Lowering the Flag: Confessions of an Ex-Confederate

Posted August 28th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

I am an ex-Confederate raised in the Southern Confederacy.  True, the South did lose the war against “Northern Aggression” in 1865, but that just ended the political states that formed the Confederate States of America.  Confederate culture continued throughout the South, reinforced by Jim Crow laws and segregation until, in my judgment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (though it continues culturally in many areas).  That’s 100 years of Confederate culture thriving in the 11 states that seceded from the Union including my own home state, Louisiana.

I say am an “Ex-Confederate” because I fully identified with this Confederate culture without any awareness of how it was held together by institutionalized racism and terror against Blacks.  I grew up, like many White Southerners, lamenting the “Lost Cause,” the Confederate defeat by those “no good, lying Yankees,” yet grateful to live in the United States, and very glad that slavery was ended.  It was not until about 15 years ago that I retired my confederate flag, folded it up, and stored it away.  I did this after years of spiritual direction and soul searching that helped me unravel an ugly truth about my upbringing that became undeniable: I was bred by my Southern culture to believe in White superiority.  My parents did not intend this, my church and the Catholic schools I attended did not intend this, but the culture in which I was raised did.

How did White supremacy make its way into my consciousness?  Here’s how:  I never heard my father tell a racial joke, but I did hear both his friends and mine tell them.  I have no memory of my parents ever using the word, “Nigger;” instead they said, “the Colored woman” or “the Colored man,” but my neighbors and friends used the “N” word.  If I was doing a job and was not doing it right, it would be common for my boss to say, “That’s a nigger-rig job; do it again.”  If there was a “Colored” who did things right, it was not uncommon for someone to say, “He’s Black on the outside, but White on the inside.”  If I called a White person who was an adult by his first name, my mother would have smacked me.  It was Mr. Mike or Miss Kay.  But I could call a Colored person who was an adult by his first name.  I later learned the reason for this was because as a White boy, I was thought to be the equal of a Colored adult, but not a White adult.

The annual fall festival weekend in our small town had two parades, the Colored parade on Friday night and the White parade on Saturday.  My dad was a band director, and his band always marched in the Saturday parade.  I remember going to the Colored parade as a child.  Even then I could see that their uniforms were poor, worn, and wrinkled, very different from what my father’s band members were wearing.  We had one movie theater in our town.  Colored people had to enter through the alley; Whites went through the front door.  There was a Black Catholic grade school in my hometown that was just 2-3 miles from my home.  I never saw it.  Our Catholic school had nothing to do with the Catholic school for Colored children.

As a child, I read stories about Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the same way that I read stories about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  They were American heroes, not simply Southern heroes.  Our family visited the Vicksburg battlefield when I was a boy.  I have a vivid memory of being in awe of a Confederate soldier who came up to speak with us.  I thought he was real.  We brought home Confederate hats, money, and swords, and came home ready to fight the war again.  Mom and Dad gave us “the Blue and the Gray” toy set for Christmas, and the Civil War was fought from after midnight Mass until four in the morning.

While on a school trip to Washington D.C. and New York City, we passed through Tennessee. There, I bought my first Confederate battle flag, one similar to the flag removed from the South Carolina statehouse.  It was…well…big, about the size of a large picture window.  I “flew” it in my room at home, and later in my dorm room in the seminary.  I had no idea that for many people it meant racism, the KKK, and White supremacy.  I flew it with the same sort of pride that I did when waving an American flag on the 4th of July.  When I was a freshman in the seminary, a Black student from Alabama came walking into my room.  There was old Dixie hanging in all its glory.  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Cool, huh?”  I was clueless as to what it might mean for him.

Thankfully, he and another Black student could see that I was a benign racist.  They befriended me and began to teach me about their experience of being Black in our American society and in our Catholic Church.  I went to Catholic and Baptist churches serving the Black community.  I listened to stories of prejudice and abuse.  I read books such as Black Like Me by J.H. Griffin and Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. M.L. King, Jr.  And I sought help in spiritual direction.

It took me a long time to come to see that the problem was not about racism and White supremacy in the culture; the problem was about racism and White supremacy in me.  I was bred by Southern culture to believe that Whites were superior to all people of color but especially Blacks, and I carried some of that thinking in me.  I had to admit, though I did not want to, that the Confederate flag carried that meaning as well.  The flag did not simply mean pride in the “Lost Cause” to create a new nation 150 years ago, but also prejudice and mistreatment of Blacks today.

This was driven home to me one day when I bumped into an old friend of my parents while visiting family in south Louisiana.  My brother and I had just returned from touring the Civil War battlefield at Port Hudson, Louisiana.  A significant aspect of this battle was that it was the first time that Colored soldiers were sent into combat for the Union Army.  The battle was a disastrous baptism of fire for these ill-trained soldiers, and hundreds were slaughtered by Rebel gunners.  My brother mentioned to me that this older family friend was a “Confederate general” as part of a group of Civil War re-enactors.  When I saw him, I asked him about his re-enactor’s role and then told him about our trip to Port Hudson.  This was his startling response: “We kicked the niggers then, and we will kick them again.”

