What Douthat & Martin Miss: Reflections on the Ongoing Synod Discussion

NYT columnist, Ross Douthat,  and America Editor-at-Large, Fr. Jim Martin, are having a very interesting conversation about the fallout from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  I applaud them ondouthat-martin their civility, but I do think they are missing some important points.

So Who Asked You, Anyway?

Although they haven’t asked my opinion, I did want to offer a few thoughts because as a full-time marriage and family minister who has written more than 20 books promoting the Catholic vision of marriage, family, and sexuality,  who directs an agency providing over 10,000 hours of ongoing pastoral counseling per year to Catholics worldwide, who talks about these topics with Catholics and other across the US on the radio every day, and who will be addressing the World Meeting of Families in 2015,  I have a lot at stake in the discussion, and maybe, I hope,  something of value to add.

Who Gets to Wear the White Hat?

I think the first point that I would like to address is Fr. Martin’s and Mr. Douthat’s points on “traditionalism” vs. “progressivism.”  Or, more specifically, what Fr. Martin points out is the trope of the “good traditionalist” versus the “bad progressive.”  While I appreciate their discussion of the topic, I think they’re both missing an important point.

Cardinal George gave an interview this past week where he said something that, I think, was very wise.  He said, for Catholics, “…the category that matters is true/false,” He said. “I reject the whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that … then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation….”

This really speaks to me and I think it presents a challenge to both Fr. Martin and Mr. Douthat. I think it is just as irresponsible to foment talk of schism as it is to give public lip-service to Church teaching while charmingly undermining it where one can.

It seems to me that the best response one can have to the Synod is to make one’s sincere questions and thoughts known, pray, and consider what is happening in one’s heart.  There is, to my taste, too much crowing among the progressives and too much Chicken-Little-reactivity among traditionalists.  There are serious issues in play, to be sure, but serious issues require sober minds, and too many progressives and traditionalists are losing theirs, albeit for different reasons.

I would like to respectfully suggest to both Fr. Martin and Mr. Douthat that the degree to which you describe yourself as a “traditionalist  Catholic,” or a “progressive Catholic,” or a “conservative Catholic,” or a “liberal Catholic,” is the degree to which you are something other than a practicing Catholic.

As Cardinal George wisely suggests, the only for Catholics are, “Is this true or is it false?” And “How do we personally struggle to live out the truth?”  And, finally, “How can we  help others in their personal struggle to live what is true?”    To my way of thinking, any labels that get in the way of these conversations are millstones around our necks and are better off .

Pastoral Practice VS. Doctrine.

The second point I’d like to address is Douthat’s and Martin’s discussion about doctrine vs. pastoral practice (or fundamentalist pharisaism vs. cheap grace).  In particular, Fr. Martin proposed an analogy that I think is very telling of the problem in the way many people are thinking about the kind of problems (like communion for divorced and remarried Catholics) discussed at the synod.  He wrote,

“Imagine a town that has posted speed limits of 35 miles an hour. Now imagine that a newly passed law has dropped the penalty for speeding from a week in jail to a fine of $100. Perhaps the voters thought that a week in jail was too severe. Perhaps they saw how across-the-board applications of that penalty were too draconian. This does not mean that the speed limit has changed: it is still 35 miles per hour. Rather, the way one deals with those who have transgressed the law has changed.”

I would suggest that there are two problems with this analogy:  

1.  Better To Ask for An Apology Than Permission?

First, as applied to the debate about what to do with people who have re-married without the benefit of an annulment, Fr. Martin is essentially championing an idea proposed by Cardinal Kasper, who’s notion was that people who had contracted a second marriage without the benefit of an annulment could simply confess the second marriage and, without making any other changes, be reconciled to communion. 

Returning to Fr. Martin’s analogy, Kasper’s idea is the equivalent of saying, “It will always be against the law to exceed the speed limit, but from now on, anyone who drag races on this strip of road will simply have to say, ‘I’m sorry’ to the police officer when stopped and then be allowed to continue on their way.”

This is an example of a “pastoral practice” that undermines “the law”–in this case marital indissolubility– in everything but name.  To be honest,  “progressive Catholics” came out of the Synod looking like they think themselves a bit cleverer than everyone else, and acting like they could “win” the debate simply by pretending that any objection to obvious attempts at doctrinal work-arounds was just a case of cold-hearted, retrograde traditionalism.

