Friday, February 29, 2008

A Recipe By Request

Believe it or not, I've had a request for that spicy chickpea soup recipe (sans bugs, of course). My version is adapted from a recipe in a book that I liked, but I wanted to be able to cook it in a slow cooker/crockpot to save effort and allow easier doubling.

It's a great Lenten soup--so enjoy!

1 cup dried chickpeas (sans bugs!)
Six cups water

(Cook about four hours on "high" or as needed until softened.)

Then add:

one to two T. diced onion or one T dried minced onion
2-3 cloves minced garlic
one cup fresh carrot, sliced and parboiled OR about one cup frozen carrot slices
two cups diced fresh potato OR two cups frozen diced hashbrown potatoes
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder
14 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
one cup frozen peas
salt and pepper to taste
about four to six cups of additional water or to taste

Cook an additional two hours on high.

To make it even easier, choose all the frozen vegetable options AND two cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained; put all of it in the crockpot at the same time with about six cups of water total (add more if necessary) and cook about six hours on high.

This soup is very flexible, which is one of the reasons I love it. I've added a little corn, some frozen gumbo vegetables that included okra, and have made other substitutions on occasion. It's the combination of spices that really makes this one good.

As we head into our last few weeks of Lent, let's give thanks to God that there are so many wonderful meatless dishes out there to enjoy!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mr. C!

Today we celebrate the birthday of our dear Mr. Cardigan! He's the lone tenor in a house full of sopranos; he's the light of my life, and if I were to write down every sentiment he creates in my heart--well, that doesn't work out very well in cold print, does it?

So, instead, I'd like to share a little about the beginning of this wonderful partnership.

The first time I met Mr. Cardigan was at a meeting of a local Catholics United for the Faith chapter. I wish I could tell you some hearts-and-flowers story of love at first glance, but it wouldn't be true. For one thing, my parents had met him and his parents before I ever met him: they met at a March for Life in our city, and I didn't go because I was in bed with a raging flu. So I got to hear all about this wonderful Catholic fellow, and any Catholic girl of a certain post-collegiate age is very good at listening between the lines.

So I knew, at our first meeting, that it was a setup. I knew his mom and at least one of my relatives would be watching to see if there was any chemistry. And I went out of my way to take off my contact lenses and substitute them for my large owlish glasses, something I never did, just in case.

But I didn't have to worry. He seemed pleasant, but neither smitten nor desperate; he talked more with my brother than with me. I was glad; it wasn't that I would have minded a friendship, but I really didn't think I was interested in a relationship.

When my mom learned that his family didn't have plans for Easter Sunday, she invited them to join us for dinner. It was subtle; I didn't see any visible evidence of matchmaking, but then again, I didn't think Mr. C. was all that interested in me, either. I could relax and let my guard down.

Sitting across from him that day at the rickety picnic table that had been brought indoors to augment the seating (yes, we started out at the kids' table!) I found out that there was a whole lot more to him than I would have ever guessed.

When he expressed an interest in Japanese culture, for instance, I asked how he'd gotten interested in that--and his offhand response was that he'd been there for four years. Really? Yes, in the Air Force...

In the conservative circles I moved in, and in the geographic region we lived in at the time, military service was practically a pickup line. But Mr. C. was humble about it, and I was only just finding it out. Further conversation revealed more about him: his reading habits, his interest in movies (including some of the old ones I loved), his various creative endeavors (he's a really good photographer). I found myself really enjoying our conversation, and though I was still absolutely certain that there'd never be anything between us but friendship I was glad that he was going to be such an interesting friend.

Later, when dinner was long over and my mom was getting ready to serve dessert, she offered coffee to all the guests. Mr. C. politely declined, and she (from whom I inherit my love of caffeine) offered tea, instead. Mr. C. smiled shyly--if it wasn't too much trouble, if anyone else wanted any...

I offered to make some. And as I stood on tiptoes to reach the teapot down from its shelf, I had the oddest sensation--as if I would be doing things like this for this man for the rest of my life. It was almost as though my guardian angel were shouting in my ear, "Yes! This one! This is the right one!" but I couldn't hear him; there was nothing but that very odd feeling of familiarity.

It passed, and I laughed at myself and made the tea. Mr. C. called a few days later; we went out, but it was definitely as friends (or at least, I thought so). Our lives got busy; from that first date in April it was several months before we went out again--in fact, it was September, and from the very start of that second date things were different; I couldn't pretend any more that I only wanted friendship with this incredible and dear man. We were engaged in November and married the following April.

It's an absolute privilege to be the wife of such a wonderful man, who is charming and helpful and loyal and interesting and supportive and talented and committed. I love that he is so willing to keep learning, to be involved in the church, to share the girls' interests with them, and to fill our lives with so much happiness. As we celebrate his birthday today, I want Mr. C. to know that he can count on me, for love and friendship, to stay his 'partner in crime', to give him what he gives me, joy and happiness and understanding and support and always, love.

And sometimes tea.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Potluck Wednesday, No Time To Post Edition

I'm rather busy this afternoon, so I hope you'll forgive me for the brevity of this post.

First, congratulations to Nicole on the birth of her fifth child! What a beautiful little girl!

Next, please keep Mark Shea in your prayers. He's battling a respiratory illness that just won't go away, like so many are just now.

If you'd like to go on a trip to Rome with Father Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS, go here to let him know. If you'd love to go but could never afford it, like me, just pray for those who can! :)

If you missed this story from the Curt Jester, please read it. Then consider doing what I did--going to the website of the Diocese of Newark, which is the diocese where this paper is published, and sending an email to a diocesan department asking for the Diocese to issue a public clarification along the lines that Catholics in good standing may not dissent from major Church teachings, nor send them to religious education while planning to undermine that education in the home.

Finally, please pray for the repose of the soul of William F. Buckley. Whether I agreed or disagreed with the things he wrote, he was always thought-provoking; the conservative political world will miss him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When Life Gives You Chickpea Bugs, Make German Apple Pancakes

Mr. Cardigan is a rather healthy eater. When I spoke with him earlier today, he expressed a longing for vegetable soup for dinner--homemade, of course. I offered to prepare a family favorite: a spicy chickpea and vegetable soup that features the flavors of curry and turmeric. This being heartily approved by nearly all (Kitten's not that fond of beans) I popped the dried chickpeas into the crockpot.

One of the things I like about making this soup is that the chickpeas cook for several hours, bubbling along merrily; when they've reached their soft and fully-cooked stage, the other vegetables which include diced tomatoes, corn, diced potatoes, and so forth are added along with the delicious spices. At this point the soup needs only another hour or so to be ready (provided the crockpot is on its highest setting); the warm rich aroma fills the whole house.

This afternoon, I was on the phone with one of my dear little sisters, and I went to the crockpot to check on the chickpeas. They would be just about perfect, now, I thought, and it would be time to put the other ingredients in with them.

But as I leaned over the pot I got an unpleasant surprise: there were tiny brown bugs floating above the chickpeas.

"I've got to go," I told my sister; then I called my husband and told him what had happened.

He, good man that he is, immediately offered to bring home dinner. The hour was too far advanced for me to start cooking something else; I hadn't defrosted any meat, and what else could I do?

I told him I'd think of something. Fast food is sometimes necessary during a grocery shopping expedition on the weekend, but I hate to give into its flashy allure during the week. Besides, it's Lent; surely I had something to work with.

I looked around the kitchen, weighing possibilities. Spinach quiche? Pasta? They didn't sound all that appealing, not when I'd been expecting spicy chickpea and vegetable soup.

