Your Faith and Debt

By: Judy Keane

money:rosary

The statistics are stunning.    According to a recent  Washington Post  article, the majority of Americans with 401(k)-type savings accounts are accumulating debt faster than they are setting aside money for retirement.     While the amount varies, it has also been found that the average credit card debt per U.S. household is around 3,364 (Source: Federal Reserve) along with an average mortgage debt of $149,925 per household and average student loan debts of more than $26,000.  In total, American consumers owe more than 856.9 billion in credit card debt and more than 11 trillion in debt overall.

Meanwhile, our culture and the media continue to urge us to spend beyond our means to buy even more!  As a result, we are steeped in a buy now, pay later mentality, with little thought given to financial consequences down the road.   It seems everywhere we turn; we are bombarded with ads that attack our self-esteem or body-image if we don’t purchase the latest and greatest anti-aging creams, automobiles, or outfits.   “Retail therapy” has become a popular term of our time in which we seek to spend ourselves happy.   Beyond this, there is the ongoing barrage of credit card solicitations and endless parade on online shopping sites where one can easily purchase everything from major appliances to trips abroad without even leaving our homes.

A recent survey among our youth (ages 18-34) showed that 60% said they were jealous of celebrities and other public figures whose lifestyles are glamorized by television shows such as  Rich Kids of Beverly Hills,  Real Housewives  and  Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  Of course, I don’t’ need to go into detail about our national debt which now tops more than 17 trillion dollars and continues to grow by nearly 2.5 billion a day!

Is it any wonder that so many of us find ourselves in debt?   Of course, it can’t all be blamed on external pressures.   We must look a hard look at ourselves, our spending habits, our lack of control, our priorities, and our ability to identify needs verses wants.   We know that debt leads to depression, low self-esteem, failed marriages, health problems, hopelessness, and despair.

Yet, God wants us to be debt free!   In fact, he calls us to be debt free! He wishes us to be free from the shackles of debt and the psychological ramifications it has on our minds and spirits.   Not only does he want us debt free, he in fact, wants us to prosper, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).     God also discourages us from getting into debt in the first place and warns of its dangers in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.”   This clearly states, we are in a form of bondage to our lenders until our debt is paid in full.

So what can we do in our own lives to get our debt under control or make sure we don’t go into debt again? The bible offers some solid advice to guide and direct us.   First the bible emphasizes we develop a realistic budget to make sure we can afford our purchases.   As we all know, we can easily get in over our heads financially by making even one purchase that is more than what we can afford.   The Gospel of Luke emphasizes this — “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).   In prayer then, ask God if what you want is really something you actually need.   After all, God has promised to meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom  and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).   In my own life, I’ve prayed over significant purchases and have on occasion waited 24 hours to think about them.  More often than not, I’ve discovered I didn’t really “have to have” what I thought I wanted and was later glad I didn’t make the purchase after all.

Ultimately, we must gain control over ourselves when it comes to our spending habits and also teach our children to do the same.  Enlisting God’s help along with creating a budget to keep us from the temptations of overspending can go a long way in keeping out of financial hot water. Sometime a health crisis, emergency home repairs, or natural disasters cause us to go into debt through no fault of our own.     Yet, in this case, it is the same.   We must do everything we can to pay down our debt and never lose hope that God will continue to provide for us as we work our way out of our debt crisis.     We can trust that God will show us the way and offer ways to move beyond it, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalms 32:8).   Most of all, we must never lose hope nor give into despair in the face of that which seems insurmountable, recognizing that the circumstances of today do not define our tomorrow’s and that God has plans for us that are so much greater.

In a culture where material possessions and status are more important than character, we must strive to keep God in the center of our hearts amid all the consumerism and temptations to over spend.   To this end, Pope Francis recently offered advice saying, “The world tells us to seek success, power and money.   God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”  We know that it took time to get into debt and it will take time to get out of it.   So if you find yourself in debt, be patient!   Have faith and don’t despair!   God is in the midst of your debt crisis and working with you as you work toward your financial freedom!

Credit to  Judy Keane of CatholicExchange.

Marriage is Work

By: Emma Smith

bible and rings

“Yeah, I’m getting divorced too,”  one of my co-workers replied to my boss the other day. The two ladies then exchanged stories about their horrible husbands and that “awful institution” called “marriage.”

Both of their husbands cheated on them and both of them dealt with a multitude of other issues with their husbands that only served to add to the pain of their failed marriages. It was awful to hear what they went through, and I don’t blame them for feeling hurt by the whole experience.

“There’s so much of that out there!” my boss exclaimed. “I know one of my girlfriends who is cheating on her husband and I know a couple of other people where both of them are cheating. I guess you’re lucky if it doesn’t happen to you.”

Then my boss looked over at me and, knowing I’m engaged, said, “Sorry, but I  neverwant to get married again.”

“No,” I wanted to say, “I’m  sorry.”

But I didn’t get it out. I was too busy sorting through all of the reactions in my own head. I ended up remaining silent for the entire conversation because somehow I didn’t think that these women would understand.

I didn’t think they’d understand that if I said, “my fiancé and I are never going to have that issue” that my statement would be one of fact and confidence, not one of blind love and young bravado.

