Tag Archives: marriage

Pocket-Sized Pointers for Picking a Partner (Review: “101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person”)

Today’s review is of a short book, so this will be a short review. Following on the heels of their successful book 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage, Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes have released a guide for getting to marriage in the first place. This new title basically begged me to read it: 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each Other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do. Yes, please! In this tiny tome, I found much to support my previous thoughts about important premarital decisions and a few new points to ponder.

As the authors note, it’s much easier to have a happy marriage when you’ve married the right person in the first place. Thus, most of the book is given over to how to improve yourself as a single, how to date wisely, and what to look for when the possibility of marriage pops over the horizon. They’re definitely on the right track there. I have never been married, but I used to do marriage prep (for other couples, not for myself), and I have a personal interest in improving the way marriages begin. Starting off on the right foot sounds like a good way to set yourself up for marital bliss.

Photo by Billy Quach

Photo by Billy Quach

Some standout tips are… Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

What Does a Marriage Culture Look Like? (Review: Helen Alvaré, “Restoring Culture from Confusion”)

Since the decision of the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges effectively legalized civil marriage between two people of the same sex in all 50 states, many opponents of same-sex marriage have been wondering what to do. Is there anything to do? The law has clearly come down on one side, and it’s not the side of the Catholic Church or even many secular organizations. It now falls to advocates for opposite-sex marriage to try to change hearts the way same-sex marriage supporters successfully changed laws.

Religious arguments won’t sway everyone, though, so it’s useful to have a historical, philosophical, or social vantage point to rely on. That’s part of how I found the Love and Fidelity Network. I’ve been keeping tabs on their work for several years now, since I worked in campus ministry. College campuses are customarily places for exposure to new ideas and inherently places where young people make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. They’re an excellent place to spread the message of marriage, family, and sexual integrity.

“Sexual integrity” is the rallying cry of the Love & Fidelity Network. There is a perception that we can do whatever we want with our sex lives, especially while we’re young, without those chose having any effect on our future. From the POV of sexual integrity, however, our sexual choices really do affect our futures. Each year, the Love & Fidelity Network sponsors a conference for student leaders called “Sexuality, Integrity, and the University.” Last fall, Helen Alvaré, J.D., Professor of Law at George Mason University and a graduate of Cornell Unversity and the Catholic University of America, gave a delightful presentation about what a marriage culture would look like. It’s an intriguing picture. Watch the video below…or read my summary for a briefer version of her vision.

Read my commentary at ATX Catholic.

Recommended Reads: 27/2016

The nice thing about reading as much as I do from so many different sources is that, when I’m on a low swing in terms of volume, I have a huge backlog of recommendations built up. I’m also glad to have the time to read in the first place.

I also want to take a moment to recommend one of my favorite sources for Catholic content curation: the Catholic Education Resource Center. I found it by way of my dear friend Lyzii. The URL has “Catholic education” in it, and since we are both Catholic educators (although I don’t currently work as one), I thought the post she shared would be about teaching. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to have been so wrong. I’ve been a happy subscriber to their weekly newsletter for several years.

pile of books

— 1 —

Title: The Myth of Quality Time
Source: The New York Times

There’s simply no real substitute for physical presence.

We delude ourselves when we say otherwise, when we invoke and venerate “quality time,” a shopworn phrase with a debatable promise: that we can plan instances of extraordinary candor, plot episodes of exquisite tenderness, engineer intimacy in an appointed hour.

We can try. We can cordon off one meal each day or two afternoons each week and weed them of distractions. We can choose a setting that encourages relaxation and uplift. We can fill it with totems and frippery — a balloon for a child, sparkling wine for a spouse — that signal celebration and create a sense of the sacred.

And there’s no doubt that the degree of attentiveness that we bring to an occasion ennobles or demeans it. Better to spend 15 focused, responsive minutes than 30 utterly distracted ones.

But people tend not to operate on cue.

QT is my love language. I don’t like the implication later that cohabiting couples just want more QT, but I’m learning how important extended face time really is.

— 2 —

Title: Underage Drinking
Source: Jimmy Akin

This is not so relevant to me as it once was, since I am way over the legal drinking age, but I like his method of reasoning through just versus unjust laws and scandal. I think we’ve lost our cultural sense of scandal and that such a loss is a bad thing.

