By: Natalie Plumb

I thank God every day that He is truly a God of justice. And I thank God every day for Purgatory, too: I like to believe that He will not base your fate on what you did at the very moment you die. He loves to give us one million second chances. I think His justice will prevail above all, and your whole life will be laid out before you as you knock on the gates of Heaven. I firmly believe that.

Allow that to be encouragement when you doubt His sovereignty, will, justice, love, peace…. Doubt can be an overwhelming emotion. It can quickly lead to despair.

Despair is quite possibly the most dangerous emotion to have. It lacks hope. It lacks trust. It lacks faith. It completely lacks virtue. It digs, deep into your feelings, and comes out with “I doubt,” and never “So be it.”

Ben1Though I am a naturally optimistic person who believes all things are foreseen by our Creator, I have had many moments in my life when I’ve doubted that, and Him. And I’ve acted on that doubt frivolously. Do yourself a favor: Try not to change your mind concerning a decision when you doubt His goodness. Do not change the course of your actions when you are in the midst of despair. Pray to get out of the hole first, so that you can see light shedding on your circumstances in order for you to discern – something we will talk about next week.

Most recently, I’ve struggled with doubt in the form of having faith in God’s divine providence. I am an ocean away from the man I love. He lives in France, and I in Washington, D.C.

Long distance relationships are naturally at risk of being full of doubt and despair. That’s a pretty common reason for their not working: Where is your hope? In seeing the person soon? In moving eventually? It is a hard question to answer in the moment, when your fullest emotions – love, desire, hope, and so many more – mercilessly insert themselves into your will.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize how much stronger the distance we’ve experienced as a couple has strengthened our relationship more than I think it could have been strengthened had we been in the same country for the last half year (and then some).

Astonishingly, we haven’t grown further apart, but closer, because we rely on God to move us and to change us. In getting closer to Christ, we are closer to each other. When we can’t talk to each other (you know, that silly 6-hour delay thing) we must talk to God.

lovetriangleThink of the triangle: Each of you and God is at one of the intersections. As each of you grows closer to God (and His point on the triangle), the closer you as a couple get to each other. Your segment gets shorter. Amazingly (and oh so joyfully!), the sins we had before, both individually and as a couple, in the same country, are no more.

God knew that all along. He knew that distance would help us to grow spiritually on an individual level. We needed to be apart long enough (seven months, and counting) to become better persons for the other.

Cliché statements like “There is light at the end of the tunnel” and “The darkest hour is just before the dawn” are really not cliché at all, but true. Periods of doubt, as with periods of dryness, which we discussed last week, are there to form you into the person God wants you to be.

The truest version of you as a Child of God is waiting to be formed. And you will never stop growing, even if your circumstances make you doubt His plan. That is exciting, not despairing.

Dearest Jesus,

We know in our heads and in our hearts that You are here and that Your will is just. We know that You wish the best for us, and that nothing comes to be before being filtered through Your hands. But our circumstances are pulling at us to lose faith and to make unwise choices.

Pull us back, Christ Jesus. Pull us back into Your arms. Pull at the strings of our hearts to trust you again. Give us the virtues that we need to honor Your will, trust in Your providence, and have faith in Your works.

Grant us faith, and no more doubt. But if it be Your will, grant that the doubt that we do have might change us and form us, and inspire us to grow only deeper in the carrying of our crosses. Let this journey be speedy and light, if you will it. And never leave our side.

Praise be to You, for every cross we bear! We know it is no heavier than the one you carried for us.


Next week, I’ll write about discernment, my final post on prayer in dryness, doubt and discernment.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thomas O’Neill

What do men want in a woman?

Why am I even asking myself such a risky question?  Perhaps it was Beer_tapsthe recent blog posts on relationships by Natalie Plumb and Erin Kisley.  Or it may have been celebrating 10 years of knowing my wife and three years of marriage earlier this year.  Whatever it was, I started thinking about what a man looks for in a woman and how dramatically my views have changed since I was in my early 20s.

Admittedly, I was a bit of a cad when I was younger.  Suffice it to say that I lived the typical “happy hour” lifestyle of many 20-somethings in D.C.  My views on women – and specifically, what I looked for in a girlfriend – were fairly representative of my friends and acquaintances at that time:

  1. Looks.  No shock here – my No. 1 criterion was she had to be good-looking.  I mean seriously, what would come before that?
  1. Fun.  Next, it was definitely the “fun factor.”  Guys like to date cool girls as much as they like to hang out with cool guys, so why not match up with a girl who’s social, friendly, and fun to be around?  The kind of girl who’s “one of the guys,” or at least who won’t get on your case when you’re being one of those guys.
  1. Shared interests.  Finally, I wanted someone with the same interests as me.  Do we read the same books?  Watch the same movies?  Talk about the same things?  Would she be happy going hiking during the day then bar-hopping by night?

