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The following article was first printed on Catholic News Agency about the Opening Mass at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

By: Natalie Plumb

The debate about the nature of marriage is rapidly unfolding.  On the state level, this debate continues to garner attention from our religious and political leaders, same-sex marriage advocates, parents, professors and students.

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Bishop Loverde celebrates Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

On Sept. 10, in Washington, D.C. – a city that will continue to be the center of a political debate on the issue – a group of students began graduate degree programs that offer a specific concentration on the study of marriage and the family, in a hope to offer informed voices to the debate.  In a countercultural turn, these students will be rigorously engaging in studies that support and promote the Catholic understanding of marriage – a union between one man and one woman for their good and the good of their children.

Nearly 80 students, professors, seminarians, priests, vocalists and laypersons gathered to celebrate the Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, presided by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.  The Institute “provide[s] a comprehensive understanding of marriage and family faithful to Catholic magisterial tradition.”  Students examine marriage in its authentic form by studying theology, biotechnology, psychology, sociology and by engaging contemporary challenges to Christian ethics.

At just 26 years of age, Caitlin Williams is a second-year Ph.D. student at the John Paul II Institute, who says she is driven by the challenge young Catholics face in witnessing to authentic marriage.

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The Opening Mass took place in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

“The response of the whole world to the heart of the Church laid bare…it motivates me to study, to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise find Her,” Williams said.

Graduate student and priest Fr. Anthony Craig calls our time the time to “enact the great New Evangelization that the Catholic Church’s last three pontiffs have discussed.”

Marriage and the family are integral to this New Evangelization and the renewal of a culture that strengthens marriage and nourishes the family.  Pope Francis himself will attest to this on September 14, when he will publically witness the marriage of 20 couples in Rome.  He is following the example of St. John Paul II, who was the last pontiff to do so in 1994.

With a small student body – last year’s class graduated 28 – the odds would appear against students like Fr. Craig. But he said that the Lord works through small factions, which we know through Church history; the Church itself began with only 12 apostles.

“He can work with a small number of people,” Fr. Craig said. “In a like manner, the Lord will enact something great to witness to the truth that actually holds us.”

Given the challenges these students will face in a culture that desires to redefine marriage and the family, often in order to cater to the desire of adults over children, Bishop Loverde offered a few words of encouragement during his homily at the Institute’s Opening Mass, which was a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.

“We are to evangelize, and to do that precisely by proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage,” Bishop Loverde said, adding that we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us beseech Him, to thirst for God, as did our patron, our beloved, St. John Paul II.”

Click here to read more on Catholic News Agency

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By: Erin Healy

This fall, Theology on Tap will present powerful encounters with Jesus Christ. Meet three of our speakers whose lives were forever transformed:

  • Before he entered the seminary, Fr. Wagner was a mechanical engineer working as a contractor in Crystal City. Gripped by the lifestyle of agnosticism and materialism, it wasn’t until he accepted an invitation to attend a Catholic men’s conference that he discovered a void in his life he didn’t even know existed…
  • Gloria was a 12-year-old protestant attending Catholic school. After a lunchtime food fight, her classmates found themselves sitting in the chapel, in front of the monstrance. It was in that moment that Gloria was “consumed by fire that burned, but didn’t hurt.” For the first time, she experienced the knowledge that Jesus was real. Two days later, she informed her parents that she was becoming a Catholic…
  • Trent graduated from college and, not knowing what do to next, joined a commune in Wisconsin. As a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, Trent was in Dharamsala, India waiting to cross the border into Tibet to further his study of Buddhism. He decided to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. While at Mass, he was overcome by the real presence in the Eucharist. He contacted his advisor and changed his dissertation topic from Buddhism to Catholicism…

TOTSept29To hear the rest of their stories, join us for Theology on Tap at 7:30 p.m. on Monday evenings from September 29 through November 3 at O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Arlington. All adults ages 21-39, single and married are welcome. For a complete list of dates and speakers, click here. Check the event out on Facebook here.

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By: Natalie Plumb

In my last post, I discussed decision-making, and the tendency of some Christians to “wait on God’s will” as a safety net — rather than making the hard decision between two positive choices, we fall back on waiting for some explicit sign from God.

falsehopeThis week, I wanted to discuss how, even when we do follow God’s will (I won’t go into details here and risk repeating last week’s post), we tend to start thinking in bargain form. We begin to treat God as if He were a human, expecting Him to “pay us back” with what we want in return. We might be tempted to think: “God, I did this for you. When are you going to pull through for me?”

Rather than writing a whole new piece on this subject, I figured I would just point you readers to “False hopes,” a stunning piece written by Arlington Catholic Herald columnist Mary Beth Bonacci. I was left meditating on my own life, and how I subconsciously face this challenge. Bonacci integrates everything — from C.S. Lewis’ wisdom, to her personal experience and that of others, all while answering the painful question: “But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?”

Read on…

“Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. It is after men have given in to the irremediable, after they have despaired of relief and ceased to think even a half-hour ahead that the dangers of humbled and gentle weariness begin. To produce the best results from the patient’s fatigue, therefore, you must feed him with false hopes.” — C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

For years, I have been thinking of writing a book for single Catholic adults. I’m thinking of calling it “Lies People Tell.”

