This week’s episode of Among Women talks about many things that are close to my heart — marriage and family — and the calling to make Christ the center of those relationship and in our home. I hope you’ll join me as I reflect back on 30+ years of marriage and family life, plus have an inspiring conversation with the woman who is part of the team behind the Like Mother Like Daughter blog, author Leila Marie Lawler. Together we discuss one of my favorite new books of the year, The Little Oratory: A beginner’s guide to praying in the home.
There’s even a chance to win a signed copy of the book from the authors — hear the details on the podcast!
Finally, I hope you’ll enjoy a look at the little-known mystic, St Umilta, as I read some of her passionate writings about our faith.
Don’t miss this episode of Among Women!
The Church’s proclamation on the family finds its foundation in the life and preaching of Jesus, who lived and grew up in the family of Nazareth. He attended the wedding at Cana, which he honoured by performing the first of his “signs” (cf. Jn 2:1-11) and presented himself as the Bridegroom who unites himself to his Bride (cf. Jn 3:29). On the cross, he gave himself up with a love to the very end and, in his resurrected body, established new relationships among people. By revealing the fullness of divine mercy, Jesus allows man and woman to recover that “principle” according to which God unites them in one flesh (cf. Mt 19:4-6) and for which — by the grace of Christ — they are enabled to be faithful to each other and love each other forever. Therefore, the divine measure of conjugal love, to which spouses are called by grace, has its source in “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (EG, 36), the very heart of the Gospel.
Jesus, in assuming human love, also perfected it (cf. GS, 49), giving man and woman a new manner of loving, which has its foundation in the irrevocable faithfulness of God. In light of this, the Letter to the Ephesians has identified in the married love between a man and a woman, “the great mystery” which makes present in this world the love between Christ and the Church (cf.Eph 5:31-32). A married couple possesses the charism (cf. 1 Cor 7:7) of building up the Church with their spousal love and the task of the procreation and rearing of children. United in an indissoluble sacramental bond, the spouses live the beauty of love, fatherhood and motherhood and the dignity of participating, in this way, in God’s creative work.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage and family. One of the highest expressions of this teaching was proposed by the Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which devotes an entire chapter to promoting the dignity of marriage and the family (cf. GS, 47-52). This document defined marriage as a community of life and love (cf. GS, 48), placing love at the center of the family and manifesting, at the same time, the truth of this love in counter distinction to the various forms of reductionism present in contemporary culture. The “true love between husband and wife” (GS, 49) implies a mutual gift of self and includes and integrates the sexual and affective aspects, according to the divine plan (cf. GS, 48-49). Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes, 48 emphasizes the grounding of the spouses in Christ. Christ the Lord “comes into the lives of married Christians through the Sacrament of Matrimony,” and remains with them. In the Incarnation, he assumes human love, purifies it and brings it to fulfillment. Through his Spirit, he enables the bride and groom to live their love and makes that love permeate every part of their lives of faith, hope and charity. In this way, the bride and groom are, so to speak, consecrated and, through his grace, they build up the Body of Christ and are a domestic Church (cf. LG, 11), so that the Church, in order to fully understand her mystery, looks to the Christian family, which manifests her in a real way.
-Instrumentum Laboris, par. 2,3, & 4-
“The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” (in preparation for the Synod on the Family this fall)
Verily’s Facebook page had a link to this group of marriage proposals that was too good not to share. All of them are about 5 minutes long and have some kind of music going on. But 5 for 5, the gents all got down on one knee. And all five gals were surprised and said “yes.”
I don’t know who these couples are, but say a prayer for them. All couples need that. The easy part is behind them. But the best part awaits them if they give themselves fully to their beloved in this vocation.
“Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church.”
– Blessed John Paul II -
This most recent edition of Among Women finds us talking in detail about the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception with a moral theologian, Angela Franks, PhD. Dr Franks recently authored Contraception and Catholicism, which I endorsed. She is a wife, mother, and professor at the Theological Institute of the New Evangelization at St John’s Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston. Dr Franks’ expertise and advice on this important subject is both pastoral and consoling. Her teaching is based on the truth that God really does want us to be happy, and that the moral life is always possible for us — with God’s grace!
I’ll also be looking at the life of St Mary of Cerevellon, a 13th century native of Barcelona, Spain and her ministry among slaves and others, earning her the nickname, “Mary of Help.”
Listen to this episode of Among Women.
You might also enjoy a previous episode with Dr Franks from the Among Women archives: AW 158.
As we conclude the Year of Faith this month, I’m completing my 5-part series at Patheos summarizing Francis’ first encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, looking at chapter four. (Check out the new study guide on the document at the bottom of this post.)
Here’s the opening of my latest column at Patheos…
God has our best in mind — always! God sees the eternal city he longs to bring us to one day. Yet at the same time God provides faith for the life we are called to build in our homes, cities, and societies. In this final chapter of Lumen Fidei (LF), Francis explores how faith builds a better world for the sake of all.
Faith is not only a journey, but also “a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another (LF, 50).” God first built the Creation where humanity could live and flourish. Then he took it a step farther and engaged humanity, calling us into a relationship with himself.
We’ve seen from history that God always builds with the good of his people in mind. God calls us to build with him, and we must do so with faith in God in mind.
The faith of Abraham and the Old Testament peoples was built upon the promises of God and a yearning for their fulfillment: a holy land, a chosen nation, a blessing for the world. The Letter to the Hebrews recalls how their faith was built on God.
“They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Heb 11:16).”
Faith builds reliably on the firmness and fidelity of God himself. Faith illuminates all we do, not just for ourselves but for the good of all.
We are designed to think and act like God — for the common good — building families and societies with faith.
Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope. (LF, 51)
Families are the building blocks of society that best serve the common good. God’s master plan uses families to bring love to the world.
The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love. Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. (LF, 52)
Truly the vocation of marriage and family life is bigger than what a husband and wife might plan for themselves. Their home is the field where the seeds of God’s plan are sown; it is the where faith is passed on and where children learn to trust in the love of parents, and ultimately trust God too.
This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith which can help children gradually to mature in their own faith (LF, 53).
The encounter with Christ is an indispensible necessity to fruitful family life. Strong Christian marriages give birth and build strong Christians. Homes built on the foundation of Christ provide a secure and firm environment for the conversion of children and their spiritual maturing.
Encountering Christ, letting themselves be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives [life] a firm hope which will not disappoint. Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness which is stronger than our every weakness (LF, 53).
Read the rest at my column on Patheos.
Go here to subscribe to my column by email or RSS.
EXCELLENT RESOURCE!! Master Catechist and Ave Maria Press author, Jared Dees, has a great study guide on Lumen Fidei. Now you can do a personal study on this encyclical, or do a group study in your home or church! Don’t miss this study guide!
A few years ago, at the urging of a kindly editor, I began writing a book I want to call The Power of the Vow. Don’t get exited. This is not my next project. I see it more as a work in progress for now, and thus far, the thing hasn’t materialized as a full book yet, but I own the domains anyway.
But having rounded the bend of three decades of marriage and all the having and holding, for bettering or worse, and dealing with lots of sickness amid our good health… well, sometimes the good times and the bad times interfere with the actual production of good intentions, like writing a book, or giving a talk on the subject, and well, one is left with the option of writing a blog post or two or three articles about the power of the vow.
I’m grateful to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for the opportunity to do a guest post on the blog, My Year of Faith. Here’s snippet:
This summer, my husband and I watched our daughter and new son-in-love recite their wedding vows before God and His Church. It was a joy to witness their vows, and sealing them with the gift of rings. Meanwhile, the invisible grace of God entered in. With love’s consummation, you begin to fully understand how grace holds your heart captive to the power of the vow. And when you look at your hands, the ring of love teaches you that you are to lay your life down daily in big and small ways.
“Love one another, as I have loved you,” says our Lord… even unto death. Marriage, like the circle of rings, is an ongoing relationship with many experiences repeated and reappearing over time. More than an accessory, the ring is a blessed sacramental, a dutiful and beautiful reminder of our vowed reality… we are not alone… we will share what comes… we will do this with the help of grace.
We are not alone.
The obvious comfort of one another’s warm body in the bed is a sweet reminder of the vow. Our deepest fire is enkindled from the intimacy that flows from a loving, intentional friendship. Even after thirty years together, it is still good to hear the words, “I love you” and “I’m so glad you’re here.” We can be all about the wine and the roses, and the occasional dinner out. Yet, more often than not, the tangible evidence of “we are not alone” is manifest by how we care for one another when no one is looking, especially when the sufferings of life begin to mount.
Recently I took my husband to the doctor’s office for an exam on his chronic back pain. He was perfectly able to drive and tend to this without me. But I wanted to go. It gave me a little excuse to fuss over him. While it’s true that sometimes you take turns being the one who needs care, and one who is caregiving, it’s best not to keep score.
This same husband saw me through childbirths and multiple surgeries for breast cancer and beyond. He has kept me company in more sterile hospital rooms than I can count. His presence grounds me, and keeps my sanity when life seems out of control. Like the time I needed yet another brain MRI and claustrophobia was preventing my acquiescing. He got permission from the medical team to strip down to modest clothing, without belt buckles or shoes, minus his keys, his watch, coins, or other metallic objects, to stand sentry in the noisy exam room with the giant magnet and squeeze my toes — the only part of my body sticking out of the MRI tube — to reassure me that I was not alone in that hour.
In all these instances, Jesus was always with us, but he was calling us to bring his presence in visible, tangible ways to one another.
