COMING WED on More2Life Radio: Parent Power

COMING WED:  Parent Power– We’ll help moms and dads claim their power as we all strive to help our kids be their best.   Tune in for great tips for responding more effectively to all the challenges kids throw your way. Call in with your questions at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1pm Eastern.

Don’t forget to respond to our FB Q of the D:  What’s the toughest thing about raising kids these days?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at

Why Catholic Parents Can’t Just Do, “What works for us.”

You hear it a lot from Catholic families, “You have to do what works for you.”  I appreciate the sentiment.  People who say it genuinely mean well.  They are just trying to acknowledge the real challenges that accompany family life and extend sympathy to those who are struggling. Who could argue with that intention?  Certainly not me.   Unfortunately, while the intention is good, the delivery leaves a lot to be desired.  Catholic families must be comforted, they must be supported, they must be encouraged and they must be helped.  But they must never be told that they are free to do whatever works for them.  Here’s why.

The family is the crucible of culture.  More than any other social structure, it is the family that passes beliefs, values, worldviews and traditions from one generation to the next.

Because of this, the Catholic family is called to be a unique creature; a prophetic witness in the world; a light shining in the darkness.  The Catholic family must stand out.  It must stand for something different than what our Protestant (may God bless them) and secular neighbors family’s stand for because we are in possession of the fullness of the truth and they are not.  “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more”  (Lk 12:48).   Catholic families have been given much by our Savior and His Holy Church, and MUCH is required of us.  Our mission is clear.

So what is the mission of the Catholic family?  Here is what Evangelium Vitae says,

“By word and example, in the daily round of choices, and through concrete actions and choices, parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self, and they cultivate in them a respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity, and all the values which help people live life as a gift. “In raising children Christian parents must be concerned about their children’s faith and help them to fulfil the vocation God has given them. The parents’ mission as educators also includes teaching and giving their children an example of the true meaning of suffering and death. They will be able to do this if they are sensitive to all kinds of suffering around them and, even more, if they succeed in fostering attitudes of closeness, assistance and sharing towards sick or elderly members of the family. The family celebrates the Gospel of life through daily prayer, both individual prayer and family prayer. The family prays in order to glorify and give thanks to God for the gift of life, and implores his light and strength in order to face times of difficulty and suffering without losing hope. But the celebration which gives meaning to every other form of prayer and worship is found in the family’s actual daily life together, if it is a life of love and self-giving.”

I will be doing a series of posts on each portion of this quote from Evangelium Vitae (#92-93).  For now, I would invite us all to ask ourselves…

What if these were more than just pretty words?  What if these words were the mission statement for my Catholic family? 

How well am I living out the example of these virtues in my parenting life? 

Am I actively teaching my children to live out these virtues, by example, by fostering their personal  relationship with Jesus Christ, and through direct catechesis?  

Does my family look different than the non-Catholic families on my block because of our family’s single-minded devotion to living out these virtues? 

What can we do improve our prophetic witness as a Catholic family by living out these virtues more fully in our relationships with each other?”

We have a tall order to fill.  Of course, we are free to do what we believe helps us fulfill the above mission.  But that is not the same thing as saying we are free to do “whatever works for us.”  The world needs Catholic families,  not families that look like everyone else’s except for the Catholic prayers they say.    We must parent intentionally at all times with these virtues burned into our vision.  We are NOT free to do “what works for us.”   That is the world’s way, not ours.  Catholic families are only free to do what we genuinely believe proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ and best exemplifies the virtues listed above that define the witness and mission of the Catholic family.   THAT is the meaning of “authentic freedom”–the ability to choose what is best and good and true and beautiful, not the ability to do “what works for us.”

None of this is to make anyone feel guilty or lose heart.  We are all on a journey toward this ideal and most of us have not yet arrived.  In fact, most of us are very far from it.  Thanks to God’s grace, that’s OK.   BUT we cannot take our eyes off the map.  We can take the time we need to get there.  We can rest when we must.  We can have bad days where we wish for an easier path.  We can have days where we break down and cry a bit from being stretched more than we imagined we ever would.  And especially on those days, we must get support from other like-minded families and other like-minded sources of encouragement.   But we are not free to choose an easier path.  We are NOT free to do, “what works for us.”  We are only ever free to do what serves the gospel and builds the Kingdom of God both in and outside our homes.   Everything we do as parents, we will be called to reckon for according to the mission outlined above.  It’s a serious obligation that we must take seriously.

I applaud your willingness to be that family that bears God’s face and the Catholic vision of love to the world.  May God give you his grace for the journey.

