Read Time: 3 minutes

The Church offers us Advent and Christmas as a time to be refreshed and renewed, but if you’re a priest, deacon, or lay minister, the holiday season can feel overwhelming.

How do you use this time to serve others and feel renewed in your own spiritual life?

Here are some things to reflect on as you approach the holiday season as a ministry leader.

Pray While You Serve

What does that look like for a busy ministry leader?

First of all, it doesn’t require clearing your schedule or putting off other responsibilities. While setting aside a specific block of time for prayer each day is part of the Christian life, there is also a precedent for incorporating prayer into everything we’re doing.

Brother Lawrence shared his wisdom in this area by encouraging us to pray while we work:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

We worship a God who understands the demands that life and ministry make on our physical and emotional energy, and he will meet us in our work and our rest if we set our hearts on him.

Rest assured that you can pray while decorating the Church for the holidays, printing extra bulletins, and setting up Giving Trees, and that time can be as valuable as the minutes or hours you spend in stillness and solitude focusing on God.

Reflect on the Meaning of Advent

The Season of Advent can invite a spirit of anticipation that renews us during this busy time.

There’s a special element to anticipating a great event that gives us the ability to take on more work than normal and yet not feel as drained or worn out. There may be physical tiredness, but the anticipation keeps our minds fresh and our spirits renewed.

During Advent, reflecting on the event of Jesus’s birth – the Lord of All coming down to earth to redeem it, and his eventual return – the King of All coming back to reign forever, can add excitement and a renewed sense of calling to our ministries.

Taking time to reflect on these great mysteries can infuse our busy-ness with an energy that comes from the Spirit, and that excitement can build as Christmas draws near. This is truly a gift from God.

Work Out of Your Rest

It’s hard to imagine what the scriptures mean when they say that God rested, but we can be sure that it wasn’t because he didn’t have any energy or passion left to continue working.

As servants of God and the Church, we tend to work tirelessly out of commitment to God and his people, devotion to the Church, and to fulfill the deep sense of meaning and purpose we derive out of our work.

As much as ministry is an act of love on our part, it is still activity that cannot be sustained without rest.

God gave us the Sabbath for many reasons, and the ability to rest is a spiritual discipline in and of itself.

There should be periods of work and rest in every day, not just on Sundays. The Genesis account, which first mentions the Sabbath, reminds us that “there was evening and there was morning” on each day of the Creation Narrative.

If we see our week as a series of days to work as hard as possible and Sunday as the only day or period of rest, we may develop an endurance mindset where we force ourselves forward in our work and crash at the end of the week.

Instead, let’s practice periods of rest in each day which provide the foundation for the work we do. Working out of our rest, instead of collapsing into rest as the result of overwork, can do wonders for our spiritual well-being.

Come to the Table

God will meet us during this season in our ministry, providing everything we need to be refreshed and renewed. He provides it through his grace poured out in the Eucharist, and he provides it in the body as we support one another.

Our hope for you is that this holiday season would be full of the realization that God is with you in every moment of your service. May the anticipation of his coming and return fill you with joy, and may his spirit give you rest and renewal as you remain devoted to him.

Read Time: 4 minutes

Talking about contraception is an important part of marriage preparation. Contraception in its various forms has become the status quo for sexual relationships outside of the Church. Some Catholic couples either don’t know or don’t agree with the Church’s teaching. Getting comfortable talking about contraception is vitally important for the moral and sexual health of the couples you work with.

So how do you have this conversation?

1. Know the Church’s teaching inside and out.

There’s no getting around it: the Church’s teaching on contraception runs contrary to what is accepted by modern culture and is often misunderstood.

If you aren’t sure why contraception is forbidden, read the teaching and prepare to discuss it. This doesn’t mean you need a graduate degree in theology before you start doing marriage prep.

Fortunately, the Catholic position is actually more intuitive than that, but you should know what you’re talking about and why the Church teaches what it does.

For many couples, you may be the first person who has ever shared the negative aspects of using contraception.

They will likely have questions and may even have objections.

You need to understand the principles behind the doctrine and be ready to explain why it is good for the couple’s marriage to avoid contraception.

Some good resources (for you and the couples) include the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Catholic Answers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2. Be honest about the Church’s teaching.

Many couples have stories of priests or mentors giving them incorrect information about contraception and marriage. They may be upset when they find out they’ve been misled.

If that’s the case, tell the couple gently, but honestly, what the Church in her wisdom teaches about marriage and sexuality.

Don’t dance around the truth. Be clear about what is and isn’t allowed. Deliver the message with charity, but don’t leave the couple wondering what you actually mean. Then, you can work with them to figure out how to follow the Church’s teachings in their marriage.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or afraid of the Catholic understanding of sexuality.

There are many good reasons to avoid contraception, from the potential health risks to the way it tends to violate the dignity of both spouses. If you know these reasons, you’ll be able to explain the Catholic position while truly understanding and believing it yourself, which is crucial.