I didn’t think they’d understand what I mean if I said “marriage isn’t just a luck of the draw. It doesn’t work like a lottery.” Because, to them, it does, while for me, I know that it doesn’t. Marriage isn’t a drawing of the straws, where if your spouse cheats on you, well, “sorry, you just drew the short straw. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent it!” It’s not an institution where if you are a strong, happy, and healthy couple you’re just “the lucky ones.” It’s not an institution where the fates decide who “wins” and who “loses.” It’s not a promise you enter into like buying a lottery ticket — someone will win the jackpot while most people just buy empty tickets.

Yet this is how our society has been trained to see marriage. This approach to marriage has so infiltrated our society that people refuse to believe that there should be anything like “marriage prep,” because how do you prep yourself for a game of chance? There’s no way of making yourself any  luckier, so why are you bothering to work on it? Our society has abandoned the idea that marriage is something you work on, and even more so, it has forgotten, and thus doesn’t understand, that marriage is a  calling.

It is a foreign concept that one would be able to say with complete confidence “my spouse will never cheat on me.” And yet, I  can  say that. I can say that because I have a faith and a God who stand behind me in that statement. And I can say that because the love my fiancé and I share is not human, it is divine. We love each other because we love God and we have discovered that in loving one another, we get to love God more fully. Moreover, the love that we have for one another is divine in  origin. God gave it to us at our baptism and it had a full 15-20ish years to grow and mature so that when we met, it blossomed.

That makes us blessed, but it does not make us lucky. We both worked hard on ourselves and on making God the center of our world before we even knew the other existed. In doing so, we returned to God the gift He gave us in that first sacrament. We returned to Him our hearts, and with them we returned to the Creator the divine love placed in our hearts for one another. God knows how to nourish our hearts and souls better than anyone. In nourishing our hearts, He nourished the love that grew in them for each other so that when we met, my soul immediately knew who my fiancé was. (And it only took me a couple of months to catch up with what my soul knew at first sight!)

We have a faith that can make these promises. Promises of faithfulness, love, commitment. Our faith allows us to make these promises because He who gave us love was faithful in His love until the end. He who originated love in our hearts died for us out of that same love. We as Catholics are granted the same strength of faithfulness to the end when we return our love to the one who  is  love. When we participate in making our love a sacrament, when we make a way for God’s grace to enter the world every day, when we demonstrate outwardly our inner devotion, we can say with full knowledge and confidence that we are not in a game of luck. We are in an institution of work and prayer, and we can rest assured that our success rests squarely on the shoulders of our prayerful work and the support of a God who made the universe.

Blessed Pope John Paul II is famous for his line: “man finds himself only in true gift of self.” If we only receive what we give away, then we must strive every day to give our hearts and our love back to Christ.

Giving a gift back doesn’t take luck. It takes work.

 

Credit to Emma Smith of CatholicExchange.

The Prodigal Father

By: Dave McClow

 father

The “prodigal father” is the story of our time.    It is the story of fatherlessness in our families.   Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is and has always been highly aware of the crisis of fatherhood and its implications for society (see my previous blog).   He knows that when fatherhood is gutted, “something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged” (The God of Jesus Christ, p.  29).   But he is also supremely insightful about what happens in the family, both positively and negatively, because of fathers! Let’s start out with the problems:

PRODIGAL FATHERHOOD

“A theologian has said that to ­day we ought to supplement the story of the Prodigal Son with that of the prodigal father. Fathers are often entirely occupied by their work and give more wholehearted attention to their work than to their child, more to achievement than to gifts, and to the tasks implied by those gifts. But the loss of involvement of the father also causes grave inner damage to the sons” (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

I’m not sure why he leaves out daughters, but the effect is just as devastating for daughters.   Are you leaving behind the gift of your children for busy-ness or business?   Are you too task and achievement oriented?   Part of this over-focus is the religious nature of our masculinity–our natural inclination toward sacrifice for a cause.   This is masculine spirituality that is often not acknowledged by men or women.   If men can’t relate to God as men, they turn to things which are not ultimate–that is, to things Scripture calls idols.   This is why work, hobbies, and sports can become all-consuming.

Fear is another component of turning to non-ultimate things.   Sometimes a lot of men view the murky waters of relationships and emotions at home like a foreign country to be feared. They would rather turn elsewhere to feel like a success.   We need to invoke my vote for St. John Paul II’s #2 motto (after “Totus Tuus, Totally yours, Mary”), “Be not afraid!”   We need to have courage!   There is nothing wrong with work, hobbies, or sports, but they must be rightly ordered–they must not take precedence over people or God.   Even virtues in the extremes become vice.

As Pope, Benedict XVI includes in the problem list broken families, worries, and money problems, along with “the distracting invasion of the media” in our daily life.   All of these things “can stand in the way of a calm and constructive relationship between father and child.” “It is not easy for those who have experienced an excessively authoritarian and inflexible father or one who was indifferent and lacking in affection, or even absent, to think serenely of God and to entrust themselves to him with confidence” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).

ZEUS

He nails the problems of modern life including technology; and the perennial problems of fathers who can be excessively rigid, indifferent, lacking in affection, or even absent.   These things damage our view of God and make it difficult to trust.   Next, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he contrasts two very different fathers: Zeus and God the Father.

