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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Words of Wisdom from Hans von Balthasar...

"To be a child means to owe one's existence to another, and even in our adult life we never quite reach the point where we no longer have to give thanks for being the person we are."

-- Hans Urs von Balthasar; Roman Catholic priest, author and considered one of the most important theologians of the 20th Century. Balthasar is said to have influenced Bl. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, among many others and was once called, "perhaps the most cultured man of our time." The Swiss born scholar priest published over a thousand books and articles and sought to offer an intellectual response to Western modernism. He died in 1988, at the age of 82, just two days before he was to become a Cardinal.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Politics of Pride, Death and Family...

Selling his soul to the Devil...
In one of my most memorable movie lines, at the end of Devil's Advocate, just when it looked like Keanu Reeves' character, Kevin Lomax, was going to get a fresh start in life, after all the mayhem, death and destruction caused by his selfishness, lust and greed, Al Pacino's character, aka Satan, taking the form of a reporter, coaxes Reeves into giving him an interview, saying, "This is a story that needs to be told.  It's you. You're a star," which hearkens back to where the movie started; a little known defense attorney trying to make a name for himself and pursuing all the things that St. Thomas Aquinas once said are man's substitutes for God; money, pleasures, power and fame. 

Lomax looks at his wife, looks back at the reporter and says with a smile, "Ok., Larry.  Call me in the morning," and walks away.

As the young attorney and his wife leave the scene, the reporter becomes Al Pacino, who looks into the camera, smiles broadly and says, "Vanity.  My favorite sin!"

Vanity, which at its core, like all sins is rooted in pride, the sin that led to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden and continues to plague and destroy souls, marriages, families and societies.

Yes, I know.  Most people today abhor any thought of sin because it reminds them of sin's consequence; hell!  And, they prefer not to think about hell, since it means having to change their ways, almost as much as thinking about death.

Last week a friend told me about the estranged relationship her husband had with his parents, despite living about ten blocks away from them.  For no apparent reason, except for stubbornness and pride, they hadn't spoken to each other in over a year.

I was thrown aback.  My friend and her husband have two little kids.  A year has gone by and they haven't seen or talked to their grandparents!

I said to her, "I have to take your husband to a retreat," and before she explained how difficult his parents were, I told her, "It doesn't matter what may or may not have happened.  We are called to honor our fathers and mothers and sometimes have to swallow our pride because one day, they are not going to be there and then he will regret it." 

Several weeks ago, I was making a similar point at a men's retreat.  I was giving a talk about the need to nurture the relationships with those we most love and approached my talk where most people think life ends; death.   

I got the idea from a phrase Peter Kreeft uses in his book, Before I Go; "Momento mori," which is a Latin phrase meaning, “Remember death.”

The cusp of my talk was this; life is short and extremely volatile.  We are all just an accident, an illness or a random act of violence away from checking out of this world at any time. Therefore, we really have to make an effort to mend, heal, forgive and restore our relationships before it's too late.

Pride is like a decease that festers and grows, if we let it.  It's that little voice in our ear that says, "It's not your fault.  They are the ones that have to call you.  They are the ones that did this or that.  They are the ones that were disinterested and let the days, weeks and months go by.  Why don't they call?  Why don't they apologize?" (For more, see C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters)

Bad intentions; Jake on the warpath...
And, it's easy for that year to turn into two and then into three and so on. Sometimes, the people involved forget what started the fight in the first place but they have too much pride to say I'm sorry; too much pride to appear weak in the other person's eye; too much pride to let the other side win (in their mind). So, they wait, ferment and rot inside, until the day comes when somebody dies and then they wonder why they wasted so much time. (Of course, if you're Joey LaMotta, who's brother, Jake LaMotta, aka Raging Bull, beat the living daylights out of you in front of your wife and kids in your own house, it may take a little longer but forgive we must, not so much for the person we're forgiving as for us.)

Although, I never had a bad relationship with my parents, I can identify with my friend's husband because I myself wasted a lot time absorbed in my own life.

For many years, I neglected my father and mother. 

I loved them dearly.  I was just too busy; too busy working, too busy hanging with friends, too busy playing baseball, too busy on vacations, too busy watching the Mets, too busy watching Seinfeld, and so on.  A week or two could easily pass by, if not more!, without me as much as picking up the phone and calling to check how they were doing.  They were the ones that usually had to call because; I was too busy!

