Is Your Marriage Lacking a Certain Chemical Element?

Do you watch all the ads with the lovey dovey smiles and the flirtatious eyes, and try to remember what that felt like? Do you recall the giddiness of being young fresh and so in love that even folding socks together was fun?

Valentine’s Day is upon us again.

Do you watch all the ads with the lovey dovey smiles and the flirtatious eyes, and try to remember what that felt like? Do you recall the giddiness of being young and marriage paintingfresh and so in love that even folding socks together was fun? Where even an accidental touch was electrifying and you called your love 100 times a day just to hear his voice?

If we’re not careful, love can become like a favorite shirt thoughtlessly tossed into the bottom of a drawer. Over time we tend to pile other things on top of it, passing it over from day to day without even thinking until some random thought, word or action sparks a reminder, and we realize that something very special is missing.

When I was in my early twenties, I began a cross-stitch project that I was sure would be a permanent focal point on my wall. It was a huge, colorful piece of country folk art, and it would have been beautiful. Today, six kids and fifty million ideas later, that piece of art has long been abandoned to the wasteland of forgotten projects.

Recently, my daughters and I were digging through my sewing box to find notions for their latest crafts. Sure enough, they found that old piece of material with the beautiful, but unfinished cross-section of a town, all neatly stitched in bright, bold colors. The finished portion would probably fill a 9×13 frame. They were awestruck. “Mom! This was sooo beautiful! Why would you leave it in a box?! Why don’t you finish it? How could you just put this down and walk away?”

How to explain that things came up? That I was too busy holding babies, doing laundry and feeding kids? And as time passed, my obligations only became greater, running kids from here to there. Other goals. Other plans. I never intended to set it aside for good. In the beginning, I only put it away during a busy time in my life. But then along came something else. And pretty soon, it was relegated to an old sewing box as I focused on making new curtains, pillows and bedspreads for our first house. And then along came the children and there were the sports and the play dates and school. There was always something that kept me from picking up that project.

And now?

I’m no longer interested.

Sadly, many marriages end up in the predicament. Sometimes we cast them aside, with every intention of getting back to them “later,” when life calms down. But then things don’t calm down, and our marriage becomes faded and dingy, lacking the bright color and excitement it once had.

Has our love dwindled?


It’s there; but it might be a little lethargic, perhaps suffering from a lack of oxygen.

It might do us good to breathe a little life back into our marriages – both body and soul.

While challenges in marriage can be complicated, the action of loving is not. Love is a verb. And we must take steps to love our spouses, no matter the condition of our relationship. A simple love offering can go a long way toward reviving that spark. Take some time this week to spend some special time together, sans distractions. And make that a habit. Talk. Listen. Pray together. Attend adoration together. And more than anything else, recognize the privilege you’ve been given by virtue of your sacred union.

There is no magic pill that will liven a marriage relationship. Love takes time. It takes sacrifice. And it takes commitment. Here are just six thoughts to keep in mind regarding this amazing sacrament that is marriage on this very special day. Perhaps contemplating the profound nature of your relationship will help to ignite the flame of desire and spark the passion of commitment:

  1. You have been chosen and called, therefore, as husbands and wives to be for one another the living experiential sign and expression of God’s love by sharing with each other the gifts of uncompromising love, unconditional acceptance, ceaseless dedication, total fidelity, and untiring service. These are the signs of God’s love, and this is what makes God present in the Sacrament of Matrimony. — Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: the Mystery of Faithful Love

  2. How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father?!!! How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh. In fact, they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit. Tertullian, quoted in Familiaris Consortio, by Pope John Paul II

  3. The basic error of mankind has been to assume that only two are needed for love; you and me, or society and me, or humanity and me. Really it takes three: self, other selves, and God; you, and me, and God. Love of self without love of God is selfishness; love of neighbor without love of God embraces only those who are pleasing to us, not those who are hateful…Duality in love is extinction through the exhaustion of self-giving. Love is triune or it dies. —Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Three to Get Married, p. 43

  4. In spousal love, the body of the beloved assumes a unique charm as the vessel of this person’s soul, and also as embodying in a unique way the general charm and attraction which femininity has for man, or virility has for woman. Spousal love aspires to the bodily union as a specific fulfillment of the total union, as a unique, deep, mutual self-donation. — Dietrich von Hildebrand, Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy, p. 47

