Is your marriage in trouble? Is it healthy? Either way, I have a book to recommend: Marriage 911 by Greg and Julie Alexander.
I just read this book today and was so inspired by it. The Alexanders have an incredible story of God’s grace bringing their marriage back from the brink of death. Even though I had heard their story years ago from their own lips, I was captivated by reading it in their book.
They chronicle their history together, starting as your “normal” secular couple who cohabitated before getting married, then down the path of destruction that selfishness and the world led them down, before finally seeing God’s outstretched hand and taking it.They pull no punches and discreetly but candidly share the reality of the bad decisions they made leading up to their resurrection.
Along the way, they share the insights they’ve gained into what makes a marriage work. Not only do they have first-hand knowledge from their own marriage, but they also draw on their years of mentoring and counseling other couples whose relationships are in trouble.
After Christ saved their marriage and family, He called them to a unique mission, which became The Alexander House, an apostolate to help people learn God’s plan for marriage. I was amazed when I read about how close their apostolate came to never making it. And how close Julie almost came to not making it, after suffering a shocking heart attack. But I won’t give these great parts away.
Just reading the book made me ask myself how well I have been loving my wife. The Alexanders are right: it’s easy to take your spouse for granted. And even a good marriage, as Katie and I are blessed with, needs constant work and attention to keep it healthy.
The book alternate chapters first from Greg’s perspective, then from Julie’s, making it varied and fun to read.
On a personal note, we got to know Greg and Julie while living in Austin. A kinder and humbler couple you cannot find. I had hoped for their mission’s success and knew of some of the tribulations they were facing. So I was overjoyed when I learned their work was starting to take off, knowing that countless people would be blessed from hearing their story and getting in contact with them.
Whether your marriage is strong or ailing, I can’t recommend their book highly enough.
In the past 50 years, the Catholic Church has struggled to properly catechize and evangelize many of its own members. I have met far too many former Catholics, who self identify themselves as “recovering Catholics.” Recovering Catholics often cite a lack of encounter with Christ, hollow spirituality, or disagreement with the moral teachings of the Church as their reasons for leaving. Most will also tell you that they were approached by a member of a Christian church and that is where they fell in love with Christ and embraced their Christian faith. When Christ is encountered and the love of God is presented in a real, personal way, your life will never be the same. Often, adult faith formation classes focus on secondary elements assuming that the faithful have already been evangelized and received the Good News, but quite often this assumption is not correct.
Saints Evangelize, not programs
Based on my personal experience, we need to do a better job evangelizing our members, many of which were born Catholic and received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation and sometimes Matrimony and the associated sacramental preparation. Receiving the sacraments has a supernatural reality, but it needs to be complemented with the practical aspect of growing in holiness to be fully effective within the life of the Christian. While each sacrament imparts many supernatural graces, if the individual Christian is not open to receiving that grace due to a life of sin or a lukewarm faith (i.e., a dead spiritual life), no visible change will take place after receiving a sacrament. The graces lie dormant until the individual makes a conscious decision to respond to the love of God.
The Catholic Church has educated many many people in the faith. Countless Catholics have memorized prayers, prayed rosaries, attended Mass every Sunday, and learned the moral teachings of the Church through religious education, but despite all of this knowledge and the practice of pious activities, there are still many who have not been evangelized and encountered the Father, Son and Holy spirit in a real and personal way.
I received the sacraments of initiation, attended Catholic Schools all my life, took part in the weekly Mass, but it wasn’t until I was 27 that I was evangelized. Admittedly, this was in large part due to my own personal failings. I wasn’t evangelized through my parish, rather it was a combination of a
holy deacon and a series of novels written by a lay Catholic evangelist. After this sequence of events, I saw the Church in a new light and I would never be the same. The Mass, the Eucharist, the Sacraments, all made sense now. I better understood all the pious practices performed by my grandmother and how effective her prayers for me had been.
At one point in the history of Christianity, the responsibility and duty to pass on the Faith to young Catholics resided within the family. Mom and Dad rightly felt a responsibility and duty to pass on their beloved faith. The Faith is transmitted by people, not institutions or catechetical programs. If you encountered Christ in the Catholic Church it was probably not through religious education classes or even attendance at Mass on Sunday. It was through your family, a holy priest, religious sister or RE teacher. But despite the presence of holy priests, religious sisters or RE teachers in a parish, if someone is not open to God’s love (either due to being in a state of serious sin or just an apathetic relationship with God), they may not even notice these holy people and respond to God’s call being transmitted through them.
The Year of Faith
Thanks be to God, many cultural Catholics have been evangelized by members of other Christian communities. The Lord is the hound of heaven and ardently desires to show each person His love and gather all peoples to himself and He will use any means necessary to do so.
