Category Archives: Vocation

Love Hurts Sometimes

yes love hurts pin

Last Friday morning, I watched somewhat numbly as article after article filled my social media feeds, some in celebration, others decrying a national tragedy.  After the Supreme Court issued their ruling legalizing same sex marriage nationwide, the world of social media seemed to become a haze of rainbow profile pictures, name calling, and both sides of the “debate” co-opting the “LoveWins” hashtag to draw two conflicting conclusions.

I say I watched numbly as all of this unfolded because my heart had already been broken several hours before the Court issued their ruling, and I frankly didn’t have a whole lot of emotion left to care about what the Supreme Court said about marriage.

Thursday night around 9pm, my father in law passed away after a ten month battle with esophageal cancer.

“Battle.”  Personally, I think I am beginning to dislike the term in its association with cancer.  Or at least I don’t like the typical implications of it.  I don’t like the characterization of my father in law “losing” the battle because he died.  Cancer didn’t win.  Even in death, God is victorious.  Isn’t this the message of the cross?

This was certainly what my father in law believed.  My family was blessed—yes, blessed— to be able to witness, over these past few months, a powerful example of suffering and of embracing the cross God gives you.

It also sucked.  Watching someone you love suffer is painful.  For my father in law’s part, allowing those who love you to watch you suffer is painful.  In our being there for one another, we also added to one another’s pain.  But you know what?  That’s what you do for love.

Sometime over these past few days, a friend on Facebook shared an old blog post of Jennifer Fulwiler’s.  It was about “the whole gay marriage thing,” but I found something she said in it to be a comfort in my grief.  She said:

“I have converted to the religion of the crucifix, a belief system that promises joy in exchange for losing it all. Most people don’t want to sign up for that. I get that. I hope they consider it, for their own sake, since their lives would be better if they did — but it doesn’t change how I feel about them if they don’t.”

“Joy in exchange for losing it all.”

The message of the cross.

The witness of my father in law’s life.

Yes, sometimes love hurts.  We don’t go seeking pain in the name of love, but when the pain inevitably comes, it doesn’t mean it’s not real love.  It just means that the time to witness to the depth of your love has arrived.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”




Caeli (with a “ch”)


After just a few short hours of labor, our baby girl—Caeli Elizabeth— was born in the very first minute of Friday, February 20th.

I’ve never been one to care particularly about the “unique-ness” of a name, and my kids’ names aren’t really a place I’d like to try my hand at being creative.  So we didn’t come to “Caeli” because we were looking for something unique or particularly clever.  Honestly, Mommy just thought it sounded pretty 🙂

It wasn’t until we were in the hospital introducing Caeli (pronounced, ‘Chay-lee’) to nurse after nurse that it really hit me— outside of Catholic circles familiar with some ecclesiastical Latin, hers is a name that may take some explaining!

So for those that are curious, Caeli is a Latin term usually translated as, “of Heaven,” or just, “Heaven.” For example, Regina Caeli are the first two words of an ancient Marian Hymn traditionally sung after night prayer and prayed during Easter Season in place of the Angelus (“Mary, Queen of Heaven”).

Queen of Heaven (Regina Caeli)
V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.


So far, she’s gotten “Kaylee” and “Kylie,” and I have no doubt that when she’s older baristas will come up with all sorts of interesting variations of “Chaylee” to write on her coffee cups.  On the bright side, all of these encounters will hopefully teach her the art of politely correcting people—a great skill for a classy young lady to have! 🙂

Today I am praising God for healthy, snuggly baby girls (and their doting big brothers).  Thank you, Jesus, for our sweet Caeli Elizabeth!


What’s Going On In Rome This Weekend?  – What You Need To Know About The Synod on The Family!

Just over a year ago, Pope Francis announced that there would be an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops this year!

That synod, which the Pope has called on to discuss “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization,” begins this Sunday, October 5th (Saint Faustina’s Feast Day!), and is set to go until October 19th.

There has been a lot of speculation in the media on what will supposedly take place during the synod, which makes it a little hard to sift through the rumors and just understand the basics of what the synod is actually for.  Thankfully, the US Bishop’s website has a great, straightforward Q&A I highly encourage you to check out (clicking this link will take you there!). 

Additionally, incase you missed it back in February, Pope Francis wrote a letter to all families (that’s all of us!) specifically about the synod, and urging us to pray.  Here is a brief excerpt:

…This important meeting will involve all the People of God – bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the entire world – all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer. Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever. This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task. As you know, this Extraordinary Synodal Assembly will be followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which will also have the family as its theme. In that context, there will also be the World Meeting of Families due to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel.

It should go without saying that the most important thing we can do over these next two weeks is to pray!  Take time daily—ideally as a family— to ask the Holy Spirit to lead the synod.

If you’re interested in studying a little bit more about the synod, I encourage you to avoid the speculation and hoopla in the media/blogosphere, and stick to the official documents released from the Church:

What documents have been released in advance of the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?

Preparatory Document

November 2013: The Preparatory Document outlined the purpose of both the Extraordinary and Ordinary General Assemblies, provided a basic catechesis on the Gospel of the Family, and requested input from the world’s bishops on nine questions about the current state of pastoral care for marriages and families.

Instrumentum Laboris

June 2014: The Instrumentum Laboriscontained the results of the consultation achieved via the Preparatory Document‘s questionnaire. This document provides a substantive reflection on the major challenges facing the family today, and outlines the topics that will be discussed at the Extraordinary General Assembly. 

Additionally, the bishops suggest:

“Read the Catechism and the most recent teaching documents of the Magisterium on the subject of marriage and the family; an annotated list is available here. Spend time, alone and together as a married couple and family, reflecting on the rich teaching of the Church on marriage and family


Prayer for The Synod of Bishops on the Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.