Alternatively, I would like to suggest that it is possible to want a more compassionate approach to pastoral practice that simultaneously does not throw doctrine under the bus either in spirit or in truth.  I would like to challenge reformers and traditionalists to seek those solutions instead of clinging, each to his own cause celebre,  and using this latest discussion as yet another opportunity to fight their endless, ecclesiastical, Cold War proxy battles.

2. Doctrine Is Not A “Law.” It Is The Path to Fulfillment and Divinization

Second, and much, much more importantly, is Fr. Martin’s false comparison of doctrine to a law.  Doctrine isn’t a law. It isn’t ratified by mere legislative consensus and mediated by additional legislation.  Doctrine is, ultimately, an absolute truth claim of what it means to be a fully formed human person in a rightly ordered relationship with God.  Moreover, doctrine is a truth-claim tested in the crucible of thousands of years of revelation and human experience. It is true that at some point, doctrine must be defined, but that is largely after a particular truth claim has been tested over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years of prayer, debate, discernment and lived experience.  Because of the rigor of this process, a doctrine is as close to an authentic, absolute truth as we can probably discern this side of heaven.

As such, the doctrine of marital indissolubility isn’t, as Fr. Martin’s analogy appears to suggest,  a “law” that says “don’t get divorced and remarried.”  It is a claim that there is something about lifelong marital fidelity that is essential to our ability to fulfill our destiny both as human persons and children of God. 

Any pastoral practice that doesn’t acknowledge this is too wimpy to succeed at the job it allegedly sets out to do.  Any valid pastoral practice must more effectively enable the person to fulfill his human and divine potential.  At the very least, it can’t stand in the person’s way or obscure the path to human fulfillment and divinization.

That’s why Cardinal Kasper’s proposal, especially in light of his stated position that it isn’t appropriate to expect heroic virtue from the laity is the equivalent of damning lay people with the soft clericalism of low expectations.  Kasper’s proposal is not merely wrong because it contravenes the traditionalists’ obsession with the law.  It is frankly,  despicable, because it counsels the faithful to pursue a path that is in direct opposition to their spiritual and human fulfillment as authentic persons and children of God (Mt 19:7-8; Mk 10:7-9; or Mt 5:32).

The Challenge for Each Side

I’ve already said that the challenge for traditionalists is to get over their tendency to histrionics. They truly need to stop getting their wimples in a knot over the fact that Church’s teachings are ground out like sausage and if the Holy Spirit is OK with that, they can be too.   That said, I do think progressives have the harder pill to swallow because it is impossible to be authentically pastoral in the application of a doctrine they never believed in anyway.

To be authentically pastoral, you have to be able to appreciate the beauty of the teaching you are attempting to apply.  Until progressives can learn to appreciate the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching on marriage and, more specifically, sexuality, they will have nothing credible to add to this debate because every proposal will come off as “just how little of this do we really have to apply in order to keep up at least the illusion of adherence to these legal hoops the Church wants people to jump through.”

I would respectfully challenge both Mr. Douthat and Fr. Martin to apply their good hearts and considerable talents to fostering real solutions instead of either seeking creative ways to foment hysteria about the erstwhile end of the Church or perpetuate the liberal, clericalist tendency to damn the laity with low expectations while claiming to be merciful.

The people who are suffering under the weight of these issues deserve better treatment than either Fr. Martin or Mr Douthat’s camps are giving them.

Then Comes Baby: Cute Baby Contest–Newborn to Six Months. Post Pics to WIN!!!

Babies, babies, babies!  We LOVE babies!thencomesbaby

Lisa’s and my new book, Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood celebrates every aspect of adding a new member to your family.  We cover everything you need to know about balancing baby care, mommy care, daddy care, and marriage care so that you can feel your best in every part of your life even in those challenging first few months after the birth of your little one.

The book is divided up into addressing the various challenges of the following stages: Newborn to 6 months, 7-12 months, 12-24 months, 24-36 months.   To celebrate both the publication of Then Comes Baby and all the adorable babies out there, we are pleased to announce the launch of a CUTE BABY CONTEST that will run for the next several weeks.

