Pope Francis: Bring Your Babies to Church!

pope-francis-1In a visit to St Joseph Parish in Rome, Pope Francis stated,  “Babies cry, make noise, go here and there. But it annoys me when a baby cries in church and there are those who say he needs to go out. The cry of a baby is God’s voice: never drive them away from the church!”

We’ve discussed this a lot on the blogs.  You can check out my post, The Contraceptive Sanctuary:  Why You SHOULD Bring Your Baby To Church”  here.  That said, if you’re struggling with managing your infant or young child’s behavior at mass, Lisa  and I offer tons of helpful tips in both Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First 3 Years of Parenthood and Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.   Jesus said, “let the little children come to me”  but it isn’t always easy to bring children to mass. We hope these resources will help you have a more peaceful experience of attending mass as a family especially over the Christmas season when you may be spending more time than usual at Church!


Eating Your Salvation: Are YOU Orthorexic? Take the Quiz.



In a recent interview, “Domestic goddess” Nigella Lawson takes on what she refers to as the current cultural obsession with “clean eating.”

To put it bluntly, $10 cold-pressed green juices and quinoa bowls are a lifestyle choice — it doesn’t make you virtuous. “There is a way in which food is used either to self-congratulate — you’re a better person because you’re eating like that — or to self-persecute, because you will not allow yourself to eat the foods you want,” the 55-year-old British chef and author told the audience in London this week. 

The Yahoo News article also interviews Nutritionist and National Eating Disorder Association spokeswoman Sondra Kronberg who say that she has noticed that eating disorders nowadays are about purity and morality. “Instead of going to church or synagogue, people are saying, ‘Treat your body like a temple,’” she explains. “Eating ‘purely’ has taken the place of spirituality.”

Eating disorder specialists refer to this trend as “orthorexia” –the disordered obsession with “eating right.”

I address orthorexia in my book Broken Gods: Hope, Healing and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart. Aquinas considered what we call “orthorexia” a form of gluttony he called, “studiose” or, basically, a preciousness about food. In Broken Gods, I argue that all forms of gluttony (both mindless overeating and orthorexia) are distortions of the Divine Longing for Well-Being. Well-being requires us to develop temperance and seek authentic balance in our lives between our physical, emotional, relational and spiritual selves, but all forms of gluttony toss this aside, and instead, tell us that we can achieve salvation/well-being/deliverance from all of our problems through eating (either by overindulging or by being precious about what we eat).

As with the other deadly sins and the divine longings they mask, we can only achieve healing by recognizing the godly intention behind the desire and finding grace-filled ways to meet the need that is driving it. Change is always challenging, but this approach is the more loving alternative the self-shaming and merciless recriminations we usually put ourselves through. 

Dr. Stephen Bratman developed a 10-item questionnaire to help people determine whether they are falling into orthorexia.  The following are his questions along with his explanation for why these issues point to a possible unhealthy relationship with “eating right.”   A scores of  4+ points indicates the need to seek an evaluation for possible orthorexia.

1) Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about food? (For four hours give yourself two points.)

The time measurement includes cooking, shopping, reading about your diet, discussing (or evangelizing) it with friends, and joining Internet chat groups on the subject. Three hours a day is too much time to think about healthy food. Life is meant for love, joy, passion, and accomplishment. Absorption with righteous food seldom produces any of these things.

2) Do you plan tomorrow’s food today?

Orthorexics tend to dwell on upcoming menus. “Today I will eat steamed broccoli, while tomorrow I will boil Swiss chard. The day after that I think I’ll make brown rice with adzuki beans.” If you get a thrill of pleasure from contemplating a healthy menu the day after tomorrow, something is wrong with your focus.

3) Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it?

It’s one thing to love to eat, but for an orthrexic it isn’t the food itself; it’s the idea of the food. You can pump yourself up so giddily with pride that you don’t even taste it going down.

4) Have you found that as the quality of your diet has increased, the quality of your life has correspondingly diminished?