Then my eyes lighted on the bowl of Gala apples on the table. Just a week or so ago I'd been talking to my mother on the telephone; she was busily making German apple pancakes while we spoke. "I've got a plan!" I told the girls, and we all got to work.

Kitten started washing the apples and handing them to me to slice; she had helpful comments for me like, "Don't forget to cut off that stem," and "Don't cut your fingers, Mom." Meanwhile Hatchick vacuumed the living room, and then she and Bookgirl went and tidied the bathroom counter in their bathroom while Kitten and I finished up with the apples and hunted for the pans we'd be using: two round cake pans, and two square glass ones.

Soon I was assembling the batter while Kitten mixed cinnamon and sugar and watched me melt butter in the now-hot pans. We popped in the apple slices, poured the batter on top, and lavishly coated the pancakes with cinnamon sugar.

Back into the oven they went, while the girls emptied the dishwasher. I told them I'd be right back to wash the preparation dishes, but when I came back Kitten had already done them and put them in the dishwasher.

I set out some spinach to defrost; Kitten's suggestion of creamed spinach somehow sounded like a great accompaniment. Once the pancakes were out of the oven I started on that, while Kitten spread some frozen hashbrowns we happened to have on hand into a large flat baking pan.

It's all going to be ready quite soon, and it smells heavenly in here: not the rich spices I'd planned on, but the sweet tangy smell of cinnamon and apples with the crisp potatoes and earthy spinach adding their notes to the aroma.

I'd planned on an easy soup for dinner, but I got something much better: time spent in the kitchen with my lovely daughters.

(Oh, and the pancakes, of course.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Smile! You're On Candidate Camera

Remember that strange image of Michael Dukakis in a tank? Or that equally weird one of John Kerry looking like a character in a low-budget science-fiction film?

Well, here's the Obama edition.

The mainstream media, most of whom are strictly objective Democrats leaning toward Obama, are properly horrified by this low dirty trick of publicizing a photo of a candidate the existence of which the candidate was presumably aware, especially since this low dirty trick seems to be emanating from the Clinton camp, meaning that the MSM has to be restrained in their outrage. And they are being restrained; the general tone of the articles that have so far popped up is, "We can't believe we have to tell you this, but there's actually a less-than-godlike image of Obama out there. Okay, okay, here it is. And here. And here. And if you want a copy to purchase, go here."

Which goes to show, of course, that the MSM may support Obama, but they support themselves first; unlike their first few rounds with pajamas-media types, the MSM is now perfectly aware that if they don't show us the picture, some uncouth untrained non-journalist is going to get all the credit, not to mention all the web traffic.

But frankly, I wonder just how much impact this pic is really going to have.

I know there are some people out there convinced that Obama's a secret Muslim, and this picture will certainly fan those sorts of conspiratorial flames. But since this group doesn't include likely Obama supporters, there's not going to be much of a fall-off in his poll numbers.

Some are speculating that this will hurt Hillary more than it hurts Obama, and certainly it would be a convenient excuse for the crashing and burning that continues to characterize much of the campaign being run by the smartest woman in America, but again, Hillary partisans are unlikely to be ruffled by it. They are probably already circling the excuse wagons, aboard which they will conclude that it wasn't Hillary herself, of course, and it might have been a secret Republican mole, and anyway it's not unfair to show the picture, and Obama's not playing fair himself, and if we all have a good cry this whole mess will just go away. So I don't see too many of her likely primary voters ditching her over this little slip of the camera.

In a broader sense, though, this picture is going to have an impact. The first time America saw a candidate in a ridiculous Army getup with no notion how un-presidential the image made him appear, we shuddered collectively, and started looking elsewhere. The second time America saw such a picture, we howled with laughter. This time? I'm listening, and so far I only hear the sound of millions of voters shrugging. Who cares about the this stupid picture? they all seem to be saying.

And if it happens again, we'll probably hear crickets.

We're reaching the point where the Silly Candidate Picture is becoming an expected feature of the entertainment cycle we call elections. It's on a par with the Candidate Foot-In-Mouth moment, the Unsubstantiated Adultery Allegations moment, the Really Unfortunate Statement By a Candidate's Spouse moment, and the Torturous Financial Trail Leading Back to Chinese Lobbyists moment.

Relax, folks; it's all part of the show.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Primary Options

Yesterday on the Crunchy Con blog, Rod Dreher posed some interesting thoughts about primary voting, and what the best thing for Texas voters (and others who can vote in either party's primary without having to register as a member of that party) is in regard to the upcoming primary.

As Rod puts it, voters have several options:
  1. Take a Democratic ballot, and vote for Obama, with the purpose of derailing Hillary;
  2. Take a Democratic ballot, and vote for Hillary, because she'd be easier for McCain to defeat;
  3. Take a Republican ballot and vote for Huckabee (or, I'll add, Ron Paul) which would essentially be a Republican "protest vote" that would have the purpose of letting the party leadership know a) that we actually like those candidates, and/or b) that we're not keen on McCain
And to those options I'll add two more:

4. Take a Republican ballot and vote for McCain as a show of unity or strength for the Republican party; and

5. Stay home on primary day to avoid supporting either party.

Does it surprise anyone that I'm leaning toward "5"?

Don't get me wrong. There could be a pretty good case made out for any of these options; of course, some people object to taking Democratic ballots on the grounds that they have to check a little box at the bottom of the form saying they'll support the Democratic candidate in the general election, and they know they won't be doing this. My answer to this is that no one except a die-hard partisan can, in good conscience, check that box on even the Republican ballot, since the whole point of the primary is that we're selecting candidates, and it's very likely that someone we find ourselves unable to support in the general election will be the nominee; yet if you don't check that box you can't participate. If political parties want truly closed primaries, they need to follow those states that only permit registered party voters to participate in primary elections; if they're testing allegiance with a statement beside a little box, then to me, there's an understood codicil to every checkmark which reads "I reserve the right to change my mind."

