Friday, November 28, 2008

This Busy Monster

When I read about the trampling death that took place at a Wal-Mart this morning, I remembered this poem:
pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

E. E. Cummings
I've always liked this particular Cummings poem; my sister read it to me a long time ago, and the cadence of it was interesting even though I hadn't thought to tease out the meaning of it then.

I know that people can argue a great deal about the meaning of poetry, and I don't claim to be able to prove what Cummings meant. But to me, the poem speaks of the tragedy of the materialist, who in his focused attempt to break the world into its components, to tame and control everything in it, and even, perhaps, to conquer the powers of life and death, fails to see how he is destroying everything that made his humanity something greater than its mere fleshiness, or his existence more meaningful than the existence of a merely material being. I think the progress that is a "comfortable disease" is a progress that kills the soul, and that at his most ironic point in the poem Cummings uses the phrase "fine specimen of hypermagical ultraomnipotence" to hint at what man is losing, in his quest to prove that he already knows, or soon will grasp, everything that can be known.

This morning at the local branch of a store which, despite the fact that like most Americans I patronize on occasion, I see as a hulking symptom of exactly what's wrong with us ("New Lower Price! Smiley Face! And you don't see the fifteen-year-old factory girls in China who are coughing blood from breathing all the toxic dust from the paint the FDA will tell you next year isn't safe!"), a man who had a temp job opened the door to a surging throng of desperately greedy people and was trampled to death as they raced to be one of the first to get a ticket or be in line for the Cheapest Gadgets Ever.

They didn't even stop when the paramedics got there--they just shoved past them and headed in to shop, shop, shop, already suffering serious withdrawal over the fact that they had to sit around shopless all day yesterday. A whole day, and if they had that twitch to go spend money all they could do was pop in at a handful of grocery or convenience stores that stayed open in case people ran out of poultry seasoning or lip balm or toilet paper--but other than that, no shopping, no real shopping, no shopping of the sort that counts, the sort when your credit card melts in your hands and you stagger home to announce, triumphantly, under a mound of trinkets and trash that you saved money, really, you did. So by five a.m. on Black Friday they were eager, restless, lining up in rows outside of department stores and discount stores and other stores, coupons in hand that promised a whole fifty dollars off of something they didn't need and couldn't really afford and shouldn't be wasting money on in the first place.

So when the poor temp worker opened the door, they crushed him in their hurry, hurry, hurry to win the prize and get the savings and bring home the loot. Because when you are only a material creature, it really is every man for himself; when all you are is a temporarily animated carcass, what does it matter if a man dies so that you can get an MP3 player? He would have died sooner or later, and your pleasure is the only good you know: it is the supreme value, and nothing ought to stand in the way of it.

After all, you have to spend a great deal of time not having any fun. You have to work and you have to shop and you have to eat and you have to wash clothes and do at least some cleaning; you have to pay bills and change the oil in your car and mow your lawn and on and on, boring things and dull things and things you'd rather not be doing. None of it makes any sense, and the only way you can blunt your sensibilities about it all is to buy things and have things and own things, good things that you like to have and that you like for others to know that you have whether you can really pay for them or not.

So on Black Friday you assemble outside the Temple of Materialism of your choice and prepare to worship your god, in blood sacrifice if necessary--because time is short, short, short, and the grave is looming and incoherent in the face of what you know, which is that this is all there is, and nothing, nothing lies beyond, not a pale gray nothing of unconsciousness, but a terrifying empty black cold nothing that even that MP3 player almost can't banish to the outer edges of your random thoughts.

Because even though you are a busy monster you still aren't busy enough to forget the ancient words which haunt your idle moments: remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

Until you crush a man to dust, and are still human enough to know regret, as some were. But the busiest of all don't even pause in their shopping to consider whether a man's life ought to be worth more than the golden allure of that rarest of all rare things, a sale, in the land of Everyday Low Prices.

Happy Wee Morning Hours After Thanksgiving!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

And because every day's a school day for homeschoolers:

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all! :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Every Year

Every year, I make a sweet-potato puff for Thanksgiving; it's a family favorite, the "it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it" side dish.

Every year, I follow the recipe with a few slight alterations (all cinnamon instead of part nutmeg, doubled, with marshmallows instead of the sugary praline topping). Every year I make it the day before because the need to boil the sweet potatoes ahead of time seems to make it easier to get it out of the way before the main cooking event.

Every year I carefully double the amount of butter and add it to the orange gloppy mixture whirling away in the mixer.

And every year I forget what happened the previous year, when the cold sticks of butter coat themselves with sweet potato and hit into the beater.

So every year I clean up random glops of orange sweet potato from my stove, my floor, my shirt...

...and think "Man, I forgot to melt the butter again."

Every single year.

At least my "company" are out shopping with my husband and daughters. Because every single year, I also forget that some of the marshmallows in the cabinet are supposed to be for Thanksgiving, and let the girls use them up in hot chocolate two weeks before.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Late Blogging, Again

One of the interesting things about having company is how completely the normal routine goes out the window. It's not that this is a bad thing, necessarily; but it does have some effects here and there, and for a newshound and small-time blogger like myself one of those effects tends to be that by the time I see a story and want to write about it, the clock is approaching midnight, which means that any detailed analysis is going to have to wait.

Take this story, for instance:
MIAMI (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ruled that a strict Florida law that blocks gay people from adopting children is unconstitutional, declaring there was no legal or scientific reason for sexual orientation alone to prohibit anyone from adopting.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state's arguments that there is "a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children."

She noted that gay people are allowed to be foster parents in Florida. "There is no rational basis to prohibit gay parents from adopting," she wrote in a 53-page ruling.

Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoption. Arkansas voters last month approved a measure similar to a law in Utah that bans any unmarried straight or gay couples from adopting or fostering children. Mississippi bans gay couples, but not single gays, from adopting.

Now, you know I've got things to say about that, right? But I'll have to get back to it next week.

Then there's this one:

John Paul II High School opened in Plano four years ago with high expectations.

The first Catholic high school north of Dallas hoped to tap into Collin County's booming Catholic population and expected to see a large enrollment.

But the projected students haven't arrived yet, and the school's finances remain out of the red only because 17 area parishes have provided aid.

"I think in the very beginning they had very generous projections of growth," said Sister Gloria Cain, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. "But they have a stable enrollment, and I think it takes a high school a little bit longer to get established."

School leaders initially projected the school would open its doors to 900 students. Instead, 316 students showed up.

Enrollment has grown to 637, but 900 is considered the number of students the school needs to no longer require parish aid. [...]

Mr. Poore said that eventually – though he won't estimate when – John Paul II will reach the enrollment it needs. Until then, he said, he keeps a close eye on expenses and is working on attracting more parents, despite the downturn in the economy. Tuition is $11,500 per year. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

Tuition at this high school costs more than my first or second year of college (though I think by the third year it was approaching that amount, and topped it by the fourth). Median income in Collin County was about $75,000 in 2004, meaning that a family with only two children in high school at the same time would only (sarcasm alert) spend about 30% of their annual income on tuition. Gee, I wonder why more Catholic families, especially those with four, five, six or more children, didn't jump at the chance to enroll their kids? Maybe we can look at this some more, next week.

Then there's this:

Traces of the industrial chemical melamine have been detected in samples of top-selling U.S. infant formula, but federal regulators insist the products are safe. The Food and Drug Administration said last month it was unable to identify any melamine exposure level as safe for infants, but a top official said it would be a "dangerous overreaction" for parents to stop feeding infant formula to babies who depend on it.

"The levels that we are detecting are extremely low," said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "They should not be changing the diet. If they've been feeding a particular product, they should continue to feed that product. That's in the best interest of the baby."

Melamine is the chemical found in Chinese infant formula — in far larger concentrations — that has been blamed for killing at least three babies and making at least 50,000 others ill.

Previously undisclosed tests, obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the FDA has detected melamine in a sample of one popular formula and the presence of cyanuric acid, a chemical relative of melamine, in the formula of a second manufacturer.

Separately, a third major formula maker told AP that in-house tests had detected trace levels of melamine in its infant formula.

Hey, I have an idea. Let's require the FDA officials, especially Dr. Stephen Sundlof, to consume the same exact proportion of melamine by weight as infants on a formula diet would consume in the course of a day. It's totally safe, right? So prove it. Eat up, gentlemen.

Yeah, I don't think they'd go for it either. I may not wait until next week to comment on this one, especially if this story gets half the attention it deserves.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving

I'm writing this late, I know; blogging will be somewhat light this week. But that's okay--you've got better things to do this week, too, than read the ramblings of a sleep-deprived redhead whose new favorite friend comes in this little box.

