Friday, April 27, 2007

The Call to Homeschool

In my post below, commenter 4andcounting reminded me that I wanted to talk about something that I truly believe about homeschooling.

I believe that it is a call.

Now, as Catholics we're very familiar with the term vocation. We believe that at some points in our lives God calls us to a particular state in life wherein we can best serve Him and grow in holiness ourselves.

Our vocation is the biggest and most obvious call we receive from God, but there are different aspects to each call. For instance, if a young man discerns a call to the priesthood, he must still discern whether he is being called to be a diocesan priest or an order priest; if he thinks he's being called to a religious order he will still have to find out which one. A woman called to religious life will go through a similar process of discernment, and young people who think they are called to be married still have to find out what particular person God wants them to marry.

But even when all these things have been settled, God continues to call us to holiness in ways both big and small. A priest may feel moved to fast from a particular food on behalf of his parish family; a nun may, with the permission of her superior, pray the rosary each week outside of an abortion clinic along with a local pro-life group. Husbands and wives may decide to sign up for an hour of Eucharistic adoration if their parish offers it; mothers and fathers may come to the conclusion that it's best for their family if the television is removed from the home for a time, or even permanently.

I believe that the call to homeschool is not unlike these types of calls. I think that generally speaking homeschooling is the best way to educate children in faith, to nurture and protect their developing souls while providing them with the tools they will one day need when they enter the world. I believe it's the surest way for Catholic parents to fulfill their obligation, in this day and age, to see to it that their children are taught the faith and that they grow in the Christian life.

I think that, most unfortunately, it isn't possible any longer to assume that any school, Catholic, Christian, private or public, is going to educate our children to share our values. This doesn't mean that some wonderful schools aren't out there, but it does mean that many schools parents would once have trusted implicitly with their children are no longer worthy of such unquestioning trust.

But as much as I believe these things, I still believe that the decision to homeschool comes as a response to a call to do so, and that that call comes from God. Not every family in every situation will find themselves able or willing to homeschool, and not every family has felt in their hearts that quiet, persistent invitation to do so.

Some who are called to homeschool know this even before they marry and have children; some know it as soon as their first child nears preschool age. But I think the vast majority of parents out there who decide to homeschool find that the call to do so may take some time to hear, and some time to act upon.

It may begin as a slow dissatisfaction with the school your children are already in, a slow realization that whatever the school's values are, they aren't your own. (A military man of my acquaintance reached this point when one of his children's elementary school history books contained exactly two pages on World War II, and one of them was all about Rosie the Riveter.) Other parents get fed up with the impersonal bureaucracy that even Catholic schools may suffer from, or find themselves without help when one of their children is having a difficult time. Still others may like the school itself, but get tired of the bullying or bad behavior of some of their children's classmates, behavior which never seems to be corrected appropriately by those in authority.

For others it may begin before their children have even entered school. Encounters with peaceful, happy homeschooling families, research into the costs of Catholic education in their area, and a desire to have more say in what their children learn may war with their preconceived notions about education in general and homeschooling in particular. They may begin to consider homeschooling far more seriously than they ever would have imagined.

In both of these cases, the call from God may be similar. The seeds of dissatisfaction having been planted, there next will come that time period when "I'd never do that!" begins to be in conflict with the more wistful thought, "I'd like to do that." Families in this position, in my opinion, should approach God in prayer at this point, and attempt to discern His will for them. If they do this honestly and sincerely, I believe that God will indeed reveal His will.

It may be that they really aren't being called to homeschool, for reasons specific to themselves and/or to their family's particular situation. There really are some situations where traditional schooling may be the better option, at least for the present time, and generally speaking no one but the family themselves will be aware of the specific reasons why this is so.

But if there are no such obstacles, and if the desire to homeschool begins to grow stronger and stronger, then I think the family should consider investigating the various methods and curricula available for their children. Attending a meeting of a local homeschooling group might be a good idea at this point, too, to get to talk to parents who are 'in the trenches' so to speak and who, with their varied experiences, will probably be able to answer the family's questions and concerns.

One thing I've noticed among homeschooling families is that many of them say that making the decision to homeschool might not have been easy, and homeschooling itself might not be easy, but there's no doubt in their minds that they made the right decision and are doing the right thing. Many seem to experience a great deal of peace once they've committed to the course of homeschooling, the peace of knowing that they've discerned God's will for them and are fulfilling it to the best of their ability.

I encourage all who are considering homeschooling to enter into the process of prayerful and thoughtful discernment, knowing that many others have gone before you on this road, and that all of us are willing to help in any way we can. Specifically, I welcome comments here from those who are considering the choice to homeschool their children and who would like to ask questions or get advice. Or, if you'd rather not comment, please feel free to email me at the address on the left side of the blog with your questions or concerns.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why Not a Catholic School?

I think most Catholic homeschoolers have had an experience like this: you're talking amiably to another Catholic mom with preschool-age children (we'll call her Mrs. Blythe) who seems interested in homeschooling. She asks lots of pointed questions about your life, your day, your schedule, your educational goals and objectives, and she brings up some of the usual questions regarding socialization and the like. You're answering confidently, and the conversation seems to be going well, and then she sighs.

"I just don't think I could ever do it," she says, as her children pull first on her arms and then on her legs. "I agree with you about the public schools, of course, and I don't think I could ever send Theodosius and Philomena there, but there's an awfully nice school attached to our parish, St. Zoticus, and we're really strongly considering sending the children there." She pauses long enough to remove Philomena's fingers from Theodosius's hair, and asks, "By the way, I was wondering--why don't you send your children to a Catholic school?"

You take a deep breath. Here it is, the question many Catholic homeschooling moms dread.

"Well, to begin with," you say, glancing at the four of your children who are within eyesight and hoping fervently that your husband is still watching the older four, "it's really very expensive..."

An understanding light comes into Mrs. Blythe's kind but expensively made-up face. "So it's mainly financial, then?" she asks.

