Saturday, February 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Thad!

Today is my dear husband's birthday. It's so rare to have a weekend birthday that we had formed all sorts of plans and ideas how to celebrate.

Alas, the girls and I are all sick now with that bug that Kitten caught. It doesn't look like we'll even make it to Mass tomorrow, let alone out to celebrate today.

Luckily, I made the cake yesterday, before I came down with this thing (well, okay, I could tell it was coming, which was why I made the cake yesterday). And we have a few small gifts to give him, along with out love, our appreciation, and our careful efforts not to give him this yucky virus.

Life happens, plans get changed. We'll pick another Saturday to take Thad out on the town for a day of fun. Today, we'll just remind him how much we love him as best we can under the circumstances, even if that means blowing our kisses from a safe, germ-avoidance distance. :)

We love you, Thad! Happy birthday!

Friday, February 27, 2009

"I'm Sorry You Were Offended" Doesn't Fly at the Vatican

Apparently, SSPX Bishop Williamson's apology for his remarks about the Holocaust has been deemed by the Vatican to be decidedly of the "non-apology apology" variety, so popular among American politicians, large corporations, and anyone else who thinks that never having to say you're sorry is the best defense against lawsuits:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican said Friday that the apology issued by an ultraconservative bishop who denied the Holocaust was not good enough to admit him into the Catholic Church as a clergyman.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said Bishop Richard Williamson's statement "doesn't appear to respect the conditions" the Vatican set out for him.

In an interview broadcast last month on Swedish state TV, Williamson denied 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, saying 200,000 or 300,000 were murdered. He said none were gassed.

Williamson apologized for his remarks on Thursday, saying he would never have made them if he had known "the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise."

But he did not say his comments had been erroneous, nor that he no longer believed them.

The Vatican is perfectly correct to press for a real apology from Williamson. But as an American who believes in free speech rights, even for those whose speech is erroneous, wrong-headed, and needlessly insulting, I can't help but find this part of the article a bit chilling:

On Friday, Germany's justice minister, Brigitte Zypries, said Germany could issue a European-wide arrest warrant on hate crimes charges for Williamson, because the Swedish TV interview was conducted in Germany.

State prosecutors in Regensburg, Germany, have already opened a preliminary investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial.

Don't get me wrong: I think Holocaust denial is something which should not be done, as it ignores the evidence of history, minimizes the sufferings of those who perished in concentration camps etc. during World War II, and is usually linked to some kind of anti-Semitic agenda on the part of the speaker; it offends against truth and charity either to claim that this open attack upon the Jewish people of Europe never happened, or was much smaller than reported.

But as someone who doesn't believe in "hate crimes" per se, since I think this is an attempt to legislate people's thoughts, I also wonder if it's wise for Germany to pursue hate-crimes charges against Bishop Williamson. Won't this just have the effect of making him a "martyr" figure to those groups who are openly anti-Semitic in their views? Won't such actions give him an even bigger public notoriety upon which to spread the idea that he's being "persecuted" for denying the Holocaust?

In any event, I'm glad to see that the Vatican is insisting that Bishop Williamson must truly apologize for what he said, not merely apologize for the fact that people were offended by it. What is chilling in the State is absolutely proper in the Church, in that the Church has the right to insist that Bishop Williamson stop believing falsehoods--and spreading them--as a condition of being returned to full communion with the Catholic Church as a clergyman. It may be good enough, from the standpoint of free speech, that one might only have to apologize for offending others. But from the standpoint of Christian charity and respect for our fellow men, the apology for believing and spreading untruths needs to be sincere.


Chef Emeril Lagasse has done a really, really nice thing. He has sent a set of his signature pans to a seventy-year-old woman.

The woman, you see, had one of his saucepans--it was her favorite pan--but she lost it.

When the police took it as evidence.

Because she used it to beat off a houseful of teenage attackers:
ELYRIA, Ohio—Chef Emeril Lagasse says he felt so bad when he heard a woman lost one of his trademark pans warding off home intruders that he’s replacing the item.

Lagasse is sending a set of his signature cookware to Ellen Basinski, who fought off the young attackers at her home in Elyria west of Cleveland Tuesday. (...)

Basinski was on the phone with her husband when four boys pushed their way into her home.

Her husband, Lorain County Judge David Basinski, overheard the scuffle and raced home while his wife grabbed her favorite pan to defend herself.
Now that's what I call "kicking it up a notch."

As for the teenage boys who tried to attack this inimitable lady, all I can say is, if you can be thwarted in your criminal activities by a septuagenarian wielding nothing but a designer saucepan, then you really, really need to think the whole "life of crime" as a career option.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Good Start

If you want to make God laugh, says the old proverb, tell Him your plans.

I thought of that, and of Karen Edmisten's thoughtful post, quite a bit today. Unlike past years, you see, I hadn't made detailed elaborate torturous difficult impossible Lenten plans. I made mild, simplified, focused, balanced, realistic Lenten plans, instead. I was going to have a good Lent this year...

...and out of the starting gate Kitten contracted the nasty cold/flu type thing that's been going around. She was coming down with it yesterday, but still wanted to go to Mass (and to tell the truth, the other adult soprano who regularly makes it to practice and Mass would have been pretty horrified if she'd been the only one there, as some of the songs we were singing were unfamiliar). I let her come with us, as she didn't seem too bad yesterday, but the poor girl spent most of today in bed with a mild fever and lots of congestion-related misery.

So today I was divided between teaching the other two girls and taking care of Kitten; of course, since she is thirteen this mostly means providing plenty of juice and soup and tissues and cough syrup doses on schedule and so forth. Still, as one of her sisters put it, it's weird when one of them is sick--it's like she's here, but not really, Bookgirl said, working through her algebra lesson alone.

I knew what she meant, and understood Kitten's desire to get up in the afternoon, too, even if it was just to lie on the couch and watch a movie with her sisters, who missed her quite a bit by that time. Somehow between the movie and dinner and laundry and tidying Kitten's room for her and bedtime I completely forgot to do any of the simple Lenten prayers or readings or activities I'd planned to do, to add to the simple sacrifice which was the only Lenten thing I actually accomplished today.

But tonight, as I gave a sleepy Kitten a bedtime dose of medicine and some water and made sure she had tissues and other things within reach and smoothed the top of her hair and kissed her forehead, she murmured, "Thanks for taking care of me today." And I smiled, and thought that the best way I can please God is by living my vocation, even when prayers and spiritual readings have to be pushed aside in favor of chicken soup, juice with a straw, and little plastic cups with ruby cough syrup measured out to the right little line. Even when it's Lent.


Amy Welborn has a lovely post up today on the value of "offering it up." She's focusing on the experience of being on the receiving end, to hear that others are praying or working or sacrificing for you, and she invites reflections in her comment box.

In one sense, I think that one of the many joys of parenthood is that we find out what it's like to have someone, someone small and helpless and dependent, turn to us with a bright, beaming smile and say, "I did this for you!" Whether the action is something we find amazing and helpful, like discovering that a small child has, unbidden, picked up all of his toys, or whether the action is less amazing and less helpful, such as discovering that a small child has taken the dish washing sponge and used it to wash a section of the kitchen floor, we can't help but feel a certain amount of joy just at their desire to help, when they are so little, and can do so little.

And this joy is even more palpable when they do something, not to please Mom or Dad, but to please a sibling. We are, sadly, as parents, used to hearing them squawk and squabble at each other, so finding out that an older sister has decided to make her little brother's bed, simply as an act of charity, is a sweet and precious delight to a parent's heart.

God doesn't need us to offer things up for each other. He can do everything, without our help. In many ways, our clumsy, well-meaning actions are like those of the child who accidentally empties a dishwasher full of dirty dishes--we leave Him with more work to do, when all is said and done. But I think, loving Father that He is, that He delights in our efforts to grasp the corner of our neighbors' crosses, not because our help is efficacious on its own, but because He sees that we are trying, however clumsily or weakly or misguidedly, to be like Him.

And because we are pleasing Him, we somehow find that our own crosses have gotten a little lighter; that as we reach out to help those around us, to shoulder some of their burdens and pray for some of their trials and listen to some of their fears and calm some of their worries and wipe away some of their tears, He is pouring out His grace upon the neighbor we our helping and on us, in a measure out of all proportion to our efforts.

When we appear in prayer before God, hampered by our own smallness and weakness and sinfulness, yet presenting to Him the faded dandelions of our prayers and sacrifices and asking Him to help someone else, someone in need, I think He smiles as much as any parent being presented with a similar backyard bouquet and a simultaneous selfless request for a cookie for a baby sister. If we, who are flawed human parents, would meet such a request with a tray of cookies and juice for every child in the backyard, how much more so does He shower us with graces, because we take the time to ask for help for someone else.

