Archive for the ‘Marriage and Family’ Category

 

The Heart of a Father

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Each year in June we have the beautiful feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the heart symbolizing the immense love of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother for each one of us.

As Catholic husbands and fathers, we might also consider meditating on the heart of St. Joseph, the third member of the Holy Family. His heart is an apt symbol of the love he contributed to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation that was unfolding under his watch. And now that same masculine vigilance and love, once focused on his beloved wife and the Christ child, is bestowed on each one of us, as he is universally invoked as the patron of the Catholic Church.

At the outset of St. Luke’s Gospel, we learn that part of St. John the Baptist’s role in preparing the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah was to turn the hearts of fathers to their children so as to make ready for the Lord a people that was truly prepared for Him (Lk. 1:17). In St. Joseph, we find a father whose heart is already exquisitely calibrated.

His heart is always in the right place, and God was able to accomplish great things through this eminently just and faithful man.

St. Joseph’s fatherly heart jumps off the page throughout the biblical accounts of Christ’s childhood. Let’s take a brief look at just one such familiar episode: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Lk. 2:41-52). 

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up according to custom” (vv. 41-42).

These verses may seem unremarkable at first blush, though as St. Joseph is carting the Holy Family from place to place in the first century we can be certain these journeys were much more onerous than a leisurely afternoon drive in the air-conditioned minivan. But even in his fidelity to the Jewish practices of his time, St. Joseph gives us a most timely lesson on the value of men being observant Catholics. Too often we find at Sunday Mass mom and the kids, but where’s dad? St. Joseph challenges us men to allow our love for the Lord and zeal for our faith to set the tone for the entire family.

Real men go to church. [more]

“Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (v. 48).

St. Joseph doesn’t have any lines in this scene, but surely he has a leading role. We hear in Our Lady’s words the great anxiety that overcame St. Joseph when he realized that Jesus was missing, and we can picture him looking frantically for his child.

Several years ago my daughter Abigail got separated from us while on a family outing at the zoo. It was one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever endured as a father, and Abbie was only missing for about an hour. Try losing the Son of God for three days!

It’s also significant that Mary refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father, which surely reflected the common understanding of the people. As an adoptive father myself, I appreciate the affirmation of a father that transcends biological lineage. As Pope John Paul II commented in his 1989 apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos (“Guardian of the Redeemer”):

“In this family, Joseph is the father: his fatherhood is not one that derives from begetting offspring; but neither is it an ‘apparent’ or merely ’substitute’ fatherhood. Rather, it is one that fully shares in authentic human fatherhood and the mission of the father in the family.”

Joseph accepts this fatherhood through the obedience of faith, even though he also knows that this child was conceived “of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 1:20). He exercises this fatherhood in complete docility to God’s will and with superabundant love for mother and Child. As the wondrous events unfold around him, it’s clear that St. Joseph does not have a complete understanding of what’s going to happen next. Yet he always remains faithful in the present moment, and the Lord never fails to reveal to him what he needs to know at any given point in time.

As I’ve tried to translate this into my own life experience, I’ve understood this to mean that I must at all times remain attentive to God and available for my family. When things go wrong, it’s typically because either I’m not paying attention, or I am serving myself and not my beloved family.

“And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and His mother kept all these things in her heart” (v. 51).

Women with careers often need to be affirmed regarding the beautiful vocation of motherhood, which too often–in subtle and not-so-subtle ways–is devalued in our society. Yet men need to hear a similar message regarding fatherhood, spoken through the humbly eloquent life of St. Joseph.

We might do great things in the world’s eyes, but our primary vocation as married men is to be husband and father in the domestic Church.

This verse speaks of Jesus’ return to Nazareth with His parents, but it’s also true that St. Joseph committed himself to a hidden life in Nazareth that was recorded only in his beloved wife’s heart, as she delighted in her family’s inner life. St. Joseph didn’t get rich, and he didn’t build skyscrapers. Rather, as Pope Leo XIII summarizes, St. Joseph simply set out to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Child (Quamquam Pluries, 1889). He gave totally of himself to his family, and because of that he truly was a success, both in time and in eternity.

