Articles by Joel de Loera
Director of Family Life & Spirituality
Holy Matrimony and Our Search for True Love
Holy Matrimony and Our Search for True Love
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
A few months before marrying the girl of my dreams, friends and relatives would tell us that we should keep our feet on the ground, that our “romantic love” would fade away and turn into a cold, distant relationship within the first years of marriage, and that we wouldn’t have the time or energy to sustain our affectionate relationship after children came into the picture. Of course, our loved ones would also congratulate us and express their joy, but many insisted that we should acquire a “realistic” view on marriage. Nora and I would simply brush those suggestions off our shoulders and continue promising each other that we would be the exception to the rule. We promised each other that we would always be in love.
Then and now
The most anticipated day in my life finally arrived. There I was, standing in the front of the church, accompanied by my parents, anxiously and joyfully waiting for my bride. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world! Later that day we promised each other that we would always feel the same way for one another. We were convinced that nothing would ever change the way we felt for each other.
But after a good solid start, things began to change significantly. Our first year was a rocky one. The “romantic” stage passed and everything seemed to indicate that the warnings were wise and true. Reality sank in when our childhood wounds and traumas resurfaced to remind us that we had many issues we had to deal with first if we ever wanted to experience abundant peace and joy in our marriage.
Today, after ten years of marriage and five gorgeous children, we can confidently say that we aren’t just madly in love (eros); we have also discovered a deeper meaning of love (agape), which comes from God alone. In many instances, our culture equates love with something we feel. We discovered that love is not necessarily a feeling. This doesn’t mean that feelings are bad or that we shouldn’t acknowledge, recognize, and embrace them. It simply makes us aware of the fact that our emotional state is volatile and therefore it’s not a good idea to let our feelings dictate our decisions.
More than a feeling
Real marital love requires a radical decision to always seek the good of our spouse even when we don’t feel like it. I hear many couples say that they don’t really “feel” like saying “I love you” or “you look beautiful/handsome” to their spouse. I invite them and challenge them to do it anyway out of love and not based on their emotions.
Faith and forgiveness are similar to love in the sense that they sometimes require us to deny ourselves and make a radical decision in order to be right with ourselves, our neighbors, and our Creator. But God knows us and our humanity and he will never expect something impossible from us. Our religion is not based on emotions or stimulation (thanks be to God!).
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated in his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, that “God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has ‘loved us first’, love can also blossom as a response within us.” He continues: “In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love” (17).
For many marriages, this is a hard pill to swallow. I’ve heard people say and ask: “How can I love this woman if I don’t feel anything anymore?” “The feelings I had for my husband aren’t there anymore.” “Our love is dead and it is time to move on from this relationship.” Many marriages end up separating and/or divorcing over things that do not merit such a drastic move. Some hope for an annulment. Others stay together to avoid hurting their children and/or to stay away from controversy. Those who end up staying together because they feel forced to do so, end up living miserable lives.
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is not intended to be a source of immense and pointless suffering. On the contrary, the grace that we receive from Christ in this sacrament is intended to “perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity” and to “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1641).
After all, “Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life, he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb” (CCC, 1642).
To come to the awareness that love is “more than a feeling” is a task that every marriage (and every Christian) must undertake. So if love is not a feeling, what is it then? Echoing Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, Benedict XVI gives us the answer: “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice” (Deus caritas est, 6).
What helped us grow in our marriage?
At one point in our marriage we were uncertain of the future, now we are extremely optimistic about what lies ahead. But the truth is that many marriages don’t experience the same fate. So how did we overcome our problems and our differences? How were we able to quickly straighten the crooked path we were recklessly taking? By God’s grace, of course, and also by taking some practical steps that we strongly recommend to all couples, especially the younger ones:
- We don’t face our problems alone. Instead, we rely on the prayers and support of our spiritual family. God sent us wonderful spiritual directors who helped us through the most difficult times. It is unfortunate that many couples refuse to seek help out of embarrassment or pride. Some may not realize that there is help. Sometimes is not easy to find the right help or the right people. This should be a main concern and priority in every parish. Marriages need guidance and direction from their pastor and the support and prayers of the faith community.
- Never have we gone to sleep without first saying “I’m sorry” for the wrongs that we did. During our first year, there were a couple of nights when we stayed up late waiting for the other to apologize first. It was actually kind of silly. We would eventually ask each other for forgiveness and reconcile before going to bed. This was one of the first lessons we learned from Scripture: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
- Mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation should be essential for each Christian’s life. This becomes all the more important and urgent for those of us who are married. Some people need time to calm down and clear their minds. Others simply want to fix things immediately. It’s very crucial for spouses to understand and respect each other’s ways of dealing with problems, always remembering that the issue shouldn’t be taken to bed at night. It’s also worth noting that we don’t have to fight or even win every single battle. Sometimes it’s okay to surrender and let the spouse win. Especially if the issue isn’t that significant.
