Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Three Ways to Stop Settling and Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

Do you want more from your life? Are you struggling with dissatisfaction in your life or relationships? You’re not alone. We were created for more, yet our fallen nature often causes us to settle for less or holds us back from aspiring for more. But the good news is, there are ways to break this habit and live the life we are meant to live!

Theology of The Body reminds us to stop settling.  To see that God wants to fulfill the deepest longings of our heart for a love that doesn’t fail, for relationships that are fulfilling, and for a life that reflects the glory of his grace.  Pope St John Paul the Great reminded us that we must keep our eyes, not on what we see in front of us when we look at our broken world and our broken lives, but on what God sees when he looks at us and what God wants to make of our lives and relationships so that his glory could be known in the world through our lives.  The truth that will set us free is the truth God sees when he looks at our lives.  Our job is to stand up to to our doubts and fears and lean into the vision that God has for us instead so that we can become what we are.

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Do you want more from your life? Check out:

The Life God Wants You To Have

Discovering the Divine Plan When Human Plans Fail

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Here are three ways to stop settling and live the life you are meant to live:

1.Get Your Binoculars–We tend to settle because we get so caught up in the frustrations of the present that we lose sight of the destination to which God is leading us; Namely, a life and relationships that are healthy, whole, and holy.  Stop settling for what is in front of you.  Get your binoculars and look to the horizon line.  Keep imagining what a healthier, whole, and holier life and relationships would look like and start walking toward that.  Sometimes it will seem impossibly hard.  No Matter.  Trust that God’s grace will make up for what you lack and start walking.

2.Take Small Steps–We often settle for surviving because we can’t see ways to make the big changes that need to happen.  Remember, big journeys are made up of a million little steps.  Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do today to make the change I want to see in my life?”  Do that, and then ask that question again, and again, and again. Each time, remember that you are fighting against the temptation to survive and, instead, learning to cooperate with God’s grace to live life more abundantly.

3.Turn On Your GPS–We tend to settle when we feel lost.  But there is no reason to ever feel lost if you have your GPS, your GOD POSITIONING SYSTEM–that is, PRAYER.  When you feel lost and find yourself giving into the temptation to survive in your life or relationships, ask God to help you make the turns you need to make to get back on the path to wholeness, health, and holiness that he wants you to be walking.  Just like with a regular GPS, chances are, it will only take a few simple turns for God to get you back on the path.

If you want more information on how to overcome the frustrations in life and stop settling, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Rite of Christian Relationships–Conventional Discipline VS. Discipleship Discipline

In most households, the word “discipline” suggests an adversarial relationship. My child is “out to get me” and it’s my job to get them under control.

Discipleship Discipline directly challenges this antagonistic, fallen, and hopeless view of the parent-child relationship.

In Discipleship Discipline, you and your child are not adversaries. You are your child’s mentor. Your child is your disciple. Your job is not to control your child. It is to lovingly teach, guide, and shepherd your child to a responsible, graceful adulthood.

In conventional discipline, children misbehave because they are bad and out to get you. From a Discipleship Discipline perspective, children misbehave because they have either gotten stuck in their emotional brain (instead of their thinking brain) and/or they genuinely don’t know what to do. In either case, they don’t need someone yelling at them and punishing them into submission. They need someone to lovingly help them calm down, get back into their thinking brain, and learn/practice what to do.

Conventional discipline depletes the parent’s emotional bank-account with their child. Both parent and child leave these exchanges frustrated and suspicious of each other. More often than not, Discipleship Discipline contributes to the emotional bank account. The parent feels satisfied with their ability to teach their child how to handle a difficult situation better. The child feels grateful to have a parent who can patiently teach them how to handle themselves and the challenges they face more effectively.

Conventional discipline is always looking for things I can do to my kids to “make” them behave. It demands a constant quest for Holy Grail Techniques I can use on my kids. Discipleship Discipline seeks to cultivate a mentoring relationship between me and my child. It makes me want to put in the time to really understand my child’s heart and makes my child want to turn to me for help and advice.

Conventional discipline treats children as a problem to be solved. Discipleship Discipline recognizes that children are people who need to be loved and compassionately shepherded.

Conventional discipline focuses on “getting my kid to behave.” Discipleship Discipline focuses on “raising my child to be a godly young man or woman.”

Discipleship Discipline is a key component of the spirituality of the Domestic Church. It reminds parents and children that this is more to their relationship and it calls parents and children to be more than they are. It is a powerful witness to the world of the difference that Christian households are called to live.

To learn more, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Becoming More Playful — The Added Benefits to Our Overall Well-Being

*This post is a continuation of the series based on Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship. Join the discussion in our facebook group.

There’s a lot in life that we have to take seriously. A lot to think about, a lot to manage, just… a lot. In the face of all this seriousness, one of the first things we adults lose is our ability to be playful.

Are problem solving and playfulness mutually exclusive?

A growing body of research has actually found that playfulness in our daily life has a large impact on our ability to handle challenges effectively, as well as increasing our overall life satisfaction.