The problem with orthorexia is that healthy food doesn’t feed your soul. If you spend too much energy on what you put into your mouth, pretty soon the meaning will drain out of the rest of your life.

5) Do you keep getting stricter with yourself?

Like other addictions, orthorexia tends to escalate, demanding increasing vigilance as time passes. The diet of yesterday isn’t pure enough for tomorrow. Over time the rules governing healthy eating get more rigid. And if you are an orthrexic, you get a grim pleasure from this.

6) Do you sacrifice experiences you once enjoyed to eat the food you believe is right?

Because of it’s confused scale of values, orthorexia leads to a crazy allocation of interest. Have you fallen into this trap? Will you turn down an invitation to eat at a friend’s house because the food there isn’t healthy enough for you? Do you find that obsessive thoughts of healthy food occupy your mind while you watch your child perform in a play at school?

7) Do you feel an increased sense of self-esteem when you are eating healthy food? Do you look down on others who don’t?

One of the seductive aspects of orthorexia is that it allows one to feel superior to other people. After all, healthy eating is everywhere extolled. Orthorexia seems to be right up there with good work habits and a clean life. In this, orthorexia has an aspect that can make it harder to shake than other eating disorders: While anorexics and bulimics feel ashamed of their habits, orthorexics strut with pride. “Look at those degenerates,” the mind says of everyone else, “hopelessly addicted to junk.”

8) Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?

If you are an orthorexic, you feel guilt and shame when you eat foods that don’t fit the anointed diet. Your sense of self-esteem is so linked to what you eat that tasting a morsel of forbidden food feels like a sin. The only way to regain self-respect is to recommit yourself to ever-stricter eating, to despise yourself when you stray from the path of food righteousness.

There are times in life when it’s worthwhile being ashamed. When I’ve lost my temper at a child, betrayed a secret, insulted a friend behind his back, I’ve committed an actual error worthy of actual guilt. But eating pizza is fairly low on the scale of moral lapses. No one on her deathbed looks back and says, “I’m filled with regret that I ate too much ice cream and not enough kale.”

9) Does your diet socially isolate you?

Once you’ve reached a certain point, the rigidity demanded by orthorexia makes it truly difficult for you to eat anywhere but home. Most restaurants don’t serve the right foods, and even when they do, you won’t trust that it’s been prepared correctly. Even your friends inexplicably fail to cater to your personal preferences.

A common strategy is to bring your own food in separate containers and chew it slowly, looking virtuous and soulful while everyone else gulps down garbage. Or, like a solitary alcoholic, you can decline the invitation and dine in the loneliness and comfort of your own home.

10) When eating the way you are supposed to, do you feel a peaceful sense of total control?

Life is complicated, unpredictable, and often scary. It is not always possible to control your life, but you can control what you eat. A heavy-handed domination over what goes onto your fork or spoon can create the comfortable illusion that your life is no longer in danger of veering from the plan.

How’d you do?  Remember a score of 4+ means that you may have an unhealthy relationship with “eating right.”    To learn more about how to overcome our tendency to achieve salvation through food (either by mindlessly overeating or being overly correct about what and how we eat) check out Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how you can work with a professional, Catholic counselor by telephone to achieve authentic balance in your life.

“Quit Being A Nag!” –Are You Harping? Or Just Seeking Respect.


How do you know when it’s OK to keep bringing something up?

As a marriage and family therapist, hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear a wife ask if she is  “being a nag” or hear a husband accuse a wife of the same.  (Curiously, I rarely hear husbands worry about this or hear wives accuse husbands of this “crime.”)

Nagging Defined.

To be fair, there are times when a person can be a nag.  For instance, if you have articulated a concern or need to your spouse and they are actively working on addressing that concern but you are criticizing their sincere effort, micromanaging their otherwise perfectly legitimate approach, and trying to rush their otherwise reasonable time table, well then, you may, indeed,  be guilty as charged.

Nagging? Or Asking for Respect?

