An Open Letter to Engaged Couples

You’ve been dreaming of this day for so long, and now it’s only a heartbeat away. No doubt at least one of you has spent countless hours working out every microscopic detail to ensure that your amazing day is everything you’ve imagined it to be. But while all the particulars have their place, your special day will be gone in the blink of an eye. After that, you will stand hand in hand, looking down the winding road that is your future, ready to travel every step of the way together. “If true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears.”

June will soon be upon us. That means wedding planners are working overtime, brides are getting overwhelmed as they count the days and grooms are looking forward to the honeymoonhoneymoon. Or at least that’s how it was 21 years ago when I got married. Could be that these days grooms are getting overwhelmed and brides are looking forward to the honeymoon (I did hear the term “groomzilla” for the first time this year).  Most likely it’s a little of both.

Whatever the case, this letter is for you – the bride and groom. You’ve been dreaming of this day for so long, and now it’s only a heartbeat away. No doubt at least one of you has spent countless hours working out every microscopic detail to ensure that your amazing day is everything you’ve imagined it to be. Perhaps you have Say Yes to the Dress and Four Weddings DVR’d and your reception hall on speed dial. And if the days leading up to your wedding are anything like ours, you must be up to your veils and bowties in flowers, programs, music and invitations.

But while all the particulars have their place, your special day will be gone in the blink of an eye. After that, you will stand hand in hand, looking down the winding road that is your future, ready to travel every step of the way together.

Your final destination? Heaven.

Whoever said life is about the journey is wrong. Life is about the end game. Your mission in marriage is to lead each other to heaven. And along the way, that winding road may lead you in directions yet foreseen.

Twenty-one years ago when I married my husband, we were excited, joyful and madly in love. Could we have imagined what our lives would bring over the next two decades? Surely I could never have guessed the joys and wonders that would more fully unite us as we were blessed with six amazing children to raise. But intermixed with the joy came job loss, financial strain, the grief of five miscarriages, the death of friends and family members, our crazy spur-of-the-moment decision to homeschool in a world of two incomes (to date we’ve persevered for 14 years), living in four different states, and hanging our hats in seven homes thus far.

But much to my surprise, every challenge has produced increased joy and a stronger commitment to one another. I was surprised because, you see, unlike my husband, I did not grow up with two parents who were married for the entirety of this earthly life. While I had the best of intentions,  I had no idea what marriage was supposed to look like. Chances are, at least half of you are in the same spot. It is for you that, in all humility and openness, I’d like to share an experience I had with my husband many years ago, before we were married.

Shortly after our engagement, I was concerned because my then fiancé was not overly affectionate with me. We rarely held hands and we behaved more like close friends than the adoring lovers I’d seen in the movies. I raised the issue with him. Almost pouting, I asked (in all sincerity), “If this is how affectionate we are now, imagine what things are going to be like in twenty years?  I mean, this is supposed to be the most romantic and wonderful time of our relationship – when it’s new and exciting!  Love only goes downhill from here.”

I can still see the expression he gave me.  One of puzzled amusement.  His eyes sparkled and his mouth turned up slightly as he took my hand.  “Vicki,” he said.  “My parents have been married for nearly forty years.  They are probably more affectionate now than they have ever been.  Now that the kids are grown and they are each other’s sole companion through life.  I absolutely guarantee you that they love each other now a thousand times more than they did when they were first engaged.”

He must have seen the doubt in my eyes, because he took my other hand too, before he continued.  “Think about it.  My parents have raised children together.  They’ve watched neighbors experience the tragedy of losing everything they had through the eighties when farming was at its low. They have been through good times and terrible times.  They have gotten to know each other’s families in an intimate way so that it’s not just the two of them, but a web of relationships that solidifies their own.  They have seen each other at their worst. They have seen each other at their best. They have forty years of memories together, both good and bad.  They buried a baby together.  They can honestly say that they know each other better than anyone else in the world.  That in itself ties them together.  I can assure you that my parents are absolutely one hundred percent in love, and they would take their relationship today over their little flirtations forty years ago any day of the week.