I want to thank everybody who made easy side-dish and other helpful suggestions for how to host Thanksgiving while recovering from an annoying winter cold. I decided to make my menu fairly simple, and had Kitten cook dinner tonight. She did an awesome job, making a chicken-spinach-rice casserole that involved a homemade white sauce, something she'd never made before, and all with only vocal direction from Mom. Okay, raspy; it would be a stretch just shy of a lie to say I've been "vocal" at all much since about last Thursday--but the point is that Kitten's casserole came out wonderfully well, so much so that my MIL enjoyed a second helping!

So my plan is to do a little bit of vegetable prep tomorrow, a little pre-cooking on Wednesday, and then the rest on Thursday. We are going slightly non-traditional, in that I'm just serving a spiral ham which only has to be heated, instead of a turkey which would have to be handled--a lot--by the person who has been a font of contagion since last week. Other than that, though, the side dishes are the usual fare, and if I take a few minor shortcuts on the way to the feast, I don't think anyone will really notice, or care, much at all.

So even though this is only Monday of Thanksgiving Week, I've got to admit that I'm thankful--yes, for this dratted cold. Why? Because without it I'd be running around like a chicken with...oh, let's avoid the insensitive poultry metaphors for the time being...anyway, I'd be stressed, and trying to out-Stewart Martha herself, all out of the kind of misplaced pride that thinks I've got something to prove about craftiness and housekeeping and cooking wizardry and perfection of hostessing (yes, Jim, that was a skilled use of the "Cooking While Wearing Pearls" maneuver, but I've got to take off points for that High Heel Wobble--clearly, she doesn't wear heels normally, and it shows in her lack of technique, and in the long black streaks on the vinyl flooring). It's time, with my 40th birthday waiting just beyond the turning of the calendar page, to realize that I don't have to prove anything to anybody but myself, and to realize further that I wouldn't trade one flawless Thanksgiving, or even a calendar full of perfectly-planned and celebrated holidays, liturgical events, family feasts, and the like, for the talents I do have and for which I am also extremely thankful.

I will always be blessed to know women who wave a magic wand and create a fairy-tale right in their own homes, where the atmosphere, the little touches, the glowing candle-light and the soft gleam of the good china and the inviting aromas from the kitchen tell you from the moment you enter that you are privileged to be a guest at one of their grand celebrations--but it's high time I stopped comparing myself to them, and trying to compete when nature and inclinations have conspired to make me a very different sort of woman. It would be easier to do that if I were indifferent to the beauty they create all around them, but I am not--and I wouldn't really want to be, because that beauty is, like all beauty, a reflection of God's presence in our world. But when I seek to create such grand echoes of loveliness around my own efforts, I'm as doomed to failure as the child who thinks he can beautify the wall by scribbling on it--he understands the principle, but is completely incapable of the execution.

So, in my Countdown to Thanksgiving list, I can now put an X in the box labeled "Adjust Attitude." Done. And that's something else I can be thankful for.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Father Said No

I apologize to anyone who read my "teaser" from last week promising to tell you the story of Father and the Pageant; it really wasn't intended to be a trick, and I had every intention of sitting down and writing the story of what happened either later that afternoon, or Saturday morning at the latest.

But the Cold of Endless Crud had other ideas; I started running a fever Friday evening, and it's been popping back up at night since then. I think I'm finally on the mend, and also that I should probably rename this virus as "The Flu-Like Illness of Endless Crud," because that would be more accurate.

Since I've been sick, and at home, all weekend, I can see even more clearly God's loving Providence in the chance encounter I had with our DRE on Thursday. Ordinarily I would not see our DRE on Thursday, or any other day except Sunday. But I happened to see her at church when my family went for choir practice (silly me, I thought the Cold of EC was almost over, and that my raspy, decidedly non-musical voice was proof of that!), and I had the opportunity of a few minutes' conversation with her.

I had just begun, as delicately as possible, to ask about this planned "pageant Gospel" reading, when she shook her head decisively. "No," she said. "Father said no."

"Father said..." I started to ask.

"We can't do it this way. The children can still bring up the pieces of the Nativity set [I hadn't realized that was what the 'pageant' was for--E.M.], but Father said we can't change the readings at Mass, not on a Sunday or a Holy Day. We can use the Christmas Gospel from St. Matthew or St. Luke [e.g., for the Vigil, as Mass is Dec. 24 at night, or for Midnight, because this Mass takes the place of Midnight Mass at our small mission which does not have its own Midnight Mass--E.M.] but we can't use the one we had on the paper, so we won't be doing that."

We talked further. It turns out she was aware of the rule regarding readings--but was given this paper of combined readings by the previous pastor who insisted and ordered that Christmas Mass had to be done this way, leaving her in the unenviable position of having to be obedient to the pastor in an area where the pastor really didn't have the authority to command that such a thing be done. I don't know exactly what is happening with the "music" idea; perhaps the choir will sing after the (much shorter) Gospel while the children build the Nativity scene--at this point, though, since Father has insisted that the one definite outright liturgical abuse would not be happening, I can understand if he wants to ease out the other things over time, instead of forbidding all of it at once.

Since I wasn't able to attend Mass this morning, as I was still running a fever, I can be truly thankful for this chance encounter earlier in the week; otherwise, it would be next week at the earliest before I would have learned of the change in plans, and trying to figure out what to do would have weighed a lot on my mind on that First Sunday of Advent.

I have a lot to reflect on, here. The first is that so often these "little heterodoxies" that creep into a parish's liturgical celebrations are not necessarily coming from the laity. Many times, instead, lay workers like the DRE are constantly having to put a "good face" on things they're really rather uncomfortable with--but many of them think, that since "Father" told them this is the way he wants things to be done, that there's really nothing wrong with it, or that "Father" must have permission, somehow, to bend the rules. On the other hand, when a new "Father" inherits an old bad situation, he may have to pick his battles, and lay down the law where there is law, but take a slower approach in rooting out things that, while perhaps inadvisable in a liturgical context, are not actually an abuse. Unfortuanately, I think a lot of the new "Fathers" coming in to these old situations may be less forceful than my new pastor was here, and actually permit what they know to be wrong with a view toward rooting it out later; I think my pastor's approach is exactly the right one, to set the example from the get-go that actual liturgical abuse will not be tolerated, not even for reasons of "pastoral sensitivity" or other noble-sounding excuses.

Another thing I've been thinking about is that my pastor, this new Father of ours, needs full-fledged support just now. He is doing the right thing, and if he permits the children of the parish to carry up pieces of the Nativity Scene during or just after the Gospel, this is not something to stamp and shout about. His priorities were clearly in the right place; he said "No" to the one thing that had to be stopped, right now, today. I think those of us who care about the integrity of the Mass will do better to let him know how happy we are with this change, and to let him know we'll be glad to support similar changes in the future, than we will if we express an ungrateful attitude that says, "Well, we like that you're not allowing the abuse, but so long as you permit the slightest irregularity that doesn't rise to the level of abuse we're going to consider ourselves the loyal (or not so loyal) opposition." I think good priests sometimes get pretty disheartened by this attitude from those who should be their friends; they're going to get plenty of grief from the other side, who are going to want to know why what was good enough for Father Yesterday isn't good enough for Young Father Today, without getting piled on by the rest of us as well.

The third thing is that it's pretty wonderful when Father says "no" to the kinds of things that should get that answer! How many of us grew up with priests who said "no" to all the old traditional things: rosaries, processions, Holy Hours, Latin even once a year in one song, and so on? This new priest of ours, who is young, and from another country, has two parishes to take care of: our tiny mission and a busy bilingual parish (English/Spanish, but Father is not from a Spanish-speaking country). He has only been with us a few months, but his first priority was to make a slight adjustment in the Mass schedule so that he himself could be with us every Sunday, instead of rotating visiting priests as was the practice of the former pastor. He said to me recently, "This parish is such a wonderful community--how could I not want to be here every week?" He has added a Wednesday evening Mass just before the religious education classes start to encourage children and their parents to come to Mass an additional time a week; he is planning to start Friday adoration, perhaps beginning on First Fridays and eventually being held weekly; he is making himself available for "office hours" at our parish on a regular basis, and is working on other issues to benefit the parish as well.