BUT that’s not usually when I hear the accusation of “nagging” being leveled.  More likely, I hear wives questioning their own behavior or a husband accuse a wife of “nagging” when the wife has raised a concern the husband doesn’t want to address. He shines her on, ignores her, says “I’ll get to it” (but never does anything), agrees with her just to shut her up, or completely stonewalls her.  Of course, that puts her in the position of needing to bring that issue up again (and again, and again) just to get some simple feedback on whether the concern was heard and how it might be effectively addressed.

In this scenario, the offense isn’t nagging.  It is a lack of respect on the husband’s part (of course, the situation could be reversed, but we’ll use the husband for purposes of illustration).  Each of us has a basic human right to be heard, to have our needs acknowledged and addressed.  When we are in a loving relationship, it is legitimate to assume that the people who say they love us actually want to work for our good.  When they refuse to do this (either directly or passively) it’s confusing.  We feel like we’re in an episode of The Twilight Zone where things are not what they seem, but we can’t put a finger on it. This other person is supposed to love me…so why are they behaving so unlovingly?  We often think it must be something we’ve done wrong (Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear?  Perhaps the other person is upset with me about something?)  The confusion we feel in this situation makes us want to seek clarity, which requires us to raise the issue again.  If we get an effective, honest, respectful, response then, most likely, we can let it go.  But when our attempts to get clarity simply lead to more confusion, uncertainty, or frustration we tend to get caught up in an obsessive cycle of questioning that leads to constantly diminishing returns on our emotional investment.

If you find yourself in this position, stop blaming yourself.  YOU ARE NOT NAGGING NOR ARE YOU A NAG.  You are expressing a basic human right to have your needs heard and responded to.

So what do you do when they aren’t responded to?  You increase accountability.  Don’t leave a conversation until the other person gives you a specific plan and timetable for meeting the need.  Don’t let them distract you from your need or shame you into silence.  Respectfully, but firmly INSIST that you are not asking permission to have this need.  Rather, you are asking your partner to help you meet your need.  If your spouse still refuses to engage, then you will need to do two things.

1.  Make a Plan

First, you will need to go ahead–as best you can–with your own plan for meeting the need.  It’s OK if your spouse objects or disapproves of your plan.  That doesn’t mean you intend to spite them but it does mean that by opting out of your request for help, they lose their vote.  You’re an adult.  Adults meet their needs.  Doing so in this context sends a strong message, namely, “I will not be ignored.  If you want to have a say in how my needs get met, then be a partner when I come to you.  If you don’t, then you lose the right to complain after-the-fact.   I’m very interested in your help and partnership. I have no interest in playing games.”

Chances are you will feel guilty about this.  Assuming that you are simply making a plan to meet your need, you have nothing to feel guilty about.  Work to get past this.  Even if your spouse acts offended, their offense is unjust.  They simply don’t want you to get that particular need met and they are outraged that you insisted on being treated as a person who has rights.  That is unacceptable.  You must refuse to take responsibility for their misplaced offense-taking.  Hopefully, next time, they will work with you now that they realize you will not be ignored.

2.  Get Help.

Regardless, having to engage in such a power move to get your needs met speaks to a potentially deep level of disrespect in your marriage that will only continue to undermine the relationship.  Rather than letting things deteriorate, it will be important to seek professional help early so that you can address this lack of respect that makes you feel like a beggar in your marriage.  Don’t ask your spouse’s permission.  Counseling is just one more thing they will drag their feet on.  Again, you are an adult.  If YOU feel there is a problem, there is a problem.  Chances are, the only reason your spouse would resist counseling in this dynamic is that the marriage actually works for him and he’d rather not change.  You’re going to have to force the issue of you want to see any difference in the future.  Make an appointment with a trained marital therapist (not just some individual therapist who happens to also see couples sometimes) and go.  Even if your spouse won’t join you, a trained marital therapist can do a lot to change the marriage even if they are only working with one spouse.  Most couples wait 4-6 years from the onset of a problem to the time they seek professional assistance.  The sooner you seek help, the quicker the problem will be solved.

