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 My grandmother is very sick. She has told me she does not want to go into a old age home. I told her I would not let that happen. What should I do now? I have faith she will recover.

I agree that old age home are to be avoided.
Elderly people frequently do not "recover" from illnesses. Prepare yourself for this. It is not a matter of faith; this is the way God has structured the world.
Best is to keep her in her own home. If that is impossible, next best is to take her into yours. I am sure she would be happy either way. But make every effort to keep her in her own home.
It would be best if someone else lived there with her full time. Is there a relative who would like free rent in return for helping keep an eye on her? Duties can be divided among the live in person(s), the visiting nurse, and you.
Consider this: advertise in the local paper for a couple or young family to live with her in her house rent free, in exchange for helping care for her. You could sweeten the deal by extending their occupancy to a year or two beyond the end of your grandmother's life, if that should happen. There are many young families struggling with money and high rents who would welcome this opportunity. Of course, you would need references.
But this solution would be more than just convenient. The house would be alive again. There is nothing worse than to be elderly and be faced with an empty, silent house all day and all night long. It can drain the will to live. Your grandmother deserves to live in a house that is alive with activity and youth and love. Preferably in her own, but if not, in yours.


"My beautiful daughter has died. How can I go on? How can God permit this?"

If God allowed your daughter to have only a short life, then He believes that it was the perfect time to take her to heaven.
Your daughter is infinitely happy, with a perfect body and soul, with God, praying hard for you and rooting for you to join her. And since she is infinitely happy, she must know that you will.

I’m up in heaven mother
Enjoying God’s glorious views
I’m conversing with you now mother
Through a porthole, of a poets muse

I can feel your sorrow mother
Your anguish and your pain
I plea with you, don’t cry for me
For we’ll be together once again

Let the tears you cry be joyous ones
I am now happy where I am
I’m just so proud to be here
Serving as, my Heavenly Father’s lamb

I also have my halo on
It gives off a divinely glow
It’s ok to hold me in your heart
But please let my spirit go

I still love you mother
You are still the world to me
When God calls for you to be here
We’ll be together for all eternity

I am smiling at you mother
As you go about your days
Just cast your eyes towards heaven mom
And to God sing out with praise

Next time that you think of me, mother
Just smile and please don’t cry
You know that we will meet again
In my heavenly home on high

Just place your fingers to your lips
Point them, into a gentle breeze
I will feel your love and kisses mom
I’ll cherish each and every one of these

 "My friend's 19 year old son committed suicide. Is there no room in heaven for those who kill themselves?"

The Church does indeed consider it a grave sin, so on the surface it would seem to keep a person out of heaven. However, it is a doctrine of the Church that God is infinitely loving and merciful and compassionate and fair, and that His love is greater than His justice. Even Judas, who hung himself after betraying Christ, is not placed positively in hell.
God will find a way to reach out, even at the last instant of life, and find a way to save us. It does not take more than an instant to accept God's offer to come home to Him, rather than rejecting Him for all eternity. God can and will find a way to offer the gift of His saving grace to everyone. To think otherwise would limit His mercy and power, and this is absolutely impossible. There are no doubt some incorrigibly wicked people who will reject Him right up to the end, but we believe that this would be rare.
Pray for the soul of this unhappy boy. God has known for all eternity that you would do this, and took that into account at that last instant.
Remember, as much as his parents love him, God loves him even more. He is God's little boy, too. God will not desert him just because he grew terribly unhappy. God can make things possible that we cannot even dream of. Have faith that He will find a way.

 "Why Do Roman Catholics Pray to Saints?"
The Communion of Saints
Like all Christians, Catholics believe in life after death. Those who have lived good lives and died in the faith of Christ will, as the Bible tells us, share in his resurrection.
While we live together on earth as Christians, we are in communion, or unity, with one another. But that communion doesn’t end when one of us dies. We believe that Christians in heaven, the saints, remain in communion with those of us on earth.

So, just as we might ask a friend or family member to pray for us, we can approach a saint with our prayers, too.

Many Christians believe that it is wrong to pray to the saints, claiming that our prayers should be directed to God alone.
Some Catholics, responding to this criticism, have argued that we do not pray to the saints but with them. click Saints ??? for more information...

 Do the saints know our thoughts?

 It is generally held that the saints do not know our thoughts apart from certain circumstances. The human intellect is finite in nature and, though in a glorified state it is capable of processing vast amounts of information, it can’t know everything. Further, the great majority of the saints are in the "intermediate state" between death and resurrection. They thus lack the perceptive abilities that an embodied person would have and (it is commonly held) gain their information directly from God by virtue of the beatific vision.

Consistent with their state of beatitude, God would not withhold from them knowledge that was relevant to them, and if someone is asking for their intercession, that is relevant to them. Thus it is held that they are made aware by God of requests for their intercession (and other relevant information) but that they do not have unrestricted awareness of our thoughts and circumstances.

 "I was not able to say goodbye to my father. I cry everyday and every memory of him brings me fresh pain. I feel so lost without him."

When own parents die. It is a terrible feeling that suddenly you are an orphan, and that the one thing in the world that you had to count on, the unconditional love that they gave you, was now gone.
But there are things that you can bring to mind that will help you through. You positively will see him again, and then not have to be separated for the rest of eternity. God is infinitely merciful and loving, and will find a way to bring all of us home to Him.
Your dad's life did not end. He has just entered into a new and much better phase of his life. He will live forever, just as you will. Being with God is being in the Paradise that we were created for. It is a fulfillment and a completion. And when you pass on, you will be united with him again.
You can ask God to get messages through to your father. He will surely do this. Your father will not be able to reply, that it not the way it is, but he will hear what you have to say to him. Don't forget to thank God for doing this for you.

Both groups, however, are confusing prayer with worship. True worship (as opposed to veneration or honor) does indeed belong to God alone, and we should never worship man or any other creature as we worship God. But while worship may take the form of prayer, as in the Mass and other liturgies of the Church, not all prayer is worship. When we pray to the saints, we’re simply asking them to help us, by praying to God on our behalf, or thanking them for having already done so.

My son is 10 and says he doesn't believe there is a god because "God doesn't answer" his prayers and "everything is so bad" in his life. I am a divorced mother with a very bitter ex-husband. Can you recommend some reading for my son?

From your letter, a simple intellectual answer is not what he is seeking, nor would it do any good. When bad things happen, God is almost always the one blamed.

In this case, your son knows very well who is really to blame. The responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of you and your ex-husband, who we presume is the boy's father. The boy loves you both very much, and when he sees you fighting he is torn apart. He cannot choose sides. This is destroying him. Unable to put the blame on either or both of you, because he loves both of you so much, he turns to God to blame.

Your son's life can only be turned around by those who are to blame for his suffering, not God. Both of you have to accept responsibility for this boy whom you have brought into the world. For his sake you have to stop fighting, and do everything you can to help each other. If your ex is unwilling to do this, you must get a court order restraining him from ever seeing the child or you. Or, move away if possible.

Show your ex the letter you wrote to us and our reply. Maybe he does not realize that he is driving his own son toward a ruined life, and perhaps toward suicide. No man will allow that. There is not a man alive who will not give his own life for his son.

We also recommend strongly that you take your son to a child counselor. But if this is not practical, it is of utmost importance that you realize that only you and your ex have the power to help this boy, and that you must not expect almighty God to perform miracles for you if you do not do your best to help yourself, be responsible, and follow all of His commands.

And be sure to show your boy your love in other ways, too. Hug him frequently. Never raise your voice at him. Always break into a big smile when you see him. Spend time with him, taking an interest in what he likes to do. Help with his homework. Just be as nice as possible.

You can do it. It is a question of how much you love him. I do wish you, and him, all the best. Once upon a time, many years ago, I was that same boy.

I was emotionally abused as a child and adult by my parents. They have been nasty to my husband and out-of-touch with their grandchildren. I cut all ties, and they never tried to contact me. Everyone says I did the right thing, but the commandment "Honor thy mother and thy father" still haunts me. But how can I?

There are a lot of people who should never be parents. But God allows them to be anyway, and commands the children to honor them.

You are now mature enough to forgive them for everything. You must do this, not for their sake, but for your own. You cannot be truly happy until you do. This means being nice to them even if they continue to be mean to you. You have to keep telling yourself that this is what God wants, and you are not going to question Him.

Do not cut your ties from them. I cannot imagine a Christian counselor advocating this. Let them know that they are welcome in your house anytime. Be pleasant and cheerful, and do not be drawn into arguments even when they are being obstinate and awful. The best response to that is to go up to mom or dad and just say "I love you" and follow it with a quick kiss on the cheek. They will be flabbergasted, I guarantee you. And you will feel great, even if they react badly.

They are your parents, and underneath if all you really do love them. Honor and love them now. Soon or else, it will be too late.


"My mother was a cancer patient. She went through traumatic pain in the last few months of her life. I can touch her no more, I can speak to her no more, I can kiss her no more; so many years I have to live without her; I wish I were dead too...”

Without belief in God and Divine Justice, death is an incalculable tragedy. It is the end of everything.
Belief in God means triumph over death. Death is not seen as an end, but as a beginning. Our life on earth is only an eye blink; it is over almost before we know it. Our real life, in eternity, then begins. Although we miss people we love when they die, it is just a single phase of our eternal lives, and in some cultures is rightly celebrated with joy for the departed. You will be together with your mother again in heaven.

 "My father just died. Will it do any good to pray for him? After all, hasn't he already been judged?"

Prayer always does good. God has said that He likes hearing from us. Praying for the salvation of others is the best and highest kind of prayer.
We cannot thnk that there is "time" in heaven the way there is on earth, because time is how we measure the change in material things. We know that God is unchanging. The phrase "already been judged" may have no meaning.

 "My three year old son drowned in a pond in August while we were on holiday. I took my eye off him for only seconds and he disappeared. I blame myself and wonder if I am being punished for any bad things I had done.
Do you think Thomas will be ok? I worry because he didn't communicate very well here on earth and maybe he will not be understood in heaven."

You are absolutely, positively, not being punished for anything. God never punishes or rewards anyone in this life. Criminals and drug kings live in big houses and drive the best cars. Millions of good, honest people live in mud huts on the edge of starvation. The circumstance of each life is different, but we are expected to bear up under our pain and not lose faith.
Thomas has gotten a free pass into heaven, and even though his body never had the chance to mature, his soul was created whole and complete and will enjoy the happiness of eternal life with God as well as any adult. Earthly problems do not carry over. Thomas's happiness was in your hands for a brief time, but now he is in God's care. Who better?
Whenever someone dies, we always look back and think of all the things that we could have done to prevent it. But in truth, there is nothing that anyone can do. We live our lives as best we can. Since God is infinitely merciful and compassionate, we know that He always takes people home to Him at the best possible time in their life.
Since Thomas died at the age of three, we know for certain that God considered that to be the best possible time in order to be sure that Thomas could achieve salvation. There is nothing that you should have done to prevent him from passing on to God's care at that precise moment. Trust Him: His will must be done and His plan must be fulfilled for each of us. 


