What’s destroying some Catholic marriages? The answer may surprise you

Washington D.C., Dec 30, 2015 / 10:04 am (CNA).- Of the countless Catholic couples who have come through Father T.G. Morrow’s office in Washington D.C. for marriage counseling, two remain imprinted in the priest’s mind even today. In many ways, these two Catholic couples were the ideal; they were open to life, they formed their children in the faith and they frequented the sacraments. But both of these marriages fell apart. The culprit? Anger. “Anger is a poison,” Fr. Morrow, a moral theologian and author of “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014) told CNA. “If a husband and a wife are angry with each other a lot, it destroys the relationship. It makes it so painful that people want to get out of that relationship.” Everyone experiences the feeling of anger. It’s a natural, uncontrollable response to the behavior of others, he said. And anger can sometimes be righteous – St. Thomas Aquinas once said anger that’s aligned with reason is praiseworthy. But most often that natural response of anger morphs into sinful anger, which is motivated by a desire for revenge, the priest noted. And this sinful anger has a devastating effect on relationships. “It’s extremely important that people realize that (anger) can be a very serious thing, especially if they have major outbursts that really hurt other people,” Fr. Morrow said. Anger is so destructive that many marriage experts recommend couples have five positive interactions for every negative interaction.   “This anger, when it’s expressed badly, is a poison to every relationship,” he said. “Married people need especially to be careful about this…to work on this and to overcome this.” Since the feeling of anger is natural and unavoidable, Fr. Morrow said it is important to know how to express anger or displeasure in an effective and positive way. The first step: decide if it is worth getting angry. “People get angry about little, trifling things,” he said. “You have to say “Is this worth getting angry about?” If not, then you have to let it go. Just forget it.” If your anger is justified and a confrontation would promote the good of the other, use humor or diplomacy to express your anger. If a confrontation would not promote the good of the other, then Fr. Morrow suggested offering that anger to God as a sacrifice for your sins and the sins of the world. “(Anger) won’t go away automatically in one try,” he explained. “We have to keep giving it to God as a sacrifice.” Fr. Morrow said this approach to anger does not mean every person should suddenly become a doormat who is too cowardly to express dissatisfaction with the actions of another.   He used the example of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Many of the men in Tagaste at the time had violent tempers, and St. Monica’s husband was no exception. When he would come home and yell at St. Monica, she would stay quiet. Some time after her husband’s explosion of anger, St. Monica would approach her husband and calmly address his treatment of her and his complaints. “She was the furthest thing from a doormat,” Fr. Morrow explained. “She had a specific goal that she wanted to become holy and she wanted to covert her son. She pursued her goals ardently and as a result she converted her violent husband and eventually converted Augustine.” For more information, check out Fr. Morrow’s book “Overcoming Sinful Anger” (Sophia Press, 2014). The 102-page book reads like a manual and draws from Fr. Morrow’s experience as a marriage counselor and spiritual director and his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Photo credit: www.shutterstock.comThis article was originally published on CNA Aug. 14, 2015. Read more

For one young Catholic, music is an apostolate of beauty

Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec 29, 2015 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- An up-and-coming Catholic musician in Michigan aims to expose listeners to God in the same way she did during her school years – through beauty found in “truly good” forms of art. &ld… Read more

If post-abortion syndrome doesn’t exist, why are these women suffering?

Santiago, Chile, Dec 29, 2015 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A psychologist who cares for post-abortive women has emphasized the need to help women who have had abortions heal – and that these women have their own stories to tell. Peruvian psychol… Read more