  5. Romance is almost sure to die; love, however, does not have to die with it. Love is meant to mature, and it can do so if that readiness for sacrifice implied in the original self-giving of marital consent is alive or can be activiated. The idea that true love is prepared for sacrifice strikes a chord that perhaps our preaching needs to touch on more. As Pope John Paul II says, “It’s natural for the human heart to accept demands, even difficult ones, in the name of love for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person.— Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness, pg. 24

  6. Matrimony crushes selfishness, first of all, because it merges individuals into a corporate life in which neither lives for self but for the other; it crushes selfishness also because the very permanence of marriage is destructive of those fleeting infatuations, which are born with the moment and die with it; it destroys selfishness, furthermore, because the mutual love of husband and wife takes them out of themselves into the incarnation of their mutual love, their other selves, their children; and finally it narrows selfishness because the rearing of children demands sacrifice, without which, like unwatered flowers, they wilt and die.— Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The Cross and the Beatitudes, p. 41-42

  7. Do not forget that true love sets no conditions. It does not calculate or complain, but simply loves. – Saint John Paul II, Jubilee of Youth

The Real Value of Work

We learn through work that patience matters. That, eventually, given great effort day after day, year after year, we’ll see results. Through our experience in work, we can deduce that that progress in the spiritual life is slow, but that it will pay off. We learn that we don’t necessarily have to see the big picture in order to know it’s there.

Recently I heard some horrific statistics regarding young men and their participation in the work force. The host of a national radio program cited an article from The Washington Post 800px-gustave_courbet_-_the_stonebreakers_-_wga05457that referred to recent research demonstrating a growing tend in America. Apparently, not only are about 20% of young men between 21-30 years of age out of work, but they aren’t too upset about it. Instead, they are finding satisfaction in video games, computers and television, while living in their parents’ basements. Most in this group have not held a job of any kind in at least a year.  Staggering. As such, this is the first generation to feel no guilt about a virtual no-show in the work force, or about being dependent upon parents or the government dole.

While this news is shocking, the astute have been warning about this problem for the past several years. In Bill Bennet’s, The Book of Man, published in 2011, he quotes another author,

There is trouble with men today. For example, after studying today’s workforce data, author and commentator David Brooks observed that “in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25-54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. One-fifth of all men in their prime working ages are not getting up  and going to work.”

There are many reasons for this change in society. Bennet, himself, cites video games, single parenthood, corrosive entertainment and a lack of religion, among other things.

Whatever the cause, I want to discuss one particular concern among the many overwhelming consequences this lack of discipline and drive among our young men will reap on their souls. One young man profiled in the Washington Post article – who holds an Associates Degree, by the way – had some words that should give us great pause:

 “When I play a game, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded” he said. “With a job, it’s always been up in the air with the amount of work I put in and the reward.”

That quote got me thinking about the true value of work.

Of course, there are the obvious things. Work is necessary in a civil society, allowing us the ability to support ourselves and our families – as such it is often the conduit through which God provides our daily bread. Work is good for us both physically and intellectually. God called man to work, telling Adam, “in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).

But what concerns me most is how much work provides for us spiritually, how perfectly our experience with work can reflect our spiritual journey, and how this disconnect with work is will result in an even greater disconnect with the spiritual in our young men.

Labor is a physical manifestation of the spiritual effort we must continue faithfully throughout our lives in order to obtain union with God.

Just as the carpenter must continue to hew the wood, patiently carving, hour upon hour, day by day, seeing the end product only in his mind’s eye, so too, we must continue to pursue heaven, trusting that, indeed, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for the who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Just as the bricklayer lays brick after brick, taking care to place each and every one exactly to plan, not seeing the end of his work, but only trusting in the plan of the architect, so we, too, must continue to pursue excellence with every step, trusting the architect of our lives to create something magnificent from the application of our best efforts to some of the most mundane tasks, day after day after day.

If the carpenter quits before seeing the final product, it will be forever hidden within the confines of the wood. In that case no one will ever see the beauty hidden within. And the wood will never realize its intended end.

If the brick layer allows himself to get tired on the job, his work will be sloppy, and his building will not be up to par. The plan may have been correct, but the brick-layer’s carelessness will cause problems for him, for anyone who works beside him, or anyone who plans to use that building that he so carelessly built. We, too, must apply the utmost care every step of the way, for our work affects those around us in ways we may never witness.

In our vocations as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, priests, consecrated singles and others, we must not simply plod along, but rather work with passion and purpose – and great care – from hour to hour, day to day. Never mind the monotony; never mind the challenges; never mind the tiresome little crosses we must bear.

