Dr. Guarendi is a clinical psychologist who sees the bigger picture: we are called to become more like Christ, and so following Christ’s example provides our pathway to resolving our everyday problems. That means, among other things, we must subjugate our will to what is good and how we must change, hold ourselves and others to high moral standards, communicate clearly and civilly without allowing emotions to take over, and make mid-course corrections rather than excuses. His helpful, easy-to-read book covers much territory, and we’re all likely to recognize ourselves within its pages. This is self-help at its best.
Legate STEVE MARKEL’s ministry helps deepen the faith through the virtues . . .
by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi
Steve Markel and his wife Nancy did everything they could to raise their five kids as faithful Catholics, sending them to good Catholic schools, summer camps and even colleges.
Then one day about 15 years ago, Steve and Nancy – members of Legatus’ Denver Chapter – realized that four out of five of their grown-up children had stopped going to mass.
Birth of a ministry
“I went to my spiritual director and told him what was happening,” Steve explained. “He said to me, ‘Your kids know the faith. You developed their intellect, but you never developed their will. You didn’t develop their virtues.”
The Markels moved quickly to create a program that would teach parents about the virtues and how to instill them in their children. What resulted was a program called Families of Character.
Steve had worked a high-stress job for 21 years as a senior vice president for American Funds. During his children’s formative years, he was traveling from Mondays to Thursdays, leaving Nancy to raise the five children essentially alone.
“When the father is around, especially for sons, there is a different dynamic,” Nancy said. “They can relate to dad more than mom. You could tell my boys were missing that. And when working on the virtues, it’s harder to impart them if dad is not there.”
Providentially, Steve decided to sell his company in 2007 at the age of 50. It was right around this time that the Markels noticed their children had strayed from the faith. Through prayer and spiritual direction, Steve discerned that God wanted him to use his time in retirement to build the Families of Character program. Their program was tested for a few years and is now available nationally.
Steve and Nancy Markel and family gather with their daughter Christie and her new husband Tim McCormack who were married in August 2014
When Steve looked back on the early years of his marriage, he recalled that he and his wife had actually read several books on the virtues. Unfortunately, this never translated into teaching his own children how to live them. What Steve learned from his spiritual director was that God broadcasts enough grace for all of us. But we can only receive grace if we are living out the cardinal virtues.
“Grace builds on nature,” Steve explained. “It’s impossible to grow in grace if you don’t live the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage.”
But Catholic psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi says there are no shortcuts to the virtues. “The virtues must be lived at home and the anti-virtues must be stopped. There’s no magic. Teaching virtues is a 20-year process. If you live the faith, discipline well, and love your kids unconditionally — even then, you may have kids who take detours with regards to the faith. That detour may be part of the journey.”
What the Markels witnessed was that within one year of working on the Families of Character program, three of their children came back to the faith. They don’t know if it was the Families of Character program that brought them back, but it did effect a great change in their marriage and in their children’s lives.
“Our eldest daughter came home one day and asked, ‘What are you guys doing? I’ve never seen your marriage this good,’” Steve said.
Working on the program meant that the Markels started talking about the virtues between themselves — which unified them — and to their grown-up kids. They also began to work on improving themselves, and their children took note.
“One of my kids said they had noticed such a difference in Dad — that he was more patient,” Nancy explained. “When he speaks to them, he does so in a more loving and diligent way. When you work on being more virtuous, problems are approached in a different way.”
Sergio and Mercy Gutierrez and their four children have been working with the Families of Character program for seven years.
The program works by having a couple focus on one virtue per month. Couples can work alone or in a small group. They watch a video which explains what the virtue is. Everyone is given a workbook to assess how their family is doing with that virtue and its two opposing vices. Participants then set goals to be worked on for the next 30 days.
“In the first chapter, you have to create a family mission statement, which allows you to communicate future goals and what you want your family to be like,” said Mercy Gutierrez, who lives in Denver. She and her husband Sergio have been taking Families of Character courses for seven years.
“You realize that you can have a ‘fixed’ mindset or a ‘growth’ mindset. A fixed mindset would be, ‘I’m a yeller because my mom was a yeller.’ A growth mindset would be, ‘I’m messy, but this month I will work on hanging up my clothes right away,’” she explained. “What you realize is that you can change because you put these goals at the forefront of your mind. You see tons of progress in 30 days. It’s very concrete.”