During a retreat I attended in 2006, one of the guys talked about his relationship with his parents and how for many years he resented his dad for not being able to provide all the things his friends had and he wanted; again back to vanity and pride.

His father died unexpectedly and then he regretted all the pain and grief he had caused his old man; all the disrespect, all the anger he had shown, all the sleepless nights and turmoil.

It was a contrast in humility.  All the father had done was work hard to provide for his family, sometimes taking on two jobs to ensure his son would attend one of the top schools in Miami, even if it meant sacrifice and struggle.  And, all the son had done, as he explained it, was to reject his blue collar dad and curse him under his breath because of his pride for not having the fancy car or money, like most of his friends.

His pain and regret were evident and very moving, however, there was also redemption and hope in his story.  After his father's death, his mother was left alone and he did not want to have the same regrets when she died.  So, he started spending more time with her and one of the things he started doing, which left a profound impression on me, was to stop by his mother's house everyday on his way to work to have a cup of coffee.

I started doing that.  
The binding power of cafecito...

Almost every morning, for the past about nine years or so, whether I’m running late to a meeting or not, I sidetrack from my way to work and spend at least 5 minutes having Cuban coffee and sharing in brief conversations with my parents.  

My friend, whose husband hadn't spoken to his parents, asked if I can help her in writing a text message to her mother-in-law, which I gladly agreed.  

Since I didn't know the lady and wasn't tainted by all the baggage that may have led to the deterioration of the relationship, I wrote from a faith and outsider's perspective; whatever happened happened, it's time to heal.  It's time to put the past aside and focus on reconciliation and restoring the relationship.

There were several exchanges after that.  The mother-in-law said she wanted to move on but kept bringing up unresolved issues.  And, again, I answered with the same, "let's get past the blame and focus on the future."   

A day or two later, after a couple of more text exchanges, which I didn't take part in, my friend shows me a message that came from her husband to his mom stating something along the lines of, "Mom, I love you and I want you to be part of my children's lives."

It was pretty powerful stuff.  A year of animosity and strife appeared to be melting away and a new air of peace and reunification loomed.  

It's a lesson we can all learn from, but, in our humanity, we would be wise to stay alert, since that same vanity that resurfaced in Kevin Lomax's life at the end of Devil's Advocate, can raise it's ugly head at any point in our life as well.  

The key is to catch it, understand it is the sin of pride, remember that our family members are not going to be there forever and humble ourselves for the sake of love...  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Laughs, Tears and My Son's First Communion...

The Body of Christ...
"Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." 1 Cor 10:17.

It was at the most solemn and sacred moment of the Mass.  The entire congregation fell on its knees in silence and reverence (with the exception of a crying baby in the back of the parish), as the priest began the prayer of consecration to turn the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the Eucharist, pinnacle and summit of our faith as Catholics, and, the reason we were gathered at church that Saturday afternoon for our children's First Holy Communion.

All of a sudden, in what looked like a scene from a Peter Sellers or Mel Brooks' movie, a little heavyset boy (to be politically correct) sitting in his tight white suit in the pew in front of us, slipped on the kneeler and started sinking into the abyss underneath the bench he had just been sitting on, as his body and face contorted in despair, while the boy next to him ducked for cover to avoid being dragged down by the grasping hand of the first boy, trying to keep himself from going under.

A teacher nearby, quickly lunged over a couple of other students in the way, reminiscent, I suppose, of when Jesus reached for Peter, as he sank while trying to walk on water.  She got him just in the nick of time and was able to lift him back unto his knees before the pew monster swallowed him hole and, as she let go of his arm, the boy's other knee slipped and the process started all over again. 

Only this time, the teacher couldn't control her laughter and had to turn her face so that the boy didn't see her laughing at him, as everyone around us chuckled, while the poor chubby kid tried to regain his balance and finally pushed himself up and got both knees firmly planted.

It was a brief moment of levity amidst the tears during the Sacrament.  Sort of like the first time I watched The Passion of the Christ with my wife during Holy Week in England (Come to think of it, when she was pregnant with our son!), and, just as our emotions were pushed to the limit during the scourging at the pillar scene, and, with her hormones out of whack, she worse than I (although not by much), there was a commercial break, which allowed us to breathe and gather ourselves before continuing to watch the rest of the heart-wrenching film.

Then again, I love a good cry!  In his book, Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote, "We need never be ashamed of our tears," and, those that have gotten to know me over the last several years, know that I'm certainly not ashamed of mine.  In fact, I embrace them whenever caught in the moment.

