Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Signs of a Rising Tide

Will Catholic nursing homes really be forced to condone euthanasia? Wesley J. Smith thinks so, and, quite frankly, I agree with him. Or at least, I agree that as the language of the proposed California law is ambiguous enough to make it a serious possibility, barring amendment of the legislation.

To be honest, I think we're standing at the edge of a new era of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian policy in America. The situation in Massachusetts which essentially forced Catholic bishops to shut down their adoption services rather than continue to allow children to be adopted by gay couples is just one example. Another is the growing debate over pharmacists' rights to refuse to fill prescriptions for drugs such as Plan B or other abortifacient contraceptives. And both New York and California have passed laws requiring the Catholic Church to pay for contraception for their employees; their narrow 'religious exemptions' don't cover such institutions as Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, or other organizations run by the Church.

So it doesn't surprise me that California would have no problem forcing Catholic and Christian nursing homes to allow so-called health care professionals to enter their facilities, hand some of the patients a lethal drug cocktail, and then waltz right back out again, conscious not only of a job well done, but also of the fact that those religious kooks who own the place can't stop them, restrict their access to the facility, or punish them in any way for their death-dealing activities.

If anything, I'm surprised that it took the State of California this long to come up with another way to show people of faith just how unwelcome they are in the Golden State.

But this is just the beginning. When the rest of America catches up with California (and New York and Illinois and Massachusetts, for that matter) what will we do?

Monday, February 26, 2007

When Word Clouds Fail


I saw all the neat word clouds on some of the blogs I visit, and I decided to try one myself.

Sigh.

My only consolation is that Mark Shea's would have to look lots worse than mine, with words like "Cold Cells," "Palestinian Hanging," "Waterboarding," and "Torture."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Temptation

This Sunday's readings include a Gospel reading that can be the subject of many ponderings. I'm not a trained theologian, so I'll leave the really deep thoughts to them. But what strikes me, reading over this account from the Gospel of St. Luke telling of Our Lord's temptation by the devil in the desert, is the order in which the temptations occur.

Usually, we speak of the sources of our temptations in this order: the world, the flesh, the devil. It almost seems as though they are ranked in order from least to greatest in this listing, and if that's the case, then we have more to fear from the devil we do know then from the one we'll elect to public office in a little less than two years.

But in this Gospel account, Jesus is offered the temptation to the flesh first of all. He doesn't fall for it, of course. But we do. Oh, do we ever. I speak as one who on occasion has convinced herself by the end of Lent that Pop-Tarts aren't really dessert.

It's easy to fall when tempted by the flesh. But this is also the easiest temptation to learn to overcome, and for which to seek forgiveness when we do fall. We know we're only human, and that we need help in overcoming the sins of the flesh, like gluttony or lust or drunkenness. We turn in shame away from these petty little sins, and seek our merciful Father, just as the Prodigal Son did.

Next in the Gospel, Satan presents the temptation to the world. That is, he promises Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, in exchange for a trifle called worship. Again, as we know, the Son of God refuses to fall. We aren't always this strong.

The world crowds in, even in the life of a serious Christian. We have a horror of standing apart, and sometimes we go along with things we really don't value to gain things we do: friendship, camraderie, understanding, and that sense of 'fitting in' which seems so desirable. I think this part of the Gospel reading shows us that all temptations to act according to the values of the world, in accordance with worldly desires, require us to turn our back on God and join leagues with the devil. We attend the second, non-Catholic wedding of a divorced Catholic friend; we fail to mention to our radical aunt that we disagree with her on the subject of female ordination; we laugh along with our co-workers at some anti-Catholic humor rather than mention the fact that we're Catholic.

It can be harder to seek forgiveness for going along with the world, in part because it can be hard to see when we may, in prudence, keep silent in the presence of the world, as Our Lord did when He faced Pilate. If our boss says something about the Democrat he wants to see in the White House, it may not be necessary to give him a twenty-minute lecture on why that candidate's position on abortion makes him unfit for the office of D.C. dogcatcher; on the other hand, attending a fundraiser for that candidate in the hopes of securing a promotion most likely crosses the line. If we sincerely seek to advance the only Kingdom that matters, though, we'll be able to distinguish between prudent silence and sinful cooperation; and if our policy is, when in doubt, ask my confessor, we'll find ourselves able to turn from the sins of the world as well.

It might seem like Our Lord was being tempted by the devil as well as the world in that last one, since the devil offers the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. But the real temptation to the devil is seen in the final temptation. The devil takes Our Lord to the parapet of the Temple, and challenges Him to throw Himself down, since God will surely protect Him. Our Lord responds with a rebuke: "You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." But we don't always rebuke the devil when the sin of pride, the devil's favorite sin, worms its way into our souls.

Pride is the chief of the devil's tools. Pride makes us sit in judgment on our fellow men from the lofty heights of our own arrogance. Pride makes us magnify the faults of others while excusing and minimizing our own; we are forever looking backward through the telescope of truth. Pride makes us think we know better, when we don't know at all. Pride makes us put ourselves at the center of everything, crowding out the One Who actually belongs there. We seek to make God serve us, instead of the other way around; and we become quite annoyed when He fails to get the message.

How do we overcome pride? How do we seek the will of God before our own fallible wills? How do we show others the charity we demand for ourselves, and accept with humility their judgments of us, however erroneous?

On our own, we can never do this. On our own, we fail. But our God Who refused to turn stones into bread to assuage His own hunger, turns our bread into His Body to nourish us in grace. He, Who was ministered to by angels after His forty days and His temptation, ministers to us Himself, during our forty days, during our endless temptations. He takes joy in the smallest of our victories over sin, and refuses to despair over our biggest failures. In His example and by His Divine help, we will conquer the devilish pride that seeks to tear us from our eternal home.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Siren of Self-Doubt

Of all of the various mythical creatures whose job it is to plague homeschooling mothers, one of my least favorite is the Siren of Self-Doubt.

This loathsome creature can appear for no reason, unlike the Goblin of Guilt. She can linger for whole semesters, unlike the Demon of Dread. And, unlike the Leprechaun of Laziness, she never appears, even for a minute, to be your friend.

Not that she ever appears at all, of course. If she did, I have a feeling she'd be a tall, thin spirit shrouded head to toe in the tattered remains of expensive sheets, her lank, dull hair hanging in tangled knots past her waist, two eyes blazing with accusation below a wide, smooth forehead, and a single bony hand with pointing finger visible beyond her shredded sleeves. But we don't see her; we only hear her.

She sings in a low, dry tone, like the last breezes of autumn shaking the few dead leaves still clinging to rustling branches. Her song never varies, and it strikes fear into the hearts of the homeschooling moms who hear it:

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

As I mentioned above, she comes without warning. She tends to blindside you on what would normally be a good day, the kind of day when the kids are working diligently and the schedule has finally been unraveled from the tangled mess left by the last illness that swept through the family. But just as you're feeling rather pleased about things, you hear her song, and you shiver.

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

Thoughts cluster in your brain. You think of your cousins' children who are in the fifth year of Latin by the time they reach the second grade. You remember the family you met at church who competes in the National Geography Bee; even their four-year-old can correctly identify and locate on a map the capital of Kyrgyzstan. You think of those people you sat beside at a Catholic homeschooling conference, whose seventeen-year-old has memorized the Code of Canon Law. Then you look at the simple worksheets your children are happily completing, and a feeling rather like despair chills you to the soul.

You could be doing better. You should be doing more.