Moment of truth, you think. "Well, no, not entirely," you reply, reaching for the baby and balancing him on one hip while you change the two-year-old's diaper and warn the three-and-a-half year old with one meaningful glance that she'd better quit teasing her twin sister and start playing nicely with Philomena. "I mean, yes, it's true that with the current tuition rates we could never afford the diocesan schools, in spite of the discounts they give you after the fifth child. But even if we could somehow manage the tuition, I've got to be honest with you. I'm not all that keen on the idea of sending my children to a Catholic school."

"But why not?" asks Mrs. Blythe, scrubbing Theodosius's sticky fingers with a wet napkin. "Father Trustworthy just gave the most marvelous homily about how important the Catholic schools are, and how as a parish we should support them. Why wouldn't you want your kids to go there--aside from the money issue, that is?"

"We had a similar homily from Father Godsend last week," you admit, shaking sand out of the two-year-old's shoe and shifting the baby to the other hip. "But as much as I admire him for admitting that catechesis wasn't any too good at the Catholic school for a while, and as much as I respect him for promising to do better, the truth is that Catholic schools just aren't what they used to be, and I don't see them making drastic improvements any time soon."

"You mean, because the nuns aren't there any more?"

"That's part of it. Most Catholic school teachers are lay teachers, and other than the religion teachers they're not always Catholic."

"But does that matter?" Mrs. Blythe asks as she begins wiping Philomena's hands.

"It depends on the subject," you answer, deciding to put the baby down before he launches himself out of your arms. "A non-Catholic teacher won't be different from a Catholic one in a subject like math, for instance, but a non-Catholic history teacher is going to have very different ideas and perspectives than a Catholic one."

"But if the textbooks are all Catholic..."

"They're not," you say, a little sadly. "All the subjects other than religion are taught using the same textbooks and course materials that the public school down the road uses."

"Isn't that so the kids will pass the state's standardized tests, though?" asks Mrs. Blythe, bending down to tie Theodosius's shoes.

"Partly," you say, picking up the baby again before the twins step on his fingers. "It's also because the schools accept government money and seek government accreditation. So St. Zoticus can't use a Catholic history or literature program; they can't teach science from the perspective that the universe might have a creator (though if the teacher is Catholic he or she might try). The biggest difference between the education at St. Zot's and the public school is that St. Zot's teaches religion, and the kids attend Mass on a weekly basis. Other than that, the differences are just like they'd be between any private school, religious or not, and the public schools: smaller class sizes, more personal attention, a better atmosphere for serious study." You sit down cross-legged on the grass and set the baby down beside you as you continue, "I can provide those things at home, you see. Small class size? Check. Individual attention? Check. A good atmosphere for learning? Check..."

"Definitely check," laughs Mrs. Blythe as she sits down beside you. "Your six-year-old certainly knows all there is to know about clouds, for instance--more than I do!"

"Well, some of that is just him," you admit with a smile. "But you see, in addition to that, I get to provide a truly Catholic education. Our science books talk openly about the miracle of God's creation--no creeping atheistic materialism there. Our history program has taught me more than I ever knew before about the religious motives for the founding of this country, and the role of Catholics as far back as the colonial days. I can choose books for the children to read that will reinforce our Catholic values in every subject. Religion isn't confined to one class period a day in our homeschool."

"It shouldn't be confined to one class in the Catholic school, either," says Mrs. Blythe thoughtfully. She is silent for a moment. Then she springs to her feet. "Philomena Therese! Get out of that mud this instant!!"

You smile, watching her chase after Philomena. It seems so very long ago that your first two were that little, and life was that easy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Chronicle of Free Will

I'd like to thank Rod Dreher and Mark Shea for linking to this yesterday. It is the text of a talk given by Archbishop Chaput of Denver recently, and I think there is much in it worth reading and pondering.

One of the most important passages, to me, was this one:

"But part of the reasoning needed to convince man of his freedom must include reaffirming sacred history. And that must include remembering and retelling the fundamental choices made by Adam and Eve and Mary and Jesus and all the intermediate choices for or against God in that history. In hearing our faith narrated, it becomes recognizable as a history of choice, leading us to the present moment of choice, right here and right now. So the first requirement in regaining human freedom is to regain human history, to tell the human story as a chronicle of free will."

Why is that significant?

I recall this quote from C.S. Lewis:

"Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And, taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a Heaven creature or into a hellish creature -- either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

As Archbishop Chaput indicates, salvation history is the story of individual people exercising their free wills to choose God and His will, or to choose forever against Him. Cain chooses to murder his brother; Noah chooses to obey God's command and save his family. Jacob cheats his brother out of his inheritance; Joseph chooses to forgive and protect the brothers who plotted his death. Judith chooses to kill Holofernes and save her people; Jezebel chooses to try to kill the prophet, and dies in ignominy. Ruth chooses to remain with her mother-in-law and worship Naomi's God; Salome chooses to dance a man to death.

In the stillness of the moment of one choice, all heaven held its collective breath; the stars forbore to twinkle, to catch the Virgin's reply to the angel; and at her "Fiat!" the multitudes must have begun practicing the Gloria they'd sing just nine months later.

And her choice led to another moment of awful silence, another moment of choice, in a garden at twilight as our Lord accepted the Cup of His suffering and our salvation.

We sometimes stand in danger of forgetting that the story doesn't end there, nor does it end with the Resurrection, nor with the Ascension, nor with Pentecost. It doesn't end with the martyrdom of the Apostles, the fearless faith of the persecuted Christians of the early Church, the many sufferings endured throughout the centuries by those who have said "Thy Will be done,".....and meant it.

It hasn't ended despite the fractures of Christianity; it didn't perish in the Reformation; it managed to survive both the first and the second Vatican Councils.

This story, this "chronicle of free will," will not end until the last day. Right up until then, people will be choosing for good or for evil, for God or for His enemy, for Light or for Darkness.

And every hour of every day we are living out our own chapters in this tremendous story. The moments when we choose to be unselfish and kind, the moments when we remember to offer up our pains and sufferings and disappointments, the moments when we truly live not only as if we believe God exists, but that we can please Him with our tiny sacrifices, these are the moments, God willing, that will be recorded and remembered long after the sins and failings of our lives are forgotten.