The hardest thing about trying to be involved in a parish these days is having any kind of trust. From the "feel-good" spirituality to the liturgical hijacking to the parish wreckovations to the preferential option toward heretics, most parishes we've known, for those of us in my generation, have not been places we could trust; add to that the horrors of the Scandal and it's no wonder so many orthodox Catholics have become spiritual nomads, wandering from parish to parish, a little tired and a little bitter and a lot gun-shy, to the extent that we're liable to cut and run at the first sign of something that would be frowned over by the folks at Catholic Answers. It's a balm to our souls when we encounter a situation like this, and are feeling our usual sort of heartsickness and weariness, only to find out that, after all, Father said "No."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coming Attraction

I have something to tell you about the situation in regard to the proposed Christmas pageant at my parish that I wrote about earlier this week, and I hope to get out here long enough to write about it a little later today. So many of you gave helpful and interesting advice, and I hope you'll be as interested the new development as I am--it's good news, I can tell you that.

But doing justice to the post requires a little thing called coherence. And a little thing called coherence is a little hard to come by today, because my Cold of Endless Crud that's been keeping me from getting everything I needed to get done, done, this week, took a fun detour when I woke up this morning with a mild fever and no voice to speak of (or with).

I have company, my in-laws, arriving Monday as I said before (thankfully, as I also said before, they were already planning to stay in a nearby hotel as we don't have a spare room). I have no idea what I'm feeding everyone for the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and as for Thanksgiving dinner itself, I'm seriously considering the "order a cooked turkey" or "buy and heat a spiral ham" approach, mainly because nobody wants to eat a turkey the hostess has been coughing and sneezing on while she prepares it--and at this rate, I can't count on being completely over this stupid thing by next week.

So as soon as the oldest two girls finish their weekly math test, I'm gonna crawl back in bed for a bit in the hopes of knocking this dratted virus to the ground once and for all. The story of Father and the Pageant will have to wait, though I may get it up here this evening. In the meantime, if anybody has Really Quick Easy Thanksgiving Side Dish Favorite Recipes to share or link to in the comment boxes, please please please I mean it really we'd love them thank you do so!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

About Ten Minutes

Is all I have time for blog writing today. I'm printing out tons of music for our choir Christmas fund raiser, we've got an extra-long practice coming up, and courtesy of the Cold of Endless Crud I have no voice at all to speak of, so I'm going to be attending tonight's practice hoping to learn songs by listening. Or osmosis. Whatever works.

So here are a few random thoughts:

1. My in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving, and will be with us from the Monday before until the Monday after, though they are staying in a hotel as we don't have a spare bedroom. My mother-in-law's ordinary family dinners are more elaborate than my Thanksgiving ones. I don't yet have the details of what I'm cooking down, thanks to the Cold of EC, NaNoWriMo, and a little thing called denial.

2. Is there any holiday more angsty for a non-crafty Mom than Thanksgiving? Oh, sure, maybe Christmas, but by the time Christmas gets here we all want to boil in hot oil the people who hand us beautifully handcrafted gifts which they whipped up in their spare time between feeding the homeless and organizing their parish's annual Christmas food drive and teaching themselves Sanskrit, don't we? But at Thanksgiving everyone's supposed to build her own cornucopia from the gold spray-painted bones of last year's turkey, create a dazzling table, foster an ambiance redolent of pumpkin pie spice or mulled wine, and produce dozens of delicious dishes seemingly from midair, all while maintaining the unruffled, unfrazzled demeanor of a Republican First Lady who has a gazillion people to cook her turkey for her.

3. Speaking of NaNoWriMo (oh, were we?) I'm up to the 45,000 + mark. The secret to writing, I've discovered, is to have tons of other things you're actually supposed to be doing. It helps if you like your characters, too.

4. The best way not to finish a ten-minute blog post is to answer the phone at the six minute mark...but it's fun talking to this talented blogger anyway!

Later! :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Libertines In Space

I saw the trailer for the upcoming re-imagined Star Trek movie yesterday, and at first glance it seemed moderately interesting. Plenty of sweeping panoramas of high-tech futuristic places, action, drama, and some creative explosions: what else could one want in a schlocky science-fiction movie? But then I saw some other things about the film, especially the items about steamy encounters between Kirk and Uhura; clearly, like just about all Star Trek franchises, the story line is going to have its usual tendency to devolve into the ordinary pattern of witnessing Kirk's colossal ego and endless libido boldly go where they haven't been for at least the last ten minutes.


It's one of the most maddening things about schlocky science-fiction. I don't mind cardboard characters and cardboard plots and cardboard action sequences and cardboard aliens with the usual assortment of unbelievable appendages and cardboard ship battles with their complete laws-of-physics violations of weaponry use and cardboard explosions complete with bass notes too low for the average human to hear and the predictable ring-pattern of the explosion which an intelligent person once explained to me would be completely and utterly impossible to see in the vacuum of space, though I've forgotten the details. But the older I get, the less tolerance I have for all the cardboard sex.

Because I can suspend my disbelief, when I'm asked to believe that two ships moving forward at relativistic speeds can outrun each other or engage each other in battle; I can overlook the impossibility of the ring-pattern explosion and appreciate the coolness factor of it instead; I can pretend that some plan of God's might have permitted the evolutionary process on some planet or other to create an intelligent centipede that for some reason only walks on two oversized legs, waving the other 98 in rippling patterns which ought to warn our heroes that the creature is getting angry and might spit some highly implausible centipedesque poison at them any second; for the sake of a reasonably well-contrived and entertaining story I'm prepared to overlook whole series of impossible things. But when it comes to how men and women interact with each other, I'm getting awfully tired of having schlocky fiction-writers pretend that the real world operates like some teenage boy's fantasy, and that a man can be a hero and also treat women like disposable playthings--and that the women actually like being treated this way.

Even in this postmodern postfeminist paradise, a funny thing has happened to women. Liberated, they tend not to remain licentious, even if they start out that way; encouraged to play the field, they find themselves coming back over and over again to some umpire who actually wants to play by the rules, and who will make a commitment to her that's not predicated on the notion that she should have to put up with a man's culturally approved polyamorous and piggish ways. Women's impulses and desires aren't wired the same way that men's are, and over time she'll find herself daydreaming not about some hunky intergalactic hero with a girl on every planet, but about the kind of man who will be a good husband, and even a good father. I've noticed this even among women who don't have a religious upbringing; a girl I worked with once at a department store between college semesters was "settling" for moving in with her boyfriend who would not marry her until some goal or other had been met, but when I came back to work there again the next summer she was married--not to the oafish boyfriend, but to a nice man who worked in the store's receiving department and who was ready to back up his considerable affection for and attraction to her with a marriage license and a couple of modest gold bands.

So aside from the Muppet variation, I just don't find "Pigs in Space" all that amusing anymore. It might have seemed like a new, fresh thing for the writers of the original Star Trek series or even some of the iterations that more closely followed it to cast off all that oppressive small-minded small-town American morality and make the Captain-hero a man of tremendous appetite and catholic tastes in women, not even finding it necessary for his amorous objects to be human, so long as they were reasonable approximations; but today it is a cliche, not only of space-fiction but of a lot of other fiction as well. I can imagine that some observers of our culture in the distant future might think, based on our television and movies and bestsellers, that every American business office, law firm, police or fire department, detective agency, and so on was a hotbed of hanky-panky, a den of dalliance, populated by the seductive and aggressive who traded beds more often than they attended meetings or solved crimes or put out fires; and that all of this coupling led to no greater complications or lasting effects than some slight awkwardness in planning the seating-charts of the company's annual "Holiday" party.

But real life is not like that, and plenty of women have awakened to the sad reality that sexual libertinism in our culture may have seemed like a step forward for man, but that it was a giant leap backward for women, relegating them back almost to the status they had in pagan times. How many women have believed that they are giving their full selves to a man, only to find out later that the man in question never really saw them as anything but a desirable and convenient collection of anatomy? How many women have found themselves struggling alone to raise a child or children their "Captain Kirk" never wanted, and whose idea of fatherhood is to assure her over the phone that the check is in the mail? How many men have been damaged by our culture's elevation of such men to "hero" status--the guy who gets every thing and every woman he wants, and walks away unscathed in pursuit of newer and younger and easier ones when he gets bored or restless or is otherwise unhappy?

Just once I'd like to see a well-developed plot wherein a casual tryst leads the main character in a science-fiction film on an inexorable path to darkness, and danger, and betrayal, and pain, and sorrow. Just once I'd like to see the "hero" man up enough to be a hero to the woman he has thought a pleasant enough companion for an evening's entertainment, but nothing more. Just once I'd like to see our cultural sickness held up in a mirror the size of a planet, and show the true results of what happens when men and women treat each other as the vehicles for meaningless and cardboard sex.

Now that would be to boldly go where no man has gone before.

What, This Old Thing?

According to AP Business Writer Dan Sewell, it's hip to be frugal again:

This behavioral shift isn't simply about spending less. The New Frugality emphasizes stretching every dollar. It means bypassing the fashion mall for the discount chain store, buying secondhand clothes and furniture, or trading down to store brands.

