The Unholy Family

Most of us were born into an unholy family. Actually, that family – unholy as it may be – is the best way for each of us to make our way in this world, the greatest vehicle known to man for our sanctification.

What do you get when two fallen people fall in love and commit to spending the rest of their lives together, struggling through this thing called life, climbing, stumbling, and familyclimbing again; pulling each other up when we fall, sometimes tripping over each other along the way?

You get the precious seed of a holy family.

Your marriage may not be perfect. No worries. So long as you remain committed through the ups and downs and ins and outs of your relationship. Because the commitment itself will provide you both with the room you need for that seed to take root and germinate.

Marriage gives love the structure, the shelteredness, the climate in which alone it can grow. Marriage teaches spouses humility and makes them realize that the human person is a very poor lover. Much as we long to love and be loved, we repeatedly fall short and desperately need help. We must bind ourselves through sacred vows so that the bond will grant our love the strength necessary to face the tempest-tossed sea of our human condition. – Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love

And what do you get when those two people give themselves completely -at least to the extent that two fallen human beings can give themselves – to one another in love?

This is when love can produce life, and through this act that delicate greenery breaks the surface of the ground, growing more beautiful by the day through the waters of baptism, the nutrients of love and sacrifice provided daily by the parents, with the light of Christ shining down from above in grace and mercy.

This is when you get a family.

You may be thinking, My family doesn’t come close to that image. When you look at your family, you may be discouraged by what you consider to be an infestation of individualism and idiosyncrasies. No one seems on the same page at the same time and polar opposites can be found in every corner. You may be worried that your family may never blossom.

Yours may not be a holy family.

In fact, yours may be an unholy family.

That’s OK.

Most of us were born into an unholy family. Actually, that family – unholy as it may be – is the best way for each of us to make our way in this world, the greatest vehicle known to man for our sanctification.

The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial…

…The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down the chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day he was born.

This is, indeed, the sublime and special romance of the family. It is romantic because it is a toss-up…

…When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairytale. – G.K. Chesterton, On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family

But how, given the widely varied personalities involved in a family, the different values and goals, the wild adventures and the unknown outcomes, do we grow holy in that environment? How can we begin to turn in the same direction, linking arms as we walk through this vale of tears, climbing together to the summit of heaven?

We sacrifice.

We serve.

We let go.

We love.

(15) The human family, disunited by sin, is reconstituted in its unity by the redemptive power of the death and Resurrection of Christ.[37] Christian marriage, by participating in the salvific efficacy of this event, constitutes the natural setting in which the human person is introduced into the great family of the Church.

(21) Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But, at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to have the joyous and renewing experience of “reconciliation,” that is, communion reestablished, unity restored. In particular, participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the banquet of the one Body of Christ offers to the Christian family the grace and the responsibility of overcoming every division and of moving towards the fullness of communion willed by God, responding in this way to the ardent desire of the Lord: “that they may be one.” -Saint John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 

So we keep working. In our roles as parents, and in our roles as children, we sacrifice. We serve. We let go. We love.

And when we fall, we get back up and we begin again. Through reconciliation.

Through the life-giving love of the sacraments, the nutrients of our daily sacrifice, and by the grace-filled rays of Christ’s mercy, little by little, our families can become holy. That is when that tiny seed, planted in marriage, germinated in love to become a family, will begin to bloom. And the fragrance will intoxicate the world with its beauty.

But for now…

Face it. Your unholy family is the most amazing adventure you’ll ever find in this life. And the more wild the adventure and the higher the mountain you must climb together, the sweeter the victory when you reach the top.

Let us be grateful for our unholy families, and let us pray that we can unite ourselves to His Cross; that the Blood of Christ will wash away our sins, our pain and our tears along the way. Ultimately, may our families experience the joy of a love that is absolutely and completely self-giving, and together may we find the fruit of salvation through the embrace of the cross.




The Advent that almost Wasn’t.

Despite our best intentions, by their very force the material obligations of the Christmas season can push the more spiritual Advent activities aside.

Most of us aspire to lofty ideals during Advent:

“O, Lord, I anxiously await your coming and offer all that I am and all that I do for love of You, looking forward with all my heart to uniting myself to You in the celebration of your Incarnation.”advent-wreath

But often we fall somewhere between the ideal and the overwrought, overstressed, if not practical sentiment:

“Lord, could you just hurry up and come already, so we can get back to a regular routine?!”