The program also forces couples to analyze their own natural virtues and defects and to find the balance between them.
“With the virtue of generosity, you may have someone who is really frugal, and the opposite would be someone who spends too much money,” Gutierrez said. “With the virtue of order, you could have someone who is totally messy or someone who cleans too much. The balance between the two is where the virtue lies.”
Steve Markel recounts how one of his sons was having a hard time holding a job. When they talked about it, Steve realized that the main problem was his son’s lack of order. During the following week, he proposed that his son get up at 6:30 a.m. and call him every day. The plan worked. His son soon formed the habit up getting up early, which helped him in his job.
“I asked him how he felt once he was able to get up early consistently, and he said ‘great!’ This is because virtues build confidence and direction,” Steve said.
When the Markels talk to couples and ask them where children learn virtues, the answer is always: from the example of the parents. If parents are not modeling the virtues, the kids don’t learn them.
“Unfortunately, the culture today is pushing kids to be selfish, to be searching for constant entertainment, and to be morally relativistic,” said Steve.
Families of Character helps people discover and work on their greatest character flaws. By working on virtues, family members grow in happiness and unity with those around them. Children learn that parents are working on overcoming their vices as well.
“This is about becoming the best version of yourself,” Steve said. “The importance of developing virtue is, ultimately, it brings you closer to Christ.”
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.
Legatus members have learned to cope after their children have left the nest . . .
Bob & Andrea Chisholm of Legatus’ Toronto Chapter
When children grow up and leave home, the emptiness left behind can be daunting.
The so-called Empty Nest Syndrome, though not a clinical diagnosis, is widely considered to be a phase in life that can bring intense grief for parents. It can also be a time of growth.
“You always have choices in life,” said Andrea Chisholm, a member of Legatus’ Toronto Chapter. “You have choices about your health, finances, whatever. This is especially true with the empty nest.”
Time to grow
Dr. Ray Guarendi, a clinical psychologist, author and Catholic radio host, noted that Empty Nest Syndrome seems to hit women the hardest, particularly those who were traditional stay-at- home moms.
“Now her vocation seems to be over,” he said. “Lots of this is intertwined with her worry as a mother. These moms feel they can no longer give their influence like before.”
However, an empty nest does not necessarily mean an empty life.
“We are physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually created, so we must address all of these components of our lives,” said Dr. Lisa Klewicki, a clinical psychologist with the Virginia-based Fountain of Life Ministries. “The empty nest phase is a beautiful opportunity to grow in all these areas. It should not be a time to think, ‘My whole purpose is gone.’”
Klewicki suggests that couples get more physical exercise after their children leave home.
“Get involved in team sports to work out and interact with others,” she said. “Eat right and take the time to cook and plan healthier meals. Now is your time to be creative. Take a cooking class. Buy a new grill.”
In terms of feeding the intellect, Klewicki suggests enrolling in classes. “And for the emotional part, build up your friendships and your social network,” she said.
Both Guarendi and Klewicki strongly recommend reconnecting with your spouse.
“Re-engage with your spouse,” Guarendi said. “Get to know each other again. Establish rituals. My wife and I have coffee together every morning. We have been married 30 years. Treat your spouse with more attention than you do your kids. If you have a reasonable basis for your marriage, your marriage should get better after the kids leave.”
Klewicki suggests that older couples establish weekly date nights.
“Sometimes I hear the complaint that, ‘My spouse isn’t the same person as when we got married.’ Well who is? Get to know each other in a new way,” she said. “Invest emotionally in each other. You can volunteer together. Give of your time and talent. It’s crucial for Catholics to look at the empty nest as a time to grow.”
Legates Bob & Andrea Chisholm their family at Disney World
For the spiritual life, Klewicki recommends going to Mass together and reading the same spiritual book, then discussing it.
“If your spouse is not as religious as you, meet them where they are and gradually bring them along,” she said. “The idea is, ‘I am so in love with Christ that I want you, the love of my life, to know Him as well. I don’t want to be alone in this.’ Pray for each other, pray for the relationship and make sacrifices for each other.”
Andrea Chisholm says that when she hit the empty nest phase, her husband Bob had to travel to Mexico City from Toronto three days a week. Not only was her house missing her two children, but for half the week, her husband as well.