There's more business for repairmen and less for salesmen. Consumers are clipping more coupons and swiping their credit cards less. [...]

That kind of scrimping may be good for stressed family budgets, but it's bad for the nation's overall economy _ and that has the potential to reinforce the miserly mood. Yet with home prices, 401(k)s and job stability suffering, such frugality is likely to be more than a fad.

"It is a whole reassessment of values," said Candace Corlett, president of the consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail. "We've just been shopping until we drop and consuming and buying it all, and replenishing before things wear out. People are learning again to say 'No, not today.'"

The trend is evident in where cash registers are ringing, and where they are not.

Wal-Mart, BJ's Wholesale Club and Goodwill thrift shops are thriving, while Saks and Abercrombie & Fitch are struggling. Likewise, as casual dining chains such as O'Charley's and Red Lobster see fewer customers, McDonald's is serving more, including people who have given up $4 Starbucks drinks in favor of the fast-food chain's expanding coffee menu. Even Spam has made a comeback.

Tellingly, Wal-Mart said recently it has seen a 2 percent jump this year in shoppers from households earning at least $65,000. [...]

Economists and consumer experts say it's difficult to predict how long the pullback will last, particularly among generations of consumers who have never seen such a sharp economic downturn.

"This is scary stuff and confidence is such an elusive thing," said Larry Waldman, senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Timothy Duy, an economics professor at the University of Oregon, is convinced "the economy is moving away from consumerism." Just how far remains to be seen, but a recent Pew Research Center survey found that more than half of Americans say they have cut back in the past year and about half agreed that people "should learn to live with less."

People are not only buying cheaper, they're buying less, said Joachim Vosgerau, an assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business who specializes in consumer behavior.

"It seems like this trend is only going to continue," Vosgerau said.

Don't you just love being a trendsetter? :-)

People with a single income who are raising children have been practicing the virtue of thrift for some time now. We avoid the mall like the plague (especially in winter, when it seems from the careless hacking of other shoppers that the plague might actually be a possibility), we rarely eat out at any place where you don't shout your order into a little speaker and get asked if you want fries with that, our "secondhand clothes" are first-hand hand-me-downs from the biggest big sister or brother, we scrutinize clearance racks for good deals on well-made items, we check out frugality tips on blogs and websites, we make do and do without.

And quite a few of us are looking for ways to tighten that belt even further, looking over our budgets to trim what wasteful spending has crept in, and reminding ourselves that just because we're standing in a used book store we still have to add up the cost of that armload of tomes before we approach the counter (yes, even if they're friendly people who give their "teacher discount" to homeschool teachers). We know that it's easy to get careless, or to pinch the pennies and forget about the dollars; we back up and reassess and plan and experiment and plan again.

It's not a trend; it's how one-income couples make it in a two-income world. And now that it's suddenly all the rage, we're in the position of the young lady being complimented on her made-over dress, who says, "What, this old thing?" And means it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What's "Nice" Got To Do With It?

I had a fun exchange with Father Philip, OP, at Mark Shea's blog today. A reader had written to tell a heartbreaking--but all too familiar--tale of mistreatment at the hands of colleagues, one of whom was a Catholic nun who thinks the Catechism is "outdated" (which makes one wonder what in Heaven's name she thinks of the Bible, as it is a wee bit older). Father wrote:
I've had to note many times lately to my readers that I've taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

There ain't no %$#@ vow of nice.

I think the time for "being sweet" to the enemy is last past...
And I said:
Well, Father Philip, I don't think that 1 Corinthians 13 goes out of fashion (at least, one of my confessors never seems to think so).

And my experience with liberal nuns is that their protective armor of smug dissidence is pretty impenetrable.

I'd recommend that the reader tell her seriously, the next time something like this happens, "Oh, Sister, just like yours once did long, long ago, my generation is now ready to Sing A New Church Into Being! We just like to sing in Latin..."
Then retreat. Some of these ladies have claws.
Whereupon Father replied:

That's what I mean by "not being nice."
:-) :-) :-)

The truth of the matter is that Christians are supposed to love each other. 1 Corinthians 13 spells it out pretty well: love is patient, kind, not selfish, etc. I've mediated on that passage many a time--usually because a confessor or spiritual adviser recommended it. But how do we show love to people who are supposed to share our faith, but instead seem to want to contradict everything our Church teaches? How are we to be loving examples of patient Christian witness when someone begins with that predictable, telltale phrase, "Well, I'm a Catholic, but..."

And this is where I think Father Philip and I are in agreement: it is always necessary to love your enemies, even when they're the worst kind--the ones who by their baptism are supposed to be your family in Christ. But it is not always necessary to show that love by being silent under their abuse, or by adopting a syrupy sweetness that refuses to waver or to say anything stronger than, "I can see you feel strongly about this, so since we don't agree let's talk of something else. The pachysandra is coming along fine this year, isn't it?"

Don't get me wrong: there are times and places when discretion is most definitely the better part of valor, and where getting into a vocal showdown with a heretic co-worker may be inadvisable, especially if said heretic is a professed Sister and possibly one's superior in the workforce. To everything there is a season, and that includes the compulsion to speak some home truths to an erring brother in Christ; there is a time for silence, and even a time to be nice.

But too often sincere Catholics and other Christians think that "nice" is synonymous with "Christian," especially the kind of "nice" that avoids confrontation at all costs. It's hard to see how that idea got started, considering that St. Paul is frequently far from "nice" when he calls erring members of the early Church to account for various misbehaviors or misdeeds; the writings of the Church Fathers contain denunciations of heresy, and of heretics. Consider this from St. Alexander of Alexandria, on Arius:

1. The ambitious and avaricious will of wicked men is always wont to lay snares against those churches which seem greater, by various pretexts attacking the ecclesiastical piety of such. For incited by the devil who works in them, to the lust of that which is set before them, and throwing away all religious scruples, they trample under foot the fear of the judgment of God. Concerning which things, I who suffer, have thought it necessary to show to your piety, in order that you may be aware of such men, lest any of them presume to set foot in your dioceses, whether by themselves or by others; for these sorcerers know how to use hypocrisy to carry out their fraud; and to employ letters composed and dressed out with lies, which are able to deceive a man who is intent upon a simple and sincere faith. Arius, therefore, and Achilles, having lately entered into a conspiracy, emulating the ambition of Colluthus, have turned out far worse than he. For Colluthus, indeed, who reprehends these very men, found some pretext for his evil purpose; but these, beholding his battering of Christ, endured no longer to be subject to the Church; but building for themselves dens of thieves, they hold their assemblies in them unceasingly, night and day directing their calumnies against Christ and against us. For since they call in question all pious and apostolical doctrine, after the manner of the Jews, they have constructed a workshop for contending against Christ, denying the Godhead of our Saviour, and preaching that He is only the equal of all others. And having collected all the passages which speak of His plan of salvation and His humiliation for our sakes, they endeavour from these to collect the preaching of their impiety, ignoring altogether the passages in which His eternal Godhead and unutterable glory with the Father is set forth. Since, therefore, they back up the impious opinion concerning Christ, which is held by the Jews and Greeks, in every possible way they strive to gain their approval; busying themselves about all those things which they are wont to deride in us, and daily stirring up against us seditions and persecutions. And now, indeed, they drag us before the tribunals of the judges, by intercourse with silly and disorderly women, whom they have led into error; at another time they cast opprobrium and infamy upon the Christian religion, their young maidens disgracefully wandering about every village and street. Nay, even Christ's indivisible tunic, which His executioners were unwilling to divide, these wretches have dared to rend.

"Wicked men...sorcerers...den of thieves...impious opinion...silly and disorderly women...wretches..." Not exactly a hand-holding chorus of Kumbaya, is it?

The saints and Fathers of the Church took their responsibility to guard against error seriously; they did not hate the men they chastised, but loved them enough to hope that their chastisement would lead them to repentance, so that their souls would not be lost. Loving our fellow Catholics does not always mean being nice to them; sometimes the greatest love we can show them is to be clear about their errors, as we would hope others would be clear to us about ours, and by our charitably-motivated insistence on the truths which they reject help them to return to the diligent and faithful practice of our Catholic religion.

Laws and Unintended Consequences

Time has an interesting look at the sad situation in Nebraska ever since that state's too-ambiguous child abandonment law was passed:
And not just one or two. Nebraska found itself facing an epidemic of abandoned children after the legislature passed a law in July that allowed parents to leave their children at a safe place, like a hospital, without fear of prosecution. It was one of the last states in the country to pass such legislation — but the law contained a large loophole by including children of all ages. The legislature gathered on Friday in a special session to fix the safe-haven law. The day before, three more kids were abandoned at Omaha hospitals, bringing the total to 34 since mid-September, shortly after the law was passed. A 5-year-old boy was left by his mother on Thursday night; two teenage girls, 14 and 17, were dropped off earlier the same day. The older girl ran away from the ER before authorities could arrive. And a Florida man traveled from Miami to drop off his 11-year-old boy earlier this week.

