Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Blog Break

Just in case anybody out there's still reading blogs instead of frantically researching the best ways to prepare a turkey or hoping some website has the reasonable facsimile of Aunt Ethel's famous gingered cranberry and anjou pear sauce because you lost the copy of her recipe she so generously gave you and now she's coming for Thanksgiving and expects the sauce and will never forgive you for losing her family recipe complete with its secret alcoholic ingredient, I wanted to just mention that I'll be taking a brief blog break over the Thanksgiving holiday, to celebrate with my family and extended family who are coming in from out of town.

When I typed the above, I thought I was making up "gingered cranberry and anjou pear sauce." But a quick Google search showed that this dish actually exists, and in at least one version has Grand Marnier in it. Thus, in the spirit of holiday festivity, I'll share it below; the link is here for the official website which contains the official recipe. Bear in mind that I've never made this, and never even heard of it until five minutes ago, so I make no recommendation aside from the notion that it actually sounds rather good:

Cranberry-Pear-Ginger Sauce

  • 2 lb Fresh cranberries
  • 3 Comice or Anjou pears; cored
  • 2 Pippin or Granny Smith
  • 1 c Freshly squeezed orange
  • 1/4 c Finely chopped crystallized
  • 1/2 c Grand Marnier or other
  • 2 c Sugar
  • 1/4 ts Ground nutmeg
  • 2 c Golden raisins
  • 2 tb Grated orange peel

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts Tori Ritchie found this recipe in a dusty old community cookbook from Saint Louis. She says people love it so much, they literally spoon it out of the bowl to eat, turkey be damned. Tori is the author of Cabin Cooking (Time Life, 1998). 1. Place all ingredients, except liqueur, in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to incorporate sugar. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and cranberries are soft, about 45 minutes. 2. Remove from heat, stir in orange liqueur, and let cool. Cover and chill until ready to use. (Serves 12 generously, with leftovers for sandwiches. Or for eating by the spoonful.) VEGAN PER 1/2-CUP: 197 CAL (<1%> on Mar 13, 1999. Recipe by: Veggie Life Magazine, November 1998, page 45 Converted by MM_Buster v2.0l.

I hope that you and yours have a very happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Ethel's sauce notwithstanding! I expect to be back to the usual blogging early next week. Though, of course, I might change my mind and show up anytime. Rather like Aunt Ethel.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Going to the dogs

This was an interesting read:

It’s little wonder, then, that some parents, and even a few child therapists, have found themselves taking mental notes from a television personality known for inspiring discipline, order and devotion: Cesar Millan, otherwise known as the Dog Whisperer.

The suggestion that the Dog Whisperer is also a Child Whisperer of sorts has popped up — sometimes couched as a joke, but, well, not really — in parents’ forums like blogs, online discussion boards, magazines, Twitter feeds and podcasts. Some parents are starting to take notice.

“When we started watching his shows, we had intended to apply his advice toward our dogs,” said Amy Twomey, a blogger on parenthood for The Dallas Morning News who is raising three children under 10 with her husband, Matt. “But we realized a lot of ideas can be used on our kids.”

Indeed, Mr. Millan’s advice has replaced a shelf full of books on how to tame an unruly child. “It’s all the same simple concept: how to be the pack leader in your own house,” she said. [...]

Allison Pearson, author of the novel “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which explored the stresses of modern motherhood, explained how parents would naturally envy the authority of dog trainers. “My generation got itself in a muddle about parenting,” she wrote by e-mail. “We thought that obedience was the enemy of love. We didn’t want the kids to be afraid of us, but after a while we found ourselves wondering: do we have to do what they say the whole time?”

“Unlike modern parents,” she added, “dog trainers don’t think discipline equals being mean. They understand that dogs are happiest when they know their position in the hierarchy.”

Do go and read the whole thing.

There are as many philosophies about parenting as there are parents, but I admit to being mystified by the ones which insist that parents need to lay aside such concepts as "obedience" or "discipline." I think too much of that sort of attitude does lead to the phenomenon described by the parents in the New York Times piece: the upside-down, children in charge, parents along-for-the ride sort of situation that can lead to utter chaos in the home.

Now, I know that even those of us who believe in discipline and the idea of obedience can struggle to implement these things--but that makes me think it must be exponentially harder if you are a parent who has somehow adopted the idea that saying "no," or demanding a child's attention to your rules, is bad for the child. It has been my experience as a parent that children need rules and limits to be really happy and secure.

As a Catholic, I know that this is true for all of us. God, our Heavenly Father, knows that we too are often like children: willful, spoiled, intent on getting our own way. Our fallen human nature lets us neglect the good and choose the bad, and even act against our own self-interests or in ways that are dangerous to us. I think any Christian parent who understands the Fall of Man knows why children need to know that obedience and love are integrally connected.

But in an age that has forgotten that simple reality, that we are not as we were meant to be, it's not that surprising that parental discipline theory may be going to the dogs. Literally.

The unmistakable imprint of the cad

Terribly late to blogging today, for no particularly good reason except that it was our last school day before four glorious days of freedom called Thanksgiving Break, and so naturally it took us twice as long to finish up the little we had to do.

One of the disadvantages to late blogging is that everything that could conceivably be said about the Kennedy/Bishop Tobin situation has probably already been said; suffice it to say that I see this as being more about Democrats and their internal orthodoxy than about Catholics and ours. That is, this is Round # (insert some Mark Shevian fictional huge number here) in the present push to redefine "good Catholic" as someone who always, always, always Votes With The Democrats Even When They Want To Spend Tax Dollars On the Dismemberment of Babies who Happen to be a Bit Shy of their Natal Day. The corollary to that definition is that a Bad Catholic is then someone who thinks that "pro-abort Catholic" is an oxymoron and who votes with the eeeeevillllll Republicans, or with independents, or with anybody who doesn't go from the Communion line to smacking his lips at the chance to vote for more funds with which to go kill off the poor and minorities while they're still in the womb.

Representative Kennedy thought he was taking the moral high ground here, I'm sure, but all of his actions have shown the unmistakable imprint of the cad. From releasing correspondence meant to be private (after first lying about it and saying that the bishop had ordered priests to deny him communion) to saying that he has received Communion despite being told not to, Kennedy has shown himself to be a very small sort of person, indeed.

But there is a hopeful sign so many of us have seen, in the person of bishops rising up to draw the line in the sand and say, "No, you cannot claim to be a Catholic in good standing while supporting, voting for, encouraging, promoting, and otherwise shilling for abortion on demand." Representative Kennedy can continue to act like a cad in his dealings with the Church, and his fellow Democrats can enlist the support of other nominally Catholic cads in attempting to tear down the Church's teachings--and all that happens is that the Church looks better and better, by comparison.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A poem. A bad one.

Below my post about the new Mass translation, reader Scott W. wrote, "How come the usual suspects can toss around mutlisyllabic words like "sustainability" but bristle at "ineffable"?"

I told Scott I thought there was a poem in there somewhere. Regrettably, I've now written one, with many apologies to G. K. Chesterton, whose format I stole...er, copied:

A Liberal Bishop on the New Translation

Oh, how I love "Sustainable,"
A word that graces English,
And how I hate "Ineffable,"
So clankish, never ringlish!

For forty years the liturgy
Has done its best to try
To call God, not "Almighty"
But "Our Buddy, in the Sky."

Words too fancy just don't fit
With modern Catholic manners--
They also clash with shrieking hymns
Round churches, and felt banners.

We need a simple, childish Mass
Keep prayer and worship light!
'Cause John and Mary Catholic--
They really aren't too bright.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How long before we make lampshades out of them?

