Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What's at Stake in the Marriage Debate

We were in church, and he was standing there so firmly rooted, so solid, letting her sway freely in his arms. Her blond hair flowed down to her shoulders. Her eyes sparkled. She was wearing a jumper dress with white tights. And she was SOOOO happy! You could tell by the way she was playfully rocking back and forth in her daddy’s arms, stroking her daddy’s face and mouth with her hands, and throwing her head back with carefree abandon. His eyes and his mind were obviously trying to focus on the Mass more than on her, but he was letting her continue touching and stroking his face, while he held her in his grip.

She was probably not more than two or three years old, and suddenly I saw myself in that little girl. It hit me. I WAS that little girl once.

I felt the stab of loss. What would she feel, if the next day, she was ripped out of his embrace forever?

Blood splattered all over the front seat. Broken glass. The side of the car looked like a smashed soda can. A woman moaned, knowing intuitively that her husband’s life had just been snatched away. And the little girl in the back of the car lost her daddy that day.

What marks would be left chiseled on the young girl’s face? I am familiar with the marks. I see them in photographs of myself soon after that tragic day, a little girl just three years old with lips pursed so serious from the taste of grief, and eyes looking so sad and lonesome. It breaks my heart.

I see the marks in a growing child who’s hiding somewhere deep inside herself when uncles are roughhousing with her cousins. I see the marks in the teenage girl, insecure and uncertain about her body, wondering why isn’t her father here to notice her, to coach her, to teach her about the world. I see the marks in a college-bound girl finding her way out there, wondering and wanting to know what kind of man her father really was. 

Fatherlessness. It’s more common than ever today and very unfortunate. Yet part of our society tries to tell us that this condition is normal and okay. We get a mixed message that young girls don’t need a father. Young boys don’t need to be raised by a dad to learn about manhood. In fact, we can do away with this institution called marriage that unites kids with their moms and dads. We can do away with recognizing this and protecting this for the sake of redefining marriage to be between any two people who love each other.
Really? This hurts. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard cases challenging California’s Proposition 8 (the ban on redefining marriage) and arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act. Marriage is hanging in the balance and many people don't even know what is at stake. Some think it's just about letting same-sex couples "participate" in marriage. But the problem with redefining marriage (by removing "man and woman" from the law and inserting "two people") is that it eliminates the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads.

When either a child’s mom or dad is taken out of the picture, replaced by someone else or not, the child suffers. Roger Scruton said in his essay from “The Meaning of Marriage”:

“Take away marriage and you expose children to the risk of coming into the world as strangers, untutored by fathers or abandoned by mothers; a condition of abandonment in which they may remain for the rest of their lives.”

Fatherless and single-parent homes produce children who are more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime and treated for emotional and behavioral problems, as well as more likely to be sexually, emotionally and physically abused and neglected. There is a physical poverty in this that has its effects on society - 71% of poor families are unmarried, while marriage alone drops the probability of childhood poverty by 82% - but there is also a huge emotional poverty here that books like Fatherless Daughters and Motherless Daughters so keenly address.

We should ask ourselves, how is the obliteration of marriage between men and women contributing to a safer and healthier community and society? After reading a short, eye-opening little book called Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: a guide for effective dialogue by Bill May, I have begun to see marriage through the eyes of a child. I recommend reading it if you want to know how to to talk respectfully on the subject. Seriously, read it.

If we stopped viewing marriage as an adult-centric thing and started seeing the good of marriage for children and for society – the public good – we would realize that marriage essentially is not just a public pledge of love between two committed persons but that it is in essence an institution of procreative and unitive forces. It exists to unite a man and woman with each other and any children born of their union.

Every child has a biological mom and dad. And every person has a common desire to know, love and relate with their biological mom and dad. We carry our parents traits and the traits of those who came before them. We have a family history running through our blood. We want to know where we came from, because it’s part of our identity.

Where do I get this head full of strawberry blonde hair from?...This writerly way of looking at things?...This connection with all things growing in nature?...This courageous spirit?...Namely, who's history is written into my very DNA? To intentionally deprive a person of having these questions answered is to close off a part of the human experience to them.
Let’s stand up for children, marry and be witnesses that the family is the first school of love, discipline and justice. Building stable and healthy families means building a stable and healthy America. 

Love that little girl and her daddy for witnessing to me in a simple moment the beauty of the father-daughter relationship.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

“We have a pope!” were the first words out of my mom’s mouth. She called me at about 1:15 p.m. to tell me that white smoke was curling up from the Vatican, signaling the conclave had elected a new pope.