Now a descant seems to swirl among the melody, a song of enthusiastic educators in pristine classrooms full of eager children who compete with each other to be the first to demonstrate differential calculus on a satin blackboard. You think of the couple you know who are both working full-time jobs so they can afford to send their kids to that pricey independent Catholic school, many of whose teachers have appeared on EWTN. The Siren's song begins to rise to its triumphant crescendo.

You could be doing better! You should be doing more!

At this point, you could give in to the feelings of desperation and helplessness. Or, if you're me, you fight back.

I remind the Siren that I'm not in this homeschooling thing because I think it's my job to turn out geniuses.

I remind the Siren that education has fundamentally changed since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, and that some of those changes have been for the worse. In fact, I tell her, the most pernicious difference is that we now seem to think that education is somehow the job of teachers or parents instead of recognizing that education is, always has been, and always will be the job of the student.

Teachers, whether they are homeschooling teachers or not, are primarily there to lead, direct, and assist the student in the business of learning. The most vibrant classroom environment imaginable will mean nothing to the unmotivated student; the tiniest of homeschools will be a world of information to the student who wants to learn.

My job is to teach my children how to learn, how to be creative, how to take responsibility for themselves and their own education. My job is to prepare them for the adult world, where you have to figure out on your own how to find out the things you need to know.

And to learn these things, it's not strictly necessary that they've mastered third-conjugation Latin verbs in second grade, or that they've any idea where Kyrgyzstan is (or how to spell it) by the time they're four or five. What is necessary is that they come to see learning as something vital to their lives, something that neither begins nor ends with school. In that department, we're doing just fine.

By this point, the Siren has usually fled, shrieking. She knows better than to mess with a redheaded mom in a testy mood.







Thursday, February 22, 2007

Here Comes the...Spouse?

Bride. Groom. Husband. Wife. Father. Mother.

These are the sort of words that will be eradicated from a society that chooses to create laws which allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

The two posts below this one talk about gay marriage: whether it's too late for America to prevent it, and whether a coherent secular argument against it can be made.

In this post, the last on the topic for at least a while, I'd like to discuss the real agenda of the gay rights movement in regard to marriage.

Gay rights activists are completely aware of the fact that what they are asking for isn't really marriage according to any law that has ever existed before the present era. As I mention below, the State is only interested in marriage because it realizes that society has an interest in promoting the best, most stable, and most nurturing of environments for its infant citizens; and the State is well aware that this environment exists more fully in marriage than in any other social arrangement.

Gay rights activists know this, too. Though they speak loudly about "gay couples and their children" they are well aware of the fact that the children of a gay couple aren't 'theirs' in the same way that the children of a heterosexual couple are: that is, they aren't
the natural and expected result of the relationship. Gay activists may try to muddy the waters by referring to adoption, but even in that instance there's a fundamental difference: a heterosexual couple's children aren't presumed to be adopted, even if the reality is that the children are adopted. No gay couple can be presumed to be other than adoptive parents, since at least one of them must be.

And gay rights activists know, too, that all of the 'rights' of marriage which they seek are available to them without marriage. Wills, powers of attorney (including for health care), tax sheltering arrangements such as trusts, and the like exist which may, in fact, put the average gay couple on a better footing than the married couple who doesn't realize that absent a will the presumption of inheritance may vary quite a lot from state to state.

Moreover, gay rights activists know how few gay couples there actually are: in the 2000 U.S. Census, approximately 600,000 gay couples were counted. Gay activists say this is due to undercounting, that gay couples don't want to be identified by the government, and so on, but even if you inflate that number it doesn't come close to the number of heterosexual married couples in the United States. In fact, according to this article from the Seattle Times, "(e)stimates based on the census data put the number of gays in America somewhere between 4 million and 6 million people, or between 2 and 3 percent of the U.S. adult population." So if there are 6 million gay people in the United States, and only six hundred thousand willing to identify themselves as couples, there isn't really a whole lot of grassroots demand for gay marriage even among the gay community itself.

So what, exactly, is all of this about?

The real agenda of the gay marriage activists is to destroy forever society's presumption that heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships are normative and foundational. The answer to their often-asked question, "Who does it hurt if we let gays marry each other?" is, "All of us."

Religious groups who consider homosexual behavior sinful will be the first to suffer, as we can see from the saga of Catholic Charities' adoption services and the state of Massachusetts. Once gay marriage is legal in all fifty states, it will be a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws to treat homosexual couples any differently than heterosexual ones, no matter what deeply held religious beliefs to the contrary you may have. The Boy Scouts of America will have to allow homosexual scout leaders, or cease to exist, in all probability. Christian schools will have to hire homosexual teachers or face lawsuits. The belief that homosexual behavior is sinful will be viewed with even more hostility than it is today, and some of that hostility will come from the federal government.

Free speech will suffer next. Holidays like "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" will have to be renamed, if homosexual couples complain about the underlying assumption that children have one of each. Children's textbooks at the elementary level will show photographs and stories of families where the 'parents' are the same gender. Any complaint that young children shouldn't be exposed to homosexuality will be viewed as bigotry. New words will be coined to replace such terms as 'bride' and 'groom.' Statements to the effect that one is uncomfortable with the homosexual lifestyle will be classed as 'hate speech.'

In time, it will become apparent that the real agenda of the gay activists is to force America, particularly Red State America, to accept homosexual couples as not only the equivalent of, but even superior to, heterosexual couples. Society will be forbidden to have any preference for the latter, even if in actual fact the widespread acceptance of homosexual marriage has deleterious effects on society at large, as can be demonstrated in some European countries that have already legalized homosexual marriage. The breakdown of the family that often follows the legalization of gay marriage will be an accepted collateral damage, the price we should all be willing to pay for insisting that a type of relationship which is fundamentally different from marriage is, in fact, equal to it.









Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Secular Reasons to Oppose Gay Marriage

As I promised in the post immediately below this one, I'm going to try to lay out what I think are the secular reasons to oppose gay marriage. Please bear in mind two things: one, I'm not the best person to do this, so I'd appreciate any insight you might have, and two, just because I think focusing on secular reasons would be a good strategy at the present time does not mean that religious concerns are somehow invalid. Not at all, actually. But in our modern world, 'religion' tends to be viewed as something some people choose to do, for what probably seem to be good reasons to them, but not something that in any way belongs in the public sphere. Though I deeply disagree with that notion, that's a conversation for another day.

Why oppose gay marriage, then? If marriage is all about two people loving each other, what difference can it possibly make whether the people are the same or different genders?

The first thing we have to do is to point out that, in the context of the law and the eyes of the State, marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with love. There is no checkbox on a marriage license which asks the question, Do the applicants solemnly swear/attest that they love each other? The law doesn't really care.

In fact, the law is largely indifferent to most human relationships. The law doesn't ask how often you visit your grandmother, or whether you call your sister. The law doesn't spell out whether second or third cousins must be invited to family reunions, or how much affection you owe your aunts or uncles. The law refuses to define friendships, doesn't care if you're dating casually or seriously, yawns at the news of your engagement (unless you've signed a pre-nup, in which case the law files that away for future reference). But the law abandons its default position of non-interference in human relationships when it comes to marriage.

Why? What gives the law the right, or the State the compelling interest, to get involved in marriages when it doesn't generally get involved in relationships except peripherally?

Marriage is a legal contract. The contracting parties are promising each other certain things; there are mutual rights and responsibilities involved. The law takes such legal promises rather seriously. This does not mean that the law expects every individual who contracts marriage to be able to live according to these promises, but it's very important to note that the law isn't generally concerned with individuals. The saying "Hard cases make bad laws" comes from this idea; the more the law is written with specific people in mind, the worse the law ends up being for the general public.

So what are the legal promises of marriage?

