Category Archives: Catholicism

The Great Good of Celibacy (A Reponse to “Dismantling the Cross”)

I had a really tough time at Mass last Sunday. Since the readings were so clearly about marriage, I expected to hear a homily on that—and I did. I heard a great homily, actually; I’m thankful for that. Yet as someone who is openly celibate and may well remain so until death, I wasn’t hearing much for myself. That’s not the first time I’ve felt kind of left out by a homily, but it hit me really hard last week for some reason only God knows.

One point of consolation I have, in my life of being single and wishing I weren’t, is this: There is a place for celibacy in the Catholic Church. It’s an honored place, actually. Inconveniently for me, it is a place rarely occupied by people who haven’t taken some sort of vow, but at least our church doesn’t treat celibates like freaks. If it was good enough for Jesus, Mother Theresa, and (eventually) St. Augustine, it can be good enough for me. It was in this frame of mind that I came across Patricia Snow’s beautiful and well-developed essay in First Things, “Dismantling the Cross.” Her central message might not speak directly to me, and I don’t necessarily agree with every word, but it provides rich food for thought.

The Great Good of Celibacy: A Response to "Dismantling the Cross," by Patricia Snow at

My own commentary pales in comparison to the original; I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here are some of my favorite quotations from the essay and my thoughts on Snow’s argument.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

The Art of Preaching and Teaching (Review: “Rebuilding Your Message”)

I used to think I was indecisive. Now I’m not so sure. I can usually come down squarely on one side or the other about my opinions on books. Bumped? Loved it. Wild at Heart? Did not love it. Then I read Rebuilt, and I mostly liked it. I liked its foundational ideas, although I thought it had some flaws. And now I have read one of the follow-up volumes: Rebuilding Your Message: Practical Tools to Strengthen Your Preaching and Teaching, again by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran. It is definitely practical, but I don’t know if I’m totally on board with these practices.

"Street closed" sign.

This, for example, is not a good message to send. (Public domain image from

In general, I’m ambivalent about this book. Some of the advice is definitely needed. I agree with these authors (and others) that forming disciples is the true mission of the Church. That is where we need to direct our energy. I’m totally behind that. I agree less that focusing on attracting new disciples is the best action plan to fulfill that mission. Forming and strengthening existing disciples should inspire them to make new disciples. I’m all about reclaiming the lost sheep in the new evangelization, and that seems to be the fundamental difference that keeps me from loving books by Fr. White and Corcoran.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

My Holy Spirit Moment, at FaithND

As a graduate of Notre Dame, I was invited to write for their daily Gospel reflection series, FaithND. I’m not a subscriber, so I had no idea that both my BFF Sarah and fellow blogger Kelly have written for the series before. They recommended me, though, and I accepted.

a stone angel with a garland of flowers in front of a cross

My assigned date was today. At first, I was super excited because my friendship with Sabrina has given me a greater appreciation of angels than ever before. I was all set to talk about angels and dispel some myths. I was going to drop a catechetical knowledge bomb.

But it was not to be. FaithND is a collection of Gospel reflections, so I reflected on the Gospel alone. At first, that made me sad, because I love when the all the readings match (including the psalm; don’t forget the psalm). They don’t always match outside of special feasts, such as that of the Archangels today. Taken as a unit, today’s readings are all about angels.

Taken on its own, the Gospel for the Feast of the Archangels is not really about angels. When I read the Gospel, I got happy again, because I know exactly what Nathanael was experiencing. He heard Jesus speak with wisdom and supernatural knowledge. He heard the Spirit speaking through Jesus. I experienced that once with a friend from undergrad. My email archive shows that I told him about the impact of that moment back in 2009, but the story keeps coming to mind, so I must have needed to share it again. It wouldn’t be the first time I was given an experience as well as the mission to share it.

And I did share that Holy Spirit moment at FaithND today. You can read it under the “Reflection” button. I didn’t name my friend because I didn’t ask first, but I did send him a link. It is a blessing to have so many friends from undergrad who are now priests and religious, and it was a blessing to experience such convincing evidence of his vocation.

