Thursday, May 21, 2015

Some animals are more equal...

Sorry for the lack of blogging this week!  I’ve had no shortage of things to blog about, but unfortunately I have had a shortage of time in which to do it.

But I couldn’t let Rod Dreher’s latest Tales from the New Order go without comment.  As Rod writes, a jeweler in Canada custom-made “engagement” rings for a lesbian couple--who then went ballistic and  demanded their money back simply because the jeweler opposes same-sex marriage:
Let’s understand what happened here. This Christian jeweler agreed to custom-make engagement rings for a lesbian couple, knowing that they were a couple, and treated them politely. But when they found out what he really believed about same-sex marriage, even though the man gave them polite service, and agreed to sell them what they asked for, the lesbian couple balked, and demanded their money back — and the mob threatened the business if they didn’t yield. Which, of course, he did.
You understand, of course, that this is not about getting equal treatment. The lesbian couple received that. This is about demonizing a point of view, and driving those who hold it out of the public square. Just so we’re clear about that.
I bought some olive oil not long ago at a tiny grocery store owned by an Arab Muslim immigrant. If I find out that the merchant supports ISIS, am I entitled to declare my jug of olive oil tainted, and demand a refund? Is a fundamentalist Christian permitted to send her osso buco back to the kitchen if she discovers that homosexual hands cooked it? Of course not. Some delicate snowflakes are more delicate than others.

As I post this, Rod has yet to approve any comments, so let me go way, WAY out on a limb and predict what at least a few of the comments will be:

1. This article is about Canada, not America.  Your argument is invalid.

2. This guy posted “anti-equality” signs in his jewelry store (e.g., a sign that read, according to the article, “The sanctity of marriage is under attack. Let’s keep marriage between a man and a woman.” Which is an intolerable and hateful opinion that only bigots would say out loud, don’t you know).  Therefore he deserved whatever happened to him.

3. No government agency has (as of yet) investigated him for a hate crime, forced him to remove his sign, or forced him to give the lesbians their money back.  Sure, he was getting bullying and threats from people who heard that this guy was a bigot, but nobody made him do anything, so what’s the problem?  Deciding to comply with the mob when the mob threatens you is exactly the same thing as freedom.

4. Bigots don’t have the right to post bigoted opinions and get left alone by the mob.  It is clearly hateful bigotry to express support for one-man, one-woman marriage, and anybody who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman doesn’t belong in any wedding related industries. Photographers, cake bakers, caterers, and now jewelers better take note, and if bridal shops aren’t now stocking wedding gowns to fit male brides who are 6’5” and weigh 300 pounds they will also deserve what happens to them when the trans community comes after them for their bigotry.

5. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

No, wait, nobody will actually post #5.  Because that’s far too revealing of what is going on here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I am ashamed of my country today

Here’s why.

We don’t need to execute Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  He poses no continuing threat to our public safety.  Protecting the common good does not require us to kill him.  I am convinced, as are many others, that the principal actor in the Boston Marathon bombing was his brother Tamerlan--and Tamerlan is already dead.

There are only three reasons to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and none of them are consistent with the Catholic moral understanding of the just use of the death penalty in an age and nation where the possibility of highly secure incarceration is a reality.  These reasons are revenge, retaliation, and retribution--and none of those is a good enough reason to kill someone who is believed by many to have been his brother’s dupe throughout the crime, not some sort of criminal mastermind in his own right.

I mourn the deceased victims of the attack and stand with the injured who have undergone so much.  None of my shame for my country’s decision today is a minimizing of their real pain and suffering.  But killing Tsarnaev will not bring back the dead nor heal the wounded.  Sufficient time in prison might, instead, make him experience real remorse and shame for his own part in this terrible crime.

I call on my Catholic brothers and sisters, my Christian brothers and sisters, and all those who believe that the death penalty has outlived its time to stand with me in objecting to this shameful decision.  If we truly believe that human life is sacred there is no justification for executing criminals who do not pose a continuing threat to public safety, whom we can safely incarcerate instead.

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why I appreciate Ascension Sunday

Well, Father Z. has his annual rant about “Ascension Thursday Sunday” here.  An excerpt
The bishops who did transfer the feast to Sunday were, I am sure, hoping to expose more people to the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. Probably included in that calculation was also the notion that it is tooo haaard for people to go to Mass also on Thursday. “Mass twice in a week? Tooo haaard!” [...]
The celebration of Ascension on a particular Thursday is rooted in Scripture. Celebration on Thursday reflects the ancient practice of the Churches of the East and West alike. We read in Holy Scripture thatnine days, not six, intervened between the Lord’s physical ascent to the Father’s right hand and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If Pentecost was the 50th day, seven weeks – as the ancients counted the starting day itself is included so you get 50 rather than 49), then Ascension Thursday was fixed at the 40th day after Easter.
I used to be one of those “Harrumph!” types when it came to the Ascension Thursday/Ascension Sunday debate.  I even went to a daily Mass on what should have been Ascension Thursday once or twice out of a regrettable spirit of protest against the change.  But now that I’ve lived for some time in states where you just don’t have Catholic churches every other block, and in actual mission territories, I’ve come to see the wisdom of transferring the feast to Sunday.

In the first place, priests who think that bishops decided it was “tooo haaard” (sic) for people to go to Mass twice a week may not be aware that it is no longer 1955 in the world.  Lots of people are expected to be either commuting to/from or already at work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekdays these days (and yet their pay is still based on a 40 hour work week, not a 60 or 70 hour work week).  Lots of Catholic children must attend public schools in places where the diocesan Catholic schools start at five to seven thousand dollars per year per child, too--and if the only Holy Day of Obligation Mass in your parish is at noon, it’s pretty difficult to get the school kids there.  I’ve mentioned before that our parish Holy Day Masses are at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.; this is too late in the morning for many workers and too early in the evening for others (especially if you have to drive half an hour or more in rush-hour traffic to reach the parish).  There’s a reason the most reliable crowd at Holy Day of Obligation Masses are the retirees; they’re the only ones who aren’t trying to figure out impossible work and/or school obligations alongside equally impossible Mass obligations.  If the Ascension Feast were not transferred to Sunday in our diocese, my two older daughters, both in college, would have been stuck trying to find a Mass somewhere that didn’t conflict with their final exams today (and good luck with that; the only ones I know of in our area would have involved an hour-plus drive each way, which would still have made getting back to school by exam time difficult to impossible).

Canon lawyers will often point out that we’re not asked to do the impossible.  If you really can’t get to a Holy Day Mass, you are excused from the obligation.  But on a feast as important as the Ascension, do we really want to create a situation where retirees can celebrate and pretty much everybody else is just plain out of luck?  The obvious solution, to add more Masses at times when people who work and/or go to school can attend, does not appear to be possible for many pastors either--so what are we to do?

And that brings me to my second point: should the “perfect” of the calendar be the enemy of the “good,” if the “good” is “helping as many Catholics as possible to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension?”  Clearly, the bishops think the calendar’s perfection is less important than making sure that most Catholics who are regular churchgoers can get to Mass on the Feast of the Ascension.  Yes, the symbolism of having exactly the right number of days from Easter to the Ascension and then to Pentecost is not trivial.  But then again, Easter is itself a moveable feast, and the likelihood that we are celebrating on the actual day Christ ascended into Heaven in any particular year is not huge--so is it really better to celebrate the Ascension on a day when many people simply will not be able to attend Mass, not because it is “toooo haaard” but because the one or two Masses offered in their parishes conflict with mandatory work or school obligations which they cannot shirk without serious consequences?

All of this brings me back to my perpetual rant: I really wish priests and pastors would sit down and talk to actual Catholic families in their parishes.  Don’t tell us “Make a plan to get to Mass on a Holy Day!” and then schedule exactly two of those Masses during the work and school day; listen to us.  Those of us who take the faith seriously enough to go to Mass on Sundays, those of us who abide by the Church’s teachings to the best of our ability, those of us taking on an increasingly hostile culture while we struggle to raise our children to share in this gift of the Catholic faith--we’re not sitting around crying that it’s “tooo haaard” to go to Mass twice in a week for trivial or selfish reasons.

And some of us appreciate Ascension Sunday, because it’s one less time in the year when we have to try to rearrange the work and school schedules and obligations of five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten etc. people in order to get everybody to the one Mass within an hour or so’s driving distance that doesn’t conflict impossibly with something someone has to do--has to, as in “will get fired or will flunk the class or will get reprimanded for not showing up and doing,” not “has to” as in “sort of should, but no big deal if he/she doesn’t.” 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We should be ready

Don’t bother reading me today; go and read what Jennifer Hartline wrote.  Here’s an example of it:
What you, the culture, fail to understand is that I am not motivated to please you or appease you. I will not be bullied into submission. I will not “adapt” my beliefs to suit you. It doesn’t matter that you have decided there is no sin in abortion, same-sex “marriage”, sex-on-demand, and the treatment of babies as commodities—I disagree because I know that God has said otherwise.
What you cannot accept is that I will not cease to worship the true God in favor of your gods. I will not abandon the Truth in favor of your empty, self-serving doctrines. It doesn’t matter how many names you call me, or how many insults you hurl in my direction, or how you may wish to ostracize and push me to the outer edges of society. It will not change anything.
Abortion will always be a grave evil and utterly unjust, no matter what the Supreme Court says. Marriage will always be the union of a man and woman, for life, for the benefit of their children, no matter what the Supreme Court or any government says.
Sex will always be designed to be life-giving and unitive, no matter how much you trivialize it or how much contraception you demand.
There will always be fundamental, inherent, and complementary differences between men and women. There will always be only two possible genders of the human person: male and female.
You see, you didn’t create the human person. You didn’t create marriage. You aren’t the author and giver of new life. You didn’t establish the human family.
You don’t have the power or authority to change what God has ordained from the foundation of the world.
Read the rest here.

Over at Rod Dreher’s blog this week, discussions and conversations about what Rod calls the “Benedict Option” are taking place (here’s one example).  Because our culture is becoming so hostile to ordinary expressions of Christianity, something like the Benedict Option is needed.  On a different Benedict Option post Rod wrote last week (which has now fallen off the main page and thus will get few new comments) I wrote something about what I think the Benedict Option means.  I don’t usually quote myself, but this was long, and I don’t really have time to re-do it for the blog, so your patience is appreciated:
So, what is the Benedict Option?
If I had to turn it into a motto or two, I’d probably start with: In faith, peace; in unity, strength. (Somebody could put those in Latin if they wanted.)
The idea is to see in one’s faith life and faith community the source of that peace of soul that gives you the ability to interact in a very different and hostile world without forgetting the Master or His way. For us Eucharistic Christians the source of that peace is, of course, the Eucharist, the taking and consuming of Christ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity as often as is spiritually possible and the ceaseless attempt to reform our souls, shed and confess our sins, and conform our wills to the Divine Will. Not only the liturgical worship (which is paramount) but the practice of prayers and devotions on the one hand and tangible acts of charity on the other are key to this peace of soul.
The second part of the motto points out that even outside of our own parishes or churches or mosques or synagogues we are traveling among people who share many of our same ancient beliefs in the sacred dignity of the human person, of what used to be called the “eternal verities,” and of the nature of reality and the purpose of life. These other faith groups may join us in defending unborn human life and/or those at-risk of involuntary euthanasia (which often means opposing the voluntary kind as well on principle); they may join us in insisting that marriage is a union of a man and a woman and that the integral importance of the natural family should not be undermined by governments or societies; they may join us in opposing the onslaughts against human dignity that arise from the indignities of the global economy; they may join us in opposing the intrinsic evils of torture or unjust warfare or the non-intrinsic but circumstantial evil of the death penalty in societies where it is no longer even remotely necessary to condemn prisoners to die in order to preserve the common good–and so on. The important thing is that when they do join us, they do so to fight a common set of enemies, which in old Catholic tradition were spoken of as the world, the flesh, and the devil, all of which frequently collaborate to draw the soul into sin and deaden the conscience against evil.
To me, what makes this a “Benedict Option” is that the primacy of the faith calls for a renewal of the individual soul, of the family, and of many of our voluntary associations and occupations. We Christians, in particular, have enjoyed a relatively long (if frequently uneasy) peace with the world, allowing us to do pretty much what everybody else does, in terms of jobs and entertainment and social lives. What I think Rod keeps saying here is that this is the age that is ending, and it is ending before our eyes. To use an obvious example, it was possible for serious pro-life Christians to continue to work at most jobs, join most organizations, talk about the same TV shows at the water cooler at work, etc.–but already it is not really possible for serious pro-family Christians to do the same, and the growing intention to force every person in America to affirm the goodness and wonderfulness of SSM, surrogacy, transgenderism, etc. is already taking a toll by forcing people out of certain jobs and organizations.
Strengthened by our individual faiths and then united by our shared values, Benedict Option people can help each other to resist the Empire’s attempt to force us to pour out libations to these strange new gods–and not in some vague, psychological way, but in tangible ways (such as making sure the owners of a little pizza shop didn’t face homelessness or starvation after being made the new targets of the present set of Two Minute Hates ordered by our elites). We can, and should, keep doing these things, and should position ourselves to be able to do them for the next several generations. At that point, the attempt of modernity to reorder the very notion of human flourishing in its own image will likely have collapsed under the weight of reality, and our descendants will be ready, and strong enough, to begin the work of rebuilding.
When I read Jennifer Hartline’s blog post I thought about what I’d written above, because I still think that in order for us Christians to survive the coming era with our faith intact and our families strong we’re going to have to do those two things: one, strengthen our faith lives ideally around some local faith community, especially a good parish, monastery or convent, or similar place where orthodox Catholicism thrives, and two, go out into the world alongside those who share our values even if they don’t share our faith, and work together against the corruption and darkness of the present age.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Catholic today, and one thing I keep coming back to is this:  In order to LIVE the Gospel, we must SPREAD the Gospel, but in order to SPREAD the Gospel, we must LIVE the Gospel.  Hardly profound or original, but it’s the tension between actively living the Gospel and trying to spread it in an age when Christians are being punished for refusing to celebrate sexual immorality in all its forms that is starting to make itself felt.  We have, relatively speaking, had an age of peace, when the culture, though not ever fully with us, was not teeming with active hostility against us.  That age is over.  To be a “good American” one will very soon have to be a false Christian, as no true Christian can accept sexual immorality (including contraception, abortion, gay “marriage,” the commodification of children, and the promotion to young people of every form of sexual license) as something that is good.

So we, and our children, and their children, will be bad Americans, because we will not betray our Lord.  And the ramifications of living as second-class citizens whose every word and action is suspect will soon be our lives.  We should be getting ready.

Monday, May 11, 2015

America’s lack of respect for mothers

This is going around on Facebook: John Oliver on Last Week Tonight excoriates American companies who promote shallow materialism for Mother’s Day but work against policies that would extend paid maternity leave.  (Note: I’m not embedding the video because while a few cuss words are bleeped out, there are a handful of elements that you might not want to watch with younger children in the room.)

I realize that for many culture-warrior types, paid family/maternity leave is something the “other side” cares about.  After all, don’t traditional women stay at home with their own children, at least until the youngest child is school-aged (and way beyond that if you also homeschool)?  So why should we care about policies like paid family leave?

One reason we should care is that many women end up working outside the home whether they want to or not.  Even if they really do want to stay at home to raise their children, they’re not always able financially to do so.  We’ve based so much of our economy on the two-income family for so long that younger women may find themselves choosing not between being a SAHM or working, but between working and being able to qualify to buy a house (and good luck raising multiple children in an apartment or rental home these days), or even between working and being able to put food on the table.  And that’s before we consider that a married couple in their middle or late twenties who have both graduated from college may owe as much as $66,000 in combined student loan debt, and they may still have five to eight years of their ten-year repayment period left before that debt will be gone.  Corporate America is trying to talk young women into undergoing IVF treatment and freezing their eggs during this time period so they’ll be able to have kids later, but we Catholics have obvious problems with this; helping two-income families with things like maternity leave is obviously better than promoting a culture of putting off one’s family altogether for the convenience of one’s employer.

Another reason we should care is that like most things, America’s lack of paid family leave hurts poor families the most.  While a woman of higher income may be able to take as much unpaid leave as she wants, up to the full twelve weeks, or even to decide to stay at home with her child longer than that, John Oliver’s video features women who had no such choice, including a woman who had to go back to work a month after her child was born because she couldn’t afford to stay home longer than that and a woman who had to leave her premature infant in the hospital and return to work less than a week after giving birth so she could save her leave time for when the baby came home.  This is absolutely wrong; no mother should have to make such choices.

And that leads to yet another reason we should support greater family leave: the lack of decent paid maternity leave in America as compared to most other nations is just the flip side of the disrespect all mothers get here.  America pays a lot of lip service to the ideals of motherhood, but when it comes right down to it, the attitude on display is that children are an optional lifestyle accessory, a luxury for those who want them, and that any notion that it is in society’s best interests to see to it that children are well cared-for is sort of like insisting on tax breaks for pet owners or government subsidies for stamp collectors.

Go to any place where these issues are being discussed, and soon you will see commenters (many, if not most of them, male) insisting that it is a woman’s choice to be a mother, and that if she wants a kid that’s nice for her, but she shouldn’t expect her co-workers to pick up her slack so she can take time off.  When pressed about this attitude, most such commenters will insist that helping women by giving them maternity leave just punishes all the male employees as well as the women who are “smart enough” not to have children.  The attitude that motherhood is something that lesser women do, that it’s just “breeding,” that it’s not at all essential to society or good for anyone other than the woman who wants it is far too prevalent these days, and it is an attitude that is growing.

There was a time in America when we realized that motherhood was a vocation, and a highly sacrificial one.  There was a time in America when we realized that our society would come to an end if every woman decided she’d rather have a lucrative corporate career than children.  There was a time in America when the biggest defenders of mothers and motherhood were fathers, men who understood and appreciated the sacrifices their wives made to see to the well-being of their children.

These days, far too many men act as though fatherhood is for fools and a woman wanting a child is sort of like a woman wanting a diamond necklace: fine, provided she’s willing to do all the work required to  pay for it.  Standing up for motherhood, and standing in solidarity with our sisters who work outside the home when it is necessary (as it often is these days), is a good way to fight back against that attitude.

Of course, when we manage to get a decent paid maternity leave policy passed at the national level, the next battle will be to reward stay-at-home-moms too with tax breaks and other incentives that show that we do, as a nation, recognize how important it is to the well-being of children and families for mothers to stay at home and raise their own children at least until they are old enough for school whenever this is possible; but that’s a blog post for another day.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The empress’ new wedding dress

There’s a proverb to the effect that if you want to make God laugh, you tell Him your plans.  I shouldn’t have said I was going to get back to blogging, because that was apparently the sign that I was now not busy at all and could get sick.  Okay, so it’s just a mild virus of the type that is clearly going around all over the place, but it did put a damper in my plans to start blogging regularly and seriously again.

I appreciate my readers’ comments below the last post!  Hopefully I can get to blogging about serious stuff like that soon.

In the meantime, I couldn’t help but notice this article many people were sharing on Facebook about the dawn of the see-through wedding dress:
But the most revealing pieces in the latest bridal lines—revealing, in every sense of the word—were Vera Wang's mermaid-cut sheaths, staunchly traditional in their ribbons and lace, but innovative in their most striking features: The gowns are almost fully translucent, from their necklines to their hems. The lingerie their models wore, dainty and daring at the same time, was on full display under the fishnet and lace bodices of the gowns. The lingerie was, in fact, an elemental part of the dresses.
This—the be-boudoired bridal outfit—may be designed to shock, but it isn't at all surprising. It's simply another step toward something that has taken place both gradually and seemingly overnight: the sexification of the wedding dress. The gowns that have for so long involved sweeping hoop skirts and demure lace and virginal white have been, of late, getting steadily saucier. They've been showing more shoulder, more cleavage, more back ... more of pretty much everything, except fabric.
You can read the rest, if you want to, here.  Or I could spare you the trouble: all of this, according the article’s author, is about the ultimate rejection of the “traditional” virginal wedding gown (which wasn’t all that traditional, anyway--the article correctly points out that the all-white wedding dress is much more recent than most people think, and was only for rich brides anyway) and the shocking revelation that sex is part of marriage and that brides know that and want to flaunt it. Because, you know, our ancestors had no idea that sex and marriage and babies were sort of connected, or something.

Right.

Actually, I think that what this is about is simple: many young women are rather stupid when it comes to “sexy” clothing and “sexy” attitudes and the like.  They actually believe that it is empowering and feminist and girl-powerish to appear in public in your underwear.  The fact that this happens to fulfill the secret and not-so-secret fantasies of the raunchiest, filthiest, least-good-husband-material men-children out there is something that seems to escape them completely; they really seem to believe that appearing half-naked is somehow the same thing as striking a blow for feminism instead of participating in their own objectification.

Yes, there are men who will objectify women whatever we wear, and no, the choice is not (and never has been) between the see-through wedding gown and the burqa. It is not necessary for women to don shapeless heavy sacks in the name of modesty.  But for heaven’s sake, it’s also both unnecessary and just plain stupid to plan a walk down the aisle wearing considerably less fabric than Esther Williams would have worn in a swimming pool, and it takes nothing more than a bit of common sense to understand that.

Of course, I think the see-through wedding gown trend will last until some sweet little flower girl asks in front of the whole wedding party, “Mommy, why is the bride naked?” It took a child to alert the Emperor that he was being scammed, too.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Confessions of a blogging slacker

Well, I’m back!

Sort of.

I’m still trying to get some editing done.  But I did manage to finish the book I decided to write this April.  The final count was just over 61,000 words in 25 days--but now I’ve got something else to edit.

Sigh.

I had planned on writing a blog post yesterday, but it never happened.  I planned to write one today, and I realized given the lateness of the hour that it wasn’t going to happen either.  So this is a sort of “slacker” post in which I promise to resume writing but don’t actually get to it until tomorrow.  Hopefully, anyway.

In the meantime, if anybody’s still checking in, let me ask: what’s on your mind?  One of the weird things about marathon writing sessions is that I lose touch, a bit, with what’s going on in the World Out There.  I mean, yes, I’ve read a bit about Baltimore, but that’s pretty much it.

It may take me a few days to resume my regular news-reading habits.  Until then, if something’s going on that you’re interested/concerned/freaking out about--let me know in the comments, and I thank you in advance for the blog topic ideas! :)