THIS WEEK WE ARE ASKING YOU TO POST PICTURES OF YOUR ADORABLE NEWBORN-6 MONTH OLD!     Post your pics to the COMMENTS SECTION OF THIS BLOG.  Give your baby’s first name and age and YOUR first name as well.  We will chose an entry at RANDOM on Monday 11/24.  The winner will receive a copy of Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.   We’ll let you know via an update to this blog post on 11/24 so be sure to check back.  (And of course, come back often to see all the adorable entries!)


Next week, we’ll have another contest looking at 6-12 month olds (and the week after 12-24 and the final week 24-36 month) so get those pics ready but don’t post them yet.

So upload those baby pics and WIN!!!

PLEASE NOTE:  COMMENTS WITH PICS AUTOMATICALLY REQUIRE MODERATION AT PATHEOS.  If you don’t see your pic right away, wait about an hour and check back.  I’m reviewing and approving as fast as I can but I do have a full day.  I promise to get everyone’s pics up.  IF YOU GET AN ERROR MESSAGE check your security settings.  Most people are able to post without difficulty. If you still can’t post your pic to the FB page and I’ll do my best to get them transferred here (but no promises.  I’m both tech and time impaired.)

What’s the #1 Thing Stressed Out Kids Need to Feel Better? (Infographic)

H/T Stress Better

Take a look at this revealing infographic based on a survey of almost 1000, 9-13 year-olds about both what stresses them out and what they do to de-stress.  I’ll have a few comments below.




To highlight a few points, I thought it was striking that only 22% of kids talk to their parents about their stress but 75% would like to be able to rely on their parents more to help them cope.  In my experience, we parents are too tempted to think “the kids are alright.”  We too readily accept answers like, “I’m ok.”  “It’s fine” and “I don’t know” from our kids.  We don’t expect them to learn how to express themselves so we don’t take the time to teach them to express themselves and work through their stress.  Kids are capable of articulating their feelings and working with you to develop good problem solving skills, but they need to be coached to do it.

If you would like to learn more effective strategies for helping your kids cope with the stressors in their lives, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and God Help Me, This STRESS is Driving Me Crazy:  Finding Balance Through God’s Grace, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (at www.CatholicCounselors.com or 740-266-6461) to learn more about our tele-counseling practice.

Turn Your Marriage Around with this 1 Important Habit

In my new book, When Divorce is Not an Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love,  I reveal the research that describes the 8 basic habits that separate happy couples from shutterstock_229208374unhappy ones.  Happy couples aren’t so much lucky or born to be happy, they cultivate certain habits that any couple can learn.

One of those habits I call “emotional rapport and benevolence.”  In other words, happy couples make a point of stepping outside of their comfort zone to demonstrate real interest in the things their partner is passionate about. And they work hard to do things to develop that interest even if that activity isn’t naturally “their thing.”  Making this small but significant act of generosity–of “self-donation”–is an act of benevolence because it says “I really care about you” and it builds rapport between the couple because everyone loves sharing what they love with they people that they love.  Here is a great summary of the research behind this idea.  Researchers observed couples interacting with each other over the course of several days….

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.  Read More.

The little things really do matter.  Couples often wait for anniversaries to renew their wedding vow, but every interaction between a husband and wife gives them the chance to either say, “I do.”  or “I don’t” all over again.  The more you learn to say “I do” over and over again, the stronger your marriage will be.  If you’d like to find more ways you can say, “I do” to each other, check out When Divorce is Not An Option:  How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love and For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.


Neuroscience Proves “Perfect Love Casts Out Fear.”

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).shutterstock_220380457

Perfect love may remove all fear, but a new study of the brain finds that even the hint of love is enough to begin to calm the fearful brain.

Being shown pictures of others being loved and cared for reduces the brain’s response to threat, new research has found. The study discovered that when individuals are briefly presented pictures of others receiving emotional support and affection, the brain’s threat monitor, the amygdala, subsequently does not respond to images showing threatening facial expressions or words. This occurred even if the person was not paying attention to the content of the first pictures.  Read More

The Theology of the Body tells us that we are made for love and this study shows just how true that is.  We are wired to function more effectively, more fearlessly just being in the presence of a loving interaction.  Just think of the power that creating loving connection can have to help mitigate our anxiety and fearfulness.  If you’re feeling afraid, don’t isolate, reach out to those who love you and experience the peace beyond all understanding.