For those of us who wish somehow to be better, to be the godly men we were created to be, we do well to invoke St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, and to imitate his fatherly heart.

Protected: Tie a Yellow Ribbon

Friday, June 18th, 2010

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Good Advice for Fathers

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

With Father”s Day on the horizon, I thought I would share with those of you who are fathers or who know someone who is (!) this excellent article by James Stenson, posted at the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Stenson”s “Advice for Fathers” is a list of things not to do, drawn from the school of hard knocks. Yet, I found the article to be very positive and encouraging. To adapt a popular commercial tagline,”kids come at you fast.” It”s tough to push all the right buttons as fathers in our confusing, fast-paced family lives. I found Stenson”s article to be really helpful as I continually make midstream adjustments that are so necessary when it comes to raising godly children.

Here are a couple excerpts that I really needed to hear (again):

“Don”t underestimate your children. Have high ambitions for their swift, step-by-step growth into maturity. We all tend to become what we think about, and kids tend to become what their parents expect of them. Even when they sometimes let you down and you have to correct them, make them understand that you see this as just a blip along the way. You have no doubt, none whatever, that they”ll someday grow into excellent men and women. You’2012-04-24 18:36:08′re proud of them, confident in them. Always will be.”

“Don”t forget to praise your children, and be specific about it. Kids need a pat on the back from time to time. We all do. Give praise for effort, not just success. Teach the kids this adult-life lesson: because success depends on effort, then effort is more important than success. You always appreciate when your children try.”

There are many other insights in the article. For even more, readers may be interested in Stenson”s book Father, The Family Protector, which is available here.

Protecting the Lambs

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

As the pastor of my domestic Church, I must admit that we don’t have any pews or bells. We do, however, have areas set aside in our home for prayer, and we have adorned our home with crucifixes, Catholic art, holy water fonts, and the like, which serve as helpful reminders of our family’s Catholic identity. Even so, it’s not the externals that make the Church–domestic or otherwise–so much as the lives of faith, hope, and charity that are fostered on the inside.

Pastors of parishes are often presented with programs and ideas, and while they want to say yes, they need to scrutinize the proposal to make sure nothing harmful to the faith is allowed into the parish.

Similarly, we have to be careful about what we allow into our homes. I’m not suggesting that we adopt a bunker mentality, but are we good shepherds, truly committed to protecting the souls that have been entrusted to our care? We might talk a good game when it comes to what’s going on at the parish, but do we apply the same level of scrutiny to what goes on in our own homes? Are we careless in letting in influences, often under the guise of entertainment, that are harmful to our family’s life of faith, hope, and charity?

Families may take different approaches to the Internet, television, cell phones, and the like. But whatever approach we take, we must be clear in our resolve to protect the faith of our children from thieves and marauders that want to steal it from them. Catechism, no. 2088 provides the standard, and I find it quite sobering:

“The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it.”

Let us renew our personal commitment to defend the faith and innocence of the next generation. And that commitment starts close to home–in fact, in the home.

The Pill, 50 Years Later

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the birth control Pill, it”s eminently reasonable to assess its effect on our culture. In the following article, Fr. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B. of NFP Outreach calls into question the qualifications and neutrality of the Pill”s proponents. Even more, Fr. Habiger points out some of the ways the Pill has harmed today”s men and women.

For those wishing to learn more about the Church”s teaching on birth control and natural family planning (NFP), My Catholic Faith Delivered has an outstanding four-lesson online course entitled “Celebrating Humanae Vitae.” The course was produced by Catholic Scripture Study, with dynamic video segments by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

Here”s Fr. Habiger”s fine article: [more]

Some praise it to the heavens

Much of the literature extolling the merits of the Pill comes from the pharmaceutical companies and Planned Parenthood. That is very strange. They are the ones who stand most to benefit from this multi-billion dollar industry. They have a conflict of interest and cannot speak without a prejudicial bias. Why would anyone look to them for an unbiased assessment of the merits, or demerits, of the Pill? 