What are we OBLIGED to do? (Or, “What?!? Are you saying that people who don’t exercise are going to HELL?!?”)

In yesterday’s post on Taking Your Little Ones to Church, many people attempted to argue against my points by saying that the Church does not oblige them to bring their young children to Church. That is true. Here are several other things the Church does not strictly “oblige” us to do.

-Look both ways before we cross the street.


-Take time to play with our kids

-Make a budget.

-Cut our grass.

-Wash the dishes.

-Do our laundry.

-Help our kids with their homework

-Take out the trash at least weekly

-Eat three balanced meals a day

-Go to the doctor when we’re sick

-Fix a leaking roof

-Throw away moldy food

-Wear deoderant

-Oh, and take our small kids to Church

Shall I go on?

We are not obliged by our faith to do any of these things and many, many, many, other things besides. That said, they are all very, very, very good things to do.

Now, it may happen that I might have a good reason for not doing one or any or all of these things at some point in my life. That’s understood. But I would be a fool to then attempt to turn that deficit into a virtue by, for instance, saying, “Not wearing deoderant is just as good as wearing it and how dare you try to make me feel bad for smelling like GOD made me to smell! Don’t you know how frazzled I am?!? How DARE you write a blog post–on the very day I didn’t have time to de-stinkify my pits no less–on the fact that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that self-care is pleasing to the Lord and failing to do so robs us–ROBS US YOU SAY?!? –of the opportunity to enjoy social interaction to the full. How. DARE. You!”

Just because the Church does not oblige us to do something doesn’t make not doing it a virtue.   So, for example, having the skills to be able to successfully take your small children to Church is, objectively speaking, better than not having the skills to make that happen.  Successfully being able to take your little ones to Church is a desirable thing to learn to do.  If you don’t know how to do it, it would probably be good for you to learn.  It’s ok for you to not know how to do it, but it is hardly a virtue to be incapable of successfully bringing your small children to Church.  It is foolish to try to pretend that it is.

Let me confess something to you. I don’t exercise. I hate it. There are many things I am good at. Exercise is not one of them. Imagine that I read a blog post that says, “The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. St. Irenaeus says that ‘the glory of God is man fully alive!’ and all medical science tells us that exercise is key to living a full and healthy life. Further, the Theology of the Body tells us that the body is a visible sign of all the invisible things that make you a person and projecting an unfit image does a disservice to the wonderful person God created you be. Not exercising robs you of the chance to be the fully healthy and glorious masterpiece you were created by God to be. Therefore, you should exercise.”

There is nothing about that statement that is untrue. That statement, to some degree, convicts me. Exercising may not be my priority in life right now. I may even struggle to live up to it. But that doesn’t mean that the way I live  is, “just as good as” the way someone else who exercises lives. True, my life works for me. My BP and cholesterol are, surprisingly, just fine as they are. But that is not the point.   I could, objectively, stand to learn something from this other person who is living in a healthier way than me.  If I’m healthy now, just imagine how much healthier I could be if I took this dude’s advice. But that’s really hard for me to do, therefore, I might not like what I read.  Even so, maybe it just isn’t a time in my life where I can really start a serious exercise program. So, I read the post. I think, “Hmm. Interesting. Good points. Wish I could do that right now, but I don’t think I can. Maybe I should think a bit more seriously about that. Perhaps I may yet do better!”

But it would be foolish to me to try to make my deficit a virtue. It would be foolish for me to go into the exercise blogger’s combox and post, “Dear Captain Exercise, How dare you suggest that I am not perfect just the way I am for not exercising. I’m just fine. I’m not going to hell for not exercising. The Church doesn’t require me to exercise! Don’t you know how FRAZZLED I am?!? Why are you trying to make me feel guilty for saying that there is some virtue to be gained from exercising?!? SHOW me where that is in the Catechism. I dare you.”

I don’t do that, because that would be ridiculous. I recognize that it is not responsible to claim my deficits as a virtue. If I don’t know how to make something work, or if I have made choices in my life that prevent me from enacting some “best practice”,  I have to deal with the fact that my life just isn’t as healthy as it could be.    So what?  Welcome to the human race.

The bottom line is that it is possible to say that some ways to live are better than other ways. Every way is simply NOT as good as every other way, and even if the Church doesn’t “oblige” us to behave in a certain way, that still doesn’t mean that some ways aren’t better than others. That’s where experts come in. The Church DOES tell us that we have an obligation to take the words of experts, not as gospel, but seriously. In the Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, for instance, the Church says, “Parents who are not always prepared to face up to the problematic side of education for love can [be] guided by expert persons who are worthy of trust, for example, doctors, priests, educators.”   Likewise, Pope John Paul II in his statement to mental health professionals of the world said, “You and your associates make an important contribution to the future of society by seeking to point out, in the light of a dispassionate commitment to truth, the limits of certain models of social life….”