- Since the beginning, daily prayer became central to our relationship. Our daily prayer schedule includes the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, and Daily Mass. Praying together has without a doubt improved our marriage and our relationship with Christ. Despite the fact that now we have five children and super busy schedules we continue to practice our daily prayers to the best of our abilities. Our children love the Rosary and the Sacrifice of the Mass.
- Having a family meal at least three times a week is also extremely important and sacred. This practice allows everyone in our family to share our lives and bond with each other. I have read about different studies where it shows that families who dine together have healthier relationships. Here is just one of many studies.
- Weekly or bi-weekly “romantic dates.” This is one of the most effective and powerful ways of bonding as spouses. Going out on dates is harder with children (trust me, we know the struggle!) but when there’s a will, there’s a way. It doesn’t have to be something complicated or expensive. Sometimes “simple” is better and more efficient. When we can’t find anybody to watch the kids, we put them to bed early and then we have our date in the living room or in our room. We get some red wine or margaritas (for those who drink alcohol), we light some rose or vanilla-scented candles, play romantic music, express our love and gratitude for each other by exchanging poetry or songs, we dance, etc. The point is to be creative.
- Oh and a friendly reminder that both MAN and WOMAN enjoy the same and equal dignity of beloved children of God! This means that both have the same rights and responsibilities. Man is not above woman. The wife is not the possession of her husband or a domestic slave. She enjoys the same authority as her husband. Both must go over the different commitments at home and with the children, if applicable, and come to an agreement. Man and woman are created with unique traits and gifts. They complement each other. Both must recognize their strengths and weaknesses and support each other. After all, they’re both on the same team!
These are just some of the practices and rituals that have not only saved and improved our marriage but also strengthened and renewed it.
Love will endure
I know the real reason why we are still married and not merely surviving but actually thriving. It is thanks to the graces conferred by Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony: “For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world” (Humanae Vitae, 25). But it’s not enough to be sacramentally married: we must be predisposed to and cooperate with these graces. Therefore, living the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a daily adventure that requires a lot of agape love: sacrifice, self-denial, fidelity, compassion, and understanding.
We are not a perfect marriage. We have our struggles and our disagreements. But we are both 100% committed to lovingly endure all these struggles and disagreements for the sake of our family, even if that means occasionally sacrificing and surrendering ourselves and becoming vulnerable to one another. Yes, true “love hurts,” but in the end, it is worth it to fight for our marriage and for our family.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
*** Spouses who are experiencing more complex situations such as infidelity, any form of domestic abuse, the death of a child, a terminal illness, etc., should immediately seek professional and pastoral help.
Inviting Harmony into Your Marriage
Inviting Harmony into Your Marriage
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
“Marriage was ordained by God as a blessing to the human race. A certain wise man in the Scriptures, when enumerating which blessings are the most important, included ‘a wife and husband who live in harmony’ (The Wisdom of Sirach 25:1).”
-St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
Harmony is the pleasing arrangement of different parts. In music, harmony is “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect” (Oxford Dictionary). But the pleasing sound of a melodious harmony in music doesn’t appear by magic. It takes time, practice, dedication, perseverance, sacrifice, energy, and self-denial. If the student persists and endures all the obstacles that may appear along the way, the student will become a respected musician.
The same thing happens in marriage. Harmony won’t magically or automatically show up knocking at the front door. It must be invited to our home daily. Husbands and wives must work hard each day to produce a harmonious melody at home. Every day is a different song. From the wee hours of the morning when our eyes first open to the moment we lie down in bed, spouses are called to intentionally work -individually and as a team- to produce these “pleasing effects” in their marital bond. Each has an important role to play. Both must work equally hard to make their marriage succeed.
“How can we live in harmony? First, we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.”
-St. Thomas Aquinas
Harmony isn’t always present in our marriage. We often fail to play the correct parts to produce it. When we do attain it though, we observe a similar pattern that brought it about each time. Here are three action steps that have helped us in our journey towards marital harmony:
1.- Prayer. The best way spouses can begin their day is by placing themselves in the presence of God. Entrusting to the Lord their day will help them to be more conscious of their actions and words throughout the day. Prayer also opens our hearts and enables the Holy Spirit to stir up in us feelings of mutual respect and affection. Pope Francis said it beautifully: “Prayer always arouses feelings of brotherhood, breaks down barriers, crosses borders, creates invisible but real and effective bridges, opens horizons of hope.”
2.- Communication. Prayer alone won’t fix problems or create happy marriages. I wish it was that easy. Happy marriages are made of God’s grace and tons of daily human effort. Part of this human effort entails effectively communicating our feelings and opinions to one another. Sharing what’s on your mind might not be what your spouse wants to hear but if it’s robbing your peace, it’s probably best if you share it. We certainly don’t have to share everything that’s on our minds. For example: when you’re in the middle of an argument and “unholy” things come to mind, its best no to say those things out loud (sometimes we end up saying hurtful things; it’s part of human nature…so we apologize, make amends, and try harder next time). But if your spouse hurt your feelings by something they said or did, you should sit down and talk about it.
