Family Food or Family Feud—Surviving or Thriving During The Holidays


The holidays are wonderful, however, as some of us may have experienced during Thanksgiving, they can also be very stressful. Spending time with extended family can often lead to arguments or strained relationships. While we all made it through Thanksgiving, chances are, you’re preparing for Christmas, New Year, and the entire holiday season where you may be spending more time with your extended family. So how do you recover from the family conflicts that may have occurred over Thanksgiving, and what do you need to do to prepare to see them again in the coming weeks?

Theology of the Body reminds us that families are School of Love, but too often they feel like battle grounds especially when it comes to disagreements about politics, religion, sexuality, and all the other issues that families feel passionately about. When we get into these discussions with family members, we can forget that the most important thing isn’t winning the argument, but rather, loving the person. The question we need to be asking ourselves isn’t “What can I say to convince my idiot cousin to repent of his idiotic ways?” But rather, “How do I need to respond to my cousin (or other family member) in a way that makes him feel genuinely heard and cared for even if he knows I don’t agree with him?” People aren’t projects. The more we can remember that, the more we can be effective witnesses to the people we love, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for managing conflict with extended family:

Will I Be Able To Follow This Up Tomorrow? –When you’re tempted to argue with your extended family ask yourself, “Will I be able to follow up on this tomorrow?”  In other words,  Having a fight with a relative you only see two or three times a year is not going to do anything except prove to that relative that you are a jerk. Evangelization is all about relationship; that you know a person, understand them, and truly care–not from a distance, but in a personal way–about their lives. If there isn’t any reasonable way for you to build a discipleship relationship with this relative that can allow you to lead them, over time, to a deeper relationship with the truth, the best thing you can do is plant a seed by showing them how God’s grace allows you to remain unruffled, calm, and confident in the face of those big differences that divide your family.  If you can manage to stop yourself from acting like the foaming-at-the-mouth religious lunatic they already think you are, they might just start to respect you, which gives you a better chance to represent the faith effectively in the future.

Redirect the Traffic–Even if you decide that you do have a strong enough relationship with this relative to enter into a real conversation about a contentious issue, avoid a head-on collision by redirecting the traffic. Rather than getting drawn into a “battle royale” at the family table, say, “Listen, this isn’t really the time to hash all this out, but if you’re genuinely interested in discussing this with me, I’d really love to discuss this with you over lunch sometime (or dinner at my house, or some other shared activity). Let’s table this for now and make a plan to really talk this out.” This approach allows you to weed out those relatives who just want to play the “Let’s fight” game while still allowing you the opportunity to disciple people who are genuinely interested in an authentic dialog. Plus, you’ll gain tons of credit from the rest of your family by showing them that you have the grace–literally and figuratively–to prevent THIS family get-together from turning into a ten-car pile-up.

People Aren’t Projects–If someone does take you up on your offer to get together for a follow-up conversation, remember “people aren’t projects,” they are people who deserve to be understood and loved. Before you say anything about what you believe–especially before you say anything about what you believe about their opinions, their life, or their choices, make sure you understand them so well, that even they agree that you get them. Don’t focus on lecturing. Focus on asking question, “Tell me more about why you think that way? Help me understand why that is so important to you? How does all this affect you?” Show the other person that you are more interested in loving them than in changing them. Ironically, they will be much more open to hearing what you say–and even changing their mind or ways–when they feel genuinely understood. That said, don’t think of this approach as some kind-of sneaky technique. Think of it as an opportunity to get to know someones’ heart and to let God’s grace flow from your heart to theirs.

For more tips on dealing with conflict and keeping peaceful relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.

Find out more about our tele-counseling and spiritual direction services at

Is “Lay People Suck” the New Teaching of the Church?–UPDATE


UPDATE:  (Errata) I had copied and pasted Deacon Dietewig’s byline from his blog page where, at the end of his piece,  he identifies himself as “Professor of Theology, and former Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for the Diaconate and Interim Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization”  I just received word from an informed source that,  “Deacon Ditewig was a former interim director over ten years ago in the former Evangelization Secretariat. He hasn’t worked at the Conference for a while.”   Also the person who contacted me asked that I clarify that, “Fr. Weinandy was most recently a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine–he finished as exec director in 2013.”  

I sincerely apologize for any confusion caused by my republishing Deacon Bill’s byline.


I’ve grown more than a little weary of the progressive trope that any confusion caused by chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia is simply a matter of conflict between people who want an “adult church…a mature people of God” versus those who are childish, rigid, and “afraid of the unknown.”