I knew, listening to my future husband in that moment, that I was learning something new.  Something I’d never heard before, but that was absolutely true.  I had been raised to believe that love was about emotion, not experience.  That love was about affection and not comfort.  But I knew that he was right.  I knew that when he married me, his love would only increase over the next forty years.  That, in itself, was a lesson I have carried with me through more than twenty years of good times and bad. Through moments where we were so annoyed with each other that I looked forward to his going to work, and I’m sure he looked forward to going. But despite the space we needed to work out our frustrations, we both knew that the tension was only temporary. (Very Important Note: That realization in itself is enough to dissolve most issues before they have a chance to dig in.)

You will love your spouse more over time, not in spite of your problems, but because of them.  Because you, too will each know going into this mystery that is Christ’s love, that your commitment is for life. And it is by sharing this life’s struggles that you will help each other to the next.

The greatest means of accomplishing your goal? Without a doubt, remember always that this relationship must find it’s security in the Love of God, Himself. For without God’s grace, the selfishness bubbling within our hearts from the sin of our first parents leaves us helpless to offer ourselves as a perfect sacrifice.

And sacrifice is the key to a happy and long-lasting marriage.

Recently I heard a speaker mention the following exhortation, so I looked it up. Before Vatican II,  this exhortation was read at every Catholic wedding. In those days, the priest did not take time in the Mass to offer a homily about the time he’d spent with the bride and groom, or make jokes about marriage preparation. Instead, he read the following. It is straightforward. It is a little scary (note how many times the word sacrifice is used). And it is A LOT beautiful.

Most importantly, it is true.

Exhortation Before Marriage
(All italics mine)

My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God himself. By it, he gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under his fatherly care. Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. [But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. And so he gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self- sacrificing love like his own. It is for this reason that his apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.]

This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future, That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.

Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are, nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation. ” Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears.

The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs, he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces [in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive].

God’s blessings upon you as you embark on this exciting journey together. Decades from now, may you look back on this time in your life and smile at the love you shared today, knowing that it has grown exponentially every day since. I can promise you that life will not always be easy. But in the profound words we just read, if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears.

In Christ,
A Fellow Traveler



Squatter’s Rights and LGBT Movements: How We Allowed Adverse Possession and What We Can do About it

When it comes to our relationship with the LGBT community, our efforts to refrain from making waves and avoid being labeled bigots have wrought (or at the very least contributed to) unimaginable cultural losses that may effect the world for generations to come.

Americans are livid. The Obama administration has taken the transgender bathroom issue by storm, issuing a 600px-Bathroom-gender-sign
directive  via the Departments of Justice and Education to all public school districts across the country, warning officials that transgender students should be allowed to use the restroom or locker room of the gender with which they identify, as opposed to their “sex assigned at birth” (their language, not mine) – or risk having the federal government withhold school funding. And by the way, making separate facilities available doesn’t count.

This is what happens, ladies and gentlemen, when we fail to stand up and declare the truth. When we sit back in fear of confrontation and refuse to speak the truth in love, we risk being violently overtaken in the public square.

In the world of pubic opinion, the faithful have completely lost the argument. But worse, when it counted, few of us showed up. Do you know what we have done? We have allowed something that in the real estate business is called adverse possession, otherwise known by the somewhat crass if visually descriptive term, squatter’s rights.

Let me explain. Say your neighbor lets you know he’s going to build a six foot fence around his property. In an act of good will, you give him your blessing and compliment his choice of building materials. A few days after he begins building, you notice that he has crossed the property line by a few feet. You know this because when you moved in several years ago, the lots were staked out, and you measured ten feet from the lot line so you could plant your garden. It’s not terrible, but you measure, and sure enough, your garden fence is only seven feet from your neighbor’s new construct. You’re in a tough spot. You don’t want to cause any friction or offend your neighbor, who has already begun building. In the end, rather than risk stirring up bad feelings, you let it go.

The problem is that you have not simply allowed your neighbor to build on your property. Five years later, when he moves, he will lay claim to that additional three feet. He will be hard pressed to believe he stepped out of bounds at that point, and the courts will agree. Unbeknownst to you, by your silence, you have ceded part of your property to your neighbor.

When it comes to our relationship with the LGBT community, our efforts to refrain from making waves and avoid being labeled bigots have wrought (or at the very least contributed to) unimaginable cultural losses that may effect the world for generations to come.

As Christians, we tend to be compassionate (contrary to the image we’ve been given in recent years). We know we are called to love. So rather than risk offending anyone, we let things go. After all, the entire LGBT community was comprised of a mere 2-3% of the population. There was a time when many of us didn’t even know someone who was gay or transgender, so we stayed out of the conversation. And if we did know someone, we knew they were good people and meant no harm to anyone – so we stayed silent.

