St Joseph: Model Husband and Father – A Reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family

I remember once being amused to hear that a certain Franciscan Theologian from the 19th Century (whose name I cannot remember) wrote a six volume “Life of St. Joseph.” Six volumes?! How could one possibly get enough material? We know so little of Joseph from the Scriptures. He seems to have been the strong, silent type. Not a word of his is recorded. But his actions have much to say, especially to to men. On this feast of the Holy Family we do well to ponder him as a model for manhood, for husbands and fathers.

1. A man who obeys God and clings to his wife – We saw last Sunday the Gospel  that Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This is more than being engaged. It means they were actually married. It was the practice at that time for a couple to marry rather young. Once betrothed they usually lived an additional year in their parents’ household as they became more acquainted and prepared for life together. Now at a certain point it was discovered that Mary was pregnant, though not by Joseph. Now the Law said that if a man discovered that a woman to whom he was betrothed was not a virgin, he should divorce her and not “sully” his home. Joseph as a follower of the Law, was prepared to follow its requirements. However, he did not wish to expose Mary to the full force of the law which permitted the stoning of such women. He would thus remained  quiet as to his reason for the divorce and Mary would escape possible stoning. To fail to divorce Mary would expose Joseph to cultural ramifications. Just men just didn’t marry women guilty of fornication or adultery. To ignore this might have harmed not only Joseph’s standing in the community but also that of his family of origin. But you know the rest of the story. Joseph is told in a dream not to fear and that Mary has committed no sin. Matthew records: When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matt 1:24).

Now a man obeys God even if it not popular, even if he may suffer for it. Joseph is told to cling to his wife. He may suffer for it but he, as a man, “obeys God rather than men.” It takes a strong man to do this especially when we consider the culture in which Joseph lived, and in a small town, no less. Joseph models strong manhood and has something to say to the men of our day. In the current wedding vows a man agrees to cling to his wife, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or health. This is what a man is to do. Our culture often pressures men to bail out when there is trouble Joseph shows the way by obeying God over the pressures of prevailing culture, even if he will personally suffer for it.

2. A man whose vocation is more important than his career – In today’s Gospel set likely in Bethlehem Joseph is warned by an angel in a dream: Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him (Matt 2:13). Joseph may well have had much to lose in this flight. Back in Nazareth (or perhaps Judea)  he had a business, a career if you will. He had business prospects, business partners and contacts. Fleeing to a distant land might mean others would take his business etc. But Joseph was a father and husband before he was a businessman. His child was threatened and his first obligation was to Jesus and Mary. His vocation outweighed his career. In a culture like ours where too many parents make their careers and livelihoods paramount and their children are too easily placed in day care Joseph displays a different priority.

It is true that many parents feel they have no choice but to work. But it is also true that many demand a lifestyle which requires a lot of extra income. Perhaps a smaller house, less amenities etc would permit a daycare free childhood for more of our children. Joseph points the way for parents: vocation has priority over career. For fathers especially Joseph shows that a man is a husband and father before he is a businessman.

3. A man who protects his family– And for men, Joseph also models a protective instinct that too many men lack today. Our children, like Jesus was, are exposed to many dangers. Our American scene does not feature a lot of physical dangers but moral dangers surely abound. Fathers, what are your children watching on TV? What are their Internet habits? Who are their friends? What do your children think about important moral issues? Are you preparing them to face the moral challenges and temptations of life? Are you teaching them the faith along with your wife? Or are you just a passive father, uninvolved in the raising of your children? A man protects his children from harm, physical, moral and spiritual. Joseph shows forth this aspect of manhood.

4. A man of work –The Scriptures (Matt 13:55) speak of Joseph as a “carpenter.” The Greek word however is τέκτονος (tekton, os) which can mean more than a worker in wood. It can also refer to a builder or any craftsman. It seems unlikely that Joseph and Jesus would have worked exclusively in wood since wood was more rare in the Holy Land and used more sparingly than in our culture. Stone was surely plentiful and so it may be that Joseph also worked with stone as well as wood in his work. It was and through his work Joseph supported his family. It is the call of a man to work diligently and to responsibly and reliably provide for his family. Joseph models this essential aspect of manhood. Paul felt it necessary to rebuke some of the men of his day for their idleness: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teachingyou received from us….For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they earn the bread they eat. (2 Thess 310-12)

Joseph is a model for manhood. Nothing he ever said was recorded but his life speaks eloquently enough. He is referred to at the Guardian and Patron of the Universal Church. He has these titles for he was guardian, protector and patron(provider) of the Church in the earliest stage, when the “Church” was just Jesus, Mary and himself. But since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, in protecting and providing for Jesus he was doing that for us for we are in Christ as members of his body. Men especially do well to imitate St. Joseph and invoke his patronage in all their endeavors as Husbands, Fathers and providers.

