Category Archives: marriage

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”

 

The Proper Weight of Man

January 15, 2000, at about 9 PM at the now-closed Steak & Ale on Forrest Dr. in Columbia, SC, I proposed marriage by reading this passage:

“The weight of these golden rings”, he said, “is not the weight of metal, but the proper weight of man, each of you separately and both together. Ah, man’s own weight, the proper weight of man! Can it be at once heavier, and more intangible? It is the weight of constant gravity, riveted to a short flight. The flight has the shape of a spiral, an ellipse—and the shape of the heart … Ah, the proper weight of man! This rift, this tangle, this ultimate depth— this clinging when it is so hard to unstick heart and thought. And in all this—freedom, a freedom, and sometimes frenzy, the frenzy of freedom trapped in this tangle. And in all this—love, which springs from freedom, as water springs from an oblique rift in the earth. This is man! He is not transparent, not monumental, not simple, in fact he is poor. This is one man—and what about two people, four, a hundred, a million— multiply all this (multiply the greatness by the weakness) and you will have the product of humanity, the product of human life.”
Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II), The Jeweler’s Shop, Act 1, scene 4).

Here’s a link to the play:

To Hipster Dad and Trad Dad

A few days ago, Aleteia started the latest round of parents-at-mass wars by reprinting a CatholicMom.com column from last June, by one Thomas Tighe, a self-described “hipster dad,” who writes about one of those incidents I’ve blogged about before where people come up and say rude comments to parents trying their best to teach their kids how to behave at Mass.  Now, whether Mr. Tighe’s description of his attempts really qualifies as “his best” is a matter for debate but of prudential judgement.  I know, though, that when our kids were little, one of the major reasons we shunned the cry room as often as possible was to avoid the bad example of parents who brought snacks and non-relevant toys (we would always try to get the kids to bring religious books and sometimes religious toys).

Sometimes, a cry room is necessary.  Sometimes, a vestibule or a trip outside church is necessary.  Indeed, I got so used to taking my autistic son out of church that I realized at one point last year I preferred being outside, listening on the speaker.

I like the anecdote about Ven. Fulton Sheen, when a lady took a crying baby out of Mass during his homily: “Madame, you needn’t take the baby out on my account.  He isn’t bothering me.”
“No,” the lady replied, “but you’re  bothering the baby!”

Yes, parents of young or disabled children have no Mass obligation, but that is precisely why attending at all is an act of heroic virtue.

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to agree with Tighe, especially given the absolute vitriol that people were spewing in response to his column.  For example, Steve Skojec weighed in with the perspective of a “certain kind of traditionalist.”

Skojec takes the “absolute silence” perspective, including suggesting that it’s a sin to drop a book.  I’m sure he’d be deeply offended by the sound of my wheelchair or the number of times I drop things at Mass!

I wish I could get people like you to stop quoting Mark 10 as a justification for irresponsible parenting. I have always brought my children to Mass, letting the little children come unto Him…but I’ve also always reminded them that the Mass is a supreme act of worship of Our Lord on the Cross, not a friendly gathering where Jesus told the little guys cute parables. . . .

Yes, when the Apostles were complaining about children, they were mad that the children were being perfectly well behaved and wearing their blue blazers with brass buttons.  And when Jesus said you can’t get into Heaven unless you learn to be like children, He meant perfectly silent and well-dressed.

