The Hell You Say?

People often ask about how a loving God can allow hell.  Since tonight is supposedly “Devil’s Night”  (though I much rather think of it as “The Baptized Stick a Finger in the Devil’s Eye Night”) I thought I’d share a little reflection on how I make sense of these two seemingly diametrically opposed concepts of a loving God and Eternal Punishment.

When the question of Hell comes up, I suggest to people that Hell is nothing more than the fire of God’s love licking at the hearts of those who can’t melt.


Well, nothing exists without God or outside of God.   When we die, we will be utterly dependent upon God for our continued existence.  Being utterly dependent upon the one being you have spent your life hating, ignoring, and rejecting and simultaneously having nowhere to run, no way to hide, and no way to reject at least a minimum of his presence, represents, to my mind the fires of Hell: a constant torment of being surrounded by the flames of an all consuming love you cannot recognize, cannot accommodate to, and cannot escape.

St. Augustine was once asked what God does to the souls in  hell.  His reply?  “He loves them.”  The above represents my attempt to make sense of his reply.

Happy Halloween

All Hallow’s Eve. Be Not Afraid.

It’s been a pleasure to see more Catholics discovering the truth about Halloween over the last few years.  Namely, that it isn’t a pagan holiday, but a Christian one–and primarily, a Catholic Christian one.  The always illuminating Mark Shea  points us to a great summary of why Christians don’t need to avoid Halloween like some satanic plague.

For my part, I think Halloween is a fascinating celebration.  While the popular traditions around the holiday aren’t Church-sanctioned per se, I think that they represent a powerful statement of popular piety and a belief in the power of infant baptism.  What do I mean?

Just this.  The truth is, the smallest baptized baby is more powerful than Satan because that child has Christ within him.  Recognizing this, Catholicism is the faith that inspires people to let their children run around in costumes that make fun of the devil!   How badass is that, really?  Let the pagans fear the devil (and our Protestant brothers and sisters who do not avail their children of the gift of baptism).  Christ has conquered! And because we know Christ has the victory, we have so little fear of Satan that we can even let our children taunt him without fear.

As far as I’m concerned, Halloween is just a celebration of one more reason it is awesome to be Catholic.

“Marriage Isn’t Easy, But It’s Beautiful,” Says Pope Francis.

Regular listeners to More2Life Radio know that our regular marriage contributors, Frank and Julie LaBoda, serve on the Pontifical Council for the Family and are currently in Rome for a Council meeting.  In his address to the Council this past weekend, Pope Francis had some truly inspiring words for married couples.

The Catholic Church must help young people understand that marriage isn’t always easy, “but it is so beautiful,” Pope Francis said.

“There are problems in marriage: different points of view, jealousies, arguments, but tell young couples to never let the day end without making peace. The sacrament of matrimony is renewed in this act of peace,” the pope said Oct. 25 during a meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

 “This path is not easy, but it is so beautiful,” the pope said. “It’s beautiful. Tell them that.”

For the Catholic Church, he said, a family isn’t simply a group of individuals, but it is a community where people learn to love one another, share with and make sacrifices for each other and “defend life, especially of those who are more fragile and weak.”

The family as a special community must “be recognized as such, especially today when so much emphasis is placed on the safeguarding of individual rights,” he said. “We must defend the rights of this community that is the family.”

Defending the family also means defending the basic fact that it is a community founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, he said.

“Spousal and familial love clearly reveal that the vocation of the human person is to love one other person forever and that the trials, sacrifices and crises in the life of the couple or the family are stages for growth in goodness, truth and beauty,” he said.

I have to say that this is exactly why Lisa and I wrote Just Married:  A Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage Our oldest kids are in college and we host a lot of their friends for dinners and other things and we’ve been blessed to have so many conversations with them about their concerns about relationships and marriage.  There is so much fear out there and so little confidence among young people that they have what it takes to form healthy marriages that can last a lifetime.  Lisa and I are so glad that Pope Francis has offered these words of encouragement for married couples. We hope Just Married will help get the word out about the beauty of marriage and what it takes to make love last.

Is Your Child Being Cyber-Bullied? Would You Know? Study says, “Probably not.”

New research looks at how many parents are unaware that their children are being victimized on the internet…

Researchers found that while 30 percent of youths admit to having been cyberbullied, only slightly higher than 10 percent of their parents reported that they knew.

About 15 percent of the youths in the study admitted to cyberbullying others; under 5 percent of those parents were aware.

The study also suggested that parents of younger teens — those who believe their child is smarter than others online, or who are not able to monitor their teen’s internet use — are more likely to be unaware that their child has been cyberbullied.

Parents can take direct steps to helping protect their children online by engaging in positive conversations about internet safety, moving the computer to a public place within the house, which works to varying degree depending on the child’s access to the mobile Internet.