Monday, April 23, 2007

An Upstart Crow

No, not William Shakespeare, though today is the anniversary of the day he died, which for some complicated reasons has traditionally been celebrated as his birthday.

The Crow I mean is Sheryl Crow, whose brilliant idea to solve anthropogenic global warming is to restrict toilet paper usage to one square--except for what she calls "those pesky occasions" when one must use two or three. (I had to wonder if she was somehow channeling the spirit of all fathers blessed with multiple daughters.)

Crow also thinks that paper napkins are potentially deadly in the whole melting-icecaps-oceans-of-doom sense, and has designed a clothing line that comes with sleeves that you can wipe your mouth on, and then detach and replace with another sleeve when you've finished your meal. This is clearly the kind of bold, visionary thinking that can only come from a woman with no children who pays other people to do her laundry.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for sensible energy conservation, especially if it will help lower our monthly energy bills. God did make us the stewards of this planet, and we're not entitled to throw trash around or hunt today's version of the dodo on the grounds of sport or fashion.

However, despite what you might see in the mainstream media, there's not really any scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans--and certainly not that it's caused by reckless overconsumption of toilet paper or paper napkins. This isn't stopping the usual suspects from using cries of anthropogenic global warming as their latest front in their never ending battle against the human weed.

I can't really imagine how joyless it would be to view humanity as some kind of evil blight upon the surface of the earth. But there's no denying that quite a few people do hold this view, and that they think the only way to save the world is to make sure there are fewer people in it.

In the short run, the environmental celebrities will settle for making sure that we're all as miserable as possible (except for them, of course: they'll just plant a few trees in the desert as a way of 'offsetting' all the carbon that it takes for them to style their hair). But in the long run, the goal of many mainstream environmental organizations is to restrict human population by whatever means are necessary. You only have to hear some of them speak admiringly of China's solution to its difficult population problem to understand the lengths to which they are willing to go in their efforts to save the planet from people like us.

Pope Paul VI foresaw the danger:

"Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife." Humanae Vitae

As global warming rhetoric heats up, people of faith might need to start paying attention. Silly talk of restricting toilet paper or exterminating paper napkins could turn into quite serious talk of restricting family size or exterminating children not yet born. The war on paper products could become a war on people; there are those who believe that saving the earth means waging an unprecedented war on our own posterity.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Motu Proprio

While I have certainly managed to blog this week, I realized that I have yet to tackle most of the items in my "Under the Weather" list. In fact, I've only written about one of those items, the Easter Vigil, which is a good thing because it would seem a little silly to write about the Vigil as we approach the third Sunday of Easter.

Since so many Catholic bloggers are writing about the possibility of the Pope issuing the motu proprio soon, I think I'd better say what I have to say on that subject before the MP actually gets released, which optimistic bloggers are hoping will happen on either April 30 or May 5, depending on whether you use the new or the old calendar for Pope St. Pius V's feast day.

People far more qualified than I am have discussed what the motu proprio will mean, how (or if) it will change things, what steps might be taken to solve such problems as the dual calendar situation, and so on. Rather than retrace their steps, I'm just going to offer my opinions.

On the one hand, I think the motu proprio is a much needed step for the Church at this time, particularly to rein in some of the more discordant elements of the way the post-Conciliar Mass has been celebrated, especially in countries like America where far too many clergy members interpreted "the rules are changing," to mean "there are no rules." I think Ecclesia Dei was intended both to do this, and to provide some relief to the souls damaged by the speed and recklessness with which the changes to the Mass were implemented after Vatican II, but unfortunately Ecclesia Dei depended on bishops to allow the 1962 Mass, and since many of today's bishops were among the die-hard experimenters of the post-Conciliar period the permission to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal has been but charily given, sometimes with conditions attached that were extremely contrary to the generosity Ecclesia Dei itself recommended.

On the other hand, there remains the possibility that even the motu proprio will not have the intended effect of widening access to the older Mass. Many priests lack the training necessary to offer the Mass according to the 1962 Missal, and though in some places it may become a priority for bishops to see that this training is offered there is no guarantee that this will happen everywhere.

In addition to the above, I have one concern that probably reflects poor taste and judgment on my part, but I'll risk ridicule to offer it:

I like the Novus Ordo Missae.

No, I don't like clown Masses, female altar servers, Communion offered under both species, ad-libbing priests, dissident lay homilists, or a host of other abuses and/or easily abused practices that have become part of the Novus Ordo Mass in so many places.

But I do like certain aspects of the Novus Ordo Mass which are not present in the older form, and which I would miss if I decided to attend a church offering the 1962 Mass under the motu proprio. Most specifically, I'd miss hearing the Old Testament readings, as the older Mass generally only has one reading in addition to the Gospel, and the reading is almost always from the New Testament. Moreover, the 1962 Missal has a one-year cycle of readings, while the Novus Ordo uses a three-year cycle (I remember being very impressed as a child by a priest saying that if you went to daily and Sunday Mass for three years, you'd pretty much hear the whole Bible).

There are other things which would be a matter of adjustment, such as remaining silent during the whole Mass and not straining to hear when the priest is praying the many inaudible prayers. But those are things I think I could get used to, provided I had an understanding of them.

And, of course, I could simply choose to continue attending the Mass I'm accustomed to, a choice my poor predecessors didn't have available to them when the Vatican II reforms were first implemented.

It is for them, particularly, that I'd celebrate a generous motu proprio being issued.

I have one final concern, though. And that is that those people who have abandoned Rome over the Novus Ordo won't readily return, no matter how frequently and generously the 1962 Mass is celebrated. Some of them will continue to insist that the Novus Ordo Mass is heretical, and that until the Church formally repudiates it they won't return. Some of them might come to a Mass offered after the motu proprio, but then grumble that such disciplines as the four-hour fast or mandatory veils for women weren't part of the deal. Some of them would point to the calendar discrepancies as proof that there's only one "right" way to do things, and that that "right" way mandates the Traditional Latin Mass and everything that goes with it. People who hold this view tend to reject a lot more than just the Novus Ordo Mass, and even a generous access to the older Mass won't resolve the issues they have with the Church.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Killjoys at the Times

As most people know by now, the United States Supreme Court has upheld the ban on partial birth abortion, clarifying that it is, at least from now on, illegal to pull a human being three-fourths of the way out of his or her mother's womb before using a pair of scissors to puncture his or her skull, and then compress his or her head before removing his or her corpse from his or her mother. Most of us are celebrating this decision.