I can't help it.  Especially, when it comes to faith and family, the floodgates are just a minor tug away from opening up at any time.  In fact, it's a running joke around the home-front about whether Daddy is crying; again!  Even my seven-year-old boy likes to rib his old man! (No, I'm not going Bruce Jenner any time soon!  But, since when is it wrong for a middle-aged man to show a little emotion, for goodness sake?)

I cry at movies.  I cry with books.  I cry during sentimental Christmas commercials and sad songs on the radio.  I cry at weddings (including my own, and not just because life as I knew it was over!).  I cry in the talks I give at retreats for my men's group (In fact, they usually bring up Kleenex tissues before I begin, although, I must say, there's another guy that beats me in the tear department and a couple of others that can stand toe-to-toe with me!).  I even choke up at awards banquets, as I did recently while I introduced a great friend being honored with a lifetime achievement award in television news. (There's nothing like shedding a few tears in front of a room full of hard nosed, cut-throat, veteran journalists, I say!)

Needless to say, I lost it at both of our daughters' First Communion, and, the only thing that kept me from crying at our older daughter's Confirmation was the fact that they called her by her saint's name, Elizabeth, as in St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and I kept waiting for the Bishop to say her name, so I missed the entire ritual, only realizing what had happened when she was heading back to her seat! (I don't even want to think about their weddings!).  So, of course, it was only a matter of time before the tears started flowing at my son's.

Styling in the cool shoes...
And, it didn't take long, as I saw him walking up the center aisle wearing his white suit, much to the chagrin of my wife who wanted him to wear one of the several blue blazers he has in his closet (which turned out to be what most of the boys in his class wore), but no!  He wanted to wear white; suit, shirt, vest, tie and fashionable slip on leather shoes (which would have made Gaylord Focker, male nurse extraordinaire from Meet the Parents, envious!).  I guess it made him feel holier and holy was the name of the game for him that day.  In fact, a few weeks earlier, after his first Confession, he told me, "Daddy, I feel really holy.  I want to do this every week!"

Shortly after the homily (and the chubby kid's near debacle), the second graders started going up one at a time to receive the Sacred Host and, those that wanted, to drink from the chalice.

When it was my son's turn, he walked into the center aisle, bowed his head, as I'm sure he had rehearsed with his class dozens of times, and walked up with his left hand cupping his right.  Oh, wait, it's supposed to be the right hand cupping the left (He quickly corrected his mistake on the fly), as the Eucharist was placed in his hand.  He put it in his mouth, walked up to the chalice, taking a small sip, before returning to his pew.

Yes, that was when the floodgates opened up.  I felt the tears running down my cheek, as I tried to avoid my wife's look so that she wouldn't laugh.  I've been there before!

For me, to think that he was receiving of that One Bread, as St. Paul stated in First Corinthians, that unites us, not only with the same Jesus that walked the earth two thousand years ago, and the Father and Holy Spirit, since God is One and cannot be separated, but with me, my wife, my daughters, parents, family and friends in the most profound way, including relatives that have gone to their eternal rest like my wife's dad and my grandparents and the entire Communion of Saints; past, present and future, well, it's a bit overwhelming.  Don't you think?

I always think of St. Therese, "The Little Flower" at her First Holy Communion.  She wrote in her memoirs, Story of a Soul, that she overheard several nuns commenting about how sad it was that Therese's mom had died and wasn't there to see her receive her First Communion.  Even at her tender age, Therese was perplexed, since she knew that by receiving the Blessed Host, she would be closer to her mother than ever before! 

Our holy roller with Fr. Martin and Deacon Parlade...
So, there I was feeling the knot in my throat with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks and then, I saw the chubby kid go up.  He was cupping his left hand correctly but as the priest went to place the Eucharist in his hand, he reached out and snatched it (I'm sure to the horror of his teacher, after all the weeks and months of practice!) and then came the clincher.  He goes up to the chalice, takes a sip, turns around and makes the funniest bad taste grimace I recall having seen!  The kid was a riot.       

After having received Communion myself, as I knelt there praying and reflecting on the moment, the kids were asked to get up and recite an affirmation of faith and then it was the parents' turn.  I had forgotten my reading glasses and, halfway through the first sentence, my voice cracked, which made my wife laugh, and I got so teary-eyed that I couldn't make out the rest of what I was supposed to read, which may have been a blessing, since it would've probably have been worse if I had actually seen the words! 

