Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Eleven (Halloween Edition)

The theme of today's Potluck Wednesday post is: Things that Really Scare Me.

First, we have the Jesuits at Georgetown and their recent decision to fund a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and “questioning” (LGBTQ) students. Although the university's leadership claims that nothing at the center will contradict Church teaching, it seems to me that just calling people "LGBTQ" (which sounds like shorthand used at a Mexican restaurant, e.g. "Jose! Another order of Large Gordita Burrito Taco Quesadilla Platters, pronto!") is already contrary to Church teaching, since the Church doesn't see people as any of those initials, merely as suffering from same-sex attraction disorder, which is neither intrinsic to their personhood nor worthy of celebration.

Next, there is the push toward neutralizing chapels, or removing Christian symbols and identity from them, on the grounds that it's somehow offensive or intolerant of others to display Christian symbolism in spaces that are mainly used for Christian prayer. I think it's time to start a movement of people claiming to be offended by secular symbols, and insisting that all such symbols be removed to accommodate those of us who feel this way. Think they'd go for it?

No list of terrifying things would be complete without Planned Parenthood, who is facing their own fears that tiny understaffed volunteer groups will cut into their huge profit margins or chisel away at their vast amount of government funds--though to hear them tell it, you'd think it was the other way around. Congratulations to this group for making them so nervous!

This woman. Apparently her opponents are starting to find her frightening, too.

Happy Halloween to all!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blog Forecast: Lighter Blogging, With Patchy Fog and Occasional Giddiness

Just thought it was fair to let you know that my hideous verbosity will probably ease up over the course of the next few days.

Tomorrow, of course, is Halloween, and preparations are in full swing for our extended family All Saints' Day party, which for us has replaced trick-or-treating as our favorite way to celebrate this particular holiday. Now, don't get me wrong: those of you who live in beautiful old quiet neighborhoods in states to the north of Texas, where your children will be bundled in warm fuzzy costumes as they proceed with pink cheeks and glowing eyes to ring the doorbells of neighbors and friends, chanting the traditional Halloween phrase and getting candy in return, are to be envied in many respects. I live in a suburban neighborhood with lots of houses close together, where kids from other neighborhoods are often dropped off by car because it's so easy to get loads of candy in my neighborhood; scary and inappropriate costumes (and even decorations!) abound; and tomorrow's high will be 80 degrees, which kind of takes the fun out of trudging from door to door while wearing extra layers of clothing. The All Saints' party lasts longer, involves silly games and prizes as well as copious amounts of candy, permits air-conditioning, and allows us to set the stage for the next day's holy day--so, by comparison to our alternative, it wins hands down.

All Saints' Day will be busy, too, as we will be singing at the evening Mass. Our schedule will be a little like our normal Wednesday schedule, so my blogging time will be somewhat limited.

And November 1st has one other event scheduled, in which I plan to participate. I took part in last year's NaNoWriMo and really, really enjoyed it! If any of you have ever dabbled in fiction writing or dreamed of penning a novel but have never actually done anything about it, now is the time! Don't worry if you think it's too late to join: last year I wasn't planning to join, thought out-of-town company was coming, and put the whole thing off. Then the out-of-town visit fell through, I visited the website and got caught up in the excitement, and joined and started writing...on November 9. I still finished the book before the 30th. So even if you haven't decided, or can't possibly get anything done until this weekend, or later, don't let that stop you--if you have any desire to get that novel written (or at least well underway) now is the time!

So with one thing and another, the month of November may be a little quiet around here. But knowing me, I'll probably get so exhilarated by the fiction-writing that occasionally I may get giddy about it all. I apologize in advance for inflicting that on you, if I do!

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Three Aspects of Pride

If I had a truly photographic memory, the rest of this post would be a verbatim account of the absolutely wonderful homily our pastor gave yesterday on the Gospel reading of the Pharisee and the publican, and pride. Unfortunately I do not have a photographic memory, and Father doesn't write his homilies down, so I'll do my best to recreate some of his thoughts and add my own unworthy comments.

Father began by reminding us how easy it is to judge ourselves as totally unlike the Pharisee, given the hindsight of a couple of millenia. After all, who among us would stand before God and say that we're so glad we're great people unlike that poor rotten sinner over there? But by rejecting the extreme example of pride that the Pharisee represents, we sometimes overlook our own struggles with the deadliest of deadly sins. Father broke up the tendency toward pride into three different sections, areas where most of us have some problems or other: pride, he said, is comprised of thoughtlessness or carelessness, extreme sensitivity, and rationalization.

Thoughtlessness or carelessness is the first aspect of pride. It is very subtle, but very recognizable to everyone but ourselves. Father said it was this kind of pride that, for instance, makes a person perpetually late for everything; underneath that persistent unpunctuality is the belief that everyone else will wait for you, that you are important enough to be worth waiting for. This aspect of pride is focused on the self and its own comforts, which leads it to be completely careless of the thoughts, feelings, desires, and needs of the others around you. It makes us rude without meaning to be, malicious because we can get away with it, unkind, inconsiderate, and even boorish. No matter how badly we behave, though, we don't see it, so long as we are getting what we want out of each and every encounter with our fellow men.

The second aspect of pride Father spoke of is extreme sensitivity. This is not merely a healthy self-esteem that rejects actual abuse; this is a warped sense that we are positively owed everyone else's good respect, good opinions, and good behavior. The thoughtlessness that leads us to ignore other people's thoughts and feelings is tied to this kind of sensitivity which demands that everyone else around us is permanently focused on our thoughts and feelings. We are thus simultaneously capable of overlooking our absolutely rude behavior while holding friends and family responsible for an unintentional slight; we are likely to hold grudges against them for things much less serious than the kinds of behavior which we expect everyone to accept from us.

Which brings me to Father's third aspect of pride, rationalization. Tied closely to the first two, rationalization allows us to excuse faults in ourselves for which we will all but crucify others. We might, for instance, think of ourselves as the kind of people who arrive fashionably late to a party, but if anyone should insult us by arriving seriously late to one of ours! The rationalization which allows us to do this can also destroy our souls; we may know all of the Commandments, understand what constitutes sin, know the precepts of the Church, etc., but our skill at excusing ourselves for things that might be "sin" for all the "little people" can make us overlook not only mere faults, but actual vices, in ourselves.

I haven't written one of these fictional conversations in a while, but it seems to me that it is possible to illustrate what Father means by showing an example of a ridiculously exaggerated encounter between Aunt Superbia and her niece, Alma:

"Alma, you're late. I told you to meet me here at precisely 3:00, and it's at least five past three now," the silver-haired woman of imposing size said crossly, pushing her large shopping bag under the antique store's tea table so that it was seriously in the way of the small nervous woman who sat opposite her.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Superbia," Alma replied, drawing her feet away from the shopping bag. "I thought we weren't meeting until next week, so I..."

"I told you on Sunday that my Ladies' Guild meeting was moved to next week," the other woman interrupted curtly. "I should have thought that even someone as bird-witted as you are could have realized that our meeting would have to be moved. If I hadn't called you an hour ago I suppose you wouldn't have come at all."

"Well, I..."

"Mind that shopping bag! I've bought the perfect replacement for that antique lamp that got broken, thanks to that careless woman the cleaning service sent over..."

"I thought you broke it, Aunt Superbia," Alma murmured, moving her feet even farther under her chair.

"You know perfectly well that it wouldn't have gotten broken if that idiot hadn't moved it two inches away from the center of the end table," the older woman said acidly. "I'm not accustomed to my things being moved out of place." She sipped the tea in front of her, and placed the teacup back into its painted saucer with an audible clink. "Not all of us are as slapdash in our housekeeping as you, Alma," she added with a grim smile. "I suppose you think it's your duty as an artist to keep everything in your apartment in a constant state of chaos, but I don't find that appealing at all."

Her niece, who wrote poetry and had had eight pieces published, smiled wanly. Her apartment was bare to the point of austerity due more to her financial circumstances than anything else, but Aunt Superbia had never forgiven her for not having dinner on the table once when she had unexpectedly dropped in at 5:30 in hopes of being invited to stay, and had decided then and there that the poetry was responsible for her niece's deplorable carelessness in household matters. Seeking to change the subject, Alma asked, "Do you have the list for me?"

"I hope you don't expect me to dig it out of my purse when I haven't even finished my tea," Aunt Superbia replied. "And I hope you don't think I'm a forgetful old woman, either."

"I'm sorry..."

"You should be. What manners! I suppose your mother's to blame; why my brother couldn't see..."

"You must be looking forward to your party," Alma interrupted desperately, having heard all of this before.