Would anyone give their unquestioned acceptance to the tobacco industry when they extol the merits of smoking? Should we not be suspicious of any study or paper that the tobacco industry produces to convince us that the latest brand of cigarette is a great gift to humanity? No matter how much money the tobacco industry has to funnel into publicity, and no matter how many times we hear or see their advertisements, the hard reality of all the medical damage that smoking causes to smokers does not change.

Why would anyone in their right mind not have reservations–and suspicions–about groups whose livelihood depends upon the sales of the Pill and other contraceptives? Should we not look to independent, disinterested, and non-profiting groups to provide us with a reliable assessment of the Pill? [more]

The pharmaceutical companies and Planned Parenthood sing the praises of the Pill to the heavens. Why? Because it is a great cash cow for them. Contraceptives are a multi-billion dollar industry.

But is every technological advancement a true sign of progress? Was the discovery and use of the machine gun and mustard gas during World War I a true sign of progress? If we have new forms of technology, does that mean we must use them? We have the hydrogen bomb. Should we ever use it? We can clone animals.  Should we ever clone human persons?

Now we can suppress, or destroy, our fertility. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, a blessing or a curse?

So-called advantages of the Pill

  • The Pill separates fertility from sex so that one can pursue sexual pleasure without the responsibility of a pregnancy.
  • The Pill makes it possible for a man or woman to have sex anytime, with anyone, and not get pregnant.
  • It allows a woman to pursue a career, have sex, and not to be bothered with a baby or a family. She is just like a man. But is that an advantage?
  • It makes life easy for men. Now they can have all the sex they want, and have no responsibility for a baby that they would otherwise be begetting. So why get married? Many men now postpone marriage, or never marry. When they reach old age, who will take care of them, or be interested in them?

The Pill has been prescribed for many things. It is like a panacea. Some doctors prescribe it for acne, irregular cycles (which does not address the real underlying problems), and, of course, as a contraceptive for young girls who are already having sex. Some doctors want young girls to start taking the Pill as soon as they begin to have their cycles, “just in case.”

A balanced assessment

Sterilized sex is not the unqualified good suggested by Planned Parenthood and its cohorts.  There are many, many harms and damages that result when we turn against our fertility.

Our fertility is a blessing, not a curse.  When God designed us as bodied persons, male or female, He made us to be both fertile and sexual. He wants us to “be fertile and multiply,” to marry and have a family, to share life with the next generation.

Sex was designed by God to be both love-giving and life-giving. Pleasure sought only for its own sake is called hedonism. This is a weakness, not a virtue; a lack of character, not a builder of character. God designed sex to be expressed between a man and a woman, who are totally committed to each other. Sex belongs in marriage. Only there does it express and accomplish what it was meant to express and accomplish. Contraception interferes with all this.  How?

The spousal act means that a spouse makes the total personal gift of self, of the man or woman, to the other. This total personal gift of self includes the heart, body, mind, soul, and will: the total person. And this includes their fertility. There are no conditions, no reservations, and nothing held back.

The Pill (contraception in general) and sterilized sex go together. It is repugnant to God and degrading to those who engage in it. Spousal love was meant to be the great symbol of total self-surrender between a husband and wife. But with the Pill, all this is reduced to recreational sex. Sterilized sex is unnatural.  It has brought great harm to our bodies, to our marriages, to our families, to our national life, and even to our natural environment. It is a major reason for the shortage today of priests and religious.

Dr. Rebecca Becks, M.D., is a married woman, with 5 children. Recently she wrote: “Why was the Pill first introduced by Dr. John Rock back in 1960? Wasn’t it to help women make their lives a little easier? Wasn’t it to strengthen marriage? Wasn’t it to make abortion a rare occurrence? And wasn’t it to improve society in general? And now, 50 years later, have those objectives been achieved? NO, on all counts.

