Category Archives: Married Life

The Sanctifying Cross of Marriage

Mark 10:1-12

In this Gospel passage, Jesus talks about Divorce.

Growing up I never thought much about the sacredness of married life. My family was pretty much dysfunctional (this MIGHT be an understatement) and I never thought much about the importance of family — in fact I detested it.

I (shamefully) remember asking my mom one birthday — it was my 7th — for her to divorce my dad as my birthday gift. I did not think it would be a problem — after all, when someone is aggressive to you daily, you leave him… right?

To that she gave a response I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: “This is a cross I must carry.”
Honestly, I thought she was mad for wanting to endure this hardship.

On hindsight, that was her living out her vows of marriage and that planted in me a seed of perseverance and faithfulness to God. It was the wisest thing anyone ever said to me.

The Pharisees quoted the mosaic law and questioned why Moses allowed for divorce. But Jesus explained that God’s intention for our state in life — whether married or single — was to be saints.

“Marriage of Mary and Joseph.” From an early 1900s Marriage Certificate.

Being a saint entails that we rely on the power of God to overcome hardship before we rely on the power of man.
Moses had only permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts.
Male and female are indissolubly united in one flesh in marriage — a sacred and binding union — until death.

Marriage vows are so sacred, and such exemplars of what it means to love truly — you vow to love unconditionally every single moment of every single day, you vow to give yourself totally for the good of the other person. THAT is true love.

After all, from a Theology of the Body (TOB) lens, our entire faith is based on the idea of God wanting to marry us! He — in the person of Jesus Christ — is the groom and we the Church are His bride; the cross the “nuptial bed”. Just like how Jesus was humble to death  on the cross, couples must learn to adjust in humility for the marriage to grow and experience success. Many failures in marriages are due to:
– lack of humility
– stubbornness
– lack of prayer life

Back to my mom: she may not be educated in theology or the doctrines of the Church. But she is (sure as sure can be) in possession of the Truth and I believe that she is the epitome of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Prayers for all my married friends, that you realize that God has called you to be saints in your vocation as married people, and may God grant you the graces to be faithful to the end.

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Divorce

James 5:7-12, Psalm 103, Mark 10:1-12

The Gospel on 24 May teaches a Hard Truth about Divorce. I’m going to spell it out because I won’t distort the Church’s teaching: Divorce, understood as the dissolution of a marriage, is NOT possible between two baptized persons.

Guess who said this? Jesus Christ Himself (c.f. Mt 19:6, Mk 10:8-9), echoed by Paul (c.f. 1 Cor 7:10-11). The Church has always been clear that “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death” (CCC 2382).

The Catholic Church has tons to say about divorce, but I will not write them all down here. However I will reflect on two points.

1) Useful Litmus Test: If your Church leaders teach that divorce is permissible, wake up and see the Truth! No True Church of Christ will twist the words of Jesus to suit secular norms.

2) What if there is abuse involved in the marriage? The Code of Canon Law states:

“A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.” (CIC 1153)

This inherently means that the Church values life above all. Cases of abuse are complex and usually endangers the life of the abused party. In such situations, the Church considers civil divorce to be the EQUIVALENT of a LEGAL SEPARATION and tolerates it for JUST CAUSE (such as to ensure personal safety and/or the safety of children).

Under the eyes of the Church however, the ‘civilly divorced’ person is still considered validly MARRIED and may NOT remarry in the Church unless an annulment is granted.

The issue of divorce is a very clear example on why the Church needs all three aspects to function prudently: Liturgy, Law and Revelation. Taking out any one of these will result in the fall of the Church because each has a necessary role to play. Much more to say on this, but I’ll end my reflection here.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

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.

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.

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.

Witness to Love

A few years ago I had the opportunity to give a talk at John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana. While I was there I enjoyed the hospitality of Ryan and Mary-Rose Verret, a young Catholic couple with three children. It was a wonderful stay, a great experience of traditional Cajun hospitality. The Catholic homeschooling alumni circle is very small so it turned out Mary-Rose actually grew up with my cousins in Virginia.