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Do you want to cultivate greater joy and satisfaction in your family life? Check out

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids

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Researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University teamed up to conduct a study on 533 participants. The participants were separated into three groups, two groups were given exercises pertaining to practicing and recording playfulness in their daily lives, the third group acted as a control group and were given exercises unrelated to the study.

The results found that those individuals who actively looked for ways to be playful in their daily lives reported greater life satisfaction even 12 weeks after the experiment took place, whereas the control group reported no difference. Furthermore, the results indicate that it is possible to teach individuals who are typically not prone to playfulness how to be more playful simply through intentional practice and participation in playful activities.

This study, as well as research conducted by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, shows that playfulness in our daily life actually increases our ability to process emotions and solve problems. Dr. Neufeld refers to playful activities as “emotional playgrounds,” stating, “When words fail us, emotional playgrounds are our best answer for safe emotional expression and for feelings to bounce back,” and that “Play is where we are most likely able to feel our emotions safely.” Neufeld and other research demonstrates that this is the case for both adults and children.

Research such as this highlights the significant importance of creating and maintaining family play rituals, like the ones we describe in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life and the Rite of Family Rituals.

The ritual of play allows us to not only build rapport and connection as a family on a regular basis, but also creates the opportunity for these “emotional playgrounds.” Play enables us and our children to become more emotionally intelligent and emotionally healthy. We are able to problem solve, increase our emotional intelligence, and emotionally regulate more effectively, if we integrate play/playfulness into our regular, daily lives.

But how do we make time for this ritual of play on a daily basis?

Here are a few ideas:


– Start a family tickle fight when getting out of the car on your way home after soccer practice.

– Take turns bringing a joke to family dinner.

– Turn on your favorite music and have a dance party while picking up the living room or washing the dinner dishes.

– Sing your favorite songs in the car or snuggled up before bed.

– Read stories together and/or have your kids read to you while you get chores done (like folding the laundry).

– Take a walk together.

– Bake a yummy dessert.

– Integrate crafts into school activities and sit down and do them together.

– Have a family movie night, but make it special with your favorite pillows, blankets, and snacks.

– Play a card game during/after a meal

Start your own list of fun activities! Have everyone add to the list, hang it on the fridge, and pick one thing off the list that you have time for every day.

For more ideas on cultivating the ritual of play—and all the rituals of connection—in your family, join the discussion at Catholic HOM and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Secrets of Communication: How to Be A Better Listener

We try to be our best. We mean well, and when our efforts are misconstrued we feel like there’s nothing we can do. But there’s good news: recognizing the ways that we can grow in no way means that we’re not well intentioned and doing our best! This is one of the greatest keys to communication. Understanding that we’re well intentioned, but we always have room to learn from the other person and grow in ourselves and our relationships with others.

In order to learn from another person and learn to grow in relationship with them, it’s crucial that we learn to listen effectively.

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Are you struggling to get along with difficult people?

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Research published in the Harvard Business Review describes that the typical ways we think we’re being good listeners—such as being silent, periodically nodding or acknowledging the other person, or even repeating what the other has said—aren’t as effective as we may think.

Here are a few ways to become a more effective listener:

Ask questions—while sitting in silence allows the other person to talk, it doesn’t always communicate that they’re being heard. Asking questions shows both interest and comprehension in what the other person is discussing. Likewise this allows for the dynamic of listening to understand rather than listening simply to respond.

Be a cooperative partner—research indicates that the most successful conversations are those where the individuals view one another as partners, meaning neither person gets defensive about comments made by the other. When we are partners in a conversation, we work together, we care for one another, and we are certain that our responses are solution focused (rather than derogatory, competitive, or distracting from the topic at hand).

Offer reflections—A good listener keeps the conversation going by gently offering reflections that open up new lines of inquiry. Complaints often occur when someone feels as though the other just “jumped in and try to solve the problem.” Good listening, however, requires that the suggestions/solutions are not the end of the conversation, they are a support to the conversation.

To learn more tips and techniques for effective communication, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

Strengthening Faith Amidst Pandemic

*This post is one among a series of articles discussing the liturgy of domestic church life. For more information, join the conversation on facebook in our group Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems every day brings new changes, adjustments to the “plan,” and a “new normal” to adapt to. One of the many things that have changed is our ability to go to church. Many of us have not been to church in months, maybe we attend online, maybe we’re able to attend a service outdoors, or maybe we’re able to go to church in a way that meets the limited capacity requirements. But with all of these changes, how has our faith life been impacted?

A recent study by PEW Research found that most people’s faith has remained unchanged (47%) or grown stronger (24%) despite not being able to go to church during the pandemic. Only 2% report struggling in their faith because of events related to the pandemic.

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Transform your family into a joyful place where each member experiences life as a gift from God by checking out

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How can this be?

For a lot of us, the changes in our ability to attend our regular church service has caused us to be a lot more intentional and prioritize our faith in a different way. As research shows, some have had great success in developing their faith life in new ways, but for others this has been more of a struggle.