A priest’s powerful impact on the New York Times’ David Brooks

Denver, Colo., Dec 29, 2015 / 05:41 am (CNA).- New York Times columnist, best-selling author and all-around pundit David Brooks made headlines earlier this year for his bold new book making the case for a societal return to morality.   Perhaps lesser known, however, is some of the inspiration behind the work – a humble priest described by Brooks as an “insanely joyful” man who sparked a nagging, internal question. Why was this cleric so happy and fulfilled? What followed was a meticulously researched and engaging book which poses a provocative thesis: we as a modern society are cultivating outwardly impressive but ultimately superficial “resume virtues” – not character. And it’s costing us dearly, the author says, both personally and communally. In a conversation with CNA editors, Brooks recounted his experience with the priest along with his thoughts on why his book – “The Road to Character” (Random House/2015) – is so important, and how it speaks to everything from politics, to religion to education. He also gave a hat tip to Pope Francis, whom he called “the embodiment of being a Christian.” Below is the full Q&A, edited for clarity.You’re very brave – all of your recent headlines explicitly touting the need for “morality.” Your book’s glaring reference to “sin.” Has there been any fallout from this? What’s the reaction been from your peers? A friend of mine who is an editor at another publishing house – a really good editor – called me and said, you know, I love the way you talk about your book, but I wouldn’t use the word “sin” – it’s just such a downer, so you should use the word “insensitive.” I of course think that “insensitive” is very paltry substitute for the word “sin,” so there has been some pushback on that. And, there’s some hostility towards religion in general. The book is not super religious, but it does have religious characters, and certainly religious words and religious context. But I’d say the main reaction has just been welcoming. People are hungry for a conversation. And so, whether people are Christian, Jewish, atheist – I’ve been sort of surprised by the general desire to be in this general field of conversation.When did you realize in your own life that you’d been building “resume virtues” instead of forming your character? There wasn’t one big thing – but there were certain moments in my life when I saw people who had spiritual and moral gifts that I lacked. One of them was a guy named Monsignor Ray East, who is a priest in the Anacostia neighborhood in D.C. – a very poor neighborhood. He was part of a lunch I do every year for Catholic Relief Services, which I do with my friend, Mark Shields. And every year, Monsignor East would give the benediction. He was just insanely joyful – such an insanely joyful man, and I was just so struck by him. Just being in his presence would lift me up for a few weeks. I had the realization that whatever I had achieved in career terms, I haven’t achieved the inner joy that he possesses. And I was just curious: how do you get that?In your book, you talk about a cultural shift over the last 50 plus years away from humility – and a natural sense of self-effacement people had – into the notion of the “big me.” What caused this? There are many aspects, of course. One of them derives from the consumer society, that teaches that you have these desires and you should satisfy them, and so you should just go around satisfying your desires. And so I think you come to believe that your desires are good and to have tremendous trust in them – and that is a shift away from what people thought in previous centuries. Second, after WWII, people had been through deprivation and had seen a lot of darkness, from the Holocaust and just the death that WWII created. (A series of books from the time promoted the idea) that when we look inside ourselves, we see that our nature is beautiful and full of good and that we need to love ourselves more. That too is a sharp break from the biblical tradition which says that we are broken – so there was both a commercial and philosophical shift that happened.A recent Pew survey documents the rise of “nones” – religiously unaffiliated people – in the U.S. With the general decline of those who identify as religious, would you say this correlates to a general lack of emphasis on character? They go along together – character is the ability to commit to things outside of yourself, whether it is a political movement, or faith, or friendship, or a love affair, or a cause. I think people have a harder time committing. They are more autonomous, more individual, they have FOMO (fear of missing out) so they don’t want to ruin any option, and that leads to a general era of de-commitment. People are walking away from political parties, from organized faith – they are just living more individually. And I think that’s due to our inability to commit to things.What about education? How does the school system help or hinder your concept of the need for more virtuous people? I think obviously