And that’s what I am trying to do here. I’m not interested in making anyone feel guilty or arguing with anyone. But, in my capacity as a professional Catholic pastoral counselor, marriage and family expert, university professor, author, and radio host, I am exercising my right to interpret the data and say that certain choices are in fact better than other choices.

Those who are of a mind to listen may do so.  Those who aren’t are free to go elsewhere.

Today on More2Life Radio–First Things First

TUESDAY on MORE2LIFE–FIRST THINGS FIRST:  The Theology of the Body reminds us of the primacy of our relationships with God and others, but so many other things compete for first place in our lives. Today, we’ll look at priorities:  how to set them, and more importantly, how to keep them.

Call in with your questions from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825

Don’t forget to respond to our M2L FB  Q of the D!  In a normal day, what are  your top priorities and what usually gets in the way?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at

Public Service Announcement—

Whew!  Busy day.   Just a closing thought before I hang the “back tomorrow” sign on the front door.

If your initial reaction to a post by a guy you don’t personally know, will never have to deal with in real life, and isn’t actually addressing you directly is,


Then may I respectfully suggest that…

1) you are not nearly as secure in your decisions as you like to pretend.

2) that you, on some level, know what you’re doing is hard to defend and as much as you want it to pretend it’s working, it probably isn’t.

3) its ok to admit that despite the fact that you’ve done the best you could, it’s not the best you can yet do, and maybe you could still learn something

‘Cause if the none of the above were true, you would read what said guy wrote, think, “Hmmph, what a dummy.”  And then go read something else.

But if you’re hanging around here fighting, at some point you’re going to have to reckon with the fact that you are fighting with yourself, not me.  I have no interest in fighting with anyone about anything.  God has given me some things that I–and many, many others— have found to be very good and very true and I owe it to him to share those things with other people who might be interested.  I put the gifts he’s given me out there, and if anyone is blessed by it, I’ve done my job.  But it’s a big internet, kids, and I am totally cool with you going to play somewhere else.  There are lots of other people who will tell you that you are awesome just the way you are.  By all means, go hang out with them.   That said, if something keeps dragging you back here despite how much you are infuriated by what you read, maybe you should pray on that instead of trying to kill the messenger.

Either way, I hope you find the peace you’re seeking.  And if I can do anything to help in that regard.  I’m here for you.  God Bless.


I really appreciated this comment to the Take Your Kids to Mass post.

Scowling is not inherently uncharitable.  Sometimes it is the only silent way to communicate such necessary but unspeakable messages as “Your kid has been screaming his head off for five minutes straight [much more than the ‘minute or so’ Dr. Popcak recommends] and you are not doing anything but patting him on the head and trying to giving him a binkie.  Get the kid out of here right now so the rest of us can pray.”  If a scowl clues in an oblivious parent that the crying has passed the point of “fussy” and moved into “intolerable,” I will not be sorry if it inspires that person to scoop up his or her kid and tend to the kid’s needs outside.

Can I tell you how much I would love things to be that simple?  I LOVE the idea of scowlvangelism.   I can think of so many amazing uses for this technique.  Anytime I disapproved of something or someone, I could just scowl  at them and…poof!  They would immediately resolve the problem to my satisfaction.  This would have to be the superpower to beat all superpowers.

Except, as many times as I have personally indulged my scowlvangelical tendencies,  people stay remarkably unchanged.  Now it is possible that I have not hit on exactly the right facial expression or twitch of the eye.  Perhaps my brow is not furrowed severely enough or, alternatively, perhaps it is furrowed too severely to be taken seriously.  It may well be that I have not yet mastered that correct balance of scornful disdain combined with charitable indifference and haughty self-aggrandizement that melts the heart of my erstwhile foes.  I admit this is a difficult balance to strike.

But I don’t think so.

To be honest, I think that no matter how much I have mastered the exact pitch of my right eye-brown muscle, that creating change takes a lot more effort.  That, of course, stinks, because I happily admit that I am lazy by nature and not particularly interested in complicating my life.  Nevertheless, I cannot think of a single instance of successful scowlvangelism perpetrated by me or anyone else.  The only way to create change in anyone I know is to 1) form a genuine relationship with them (as opposed to an agenda-laden relationship that makes them feel like a project. 2) work to show them that I really do care about them and their life.  3) Be willing to share my wisdom and experience if my example somehow inspires the person to ask.