Many of us are still searching for new ways to live our faith at home and grow in faith as a family. The changes caused by COVID-19 have clear implications for our domestic church life. The Liturgy of Domestic Church Life is a way for Catholic families to make faith the source of the warmth in our homes.  Below are a few ways we can do just that:

1. Make prayer time cozy, not uncomfortable—Many of us feel that for our family prayer time at home we must all be kneeling and perfectly still. If this is comfortable for you as a family, great! But often this sort of expectation makes prayer time (especially with younger children) a bit of a battle. Make prayer time cozy and inviting. Set soft lighting, play relaxing music or praise and worship songs softly in the background, surround yourselves with blankets and pillows and cuddle up together as a family. Make your prayer space and prayer time feel like a warm hug in the arms of God—the one who knows us best and loves us most. This is a great way to developing a loving relationship with God for our kids and for ourselves!

2.  See God in your day-to-day—Make a point of noticing God in little ways throughout the day. Find a great parking spot, say, “Thanks God!” Out loud. Catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset? Acknowledge how God painted the sky today. Had a good conversation or meeting? Thank God for letting it go so well. By acknowledging how we see God working in our day-to-day lives allows us to prioritize God in a beautiful way. Check in with the family at the end of each day, maybe even over dinner, and ask, “How/where did you see God in your day?” Discuss those little (and big!) blessings.

3. Keep traditions alive—Let’s face it, we all love coffee and donut Sunday. It’s a fun way to get a special treat, have some nice conversation, and make our faith life a bit more fun. Keep traditions such as this alive at home! After watching Mass online, share coffee/juice and donuts/muffins (or whatever your favorite family treats are) together—even for a few minutes. This would be a fun way to get a few minutes together as a family, enjoying each other’s company (and maybe sharing our mass take-aways) before going about the rest of our day.

For more ways to live out your faith as a family, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids. And join our discussion on facebook at Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship!

New Research Finds Tele-Counseling To Be Even More Effective Than Face-to-Face

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way physical and mental health care are delivered. Many providers and patients have moved to tele-health, which certainly makes health care more accessible, but is it as effective as face to face treatment?

Timely research that began prior to COVID-19 and continued after utilized randomized control trials to evaluate the effectiveness of tele-counseling.

A recent study, involving randomized control groups found that that tele-counseling across a variety of modalities (e.g., telephone, videochat, etc) is, in many ways, more effective than traditional face-to-face counseling.

According to lead researcher, Zena Samaan, “The common understanding was that face to face psychotherapy has the advantage of the connection with the therapist and this connection is in part what makes the difference in treatment…However, it is not surprising that electronic interventions are helpful in that they offer flexibility, privacy and no travel time, time off work, transport or parking costs. It makes sense that people access care, especially mental health care, when they need it from their own comfort space.”

As Samaan describes, not only is tele-counseling an equally if not a more effective in treatment that face-to-face counseling, tele-counseling creates greater accessibility to individuals with busy schedules or limited resources (i.e. those who are home bound, in rural areas, or areas with limited specialized counseling).

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As leaders in the field of pastoral tele-counseling, Catholic Counselors has been providing pastoral counseling for individuals, couples and families by telephone since 1999 and conducts  over 15,000 hours of tele-counseling services per year. Interested in learning more about how Catholic tele-counseling—and our many other resources–can help you get more out of your marriage, family or personal life? Visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

The Power of Our Thoughts

Most of us know that negative thinking isn’t good for our mental health, but did you know that repetitive negative thinking has harmful effects on our physical health?

A study led by researchers at University College London evaluated 123 participants to determine the relationship between repetitive (chronic) negative thinking patterns and dementia. The results of this study reveal that individuals who exhibit repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns have higher levels of tau and amyloid—two proteins which cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain. Over four years, the individuals who displayed RNT showed greater cognitive decline, including decline in memory.

As this study shows, negative thinking not only has harmful effects on our emotional life, but on our physical body as well.

So how to we break our habits of repetitive negative thinking and live healthier lives?

Find your power: In any situation, ask yourself, “What can I make of this?” Don’t simply allow yourself to be a passive participant in your situation. Seek your power through intentionality. Asking yourself questions such as, “What can I make of this/learn from this/do with this?” helps engage your cortex (your thinking brain) and allows you to focus on resources and solutions as opposed to getting caught in the trap of negative thinking. 

Focus on gratitude: Intentionally recall your blessings, your strengths, and your skills. This can be done in several ways, such as keeping a running gratitude list throughout the day, focusing on the things that you did well during the day, or keeping a “got done” list to remind yourself of your daily accomplishments. This type of thinking helps cultivate more helpful thinking patterns instead of the hurtful thinking patterns caused by RNT.

Cultivate Connection: Cultivate connection and maintain a sense of community by actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others—even when you are struggling. When we are focused on serving others and acting out of self-donation, we are more effectively able to break the cycle of negative thinking.

To find more resources for breaking your habits of negative thinking, visit us at CatholicCounselors.com