Building a Better Church: A Positive Resolution for the New Year


My monthly column for OSV Newsweekly.

Pope Francis has challenged us to find more effective ways to bring Christ to the world. So this year,  let’s resolve — both as individuals and as a Church — to adopt a new approach to ministry that focuses on nourishing the seeds of faith instead of the current model that obsesses over why barren land is so … barren. Let me explain.

The Church is rightly concerned about many problems. How can we retain our teens and young adults? How can we help couples live the Catholic vision of love and marriage? How can we do a better job of ministering to marginalized persons — especially the divorced and remarried, as well as LGBT persons? How can we build a Church of intentional disciples? But year after year, despite our best efforts, polls show that the Church is losing people at a constant rate. The more energy we put into our current approach to ministry, the worse the results are.

What to do?

I believe the answer can be found in something Abraham Maslow once said about clinical psychology: namely, that its focus on disease led to a “sick psychology” that could tell people what was wrong with them but could never give them a clear way out. His comments became the seeds of the “positive psychology” movement founded in the late ’90s by psychologist Martin Seligman. Positive psychology is the science of human flourishing. It does not ignore common psychological maladies like depression, anxiety and all the rest, but approaches them from a different angle. Instead of looking at what is “broken” in the person, positive psychology studies what, exactly, leads people to experience happiness and fulfillment. It then teaches those skills to people who are struggling so that they can experience abundance in their lives as well.

Despite early concerns that such an approach would be unrelatable or insensitive to people who were struggling with real problems, hundreds of studies over the last 20 years have shown that positive psychology has transformed countless lives with its solution-focused, growth-oriented, wisdom-based approach.

Sick vs. healthy ministry

What does all this have to do with Church ministry? Everything. Since the late 1960s our ministry has been profoundly influenced by old-fashioned psychological models that focus on diagnosing problems rather than seeking solutions. We’ve all fallen into asking problem-focused questions like, “Why don’t young adults stay faithful?” “Why don’t couples use Natural Family Planning?” “Why don’t LGBT people, divorced people or others in ‘irregular situations’ feel welcome?” These questions seem superficially helpful, but they merely grind down on the problem without leading us to any clear solutions.

More contemporary liturgies? More traditional liturgies? Scrap NFP training? Require NFP training? Change doctrine? Toughen up on doctrine? Without any data to support a clear way forward, we merely react out of our personal biases, asserting “solutions” rooted less in either faith or facts than in secular, conservative or progressive ideologies.

A better way

In the new year, let’s adopt a “positive ministry” approach that looks at what works instead of what doesn’t. Let’s find Catholics who have struggled with real human challenges in a way that led to deeper faith and greater personal integration. Let’s ask them how they made the Faith work despite their challenging circumstances and teach those skills to those who are struggling.

Let’s talk to Catholic couples who have faced real struggles with NFP, but have learned to approach those struggles in ways that led them to experience both a more faithful and a more intimate marriage and ask them, “What worked?” Let’s talk to homosexual Catholics who are not living in denial but who have found a way to live their Catholicism in a way that has led to both deeper personal and spiritual integration and ask, “What worked?” Let’s talk to teens and young adults who have faced personal doubts and social pressure bravely and honestly but still managed to remain in the Church all along and ask, “What worked?” Let’s talk to divorced and remarried persons who have embraced the real challenges of living as brother and sister for a time but came out of the experience both stronger and more faithful and ask, “What worked?”

Then, let’s create models of ministry that...(CONTINUE READING)



Faithful Families, Faithful Kids—What It Takes to Raise Children to Own Their Faith


According to recent research, 74% of surveyed adults said that they left Catholicism between the ages of 10 and 20 years old. With these harsh statistics, we might wonder if there is anything parents can do to effectively and joyfully raise our kids to be the next generation of faithful Catholics. The good news is, we can.