We learn these things through a consistent experience with work. Not necessarily paid work. As a stay-at-home mom, I certainly see the connection between my work life and my spiritual life. I toil day after day, trusting in God’s plan for my children. I see glimpses here and there, but so often as a mother, I am tempted to throw my hands up at what appears to be the futility of the work. I’ll never be able to do this job right. This is too much. It is too thankless. It will never be finished. Too often I fail to see the fruits of my labor.

No matter. I am only called to lay the bricks according to God’s plan. I must trust that He will work everything out for the best. Day after day, I must rejoice even in the mundane. I must bring my all to the job that, frankly, doesn’t always offer positive feedback. But there is one way that my experience differs from that of the bricklayer. The architect may not be standing alongside the bricklayer, assuring him and encouraging his progress. In our case, Christ is with us. He helps us to lay that brick. He applies the mortar so all our efforts build toward the finished product, which is the eternal happiness of heaven for ourselves and our families.

If we ignore the architect, if we lose faith in the finished product, if we try to follow our own plans, we will look back and wish we would have paid closer attention, that we would not have trudged along with such half-baked effort. For our lives will be scarred reflections of our own sloppiness, our lack of patience, diligence and discipline.

We learn through work that patience matters. That, eventually, given great effort day after day, year after year, we’ll see results. Through our experience in work, we can deduce that that progress in the spiritual life is slow, but that it will pay off. We learn that we don’t necessarily have to see the big picture in order to know it’s there.

Ultimately, work gives us evidence in the physical realm of what religion can do for us in the spiritual realm. According to Saint John Paul II,

(9) Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being”. – Laborem Exercens

To the extent that our young men are not “achieving fulfillment” as human beings, we cannot possibly achieve fulfillment as a society.

Even more importantly, if we do not teach our young men to have patience to perform a good job in pursuit of long-term satisfaction on earth, how will they ever be able to pursue the long-term satisfaction of heaven? If the immediate feedback from a video game trumps the long-term satisfaction of a job well-done, how will they ever be willing to do the work necessary on earth now, that one day they might hear these glorious words from heaven:

Well done, my good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.”



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 Implacable Power of the WILL

Of all the lies being told by the world, perhaps the most dangerous are those that seek to convince us that will power is a myth. For upon our will depends our cooperation with the grace of the Good Lord in procuring our salvation.

Let’s talk about will power. What exactly is it, you might ask? Most of us know in our gut what it is. But for the purposes of this discussion, I looked up the definition:

According to Webster’s Dictionary, will power is the ability to control yourself : strong determination that allows you to do something difficult.

According to psychologists, will power consists of the following:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system.
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted.

Of late, our culture seems to reject the very notion of the will. Everywhere we turn, comments and references treat human beings as mere animals, with little but base instincts, as opposed to persons, each endowed with a will formed in the image and likeness of God.

Of all the lies being told by the world, perhaps the most dangerous are those that seek to convince us that will power is a myth. For upon the will depends our cooperation with the grace of our Good Lord in procuring our salvation.

But the lies persist nonetheless; just take a look at these excerpts from an article originally published in the The Roanoke Times, which refers to studies which denounce the very notion of will power:

Parents, teachers, coaches and ill-tempered sergeants had insisted that the disciplined exertion of willpower against the baser temptations of sloth, gluttony and other moral frailties was essential to building sufficient character to overcome most adversity. What adversity couldn’t be overcome should at least be borne with a modicum of quiet longsuffering, if not grace. Imagine my relief to read of the scientific evidence that willpower is really a myth, especially as it relates to such primal endeavors as dieting. A number of psychologists around the country consider the entire notion of willpower to be just another artifact of quaint but misguided folklore…

In other words, if you keep raiding the refrigerator every night for six extra scoops of megachocolate ice cream, you’re not a pathetic, undisciplined, weak-willed glutton. You’re merely cooperating with the brain-chemical imperative as nature intended. You can’t help it. The chemicals made you do it. 

The above is about as blatant as messages come. But there have been subtle messages going on for decades. And they are severely affecting private behavior as well as public policy. Case in point: How long have advocates been insisting that birth control be made readily available in the schools? Kids are going to do what kids are going to do; they don’t have any self-control – the least we can do is help them be prepared… (Arguably, students have lived up to expectations).

Then there are seemingly innocent memes like the following:


Very cute; definitely funny; but is this the message that we should be sharing en mass on social media? And yet, countless are passed along day in and day out.