Fast forward to last year, I was scrolling through the National Catholic Register and saw Ryan and Mary-Rose featured in an article. Since then I have been in contact with them via facebook and email, and a few weeks ago Kathleen and I FaceTimed with them for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. About half of our conversation was just visiting with some great folks, but for a good part of it we talked about the Verrets’ new project called “Witness to Love.”

Based on their experience with marriage prep in their home parish over several years they began to see a troubling trend among the young couples they were seeing through the program. Too many of the young couples were not showing up in Church after their wedding day, and the five-year divorce rate was frighteningly high. After talking with over 400 couples in their parish and diocese, they began to notice a trend that those newlywed couples who maintained a solid relationship with their parish usually did so because of a personal relationship with people, specifically other couples, in that parish.

In response they developed a new marriage prep program which centers around the engaged couple choosing a couple within the parish that they know and respect, and asking them to be their mentors as they prepare for marriage. Both couples then begin a journey of preparation, facilitated by the parish, which ideally results in closer ties to the parish community and a long term relationship between the two couples that can at need serve as a lifeline as they move through the challenges of married life.
What follows is an excerpt from an interview that Kathleen and I conducted with the Verret’s via FaceTime last Saturday. You can read the full transcript here.

Ryan K: The place to start is for readers who have never heard of it before, who have never heard of Witness to Love. In a few words, what is your bottom line take away, where did it come from, what are you trying to do with it?
(Ryan and Mary-Rose looking back and forth at each other, laughing.)
Mary-Rose: Kind of a “tag-you’re-it.” Okay. Witness to Love really came from a place of desperation and prayer. We saw couples that were getting divorced not long after the wedding, which is normal, but discouraging, especially when it is couples that you’ve worked with and tried to walk with.
Ryan K: From your parish Marriage Prep program?
Ryan V: Yeah, couples that you’ve had in your own home.
Mary-Rose: Yeah, couples that we’ve sat down with, on our sofa, and, you know, they had assigned mentors that we worked with, and they never reached out for help. It just… the frustration from dealing with those situations over and over again. I think that often people don’t actually scratch the surface enough in the parish or the diocese to find out what is going on with these couples. We’re not set up in such a way to follow-up with them, to know if they get divorced. It’s such a small percentage of people who come forward for annulments when they get divorced. We don’t know how many people in our congregation don’t actually become part of the congregation, and we don’t know how many are actually separated or divorced. So Witness to Love came from just getting involved in a community and seeing where these couples were ending up, if they were separated, if they were divorced, if they were not in church, and following up with these couples and interviewing them as to what happened? What went wrong? Why didn’t they ask for help? Why didn’t this older, assigned mentor model… why was it not working?

Ryan V: We had this very unique way of how this changed, instead of Jack and Jill going to the rectory when they had already rented the hall, and the florist, and the limo company and all these things, and they had their date. They can’t put that date on a calendar in a Witness to Love parish until they have chosen their mentors and have begun this whole process and understand how they’re going to grow. So they don’t like it.
Ryan K: That’s a fairly radical change of practice.
Ryan V: But the priests when they get on board with it, they like it because they know they aren’t just going to be a sacramental vending machine.

Ryan K: So can you talk a little bit about the mentor couple. You mentioned some of the criteria that need to be met [mentor couples must be chosen by the engaged couple, must be married more than five years, active in the parish, and have a marriage the engaged couple admires]. Are they vetted through the parish, or is there a process that the mentor couples have to go through of formation?
Mary-Rose: That’s a great question, and I think that’s the question that priests, or deacons, or anyone who is involved in marriage prep, especially if they’ve understood the traditional model, would say, “Wow, these mentors need to be vetted, trained, and this all has to work.”
Ryan V: In the traditional model, mentor couples are expected to be sort of catechists. They are expected to be theological, spiritual, kind of moral experts, whatever that means. But our starting point was, this is not step one of getting a person involved in the faith process. They need to see a witness, I wouldn’t say particularly a “relationship expert,” but if you’re going to find someone who has been married five years or more, and who has a marriage that you look up to, and that is in the church, going to Mass, that’s pretty vague.
Mary-Rose: Intentionally so.