And yet, who can blame us? Many of us already feel like we’re drowning, barely afloat amidst the trials, tribulations and regulations of every-day family life – getting little Joey to piano, Susie to violin, Harvard to debate practice and – in our case – homeschooling from morning till night, along with meal planning, grocery shopping, housekeeping and more. Then – every year around this time – here comes a great millstone of joy around our necks – otherwise known as Christmas lights strung from here to high heaven, perfectly appointed trees and wall to wall decor, shopping, hospitality, parties, family pictures, cards and letters, never-ending trips to the post office, planning, budgeting, charitable giving, baking and traveling. (Sometimes don’t you just want to curl up in your empty manger and hide from all the demands of boxes, bows and bounty until it’s all over?)

And after all the material traditions are said and done, we’re supposed to do what? Advent wreath? Candles? Special attention to Sacraments? Added Prayer? Sacrifice?

Sadly, despite our best intentions, by the inherent force of their nature,  the material obligations of the season often push the more spiritual Advent activities aside. To the point where we look back around Gaudete Sunday and realize that all those candles and Jesse tree ornaments, prayers, extra Masses, rosaries and reflections have been lost along the road of good intentions, somehow caught up and blown away in the wind before we even realized they were gone.

At least that’s what happened to our family this year.  And from the looks of all the beautiful houses and the over-the-top parties and show-stopping hospitality – where every dessert is perfection and the air is filled with the scent of pine needles and cranberries – I’m probably not the only one.

It seems that Advent has ceased to be about, well, ADVENT. Yes, it’s still about getting ready for Christmas.But it’s not about getting ready for Christmas.  There is no time of year when the contrast between how we look on the outside and how prepared we are on the inside can feel more stark. Sometimes, with all the joy surrounding the exterior, the lack of attention I’ve paid to my interior life is that much more highlighted for me. I begin to wonder if I’m not one of those “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27-28). Maybe it’s not that bad; but often it comes pretty close.

This is particularly the time when we should shed all the excess and train our eyes on heaven. On the things that really matter. Instead, every year the celebrations get earlier and earlier; the bar gets higher and higher; the obligations pile on and on.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Unlike Lent, which lends itself to reflection and sacrifice, coming as it does before Spring  and at the end of the long, drawn out quiet of winter, Advent is often glossed over by all the demands of the season.

What is the solution? And when I say “solution” I mean “practical solution.” Because chances are, all the obligations are not going to go away. Sure, we can disband everything that is not necessary; but for most of us, many of these traditions are here to stay. Try as we might, we’re still going to have decorations, get-togethers with extended family and friends, family pictures, Christmas cards, shopping and the like.

Yet, Christ is still calling. Whether we listen or not.

In our home, we have always had two Advent traditions. Every morning we read the stories of salvation history and place our special Jesse Tree ornaments on the Tree. Every evening we light a candle on the Advent wreath and read from one of Arnold Ytreeide’s Advent books.

But not this year.

Somehow what we used to think were crazy Christmas schedules for us as a family have multiplied into several crazy Christmas schedules – one for the family, and separate ones for each of our three teens, who all have their own Christmas obligations, whether through school, work, youth groups, or other affiliation. With everyone running around  we’ve not been able to schedule “family time” for much of anything. In fact, this year I hadn’t even found our Jesse Tree ornaments until a few days ago. And that was only because I’d had a huge awakening.

On Gaudete Sunday, it occurred to me that Advent is half over. I was shocked to realize that through the first two weeks of Advent, we had yet to light a single candle. My youngest children have had no reference to Advent other than the pink and purple candles sitting front and center in Church,  or the words we speak at prayer time or during open discussions around the table. Other than random moments, there has been no effort –  organized anyway – to help them prepare their hearts and minds for Christ.

It actually hit me that perhaps we should just give it up this year. Why not just get ready for Christmas and give Advent another try next year? I mean, what else can we do when the demands of the world won’t STOP?

But something about that idea just didn’t feel right. After all, what is all this “stuff” for, anyway? If we give up, aren’t we just releasing the most important if least demanding Person of the season? The One quietly waiting to gain our attention? Can I actually look myself in the mirror if my solution to the busyness of the season is just to put away the Advent candles and save my prayers for less demanding times?

No, I can’t.

So I looked at the calendar. Realizing we still had ten days left, tonight, we took action.

My husband pulled out the wreath and the kids lit the candles. One teen was at work; another was somewhere studying for a test. But four kids sat around the table and gazed at the three candles flickering before them.

Tonight, we spent time reflecting on the story of salvation history. We talked about the creation and the fall; We read about how Christ represents the Second Adam. How Mary is the new Eve. In brief passages, we read about God’s covenant with Noah; with Abraham. We placed our Jesse tree ornaments on the Christmas tree. Not the second tree we normally put in the classroom, but the family tree. And we didn’t read the Advent book we normally read; we focused on the story of salvation. In other words, we changed things up a bit in the interest of time. But that’s OK.