 "Should I move in with my boyfriend before we get married? It seems like a smart move, because you want to really know a person before you commit to life together."

Most cohabiting couples who hope to marry see their arrangement as a good test run, a way to make sure that they're compatible before tying the knot. After all, who wants to go through a divorce?

Aside from all of the spiritual factors regarding premarital sex, let's take a look at what researchers have found about living together before marriage. Two researchers summarized the findings of numerous studies by stating that "expectation of a positive relationship between cohabitation and marital stability . . . has been shattered in recent years by studies conducted in several Western countries."

What the studies discovered is this: if you don't want to get divorced, don't move in until after the wedding. Why is that? Consider the following facts about cohabitation: Most couples who live together never end up getting married, but those who do tie the knot are almost twice as likely to divorce as couples who don't live together before marriage.
Overall, the divorce rate of cohabiting couples is about eighty percent, and non-virgin brides are sixty percent more likely to end up divorced than women who enter marriage as virgins. Couples who cohabited prior to marriage have greater marital conflict and poorer communication, and they made more frequent visits to marriage counselors. Women who cohabited before marriage are more than three times as likely to cheat on their husbands within marriage. The US Justice Department found that women who cohabit are sixty-two times more likely to be assaulted by a live-in boyfriend than by a husband. They were also more than three times as likely to be depressed as married women, and the couples were less sexually satisfied than those who waited for marriage.

So, from a standpoint of marital duration, marital peace, marital fidelity, physical safety, emotional well-being, and sexual satisfaction, cohabitation isn't exactly a recipe for happiness. Even USA Today reported, "Could this be true love? Test it with courtship, not cohabitation." You may assume that if the couple had lived together a bit longer, they would have ironed out the difficulties and not had these problems in marriage. The studies show the opposite: longer cohabitations are associated with a higher likelihood of divorce. Now, even if you don't think that your boyfriend would be abusive or that you would get depressed, the divorce rate speaks for itself.

Like all of us, you dream of a lasting love. If you're serious about making this relationship work, save your marriage before it starts and don't move in until after the wedding.

I want to start over, but I can't give up sex. What should I do to get back on track?

I'd recommend six steps to get back on track:

1. Recognize your mistakes and admit your faults, but don't let yourself get preoccupied with them. Like everyone else, you are not perfect, so give yourself the freedom to forgive yourself and then decide to overcome your weakness. You have to want healing for yourself.

Recognizing your faults is one side of the coin, but recognizing that you deserve respect is the other. Many people who have fallen into sexual sins have lost all self-respect. They feel that there's no point in turning back, but even if they wanted to turn back it would be impossible, and even if it were possible, no one would love them after all they've done. You do deserve respect, but you have to respect yourself first. When we commit sexual sin, we lose respect for our bodies and for the bodies of others. When this happens, it becomes easier and easier to fall into unhealthy physical relationships. Only you can choose to break out of this. It is important that you know from the get-go that the healing process will demand work and sacrifice on your part.

2. Repent. You've realized that you do have a problem, so come to God as his child, asking for his grace. Ask him to forgive you and heal you, not only of this area of weakness, but also of any other wounds or vulnerabilities, however deep or old they might be, that might have contributed to your problem in this area. As Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5). You are wholly dependant upon God to get out of this, and he is wholly capable of finishing the good work that he has begun in you. The Holy Spirit is already alive in you, moving you to recognize your problem and seek a new beginning. God is at work in you; he has not abandoned you.

Come to him in the great sacrament of reconciliation, and experience his mercies. He forgives, heals, restores, and encourages us, but we must come to him with sincere hearts. "A broken, contrite heart, you never scorn" (Ps. 51:19 NJB).

3. Resist the temptation to give in to destructive thinking: "I'm a bad person, I don't deserve real love, and I need sex. I'm addicted-I can't help myself." None of those things is true! People tell themselves that they are addicted to things like sex in order to make themselves feel like they don't have any control over their behavior so that they can keep indulging in it. But it isn't true. You do have control, and you do have dignity. You are a son or daughter of God. That's your identity-your identity is not as a "bad person." Sure, you've made mistakes. But don't identify yourself by them.

You are worthy of love, because that is what God has created you for. When you make mistakes, you do not forfeit your worthiness to receive love. Also, you do not "need" sex. Perhaps you have formed an attachment to the pleasure of sex or its emotional intimacy. Perhaps sex has become for you a way to avoid genuine relationships. Instead of using sex to express intimacy, you may be using it to escape intimacy. God's grace is stronger than those chains, and he will give you a greater love if you cling to him. Your desires will not disappear when you come to him, but he will give you his love so that you will be able to overcome the temptations.

4. Refrain from bad relationships, and make a clean break from any unhealthy relationships that you're in now. These drive you deeper into loneliness. Sometimes breaking them off is easy. The hard part is keeping from running back to them. This is when you must run to God instead.

When we use sex to feel secure, we end up feeling more insecure than ever, and we may be tempted to jump into sexual acts to deal with our fear of not being lovable. It becomes a vicious cycle. It is then that you must come back to God with all your heart. Don't let fear stand in the way, and don't run elsewhere to find the fulfillment and wholeness that only he can give.

5. Resolve to live in purity. Part of the process is moving away from bad situations, but the other half is moving into good ones. Make that decision that no one else can make for you. You have to want it for yourself, so set your guidelines, write them down before you enter a relationship, and stick by them.

One man said, "After interviewing thousands of young people, I am convinced that many teens and young singles are sexually active not because they really want to be, but because they don't have any deep personal reasons for waiting until they are married." You need a vision of real love, a hope that will make it easier for you to forego the passing traps of lust in favor of a better and more beautiful kind of life and love. It does exist. So go for purity, and make a conscious effort to do things differently in the future.

Change the way you approach relationships. It is a real sign of maturity to seek the advice of older and wiser people, particularly our parents. Sometimes parents aren't always available, so go to a good priest, youth minister, relative, or other mentor to get their input on your relationships.

Also, look at your selection of friends, music, magazines, movies, and other things that influence you. See if you can get involved in a local youth group, Bible study, or prayer group at school or church. This may be stepping out of your usual social circles, but you need that support and fellowship. As a reminder to yourself and a sign to others of your commitment, go to the mall and buy a ring to wear to symbolize your commitment to chastity.

Also, check out the resources in the back of this book for good reading and web sites. It's good to read on your own but it is far better to find a good priest or counselor with whom you can speak openly and regularly about your struggles. A wise counselor will be able to discern the extent of your problem and lead you on the path to purity.

6. Renew yourself through prayer. It's essential to know that you are deeply loved by God, so set a prayer time for each day. He will work wonders in you, and he has so much that he is waiting to tell you and so much that he wants to give you. The best is yet to come (Jeremiah 29:11-14). If you are serious about wanting true love, a new path awaits, but only you can make that decision to be generous with God.


Why is premarital sex bad? My friend just started high school, and she's trying to tell me that it's good and she's going to do it.

It might help to know that your friend is not on a quest for sex. Perhaps your friend has some hurt or loneliness in her life, and she figures that if she has sex, this will feel like love, and security, and she'll be happy. But if you look into her heart, you'll see that she isn't longing for a series of physical relationships with random guys. She's looking for enduring love and for intimacy, to be accepted by a man and cared for by him. She deserves these things, but she needs to be careful and courageous so that she doesn't fall for a counterfeit. There are plenty of boys out there who will tell her how beautiful her eyes are and how much they love her and will "always" be there. They'll give her "love" for the sake of getting sex, and she may want to give them sex for the sake of feeling loved. Her heart is made for something better than this, and she needs to realize that she is worth the wait. She cannot find happiness otherwise. As the Bible says, "she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives" (1 Tim. 5:6).

The following are some of the bad effects of premarital sex; don't dwell on them any longer than is necessary to give her a reality check. What she needs more than the bad news about premarital sex is the good news about what she is worth, and what plans God has in store for her. She needs to be encouraged to wait not because sex is bad, but because real love is so good. Let's look at the negative consequences of premarital sex from the relational, physical, emotional, and spiritual points of view.

Consider how premarital sex can affect relationships. One study showed that the average high school relationship will last only twenty-one days once the couple has sex. Furthermore, couples who sleep together before they are married have a divorce rate three times as high as couples who saved that gift for the wedding night. Couples who want what's best for their relationship or future marriage will wait. Beyond their own relationship, premarital sex frequently causes tension within families because of the dishonesty that usually accompanies the hidden intimacies. Relationships with friends are often strained, and when things turn sour, the gossip and social problems often become unbearable.

One high school girl wrote, "I am sixteen and have already lost my virginity. I truly regret that my first time was with a guy that I didn't care that much about. Since that first night, he expects sex on every date. When I don't feel like it, we end up in an argument. I don't think this guy is in love with me, and I know deep down that I am not in love with him either. This makes me feel cheap. I realize now that this is a very big step in a girl's life. After you've done it, things are never the same. It changes everything." Another young person said, "I slept with many, many people trying to find love, to find self-worth. And the more people I slept with the less self-worth I had."

Everyone talks about how hard it is to say no, but no one tells you how hard it is when you say yes.

In regard to the physiological side of things, it's very dangerous for a young single woman to be sexually active. Because a teenage girl's reproductive system is still immature, she is much more susceptible to STDs. In fact, early sexual activity is the number one risk factor for cervical cancer, and the second is multiple sex partners. A girl's heart, like her body, is not designed to handle multiple sexual partners. Besides making herself vulnerable to STDs, your friend also needs to consider if she is ready to be a mom. Lastly, consider the fact that the rate of suicide attempts for sexually active girls aged twelve to sixteen is six times higher than the rate for virgins. Tragically, these girls don't realize the purity and forgiveness that they can find in Christ.

New scientific studies also suggest that if a woman has multiple sexual partners, this will lower her levels of oxytocin which in turn will damage her ability to bond. Oxytocin is a neuro-peptide most commonly associated with pregnancy and breast-feeding. It seems to act as a human "superglue," helping a mother bond with her infant. It is also released during sexual arousal and there, too, seems to work as a "superglue." Since estrogen enhances the oxytocin response, females are capable of more intense bonding than males, and are more susceptible to the suffering that accompanies broken bonds.According to an article by Drs. John Diggs and Eric Keroack, "People who have misused their sexual faculty and become bonded to multiple persons will diminish the power of oxytocin to maintain a permanent bond with an individual."

In more basic terms, sharing the gift of sex is like putting a piece of tape on another person's arm. The first bond is strong, and it hurts to remove it. Shift the tape to another person's arm and the bond will still work, but it will be easier to remove. Each time this is done, part of each person remains with the tape. Soon it is easy to remove because the residue from the various arms interferes with the tape's ability to stick. The same is true in relationships, where previous sexual experiences interfere with the ability to bond.

But a sexual relationship that is properly bonded from the start, such as that between two virgins on their wedding night, has one advantage among many: Oxytocin helps to maintain the "high" of sex in a long term relationship. This does not mean that if a person is not a virgin on the wedding night, he or she will be unable to bond with a spouse. It simply means that when we follow God's plan, we have the most abundant life possible.