Kathleen: Yeah, that [traditional model] is essentially the type of program we had. Ryan was going to be deployed for over half of our engagement.
Ryan K: Which of course brings in its own set of challenges, but they were a couple out of… where were they?
Kathleen: Colorado.
Ryan K: Colorado. And we never saw them face-to-face, we never heard of them before, we haven’t talked to them since. I think we got more out of a few dinners with Deacon George and his wife than we did out of all the sessions with… I don’t even remember their names.
Kathleen:  I couldn’t even tell you. Our assigned mentor couple.
Mary-Rose: It was assigned?
Ryan and Kathleen: Yes.
Ryan K: I think that kind of speaks to what you’re talking about, that kind of “check-the-block” mentality. So, you kind of think of couples as falling into two categories. There’s the kind that are already going to church, they are active in the parish, and they have a firm intention to stay married and be engaged with the parish afterward. So they may feel like they don’t really need this. And then there’s the couples who have not been active before, and may not know anyone in the parish. So how do you bridge that gap, someone who may not know any couples in the parish at all?
Mary-Rose: That is a great question, and I think, frankly, that is close to half of couples, they just can’t even make that leap and that connection. So we worked with parishes, we have, really the gift and the blessing of having some of the best pastors and the best parishes in the country who are very passionate about this and are committed to figuring it out. So we, over the years, have worked with these pastors to find solutions to these problems. And in working with these parishes we’ve found the solution of what we call, sort of cheeky, but “showcase couples.” [These are] couples where the parish says, “Look, these couples are, we feel, beautiful examples and beautiful witnesses of what marriage and family life is supposed to be like. These couples, we present them to you, you can choose any one of these couples. Here’s a little bit of information about each of them. We are happy to introduce you to the couples, and we are happy to tell you which couples we think might be a good fit for you, but you still have to choose and you still have to ask.”

Ryan K: So what would you say to the other half of the couples, or probably less than half, those few couples who say, “Hey, we’ve been attending this parish right along. We don’t really talk to anybody so we don’t know anybody here, but we’ve been going to Mass, and we’re not missing the sacraments, and we’re going to stay married. I don’t feel like we really need this.” What would you say to them?
Mary-Rose: We only grow in relationships.
Ryan V: We discovered this sort of line in reality that human beings only grow in relationship. You know we develop these personal gifts only in relationships with feedback, where honest feedback and honest growth can take place. I think it’s easy to see that our culture is attempting to thrive on isolation, and young people like to be connected, but not to really be committed. Tons of friends on Facebook, but if someone is having a crisis in their life, you know, unplanned pregnancy or whatever, and everyone is giving them the wrong advice, or doesn’t even respond. I think the reality is, if you’re going to grow as people then you need this kind of extension of what’s happening in your life, which leads into the parish life.
Mary-Rose: And I think, honestly, you have to examine if someone says, basically, I don’t need a mentor. I go to the parish but there isn’t really someone that I have met in this parish that I feel that I would be comfortable going on this journey with. That speaks, honestly, to two things. Either the parish is not providing opportunities for relationships, it is not a true community; or, the engaged couple is not engaging in the community. We know many couples who have been married a similar amount of years as us, and they were formed in Theology of the Body, they were going to church regularly, but they had, in many ways, isolated themselves from feedback, especially in regard to their marriage and their relationship. You know, you basically put on a public face, but you don’t let anyone get close enough to see that your marriage is actually in shambles, and there’s domestic abuse and there’s affairs. I mean, these are good couples, from good colleges, with lots of kids and beautiful families, but sometimes when you scratch the surface it’s a mess. No one is immune from divorce, and the more we isolate ourselves, no matter where we come from or where we go to church, the more likely we are to find ourselves in a difficult situation.

