We live our lives in a sprint. From young children that eat breakfast in a hurry catch the school bus, to mom and dad who barely manage to eat a toast and gulp down the coffee sealing the morning ritual with a “see you later” or if they’re lucky with a goodbye kiss all in order to arrive on time at work. This pace is continued through the day, every day. After a long day working, taking care of children and what not, battered and tired mom and dad shut their eyes for a couple of hours only to have it all start again next morning.
In this spiral of events, the question is: when and where do I as an individual, we as a couple and we as a family find God?
Dr. Sarah Bartel has found a way to answer this question and share here insights on how she juggles between being a mother of five, writing books, co-hosting radio shows and a live show on Instagram every Wednesday offering insights and tips related to marriages.
So, we at DCM asked her some questions that are sure to bring light to any struggling couple out there. We thank Dr. Bartel for her openness and her sincere and spontaneous answers which we will be sharing in a two-part interview.
How did you come to the Catholic faith?
I was raised Catholic, but in my teen years, around the time of my Confirmation, I experienced the call of Jesus to be a committed disciple in a personal way. It was through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that I came to a more fervent and personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he founded. When I was sixteen, I consecrated myself to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the MI movement founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe. She has led me closer to her Son ever since.
Tell us about your family, what was your relationship with your parents and siblings? How did your family life prepare you for your role as mother, wife and professional?
My mother and father enrolled me and my two younger sisters in Catholic school and ensured that we received the sacraments. My mom has a devotion to Our Lady and decorated our home with statues of the Blessed Virgin and the saints. She also taught all of us sisters to say our prayers every night when we were little.
My mother’s brother, Fr. Hans Olson, is a parish priest, and he has always been an inspiration to me, challenging me to live for Christ. His motto is “mihi vivere Christus est,” “for me, to live is Christ,” and he lives this out in a humble, practical, and fun way. He is a terrible tease and always makes everyone feel seen and appreciated. My grandmother on my mom’s side has a strong Catholic faith, and she has been a loving and strong witness to a faith-filled life. I still remember attending Mass with her as a child. She would often give me little booklets of the lives of the saints, and those made an impression on me!
My mother was a wonderful homemaker, and she instilled in me the desire to be close and hands-on with my own children because of the affection and support she gave me when I was a girl. My father always encouraged me to dream big dreams, and that inspired me to study what I loved to the utmost, which is what led to my pursuit of a doctorate in theology.
My parents had a strained marriage that dissolved when I was a young married woman. I think, growing up, I always knew that strengthening marriage was the key to changing the world because of its impact on each individual—children, and the spouses themselves.
Out of all the variety of options available within Theology, why choose a specialization in marriage, family, sexual ethics, and bioethics?
I wanted to study issues that really impact people’s lives today. It was the pro-life issues that initially drew me to study moral theology, but when I discovered the beautiful theology of marriage and the coherent way that the Church articulates its teaching on sexuality, I knew that this was a “buried treasure” for many Catholics. I wanted to help uplift these teachings so that more people would accept and live by them. They truly point the way to happiness! It became increasingly clear to me how much damage the sexual revolution has inflicted on society, on families, and in the hearts, emotions, and souls of men, women, youth, and children, and I wanted to be equipped to speak against that.
Delving into more profound issues, theological issues that you have studied deeply, why do you think Theology of the Body by Saint John Paul II is so relevant to our times? What do you believe, are the teachings Saint JPII wanted to instill in the church with this treatise?
The key to the human heart is the truth that we are made for love and from love. Love is our origin and our destiny, and the human person is incomprehensible to herself or himself if love is absent, confused, or distorted. We are living in a culture that experiences great loneliness and great confusion of the meaning of the human person. St. John Paul II wanted to further the mission of Vatican II to “reveal man to himself” in his true nature, which is to be, like Jesus, a total gift of self. St. John Paul II never tired of repeating Gaudium et Spes 22 and 24.
The theology of the body reminds man and woman who they are: they are created for the nuptial gift of love, made to find themselves and the meaning of their lives in a total gift of self. It reminds man and woman that they are made in the image and likeness of God, who is in His own nature a Communion of Persons. St. John Paul II stated that the human person most fully images God when man and woman live in communion, sharing the complementarity of their masculinity and femininity in fruitful self-giving so that the nature of God’s own loving, life-giving Communion can be glimpsed. This vision of the human person as “made for the other” is radically opposed to the contemporary culture’s view of the person as an isolated individual whose aim is self-gratification. This self-centered, individualistic, and uncommitted (“ungiven”) misunderstanding of the human person is at the root of the misuse of sexuality which breaks down the family. St. John Paull II repeated often that “the future of the evangelization passes by way of the family” (Familiaris consortion.) If the world is to be saved—which was his great hope—it will by means of the family. I believe this is why he gave the world the theology of the body in his series of Wednesday addresses that spanned from 1978 to 1984. This was a prophetic teaching, and the Church is just beginning to unpack it, internalize it, and be transformed by it.
Who is your book “A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Church Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting” addressed to?
“A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Church Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting” is really a book for every Catholic man, woman, and teen. I co-edited it with John Grabowski, who was my dissertation director and mentor at The Catholic University of America. We wanted to gather relevant quotes from Church documents on marriage and family life that applied to every stage of family life, from dating, discernment and engagement, to the wedding itself, to questions about sexuality, parenting, work, old age, and difficult situations. Different chapters relate to different stages or questions in family life. We also created sections that give an overview of the great mission of marriage and family life, which is an important one for building up the Church and the world!
Parents can quickly find answers to questions about raising their children, about situations with their adult children, and about work/life balance. Engaged couples, or those discerning marriage, can also find helpful guidance in the book. It contains helpful guidance for priests and marriage prep ministers at the parish and diocesan level and can also be used in a classroom setting for high school or college-level students of theology.
With these last answers, that certainly gave us enough food for thought for at least a couple of days, we finish our first of the two-part interview with Dr. Bartel. Be sure to follow her on Instagram at Cana Feast, you can also find A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Catholic Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting at Amazon. In the second part of our interview Dr. Bartel will get more personal and share with us some tips on how to bring God to the family in a loving and positive way.