First: the intention of permanence. It must be noted that the law is a cynic, not a romantic; it stands by with all sorts of laws pertaining to divorce. But there's no such thing as a temporary marriage license. When a couple gets married, they must at least maintain the legal fiction that they intend it to last.

Second: the intention of exclusivity. The law is fairly liberal on this one; it doesn't really care if Mr. Brown marries Miss Grey with the understanding that he will continue to see Miss Green. The general policy of noninterference in human relationships is pretty strong, here. But most states will still allow Mr. Brown's dalliances with Miss Green to be used in a divorce action; more importantly, if Mr. Brown attempts to marry Miss Green while still legally married to the former Miss Grey the law will have quite a lot to say to him. Bigamy is illegal precisely because it violates the marriage contract's promise of exclusivity.

Third: the promise the couple makes to each other to share their material goods, not only with each other, but also with and for the benefit of any children who are the natural and expected result of the relationship.

I've emphasized that last, because it's the real reason the law gets involved in marriages at all.

The law, looking at human history, and the mystery of human biology, draws certain conclusions. It concludes, not altogether unreasonably, that heterosexual relationships are extremely likely to produce children, and that if certain safeguards aren't put into place, it is entirely possible that those children will end up on the law's, or rather, the State's, hands. Again, the law is a cynic. While its human officers may expect such things as natural affection and a natural desire on the part of the parents to care for and protect their offspring, the law itself takes no such rosy view of human nature, and concludes dispassionately that it is within the realm of possibility for a father to abandon his children to poverty or a mother to neglect their well being if the law is unwilling to demand the good of the children as a condition of the marriage. In fact, viewed properly, the intentions of the couple as regards permanence and exclusivity exist not for the sake of the couple themselves, but for their putative offspring.

Now, as I said above, the law isn't concerned with individuals. Some individuals may be infertile; some may be too old to have children; some, in a secular world, may choose never to have children (though that last choice can't really be considered a permanent decision until the couple reaches an age at which conception is no longer a physical possibility). The law understands this, but it is willing to overlook the fact for the sake of the vast majority of marriages which do produce children, and for whom all laws pertaining to marriage are actually written. The tax laws which favor marriage exist to promote family stability, a good thing for the children. The inheritance laws which take husbands or wives and children into account also exist primarily for the children. In fact, any law which seems to favor married couples over unmarried ones, or single people, does so in part to offset what the law sees as the onerous burden of raising children, a burden the law doesn't want to have to shoulder in the family's absence.

So far-reaching is the law's interest in children that the law takes the unusual step of sometimes interfering in relationships which are not marriages for the sake of children produced by these relationships. A woman who regularly cohabitates without marriage may find that the law is more than willing to interfere, on behalf of any children she might have, if she moves in with a man who is a registered sex offender, for instance. Her freedom to define herself and choose her own relationships is not absolute, and the law has no qualms about making her choose between her children and her newest male partner.

So how does all of this relate to gay marriage?

Simple. Gay relationships are fundamentally dissimilar to heterosexual ones precisely because gay relationships can never of their own initiative produce offspring who are the biological and natural responsibility solely of the same-sex couple.

A lesbian couple, for instance, who uses donor sperm to conceive has produced a child who is biologically related to only one of them, and who must be adopted by the other. A third party, the sperm donor, is the actual father of the child no matter what we pretend about this group of people for the sake of political correctness.

A gay male couple can possibly donate sperm to be used by a woman to produce a child for them. However, the woman is still the child's mother, again despite our pretenses. And absent adoption, the child will only be the natural responsibility of whichever man is the child's biological father.

A gay couple of either gender can also adopt in most states; but here the law sees no need for marriage, since the law's willingness to interfere in adoption doesn't depend in the least on the marital status of the people who wish to adopt.

In all three of these instances, the law recognizes the fact that these relationships are not analogous to marriage, precisely because the children are not the natural and expected result of the relationship. A gay relationship can never produce children on its own. A gay couple, as a couple, will never find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and unprepared for what the law sees as the onerous burden of raising children, and will therefore not need the law's succor to help them shoulder this burden. In fact, the gay couple as a couple only takes on the burden of raising children by bypassing the natural means of becoming parents and either creating a child with the help of a third party (the child's natural mother or father) or by adoption, or both.

And the law is well aware that, unlike the handful of elderly or infertile heterosexual couples, all gay couples by definition are incapable of becoming the biological parents of the same offspring. Since the law's interest in regulating marriage is overwhelmingly due to its concern for the children who are the natural and expected result of marriage, why should the law change at all?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Defeatism and the Latest Campaign for a New Reality

Rod Dreher, Mr. 'Crunchy Con,' sounds unusually defeatist in this post today. Though he says he's just thinking out loud, he lists several issues of importance to social conservatives and makes the case that since we've made little or no progress on these issues, even with an Evangelical in the White House, we have to start thinking about defining social conservatism in the post-Bush era. The implication, at least to me, seems to be that we should (temporarily, of course) put these issues on the back burner in order to form new coalitions with people outside the GOP on the kind of issues concerning which we have some common ground: job security, globalization, and universal health insurance (though I think that to say that 'conservatives' are hugely concerned about that last is a bit of a stretch).

I think I can understand why he, and perhaps others, might be thinking this way. But I have to disagree with his first observation, which begins as follows:

"1. The anti-gay marriage movement is for practical purposes dead. If social conservatives can't get the Federal Marriage Amendment passed with an Evangelical president, the Senate in the hands of Republicans, and a majority of Americans against gay marriage, it will never happen..."

I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement. The anti-gay marriage movement can hardly be said to be dead unless it has died in its infancy. This is unlikely, given that this 'infancy' has included quite successful campaigns at the state level to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. That the Federal Marriage Amendment hasn't seen the same level of success tells us more about the increasing irrelevance and incompetence of the federal government than it does about the health of the anti-gay marriage movement.

Moreover, I think many people who oppose gay marriage would be surprised to hear the phrase 'anti-gay marriage movement.' By and large those who oppose gay marriage don't think of themselves as crusaders or strategists; that role belongs in large part to the other side of the issue, who are more passionate, more organized, better funded, and more articulate than those inhabitants of Main Street U.S.A. who might find themselves slightly uncomfortable being on the 'opposition' side, but who have some disquieting sense that they need to oppose gay marriage, though they themselves may not be able to explain why.

In this, I see the opponents of gay marriage as being rather like the opponents of legalized abortion on demand in the early 1970s: they were blindsided by the strategies and rhetoric of the other side, and when they tried to protest the rapidly growing legalization of abortion they found themselves unable to explain just why. This is always the predicament of those who must defend what is obvious and true to those who are determined to impose what is false and unjust on the rest of us. If a law were passed tomorrow in America restricting the number of children a family could have to one or two, as in China, those of us who would oppose such a law would have to come up with the words to explain why this was wrong--and in a relativistic world the words wouldn't be easy to find.

Because, you see, the pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-restricted fertility side will always cast the issue according to the following syllogism:
a) We want this thing, because it's good for us.
b) You oppose this thing, not because it's bad for you, but because your personal beliefs which are no more valid for you than mine are for me, forbid it.
c) Your religious bigotry is your own problem; therefore
d) We must be accommodated, and this thing we want allowed, protected by law, and celebrated as a good thing because it's good for us.

The fact that people might have quite reasonable, logical, and non-religious or secular reasons for opposing these things is simply brushed aside. Once the agitators for some New Reality have successfully defined all their opponents as motivated by religion and religion alone, they are able to sweep away any meaningful opposition. Like the child who screams "It's not fair!" in louder and shriller tones until his parents give in, the New Reality proponents point to past instances of injustice or oppression and cast themselves as victims by association, whether they are really oppressed or merely inconvenienced by whatever reality they are protesting. Lawsuits are the tantrums they throw to get our attention; their ultimate goal is our shamefaced capitulation in their demands, just as if society at large were a set of particularly incompetent parents.

