An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


World Meeting of Families 2015 Catechesis Series

Posted Nov. 6, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

The USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth is excited about the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) being held in Philadelphia in September 2015.  We are presenting a series of short articles focused on the WMOF Catechesis Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive and its implications for our daily lives. We will follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting.

Sara Perla, Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

The WMF Catechesis begins with a quote from Pope St. John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis.  It begins with one of those classic pull-outs: “Man cannot live without love.” It is so simple, deceivingly so, and striking. Man cannot live without love. Why not? This must mean that every person in the world is loved. Pope Benedict XVI echoed this when he said, “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Pope Francis tweeted: “The love of God is not generic. God looks with love upon every man and woman, calling them by name.” This forms the basis for all of our discussions about the family, the place in which we are brought into being. We are loved; not only by our parents but most fundamentally by God. We have come into this world not for anyone else’s sake, but for our own. We are loved, because we are.

On a subjective and experiential level, though, we also need to know love. As Pope St. John Paul II continues, “He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”

I have been pretty spoiled in love. My parents raised me and my brother in a loving home where they went on date nights and allowed us a lot of freedom to explore our own interests. Even when I went through the teenage years of confusion and angst, slamming doors and crying on my bed, I never doubted that my parents loved me. As an adult I can see that this fact is not one I should take for granted. It is a gift that my life was never “incomprehensible” or “senseless” because of simple things my parents did to show their love for me. My mom would pick me up from school with chicken nuggets that I could munch on the way home, and my dad would take off work to come to school assemblies when I was going to sing.  Pope Francis told the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals in February: “We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family.”  I’m thankful that my parents showed me this plan in action. “Man cannot live without love.”

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Cardinal George on “A Tale of Two Churches”

Posted Sep. 9, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Cardinal George reflects in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s newspaper on the way that the current American culture requires us to choose between our faith and full civic participation, since the dominant ideology has become like a religion.

He writes: “Swimming against the tide… means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers…. the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.”

The Cardinal also points out that, “American civil law has done much to weaken and destroy what is the basic unit of every human society, the family. With the weakening of the internal restraints that healthy family life teaches, the State will need to impose more and more external restraints on everyone’s activities.”

Thanks to the Cardinal who has such a gift for seeing and guiding us! Let’s pray for him and all our bishops!


Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act

Posted Aug. 1, 2014 by DOM 1 comment

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Yesterday, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R- Wyo.) and Representative Mike Kelly (R- Pa) introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. This Act is meant to protect organizations who provide child welfare services, such as foster care and adoption, when they have convictions that a child should only be placed with a married mother and father.  Currently, a number of organizations are unable to be of service because of their beliefs about marriage.

Three USCCB Chairmen (Archbishops Cordileone, Lori, and Wenski) gave their support to this bill, noting that, “Indeed, women and men who want to place their children for adoption ought to be able to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference also indicated their support for the Bill, noting, “In 2012, Catholic Charities helped complete over 3,000 adoptions and foster care placements, including permanent homes for over 1,600 special needs or “hard-to-place” children. By allowing a diversity of providers through the Inclusion Act, we will be putting the needs of children first and also protecting the religious liberty of long-serving child welfare providers.”


Friday Fast: June 13, 2014

Posted Jun. 16, 2014 by DOM No comments yet


Intention: We pray for all men, that they may joyfully discover and live their spiritual fatherhood.

Reflection: St. Joseph was a “just man”: truly Mary’s husband and a spiritual father to Christ.  On Father’s day this year, let us contemplate the spiritual dimension of fatherhood.  The Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, enables men to generate life not only physically, but also spiritually: by guiding, protecting, and modeling lives of virtue for others.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 9 of 9)

Posted Jun. 16, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt 5:10-12)

He includes those in the beatitude whose will is ready to suffer all things for Christ, who is our righteousness. For these then also is the kingdom preserved, for they are in the contempt of this world poor in spirit. (St. Hilary of Poitiers)

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It may seem to be extreme, for us who work to uphold the true meaning of marriage to think of ourselves as “persecuted,” especially in the sense that we say the early Christians were persecuted. And indeed, playing the martyr does not get one very far with those whom one perceives to be doing the persecuting. Even if there is some element of truth in it, it’s a dangerous and tricky thing to speak and behave as if one is the victim of vicious persecution.