The emotional side effects of premarital sex are also damaging to a young woman. It's not uncommon for a girl to have sex in order to make a guy like her more, or to encourage him to stay with her. She may compromise her standards because she's afraid of never being loved. Once he leaves her, though, an emotional divorce takes place. A person's heart is not made to be that close to a person, and then separated. Since teenage sexual relationships rarely last, the girl's sense of self-worth is often damaged. Also, she sometimes concludes that if she looked better, he would have stayed longer. This mentality can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia.

In her heart, a girl who has been used knows it. However, she may immediately jump into another sexual relationship to escape the hurt. If she tries to boost her self-esteem by giving guys what they want, then her self-worth often ends up depending upon those kinds of relationships. Her development as a woman is stunted, because without chastity she doesn't know how to express affection, appreciation, or attraction for a guy without implying something sexual. She may even conclude that a guy doesn't love her unless he makes sexual advances towards her. She knows that sex exists without intimacy, but she may forget that intimacy can exist without sex. A girl on this track usually feels accepted initially but that acceptance lasts only as long as the physical pleasure.

Spiritually, sin cuts us off from God, and this is the most serious consequence of premarital sex. After going too far, many of us know all too well that cloud of guilt that weighs on our hearts. The solution is not to kill our conscience, but to follow it to freedom. It is calling us, not condemning us. Provided we repent, God will be there to welcome us home, and let us start over (See John 8 and Luke 15).

What this all means is that our bodies, our hearts, our relationships, and our souls are not made for premarital sex. We're made for enduring love.

What’s Wrong with Contraception, Anyway?

OBJECTOR: It seems to me that the Catholic Church is way out of date with its opposition to contraception. In the United States, contraceptives have been used widely since the 1960s. Why is the Church so backward on this issue?

GuardianAngel: The Church believes that truth does not depend on being up with the times. Although we come to recognize truth at specific moments of history, the truth discovered is itself not subject to changing times. The use of contraception violates human dignity because it purposefully cuts off our reproductive powers, which are a part of our humanity.

OBJECTOR: That doesn’t make any sense to me. How could the use of contraceptives endanger our humanity?

GuardianAngel: To a person who has grown up within a contraceptive culture, it may seem that contraceptives not only do not hurt human beings but actually help them. But the Church sees this issue with a larger perspective. Every culture that has used contraceptives and infanticide, such as the Romans, have devalued children, and with them all humanity.

OBJECTOR: That may be, but oral contraceptives are much safer than methods used in ancient times, so your argument from history doesn’t hold water. Contraception has made for safer sex.

GuardianAngel: We could argue long and hard about the societal effects of modern contraception, but let me point out just one: Would you say that more people are having sex outside marriage today than forty years ago, or less?

OBJECTOR: Definitely more! But that’s not a bad thing. And that’s one more reason that we need contraceptives, because they reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies and other undesirable effects.

GuardianAngel: The Church, along with many other thoughtful people, has another solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease. In fact, it proves to be 100 percent effective when followed diligently.

OBJECTOR: Oh, you mean abstinence. That just shows again the outmoded thinking of the Church. No, I would go even further and say that it shows how inhumane the Church is. Does it really expect young people who experience strong sexual urges to practice abstinence? How impractical!

GuardianAngel: I find that view of young people demeaning. It says basically that they are not capable of controlling themselves much like other animals in nature. We believe that human beings are capable of rising above their primal urges for a higher purpose. The Church believes that young people have the potential to live lives of purity if that ideal is set before them.

OBJECTOR: What higher purpose? You mean not having sex.

GuardianAngel: No, I mean having sex in its proper context of marriage. The Church believes, in accord with the broader Judeo-Christian heritage, that sexual activity outside of marriage is always an abuse of our sexuality. In addition, sexual activity without the commitment of marriage lessens the special character of marriage and retards the formation of solid lifelong marriages.

OBJECTOR: I think experience with sex prior to marriage may enhance marriage once people enter into it.

GuardianAngel: The statistics don’t bear that out. Studies show that couples who have refrained from sex before marriage have a greater chance of holding their marriage together than those who don’t. The divorce rate is higher among those who have engaged in sex prior to marriage.

OBJECTOR: I don’t know if that is true, but it’s not the business of anyone beside the couple whether they engage in sex prior to marriage or use contraception. If I understand the Catholic Church’s teaching correctly, it says that even the use of contraception in marriage is morally wrong. Isn’t that right?

GuardianAngel: Yes. Contraceptives thwart our reproductive powers and so deny one of the basic purposes of sex in marriage: the procreation of children.

OBJECTOR: The number of children a couple chooses to have is their choice, not the Church’s.

GuardianAngel: Though there are basic criteria about making these decisions responsibly, the Church holds that, ultimately, the decision of how many children to have must be made by the couple. That is not the issue.

OBJECTOR: But it seems to me to be precisely the issue. Who decides whether the use of contraception is right or wrong? Certainly not a bunch of celibate males who don’t have to deal with the responsibilities of raising children.

GuardianAngel: You have focused on the process, on the who of the decision, but that doesn’t answer the question of the what or the why—that is, whether the use of contraception is morally right. Let’s talk about the substantive issue of the morality of using contraceptives.

OBJECTOR: Okay. I say that it’s a good thing that people use contraception because it helps them act responsibly in bearing children.

GuardianAngel: I am glad that you brought up the issue of responsible parenthood. In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, the Church said that being responsible parents is at the heart of the issue of contraception. Catholics believe that we should encourage responsible sexuality, especially among young people. Responsible use of sexuality means refraining from sexual activity until one is ready for a lifelong commitment of marriage and the raising of children. For the same reason, the Church says that a married couple acts morally only when they are open to and ready for children.

OBJECTOR: But that seems to me to be an argument for using contraception in marriage. A couple can enjoy sex in marriage without fear of pregnancy until they are ready to have children. Isn’t that responsible parenthood?

GuardianAngel: Let’s distinguish between two very different exercises of responsible parenthood. One is the attempt to negate one’s reproductive powers by introducing an artificial means to prevent pregnancy; the other is the decision to space out the births of children in light of the total factors (e.g., economic, physical, psychological) involved in a marriage.

OBJECTOR: But I don’t see any substantial difference between these two. If it’s okay to engage in sex outside the fertile period—when we know that conception cannot occur—then why isn’t it all right to use contraception to achieve the same purpose? It seems to me that a Catholic couple could use the infertile periods to enjoy sex while preventing pregnancy.

GuardianAngel: That is possible. If a couple engages in sex with the intention of preventing pregnancy—without just cause—their motives are wrong. They have misused their sexual powers. But because sex is also for the closer union of husband and wife, they may engage in sex outside the fertile period as long as they don’t attempt to prevent pregnancy by interfering with how their bodies are supposed to work.

OBJECTOR: I still don’t see any major difference. Whether they use natural or artificial methods, the result is the same.

GuardianAngel: But we have to ask what makes an action moral or immoral. Motivation is one factor, as are results, but these are not the only factors to take into account. Even if the motives of couples using contraceptives and those not using them are similar—and of course judging motives is a tricky business—we still have a great difference in the objective methods being used.

OBJECTOR: What difference does that make? If I allow my body to heal from a bacterial infection by riding it out or I choose to use penicillin to speed up the healing process, I am achieving the same end.

GuardianAngel: Your analogy is misguided. Using medicine to achieve health is attempting to restore the body to its natural state. Using contraception is against the natural functions of our bodies. As is commonly said, the pill tricks the woman’s body into thinking that it is already pregnant.

OBJECTOR: Whether a couple wants to get pregnant is a matter of choice. It’s not a natural function of the body.

GuardianAngel: With that statement you have put yourself in the position of one who is denying the obvious. The male and female bodies are designed specifically for reproduction. That is so obvious as to be undeniable.

OBJECTOR: That’s true in general, but getting pregnant in a specific instance is a matter of choice.

GuardianAngel: Pregnancy is not a matter of choice. Engaging in sex is a choice, but pregnancy is not. It is a matter of the natural processes once one engages in sex. In sexual morality, the crucial distinction is between working with the natural structures and functions of our body and working against them. A married person is obligated to follow the moral standards implied in that state of life. The Church’s teaching is not out of date. Rather, not using contraceptives is valid for all times because marriage is always ordered toward raising children, in addition to other purposes. Even cultures that have not been influenced by Christianity directly recognize this. They have seen it in the natural law, that is, the morality implied in the natural state of things. Sex leads to children. We act morally when we engage in sex with the intention of working with the natural processes. The Catholic view advocates what is best for the human race because it encourages us to use our sexuality responsibly for the promotion of the human race.

How do you know if a guy loves you or if he wants to use you?

If you ever want to know if a guy loves you, apply the love test. Here's how it works. I know a young woman who applied this love test on a first (and last) date with a particular guy. He made certain suggestions as to his intentions for the evening but she informed him that she practiced chastity. He responded, "That's okay. We can do other stuff" (implying everything short of intercourse). She proceeded to give him a crash course in the definition of chastity, and he responded, "So you mean that I'm not going to get anything?"

He sounded like an eight-year-old boy having a tantrum because his mother wouldn't buy him a Lego set. His request coupled with the childish reaction shows that he had no idea what he was asking for. He assumed that buying her dinner should more than suffice to gain him access to the priceless treasure of her body. This is the blindness that comes with an irreverent attitude towards sex.

What this young woman did wasn't easy, but it was much easier than dating the guy for six months before realizing that he loved pleasure more than he loved her. Because she practiced the virtue of chastity, she saw through the manipulation that some people use to get others in bed. She knew that if a guy pressured her to give him her body, then he didn't love her. Because of a woman's great dignity-she is made in the image and likeness of God-she deserves authentic love. She must never allow herself to be used or treated as a thing. Her body is priceless in the sight of God, and her heart is to be treasured.

Although this love test will weed out a lot of immature guys, only time will reveal a man's intentions. One man said, "If I sensed there was a moral dilemma in her mind, I would play any role necessary to reach the point where sex became inevitable." There are many good guys out there but there are also plenty of predators who will tell a girl whatever she wants to hear. Therefore, a girl needs to proceed slowly, develop the skill of listening to her heart, and have the courage to follow it. Otherwise, a young woman may be left feeling as this fifteen-year-old did: "I felt strange, and in a sense, used. It was like we were both caring for the same person-him. I felt left out of it."

I don't understand the deal with modesty. If a guy has a bad imagination, that should be his issue and not mine. Why should I have to dress a certain way for his sake?

If you're fed up with the way guys often treat women and wonder what can be done to restore a sense of respect, modesty is your number one weapon. The problem is this: Many men today do not know how to relate to women. Part of the remedy for this ailment lies in the hands of women. One woman said, "Ultimately, it seems that only men can teach other men how to behave around women, but those men have to be inspired by women in the first place; inspired enough to think the women are worth being courteous to."

How will this happen? Well, many young women are aware that they have the power to seduce a man, but few girls are aware that their femininity also has the power to educate a guy. The way a girl dresses (not to mention the way she talks, dances, and so forth), has an extraordinary ability to help shape a man into a gentleman or into a beast.