Ryan K: So one of the themes that kind of stuck out to us, you were talking about growth. Someone who says, “Hey, we are going to Mass, we are doing fine,” but they are stuck in a holding pattern. They are focused on where they are but what you guys are trying to do is to call people to not stay, not stagnate. If you are standing still, there is more. That was one of the things that stuck out to us first. Then there was the idea that having someone able to look into the inner reality of your marriage, or your relationship if you are not married yet, that’s scary. That kind of vulnerability where you can say (to another guy), “I can’t stand to be around her right now,” to have that relationship where you could say that to somebody, that takes some humility and some vulnerability. I can very easily see why that would not recommend itself to most guys.
Ryan V: Yeah, and that’s why I think it’s important to know that this is all designed to be gradual. It’s over time. And I think the mentor process, that after the wedding this is not done, but we are setting you up for a lifelong relationship. So there is time to grow and grow, and for things to go deeper.
Mary-Rose: We were meeting with some couples who were going through our process recently, and I remember one of the wives saying, “As a mentor couple, honestly I thought this was going to be easier, but you are really asking us… there is no surface level option in Witness to Love. When you first read the question you are thinking, how can I answer this in a superficial way, you can’t. You have to be honest, you have to be real, you have to be open. And the vulnerability that is required of you as the mentor couple, you basically have to admit that you’re broken. And how you got from where you were to where you are now, and share that with the engaged couple. And it’s difficult.” But it’s so healing. And when the engaged couple hears that this mentor couple that they really admire and really look up to isn’t perfect, and didn’t always have it together, and is even now growing and working on their marriage and you can’t ever say it’s good enough, the power in that! … I was just on the phone with a lady who is in her seventies and she was saying as the marriage prep coordinator for her parish, she was going through all this and she said, “You know, I realized we still have a lot we need to work on.” I was just like, wow! That’s awesome.
But we’re always, always going to be working. So for an engaged couple to say, “You know, I think we have a good thing going here, I don’t think we need this.” It’s just not possible.

 

Please check out Ryan and Mary-Rose’s work and consider supporting them through prayer and spreading the word.

 

Not the man of my dreams

It is a gift to grow up in a happy, healthy marriage. By the time I truly started to pay attention to how my parents interacted with each other, they were closing in on twenty years of marriage. By the time I married, my parents were wrapping up their thirtieth year of marriage. It can be a challenge, beginning marriage, when your reference point is a couple who has three decades worth of growth under their belt. You see the end result, without recognizing the years of work, growth, and maturity that produces the soothing comfort of a happily married couple.

Needless to say, my first year of marriage was not smooth. It was the start of that growth and maturity, dying to self, and learning to accept my spouse. It wasn’t unpleasant, but over a decade in, it is significantly easier. Just learning to live with your spouse, learning to make a life together, and that’s the trick, making it together, not forcing your vision on your spouse, all of it takes time and learning.

And there are growing pains. Looking back at the younger me, I realized how polluted my vision was by Hollywood’s romantic movies. As enjoyable and amusing as these movies are, they often fail to portray men as, well . . . men. Men aren’t always prone to making grand gestures to express their love. Many men, my husband included, consider the act of making you his wife to be grand enough. How do you top that?

My husband settled into married life quickly. He worked hard and wanted to come home, put his feet up and enjoy a quiet evening with his wife. I, on the other hand, had been home for a while, school got out in the early afternoon and I walked back and forth to work. I was home, alone, in a very small town. I had left a big family and college dorm life, and I was not accustomed to the peace and quiet that my husband enjoyed.

I don’t know if God wasn’t interested in altering the man He created to suit my whims, or He just said no to my requests. At least, it appeared so. But in truth, God was working His plan, His vision, and it involved softening my heart. He opened my eyes. He showed me the truth.

It wasn’t about me – well it was – but it wasn’t about ME. It was about how to best pursue my vocation. To become the person I was created to be. To stop trying to make my husband into my image, but rather to make myself into God’s image. To love completely, not for reward, but because love is complete.

