Greg Camacho LOVES “Broken Gods”

shutterstock_132413567Greg Camacho at the Pilgrim Center of Hope has a lovely review of one of my newest books, Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

In this great new book, Dr. Popcak contends that “when God looks at you, He sees a god” (with a small g). It might seem crazy or even blasphemous, but that’s only because we’re used to seeing ourselves as broken, struggling, failing and frustrated. Subtitled Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, the book demonstrates how the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues relate to one another.

In Broken Gods, a work that is both practical and inspirational, Dr. Popcak explores what our deepest desires — and even our darkest desires — tell us about our ultimate destiny and reveals a commonsense approach to fulfilling our true purpose.

This book is a “must” for everyone seeking to integrate his or her emotions, doubts, and feelings of failure, with a true, joyful spirituality.

Thanks Greg!  And many blessings on the great work of the Pilgrim Center of Hope!

Hey Parents! Stop Asking Permission to Be A Family!


Moms and dads, I want to let you in on a secret. You don’t need permission from your children’s coaches, teachers, youth ministers, scout leaders, etc, etc, etc, to have a family life.  All those people have to ask YOU permission to borrow your kids.  NOT the other way around.

At my wife and my recent presentation at the World Meeting of Families, the above statement earned an unexpected ovation.  In our talk, we asserted the completely counter-cultural and Catholic idea that family life, itself, is an activity not an accessory.  We are used to having a family life but working  at everything else; school, sports, work, lessons, you name it.  We have time for everything except working, praying, talking, and praying as a family.  Worse, we have all come to accept this as normal and necessary when it is anything but.

Family: The School of Humanity

Family life has never been perfect, but it would not be overly nostalgic to note that as little as a generation or two ago, it was assumed that family life was the place where people learned to be human beings.  Family life was the place where socialization occurred, where children and parents developed a sense of purpose, meaning, and values. Family constituted people’s primary and most important relationship–in reality, not just in name.   Children were permitted to participate in extra-curricular activities to the degree that they did not infringe too much on family meals, church, and other important family rituals.

Three generations of the culture of divorce have destroyed this idea.  Today, about 41% of all children are born to unmarried women and about half of children have a step-sibling.  In an age where so many people’s experience of family life has been radically disrupted, almost every family–including intact families–have fallen prey to the idea that socialization, meaning, purpose, values, direction and significant relationships are supposed to happen outside the home while the family home is reduced to a train station where people pass each other on the way to the really important activities.  Research notes that Millennials score higher on measures of narcissism than any other generation before them, but if that’s true, it’s only because we parents have all but closed the doors on meaningful family life–which the Church tell us is the School of Humanity  where we all learn the virtues that help us live life as a gift (Evangelium Vitae).

We Should Do What?!?

Even suggesting to listeners of my radio program that they need to carve out regular time each day as a family to work together, play together, talk with each other and pray together is met with an almost existential level of angst.   “HOW are we supposed to find time to do ALLTHAT?!?”  Catholic families have swallowed the secular lie that if our children are not enrolled in 3000 activities on Wednesday evening that we are depriving them and that they will be social outcasts if not completely socially inept.  But what makes a person socially inept is not whether or not they know how to steal a base, but rather whether or not they know how to be a good husband and father, mother and wife.  Such lessons can only be taught in the School of Humanity that is family life.

None of this is to knock extra-curricular activities.  Sports, music lessons, classes and community involvements can play an important role in creating a fulfilling life.  But when these things threaten the primary work of the family, it is time to make a change.  I would like to suggest that it is time for Catholic parents to evangelize the culture–and insist on re-humanizing society– by reclaiming our families in three simple (if not necessarily easy) steps.

Take Back Your Family
Three Steps

First, ask yourselves, “If we were to carve out a least a little bit of time (say, 15-20 minutes each) to work, play, talk, and pray together, each day what would we do?”  Come up with a short list of ideas yourself, then discuss it as a family.  Start doing some of those things now–even periodically–so that your family can get used to the idea of being intentional about being together.

Second, begin thinking of extra-curricular activities–including your own–as secondary to the need to make time to work, play, talk, and pray together as a family.  If you actually gave yourself permission to prioritize your family life–as your Church asks you to–what else would there be time for?  Perhaps the answer is “not much.”  That’s OK.  Your family is the single most important activity you can do in the course of your week.  Start giving yourself permission to think of this as if it was.