St. Joseph, pray for us. Holy Family Pray for us.

Reverence or Ruin: How the 4th Commandment is Necessary for Civilization

Fix it or Forget it – It cannot be underestimated how important the family is for the very existence of society and civilization. The widespread breakdown of the family in our own time already shows the grave results that flow from such a breakdown. Can our civilization be secure or stable if such a breakdown is allowed to continue? The importance of the family for the life and well-being of society entails a particular responsibility for society to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Civil authority should consider it a grave duty to acknowledge the true nature of marriage and the family, to protect and foster them, to safeguard public morality, and promote domestic prosperity. (Catechism 2207, 2210)

The Fourth Commandment is  Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. (Ex 20:12)

Lack of Respect – One of the Key maladies of our day is a lack of respect of the young toward their elders. I remember when I was young that my Father would not allow us to watch the Flintstones. He banned it because he said that it made adults look stupid (it did) and that viewing it would not help us children to respect our elders. Children today of course are expose to much worse. A regular theme of sitcoms is that children run the show and parents and adults are all a bunch of idiots. Music from the 1960s on has produced a steady diet of anti-authoritarian themes which question and undermine the wisdom of elders and the past. Many children today are bold toward their parents, teachers and other elders. They often act as though they were speaking to a peer or an equal. Much of this comes from a culture that has largely jettisoned the insights of the 4th Commandment.

Reverence or Ruin: One of the most essential fruits of the fourth commandment is to instill respect. Respect is essential for there to be teaching. For if a child does not respect his elders, how can he learn from them? If he cannot respect, he cannot learn. And if he cannot learn then the wisdom of the past including the faith, cannot be communicated to him. And if the these cannot be communicated to him, he is doomed to error-ridden and misguided life fraught with foolish decisions. When this happens broadly in a society to children in general, (as it has in ours), civilization itself is threatened as whole generations loose the wisdom of the past and are condemned to repeat major errors and take up behaviors long ago abandoned as unwise and destructive. Without heartfelt reverence being instilled we are doomed to continue seeing an erosion in the good order and the collected wisdom necessary to sustain any civilization.

But reverence must be instilled. It must be insisted upon and their should be consequences for rejecting its demands. Too many parents today do not command respect. They speak of wanting their children to be their friends. But children have plenty of friends. What they need are parents, parents who are strong and secure, firm in their guidance, loving and consistent in their discipline, and not easily swayed by the unreasonable protests of children. No one will follow and uncertain trumpet and children need firm, clear and certain direction. If we want children to rediscover respect for their elders then we must insist upon it and command it of them.

What are some of the implications of the 4th commandment? The Catechism is actually quite thorough in describing them in Paragraph #s 2214-2220:

The Origin of respect – Respect for parents derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love, and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace. “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:27-28)

Obedience – Respect is shown by true docility and obedience. “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 6:20)… As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”(Col. 3:20) Children should also obey the reasonable directions of their teachers and all to whom their parents have entrusted them. But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so. As they grow up, children should continue to respect their parents. They should anticipate their wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions. Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them.  

Honor and care in old age – The fourth commandment also reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress. “Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. Whoever honors his father will be gladdened by his own children, and when he prays he will be heard. Whoever glorifies his father will have long life, and whoever obeys the Lord will refresh his mother.”(Sir. 3:2-6).

Wider family implications – The fourth commandment also promotes harmony in all of family life; it thus concerns relationships between brothers and sisters. Finally, a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith, the grace of Baptism, and life in the Church. These may include parents, grandparents, other members of the family, pastors, catechists, and other teachers or friends.