I've read tens of thousands of pages of theology and sex ed, but I never learned how to treat a woman until I dated one who dressed modestly. It was captivating, and I realized for the first time that immodest dress gets in the way of seeing a woman for whom she is. Immodest outfits might attract a man to a girl's body, but it distracts him from seeing her as a person. As one man said, "If you want a man to respect you, and perhaps eventually fall in love with you, then you must show him that you respect yourself and that you recognize your dignity before God."

A woman who dresses modestly inspires a guy in a way that I'm not ashamed to admit I cannot explain. I suppose it is safe to say that it conveys your worth to us. When a woman dresses modestly, I can take her seriously as a woman because she isn't preoccupied with clamoring for attention. Such humility is radiant. Unfortunately, many women are so preoccupied with turning men's heads that they overlook their power to turn our hearts.

Sometimes femininity is confused with weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. A woman who is truly feminine is well aware that she could dress like a collection of body parts, and receive countless stares from guys. But she has the strength to leave more room for mystery. Instead of dressing in a way that says, "Hey boys, the best thing about me is my body!" the way she dresses says, "I'm worth waiting for." She trusts God's timing, and she knows that she does not need to make boys gawk in order to catch the attention of the man God has planned for her.

In his letter on the dignity of women, Pope John Paul II said: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling."

So what is modesty? It is not about looking as ugly as possible. It's about taking the natural beauty of womanhood, and adorning it in a way that adequately reflects her true identity. She is a daughter of the king of heaven, and her outfits, posture, and mannerisms don't distract from this. She's aware that her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that her body is sacred. This brings about a certain humility of the body, since humility is the proper attitude towards greatness. In this case, it is the greatness of being made in the image and likeness of God.

This is not an "I'm a woman, hear me roar!" bit, but a serene sense of not needing to grope for attention. Sure, guys will gawk at woman who dresses provocatively, but in your heart, do you long to be gawked at or to be loved? You want real love. When a girl dresses immodestly, she often doesn't realize that she robs herself of the intimacy for which she yearns. When a girl wears outfits that could not be any tighter without cutting off her circulation, she is telling guys: "Hey boys, the greatest thing about me is my body." They'll stare, and will probably agree. If her body is the greatest thing about her, it must be all downhill from there. If that's the best she has to offer, then why should he get to know her heart, her dreams, her fears, and her family? He wants to get to know her body.

Dressing immodestly also harms a girl's chances of being loved. The type of guys who will be drawn to her will not be the type of guys who will treat her as a daughter of God. The way a girl dresses sends out an unspoken invitation for men to treat her the way she looks. For example, consider a magazine that I recently saw at an airport newsstand. On the cover was a woman wearing a short skirt that could be mistaken for a wide belt. Her airtight top was scarcely the size of an unfolded napkin, and in big bold letters across the cover was "Suzie (or whatever her name was-I don't remember) wants men to respect her!" I wished her the best of luck and walked on to my gate (after covering up the magazine with a few issues of Quilting Digest. I consider this a corporal work of mercy-clothing the naked.) Although a girl deserves respect no matter what she wears, a guy can tell how much a woman respects herself by how she is dressed. If she doesn't respect herself, the odds are that guys will follow her lead

In the heart of a woman, there is no desire to be a sex object. Is there a desire to receive attention, affection, and love? Certainly. But is there a desire to be reduced to an object? No girl wants to go there, but many do for the sake of receiving emotional gratification. When a girl puts on a belly button-showing, spaghetti strap shirt, she is not thinking about how she hopes to lead men to sin. She thinks, "The woman on the cover of the magazine wore this, and it turns heads. So, if I wear it, guys will look at me. Maybe I'll even meet a nice one." In other words, the woman's deep motivation is the desire to be loved.

Let's assume that a girl dresses provocatively and she comes across a genuinely good man. The man is no better off because of her outfit. Men are more visually stimulated than women, and immodesty can easily trigger lustful thoughts. When men harbor these impure ideas, lust separates us from Christ, the source of unconditional love. Does a woman really want to separate men from the source of the unconditional love that she seeks? If not, then why not opt for the more modest outfit? There's nothing wrong with wearing things that make you look attractive, but as a Christian woman, seductive and sexy outfits should not be part of your wardrobe. If your heart is saying, "Is this too short?" or "Does this look too tight?", listen to that voice. It has already answered your question.

Listen to this voice for your sake and for ours. For your sake, realize that as a moat surrounds a castle, modesty protects the treasure of chastity. For our sake, remember when Cain killed Abel back in Genesis? When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain replied, "Am I my brother's keeper?" In the same way, it's all too easy for guys and girls alike to shrug off the responsibility we have to help one another maintain purity. We need to adopt the attitude of St. Paul, and live in a way that does not cause our brother to stumble (Rom. 14:21).

Some girls spend more energy trying to make guys notice them (even if they have no interest in the guys) than they spend trying to focus young men's attention on God. As a woman of God, use the beauty of modesty to inspire men to virtue. There's no problem with looking attractive. Problems arise, however, when clothing (or the lack thereof) is worn in a way that is immodest, or when a person falls into vanity and excessive concern about looking perfect. Your body is precious in the sight of God, and you don't need to look like a Cosmo model to deserve love.

Can God forgive you if you've had premarital sex?

Yes. The Bible says, "To the penitent he provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope! . . . Turn again to the Most High and away from sin" (Sir. 17:19-21). If we repent he will forgive any sin, including premarital sex. In the Gospel of John, a crowd wanted to kill a woman who was caught in sexual sin. Jesus sent the people away to think about their own sins. When they left, he asked, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She answered, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (John 8: 1-11).

Over and over, the Scriptures say the exact same thing. Psalm 103:12 reads, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." Lamentations 3:23 states, "Every morning his mercies are new." God holds no grudges and doesn't look down on us because of the past. On the contrary, he says, "I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. . . . I will not remember your sins" (Is. 44:22; 43:25).

The history of the Church tells the same story. Many saints and heroes of the faith led immoral lives or committed grave sins before repenting and leading lives of exemplary holiness, including King David, Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, and St. Augustine. The sins these saints repented of include premarital sex, adultery, and even murder. Just as God forgave them, he can and will forgive us, if we're willing to do what they did: Repent and amend our ways.

Come to him in prayer. He won't be thinking, "Oh, here comes that kid who did all of that stuff at that party." Instead, he is thinking the same thing he was thinking thousands of years ago: "I have called you by name, you are mine. . . . I have carved your name onto the palm of my hand" (Is. 43:1; 49:16 NAB). The greatest sin you have ever committed is like a grain of sand next to the mountain of his mercies.

Jesus instituted the sacrament of reconciliation to bring the gift of his forgiveness to us. After he rose from the dead, he came to the apostles, greeted them; and then breathed on them. The only other place in the Bible where God breathes on anyone is at the moment of creation. So we know something big is happening here. Jesus then said, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:21-23).

For two thousand years, the Church has made this healing gift from Jesus available to us, so that we can hear the consoling words of absolution: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Come to the great sacrament of reconciliation, and receive the gift of God's forgiveness

How to Become a Catholic?

Becoming Catholic is one of life’s most profound and joyous experiences. Some are blessed enough to receive this great gift while they are infants, and, over time, they recognize the enormous grace that has been bestowed on them. Others enter the Catholic fold when they are older children or adults. This tract examines the joyful process by which one becomes a Catholic.

A person is brought into full communion with the Catholic Church through reception of the three sacraments of Christian initiation—baptism, confirmation, and the holy Eucharist—but the process by which one becomes a Catholic can take different forms.

A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. This is true for children who are baptized Catholic (and receive the other two sacraments later) and for adults who are baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the same time.

Those who have been validly baptized outside the Church become Catholics by making a profession of the Catholic faith and being formally received into the Church. This is normally followed immediately by confirmation and the Eucharist.

Before a person is ready to be received into the Church, whether by baptism or by profession of faith, preparation is necessary. The amount and form of this preparation depends on the individual’s circumstance. The most basic division in the kind of preparation needed is between those who are unbaptized and those who have already become Christian through baptism in another church.

For adults and children who have reached the age of reason (age seven), entrance into the Church is governed by the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), sometimes called the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA). 

Preparation for the Unbaptized

Preparation for reception into the Church begins with the inquiry stage, in which the unbaptized person begins to learn about the Catholic faith and begins to decide whether to embrace it.

The first formal step to Catholicism begins with the rite of reception into the order of catechumens, in which the unbaptized express their desire and intention to become Christians. "Catechumen" is a term the early Christians used to refer to those preparing to be baptized and become Christians.

The period of the catechumenate varies depending on how much the catechumen has learned and how ready he feels to take the step of becoming a Christian. However, the catechumenate often lasts less than a year.

The catechumenate’s purpose is to provide the catechumens with a thorough background in Christian teaching. "A thoroughly comprehensive catechesis on the truths of Catholic doctrine and moral life, aided by approved catechetical texts, is to be provided during the period of the catechumenate" (U.S. Conference of Bishops, National Statutes for the Catechumenate, Nov. 11, 1986). The catechumenate also is intended to give the catechumens the opportunity to reflect upon and become firm in their desire to become Catholic, and to show that they are ready to take this serious and joyful step (cf. Luke 14:27–33; 2 Pet. 2:20–22).

The second formal step is taken with the rite of election, in which the catechumens’ names are written in a book of those who will receive the sacraments of initiation. At the rite of election, the catechumen again expresses the desire and intention to become a Christian, and the Church judges that the catechumen is ready to take this step. Normally, the rite of election occurs on the first Sunday of Lent, the forty-day period of preparation for Easter.

After the rite of election, the candidates undergo a period of more intense reflection, purification, and enlightenment, in which they deepen their commitment to repentance and conversion. During this period the catechumens, now known as the elect, participate in several further rituals.

The three chief rituals, known as scrutinies, are normally celebrated at Mass on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies are rites for self-searching and repentance. They are meant to bring out the qualities of the catechumen’s soul, to heal those qualities which are weak or sinful, and to strengthen those that are positive and good.

During this period, the catechumens are formally presented with the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, which they will recite on the night they are initiated.

The initiation itself usually occurs on the Easter Vigil, the evening before Easter Day. That evening a special Mass is celebrated at which the catechumens are baptized, then given confirmation, and finally receive the holy Eucharist. At this point the catechumens become Catholics and are received into full communion with the Church.
Ideally the bishop oversees the Easter Vigil service and confers confirmation upon the catechumens, but often—due to large distances or numbers of catechumens—a local parish priest will perform the rites.

The final state of Christian initiation is known as mystagogy, in which the new Christians are strengthened in the faith by further instruction and become more deeply rooted in the local Catholic community. The period of mystagogy normally lasts throughout the Easter season (the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday).

For the first year of their life as Christians, those who have been received are known as neophytes or "new Christians." 

Preparation for Christians

The means by which those who have already been validly baptized become part of the Church differs considerably from that of the unbaptized.

Because they have already been baptized, they are already Christians; they are, therefore, not catechumens. Because of their status as Christians, the Church is concerned that they not be confused with those who are in the process of becoming Christians.