As the ceremony ended, and my son walked down the aisle the same way he had walked in towards the door, I looked at the husky kid again and couldn't help but smile.  It had been an emotional roller coaster for me but, thanks to a fat little boy (There you made me say it! Are you happy?) in his ill-fitting white suit, there were interludes of laughter that made an already memorable event even more so ingrained in my memory forever.

Thank you, God...


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Matthew Kelly, the Dynamic Catholic...

Last week, I got a chance to spend part of the day listening to Catholic author and gifted speaker, Matthew Kelly, with my wife and about 750 faithful, both young and old, at an event sponsored by St. Augustine Catholic Church in Coral Gables and the University of Miami's Catholic students outreach ministry.  While I won't get into the details of his talks, which was mostly about how we can become dynamic Catholics that go out change the world, like the original Catholics did in the first century, I wanted to share some quotes to ponder:

"When we say 'yes' to stuff that we shouldn't, we miss out on stuff that God created us to say 'yes' to."

"Clarity emerges from silence.  Once we're in silence, we begin to hear the voice of God."

"Needs are primary.  Wants are secondary.  We live in a culture that is obsessed with the want but it's never enough because you simply can't get enough of what you don't really need."      

"As Catholics, we have forgotten our story and we're letting the anti-Catholic media tell our story."

"Catholic education in the United States saves tax payers over $18 billion each year and the Church contributes over $60 billion in food for the needy; regardless of their faith, race or ethnicity."

"Over one million kids get confirmed in the Catholic Church each year.  Eighty-five percent of them leave the Church within seven years."

"Part of the problem is that most of us think we're pretty good Christians... as compared to what?  That is the sin of comparison.  Measure your life against the Gospel."

"We don't read the Bible because we know the Gospel has the power to transform our lives.  We don't mind a little tweaking but we don't really want to transform our lives!"

"Athletes are training right now and waking up at 4:30a every morning to train for the 2024 Olympics, for a competition that may not last 10 seconds.  Now, that's commitment."

"As a nation and as Catholics, we are deeply committed to mediocrity because we don't see things as they really are, especially ourselves."

"Our lives change when our habits change."

"Every relationship improves when we start to listen."

"Less than seven percent of Catholics in the pews contribute over 80% of the funds to support the parish and perform over 90% of the services."

"We are made for happiness but we can never find it because we have a God-size hole that is so big, only God can fill it."

"How did the first Christians change the world?  They lived differently.  They loved differently and they worked differently.  Modern Catholics just blend in."

"If we actually lived what we believe, we would work differently because our work is our gift to God."

"To be anti-Catholic is the only acceptable prejudice in the United States."

"The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that holiness is not possible.  Ninety percent of Christians are neutralized by this lie and so we're destined for mediocrity." 

"If you can create one holy moment in one day, holiness is attainable.  Holiness is replicable."

"Don't be afraid of the deep water.  We need some depth in our lives."

Kelly, an Australian-born internationally acclaimed motivational speaker, author and business consultant for several Fortune 500 companies, has dedicated his life to helping people and organizations become the better versions of themselves.  In recent years, he has been committed to helping the Catholic Church in America regain it's prominence one parishioner and one parish at a time through The Dynamic Catholic Institute.  He has written over 15 books, several of which have become New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today best sellers...

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Day in the Life; Walking the Dog, a Welt and Superhero Dreams...

When you got to go...
"Carlos, the dog," my wife said as our new Australian Terrier mix, that we rescued from the pound several weeks ago, stood on his hind legs, scratching at the bed with his front paws to wake her up, as he had done the previous two times that morning.

"It's the third time this morning!" I complained (Annoyed that I was going to have to get up AGAIN!).

"That was part of the deal.  We got a dog because you said you would walk him," she shot back. 

Great, she used the "you said" card again!  I did promise to walk the dog if we got one, only after years of hearing our kids beg us to get one (Our two previous dogs died about six months apart four years ago), but, are you kidding?  Three times in one morning?  I had no idea it would be so often!

I threw the blankets off in a huff, climbed out of bed, slipped into my shorts and sandals and headed for the door, as the terrier, who we named Winston, broke into his happy dance when I pulled out the leash (Yes, it's a lot of fun for me too, I thought!). 

