An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


The Prophecy of the Covenant of Man and Woman: Pope Francis

Posted Nov. 9, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

pope puppet(Picture taken of plush Francis in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.)
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. We finish with another quote from the closing homily at the Mass for the World Meeting of Families:

“We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness [to the gospel]. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”

Christians are people of hope! God will never abandon his people, his chosen family, regardless of how far we fall away from him. As we approach the Jubilee of Mercy, this will be a theme for the entire Church to reflect and meditate upon. Our God is more than simply “willing” to forgive us; He longs to do so. He longs for us to return home, contrite and aware of our brokenness, and He is ready to run out to us and clothe us again as his children.

This is what it means to be faithful: not to never fall, but to keep getting up, coming back to the Lord, converting our hearts every day in order to conform our lives to the word of God. To become a saint, whose life only makes sense in light of the gospel of Jesus.

A faithful family is not a “perfect” one in the eyes of the world, but one that is open to the word of God, and open to one another even in the wounds each person bears. It is one that struggles and goes through trials, is tested and sometimes fails, but returns again to the struggle.

For example, one could think about a “perfect” family as one in which the parents never yell at the children, and the children are always delighted to go to bed at the proper time, because they are obedient and trust their parents’ judgment. Has anyone ever met such a family? No. But have you ever seen a family where, after a long and arduous struggle on the part of the parents to get the children into bed (and stay there), where there may be some sharp words and exasperation, there is reading of a story, and a moment of prayer? A kiss and an “I love you” and a “tucking in” of the children?

Cardinal Tagle of Manila spoke of the family as the “Home for the Wounded Heart” at the World Meeting of Families and remarked on the way that family members, because they sin, hurt each other, but they also forgive and heal each other as well. They are a home for each other, where they know that no matter what, they will be loved and accepted, even if not understood or agreed with.

When he referred to prophesying in this quote, Pope Francis was reflecting on the passage of the Old Testament in which Moses wishes that all people may be prophets. The Holy Father likewise invited all of us to be open to the Gospel of the Family, and in doing so, to become prophets. The covenant between man and woman, which gives life and is an image of the Trinity, is a prophecy for our time. It is a message for the world: life is good and love is real. The word of God is still speaking to the hearts of men and women today, and affirming their desires for a permanent and fruitful love.


Faith Opens a Window: Pope Francis

Posted Nov. 5, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Holy See on glass BrunoPhoto Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The sixth quote in our series comes from Pope Francis’s homily for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on September 27:

“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures… Love is shown by little things.”

St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of world missions, despite being a cloistered Carmelite, who never left the convent. She shares this honor with St. Francis Xavier, who spent his life as a missionary and baptized countless people throughout Asia. On the surface, this seems to be a contradiction.  St. Francis Xavier was the perfect picture of a missionary: bold and brave, traveling to foreign lands, living among the people. St. Therese was a plain French girl, who was so eager to enter the convent that she begged the pope to let her go there at the age of 15. She only lived until the age of 24, dying of tuberculosis. Why does she share the honor of patron of world missions? Why did missionary bishops ask for this?

In the short biography of St. Therese on the Vatican site, we can read why: “She considered it a special gift to receive the charge of accompanying two ‘missionary brothers’ with prayer and sacrifice. Seized by the love of Christ, her only Spouse, she penetrated ever more deeply into the mystery of the Church and became increasingly aware of her apostolic and missionary vocation to draw everyone in her path.” St. Therese was in the “mission field” through contemplative prayer and correspondence with missionaries.

This teaches us something about what holiness, and what being a missionary, really means. In her daily mortifications and sacrifices, young Therese offered to God her whole heart, mind, spirit and body. She had a great desire to be a missionary, even a martyr, but knew that that was not God’s will for her. Instead, she offered her myriad little, unnoticed actions for missionaries around the world. She demonstrated love in the “little things,” just as the pope spoke about at the world meeting.

Alice von Hildebrand wrote a personal story about this in a letter to a newlywed woman who was not sure that the “little things” really mattered in marriage. Von Hildebrand strongly disagreed. She wrote,

“Early in our marriage, I noticed he [Dietrich] would always leave the soap swimming in a small pool of water. It would slow degenerate into an unattractive, slimy goo—something I found unappealing. I drew it to his attention. From that day on, he made a point of drying the soap after each use—to such an extent that I couldn’t tell from the ‘soap testimony’ whether he had washed himself or not… I was so moved by this, that to this day I feel a wave of loving gratitude for this small but significant gesture of love.

My husband was a great lover. And because he was one, he managed to relate the smallest things to love and was willing to change to please his beloved in all legitimate things. This characteristic is typical of great love” (By Love Refined).

Family life is rife with opportunities to show love in little ways, and to find the Holy Spirit working there—if we look with the eyes of faith.

Let us all seek to be great lovers of God!


A Culture of the Temporary: Pope Francis

Posted Nov. 2, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Young People love Francis BrunoPhoto credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Here is the fifth quote, from the meeting with bishops on September 26:

“Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust.”