Catholic schools can teach us specific code, specific theology, but public schools really can’t. I do think that they can familiarize students with the religions and the faiths and the philosophies that are out there. So what I do when I teach a course is say: here are a bunch of moral ontologies, different systems that people have come up with. There is a Greek system favoring honor and courage, the Jewish faith favoring obedience and law, the Christian system favoring grace and humility – I’m not going to tell you which one to pick, but here are a bunch of systems, do what seems true to you. But we don’t even give students the words or an education there. I think we have to at least make them literate in spirituality and moral matters.Let’s move to politics. Many of the U.S. founding fathers either implied or explicitly said that democracy will only work if we are a nation comprised of people with character. What are the implications of your thesis for the American experiment? I think that our founders were very clear on that. A healthy country requires a decent citizenry. And they also believed that statecraft is soulcraft – that in forming a government we’re helping to shape the character of the people within it. I think as we’ve lost the whole vocabulary and the whole focus, we now focus a lot on economics and economics as really the gateway between all social thinking and government policy. And that’s not true – that doesn’t evaluate what people seek…And so we’ve kind of neutered the public square. I’m not the kind of person who thinks we’re in a state of national decline or anything like that. I think people find ways to behave decently towards one another as best as they can. But I just think we’re inarticulate and that we could be living satisfying and more fulfilling lives if we actually had words and more – greater – self-consciousness and better road maps for how to lead a life of depth and kindness.Is social media to blame for some of our narcissistic, “big me” tendencies as a society? I’m not hugely fearful about it. I don’t think Facebook is making us lonelier. I don’t think video games are making us more violent. The two things I do think are: first, social media and the desire for likes and attention on Instagram and such is amplifying the self where we are broadcasting ourselves and just sort of being big about ourselves and win fame. And I do think social media damages our attention span. I’ve certainly noticed that in myself where I have trouble reading for long periods of time without checking my phone. So I do think that’s probably the most harmful thing that’s happened to us. Moral reflection takes stillness. You’ve got to hear that soft voice inside…So I think those are the two things I worry about.What, in a concrete, practical sense can your readers take away from your book? What effect do you want to have on people? First, I just want them to live in this space and think about this world. Second, I think we become better people by copying others. So I hope they’re excited by some of the characters and they just want to live a life like Dorothy Day or live a life like Philip Randolph. I think that’s how we are motivated – by exemplars. As for the practical things, some of them are mundane. I have a friend who when he goes home at night he asks how he did in his struggle against his core weakness that day and he resolves ways to do better. I think you can surround yourself by friends and also by heroes – people you can put on your walls in your room who remind what a decent, good life looks like. I think you can have discussion groups raising the subjects of: how do you turn suffering into a moral occasion? How do you build your relationships? So there’s a spiritual component. I think you learn from Samuel Johnson the virtue of reading and how just having a settled philosophy of life is important in having and living a life of character. You can learn from Francis Perkins about a vocation. You can ask, what is the mortal world around me calling me to do right now? I think there are a few different things that can be done. There’s no seven step process to doing it but there’s a lifelong journey that I’m hoping people find different avenues towards.As a Catholic news entity, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask your opinion on Pope Francis… I have a quote in the book from Dave Jolly, a veterinarian, who says ‘the message is the person’ – the way we communicate, what we value is not necessarily from the theology that we found, but by the way we act, the way we are. And I think Pope Francis is the perfect exemplification of that. I’m not a huge expert in Catholic theology but I like the way he handles himself and I admire the way he behaves in matters large and small. So to me, he simply is the embodiment of being a Christian. He radiates love, radiates joy, shows mercy, shows empathy. That’s the way Jesus asks Christians to live and Pope Francis lives that way. And so the message is the person.  This article was originally published on CNA May 21, 2015. Read more