Aunt Superbia looked as though she were torn between the desire to reprimand Alma for interrupting and the desire to talk about the party; choosing the latter, she nodded majestically. "It's about time I had one of my gatherings," she purred. Forgetting her objections of a moment before, she thrust her hand deep into a pocket of her expensive handbag and handed Alma a handwritten list covering several wrinkled pages. "That should do nicely," she almost hissed, a strange glitter in her eye.

Alma, whose job it had been for years to type Aunt Superbia's address labels for her party invitations on the grounds that Aunt Superbia couldn't be bothered to learn how to use her own computer for this purpose, glanced over the list, frowning twice. Fearing on the one hand to say anything, but fearing more to be blamed if the invitations weren't properly mailed, she cleared her throat.

"Yes?" said her aunt, leaning forward expectantly.

"It's fine...it's just that I don't see Uncle George and Aunt Lisa, or your friend Sara Pineville. Did you want me to..."

"No!" Aunt Superbia cried triumphantly. "They're not being invited. Why George had to marry again at his age, after being a widower for so long...however, I've done my duty. But I won't condone bad manners, and if Lisa expects to be invited to my parties she won't show up, spend the whole evening looking bored, and then yawn...actually yawn!...when I'm talking to her. Everyone was shocked at how rude she was to me. As for Sara, well, if she can't get over her silly habit of trying to be the center of attention at every party I throw..."

Alma sighed inwardly, while appearing to listen placidly to Aunt Superbia's complaints. She knew that if Lisa had been yawning at Aunt Superbia's last party it had been due more to the extreme warmth of the room and the potency of Aunt Superbia's rum punch; and no one would ever have accused gentle, pleasant Sara Pineville of trying to be the center of attention; no one, that is, except Aunt Superbia, who resented anyone talking too long to Mr. Silven, Aunt Superbia's kind next-door neighbor who often helped her with her garden, and who, therefore, Aunt Superbia was inclined to think of as her own property, much as she thought of Alma.

"...will learn, if I have to have three more parties without inviting them!" Aunt Superbia finished, her eyes narrowing.

Keeping her private thoughts that it would be a blessing not to be invited to her aunt's parties very much to herself, Alma nodded. "Shall I deliver the labels a week from Monday?" she asked.

"Goodness, no," snapped her aunt. "That won't give me any time at all to check them for errors before I put them on the envelopes. Thursday afternoon--no, wait, I'm busy Thursday. Friday after you get off from work, then--and don't let them keep you too late; it's very inconvenient for me to have you show up when I'm having dinner. If you can't come before five, don't come until eight," she finished. Getting slowly to her feet, Aunt Superbia gathered her large shopping bag and handbag, and turned to go. "Mind you don't feed the labels in crookedly. I won't put crooked labels on my invitations," she admonished over her shoulder as she sailed out of the door.

Alma watched her leave, and then she sighed, audibly this time. Signaling to the waiter to bring her a tea cup, she poured herself a cup from the pot sitting in front of Alma's place, and helped herself to one of the few cakes left on the little plate to the right of it. If Aunt Superbia was going to stick her with the bill for the tea yet again, she could at least enjoy some of it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

What It Was That Saved Us

You have got to read this story (Hat tip: Dyspeptic Mutterings).

Twenty four years ago today was almost the end of the world as we know it. All the most rabid Cold War rhetoric came within minutes of being horribly justified. Everything we hold most dear might really have vanished in a bright flash of terror and clouds of doom.

I couldn't stop thinking about this last night. I was a teenager in 1983; like most of us who remember those years, my memories are laced with the looming awareness of the possibility of Global Thermonuclear War. There were words that were part of my vocabulary then, just like words like terrorist, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Baghdad, insurgents, torture, and preemptive strike are part of our children's vocabulary now; only our words were Communist, Brezhnev, Russia, Moscow, KGB, mutually assured destruction, and first strike.

In so many respects, 1983 was rather like today. There were grim-faced television talking heads pondering the many ways we might be destroyed by the enemy, and other equally grim-faced pundits accusing the first group of being ready to sell out to the enemy. There were both reality television and cop shows; there just weren't as many of them. There was a visible anti-war segment of the population, agitating for unilateral disarmament. There were even people like my religion teacher, a former flower child who thought we could find peace through nonviolence, transcendental meditation, an overt but passive rejection of the pervasive and materialistic mall culture, a return to deliberate simplicity, and the appreciation of organic vegetables.

Politics was partisan and vicious. Democrats were regularly scolded for being soft on Communism and for lacking the resolve to stand up to the U.S.S.R.; Republicans were derided for being war-mongers, for seeking to enrich themselves by endless defense spending, for preferring bombs to programs for the poor. There was little bipartisanship, and lots of angry words.

Yet despite all of these things, or possible unaware of many of them, my friends and siblings and I didn't spend a lot of time contemplating nuclear annihilation. It just didn't seem likely or worth worrying about, given that there was nothing we could do about the situation anyway. I remember being bored with the fiercely anti-Reagan sentiments of most of my Catholic school teachers, and irritated by the hypocrisy when they would, in the classroom, bemoan the evils of the arms race, but remain silent on abortion. I associated the most over the top speech predicting total destruction with these people, and shrugged, and thought that it would never happen.

And it didn't.

But reading the story of Stanislav Petrov, I realize how close we came to it. More, I find myself in awe at just what it was that saved us.

For Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet forces, would have been even more inundated with talk of Doomsday scenarios than any civilian on either side. He might even have had to do drills and simulations based on possible attack scenarios. The policy was clear: if the computer shows the launch of even a single missile, you retaliate, and inform those in power only after the missiles you've sent screaming to wreak death upon the enemy are well underway.

And the computer showed the launch of a single missile.

What happened next shows what a Cold War hero Petrov really was. He knew instinctively that something was wrong, that the launch of a single missile didn't make sense. Even when a handful of other missiles appeared to join the lone nuke on the screen, Petrov remained steady, and refused to order the counterattack that was supposed to be ordered under exactly these circumstances. Despite rhetoric, despite high tensions, despite policy, despite pressure from the others in his bunker who were increasingly panicked over the appearance of subsequent missiles, Petrov refused to start World War III over something that he just knew was an error in the system.

If we are to survive the War on Terror, we have to remember something. It isn't weapons or offensives or attacks or expansion of war that leads to survival. It isn't popular opinion or punditry or politics. It isn't propaganda that paints our enemy in inhuman colors; it isn't the abandonment of our own basic moral principles against such things as torture for the sake of some vague fear that without such things we will lose. It isn't panic; it certainly isn't fear.

What leads to survival is a simple gift that so many forget they have, and forget how to use. But because Stanislav Petrov had this gift in abundance and employed it with calm skill, we--all of us--survived what was mere moments away from becoming the worst day in the history of man.

We are here because Stanislov Petrov evaluated the threat in the light of this gift, and dismissed it, and stuck to that dismissal even for those horrible moments when it looked like he might have been wrong.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Stanislov Petrov's common sense.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Moses Generation

I've written several things about Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio allowing an even more generous use of the Traditional Latin Mass. As you know, while I admire the beauty of the older form of the Mass I tend to prefer the new, provided it is said with the dignity and reverence which should be proper to every Mass.

Despite my personal preferences, though, I was excited by the motu proprio, for two reasons: one, because I have known many people for whom the Novus Ordo is almost painful, whether because they experienced and remember the Tridentine Mass or because, having discovered it in the relatively recent past, it is now too jarring for them to attend a Novus Ordo Mass where they live due to abuses or misuses of the liturgy by those entrusted with its care; and two, because I believed (and still believe) that Pope Benedict's desire is for the beauty and reverence which is inherent to the TLM to raise up the level of the celebrations of the Novus Ordo, so that both Masses will exhibit the sort of character proper to our highest form of worship.

That's the reason I was disappointed when our pastor wrote recently that Bishop Vann's current mind is that the single celebration of the TLM which currently exists in the diocese is enough. I would neither expect nor demand that every parish, or even most parishes, ought to have a TLM on a weekly basis, but it's hard to see how this single offering of the Mass in our diocese, unchanged since the Ecclesia Dei days, will help to encourage people to rediscover the wonderful patrimony of the Church's rich and magnificent liturgy.

Since then, I've noticed positive things, and negative ones. The "two steps forward, one step back" style of the "reform of the reform" continues at its often frustratingly slow pace. It can be tempting to contrast the slowness with which real reform is made with the earlier dizzying speed of such innovations as altar girls and communion-in-the-hand; but down that road lies madness. We may never know, in our earthly lives, just why God allowed so much that was suspect or even bad to infect the liturgy in order to bring about the good that was desired--but we can certainly become bitter, glum, angry people by letting ourselves fixate on matters like these.