The best step is to open a line of communication with children so parents can increase their awareness of their online behavior.


For more information on ways to protect and nurture your relationship with your kids, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.



Emily Litella Says, “There’s NO WAY Gay Marriage Will Lead to Polyamory/Polygamy!”

So, just last May 2012, gay advocate, Jonathan Rauch argued on NPR that the thought that same-sex marriage could possibly lead to mainstream acceptance of polyamory/polygamy was ridiculous.

Rauch:  Same sex marriage leads away from polygamy, not for it. It’s odd to argue that because children need parents, you should be against polygamy. That’s one of the arguments polygamists make – that, you know, you have more moms and a dad. Isn’t that great? In fact, the problem with polygamy is exactly what’s good about same-sex marriage, which is that everyone should have the opportunity to marry.

We are not asking, gay marriage advocates, for the right to marry everybody or anybody, just to marry somebody. We’re asking to have that opportunity. The problem with polygamy, historically, and there’s tons of literature about this, Michel – polygamy is the oldest form of marriage and the most predominant form of marriage in human society – the problem with it is that it almost invariably means one man, multiple wives, and when one man takes two wives, some other man gets no wife.

So a lot of people lose the opportunity to marry and you get societies where you’ve got a lot of unmarried young males who are very unhappy, a lot of social disruption, a lot of violence. And there’s a whole academic literature on this. Gay marriage changes none of that. In fact, gay marriage leads us away from that to a society where everyone can marry.

This weekend, CNN pulled an Emily Litella and said, “Never mind.”

It’s not just a fling or a phase for them. It’s an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.

“We’re not trying to say that monogamy is bad,” said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. “We’re trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them.”

For the Holder-Mullins triad, polyamory is three adults living in the same home about 20 miles south of Atlanta. They share bills, housework and childcare for their 9-year-old daughter. They work at the same place, sharing carpooling duties so someone can see their daughter off to school each day.  MORE

Mark Regnerus: New Canadian Study Says, “A Married Mom and Dad Really DO Matter.”

Marriage and Family researcher, Mark Regnerus (University of Texas at Austin, senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture) points to a new Canadian study published in the journal, Review of the Economics of the Household (click for abstract) that shows the advantages to children raised by a married mother and father as compared to children raised in other family arrangements including same sex households.

…children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

…children of married opposite-sex families have a high graduation rate compared to the others; children of lesbian families have a very low graduation rate compared to the others; and the other four types [common law, gay, single mother, single father] are similar to each other and lie in between the married/lesbian extremes.

…the particular gender mix of a same-sex household has a dramatic difference in the association with child graduation. Consider the case of girls…. Regardless of the controls and whether or not girls are currently living in a gay or lesbian household, the odds of graduating from high school are considerably lower than any other household type. Indeed, girls living in gay households are only 15 percent as likely to graduate compared to girls from opposite sex married homes.

Go read Regnerus’ article here.


Waking Up to Relationship: A Call to Parents

The other day, Calah Alexander had a great post about a parenting epiphany she had.   You should go read the whole thing, but here’s the part that grabbed me the most.

[Unfortunately, these days]  “Parenting” does not imply a relationship. It implies a philosophy (attachment parenting, free-range parenting, authoritarian parenting) and a skill set that can be learned if one will only read the right books and follow the right methods. It’s become such a pervasive mentality that I’ve spent nearly eight years brushing aside advice to “consider my relationship with my children” as tangential. I’ve genuinely thought that was a lot of sentimental clap-trap; what matters isn’t our relationship, it’s the rules and how I enforce them, or the gluten, or the co-sleeping, or the crib-training, or this, or that, or anything but this kid breaking down in tears in the living room because all she wants is to have a relationship with her mother.

I really liked her post and her decision to re-focus on the fact that she knows her children best and that her own relationship with her children—as opposed to some technique or listening to what some expert has to say–is the most important aspect of effective parenting.

And yet, when I read a post like this, I also see a potential tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   Along with epiphanies like this often comes a certain reactionary impulse that says, “those damn experts have been making me feel so guilty for all this time with all their damn techniques. I’m done with them.”  Actually, I largely respect this.  As Calah points, out, parenting not about technique.  It NEVER is.  It’s always about relationship.

Here’s the Rub

But to be honest, this is one of the things that regularly makes me and other attachment parenting experts want to beat our heads into a wall.   This idea that “parenting is something you do to kids (not a relationship you have with kids)” is so pervasive that parents can’t help applying it even to parenting styles that require rejecting that mindset–like attachment parenting— in order for them to really work!   People write attachment parenting off as just another set of techniques, just another philosophy, just another set of parenting rubrics set up to make parents feel like failures.  But AP is not about techniques at all.  It is entirely about relationship.