Human embryos are being used to grow skin cells for burn victims:

Nov. 19, 2009 -- Human embryonic stem cells can be used to produce skin grafts for people who have been seriously burned, shows a study published in The Lancet.

Though patients have benefited from cell therapy for two decades, the techniques used have had limitations, write Hind Guenou, PhD, of INSERM and the Institute for Stem Cell Therapy and Exploration of Monogenic Diseases in Evry Cedex, France, and colleagues. [...]

So the scientists in this study, employing a pharmacological treatment over 40 days, seeded feeder cells with human embryonic stem cells. The treatment drives the human embryonic stem cells toward forming an epidermis, the outer layer of skin the researchers report.

The team says it was able to generate a population of cells that showed the characteristics of the epidermis. Once manipulated on an artificial surface, the cells were able to form a layer of skin, the scientists say.

In 12 weeks, after grafting it onto five mice, the skin layer that came from human embryonic stem cells had a structure the "consistent" with human skin.

Horrible. Just horrible.

I realize that burn victims suffer terribly, but there are morally acceptable ways of providing skin grafts that don't require us to cannibalize tiny human beings.

Worse, of course, is that unless I'm greatly mistaken this technology may quite conceivably open the door to a future nightmare of cosmetic treatments involving the growing of new skin cells to replace old, wrinkly ones.

Perhaps in some future PETA paradise we'll stop covering furniture, making shoes etc. with leather, and make these things from human embryo-skin hides instead. We might even take a tip from our philosophical inspiration and make lampshades...

The definition of help

It looks as though the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is being heavily scrutinized this year by many Catholics. It's about time.

I wrote a few posts during last year's election season about the CCHD; if you go to them you will find links to many helpful articles and stories about the CCHD which I found in my reading. There's a lot of good information online which details the various CCHD-related funding scandals and issues over the years.

Now, one of the big problems when I was writing was CCHD's funding of ACORN. As late as 2007, 1.1 million dollars raised from Catholic parishes went to ACORN, a group which can't really be said to share Catholic values, unless giving home loans to pimps of underage girls is a Catholic value I missed somewhere in my education.

The Catholic bishops voted to stop funding ACORN, of course. So what groups are they funding?

Well, if you go to this page and click the link marked "Current funded projects," you'll get:

Not Found

The requested object does not exist on this server. The link you followed is either outdated, inaccurate, or the server has been instructed not to let you have it. Please inform the site administrator of the referring page.
Of course, you can just go to the page which has PDF files of various years' grant recipients. The 2009 list is here. On it, you'll find such things as these:

New Jersey
Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource
Center, Inc.

Established in 2000, Wind of the Spirit (WotS) is a grassroots, interfaith organization of immigrants from various parts of Latin America who are affected by immigration policies working in collaboration with non-immigrants. Wind of the Spirit's mission is to organize and empower the community for social change; to help immigrants and non-immigrants come to know each other and be enriched by one another; to educate members of the immigrant community on their rights and responsibilities; to promote activities to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the Morristown community; to advocate for the human rights and dignity of all people regardless of immigration status; to create a deeper understanding of the global conditions that underlie immigration; and to work together for a world of solidarity, peace, and justice. $25,000

Intercommunity Justice and
Peace Center

IJPC is a coalition of faith-based organizations and individuals who work together to educate around justice issues, take collaborative action and do public witness. We address local, national and international concerns focusing on economic justice, women's issues, human rights, racial equality, peace and the environment. Founded by Catholic Women Religious, IJPC works out of a deep faith perspective, basing decision-making on Catholic Social Teaching, yet involved in interfaith collaboration. Founded in 1985, IJPC's goals continue to be: ·to deepen awareness of justice as integral, not optional, to our faith response; to network participating organizations and to collaborate with other concerned groups for stronger public witness and impact on justice and peace issues; to plan and carry out programs of education and action which affect structural injustice. Under the pursuit of human rights, IJPC has strategically planned an Ohio Death Penalty Moratorium Project. This multi-faceted plan allows for the continued growth of the Families That Matter [FTM] Program. $25,000

Des Moines
A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy
AMOS was formed over 10 years ago when Rabbis, lay leaders, pastors and the Bishops from the Roman Catholic, United Methodist, ELCA and Episcopal traditions gathered with an interest in forming a congregation based community organization that could help the faith community live out its prophetic imperative for justice. The mission of AMOS is to re-create community by giving ordinary citizens an organizational vehicle through which they can act in the public arena, cross the lines that divide and win concrete specific improvements to their communities. The group addresses poverty and powerlessness through the on-going building of a diverse, broad-based community organization with a particular emphasis on issues of health care for all, workforce development and expansion of the organization in the areas of recruitment and leadership development. In the area of healthcare, AMOS will continue to work with the Iowa Legislature to expand health care coverage to poor uninsured adults and not just children. Additionally Ms. Camargo and others will be working to develop a constituent presence of ordinary people who currently do not have insurance and must rely on the fractured and often ineffectual safety net system. $40,000.00

These are a tiny example of the kinds of organizations your CCHD dollars go to, or at least went to this past year. To learn more about these three, here are their websites: Wind of the Spirit, Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, and AMOS. Be sure to take note of the IPJC's anti-military recruiting campaign, and of AMOS' proud, front-page statement of their ties to Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation.

Perhaps you're the sort of Catholic who is saying, "So what? The Church's mission is consistent with agitating for illegal immigration, opposing the military, wars, and military recruitment, and organizing for power." I think that's arguable, but nonetheless, the bishops in their annual call for CCHD fundraising have a tendency to say things like this:

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A U.S. bishops' aide is saying that an annual collection to support the poor is more important than ever this year.The collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will take place in most parishes this weekend.
This year's collection has the theme "Families Are Struggling. Faith Is Calling." The fund drive comes as U.S. census figures show that the number of poor people in the United States is up almost 3 million since last year.

"The mission of CCHD is crucial in 2009: To uplift and embolden all who are one layoff or one medical scare away from the poverty line -- and all who are already there," said Bishop Roger Morin of Biloxi, Mississippi, chairman of the Subcommittee on CCHD.

And so Catholics might be forgiven if they think CCHD funds go directly to help the poor. But Matthew Vadum at The American Spectator points out the reality:

The charitable arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CCHD has never provided direct relief to the poor. That's not its purpose.

CCHD is an extreme left-wing political organization that was created to feed and foster radical groups, but most Catholics are blissfully unaware of its true mission. CCHD says right on its website that it aims to support "organized groups of white and minority poor to develop economic strength and political power."

Giving to help the poor is a noble act of Christian charity. But does funding mainly left-wing political organizations which take their inspiration from Saul Alinsky, a man who believed in the acquisition of power as the solution to all problems, a man who once said, "Life is a corrupting process from the time a child learns to play his mother off against his father in the politics of when to go to bed; he who fears corruption fears life..." really do anything to ameliorate the pangs of poverty? Does the money spent financing activism do more than spending that same amount to take care of the immediate needs of the desperately poor?

I think Catholics are free to say that no, activism (much of it extremely leftist) is not the answer, and to send their CCHD dollars to organizations that really do care, daily, for the poor (the Little Sisters of the Poor have been mentioned as a possible recipient). The better question is why Catholics have been allowed to believe, for years, that their CCHD contributions are going to "help the poor" when there's a basic disagreement between pro-CCHD and anti-CCHD Catholics about the definition of the word "help."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Banning books, or just good parenting?

I'm happy to tell you that the good people at MercatorNet have once again allowed me to write an article for them! My topic dealt with the American Library Association's "Banned and Challenged Books Week," and the little-mentioned fact that most of the "challenges" to books come about because parents find some book laced with profanity, sexual filth, and gratuitous violence on the classroom or school library shelves, and raise objections to its being there.