Watching the coverage on EWTN was emotionally and spiritually moving. I tried to imagine myself being one of those people among the enormous throng gathered there. Oh, what I’d give to be a journalist in Rome right now, documenting this moment in history!

Remembering when I stood in Vatican Square in 2007 as a student from Franciscan University, I could almost feel again the physical and mystical embrace of standing inside those two pillared arms of mother church. While the church bells were tolling loudly on this holy night, people were chanting and cheering. On their faces was an expression of genuine joy and good will over the election of the 265th successor of St.  Peter.
Looking into the faces of the crowd, I saw many of the faces were young – seminarians and religious and young lay men, women and children. Seeing all the flags waving from continents across the globe reminded me of my experience at World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Everyone packed in together, representing the entire world. The reality of the church in its universality and youthfulness struck me so vividly then. 

For those who may not have watched it, the first indication that the pope was about to come out was that the lights went on in the windows by the balcony. The crowd erupted in cheers seeing that light in the darkness – a real symbol of hope.

Time stood still.

Then there was an announcement of the new pope. The crowds followed up with a chant of “Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!” while I wondered who it could be.

Then the surprise came. No one had expected this 76-year-old cardinal from Argentina to be elected. People had their eyes set on younger cardinals (in their 60s). It turns out, this Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a serious contender during the last conclave when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. I wonder what it was like for the cardinal to be through this twice – if he felt beforehand, leading up to this day, a certain summons and prompting from the Holy Spirit?

Did you ever watch a child running to the door and bouncing up and down, when their father returns home after a long day at work? They are so giddy with excitement and ready to jump into his arms. It felt, from the immense cheers that greeted Pope Francis when he stepped out, that we were all children like that again welcoming our daddy.

When Pope Francis came out on the balcony and stood looking at the people, he looked at first as though he were simply taking it all in, fathoming the immensity of his calling and the responsibility of his role. His countenance seemed to change from "just looking" to being overcome with deep emotion or sadness that turned into warmth and love. 

He looked like a man at peace with himself and God, confident, and humble.

Addressing the crowds in his native tongue, his first greeting prompted laughter, “As you know, the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop," he said. "It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the ends of the earth to find a pope.”

It seems like more than just a coincidence that the next World Youth Day 2013 is scheduled to take place in Rio, Brazil. I'm imagining a frenzy of young people from South America signing up for World Youth Day now! These young people from Rio, who I met at World Youth Day in Spain, will certainly be happy to welcome Pope Francis when he comes this summer!

A happy group of young people from Rio, Brazil

At the end of World Youth Day, we traded our American flag for an Argentine flag at the request of a group of young people from Argentina. I was reluctant about losing our flag at that time, but didn't realize until now IT WAS A SIGN!!!!

It's even more fitting our new pope comes from Latin America, because Latin America holds 42% of the world’s Catholics, while many more of the Catholic population is Hispanic.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal says, “The new pope was the archbishop of the Buenos Aires diocese, in a region with the largest concentration of Catholics in the world – a reflection that part of the church’s destiny lies in lands outside Europe, for centuries its stronghold.”

I know I wasn’t the only one to immediately bond with the new pope. I felt tears spring into my eyes. The commentators conceded the same thing – that there was a connection between the crowd and him.

He appealed to us to pray with him an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. How awesome to join our prayers with his and then how humbling, when he asked for our prayers prior to giving his blessing as Bishop of Rome. He bowed as a prayerful silence swept through the crowd. I bowed my head and prayed for him, too. 

A few moments later he stood tall and gave his blessing along with a generous plenary indulgence; he has chosen to begin his papacy with mercy.

He is also a pope of many firsts. The first to choose the name Francis - calling to mind the peaceful warrior St. Francis of Assisi and the Jesuit St. Francis Xavier. He is also the first pontiff from the Americas and first Jesuit pope. I sense an outpouring of spiritual graces is in store for us and the world.

How exciting to witness this historical moment in the 2,000 year history of Christianity!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Good Man is Hard to Find

“Dear Husband-to-be ~ It has been getting harder and harder for me to write this letter. What started out 12 years ago as pure anticipation in these letters and dreamy-eyed wonder about who you are has changed the past couple years to reflect a more hard-hitting reality. Youthful exuberance has been tempered by the personal pain and sadness of broken relationships, lost expectations, and crushing disappointments. The road has had some detours, and honestly, I didn’t think it would take this long and hard to find you...”