Societal Implications – The fourth commandment is addressed expressly to children in their relationship to their father and mother, because this relationship is the most universal. [But] It likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it. (Catechism # 2199)

Another important key in instilling respect is for those in authority to be “respectable.” Parents and all those in authority have obligations and duties that flow from their status. To overlook or ignore these obligations places significant burdens upon children, subordinates, and others. This in turn can lead to bewilderment and contributes to an undermining of the respect and honor which ought ordinarily be paid parents, elders and those in authority. Thus, while parents and lawful authorities ought to be respected it is also true to say that they must conduct themselves in a manner that is respectable and observe their duties with care. What are some of these duties? The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a fine summary of them and the text is largely reproduced here.

The duties of parents – Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law…They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service…self-denial, sound judgment, and self- mastery are learned…Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them…Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies…parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church…Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. (Catechism 2221-2231).

The 4th Commandment gives clear guidance and warns, it is either reverence or there will be ruin.

Here’s a quirky little video from 1950. It’s rather hokey actually but it’s a neat glimpse from the past, idealized to be sure but the basic message is great.

Marriage and Manhood

Among the measures of mature manhood that God Himself sets forth is faithful, stable, committed marriage. After observing, It is not good for the man  to be alone (Gen 2:18)  God says ….A man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two of them shall become one flesh.  Thus God indicates an essential description of manhood. This is what a MAN does. Three things are taught here:

  1. A mature man recognizes that it is not good, not healthy, for him to remain alone and unattached. Thus he sets himself about looking for a wife in a suitable and serious manner. In ancient culture marriages were usually arranged, but in our culture that duty falls on the man himself. But a man, if he is a man, prepares himself for marriage, or perhaps for the priesthood or religious life. He is serious and steadfast about it. This may mean finishing college and embarking on the beginnings of a career but in the end he will accept the truth that it is not good for him to remain alone and unattached. In the recent past dating was usually understood as a time wherein one searched for a spouse. Today many see it “just for fun.” Marriage is postponed indefinitely. Many young men are not serious in searching for a spouse. Instead they “play the field” and use women sexually. They avoid commitment and drift from relationship to relationship. Some “father” children and still do not accept responsibility. They are not men, they are boys. For boys play. “Boys will be boys,”  after all.  Sadly many women allow and facilitate this immature and immoral behavior. But God is clear, a man (rather than a boy) accepts that it is not good for him to remain single and unattached and he respectfully seeks a wife.
  2. Having properly sought a wife he marries her and leaves his parents to establish a home. In other words he actually gets married. He does not just shack up (cohabitate), or form a so-called “committed relationship.” He does not endlessly postpone marriage. He is serious about the summons that God has given him to make a lasting commitment to a wife, or as a priest or religious brother.  He “settles down.” He actually commits his whole life to his wife promising to remain faithful to her unto death. This is what God says a man does.
  3. A man clings to his wife. That is to say, a man works hard to preserve unity with his wife. He manfully addresses any threats to that unity. “Cling” is actually a very strong word. It means to stick like glue. A man says to his wife, “Honey if you ever leave me I’m going with you.” Too many men are passive husbands. Too often it is really the wife who works hardest to preserve the marriage. Very often when there is trouble in a marriage it is the wife who initiates a call to the priest or marriage counsellor. And if the husband comes at all the wife has to drag him. But a real man does not passively sit by as his marriage  becomes strained. He addresses issues, cherishes his wife and works hard to preserve union with her. This is what God says a real man does. He has committed to his wife and to God and he is faithful to that commitment even when it is hard. He remembers that he committed for better or worse. And when worse comes he does not run, he stays and addresses the issues, seeks out necessary resources and takes leadership in restoring harmony to his marriage. God says a man clings to his wife. This is what a man does.

It is true that women have a role in all these matters. But this article is directed to men. A man doesn’t whine and say, “But what about the wife?!” He just does what he is supposed to do and does not point fingers. He accepts his own responsibility. Yes, there are men who have worked hard to preserve their marriage and the wife still walked away. Our culture has granted far greater possibilities to women. This is not bad in itself but it sometimes creates even greater strains on marriage. But in the end, I am convinced that if men are real men as God has tasked them, if they were more serious about seeking a wife, marrying her and clinging to her, we would have far fewer divorces.

Remember now, this is a blog. I could go on forever and make lots of other distinctions and explore all the “yes-buts!”  What I intend is to start a conversation not anticipate every possible objection, cautionary detail or requested distinction. You, my dear readers are invited to do that in the comments.

So here is what a God says a real man does. How say you?