As noted last week, fidelity as a virtue is no longer upheld in the culture. This is one contributing factor to the phenomenon that Pope Francis points to in today’s quote: young people are marrying at a far lower rate now than in the past. The capacity to bond with another person, to commit to them, and to entrust yourself to them, seem to be diminishing. The culture does not encourage qualities like trust, listening, patience, vulnerability, or commitment, all of which are necessary for marriage.

The fact of widespread divorce has resulted in many adult children who do not have personal experience or support of parents who have remained faithful to their spouses. They are understandably more anxious about making a lifetime commitment, because they fear that they, too, will “fail”.

Even if their parents are married, many young people buy into the lie that they need to “try the other person out” sexually before they make a commitment. Ironically, engaging in premarital sex with multiple partners actually diminishes the physical and chemical bond that forms through the sexual act, thus diminishing the likelihood of commitment rather than increasing it. This attitude toward sex plays directly into what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture.” Instead of seeing another person as a gift, a person who should be loved and never used, a man or woman sees the other as a possibility for “fun” or “release” without regard to their dignity or to the future.

Young adults often turn to cohabitation as a way of “easing in” to a commitment, which turns out to be counter-productive, as these relationships are less stable by design. Accustomed to living together without marriage, these couples also appear less likely to stay married when trouble comes. Researcher Brad Wilcox concludes that living in a cohabitating household is now the largest problem for children in America.

Social media and other forms of technology also seem to feed into a culture where there are no strong bonds between people. As MIT researcher Sherry Turkle notes, “Once we remove ourselves from the flow of physical, messy, untidy life — and both robotics and networked life do that — we become less willing to get out there and take a chance” (Alone Together). Connections through technological means are more frequent but less deep, and almost never require sacrifice. It is no wonder, then, that young people have a harder time choosing to commit to one person for the rest of their life, when they have not practiced faithful, sacrificial friendship.

Marriage, then, is like a revolt against the culture of the temporary. As Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in 2013: “I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love.”


Civil marriage and the Sacrament: Pope Francis

Posted Oct. 29, 2015 by DOM 2 comments

Pope at pulpit St Pats BrunoPhoto credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Here is the fourth quote in the series, from the meeting with bishops on September 26:

“Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”

Pope Francis acknowledges the rift that has opened up between the civil and religious conception of what marriage is. This rift did not begin on June 26th, 2015, but rather has its roots in the so-called “sexual revolution.”

Think about the essentials of marriage, according to Catholic teaching: unity, indissolubility, and procreation. The dominant American culture and society have rejected these truths systematically for about the last 50 years. Widespread individualism, adultery, “no-fault” divorce, contraception, sterilization, and assisted reproductive technologies have whittled away at the public consciousness of what marriage and procreation is or is meant to be. Now, with the redefinition of marriage, America has continued in this path. And now the Catholic Church is called to proclaim even more courageously the truth about marriage, family and the human person in a hostile climate.

Why does it matter what the culture does, as long as the Church knows what marriage is?

Law and culture are teachers. Mass media and all of the messages that come from radio, TV, and film have an effect on the formation of our minds and consciences. This is not only a conscious process but largely an unconscious one. Messages from the culture become like the air we breathe: not noticed or observed, simply accepted. No matter how strong your individual family “unit” is, it is affected by the world around it. Let’s look at fidelity as a concrete example.

A culture where promises are honored strengthens marriages. Married couples, especially in hard times, benefit greatly from the example of other married couples who made it through similar experiences. The divorce of someone’s parents, even if it happens when he or she is an adult, affects the child’s marriage. Because her parents are divorced, a woman cannot rely on her own mother or father to assure her that, “It will be okay, just take it one day at a time.”

“Dinner with Friends,” a play by Donald Margulies, centers on two married couples with children. One of the marriages breaks up, and this deeply affects the other marriage, even though the other couple stays together. There’s a sense that the couple who broke up did not break faith only with each other, but also with their friends.

The agrarian author, Wendell Berry, speaks of the promise of fidelity in marriage being made not only to one’s own wife, but to every other woman. “The forsaking of all others is a keeping of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken. The marriage vow unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the community in a vow of sexual responsibility toward all the others” (“The Body and the Earth”).  If Jack promises to be faithful to Jill, not only should Jill be able to be secure in that promise, but Jane, Anne, and Mary should also be secure that Jack will never look at them as a possible partner. One promise means freedom for everyone.

In an age where there are businesses designed to help spouses cheat on their partners, and where many divorces occur because of adultery, everyone is naturally more insecure about trusting the fidelity of married people. As Pope Francis noted in a recent general audience, being true to your word used to be considered a point of honor: “And, speaking of fidelity, there comes to mind what our elderly, what our grandparents tell us about ‘those times when an agreement was made, a shaking of hands was sufficient, because there was fidelity in promises’ (October 21, 2015). Our culture today does not uphold fidelity, and therefore fidelity is harder to practice. This is just one example of what Pope Francis was pointing to in his speech to the bishops in Philadelphia.


The family is the fundamental locus: Pope Francis

Posted Oct. 26, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Here is the third quote in our series, from the meeting with bishops in Philadelphia.Francis family as locus-01

“The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation.”