— 3 —

Title: Gender Heresy
Source: Catholic Authenticity by Melinda Selmys

Not having a single answer to the transgender question is super hard. This is an excellent analysis of both positions and why it’s important that discussion happens at all, even if I’m still frustrated that there’s no single answer yet.

— 4 —

Title: We Are Signs
Source: Theology of the Body Evangelization Team (TOBET) Blog

In a culture that believes sex is a universal “right” and something that everyone must have, a single person leading a chaste life is one powerful sign! It means that their sexuality is reserved. Not repressed, but reserved. Reserved because it’s intended for something grand, and refuses to settle for anything less.

— 5 —

Title: There’s an awful cost to getting a Ph.D. that no one talks about
Source: Quartz

Academia is understanding, but perhaps too accepting, that everyone has problems,” says Jane. “Just because many people do have mental health problems, it’s not ok that that’s ‘how it is.’”

— 6 —

Title: The problem isn’t that life is unfair—it’s that you don’t know the rules
Source: Business Insider

I had to break Rule #2 to my students all the time. Working hard is important, but that alone doesn’t get you good grades.

— 7 —

Title: Three Simple Rules for Happiness
Source: The Catholic Gentleman

In the same way, marriages become more stable only after disillusionment has brought the honeymoon to an end. The great value of the marital vow is in keeping the couple together during the first quarrel; it tides them over their early period of resentment, until they get the second wind of true happiness at being together. Marriage joys, like all great joys, are born out of some pain. As we must crack the nut to taste the sweet so, in the spiritual life, the cross must be the prelude to the crown.

Is there anything Fulton Sheen wrote or said that is not pure gold? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing.


For up-to-the minute recommendations from what I read, follow me on Pocket.

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

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Synod14.

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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. 

Marriage Advice for Singles: Scott Stanley on How to Lower Your Risk of Divorce

In case you were wondering, I am still not married. Thus, I still keep my eyes and ears open for marriage advice to tuck away for later (thanks, secret Pinterest boards!) and for advice on how to become unsingled. That’s like a conscious uncoupling, but in the other direction.

Not all of the advice I gather is specifically religious. As many popes and Catholic scientists have reminded us, the Church is not opposed to science. Even Pope Francis studied chemistry. In the “soft” sciences, I’ve always been fascinated by research done in psychology and sociology, although I have no desire to enter the field myself. I seek to understand humanity on an empirical level as well as a spiritual one.

I’m learning plenty about building strong spiritual foundations for a lifelong marriage. Unfortunately, investigative data into what makes a marriage last until death (i.e. not end in divorce) is hard to come by. As University of Denver researcher Dr. Scott Stanley points out, in addition to the problem of all the subjects outliving the researchers, by the time anyone gets the results, the generation they apply to will already be dead or divorced. That’s actually the goal, in a backwards sort of way: in order to see whether a specific group of marriages end in death/widowhood or divorce, you have to wait until almost everyone dies. When you finally have results, they apply to a generation that is mostly dead. Thus, the “half of all marriages end in divorce” statistic literally does not apply to people marrying today. But it’s not zero, and that’s not good. So, scientifically, what can we do to aim for the best camp, the marriages that last for a lifetime?

Looking at the brighter side, Stanley offers a list of advice for singles about how to lower the risk of divorce. That’s right up my alley. He summarizes the conclusions from research, his own and others’, regarding factors for risk of divorce. Compared to reading all the studies yourself, his articles are a piece of cake.

Advice for lowering your risk of divorce that is a piece of cake. Wedding cake. See what I did there?

Wedding cake. See what I did there?
(Photo by Victoria Watkin-Jones. CC BY-NC-ND.)

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

The Hidden Sweetness of Marriage (Review: Humanum Series, Part Four)

“Marriage is hard.” I don’t quite know when it happened, but at some point, that became a movement. I’ve never been married, but from what I understand, it is, in fact, hard. The problem is that marriage is apparently so hard, and the “marriage is hard” movement so strong, that marriage now seems too hard. Tucked underneath the political frenzy over same-sex marriage is the reality that marriage itself isn’t as popular as it once was. I don’t need to list statistics to convince you of that.