I preached this topic among others recently at the Feast of the Holy Family. Here is an excerpt from that homily that covers some of the things I have written here. Enjoy also some Christmastime photos of my parish:

Rediscovering God’s Vision For Family Life

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family on the Liturgical Calendar and in an era when the family has such on-going damage, we do well to review God’s plan for marriage and how the modern age has so systematically departed from that plan. It is the departure from God’s plan that has brought about devastating consequences for the Church, the nation and especially for children. On this Feast of the Holy Family we do well to call upon God’s mercy and, frankly, for miracles to restore a proper and Godly realization of family life.

It is not news that the family is in great crisis. The combined effects of divorce and never married single parents mean that nearly one-third of children in the U.S. (32 percent or 22 million children) were living with one parent, usually their mother (KIDS COUNT Data Center, 2009). The share of children in one-parent families has nearly tripled since 1970, when the rate was 11 percent (Amato, 2008). This trend has disproportionately affected impoverished children and also children of color: 65 percent of black children, 49 percent of American Indian children, 37 percent of Hispanic children, (KIDS COUNT Data Center, 2009). With these numbers go a great number of social ills manifest by such children including higher poverty, lower scholastic achievement, behavioral problems,  promiscuity, STDs, teenage pregnancy, higher school dropout rates, early criminal records and the like. It is clear, when the family is in crisis children suffer most. Only a return to God’s plan for marriage and family can reverse these trends.

What then is God’s plan? Actually it is spelled out quite clearly in the Book of Genesis in these verses along with my commentary:

  1. The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen 2:18)  The chapter goes on to describe the creation of woman. Notice that the text says that it is not good to be alone. Partnership is essential. A man should not be alone, a woman should not be alone. God intends woman for man, man for woman. The partnership is obviously complimentary in that a man brings things to the marriage a woman does not. A woman brings things to the relationship that a man does not. The sexes are not merely interchangeable, they each bring essential ingredients to the marriage and to being parents. Parenting is to be a partnership, not a solo act.
  2. For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they  become one flesh (Gen 2:24).  Notice here the pre-eminence of the relationship and its stability. It is preeminent  because a man leaves the most important relationship he has up until that time (his family of origin) in order to establish a relationship of now greater priority, his marriage. It is stable because he is to cling to his wife. “Cling”  is a strong word. It means to stick like glue. A man is to preserve union with his wife in a strong and decisive manner. Marriage is not to be a temporary relationship.
  3. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:28) Here is the fundamental mission God gives to marriage: the procreation and raising of children. This verse also helps give reason to the first two teachings that the marriage be heterosexual and stable. Since children are the expected fruit of marriage it is obvious  that heterosexuality is necessary and essential. Further it is necessary and essential that the marriage be stable, for children need the stability and complementary witness of both their parents to best develop and thrive. Hence Adam is to cling to his wife and in the context of that stable union they are to conceive and raise their children.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution.(CCC # 2203). Here then in a brief few verses Scripture details the fundamental vision of God for marriage and the family: One man for one woman in a stable, life long, complimentary relationship oriented to the procreation and formation of children. It is simple yet clear. But in recent decades we have seemed hell-bent (literally) on a systematic dismantling of every component of God’s plan for marriage. Let’s consider some of the modern trends that have dismantled God’s plan.

  1. A subtle but sure moving away from the understanding that children are the essential purpose and fruit of marriage to a rather subjective notion that marriage’s essential purpose is the “happiness” of the spouses.  Many decades ago when I was a child, divorce was uncommon, even shocking. Unhappy marriages surely existed in those days prior to 1969 but there was an accepted understanding that you stuck it out “for the sake of the kids.” Commitments had been made and they should be honored. Children should not be exposed to the shame and sorrow of divorce. Or so the thinking went. Civil law backed these notions and made it difficult to get a divorce. But, through the 1950s and 1960s as the first celebrity divorces began to hit the news the shame of divorce began to erode and a notion that people shouldn’t have to stay in unhappy marriages grew. A happy marriage is surely something to be desired but notice that God did not say anything about that as an essential end of marriage. It is true that spouses ought to provide one another mutual support by sharing duties and thereby work for each-other’s mutual good, but happiness is another matter. Life in general brings with it both happiness and sorrow, joys and hardships. That is the nature of life and marriage is no different. While it is generally hoped that spouses will bring each other happiness that it not always the case even in the best marriages which have an admixture of pleasant and unpleasant qualities as does life in general. How else can we explain the vow “for better or worse?” So what was happening through the 1960s was as subtle but sure “redefining” of marriage, a replacing of the good of children with the preeminent notion of happiness. In recent years the Gay community has insisted that since marriage is just about two people being happy they should be allowed to marry since they deserve this happiness too. While Gay marriage should be opposed, it remains true that opponents are caught a bit flat footed when children are now only a way of “accessorizing” marriage and happiness is the overarching principle in the minds of most Americans. Only if children are an essential end of marriage does limiting marriage to heterosexuals really win the day.
  2. Increasing contraceptive use and a shunning of marriage’s  greatest gift– Contraceptives were all but illegal in this country until the 1950s when they gradually became “respectable.” At the heart of contraceptive use is the notion that somehow children are a burden more than a blessing; that they limit happiness, freedom, and the share of resources in a family. From Biblical times until very recently children were considered a great blessing and large families were sought for. But a modern notion of Children being a burden swept the western world and contraceptive use dramatically reduced family size. Here too, a redefinition of marriage was taking place wherein God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply was being set aside in favor of the wishes and happiness of the couple. And most couples began to see children in larger numbers as a hindrance to their happiness. This was getting very far from God’s plan.
  3. No Fault Divorce – In 1969 California Governor Ronald Regan signed the first “no-fault” divorce law in the country. The fundamental purpose of such a law was to make divorces easier and quicker to get. Why should people be “forced” to stay in unhappy relationships? Why should the government care? These were notions underlying no-fault or streamlined divorce. Of course the government SHOULD care since higher divorce rates have terrible effects on many things, not to mention children. As we have seen high divorce rates are directly tied to issues of poverty, public health, crime rates, the overall performance, productivity  and success of children as they grow older and so forth. But here too, God’s plan that a man should cling to his wife, that marriage should be a stable, lasting union, was set aside. Marriage was being redefined.
  4. General promiscuity – with the wider availability of contraceptives it is not surprising that promiscuity skyrocketed. The notions that sex was tied to the procreation of children and hence to marriage was set aside. Generalized promiscuity weakens marriage for many reasons. First it takes a reward and pleasure that was the privilege of marriage and distributes it to any who want it. Thus an important incentive to marriage is lost. It is not surprising that the average age of marriage is now approaching the 30s for most young people. They see little “need” to get married. It is more of a formality for many of them who routinely fornicate and even have children apart from marriage. Many young men routinely quip: “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?” And many young women seem unfazed by such thinking. It seems many of them too prefer the “less complicated” world of casual dating and hooking up (with sex included) to the more “complicated” world of marriage. The unique privilege of the marriage bed has been given away and an important draw that God intended for marriage is lost. Over and over again God forbids fornication (pre-marital sex). The texts are too numerous to reproduce here (I have posted them here: Fornication) but the clear will of God is that he intends sex for the marriage bed alone, not because he wants to limit our fun but because he wants to protect marriage. There is a clear correlation between the rise in promiscuity and higher divorce rates along with the single and never married parent phenomenon. Promiscuity amounts to an attack on marriage. Scripture says, Let the marriage bed be honored in every way for God will judge fornicators and adulterers (Heb 13:4). All this has led to the final facet of dismantling that I would like to mention.
  5. Casual tolerance of single and never married parenting – Here too is a major trend in our modern society. Single never married parents used to be a rare and rather stunning thing.  Today it is commonly held that such situations are not only acceptable but that they should even be considered on par with other “arrangements” like the traditional family. And once again we are redefining the family as God has set it forth. God clearly had a stable, heterosexual union in mind for the rearing of children. The sexes are not just interchangeable. A male father has important things to teach and model for his children. Likewise a female mother. These cannot simply be set aside without detriment, even harm to the children. Children need both the male and female, the mother and father, this is what is best for them and what God intends. Further that the influence of both parents be consistent, not just an on-again off-again influence based on visitation rights.  Once again the Gay community in insisting that they be on equal footing for adopting children runs afoul of God’s plan. But their demands have become harder to resist after years of heterosexual misbehavior.

In the end it is the children who suffer most. God’s plan for the family is best and we know it.