This claim needs to be carefully articulated: it’s certainly the case that religious liberty is being superseded in various ways today in the name of equality and fairness and “civil rights”—and people on both sides of the marriage debate have readily acknowledged this fact. But the early Christians were put to death for confessing their faith in Jesus Christ. This is a different sort of thing than experiencing various forms of social injustice which are certainly wrong but are also non-lethal.

But the comparison, careful as we must be in making it, is not totally devoid of value. It’s not helpful to portray ourselves as living martyrs in response to the many trials Christians have undergone, are undergoing, and will undergo because of various government infractions or in response to the attempt to change the very definition of the fundamental institution which is the heart and foundation of the family, the “basic cell of society” (as St. John Paul II often called it); but it is helpful to see how the early Christians lived even in the midst of their own persecutions.

PullOutBeatitude9Our Christian tradition is full of inspiring stories of holy patience in the face of intense persecution and suffering, of courageous martyrdom, and even of humor. (St. Lawrence, burned alive on a grill in 258, famously quipped as he was tortured, “You may turn me over, I’m done on this side.”) But St. Hilary of Poitiers, who died in 368 and thus knew well the gruesome details of the persecutions inflicted on the Christians who went before him, beautifully sums up the attitude of those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: they are “poor in spirit.” By referring this last beatitude back to the first, he implies that all of the beatitudes, like the virtues, go together: where one is found, the others may be found too. The early Christians were able to submit to persecution and even to martyrdom, and survive it, thanks to the grace of God which enabled them to live according to the Beatitudes, to live lives completely oriented towards God.

For us, then, who are not being nailed to crosses, burned alive, stoned to death, beheaded, shot full of arrows, skinned alive, or hacked to death, but who do endure various difficulties and trials of our own for upholding the truth about marriage—and for those in our midst who themselves experience same-sex attractions and struggle to approach Christian perfection through the chastity to which they are called—the early Christians can serve as models: since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)


This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 8 of 9)

Posted Jun. 11, 2014 by DOM 1 comment

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Mt 5:9)

The blessedness of the peacemakers is the reward of adoption, “they shall be called the sons of God.” For God is our common parent, and no other way can we pass into His family than by living in brotherly love together. (St. Hilary of Poitiers)

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The implication here is clear: those who make peace will be called sons of God, and those who don’t, won’t. But it’s worth asking, what is meant by “peace” here? In what does this peace consist?

In his book on the Beatitudes, the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers considers the various meanings of peace in the Bible and then distinguishes two different kinds of peace, cowardly peace and noble peace:

Cowardly peace is filled with fear. It avoids struggle and danger and shows lassitude in the face of effort and commitment. It is external and is established by means of concession, evasion, and compromise. It is peace at any price, without moral cost. The man of cowardly peace is incapable of simply saying yes or no, taking a clear stand and sticking to it, and assuming responsibility to the end. Under the pretext of dialogue, and for lack of courage, he always delays his decisions.

Pinckaers uses fairly strong words here, but his point remains: this kind of peace is called peace in the same way that simply not hating someone is called love. It simply doesn’t convey what the full meaning of the word is meant to convey. About the other kind of peace, noble peace, he writes:

What I call a noble peace is that high ideal which gives meaning and richness to human life. It calls for personal commitment and a clear response to the appeal of truth, justice, and generous love. In contrast with the false prophets of facile spontaneity and endless dialogue, the man of noble peace does not draw back from renunciations and sacrifices. He has been touched interiorly by the strong and sweet ray of a new peace which draws him to the heights and gathers his energies together to sustain him in the upward climb. This peace exists in us, therefore, and above us. It is a peace more powerful than the forces of war which stir in our hearts and in the world. It is a rich peace, invigorating us and rewarding all our efforts.