When people have offered actual help, or talked to our kids helpfully, I’ve welcomed it.  Once, when my kids got distracted by the Christmas Tree at the Christmas Eve vigil, the pastor gently said, “I realize you’re excited because it’s Christmas, but please wait till after Mass to look at the tree.” Another time, as my eldest daughter loudly proclaimed her responses at our parish, a lady behind us kept whispering in her ear.  I braced myself when the lady approached me after Mass.
“How old is she?” she asked.
“Five,” I said.
“You must have taken her to Mass since she was a baby.  I kept leaning over and telling her how impressed I was that she knew her responses.  I have a daughter who’s a nun now, and she knew her responses when she was 5, too.”
A few times, we went to Sunday evening Mass at my alma mater’s campus chapel.  We were flabbergasted when the young priest pointed to our kids as an example of how to behave at Mass!   “Those little children know how to behave at Mass better than you college students!” Then when the baby woke up and started crying, he said, “Now, see?  You’ve woken up the baby!”
I went to daily Mass there once with my son, when he was 2 or 3 but not yet diagnosed autistic.  Father asked if I wanted to lector.  I said, “What about him?”  “He’ll be fine!”   I shrugged my shoulders, got up to read, and my son started following.  I gestured to return to the seat, and he did.
My eldest daughter once got up and laid prostrate in front of the altar after a homily about kids at Mass.
She had grown up attending a monthly “Reform of the Reform” Latin Ordinary Form liturgy in Northern Virginia, and the occasional High Mass Extraordinary Form in Richmond.  When she was 2, she sang her Latin Mass parts well enough to impress a Juilliard-trained composer and choral director.
After we moved to SC, there was a monthly EF low Mass we would try to attend.  Once, when she was 5 or 6, confused by everyone being silent during the liturgy of the Eucharist, she began singing the “Salve Regina,” perfectly.  She was sitting a few rows behind me, with her godfather.  I turned to shush her, but almost everyone smiled and gestured as if to say, “she’s fine.”

A few years later, at another parish, I was sitting up front with the younger two, and an elderly couple behind us kept leaning over and whispering what I sensed were gentle admonitions to my son.  After Mass, they asked, “He’s autistic, right?”  I said, “Yes.  They both are.”  They said, “We have an autistic grandson.  We know how it is!”

But we’ve had enough nasty comments to know some people will never be satisfied.
One of the times I tried to bring my son to the low Mass, he whispered some questions but was relatively well-behaved.  Nevertheless, this older gentleman came up and yelled at me, saying, “I raised nine children, and I taught them to behave themselves at Mass!”  I really got the impression that he was as mad about my daughter’s devotion as about my son’s curiosity.  Two other ladies followed him and said, “Don’t listen to him, you’re doing great!”

I often tell the story of taking all four kids to a “Holy Hour” by myself. They’d been to Benediction many times, and knew some of Evening Prayer from my saying it at home.  I was holding the baby.  The then 6 and 4 year old were focusing on the prayers. My son was walking up and down the pews, but being quiet, as he’d done at the aforementioned college mass, which was a huge improvement for him.
They used illicit, barely recognizable, texts for Vespers and Benediction, politically correct, Charismatic and “interfaith friendly.”  At Benediction, they “voted” on which hymn to sing instead of “Tantum Ergo,” and sang “Amazing Grace.”
At the Magnificat, Divine Praises and other points, my kids said the correct translation with me.  Afterwards, the deacon who led it came up and told me how distracting my family was, and children shouldn’t be present at such a “solemn event.”

The last time we had a direct encounter, my wife was in the back with the younger two, who were both sleepy, as they often are, from their meds.  These two old ladies told my wife that our kids were distracting them by sleeping!

So, whether they’re actually being bad, or they’re actually participating, or they’re being quiet but sleeping, we’ve gotten both positive and negative feedback from strangers and clergy.

Yes, there are some people who are blessed with peaceful, well-behaved children, and like other people blessed with particular virtues, they shouldn’t lord it over others.  But there are also some whose kids’ perfect behavior can be a bit scary to the rest of us.

For the past several months, we’ve been regularly attending a Byzantine church that we have visited from time to time over the past 5 years, and I always found the kids seemed to be better behaved and attentive there.  In Advent, I suggested going to the OF Vigil Mass (it didn’t work out because we all got sick), and the kids said, “Do we have to?!”  They find the chanting both soothing and easy to participate in. They love having the icons to pray with. Like me, they find incense bothers them allergy-wise, but they also find it calming (even when they were smaller, they seemed to settle a bit at Vespers as soon as the Censer passed).  They like the community meal after Liturgy.  When there are a lot of children, the DRE gathers them and brings them up to sit in front of Father during the homily.