Other than that, as I said, there are reasons to take any of the five actions; but there are serious objections, too. To me these objections are as follows:
  1. Voting for Obama in the primary means that you are supporting the candidacy of the most rabidly pro-abortion candidate who has ever run for President. Even if you are doing so with your fingers crossed, so to speak, and even if you only want the Clintons to go away forever (a noble desire with which I have much sympathy) you are overlooking the old saying which begins, "Better the devil you do know..." Obama is the devil we don't know, because the devil is in the details, and the details are what has been studiously missing from his campaign. It may be in the end that he makes the Clintons look like a couple of amateur dishonest con artists, while he ends up looking like the villain of this movie.
  2. Voting for Hillary, on the other hand, on the grounds that McCain will more easily beat her than he would Obama is a bit of a fool's game, as far as I'm concerned. McCain is not all that strong of a candidate; to assume that he will have a much easier time defeating Hillary than Obama is to assume that it might be possible for him to have an easy time defeating either one of them. It may be that he won't; and do you really want your primary vote to be among the reasons we get stuck with the shrill voice and bloodthirsty tendencies of Lady Macbeth for the next four years?
  3. I have the second-strongest leanings in this direction. It seems like the most honest--if most meaningless--thing to do, in many ways: to show up and support the candidate you actually like the best. I like both Huckabee and Paul, but for different reasons; in choosing only one of them I would probably choose Paul on the grounds that his positions are closer to mine than Huckabee's are. From a moral standpoint this is certainly very satisfying, but from a practical standpoint registering a protest vote this far into a primary is even more futile than registering a third-party or write-in protest vote in the general election (which I have done in the past). At least in the general election one's third-party vote means that someone who was willing to go and vote didn't like the choices offered by our stifling two-party system; within a party primary, though, the meaning is diminished somewhat. There is no way that either Huckabee or Paul could still secure the nomination, and even if one of them were to achieve a relatively strong primary showing in a state or two there is no guarantee at all that this will translate into a realization by the much-fractured Republican party that we are dissatisfied with the all-but-certain nominee. The truth is that if either Giuliani or Romney were still in the game, a vote for a stronger pro-life/pro-family candidate might indeed be needed to offset any chance that the pro-choice or more "moderate" wing of the party might prevail in future elections, but as that threat has thankfully been removed, there's little to be accomplished (aside from personal satisfaction) in showing up on primary day to vote for the lion or the unicorn.
  4. This option doesn't appeal to me at all, but I thought it should be included for the sake of those voters who are already much more concerned with the general election than the conclusion of the primary season, and who therefore think that McCain needs large numbers of Republican primary voters to support him, to show that however disappointed we might be with his candidacy we're going to do whatever it takes to keep the Democrats from moving in to 1600 Pennsylvania. I could see former Romney supporters, for instance, reaching this conclusion; but as I never was one I see no reason to rally for the sake of party unity and strength just yet.
  5. As I said, this is the option I like best. In states I've lived in before where one has to declare party affiliation I have just about always registered as an independent, and thus someone not even eligible to vote in those states' primaries. Quite frankly, I think our two-party system is poisonous to liberty, and though I understand how things evolved this way that doesn't mean that I approve of it. I was certainly prepared to vote in this year's Republican primary, though, because while no one on the field of nominees was the kind of candidate I could wholeheartedly support, there were some who were completely unacceptable to me, and others who I found reasonably worth supporting. But because of the way the primary system is structured, by the time we Texans have our turn it's all over but the shouting. A vote for any of the Republican candidates thus becomes a vote in favor of the Republican party in general, and I'm not at all sure I can give them that support in good conscience, particularly in light of the fact that McCain will take the nomination barring some extremely odd set of unforeseen circumstances.
The reality is that Texas voters, and voters in the remaining primaries, will be weighing these and similar options from now until a candidate has officially captured the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination. As I said, I think any of these options could be taken, but my current tendency is to think I'll be sitting this one out.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Punctuation




You Are a Colon



You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.



You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.



Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)



You excel in: Leadership positions



You get along best with: The Semi-Colon



I was pretty surprised with the results of the above quiz; I thought I'd be a semicolon. If you've read this blog for very long chances are you've noticed my tendency to use the semicolon far too frequently; I sometimes send it in to do the job that only a colon should do, and other times I use it when a comma might suffice.

Fortunately, there is still a place for semicolons in the world. But it's possible that things might change. From the article:

Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

I have to admit it; my fondness for semicolons, even when I use them in ways that might not be correct, comes from my admiration for those writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century who regularly wrote sentences which could occupy the greater part of the page, and sometimes even spill over for a paragraph or two at the beginning of the next. There is a subtle art in creating such super-sentences, such flowing script of grandly eloquent prose that, even if the notion therefore expressed is mundane, yet conveys to the reader a sense of import and sweeps them along in the lovely curves of well-expressed thought.

But such writing has been out of fashion for some time now. It is seen as pretentious, pedantic. Quick, snappy sentences are the vogue. Say what you mean, quickly and without adornment. Sound bites rule.

So where a writer of the past would pen such words as, "The golden rays of the slowly-rising sun filtered through the leaves of the magnolia tree outside my window; these green-gold harbingers of rosy-fingered Dawn pierced gently through the soft summer curtains which hung about the posts of my bed and, stroking my cheek until I wakened to their presence, then fled shyly from me as I languorously threw back the soft clean sheets and emerged to a new day," the writer of today writes, "It was morning. I got up."

Yes, the clarity is improved; but the poetry suffers somewhat from so thorough an abandonment of the prose styles of the past.

Perhaps the pendulum will begin swinging back in the direction of more slow, subtle writing. If it does, whatever the quiz above says, I'll be ready; I even have enough semicolons to share.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nunc Dimittis

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

A short time ago I asked for prayers for my grandmother, age 90. Though I know our heartfelt prayers worked many graces, including the time for her seven children to bid her farewell and for daily visits, prayers, blessings, and sacraments offered by priests who came to her at her nursing home, it was her time. I received word this morning that she had died about six a.m. EST, and that her passing was peaceful.

I would like to ask for your continued prayers, for the repose of her soul, for safe travel for those members of my family who will be able to attend her funeral, and for all the members of her extended family.

Dying in the arms of the Church, with family members near at hand, with many opportunities for grace, and after a life of ninety years, is almost the definition of that grace of a good death for which we all ask daily for St. Joseph's intercession. There can be little of sorrow at such a provided-for and expected parting; indeed, my reflections today on the end of my grandmother's life were that I would love to be blessed myself with so natural and peaceful and even joyful an ending.

Incline Thine ear, O Lord, unto our prayers,
wherein we humbly pray Thee
to show Thy mercy upon the soul of Thy servant, whom Thou hast commanded to pass out of this world,
that Thou wouldst place him in the region of peace and light,
and bid him be partaker with Thy Saints.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord,
And let perpetual Light shine upon her.
May her soul
And the souls of all the faithful departed
Through the mercy of God
Rest in peace.
Amen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Winter of our Discontent

I'm sure when Shakespeare penned the above phrase, he wasn't even dreaming of homeschooling mamas, and that dreadful time we call the third-quarter blues. But it's a suitable one, just the same.

There's nothing quite like staring out a window at a gray and lifeless landscape that's cold enough to be miserable, but warm enough to carry in its occasional drafts a cruel promise of a spring that's just far enough away to be hauntingly unreal. There's nothing like pulling your vision back inside to see that the color in the room comes from the mounds of unwashed laundry you've just pulled out of the basket and separated in the hopes of getting them washed and perhaps--o, bright possibility!--even folded before the end of the day. There's nothing quite like suspecting that hidden beneath the math workbooks and grammar texts on your children's desks there just must be a manual: How To Shred Your Sisters With Incessant Bickering--And Drive Mom Crazy! (Or at least, a title along the lines of Griping for Dummies.) There's nothing quite like winter colds and winter flus and other assorted winter bugs adding to the general grump and moody distraction of the days.

I have to admit--I'm not having such a bad third quarter this year, myself. Much of the above description comes either from my experiences of years past, or from my visits to the blogs of a few other homeschooling mamas, who are battling everything from below-freezing temperatures and once-picturesque snow that has turned into lumps of icy gray slush to the sorts of family illnesses that start with the baby, move through everybody else, and then go back to the baby again just to add insult to injury. Our weather here has been more capricious than treacherous, and so far--God willing!--we've been spared more than mild colds and unfortunate allergy problems, the direct result of the weather's rather playful approach to temperatures, which keeps tricking everything, including our seasonal allergies, into thinking that spring has come.

But compared to my more northerly homeschooling mom friends and family, I have nothing to complain about. Even my usual state of chaotic confusion that usually sets in at about this time has held off so far. Compared to last year, things seem pretty good this winter. So what has changed?

The only thing I can think of is that I have.

I'm a little better about staying on top of things like weekly schedules and grading. I've started incorporating lists into my household tasks again, so that instead of sneaking off during the school day to fold a load of laundry I simply write down that it needs to be done; and then if a lull of workbooks or reading time occurs I have a good way to occupy my time and the satisfaction of getting to cross a chore off of the list. I'm making plans for some spring clean outs, but am not trying, unrealistically, to squeeze these things in sometime between the end of the school day and the beginning of dinner preparation. I'm making an effort to be more relaxed, and to let winter be winter.