PullOutBeatitude8This, Pinckaers says, is the true Scriptural sense of what peace is. When we pray for peace on earth, what we often mean is the mere absence of unnecessary violence—a good thing, to be sure; but what we ought to mean is this notion of full flourishing of the life of man.

This peace should pervade our whole lives, including our dealings with those who disagree even vehemently. Clearly, noble peace belongs to the virtuous man. Those who live with and strive for noble peace (and emphatically not those who tend merely to cowardly peace) seem to be the ones who will be called children of God.

St. Hilary’s insight above is moving, and true: we pass into God’s family by living in brotherly love together. This must not be taken to exclude those who disagree with us. We come yet again to the Gospel notion of charity towards all, loving God in our fellow man.

* The quotes above are taken from Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, trans. Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 156-57.


This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 7 of 9)

Posted Jun. 9, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)

This seeing God is the reward of faith; to which end our hearts are made pure by faith. (St. Augustine)

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St. Augustine connects this beatitude with the virtue of faith. This may at first seem odd until we think of the connection between faith and sight: Pope Francis began his first encyclical by writing that those “who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets” (Lumen Fidei 1); St. Paul writes that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7); before raising Lazarus, Jesus tells Martha, “if you would believe you would see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40).

The link, then, between purity of heart and the sight of God, is faith. As Catholics, we believe that faith in God implies faith in the Church and in her teachings; this raises some important questions: How can we understand the phenomenon of Catholics who support the notion of marriage between two persons of the same sex, and how can we respond to those who say, “Well, I’m Catholic, and I think it’s fine”?

PullOutBeatitude7It’s important not to make a judgment about the state of anyone else’s relationship with God. (This is actually what Pope Francis meant when he famously said, “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?”—it’s not for us to determine whether someone does or doesn’t have a thriving relationship with God.) Purity of heart entails a certain childlike innocence; we should therefore, like children, assume the good intentions of our fellow man. We would do well to abide by the words of St. Paul in this regard: the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5).

But perhaps this seems somewhat unsatisfactory. And perhaps it should; for this is not the end of the story. We ought not convince ourselves or others that a Catholic who supports the notion of marriage between two persons of the same sex is a belligerent rebel who has no regard for beauty, truth, or goodness and who certainly does not know the Father in any meaningful way. But we also ought not sit idly by while our brother or sister in Christ continues in his/her ignorance of the fullness of the Gospel and of the Church’s beautiful and robust teaching about the nature and goodness of marriage; one of the seven spiritual works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant (and “ignorance” here doesn’t mean a willful act of ignoring something, it just means a lack of knowledge). This work of instruction, just as everything else in our lives, must be done in all charity.

How do we go about this instruction? First of all, with a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. But what about more concrete ways? Arguments strictly from authority, e.g., “So-and-so says so, so it’s so”, are rarely effective, even if they’re true. We can also argue directly from divine revelation, but it may be that even some of our fellow Catholics may be resistant to such arguments. But with this particular issue (and many others) we can also argue simply from reason, in this case from human nature. But we should at the same time be attentive to the fact that arguments from reason alone regarding matters that have also been revealed aren’t always effective either. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas provides five logically solid demonstrations from reason alone for the existence of God, the famous “Five Ways”—yet there are many who follow the logic of the arguments to the conclusion that God exists and still don’t go to church.

PullOutBeatitude7no2This is one way in which we can see that faith and reason work together: arguments from revelation alone can come across as unfounded dogmatic assertions, while arguments from reason alone can fail to effect a discernable change in the lives of those with whom we speak. When we begin to see that faith and reason each influence each other, it becomes clear that they are “like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, introduction). It is purity of heart that allows us to live in the light of faith, unencumbered by the darkness of error and sin; let us pray that we and all of our brothers and sisters in the Lord may come to the full knowledge of the truth, which saves us and sets us free.