Other bloggers might take this opportunity to point a finger at their former selves, and say, ‘What a superficial jerk I was; oh, how I’ve mended my ways.’  And I will say that — but only up to a point.  Viewed retrospectively, my outlook was superficial and probably a tad immature, too.  But my journey to a healthier view of women and relationships took years of experience, biology, and God’s grace to achieve.

When I was in my late 20s, I had the opportunity to spend more time with my sister and her children.  I found myself not only loving my nieces and nephew, but feeling the strange stirrings of a paternal instinct in myself, as well.  I began wondering if relationships were more about giving something rather than getting something, an idea that hadn’t really occurred to me before then.  I also grew tired of my carousing ways, almost as if it seemed out of place as I grew older.

Later, after my wife and I were married and we had our first child, I really started to “get it.”  And it wasn’t due to the many joys of being Sad facemarried, but rather because of the many sacrifices.  Getting up at 3 a.m. to rock your infant daughter back to sleep for an hour — all the while counting every minute you’re losing sleep before work — is not a joyful experience.  But in those moments, and in countless others like them, I gradually realized the beauty that lies behind a man and a woman joined together in marriage.  It isn’t about spending time or partying together, or even finding your “soul mate.”  It isn’t even fundamentally about making each other happy.  It is about making each other better people.  Every sacrifice is an opportunity to give up a little more of yourself; an opportunity to live a little less for yourself, and a little more for your wife and your children.  In short, it is an opportunity to live a life of love, in service to others (c.f. Mt. 20:26-8).

Knowing all that, what a man needs in a wife is very different from what he may have once looked for in a girlfriend.  I won’t lie, my wife is a beautiful woman, and I definitely appreciate that fact.  But here’s what my checklist might look like today:

  1. Kindness.  The world is an uncertain, stressful, and sometimes painful place to live. A pretty face is not going to ease your mind at the end of the day. But a kind word and a gentle touch can help fix even the worst of days.
  1. Generosity.  Once you have kids – but even before then – the zillion chores, errands, and obligations of married life can be overwhelming.  A generous spouse who will pick up the slack when she sees you’re overwhelmed can be a lifesaver.
  1. Holiness.  Last but not least, someone who is seeking holiness is a great blessing, because let’s face it, none of us is perfect.  As a husband, I need forgiveness on a regular basis (as in: every single day). But my wife’s own spirit of humility and penance fills our home, too, inspiring me and our children to live holier lives.  And that is what the vocation of marriage is all about – helping each other grow closer to God, who is our ultimate joy.

Three years and two children later, it’s these qualities I’ve come to most appreciate in my wife, and to understand their importance in life.  I would venture to say that these are the real qualities women might seek in a husband, as well.  These are the qualities that will enable married couples  to navigate this uncertain life together, and to enter eternal life with the Lord.

Anchors Away

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Okay, I’m still thinking about the beach. Maybe it’s because in two weeks I’ll be there myself. Perhaps we may consider a few more images that many of us see at the shore.

beach galileeTake the anchor for instance. Anchors are one of the most ancient symbols found in the Roman catacombs. The anchor brings together the cross and the various nautical Christian symbols (fish, boat, dolphin), and signifies our hope in Christ. It is also the symbol of St. Clement of Rome, who tradition holds to have been tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. It is the symbol of promise:


Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous…he will never leave nor forsake you.”

Philippians 1:6 – “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion …”

Proverbs 1:33 – “but he who listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of evil.”

Of course, anchors make me think of boats and ships (I can never remember the difference between the two). Ships should remind us of the Ark which signifies the church, conveying all its members to safe harbor. And how do we remain in that safe harbor? Anchors, of course. Just a few nautical thoughts to remind us of His presence on our shores.

