Gentle Discipline: The Power of Catching Them Being Good

In the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life, the Rite of Relationship is concerned with modeling Christ’s love in everything we do in the home.  How can we, as parents and

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kids, challenge ourselves to stop settling for the love that comes naturally to us, and intentionally use this moment to live more like Jesus.

Gentle discipline is one of the four ways families can celebrate the Rite of Relationships (along with prioritizing family time, extravagant affection, and promptly, generously, and consistently responding to each other’s needs). “Catching your kids being good” is a powerful tool of gentle discipline.

It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of exclusively pointing out when kids fail to meet our expectations. A much better approach is to note good behavior with small gestures of affection and affirmation. Studies consistently show that simple, positive reinforcement produces consistently better outcomes than punishments and consequences (Dwyer, Dweck, and Carlson-Jaquez, n.d.). Your child wants nothing more than to see the light of approval in your eyes.

You don’t have to throw a parade everytime your child does something that pleases you but remarking on good behavior lets them know that you’re actually paying attention AND that you glad to see them succeed.  Here are some examples of catching kids being good.

“I really like the way you guys are playing together.  You’re really good at sharing!”

“It means so much to me when you just start picking up your toys on your own. I love how responsible you are.”

“I know that you’re frustrated, but I see how hard you’re trying to be respectful anyway.  That really means a lot to me.  Thank you.” 

“I can see from the look on your face that your homework is really tough tonight.  I really admire the way you’re sticking with it through.  That’s really impressive.”

In each of the above examples, the parent remarked on a desireable behavior that occured spontaneously and complimented the child for the virtue that the child was displaying. Doing this also helps you deal with times your kids aren’t behaving well. How? Because they’ll know exactly what you mean—from experience–when you ask them to be “better sharers,” or show more responsibility, respect, or stick-to-itiveness. They won’t just understand the words.  They will be able to relate to the specific behaviors associated with them because you took the time to punctuate their successes.

Would you like to learn more about living the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life?  Join the discussion at Catholic HŌM–Family Discipleship on Facebook.

How Are You Coping With COVID? Take Our Quiz.

To say that people are stressed in the face of global pandemic is an understatement.  Beyond the very real concerns about our health and the health of our loved ones, the shelter-in-place orders combined with the loss of so many normal spiritual resources are making many people feel unmoored.  Psychologists have coined the term Covid Stress Syndrome to describe the psychological effects of the pandemic, and the CDC has released recommendations for dealing with the emotional fallout from this crisis.

How are you coping?  The following quiz can help you evaluate the level of stress you’re under and identify the supports you might need to manage your stress, worry or anxiety.

Select “0” for no, and “1”  for yes.

1. I am an extrovert. 0 or 1
2. I personally know someone who has COVID-19. 0 or 1
3. I personally know someone who died or is in critical condition from COVID-19. 0 or 1
4. A major life event occurred since the coronavirus outbreak (someone I know died, I moved or was unable to move, became homeless, etc. ) 0 or 1
5. I am pregnant. 0 or 1
6. I have an immunocompromised or at-risk family member living with me. 0 or 1
7. I do not have access to outdoor space (live in an apartment). 0 or 1
8. I have children. 0 or 1
9. My life was majorly changed as a result from working from home. 0 or 1
10. I personally or my partner lost his/her job as a result from the coronavirus. 0 or 1
11. I was working parent prior to this outbreak. 0 or 1
12. My sleep has been disrupted in the last two weeks. 0 or 1
13. My eating has been changed (eating more or less than usual in the last two weeks). 0 or 1
14. I have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 0 or 1
15.  I am concerned I have it or frequently concerned about my health. 0 or 1

Add up the number on the right to view your total.

Mild Impact 0-5
You’re currently managing well. Consider ways you may be able to lend a hand to someone in need.