Examples abound. I’m sure you could add several to the few I’ve offered here. Regardless, the result of both subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the weakness of the will has been absolutely destructive. What one might call a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just think of a few statistics:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than a third of the adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity (36.5%). This number is up 10% since 2012 (26.2%).
  • Ashley Madison, a website that “caters to married people looking for an affair” boasts  a client list of 37,000,000. (Not a typo – that’s 37 million people that have registered with this web site!)
  • One in three Americans has absolutely no retirement savings (Time Magazine).
  • As of May 2016, consumer debt reached a whopping $3.6 trillion.

And in the world of religion,

  • According to Pew Research, across our nation, the number of people who pray and attend religious services consistently has dropped 3% across the board since 2007. And younger people observe religious practices significantly less than older populations.
  • On a more personal note, another Pew Research report shows that people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves – there are three million fewer Catholics today than in 2007 – could this have something to do with the notion that, unlike other Faiths, the will – particularly uniting our will to that of God – plays a key role in the in the teaching of the Catholic Church?

People point to this or that reason for declining participation in Christian churches, but isn’t there likely a huge correlation between the lack of interest in the area of religion and the decrease in control of our baser desires? And my point here is not that one has caused the other; but perhaps all areas have been driven by the deeper message that we’ve been hearing in the world – that we cannot control ourselves; whether eating, drinking, smoking, lust, language – you name it – we are destined to live with our own powerlessness, and must simply go along for the ride, despite that fact that both we and our progeny must find ways to cope with the devastation left in our wake.

What a tragedy.

God gave us free will out of respect and generosity, allowing us the opportunity to choose Him, rather than forcing our allegiance to a Supreme Being through His almighty power. That choice is not a momentary decision, but rather countless daily, even moment by moment decisions to grow in love and virtue; to participate in prayer and the sacraments, cooperating with the grace of God to become better versions of ourselves.

And those choices? Made every moment of our lives? They can only be made through continual acts of The Will.

It is often said that the devil’s greatest coup would be to convince the world that he doesn’t exist. That may be true. But his second greatest coup?

Could it be to convince you that you are helpless?

To make you believe that, in this moment, you cannot put down that doughnut. You will never lose that last ten pounds. You cannot limit your coffee intake to one cup a day. You cannot succeed long-term with an exercise routine. You cannot control that temper. You cannot resist that affair. You cannot afford to save for retirement. You cannot find the time to attend Mass today. You are too busy to pray the rosary. In fact, prayer in general is just too difficult. And the idea of making voluntary Sacrifices – are you kidding me?!

But these are all lies, lies, lies. The truth is that your will is in tact. In fact, according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, it is the only thing you have that is truly yours:

There is only one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is your will. Health, power, possessions and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will. — Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, p. 25

Despite what the media says, despite what the “professionals” in the world of psychology say, regardless of what your best friend tells you,

you can put down that doughnut. You can lose that last ten pounds. You can limit your consumption. You can find time to exercise today. You can control you temper. You can resist that affair. You can save for retirement. You can find time to pray. You can grow in virtue. You can become a saint!

In order to obtain heaven, two ingredients are required:

God’s grace.
Your will.

The world has done a great job of convincing us that neither exists.

But the world is wrong.

But my will is weak, you say. Yes. I’m sure it is. There is only One Perfect Will. And while we share in God’s image, our fallen nature, like a leaden weight, seems destined to keep us from soaring to great heights.  But your will is there. And God’s grace is the chisel that will cut away the lead; for through Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). And His power is made perfect in weakness (1 Corinthians 9).

By convincing us to disengage the will from our decisions, as opposed to actively directing the “self” toward the good, the devil has triumphantly succeeded in weakening it, if not destroying it altogether. (Ever heard the phrase, “use it or lose it“?) But just as not exercising the will causes it to become listless and weak, stepping up to the plate and engaging the will, even in small ways, will strengthen it. We can strengthen the will by actively pursuing good, and by developing habits and relationships that reinforce that pursuit and encourage us in our progress.

Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the  mastery of the will over its acts. (CCC #1734) (emphasis mine)

The will plays a pivotal role in both our physical and spiritual lives. Do not believe the lies. Not only does your health depend on your ability to see the lies for what they are; your salvation depends upon it as well. For how can you unite your will to God’s if you believe you have no power to do so? God is faithful. He has provided us with everything we need in order to pursue sanctity. And the gift of the will is a necessary component:

God does not require of us the martyrdom of the body; He requires only the martyrdom of the heart and the will. — St. John Vianney


Artwork: Cupid Overcoming Pan by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690)

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