If we look for a moment at pagan mythologies, then the father-god Zeus, for instance, is portrayed as moody, unpredictable, and willful: the father does incorporate power and authority, but without the corresponding degree of responsibility, the limitation of power through justice and kindness (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

If you are the kind of father who wants your kids to obey just because you’re the father, you’re in the Zeus camp, which uses the power and authority of the role without the responsibility which limits that power through justice and kindness.   This father uses domination and fear to lord it over the kids and demands obedience.   Consequently, because they don’t like the master/slave relationship, the kids usually have a temper problem and find ways to rebel.   Or as Protestant apologist Josh McDowell has aptly put it, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.”   The master/slave idea is found more in Islam, a word which means submission. Allah is not a loving Father–in fact, this idea is blasphemous to a Muslim.   Allah is an all-powerful God who must be obeyed.

GOD THE FATHER AS OUR MODEL

Zeus shows us how not to be a good father.   The Pope Emeritus says that Scripture helps us know of “a God who shows us what it really means to be ‘father’; and it is the Gospel, especially, which reveals to us this face of God as a Father who loves” (General Audience, January 30, 2013). The Father uses power and responsibility with justice and kindness, which is a more relational approach. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he unpacks this idea:

The Father as he appears in the Old Testament is quite different [from Zeus], and still more in what Jesus says about the Father: here, power corresponds to responsibility; here we meet a picture of power that is prop ­erly directed, that is at one with love, that does not dominate through fear but creates trust. The fatherhood of God means devotion toward us, an acceptance of us by God at the deepest level, so that we can belong to him and turn to him in childlike love. Certainly, his fatherhood does mean that he sets the standards and corrects us with a strictness that manifests his love and that is always ready to forgive (God and the World, pp. 274-275).

So the Father loves us first (1 Jn.) and is devoted to us, and this love creates trust, acceptance, and belonging!   It is only after loving us that he challenges us with his standards and correction; but even the challenge reveals more of his love for us.   He is like a coach or teacher who sees our potential and is therefore hard on us.  He is working for our good.   This is rightly ordered parenting: deep and wide love and then challenge.   Many fathers I work with start with the challenge and standards, skipping over the love part.   But doing this reverses the way we are designed and messes up the family.   To cut these fathers a break, this is probably how they were trained by their parents.

Psychologist Gordon Neufeld  puts it a little differently as he answers the question, “What’s the easiest way to parent children?”   His answer is not punishment, showing them who is boss, new skills, or even loving them.   It is getting them to love you.   He often asks, “When did your child give you his/her heart?”   If the parent is in Zeus mode, his or her reply is only a blank stare.   But when kids love you, they want to please you–it’s in their nature, and it’s the same with adults and God!   This is what it means to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven–when we give God our hearts in response to his love, we take correction more easily and experience discipline as a reconciliation–we are welcomed back home.

The Pope Emeritus continues his description of the Father: “God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces his lost but repentant son (cf. Lk. 15:11ff).”  He is “a Father who never abandons his children [Ps. 27:10], a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves” and whose love opens the “dimensions of eternity.”   This Fatherly love is “infinitely greater, more faithful, and more total than the love of any man.”   And knowing this love through faith, “we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering….” Of course, “[i]t is in the Lord Jesus that the benevolent face of the Father…is fully revealed.” In and through Jesus we know and see the Father (cf. Jn. 8:19; 14:7, 14:9, 11).  He is “the image of the invisible God” (General Audience, January 30, 2013).

SUMMARY

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has laid out both the problem and a theological solution: the problem is prodigal fatherhood, i.e., fatherlessness, in various forms, and the solution is God the Father as our model for fatherhood–“the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).   The contrast between Zeus and God the Father is striking and, from my vantage point as a pastoral counselor, insightful and helpful.   The Pope Emeritus has even more practical thoughts on the topic, but they will have to wait for another day.   With an epidemic of fatherlessness and our Faith’s revelation of a loving, tender, and challenging Abba, an interesting side point comes from the current Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (in  Life in the Lordship of Christ):  “It’s sad that in the whole liturgical year there isn’t a feast dedicated to the Father.”   Isn’t it time?

So, what kind of father are you?   If you see yourself more as Zeus than God the Father, you were more than likely trained by a Zeus, and you need to pray and fast to “our Abba” for a deep experience of his fatherly love so that you can love as he loved us.   The Catechism challenges us to tear down the idols of Zeus–the paternal images that stem from our personal history and distort God’s Fatherhood (see  CCC  2779).   And since the wound was created in community; the healing can only take place in community.   So find a priest, a friend, a Catholic men’s group, or call us to help.

Credit to Dave McClow of  CatholicExchange.

 

Why Women Live Longer

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

old woman smiling

Some statistical facts about women-  They live longer.  As of 10 years ago, only 7% of the entire prison population in the US was female. There is a significantly higher rate of Antisocial Personality Disorder among men as compared to women. Another interesting fact? The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), which is the area of the brain where anger and aggression are controlled, is larger in women than in men. A larger PFC is also correlated with higher rates of conscientiousness, better decision-making, and greater overall impulse control. Research also shows that women are better at keeping strong negative emotions in check. When a woman does act on her negative emotions, she will more often attack verbally rather than physically.

A longitudinal study began in the 1920’s by a researcher named Lewis Terman. The study began on 1,548 gifted children and the research has followed these same children long into their adult lives. Although Terman died in 1956, his work was carried on by his students, and then his students’ students, and the study is still being conducted today.  Researchers are using the data to try to answer questions about the factors that contribute to a person’s success, health, and longevity.