Most of the time, spouses don’t intend to hurt each other’s feelings; it could just be a big misunderstanding. The only way to find out is by openly talking about the issue. When starting a confrontational conversation, if you will, it’s best to start with “I feel this way…” or “I didn’t appreciate when you said that…” It’s not recommended to start with “you always make me feel…” or “you said this and that,” for this will most likely put your significant other on the defensive and will be less likely to listen to your concerns. Spouses should create an environment where they can express their feelings, thoughts, and opinions, free of prejudice, guilt, and shame. Here are some wise words from the Holy Father on communication between spouses:
“Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Yet it can only be the fruit of a long and demanding apprenticeship. Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space. Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. How often we hear complaints like: “He does not listen to me.” “Even when you seem to, you are really doing something else.” “I talk to her and I feel like she can’t wait for me to finish.” “When I speak to her, she tries to change the subject, or she gives me curt responses to end the conversation”.
-Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 136-137
3.- Trust. Effective communication will likely result in mutual trust and vice-versa. Spouses should have the freedom to rely on one another during difficult times and share their hopes, dreams, and fears. Trusting that you will be there for your spouse after a hard day at work fills them with confidence and increases their self-esteem. Part of having mutual trust means believing in your spouse. Jealousy and suspicion will only harm the relationship. Trust is the right path to take.
Harmony isn’t always easy to experience at home (especially if you have a whole bunch of little kids running around like crazy!), but if we prayerfully and intentionally make an effort to lovingly and patiently listen to and fulfill our spouse’s needs (this needs to go both ways!), we may end up experiencing a sense of security and inner peace that will help us overcome the most stressful and difficult situations of married life.
“After the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the ‘greatest form of friendship’.
It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life.
Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life.”
-Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 123
The Church as the Homeland for All People
The Church as the Homeland for All People
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
The story of Miguel
On a cold winter morning, my father and I looked out the living room window and glimpsed something unusual in the middle of the street: a coatless man lying in the fetal position.
It was around 6 a.m.; the sun hadn’t peaked yet. The darkness prevented us from recognizing the man until we got very near to him. That’s when we realized he was our next door neighbor, Miguel. He had too much alcohol the night before, and he passed out before making it to his house. My dad and I helped Miguel get back on his feet, walked him to his house, gave him a glass of water, and accompanied him to his bed.
Later that evening I asked a friend of mine to come with me to Miguel’s house to pray. So I picked up my Bible, my Catechism, my Rosary, and my guitar and walked over to Miguel’s place. When we got there we were a little uneasy because we were uncertain of how he or his roommates would respond.
One of his nine roommates opened the door and after we asked for Miguel, he let us in. We asked Miguel if we could pray for him. “Yes, of course,” he replied. We prayed and sang a few praise songs. We also read a few paragraphs from the Catechism and a few Bible verses and shared the good news of Christ with everyone in the house. After we prayed, Miguel confessed that he had truly enjoyed the experience and that he actually felt better.
The following day Miguel called me and asked me to come back to his house to share the Gospel the following week. He had experienced the love and mercy of God like never before and had decided to change his life and renew his relationship with Christ and His Church.
Miguel was baptized and raised in the Catholic Church back in his Guatemalan hometown but had left the Church shortly after arriving in the U.S. seven years before this powerful encounter with God. Now, he was convinced that God had a purpose for him, and he was ready to share the good news of Jesus with everyone he knew. That started right away when he invited everyone he knew from his native hometown into his house to hear the Gospel. We decided to meet at his house at 11 p.m. since most of his Guatemalan peers worked two or three jobs from dawn to dusk. That Wednesday night we gathered about 20 young and middle-aged men. This was nearly 10 years ago. Today, different families host a group of about 60 men and women in their homes every Wednesday night to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Miguel left his home and family in Guatemala 15 years ago and traveled to the U.S. hoping to find a better life. “I left Guatemala and came to the U.S. because my family was in serious trouble. My brother had to borrow some money because our family was going through a hardship, but the people he asked the money from became hostile and threatening. There was no way we could ever earn that money back in my hometown. That’s why I decided I had to migrate to the U.S. so I could work and pay the family debt off,” Miguel said during one of the prayer meetings.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make at all,” he recalled. “It was difficult. We had to pay the coyote [an immigration smuggler] several thousands of dollars and that made us be in more debt.
“Once I came here I felt alone. I didn’t know anyone and I missed my family very much. I wasn’t really evangelized back home so I left the Church and started drinking all the time to forget about my solitude for a while. Thank God I have found my way back to the Catholic Church, my mother.”
