Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Friends, Roman Catholics, Countrymen...a guest post

The following is a guest post.  The author is my seventeen-year-old daughter who goes by the blog nickname “Hatchick” on this blog:


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Friends, Roman Catholics, Countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Traditional Marriage, not to praise it.
The evil that such ideals do lives after them;
the good is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with Traditional Marriage.
The noble Supreme Court hath told you that Traditional Marriage was binding our freedom.
It it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Traditional Marriage answered for it.
Here, under leave of the Supreme Court and the rest--for the Supreme Court is an honorable institution; so are they all, all honorable men and women--Come I to speak in the funeral of Traditional Marriage.
It was the friend of some, faithful and just to me.
But the Supreme Court says it was binding our freedom,
and the Supreme Court is an honorable institution.
It hath brought many men and women together,
whose children did the public schools fill.
Did this in Traditional Marriage seem to bind our freedom?
When that the poor have cried, Traditional Marriage hath wept.
Such that enslaves us should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet the Supreme Court says it was binding our freedom,
and the Supreme Court is an honorable institution.
I speak not to disprove what the Supreme Court spoke,
but here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love Traditional Marriage once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to mourn for it?
O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
and men and women have lost their reason.
Bear with me. My heart is in the coffin there with Traditional Marriage,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A nation that has lost its soul

Like most of you, I saw the idiotic pictures of the White House all lit up in rainbow colors.  No word yet on whether the current occupant plans to install a gay bar on the premises.

Seeing that picture, I kept thinking of a quote from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King.  I was lucky enough to find it online:
"The nine have come forth again," I answered. "They have crossed the river. So Radagast said to me."
' " Radagast the Brown!" laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. "Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him. For you have come, and that was all the purpose of my message. And here you will stay, Gandalf the Grey, and rest from journeys. For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman the Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!'
"I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
' "I liked white better." I said."
"White!" he sneered. "It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."
"In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

from The Fellowship of the Ring
 “...he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has broken marriage in an attempt to find out what it is.  Sure that the number two is important but the sex difference of the participants can’t possibly be, the Five have ignored human history, human biology, reason, the Constitution, and pretty much everything else in order to redefine marriage in a way that will gain them the applause of the elite. As of Friday every single person who holds that marriage is between a man and a woman is, legally, a bigot. Already the calls are going out to end respect for churches and religious believers and to redefine “tolerance” to mean, “Accepting only those people who think exactly like I do, while permitting others to hold thoughts about traditional marriage only if they can keep them to themselves in private and convincingly pretend otherwise in public.”

And the White House has joined in the celebration as if to underscore the idea that anybody who doesn’t fly the rainbow flag just isn’t a real American anymore. This is the “tolerance” of the religion of Secularism: you will celebrate sexual immorality in all its forms, from gay sex to fornication to adultery to contraception to abortion, or you will be marginalized and excluded for now, and punished in the near future.

And the wicked SCOTUS just keeps the hits coming, striking down a ban on a cruel form of execution on the one hand while forbidding Texas to make sure the abortion killing fields are, at least, as clean and well-equipped as your average urgent care center or slaughterhouse on the other.  Nothing matters in America except the right to meaningless consequenceless conscienceless sex with any willing partner and the right to kill the valueless, including the elderly and infirm, the prisoner, and the unborn child.  The White House’s proud transformation into a rainbow-hued monstrosity shows that only too well.

Then again, the color white symbolizes things like innocence and purity and, as Gandalf put it, wisdom.  Perhaps it would be just as well if all the public buildings in our nation’s capital were repainted in some color more fitting as a symbol of a nation that has lost its soul, and is busy trying to lose its mind and heart as well.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Catholics in the New Sodom

In today’s act of naked judicial tyranny, the majority on the Supreme Court didn’t even bother looking for penumbras.  They merely engaged in acts of celebratory flatulence and then examined the gaseous emissions for the “right” to superimpose a trendy new definition of “marriage” on the whole country, a definition that sort of ignored the reality that when a man and a woman engage in heterosexual intercourse children, some of whom even end up on the Supreme Court someday (without, however, necessarily growing up) are frequently the result, but when two men engage in sex acts they can’t hope for anything but a variety of virulent diseases, while when two women engage in sex acts they are unlikely to experience anything but an increased need for therapy (along with a higher incidence of smoking and alcoholism than the general public).

But the Five, you know, are hopelessly hip and tragically trendy and can’t be bothered to use their brains or anything when pondering this thing called “marriage” or the reasons why states have even bothered in the past to care about what has now become the temporary legal recognition of a person’s primary sex buddy (which, by the way, is now all that “civil marriage” means; it is not permanent, not ordered toward children, not exclusive, and not even remotely meaningful--it is just a way to make sure that the person you are currently screwing gets your furniture and whatnot if you die).  The Four have given them a delightful scolding; if there is any bright spot in today’s noxious cloud of judicial emissions it is these dissenting opinions, which make one sort of proud in a “voices of the dying Republic” kind of way.

It is a small comfort.

But amid the chorus of celebration by the people who just can’t wait to start making us religious believers into second-class citizens while they shove rainbow cake in our faces and set the American Flag alight with the rainbow flames of Sodom, I think it might be a good idea to think about what this means for us Catholics and for those who share our beliefs going forward. What will it be like for Catholics to live in the new Sodom?

The Court pays some lip service to the idea that religious people, for some totally unfathomable reason, may not accept that relationships based on sodomitical acts are exactly the same as relationships which produce children as the natural and expected result of the kind of sex their parents are having.  With each other, that is.  But the Court is vague about this, and does not promise that religious people will be free to do anything much except quietly teach in our own homes and schools that gay “marriage” remains a totally insane ontological impossibility despite our country’s temporary insanity.

What that means is that quite likely it will soon be mandated that children in public schools be taught to celebrate sodomitical relationships and call them “marriage,” that they will be forced to chant that two moms are the same as a mom and dad and two dads are the same as a mom and a dad, and that they will be taught that anyone who says otherwise is a hateful bigot.

And soon in the military our armed forces members will be forced, under threat of court-martial and other punishments, to affirm and celebrate the sodomitical relationships of others in the service.

And soon in all sorts of charitable endeavors the Church will be told that she has to pay lip service to the fiction of gay “marriage” or else lose everything from federal funds to licenses to tax exemptions--which, true, are not the point of charitable works, but which may make it difficult or even impossible for the Church to participate in these endeavors.  (And the secular world will say, “Oh, so what?  Pour out your libations to gay “marriage” and go back to serving the homeless. What does it matter?”)

And soon Catholic schools, Catholic bookstores, and other Catholic businesses will be told they have to support the idiotic pretense of gay “marriage” in hiring and employment and benefits and other such things or else lose accreditation and funding and even the legal right to operate.

And that’s just the beginning.

It is time, now, to prepare for the fight ahead.  Some of us have already been preparing because we have known for almost a decade that this was coming.  What kinds of things will that fight involve?  Below I list a few of the possibilities:

1. Catholics and other believers will have to exit the public schools.  If you really have no other option to educate your children you will have to be prepared to tell them on a near-daily basis: “No, your teacher and your principal and your friends are wrong; two men are not a marriage, two women are not a marriage, and we are not bigots for believing that marriage is only between a man and a woman.”  Honestly, it’s far less exhausting to home school than to undo this level of frequent and persistent damage.

2. Catholics and other believers will have to exit the military. People of strong religious faith have often stressed the kind of service-mindedness that lends itself well to the defense of our nation, but let me ask my fellow parents this: are you okay with sending your child to fight and perhaps die in the name of gay “marriage” and knowing that his fellow soldiers and superior officers will see him as a bigot?

3. Catholics and others who run small faith-based charitable organizations will have to take steps to protect themselves from being forced, possibly by lawsuit, to support gay “marriage” in word or deed.  If they cannot do this they may have to become the sort of charity that only serves fellow Catholics.  If that is not an option and the state is trying to force them to violate their consciences they may have to shut down.

4. Catholic schools and other Catholic businesses will have to consider such things as contract language in hiring contracts etc. that will allow the school or business to continue to run in such a way that the business will not be coerced into supporting gay “marriage.” If this is not possible they, too, may have to shut down.

5. Catholics who own or operate ANY wedding-related business will need to prepare to find another line of work.  (I honestly think that one of the greatest acts of resistance for Catholics against today’s lunacy would be to boycott the entire Wedding Industrial Complex and return to the idea of the wedding as a religious ceremony only, to be celebrated, if possible, during a regular Sunday Mass and then to include either small parties at the bride’s home or a simple parish hall reception, but I realize that may be too radical for many at this point.)

These are just a few of the most obvious things we should be thinking about and preparing for.

In the meantime we should keep up the fight on other fronts.  I think that we should work to end no-fault divorce, for instance--if gay “marriage” is the nuclear assault on the nuclear family, no-fault divorce was the first laboratory experiment in splitting the atom.  Besides, if we were to toughen divorce laws so that divorce could only be for serious reasons and would require counseling etc. beforehand (except in extreme cases such as those involving domestic violence) how many of the less serious couples, gay or straight, would bother with marriage in the first place?  When marriage is seen, as it so often is these days, as the party you have to celebrate your long-term commitment to your contraceptive fornication partner with whom you have been sinning for years already, the first step is to make it obvious that the law takes the whole thing a bit more seriously.

We should also keep up the fight against IVF and manufactured parenthood.  A good place to start would be with laws that require donor children to be given full access to their biological parents’ identities and information about health etc.--no more anonymous sperm or egg donors anywhere in America. Another place to start would be banning all commercial surrogacy and making it illegal to import a surrogate-born child into America.

The truth is that we have not yet begun to fight.  And it will take a lot more than the repeated and obnoxious cerebral farting of five members of the Supreme Court to stop us from defending real marriage.

Friday, June 19, 2015

When bishops resign

As I said yesterday, I had planned on saying a word or two this week about Archbishop Nienstedt’s resignation.  What I had planned to say, just briefly, was this: that it does no conservative Catholic any good to insist that Nienstedt was being “punished” for being doctrinally orthodox, politically conservative, and liturgically traditional.  This was not true; it was spin.  What Archbishop Nienstedt did in his diocese to shelter at least one abuser was egregiously wrong, and to see his resignation as “the Pope is coming after the good guys and ignoring liberal bishops who do X and Y!” is to diminish the gravity of what happened in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

I’m glad now that I didn’t write that post, because Rod Dreher not only links today to a piece that summarizes what has been going on all this time in Minneapolis-St. Paul, but also has some pertinent comments himself:
This is the kind of thing — gay men in authority in seminaries forcing those who resist out — documented in Michael S. Rose’s book Goodbye, Good Men. I have heard that this is a thing of a past generation of seminary rectors, but I honestly don’t know. What seems hard to deny, at least in Archbishop Nienstedt’s case, is that the past is not even past — that his alleged homosexuality probably conditioned his behavior towards abusive priests. Whether it was a matter of him going easy on these bad priests because he hoped for, or was receiving, sexual attention, or out of a twisted sense of solidarity, or because he feared blackmail, nobody can say at this point.

What boggles the mind is that Nienstedt, knowing all of these things about himself, would not simply resign for the good of the Church, and of his reputation. He not only caused the archdiocese to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of the faithful’s tithes to investigate him, he caused it to spend even more on a separate investigation it looks like, from the reporting, that he hoped to manipulate to clear him. And for whatever reason, the pope’s representative in Washington backed Nienstedt on this.

All I can say is that this is an object lesson in not letting religious partisanship cause you to insist that a bishop who resigns is, if he is orthodox or traditional or conservative or all three, necessarily the victim of some sort of biased witch hunt.  The sad truth is that orthodox and traditional and conservative bishops, priests, and lay people sin all the time, just like our liberal counterparts do. Both St. Peter and Judas betrayed Christ; the only difference is that St. Peter repented of it, while Judas added the sin of despair and suicide to his act of betrayal.  We should pray that all of St. Peter’s successors avoid evil and repent with true contrition for their sins--just like we should pray for the same grace for ourselves and all our fellow men.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato si and small acts of love

I had planned on writing a bit this week about the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt, but the week has gotten away from me.  I’ve been a bit under the weather (which is a polite way of saying that the stomach bug everyone else in the family already had finally decided it was my turn).

Since I am not doing a whole lot today, though, I actually had time to read Laudato Si this afternoon.  Wow.  I’m not going to attempt anything like a complete analysis based on one reading, but I am deeply impressed by what Pope Francis is saying.

I would caution those who are absorbing the American political view of this document, either from the right or the left, to stop right now and go read the document for yourself.  The Pope is neither a Marxist nor a materialist.  He is writing from the same deeply Catholic position that previous popes have started from when addressing these kinds of issues; in fact, there is nothing here that will surprise anybody who has read the encyclicals on economic or environmental issues written by the last four or five popes.

I can’t help but share a few passages toward the end of the document that resonated deeply with me:

222. Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

223. Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.

224. Sobriety and humility were not favourably regarded in the last century. And yet, when there is a general breakdown in the exercise of a certain virtue in personal and social life, it ends up causing a number of imbalances, including environmental ones. That is why it is no longer enough to speak only of the integrity of ecosystems. We have to dare to speak of the integrity of human life, of the need to promote and unify all the great values. Once we lose our humility, and become enthralled with the possibility of limitless mastery over everything, we inevitably end up harming society and the environment. It is not easy to promote this kind of healthy humility or happy sobriety when we consider ourselves autonomous, when we exclude God from our lives or replace him with our own ego, and think that our subjective feelings can define what is right and what is wrong.

225. On the other hand, no one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace with him or herself. An adequate understanding of spirituality consists in filling out what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered”.[155]

226. We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, “he looked at him with love” (Mk 10:21). He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.

227. One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.

We Americans are (collectively) among the wealthiest of people.  While there are still desperately poor, homeless, and struggling people among us, more than we ever guess, most of us have access to modes of living that people in other parts of the world can only dream of.  It has been a persistent myth--and I call it a myth--that every human being on the planet can achieve American-style consumerism if we only take steps to make that happen.  That such steps often involve warfare (which does not bring prosperity but misery) is only one problem. As Pope Francis points out in this encyclical (though in more dignified speech) we are kidding ourselves if we think the whole planet could acquire our consumptive habit without cost or consequence.  Looking only at this list of discarded electronic waste from our own country we can see that if everybody in the world lived as we do we would soon reap a terrible cost for such thoughtless and wasteful consumption.

The truth is, we ourselves are paying a hidden cost--a spiritual, emotional, and psychological one--for our thoughtless or disproportionate consumption.  I myself have a lot of work to do in this area, as the last couple of weeks of “cleaning out” things we don’t need and don’t use have shown me. It is easy to acquire too much stuff.  It would be better by far if I thought carefully about such purchases before making them in the first place.

Most of us have at least one such area in our lives.  Do we buy too much food, or cook too much with too many leftovers to throw away?  Are our bookshelves crammed to bursting, or the shelf with DVDs or video games?  Do our (well, your, anyway--you know I’m hopeless at crafts) craft drawers or shelves spill over with fabric we will never use or paint we can’t remember why we bought?  Are our closets packed with clothing, some of which still has tags on it because we’ve never even worn those items?  

Do we own multiple sets of dishware to the point where we probably couldn’t use all of the dishes in a calendar year?  Did a mild coffee mug collection become an overwhelming obsession?  Do we have to buy every new “best” vacuum on the market?  Do we have enough cooking dishes to equip a small restaurant, even if we actually use the same four pots over and over again?

At one point in the encyclical Pope Francis, who spends quite a bit of time talking about various political and economic objectives, reminds us that we’re not all going to be called to take part in big political or scientific or economic actions.  He mentions a few small things like not buying and then tossing “extra” food or turning off lights in rooms we have left (something else I’m really bad at doing).  Over and over he says that caring for the world around us, and the people in it, especially the poor, is an act of love.

These small acts of love, of examining our wasteful habits, are especially meaningful, I think, to those of us who are moms and who thus control a lot of the family’s consumerism.  There really are things most of us can do to live more simply and mindfully.  Many of you are probably already doing those things, and doing them well.

Before we take up knee-jerk positions that would give us the permission to ignore this social encyclical the same way many of us (to our shame) tend to ignore the social teachings of the Church in general, perhaps we ought to read it.  I myself have found in it a call to do better with certain small acts of love for others and for the world.  I think such calls may be embedded in it for many, if not most, of my fellow Catholics--and, since the encyclical is directed to the whole world, to many of my non-Catholic and non-Christian readers as well.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gethsemane; or, taking small children to Mass

You may have already noticed that my Summer Blogging Break has sort of begun a bit early.  I didn’t announce it ahead of time this time because I kept thinking all last week that surely I would get out there and blog one of those days.  But between the ongoing massive clean-out/delayed spring cleaning we’re still doing around here, a dentist appointment (that, sadly, revealed the need for another and really expensive one in the near future), and, most importantly, Hatchick’s 17th birthday on Friday, we’ve been kind of busy.

And it’s a good thing I didn’t officially say that I wouldn’t be blogging, because (wouldn’t you know it!) I have a couple of things to blog about this week.  Sometime in the next couple of days I’d like to talk about the resignations of a couple of bishops, but that may have to wait until after that upcoming dentist appointment.

In the meantime, I participated in a rather epic Facebook conversation yesterday, and I wanted to share just a bit of it here.

The original poster had shared that someone had hit--yes, hit--one of her young children at Mass. An older person, presumably frustrated with the child in some way, but not a relative or friend or anything like that, had simply hit the child.  The incident happened in Germany, but from the comment floodgates that opened up you’d think that crabby old people striking children at Mass was a clear and present danger to all Catholics everywhere.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be, and I want to be clear that it was absolutely wrong, uncalled-for and unacceptable for this lady to hit someone else’s kid and that I really do hope the original poster will discuss the matter with the pastor of the church in question. But it’s also probably not a good idea to punch the offender out, to cuss the offender out, or to draw a weapon (all of which were options mentioned by representatives of the League of Angry Catholic Moms (which would be an awesome group, come to think of it--perhaps some mom of toddlers should start one).

I have a feeling that this level of wrath comes from a real place. No, it’s not from a place where moms of toddlers fantasize about knocking out those mean elderly Catholics who turn around to give the Glare of Withering Scorn every time their child clinks a rosary through his chubby fingers. But...well, here’s what I said yesterday:

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I think that some of the anger here from parents of young children is because so many of them (and I remember this too, even if it has been years) endure Gethsemane at every Mass (and not in a good way). Between the people insisting that your two-year-old ought to kneel perfectly still and silently for an hour and the people who frown that you’re bringing kids at all and the people who harrumph about how perfect their children were back in the day and the people who think that parents should do split shifts until the child’s wedding Mass--the Church can be a lonely, hostile, and terribly unwelcoming place for families who are blessed with many little ones (or even for families blessed with one!).

I see the irate, over-the-top venting about cops and whatnot as a reflection of what a damnably (I mean that) poor job we are doing of making churches welcoming for families with children. Meanwhile, down the road, the Protestant Mega-Church has a fully-staffed nursery and programs for the littles and plenty of smiles for families with kids. Is it any wonder so many Catholics end up throwing in the towel and heading to the mega-church?

Far, FAR too many older Catholics (not just elderly, btw, but old enough to have grown children) act like the Church is the first-class section of an airplane or a four-star restaurant or a ritzy country club or a museum full of priceless artifacts that for some reason are not encased in glass, etc.--and that children do NOT belong, not unless they are perfectly programmed little robots who will never squirm, squeal, or emit unfortunate bodily odors and/or secretions or, in fact, act like humans at all. There is something, and again I mean this literally, quite diabolical in this (as the original poster said).
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I know it’s awful to quote one’s own self, but I hope you’ll forgive me for the sake of discussing these sorts of problems.  For as long as I’ve been blogging, it seems like you get a deep divide between, on the one hand, parents of young children who are trying their level best to bring their kids to Mass, to get them to behave to the level possible for their age and experience, to take them out of Mass for some quiet time or discipline etc. depending, again, on the child’s age and level of culpability for any disturbance he/she may be causing, to pray and worship as adult Catholics themselves to the extent possible, all of this done Sunday after Sunday in the hopes that they will be planting the seeds of faith firmly in their children’s souls and helping them to grow to be mature Catholics who continue in the practice of the faith--and, on the other hand, Catholics who don’t have children or whose children are long-since grown up who think that children don’t really belong at Mass and if they absolutely must be there, then the parents have an obligation to make sure the children are absolutely still and silent and unobtrusive and as invisible as possible.

Now, I tend to have more sympathy for the parents of young children.  I have known very few parents who will let their children be “out of control” at Mass for any length of time (barring some really unusual circumstances).  I have known a couple of sets of rather clueless parents who don’t seem to notice when their children have gone from “normal childish behavior” to “full-throated screaming and/or running around wildly” but those situations have usually been addressed quite kindly by a pastor or usher (or both).  I stress here that those experiences have been astonishingly rare; in my 46 years as a Catholic I can’t remember more than a couple of those incidents (though, to be fair, my memory of the first five years or so is quite fuzzy).

On the other hand, when I’ve gotten into conversations about this with older Catholics, many of them seem to remember a time in the past when babies knew how to sit still and behave at a two-hour High Mass in Latin from the time they were three weeks old, and two-year-olds never spoke in public unless spoken to and certainly never needed to bring a toy or a book to Mass, and all the problems today stem from lax and/or selfish parents who don’t care how many people their unfortunately numerous progeny disturb by their squeaky, wiggly, squeally presence (oh, but will you join our pro-life group?  We pray the rosary outside the abortion clinic every Tuesday at noon...).

There seems to be a huge disconnect among some (NB: not all) older Catholics.  They don’t seem to realize, for instance, that for many young families split Masses aren’t possible, because instead of six Sunday Masses between six a.m. and noon at a church within walking distance of the family home there are two Sunday Masses at the church a thirty minutes’ drive away, one at 9:30 that is over (God willing) by about 10:45 and the second at 11:00, which makes split Masses impossible unless somebody can go to the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass (but please don’t bring the children to that one, because everybody knows that the 4 p.m. Saturday Mass is the sole property of the over-65 crowd...).  They don’t seem to realize that parents can’t just “stay home with the children” unless one parent or the other is prepared to miss years of Sunday Masses.  They don’t seem to realize that the “Cry Room” isn’t a long-term solution if your goal is to get the children to be more civilized at Mass someday.  They don’t seem to realize that families of young children already face the ridicule and hostility of the world which doesn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t use birth control and would want more than two children...

...and when that ridicule and hostility happens to them at Mass, among their fellow Catholics, the people who are supposed to be as pro-life and pro-family and anti-contraception as they are: well, it really is Gethsemane.

Taking babies and small children to Mass is far from easy.  We make it harder when we frown and snarl and glare at people who come in with a gaggle of little ones.  We are breaking those young parents’ hearts a little bit at a time when we’re not assuring them that they’re really welcome, really, we like them, we want them there, we want their kids to come with them, yes, really, we’re not just saying it.  Because nobody is beating them up more than they are themselves on the Sundays when infant Ignatius screamed and had to be taken out three times and toddler Theophania found mommy’s lipstick and nobody noticed until she’d colored a hymn-book in Spunky Pink and four-year-old Felix announced loudly in the middle of the Roman Canon that he was going to have a Regrettable Accident if not immediately escorted to the facilities in the parish hall.  They already feel like they are Failing at Catholic Parenthood on those days, and the last thing they need is a self-righteous, eyebrow-raised glare from a Pharisee in the row ahead of them, whose deep and prayerful contemplation of the breakfast she was going to order at her favorite restaurant after Mass was interrupted by the children’s antics.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Discernment

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m in the midst of a massive--and delayed--spring cleaning.  Why I didn’t take advantage of the cool, wet weather we’ve had and do this sooner would be a puzzlement, except that cool wet weather brings on rainy-day migraines.  Now that the sun has finally reappeared over Texas, I’m actually getting a few things done around here.

When it comes to chores like spring cleaning and decluttering, I find that it’s not so bad to keep going, but starting is always difficult.  I can see the clutter in closets and on bookshelves and so on, but somehow it’s easy to ignore until it reaches a point where it MUST be dealt with.

Some of this is due to family life in general.  For instance, in cleaning out some bookshelves today I realized how many “school-ish” books I have accumulated at used bookstores and book fairs and so on, thinking that surely this or that book would come in handy.  And some of them did, for a bit, though others were never even touched or were tried only to be discarded.  But I kept them anyway, because after all we are homeschoolers and who knows when that book on Einstein or grammar or Spanish verbs will suddenly become crucial to someone’s education?

I’m facing a new reality though: two of my girls are in college, and the third has one year left at home.  Just one.  Which is enough for me to hang on to the Einstein book (hey, she’ll be doing physics next year, so who knows?) but not the various Spanish dictionaries because she decided her modern language would be Japanese.

And there are other ways that family life in general can lead to clutter.  For instance, if a gift-wrap-impaired redhead decides that gift bags are too expensive and starts saving a few decent ones to reuse later, it takes no time at all before the Accumulation Principle strikes, and you find a whole pile of unused and probably-will-never-be-used gift bags shoved in the back of a closet, most of them now too wrinkled and crushed to be used because said redhead forgot they were there and piled comforters on top of them.

All of this makes those Radically Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere books and blogs and magazines start to look really, really appealing. Why, one starts to think, do I own more than the exact number of spoons my family needs at one meal anyway?  Why do we need to own any books at all, given libraries and Kindles (tm)?  Why own DVDs?  Why keep decorative items at all?

Luckily, it takes very little perusal of those books and blogs and magazines before I remember the reasons that Really Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere doesn’t really appeal to me.  It boils down to the truth that there are only two ways to do the RSLwNCA lifestyle: a) by spending LOTS of money on “simple” alternatives to, you know, furniture and dishes and so on, or b) by convincing yourself it is perfectly sane to own exactly three outfits (one of which is pajamas) and wash everything daily, or to schedule meals individually so there is time to wash the one fork between each person’s use of it,  or to have a nervous breakdown if someone in the family buys an extra toothbrush or something.

The truth is that Really Cluttered Living with Lots of Chaos Everywhere isn’t a good way to live, either.  But I think that the reason so many of us end up swinging between these two extremes is similar to the extremes we may find in other areas of our lives.  For instance, some Catholics want the Church to take a totally laid-back, hands-off, universal salvation approach to faith which has no rules at all so long as we love God; others want the Church to provide detailed lists of popular culture offerings which are a mortal sin not only to see or read, but which also constitute a mortal sin if you discuss them on Facebook (under the usual conditions, of course).  Or, for another example, some Catholics insist that a proper understanding of the Theology of the Body means that it’s not immodest for people to be nudists, while others insist that the Church has rules for all times that say women must wear a blouse no lower than two fingers below the collarbone and a skirt no higher than two inches below the knee.

Why are we like this?  Why do we want everything or nothing?

I think it’s because more of us are like the scared servant in the Parable of the Talents.  We’d like to bury our gift of discernment in the ground, rather than having to use it, because if we use it we might make the wrong choice. What if my daughter suddenly develops a love for the Spanish language in her senior year?  What if I stumble across a crafting blog that proclaims, “Yes, you too can make this impossibly easy backyard pavilion out of nothing but used gift bags?” What if we realize that some article of clothing we really like is more revealing than we thought it was? What if a TV show we’re really enjoying starts promoting immorality in a way we can’t simply ignore, because it’s part of the agenda the show’s creators want to push?

The gift of discernment doesn’t guarantee us that every decision we will make, however large or small, will necessarily be the right or best one.  We may even make a decision that is good at the time, but perhaps not so good later.  But we can only do our best; we can’t be paralyzed, like the servant in the Parable of the Talents, into not deciding at all.

In the end, both the Radically Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere life and the Radically Cluttered Living with Chaos Everywhere life are really illusions.  Even those lifestyles will force you to make choices sooner or later.  There is no shortcut in any area of our lives that will exempt us from using free will, that great gift of God which makes us in His image.