But while Nebraska can easily narrow its statute, dealing with the underlying causes of abandonment is much harder, child-welfare experts say. "These parents had to be totally overwhelmed to do something like this," says the Rev. Steven Boes, president of Boys Town — the original safe haven of Father Flanagan fame, which happens to be headquartered in Omaha. Once upon a time, Depression-battered parents would buy bus fare for their children and hand them a sign that read "Take Me to Boys Town." Their counterparts today "are parents who have tried to navigate the system for years, and this is their last resort; these are parents who ran out of patience too darn fast and gave up too early, and everything in between," says Boes. [...]

Five of the children abandoned in Nebraska have been from out of state, but most are local. A majority of the children are older than 13 and have a history of being treated for mental-health issues. Nearly every abandoned child came from a single-parent household. In September, one father walked into a hospital and left nine children, ages 1 to 17. He reportedly told hospital workers that he'd been overwhelmed since his wife died a few days after their youngest was born. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
First of all, this is truly tragic and heartbreaking. I can't imagine the pain on both sides, the parents whose children are in serious need of mental help, and the children who must come to terms with the reality that a parent has left them in the care of strangers. The article mentions that many of these kids have been in and out of foster care, as well; these are in some cases parents who have already lost custody to the state before, and are prepared to surrender custody voluntarily again.

But I get the feeling that once again we are, by and large, ignoring the wreckage left behind by the sexual revolution. Aside from the one father who left his nine children, under circumstances of grief and stress and without, apparently, any family or community support in the face of his wife's tragic death, most of these children are coming from situations where the parent was divorced, or perhaps never married in the first place--and as Matthew Archbold's excellent report today illustrates, these are the families most in crisis in our nation.

Our weakened view of marriage, our notion that adult happiness is the reason to tie the knot, our view that children are nice if you want one or two, our expectation that marriage will only last so long as the two people involved in it are blissfully happy with each other--all of these things are what I generally mean when I use the phrase "sex without consequences." Some have disliked the phrase, but when I say that ordinarily children are the consequence of human physical reproductive activity I'm not using the word "consequences" in a pejorative sense, but only a natural one. It is natural for a man and a woman to choose each other, to choose to be together--but it is equally and overwhelmingly natural for them to do so with the thought that they will be having children together, in God's time and by His will. No person who has ever suffered the pain of infertility would deny that children are both the consequence and the great blessing of marriage, and that their own inability to share in this joyful consequence for which they ardently hoped and wished is a heavy and burdensome Cross which they are asked to carry.

But people who enter into reproductive activity with each other, married or not, but who seek the activity without its most natural and expected consequence and have taken immoral action to prevent, as they think, this consequence from occurring, are the people who expect to be able to deny the arrival of a child, and are often the least prepared to accept the blessing of children. Moreover, married couples who damage their marriage by resorting to artificial contraception and the fundamental rejection of each other and this great blessing which that contraception implies often find themselves raising children they "planned" to have alone, as their spouse deserts them for someone younger, more interesting, or less demanding, and plans to satisfy his or her obligations to parenthood by the mere writing of a check--and these plans have a way of disappearing.

The reality, as that grief-stricken father of nine would probably say himself, is that it takes two parents to raise children. Not just any two parents, either: a mother and a father. And they should both, preferably, be the parents of the children, not one father and one stepmother, or vice-versa. None of this is to say that people who find themselves raising someone else's children through tragic circumstances or because of the failure of the biological parents are in any way less admirable than biological parents; in many instances they are more admirable, because they take on the roles and duties of parents without that biological tie, and do so completely voluntarily. But I think that even the most dedicated of adoptive parents would agree that in a perfect world, children would never be harmed or abandoned or neglected by the very people who ought most to protect them, and that a culture which encourages sexual activity among the unmarried and contraceptive use among everyone is going to be a culture in which the tragedies of abuse and neglect and abandonment occur. So long as children are thought of, not as the natural result of a happy marriage, but an accessory which one may choose to have if one wishes, we're going to perpetuate this situation.

Nebraska's law will be changed, and soon. But the thirty-four children dropped off at hospitals in Nebraska since September are only a symptom of a problem, one that is only going to get worse, especially in a post-gay marriage world where the notion that having a baby has anything at all to do with getting married will be proof of one's heterosexist bigotry, not of one's desire for stable marriages and strong families. Nebraska's law had a lot of unintended consequenses, and it was by no means as broad and sweeping a law as the ones designed to redefine, dismantle, and ultimately destroy marriage as a civil concept altogether.

A Little Thing Called Liberty

It appears that Eric Holder is Barack Obama's choice for Attorney General:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder has accepted President-elect Barack Obama's offer to head the Justice Department, a senior Democrat said on Tuesday.

If the appointment is confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first African American to become Attorney General.

Holder accepted the offer, pending a review to determine if he could win confirmation with broad Democratic and Republican support in the Senate, the senior Democrat said.

Michael Isikoff of Newsweek blogged about Holder earlier today:

Holder, 57, has been on Obama’s “short list” for attorney general from the outset. A partner at the D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling, Holder served as co-chief (along with Caroline Kennedy) of Obama’s vice-presidential selection process. He also actively campaigned for Obama throughout the year and grew personally close to the president-elect. Holder has not returned a call seeking comment; a spokeswoman for the Obama transition team told Newsweek in an e-mail early Tuesday afternoon that no decision has been made. [...]

The only hesitancy about Holder’s selection was that he himself had reservations about going through a confirmation process that was likely to revive questions about his role in signing off on the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. Although there is no evidence that Holder actively pushed the pardon, he was criticized for not raising with the White House the strong objections that some Justice Department lawyers and federal prosecutors in New York had to pardoning somebody who had fled the country. But after reviewing the evidence in the case, and checking with staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Obama aides and Holder both decided the issue was highly unlikely to prove an obstacle to his confirmation, one of the sources said--especially given the Democrats’ more sizable post-election majority in the Senate.

So that's the only holdup--Holder's contribution to the Rich pardon. That, and a little thing the mainstream media is being pretty quiet about: Holder's involvement in the Elian Gonzalez case. Here's a report from the British paper The Guardian from back in 2000:

Why did Washington intervene?
"I believe that reuniting Elian with his father is not only a matter of federal law. It is not a matter of immigration law. It is simply the right thing to do," said deputy attorney general Eric Holder. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) also argued that Elian had a "close and continuous relationship" with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzales, even though his parents were divorced and he was living with his late mother.

His late mother--the one who drowned trying to bring her son to America, and to freedom.

Eric Holder's voice is the one that can be heard on this YouTube clip, too; Mr. Holder is the one saying that the raid removed Elian from his relatives' home "sensitively" and denying that a gun was used:

And a look, from before the election, at how the Gonzalez case could haunt Obama was reported at this blog, which contains many news links about the Cuban-American community's unhappiness with the involvement of Eric Holder in Obama's campaign; one wonders what this community will think over the selection of Holder to be Attorney General.

The United States Attorney General heads the Justice Department, and is the government's chief lawyer. One would think that it would be a good thing to select someone for this office who did not think that handing a helpless child over to a Communist regime when his mother died trying to get for him a little thing called liberty was, "...simply the right thing to do." But apparently, The One doesn't agree.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Little Under the Weather

Thanks again to everyone who has posted a comment about my liturgical abuse dilemma. I plan to pray, consider, approach those in charge, and then go from there.

My apologies for not getting out here sooner today to thank all of you; we've got the Cold of Endless Crud circulating around our house. Kitten and Bookgirl had it last week, and it's my turn today; so far, Hatchick and Mr. M. haven't shown any signs of it.

I'm very hopeful that Mr. M. will be spared the cold entirely, for reasons every woman reading this can instantly find understandable. This has been shared by others, but it seems as good a time as any to share it here:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On Liturgical Abuse

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my "bleg" post and gave document suggestions, etc. I found what I was looking for in Redemptionis Sacramentum, from the Congregation For Divine Worship, in the following sections:
3. The Other Parts of the Mass

[58.] All of Christ’s faithful likewise have the right to a celebration of the Eucharist that has been so carefully prepared in all its parts that the word of God is properly and efficaciously proclaimed and explained in it; that the faculty for selecting the liturgical texts and rites is carried out with care according to the norms; and that their faith is duly safeguarded and nourished by the words that are sung in the celebration of the Liturgy.