Now, I didn't write the above to brag--far from it! But this is so unlike my usual way of dealing with this time of year that I can't help but feel God's grace working here, letting me focus on what needs to be accomplished each day without letting me get mired in that discontent that so often accompanies my winters. It seems like I've finally realized the cause: I was discontented simply because it was winter, and specifically because it was winter after Christmas during Lent during the third quarter and life all at once got to seem frustrating and overwhelming and dull, all at the same time.

It's easy to like the first fall of snow (even back in the day when I lived somewhere where that actually happened). It's easy to enjoy the first chilly days, to pull out warm sweaters in glowing colors, to make hot chocolate and build fires in the fireplace, to decorate the house with red and green, or silver and gold, to await the celebration of the birth of Christ, to find winter joys and revel in winter cheer.

It's hard to like the tail end of winter, when spring is coming closer and closer, when all that was beautiful and mysterious and enjoyable has faded, when the liturgical purple replaces the brighter colors of celebration, when the little acts of sacrifice seem to add an additional layer of penance to that already inflicted by the weather and its tendencies to bring illness and lethargy in its wake.

But spring is coming. Easter is only thirty-three days away, one day for each year of our Lord's life. Warmer weather will be here soon (especially for us Texas residents). If you are caught in a time of illness or frustration or burnout or grumpiness, remember that it will pass, and pass quickly; before you know it, the three glorious months of summer will be stretching out with all their brightness and all their potential. The discontent that so often accompanies winter will melt away like that slushy gray snow; the warm spring sun will erase the tiredness and restore our health and energy.

If you're feeling those third quarter blues, know that they will be over soon; and know that you're not alone. Particularly since I'm having a reasonably good third quarter this year, I'm thinking of you, and keeping you in my prayers. We homeschooling moms can do no less for each other!

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Answer to a Prayer

The year is 1948. A woman is praying; her husband of 23 years is ill with tuberculosis, and he may die. The wife makes God a promise: if her husband is spared, she will go to Mass every day.

Her husband recovers. His wife keeps her promise, and attends Mass every day. For almost fifty years, until they have to move into an assisted living facility, and she can't go anymore.

She is 99. Her husband is 101. And on Sunday, surrounded by family and friends, they celebrated their 83rd wedding anniversary.

You can read more about them here (free registration required) (hat tip: The Drudge Report).

I don't know the Vails at all, though I think it would be a privilege to know them. So I don't know just how Mayme Vail's prayer went, that day back in 1948. But I do know that she must have been worried, heartsick about her husband and unsure whether God would choose to spare his life, or whether his time had come. When she made her promise I'm sure that she was prepared for the worst, for God to say "no," and call Clarence home. Catholics raised in those days knew their faith pretty well, so I don't think Mayme thought she was 'bribing' God by offering this act of love and sacrifice, if only her dear husband survived his illness.

What I do believe is that over the course of the next forty-eight or forty-nine years Mayme's attendance at daily Mass proved two things: her overwhelming love for her husband, and her deep and humble gratitude for God's grace in letting Clarence live. To have gone to Mass every day in grateful thanksgiving for a year, for two, for five or even ten would be wonderful; the fact that she went daily for almost five decades goes way beyond wonderful. There must have been times when it was difficult to get there: they had six children, after all. There must have been days when walking to Mass--the article says she mostly walked--in Minneapolis weather must have been a severe penance; but Mayme was there, offering her thanks, a faithful witness to the power of God in her life. Like I said, I don't know the Vails, but this example of love and fidelity, of a prayer answered and a promise kept, is so inspiring.

How often do we approach God in prayer as if we were placing an order over the telephone? "Let's see, Lord, I'll have one serving of patience, one dollop of well-behaved children, an order of family solidarity, some deep-fried job stress resolution, and a side of special intentions. And put wings on that!" (Angel wings, of course.)

We're pleased with ourselves for having asked for such good things. We impatiently await their arrival. If we don't get them we're sulky and disappointed. We never wonder whether God didn't see right through us, and hear exactly what we were really saying all along:

Lord, make me patient, and quickly. Otherwise these children You've saddled me with and this husband of mine are going to drive me crazy, and I know You don't want that. While we're on the subject, how about reforming these kids? I'm doing my part, after all, so get to it--You're the only one Who can get them to quit this winter bickering they've started. They're only doing it to drive me crazy--see above. Let's see, how can I word this request to get my husband on board with my plans and forget his own? Oh, right "family solidarity." That's a good one. Family solidarity--if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Know what I mean, Lord? And help things work out for my husband's job, because I'm really getting bored hearing about all his problems. Now, let's see--oh, I can't be bothered remembering all the people I'm supposed to be praying for. "Special intentions." You know what they are. Good, I'm done.

God hears our prayers. All of them. Not just the ones we've dressed up in Sunday words and presented as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. He knows what we are really saying; He hears our inmost thoughts. He knows how selfish and lazy and self-centered we can be. It's not at all surprising that he doesn't answer our prayers, sometimes; it's more surprising that He ever does.

But when a grief-stricken wife pours out her love for her husband and offers God a pleasing and humble promise--and then keeps that promise for almost fifty years--she shows us the way. If we would have Him answer our prayers, we should approach Him in much the same way--seeking His will, unafraid to ask for what we really want, hopeful that He will allow us to have our prayers answered in the way we desire, but prepared for His will to differ from ours, and ready to offer Him grateful love and faithful service whatever happens.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Discord

One of the many problems we face as Christians in the world is that we can get too comfortable with things. We go along our daily routine, accepting the little rubs along the way, and figuring that if the boat is still holding its course there's no particular need to rock it. In the main, this is a good trait for Christians to have: we are not supposed to be creating strife, or stirring up trouble among each other for no good reason.

But what happens when we have, or think we have, a good reason to complain about something? What happens when a situation that we've been putting up with starts edging closer and closer to intolerable, causing us stress or making us wonder whether we should, in fact, keep putting up with things as they are, instead of taking some kind of action to foster change?

Worse, what happens when the situation itself involves the Church, or some aspect of our lives as Christians or as Catholics?

Take, for instance, a parent who is involved in religious education at her parish. She enjoys being able to assist in her children's classes, likes helping other children learn about their faith and be prepared for the sacraments, and gets along well with the other volunteer instructors and the pastor, as well as the director of religious education.

But then one day something changes. Maybe Father has appointed one parent to be in charge of all the volunteers, and this person constantly rubs her the wrong way, and has even corrected her in front of the children for an honest mistake or two. Maybe a new DRE is hired who dislikes the materials being used and talks the pastor into allowing her to purchase new books, which are not as sound theologically and are harder to use in the classroom. Maybe the pastor makes a plea from the altar for more volunteers--and does so in such a way that makes it obvious that he thinks the present set are barely competent.

Whatever the case, the volunteer's feelings are terribly hurt. She finds out that several of the other volunteers are upset, too, and are talking about quitting. There's a lot of anger and negative emotions--after all, they're volunteers! They're generously offering their time to the Church! They even went through the whole humiliating process of undergoing criminal background checks and attending child safety classes! And now this!

But other volunteers are less worried. Sure, there are changes. Sure, Father was tactless--but if priests were required to be tactful, we wouldn't have any priests in this diocese! Maybe the new books are less than we hoped for, but the children still need us to present the material to them. This is a ministry, after all, and our feelings aren't all that important.