"Those who have already been baptized in another church or ecclesial community should not be treated as catechumens or so designated. Their doctrinal and spiritual preparation for reception into full Catholic communion should be determined according to the individual case, that is, it should depend on the extent to which the baptized person has led a Christian life within a community of faith and been appropriately catechized to deepen his or her inner adherence to the Church" (NSC 30).

For those who were baptized but who have never been instructed in the Christian faith or lived as Christians, it is appropriate for them to receive much of the same instruction in the faith as catechumens, but they are still not catechumens and are not to be referred to as such (NSC 3). As a result, they are not to participate in the rites intended for catechumens, such as the scrutinies. Even "[t]he rites of presentation of the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the book of the Gospels are not proper except for those who have received no Christian instruction and formation" (NSC 31).

For those who have been instructed in the Christian faith and have lived as Christians, the situation is different. The U.S. Conference of Bishops states, "Those baptized persons who have lived as Christians and need only instruction in the Catholic tradition and a degree of probation within the Catholic community should not be asked to undergo a full program parallel to the catechumenate" (NSC 31). For this reason, they should not share in the same, full RCIA programs that catechumens do.

The timing of their reception into the Church also is different. The U.S. Conference of Bishops states, "It is preferable that reception into full communion not take place at the Easter Vigil lest there be any confusion of such baptized Christians with the candidates for baptism, possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another church or ecclesial community . . . " (NSC 33).

Rather than being received on Easter Vigil, "[t]he reception of candidates into the communion of the Catholic Church should ordinarily take place at the Sunday Eucharist of the parish community, in such a way that it is understood that they are indeed Christian believers who have already shared in the sacramental life of the Church and are now welcomed into the Catholic Eucharistic community . . ." (NSC 32).
Christians coming into the Catholic Church must discuss with their pastor and/or bishop the amount of instruction needed and the time of their reception. 

Peace with God

The sacrament of baptism removes all sins committed prior to it, but since Christians have already been baptized, it is necessary for them to confess mortal sins committed since baptism before receiving confirmation and the Eucharist.

In some cases, this can be difficult due to a large number of years between the Christian’s baptism and reception into the Catholic Church. In such cases, the candidate should confess the mortal sins he can remember by kind and, to the extent possible, indicate how often such sins were committed. As always with the sacrament of reconciliation, the absolution covers any mortal sins that could not be remembered, so long as the recipient intended to repent of all mortal sins.

Christians coming into the Church should receive the sacrament of reconciliation before their reception into the Church (there is no established point for when they should do this) to ensure that they are in a state of grace when they are received and confirmed. Their formation in the faith should stress that frequent confession is part of Catholic life: "The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation with candidates for reception into full communion is to be carried out at a time prior to and distinct from the celebration of the rite of reception. As part of the formation of such candidates, they should be encouraged in the frequent celebration of this sacrament" (NSC 36).

The Christian fully enters the Church by profession of faith and formal reception. For the profession of faith, the candidate says, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."

The bishop or priest then formally receives the Christian into the Church by saying, "[Name], the Lord receives you into the Catholic Church. His loving kindness has led you here, so that in the unity of the Holy Spirit you may have full communion with us in the faith that you have professed in the presence of his family."

The bishop or priest then normally administers the sacrament of confirmation and celebrates the holy Eucharist, giving the new Catholic the Eucharist for the first time. 

Reception in Special Cases

In some situations, there may be doubts whether a person’s baptism was valid. All baptisms are assumed valid, regardless of denomination, unless after serious investigation there is reason to doubt that the candidate was baptized with water and the Trinitarian formula (". . . in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"), or that the minister or recipient of baptism did not intend it to be an actual baptism.

If there are doubts about the validity of a person’s baptism (or whether the person was baptized at all), then the candidate will be given a conditional baptism (one with the form ". . . if you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit").

"If conditional baptism . . . seems necessary, this must be celebrated privately rather than at a public liturgical assembly of the community and with only those limited rites which the diocesan bishop determines. The reception into full communion should take place later at the Sunday Eucharist of the community" (NSC 37).

Another special case concerns those who have been baptized as Catholics but who were not brought up in the faith or who have not received the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. "Although baptized adult Catholics who have never received catechetical instruction or been admitted to the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist are not catechumens, some elements of the usual catechumenal formation are appropriate to their preparation for the sacraments, in accord with the norms of the ritual, Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist" (NSC 25). 

Waiting for the Day!

It can be a time of anxious longing while one waits to experience the warm embrace of membership in the Church and to be immersed into Catholic society. This time of waiting and reflection is necessary, since becoming a Catholic is a momentous event. But waiting can be painful as one longs for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and the joys of Catholic life—the security that being a faithful Catholic bestows. Yet even before being received, those waiting to be fully incorporated already have a real relationship with the Church.

For those who are already Christians, their baptism itself forms a certain sacramental relationship with the Church (cf. Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio 3; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1271). They are also joined to the Church by their intention to enter it, as are the unbaptized who intend to do so: "Catechumens who, moved by the Holy Spirit, desire with an explicit intention to be incorporated into the Church are by that very intention joined to her. With love and solicitude mother Church already embraces them as her own" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 14:3; CCC 1249).

Thus, even before one is fully incorporated into the Church, one can enjoy the status of being recognized by the Church as one of her own, precious children.

Are sacraments efficacious even if not understood by the one receiving them? Doesn't grace require active cooperation of faith, knowledge, and will?

When a sacrament gives us a grace requiring cooperation, such as the grace to love our spouses, it does require us to cooperate for that grace to manifest itself. But when a sacrament gives us a grace that does not require action (such as sanctifying grace), then our active cooperation is not required. This is not to say that our passive cooperation is not needed. Sacraments communicate their grace to us unless we put obstacles in the way--but we can put obstacles in the way.

For example, in order to receive the sacrament of matrimony, it is necessary to be open to the essential properties of marriage, such as unity and indissolubility. If, at the time the marriage is contracted, one party is not open to the essential properties, the marriage will not be valid. There will be no real marriage at all.

The Code of Canon Law says, "But if either or both parties through a positive act of the will should exclude marriage itself, some essential element, or an essential property of marriage, it is invalidly contracted" (CIC 1102:2). But "Error concerning the unity, indissolubility, or sacramental dignity of matrimony does not vitiate matrimonial consent so long as it does not determine the will" (CIC 1099).

It is necessary to cooperate at least passively to retain sanctifying grace, which is cast out of the soul by mortal sin. Once sanctifying grace has been received through a sacrament, to retain this grace, you must cooperate by not committing mortal sin.

Active cooperation with the sacrament is not always required. The recipient's status is taken into account. When an infant is baptized, or when he receives any other sacrament, he will receive the sanctifying grace the sacrament communicates. His passive cooperation, both in accepting the grace and in retaining it, is assured by the fact that he is incapable of putting an obstacle in the way and incapable of committing mortal sin (Rom. 9:11).

I am a Catholic who was married outside the Church without a dispensation, so my marriage is invalid before God--a fact I very much want to correct. My non-Catholic spouse is unwilling to be married in the Catholic Church. Is there anything I can do?

 Assuming that there is nothing like a previous, putative marriage that needs to be taken care of first (through a decree of nullity), and assuming that you both still have valid matrimonial consent, your marriage can be rendered valid using a canon law procedure known as radical sanation.

This term comes from the Latin phrase sanatio in radice, meaning "healing in the root." According to the Code of Canon Law, "The radical sanation of an invalid marriage is its convalidation without the renewal of consent" (CIC 1161:1). This means you do not have to go through a new marriage ceremony.

For a radical sanation to take place, several conditions must apply. First and most basically, "A radical sanation is not to be granted unless it is probable that the parties intend to persevere in conjugal life" (CIC 1161:3). If there is evidence the one or both of the parties intends anything less than a permanent marriage, radical sanation is ruled out.

Second, "A marriage cannot be radically sanated if consent is lacking in either or both of the parties" (CIC 1162:1). You and your spouse must have valid consent regarding your marriage, and this consent must exist simultaneously in the two of you. At some point you must have consented freely to the marriage in a way that did not exclude any of the essential properties of marriage (monogamy, fidelity, permanence, and openness to children). This consent is presumed to have been given in your marriage ceremony outside the Church unless there is evidence otherwise (CIC 1107), and the consent is presumed to exist at the present unless one party has indicated otherwise.

Third, any impediments that exist must be taken care of. Many of these can be resolved as part of the radical sanation itself. In general, "A marriage which is invalid due to an impediment or due to defect of legitimate form can be sanated provided the consent of each party continues to exist" (CIC 1163:1). This would apply in your case because your marriage was invalid due to a defect of form (you failed to get a dispensation for a marriage ceremony outside the Church).

Some impediments cannot be dispensed in this manner: "A marriage which is invalid due to an impediment of the natural law or of divine positive law can be sanated only after the impediment has ceased to exist" (CIC 1163:2). Examples of such impediments include having a previous marriage bond or total, permanent impotence (which is different from sterility). The first example can cease to exist if the previous spouse is dead or if one has obtained a decree of nullity to show that there never was a valid marriage in the first place.

If your spouse would have an extremely bad reaction to the sanation procedure, then, for the sake of domestic peace, he would not need to be told about it: "A sanation can be granted validly even when one or both of the parties are unaware of it, but it is not to be granted except for serious reason" (CIC 1164). The extreme reaction of your spouse could count as the serious reason needed for this.

Normally your local bishop would be the one granting the sanation: "In individual cases radical sanation can be granted by the diocesan bishop, even if several reasons for nullity exist in the same marriage, provided the conditions mentioned in canon 1125 concerning the sanation of a mixed marriage are fulfilled" (CIC 1165:2).

Chief among the latter is the condition that "the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church" (CIC 1125). In other words, you must promise to remain a Catholic and to do what you can to see that your children will be Catholics.

Call your parish priest or the marriage tribunal at your diocese to investigate obtaining a radical sanation.

Choosing a Good Husband if i am a not a outgoing type!!!

There are more dedicated women active in  Catholic and Christians churches than there are men. For a woman who is looking for a husband, the tendency might be to get discouraged. But there are ways to find a good man. Once you think you’ve found a good man, how can you be sure before you make that lifelong commitment?

One of the most reliable indicators about what a man will be like as a husband and a father is his own family’s life. Not everyone has a great family of origin. But you need to recognize if there was turmoil there. If there was, there could be—and probably will be—some additional strains on the marriage.

One of the best new ways of meeting a good, solid Catholic spouse is the wise—and I underscore wise—use of the Internet. In a church or parish singles club you might have a nineteen- or twenty-year-old person who’s never been married along with a person who might be thirty or thirty-five who’s maybe once-divorced, with children, along with a widow or widower in his fifties or sixties. That’s a wide range of people.

The Internet can match you with people of similar interests and beliefs. For instance, there’s an organization Cinderella's Ashirwad Matrimony with a website . The one obstacle with this, of course, is the distance problem. But this can be overcome. I'll tell you a love story from Cinderella's web sites where a nice, young, attractive woman in Wyoming said no one should contact her if he was outside of her region. One persistent young man from the East Coast continued to e-mail her. She said, "Why are you writing me? You’re so far away." He responded, "If I won a million dollars on a prize show I would have no problem crossing the country to pick up my prize. I would consider a good, godly wife much more valuable." Well, she changed her mind on the distance problem, and they were married.