[59.] The reprobated practice by which Priests, Deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy.

[61.] In selecting the biblical readings for proclamation in the celebration of Mass, the norms found in the liturgical books are to be followed,[136] so that indeed “a richer table of the word of God will be prepared for the faithful, and the biblical treasures opened up for them”.[137]

[62.] It is also illicit to omit or to substitute the prescribed biblical readings on one’s own initiative, and especially “to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God”.[138]

[63.] “Within the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of the Gospel, which is “the high point of the Liturgy of the Word”,[139] is reserved by the Church’s tradition to an ordained minister.[140] Thus it is not permitted for a layperson, even a religious, to proclaim the Gospel reading in the celebration of Holy Mass, nor in other cases in which the norms do not explicitly permit it.[141]
The biggest problems to me are these: first, that the Gospel reading is not taken from the Lectionary readings for Christmas Mass but is made up of a blended, "cut and paste" set of readings from the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew; some of the readings are from the Gospel for Epiphany, and not for Christmas at all! Moreover, since this pageant has apparently been done for years, the words from St. Luke's Gospel are not from the current Lectionary and do not match the approved texts for the Mass. Second, the interruption of the Gospel readings by no less than five Christmas carols is a serious disruption of the Mass, and fosters a spirit of entertainment instead of worship, and my family, being in the choir, would be expected to help lead in the singing of these carols.

Thus, while I appreciate everyone's comments, those who indicated that perhaps this was no big deal and should be overlooked for the sake of the community etc. are, I think, not looking at the whole situation. This isn't a case of possible "rule-bending" which my family would simply witness; it is a case of outright liturgical abuse in which my family would be expected to participate in the fullest sense (e.g., singing the songs between the "Gospel" reading/play-acting).

I realize the truth of several things which get said when these issues are brought up: that each of us individually is quite probably the gravest liturgical abuse at any given Mass; that a spirit of charity and assuming people don't know better is healthier spiritually than a critical spirit that jots down the slightest faltering as if it were deliberate abuse; that a priest may "ad-lib" a prayer or phrase here or there under the completely mistaken notion that he is permitted to do so; that focusing on all the possible errors at Mass (and this is true whether you attend an N.O. or a TLM) will rob you of the joy and peace which should attend you when you are worshiping God in this perfect prayer of the Church, and so on. Certainly I have left my "liturgical nit-picking" days far behind me, and am inclined toward charity even in this instance--that the people planning it do not know any better. The problem is that I do know better, and will be held accountable for that knowledge even if no one else is so held.

At the same time, being a member of a parish is not an arbitrary thing, and as some have justly pointed out, it is not really fair for me to put the whole choir in a bad situation by refusing to be present at this Christmas Mass, instead going elsewhere and leaving a much smaller choir to provide the legitimate music needed for the Mass. What I'll ultimately decide to do isn't clear at this point, because I have yet to communicate my concerns through the proper channels. Brief discussion at Mass with some other choir members leads me to believe that the community in general isn't uniformly thrilled with this way of doing things, but that because the parish has been doing it in this way for so long they don't see a possibility of change--even though we have a new pastor who may be more receptive to concerns, as well as a relatively new bishop who may not yet be aware that situations like these exist in the diocese.

So, at this point, I think my course of action is as follows:

1. Write a clear, brief, extremely diplomatic letter to the DRE who organizes the pageant, sharing the relevant quotes from Redemptionis Sacramentum and asking why unapproved texts, blended texts, and the Gospel for a wholly different feast are being planned for Christmas Mass; I think my real concerns can be expressed in a non-hostile, non-threatening way, and by writing to the DRE first I am not "attacking" her personally, but giving her the chance to respond.

2. If necessary, share a copy of this first letter with the pastor, asking politely if there is some provision I am unaware of that makes it permissible for the Gospel at Christmas Mass to be replaced by an assortment of texts including the Gospel for Epiphany, and to be interrupted by the singing of carols.

3. If necessary, share any correspondence I have had with the DRE and the pastor with the bishop or other chancery officials.

At that point, if the blended Gospel/pageant is going forward as planned, decide on what level of participation if any is possible for me and for my family. (One option would be to be present for and sing for the other parts of the Mass but to ask to be excused from the "mid-Gospel caroling" on the grounds of my serious disagreement with this practice.)

Now, I know from some of the responses I received in person, there are people who are simply scratching their heads. Why care? Why bother? Let the kiddies have their fun--it's Christmas, after all, and who would be such a Grinch as to insist on some dull liturgical rules instead of getting with the spirit of things? seems to be the gist of a lot of it.

The fact is that despite what a terrible series of events has caused us to believe for the past forty years or so, the Mass is not our property, to do with as we wish. It's not about "inclusion" or "community" or "making people feel happy" or any similar things, even if those things are a part of it. The Mass is our highest and most solemn act of public worship, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. The priest offers this sacrifice to the Father on our behalf, while we participate by uniting ourselves to this most holy prayer, whether silently or by speaking and singing the various prayers the people may join in saying or singing. Anything which adds to this worship, such as periods of silence at the appropriate times, reverence for the Sacred Body and Blood as evidenced by careful purification of the vessels after Communion, newer and more accurate English translations of the Latin prayers, etc. is the sort of "innovation" we should appreciate even if these things are "new" where we are.

But welcoming innovations for the sake of novelty or insising on "old customs" which were never appropriate in the first place, especially when these things detract from the solemnity of the Mass, ought not to be appreciated or clung to stubbornly. We need to be evalutating these extraneous customs that have crept in to examine whether they were ever permitted, whether they are desirable, whether they ought to be part of the Holy Mass or belong quite properly in devotional practices outside of it, and the like. And this is true whether the practice is one we actually like or not--I recall hearing about a priest who for a while had added a "Hail Mary" in at a quiet part of the Mass out of his deep devotion to the Blessed Mother, but who eventually realized that Our Lady was not honored by his decision to add a prayer to the Mass which is not a part of it.

Many of us speak about the "reform of the reform," and are glad to be living in a time when this concept is beginning to bear fruit. But it is frustrating to me that so many (though not my readers, necessarily!) seem, even in the face of verifiable liturgical abuse, and serious abuse at that, to counsel silence, even though silence may seem to give consent (Qui tacet consentire vidétur). It is not a small thing to wish for the integrity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be preserved and respected, and the example we give to our children, including the ones who are in the pageant, is not a small thing either. When I remember the dubious liturgical celebrations of my youth, and the free and easy way in which the Mass was often "re-imagined" for the sake of us children, I do not feel gratitude towards those presumably well-meaning devastators, but a deep unhappiness that they consipired to rob me and my contemporaries of our Catholic birthright, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, untainted by modern tampering, limited political/social agendas (e.g., the Mass I attended in high school where the "readings" and "Gospel" were from the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr.) and a personal axe or two to grind with the Church in regards to women's ordination, lay overreaching, and other misguided fantasies of what some of them thought the Church ought to be. And I doubt that those of today's "Christmas pageant children" who haven't left the Church by their adulthood will think fondly of their coerced involvement in heterodox practices, either.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Bleg To My Highly Intelligent And Resourceful Readers!


I just found out our little church does a children's Christmas pageant at the one Christmas Mass. We're in the choir, of course, and had planned to attend that Mass--but now I find out that the pageant takes place during the Gospel reading. It goes something like this: priest reads a little of the Gospel. Pauses. Children act out part he just read. A Christmas carol is sung. Priest reads the next part of the Gospel. Children act out, carol is sung, etc. This happens a total of six times.

Not only that, but the Gospel is a mishmash of two Christmas Gospels, one from Saint Luke and the other from Saint Matthew.

Now, I am almost 100% sure this is not even remotely allowed to happen during the Mass. It would be fine if they wanted to do it before the Mass, or afterward in the parish hall, but interrupting the Gospel reading for a show seems to be the height of liturgical abuse. But I can't find anything official that says so, and instead seem to be finding evidence that other parishes do the same thing.

Please, please, please, if you know or can find something definitive from the Church's rubrics that will make it clear this is not even remotely permitted, send it to me at once, or post it in the comment boxes! As it is, my family, who makes up roughly 1/3 of the choir, is going to have to tell the rest of the choir that we won't be attending Christmas Mass at our parish if this goes forward, but will celebrate Christmas Mass elsewhere--but it would be a lot easier if I had some way to prove that this kind of disrespect for the Gospel and for the integrity of the Holy Mass was not allowed by the Church.