It doesn't take very much of this sort of thing to rise to the level of real discord among people who ought to be motivated by Christian charity toward each other. What started out as a need, whether real or perceived, for some changes devolved into a fight among several factions: the pastor and/or the DRE, a set of volunteers who disagrees with them, and a further set who might not agree but who are willing to give the changes a chance. Often, at this point, angry words get exchanged, people start to stand on their authority (whether they actually have any or not) and sooner or later it's more than likely that a group of people will quit in a self-righteous huff over something that may not be as drastic as it seems.

Substitute just about any ministry at the parish level here: the nursery, the choir, the lectors or altar server trainers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and you will see similar sorts of situations arising again and again. "That's not how we do things around here," starts to contend with "That's not how we ought to do things," as competing visions, and whichever vision prevails one group or another is going to feel left out in the cold.

The reality is that discord will arise whenever two or more people have the responsibility to do something, so it's hardly surprising that discord will arise within the Church, among lay people who are contributing in some way to the ministries of the parish. But there are, I think, two very important things to remember.

The first is that we must always be aware of the role of pride in these situations. It's not prideful to have one's feelings hurt; nor is it prideful to disagree respectfully with the people in charge of a ministry. But once a decision has been made, whether we like that decision or not, we need to be honest with ourselves about our inwardly prideful thoughts, and how these might be contributing to our feelings. If we are upset because some real injustice or harm has been done, that is one thing; but if we are upset because things didn't go "our way" or resolve themselves to our total satisfaction, that is another thing altogether. Compromise may sometimes be possible, but when it is not someone other than ourselves usually has to make a decision; if we know that we can't abide by that decision then quietly moving on and out of that ministry may be the most mature and Christian decision we can make.

The second thing to remember is that we don't always get the leaders we'd like to have, and this is as true in a parish as it is in our nation. If we are blessed with a wise and holy pastor, he may be able to keep the peace even in situations where discord is possible, but it is a sad truth that even wise and holy pastors are not always good at defusing these sorts of situations, and sometimes their very wisdom and holiness seems to keep them unaware that an episode of strife is brewing under their very noses.

Christians may not be able to avoid discord, but we can avoid gratuitously contributing to or prolonging a discordant situation. Prayer, communication, and a commitment to the principles of Christian fellowship may help foster a resolution when discord has entered into our lives, especially when it's happening at our parish.

Many Thanks!



Nicole has awarded me the above award. Many thanks!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Candidate's New Cloak (A Barack Obama Fairy Tale)

Once upon a time, in a land not nearly far enough away, there was a Contest to see which of several candidates would win a four-years' stay in a certain House of White. The Contest was lengthy and protracted, and many valiant knights fell by the wayside during its fierce and daring battles. Some yet remember the names of the illustrious fallen: Rudy of the Burning City, who failed to ignite his followers into any passion; Romney the Unflappable, who famously tried to seem a Man of the People, and failed miserably; Edwards the Miller's Son; William the Large; Fred the Sleepy-Eyed; and Duncan the Hunter were but a few of those who tried, but could not contend, and lost their way in the earliest of some verbal Jousts, which were called Debates, and which consisted of the candidates' attempts to agree with each other in the sneakiest and most tricky of ways, so that agreement seemed like profound discord. ('Tis true, though strange; such ways are not the ways of common men.)

As the time of the Contest, called an Election (owing, it is suspected, to the People's profound indifference to the whole matter and their election to remain at home while the partisans of the Contest braved bad weather and dimly-lit polling stations to register their choices) drew nearer, lo, there were but a handful of candidates remaining who had not yet withdrawn their names from the ring, and who were prepared to contend mightily with each other to the final hour, or at least to their Party's conventions. These few were McCain the Warrior, Huckabee of the South, Paul the Scholar on the one side; and Lady Hillary the Strident and Obama the Enigmatic on the other. Though it might appear that the sides were uneven, it was generally agreed that Huckabee and Paul, could they but have been combined, would make one good candidate instead of two indifferent ones; and thus the matter was accepted by both Parties.

And it came to pass that more Debates were planned, and more such minor battles, when someone whose name was not recorded, and who is therefore not important, had an idea to help the People to distinguish which among these candidates should advance to the final round of the Contest, called the General Election, though no generals were involved, and would not be elected in any case. This idea was that each of the remaining candidates should cause to have made for themselves a Mantle or Cloak, and by its merits show their fitness or unfitness to assume the Office and the Residency of the House of White. It was not a very good or very original idea; thus it was adopted at once by the Parties responsible for the Contest, who never met a half-baked idea they didn't like.

And so on the appointed day, a trumpet blast was blown, and each candidate appeared in turn to display his (or her) Cloak to the People, and thus show that they should be victorious in the Contest.

The first to appear was Paul the Scholar. His Cloak glittered like gold; in fact, it was made of gold thread, for, as Paul himself declared, there was no more appropriate material to garb the resident of the House of White, and by extension all the People of the nation. The idea might have been well-received, but for the unfortunate fact that this Cloak was very heavy, and caused Paul to walk stooped low to the ground; thus he was ridiculed, and his message ignored.

The next to come forth was Huckabee of the South. He wore a Cloak that he had worn while Lord of Arkansas, thus demonstrating his commitment to the principles of Thrift and Recycling; but alas! he had lost a prodigious amount of weight since those days, and the Cloak trailed the ground and wrapped around him like a shroud; he looked like a child dressed in his father's garment, and so he, too, was dismissed.

Next came McCain the Warrior. He had cleverly caused his Cloak to be made of military camouflage, which caused him to blend in with the background; thus each observer could see those aspects of McCain which he approved, and ignore as invisible those aspects which he found unpalatable. The People of McCain's Party roared their approval, and pledged to support the Warrior in the General Election.

Then it was time for the candidates of the other Party to appear. First came Lady Hillary the Strident, and some gasped at her audacity, for her cloak was lavish and rich, and had embroidered upon it the Seal of the resident of the House of White; which piece of arrogance she explained by the circumstance of her husband's having resided there formerly, which made her feel entitled to the display. But the people were not pleased with her presumption, nor with the lining of the cloak, which was clearly an old piece of material, blue and dirty; and so she was sent away.

Finally it was the turn of Obama the Enigma. He prolonged his appearance a while, so that the crowd grew restless, and some had even begun to turn away when he appeared. But then he entered, with such grace and charm, that it was a moment before some in the crowd began to murmur; for they could not see his Cloak at all!

But then Obama began to speak, and his words were thus: "My friends, some among you may think that you cannot see my Cloak; but fear not! The Cloak I am wearing is of great beauty, and is constructed of a material exceeding rare and strange: it is the Mantle of Change, and only those worthy of the great and just Principles of Change can see it! None who stare, be they mired in the Old Ways of the Past, will ever be able to discern e'en one of its shining threads, but We who are Worthy of Change marvel at its wonders, and faint before the power of its magnificence! For it is a true and fitting Covering for the one Destined to take up his habitance in the Great House of White; my Cloak, and mine alone, is a fit and meet Garment for the dignity of that House. See how it catches the light, the great Light of the Hope of Change! Look at how softly its folds billow around me, the rightful heir to the power of Change! You who are worthy enough to behold it, join me in our great and wondrous Quest, the Quest for Change!

And behold, the crowd was too abashed to tell the truth: they could not see this wondrous Cloak, nor witness any of its marvelous graces. But each among them had the same thought: he must not let his fellow know how unworthy he was! so one, then another, and soon the whole assembly, was chanting with one voice: "Change! Change! Change!"

Lady Hillary swore, and tore her Cloak into shreds; Paul and Huckabee shrugged, and packed their Cloaks away for another Contest, or for History; McCain ruefully overlooked his camouflage, and thought sadly that his own covering was not nearly so much a cipher, for it still denoted his martial spirit, while Obama's Cloak denoted nothing, and so could mean anything.

