Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 2

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

13 The very word “to be joined” or “to cleave”, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a closeness both physical and interior, to such an extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: “My soul clings to you” (Ps 63:8).

Just as the family on earth is a sign of the divine family in heaven, the union between husband and wife on earth is a sign of our future perfect union with God in heaven. On earth the greatest expression of this union is the sexual act. However, in heaven the perfect union between God and man (or woman) will be expressed in an even greater way. We can’t comprehend or understand this until we get to heaven. Indeed, marriage ends with our earthly death and in heaven all people will be “mystically married” to God as Ss. Teresa and John of the Cross experienced. God will say, “You are mine”, and we will respond, “I am yours.” Knowing this may help those that struggle with chastity to remain pure.

14 The presence of children is a sign of the continuity of the family throughout salvation history, from generation to generation.

A society without children is dying. Adults eventually age and die. If there are no children to replace them, that society eventually won’t exist. This is measured in our modern age by the fertility (or birth) rate. Several countries already have flat or negative fertility rates and the problem is spreading. In America, the fertility rate has been in decline for years. This problem arose with urbanization.

In the past most families lived on farms and were fairly self sufficient. Children could help with the labor and contribute to the family business. These days work is so specialized children can’t contribute to the parents’ work, so children are a huge cost until they become independent. In the past, the community helped with child raising, but now families have vastly different values. As an example, Catholic parents might not be comfortable with a Muslim family helping babysit.

A possible solution is for families to stick closer together. Instead of everyone moving out when they become adults, the extended family maintains a large house with space for multiple families. Sometimes there are lessons to be learned from the past, and this is one of them. Extended families living together was what everyone did for centuries. It is a proven way to survive. If a group of families share a home, each individual family will get a lot of help raising their children. Unfortunately, this is illegal in many parts of the country, with most cities only allowing two families on a lot. It’s possible in rural areas, but those areas tend to not have many jobs.

17 Parents have a serious responsibility for this work of education, as the Biblical sages often remind us (cf. Prov 3:11-12; 6:20-22; 13:1; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:17).

One of the primary responsibilities of Catholic parents is spreading the faith to their children. Unfortunately, many parents forget or neglect this responsibility. Some parents assume Catholic school will do that for them. Catholic school is a good start, but it is only through reinforcement at home that the things they learn are remembered and practiced. For parents that must send their children to public school, it is even more important to teach them the faith at home.

18-1 “The Gospel goes on to remind us that children are not the property of a family, but have their own lives to lead.”

While some parents are too controlling, it’s interesting that, for the most part, the problem in the modern world is parents being too lax. Many parents give their underage children absolute freedom to make every decision. I’ve heard of parents letting their children decide to eat junk food for dinner and sometimes even decide which house or car to buy. There is nothing wrong with asking children for input on these decisions, but the parents should always make the final decision even if their children don’t like it. Parents know what is best in the long run while many times children will make choices only for short term benefit. Some exceptions can be made on special days like birthdays, but for the most part, parents should make all the major decisions.

I’ve read studies about how some parents want to be “friends” with their children rather than “parents”. They are not leading their children to success but suffering when the children find themselves lacking basic skills for surviving in the real world. Parents need to be proactive in teaching important values and skills as early as possible so their children are prepared for almost any obstacle they face.

18-2 “Jesus goes so far as to present [children] as teachers, on account of their simple trust and spontaneity towards others.”

One of the things we hear a lot in the Catholic faith is that we must become childlike to enter heaven. Because they haven’t had any bad experiences, children easily trust parents and siblings. On the other hand, every parent has had a few bad experiences with their spouse which leads to distrust. Jesus and our Pope asks you to always trust your spouse, even when there is a possibility of negative consequences. This doesn’t mean to blindly trust others though. There are many people in situations of abuse or other danger where trusting would be harmful. In most couples, the spouses are not in any danger though. They should work towards accepting the sacrifice of trusting their spouse.

19 The idyllic picture presented in Psalm 128 is not at odds with a bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain, evil and violence that break up families and their communion of life and love.

While sin and its harmful effects are particularly devastating in the family, this statement can be applied more generally to all aspects of human life. As Catholics we see the ideal God teaches us in the Bible and the Catechism. Unfortunately, we sin and don’t live up to the ideal. Despite our failure, we are called to keep trying our entire lives to improve and grow. Over time this will lead us closer to God and closer to the ideal he wants for us. Most of us will never reach it in this life but some will become saints. We do our best and leave the rest to God.

