Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Necessity, Mothers, Invention, and Materialism

Not long ago my slow-cooker broke. Actually, just the stoneware pot broke; the heating element worked fine. But it would have cost nearly as much to buy a new pot as to replace the whole thing, and considering that it was about a dozen years old it seemed smarter to buy a new one.

It 'made' dinner today. I really appreciated it, especially after being without one for a short while. I find that slow-cooker cooking is very helpful to a homeschooling mom, since I can have dinner prepared and cooking in the earlier, less hectic part of the day instead of squeezing it in between the last gasp of math homework and the first frantic grab at the laundry basket.

But the speed with which I replaced it, and the assumption both my husband and I made that of course we'd go get a new one, caused me to reflect. Is it just too easy in America today for a Catholic to be caught up in materialism?

After all, I replaced my washing machine, when it 'died' shortly after Christmas. I replaced the dryer last spring when it stopped working (and when it caught fire briefly when my DH was taking it apart to see if it could be fixed). And last year we raced to a local big box store to buy a new oven on December 23 because the one that came with our house went out in a literal blaze of glory; I'd never seen a heating element in an electric oven catch fire before, and burn up slowly from one end to the other, like some hideously unseasonal sparkler.

All of this could be a reflection on the shoddy nature of goods manufactured mainly overseas by huge multinational corporations that will cut corners in any way they can to boost the stockholders' value, but instead, it's a simple question. When did all of these machines become necessities?

I suppose an argument could be made in favor of the oven; even pioneer women had stoves to cook on, and though the power source has changed drastically the principles involved seem to be essentially the same. It would be pretty hard to go back to hearthside cooking in a modern house with a wholly ornamental fireplace.

Lots of moms would probably argue in favor of the washer and dryer, too. Modern fabrics won't stand up to the washtub and clothesline method of washing and drying clothes. Clotheslines are prohibited by plenty of homeowners' associations, too, so chances are without your own washer and dryer your only real option is the laundromat, a costly alternative for a family.

But when it comes to the slow cooker, I know I've purchased a luxury. There's no way I can even pretend this machine is a necessity; it's just something I like having, something I find useful. If I had to get along without it, I could. True, I can justify the purchase in all sorts of ways: it cost very little, it saves me both time and money, it's an efficient way to make the soups and stews my family enjoys, and so on. But just because I can justify buying something doesn't mean that it's not materialistic of me to want it.

I wonder if there were women in the past who felt that way about electric ovens and washing machines.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Perils of Pollyanna

This is Catholic Schools Week, or as some Catholic homeschoolers like to call it, Outsourced Catholic Schools Week. At Amy Welborn's blog yesterday a post about (mostly) negative experiences people have had in the recent past involving their Catholic educations received many thoughtful comments; the comments, I see, have continued today as well. Most of the people commenting seem to be aware of the tremendous changes which occurred in Catholic education in the period following the Second Vatican Council; many of them relate that their education actually contributed to a loss of faith.

But there are a few people, there and elsewhere on the Internet, who seem to chide the others. Catholic schools are fine now! they insist, smiles firmly planted. Oh, maybe there were a few problems in the guitar-strumming felt banner days, but We've Fixed All That! Our kids love their Catholic schools! True, little Jenny's sex-ed books are a bit much for third grade, and little Billy's coach uses the 'F' word in front of the children, and not-so-little Susan has informed us that she's an atheist and doesn't want to go to the Catholic high school when she graduates from eighth grade at Our Lady of the Lexus SUV's, but what a wonderful education they've all received!

There are perils to being a Pollyanna parent. Our pastor, in his 'Catholic Schools Week' homily this past Sunday, pointed out the most serious of them when he reminded parents that our duty to educate our children in the faith is so important that we parents will be judged on how well we've accomplished this at our particular judgments. In other words, we will answer to God for how well we've managed to pass on the Catholic faith to our children.

Unfortunately, his attempt to link this duty to a preference for the parish school was, to me, a huge non sequitur, because the problems mentioned by Amy's posters are real and continuing problems in Catholic education. Watered-down religious instruction, moral problems among the student body, lay teachers who openly dissent from one or more Church teachings (Humanae Vitae being the most popular target, as always), skyrocketing tuition costs that turn Catholic schools into snobby elitist private schools--the list goes on and on. And there's been no real progress. Can't we be honest here? There has been no real progress. It's worth repeating, because it's one of those uncomfortable truths we like to sweep under the carpet.