On Sunday, we were a bit late as usual.  It was Theophany, so there was an especially long liturgy.  I brought three because our middle daughter was sick, and my wife stayed home since I’m the one who usually does.

We stood/sat in the back.  In the second to last row, there was a visiting family–very obviously Latin Rite traditionalists.  The father and sons were all in suits.  The wife and daughters, all in dresses and veils (while veiling is traditional in the East, it’s not an “obligation,” and from my research veiling is usually avoided in the Melkite Church to avoid confusion with Muslims).   My two youngest ended up right behind them.  I was across the aisle.  My teenager was at the other end.  We’d been told to take empty holy water bottles when we came in.  So my son kept playing with his holy water bottle.  After a while, he came over and told me that he realized we had forgotten to get his morning pills before we left the house! I thanked him for holding it together so well, and took him out to the car to take his pills.  I was happy he was holding it together so well, but still trying to keep him in control.  He kept bugging his younger sister, and she kept shushing him.  The lady in the veil in front of her kept turning around and admonishing *her*.

Later in the afternoon, since I didn’t recognize the family, my wife asked our daughter if she recognized the lady.
“Which lady?”
“The lady who kept turning around and correcting you,” I said.
“Oh, *that* lady,” she sighed.  I should note that, of our four children, she’s the most resistant in matters of faith and has already developed the impression that God is a dictator Who just has a bunch of rules and wants to “get” people, in spite of our efforts to teach a balanced view of the faith.  If she grew up in one of these, “children should be seen and not heard” families, what would her faith be like?

What does it mean to be a “Successful” Parent?

Our Lady told St. Bernadette, “I cannot promise you happiness.” Many parents, however, say, “I just want you to be happy.” I say, “I just want you to be a Saint.” As Mother Angelica says in the opening sequence, “We are all called to be great Saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” That should be every parent’s priority. Education is about formation of the person. Careers are how we provide for needs. They should also be apostolates–as CS Lewis and St. Josemaria, among so many others have said, being the best scientist, showing people a God’s hand in creation, or the best housewife, showing His love to everyone, is a more important and effective Apostolate than being a theologian–but work, like the Sabbath, was made for man. We treat our children like they exist only to be money-making or power-grabbing machines in a competitive world. It can be difficult to teach them how to honor God by doing their best to be their best while teaching them to avoid unnecessary stress or the “rat race.”There can be an equal temptation, though, to turn that quest for sanctity into a competition if its own, as if a formally recognized “St.” Degree, as Mother Angelica calls it, is the objective.  There is no more perfect formula to raising holy kids than there is to raising kids to be MDs or music stars.  

The popular but misused teaching of St. Augustine, dilige et quod vis fac, often mistranslated as “love and then do as you will,” really means “Love your duty and then do it.” Dilige is, after all, the root of “diligence,”though also of “delight,” etc.  Years ago,  I read a fantastic “testimony,” as the Evangelicals would say, by a Catholic “revert” who was led astray by the popular misuse of that expression.  I can’t find it offhand but here are a couple other sites that share the same critique of the popular version.  In reality, it’s the Little Way of St. Therese, or the maxim of Teresa of Avila (requoted by her popular namesakes) to do small things with great love and find God among the pots and pans.

Any parent who gets that message through is successful.

The Key to a “Perfect Marriage”

Is not to think there is one.

Back in the late 90s, Mary Beth Bonacci wrote a column about how the purpose of dating is to break up.  So often, that seems to be the purpose not just of dating but of most “relationship” articles.  “How to tell if your [guy/girl] is [cheating/wrong for you/the right one,” “How to tell if your relationship is failing.”  “What do all successful marriages have in common?”

