Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kitten!

Today we celebrate the fifteenth birthday of our oldest girl, affectionately nicknamed "Kitten" on this blog. If I told you how proud I was of my sweet, smart, well-organized and thoughtful young lady, I'd take up this whole blog post! And that would be bad, because it's been my practice for the last couple of years to let Kitten speak for herself. So here she is:

Hi everyone, Kitten here! I'm extremely excited because of my birthday today. This past year (of being fourteen) has been a fun and interesting exploring process for me. Through various things (school courses, hobbies, life in general) I've started to figure out some of the things God has in store for me and some of the things in life that I want to pursue as an adult.

This year I've also been blessed with an amazing friend. Even though we live rather far from each other, that hasn't stopped the e-mails, the gift exchanging, picture sharing and yes, even visiting. I want to take the time especially to thank God (and Mom) for finding me such a wonderful friend as she has been. We've made a lot of good memories together so far! :)

Another highlight of this year (and a special favorite of mine) was adding to our cat family. The adoption of our second cat, Smidge, was a joy to behold. Our first cat, Emmett, can't seem to get along without him and Smidge is positive that Emmett is his best friend. My nickname being Kitten I love our cats and have enjoyed having them more than I can say. :)

I thank all of you for taking the time to read this and I'd like to wish all of you a Happy New Year! :)

God Bless,

That's my girl! Kitten, we love you--you bring much joy into our lives, and you know I couldn't get along without your help and company and conversations. Happy birthday, sweet girl, and God bless you too! :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A terrific family Christmas gift

While I'm technically not back to regular blogging until after the New Year, I wanted to pop in here briefly to thank one of my sisters for a truly fun and enjoyable Christmas gift.

She sent us this game. And we've been playing and laughing and enjoying it so much!

The crazy comparisons set the stage for unintentional hilarity--like when a category card says "Delicate" and a daughter plays the card "Men." Or when the category is "Cuddly" and your hand is full of things like Rocks, The Ark, and Judas Iscariot.

One of my girls tonight said this game was even better than video games. :)

Did you have a nice Christmas, too?

Back soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

If I have this post scheduled correctly, it will post to my blog right about the time of the consecration at the Mass we will be attending tonight.

During that sublime moment when Christ deigns yet again to become present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity among us, I will be praying for all of you (and I am grateful for your prayers for me, as well).

I will pray for all who read and post here, especially for those who have asked for prayer in the past year. I will pray for the atheists and agnostics, for the believers, for the Christians, for my fellow Catholics both cradle and convert. I will especially pray for two Christian gentlemen and their families, one of whom is drawing very near to becoming a Catholic, and one of whom is, if his writings have not misled me, about to begin a similar journey.

I will ask God's forgiveness for the times when I have failed to treat any of you with the full measure of human respect that your intrinsic human dignity is owed; I ask your forgiveness as well, if I have injured you with this sort of carelessness.

I will thank God very much for the gift of your company and the many things you have taught me this year. And I will beg Him to lead us all together into the bright and glorious company of Heaven when our time here is complete.

God bless you and yours, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shortest blog post ever

Episcopal spine alert: Bishop Olmsted stands up to diabolical evil.

Diabolical evil responds here.

If I were a bishop, I'd be tempted to place the whole expletive deleted hospital under interdict.

Which is why Sr. McBride and I are, in our own ways, excellent examples of why women should never ever ever be ordained.

Not really posting...

...just sharing.

My girls are huge Stanford Nutting fans, and when they saw that someone had linked to it on Facebook they begged to watch it. It's hilarious--well worth the time:

Back to blog break!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas blog break!

Just checking in to wish all of you a blessed last week of Advent! I'm taking a blog break until after the first of next year--though, as always, I reserve the right to pop back in here with a post or six before then. And I'll probably manage to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas at the proper time, but if you're going to be away--Merry Christmas early!

I can see that after Jan. 1 I'm going to have to write a post about what constitutes true Catholic manliness. I continue to be amazed--and rather amused--at the hostility I'm getting from regular readers because I criticized the notion that pipe smoking is somehow the epitome of manliness. Wow.

Anyway, a blessed Advent to all, as Christmas draws near!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The war on faith

A disturbing collection of articles has come my way, making me wonder if the real war isn't the War on Christmas, but a war on public expressions of faith altogether. First, from CMR, is this:

This is the federal government forcing a small town bank to take down any religious Christmas symbols in the bank.

Weasel Zippers reports:
PERKINS, Okla. — A small-town bank in Oklahoma said the Federal Reserve won’t let it keep religious signs and symbols on display.

Federal Reserve examiners come every four years to make sure banks are complying with a long list of regulations. The examiners came to Perkins last week. And the team from Kansas City deemed a Bible verse of the day, crosses on the teller’s counter and buttons that say “Merry Christmas, God With Us.” were inappropriate. The Bible verse of the day on the bank’s Internet site also had to be taken down.
What is it about "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion... or prohibit the free exercise thereof."

The Federal Reserve's argument supposedly is that the bank's decorations may "express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion." Imply? Really? So their policy trumps the free exercise clause of the First Amendment? How does that work? [Link in original: E.M.]

Then, there was this story:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- An astronomer argues that his Christian faith and his peers' belief that he is an evolution skeptic kept him from getting a prestigious job as the director of a new student observatory at the University of Kentucky.

Martin Gaskell quickly rose to the top of a list of applicants being considered by the university's search committee. One member said he was "breathtakingly above the other applicants."

Others openly worried his Christian faith could conflict with his duties as a scientist, calling him "something close to a creationist" and "potentially evangelical."

Even though Gaskell says he is not a creationist, he claims he was passed over for the job at UK's MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of the theory of evolution.

Gaskell is suing the university; read more here.

Finally, in some local news, there's this one:

Two weeks after controversy erupted because the Fort Worth Transportation Authority accepted ads with the atheist message "Millions of Americans are Good Without God," the T board revised its policy Wednesday night to ban all religious ads effective Jan. 1.

"I don't like the ads. I think they create divisiveness," T board member Gary Havener said before the nine-member board unanimously approved the new policy.

But Havener also criticized the people who pressured T drivers not to operate buses adorned with the ads and urged riders to boycott the transit system.

"I don't like people coming in here and muscling our employees when we're trying to provide transportation," he said.

What do all of these stories have in common? Simple: each displays the growing cultural attitude which treats religious speech and religious expressions as inherently unworthy of the public sphere (or even, in the case of astronomer Gaskell, of some professions). As the CMR piece put it, we've stopped hearing about the freedom of religion, and started hearing the phrase "freedom of worship;" this latter phrase implies that religious speech is fine in one's church, synagogue, mosque, or similar place, but out of line in public places, business organizations, or anywhere else where some person might conceivably be "offended" by the speech.

What's wrong with that? Aside from the fact that it seriously impedes actual freedom of religion, there is the further problem that this attitude also treats religious speech as somehow in a totally different category from other speech. To look at the first example: the bank is theoretically allowed to display whatever corporate banking slogans it might find appropriate--but what if a person sincerely finds corporate banking slogans deeply and inherently offensive? I suspect the attitude would be a shrug; "banking speech" is protected as free speech, but religious speech, apparently, is not.

