Him more. Furthermore, I grew closer to Mary and St. Thérèse, learning that I could rely on them as well.

After a year of courtship and a year of engagement, my wife and I married on January 1, the feast of Mary, Mother of God. We have been outrageously blessed with 3 incredible children and cannot even imagine a better life.

The most amazing part about this story is that I am absolutely average. Your normal high school Theology teacher, nothing spectacular about me. I truly believe that God is not only interested in my love life, but everybody’s. Particularly, the love life that He brings. He wants to lead all people to His plan for them and bring them joy.

This is what Jesus did for the couple at Cana. Furthermore, I have known many other people who have been brought to their vocations in a similar way as I was. God is interested in our love lives and will help us with them if we ask.

Your Vocation Is To Love

I’ve noticed that so many young Catholics have an inordinate amount anxiety about their vocations. I definitely put myself into this category. When I understood that my vocation was to the married life, it felt like I spent every waking moment worrying about it. Was this particular person “The One”? Was this other particular person “The One” but we messed it up somehow?  Did I have the necessary virtues to be the best Catholic wife I could be? Where did I need to improve? What else did I need to learn?

I spent so many sleepless nights thinking about these big, important things. “God,” I would say, “this is the most critical decision of my life. This is what You have called me to do when You knit me together in my mother’s womb. So why are You making it so confusing and hard!?”

It was so frustrating to me at times to wrestle with questions of my vocation and to hear radio silence from God about it. Or, even worse, to decide to go down one path that I was sure was His will only to have it end for one reason or another. It gave me so much grief that God was making this all so difficult when all I wanted was to live the life to which He had called me. I would come to my spiritual director with the same worries and frustrations month after month. He would always just smile and remind me of the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “My vocation is love”

We must, indeed, remember that our primary vocation in this life is to love. I had missed that point entirely early on in my discernment and still sometimes do in my daily life. Marriage or the religious life are secondary vocations – but first and foremost is the commandment to love God and others. When I took this to heart, I realized that I needed to stop worrying about my vocation and how it would unfold. I needed to stop questioning God about it and having faith in His timing and His ways. To love Him, to love others, and to give myself to those who needed me the most right now in the present moment. And He would take care of my secondary vocation when the time was right.

So young friends, stop worrying incessantly about discerning your vocations. Stop trying to “figure it all out”. Stop running yourselves ragged. God is not trying to hide His will from you nor is He intentionally making it confusing or difficult. It is all so very simple: just love those whom He has put in your life today. That is all He asks of you. And He will take care of everything else.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…” – Matthew 6:25

 

Keep Your Emotions In Check

“Become the woman of your dreams, then you will attract the man of your dreams.”

-Sarah Swafford 

Emotional chastity is not to prevent love, it’s to give you authentic love.

Emotional chastity, like physical chastity, requires discipline. We all have sexual desires, but by living out the virtue of chastity, we don’t let those desires control us. Since we aren’t just bodies, but also hearts, minds, and souls we are called to practice chastity in all those areas. Emotional chastity means guarding the gift of purity of our hearts and minds.

It is very easy for woman to fall into this emotional mind game, especially when it comes to guys. You see some random (cute) guy at church and you start planning your wedding colors. You are introduced to a great Catholic guy and you start putting your name with his last name to see how it sounds.

Many of us have been guilty of this and when we first think of it, it may sound just like innocent school girl fun. But what begins to happen is that we start to no longer see them as a whole person with a mind, a heart, and a soul. We only see them only as a physical being, we begin to see only their body. An object.

“You can never use another person as a means to an end.”

-Pope John Paul II in Love and Responsibility  

We may at times, before even meeting this guy, create in our mind this perfect person from his personalities to his looks. We have created this character that only belongs in a Nicholas Sparks film, not real life. Nothing against chick-flicks, I am admittedly a huge fan. But don’t let your Pinterest-filtered mind take over reality, because that is dangerous for your heart and soul.

So far, what does all this mean? It means no imaginary boyfriends or comparing your actual boyfriend to a fictional character. It’s understanding that relationships is the uniting of two sinners, so there is no such thing as a perfect relationship.

You want to cultivate a pure heart for your future vocation. For those called to marriage you want to be able to give your whole self to your future spouse in both your body, heart, and soul.

Use this time that the church calls remote preparation, as a time to grow in virtue and knowledge.  A time to understand who and what God wants of you. Then when He sees fit, He will reveal where and who He wants you with. We will receive many more graces when that does happen if we take the time now to sanctify ourselves in body, mind, and soul.

“Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of real love.”

-St. John Paul II

A Couch Is NOT a Promise

couch not promise

Not too long ago, my best friend moved in with her boyfriend.

It’s a big deal: this is her third long-term, serious relationship, but the first one she felt confident enough in to say, “Hey, I like you so much, I’m going to live with you.”

I have very mixed feelings about this whole thing.

First of all, I am Catholic. I am on fire for God and the Church and the idea of living with some man before marriage gives me the heebie-jeebies. (My best friend, by the way, is not Catholic—she’s not even Christian—she vacillates between agnosticism and atheism but, I am convinced, contains a healthy dose of pagan virtue.)

On the other hand, I am delighted that she cares this much about a guy—a few years ago the idea of marriage disgusted her, now she’s well-versed in diamond rings and carats and clarity and likes to drop hints about her preferences to the Boyfriend.

About a week after the big move I met up with my best friend and asked her cautiously about sharing her space so intimately with another human being for the first time. She reported a nearly seamless move: she loved getting to spend more time with Boyfriend and sharing their commute to work. She loved getting to play with his dog.