St. Paul did say, "Love is patient.  Love is kind," but, let's be real, do you think he really meant before the first cup of morning coffee?  I couldn't believe it.  He woke up at 5:30am, then at 7:30am and again at 8:30am!  I swore I had to check the fiber content in his food.  This was ridiculous!

It had been a rough morning.  Aside from the lack of sleep, during my first two walks (the first one in the dark), as I slumbered along following the determined half-pint, I ran into a spider web that I thought I ate the first time around and it was back when I walked the same route the second time! 

Walking the dog battle scars...
However, I think the second time the spider got ticked that I had ruined her all-night creation again and so she rode me like an avatar on one of those green dragon flying things because, for about two or three blocks, I could feel spider webs down my arms, head and legs, as I broke into spontaneous air Kung Fu moves every few steps and slapped myself silly trying to get rid of the annoying pest.  It's a good thing most people were still asleep on a Saturday morning.     

Obviously, by the third walk I avoided that area like the plague but when I got home and went to the bathroom, I noticed a bright red welt over my left eye that was sore and apparently left over from our second walk.  That female dog!  I must have gotten bitten by the vengeful spider!

For the rest of the week, I kept waiting for the welt to go away.  It was swollen and tender.  I put a couple of different antibacterial and antibiotic creams on it but nothing.  It must have gotten infected. 

By Friday night, my wife asked if I was going to turn into Jimmy Smits, from the movie The Believers, and I begin screaming, "Culebra!" at the top of my lungs, before spiders started to come out of the welt on my forehead.  As for me, I think I started feeling my spider senses tingling and was ready to use my Kung Fu moves on real bad guys, only I couldn't climb up walls or get the spider webs to shoot out of my wrists!  Hey, a guy can dream can't he?

Oh, well; lesson learned.  To avoid embarrassing myself and the kids in the future (with my air Kung Fu moves), I'll have to look for one of those fly-whisks that people in the Middle East use to swing and scatter the flies as they walk, so I can walk my dog in the mornings and evenings after dark.  In the meantime, I think I'll walk him by the edge of the street to avoid the trees, where spiders spin their webs.

Fortunately for me, Winston's bowel movements have gotten acclimated to his new environment.  He still wakes up early every morning and goes to my wife, like my kids do (I wonder why?), so that she wakes me up to walk him but, at least, it's just once!...

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Cross; from Torture to Salvation...

The blood of the martyrs...
When the hooded ISIS terrorists (Real manly to cover their faces isn't it?) brutally beheaded twenty one Coptic Christians in cold blood on a beach in Libya, they said it was a message "in blood to the nation of the Cross," meant to taunt Christians around the world, as they threatened to conquer Rome next (meaning the Vatican; the most recognized center of Christianity).

Yet, the Cross, which is venerated by Christians on Good Friday, is actually a taunt to ISIS and all the powers in the world that be, who maim, torture, terrorize and murder as a show of force and intimidation.

The true power of the Cross was displayed by many of the victims of the massacre, who were seen mouthing, "Jesus Christ" or "Jesus is Lord," as the executioners plunged their blades into their necks to sever their heads.

Like lambs led to slaughter, in the example of Jesus, the Coptic Christians gave up their lives, believing that their fate was not in their killers' hands but in God's.

In a recent video commentary (see below), Catholic theologian and author Fr. Robert Barron explains that it is through the Cross of death, which Jesus boldly embraced, that the "nation of the Cross," became the nation of life in the Resurrection.

There was nothing more horrific and terrifying for people in the ancient world than that of the cross.

During the Spartacus rebellion about 100 years before Christ, Roman authorities crucified thousands of his men along the road leading to Rome, as a message, like the terrorists of ISIS, of what can happen to those that "cross" the Empire.

In Jesus' day, Barron says, the cross was the Roman Empire's version of state sponsored terrorism.  It was used as a deterrent to anyone who considered stepping out of line; a brutal instrument of torture meant to leave victims in excruciating pain until they died and then their bodies were left hung on the cross, for all bystanders to see, until scavenging animals devoured their remains.

The wood of salvation...
Consider that when Jesus was arrested, his disciples ran for cover.  Possibly with the exception of John the beloved, they all fled from the cross and went into hiding, in fear and trembling.  The cross was too horrid, too terrible, too grotesque a reality.  Barron says it was the most disgusting, terrifying and humiliating death that anyone could imagine at the time, which is the irony of what Christianity started proclaiming.