Bai MacFarlane once observed of her divorce that there’s a certain attitude of the “perfect Catholic marriage” that has grown out of the JP2/NFP/TOB movement that sets a certain standard, and people are often led to stress about trying to achieve that standard.

A few years ago, Matt Walsh wrote a piece called “My Marriage Wasn’t Meant to Be,” which he apparently recently revised for his new Blaze column in response to the Sparks divorce.  His point is that we have free will, and the notion of being “destined” to marry someone takes away from free will but also creates an ideal that is too easily lost to sentimentalism–or questioning whether “this is the right one.”  I’d argue that a Mystery is far more complicated than that, and he is quite literally touching on the basic question of free will versus predestination and God’s plans versus our own, but he makes a good point.

Closer to home, my wife, thinking about cases like the MacFarlanes, or Nicholas Sparks and his wife, or of how every celebrity couple who give an interview about their great marriage seem to divorce shortly thereafter, always says, “Don’t say we have a ‘happy marriage.’  Saying that is just inviting the Devil to tempt us.  There’s no such thing as a ‘happy marriage’ or a ‘perfect marriage.'”  It wasn’t until recently that I connected all those thoughts and realized that’s what she means.

Maggie Gallagher a few years ago wrote of attending a 50th anniversary party, where the husband was asked the secret to staying married 50 years, and he said, “Arrive for your wedding and then wait.”

That, really, sums it up.  There are plenty of good points available for guidance in discerning whether someone is the “right” person to marry, and there is plenty of good advice for trying to do better.  But there is a great danger in constantly thinking that a relationship must be “perfect,” that a person must be “perfect,” that if you’re *not* living up to the standard, that you should call it quits.

Nonetheless, however you get there, presuming proper formation and discernment, and no canonical impediments, whether you’re “best friends,” “soul mates,” or arranged, or whatever, after the vows are exchanged, the key to marriage is a) to remember that divorce is never an option; b) to always keep working at it; c) to remember that you’ve given yourselves to each other and be grateful for that gift.

And that’s really all there is to it.

#NFPAwarenessWeek – Evangelizing By Testimony

Since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968, the week containing July 25 is now considered #NFPWeek.
If someone is able-bodied, and effectively using NFP to space children, whether that means having 6 instead of 12 kids, or “stopping” at 2, or whatever, then I think it’s important to share stories.
If someone is struggling with NFP, pastors and other laity need to be aware of different methods to provide more effective help. It seems like proponents of almost every method say, “Ours is *the one*, and you don’t need to learn about the others,” but each method has advantages and disadvantages and are better suited to different couples and situations. For those who say, “Trust Providence,” I say that NFP *is* trusting Providence.
In our case, I think most people in our families assume we are experiencing secondary infertility. Just this evening, my wife was holding her brother’s new baby, and her sister said, “Next baby will be yours,” as if she’s presuming we’re “trying” but can’t. Yes, from time to time we pause to consider it, and, yes, we have had a few “close calls,” and if God blessed us with another baby, we’d figure it out, but as our close friends have put it, “If anybody has grave reasons, you two do.”
When we were first married, we used sympto-thermal method (CCLI), charting temperatures, getting up each morning to take temperatures, etc. Our first month of marriage, when “phase 2” rolled around, we were praying over whether to abstain.