Here's an excerpt from my piece:

Now, if the vast majority of challenges to books involve parents, centre around books available in schools, and deal with such issues as sexual explicitness, offensive language, or the unsuitability of the books for a specific age group, then I think we're no longer talking about book-banning or censorship. I think we're talking about parenting.
The attitude of the ALA is that a parent only has the right to censor or control what his own children read. He doesn't have the right to request the removal from the school library or classroom shelf those books which he finds obscene or dangerous to morality, because someone else might prefer for his children to read those books. The school alone has the final say in what books are appropriate for the children under its care to read, and if a child reads at school a book or books which his parents absolutely forbid at home--well, then, perhaps the parents' values are too narrow and restrictive to begin with.
Here's the dilemma for parents, though--there was a time when we could trust schools and libraries to support, for the most part, the same values we ourselves held, and to abide by community standards of morality and decency. There was a time when it would have been just as unthinkable to the librarian or the school teacher as to a parent that a book for children would have contained the following things:

  • --Graphic language about sex, drinking, drugs; laced with profanity and written in "chat speak" (TTYL by Lauren Myracle)
  • --Violence, implied sex, anti-religious and anti-Christian messages throughout; God is literally killed (His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman)
  • --Prostitution, witchcraft, voodoo, devil worship (Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya)
  • --Homosexuality, drugs, suicide, sex, nudity (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky)
  • --Sex, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, profanity, smoking (Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar)
These are some of the objectionable content found in just five of the ten most frequently challenged books for 2008. Given that most challengers are parents and most challenges involve books in school libraries or school classrooms, I'd be much more worried about society if books like these were never questioned at all.

Please do go and read it! I'd be especially grateful if any of you felt inclined to leave comments at the MercatorNet site (though as always comments are welcome here, too).

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presidential siblings

I thought this was an interesting read:
On the streets of Guangzhou and nearby Shenzhen, Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo is turning heads. Since holding a press conference for his semiautobiographical Nairobi to Shenzhen: A Novel of Love in the East on Nov. 4, Ndesandjo, a half brother of U.S. President Barack Obama, has appeared on television in Hong Kong, and his picture has been splashed on the front pages of China Daily, the South China Morning Post and other regional newspapers.

The New Translation

Zenit is reporting that the new translation of the Mass in English has been approved! Details:
BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. bishops' conference completed its approval of the final portions of the new translation of the Roman Missal for use in its country. It now awaits the Vatican's confirmation.

The vote took place today at the conference's fall general assembly, which is under way in Baltimore through Thursday.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, explained today before the vote that this was the conference's last chance to send its recommendations to the Holy See. The Vatican has asked for the submission of all input by the end of this month.

The translation has been in progress for the past six years, and the conference has been gradually voting on the various parts of it in their assemblies.

The translation of the Proper of Saints, the Mass prayers for the feast days of saints, was approved by 195 prelates, with 23 opposing and 4 abstaining, thereby winning the necessary two-thirds of the conference's bishops.
This is news of ineffable joy for English-speaking Catholics! While the precursor to the new translation was probably well meant, there's no doubt that some ignominy of language more profane than sacred crept in here and there; and the whole became suffused with a mundanity completely unsuited to the Holy Sacrifice, as when words like "cup" replaced the nobler "chalice."

Though some bishops argued that the old translation ought nevertheless remain inviolate, wiser heads have prevailed; the new translation rises unvanquished by the voting process. Deo Gratias!

Of course, not everyone will be happy about this. Bishop Donald Trautman recently said the following, during a lecture (PDF file here):
The English translation of the New Missal has intentionally employed a “sacred
language” which tends to be elitist and remote from everyday speech and frequently not understandable. For example, the Preface of the Assumption reads: “She brought forth ineffably your Incarnate Son.” There is repeated use of the word “ineffable” throughout the New Translation of the Missal. In the Nicene Creed we will pray “consubstantial with the Father” which replaces the present wording “one in being with the Father”. Also in the Creed the new wording “by the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary” replaces “he was born of the Virgin Mary”. The vast majority of God’s people in the assembly are not familiar with words of the New Missal like “ineffable”, “consubstantial”, “incarnate”, “Inviolate”, “oblation”, “ignominy”, “precursor”, “suffused”, and “unvanquished”. This vocabulary is not readily understandable by the average Catholic.
I suppose the good bishop has a point. It's not like a typical lay Catholic could take, oh, say, five or six of those words and toss them off casually in a couple of paragraphs celebrating the new translation, for example, or anything.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What did Jesus do?

You can still see them in Christian stores, though they're past the peak of popularity now--those little bracelets with the letters W.W.J.D. printed on them.

Some Christians have adopted the phrase "What would Jesus do?" as a sort of catchphrase, a rhetorical device designed to make the believer stop and think before he or she acts, to make sure the intended action is in line with what our Lord would want or approve of. In a limited sense, this is a good impulse, inasmuch as it encourages moral behavior and careful adherence to Christian principles in our daily lives.

Other times, though, the phrase may not be helpful. It can even be manipulative, used to put guilt on a person for choosing to do something completely harmless (say, attending a high school football game instead of a Bible-study class). The implication that Jesus would never do something as "worldly" as attend a football game ignores the fact that He did, in fact, spend plenty of time outside the synagogue or Temple; He dined with sinners, He spoke to crowds, He entered Jerusalem in a triumphant procession. If "What would Jesus do?" becomes, instead of an honest impulse to introspection, a club used to beat others over the head and manipulate them, then it's not a good thing. And if it's merely a cutesy slogan without any introspection behind it, it's really not a good thing.

While I appreciate the sincere faith of many who ask themselves "What would Jesus do?" I think there is a better question that more Christians ought to ask themselves. This question is simply, "What did Jesus do?" The Gospels tell us what He did; the remaining books of the New Testament also reveal to us His desires for His Church. If we ask what He would do but ignore what He did do then there's a good chance we're overlooking our best clue as to how He wants things to be done.

One thing Jesus did do was to ordain men to His priesthood. He conferred upon them the ability to re-create His sacrifice on Calvary in an unbloody manner, giving them the power to confect the Eucharist, to say the words of consecration so that the bread and wine upon the altar becomes His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, the food of grace that feeds our souls and strengthens us for our earthly struggles. He gave them, also, the power to forgive sins.

To no others did He give these gifts. No one else among His followers was ordained in this way during His earthly life. Specifically, Jesus ordained only men, who then ordained others, laying their hands upon them and conferring upon them this Sacrament of Holy Orders, so that they, too, could stand in Christ's place at the altar of sacrifice, and repeat those efficacious words: This is My Body...This is My Blood.

If we are going to ask, "What did Jesus do?" when we consider the question of women's ordination, we are left with a clear answer: He did not ordain them.

He did not ordain them, in spite of the fact that He was never really constrained by the times in which He came. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well; He dined with tax collectors and prostitutes; He forgave the woman caught in adultery; He numbered women among His followers. But when He gave the command to His apostles, "Do this, in remembrance of Me," only the Twelve were with Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1577, puts it this way:
"Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination."66 The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.68
Some who agitate for the ordination of women dismiss out of hand the fact that Jesus did not ordain His mother, Mary, Queen of Priests, to the priesthood herself. But it is an intriguing fact, nonetheless. Jesus clearly loves His mother; His words to her on the Cross, when He entrusts her to St. John (and to the whole Church) are one of many examples of this love. But He did not ask her to be a priest--she, the only sinless woman. Are we to say that He was more concerned about the conventions of the times than about His own mother?

Today, in the Fort Worth Episcopal diocese, a woman was "ordained" as a priest:

FORT WORTH — When word got out that Susan Slaughter would make history on Sunday by becoming the first female priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, church members began asking, "What will we call you?"

