Category Archives: Family Life

What I Really Want from the Synod on the Family

Pope Francis and prelates attend the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-CONTRACEPTION and SYNOD-ISLAM Oct. 9, 2014.
Pope Francis and prelates attend the morning session of the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See SYNOD-CONTRACEPTION and SYNOD-ISLAM Oct. 9, 2014.

By Brian Romer Niemiec

A few days into the Synod on the Family, and we have already seen a wide range of topics and opinions being presented and discussed in Rome. Any hesitation or passivity that may have been present at the beginning of the extraordinary synod last year has been thrown away.  It is no secret that these upcoming conversations are going to be a conversion experience for all involved if the synod is to speak with one voice at the end of its time together (naïvely optimistic, I know).

These hot button issues are incredibly important subjects to discuss, and I am very gratified by many of the people present at the synod for wanting to work through these topics to find a life-giving truth for the betterment of Christian families.  I was, however, even more delighted to hear some of the bishops request time to talk about less sexy, but no less important issues surrounding ways to support and strengthen family life within Church communities.

It is this question – one of many – that I am wrestling with now in my parish collaborative. I see families in both churches with various levels of need in the area of faith formation.  There is the family that comes to mass every Sunday, volunteers in a number of parish activities, and prays as a family at home.  There is also the family that shows up only to mass on weekends with Religious Education, and when asked why they attend class the oldest son responds, “Well, my grandmother thinks it is important, so my mom makes us all go.”

Continue reading What I Really Want from the Synod on the Family


Pope Francis on the Family… and Beyond

By Matt Keppel

Two weekends ago, I had the immense blessing to be in Philadelphia to witness the beautiful representative of the Catholic Church that is Pope Francis. The conference that he was attending, and closing, was on the family and the life of the family within the Church. Following the World Meeting of Families, he is going to follow up his historic visit to the United States with the Synod on the Family. So, it would seem that family is significant on Francis’s list. After listening to him multiple times this weekend, I can attest to what he believes about the life of the family: love.

Just as Francis has been clear about some issues regarding families, he has been interestingly vague on others. On nearly every street corner in Philadelphia the throngs of people were confronted by men, young and old, asking us (mostly men, really) to sign a petition intended for Pope Francis that he might make a definitive statement about marriage being between a man and a woman. And yet, at the World Meeting of Families what did he tell us about families? That they are called to love the members within them; children are valuable to us because they are our future; our grandparents are our familial memory; and the love of the family should be lived out to bring love and joy to our communities. Many of us standing there were shocked. Francis finished his Saturday evening address without addressing what so many people had hoped he would: same-sex unions. Continue reading Pope Francis on the Family… and Beyond

First Observations on Reformed Annulment Process


By Ellen Romer Niemiec

Pope Francis issued two motu proprios concerning reforms to the annulment process. While it is currently only available in Italian and Latin and we aren’t particular scholars of those particular languages here at Catholic How, I have read as many reports and translations as I can before a second cup of coffee (though I did like the bullet points in Crux’s coverage).  As with most reports and news about the Church, I would recommend you inform yourself as best you can. From everything I have managed to read, here are my initial observations:

  1. Greater empowerment of the local church and attention to our smaller community. Echoing the tone of Pope Francis’ extension of discretion to forgive women who’ve had abortions, the local church is brought into greater focus as bishops are given a stronger role in the lives of their people. It is a reminder that while much attention is paid to Rome and the leadership that resides there, the church is far more widespread and the life of the Church is lived everywhere.
  2.  Process reforms with real pastoral effect. Reading about ‘reform’ and ‘processes’ can absolutely feel a little bit cold, especially when the reforms include things like fewer judges. If you’ve known someone who has tried to navigate the annulment process, you know it’s never actually simple. Taking money out of the equation removes a barrier and takes away the feeling of the Church as a business. Allowing appeals to be judged locally means that someone doesn’t have to feel that a major decision affecting their life isn’t being made by some person far away. A simplified process still respects and values the sacramentality of marriage but also respects the real lives of those experiencing the breakdown of a relationship and the challenges of civil divorce that all have to come even before the annulment process begins..
  3. Annulments are simplified – now what? These reforms will (hopefully) have a real impact on the lives of people trying to navigate what life looks like after marriage. Concrete adjustments such as these will have a pastoral effect, but what other pastoral care is offered to couples and families throughout this process? If focus is turned toward the local church, how can our local communities better support their members, not only through annulments, but through marriage prep, marriage counseling, divorce, etc? If the family is its own local domestic church, how are we tending to them when they experience difficult and sometimes traumatic change?