Most of us don't work for the New York Times.

In the Times' sobering editorial which reads somewhat like a parody of the Times written by a conservative would read, yesterday's decision was all about denying women the right to choose. (It aggravates me both as a pro-lifer and a former English major that liberals never finish that sentence. Choose what? Ice cream? Toenail polish? Mid twentieth-century avant garde poetry? Oh, you want the right to choose to have some white-coated glorified hit man stick scissors into your child's head? How utterly dreadful of you.)

But nothing in the whole irrational mess on the Times' editorial page is as idiotic as their unfortunate choice of words in this sentence, emphasis mine: "The justices went so far as to eviscerate the crucial requirement, which dates to the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, that all abortion regulations must have an exception to protect a woman’s health."

Aside from the fact that I always thought it was the companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, that added the health requirement (but I could be wrong; I can't read penumbra emanations or tea leaves), someone really should have told the Times' editorial writers that you don't want to use the word "eviscerate" in a piece about abortion, particularly in a piece in which you are expressing your sadness and anger at the fact that women will no longer have the right to choose that wonderful healthcare option that involves having someone stick a pair of scissors into your unwanted offspring's head, to make it easier to remove her brain, thus facilitating the removal of the last bit of her now-dead body from your birth canal.

The Times, with appropriate Gravitas, reminds us that the Supreme Court Justices are not doctors. Presumably, only doctors could possibly have understood all the complex medical evidence showing just how necessary it is to make sure the unborn human you're killing in an abortion is actually dead before his head emerges. Presumably, only doctors are capable of diagnosing those serious maternal health complaints that make it necessary to induce labor and force a breach delivery, and then deliver most of the child before undertaking the business involving the scissors. Ordinary laymen and garden-variety Supreme Court judges just can't process that type of specialized information, don't you know; it's only possible for abortion doctors, left-wing journalists, and Ruthie Ginsburg, who receives the predictable accolades of the even more tiresomely predictable editorialists.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Goblin of Guilt

Danielle Bean is having a great discussion about guilt, specifically mother guilt, with a reader; she invited all to participate, and many people have had some interesting things to say.

Lots of people have pointed out that this tends to boil down to semantics. If by "guilt" you mean "the good promptings of one's conscience that illuminate that which is bad in your life and encourage you to seek the good," then guilt is something worth having. Unfortunately, I think the word "guilt" has already begun the process of devolving from this worthy meaning, and tends at the present time to refer more to one's illogical and irrational feelings of dread, shame, or failure, prompted by one's tendencies to compare oneself with others, with fictional people, with magazine advertisements, with weight loss commercials, and so on.

A well-formed conscience is worth having, and it's good to be sensitive to your conscience, and to make changes in your life based on what it tells you about yourself.

But guilt, especially mother's guilt, is more a hindrance than a help. It fills you with conflicting and paralyzing messages; it causes you to see things as twisted and hideous which are really good and beautiful; it deters you from action, while punishing you for not acting.

It is, in fact, a Goblin.

This Goblin may be the demented offspring of the Siren of Self-Doubt. As I said when discussing the Siren, she comes for no reason; but the Goblin comes lurking around the corners of actual points of dissatisfaction, whether prompted initially by our conscience, or prompted by that conversation we had with the woman who's homeschooling a dozen or so children, whose house is immaculate and whose children called us "Ma'am" the whole time we were there.

Our conscience moves us to helpful action. The Goblin's not so altruistic. He peeps around from behind us as we sit on the accomplished lady's spotless sofa, and points a gnarled finger at one of our own children, who is doing something unspeakable involving his index finger and his left nostril.

When we look away in horror, hoping the lady won't notice, we can't help but see how daintily one of her children is using--no, not a tissue--an actual pocket handkerchief!

We return to our own home, but we don't realize that the Goblin has come along for the ride.

He skips into the house in front of us, and all of a sudden the place dearest to us in the world looks a bit smaller and shabbier than we remember it. This isn't the helpful conscience reminding us to clear away some of the clutter; we already did that. This is the Goblin, raising wild thoughts of carpet replacement along with a large dose of guilt that we've let the carpets get so dirty (never mind that this ridiculously light-colored carpet was chosen by the builder, not us, and that many of the stains occurred when the children were much littler than they are now.)

We sigh, and begin preparing a meal for our children, only to have them remind us in gentle tones that they hate the particular vegetable (or sauce, or meat, or dish in general, etc.) that we're preparing. Guilt assails us again. Should we be forcing them to eat foods they hate? Aren't we being too accommodating of their preferences? But if we do force them--more guilt! Future eating disorders! Damaged self-worth! The Goblin rubs his hands together in unholy glee.

Perhaps there's an after-dinner struggle with homework (they should be playing outside! They need exercise! No, they need to understand the principle parts of speech!). Soon it's time to get ready for bed--and by this time the Goblin is whirling around madly, just seeing how much more guilt he can scatter before the day ends.

We should say more bedtime prayers! We should punish the children if they giggle during them! We should be kneeling, all of us, preferably on those wooden kneelers the religious catalog had! No, it's more penitential to kneel on the floor! We should be putting the children to bed half an hour earlier than we do! We should let them read in bed! No, we shouldn't! We've been letting them take flashlights to bed--what kind of parents are we????

The guilt lingers long after the children are asleep.

There's only one way to deal with a Goblin like this--and that's to see right through him.

To do that, we have to know his agenda. What he really wants is for us to be unhappy, particularly in our vocations. He wants us to see some impossible, unattainable standard of perfection, one that changes constantly and therefore can never be achieved--and then to measure ourselves against it, all day, every day. He wants us to fear that the tiny decisions we make ("Yes, you can have a cookie; no, you can't play outside in the rain,") will somehow warp our children's souls and make them as twisted and ugly as he is. He wants to steal every cheerful moment, every happy hug or joyous laugh, and taint them all with the dread that We Are Doing Everything All Wrong.