I’ve written before about the Humanum Colloquium, held last fall in Rome. Humanum was a gathering of experts from a variety of world religions and Christian traditions, along with philosophy, to argue in favor of marriage between one man and one woman in a complementary, lifelong, life-giving union. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke about seven critical moments in the development of marriage and the family. His speech is riveting; I loved it, and I wrote a response over at Austin CNM. But it wasn’t until recent weeks that I watched the series of six short films produced by Humanum, and once again, I was blown away.

I recommend them all, but my favorite was Part 4, “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship.” Watch the video below, and read my extended commentary at Austin CNM.

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Seven: Open to Life

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Synod14.

synodmarriagefamily

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

My last installment of this series was in January, but just like I said then, I am not a quitter! I maintain that you do not “need a theology degree” to be able to express your opinions about marriage and family life in relationship to evangelization and the Gospel. I have never been married, but I grew up in a family. I don’t work for the Church anymore, but I evangelize, and I know the Gospel. The questions take some effort to dig into, but if you made it out of high school without learning to read and think critically, American public education is worse off than we thought.

As always, I invite comments, questions, and responses on your own blog (if you have one). We can disagree charitably, right?

The Openness of the Married Couple to Life

a.k.a. What Happens When People Don’t Read

What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae Vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?

I wish more people (Catholics especially) would actually read Humanae Vitae. It’s free. It’s been out since the 60’s. As far as encyclicals go, it’s tiny: about eight pages, including footnotes (so really six and a half). Contrast that with Laudato Si’, which is over 180 pages. You do have to get past the “royal we,” but you are rewarded with actual Church teaching. Not hearsay. Not Christopher West (because some people really dislike his style). Not the rich but dense speeches from St. John Paul II that make up the core text of the Theology of the Body.

But I would say that most Catholics have never read Humanae Vitae, even if they have heard of it. I heard a homily on its anniversary once, given by a youngish Dominican priest. I hear references to it in just about every discussion of Church teaching on marriage, children, and sexuality. Yet talking about it is no more like reading it than seeing a photo of the Grand Canyon is like being there.

So, no, I do not think Christians are aware that there is a moral aspect to family planning, and they are wholly unaware of the details in Humanae Vitae. I can think of two notable examples of women whose minds were changed when they first considered family planning a moral issue: Kimberly Hahn and Jen Fulwiler.

Kimberly Hahn, wife of well-known Catholic convert and theologian Scott Hahn, shares her story in their book Rome Sweet Home. When she and Scott were in Bible college, she led a study group in researching the historical Christian teachings on contraception and family planning. She had always assumed that every church except the Catholic Church supported it. Discovering the truth shocked her.

Jen Fulwiler, also a well-known Catholic convert, explained that when she brainstormed a list of conditions under which it would be a good idea to have sex and conditions under which it would be a good idea to have a child, they were completely different. Yet that is a modern separation. They used to be the same list. When you’ve separated out marriage from children, of course contraception seems like a basic human right. That was never supposed to happen, though.

Both of their conclusions are underscored in Humanae Vitae. We’ve got to get that actual text in front of more eyeballs! Women’s, men’s, young adult, and marriage enrichment groups would be ideal audiences.

Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couples’ accepting this teaching?

The teaching is not broadly accepted, but it’s publicly accepted by more people than before. It’s slowly becoming more common to see large, happy families. Helpfully, it’s also more common to hear about the pain of infertility, the high prevalence of miscarriage, and the desire of couples to have more children than they can or do. After decades of treating pregnancy like a terrible curse or an optional part of marriage, people are beginning to see and realize that children are a gift and never ever guaranteed. I’m also hearing couples openly admitting that they don’t use contraception. Although that’s none of my business, it is so good to have real voices in the discussion.

I think social pressure causes couples to ignore or reject the teaching more than theological disagreement. So many people believe in the myth of overpopulation or consider large families a drain on social resources. It’s very uncommon to have more than three children, so large families stick out. It’s so common to use contraception that everyone assumes that everyone else is doing it (even those who are not and are actually suffering through infertility or miscarriage; “can’t have kids” looks the same as “won’t have kids” from the outside). Couples who don’t use contraception seem like they’re religious fanatics, kidding themselves, or just plain crazy. It’s hard to stick to the truth against those odds.

What natural methods are promoted by the particular churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae Vitae?