I was stunned.  I saw hate in this man’s eyes and heard it in his voice.  He was not re-enacting the past, but living in the now.  I took my flag down.  That was over 15 years ago.  I am still very interested in Civil War history and still enjoy reading about Stonewall Jackson and his Valley Campaign, General Taylor and his Louisiana Tigers.  I also admit, if anyone asks, that I am a “recovering racist.”  I am very well aware of how I was raised. This awareness helps me pay attention to treating all people who are different from me with dignity and respect.   But this is not enough. I must confront the institutions and customs that are carriers of bigotry and hate, and flying the Confederate flag is such a custom.  It is past time to take it down.


Please join us for our fall retreat day – “For Freedom Christ Set us Free”  Galatians 5:1

Sunday, October 11, St. Mary-on-the-Lake Bellevue, WA,

9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Christian faith is about more than just getting to heaven.  It is about knowing an interior liberation now, a freedom from not merely sin but excessive anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness.  At this day of prayer and study we will look at the relationship between “sanctity” and “sanity.”  Through grace, Jesus works in us to lead us to“sanctity” or holiness. Our response to Jesus through grace leads us to “sanity” or mental health. Both are fruits of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22)

 Cost:  $30 (single); $50 (couple)  Presenter:  Dr. Robert Fontana and TBA

To Register:  Send the registration fee plus your name, address, phone, and email to CLM, 7317 Bainbridge Pl SW, Apt 1, Seattle, WA 98136. You can also register on-line by going to Catholiclifeministries.org.  Look to the column on the right, scroll down to “register for an event.”


A Lenten Homily: Get in the game!

Posted February 13th, 2018 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

by Robert Fontana
75705175 - soccer player legs in action

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean. The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”  The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.  He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places,  and people kept coming to him from everywhere.

Today’s readings are going to help us understand the difference between being an admirer of Jesus like the man healed from leprosy, and a follower of Jesus, like St. Paul.  It’s the difference between the person sitting in the stands watching and another one who “gets in the game.” 

Paul writes: Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.  (1 Cor 10:31)

Followers of Jesus are people who do everything for the glory of God.  Like Nick Foles, in winning the super-bowl as the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, who said, “All glory to God.”  

Followers of Jesus do all for the glory of God.  This is liberating.  When we do things for the glory of God, we are able to set our egos aside and draw on the strength that comes from God to do what needs to be done.  And if a person can “eat and drink” for the glory of God and play a football game for the glory of God, then one can surely do just about anything for the glory of God.  Followers of Jesus….

IMG_3123mow the lawn, clean the toilet, pay the bills, do homework, change a diaper, go to work, go fishing, play with the children, donate to charity, vote, romance your spouse, do everything …FOR THE GLORY OF GOD!

 How do we do this?  Certainly not by following the example of the man healed of leprosy in the Gospel story.  He was healed by Jesus but didn’t listen to what Jesus told him to do.  Jesus told him to tell no one but to go show himself to the priest according to the Law of Moses.  But the man is so excited about being healed, he forgets Jesus instructions and goes around town blabbing about it to his friends and neighbors.  Consequently, Jesus’ work gets interrupted because he can no longer go into a village without attracting a crowd.  The man healed has become a minor celebrity and enjoys it.  He is only an admirer of Jesus and not a follower of Jesus.  We know this because he did not do what Jesus asked of him.  Followers of Jesus set their egos aside and do what Jesus asks of them.

I should not be too hard on this man.  I am not very different from him.  I was once in an aisle way as Mother Teresa was approaching.  She passed right by me, and I reached out and touched her.  I didn’t touch her to ask her for prayers or advice, and I certainly didn’t touch her to say I wanted to follow her.  I was an admirer and I touched her for bragging rights.  I often do that with Jesus.  The problem is that Jesus is not interested in having admirers.  He doesn’t want a fan club, and he doesn’t want to be a celebrity.  He wants disciples, followers, women and men, boys and girls, who will listen to the Word of God and put it into practice.

fan 2Admirers of Jesus are not bad people they just haven’t gotten into the game.  They’re still sitting on the sidelines cheering Jesus on while Jesus is looking for people to get into the game.

For example, Admirers of Jesus come to Church to get away from all the sin and evil in the world and console themselves that God loves them.  Followers of Jesus come to Church because they know that they are sinners who have contributed to the sin in the world and seek God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Admirers of Jesus receive the Eucharist because they truly believe it is the body of Jesus, the bread of life.  Followers of Jesus receive the Eucharist so that they can be transformed into the living Body of Jesus and be the “bread of life” to others especially the poor, sick, unborn, and elderly.

Admirers of Jesus proudly place a cross in their homes displaying their Catholic faith; followers of Jesus pick up their spiritual crosses every day in trying to love and serve their families and in being a power for good at work and in the community.

And when Admirers of Jesus are confronted with an aspect of the Gospel that they consider too demanding or simply not what they want to do, they step away from Jesus saying to themselves, “surely Jesus didn’t mean this or that.”  When followers of Jesus are confronted with an aspect of the Gospel that they consider too demanding or not what they want to do, they confide their thoughts and fears to the Lord and eventually tell Him:  “Okay, Jesus, not my will, but your will be done.”

retreatLent begins this Wednesday.  Let’s make a plan for Lent that will help us move from being an admirer of Jesus to being a follower of Jesus, from someone who cheers Jesus from the sidelines to someone who gets in the game to do His will.  And whether we eat or drink, play football or clean the toilet, whatever we do, let us…DO EVERYTHING…



Save the Date for the CLM Spring Day of Prayer

Praying Like a Mystic

taize-300x199A day of prayer & reflection on what the great pray-ers of the past can teach us today about deepening our love and communion with God, and doing God’s will within the circumstances of our lives.