Amid the assembly, a small child muttered, "Change, indeed! And so he should; for only a madman wears a garment that doesn't exist." But sadly, no one attended to this bit of infant wisdom, and Obama's Cloak was declared to be the finest of all, and a room was set apart for it, to display it to the whole nation when the Contest should at last be concluded, at the museum which was called the Smithsonian.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Potluck Wednesday, Barack Obama Edition

I'm in a dilemma--I've written about Hillary Clinton before on this blog under the dreadful expectation that she would secure the Democratic party's presidential nomination, but I haven't yet written about Barack Obama.

And I want to, but it's Wednesday, and I'm pressed for time.

Fortunately, lots of people have been writing lots of good things about why Obama isn't even Hillary-lite, and may be worse than she is in the areas that really matter. So here are the links, in handy bulleted list form:

Look for an Obama post from me tomorrow. I reserve the right to write it as a fairy tale.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Rarest Sound

A strange thing happened in my house this afternoon.

No, it wasn't the visit with cousins this morning that was very much enjoyed; that's not at all strange, and was probably the high point of my girls' week. And it wasn't the fact that no one got too grumpy when the cousins had to go home, not even Hatchick who alone of the girls still had some schoolwork to complete for the day.

No, it was what happened after Hatchick was finished with her schoolwork and picked up a book to read; Bookgirl and Kitten were already off doing some quiet reading/writing/crafting kinds of things. It was as I was glancing at a blog or two in a desultory fashion that I looked up, noticing the oddness of the moment, and listening intently to it.

Silence.

Real silence, not silence punctuated by noisy activity in some other part of the house or the music or beeping of some electronic toy or other. Lasting silence, a quiet that persisted for a good hour or so. Innocent silence, not that sickening quiet produced by toddlers or young children who are up to no good, and who mistakenly think that if they're quiet about it you won't notice.

Oh, there were ambient noises, of course. The turning of a book's pages, the rattling hum of the refrigerator that has sounded like it's on its deathbed for at least the last two years now but which is actually a hypochondriac of the first order, the occasional "click" of the mouse's buttons as I visited a blog or two and read what other moms have to say. But for the most part, it was really, really quiet; and it was really, really weird.

It's not that it's never quiet around here. Preteen girls have a propensity to go off into their rooms and whisper and giggle; once the girls are in bed at night, the house settles down into a placid sort of hum as Mr. C and I spend time together talking, watching a movie or pursuing a hobby or two; last night, our "quiet time" was punctuated by the sounds of Mr. C's bread baking efforts and my extremely uncharacteristic addiction to the Mac version of this game (I'm a total non-video-game sort of person; this is only the second time in my life that I've been addicted to a computer game of sorts, and the first time I was about thirteen years old and the game was a sort of hand held space invaders knockoff). So, our evening last night sounded something like this:

Red: (Blam! Blam! Blam!) Oh, drat; I just can't beat level 52!
Mr. C: Have you ever heated this oven to 500 degrees before?
Red: (Blam! Blam! Blam!) Five hundred degrees?? Are you sure that's what the recipe says?
Mr. C: The bread doesn't bake at that temperature. I'm supposed to preheat the baking stone.
Red: (Blam! Blam! Blam!) I've had the oven to 450; it should be okay.
Mr. C: This dough is still really soft. Maybe I should forget the freeform loaf and bake this in bread pans.
Red: (Blam! Blam!....ominous losing music....) Sigh. I still can't beat level 52. What did you say?
Mr. C: I could bake this in loaf pans...
Red: Oh, I still think you should try the recipe the way you were planning to! (Stirring opening music begins...Blam! Blam! Blam!)

And so forth, until rather late actually because the freeform loaf took a little while to construct.

Even during the night last night it wasn't silent, thanks to the edges of the thunderstorm that just skimmed past us around 3 a.m. The thunder was accompanied by the usual opening of doors and scurrying of scared little feet (Hatchick hates thunderstorms) and followed by the not quite usual closing of our bedroom door while I was still tucking Hatchick back in; Mr. C., barely awake, didn't realize I had left the room with her and closed the door behind us. My giggling over the matter added to the background rumbles of the fainthearted thunder, which never did justify waking us all up with its early bluster.

So silence, real, total, undisturbed silence is a rare commodity in my life, as it quite possibly is in yours, too. It took me by surprise this afternoon, and I enjoyed it for as long as it lasted, the sheer peace and tranquility and harmony of it all.

And even when it was over I felt rested, as though I'd had a long nap or a quiet walk through a shady forest instead of an hour or so of quiet in my living room. I'd almost forgotten how nice a little peace and quiet could feel.

It may be years before spontaneous silence occurs again, but I could start making more of an effort to schedule some now and again. Silence does more than refresh the soul; it opens a little pathway that lets us hear what God has to say to us, even when all He has to say is, "Listen."

Monday, February 11, 2008

With Lots of "Suddenlies"

My girls were watching an episode of Wishbone on PBS the other day. This is one of those shows on public education which it's hard to object to: cute dog, responsible kids, and the great works of literature, all in one package (though the fact that one character's parents are mentioned as being divorced made me pause when the girls were younger). In any case, the episode they found delightful recently involved one of my favorite novels: Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

As the girls eagerly discussed it with me, mentioning that the Wishbone story line didn't really explain how the book ends, and wanting further details, I reveled in the opportunity to share information about this wonderful novel with them. Catherine, the novel's heroine, I explained, has been reading lots of novels of mystery and suspense, the Gothic horror genre that preceded today's mystery story. She loves the mysteries so much that she begins to imagine them all around her, especially while she is visiting a friend of hers at an ancient abbey which might be presumed to be haunted, or to contain dark secrets beneath its mossy walls.

As I told them about the book, Hatchick sighed happily. "I love mysteries, too," she said. "Especially the ones with lots of "suddenlies..."

I've been thinking about that; about the connection between mystery, and suddenly, and childhood.

Children love the word "suddenly," I think, because their experience of it is nearly all good. Babies clap and laugh when the jack-in-the-box suddenly appears; young children are amazed when, suddenly, it's their birthday, and everyone is singing to them and giving them gifts and cake. Even as they get older children have good associations with the word "suddenly." Suddenly a friend knocks on the door, wanting to play in the yard; suddenly Mom decides she's too tired to assemble the Martha Stewart-esque "Cooking Made Difficult and Excruciatingly Healthy" recipe she had been planning to prepare for dinner, and calls the friendly pizza man instead. Suddenly there's time for a bedtime story; suddenly there are ice cream treats in the freezer. Suddenly a bath turns into an aquatic adventure; suddenly Nancy Drew has been captured by the bad guys--but the child is confident that this heroine of the mystery will just as suddenly outwit her captors and escape.

As they get older, though, even children start to learn that "suddenly" isn't all good. Suddenly you trip and fall as you are running; suddenly you turn to a page in your math book that's really, really difficult. Suddenly you wake up ill on a day when you had something fun planned; suddenly Mom tries to put away your laundry and discovers your secret damp and moldy rock collection that you're convinced is a true science project, but Mom angrily calls "a total disaster." Suddenly you realize that you are bored, or tired, or lonely, or confused; suddenly some thoughtless grownups were laughing at you, but you weren't being funny--at least, not on purpose. Suddenly, one day, someone you knew well or even loved isn't there any more, and a great well of sadness gets in the way of trying to understand what death even means, or why it had to happen. And suddenly, before you even knew it was passing, your childhood is behind you, and you are making the bittersweet passage to the adult world.