Unfortunately, we live in far more difficult times than our ancestors or even our parents did. Our chances of finding a good spouse have significantly diminished, given the breakdown of marriage in our day and how we’ve abused the gift of sexuality and degraded the meaning of life. We live in the age of the Great Divorce – the divorce of husband from wife, of children from parents, of sexual intimacy from commitment, of reproduction from sex, of religion from culture, of technology from nature, of individuals from each other. Technology is furthering the isolation even while connecting us with the world at large.

I went into a restaurant recently and was surprised to see a whole group of 12-year-old girls sporting iPhones. Go into public and almost everyone has a Smartphone in their hand. Go into our households, and no one is talking to each other because everyone is on a different device.Sometimes, I think we are hiding from effective dialogue and interaction with others behind our screens. The screen is highly addictive and offers a way to virtually interact with others without any level of commitment or personal investment. And nowadays, this is how people often enter relationships.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better. This is because youth are growing up in a world that sets no boundaries and tells them to do whatever their instincts and passions tell them to do. It is a world that tells them to behave like the animals, which do not have self-control over their instincts. But without self-control, we become addicted to our thirsts and passions and slaves of our addictions.

I do not understand how birth control advocates keep singing the praises of the sexual “liberation” when all we've seen since the 1960s is a skyrocket increase in sexual addiction to porn, masturbation, promiscuity, fornication, and immoral music and television – this is slavery to our wayward thirsts and passions. If we think this is freedom, look at what’s at stake; talk to those who have lost careers, marriages and families because of their addictions.

There are basically three camps of single people today: divorced singles, singles having sex outside of marriage, and singles who are committed to not having sex until marriage. As a good Catholic girl and boy, there is really only one camp to draw a worthy spouse from and that one happens to be the third camp. Why?

Because Jesus says that anyone who divorces and marries another commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12), because marriage is meant to be a lifelong and exclusive union. I have wept because so many of my parents' and my own generation are the walking wounded. “A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it but there’s less of you,” writes Margaret Atwood.

Also, because the Bible teaches it’s a sin to fornicate (i.e. have sex outside of marriage - it doesn’t matter if it’s your partner for life or your partner for a night). It continues to shock me that most of the culture, even those brought up with traditional values, even Catholics, have resigned themselves to the fact, “Oh, that’s what couples do nowadays” – plummeting into co-habitation and explaining it away through convenience: “We moved in together to save money on rent.” Bah! Is money your God? When did convenience justify wrong? How can you reconcile being a Christian if you are living in the sin of fornication? (1 Thess. 4:3-8, 1 Cor. 6:12-20).

I believe there will be a Final Judgment. What a frightening experience that will be for those who have waved the banners of moral relativism all their life.

“Sex before marriage means broken hearts and broken bonds. Broken hearts don’t trust others as much. People with broken hearts don’t trust themselves as much. People think they should take a partner out for a ‘test drive’ before getting married. But this hasn’t made it easier to learn if the person is compatible because couples having sex often overlook important differences because the sex is good. People who live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate” (Read more:

In other words, God puts all the good, bonding chemicals of sex in marriage for this reason – to help couples stay together once committed to each other.

There is another reason the pool of eligible marriage candidates is so small. A third of my generation has been aborted. We'll never know these missing persons until we meet them in heaven.

Therefore, we are in an unusual predicament. There are few eligible individuals left who are free to marry. Indeed we may have it harder than any of the generations before us in America to find a worthy wife and a worthy husband. Obviously, we face the challenge of not only finding each other through the maze of this messy world, but of establishing a healthy, permanent, fruitful, faithful, and life-giving marriage union grounded in Christ.

I am inspired by the story of “How We Met” by David and Kirsten on the website  As the testimonies of David and Kirsten show, God really works in amazing ways to bring two people together who He has picked for each other. David was a post-abortive father with a history, but he turned his life around and God led him to Kirsten. Their stories show just how heroically David and Kirsten patiently sought after God’s plan for their life and how they were rewarded. What a testimony to God’s faithfulness!

Therefore, I encourage all singles in whichever camp they are in to get reconciled to God. Line up your life according to God’s law, so that you can pursue a relationship in purity and peace when the time is right.

To my fellow sisters out there waiting, who need a bit of encouragement, hurry to Amazon and order your copy of Emily Stimpson’s adorable, witty and profound book The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years. It’s worth reading!