And so my prayers changed. I ceased asking that God meld my husband into the man I wanted him to be. I began to ask for the grace to be the wife I was created to be.

By focusing on what I needed to do, instead of what I thought I needed, my attitude changed. I, slowly, stopped thinking about how my husband wasn’t meeting my needs, rather I began to wonder, “Am I being what he needs? Am I the wife he deserves?” I didn’t see the failures, I wasn’t as concerned with what I was missing.

It’s amazing how your life can change when you start thinking about how to give of yourself rather than how someone can help you.

I learned to hear my husband’s love language. Recognized his efforts for what they were, his grand expressions of love. He didn’t say it in poetic toasts, in romantic declarations under the stars, he said it by going to work at three am, the first of two jobs. He said it by celebrating our pregnancies and seeing my maternal body as beautiful. He slayed the dragons as best he knew how. And I had to see it for what it was. Striving to be the wife I was created to be, meant accepting love as my husband knows to give it. Letting him be the husband he was created to be. He was placed in my life for a reason, the man God created, not the man I envisioned.

Of Mountains and Molehills

One of my favorite throwaway phrases is “first world problems.” It never fails to make me laugh. Whether it’s my sister and a friend complaining about having to replace the batteries in her battery-operated wine opener, or my friends and I griping about too many fashion images and not enough fitness pins in our Pinterest feeds, it’s fun to be able to laugh at our “not” problems. It’s nice to be able to use a phrase that indicates we appreciate and recognize how blessed or pleasant our lives are, while still complaining.

But there can be a downside to flippantly dismissing our frustrations and struggles. Not that anyone really cares if your dvr turns off one minute too early, but it’s not to say that our daily struggles aren’t truly challenging, truly difficult. We might live in a first world country, but that’s not to say our hardships aren’t truly hard.

My husband and I are both employed. We have five beautiful children, who have no serious health struggles. When they are ill, we are able to access healthcare for them. We have a home that meets our needs. And, as I explained to my son, as his eyes widened watching the cost of filling up the gas tank, we have enough money to meet our needs. So any struggles we have, they’re pretty minor aren’t they?

There’s a healthiness that comes with being able recognize the positive in any situation. When my children are frustrating me, I like being able to step back and remind myself that they are alive to annoy me, which is something, sadly, not every friend of mine can say. When I feel lonely and neglected when my husband plays video games for hours, well at least his time on the computer is spent with fellow nerds and not X-rated playmates. At least he’s coming home every night right after work, rather than hanging out in bars. There’s truth there. And there are certainly silver linings to almost every situation.

However, that doesn’t remove frustration or hurt. And just because it could be worse, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Motherhood is exhausting. It’s hard having one child, being their everything, always. It’s exhausting having several children; in the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Having a fourth baby is like you’re drowning… and someone hands you a baby.” Staying at home with your children is a wonderful gift, one that doesn’t allow you any downtime and can be very draining. Working while mothering small children can be heartbreaking, the guilt overwhelming, a constant struggle to balance and give to your children all that they deserve.

No one has an easy, carefree life. Events and circumstances strike different people in various ways. No one should feel like she has to excuse and minimize her struggles, just because they aren’t as severe as others. Some people might find it overwhelming to care for their children alone while their spouse is on a business trip. That’s ok. Yes there are spouses who single-parent through year-long deployments, and they are remarkable. But that doesn’t mean someone should feel bad from struggling over the course of a few days.

No good comes from comparing crosses. I was part of a larger conversation not that long ago. One participant asked that those women who were struggling with NFP or with their large family not complain because infertility was a harder struggle. I disagreed. I’ve sat with friends weeping at their inability to conceive a child. I’ve sat with friends dealing with unplanned pregnancies. I’ve sat with a mother panicking at the thought of her fifth C-section in five years. These aren’t comparable.

I believe we should try to walk just a few steps in our fellow mothers’ stilettos, not so we can compare lives but so we can better support and encourage. But we do no one any favors when we diminish our own, or any others, struggles. Maybe we can’t relate. Maybe it doesn’t seem that overwhelming to us. But that’s not the issue. It’s that someone is struggling, for whatever the reason.