Ask Mary: Does God Will “Unplanned” Babies?

ask mary unplanned babies


Hi Mary,

I have a question about Catholic teaching and conception that I’ve
been wondering about. I often read about married Catholics who don’t
use artificial birth control saying that God will decide how many
children they will have and when they will have them. Taking this
premise that God is the ultimate authority when it comes to married,
non birth control using couples conceiving children, how does the
Church reconcile this teaching with the biological reality that
conception can take place in any less sanctified or loving sexual



Thanks for this question!

First of all, I love that you said, “The biological reality [is] that conception can take place in any…sexual encounter.” 

Translation: Sex makes babies!

It may seem obvious, but the fact is that the Church’s teaching with regards to marriage and the marital act is just about the last remaining place where you’ll hear this “biological reality” proclaimed today.  Elsewhere in our culture we are told that sex can be merely used for pleasure, or simply to unite two people in love while attempting to strip their very act of love from its God-given potential to create new life.  The Church holds fast that to do so is to turn the marital act into something less than God created it for, and thus hurts married life.

2363 The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog in more detail about why the Church teaches what it does about contraception.  My aim here isn’t to re-hash that, but if you’re interested, check out these posts:

How Do We Determine God’s Will?
As you said, often times when we Catholics are asked why we don’t use contraception, we say it’s because we want God to be in charge of how many kids we have and when we will have them.  While this answer is 100% correct and truly gets right to the heart of the matter, I think that when it’s stated so plainly it can sound to some as if our method of determining God’s will for our family is to just close our eyes and see how many babies pop out.

In reality, we can come to know God’s will (for any facet of our life) through prayer, discernment, and use of our God-given faculty of reason.  Part of the beauty of having a relationship with the Living God is that we don’t have to simply “wait and see;” we can actually talk to God and ask Him to reveal His will to us!

One very practical way to discover God’s will for us in a general sense is to consult what He has revealed to us in Scripture and in the Teaching of His Church.   With regards to birth control, Scripture and the Church have revealed that God’s Will can never be for it because the act of contraception imposes something on the married act to seek to remove its life-giving potential.

Now, with regards to the marital act itself, the Church teaches first of all that it is created for marriage—the indissoluble life long union of one man and one woman.  The Church has always taught that sex, marriage, and babies go hand in hand— not because some pope made it up hundreds of years ago, but because that’s the way God designed it!

So in a sense the Church doesn’t have to “reconcile” anything here, really.  It’s the rest of us that need to reconcile ourselves with God’s design for sex and marriage!  God created sex for marriage and by it gave man and woman the ability to participate in His creative power.  What an incredible gift!

If we decide we want to pretend that sex is for other things, that’s our choice, but it won’t change God’s design for sex.  The “biological reality” will still run its course, and conception can still occur, because sex and babies—by God’s design— belong together.

Amazing Grace
The beauty and the mystery of God’s grace is that He can take even something He did not will—like a sinful act—and use it to bring about great good.  Just look at the Cross!

If you get nothing else from this post, hear this:

We can’t outsmart God.  We can’t overwhelm God.  He knows our decisions, our choices—good and bad—before we even make them.  From the beginning of time He knew and He planned each and every soul that would ever come into existence.  No life is a mistake.  No life is unplanned.  Each person—no matter the circumstances of his or her conception—is willed by God and loved by God.  God wants you here, no matter how you came to be here.

In short, the answer to your question is somewhere in the middle of God’s grace and earnestly seeking God’s will for your life.  I think the Psalmist’s answer to this question is much more eloquent and meaningful than my attempt:

(Psalm 139)

LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.

You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.

Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?

If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.

If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.

God is in control!  And we are never too far from His grace.




Why You Should Pray For Your Family

marriage_vocation pin

(cary pennington photography)

“Marriage is to help married people sanctify themselves and others.  For this reason they receive a special grace in the sacrament which Jesus Christ instituted.  Those who are called to the married state will, with the grace of God, find within their state everything they need to be holy”

-Saint Josemaria Escriva

This weekend, my family and I are attending our fourth wedding of the year!   Seems like every time I turn around I’m at a bridal shower, wedding, or a baby shower!  It’s that time of life, I am told 🙂

The super-cool thing?  This makes the fourth wedding this year of awesome Catholic couples we know beginning their journey towards Heaven together! (In fact, this weekend’s groom-to-be actually used the line, ‘”seek heaven with me’” in his proposal.  Seriously.  Awesome Catholic couple land is where I live.)

photo 1

So Tyler and I began a little tradition this year of praying a novena for each of the couples’ weddings we’re attending beginning nine days before their big day.

We’ve been using Saint Josemaria Escriva’s “Novena for the Family” (and we’ve about memorized it by now!)

What I love about this novena is that it has short reflections for each day on the vocation of marriage and the family.  In typical Saint Josemaria fashion, the reflections are succinct, but oh-so practical and rich.

photo 2

I’ve said it before, but our culture is getting further and further away from understanding what marriage actually is supposed to be.  It’s a party.  It’s a way to celebrate your love.  A way to make it “official” (whatever that’s supposed to mean).  If the part of the vows that promises a lifelong union are even recited, they’re not taken seriously a few years down the road when things get tough.

But I truly believe that a Christian marriage—a truly Christian marriage at which Christ is the center, Heaven is the goal, and both spouses know and live this out—is one of the most powerful witnesses to the love of God that our culture is so thirsting for.

photo 3

That’s why I’m excited about these new families, and it’s why I pray so earnestly for them.  As Pope Francis says:

No matter what our vocation is, we all belong to a family.  So pray for families!  Pray specifically for YOUR family!  Know that I am praying for you, too.