I think what's been causing me the biggest spiritual struggle is my desire for the reform of the reform to be implemented, right now. In a dream world I'd like to walk into my parish church next Sunday to find that the rather druidic-looking "church in the round" interior now resembled, if not a Gothic cathedral, at least a First Romanesque one. There would be a gleaming altar rail, beautiful statues, bright, jewel-like stained glass. There would be an actual choir loft, complete with pipe organ. All of the music would be good, which means that little of it would be modern. The Mass would be reverent, solemn, directing the mind and heart toward the worship of Almighty God. The word "special" would never appear in the homily, but only at the second collection. People would enter the church silently and leave just as silently--but outside over coffee and donuts Catholics would engage in spontaneous fellowship, vigorous debate, and happy chatter (though it would be necessary to keep the Plain Chant people away from the Polyphony people on occasion, when their discussions got too heated). There would be tons of children.

I was expressing some of this to a dear and wise friend the other day, and she laughed. "We're going to be like Moses," she said.

"Moses?" I asked.

"You know. He got to lead the people to the Promised Land, he even got a glimpse of it, but he died before he could get there."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that we're going to see the Liturgical 'Promised Land,' and lead our children there, but we're never going to get to enjoy it ourselves--though we're probably going to have really nice Funeral Masses."

I have a feeling she's right.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Ten

Is it just me, or are the weeks just flying by? It seems that every time I turn around it's time for another Potluck Wednesday post!

This week's Potluck has a theme: things I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful that even here in Texas, it's finally fall.

I'm thankful for all the little pumpkins out there, who remind me how precious it is to share a new season with a sweet little love.

I'm thankful, like Jen, that we live in a country where every grocery store is a cornucopia of good things to feed our families--and I'm thankful she wrote so eloquently about it! :)

I'm thankful that there are people ready to love and welcome God's four-legged critters with gracious warmth and good humor (even if I'm not one of them).

I'm thankful that sometime a church renovation project really is a church renovation project.

And even though it's hard to see the good in this, I'm thankful for the reminder that the things we value on Earth are so fleeting and that it is life that is far more precious than possessions; I'm also thankful for the chance to come together as God's family in fervent and heartfelt prayer for those who are suffering so much loss.

One more thing I'm thankful for: you! When I started writing this blog back in January I wondered if anyone outside a family member or two would ever read it. I'm grateful to have so many intelligent and thoughtful readers who check in each week, motivating me to write every day!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Paradox of American Prosperity

Recently I participated in a blog discussion about the phenomenon of people marrying and beginning their families later and later. There was some support among the posters for the notion that this wasn't ideal, and that we would be wiser to encourage our children not to delay beginning a marriage vocation in order to meet educational, career and economic goals (presuming the child has already met and become engaged to the person he/she feels called to marry; otherwise all such discussions are moot). But others pointed out the reality for many young people in America today, that in order to get a decent job it may be necessary to go to college for at least a while, that paying for college often requires incurring a significant amount of debt, and that the repayment of this debt will necessitate a good job with a good salary, all of which may make it difficult or impossible for a young man and woman to begin a marriage and a family at a young age.

One person, posting from somewhere in Europe, commented a bit sarcastically at this point that America is the richest country in the world, so it's pretty surprising that our children would have to delay marriage until they could "afford" it. From her perspective, I suppose the whole conversation seemed ridiculous. After all, everyone knows that all Americans are rich, with luxuries beyond the imagining of most of the world's people. So if our kids can't afford to marry young, it must be because we're too selfish to pay their way or too insistent that they achieve a certain standard of living before tying the knot, right?

Of course, those of us who actually live here could point out why that's not really accurate. Texas, for instance, has a lot of millionaires, but that doesn't mean that all Texans are extremely rich people. The fact that America is known as the land of the super rich and super famous doesn't mean that all Americans have access to that kind of wealth or power, and to say, as some people do, that there aren't really any poor people in America is to overlook surprising large pockets of the poor.

But there's something else that could be said, here. The fact of the matter is that within a couple of generations, the adoption of new technology proceeded at a rapid and sometimes disruptive pace. Items that used to be considered mere luxuries, toys for the wealthy, are now found in most homes; they cost a lot not only initially but for as long as we own them, and when they no longer function as they ought, we replace them. Whether we actually want new iterations of these items doesn't matter; we have to have them, to carry on our lives in any kind of meaningful or coherent way; but it wasn't that long ago in our country that most of these items simply couldn't be found in the average home.

I speak, of course, of such technological innovations as electricity, the telephone, the car, and the electric washing machine.

No, I'm not being facetious. It was only 99 years ago this month that Henry Ford started selling the Model T, the car that changed our way of life forever in this country. Ford himself saw the changes and didn't like all of them; he built a model rural village called Greenfield Village before he died. Electricity became part of our lives about twenty years before that, the telephone had over a hundred thousand owners and customers by the late 1880s (with more people jumping on the telephone bandwagon each year). And the electric washing machine began to be mass produced and sold in the early 1900s.

Why did I single out these four things as examples of how American technology has been the paradox of American prosperity, enriching the lives of countless people while at the same time creating burdens and challenges our ancestors never dreamed of handling?

The car is pretty obvious. Our society wouldn't continue to function without it, because America has never had the network of alternative transportation available in places like Europe. Some argue that it's simply the size of our country that makes such transportation solutions as rail, bus, trolley and the like inefficient; others point to the decline of the rural way of life as evidence that however well our country might once have done without the automobile we're inextricably committed to it now. But accepting the reality of the model of personal transportation means accepting that most families will have to own at least one car, which requires expensive, mainly foreign fuel, constant maintenance, insurance, and so on. As newer automotive technologies that increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions are put into place, there is a rise in pressure for people to avoid driving older vehicles, but to continue to make new vehicle purchase every one to five years; many cars don't last much longer than five years before they begin manifesting expensive and potentially dangerous problems. We have to have cars.

Electricity is woven so thoroughly into our lives that we can't imagine the damage that would be caused by removing it. Yet here, too, we are consuming a natural resource, mainly coal, and creating a situation where power will become more and more expensive as economic and social pressure to reduce usage increases. Alternate sources of electric power are being investigated, but people tend to fear nuclear power as a source of electricity, while solutions like wind farms and solar energy have problems of their own. As our use of electronics, our tendencies to heat and cool our homes year-round, and our demand for the constant availability of electric power continues to grow, we will have to confront these problems one of these days. We have to have electricity.

Telephones have become so important to us since their invention that we now carry our phones around with us, making and answering calls wherever our busy lives take us. No matter how much they cost, we are sure they are worth it, as we try to stay plugged in regardless of our need for peace. We have adopted cell phone technology so completely that our children will consider it a rite of passage to begin paying for their own phone plan, so they can call us from their dorm rooms and beg us for money to help with these and other bills. The early telephone may have cost Americans some peace and quiet, but our new phones may have a higher price tag. That link is to a picture of discarded cell phones: Americans throw away about one hundred million phones a year, and some five hundred million await disposal at the present time. Recycling efforts aren't keeping up with the problem, which is only going to get worse when you add other communication devices like pagers, text-message devices, and the like. We'll have to come up with a way to deal with all of this; we need our phones.

I used the washing machine as an example of household technology, the kind of innovation that made life so much more pleasant for the American woman than for so many of her counterparts around the globe. But really, you could look at any number of similar devices: dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, etc. Our foremothers adopted the use of these household aids gladly, as tools to ease the burden and drudgery of their days. All of them are not considered luxuries anymore, but necessities, something every well-equipped household has to have. But they can be expensive, despite the fact that many of them are made in hot dirty factories halfway around the world by people who are paid a dollar a day or so for their work; they don't last as long as they used to, either, and must be replaced far more frequently than our foremothers would have found acceptable. Our children may get to the point where they are purchasing at least one of these items on an annual basis, which is a problem, but what else should they do? We need our electric servants.

None of what I've written above should be construed as a call to abandon all of these technologies. When the pages of history have been written it can be impossible to turn them backward, and however honestly we may strive to simplify our lives it isn't really within the power of most of us to refuse to live in the twenty-first century or to accept and use its technological benefits. But we need to start being a little more honest with ourselves and each other about the cost of these things, especially now when a new wave of technological marvels is about to crest. We need to be careful before we adopt all manner of new gadgetry and begin to see it as something essential to our daily lives; because our children are watching, and learning, and may soon come to believe that these things are their birthright, something they must have and own from the beginning of their adult lives, instead of seeing them as things which, though nice to have, may be lived without, and purchased when they have actually been earned. Otherwise the paradox of American prosperity will continue, and in the richest country in the world our children will be paralyzed by the sheer amount of things they absolutely need to have.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jumping to Conclusions

Like many Catholics in America today I have my share of complaints about the state of liturgical life and worship.

Sometimes those complaints spill over into this blog, but then the situation on the ground changes, and I find myself needing to apologize for hasty conclusions and a dash of impatience.

