Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy All Hallows' Eve!

And with that, I'd like to wish everybody a very happy and blessed All Hallows' Eve. However you choose to celebrate tonight, be safe--and God bless!

One last Halloween post

Because there's been a lot of negative reaction to what I wrote about Sally Thomas' First Things piece, I wanted to share something I wrote (in the context of sharing thoughts with another person) that gave a more thorough analysis of the piece itself, and why I found it troubling.

Essentially, Sally Thomas isn't saying what I say, which is: trick-or-treating is fine; having an All Saints' Day party is fine; do what works best for your family. Instead, she's saying, if you really read the whole piece, that those who "skip" the trick-or-treat part are missing something key and crucial about the holy day itself. She's saying that by skipping the "first day of Hallowmas" one's children aren't being given the opportunity to live out the whole drama of eternal life.

So here's a walk through the whole piece, where I mention the things I found troubling about it:

1. In the transition from the first to the second paragraph, Sally assumes that those who dislike the secular Halloween celebration are disturbed by the narrative she outlines in her first paragraph, which is that Halloween is like a medieval mystery play, and that stepping outside one’s front door dressed as someone other than oneself is a reminder of the thin membrane between the material world and the spiritual world. Here, she lumps together both those who think Halloween is secular with those who think that Halloween is evil, and dismisses both as being unable to see the richer narrative she has crafted in her outlook on the holiday. The problem is that that richer narrative, while poetic, is personal. Truth is: dressing in a costume and going out to get candy is a purely secular activity. It’s not part of a richer narrative unless you choose to interpret it that way--there’s nothing historically religious, nothing about putting on a costume and venturing forth for free Snickers that says, “I believe in the world of the spirit, and I believe it is closer to our material reality than we like to think.” If there were such an implied meaning, non-religious parents (to say nothing of Richard Dawkins) would be screaming up a storm every Oct. 31.

2. In the third and fourth paragraphs Sally addresses the moving of the feast, and makes the assumption, once again, that those Christians who fear Halloween are squeamish about Halloween’s emphasis on darkness. But, again, darkness has nothing to do with the feast of All Saints’ Day, and not really much to do with the feast of All Souls’ either, since the souls in Purgatory have the great comfort of knowing they will soon be in the Presence of the Beatific Vision for all eternity. Halloween is not the ancient festival of Carnivale, which is described in Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” as a masquerade in which, on the night before Ash Wednesday, carriages hung with lights and carrying disguised nobility suddenly extinguished all of their lanterns and ceased all gaiety (at least, publicly, since many of the occupants went not decorously home, but to dissolute parties, breaking the Ash Wednesday fast as soon as it began). There is nothing even remotely “dark” about All Saints’ Day, and we are not in a period of fast before the feast under the present law, so what “darkness” are the Christians who allegedly fear Halloween supposed to be afraid of, exactly?

3. In the fifth paragraph we learn that children don’t have to dress as saints to “redeem” Halloween. Agreed--but nobody said letting children dress as saints was an attempt to “redeem” anything. If Halloween were a wicked pagan festival we might have to redeem it--but it’s an innocuous secular one as it presently exists, and it doesn’t really tempt anyone to sins other than gluttony (which any serious Christian can avoid).

4. The sixth paragraph is...a nice way of creating a semi-spiritual narrative about a relatively recent, thoroughly American tradition. I’m sorry, but if “being someone else” for a night were an important part of the All Saints’ Day festivities, one would expect it to have been a regular feature for a couple of centuries at the least. Children have been trick-or-treating in America for less than a century, and have only been wearing costumes since the 1930s or 1940s. Now, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to create some spiritual meaning in a secular holiday tradition; it’s similar to what those of us who are having All Saints’ Day parties are trying to do. But the implication that this is somehow an intrinsic part of the meaning of the trick-or-treat custom, and that those who don’t trick-or-treat are missing out on this spiritual imagery, is simply not the case. This motif is continued in the seventh paragraph, where the claim is made that being first a secular figure confronting darkness and then a saint in light is the point of doing both trick-or-treating and an All Saints’ Party--but I have two small objections: one, are we ever really supposed to be secular (worldly) creatures? and two, are we confronting the dark--or merely filling a candy bag with goodies?

5. The concluding paragraph adds in All Souls’ Day, which of course for some reason is costume-less; it is summed up with Sally’s contention that by celebrating the three different days in this particular way the children have lived out their own eternal lives (though, presumably, the order is wrong, as we don’t become saints first and then enter Purgatory). Obviously, those other Christians who are disturbed by the narrative about the membrane-thin separation between the material and spiritual world, who are squeamish about the darkness of Halloween, who falsely try to “redeem” Halloween, and who lack the courage to take up their costumes and venture forth beside parents with bright flashlights and courageously confront the darkness by traveling down well-lighted sidewalks and by getting a lot of free candy have *not* managed to live out their eternal lives in a mysterious three-fold mystery pageant.

I’m not trying to be mean, here; I’m sure Sally is a lovely person who doesn’t intend to insult those people who have decided for whatever reason that trick-or-treating doesn’t work for them. But she IS saying that the trick-or-treat part is *spiritually* significant, such that those kids who don’t don a Batman or fairy princess outfit and go out for the free goodies are somehow missing one-third of this great spiritual mystery, as if someone decided that their family was fine with Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but found Holy Thursday too dark and scary for the children (the Passion reading, you know, and the darkness and silence at the end of the Mass).

And that’s what drives me crazy. Because the trick-or-treat thing is a modern American consumer-driven secular celebration of the vigil of an actual holiday--not the first religious part of a three-fold spiritual drama. We can’t change the reality of the secular Halloween by creating a spiritual narrative for it, however praiseworthy the impulse to do so might be.


The above is what I wrote earlier; I just want to add one more thing, for the umpteen-millionth time:

I do not think trick-or-treating is evil.

I don't think it's wicked, scary, unpleasant, demonic, un-Christian, wrong, or bad.

But I also don't think it's mandatory, obligatory, the immersion in the first act of an ancient three-act Christian mystery play, a spiritual opportunity for one's children to conquer their fear of the dark, of strangers, and of the kid on the same sidewalk dressed in a Scream costume, or in any other way a moral imperative for Christian parents.

And I don't think having an All Saints' Day party instead is virtuous, noble, saintly, wise, right, or inherently good. I think it's a nice way to celebrate All Hallows' Eve, and especially so with three young ladies who already told me that they're much too old to trick-or-treat (I think girls outgrow this kind of thing rather early, and tall girls especially so).

And what I really wish is that everybody would stop assuming some huge narrative behind each family's decision how to celebrate, or not celebrate, All Hallows' Eve. Because if there's one thing we're doing that's very contrary to the spirit of our saintly friends in Heaven, it's judging each other so harshly for the crime of not doing everything exactly alike.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Halloween anti-Christian?

Okay, the original source is the UK Telegraph, so the usual cautions about the British media and its tendency to exaggerate are in effect. Also, the story as usual conflates "The Vatican" with, presumably, a handful of Vatican officials. Still...interesting, no?

The Vatican has warned parents that Halloween is an anti-Christian pagan holiday of "terror, fear and death."

An article published in the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano says "Halloween has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian."

Parents should "be aware of this and try to direct the meaning of the feast towards wholesomeness and beauty rather than terror, fear and death," said Father Canals, a member of a Spanish commission on church rites.

The Catholic Church has increasingly gone against Halloween's popularity in recent years. Last year, a newspaper controlled by Italian bishops called for a boycott of the goulish holiday, saying it was a "dangerous celebration of horror."

You can read the original UK Telegraph article here.

Let's keep any discussion respectful, and remember that it's quite likely that this brief report isn't the whole story...

UPDATE: Jack Smith at The Catholic Key says the story's a hoax. So often the case, apparently, with some of these media sources.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween post: the redhead edition

I wasn't going to get into this one, not this year. Sure, I saw the discussions start up, the increasingly combative tone taken by some, the outright dismissal of some people's experiences by others, the tendency to characterize the opposite side with sweeping generalizations and waist-deep assumptions; but I just wrote this little post, and backed off. I've written about this whole thing before, just laying out a "what works for my family" kind of thing, and leaving it at that.

But let's face it. It just wouldn't be a holiday, not a Christian one anyway, if groups of bitterly opposed Christians didn't call down anathemas on each other for failing to celebrate the holiday the Right Way.