“But how can you say that, Popcak?!?  AP is all about techniques.  Co-sleeping, baby wearing, extended nursing, its all ‘do these THINGS or else your baby will be a brain damaged amoral axe murderer!”

I am aware that a lot of people think this way, but they are entirely missing the point of AP.  They approach AP with their pre-existing “parenting is something you do to kid (not a relationship they have with kids)” mindset and completely reduce AP to a series of techniques to which they must slavishly devote themselves…OR ELSE.  And, in doing so,  they completely undermine the effectiveness of AP and most of the benefits they could get from it.

What Are You TALKING About, Popcak?

“Well,” you might ask, “if things like co-sleeping, and baby-wearing, and extended nursing and all the other AP recommendations aren’t techniques, then what are they?”  That’s a fair question.  Let me attempt to answer this way.

Can you have a relationship  with a person without communicating with them?  Can you have a relationship with someone without using some kind of language (verbal or non-verbal) to interact and get to know them?  I would say, “no.”  Sure, it is possible to have quiet moments with a really good friend.  Times where you don’t say anything.  But those times are dependent on all the things you’ve been through already, all the things you’ve said and done before, all the communication you have already shared.   To have a relationship with a person, you need a way to communicate with them and the way that most people communicate is through language.

Relationship:  The Asperger’s Way

Now, imagine for a moment that you focus on language as a “technique.”  Imagine that you read communication books and talk to communication experts with the sole purpose of learning the “right formulaic responses” (TM)  that will net you the closest relationship with the least effort possible. What if you treated language as a means to an end, a technique you used on people to “create relationship.” What if you treated language as just “things you say to a person in the hopes of getting a particular response?”  Would you be missing the point of language?

In fact, some people do approach language exactly this way.  People with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly called Asperger’s) often see language as a series of formulas they have to memorize to get social interactions “right.”  But of course, language doesn’t work that way.  Language does facilitate communication which does, in turn,  facilitates relationship, but if you treat language as a technique, a series of formulas, then it won’t really be communication and it really won’t facilitate relationship.  It ends up feeling fake. The harder you try this approach the more frustrated you become.

Baby Talk

So let’s bring this back around to parenting. You can’t have a relationship with someone unless you share a common language.  What is the language of babies and toddlers?  It isn’t words.   It is touch.  It is presence.  Babies are very concrete.  They feel close to a person when they are actually close to that person.  They feel disconnected when they are physically disconnected from other people. That isn’t philosophy.  That’s a neurological/psychological fact.

Attachment parenting practices teach parents to speak a baby’s concrete language of touch and presence.  As adults, we have largely lost touch with the significance of concrete connection.  We rely too much on words and symbols to convey closeness.  Babies don’t understand any of this.  For a baby, if you are touching them, you are in relationship with them. If you aren’t touching them, you’re not.

Attachment parenting practices aren’t techniques as much as they are a way to teach adults how to speak “baby” again.  If you treat attachment parenting practices like a technique; if you are counting down the days until you can stop holding your baby, or nursing, or bed-sharing or any of the other things because they are just tiresome tasks some expert told you to do (…or else!), you are like the person with Asperger’s using language as a technique and you will feel frustrated, angry, and burned out because you are missing the forest for the trees. “I did all the right things the expert said to do to this baby. This better work!”

But, if you use AP practices as a means of learning to speak “baby”; if you use AP practices to keep yourself close enough to your baby to learn that this look means, “I’m hungry” and this sound means, “I’m tired” and this motion means, “I love you!” then you are not just using attachment parenting techniques on your child, you are using attachment parenting as a vehicle for learning the language of connection that enables you to have a unique and personal relationship with your child–which is what AP is all about.

I don’t want any parent to ever do AP because I or any other “expert” said this is the right thing to do to your kid.  If you take this approach, you’ll fail anyway.  Don’t waste your time.  AP is not just like every other parenting philosophy that has you do certain things to a kid in the hopes of getting a certain result out of a kid.  To work, AP requires a different mindset altogether.    AP suggests doing certain things–not as techniques–but as reminders to us grown-ups, who have forgotten the grammar and vocabulary of the language that is presence and touch, to actually tune in to your unique and unrepeatable child so that you can learn how to have a real relationship from day one.  A relationship that–once your child begins to learn the language of words and symbols–will be all your own and that will enable you to say with confidence that you are the expert on your child.   You can claim that expertise, because you have been speaking this child’s language from your very earliest days together and you know your child from the inside out.

To learn more about how you can become the expert in your child’s life, check out Parenting with Grace:  A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids


Homeschool Troubles

A reader sent this article to me about the late realizations of some homeschooling families who were surprised and heartbroken that things have not worked out as they’d hoped.  I thought it made some very valid points.