We do a great deal of this kind of work through the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s  Telephone Counseling practice. You can learn more about our services here or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.

Keep in Mind

Regardless, the most important thing to remember is that asking your spouse to help you meet your needs or address your concerns–especially with a spouse who is disrespectfully stonewalling–is NEVER nagging.  You have a basic human right to be heard and if that God-given right is being consistently denied, then get the help you need to learn to affect the respectful change that needs to occur.



The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy)! –Living the Year of Mercy at Home.


Pope Francis has declared this to be a Year of Mercy but…so what?  What does it mean to be merciful?  And what difference does this year make to families?

The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy illustrate that mercy means treating others in a way that allows them to see their worth in God’s eyes.

We Are All Royal

We are all God’s children and baptism enables us to be prophets, priests, and royals.  The Works of Mercy remind us of this.  We clothe the naked because every child of God deserves to be dressed in a manner the reveals their dignity as a son or daughter of the King!  We feed the hungry because every person deserves a place at the King’s table!  We forgive willingly and bear wrongs patiently because we recognize it’s hard to become a saint, so we try to be generous with each other’s struggles.   And yet, when those we love forget their godly dignity we admonish the sinner–not to condemn or judge them, but to invite them to remember that they were meant to be more.

The Corporal & Spiritual Works of Mommy and Daddy

When our oldest was preparing for his First Communion, we were reviewing the various Works of Mercy.  When he heard that they included things like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked, he looked up at us and said, “You guys do those things all the time.  They should call them the Corporal Works of Mommy–and Daddy too!”

St. Therese of Lisieux promoted the idea that every person could achieve great heights of holiness and sanctity by doing small acts with great love.  The Works of Mercy as practiced at home–what we call The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mommy and Daddy–remind us of the incredible spiritual power of everyday family life!   Lisa and I discuss the spiritual power of family life in our book, Discovering God Together:  The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids and we unpack the opportunities to practice the Works of Mercy at home in our forthcoming book for Our Sunday Visitor titled The Corporal Works of Mommy and Daddy:  Living the “Little Way” of Family Life. 

The Corporal Works of Mommy & Daddy.

Feeding the Hungry: When we put real thought into preparing healthy, tasty meals for our families, we create a nurturing space for communion and conversation.  Tons of research reveals the benefits of sitting down to meals together.  Add “growing in holiness” to the list!

Give Drink to the Thirsty: What parent hasn’t been asked to get a thirsty child a drink in the middle of the night?  Serving that child cheerfully with compassion is a work of mercy that reminds the child that he or she will be heard and loved even when it is inconvenient for us to do so.

Clothe the Naked:  Finding the grace to be patient while dealing with a toddler who only wants to wear the blue shirt or helping a teen dress attractively, yet modestly, are both exercises in patience, and opportunities to help your children remember their worth in God’s eyes!

Sheltering The Homeless: Working to make your house a beautiful, orderly, welcoming, and hospitable home is a great way to remind your family of their dignity as children of God.

Visit the Sick:  When you respond to a sick child lovingly, refusing to treat him or her as a burden or an inconvenience even though your schedule has been thrown into chaos, you are growing in compassion and showing your child his or her worth in God’s eyes and yours.

Visit the Imprisoned:  It is one thing to give our children a time-out when they have committed some offense, but when we visit them a few minutes later, talk them through their error, teach them what to do instead, and work to rebuild our relationship, we show our children they still have worth and dignity even when they mess up.

Bury the Dead: Helping a child deal with the loss of a pet, or face the death of a beloved relative requires incredible compassion and sensitivity–especially when we are dealing with our own grief.  Doing this well enables our children to connect with God’s loving presence even in times of sadness.

The Spiritual Works of Mommy and Daddy

Admonish the Sinner:  When we correct our children with compassion, understanding, and love, we do more than stop the offense, we remind our children that good behavior is a blessing not a burden!

Instruct the Ignorant: When we teach our children what to do instead of simply telling them what not to do, or answer their never-ending questions with patience and love, or teach them all the things they need to know to live life as a gift, our families become schools of humanity.

Counsel the Doubtful:  Sometimes our kids don’t feel like they are up to the challenges they face. Taking the time to be there for our kids; to support and encourage them, reminds our children that they can accomplish all things when Christ is their strength.

Comfort the Sorrowful:  When our children’s hearts are broken, taking the time to really listen–instead of either being dismissive of their pain or hurling platitudes at them in our discomfort–can help connect our kids with God’s consoling embrace.

Bear Wrongs Patiently: Picking our battles, and letting little offenses and mistakes go can be a huge work of mercy that inspires saintly patience in us, builds rapport with our children, and enables necessary corrections to really count.

Forgive Willingly: When our children hurt us, it can be tempting to react in anger.  When we check that impulse and forgive our children willingly, we grow in compassion and self-control and teach our kids that they can never lose our love–or God’s love–even when they are less than perfect.

Pray for the Living and the Dead: Teaching our children to have their own vibrant prayer life is the best way we can help our children experience the love of their Heavenly Father.

Saint-Making Machines

In this Year of Mercy, our homes can become saint-making machines if we allow The Corporal & Spiritual Works of Mommy and Daddy to reveal the spiritual power of everyday family life!  To explore more ways you can create a grace-filled home, check out Discovering God Together:  The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

FAITHLESS: Why Don’t Millennials Believe?


          Why are “nones” on the rise?  The answer might surprise you.

I recently gave a radio interview about the latest Pew Center finding that “nones” (unchurched/”spiritual not religious”) are the fastest growing demographic on the religious scene.  The interviewer asked me if I thought the increasingly secular culture was responsible for both the loss of faith and the breakdown of the family.  I surprised him by saying that the research suggests it just might be the other way around–that the rise in both nones and a more secular culture can be more directly tied to the high divorce rate.  Here’s why.

Seekers VS. Samplers

Today’s Millennial “nones” are different than nones of the past.  Previously, the unchurched were seekers.  While they often spent some part of young adulthood unaffiliated with any denomination, they almost always landed somewhere–usually the church of their childhood.  By contrast, today’s nones are resistant to landing.  Rather than seekers, they are perpetual samplers, cobbling together their own hybrid spiritualities from the religious buffet.  This difference in the character of contemporary “nones” speaks to a deep sense of spiritual ambivalence.

The Root of Spiritual Ambivalence

            Ken Pargament, professor of religion and psychology at Bowling Green University has conducted ground-breaking research into what might be considered spiritual disorders; that is, unhealthy approaches to the natural human drive for meaning-making and significance.  He found that spiritual ambivalence tends to be rooted in too-early disillusionment in one’s parents.  While healthy development requires that every child eventually realize his or her parents aren’t perfect,  when this disillusionment happens too early, children become spiritually self-protective. Part of a parent’s jobs is to help children make sense of the world.  Premature disillusionment tends to cause children to distrust any authority figure’s role in helping them find meaning and significance in life.  These children tend to believe that they and they alone have the right to decide what is and isn’t true.  Letting anyone else help them in this role can make them feel too vulnerable and even violated.  They become, not sincere spiritual seekers, but rather perpetual spiritual samplers–happy to taste from the religious buffet but eternally afraid to commit.  A perfect example of this is Reba Riley’s book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome:  A Memoir of Humor and Healingwhere she describes sampling 30 religions before her 30th birthday; a spiritual quest set off by her religious parents’ divorce which caused her to discount and even resent the spiritual security she trusted in her early years.