“Women need something to do,” Andrea said. “They can volunteer or work. I began to teach piano part time. I spent a lot of time doing Church music, getting involved in the choir.”
However, work cannot be the only thing to fill the empty nest. For Andrea, the spiritual life became more important.
“It was my faith that got me through,” she said.
Andrea became an extraordinary Eucharistic minister and went to daily Mass. When her father had to move into a nursing home, she brought a priest to the home. She visited the sick once a week for 13 years and brought the Eucharist to them.
“God will always lead you in the direction He wants you to go,” she explained. “You have to learn to follow that gentle pulling. Besides the other activities, I felt pulled to work with FertilityCare Toronto, a Natural Family Planning organization associated with the Creighton Model. I have just recently joined the board.”
The rosary was another support for Andrea as she entered the empty nest phase.
“I really believe that God gives ideas during the rosary,” she said. “Little things pop into your mind. I once heard that Haydn used to get ideas for music during the rosary.”
Bob and Andrea Chisholm set up a charitable foundation after his retirement to help Catholic causes in Canada. Between their work, charities and spending time with their children and grandchildren, the empty nest is always there but the empty feelings have faded.
Faith and work
Tom & Glory Sullivan of the Jacksonville Chapter with their family
When Glory Sullivan’s youngest child moved out of the house, it hit the Jacksonville Legate hard.
“I thought I had died,” she said.
The Sullivans’ three children were married in a span of two-and-a- half years.
Although Glory and her husband Tom were working together in their own Maryland-based company at the time, they still felt the emptiness. But their faith, their marriage and their work got them through.
“Our theory was ‘work like crazy’ and ‘let’s build a house,’” she said. “We eventually decided to build a house in Ponte Vedra, Fla., in 1995. The idea was, ‘If we build this, they will come.’ And they come all the time. We absolutely adore it!”
Their three children and seven grandchildren visit their home in Florida throughout the year.
The Sullivans sold their company in 1998 and created a foundation with a focus on evangelization. “We still work,” Glory explained. “It’s important for empty nesters.”
One of their most recent projects is to bring chastity speaker Pam Stenzel to schools in the Washington, D.C., area and their diocese of St. Augustine, Fla.
As a couple, the Sullivans take their faith seriously.
“We have always gone to Mass every day in the morning,” said Glory.”We are overachievers. At 74 and 79, we make our own kids tired.”
Empty Nest Syndrome can cause sadness, but if Legatus members’ experience is any indication, drawing upon the spiritual life and exercising God-given talents can help couples get through … and even thrive.
“Another piece of advice,” said Glory, “is that when one of your children says, ‘I’m pregnant,’ you have a new vocation!”
SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.
Dr. Ray Guarendi helps parents find solution for conquering anger in their kids . . .
Dr. Ray Guarendi
Servant Books, 2014
160 pages, $15.99 paperback
How do you deal with anger and its emotional buddies? In his new book, subtitled Practical Solutions for Conquering Anger, Guarendi cuts through the psychobabble to present a realistic picture of anger and other emotional issues, and then offers practical solutions for overcoming them.
The first chapters provide a basic understanding of anger and clear up common misconceptions. Each subsequent chapter focuses on a different aspect of anger. Most of the time anger and its causes are well within our control — and conquering those angry impulses are in our control, too.
Dr. Ray dishes on keeping your marriage strong with simple, faith-based logic . . .
Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards Servant Books, 2011. 160 pages, $14.99 paperback
Psychologists and counselors have debated the “keys” to a successful marriage for centuries. Guarendi keeps it simple: “The secret of a good marriage,” he writes, “is to keep no secrets.”
The popular clinical psychologist, author and radio talk show host reminds couples that the lessons they learned long ago are essential to a rewarding marriage: Say “I’m sorry,” listen, make a list, and remember your manners! Each chapter includes practical helps/steps to a stable, joy-filled marriage with no “psychobabble.”
Dr. Ray Guarendi dispels anxieties, misperceptions and myths about adoption . . .
Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It Servant Books, 2009. 182 pages, $14.99 paperback
Guarendi and his wife, Randi, were relatively young when they learned they had a “near zero” chance of conceiving. The couple had wanted a large family, so their decision to adopt “took all of about six seconds,” writes Guarendi, who is today the father of 10 adopted children. The book helps dispel anxieties, misperceptions and myths about adoption, encourages others to adopt, and provides guidance for adoptive parents.