This is why the anti-gay marriage movement can't be said to be dead. It isn't even sleeping. But if those of us who oppose gay marriage want to have a chance of winning this particular fight, there are some key things we need to do; and the first, the most important, the most crucial of them all is to articulate the secular reasons why gay marriage is a bad idea.

This does not in any way dismiss the fact that there are quite valid religious objections to the concept of gay marriage. But as I said in this early post, nothing is more maddening than to give, quite rationally, one's scientific, social, logical reasons for opposing abortion only to be dismissed out of hand as a religious freak, as if only some religious freak could possibly have a problem with the notion of the violent killing of unborn human life. The situation could become a thousand times worse in the case of gay marriage; it could even reach the point where religious rights themselves are restricted or oppressed in order for gay marriage to be forced on an unwilling nation.

In the next post I write, I will spell out what I think we need to say about gay marriage and our opposition to it. For now, I'd just like to reiterate the fact that this is no time for defeatism and capitulation, unless we're willing to accept the consequences, not only in terms of gay marriage, but in the fact of the continued marginalization and exclusion of those who hold any principles at all, on the grounds that principles that are seen to be unchangeable are de facto religious, and therefore irrelevant to society.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Ordinary Time

This coming Sunday, Feb. 18, is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, according to the parish calendar hanging up in my kitchen.

Or you could call it, "The last Sunday in Ordinary Time for a really, really, really long time," which is what my husband likes to call it.

My husband loves Ordinary Time. It's his favorite liturgical season; it may seem odd, but it's true. And for all of my impatience for Christmas to be packed away, for Lent to start, for Easter to come (and warm weather, and that joyous time of the year which is greeted with shouts of gladness as the children finish yet another textbook for the whole year, and we draw closer and closer to that bright oasis known as Mom's Recapturing of Sanity, a.k.a. summer vacation), for all my looking forward to things I'm waiting for to get here, already, I have to admire his preference.

Most of our lives, after all, are ordinary time. Most of the good we do happens quite ordinarily, with no flash or fanfare. Most of the sin we struggle with is quite ordinary too, and revealing its ordinariness to the priest in the confessional who has heard it all before strips it of its pretense to hold any kind of power over us.

Much of the grace we earn daily comes from doing ordinary things with prayerful attention and heartfelt love. Our homes are filled with the ordinary miracles called children who, in their play, remind us that the ordinary isn't so ordinary after all.

Many of the saints became so not by being extraordinary, but by practicing ordinary virtues extraordinarily well. Kindness, charity, mercy, compassion, patience, faith, and peace--these ordinary things became more than ordinary because for God's holy ones they became instinctive, reflexive, as natural as breathing. This isn't to say they weren't tested, sometimes quite beyond the ordinary trials of daily life; but they persevered, with strength greater than their own, by their free acceptance of God's gift of grace working in their souls.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I look forward to Lent because I think Lent will 'make' me more holy. I'll say more prayers, read more spiritual books, make time for more family activities, give up more fattening--er, nonessential?--foods, become a better person in dozens of ways. Because it's Lent, you know.

But if the spiritual (and physical) benefits of Lent have worn off by Pentecost, what have I really done? In what way have I changed? True, participation in Lenten activities is a start on the road toward holiness, but what good does it do if the seeds I've tried to plant don't really take root, once the purple vestments are packed away?

The real test of virtue isn't that we attempt it for a time; it's that we persevere in it at all times, in all seasons, in all places, under all circumstances, toward all people. Real holiness isn't capable of much dilution, and harboring just a little hate, a tiny grudge, a thimbleful of bitterness, a drop of envy or avarice, a plateful of greed or a pocketful of pride is enough to keep us from it, if we refuse to let go of those things for the sake of the Kingdom. And it isn't enough to give them up for Lent, in the end. We have to give them up for good.

Because in Heaven, it's always Ordinary Time.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winter Sonnet

Why is it still so freezing cold outside?
In Texas, of all places, why so gray?
No hint of spring can make this chill subside--
Though Phil predicted spring without delay.
Exceptionally gloomy is the scene
Reminding me of northern winters past
Dark early, never warm, and not serene,
(Although hot tea helps; but it doesn't last.)
Yearn I for season's change, and all it brings,
Freedom from sweaters, bulky clothes, and coats,
Open windows, and a few like things:
Laughing kids outside (without sore throats).
Let some praise ice and snow and winter fun--
You keep them. I still miss the warm spring sun.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

There's no better day, really, for musing on things like the meaning of love, the meaning of romance, and the fact that these two words are not interchangeable.

Our culture, by and large, seems to forget this. The advertising leading up to St. Valentine's Day stresses the notion of love and its intrinsic connection with flowers, candy, cards, jewelry, or in some odd and undefined way, with furniture and new cars. Women's magazines are probably the worst offenders when it comes to equating romance with love: there are quizzes designed to tell you if you're really 'into' him or if he's losing his spark of interest in you; there are articles full of tips on how to drive a man to distraction, or at least into debt; there are hints on romantic getaways, romantic meals, romantic gifts, and probably romantic brands of toothpaste (I wouldn't put it past them, anyway).

Underlying this focus on romance is the notion that this is what love is all about. The subtle theme of these sorts of things is that if you don't have all of this in your life, then you're missing something, and it's probably your spouse's fault.

It would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous. But the divorce courts of America are littered with the collateral damage caused by the widespread explosion of the false conflation of love and romance, with the idea that if your heart doesn't skip a beat when your husband or wife walks into the room, then it's time to skip out on the marriage.

So what is love? How does it differ from the warm, candlelit glow of romantic attraction?

In the first place, love isn't a feeling at all. It's a choice, a free act of the will whereby we throw our lot in with that of another person, 'forsaking all others' for the sake of the one. To prove the sincerity of our choice, we make it public; we stand up in the sight of God and man and declare that we've each chosen the other, for better, for worse, and so on.

Secondly, love is a gift. It's the best gift we can possibly give, our total selves, holding back nothing. Unlike lesser gifts, it's permanent--there's no way to 'regift' such a precious and complete gift, not while the recipients are both alive, anyway. It's also exclusive, in that the totality of the gift requires fidelity.

Thirdly, love is sacrifice. That concept, even more than the others, seems to have fallen out of favor in many of our culture's discussions about love and romance. But without the willingness of each person to sacrifice themselves for the other love will die. The sacrifices may be tiny ones, like getting used to sharing things or not insisting on controlling the other person or, occasionally, handing over the remote. Or the sacrifices may be huge, such as spending months in the hospital caring for a medically fragile child or struggling together through a time of real hardship or dealing with the aftermath of a fire that destroys your home and everything you own. Either way, the necessity of sacrificing yourself, your own interests, your own agenda, will come. If there is love, there is sacrifice, and a willingness to lay down your life for the other.

Love is choice, gift, and sacrifice. Like the choice of Our Lord to redeem sinful humanity. Like His gift of His Body and Blood, Himself, for our well being. Like His sacrifice on the Cross, opening for us the gates of Heaven at a cost terrible to contemplate.

That's love.

The Absence of Joy

In my Internet wanderings I sometimes come across some unusual Catholic websites.

At first, they look very nice. Lovely Catholic images, information about a saint's feast day, that sort of thing.