For instance, I've been grumbling a bit about our associate pastor, who ad-libs and skips the Creed. The ad-libbing continues somewhat, but it seems to be diminishing, while the Creed-skipping has all the signs of being the forgetful habit of a priest who says the daily Mass so often that he forgets to say the Creed on Sundays. How do I know? Well, for one thing, he did say the Creed yesterday; for another, he almost skipped the Gloria (but we have a sharp and attentive choir director who launched into it anyway). When the music started up Father looked first startled, and then a little embarrassed, so I suspect this may have happened to him before. But I do know that he loves daily Mass, celebrates it with enthusiasm, and talks about adding an evening Mass or two to the weekly schedule to allow more people the opportunity to attend--so the charitable conclusion that he's used to the structure of the daily Mass and thus forgets the additional elements on Sunday morning is looking more and more like the correct one, especially since Father hasn't been a priest all that long (he was a married man for forty-five years and entered the seminary after the death of his wife).

So, I apologize for hasty and premature complaints about our associate pastor. He's still settling in at our parish and it was wrong of me to jump to quick and unfounded conclusions; wrong, but perhaps understandable, given what we Catholics in America have been putting up with for the last four decades or so.

The truth of the matter is that it's easy to assume that a priest who forgets parts of the Mass or seems careless is acting deliberately, out of the same sort of liberal agenda that motivates the Richard Voskos of the world--an agenda that seeks to re-create the Church in some totally new image, deliberately severing our prayers, practices, art, music, and architecture from the rich heritage of the past. Unfortunately this has been a part of our experience in the recent decades. To use language the other side likes to employ, it's part of a journey we share, a path we've all trod together--or, in other, more concrete words, many of us have encountered minor heretics in positions of authority in our parishes and dioceses, and have come to expect that certain types of liturgical behavior are linked to deliberate heterodoxy in theological opinion.

But that's no longer true; plenty of people who have remedied their own deficient education in Catholic catechesis are still catching up on Catholic liturgical matters. Plenty of sound, orthodox Catholics love On Eagle's Wings; and if they don't exactly love the church in the round they attend, it's hard to hate the place where you were married or where your children were baptized, or to hold in your heart of hearts the desire for it to be razed to the ground and replaced with an actual Catholic church. People who pray the rosary daily are glad to volunteer to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion; people who draw clear lines between the priesthood of the faithful and the ordained priesthood might not see, or agree, that female altar servers can blur that line. The young female cantor who warbles a psalm as if it were a Broadway show tune may be quietly visiting orthodox convents to discern her vocation, and the priest who skips the Creed and adds unnecessary verbiage to the prayers at Mass can give a powerful and meaningful homily about the absolute necessity to cultivate a habit of daily prayer, complete with concrete examples like saying one's morning offering when one's eyes open, asking the Lord to set our feet in the right path when we set them on the floor, and praying the rosary in the car during our commute instead of indulging in less necessary and less charitable speech directed at the traffic around us.

It's not really possible, any more, to tell whether a person is a serious Catholic or not by the clues we've used for the last several decades. The most divisive element of all, most unfortunately, has been the Mass, but there are indications that that situation is going to change--slowly, gradually, perhaps, but it will change. The long time of upheaval is nearing its end, and it may be possible, one day in the near future, to speak of "Catholics" without needing all those qualifiers.

For that to happen, though, we all need to participate--and for me, that means not assuming the worst every time something happens at Mass that is not to my liking. A serious and deliberate abuse would be one thing, but unless I were to attend the parish in our diocese most known for its heterodoxy it is unlikely that I would witness such a thing. It may be hard to get into the habit of remaining calm and charitable when an occasional irregularity occurs, but if I am learning anything at all, it is that it is much better to act, when necessary, with caution and patience, than it is to risk spiritual injury to myself by the opposite habit of uncharitably jumping to conclusions.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Without Her Diadem

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,

A travelling flake of snow

Across a barn or through a rut

Debates if it will go.


A narrow wind complains all day

How some one treated him;

Nature, like us, is sometimes caught

Without her diadem.
Emily Dickinson

It's amazing how easy it is for us to believe in our own goodness. It's equally amazing how easy it is for us to believe the worst of our fellow men. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is how hard it is for us to accept those of our own worst impulses, motivations, tendencies, habits, and the like that are so readily apparent to those around us, especially those we love most.

The poem above by Emily Dickinson is, to me, a subtle look at both this problem and its solution. The first six lines describe one of those nasty winter days that can't make up its mind to be winter at all, but are fully prepared to wreak a particularly vicious sort of cold dry misery in place of the honest bluster of a whirling snowstorm or the majestic clear iciness of a bright December day. The last two lines contain the observation that Nature, just like us, has days when the crown of greatness slips from her high pale forehead, showing her to be no less subject to the temptation to be small, mean, petty, violent, cruel, vindictive and rotten than we are.

Of course, there's a bit of irony there. Nature, as forces go, is generally a greater force than the greatest human beings who have ever lived. Nature has rained on Napoleon and Victoria, thundered over the thrones of kings and princes, snowed on cardinals and bishops, and subjected every legend of myth, story, or sports to days that were uncomfortably hot or uncomfortably cold. Even in our era whimsical weather can wreak havoc on a Pope's attire and pour down on the hopes of a long-forgotten (we wish) presidential candidate.

But in one sense, the comparison is a very apt one. Nature, like us, is flawed, and has been since the Fall of Man. The creatures who were to be our friends and companions became our adversaries, the sun that shone on Eden no longer provided a stream of always-gentle warmth, the rains that watered the earth could still sometimes be refreshing--or they could form a flood of wrath, and nothing of what was created retained its true character, unstained, untainted.

Just as the aspect of nature Emily Dickinson describes shows a face that is low, mean, narrow, and complaining, so, sometimes, do we. We are not the wise and gentle people we were destined from all eternity to be; only a handful of people on this earth have ever attained enough of that destiny to show us what might have been, and only one, "our tainted nature's solitary boast," can illustrate to us not only how we should have been, but how we may become, when the heavens and the earth are no more, if we can persevere in this life and join her amid the courts of heaven.

But it is amazing, as I said above, how often we can wear that low, mean, narrow, complaining face and not see it on ourselves, not if we were surrounded by endless walls of shining mirrors, or encircled by a silver sphere whose polished surface gave us nowhere to hide. We are the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven; but we let fall the diadem of grace so frequently that we might as well realize that seldom do we present ourselves in the benignant and royal vesture which should have been our birthright. Only one of us, in all of creation, was never seen without her diadem.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thinking Poorly of Women

I've been very surprised by the number of views this post I wrote back in August continues to get.

I had no idea the topic of wifely submission was such a hot topic in the Christian and Catholic worlds, but apparently, it is, as are such related topics as the proper role of women and whether or not women can do such daringly unfeminine things as teach outside of their homes or be declared Doctors of the Church.

And here I thought the most controversial issue plaguing traditionally-minded women was whether or not they might occasionally wear slacks.

The idea that the Church herself, in her institutions, moral codes, practices, and the like is misogynistic is an oft-repeated, but easily dismissed, slur against her. Christianity, in general, has raised and protected the dignity of women far more than it ever was in the ancient world; the Catholic Church's teachings on sexual morality, abortion, contraception and the like contain a great deal of respect for the integrity of a woman's physical nature, and those who continue to believe that the Church's prohibition on women's ordination is motivated in any way by some kind of unjust prejudice against women haven't been paying attention to the crux of the matter.

However, it is depressingly true that there exists a certain type of male who is, at a deep interior level, perfectly convinced that males are superior to females in some intrinsic and important way, and that, further, this superiority is a gift from God to be cherished and protected at all costs. It is further true, equally depressingly, that these males can be found in nearly every church, and that the Catholic Church has her share of them.

Men and women are, certainly, different. It is not misogynistic to point out those differences, to be honest about them, to discuss the suitability for the average man or woman of some particular career based on these differences, while recognizing that exceptions may exist among either gender. It is not a terribly good idea to get into the habit of generalizing about either gender because of these general differences, though; the man who proclaims loudly that all women do poorly at math or science may find himself talking to a group of female astrophysicists, while the woman who laments all men's inability to be caring or sensitive may meet a man who runs a group home for troubled adolescents. Our general differences don't define us, however useful they may be for the purpose of general discussion.

But the misogynistic believer does more than merely generalize about women; he truly believes that women were created by God as a kind of inferior afterthought, that, based on some loose proof-texting of both the Old and New Testaments he can illustrate that God thinks very poorly of women, which justifies him in thinking poorly of them, as well.

What, exactly, do I mean by "thinking poorly" of women?