In fact, if we did speak up, many of us (correctly) supported individuals who were mistreated in the name of sexual orientation, advocating love of neighbor as one of the greatest commandments. We thought, correctly, all human beings are deserving of respect (CCC 1700). But we held our tongues regarding the teaching of the Church on human sexuality. After all, we thought, who am I to tell others how to liveWhat they do in their own homes is between them and God. 

And that’s where we went wrong.

The fact is, average Americans have never wanted to address the moral argument. Because – hey – that would be judging. But by keeping the argument on purely legal terms – definition of marriage, a child’s right to two parents, and now, discomfort in the restroom – we have subtlety communicated that we didn’t believe the lifestyles of the LGBT community were immoral; we just didn’t want them to affect our way of life. (Because, after all, everyone knows the “greatest” commandment has become, “thou shalt not impose your morality on your neighbor.“)

Having failed to reasonably discuss the possibility that these individuals who are seeking equal status should actually be seeking help (it took me forever to type those words – I have been avoiding the discussion too), we have allowed enough time to pass that we have unwittingly allowed the LGBT community to advocate its position to the point that now, anyone who argues that there may be “disorder” involved with being gay or transgender is a bigot. Uneducated. A hater.

Cultural Shift

While we were hemming and hawing over how to avoid giving offense, the LGBT community has been busy making great inroads in the public square. In as little as 15 years, public opinion has done a complete 180. For example, in 2001, 57% of people in the general public opposed gay marriage. Today, even 58% of Catholics support it.

My goodness, the left has been completely indoctrinating the young right under our noses – using our tax dollars, no less! They have even convinced them that there is no such thing as truth (moral or even physical – watch this and this), while all this time we have been pussyfooting around, trying to find the courage to declare it.

Transgender rights are just the latest in a stream of efforts to overturn any semblance of traditional values. Pressure has been mounting at a steep rate. An issue that was little known six months ago has suddenly become a matter of civil rights. To say the trend is disturbing is an understatement. Just a couple of weeks ago (as mentioned in a previous post), an employee of a Catholic university was under investigation for a hate crime after stating that there are two genders.

When the state of North Carolina took a preemptive step in declaring by law that one must use the restroom of his biological gender (something that used to be common sense), the transgender bathroom issue came to a head. Outrage against the state has been palpable.

Then the federal government dove into the controversy, invoking Title 9 and involving the courts. North Carolina fought back. Livid, Obama, sensing a changing tide in public opinion, has thrown down the gauntlet, not only against North Carolina, but daring any state in the country to initiate similar legislation. In a massive overstep of intimidation, the administration has now drawn the big guns, using the power of the purse to threaten schools across the country.

So what now?

I read a quote recently that captures the current pulse of America today:

“Evil preaches tolerance until it is dominant, then it tries to silence good.” — Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

So what can we do about it?

After we collectively pick our jaws off the floor, having been stunned by the sheer audacity of the federal government telling us that our daughters must share locker rooms with boys of the opposite sex, we must go back to the beginning.

The Church is first and foremost a mother and a teacher. A loving mother has compassion for her children. But it is out of that compassion that she teaches them the truth. We must, as Christ’s body, the Church, teach the truth about human sexuality.

In order to teach, we must be informed. It is not enough to know that God has a plan for marriage. For the family. As Catholics, we must know that plan. We must be able to articulate that plan.

We must live out that plan.

Truth is undeniable when light shines upon it.

There is nothing better to display the truth in an excellent light, than a clear and simple statement of facts. – Saint Benedict

Get Educated

Here are some resources that I plan to learn inside and out. Study them and see if they help you to better articulate a simple statement of facts:

  1. The Catechism
  2. Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojtyla (now Saint John Paul II) – what is truly meant by human sexuality
  3. Familiaris Consortio by Saint John Paul II – because what is most at stake in this discussion is the human family, which is the foundation of all of society
  4. Man, Woman, and the Meaning of Love: God’s Plan for Love, Marriage, Intimacy, and the Family by Dietrich von Hildebrand
  5. Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri
  6. Address to Roman Curia by Pope Benedict XVI, specifically addressing the dangers of the gender identity movement (and also commentary on it)
  7. Catholic Answers Resources:
    – Video: How do We Relate to People who Struggle with Sexual Identity
    – Article: Five Questions for Supporters of Gender Transitioning
    – Article: Bathroom Bill is Not Hateful Bigotry

7.  Popes and Catechism on Gender Theory

[Note: If you have other recommendations that are in line with the Magisterium, please offer them in the Comments section.]