On the heels of the Crucifixion of Jesus, it was a disturbing claim for first century Palestinians and Greeks to hear that God became Man and was brutally and sacrificially slaughtered like a criminal upon a cross.  And, if that weren't shocking enough, St. Paul, St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles were telling believers that they too should emulate and follow Christ on the Cross!

It was absurd.  It was preposterous and it was hard to imagine.  Yet, their conviction and fervor converted thousands and spread throughout the Roman Empire like wildfire until the Empire was converted within 300 years.  Why?  How? That is a mystery that only God knows but, to me, it can only be explained by this; they saw and experienced the Risen Lord, which gave them the strength and courage to boldly and effectively proclaim such a radical proposition, knowing very well their fate was on that same cross, if they ever got caught (and most of them did!).

In fact, the Cross became a symbol of taunt to the Roman authorities, as if saying, "I know this is what your power is based on but we're not afraid."  Barron says that Christians held up the Cross as a symbol of God's love, which conquered sin and death once and for all.

The priest also points out that, unlike Islam, whose followers get offended by cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in compromising positions, Christians hold up the mocked, humiliated and tortured Jesus, because we know that God's love is greater than any pain, suffering or disgrace in this world.

Thus, the Cross is a taunt, but not to Christians, as ISIS meant it to be, to those who abase it.

Second and third century Christian author, Tertullian once said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  Without a doubt, those Coptic Christians were martyrs. And, that same Church that Tertullian spoke about, which started amidst the scandal of the Cross in the first century, and has outlived kingdoms, governments, systems, persecutions, wars, scandals and constant attempts to destroy her for the past two thousand years, continues to carry the Cross on high, enduring, like its founder, its full weight because of its promise.      

As our parish priest sang at the Veneration of the Cross service on Good Friday afternoon, "Behold the wood of the Cross on which is hung our salvation."...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Love and Marriage on the Slide...

In baseball, players slide into a base to avoid a tag and possibly in hopes of getting there faster. 

In life, some people slide into marriage for the same reasons

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.

Several weeks ago, my wife and I served at a marriage retreat for couples trying to either invigorate their relationships or save it before it dissolves. 

It's a weekend of bonding within the couple, as well as with other couples trying to work on their own marriages, by focusing on why they fell in love and got married in the first place.  For my wife and I, it's a great opportunity to get away from the kids and all the distractions and stress that starts to weigh our relationship down and begin anew (once a year!), which, I must say, is desperately needed even in the healthiest of matrimonies.   

On the first night of the retreat, we met a young couple that was very much in trouble.  They were in their early 30's, had been raised Catholic but, like many young people, had drifted from the faith, and, after years of living together, they got married in a civil ceremony, had a daughter and were now on the brink of calling it quits.

As we have learned over several years of serving on the Marriage Covenant Team at our parish, reading books and articles, counseling and intermingling with dozens of couples who have struggled and succeeded, they made three potentially critical mistakes; living together before tying the knot,  excluding God from their wedlock and separating marriage from their relationship with their daughter.

Let's start with living together.  It's a common misconception that living together before marriage helps couples stay together, by helping them decide if making a lifetime commitment to love "forever after" is the right call, when statistically speaking, it is actually the opposite. 

While nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, which includes an increasing rate of divorce for second and third marriages, couples who live together first have a much higher chance of getting divorced than those that don't.

There are various reasons from commitment issues to maturity, but one is sometimes called the "slide effect."  It starts with one partner spending more time at the other's apartment and soon a drawer is cleared for personal belongings.  A few months later they decide that bouncing around between two apartments is too inconvenient and could cut expenses by moving in together, so they do.  Then they get a dog (Since the natural desire in the human heart and product of a loving relationship is to have children, but they're not ready for that yet, so they get the next best thing; Fido!).  Later, they buy a couch, a dinning room table, his and her bikes and so on. 

The next thing you know, they have lived together for several years and have a bunch of stuff.  By this point, they figure the best thing to do is to get married, which, after years of getting slack from grandma and Uncle Phil, they imagine they can appease their families, get the tax benefits and throw a great party in the process.  It's a win win for everyone.  Wrong!

Sadly, they may have just gotten comfortable in the relationship and are marrying a person they would have never have gotten married to otherwise.

Then, there's the civil marriage part of it.

When my wife and I originally celebrated our nuptials, we did so in a civil ceremony; a sunset wedding at the Miami Rowing Club in 1998.  In all honesty, we were indifferent and ignorant to what the Church teaches on marriage (Not to mention, to what marriage really means!), and, quite frankly, at the time, we didn't much care (At least, I didn't!).   