Almost one hundred years after the study first began, researchers have concluded that the number one predictor of longevity is what they termed, conscientiousness. Conscientiousness involves using forethought, planning, and perseverance in many aspects of life — all functions of the Pre-Frontal Cortex. It just might be that a larger Pre-Frontal Cortex can contribute to living a longer and healthier life because conscientiousness enlists self-control to make better life choices.

Conscientious people are less likely to smoke, drink heavily, abuse drugs, or engage in life threatening or risky behaviors. No wonder they live longer! These are the people that come to a complete stop at stop signs, follow doctor’s orders, and pay all their taxes. Again, these are all functions of the PFC, which is larger in women. Self-control and conscientiousness make up this week’s strength, and they bring us to the last in this series on female brain strengths, which we will cover next week: just a little bit of healthy worry.

In relation to this series of articles, some readers have responded that it seems like I am saying women are “better” than men.  I want to clarify for those readers who misunderstand the point of this series. I am pointing out here statistically measured correlations and differences between men’s brains and women’s brains. At some points I might add in my own commentary, or make connections to Catholic thinking, but none of this commentary equals misandry. Some of the differences in brain structures correlate with certain behaviors that can be viewed as strengths. However, a man can perform any one of these functions that, based on brain structure, are more naturally performed by a woman. The difference is that a man might need more motivation, might use different parts of the brain, and might need more practice. If I said that a weight is curled by use of the bicep, and the bigger the bicep, the heavier the weight that can be lifted, it would not be sexist, discriminatory, or inconsequential to say, “Men, on average, have larger biceps and can therefore have the capability to curl heavier weights.” There are women who can curl the same weight, though it would probably take them longer to build the same amount of muscle (since men have more testosterone, which builds muscle) to curl the same weight. Also, some women might be able to lift the same weight if they use two hands. The final action might be the same — curling the weight — but they have arrived at it differently.  Analogously, men as people can also display the same strengths covered in these articles, but they might take longer, need more motivation, or arrive at the final action differently than how a woman does.  There are also strengths that the male brain has over the female brain.  Some of them are implicit in what we are covering in this series, since something might be a strength or weakness relative to the context.  Some of men’s strengths are separate and I will elaborate on them in the future.

“Correlation does not equal causation” is a very important distinction when we apply these brain differences to virtue. There might be some objection based on a concern that I am saying women are more virtuous than men. Let me be clear: these brain differences do not create virtue. Virtue is a description of action — which is a complex collaboration of many different systems, including, but not limited to, brain anatomy. A person may very well act virtuously but in opposition to their brain anatomy. A teenage boy with raging testosterone certainly must act against his brain anatomy at times if he is to act virtuously.

The overall take home point  is  that men and women are very different, though complementary.

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

 

The Pope, the Sinner, and Me

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

cathedral

This is not a response to the media distortions of the recent interview with Pope Francis.  I’d rather focus on what Pope Francis actually is saying to me as one of his flock, and admit that maybe there is something here to personally grow from. Second of all, this article is not advocating or in any way considering a “change of church teaching.” If that’s what some readers take away from it, I’d ask them to please read it over.

This has been on my heart to write about for a while, but I must admit, I’ve been a coward. As a Catholic and as a psychologist, I want to add in my two cents to the conversation on homosexuality. This might be one of the single most divisive issues of our immediate time. I have been a coward up until now because this topic is a minefield, and I’m scared of bombs. I say up until now because our Pope has given me an offer I can’t refuse. In his recent interview, Pope Francis gave an example of courage and unyielding tenacity for truth, beauty, and goodness that sparked something in me.

Religion has become for some — myself included — an opportunity for mediocrity in following Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been this way for thousands of years. Jesus certainly spoke out pretty vehemently against this sort of mediocrity in his time, and now the Vicar of Jesus is speaking against it now. By mediocrity, I mean to say that religion gives us categories to snugly place ourselves into. It gives us a moral system to fall back on that distinguishes “us” from “them.”  Well, for all of us comfortable Christians in the world, Pope Francis just punched us in the gut and knocked the stale air out of our moldy lungs.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.  The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Despite some “spiritual” traditions, trends, and movements, the Church is not to be primarily a megaphone on the street corner calling out peoples’ sins. Likewise, members of the Church, the body of Christ, are not to have these megaphones blaring out from our hearts. Mediocrity is a mentality of  “us vs. them,” those of us behind the megaphone, and those that are on the other side of it. Pope Francis is telling us that we can’t let church become for us a system of dividing “us” from “them.” What then, is he saying the bosom of the universal church is to be?

“Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis outlines pretty clearly the mission of the Church.  We must make a proposition of Jesus to the world.  We must propose Love.  “From this proposition the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis calls on an image that is extremely important in his interview — the road to Emmaus.  What happened at first on the road to Emmaus?  The two walking with Jesus did not recognize him.  They were the “them.”  Did Jesus chastise them, saying, “Idiots, don’t you know who I am?”  “Dirty scum, how are you so blind?”  No.  He walks with them. He speaks with them, as one of them.  They don’t feel the need to form coalitions and march in parades to find some form of validation.  He validates them. He builds friendship with them and leads them into a true encounter with himself,after  which “their hearts burned.”