God gives us what we need to grow. And each of us will grow differently, each of us have different aspects of ourselves that we need to improve. Each of us has our own baggage, our own hurts and scars. We should be honest when we struggle; open about what is overwhelming or just discouraging. It might not be as hard, outside looking in, as someone else’s struggle. But that’s not the point. The point is help is needed, support is required. Love is necessary.

Don’t apologize when life is overwhelming. You don’t have to justify your struggles. Be open and let others lift you up. Appreciate the blessings in your life, but don’t be afraid to honestly admit what’s challenging as well. It doesn’t matter if your problems seem simple or minor to others. What matters is that they are problems to you. Problems you shouldn’t have to face alone.

Divorce Affected Me, Even Though It Wasn’t Supposed To

Guest post by Anonymous

I was seven when my entire world changed.

The life I knew, the life I thought was coming. Gone.

You may be thinking… gosh, what kind of awful tragedy happened to this girl? Abuse? Tragic accident? Death of a loved one? Abandonment? Terrible medical diagnosis?

None of those.

Divorce.

My parents separated. And divorced. Their marriage ended. A whole new life began.

I just want to make a quick disclaimer – this is my story. This is one perspective of a now-adult child of divorced parents. I am in no way intending to offend, shame, judge or cause a raucous with anyone who is divorced or other adult children of divorce. I am only sharing my story because, more often than not, the children are not allowed to speak. If the parents have moved on and are good, then the children are, too?! Not necessarily. Please keep all of that in mind as you continue to read and/or comment.

I was playing with my friends in the cul-de-sac, and my mom called me over – she was sobbing. She and my dad were standing in the doorway and told be me they were getting divorced.

Let’s remember, I am 7 years old. I have no idea what this means. I’m sure they tried to explain it to me the best they could, but let’s be honest, I just wanted to get back to playing with my friends. Much to their embarrassment, I ran off to my friends yelling, “We’re having a divorce! We’re having a divorce!”

The next thing I knew, my dad was sleeping in the guest room for a while. At 7, time is a bit deceiving, so he could have been there for a week or a few months. For all I knew, that’s what divorce was. Dad sleeping in another room. Eventually, my dad moved out and moved in with his girlfriend. My mom and I moved up the street to a new home. Oh. This is divorce.

A short time after, I took my first trip to Dad’s house. He picked me up, and I left my mom behind. As exciting as it was to finally be with my dad, I remember feeling so sad that my mom couldn’t come with me.

Source

My parents’ divorce was one of the “good” ones, so I was told and witnessed – and believed – my entire life. Compared to the horror stories that I heard from other family members and friends, I suppose it’s true. There was minimal fighting (I can count on one hand the number of times I remember intense blow-ups), straight forward custody arrangements, child support paid on time, memories made with both parents, relationships built, life went on.

My parents worked really hard (thank the Lord) to put me at the center. I lived with my mom, and saw my dad every other weekend and alternate holidays. They communicated about school. Dad showed up to almost all of my swim meets, even on the weekends I wasn’t with him. Mom encouraged me to talk to my dad about the “tough” things that I would have rather ignored. Truly, I am so grateful for all of that. Because, it could have been a lot worse.

Eventually, I went to college, had a beautiful conversion to the Catholic faith, graduated from nursing school, landed a great job at one of the top pediatric facilities in the country, did mission work, lived overseas, bought a home, and so many other wonderful things. From the outside, my parents’ divorce looks as if it had no impact on my life.

Yet, when I was living overseas, doing some long-term mission work, I was stripped away from all that I knew, all that was familiar, all that was keeping me comfortable. I was so overwhelmed with life (thinking that I was just not able to handle the mission work), that I had to leave. I had to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I sought therapy and realized I was depressed and struggled with a bit of anxiety. I had some deep, deep wounds that needed some healing, and that stripping away of all that I knew exposed them in a way that I couldn’t ignore anymore.