Moderate impact 6-10
Life has been disrupted but to a manageable degree. You’re making efforts to take care of yourself and your loved ones, but you are hopeful that when this crisis passes, things will return to normal. Make sure to continue eat well, exercise, engage in meaningful activities, connect as much as possible with loved ones, spend time making a “sacrifice of praise” to God by writing down the blessings of each day, and limit your exposure to news and social media.  If you like, you can take this time to increase your resilience by turning to books like Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (get it 50% off through the publisher for a limited time) to learn new tools for managing stress and anxiety.

Severe Impact 11-15
This crisis is having a major impact on your life. You have serious concerns about how all of this will affect you and it is impacting your ability to cope. It will be important to strengthen your efforts at self-care (eating well, exercising, engaging in meaningful activities, connecting as much as possible with loved ones, making regular “sacrifices of praise” to God by writing down the blessings of each day, and limiting your exposure to news and social media), as well as learning new tools from books like Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety (available for 50% off through the publisher for a limited time) and considering seeking support from a professional tele-counseling agency like The Pastoral Solutions Institute which offers Catholic-integrated, professional pastoral counseling services by telephone.

Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.  Be mindful about self-care, connecting with others and God, and getting the resources and support you need to stand strong in the face of this crisis.  As a Christian, it isn’t our job to simply weather the storm. We are called to show the world that is it possible to be strong, confident, peaceful and joyful even in the face of crisis, and to do all we can to work for the good of others. Don’t let the stressors of the world weigh you down. Get the help you need to become the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person you are meant to be.


Cuomo Scandal: Excommunication Isn’t Only Way To Demand Justice

Like so many of my fellow Catholics, I have been truly sickened by the NY Legislature’s passage of the law allowing abortion up to birth.  Worse, the bloodlust is spreading as other states are either passing or considering similar legislation.

In light of the NY law’s passage, most of the public conversation has focused on whether Governor Cuomo could or should be excommunicated.  I would absolutely  support such a canonical response to Cuomo’s advocacy of what I believe are moral (if not legal) crimes against humanity.

Unfortunately, even conservative canonists (most notably, Ed Peters) argue that there is not clear path by which to accomplish this.  Moreover, both Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Scharfenberger (Cuomo’s Ordinary in Albany) have stated that excommunication is not an appropriate response. On top of this, it has been observed that Cuomo is already voluntarily refraining from communion for his illicit relationship with celebrity cook Sandra Lee. It’s not unreasonable to ask what difference piling excommunication on top of this would make.

Missing the Point.

All that said, while I support canonical sanctions, I wonder if all this talk about canon law isn’t missing a larger opportunity. The goal of any initiative cannot be to merely find some punishment to apply.  We need  a long-term, corrective strategy.

Specifically, I think there are several vigorous pastoral responses that could be even more effective than canonical penalties (which often just look like so much inside baseball to all but the most devout). As a pastoral counselor and professor of pastoral studies, I would like to offer a few examples of actions that I think would be appropriate and impactful.  To be clear, I am not necessarily saying that any/all of the following must be done.  Undoubtedly, some of the following ideas are more doable/practical/impactful/appropriate than others.  But I think all are worth considering. More importantly, I would like these ideas to start a conversation about other pastoral initiatives that could be applied to address this crisis.  Remember, being pastoral doesn’t just mean being “nice.”  It means using the tools at one’s disposal to respectfully call people to conversion and build the kingdom of God.  Sometimes that means being gentle.  Sometimes that means being more assertive.  But at all times it means doing what must be done to glorify God and and work for the common good in the face of grave injustice.

Here are my suggestions for getting this conversation started.

*Call It Like It Is–Let’s face it.  This latest initiative isn’t about abortion.  Being permitted to kill a child up to the day before it is born it not abortion.  It is legal infanticide. Pure and simple. As such, every bishop, pastor and lay Catholic should, in media interviews, pastoral letters, prayers of the faithful, and other public communications, refuse to characterize this law as “an expansion of abortion” and refer it–properly–as either “infanticide” or the “legal murder of infants.”