And adults don't really remember the joy of "suddenly." We try, sometimes, but we don't have it in our possession as much as we did when we were small. "Suddenly" means things like taxes that are almost due or appointments that have to be scheduled; it means a loss of control, something unplanned or chaotic. It means that suddenly that clanking noise the car has been making has to be attended to and will cost too much; it means that suddenly gas prices are too high, or that pink slips are appearing on co-workers desks. We see "suddenly" in such things as catastrophic illnesses or our fears of the same; we see "suddenly" in an inexplicable series of failing grades our child exhibits in a subject we thought they were grasping quite well. Suddenly we can't plan to sell our house because the market is softening; suddenly there's only one candidate left standing on "our side" and it's not someone we want to vote for. "Suddenly" no longer has a magical ring to it; we are too far removed from the joys of childhood to see "suddenly" for what it can be.

But then we grow even older. Slowly and gradually, not suddenly at all, we come to terms with our aging and our mortality; and "suddenly" starts to make sense again. Suddenly we hear from an old friend we haven't spoken to in forty years; suddenly we are settled in a retirement home, and enjoying our new life more than we thought we would; suddenly we hope to see again the loved ones and friends long gone, more strongly remembered than the people we met yesterday, or last week. Suddenly we find ourselves looking forward to the life beyond this life, to remembering that what was promised, what lies in store for us beyond this world, surprises much better than ice cream in the freezer or a sudden warm day in February.

The mystery of this life and its meaning will be answered one day; and like all good mysteries, it will be answered suddenly. In fact, I think that Our Lord who rose suddenly on the third day has lots of "suddenlies" in store for us, beyond our capacity to know or even guess.

Friday, February 8, 2008

First Friday of Lent

Because our Lenten Fridays may involve various church commitments from time to time, I'm going to share a brief spiritual reflection each Friday instead of one of my longer or more political posts.

Today's reflection is inspired by commenter "MR" on Mark Shea's blog, who shares his love for the hymn "O God, Beyond All Praising," words by Michael Perry which are set to music by Gustav Holst. "MR" mentions an inability to locate the lyrics to this beautiful tune, so I'll reproduce them here before commenting on them:

O God, beyond all praising, we worship You today,
And sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
For we can only wonder at every gift You send,
At blessings without number and mercies without end:
We lift our hearts before You and wait upon Your word,
We honor and adore You, our great and mighty Lord.

Then hear, O gracious Savior, accept the love we bring,
That we who know Your favor may serve You as our king;
And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
We'll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless You still:
To marvel at Your beauty and glory in Your ways,
And make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.


I've written quite a bit before, here and elsewhere, on the subject of sacred music, on what does or does not constitute a good hymn or sacred song. Rather than add excess verbiage today, I propose a modest thought experiment.

Imagine that you are present during Our Lord's passion and death on the Cross. Perhaps you are beside Him in the garden of His great agony; perhaps you observed the first Mass just before; perhaps you accompany Him through His questioning by the authorities, or follow Him along the Way of the Cross, or stand beneath the foot of that Cross as a silent and invisible witness to His agony and death.

Now imagine, at any one of these moments, that He can hear the words of any piece of liturgical music ever composed. Imagine that He hears us singing, across the ages, and that for one tiny moment He can hear our words of worship or praise.

The song I have just posted would, I think, were the thing I imagine a possibility, bring a tiny bit of comfort to His Heart: it is a song of faith, of faith that triumphs through adversity; it is a song that is humble before God, thankful for His gifts, and desirous of serving His will.

Now imagine that He hears the words to "Gather Us In" or "Bread For the World" or any one of the moderns songs that are somehow jarring to us.

Are these songs even about Him, except in the vaguest and most hidden of ways? Are they humble, thankful, faithful, obedient, holy? Do they offer Him worship? Do they bring Him any comfort in the midst of His agonies?

Liturgical music is about much more than what we find inspiring or pleasing to our ears and our tastes. It should be about Him, worthy inasmuch as our humble and clumsy efforts can be worthy of being heard by Him, pleasing to Him. At the very least, we should be striving to create "worship songs" that actually worship God, that do not spend several stanzas reassuring us how wonderful we all are and how happy church--or anything else, for that matter--makes us.

Because it isn't about us.

It's about Him.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Out of the Frying Pan

So Mitt Romney has decided to drop out of the race for the presidency. I can't say I'm disappointed. He always was the Republican candidate I was least likely to vote for; so I certainly don't join the voices who think that the end of the Romney campaign means the end of the world as we know it.

But now it's equally clear that John McCain will be the nominee, and I don't quite know what to make of that, either.

I mean, what are we to make of yesterday's endorsement of McCain by Republicans for Choice? Given that Romney didn't officially drop out of the race until today, you have to wonder what this group knows about McCain that the rest of us don't. Of course, his support for ESCR is equally troublesome, as is his commitment to continuing the War in Iraq (and even, possibly, expanding it; note the section of the statement calling for international pressure on Syria and Iran).

The things we don't know about John McCain are about as troubling as the things we do know. Will he take a strong stand against gay marriage? Will he nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court? What does he really think about homeschooling--consider this statement from his campaign website: " John McCain will fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes." (Emphasis added.) Does "demonstrated excellence" mean that McCain supports federal regulation and oversight of homeschooling?

On the one hand, I'm glad that Mitt Romney has dropped out of the race--not as glad, perhaps, as I was that Rudy Giuliani's candidacy never got any momentum, but still glad. But unfortunately my relief that I won't be placed in a situation of needing to vote for a Massachusetts liberal in conservative (and very expensive) clothing in an effort to stop Hillary (or Obama) at all costs, is likely to be short lived; because now I have to start wondering whether I ought to hold my nose and vote for McCain, a candidate I don't relate to at all and don't trust very much, or face the consequences of a Democrat in the White House for the next four years.

It may be a relief to be out of the frying pan--but only during that fraction of a second of midair suspension.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Potluck Wednesday, Ash Wednesday Edition

One of the problems with moving to a new computer is that I've lost my "Potluck Wednesday" numbers. That's okay, though; I really didn't want to get to "Potluck Wednesday, Volume 73" a few years from now, so from now on I'll just call it Potluck Wednesday and leave it at that.

In a short while we'll be eating dinner and heading out to Mass. There are some lovely Lenten songs planned, along with Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, which I love to sing. If you've already been to Mass today, and are looking for a little evening reflection, here are some places to consider:

Father Zulsdorf has a quintessential WDTPRS post explaining the prayers from today's Mass.

Danielle Bean has a few good suggestions for the first day of Lent.

American Papist has some amazing photos of our Holy Father's Ash Wednesday procession.

Jen tells us why she loves Lent.

The Curt Jester offers his Detachment Test, for the carnivores among us who find even a day of abstinence stressful (not me; I'd rather eat vegetarian most of the time, and the black bean soup that's just about ready smells absolutely wonderful).

For your hard to answer Lent questions, Jimmy Akin has been collecting the answers for some time now.

Finally, for our Lenten reflection, here is Pope Benedict XVI's message for Lent 2008.

God bless all our Lenten efforts to grow to know, love and serve Him more and more!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Always Carnival, Never Lent

In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the human children who venture to Narnia discover that because of the presence of the evil witch, it has been winter for years--always winter, but never Christmas. The phrase tends to create an immediate picture in a child's mind, a picture of bleak, dark days, blanketed by snow untrod by the feet of holiday merrymakers, cold without cheer, desolation unmarked by celebration or hope.

In our world today, we face a different problem than the problem of Narnia, a problem of equally skewed priorities, and equally bereft of the spiritual balance we need. In a post-global consumer paradise, it is always Carnival, but never Lent.

The extravagant parties of Carnival or Mardi Gras will not be followed by a season of self-abnegation and sacrifice for many of the revelers who take part in these excesses, it is true; but even more to the point, our whole American economy is structured in such a way that the very idea of Lent seems almost un-American.

Willingly forgo the little consumer luxuries that make life so pleasant and pleasure itself so easily obtainable? Do without the Starbucks coffee or the daily trip to the vending machine for a cola or a snack? Give up the purchase of a new outfit, new shoes, new handbag etc. simply because you don't actually have to have them? We know the truth--we don't actually have to have any of this stuff; but that's a heresy against our current society, and the social pressure to indulge, indulge, indulge continues to grow as our greedy corporations become increasingly dissatisfied with even double-digit annual profit increases, wanting more and more.

The advertisers and marketers who work for these huge corporations play a constant and seductive song that soothes our ears and opens our wallets. The song hints that the good life can be ours, for such a small, insignificant price. It lulls us into a state where we start to believe that we should have all those good things we see before us; we start to think that the good life of materialism is our inheritance, and rather like the Prodigal Son we want it now. The new, the improved, the things we know our neighbor already has, the things we think we are somehow owed--all of these can start to crowd out our relationship with God, as we move beyond life's necessities and start to concentrate too much of our time and energy on wishing for the luxuries, wishing for everything to be of the best, letting our treasure be material goods, and our hearts be trapped among them.

But every year at this time, another song begins to play. As the raucous strains of Carnival music fade off into the distance, as the hour of midnight begins to chime, we hear the rising melody of an ancient tune that pierces through the siren song of materialism, a song of sorrow, a song of the consequences since the beginning of time of placing one's heart on a material object, even if that object was only a piece of forbidden fruit:

Remember, Man, that thou art dust; and unto dust thou shalt return.

For a brief moment of clarity we see the gauds and baubles of our earthly existence for what they really are. We see their worth, and especially how worthless they can be when instead of using them gratefully for God's greater glory we cling to them in selfish fear, half prideful of our acquisitions, half envious that what we have isn't as good as what someone else has bought.

We need this reminder. We, especially, in America need to be reminded that acquisitiveness is not at all a virtue, no matter what the clever advertisements try to tell us. We need to remember that nothing we have now will follow us into the grave, nothing, that is, of the material; only the spiritual treasures we have built up for ourselves, love of God and love of neighbor, will endure and cross the barrier of death with us.

The world is a carnival, an endless and mindless party for those who never reflect on their mortality, who know no good that can't be weighed or measured or priced or purchased. But for those of us who know that this life is as fleeting and fragile as a papier mache mask or a feathered fan, and that only eternity matters, Lent is a welcome and holy retreat from the ceaseless din of the material world, a time to look deeply into the mirror of our souls. For we are dust, and the time of our returning to the life that lies beyond the flesh is closer than we can imagine.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Forecast: Expect Changes Ahead.

My new computer, a Mac mini, is up and running! I would have posted much earlier today, but there were some glitches to straighten out, most particularly involving the difficulty of transferring old Lotus WordPro files over to a Mac environment. Though I stubbornly kept clinging to WordPro for years, my strong dislike of Microsoft Word couldn't prolong the inevitable any longer: I had no choice but to convert all of my old documents and manuscripts to Word in order to transfer them to the new machine.

I know that going from a Windows environment to the Mac's way of doing things is going to be a bit of a challenge for me. I'm not really the technical sort, and once I've gotten used to a computer I just want to keep things the way they are. I may be playing around with fonts and settings and so on for days before I really feel "at home" on this new machine.

But it was time. Nothing made that clearer than a recent change from cable internet to DSL; my husband's Imac handled the whole thing in about ten minutes, while my seven year old Windows box kept wanting to revert to the cable settings. I could sympathize with the poor thing; but that, along with mysterious messages I kept getting when I'd shut down at night that told me that some particular part of the memory couldn't be found and needed to be terminated convinced me that it was time to let go of the giant beige box.

Lent is a perfect season for changes, too. If there's any time of the year that is highly suited to getting us out of our comfort zones and into new situations, it's Lent. Oh, don't worry: I'm not going to post in detail about any of my personal Lenten sacrifice plans; I was told long ago that the whole purpose of those sacrifices was to keep them as secret as possible. Nor am I going to give up blogging for Lent. In the first place, that would be a rather obvious sacrifice on my part, since I'm not in the habit of taking a six-week blogging hiatus for no apparent reason; in the second place, we give up those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with God, and while some bloggers may find blogging doing that, I can honestly say that more often than not blogging actually improves my relationship with God, in that I find myself pondering things in more depth, with more focus on how I should view them as a Catholic, and with an eye toward good communication.

It seems like every year about this time, though, some bloggers, particularly mommy bloggers, do quit blogging for a while. I respect that; our lives are all different, and like I said, some mommy bloggers may find blogging getting in the way of more important things, like home, family, spiritual life, and so forth. This is a tricky question, to me, though, rather like a popular sacrifice among the young women at the college I attended, which was to give up the wearing of makeup during Lent. For some of them, I'm sure, wearing makeup might have been a real temptation to vanity, or perhaps a barrier to hearing God's call to the religious life. But unless a young woman has beautiful skin and naturally dark lashes and lips, giving up makeup is going to be very, very visible as a sacrifice, leading to the possibility that other young women, particularly her close friends, may feel pressured to make the same choice of a Lenten observance, or risk seeming "less holy" than she does.

But as I said before, the point of our Lenten observances is that they should quietly operate for the good of our souls. If something we're giving up, like makeup or blogging, is going to be extremely visible then we have to be very sure of our motivations, and especially that we're not being motivated to make the sacrifice out of pride instead of for our own spiritual betterment.

Since giving up blogging for me would probably tempt me to pride and remove an activity that I think has had positive effects on my spiritual life, then, I won't be giving up blogging for Lent. However, since family Lenten observances are important and my time may be limited, I will be reinstating the on again, off again "Potluck Wednesday" posts, and will be creating a special category for the Friday posts during Lent, as well.

(There is one other change you may see--I may be changing the template on the blog. This one looks kind of blah on the Mac.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Prayer Request


Please keep my grandmother in your prayers this weekend. She is 90 years old, and is in critical condition in a nursing home in the Washington, D.C. area.

Litany of Our Lady of Lourdes

Lord have mercy; Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy; Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy; Lord have mercy.
Christ hear us; Christ graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven; Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world; Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit; Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God; Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary; Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God; Pray for us.

Mother of Christ; Pray for us.
Mother of our Savior; Pray for us.

Our Lady of Lourdes, help of Christians; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, source of love; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of the poor; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of the handicapped; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of orphans; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of all children; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of all nations; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, mother of the Church; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, friend of the lonely; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, comforter of those who mourn; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, shelter of the homeless; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, guide of travelers; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, strength of the weak; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, refuge of sinners; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, comforter of the suffering; Pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, help of the dying; Pray for us.

Queen of heaven; Pray for us.
Queen of peace; Pray for us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; Spare us O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world; Have mercy on us.

Christ hear us; Christ graciously hear us.

Let us pray:
Grant us, your servants, we pray you, Lord God, to enjoy perpetual health of mind and body. By the glorious intercession of Blessed Mary ever Virgin, may we be delivered from present sorrows, and enjoy everlasting happiness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

UPDATE 2/4: Your prayers are greatly appreciated! My grandmother's condition has improved, and things are looking much better for her at this time. She reportedly even asked for lunch one day, a very good sign!