3. Be patient with couples (and yourself).

For some couples, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is strange and confusing. They may have a hard time understanding how a couple goes about having a happy, fulfilling marriage and sex life without birth control.

Obviously, you shouldn’t belittle or criticize them. Charity and gentleness are needed at all times.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary for them to fully understand and agree with you right away.

Give them the truth clearly and kindly, then allow them time to think about what you said and discuss it privately. Suggest that they also pray about it. Conversion and understanding don’t have to happen immediately.

Let the Holy Spirit work, and don’t feel the need to “win” the discussion and answer every objection the first time you broach the subject. If a change of heart is needed, remember that it is God, not you, who will work that out.

4. Offer an alternative.

The thought of being married and having sex without contraception can be overwhelming for some couples. Visions of 20 children or 15-passenger vans may pop into their heads. The couple may fear the health risks that can be associated with pregnancy, especially if the wife has underlying health problems.

On a theoretical level, wives may believe the Church only values them for their ability to have babies.

Fortunately, the Church doesn’t simply forbid contraception and abandon couples to figure it out on their own. It offers an alternative approach: Natural Family Planning (NFP).

There are a lot of great resources available for couples who want to learn about NFP, including our own new course: NFP Life.

You’ll also want to know if NFP coaching is available locally, if your parish doesn’t have a program for that. Oftentimes, local nurses will be certified to teach the methods of NFP. If your parish does offer a program or class, have the information on hand and give it to the couple right away.

You’ll also want information on medical professionals who actually know how NFP works (learn more about Dr. Danielle Koestner here). As frustrating and tragic as it is, some OB/GYNs can be woefully untrained and uninformed about the scientific methods used in NFP.

You should understand the basics of NFP — and why it isn’t the “rhythm method” — so you can answer initial questions from the couple. Allow the details to be covered by the mentor or course.

The bottom line

NFP has tremendous benefits for the couple’s health and their marriage. Understanding these can be helpful when explaining why they should practice Natural Family Planning in their marriage.

Contraception and family planning may be a difficult topic for many couples, but if it’s done with charity and wisdom, such conversations can bear a lot of fruit.

Above all, remember that the Church has very good reasons to teach what it does, and these teachings are actually borne of science and theology, not just one or the other. When you meet with couples to talk about contraception and Natural Family Planning, you can be confident that you are sharing good news for both their physical and spiritual health.

Read Time: 2 minutes

Financial discussions can be difficult to have with your partner. Everyone has different philosophies about managing money. However, when couples get married, having healthy discussions about money can directly affect your relationship.

These tips can help guide you through difficult conversations about money.

Have an Open Mind

When discussing your finances, it’s important to keep an open mind. Everyone comes from varying financial backgrounds and may have had different experiences with money. These experiences contribute to a person’s financial outlook, and it can cause conflict when you and your partner don’t see eye to eye.

However, if you maintain an open mind during financial conversations, you may be able to work through disagreements quickly and with more effective solutions.

A great way to avoid confrontation is to spend time focusing on your partner’s strengths.

If the entire conversation is focused on their weaknesses, your partner may get defensive which could lead to arguments. Make sure you acknowledge the financial strengths of your partner so they feel supported throughout your discussion.

Create Realistic Goals

As with any important conversation with your partner, you should agree on a common goal.

Are you talking about setting up a budget, or do you want to save money to start a family? Whatever your goals are, be upfront and honest about them and try to keep the conversation on track.

Remember, when you’re setting up goals with your partner they need to be actionable and specific.

Realistic goals need to include dates and checkpoints, which makes it easier for individuals to hold themselves accountable.

Listen More, Talk Less

These conversations can get long and difficult, especially either or both of you do all the talking and no listening. Be in tune with what your partner is expressing, simply stating that you understand their point of view. This can go a long way.

Utilizing active listening techniques throughout your discussion will help de-escalate any disagreements you and your partner have. If you feel like you and your partner are struggling with healthy communication, you may want to consult your priest, a marriage counselor, and/or a mentor to help guide you.

Discuss All of Your Finances

This is the best opportunity to be transparent about any financial goals you’re working towards or concerns that you may have. This could include debt, credit score, loans, homeownership, or any other financial matters.

Being transparent about your financial status is the best way to establish an open line of communication about finances going forward. Thoroughly understanding your financial status can help you make educated decisions that impact your lives as a couple, such as moving in together for the first time, applying for a mortgage, or opening a joint bank account.

These larger financial decisions will be greatly impacted by your current financial status and should be discussed openly.

Additionally, you should also explain what you’re prioritizing financially.

That way, you both understand which goals you want to achieve first, and how they can best support your family. Make time in the conversation so both of you can clearly articulate the value of achieving goals. In doing that, you will both feel understood and supported.

It’s Hard, But Not Impossible

Discussing finances with your partner can be scary, especially if you’ve never openly discussed these topics before. However, by keeping an open mind, setting goals, and actively listening you’ll be well on your way to a stronger relationship and even better future conversations about money.