Third, start setting boundaries.   Tell your kids’ coaches that your kids won’t be attending practices or games when they conflict with family commitments–especially your family’s commitment to attend mass together.  Tell the various ministry heads to schedule you for reading, altar serving, and cantoring at the same Mass.  You do not need their permission or approval.  It is YOUR family that is at stake.  Not theirs.  Make them work around you, not the other way around.

It’s time to start a revolution for the family.   Chances are, the people you have let think they own your children won’t like it.  Tough.  Revolutions are never easy.  But in light of Pope Francis’ witness at the World Meeting of Families, perhaps the best way to create a “Culture of Encounter” that brings Christ to the world is to simply do what he says and finally make time to “waste time with your children.”

Dr. Greg Popcak and his wife, Lisa, were  featured speakers at the 2015 World Meeting of Families.  They host More2Life Radio and  are the authors of 20 books including For Better…FOREVER! and Parenting with Grace. Learn more

Please Don’t Fiddle While The Family Burns: An Open Letter to the 2015 Synod on the Family

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

The following is an article I penned for the October issue of Inside the Vatican

The upcoming 2015 Synod on the Family gives us an opportunity to ask “What does the Church need to do to support families in this post-modern age?”

During last year’s Extraordinary Synod, there was much public discussion about how the Church might respond to the needs of “irregular families”; that is, families impacted by divorce, cohabitation, etc . While this conversations is absolutely necessary, it is also 40 years too little and too late.  Now we face a more serious crisis. Namely, the world has  forgotten what constitutes the basic structures of healthy family life to the point that virtually every family is now”irregular” in one way or another.   That includes the intact, erstwhile “ideal” families that regularly attend church–87% of which never pray together even to say Grace Before Meals.  (CARA/HCFM, 2015).  These changes necessitate that the Church find radical new ways to form and support all families not just those facing special challenges.

Family Life: Then and Now

To understand why the need of all families is so great, let’s take a brief tour of family life then and now.

Throughout the 1950’s-60’s, Catholic families, like nearly 80% of all American families,  had a predominantly traditional structure. The father served as the primary breadwinner and the mother stayed at home.  Family life may not have always been as blissful as nostalgia suggests, but it was considerably more stable.  Up through the early 1970’s, the majority of married couples stayed together for life and the divorce rate was lower than 25%.  Cohabitation rates were as low as 1%.   On average, parents had about 4 children and fewer than 5% of children were born out of wedlock.  Likewise about 62% of Catholics attended Mass weekly

              The picture is remarkably different now. Today, about 48% of women have cohabited  before marrying their current spouse.  Since the advent of no-fault divorce legislation in the 1970’s the divorce rate for Catholics as a whole is similar to the general population’s which hovers between 40-50%.   In this 3rd generation of the culture of divorce, it is not unusual for a young adult to have both divorced parents and divorced grandparents with little to no personal experience of long-term, intact family life.  If there is any good news, it is that Catholic couples who attend Mass exhibit much greater marital stability than the general population (the divorce rate for weekly Mass attendees is in the 5-15% range), unfortunately, only 20% of Catholics do so.

If the overall stability of the family has changed, so has its make-up.  The size of today’s average family has shrunk 50% to about 2 children.  Roughly 41% of all children are now born to unmarried women and about half of children (44%) have a step-sibling.  In general, parents today are older, with women regularly delaying childbearing until their 30’s.  Additionally, because of both increased work opportunities for women and economic necessity, 70% mothers now work outside the home.

“Regular” AND “Irregular” Families:
Working Without A Net

             While these statistics may not be surprising, the significance of these changes with regard to evangelizing the culture is lost on many.  Because they are marinated in this cultural milieu, even intact, faithful families are negatively impacted by social changes in family dynamics.

In our post-modern world, family life has been effectively redefined as a collection of individuals living under the same roof and sharing a data plan.  Even so-called “normal” families are struggling under the weight of the divorce-culture’s expectation that extra-curricular activities should now provide the socialization and sense of meaning that family life used to impart.  Parents and children of even the healthiest families are constantly tempted to pursue activity like work, sports, and technology over emotional and spiritual intimacy through family dinners, family time, and family prayer and worship.