*Mandated Petitions–Until this grave moral injustice is overturned, the bishop of every diocese containing a legislator who voted for this abhorrent law should require that those legislators be named in a petition at every Mass. The specific petition should ask for God’s mercy for the legislator and should ask that God would call that legislator to experience “either a radical conversion of heart and a firm resolve to correct the moral crimes they have committed or that God would facilitate the legislator’s speedy removal from office for their abuse of power in favor of legalized infanticide.”

For example: “Let us pray that God would pour out his mercy and justice on Governor Cuomo (and other legislators in the district):  That he would either experience a radical conversion of heart and resolve to correct the injustice he has committed against the children of New York, or that God would remove him from office in light of his abuse of power and advocacy of legalized infanticide. Let us pray to the Lord.”

It should be required by the bishop that a petition like this would be said at every Mass until the law is overturned.

There should also be a required petition begging for God’s mercy and a conversion of heart for all clergy and laity who have failed, and continue to fail, to promote the cause of life.

*Public Repentance–It isn’t just Cuomo or the other legislators who made this happen.  These lawmakers were put there by voters–many of whom are Catholic.  The blood of these children is on every person who voted for the monsters who made this possible. The bishops whose dioceses incorporate these districts should institute diocesan calls for days of strict fasting, abstinence and other penances. There should not be exceptions made for things like St Patrick’s Day or St Joseph’s Feast Day, etc.  It should be made clear that any person who is capable of participating in these acts of communal penance, but does not participate in them, should refrain from communion.

*Priestly Training and Discipline–The bishops should require each pastor to attend ongoing trainings in pro-life advocacy and teaching the truth about the Catholic vision of love and sexuality. Pro-life initiatives like 40 Days for Life and other programs must be actively encouraged and promoted throughout the diocese.  Each pastor should be required to present the bishop with his plan for directly promoting the pro-life movement in general (as opposed to merely promoting initiatives that might indirectly impact the rights of the unborn), and the overturn of this unjust law (and the conversion/removal of these unjust legislators) in particular. Failure to actively develop and promote such a plan on the parish level should be dealt with as a public act of defiance to one’s bishop.

*Active Promotion of Pro-life Activities And Comprehensive Ethical Education of the Laity–As above.  There should be a doubling-down of efforts to encourage all lay people to become actively involved in advocating for pro-life causes. It should be made clear that–especially in light of this crisis, there is no excuse for anyone to not be actively involved in the fight to overturn abortion and infanticide at every level and for every reason. It must be made clear that this is non-negotiable.  There must also be a comprehensive and serious effort made to educate the laity , not just about  what the church teaches about sexuality but why and to what end.  Quoting catechism verses at people and calling it a day is nonsense, and largely, that’s all the clergy has done. Bishops need to demand that their priests learn and teach there fullness of the truth of Catholic anthropology and morality (again, not just the “what,” but the “why” and to “what end?”)

It is ultimately the failure of the clergy to take this responsibility for the moral education of the laity seriously that has led to this nightmare.

*Symbolic Protests-Every Catholic parish, school, hospital, and institution should be required to fly their flags at half mast in mourning for the legalization of child-murder in the State.  ADDITIONALLY, it should be require the New York State flag to be flown upside down.  Flying a flag upside down is traditionally recognized (in federal law) as  “a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” This practice should continue until the law is overturned and the offending legislators have a conversion of heart or are removed from office for their abuse of power and moral crimes against the common good.

Likewise, I think it would appropriate  for the Bishops Conference to stage a symbolic, public funeral for the “death of the moral conscience of New York.” At this event, then conscience of each legislator who voted for this measure should be symbolically “buried.”

 Talk Amongst Yourselves.

As I said above, some of these ideas may be more or less appropriate, impactful, or workable than others. I don’t mean for this to be an exhaustive list.  My intention is to start a conversation by helping people realize that, in addition to whatever canonical penalties the bishops may or may not ever find the will to apply, there are many other serious, dramatic and effective pastoral initiatives that could be used to respond to this horrific situation.