I’m divorced from my one marriage in the Catholic Church, but I never got an annulment. I was told since my marriage wasn’t annulled that I could not receive the sacraments. Is that true?

 Being divorced does not prevent one from receiving the sacraments. Neither does the fact that your prior marriage has not been annulled.

What would keep you from the sacraments is having attempted a new marriage without the former one being annulled. Any new marriage you may have attempted without an annulment will be presumed invalid, meaning that if you are living a conjugal life with a new partner you are presumed to be in a state of grave sin. It would be that sin, not being divorced without an annulment, that would keep you from receiving Communion.

If you have not attempted a new marriage since your previous one, or if you are living chastely until your current marital situation is rectified, then you can receive the sacraments.

A friend of mine says she was baptized a Catholic when she was an infant, then rebaptized when she was an adult. What does rebaptism do, if anything?

 If a person's initial baptism was valid, rebaptism does nothing to improve the state of the soul before God. Any valid baptism imprints a spiritual mark or character on the recipient's soul. This mark cannot be destroyed or removed, so baptism can never be repeated. Any subsequent attempts at baptism will be invalid. They are at least materially an insult to the Holy Spirit, because they imply that what the Spirit did in the initial baptism was not sufficient. Usually, though, a person who receives a "second baptism" is not formally guilty of insulting the Holy Spirit since he has been mistaught concerning the efficacy of his initial baptism.

When my wife and I were married in the Catholic Church, I was a baptized Catholic and she was a non-Catholic ( Hindu ). At that time she was not baptized but she has since been baptized in the Catholic Church. Is our marriage a sacramental marriage?

 Yes, your marriage is sacramental. There are two requirements for a marriage to be sacramental: (1) The marriage must be valid, and (2) both spouses must be baptized. A valid marriage may exist when one or both spouses are not baptized, but such a marriage is not sacramental. Prior to your wife’s baptism, your marriage was presumably valid but not sacramental because she was not baptized. Her baptism did not in any way invalidate your marriage so, upon her baptism: (1) Your marriage remained valid, and (2) you both were baptized. Both of the requirements for a sacramental marriage being met, your marriage became sacramental at your wife’s baptism.

The Code of Canon Law explains,

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament. (CIC 1055)

What's wrong with masturbation? I think of it as getting rid of your temptations without leading anyone into sin.

 Masturbation doesn't get rid of temptations any more than a prostitute does. Both may temporarily relieve sexual desires, but our goal as Christians is not simply to get rid of temptations. Our goal is to glorify God with our bodies. The idea that masturbation can be used to decrease sexual desires is like saying that lighter fluid can be used to extinguish a fire. If anything, masturbation incites lustful thoughts and teaches a person that he or she deserves--and needs--sexual gratification whenever the desire arises.

To understand why masturbation is wrong, we need to step back from the world's constant clamoring for sexual "needs" and go back to God's plan for sex. Sexuality is meant to be a gift between a husband and wife for the purpose of babies and bonding. When it is taken out of that context the gift is degraded--and in the case of masturbation, altogether ceases being a gift. The purpose of sexuality is abandoned, because the center of the sexual act becomes "me" instead of "we" and the person is trained to look to himself for sexual fulfillment. The gift of one's sexuality is misused for the sake of lifeless pleasure. Only selfless giving will fulfill you.

When people misuse their sexuality in this way, they begin to use pleasure to change their mood, release tension, or forget their loneliness. Masturbation becomes an escape. It may pacify them, but it will never satisfy them, because they'll always want more. They use the fantasies of their mind and the pleasures of their body to flee from reality and the call to love. Their goal in sexual activity has been reduced to merely receiving pleasure instead of showing love. If men and women have trained themselves to use their sexuality in this way, why would this suddenly change once they're married? The husband or wife will simply be a substitute for the fantasies, to be used in place of self. They may even imagine the fantasies while with their spouse. The problem is that the lust will be transferred to the other, not healed within.

Worse yet, merely getting married will not cure their problem with masturbation. Because masturbation has trained disordered impulses in them, the true pleasures of marriage--though far superior--may not appease their warped attachments. Where will they turn to find those pleasures within marriage? Often, they'll continue to struggle with masturbation, to the sorrow and distress of their spouse, and to the detriment of their marriage. A person who does not preserve his own purity when alone will have a difficult time remaining pure with another. If he lacks self-control when alone, he will be unable to properly give himself to his spouse when the time comes. You can not give what you do not control. No self-control equals no gift of self. To the extent that there is no gift of self, there is no love. If you want to be able to genuinely love your spouse, you must build self-mastery.

What's the best way to overcome this?

Prayer and patient perseverance. As you begin the battle, know that God is pleased with your desire for holiness and that his grace is working in your life. He will complete the good work he has begun in you (Phil. 1:6). Come to him in prayer and ask him often for the grace to be pure, and specifically to overcome this habit. The number one prayer you can offer is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. There is enough grace in one Communion to make you a saint. Tap into that fountain of purity!

Spend an increased amount of time in personal prayer as well, and speak openly to Jesus about your struggles. Also, pray the Hail Mary three times each day for purity of mind, body, and heart; frequent the sacrament of reconciliation; read Scripture; pray the rosary; make the Stations of the Cross; and develop a devotion to St. Joseph. These form an arsenal of weapons against any sin. Use them often, and you will eventually be able to overcome any vice.

If you need to confess the same sin repeatedly, do so. The devil will try to discourage you, saying, "Hey, you've been back in the confessional so many times with this sin. Why don't you give up? You can't win." Recognize these thoughts as a temptation and turn immediately to prayer. Know that the patient is healed who shows his wound to the physician. The confessional is the medicine box, Christ in the priest is the doctor, and that is the last place the devil wants you to be. You are on the winning team, and the Lord will not let you be snatched from his hand. You can not do it alone, but you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength (Phil. 4:13).

Certainly, if you own any pornography, swimsuit posters, vulgar music, and such, get rid of them immediately. For the sake of love, guard yourself against such contamination. Replace these things with good Christian music and put holy images in your room, especially where you usually fall into the sin. If you have a habit of watching a lot of television, find something else to do, such as exercise. This helps release tension and makes the body easier to master. Television is idleness filled with temptation, and that is kindling for the fires of lust.

To help you grow in discipline, set reachable goals. For example, make a commitment not to masturbate for three days, a week, a month, or whatever you feel is a reasonable time. When you have made it to that point, you will have an increased sense of confidence that you do have control over your body. Then, bump up the time and abstain for a longer period. Keep this up until the vice is overcome, and it ceases to be an option.

During this time of discipline, give up tiny things. For example, skip salt on your fries, or skip seconds at a meal. These small sacrifices will help you grow in self-mastery, so that you gain self-control. After all, we are slaves to whatever rules us. The difference is like that between a jockey who has no control over his horse which gallops wildly through gardens and living rooms, and a jockey who has control and can win races and stop on a dime. That is a person fully alive. This kind of self-control is impossible alone, but with the grace of God, all things are possible. If you ask for purity, not one grace will be lacking. Be patient with yourself and do not give in to discouragement. The prize of true love awaits those that are truly free, because they are the ones capable of giving and receiving.

Is it okay to masturbate, so long as you're not lusting?

We can not justify a physical sin by mentally distracting ourselves from our actions. It's like asking if it's okay to shoplift a CD as long as you are thinking about feeding the homeless. Your mind may be doing one thing, but your actions say another. You could even compare it to the kiss of Judas. His body showed love to Christ, but his intentions were full of sin. When you masturbate while trying not to lust, it's kind of like doing the reverse. You are supposedly doing something noble with your mind, and something disordered with the gift of your sexuality.

You see, the problem with masturbation is not simply the lust of the imagination, but the impurity of the body.

What's going on is that you're trying to bargain with the devil. Theology and scripture tells us that Satan is an exceptionally cunning fallen angel. The name "Lucifer" means "light-bearer," and all of this means that his intellectual abilities far surpass anyone on the planet. So, when you try to cut a deal with him, you lose . . . every time. How many times has he duped us into thinking, "Oh, it's not that big of a sin. God will understand. I can go to confession. How am I supposed to be perfect? It will just be this one time. Etc."? We should not reason with our lust, we must rebuke it.

 I agree that porn is degrading to women, but what's wrong with masturbation, since no one is being harmed? 

Actually, scientific evidence seems to show that masturbation is harmful for both men and women. If you have ever taken a class in psychology, you probably learned about Pavlov's dog. Pavlov was a guy who rang a bell every time he was about to feed his dog. By doing this, the dog came to associate the bell with food, and would begin salivating at the sound of the bell. This is known as a trained response.

The human mind can be trained in the same way. In fact, the pleasure center of the brain is the most easily trained part of the human mind. This center is called the Medial Pre-optic Nucleus (MPN), and when the body experiences great pleasure, as in a sexual release, this part of the brain is rewarded. According to the research of Dr. Douglas Weiss (1), when a person experiences sexual arousal, the brain releases endorphins that help train the MPN to associate pleasure with whatever the person is doing, looking at, smelling, and so on. Unconsciously, a person forms a bond between a particular image, scent, or person and the feeling of sexual pleasure. (That's one reason they put perfume samples in porn magazines).

During sexual pleasure, this bond is further solidified by the release of a neuropeptide called oxytocin. This also creates a bond between people during a sexual act. If a person is alone, it still creates a mental bond with whomever he is fantasizing about. However, this bonding mechanism is damaged through casual sexual arousal (2).

This scientific discovery sheds new light on Paul's words: "Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two shall become one flesh.' . . . Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body" (1 Cor. 6:16–18).

When a person experiences sexual pleasure while masturbating and lusting after another in his imagination, he is training his brain to be stimulated by fantasy images in his own mind. If this is what a man's or woman's brain identifies as the cause of sexual joy, then where does this leave his or her spouse one day? This is not a fantasy image, but a real human being. Yet instead of being able to take joy in the actual person in the marriage bed, the individual trained by masturbation may be driven to find stimulation in inner fantasies even while trying to make love to a spouse. Sometimes men and women may look beyond their own imagination to adultery, strip clubs, pornography, or a disordered lust for one another to satiate their desires. Often, especially for men, the habit of masturbation continues in order to take care of sexual "needs."

Now, this does not mean that you are doomed to a dysfunctional marriage if you have ever experienced sexual pleasure with anyone other than your husband or wife. However, it does mean that you will have obstacles to overcome that those without such a history will not struggle with. The brain can be retrained, but it will take time according to how well-entrenched the habit of lust has become.

This should show us that God's plan for our sexuality is stamped into our anatomy. When people live according to God's truths, their bodies will associate sexual joy with their spouse. God has designed our bodies to ensure that a married couple will be physiologically drawn toward each other. Their minds have been trained that way. As the Bible says, "Let your fountain be yours alone, not one shared with strangers. And have joy of the wife of your youth, your lovely hind, your graceful doe. Her love will invigorate you always. Through her love you will flourish constantly" (Prov. 5:17–19).