What You Can Do Today

In the meantime, now is the time to take civil action. Force yourself to leave your comfort zone, step off the sidelines and get involved. Write your governorssenatorsrepresentatives, school boards, and anyone else of consequence, encouraging them to stand up to the administration. Texas and Arkansas have already said they refuse to comply. In a profound statement, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas asserted, “We will not be blackmailed by the president’s 30 pieces of silver.”

There is hope that a groundswell of public opinion summarily rejecting the administration’s reach will prove fruitful. Encourage your state not to give into political correctness.

[Note: If you have other ideas for civic action, please recommend them in the Comments section.] 

Mother: The Most Beautiful Word

Is there anyone who can look forward to the Last Judgement with more confidence than a mother? The crown of eternal glory is awaiting her.

Inspiration from Cardinal Mindszenty’s beautiful work, The Mother:

The Most Beautiful Word

A number of children are tired of their game. They want to learn a new game. So they decide on this. “Everyone must try to find the most beautiful word in the Émile_Munier,_1892_-_Mother_and_childworld,” one suggests and continues: “When father comes home he will decide who has found it.” All agree.

Both boys and girls take pencil to paper, look for a quiet corner where no one can see what they write. They think and ponder and finally put down the chosen word. After the evening meal, father is to make the final decision. After a pause he says: “The most beautiful word is mother.” The little seven-year-old boy has won.

Tell me can you find a word,
replete with music and sound,
adorned with legend and song,
full of smiles and tear drops,
wrought of treasures and fine pearls,
bright with sun rays and moonbeams,
that reflects the sea, with the scent of roses,
yet full of tearful yearning and longing,
search the world, ne’er will you find another
word, as precious, fine and pure as, “mother.”
(Vitnyedi Nemeth Istvan)

This word has its own special sound in every language. It weeps and laments like a distant magic trumpet, it rejoices like the small golden bells in the chimes, and when we pronounce this word our heart is on our lips. There is in it the laughter of childhood, even when spoken by an old man. Is there a creature to whom we are bound more intimately, heart and soul, than mother? Is there another word that can move us more deeply? The longer we live, the more the world unfolds before us, the more we are overcome with the wonder of motherhood. The more we learn about life, the more beautiful and more replete with meaning is the word “Mother.” What is mother?

Thou art the source from which I sprang
Thou art the root from which I grew.
Thou, O mother, art the threshold
Over which I passed into life.
(Bisztray Gyula)

The mother – so I read – is the fire, the children are the light. By the brightness of the light, we know how great is the fire.

The mother is the vine, the children the branches. By the branches we judge the value of the vine.

The mother is the tree of life, the children the fruit. The Savior said: “By their fruits you shall know them.”

The mother is the clock, the children the hands. They point out the time.

The mother is the pen, the children the script. By the writing you recognize the writer.

The mother is the rudder, the children the boat. The boat goes wherever the rudder directs.

The mother is the queen, the children the subjects. Under the scepter of a wise mother, the children are satisfied and happy.

The mother is the great enigma and mystery. the happiness of mankind, the sufferings of mankind vibrate and tremble in that one word, Mother.

[Blessed is the Merciful Mother]

…Is there anyone who can look forward to the Last Judgement with more confidence than a mother? The crown of eternal glory is awaiting her. St. Paul, speaking of woman, says: “She shall be saved through childbearing.” 1 Tim. II, 15. Motherhood is not limited only to giving life of the body to the child; the mother also gives her child the life of the soul, by leading it to God and to Christ. She again becomes its mother by unfolding before her child’s mind the wonders of existence.

In the blessedness promised by St. Paul, we seem to hear the blessedness promised by Our Lord in his sermon on the mount when He said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy.” The hands of mother have brought music as from the registers of an organ, by all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. She fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the poor, housed the stranger, visited and tended the sick. She admonished the sinner, counseled the doubtful, instructed the ignorant, consoled the sorrowful, was patient with the foolish and was incessant in prayer for the living and the dead.