Formation Not Information

In past generations, it was possible to adopt a more catechetical approach to marriage and family education in the Church.  The prevailing family-friendly culture did the hard work of defining the nature and the mores of family life. With some exceptions, the Church could simply encourage families to become better at what they were already doing.  Today’s families, however, must function without either a clearly defined blueprint for a strong family life or a cultural safety net to catch them if they fall.  In fact, many social institutions are only too happy to push families off the ledge, trusting that the state will supply the parachute. Without social support and reliable parental modeling, simple catechetical/ informational approaches to family formation are doomed to fail.  Information is not enough. Actual formation, mentoring, and discipleship is needed to teach people even the basic steps of healthy family life.

Moreover, because of these cultural changes, the majority of modern families don’t have a clue as to what it means to allow their faith to impact and inform their family life. Using a merely catechetical approach to convey the ins and outs of faithful family life is like asking people to learn juggling from a textbook.

These facts necessitate a new approach to evangelizing the family that shows rather than tells the world that the Church’s vision of family life is a vital, workable, desirable, positive option to the world’s alternative of personal fulfillment though radical cultural isolation.

3 Critical Tasks

In the upcoming Synod, it is my deepest hope that, rather than merely trying to put out fires, the Synod Father will address three critical tasks.

First, the Church needs to definitively say, “this is what constitutes family life.”    Is family life, as one popular children’s program puts it, “any group of people, living together and loving each other?” and, if so, how is a family different than the Chinese orphanage my youngest daughter lived in for the first 14mos of her life where she and the other children and caregivers lived together and loved each other as well as they could?  If living together and loving each other is enough, what were they all pining for?

Just as the Church defines the word “church” (a religious body with apostolic succession) and distinguishes that term from an “ecclesial communion” (a religious body without succession) we need to define what distinguishes a “family” from other groups of people who live together and love each other.  And we need to speak to what the pastoral care of both of these social realities should entail without confusing the two.

Second, the Church needs to describe what makes the Catholic vision of family life distinct from our secular and non-Catholic counterparts.  Specifically, in what ways is a Catholic family called to be a witness and sign to other families?  If we can’t explain the unique gifts our faith brings to family life, we have no business sitting down to have this conversation at all.

And if we were to search for a “Catholic family mission statement”  I would suggest that we need look no further than Evangelium Vitae which tells us that families are called to ground their lives in the pursuit of “authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self” and to cultivate, in all their interactions, “respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift” (#92).  Imagine the powerful impact such a family could have on each other’s hearts and the hearts of those who encountered them!  True, only Christ can accomplish this vision in our lives, but isn’t that the point?  Even the mere pursuitof this vision through God’s grace would be stunning enough for the world to take notice. To encounter Christians who believe in this vision of love enough to allow it to form the way they live as husband, wife, parents, and children through good times and bad, sickness and health, wealth and poverty would be a transformational experience for  families themselves and for the communities in which they lived.

Finally, the Church needs to produce guidelines that help families rediscover that family life is its own activity and not an accessory.  The Church needs to remind the world that we can’t simply “have” a family but work on everything else in our lives. Instead, we need to prioritize regular, daily and weekly appointments to work, play, talk, and pray together as a family, and schedule every other outside commitment around these rituals that represent the sacred rites of the domestic church. The family that does this is a revolutionary family that God can use to change the world.

Family Life IS the “Culture of Encounter”

If we, as Catholics, are to be successful in our mission to claim the post-modern world for Christ, we must, as Pope Francis puts it,  give the post-modern world an encounter of Christ as he lives in Catholic family life.   To that end, we need to stop acting as if the real crisis is our response to irregular families.  Having this conversation now is like trying to go find the cows 40 years after they have left the barn–while the barn itself is now on fire and in danger of burning to the ground.  The new crisis is the fact that family life, itself, has become an endangered species and that even many of the faithful don’t really know what it means to be a family much less live family life as a prophetic witness in the world.  As far as family life is concerned, Rome is on fire.  Will the Synod Fathers fiddle while the family burns? Or will they respond to the alarm?  Let us pray that they will hear the klaxons wailing loud and clear for those with ears to hear.

Dr Gregory Popcak is a counselor, professor, broadcaster and author of almost 20 books on Catholic marriage and family life.  He and his wife, Lisa were featured speakers at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadephia.  Please visit him at