But then, inevitably, there's a link to another page which purports to tell you the 'truth' about the Catholic Church--and that 'truth' is that the See of Peter is empty. There is no 'true' pope (or there is a true pope that the Holy Spirit has revealed to a select few), Benedict XVI is an antipope, and what appears to be the Catholic Church has been in a state of heresy since just before the Second Vatican Council. In other words, they are sedevacantists.

My reaction to such sites, and the people behind them, is generally pity. It must be a terrible thing to think that Christ has broken His promise and has abandoned His Church. Though the upheavals in the Church following Vatican II were deeply unsettling to many faithful Catholics, there is no reason to believe that the Holy Spirit does not still guide the Catholic Church, or that the current pope isn't the rightful Vicar of Christ. And although a spirit of pride and disobedience may animate many of the leaders of such movements, I can't help but feel sorry for most of the followers, who may, however confusedly, believe they are doing God's will in seeking out some tiny fragment of the "true" Catholic Church.

I tend to have different feelings on stumbling across websites run by people who, while in sympathy to many of the complaints of the sedevacantists, themselves say (though sometimes rather grudgingly) that Peter's Chair isn't empty, and Benedict XVI is the real pope. They often go on to say that due to this or that evil influence on the current pope, the most recent past one, or the two before him, the Church has changed, and for the worse. They think that things can be fixed, provided Pope Benedict XVI immediately adopts a course of action they think is imperative. At the center of their demands is a return to the Traditional Latin Mass.

It's important to note that this group does not include all people who like the TLM, or who like Latin in general. I like Latin, and have had the opportunity to attend a few Masses, both Traditional and Novus Ordo, in that beautiful ancient language. The people I'm speaking of above believe that the Novus Ordo is, at best, seriously deficient. They'd like it suppressed completely, and the TLM reinstated as the chief form of the liturgy in the Roman Rite.

But even if that happened, they wouldn't really be happy, unless the reinstatement of the Traditional Latin Mass was accompanied by a few other 'non-negotiable' changes: the abolition of the Saturday Vigil Mass, the return to mandatory head coverings for women, the return to the practice of fasting before receiving the Eucharist beginning at midnight the night before the Mass, the removal of all free-standing altars, the reinstitution of Ember Days, the replacement of the current calendar with the former, and so on and so forth. One is tempted to suspect that even if all these things and more were done, there'd still be complaints.

Frequently people like those I'm describing are called RadTrads, short for Radical Traditionalists, I suppose. I don't much like this name, at least in part because my silly brain conjures up the image of a young man with spiky hair and a surfboard (though clad in a three-piece suit) entering a Catholic Church and saying (in a loud but respectful whisper) "Dude! Where's the baldacchino?"

I'm tempted to propose a new name: gaudivacantists.

Now, for those Latin scholars out there, I'm not saying "the joy is empty." It's not an exact parallel to the sedevacantist term. The Latin root from which 'vacantist' comes from, after all, can contain the meaning 'free from' as well as 'empty'. And the overwhelming impression I get from many of the gaudivacantists I've met, either personally or on the Internet, is that they find very little joy in their faith, at least since the changes they dislike so much were made in the worship of the Church.

Don't get me wrong--I have some sympathy for the gaudivacantists, too. There have been some years of confusion in the Church, and some of this confusion has played out in her liturgy. Most regrettable is the fact that some unscrupulous people used the atmosphere of lawful change to allow a fog of chaos to swirl about just long enough to implement some things that not only weren't called for, but were, in some cases, positively forbidden. No one should be joyful about disobedience, or remain quiescent in the face of actual liturgical abuse.

But there's a vast difference between preferring a parish where the Novus Ordo Mass is offered prayerfully, reverently, and with full adherence to the rubrics, and insisting that even in that case the N.O. Mass is suspect, deficient, or displeasing to God. The first position is merely insisting on the right of the faithful to have the Mass offered properly; the second is insisting that the N.O. Mass is never really 'proper' to the worship of the Church.

Sadly, many gaudivacantists take this position to the extremes, calling the Novus Ordo Mass the "Nervous Disorder Mass" and poking fun at it, and by extension at those who attend it. They sometimes go so far as to insist among themselves that 'Novus Ordo' Catholics are going to be held accountable to God for facilitating the continuation of the N.O. Mass, and for such things as not fasting from midnight on or not, if female, covering their heads in church, a law which they firmly believe has never been abrogated. In this they resemble no group as much as the Pharisees of old, who were
condemned by Our Lord for laying superfluous burdens on the people.

My concern for the gaudivacantists is that they may become so obsessed with the 'right' way to worship God (no matter what the Pope says) that they find themselves incapable of receiving Him in love, as we are called to do when we worship Him. Love without joy isn't really possible. And it isn't love that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that only the Traditional Latin Mass is pleasing to God and that only those who worship Him in this way are blessed by Him; it's fear.

Monday, February 12, 2007

With Malice Toward None (Void Where Prohibited. Some Restrictions May Apply.)

"This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." Abraham Lincoln

“The basic rationale for depriving people of their rights in a dependency relationship is that certain individuals are incapable or undeserving of the right to take care of themselves and consequently need social institutions to safeguard their position…….. Along with the family, past and present examples of such arrangements include marriage, slavery, and the Indian reservation system.” Hillary Clinton

The first quote comes from the man whose birthday is today (though this year we celebrate it February 19). This man faced the evil of real slavery in his day; in a letter he wrote to his friend Joshua Speed, he said of the sight of chained slaves that ...(t)hat sight was a continual torment to me..." We can, and do, dispute Lincoln's commitment to ending slavery, but we can't deny that he saw slavery as something unequivocally wrong and unjust.

The second quote comes from a woman who badly wants to be President; in fact, I believe that her naked ambition borders on the pornographic. For this woman, all the evil that was slavery can be sanitized into the phrase "dependency relationship" and then trivialized by being compared with the family and the institution of marriage. I often wonder if she realizes just how ludicrous that insidious comparison really is?

Do housewives call each other on the phone, first checking fearfully to see if their husbands are watching, and then communicate using code words like "Go down, Moses?" Is there an underground railroad for children who don't want to be scolded when they've failed a math test? Are valiant preachers throughout our land calling for the abolition of marriage? Do these new abolitionists write stirring articles about the tyranny of laundry, the torments of housework, the injustice of having to cook when you don't particularly feel like it?

What's even more frightening about Hillary Clinton's views are her views concerning children, and the relationship between children and their parents. The whole "children's rights" movement believes that children are capable of making their own decisions and should be facilitated in doing so through the agency of lawyers provided independently of the family. That this would set parents and children in a relationship inherently antagonistic to each other seems not to matter.

Most rational people see a great deal of difference between the master/slave relationship and the parent/child relationship. Parents, generally speaking, do have their children's best interests at heart. If a preteen wants cosmetic surgery, for instance, parents are the best people to discuss the matter rationally and decide it based on what really is best for the child; but child advocates mention this situation as one where it may be necessary for the child to have his or her own lawyer. Apparently, anything less is slavery.

Lincoln's quote above bears repeating, at least in part: "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." But central to the idea of freedom is the notion that families should be able to exist without undue government intrusion, and parents should be able to raise their children as they see fit. People who believe as Hillary Clinton does believe that 'real' freedom would pit spouses against each other, parents against their children and children against their parents. Gone from the family would be the trust of each member for the others which is necessary for the family's very survival. The only people who would be truly 'free' in such a nightmarish scenario would be the lawyers.

Like Hillary Clinton.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Third Quarter Carol; A Fantasy in the Key of C

I was heading for bed last night--actually, I was heading back to bed, having spent the last two days just sick enough to be frustrated about it--and all I could think about were two days of undone tasks, homeschooling and otherwise.