Episcopalians often address male priests as "Father." They sometimes call female priests "Mother," followed by their first or last names. Not for Slaughter.

"I think being called Mother Susan or Mother Slaughter sounds kind of officious, creating a kind distance," she said. "I’m open to suggestions, but, for now, just call me Susan." [...]

Slaughter’s belief that God was calling her to the priesthood began in the 1980s. She talked about it to the Rev. Courtland Moore, then rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, where she was a parishioner. And then she summoned the courage to meet with Bishop Clarence Pope, an adamant opponent of the ordination of women.

"He just told me that was not an option," she recalled. "He felt that women were not supposed to be priests. He said there were other roles for women. He encouraged me to continue being a wife and mother."

Pope, who has joined the Roman Catholic Church, opposes women’s ordination on theological grounds.

The Fort Worth Diocese, under Pope’s successor, Bishop Jack Iker, continued to prohibit female priests even though the Episcopal Church approved them in 1976. There are now more than 2,000 female priests serving in the church, and the presiding bishop is a woman, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

More and more, the Pope's wise actions in regard to the Anglican Communion seem like the chance of a new beginning for those Christians who disagree with their church's decision to ignore what Jesus did and attempt to ordain women as priestesses (I'm sorry if the term offends, but just as a female can't be "Father," so can she not really be "priest," as the term was always used exclusively of males). If we think we can remain Christian while ignoring, again and again, what Jesus actually did, then we will soon find ourselves, like some of Flannery O'Connor's fictional characters, stuck in the "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ."

Friday, November 13, 2009

41 days??

Okay. Where has this fall gone? Do you realize there are only 41 days until Christmas (and counting)?

I did know it was sort of slightly around the corner-ish. I did have my girls make lists for me--they mention two items they'd like to have, along with a third inexpensive one such as a book. I will usually add a few girlish surprises and fun things, but we do try to keep it simple.

Still. Still! 41 days???

For fun, I post the below. I will say, though, that my results are a little off. While I do work from lists and try to be an organized and thoughtful gift-giver, I do not get things done early. Also, I am a terrible gift-wrapper. My best efforts usually look as though a chimpanzee escaped from the local zoo and went on a wild gift-wrap related chase through the shopping mall. Gift bags are my friends.

Take the quiz, let me know your results, and if you already did your Christmas shopping back in March, don't tell me! (And if you have been lovingly handcrafting a polished wooden train set complete with people and a station and a village populated by authentic looking villagers and even more authentic animals for your boys, while making your each of your girls a beautiful Christmas dress with a hand-tatted lace collar in a color and fabric to match the delicate pottery tea set you threw for them on your wheel out back and fired in a local kiln, really, really don't tell me.) Have fun!

You Are Responsible and Orderly

You approach the holidays in an orderly, organized fashion.

You work from a checklist, and you get everything done early.

Enjoying the holidays is important to you, and that means getting your chores done first.

Only then can you truly relax and kick back. (Though relaxing for you is still pretty high strung!)

Of all the types, you are the most likely to have a perfectly wrapped present.

You are also the most likely to get someone the perfect present... one they didn't even know they wanted.

A lesson for all of us

Good news on the environmental front: the brown pelican is out of danger:
Here’s some good news for once. The brown pelican, once driven close to extinction by hunting, habitat loss and pesticide pollution, was today formally removed from the US federal list of threatened and endangered species after what Tom Strickland, the Obama administration’s wildlife chief calls “a remarkable recovery”. And two conservationist icons, President Theodore Roosevelt and author Rachel Carson, can claim much of the credit.
Now, I'm sure we're all glad that the brown pelican is no longer an endangered species. And no, I don't know if the pelican in the next story is a brown one or not. But I wouldn't be surprised--after all, what's a little million-dollar-car-trashing in gleeful celebration when you've just been informed you're no longer at risk of extinction?:

LA MARQUE, Texas (AP) - A man blamed a low-flying pelican and a dropped cell phone for his veering his million-dollar sports car off a road and into a salt marsh near Galveston. The accident happened about 3 p.m. Wednesday on the frontage road of Interstate 45 northbound in La Marque, about 35 miles southeast of Houston.

The Lufkin, Texas, man told of driving his luxury, French-built Bugatti Veyron when the bird distracted him, said La Marque police Lt. Greg Gilchrist. The motorist dropped his cell phone, reached to pick it up and veered off the road and into the salt marsh. The car was half-submerged in the brine about 20 feet from the road when police arrived.
Clearly, he missed the sign : (Image source here.)

I suppose the moral of this story, if there has to be one, is: don't drive a million dollar sports car near salt marshes in Galveston while on one's cell phone after the pelicans find out that the brown ones are no longer in danger of extinction. A lesson for all of us, I'm sure.

Happy Friday the 13th! :)

Abortion and insurance

The law of unintended consequences has been in full force, it seems, regarding the health care debate and, in particular, the attempt to keep abortion funding out of whatever health care bill finally emerges from the murky swamp we like to call Congress.

One such consequence has been that a lot of pro-life Americans have been outraged to discover that the health insurance they carry includes abortion coverage. Few of us are in a position to do anything about that, either--decisions about health care plans are often made by our employers at levels far beyond our own spheres of influence.

But good things can happen when an employer realizes that the "standard coverage" they've been offering employees included an abortion component that they could opt-out of if they wished. One such employer recently learned this, and though surely someone ought to have realized that abortion coverage was included in the employee plan, and surely someone did, it's still nice to see that public attention being paid to this glaring little matter resulted in a prompt decision to remove the coverage from the health plan.

The employer? The Republican National Committee:

The Republican National Committee will no longer offer employees an insurance plan that covers abortion after POLITICO reported Thursday that the anti-abortion RNC's policy has covered the procedure since 1991.

"Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose," Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement. "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

Steele has told the committee's director of administration to opt out of coverage for elective abortion in the policy it uses from Cigna.

Now you'd think a party with a pro-life plank might have noticed that they had abortion coverage in their employee health plan for the past eighteen years. But I'm willing to give the RNC the benefit of the doubt, at least a little bit. The good thing is that the coverage will be removed, now; abortion coverage has no business in the RNC's heath insurance plan.

I hope that lots of other small employers with pro-life leanings will examine their coverage, too, and remove abortion coverage where it is possible to do so. Abortion is, after all, an elective procedure, so why should insurance companies be paying for it in the first place?

The sad reality is that it's quite likely that insurance companies cover abortions for one major reason: it's cheaper to kill a baby in utero than to pay for benefits for pregnancy and childbirth (and then, usually, to have to add the child to the parents' plan). If one good thing were to come from the health care debate, I'd love for it to be a demand by more and more Americans for the removal of health insurance coverage for abortions. So long as abortion is a billion dollar industry, the vultures at Planned Parenthood will keep trying to drum up business, as this lady said. But cutting off insurance company funding to the abortion industry would be an important move toward ending abortion in America.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A nation of grinches

File this one under "political correctness run amok:"

WASHINGTON — Officials in an Ohio town canceled their Christmas parade this year to avoid huge legal fees in defending the tradition from possible lawsuits by religious groups.

The legal hurdle surfaced when the private group that for 28 years had funded the parade in Amelia village recently announced it could no longer do so, prompting the village mayor to step in with public funds.

On a lawyer's advice, the mayor decided to change the name of the event from Christmas Parade to the more neutral "Holiday Parade" to avoid lawsuits and abide by constitutional rules about the separation of church and state. [...]

However, the name change did not sit well with local church officials, who promptly threatened to boycott the event if it was no longer called "A Christmas Parade."

We've become a nation full of Grinches.