A few weeks ago, I met with a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was, of course, sad and struggling. But she said that her friends were trying to cheer her up by telling her, “I just know that God has really great things in store for you.”

I thought of the line above, from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters. The book, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to read it, is a fictional collection of instructional letters from a senior devil to his nephew, explaining to him the art of temptation. (Hence the somewhat diabolical-sounding advice.) In this passage, Uncle Screwtape tells his nephew that false hopes are deadly to the spiritual life.

People feed single Catholics this kind of spiritual junk food all the time. “God hasn’t forgotten you.” “God has somebody picked out for you, and He will reveal that person to you when the time is right.” And, my personal favorite, “If you date chastely, God will reward you with a spouse.”

It isn’t just singles. Everybody who has suffered in any way has heard some variation of this. “God will solve this.” “God will give you what you want.” “God will make it right.”

I was once doing a call-in radio show and got a call from “Roy from Boston.” Roy’s question was “So, what do you do when you’re getting into your late 30s, you’re losing your looks, you’ve been living by the rules, but God isn’t holding up His end of the bargain?”

I told Roy to speak for himself on the whole “losing your looks” thing.

I then told him that there is no “bargain” — that there is no Beatitude promising “blessed are the chaste, for they shall have a spouse by their 35th birthday.” God doesn’t work that way.

I think there is a real danger here — for singles, and for anybody else who believes that God is a God who somehow offers us guarantees in this life. We want to believe that’s who God is — the One who smooths the path for us, who grants us our hearts’ desires, who gives us whatever we want or expect or feel that we are owed.

But what happens when He doesn’t come through for us?

Click here to continue reading this Arlington Catholic Herald column.

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.

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By: Natalie Plumb

When it rains, it pours.

Sometimes multiple opportunities are thrown at you at the same time. Sometimes zero are. But when you have more than one option, decision-making becomes overwhelming. You begin to think that God is testing you. There has to be a “right” answer, doesn’t there? What is His will? What’s the right choice, and what’s the wrong choice?

A lesson I’ve started to learn as my years add up is that God gives us options; each comes with a unique price. The consequences for each choice will be different, and you have to deal with those consequences. Neither will be all good or all bad.

prayer-2When I’m in the midst of discernment, and considering two positive choices (neither is sinful, nor is an occasion of sin), one against the other, I choose.

That’s it: I choose.

It’s difficult to understand, but as long as you pick one and act on it, God’s will is there. After all, nothing can happen unless it is His will. Don’t make one of those wishy-washy half choices – just pick one. It won’t hurt.

It sounds crazy, but after a while of balancing the pros and cons of each, asking multiple people their opinion, and going through mid-life-crisis mode, indecision starts to become not only unhelpful, but unhealthy.

A priest at Theology on Tap a few years ago in the Archdiocese of Washington said something like this about deciding between two positives: “Choose. Act on that choice in your mind; acting in reality isn’t necessary yet. If your choice was actually wrong, your conscience will tell you because you’ll start to panic and feel uneasy.”

It sounds a bit like the flip-a-coin rule, doesn’t it? Each choice is a head or a tail. When you flip it, you might find that you’re wishing for it to land on one side or the other – there go your heart’s true desire.

When we follow this rule, and quit worrying so much, the question then becomes, ever increasingly, more about your conscience, and less about whether choice A is more “right” than choice B for you.

You should check your boxes: Ask for advice. Weigh the pros and cons. Pray. But when nothing seems to tip the balance after a while, do what the priest suggested and just choose. It makes life a lot simpler.

Jesus, my Light and my Guide,

You are Creator of the universe. You, above all, understand the little actions I make, and how each will affect me and my future.

Guide my footsteps, and mold my conscience. Replace my heart with Yours. Help me to desire what You desire. Help me to see as You see. Help me to know my circumstances. Shine light on all that I need to know to make a prudent decision.

Reveal to me Your will. And if you don’t, grant me the patience and wisdom to make a choice, and discern whether it is good in my heart. Settle my soul when the choice is right. Shake it when it isn’t.

Supreme Power of the Universe, I trust in You. I trust You to guide me. Be my Guide, now and forever.

Amen

This is the final installment of Natalie’s mini-series 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.

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By: Mark Herrmann, Staff Spotlight

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.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

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

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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.

Amen.

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.

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By: Natalie Plumb

We celebrated a tremendous victory on Monday when the Supreme Court decided in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects closely held, private for-profit corporations from being forced to comply with the HHS mandate under Obamacare. The mandate would force these corporations to provide insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs and devices, regardless of the owners’ religious conscience, and despite their faith that forbids complicity in abortion. For cogent Catholic responses to this, read this articlethis article, this article and this article.

HobbyLobby

I must not be the first to notice that, in the midst of this grand decision, we are also in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, “a time when our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power — St. Thomas More, the Patron of the Diocese of Arlington, St. John Fisher, St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.”

Today, on July 4, we celebrate our Independence Day. That means freedom. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of religion. As the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Thank you, Supreme Court, for upholding those roots and those rights. But, as Bishop Loverde stressed in his column, never stop praying; never quit fighting! The battle has only just begun.

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