What is the devil’s favorite sin? An exorcist responds

Madrid, Spain, Dec 28, 2015 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- Is an exorcist afraid?  What is the devil’s favorite sin? These and other questions were tackled in an interview this summer with the Dominican priest, Father Juan José Gallego, an e… Read more

Young people are smoking more pot than ever – and why that’s a bad thing

Denver, Colo., Dec 28, 2015 / 12:02 pm (CNA).- When Amendment 64 legalized the sale of recreational marijuana to anyone over the age of 21 in Colorado, Dr. Christopher Thurstone’s work became even more complex. A child psychiatrist and medical d… Read more

If you struggle with porn, the Church can help, US bishops say

Washington D.C., Dec 28, 2015 / 06:03 am (CNA).- For the first time, the U.S. bishops issued a pastoral letter this year specifically addressing the global crisis of pornography, looking at how the industry is affecting the parishioners in their pews and what the Church can do to offer mercy, healing, and hope to recovering pornography users. “We offer this statement to give a word of hope and healing to those who have been harmed by pornography and to raise awareness of its pervasiveness and harms,” the statement reads, saying the Church wants to offer healing to the families destroyed by pornography and to the individuals who have been exploited by it. The USCCB officially approved the pastoral letter created by the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth called “Create in Me a Clean Heart” on Nov. 17. The letter addresses the crisis of porn and how the Church is reaching out with mercy to those who fall prey to the thriving billion-dollar pornography industry, which creates an increasing slew of victims and perpetrators every year. Pornography’s wide acceptance and even at times promotion in today’s global culture has prompted the U.S. bishops to address the crux of the issue: the failure to recognize every human’s innate call to love. According to the pastoral letter, “every man and woman, whether called to marriage or not, has a fundamental vocation of self-giving, fruitful love in imitation of the Lord.” The bishops describe pornography, however, as the opposite of love – the love for which every individual is created. Instead, pornography creates “a disordered view of the person, because it is ordered toward use, as of a thing, rather than love, which pertains to persons.” Pornography also “rejects the equal dignity and complementarity between man and woman and strikes at the heart of God’s plan for communion between persons,” the letter stated. The bishops also linked pornography as a gateway to other problems, such as: masturbation, addiction, adultery, prostitution, domestic violence, abuse, and sex trafficking. It also leads to a distorted view of human sexuality, and in some cases, damages the capacity for healthy, human intimacy. Engaging in pornography might appear to some like a harmless, private affair, but the bishops pointed to multiple victims who are involved in the making. Many individuals and children portrayed in pornography are victims of human trafficking and also forced into prostitution, the bishops wrote, citing a study by former litigation attorney and anti-porn advocacy leader Noel Bouche. The crisis of pornography inflicts deep wounds on many individuals, spouses, and families – including faithful Catholics, they said. Recognizing this danger and the reach of pornography within their own pastoral corners, the U.S. bishops were quick to point out that the Church is waiting to welcome those who are hurting. “No wound is so deep, however, as to be out of the reach of Christ’s redeeming grace. The Church as a field hospital is called to proclaim the truth of the human person in love,” the letter stated. “You are beloved sons and daughters of the Father. Be not afraid to approach the altar of mercy and ask for forgiveness. Many good people struggle with this sin. You are not alone,” the bishops said. For many, use of pornography has become an addiction, or at the very least, desensitizing. Because of this, many individuals will have to seek other help in addition to confession or spiritual direction. “We wish to specifically address Catholics in a range of circumstances and present opportunities for guidance, healing and grace,” the statement continued. The bishops recommended counseling, coaching, accountability groups, conferences, and retreats as good options for recovering pornography users. Other tools like online monitoring software, couples therapy, and chastity education are also good resources. “Freedom from pornography is a daily choice and calls for ongoing formation,” the pastoral letter noted. Parents also have a responsibility to protect their sons and daughters from the modern-day scourge of pornography. The bishops noted that the average age of children who are exposed to pornography is age eleven, meaning that there are many children who are even younger. “Parents and guardians, protect your home! Be vigilant about the technology you allow into your home and be sensitive to the prevalence of sexual content in even mainstream television and film and ease by which it comes through the Internet and mobile devices,” the letter stated. In addition, the bishops encouraged intensified seminary and priestly formation on pastoral care to treat those involved with pornography. Priests, they noted, have a crucial role to play in creating authentic relationships and fraternal support with individuals who want to defeat their struggle with porn. “God’s grace and concrete help are always available. Healing is always possible,” the bishops noted. “Trust in and be led by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s mercy and forgiveness are abundant!” A full list of USCCB-approved resources on recovering from pornography is available at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/pornography/index.cfm.  This article was originally published on CNA Nov. 29, 2015, with the headline, ‘Struggle with porn? The Church can help you, US bishops say’ Read more