In this picture, I am teaching a group of Guatemalan immigrants. They meet in different homes every week from 11 PM to 1 AM since most have two or three jobs and cannot make it to their parish to receive religious education. The pastor granted us permission to instruct them in the faith in their homes since many of them need one or more sacraments.[/caption]
Welcoming the stranger
There are many stories similar to Miguel’s experience. Just in the Guatemalan prayer group alone, the stories of these men and women are difficult to digest. A good portion of young men come to our country with the sincere intention to work, save some money, and return to their hometown to build a house for themselves and their parents. But many of them, unfortunately, get entangled in the vicious lifestyle of our money, drugs, and party culture and soon enough lose the focus of why they came in the first place.
A lot of these folks come from the poorest of the indigenous villages where there was hardly a priest. The Eucharist wasn’t celebrated often, little or no catechesis was offered, and popular Catholic traditions and beliefs were mixed with other native devotions and pagan superstition.
Others came fleeing gang, cartel, or domestic violence or death threats back in their native towns. Many of them couldn’t afford elementary education because they had to start working as young as four. Most have escaped extreme poverty and disease-ridden environments without the possibility of medical treatment.
A few things are certain and necessary to clarify:
- They weren’t sent here by their governments. The idea that these governments “do not send their best” is just absurd. However, most of these immigrants are among the best humans I have ever met. They have wonderful family and moral values! Sure, in every culture, ethnicity, and race there are people who will do evil and perform criminal activities. Those people should have no place in our society. But all the good, hard-working immigrants shouldn’t pay the consequences just because of a few “bad” people.
- They didn’t come to steal our jobs. Most of these immigrants work hard for low wages. Most are happily willing to work in any honest job with few demands. That’s why many employers and corporations take advantage of them.
- They didn’t come to live off taxpayer dollars. In fact, unless an undocumented parent has a U.S. citizen child, it is impossible for them to receive just about any form of state welfare.
- They can’t “just come here legally” or “get in the back of the line” like many Americans would want them to. Unless an undocumented person marries a U.S. resident or citizen, eligibility for a green card that establishes legal residency is very restricted. The wait for a family- or employment-based visa may be longer than 20 years, depending on a person’s country of origin. Also, asylum is hardly granted to people coming from many of these Central American countries, much less from Mexico — even if the threats are credible.
- Those fleeing gang or cartel violence can’t simply seek protection from their governments or law enforcement.
- Most of these people are Catholic. I find it sad and sickening that when they arrive here and receive a hostile response from their fellow Catholic Americans who wish to “deport them all” or push for the construction of a wall to keep them out, they are turned off and away from our Church only to find solace in other faith congregations.
A mother and her two children rest at a Catholic migrant shelter supported by Caritas in Tijuana, Mexico, April 23, 2018. (CNS photo/David Maung)[/caption]
A Catholic approach to immigration
So what should our response be in the face of everything that’s going on surrounding our conversation on immigration? Are we advocating for open borders? Is deporting all undocumented immigrants the best solution? As much as I dislike it, I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers. But our Church has spoken about this issue numerous times and has given us some guidance. For example, take the words of St. John Paul II on how we should treat our “illegal” brothers and sisters:
“The Church considers the problem of illegal migrants from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52), to rehabilitate the marginalized and to bring close those who are distant; in order to integrate all within a communion that is not based on ethnic, cultural, or social membership, but on the common justice.
Pope Francis and Bishop Michael Olson have repeatedly called on their flock to embrace the immigrant, regardless of their legal status, and to meet the needs of those who are “strangers in our midst.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a joint document with the Catholic Bishops of Mexico titled Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope, have issued important points to consider as well:
- We call upon pastors and lay leaders to ensure support for migrant and immigrant families.
- We urge communities to offer migrant families hospitality, not hostility, along their journey.
- We commend church communities that have established migrant shelters that provide appropriate pastoral and social services to migrants.
- We encourage Catholics and all people of good will to work with the community to address the causes of undocumented migration and to protect the human rights of all migrants.
- We call on the local Church to help newcomers integrate in ways that are respectful, that celebrate their cultures, and that are responsive to their social needs, leading to a mutual enrichment of the local Church.
- We ask that special attention be given to migrant and immigrant children and youth as they straddle two cultures, especially to give them opportunities for leadership and service in the community and to encourage vocations among them.
Since the foundation of the Guatemalan prayer group nearly 10 years ago, many of its members have been baptized, received the sacraments of Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Holy Matrimony, and most of them are regularly receiving the Sunday Eucharist. My friend Miguel and our Guatemalan prayer group is a story of success where the Church was able to lovingly embrace them without any sign of hostility.