For more helpful ideas for overcoming fear and anxiety, check out God Help Me, This STRESS is Driving Me Crazy:  Finding Balance Through God’s Grace.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT #2: Lisa and I Are Speaking at the 2015 World Meeting of Families

Lisa and I have been invited to present at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next Sept.   We’ll be presenting on the topic, See How They Love One Another:  The Family and the Faithwmof

Below is the official announcement from WMOF.

World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015
Opens Registration and Announces Keynote Speakers & Content
Baltimore, MD (November 10, 2014) – In remarks offered today at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall Assembly, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. announced that registration for the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015, which is being held September 22-25, 2015 in Philadelphia, PA, is now officially open. Individual registrants and families can register via Worldmeeting2015.org/Plan-your-visit/Register for the four day Congress at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and also book hotel rooms for Congress days through the website. Multiple registration and pricing options are available, allowing delegates to select a package that best suits their needs. There is also an option available for registrants to seek out local host families through Homestay.com via http://www.worldmeeting2015.org/plan-your-visit/places-stay/.

The World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 will offer an Adult Congress and a Youth Congress for ages 6-17. There will also be a licensed daycare for children under the age of six. The Adult Congress, for ages 18 and older, will consist of keynote presentations and breakout sessions that address the many ways in which families can strengthen their bonds, especially in the face of the significant challenges facing the family globally in the 21st century. The Youth Congress will provide interactive programs designed for young people to play, listen, serve, build, and embrace the mission of love in a family.

“The World Meeting of Families will deal with a wide range of family issues where our faith is both needed and tested,” said Archbishop Chaput at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Fall General Assembly. “These are matters that affect families not only here in the United States but on a global scale. So we want to focus next year not just on the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media, but on things like the family and poverty, the family and addiction, the family and children with disabilities, the loss of a spouse, the effect of divorce and co-parenting, health and wellness as building blocks to preserving the family, creating real intimacy between husband and wife, the challenges of raising children, the role of grandparents, the parish as a support community for families, and similar themes. And we want to involve the whole community in this celebration, which is why we’ve included Jewish, Mormon, Muslim and Protestant presenters on issues that we all share – regardless of confessional divides.”

In addition to announcing the opening of registration, Archbishop Chaput also spoke about the impressive roster of influential leaders and scholars that the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 will bring together to discuss the critical issues facing the family worldwide. Nearly 100 renowned speakers are expected to present and facilitate conversation among delegates. From Baptist to Jewish to Lutheran, 24 percent of the Congress presenters will represent other faith traditions and 30 percent of presenters are from outside of North America. Leading the program are keynote addresses from Father Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, Rector of Mundelein Seminary, and host of CATHOLICISM; His Eminence, Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Boston; Helen Alvaré, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law; Dr. Juan Francisco de la Guardia Brin and Gabriela N. de la Guardia, renowned Panamanian doctors; His Eminence, Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila; and His Eminence, Robert Cardinal Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, Archbishop Emeritus of Conakry, Guinea. Although a few breakout session speakers are still being confirmed, the majority of speakers and presentations for the Congress has been finalized and can be reviewed at http://www.worldmeeting2015.org/about-the-event/speakers/.

“The 2015 World Meeting of Families will welcome a most remarkable and dynamic group of speakers as we aimed to bring people together in faith and share a common message of love while also giving comfort and encouragement to those who may be struggling,” said Dr. Mary Beth Yount, World Meeting of Families Director of Content and Programming. “When developing the programming and educational sessions, one of our goals was to create a Congress inclusive of people of all ages, all walks of life, all
cultures and even other faiths so that every person might leave the conference feeling inspired by new ideas to incorporate into his/her family life. Through the grace of God and the messages shared during the Congress, we hope to reaffirm the importance of the family and strengthen its bonds on a global scale.”

As the world’s largest family gathering, the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia 2015 is expected to bring together 10,000 – 15,000 delegates from more than 150 nations in faith and celebration. The Congress will provide delegates the opportunity to share their thoughts, dialogue and prayers during daily Mass, devotions and breakout sessions. All sessions will focus on the myriad issues facing today’s global families, including financial crises/poverty, blended families, disabilities, addiction, divorce, and interfaith marriage, with speakers from the Pontifical Council for the Family, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Foundation for Family and Futures, National Catholic Partnership on Disability, Catholic Relief Services, among others. Rooted in the 2015 Congress’ theme, “Love is our mission: the family fully alive,” the catechetical content and programming will emphasize the impact of the love and life of families in society.