Let's face it, like most Catholics, who marry outside the Church, it's mostly out of lack of understanding and indifference, possibly influenced, to some extent, by the culture and all those wedding TV shows and magazines, where the wedding becomes more about the venue,  personal vows, center pieces and party, and less about God and what the sacred vows mean.     

But, think about what that says.  We're telling God, "Hey God, this is about us.  Butt out!"  And, in reality, we should be saying the opposite.

Marriage success is tough enough in today's world but, marriage without God, is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and hoping for the best!  Not good!

As people with the faintest religious background might agree, marriage is a Sacrament.  Through it, God imparts special graces on a man and woman that binds them in a covenant, which is beyond any written contract.  It's a giving of self to one another.  They promise to give themselves entirely, and without restrictions or reservations, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer till death do them part.

In fact, it is a covenant that doesn't end at the altar.  It begins there.  It is renewed every time the couple shares in the self-giving and sacramental bond of conjugal intimacy!

The "me" becomes "we" since, and this is where the children part of my argument comes in, marriage is also about family.  As St. John Paul II often said, it is in the family that we enter into the innermost life of the Holy Trinity and become true reflections of God, who is Three, when our two flesh become one and then become three, nine months later!  Just think about the profundity of this.  We become active participants of God's creation!

Earlier this month, my wife and I celebrated our 17th Wedding Anniversary, although there's a caveat.  I like to say we've been married twice.  We got married in the Catholic Church in 2007, after my "reversion" into the faith and having God in our marriage and family became really important to us.

We spent our anniversary night, having dinner at a trendy sushi restaurant with our two youngest children, who where a bit unruly, while our older daughter hung out with some friends in the same shopping center and later met up with us for desert and espressos at a French Bistro.  Still, despite the slight aggravation over dinner, to me, there is no better way to celebrate an anniversary because there is greater expression of marital love than that of family.

If you remove children from marriage, it becomes an adult-centric relationship, which is geared towards personal fulfillment and "happiness," with no concern for the life-giving aspect of the sacrament.  Unfortunately, it's what many people who have kids and call it quits often do because they are thinking of themselves and not the children. 

Marriage is the only institution that unites, not only the married couple, but children to their parents.  And, with the escalating divorce rate and continuous attempts to redefine marriage to make it strictly adult-centric, the institution is slowly being chipped away and children are the ones that suffer.

In any case, as St. John Paul II said, it is through matrimony and subsequent family that we are completed in the image and likeness of God.  So, Jerry Maguire was right, when he said to Dorothy Boyd, "You complete me!" 

Yet, despite the romantic notion created in movies, love is not a feeling.  It's a choice; an act of the will.  Feelings come and go and at times they'll be fantastic and other times not so much, but the will to love can last a lifetime.  And, let's face it, marriage is not always "happily ever after" like it is in fairy tales and movies.  There are many ups and down. 

But, as St. Paul poignantly points out in his first letter to the Corinthians, love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

If we base our happiness and fulfilment on another person, it isn't love.  It's self love and a sure recipe for failure.  True love and happiness can never be found in another person.  It can only be found in God.  Because, that's how we were made; with a natural desire to know, love and live happily ever after with our maker (which is why God should never be excluded from the wedding!).

That's not to say, however, that every couple that gets married in the Church is a success story, far from it, especially when they do it out of obligation or tradition instead of faith and understanding, but it's a good place to start.

My wife and I were able to convalidate our marriage in the Catholic Church ten years after our civil wedding.  You can say we tied a double knot to make sure neither of us could break lose!  We were joined by our closest family, friends, our children and the entire Communion of Saints, as we celebrated the Sacraments of Marriage, the Eucharist and our son's Baptism during the same ceremony.  Now that's what you call a party! 

At the end of the weekend, the young couple committed to trying to save their marriage and small family.  It won't be easy, especially when society is telling them to seek that personal "happiness," and since the word "divorce" may have already crept into their vocabulary, which is a sure sign of doom (The more the word is used, the more the couple gets used to the idea and the easier it is to take the next step).

But, hopefully, despite having already committed to the slide, like any good base runner, they can hook their leg around the bag and avoid getting tagged out.  Either that, or just mow the defender over in hopes of knocking the ball lose!  Hey, whatever gets you there.  When it comes to saving marriage, everything is fair game!...