Tag Archives: My Thoughts for Pope Francis

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. 

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Eight: Families and Faith

This entry is part 9 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

I’ve almost made it! I started this series in September and by golly, I’m going to finish it before the next synod starts in November. Ideally, I would have finished a series on the preparation for the next synod by the time it starts, but I will take the victories I can achieve.

It is unlikely that Pope Francis will ever actually read my thoughts (although, considering his actions, you never know), but it has been extremely fruitful for me to work through them. When people complain that the Church is too hierarchical, too top-down, or not applicable to adult singles, I’m going to point them this way. I encourage you to think about your own responses to these questions and what you can do to enrich the Church in terms of marriage, family, and evangelization.

On to the final section of questions!

The Relationship Between the Family and the Person

a.k.a. How Families Lead Us Toward or Away from Christ

Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?

We Christians are all trying to be like Jesus. He was community in and of himself (as one person of the Holy Trinity), and he formed a community of apostles and disciples to create the Church. Family is a tiny version of the Church—or, at least, it’s supposed to be. As I heard a priest put it at a house blessing recently, the father is the family’s pastor, and the mother is the director of religious education. Their primary goal should be to get each other and all their children to heaven.

I’m not sure how often that is a real goal, though. I’ve never been a parent or even a spouse, and I’m the only religious person in my family (besides maybe my grandmother), so the only ones helping me specifically to get to heaven are my guardian angel, the holy souls I have helped free from purgatory, and me. It might always be that way.

I have goals for my quasi-family and future family, though, God willing. I pray for my godsons, my sister (I was her Confirmation sponsor), and my family all the time. I don’t change who I am to suit who they might want me to be, so they’re stuck with their Jesus-freak godmother/sister/daughter/granddaughter/cousin whether they like it or not. I hope my example will help bring them to Jesus, too.

What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?

In Part Six, I wrote about the struggles of teaching children about the Faith when they don’t have any good examples of how to live as a person of faith. That’s the biggest obstacle. When the only adults you know don’t go to church, then going to church doesn’t seem all that important or necessary. When other families talk about being “done” with having children, then being open to life sounds like outdated, wishful thinking. When every other family at church rushes past yours, talking loudly, while you try to kneel for an after-Mass Hail Mary, putting in the effort seems like an exercise in futility.

The most critical situation obstructing a person’s encounter with Christ in family life is a family (or other families) that don’t live as though they have encountered Christ.

To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?

I’d imagine this is a big problem in families that have faith life connected strongly to family life. When one family member decides not to go to church, that makes church seem less important to everyone else. This is especially important when the father is not involved in the family’s religious life: if dad doesn’t go to church, why should the kids have to go?

On a larger scale, this is true for special occasions: weddings and funerals. Any number of people could tell you a sob story about being mistreated (or just feeling mistreated) at a Catholic wedding or funeral. Those fall on both sides of the aisle, so to speak: from people wondering why they can’t receive Communion and demands for special music/readings/eulogies that are incompatible with the liturgy to priests refusing to give Communion on the tongue and homiletic insistences that the deceased is definitely in heaven. Special occasions bring out deeply-held beliefs that people cite as their make-or-break moment of faith.

Gay family members can also be an occasion for a crisis of faith. The nuances of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality can seem too burdensome, bigoted, “homophobic,” or just “not nice” when the love of a family member gets involved. It’s much easier to say that you just won’t be a Catholic anymore if your sister or brother can’t have a same-sex wedding recognized by the Church.

What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

In the preparatory document, this was actually Question 9 all by itself. What I’ve broken up into several questions per post for this series were composed as multi-part questions. Thus, the prompt says “the above questions,” meaning “all the questions.” I think I’ve spoken my piece already, though, so I’ll end here.

To conclude, I have some thoughts about the final document issued by the synod. It’s called the relatio synodi. You might remember the media debacle that ensued when the rough draft of that document (the interim relatio) was released to the media. I’m not going to open that can of worms again. What’s done is done. The important thing now is to look forward to the World Meeting of Families in Philadephia, Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. during that meeting, and the upcoming extraordinary synod that will continue the work and discussions from last fall.