What Being Present This Lent Smells Like


By Katie Morroni

I prayed about what to take on or give up for nearly 2 weeks ahead of Lent, but didn’t hear an obvious answer. Instead, the more I prayed about it, the more overwhelmed I felt by all I could and should improve in my life to better serve God and His people. And I know well my track record when I try to do ALL THE THINGS. So I walked into Mass on Ash Wednesday and asked once more: “What do you want to do during Lent?” This time, the answer came swiftly: Pay attention. Be present. Be intentional. Focus on the gospel.

Yes! Direction! This I can work with.

The church was filled with a standing-room-only crowd, and yet never seemed quieter or more still. We interrupted that soon, as my daughter worked out some, err… we’ll call it bathroom progress, and everyone in the surrounding pews giggled at her loud sounds. I made the sign of the cross as Mass began, and then excused myself to address the situation. I worked as quickly as I could, but felt like molasses. Twenty minutes and a couple diapers and wardrobe adjustments later, wondering if I would finish in time to receive ashes and the Eucharist, I already felt defeated. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t focused. I was missing it.

My thoughts quickly shifted: No. I wasn’t missing anything. This is the holiest thing I could be doing right now. I’m living my vocation, and I’m present where I need to be present at this particular moment. This is what God has called me to, and continues to call me to. Dirty diapers (and the clothes, blankets, and other items that stand in their way) are not the extent of my vocation as a wife and mother of course, but right now, they are certainly part of it.

I should add so it’s abundantly clear: I’m not complaining. My daughter has opened up a new depth of love in my heart and I knew (as much as one can know) what I was signing up for. Every day, I wake up excited about the joy and adventures that lie ahead for her! It’s just that I would have liked to hear a favorite priest give (what I later heard was) a beautiful, inspired homily; that was the kind of presence and intention I had in mind when I first received the answer to my prayers. But that wasn’t for me this Ash Wednesday. God called me to stop doing ALL THE THINGS and, n this moment, just do this one.

I did catch the last 2 minutes of the homily (and, to be honest, not much of Mass after), enough to hear the priest quote the Second Reading: “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Is it cliche to say I looked at the diaper bag and now saw its potential as a tool for that very task? Probably, but it’s true. This is where I am 8 weeks into motherhood, and this is what being present and focusing on the gospel looked like for me on Ash Wednesday. Here’s to however it looks (and smells) tomorrow.

The Other Other Pro-Life

By Matt Keppel

Now, I’m not much for a soap-box… not big ones at least.  Nevertheless, some soap-boxes are worth speaking on, especially when the discussions come down to issues of life.  Yes, this is an article about being pro-life! (knowing nods and eye-rolls) Not abortion or death penalty, but the life of the family. When it comes to pro-life issues, family life is often lost or looped in with abortion, but the life of the family is by every right a major issue on its own (albeit intimately connected to the others).

The Church in the United States has, since its coming, always been one of the working class. Our fathers and grandfathers worked in factories and fields toiling for a better life and we got just that.  We were given power in this country. Many of us even made names for ourselves! We knew what we wanted; we fought for our rights as the working class and have thrived because of it. Even still, we may have fought so hard to get what we thought we wanted that we have strayed from our banners. Indeed, it is time to pick up our heads and see that in our fight for a better life we have left our families behind.

Last week, how many of us put in more than 40 hours of work for our jobs? (You look silly raising your hand, but that’s okay we don’t judge…yet) Now, how many of you have families? Young children? I’m sure that we have all heard how workers in the United States take the fewest vacation days in the West (Euro-based countries). This should not come as a surprise to anyone as we witness it year after year. Does this practice just happen? Every day I see students who derive their self-worth by the work that they produce, and it’s encouraged by their schools and families. It only follows that those same people would carry over those feelings when it comes to a job. Do we think that some magical change of heart takes place between childhood and adulthood? If so, let me be the first to tell you that you’ve been deceived.