Further, I can't see there being any significant changes anytime soon. There have been some wonderful new Catholic textbooks written, for example--and many diocesan officials in various places ban their use. There have been courageous Catholic teachers and principals who've tried to re-introduce old Catholic customs and devotions, only to have their decisions overturned on the grounds that we mustn't offend our non-Catholic students. Too many of the people whose actions and attitudes helped create the current dismal situation are still in place in positions of authority. Do they still hum 'Kumbaya' and dream wistfully of a female priesthood? Only they know, but as long as they're in charge at the schools and chanceries, Catholic education will be the same morass it is today.

The real danger of being a Pollyanna parent is the danger that your children will lose their faith. It may be that I'm wrong, that Catholic schools really are better than they were in my day, that they will be turning out legions of Catholic saints quite soon. But I still hear from far too many people who say they remained Catholic in spite of, not because of, their Catholic school education. As Father said, God will hold me responsible for my children's faith, and I don't think He will nod understandingly and give me a pass if I claim, "But, Lord! I was trusting the Catholic school to teach them!" That excuse might have worked a generation ago, but the Catholics in my generation have no reason not to know better than that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Some Thoughts on Iraq

News out of Iraq hasn't been good for some time now. Some would say this is completely due to the liberal bias of the media, but I think we've passed the point where we might pretend that this is true.

When President Bush first started talking about Iraq several years ago, I was uneasy about it. Unlike our decision to go into Afghanistan and disrupt a group of people who seemed quite clearly linked to the events of September 11, 2001, our expansion into Iraq didn't have the same clear justifications, the same sane and reasonable objectives.

As a conservative, my default setting is to trust fellow conservatives. Most of them seemed to agree with the president: Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which they fully intended to supply to terrorists. We had to stop them, before some large city in the United States was turned into a smoking crater.

But Pat Buchanan and other paleoconservatives were saying far different things. I probably lean more toward the paleo side of conservatism, and so I was confused. Was Iraq a danger to us, or wasn't it? Were terrorists the friends of Saddam, or weren't they? Did we need to attack Baghdad, or didn't we?

In all this confusion the Vatican spoke with some clarity: we shouldn't go to war with Iraq; a preemptive strike wasn't justified. But I still didn't know what to think about things--it was at least conceivable that the Vatican wasn't privy to U.S. intelligence information that would suggest a clear danger from Saddam Hussein.

So I did what any good Catholic conservative would do. I prayed.

Specifically, I took up my on again, off again habit of the daily rosary. I like it when the daily rosary is part of my life, but there have been times when I fell away from it: college exams, work schedules, then babies and nightly nursings. This last had caused the longest lapse from the rosary in my adult life, as fifteen minutes of quiet was a) extremely rare and b) more likely to result in me falling asleep than in me pulling out the beads. But my children hadn't needed nursing for some time by the time these events took place, and there was really no reason for me to stay away from the rosary any longer. If any prayer could be helpful in guiding our nation, protecting our troops, and fostering true peace, the rosary would be.

Now, several years after 'shock and awe,' I'm still praying. It's all that I can do. It's the best thing I can do; pray for peace, for safety for our troops, and for God's will to be done, in Baghdad, in Washington, and in my home.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Welcome, Waltzing Matilda Readers!

I'd like to thank my good friend Matilda for linking to my blog. Hers is lovely and colorful, and mine is...well...beige, but that's one of the many reasons our friendship works so well!

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Unwinnable War

No, I'm not talking about Iraq, though perhaps I should be.

I'm talking about the War on Clutter.

Why does it seem that every battle ranged against this ubiquitous foe ends in a Pyrrhic victory?

My battle reports are riddled with excuses: we need more storage furniture, we need a larger house, we need more time.

But I know what we need.

We need less stuff.

Rights and Responsibilities

This past Sunday was Respect Life Sunday. Our new pastor did mention abortion in his homily, for which I give him full credit. In fact, I don't mean the following to be any kind of criticism of him personally; it's just something that has been percolating in my mind all week.

But Father is the sort who, every time he does mention something like abortion, seems to want to balance things by mentioning the death penalty as well. Sunday he added phrases like "the right to health care" and "the right to education" in addition to mentioning the death penalty. It's almost as though Father is afraid that focusing too exclusively on the issue of abortion will cause some in his congregation to label him a Republican.

What's really been bugging me this week is that phrase, "the right to education." What, exactly, does that mean?

For example, I received a fairly standard American education: grade school, high school, four years of college and a B. A. degree. But I have no knowledge of hunting. I can't tell you the right times of year to hunt which sorts of game, and I'd be completely helpless if asked to skin, dress, and cook something that someone else hunted and killed. There was a time when the lack of that knowledge would have been a serious deficiency.