Let me just lay my cards on the table.  I’m sure there are at least a few people in the church who spend more time in the trenches actually thinking about what it means to actually “be pastoral” than I do, but I think it would be fair to say that it’s a fairly small club.

Since 1999, I have directed a pastoral counseling agency that conducts over 12,000 of pastoral counseling per year.  That means that, over the last 18 years, I have either personally conducted, or been directly responsible for, over 216,000 hours of pastoral counseling, which is all about asking how one can apply the teachings of our Catholic faith to some of the most complex situations one could encounter in life.  Our agency’s services are delivered in English and Spanish to Catholic couples, families, and individuals across North and South America, Europe, Asia (primarily Hong Kong and India), Australia, and Africa, which has given me a uniquely multi-cultural lens through which to view this question of pastoral practice.  I am a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, and I serve as the Chair of the Education Committee for the Catholic Psychotherapy Association, which is responsible for the professional  development of the next generation of pastoral psychotherapists.  I also direct a graduate program in pastoral studies which is forming the next generation of pastoral ministers.  I have written over 20 books and programs on a host of serious, practical, faith-based topics that have been translated into at least 7 languages.

“Bully, for you, Popcak. Whoopee.” (slow clap).

I know.  None of that means anything.  It certainly doesn’t mean I’m right about anything.  And it definitely doesn’t mean that anyone needs to agree with me…about anything. I mean that.  But I don’t think I’m out of line for suggesting that my experience at least means that I have thought enough about the question of what “being pastoral” means that I ought to be considered an adult Christian who is not afraid of complexity of human suffering and–maybe, just maybe–has one or two valid things to contribute to the conversation.

That is, unless you are  among the spiritually exalted ranks of good folks like, Deacon Bill Ditewig, PH.D., who is, “Professor of Theology, and former Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for the Diaconate and Interim Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization.”  (NOTE UPDATE ABOVE:  Deacon Bill’s byline, copied here from his post, is a misrepresentation.  He has not worked with the USCCB in over 10 years.)  No, apparently Deacon Bill thinks that lay people, like me, who are genuinely confused as to how some of Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia squares with the previous teaching of the Church are not worth considering.  We wouldn’t know pastoral practice if it hit us in the face because, apparently, we are just children who have never put out into the deep, who cower in our cave of rules and rigorism.

He argues that people who claim to be “confused” about what Pope Francis’ writings mean and how they square with the historical teaching of the Church are really pretending to be confused when they simply just disagree.   Now, it is absolutely true that “I’m confused” is often a cover for “I disagree.” After all, progressives have practiced this dodge in all the years since Humanae Vitae and especially through all the years of St. John Paul’s pontificate. Indeed, as we saw in the Synod for Families, progressives can barely be bothered to read the Theology of the Body much less claim to understand the practical significance of it.  But when there is a specific question being asked and ignored–namely, how these recent teachings exhibit continuity with previous teaching (and no, simply ignoring the question or responding, ” ‘Cause he said so” isn’t an explanation)–it is harder to accept that this claim of confusion is just a conservative dodge.

Four Questions

For those like Deacon Bill who like to profess confusion about all this confusion, I propose four simple questions.

1) How, exactly, do the recommendations in chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia square with the historical teaching of the church, particularly that of St. John Paul in Veritatis Splendor? And if it is a development, how does this development square with Newman’s rules (so to speak) for the development of doctrine?

2) Who is right? Those bishops in Malta and Germany who are admitting those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment to communion or those bishops, almost everywhere else in the world who aren’t? Why?

3) What would you say about the client who, after AL was first published, came to me and asked, “Are you a JPII Catholic or a Pope Francis Catholic?”  Was he confused?  Why or why not?

4) And, finally, if you agree with Pope Francis’ approach to handling this crisis, where among the Spiritual Works of Mercy do we find that we can simply, “Ignore the annoying?”

Oh, and one more bonus question of a slightly more personal nature.  What do you call it–if not “confusion” or even “chaos”–when the USCCB’s Interim Director of the Secretariat for Evangelization turns to the internet to publicly take to task the Chief of Staff (well, until yesterday) of the USCCB’s Bishop’s Committee on Doctrine?