By: Mark Herrmann, Chancellor of the Diocese of Arlington

Practicing law in Virginia, in the course of mundane legal research, one occasionally runs across a historical gem. Reprinted below, from the 1855 case of Commonwealth v. Cronin (2 Va. Cir. 488), is the statement read into the court record by a Richmond priest, Fr. John Theeling, explaining his refusal to testify about matters disclosed to him in the confession of a dying woman:

Confessional“It is due to this honorable Court to state briefly my reasons for not answering the question proposed by the Counsel for the defense and to hesitate to do so, would argue a contempt for the majesty of the law and the dignity of this Court, the dispenser of the law.  Were I asked any question which I could answer from knowledge obtained in my civil capacity or as a private individual and citizen, I should not for a moment hesitate, nay more, I would consider it my duty, to lay before this honorable Court all the evidence I was in possession of, being mindful of the precept of the apostle, ‘Let every soul be subject to higher powers, for there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God; therefore he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God and they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation,’ Rom. 13, chap. 1 and 2, v.  But if required to answer any question in the quality of a Catholic Minister of the sacrament of penance, when I believe God himself has imposed an inviolable and eternal secrecy, I am bound to be silent, although instant death were to be the penalty of my refusal.  The question proposed by the counsel for the defense affects me in the latter capacity and hence I must decline to answer it.  Whilst in so doing, I must respectfully disclaim any intention of contempt or disrespect directly or indirectly to this honorable Court.  Is a Catholic priest ever justified under any circumstances in revealing the secrets of the sacramental confession?  I answer, No. That no power on earth civil or ecclesiastical, spiritual or temporal can ever, under any circumstances, dispense with this perpetual obligation of secrecy, so that were pope Pius the IX in this Court, and if I can suppose for a moment, he should so far abuse his sacred authority and in the plenitude of that authority, as my first spiritual superior on earth, should request, admonish and command me to answer the question proposed, my answer would be to him what it was to the prisoner’s counsel.

“I can say nothing about the matter.  The law which prohibits me from revealing what I learn in the sacramental confession, Catholics believe to be divine and emanates from our Lord himself.  It is a tenet of the Catholic Church, that Christ instituted seven sacraments, neither more nor less. Con. Florent. in Decret’s ad Armenos. Con. Trident., Sess. 7, Can 1.

“It is also an article of Catholic faith that penance is one of those sacraments instituted by Christ for the remission of sins committed after baptism. Con. Trident., Sess. 14, Can. 1.

“And that sacramental confession forms an essential and component part of this sacrament.  Further, that the obligation of secrecy is especially connected with the divine institution of confession.  For if it would be lawful to a catholic priest in any case to reveal what was certified to him in confession, the divine precept of confession would become merely nugatory, and there is no person who would be willing to disclose to a priest an occult sin, which could be made public and blacken his fair name.  Such a revelation, if permitted, would be destructive of the divine precept of confession.

“But as we cannot suppose that Christ, the eternal Wisdom of the eternal Father, would pull down with one hand what he had erected with the other, and as we Catholics believe he instituted sacramental confession; and for the practice of confession, secrecy is absolutely necessary, we conclude that inviolable secrecy is commanded by our Lord in the obligation of confessing our sins.  If then, I were so forgetful of the solemn obligations not arising simply from ecclesiastical but from the divine law, not from man but directly from God – as to answer the question proposed, I should be forever degraded, rendered infamous in the eye of the Catholic church, shunned by every Catholic, and I believe by every honorable man; no matter how far his religious opinions and mine might differ.  Shunned and rendered infamous as a sacrilegious wretch, who had trampled on his most holy and solemn obligations and violated the sacred laws of nature, of his God and of man.  I would be forever deposed from the sacred ministry and where the Canon law forms part of the civil law, be condemned to perpetual imprisonment in a monastery, there to repent during my life the horrid crime I would have committed. 4 Con. Lateran., Can. 21.  But what is still more than all, I would violate the dictates of my conscience, that stubborn monitor whose voice would forever whisper to my soul black and dire sacrilege.  I might endeavor to smother its cry, but all my attempts would only add strength to its terrible reproaches and warnings.  You have committed sacrilege of the deepest dye – sacrilege to be punished forever, by the eternal vengeance of a just and offended Deity.  I have endeavored thus to state my reasons as clearly as I could for not answering the question proposed.  I thank this honorable Court for the kind and patient hearing which it has extended to me.  Whatever may be its decision, I shall receive it with respect.”

The judge in the case, the Hon. John A. Meredith, ruled that Father Theeling did not have to answer the question.

Mark Herrmann is the Chancellor and General Counsel of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.