Or, to focus on more 'womanly' arts, I can't sew. I can't do needlework except of the most basic kind, I know nothing of crochet and only a little about knitting. I couldn't render a decent watercolor if my life depended on it, I've had no formal training in any musical instrument, and only the slightest bit of vocal training. Again, there was a time when my admitting this publicly would have been seen as an admission that I wasn't really educated at all; at least, I wasn't properly 'finished.'

The point I'm trying to make is that it's difficult to speak in the language of "rights" about something so nebulously defined, so changeable, so difficult to determine. What is this "education" to which we all, apparently, have a right? Do factors like time period, culture, and family income level affect this "right?" What about personal inclination, or scholarly aptitude? Can people be said to have a "right" to something which some people are not capable of experiencing at all?

It's frustrating to me to have the language of "rights" slapped on to all sorts of things which were never thought of as rights before. But as a Catholic, I don't want to appear to be denying what I think is the true idea here, which is that children should be educated; and that's where the notion of responsibility comes in. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:

"2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the "material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones." Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

By speaking of education as a "right," we risk all kinds of things. Rights should be equal, after all; and who better to determine our children's "right to (an equal) education" than some sort of massive government bureaucracy?

But by speaking of education as a responsibility that is, first and foremost, the responsibility of the parents, we have restored things to their proper order. If parents have the responsibility to see to their children's educations, then parents also have certain rights in this area; in particular, they have the right to direct their children's education so that their children will not be taught things that are untrue, or contrary to the faith. Parents who homeschool are choosing to exercise this right in the most direct manner, but even parents who choose to share this right with private or public schools should not be intimidated into abdicating it entirely. No government entity has the authority to abrogate the right of parents to educate their children; again, the Catechism:

"2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute." The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable."

So, if we are going to use the language of rights, we must say that parents have the right to educate their children, not that children have the right to "an education" which is conveniently left undefined. The latter statement is fraught with peril in this era of unprecedented governmental involvement in the education system.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sweet Charity

Amy Welborn has the story today of Deacon McDonnell, the deacon at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Buffalo, who during his homily on Sunday criticized Representative Brian Higgins for his recent vote in support of embryonic stem cell research.

Rep. Higgins, who was at Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas when this took place, has a 100% pro-abortion voting record. Naturally, he was not amused by being called on that record in the middle of Mass, so he and his family walked out as the homily continued. (Wonder if they bothered to genuflect?)

Comments on Open Book's thread are all over the place. The Deacon was Right! The Deacon was Right, but Tactless! The Deacon was Right, but his Timing was Wrong! The Deacon was Right, but Uncharitable!

Odd. No one thinks that what the deacon had to say was wrong. Everyone seems to agree that Catholic clergymen should be speaking the truth to pro-abort CINO politicians.

But there's all this fussing and waving of lace handkerchiefs about the prudence of doing so during Mass. It's as though a whole generation of Catholics believes that charity demands that we admonish the sinner only in the strictest privacy, even when the sin is so very public.

Now, I'm not judging the state of the representative's soul, but it's clear that his public and continued support for abortion is at odds with his Catholicism. It's also clear that whatever private admonishments may have happened (odd--I hear crickets) have been wholly inadequate to inform Rep. Higgins that he really can't claim to be a Catholic in good standing and keep supporting the wholesale murder of the unborn. It's not good form, sir.

So Deacon McDonnell decided to use his homily as a teaching moment. He taught the congregation that ESCR is a big no-no for Catholics. He reminded Rep. Higgins that his support of such a thing was not kosher. He also, subtly, reminded Fr. Smith, his pastor, that we risk confusing the faithful when we skip around arm in arm with people whose other arm is firmly linked to something we speak of as despicably evil. Weakens the message, don't you know.

That, to me, was a very charitable thing for Deacon McDonnell to do. Chances are he'd like to see both Rep. Higgins and Fr. Smith in heaven someday, and he was concerned enough about the representative's soul to speak the truth regardless of the fallout.

As someone on Amy Welborn's said, we need a thousand more like him.

The Deacon was Right!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fly the Child-Free Skies

Have you read this story? Little Elly Kulesza, age three, was kicked off of an AirTran flight along with her parents because Elly wouldn't get into her seat, and was crying and fussing about it all.

The airlines treated her like they would any disruptive passenger. But should they have done so?

After all, three isn't exactly the age of reason. Elly's parents say they were trying to calm her down and get her into her seat, but the airlines didn't give them enough time. I believe them. Time passes pretty quickly for the parent trying to deal with a tantrum in public, when all the normal tools of discipline are forbidden to them.