I think Pope Francis said in best in asking for prayers, not gossip, concerning the upcoming synod. Let’s join him:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
The splendor of true love.
We turn to you with confidence.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
Make our families, also,
Places of communion and cenacles of prayer,
Authentic schools of the Gospel,
And little domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth
May our families never more experience
Violence, isolation, and division:
May anyone who was wounded or scandalized
Rapidly experience consolation and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
May the upcoming Synod of Bishops
Reawaken in all an awareness
Of the sacred character and inviolability of the family,
Its beauty in the project of God.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Hear and answer our prayer. Amen.


How has your family life influenced your faith, for better or for worse? What plans do you have for your current and future family’s faith life? What are your hopes, expectations, and worries about this fall’s events? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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

This entry is part 8 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

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?

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Six: Children with No Good Examples

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Synod14.

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

It’s been several weeks since I last posted an installment to this series, but I am not a quitter! I’ve had much more success blogging on weekdays lately, curiously enough, and I fell into a rhythm of posting for this series on Saturdays, so it got pushed aside. No more!

I’ve hosted some great discussions in the comments section for the last few installments. If you’re reading, please share your thoughts! Feel free to disagree. I will delete your comments if they’re mean or otherwise violate the comment policy, but we can disagree without fighting.

The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages

a.k.a. What to Do When Mom & Dad Don’t Go to Church

What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?

I don’t have enough experience or statistical knowledge to estimate a proportion, but I can tell you for sure that it’s rising. It’s much more common for children to grow up in family situations other than a mother and father who were married to each other before they conceived their first child. The witness of celebrities and the media to this situation does not help.

In a way, it’s hopeful that couples still see marriage as a significant, life-changing step, so much so that they don’t want to take it unless they’re 100% sure. But time and time again, we see that children have their best chance at a bright future if they grow up in a “regular” situation. People overcome adversity every day, but it’s still adversity. It’s not good. It’s not supposed to be that way. “Common” and “normal” do not necessarily equal “good.”

Those comments doesn’t even cover the children living with divorced-and-remarried parents. I don’t think we’ll fully understand the fallout of that irregular family structure until the church can’t fit four sets of grandparents per child for the Christmas pageant.

How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?

Honestly, I think there are some parents who stay away from the Church because they don’t want to face the obstacles standing between their choices and their full participation in the sacraments. They can’t receive the Eucharist, and they don’t want to go to confession (or they’re not penitent), so they don’t go to Mass, either. But I absolutely think they want more for their children than they want for themselves. All parents want their children to have a better life than they did. The problem is that they don’t want to do anything churchy to get churchy things for their kids.

These parents insist on getting their kids involved, preferably at the bare minimum. The parents don’t want to take their kids to Mass because they’d have stay for it, too (and not receive the Eucharist, perhaps starting a conversation they’d prefer to avoid), but they’ll drop them off at CCD. They’ll grumble about going to a baptism prep class, but they’ll go because it’s the only way to get the cute baptism photos and get Grandma off their backs. They don’t want to be taught, and if they’re forced into it, it doesn’t stick. Church is completely about rules and requirements to get stuff. If they’re in an irregular marriage, they’ve already broken the rules. The fewer requirements they get stuck meeting before they can get the stuff for their kids, the better.

How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?

Sacramental preparation for kids is often the only opportunity to catechize parents. In recent years, parishes are taking great advantage of that opportunity. I’ve taught baptism prep for godparents-to-be (and prepared myself to be a godparent in the process). That can be a huge moment of conversion from a lackluster faith.

On the other hand, I substituted once for my own parents (whose marriage was always regular) at the mandatory parent Bible study held simultaneously with the my sister’s Confirmation prep class. I loved it, but I don’t think I’d ever heard my parents mention it before. Getting that two-fer of adult catechesis plus children’s sacrament prep benefits the parish, but it’s not converting the parents. I can imagine that conversion of heart is even less likely for parents who are in irregular marriages and thus excluded from the sacraments. They already don’t go to Mass. They’re definitely not doing anything else.

What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament, and the accompaniment?