Catholics Drink Like Saints: A Response to Discussions of Catholicism and Alcohol

I was blessed to attend a college friend’s Baptist wedding reception (and the wedding) once, and I had a fantastic time. These many years later, two details stick out (three if you count the bride’s lovely, cap-sleeved gown). First, the reception ended very quickly and much earlier than I expected, and second, the desserts were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I don’t know for sure, but that might have been the case because there was no dancing and no alcohol.

At every Catholic wedding reception I’ve been to, there has been dancing, and there has been alcohol. I attended my first Catholic wedding in 2012, so my sample size isn’t very big, but I’ve found that to be true across the board. (There also tend to be babies.) Not so for other Christians. Due to the Temperance Movement’s longstanding legacy in evangelical and Baptist Christianity, Christians and alcohol have a tricky relationship. As in other areas, the Catholic point of view is different, and I like it.

Catholics Drink Like Saints: A Discussion of Catholicism and Alcohol at

I was inspired to reflect on this topic by multiple sources:

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part 9: Conclusions from Listening, Looking at Christ, and Confronting the Situation


Intro | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

It took me so long to work through all the questions that the synod finished long before this series did! That’s not because the questions are badly written or too theologically intense. You don’t need a theology degree to consider these questions. I don’t have a theology degree. I do have:

  • an undergraduate degree in English,
  • a master’s degree in secondary English education,
  • one year of part-time volunteer experience in high school youth ministry,
  • two years of full-time experience teaching high school English in Catholic schools, and
  • three years of full-time experience as lay pastoral staff in campus ministry.

If anyone can wrap their heads around this stuff without a theology degree, it’s me.

Last fall, I purposely avoided reading the interim relatio (the document that sparked all the media scrutiny, premature celebration, and premature panic). I was always waiting for the final draft. I’m sure the rough drafts of many classic stories would scandalize the most devoted reader!

So, after what seemed like forever, I read that final draft. Here are my summaries of the 3 parts of the concluding document, the relatio synodi. This is just what stuck out to me. I glossed over things I expected to see and focused on what was new and unusual. Section headings are from the original.

Part One, Listening: Context and Challenges of the Family

Loneliness and unemployment keep young people from forming the families they desire. Without the certainty of the knowledge that God is present and the security of premarital relationships (e.g., relationships with friends and family), the ability to enter into a Christian marriage is weakened. Without work, it is difficult to support a spouse, children, or aging parents. That keeps potential parents from getting married, welcoming children, and caring for their own parents. (number 6)

The idolization of emotions hurts the ability of people to enter into marriage or stay married. Marriage demands turning away from individualism and self-centeredness (because it’s no longer all about you) and requires commitment to your vows (so you can’t just leave if you’re not “feeling it” anymore). If you’ve spent your entire youth, adolescence, and early adulthood “finding yourself,” it’s no wonder you can’t “find” and commit to your spouse and future generations. (n. 9–10)

Part Two, Looking at Christ: The Gospel of the Family

Marriage as a lifelong, total, sacramental union is relatively new in the scope of salvation history. After the Fall, the ideal of marriage was lost, leading to Moses’ permitting divorce and remarriage. Christ, however, forbade divorce and remarriage in his own teachings. Scripture is organized in such a way that the story of God and man, Christ and the Church, begins and ends with a marriage: first, the original union of Adam and Eve, and finally, the wedding feast of the Lamb of God and his spotless Bride. (n. 13–16)

Although it’s true that many Catholics are only civilly married, divorced and remarried, or cohabiting, the fullness of the truth is sacramental marriage. We must speak the truth in love, which is more than mere compassion, just as Jesus did when he told the woman caught in adultery to “go, and sin no more.” (n. 24–28)

Part Three, Confronting the Situation: Pastoral Perspectives

Catholic families who are following Christ are the best method of evangelization about the gospel of the family. (n. 30)

Preparation for marriage and for initiation (e.g. RCIA and adult Confirmation programs) should include teaching on the family and the experience of real families. This connects the sacraments to one another and emphasizes the presence of families in the church community. In the first few years of marriage, we should offer liturgies and prayer opportunities focused on developing and showing examples of family spirituality. (n. 39–40)

The primary goal of the annulment process is to determine the truth about the marriage. That remains even in proposals to eliminate the court of second instance1 or to use a shorter process when “nullity is clearly evident.” The faith of the individual spouses might be considered as a contributing factor to validity. (n. 48)