By: Kathleen Yacharn

Generally, it’s much easier to get someone to tell you about a bad time they had at a restaurant, a hotel, an airline or concert venue than it is to get someone to tell you about the good time they had. Most of us don’t bother with writing online reviews for the decent or even great meals or stays we had. But why is it that usually within a day or two of an uncomfortable time with a rude server, long wait, or bad food, we’re signing up for an account on Yelp or Urban Spoon, ready to unleash our righteous anger, of course as a civic duty to help others avoid the place?

Isn’t it because people are so much more motivated by strong emotion than by satisfied entitlement? When we have even a great time, we might tell a few people, but isn’t that what we expected in the first place? Instead of appreciating the good things in our lives, we take them in and move on with a sense of complacency, which unfortunately bleeds into our civic and moral lives, too.

sleeping babyFor those of us who believe in protecting God’s creation, from conception to natural death, we have to be careful to avoid that cultural complacency. If we are pro-life, then we have to live that truth 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not just once a year during the March for Life. We have to communicate the message tirelessly because it is a matter of life and death and anything less than ceaseless effort can tip the scales in people’s hearts and minds toward the great lie that is the culture of death.

I write this asking you to take the time today, literally just a few minutes, to support life in a meaningful way. The Virginia Catholic Conference is the public policy agency representing Virginia’s two bishops. Bishop Paul S. Loverde of our Arlington Diocese and Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Richmond Diocese. They need you to comment on yet another machination of the abortion industry trying to promote their cause at the expense of the lives of innocents. Read below the VCC’s request, share it with your friends, and truly support life today.


Your Comments Needed as Abortion Center Regulations Review Begins

The Virginia Department of Health is now reviewing the recently enacted abortion center health and safety regulations (several years before regulations are typically reviewed) due to a recent directive from Governor McAuliffe. 
Click here to tell the Board of Health that this review process is premature and that these commonsense regulations must be maintained. Public comments will be accepted until July 31, 2014.

Again and again, the abortion industry claims that these regulations are unnecessary and expensive. Yet, inspections of these abortion centers repeatedly reveal health and safety violations that are endangering Virginia women.

One particularly egregious violation was uncovered during a biennial 
licensure review inspections at one Virginia abortion center. The abortion center’s complication log revealed that 15 of the 18 complications recorded in January 2014 were “incomplete medical terminations” (RU-486). In 11 of those cases the women returned for another chemical abortion, while 4 women decided to have surgical abortions. RU-486 is only approved by the FDA to be used in the first 49 days of pregnancy with a “failure” rate of 8%.  This incredibly high complication rate puts women’s well being at great risk. If these abuses are occurring while abortion centers are regularly inspected, imagine the conditions with no regulations! Please click here to tell the Board of Health to maintain all the regulations because the abortion industry cannot self-regulate.

If you are not a member of the Conference’s advocacy network, click 
here to receive regular Conference email alerts and updates. Please like us on Facebook, follow@VACatholicConf on Twitter, and sign up for our blog at www.fromthetibertothejames.wordpress.com.

In prayer and in public, your voices are urgently needed to bring Gospel values to bear on vital decisions being made by those who represent you.

The Virginia Catholic Conference is the public policy agency representing Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.

By: Natalie Plumb

I hesitate to call anything “normal.” But some things simply are. We are all different, but we are all sinners. We are all unique Children of God, but we all fall. The same is true with prayer.

Bulleted lists and “three simple steps” are corny, but I think this most important of building blocks to our faith merits a “formula of difficulties” if what you need is a jump start, a pick-me-up from the rut of dryness, doubt or discernment.

360_mother_teresa_0820Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended a fantastic set of prayer talks led by seminarian Matthew Fish at Epiphany Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Washington. From those talks, I took a lot. From it, in coming weeks, what I hope to share with you most is a particular set of periods we all go through in prayer. I’ll seek to break them down, and apply them to my life (which shouldn’t prove too difficult). This will be as much a relieving exercise for me as it is vulnerable. Hopefully through that, it will be revealing to you in your prayer life, giving you relief if you are struggling, and hope if you are on the brink of despair.

So here goes…

I quite possibly never recovered fully from my “honeymoon with God.” I used to kneel every day in front of my bedroom window, and just talk to my Savior. I had a true relationship with Him. I never missed a night in front of that window, looking up at the sky, and for the star that I just knew was winking at me.

Distractions of the world consumed me starting sometime in high school, and they became stronger in college. My prayer life began to dwindle because I “wasn’t feeling anything.” I started to crave the consolation of prayer desperately. And in a lot of ways I still do.