All of this, of course, reminds me not only to continue praying for Michael Dubruiel and his whole family, but it also reminds me that I had formed the intention to order some of Michael's books before the end of February, taking advantage of OSV's generous decision to double Michael's portion of the books' proceeds which go to the children's college fund. Like many good intentions, mine ended up on the back burner, until I looked at the calendar and realized that February was almost over. If you, like me, also intended to do this but have forgotten until now, the link for OSV's catalog page featuring Michael's books is here.

When we perform small, simple acts of charity for each other, whether in prayer, in sacrifice, or in material help, we are indeed pleasing God. We are becoming citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, who never hesitate to perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy for each other, and never get trapped in the prideful way of thinking which believes that we are sufficient for ourselves, that all of our good blessings and good fortune come from our own intelligent planning. For like the children in a family, we know that every good thing we have comes from our Father, and if we wish to become like Him we will cheerfully extend hands in help and in prayer whenever a cross our neighbor is carrying becomes weighted down with suffering, with pain, or with grief.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

The third commandment, that we must keep holy the Sabbath day, is one of the trickiest ones for modern-day Catholic (and Christian) Americans to follow. Employers increasingly expect and demand that employees will work at least some hours over the weekends, Sundays not excepted; our sprawling landscape and distance between home and grocery store sometimes (especially when gas prices are high) make it difficult to avoid a quick stop for necessities on the way home from church--especially when church and store are close together, and home is twenty or thirty minutes by car away; and most restaurants, entertainment venues, and similar businesses remain open, expecting that at least some of us will spend at least some of our money on these activities before the close of the day on Sunday.

The Church is quite reasonable about what does and does not constitute violation of the Sunday observance. Necessary work such as that performed in hospitals, police and fire departments, and even hotels is seen as a reminder of Our Lord's words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Works of charity are always proper to a Sunday, too, whether they involve caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, or simply ministering to our own families' physical needs for the day with meals and other works.

But it is unfortunate that in America, Sunday has blended into Saturday and simply gets called "the weekend." While large numbers of Americans do go to some form of church or worship service, equally large numbers treat the day as another business day. All Christians, Catholics included, find ourselves walking a fine line between meeting the demands of our secular, consumer-driven society, and insisting on some respect for Sunday as a day that should be set aside for worship, for family, for rest and recreation, and for charitable acts, not for business (and especially not for non-essential, unpaid work so often demanded by corporate employers on that day).

It wasn't all that long ago in America when most stores and businesses simply were not open on Sunday. Not every restaurant was, either, though some were to offer Sunday brunch or to meet the needs of travelers or or those who had to work in the fields mentioned above. By and large, Sunday just wasn't a day to do your shopping. People understood the concept of a rest from labor, and looked forward to Sunday as a break from the usual routine.

Once things changed, though, there hasn't been much of a push to go in the opposite direction (Chik-fil-A is a notable exception). The notion that giving up Sunday business meant giving up too much revenue became deeply ingrained in American companies, especially retail establishments. And now, with the economic crisis beginning to take its toll, some people are pushing to expand Sunday store hours even further, to make stores and businesses open the same hours on Sunday as they are the rest of the week.

Recognizing, perhaps, the reality that this particular genie is much harder to put back in the bottle than it was to take out, the European community is still fighting against Sunday shopping. Granted, many are more worried about losing Sunday as a secular holiday than in losing the religious significance of the day; some countries which fight hard against Sunday shopping have seen precipitous declines in the number of regular church-goers. Still, it's interesting to follow:

But over the past few years, Europe has faced a push from politicians to abandon the tradition to follow the American retail model. "Sunday is an extra day of growth," Mr. Sarkozy explained, when he announced his plan to overturn a 102-year-old law legally sanctioning Sunday rest. "It is extra purchasing power and other countries are doing it."

England took the lead in embracing the Sunday shopping culture in 1994, and was soon followed by Sweden and Spain. Once freed from communist dictatorships, countries like Hungary and Croatia joined the trend. In Roman Catholic Poland, Sunday shopping has become a national pastime. Now, with the issue dividing much of the Continent, the tide is shifting.

"American capitalism used to look great – you have lower corporate taxes, more freedom, it's easier to create your own business – but the recession has put a damper on it, and people are asking 'What is the point?' Has it made people richer?" asks Stephen Miller, author of "The Peculiar Life of Sundays." "Now, Europeans want to distinguish their capitalism from an American version they see as too frantic, too excessive. They want to protect their day off, they want to keep their social model."

Croatia had overturned bans on Sunday trading in 1994, but then slammed the door shut to Sunday shopping last month, when a new ban took effect. The change is seen as a concession to the Catholic Church. Major retailers have appealed, saying the change could lead to 7,000 jobs lost and score of store closures at a time when the Croatia can ill afford the blow.

I hope that Europe can succeed in retaining their Sunday laws. It's much harder to turn back the clock, and renew a sense that Sunday should be a day of rest, when the culture has decided that it no longer is.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover

I didn't listen to Obama's speech tonight. I tend not to like to listen to these speeches, but to read them, instead, so that I can focus on the words, instead of on such things as delivery, camera angles, fawning, swooning news anchors with leg-tingling-syndrome, and the like.

But as I read over Obama's words from this transcript, I was haunted by a sense of familiarity. Surely we've been down a road like this one before? Surely we've heard some of these same words?

What follows will be quotes from Obama's speech tonight in bold print, compared with quotes from Herbert Hoover's annual message to Congress from Dec. 1931 in italics. There are some very interesting similarities--and some even more interesting differences:

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

If we lift our vision beyond these immediate emergencies we find fundamental national gains even amid depression. In meeting the problems of this difficult period, we have witnessed a remarkable development of the sense of cooperation in the community. For the first time in the history of our major economic depressions there has been a notable absence of public disorders and industrial conflict. Above all there is an enlargement of social and spiritual responsibility among the people. The strains and stresses upon business have resulted in closer application in saner policies, and in better methods. Public improvements have been carried out on a larger scale than even in normal times. The country is richer in physical property, in newly discovered resources, and in productive capacity than ever before. There has been constant gain in knowledge and education; there has been continuous advance in science and invention; there has been distinct gain in public health. Business depressions have been recurrent in the life of our country and are but transitory. The nation has emerged from each of them with increased strength and virility because of the enlightenment they have brought, the readjustments and the larger understanding of the realities and obligations of life and work which come from them.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't. Not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited -- I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardship. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. And that's why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law. (Applause.)

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector -- jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

The emergencies of unemployment have been met by action in many directions. The appropriations for the continued speeding up of the great Federal construction program have provided direct and indirect aid to unemployment upon a large scale. By organized unity of action, the states and municipalities have also maintained large programs of public improvement. Many industries have been prevailed upon to anticipate and intensify construction. Industrial concerns and other employers have been organized to spread available work amongst all their employees instead of discharging a portion of them. A large majority have maintained wages at as high levels as the safe conduct of their business would permit. This course has saved us from industrial conflict and disorder which have characterized all previous depressions. Immigration has been curtailed by administrative action. Upon the basis of normal immigration the decrease amounts to about 300,000 individuals who otherwise would have been added to our unemployment. The expansion of Federal employment agencies under appropriations by the Congress has proved most effective. Through the President's organization for unemployment relief, public and private agencies were successfully mobilized last winter to provide employment and other measures against distress. Similar organization gives assurance against suffering during the coming winter. Committees of leading citizens are now active at practically every point of unemployment. In the large majority they have been assured the funds necessary which, together with local government aids, will meet the situation. A few exceptional localities will be further organized. The evidence of the Public Health Service shows an actual decrease of sickness and infant and general mortality below normal years. No greater proof could be adduced that our people have been protected from hunger and cold and that the sense of social responsibility in the nation has responded to the need of the unfortunate….

The concern is that if we do not restart lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see -- (applause) -- you see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education, how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. And with so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or even to each other. And when there is no lending, families can't afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, to restore confidence, and restart lending.

The situation largely arises from an unjustified lack of confidence. We have enormous volumes of idle money in the banks and in hoarding. We do not require more money or working capital -- we need to put what we have to work.

The fundamental difficulties which have brought about financial strains in foreign countries do not exist in the United States. No external drain on our resources can threaten our position, because the balance of international payments is in our favor; we owe less to foreign countries than they owe to us; our industries are efficiently organized; our currency and bank deposits are protected by the greatest gold reserve in history.

Our first step toward recovery is to reestablish confidence and thus restore the flow of credit which is the very basis of our economic life. We must put some steel beams in the foundations of our credit structure. It is our duty to apply the full strength of our government not only to the immediate phases, but to provide security against shocks and the repetition of the weaknesses which have been proven.

Second -- second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values -- Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped to bring about. In fact, the average family who refinances today can save nearly $2,000 per year on their mortgage. (Applause.)

I recommend the establishment of a system of home-loan discount banks as the necessary companion in our financial structure of the Federal Reserve Banks and our Federal Land Banks. Such action will relieve present distressing pressures against home and farm property owners. It will relieve pressures upon and give added strength to building and loan associations, savings banks, and deposit banks, engaged in extending such credits. Such action would further decentralize our credit structure. It would revive residential construction and employment. It would enable such loaning institutions more effectually to promote home ownership. I discussed this plan at some length in a statement made public November 14, last. This plan has been warmly endorsed by the recent National Conference upon Home Ownership and Housing, whose members were designated by the governors of the states and the groups interested.

And that's why I've asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort -- because nobody messes with Joe. (Applause.) I -- isn't that right? They don't mess with you. I have told each of my Cabinet, as well as mayors and governors across the country, that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I've appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

I have referred in previous messages to the profound need of further reorganization and consolidation of Federal administrative functions to eliminate overlap and waste, and to enable coordination and definition of government policies now wholly impossible in scattered and conflicting agencies which deal with parts of the same major function. I shall lay before the Congress further recommendations upon this subject, particularly in relation to the Department of the Interior. There are two directions of such reorganization, however, which have an important bearing upon the emergency problems with which we are confronted. (...)

These words -- these words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us. (Applause.)

I know -- look, I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far -- (laughter.) There are surely times in the future where we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. I know that. (Applause.) That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do -- if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered."

Many vital changes and movements of vast proportions are taking place in the economic world. The effect of these changes upon the future can not be seen clearly as yet. Of this, however, we are sure: Our system, based upon the ideals of individual initiative and of equality of opportunity, is not an artificial thing. Rather it is the outgrowth of the experience of America, and expresses the faith and spirit of our people. It has carried us in a century and a half to leadership of the economic world. If our economic system does not match our highest expectations at all times, it does not require revolutionary action to bring it into accord with any necessity that experience may prove. It has successfully adjusted itself to changing conditions in the past. It will do so again. The mobility of our institutions, the richness of our resources, and the abilities of our people enable us to meet them unafraid. It is a distressful time for many of our people, but they have shown qualities as high in fortitude, courage, and resourcefulness as ever in our history. With that spirit, I have faith that out of it will come a sounder life, a truer standard of values, a greater recognition of the results of honest effort, and a healthier atmosphere in which to rear our children. Ours must be a country of such stability and security as can not fail to carry forward and enlarge among all the people that abundant life of material and spiritual opportunity which it has represented among all nations since its beginning.
Like I said, some interesting similarities; some interesting differences. But reading through the two speeches, hearing the echoes of the past in the crisis of the present, I can't help but think that poor President Hoover had no idea how much worse things were going to get before they ever got better, how so many Americans clamored for the promise of government handouts and freebies in Roosevelt's proposed New Deal, and how it really, in the opinion of many historians, took the wartime prosperity fueled by World War II and its demands upon the American manufacturing industry (even before we actually entered the war) before the downward spiral was stopped, and the economic situation in America began to improve.

President Obama's speech was a collection of liberal ideas which it seems that he and the Democrats in Congress want to employ, opportunistically one might think, under the cloak of the economic crisis. But if what is now barely being called a recession ends up being an actual depression, the waves of history may end up discrediting the notion that we can socialize our way out of economic turmoil by spending federal government money on energy and health care and free college for all and all the other usual elements of the liberal laundry list, just as the waves of the past battered down some of President Hoover's ideas about solving the economic crisis of his day.

But the Flesh is Weak

My husband Thad and I were having a little conversation about Ash Wednesday the other day. It went something like this:
Erin:, since we need to leave here about 5:15 in order to be at church by six to run through the music before Mass starts at 6:30 and then we're staying after Mass to practice Sunday's music instead of having choir practice on Thursday, I'm thinking that you and I should make our one main meal lunch instead of dinner, since there really won't be time for dinner anyway...

Thad: Stop.

Erin: What?

Thad: Just stop. Don't start planning and worrying about the fasting. You do this every year! It will be fine.
Which goes to show two things: one, how well my dear one knows me, and two, how little he understands the female planning mind, especially when the plans involve an extra little wrinkle like fasting.

None of the girls are old enough to be obligated to fast (since Church law only requires it of those who are 18 and not yet 60); and though I encourage various voluntary acts of sacrifice I wouldn't want any of them to attempt a full fast on Ash Wednesday as of yet (they're still growing, and I wouldn't want anybody to faint at Mass). So while I realize that Thad is right in that I tend to get all focused and worried about the fasting, I also know that somebody's got to think about the logistics of providing three regular meals to the girls (and possibly a snack when we get home from church, since dinner will be so very early) while also having available foods for the "two smaller meals" and the "one main meal" for Thad and me to eat when necessary. And our situation is nowhere near as complicated as the mom of many, whose older teens must fast and whose younger children must abstain but not fast and whose two-year-old is on a hunger strike and refuses to eat anything but Vienna sausages with ketchup.

The funny thing is, my worries and concerns about Ash Wednesday's fasting obligation have nothing to do with food deprivation. I frequently postpone or skip meals; I used to miss breakfast daily; and though I'm now good about remembering to eat breakfast, the price I pay for that is not being hungry enough/forgetting to eat lunch. I'm not one of those people who finds going without food for long periods of time to be difficult in and of itself.

So why do I get all worried about Ash Wednesday?

I worry that I'll forget, and eat something between meals. I worry that I'll be dishing up dinner for the girls and taste something absentmindedly. I worry that I won't remember to eat before church and will then get distracted when hunger finally hits. Because I pay so little attention to what I eat and when I eat it ordinarily, I worry when there are rules!

Sometimes I think that Martha, in the Bible, was a lot like me. Going along in "ordinary time," cooking food for herself, her sister Mary, her brother Lazarus--no big deal. Sure, she might have wished that Mary would take a few more turns in the kitchen, but then again, Mary was liable to put things away in the wrong place and use the wrong pans for things--so on the whole, Martha didn't mind being chief cook and bottle washer.

But then Jesus stopped in. With twelve disciples. And they were staying for dinner. And there were rules, rules about hospitality and serving and good hostessing and a host of other things to think about. And Martha got panicked, and frantic, and annoyed until all of that made her storm out of the kitchen and ask Jesus to tell her sister to come and help her.

And we know the rest of the story, how He told her that she was worried about many things, when only one thing was necessary; how He told her to stop worrying, and that her sister Mary, in focusing on Him, had chosen the better part.

Lord, I don't mean to get all caught up in rules and worrying and planning in regard to the Ash Wednesday fast. But as You Yourself put it, the flesh is weak.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Communion and Politics

This petition has been making the rounds in the Catholic blogosphere; it's by PewSitter.Com, and has been analyzed by canon lawyer Ed Peters here. Essentially, the petition calls upon the Catholic bishops to discipline publicly, under Canon 915, those prominent Catholics whose public dissent on matters like abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, ESCR, same-sex marriage, etc. is causing scandal to the faithful.

Mark Shea's brief blog post on this petition is titled "Torture would be a good thing to add to the list."

Now, I've expressed before how glad I am that Mark Shea has written so clearly and so often on the issue of torture. In no way do I mean the following to imply any dissent from the Church's teaching that torture is a grave moral evil.

But as regards this petition, I disagree.

First of all, if you, or I, or anyone else were asked quickly to list six prominent national Catholic political figures who supported torture, could we? Maybe I'm just singularly ill-informed (always a possibility) but I can't think of any specific Catholic national political figure who is known for his or her action, agitation, speeches and votes in favor of legalized torture on demand, so to speak.

As far as the issues listed go, I can certainly list a half-dozen or more Catholic legislators or political figures who are defiantly pro-abortion (even if they phrase it as "personally opposed, but..."), including our current Vice President. Most of these are also in favor of ESCR, at the very least, among the issues specifically mentioned in the petition. I can't say for certain which of them are specifically in favor of euthanasia, human cloning, or even same-sex marriage (which Democrats are as likely to be coy about as Republicans, knowing how unpopular this issue is with voters), but when it comes to the basic life issues it's easy to name those prominent Catholics who are pro-abortion in their political work, votes, speeches, and other actions.

Moreover, and this is where I see the crux of the matter, these people are directly and specifically claiming that they can be active, practicing Catholics in good conscience while simultaneously voting for, working for, raising funds for etc. abortion; that they can be regular communicants who happen to think abortion should be legal, and so on. If someone has already created the "You can't be Catholic and pro-Torture" bumper sticker, I apologize for thinking it's not yet available; but what is certain is that the awareness of the torture issue still lags, with some if not many Catholics completely unaware of the specifics of our government's involvement with and support of torture tactics, of which among our politicians are enthusiasts for torture, and of just what the Church teaches on the matter.

No one can claim, though, to be unaware of what the Church teaches about abortion. Even non-Catholics are scandalized when they see wealthy, prominent, politically connected Catholics applauded and praised in their own parishes, even during Mass, despite their approval of and support for the vicious, vile murder of unborn children in the womb. It is possible to suppose that a Catholic legislator who voted in favor of "enhanced interrogation" techniques could be unaware both that these techniques involve torturing suspects and that the Church considers torture a grave moral evil; I can state with certainty that I was never taught that torture was intrinsically evil in all my years of attending Catholic schools. But even my admittedly deficient Catholic education didn't hide the truth about abortion--we knew it was evil, and even though some of our teachers tried to play the game of "Well, sure, abortion's evil, but not as evil as President Reagan's arms race and his evil support of the Contras in Nicaragua" most of us weren't really buying it. Abortion was murder, and murder was terribly wrong.

The petition writers probably don't mean to suggest that they support torture by leaving it off the list; this is one of those times when the proverb about silence meaning consent doesn't apply. But adding torture to the list in a sincere but misguided attempt to be more "bipartisan" about grave evil misses the boat, in my opinion; it's not the fault of the petition writers if there happen to be a lot more prominent Catholic pro-abortion Democrats than prominent Catholic pro-abortion Republicans. I definitely think that this petition, and Canon 915's penalties, ought to apply equally to all pro-abortion Catholic political figures, regardless of party affiliation, but there's no really just way to enact "diversity" here by making sure there are just as many Republicans as Democrats on the list.

Since the average "pew sitter" Catholic is probably a lot less aware of the torture issue than those of us who spend lots of time in the Catholic blogosphere, it's hard to argue that "prominent Catholic torture dissenters" are causing scandal and leading vast numbers of Catholics astray on the issue of torture (let alone causing scandal outside the Church). It is, unfortunately, all too easy to make the case that prominent Catholic abortion dissenters have done too much over the last forty years to shape the abortion debate within the Catholic American community, to the extent of causing some to think that "dissent" on abortion is perfectly consistent with the behavior of a devout, weekly communicant.

But the influence prominent Catholic dissenters have on the abortion issue arguably pales in comparison to the influence prominent Catholic dissenters have had on another issue, which, like torture, didn't make the list. That issue is contraception, for which prominent Catholics on both sides of the political spectrum vote, fund, support, and work for. Unfortunately asking Catholics in America to sign a petition asking bishops to deny communion to prominent contraception apologists would probably be met with a deafening silence.

Blogging and Lent

It happens every year about this time: Catholic blogger after Catholic blogger announces that he or she will be taking a "blogging break" during Lent.

Some are big names, voices which I'll miss during their forty-days' self-imposed silence. Others are smaller or less well-known, friendly mommy bloggers who make the announcement of their decision to drop out with confidence, hesitation, or anything in between. Still others make some small changes to their blogging habits, blogging only certain days a week or on certain topics, restricting comments or temporarily disabling their stat-tracking so they can't worry about the number of visits or comments they get, or otherwise tackling aspects of blogging they think are becoming too great a temptation to some kind of sinful habits, like gossip or the desire for attention.

All of that is fine, so far as it goes. I can't imagine ever telling anyone that his or her personal sacrifice wasn't a good idea (unless that person is one of my daughters with the annual question, "Can I give up math for Lent? It would help me control my temper..." to which the answer is always some variation on the phrase "Nice try."). But adults, presumably, know their own temptations and struggles best, and if reading blogs, writing blogs, reading or participating in comment boxes, etc. have become either a temptation or perhaps an unwise use of one's time, that's for the person making the sacrificial decision to decide.

What concerns me about the "I'm giving up blogging for Lent" announcement is the copycat behavior it sometimes inspires.

In my earlier Lenten post I wrote about the struggle that would go on at my college when some girls would give up makeup for Lent. Pretty soon, some of the simplest, kindest souls would be agonizing over the question: shouldn't I give up makeup, too? Isn't it just vanity to wear makeup? If I don't give it up, doesn't that just prove that I'm too vain, too worldly, too focused on appearance? Doesn't it just prove that I'm not holy?

My forty-year-old self can say to these young girls that as we get older sometimes the wearing of a little makeup (at least in public) is an act of charity--but I digress. In all seriousness, though, one person's temptation is another person's indifference; the sort of girl who thought makeup was a bother but at least covered up a vexing blotchy complexion problem probably isn't motivated by overweening vanity to wear it in the first place, and shouldn't be troubled if her own conscience leads her to give up afternoon coffee, instead.

And just as the motivations for giving up makeup vs. continuing to wear it vary, so do the motivations for giving up blogging vs. continuing to blog vary. What can be troubling, though, to some souls is the way the "I'm giving up blogging" announcement is sometimes made.

Suppose a fictional blogger says the following: "I'm giving up blogging/reading blogs/commenting for Lent. I've become too focused on blogging and not focused enough on God. I'm prideful about checking my stats. I want the attention of lots of comments, and get disappointed when I don't get many. I waste too much time blogging instead of living my vocation as a wife and mother. I get hurt too easily by negative feedback and think I need to spend more time nurturing the real relationships in my life instead of the virtual ones."

That might be very honest for our fictional blogger--but sometimes others who read this kind of statement become as bewildered as the girls in my college used to be when a popular girl would announce her decision to give up makeup in order to be less vain, less tempted to shallowness, and less focused on appearance. This is because some people read this, not as a personal list of what blogging is in their life (which it is, and which I'm sure it's absolutely meant to be) and instead as a definitive list of the factual deleterious effects blogging may have on the Christian soul.

In other words, the confused Catholic blogger may read these kinds of posts from people he/she admires, and start to think that the following things are universally true:
  • blogging distracts us from God
  • blogging fosters pride
  • blogging feeds a disordered desire for attention
  • blogging gets in the way of our attentive living of our proper vocations
  • blogging creates situations for hurt feelings
  • blogging is too removed from the "real" world to have any value
All of these are possibly true for some bloggers at some times. But none of these are universally true, and none of these are specific to blogging at all!

Spending too much time reading novels can distract us from God. Surrounding ourselves with people who admire us can foster pride. Being the first person to sign up for every parish ministry opportunity can feed a disordered desire for attention. Spending hours on the phone each day can get in the way of our attentive living of our proper vocations. Any kind of human contact can create situations which involve hurt feelings. And almost any sort of hobby can have the sense of being removed from the real world (e.g., what good is stamp collecting, etc.?) but that doesn't make them worthless.

Those people who decide to give up blogging for Lent are doing so because they see some spiritual value in doing so--but that doesn't mean that giving up blogging for Lent has some kind of across the board, special value for everyone. For myself, the situation is a bit different, at least right now; I find myself on the brink of answering a call from God to use the writing talents it has pleased Him to give me in a way I've never been able to do before, but before I reach the point where I'll really be able to consider myself anything more than a clumsy novice in this particular art, I've got to get more practice in. And that means writing, not just for myself, not just in a private journal locked away from the world, but out in plain sight, where my deficiencies can be noticed and corrected and my strengths sharpened and tuned, so to speak. It means writing on a daily basis, on whatever topics are at hand. It means writing whether I feel like it or not, whether I'm satisfied before I hit that "publish" button or not.

The limits I've set on myself so far have only involved weekends, when blogging is more difficult for me. So during Lent I'm going to try to write at least one post over the course of the weekend, too, even if it's very short and not even remotely news-driven. My keeping my weekends "writing-free" isn't something that a "real" writer gets to do, after all; most of them have deadlines and contracts and other forces pushing them to do at least some writing on Saturday or Sunday as well as during the week.

Now, I'm not suggesting that others ought to take up more blogging during Lent, because I know that what is a sacrifice for some isn't for others, and that only we ourselves can ponder what God wants of us, and listen to His voice as we try to discern His will. Whether we decide to blog more, blog less, quit blogging for Lent entirely, or some other action is up to us. So long as we're focused on our own spiritual challenges, and avoid the temptation to think that we should do what everybody else is doing, we'll make the right decisions about our Lenten sacrifices.

Update: Thanks to Patrick Archbold, I realized that I forgot to link to the earlier post which explains the reference to girls giving up makeup for Lent; I've added that now. Gentlemen readers may still want to skip over that part, as you have no idea how insanely competitive Catholic college girls can get over their Lenten sacrifices (all with the goal of winning the Most Holiest M.R.S.-degree Candidate Ever award, which presumably comes with a cute Catholic marriage-minded guy so swept off his feet by all the holiness that he can't wait until second-semseter senior year to pop the question.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ubi Caritas?

Although no new revelations have followed the Legion of Christ's dissemination of the information that Fr. Maciel had engaged in a sinful relationship and had fathered at least one child, many Catholic writers and bloggers have continued to discuss the matter. Thomas Peters of American Papist has done the most thorough job, but there have been many thoughtful and thought-provoking articles and essays written thus far, and interest in the situation as it concerns the future of the Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi movement continues.

I am one of those who believes that a true healing, a true moving forward for the Legion, simply cannot happen until enough information is known, whether this information is revealed through a Vatican investigation or from the Legion itself. Right now there is a lot of ambiguity about some rather important matters; this is not some quest for vulgar details, which are unedifying and which no one needs to know. However, the important, still unknown aspects of Fr. Maciel's behavior include the following:
  • Was there more than one woman with whom Fr. Maciel was (or was credibly believed) to be involved?
  • Is there more than child whose father is Fr. Maciel?
  • Was the mother of the child we so far know about an adult or a minor when she became pregnant with Fr. Maciel's child?
  • What, if any, impact do these revelations have on the previous accusations involving Fr. Maciel and the abuse of young men/seminarians?
  • To what extent was financial fraud (the misuse of Legion funds to supply Fr. Maciel with money to pay his mistress or provide for his child) committed? How many upper-level Legionary priests were aware at least of the financial irregularities, even if they were truly unaware of the use to which Fr. Maciel was putting this money?
  • How many (if any) high-ranking Legion priests knew that Fr. Maciel was living a double life? Are any of them still in high positions of authority in the Legion?
These are not points for gossip or vain speculation; these are the crux of the matter, and the truth must be disclosed before the Legion can begin to heal. To the extent that the Legion relies on the donations and support of the general Catholic public, the general Catholic public also has a certain claim to some of these facts (e.g., generous benefactors may wish to be assured that priests aware of the financial irregularities are no longer in positions of authority before they will be comfortable writing large donation checks again). Such prudence, it ought to be mentioned, is not proof that someone is inimical to the Legion or has been proven unworthy of the movement; it is simply an exercise of the virtue in its proper form.

And since we are speaking of virtue, it is, perhaps, worth discussing another one.

If you ask five people associated with the Legion (either LC or RC) what the Legion's charism is, I think you will get 4.5 different answers. I have noticed with puzzlement how difficult it seems to be for the members and associates of the Legion to say simply or clearly just what the order's charism is, especially since the imitation of Fr. Maciel is suddenly off the table as a legitimate charism.

But the one thing that seems to be said most often is something like this: the Legion's charism is to bring charity to the Church and the world, to focus on Christ's great commandment of Love, and to spread that love within the Church and in the world. I've even seen it stated this way: charity is the charism.

Strictly speaking, a theological virtue proper to all Christians can't really be said to be one religious order's charism. Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity also bring charity to the world--but their charism, unless I'm greatly mistaken, is to do so by meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the world's poorest people, living among them, sharing their poverty, treating them in their illnesses, suffering with them, and so on.

So, it would be proper to ask the Legion just how they are to bring charity to the world; the Holy Spirit, one might say, is in the details of the charism, not the vague generalities about it.

Further, if we look at Christ's great commandment (summarized briefly as the duty to love God with our whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves), it is difficult to see how the Legion actively lives this outside the Legion. That is, while the Legion points to such works and ministries as their various Legion-affiliated apostolates and programs and groups and clubs and so forth, the answer to the question "How do you spread the Gospel of Charity to the world?" seems to be "By getting as much of the world as possible into the Legion, through the Legion, Regnum Christi, or some other aspect of the Movement." There is no other religious order I can think of that works this way; Franciscans don't think you have to be Franciscan to be able to experience Christ's love, nor do Dominicans think you have to be Dominican, etc. For the Legion, however, the focus seems to be on getting people to join the Legion in some fashion or other; if you are not interested in being involved in Regnum Christi, in letting your sons enter a Legion seminary or your daughters become consecrated women, or in getting involved with Legion-run apostolates or ministries, then you are an outsider, before whom a constant positive impression of the Legion must at all times be maintained. That is, no criticism of the Legion can be allowed to be discussed with you, and if you, the outsider, has any negative impressions of the Legion, this is just proof that you are an enemy of the Legion, unworthy to join in the Movement, etc.

In fact, the duty of charity seems to disappear when those in the Legion are confronted with negative opinions of those outside; I have spent too much time reading comment boxes lately, but I can say that I've been surprised, unpleasantly so, to see people representing themselves not only as LC/RC but even as LC priests, who have compared critics to a mob, to enemies of Christ, to the Gerasene demoniac, etc. It is one thing to hear of this mentality within the Legion; it is another to encounter it, and to realize with pity and sorrow that many within the Legion really do still think that they are the victims here, that this "persecution" they are suffering is only proof of how pleased God is with the work of Fr. Maciel, and that they must therefore persevere, refuse to think ill of any aspect of the Legion regardless of how tainted it might have been by Fr. Maciel's sins (which may have been the result of a brain injury, or might have been the evil seduction of a woman in the power of the devil trying to destroy the Legion, etc.), and reject firmly any suggestion that they might need to reexamine their constitutions which in their mind have been given some sort of super-approval by the Holy See. I wish to state, here, in the strongest possible way that this is not the only attitude I've encountered, and that I'm truly heartened by those others in the Legion who have expressed honestly their disgust at Fr. Maciel's sins, their great sorrow for the victims, and their willingness to participate in a process of investigation and reformation whatever that might involve. Nevertheless, it is equally disheartening to realize how many are not saying these things, but are instead exhorting each other to persevere in the Movement and hold fast to the charism, without any willingness to examine how much of the Movement was designed to facilitate the double life of a man who may have been a predator, or whether the charism is even valid.

To return to that, though, one can then ask whether a charism of charity is valid if it is only practiced internally, within the order and its affiliates, so to speak. But then one must further ask if even that is true: is what is practiced within the Legion actually charity?

It may seem that a culture which restricts criticism, compels a positive attitude, and instructs its members always to appear satisfied with the vocation God has given them to the Legion (which seems always to be presented as a great gift in and of itself; that is, it is not the vocation to the priesthood or the consecrated life per se which is celebrated, but the vocation to the Legion) is really only doing so to foster an atmosphere of good will and pleasantness, to avoid the backbiting or jealousy or complaining attitude which are not helpful in religious life. However, on closer examination one has to wonder; is it true charity which stifles every negative thought and insists on the appearance of happiness and goodwill? Is it charity, which presents the vocation to the Legion as so high and noble a calling that those who fail must be considered unworthy? Is it charity that makes some RC members ostracize former members who have decided to become, in Legion terminology, "inactive," on the grounds that such are akin to those who put their hands to the plow, but then turned back? Was it charity that is responsible for reports from within the Legion that some priests instructed seminarians to think very poorly of their own human fathers (because all men who marry are simply too "weak" for the call to the priesthood and to chastity) and instead to take Fr. Maciel as their "fatherly" role model?

A strange sort of charity, that forbids criticism of those inside the Movement, and all but commands criticism of those outside of it. If the Legion's charism really is "charity," then where is this charity? How does it resemble the love of Christ, who poured Himself out upon the Cross for the salvation of all men? How does it resemble His washing of His disciples' feet, His curing of the sick, His preaching and teaching--showing us examples of humble service, care for others, and the perfection of all charitable works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual?

It has been repeated often, in regard to the Legion, that by their fruits we shall know them. What are these fruits? Where are they? I have heard the statistics: 700 priests, about 1300 seminarians. But the priests' main duty is to minister to their own Legion and Regnum Christi members, and the priests have, according to many reports, an unusually high attrition rate--that is, Legion priests leave either the Legion or the priesthood itself at a higher rate than normal. To compare, with Mother Teresa's order the fruits in terms of care for the poor and forgotten are visible and well-known, as is the case with many other religious orders; but the "fruits" of the Legion are nearly as hard to pin down as the elusive "charism."

I think that there will be much further clarity on these and other questions as time goes by, but if I could wish for one thing, it would be for those inside the Legion to realize that those of us outside with serious questions about it are not being motivated by "lack of charity," as they like to frame debates like these. This is not an "us against them" moment. The sins of Fr. Maciel do carry with them some serious questions about the future of the Legion, and it is not at all uncharitable to believe that true healing, true consideration of the will of God in all of this, can't even begin to happen until more is known about the degree to which Fr. Maciel entangled the Legion with his own perversions. By casting themselves as "victims" and these recent events as a new "persecution" which the LC/RC members must heroically and in martyr-like fashion endure and through which they must persevere is to ignore the real victims, first of all, and to close their eyes to the frightening possibility that the Legion's charism might not be a valid one, after all. It would be better, and more heroic, to face this terrible possibility with courage and the determination to do whatever has to be done to salvage what can be salvaged, than to blame all of the negativity on "the media" or "bloggers" or other "outsiders," and to keep clinging to the idea that Fr. Maciel's sins (and aren't we all sinners?) couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Legion he founded and headed, even during the years when his child was growing up without her father.

Friday, February 20, 2009

So Long, Farewell....

...oh, don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. :)

But tonight our choir is singing at a little parish event (spaghetti dinner and talent show; we've been promised the musical stylings of "Frank Sinatra" and "Johnny Cash" among others). Since our choir director's family has been nicknamed "the Von Trapp family" ever since they arrived at our church, she thought it would be fun for our contribution to include a medley from The Sound of Music.

Alas, the medley doesn't include "How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria?," which is one of my favorites. But we will be singing "So Long, Farewell," at the end, which is really cute with the children in the choir singing most of the parts.

But we're probably leaving in about an hour, I still have to braid Kitten's hair and help make sure everybody's ready, and I'm too pressed for time to blog.

See you Monday! Or sooner, maybe!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ACORN and the Mortgage Crisis

Remember ACORN?

Turns out they plan to have a role in the ongoing mortgage crisis; Michelle Malkin has the story:
Trumpets ACORN: “On Feb. 19, ACORN members will launch a new tactic in fighting foreclosures: civil disobedience. Participants in the ACORN Home Savers campaign nationwide will simply refuse to move out of foreclosed homes, or in some cases, will move back in. ACORN homesteaders intend to squat in their homes until a comprehensive, federal solution for people facing foreclosure is put in place.”

ACORN’s foot soldiers, funded with your tax dollars, will scream, pound their fists, chain themselves to buildings, padlock the doors and engage in illegal behavior until they get what they want. It’s a recipe for anarchy. Threatens Baltimore ACORN’s Louis Beverly, who calls himself a “Foreclosure Fighter”:

“After you’ve used all your legal options, your last resort is civil disobedience. We’re talking about families who have been in their homes 20 or 30 years. People who are assets in the community, who look out for the elderly, who have community associations, and these are the people being kicked out of the community.” [...]

Instead, ACORN offices, funded with your tax dollars, are training teams of “Home Savers”—described as “people ready and willing to mobilize on short notice to defend the homesteaders against attempts to evict them.” Ready, willing and able to mobilize on short notice because they are either unemployed or employed full time as ACORN shakedown artists.

Guess who’s encouraging them to defy the law. Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who told them: “Stay in your homes. If the American people, anybody out there is being foreclosed, don’t leave.” The housing bullies will be assisted by left-wing propaganda documentarians at the Brave New Foundation, headed up by Hollywood lib Robert Greenwald, who will disseminate sob stories to crank up pressure while Obama pushes his housing entitlement plan.

ACORN is targeting the following cities: Tucson, Ariz.; Oakland, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Contra Costa County, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Baltimore, Md.; New York, N.Y.; Houston, Texas; San Mateo County, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Wilmington, Del.; Broward County, Fla.; Boston, Mass.; Flint, Mich.; Detroit, Mich.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Raleigh, N.C.; Durham, N.C.; Albany, N.Y.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Dallas, Texas.

I realize that there are good people out there who got talked into borrowing too much or who paid too much for their homes in a bubble market, who are now stuck "underwater" paying a too-high mortgage for a home that's now only worth a fraction of the purchase price. I realize, too, that compassionate solutions including community-based aid ought to be considered in dealing with families who are faced with the awful prospect of losing their homes.

But as Malkin herself opines in the essay, home ownership is not a civil right. Buying a home means taking on a legal obligation to pay back any part of the purchase price you're unable to pay up front (which for most people is most of the price of the home, these days). Losing the ability to pay your mortgage is a tragedy, but it's not a situation that gives anyone the right to demand that the government pony up the cash to pay the difference.

Government funds don't materialize out of thin air. Responsible homeowners, taxpayers, small buisness owners etc. will be taxed at higher and higher rates to pay for those defaulting on their mortgages. If there were only a few such mortgages, and a relatively stable economy, it would be one thing to suggest government help for those in need--but demanding such help, even to the point of civil disobedience, in an already shaky economy has the potential to make things a whole lot worse, not better.

Demanding that people be allowed to remain in their homes essentially for free is a blatant cry for socialism; it deserves to be challenged as such. Capitulating to the demand that those whose homes are being foreclosed ought to be able to stay in those homes is a very bad idea.


Actor Gary Graham has some interestingly conservative views. First there was this intriguing piece about abortion; now, there's this thought-provoking piece confronting Eric Holder's remarks about race in America:

I am appalled. I just found out that I am a racist and a coward and I did not know it.

Eric Holder said yesterday, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

How could I have been so self-deluded?

Wow. I know, huh? The things you find out about yourself if you just listen to newly appointed/elected government officials.

I always thought that I treated everyone fairly in my daily life with no preference or deference to anyone based solely on skin color. I always loved the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said so eloquently, that he dreamed of a day when people “would be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”. But now…I find out that that philosophy is racist and cowardly. And it is proclaimed by the top law enforcement officer in the land, our new Attorney General, Eric Holder.

Apparently, I’m a racist coward because I want to be color blind. This great national offense of racism doesn’t want to die - even though we just elected our first black president. Just when you thought it was okay to climb out of the past, to put racial injustice and animosity behind us…the Attorney General in the national media yesterday drags it back out. [...]

I don’t believe in Black History Month any more than I believe in White History Month. To me, Black History Month is a complete insult to Blacks. We must prop up an entire race of people, give them special awards, honors, and recognitions, underscoring their accomplishments and achievements and contributions to society, based on their color… as if it’s so truly remarkable that they did it in the first place…and are African American to boot? Stop the presses! A black person accomplished something great! As if they couldn’t have done it on their own, without help. As if they are somehow inferior to whites. That they somehow overcame their blackness…and did all these wonderful things despite the obvious disadvantage, encumbrance, disability…of being a person of color.

Am I the only one in America…who finds this the least bit patronizing and insulting…and downright, well, racist? [...]

So…let me get this straight. If I’m a racist coward because I don’t want to talk about race all the time, don’t want to even think about it, just wish all racism would go away, and everybody just get along as if we we’re all just human beings…and truly do want to judge people not based on skin color, but on the content of their character… Does that mean Dr. Martin Luther King was also a racist? If he were here today, and repeated those words about ‘content of character’ …would Eric Holder call Dr. King a coward?

I hear Eric Holder’s words and I get a chill up my spine. It doesn’t sound like freedom from racism to me. It sounds like reverse racism. It smacks of concepts like “reparations”…”affirmative action” (code for racial preferences)…and “get-even-with-‘em”… So, Mr. Holder, what can I infer from your words…but a tacit warning?

This, Mr. Attorney General…this is what you want to stir up? You should be ecstatic for the ultimate affirmative action as reflected on November 4th. White guilt to a very large extent enabled a charming but inexperienced young socialist to assume the reins of the most powerful nation in the world. And still we are cowards because we don’t talk about race enough?

Dude - are you off your meds??

Pardon me a second. I'm still chortling over the masterful description of Obama as a "charming but inexperienced young socialist." It's just so--apt.

That aside, I think Graham has some excellent points. Race relations in America aren't helped by the constant drumbeat to focus on, recognize, and celebrate what makes us different, as we're constantly told to do via diversity training and so on. Rather, I think we move forward away from racism when we stop the microscopic analysis of all of our often-superficial differences, and focus, instead, on the common humanity that unites us, and draws us together both as members of the human family and as Americans.

It used to be that the goal of improving race relations was to reach the state of colorblindness. Eric Holder seems to think that that's nowhere near enough, and that most Americans are still closet racists who don't have the courage to move beyond the old racial barriers.

I'm not going to deny that actual racism still exists in America. But when Holder says that Americans are a "nation of cowards" unwilling to socialize or worship with people of different races, it's clear that he's seeing racism where none is present. As Graham's essay suggests, wouldn't it be awfully--racist--to seek out the company of others just because their skin color or racial origin is different from our own?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pelosi's False Catholicism

Everyone has heard about how things went when Nancy Pelosi met with the Pope:
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI met privately with U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and told her that all Catholics, especially those who are lawmakers, must work to protect human life at every stage.

Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat from California, has been criticized by many Catholics for her support for keeping abortion legal.

"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death," the Vatican said in a statement about the Feb. 18 meeting.

Natural law and the church's own teaching require "all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development," the statement said.
But Pelosi chose to spin the meeting a different way:
In a statement released by her staff, Pelosi said, "In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel." The papal trip is scheduled for the second week of May.

Pelosi also said, "I was proud to show His Holiness a photograph" from a papal audience she had with her parents in the 1950s, "as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren." Pelosi's husband, Paul, accompanied her to the meeting with the pope.
I'm going to unpack that a little bit, because it's really interesting what Pelosi's trying to say; it's what most so-called "pro-choice Catholics" try to say whenever they get the opportunity.

The Holy Father put the truth out there, right in front of Pelosi. The Church teaches that abortion is gravely morally evil, and that Catholic lawmakers have a duty to work against abortion; they can never work for it, as Nancy Pelosi does.

But Nancy focused on two other areas, instead of discussing her heterodoxy and dissent which puts her sharply at odds with the Church. She focused on what can be called "social justice" issues, such as poverty, hunger, and religious freedom, condescendingly praising the pope for his work in these areas. She then turned the focus to her "cultural Catholic creds," presenting a picture of herself as a child meeting another pope, and pictures of her "Catholic" family.

This is instructive because it's what so many of those who claim to be Catholic while still thinking abortion's just dandy do all the time. "I'm Catholic!" they insist. They claim that abortion's just one tiny little issue which doesn't compare to the "really good" work of the Church in matters like poverty and hunger (and, according to Pelosi, global warming). They claim that their family heritage in the Church gives them the right to keep considering themselves Catholic even though they have betrayed Christ in His tiniest little ones, and have acted like Judas in agitating for the murder of the innocent. They insist that abortion is one of those issues on which "good people" can disagree, ignoring the fact that the Church couldn't speak any more clearly than she already does on just how evil abortion is--and no "good people" are apologists for evil.

Those Catholics who call themselves "pro-choice" ignore all of that. They pat themselves on the back for donating to food shelters, building Habitat for Humanity homes, and voting for Democrats to help the poor and the hungry, but they ignore the poor children destroyed in the womb, or their mothers who hunger for truth and love but seek the empty hatred of abortion as a remedy for their inconvenient pregnancies. They hold up their First Communion pictures and talk about their emotional ties to the Church, but deny the unborn victims of abortion the chance to be baptized into that faith or to learn about the great gift of salvation offered to us by God. They pretend that abortion is just a little, political issue that means nothing, and turn away from the reality of the nearly forty million dead, and the thousands upon thousands who die each day while they not only do nothing to help these innocent victims, but actually work to increase their numbers by liberalizing abortion laws even further, and opening up government funding to pay for the massacre of the unborn.

Nancy Pelosi is a type of that dissident, faithless "Catholic" who has no moral qualms about murder, so long as the victims are invisible, helpless, and much too young to vote. It is to be hoped that Pope Benedict XVI's direct and loving words calling her back to the truth will bear fruit in her soul, before she ends her life in the state of (objective) grave sin which her work in favor of abortion is placing her every day.

Mr. Monk's Worst Nightmare

Here's a report from a hotel housekeeper in which she spills some dirty little secrets:
My daily list of 15 rooms (out of 325 in the hotel) consisted of DOs (due out) and Os (occupied), which in housekeeping lingo meant the guests were scheduled to check out or were staying another night. An occupied room was less labor-intensive (making the beds rather than changing the sheets saved me 20 minutes), but there was always the possibility the guest would stay in the room while you worked. [...]

I cut corners everywhere I could. Instead of vacuuming, I found that just picking up the larger crumbs from the carpet would do. Rather than scrub the tub with hot water, sometimes it was just a spray-and-wipe kind of day.

After several weeks on the job, I discovered that the staff leader who inspected the rooms couldn't tell the difference between a clean sink and one that was simply dry, so I would often just run a rag over the wet spots. But I never skipped changing the sheets. I wouldn't sink that low, no matter how lazy I was feeling.

It's to be hoped that Ms. Rupp's colleagues feel the same way about the sheet-changing thing.

There are a lot of things one could say about an article like this: that our nation's standards of cleanliness leave a lot to be desired, that people who trash hotel rooms shouldn't get to demand perfection, that it's not such a bad idea to take a can of Lysol along on vacation, etc. But the part of the article I'm pondering is this one, from the end:

I didn't know maids received tips, so it took me weeks to realize that the coins left in rooms were an intentional gift. My tips were paltry: I almost never received more than $1, and at times guests left religious pamphlets. One day, however, I was shocked to find a crisp $100 bill lying on a table. Although the generous tip put a little spring in my step and compelled me to do a better job that day, it didn't change my work ethic for long.

I apologize to you now if you ever stayed in one of my rooms. You deserved better. But if housekeepers were paid more than minimum wage -- and the tips were a bit better -- I might have cleaned your toilet rather than just flushed it.
And all I can think--along with dozens of other stay-at-home, laundry-and-dishes-and-bathroom-cleaning-and-vacuuming-and-tidying moms, I'm sure--is hey, sister, at least you got paid.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I was glad to see, earlier today, that Rod Dreher had picked up this excellent piece from First Things: On the Square, in which Fr. Raymond J. deSouza discusses his disappointment with the National Catholic Register for thus far failing to do much reporting on the Father Maciel situation. From Fr. deSouza's essay:

The twelve years I have been associated with the National Catholic Register correspond exactly to the time since the public allegations against Fr. Maciel were published for the first time in February 1997 in the Hartford Courant. Over that time, the approach of the editors has been not to cover the story save when absolutely necessary, and then to give it minimal coverage at best.

That is not surprising. After all, Fr. Maciel was the ultimate proprietor until 2005. To be fair, as a general rule the National Catholic Register has not given wide attention to scandals in the Church, preferring to focus on areas of Catholic vitality. Even taking that into account, however, those who write and edit for the newspaper must confess now that our coverage of Fr. Maciel’s case has been inadequate. Even the decision to cover this breaking news with wire stories continued that practice.

The newspaper was used on occasion to defend Fr. Maciel, and the newspaper’s officers did so elsewhere. The publisher, Fr. Owen Kearns, LC, as American spokesman for the Legion of Christ in 1997, could not have been more direct: “Each of these allegations is false. Fr. Maciel has never engaged in sexual relations of any sort with any seminarian or novice, nor has he engaged in any of the other improprieties alleged.”

Fr. Kearns believed then that he was speaking the truth. We now know that he was not. He was not the publisher then, but he is now. It is awkward, to say the least, to have the current publisher on the public record saying things on a major news story that are not true. Sooner rather than later, he and many others will have to recant and repent of all that Fr. Maciel allowed them to do in his defense. [...]

We now know that what the National Catholic Register reported about Fr. Maciel was not the whole truth. That may be understandable, as it appears that Fr. Maciel devoted his considerable energies and talents to obscuring the whole truth about his life. If what we have heard repeatedly is true—that those who lived with him for years had no inkling that anything was awry—then the National Catholic Register was just another in a long line deceived by a master fraudster.

Yet that does not let the Register off the hook when, as a newspaper, it chose not to pursue the truth with any vigor. Even at this late date, it has never reported the full extent of the accusations against Fr. Maciel. Worse still, it published what was false. Even if we once thought it to be true, we now know it to be false. Ordinary Christian morality demands of that the newspaper correct what it published. Fundamental journalistic ethics demands the same. Simple justice demands it.

I think Fr. deSouza ought to be commended for saying this so forthrightly. The National Catholic Register likes to be thought of as the "good NCR," as Rod puts it; thus do they distinguish themselves from the oft-heterodox National Catholic Reporter, lovingly nicknamed the National Catholic Distorter by orthodox Catholics tired of dissent peddled as news. Yet the Reporter has covered the sex abuse scandals; the Register has, thus far, been extremely minimal in its terse mentioning of the fact that Father Maciel had at least one mistress and fathered at least one child.

Thomas Peters at American Papist has been staying on top of this whole situation; here, he links to Fr. deSouza's article, and adds:
{update: for online newsies, is also run by the Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi, and similarly has nothing to say about the Maciel scandal, from what I can tell.}
I don't think any of the Legion's various news outlets have spoken much about the scandal; the few things I've seen have linked back to the original Zenit or NCR article, with no further information. The impression being given is not that this was earth-shaking, devastating news which has serious ramifications for the whole organization, but instead that it was something of minor importance about a deceased former Legionary (who just happened to be "Our Founder") with no specific consequence whatsoever to the current operation of the Movement's ministries and practices.

Some quiet changes have been made. though; the "Our Founder" page on the Legion of Christ website has been changed to read, simply:
Father Marcial Maciel, LC, is the founder of the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement. He was born on March 10th, 1920, in Cotija de la Paz, Michoacan (Mexico). He founded the Legion of Christ on January 3rd, 1941 and started the Regnum Christi Movement in 1959.

The Second Vatican Council says: : “It redounds to the good of the Church that institutes have their own particular characteristics and work. Therefore, the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained.” (Perfectae caritatis, 2).

For that reason, Legionaries and Regnum Christi members try to become familiar with the life and work of their founder: Father Marcial Maciel, who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit established this new religious family, which has since been approved and welcome by the Catholic Church.

There was a much longer, more admiring biography there before; but even this seems problematic. How can the "spirit and aims" of Father Maciel be "faithfully accepted and retained" when the Legion itself can't possibly know how many of Fr. Maciel's rules and practices for the Legion were put into place to cover up his sinful lifestyle? How can the Legionaries become familiar with the "life and work" of their founder when so much of that life, and thus, necessarily, so much of that work, are now suspect?

Much has been said about the Legion's need for transparency in the process of distancing themselves from Fr. Maciel and moving forward into a new, post-Maciel reality with their organization. But remaining silent about the deficiencies of the founder isn't really being transparent about the problems, which may subtly infect so much of the Legion's organizational structure. Fr. Maciel was the one who created the notion that "charity" meant putting on a positive face and refraining from criticizing the Legion in public, espeically to "outsiders." This practice, from much of the Legion's response to the Maciel scandal, still seems to be standard operating procedure--which raises the question as to how many of Maciel's practices, which may have aided him in his double life, still remain in force in the Legion.

Avoiding Lenten Pitfalls

Lent begins next week, and I've noticed several Catholic bloggers talking about making their preparations for it: what to give up, what devotions to add, what good spiritual reading to incorporate into their daily schedule, and what works of charity or almsgiving they can focus on during the forty days when we enter into our Lord's Passion and offer up our sacrifices and prayers for our own spiritual growth and for the aid of others.

It has been my policy not to get into the specifics of my own Lenten observances, especially since I put my real name on this blog. There's a certain temptation to pride that can go into such things, and while I know that those who do share are simply trying to help others ponder what they can do to make Lent a time of fruitfulness, I also know that this is a prime opportunity for a kind of spiritual one-upmanship (e.g., "I'll see you that daily rosary and raise you a Litany of the Saints!" etc.).

But I think that some general observations about Lent might be worth sharing. Like many, I have at times struggled with approaching Lent in the right spirit, and have encountered certain specific pitfalls that have made Lent less spiritually productive than it might otherwise have been. So, in no particular order, here are the pitfalls I've experienced (I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones I'm most familiar with):

1. "Sacrifice" means doing or giving up things in the way that is the most difficult, the most burdensome, the most tiring, the most stressful, and the most impossible. If you're not burned out, exhausted, starving (metaphorically, anyway), and stressed by the end of Lent, this is proof that you didn't "do Lent" right, and were way too easy on yourself. I don't know why or how I ever got this idea, but it seemed like a good one at the time; the point of Lent was to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually miserable, and anything less than pure misery meant that you were just a weakling and a slacker.

The danger of this idea is, of course, that it will work out exactly as planned, that you will take on so much in the way of sacrifice, prayer, reading, and almsgiving that you will be burned out, exhausted, starving and stressed by Easter Sunday. This is not the point of our Lenten observances. Yes, you should know that you are, indeed, "giving things up," or offering something special to the Father during this time; Lent should not be just like every other season. But that doesn't mean that you have to be worn out with prayer and good works by the end of Lent, either; such a level of overdoing it means that instead of spiritual growth you're likely to be in a mode of grudging endurance long before the end of the season is near.

2. If one devotion, spiritual book, or sacrifice is good, then five are five times as good. Although this goes along with number one, above, the difference is that the person who gets caught in this Lenten pitfall often doesn't start out trying to do too much. Sadly, this one happens sometimes when we see or hear about others' plans; the times this has happened to me I've had some reasonable and "do-able" Lenten ideas, but have then heard of other books or devotions that others were using, and thought that I should adopt these practices as well.

It doesn't take long before we're right back in the exhausted/burned out stage; our simple Lenten plans have been augmented so much by the good ideas others have that we honestly can't keep up with it all anymore. The temptation to keep adding various sacrifices or devotions throughout Lent is a strong one, but I've learned to make my plans before Ash Wednesday, and then stick to them, more or less.

3. It is Mom's job to make Lenten plans for the whole family. Now, this one has a kernel of truth in it; certainly if the children are very young this is mostly true, and also if some plans involve the whole family (like giving up TV or having an extra meatless meal one day in addition to Friday every week). But often we moms think it's up to us to plan everything, from how often the family will attend daily Mass or Stations of the Cross to what additional prayers will be said to what our teenage children should give up, without striving to inspire our children to make their own choices of sacrifice and spiritual development (and that doesn't even get into the sometimes-serious problem of us treating our husbands this way, too, and assuming they need our help giving something up for Lent). At each age, our children will need different amounts of help from us. The toddler set doesn't "do" much for Lent; the elementary school set may need lots of help to join in various devotions. But from middle-school on, we should be stepping back and encouraging them to come up with their own sacrificial offerings, not merely giving them a list of family-approved activities and prayers.

4. It's just not Lent without [fill in the blank]. I remember vividly what it was like, not my first Lent with a baby (since she was only a few months old and could be carted around anywhere), but my second Lent as a mom, with two young children, a baby and the older one who was now a toddler. This was the year when some of my "Lenten Musts" fell by the wayside; I think we made it to an Ash Wednesday Mass, but evening Stations of the Cross, Holy Thursday, and the Good Friday services which began at seven p.m. were out of the question that year. It felt so strange to me, and I felt almost guilty for "skipping" such essential parts of Lent.

You would think that the experience of the next few years when some of these observances remained iffy at best for our young family would have taught me not to focus so much on these things, but to learn, instead, what I could do with my little ones and to be at peace regardless of what we could do for Lent. You would be wrong; as soon as they were old enough, I started putting demands on my family: we would attend Stations every Friday, or nearly every Friday; we would be at every service during the Triduum, we would take part in whatever spiritual offerings our parish made available. It just wasn't Lent without all those things.

But God taught me otherwise, because life kept intervening, everything from sick children to scheduling conflicts to everyday reality which made such ambitious plans unworkable. Gradually I learned that there were times and situations which made it impossible to be present for every devotional opportunity; more importantly, I learned that while all of these things are very good, it is not good to ignore one's family's realities and demand attendance at all the parish's Lenten activities--and then to be disappointed if things didn't work out.

5. The externals are what it's all about. I have, in the past, gotten caught up in the Lenten observances so much that I forget about the interior conversion that is supposed to be the whole point of Lent.

But the Bible reminds us of a few things that say otherwise:
Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. (Joel 2:13)

For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart. (Psalm 51: 18-19)
For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts. (Hosea 6:6)
None of these verses means that sacrifices, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. are not to be done. They are, though, a reminder that these things are supposed to be working an interior change, making us closer to God, drawing us out of our sinful ways and strengthening us in virtue, making us kinder, more peaceful, more gentle, more patient, more caught up in the things of God and less focused on the things of the world which will pass away.

6. If I just do [x, y, and z] I will become holy. This one is closely related to number five above; instead of merely focusing on the externals, though, I've sometimes thought that merely doing all the right things in terms of fasting, prayer, spiritual reading and devotions, etc. would almost automatically produce in my spirit the proper disposition, making me "holier" during Lent whether I really wanted to be holy or not.

I don't know how many times in the Gospels our Lord warned us about the Pharisees, but this is pretty much what they always thought--that their strict observance of the Law of Moses somehow made them close to God, and gave them the right to look down on all the poor schmucks and sinners who couldn't even begin to match them in terms of prayers and actions and gestures and (very public) almsgiving. Instead, our Lord called them "whited sepulchers," pointing out that all their observances were not even close to being pleasing to God, because they emanated from a place of pride, not of humble faith and grateful love.

I've learned that it's far better to identify some real spiritual struggle in my life, and to think of a way of offering some fasting or prayer or sacrifice specifically to address this fault, than to multiply my observances in the hope that the sheer act of doing various things will produce the desired level of holiness or closeness to God. Rather than discuss anything personal, I'll offer an example that used to crop up in the Catholic college I attended: one girl would decide that her own struggles with vanity made it necessary for her to give up makeup for Lent, a good and noble act of sacrifice; but then dozens of other girls would decide that they ought to do this too, leading to an almost comical-Dr.-Seuss-starbellied-sneetches situation: the "holy" girls on campus were the ones spending Lent without makeup, while the "vain" and "less holy" girls were the ones taking shameless advantage of the situation by still looking attractive.

The reality, of course, was far more complex. Some of the "makeupless" girls didn't have any particular issue with vanity in the first place, and moreover had beautiful skin and naturally dark lashes, such that the "sacrifice" of going without cosmetics wasn't that big of a deal; meanwile, some of the girls who continued to wear makeup also didn't have that much of a problem with vanity, and decided not to jump on such a visible Lenten bandwagon but to focus on bad habits of their own, like laziness or untidiness. But the first group of girls "looked" holier than the second to the casual observer.

The point is that the level of one's holiness, or interior change, during Lent has a lot more to do with what's going on inside your heart and soul than it does with whether you're jumping on the latest "But this will make me holy!" bandwagon. The quest for holiness is a lifelong journey, and there is no special shortcut, no Lenten Observance To End All Lenten Observances, that will speed us down the path toward true holiness any faster than our own attempts to be patient, cheerful, humble and faithful in everything we do.

These are just some of the Lenten Pitfalls I've encountered in my life; I'm sure some of you could think of others, as well. But as we head into Lent next week, I hope I can avoid these pitfalls in order to benefit spiritually from the great gift of this penitential season.