The mother is God’s co-worker, the first and the best apostle of the Church. She is a ray of light from the Mother of Mercy.

“Mama’s beauty never dies”…and life on earth will be beautiful as long as there beats a mother’s heart.

– Passages above were borrowed from  The Mother, by Cardinal Mindszenty.

The BEST Thing You Can do For Your Children

As Christians, we are called to
be Christ to the world. Where is that calling more important than at the center of our own world, in our own home, with the person closest to us?

There are arguably a lot of things you can and should do for your children. You should teach them about God. You should teach them to be kind to others. You should make sure marriage paintingthey get a great education, teach them to be independent, endow them with a great work ethic, teach them how to manage money…and the list goes on and on.

But the absolute best thing you can do for your children?

Love your spouse.

And loving your spouse is not a nice, feel good phrase. It means sacrifice. Loving your spouse literally means laying down your life for your spouse day after day, for the rest of your life, as Christ laid down His life for you.

As Servant of God, Father Flanagan once said,

Isn’t sacrifice the real measure of love? Genuine love in married life comes only to two people who are mutually and supremely unselfish.

There is no greater gift you can give to your children.

That’s right. Love your husband even if he tends to be insensitive and careless. Love your wife, even if she can be controlling and a bit of a nag.

Love is a decision. It is an action. It is not merely an emotion.

Love is not about a bitter martyrdom. It’s not about actions that rest only on the surface while we allow our hearts to harden and rot on the inside. Love is about reframing our thoughts toward the good of another. If anything, it is a martyrdom of grace and generosity – of extreme care and consideration that pours forth from heart, mind and soul.

We must always assume the best, always give the benefit of the doubt, always go the extra mile. Not only to be kind, but to think kindly.

As Bishop Robert Barron has said many times,

“Love is to will the good of the other as other.”

Love is not about me. It is not about my feelings. It is about my spouse. God has ordained me as a wife for one purpose. That is, to help my husband get to heaven. And by virtue of that union, together it is our calling to lead our children there as well.

As Christians, we are called to be Christ to the world. Where is that calling more important than at the center of our own world, in our own home, with the person closest to us? The one with whom we are united as one until we reach the end of our earthly journey?

There is a great line in the movie The Sound of Music, shortly after Captain von Trapp and Maria are married, when Max, a close family relative, tries to get Maria to change the captain’s mind about allowing his children to sing in a festival. While Maria supports the idea, her husband has just made it clear to Max that he is absolutely against it. Her answer?

“Max, I can’t ask him to be less than he is.”

Consider the beauty in that simple statement. Her response is not, I will talk with him. It is not, Sometimes he can be so stubborn. It is not a roll of the eyes. Her simple statement implies a solemn belief that God rests in the soul of her husband and that he is good.

Words to keep in mind when we are tempted to question our spouse’s actions or opinions.

What does all this love, honor and respect do for your children? It teaches them that love is an act of the will, rather than a fleeting emotion. When they see you treat your husband, your wife (their father, their mother) with great kindness in all circumstances, with respect no matter your mood, with great deference regardless of the demands of others, they learn that love is an act of the will. This enables them to learn to pay little heed to their fleeting passions and be mindful of using their own wills to love.

When they witness the love of Christ through the unwavering devotion of their parents –  from their earliest days as they soak in the world, through adolescence, when they begin to question your decisions, and into adulthood when they begin to realize that life can present great challenges and complex choices – they will have built a foundation that will carry them through every storm. They will know their place in the world and will feel secure.

I know there are so many illustrations of this kind of love; but I’ll leave you with a personal example that has inspired me greatly over the years.

My husband was one of nine children. He grew up on a dairy farm in Northeast Nebraska, in a small farmhouse with four bedrooms, one bathroom and one corded telephone. There was a lot of work. And there was a lot of love. While they were growing up, a simple little plaque hung on a wall in the living room. It read,

The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

My husband’s father did just that.

And the nine children who witnessed their parents’ relationship?

They have tried to follow suit.

In a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce, by God’s grace, all nine of their children are still married – to their first and only spouse. The longest marriage has lasted over 30 years and the shortest just under 20.

The example of love witnessed by these nine children has given them more than all the riches in the world could have possibly provided them. And by extension, that example has flowed through to enrich 36 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren as well.