I would suggest that we, the laity, should not focus our efforts solely on demanding canonical penalties, because we are too easily dismissed as ignorant or reactionary when we do. Plus, they have limited effect even when they are imposed.  Instead, we should demand that the clergy use every canonical and pastoral means at their disposal to address these moral crimes against humanity and fulfill the prophetic mission of their office.  The fact is, the refusal to preach and teach clearly, convincingly, and with conviction on matters of sexual morality is what has led to this horrific state of affairs. We need to demand a comprehensive, pastoral response that calls the legislators and voters in these districts to repentance or removal from office.  We need to make it clear any weaker response from our bishops and pastors will be seen as a radical betrayal of their office and an abdication of their call to teach, govern and sanctify.

Enough is enough.  The blood of the innocents cries out to heaven for justice.  May God have mercy on all of us.



Historic Gathering Seeks Renewal of Catholic Family Life

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The Catholic Family Life Symposium Helps Families Find Time for Christ

Major conference with 30 experts at the University of Notre Dame July 19-21  will discuss the renewal of Catholic family life,

Families are under more pressure than ever today. School, work, social media, drugs, materialism and other issues all challenge each member of the family and make it more difficult to find a spiritual connection. The constraints on time alone make it tough for families to even have dinner together! Catholic families are no different; however, they are called to live differently.

These concerns and more will be addressed by leading experts at the Family Symposium July 19-21 at the University of Notre Dame. This major event is organized by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak of the Pastoral Solutions Institute and sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor, Holy Cross Family Ministries, and the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

More than 30 authorities in the fields of theology, social science and pastoral ministry to families will come together to discuss and answer these questions about Catholic family life July 19-21 at the University of Notre Dame. They will explore how families can encounter Christ in everyday relationships and how to express that experience with each other and in their community.

“As we work to help families live a truly Catholic life, particularly as family, the domestic church, we need to identify what it is that makes a Catholic family different and provide resources to simply and practically live a Catholic family life,” said Dr. Greg Popcak, Director – Pastoral Solutions Institute. “This symposium will address many of these issues and provide tools to help families strengthen their relationships and improve their spiritual well-being.”

Some of the experts scheduled to speak at the Family Symposium include several well-known Catholic family authorities Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcak, Andrew and Terri Lyke, Tim and Sue Muldoon, Julie Rubio, Justin Bartkus, Pat Fagan, Darcia Narvaez, Mark Gray, Joe Atkinson, Julia Dezelski and many others.

Organizers of The Catholic Family Life Symposium will focus on ways families can experience faith in the home with each other and spread that faith into their communities.  The conferences focus will center on:

  • Helping parents and children to understand how to live as a Catholic family.
    Provide best practices that are flexible for all families to live a life of faith.
  • Identify day-to-day life practices so family members can better relate to each other and experience God together.
  • Provide materials that outline spiritual practices that fit with the messiness of family life.
  • Show how the family can change the world working together as family to make a difference.


To gather input from families about what it takes to be a Catholic family in today’s world, a survey had been developed.  Families and professionals are invited to complete the survey.

For more information on the symposium go to:

YOU Can Make A Difference. We Can Help

The Holy Apostles College online Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree will give you the tools you need to bring God’s grace to a hurting world.

Have you ever felt the desire to…

   –live a more meaningful life?  

   –make a difference?

   –let God lead you in exciting new directions?

If so, the online Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) Program at Holy Apostles College might be just what you have been looking for.

Our faithful, dynamic, convenient, and fully-accredited online master’s degree in pastoral studies will give you the skills you need to bless the Church, build God’s Kingdom, and make a graceful difference in the lives of others.

7 Ministry Concentrations

We offer 7 ministry concentrations to help you discover how God can use you to touch hearts and transform lives.