I admit scowlvangelism is much easier and self-satisfying but I think we all need to face that as tempting as it is, it is hard to reconcile it with the gospel.  If I really want to effect change, I have to be willing to follow my savior’s example and pursue a deeper a deeper relationship with the person who’s good I want to serve.  And if I’m not willing to do that, then I should use the temptation to scowlvangelism as a cue to practice an even better spiritual exercise, and offer it up.

He’s not Heavy, He’s My Baby. (New Research Explains Why Carrying = Comfort)

Apr. 18, 2013 — There is a very good reason mothers often carry their crying babies, pacing the floor, to help them calm down. New research published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 18 shows that infants experience an automatic calming reaction upon being carried, whether they are mouse or human babies.

The study is the first to show that the infant calming response to carrying is a coordinated set of central, motor, and cardiac regulations and an evolutionarily conserved component of mother-infant interactions, the researchers say. It might also explain a frustrating reality for new parents: that calm and relaxed very young children will so often start crying again just as soon as they are put back down.

“From humans to mice, mammalian infants become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother,” says Kumi Kuroda of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Saitama, Japan. “This infant response reduces the maternal burden of carrying and is beneficial for both the mother and the infant.”

In other words, a mother’s arms really are the best place for a young baby to be in terms of his or her chances of survival. And mothers certainly appreciate a calm and relaxed baby. That babies naturally stop crying when they are carried is an evolutionary win-win.  READ MORE

The Contraceptive Sanctuary: Why you SHOULD Bring Baby to Church

Deacon Greg and Calah Alexander are having an animated discussion with several readers who are taking issue with parents who bring babies to Church.

Here is an example of the tone of the questions to which they are responding:

“When I read these posts from parents of young children who say they need God’s grace and that is why they bring their young children to Mass, I consider that to be selfish. We ALL need to look out for one another. It is NOT “all about me” as so many in this generation believe. I come from a different time, as I said in my previous posts, when folks were much more respectful and wouldn’t think of keeping, or even bringing a young child to Mass. “

Since my wife and I actually have a chapter on taking your kids to Church in Parenting with Grace, I thought I’d weigh in with a few points.

1.  As far as Catholics are concerned, babies are not merely tolerated.  They have a right to be in Church.  IF YOU ARE BAPTIZED, YOU BELONG.  PERIOD.  END OF STORY.

2.  As a matter of Catholic social teaching, it is the duty of every Catholic to support the mission of the family to raise godly children.  Failure to do so is a serious offense against both charity and the dignity of the family.  If you have ever scowled at a parent of a crying baby at Church. I recommend you confess your hardened heart.  “Whatever you do to the least…” (Mt 25:40).

3.  While I respect the intention behind it, a parent who leaves a child at home “until they are old enough” is being unjust regarding the child’s religious education.  Education begins unconsciously before it begins consciously.  Your baby or toddler needs to be given the opportunity to learn the rhythm, sights, sounds, and smells of the Mass before he is conscious enough to understand the Mass.  Robbing a child of the sensory education makes catechesis that much harder later on.  Spirituality is primarily a sensory call (from God) that leads to a transformative response.  Robbing a child of that early sensual experience of God and His Church is a very serious impediment to future catechesis and spiritual development.

4.  As Calah rightly points out, there is a difference between a fussing baby and a screaming baby.  As a matter of courtesy to the other worshippers, parents should always remove a child who is being loud and cannot be consoled after about a minute or so.  That noted, everyone else around the family with a fussy child has an obligation to either put on an understanding, sympathetic smile or pretend you don’t notice and trust the parent will handle it.  As Jesus said, to the apostles who were pushing the kids away, “get over your bad selves.”    As a Church, we do not believe in contraception and we certainly should not be promoting contraceptive sanctuaries.

5.  Some tips for moms and dads.

-This is counterintuitive, but sit in the front.  Kids behave better when they can look at what’s going on instead of some other parishioner’s butt (which is, afterall what’s on their eye-level).