I find St. Monica particularly useful when I'm confronted with the Goblin of Guilt. No one would say she wasn't a good mother--but her son went out and lived a pagan and licentious life, for a long time. The key is, St. Monica didn't let the Goblin stop her from going right on and continuing to be a good mother, on her knees, with tearful prayers and a childlike trust in the God Who could save her son, if He chose. And He did, and St. Augustine rejoices with her on a daily basis.

The Goblin of Guilt has no power over us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Illusory Village

On Sunday Rod Dreher wrote this blog post on his "Crunchy Con" blog, in which he talked about his experience as a speaker at a Russell Kirk conference this past weekend. I was struck by Mr. Dreher's mention that he intends to center his next book around the idea of intentional communities of like-minded people who want to resist the prevailing culture. Specifically, I found myself musing on this section of his post:

"But if you raise your kids to be wide-open to the culture, you’re setting them up for ruin. We talked for a bit about how the children of affluent homes, even ostensibly conservative homes, emerge with values shaped more by the hedonistic and materialistic culture than by the tradition of faith and virtue....What is the answer? Humans were made to live in community. It really does take a village to raise a child. But what happens when, as Caitlin Flanagan wrote, you’re doing everything you can to keep the village and its values away from your child?"

I must confess to my irritation at the Hillary quote. Many conservative writers more able than I have corrected this "it takes a village" nonsense, pointing out quite accurately that it doesn't take a village at all; it takes parents. Preferably two of them. Of opposite genders. Committed to each other for life, and willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary for the good of the child. Including actually making the child's raising enough of a priority to make at least some attempt for at least one parent actually to interact with the child on a time-intensive, daily basis (no, the hour in the car between picking the child up from the sitters and stopping by the dry cleaners and the grocery store doesn't count). In other words, to raise a child it takes a MOTHER and a FATHER.

But beyond that objection to the Hillary quote lies another one, which may impact Mr. Dreher's point. Even if you read the "it takes a village" quote to mean that it's far easier for committed parents to raise their children when the wider community supports the general values and virtues the parents wish to instill in their children, which is certainly true, there's a vast difference between having the village support the parents who live within its confines in this way, and rejecting the 'organic' village in hopes of creating a synthetic village of people who will support your values and your desire to raise virtuous children in a moral environment.

Because even if you do that, sooner or later your children will have to encounter the world.

They may encounter it on a day like today, when the ugly news from Virginia fills the airwaves. They may encounter it in a smaller way, when you have to have 'stranger danger' talks with them, or when you don't let them play any further away from your home than you can physically see them. Even if you get rid of your television, they will find out somehow what the 'cool' toys are, or see a poster for a movie you'd rather they didn't know existed. Though you can, and should, limit these influences in their lives to the extent that you can and as long as you can, you can't keep them away from your children forever, though only you know when your children are ready to handle such things. But you can be sure of this: the values of the prevailing culture will seep into even the most intentional of communities, the most pristine of villages.

Because from time immemorial the world has been fallen, and prone to evil and sin.

And the village is the world.

We may, in our concrete and asphalt neighborhoods, from our big-box stores and strip-mall nightmares, dream of a Village. We see it as a quaint old-fashioned place, where people still care about each other, where families gather for weekly celebrations and neighbors know each other by name. We may imagine it like an old-world European village, or like a very British one, or even like this one, but our romantic imaginings color the Village with all our idealistic longing for something Other than what we have now, with all its seeming unloveliness, all its gray and formless mediocrity.

And in a way, we are right to long for this. But in a way we're in danger of forgetting something that must not be forgotten.

The Village doesn't really exist. Even if we could spend a pleasant morning wandering the quaint streets of a dear but tiny place, even if we could pause to place an order with the organic butcher, fill our basket with the wares of the artisan baker, and admire the latest creative innovation from the kiln or pewter molds of the painstaking candle-maker, we wouldn't really have the whole picture. In a real village, the baker's wife may be notorious; the butcher may weight his scales; the candlemaker might retire to a secret back room to remove the "Made in China" stickers from his 'handcrafted' taper holders. There would be a village drunk and a village idiot. All the petty sins and hideous evils of the city are present in the village, too; the only difference may be the extent to which the villagers will go to pretend that the evil isn't there, instead of glorying in evil like their city counterparts.

If the Village doesn't exist, though, then can't we just make one? Can't we create a whole village of people who think and care and feel and desire as we do?

Aside from the fact that there's no surer way to disaster than to gather in a relatively small space a whole group of unrelated people who have absolutely no disagreement on the big issues, there remains the worst objection of all: creating such a village is an act of artificiality, a deliberate selection of one's neighbors and one's community in what becomes the ultimate act of hedonistic consumer choice. It's not really a village at all; it's a glorified clique, a gated community where the gate is invisible, but no less real.

And deep within this artificial village, have the 'villagers' created a safe place for themselves and for their children?

Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death provides a poignant answer to that question. The revelers at the Prince's masquerade in Poe's story had shut themselves away in his palace to avoid the plague that ravished the countryside; the plague, or Red Death, was found among them, and their stronghold became their prison and their grave.

We are not free from sin. How many children raised in good Catholic homes have suffered when their parents divorce? How many children whose parents were the pillars of a much more virtuous society in the past knew parental abuse, parental drunkenness, or parental indifference? How many children encountered these things or even worse, in the community around them, even if they had good homes and good families?

In the end, we can try to transcend the evil in the world, with the help of our Church, our families, our friends, and those who share our concerns about the effects of evil on our children. We can't run away from evil, or seek to exclude it from our neighborhoods, or pretend that it's someone else's problem. Evil doesn't just come from outside of us--it marks our souls, the result of our first parents' attempt to come to terms with evil by eating the fruit that would give them knowledge of it. And any solution to the problem of evil in the world today which isn't realistic about that fact is doomed to fail.