Read Time: 5 minutes

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow Together

If you’re together for any length of time, walking through a season of grief with your partner is inevitable. Depending on the nature of your partner’s relationship with the deceased, the season could involve weeks, months, or years of working through the loss. In some ways, we are forever altered when someone we love dies, and time simply changes the way we grieve instead of eliminating it altogether.

Comfort vs. Correction

Every person expresses grief uniquely, and, unless you’re a psychologist or professional counselor, it’s difficult to gauge just what to do or say when your spouse is grieving. Thankfully, it’s more important for the person who is grieving to be able to express themselves verbally than it is for you to offer advice.

A helpful theory when considering what to say to your grieving spouse is the Ring Theory. It positions the person who is experiencing the loss at the center of concentric circles and demonstrates the idea that the grieving person gets to express themselves freely (or “dump out”) to everyone they are in a relationship with.

The circles grow larger as they move out from the person who experienced the loss, and represent how close a person is to the griever. The theory suggests that people recognize which circle they belong in and encourages them to direct their attention to comforting those in the circle just inside theirs.

For example, the circle just outside the griever is their immediate family, and the outermost circle is the general public.

As the person closest to your grieving spouse, you have a wonderful yet difficult opportunity to be a safe place for their broken heart. They should be able to express themselves freely with you, unloading all of their pain, fear, and shattered dreams. This difficult season can deepen your relationship, strengthen your faith, and expand your ability to be intimate and vulnerable with one another.

However, according to the Ring Theory, things could go in a different direction if you begin to offer advice, correction, or criticism to your partner for the way they grieve or process their feelings.

If you begin “dumping” on them instead of listening, you force them into a caretaking role.

It’s also unfair and even cruel to criticize someone for the way they grieve, the feelings they are expressing, and their level of despair. Even if you don’t understand why your partner is (or is not)  so sad; cries so much (or too little), or isn’t handling grief the way you do, they are not the person to share those concerns with. Finding your own outlet with a trusted friend or counselor will free you up to stick to comforting your spouse which is really what they need most from you.

Peace vs. Perfection

When my husband and I had been married for 10 years, I experienced the loss of my father to suicide. The moments and days that immediately followed my father’s death are a blur to me. We had five children aged 5 – 15 years-old, and our family’s grief was crushing.

It’s been 15 years since my dad died, and I have reflected many times on the ways my husband has cared for and comforted me in my ever-changing grieving process.

I’m not sure either of us could recount how many times he has held me while I cried, listened to me process my feelings, or seen a shadow fall over me when something triggers a memory.

My grief has been messy, imperfect, and confusing.

It has caused angry outbursts, crippling anxiety, and disconnected numbness. It has made me cling to my husband at times and coldly push him away at others.

Thankfully, he is a devoted partner who has been willing to walk alongside me in my search for peace. He’s given me the freedom and space to explore my grief at the graveside, the counseling office, and in solitude while also being steadfast in his commitment to being with me when I need him.

It was only in the last few years that my husband finally communicated to me how my dad’s death affected him, how he lost someone he loved and respected too. I was stunned that I never considered that my husband lost a father-in-law, his children’s grandpa, a buddy…a friend.

My grief had consumed my ability to see his pain, and he never demanded that I stop being so selfish and comfort him.

Sacrifice vs. Satisfaction

The example my husband demonstrates in the way he has cared for me in my grief prioritized my needs over his. I don’t know that he made an active choice to follow the example of Christ, but he did every time he sacrificed himself to care for me. He sacrificed his need to be validated, his need to be comforted, his need to express his opinions and feelings so that he could comfort me.

Instead of demanding that I satisfy his needs when I was so broken, he chose to take them to God in prayer and left them largely unsatisfied in the human realm until he was able to find healthy places to work them out.

As I reflect on the sacrifices my husband has made for me, I feel incredibly loved and protected. As I mentioned, grief is messy and imperfect, but as we have moved through it, our marriage has been strengthened and refined by our commitment to each other despite our pain.

That messy imperfection created something beautiful in our relationship, something that has nourished and sustained us through many other marital challenges.

Hope vs. Certainty

In the last 25 years of our marriage, we have been to many funerals, and we will likely experience many more. It never gets easier to grieve or to love someone who is grieving. Grief is scary and unpredictable. When you love someone, it’s terrifying to consider all you have to lose and how life can change courses in the blink of an eye.

However, it helps to understand that comforting someone in their grief is an act of sacrificial love, most clearly demonstrated by the love of Jesus Christ. We can trust that if we prioritize the needs of our grieving spouse, God will be faithful in meeting our needs. He promises that in the most popular scripture read at funerals:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

Psalms 23:4

We walk through the valley whenever we confront death in this life, and it is a tremendous blessing to have a spouse that will walk alongside you when you’re grieving. We should all aim to be a partner who understands the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, one who can earnestly pray the words of St. Francis who said, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.”

Growing in our understanding of this kind of love can draw us closer to God and our grieving partners. It will never be easy to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but there is beautiful comfort in walking it with someone we love.