Tag Archives: marriage

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


The Catholic Church’s Shifting Power

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV at Canossa Castle seeking forgiveness from                     Pope Gregory VII.

The Catholic Church, in all of its luminous and lurid history, has become notorious for its inability to “get with the times.” It is the general course of action for the Church that she moves at her own pace: intentional wisdom rather than rash choices. More often than not, wisdom prevails. Yet, the path to wisdom is one crafted over many years. The mere existence of the Catholic faith, its survival over the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the British Empire has proven that slow wisdom is significant, even though it may be frustrating, even maddening. Yesterday (as much of Pope Francis’s papacy has been), was the fruits of some of that maddeningly slow wisdom.

In the motu proprios released today, the Vatican has simplified the annulment process for marriages. An experience that has been often characterized as painful and drawn out, Francis has simplified as much of the process as possible by keeping it within the local diocese in order to expedite the annulment ruling. It may seem like this is simply something to allow divorces more readily available, but it is so much more than that. These rulings allow for justice and mercy to be served as quickly as possible.

Along with Pope Francis’s edict on the forgiveness of abortions, the motu proprios communicate almost as much about
theology as they do the movement of politics within the Church. It seems, based upon these, other speeches, and letters by the current Pontiff, that Francis is calling for a Church more focused on its people, those who are on the ground-level of the faith. In that, the dioceses are becoming more autonomous in decisions that directly relate to their people. Priests and bishops are being encouraged to minister to the needs of their people. It has been Francis’s entire papacy to bring forth a renewed effort by the clergy to take their rightful place as the servants of those in greatest need.

In a Church that often still runs its business on antiquated operations, we are witnessing real change. We are slowly leaving some of the unnecessary, medieval trappings of a highly centralized Vatican, while still maintaining the role and authority of the magisterium. Thankfully though, we don’t have to crawl to the Vatican in order to receive mercy and forgiveness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_to_Canossa). Through the patient wisdom of the Church and the example of Pope Francis, the needs of the faithful are being attended to in new and dynamic ways.

Pope Francis’ Weight of Glory and Motu Propio


By Claire Bordelon

I’m the culture writer. I want to write about books, movies, music, and have the digital equivalent of a Finer Things Club. But Pope Francis’ issuance of two moltu propio has put a hold on that, since it invites a perhaps more authentic look at the role of Mother Church in our daily experience of the world.

As I said in my last post, it is quite easy to distance oneself from the world, but it is also easy to become so bound to her, bogged down in daily life, and even fearful of an in-depth examination of one’s life that we drown out what is often the only authentic voice speaking in our hearts. Pope Francis’ reformations of the Church’s process for granting annulments will no doubt be examined by far greater minds than my own, but it does resonate with the part of me that loves talking about culture because of what it points toward. Those pieces of art and experiences of human talent that resonate within us do so not because of the greatness they have in and of themselves, but because they echo some desire deep inside of us that perhaps we have not even noticed ourselves. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

The most beautiful things are the truest; they know the deepest desires of our hearts and feed them with the only sustenance that will satiate us.

Pope Francis’ comments on this revised system are beautiful in that they speak to the desire for clear judgment and authentic mercy, two attributes often absent from what was before a lengthy and uncertain annulment process. In streamlining this process, Pope Francis has not only strengthened the Church’s stance on sacramental marriage, but also reaffirmed that sense in the human heart that the world today would so quickly diminish or deny completely: that we are made for truth, and in truth we find our happiness. The beacon of marriage and all that the Church does to protect this sacred vision of Christ’s divine love speaks to the Church’s great insight into the human heart, speaking words of truth and wisdom even to those who have forgotten how to hear Her.

In the Holy Father’s own words:

The Church, showing itself to the faithful as a generous mother, in a matter so closely linked to the salvation of souls manifests the gratuitous love of Christ by which we were saved.

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?

More than PreCana – Part II, Why Marriage Scares Me Sometimes

By Brian Niemiec


Last Wednesday marked four months until my wedding with Ellen on July 25th. So many things are starting to happen now, and I am really excited to embark on this amazing adventure! Lent has given me the space to more intentionally pray and sit with this big life change that is approaching, and while I cannot wait to marry Ellen in July, there is a piece of me that continues to be nervous. For a while I had trouble putting my finger on it. I started thinking about how final this was, and what would happen if life didn’t work out the way I planned. What if marriage didn’t live up to my hopes, dreams, and expectations? I started sounding very… well… selfish.