For more information regarding the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September, please visit www.WorldMeeting2015.org. An online retail store, featuring t-shirts, hats, pins and other small mementos, is also open and can be accessed at http://wmof.myshopify.com/. You can also engage the World Meeting of Families – Philadelphia on Facebook (World Meeting of Families 2015) (Encuentro Mundial de las Familias – Filadelfia 2015), Twitter (@WMF2015) (@WMF2015ES) and Instagram (WMF2015).

About World Meetings of Families

Beginning with 1994, The Year of the Family, the Pontifical Council for the Family has been responsible for organizing the World Meetings of Families in Rome (1994); Rio de Janeiro (1997); Rome (2000); Manila (2003); Valencia (2006); Mexico City (2009); Milan (2012); and now, Philadelphia (2015). Since its inception by Saint John Paul II, the World Meeting of Families has sought to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the globe.

Big Announcement #1: You CAN Balance Baby, Marriage, Family, & Your Needs–Here’s How!

We mentioned a few big announcements this week. The first is the launch of my latest book with my wife and co-host of More2Life Radio, Lisa Popcak titled, Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic thencomesbabyGuide to Surviving & Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood.  

The biggest parenting question we get is, “How can I balance it all?  How can I attend to  baby’s needs without losing my mind or my marriage?”    Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood shows you how to do this an a whole lot more!

In Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood, Lisa and I lend readers the benefit of our twenty-five years’ experience in parenting and marriage and family counseling to help them navigate the earliest years of parenthood.  Here are just some of the things we address…

~How to meet your baby’s needs fully without neglecting your own needs or your marriage.

~How to manage feeding, fatigue, and finances.

~Managing common questions about baby and mama’s sleep.

~How to protect yourself from The Mommy Wars.

~How to overcome the self criticism that can undermine your confidence as parents.

~How to deepen your spiritual life by discovering the grace of each moment with your child.

~How to establish rituals and routines that will serve as the foundation of a joyful, faith-filled family life!


We coach Catholic couples as they adjust to their new identities as mom and dad and help them face the inevitable challenges of parenthood–all while seeing these everyday experiences through the lens of Catholic teaching on the purpose of family life.

They Like Us!  They REALLY Like Us!

Then Comes Baby provides solid, hands-on help and rich Catholic guidance for parents on how to love their child deeply as they strengthen their love for each other. This book will help them become holy families.”   Most Reverand Joseph E. Kurtz.  Archbishop of Louisville President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

“Then Comes Baby is a delightful book for new Catholic parents, full of personal anecdotes and wonderful insights. But most of all, the advice and encouragement you will find is extremely useful in learning how to be the parents God has called you to be. What we like best about this book is that it addresses the new mom and the new dad with equal emphasis. Husbands and wives are together called to build a healthy Catholic family by having a strong faith walk. This book tells them what works when both parents, together, are uniquely aware of the design God intends for families when Baby comes.”  Dr. William and Martha Sears,  Co-authors of The Baby Book and The Attachment Parenting Book

“God wants to fill the hearts of families with the fire of his love. Greg and Lisa Popcak show you how to open to that love through all the joys and challenges of welcoming a new baby. If family life is a gift, Then Comes Baby shows you how to unwrap and celebrate that gift in all its forms.”  Christopher West.  Author of Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

“Greg and Lisa Popcak remind us that in spite of our fears, God invites us to do the most important work in building a good and holy world: raising children. This wise and practical guide will help parents navigate the sometimes challenging, often uplifting work of parenting babies. More importantly, it will remind them to love every minute of it!”  Tim and Sue Muldoon.  Authors of Six Sacred Rules for Families

“Then Comes Baby will help every parent rejoice in both the gift of new life and all the blessings and changes that come with it. The Popcaks articulate a practical vision of family life that is deeply faithful, extravagantly loving, and incredibly joyful. You can create the family your heart desires. This book will show you how.”  Damon Owens  Executive Director, Theology of the Body Institute

HUGE NEWS: Pope Hosts Conference on Marriage as Union of 1 Man & 1 Woman

H/T CatholicVote.

Big news, just announced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

HumanumRome, November 3rd, 2014.

On November 17-19, 2014, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will host a colloquium in Vatican City, in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the subject of theComplementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage. It is a global, interreligious meeting featuring representatives from 14 religious traditions and 23 countries. The colloquium will be opened by Pope Francis.  READ MORE