Tests to grade. Workbooks to grade. Math to teach (or, to hear my children tell it, to inflict). Rooms to vacuum, laundry to wash and wash and wash (and dry and fold ad infinitum). A seemingly endless mountain of things to be done, and a rapidly shrinking week in which to do them.

I slept, or thought I slept. The clock didn't strike any particular hour, as it's a clock radio and tends not to do that; I didn't draw the curtains around my bed, as it isn't a four-poster and wouldn't have any curtains if it were. Nonetheless, I woke, or thought I did, to see the small faintly luminous figure of a man carrying an equally luminous trumpet standing beside me.

I started. "Don't be alarmed," he said, resting his chin on the trumpet. "I am the Ghost of Semesters Past, and I have come to remind you of life before these third-quarter blues which..."

"Wait," I frowned. "Isn't there supposed to be someone before you? Someone vaguely like Jacob Marley, maybe some teacher I tormented in life? And then some more ghosts will come later, right?"

The ghost sighed mistily. "That is how it's supposed to go," he admitted. "You can't improve on Dickens. But you know what it's like," he continued, rubbing his spectral nose and shaking his white head. "It's February. Half the staff is out sick. At least the Ghost of Semesters Future can let us know well ahead of time when he's going to be ill; but no matter. I think we can get through this with just me."

"Okay, then," I said. "What do we do?"

"Look," the ghost said, pointing with his trumpet toward the far wall of the bedroom, toward the computer desk.

"Hey," I started defensively, "I've been sick. I know that desk is a clutter magnet, but..." I stared in astonishment. The desk, oddly free from clutter, was illuminated by a stray shaft of Texas summer sunlight piercing its way through the heavy drapes I bought in part to help lower the air conditioning bills. I could see myself, a bit less heavy and wearing summer clothes, seated in front of the computer, searching the Internet with a brisk and happy efficiency that seemed wholly unlike my recent self.

"That's me!" I gasped.

"Yes, that's you," the Ghost of Semesters Past said sonorously. "Last August. Look at you, shopping for textbooks and new curricula! Eager, happy, ready to face all the challenges the new school year would bring. There is no cloud yet on the horizon...or is there?"

I looked closer; then I hung my head. Right in the middle of choosing a new history course for my oldest daughter, I clicked a link to an online store, and started looking at...

"Christmas shopping! In August! How could I?" I exclaimed as the scene faded.

"And that's not all," the ghost said sadly. "Come with me."

"Where...where are we going?" I asked in trepidation.

"The living room," the ghost answered, looking at me oddly. "Why?"

"I thought we were going to have to fly through walls, or something," I answered sheepishly.

We walked quite normally into the living room, which doubles as our homeschooling center. "Well?" I asked when we got there.

Once again, the ghost pointed, this time at the large secretary desk which is supposed to be my workplace. I saw, again faintly, my oldest daughter seated before it, working. "What's wrong here?" I asked, puzzled.

The ghost gestured toward the phone. It rang.

I saw my misty past self cross to the phone and answer it. "Yes, dear, things are going well," my former self said. "Of course, it's only the first month of school, and things are still easy. But it would be a lot easier for me to stay organized if we could get another desk in here. Then there'd be three for the kids and I'd still have my secretary as a place to sit and grade things..."

"Oh no," my current self gasped, looking guiltily at the ghost.

"Oh, yes," the ghost said sternly. "Your husband bought that extra desk. None of your children now needs to use the secretary desk. And how often do you sit there and grade their schoolwork?"

"I still don't have a chair for it..."

"No excuses. The kitchen chairs work just fine," the Ghost of Semesters Past said.

"Please, don't show me any more. I'll be good now," I promised. But the ghost pointed his trumpet once again.

We were still in my living room, on a quiet Sunday evening. My past self finished planning my children's lessons for the upcoming week, and looked up smiling as my husband came into the room. "All done!" I said cheerfully. "It's so nice when I get their lessons planned out at least by the night before the new school week. It makes for a much more pleasant Monday than trying to write the lesson plans and teach and answer questions all at the same time..."

"Enough!" I said to the Ghost of Semesters Past. "I get it! I need to find that enthusiasm for teaching that I had at the beginning of the school year. I need to remember why I'm doing this in the first place, why it's all worth while. Please, please don't show me any more!"

"Couldn't anyway," the ghost shrugged, beginning to fade from view. "My time's up, and Semesters Present and Future are out sick, as I said before. Good thing you caught on so quickly..."

Once again, the clock failed to chime. I was back in my bed.

There was a knock at the door. "Who...who is it?" I called fearfully.

"Me," said my oldest daughter cheerfully. "My sister, the one who got sick the day before you did, wants to know if it's okay for her to have milk on her cereal today since she hasn't thrown up any more since the first day she was sick..."

I pulled my pillow over my head and groaned. In the key of C.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Lame. Duck!

The title of this post is directed to Texas Governor Rick Perry, in recognition of the breathtaking arrogance and unparalleled stupidity of his decision to use an executive order to mandate that all Texas schoolgirls be given an unproven, unpopular, and potentially dangerous vaccine.

America, take note: when your legislatures refuse to do the job for which they were elected, preferring photo-ops and endless campaigning to the business of actually making the laws, their lawmaking function will be usurped by the other branches of government. First, unelected judges will 'interpret' laws in such a way as to make up whole new ones out of whole cloth and penumbras; then, people like Governor Perry, in his role as the living embodiment of the saying "more hair than wit" will want to get in on the act; and before you know it, lawmaking will be such a disrespected job that we'll be outsourcing it, or inviting illegal immigrants into our country to "make the laws America's Senators and Representatives just won't make."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Neighbors

Bishop Grahmann of Dallas has ruffled some feathers by speaking negatively about the proposed ordinance for the city of Farmer's Branch, Texas, which will forbid property owners from renting to illegal immigrants. Some Catholics who heard a recent homily apparently didn't like the way the bishop equated the plight of illegal immigrants to that of Mary and Joseph when, in crowded Bethlehem, they couldn't find a place to stay. Of course, the situations don't exactly coincide; Mary and Joseph weren't being prohibited by law from renting a room at the inn, there just weren't any rooms available. But as much as it pains me to have to agree with the bishop on this one, I don't really have any choice in the matter.

The situation in America today in regards to illegal immigration is complex and unjust. On the one hand, people from other countries don't have the right to show up here and demand the goods and services to which American citizens are entitled. It is an offense against justice for them to do so.

But on the other hand, companies and employers don't have the right to recruit employees from across the border, in many cases colluding with those who facilitate their illegal entry, in order to bypass American employment laws, including laws governing minimum wages and mandatory payroll taxes. Further, these companies don't have the right to put unfair pressure on the political system to ensure that those who are charged with enforcing the laws against illegal immigration will refuse to do so. Even more, these companies don't have the right to mount huge public opinion campaigns designed to convince the rest of us that we'll be paying $20 a head for lettuce if we don't turn a blind eye toward their importation and exploitation of illegal workers.

It's easy to focus on the less powerful lawbreakers in this scenario and ignore the powerful ones. It's easy to make scapegoats of the families of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, who are here due to this situation. But I blame them less than I blame the system, which covertly encourages them to come here and only makes a show of attempting to deal with the problems arising from too much immigration occurring at far too rapid a pace.

We could put a stop to illegal immigration in America, if we wanted to. We could close our southern border, either by building a physical wall or by stationing soldiers along it. We could restrict immigration more carefully, and be far more ruthless in expelling those who enter legally but then overstay their legal welcome. We could deport all those caught here who are here against the law, no excuses, no exceptions. We could change the law that grants citizenship to those born here regardless of the status of their parents, ending the 'anchor baby' phenomenon once and for all.