–Spiritual Direction                             –Pastoral Counseling

–Marriage and Family Studies          –Catechetical Ministry

–Youth & Young Adult Ministry       –Catholic Womens’ Leadership

–General Studies.

Relevant Courses

The MAPS program is designed for people who want to make a difference and live their Catholic faith fully in their life, work, and relationships. Our practical courses have been developed to help you apply your faith to the tough challenges we all face.   As a MAPS learner, you’ll choose from courses like.

-Nurturing the Domestic Church: Facilitating Family Life and Spirituality

Pastoral Counseling 1:  Spiritual Helping and Accompaniment

-Mission and Evangelization                       -Apologetics

-Pastoral Issues in Human Sexuality        -Theology of Social Media

-Spiritual Direction: Skills and Practice   -Catholic Social Teaching

And many others.  All our courses are specially designed to give you the theological insights and practical skills you need to make a difference in your family, parish, diocese, community and the world.  Plus, in every course, you will be encouraged to apply everything you are learning to the specific, ministry work God is calling you to do.

Tailored for Busy Lives

Built with your busy life in mind, the MAPS program consists of only 12 dynamic courses (36 credits).  We are accredited by nationally-recognized authorities such as  NEASC and the Association for Theological Schools to offer our MAPS degree as a fully-online program with no residency requirement.  Take as many or as few courses as you like, learn at home, and learn at your own pace. Your academic advisor will help you design a program that works best for your life today and helps you achieve your goals for tomorrow.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you feel God calling you to do more, we invite you to learn more about how the Holy Apostles College MAPS Program can help you fulfill your calling.   Ready to go?  Apply today to begin your journey!

Pastoral Solutions Seeks Faithful, Catholic Therapists to Join Our Growing Practice.

The Pastoral Solutions Institute ( is looking for experienced, faithful, Catholic therapists to join our growing pastoral behavioral telehealth practice.

Since 1999, Pastoral Solutions has provided pastoral counseling services to Catholic individuals, couples and families around the world via telephone and video-teleconference.  Pastoral Solutions is a recognized leader in the effective and ethical integration of Catholic theology and spirituality with clinical practice.

Our ideal candidate meets the following qualifications.

-Current license for independent practice in counseling, clinical social work, or marriage & family therapy (supervisory credential preferred).

-A faithful Catholic in good standing.

-In addition to his or her clinical degree from an accredited program, the ideal candidate will have a BA, MA, in Catholic theology or pastoral studies or be able to demonstrate the equivalent level of theological preparation/study.

-Gottman Relationship Therapy Training.

-Knowledgeable of clinical applications of attachment theory and/or interpersonal neurobiology

-Experienced in practicing and/or teaching Natural Family Planning.

-Knowledgeable of Theology of The Body

-Familiar with the mission of the Pastoral Solutions Institute and the books published by Institute director, Dr. Gregory Popcak


To apply, please send the following materials to

  1. In your brief introductory email, BRIEFLY describe your familiarity with attachment theory, the theology of the body and the mission and work of Dr. Greg Popcak
  2. Your current CV.
  3. An 800-1000 word spiritual history describing your religious formation, current prayer-life and spirituality.

Application deadline:  June 15, 2018.

Lent is For Lovers?

So, Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day this year.  What to do?  Well, you could sit around penitentially eating clear broth in heart-shaped bowls, OR you could discover how two great things that don’t seem to go together…really do!

That’s where the Lent is For Lovers program comes in.  The Dominican fathers in Cincinnati developed this wonderful program that has grown from a local outreach to an international ministry that is touching hearts in places as far as Kenya.  Visit the Lent is for Lovers website to discover how, this lent, you can fall even more deeply in love with Christ and your faith.  Here is a reflection on the idea that Lent is For Lovers by the logo’s designer, Jacob Popcak.

When we’re young, we get easily embarrassed by anything too romantic. We blushingly refrain from holding hands, admissions of affection, and more. But as we grow older, we learn that being willing to embarrass ourselves a little for the sake of a lover is key to a happy and successful relationship. We stop caring as much about the possibility that a stranger might think us “uncool” for, say, smooching in public, because this vague threat pales in comparison to the affection we feel for a beloved.