At Christmas time, those of us parents who choose to add just a little of the secular fun into our predominantly, nay, overwhelmingly religious focus on the feast of the Nativity of Christ find ourselves up against the wall as we defend our permission for St. Nicholas' visits, an elf or two, a reindeer perhaps, or possibly a rousing chorus of Jingle Bell Rock to enter into our celebrations. Oddly enough, at Halloween, it's those of us parents who choose to focus our energies on the religious holiday, that major feast called All Saint's Day, who find ourselves once again up against a very similar wall, being called Puritans and spoilsports and ninnies for choosing to attend an All Saint's party with children dressed as saints instead of participating in the modern secular observance of Halloween with children dressed as...well, just about anything...and its focus on the ritual of ring-the-doorbell-and-get-free-candy.

It's a puzzlement, to be sure. And I'm getting sort of tired of that wall.

Perhaps some of my present head-scratching comes from reading this post over at First Things:
The absorption of pre-Christian cultic observance into the Christian calendar is not limited, of course, to holidays dealing with darkness and death. The Church settled on the date for Christmas by much the same process. Halloween’s emphasis on darkness makes many Christians squeamish, but, to my mind, what my friend observed about the medieval feel of Halloween is more on the money. There is a drama to be played out, like a mystery play in three scenes, and it makes sense only if you observe all three days of Hallowmas—not only Halloween but All Saints’ and All Souls’ days as well. In this context, the very secularity and even the roots-level paganism of Halloween become crucial elements in a larger Christian story.

I don’t especially encourage my children to dress as scary things for Halloween. We are taught, rightly, to avoid flirting with the occult, and the darkest character any child of mine has ever wanted to be is Darth Vader. This year three of my children are going as characters from the Lord of the Rings books, while my teenager has decided to be Lucille Ball. Christian children need not, as some do, dress as saints for Halloween to “redeem” it. There is something right, I think, in acknowledging on Halloween that the day for the saints has not arrived yet. This is salvation history, after all. We are saved from something—even if only from the ordinary, secular world of I Love Lucy, in which the sun rises and sets on Lucy’s dream of being in Ricky’s show.

What their costumes are is less important than the fact that, for a night, my children will be people other than themselves: each of them will be someone who, regardless of real-life fears about the dark, is not afraid to step out into the night. Armored inside their personae, they can laugh at the shadows, as well they should. On the one hand, the powers of darkness are no joke; on the other hand, although Christians have no traffic with these powers, we do not fear them.
Hallowmas? Let's see, how do I put this relatively politely: balderdash.

Halloween is not some sort of Fall Triduum, after all. On my liturgical calendar there is All Saints, a Solemnity and a Holy Day of Obligation; it is followed by All Souls, which is a commemoration, in a unique category, but put at the level of a Solemnity; it is not, however, a Holy Day of Obligation. The day before isn't noted as a feast day; it is simply the vigil of All Saints. There is no three-fold action here, no slow rising from the table of the Last Supper to the rising of the Cross to the rising of the Resurrected Lord from His tomb in glory. There is, instead, a triumphant feast first, as we contemplate the saints who are already in Heaven, safely home; then a solemn reminder of the suffering of the poor souls in purgatory who so need our daily prayers and sacrifices, a reminder that we, too, may one day need the prayers of the Church Militant to move beyond purgatory and into eternal light. The two feasts are connected, to be sure--but if Halloween really had a "memento mori" element, one would think it would be celebrated on November 3 instead of October 31.

Further, I don't know how we can say that the secularity and roots-level paganism can be crucial elements in any Christian story. The secular world is in opposition to Christianity; the pagan world was too. Saying that the secularity and roots-level paganism of Halloween is important to the Christian story of All Saints and All Souls is kind of like saying that the secular ritual of staying up past midnight and drinking heavily on December 31 is a crucial element for celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on January 1. Now, there's nothing wrong with attending a secular New Year's Eve party, provided one keeps the drinking to moderate levels and no immorality is contemplated or carried out. But any pretense that good Christians are practically obligated to party on New Year's Eve in order to appreciate better the sinlessness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and what her "Fiat!" to God meant to our souls (or our sorry pounding skulls) would be pretty ridiculous, would it not?

Secular celebrations are just that: secular. And sometimes that's just fine--no one expects to have to infuse the Independence Day barbecue and fireworks ritual with a narrative about how Independence Day is a foreshadowing of our independence from sin, and the fireworks are reminders of the brevity of life and how all that is beautiful eventually becomes ash, and the barbecue is an example of hope, because we sure hope the guy in charge of the grill is using a meat thermometer instead of just guessing when the food is done...This is not, of course, to say that there's no place for prayer, for faith, at an Independence Day barbecue; it just means we don't have to try to turn a purely secular event into an adopted Catholic holiday, when that is simply not what it is.

Halloween, as it is celebrated in 21st century America, is a secular holiday. The present way of celebrating it doesn't even really date back all that far:

After World War II, the American practice of Trick-or-Treat began in earnest. Sprawing suburban neighborhoods delighted in watching costumed boomer children "beg" from door to door. Traditional Halloween party foods (candied/toffee apples, popcorn balls, nuts) were proferred along with pre-wrapped commercial candies. Savvy candy companies capitalized on this lucrative opportunity by selling seasonal packages containing smaller sized products. "Back in the Day" (your editor trick-or-treated on Long Island in the 1960s) it was fairly usual to get little decorative halloween bags containing all sorts of things. These were assembled at home, usually composed of loose candies (candy corn, Hershey Kisses, marsmallows, MaryJanes or Tootsie Rolls, etc.), some pennies and maybe a small toy. We also carried little milk-carton shaped boxes distributed in school and said "Trick or Treat for Unicef." Beginning in 1952, UNICEF's halloween program thrives today.
While "trick-or-treating" may have been done locally on a small scale before World War II, it doesn't appear to have been very popular before the 1920s or 1930s. So, as a secular holiday ritual, it would appear to be less than 100 years old.

Having said all that, let me reiterate what I've said when I've written on this topic before: there is nothing wrong with deciding that what works well for your family is to celebrate the secular sort of Halloween. Nothing at all. We used to do it, too. I got tired of the really scary costumes on other kids, the really slutty costumes on other kids, the jerk who answered the door with a live snake around his shoulders and liked to scare the kids with it, and loads of other things. I got tired, not of the secularism, but of what the reality of our current secular culture with its deviance, immorality, violence, depravity, and ugliness makes out of this day--because that's the reality where I live. If you live in a nice little neighborhood where you know all of your neighbors and trick-or-treating still consists of adorable ballerinas and pirates venturing forth for loot then--great! Go for it, and enjoy a piece of candy for me (preferably chocolate, since I can't have it myself).

And if you like to do both the secular trick-or-treat ritual and an All Saints' Day party, again--great! Even if I lived in one of those picket-fence neighborhoods, I'd have to think twice about that--because it would mean double costumes, and as a card-carrying M.I.S.C.R.E.A.N.T. who is allergic to crafts I'm hard-pressed enough to come up with one apiece for my girls (thank heavens they are much better at crafts than I ever was, and need minimal help putting a costume together anymore).

And if you only do an All Saints' party like we do, once again, great! It's not mandatory to celebrate All Hallows' Eve with a secular ritual dating back to about 1920, but beginning in earnest after World War II. I've got Catholic school textbooks from the "in-between" period, and they show children celebrating Halloween much as we do: with a small party, some punch, some games, and sometimes some reference to the saints; interestingly, even costumes are rare on the pictures of these kids at their parties, who are mostly dressed as you'd expect schoolchildren in the 1930s or 1940s to be dressed. So dressing up as a saint isn't mandatory to celebrate All Hallows' Eve.

And people who do celebrate Halloween with an All Saints' Day party in anticipation of the Solemnity of the next day aren't necessarily holier or wiser or better than anybody else. If anything, we recognize our need in this increasingly hostile culture to carve out pockets of acceptable compromise, to let our children have the treats and candy and joy and laughter their peers will be having (to say nothing of Aunt Charlotte's famous Pumpkin Cake Roll, which they already waxed lyrical about to their friends as the single thing they most look forward to on October 31 each year) without having to be immersed in the culture of violent and sexual imagery which continues to seep into the secular celebrations of the day, interfering more and more with children's innocent joy and making the secular celebration look more evil than it ever did when I was a child.

If you are blessed to live in an area of America where Halloween is still innocent fun for a child, without blood-filled masks and horror movie chic, without slutty nun/priest costumes or a whole host of faux-prostitute wear, without the creeping influence of the occult and diabolical, then by all means, relax and enjoy it while your children are still young enough for this ritual of ringing the doorbell and getting some free candy. But if you find yourself increasingly uncomfortable with the hallmarks of Halloween where you live, if things don't seem as innocent and simple as they used to, or if your kids come home crying because of the scary costumes and even scarier yard decorations people put up without thinking of the littlest ones and their sensitive imaginations, then don't think you have to become some sort of holier-than-thou weirdo to opt out of the whole recent modern secular ritual and replace it with a different kind of celebration.

And by all means, don't think you're failing to celebrate a three-day Catholic feast called "Hallowmas," which doesn't even exist. You're not a Puritan, a ninny, or a prude; you're a parent. And like all of us, the All Saints' Party people and the Trick-or-Treat brigades, you're just trying to do what works best for your family.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law!

Terrific news--I have a new nephew!

My brother and sister-in-law welcomed their second child this morning. Mom and baby are doing well.

This brings the total of grandchildren my parents have to 19 (12 boys, 7 girls). So far, anyway. And one of my sisters is a nun, and my youngest three siblings aren't married as of yet.

A big congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law!

Instruction in the domestic arts

Late blogging today; apologies!

First of all, that diocesan situation I mentioned cryptically yesterday may be offering an acceptable solution. I'll let you know for sure in a few days; meanwhile, I appreciate the suggestions of saints to ask for intercession made in the comment box!

Second, the reason for today's late blogging is that I decided today to put into action a plan I've had for a while: letting my girls take over one dinner a week.

They all enjoy doing some cooking here and there, and Kitten, the oldest, has learned to bake a couple of different baked goods from scratch. I decided it was time for Cooking 102, and to move beyond the brownie/muffin/biscuit/various easy-prep foods into the planning, prepping, and cooking of an actual meal.

Since I've been battling a migraine today, we kept it simple: some of these, baked on a bed of sauteed spinach and onions and covered with spaghetti sauce, accompanied by some peas, and with a brownie pie for desert (to celebrate Dad's feast day).

It was fun to have a supervisory role and to watch as the girls prepared the various items, offering my help when it was needed. They learned a few things, too--Kitten, who loves the smell of onions, learned that it really is true that handling them while dicing them is what causes the teary-eyed response; she had to let Bookgirl take over the cooking of the onions for a bit so she could dry her eyes; Bookgirl learned it's still possible to cook peas in a saucepan on the stove when the vegetable steamer basket is in the dishwasher ("But Mom! That's primitive!") and Hatchick learned that cooking dinner is harder than she thought. Well, to be honest, they all learned that--and this, like I said, was a simple meal.

I wanted them to learn that--that even those quick, easy suppers we sometimes have take time, planning and preparation, and that a more complex meal might take some special sort of prep time or enough advance planning to put a few ingredients on our weekly shopping list. I wanted them to work together to see the importance of pitching in when somebody asks you to stir something or measure something. Most of all, though, I want them to learn a skill they'll use whatever their vocation in life: the ability to plan and cook a meal, start to finish.

So every Wednesday night for the time being I'm going to work on teaching them these things, until they reach the point where they can plan, prepare, cook, serve, and clean up a meal with minimal supervision. There are times when I'm going to think that it would be easier just to do it all myself--there will be times when it would be, no doubt.

But the homeschooling day doesn't end when the math book is closed (though the relief of that moment may often make it feel that way). It is every bit as important to teach my children how to cook, clean, do their laundry, and take care of basic necessities as it is to teach them to balance an equation, to theorize about the climate of a specific geographic region, or to analyze a sonnet or lyric poem. The ultimate goal of the homeschooling parent is to teach our children to be adults, and to be ready for whatever calling God has planned for them--and whatever His plan for them may be, it's likely to involve at least some use of the domestic arts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bigotry and the Times

The New York Times' The Ethicist blog, written by Randy Cohen, has a rather whiny question today, in a post titled "Can't We Talk about Religion, Please?" It's clear from the get-go that what Cohen really wants is free license to bash Catholicism for the simple reason that he doesn't much like it--but don't you dare call that "bigotry...":
Last week the Vatican invited Anglicans who are, as The New York Times put it, “uncomfortable with female priests and openly gay bishops” to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church. If a secular institution, Wal-Mart or Microsoft, for example, made a similar offer — Tired of leadership positions being open to women and gay employees? Join us! — it would be slammed for appealing to bigotry. Some criticism was directed at the church, but it was faint. Are we right to speak softly when discussing a subject as sensitive as religion? [...]

And so it is disheartening that the editorial pages of our most important newspapers did not castigate the Vatican’s invitation to misogyny and homophobia. Some blogs did so. Daily Kos headlined its coverage, “Vatican Welcomes Bigoted Anglicans.” But the discussion provided by, say, network news barely rose above the demure. That’s not courtesy; it’s cowardice. Perhaps the networks fear being charged with anti-Catholic bias. This is not an unreasonable concern. When I reproved that real estate agent, my surname was no shield against accusations of anti-Semitism. But surely it is possible to disagree respectfully. To criticize a particular practice of Orthodox Jews need not be anti-Semitism. To denounce this Vatican policy need not be anti-Catholic bigotry. Criticism is not contempt.

One group has produced a lively discussion of this pronouncement — the religious press. (You can find a roundup of opinions at Headline Bistro under the banner “Because Catholics Need to Know.”) Some of the sharpest writing comes from those critical of their own church — the Rev. George Rutler, for example, a convert from Anglicanism who wrote: “It is a dramatic slap-down of liberal Anglicanism and a total repudiation of the ordination of women, homosexual marriage and the general neglect of doctrine in Anglicanism.” Incidentally, Father Rutler does not think the secular media are too timid but too thickheaded: “The press, uninformed and always tabloid in matters of religion, will zoom in on the permission for married priests.”
Mr. Cohen betrays his own deep ignorance about Catholicism in thinking that the Rev. George Rutler's quote indicates at all a criticism of Catholicism, let alone in his persistent characterization of Catholic opposition to a female priesthood or the sin of homosexual activity as "bigotry." But deep ignorance by New York Times writers about the teachings of Catholicism is de rigueur; even once-Catholic Maureen Dowd was stunning in her recent NYT-levels of uninformed unintelligence about Catholic matters.

The truth is that anyone who brushes aside centuries-old Church teachings about the nature of the ordained priesthood or the importance of sexual purity as "bigotry" is himself a bigot. Only an irrational, prejudiced perspective could possibly dismiss things of that level of importance out of hand, as if it were impossible for a religion to have a sincere and meaningful tradition, in the first instance, or a well-developed moral theology, in the second. But to seek to understand either means laying aside such knee-jerk anti-Catholicism and actually exploring the traditions and the teaching, not viewing them through the lens of contemporary political liberalism/radical feminism and then throwing them aside in highly-cultivated and progressive-snob disgust.

As for the charge that the media is too soft on Catholicism out of some sort of cowardice--oh, please. It costs nothing to bash the Church, and every journalist or other media employee learns this early on in his career. It's hard to find a group more consistently misrepresented in the press than Christians of any sort, and the Catholic Church is perhaps the biggest target for that sophomoric wrath--the wrath that comes, deep down, from knowing that here is one institution immune to their pressures and lectures and scoldings. Compared to the Church, the modern media (including the "modern" newspaper) arose yesterday, and the end of the newspaper age may already be in sight. The Church will still be around when only the collectors of historical curiosity knows what it means, this odd phrase, "The New York Times," and what it once signified. The mass of humanity will forget all about it, long before the Church faces a different sort of end times.

So journalists like Cohen want to whine about how unfair the mean old Church is, while they can still collect a paycheck for such dull displays of enlightened whimpering. But they want their whining to be classed as Serious Criticism, because they have the Right Sort of opinions, just like they want to be able to try and convict the Church of misogyny and homophobia in the court of public opinion, because the Church has the Wrong Sort. Remind me again what part of this juvenile dribbling counts as anything serious?

Stay Tuned...

I can't give details, yet, but I'm embroiled in a bureaucratic kerfuffle with one of the local chancery offices over one of their pettifogging requirements for something. Clear as mud, right? I promise to let you know more about what's up when I can share the whole story.

In the meantime, if there's a patron saint for dealing with diocesan chanceries, I'd appreciate any information you can share about him/her; I have a feeling I'm going to need it! :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recycled Dowd response

Since Maureen Dowd's usual display of discursive nonsense is attracting some attention around the Catholic blogosphere (and elsewhere), I'd like to post a response I wrote to it yesterday, and posted in the comment box at Rod Dreher's blog. Somebody there kept calling for a Serious Response, so I wrote one--even though responding seriously to Ms. Dowd is a little like using an acetylene torch to toast a marshmallow. Anyway, I hope you won't mind that I'm recycling this morning--but the only thing worse than crafting a Serious Response to Dowdiness is having to craft two such responses. Without further ado, then, here it is:


Like so many opinion pieces written by disaffected Catholics about something pertaining to the faith of their childhood, Maureen Dowd begins her latest exercise in studied irrelevance with an anecdote about the schoolyard, a mean nun, a handsome priest, and a cowering child--herself.

But only Dowd, with her splendid disregard for common sense, could conclude from such a story of her rescue at the hands of the kindly priest from whatever wrath the improbably-named nun might otherwise have been motivated to wreak that the real problem here was that the nun was a second-class citizen. Presumably, the priest should not have acted the role of male patriarchal oppressor, and the nun should have been free to employ whatever cliched punishment involving rulers or rosary beads or any other instrument of Catholic grade-school torture caught her fancy. Dowd, one is led to infer, would much rather have been punished by an empowered nun than forgiven by an oppressed one.

But apparently for Dowd, as for so many liberal Catholics or liberal ex-Catholics, the story of the evils of male hierarchical oppression must never deviate from a handful of preconceived notions tossed into a stew of reheated petulance and stale, leftover feminism. Nuns are oppressed because they are not priests; priests are oppressors because they are male; raise the felt banners and affix the peace signs, and join in a rousing chorus of Kumbaya.

Seen through this fogged feminist lens, the visitations--not inquisitions--the Vatican is now conducting as to the state of American nuns can only be an attempt to stifle dissent and muzzle the kind of intelligent spiritual growth that leads to nuns serving as abortion clinic escorts, nuns engaging in pagan worship rituals, and nuns, like Sr. Jeanne Gramick whom Dowd mentions, who campaign actively for gay marriage in clear defiance of Church teachings on the matter, and who, if they are ever disciplined, are inclined to don Che t-shirts and mutter about oppression and revolution to the tune of their favorite Marty Haugen song.

There’s a much more interesting story going on in regard to religious sisters in America--but Dowd misses it altogether. That story is simple, and can be demonstrated with a little light Internet searching. The average age of all American nuns is about 69--but the average age of the nuns in the young, traditional, habit-wearing, Latin chanting Vatican II orders, the ones who worship according to the Novus Ordo Mass but have resurrected such discarded practices as the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, the wearing of the traditional habit, and the like--is about 35.

It is the old orders who are dying out, the ones who cast aside their spiritual patrimony because it has the Latin root word for “father” in it, the ones who imagined themselves as priestesses or at least as figures of power ushering in a new Church and a new Gospel based on openness to sin and aversion to judgment, a sort of combination of the words of a Gandhi with the practices of a Saul Alinsky. But a funny thing happened on the way to the revolution; people began to realize that a faith which never asks them to die to themselves isn’t really worth living for, and it certainly isn’t worth living in community with a few dozen other women one’s whole life to achieve.

The story of religious sisters in America has yet to be finished. But if there is a renaissance of women religious about to begin, it won’t be beginning in the middle of the prayer labyrinth, and it won’t be ushered in by the sort of woman who doesn’t have a problem ushering women in to abortion clinics to have their unborn children put to death. It’s a pity Dowd missed that part of the story; it’s a pity she doesn’t know the kind of nuns who would laugh over her portrayal of Pope Benedict and her templates of Church--as--oppressor and nuns--as---second-class--citizens. They would laugh, and then they’d probably offer up a prayer for her. But that’s a fantasy, of course; the kind of sisters I’m writing about here would never waste their time reading the New York Times.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A prayer request

I'd like to ask your prayers on behalf of a lovely Catholic family in my town. They are deeply grieving today--one of their children, a twelve-year-old boy, died last night following an illness (not swine flu, btw). He was the second oldest of seven children.

Please keep this young boy, his beautiful parents and beloved siblings in your prayers this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don't ask Sister Mary Martha...

I've got a confession to make: I've never liked the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog.

I know others like it, and have linked to it. But something about it always felt "off" to me. After a while I developed a theory--the blog might be somehow being written by Maripat Donovan, the woman who created the Late Nite Catechism series of improv plays. There were certain things about the blog, the writing style, the sense I had that Catholic beliefs were subtly being mocked instead of being treated seriously, and most of all "Sister Martha's" insistence that anyone who wanted to help her could instead donate for the care of retired nuns, that made me suspect this (because some part of the proceeds from Late Nite Catechism and its companion plays is always donated to retired nuns).

About the Late Nite Catechism plays, the Catholic League wrote way back in 1996:
New York, NY - The off-Broadway play Late Night Catechism premiered at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. The play ridiculed virtually every aspect of Catholicism including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Saints, the sacraments, Catholic schools, and Catholic customs. In particular, the sexual statements that the play made about Catholic beliefs and practices were unusually coarse.
As it turns out, though, there's some evidence out there that suggests the blog may be written by a different woman, not Maripat Donovan; my suspicions of Ms. Donovan appear to be unfounded. However, if the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog is really being written by The Write Club blogger Jane Morris, as is being speculated, things are still rather interesting.

Why? Because like Maripat Donovan, Jane Morris is from Chicago. Like Maripat Donovan, Jane Morris has played "Sister" in the Late Nite Catechism plays; in fact, this article mentions that Donovan and Morris were alternating the role in a Los Angeles production of Late Nite Catechism in 2000. Jane Morris is listed here with Maripat Donovan and Marc Silvia in this current production of "Sister's Christmas Catechism," as well.

So while my guess that Maripat Donovan herself was responsible for the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog has apparently turned out to be incorrect, it would seem that I might not have been too far off, if indeed this particular Jane Morris is the one hiding behind the visage of arguably the most popular "nun" on the Internet. Of course, the "Jane Morris" on The Write Club blog might not be the same Jane Morris who has been involved with the Late Nite Catechism plays, or perhaps the claim that a person named Jane Morris is behind "Ask Sister Mary Martha" will turn out to be spurious. But given the similarities I tend to see between the style of Late Nite Catechism and the style of "Ask Sister Mary Martha," I wouldn't be surprised if the Jane Morris who has been involved with Late Nite Catechism has been humorously "impersonating" a nun on the Internet.

UPDATE: As of Saturday night, the link to "The Write Club" blog no longer displays the "Ask Sister Mary Martha" blog as one of the "Write Club's" member-written blogs. A Google cache of the page still shows (for now) "Ask Sister Mary Martha" under the heading "Write Club Writers' Blogs." It's interesting that this has been done, don't you think?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Coddling and child abuse

Is coddling a child the same as child abuse? A case in Italy raises the question:

The case centers on the overprotective mother and grandparents of a 12-year-old boy known only as Luca in the northern city of Ferrara. Prosecutors say the three built a wall of protection so high around the boy, it stunted his development. The boy's mother and grandfather have already been convicted of child abuse and are appealing the verdict. The grandmother appeared before a criminal tribunal earlier this month to face a similar charge. All three defendants have denied any wrongdoing, and the child has remained in the mother's custody while the case is being adjudicated.

According to the evidence presented by prosecutors, Luca was not allowed to play with other children, go to church, participate in sports or leave the house before or after school. The boy's teachers said he was sent to school with his snacks already cut into bite-size portions for him. Investigators say the teachers noticed that he was both physically and psychologically stunted from such around-the-clock doting. "He didn't know how to run. He had the motor skills of a 3-year-old child," Andrew Marzola, the lawyer representing the boy, told the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Considering the eternal debate in Italy over the country's supposedly overly sheltered mammone, the case has garnered widespread publicity. But the boy's plight doesn't exactly fit in with the national stereotype of an overprotective mother and her son — it's far messier than that. The parents divorced soon after the boy's birth and the father claimed that he wasn't permitted to see his son for nine years. Concerned about the child's welfare, he finally contacted social services and prosecutors opened an investigation into the mother and grandparents.
Now, granted, this is Time. Despite the divorce situation which is clearly at the heart of the case, Time writer Jeff Israely manages to blame Italian culture, the national stereotype (based somewhat on reality) of the overprotective Italian mother, and the Catholic Church for this boy's plight. But aside from the oddly eclectic and discursive writing style of this piece (not at all unusual considering the source) a serious question remains: can coddling a child be construed as child abuse? Who determines whether a child has been overprotected? At what point does an outside agency have the authority to step in and interfere with parenting decisions?

I think that most reasonable people would say that some evidence of actual harm would have to be shown. If the boy in the Italian case really has had his physical or mental development stunted to a demonstrable level, that might constitute harm--but what should be the remedy?

Here in America, for instance, a ruling that finds evidence of child abuse usually results in the removal of a child from the home. But would that ever be the appropriate way to deal with a situation like the one described in the article? Would it not be more psychologically traumatic for an over-coddled child to be removed suddenly from his home and family than to remain in their care?

A more frightening thought is that if coddling a child could be seen as child abuse, in a culture like ours the definition of "coddling" might become very politically charged. Is it coddling a child to refuse to teach him or her about sex when he or she is six or seven years old? Is it coddling a child to prohibit television in the home, or to supervise his or her media usage? Is homeschooling a form of coddling?

It will be interesting to see whether this case in Italy is resolved in favor of the father, who alleges child abuse, or the mother, who may not (given that there are two sides to every story) be as overprotective as this story seems to indicate. Whatever the conclusion of the Italian court, though, I would rather not see a precedent established whereby involved, committed parents suddenly have to justify their efforts to prove that they are not "abusive" coddlers.

The ultimate marginalization

It's really hard to believe that this letter from Call to Action is not a parody:
An Open Letter to our Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Anglican Tradition

We greet you in the name of the One who unites us all. We were disappointed with the Vatican's announcement of a stream-lined process for Anglican conversion to Roman Catholicism for individuals and dioceses who do not support women's and LGBT equality.

The Anglican tradition embodies a courageous history of seeking reform in the face of church injustice. In the last decades, you have built on that history and stood strongly in support of marginalized women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in your faith tradition. We have watched and supported your struggles over the years to welcome all God's people equally to ministerial leadership. You should stand proud. [...]
There's more, much more, and there's also Larry D.'s excellent response to the letter here.

Now, I think Christians should be able to agree that we don't want to marginalize either women or those who are afflicted with same-sex attraction. There's no need to discriminate unjustly against either group, or against anyone else, for that matter (including white males, but that's a topic for a different time).

The thing about the CTA types is that they don't get, they never will get, that it's not marginalizing women to prohibit women from being ordained into ministry when Christ Himself chose not to give them this role; and it's not marginalizing homosexuals by pointing out that homosexual acts, just like heterosexual acts outside marriage and a whole host of other things, are gravely morally wrong and do not lead to eternal life, but to eternal death. It's not marginalizing women to tell the truth about the evil of artificial contraception and the even graver, monstrous evil that is abortion; it is not marginalizing the same-sex attracted to call "gay marriage" the evil that it is and to oppose it politically so that people will not be led into error.

It is not marginalizing, because what Christians want for each other is eternal salvation. We, if we are sincerely Christian, want to get to Heaven ourselves and want our brothers and sisters to get to Heaven too. We don't want somebody lying to us and saying adultery or fornication or similar sins are just fine and dandy, because we don't want to spend eternity in the desolation and pain of eternal punishment, cut off from God Who is Love forever, not by His plan but by our own damnable (literally) choices. If we are same-sex attracted Christians, then, it stands to reason that we don't want anybody lying to us and saying homosexual sex is also fine and dandy and doesn't lead to eternal death--because it does; the Church is clear about this. As a woman I certainly don't want someone telling me that it's just fine for me to use contraception or to kill an unborn child via abortion, that God doesn't mind--when He certainly does. Such acts kill the life of grace in our souls if we choose them with full knowledge that they are gravely wrong and full consent of the will.

The ultimate marginalization is Hell, and it is Hell we choose whenever we choose in a grave matter to go against the clearly expressed and taught Will of God. Call to Action does not, and never has, understood this simple truth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notes from the Choir

Up against the clock this evening, but I wanted to share, quickly, the piece our choir will be singing for this week's post-Communion reflection--Jacques Arcadelt's lovely Ave Maria:

It's a beautiful arrangement of the Ave Maria, even small choirs can sing it, and it's a wonderfully appropriate choice for the last Sunday of October, which is the month of the Holy Rosary, of course.

What is your favorite musical version of the Ave Maria/Hail Mary?

Time in a (foundation) bottle

Little girl, age ten: Mom, I'm playing dress-up. Can I use some of your old makeup?

Young lady, age fifteen: But mom! All the other girls get to wear makeup!

Young woman, age twenty: We're just going out for pizza. I don't need makeup.

Bride, age twenty-five, to groom: Don't lose that bag! That one has my makeup.

Woman, age thirty: Daddy's taking me out to dinner tonight. That's why I'm putting on makeup. I don't look that different, do I? And, sweetie, it's "mascara," not "eye-scara."***

Woman, age thirty-five: I wonder if it will be dark enough in the restaurant and movie theater for me to skip some of this makeup?

Woman, age forty: Guess I'd better go to the grocery store. Oh, shoot. That means I've got to wear makeup...

***Kitten's real word for "mascara" when she was a toddler.

(Whistle) while you work

Anyone who thinks we already live in a socialist state should take comfort in knowing that at least we aren't Britain, where apparently one needs a license to sing in public:

The village store where Mrs Burt works was contacted by the PRS earlier this year to warn them that a licence was needed to play a radio within earshot of customers.

When the shop owner decided to get rid of the radio as a result, Mrs Burt said she began singing as she worked.

She told the BBC news website: "I would start to sing to myself when I was stacking the shelves just to keep me happy because it was very quiet without the radio.

"When I heard that the PRS said I would be prosecuted for not having a performance licence, I thought it was a joke and started laughing.

"I was then told I could be fined thousands of pounds. But I couldn't stop myself singing.

"They would need to put a plaster over my mouth to get me to stop, I can't help it."

Deanna Durbin, call your office:

Luckily, the story of the singing shop-worker has a happy ending; the Performing Right Society (PRS) sent Mrs. Burt an apology, a bouquet of flowers, and their best wishes on her singing. Still, can you imagine the nanny-statism of needing a special license to play a radio in one's business where customers can hear it, let alone being threatened with a fine for singing?

Of course, if businesses here had to pay a special license in order to blare inappropriate music or mount dozens of large screen TVs featuring anything from glorified advertising to the cesspool of daytime television, it might be a good thing. I'd rather listen to a cheery amateur like Mrs. Burt singing her heart out that have to put up with any of that--but as an American, I'd rather convince businesses to switch off the noise the good old American way, by complaining to management and threatening to shop elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Testing for the flu?

I was glad to read this news story that Mark Shea linked to earlier today. Turns out, the whole swine flu thing may be a bit exaggerated:
(CBS) If you've been diagnosed "probable" or "presumed" 2009 H1N1 or "swine flu" in recent months, you may be surprised to know this: odds are you didn’t have H1N1 flu.

In fact, you probably didn’t have flu at all. That's according to state-by-state test results obtained in a three-month-long CBS News investigation.

The ramifications of this finding are important. According to the Center for Disease Control, CDC, and Britain's National Health Service, once you have H1N1 flu, you're immune from future outbreaks of the same virus. Those who think they've had H1N1 flu -- but haven't -- might mistakenly presume they're immune. As a result, they might skip taking a vaccine that could help them, and expose themselves to others with H1N1 flu under the mistaken belief they won't catch it. Parents might not keep sick children home from school, mistakenly believing they've already had H1N1 flu.

Why the uncertainty about who has and who hasn't had H1N1 flu? [...]

We asked all 50 states for their statistics on state lab-confirmed H1N1 prior to the halt of individual testing and counting in July. The results reveal a pattern that surprised a number of health care professionals we consulted. The vast majority of cases were negative for H1N1 as well as seasonal flu, despite the fact that many states were specifically testing patients deemed to be most likely to have H1N1 flu, based on symptoms and risk factors, such as travel to Mexico.

It’s unknown what patients who tested negative for flu were actually afflicted with since the illness was not otherwise determined. Health experts say it’s assumed the patients had some sort of cold or upper respiratory infection that is just not influenza.
Do read the whole thing to see the CDC's role in this, and the criticism from some health officials about the CDC's decision to stop testing routinely for swine flu back in July.

I've heard about some parents being told their children had swine flu even when the parents were sure they had something entirely different--but no test was done, and no confirmation of the diagnosis was made. Granted, the plural of anecdote isn't data, but it's easy to see how busy doctors presented with many patients with flulike symptoms would be quick to diagnose swine flu and prescribe rest and fluids instead of going through a testing process to prove that the illness was really present.

This, of course, is merely an example of what some people think happens nearly every flu season--all manner of viruses from bad colds to serious respiratory illnesses get classified as flu by some doctors, even if the flu outbreak that year turns out to be mild. Viruses that in spring or summer might be investigated more thoroughly get lumped in as "flu" in the winter, or so some think, leading to overall increases in flu statistics.

Though that might seem farfetched to some, the CBS investigation above shows that it is happening this year, and that patients are being told they have or have had swine flu when that might not be the case at all.

Ultimately it might not matter all that much--except that we've had news story after news story about how bad this outbreak of swine flu might be. If it turns out that most people who think they've had it might not have had it at all, then the story of this virus is clearly quite different from what most of us, up to now, have believed it is.

The dangers of prayer

I hope to get out here and blog about a couple of things later today, but it may be much later. At present, I'm doing something rather dangerous. I'm cleaning out my closet, and..., wait. It's not dangerous for me to clean out my clothes closet. I do it on a fairly regular basis--sort through the clothes, remove things I don't wear or that have become too faded or worn to wear, put the still-wearable things into a bag for charity, put the other things into either the dress-up box, the play fabrics box, or the trash, depending on condition, and then rearrange the clothes that are left so they can be found easily especially when I'm in a hurry in the mornings.

I usually manage to find a handful of items to discard each time I go through the clothes in my closet. Short-sleeved knit shirts of the t-shirt type are among the most frequently tossed; when you live in a climate where you wear such shirts from late February to mid-November it's not all that surprising that they don't last very long. And I try to be good about getting rid of things I don't use.

But there are always things I overlook. There are always clothing items I hang on to "just in case." There are always those things I know perfectly well don't look at all good on me but keep out of stubbornness (they'll look good when I lose five more pounds! I think, even though losing five pounds will do nothing to fix the fact that the items in question are proportioned for a 5'10" woman and I'm 5'2. Almost). And, because I'm sometimes more feminine than I like to admit, there are even clothes in there that I just get sentimental about. Like a certain red cardigan which is missing a button and is starting to look rather...but let's leave that one alone.

So, like I said, it's not dangerous to clean out my closet. But what was dangerous is that when I had put everything all over the bed and was ready to begin the weeding/sorting process, I said a little prayer.

For wisdom, and discernment, and detachment. For poverty of spirit and a realistic sense of what I actually need, instead of what I merely want. To think of others and not just myself.


'Cause I've already got a good-sized pile of still-usable clothing for charity going. And I'm not finished sorting, and there are some clothes coming out of the washer and dryer that are going to get the same treatment, and I still feel like I have way too much to wear.

And I haven't even looked at the shoes, yet.

Such is the danger of a well-timed prayer; but this kind of danger is a kind I can live with.

Just don't ask me about that red cardigan. :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

False advertising

A very interesting post from the New York Times' The Ethicist blog asks the question: should digitally-altered advertisement photos be identified as such, or even banned? There's more:
A Ralph Lauren ad, featuring a model with hips narrower than her head — so cartoonish, so grotesque, so right for Halloween — has become the latest focus of the already ongoing criticism of digitally altered fashion spreads, even though it ran only in Japan. Foes see such images as harming women by promoting a standard of beauty so false that it can be achieved solely by manipulating a photograph of an already slender model. This image is an extreme example of what happens to many ads, a practice that has become so dubious that some governments are taking action. Should ads using electronically altered images be banned? [...]

For us Americans, a ban on such ads might clash with our ideas about free expression, even when what’s expressed is that a particular mascara will lengthen your eyelashes, perhaps by as much as six inches, like twin fans glued to your eyelids, if I catch the implied promise. But we already accept labels that list a product’s ingredients or assess its nutritional value or warn of dangers in its use. Similar transparency should apply to phony-baloney advertising photographs.

There is the counterargument that fashion ads are inherently false: preternaturally beautiful models are worked over by makeup artists and hair stylists, illuminated by lighting designers and shot by sophisticated photographers. In such a context, where can we draw the line on deceit? Here’s where: with the electronic manipulation of a photograph. It may be an arbitrary limit, but we set arbitrary limits all the time. The 55-mile-an-hour speed limit draws on the knowledge of traffic engineers, but it is not a manifestation of some immutable law of nature.

It could also be argued that a labeling law, equitably applied, would require warnings on nearly all ads, including those that alter reality in other ways. For example, few roads are as serenely traffic-free as those in car commercials (and indeed some automobile ads on TV already note that they were photographed on a closed course). But here’s the distinction: Although that open road deliberately conveys a bogus sense of driving delight, the road itself is not the product. The car is the product. In fashion ads, however, whether for clothes or makeup or shampoo, the model’s beauty is the product, or at least the direct result the product is meant to achieve. Because that beauty cannot be obtained via the proffered merchandise but only through a tricked-out photo, this is a case of false advertising. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
Read the whole thing, and check out some of the images linked to in the original post.

I agree one hundred percent with that last sentence in the above quote. When a model is digitally altered to make it look as though her clothes, her makeup, her hair or so on are producing the effects of slenderness or a perfect complexion or beautiful color/waves/etc., this is a form of lying. Moreover, it's a form of lying that has been linked to serious negative effects: the low self-esteem and constant self-criticism in which many women engage, the extreme abuse of anorexia or bulimia or an addiction to unnecessary plastic surgery, the unrealistic expectations both men and women have in regard to female beauty, a healthy female body, or the accessibility of perfection, and so on.

I may have put this out here before (and I know that many people have serious and valid criticisms of the Dove company's "Campaign for Real Beauty," which are beyond the scope of this blog post). But just watch it, if you haven't seen it before:

When I first watched this with my girls, the moment at which we crossed from bemusement into shock was the segment of the video after the photo was taken, when the photo editing tools were used to lengthen the model's neck, remove imperfections on her skin, alter the coloring, change the shape of her eyes, and so forth. It was one thing to watch makeup being skillfully applied and hair being professionally done and re-done until it was just right for the picture; it was another to watch the relatively real image of a real woman changed into something that was not real, not even remotely so--and then this image placed on a billboard beside a product, implying that this product could make the average woman look like the altered image of the woman on the sign.

False advertising, indeed! Not even the model herself could look, in real life, like her altered image (not without seriously weird surgery, that is, and even then I don't think there's a cosmetic surgery procedure for lengthening one's neck).

Should a billboard, or magazine ad, or TV commercial containing such altered images be banned? Or would it be better to make advertisers admit, in letters large enough to be easily read or in one of those "legal disclaimer" voices which reads quickly, "This image has been digitally altered. Use of product will not produce results shown in image. Results shown in image are not capable of being produced by any known agency. Results shown in image are incompatible with human life and would be signs of a medical emergency. Striving to achieve results as shown in image might be indications of a serious mental condition, and might be construed as proof of legal incompetence in thirty-seven states...." or some such thing?

If nothing else, regulations requiring a disclaimer like that would make fashion ads unintentionally hysterically funny and thus much more interesting than they are now--but seriously, anything that would stop filling young women's heads with the notions that they should look like some digitally-altered/enhanced skeletal figure with a size-D chest and hips with the circumference of a real woman's wrist would be a good thing.

Devoutly to be wished

The Catholic blogosphere is buzzing, and has been all day, with this news:
In a bid to attract disillusioned members of the Anglican Communion, the Vatican announced yesterday that it would establish a special arrangement to allow them to join the Catholic Church while preserving their own liturgy and spiritual legacy, including married priests. [...]

In establishing the new structure, Pope Benedict XVI is responding to "many requests" from individual Anglicans and Anglican groups -- including "20 to 30 bishops," said Cardinal William Levada, the Vatican's chief doctrinal official, according to the Catholic News Service.

Under the system, the Catholic Church will create "personal ordinariates"-- separate units within Catholic churches headed by former Anglican priests or bishops. While married Anglican priests would be permitted, married bishops would not because they are not in keeping with Catholic tradition.

These former Anglicans would be considered theologically Catholic but with their own traditions, such as use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The plan is not without precedent. The Catholic Church has long permitted married Anglican priests to join, but only under certain conditions. For centuries, the church has had a similar arrangement with Eastern rite Catholics, who maintain their own traditions.

The Anchoress has a good roundup of many of the posts and much of the commentary that's come out so far about all of this.

The New York Times quotes Cardinal Levada:
A new canonical entity will allow groups of Anglicans “to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony,” Cardinal William Levada, the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a news conference here.
What, exactly, does "...preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony..." mean?

Well, for one thing, it means progressive Catholic liturgists had better start quaking in their eco-friendly boots: Catholics in America are about to get a crash course in what an elegant and reverent English-language liturgy can look and sound like. In fact, just because it's fun, I've compiled a list; and I'm going with the phrase "Anglican-use Catholic Parish" for now, though there may be new terminology coming:

The Top Ten Differences Between a future Anglican-use Catholic Parish and a Progressive American Catholic Parish of Today

10. Anglican-use Catholic Parish could not under any circumstances be mistaken for a shopping mall or pizza parlor;

9. There are no greeters at an Anglican-use Catholic Parish, but there are ushers clad in dark suits and ties (though cuff links remain optional);

8. There is no "pre-liturgical Rite of Asking if Anybody Is from Out of Town," before the liturgy officially begins;

7. There is an organ. And a choir. Who know what they're doing. And don't sing or play dreck. And have never heard of Marty Haugen or the OCP;

6. There is no "Rite of Sending All the Children Out to Go Color Things" before the Liturgy of the Word;

5. The homily is delivered from the altar, from behind the pulpit. It is not delivered from the middle of the altar, from the middle of the church, in a peripatetic manner, or as if from a comedy club;

4. There is no clapping;

3. There is no hand-holding during the Our Father;

2. There is no Sign of Peace;

1. There are: reverence, respect for the act of worship, beautiful music, sacred art and architecture, lovely English translations of the prayers of the Mass, and liturgy as it ought to be celebrated by grownups who shudder at the thought of felt banners, tie-dye vestments, or the whole absurd notion of "singing a new church into being."

'Tis a consummation, as the Bard might have said, devoutly to be wished!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Up, up and away

Unless you are living without access to television or the Internet, you've probably followed the swift saga of Balloon Boy, which can be summed up as follows:

1. Parents call media to claim that their six-year-old is floating away in a giant balloon over Colorado.

2. Media gets news helicopters aloft; law enforcement gets involved.

3. Balloon lands. Empty.

4. Boy is discovered "hiding" in family home.

5. Boy blurts out the truth, and it transpires that the whole thing was a hoax, done to win a reality TV contract. Boy further blurts out various meals on national television.

6. Law enforcement plans to file charges.

7. Court TV buys the rights to the made-for TV movie.

Okay, I'm jumping the gun with that last one, but numbers one through six are accurate.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story, lessons about reality TV, publicity-hound parents, the culture of instant stardom, celebrity worship, and the like. But one lesson that needs to be learned (but probably won't be) is how easily the media can be fooled--and the rest of us along with them, especially when they're the middlemen telling us the story.

When those first phone calls came in to Colorado news stations, I think the decision to cover the incident was made quickly. A child, possibly floating above the Earth in nothing more than a homemade balloon, in danger of freezing or of falling out of a flimsy basket beneath it--this would be instantly captivating to television news audiences, especially once the balloon was actually sighted by news helicopters. If the Heenes had concocted a story that didn't involve such a gripping and horrifying visual, they never would have gotten such coverage. This was O.J. in the white Ford Bronco; this was the Louisiana Superdome full of flood victims who were allegedly (but not, as it turned out, actually) being raped in overflowing bathrooms; this was Something Big.

The fact that this was, ultimately, more like Geraldo opening Jimmy Hoffa's vault didn't matter; it was the viewers, the eyeballs, the gripping drama of the unfolding non-story, more relevant and meaningful than any of the real news of the week, or possibly the month, that made it worth the twenty-four hour news cycle. And what a gift to faltering media this kind of story is: first, the spectacle, then the startling new revelations, then the dramatic arrest (yet to come) and the still more dramatic trial (can anybody doubt it will be far behind?). Greta Van Susteren, call your office. Or your makeup artist. Or your Scientology coach. Whichever--but hurry! Viewers won't wait to have this story discussed and unfolded and uncovered and regurgitated and analyzed and scrutinized and evaluated to death, by those media experts who possess that rare but dazzling talent for turning the trivial and the banal into Must See TV.

But if the media doesn't hurry, the interest in the story will evaporate faster than than honesty in Washington. And those media outlets who made this tale of an attention-seeking but ultimately stupid lowlife with too much time on his hands their banner headline for the weekend might just have to consider the possibility that they were duped even more badly than Bristol Palin was by a similarly stupid lowlife who is just as willing to prostitute himself to the press as Richard Heene is.

The ants go marching...

"9 a.m.?" I repeated hesitantly. I don't know why; it's not like the eye doctor takes patients at 9 p.m.

"Yes, we'll take the first one at nine, and then the rest of you one at a time afterword," said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line.

I agreed to this, keeping my reluctance to myself. After all, it's hard enough to get Saturday appointments for all five of us, since our eye doctor isn't open a full day Saturday. Friday nights are often my night to stay up late, and since I'm a night owl "late" often turns into "early," as in early morning. But I could alter my usual habits just this once; I shouldn't be staying up so late on Friday nights anyway, and getting up early Saturday would make it easier to get up early Sunday as we always do.

Accordingly, I only let the girls stay up a little late on Friday night; and Thad and I were ready to turn in by eleven, which is considerably earlier than I'd normally think about going to bed. I tidied up a few things in the kitchen and started off toward the bedroom.

But Thad called me back into the den, where he was staring at the back door. "We've got a problem," he said in that grim, serious voice that indicates a major homeowner crisis.

I walked over to him and looked down. There were hundreds of black ants crawling all over the bottom of the door frame, clearly up to no good.

Ordinarily in a situation like that I'd grab a can of ant poison, and that would be that--but with a cat in the house, we've had to rethink our usual "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" approach to pest control. Not that we didn't still intend to kill them all--but we'd have to think of a way to kill them all that wouldn't hurt Emmett, who tends to like to lie on the tile patch in front of the back door.

So I got out the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming up the ants, while Thad explored outside with a flashlight, trying to see where the ants were coming from. Emmett, who is terrified of the vacuum, was not being helpful, so after a while I put him in Kitten's room. He had not yet been allowed in the bedrooms at night (mostly because of the danger to him from such objects as Polly Pocket dolls and other tiny pastel plastics), but Kitten's room isn't really a source of those things anymore. He was thrilled to be in there, and ended up sleeping the whole night on the end of her bed, which will probably become a habit for him pretty soon.

Meanwhile, Thad had located a few possible ant mounds and trails, but he didn't really see proof that our back door ants were coming from any of these locations. He sprayed some of them anyway, and we noticed that the number of ants coming in and needing to be vacuumed started to diminish, so we thought we were nearly finished.

Except that they kept coming in. They kept appearing in front of the back door, three or four or five at a time. A couple of them had clearly wandered through the poison outside, but most of them looked perfectly healthy. Thad started muttering a bit about that back door--we've already replaced it once, but for some reason when we have a lot of heavy rain (not that often here in Texas) we get water inside; it comes across the tile and gets the adjacent carpet wet. Thad went back outside and sprayed some more around the door area, being careful not to spray anywhere where the poison would actually come in under the door.

But the ants kept coming. We kept killing them or sucking them up with the vacuum. It would seem like they were not coming anymore, and we would stop; once Thad removed the vacuum bag, sprayed it with poison to kill the ants inside of it, and took it out to the garbage. But he had to put another bag in the vacuum right away, because the

It was well after one a.m., and we were still wearily killing ants, when Thad had an idea.

Going into his tool box, he pulled out a painter's tool like this one and carefully inserted it between the tile and the area of the carpet that gets damp when it rains. I stood nearby with the vacuum running and the hose attachment at the ready; slowly, like someone in a horror movie who's turning the doorknob that you just know the monster is behind, Thad lifted up the carpet.

And there they were.

Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Some of them with wings, apparently looking for a nice new location to establish a colony. I think one of them was wearing a little ant-shaped Realtor (tm) jacket and carrying a tiny ant-sized briefcase, and was in the process of assuring the clients that this was a great place to start a colony and raise up a few million kids. I'm not sure, though, because like the usually-hysterical but suddenly oddly competent heroine in a horror film I was already applying the Vacuum of Doom to thwart their evil domestic plans.

By the time we had vacuumed up all the ants, removed the wet tack strip they'd obviously been attracted to, sprayed some poison carefully in places Emmett couldn't possibly get to (especially since we were spraying under carpet and then placing a bookshelf on top of that area so he couldn't even accidentally lift the carpet up and be at risk) and watched warily to be sure that there were no more ants coming inside, it was after 2 a.m., leaving us with the prospect of about four hours sleep before it would be time to get up and get to the eye doctor in time for our appointments.

But we made it. And Thad spent much of Saturday and Sunday fixing and painting some areas of the back door, removing some bricks from the porch that he thinks might have contributed to the water problem, treating visible ant mounds, looking for signs of infestation under the porch, and, sadly, finding that the ants had built mounds up and under the siding on the back of the house; some of them started appearing in our bedroom, which like the den is also at the back of the house. This time, though, Thad automatically used the painter's tool and lifted the carpet, and we managed to dissuade a hopeful colony of red ants from establishing a base camp under the carpet in our room; there weren't (yet) as many of them as we'd seen under the carpet in the den, though they had brought dirt with them and clearly planned to build an indoor mound close to shopping and dining.

The next step will be to get some professional pest control people out here to treat our yard; I'd like to rip out all the carpet after that and replace it with the kinds of floors that don't leave enough room for ants to get under, but we'll probably have to do that one room at a time.

The moral of this story? I see two: one, ants inside your home are bad news.

And two--don't bother making plans to go to bed early. Not even if you have a 9 a.m. appointment the next day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleaning things up

My favorite battles to fight are the ones you can fight with words; anyone who has read my blog for very long knows what I mean by that, I'm sure.

But every now and again I find myself mired in a different kind of battle: the War on Dirt. I'm not alone in this battle: every mom fights it, and quite a few dads get involved in it too. Children are reluctant draftees in this war much of the time, but they can be motivated to take action against the ubiquitous foe; motivated, or sometimes bribed.

I've been fighting this battle today, which is why I haven't had time to blog. But like any commander in a protracted war against a wily and resourceful enemy, I've been pondering the need for a change in tactics.

Seasoned homeschooling moms will know what I'm talking about (and I'm sure the non-homeschooling moms have similar experiences, too). Every so often we find that our usual strategies against dirt, clutter, and so forth just aren't cutting it any more. Routines or cleaning schedules or chore charts which have worked smoothly for months or even years are suddenly ineffective. Sometimes it takes a crisis (of the sort where mom, depending on her personality and hair color, either stomps around the house shouting words like "filthy" into the unresponsive air, or stomps around the house muttering these same words in half-syllables that make her puzzled children wonder just what language she's speaking) before mom realizes that the well-oiled engine of her home-cleaning efforts has somehow broken down on the job.

That's the kind of mood I've been in today. The sudden shock of realizing that our long-time strategy of doing one big housecleaning session every Friday afternoon, supplemented by plenty of spot-cleaning and tidying during the week, was wholly inadequate to keep the house clean made me rather grumpy and irritable, I'm sorry to say. I may have fussed, rather. I may have developed a temporary martyr complex, and gone around sighing much of the evening as I swept, mopped, scrubbed, and vacuumed, turning down sincere offers of help with a somewhat put-upon air. Only my confessor will know for sure.

But if I did do any of those things, it was because I was annoyed with myself--annoyed at letting things get rather out of hand before coming to my senses and admitting that no, our long-time strategy which had become quite routine and comfortable was not enough anymore. It's way too easy to let routines get comfortable, and to fail utterly to notice when more clutter or more grime than usual starts to accumulate.

And I was especially annoyed because this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. In fact, my cleaning efforts usually fall under two main headings: the big cleaning day with a little spot cleaning type as described above, and the "break up the big day's worth and do a little of it each day" type which worked well when my children were toddlers.

My girls are teen/preteen, not toddlers, now. And they do help, a lot, around the house. But this school year, which includes a first-year high school student who's still trying to sort out how she feels about things like algebra and Spanish and high-school level science, is becoming very time-intensive compared to previous years. We have a lot to do, and we work until fairly late in the afternoon each day--and by the time Friday rolls around, no one, including Mom, really wants to spend the hours from about 4 p.m. until dinnertime cleaning every room in the house.

So it makes sense to go back to organizing things the way I did when they were toddlers and I had to work around nap times. It would be a lot less stressful to break apart the "big clean" into daily manageable chores than to have to spend a large amount of time on one day of the week trying to get it all done. And if I'd realized that earlier, I probably could have avoided the whole "stomping around" thing.

But like many people, I'm a creature of habit. The Friday cleaning session has worked for quite some time now, and is especially efficient in the summer (which I may have to remember when next summer rolls around). It was hard to admit that it wasn't working anymore.

It was harder to clean about 3/4 of my house while sustaining an unjustified bad mood. But that's our secret.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Notes from the Choir

Posting in a hurry today; school ran long, and what with one thing and another I just realized that choir practice is looming.

One of the hymns we'll be singing this week comes to us first from the Jesuits and then from the Lutherans. It is a very beautiful hymn in many ways:
Beautiful Savior, King of Creation
Son of God and Son of Man!
Truly I’d love Thee, truly I’d serve Thee,
Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.
Fair are the meadows, Fair are the woodlands,
Robed in the flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer,
He makes our sorrowing spirit sing.
Fair is the sunshine, Fair is the moonlight,
Bright the sparkling stars on high;
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels in the sky.
Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration
Now and forevermore be Thine!
If you go to the link, you'll see alternative lyrics for this hymn under the title "Fairest Lord Jesus." The music provided is the music I'm familiar with, but I've always seen the "Beautiful Savior" lyrics in Catholic churches.

Like I said, this is a beautiful hymn in many ways. The music used for it seems fitting for church, and some of the lyrics are certainly very worshipful and conducive to reverence, particularly the first and fourth verses.

So why do I find myself not altogether liking it?

The second and third verses.

For one thing, they shift the address; the first and fourth verse address Jesus directly under the title "Beautiful Savior" and praise Him directly. The second and third, on the other hand, speak of Jesus in the third person, to other people. And perhaps it's the unfortunate effect of translation, or perhaps the unfortunate effect of living in a time saturated by advertising and marketing, but there's something about the language employed in the second and third verses that reminds me a little of this kind of thing (picture removed).

It's not that Jesus isn't fairer, purer, etc. than stars, angels, flowers, and so on. It's just that the words in English tend to sound too facile, like advertising copy for laundry soap or a new fragrance; like I said, perhaps the original German avoids this problem. But the unhappy facility of the language here makes what is otherwise an inspiring sort of hymn sound just a bit like the vocalization of Christian kitsch--something which, though well-intentioned, ends up trivializing the faith too much, or treating solemn topics in a way that would be perfectly apt for the treatment of a new shiny product being touted by some Madison Avenue geniuses.

I hesitated to write about this, lest people start thinking I'm just hopelessly picky and impossible to please when it comes to sacred music. But ultimately I wanted to be honest with my criticism of this song precisely because it is an older hymn. It was written, after all, in 1677, and translated to English in 1873. The flowery sentimentality of the second and third verse may have seemed quite appropriate for Mass at some time in the past, but I don't know for certain if the hymn was used at Mass or only at other devotions; even so, there's no doubt that either because of the translation or because of our familiarity with advertising the hymn now seems to be lacking a bit in its middle verses--at least, in the "Beautiful Savior" translation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

King of the Castle

Our cat, Emmett, continues to do well, and honestly he's such an easy pet to take care of that I find myself wondering why we put off getting a cat for so long (aside from worrying about cat allergies, since so many people on my side of the family are allergic to cats).

Here he is, enjoying a regal hide-out:

And here he is in a more conventional bed, which he likes very much:

The look of intent concentration on his face there probably has to do with the camera strap on Thad's camera, which Emmett has already tried to attack on a few occasions.

As I write this, he has retreated to his castle again; it's just so hard to get a good nap going when people insist on silly things like doing the dishes and cleaning up after dinner, isn't it? :)


I've seen bits and pieces of the annual Catholic Halloween fight start to crop up on other blogs and websites. It's not my intention to fan the flames of that one; I wrote about Halloween here last year, and my views are essentially the same as they were then.

But there's one aspect of Halloween as it's celebrated in 21st century America that I didn't discuss very much in that piece. It has been around for a while, but apparently some think it's a new trend:

It's going to be one happy Halloween for the Roman Polanskis of this world.

God help the "Sexy Minnie Mouse" who tricks or treats at their doors. The upcoming holiday has long been the favorite time of year for women to let down their hair and wear risqué — or should we say slutty — outfits to parades and parties across the country.

Until now, most of the revelers in these trampy getups have been above the age of consent. This year, in a growing trend that is truly scary, fifth-graders are encouraged to dress like cheap hookers. Mainstream companies such as, Costume Super Center and Costume Kingdom are peddling pint-size versions of outfits even Madonna might find trashy.

The shameless CEOs should be placed on the sex offenders register. Poor murdered JonBenet Ramsay and Miley Cyrus, the 16-year-old Disney star who famously pole-danced at this summer's Teen Choice Awards, might be their inspiration — but that's no excuse to promote pedophilia.

Meanwhile parents who allow their offspring to wear this junk should consider putting them up for adoption.