What's wrong with just looking at a swimsuit magazine?

Let's say you meet this beautiful woman, and the two of you become best friends. Before long, you're in love, and eventually you ask her to marry you. The two of you go off to your honeymoon, and return to discover that she's now pregnant with your first child, a little girl.

When the baby arrives, you're the first to see her in the delivery room. Tears fill your eyes as you look at this miniature version of your bride. You're in love all over again, and you stand in awe of what you and your wife and your God have created. You raise her up, teach her to ride a bike, and swoop her into your arms if she ever stubs her knee. She's your princess, and you're her king, and the both of you know it. Years go by, and you begin to raise a family.

Today, it's her seventeenth birthday and so she has a pool party with her friends. She walks out of the house in her bathing suit, and your son takes the opportunity to grab his digital camera and take pictures of her. Since she's so attractive, he publishes the pictures, and even puts them on the Internet. Before too long, there are hundreds of thousands of strange men across the world lusting after your princess. They stare at her body, and make all sorts of sick jokes about what they think of her, and what they'd like to do to her.

At this point, how do you feel? Would you be comforted if they said they were "just appreciating the beauty of womanhood?"

Now imagine the heart of God the Heavenly Father, who loves his daughters infinitely more than you or I could ever love ours. These women in our swimsuit magazines are the daughters of the King of Heaven. What's sad is that we sons have made a market selling His daughters. For this reason, Pope John Paul II challenges us: "each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity . . . has not become in his heart an object of adultery."(1) We're called to treat women with the honor, purity, and reverence that we would expect all men to treat our daughter with.

I had all the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues back in high school, and I knew all the reasons why it wasn't that bad. Granted, none of these arguments really convinced me, but why would I care? I just enjoyed seeing the women. Before I could realize or stop it, the way I saw all women became warped. My standard of physical beauty became that of impossible perfection. As the eye wanders from one page to the next in the magazine with lust, your eyes begin to gaze in the mall from one girl to the next. Before long, you assume that constant lust is pretty much natural for a teenage guy.

Then, we see girls in school or even at church, and without even realizing it, we are turning them into objects. We begin to measure the value of a woman by how much lust she generates in us. We become shallower and shallower. Meanwhile, we lull our consciences to sleep by saying that it really won't affect us that much. The images of porn brand themselves into our minds, and I know all too well how long it takes to erase them.

But it isn't just the images that stick with you. Your wandering eyes stay with you. They don't turn off and stay on one girl when you enter a relationship. You trained them to look at everything that could possibly arouse them. They became gluttons for lust. Now married, I still feel the effects of the porn and swimsuit magazines I looked at over ten years ago. It trains you to have unfaithful eyes: to wander with your eyes towards every attractive woman around. I'm not talking about lusting after every woman, but having a tendency to want to look at every beautiful woman. But my eyes, like my heart and my body, belong to Crystalina (my wife) alone. If I know there is an attractive woman walking my way in the mall, I should look somewhere else, instead of needing to at least glance at her. Now, it's no sin just to see a beautiful woman, but we must re-train ourselves for monogamy (one wife), because porn trains us to have mental polygamy (many wives).

What's wrong with looking at pornography? It's not like you are getting a girl pregnant or spreading STDs.

The problem with using porn is that it emasculates men, degrades women, destroys marriages, and offends the Lord. You may be thinking: "That's going a little overboard, don't you think? I mean, what's wrong with checking out a few web sites?" Take a look at the effects of pornography, and you will see why real men don't use it.

First off, when Jesus warned that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman commits sin with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28), he spelled it out in no uncertain terms that it's not enough to avoid pregnancy or STDs. He wants us to be pure.

What does pornography do to a man? For starters, it robs him of the capacity to be a man. The essence of manhood consists in readiness to deny oneself for the good of a beloved. This is why Paul reminds husbands in his Letter to the Ephesians that their love must be like that of Christ, who allowed himself to be crucified for the sake of his beloved, the Church (Eph. 5:21–33).

Pornography defeats this calling. Ask yourself: Wouldn't it infuriate you if a guy looked at your daughter or wife in the same way he looked at pornography? Instead of denying himself for the good of the woman, a man, through the use of porn, denies the woman her dignity in order to satisfy his lust. In essence, pornography is a rejection of our calling to love as God loves. It is no wonder that those who use it are never satisfied. Only love satisfies.

Pornography gradually cripples a man's ability to love. It is impossible to love a fantasy, but living in a world of fantasy allows a guy to escape from reality and evade the demands of authentic love. In a way, the fact that pornography allows men to indulge their lust without having to worry about pregnancy or STDs is part of the problem. It encourages him to live in a world in which sexuality offers only pleasure without meaning or consequences, in which "no one gets pregnant, no one catches a disease, no one shows signs of guilt, fear, remorse, embarrassment, or distrust. No one suffers from the sexual activities of others and the men, at least, are always carefree, unrestrained. . . . The priority of lovingly protecting one's partner is of little concern in pornography because no harm seems possible."(1)

Simply put, pornography is the renunciation of love. As the writer Christopher West said, "[Pornography] seeks to foster precisely those distortions of our sexual desires that we must struggle against in order to discover true love."(2) For the person who indulges in porn, the purpose of sex becomes the satisfaction of the erotic "needs," not the communication of life and love. Pornography drives a man to value a woman only for what she gives him rather than for the person she is.

Some guys will slough this all off, saying, "Boys will be boys," or "I'm just appreciating the beauty of womanhood," or "I like the articles in the magazine." Sometimes they will realize how unconvincing these arguments are, and they'll become resentful, saying, "You want to repress sexuality and rob women of their freedom. It's unhealthy for you to have such little appreciation for women!" This resentment has found its way to the billboards and titles of the strip clubs, which advertise the establishment as a "gentleman's club" for "adult entertainment." Having the word "gentleman" or "adult" associated with a strip club is nothing less than fascinating. Why would a man feel the need to justify that his behavior is mature and gentlemanly? Can you call to mind any time where an adult needed to remind others that he was mature? Or can you think of any activity on earth where a gentleman needs to announce that he is one? Usually actions speak for themselves. Besides, a gentleman doesn't need to pay women to predend that they like him.

So even when a man's lack of self-control makes him resemble a boy and nothing in his behavior is reconcilable with the title "gentleman," he still feels a need to identify with authentic manhood. This is because no matter how much we fall, Christ has still stamped into our being the call to love like Jesus. If only we can untwist the lies and humbly come before the Lord in all of our woundedness, he will raise us up and make us into true men.

Now what does pornography do to women? Since it trains men to think of women as objects to be used instead of persons to be loved, guys speak of them as objects and treat them as objects. When men learn their "love" from videos and magazines, they accept the idea that a woman's "no" is actually a "yes" and that she enjoys being used. This can lead to a rapist mentality.

Consider, for example, a study done in the Oklahoma City area. When 150 sexually-oriented businesses were closed, the rate of rape decreased 27 percent in five years, while the rate in the rest of the country increased 19 percent. In Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhoods with porn outlets had 500 percent more sex offenses than neighborhoods without them.(3)

Ted Bundy raped and killed dozens of women. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair and requested that his last interview be with Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family. In that meeting, Bundy talked openly about pornography and told Dr. Dobson that his struggles all began there. He explained that all of his fellow inmates had an obsession with pornography before going to prison. Porn magazines, web sites, and videos lay at the root of innumerable rapes and murders. No one can tell the husbands, siblings, children, and fathers of those violated and deceased women that pornography is harmless.

What does pornography do to marriages? To be blunt, pornography is the perfect way to shoot your future marriage in the head. Imagine that a young man has a habit of using pornography, and he does not reveal this to his fiancée. He hopes that once he is married, the desires for illicit sexual arousal will subside. But what becomes of his lust once he marries her? It does not disappear, it is foisted upon his wife. The pornography has trained him to react to the sexual value of a woman, and nothing else. He has trained himself to believe that women should be physically flawless and constantly sexually accessible. Even if he rejects this intellectually, the fact remains that his attractions and responses have been conditioned and shaped by warped, pornography-inspired fantasies.

Provided his wife is a life-size Barbie doll with a squad of make-up artists and hairdressers that follow her around the house, things might run smoothly for a time. But when reality confronts fantasy, the man will be left disillusioned and the woman's self image will suffer. His disordered desires and fantasies can never be fulfilled by any real-life woman. They focus solely upon self-centered gratification rather than mutual self-giving and joy in pleasing one's spouse. One woman explained that if a man's real-life partner is not always as available sexually and willing to do whatever he wishes as the women he has fantasized about, he may accuse her of being a prude. If she looks normal, and unlike the models he has come to adore, he may accuse her of being fat. If she has needs, unlike the passive images in the magazines, then she may seem too demanding for him.(4)

In other words, he'll be quick to blame his disorder on her; his fantasies will have robbed him of the ability to be truly intimate with his wife. One reason he is unable to have healthy intimacy with his wife is because intimacy is not an escape from reality, but the capacity to see the beauty of the other. The presence of lust in the heart of the man blocks his ability to view the woman as a person. He has reduced her to an object and ignored her value as person. When this happens, he forfeits love. True intimacy is impossible.

This is why part of the problem with pornography is not simply that it shows too much, but that it shows too little. It reduces a woman to nothing more than her body. Thus, a man will assume that the greater the body, the greater the value of the woman. With this mindset, men not only expect their future wives to look no less perfect than Miss September, they also do not appreciate a woman's most beautiful and precious qualities, since a centerfold display fails to highlight these. This drives men to look elsewhere in an impossible quest to satisfy their disordered appetites. After all, pornography fosters the false mentality that casual, uncommitted sex is the most fulfilling and enjoyable. Who does not want to be fulfilled?

One all-too-common response to the marital dissatisfaction often caused by pornography habits is to actually bring pornography into the bedroom. This is a vain effort on the part of the man to have the illicit excitement that he has formed an attachment to. The poor wife may allow this, but the joy of loving has escaped the man, who no longer sees the value of the person and the need to give himself for her. Married couples who use pornography find that their marital problems only worsen. If a husband needs to pretend that his wife is someone else in order for him to be excited, then he will become less and less drawn to her. Instead of making love to her, he is destroying love between them.

Because the effects of pornography are so severe, Christian men have an obligation to rid their own lives of it. According to Pope John Paul II, "[God] has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman."(5) When we act in a way that is contrary to the dignity of women, we act contrary to our own dignity and vocation as men.

Even if pornography had no adverse affects on people, we must never forget that sin is not simply a social matter. We owe it to our neighbor to love him, but we also owe it to God to honor the Lord in all our actions and thoughts. To lust after his daughters is a grave sin, even if no one becomes pregnant as a result of another's imagination. "So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22).

I've been looking at porn on the Internet for years, and I am finding it practically impossible to overcome the habit. How do I finally rid myself of the stuff?

Be assured that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). I recommend four steps that will help you resist the temptation in the future.