“Locus” is not a word that is often used in conversation. According to the Merriam- Webster Dictionary, locus means: “the place where something is situated or occurs; a center of activity, attention, or concentration.” You could say that Philadelphia was a the locus of the pope’s trip to the United States; despite the other cities included in the trip, the Mass at the end of the World Meeting of Families was its main focus.

“Covenant” is a word with a long tradition in the Church. It means the exchange of persons; not a contract in which each person agrees to do something, but a promise to be someone. “I will be your God and you will be my people.”  “I take you to be my wife” or “I take you to be my husband.” God makes a covenant with his people in creating them, and renews this covenant throughout the Old Testament as he chooses a people (the Jews) to be his own. The definitive covenant occurs when Jesus Christ offers himself for the sins of the world.

Now, looking at this quote from Pope Francis’s meeting with the Bishops in Philadelphia, we could read it as: the family is the primary place where God and the Church meet and give themselves to each other. This underscores the vital importance of the family. It is the ordinary means by which God enters into a person’s life. A strong family that brings children up to know, love, and serve the Lord is so important for the life of the Church that it is “fundamental.” While God’s grace can reach persons anywhere and anytime, it is the family that He ordained for that purpose. As the Holy Father said in his speech at the festival of families, “God always knocks at the door of hearts. He likes to do this. It comes from His heart. But, do you know what He likes best? To knock on the doors of families and find families that are united, to find families that love each other, to find the families that bring up their children and educate them and help them to keep going forward and that create a society of goodness, of truth, and of beauty.”

God desires to give his life and his grace to every human person, from the very beginning of their existence, which occurs within another human person. In the womb, God blesses a child (c.f. Ps 139:13). The Holy Spirit is present all along the way— He brings a man and a woman together in love, unites them in marriage, gives life through their act of love, strengthens a woman to give birth, and animates the continued growth of the family. He is a continual source of life for a man and woman united in sacramental marriage.

The family is also the place of the cross: how could it be otherwise, if it is the “locus of the covenant” which was wrought in the blood of Jesus? Infertility, disease, tragedy, pain and sin also enter into human experience through the family. God and the family meet and give themselves to each other through suffering as well as joy. This is a fundamental truth proclaimed by the Holy Father in September.


Defend the Family: Pope Francis at WMOF

Posted Oct. 22, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Pope serious Antoine Mekary ALETEIA
Photo: Antoine Mekary- Aleteia
Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. We continue with the second quote in our series.

Festival of Families: “Let us defend the family, because there, there, our future is in play.”

If you’ve ever played a sport like soccer or basketball, you know that defense is critical. In order for your team to get downfield or down court to score, you must first have possession of the ball. Simple, right?  But unless you won the kick off or tip off, getting possession means taking the ball away from the other team through defense.

One of the metaphors Jesus uses to describe His relationship to the Church is that of a shepherd who defends the flock, even with his life: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15). Later, this same image is used to assist bishops and priests in understanding their duty: to care for the flock until the Lord comes. “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5: 1-4). Thus it should come as no surprise when the pope uses the language of defense, in particular for the family. It is abundantly clear that there are many forces in our culture today that work against the family: consumerism, distraction, overburdened schedules, technology, ideological impositions, separations by circumstance, and the list goes on. Against these movements, the Church must play “defense” even while promoting the truth, goodness, and beauty of marriage on “offense”. (The Subcommittee name itself reflects this two-part strategy: the Promotion and Defense of Marriage)

Pope Francis also references the future. Pope John Paul II wrote that, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 75). The place where children come into being and grow is necessarily the place where the future is determined. There are strictly practical ways that this is true. Children are necessary for a society to continue, let alone flourish. No children, no future. No hope. Pope Francis has spoken of this a number of times, in particular when he addresses Europe. “In many quarters,” he said to the European parliament in November of 2014, “we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant.” At a general audience in October 2015, Pope Francis asked, “How loyal are we with the promises we make to children, making them come into our world? We make them come into the world and this is a promise — what do we promise them?” One thing that we could promise is to work to help ensure that a child’s right to be born and raised, as far as possible, by their married mother and father, is respected and honored.

In defending the family today, we defend children and make them a promise of a future of hope.


The Good, True, and Beautiful at the World Meeting of Families

Posted Oct. 19, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Francis from front Jeffrey BrunoPhoto: Jeffrey Bruno

Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families: Seven Great Quotes
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Staff will write reflections on seven quotes from his visit.

From the Festival of Families: “All of the love that God has in Himself, all the beauty that God has in Himself, all the truth that God has in Himself, He gives to the family.”

Classical philosophers (think Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.) refer to beauty, truth and goodness as the transcendental properties of being; aspects of being (or existence) that “transcend” or “go beyond” the thing that exists. God is all-in-all; He is the perfection of beauty, truth and goodness. Since He is Being (“I AM”), these attributes of being originate in God.