As a church worker, I was trained to strongly encourage parents in irregular situations to regularize them before having a child baptized. If they’ve been civilly married for several years with no other impediments to matrimony, their convalidation can be relatively straightforward. It’s not required, though, and that’s what is best for the child. You shouldn’t have to suffer sacramentally because your parents made poor choices with their sacraments.

For First Communion and Confirmation, though, I don’t think the parents’ marriage or faith involvement status comes much into question. At baptism, the parents promise to raise their children to know Christ Jesus and his Church. Even if they are simply forcing reluctant, non-churchgoing kids to prepare for their other sacraments of initiation, they’re doing more than nothing. It’s a tiny bit of Christian education.

That tiny bit might even be the spark that ignites a life of faith for that child. It was for me. I didn’t embrace the gifts of the Spirit until college, but I received them through the sacraments. I never would have received those sacraments if not for my parents’ insistence, and their marriage has always been “regular.”

Thus, most parents’ marital status doesn’t preclude their children from receiving the sacraments. That’s the way it should be. The tricky part comes when teachers try to educate children in the faith. It is so difficult to teach children the truth when they don’t have any examples to follow. Why should they pray before meals when the family doesn’t? What’s the point of going to Confession when older, Confirmed siblings don’t? How can they believe marriage is between one man and one woman for life when a stepmom is the only mom they’ve ever known, when Mom and her second husband are so happy, or when they have two dads? Pope Francis himself recounted speaking to a young girl who was in tears, thinking her mother’s girlfriend didn’t like her. Where do you even begin with that?

Walking with—accompanying—these parents and children takes a lot of patience and a lot of prayer. Teachers and ministers have the responsibility to preach the truth in love. Parents in irregular situations have turned away from the truth, but there’s always hope that they could return. More than one parent has made things right (or even entered the Church completely) based on the example of a child. The witness of childlike faith from an actual child can do that. On the other hand, too many kids fight their way through to sacraments or get pushed through them without believing a single word. As in my case, grace can spring forth anyway. For many others, the sacrament will be administered upon an empty shell.


Well, that was depressing. No wonder there’s such a big push to get marriage and family in better shape! What do you think? How do couples you know balance their irregular situation with the faith formation of their children? Can you think of anything the Church can do to benefit parents and children, so that everyone wins? Share your thoughts in the comments!

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Five: Same-Sex Marriage

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Synod14.

synodmarriagefamily

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

I decided to top off NaBloPoMo by not posting much at all in December, it seems. I’m not a quitter, though, so I haven’t given up on this series even if I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. Now I’m back in action and ready to keep talking.

I read a post today about the questionnaires (now published for the ordinary synod, too) from a news publication I trust. The author came down quite negatively on the decision of some bishops to provide the questionnaire from the extraordinary synod to laypeople. That’s the very same questionnaire I’ve been working through in this series. As he wrote, it was “not for the laity.” That would include my bishop, my diocese, and me.

I was always aware that different dioceses completed the questionnaire in different ways and to different subsections of the diocese. Some administered it only to diocesan staff, some to priests, some to pre-selected laity, and some (such as mine) to self-selected laity. It seems so harsh to declare that laypeople as a whole couldn’t have understood the document. I loathe the word “accessible,” and I hope that this series demonstrates that some plain old laypeople are well-educated and knowledgeable enough to understand the goal of the questionnaire and its specific questions. The writer didn’t come right out and say that the majority of Catholics are too dumb to understand the questionnaire(s), but that’s what it felt like.

That said, I will continue to offer my educated and (I hope) thoughtful opinions.

On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex

(This one is pretty clear, too. The questions specifically don’t call it “marriage,” but since that’s what the states are saying, I will, too.)

Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?

In the U.S., there isn’t a law; there are many laws. As I learned when I was doing marriage prep (for other people, not for myself), marriage laws vary by state and often by county as well. State by state, same-sex marriage is becoming legal by that name (not as civil unions or domestic partnerships). In a country where remarriage after divorce is barely something to bat an eye at and children are an optional bonus to marriage only for those who want them, it seems inevitable. When marriage doesn’t include children and permanence by definition, it’s hard to limit it to just one man and one woman. I don’t think the country will be able to hold out for much longer. I don’t like that at all, but I don’t see any other future that’s consistent with the past half-century.