First, you must become a man of prayer. Prayer is essential for those who want to persevere in purity (this applies to women as well). In particular, go to Mass often, receive the sacrament of reconciliation at least once a month, and develop a strong devotion to the rosary and to St. Joseph. This is pretty much a one-two-three punch for fighting temptations to indulge illicit desires. Also, do not overlook the power of calling upon your guardian angel for strength.

Second, do whatever you can to rid yourself of occasions of sin. If you have pornographic magazines or videos, throw them all away immediately. Since the Internet has been a problem, at the very least you should install filtering software on your computer. You might even want to consider whether there is any way you can take a break from using the web entirely, or go awhile with minimal web access (perhaps with the images turned off in your browser or with a text-only browser, like Lynx, that does not use images). Another useful strategy is to put holy objects and pictures wherever you had the images. If it is on the Internet, put a crucifix or picture of our Lady on top of the computer, and have a sacred image for your screen saver or computer wallpaper.

Third, find a person with whom you can be honest about your habit, and be accountable to him. A priest, family member, youth minister, or good friend should be able to help you win the battle. As the Bible says, "Two are better than one. . . . If they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. . . . And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Eccles. 4:9–12).

Fourth, take a look at your motivation to overcome the habit. Are you simply trying to conquer the temptations because the habit is embarrassing, or because you're afraid you'll be caught? Elevate your motivation so that you are working to overcome the problem for the sake of love. Do it for the love of God and to make yourself a worthy person for your future bride.

When a person looks at pornography, on some level he is looking for love. It is a warped attempt to give of yourself and receive another. The fantasy woman may seem like she is entirely yours, but a million other men feel the same way toward her. It is obviously a false oneness, and we must refuse it in order to obtain the greater good that awaits us. If a young man longs for love, then he must strive to acquire the selflessness that will enable him to properly love a woman. Getting rid of porn should not be seen as a loss but as an opportunity to grow in that selflessness.

Imagine that you found the woman of your dreams and got married. As you carry her across the threshold of your honeymoon suite, she wraps her arms around your neck, looks into your eyes and whispers how excited she is. She tells you that she has waited all her life for this day, and to make it extra special . . . she has been looking at thousands of pornographic images of men on the Internet. You would probably drop her on the floor. You see, not only should we wait for our spouses with our bodies, we must wait for them with our minds. So for the sake of love, trash the pornographic magazines, web sites, and videos. If you are called to the sacrament of marriage, isn't your bride worth waiting to see, instead of filling your mind with images of other women's bodies?

I threw away all my pornography a long time ago, but how do you clear your head of all the images stamped into it? I go to confession and Mass and I pray regularly, but I feel like they are branded in there.

Here is one strategy for handling it: Every time one of those impure images pops into your mind, take that as an occasion to pray for that woman's conversion.

Pray specifically for her, and lift her to Jesus. This makes up for the times you have lusted after her but will accomplish even more. If you persevere in this practice, I would imagine that the thoughts subside considerably. Stay strong, because resisting these temptations will foster in you the virtues that make for great dads and husbands.

Other than this, continue with your prayer life and remain pure in your day-to-day relationships. And finally, deepen your devotion to Mary. We need to have our image of womanhood redeemed, and praying a daily rosary is an ideal way to begin this reconstruction. The remedy for pornography is to understand the dignity of womanhood and the truth about your call to love. Then, and only then, will the pornography be seen for what it is--a sham.

You can and will lose the desire to look at pornography. You will not lose sexual desire, but when you see women degraded, you will be filled with pity for them instead of lust. In the words of C. S. Lewis, "Lust is a weak, poor, whimpering whispering thing when compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed." (1) Only when you empty yourself for the good of a beloved will you see that all other joy is an illusion.

Should I tell my girlfriend about my addiction to pornography? I’m afraid she'll leave me, even though I love her very much.

Should tell your girlfriend about your porn problem, or should you continue to conceal it? I say neither. Instead of telling your girlfriend that you are hooked on porn and risk losing her, get rid of the porn, and tell her what you've done for love of her. If you truly love her, then you know that love is capable of very heroic acts. As I once read, a knight can not be brave unless he has love. His love gives him his courage.

If you refuse to get rid of the porn, then you do have an obligation to tell her. This risk will be good for you, and as bad as this might sound, I do hope she leaves you if you do not drop the porn. You have to choose between her and the fantasies. I know your attachment to it is strong, because I had plenty of the garbage in high school (and even before then). But when we say we're "addicted" to it, we're often trying to say that we have no control over ourselves. That's not true. We choose to open the magazine. We choose to click on the web site. We are not victims. Everyone has self-control. Some use this control over their bodies to become saints, and others use the control for the sake of feeding their lust, which is never satisfied.

If you think you have not simply developed a very tempting habit of looking at porn, but have developed a full-blown porn addiction, then now is not the time for a relationship. You should get serious counseling to overcome the vice. When happens when a guy refuses to deal with the problem? Well, here's an email I just received from a newlywed wife:

"My husband of a little over one month is in love with pornography. I've tried to speak with him about it before, but I get nervous and flustered and end up nodding to whatever he says. He does not believe his indulging this desire is cheating or harmful or anything to be ashamed of. He knows I disagree with him, but I doubt he even begins to comprehend how devastating and heart-breaking it is for me. There have already been plenty of nights that he's spent on the computer, and doesn't return to share a bed with me at all (he'll fall asleep on the couch or in the guest room). This causes me to lose sleep! I am committed to having very good communication with him, but how do I bring this up without repeating past unsuccessful attempts to get my feelings across? I pray for him and for us every day, but I don't know what else to do. I can already see his relationship with porn damaging other aspects of our marriage, especially in my behavior toward him. Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my call for help."

It was killing this poor woman. I know you don't want to ever put your girlfriend through this, but you already are. The porn is shaping your expectations of her body. It's warping the way you look at her each day. It's holding you back from becoming the man of God that she deserves. Think about it: her body is worth waiting to see, and I know how it would crush you if she constantly looked at on-line images of naked guys, and refused to stop.

I know you want to rid your life of the pornography, but you feel torn. I've been right there with you. You must pray every day to overcome the habit.

With God, all things are possible. Have confidence and faith, and you will see that instead of seeing your girlfriend ashamed of you, you can have the joy of making her proud.

 I recently went to confession, received absolution, and did my penance. Subsequently I remembered something I did years ago that I never confessed. Am I absolved of that one as well? If the sin was mortal, does that need to be addressed specifically?

 So long as you intended to confess all your mortal sins and otherwise make a good confession, then the sacrament was valid, and you were forgiven all your mortal sins. The fact that afterward you remembered another one does not mean that you are in a state of mortal sin.

The Code of Canon Law states, "A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all grave sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience" (CIC 988:1). Since you remembered this grave sin, you should mention it in your next confession. 


 What is it about a woman that prevents her ordination? In my discussions with proponents of women’s ordination it seems that all facts about history, custom, tradition, and apostolic authority take a backseat to this question.

The reason that women are not to be ordained is because they are not men. Sounds politically incorrect, doesn’t it? But the fact is that God created men to be men and women to be women. When God chose to incarnate, he did not just choose to become a human being; he chose to become a man. Just as he chose to incarnate into a specific time, place, people, family, and woman, so he chose to become a specific human being, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Thus, those human beings who serve as priests in the person of Christ are men and not women.

This shocking particularity of God is not limited to choosing men to become priests. To demonstrate this to proponents of women’s ordination, you might turn the question around and ask them what it is about men that makes them unfit to bear children. Surely a man is just as physically strong as a woman and psychologically and emotionally capable of the demands of giving birth. Surely he is not inferior to a woman. Isn’t it unfair to men that only women can have babies?

This line of logic descends into absurdity, because women having children is a natural fact of life, something easily seen and understood. To shake one’s fist at the heavens and demand equal rights for men to give birth is to rail against the natural order. At that point you can establish that men being priests is a supernatural fact of life, and to object to it is to object to the supernatural order. The fact that the supernatural order cannot be seen and is not as easily understood as the natural order does not mean that the supernatural order does not exist.

 If God created everything, then didn’t he create hell, too? If he created hell, then is hell good, since everything God created was good?

 Hell is primarily an eternal state of separation between God and those creatures—angels and humans—who have permanently chosen to reject him. God created free will, which is good, but hell is the result of the abuse of free will. God did not create hell; he only allowed for its possibility. Thus it cannot be said that hell is good.

What is a patron saint?

Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes -- anything that is important to us. The earliest records show that people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs as early as the fourth century.

Recently, the popes have named patron saints but patrons can be chosen by other individuals or groups as well. Patron saints are often chosen today because an interest, talent, or event in their lives overlaps with the special area.

For example, Francis of Assisi loved nature and so he is patron of ecologists. Francis de Sales was a writer and so he is patron of journalists and writers. Clare of Assisi was named patron of television because one Christmas when she was too ill to leave her bed she saw and heard Christmas Mass -- even though it was taking place miles away.

Angels can also be named as patron saints. A patron saint can help us when we follow the example of that saint's life and when we ask for that saint's intercessory prayers to God.

 When a Catholic and a non-Catholic get married, does the non-Catholic have to promise to raise the children of the marriage in the Catholic faith?

No. This used to be the case, but the current Code of Canon Law (1983) does not require the non-Catholic to make this promise. The Code does state that "the Catholic party . . . [must] promise to do all in his or her power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church" (c. 1125), but the non-Catholic party does not have to promise to have the children raised Catholic.

This rule attempts to do justice to the consciences of both the Catholic and the non-Catholic. The non-Catholic party is not asked to violate his conscience if it requires him to refuse to promise to raise the children Catholic, and the Catholic party is asked to live out the belief that Catholicism is true by doing all that is possible to have the children raised in the truth. The final decision about how the children will be raised is to be a joint decision made by both parents. Canon law requires that all of this be understood by both parties before the marriage is contracted.

 Does the Catholic Church believe in the devil? I saw on television a priest who said this isn't official Catholic teaching.

The priest you saw on television, if he said what you say he said, is mistaken. Based on the teaching and example of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11; 12:22-30; Mark 1:34; Luke 10:18; 22:31; John 8:44), the Catholic Church has always held that the devil is real, not a mythical personification of evil. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215), in its decree condemning the Manichaean dualism of the Catharists, taught that "the devil and the other evil spirits were created good in nature, but they became evil by their own actions."

The Church's teaching on the subject is clear from its liturgy. At baptism, those to be baptized are called upon to reject Satan, his works, and his empty promises. The Church provides an official rite of exorcism, which presupposes, of course, the existence of Satan. 

"It is a departure from the picture provided by biblical and Church teaching to refuse to acknowledge the devil's existence; to regard him as . . . a conceptual and fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes. . . . Exegetes and theologians should not be deaf to this warning." Presumably this exhortation extends to priests who appear on television.

More recently, Pope John Paul II, in his general audience of August 13, 1986, expounded at length on the fall of the angels and, in speaking on the origin of Satan, said, "When, by an act of his own free will, he rejected the truth that he knew about God, Satan became the cosmic 'liar and the father of lies' (John 8:44). For this reason, he lives in radical and irreversible denial of God and seeks to impose on creation--on the other beings created in the image of God and in particular on people--his own tragic 'lie about the good' that is God."

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