Lay People Suck
While you’re chewing on that, let me suggest a different dichotomy than the “Grown Up Progressive” vs. “Infantile Rigorist Conservative” trope folks like Deacon Bill proclaim. I would propose that this debate is really between those who believe in the Universal Call to Holiness and those who believe that “heroism is not for the average Christian” (as Cardinal Kasper proclaimed in an interview with Commonweal explaining his support for a new approach to communion for those who are remarried without the benefit of an annulment)

The idea that the laity are doomed to be spiritual also-rans strikes me as a particularly pernicious failure of pastoral practice.  I am, frankly, appalled that what appears to be driving the progressive advocacy of an interpretation of Chapter 8 of AL that supports communion for Catholics who are remarried without the benefit of annulment is that lay people are just too weak to live holy lives.  It seems to me that some 50 years after Vatican II, lay people deserve a little better than “we think we have to lower the bar because, well, you suck.”

When it comes right down to it, progressives, like Deacon Bill, appear to have drunk the Kool-Aid of clericalism that says that lay people just can’t cut it.  Moreover, he appears to believe that we don’t even deserve the benefit of an explanation as to why Pope John Paul II, whose entire pontificate (and especially whose TOB) was about defining the practical ramifications of the universal call to holiness, believed that lay people could be faithful intentional disciples and saints–even in the face of real hardship and sacrifice–but so many supporters a liberal interpretation of AL chapter 8 seem to think that all lay people are good for is being patted on the head while their spiritual betters do the heavy lifting.

A Challenge

What progressives fail to acknowledge is that any proposed changes to the doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and how it relates to the marriage supper of the  Lamb (i.e., Communion) is a de facto denial of the universal call to holiness and the dignity that marriage holds in the divine plan.   That is a question that deserves to be addressed, not for the sake of some ivory tower rigorist navel-gazing, but because I happen to work with an awful lot of people who have been heroically bearing the cross of living faithfully in their irregular marriages for years and who are a testament both to the fact that  the current teaching bears real personal and relational fruit AND the fact that heroism is for the average Christian (thank you very much).  On their behalf, I can only say, “How dare you.” to anyone, who out of their misguided approach to pastoral practice would seek to demean the witness of such faithful, courageous, godly, and yes, heroic people.

Deacon Bill, I have no doubt you are a good and faithful man.  I am also quite sure you mean well, but I call you to repent of the incipient clericalism that infects your position that the only possible explanation for asking Pope Francis for clarification of chapter 8 of AL is childish obstinacy. I challenge you, and others like you, to repent of the idea that the voices of the thousands of people gracefully striving to live the gospel in their difficult marital circumstances should be discounted.  I challenge you to respond with a more authentic approach to both pastoral ministry and evangelization; namely, one that listens to the lived experience of those who are faithfully striving to live the teachings of the Church instead of one that patronizes the laity with the soft clericalism of low expectations.

Finally, I respectfully challenge you, and others like you, to reject your advocacy of a Church that believes that heroism is not for the average Christian and instead, to proclaim the message of Christ, who invites all who are willing to both take up the cross and to experience the resurrection that attends the faithful embrace of the same.



Virtue-Focused People Better Decision Makers, Study Says


It’s common knowledge that people tend to be better at solving other people’s problems than they are at addressing their own.  But a new study  finds that people who think, not in terms of what they personally feel or think they should do about their problems, but in terms of what attempting to live up to a particular set of virtues would have them do in response to a problem, are just as good at solving their own problems as they are helping others.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with a more virtue-oriented focus tend to think more objectively and take a more long-term view in the face of their struggles and so are less impulsive and reactive than those who aren’t as virtue-focused

This research supports a technique we use with our clients in the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  When a client is struggling with a challenging situation.  One of the things we will have them do is reflect on the following questions:

  1. What your automatic response tends to be in that stressful situation? What, specifically,  you didn’t like about the response?
  2. What virtues were missing from your default response?  What qualities would have been helpful to be able to access in that situation?
  3. Identify different times you have been able to display those qualities in different situations when you were under pressure.
  4. How you could adapt those more virtuous/productive responses to this different, frustrating situation?
  5. What structures of support you will create (phone reminders, notes, daily reflection time, an accountability partner, etc.) to help you remember to use this  new, more virtuous response next time.

This technique is tremendously helpful for escaping the tendency to fall into reactive, emotionally-driven responses to frustrating situations and identifying healthier and more productive alternative responses.  Eventually, the more the client uses this exercise, it actually rewires the way they think about problems allowing them to adopt the more virtue-based, goal-oriented, objective approach to problem solving that enables them to be as effective in helping themselves as they are in helping others.

To learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institutes Tele-Counseling practice can help you face challenges in a more productive manner, visit or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.