The discussion about allowing people who are divorced-and-remarried to receive Confession and the Eucharist remains unresolved, although it would require a suitable penance determined by each person’s bishop. Whether re-admittance would be on a blanket or individual basis is also unresolved. The difference between spiritual and sacramental Communion needs further study to determine how they can be applied to this situation. (n. 52–53)

Same-sex marriage is not equal or even substantially similar to sacramental or natural marriage. When organizations tie economic aid to the requirement to legalize gay marriage, they’re doing a grave injustice to the poor. (n. 54–55)

My Final Thoughts

I have plenty to say regarding two of the hot-button issues discussed at the synod: communion for the divorced-and-remarried and revising the annulment process. I actually have some professional experience with the latter2, and now that the motu proprio has been issued, I have to work through everything again! I’m not quite ready to share that on the Internet, though. The Internet never forgets. If you know me in person, I’ll talk with you about it. For now, I’ll let those thoughts stay offline.

In general, I was pleased with the relatio synodi. The regrouping of topics makes it clearer that these discussion are focused on the Church’s primary mission: evangelization. People are facing real problems, so we’re listening. The family should point toward Christ, so we’re looking at him. He is our shepherd, so we’re examining the flock and maybe bringing some wayward sheep back into the fold.

I also want to direct you toward a few other post-synod writings that caught my eye.

First, read the message the synod fathers published to accompany the relatio synodi. It’s beautiful. It paints a picture of the pain families face today, and it offers a vision of the ideal. It also includes a prayer for families. If you haven’t been praying for marriage in general, for families, or for our Church leaders, you should be.

Second, Cardinal Dolan blogged a reflection on his experience of the synod. He was actually there and knows exactly what happened. He suggests that anyone who thought Church teaching would change due to the synod should read Catholicism for Dummies. That’s a real book, by the way. I own it, and I like it a lot.

Third, if you are wondering what this week’s motu proprio on annulments means, the best answer is “no one is 100% sure.” It doesn’t take effect until December 8, and I don’t know whether the new canons (laws) will apply to annulment petitions that have been started already or only to new ones submitted on or after that date. My best advice for anyone who might be interested in petitioning for annulment is to approach your pastor and make an appointment to talk about it. All annulments start with that step.

The media response to the synod was less than ideal, to say the least. The Church’s response should be one of relief. These important questions are being asked in an official and appropriate context. Answers are being proposed, discussed, and argued over. As Cardinal Dolan mentioned, the apostles did the same thing in Acts. There should be no battle between clergy and laity. We can work together to get everyone to heaven, united with Christ forever.

What was your response to the synod? Were you relieved, worried, or confused? Do you think it was a waste of time? Are you frustrated that there were no definitive answers or major changes in Church teaching?

  1. Currently, for all positive declarations of nullity (a.k.a. “getting an annulment”), the first tribunal’s positive decision (“this marriage is null”) automatically has to be confirmed by a second tribunal. The second tribunal is called “the court of second instance.” That court also has first-instance cases.

    If the second tribunal agrees, the former spouses receive a positive declaration, “get an annulment,” and are free to marry. If more than one marriage is being investigated, the next marriage can then be evaluated. (That happens more often than you might think.)

    If the second tribunal disagrees (“no, this marriage is still binding”), the former spouses receive a negative declaration, do not “get an annulment,” and are considered to still be married to each other. The declaration can be appealed to a higher tribunal: the Roman Rota. That is rare and expensive, but it happens.

    Pope Francis’s motu proprio references the court of second instance, but I have already read completely contradictory commentary about what the text actually says, so I will refrain from commenting. 

  2. I was trained as a field advocate for the Diocese of Austin, so I know exactly what is involved in “getting an annulment” here. I probably know more than I ought to. It makes me really fun at parties. 

Catholics, Please Stop Saying “Capital-T Tradition”

I have a problem with what people insist on calling “capital-T Tradition versus lowercase-T tradition.” It’s not as extensive as my problem with calling single life a vocation, but it’s among my pet peeves.

First of all, no one talks like that! No one ever uses the phrase “capital-T Tradition” unless they are attempting to explain the difference between the kinds of tradition in the Catholic Church.

Second, it’s confusing when people say “capital-T Tradition” because we don’t usually specify capitalization when we speak. If we do attempt to specify that kind of non-spoken language, we sound like Victor Borge doing “Phonetic Punctuation.”