“Birth control pills can cause serious medical problems. This category of pills has been shown to cause: death, pulmonary embolus, blood clots, stroke, migraines, increased rates of cervical cancer, increased sexual transmitted diseases (including HPV, Herpes and HIV), and prolonged infertility, including a whole host of minor symptoms which can become severe, such as depression.

“I stopped prescribing the Pill three years ago in part, because I couldn’t stand to see one more stroke victim, one more STD, one more cervical or breast cancer case, or one more “backup abortion” for failed contraceptives.  The main reason, though, that I stopped prescribing and using birth control, was because I understood through my Catholic faith, Humanae Vitae and the Theology of the Body, that birth control is bad for women because it is against God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage.”

The Pill destroys real love. Real love is creative and fertile. It is also demanding: it demands patience, kindness, and “endures all things.” Only this kind of love can become the firm foundation of a strong marriage and a happy family. It is a foundation to “endure all things.”

Radical feminism and believers in women’s liberation praise the Pill for a new found freedom. But this is a false freedom, a freedom without responsibility. You can have sex and you don’t have to have a baby. Then you can climb the corporate ladder without encumbrance. If you get pregnant, you can have a backup abortion.  But this is utilitarianism, the very opposite of love. It is using people as things for happiness. This concept of freedom when embraced by an entire society becomes a permanent threat to the family.

After 50 years of birth control we find these results. (1)  Marriages are crumbling instead of being strengthened, as the Pill proponents promised. (2) The race for women’s liberation, for freedom and control over their bodies, has made casualties of the unborn, and of children who get a single mother exhausted by work and overwhelmed by the burdens of raising a child alone.

Here is the paradox of the Pill. It was thought that the Pill would make abortions rare. The reality is that they have increased exponentially. The Pill was introduced to strengthen marriage. But the reality is that half of all contracepting couples get divorced. People thought that the Pill would strengthen the American family. The reality is that the family is slowly being demolished.

What we need to do

We need to wake up and call the Pill what it really is: the destroyer of love, of marriages, and of families.

Pope John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae #58: “Today we need to look the truth in the eye and call things by their proper name, without resorting to compromises or yielding to the temptation of self-deception.”

Our marriages and family life are falling apart. Consider these undeniable facts:

 50% divorce rate
 40% of children today are born to unmarried mothers
 There were 90 million unmarried and single Americans in 2005.  This group comprises 41% of all U.S. residents age 18 and older.
 10.5 million single moms
 5 million unmarried-households in 2005 
 One out of four pregnancies are surgically aborted and there are many, many more early-on, chemical abortions.

Think of all the harm and pain that these factors bring to marriages, to any sense of permanent commitments, to spouses, to their children and their families. A nation is only as strong as its family life. Take a good look at our marriages and family life today. On the 50th anniversary of the Pill, we need to look at contraception again, and objectively assess what it has done to our lives, to our marriages, and to our families. 

We need to go on the offensive, as well as go on the defensive. On the defense, we point to the irrefutable harms that the Pill and contraception have brought us. On the offense, we point to the beautiful plan that God has for marriage, spousal love and the family. This plan is completely doable if both spouses avail themselves of all the aids and helps that God provides for them. Natural Family Planning encapsulates this plan, and makes is possible for a married couple to space their pregnancies responsibly, while always treasuring the gift of the child.

I recommend that people visit our website, www.nfpoutreach.org, and discover the wealth of materials there that explain the harms of contraception and the benefits of NFP and God’s plan for marriage, spousal love and family.  Click on “NFP Q&A,” and you will find 120 of my columns which explain the many aspects of contraception and NFP. They are free and copy ready. Use them as you wish. They make good newspaper columns, parish bulletin inserts, and radio commentary.  At NFP Outreach we help you find the materials you need to be an active player on the field in the game of advancing the culture of life while exposing and resisting the culture of death. Consider also having an NFP Parish Mission at your parish. Call us at 405-942-4084.