Married couples with children, on average, have a higher standard of living and greater economic security than one-parent families (Thomas & Sawhill, 2005). Parents raising children together tend to have more money, more flexibility and more time to supervise their children, offer emotional support, take an active part in their  education, and arrange other activities for them. In contrast, one-parent families are more likely to experience economic hardship and stressful living conditions—including fewer resources, more frequent moves, and less stability—that take a toll on adults and children alike. When economic hardship and stressful living conditions are present, children are at greater risk of poor achievement as well as behavioral, psychological, and health problems.  (Amato & Maynard, 2006).  Quote from the Document Kids Count by the Annie Casey Foundation, July 2009)

While it is true that many very good people have struggled to fully realize God’s plan for marriage and family it also remains true that we cannot fail to announce it and insist upon it as the norm, the model and goal for everyone on this planet. Too many priests and other teachers have grown silent on this and worry too much about “offending” people who are in irregular situations and so we fail to point clearly to what God teaches. No one will follow an uncertain trumpet. On this Feast of the Holy Family it is time to trumpet God’s plan. We will ALL admit we have fallen short but this is no time to abandon the vision. God has a plan, we have only to follow it.

District of Columbia City Council Imposes Recognition of Same Sex Marriages

Legalization of Same Sex Marriage in the Nation’s Capital

Archdiocese Remains Committed to Serving Poor

Satement of the Archdiocese of Washington:

Today the District of Columbia joined a handful of states where legislatures or courts have redefined marriage to include persons of the same sex. Since this legislation was first introduced in October, the Archdiocese of Washington opposed the redefinition of marriage based on the core teaching of the Catholic Church that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage. However, understanding the City Council was committed to legalizing same sex marriages, the archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the Council’s interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance.

 The Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future.

Religious organizations have long been eligible to provide social services in our nation’s capital and have not been excluded simply because of their religious character. This is because the choice of provider has focused on the ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently. We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church.

 For more information on marriage, visit

 The Archdiocese of Washington includes over 580,000 Catholics in the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s. In the District of Columbia, there are 40 parishes, 21 Catholic schools and 25 corporations established to serve the community.

Unrealistic Expectations are Premeditated Resentments

I was interested in Laura’s last post since she is saying what I say to most of the couples I prepare for marriage: Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.

“What’s that?” You say. Well, think about it. Have you every been  told by a friend that a certain movie is the best thing they have ever seen and that you have not truly lived until you see it? They built the movie up into a life changing event. And then you go and see the movie and it’s OK, you like it, but there is a certain disappointment when it doesn’t live up to all your expectations. Part of the problem was the sky-high expectations. Had you gone to the movie without them you might have enjoyed the movie more! At least it wouldn’t have had to live up to the “better than the second-coming” expectations.

This is often what happens with marriage. Despite all our cynicism about so many things today, many people still have powerful notions of the perfect marriage, the perfect mate, the “happily ever after” scenario. When marriage fails to live up to these sky-high expectations, there is disappointment and resentment. This is what I mean by the expression “Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.”

What if marriage was a more normal thing? Rather than being an epic drama or romance, what if it was a normal way of living in a less than perfect world? What marriage had ups and downs like everything else in life? What if spouses didn’t have to be perfect but could be like everyone else, having good points and things we wish were different? What if our expectations of marriage were more down to earth and accepting of the human condition?

Sadly though, many people want their marriage to be an ideal, and if there’s any ordeal, they want a new deal!

Almost every couple I have ever talked to who had what I’d call a “good marriage” admit that there are difficulties and challenges in their marriage. Most speak of difficult periods in their marriage, times of transition and adjustments, times of financial difficulties, struggles related to the kids and so forth. Yet also there were great blessings, shared love, support, encouragement. The secret seems to have been that they were willing to take the bad with the good and accept that marriage is good but not perfect. At some point the perfect can become the enemy of the good. That is, the insistence on the perfect blinds one towhat is good and adequate.