Or to take the second example: would a professor be denied a job because the professor is a known sports fanatic? Would his fanaticism in favor of some particular team be seen as a potential liability for the university? No; but his religious beliefs apparently are too embarrassing for the university to deal with.

And the third example is even more egregious: people might be offended by all sorts of public bus advertisements--I recall in my student days being seriously offended by a sickening anti-baby campaign put out by Planned Parenthood--but we're all supposed to be adults capable of dealing with those emotions. Except, of course, for religious advertisements, which apparently emanate offensiveness from their penumbras, or something, and must be banned altogether.

The War on Faith sees all religious expression (save only, for now, for those expressions of faith which have nothing to do with any Judeo-Christian faith) as a serious threat to secular society. That is alarming; freedom of religion is one of the pillars of American freedom, and if it is toppled it's easy to see how quickly all of our freedoms might follow suit. We should remain vigilant in defense of the freedom of religious people to express their faith at work and in the public square, if we wish America to remain the land of the free.

UPDATE: An alert reader sends a link to this story: the bank will be allowed to display its Christian messages. Good!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We need St. Nicholas

I couldn't agree more with this excellent article by Katie Walker--and many thanks to the reader who sent it to me! Walker tackles the "Santa is a lie" motif far more ably than I have:

To us, Santa is a type of John the Baptist, announcing the coming of the Messiah. With the angels, his magical Christmas eve flight sings “Glory to God in the highest!” He’s a holy man in love with Our Lord and filled with the magic and mystery of the Nativity – a mystery a thousand times more fantastic than an old man who makes toys at the North Pole and delivers them around the world.

Santa Claus has a treasured place in the hearts and imaginations of the Walker children.

So imagine how … passionate shall we say … I was when I recently found myself defending Santa Claus to one of my more traditional Catholic friends. He didn’t like the idea of “lying” to children. Santa distracts from Christ he said, and he just couldn’t square him with his strict interpretation of St. Thomas.

But as Catholics engaged in this battle to restore our dying culture, as pro-lifers seeking to reaffirm the dignity and infinite value of this mysterious thing we call human life, I say we desperately need Santa Claus - the ambassador from fairyland.

In old-fashioned gratitude, we owe St. Nicholas a bit more than simply brushing him off as a superstitious lie to children or as a materialistic construct of our stuff-obsessed culture.

In this age of skepticism, scientism and string theory, we need Santa Claus more than ever. We need childlike faith and wonder on at least one magical, cold morning. [...]

In abandoning fairyland we’ve abandoned sanity and we’ve largely abandoned God.

But for one day every year the silvery wonder of Christmas is shunned only by the most hardened atheists – poor creatures.

On that one morning, the hardened hearts of many melt and the elfin ambassador rides in with glorious news of the Messiah’s birth.

Santa Claus is real. He lived and still lives as our brother in Christ, and anyone who tells a child otherwise is guilty of a grave injustice and an offense against truth.

For one day at least out of 365, there is a crack in our cultural armor of skepticism and for that one day, this culture that has abandoned God and defiantly says to Him, “I will not believe” admits that it wants to believe.

Do go and read the whole thing here, if you can.

We live in a world in which five-year-olds stop wanting to be fairy princesses and start worrying about whether they're "hot" enough to attract boys. We live in a world in which those same five-year-olds may already have begun receiving sex education in public schools (depending on where you live). We live in a world which constantly pushes children to abandon childhood in favor of adulthood, which tries to sell children on adult clothing styles, technologies, entertainment choices, and the like. We live in a world in which the greatest pressure on children to stop acting like children and pretend to be miniature grown-ups comes from their own peers, who mercilessly ridicule any child who clings to childish pretend play or childlike behaviors--at ages when children really should be children. In his Apologia por Vita Sua, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote of his early religious thoughts that one which remained prominent enough to record was his having read the Arabian Nights and wishing they were true; we live in an age that laughs at fairy stories and cynically remakes them to reflect the skepticism and pragmatism of our culture. And the children hear our laughter, and are embarrassed at having wished to be a prince or princess or to fight dragons or fall magically and permanently in love--because that last, too, seems like a lie to children who grow up so horribly aware of broken homes and shattered families.

We need more magic in our lives, not less. We need more joyful pretending, not more empiricism. We need a little Christmas--and we need St. Nicholas to be a part of it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The ten days till Christmas

There are only ten more days until Christmas! Wow...where does December go?

Just for fun, I offer the following:

The Ten Days Till Christmas:

On the tenth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
I still haven't put up the tree.

On the ninth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the eighth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the seventh day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the sixth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
Time's running out!
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the fifth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
I'm not done shopping,
Time's running out!
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the fourth day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
I haven't sent the cards out,
I'm not done shopping,
Time's running out!
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the third day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
Better hit the eggnog:
I haven't sent the cards out,
I'm not done shopping,
Time's running out!
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the second day till Christmas, a thought occurred to me:
The house needs decorating,
Better hit the eggnog:
I haven't sent the cards out,
I'm not done shopping,
Time's running out!
The presents aren't mailed,
Time to bake the cookies,
We need more giftwrap here--
and I still haven't put up the tree.

On the last day till Christmas...

...somehow it all got done...

But I know I'll plan it better next year!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It took seven months for this?

The Legionaries of Christ recently issued directives requiring some aspects of the "cult of Maciel" to be dismantled from their order:

.- Under Vatican authorization, the head of the Legionaries of Christ announced that he is implementing new changes regarding their deceased founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. The new norms include not celebrating his birthday, not selling his writings and removing his photos from group centers.

A statement on the Legionaries' website said that current leader, Fr. Alvaro Corcuera, issued the norms on Dec. 6 following the approval of Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, whom Pope Benedict charged with reforming the order last July. [...]

New changes – which are the result of ongoing dialogue between the leaders of the religious order and lay movement – mandate that significant days related to Fr. Marciel's birth, baptism, and priestly ordination can no longer be celebrated by members.

The founder will also be referred to simply as “Fr. Maciel” instead of “Nuestro Padre” (our father) and his personal writings and talks will no longer be available for purchase at Legionary publishing houses or centers.

New norms also require that photos of Fr. Marciel either alone or with the Pope be removed from Legionary and Regnum Christi buildings.

But, alas, private devotion to "Nuestro Padre" can continue unabated:

The statement emphasized that leaders should respect the “personal freedom” of group members and allow for individuals to keep a photograph of the founder, read his writings, or listen to his talks. The content of Fr. Maciel's writings can also be used by members without citing the author.

Which is really convenient, considering how many of Maciel's writings have been shown to have been plagiarized.

Every time I think the Legion can't underwhelm any further, they manage to sink even lower than I might have expected them to. This latest communication is no exception. Seven months after the Vatican described their totally disgraced, sexual molester/pedophile/con artist founder in the strongest words: "The serious and objectively immoral behaviour of Fr. Maciel, supported by incontrovertible evidence, at times constitutes real crimes, and manifests a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling..." the Legion finally gets around to requiring its members to quit treating Maciel like a saint: celebrating his birthday (and his mother's, apparently), plastering his picture all over their institutions, reading from and quoting his books and letters as if they were holy material instead of material evidence in the most successful con game of the twentieth century. Oh, but individual Legion priests and Regnum Christi members can go right on ahead venerating Maciel; this is "personal freedom" instead of being seen as signs of a deeply pathological psychological disorder, as it really is.

If the Legion were serious about reform, they would be performing acts of public penance in reparations for all the evils Maciel caused, tracking down donors and benefactors to make reparations for money given to Maciel which was not used to "build up the Kingdom" but to pay off Maciel's various mistresses, and ceremonially burning every "writing" reputed to be his (but really, often, someone else's entirely)--all of this as a sort of preface or prologue to the real work of reform, which would take at least a century to accomplish (and which would require some actually holy person to become the new founder at some point). Instead, the Legion has been acting as though reform is almost complete--things are fine--everything's good! And at the same time, it took them far too long to decide that perhaps having pictures of a sexually deviant pedophile/con artist all over their walls, and throwing a party on his birthday, were not perhaps prudent in light of the Vatican's stern denunciation of their wicked founder.

Anyone who is still involved with this parasitic and incurable order ought to take note of the huge, blinking signs indicating that the Legion isn't at all serious about reform. I imagine that there are some Legion members who will keep their little photos of Maciel tucked away in their books of his writings, under the firm but hideously misguided belief that this is all a huge mistake, and that history will eventually vindicate their persecuted saint--or, if not quite that, then that God will miraculously reveal how He came to do this great work of the Legion and Regnum Christi through a flawed vessel (but hey, aren't we all?) at which point it will be fine to celebrate Maciel's birthday again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Checking it twice

I wasn't going to blog about this at all. In the grand scheme of things, it's just not that big of a deal.

But I was slightly annoyed by this post of Taylor Marshall's titled "Top 10 Manly Christmas Gifts for Your Dad or Husband." And that annoyance was building in the way it does in a redhead's brain, so that I finally decided to write about it and get it over with (see sidebar for relevant Mason Cooley quote).

Marshall's list contains the following items in this order:
  • an "old school" shaving razor, complete with badger hair brush;
  • pipe and tobacco;
  • boots (the cowboy variety, not the winter snow sort);
  • Kindle;
  • a "nice leatherbound pocket Bible";
  • a "nice durable rosary" which wives will probably have to make from components bought at a Manly Hardware Store;
  • a gun (the real kind);
  • Homebrewing kit;
  • a meat smoker;
  • a pocket knife
Forget the wimpy ties and polo shirts, Marshall tells female readers; guys don't want that stuff.

Hmm. Where to begin?

I could start with the obvious point, which is that unless oral cancer is now a manly virtue (to say nothing of lung cancer and other ills), wives who actually love their husbands won't buy them pipes and tobacco--especially if they are presently non-smokers. There seems to be a subset of Catholic guys, though, who think that just because the Old Great Catholic Writers smoked pipes and wrote movingly of the pipe's virtues, somehow the humble pipe (unlike the filthy cigarette) will magically avoid being a carcinogenic agent. That is not the opinion of most medical professionals, however; even occasional tobacco use can lead to no small number of rather nasty side effects, so this is one "manly" gift that doesn't really make the cut.

Then, too, there's the question as to whether a gun is really a necessity--or whether this is, depending on one's locale, even a legal gift to give someone. Sure, any number of people who enjoy hunting are responsible gun owners; others who use guns for protection but who are cautious about leaving the weapon where children can get hold of it are also responsible gun owners. But considering the alarming statistics about children and gun accidents, it's not necessarily unmanly for a gentleman to decide not to own a gun when there are many small people living in or regularly visiting his home.

The main problem with the other gifts on the list (aside from the fact that not every gentleman will want a meat smoker or a homebrewing kit) is the cost. Only three of the gifts on the list, the pocket Bible, the homemade rosary, and the pocket knife, cost less than fifty dollars. Most of the other gifts start in the seventy dollar price range, and the cowboy boots and Kindle are approximately $130 to $140 apiece. Topping the list is that meat smoker at just under $200.

Now, I have a feeling that if I were to write a blog post titled "Top Ten Truly Feminine Gifts for your Wife or Mother" and include a $130 handbag, a $140 bottle of perfume, or a $200 bracelet, and then list four more gifts in the seventy dollar and up price range while insinuating that the "usual" gifts of music cds, scarves or gloves or slippers, or perhaps a festive Tupperware (tm) set were "lame" or "generic"--well, I think that gentlemen readers would, quite rightly, cry foul. It is not, after all, very difficult to buy one's spouse a truly "manly" or "womanly" gift if one's gift budget permits the purchasing of a couple of rather expensive items. It is much more difficult to accomplish the same thing on one income and after having purchased gifts for one's children and relatives and co-workers; it is much more difficult to come up with satisfactory presents for one's husband--or one's wife--when money is tight and the budget for indulgences is severely limited.

Many Catholic families, blessed with many children and struggling to live on one income in a time when employment continues to be perilous and costs continue to rise, will see in Marshall's list not a helpful collection of gift items for husbands and fathers, but a fantasy comprised of items too expensive for the average person to afford. I myself find the list illustrative of a certain masculine mindset that sees value only in rather expensive gifts and is inclined to be dismissive of items of lesser cost (no matter the amount of love put into their purchase) as "lame" or "generic." So unless materialistic self-indulgence is also a new masculine virtue, I think this list is one that would have been better had somebody checked it twice.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A links post for a busy Friday

No time to blog today--choir practice this evening, and it should go long because we're cramming in two Sunday practices and a ton of Christmas practice. Next time you sigh over the music at Mass, just spare a kind thought for the people, however musically misguided, who give up a lot of their free time to provide the music for Mass!

I haven't done a links post in a while, so here's how it works: I'll share a few links to stories I meant to get to but haven't, along with some commentary so brief that it doesn't really count as commentary. Sort of like the "Seven quick takes" thing, but without the whole linky list or clever theme idea, because I'm not that good at those things. :) So, here we go:

1. Is the present recession really a Mancession, in which more men than women are losing their jobs and livelihoods? Could be, and that could impact American families quite a bit more than it would be politically correct to discuss.

2. Meanwhile, are moms--both the "stay-at-home" kind and the "working mom" kind--totally fed up with their children's schools' expectations that Mom is always free to drive, bake, raffle, organize, pep, collect, and contribute? It would seem so. Hey, that's one reason I homeschool: if the schools are practically going to expect me to work part time for them for free, I might as well work full-time for myself, and have the added advantage of getting to set our curricula and schedule, right?

3. In local news, a Chase bank branch was told it could no longer display a donated Christmas tree because people might be offended. Only approved corporate non-sectarian Christmas decorations are allowed. Guess what, Chase? I'm offended that you think it's even possible to make Christmas a corporate non-sectarian generic "holiday." Get those tacky "holiday lights" window stickers off your windows, and put up Ebenezer Scrooge's likeness instead--it would be far more appropriate.

4. Where's the third billboard, the one that says, "You both know this is a waste of money. Because too many atheists are jerks. Now, go feed the poor instead of putting up stupid signs."

5. Liberal media wakes up and notices, for the first time, that the Obama White House is not "Camelot." Still waiting for them to notice that Barack Obama isn't JFK. Or a noble caribou, whichever.

6. A nation in which five-year-old girls stop liking princesses and start wanting to be "hot" instead is a nation in deep caribou waste material. Just saying.

7. Let's end this on a positive note: a woman who lost her job used her last paycheck to continue her annual tradition of providing a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with gifts, for senior citizens. I'm sure that God will bless her in abundance for her love and trust.

See you Monday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not quite in the pink

It's time once again for my most uncharacteristic annual feature post: the Pantone Color of the Year post! To see previous posts like this one, see:

2010 Color of the Year

2009 Color of the Year

2008 Color of the Year

For those who don't click the links, 2008's color was "Blue Iris," which fell somewhere between "Chips Ahoy (tm) Blue" and "Frosted Flakes (tm) Blue" in my opinion; 2009's color was "Mimosa," a yellow color that was supposed to ward off economic gloom and doom, but which I called "Dollar Menu/Discount Store Yellow (which turned out to be more accurate than I'd like, actually); and last year's color was Turquoise, which was supposed to call to mind tropical vacations and escapes from the every day troubles, but which reminded me both of vintage eras in which Republicans managed to get control of Congress and of the sort of color often used to decorate bathrooms.

And now, this year's color: Honeysuckle. From the Pantone website:
While the 2010 color of the year, PANTONE 15-5519 Turquoise, served as an escape for many, Honeysuckle emboldens us to face everyday troubles with verve and vigor. A dynamic reddish pink, Honeysuckle is encouraging and uplifting. It elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.

“In times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits. Honeysuckle is a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going – perfect to ward off the blues,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®. “Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mot
her color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.”

Eiseman continues, “The intensity of this festive reddish pink allures and engages. In fact, this color, not the sweet fragrance of the flower blossoms for which it was named, is what attracts hummingbirds to nectar. Honeysuckle may also bring a wave of nostalgia for its associated delicious scent reminiscent of the carefree days of spring and summer.”
So, what color are we talking about, here? Here's an example, from this page at Pantone.

Pantone's executive director, Leatrice Eiseman, seems confident that both men and women will wear this "dynamic reddish pink," but I'm leaning toward a few other observers who think that teenage girls will be the ones most pleased by this choice; a totally unscientific polling of my two teens and one preteen girl indicates that the "Ooooh--pretty!" reaction in this age group will be rather strong.

Aside from the teenage girl market, though, this year's Color of the Year reminds me of one thing, most unfortunately so. The last time I saw this particular shade of pink in abundance, I was visiting the Pepto-Bismol (tm) website, for reasons which I will not inflict upon anyone here.

Are shoppers and home decorators going to embrace a shade eerily reminiscent of "Pepto-Bismol (tm) Pink?" Perhaps, if the continued economic woes, exacerbated by a sudden increase in the amount of money middle-class Americans will be paying out of their paychecks and out of pocket for the new "free" healthcare, cause a national epidemic of stomach aches which consumers will treat via over-the-counter remedies in a desperate attempt to avoid having to pay huge deductibles to see the family doctor.

But if that's the case, instead of being a color that "...elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life..." Honeysuckle may be the color that evokes the awareness of our national nausea. At least we might be able to buy our OTC nausea remedies in the bright Mimosa glare of discount store signs, before heading home to seek the comfort and escape to be found in our Turquoise bathrooms.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What did you see and hear?

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

Amy Welborn used to have, on her old blog, a "What did you see/hear" feature in which she would open up her blog's comments for people to share their experiences at Mass--not in a "catalog of negativity" sense, but in what I'd call more of a "snapshot of American Catholic experience" sense.

Since she hasn't done that feature in a while, I'm going to borrow...okay, blatantly for today. I wouldn't ordinarily do this, though; we're usually at one parish and singing in the choir which makes it less likely that I'd notice anything in particular unless it were really out of the ordinary.

We attended Mass last night at a church about 40 minutes (as it turned out) away in traffic, as I mentioned yesterday. I was a little surprised by some things: for instance, the music was provided by one woman singing unaccompanied; now, she was clearly a well-trained singer and was more than up to the task--her rendition of Schubert's Ave Maria was lovely--but only a couple of hymns were sung, and only one Mass part, the chanted Agnus Dei in Latin. I think this is an example of the continuing misunderstanding of how we're supposed to think of sacred music: the music of the Mass (Mass parts, etc.) is more important than music at Mass (hymns, and so on) but we tend to get this exactly backward in this country. However, it would be a lot for a single cantor to lead the whole of the Latin Chant Mass parts alone (particularly the Gloria, which can make even singers quite comfortable and familiar with it stumble on occasion), so perhaps the situation was more one of the lack of availability of the choir than anything else.

Overall, though, the Mass was lovely, the homily a good one (Father quoted Tennyson's poem, which is always a good thing!), and nothing particularly earth-shaking happened. Except, perhaps, for the Obligatory Parade of EMHC's--I honestly thought, as we waited and waited and waited for all of them to receive Holy Communion so they could help distribute the Blessed Sacrament to the rest of us, that it would have taken far less time for Father and the deacon simply to have handled it all (except, of course, the Precious Blood would not have been offered).

Still, compared to some people's experiences, I have nothing whatever to complain about, and plenty of gratitude that this vigil Mass was even available.

Now--how about you? What did you see/hear at Mass today or last night?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This rambling rant of mine

I don't often visit Father Zuhlsdorf's blog, but I happened to be over there yesterday, and I found myself annoyed with a post that is only a couple of sentences long--asking readers if they had made a plan (emphasis Fr. Z's) to get to Mass tomorrow for the Dec. 8 Feast Day.

Now, I'm not really annoyed with Fr. Z. No doubt where he lives there are numerous and generously-provided Holy Day Masses (I grew up in the Midwest, so I remember). But here in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas in the year of our Lord 2010, the scheduling of Holy Day Masses is, and I speak frankly, a joke.

Parishes which have hundreds of families and four, five, or even more Sunday Masses schedule two (or possibly three, in the biggest parishes) Masses for the Holy Day. This year, for some unknown reason, many parishes have dropped their vigil Mass altogether--and they haven't replaced it with an extra Mass on the day, either.

To give an example, the parish we used to attend always has four Sunday Masses--a Saturday vigil, two morning Sunday Masses in English, and a Mass at noon in Spanish. When our former pastor was there, this parish had at least three Holy Day Masses as well (vigil, 8 a.m., and 7 p.m.). However, when we checked the current schedule we found that there would be no vigil Mass, an 8 a.m. Mass--and the evening Mass has been moved to 6 p.m., way too early for people who work a good distance away from the church.

How does a parish which has four Sunday Masses, all of them rather full, accommodate its parishioners by having only two Masses on a Holy Day?

The answer, sadly, I believe, is that they don't really expect people to come. Sure, they stress the word obligation when they announce the schedule, and sure, they'll teach that missing Mass on a Holy Day is just like missing Mass on a Sunday (a grave sin, possibly mortal under the usual conditions)--but actually offer enough Masses at enough different times that people who work for a living might possibly be able to attend? Gosh, why bother, when nobody comes anyway?

At least the diocesan Cathedral offers Masses at times when those who work downtown can make it: 7 a.m., 12:05 p.m., and 7 p.m., all on the Holy Day itself (shift workers may be out of luck, depending on their schedules). But the Cathedral ordinarily has five Sunday Masses, most of them full--so where are the other two Masses?

The point I'm trying to make in this rambling rant of mine is that if Holy Days are just as important and special and obligatory as Sundays are, and if all Catholics under pain of sin must attend one unless excused by illness or some other just reason, then how do so many parishes in our diocese get away with scheduling anywhere from 30% to 50% fewer Masses for a Holy Day than they do for a Sunday?

Yes, Fr. Z., we have a plan to get to Mass. Our one-car family will, as soon as Thad arrives home from work a whole two to three hours earlier than he has been lately (he's been working till 9 or even 10 most nights as the end of the year approaches), dash off for a forty-five minute drive through rush-hour traffic to get to the only church within an hour's drive that is actually having a vigil Mass, thus ensuring that we won't end up missing Mass altogether (as is always possible when we go on the night of the feast day, because all it takes is one last-minute emergency work-related phone call, and we're stuck). And plenty of two-car families are in the same boat, as they review the dwindling Mass times and their work or school schedules in this decidedly non-Catholic country and realize that 8 a.m. is too late for the gainfully employed, and 6 p.m. too early...

Monday, December 6, 2010

No lie

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

That said, it has to be said: I'm sick and tired of being told that having done the St. Nick pretend game with my children involved "lying" to them.

Even over here, some of the commenters are throwing around the "lying" word.

Why does this bother me?

Because, as I said in the comboxes over there, lying is intrinsically evil. A sin. And, possibly, under the usual conditions, a big one.

It's not something the Church ordinarily winks at or condones--yet the Church has had very little to say on the subject of St. Nicholas or the tendency of young children to think that he is the one responsible for the cool toys under the Christmas tree (with Mom and Dad providing the sweaters and books, of course).

So either the Church is being extremely, seriously, terribly deficient not to warn all Moms and Dads that they are risking their immortal souls by lying to their children for years, or--the Church views fantasy, fairy tales, and pretend games as an important part of childhood, and not as lying at all.

My three-year-old niece walked around at Thanksgiving with an empty plastic teapot and teacups, offering the assembled company drinks of anything from tea to orange juice to alligator tail with hot sauce (yes, she is adorable). She would eagerly ask each adult how they liked her offerings--and we all made delighted faces as we sipped from empty cups, told her everything was delicious, and asked for more, or made special requests (I think Thad was responsible for the hot sauce). Of course, we were lying to her. We should have told her sternly that the cups and pot were empty and that she was making the Baby Jesus cry for her duplicity and fibbing, right?

Chances are, you find that idea ridiculous. Of course, we were NOT lying to her. We were pretending, because we all know how important pretend play is to small children, and how much they learn about the world from such games.

What they learn from the St. Nicholas game is that the world is much more than it seems to be; that materialism and empiricism are not all that is, and that when the veil is lifted and we enter the Kingdom of Heaven some day, God willing, we will discover how much more vastly real and lasting generosity and openhearted love are than tax deductions and compound interest. Now, maybe some parents would rather teach these lessons in other ways, and that's their right, which I respect.

All I ask is a little respect in return--starting with not accusing me of having spent years lying to my children. Because that accusation involves an accusation of my having participated in something that is intrinsically evil--and unless you're willing to back that up by insisting that it always is and always has been intrinsically evil not only to play the St. Nicholas game with small children, but to play any other pretend game that involves putting a little spin on empirical reality (like agreeing that an empty plastic cup is full of alligator tail), then you don't really mean it.

For the record, my girls--who had the "big reveal" conversation with us over a year ago, in the middle of the summer of last year, when for various reasons they had pieced together this and that and started asking the kind of pointed questions that let parents know it's time (and my only answer to questions about St. Nick or any other fantasy character have always been "Well, what do you think?")--do not in any way regret that we played the St. Nicholas game with them, and have graduated into being guardians of the secret for their younger cousins with ease and grace. They still find Christmas to be a joyful and holy and magical occasion, the same way they found last year's Christmas snowfall to be a miracle and mystery; the difference is that last year they realized that the snow was also extremely inconvenient, as it kept us from attending the Christmas Mass for which we'd practiced music for a month--something they wouldn't have even thought about when they were little. Growing up happens all too quickly; the time for pretend games involving magic teapots or magic gift-givers vanishes like that Texas snowfall, and is gone before we have time to enjoy it.

So pretend that St. Nick brings gifts or fills stockings, or that La Befana or the Christ Child or even the Wise Men's Smallest Camel is involved--or don't. But unless you sincerely believe that the former involves the intriniscally evil sin of lying, quit telling parents that playing pretend at Christmas is a form of lying--or else lobby every bishop to mandate immediate instruction to the faithful that this lying has to stop at once for the good of everybody's souls. Because, quite frankly, it's not going to be enough on Judgment Day for you to insist that you didn't lie to your kids about Santa (or the Camel or Befana or...etc.), and then expect to be let off the hook for not denouncing this intrinsically evil act every chance you got.

And that's no lie.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Cheeky Pink Girl's excellent Santa post here!

Taking the Cure out of context

I really enjoyed Simcha Fisher's post on NFP and the often-misunderstood virtue of prudence last week; the comments have been interesting to read as well.

But sure enough, somebody had to come out and post that quote by the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney. Of course, the commenter had the quote a little off; he/she wrote:
Yes, I made use of two quotations, one of which was in French, though I should have thought the technologically savvy apostles of NFP would have been aware of the technology known as Google Translate. The French means simply, “If you knew those who are in hell for not having given the world the children they had to give!” and was spoken by St. Jean-Marie Vianney.
If I had a nickel for every time somebody brought that up as a sort of anti-NFP trump card--well, I'd still be broke, 'cause nickels don't add up the way they used to--but you get the idea.

This blogger has the whole passage:

There has been much discussion, much of it heated, and misunderstanding regarding a quote by St. John Vianney to a married woman regarding child bearing. I have found the context and quote in its entirety from a reliable source.

This is from the book The Cure'D'Ars St. Jean-marie Vianney by Abbe Francis Trochu[...]

Page 311-312
Married people were shown the nobility of their calling and he exhorted them to fulfill holily its duties. A lady of the name of Ruet, of Ouroux, in the department of the Rhone, had already a large family and was about to become a mother once more. She came to Ars in order to seek courage at the feet of its holy Cure. She had not long to wait, for M. Vianney summoned her from amid the crowd. "You look very sad my child." he said, when she was on her knees in his confessional. "Oh! I am so advanced in years Father!" :He comforted , my child... if you only knew the women who will go to hell because they did not bring into the world the children they should have given to it."

"Come now my little one, he said with fatherly kindliness to the woman who confided to him her anxiety because of her large family. "do not be alarmed at your burden' our Lord carries it with you. The good God does well all that he does: when he gives many children to a young mother it is that he deems her worthy to rear them. It is a mark of confidence on his part."

[All emphases and links in original--E.M.]
There are a few things that strike me at once about this. In the first place, the pastoral context of the quote, and the Cure's assurance to the worried and troubled mother about to add to her already large family, places a different hue on this remark than I've seen given it before. Secondly, the Cure does not say "...those who are in hell..." but "...the women who will go to hell..." And finally, the Cure is telling the woman to see in the numerous children God has given her His confidence in her--a beautiful sentiment, indeed, regardless of one's family size!

The person who views NFP with deep suspicion, seeing it as something the Church grudgingly permits a selfish age but really would rather not have at all, has a tendency to think that this quote means the following things:

A. The Cure is addressing those women who selfishly and unjustly refuse to pay the marriage debt.

B. NFP is, in all but the most dire of situations (and possibly even then; why, don't we all want to die in childbirth for the greater glory of God?), a selfish and unjust refusal to pay the marriage debt.

C. Therefore, women who use NFP must do so with fear and trembling, knowing that their selfish refusal to bear as many children as they physically can is probably placing their immortal souls in great peril; why, the Cure of Ars said so.


In the first place, St. John Vianney would never have failed to note that men as well as women can selfishly or unjustly refuse the marriage debt--and moreover, both men and women can selfishly and unjustly demand the payment of that debt, when the payment of it by the spouse might be somehow injurious to him or her (e.g., as in the case when the husband or wife is seriously ill or otherwise reasonably incapable, temporarily, of payment). So the good saint would not have spoken only of women (as the book quote shows he did) if he were castigating men and women for refusal to engage in marital activity with each other.

In the second place, St. John Vianney speaks of women "...who will go to hell because they did not bring into the world the children they should have given to it." This makes it far more likely that the Cure is speaking, here, of abortion or at least of attempts at contraception (many of which were, in fact, abortifacient in the 1800s) than that he is speaking of any type of periodic abstinence. I have heard people (rather scornfully, some of them) insist that back in the Good Old Catholic Days between 1786-1859 (the Cure's lifespan) nobody, especially no Catholic, ever had an abortion; and contraception wasn't even invented, yet! Alas, a simple check of history shows otherwise. Contraceptive pills and devices were widespread by the 1750s; condoms were used during that time period as well, though mass-produced rubber ones weren't manufactured until about a hundred years later; and the number of patent pills and remedies advertised as "Female Pills--to cure obstruction!" grew tremendously over the course of St. John Vianney's life. Those last named were almost invariably abortifacients, as their advertisements proclaimed in large letters: Do not use during pregnancy. Miscarriage will result... which diabolical wording allowed the heinous manufacturers both to demonstrate the true nature of the product, and absolve themselves of any legal responsibility at the same time. Since the good saint is speaking of women who may go to hell for not bringing children into the world, and since such sickening things were far more available than any of us would like to believe they were, back in his day, isn't it far more likely that he is speaking of women who were truly placing their souls in jeopardy by engaging in acts that are intrinsically evil, than that he is making a blanket statement essentially requiring Catholic women, for fear of their souls, to give birth as many times as is physically possible--especially since the Church has never taught that they must do any such thing?

And in the third place, even in the extremely unlikely event that the good saint had any kind of periodic abstinence in mind, we must note that, again, he is speaking of a sin involving women--but NFP is (and, indeed, must be) a mutual decision of husband and wife. St. John Vianney does not tell the fearful mother of the large family that many parents will be going to hell for not having all the children they could have had; yet if the decision to employ periodic abstinence is a mutual decision of husband and wife, and not a unilateral, selfish, unjust decision by a wife alone, then how on earth can anybody think that the Cure's admonition regarding women who have not brought into the world the children they might have has anything whatsoever to do with NFP? The husband is, after all, the head of the family; one might even argue (with a lot of Church tradition behind it) that if such a mutual decision were in error, the fault would be more greatly imputed to the husband, who has both the duty and the obligation to be the spiritual head of the family, not to go along meekly with a method of natural family planning if he is absolutely convinced that there is no just reason for its use. So, when the decision to use NFP (or, indeed, any other natural means; I tend to use NFP as a shorthand to mean them all, but I'm aware that there are other methods) has been prayerfully and carefully made by a husband and wife with, if necessary, the advice of their pastor and/or spiritual director taken into serious consideration, we simply aren't talking about the sort of selfish, unilateral decision that could lead either party to Hell--not when the Church approves of this whole thing in the first place.

To sum it all up, as a saint of the Church St. John Vianney would not now, from his position in the Heavenly Kingdom, guide any person to despise or hold in contempt any teaching of the Church, including her generous and loving pastoral wisdom contained in those teachings which unequivocally condemn artificial contraception and present the option of natural means of birth spacing for those couples who are justly motivated to use them. Unlike contraception or the graver sin of abortion, the use of natural means of birth spacing leaves open the door to life; God will give to every woman who uses NFP exactly the number of children He plans for her to have, and she is not risking her immortal soul when she and her husband, for just reasons, gratefully and prudently accept the Church's blessings upon NFP and other means of natural birth spacing. Taking a quote from the Cure out of context and using it as a stick to beat upon the consciences of those who are not in any way sinning in their use of NFP must, then, be viewed an extremely uncharitable act.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Birthday blogging break

Won't be blogging today--will be out celebrating with my awesome family who spoil me rotten--not just today, but always!

And thanks so much to my lovely sister-in-law for this; it made me smile (though I honestly don't remember the bicycle thing: see, kids, this is why siblings are so important!).


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Misplaced outrage

During the height of the Scandal, and for quite a while afterward, many news outlets pointed a finger of blame at Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Ratzinger, the stories usually said, was in charge of the CDF during many of the Scandal years. Why didn't he do more, move faster, and otherwise just fix things?

Here's one interesting look at one aspect we haven't seen before:

.- Previously unseen correspondence shows Pope Benedict XVI taking an active concern for “more rapid” prosecution of abusive priests, over two decades ago.

A letter from 1988, published for the first time on Dec. 2 in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, details the cardinal and future Pope's concern that Church officials were not able to act quickly enough to implement existing penalties in cases of priestly abuse.[...]

Cardinal Ratzinger noted in the letter that canon law allowed such priests to be punished through the immediate penalty of “reduction to the lay state.” But, he complained, the “complexity of the penal process” required by canon law presented “considerable difficulty” for local bishops attempting to revoke the priestly status of offenders.

Because of the difficulty involved in administering this punishment, Cardinal Ratzinger said that local bishops were choosing instead to seek a “dispensation from priestly obligations” for abusers. The cardinal noted that while this procedure also had the effect of laicizing priests, it was not an appropriate way to handle men who had disgraced the priesthood.

He pointed out the significant difference between the punishment of revoking a priest's faculties, and the virtual favor of dispensing such a person from priestly obligations. A dispensation from vows, he said, “by its very nature, involves a 'grace' in favor of the petitioner.”

“For the good of the faithful,” he wrote, the penalty of revoking priests' status “ought in some cases … to take precedence over the request for dispensation from priestly obligations,” through a “more rapid and simplified penal process.” He sought Cardinal Lara's advice as to how Church authorities might speed up the process while following canon law.

When I used to get into debates about this issue at Rod Dreher's old blog and elsewhere, one thing I would get frustrated about was the persistent belief by many people that the Church can simply ignore canon law whenever the circumstances merit it. This revelation (and do read the whole thing if you're interested) just illustrates one small aspect of that problem: canon law at the time didn't make it easy to reduce a priest, even one credibly accused of grave offenses, to the lay state if he had not been through a formal Church trial. That this was a problem was recognized by the future Pope Benedict XVI himself, and probably many others; but that they could simply ignore the present law instead of attempting the arduous process to amend it was never an option.

Of course, removing a priest from active ministry and making sure he was nowhere near children were two basic steps bishops could take when credible accusations of abuse were present, and some bishops failed to take even these basic steps. But the outrage over "the Vatican's" failure to defrock accused priests immediately was always, it would seem, misplaced.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The dizzying spiral

Following the discussion under this post yesterday, I've decided to expand a little concerning what I wrote, and some of what went into it.

To do this, I'd like to highlight a comment from a reader, who wrote in part:
I don't want to quote you too much because this response is already very long, but to start one of the things you said was, "And the Bishop's letter is gentle and encouraging, but I've seen, every year, posts sprout up on the Catholic blogosphere which chastise those who put the tree up early, scold those who waste time shopping, abjure those who sing Christmas carols (apparently the choir is supposed to show up for Midnight Mass having learned all the music by osmosis), and otherwise shovel huge, steaming mounds of guilt on the person who spends too much time during Advent with Christmas preparations."

I think that my point in both of my comments above was that I don't think the bishop is trying to do that at all, that is, heap mounds of guilt on those who spend time during Advent preparing for Christmas. He never says, don't prepare, don't send out cards, don't practice Christmas music, I just don't see him saying any of that. I think what he is suggesting is balance, and he is trying to stress the importance of observing this season properly, not skipping ahead to the celebrations before we’ve prepared our hearts. And in a way that is isn’t that something that you alluded to in your post below? I don’t see him saying or implying that if you do all those things that you are a “bad Catholic.” So maybe you could have referenced one of those posts that *does* say those things instead of picking on the bishop’s letter? (Which I found to be quite beautiful actually).

Again, the whole reason for my commenting in the first place was that I read your post and then I read the bishop's letter and I was left a bit confused. If someone reads the bishop’s letter, which even you say is gentle and encouraging (unless you meant that sarcastically) and comes away feeling guilt, well I don’t think that is the fault of the bishop. They are obviously bringing their own baggage to the table.
As I said to this reader in an earlier comment, I used the bishop's letter as a jumping-off place because his writing here is the first I've seen so far this Advent season that is continuing a theme I've seen before. The reason I didn't link to those posts is that it's early in Advent, and they haven't really started appearing as they have in years past. Maybe they won't; maybe this is one of those blogoslap-fights that won't happen this year.

So why use the bishop's letter at all? I mean, he's only telling the Catholics of his flock to slow down, stop being so busy, remember that Advent is about preparing for the Incarnation, and quit stressing themselves out over all that "holiday" stuff, right?

Well, let's look at some of what the bishop says (if you'd like to read the actual text, I encourage you to do so):
  1. Remain faithful to the celebration of the four weeks of Advent.
  2. Avoid being consumed by the hype of the "holiday season," which the bishop enumerates as: "to decorate our churches and houses for Christmas, to spend more time shopping than in prayer, and to host Christmas parties before the season has arrived."
  3. Celebrate Advent by means of rich prayer.
  4. Avoid decorating schools for Christmas and have (if anything) a "Gaudete Party" before the children leave for Vacation?
  5. Display an Advent Wreath and Jesse Tree in the home.
  6. Direct quote: "I urge you to hold-off on displaying a decorated Christmas tree until the season of Christmas begins."
  7. Leave decorations up, keep celebrating, have parties etc. throughout the Christmas Season which continues until the January 9 (Baptism of the Lord). (I'd be interested to know if Catholic school children in the Salt Lake diocese are on vacation that long, though.)
Now, let me review this, as it appears to me:

A. The call to pray, to be faithful to the Advent Season, and to use a Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath seem very good, and the sort of thing that every Catholic ought to be thinking about during this season.

B. The call to avoid decorating our churches and homes for Christmas, to avoid spending too much time shopping, to avoid hosting early Christmas parties, or to avoid displaying a lighted and decorated tree before Dec. 25 seems less helpful--from the "Keep Mom in Christmas" perspective. The good bishop clearly expects Catholics to decorate for Christmas, as he advises them to leave their decorations up until January 9. But he also does not seem to expect much if any decoration to go up before midnight on Christmas Eve, and he uses his strongest language ("urge" instead of "encourage") when he speaks in particular of not displaying that lighted, decorated tree until the Christmas Season begins (again, not until midnight on Dec. 24). And as far as the shopping and Christmas parties, again, it seems that the gifts are supposed to appear by magic sleigh and that people are supposed to be free to celebrate when most of their Grinchy employers and/or teachers will expect them back...

C. The instruction to schools is somewhat irrelevant to me, but I do think there's a bit of a discrepancy. If we're supposed to avoid undue celebration before Christmas, wouldn't it make sense for Catholic schools to remain in session until at least noon on Dec. 24--or, if we must, the end of the school day on the 23rd, so that those families who attend a 4 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass of anticipation will not be rushed after school to get there? And then, of course, shouldn't the schools stay closed until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, so that families actually can plan and have parties and other celebrations throughout the true Christmas Season?

If this seems somewhat torturous, I apologize; I have a tendency to take things to their logical conclusions, and then to begin considering all of the logistics. If this makes me a Martha instead of a Mary, so be it (I've certainly been called worse).

And where my logical conclusions take me on this one: around in circles, I'm afraid. So don't decorate before the 25th but do decorate for the Christmas Season so do decorate on the 25th but don't do more than two hours of unnecessary servile work on Christmas because it's a Holy Day of Obligation and don't put up the Christmas Tree before the 25th but do go to Midnight Mass and do have presents under the phantasmagoric tree by 6 a.m. on Christmas Day but don't spend a lot of time shopping for the presents and don't (remember!) do more than two hours of servile work in the wee hours of Christmas morning but do have the house and yard decorated so that you can leave up the decorations until January 9th to witness to others that Christmas isn't over but don't decorate before the 25th (and remember that servile labor bit) and don't join in any pre-Christmas festivities (unless they're labeled Advent parties and feature, I don't know, purple cookies or something) but do hold parties and celebrations scheduled for when everybody has to be back at work and at school and....

You see my dilemma.

And it's usually made worse, on those sorts of blogs and websites where the authors insist that women are still required to cover their heads at Mass and that modest clothing does not include pants on females and that the Novus Ordo may, grudgingly, technically, sort of be valid but it's certainly not worth attending unless you have no other choice and those sorts of things--because on those websites, the fact that a bishop has attempted to address the Advent/Christmas Season thing at all will be recast and trumpeted forth as "Bishop (we'll overlook his Marty Haugen reference) Declares Catholics who Decorate their Tree before Christmas Day are Not Thinking With the Church (and they probably don't even know what a Proper Catholic Boxing Day Fete looks like, anyway!). While one side of me wonders how these particular bloggers/writers (whom I won't name out of charity and the fact that it would take too long) ever get the foam-flecks off of their computer monitors, the other laments the reality that there will be wives and mothers crushed by yet another burden which the Church has not and does not impose upon them--and at this season of hope, no less.

To sum it up: I have no problem with the idea that as Catholics we should approach Advent in hope, and in a spirit of waiting and preparation. I have no problem with the idea that Advent should be, as much as possible, prayerful, peaceful, and anticipating the Christmas celebration rather than plunging full-swing into it. I don't mind the idea of slow, incremental decoration instead of trying to create a full-scale gingerbread house scene indoors and out while the Thanksgiving leftovers are still cooling.