Unfortunately, many of our fellow Catholic immigrants haven’t had the same positive experience. I pray that those of us who bear the title of Catholic may put our allegiance to our country and its laws and political party affiliations in second place while prioritizing our allegiance to Christ, His Holy Church, the Vicar of Christ and the Successors of the Apostles on matters of faith and morals.
Though many Catholics debate whether or not our immigrant and refugee situation is a moral issue, I would like to point to the fact that our most recent pontiffs and most bishops have stated that indeed it is. Among other fundamental rights, Pope John Paul II states in Familiaris Consortio that the Church “openly and strongly defends…the right to emigrate as a family in search of a better life.” I will conclude with this quote from John Paul II on how we should approach people like Miguel and other undocumented immigrants who come here looking for a better life and future:
“In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community.”
-St. John Paul II, World Migration Day, 1996
Through the Desert of Melancholy and Hope: a Lenten Reflection
Through the Desert of Melancholy and Hope: a Lenten Reflection
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
There he goes, carrying his cross, on his way to Calvary. We watch as he goes by, but nobody really wants to look. It makes us uncomfortable. It is a gruesome sight and a gut-wrenching experience. “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3). People stand there and stare: some in disbelief, others in sheer indifference. And there, in the crowd, you and me. We are perpetually part of this multitude until Judgement Day comes. We see him walking by, bearing the weight of the world on his back. At times we cry because we are saddened and hurt. Other times we simply turn our backs and walk away from his passion. The soul experiences dramatic tension.
Why? Maybe because we don’t feel responsible for his suffering and pain. Perhaps we don’t know who he really is and why he’s being tortured in such a violent way. Could it be fear? Are we scared? Some of us are. We are also guilty of his condemnation though. He bears the marks of our sins on his flesh. The wounds and scars on his body signify our betrayal and indifference. His suffering and pain, his love for us. His death, his victory over sin and death. Oh death, where is your sting?
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).
His disfigurement is our own human disfigurement
But there is no need to hide our face behind the cloak of shame. It is necessary to fix our eyes on his disfigured face. Not to beat ourselves down with useless guilt but to realize that his disfigurement is really our own disfigurement. It is a disfigurement of our humanity, compassion, and charity. We have turned away from his naked crucified body and plunged into our own egotistic selves. Though he is the fountain of living water and the only one who can satisfy our thirst, we have dived into the unquenchable sea of materialism and vanity.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
“All is vanity. All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:1.8-9).
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter
They mocked him, spat on him, and abused him. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). But what did he do? What were his crimes? Why is he being punished and condemned to death? He is innocent; a victim of political and religious bureaucracy. A true practice of religion should lead us to love God and neighbor. The true art of religion means “relating to the Divine.” In this sense, we can relate to him -who is Divine- in his suffering and pain. Is there anything we might experience that he can’t relate to, besides sin? And even though he didn’t commit sin, God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He knows exactly what it’s like to be human. He knows the experience and the consequence of sin, though he never committed sin.
For the sins of your Church and for the sins of the entire human race, you laid down your life. Yet we are still far away from you. We turn a blind eye to your agony every time we ignore our neighbor’s need. We crucify you all over each time we refuse to love the least of these. We are filled with so much misery and hate. Oh, how we offend you, Lord! How much longer will you endure our transgressions? How much longer before you return and make things right? Lord, have you seen the mess we’re in? Forgive us for we know not what we do! Or do we? I’m not sure anymore. What to do with so much anger and confusion in the world? What to do with so much anguish and despair? Who to blame? How can I point the finger at others when I myself am a sinner? How can I change the world if I can’t even change myself? How can I expect anything from anyone if I can’t fulfill anyone’s expectations?
The feelings of powerlessness and misery are too much to bear and overcome. So, we run, and hide, and sin. Yet you still thirst for us. You never cease to call us back into the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. We are your lost sheep. We are your prodigal sons and daughters who cry out “Abba, Father!” “Where are you, why are you hiding?” you ask. But “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me (Psalm 23:4).”
You never stop loving us and you never run out of patience for us. After all, you were broken for us. And in your brokenness, you lovingly embrace our own frailty. Your love endures forever and what will separate us from your love? Nothing will. Not even our fear to love you. Not even our fear to tear down the walls that surround our hardened and weary hearts. Christ: never stop being patient with us!
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears
And since we have been kicked out of Eden, we must continue walking in this desert, under the burning sun, and through a weary land that is occasionally watered by our tears. Desolation and dryness of the soul follow every moment of consolation and joy. “Memento mori” (remember you will die): it is a frightening but helpful reminder that glooms over every step and breath we take. After all, we come from dust and to dust we shall return. It is better to embrace this truth than to pretend we’re immortal. The good news is that you promised us eternal life. A life we are often afraid of because we can’t see it. This is where faith steps in. But what a difficult thing it is to have faith sometimes! For many, most of the time.
Christ, we need your grace.