It is with this very same spirit – a willingness to risk unflinching awkwardness in the name of unfailing love – that the Church begins the season of Lent. After all, how many times have we felt self-conscious about parading around wearing ashes on our foreheads? How many times have we taken this annual 40-day period to bring upon ourselves those comparatively mild but wholly voluntary discomforts we call “penances”? We don’t do these things because we get any particular kick out of them – no. We do them for the same reason we risk embarrassment for earthly romance: we’ve chosen to love someone else more than we love our own carefully curated sense of coolness.

How fitting, then, that Ash Wednesday this year falls on Saint Valentine’s Day. For although ashes and sackcloth might seem a strange pairing to roses and lace, the coinciding of the two dates gives us a beautiful chance to reflect. Are we going through the motions of Lent as one would the forced romance of a stale relationship, or are we embracing with sincerity each opportunity for awkward, uncomfortable professions of love, not to just any old Valentine, but to Him whom the Scriptures call our Heavenly Bridegroom?

It was this question that guided me as I designed the logo for our “Lent is for Lovers” initiative. At first glance, we see a classic Valentine; the sort a child might risk his reputation in order to give to his crush. But on closer inspection, we see in the black lace every step of the Stations of the Cross. A jarring juxtaposition, but perhaps more thematically similar than we might immediately assume. It was a moving experience to design the image, and it is my sincere hope that it might serve as a source of inspiration during this Lenten season.

With prayers for an awkward, embarrassing, and deeply loving Lent,

Jacob Popčak

To participate in the online Lent is For Lovers program, visit the website, and discover how much more God wants to reveal his love for you this Lent.

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

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



Become A Certified Catholic Counselor or Life Coach–Holy Apostles College & Seminary Offers 2 New Programs

Pastoral Counseling

Would you like to discover how to apply the timeless wisdom of our Catholic faith and cutting-edge insights from contemporary psychology to help the faithful lead more graceful and abundant lives?

According to an American Association of Pastoral Counselors/Greenberg Survey, 34% of Catholics in the US would prefer to receive counseling from a therapist who was knowledgeable about their faith and knew how to employ faith-based techniques in their clinical work.  That’s almost 25 million potential consumers of mental health services in the US alone whose needs are not being met by available community and church-based mental health resources!

Holy Apostles College and Seminary offers two new, online programs to help you meet Catholics’ needs for faithful guidance in facing life’s challenges.

The Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies with a concentration in  Catholic Pastoral Counseling


the Graduate Professional Certificate in Catholic Pastoral Counseling for Licensed Mental Health Professionals  (scroll down on page past Youth Ministry Cert)

Developed and directed by Dr. Greg Popcak, both distance-learning programs are intended to give learners the skills they need to help people lead more fulfilling, healthy, and godly lives and relationships. Students will acquire the skills necessary for fostering the emotional, spiritual, and relational development of people-of-faith, in addition to being able to develop ethical and effective psycho-spiritual interventions to assist people in crisis.


These programs are an excellent fit for…

people in church ministry who would like to sharpen their psycho-spiritual/pastoral intervention skills and be more effective, first-line responders to people needing emotional and relational support.

any person who wishes to become a Christian Life Coach and/or Board Certified Professional Life Coach.

licensed mental health counselors who wish to engage in ethical and effective faith-integrated approaches to professional counseling.

Although this program is not intended to prepare learners to practice as state-licensed mental health professionals, all graduates (whether or not they are currently licensed mental health providers) will have advanced standing to become a Board Certified Coach through the Center for Credentialing and Education.

To learn more about how you could become a Catholic Pastoral Counselor or Pastoral Life Coach, visit  Holy Apostles College and Seminary.  We are currently accepting applications for these programs which begin in the Fall of 2017.