Between Two Worlds

But why would divorce–especially if it is a so-called “good divorce” (characterized by low conflict and relatively good parent-child rapport) cause such disillusionment?  Elizabeth Marquardt’s study of over 1700 adult children of divorce points to an answer.  She found that even in the best of circumstances, divorce causes children to live between two worlds–Mom’s World and Dad’s World.  When living in Mom’s World, kids don’t talk about life in Dad’s World for fear of upsetting mom.  Vice-versa when living in Dad’s World.  The only place these two all-important worlds come together is inside the child’s own head. No matter how much they love their children, the divorced mom and dad can do very little to give their children a narrative that helps their life make sense.  The child must learn to do this for him or herself.  Having taken on this incredibly difficult role traditionally reserved for adults, is it any wonder that these children are loathe to let anyone besides themselves makes sense out of life, the universe, and everything?  After all, they’ve already been doing it for themselves their entire lives.

Likewise, in an intact family, religious rituals help bind the family together.  But in a divorced family they often become one more point of conflict between Mom’s World and Dad’s World. In this scenario, religion actually becomes a burden–just one more difference between mom and dad that a child has to sort out for him or herself.


            Does this mean that all children of divorce are doomed to be spiritual wanderers?  Of course not.  But there is no question that divorce places an unappreciated spiritual burden on children.  Seen in this light, it is not at all surprising to see an article written by a group of adult children of divorce appear in America Magazine opposing easy solutions for readmitting the divorced and remarried back into communion on the grounds that “children need…the church to stand with them and to speak the truth about what their parent or parents have done.”

The bottom line is that a Church that wants to transform the culture and open hearts to Christ can never be soft on divorce. And the people who subscribe to such a faith could do much to save the world by turning their attention homeward and saving their marriages.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books including the new, revised and expanded 2nd edition of For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.  To learn more about his books, radio program and telecounseling services, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com

A Response to Prayer Shaming: What Good is Prayer Anyway?

In light of the recent tragedy in San Bernardino, the New York Daily News and other outlets (notably, HuffPo) have challenged believers by, essentially, saying, “spare us your prayers.  God isn’t going to fix this.”


As a pastoral counselor, I hear different versions of this all the time.  Specifically, “What good is prayer if I have to do all the work anyway?”

Many people have an incomplete–and frankly, disordered–understanding of the purpose of prayer.  They engage in prayer as if they are offering up a spiritual work order.  All they need to do is tell God, “Fix this” and then stand back and wait.  If he does, “It’s miracle!”  If he doesn’t then “It’s his will.”

Sometimes miracles do happen.  Things spontaneously improve without us lifting a finger.  What a wonderful gift it is when this happens.  But as with any gift, we cannot take these spiritual gifts for granted.  The norm is for us to pray and work.  As Pope Francis put it, “You pray for the poor.  Then you feed them.  That’s how prayer works.”

But if that’s how prayer works, why pray at all?  Why not just feed them (or do whatever else it is we are praying about)?  Here is a metaphor that I find helpful.

Another Brick in the Wall

Imagine standing facing a huge wall. You can’t climb it–it’s too tall.  You can’t tunnel under it–its foundation goes deep into the ground.  You have to break through the wall.  How do you begin?    You could simply start hammering away at part of the wall and hope that you’ve picked a weak spot OR you could stop and pray.

As you pray, God shines a light on the other side of the wall.  A bright, penetrating light. You can’t see much of it, but on your side of the wall, you suddenly see that certain parts of the wall are beginning to glow and some parts are glowing more brightly than others.  Upon closer examination, you see that where the wall is glowing, there appear to be small cracks or weaknesses.  In fact, it appears that the parts of the wall that are glowing the brightest are the parts where there are significant structural weaknesses.  If you strike there, not only will those bricks come out, but they may just bring the whole wall down with them!

Prayer: Grace Building on Nature

I think this metaphor serves as a simple illustration of St Thomas Aquinas’ maxim that “grace builds on nature.”  Grace, for the most part, does not stand in stead of human action and the laws of nature, but–generally speaking– it makes them infinitely more efficient.  Prayer does not preclude us from working hard but it allows that work to bear much, much more fruit and do it much much more efficiently.  Through prayer, God multiplies our efforts like he multiplied the loaves and fishes.  For more information on how you can cooperate with God’s grace in your life, check out The Life God Wants YOU to Have:  Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail.