Saturday, May 7, 2016

Honoring mothers

Over at a blog I'm not going to link to today, a blogger whose name I'd rather leave out of the discussion (but who is personally a mother) has decided to take aim at Mother's Day.

Specifically, she has decided that parish celebrations of Mother's Day pretty much need to go away. If priests want, they can sort of mumble a vague prayer for "all women regardless of their state in life" which she has written for the good Fathers to use.

The reason? Mother's Day is hurtful. Some women really want to be mothers but can't be, because they never married or are infertile. Some women have lost children. And some women have bad relationships with their own mothers, so all this over-the-top celebration (which usually involves a prayer out of the Book of Blessings and, perhaps, a carnation and prayer card for the moms present at Mass) is just excruciatingly painful for the women who didn't receive from God the blessing of motherhood.

Now, the reason I'm leaving the blogger's name and site out of this is that I'm not trying to hold one person up as a target. I respect that this is this person's sincere opinion.

But I also reserve the right to say that this is wrong.

Some priests choose not to acknowledge any non-religious holidays, events, or occasions before, during, or after Mass on Sundays, and this is their prerogative. They can skip mentioning Mother's Day even in a single line during this Sunday's homily; they can avoid letting the prayer intentions include even a whisper of the mention of mothers, and they can skip the blessing--and, if this is their invariable practice for Father's Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, World Marriage Day, Scout Sunday, Catholic Schools Week/Religious Teachers' or Catechists Sunday, and so on, then I have no problem with that. It is perfectly proper for priests to choose to exclude everything but the actual liturgical day, should they so choose.

However, if priests choose to acknowledge these sorts of occasions, then there has to be balance. Using the prayer from the Book of Blessings for mothers, which is here, seems to me to be just fine, and the prayer for fathers on Father's Day is appropriate too.

What is not appropriate is to decide that mothers, and mothers alone, can't be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated, praised or encouraged without inflicting such emotional damage and harm on women who are not mothers that it's better to scrap the whole thing--or, at least, to create a vague prayer honoring all women that doesn't ever mention the vocation of motherhood.

We don't treat fathers that way. We don't pretend that honoring fathers on Father's Day hurts men who can't or don't have children so deeply that it's better to create a prayer that honors all men, regardless of their state in life, and leaves it at that. We don't seem to think we have to apologize for honoring fathers and the gift and cross of fatherhood, do we?

So why do we have to apologize for honoring mothers? Why do we have to act as though women, and women alone, can't handle the idea that not all of us are given the same gifts and crosses? Why, when it comes right down to it, do we focus on how hurtful it is to women who aren't mothers to celebrate the ones who are, as if motherhood is only gift and never cross--when, like all vocations, it is always both?

When I've written about Mother's Day before on this blog there are invariably women who say that nobody celebrates them at all. Their husbands pull the old, "You're not my mother, and besides it's a greeting card holiday," in order to do nothing; their children are too young or too indifferent to recognize their mother's gifts and sacrifices; these women may celebrate other mothers, including their own, but are left alone themselves. If it wasn't for that little prayer card or blessing or carnation at Mass, they would get no recognition at all on Mother's Day, and it seems to me to be a form of churlishness to insist that in order not to hurt the unmarried or the infertile we should take even this much away from the forgotten mothers.

I think that we women are stronger and better than this. I think that we can agree that motherhood is, indeed, both a great blessing and, at times, especially in our age, a significant cross. I think we can pray at Mass for the mothers and grandmothers and godmothers, and give them tokens of our love and appreciation as a parish community, without having to become all stifled or apologetic about it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The rise of the New Catholic Pharisees

First, some good news: I did manage to finish the entire manuscript of the second book in the Adventures of Ordinary Sam series (which, right now, looks as though it will be a trilogy, but one never knows).

I love writing fiction, but I also sort of miss blogging. So I want to make an attempt to get back to it.

Fortunately, the Catholic Blogosphere is always full of reasons for me to want to blog. The latest thing I've been noticing is a phenomenon I can only call the rise of the New Catholic Pharisees.

The New Catholic Pharisees, like the Pharisees of old, are Catholics who want to place burdens upon their fellow believers--burdens that the Church herself does not place.  And the New Catholic Pharisees come in all sorts--this isn't a "liberal Catholic" problem or an "orthodox Catholic" problem--it's just a Catholic problem.

Take, for instance, the growing push in some quarters to insist that it is pretty much immoral for a Catholic to own firearms. Now, I think all reasonable people could agree that it's not exactly moral for a Catholic to stockpile illegally-purchased assault weapons while publishing anti-government manifestos and listening out the window for the sound of helicopters; it is also not exactly sane. But once you admit that the Church has never, in fact, forbidden Catholics to own various types of personal-use weapons provided they comply with local laws, secure those weapons properly to make sure children or other unauthorized users can't get at them, and carry the proper permits, you pretty much can't turn around and accuse Catholics who do own personal firearms of colluding in mass murder, or anything of the sort. The people who would give a sort of grudging permission for a Catholic who lives out in the country to own a shotgun or rifle in order to protect his livestock from coyotes but bristle in anger at the idea that a Catholic who lives in a dodgy apartment in a bad part of the city might want a pistol to protect herself from violent intruders need to consider whether they're placing a heavier burden on their fellow Catholics than the Church does.

Or consider the rumblings--as yet subdued--about whether a Catholic's duty regarding civic participation means that a Catholic absolutely must vote for one or the other of the major political parties' candidates running for the presidency. The Church doesn't say this. The Church doesn't generally want people to become totally apathetic about the political process (outside of certain times and places in which participation was a sham meant to prop up dictators and fool outside observers, and tempting though it may be to say we are there it isn't true yet), but she does not demand that her American children must vote for a person with either an "R" or a "D" next to that person's name. Insisting that she does teach that is, again, to place a burden on the faithful which the Church herself doesn't place.

Just today I found another example. Sam Guzman at The Catholic Gentleman wrote a lovely post (no, really, I'm serious) about the way NFP has benefitted him in his marriage. But sure enough, a New Catholic Pharisee turned up in the comment box below the post to write the following:
I don’t consider it (Note: NFP) moral. I have given it a good deal of thought, I’ve read the documents, I’ve asked others, I’ve even jumped headlong into arguments to try to “test” the point but up to this point I (genuinely) haven’t been able to think of, nor been given some reason or even happened upon one that can solidly defend it’s morality. Right now I am absolutely certain that the method of “partial abstinence during cycles” is morally wrong. I’m not one to be contrary for the sake of it, if I would be given some information or taught some distinction that I’m missing up to now I would admit I got it wrong and change my mind, that’s not an issue at all. Until that happens though, I’m at liberty to say it is wrong.
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman: in spite of Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II and Church tradition stretching back into the mists of history regarding the moral liceity of married couples abstaining from marital relations during the fertile period for a just reason, a random Internet combox New Catholic Pharisee has decided that NFP isn't moral. Further comments from this person indicate that he seems to agree with the opinion that if a really serious, life-threatening reason exists to avoid pregnancy the couple must abstain completely until the woman reaches menopause. I was tempted to jump into the conversation and ask whether in that case the woman wouldn't still have a duty to risk death in childbirth so that her husband wouldn't fall into serious sexual sin, since grave sin is worse than death, but the better angels restrained me from such obvious baiting.

I find it interesting that there are, apparently, New Catholic Pharisees in every Catholic population. You will see them at E.F. Masses and O.F. Masses; they make an appearance on the left, right, and middle side of every debate. The temptation to place burdens upon our fellow men that are heavier than anything that God, through His Church, ever places upon them is, I fear, a universal one.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A very brief post on the ongoing transgender bathroom debate

This week, a major retailer bravely faced the applause of the elite for declaring that any person is free to use any bathroom or changing area he or she feels like using while in that retailer's stores.

These "transgender bathroom policies," so they tell us, are all about diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, that's not the whole story. They are also about opening up private spaces, especially private spaces used by women, to full access by any man who chooses to enter those spaces for any reason whatsoever.

As many as one in six women will be the victim of a significant sex crime, including rape, in her lifetime. Men who prey on vulnerable women are probably thrilled that it's now seen as impolite—or even illegal—to challenge them when they follow women or girls into a women's bathroom, locker room, or changing area. This will give them greater access to victims, without helping people who really identify as transgender much at all. 

Should fifty percent of the US population be put at constant risk so that a fraction of a percent (transgenders reportedly number about 0.2% of the population) can have their feelings validated? This isn't a diversity issue; it's a safety issue, and it's disappointing that in all the self-congratulatory posing of the elite there is no acknowledgement of that reality at all.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Zen of living in harmony with the stuff you already own...

On Facebook the other day, I went into a mini-rant about those clickbait articles you see about how to fix all the storage problems in your house, get organized, and feel the waves of energy that come with decluttering. After pointing out that those articles expect you to have all sorts of things you don't have--not little, unimportant things like time and money, but big things like empty closets and spare bookshelves, spaces under nonexistent (in our house, anyway) staircases, empty wine crates, really tall ceilings (in order to hang all those DIY hooks, shelves, and physical dimension alteration devices), a collection of power tools that would make Bob Vila jealous, and a degree in structural engineering (well, maybe some of my readers have that last, but I certainly don't), I tossed off a suggestion: maybe somebody should write a series of articles along the lines of, "The Zen of living in harmony with the crap you already own and can't get rid of because you can't afford to replace it and you're sort of still using it on a daily basis, with bonus lessons on how not to swear when you trip over stuff."

Somebody suggested I do it. Since I'm very open to writing suggestions, and since I have been struggling to blog mainly because I can't think of ways to comment on the Big Important Issues of the Day that will be a) helpful, b) charitable, and c) devoid of substantial cursing, I thought it might be fun.

This, then, is the first of these posts.

Take a look, dear reader, at the main living areas of your house. Do you have more than four or five such areas, including the kitchen, and not including the space near the front door that you try to pretend is an actual room instead of part of a hallway? Are all of them spotlessly clean, beautifully decorated, harmoniously arranged, well-organized, with just a hint of vanilla spice and pixie dust in the atmosphere? Congratulations! This post is not for you.

If you have fewer than five living areas (we have three, here at the Manning house, including the kitchen), if you can't pretend your front entryway is a separate room even if you squint and try really, really hard to see it that way, if the living areas are what might be charitably described as "clean-ish," if the decoration style is best described as, "Well, bless your heart," if the furniture is arranged according to the ancient principle of "You can't take a step without falling," if "well-organized" means "I stuffed everything into that desk with the lid that closes, sort of, on a good day," and if the atmosphere of the home reminds visitors more of Vincent Price than Martha Stewart, then keep reading.

I'm not going to tell you how to fix any of it--not today, anyway. Truth is, I don't know. I tend to fluctuate between .pdf files of fiction writing and a different kind of PDF, one that stands for "Periodic Decluttering Frenzies." These PDFs are well-intentioned efforts to remove clutter by cleaning out closets and drawers, donating old books and media, and then, in theory, moving on to things like the kitchen cabinets and the garage and so on. I usually get through the clothing clean-out and my husband does the books and media thing, and then life starts happening (often before we've really finished), and the kitchen and garage get put off until next time. If there ever is one.

No, I'm not going to pretend to tell you how to organize your life (especially if it involves somehow finding vintage tin tubs that you can turn into storage ottomans, or similar nonsense). But I will tell you that it is possible to take a deep breath, look around at the place where you live, and come to terms with the stuff in it.

Let's say that it's possible to give one's housekeeping efforts a score or grade (it isn't, really, but for the sake of argument, let's pretend). Now, let's say that a score of 100 points is awarded to those houses in magazines that nobody ever lives in and that have no experience whatsoever of dust, let alone of toy clutter or baby spit-up or teenage baking efforts or any of those other joys of living.

"Well," you may be thinking to yourself, "if those houses get 100 points, then my score has to be in the fifties somewhere, if I'm lucky." But wait--it's more complicated than that.

Start with zero points. Now, give yourself five points for each person (including yourself) who lives in the home, if you are the person who is mainly in charge of cleaning and organizing things. Yes, often this will be mom, but there are some stay-at-home dads out there who have taken on these tasks and we don't want to leave them out. If you don't think you should give yourself five points for each person, ask yourself this question: do you pick up at least one item each day that each person has left out, dropped in a hamper, failed to put in the dishwasher, etc.? I'm probably being conservative with the "five point per person" rule.

Next, give yourself an additional five points for each child between the ages of three and ten. For babies younger than three, you get an extra ten points per child, with a bonus of ten more points if you have more than one child under age three right now. If you have had a baby in the past six months you get twenty-five additional points automatically.

Now, this one might be controversial, but here it is: if you are homeschooling, give yourself an additional five points per homeschooled child. Why? Because if you are homeschooling, then your children are home with you all day (unless you are all out together). This means that you can't clean while they are sitting in brightly-lit classrooms creating messes for other people to clean up; they are sitting at your kitchen table (or their desks, etc.) and the science projects and finger-painting are happening right there. It is significantly harder to clean around people than to clean when the people are gone, which is why corporations have whole cleaning crews that come in after hours, with maybe a handful of custodial workers to keep the bathrooms from becoming unfit for human use during the workday.

If you have any sort of issues that make cleaning difficult (physical handicaps, mental heath matters, chronic health conditions, etc.) add between ten and twenty points depending on how serious the impediment is.

Add on five more points for each daily task you usually complete (dinner? bath times for youngest children? lunches for working people or school kids? laundry? and so on).

Now, add up your score.

I bet it's higher than you thought it would be. I bet some of you have more than 100 points.

Look at your living areas again. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the baby's board book section of the bookshelf is starting to look like some cardboard-eating zombies have gotten to it? Is it really worth lamenting over your inability to replace the kitchen floor again this year, even though the old vinyl flooring has some pretty deep grooves in it? Is it a problem that your refrigerator is cleverly hidden under mounds of printed recipes and children's artwork? Does your house actually look like a public health menace, or does it just look like people actually live in it--people, moreover, who are really dear to you and who matter more than a thousand Pinterest ideas and a million decluttering techniques?

Someday, when your children are grown up, your house will probably be the spotless and organized oasis of your dreams. But it will also be really quiet--at least, until the grandkids come over. Until then, unless you could be featured on an episode of "Hoarders," chances are that things really aren't as bad as you fear they are, and it will all get sorted out in the wash (so long as somebody puts those baskets of unfolded laundry away one of these days).

Of course, you may be tempted to jump on the "minimalism" bandwagon despite these positive thoughts...but that's a post for next time.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A brief note

I do hope to resume some more regular--if sporadic--blogging soon.

But at the present time I am editing three different manuscripts with a view to self-publishing them; I am writing a new book during April's Camp NaNoWriMo; and I am approaching the finish line with our youngest daughter, who is about to graduate from homeschooling and go on to college (which means a lot of paperwork for both of us).

Your patience, as always, is treasured.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Speechless at the sight of Catholics uniting over Trump

I didn't actually intend to give up blogging for Lent; it just sort of turned out that way.

Some of it was just real life stuff--bronchitis, tomorrow's root canal (gulp), spring in Texas...although we have, luckily, missed the local storm damage so far and I've also learned NOT to put the winter clothes away and pack up the heavy comforters just because we have a misleading, teasing week or four of temperatures in the 80s. That doesn't mean it's really spring yet, as our 37 degree low outdoor temperature a night or two ago pointed out quite emphatically.

But some of it was being in just a bit of a dry spell. I've been focusing on my fiction writing, but I've never really had trouble before switching from a day of writing or editing fiction to composing a blog post about real things. I think the problem is that right now the real things are, well, kind of depressing.

Take religion, for instance. On the one hand you have Catholics whose idea of good liturgy involves liturgical dance and whose main complaint with Pope Francis is that he's too conservative (e.g., he hasn't ordained women or anything). On the other hand you have Catholics who are melting down over the change in the rubrics for Holy Thursday (some of them claiming, apparently seriously, that from "time immemorial" the Church has only allowed male feet to be washed at Holy Thursday Mass--not realizing that the foot-washing was only incorporated into the Mass in the 1950s--and others insisting that the Holy Spirit created the custom of male-only foot washing because this act of Our Lord's can only refer to the ordained priesthood, and that what the Holy Spirit inspired not even the pope can change...). Even a simple thing like Pope Francis deciding to make use of Instagram becomes a cultural flash point, with Catholics on one side applauding his apparent coolness, and at least one Catholic on the other responding to His Holiness' first photo (with the pope's message: "Pray for me,") by declaring that "pray for me" wasn't a request (?) and that he personally would be praying for Pope Emeritus Benedict instead.

Or take politics, if you'd rather (I'm increasingly of the opinion that in America today taking politics seriously, or at all, can only be safely done by those already insane, but you may have a different opinion). On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton's cakewalk to the nomination might have turned into a pie-throwing contest, except that her super-delegates have the superpower to protect her from any actual challenges emanating from Bernie Sanders' campaign; and on the Republican side--well, what is there to say, except that Donald Trump has the ability to make past candidates look almost good by comparison, because while several recent Republicans could have tied for the title of the "More Hair than Wit" candidate, Trump is all hair and...well, I won't say it, but you know I'm thinking it.

And then you add in the odd spectacle of dittohead CAPE Catholics who wouldn't know a Latin motet if it assaulted them in a church parking lot, weekly O.F. Catholics who think a biretta is something that requires ammunition and a gun license, and serious E.F. Catholics who sweetly and modestly display their liturgical superiority in comment boxes all over the Internet, all joining hands in a grand "Kumbaya" of support for a thrice-married millionaire who wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, ban Muslims from entering the US, who supports capital punishment and torture, and who has a rather unpleasant tendency to speak slightingly of women and vulgarly of everything. On the one hand, I suppose it's slightly comforting to realize that there are, apparently, points of unity among such dissimilar groups of Catholics; on the other, one could wish that Catholics in America could agree to lay aside their liturgical differences and work together without needing to unite behind the kind of person who says that he'd be his own foreign policy adviser, and that sort of thing.

So I suspect that though I may think of my recent inactivity as a dry spell or "blogger's block," I really think I've just been rather speechless at the sight of Catholics uniting over Trump. It's one of those moments when you can't even imagine what to say.

But at least we haven't reached the point in the election when not only Catholics of all sorts, but serious Christians and other people of faith, will start to argue that we have a moral duty to vote for Trump because failing to do so is the exact same thing as voting for Hillary. Hopefully I'll be over my "blogger's block" by then, because that's the sort of thing one can't let go without challenging it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Smijj of Conflict--now available!

I'm hoping to get back to blogging more regularly soon, now that I'm (finally) getting over the winter bug I've been dealing with for three weeks now.

Before that, though, I wanted to finish up a different project, one that I've been promising for a while now. That's right: the fourth book in my Tales of Telmaja series, A Smijj of Conflict, is finally available for sale!

I don't think I've done this before, but I'd like to ask a favor of my blog readers. Two favors, actually--first, can you help me spread the word about this book and the Tales of Telmaja series? I write with children ages 8 to 13 in mind (though I have adult readers who enjoy the books as well), and I take seriously the idea that children's fiction should be suitable for children. My books don't contain inappropriate sexual content, and while a certain amount of violence is going to be inevitable in a series that deals with a galactic war to end slavery I try very hard to maintain a level of restraint instead of being too graphic. But what motivates me most of all is the desire to write good, imaginative adventure stories for a part of the children's fiction market that I honestly think is underserved these days, those middle-school readers who aren't terribly amused by booger jokes, toilet humor and endless tales of the classroom, but who aren't yet ready to read most of the books on the Young Adult shelf (especially the ones in the Teen Paranormal Romance section).

And the other favor I'm asking is directed at those wonderful people who have bought and read Books 1-3 in the Tales of Telmaja series: would you consider leaving a review at Amazon of one or more of the books? I've had lots of positive feedback from readers directly, but I'd love it if some of you who enjoy these stories would take a minute to post something on Amazon (and it goes without saying that if you have negative or critical thoughts those are fine, too--any honest review is welcome!).

Many thanks!