21 Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables…

When navigating family struggles it is sometimes easy to think that God doesn’t understand our suffering. The reality is that Jesus, Son of God, lived as a human, both witnessing and experiencing all the sufferings of human life including family struggles. God intimately knows all about what we’re going through. He also knows the way out of difficult situations in the family. When we find ourselves in these situations, we can always turn to God in prayer for guidance.

22 We can see that the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.

Not only do we have God available to us in prayer (see 21 above), we also have the stories and teachings of the Bible to lead us. These are both infinite sources of wisdom our entire life. Those that have read the Bible for many years can attest to the fact that the Bible never gets old. No matter how many times you read it, you always learn something new. Prayer is the same. No matter how much we pray with God, we never somehow learn all there is. God constantly has more to teach us. Accept these blessings into your daily life and you will surely grow in holiness.

23 It is clear from the very first pages of the Bible that work is an essential part of human dignity…

One of the many problems we have these days is a lack of work. With new technology, a lot of work has become automated, putting lots of people out of work. The average IQ score is between 70 and 130, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most high tech jobs require around 90 or higher. That means a huge chunk of the population can never do those jobs. There needs to be work for them that doesn’t require high intelligence.

One possible solution is to look at the examples of self-sufficient living among the religious brothers and sisters. That kind of life involves more simple work perfectly suited to those people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to obtain a living wage. St. John Bosco created the Salesian Congregation as a way to support abandoned boys. Many of them ended up working for the congregation. I’ve also read a few stories about homeless people who eventually got jobs working for the charitable organization that originally served them. These are great success stories, but much more needs to be done if all the discouraged workers are to get back into the workforce.

25 Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life.

When people don’t have reliable work, it’s easy to worry about the future. They can’t relax. Their minds are in survival mode, focused on how to how to get through the next hour or day. It’s hard for parents to focus on their children with all these fears clouding their mind. Family life really suffers. Arguments break out easily that can cause lasting damage even after the period of hardship ends. Parents might be so busy working they are not be able to spend time with their children, possibly resulting in their children leaving the faith, lacking good values, or not knowing basic life skills.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

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Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 1

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Introduction

1 For all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people…”

It can be easy to get discouraged and lose hope in marriage due to the many negative statistics we have about it. Divorce rates are skyrocketing. Many couples cohabitate instead of getting married. We see news about child abuse and domestic violence pretty much daily. However, despite all these bad things, the majority of people look up to marriage as a good ideal for happiness and joy. The fact that so many young people believe in this gives us hope for the future.

2-1 The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.

Many issues have arisen that threaten marriage, including the high divorce rate, remarriage after divorce, popular support for abortion, prevalent use of contraception, and the emergence of same-sex marriage. The Church has preached against all of these for years, and yet they have continued to grow in popularity. Therefore, the Church must find a whole new way to communicate the harm of these activities while gently leading people back to the truth. It has to be done right the first time. Otherwise people will just be pushed further away. As a result, the proper approach is going to take a long time to discover. The synod was just a start. Years of work are still ahead to fight these evils. It’s likely that these evils will always exist in some form, but much improvement is possible.

2-2 The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

This is a long way of saying we should avoid extremes, good advice for these times. One extreme is to just throw out past Church teaching and replace it with teaching that would be popular in the world. This would address the problem of the popular world ignoring the wisdom of the Church, but the unacceptable cost would be the Church abandoning the truth. This obviously cannot happen. The other extreme is mandating blanket rules for all people, no matter the situation. This also cannot happen since people are not robots or clones. They have different circumstances that affect what they should or should not do. As 2-1 states above, the problem is complex. The two extremes may be quick and easy but neither are acceptable.

3 Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

This quote explains Pope Francis’ approach to making positive change in the world. The Church is not here to write laws for every miniscule detail of life. Instead, it simply gives people the main idea or guideline on how to live holy. Applying that broad guideline to an individual person is a matter of discernment, which might require the aid of a priest or spiritual director but is ultimately the responsibility of the individual believer.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

8 The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9).

Many times people ask, “why are Catholics and the Church so focused on families?” The reason is clear. In the Bible every story has to do with family to some extent. The story of civilization is the story of family. It’s very important to think about family. When families are doing well, civilization is doing well. On the other hand, if families are struggling or failing, civilization will follow.