Most of us who read and write for this blog are all too aware of the pervasive individualism that is at the very heart of our society. Consuming goods for our pleasure, and spending time in ways that satisfy our wants is a very well taught lesson in American life, and this lesson is indeed at odds with what is required in a marriage. Yet, I think the hardest thing to overcome is not the standard social norms (at least we can name those), but rather the experience of living the glamorized single life.

Continue reading More than PreCana – Part II, Why Marriage Scares Me Sometimes

St. John Paul II: Thank you, every woman!

On this first-ever feast day of St. John Paul the II, I’ve been reflecting on my gratitude for the example of the late, great pope. (This beautiful post by Fr. Robert Barron is a good short read if you’re looking for a brief tool for your own reflection.) Meanwhile, I also find myself in the 8th month of pregnancy, and my husband and I are eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first son or daughter!

With that in mind, I decided to reread the pope’s Letter to Women this morning, which was written in advance of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. The entire letter is worth a read, but I’m frequently drawn to this portion of the letter where he thanks all women in the world for their “vocation and mission.” Emphasis in italics is from the saint himself:

“This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.

Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God’s love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a “spousal” relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”

I wish so much that women who struggle with understanding their own dignity in ways big and small would hear these words and take them to heart.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.


Related posts you may like re: St. John Paul II and/or women in the Church:

Best Thing We’ve Read All Day: Talking about Marriage Edition

From Mike Laskey writing for the National Catholic Reporterthree things he’d tell the Synod regarding marriage:

  1. Catholic marriage preparation is a great opportunity. Don’t miss it!
  2. A young family needs a supportive community to survive. Building authentic community is hard work.
  3. When thinking about ways to help make sure marriages last, don’t forget Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Read it all here.


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

I Don’t Want to Get Married: Confessions of a Celibate Priest


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Author’s Note: I wrote this last evening; folks don’t read blog posts at 11:00 pm on a Sunday night, so I saved it for today.

It’s 10:46 pm on a Sunday evening:  I just got off the phone with a parishioner who has no family. I gave the hospital my number as an emergency contact, just in case.  Somehow, they gave her my number.  And she called.  A few times.

A girlfriend from college got married today.  I saw the pictures on Facebook.  She looked so blessedly and beautifully happy, surrounded by family and friends, smiling in the arms of her husband.  I smiled.

I worked my way from one end of Yonkers this afternoon to the upper reaches of Westchester County on communion calls.

I’m tired, I’m worried about a Mass of the Holy Spirit at which I need to preside at a local high school tomorrow.  Somewhere around and between visiting the parishioner mentioned in the first paragraph, and celebrating the Mass in the previous sentence, I need to make sure my lessons for my freshman religion class are in order for the rest of the week.

Once I’m done with that, I’ll attend a CYO coaches’ meeting and start sketching out my homily for next Sunday.

At some point, I figure, it will be most appropriate for me to take care of the large stack of dirty laundry sitting in the corner of my room.

Continue reading I Don’t Want to Get Married: Confessions of a Celibate Priest

Married with Children…and Ministry

married-with-children1 (1)

By Ellen Romer

Have you checked out Boston Globe’s new all-Catholic-all-the-time new site Crux? More specifically, have you read their piece by the married priest? Well go ahead and read it right now. I’ll wait a minute…

This personal reflection bursts with rich themes – power and authority, responsibility and accountability, faith and conversion, and the role of celibacy in the priesthood. I admit I initially clicked on the headline because a married priest had written it and I find the married/celibate priest conversation fascinating and important. I did not expect to come out of it realizing I have a lot more thinking to do about my own vocation to ministry and to marriage.

Rev. Duncan writes about priesthood and marriage/fatherhood as ‘two all-consuming vocations.’ While he focuses on his vocation of priesthood, I found that a lot of what he said rings true for myself and probably for many lay ministers. Ministry, in all its many forms, can be all-consuming. As I begin my fourth year working and studying at the School of Theology and Ministry, I see over and over again the great passion that lies in our lay and religious students.  The work our students and many others go into is not the kind of work that you can simply leave at work. Beyond explicit ‘church’ jobs, people in many fields – whether medicine, social work, counseling, and others – see their work as a vocation and more than simply a job. When faith deeply affects why and how you do your work, it also affects how you live your life. Little space exists between life at work and life at home; all of it grows out of convictions grounded in faith, remaining ever intertwined.

Continue reading Married with Children…and Ministry