Of course, I’m sure my in-laws would attest that they were not perfect. Even great relationships falter. As human beings, we will fall again and again. But through the grace of God we can seek forgiveness and begin anew. Marriage is about mercy. It is about perseverance.  It is about a commitment to the pursuit of the good.

Regardless of the missteps and the mistakes, loving your spouse is still undoubtedly the BEST thing you can do for your children.

When I converted to the Catholic Church, my husband went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) with me. In one of the early sessions, the priest asked each of us to tell him what picture came to mind when we thought of God. My husband immediately said, “My parents.” 

His answer gets to the heart of the matter. By loving our spouse through good times and bad, we become a picture of Christ they will carry in their hearts forever. We enable them to invite Him into their lives with open arms, because He is as familiar to them as the love they witnessed between their parents day in and day out. And when the thought of Christ becomes as warm and comfortable as coming home, how can they not want to spend the rest of eternity with Him?


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A House Upon the Sand – When We Refuse to Promote the Common Good

If we are to survive as a nation, we must stop trying to redefine the rock that is the family, and once again build a culture that promotes this sacred institution.

Seventeen years ago I worked for a nonprofit that sought to promote the virtues of marriage and its incalculable bearing upon the common good. After a year of campaigning familyfor a cause which I believed to be one of the most significant if not the most significant in our nation’s history, I stepped out in order to focus my time and energy on my own marriage and on the amazing fruit of that relationship, which at the time was about 20 inches long and wrapped in a soft but tiny blue receiving blanket. Unbeknownst to that precious little bundle, the two hearts of this husband and wife were now intricately bound with his own and he would carry them with him for the rest of our lives.

This is what family is about. Two become one, and that one can become three.   Or, in our case after 21 years, eight. But like the Blessed Trinity, while we are three (or four or eight, or thirteen), we are still one. By virtue of the sacrament of marriage and the blessing of parenthood, families are a single unit, each individual part of which serves to help every other part, that the whole may one day attain heaven.

Ultimately, family is about sacrifice. Something that must be promoted in today’s world.

Few can describe the beauty and purpose of family life as eloquently as did Pope [Saint] John Paul II, in his encyclical, Familiaris Consortio:

Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, “whose purpose is to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God,” is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the church. By celebrating it, Christian spouses profess their gratitude to God for the sublime gift bestowed on them of being able to live in their married and family lives the very love of God for people and that of the Lord Jesus for the church, his bride.

Just as husbands and wives receive from the sacrament the gift and responsibility of translating into daily living the sanctification bestowed on them, so the same sacrament confers on them the grace and moral obligation of transforming their whole lives into a “spiritual sacrifice” (#56).

God has given us a magnificent gift – the family is the foundation of all of society. Solid families build strong  neighborhoods. Strong neighborhoods come together as proactive communities. Proactive communities make up productive towns, uniting to form sovereign states in our case, which then come together to share their values beneath the umbrella of a great nation.

This all works very well.

Until the foundation crumbles.

As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live. – Pope John Paul II

In the case of our own nation, the cracks are visible; but rather than fixing the foundation, we are busy re-plastering and re-painting all the residual damage.

Daily we hear about problem after problem, each calling for serious solutions. Crime rates are on the rise and gun violence is increasing, as are random violence, poverty, dismal education scores, drug abuse and availability, the divide between the rich and the poor, the number of children born to single parents, the strain on social services,  and more.

As a nation, we are desperate to find solutions to each of these problems. And the solution most promoted is legislation. We decrease sentencing so that fewer crimes result in jail time. We attempt to restrict guns so that criminals cannot commit crimes. We hear about police brutality, a need for additional aid to the poor, increased spending on education, a redistribution of wealth, more counseling and free daycare for single parents. The answer to every proposal that has been tried and failed is to spend MORE money and give MORE consideration!!!  And yet, we have been increasing funding in each of these areas for decades now.

To no avail.


Because there is no amount of money that will solve any of these problems. Simply put, a lack of legislation is not the problem. In fact, legislation actually contributes to the problem, to the extent that it demeans the institution of the family.

That’s right.

We have been destroying the very foundation of our nation by destroying the institution the family – an institution grounded in strong marriages, which we have thrown to the wolves of self-satisfaction and worldly fulfillment.

We have become a house built on sand. And a house built on sand is bound to fall.

The family has been chiseled away to an unrecognizable version of its former self. We are now standing on the quicksand of relativism, individualism and self-determination. We are being sucked under by political correctness and a refusal to make judgements that promote the common good.