When addressing a problem, you always start with the source. We have many problems in the world, but many of them start with family troubles such as neglect and abuse. For example, look at minority neighborhoods. They have some of the highest poverty rates. How do we reduce that poverty? By improving families in those neighborhoods. If we can ensure all children have a stable household with two parents plus friends and relatives for support, both parents and children will be more successful, leading to future generations with less poverty.

9 [The father and mother] embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19:4).

Marriage is a divine plan of God. He created humans male and female to fulfill this plan. Everyone is naturally called to marriage. Some people do not get married due to circumstances beyond their control, such as disease or severe injury, but they are still called to marriage which may cause suffering. Other people receive a supernatural call by God to do something special with their lives (religious life). Without that supernatural calling, those people would also be called to marriage.

10 Does [“image of God” (Gen 1:27)] mean that sex is a property of God himself, or that God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no.

Pope Francis corrects those that would take the Bible’s use of “image” literally. When the Bible says male and female were made in the image of God, it does not mean God is actually male and female. In fact, God is something greater. He cannot simply be pinned down to one sex. He contains all that it is to be human plus the infiniteness of his divine person. So all of the male traits like strength are in God plus all of the female traits like gentleness also exist in God plus infinitely more. God is everything in one being.

11 …the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.

Seeing the human family gives us a clue as to its Creator. In the human family, there are parents and children. In the divine family, there is a parent (the Father) and a child (the Son). In addition, the love between parents bears fruit in the form a child just as the love between the Father and Son bears fruit in the form of the Holy Spirit. Marriage and family are evidence for the existence of God and the three divine Persons.

12-1 …we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him” (vv. 18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which he feels amid the animals and the world around him.

Pope Francis explains the incompleteness of man and how he needs woman to complete him. As I wrote for 9 above, marriage is a natural calling. Everyone at a certain point longs for another. They just don’t want to be alone anymore. Some people are made complete by marrying the Church (priesthood) or marrying God (consecrated life). The rest are made complete by marrying another human, the opposite sex. Of course, our Pope is looking at the ideal of marriage here. Many people in real life do not get married due to impairment, illness, or other reasons.

12-2 …for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.

This is a beautiful poetic statement about true love. While we speak in words, God has no need for it. Love is more powerful than words. I’m sure you can remember an experience where someone aided you before you even asked. In love a person can be so attuned to the other that they just know their needs and how to address them before a single word is spoken. Also think about how God speaks to us. It’s very rare that he speaks in audible words. Almost always it’s in the silence of our hearts. This is a hint at what heaven will be like. We will be so close to God and everyone else in heaven, we won’t even need words. This doesn’t mean heaven will be silent, but it will definitely be quieter than earth.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

The Importance of Chastity

Our current culture laughs at the idea of chastity saying things like, “How dare you limit sex!” or “We have a right for sex whenever we want.” The Catechism briefly describes how disordered use of sex is selfish (CCC 2351), but it doesn’t describe the negative effects a lack of chastity causes in our culture. We have many examples of the negative effects in our society because of its obsession with sex. At the same time, we have very few examples of the positive effects chastity brings.

In America, children and adults are bombarded by sex several times a day every day. It’s in our entertainment and in the media from movies to books to the daily news. Even many commercials are filled with sex. Over the years, this has created a society where many people are filled with lust. Because of this, much of the population makes decisions based on which choice will lead them closer to sex. It’s particularly bad for men, which I focus on here. Most of these examples can apply to women as well.

In our society, romance is equated with sexual relations. The romantic movies show the same old story with people dating, holding hands, kissing, and having sex. Then the movie ends. Sex is shown as the goal of every relationship, when it’s really a very small part of true romance. In a typical marriage, sex is only 1% of their time spent together. The rest of the time is nonsexual. The marital act is such a tiny part of the relationship, to focus on it is to miss the majority of the relationship.

So many men are driven by lust, their marriages greatly suffer. Many times the only thing the husband has in common with his wife is the marital act. The rest of the time they live separate lives. Even from the beginning, the relationship faces problems. The husband doesn’t truly love his wife, only her body. He showered her with positive attention, praised her, brought her gifts, offered her help when in need, and was willing to talk to her for hours about her feelings. He had no real interest in these things. He was only using her.

Men in this situation are incapable of being intimate without sex. They can’t have long conversations with their wife. They can’t spend time together in silence. They get frustrated with handholding or kissing if it doesn’t lead to the marital act. In short, they are unable to see the whole person, so the man appears two-faced. When he desires her body, he is very nice to his wife, does everything she says until he gets what he wants. Once his desire is sated, he’s back to his old self, not interested in spending time with her until lust sets in again. Many wives don’t see this going on. Having no idea why their husband is so different by the day, they can easily fall into depression and despair. These ups and downs are devastating to the relationship. Strong marriages need consistency.