Monday, April 16, 2007

.....Is Good for the Soul

Confession, that is. Which is why I'm sorry I didn't make it to Confession this weekend, what with it being Divine Mercy Sunday weekend and all.

In the rant that follows, I'd just like to make it clear that I'm not trying to be critical of, or place blame on, my current pastor, priests in general, the various pastors here in America over the last forty years, or anyone else specifically or generally. I just need to get this off my chest, so to speak:

We didn't make it to Confession because we arrived at approximately 4:06 p.m. at our parish church. Confession is scheduled from 4 o'clock to 4:30 p.m. We are well aware that if you don't arrive by 3:55 p.m., the chances are slim that you will actually be one of the people who manages to receive the sacrament before Father leaves the Confessional at 4:35 p.m. to begin preparing for the 5 o'clock Mass. (However, it's no good arriving earlier than 3:55 p.m., because Father usually hasn't arrived yet and the church is still locked.) So we pretty much knew when we arrived at 4:06 that we wouldn't make it; since I'm an optimist, we sat in line for half an hour anyway, but weren't too surprised when the Cardigan family reached the front of the line just in time to become the "cut-off point."

Father was apologetic to all nine of us (five Cardigans and four other, even more optimistic people). He said that anybody who "really" needed him could catch him after the 5 p.m. Mass, but when one bewildered person asked what time Confession started back up after Mass, this person was quickly informed that there wasn't any more Confession time scheduled--one should just 'grab' Father. This person left, seeming about as discouraged as I was feeling.

Now, just to make it clear once again: this isn't about Father. This is about something I see as a huge failing of the Catholic Church in America (and possibly other countries, though I have no experience of them) today. This is far from the first time I've experienced this particular phenomenon, and I've also experienced a few variations which I may mention below, but the root problem is this one:

The Catholic Church takes all the sacraments seriously. The Church teaches that we MUST confess serious sins; moreover, the Church STRONGLY ENCOURAGES us to make a habit of regularly confessing less serious ones, that we might grow in grace and be strengthened to avoid sin and seek holiness. Parents have a particular duty to provide their children with regular access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

However, it has become the norm in America for parishes with large numbers of registered parishioners and/or weekly Mass attendees to offer so little time for Confessions as to discourage penitents from seeking the graces of this sacrament on any regular basis, and indeed, to make it possible for most to receive it very infrequently or not at all!

Take our parish, for instance. Bulletin data suggests that there are at least 1,500 Sunday Mass attendees each week. If only ten percent of the people who attend Mass each week were to seek Confession on a monthly basis, there would be 150 people each month, or between 30 and 35 each week waiting in the line for Confession. So half an hour is clearly an inadequate amount of time, even if only ten percent of our parish's weekly Mass attendees go to Confession on a monthly basis! When you factor larger percentages in, or add the percent who go to Confession every other month, every third month, every fourth month, twice a year, or once a year you soon have a lot more than 30 people in line on a weekly basis.

Other parishes I've attended in my lifetime have been even worse. One had no scheduled time for Confession at all--you had to make an appointment. Another, an hour drive away from our home at a time when our children were quite small, had regularly scheduled Confession time on Saturday afternoon--but if we arrived at the church to find a wedding in progress, we knew Confession was canceled for that week. During those years when it was so hard to get to Confession at all, my husband and I felt lucky if we received that particular sacrament more than once in a six-month period.

But ever since my children made their first Confessions, I've really tried to go once a month, to get them into the habit of frequent Confessions. There've been months, of course, when things didn't go according to plan; illness, extremely bad weather, etc. have interfered before and have caused a few frantic whispers from my children as we've waited in line: "How long has it been, Mom? Five weeks or six?" At least a couple of times it's been two months between our family Confessions, and I know that there are plenty of situations which could arise that would stretch that lapse even longer, despite our best efforts.

I always feel truly blessed when we're able to get to Confession according to our schedule--which is why it's starting to bother me that we have such a tiny window of time available to us, and that being late by five or six minutes is enough to make it necessary to try again next week, and maybe the week after that, and so on. And this is probably just me, and is something I should probably bring up in the Confessional, but it's when considering things like this that I start to reach my "Why bother?" point.

Why bother taking the kids to Confession once a month? Why bother arranging one Saturday a month around the absolute necessity of reaching the church parking lot by no later than 3:55 p.m.? Why bother taking up all that space on the bench outside the Confessional and pretty much guaranteeing that about 1/3 of the people who receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on that particular day will be Cardigan family members, therefore depriving others of access? Why bother, when the major reason we still try to go to our parish for this sacrament is that most of the other parishes in our diocese use a 'valid but illicit' form of the sacrament? Why bother trying to create a habit in my children that they will almost certainly have to abandon as adults, as more and more parishes move to the "by appointment only" model of sacramental Confession? Why bother, when it's very likely that their own future children will probably only receive this sacrament once in their childhood, and that only as an antiquated custom that precedes admittance to the more 'fun' Sacrament of Holy Communion? Why bother, when there are still plenty of catechetical materials which pretty much indicate that unless you're a very sane ax murderer you probably don't need Confession either?

As I said, this is my own problem--I tend to get easily discouraged. And one of the reasons I am discouraged right now is that during Lent our pastor was hearing Confessions during the Stations of the Cross--for a full hour and a half (45 minutes for the Stations in English, and then a similar amount of time while they were prayed in Spanish). It's pretty hard to go back from that generous amount of time to the 'normal' thirty minutes, especially when from what we could see Father had people waiting to go to Confession for at least the whole first forty-five minutes to an hour.

Every time I've seen a priest open up more time for Confession, or schedule an extra day or time for this sacrament, I've seen people respond enthusiastically and avail themselves of the opportunity to go to Confession, perhaps even more frequently than they have in the past. How can we encourage our priests to use their God-given power to forgive our sins more often?

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Gift

Now that I'm finally feeling better, I'm going to start tackling that list of things in the post below this one. Thanks for your patience!

We didn't intend to attend the Easter Vigil. Our relative newness to the whole experience of singing with the choir, our children's ages and the fact that we'd be asking them to participate in a Mass that would begin late and probably last at least three hours, even the fact that my husband and I haven't attended an Easter Vigil since the year we were married--all these things made us afraid to try. We made our plans for Easter around the intention of attending our usual Mass at eleven a.m.