Sunday, April 29, 2017

Presenter:  Robert Fontana

Place: Peace & Spirituality Center,  1663 Killarney Way, Bellevue, WA

Time: 9:30 a.m.—4:30 p.m.

Cost:  $50 single / $90 couple (scholarships available)

To Register: Send name, email, phone, payment, to CLM, 1827 NE 58th St. # B, Seattle, WA 98105  OR  register online at catholiclifeministries.org

For more information: call (509-731-6012) or email Robert@catholiclifeministiries.org

[Soccer photo: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_sportgraphic’>sportgraphic / 123RF Stock Photo</a>]

St. Brigid’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and Other Non-Essentials of the Christian Life

Posted January 25th, 2018 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

Ash_wed3A person could go all his or her life without observing Ash Wednesday and still be a deeply committed Christian.  Obviously the same is true for St. Brigid’s Day.  These celebrations have accompanying outward observances.  On Ash Wednesday we receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads.  On the eve of St. Brigid’s Day (February 1), we use a kerchief to literally swipe our homes clean of sin with the cloth and then tie the cloth to a tree, where “Spirit-wind” blows the sin away.  These rituals help us sanctify the days.  The activities are an outward sign of our belief as disciples of Jesus, yet they are not essential to discipleship.

What are the essentials of being a disciple of Jesus anyway?  Here are a few that come to mind:  belonging to a community of faith that follows Jesus; encountering Jesus in a personal way and making a conscious decision to follow him by living out the Beatitudes; opening one’s life to the Holy Spirit; belonging to a small group where one is personally loved and held accountable as a disciple; participation in public worship and community rites; maintaining a consistent prayer life that involves the praying/studying of Scripture; engaging one’s faith within daily life; caring for the sick, elderly, poor, and for children.

prayerWOW!  That’s a tall order and sounds like a lot of work.  These “essentials” are the “meat and potatoes” of following Jesus but, to continue the food analogy, without much seasoning or dessert.  I think that it’s the addition of the non-essentials that adds spice and fun to one’s faith, and shapes a specific identity as Catholic Christians.  For example, the liturgical year that divides up secular time into sacred seasons of Advent/Christmas, Lent, Easter/Pentecost, and Ordinary Times, is certainly not an essential feature of being a Christian.  Some deeply Christian denominations function perfectly fine without a “liturgical year.”  Yet we Catholics, joined by the Orthodox and mainline Protestants, find it extremely useful to organize the year around the major themes of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  In doing so, we think we are better able to fully participate in that paschal mystery year round.

We wait with patience during Advent as we pray for the coming Messiah; rejoice exceedingly as we celebrate that coming of the Messiah in the baby Jesus during Christmas/Epiphany; sit at the feet of Jesus during Ordinary Time to learn about the Kingdom of God; mourn with Jesus for our sins and the sins of the world as we walk with him to Calvary; and shout “Alleluia” as we experience his resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The liturgical year is a non-essential aspect of Christian discipleship that infuses our faith with the breadth of human emotions.  It adds immense depth to Christian discipleship and provides us with an anchor to hang on to our faith within the busyness of secular society.

The “Sign of the Cross” is another non-essential and arbitrary practice that Christians do that has helped shape an identity that is deeply Christian and Catholic.  In that one action, we remind ourselves of the saving work of Jesus through his death on the cross, and of our dependence on the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Can a person be a good Christian and never make the “sign of the cross”?  Most certainly.  Some Christians bow their heads when they begin a prayer.  Catholics (and Orthodox) make the “Sign of the Cross.”  It summons us to quiet ourselves, and be attentive to what God is doing in the moment, whether it be followed by the blessing of a meal or the committal of a beloved family member to the grave.

woman praying with rosary in handI think a relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus, especially manifested through the practice of praying the rosary, is a non-essential practice of Christian discipleship.  One could go his or her entire life without ever praying to Mary, much less saying the rosary, and still be a deeply committed follower of Jesus.  St. Paul makes no mention of Jesus’ mother except in one obscure text in Galatians (4:4).  Certainly Paul never prayed to Mary and never thought that what she brought to the life of a disciple was important enough to write about.  Protestants, taking their cue from Paul, also do not pray to Mary (or the saints) and yet are still following Jesus as committed disciples.  Mary and the rosary are non-essentials to Christian discipleship.  But I believe a devotion to Mary, so deeply imbedded in Catholic culture, is a wonderful gift from God that deepens faith, hope, and love.

Of course, there are many other non-essentials such as observing the feast days of saints, praying to St. Anthony for lost items, blessing pets on the feast of St. Francis, wearing religious medals and scapulars, lighting candles as a prayer offering, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and “burying the Alleluia” on Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  None of these practices are essential to Christian discipleship and, if done without the essentials, don’t have much meaning.  But when these rituals are done in conjunction with being an active follower of Jesus, they have the capacity to shape a Catholic Christian identity that gives a person deeper roots and brings joy and fun to the Christian life.

So add some spice to your faith life.  On St. Brigid’s Day (Feb. 1), wipe your home clean of sin and on Mardi Gras (Feb. 13)) bury the Alleluia (see rituals below).  Then on Ash Wednesday, the very next day, go to the nearest Catholic Church and get your ashes (even if you are not a Catholic).


BrigidSt. Brigid’s Day “Spring Cleaning” (February 1)
Prayer:  Saint Brigid, daughter of Ireland and lover of Jesus, draw us by your prayers into the living flame of God’s love.  Help us to clean our hearts and homes of all that is selfish and self-centered.  We forgive all who have hurt us and ask God to forgive our sins as well.

Pray for us, St. Brigid, that we will be attentive to the poor and spiritually abandoned, that we will practice the Beatitudes in good times and bad, and that the warmth of God’s love will animate all that we say and do.

Activity:  Each member of the home takes a kerchief or handkerchief in hand and walks through the house dusting the furniture and books, and lamps, etc. singing “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

When the house has been thoroughly dusted, all go outside and tie the kerchiefs on the branches of a tree. The myth is that, on the eve and day St. Brigid, in the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, travels through the land with her prayers to remove the dust and sin, and even ailments, from our lives.

Closing Prayer:  St. Brigid, come this day, to our home and hearts, come by the power of God, and be our guest.  And help us, dear Brigid, to wipe away the dust of “me, my, and mine” that we might love others with a selfless heart.  Amen.

Our Father…

Leave the kerchiefs and handkerchiefs on the tree for a week or until Ash Wednesday.



Ash_wed3All               Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Leader             For the 40 days of Lent the Church “buries the Alleluia” by refraining from singing this sacred word in our liturgy.  We do so to remember the Lord Jesus, God’s alleluia, the Lamb of God, who took the sins of the world with him to the grave so as to rob them of their power to destroy life.

What are the sins of the world today that destroy life?  Say them aloud as you write them on a sheet of paper bearing the word “Alleluia.”

[After all have done so the “Alleluia” is placed in the ground and buried with dirt in the same way that Jesus who died for the sins of the world was placed in a tomb following his death.]

All                   Gracious God and Father, your beloved Son Jesus suffered death to give us life.  Help us during this Lenten season to deny ourselves and serve others in imitation of Him who lives with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.  Amen!

Donate to CLM – build strong marriages and families and heal the sick

Posted December 28th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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By Robert Fontana

Robert and Lori Fontana, directors of Catholic Life MinistriesCatholic Life Ministries runs on donations and prayers from friends and sponsors who believe in the work that we do in awakening faith, strengthening marriages and families, and building Christian community. And since 2014, when I began interning as a therapist, the work of CLM has extended to healing the sick, those individuals, couples, and families who are suffering tremendously from the traumas of life that are preventing them from fully knowing the love of God and the love of one another.

Here are some photos from our year in ministry.  For all of you who sponsor us in ministry we are most grateful.  If you like the work that we do and enjoy reading our Weekly Essays and Marriage Musings, please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to help CLM continue this essential work (http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/donate/).

Marriage Preparation, Retreats, Service Days, Pilgrimage Walk, Marriage EnrichmentIMG_2906IMG_2908IMG_2909IMG_2944 IMG_2945 IMG_2948 IMG_2951IMG_2854 IMG_2855 IMG_2863 IMG_2866 IMG_3191 IMG_3192 IMG_2911 IMG_0224IMG_3315IMG_0208IMG_2856IMG_3112 IMG_3113 IMG_3114

Yahoo, everyone, we are in the Christmas SEASON!

Posted December 26th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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By Robert Fontana

Christmas-CarolersKeep those carols playing on your Pandora, keep drinking eggnog (with or without the rum), keep your tree up, and certainly keep a candle lit next to your nativity set.  Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, the eternal word of God, was born of Mary.  It’s a story that is “too good to be true,” yet it is true.  Jesus was not a phantom, a ghost, a god who pretended to be human (and certainly not a human who pretended to be a god).  Jesus was fully human and fully God, yet he was conceived in the womb of Mary, and grew like any baby for nine months before being born in a stable.  He nursed at Mary’s breasts, had to learn to walk and talk as any child does, and needed the guidance and example of his parents (and extended family and friends), to grow into the person God was calling him to be.  This Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world and is fully present to us today through the Holy Spirit.  We want to keep the celebration of Christmas going so that we can soak up and live in the deep truth of Christmas: the divine became human so that the human would become divine.

Here’s how we keep Christmas, not just as a DAY, but as a SEASON, from Christmas Eve to the great feast of Epiphany or Three Kings.  Epiphany is celebrated internationally on January 6, but in the U.S. it is observed on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas which this year is January 7.  Perhaps you could celebrate Epiphany with the following prayer:

  1. Light the three candles of the Magi (for gold, frankincense and myrrh) and say the Magi prayer each day (usually at dinner): To Bethlehem we travel with the Magi from the East, across the days of Christmas, to the Epiphany Feast.  Give us the courage of the Magi as we begin our search for you.  Give us the eyes of the Magi that we might see the star that leads us too.  And when we get to Bethlehem on that Holy Epiphany Day, give us the courage of the Magi that humbles us to pray.                                                                                           
  2.  Keep your decorations up until Epiphany or even the Baptism of the Lord, January 8, which is the formal ending of the Christmas season.
  1. Make plans to share your time, talent and treasure over the Christmas season with someone or a group of people who are struggling with life. Last year our daughter Colleen helped us organize dinner and activities for Spanish-speaking migrant teens staying at a nearby detention center. This year we baked an extra pan of lasagna for Christmas dinner, then walked through the nearby park to serve dinner to men and women living in tents.
  1. Pray. Read the daily Mass readings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122617.cfm).  Light a candle each morning, place it next to your nativity set, and sit in silence for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Plan an Epiphany party with family and friends. Make crowns for all to wear in honor of the three kings, serve ice cream at breakfast with your kids and/or grandkids.  Give a gift to someone you love.  And by all means go to Mass or your service at church.  Gather with other disciples as you join with the Magi from the east to worship the Christ Child.

A Five Minute Christmas Homily: Sleep in Heavenly Peace!

Posted December 22nd, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

Each year I submit a Christmas homily that I think will only take about five minutes to give because I don’t think the Christmas homily should be much longer.  The entire day of Christmas Day (and Eve), including the liturgy, proclaims the meaning of this holy day.  The homily is simply, as we say in Louisiana, “Lagniappe” or, “a little extra.” Here’s mine:

nativityRob     Merry, Holy, Christmas, Church!  Sing with me the last line from Silent Night:  “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”  Every time I raise my hand during this homily would you sing that wonderful line from Silent Night?  Let’s practice (Rob raises hand and all sing):

All       “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Rob     You and I can sleep in peace tonight.  The Christ child has come.  Yes, he came two thousand years ago in a humble stable in Bethlehem, and, yes, he comes today in our hearts.  The Christ Child, a beautiful boy child, God’s beloved son, and the son of Mary, fully God and fully human, is born anew this night, both in our hearts and in the Eucharist.  We can sleep in peace tonight, the Christ Child has come.

All       “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

arguingRob     “Wait, Rob,” you might say.  “How can I sleep in peace when some of my family members are not talking to me; liberals and conservatives aren’t talking; no one is talking to the homeless; the North Koreans are not talking to the U.S.; and most of humanity is not talking to God?”  I know, I know, conflict abounds, there is immense suffering in the world and in our lives, and this suffering often feels overwhelming.  That is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago, when love was born at Bethlehem.  When Jesus was born, the awesome power that exploded in the Big Bang and created the known universe, was once again released into the world but this time through the birth of a child.   And in this child, through His life, death, and resurrection, God showed us that love is the most powerful force in the universe, that love is the only way to get people talking to one another, the only path to world peace.  So yes, we can sleep in peace tonight: the Christ Child has come.

All       Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

Rob     God’s love in Jesus is very personal.  God loves you just as you are!  God is being born in your heart with all the good that is there and, most importantly, with all the pain, sin, fear, regret, hurt, and shame that are also there.  Take a moment…make a place for Jesus in your heart…welcome him in…let Jesus love you just as you are.  When you receive the Eucharist tonight / today, do not hold back.  Give to Jesus everything that is in your heart…and open your heart to welcome Jesus as he gives himself completely to you.   So yes, we can sleep in peace tonight: the Christ Child has come.

All       “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

 baby&momRob     Jesus did not come into the world just for us, for those who know Him and are trying to love him.  Jesus came into the world for those who do not know him, who are not guided by love, those who practice all sorts of vile and wicked things.  As John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, not to condemn the world but to save it.”  Church, we need to love the world as well.  Nothing is transformed by hate.  Only love can truly transform a person, a group of people, or an institution into someone or something better.  God loves the world! God has not given up on the world; and God is still sending his Son into the world by sending us into the world to transform it by love.  Be conscious of all the painful, difficult drama in the world and in your life, but do not be overwhelmed by it.  For we who have accepted Jesus into our lives are taking his love into the world and transforming it by being a power for good in our homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods.  So yes, we can sleep in peace tonight: the Christ Child has come.

All       “Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”


black coupleMarriage is Beautiful…(and sometimes hard),   A Marriage Enrichment Series   

Our Lady of Guadalupe ,     Parish Center Basement Hall, 7000 35th Avenue SW, Seattle

Monday Nights, 7-9 p.m.

Jan 22 –  What’s beautiful about your  marriage, why marriage is hard, and the goal of Christian marriage—unity.

Jan 29 – Skill-building for marriage success: self-awareness, time-outs,  “I-statements,” and active listening.

Feb 5- Skill-building for marriage success:   effective problem-solving.

Feb 12 –  Sex, money, and faith.

Fee: $40 by Dec. 31, $50 after Dec. 31

To register: Send names, cell #, address, email & fee to CLM,  1827 NE 58th St. Apt B, Seattle, 98105, or email this information to Robert@catholiclifeministries.org and pay online at catholiclifeministries.org/donate/






Marriage Musings: “Rob, help, we don’t connect except by text!”

Posted December 17th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

textingYou know your marriage is in trouble if the primary way that you and your spouse speak to one another is texting.  That probably means that you get the business of marriage and family done – getting the kids to school, buying groceries – but what does it say about your relationship?  Perhaps you’re busy out of your mind with the tasks of day-to-day life, with no “quality time” for your spouse. Or, perhaps, the relationship is not safe for anything deeper like, “How was your day?”

I have a theory that most marriages will go the distance if couples will give their relationship regular attention.  Thus, my motto is, “Work on your marriage and your marriage will work.”  When a couple comes to see me for counseling, I first ask them to tell me how they met.  I want to hear about what attracted each to the other and why each said “yes” to marriage.  I especially want to hear stories of their having fun together and being in love.

I then ask them about issues that came up that began to separate them and how they reacted to one another in these situations.  From our first meeting, I am trying to understanding the negative rut they have dug for themselves and which they tend to repeat even though the issues may change.  Gottman writes that most couples only have about 2 – 3 arguments over their lifetime, arguments based not on what is right or wrong, but on how the spouses are simply different people.  These arguments may look different as circumstances change, but they are basically the same 2 – 3 arguments.  I assure couples that because they created this rut or negative pattern, they can also create something new, something that is more life-giving and affirming.  In fact, I try to get them to see that the real culprit in the marriage is not the other spouse, but the negative pattern that together they have created.

couple-in-counseling-unhappyAt the same time that I am trying to identify the negative patterns in the relationship, I am also assessing for two primary aspects of the relationship:  “Do spouses feel safe together?” and “Do they still like each other?”  If I get any hint from the way they interact with each other that one or the other does not feel safe or does not like his/her partner, I set up an individual session with each spouse to get more information.  If safety is an issue, if one or both partners are afraid of being physically and/or too deeply emotionally hurt in the sessions, I may not see them for couple counseling because it simply will not work.  I refer each of them to individual therapy to work on the issues that contribute to an unsafe relationship.

Liking each other is also important though not a deal-breaker for couple counseling.  If spouses convey to me that they do not like each other, I learn more about the depth of this dislike in an individual session.  Gottman writes that “contempt” is one of the four killers of marriage.  When one or both spouses tell me that he or she can hardly look at the other without being disgusted, then, again, I may recommend that each go to individual counseling to help each get to a place where they have some positive feelings for one another.  There has to be some positive motivation to work on the marriage and not just while they are in my office.

I expect couples who are seeing me to work on their marriage at home.  For all couples who agree to work with me, I ask that they spend some amount of uninterrupted time with each other – which means no computers and cell phones – every day.  The goal is to have them spend one hour of uninterrupted time with each other every day, but I adjust this homework according to how much “togetherness” a couple says they can handle.

black coupleThe goal of this time together is to rebuild friendship.  Before they leave my office, I have couples brainstorm what this time might look like.  They usually say, “play cards or a board game, talk about each other’s day and the children, give back rubs or hand massages, cook together, read a book out loud to one another, pray together, go for a walk or bike ride, or, of course, have a romantic moment.

One couple I worked with found that simply taking this one hour a day together moved their marriage out of its rut.  They were simply not spending the time together that each of them wanted.  Another couple that I worked with could only commit themselves to spending 5 – 10 minutes of being alone together each day.  They agreed to give each other a hand massage and talk about their day.  They were going to try to slowly work up to an hour a day.

If a couple tells me that they cannot make this commitment to spend uninterrupted time together on a regular basis, then I will not see them for couples counseling.  If I’m going to invest my time in working with them, I want them investing their time, outside our office visit, on their marriage.  I do tell them that this is not a time for fighting and arguing.  If they find themselves getting frustrated with one another and moving towards a collision, I counsel them to call “time-out” and save the argument for when I am with them.

Is your marriage in a rut?  Do you find that your best method for communicating is texting?  STOP!  Perhaps you should go see a marriage counselor, or perhaps the only thing you need is to make time every day to have uninterrupted focus on each other.  You give your computer and your cell phone uninterrupted time; you certainly can do the same for your spouse!


If you live in the greater Seattle area and want to meet for individual, couple, or family counseling here are my hours:

Counseling location/hours        Professional Building, 4505 44th Ave. SW, West Seattle

Tuesdays: 5-8 p.m.                                   Wednesday: 8 a.m. – Noon                       Thursday: All day and evening                 Friday: Noon – 8 p.m.                              Saturday: 1st and 3rd Saturdays of month.

For more information or to make an appointment call Robert at 509-731-6012 or workonyourmarriage@gmail.com


St. Nicholas and Santa Claus: a Comparison

Posted December 7th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
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December 6   St. Nicholas and Santa Claus

Santa wants your credit card; Nicholas wants your heart.

Santa will turn you into a consumer; Nicholas will help you be a servant.

Santa is a whimsical tale of a fat old elf who gives toys to boys and girls who have been good; St. Nicholas helped children escape from poverty and slavery.

Santa reminds us to give presents; Nicholas reminds us to give ourselves.

Santa is controlled by the department store; Nicholas was led by the Spirit.

Santa is a man dressed in a costume; Nicholas was a Bishop who cared for his people.

Santa reminds us to follow the Christmas sales; Nicholas reminds us to follow Jesus.

Santa promises us happiness through gift-giving; Nicholas reminds us that happiness is the fruit of a faithful life.

Santa is a fun story to read to children at Christmas Eve; Nicholas was a man of great compassion who sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor so that he could do God’s will in perfect freedom.

st nicholasSanta has nothing to do with Jesus the God-Man whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day.  Nicholas’ life only makes sense because of his love and commitment to Jesus the God-Man whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day.

St. Nicholas, we need your prayers during this Advent-Christmas season.  Pray that, as we enjoy the holiday, we may be mindful of God’s love for us and God’s command to love our neighbor.  Help us to imitate Jesus during these busy days by making time for quiet reflection and meaningful service. May God give us the grace to be content with what we have and who we are.  Amen!   

Intentional Advent: Making Space for the Christ Child

Posted November 29th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

by Lori Fontana

christmas-2Twas the week after Thanksgiving and all through the city, Christmas trees UP! Everything lookin’ pretty!   The shopping malls strung with bright lights and good deals, Low prices, new products, all for shopper appeal.

 Nintendo and X-box, Cuisinart, Samsung, From Macy’s to Walmart, don’t forget Amazon. There’s Banana Republic and also Mattel.  There’s jewelry, new cell phones, and all is on sale.

Now, grab this, now buy that, it’s such a great bargain. On debit, on credit, and   other such jargon.  We rush here and rush there, from store to store, In a searching frenzy for that one gift more…

Ahhhh, Christians, it’s Advent! But aren’t we trained otherwise?! We’ve barely set down our forks from the last bite of turkey (or perhaps, as in my family, tofurkey!), and we are off to Black Friday sales, long wish lists in hand.

Indeed, there are many appealing facets to the commercialization of Christmas. In this darkest, coldest season of the year, the twinkling lights, glittering ornaments,  familiar songs, and favorite symbols delight us and warm our spirits. The trees,  crèches, Santas, candy canes, gingerbread houses, and sugar cookies tap into our memories from childhood, memories that may be embellished over time so that we truly believe that this is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The church would heartily agree that we are approaching a marvelous feast day, a day of great celebration—Christmas! But it is in the preparations for this feast that church and society diverge a bit.

Frosty_the_Snowman_GBI confess, I’ve been humming along with “Frosty the Snowman,” floating over the aisles of the Walgreen’s. I am drawn to the glow coming from strings of tiny white Christmas lights, and I inhale deeply, and with a sigh of pleasure, the fragrances of freshly-cut pine, cinnamon and peppermint. But I am also very conscious of a deep desire to spend the lovely season of Advent doing some serious preparation for Christmas, which is first and foremost, the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  And if I do have a firm plan in place for my observation of Advent, I know I will get lost in the swirl and glitter of the commercial holidays, and I will have missed out on the graces of Advent.

Our church has shown great wisdom in pairing our great religious feasts with a preparation time of prayer and fasting. We have Advent before Christmas, Lent before Easter, the Friday fast   before Sunday – the day of the Resurrection. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters have the practice of very strict fasting and abstinence before all the important feast days, when they celebrate great saints and important events in the life of Jesus.

The purpose of fasting is to make room for the feast. If we are already full to the brim, with parties, presents, and rich holiday treats, the Christmas feast is just another day. I do love the festivities of Christmastide, but I want to create space in my body, mind, and spirit so that I can celebrate fully the feast of Christ’s coming.

How can I do that—make space in my life to let Jesus in? I have a few ideas. My first step is to be intentional. I need to make a plan. Otherwise, I know I will hurtle through these weeks of Advent, with little awareness of “fasting.” The plan needs to be concrete and measurable, and most of all,  do-able. How can I make some room in my life for the Christ Child?

In this busiest time of year, can I give 10 – 15 minutes a day to silent reflection? Can I light a candle, gaze at a picture or icon of Madonna and Child, be still? It means turning off the phone, the radio, the TV, the computer…just for 15 minutes, every day, to create that empty space.

I like to listen to the radio, when I’m driving, when I’m working around the house. Can I turn off the radio and be in the silence as I work or as I drive? Can I pray    during those times, or sing Christmas carols softly to myself? In the space created by quiet, can I meditate on the mystery of Christmas? Can I listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit? It is hard to hear the Spirit amid all of the holiday noise. Can I open up a little space for the Spirit’s wisdom, encouragement, and  guidance?

advent-wreathI also recommend praying with the Advent wreath. It can be very simply made – 4 candles, 3 purple, 1 pink; or 4 white candles marked with purple and pink ribbons. Advent wreath prayer booklets are available from  Christian shops and online, and, perhaps, from your  parish. Children love the ritual of lighting the candles each night of Advent, singing a carol, pausing for moments of prayer and reflection. It’s a lovely Catholic / Christian tradition that creates a peaceful space in our day and draws our focus to Christ.

angel staubBy obsering Advent, we interrupts the secular Christmas celebration. Advent says, “Wait a minute,” or really, “Wait four weeks. Choose some form of fasting to make some space.   Christmas will come, in all its marvelous glory, but we Christians are going to wait to celebrate.” I pray for a peace-filled time of “fasting” during our season of Advent so that we can all celebrate with joyful gusto the feast of Christmas.

Please post your comments and any suggestions you have about observing Advent.




Another homily: “On no, I can never retire!”

Posted November 21st, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

BoudreauxSunday homily, Nov 19

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.'”

Well done, my good and faithful servant!   When I raise my hand would you repeat those words?

Good morning, Church.  In today’s Gospel parable Jesus is telling us to go out and invest in the stock market.  Right?  Everybody say wrong.  No, Jesus is reminding us through this story that he has a purpose for our lives. And, OH NO, IT IS A PURPOSE FROM WHICH WE CAN NEVER RETIRE. Most importantly, Jesus has given us the gifts we need to fulfill that purpose.  Jesus has called us together. He is with us right now, and he is telling us today what the master told his servant in the parable:

Well done, my good and faithful servant! 

The key to a proper interpretation of Jesus’ parables, and, indeed his whole life, is the concept of the “Kingdom of God.”  What is the Kingdom of God?  The answer is really very simple, and we say it every time we pray the Our Father.  We pray “hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

There it is…so simple and clear…the kingdom of God is about God’s will being done on earth—within our marriages, families, work commitments, neighborhoods, jobs, businesses, and political structures.  Jesus’ mission was to make the kingdom happen by doing God’s will on earth two thousand years ago.

Our mission as Jesus’ followers is to make the kingdom happen by doing God’s will today.  Yes, God wants us to be successful at work, at home, in civic life, and here at the parish, not to build up our own little kingdoms, but together to build up God’s kingdom.

This is so important that we have even have patron saints upon whom we can call for help for every job imaginable.  We have patrons saints for butchers, bakers, bell-makers, beggars, candle makers, grave diggers, woman or man seeking a spouse, dentists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, beer makers, students, Italian prison officers, and, of course, anyone seeking a lost golf ball or car keys, to name a few.

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

Ultimately, to be gifted by God for the kingdom means to be gifted by God for love. Yes, we need to be competent at what we do, but more importantly, we are to infuse what we do with love, the self-giving love of Jesus, of the saints, and of our grandparents and parents.  As the popes have taught, ours is a vocation of love.

This vocation begins in Baptism.  Today at this liturgy, these beautiful babies, new disciples of Jesus, receive their call to a vocation of love.  As they grow they will discover certain qualities and talents given to them by God that will enable them to succeed at a career or job.  But their deepest calling as disciples of Jesus is to do all that they do with love.

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

teacher 1For example, if you are a teacher, you know that being a Catholic follower of Jesus means more than just imparting knowledge to students; it’s especially about loving and caring for each student in his or her uniqueness.  As a long-time school teacher told me, “Students don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The same is true with parishioners.  Parishioners don’t care how much Father knows, until they know how much Father cares.  Fr. Jack isn’t successful here because he is an excellent homilist, though that is true, or a capable administrator, though that is also true.  He is successful here because you (and I) know that he loves us.

The same is true for all of us whatever we do within the daily commitments and relationship of life.  What is important is not simply doing a competent job with the task at hand, but being a witness for the Kingdom by doing each task with love.  As we get older and enter the so-called “golden years,” we may retire from our jobs, but we never retire from the kingdom.  The clearest example of that for me is my 87-year-old mother-in-law who lives at the Mount.  Paula wakes up every day with purpose, to get out into the Mount community, alert to anyone who needs a friend.

You and I have been gifted by God to succeed in the world for the sake of the Kingdom, a Kingdom of love. We will not love perfectly; we will not love all the time; we will make mistakes and fail at love.  But we don’t give up; we keep trying to find a way to love.  That’s why we come to Mass, to find strength from Jesus and one another, to continue living out our Baptismal vocation – to love!

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

Please post your comments.










Posted November 2nd, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Uncategorized

By Robert Fontana

Juanita and Juan are frustrated.  They are both very devout Christians, with lovely children, have jobs that they really enjoy and, by their own admission, “WE ARE SO UNHAPPY!”  And then their prayer, “PLEASE GOD, HELP US TO BE NICER TO ONE ANOTHER!”

Juan said that because he and Juanita love Jesus and attend church he was sure that his marriage would never reach the point of being a primary source of frustration for him.  Juanita agreed.  Each prayed asking God to change his/her spouse’s heart and behavior.  And when that didn’t work, each prayer to ask God to change “my heart and my behavior to my spouse.”  And when that didn’t work and the distance between each other got to great they called me.  “Wow,” said, “So I am the answer to your prayer.”

John and Jane Doe, a Christian couple called for counseling:  Jane – “I really want my marriage to succeed but we are so busy with our jobs and the babies after work we have no time for each other.  And when we do talk we get into these explosive arguments.  I want that to stop.”  John – “I know we can do better.  I don’t like the arguments.  I love Jane and want to have the kind of marriage I see other people have.

William Doe, professional man and husband:  William – “My wife and I did counseling, but it wasn’t that helpful.  I think I’m the problem.  I want to be a better person and a better husband but I have some hang-ups that I just can’t seem to let go of. I over react to little things.  I don’t want to yell at her so I just get quiet.  Maybe we’ll come in together later but I need help right now. 

Bien, professional woman from an Asian culture:  Bien – “I am struggling with my family that     expects so much of me.  My mother wants me to mediate between her and my brother, my father wants me to marry and give him a son.  My parents were always embarrassed that their first born was a girl. I want help in finding myself while still  being responsible to my family.  I do believe in God and pray but, I don’t know, God’s not much help.