Let’s put this more simply. There’s the usual way we talk about goodness as a quality of a person: “Oh, she’s so good!” we may say, when we hear of a woman doing something charitable in our community. When we see obvious goodness— in Mother Theresa, for example—we see God within that action or person. But the goodness we’re talking about here, goodness as an attribute of being goes further. It means that the pure existence of something (or someone); that it is, is good. To love is to say to someone, “It is good that you exist,” regardless of whether that someone is annoying you at the time. A person does not have to do anything, in this case, to be good. The fact that they exist is the good. Think of babies. They are (or should be) loved because they are, not because they do anything special. This is a glimpse of God, who loves us into being and because He loves us, we are, we exist. As the pope said here, God gives the family this kind of love, this kind of total acceptance and goodness.

Secondly, beautiful things can draw us closer to God who is Beauty. Nature, art, music, etc. can all draw us out of ourselves (“ecstasy”) and lead us to seek the origin of the beauty we experience. Once again, beauty inheres (or is “stuck to”) anything that exists. Even a hairy spider (the author’s personal hatred) is beautiful in that it exists. God wills it into being. At the Festival of Families, Pope Francis said that God, who is love, gives to the family His own beauty. When you see a picture of a family that encompasses numerous generations, it is hard to deny this.

Lastly, if something is true, that means that it corresponds to reality; if I say, “There are three apples” and there really are three apples, then I speak the truth, and in speaking the truth about the apples, my mind is “in tune,” if you will, with God. God and I see the same thing (three apples). The family corresponds to the truth when it lives according to God’s laws (which are simply an expression of what reality is). What a family is, a community of life and love, is true.

How can you see the goodness, beauty and truth of your family today?


World Meeting of Families: Thursday and Friday

Posted Sep. 25, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Internet is slow, so here are a few notes and pictures from Thursday and Friday. First is the set-up for the Festival and mass. I know you can’t see it that well but there were fences everywhere!
IMG_8302Next, there was the opportunity to venerate St. Maria Goretti at St. John the Evangelist. (She has a tour bus…)
IMG_8286The jumbo-trons have been tested and found ready!
IMG_8317The hallways sometimes got very crowded at the conference center:
IMG_8289And an Oratorio was performed at St. John on Thursday evening, with a bishop from Ireland introducing everyone.
IMG_8319By Friday, security check-points were already up and running, and it is not always clear whether the street you’re on is going to continue…
IMG_8327The Reading Terminal Market is getting pretty crowded…
IMG_8333And the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is closed and people are enjoying walking on the street.
IMG_8354We are all READY for the Papa!!!


World Meeting Day 3

Posted Sep. 23, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Today is the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio). The parish near the hotel, St. John the Evangelist, here in Philadelphia is run by Capuchins, and they have one of St. Pio’s gloves. The priest today brought out the glove– and I do mean the glove, not a piece of it under glass– and we were able to venerate it after mass. It was a wonderful surprise grace!


Here’s a shot of part of lunchtime, to give you a sense…IMG_8279

The two keynote speakers today were Robert Cardinal Sarah and Helen Alvare. They were both excellent. And finally… the moment came to pick up our tickets for the Papal events!



World Meeting: Day 2

Posted Sep. 22, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Today, I went down to the Franklin Institute to view the Vatican Splendors exhibit. It was awesome!

I also stopped by the Cathedral and added my own intention to the knots– a surprisingly moving experience.


I will also share more from Bishop Barron’s excellent keynote today- if you follow us on Twitter, I put a few quotes up.



World Meeting Arrival

Posted Sep. 21, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

Hi everyone!
Our team is arriving today to Philadelphia to be part of the World Meeting of Families. Here are some shots of what’s happening, a day before it all begins!

First shot is the registration area:

This was the police (seemingly) practicing parking in formation…


And this is the best souvenir so far- a fan!!



WMOF Catechesis Chapter 10: Choosing Life

Posted Aug. 19, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB 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.

Chapter Ten: Choosing Life
Dr. Theresa Notare
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Happiness in life requires courage and work. Happiness comes at a price. Want to play the guitar like a rock star? You will have to take music lessons and practice for hours daily. Want to have a strong, lean body? You will have to eat healthy food and exercise regularly. The list is endless. Hard work and sacrifice are a prerequisite to true, mature happiness.

As people of faith, we know that happiness arises from living a life that is in harmony with God’s will and leads us to fulfill our purpose. Chapter Ten of the catechism for the World Meeting of Families highlights this when it says that: “God made us for a reason… to love as He does” (no. 189). When we “understand that love is our mission,” this truth will “shape many other areas of life” (Ibid.). This can be clearly seen in marriage and family which, when founded on Christ, is a school of love.[1]

The vows in a Catholic marriage speak of the self-gift that the husband and wife make to each other in Christ. This requires “dying to self” as the two put aside “I” to become “we.” Married love, including its sexual expression, is holy. When lived in accord with God’s plan, conjugal love should “reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.”[2] This requires that the couple trust in God’s plan for their marriage, including whether and/or when they are able to have children. It may also ask for courage since Catholic couples will have to reject contraception which does harm to God’s design.

Many married Catholics do not realize the deep happiness that they can have in their marriages when God is at the center of everything. They can express God’s love for one another while they also honor His design, including their sexual lives. Sexual intercourse, as willed by God, is a holy time for husband and wife. It fortifies their union and is the worthy place for receiving new life. Honoring God’s will does not mean that couples can’t regulate the number of children in their families. When they need to postpone or avoid pregnancy, they may continue to honor God’s design by practicing one of the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP).

NFP methods respect God’s gift of fertility by learning about it in a thoughtful way.  No drugs or devices are introduced into the conjugal act; rather, the bodies of both man and woman are fully respected in their life-giving potential, and “listened” to. If a couple needs to avoid a pregnancy they refrain from sex when they are fertile. When they realize that God may be calling them to have a child, because of their knowledge of NFP they would also know the best time to attempt a pregnancy. This, of course, takes study

and practice (most NFP methods require charting the signs of fertility). All NFP methods also require self-discipline since periodic sexual abstinence is the NFP means to avoid pregnancy. This can be very difficult, but it is doable with the help of grace and the habit of self-discipline which is common to all virtues.

When couples persevere in learning and using NFP, they reap many benefits. All NFP methods are effective for both attempting to achieve or avoid pregnancy. They are also good for the body since no devices or drugs are used. In fact, NFP methods are the “organic” way to live with human fertility—they do not pollute the environment. Most importantly, NFP methods teach married couples to understand their bodies and to communicate with each other about their fertility and their relationship. These conversations can foster deeper couple communication that can improve their relationships. NFP research confirms this benefit showing that NFP couples feel respected by their spouses.[3] NFP helps married couples commit to real happiness—the deep happiness of living life according to God’s plan!

[1] See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1657.
[2] Committee for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Human Sexuality from God’s Perspective, Humanae vitae 25 Years Later,” (1993); available at:
[3] L. VandeVusse, L. Hanson, R. J. Fehring, A. Newman, J. Fox, “Couples’ views of the effects of natural family planning on marital dynamics,” Journal of Nursing Scholarship 35, no. 2 (2003):171-176.


Chapter 9- Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church

Posted Jul. 22, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series

The USCCB 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.

Chapter Nine: Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church
Dr. Andrew Lichtenwalner
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

What’s in an Image?

The ninth chapter of the World Meeting of Families preparatory catechesis, “Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church,” begins in the following way: The Church has institutional forms because she must work in the world. But that does not exhaust her essence. The Church is the Bride of Christ, a “she,” not an “it.”

What do we think of when we hear the Church described as “Bride” and “Mother”? What’s our first impression? Does it have anything to do with us?

My mom and dad raised me in the Catholic faith and encouraged a love for the Church from my earliest years. I don’t recall them speaking about the Church as “Mother” at home the way they talked of God as “Father,” but I think they conveyed that sense to me very naturally and practically in the way they lived the faith—love for Christ and love for the Church go together.

I remember during grad school coming across the work of Henri de Lubac, a French Jesuit theologian who was later made a Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. De Lubac had a great love for the image of the Church as Mother. In seeking to perceive and grasp the nature of the Church, his personal experience led him to describe in a simple, childlike way  “the first of all words: the Church is my mother.” He said that the two words “Mother Church” (Ecclesia mater) express “the very reality of Christian life.”

How can the very reality of Christian life be conveyed by calling the Church our Mother? Because the Christian life is conceived and generated by her and lived in and through her. There is no Christian life without the Church.

To call the Church our Mother, which Pope Francis himself has done on many occasions, is not a mere pious expression or sentimentality. Christian discipleship hinges on the Church being our Mother, and the Church is only Mother because she is first the Bride of Christ. Encountering and following Jesus depends first and always on grace, which we receive from the Lord through the Church. The Church can only be fruitful in discipleship and truly a Mother if she is united to Christ, close to Him as His Bride. Without Him, we can do nothing.

The Church was loved into existence by Christ. The Fathers of the Church saw the Church being formed like the New Eve, drawn out of the pierced side of Christ on the Cross. The Church is not a haphazard byproduct or afterthought of the saving work of Christ but the intended fruit of Christ’s mission of redemption manifest with the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The world was created for the Church, the Bride of Christ, who as Mother would be the place of re-creation and regeneration in the Spirit.

In other words, Christ and the Church are inseparable. A Christian artist has expressed it well, saying that in Christ’s words: “You cannot care for Me, with no regard for her. If you love Me, you will love the Church.”

The image of the Church as the Bride of Christ, in addition to the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, powerfully conveys the mystery of the intimate union between Christ and the Church. The image of the Church as Mother conveys the fruitfulness that comes from being united in and with Christ. These images not only concern us but are about us. We are the Church in a real way. We are called to bear Christ to the world. As St. Augustine said to encourage Christians to live up to their identity: Be the bride.

As sinners, we know that we are in need of grace and do not always live up to the gift of holiness which marks the Church. The images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother encourage us to “press towards the mark” and to understand Christian discipleship as inseparable from loving the Church.

Even if we haven’t given the images of the Church as Bride of Christ and Mother much thought before, if we love the Church as Christ does, we are already living those images.






A Home for the Wounded Heart: Chapter 8 WMOF Catechesis

Posted Jun. 23, 2015 by DOM 2 comments

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB 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.

Chapter Eight: A Home for the Wounded Heart
Paul Jarzembowski
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

While working as a young adult minister at a parish several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a married couple in their late 20’s at our summer Theology-on-Tap series. They wandered into the event, uncertain of what to expect, and, because they did not know any other young adults there, quietly slid into a booth near the back of the restaurant.  Noticing their uneasiness, I discreetly sat next to them so that they would have someone to talk to. After some pleasantries and basic introductions, I asked them what brought them there … and eventually I found out that they were struggling with a number of issues: economic uncertainty, living from one paycheck to the next, but also infertility and frustrating relationships with their parents and extended families.

I have no recollection of who spoke at Theology-on-Tap that evening or the topic discussed, but I do remember that couple.  Hearing their story, listening to their concerns, and inviting them to stay in touch in the weeks, months, and years afterwards was the important part of the night for me. It is a blessing to my ministry that I still hear from this couple to this day.

It was this incident that came to mind while I read chapter eight of Love Is Our Mission: “A Home for the Wounded Heart.”  It reads, “To grasp the Church’s ministry of teaching correctly, we also need to consider her pastoral nature,” reminding us of Pope Francis’ beautiful image of Church as “a field hospital after battle” (no. 151).  The young couple I met had been going through a hard battle against economics, infertility, and family strife – and they sought refuge at their local young adult gathering.

Their story is not unlike other young couples’ stories—or indeed, singles as well. From debt, careers, and economic crises to abuse (verbal, physical, psychological) and neglect, as well as feelings of inadequacy, depression, and difficulty balancing time, many young people(single, dating, engaged, and married alike) are struggling – often hiding their angst in public. Yet in the midst of their woundedness, they are seeking Christ.

The couple I met that summer night was wounded. They came to Theology-on-Tap to get away from their problems for an evening, but had no one approached them, those same struggles would have been unchanged the next morning. When they walked in, I was tempted to talk their heads off with all the great opportunities waiting for them at the church – but something told me to shut up and listen. And that made all the difference in the world.

Every couple, whether they are dating, engaged, or married for many years, has a story – and all are wounded in some way, even beaten down by a variety of frustrations. To be a home for the wounded, sometimes it is best to simply listen, to offer them refuge from the pain and angst, and to share the presence of Christ Jesus, who says to them and to all of us in our struggles: “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”



A Home for the Wounded Heart: World Meeting of Families Catechesis Chapter 8

Posted Jun. 15, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

WMOF-SP-Chap-8World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB 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.

Chapter Eight: A Home for the Wounded Heart
Sara Perla
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

The eighth chapter of the catechesis for the WMOF focuses on the Church as a home for the wounded. How many times have you heard someone say, “The Church should do something about that!” or, “And what did the Church do to help her?” What I find interesting about this kind of phrasing is that often the person who asks the question is a Christian. He or she is part of the Church, and thus directly implicated by the question. “The Church should do something about that,” should really spark: “I should do something about that.”

Loneliness, for example, is a well-documented problem in American society (check out Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone), and the Church should “do something” about it.  But that doesn’t mean (only) that the bishops should “do something”, or even that the priests should “do something”. It is the lay people who must be actively involved if loneliness is to be combatted.

As the WMOF catechesis notes, Catholic teaching regarding same-sex attraction is sometimes perceived as cruel, “dooming men and women to a life of loneliness” (no. 166). Some think that because of this attraction the Church ostracizes those who experience it. This is not true, and it should not be true in practice. “If our parishes really were places where ‘single’ did not mean ‘lonely,’ where extended networks of friends and families really did share one another’s joys and sorrows, then perhaps at least some of the world’s objections to Catholic teaching might be disarmed” (no. 167).

I think this is right on target. The reasons that people give for allowing same-sex persons to be “married” are often those born from compassion. We all know the pain of loneliness and we would never want someone to suffer it in a particularly harsh way, for an extended amount of time, or somehow unnecessarily. Thus, in a culture where “having an erotic partner is perceived to be a necessity” (no. 166), it would follow that every person must be allowed to have a sexual partner to assuage loneliness.

But sex is not the antidote to loneliness—love and friendship are. Life without a sexual partner is not by that one fact, lonely. This should be somehow clear in parish life. I used to be self-conscious sitting alone at Sunday Mass as families filed in and around me. Then I made a concerted effort to notice how many other people were sitting alone, and how many families had a single parent, and discovered that there were many. People of many different ages and, presumably, situations, are sitting alone in the pews of our churches. Does the Church see them? And by that I mean: will anyone sitting next to them recognize them, say hello, or learn their names? Well … I can.

I am a single woman, and I live in a house with four others. I know a few single moms. My next door neighbor is a widow with three children. If we all just wait around for someone else to welcome us at a parish, we may be waiting forever. Instead, we must be the Church who is welcoming to the lonely. If someone needs to show the world that friendship is real and can be found in the Church, that someone is me—and you.


Why the Church Cannot Endorse Same-Sex “Marriage”: Chapter Seven of the World Meeting of Families Catechesis

Posted May. 15, 2015 by DOM 4 comments

World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
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. This is part of 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 follow the timing suggested by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by exploring one theme each month leading up to the World Meeting. Other reflections have been written by the Archdiocese of Military Services. Here is their reflection for Chapter 7.

Why the Church Does Not (Cannot) Endorse So-Called Same-Sex “Marriage”
Tim Roder
Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

Advocates of same-sex “marriage” can only make a case for its recognition by “premising marriage as mainly erotic or emotional satisfaction” and not as a social institution for the sake of uniting a man and a woman to each other, and children to their parents (134). Emotions run deep on this subject.

As the catechesis Love is Our Mission points out, the truth about marriage has been obscured in our culture so much so that it is barely recognizable. As contraception, sterilization, abortion and divorce have become socially accepted and even commonplace, accepting same-sex sexual relationships seems a “plausible next step” (134).

Once the core elements of marriage are separated—the unitive and procreative purposes—the line of what counts as a marriage is easily erased and redrawn. What’s morally acceptable becomes whatever people are comfortable with, or whatever “two (or more) consenting adults” agree on. Once established, this relativistic view is difficult to uproot.

Six adults raised by two people of the same sex submitted amicus curiae briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of man-woman marriage laws. I find the stories of these men and women compelling because they witness to the truth of the human heart: every person has an innate desire to know and be raised by their own mother and father. Children suffer when this does not happen, even if it is for a very good reason. We know this not only from these six people, but also from the experiences of adopted children, children of divorce, and children of artificial reproduction. These experiences and situations are not the same, but they do show us that whenever possible, children should be with their own mother and father in a stable, loving home.

The witness of these six adults and of others points to the deeper question: What is marriage? The only definition of marriage that upholds the dignity of the child is the union of a man and a woman—a union grounded in sexual difference and open to life. Even when the gift of children is not possible due to infertility or age, marriage does not lose its meaning.

Marriage in society is not about affirming adult romantic desires; it’s about bringing men and women together to become fathers and mothers of the next generation and recognizing the contribution that spousal love offers to society.

As a Sacrament, marriage is further about drawing men and women close to Christ in a mutual gift of self that mirrors and participates in His relationship with the Church.


Light in a Dark World: World Meeting of Families Catechesis Chapter 7

Posted May. 1, 2015 by DOM No comments yet

WMOF-BM-Chap-7World Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
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.

Chapter Seven: Light in a Dark World
Bethany Meola
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

The images of light and darkness have long been used to convey the contrast between good and evil. Light is a prominent theme throughout Scripture, starting with the very third verse: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Gn 1:3). Jesus described himself as “the light of the world” and said, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Christians are described as “children of [the] light” (Lk 16:8, Jn 12:36, Eph 5:8, 1 Th 5:5).

In contrast, darkness is used to represent chaos (“The earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss” [Gn 1:2]), Hell (“Cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” [Mt 22:13]), and the antithesis of Christ’s Kingdom (“He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” [Col 1:13]).

Perhaps the most gripping way light and darkness is used in Scripture is the depiction of the Final Judgment, when God “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness” (1 Cor 4:5). This verse answers the question: Who would prefer darkness to light? Who would rather have the black of midnight rather than the glowing light of dawn? Precisely the person who wishes his or her deeds to remain secret and in the shadow of darkness. “People preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19).

All sins seek darkness and hide from the light. One of those sins is pornography, usually coupled with masturbation. Both are addressed in chapter seven of the World Meeting of Family catechesis, and for good reason. By any measure, pornography use is widespread, including among Catholics and married persons. And despite the claim that pornography is harmless fun (“adult entertainment”), it clear from both testimony and research that pornography harms the user, his or her spouse (or future spouse) and children, not to mention the men and women used and degraded in its making. As the WMOF catechism says, “Pornography catechizes its consumers in selfishness, teaching its users to see other people as objects to satisfy our appetites” (no. 121).

Pornography thrives on darkness and secrecy. The Internet promises anonymity; users tend to hide their habit from a spouse, fiancé, or romantic partner; young people seek hidden places to look at it. This shame and the desire to hide from the light should tell us something.

But there is hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4). For those who are struggling with pornography use or addiction, Jesus brings healing. In the Sacrament of Confession, what is hidden in darkness is exposed to Christ’s merciful, healing light. There are also many ongoing supports available to men and women who want to live in the light of chastity and true love, not the darkness of sin and lust.

One of my favorite movie scenes is in The Two Towers, the second part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The exhausted company of men, elves, dwarves and hobbits is on the verge of defeat. They have been battling all night and the army of Orcs is bearing down with renewed force. And then, the dawn breaks, and there on top of the ridge is Gandalf the White with a new regiment of riders. The embattled defenders are filled with joy and the tide of the battle turns. At dawn, hope comes anew. “His mercies are new every morning” (Lam 3:23).


Chapter Six: All Love Bears Fruit, The Celibate Life: An Encounter with Beauty

Posted Apr. 15, 2015 by DOM 1 comment

WMOF-MadelinesWorld Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
The USCCB 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. The Archdiocese for Military Services has also written reflections. Here is a link to their reflection on Chapter 6.

The Celibate Life: An Encounter with Beauty
Madeline Watkins
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

The beauty of a life of chastity is the answer to a culture that has normalized “hooking up,” sex before marriage and cohabitation.  Young adults have been inundated with the message that chastity and celibacy are outdated, unattainable, and even abnormal or unhealthy, but this is simply not true.

I want to focus on one of Pope Francis’s favorite words – “encounter” – as the remedy to this cultural problem. When we encounter authentic beauty, it strikes a chord deep within us, or as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, it “wounds” us (check out Benedict XVI’s 2009 Meeting with Artists for more about that). The world is in need of an encounter with Christ, the truly Beautiful One, who “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22). The world needs Christians to show the joy and beauty of the Gospel, the true freedom found in following Christ and His teachings. This is the way to reach young people who accept the cultural norms without reflection—showing them concretely what the alternative is, and that it is better.

As the WMOF catechesis says, celibacy includes “not only priests and vowed religious, but all those who are chaste outside of marriage….” (no. 99). I had a profound encounter with people living this way through the Catholic student center on my college campus. The fruit of the love and life of the priests, sisters and lay students I met there was unmistakably good. Their joy was palpable, attractive and infectious. As the WMOF catechesis states, “the possibilities for life which young people find imaginable depend on the examples they see and the stories they hear” (no. 108). I am grateful to God for placing these witnesses in my life in my college years, for my encounter with them opened my eyes to the incredible vision of the human person that the Church gives us and invites us to live.

I think also of my life the past few years as a 20-something and the friendships I have been blessed to have, and I recognize with great gratitude how fruitful they have been through His grace. To have a group of friends who are intentionally trying to live virtuous lives as they discern their vocations, and who support one another through prayer and fellowship, is an incredible gift. Single young adults need this type of healthy community, “an alternative space” (no. 101). Weary of what the impoverished culture has offered us, my friends and I desire more in and from life: more depth, authentic beauty, love, joy and freedom, and this is what we have each found in Christ. Encouraging one another in our relationships with Christ helps us to walk with the Lord toward whatever vocations we may be called to down the road.

The experience of encounter is necessary for understanding something different from what we know. My encounters with those who are celibate in the family of God, be they religious or lay faithful, have encouraged me in my own journey to follow Christ more fully, and to pray for the grace to be a faithful witness to Christ and his Church through virtuous living. Celibacy is truly a beautiful way of life that demonstrates that the richness and depth of a life lived with Christ is what we all desire and are made for.



All Love Bears Fruit: World Meeting of Families Catechesis Chapter Six

Posted Apr. 1, 2015 by DOM 5 comments

WMOF-BMWorld Meeting of Families Catechesis Series
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.

Chapter Six: All Love Bears Fruit
Bethany Meola
Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

All love bears fruit: this is the theme of chapter six of the World Meeting of Families catechesis.

Fruitfulness is part of the very definition of love: “It is the nature of love to overflow, to be life-giving” (USCCB, Marriage: Life and Love in the Divine Plan, p. 13). True love is never closed in on itself, seeking its own interests. Instead, love goes out, seeking the good of the other.

This truth about love – that it is always fruitful – is particularly meaningful for married couples like me and my husband, who have not, so far, been blessed with children.

Every child is a living, breathing, walking, talking billboard proclaiming loud and clear: “Love Is Fruitful! Marriage Is Fruitful!” According to St. John Paul II, children are a “living reflection” of their parents’ love (Familiaris Consortio, no. 14). And yet a child – the “supreme gift” of marriage – is not the only fruit of married love.

In fact, the first fruit of marriage is the marriage bond itself (World Meeting of Families catechesis, no. 105). When my husband and I said “I do” on our wedding day, a new family was born. In that moment, we were no longer two individuals, but became a union – a “we” – shaped by and also striving toward God’s own way of loving: total, faithful, and fruitful.

What does the fruitfulness of a childless marriage look like? In many ways, the same as that of a marriage with children: spousal love expressed in many different ways, such as forgiving each other after being hurt, making small daily acts of generosity, praying together, affirming each other, and opening our home to those in need of community.

One difference is that we are relatively more available for acts of service and hospitality than are couples raising children (WMOF catechesis, no. 103). For example, my husband and I look after an elderly widow without local family. We bring her groceries every week and check in frequently. And we’re involved in various ministries in our local church. Could we do this if we had children? Possibly. But the fact is, our time is not taken up (rightly) by the needs of children. And on the flipside, we need people to serve, to live out our marital fruitfulness in concrete ways!

And then there is the profound, and often hidden, fruitfulness of suffering. Every marriage – and every person – will travel through the “valley of tears” at some point. The world may say that suffering is sterile, but Jesus teaches us the opposite: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Jesus also said, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). True sterility, then, is not the absence of children; it is the deliberate closing off of one’s marriage from the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit and openness to the will of God.

May we all live “in active readiness for God’s will” as it unfolds in our own lives (WMOF catechesis, no. 102) so that we can be the “rich soil” ready to receive the word of God “with a generous and good heart” and bear much fruit: “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold” (Mt 13:8).