But God has plans for us that we don't have for ourselves, and sometimes His plans include relatively small things. As we were preparing to leave the Good Friday services I found out that only one tenor was actually planning to be at the Vigil, unless my husband was there as well. We talked it over with the children, who were more than willing to try attending the Vigil, and before we knew it we were back in church Saturday night, only a little later than we'd been the night before.

It was incredible to be there with them, to sit in the darkened church, to feel the excitement of my youngest one who was eager to see just how all those candles the people were holding would come alight. It was amazing to hear the readings and join in singing the psalms, most of which occurred in almost complete darkness. The contrast when we began singing the "Gloria" and all the lights in the church blazed brightly as the bells rang out, was unbelievable--my second daughter said that it was so beautiful it almost made her cry.

For me, the verge-of-tears moment came at the baptisms. There were nearly thirty, from what I recall. Many of the newly-baptized were young; some were siblings, and their parents beamed proudly as the children became Catholic. But some were adults, too, who approached the sacrament with almost palpable joy, the joy of a seeker who has finally found that pearl of great price.

It was their joy that made my eyes a little misty. For those of us, like me, who are cradle Catholics it can be a little easy sometimes to take this incredible gift, the gift of faith, a bit too lightly. We can forget how graciously God has bestowed this gift, which we do not earn, on us. We can even forget its terrifying cost.

The newly-baptized on Easter night aren't going to forget those things any time soon. As they stand up, dripping and beaming, from their kneeling positions in front of the baptismal font, they remind all of the rest of us just how precious a gift our faith is, just how important it should be in our lives, just how much we should be willing to do to preserve and defend it.

The sad reality is that people do lose that gift. I always think of the parable of the sower, and how even some who receive the Good News with joy can grow weary when the time of trial comes, as it comes for us all. Not for nothing does Our Lord speak of coming like a thief in the night; not for nothing does He warn us that we don't know the day or the hour that we will be put to the test. Our faith cannot grow without Him; we can't remain steadfast without Him; we can't plant it in hope or nourish it in love without Him.

As the newly-baptized gathered at the foot of the altar along with those who, already baptized, were to enter full communion with the Church by receiving the Eucharist and Confirmation, I found myself praying for all of them, and for all of us, to be strengthened in faith against the time of trial. I also found myself praying for those who join the Church with such joy only to leave it two or five or ten or twenty years later, and for those baptized Catholic as children but never raised in the faith, that all of these might somehow, someday, find their way back home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Under the Weather

I have so many things I want to write about this week, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The Easter Vigil we attended, and some reflections on the gift of faith;
  • The connection between Global Warming alarmism and the radical population controllers;
  • The Motu Proprio: will it be issued soon? What will it mean for us?
  • Homeschoolers' answers to the question, 'Why not just put your kids in a Catholic school?'
  • A review of Crunchy Cons, which I plan to finish reading this week.
Unfortunately, I won't be writing any of these blog posts right away, as I'm a little under the weather.

It occurs to me (though maybe it's just the slight fever talking) that the phrase 'under the weather' is sometimes a particularly apt one. Could the little virus I've picked up have been somewhat facilitated by our drop from temperatures in the 70s and 80s before Holy Week to a high in the low 50s on Easter Sunday? Does this phrase contain a nugget of old wisdom, an observation that when the weather is misbehaving it may be easier than usual to end up under it?

Moms make their kids wrap up in cold weather; there are admonishments about wet feet or not wearing a hat. The implication is that sickness will result from the body's exposure to extreme conditions. Does it work the same way when the conditions aren't necessarily extreme, but extremely different from what they've been in the recent past?

In any case, so long as the weather's above me, my posts will make about as much sense as this one, so in the interest of all concerned I may just leave the serious topics alone for this week.

(At least this time I won't lose the list.)

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Down in Adoration Falling

From Wikipedia, the Pange Lingua which our family will be
singing at Mass tonight.
The Latin is from St. Thomas Aquinas, of course,
and the English translation was written
by Father Edward Caswall:

Pange, lingua, gloriosi Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
Corporis mysterium, of His flesh the mystery sing;
Sanguinisque pretiosi, of the Blood, all price exceeding,
quem in mundi pretium shed by our immortal King,
fructus ventris generosi destined, for the world's redemption,
Rex effudit Gentium. from a noble womb to spring.

Nobis datus, nobis natus Of a pure and spotless Virgin
ex intacta Virgine, born for us on earth below,
et in mundo conversatus, He, as Man, with man conversing,
sparso verbi semine, stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
sui moras incolatus then He closed in solemn order
miro clausit ordine. wondrously His life of woe.

In supremae nocte coenae On the night of that Last Supper,
recumbens cum fratribus seated with His chosen band,
observata lege plene He the Pascal victim eating,
cibis in legalibus, first fulfills the Law's command;
cibum turbae duodenae then as Food to His Apostles
se dat suis manibus. gives Himself with His own hand.

Verbum caro, panem verum Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
verbo carnem efficit: by His word to Flesh He turns;
fitque sanguis Christi merum, wine into His Blood He changes;
et si sensus deficit, what though sense no change discerns?
ad firmandum cor sincerum Only be the heart in earnest,
sola fides sufficit. faith her lesson quickly learns.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum Down in adoration falling,
veneremur cernui: Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
et antiquum documentum Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
novo cedat ritui: newer rites of grace prevail;
praestet fides supplementum faith for all defects supplying,
sensuum defectui. where the feeble senses fail.

Genitori, Genitoque To the everlasting Father,
laus et jubilatio, and the Son who reigns on high,
salus, honor, virtus quoque with the Holy Ghost proceeding
sit et benedictio: forth from Each eternally,
procedenti ab utroque be salvation, honor, blessing,
compar sit laudatio. might and endless majesty.

Amen. Alleluja. Amen. Alleluia.

Have a blessed Holy Thursday!