(Note: In this case “particular churches” means parishes and conferences of bishops in each country.)

This varies by diocese. I’m most familiar with the Diocese of Austin because I didn’t have any personal or professional interest in locally-approved NFP methods when I lived in any other dioceses (so far Washington, Military Services, Fort Wayne–South Bend, Birmingham, and Mobile). The Diocese of Austin NFP page has an up-to-date list, with the Family of the Americas method (ovulation-only) being the most recently approved. Most dioceses also approve the Creighton FertilityCare method (sympto-thermal) and Billings method (ovulation-only).

What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?

I am openly celibate and have never been pregnant, so my firsthand experience is basically nonexistent. I have some conjectures and hearsay, though, for what it’s worth.

I think everyone is aware that churchgoing, Eucharist-receiving couples include those who are using contraception. It’s sad, but it definitely happens. Based on the lines I see for Confession, many more people receive the Eucharist than go to Confession even once or twice a year. The groups must overlap, so that the aforementioned contracepting couples are receiving the Eucharist even though they shouldn’t be.

I don’t know what to do about that. I’m sure they’re aware that they shouldn’t be contracepting. Even non-Catholics know the basic teaching. I’m slightly less sure that these couples know they shouldn’t be receiving the Eucharist if they have used contraception (without receiving Reconciliation and stopping usage before receiving). So many people see receiving the Eucharist as just “what everyone does” at Mass, like standing and kneeling. But that’s not true.

I have heard two older women (as in, at least 60 years old now) tell me their stories of looking for a priest to say, in the confessional, that using contraception was okay and they didn’t have to stop, or that they “already had two children,” so they couldn’t be expected to remain open to life. They found those priests. Those priests’ attempt at good counsel isn’t true, either, but the blame for that lies on those priests and their teachers, not the women. I hope that’s not happening anymore, but based on some of the discussions I’m hearing about communion for the divorced and remarried, it probably does. We can’t stop at converting the lay faithful; we need all the clergy behind us.

What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?

I never heard about any method of family planning or pregnancy avoidance in public school other than abstinence and contraception. Abstinence was always mentioned, with a solid shout-out to its effectiveness… and a solid base of disbelief that anyone would ever do such a thing voluntarily. No surprises there.

The thing is, I didn’t learn about NFP until college. I remember seeing a small ad in the church bulletin when I was in 8th or 9th grade (the only time my family went to church weekly) about classes for married couples on the “new, scientific” method that replaced the “old rhythm method.” To be fair, I think I only set foot in a church about twice before I came back for good when I was in college. Then I got the details, and now that I’m an adult, I can’t even begin to describe how useful that knowledge would have been when I was younger.

Currently, the secular world has adopted its own form of NFP. This can only be good news for the Church. Their term is “fertility awareness method,” which is arguably more accurate. It’s the same scientific concept as NFP without the religious foundation, and it allows barrier methods instead of requiring abstinence during peak fertility. It appeals to the no-chemicals, natural, “green,” highly-informed sensibilities of contemporary Americans. There is potential for the NFP community to do some ecumenical crossover work there. Cassie Moriarty’s short film “Miscontraceptions” is a step in the right direction.

How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

The tough thing about dramatic social change, such as couples having fewer children, is that it takes time for those decisions to bear fruit (pardon the pun). Social Security may be gone when my generation retires because there are not as many workers contributing as retiring; the retirees didn’t have enough children. Catholic elementary schools built to hold the Baby Boomers are now closing because the children of Boomers are fewer in number or went to public school. (The schools that survive are enrolling Hispanic students as that population explodes.) Women were told to pursue education and careers before childbearing, and when they did, they had fewer childbearing years left and more difficulty conceiving later in life.

There are two aspects that can help promote child-rearing. First is the understanding that children are the quintessential fruit of marriage. When marriage is all about the love between adults, children become an accessory, and there are fewer of them. Second is the understanding that children are a gift. When couples at least believe they deserve children—and whenever they want them—they are less willing to accept “surprises,” “imperfect” babies, or any more once they are “done.” Changing a culture takes time, but it is possible.


I did my best not to go off on any tangents there and to stick most closely to what I know. Do you see differently? Have you read Humanae Vitae? How do you think we can evangelize the culture with the gospel of marriage and family life?

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