Pope Benedict XVI has declared a year of faith beginning in October of this year. In his apostolic letter, “Porta Fidei”, he writes, “The Year of Faith…is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord”. The Pope calls the faithful to renew themselves in the faith, by prayer and study aided by the Church. Each Catholic who has the gift of faith and leads an active life within the Church is called to share that faith with their fellow Church members.
This could be as easy as meeting someone after Mass who you have not yet met, attending an activity at church during the week to serve the poor, faith formation for youth or other adults. It could also be to meet your neighbors and get to know them and share reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), you might encounter a lapsed or former Catholic who was not evangelized and may even be angry with the Church for its failings. We are called to share our faith with others, it is not a private matter, Jesus told us to go out into the whole world and share the good news (Matt 28:19).
If you are a “recovering Catholic”, I personally apologize that you were not given the fullness of truth and I ask for your forgiveness. Consider taking an objective look at the claims of the Catholic Church. It is the Church that Jesus founded on the rock of St. Peter and despite all its flawed members, the teachings of Jesus Christ has been preserved for 2,000 years and Jesus himself is waiting for you in the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church.
The full quote from my interlocutor ran like this:
I think that too often people confuse dogma/doctrine with spirituality….dogma can never compete with true spirituality and indeed is most often the killer of it.
I called the guy out on this bald-faced assertion by quoting Chesterton: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe in dogma and know it, and those who believe dogma and don’t know it.”
This man has a dogma, and the dogma is that other dogmas, ones he rejects, kill “true spirituality.” So his statement is self-defeating, like the saying that “there are no true generalizations” (except of course, the generalization that there are no true generalizations!).
But let’s step back and understand the intention behind his claim. The idea is that “true spirituality” is one that comes from inside a person, perhaps even something they uniquely have imagined or come to believe, rather than a belief that some religious institution–perhaps the Catholic Church–teaches is true.
Religion is bad; spirituality is good. I heard the same thing the other night on a radio station that plays Delilah’s love songs. Delilah, in all her pop culture wisdom, said something to the effect of: “spirituality unites; religion divides.”
But in fact why should it be more plausible that something I imagined in my own mind is true while something taught by the Catholic Church is false? Have I been given special powers to discern the truth of existence, over and against all others? Why should I believe that I am gifted in such a way so as to trust my own imaginations over a religious institutions claims?
An old teacher of mine, a man I greatly respect, once told me that he believed that when we die, our spirits will all go up into the ether and kind of meld and combine in a big cosmic soup. Rather too bluntly, I asked him: “What makes you think that this idea of yours is more plausible than what Christianity claims will happen when we die?” He was clearly taken aback by my candor and fumbled around for how to respond. I felt bad that I came across rudely, but the point I made still stands.
Dogma is not the killer of true spirituality. It is the protector of it. God has revealed truth to us and made it possible for all men–not just a few gifted ones–to know this truth. He has done this by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, and subsequently through the Church that Christ founded, which subsists in the Catholic Church. Historical evidence and philosophical arguments all support these beliefs, though they cannot demonstrate it through reason alone.
The Catholic Church elevates a doctrine to the level of dogma when it is needed. She draws a line in the sand that says: “Such-and-such is true, or at least, a particular falsehood is not true.” By doing so the faithful are safeguarded from falling into error. Note that there is still tremendous freedom of belief within the bounds of dogma: our Christian faith is mysterious and isn’t defined down to every jot and tittle. But we know that, whatever we believe, we should stay within these bounds set by Christ through His Church.
So while dogma has a negative connotation to most people, one of irrational, fundamentalistic adherence to a crazy religious belief, real dogma is anything but that. Real dogma is supported by reason, even though it goes beyond it.
Hopefully this little mental exploration will be of help to you the next time that you run into someone who denigrates dogma and elevates their own personal spirituality.
Last summer when I heard about the new movie by Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen entitled, “The Way,” I was very excited about seeing it. After all I have seen “The Fourth Wise Man” and Martin Sheen is Catholic and holds passionate Pro-life views . Instead of providing an inspiring, uplifting movie that led the viewer towards a deeper relationship with God, it depicted broken people who, while traveling the Camino de Santiago, they journey towards self discovery and learn to accept and love who they are, character defects and all.
THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF MEDIA
Media of all types is very powerful, the views of the writer or director come through in the story and are intended to convince us of something or help us to see an issue or lifestyle in a new light. We are profoundly shaped by the media we consume, the more time we spend with it, the more it shapes our attitudes, values and life choices. The effect is intensified the younger the viewer is. Be careful little eyes what you see and hear, they are the portals into our souls. I have written much more about the effect of media at my personal blog, please read this article if you need more convincing.