It is time to begin that change of heart. As Catholics, we have fought the good fight and we’ve run the race. Many are tired of fighting, some believe that there is nothing more to fight for, yet I tell you that much is to be gained. Our families deserve it. Our children deserve parents who are present during their formative years. They deserve both mothers and fathers receiving time off to take care of newborn children. As the Church itself lays out in its Rights and Dignity of Workers, we deserve to take this time simply because we are created by God. It’s an issue of social justice just like abortion, poverty, and the death penalty, though it certainly does not have the sex appeal.

I believe in the value of a hard-day’s work. I know what it feels like to produce something beautiful (as a former brewer, right now it tastes like bitter-chocolate stout). However, at the end of the day, everything we do is for the good of those around us. Our jobs are good insofar as they help us to build the kingdom of God, which, in most cases, begins with our family. It is now time to take care of our families, not just by providing an earning, but by being present physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod: How It Could Affect (My) Parish Life


By Brian Niemiec

Like many of you, I was struck by the tone and content of the recently released document from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family currently taking place in Rome. While the remarkable statements on homosexual relations seems to have made the biggest splash across the western world, I was struck by one very concrete pastoral concern found in the document.

I find it interesting to first note that this document does not have a lot of specifics. Rather, it has within it an openness to further discussion. In several sections, like the paragraphs about reception of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the Bishops acknowledge the conversation, what has already been discussed, and most importantly, the reality that a decision has not been made. The bishops are living in a tension of openness, and allowing the Holy Spirit to enter into that space and orient hearts and minds to the will of Jesus Christ.

In that light, I was taken aback by the detailed discussion of pastoral practice toward couples living outside the sacrament of marriage. The document addressed the need for more pastoral presence and engagement with couples who are civilly married, or couples living together outside of marriage (cohabitation). “A new sensitivity in today’s pastoral consists in grasping the positive reality of civil weddings and, having pointed out our differences, cohabitation“(36). This opening sentence, by acknowledging the positive, the good, and the holy in these committed relationships, forces us as church to look anew at how we minister to these populations. This section was the closest to outlining a pastoral directive, and it was quite clear that these non-sacramental relationships should be nourished and engaged by the Church, not rejected as an intrinsically sinful state of life.

Continue reading Reflections on the Extraordinary Synod: How It Could Affect (My) Parish Life

Guest Opinion: Pro-Life? Support Paid Maternity Leave


By Michael Lewis, Guest Contributor

President Obama made a splash on June 23 when he took four working families out to lunch at Chipotle after announcing his support for some kind of paid maternity leave in the United States. In his statement, the president said that the U.S. is the only developed country that does not offer working women any sort of paid leave to give birth or spend time with a newborn. In fact, President Obama said, “many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth—that’s a pretty low bar.”

The President’s announcement of support received little media attention as he failed to back a concrete piece of legislation to back up his support for paid maternity leave. His political opponents—many of them champions of the pro-life movement—dismissed the idea as another unnecessary, expensive government program. Obama walks the walk on paid leave, however—White House employees receive six weeks paid leave to give birth, a policy instituted when the President took office in 2009. Perhaps the disinterested reaction is not a result of our lack of caring for new mothers, but a reflection of the low value American society places on having children.

It used to be men and women married at 20 or 21, the husband had a good job that paid well, and they bought a home and had babies. Such was the American dream when our parents were growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Dad worked to pay the bills and put food on the table, and Mom took care of the kids.

Now, however, many young people of prime childbearing age are pursuing advanced degrees and careers—and thereby delaying pregnancy—partly out of ambition and partly out of financial necessity. The widespread use of contraception makes it easy to remove the procreative aspect from sexual love, and many women are finding that when they get around to trying to conceive, their years (or decades) on the pill permanently altered their bodies, making conception difficult.