Anything you can discover will be most helpful; thank you in advance!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Post-Election Posting Fatigue

Just a couple of weeks ago, I felt like I was blogging practically everything I was thinking. In the days leading up to the election it seemed like America couldn't possibly do what I feared we were about to, and elect the most pro-abortion candidate ever to be our president. Like many of you I wrote, talked, argued and discussed, pouring energy into every word, hoping that enough people, especially enough Catholics, would re-think their support of a person so terribly committed to the Culture of Death.

But it happened, and many of us wrote and talked about that too, from the standpoint of our heartsick disappointment and grave fears for the future.

That disappointment is still palpable, and those fears no less grave. But in the intervening days I admit to feeling a somewhat depressed frustration, a sense that we're going to have four years of nonstop agony over the rolling back of all the protection of the unborn thus far enacted and of a growing movement in our nature to dismantle traditional marriage to the point of nonsense, and similar social evils--and that we'd be better off finding a "nice safe cage" to hide in than to bother trying to reach our fellow citizens or convert our fellow Catholics or otherwise do anything to stop the inevitable onslaught.

And that's a temptation, of course. God doesn't let us run away and hide and let evil triumph. He will have work for us to do, and some of it will be writing, and some of it will be action. He will lead us when the time is right to stand in opposition to the cruel and bloodthirsty spirit of the age, that preys on unborn children and the disabled and the elderly with all the hatred the Enemy has for God's image in us.

But now the way ahead is dark, and like short-legged hobbits on a snowy path that seems to be leading nowhere at all we can't seem to see what lies before us, or how any good can come from the evil that oppresses us.

I've started a few times this week to write about this news article or that blog post someone else put together, only to wonder if there's any point. Before the election I was shouting; now I'm huddled at a corner table in a deserted pub with a handful of friends, talking in hushed voices about the election of an opponent who hates just about everything we stand for; it's dispiriting, and I've let it get to me.

I still find myself thinking "President Obama? Really?? What were they thinking?" from time to time. I read about the growing and worsening economic crisis and think gloomily that the one good thing about not having much saved is not having much to lose; I doubt seriously that the inexperienced Obama will have a clue what to do about any of it, and worry that his solutions are going to sound a lot like this. But when I sit down to write about it, I think of the throngs of people chanting "Yes We Can!" and thinking Obama was going to pay for their gas and mortgages and everything else, all for free, just like magic--and I shrug and go do something else instead.

So, while I have been busy in other ways, and have had other obligations, the truth is that I always seem to find time to write blog posts, so that's not entirely behind my slacking this week. In all honesty, I still feel rather lost whenever I think about what the next four years are going to bring, in terms of more unborn children dying, doctors and other health care workers losing their freedom to refuse to participate in the killing, a greater push for euthanasia (especially if universal health care is passed), and the drive to destroy marriage.

I know that things will get better, but I think they'll get a lot worse, first. It's made it hard to get back into that rhythm of reading and commenting on news events and other things, this worry and the wish to hide in Custard's cage with him, and let Ink, Blink, Mustard and Belinda handle things for the next four years. But I'll get there--it helps to have this blog, and to hear from so many like-minded people who aren't ready to enshrine the Culture of Death as our inevitable way of life--and I'm grateful to all of you for keeping me from just giving up and moving to some other country where I won't know the language and won't have any idea how bad things are getting. :)

Some Friday Fun

I saw this cute quiz at Nutmeg's blog, and decided to try it. Amazingly, it picked out one of my favorite games:

You Are Chess

You are brilliant and shrewd. You can often predict what people will do in the future.

You thrive in complex situations. You deal with contradictions well.

You can have many streams of though going on at your mind at once. You keep track of things well.

You are very patient. You have lots of endurance, even when your energy dwindles

And since that was fun, and since my blogging brain is pretty well fried this afternoon, I did these as well:

You Are a Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin

You are smart, sophisticated, and savvy.

You love taking risks, and you are the first to know about new trends.

You are curious about the world and tend to have many interests.

You also are very talented. It sometimes seems like you are good at everything.

You are very social and inclusive. You'll be friends with anyone.

Even though you're very cultured, you're not a snob.

What Your Height Says About You

You are a very vulnerable and spiritual person. Your emotions run deep.

You have a philosophical and poetic soul. You think things through and are a bit of a skeptic.

You tend to be very opinionated. You are a perfectionist with high standards.

You prefer to work alone. You work hard, and you don't like interruptions.

You are about as tall as the average Japanese woman.

So there you have it. ;-)

In all honesty, I know I've been a slacker this week. It seems a bit like post-election fatigue--which is a post I'm working on for later.

Oh, No. Not This Again.

From the "Dan Brown made an awful lot of moolah and I can too" files comes the latest bit of nonsense about Vatican art and secret messages:
Never mind the Da Vinci Code -- what about Michelangelo's secret messages? On the 500th anniversary of the artist's first climb up the ladder in 1508 to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a new book claims he embedded subversive messages in his spectacular frescoes -- not only Jewish, Kabbalistic and pagan symbols but also insults directed at Pope Julius II, who commissioned the work, and references to his own sexuality.

First published in an English version in May by Harper One, "The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican," coauthored by Vatican docent Roy Doliner and Rabbi Benjamin Blech, is already in its second edition in Italy. It will be translated into 16 languages and released in the coming months in Spain, Portugal, France, Poland, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
And it will probably be a Major Motion Picture soon, if past history of this sort of thing is any indication. Dan Brown is probably kicking himself for not doing a Michaelangelo tie-in back when he still had the chance.

It takes a special kind of arrogance, characteristic of the modern mind, to decide that an artist who lived hundreds of years ago buried a secret message so carefully and so skillfully that his own contemporaries and everyone since then was completely blind to it, and that it took you, you yourself, the first ever to come along who was intelligent and complex and thoughtful and worthy enough, to discover the master's message. Sadly, this arrogance, which is as foolish as it is blind, is all too prevalent in our modern age.

Because it's not possible for us to travel back in time and spend time with contemporaries of Michaelangelo, and ask them what they think of this latest theory. None of them, and none of those patrons of the arts who lived just after he did, ever wrote anything like what the authors of this new book did, after all; and if we could go back in time to present these theories it is quite likely that the contemporary witnesses would shrug, and laugh, and dismiss them out of hand.

Which, interestingly enough, is an argument in favor of apostolic Churches.

I don't mean to harm the sensibilities of any of my Protestant readers, but just consider a moment. In some ways, don't many of the forms of Protestantism depend on just the same sort of thing--perhaps not an arrogance, not in the spiritual sense, but still a conviction that Christianity has had it all wrong from very near the beginning? Isn't there still a kind of insistence that the Master's true meaning has been covered over by the extraneous paint of ritual, or carefully kept hidden by a conspiracy of the ordained, eager to keep their own power? Were not many of the founders of Protestant branches of Christianity saying, in effect, "See! I can tell you the true meaning of the Master, His secret message that has been hidden."

And we can't get into a time machine to speak directly to Saint Peter or the other Apostles, and ask them which of the many people to say this since their time has been right. We can't ask them to clarify the hidden meanings or interpretations that led the original Protestant leaders and thinkers to conclude that Rome had gotten it all wrong, and was now teaching error--we can't ask anyone who was a living witness to Christ's life and ministry on Earth, or who lived just after His death and resurrection, whether they can identify in any particular sect of the Protestant world the one true Christian Church.

But if we believe in the idea of apostolic succession, we don't have to. We can trust that those ordained by Saint Peter and the other Apostles kept the faith entire and intact, and handed it on thus to those who followed, in that unbroken line from their day to ours.

I am sure that the modern mind will continue to play the "find the hidden meaning" game with all sorts of antiquities: art, music, literature, and the like. The modern mind plays this game with Christianity, too; I have been assured recently that the Bible really does approve of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and only a bigoted interpretation could possibly see otherwise. But Christ did not establish His Church to be a secret, a hidden catacomb of meaning only accessible to the few; nor did He intend for His Church to be a den of relativism, where "Christian" means whatever one wants it to mean. He gave us His Church to shine as a clear, steady light of truth against the tendency of men to think that they, and they alone, know what is really true; He gave us the Apostles, and their successors who trace their line of ordination back unbroken to Saint Peter and the others, so that we know that we are practicing the same faith as they did, and may remain undisturbed by those who claim to have discovered, upon shaking the Bible vigorously one day in prayer, that Christians went wrong in the year 34 A.D. and have never gotten Christianity right since then.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sorry For the Light Blogging

This time of year is usually a "calm before the storm" season, a time to catch our breaths and pause as we approach Thanksgiving, Advent, and then Christmas. But this year it seems more like a storm before the tempest.