I should say at the outset that this does not mean celebrating and encouraging women who adopt traditional roles, who embrace the vocation of Christian wife hood and Christian motherhood wholeheartedly and generously, who are willing to lay aside their own plans for the sake of raising and nurturing the children of the marriage for however long this loving service is needed. Men who celebrate and encourage this are to be commended, especially when they are willing to accept the occasional sacrifices and hardships that will come about because they, along with their wives, have chosen this life with all it entails; for example, accepting a single income in an age of double salaries, or understanding the necessity for him to work very long hours or to take a job not perfectly to his liking for the sake of his family's needs. A marriage like this is a partnership, where each sacrifices for the good of all--such families often find themselves growing in grace and perfecting their love for each other.

But there are men who do think poorly of women, and worse, who think that God approves of this. Such a man may belittle his wife in front of the children with the mistaken idea that this will teach them to respect his role as head of the family; it usually has the effect of making the children, especially the boys, despise their mother, and refuse to submit to her authority when their father is not around. Such a man may treat his wife like a dependent (for more than income tax purposes) by doling out, grudgingly, the money she needs to purchase groceries and other supplies, and by demanding an accounting of all of her expenditures, as if she is a careless child who can't be trusted to bring him all of the change. Such a man may consider himself the sole arbiter of how his wife should dress, what she should (ideally) weigh, what sort of women she should befriend, how much time she is allowed to spend in pursuit of these friendships, even how much time she should be permitted to speak to friends or relatives on the phone, or to participate in conversations on the Internet.

In addition to all of these expectations, the man who thinks poorly of women will have whole lists, albeit unwritten, of demands. His meals should be ready promptly and should please him; he will frown, if they don't, and make cutting comments about his wife's cooking skills. His clothes should be laundered and ironed whenever he expects them to be; nothing pleases him more than the sight of his wife dutifully ironing his clothes after the children are in bed, and while he is relaxing in front of the television after his hard day's work. His children should have all their needs met: food, clothing, regular baths, etc.--but any request on the part of his wife for him to help with any of this is proof of her total lack of time management skills, with which he is perfectly ready to help her (if a lecture and the creation of a spreadsheet broken into half-hour intervals is any help). If she is homeschooling the children he will administer surprise "quizzes" to them and be dissatisfied with wrong answers, which reflect poorly on his wife's teaching skills.

He expects his wife to be a saint, a model educator, a flawless housekeeper and launderer, a talented cook, a tireless mother to the children, a perfect (mostly silent) companion, and...well, some things are private, so we'll leave it at that. But he truly believes that all of these things are his right, something which she owes to him, something which is his due not only because he is her husband, but because she is a woman, and therefore valueless unless she can daily prove her worth by being all of these things and more.

And what does he owe her? The thought doesn't cross his mind, at least not often, but if it did he'd say that he puts food on the table, a roof over her head, and didn't get too angry the last time she spent money on clothes without clearing it with him first. What more does she expect? After all, she's only a ...

Though some men may fall into this pattern, a Catholic man has fewer excuses than anybody to treat his wife in this way. He has the example of Jesus, the perfect Spouse, Who died on the Cross for His Bride, the Church. God does not think poorly of women; He died for us, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Nine

Today's Potluck post is less of a potluck and more of an actual stew. No, really; these are the kinds of things I end up stewing about.

First up is Jimmy Akin's call to Rome to weigh in definitively on the Canon 915 controversy. I agree with Mr. Akin; I would say that this is long overdue, except that I've heard lots of good jokes about the glacial speed with which the Vatican generally moves. In a time period where abuses of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament abound, though, it seems like it would be a no-brainer for our bishops to forbid people who reject the Church's teaching against the slaughter of pre-born humans, and in fact vote for the continuation, funding, etc. of that slaughter, to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion absent evidence of true repentance. But then, I would have thought it equally a no-brainer to deny communion to men who dress up as fake women religious on the grounds that such blatant mockery of the Church doesn't exactly auger the proper disposition for the reception of the sacrament.

Next, Creative Minority Report has this almost-funny list of the way that scientists attempt to explain the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. Well, okay, the actual list is quite funny; it's the attitude of certain types of scientists that rational materialism can explain everything that gets me riled. Guess what, scientists? You can't prove a negative, which means that you can't prove that miracles don't happen, no matter how hard you try with your silly debunking efforts.

Matt C. Abbott has this piece about two priests with two very different views on the motu proprio. I can't understand why the first priest mentioned is even a priest, if he has such a negative view of the Church: Latin kept people from encountering the Gospel? Really??

Finally, few things cause me such negative emotions as stories like this, about a middle school in Maine's plan to go the extra mile and add birth control prescriptions to the condoms they already hand out--to middle schoolers. Ages 11-13. I'm with Regular Guy on this: not my kids.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Clarity

Hopefully, this post will fit the phrase "Better late than never."

I'm late writing today because we had several errands to run this afternoon, including a follow-up appointment for my DH at the ophthalmologist's office where he had minor eye surgery last week, and then a trip to the optometrist's office to pick up the glasses ordered for our youngest DD after our recent family vision checkup.

Both my oldest and youngest daughters now wear glasses, though our middle DD has been told she probably won't need glasses except possibly for driving when she's much older. I'm a little proactive when it comes to correcting vision, prompted by my own very much remembered experience with my first pair of glasses.

Like many children, I had no idea I was nearsighted--and neither did my parents--until the day I came home from school with a note that explained that I had failed the school's vision screening test, and that my parents should follow up with an eye doctor. Being the sort of child who hated to fail a test of any kind, I was disturbed and dismayed by the news, and even more dismayed when the eye doctor my parents promptly consulted confirmed the school's diagnosis, and recommended glasses to correct my vision.

Resigned to the whole thing, however, I picked out a pair of frames, and went back a week or so later to get the glasses. When I put them on for the first time, something remarkable happened: outlines became clear, treetops became individual leafy branches instead of vague green blurs, and I finally understood why my mother referred to the wallpaper she wanted to replace in our dining room as "Frogman Paper"--because what I'd seen as fuzzy grayish blotches were actually clusters of white flowers and leaves that, when viewed from a distance, looked uncannily like men in scuba diving gear.

My whole world snapped into focus. I spent weeks lifting the glasses up and down, continually amazed by all of the details I had been overlooking, or completely missing, due to what at the time was a relatively minor level of myopia. Any negative opinions I had had before about wearing glasses completely vanished as I realized how well I could see with them, and how much I had been missing without them.

So, as the two daughters who have needed glasses (so far) have reached the point where the eye doctor has begun to recommend them, I've gladly accepted that recommendation. It is so important to be able to see clearly, to be able to focus, to see what is really there, not what we assume is there because we've never seen the outlines.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Most of us have grown up in a world that likes to blur the outlines, to pretend that reality exists as overlapping shades of gray, that there is no black or white, no truth other than what the individual perceives to be true, no absolute values, but only situational ethics. In a word, we've grown up in a world that likes to believe that relativism is reality, and that the feelings of each person are the only valid measure of what is, and what is not.

Relativism is a very distorted sort of vision; it is an "I-sight" vastly in need of correction. Just as trees never had fuzzy greenish blurs at their tops despite my honest perception that this was the case, so too is it possible for someone's own experiences and feelings about a particular matter to be entirely wrong. There is no such thing as "what's true for me;" there is only Truth, and everything that deviates from that Truth will be either innocently erroneous or a guilty lie.

In politics, in religion, in public life in general, we are always dismissing the notion of truth as something which is entirely irrelevant to the lived experiences of individual human beings. But this is a terribly deficient way to look at the world, as though we were to tell all of the nearsighted people that their nearsighted vision was merely a valid alternative eye-style, and that the blurs and vague outlines they saw were an important and "affirming" part of who they really are. But not only would this be a lie; it would be a dangerous one, one which might cause physical, mental, and emotional harm to those who couldn't really see.

When we pretend that people can violate the truths written on the hearts of all men without suffering any consequences, we are not doing them any favors. Though some might pretend that this is the only kind way to act, it is not kind at all; it is diabolically cruel. It is as cruel as pretending that nearsightedness or farsightedness or any other vision problem was not a problem at all, but a "special gift" worth celebrating; something that not only should not be corrected, but something for which any suggestion of correction was proof positive that the person making the suggestion was merely bigoted against those whose eyes are different from the accepted norms of visual acuity.

Seeing my youngest daughter's delight in her new glasses and the new, clear perspective on the world around her they are affording her, I can't help but be glad that we don't think of visual deficiencies in this way. We shouldn't think of spiritual ones this way, either, not if we claim to be followers of Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No matter how much those who are mired in destructive ways of living might claim to be perfectly happy, we should remember that they are as mistaken as the nearsighted person who claims to see perfectly without his glasses. It is not our job to affirm them in their errors, but to offer, with patient kindness, the clarity of truth.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Day of Rest

Not long ago, I took part in an online discussion about the problem of Sunday shopping.