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Arlington, Va., Mar 25, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship. “This really is a r… Read more

Pope Francis to families: forgive each other and journey together towards God

Vatican City, Dec 27, 2015 / 10:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on the Feast of the Holy Family reflected on the power of forgiveness in families and compared everyday family life to an ongoing pilgrimage of prayer and love. “How important … Read more

Dorothy Day had nothing to say to this theologian – or so he thought

Fort Wayne, Ind., Dec 27, 2015 / 09:35 am (CNA).- Ever since entering the Church 27 years ago, theologian Lance Richey had always known about the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day in passing. “It’s hard not to run across her name, but I honestly had not paid much attention to her,” Richey told CNA in a phone interview earlier this year. “I viewed her as, just kind of a social activist, and someone who probably didn’t have much to say to a theologian like myself.” But this May, Our Sunday Visitor released his edits to the 75th anniversary edition of Day’s journal from the early years of the Catholic Worker Movement, “House of Hospitality.” On top of that, he organized the annual Dorothy Day Conference at University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he serves as Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. So how did he go from having a cursory knowledge of Day to editing her personal journal – that had been out of print for decades – and organizing an annual conference about her? “Several years back, I picked up her writings and started reading them,” he said. “My opinion of her changed dramatically. I discovered her for the first time.” From her writings, including the then nearly impossible to find, “House of Hospitality,” Richey said he discovered a “profoundly spiritual woman” whose work and prayers “flowed from a very deep conversion to Christ and a deep love for the Church.” The new edition of her diary covers the first six years of the Catholic Worker Movement which Peter Maurin founded with Day in 1933 to serve the poor, unemployed and homeless of New York City. Today there are some 228 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S. and around the world. Oftentimes Day’s social works and advocacy for the poor are upheld while her profound spiritual life gets downplayed or even forgotten altogether, which is the result of man-made divisions within the Church, he said. Catholics “tend to divide ourselves into Democrats and Republicans, and liberals and conservatives, and social justice or orthodox,” said Richey, who hold doctorates in both philosophy and theology from Wisconsin’s Marquette University. And Day “tends to be championed by people on one end of the spectrum who ignore her deep spirituality and her utter commitment and fidelity to the Church.” This approach takes away from the whole picture of who Day really was – namely, a deeply faithful woman who “defined her life around the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.” Richey said that in his studies he learned that “for Dorothy Day you can’t divide Catholicism into ‘kinds.’ There aren’t ‘kinds of Catholics.’ You’re either Catholic or you’re not, and being Catholic entails social obligations and theological obligations,” he said. This is something he had in mind when speakers for the annual Dorothy Day Conference he organizes were selected, saying that his goal is that “everyone who attended the conference should be offended by somebody.” “We should make sure we have something that we disagree with because usually in the moment it doesn’t change much,” he said, “but as we have to kind of process it, we come to challenge our own preconceptions and to expand our understanding of what does it really mean to be Catholic? What does it really mean to want to imitate Dorothy Day?” This year’s conference included presenters such as Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review; Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles; and Martha Hennessy, Day’s granddaughter. It’s important now to see the whole picture of who this woman really was, especially in preparation for the upcoming Year of Mercy, of which Richey says Day would be the perfect patron. “I do think that it’s a very providential time for Dorothy Day’s message. Pope Francis is calling the Universal Church to what Dorothy Day called the American church to be,” he said. “I mean, everything about her was, ‘how are we called to be merciful to others?’ and ‘how every day of my life can I carry out these works of mercy?’” Now that she has been recognized a “Servant of God” – meaning that the Vatican sees no objection in her cause for canonization progressing – he thinks that the chances of her becoming “Venerable” are “very good.” While the miracles needed to prove to the Church that she can be called a saint are “in God’s hands”, Richey said he personally thinks that Day “led a heroically holy life of orthodox belief and sustained a consistent living out of the Gospel in very difficult conditions.”This article was originally published on CNA June 20, 2015. Read more