Spanking? Out of the question. Scolding? Likewise. Forcibly putting little Elly in her seat, and holding her down? You might as well plan to spend a week with Florida's notorious Department of Children and Families (you remember, the ones who lost little Rilya Wilson).

Even bribing, that old standby of parents in a pinch, is pretty hard to manage on a plane before takeoff, when all luggage is stowed away and even sippy cups of juice are forbidden these days.

So what were Elly's parents supposed to do? What would you do?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why Abortion Advocates Tire Me

I've had encounters with people who favor legal abortion before, sometimes in person, most recently on the Internet.

I get really, really tired of the standard 'pro-choice' argument. It goes something like this:

I'm a rational pro-choice person. You are an irrational antiabortion person. My position is based on reason and science; yours is based on some kooky religious belief you want to impose on the rest of the world.

I'd like to say, once and for all, that that position is simply untrue.

Pro-life people point to science in our defense of the unborn. We can tell you when the unborn child's heart starts beating, when there are brainwaves, when there are fingerprints. We can tell you when the 'embryo' begins to be called the 'fetus' and what those words mean; we can also point out that a significant number of abortions destroy unborn children in the fetal, not embryonic stage. We can explain that from the moment of conception the unborn child has his or her own DNA and is, therefore, genetically distinct from his or her mom and dad. We can illustrate that any line of 'non-personhood' drawn between conception and birth is completely arbitrary and unscientific.

It's the pro-choice people who are holding, not a religious, but a philosophical position. They assert that an unborn child shouldn't have rights, without attempting to fortify that position with anything stronger than their own opinions. They assert that the mother's rights are clearly paramount, when that isn't clear at all. They assert that the unborn should be considered less than persons because that's what seems good to them. In their relativistic worldview, the woman's right to create her own reality trumps all, even when her reality involves her willing participation in the death of her own offspring.

They have the right to have those beliefs. But they shouldn't have the right to impose them on the rest of us.

And they especially shouldn't have the right to confuse their strong feelings with either reason or science.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Abortion of Sanity

Just in time for the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the New York Times Magazine has decided to tell women suffering from Post Abortion Syndrome that it's all in their heads.

Women, according to writer Emily Bazelon , aren't really traumatized by killing their offspring; it's no worse psychologically than giving birth. Chances are, the ones who suffer after their abortions would have turned out to be losers anyway, but the abortion gives them something to latch onto and blame for all their problems.

'Cause we all know how normal women feel about paying someone to destroy the unborn human they're carrying. They ignore it. They create little rituals to help them feel better about it, like voting for Democrats or subscribing to the New York Times.

Rebirth of the Epistolary Arts

Not all that long ago, people wrote. Nearly all of them did.

Whether it was a short business communication to one's grocer or a lengthy, chatty letter to a relative who lived in another town, it was writing. And it was everywhere.

Sometimes, if you like to browse antique stores like I do, you see evidence of this ubiquitous activity of the everyday chronicler of news, information, and opinion. Postcards from postwar Europe. Birthday cards with personal notes inside. Thick sheets of spidery writing tucked, long forgotten, into an old, dusty book that sits forlornly on a shelf next to a tattered copy of Pamela, which, of course, is itself an epistolary novel.

In fact, you can't read seventeenth and eighteenth--but mainly eighteenth--century literature without finding numerous examples, albeit fictional ones, of the letter-writer's art. These letters were far more than the formula of "Dear Ellen, how are you and the little ones?" that replaced them by the mid-twentieth century. The letter writer was a sort of mini-journalist. All the news that was fit to ink--and some things that weren't--were neatly penned on several pages with the writer's full awareness that many more people than the original adressee would see and read them. Letters were passed around the family and discussed for days. A good letter might be read more than once, savored, pondered, ripped to shreds and then repaired before being answered.

There are some who think that blogging is just a new form of vanity. There are others, particularly in the old establishment media, who find it a threatening activity. What, should ordinary citizens, everyday people, sit around and write their own little unimportant thoughts and ideas, sometimes on the big events of the day, sometimes on their favorite pie recipe? This is something new and dangerous!

No, it isn't. The telephone may have replaced the letter as the main vehicle for the quick conveyance of information and for lengthy, idle chatting. E-mail may be convenient for business communication and the sending of birthday cards.

But for the displaced epistolary chronicler, there is only the blog. Once again, cousin Maria's progress in school and the pending arrival of Aunt Helen's baby can jostle against the war in Iraq and a list of proposed solutions to the Problem of Education. Once again, the total strangers who drop by can discuss the writer's take on the Democratic Party's presidential nominees and be graced with that pie recipe. As it should be, as it was, as it will be as long as people remember how to write.