In addition, today’s economy makes it hard for families to survive on one income, and as the President said, taking time off to have a baby can be a financial burden for many middle class families. The Family Medical Leave Act provides employees with up to 12 weeks of medical leave, but for the vast majority of workers, this benefit is unpaid, and again, many cannot afford to lose three months of income. In contrast, countries such as Canada offer up to 17 weeks of leave, with compensation of 55% of wages up to 15 weeks. Sweden offers 480 days per child, at 80% of salary. Other nations such as Poland, Germany, France, Slovakia and other Eastern European countries offer varying levels of benefits for new parents, paid for by Social Security programs or national health funds.

Continue reading Guest Opinion: Pro-Life? Support Paid Maternity Leave

Yours, Mine and Ours


By Ellen Romer

I confess, I watch Say Yes to the Dress. I like judging dress choices and the other wedding choices I see on Four Weddings.  As someone who was previously engaged and is currently engaged, I have done a fair amount of wedding planning. There are a lot of opinions and expectations that end up involved in the process and it is easy to lose sight of what is important. I appreciated Sara’s call to think more about how cultural expectations seem to trump what is a sacred thing for the Church. I share in the overarching sense of avoiding a materialistic approach and focusing on the sacrament. Being in the middle of planning a wedding for the second time, I am also acutely aware of how not only my fiance and I, but many people have a stake in this wedding. Simple isn’t always so simple.

Our wedding is ours. We minister the sacrament before witnesses. We make vows to one another and to God. So we can certainly say ‘No we don’t need all this fancy stuff’ and I certainly try to. Friends have shared that they are making us a cornhole set for use at the reception (yay!). We made it clear that we prefer paying for musicians at the Mass over having them at the reception.  I told my three attendants that I would like to be consulted on what they wear, but it’s up to them and their preferences. I want them to feel like themselves. We decided that a bouquet and garter toss aren’t really our style, so we’re going to pass on that.  I don’t need a big cake ( I really don’t understand them) so we will stick with a small super tasty one and I will try not to get chocolate frosting on my dress (Don’t worry Mom! It’ll be ok!).

The thing is – the wedding isn’t really about us. We are who we are and where we are thanks to our friends, our families and the grace of God.  Our marriage is not merely a private affair. We will profess our vows publicly to one another so that all can see and hear and hold us accountable to our vows and encourage us in them. Our marriage belongs not to us and our (hopefully) future children, but to the entire Body of Christ. Our marriage is not meant for us to simply serve one another but so that through our partnership and love we can better serve the people of God. So it can’ t just be about us. It has to include our families, our friends and the world we intend to serve. Continue reading Yours, Mine and Ours

The Job Description


By Jane Sloan

My dad loves me well. Today I’ll call and wish him a Happy Father’s Day. (“What did you do today? Wish I could be there. I’ll see you soon!”) But we’ll end up talking about me.   (“Yes, I’m fine. Kind of. Well…”)

If only I could articulate the many, small moments that illustrate the gift of his fatherhood to me. Does he know that it’s not just his genes, but all these moments of love that have made me? Here’s one:

I am five, or six, or seven. He comes home from work, loafers clopping beneath a dark suit. In the doorway, I spot a dangling briefcase and a big black coat that smells of cold. Hi Booms. Hi Dad. I follow him. He makes a snack: cheese and Saltines on a paper towel, sometimes salami. He changes clothes: shoes off, Big L.L. Bean slippers on. The smell of leather floats from the place in the closet where he keeps his shoes. How was your day? Good. How was school? Good. A funny bubbling story he’d listen to while stuffing crackers whole into his mouth. I steal a cracker. I give him a big hug, pressing my cheek against his soft white undershirt. And sometimes, if it is cold, I bury my face in his big pepper-colored wool sweater that scratches against my cheek when we hug, and collects all kinds of tears and snot if ever necessary on a really, really, bad day. Oh, those days. He lets me sit on his lap in the rocking chair.  Rocking back and forth under the warm lamplight. My face in his shoulder. Weeping, weeping about everything, his little deep thinker, the crafter of shadows and epic doomsdays. And the warm light, the L.L. Bean slippers propelling the rocker back and forth and my father, silent. Sorry I got your sweater all snotty, Dad. He looks at me. That’s part of my job description, he says: “Be there for Booms.” My father.

Enough about me, Dad. Let’s talk about you. But that’s hard, because your life is a gift to me and you keep…listening.  And giving.