These men don’t care about their children either. They will continually complain about having to go to school events, babysit their children, help with homework, change diapers or anything else for the good of their children. They don’t care about their children. Their sole interest is sex. So they are not a family man and don’t really love their wife either. They have no care for their marriage vows. Since physical attraction is the only thing keeping the marriage together, the relationship will turn sour once the wife starts aging. No longer attracted to her, the husband will leave for a younger woman.

American culture’s obsession with sex doesn’t just affect marriages. It also affects platonic relationships. Men are trained to see women as sex objects, so they are constantly evaluating all the women they come across for attractiveness. When a man sees an attractive woman, he rushes toward satisfy his sinful desires. If she denies him or doesn’t move fast enough, he is gone to find another woman.

Whenever he has to work with a woman maybe as co-workers or volunteers, sin is on his mind. He is unable to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her because he can only see relationships with women as the potential for sex. He doesn’t know how to just be friends. When a woman thanks or hugs him, he is thinking she is attracted to him. When he tries to take the next step and she declines, he gets angry and spreads lies about her to others. When this man meets a woman he’s instantly thinking about how to manipulate her when he should focus on just being friends. Romance will happen later on its own. There is no rushing it, but he is impatient. He sees no value in waiting.

All these negative effects and many more are a result of a society that celebrates sex, but a society that celebrated chastity would avoid most of these problems. There would still be some bad apples, but if people were constantly encouraged to value the whole person rather than just their looks, we would be in a much better place. Husbands would truly respect their wives. Men could think of women more like themselves, wanting to do what’s best for the individual rather than their selfish desires. I don’t know how to fix the problem in the overall society, but on an individual level, there is something Catholics can do to improve their relationships.

The only way to stop sex from clouding the mind is to avoid it. This is especially important for single people, but even married people can benefit from this. The most important thing is to limit exposure to the sinful culture. Avoid movies and TV shows with nudity or sex scenes. Reduce how much time you spend with entertainment and the media. The time you do spend, stick to films rated PG or lower, animated films, and documentaries. On TV, nature shows, science shows, and documentaries are usually good. Instead of popular music, listen to classical or Christian music. Another huge thing is not associating with people caught up in the sinful culture. They might be very nice as friends, but bad influences have to go. Make friends with fellow Catholics, who know the truth and strive to live by it.

The second most important thing for single people is celibacy. Our society has embraced the horrible sins of fornication, pornography, and masturbation (CCC 2352-2354). Whether you have developed a habit of these sins or not, the only way to see the opposite sex in a Godly way is to remove sex from the equation. You do this by dying to self (Mt 16:25, Mk 8:35), including practicing complete abstinence (or continence, 2349).

Many people don’t think abstinence is even possible. While it may be difficult at first, it is definitely possible. Sex is not a need. Studies suggest it takes about 90 days for the brain to adjust to abstinence. You’ll always have to deal with temptations, but they will be really easy to resist. Then when you get into a romantic relationship while remaining chaste, you will be able to see the whole person, allowing you to fall in love with the whole person, not just how he or she looks. You might even find you’re not called to marriage at all. Lust could have clouded your mind from a call to the priesthood or consecrated life.

Married people can also benefit from abstinence. If you went from the sins of fornication, pornography, or masturbation straight into marriage, you could still have a cloud over your eyes, making it hard to love everything about your spouse. You can remove that cloud through abstinence just like single people. You will need to make an agreement with your spouse, but if he or she accepts, a good time to start this is Lent. It’s only 47 days counting Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but I recommend continuing for 90 days. In that time you will be forced to learn how to be intimate with your spouse without the marital act. When you finish, you will appreciate everything about your spouse, not just his or her body. Your marriage will be strengthened, and you might even find you don’t get in as many fights. You will just enjoy each other’s company more.

Everything we do is good or evil, so we are either a slave to sin (selfish) or a slave to God (selfless). We have to acknowledge that our physical body is not our own. It was lent to us by God to do good work; it will eventually be taken away at our death. Our sexuality is not our own but an instrument for God’s good work. Like all blessings, sexuality should be used as an offering to God, whether it be in the sacrifice of continence (abstinence) for single people or the complete giving of self in conjugal life for married people (CCC 2349).

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared