Friday, May 30, 2008

Real Priests Are Men

By now, of course, every single person who reads Catholic blogs has read about the decree by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explaining that women who attempt to be ordained, and those who try to help them do so, are automatically excommunicated. A really good explanation of what this is and what it means is here.

Just for a moment, consider these pictures of an ordination of FSSP priests who will say the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, with these pictures of sham ordinations of women. Okay, okay, I'm sorry I made you look at that second set--but really, the pictures of the FSSP ordination with their glimpses of dignified, reverent worship couldn't be a greater contrast to the tie-died bedsheet variety of women playing dress-up, now could they?

The Church has spoken, and continues to speak, with utmost clarity: there are not now, nor will there ever be, female Roman Catholic priests. Women who attempt ordination are at best deluded, and at worst fully guilty of cutting themselves off from God and from His Church with the gravity, knowledge, and consent necessary to be in a state of grave sin. They are not priests, nor priestesses; they are no longer Catholics in good standing, and must repent of this evil should they seek once again the presence of God, as we ought to hope and pray they will.

But since the Church has been so clear about this, might I offer some respectful suggestions to the real priests out there, the men who stand in the place of Christ at the altar at Mass, who nourish us on the Body and Blood of our Eucharistic Lord, who pray for us and minister to us and take responsibility for our souls?

Fathers, women aren't going to be priests, now or ever. You don't have to keep accommodating them. You don't have to keep letting the stain of feminism seep through the iconoclastic/geometric stained glass or swirl like dusty felt banners around the altar. It's okay to be real men.

So please, stop giving chatty, discursive homilies that sound like Aunt Hilda's reflections on the connection between a Gospel passage and the odd coincidence involving her neighbor and a bowl of homemade soup. Please don't be afraid to tackle the "tough" sins like contraception, abortion, adultery, divorce, homosexual activity, approval of torture, and so forth when you preach. Please, banish tacky "extras" like those aforementioned felt (or other fabric) banners, or that song somebody wrote for the children to march out of church to, the one that sounds like a drunken calliope.

Come to mention it, please stop letting the children march out of Mass at all--religious education is not Mass, and Mass is so much more than religious education. If your homily bores the kiddies Mom or Dad will take them out--it isn't necessary to provide a structured "mini-liturgy" complete with crayons and cut-and-paste activities. Please get rid of the treacly sickly-sweet hymns, and help the choir select some songs with a more martial spirit; living the Christian faith is hard work, and involves blood and martyrdom more often than it involves sunshine and roses. Please employ some Latin here and there--the congregation will get used to it, and you can slowly add more, following in reverse order the process formerly employed to get the people used to heresy and heterodoxy in the liturgy. Please use incense (but please don't skimp on the cost--cheap incense really does have a bad effect on people's abilities to breathe properly).

Please, as Father Z., says, "Say the black, do the red." Please don't innovate or improvise or ad-lib; those are awfully feminine things to do, and while they may be wonderful in the home, when a devoted wife innovates a new dinner concept or improvises with a yard or two of fabric or ad-libs a bedtime story for the amusement of the children, they're really, really, really out of place at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Please encourage the congregation to come to Mass dressed in their Sunday best, even if it takes a while for people to understand what that means (and even if you have to accept that some people's Sunday best may well be less tailored or crisp than what used to be worn on Sunday; someone who wears clericals may not realize how hard it is to find or purchase "Sunday Best" clothes any more).

Please be priests; please be Fathers; please be men.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hiding From The Light

They're at it again.

Remember when I wrote about the courageous pro-lifers in Aurora, Illinois who worked so hard to try to keep a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic from opening in their town? Sadly, the battle was eventually lost, and the clinic allowed to open.

One of the most enraging factors in this whole situation was the hideously deceptive tactics Planned Parenthood used to build the clinic; initial permits referred to "Gemini Office Development, LLC" instead of openly disclosing that an abortuary was being built, so that the citizens of Aurora wouldn't know to fight against it until it was too late. One article I read said that contractors, who were surprised by some of building requirements (including bulletproof glass) would never have agreed to work on the construction if they'd known in advance they were helping to build a baby-killing center; but Satan is the father of lies and a liar from the beginning, so it's not all that surprising that people whose consciences are unmoved by the thought that their whole lives' work centers around the violent killing of unborn humans would have a problem telling a few lies, or omitting the inconvenient truth.

And now they're doing the same thing, this time in Ohio. The building permit is for an innocuous sounding "Auburn Avenue Parking," but since when does Planned Parenthood build parking lots? The answer is simple: they don't. And the Cincinnati area pro-lifers are gearing up for a full-fledged battle.

Not only is Planned Parenthood covering up the fact that they're building an abortion clinic, but the proposed clinic will be near a predominantly African-American high school, showing once again how readily this obscene organization continues to carry out its foundress's eugenic vision. African-Americans make up about 12% of this country's population, yet account for about 32% of all abortions, according to this; it's clear that Planned Parenthood targets minorities especially for the sale of their "services," most especially their abortion "services." But like most moral cowards, Planned Parenthood is pretending to build a "parking lot" and not disclosing the fact that once again their intent is to build a baby-killing facility in close proximity to young African-American women, in the hopes that their new business will be profitable. Location, location, location, right?

In the early years of Margaret Sanger's career, eugenics was a popular field of study. Like most anti-religious materialists, the eugenicists became convinced that it would be possible to build a perfect human society, and that no particular notions of morality or virtue would be needed. Instead, we could eliminate crime, poverty, disease, and dysfunction by simply stopping those genetically predisposed to crime, poverty, disease and dysfunction from breeding. All negative aspects of human behavior had to be simple genetics, because there was no such thing as original sin; "good" and "evil" were relative constructs with no abstract meanings, and we could simply breed people like we breed farm animals to remove any unwanted characteristics.

And then Adolf Hitler rose to power. No one could have demonstrated better than Hitler what the end results of eugenic thought would be; removing the notion of original sin didn't remove sin but magnified it beyond belief, and the new dawn of barbaric atheistic cruelty was a bloody precursor to the violence and murder that would characterize the other atheistic societies that would arise, in Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union, in parts of Asia where it still lingers, and in other pockets of mayhem that flared up briefly by the light of their own incendiary fates.

But though one of the many effects of the Second World War was to drive eugenics back underground, it wasn't brought to an end. Today's eugenicists are the ones who think they can end poverty and crime by killing the unborn children of the poor or of incarcerated mothers or fathers. They carry with them a thinly-veiled contempt for the idea of virtue, or the notion that young minority men and women are even capable of learning right and wrong, seeking to follow God, or of any sort of self-control. They laugh at the idea that what really ails so many minority communities has been the absolute wreckage of the nuclear family brought about by the sexual revolution which they championed, and still champion. They want to "solve" the problems of the African-American community by building their killing centers in the midst of that community and slowly but steadily decreasing the population of minorities in America.

But they know that more and more Americans are turning away from the hideous destruction of innocent unborn humans. They know that within communities such as Cincinnati it's quite possible that a large group of concerned citizens will be able to stop them from building new offices and new clinics. They know that voices within the African American community are connecting the dots between Margaret Sanger's appalling ideology and the targeting of minority women for their "services."

And so they hide, like every other dark thing that fears the light. They, the cowards who are Planned Parenthood, hide behind permits for office buildings and parking lots.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Fictional Conversation

Mrs. Rinn was sitting in her living room on a beautiful Saturday morning in early April. She was holding a piece of paper on which her six-year-old son, Nicon, had laboriously printed a birthday request list in red crayon.

Hmmm, thought Mrs. Rinn. Les...legs...oh, Legos. Okay. But this one..."reele gune..." we'll have to talk about that...

Just then her nine-year-old son Piran entered the room. "Hello, Mother," he announced grandly.

"Hi," Mrs. Rinn said absently, puzzling over a word that seemed to be completely lacking in vowels.

"What are you doing?"

"Checking over your brother's birthday list. He seems to want..."

"Good," Piran interrupted. "I have something I'd like to say."

"Do you have an idea of what he'd like? Because this list..."

"No, nothing like that. Mother, I've decided that I'd like to celebrate my birthday next week, too."

"Mmmhmm. But your birthday's in December, honey."

"Yes, and I've been meaning to complain about that. It's right before Christmas, which is totally unfair. Everyone else gets to have a special day some other time of year when no one else is getting presents, and I don't. I want a special day, too--if next week's no good, I could wait until May. That might be better, anyway--nobody else in this house gets presents in May."

"Let me get this straight," said Mrs. Rinn, removing her reading glasses and looking at her son. "You want to change your birthday from..."

"Oh, I don't want to change it. I still want my December birthday. I just think I should get another day, too," said Piran, sitting on the couch beside her.

"Piran, you know that's not possible."

"Why not? I need an extra day. It's not my fault I was born in December."

"No, but that is when you were born. And a birthday is when we celebrate the day that we were born. It's just how it is, son."