If we wanted to.

But apparently we don't want to, at least those of us who own or run huge corporations which rely on the cost savings of employing illegals to keep the stockholders happy with promises of endless profit increases and ever greater financial rewards.

The rest of us do have some options, though. We can work for some of the changes I mentioned above; in particular, we can insist that those who come here illegally and then continue to break our laws should be sent back to their home countries at once. For those who have been here some time, who really do want to be Americans, we can consider showing mercy for their original infraction in exchange for the promise of assimilation, including an insistence that they learn our common language for their good as well as our own, and for the sharing of our burdens as well as our benefits, particularly in the form of equal taxation.

We are supposed to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, after all. The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us that our neighbors aren't always the people we want them to be. I sympathize with the people of Farmer's Branch for wanting to take on themselves the job of enforcing immigration law that the rightful authorities just won't do, but in the end all they'll succeed in doing is turning their town into a giant gated community; a grand, but ultimately empty gesture in a country that refuses to consider realistic ways to solve the problem of illegal immigration while remembering to be merciful to the people who already live among us.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Just for Fun

I've been tagged by Matilda with the following housekeeping meme. This is the first time I've attempted something of this sort, so bear with me! I've also not been able to tag anyone else with this because I don't know anyone else who might like to do it. But if anyone who reads it wants to join in, please do!

Aprons
– Y/N?
I have a few, but I never wear them. If there's a company out there that makes aprons for women 5'2" and under, I might reconsider, but otherwise they're more frustrating than helpful.

Baking
– Favorite thing to bake:
I have a confession to make: I don't really enjoy cooking/baking. I do it because I have to, but I rarely find myself thinking, "Wow, now, this is my favorite thing to bake!" So in all honesty, my current favorite has been the chocolate chip cookies I've been baking, because the cookie dough came in a nice big bucket, and made a really nice chocolate chip cookie pie for DD#2's recent birthday as well as 'extra' cookies last week.

Clothesline
– Y/N?
Not a clothesline, no. But I bought a great drying rack when my dryer was out of service last year, and I still drag it out sometimes for the drip-dry stuff. Buying it caused me to reflect on the difference between washers and dryers: dryers are nice to have and they save time, but having one's dryer cease functioning isn't quite the household emergency that the death of a washing machine is.

Donuts – Have you ever made them?
I bought some pans to make baked mini-donuts, which were supposed to be a healthful alternative to the gooey deep-fried ones. They were all right, but they came out kind of like flattened mini-muffins instead of donuts. Some things just aren't the same without the grease.

Every day – One homemaking thing you do every day:
Make my bed. I haven't always done this, but even when my children were very little it was nice to have an island of serenity and order in the midst of an ocean of chaos. Plus, I usually end up folding laundry on it, which seems like a chore I do every day.

Freezer – Do you have a separate deep freeze?
No. I'd like one, but where would we put it? Sigh. I'd settle for a closer Costco, so I'm not tempted to buy my meat a month at a time in the first place.

Garbage Disposal – Y/N?
Yes. I learned the hard way (i.e., a frantic call to Roto-Rooter) not to put a large quantity of rice down it. Twice.

Handbook?
Don't have one, but here are a couple I'd like to write:
The Children's Guide to Keeping Mom Sane
Chores as Character Builders
Why Can't I Find Anything? And Other Answers for Husbands
Five Thousand 30-Minute Chicken Recipes

Ironing – Love it or hate it?
Our "No-Ironing Treaty" is the closest thing my DH and I have to a pre-nup. Seriously. He knew before we got married that I don't iron, and he married me anyway. If he wants something ironed, he does it, but I avoid the whole thing by not buying the sort of clothes that are likely to wrinkle.

Junk drawer
– Y/N? Where is it?
Yes. One in the kitchen. The clutter that doesn't fit neatly in there spills over, takes over the rest of the house, and begins running my life. I think some of it voted in the last election.

Kitchen: Design & Decorating?
My kitchen is overcrowded, like the rest of my house. But I like the color, which is an interesting green, and the Starry Night poster on the wall.

Love: What is your favorite part of homemaking?
The approximately thirty seconds in the middle of Friday afternoon when everything's clean and reasonably tidy.

Mop - Y/N?
I refuse to answer on the grounds that doing so may tend to incriminate me.

Nylons - Wash by hand or in the washing machine?
I don't wear nylons. The last time I had to wear them I griped about them the whole evening. I didn't have to wash them, either; predictably, they ripped and were thrown away when I got home. I have gone to great lengths to avoid wearing them (usually great skirt lengths) and even, for a brief time in my youth, wore those thigh-high versions which are great as long as the elastic holds, but really awful if it decides to break, which on the last occasion that I wore them happened in the middle of Mass. One of the nicest things about living in Texas is that few women seem to wear nylons in the summer; bare legs are much more acceptable here than they were other places I've lived.

Oven - Do you use the window, or open the door to check?
I use the window because it's a novelty; the oven I had for the first six years in this house was one the builder chose, and it had that fake black door that looks like a window and isn't. It's so nice to be able to see how things are doing without having to open the door!

Pizza - What do you put on yours?
My favorite pizza is a plain cheese New York style from a little restaurant about twenty minutes away from home. It's not that the pizza's really great, or anything, but I love that place for being quiet and family-friendly and not a chain (and the big picture of JPII on the wall doesn't hurt the ambiance any!).

Quiet
- What do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment?
Read Crunchy Con.

Recipe card box - Y/N?
No. Ugly floppy folder crammed with recipes I've printed off of the Internet.

Style of house -
Unimaginative modern bungalow with low ceilings and no artistry. Sort of like an apartment, but with a bit more space and a tiny bit more room between neighbors. If I could put it on the market tomorrow I would.

Tablecloths and napkins - Y/N?
I have some--somewhere. I really don't use them.

Under the kitchen sink - Organized or toxic wasteland?
Dishwasher tabs, plant-watering equipment, a few odds and ends. Not as bad as it could be but probably will get some attention during spring cleaning.

Vacuum - How many times per week?
One thorough vacuuming of the whole house; a few extra times in the living room, den, and hallway.

Wash - How many loads of laundry do you do a week?
Exactly three less than I need to do. I always start Monday three loads behind.

X's - Do you keep a daily list of things to do and cross them off?
Only when I'm writing a novel. I write by planning out the chapters ahead of time and then dealing with them sequentially. But for household chores, no.

Yard - Who does what?
My DH does all the yardwork. I'm short, I have allergies, and my idea of the perfect yard would be something loosely based on the Sahara Desert.

Zzz's - What is your last homemaking task for the day before going to bed?
Placing the last of the dishes into the dishwasher and turning it on, if necessary. I can't leave dishes in the sink at night. I don't know why.

This has been fun! Thanks, Matilda!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Life of Prayer

Rod Dreher, on his Crunchy Con blog, has an interesting post up about the life of prayer. It's sad to me that Mr. Dreher left the Catholic Church; we definitely need people like him, and this post is the sort that causes me to regret his departure. Nevertheless, I think the post is a good reminder to all Christians that our interior prayer life should be something alive and growing, like a plant that strives upward through the darkness of the earth seeking the warm spring sun.

This doesn't mean, though, that all of us should or will pray exactly the same way, or that even as individuals the same sort of prayer will always be part of our lives. I've come to love the daily rosary, and have enjoyed praying the rosary at many different times in my life, but there have been times when I didn't say the rosary daily, or much at all. Sometimes that was my fault, and was the result of spiritual laziness. But there were other times when I wanted to take up the daily rosary again, and couldn't, due to various duties of my state in life that made it impossible.