Prayer can make us feel good. Prayer can give us sensations of euphoria. It can give us satisfaction. Essentially what we begin to fall in love with after a while, until God inserts change, is “what we want” out of prayer (read: prayer is not a substitute for happy gas), even without giving us “what we need.” So that’s when God begins to pull away. He says, Come closer, my Child.

In reality, dryness in prayer is a call for you to deeper holiness, and deeper sacrifice of time, thought, body, and mind.

If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation…basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch.

When life has you on your knees, you’re in the perfect position to pray. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, and the feedback you think you “need,” remember that God knows exactly what and how much you actually need, and abandon yourself to His Divine Providence. If prayer isn’t giving you consolation, take consolation in the fact that you’ve hit a bump in the road – basically, you’ve progressed in your prayer life so far that God wants you to graduate to the next level, and to take it up a notch. So don’t give up. Pray through the storm.

Here’s a short and sweet example of a prayer I might say (often enough), in times when I’m dry, and I feel as if I’m receiving little consolation and feedback from my Father:

Dearest Jesus,

You hold my heart. You have it close to You. I want to proclaim Your name to all the earth. But my lips are dry. My heart feels stale. My body aches for some sort of sign that I am still being held by You.

I will pray through this. I cannot fail. You are Christ. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

When I am down, I am in no better position than to pray. I need periods of dryness so that I can see that consolations are only Yours to give.

Help me to face this period of dryness with the humility and the fierce strength of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.


In coming weeks, I’ll discuss doubt in prayer and discernment. Mother Teresa, pray for us!

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Thomas O’Neill

Some things are so predictable that you take them as a given, such as fireworks on the National Mall on Independence Day, or fireworks throughout the media and the political world whenever the Supreme Court hands down a decision on a socially contentious issue. June 30 proved to be no exception.

When the Supreme Court decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was handed down, the reaction was immediate and intense. Some folks, especially those on the side of Hobby Lobby, were excited about the affirmation of religious liberty. Yet, in the media, the reaction was largely negative — outrage over the “denial” of contraception to employees, and a parade of “horribles” about what would be denied next, by whom and to whom.

Hobb3Petula Dvorak, in a column for the Washington Post, attempted to strike a middle path, calling the decision “dangerous,” and warning that “the five male justices who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby just handed employers a powerful tool to opt out of laws they don’t like.” Yet, Dvorak also admits that Hobby Lobby isn’t forcing their employees not to use contraception — their employees are still free to buy it on their own. But now, she argues, many lower-tier employees will be unable to afford contraception and will fall back on less reliable methods, leading “inevitably” to more abortions.

One of the greatest canards involved in this case — the seemingly universal assumption that contraception has been an unmitigated blessing on American society. This myth persists not because it is true, but because it is so widely accepted that the only time people talk about the Pill’s effects is simply to laud it as the wonderful gift that it is.

Taking a deeper look gives us a more nuanced view. Contraception was billed as liberating women from the “tyranny” of motherhood, of being forever relegated to the sidelines of bearing and raising children. It also promised to prevent a population explosion, preventing unintended pregnancies and the overpopulation of our planet. Finally, it would liberate us from the puritanical sexual mores which had repressed sexual relations for centuries. The truth — in the form of a pill — was here to set us free.

Worried woman visiting a psychologist.Unfortunately, the actual story of contraception in America is not quite as idyllic. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, social effects have gotten dramatically worse, not better. Abortion rates are quadruple what they were in 1970, and 51 percent of women who have an abortion report using contraceptives the month they got pregnant. From 1960 to 2011, the percentage of children living with a single parent has tripled, and among women under 30 today, 53 percent of all births are to unwed mothers. Meanwhile, when asked about having a child outside of wedlock, almost 56 percent of high school seniors view it as “a worthwhile lifestyle choice” and as “not affecting anyone else.”

Since contraception use became widespread, the connection between sex, marriage, and children has been lost, to the detriment of our society and particularly our children. Countless studies have shown that children of single parents and cohabitors are significantly more likely to: have psychological problems, drop out of high school, become unwed parents, and to end up in poverty.1 Moreover, these results are true even after controlling for race, family background, and socio-economic factors.

All of this in the name of “liberating” adults. Yet, do any of us really believe that consequence-free sex justifies all these negative effects? Has casual sex, cohabitation, and marriages with a 50 percent chance of divorce really made anyone happier?

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of contraception — many other factors are involved, of course. But the overall culture that contraception creates has not been a boon to women, children, or to society.

[1] See the Institute of American Values’s The State of Our Unions 2012 and Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences for a summary of hundreds of social scientific studies on these topics.


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