It didn’t take long to realize that those wounds had everything to do with my parents’ divorce. It affected me deeply. More than I ever thought was even possible.

And I was furious. I was so proud that I had a good and successful life that wasn’t damaged by divorce! It was “easy” and not messy, little drama. My parents were healed! I had good relationships with both of them! Things were good and fine. I was good and fine.

But, I wasn’t. And, really… it wasn’t. Things weren’t “good” or “fine.”

The divorce affected me, even though it wasn’t supposed to, according to… everyone.

I couldn’t stop it from hurting me. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I carried that shame for a long time.

I had no idea until recent years (decades after the divorce) that I was even allowed to not like it. That I was allowed to be upset. That I was allowed to feel pain from it. That I didn’t have to like going back and forth to my dad’s (of course I liked seeing/being with my dad). Or that it was appropriate to feel confused about my parents getting along so well, yet they couldn’t stay married and be together.

Since both of my parents had moved on and were fine, I suppose I realized early on that I had to be “fine” with it, too. Plus, there was nothing I could do about it, anyway. So, I just had to deal, which I did, for 20 years.

At almost 8 years old, I started providing incentives for my mom to not cry for a whole day. This only happened a few times right after the divorce, but it is amazing what will affect kids and what won’t. In a way, it was when I became “responsible” for how my mom reacted and felt. I never wanted to do anything to upset her. I didn’t want to add to her stress. This has affected aspects of our relationship throughout the years.

I never wanted to upset my dad. If he could stop loving mom and leave, then he surely could stop loving me.

I struggle with handling my own emotions, as I didn’t really learn how to handle them correctly since I was so worried about upsetting my mom and dad, and that’s all I was ever concerned about. I was a people pleaser. I was the nurturer, taking care of others. I got detention one time in all of my schooling. I worked hard to get good grades. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t. I never wanted to rock the boat.

Big decisions were agonizing for me and I carried that into adulthood. I was afraid of making the wrong decision, which could then upset or disappoint my parents. My 7 year old self would fear that they would be upset and/or leave. Now as an adult, I desire to be married and have a family, yet putting myself out there is a challenge. The fear of loving someone, being vulnerable and then having them leave is very real.

This is my reality. This is the reality of many, so I have learned very recently.

Source

Divorce is a loss. It’s death of a marriage. Death of family. Death of what life was. Death of what life could have been. And with most deaths, you grieve. You feel the pain. You take time to grieve that loss. But, divorce? No way! These things don’t affect children, right? How many children right now are not being allowed to grieve the separation and death of their parents’ marriage? How many adults are out there who never knew they were allowed to grieve?

There is no life that is without suffering. There is no life that is without pain. My life is no different. Your life is no different. It’s what we do with these sufferings and pain that matters. Will we take time to heal? What can we learn? How can we grow? What beauty do we see?

The very fact that I can even put all of this into words is an amazing thing. It really shows me how much I have healed, how much I have learned, how much grace the Lord has truly provided me.

I haven’t figured it all out. I don’t have perfect relationships with my parents. I am still healing. I am still learning. But, mostly, I am still hoping. I am living a beautiful life. The Lord has wonderful and amazing plans for me, and I am loved and adored by Him. I am confident in His love and His grace to continue transforming my heart.

 

 

 

Anonymous is a single Catholic woman in her 30s, striving daily to seek God and all things orange.

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.

Mary-ing Our Marthas

I was at a high school soccer game recently. I didn’t know the girls playing, but my second daughter was collecting the balls hit out of bounds with the rest of her soccer team. At least she was supposed to. They were focused, at first. But as the game wore on, the girls seemed more interested in working on a dance routine. My daughter participated, but eventually wandered off, choosing to spin underneath some low hanging trees instead. That’s so her style. Blissfully lost in her own world. Enjoying her life, expressing this joy through song and dance. I love watching her, whether it’s her dancing or her swinging ferociously. Her ability to escape the worries that I know school places on her, to forget her squabbles with her siblings, is inspiring. She knows how to enjoy life, how to appreciate the sun and the beauty of nature. She sees the world for the glorious gift that it is.