This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 6 of 9)

Posted Jun. 4, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Mt 5:7)

The reward here seems at first to be only an equal return; but indeed it is much more; for human mercy and divine mercy are not to be put on an equality. (St. John Chrysostom)

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“Mercy me!” What are people getting at with this exclamation? Like many of the strange utterances of the English language, it speaks to a certain aspect of our human experience, namely, that we need mercy. Not everyone recognizes this truth, but its truth is for everyone. What “Mercy me!” really says is, “Goodness gracious, I need mercy, so have mercy on me, and soon!” We can see the same sense of urgency in the Psalms: Be pleased, O Lord, to rescue me; / Lord, make haste to help me. . . . You are my rescuer, my help; / O my God, do not delay (Ps 40:14, 18).

So we all need to be shown mercy. But it’s a two-way street: we also need to show mercy to others. After all, our Lord taught us to pray, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. But showing mercy to others can be hard, especially when the recipients of our mercy don’t think they need it. Of course, this doesn’t remove our responsibility to show them mercy; it just makes it more difficult.

PullOutBeatitude6Everyone knows that the debates concerning the nature and scope and even value of marriage can be fierce. Many who promote and defend marriage have experienced criticism and even scorn from those who disagree. This is often felt in merely minor ways, but it can also be overwhelming and upsetting, especially when not the message but the speaker is attacked. Yet even here, mercy is necessary. It can seem a strange thing, to forgive someone who not only has not asked for forgiveness but who even thinks he has done nothing wrong. But we’re called to a mercy which doesn’t wait for a proof of remorse.

In order to have mercy on others, we must recognize our own need for mercy. Far from haughtily imploring mercy for others, which can quickly turn into the arrogant prayer of the Pharisee, forgetting about mercy and only praising one’s own good qualities (cf. Lk 18:9-14), we are instead called to pray that the mercy shown to us be extended to our neighbors as well. St. Augustine beautifully describes the encounter with mercy when he recounts the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery: Relicti sunt duo: misera et misericordia; “Two were left: the miserable one and mercy.” We ourselves are these miserable ones, these sinners who are utterly lost without the one who is mercy itself. The mercy we are called to implore for others is the same mercy we are called to implore for ourselves. And there is a transformative quality to this divine mercy: when God forgives, much more than when we forgive, lives and hearts are changed. In the work of promoting and defending marriage, this is what we are called to pray for: that God may have mercy on us, and extend that mercy to those who perhaps have not yet sought it; that hearts, both theirs and ours, may be changed.


This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 5 of 9)

Posted Jun. 2, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Mt 5:6)

It is not enough that we desire righteousness, unless we also suffer hunger for it, by which expression we may understand that we are never righteous enough, but always hunger after works of righteousness. (St. Jerome)

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It’s striking that our Lord uses such bodily imagery to describe the desire for righteousness here—hunger and thirst are decidedly physical phenomena, often characterized by grumbling of the stomach or dryness of the throat, whereas righteousness is less obviously physical. But as St. Jerome (d. 420) points out, it’s one thing to merely desire something; it’s quite another to hunger for it, to thirst for it. The physicality of Jesus’ language here intensifies his meaning. And indeed, if it simply read, “Blessed are those who want righteousness, for they shall eventually get it,” something of its meaning would be lost.

PullOutBeatitude5Now, when our Lord talks about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, he is of course speaking metaphorically: righteousness isn’t something we can chew on or sip, eat or drink. But there is a deeper meaning to his words. Again, it’s significant that Jesus should resort to physical imagery, that we should hear these kinds of words from our Lord’s lips. After all, that God could even have lips—that the immaterial Word of God would become man, assuming a human nature and therefore a material human body—is astonishing. Jesus himself, having become a man like us in all things but sin, experienced hunger and thirst like us. By using this kind of language he invites us to hunger for righteousness as if starving and to make righteousness our sustenance.

Another reason the physical imagery is important is the fact that there is a real physicality to our faith. In addition to the Incarnation, we also have sacramentals, which can dispose us to receive the grace of the sacraments (cf. CCC 1667-79), and we also speak of the corporal works of mercy. As the Second Vatican Council told us, “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be . . . directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 61).