Most serious Catholics, and indeed most serious Christians, have problems in theory with the idea of shopping and running errands on Sunday. Such baldly commercial use of Sunday doesn't seem to fit well with the notion that Sunday should be a day of rest from labor, a day set apart for worship (primarily at Sunday Mass), family togetherness, community outreach, and engaging in activities centered around the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.

Yet despite our affirmation of the notion that excessive shopping on Sunday is ordinarily a thing to avoid, many of us have found ourselves needing to run at least some small errands on the Lord's day. There is the family whose single car is in use by Dad all week; there is the family who lives an hour from the nearest town and only travels to town for church on Sunday; there is the family whose members must often work on Saturday, or who are unexpectedly called in to work on a Saturday morning at least a few times a year. There is the mother who has been tending sick children all week, who dashes out to the store on Sunday afternoon because the poor ill little ones are finally well enough for her to leave them for an hour or so; there is the family whose children participate in sports, which are scheduled all weekend long all over town.

My family does tend to run some errands on Sundays. One of the reasons for this is that both the Sam's Club and the Costco nearest to us are a lot closer to our parish church than they are to our house. When gas prices first started to surge, we discovered that we couldn't really afford to make that trip three times a week (once for choir practice, once for Mass, and an additional time for shopping). I ended up with a compromise: when I need to do the "big" warehouse store shopping trip, we generally go on a Saturday, or even a Friday night--but we only do this once a month or so. If we need to stop at the warehouse for minor things (I buy my contact lenses there, for instance) we stop in after Mass on Sunday. In this way we can avoid draining our gas tank while doing the most "servile" of the shopping trips on a day other than Sunday.

Many families have made these compromises, trying to keep Sunday holy while avoiding an overly Pharisaical interpretation of the commandment, recalling Jesus' reassurance that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The present reality of our lives in America in the twenty-first century sometimes makes the "work" of shopping a necessity, even on a Sunday. While I agree that there is much that can be done to restore to Sunday something of the character of a day of rest, I also think that sometimes our laments about the complexity of our lives in this day and age are based on a certain forgetfulness of the reality, and complexity, of the lives of Catholics of the past.

My grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother and so on might never have needed to shop on a Sunday; indeed, if they desperately needed something that day they would probably have had to beg a neighbor to let them borrow whatever item they lacked, as stores were closed as a matter of course. They did view Sunday as a day of rest, and carefully avoided doing any excessive number of chores, or any work that wasn't strictly necessary. But did that mean that their Sundays were far more restful than mine?

Picture a Catholic woman seventy or eighty years ago. She is the mother of a growing family; she may live in town, or she may--more likely--live on a farm. If she lives in town, within walking distance of a Catholic church, her Sunday begins very, very early. In order to attend Mass, she slips out of the house not long after dawn, and attends the earliest Mass scheduled--a low Mass, with no music, that will be over in half an hour or so. She does this so that the baby can remain at home; the practice of taking the smallest infants to Mass is a relatively recent one. Depending on how far she has walked, and how early the Mass began, she may be home by six-thirty a.m.

While the rest of the family (except baby) dresses for whatever Mass the school children are required to attend (Catholic school children attend Mass with their classmates, under the watchful eyes of the nuns who teach them; they do not sit with their families at church) Mother takes care of the baby, and then begins to prepare the substantial breakfast that Father and the children, who have been fasting from midnight on, will be expecting once they return. There are no convenience foods, no microwaves, no shortcuts. The one item that may already be prepared will be the special bread Mother made yesterday when she did the week's baking, but other than that, she is cooking a pretty full meal.

Once the family has returned home and consumed this meal, Mother, along with any daughters old enough to help, will clean up the table, the dishes, and the kitchen. The younger children will play; Father might read the paper; and Mother, too, will get some time to relax...until it's time to begin the preparations necessary for the much anticipated Sunday dinner.

For the mother who lives on a farm, this process will be similar. She may attend Mass with the family if Baby is old enough; but she will be up just as early, if not earlier, to do her share of the essential chores, which must be done whether it is Sunday or not. Her husband will also put in what to most of us today would seem like a full day's work before leaving for Mass--and there will be another round of chores in the evening, too.

Neither the first mother's attentions to her family, or the second mother's attention to the chores that keep a farm running, in any way violated the commandment to keep Sunday holy; what must be done of necessity or what charity prompts us to do may be done without breaking the Sabbath. Compared to what women of the past had to do simply to meet the needs of their families and their state in life, most of us enjoy amounts of leisure on a Sunday that are unprecedented. While we must avoid the toxic materialism of our culture as much on Sunday as we ought to do every day of the week, there is no doubt that taking care of a necessary errand or two doesn't break the commandment to keep Sunday holy any more than the hours of work our female ancestors had to do on that day did.

Of course, if it could be proved that if serious Christians didn't shop on Sunday all the stores would be able to close that day, the question might be a different one; unfortunately, I think that even if all serious Christians were to boycott Sunday shopping as a matter of principle the stores would hardly even notice, in a nation where shopping is as much a pastime as a necessity.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Archbishop and the Pseudonuns

The Catholic blogosphere has been roiling these last few days with the story of what happened recently in San Francisco.

It should be noted that Archbishop Niederauer has apologized; but since Bill O'Reilly plans to discuss the matter on his program tonight it would seem that this is not necessarily the end of the story.

Nor should it be.

This is not an incident where two people sneaked quietly into church wearing some tiny button indicating their association with some dissident group, who were given communion all but inadvertently by a prelate who overlooked this small badge of dishonor. This is an incident where two men, dressed as nuns, with white painted faces, exaggerated makeup, and garlands of flowers, marched up during Communion and demanded the Sacrament--and were allowed to receive.

I have seen priests refuse people Holy Communion before, and you might have, too (especially if your dad, like mine when I was young, thought the first or second bench from the front was an ideal place to seat your brood, which caused my mother's occasional consternation when the discreet removal of an unruly toddler was difficult from so public a place). If a priest suspects that a person may not actually be Catholic, for instance, because he reaches the front of the line and doesn't appear to know what to do when the Body of Christ is proffered, the priest will quietly bestow a blessing, perhaps giving a quick word of explanation or reassurance, and send the person on his way. If you're not sitting in the front row, chances are you'll miss the whole thing.

So if two or three men in drag, costumed as nuns, appear before you, chances are good that you're going to react in much the same way as you would to someone else who clearly should not receive Holy Communion. It appears from some of the videos circulating about this incident that this is exactly what Archbishop Niederauer attempted to do! Notice how he tries to give the first "sister" a blessing, only to have the "sister" bend forward and appear to request Communion. Bear in mind that the gentleman in question has a large mustache; it is clearly a man dressed as a woman religious who is attempting to receive; further, this parish is located in the infamous Castro district, known as a gay center for many years.

Which is why it is troubling that the Archbishop's first statement on the matter attempted to deny that he had even noticed much about these two "strangely-dressed persons" who came forward to receive; he noticed, and immediately responded to them with the intention of denying them Communion. Only on the apparent insistence of the first "sister" did the Archbishop distribute communion, a fact that was highlighted here by the talented American Papist two days ago.

Some commenters on the Internet are saying, well, okay, but the Archbishop has apologized, now, and it's uncharitable not to take him at his word, or to impute bad motives to him on this matter. It would be uncharitable to attempt to read the Archbishop's heart, or to judge him guilty of graver things without any evidence of them, but it is not uncharitable to say that this situation appears to be a matter, first, of gross negligence, and second, of knee-jerk episcopal denial mode, a mode we're supposed to believe no longer exists.

In all justice, it must be said that the gross negligence may not be on the part of the Archbishop himself. He may not have been aware of just who these people were; after all, in his previous job as bishop of Salt Lake City the only strange garments highly prevalent in the region would be the secret Mormon underwear, which of necessity would only interest Mormon bishops. But someone at the chancery should have realized that at some point in his parish visits the archbishop might encounter some of these pseudonuns, and this person or persons should have tried to prepare his excellency for the encounter. Leaving such a politically-fraught situation wholly to chance was clearly a deficiency on someone's part, and that person should probably be demoted from his or her current rank at the chancery to a position writing this section of the archdiocesan newspaper.

But though the negligence may have been someone else's fault, the near-instant denial of the incident was the archbishop's own decision. As much as we might like to overlook that, I don't think we can afford to, given the huge role knee-jerk episcopal denial syndrome played in the recent Scandal. If the incident involving the "sisters" hadn't been videotaped, the whole thing would have boiled down to the archbishop's word against the words of anyone who witnessed this scene--and the pressure would have been heavy on faithful Catholics to believe the archbishop, who surely wouldn't bend the truth over a matter so small.