We gathered. And we read together. And those teens who weren’t around? They noticed the Advent wreath on the table when they returned. They may not have been a part of the conversation, but they remained part of the tradition. The reminder brought back all the years they had sat around the Advent wreath. They noticed.

For the next ten days, our family may not STOP. But we are going to PAUSE. If not twice a day, at least once. We’ve found the wreath; we’ve found the ornaments. We’ve made time for the sacrament of Confession. We are moving forward.

Our Advent may be brief. It may not be perfect. It may be missing some piece that would be “just the thing.” But it will be Advent nonetheless.

It will be a PAUSE.

And that PAUSE will matter.

Because that PAUSE will allow us to put all the other “stuff” into perspective. Rather than wait for the “perfect” opportunity to pull out the Advent wreath or the Jesse tree ornaments, we will schedule time each day – the same time. No matter that one family member is at work or another out with friends. Anyone home will be invited to participate. But if we wait for everyone to be ready, we’ll never be ready. If we wait for all the stars to align and the the time to be right, they will never be right.

We’ve lit our candles. And we plan to keep lighting them. Until the moment comes when we get to meet the bridegroom (Matt. 25:1).

The Advent that almost wasn’t…is here.



My Exciting Pre-Announcement and Why You Haven’t Heard From Me Lately!!!

Not merely another book to read, How to Read Your Way to Heaven is designed to be an invaluable tool for guiding and organizing your reading to help you on your journey to become a saint.

Lately I have been off-line. I have had insights and inquiries I wanted to discuss with you; but instead I have used any time on my computer to put the final touches on my latest project. In that regard, and in the interest of the delicate balancing act that is the life of a mother, I have neglected the youngest of my children. Yes, I consider this blog to be my infant child – barely a year old, it has been left to flounder for most of the past two months. Between preparing for holidays and finishing other projects, our conversation about sacrifice has been left on the back burner. Sacrificed, so to speak.

So what’s been taking so much time that I couldn’t spare a minute to check in here and there?

Well, I’m pleased to announce that my first book just went to the printer!!! How to Read Your Way to Heaven is available for pre-order and will be formally released by Sophia Institute Press on January 26th!


That’s right! I’ve spent the last month or two plugging away at small details here and there, hoping to make this a spiritual reading program well worth your time and energy. And, while I am humbled by the opportunity to pull this together, I must say, I do think it has turned out to be quite a valuable resource.

From the back of the book:

Wouldn’t it be great if we really could read our way to heaven?

Many of us commit to some form of spiritual reading, but we find that our book choices are sporadic and often based on a whim rather than following a purposeful plan. Designed for individual or group settings, How to Read Your Way to Heaven will guide your quest to delve deeper into a relationship with Christ by meditating on the written word while organizing your reading around the four pillars of the Catholic Faith – the Creed, the sacraments, morality and prayer.

Not merely another book to read, How to Read Your Way to Heaven is designed to be an invaluable tool for guiding and organizing your reading to help you on your journey to become a saint.

Following this plan, you’ll meditate daily on Sacred Scripture and read the entirety of the Catechism over the course of the program. You’ll be introduced to a treasure trove of the greatest Catholic books ever written, and you’ll learn prayerful reading methods such as lectio divina and find time-tested advice on where and when to read.

A couple of additional notes:

  • This book is an integrated 1-,3- or 5-year spiritual reading program, complete with a checklist, specific assignments and a magnificent book list that is fully in line with the Magisterium of the Church.
  • A sample page from the reading program:



  • Daily assignments include brief readings from Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. Readings generally take 15-30 minutes per day, or can be split between two days, if time is limited. The program is completely adaptable to the schedule of each individual reader.
  • The four pillars of the Catholic Faith as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church are the foundation on which this reading program is built: What we believe (Profession of Faith); liturgy and the sacraments (Celebration of the Christian Mystery); life of Christ; prayer.
  • SO excited about this one  – We asked Catholics to whom many of us look for wisdom, guidance or support on our spiritual journeys to share their favorite books from each of the four pillars of Faith. Many responded. We have recommendations from Dr. Peter Kreeft, Jennifer Fulwiler, Mike Aquilina, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Tim Staples, Trent Horn, Jason Evert and many others. Additionally, we included Fr. C. John McCloskey’s Catholic Lifetime Reading List, which includes over 100 books for your spiritual reading pleasure and enlightenment.
  • Hundreds of quotes by saints and other great and holy minds are sprinkled throughout the text for your meditation and contemplation on each of the four pillars.
  • The main text includes the story of my spiritual reading journey as a Catholic convert, including five things I’ve learned about spiritual reading, and why it should play a critical role in our lives as Catholics.

I’m so excited to share this resource with you! I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think!!!

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