Theology of the Body reminds us that family life is the school of love and virtue, it is where we learn and practice all the qualities that help us live life as a gift. As parents, if we want to raise faithful kids, we need to do more than just take them to church, send them to Catholic schools, or teach them facts about faith and morals. We need to lead them into a meaningful, personal, relationship with Our Lord. Our children need to encounter Jesus as another member of the family–the most important member of the family who is the source of the warmth and love in our home. We need to show our children that Christ is not just present at Church or even just in family prayer time, but that he is present at the heart of mealtimes, family rituals, that we recognize him as the source of our blessings and the source of our strength in challenging times. And we need to show them how to develop a meaningful, personal prayer life that allows them to have a real encounter with God’s love. It’s a tall order, but God gives us the grace to do it. It all begins with asking God to help us be the parents our children need us to be and to help then encounter his love in their relationship with us.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for raising faithful kids:

Be A Disciple—A study by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) demonstrated that over 90% of Catholic parents pray individually, but only 17% of Catholic parents pray with their kids. Raising faithful kids means showing them how to encounter Christ in a personal way, and that means discipling them to have a personal prayer life.  How can you do that?  At least once a day, sit down with your kids. Teach them to close their eyes, to see Jesus, and to talk to him like they would talk to the person that knows them best and loves them the most. Help them thank God for the good things that happened that day. Teach them how to ask God for help with the challenges of their day. Remind them to pray for others, and help them ask God for the grace to become the loving, graceful people he created them to be. Let them imagine God holding them close in his arms, and have them tell God they love him.  Just 10 minutes a day can give your kids a lifelong, meaningful relationship with Christ.

Give Your Kids A Mission–Raising caring kids means helping them see that they are on a mission to use every moment as an opportunity to become the person God is calling them to be.  Ask your kids to think about the qualities they want to be known for: responsible, thoughtful, loving, joyful, etc. Lead them in praying that God would help them find opportunities each day to exhibit those qualities with friends, family, and in their responsibilities.  Finally, each day–at dinner or bedtime–ask them to share examples of when they tried to live those qualities out. Ask them to think about opportunities they might have to exhibit those qualities at home or in school tomorrow.  Teach them to remember that God wants to use them to make a difference in the lives of those around him and give them a chance to reflect on the ways God is using them to show his love to the world.

Make God A Member of the Family–Create strong family rituals like family meals, game night, family days, family meetings, celebrations and other times like this, AND INVITE GOD TO PARTICIPATE.  Start your times together with a brief prayer.  Thank God for the love you have in your home.  Ask him for the grace to love each other even better.  Ask him to bless this time you are spending with each other and to be present to you as you work, play, talk, and pray as a family. In the presence of your kids, acknowledge that God is responsible for togetherness you feel and that he is constantly working to draw each of you closer to each other, and to him.  Make God a member of the day-to-day life of your family, and let him be the source of the warmth in your home.

For more tips on how you can raise faithful kids, pick up a copy of Discovering God Together and tune in to More2Life—10am E/9 am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Teen Suicide: Parents CAN Make a Difference.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

There is nothing more painful than losing a child to suicide, and many parents feel powerless to do anything to prevent it except hope that it doesn’t happen.  A new study by the University of Cincinnati reveals that parents can play a tremendous role in helping their teens avoid self-harm.

“Parents ask us all the time, ‘What can we do?'” said King, who coordinates UC’s health promotion and education doctoral program and serves as Director of the Center for Prevention Science. “You can tell them you’re proud of them, that they did a good job, get involved with them, and help them with their homework.”

“A key is to ensure that children feel positively connected to their parents and family,” added Vidourek, who serves as Co-Director of the Center for Prevention Science.

The results of the study were startling.  In particular, 12 and 13yo children whose parents rarely or never said, “I’m proud of you” were nearly five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, nearly seven times more likely to formulate a suicide plan and about seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Similarly, 12- and 13 year olds with parents who rarely or never told them they did a good job or helped them with their homework were at excessively high risk for suicide.

Likewise,  16- and 17-year-olds whose parents rarely or never told the children they are proud of them are about three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and almost four times more likely to make a suicide plan and attempt suicide than peers whose parents sometimes or often did.

The key, as with many problems associated with kids and teens, is attachment, attachment, attachment.  The stronger the emotional bond you have with your children–and more specifically, the stronger the emotional bond your kids feel like they have with you–the more likely it is that your children will choose healthy options for dealing with their problems and avoid more dangerous, and deadly, choices.

For more information on how you can strengthen your emotional bond with your children whether they are toddlers or teens, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids. Or, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our Catholic tele-counseling practice can help you transform your marriage, family, and personal life.


Frustrated With Your Kids? – 3 Tips for More Joyful, Effective Parenting

shutterstock_390805201Parenting is a tough job. Kids really know how to push our buttons.  Often, we just feel lucky if we can make it through the day losing our minds.  The good news is that there is a way to reclaim your sanity as a parent, to get a handle on all the chaos, get your kids to listen, and start to enjoy your role as a parent.  Honest!