And since LarryD reminds us to have a "Merry Tossmas," I'd like to share the "Holiday" letter I've sent to a few catalog companies in the past:

Dear Retailer,

I just received your (insert company name) "Holiday 20--" catalog. Though it was nice of you to send it, I'm afraid my family and I don't celebrate 'Holiday.' In fact, though I'm embarrassed to admit it, I'm not even sure what or when 'Holiday' is, though I suspect that it's sometime in late December.

My family and I celebrate a small, quaint religious day we like to call "Christmas." I don't suppose you've heard of it, but it has ancient roots, and many lovely customs and traditions. One of those traditions is to give our loved ones gifts on this day, and companies used to send me catalogs to help me pick out Christmas gifts for my family and friends.

I'm afraid, in recent years, I've very inappropriately been purchasing 'Holiday' gifts by mistake! You can imagine my chagrin--I wouldn't give a Jewish friend a Christmas gift for Hanukkah, so I certainly shouldn't give 'Holiday' gifts to my loved ones for Christmas. Now that I've realized this terrible faux pas, I no longer intend to shop from stores or catalog who advertise only 'Holiday' gifts but who do not use the word "Christmas" to describe any of their merchandise. I would be ashamed to fill my house with 'Holiday' decorations and 'Holiday' cheer when I don't even celebrate 'Holiday'!

So, though I appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me your Holiday catalog, I won't be using it. Not unless the kids decide to cut it up to make confetti for our Christmas crackers.

Believe it or not, I got a few interesting replies to this one. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Veterans' Day request

Happy Veterans Day to all the veterans out there!

The veteran in our family, my husband, Thad, is celebrating today by going this evening to take a test to get his ham radio license. :) He's actually hoping to pass two levels tonight, which would give him a general license.

If you have a moment, would you kindly offer a prayer for him to pass these tests? As I watched him study and prepare for today's tests, I suddenly realized where Kitten's test anxiety comes from (and yes, it's possible for a homeschooled child to have test anxiety, believe it or not!).

Many thanks!

He passed! Yay! Thanks for your prayers! :)

An inspiring example

From a Catholic parish in Dallas comes this amazing and wonderful story:

Even with her puckish sense of humor, no one could doubt that Carrie Gehling has faced serious health issues.

She lost both legs to a 40-year fight with diabetes and suffered four heart attacks, one of which left her clinically dead for 2 ½ minutes.

After years of dialysis, she needed a kidney transplant, but her medical history made her a high-risk candidate. Several hospitals had turned her down until Medical City Dallas Hospital earlier this year agreed to the procedure – with the provision that she find a live donor.

Among those she turned to for help was her pastor at St. Rita Catholic Church. Monsignor Mark Seitz is a popular and energetic priest who, when not tending to his flock, occasionally indulges in inline skating.

One day he was thinking about where Gehling could get a donor.

"And then I thought, why not me?"

Go and read the whole story; the transplant happened this past Tuesday, and both Monsignor Seitz and Carrie Gehling are recovering.

I truly loved this quote from Msgr. Seitz:

Last summer, when he first heard that Gehling needed a kidney, , "it got me thinking about what a priest does," Seitz said. "We follow the model of one who literally gave his life for us. If he can lay down his life, I can give away a kidney."

There are no words to express how wonderful that is. What an inspiring example the good monsignor is of what the priesthood can be.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Warning signs

I'm sure you've already seen this story, but I wanted to talk about it:
A manager at a Massachusetts retail store claims he was unjustly fired after he told a colleague he thought her impending marriage to another woman was wrong.

Peter Vadala, 24, told FoxNews.com he was terminated in August from his position as second deputy manager at a Brookstone store at Boston's Logan Airport after a conversation he had with a manager from another Brookstone store who was visiting the location.

Vadala claims the woman, whom he declined to identify, mentioned four times that she had married her partner. He said he then left the store briefly to visit the airport's chapel before returning.

"I found it offensive that she repeatedly brought it up," Vadala said. "By the fourth time she mentioned it, I felt God wanted me to express how I felt about the matter, so I did. But my tone was downright apologetic. I said, 'Regarding your homosexuality, I think that's bad stuff.'"

The woman, according to Vadala, then said, "Human resources, buddy — keep your opinions to yourself," before exiting the store.

Two days later, Vadala, who had been employed for just a matter of weeks, received a termination letter citing the company's zero-tolerance policy regarding "harassment" and "inappropriate and unprofessional" comments.

"In the state of Massachusetts, same-sex marriage is legal and there will be people with whom you work with who have fiancées or spouses who are the same gender," the Aug. 12 letter read. "... While you are entitled to your own beliefs, imposing them upon others in the workplace is not acceptable and in this case, by telling a colleague that she is deviant and immoral, constitutes discrimination and harassment."

Vadala disputes using the words "deviant" and "immoral" during conversations with human resources employees on the matter.
We have been told over and over by gay-rights activists that legalizing same-sex marriage will not hurt heterosexuals or those whose deeply-held religious beliefs teach that homosexual acts are gravely morally evil at all. Do not believe it; it is a lie. The end-game is to force societal approval of same-sex marriage. If a homosexual male co-worker "marries" another man, or if a homosexual female co-worker "marries" another woman, all of his or her fellow employees will be expected to offer the same level of congratulations they would be expected to offer if a man in the office marries a woman. Refusing to comment at all, even choosing to remain silent, will not be tolerated; it will be called "harassment," and the offender will be punished.

If it is the custom in the office for co-workers to throw a wedding shower for an engaged couple, and a Catholic man or Muslim woman refuses to attend such a shower for a same-sex couple, the religious person will be the one who suffers for that decision. Even if the religious person doesn't make an issue of his or her non-attendance, but simply skips the event, there will likely be repercussions. No disapproval, not even silent disapproval, will be tolerated.

Some might say, "What's the difference between congratulating a same-sex couple on their engagement, or buying them a gift for an engagement party, and doing the same for an opposite sex couple one or both of whom has been divorced? Neither one is a real marriage, in the Church's eyes, so why should a Catholic be able to condone one and not the other?" The difference, of course, is that a Catholic may offer some muted congratulations to a divorced person who is "remarrying" because the Catholic person has no way to know whether the first marriage was valid or not. It is possible that the marriage this man and woman are about to enter will be valid. It is even possible that, should the couple become Catholic, the Church will agree--or will discuss with the couple what is needed for a valid marriage, should that be possible. It is not up to the individual lay Catholic to hold a personal marriage tribunal over marriages which may presumptively be valid, and provided his offer of congratulations or appearance at a company celebration will not give scandal he may, I think, prudently consider one or both of these actions.

The situation is quite different in the case of a same-sex couple who is getting "married." There is no possible way, now or ever, that such a marriage will be valid in the eyes of the Church, or be something of which God approves. The Church will never allow such "marriages" for her spiritual children, and any Catholic who in any way seems to approve of, condone, participate in celebrating, or otherwise acquiesce in such "marriages" does so at the risk of giving scandal. No question of presumptive validity is possible here--same-sex "marriages" are not marriages at all, but a social engineering sham designed to force public acceptance and approval of homosexual acts, which are gravely morally evil.

In our secular society, though, a Catholic's refusal to celebrate the wedding plans of a same-sex colleague will be called "harassment," and will be considered punishable. There will be no tolerance from the same-sex activist side; there will be no religious freedom, there will not even be freedom of speech or association. Enforced approval and celebration of homosexual activity will be more important than any of these, and anyone who doesn't show acceptable levels of these will be marginalized and excluded from society.

The warning signs are clear. Should same-sex marriage become the law of the land, no person who is a member of a religious faith which agrees with the Church that homosexual acts are gravely morally evil will be free to express that deeply-held belief without serious consequences.