We need your mercy in our fallen world. Help us to be more aware of your presence: in our prayer, in the sacraments, in our neighbor. Help us to love as you did. Help us to resist temptation as you did. Help us to carry our cross as you carried yours. Help us to die to ourselves as you died for all of us to bring us a new life. Help us to hope and believe in this new life that springs up from your death. Take our hearts of stone and place in us your own sacred heart. May this Lent bring us new hope and a renewed faith. May we soon again sing your praises and delight in your Resurrection. But in the meantime:
“Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days,
that, by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin
and safe from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Photo: Matthias Grünewald, “The Crucifixion”
Peace in the Storm
Peace in the Storm: A Letter to Families facing the COVID-19 Crisis
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
“For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)
As I write this letter with the help of my wife and children, I can’t help but to think of St. Paul’s “letter of tears” to the Corinthians. The great preacher and missionary of the primitive church was saddened to see the many challenges the people of Corinth were facing. Many of these challenges were associated with their faith. He was nevertheless there to encourage them. Though the circumstances are very different, millions of Christian families are currently experiencing various trials thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our faith is being tested. As parents, we try to do our best to guide our children through this new lifestyle so that they may feel secure, safe, and remain hopeful. We do this “with many tears” because of “the abundant love” that we have for our children, even as we face our own fears and worries.
St. Paul’s words resonates with us very much right now. As a family, we have been leading retreats, workshops, and prayer services for other families. We do this, not because we have everything figured out, but because we believe God is calling the domestic church to get out there and preach the Good News of Jesus in word and deed. But today, unable to get out there and spread the Gospel, we join the rest of the families in our Diocese, the Bay Area and other parts of the world who are in some form of quarantine, in their anguish and uncertainty, as we all do our best to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. Please know that as we write this article to encourage other families, we ourselves are new to this unprecedented experience. We write this “with many tears” but with the hope “that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
We are living in a surreal situation. Schools have closed. Masses have been suspended. Millions of people have been ordered to stay home for at least the next few weeks. Parents have flocked to grocery stores to ensure they have what they need during the shutdown. Some children are excited about staying home, while others are anxious; and many families are wondering how they will get through during this difficult time.
As parents of six children, four of them school-aged, my wife and I totally get it. We, too, are trying to figure things out. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I’d like to share some tips and reminders that help us find peace in the storm while also doing good for ourselves and for others:
It’s okay to feel stressed. Believe me, we get stressed out all the time! One kid starts yelling, another one is whining, the baby takes off her diaper and starts running around the house, then another one falls and begins to cry. The bottom line is this: give yourself permission to feel stressed.
Let your trials lead to virtue. You are not a bad parent for losing patience with your children from time to time. When we do this, we obviously feel bad. It’s normal. A small dose of “healthy guilt” helps us to work on those areas in our character that need to improve. There’s always room for improvement, right? Scripture invites us to purify our character and genuineness of faith through the different trials we experience, just as gold is refined by fire “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (Peter 1:7). Let us ask God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. After all, “we are the clay, and He is our potter; we are all the work of His hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
Be disciplined. Our children are used to routines and tight schedules. They have different opportunities to practice discipline at school. Remember: your kids are not on vacation! If married, sit down with your spouse and come up with a daily schedule. Try to stick to it as much as you can. If you couldn’t keep your schedule today, try again tomorrow. Don’t give up!
Be patient with yourself and with your children. Though being disciplined is necessary to grow in virtue, cut yourself some slack! You may ask: “Isn’t this contradictory?” Well, yes and no. It’s the paradox of parenting. Yes, we must do our best, but remember: we are not “superhumans” living in a perfect world. Things will come up that will completely obliterate our perfectly planned day. It’s okay. Just take a deep breath (or ten of them), ask God to help you, and move on with the rest of your day. Also, it’s not our children’s fault that any of this is happening. Some children are scared. Others aren’t sure what’s going on. Let’s be patient with them. If you lose your patience with them, be patient with yourself. Tomorrow will be better.
Be prepared and get creative with your child’s school work. Believe me, all we want to do most of the time is just get it over with! Ironically, the less effort we put into our children’s activity or homework, the more tiring it will be. The more creative we get, the faster time goes, and our time together becomes more enjoyable. At least that’s our experience. Find some time to plan, prepare, and look for creative ways to help your child complete their school work.
Less screen time; more prayer, reading, and exercise. I humbly implore parents to significantly limit their child’s screen time during this shutdown. Most children today need their iPads or laptops to complete their class assignments. But why don’t we try to limit the amount of time they watch TV, play games, or spend time on their social media platforms? Other than doing school work on a device, our children only get to play video games during long school breaks. They may get to play during this time, we’re still debating that. The reason why we don’t want them to immerse in the world of electronics is because many studies have revealed that spending too much time in front of a screen is unhealthy. If you would like to learn more about this during quarantine, go here, here, and here. This time of quarantine can be a time for families to come together for prayer and meaningful reading. Get together two or three times a day to pray and choose a good book to read (the Bible, lives of saints, etc.), either individually or together as a family.