Regular readers and listeners my be aware that we are very supportive of homeschooling in general although we recommend that people need to be sober about it.  Homeschooling, by itself, doesn’t solve anything.  It presents its own opportunities and challenges.

Lisa and I have homeschooled all the way through high school and have been very pleased with how our approach has worked.  That said, too many homeschooling families make the mistake of thinking that sheltering kids from the outside world is enough.  It isn’t.  If you want to successfully homeschool you need to actively teach your child how to positively and charitably engage  pop culture, the media and even people you disapprove of or disagree with.  You can’t just keep your kids away from these influences.  If you do, they will be drawn to them the second you turn your back.  The Catholic response to the culture, even the ugly bits of culture, is to engage it.  To redeem what is redeemable and refute what must be refuted.  It is not the Catholic way to run and hide from the big scary world.  Christ has conquered.   Be not afraid!

Spanking: Continuing the conversation

Here is an excellent article on the challenge to effectively communicate what research says about corporal punishment and to help parents do an even better job without it.  The author is a researcher at the Columbia Univ.  School of Social Work.

We found that children who were spanked by their mothers at age 5, even relatively infrequently, went on to have higher levels of behavior problems at age 9, even after taking into account other family risk factors that also affect child behavior. Given the chicken vs. egg cyclical nature of this, we also controlled for earlier problems with the children to ensure that it wasn’t just that kids who acted out were simply being spanked more.

And 5-year-olds who were spanked frequently, defined as two or more times a week, by their fathers also went on to have lower vocabulary scores at age 9, even after controlling for an array of other risk factors and earlier child vocabulary. This is an important finding, because few studies in this area have examined effects on cognitive development.

A leading researcher on child spanking, Elizabeth Gershoff from the University of Texas at Austin, correctly suggests that some of these cognitive effects may be indirect rather than a result of spanking only. Parents who spank may not talk to their children as often, or kids with behavioral problems may be more distracted at school. To account for some of these possibilities, we did control for a host of other family factors, such as the mom’s IQ, the child’s earlier verbal intelligence, the child’s behavioral problems as well as a measure of how cognitively stimulating the home environment was. So, it appears that spanking is having an effect on vocabulary above and beyond those other factors.  READ MORE…

The author goes on to say that we  professionals need to do a better job telling parents not just to stop spanking but what to do instead.  I agree.  In Parenting with Grace:  Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids we present over 40 different discipline techniques that have been shown to work more effectively than spanking.  When you use these techniques instead of corporal punishment, you can actually have higher expectations for and better behavior from your kids.  Test us out by picking up a copy of Parenting with Grace.


“Teach Us How To Pray” A Great New Guide for Families

On our radio program, More2Life, Lisa and I regularly get call from parents struggling with one issue or another.  Although the advice we offer is always tailored to a family’s particular circumstances, we often start by asking parents to join together with their children to seek God’s guidance on the best way to proceed.  The deafening silence this advice is often greeted with at first is a sign, I think, of the struggle many Catholic families have with the idea of prayer.  “Prayer,” said St John Vianney, “is nothing less than union with God.”  Unfortunately, in many Catholic homes, prayer, to the degree that it happens at all,  has been reduced to something…um, less than that.

Be Not Afraid!

Stepping into the breech is a terrific new book by Tim and Sue Muldoon titled, Six Sacred Rules for Families:  A Spirituality for the Home.  I was so pleased to read it.  The Muldoons speak from years of experience and offer gentle wisdom to families who wish to get more out of their daily life together.  They help readers discover how the ins and outs of family life can point back to God and how every moment spent in the “domestic church” (i.e., what the Church calls families), is a moment of profound grace–if you know where to look for it.

St. Theresa of Calcutta used to tell parents who asked her how they could achieve holiness, “Go home and love your families.”  The Muldoons offer parents a way to see how their love can reflect the love that comes from God’s own heart.  Inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola Spiritual Rules, the Muldoons offer 6 rules that can help every family bring their faith home in new and dramatic ways.

1.  God brings our family together on pilgrimage

2.  Our love for one another leads to joy.

3.  Our family doesn’t care about “success.”

4.  God stretches our family toward his kingdom.

5.  God will help us.

6.  We must learn which desires lead us to freedom.

The Muldoons describe the significance of these six simple rules for their family and yours.   They freely admit that they are not saints, but the good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to follow God’s path to perfection.  The Muldoons offer a realistic picture of a family, struggling together to find God and grace as they face trials, celebrate life and learn about love from one another.   It is a book that is both touching and transformative at the same time.  I hope every Catholic family will read this book and discover the incredible spiritual treasure that is buried in the heart of their home.