As a society, we have been so wrong about homosexuals.  As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I can also say that the majority of “faithful” Catholics I have ever known have also been so wrong about homosexuals.  I have a question to ask to make my point.  As you sit with the discomfort this article may be causing, ask yourself this question:

How does your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who identify as homosexual compare to your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who engage in some other mortal sin such as contraception?

How about masturbation?

How about drunkenness?

Let that sink in a bit. How do you treat the person?

I’d especially like to elaborate on this last issue of drunkenness. It astounds me how many Catholic circles consider drunkenness, at least implicitly, as acceptable.  Have we not heard Galatians 5:21 before?  “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that  those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Wow. So it’s ok to get together and drink a few too many with our friends, but being homosexual is the supreme debauchery?

I am not advocating puritanical teetotaling. I enjoy my scotch or wine at the appropriate time.  Sometimes it is even me who has too many with my friends and I have to hand the keys over to my wife for the ride home. Yes, I am a sinner. Not in the garment rending, abstract, and safely generalized way, but I commit very specific sins. Somehow there is an appallingly strange mercy for me.  If we are to love with the love of Jesus, if we are to be Jesus as members of his body, his Church, we will love men and women who experience, and even act out on, homosexual desires the way we love ourselves or our friends when we know the types of sins we commit.

Now as a follow-up question, if you haven’t thought this already (and kudos if you have), let me ask: Did you realize my first question asked about the sinfulness of those “who identify as homosexual”?  Is homosexuality a sin? No, it is not.

First of all, if you do happen to know a person is committing mortal sins such as acting out on their homosexual desires, why in the world is it ok to treat him or her any differently than anyone else you happen to know committing mortal sin, including yourself?

Second of all, homosexuality in itself is not a sin. When you meet someone who is homosexual, you very well might be in the presence of a saint. If someone is living chastely with homosexual desires, he or she is living heroic virtue. Homosexuality is a cross that no heterosexual will ever understand. It is a life called to celibacy without the luxury of discernment. It is potentially the most extreme example of “chastity for the kingdom” that I can imagine. Do you happen to know the interior life of every homosexual?

If they look deep enough, many Catholics might be ashamed of their disposition of heart towards homosexuals. I know I am. Sure, I knew how to say that I “Loved the sinner, hated the sin.”  But Pope Francis seems to think such words aren’t enough.

If I’m the only Catholic who had these feelings, so be it. Here I am confessing my sin to the world. As Pope Francis said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

 

Emotional Pornography

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

woman watching TV

Sex sells.   Marketing in our culture is almost exclusively based on sex.    We have known this for years, and although we think we are stronger than corporate marketing strategies, we (men) still fall easy prey to GoDaddy super bowl ads and Victoria’s Secret ceiling-high mall pinups.   When I say “easy prey,” I don’t mean we all necessarily go home lusting after these pictures and falling into sin, but somehow there is a movement of something in us.  That movement of something within us is because we were made by God to be moved!   Although the marketing media has no regard for our souls, we have to give them credit at some level for figuring out better than many Christians how to move people.   As men though, we have a serious responsibility to learn how to control our desires and direct them in a way that is consistent with what is true, good, and beautiful.   This is how we let our God-given desires propel us towards God himself through a life lived virtuously.

Using sex to sell is a form of pornography.   Pornography comes from the same word as prostitution, which is the Latin for “price.”   Porn uses a person as a marketable good in a transaction. Pornography is evil primarily because it goes against the very nature with which we were created.   As John Paul II said, “the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.”   There are actually two major problems with pornography.   First, as JPII points out, it turns the people involved into objects of use. Second though, pornography presents fantasy as reality.   Porn trains its viewers to believe in a version of reality that does not actually exist.   Marketers and producers of porn have figured out how to provide instant and exaggerated gratification to the desires of men and women.   In reality, true gratification does not come in the same form.   This is why pornography is fantasy.   In the examples listed above, women are the marketed objects, but men are not the only ones moved by pornography in the media. There are two kinds of pornography rampant in our culture — physical pornography and emotional pornography.

Emotional pornography markets primarily to women and their emotional desires.   Music and movies — especially movies — present an idea to a woman that somehow moves something in her.   Movies like the Notebook or Twilight resonate with a woman’s desire.   The problem with movies like these though is that they present fantasy to woman as reality, very similar to the way physical pornography presents fantasy to a man as reality.   You may think you are stronger than corporate marketing strategies, but you still fall easy prey.   Somehow there is a movement of something in you.   That movement of something within you is because you were made by God to be moved!   As women though, you have a serious responsibility to learn how to control your desires and direct them in a way that is consistent with what is true, good, and beautiful.

Women across the board (and yes I am making a huge generalization here) typically feel pretty rotten about physical pornography.   Even women who pretend to be ok with it in public because they think that’s what men want still feel deep down that pornography is somehow way off.   It presents an unreal version of women, and a type of relationship they would never want to be a part of, because it supports the idea that women exist for men’s physical pleasure.

Men are very often uncomfortable with chick flicks.   While it is true thatmany men are just uncomfortable with emotions in general and could learn a lot about them from women, I am going to step out from behind the macho veil and let you women in on a secret. Just as you know that you will never be able to live up to (or down to) the level of those women in porn, we feel deep down that we will never be able to live up to (or down to) the level of those men in the movies you love.  These movies present an unreal version of men, and a type of relationship we would never want to be a part of, because they support the idea that men exist for women’s emotional pleasure.