I asked her: did you get to do any redecorating? She said they bought a couch together.

A couch.

A couch is a major purchase.

Couches are expensive. Big. Room-ambiance-changing. If a relationship goes south, you cannot set the couch between both parties and whistle and call until it comes galumphing over to its favorite owner. If a relationship goes south, it really matters who gets to keep the couch (where memories have been made but—almost more importantly!—where you can continue to sit/sleep as a single person in a single’s apartment, enjoying your major financial investment in furniture).

My best friend considers the couch a promise.

A couch is not a promise.

The problem with moving in with a man before you marry him is that you have to think about things like, “is it worthwhile investing in a couch?” My husband and I just bought a couch. We had to juggle some finances to do it, but it will be in our home until it grows old and dies from our kids and pets and friends abusing it. What will happen to my best friend’s and Boyfriend’s couch? Will it live to a ripe old age? No one knows.

Couches are furniture, not promises. When I think about my relationship with my husband five, ten years from now, I do not rely on something as flimsy as a couch to tell me he will still be by my side. I have the Sacrament of Marriage to bolster me up; that’s a promise so strong that I actually cannot picture life five, ten years from now without him.

To everyone out there wondering where your current romance will take you in the future: furniture purchases are about as accurate as tea leaves. A promise to stand by one another, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, requires stronger binding than stylish upholstery.

When Waiting is Really Hard

love gives lust takes

In reaction to the increasing physical immorality spreading through society today, and in an attempt to counter the message  constantly being sold through advertising, movies, music, and even best-selling books that says sexual intimacy is not only okay, but expected, outside of marriage, the Catholic online world has been buzzing with all sorts of articles on how to stay pure.  Each week it seems Jason Evert’s online blog for young adults comes out with a new list of suggestions for how to become pure, remain pure, return to purity, or increase in purity.  And while this is an incredibly important message, it can be a little discouraging when you prioritize purity as a couple, but still find it very hard to do so—not because you’re tempted to break the rules, but because saying no to what feels good and natural is hard.

For couples who have been dating long enough to be past the “he’s perfect, she’s perfect, we’re perfect for each other and neither of us can find fault in the other” phase, the struggle to remain pure becomes hard on a whole new level when you reach an understanding that comes with trusting each other with more of yourselves.  While physical attraction tends to be an initiator of relationships, and the main facet in them in the beginning (which is perfectly acceptable, as long as there is a desire to know the person better individually, and not just use them for their appearance), the temptations to take things too far tend to center around the “newness” of it all.  You’re both excited to be discovering each other, you’re not serious enough yet to be having intimate conversations or discussing deep mutual feelings, and simply touching each other sends electric sparks through the air.  During this phase, purity is hard because it puts a limit on how many new things can be experienced, but it is also the beautiful restraint which forces the couple to look beyond the physical attraction and truly learn to love each other’s hearts and souls.

But after the two of you have your first fight, endure hardship together, and start to learn all the “perfections and imperfections” (to use a beautiful phrase from Inception) that make your partner who he/she is, you start to form a deeper bond with him/her.  The deeper it goes, the more intimately you begin to know each other, and the more you desire simple affections, quiet moments, and complete closeness.  Your hearts start to feel so intertwined, you become so familiar with the quirks and little things about the other one that make them so unique, and you start to share things together more exclusively.  And as this emotional nearness increases, the longing to physically be as close as possible to the other person, to physically become close to them in the way you are becoming emotionally close, can often be even stronger and harder to resist than the initial, flirtatious, excited temptations.

When your longing to take the next step in the physical area of the relationship is based on a desire to complete the feelings of unity that the two of you have been building, when it comes from an almost spiritual yearning rather than just base attraction, it becomes easy to justify the temptation in your mind.  It’s easy to think “I’m not lusting after them, I just want to be close to them”; while this is a beautiful desire, outside of marriage it is a very persuading argument for impurity.  When thoughts like that take over the mind, not only does it become harder to say “no” when you both feel so united, but it also becomes harder to keep your thoughts pure—because when you’re thinking like an engaged couple, but not actually engaged, your mind starts dreaming of and preparing for things upon which it is not yet appropriate to dwell.

This is a very personal topic, and it is easy to feel alone in this struggle when so many articles and talks about purity make it seem like if you’re following the rules, everything should just be easy.  For those out there dating, trying to do so in a holy, pure, Catholic way, but still finding it incredibly hard nonetheless, do not be discouraged.   As paradoxical as it may sound, a date cut short because temptation was particularly intense is more rewarding than a date that went too far.  When you both look at each other at the end of the night, hold hands, exchange chaste kisses on cheeks, and know that you both want so much more but are offering it up for the sake of pleasing God before yourselves, then kneel before your separate beds to pray, being able to say to God “We took care of each other, Lord.  I put his/her soul before my own desires tonight, so I could take care of him/her for You.  Please see the sacrifice and give us grace instead.  Bless her/him, who I miss so much already, and thank you for the gift of true love stronger than lust”, nothing is more rewarding.  And should God join the two of you together “until Death do you part” one day in the future, the reward will be tenfold when you can pull each other close and come together as husband and wife, giving each other the gift of yourselves so carefully preserved, and showered with grace as you unite both body and soul.  So do not feel guilty or alone when your God-centered relationship still hurts sometimes when yearnings cannot be satisfied: purity is extremely hard, but it is so worth the wait.

St. Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse of Mary, pray for us!