After all, there isn't one of us who wouldn't feel some sympathy for Archbishop Niederauer had he said, "Look, I tried to get away with just a blessing, but the big guy leaned forward and told me I'd better give him Communion. I could see that there were more of them and was afraid they'd get violent, so for the safety of the other people there and the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament I was still holding I gave them Communion--but I spoke to the ushers about what they need to do in the future if these goons show up." There isn't one of us who would judge him too harshly for making a quick decision that turned out to be imprudent--I'm certainly not about to cast that stone, and I don't know anyone else who would. But the problem is that that isn't what the archbishop said:

"At Most Holy Redeemer Church Oct. 7, I noticed no protest, no demonstration, no disruption of the Sunday Eucharist," said Archbishop Nierderauer. "The congregation was devout and the liturgy was celebrated with reverence. Toward the end of the Communion line two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion. I did not see any mock religious garb. As I recall, one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland." (First statement)

"At Communion time, toward the end of the line, two strangely dressed persons came to receive Communion. As I recall one of them wore a large flowered hat or garland. I did not recognize either of them as wearing mock religious garb." (Current apology)

Both statements stick to the idea that the archbishop simply had no idea who these people were--which means that someone at the chancery has failed to do his job.

Or does it?

Again, from the current apology: "Although I had often seen photographs of members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, I had never encountered them in person until October 7th. I did not recognize who these people were when they approached me." (Emphasis added by R.C.)

So the archbishop knew about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, he had seen photographs (in which they often wear religious garb and white, mime-like makeup; I'd link to a Google Image search but you'd probably throw up after a picture or two, believe me) but he had NO IDEA that a MUSTACHE-wearing MAN with white makeup and a nun's habit was, just possibly, a member of that group?

As I see it, there are only two possibilities: one, that the archbishop is being less than truthful about this, or two, that he is suffering from a terrible vision problem.

Let's all pray for the archbishop's eyesight, shall we?

Words of Thanks--Prayer Update

Earlier today I received an email from Mr. John Jensen, who had requested prayers for his daughter and her unborn child, who might be at risk for Tay-Sachs. As of this writing it looks as though the child's father is not likely to be a carrier! Please continue to pray!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Starring...Mom

Americans have a tremendous capacity to absorb and reflect celebrity gossip.

Consider how the life of a young and dysfunctional mother, and her loss of her children in a custody battle, generated more news coverage than any of the presidential debates has so far managed to garner, and you can see the truth of what I just wrote above. Mind, I'm not saying it's a bad thing that the press hasn't so far paid more attention to a handful of lackluster candidates in what is shaping up to be the least interesting election since 1888. But it's not really a good thing that so many Americans know more about what their favorite star eats for breakfast than they do about the issue of genetically modified food, or that many Americans would find it easier to name the stars of every C.S.I. iteration than even one member of the President's Cabinet.

The allure of celebrity has been with us for a long time, of course. But in our twenty-four hour news saturated lives, with constant access to the least and most trivial data about any celebrity we might admire, we have the ability to know so much more about our stars than previous generations might have known about stars of the Golden Age during their lifetimes; they were bigger than life when they lit up the silver screen, but I think they also knew there was a line between the fans' wide-eyed fascination, and the fixed stare of a crowd who is just as excited to see you suffer as to share vicariously in your success.

Unfortunately, all this attention we pay to celebrities has a way of distorting our view of the world. We can find ourselves in the position where relatively minor claims to fame become riveting and fascinating; we can discover in our souls the very shallow ability to attach ourselves to people based more on their "celebrity status" than on any actual connection we might have to them; worst of all, we can start seeing this celebrity status as something desirable, something worth striving for and achieving, something worth cultivating.

It's human nature, I think, to feel a slightly idiotic thrill when you discover that some unknown person you've been chatting amicably enough with on a forum or blog is actually someone you've heard of, quite outside of the Internet: maybe she's written a wonderful book on homeschooling, or maybe he writes for a major-market newspaper, or maybe you attended a religious conference at which he or she was a keynote speaker. It's wonderful to encounter such a person, especially if they've paid you a compliment on your own blog or about your own comment; it's perfectly natural and human to feel pleased and flattered on such an occasion.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a position of getting to know one of these minor celebrities quite well, of moving beyond that "Wow!" moment to a place where we make a connection, find common ground, and even become friends, to the extent that that is possible on the Internet or over the phone. That's quite nice; but it's also quite rare. I tend to think that such a friendship imposes rather heavy duties on the non-celebrity in terms of respecting boundaries and privacy to whatever extent is necessary; a true friend doesn't ever make public what is shared privately without permission, anyway, but that issue is even more sensitive if one of the friends has even a slight level of fame.

But sometimes, if we're truly honest with ourselves, we'll discover that we're prone to exaggerating our connection to minor--or even major--celebrities, people we don't necessarily even care much about as human beings, in order to bask in their reflected glory, or to achieve some level of fame ourselves. Or worse, we'll set ourselves up as rivals to these people, sure that our own ideas, writings, talents etc. are as good or better than what these "celebrities" have to offer, certain that we, too, can achieve fame, that fame is something we should want and that we deserve to get.

Pride is the deadliest of sins, and thus it is the devil's favorite weapon to use against us. Our honest admiration of someone who has achieved something we might dream of doing ourselves can be turned in an instant into the bitter, destructive poison of an Iago. Blinded by our desire for recognition, thwarted by our inability to achieve that celebrity status, we might begin to lash out at those who have done what we wish to do, belittling them, tearing them down, muttering darkly about how we had the same idea for a book/movie/composition/award-winning cookie recipe etc. long before he or she did, and that, in fact, considering an e-mail we sent him or her several months ago which we've most unfortunately misplaced, we believe that he or she all but stole our idea.

If we go around convinced of this and willing to pour out our grievances to anyone who will listen to us, we'll get recognition, all right. We'll be recognized as the truly small people we actually are.

Fame isn't a sign of God's favor, and celebrities don't really live the lives of alternating glamor and controversy as portrayed in the gossip shows and magazines. As far as the minor celebrities we admire and sometimes encounter, they live lives entirely like yours and mine, except that once in a great while a total stranger will find out who they are and say a kind word or two about some accomplishment for which they are known. Craving that sort of attention as something good in and of itself is a sign, not that we're destined for greatness, but that either we need a few more kind people in our lives who are willing to give us those small measures of praise, or that we need to learn to be more willing to accept that sort of praise not from strangers, but from our own biggest fans--the ones we cook and clean and care for on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Eight

Welcome to another Potluck Wednesday!

We begin with news from the war front. Our embedded reporter, taking cover in a gym shoe bunker just out of sight from this picture, assures us that despite heavy losses the tan brigade has prevailed for the moment; but though the enemy has retreated to the rear of the closet it is feared that they will soon launch an attack using their secret weapon, known only as: the Superball.

From a different War on Closets comes this wonderful post by Alexandra, who answers all my questions about a wardrobe System--and then some! Alexandra's post is full of wonderful advice, but I especially appreciate the reminder to consider color when choosing clothes--too often I buy something I think is pretty that fits well, only to discover that it goes with absolutely nothing I actually own.

Need an easy dinner suggestion? At last count, this post at Danielle Bean's site had over 130 quick and easy dinner ideas! My favorite: "Toss a pound of bacon on the floor and stand back. The fastest meal ever." And no dishes! :)

Margaret in Minnesota is back from her blogging break, with news about an addition to the family--of the four-legged variety! Go here to read about how St. Therese and yellow roses helped make the decision to add a furry friend to the household.

Finally, if you haven't done so already, please consider voting for Thomas Peters, also know as American Papist, to win the 2007 Blogging Scholarship. He's the only Catholic blogger on the list, and I know he'd appreciate your support!

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Teaching the Lord His Own Business

My two older daughters have recently been reading an old favorite book of mine: Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard. I could probably write an entire post discussing the book, but that's not what I'm doing today.

At one point in the book the heroine, Kate, finds herself in a situation of extreme danger; she has essentially been kidnapped, and doesn't yet know what is in store for her. Her captors lead her to a dark room and leave her there for the night:

"Without a candle or a comb or proper nightgear or even a drop of water for washing--she did not dare to try to find the stream in the dark--there was very little she could do to get ready for bed, only say her prayers and slip out of her gown and her shoes. The gown she folded up and laid on the top of the chest, setting the shoes beside it. The prayer she hesitated over a little, and then fell back on the steadying familiarity of her ordinary evening paternoster. She hesitated again for a moment when she came to "Deliver us from evil," but decided in the end not to add anything more to that. "All you'll do nine times out of ten is start trying to teach the Lord His own business," was what her father had said to her once." ("The Perilous Gard," Elizabeth Marie Pope, Puffin Books, c. 1974, p.143.)