We are the primary catechists of our children. Remember that we, as parents, are the primary educators of our children’s faith. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states about this fundamental task:
“Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them” (CCC 2223).
“Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life” (CCC 2225).
“Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God” (CCC 2226).
Families that eat together are stronger and more intimate. The Coronavirus pandemic is putting millions of people in quarantine. This can be a terrifying time for many families. However, we also have a great opportunity to connect more with our loved ones. One of the best places to do this is in the dining room. We have always been firm believers that families learn a lot from each other and grow in their love for God when they have meals together. Do we know our child’s favorite movie, color, meal, dessert, song? For some of us, it’s been a while since we had these simple, yet profound conversations with our loved ones. This is a perfect time to have amazing and deep conversations with our children! The more we come together as a family at meal time, the stronger and more intimate our bonds will be.
If married, be intentional about having dates. We get it. Many couples aren’t really thinking about having a date right now; they’re trying to figure out how they will survive these next few weeks! By the time the kids go to bed, parents are usually exhausted and ready to go to bed. However, maintaining our marriage should be one of our top priorities during this time of difficulty because the healthier the relationship, the more the couple will be happy to work together as a team. We are sending our kids to sleep at 8:00 p.m. at the latest to have some time to talk about how our day went. If we have the energy, we do something fun or entertaining that will clear our minds and prepare us for tomorrow’s hustle.
Holiness is our goal, not perfection. We can’t stress this enough: be patient with yourself, your spouse and your children. God is patient with us; we should do the same. We all mess up. It’s normal. Perfection is the thought that we can somehow learn to do and say the right thing every time. But, because of our broken nature, eventually we will make mistakes. Holiness, on the other hand, can be achieved with God’s grace. If we ask for it, we shall receive it. Holiness is initiated in Baptism and grows in us as we become more rooted in Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and good works. The foundation of holiness is love, and love is found at home with our families.
“A saint is a sinner who keeps trying” (St. Josemaria Escriva).
Practice forgiveness: When we spend so much time inside with one other, we are likely to get frustrated or upset. Our home should be a school of mercy, love, and forgiveness (see Mt. 18:21-22). To experience true love, we must accept the gift of God’s salvation in the person of His Beloved Son Jesus, who died for us on the cross. As Jesus forgave and died for us, we must also forgive each other and die to our selfish ways. We can practice this every single day, and as a rule, we must never go to bed before reconciling with one another (see Eph. 4:26).
“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).
“Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it” (CCC 2227).
Stay connected to your parish. There are different way to stay connected to your parish and community. Here are a few:
- Like and follow the social media platforms of your parish and diocese.
- Share vital information and prayer resources on your social media.
- Find out if your parish currently has an email list, a WhatsApp group, Flock Notes, or any other communication platform where you can receive updates, share resources, and most importantly, pray for each other’s needs.
Continue to give to your parish and diocese. Though non-essential employees are being sent home and parishes and Chancery offices are being closed, there is much work needed to be done by Church staff members and bills that need to be paid. The only way your parish will survive this crisis is with our spiritual and financial support. If you were laid off or will not be paid during this time and you simply cannot support your parish financially, don’t worry! Your pastor completely understands. But if you can continue giving, please do so. If you receive envelopes, continue mailing your checks. If you give online, continue to do so. Call your parish and ask what their financial needs are right now.
Many of our parishes are on the frontlines helping the elderly and the sick with their medication, providing food and clothing for the homeless and assisting families with low-income in different ways. Also, don’t forget to give to your Annual Diocesan Appeal (ADA). Many families depend on it. Be a hero to your diocese and parish: don’t let the Church’s presence be diminished due to a lack of financial resources. We need the Church’s presence more than ever! Our parishes need us since we are the Church. Remember that Our Lord Jesus said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20:35).
Check on your priests and other Church ministers. While we stay home for safety reasons, many of our priests are out there risking their lives. They celebrate the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass for all their parishioners daily and are praying for all of us. Every priest will cope with this crisis differently. Some of them might be experiencing depression or anxiety. Let us remember to pray for Pope Francis, Bishop Oscar Cantu (or your diocesan bishop), and our priests. They need our prayers now more than ever!
Here is a tentative weekday schedule our family came up with. This schedule is not set in stone but will serve as a guide for our daily schedule. Please feel free to use it as a guide for your family as well.