And yet, those judgements must be made. God designed the family perfectly. We redefine it to our detriment. Every child needs a father and mother; and, despite efforts to ignore the obvious, all social science evidence points to that simple fact.

As a society, we have a moral obligation to promote the good.

Divorce and single-parent families increase the chances that children will have significant problems throughout life. Children of divorce are more likely to get addicted to cigarettes, drugs or alcohol,  commit crimes and struggle with reduced performance in school . They often suffer from lower high school and college graduation rates compared to their married-parent counterparts and are significantly more likely to grow up in poverty. Girls growing up with a single-parent are more likely to become pregnant while in high school. And the trend continues to further generations, as children of divorce are more likely to divorce themselves. (Interestingly enough, a single-parent home as the result of the death of a parent does not have the same damaging affects.)

The most comprehensive examination of the complex and long-lasting effects of divorce on children was conducted by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, who tracked 100 victims of divorce over the course of 25 years to thoroughly evaluate its longitudinal affects on their lives. The dramatic results can be read in her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

In addition to the fact that divorce often has a negative effect on children, there is also evidence to demonstrate that divorce is contagious. According to Pew Research, we are 75% more likely to get a divorce if we have a friend that gets a divorce.

And when we do divorce, and months or years later find a mate whom we believe to be our true love? We may be fooling ourselves. Second marriages have a 67-80% chance of ending in divorce.

This is a spiraling cycle that has spun out of control. Let no one quote to you statistics that tout decreasing divorce rates. Because we’re also dealing with a generation full of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbirth, which in turn lead to all the same results discussed above.

No where is this information refuted. Instead, it is ignored because it flies in the face of the political agenda of the day. The widespread mindset that promotes following our own hearts; doing what makes us “happy.” Unfortunately, that mindset doesn’t even serve adults in the long run, as more often than not, divorce does not lead to increased happiness.

If we are to survive as a nation, we must stop trying to redefine the rock that is the family, and once again build a culture that  promotes this sacred institution.

There is a lot we can do to promote the common good as a society. Of course, our greatest impact on our children will come from the lives we lead in our own homes. But with the entire culture seeking to destroy our best efforts, that has become uphill battle. Combined with our own efforts, messages from every level must promote the common good.

We must be able to say that marriage is good, cohabitation and sex before marriage are bad. Commitment is good. Selfishness is bad. Feelings are fleeting. True love is a verb.

The greatest power of the presidency is the bully pulpit. The greatest power of the media is to inform on the facts – not a twisted, politically correct version that fits the mantra of the day. The greatest power of Hollywood is to persuade through the use of illustration. The greatest power in our communities, in our churches, in our schools and, most importantly, in our homes, is the example set and any spoken word that pays homage to the good.

For years, we have subtly desecrated the notion of the two-parent family through each and every one of those mediums. Here is just one example from Hollywood.  Mrs. Doubtfire– an unbelievably celebrated movie – was so funny that perhaps you didn’t even notice how it attempted to redefine the institution of the family:

There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. Some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. Some live in separate homes and neighbourhoods in different areas of the country. They may not see each other for days, weeks, months or even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear, those are the ties that bind. And you’ll have a family in your heart for ever.

Very subtle; very sly; one message among many.

You may defend Mrs. Doubtfire by arguing this message is true. After all, we must support children who are not so blessed to have a father and mother. They should be validated rather than suffer some stigma because their parents are divorced, or perhaps never married. Let me first say that those children are not fooled. As a child who grew up with divorced parents, all the messages in the world would not have convinced me that having my dad live somewhere else was just as “good” as having him live with the rest of us. You can offer all the platitudes you like, but kids know  when they are getting the short end of the stick.

For adults on the other hand…the message subtly validates what are no doubt complex and difficult decisions. And it as no doubt reassured countless parents who find themselves in unhappy marriages.

Mrs. Doubtfire came out over 20 years ago. And the messages that we have received since that time – from just about every direction – have only served to further deteriorate this sacred institution. There have been exceptions. But those exceptions are too few and far between.

It’s time we call foul. We must say NO to all efforts that attempt to legislate symptoms rather than dealing with the problem. We need to make clear that while, yes, there are all sorts of different families, the one that God ordained is the one that best promotes the common good.

Until we do, we will continue to build our house upon the sand.


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