I love that last sentence. How many times, when we pray, do we do exactly that--try to teach the Lord His own business?

I can think of the times I've begun to request God's help with something or other, and find myself in the middle of tangled, convoluted sentences where I have done the following:

1. Attempted to explain the situation. To God. As if He doesn't already know exactly what is going on.

2. Attempted to excuse any culpability I have in the situation. Again, to God. As if He isn't even more aware than I am of what level of responsibility, if any, I bear in any given circumstance.

3. Attempted to magnify the culpability of others involved in the situation. "Lord, I know I lost my temper, but surely You know what she's like by now? How do You put up with her, Lord?" Forgetting, of course, that He has to do something much more difficult; He has to put up with me!

4. Worst of all, perhaps, attempted to advise the Lord on what sort of action He ought to take to resolve the problem. In my favor, of course, as if the other party or parties isn't praying just as fervently for me to be relocated to Siberia as I am praying for this sort of thing to happen to them.

God does want us to turn to Him in all of our difficulties. He knows our true needs before we do; He answers prayers we've never coherently expressed, almost before we're aware that we're going to need to ask for His help. He rushes to our aid like the Father that He is; He consoles us in sorrow, and gives us many opportunities for rejoicing with Him in His goodness to us.

But turning to Him in our real needs, and lecturing Him on how He ought to be running things generally, are two completely different things. Approaching Him humbly to ask Him to help us deal with someone with whom we're having problems, and marching into His presence to demand that He force the other person to behave, are, again, diametrically opposed to each other.

In one sense we post-Vatican II Catholics are at a loss, when it comes to addressing God properly, in a way that does not attempt to teach Him His business. The beautiful language of requesting, beseeching, begging was, for the most part, stripped from our prayers, and God is addressed at Mass as if He were the not altogether competent head of a liturgical committee. The verbs we use are mainly in the imperative case: Give us, Lord; Help us, Lord, Make us...Guide us...Direct us...and so on and so forth. The words of respect, humility, and patience, words which show that we are longing for His presence while being painfully aware of how unworthy we are to be in that Presence, the words which illustrate that we know that God is God, and we are completely incapable of teaching Him His business, are, for the most part, gone. Our words of prayer are as bare, ugly, and annoying as felt banners and schlocky music, which we also have in abundance.

The new translation of the Mass, which is in preparation, shows some promising signs of restoring some of that sense of majesty and proper order to the words with which we address our God. Perhaps when the translation is complete, and is implemented at the parish level, we ordinary Catholics won't have to fight so hard in our prayers to refrain from the temptation to teach God His own business.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Doctor Pry and Nurse Snoop

How would you feel if you took a child to the pediatrician's office, and the doctor, without your knowledge or consent, grilled your child about whether or not her parents drank, how often they did so, whether they used drugs or owned guns, and whether or not "Daddy" was molesting the child?

Michael Graham is pretty annoyed with his young teenage daughter's pediatrician for doing just that. But he's even more annoyed with the American Academy of Pediatrics for recommending that these sort of interrogations be done as part of a child's routine medical exam.

I'm not all that surprised, myself, given the AAP's views on abortion, contraception, homosexual parents, gay marriage, and the like, that the AAP would consider itself the medical wing of the nanny state, whose job it is to see parents as adversaries and to insist that adolescents have the "right to privacy" during their medical checkups. Not only does this "right to privacy" make it much easier for Billy and Sally to get contraception without telling Mom and Dad (those hopeless squares!)--it also makes it much easier for Doctor Pry and Nurse Snoop to find out if the parental units engage in such corrupting behavior as indulging in the occasional sip of wine. (And heaven help you if there are--gasp!--trans fats in your home!)

Of course, sane and rational people (the handful of us that are left, anyway) think it's much more corrupting to youth to encourage them to engage in mindless and meaningless sex while they are still in the braces and pimples stage, and that it is far more harmful both physically and morally for unmarried people to participate in the marriage act at all, than it is for children to see their parents have an occasional drink. In fact, the smirking doctor with the handful of sample condoms, or the leering nurse pushing pills of the birth control variety, both with the spoken or unspoken attitude that says, "Everyone else is doing it! And we know you can't control yourself!" are, quite possibly, the most deeply corrupting influence some children will ever encounter.

We can't really blame Doctor Pry and Nurse Snoop, though. They are the unfortunate by-products of a society gone mad, a world where parents are viewed with suspicion by the doctors who hand their children scorpions, in a manner of speaking. But as maddening as this all is, imagine how much worse things could get under government-run health care?

What if the doctors we saw were required by law to ask us, and our children, about all of these things, and more? What if it no longer mattered if you chose a family physician instead of a pediatrician, for instance? What if vitamins and other supplements that help people avoid too much contact with the medical community were suddenly restricted, available only with a prescription? What if the trust between doctors and patients were eroded even further than it is now, and you knew that whatever you told your doctor would end up in a government file that might be used against you at any time?

Things are bad enough with Doctor Pry and Nurse Snoop. Do we really want them to become federal agents, as well?

UPDATE 10/16: The original Boston Herald article has been archived, so the link above in the story will only take you to the page with a teaser and the information about the archive. This website contains a copy of the article at the present time, but I don't know how long it will be available.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Lesser of Two Handbaskets

The Catholic blogosphere was buzzing earlier this week about this post from The Anchoress, in which she raises concerns that some conservatives may split the GOP if Rudy Giuliani is the nominee, effectively dividing the Republican vote and permitting Hillary Clinton to breeze to an election victory that would cost conservatives more in the long run than a Giuliani administration would.

With all due respect to The Anchoress (and many sincere prayers for her health), I must agree with those who think she's wrong about this.

Frankly, I've come to suspect that the unofficial motto of both major parties is, "Yes, America is Going to Hell in a Handbasket--But Our Handbasket is Better for America's Defense, Will Cost You Less, And Is Fashioned From Environmentally-Friendly Twigs, While Their Handbasket Will Kill You, Or At Least Beat You Up And Steal Your Lunch Money."

This is not to say that the two parties are identical. Democrats, for the most part, exclude pro-life Americans, while Republicans merely treat them with disdain and contempt until just before each major election. Republicans favor preemptive war with any nation that has threateningly large amounts of oil, while Democrats would prefer to stick to their oddly successful tactic of sending Jimmy Carter around the world to become the focal point of the world's anger, taking the heat off of the rest of us. Democrats are in favor of gay marriage, while Republicans are in favor of not being asked questions about that issue, which they invariably answer with mumblings about civil unions that don't fool anybody. Republicans are in favor of closing our borders, unless doing so would adversely affect the bottom line of any of the ginormous corporations who have rewarded Republicans for their loyalty; Democrats are in favor of securing the border, so long as that translates to "making the border safer for future Democrat voters to sneak across."

Lots of important distinctions, as you can see.

The truth of the matter is that, as Pat Buchanan put it a long time ago, "Today, candor compels us to admit that our vaunted two-party system is a snare and a delusion, a fraud upon the nation. Our two parties have become nothing but two wings of the same bird of prey." And George Washington was even harsher, warning about the dangers of political parties:

"All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests."

It would not send America into a decline for Americans to rally around a third-party candidate in 2008. Indeed, if Rudy Giuliani really is the Republican nominee, many of us will find ourselves without a better option. But will a Republican slow our rate of societal decline?

Would it be better to vote for Giuliani anyway?

Here are some of the reasons why I think that it would not:

1. Putting a pro-abort Republican at the head of the Republican Party means jettisoning the pro-life plank once and for all. With Giuliani in office, the "pro-choice" wing of the GOP will be in charge, possibly permanently.

2. Trusting a thrice-married man who has openly supported partial birth abortion, "gay rights," and gun control to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court is almost the definition of folly.

3. Running Giuliani as the nominee might be more likely to split the Democratic vote, since Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are ideologically similar on many of the issues, than running a third-party candidate would be to split the Republican vote. Most conservative Republicans who might cast a vote for a third-party candidate have already decided not to vote for Giuliani.

4. Sometimes, even in politics, it is more important to do the right thing than the expedient thing. While in a race between two pro-abortion candidates it may be morally licit to vote for one of them on some other grounds, it is hard to see what those grounds would be for these two specific candidates. There is almost nothing good about their political positions, and there is no really compelling reason to support or vote for either of them.

For myself, I won't vote for Rudy Giuliani, should he become the Republican nominee--and I'm not going to vote for a Democrat, either, even if Hillary Clinton inexplicably fails to secure the nomination. If Giuliani is the Republican candidate for President in 2008, I might vote third-party, or write someone in, or even refrain from voting in the presidential race.

Whatever I do, I'm not going to fall for the old argument that claims that Catholics have a moral duty to vote for the lesser of two handbaskets.