There’s also a real physicality to the sacraments, including marriage. The exchange of consent is spoken and later fulfilled or consummated when the two become one flesh (cf. CCC 1626-27). Rings are also exchanged and worn as a sign of the sacred bond between husband and wife. The highest physical expression of love, the conjugal act, finds its proper place only in marriage. Real-life physical children are born as a crowning gift of marriage and are a lasting reminder of the love shared between husband and wife (but not merely that, of course).

These physical expressions of the love and unbreakable commitment between husband and wife are signs of a deeper spiritual love: the physical represents the spiritual. So too with hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The images of physical hunger and thirst represent the reality of spiritual desire. And righteousness can be understood as personal righteousness or as societal righteousness—both are contained here. We hunger and thirst for holiness for ourselves and for our society; and holy marriages contribute to both.

St. Augustine, who famously connected the Beatitudes with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, said that it’s particularly the gift of courage that corresponds to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Truly hungering and thirsting for righteousness is not a walk in the park (and as it happens, neither is marriage, as any married person could attest). It takes courage truly to live according to the knowledge that “we are never righteous enough, but always hunger after works of righteousness,” as St. Jerome tells us. God’s grace enables us to live with this courage, with this continuous hunger and thirst, that we may seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Mt 6:33), which desire he alone can satisfy.


This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.


The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family (Part 4 of 9)

Posted May. 28, 2014 by DOM No comments yet

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5)

As by the gentleness of our minds Christ dwells in us, we also shall be clothed with the glory of His renewed body. (St. Hilary of Poitiers)

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We tend to think of meekness as simply another word for wimpiness, or at best a sort of extreme humility (“extreme” in the pejorative, fanatical sense). But this is not quite the sense of it. Instead, perhaps it’s better characterized as a slowness to anger, a kind of self-control. As the Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers (d. 2008) put it:

We all know the force we have to exert over ourselves when we feel our anger rising or when we are stung to envy or jealousy or seized by any passion, if we want to preserve a modicum of calm, self-control and meekness with regard to another person and remain reasonable and fair. Far from being associated with weakness, true meekness is rather the outcome of a long struggle against the disordered violence of our feelings, failings, and fears. In such instances meekness implies tremendous inner strength and merits the praise of the Book of Proverbs: He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (16:32).

So meekness is not mere passivity or weakness, but maintaining a profound calm and control over our feelings and knee-jerk reactions; St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) says that meekness “restrains the onslaught of anger” (Summa Theologiae II-II, 157, 1). Where is this virtue better learned than in the family?

PullOutBeatitude4It’s no secret that spouses can irritate us, siblings can annoy us, and children can just plain exasperate us. It’s meekness that keeps us from snapping back angrily with unkind words or actions. As with many virtues, we learn it by doing it—so the very family members who most try us also give us some of the best opportunities to learn how to be meek.

Husbands and wives can live with this meekness towards each other too: difficult though this may sometimes be, ultimately this virtue helps in living out what the real meaning of marriage calls for: giving of oneself.

Of course, giving of oneself is at the very heart of marriage and is in fact indispensable to it: marriage is a total gift of self of a man to a woman and a woman to a man. By its very nature, love is fruitful; the total gift of self that should pervade the whole of a marriage is given expression in the conjugal act, which alone is able to bring forth the fruit of a new life—a sexual act between two men or two women is not able to bring forth this fruit, so a total gift of self cannot be given. (This is also one of the main reasons that we are called to refrain from using contraception. Contraception is neither open to life nor truly unitive; likewise, sexual acts between two members of the same sex are neither open to life nor truly unitive. Since neither of these is able to involve a total gift of self, neither of these is an adequate expression of the authentic meaning of marriage.)

Returning to meekness, then, the husband and wife who cultivate the virtue of meekness towards each other are thereby enabled to love each other more fully and perfectly. By doing precisely this, they become better able to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called” (Eph 4:1), namely, marital happiness leading at last to eternal beatitude.

* The quote above is taken from Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, trans. Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 61.



This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.