We tried “Bible roulette,” prayed to the Holy Spirit and found a few passages about not worrying about what other people think, and that addressed a few of our other side issues. Then I looked up from the Bible and saw that my wife was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Consider the Lilies of the field. . . .”
The second month, on the first day of Phase 2, the Gospel was “Anyone who welcomes a child welcomes Me. . . . ”
So while we charted, our prayer led us to openness to a baby. One of our main concerns was my wife being the primary wage earner. We’d hoped I’d be done with my MA by the end of our first year of marriage and able to get a full time job. If that didn’t happen, we figured we should time a baby to be born in early summer, so after September, we began abstaining during Phase 2, until April when we figured we’d at least have Winter break, and in May, my wife woke me up one morning and said, “Good morning, Dad.”
I was never able to get full time work in spite of trying, so we made do withwe a lot of help for a couple years. Over Christmas 2002, when our eldest was 9 months old, the holiday got the better of us, and we got a bunch of signs from God, and we knew a baby had been conceived, and we would name that baby Lewis or Louise. It wasn’t the best timing but seemed to be God’s will. In March, we suffered a miscarriage.
As time went on, we learned how difficult it can be to use sympto-thermal method once you already have a baby, and if you’re using “ecological breastfeeding” as a form of child spacing. However, the charting we’d already done had given us a general sense of the “unofficial signs” of ovulation, such as ovulation pain. We moved from sympto-thermal to rhythm.
That June, we had a “method failure”–early ovulation, which nothing but abstaining from day 1 until 3 or 4 days after ovulation occurred could account for–but better timing in that by the time our second full-term baby was born, my wife’s short-term disability insurance’s maternity leave coverage would be in effect.
Lactational ammenorhea ended about 8 months of time after each birth. When that ended in October or November 2004, we started looking into Billings Ovulation Method, I misunderstood some signs, and by January 2005, we learned there was another baby on the way.
My own career had been on the upswing that year, and a week before our son was born, I started my first and only full time job. My wife was able to get a year of leave from her school district, and started tutoring online part time.
During that period of amenorrhea, we studied Billings Ovulation Model. We also tried practicing NFP more
“conservatively,” waiting from Day 1 till 3 days after we thought ovulation had occurred. That time, weren’t even sure when ovulation occurred, or how it was possible, but our youngest daughter was born in May 2007.
In the meantime, we had moved to SC, I had had a few health scares, and I began feeling a new kind of pain and pressure in my upper back. Over the next several months, I studied the various methods, indicators, and available devices in great detail. I found out that Marquette had developed a model using the ClearPlan Fertility Monitor, so we bought one of those. After a couple years, the device burnt out, and we started just using over the counter test strips because they’re cheaper, and we then knew how to read them. We found a website called myfertilitycharts.com, and we began using that to chart. Our youngest is now 8, during which time both of us have had health problems.
1) God sent us the method we needed it when we really needed it
2) If we had followed the more worldly advice of “waiting,” we might never have had kids at all (which we knew and was why we didn’t).

What magical “rights” do married couples have, anyway?

Today, Sam Brownback signed an executive order giving a broad-ranging exemption to religious-affiliated organizations that refuse to recognize same sex “marriage.”  Of course, as they do with trying to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortion and contraception “services,” liberals began to insist this is going to deprive people of healthcare.   What if, for example, a gay man was admitted to the only hospital in town, which was Catholic, and his “spouse” came in and wanted to speak as his representative?

Guess what?  Heterosexual couples don’t get stamped, “Spouse”!  We don’t get ID’s that say, “X, Wife of Y.”  Once when I was in the hospital, a nurse was talking about giving me a bath, and suggested my wife could do it, and said, “Wait, you *are* his wife, right?”

When it comes to making major decisions, especially post-HIPAA, that’s what Advanced Directives are for.  Coincidentally, a friend was recently saying on Facebook how, when she designated her medical representative, she was advised to *not* have a spouse or immediate family member, if possible, but a close friend who understood her wishes.  I wouldn’t change my wife as my top decision maker, but when I was at my worst, she was pretty broken up. Thankfully, my desire, as any person’s should be, is to avoid intentional killing of myself, but even so, it speaks to the use of such an extreme, emotive situation as an example, the way liberals like to do, I can provide plenty of extreme, emotive situations to the contrary.

I have a paralyzed vocal cord.  It’s tough to conduct business on the phone.  My wife and I have always tried to conduct business on each other’s behalf, yet it’s always, “I can’t speak to you, even though you’re her husband.  State credit law says I have to speak to her.”   “I can’t speak to you even though you’re his wife because of HIPAA.”

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What mysterious “benefits” do married couples get, anyway?