Fortunately, I number several mothers among my family and friends, and they all agree that we don't always get to pray the way we want to. The family with one car may not make it to daily Mass; a mom with several small children may have to put aside the vision of a family rosary for a time; we might have to use the Children's Bible when doing our Jesse Tree readings, in order to keep the littlest and wiggliest from playing the 'make the person reading the Bible stop reading and giggle' game. None of this means that we're not praying the right way. Properly understood, in living out our vocations as wives and mothers we're offering our lives as an act of prayer. And as St. Therese taught us, there's a world of spiritual grace to be found in the tiny sacrifices we make during the day.

And there are abundant opportunities for such sacrifices. For example, we could change a diaper when we'd rather send the odiferous one to 'go see Daddy' since, after all, we've changed hundreds of diapers today and Daddy just got home. We could be patient as we begin yet another attempt to teach the multiplication of fractions to the fractious. We could be cheery on the phone to a friend who needs it, instead of looking daggers in the direction of the vacuum we finally got around to using today, only to have to turn it off when the phone rang. We could be patient with the husband who asks, a little sheepishly, for a couple of pairs of pants to be washed instead of informing him that we've just finished all the laundry and why on earth doesn't he put the dirty ones in the hamper instead of hanging them back up in the closet? We could give second chances to people who offend us, especially since they probably don't know they did. And we can share the tears of people who will never know we cried on their behalf during their time of sorrow.

This is my prayer. This is the way I pray, predominantly, in my vocation as a wife and mother. Though I add the rosary and a few other habits of daily prayer to this, I'm afraid I may never grasp the more enlightened forms of prayer Mr. Dreher speaks of at length in his post. In the end, that may not matter, as long as we listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and do our best to please Him.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Illumination

"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. " John 1: 1-5

Today is the feast of Candlemas, also called the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. It's amazing to read the words of St. John, above, and realize that St. Simeon recognized their truth just by seeing the infant Child at the Temple. Where other busy passers-by saw nothing unusual, just a mother and father and child fulfilling the prescriptions of the Law following the birth of a baby, St. Simeon saw, and adored, the Word made Flesh. He recognized the Truth at once upon seeing Him; he thanked God with joy:

"29 Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; 30 Because my eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: 32 A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."

Two thousand years have past since the events recorded above took place. The light of Christ still shines amid the darkness of this world, but it can be hard to see sometimes. Particularly in today's America, which has come to consider itself 'post-Christian,' is this light difficult to discern.

Take the issue of abortion, for example. Seemingly intelligent and decent people have no problem admitting that they favor abortion; they are quite open about it, if by 'open' we mean that they will use any euphemism for abortion except the word itself. They are even willing to discuss hypothetical restrictions on abortion, but invariably they conclude--regretfully, of course--that anything less than allowing a woman to have her offspring put to death from conception to the moment the child's head emerges from the birth canal is somehow antithetical to the whole notion of freedom. Attempts to bring reason, science, logic, philosophy, or humanity into the debate will result in all these notions being labeled 'religious extremism' and thereby discarded without ever being engaged. The light of Truth shines no less clearly in the midst of these discussions, but the darkness that calls itself 'pro-choice' chooses not to encounter its bright simplicity.

Or consider ESCR, perhaps. Some people, politicians mostly, who until very recently called themselves pro-life have decided that this is a good thing, that the promise of cures for so many diseases is too alluring to consider the cost, that the fountain of youth is worth a flood of heaven's tears. What does it matter if the research on human embryos means not only destroying them, but owning them? True, after slavery we said we'd never try to own other human beings again, but these humans are so tiny, in such an early stage of development; why shouldn't we own them, and use them, and destroy them for our own good? Our reasons are better than the reasons given by those who owned human beings in the past; our motives are purer; and the humans are small and therefore worthless, unless we make them profitable. So they say, and maybe they believe it; but the light that shines in the eyes of every Snowflake baby casts a dawn of clarity over their self-serving lies.

Then there is the rising talk of euthanasia. There are people who point out in all seriousness that as we are willing to do this for animals, we should be willing to do it for humans, as well. Humans are just another sort of animal, and it gets expensive to maintain nursing care for the elderly or the infirm. Not that mercenary motives should prevail, of course, but their lives are so meaningless! What good does it do to keep existing, day after day, when you're no longer young or beautiful or athletic or relevant, socially speaking? Your life is nothing but a burden; let us take that burden away from you, so we won't have to live with the terror of becoming old as you are, helpless as you are, imprisoned in that terrifying prison of flesh and bone, alone with that most horrific of companions--memory--and accompanied by that most frightening of sounds, silence. Let us ease our sufferings by ending yours. The light flickers, grows dim, in the aged and dying Christian soul, but what a tremendous blessing is each hour spent preparing for that final journey, and what cruelty to rob the immortal being of those last priceless moments of grace! Those in darkness fear the darkness that will never end, but they are more afraid of the light.

An aged man, holding a tiny child. A sign of grace; a sign of contradiction. A light that pierces through the secret darkness in the hearts of men; a darkness that turns and hides in fear from its purifying glow.

Candlemas.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Punxsutawney Phil and the Material World

In a few short hours we will have Punxsutawney Phil's prediction as to whether this winter will continue for another six weeks or be mercifully shortened. Yes, I know, global warming and all that, but I'm cold. I didn't move to Texas for snow in February, after all.

I can't think of Phil without thinking of the movie Groundhog Day, which was a movie I thought I'd hate, and hated to love. There was something pretty tremendous about seeing an insufferable jerk transformed into a decent and caring human being all through the simple mechanism of having only one day to live...over and over and over. Iterum iterumque, until he really does learn to make the best of each moment of that one day.

Which brings me to a conversation I had today with Matilda, about the post directly below this one. She made me realize that I might be painting the notion of 'materialism' with too broad a brush. (And if I only have the one brush, it's not due to any deep asceticism or anything like that.)

Although something like the slow cooker really is a 'luxury' item from one standpoint, in that it can't be considered a necessity and can easily be done without, Catholic lay people don't take a vow of poverty either, and are not prohibited from owning things that aren't strictly necessary. Rather, being caught up in materialism means spending too much time and attention on the acquisition and ownership of material goods, to the neglect of the spiritual and eternal values.

The danger, to me, is that we Americans live in a country and culture in which materialism is celebrated as the highest order of good. Advertisers spend insane amounts of effort and money on campaigns designed to make us want what we don't have, don't need, and would never desire on our own accounts. And all too often, we fall for it, without even beginning to realize that we have.

Driving to several different stores to get 'our' brand of a household item. Spending hours roaming through aisles of plastic bins to select the 'right' ones to hold the excess stuff we never use. Devoting whole weekends to choosing a lamp or a decorative accessory. Spending more than we can afford on the 'good' shoes or the 'handcrafted' furniture. And convincing ourselves that these things are virtuous.

In the truncated world of Phil Connors, Bill Murry's character in Groundhog Day, all of these things would be seen as what they are: a waste of time. Though at first the monotony of that repetitive day makes Phil choose things that are just as evanescent as these, in the end he finds meaning by striving for lasting values such as the ability to play music, a round of lifesaving trips, accomplishments in other fields. More than that, he chooses friendship over anonymity, managing to befriend a large number of people in the single day that he has to do so.

Our material goods can be blessings in our lives, and I know I fail to be thankful for them as I should be. But they can also be dangers, robbing us of the precious time we have to do things far more important than shopping. And they can tempt us to consider them important in themselves, instead of allowing us to form the proper detachment we should have to the things of this earth.