What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?

Texas will be one of the last few states to give in on same-sex marriage. It’s easy to forget here in Austin that most of the state is conservative, Republican, and proud of it. Texas won’t go down without a fight. Currently, Texas has a marriage preparation endorsement called Twogether in Texas. It certifies programs and counselors who work with couples preparing for marriage. Even the secular state government recognizes that it’s easier to resolve problems on the front end than to try to stop divorce later. It even comes with a hefty discount on the base marriage license fee as an incentive. Some parishes have Twogether in Texas-approved programs, so specific pockets of the diocese support Texas’s current stance, at least.

As far as viewing people in same-sex marriages, the diocese doesn’t recognize that as marriage, of course. I don’t know if this diocese in particular has had any instances of employees desiring health benefits for same-sex partners, but I know that’s come up elsewhere in the country.

What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of unions?

That’s a tough one. It helps that people are generally aware that the Church doesn’t allow two people of the same sex to marry. They’re unlikely to approach the Church for a wedding. They may well turn up for funerals or liturgical ministries, though, and that causes real tension.

Following Gabriel’s blog and reading Eve Tushnet’s book have given me much to think about regarding the actual lives of gay Catholics. They’re both celibate, so it doesn’t apply directly, but it helps me see gay people as people with actual emotions and relationships. Love is doing what is best for the beloved. Two men or two women can truly care for each other. It’s the sexual aspect of their relationship that can’t be “what is best.” Recognizing the good while acknowledging the bad is a delicate balance for any sin and any sinner.

In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

Same-sex couples have enrolled their children in Catholic schools or requested baptism for their children. On the one hand, we can’t hold children responsible for the actions of their parents. Those children deserve grace just as much as anyone. On the other hand, it’s important to make sure that the parents understand that the education their children receive (in regular subjects and in religious education) will eventually teach them that their parents’ unions are not recognized. That could be a world-shattering moment, and it’s inevitable. Preparing parents for that moment requires specific attention and great sensitivity.


What about you? How do you approach relationships with gay people in your life? Have you ever attended a same-sex wedding, or would you if you were invited? What tips do you have for the children of same-sex couples?

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Four: Cohabitation and Remarriage

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Synod14.

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

Aaaaaand I’m back. My commitment to NaBloPoMo seemed like the perfect way to continue this series without feeling bad for the (many) days between posts.

In the meantime, I have finally done some reading about the Synod. I have enough to say for an entirely separate post! I’m so glad I waited until it was over before I read anything, though. I maintain that in the Catholic Church, we do nothing quickly, so we generally get it right the first time.

On to the next section!

Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

(This one explains itself.)

Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

[The “ad experimentum” part means “as an experiment,” i.e. couples who are living together because they’re “trying out” being married, not couples that live together because they are married.]

Yes. I used to assist with marriage preparation in the pseudo-parish where I worked. Cohabiting couples accounted for 9 out of the 10 I prepared. The tenth couple lived in separate cities, three hours apart. It happens, even among Catholics, and it is not addressed consistently.

Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

This question confuses me. The kind of union described would cover most cohabitors. Whenever I discuss cohabitation, someone inevitably brings up common-law marriage. That’s a joke. Most states don’t recognize any kind of common-law marriage. The few that do require you to have decided to present yourselves as married beginning from a specific date. Essentially, everyone would think you are married, but you’d never have had a ceremony or gotten a license.

That’s not the situation most people envision when they think “common-law marriage,” and it’s not cohabitation. Cohabitors might be a little uncomfortable about not being married, but they don’t tell people that they are married. Most of them seem to be totally up-front about it. They seem to have just decided that things once reserved for marriage (like sharing a home and having a sexual relationship) shouldn’t be reserved for marriage anymore.

Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programs?

Yes. Divorce and remarriage is particularly common and complicated. CatholicMatch has a post that does a great job of describing both sides of the coin without making anyone sound like a fool. In general, it’s hard to talk about this without stoking anger, raising emotions, and sounding heartless, but I’ll try.

Sometimes marriages end. Both partners have to want to stay in order to make it work, so when one doesn’t, the other gets left out in the cold. However, unless it can be determined (in exhaustive detail, over a significant period of time, by multiple witnesses and multiple diocesan tribunals) that there was something missing on the wedding day, they made their decision. We have to hold them to it. The integrity of the institution and Sacrament of Marriage depends on it.

People who are remarried outside the Church have already shown their willingness to flout a sacrament. They demonstrate that they no longer care about going to the Church for marriage. If they wanted to respect that sacrament, they would have petitioned for annulment. Many people do that every single year (which is horrifying in and of itself). Thus, why should we expect them to respect the Sacrament of Holy Communion? That would be like telling a lie in confession so that you could get absolution, knowing that the absolution makes you properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. You can’t flout one sacrament and still get another.

Annulments are difficult. So is divorce. So is a second marriage, if marriage in general is hard. Being a Christian is hard. Getting out of hell is impossible.

In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are [they] aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?

I think many baptized people who are cohabitors or divorced and remarried just don’t care, even those who attend Mass weekly. They know they aren’t following the Church’s teachings, but it seems as though no one is. Why be good when sinning is so easy and so much fun?

Many such people (especially the cohabitors) don’t “suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments” because they still receive (particularly the Eucharist). Keeping up appearances by receiving the Eucharist is more important that respecting the sacrament and avoiding further sin. If the cohabitors keep a second address, then it must not be that bad. The divorced and remarried person is so much happier in the new marriage and has such beautiful children who love Jesus, so it can’t be all bad. Wrong.

Regularizing these situations (by getting a marriage or an annulment) is seen as expensive, difficult, and really not necessary. Even cohabitors can be married by the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. When we don’t even talk about these problems, we do everyone a disservice.

What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?

I don’t have personal experience here, but I think many such people would rather pretend as though nothing is wrong. As a general rule, far more people receive the Eucharist every week than seek Reconciliation even every month. The cohabitors just fail to mention that they live together, and the divorced and remarried just stay quiet about their exes. There’s no asking for sacraments; there’s just assuming they’re for everyone. We don’t card, after all (and we shouldn’t).

Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?

It might. I don’t think enough people (in any situation) know much about the actual process of petitioning for a declaration of nullity. They only know the rumors: it’s complicated, it takes a long time, it’s expensive. Those are all true of divorce.

I know an unusual amount about annulment for a never-married layperson. Short of not requiring the court of second instance, I don’t know what could be simplified. A shorter petition would shortchange the tribunal in getting a full picture of the marriage. Reducing the number of witnesses required would lessen corroboration of the story of the marriage. Consolidating grounds could confuse the former spouse’s true state on the day of the wedding.

The people I know who have actually received annulments before remarrying all speak about the freedom and peace they found. Why would we want to give them less of that?

Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry. Do such programs exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried, and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

Declaring the nullity of marriages is more commonly discussed, and ministries are growing. I am not a recognized field advocate anymore, but I do what I can to squash the rumors.

In Austin, the diocese has hosted workshops to assist with the writing of the petition. People who attend these workshops can see they that are not alone, receive assistance in a difficult task, and find spiritual support for the emotions and grief often involved in unpacking a failed marriage. That’s the best ministry for the divorced I’ve ever heard of.


What about you? Do you think divorced and remarried people should be able to receive the Eucharist? Should cohabitors be able to receive? What kind of support can we provide for people that encourages them to grow in holiness and seek the mercy of God? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!

My Thoughts for Pope Francis, Part Three: Marriage and Family Spirituality

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Synod14.

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

See? I really don’t give up on things I care about, even if it takes me over two weeks to get back to them.

Most of the news I’ve heard about the Synod has been upsetting. I knew it would be, so I’ve tried to sit tight until an official document is released. Besides, this synod is just preparation for the next synod is 2015. This is like the exam review session; finals aren’t until tomorrow, so to speak.

Cardinal Wuerl gave me hope again, though. I’m still subscribed to his e-letters from the Archdiocese of Washington, my home diocese. (I wish we had something similar in Austin.) Cardinal Wuerl sent one out today reflecting on what is actually happening inside the Synod. He’s there. He sits right next to Pope Francis. He even speaks Latin. Cardinal Wuerl knows what’s what.

His letter was so gracious and clear that you should read the whole thing, but here’s the key quotation:

It was pointed out that, in addition to teaching, the Church has to approach marriages today, particularly for those people who were married, divorced and/or remarried, with a sense of healing and find a way to bring people to experience the love and mercy of God.

Here it was pointed out that mercy is not opposed to truth but follows on it. In fact mercy flows from the truth. It is the truth that brings freedom.

Yes. Pray for the work of the Synod. In the meantime, let’s get back to the questions being raised for discussion in those meetings right now.

The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization

What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the “domestic Church” be promoted?

Longer periods of research-based marriage preparation seem to be working. I used to direct RCIA; when I tried to explain that job responsibility to my mom, she asked if that was “the classes she and Dad had to take so they could get married.” They got married in 1982, but my dad didn’t become a Catholic until 2005, so I’m pretty sure she was talking about a marriage prep program rather than RCIA. Her ability to mix up those very different programs is not a great testament to the curricula of the 80’s, but from what I saw in my own marriage prep work (for other couples, not for myself!), there has been much improvement.

Marriage prep is still seen by many as red tape, but those couples are cutting through it anyway. In particular, Catholic/Catholic couples and Catholic brides with non-Catholic grooms have the bride’s support, however weak, to complete the preparation. Those meetings, classes, and retreats could be teachable moments. I used them that way, but I was already an outlier as a layperson, let alone one with an education degree.

I believed in the work I was doing, and I did my best to get some buy-in from the couples I prepared, but I am not married to any of them. The couples themselves have to realize the gravity of their decision and actions. For the family to be a domestic Church, there must be involvement of the spouses in the larger church. You can’t bring home what you don’t get outside of the home. Despite my best efforts and those of others working in marriage prep, too many couples see a Catholic wedding as more of a pretty celebration than a life-changing sacrament and a Catholic marriage as nothing special.

How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?

I haven’t done any “prayer proposals” in my family because I am not married and have never been, so I don’t have a family of my own. My family of birth is no longer practicing the faith. The only prayers we’ve ever said are before Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. When my dad was in RCIA, he led prayer. When I’m home, I lead. Everyone else awkwardly joins in, and it’s just for show… but I guess it’s better than nothing.

In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?

Parish and Catholic school religious education programs take the place of many domestic churches. Designated teachers outside of the family are seen as the ones primarily responsible for teaching religion. Parent involvement is largely only by requirement. These parents see faith the same way they see like math: send the children to school, expect that they will learn it there from those teachers, and never put in any effort at home beyond helping with homework.

In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?

I wasn’t involved myself, but I know that Couples for Christ and its affiliated groups (Singles for Christ, CFC Youth, and Kids for Christ) are almost the standard for Filipino Catholics. At least that was true for many of the Filipino Catholics I know. I don’t personally know any others that have been particularly strong concerning family spirituality.

What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?

If parents seek to live out the Church’s teachings as best and honestly as they can, then their children will follow. This is especially true of fathers, who are supposed to be the spiritual heads of their families. Mom will drag the children kicking and screaming to church, but if Dad doesn’t go, church doesn’t seem important. It seems less important than football. If Mom and Dad don’t go to Confession, how can we wonder why the kids don’t want to go? My Catholic friends don’t cohabit and they go to church, so I am encouraged. Iron sharpens iron.

What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

Care for couples in crisis seems to be good and improving. The problem is that there is little for couples who are NOT in crisis. Marriage preparation has grown exponentially and seems to be helping. Ongoing support for married couples is almost nonexistent. One of my friends here in Austin just released an advertisement for a local, one-day, low-cost couple enrichment session. That’s a solid start, but it’s an outlier. Parishes would do well to offer ongoing support to couples who are thriving, just surviving, or on the brink of crisis. Prevention is going to be the key.


That’s the third section! As a single woman, I don’t have much to contribute from my own experience. It hasn’t been long since I was a diocese-approved marriage packet filer, though, so I know way more about marriage than any never-married layperson ought to.

How about you? Do you feel like you were prepared well for marriage? What are you looking for in a couple or family enrichment effort in your parish? Pope Francis asked for your opinion, too!

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