6:05 – 6:30 am – Prepare coffee, tea, chocolate milk for the kids or another pick me up drink/snack
6:30 – 6:50 am – Lauds (Morning Prayer)
6:50 – 7:00 am – Saint of the Day
7:00 – 7:30 am – Breakfast / Daily Mass Readings and meditation
8:00 – 10:00 am – Homeschool
10:00 – 10:30 am – Recess / Snack time
12:05 – 1:00pm – Lunch
1:00 – 3:00 pm – P.E. Go for a walk or exercise at home for at least 1 hour / The Holy Rosarycan be prayed here
3:30 – 5:00 pm – Free time / Dinner / Homework / Nap
5:00 – 6:00 pm – Music class, art or other recreational activities
6:05 – 6:20 pm – Vespers (Evening Prayer)
6:20 – 7:45 pm – Snack time / Free time
7:45 – 8:00 pm – Compline (Night Prayer)
8:00 pm – Bedtime
“But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
(2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
The Domestic Church
The Domestic Church:
A Basic Monastery, a School of Love, and the Wellspring of Vocations
By Joel de Loera, Director of Family Life & Spirituality
“Within the family ‘which could be called a domestic church, individuals enter upon an ecclesial experience of communion among persons…The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all domestic churches. In virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, every family becomes, in effect, a good for the Church. From this standpoint, reflecting on the interplay between the family and the Church will prove a precious gift for the Church in our time. The Church is good for the family and the family is good for the Church. The experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength of the life of the Church…”
(Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 86-88).
Togetherness is the key that unleashes the wealth of family life
What does family life look like from a Catholic perspective? I like using the image of a monastery or a convent to help me understand the vocation of the domestic church. There are many similarities. Convents and monasteries are communities of faith where monks and nuns, brothers and sisters, live under the guidance and servant leadership of a superior, abbot or abbess. They pray, eat, work, and have leisure time together. They learn to be patient with one another, practice forgiveness and grow in their love for God and each other. In the domestic church, parents are the “superiors” providing leadership and guidance to their children. And just like those monks and nuns, families are encouraged to eat, pray, do chores, have fun, and grow in their knowledge and love for God together. Families in quarantine have an opportunity to relate in some ways to cloistered monks and nuns, since we can’t leave our homes unless it is for essentials. This is a time to rediscover how “togetherness” unleashes the inexhaustible wealth of family life.
Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder for the modern family to enjoy their time together and grow spiritually. There are many obstacles preventing the modern family from realizing its full potential and fulfilling its mission. Some of these obstacles – such as work and caring for a sick family member – are difficult to overcome, while others relate to behaviors and attitudes that need to change. For many families, this time of quarantine can be a time of reflection, conversion, and hope. After all, quarantine and “cuaresma” (lent) come from the same word, “forty,” and forty is a biblical number that invites us to a deeper relationship with God during a period of temptation and trial. Just as Jesus went into the desert for forty days to prepare for his mission through prayer and fasting, families can use this time to pray and fast from behaviors and attitudes that prevent them from growing in love. The key is to begin spending more time together: praying, playing, sharing a meal, talking about vocations, and just holding each other in God’s loving embrace.
The School of Love and the Wellspring of Vocations
The Christian home is a school of love: it is where its students should first experience the palpable love of God the Father, foster an intimate relationship with Jesus, and learn to call upon the Holy Spirit throughout their lives. There are many ways children may experience God’s unconditional love for them, but the main one should be the love their parents embody and radiate through their example. The domestic church is also a school of discernment. Parents have a duty to help their children discern their vocation, not decide for them. Through their example and living witness of their faith, they become their children’s spiritual guides.
Why are we suffering from a lack of priestly vocations? Because families don’t realize that they are the wellspring of vocations. Home is where it all starts. I dare to say that if we all had a stronger family life, we would see a surge in fruitful vocations. When the spiritual and catechetical formation is weak or non-existent at home, children tend to lose their interest in religion as they become older. Rigidness also leads to children abandoning their faith as adults. There must be a balance in how parents present the love and truth of God to our children. This takes time, practice, and a lot of patience.
Intentionality and Self-discipline
Since we got married, we have been intentional about spending quality time together. For us, this has always been crucial to having a thriving marriage. Today, as parents to six beautiful and extremely hyperactive children, it’s much harder to find the time and energy to continue nurturing our marriage and family life. Like all families, we have our ups and downs. One thing that has helped us be more self-disciplined is a family prayer schedule and sacred rituals. We try to stick to a weekly routine that helps us to stay focused on the things that matter the most to us: God and family. We hold each other accountable. Our weekly schedule helps us to stay in rhythm as the days and hours are sanctified through our family’s prayer life, work, and shared faith experiences. We encourage each family to identify certain times and days when everyone comes together to pray and share other experiences.
Since this time of quarantine provides an opportunity for families to live a monastic lifestyle and a family retreat like no other, let us make the most of it! May each member of the domestic church grow in faith, hope, and love for God and one another.
Here is a tentative weekday schedule our family came up with. This schedule is not set in stone, instead, it will serve as a guide for our daily schedule. Please feel free to use it as a guide for your family as well. God bless!