The Four Levels of Clean

Over at Danielle Bean's blog, an interesting discussion has been taking place about the difficulties of maintaining a clean, orderly home when your children are young, and whether or not it's desirable to hire outside help during this time period.

My children are no longer young, but I read the many comments with a feeling of bemusement, because even when the three of them were all under three, it never would have occurred to me to hire someone to help me clean my house.

In fact, we never had a mother's help or babysitter, either. I could count on one hand the number of times a relative came and watched the children for me--and two of those times I was in the hospital to deliver an addition to our family.

I'm no Superwoman, believe me. I'm actually lacking in talents in the domestic area. I can't sew at all, I'm no good at crafts (as it says on the left) and my housekeeping can only be described as random and slapdash.

This may be one reason why I never hired help (finances would be the other reason). I don't subscribe to any "House Completely Perfect" magazines, I don't watch design and decorating gurus as they gush about how to remove all those unsightly books from your living room, I yawn at the circulars I receive from the "Ten Thousand Completely Useless Things For Your Home" store, and I've never in my life looked at an actual "Pottery Barn" catalog.

Without these guidelines as to how my house should be cleaned and decorated, I've come up on my own with a four-tier system of housecleaning that works pretty well for me:

Tier One: Family Clean

Family clean means that the house is clean enough for the day to day life of our family. Weekly chores like vacuuming and bathroom cleaning and daily chores like laundry and dishes all get done--but not at the same time. Toys have to be cleaned up once a day (used to be twice, but as the girls have gotten older they've also gotten better about putting away the things they're done with). I negotiate an uneasy truce with most of the clutter, and attempt to keep the kitchen counters at least 30% visible. My children pitch in a lot, and I'm more interested in full participation than in actual perfection of delegated tasks.

Tier Two: Company Clean

One level up from family clean, this requires that all the weekly chores be done on the same day, so we'll have freshly vacuumed carpets AND fresh, clean bathrooms at the same time. I may just peek at the jobs the girls are doing in case they've missed anything really major. The clutter gets sent into exile, often in the master bedroom where guests seldom venture. (And if they do, they do at their own risk, something my family knows quite well!).

Tier Three: Realtor Clean

Don't laugh. My family moved a lot when I was a child. The main difference between "Company Clean" and "Realtor Clean" is that the clutter has to be marched out into the backyard, blindfolded, and shot. (Oh, I only wish!) Actually, while this does require more "cleaning out" of clutter than the other two tiers, the other major difference is that it must be possible to open closets without becoming either injured or nauseous--no small task, some of the time.

Tier Four: Mother-In-Law Clean

In all fairness to my MIL, who is an excellent housekeeper, I have to say that she has never, ever been critical of my obvious failings in this area. It's just that whenever I know she's coming to visit, I start seeing things I've never noticed before, and would have sworn were actually quite clean and orderly!

This highest level of clean requires everything above, plus a few extras. Like making sure the washer and dryer are clean and dust-free, inside and out, in case she wants to use them. Like having the girls wipe and dust the baseboards. Like giving up on cleaning my stove burner covers and buying new ones. Like suddenly noticing stains on the kitchen walls, and scrubbing them or painting over them, whichever works. (And maybe buying new towels for the girls' bathroom which unfortunately in our two-bathroom house doubles as the guest bathroom.) Like washing windows and dusting miniblinds whether they need this or not. Like rearranging the pictures on the living room walls that used to line up somewhat with the furniture, some three or four living room configurations ago.

Maybe that's it. Maybe the young mothers who are desperate for hired help live a lot closer to their mothers-in-law than I do.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Holy Week

I meant to post yesterday, but it was a little hard getting back into the swing of things after a week of half-day teaching and some much needed time with our beloved tenor. It occurred to me about the middle of the week that these were the most consecutive days of free time I've had with him since our honeymoon, almost twelve years ago. Oh, we've had vacations, but most of them have involved driving to see relatives for major life events like weddings and religious professions; enjoyable though those events can be, there's nothing like just being together at home.

Not that we spent all of our time at home, of course. We were trying to accomplish several things last week, and unfortunately the periodic rain made some of that a little more hectic than we'd hoped. Not only that, but I found out that a week really wasn't enough--I think my DH could be home for a whole month before we'd get everything done that we need to do around here!

There's never enough time to do the things that need doing, let alone the things we want to do. We make plans, we try to organize our schedules, we optimistically decide in advance that we will move from point a to point b to point c in an orderly progression--and then things happen that change all of that, and throw our lives back into chaos.

For most of us, most of the time, the unplanned chaos that enters our lives is minor. Small illnesses. A cancellation of a long-standing appointment. An unannounced visit from a relative or friend. Or finding out that we need to look a little harder and longer to find an affordable painter.

There are times, though, when the chaos that interrupts our day to day existence is huge. A job loss. A major illness or surgery. A car accident involving injuries. The death of someone we love.

For the Apostles, the death of Christ was the most horrific and chaotic event they would ever experience. Not yet strengthened by the Holy Spirit, not yet able to understand God's plan of salvation, they saw only defeat, unbearable ignominy, a dark betrayal and their own impending doom. Most of them ran away from the Cross in terror. The Lord, the One they believed was the Messiah, God's chosen one, was dead--and such a death! Executed like a common criminal, dragged away, hands bound, face bleeding, bruised, despised, rejected.

And only a week before had been that glorious entry into Jerusalem. Were James and John secretly congratulating themselves for having had the foresight to claim the places of honor in the coming Kingdom? Was Matthew, perhaps, still seeing the possibility of huge earthly profits from this new order of things? Was Peter still designing in his mind the booths he'd put up when Moses and Elijah returned to remain at Jesus's side? And what filled Judas's heart? Envy? Avarice? Spite? Pride?

It was all snatched away, evaporated like a tiny pool of water after a brief yet glittering rain. All their hopes, all their plans, all their fond confidence in the Lord Whom they loved--all was gone, and as far as they knew, gone forever.

As far as they knew.

We will all have "Holy Weeks" of our own. Some who read this have already had them. In our own sufferings and agonies, though, we have the one thing the Apostles didn't have on that dark Friday, the worst day of their lives.

We have the rest of the story.