A few thoughts to conclude:

  1. Be careful who you marry. But sure that you share fundamental values and faith. Being “in love” isn’t usually enough. We all have certain “non-negotiables” and we need to honest with ourselves about what they are.
  2. But don’t wait for the perfect spouse to come along, as Laura said in her post. Our insistence upon the perfect candidate will leave us frustrated, resentful and alone. Somewhere we have to accept the fact that we going to marry a  sinner, and that we ourselves are also sinners.
  3. Once you are married, ask God for the grace to continue to see the good things in your spouse. Thank God every day for your spouse and express that gratitude to your spouse.
  4. When you experience the imperfection of your marriage say this before you say anything else, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it.” Begin with your own “stuff” and realize that you aren’t always easy to live with either.
  5. Realize that even difficult things in a marriage are often times “gifts in strange packages.” Spouses do not only bless each other with the good things, but even the bad things can help us grow in holiness. Spouses give each other plenty of opportunities to learn to forgive, be patient, be kind, be understanding, be slow to anger, be merciful. Last time I checked these are basic virtues we must grow in if we ever hope to enter heaven.
  6. Get over the fairytale stuff and live in the real world. You married a sinner and you are a sinner. Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.
  7. Baby steps. Organic growth. Your marriage can and will get better and better if both of you cooperate with God. But grace builds on nature and it is our human nature to change slowly, almost imperceptibly. Forgive, be patient, keep praying, keep loving, and did I say forgive? Yes I think I did say that.

 Here’s a video of a couple who have fallen out of love, are resentful and know each other’s  bad habits a little too well. They both want a better spouse, a perfect spouse. You might say they have unrealistic expectations. Once upon a time they were in love but the “I Do” became “You’d Better!” and they grew apart. Can this marriage be saved? Buy the movie  FIREPROOF and see.

Marriage Can Wait??

Young boy proposing a woman at the parkOK guys, time to man up and ask her out on a date! Too many of you men are slow in looking for a bride. When I was ordained twenty years ago I had a lot of marriages. Today there are far fewer, and those that marry are much older. Perhaps maturity is a good thing PRIOR to marriage but couples are really waiting a long time these days. Now I was not born yesterday and I know that part of the reason for the delay is that couples are often fornicating and are just plain shacked up as well. True marriage is delayed as false notions of sexuality and marriage are indulged.

But there is also another phenomenon that is harder to understand. I have quite a number of young women, who are very attractive I might add, tell me that they are seldom asked out on dates, that young men don’t seem very good at taking initiative when it comes to dating and marriage. Now come on guys, be a man and get out there and ask her out!

I remember back in high school and college when I was a dating man, prior to discovering my call to be a priest, I remember that there were risks that you took when you asked a girl out. She might say no. She might even laugh. I might feel humiliated or depressed. Well? Welcome to life! Some of the more embarrassing moments of my life are related to the dating game. So I understand guys. But do what I did: get out there anyway! Take the risk, ask her out! Forget about your fragile little ego, be man and make the ask. You might be surprised. Many attractive young ladies are just waiting for some one man enough to ask them out on a serious date. I’m not talking about some vague thing like, “Maybe I’ll see you at the social tomorrow.” Ask her out on a real date. Just you and her.  Spend  a little money on her and dress well for the occasion.

It is odd that today with so many ways to communicate, it seems harder than ever for men and women to meet. Though our ways of communicating are more than ever, real and actual communication seems hard to come by. The simple fact is that we need to work on this, actually get out there and meet, communicate, date and marry.  Interestingly enough, a number of the recent marriages I have celebrated began on the internet, at a Catholic dating service. It’s not all that bad. Individuals signal their intention and wish to meet members of the opposite sex, share a significant amount of their values and expectations, and then meet to begin the process discernment. The Catholic faith is the starting point.

There is a lot of focus today on the issue of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, a good thing. But we need to wake up to the fact that marriage is on hard times. The statistics are sobering. In 1974 there were 46 Million Catholics in the USA and 400,000 marriages. In 2004 there were 70 million Catholics and only 200,000 marriages. Most priests know this personally. We just do a lot less marriages today. Further, the birthrate has dropped significantly for Catholics. One explanation: we are aborting and contracepting ourselves out of existence (the future world will feature a lot of Muslims and far fewer Catholics). But  another explanation is that marriage rates are dropping and many delay marriage far into the years when fertility is diminished and limited.

There is also a lot of talk about evangelization so let me recommend a fundamental pillar to the Church’s Evangelization Plan: Let’s have a lot of young Catholics get married FIRST, have lots of babies and raise them Catholic. 🙂

Alright young men, get out there on the field, MAN-UP and ask her for a date!  Young men and women, get serious about marriage. It is a holy institution established by God himself. It will make you holy, enrich the Church and ensure that we have a future. Are you up to it? We’re depending on you. Young men, don’t make the ladies wait and DON’T make me come out there and force you!

Here’s a fun video about the “Adventures” of Internet dating entitled “WEB SITE STORY”