I don't know if it's the recent election and associated overblogging, the usual increase in schoolwork, test grading, etc. that seems to hit about this time, the choir fundraiser that's in the works, or the fact that I just found out a few days ago that both my parents and my in-laws will be in town for Thanksgiving, but for some reason I've been finding it pretty difficult to keep to my usual two-to-four blog posts a day pace. (Of course, the fact that I've already passed the 25,000 word count on my NaNoWriMo novel could possibly have something to do with it.) :)

Anyway, I'll try to get back up to speed. My readership has more than doubled this year, and I value every one of you and the fact that you find my ramblings enjoyable enough to keep coming over. So thanks for being patient this week, and I hope to do better in the near future!

The Tyranny of Tolerance

Got plans to do business anywhere near a courthouse this weekend? You may want to postpone it; protests like this one are in the planning stages:

In the Upper West Side of Manhattan, demonstrators chanted "Shame on you!" outside the temple. Leaders of the Mormon church had encouraged members to support passage of California's Proposition 8, a referendum banning same-sex marriage.

"I'm fed up and disgusted with religious institutions taking political stances and calling them moral when it's nothing but politics," said Dennis Williams, 36. "Meanwhile they enjoy tax-free status while trying to deny me rights that should be mine at the state and federal level."

Church spokesman Michael Otterson said that while citizens have the right to protest, he was "puzzled" and "disturbed" by the gathering since the majority of California's voters had approved the amendment.

"This was a very broad-based coalition that defended traditional marriage in a free and democratic election," Otterson said, referring to the numerous religious and social conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8. [...]

Gay-marriage advocates said they were planning nationwide demonstrations this weekend in more than 175 cities and outside the U.S. Capitol. A Seattle blogger was trying to organize simultaneous protests outside statehouses and city halls in every state Saturday.

Earlier in Connecticut, Jody Mock and Elizabeth Kerrigan emerged from Town Hall in West Hartford to the cheers of about 150 people and waved their marriage license high. The couple led the lawsuit that overturned the state law.

"We feel very fortunate to live in the state of Connecticut, where marriage equality is valued, and hopefully other states will also do what is fair," Kerrigan said.

It's pretty clear that to same-sex marriage [redefinition of marriage] advocates, the only acceptable sort of "tolerance" for their depraved and sinful lifestyles is the sort that lets them have everything they demand, while simultaneously redefining all traditional sexual moralities as bigotry and intolerance.

The reality is that there are things which, based on natural law, a healthy society does not tolerate. Societal approval and encouragement of sexually deviant behaviors is not something that has ever characterized a healthy society; usually it is a sign that the barbarians are at the gate, and that the forces of destruction embedded within the dying culture are simply aiding in the hastening of that society's eventual demise.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PrObama Catholics--Still Think Your Guy Will Reduce Abortion?

From U.S. News and World Report comes this list of things relating to women's ability to kill their babies and render themselves chemically sterile which Planned Parenthood's President and Chief Monster Cecile Richards thinks we'll see during an Obama administration; my comments are in red:

Women's health activists [translation: people who think women's health is all about killing babies] are fist-bumping each other over Obama's slam-dunk win, and they're hoping that he'll reverse some of the policies put in place by Bush. Yesterday, I had a chance to catch up with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards in between her strategy meetings and blogging for the Huffington Post. She predicted seven things that would change in the new administration.

1. No more federal funds for abstinence-only education. Two years ago Obama told a conservative Christian audience that abstinence-only education was not enough to prevent teen pregnancy and that he "respectfully but unequivocally" disagrees with those who oppose condom distribution to prevent HIV transmission, [because God--oh, excuse me, Saul Alinsky--forbid that children should ever learn about morality or virtue in school, or be taught in any way that doesn't assume they're all the moral equivalent of prostitutes and gigolos] according to the reproductive health blog Reality Check. He's also an original co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, [does anybody remember hearing about this during the election season, from either the mainstream media or from prObama Catholics? Nope, me neither.] which mandates that all federal sex-education programs be medically accurate and include information about contraception. That legislation could be resurrected in the new Congress.

2. No more global gag rule. On Bush's first day in office in 2001, he reinstituted the "global gag rule" that restricted federally funded health clinics in foreign countries from performing abortions or even providing referrals or medical counseling on abortion. "We think there's going to be a change in that approach and that these clinics will be allowed once again to offer a full range of family planning services," Richards says. [Translation: there are too many poor people in the world, so let's kill as many as we can in utero, and decrease the surplus population before they start to interfere with our hedonistic selfish consumeristic morally depraved lifestyles.]

3. Better coverage for contraception and pregnancy. While Richards says women's health activists had to "battle the current administration to get emergency contraception approved over the counter," they're now hoping that Obama's proposed health plan will make contraception more affordable to women. [Cause if America isn't the land of the cheap pill and the quickie abortion, then what is it? My goodness, without cheapie contraceptives people might have to go back to behaving with moral decency--and we can't have that.] It could force drug plans to cover birth control pills as they would any other drug. (Many still do not.) [Because forcing people who don't believe in contraception for religious or moral reasons to help pay for it may be reprehensible, but we'll do it anyway.] And it could include more comprehensive prenatal coverage; some women shell out $5,000 or more to have a baby. [Obligatory lip service paid to the notion that some people actually don't kill the little critters.] I'm also curious to see whether Obama reverses a Medicaid rule that last year stopped allowing discounted birth control pills to be dispensed on college campuses. [Yes, by all means, let's up the male and female slut factor at colleges across our nation. Why don't we just import cheap pills from China? They may be risky for women, but in the goal of making sure everybody's a tramp no price is too high to pay.]

4. Reversal of the "conscience" regulation that threatens women's access to birth control. Obama will probably reverse a new rule, opposed by most medical organizations including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that's slated to be enacted in the next few weeks by the Department of Health and Human Services. It allows doctors and other healthcare workers to opt out of certain practices that some of them find morally objectionable—like prescribing birth control pills, inserting IUDs, or dispensing emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning-after pill) to rape victims—without fear of losing their jobs. Read more about this here. [And this is the big one, and some of us Catholic bloggers, big, small, and tiny-insignificant, have been warning about this from day one. It's not a "token gesture" for the Republicans to want to protect pro-life doctors and nurses and pharmacists from being forced to kill babies--and it's truly frightening to live in a country where pretty soon "medical professional" will mean "someone who assists in killing babies whether he wants to or not." But that's what Richards and her ilk want--and what Obama has promised to do.]

5. Increases in funding for reproductive health clinics serving uninsured. While Title X federal funds were recently increased for Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, Richards hopes an Obama administration will provide further increases. "We're currently meeting the needs of 3 million women," she says, "but an additional 14 million who need our services aren't getting them." [In other words, your tax dollars and mine must pay for women to kill their babies or commit the sin of contraception. Our beliefs are unimportant: it's seen as a public good to fund such things.]

6. Fixing gender disparities in health insurance premiums. While Obama's proposed health plan is probably a pipedream in this economic climate, it could (if ever enacted) ensure that women who buy individual policies aren't discriminated against because of their gender. A recent analysis of 3,500 health plans from the National Women's Law Center found that insurers charged 40-year-old women anywhere from 4 percent to 48 percent more than they charged men of the same age. "The average woman uses healthcare more because she spends an average of 5 years getting pregnant and 30 years trying not to," explains Richards. "It's certainly not fair that she pays more, and this is the kind of issue that Obama wants to address." [Of course, feminists like Richards have only themselves to blame for convincing insurance companies that pregnancy is a disease. And abstinence is cheap: one reason why money-hungry PP hates it so much.]

7. Improved access to morning after pills and abortions for U.S. military women serving overseas. Women who become pregnant while serving overseas are immediately shipped home. They aren't allowed to get surgical abortions in military hospitals, nor do they have access to medical abortions early in the pregnancy using Mifeprex, a combination of two medications. [Because of course a woman who is in the military must want to kill her child; surely they're all rampant die-hard feminists just waiting to be allowed to go into combat, which Richards also probably hopes Obama will allow.] Obama's health plan includes coverage for abortions, and he could join with the Democrat-led Congress to enact legislation that ensures that soldiers get the same health benefits [Because killing your baby is a health benefit--though not for the baby, of course, for whom it's just a form of execution] as the rest of us.

Catholics like myself who did not vote for Obama knew that all of this was coming; we expected that this sort of thing was what his followers wanted, and what they would demand that he do. But Catholics who voted for Obama--prObama Catholics, I've started calling them--assured us that none of this would really happen, or if it did, it wouldn't be that meaningful, or that Obama's solutions to war and poverty would shrink abortion almost into oblivion. They claimed, in effect, that Obama would not increase abortions. It's pretty hard to read that list of the seven things Cecile Richards expects to see and keep making that argument with a straight face.