Third, there are two kinds of Catholic tradition, so we might as well give them different names.

Sacred Tradition

One kind of tradition means “teachings and practices of the Church that are not explicitly Scriptural but still mandatory to believe or do.” I call that kind “sacred tradition” to help clarify.

  • Sacred tradition in practice: Genuflect toward the Blessed Sacrament. We do this when entering a room where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved or exposed, when leaving such a room, or passing by the tabernacle. It’s a sign of our faith. Not doing it is a sign of ignorance (the kind where you didn’t know Jesus was home or didn’t know that you’re supposed to genuflect, not the “you’re stupid” kind) or of disbelief.
  • Sacred tradition in belief: Mary remained a virgin her entire life. The Bible doesn’t say “Mary had no other children after Jesus,” but everyone understood and believed that from the beginning of Christianity. The “brothers of Jesus” mentioned in Scripture are stepbrothers, cousins, or just buddies. (Notice that Jesus doesn’t confirm that the men mentioned are his brothers. In fact, he specifically says that everyone is his brother, sister, and mother. I don’t hear anyone saying Jesus had more than one mother.)
Eucharistic adoration. Just don't call it "capital-T tradition."

See this; genuflect. Easy peasy.
(photo CC BY-NC-SA by the Office of Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis)

Pious Tradition

The other kind of tradition, in the sense of “teachings and practices of the Church that have been around a long time” is what I call “pious tradition.” That is much clearer than “lowercase-T tradition.” It’s the kind of tradition you keep because it enriches the faith and culture, not because it’s set in stone, mandatory, and immutable.

  • Pious tradition in practice: Roman Catholic priests are unmarried. There are married Roman Catholic priests; they’re just the exception and not the rule. The rule could change, although I don’t think it will.
  • Pious tradition in belief: St Joseph was an old man, widowed and maybe with older children, when Jesus was born. You can believe that if it helps you grow in holiness. You can also believe something else about St. Joseph’s age, marriage history, and parenthood. In The World’s First Love, Venerable Fulton Sheen makes a solid case for St. Joseph’s having been a young, never-married, childless man when Jesus was born.

So what?

Changing the requirement of celibacy for Roman Catholic priests or believing St. Joseph was a young man doesn’t make you a heretic. (For the record, I support priestly celibacy, and I’m ambivalent about St. Joseph’s age and all that.) They might not be popular opinions, but you shouldn’t be run out of the Church for having them.

Not believing that the Eucharist is the True Presence of Jesus Christ or not supporting Mary’s perpetual virginity? That’s a different story. Pious tradition is open to debate. Sacred tradition is not.

Mathing Up the Faith (Review: “Arriving at Amen”)

I love a good conversion story. I’ve made a few attempts at writing my own, but I have never found quite the right angle of approach. It’s not the struggle to find something other than God in which to place my happiness, like it was for Jen Fulwiler. It’s not the attempt to make up my own system of belief and finding that the system already existed, like it was for G.K. Chesterton. After reading this most recent conversion story, I am convinced that I need to find my own schema for describing my journey toward God. For Leah Libresco, online atheist to newbie Catholic, it was a series of scaffolds between the worlds she knew so well and the traditions she slowly came to embrace. She shares her metaphysical bridges in Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer.

It is no hyperbole to say that I am not into math or science. I studied engineering in high school, and I continue to befriend engineers, so I can speak the lingo, but my forays into the field are child’s play compared to Leah Libresco’s. Hers is the most intellectual story of finding God that I have ever read. It was a challenge to my mind and my soul to identify with her on the journey.

I felt my heart breaking as she explained her inability (at first) to accept the idea of mercy, preferring a cut-and-dry system of rule-breaking and punishment. I find kindred spirits in literature, too (although mine are not from Les Misérables; what a classy favorite!) I have taken up social dancing, so I can understand the process of internalizing that rhythm as a springboard to Rosary-guided contemplation. I struggle with Reconciliation as rationalization; I also find healing in acknowledging my brokenness.

Review of "Arriving at Amen," by Leah Libresco

Leah Libresco describes herself as still just “flailing toward Christ.” But she can dance, so it might look like this.
(Image CC0 from

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

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