Episcopal body slam alert

The Catholic blogosphere is buzzing with the open letter from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin to Congressman Patrick Kennedy:
For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents. [...]

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?

Yes. Wow. Ouch. Go read the whole thing.

This isn't just an Episcopal Spine Alert. This calls for an Episcopal Body Slam Alert. (No disrespect to the good bishop intended.)

For a line-by-line analysis, see Father Zuhlsdorf's post, which provides a detailed look at the letter.

Imagine how absolutely unthinkable a letter like this, by a bishop to a Kennedy, would have been about 48 years ago. Heck, imagine how unthinkable it would have been even ten or fifteen years ago, while the magical shadow of that media paradise known as Camelot sent its protective penumbras in emanating waves over the remnants of the Kennedy clan, imbuing their public vices and quasi-criminal activities with a rosy glow which allowed no criticism and very few questions.

For a bishop of the immediate post-Conciliar era to have called a Kennedy to task in this way would have been gauche, unthinkable. At that time even many in the clergy hoped that Pope Paul VI would soon permit contraception, and as for abortion--well, it wasn't legal yet, and even when it did become legal the concern in so many Catholic circles seemed to involve crafting a way for good Catholics to keep on being good Democrats instead of calling to account those Catholic politicians who, in ways most unbecoming of Catholics, actually supported the thing.

For more than forty years the Kennedys have been held up as the quintessential political American Catholic family, and that little matter of their ravenous and slavish support for the poisoning, dismembering, and/or beheading of unborn human children in their mothers' wombs has been overlooked, as something too impolite to mention in mixed company. They've been welcomed and feted, dined and applauded, courted and approved of by Catholics up to and including members of the hierarchy, and they've dismissed the glaring inconsistency of their support for the wholesale slaughter of more than fifty million American children with that silly and patronizing phrase, "Well, I'm Catholic, but..."

It's about time--overdue, actually--that a Catholic Bishop in America would put the Kennedy family's "Catholic...buts..." on the line. What he has done here is to say, eloquently, brilliantly, lucidly, justly and charitably what pro-life Catholics have said in frustration for lo these many years to our so-called "pro-choice" Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle: you can't be Catholic and "pro-choice."

Camelot--King Arthur's, that is--fell because of infidelity on the inside, remember. Catholics can't claim loyalty to the Church and infidelity to her teachings at the same time. The old polite coalition between "pro-choice" Catholic politicians and their bishops has now officially been put on notice, and is beginning to crumble. The times, they are (thank God!) a-changin'.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Liturgical food fights

Let's not waste our energies on the little matter of the decades-old scandal of pro-abortion Catholics, though, shall we? Not when there are matters of much greater importance to discuss:
Catholics have lots of bad habits that are just in plain-old bad taste. One that bothers me is their tendency to walk out during the organ postlude. Here we have a organist performing a serious piece of music following Mass, an offering of talent to God and the community, but instead of listening and reflecting, regarding it as a special time of the week, many people just grab their stuff and fly out.

This practice really must change. It reflects poorly on our communities. It is also an insult to the organist. It says: I don't care what you are playing. You music and your efforts mean nothing to do me as compared with my own selfish desires to get the heck out of this place. It is even worse when people have loud conversations during the organ postlude, sometimes shouting over the organ so that they can hear each other. When a quiet spot in the music appears, you can suddenly hear a roar of conversation.
Now, let me preface this by saying a couple of important things:

One, I do believe liturgy is important. You won't see me dismissing grave liturgical abuses out of hand by claiming that so long as we love each other and work for peace and justice, it doesn't matter if Father invites the First Communion kids up around the altar during the Consecration. It does matter, and what matters most is that we remember that the Mass is not our plaything.

Two, I recognize that Catholics can have a tendency to leave Mass in an objectively disrespectful way. The practice of remaining silent inside the church proper, and keeping loud or boisterous conversations for the vestibule or the parish hall, is one that I'd like to see return. It should be recognized, however, that the unfortunate tendency to build churches "in the round" with no proper vestibule has contributed to the chat-in-church-after-Mass phenomenon; this is exacerbated when the church's Tabernacle is in a recessed small room or closet, to which those wishing to pray after Mass are supposed to go.

But those things said, I can't help but echo what some commenters at the original site of this piece were saying, which is, in effect: Really? The organ postlude?

If your church even has an organ, you're already privileged above many Catholics these days. Even so, though, nobody can really deny that the Mass ends when Father says, "Ite missa est," or, in the Ordinary Form, "The Mass is ended; go in peace." When the people have responded to this, the liturgical action is over. Both recessional hymn and organ postlude take place, as others at the New Liturgical Movement pointed out, outside the Mass, which has just concluded.

Sadly, other commenters at the NLM site remind me why I seldom find these hairsplitting debates edifying. I do not wish to name names, but it disturbs me no end to see a priest comment admiringly about a pastor who once locked doors to keep late arrivals/early departures from happening (locking parishioners inside), and who himself admits to stopping the liturgical action of the Mass to question people who were leaving early as to their reasons--which, he says, stopped people from leaving early. I know that for me, personally, it would have stopped me from ever returning to that parish, even if I were not the one being questioned. There are, after all, legitimate reasons to leave Mass early, involving illness or pregnancy or the care of an infant or toddler; imagine being grilled by Father while leaving for one of these reasons, when all you are trying to do is avoid disrupting the Holy Mass!

This is why I tend to be charitable about people who leave early from Mass. Sure, there might be people who do it Sunday after Sunday, who aren't visibly ill and don't have infants or toddlers in tow. But how do I know they aren't, especially in these hard economic times, working a Sunday afternoon shift at a store or restaurant? How do I know they aren't rushing home to be with a family member who is chronically, perhaps seriously, ill? It's not my place to judge or speculate.

Now, it is, certainly, a priest's place to remind people not to be sloppy about their Sunday obligation, to do their best to arrive on time and to stay for the whole Mass unless they have a serious reason to leave. The priest might, further, remind the congregation that serious reasons to leave early do not include wanting to be first out of the parking lot, or wanting to get home in time for a football game to start; further, serious reasons to leave early should be rare occasions (perhaps less rare during the infancy and toddlerhood of one's children), not every Sunday occurrences. If a person finds himself obliged to leave Mass early Sunday after Sunday he should, perhaps, consider attending a different Mass that will not conflict with his other obligations.

Having said that, though, I think that the place for a priest to discuss these sorts of things should be in a homily, and perhaps also in a bulletin insert or series of announcements. A plaque reminding people to hear the whole Mass, affixed near the exit doors, is also a good idea. And as far as the etiquette aspect of the question goes, I think that once the recessional hymn has begun, no one should leave before Father does (again, barring a sudden emergency, which is what happens when one's small child drops the hymn book, picks it up, bangs her head on the underside of the hymn-book rack, and starts to wail at least an octave above high C). When Father has left the church, I believe, anyone else ought to be able to leave, though of course it's nice if they decide to remain and sing the rest of the recessional hymn along with the choir. Since our little parish doesn't have an organ, though, I'll leave the etiquette aspect of the organ postlude question to those who have experience in this matter.

It comes back, though, as it so often does, to what our intentions are. Do we view Sunday Mass as a dreadful chore, something to be endured with gritted teeth, and "escaped" from as soon as Communion is over? Do we usually remain for the whole Mass? Do we usually arrive on time or early? If we must leave early, is it something relating to our vocation (e.g., parents attending to the needs of extremely small children who have already been really really good for an hour and a half and who weren't prepared to have to sit for another ten or fifteen minutes while the parish council finance committee chairman reads a report bristling with numbers which Father decided should be read this particular Sunday even though there was also a baptism after the homily and the homily itself was nineteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds long because there was a letter from the bishop which had to be read before Father could begin his Gospel reflections)? Or is it something relating to our physical needs (e.g. the person who piously fasted before Mass because it is his custom but forgot to check with his doctor about the new medicine which he took this morning and which is supposed to be taken with food and which is now making him feel extremely dizzy and lightheaded and he thought he was going to make it until Father told everyone to sit down after the final blessing because Father forgot about the second collection for the parish's sister parish in El Salvador which is especially embarrassing because the guest homilist spent a good half-hour talking about it all..)? Or is it, really, just a sloppy bad habit we've let ourselves drift into for no good reason at all?

There's a great deal of difference, I think, between encouraging ourselves and each other to ponder such questions honestly and in faithfulness, and assuming that anyone who leaves early is sinfully trying to beat the parking lot rush over to the breakfast buffet restaurant. Taking the second tone in any conversation about this topic is pretty much guaranteed to produce a liturgical food fight, full of noise and short on charity.

Good Catholic, Bad Catholic

I've written about this sort of thing before, about how Barack Obama's actions regarding various Catholic matters has been designed, all along, to show that there are the Right Sort of Catholics (pro-abortion ones, mainly, especially pro-abortion Democrats) and the Wrong Sort (pro-life ones, especially the ones who say you can't be Catholic and pro-abortion).

Now Time has gotten into the debate:
The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally couch even the harshest disagreements in decorous, ecclesiastical language. But it didn't take a decoder ring to figure out what Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke meant in a late-September address when he charged Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley with being under the influence of Satan, "the father of lies."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some thoughts about the Fort Hood attack

It's hard to know what to write about yesterday's terrible massacre at Ft. Hood. Details are still emerging, and it may be a while to piece together just what the suspect's motives were in planning and carrying out this terrible attack on his fellow soldiers.

But I don't think it's helpful to ignore the role that Nidal Malik Hasan's religion may have played in his actions. I don't think it's helpful to pretend that Islam is the only explanation we need for his actions, either--but pretending that his Islamic faith had nothing to do with what happened yesterday is just as erroneous.

Consider this, from an AP report:
But, more recently, federal agents grew suspicious.

At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.

They had not confirmed Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

Federal authorities seized Hasan's computer Friday during a search of his apartment in Killeen, Texas, said a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

His anger was noted by a classmate, who said Hasan "viewed the war against terror" as a "war against Islam."

Dr. Val Finnell, a classmate of Hasan's at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, attended a master's in public health program in 2007-2008. Finnell says he got to know Hasan because the group of public health students took an environmental health class together. At the end of the class, everyone had to give a presentation. Classmates wrote on topics such as dry cleaning chemicals and mold in homes, but Finnell said Hasan chose the war against terror. Finnell described Hasan as a "vociferous opponent" of the terror war. Finnell said Hasan told classmates he was "a Muslim first and an American second."

A lot of questions are being asked today, and chief among them is this one: how was all of this missed? How did the Army overlook Hasan's statements regarding the war on terror?

One answer I've seen floating around is that Hasan wasn't alone in objecting to the war on terror, that plenty of Christian soldiers, atheist soldiers, etc. objected to the war, and especially if they were scheduled to be deployed, that there's essentially no difference between a Muslim objecting to the war on terror and anyone else objecting to it.

This is not a surprising opinion, originating as it does from the secular viewpoint that all religions are alike, that all are equally true or equally false, and that the adherents of one religion will generally behave just like the adherents of another. If Hasan "snapped" and shot his fellow soldiers, goes the argument, it was just the result of stress, or of incipient mental illness, or of some equally physical or emotional phenomenon. His Islamic faith had no more to do with his alleged actions than Jason Rodriguez's religious beliefs (if any) did with Rodriguez' deadly office shooting.

But I think it takes a certain amount of willful blindness to believe that in terms of its views about violence, especially violence toward non-believers, Islam is the same as Christianity. To the extent that many modern followers of Islam have repudiated violence, they have arguably done so in spite of their religion's teachings and history, not because of them. For Christianity the truth is the exact opposite: Christians were taught from the beginning to turn the other cheek, and only engaged in unjust violence against their Church's teachings. And, yes, many did so, sadly.

Still, the response of Christianity to violence isn't supposed to be more violence. Our Lord's warning about living and dying by the sword hasn't been changed to a more bellicose stance. A much better Christian response to violence can be read here.

It doesn't behoove us as Christians to pretend that Islam is an irrelevant footnote to yesterday's attacks; but neither does it behoove us to employ immoderate speech calling for, say, the internment of all Muslims as the proper response to what happened. We still have a lot to learn about the motivations of Nidal Malik Hasan, which led to yesterday's horror. In the meantime, the most proper response is to pray for the victims, both deceased and wounded, for the families and loved ones of all involved, and for all who have been impacted by this terrible act of violence.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Notes from the Choir

No time left to post, but I wanted to share with you one piece I get to sing this week: Gabriel Faure's Pie Jesu. I absolutely love this piece!

Our talented choir director normally plays violin, but she brings her viola when we do this piece. The first time I sang it, I hadn't heard the viola because she had forgotten to bring it to practice. The loveliness of the viola music was so intense that I almost forgot to resume singing at one point, I was so caught up in listening! :)

This version is a little operatic, but the young singer has an absolutely exquisite voice. Enjoy!

Created or saved...

I love this report from the AP:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's economic recovery program saved 935 jobs at the Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, an impressive success story for the stimulus plan. Trouble is, only 508 people work there.

The Georgia nonprofit's inflated job count is among persisting errors in the government's latest effort to measure the effect of the $787 billion stimulus plan despite White House promises last week that the new data would undergo an "extensive review" to root out errors discovered in an earlier report.

About two-thirds of the 14,506 jobs claimed to be saved under one federal office, the Administration for Children and Families at Health and Human Services, actually weren't saved at all, according to a review of the latest data by The Associated Press. Instead, that figure includes more than 9,300 existing employees in hundreds of local agencies who received pay raises and benefits and whose jobs weren't saved. [...]

But officials defended the practice of counting raises as saved jobs.

"If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your job," HHS spokesman Luis Rosero said.

Do go read the whole thing; it's screamingly funny, especially the part where the administration also defends counting each employee as a fraction of a "saved" job.

This is one area where the MSM does deserve a little credit. The transparent idiocy of the whole "saved job" notion, as if it's even remotely possible to quantify which jobs were "saved" by government intervention, and which ones were just going along, not really in any danger at all, completely unaffected positively or negatively by the various stimulus cash floating around in banker's pockets or the odd auto company here and there, is something they have not really failed to point out. Of course, were a Republican to try this "created or saved" nonsense, it would generate large sarcastic headlines in the New York Times, a prickly Maureen Dowd column or ten, and weeks of Sunday news program focus; but we'll take what we can get.

In a way, the logic of "created or saved" seems awfully familiar. It is reminiscent of the woman who returns home after a shopping spree, loaded with bags and boxes, and insists to her critical husband that she has just saved a ton of money, because everything she bought was on sale. It's also reminiscent of the way that politicians can increase taxes, spend themselves into an even bigger deficit than they've already created (or saved), and then claim that they've reduced spending by creating future savings, which they demonstrate via a dizzying display of questionable math.

Still, the rather easily dismantled claim that the stimulus spending has "saved" any jobs, and the revelation of just how silly the thought processes behind the notion that any of these jobs were actually saved at all really are, has got to be making some Democrats wish that this particular catchphrase had never been created. Or saved.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The sane in Maine reign, plainly. Get champagne!

Good news from yesterday's elections:
Maine voters rejected a law allowing same-sex couples to marry in a closely fought referendum that saw unexpectedly high turnout.

Rolling back the law is a setback for gay-rights advocates and makes Maine the third state in which residents reversed their government's decision to permit gay marriages, after California and Hawaii.

Same-sex marriage has yet to win a popular vote in any state, despite a recent string of wins in the New England region. The other states that grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont -- have done so via legislative vote or judicial ruling, and New Hampshire will grant such marriages starting in January after a vote by its legislature. The federal government and most other states don't recognize same-sex marriages.
At the usual gay-marriage food fight going on in Rod Dreher's comment boxes, a commenter going by the name "Antonius Magnus" is making a whole heap of sense (a rarity in such arguments, especially since "Antonius Magnus" has not said he/she is definitely against gay marriage). "Antonius Magnus's" main point, and it's a good one, is this: if same-sex people have the right to marry each other, where does this right come from?

For Christian people, who believe that rights come from God, and are linked to our intrinsic human dignity as His sons and daughters, it's easy to understand why no one has a right to do what is evil. Same-sex marriage creates an environment in which people who are committing sins of homosexual acts with each other are encouraged to keep doing so, encouraged to believe that there is nothing wrong or sinful in their doing so, encouraged to spread that erroneous viewpoint to society at large; it also fosters hostility toward the Church, since she will continue courageously to point out that homosexual acts are gravely morally sinful and likely to lead a soul into eternal damnation--but that clear and compassionate warning will be viewed as bigotry, and marginalized from a society which has approved same-sex marriage.

But for those who insist that our rights do not come from God, that there is no God, that man is free to create whatever rights he finds personally appealing--do they really not see the grave danger in such an argument? The separation of human rights from man's Creator does not encourage greater freedom; it has, instead, always been among the earliest hallmarks of a totalitarian regime. If the "right to marry" does not come from God, is not something intrinsically linked to human nature, and does not have anything to do with the natural gender complementarity and biological compatibility which only exists between a man and a woman, then where does this right originate, and what does it contain? The gay activists insist that the right to marry is merely a "human" right, but are immune to any reference to such human qualities as reproduction or biology, to the vast decades of human law and tradition, to the inconvenient fact that no major human society has ever created a definition of marriage which includes same-sex couples; "human" in their context is a word that only means what they have decided it means.

But the danger in deciding that a) marriage is a human right, and b) this human right does not come from human law, human custom, human policy, human biology, or the reality of human reproduction is that they have created a framework for the complete dismantling of marriage, not merely its expansion to include same-sex couples. If marriage can mean anything we choose to define it to mean, then in addition to the traditional definition marriage can mean:
  • same sex couples
  • couples who live as brother and sister
  • groups of more than two people
  • people (couples or groups) who are related to each other
  • people who engage in sexual activity exclusively with each other
  • people who engage in sexual activity with each other and with others
  • people who live together but do not engage in sexual activity
  • people who do not live together
and on and on and on. In a word, marriage suddenly means everything--at which point it means nothing.

I think it's no secret that the most committed of radical gay activists want exactly that. They aren't really all that interested in being able to call two men or two women "married," so much as they are interested in tearing down what they see as society's heteronormativity--the "bias" which teaches children from the earliest ages that the fundamental social unit is the family, and that the family in its most ideal form consists of a man, his wife, and their own children at its core. To the radical gay activists, it is intolerable that society should express a preference for heterosexuality, such that an assumption is made that every child has or should have a mother and a father--because such an assumption is always going to see the same-sex couple as an aberration, an unfortunate and abnormal alternative to what ought to be the social reality.

The truth is, it is not being unkind or uncharitable to point out that the same-sex couple is an aberration. Any society that was overwhelmingly composed of such couples would soon cease to be--such is the biological reality. And gay rights activists know this, and hate it: not for nothing is their worst epithet for a heterosexual couple "breeders." It is their hatred of the normal family that drives some of them to wish to dismantle marriage and the family altogether, and to make it a crime to express the notion that morally speaking, there is a big difference between a man, his wife, and their children and a woman, another woman, their IVF children, and the anonymous sperm donors whom the children will never meet and don't need (since when does a child need a father?).

So the victory in Maine for traditional marriage means something. It means that, for a little while longer, we're unlikely to be plunged into the darkness of the post-marriage, post-heteronormative society. It may not seem like the kind of news calling for a bottle of champagne, but given how little good news we've had in the culture wars lately, I'm inclined to get some champagne, anyway.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The religion of secularism

Does a country with deep cultural Catholic roots have the right to display crucifixes in school classrooms? Not according to the European Court of Human Rights:

ROME (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms, prompting Vatican anger and sparking uproar in Italy, where such icons are embedded in the national psyche.

"The ruling of the European court was received in the Vatican with shock and sadness," said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, adding that it was "wrong and myopic" to try to exclude a symbol of charity from education.

The ruling by the court in Strasbourg, which Italy said it would appeal, said crucifixes on school walls -- a common sight that is part of every Italian's life -- could disturb children who were not Christians. [...]

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the court had dealt a "mortal blow to a Europe of values and rights," adding that it was a bad precedent for other countries.

Condemnation crossed party lines. Paola Binetti, a Catholic in the opposition Democratic Party, the successor of what was once the West's largest communist party, said: "In Italy, the crucifix is a specific sign of our tradition."

The case was brought by an Italian national, Soile Lautsi, who complained that her children had to attend a public school in northern Italy which had crucifixes in every room. [...]

Lautsi, the woman who filed the suit, said crucifixes on walls ran counter to her right to give her children a secular education and the Strasbourg-based court ruled in her favor.

"The presence of the crucifix ... could be encouraging for religious pupils, but also disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities," the court said in a written ruling.

"The State (must) refrain from imposing beliefs in premises where individuals were dependent on it," it added, saying the aim of public education was "to foster critical thinking."

The proponents of secularism pretend that secularism is the only logical, neutral way for a state to be. The state, according to a secularist, can't approve of religion or even give the impression that it thinks that religious or moral values are generally something to respect or encourage. Any positive recognition that a state gives to any religion is, in a secularist's mind, a violation of the rights of non-religious citizens; thus a state must insist that every appearance of religion be removed from public institutions.

The problems with that are legion, of course. Since the state is forbidden ever to speak positively of religion, but must frequently speak and act against it, the citizen is left with the impression that religion is, from the state's point of view, an undesirable quality in the citizenry. The removal of all religious symbols from public institutions fosters the notion that religion and the state are natural enemies, instead of being partners in the many areas where the interests of Church and state coincide. The imposition of a religion-less view of the world upon the people of the state further creates the illusion that it is perfectly possible to create a society in which religion is nothing but a pleasant pastime for those who choose to engage in it, but is no more important to a society or culture than such things as sports or entertainment.

The belief, though, that religion is a somewhat undesirable quality in a citizen, that the Church and state are natural enemies, and that religion is no more meaningful than a love of golf or a hobby of amateur theater is itself a kind of religion. Imposing these beliefs on citizens for whom religion is an important and necessary thing, for whom the Church and state ought to be natural allies in a perfect world, and for whom religion is a vital element of a rich and happy life is a far graver violation of the rights of religious citizens than the mere presence of a symbol of one or more religions in a public setting. This imposition forces Christians, Jews, Muslims, and a host of others to pretend in public environs that religion is a small and private matter which is subordinate to their common citizenship, when nothing could ever be further from the truth.

Crucifixes in a classroom--or Stars of David or crosses or any other major religion's symbols, for that matter--aren't going to harm children who don't share a culture's religion. But secularism, with its amorality and tendency to worship the state itself in the absence of anything better to worship, may cause harm--especially when the culture of the state's citizens is overwhelmingly formed by a particular religion, such as the culture of Italy is in regard to Catholicism. Asking the people of that particular state to tear down their ancient symbols of faith is a grave violation of their human rights.