A REVIEW OF THE WAY
Based on my conviction that media is a very powerful means of shaping our beliefs and attitudes, I have reviewed “The Way”. The Way is set in a picturesque area of the world that many of its viewers are unfamiliar with. The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) begins in France at the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains and travels about 800 km to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Most of the pilgrimage is through quaint Spanish towns with a healthy dose of character. The journey is completely on foot and the accommodations along the way are rustic. The Camino de Santiago is a traditional Catholic pilgrimage route and there are many Catholic pilgrims, artwork, and Churches along the way. The Way features a Catholic priest pilgrim who carries with him more than a few rosaries to distribute to other pilgrims. The police officer whom the main character meets prior to his journey is a devout Catholic who attempts to share his religious experience of the way, which he has made three times (there and back). The movie almost reaches its climax at the Cathedral of St. James where it appears the pilgrims attend mass, but the main scene in the Church is of the Botafumeiro, which is a famous thurible, that swings over the altar. For the casual observer, you might think it is some kind of side show or tourist attraction that takes place within the Church. The entire film was shot on location and thus there are many real life pilgrims who were caught on film with the actors.
QUESTIONABLE, BUT LIKABLE CHARACTERS
The main character, Tom, is a lapsed Catholic who is mourning the death of his son. The Dutchman is experiencing difficulty in his marriage and struggles with his weight. The lone Female was a battered wife, committed an abortion and is a chain smoker. Lastly, we encounter an Irish writer who is very eccentric, has writer’s block and hasn’t set foot in a Church in quite a few years. Each of these characters is likable, we see much of ourselves in them. Only the Dutchman appears to have a true encounter with God at the end of the movie and appears to surrender to the divine physician for healing from his brokenness. However, at the end of the tale, each character comes to accept him or herself as they are with no apparent resolve to amend their lives.
This movie is rated PG-13 for a reason, this is not a kid friendly movie about a Catholic pilgrimage. Drugs are a prominent and recurring theme throughout the whole movie. The drug use is displayed in a humorous, “Breakfast Club” kind of way, no bad effects from drug use, only fun, fun and more fun. The movie does have some profanity, I can’t recall the number of times nor the specific words, but it is fairly recurrent throughout the film voiced mainly by the hip young people. It is portrayed as normal to use vulgar language as part of everyday speech. Smoking is also featured positively and all the cool people are doing it. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is when the Female traveler rises early and is taking in the beautiful scenery and a man wearing only a thong yells out a greeting to her while he is gathering his clothes from the drying line.
Director Emilio Estevez stated during the question and answer session at the screening I attended, that the main message of the movie is “I’m ok with being exactly who I am”. We are all broken, true enough, and each character seems to receive some healing from this brokenness, but it was unclear where this healing came from. In a sense, they accepted their brokenness instead of seeking out God to heal it. The positive portrayal of vices, smoking, drug use, gluttony, is a real point of concern for me as a father. Smoking, drugs and over indulgence are real problems in our society today, our Christian faith calls us to be free and to be masters of the flesh. This movie presents an alternate message that to indulge is human and it can be fun and rewarding too!
The body of Tom’s son was cremated, and then distributed along the Camino and dumped into the ocean at the end of the movie. Besides this going against Canon law (which Emilio and Martin made clear that they were aware of and didn’t care), it communicates a lack of respect for the human body. The Church’s law concerning the proper treatment of mortal remains exists to protect the dignity of the human body. The movie uses this recurring activity (disposing of the ashes) to symbolize Tom’s letting go of his son and it is effective, I fear that it may cause many more people to choose this method of saying farewell to a loved one.
IS THE WAY A CATHOLIC MOVIE?
In this writer’s opinion, the answer is no. Unfortunately, it is being promoted heavily in
Catholic circles. The Way is a secular movie in a Catholic setting. Unfortunately, one can come away from this movie viewing the Catholic Churchas scenery in everyday life. In Europe this has already happened, the beautiful Catholic Churches are more museums than places of worship. The message of Christianity is viewed as historical fiction, rather than the living good news of God communicated to his children. According to director Emilio Estevez, The Way is a departure from the message given in popular Hollywood movies today (Emilio and his Dad funded the movie themselves and thus it is considered an Indie film), but I beg to differ. Many movies contain too much violence, too much sex, and frequent positive portrayal of objectively immoral actions, the Way avoids most of this and instead preaches a gospel devoid of God. God is portrayed as unnecessary for happiness, the only thing that is required is to get away from the rat race and take a long walk, it is in this solitude that you will find yourself and then you will truly be happy.
Have you seen The Way? If so, please share your thoughts on the movie and if you agree or disagree with my observations.