Theology of the Body reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we all learn to live life as a gift, and that parents are the most important teachers in this school of love. Catholic parents are empowered through God’s grace in the sacrament of marriage to do more than just “get through the day” with our kids. The world needs loving, responsible, godly people and God asks his faithful couples to give the word what it needs. The more we can approach parenting in a thoughtful, intentional, graceful manner, the more we are able to fulfill our mission as Catholics–to let God change the world through our families by raising the next generation of faithful, courageous, loving, responsible, and godly men and women. It’s a tough job, but God gives us the grace to do it.

Want to be a more joyful, grace-filled parent?  Start practicing the following tips today.

Remember To Lead–When you’re correcting your kids, only 5% of your energy should be focused on what they did wrong.  The other 95% should be focused on leading your children to a better place. Before you correct your kids, ask yourself, “What does my child need to handle this situation better next time?” Put your energy into teaching those skills. Punishments don’t work. Teaching does. Using techniques like do-overs, role-playing, time-in (i.e. bringing your child to you to help him or her calm down), cool-downs, and other loving guidance approaches to discipline focus on giving your kids the skills they need to succeed next time–instead of shaming them for failing this time. Lead your children to virtue by showing them a better way to express their emotions, communicate their needs, accomplish their goals, get along with others, and manage their stress. The more energy you put into teaching instead of punishing, the quicker your kids’ behavior will improve overall and the less stressed you’ll be!

Celebrate Success–Tell your kids when they handle a situation well by acknowledging the virtue they displayed.  You don’t have to throw a parade–in fact, it’s much better if you don’t–but simple comments like, “That was really responsible.”, “You handled that really respectfully.”,  “That was very generous.” “That was a very loving choice.” and similar comments help kids understand that virtues aren’t just a list of words to memorize, but a practical guide for handling life’s ups and downs with grace. Believe it or not, kids want to be good, and they desperately crave your approval. By remarking on all the ways that exhibiting virtues help them manage their emotions, express their needs, negotiate stressful situations, and get along with others, you are showing your kids that they already have what it takes to do the right thing AND you’re making them want to get even better at it. Celebrate your kids’ successful efforts to display virtue by letting them know you saw what they did and that you are proud of them for doing it.

Fill the Tank–There is a fuel that drives good behavior. Don’t forget to fill the tank. Both research and generations of wise parents will tell you that extravagant affection is the fuel that makes kids want to behave and try harder to please you. Research shows that affection is actually communication. Taking time to hold your kids close all throughout the day actually helps them reset their heart rate, respiration, body temp and other bodily rhythms when they are feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed.  Affectionate parents literally incline their children’s hearts to them, and make their kids naturally turn to their parents for guidance and comfort. Yes, you will still need to teach your kids what to do but affection is the fuel that makes correction work.

For more information on how you can practice graceful parenting, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids! and make sure to tune in to More2Life — Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

Practically Perfect in Every Way – Three More2Life Hacks for Overcoming Perfectionism


In the age of social media, self-criticism and perfectionism are more prominent than ever. We continue to become increasingly focused on being “perfect”: having the perfect physique, having the perfect job, or keeping the perfect house. In reality, however, this striving for “perfection” simply makes us increasingly unhappy as we lose focus of what we are really working towards.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve ourselves, but both theology and science show us that it is a mistake to believe that we can somehow mentally force ourselves into perfection.

Theology of the Body reminds us that God’s plan for us is written in the design of our bodies. Brain science shows that the more self-critical we are, the more our brains lock down and become resistant to change. It’s actually self-acceptance that creates the chemistry necessary for new neural connections to form.  Ultimately, it’s important to remember that while none of us is perfect, it is God’s love that perfects us.  We are destined to be, as Jesus puts it, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” God does not expect us to get there on our own.  TOB teaches us that it only by cultivating a receptive posture to God’s love and grace that we are able to be transformed from the inside out through an authentic encounter with God’s love.  Perfection doesn’t come from flogging ourselves to be better. It comes from letting God love us and learning to see ourselves as he sees us–works in progress, certainly–but on the road, by his love and grace, to becoming the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we are meant to be.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for preventing perfectionism from taking its toll on you:

Mind Your Mind–Beating yourself up, feeling “not good enough,” engaging in  self criticism are all signs that your brain is overheating. Brain science shows that giving into these behaviors actually makes the brain resistant to change as it locks down in the face of a perceived threat.  When you hear that inner-critic ramping up, don’t try to challenge those thoughts directly at first.  Instead, remind yourself that self-criticism is just a symptom of the real problem–trying to do too much, too fast.  Give yourself permission to slow down, to create more realistic goals, and make a more realistic plan.  Remind yourself that jobs take the time they take.  Getting mad at them, or yourself, doesn’t alter time.  It just makes you less able to make good time by making you less efficient and less effective.

Deadline and Done–Perfectionistic people have a hard time just walking away. They always feel like they have to add just a little more or review it just one more time. A better approach is to pretend that you are on one of those reality shows where you have a certain amount of time to complete a task and when the clock runs down you have to step away and be done.  Whether you are working on a particular project or trying to plan your day, give yourself what you think will be a reasonably generous amount of time to accomplish your tasks, but when that time hits, walk away.  You can always come back to it some other time if you need to.  But for today? Be done! Perfectionistic people tend to get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. Setting an arbitrary deadline allows you to step back and gain perspective.  If a particular project really needs a little more effort, then it will still be there tomorrow. For now, move on to other things–like taking a break to connect with the people who love you and can remind you that you are a person, not a machine.

What’s the Point?  Perfectionism is almost always a faulty means to achieve some deeper end.  We WANT love, approval, validation, acceptance, peace, but we PURSUE being a perfect employee, a perfect parent, a perfect homemaker, a perfect…whatever.  But the harder we work at being perfect, the further we get from satisfying the real emotional need driving our perfectionism.  Ask yourself what the point of your perfectionism really is.  Take some time in prayer to reflect on what you are trying to accomplish–emotionally and spiritually–by being so self-critical and task oriented?  When you find yourself giving into the temptation to perfectionism, remind yourself what you are REALLY looking for, and ask yourself what you would need to do to get that?  If you honestly don’t know, then it’s time to seek some help so that you can step off the hamster wheel and start getting your needs met instead of constantly running but never getting anywhere.

For more information on how to strive to be the person God meant you to be, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, and tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 139.

New Year, New Mindset – How to Effectively Practice New Years Resolutions


It’s that time of year again where we are starting to work on our New Year’s resolutions. While resolutions can bring hope for a happier, healthier year ahead, they can also cause unnecessary stress. We might start out strong for the first few weeks or so, but as we get back to our normal, busy schedules it often becomes more difficult to fit in that daily workout, consistently eat healthy meals, or remain positive while our co-worker is getting on our nerves or when we are trying to get our children out the door on time.

Furthermore, the way we set our resolutions can unconsciously cause us to have more negative feelings about ourselves or our current state in life. For example, while many of us make a resolution to lose weight in 2018, phrasing it this way tells our brains that we are overweight, we don’t look good enough, etc. causing us to become demoralized even before we start.  So how can we more effectively execute our New Year’s resolutions to create a truly happier year ahead and actually achieve our goals?

New research conducted at Florida State University tells us that to most effectively form our resolutions, we have to change the way think about them and phrase them for ourselves. Researcher and Professor, Pamela Keel, gives an example by saying, “Consider what is really going to make you happier and healthier in 2018: losing 10 pounds or losing harmful attitudes about your body?”

Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of our bodies that we want to change through diet and exercise, Keel and research scientist, Eric Stice, suggest that individuals should focus on the things we appreciate about our bodies. These positive attributes can be about the look or even the function of our bodies, such as, “’I really appreciate the way my legs take me wherever I need to go,'” Keel said. “‘Every day without fail, they get me out of bed, to the car, up the stairs and into the office. I don’t have to worry about walking.’ It can be that kind of functional appreciation of what your body does for you.”

This mindset can be brought into every resolution we make by simply focusing on positive aspects instead of focusing on the negative things we want to change. For example, instead of saying “my closets are a mess, I need to get more organized this year,” we can say “this shelf looks really nice, I’m going to strive to make other parts of my home look as nice as this.” Focusing on the positive aspects helps us to feel more hopeful and allows us to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the things we want to change.

While this positively focused mindset can influence the resolutions we have made for this year, working to utilize this mindset throughout our daily lives can be a resolution itself. When we order our thoughts in a healthier manner, we automatically begin treating ourselves and others in a healthier way as well. “When people feel good about [themselves], they are more likely to take better care of themselves rather than treating [themselves] like an enemy, or even worse, an object,” Keel said. “That’s a powerful reason to rethink the kind of New Year’s resolutions we make for 2018.”

For more information on how to learn to make graceful change in your life, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart. And be sure to tune in to More2Life
— Monday-Friday at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.