I am not saying Twilight or The Notebook are evil movies in the same way physical pornography is evil.   I am simply saying that if you walk away from these movies feeling like your life isn’t that great, your relationship isn’t measuring up, or somehow you won’t be happy until you find a Ryan Gosling character to sweep you off your feet, you might want to consider how chaste you are being.   I am also not saying that women are the only ones to fall prey to emotional unchastity (or men to physical unchastity). The physical/emotional distinctions are only concerning the primary ways that sin affects us in our gender differences.

JPII said, “It is the duty of every man to protect the dignity of every woman, and the duty of every woman to protect the dignity of every man.”   If a person were being used to create or sustain some emotional pleasure, his or her dignity is not being protected.

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

Women's Colllaboration

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

women group

On the train this morning on the way into the office there was  a female conductor.   I’ve traveled with a female conductor on a train once before, and both times ended the same way.   On the intercom as we reached our destination, the conductor concluded her comments with, “have a great day everyone, and thank you crew for your work.”   The only two times the conductor thanked the crew in the past two months were the two times the conductor was female — and they were different females.

This week’s female superpower follows from empathy, which  we covered last week.   What we are talking about this week is  collaboration, which is a natural consequence of understanding and feeling the feelings of other people.

A 2011  Harvard Business Review  article reported a study that tested the intelligence of groups working together in areas of brainstorming, decision making, and problem solving.   Individual IQ scores were also tested, but as it turned out, they did not have an effect on the overall ratings of the groups’ intelligence.   Even though a person might have had a higher IQ, his or her ultimate performance on the group assessment depended on if there were more men or women in the group.   The more women in the group, the higher the group’s score.

Cohen, cited in the last article, theorized that men and women work differently in groups.   Men search for underlying rules that govern how a system behaves, and then try to predict certain outcomes.   Women, using their strength of empathy, attempt to identify what others are thinking and feeling, and therefore respond appropriately.   They are more concerned with the emotional cohesion in the group and therefore pick up on more information contained in the other members of the group.   Men are prone to be less aware of the others in the group as they are more focused on the problem solving aspect.

This distinction is not to say that men don’t care about the feelings of others.    Women simply have more brainpower devoted to perceiving what others are thinking and feeling.   Therefore, they have more brainpower available to accommodate the needs of members in a group.   This greater capacity can lead to greater group cohesion, helping a group to reach its goals more efficiently.

Sociologists have known this for years, long before it was possible to look into the brain.   Behavioral differences have long been studied between men and women, boys and girls.   Cross cultural studies have shown that around the world, little boys tend to try to figure out how things work and little girls tend to want togetherness.   When given toy blocks, little boys will competitively try to build the tallest or longest construction, while little girls will make circles in which all can play together.   All of this points to the idea that women can make better leaders in many situations, and are certainly always a significantly important part of any team.

I want to step aside from the science for a moment to respond to some of the criticism  to this series thus far.   Some people feel that these differences are arbitrary and unimportant, or merely conjecture.   While much of feminism strives to prove that women can be just as good as men, we need an entirely different appreciation for women as  women.    It’s become very unpopular to speak about gender differences.   I don’t think diversity means that everyone should be viewed the same.   Same respect? Yes.   The human person deserves the highest respect possible, but not because we are all the same.   If society was, and is in many ways, a male dominated system, I think it is a very weak argument for women to say, “we can do just as good as men can.” Male domination has convinced society that the part women play is not as important as man’s.  First of all domination is not something to strive for, and second of all women contribute something entirely different than men to every aspect of life.   This includes marriage, family and the home, the neighborhood, business and the economy, government, and the society in general. From philosophy to art to science and everything in between, women have something unique and important to contribute, precisely because they are women and not men.

Pope Francis recently spoke about our lack of appreciation of women.   He said, “The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework  … we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of [an organization], but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the church.”   Even in the Church’s theology, according to Pope Francis, we need to move away from a “woman can do what a man can do” mentality to explore what makes a woman unique and important and beautiful for being a woman and  not  a man.

As long as the feminist argument is reduced to “we are just as good as men are,” feminism is losing.   In order to make the real argument for real feminism — an argument that shouldn’t have to be made in the first place — we need to understand precisely how men and women are different.   In our diversity we have complementarity, and complementarity necessitates mutual respect and admiration between the sexes.

This specific trait of empathy-based collaboration  is an excellent example of something that women are typically better equipped for than men, and a very compelling reason to afford equal treatment, equal respect, and equal opportunity in the workplace.   Maybe even preferential treatment when team cohesion and collaboration is at stake.  And as far as train conductors, women make for a much more enjoyable trip.

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

 

The Power of Matrimony

By: Francine & Byron Pirola

marriage

The power of Matrimony for renewing the Church and society rests in the very nature of the sacrament. Matrimony is the vocational sacrament within which the vast majority of adult Catholics live, and yet its capacity for teaching, renewing and leading the Church is largely overlooked.

All Sacraments reveal and witness to a dimension of God and our relationship with him. Matrimony witnesses in a very concrete way to the passionate, intimate love of Jesus for his bride, the Church. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) spells it out very clearly. After describing how husbands are to love their wives in imitation of Christ, and wives are to regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, he quotes Genesis: ‘“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”. This is a great mystery, and I am applying to Christ and the church.’ (Eph 5:31-32).