-Don’t ever just sit in the cry-room from the start.  Although I understand, and support, their intended use, in practice, most cry rooms are from the devil.  It’s like Lord of the Flies Sunday School in there.  Go in only for as long as you need to, if you need, then go back to your pew.  You and your child will get more out of the experience

-If you have to remove your child from the sanctuary, hold him the entire time you are in the cry room or the back of the church.  DO NOT under any circumstances let him down.  If you take the child out and put him down and play with him (or, God forbid, let him run around) you will teach him–through simple Pavlovian conditioning–that he NEEDS to cry to get the fun times that happen when he forces you to leave the sanctuary.   Let your child have a minimal amount of freedom of movement if he allows you to stay the pew, but none if he makes you leave the sanctuary.  If a little one is really that out of control, he isn’t able to get himself back online anyway (remember our discussion about the myth of self-soothing).  If he makes you leave, by all means be loving, sympathetic, compassionate, and affectionat, but DO NOT PUT THE KID DOWN.  When he’s quiet, return to the pew.

-By all means, for children under, say, 4-ish, bring some quiet, soft, preferably religiously-themed toy-like things.  Keep them in a special “going to Mass bag”  that the child doesn’t get to see unless you are in church.  That will keep these activities special.  Regarldess, try to put these things away before the consecration.  At the elevation, point to the host and whisper something like, “look at the miracle!  Look at Jesus. Say, “I love you Jesus!”

-Don’t do mass in shifts.  The Mass is for families.  When parents say they aren’t “getting anything out of Mass” when they bring small children they are missing the point.  What you get out of Mass when you have small children is the joy of passing your faith on to them.   That’s what you signed up for when you became a Catholic parent.  Yes, it can be tough, and yes, you may certainly do other things to get your spiritual needs met, but Sunday mass is for your family.  Go as a family.

For more ideas, check out Parenting with Grace.


Coming Monday on More2Life Radio– To forgive, Divine

As our nation tries to put itself back together in the aftermath of last week, many are asking questions about mercy and forgiveness really asks of us.  It’s a great question, and one that has a great deal of personal resonance as we reflect on how to treat those who have hurt us in big and small ways. Today, we’ll look  at forgiveness actually requires, some common misperceptions about forgiveness and how to bring about healing after the hurt. Call in from Noon-1pm Eastern at 877-573-7825 with your questions on forgiveness and mercy.

Don’t forget to respond to our M2L FB Q of the D:  What offenses are hardest for you to forgive and why?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at

Whatchu Talkin’ Bout, Popcak? (Or, what’s all this “dignity” crap?)

I had a few people gently take me to task on my “Why do Catholics Bother?”  post which attempted to highlight the real reason Catholics are involved in healthcare, education, and social services (namely, NOT primarily to solve social problems but to stand for the dignity of the human person by means of solves those problems that undermine human dignity).

The comments raised some excellent questions and I thought I would take a moment to respond more thoughtfully than a combox post would allow.

“Oregon Catholic”  writes…

One of my biggest pet peeves is the over-use of the word dignity in explaining Catholicism. I’m not picking on you Dr., it is a problem throughout papal encyclicals as well. Dignity needs to be defined, not just used as an umbrella term, because it means too many different things to different people. For instance, a person who thinks having the option of physician assisted suicide will maintain their dignity if they develop dementia isn’t going to have the same definition you mean.

and “Nathaniel agrees…

Dignity is one of the most useless words in existence when attempted to be abused in service to vague philosophy, much like the word “obscene,” has been useless as a legal term.

The good news is that Catholics do, indeed mean something specific when we use the word “dignity” and it does, indeed, differ from the way many people (for instance, pro-euthanasia and pro-homosexual groups) use it.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1700 says, “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2). It is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment (article 3). By his deliberate actions (article 4), the human person does, or does not, conform to the good promised by God and attested by moral conscience (article 5). Human beings make their own contribution to their interior growth; they make their whole sentient and spiritua lives into means of this growth (article 6). With the help of grace they grow in virtue (article 7), avoid sin, and if they sin they entrust themselves as did the prodigal son1 to the mercy of our Father in heaven (article 8). In this way they attain to the perfection of charity.”

So there you have it.  To break it down, an authentic, Catholic sense of dignity recognizes that…

1.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore all human life is sacred regardless of the diseases or limitations under which he suffers.

2.  A person is behaving in a manner consistent with his dignity when he strives to live according to the gospel and pursues both  his heavenly destiny  and his obligation to bring the face of God to the world in all of his works and relationships.

3. A person is behaving in a manner consistent with his dignity if he works to protects his life and health, works to preserve his spiritual, physical, moral, and psychological integrity, and strives to support others in their pursuit of the same.

4.  Above all, the person is true to his dignity to the degree that he renounces sin and embraces a life of virtue.

Incidentally, you can also find these points enumerated in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church which I linked in the original post.

So, anytime you hear the word “dignity”  you now know what it is supposed to mean.  Any definition that falls short of the above is simply… not worth dignifying.