"Well, that's a pretty limited definition of 'birthday,' if you ask me. I think that people who want an extra day should get one. We can change 'birthday' to mean any day we celebrate one person who gets presents and cake and..."

"Don't you think that would quickly get out of hand?" Mrs. Rinn asked, smiling at him.

"What do you mean, Mother?"

"Suppose someone wants to celebrate his birthday every day. That would hardly be a good thing, you know."

"True. Well, we'll just have to restrict the number to two. Everyone can have two birthdays in a year, but no more," Piran proclaimed, waving his hand.

"But, Piran," Mrs. Rinn reminded him, "that doesn't solve your problem. If everyone has two birthdays, you'll still have one in December while most people won't."

"I hadn't thought of that," Piran said, frowning. "Okay. How about, only people born in December can have two birthdays. Will that work?"

"What about your friend Ray, who celebrates his birthday on Valentine's Day? I know I've heard him complain about that before, what with all the pink decorations and hearts everywhere," Mrs. Rinn said with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Okay, Ray too, I guess," Piran said a bit more hesitantly.

"But how will you decide who gets to change the definition of 'birthday' to add and extra one, and who has to abide by the traditional definition? And won't the people who only have one birthday get tired of being asked, 'Is this your real birthday, or is it a fake one?'" Mrs. Rinn continued.

"I don't think any birthdays should be considered 'fake,'" Piran said slowly.

"Yes, but if most people agree that the definition of "birthday" means "the day you were born," then most people are going to think of those extra birthdays as "fake" ones, even if you don't like it," Mrs. Rinn said. "Piran, what's this really all about?"

Piran sighed, and muttered something.

"What was that?"

"The new rocket launcher toy in the toy store downtown. They didn't have it at Christmas, and..."

"Rocket launcher! Thanks, Piran! Look, I thought Nicon wrote 'R Cat Lunch'..." and she showed Piran his brother's list.

Mrs. Rinn and her son laughed. Then Piran said wistfully, "Do you think he'll let me play with it, too?"

"I'm sure he will," Mrs. Rinn smiled. "Maybe you'd like to go downtown with me to buy it."

Piran's face brightened. "Sure! And you might want me to test it before you wrap it--you know, make sure it works. I'll get my jacket!"

As Piran raced upstairs, Mrs. Rinn smiled again, shaking her head. Changing the definition of 'birthday' just because you can't have something you want. Thank goodness adults don't think that way, or we'd live in a pretty nonsensical world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mark Shea Appreciation Month

How many of you read Mark Shea's blog daily, or near daily? I do. It's a tremendous resource for news and information of pertinence to the Catholic reader, in addition to containing many of Mark's own writings on subjects that range from the moral questions of the day to "sneak previews" of his soon-to-be published work on Mary, which promises to be quite beautiful and insightful. All in all, I find it to be one of my daily must-reads, and so, I suspect, do many other Catholic bloggers and readers.

It would be a shame and a pity if Mark had to stop blogging, wouldn't it? But it's a possibility.

You see, being an apologist/writer/speaker is hardly the lucrative and glamorous career some might think. Far from jetting off to the Catholic version of red-carpet affairs, Mark is dealing with this sort of thing. Many of the rest of us also deal from time to time with the same sort of thing, but few of us are trying to support our families on a regular income of about $500/month, plus whatever additional sum can be earned through writing or speaking, as Mark reported during the last CAEI fundraising drive he held on his blog a few months ago. And as Mark also mentioned then, his family has grown accustomed to such wild luxuries as eating and getting necessary dental care, so if he ever reaches the point where he has to supplement his earnings in some way, the blog will be the first thing to go--it takes a lot of time to maintain considering the few dollars it ever generates as income.

Now, most of us tiny insignificant Catholic bloggers blog for fun. A few people may earn money directly or indirectly through blogging, but for the most part we're just using blogs as a way of communication and interaction, a place to record our thoughts or our kids' cute pictures and cuter sayings, a sort of live interactive online diary that may or may not be of interest to anyone else. And that's all good, of course.

Mark's blog, and his writings elsewhere, have led people to the Catholic Church. He has participated in God's work of bringing new converts into the fold, and also of strengthening those of us already there. Cradle "reverts" have written to thank him for his influence in their lives; Protestant readers have seen their own doubts and fears addressed in Mark's conversion story, and some of them have had their feet set upon the same journey by something Mark has written or talked about, by his witness to the truths of the Catholic faith. It would be a shame if the most public, most easily accessible presence Mark has on the Internet had to go away so that he could spend more time on the sort of writing that will generate immediate income, wouldn't it?

In a few days Mark will begin the June "Quarterly CAEI Tin Cup Rattle," one of only a few times a year when he points to the PayPal donation button in the upper left hand corner of the blog and asks whether we, his regular readers, can see fit to help out a little with those family dental bills or the car repairs. He also points to this page, where we can purchase his books or audio tapes, as another way that we can help. Each day for one week he puts up one post mentioning these things, and then goes quietly back to the work of keen, insightful, Chestertonian writing he's famous for.

But last time he had to mention that a tiny fraction of his weekly readers had actually participated in the Tin Cup Rattle; and he had to mention it only because of the possibility that the blog would have to be abandoned in favor of work that actually earned money should this trend continue. I'm sure he hated to do that. Who wouldn't?

Here's the thing: times are tough all over. People have lost jobs, or had to take lesser employment following downsizing. Gas prices are skyrocketing, and some families are finding that the commute to work is swallowing up more and more of the family budget. The rise in gas prices is affecting all the other things we buy, too; food prices in particular have seen a jump much greater than anything we've seen in the recent past. It gets harder and harder to open up our wallets to help someone else, when we feel as though we're all in the same leaky boat, struggling to stay afloat.

But in my section of the boat, the leaks are still manageable. Sure, the Cardigan family is far from wealthy, but we can cut out some unnecessary spending, pay for the home repairs necessitated by the hailstorm a while back, and work a little harder on living within our means--because our "means" aren't $500/month for a whole homeschooling family. So I was able to join in the "early" CAEI Tin Cup Rattle, even if the amount was about a tenth of what I wish I could send.

How about you? If you're one of Mark's daily readers, is there any way you could hit the PayPal donation button, even for $5 or $10? Could you buy one of his books or tape sets? Would your dad (or your father-in-law, or grandfather etc.) like a terrific book about a former Evangelical's journey to Catholicism for Father's Day? Are there any graduates on your June shopping list who might benefit from one of Mark's books or talks about Holy Scripture or the Blessed Mother?

I may be a tiny insignificant Catholic blogger, but I'd like to invite all the Catholic bloggers (tiny or not) who may read this blog to join me in declaring June, 2008 to be "Mark Shea Appreciation Month," and to encourage our readers (as I just have) to consider making some small token donation to show how much we appreciate the gifts and writings of this wonderful Catholic thinker. Let's take this opportunity, if it is financially possible for us, to exemplify the sort of Catholic solidarity that the early Christians were able to show to the world, as they shared what they had and took care of the needs of the whole community. The value of the sort of work Mark does isn't measured in dollars, but in souls--surely those of us whose work is of a different sort can appreciate the worth of this, and do what we can to support it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day!

I didn't have time to write a blog post earlier today--out celebrating Memorial Day with family and friends. But I did want to take a minute to thank those who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces for what they have done or are doing, and also to pray for all those who have given their lives in defense of our country.

It has become popular to identify politics with one's nation, to decide that being patriotic is the prerogative of only one political party, and moreover that to be a patriot one must show unquestioning support for all the decisions made by one's leaders involving war and rumors of war. Neither of these ideas are true. One may be a patriot while honestly and fervently disagreeing with the country's policies dealing with foreign wars; one may be a patriot even if one is not a Republican (and being a Republican, in and of itself, isn't necessarily a guarantee of patriotism).

The men and women who lay in their graves beneath a military marker, whenever they served, wherever they are buried, did not all march in lockstep with the political leaders of their generations. They didn't necessarily agree with the decisions that led to their deployment, or to their deaths. Only a chickenhawk sees it as necessary for the individual men or women serving in the military to be enthusiastic supporters of war, all war, any war; those who serve know better. If they've been in combat they know as we civilians never can the dreadful cost of each decision to send American troops into a country or region in an effort to employ a military solution to any specific problem--and they have nothing but contempt for those who wish to use a military solution to problems that could or should be solved another way.

But they served, anyway. They deployed, anyway. They marched or dug or swept or fired or engaged, anyway. And we prayed for them--and some of them died, anyway.

To love one's country is a profound thing, but it is the emptiest sort of sham patriotism to believe that one's country is best loved when one's country is engaged in battle, somewhere. The men and women we honor today, and every Memorial Day, knew better than that. They knew that the real patriotism is the sort that serves, but also questions; that goes willingly into the hellish battle, but strives for heavenly peace.

As we honor the hearts long-stilled that once swelled with pride at the sound of the National Anthem or the sight of Old Glory, it is not those patriotic feelings we salute: it is the courage that kept going when neither anthem or flag seemed worth the sacrifice of their lives--in the darkest hours of fear or pain, in the moment when death was certain, when they did indeed lay down their lives not for some abstract political principle, but for their fellow soldiers, who not only represented but became the America worth dying for. And what they did for them, they did for us all.

May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Definition of Tall

America, please note: I am now a tall person.

I have decided that I'm not going to accept my identity as a short person anymore. I'm not going to worry about whether I'm really 5'2", or just a little less than that, technically. I'm not going to accept the limited selections in the petite department, or put up with short jokes, or reach to get things off of high-up shelves.

Instead, I'm going to take a leaf from the gay marriage playbook, and start lobbying to change the definition of tall.

Of course, I've already changed it in my own mind. I see tall people and identify myself with them; I refuse to be marginalized because of something I was born to become; I'm tall, I'm proud, and there's nothing you can do about it.

But, of course, if I'm going to get society to accept me as tall, I'm going to have to insist on a few alterations.

First of all, I'm going to need the legal and dictionary definitions of the word "tall" to be changed to reflect my new-found tallness. From now on, anyone over four feet high is "tall." If the under-four-crowd wants to insist on their right to define their tallness, they'll be able to someday, but I'm blazing the trail and leading the way, so they'll just have to be patient.

Once anyone over four feet is considered "tall," I'll work to make sure that society has to accept me as a tall person. Anyone who insists I'm short will be identified as a bigot; anyone who refuses to alter their merchandise to suit me will be sued for discrimination, anyone who builds shelves too high for me to reach or doorways that clear my head with fifteen inches to spare will have to rebuild or face the ire of the angry, new-tall public.

Petite departments will be illegal. Regular clothes will have to be made to fit me, and if the "old-tall" people don't like that, tough! Their bigotry and discrimination is their problem, not mine. It will also be illegal to make a car too high for me to enter without a step stool and illegal to bar me from being an airline pilot or any other job based on my height, unless the old-tall people have to face similar restrictions. All of us tall people must be given the exact same rights, regardless of whether we're new-tall or old-tall.

Sure, some of the reactionaries in society will grumble about this. The people who have to bend to enter doorways or sew inches of extra fabric onto their pants or skirts may complain. The old-tall people who have to fold themselves like a circus clown to get into the new-tall cars, and the old-tall people who expect shelves to be higher than their necks, will probably gripe a lot. Know what? They'll just have to get over it. Society has discriminated against the new-tall people for centuries, and if the old-tall people now have to lose all those old-tall privileges to accommodate new-talls like me, that's just the way it's gonna be.

Once we change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, then all the other definitions out there are up for grabs. And after I've succeeded in getting society to redefine "tall," I think the next word I'll tackle is "thin." And then maybe "rich," and then "young." By this time next year I could be a young, tall, thin, rich person--just by changing the meanings of all those words!

Ain't America grand?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Faith, Hope, Moloch

Does Barack Obama really want to capture the Christian vote? It seems almost as if he's running on faith, trying to be the believer-in-chief, maybe wanting to establish a theocracy...

I'm kidding, of course. But that's what the Democrats would be saying right now if a Republican candidate tried to pull a stunt like the one I'm talking about, below.

First, go here. Look at this poster of Barack Obama. I find it hard to believe, quite frankly.

Now, I've seen this "Faith, Hope, Change!" poster a few places, but I hadn't fully thought about the sheer blasphemy of it before now. Obama, the man who supports all abortion and a form of infanticide, standing behind a pulpit in a church setting so obviously Christian that if this were a Republican candidate, the usual suspects would be shrieking "Theocracy!" as they hurried to their subterranean coffins lest the Cross in the picture do them some harm. Obama, positioning himself as some kind of messianic candidate, who thinks he can remove "Love" from the Bible quote and replace it with the ambiguous "Change" without offending anybody (or, you might say, Somebody.) Obama, who's so far to the left that he almost makes Bill Clinton (though not Hillary, of course) seem like a centrist--Obama has positioned himself as the candidate for Christians?

Obviously, I think this poster is a mistake, and a terribly offensive one.

It's offensive to sincere Christians for lots of obvious reasons. Granted, the church where Obama has been worshiping all these years doesn't much care; TUCC is a member of the so-called "Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice," and Jeremiah Wright served on the board of Christ Hospital, where the incomparable Jill Stanek first discovered the practice of leaving babies who survived abortions alone to die, sparking her heroic leadership that eventually led to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act (the Illinois version of which, of course, Obama voted against, on the grounds that it burdens women too much if their kids survive an abortion and are then permitted to continue living). So Obama may quite sincerely believe that a true follower of Christ will not rest until any woman who wants to can dismember, burn, poison, or otherwise kill her unborn child for any reason at all--but it's pretty hard for any Christian with at least the intelligence of tap water to make a convincing case that Our Lord would support abortion, ever, under any circumstances, let alone that He demands that infants who thwart the abortionists' cruel executions and slip alive into the world ought to be speedily dispatched from it, so their mothers' feelings won't be hurt. I'm not sure what kind of Christianity would make such a claim, but I doubt very much that it has anything to do with the true kind.

Of course, the non-Christians will find this poster offensive, too; why should Obama be pandering to all those red-state "God, Family, Country" types in the first place? True-blue liberals have got to be uneasy that Obama would so readily seem to identify with religious people--the phrase "religious right" is blurted out unwarily before they remember that they're dealing with the religious left, that tiny segment of the population that wants to go to church on Sunday, commit sins against the sixth commandment on Monday, schedule an abortion or get the prescription refill on the morning-after drugs on Tuesday, attend a gay-rights rally on Wednesday, protest globalism on Thursday, take part in a Wiccan ceremony on Friday, and spend Saturday at the trendy little market stocking up on free-trade coffee and mass-produced condoms. Again, I'm not sure how this group can claim any ties to historic Christianity, but they seem to think of the Christian faith as just another cleansing-energy-spirit-balance sort of thing that fits right in with chakra and enneagrams--and they'll probably appreciate the nod in their direction this poster represents, though the atheists in the Democrat crowd will have to use their best powers of rationalization to justify not getting angry about it.

I think that perhaps Obama ought to realize that his faith, the faith that changes Bible verses and promotes abortion and infanticide yet claims to follow Christ, is possibly not his strongest campaign point. Perhaps an altogether different poster might be a better choice.



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hate Crime

Yesterday, a Catholic church in New Hampshire was attacked and vandalized.

How would you feel if it was your church?

I think I'd feel about like Danielle does--except that it would probably take me a bit longer than Danielle to start thinking about even the concept of forgiveness, what with my red hair and Irish temper and desire to see the perpetrator strung up by his thumbs over the door of the church vestibule so the whole congregation could gather and shout "Shame, shame!" at him or at them--until such time as I remembered that Christ wouldn't have handled things that way, which again would have taken considerably longer than it took Mrs. Bean to reflect upon.

But it's an impulse I recognize that I have, the impulse to answer hate with hate, not with love.

As human beings, we produced the dictate "An eye for an eye," all by ourselves. Things about turning the other cheek, forgiving our enemies, and loving the ones who persecute us took not merely Divine intervention but Divine incarnation to become a part of our lexicon. The impulse to fight back, to give as good as you're gettin', to seek not justice but vengeance, is a sad part of our fallen nature; the grace to step calmly into the flames of martyrdom, to guide the hand of one's own executioner, to beg for mercy for your own tormentors, is only possible to us by a gift, a gift that was purchased at the most terrible price ever paid.

The person who believes in nothing transcendent, the atheist or secularist or materialist, doesn't really understand this--he doesn't understand how much of the peace and tranquility in which he lives his life is something that grew out of the command to love our enemies. This person often believes that if we could clear away all that old superstitious nonsense we call religion we'd be better off, that we would build societies in which peace and justice would flourish not by Divine favor but as part of the human birthright. And so this type of person tends to think that in order to get rid of the old stupid human impulse to hate, all we have to do is make hate itself against the law.

This is the logic behind hate crimes legislation--the notion that if certain crimes carry automatic penalties because they are deemed to have been motivated by the hatred of the perpetrator towards the victims of the crime, that this will eventually lead to a situation where not only will such crimes no longer be committed, but the hatred behind them will vanish too. Bear in mind that these are the same people who thought that they could create more civilized people by removing religion from the public schools, and think about how well that's working, to see just how wrongheaded a notion this really is.

In the first place, the person who vandalized Sacred Heart Church may or may not hate Catholics; that's yet to be determined. But the damage that has been done, the hurt and pain caused to the community, are just as real regardless of the putative "hate" on the part of the perpetrator.

In the second place, hate crimes laws are often unequally applied. Someone who vandalizes a Catholic Church, even if he admits to hatred for Catholics or the Church, may or may not "qualify" as a hate crime perpetrator; it will all depend on whether or not prosecutors can prove "hostility" to the "victim's religion." (Is the building, or the community, considered the "victim" for the purpose of this law, I wonder?)

In the third place, I'd love to see someone explain how punishing people more severely for their "hate" is going to cause them to have less "hate"? The answer is simple: it isn't. The hatred that a perpetrator of a hate crime feels toward the object of his hostility is only going to be increased by some kind of automatic mandatory punishment. True, hate crimes laws might have a dampening effect on hate crimes, at least temporarily; but thinking you can legislate hatred out of existence is a pretty silly notion, especially coming from the people who insist that we can't legislate morality.

The only weapon that can be used against hatred is love--not the touchy-feely-greeting-card sort, but the sort that is willing to lay down His life not just for His friends, but even for His enemies. It takes the paucity of a small mind and a small heart to damage and destroy a church, or to commit any other act of violent hatred; it takes the magnanimity of Divine Love to call the one responsible by name and lead him to repentance, and a new life of grace.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lemonade on the Porch Swing

There are days when I want to write about the issues of the day, the headlines, the travesties, and sometimes even the bits of good news here and there.

There are days when I want to write about homeschooling, about various challenges and struggles homeschoolers can face, and even, though not for a long time now, about Creatures that Haunt Homeschooling Moms.

There are days when I feel stirred to write about Church related matters, about what it means to be a Catholic in this day and age, about the struggle to live in virtue and the ceaseless battles with temptation, and about how some of those battles lurk innocuously inside sweeping topics Catholics sometimes fight about.

And then there are days like today.

Days when the early hot weather seems to sap me of energy even more than the triple-digit days to come will, if only because this weather lulls you into believing that it's not all that hot, until the moment when you realize that--yes--it is.

Days when if I drank coffee like Balzac I might be able to formulate thoughts, carve sentences across an empty page, ponder, reflect, re-caffeinate, and start all over, and in the end be at least somewhat happy with the finished result; but alas! I've given up coffee, again, because I can't be trusted to drink it in anything even remotely resembling moderation--and I like the taste of tea better, anyway.

And it's too hot for coffee. And even for tea, really, except early in the morning when the heavy warm blanket of air hasn't yet settled over the house, covering everything in a sleepy layer of somnolent heat.

Today's the sort of day for lemonade on a porch swing, and desultory conversation with the neighbors, conversation that goes nowhere and means nothing, but starts with things like "Hot enough for you, yet?" and ends with the men, shirt sleeves rolled up and ties removed as a concession to the weather, making broad political statements in between discussing the vexation of yardwork in this sort of heat, and the women keeping their claws retracted as they marvel at the thought that the local department store is displaying sweaters--sweaters!--in the big front window that faces Main Street. One woman wonders if McGrady of McGrady's Store has been too lazy or too ill to clear out the last of the winter goods, while the other suspects that the same mindset that made him display beachwear in March is responsible for the early appearance of the fall clothing line.

The conversation is punctuated by the cries and shouts and laughter of children, who dash up periodically to get permission or forgiveness, or to tattle or to blame someone for tattling; then they dart back out from yard to yard as if they're playing on a giant's hopscotch board. The sun starts to sink slowly, and the evening breezes wave gentle fans of comfort across shiny or red faces; a porch light or two turns on, and a dog or seven barks at the approaching twilight.

All too soon the fireflies will appear, the harbingers of the littlest ones' bedtimes; soon the creak of the porch swing and tinkle of ice in frosty glasses will be replaced by the sound of water splashing on little hands and faces, and the creak of the rocking chair as the baby gets put to sleep for the night; the sounds of families and neighbors and communities drift out through open screens and are muffled here and there by noisy old electric fans that disperse the last of the day's lingering heat from bedrooms and front rooms and kitchens. Maybe a radio's crackle and hum can be heard, too, but its sound is low, subdued, because the person playing it knows that he doesn't own the ambient air.

Lovely thoughts--but as unreal as the fading memory of a dream, at least where I live.

There are no porch swings here. There are no front porches. People don't want to know their neighbors, let alone see what they're doing in the evening twilight. Our houses are closed up tighter than drums, the air conditioning circling around with its artificial cooling powers; it's a tribute to the Texas heat that you can hardly tell it's on until the sun goes down, though you'd miss it if it stopped working. If it did stop working and you had to open the windows, it wouldn't do much good, in our close-packed shadeless rows of concrete pavements and brick facades; you wouldn't dare go to sleep at night with the windows wide and a box fan or two purring in the grinning open darkness of the night.

The sounds of car-stereo systems and random loud radios would find their way in through the open spaces, and you might hear shouting and language you'd rather not hear; a car alarm or two might alert you to the fact that the perennial suburban pastime of breaking into cars to steal stuff was well underway; the neighborhood association tries to do what it can, but the police don't have the time or the budget to care that people can't leave their cars parked out front without making themselves a target.

And this isn't a bad neighborhood; not at all. It's a modest suburban neighborhood complete with nearby elementary school and a community pool. But this is how so many of us live, now. This is how so much of America lives, unless you live in an old city neighborhood full of character, or a rural home with plenty of land and few who would bother you.

We might still have the lemonade, but it's little consolation when what we're really thirsting for seems to have evaporated altogether.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air

After all the worried and anxious thoughts I've had about the likelihood of gay marriage becoming the law of the land, it was truly a breath of fresh air today to read this.

No, of course I'm not trying to make some kind of invalid comparison between kiddie porn and gay marriage (poor Jesse Dirkhising nonwithstanding). But it's heartening to see that our Supreme Court of the United States of America is capable of such bracing common sense. From the New York Times article:

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 2003 federal law aimed at child pornography, concluding in a 7-to-2 opinion that a federal appeals court was wrong to find the law unconstitutionally vague. (...)

The ruling scathingly rejected contentions that the 2003 legislation was so broadly written that it could make it a crime to share or even describe depictions of children in explicit sexual situations, even if the depictions are inaccurate, the children do not really exist and the intention is innocent.

Invalidation of a law because it is thought to be too broad is “strong medicine” that is not to be “casually employed,” Justice Scalia wrote, citing earlier Supreme Court rulings and declaring that the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had employed the strong medicine too casually in the case at hand. (...)

Justice Scalia’s opinion not only swept aside the defendant’s contention that the law as written was too vague but said it made no difference whether the pornography was offered for sale or was promoted as being free. Consider a drug case, he suggested: “It would be an odd constitutional principle that permitted the government to prohibit offers to sell illegal drugs, but not offers to give them away for free.”

According to the article, only Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter disagreed. Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Souter seemed terribly concerned that people who created computer-generated, "fake" kiddie porn could be prosecuted under the law. Real people who live in the civilized world aren't too concerned about that, of course; we find fake kiddie porn a pretty horrific idea, since it only encourages the pedophiles out there to continue with their sick fantasies. But technically I don't see any problem with the law--would a drug dealer be in danger from our current drug laws if he sold bags of flour as cocaine? Maybe--but his biggest danger would come from the disappointed customers, making it rather unlikely the law would ever have to get involved at all, so I think Justice Souter's worries are unfounded.

So why, exactly, is this encouraging?

It means that the majority of the current Supreme Court Justices haven't completely abandoned the notion of common sense. And that's good news for all of us, considering.

It makes it at least possible that if and when the gay marriage nonsense winds up being on the dockets at SCOTUS, the justices we have now will be capable of looking seriously at the merits of the case, whatever it might be, and then examine the Constitution and discover that just as the right to free speech doesn't contain any emanating penumbras protecting the manufacturers and distributors of child pornography, so too does the Constitution completely fail to give either separately to the States or totally to the Nation the power to decide that circles are squares, that red is actually green, or that two men or two women can be married.

I'm hoping for a 7-2 split, like this one. Justice Souter or Justice Ginsburg can write a heartfelt dissenting opinion telling the rest of us how disappointed they were that the Court failed to shake the Constitution and hold it up to the light in the hopes of seeing yet another new right out itself from amid the clear and settled language of what they keep insisting is a living document, but we would have the quiet satisfaction of knowing that when it really mattered, common sense prevailed over idiotic ideology.

We can only hope.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay Mirage

The fallout continues from yesterday's utterly illogical decision by the California Supreme Court that in order for marriage to be "fair," people who lack the ability to become parents as the natural and expected result of their relationship must be treated exactly like people who can. That this is inherently unfair, and has the result of maintaining a legal fiction that couples who can find themselves pregnant and in need of state aid unexpectedly are exactly like couples for whom surprise pregnancies are biologically impossible seems not to have occurred to the brilliant legal minds in California, who are probably busy discussing the next "inequality" they can remove by judicial fiat. Should they make short people exactly the same as tall people by making it illegal to have rulers? Should they insist that physical fitness is defined as not actually being dead at any given moment in time, thus making it possible for the morbidly obese to be firefighters? The possibilities are dizzying.

But here in the land of the sane, where words actually mean something, there's a lot of uneasy speculation about the likely consequences of a nationwide push to legalize gay marriage. At the very least, there are likely to be quite unpleasant results for Catholics; this and this are both examples of how bad the legalized discrimination against practicing Catholics could get.

So what do we do? How should Catholics prepare to defend our rights if and when the legal mirage called "gay marriage" becomes the law of the land?

First of all, if you're not already homeschooling you might have to consider it. All schools will eventually be required to indoctrinate children from the earliest ages to believe that two men or two women are a marriage (in fact, if the "diversity" practices of the current age are any indication, these families will be shown as the norm, with the occasional man/woman family being presented as the alternative lifestyle). Don't think that Catholic schools will be exempt from this; state and federal anti-discrimination laws will be applied at every level to make sure that even religious schools toe the line on the indoctrination into the belief that it is possible for a same-sex couple to be "married" to each other.

Second, anyone employed by a corporation is going to have to adopt even more of a "head down, mouth shut" approach at work than you already do. Just as some feminists with agendas used to file frivolous sexual harassment lawsuits to further their cause (and I'm not saying by any means that most or all such lawsuits were frivolous, just that the environment allowed for some abuses) so will there be a concerted effort by gay activists in the workplace to "out" their conservative religious colleagues as people whose beliefs make them "bigoted" or otherwise unworthy of corporate existence. While it has already happened that people have been fired for openly displaying their religious beliefs about homosexuality, if gay marriage is legalized it won't take an open display to get you terminated--just knowing you are a practicing Catholic who doesn't dissent from Church teaching on homosexuality may be enough for some.

Third, you may have to be more careful about the adults your children come in contact with than you are now--and most of us are already pretty careful. Not only will you want to be sure, for instance, that your child's pediatrician isn't a gay "married" person who will grill your child to be sure he/she has the "appropriate" attitudes toward the wonderfulness of all things gay, but you'll also want to know whether heterosexual adults in your child's life (babysitter, coach, etc.) don't consider it their duty to teach your "sheltered" child all about gay marriages.

Fourth, you'll also want to know a bit more about the children your child regularly encounters. You don't want to find out *after* Billy has spent the afternoon at Bobby's house that Bobby's parents are a lesbian couple--not unless you want to have to explain to a six-year-old why Bobby has two mommies. Of course, this can already happen--but it's going to be much harder to determine in the gay marriage future, since one of Bobby's moms could casually mention that she and "Chris" are celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary without ever mentioning that "Chris" is also a woman.

Fifth, although you'll probably still be able to go to Mass on Sunday etc., several things could be different. Every Catholic Church in America may lose its tax-exempt status, for one thing, which would mean a greater need for contributions from the parishioners. Every Catholic social service that gives aid to families might have to shut down to avoid violating the Church's teaching on gay marriage, as the Massachusetts Catholic Charities adoption placement agency has so far had to do. And being Catholic is going to be equated with being a bigot in the minds of many, who equate "gay rights" with civil rights and see no difference between racial discrimination and the Church's teachings about homosexual activity.

There may be other effects, as well--only time will tell. But rest assured that merely getting the laws changed concerning marriage will not satisfy the gay activists out there. Their end game is to make it illegal to express anything other than total unequivocal approval of every single aspect of the immoral homosexual lifestyle--and they won't stop until they've achieved that goal.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Boycott California

In case you haven't heard already, the Supreme Court of California decided today to give up any pretense that what they do has anything to do with interpreting laws and instead decided to make up their own, which is that in California men and women are interchangeable and exactly the same, so gay marriage should be legal.

I suppose in one sense their extreme act of judicial idiocy can be understood: it's pretty hard to tell the men from the women in much of California absent a doctor's examination. But still, this is yet another unraveling of logic and common sense from the American landscape, and yet another nail in the coffin of religious liberty. If things keep going this way, soon expressing the mild opinion that marriage ought to involve people of opposite genders so there's some chance of reproduction will get you jailed.

I'm thinking that those of us who don't agree with gay marriage ought to make our feelings known to the state of California. Anyone who reads this blog who is unfortunate enough to live in California ought to consider escaping while you still can; but for the rest of us, a boycott might be a good way to start.

I don't usually take vacations (budget doesn't allow) but if anyone was planning a California vacation and is as angry about this as I am, maybe you could consider a different vacation destination? Send a little note to these people, if you want, explaining your change in plans.

Enjoy a good glass of wine now and again? If you usually buy a California wine, you might switch to a wine from some other place. And if you do, you might mention to these people the reason for your change.

Do you eat California produce? I'm sure I've bought some in the recent past--but now I'm going to check closely where my produce comes from, and avoid the California stuff whenever I can. I'm thinking these people would be the ones to write to, but if there's a better contact out there, please let me know!

There are probably some other ways to let the state of California know that, as Catholics, we're not altogether pleased that their Supreme Court has decided that we're all unenlightened bigots for believing what the Church teaches about homosexuality, but these are a few places to start.

And, just to be helpful, I'll include a sample letter:

Dear California (Travel, Wine, Produce, Other):

I have decided not to do any business with the State of California in light of the recent California Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. Clearly, the State of California has decided that anyone who disagrees with this decision must be a bigot; yet my Catholic faith teaches that same-sex acts are sinful and that same-sex marriage is merely an extension of this grave moral evil.

Apparently, then, the State of California has decided that all Catholics are bigots. Thus, there is no further point in giving any of my money to a state that is promoting religious discrimination against me and those who worship as I do.

Sincerely,

Etc.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dead Souls

As you may have heard by now, Senator Barack "Infanticide" Obama has won the endorsement of "NARAL Pro-Choice America," the organization that used to be called, simply "NARAL," which, of course, stood for National Association of Rancid Abortion Lovers. Okay, okay, not really, but it's what they should have been called.

Given the fact that the killing of unborn humans wasn't enough for Obama, who has made clear his support for the killing of born humans who somehow manage to survive their mothers' attempts to have them killed in utero, one would think that this unholy match was made in Hell. And one would be right, too--there has never been a candidate so vehement in his support for the slaughter of innocent unborn Americans as Barack Obama, who has done more to further the hellish cause of Moloch than he wants the average American to know.

But apparently, no one told Hillary Clinton that her position as Abortion Supporter In Chief was in jeopardy. Her supporters are outraged that NARAL would decide Obama's hands were less likely to be washed clean by all the perfumes of Arabia than hers are. In particular, the women behind the infernal Emily's List are not pleased. What, after all of Hillary Clinton's leadership aimed at making sure that the yearly quota of dead unborn humans doesn't ever drop to an unacceptable level? What of her tireless efforts on behalf of feticide? What of her unwavering support for, and commitment to, the mentality of her kind of sex-without-consequences feminism, whose unofficial motto may as well be "The only good baby is a dead baby!"?

It's pretty amazing to stand back and contemplate that in American in the year of Our Lord two thousand and eight, the two people grappling for the nomination to run as the candidate of the Democratic Party for the office of President of the United States are locked in bitter argument about which of them is more in favor of the unrestricted, brutal, and bloody deaths of unborn Americans.

It's hard to imagine the total death of soul and conscience that had to take place before either one of them could have reached this point. Both of them claim to be followers of Christ, yet no one who makes that claim can fail to see the death of the innocent as anything other than a terrible and sinful evil. I could understand how, without the clear guidance of the Catholic Church, a Christian might sincerely believe that abortion in case of threat to the mother's life might be permissible; they'd be wrong, but at least it would be possible to see that they were honestly trying to work through the issue and come to understand it. But for Obama and Mrs. Clinton, no such process is visible: both are totally committed to unrestricted abortions of convenience, where any time a woman decides that it's not a good time for her to be pregnant she can pay someone to end the life of the living child inside of her. And the vast majority of abortions take place for reasons of convenience, not in the "hard cases" of rape or incest or where the mother's physical life might be in danger.

Obama has called abortion a "profound moral challenge," while Hillary Clinton has said, "I believe we can all recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." In a way, that makes each of their respective positions all the more monstrous. A person who believes that abortion is not the killing of an unborn human being is wrong, but such a person's support for abortion is at least logical. But for abortion to be sad or tragic or a profound moral challenge means that there's something terribly, terribly wrong with abortion, that it is somehow evil. To recognize that abortion involves an evil act but to continue to support it at every opportunity for political gain is the most soulless and immoral position a politician can take on the issue--and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are fighting over which of them is the more soulless.

Catholics who would support either one of these dead souls in the general election ought to do a bit of soul-searching themselves. There is no graver evil, no more hideous and festering tumor on the American body politic than the scourge of abortion. No person who supports it with the rabid and fanatical enthusiasm of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama ought to be trusted to run a nation; I wouldn't trust either of them to run a convenience store. And for those who think that any of the other issues we face today outweigh the evil of abortion or the likelihood that infanticide and ESCR and other spinoffs of the American abortion industry will increase under either of these two vampires, consider this: if a person tells you that something is "tragic" or a "moral challenge" on the one hand, but has been utterly tireless in his/her promotion of that very thing, on what grounds do you give them credit for having the integrity to deal honestly with you on anything else?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Open Letter to Marty Haugen

I've been rather caught up in the odd and fascinating tale of Marty Haugen's recent communications to the Curt Jester, which the paragons of blogging perfection at CMR report on here. The interesting exchange prompted me to look up a little more on Marty Haugen; some info can be found here, and Haugen's website is here. For fun, go here. One more useful site is this one; it is one disappointment of my life that I didn't get to become an official member before they stopped taking new members.

Marty Haugen is, of course, the liberal Lutheran composer responsible for much of the music inflicted on those of us who attend the Novus Ordo Mass each Sunday. As the gentlemen at CMR justly point out, though, he's not the only one; there's lots of treacly dreck in Haugen's style infecting the pages of most of the hymnbooks purchased and used at Catholic Masses all over this country. Still, Haugen's influence can't be denied, and the fact that he apparently thinks that Catholic teaching should change in a number of areas, including on the subject of ordaining women, explains a lot, most notably why so much of his music seems so jarringly inappropriate for a Catholic Mass.

Don't get me wrong: plenty of Protestants have written music which has ended up being appropriated for use by Catholics at Mass. But there was a sound policy in the past of waiting until the composer was dead, and had been for centuries, a precaution against trendiness and inadvertent heresy which served us well in the past, and which I suggest should be immediately re-introduced in all Catholic Churches.

Marty Haugen gave his email address in his letter to the Curt Jester, and was fine with it being published. I'll include it in this post as a public service: quietbreezemusic@aol.com . But since I'm fairly sure that Haugen's mailbox will fill quickly, I'd like to write my letter to him in the remainder of this post:

Dear Mr. Haugen,

I'm a Catholic who sings in a choir, and as such have been exposed to lots of your music. And I hate it--most of us do.

Don't get me wrong; if you were writing showtunes for a school's fifth-grade play in the year 1976, your music would be fine. It has all the catchiness of a radio or TV jingle, and all the musical depth of the Partridge Family's music, which would make it great for little fifth-graders (provided they could catch on to the randomness of the meter or the occasional purposeful discordance, which is probably supposed to symbolize something, but which tends to make people's vocal chords hurt).

But, you see, the Catholic Mass is about worship, the worship of the Almighty God. It is called the Holy Sacrifice because it is a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary, though in an unbloody way. The priest at the altar stands in the place of Christ and, having been given by virtue of his ordination the power to confect the Blessed Sacrament, offers to the Father on our behalf the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior, really and truly present under the appearance of bread and wine.

It's a big deal. Angels are there, as well as men (and I mean that most inclusively). At this solemn occasion, is it really a good idea to start singing Gather Us In, or any of the Mass parts from the unfortunately trite Mass of Creation?

Composers from the past, whatever their religious faith, understood that sacred music was--well, sacred. They were diligent and untiring in writing music for church; their various Mass settings have survived the test of time, and are still listened to for the sheer joy of hearing them. They were art; they were universal; they endure.

I'm afraid that already works like the Mass of Creation are showing that they are not universal, but rather connected rather strongly to an age which was not notable for its great art, unfortunately. Just as the ugly felt banners and clumsy liturgical dance will become but a hideous memory, so too will the not-so-sacred sacred music fade away; even today, much of the music written by you and by others sounds dated, as if it were somehow obligatory to play '70s music at Mass on Sunday, and to interrupt the Sacred Mystery with music that mixes echoes of Peter, Paul and Mary with the lyrical style of Neil Diamond.

None of this, of course, is meant to judge you for what you did--everybody seemed to want it, and there was a sense that just as one no longer needed to be able to draw well to become an artist, so too did one not need to understand the great music of the past to write clever tunes for church. I'm sure that sense of liberty was inspiring, if ultimately as misguided as the educational theories that believed children could learn to read without ever learning phonics.

For some of you, those were the best of times. For many of us, they have since become known as the worst of times. It may have seemed like the spring of hope, but we know it since as the long winter of despair.

But the thaw has set in, at last. The reform of the reform is underway. The trivial and banal and trendy and secular will be, and are being, swept away. Fairly soon, Mr. Haugen, your music will be addressed with words some of us have been waiting a long time to hear: Your services are no longer required.

Sincerely,

Red Cardigan

Monday, May 12, 2008

Catholics and Weddings

It's that time of year again! The weather is getting warmer, we've had Mother's Day and Pentecost and First Communions and Confirmations and graduations and so on, and will keep having them for the whole month.

And before you even have time to put your special event outfit away (c'mon, I know you've got one!) they'll start showing up in your mail box.

Wedding invitations. And all the many complex questions and issues and problems they bring with them.

I don't think anyone I know is getting married this year, which makes it easier for me to reflect on weddings. It's harder to step back and observe the wedding industry when you're caught up in wedding season.

You might say that wedding season got off to a big start this past weekend, with the wedding of Jenna Bush to Henry Hager. I have to say that I'm kind of impressed--Jenna's dress, while sleeveless, wasn't strapless, and both Mr. Hager and his father-in-law appear to be wearing suits, not tuxedos, a very appropriate and tasteful option that I hope will catch on like wildfire. It's not that I wish any ill to the tuxedo-renting industry, but if people whose social obligations never require them to wear a tuxedo and who therefore don't own one would quit thinking tuxedos were necessary for weddings it would be a big step in the right direction, in my mind--and if girls who see the new Mrs. Hager's gown could understand that there' s no special merit attached to dresses like these, we'd all be a lot better off in the long run (though I'm still hoping for the reappearance of sleeves).

But of course, if you were a Catholic invited to a wedding like this one, there'd be a lot of questions, especially if either the bride or groom was or ever had been Catholic. Can you go to an outdoor, non-church wedding? Can you go to a non-Catholic wedding? Can you go, but not participate? Can you participate? Is it different if the happy couple includes a Catholic who presumably ought to know better? Is it different if the former Catholic is a close relative with whom you've exchanged acrimonious words about his or her abandonment of the faith (and/or loose morals)?

These questions are above my level of expertise, but there are quite a few good resources now to find the answers. Not only are there lots of good Catholic bloggers with actual credentials blogging on topics like these, but forums have delved into the answers as well. If you can't figure out your particular circumstance, ask a good priest whom you trust for advice, and then follow his advice in a spirit of obedience.

Frequently families will confront situations like these, and in our time of declining etiquette it's a lot harder to respond to a wedding invitation with a simple refusal, even if the wedding is the out-0f-state second marriage of a cousin who has left the church and is marrying without an annulment in a Buddhist ceremony on a beach at twilight. No matter how politely you word your regrets, somebody's probably going to call you and want to know just why you aren't coming, and to tell you how this is Lulia's special day, and how dare you ruin her special day, and she wanted your son to be ring bearer, and there isn't anybody else the right age except your cousin Patrice's son who hasn't yet gotten over his irrational fear of sand, so you simply have to come. And that's when you end up being forthcoming about why you're not coming, and things get ugly. Or uglier, depending.

In a politer age, not only would a wedding under circumstances like the ones described above be considered a shameful thing by most of the family, but also no one would dream of badgering guests who said they weren't able to attend. But as the importance of marriage has declined in our society, the importance of the wedding has proportionally increased, until now it's quite common even for Catholics to exaggerate the significance of the wedding and to think and act as if it's perfectly appropriate to demand the attendance of guests, to spend lavish amounts of money--or, more likely, to incur lavish amounts of debt--on the day's festivities, and to grow sulky and complaining if things don't go Exactly According to Plan, or if the Catholic church where the wedding is to be held sets down rules forbidding the releasing of doves after the ceremony, or the lighting of a "unity" candle in the midst of the nuptial Mass.

I hope that Catholics will come to their senses on wedding matters, and even perhaps lead the way toward some sort of wedding-day sanity. Until then, perhaps a few guidelines in no particular order will help:

1. A Catholic wedding is not the bride's "special day" (nor is it her mother's special day, or her groom's special day, or anybody else's). A Catholic wedding is a sacrament. The point is to be married in the eyes of God and to receive the sacramental graces which are going to be pretty darned necessary over the next fifty or so years. Everything else is just a detail--and within those details it's important to respect that the church you're getting married in does not belong to the bride and can't be expected to allow deviations from the ritual, inappropriate music, or anything else just because the bride (or her mother) wants it.

2. A Catholic woman's wedding dress should be appropriate attire for Mass. It's not a "hot" white prom dress or an Oscar-night cleavage-baring gown. Nothing should be revealed that it's not appropriate to reveal in church. This goes double for the bridesmaids, whose attire should be modest and simple, not flashy or slinky.

3. Catholic men should consider following the president's example and wearing a nice suit. If, of course, your family is a wealthy Catholic family whose frequent philanthropic activities require you to own several tuxedos which you wear on many occasions then go right ahead and wear a tux--but for the rest of us, is it really necessary to keep dressing men in late 19th century clothing every time they're in a wedding, whether as the groom or as father of the bride or as a groomsman? Especially considering that they have to borrow the clothes?

4. Catholic families should consider seriously their budget for the wedding festivities, and not get swept up in an "everybody does this" mindset that starts with embossed cocktail napkins and ends in penury. The requirements for a Catholic wedding, from the Church's point of view, are all about whether the couple are free to marry, whether they are adequately prepared for the marriage, and whether they have been obedient to the Church's authority in seeking marriage, obtaining required dispensations and so on. There's nothing in any Church regulations about providing three hundred people with prime rib or lobster cocktail, trust me. A simple and elegant party, a gathering of family and close friends to pray for the couple and wish them well, is possible in any budget. Care should be taken that the celebration doesn't devolve into debauchery, and for heaven's sake don't hire a band if they're liable to play obscene or immoral music.

5. If you were raised Catholic, but have decided to marry outside the Church, don't badger your Catholic relatives to attend. They have good reasons not to--you have my word.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Grow the Roses

It would seem that most of the voices out there in the media are keeping a death watch on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Though Mrs. Clinton herself claims repeatedly that she has every intention of remaining in the campaign until a candidate has been nominated, there are questions. What if she loses decisively in one of the states she's still expected to win? What if her campaign runs out of money? What if Obama continues to nab superdelegates? And what if Hillary keeps saying stupid and potentially racist things?

Some on the right
are enjoying the spectacle of all of this. But I'm reminded of a song, in particular a little tune from the musical-movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, excerpt below:

For every big mistake you make be grateful!
Here, here!
That mistake you'll never make again!
No sir!
Every shiny dream that fades and dies,
Generates the steam for two more tries!
(Oh) There's magic in the wake of a fiasco!
Correct!
It gives you that chance to second guess!
Oh yes!
Then up from the ashes, up from the ashes grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!

The rest of the song is here.

Now why would Hillary Clinton's campaign remind me of this song? Haven't I been one of the many people hoping that this would be the last we would see of the Clinton family for some time to come?

Of course, and though Obama's extreme pro-abort views and general liberal positions on every issue under the sun are shudder-producing all on their own, it has been one quietly satisfying thought that perhaps Hillary would return more or less quietly to the Senate, and begin the long dull process of fading into oblivion.

And that may still happen. But this gives me a chill: (Excerpt)

"Obama changed his tone a little during the second part of his answer, praising Clinton and offering fodder for those speculating on the "dream ticket." "I will say that she has shown herself to be an extraordinary candidate and an extraordinary public servant,” Obama said. “She is hard working, she is tough, she is very smart and so I think she would be on anyone's list.” "

No one who knows anything about Hillary Clinton could think for a moment that she'd be extremely happy to have to settle for becoming Vice President when her eye all along has been on the presidency. But no one who knows anything about Hillary Clinton is likely to think she's going to overlook the subtle door-opening in that answer of Obama's to a question about whether he'd consider Hillary as a running mate. She is, after all, somewhat accustomed to the role of second fiddle, and may decide pragmatically that it would be better to seize someone else's coattails for a ride back to the White House than to adopt a sour grapes attitude about it all, and disdain the opportunity to reenter her old home on the grounds that once again, she'd be doing so in a subordinate role.

As much as I'd like to believe that the one silver lining in an Obama primary victory would be the exit, stage left, of Hillary Clinton from the theater of presidential ambition, I'm afraid that Hillary won't go without a fight--or perhaps a compromise. From the ashes of her political campaign may grow her successful bid for the vice presidency, and though it may seem like a bit of a consolation prize, it will still be a way for her to keep her ultimate ambitions alive--because I have a feeling that for Hillary Clinton, the only roses of success that matter are these.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Close Encounters With the Tin-Eared Evangelist

In my various forays in and amongst the fascinating blogs of Catholic and Christian scholars, apologists, and Deep Ponderers both professional and amateur, I have contracted the habit of reading the comment threads with some semblance of voraciousness. It's not that the Great Faithful Bloggers aren't sufficiently interesting, of course; most of them are people I'd continue to read even if they disabled the comments altogether. But the comments provide so many things that add to the reading experience, from the opportunity to engage in serious and interesting conversation with people who have not only actually heard of church history and teaching, but are skilled at discussing it, to the lesser forms of entertainment which are provided by the various stereotypical comments which give more clues to the nature of their authors than the authors would probably like to have revealed.

Who among us hasn't, for instance, encountered the One Track Mind, for whom topics of conversation ranging from politics to esoteric liturgical discussions serve but as an opportunity for this person to raise his or her favorite issue? The lengths to which some of them will go to tie their pet topic in to the matter at hand are quite amusing, yet pale in comparison to the person who makes no such pretext and doesn't even apologize for his or her off-topic ramblings.

Then there's the Pugnacious Pugilist, who sees every comment as a veiled insult thrown in his direction, and who takes offense at a comma and charges it with exclamation points. The Pugilist can get tiresome, of course, but his entry into a thread that has nothing whatsoever to do with him just so he can lash himself into misdirected anger does have a tendency to liven things up.

But one person I've encountered in the very recent past, particularly on blogs of those who are openly discussing the possibility of converting to an Apostolic faith, and particularly to Roman Catholicism, is the person I've started to think of as the Tin-Eared Evangelist.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with evangelism. If we believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ we ought to be more than willing to spread that news. But there's a bit from St. Paul about noisy gongs and clanging symbols which seems relevant here, and we ought to consider that Scripture passage before we rush a combox thread to try to force a Christian brother or sister to accept the Roman Catholic Church right that instant, as if instant Catholicism is worth having, or even possible.

But the Tin-Eared Evangelist is too misguided an enthusiast to stop and think about whether caritas is his motivation for trying to "help" the Protestant to convert. He rattles off that silly list about when each church was founded and by whom as if his victim--er, target--has never seen the like before; he speaks on God's behalf as if God is somehow incapable of communication without the Tin-Eared Evangelist's help; he makes Catholicism sound like the lot of the honest used-car dealer, and generally has the same effect as if you were to send a liquor-bearing St. Bernard amid a tea-party of teetotaling cynophobic spinsters in an equally misguided attempt to convince them of the innocent pleasure of alcohol.

The Tin-Eared Evangelist, though, only sees it as his job as a good God-fearing Catholic to straighten out all those poor Protestants who don't have the Eucharist or bingo. He's blind to the quite-likely backfiring of his most earnest efforts, because he thinks that any rejection of his message just means that the person he's trying to convert wasn't worthy of his efforts. He's a great dust-shaker, telling people in other comboxes why he won't return to the site of the Protestant--but then sneaking back in time and time again, sometimes under would-be clever pseudonyms, though his posting style fools no one. He's often as clueless as he is rude, and always does more harm than good.

Why is this so? If Christ Himself wishes for all men to be united to Him through His true Church, why shouldn't the Tin-Eared Evangelist do what he does best--indeed, why shouldn't all of us Catholics be out there copying his efforts?

Let's go back to St. Paul, shall we? (1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a, NAB)
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Is it love, true, sincere love for his fellow men that moves the Tin-Eared Evangelist to try to win converts to Catholicism? Or is it something else? Is there a little pride involved, a little of the thank-you-God-for-not-making-me-like-this-poor-Protestant-sinner attitude, perhaps? Is there not, maybe, a little of the pride of the hunter, who sees his Protestant brother not as a brother in Christ, but as a trophy to be won and displayed in some eternal trophy-shelf, under the hubristic plaque "Souls I Won For God"? Is there not some braggadocio, some petulance, some immaturity in thinking that a soul that has already struggled mightily with the question of whether or not the Catholic Church is the true Church founded by Christ as the ordinary means of salvation for all of humanity is going to be convinced by holy-card platitudes delivered with a street-preacher's compassionate sensitivity and a televangelist's humility?

To those of my Protestant or even Orthodox brethren who've been the targets of the Tin-Eared Evangelist's monthly-quota approach to discussing the Catholic faith, I'd like to offer an apology. We're not all like that, and as much as I'd love to see you worshiping beside me at Mass someday, I'm not inclined to interfere unduly in the work that God has already begun in your souls. I'm glad to answer questions or engage in discussion, and you'll always get the Catholic perspective from me--I'm not going to water it down or pretend we're really all just the same from a denominational standpoint. But what unites us, our faith in Jesus Christ, will, with God's grace and His persevering love, be more powerful in the end than what divides us.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Small Business Matter

I'm continuing to add to my blogroll, but have taken the "Under Construction" sign down because...well, let's face it, I'm always finding new blogs to add.

And, occasionally, old ones to delete.

I'm sorry, Gerald Augustinus , but I can't link to The Cafeteria Is Closed anymore. Anyone who writes this: "Gender identity disorder is real - it usually starts before school age. While the operation and the entire process is easier before puberty, it'd seem wiser to let the person make the decision as an adult. Of course, parents have the right to decide on medical treatment - within limits..." isn't really reflecting Church teaching on the subject, and while I'm sure some of the blogs I link to don't always reflect Church teaching on every subject imaginable, this is kind of a big one.

For those who are interested, the whole post is here.

I can't even begin to express my sense of horror at the idea that children as young as ten might be give hormone treatments as part of a plan that includes the eventual mutilation of their sex organs as a way of treating what must be considered a deeply psychological problem. This is just wrong, and most reputable child psychologists, whatever their views on so-called "gender reassignment," would agree with me. A not inconsiderable factor here is that what seems to be some gender confusion in a young child or even young adult does not by any means lead inexorably to the kind of full-fledged gender identity disorder of the sort that leads (tragically, in my opinion) to surgery in the first place. The Catholic Church is unequivocally opposed to gender reassignment surgery; there is no room for debate on this issue, and when these types of procedures begin to target innocent children the Church will probably become even more vocal in her opposition to such a terrible evil.

The cafeteria is closed, Mr. Augustinus; and the option to select a different gender than the one a person was born with was never even on the menu.

Oh, Hail.

I found out today that the hail storm of a couple weeks ago did more than break a few shingles off of our roof; the nice insurance adjuster who came by today told me, "You get a new roof." Which is probably a good thing--when we go to sell this house in a couple of years (hopefully) having a roof that is five years old or younger is de rigeur for this part of the country, where a roof seldom lasts more than a decade given our propensity for large hail and damaging winds as part of the expected spring weather.

We weren't sure the roof would need more than a patch or two--the hail that came down wasn't huge in size, but there was an awful lot of it over a relatively long period of time, and there were some pretty significant wind gusts throughout the storm. The roofing company we've dealt with before for some minor jobs sent out a representative, and he's the one who told us we ought to call in the insurance people--the roof looked pretty bad to him, and he thought there was a good chance the adjuster would decide that replacing it was the right call.

So in a few weeks, perhaps, our house will resonate with the sounds of a roof being torn off and replaced. And as I think about that, I can't help but compare the effects of hail on a roof to the effects of unkindness on the human soul.

It's easy to see how evil can damage and even destroy a person. The headlines are full of the tales of total destruction, of the person abused since childhood who eventually gets a gun and wreaks havoc on an uncaring world. Most of us strive very conscientiously to avoid evil, to keep the commandments, to stay away from the big sins that can lead to such horrific consequences--and that's good, of course.

But are we as careful to avoid the little sins? Are we as committed to rooting out unkind or belittling actions and attitudes from our lives?

I know this is an area I struggle and fail in often. It's easy to keep from hating each other, but it's hard to keep from sniping at each other. It's easy to avoid hitting or slapping each other, but it's hard to keep from taking a rhetorical swipe at each other. It's easy to avoid neglecting the basic needs of the people in our care, but it can be hard to be unselfish with our time or committed to the art of listening to each other. It's easy to stay away from harsh denunciations of our fellow men, but pretty darned hard to keep from the insidious practice of secret and unjustified judgment.

When the big baseball-sized hail rains down on the rooftops here in Texas (or anywhere else, for that matter) the damage is instant and unmistakable. When we hurt each other in big, headline-grabbing ways, the damage is equally recognizable.

But when the little hailstones pound down in a persistent cold dance, it might not be so obvious that the roof has been broken; and when we hurt each other with the same kind of persistent and repeated coldness, we may not ever know how much brokenness we are leaving in our wake.

How much more so, too, because we don't know the storms of pain and tempests of confusion the soul present beside us has already weathered. We don't know if the shingles are sound, or if they're already cracked or damaged. We have no way to gage whether the icy sting of our spiteful words or cold-shoulder treatment are the first hailstones to be flung in the direction of the person in our midst, or if they are the stones that will do the final damage, leading to a need for healing reconstruction in which forgiving us for our role may be the most difficult thing that needs to be done.

To replace a roof damaged by a spring hailstorm requires time and money and materials and, thank goodness, insurance. To repair a soul damaged by the cold hail of thoughtless and selfish unkindness may take much more effort; the work may not be complete this side of the grave, and how much regret will there be for each moment in Purgatory required by our role in the damage.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WWMD?

No, the post title doesn't stand for "What Weapons of Mass Destruction?" though perhaps it should; I haven't been very political lately. This is largely due to the fact that as the interminable Democratic primary season drags on, it has started to be as boring as the last reel of a horror movie of the sort where it's painfully obvious that only one of the supremely uninteresting and neurotic characters is going to survive the night in the haunted house/zombie-infested mall/demon-laced town etc., and you no longer really care which one it is so long as the danged thing ends, already. 'Cause you're totally out of popcorn.

By "WWMD?" I'm simply reflecting on something like the WWJD phrase, as it applies to our Blessed Mother, whose month it is. It seems to me that pretty often in life we could benefit by asking ourselves "What would Mary do?"

People do ask themselves this question, of course. It gets brought up pretty consistently, for instance, in the ceaseless and burning question of whether the wearing of slacks is ever, ever, ever modest for a woman. I've written fairly extensively about that in the past, and don't mean to rehash it, but it seems that the skirts and dresses only crowd is pretty confident about claiming that Our Lady would never have approved of slacks--despite the fact that the Vatican allows women to wear them, and actually has more of a problem with female tourists in sleeveless knee-length dresses than the ones who wear jeans.

I've seen the Mary card played a few other times, too: by people who claim that Mary would never have sent her Son to daycare, or to public school, or that Mary would have never approved of this type of entertainment or that sort of gathering or that variety of music. It's perfectly fair to speculate that Mary would have avoided all of these things, but in the end it's not accurate to claim that one knows of one's own certain knowledge what Mary would have done or not done in any of the situations as mentioned.

In Our Lady's day, for instance, women didn't work outside the home, but we know from the Old Testament description of the worthy wife that this didn't mean the woman didn't engage in some cottage-industry commerce to add to the support of her family. I sometimes think about the seamless tunic Our Lord was wearing on the day of His Crucifixion, and ponder the thought of Mary's loving hands weaving this cloth for her Son. Do you suppose that any of the Queen of Heaven's handiwork was ever sold locally, to help St. Joseph in the work of providing for the Holy Family? There's no reason to think it might not have been, and I sometimes imagine a lovely veil sold in Galilee, ending up years later on the head of a women of Jerusalem whom we call Veronica, and pulled off in a moment of compassion and tears to wipe the face of the suffering Savior.

The point is that if a Catholic woman finds herself in the dire necessity of needing to add to the financial support of her family, she is not automatically "unlike Mary" for doing so. Sure, there are women, even Catholic ones, whose material goals are more like those of our world than they are focused on eternal treasure, but being quick to condemn each other without knowing all the circumstances isn't particularly Marylike either.

Again, it is likely that Mary taught Jesus at home; they were a poor family, and education outside the home was a luxury of the rich in Our Lord's day. But that doesn't automatically mean that following Mary demands that all Catholics homeschool; there are times and seasons and circumstances which might make the sincerest desire to teach one's children at home an impossibility. What Mary would do, I think, would be to support the others in her community and be there to help with whatever was needed.

As far as what Mary would or wouldn't approve of in our modern lives, it seems clear to me that anything that is truly immoral, truly an occasion of sin, something that has no possible redeeming value to it, would be something that would displease Our Lady as much as it displeases her Son. But while in Mary's day the time for innocent amusements was less than it is for those of us blessed to live in a land of abundance, that doesn't mean that Mary would have shunned all amusements as frivolity. One of the occasions on which she is present in the Gospels she is attending a party--a wedding party, complete with plenty of guests and, apparently, lots of drinking.

And that moment in Mary's life provides what is, to me, the definitive answer to the question "What would Mary do?" She is aware of the circumstances of the host, and the likelihood of great embarrassment for him when the wine runs out prematurely; she informs her Son of the problem; and even though He doesn't seem to be promising any help, she then tells the servants to do whatever He tells them. In other words, her compassion and concern for those around her is great, and her trust in her Son is even greater; she knows He will not refuse, and that her own compassion is a reflection of God's boundless love and concern for even the small things in our lives.

So if we really want to model Mary's behavior in our lives, we will love and trust God so much that we won't hesitate to ask Him to help us at all times; and we will love our neighbors so much that we will ask God to help them long before we ever think of ourselves.

We will love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength; and we will love our neighbor as ourselves. Because that is what Mary did; that is always the answer to the question, "What Would Mary Do?"