In commenting on this passage of St Paul’s, Pope John Paul II noted that the Sacrament of Matrimony had a ‘bidirectional’ nature. “As one can see, this [spousal] analogy works in two directions. While it allows us, on the one hand, to understand better the relationship of Christ with the Church, it permits us, on the other hand, to penetrate more deeply into the essence of marriage to which Christians are called.” (John Paul II, TOB 90:4) In other words, not only can couples look to the example of Christ to learn how to love each other well, they as a couple can teach the Church about how Christ loves the Church, and how we as his bride, are to respond to him.

Thus married couples are called to teach the Church about the nature of Christ’s love; through the example of their relationship, all married couples are called to be leaders, offering inspiration and prophetic witness in their parish communities.

Couples teach the Church that God’s love is as intimate as it is benevolent, and that his Kingdom is more relational, like a family, than legalistic. Like a passionately ‘in love’ couple, Jesus’ love for us is urgent, personal and intimate. He longs to be close to us, to be one with us, to be in communion. The ‘one flesh’ union of husband and wife is not just a physical joining of their bodies for brief and occasional moments. Nor is it their compensation for having to endure the difficulties of marriage and family life! No, their sexual union is a sacred gesture and is instrumental in what Pope John Paul II called ‘a communion of persons’ — the interpersonal communion of body and soul between two persons in a mutual self-gift.

The passionate married couple thus illuminates and images the Eucharistic communion — Jesus gives his body and sheds his blood in a total outpouring of love for his bride, the Church. When a couple make love, they too give their bodies and shed their blood (ie lay down their life in service) to each other in the image of Christ. And just as husband and wife become ‘one flesh’ in sexual communion, so also do we, the bride of Christ, become one flesh with Jesus in Eucharistic communion.

Sexual communion is a sacred rite; a deeply holy and sacramental act for the married couple. It is no accident that sexual union is considered essential to the establishment of the Sacrament of Matrimony when the couple marries. “In fact, the words themselves, ‘I take you as my wife/ as-my husband’ do not only refer to a determinate reality, but they can only be fulfilled by the copula conjugale (conjugal intercourse).” (John Paul II, TOB 103:2)

Married love is indeed a powerful witness and teacher. It images and makes real the profound mysteries of our faith and is thus worthy of contemplation and reverence.

Credit to  Francine & Byron Pirola and MarriageResourceCentre.

 

St. Joseph, WD40, and a Craftsman Wrench

By: George J. Galloway

St. jo jo and Baby JJ

American country music singer and songwriter, Toby Keith, wrote and recorded a favorite song of mine that I played continuously when I was camping last weekend. It’s called “Made in America.” Perhaps you’ve heard it, but on the off chance you haven’t, here are some of the lyrics:

He’s got the red, white, and blue flyin’ high on the farm
Semper Fi tattooed on his left arm
Spent a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says ‘USA’
He won’t by nothin’ that he can’t fix,
With WD40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain’t prejudiced, he’s just made in America.

As my wife and I were camping in our trailer, I was constantly fixing things as I usually do. You know, like adjusting the level of the camper, making sure the water, electrical, and sewer hookups were perfect, repositioning the awning and hanging festive lights off of it, checking the propane, tightening a screw here and there or a nut and a bolt. Not to mention chopping firewood, gathering kindling, and making sure there was plenty of wood on the fire at all times.

I’d look around the campground and see most of the guys doing the same things. We were on vacation, but we were busy doing stuff — tweaking something, getting it just right. It’s part of our DNA. We just can’t help it.

We’re the husbands and fathers of those we love. We have to provide. We have to use our labor, our God-given talents as men to shelter, protect, and defend our families, even in the most trivial ways and on camping trips. And, yes, most of us are driven the same way on behalf of our country, our homeland, our communities and churches.

Give us a job to do and we’re happy, satisfied, complete. If we didn’t get dirt under our fingernails, then we would feel empty. It’s really that simple. Why men are psychoanalyzed and researched over and over again is a waste of time. Men need to do what men are meant to do — what they were created by God to do: they need to work or they can’t sleep at night. They’re tactile creatures. Using their hands to do a job is innate.

And my wife, who knows how to relax, is seated, comfortably, on a nice camping chair we just bought, like a princess on her throne, sipping from a glass of much deserved chardonnay, and looks at me doing non-stop odds and ends, shakes her head, completely befuddled. I wonder if she thinks all men are as crazy as I am.

Sure, I do take time in the early morning, when the sun’s just up, and you can see your breath on a brisk, cool morning. I love to hear the sound of a cold mountain stream or brook skipping its way over a stone-strewn bed and cast a fly. I love the way it feels as I release the line using my fingers to control its distance, to place my lure exactly where I want it to go. Every man wants to do that. To place things exactly where they want things to go, when it’s the right time, when it feels natural.

Men are control freaks. I don’t like flying in an airplane, because I want to fly the plane. I want to control my own destiny. I enjoy sailing only when I control the canvas and rudder. I never like it when someone else drives the car, because I want to be in command of the wheel. It’s always I.

Not because I’m an egotist (better ask my wife that question). But, because I need to be the director of my own play — nothing is more sacred to me than my wife and family, period.

To put these things into someone else’s hands would be the ultimate betrayal.

Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, had to have felt the same way. Maybe he didn’t have WD40 and a Craftsman wrench (and duct tape, I couldn’t live without duct tape), but he had his tools: his saws, his mallet, his plane, his hand drill, his plumb bob and A-frame mason’s level. These were the tools of his trade. This was how he made a finished product from a piece of timber or raw wood. The same wood his foster-son would later be nailed upon.

And he must have instructed his son the only way he knew how — in carpentry. He taught him how to steam and plane a stave so that it could be fashioned into a barrel, strapped and secured with wooden hoops, before the age of the cooper. He taught him how to build a table or a chair. How to measure twice and cut once — all the necessary things a father teaches a son, which always have immeasurable value in any life-changing decision.

His decision: the girl, Mary, is pregnant. Not by him. She needs his help. He knows how to fix things. That is what he was born for. He has a dream. Everything in his life up to this point tells him to use the law. To banish, if not have her stoned to death. It is his right to do this. But, he had this dream. He was given his orders.

Joseph, poor and simple, strong, with forearms and hands and shoulders twice the size of most men, doesn’t hesitate. He  believes. He is a soldier. A soldier who takes upon his back, and upon his heart, an unbelievable job. He accepts. He actually, without a moment’s pause, accepts. He is now the hand-servant of the Lord. It is his fiat — his “yes.” He now participates in the redemption of all mankind. But only because he said “yes” — because Joseph took it upon his own muscular shoulders to carry the burden which would eventually become our salvation.

Mary said “yes.” That was the first part. She said “be it done unto me.” But Joseph also had to say “yes.” Not vocally. Guys don’t have to use words. Deeds are more important. If he didn’t return the salute, if he hesitated, if he weighed things in the balance of his plum line, what would have happened?

Okay, there was certainly no WD40 and a Craftsman wrench, or duct tape, in Joseph’s time; although I really think he would appreciate these things.

After all, a carpenter can never have too many tools.

And, I think, Toby Keith would never compare himself or his own father to St. Joseph the Worker. No man in his right mind would. Nobody would want his job. You have to be called by the highest pay grade to do something like protecting and raising The God-Child. But, men can certainly relate to a guy named Joseph the carpenter. He’s the fellow next door. He doesn’t ask too many questions. He sees the situation for what it is and gets the job done. Fathers can identify with that. Good soldiers can, too.

Credit to  George J. Galloway of CatholicExchange.

 

You Can Make A Lifetime Marriage

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

married couple

Sociology professor, Pepper Schwartz, has a rather depressing piece in CNN titled,  Lifetime Marriage a Crapshoot.        It reflects on the fact the the biggest percentage increase in divorces is among  people over 50.  It used to be that people felt that if you made it to 25 years, you were home free.  Not any more.  Althought the divorce rate is significantly lower among longer-marrieds than among those married fewer than 10 years, it isn’t unusual for couples to divorce after 25, 40, even 50 years.   Schwartz writes,

Lifetime marriage is turning into a crapshoot for many people, especially  Baby Boomers. Maybe holding on till “death do them part” is least likely for Hollywood stars whose work takes a hard toll on their relationships and whose exit from marriages is not generally impeded by financial concerns. But really, no marriage is immune against what seems to be an epidemic of marital unraveling.

She’s right.  No marriage is immune.  Not any couple.  Not anytime.

Crisis or Opportunity?

It would be easy to get depressed about this, but I tend to think of it as empowering because the key to lifelong marital satisfaction is actually hidden  within  the fact that no one can  count  on marriage lasting a lifetime.  What do I mean?  In my experience, when we say we can “count” on something, we usually mean “I don’t have to be concerned about it.”  ”I don’t have to take care of it.”  ”I don’t have to attend to it.”    I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to adopt this attitude toward my lawnmower much less my marriage.  Seriously,  what if you saw an article that said, “‘Neglected, 40-yo Lawnmower Breakage At All Time High’ Study Says”  would you be surprised?   Of course not.  Then why do we  tsk-tsk  so much about articles that essentially say the same thing about marriage?

No Such Thing As “It”

I note in my book,  For Better…FOREVER!    that one of the most important attitudes couples have to develop about their marriage is that there is no “it.”    Couples often claim, “It just died.”  ”IT just didn’t make sense to stay together any more.”  ”We couldn’t save IT.”   There is no “it” in marriage.  There is only you, your spouse and what you create together by asking yourselves what you can do to take even better care of each other today than you did yesterday—everyday for the rest of your lives.   If you do this, you will have a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime.  If you don’t, you won’t. Period.  As a friend of mine says, “It aint rocket surgery.”

The Answer: Intentional Loving

I understand that the ins and outs of taking care of your relationship can be a challenge.  Prioritizing your marriage in the face of work and life pressures, developing the self-control that it it takes to not lash out at your partner when things get tough, and learning to love your mate more than your comfort zone are all hard work, but assuming you intentionally commit to taking care of each other everyday, you can’t help but learn these things.  In fact,  although it gets a little lost among the paragraphs of hand-wringing, Dr. Schwartz makes this same point, herself, in her article when she writes,

[W]e have to be intentional about our relationship every day, year, and decade we are together. We have to aim high, have a lot of fun, work hard at being each other’s lover and friend and always do everything we can to repair problems along the way.

And that’s good advice whether you’ve been married 5 days or 50 years.

Resources You Need to Succeed

For more information increasing the likelihood of you and your spouse making it to happily ever after, check out  For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage,  The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples,   and  Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.