We are admonished to become as little children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. We are to trust completely in God, Our Father, knowing that He will provide for us, meeting our every need, sometimes in ways that better suit us than we can ever realize. We put our faith in Him and are not disappointed. The love and protection we come to recognize leads to trust and appreciation. It is truly a parent-child relationship. There is a peace that children have. Especially children who rest easy in the comfort of their parents’ love and protection.  There is a freedom and ease to their life; they bounce about, with few worries. What keeps us, as adults, from imitating, or seeking, this freedom? This ease? I have a never ending list of chores in my head; I rush from one task to the next. Being responsible, making sure that meals are made, the house is clean, the laundry is done. All of these are important, necessary tasks, much like school is for my children, so where is my peace? Where is my joy?

It’s a fine tightrope mothers walk. Finding that balance between Martha and Mary. There’s always so much that needs to be done, and yet these moments, these gifts from God are fleeting. And I admit, I was always sympathetic to Martha’s plight, dinner doesn’t make itself, and laundry doesn’t end up done, no matter how long you wait. It’s part of being an adult, balancing responsibilities and caring for those who depend on you. Still, we are called to be like children in relation to God. And what do children do? They delight in the world. They are free and uninhibited with their joy. I came to sit and write, at the scheduled time. I have a few minutes to drink my coffee now that the vacuuming is done before it’s time to work out. Then it will be lunch, with naptime and some school time following. My eighteen month old daughter followed me into the office, which isn’t unusual; she wanted to sit in my lap, which too isn’t unusual. And I held her, which I am very used to. But she wasn’t content to just sit, she wanted to snuggle and snuggle in such a way that her head rested on my shoulder. She’s a little thing, but still, both arms were required to hold her so. And I did. And I willed myself to not think of deadlines, of how I could move her just so and still type. I just sat and let her hair tickle my nose, her hands play with my shirt, her body melt into my arms, letting me know she was ready to sleep. But I didn’t rush her to bed. I delighted.

I delighted in the beautiful baby who is growing too fast. I delighted in the silence of the office, the bent heads engrossed in their schoolwork. I just let myself melt into the moment, pushed those worries out of my mind, even if just for a second. It is a beautiful life we lead, even if that beauty is mired in diapers, sticky hand prints, cranky children, who are always hungry. And just as we can miss the glorious sunset painting the colorful leaves as we rush from work to the numerous sports practices that await our children, we can miss the beauty of the chaotic world about us. Not that we don’t see it, but we don’t appreciate it in the moment. I’m sure that Martha was well aware how magnificent it was that Jesus was sitting there in her home. She was doing her best to keep the visit magnificent, cooking and caring for the needs of everyone, without help. And, at first glance, it seems like Jesus is ungrateful for her efforts. But He was just teaching, using her desire to love and serve to remind her of the why. The why we are so busy. It is to care for those we love, to provide for them. It is too easy to get wrapped up in the work itself, the cooking and cleaning, without remembering that it is to better care for those we love.

Martha was frustrated by the amount of work that she had to do, Mary was enjoying and delighting in the presence of those she loved. It can seem like a chore, a never ending to do list, the care and nurturing of our families. We can lose their faces to the stacks of dishes and unmade beds. So it is those moments when we let it go, we stop and delight, in which our Marthas and Marys meld. Our desires to serve and give are rejuvenated by our love and delight in those we want to give so much to. Let go of those cares, for just a moment. Let the beauty, the joy, the peace engulf you. Let your heart spin and twirl in the love that overwhelms you. Be childlike in your delight of the wonders in life. And then it’s back to work. But maybe it will seem just a little less like work.

 

Rebekah Andrews is a 2001 graduate of Thomas Aquinas college. Married to Dave since 2001, Rebekah is mother to five children. She home schools her children and works for an online school. There is no spare time for hobbies because all five children play various sports, mostly soccer. Rebekah also writes at Moments in Mediocre Motherhood.

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.