Read the rest over here.
And yes, that photo above really is my daughter and son-in-love. Here’s the whole photo.
A blog post about the wedding is here, and has been the most popular post all month.
One month ago, on July 4th, my only daughter, Katie, married her college sweetheart, Benjamin Sung. For them it was a wonderful, glorious day! May it be the first of many happy ones together! Our two sons, Bobby and Peter, were groomsmen. Let it be said that my husband and I wore impossible-to-hold-back-smiles almost all day long.
For me, it was one of my best days. Ever.
It’s hard to know where to start, other than to say, there are days that, if you are paying attention, you will experience an awareness that, this day will be among your very best days. Sometimes, you may not realize it until it is over, and that’s alright too. For when you have one of your best days, it stands out in your memory as a kind of timeless transformative experience.
I’ve been a parent for over 26 years. I’ve found that there are joys and holy moments that are both personal and intimate and known only to myself; nobody else will ever know them, save maybe those closest to me, because they are deeply ingrained in the memory of my heart. And yes, some of those quieter days are among my best days. But then, there are other days — “events” that are momentously shared and photographed and recorded. This day, the wedding day, was one of the those events that was full of joy, both the personal kind and the public kind.
The best days are the ones that shed light and meaning on every other day.
This is what I’m talking about. When you have babies and little children, you start to train them in the faith and morals that you wish to see them enter into and, God-willing, receive as their own. There are numerous conversations and teachable moments and experiences that you repeat over and over again, at every stage of growth in childhood and adolescence. It is hard, painful even, at times. You pray like crazy for these children. You often wonder if you should bother, but bother you do. Then you stand there in hope that something of what you know and say to be true is being heard, tested, adopted. You spend years building a case for the truth and efficacy of the Christian life, by first being challenged to live it yourself, warts and all… and then you pray that despite your own foibles, your marriage reflects something more than a partnership, but a marriage that begets love larger than itself… that marriage is a wedding of souls and purpose for the sake and the good of someone else –and later, several someones — other than yourselves.
And you pray some more. Lots more. And then you wait. You never know when one of your best days might happen.
For me, Katie and Benjy’s wedding was one of the best days: to see your adult child embrace their faith — and find a faithful mate who shares it — and enter into Holy Matrimony with full awareness of both the graces and the responsibilities therein, is a blessing that is an order of magnitude beyond just being proud of your child in the moment. No, this is a deep stirring that what you are watching unfold had divine origins, and that you somehow are being afforded the sublime privileged to partake in it. You cannot begin to describe the stunning gratitude that is bursting in your heart. For you are so grateful to God that you are there to witness a love grounded in something bigger than ourselves, greater than our emotions or ego, stronger than our doubts and problems, and more beautiful than wedding attire and flowers. You are experiencing something truly, eternally, significant. It is the gift of God’s love being made visible.
On July 4th we were privileged to witness two souls stand before God and do the seemingly impossible — something that can only be afforded by grace — pledge loving fidelity forever. To see the joy this couple had, and the confidence they have both in grace and in each other is extraordinary. This married love is the crowning of a chaste friendship that led to a slow-burn blossoming romance that has inspired their friends and their loved ones. It is proof that good flows from the goodness of God’s plan for men and women, and self-sacrifice before marriage becomes a firm foundation for happiness and blessings after the wedding day.
A sacramental marriage today is rapidly becoming counter-cultural. Let us pray for all married couples who try to follow the gospel’s lead to the best of their abilities and share their faith with their families and others through their vocation. Most especially, let us pray for the newlyweds that are among us. Their Christian witness will surely be put to the test. But despite any struggles to come, may they come to know and find the deepest truth of love is right there with them in those moments.
There. Is. No. Greater. Love. Than. This.
Katie and Benjy: may that Love always be the hallmark of your best days!
Let me thank all of you who have kept our family and our new couple in your prayers! I have permission to share a few photos and details of the happy day here on the blog.
There was a nuptial Mass at our local church, with a reception that followed afterwards that afternoon. It was hot that day! 95 degrees! (When have we had a heat wave like that, New England?? Whew!)
Our new son-in-love is Benjy Sung, a middle school math and science teacher. The couple first met through a Christian camp years ago and stayed friends over the years, even as they both attended different colleges and study-abroad.
The wedding Mass had a bilingual (English and Cantonese) Liturgy of the Word and Prayers of the Faithful, and there was an East-meets-West flavor at the reception: We incorporated a Chinese tea ceremony, explained below.
Afterwards, the couple took off for a honeymoon while Bob and I entertained family guests at our home for the remainder of the July 4th weekend, before taking off on a week away in Maine ourselves. So here’s a few photos that we hope you will enjoy!
The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises “an institution, confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society.” The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, par 1639-1640-
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