But I have a problem with too many mandates and prohibitions being raised--especially when the goal is to make Advent more prayerful and peaceful. Because all those mandates and prohibitions do is raise the circle of do's and don'ts to a dizzying spiral of paralysis, such that some Catholic moms (me, for instance) start to be tempted to think that it would be a heck of a lot easier to keep Christmas as if it were a Sunday in Ordinary Time, with maybe a slightly nicer dinner, and just forget now and forever any notion of tree, gifts, garlands, lights, cards, music, or other excrescences that do nothing holy whatsoever (except maybe to remind us in undeniably palpable and physical ways that Christmas really is special and that the Incarnation, a unique event in salvation history, is both the feast of the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the mystical feast that calls us to hope for the glorious Advent of His Second Coming and that thus a little revelry and joyous pomp is not at all out of place--us not being solely spiritual creatures, and all). Because the alternative is to go ahead and do what works for one's family--and then carry that burden of Secret Catholic Guilt for being the sort of Bad Evil Catholic who not only attends the Novus Ordo and fails to cover her head at Mass, but who also customarily puts her Christmas tree up on Gaudete Sunday.


Like Larry D, I have completed this year's National Novel Writing Month!

My stats: 30 days, 70,000 words, a nearly-complete intermediate children's sci-fi novel to add to my growing collection of unpublished manuscripts--and three daughters who, as members of the Young Writers' Program, made me proud again this year (as they always do).

Now if I could just get one of these danged things published...


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep Mom in Christmas

Everywhere you turn in the Catholic blogosphere at the beginning of Advent, you see the beginnings of a familiar theme: Keep Advent Advent, and Wait for Christmas.

In spirit, that's fine. In practice...

Well, let's look at what Bishop Wester of Utah has told his flock:
As we renew our sense of the liturgical celebration of time, I encourage you to remain faithful to the celebration of the four weeks of Advent. As I mentioned earlier, it is so easy to be consumed by the hype of the “holiday season:” to decorate our churches and houses for Christmas, to spend more time shopping than in prayer, and to host Christmas parties before the season has arrived. I know it is an enormous challenge to remain faithful to the Advent season when we are surrounded by a society which, while claiming to be Christian, does not take the time to reflect and prepare as the church calls us to do. [...]

Here are some particular examples of what this will entail. Schools should not decorate for Christmas, but can decorate with simple wreaths and greenery. They might celebrate “Gaudete parties” before departing for Christmas break. I encourage each home to display and bless an Advent wreath where the family can gather for prayer either in the morning, at dinner, or some other practical time. I urge you to hold-off on displaying a decorated Christmas tree until the season of Christmas begins. You may want to incorporate a Jesse Tree in your family’s observance of the season.
Bishop Wester, to whom I give all due respect, of course, is, here, continuing a theme I've seen crop up just about every year in the Catholic blogosphere, as the Advent Purists insist that Christmas trees, Christmas cookie baking, decking the halls (or singing about it) Christmas shopping, writing and sending Christmas cards, attending mandatory office "Holiday" parties one's absence from which will be noted with grave disapproval, or otherwise engaging in any Christmas-related activities prior to just before midnight on December 24 amounts to violating the proper liturgical season, which is Advent.

Yet somehow most people (and I excuse Bishop Wester from this, as he is a bishop and thus not a married person with children who has to think about these things) still expect there to be a decorated tree, wrapped presents below that tree, jars and tins full of Christmas cookies, homemade fudge, candy canes and other goodies, halls decked with holly and lights and a fully-staffed Nativity scene on the premises, filled stockings, softly-wafting Christmas tunes, and a delicious Christmas dinner served on Christmas dishes on a table festooned with red and green or silver and gold or whatever the family's taste might be--on Christmas Day.

So sometime between Midnight Mass and the earliest children's awakening the next day (somewhere between four and six a.m., if the child is younger than ten), someone is supposed to accomplish all or the vast majority of that, while retaining her good temper, sanity, and the cheerful gladness proper to the joyous day.


Now look, I'm not saying that our culture isn't seriously distorted, in that it thinks of "Christmas" primarily as a shopping season beginning sometime in late August and ending when all the returns are over in January. Buying into that culture is not a recipe for a truly Catholic understanding of Advent, and its focus not only on our recollection of the great mystery and gift of the Incarnation, but also on Christ's Second Coming, which we look for in joy and hope.

But at the same time, Advent is a time of preparation, and some of that preparation can indeed include, at least in my way of looking at things, some of the preparations we are making so that we can truly rejoice on Christmas Day--and by "we" I'm including all the moms out there, who deserve to spend a joyful, peaceful, quiet and relaxing Christmas feast as much as everybody else does.

If Mom is one of those kind of super-organized, super-crafty, superwomen who bought and wrapped all of this year's gifts during last year's post-Christmas sales, and who is ready to whisk a fully decorated and lighted Christmas tree and a trunkful of other ready-to-go merriment and cheer out of some spacious yet hidden and inaccessible-to-small-hands closet while the children are still drinking their after-Midnight-Mass, before-bed hot cocoa, that's terrific--more power to her, and may her tribe increase.

Us mere mortal mothers, though, face with dread the thought of trying to do everything, or even nearly everything, in that quiet lull between Midnight Mass and Christmas morning. We know our own weaknesses, lack of organizational abilities, propensity to stress--and we know these things would not vanish but would instead significantly increase if we were constantly pressured to keep our Advent homes bare of any suggestion that the Christmas feast and festivities would soon be upon us. We would spend Christmas day not relaxing and rejoicing, but exhausted and tearful as our last-minute, eleventh hour attempts to create a Christmas scene in our homes betrayed our own shortcomings in one giant disappointment after another. We would drag ourselves through the First Day of Christmas until we could finally wash the Christmas dinner dishes, and would then collapse into bed before the children were at all ready to go to bed themselves.

I realize that lots of the Advent Purists would argue that they're not calling for Mom to do nothing to prepare for Christmas beforehand. But once you agree that she ought to do some things, aren't we, then, only arguing about degrees and details? And don't those things usually come down to what works for one's family?

I agree that we should let the focus, these next weeks, be on Advent--which itself points to the coming of Christ. But I also think we should try to keep Mom in Christmas--by not making her feel either guilty for doing too much beforehand, or stressed about not doing enough; and, perhaps more importantly, by trusting her to make the right decisions about these things for her little domestic church.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent talk

Happy Advent!

I'm a little out of the habit of blogging, I find; I don't think I've taken this long of a break in a while. Then, too, the segue from Thanksgiving into Advent has caught me off guard as usual; I still have four pink votives in my not-quite-Advent wreath, but hope to find some purple ones sometime before Christmas.

CORRECTION: After I typed the above, I went to do an Advent reading with the girls, and discovered two square lavender candles on my mantle. One leftover plum-colored votive from last year, and we're in business, albeit a little oddly!

Because I'm blogging so late, and because the news articles I want to digest and discuss are probably going to take a little more than the cursory glance I can give them now, I'd like to open this post up for a little Advent talk. Specifically, I'd like to ask three questions:

1. What Advent devotional practice are you most looking forward to this year, and why?

2. What personal struggle/habit are you trying to work on this Advent?

3. How do you try to balance the prayerful preparation of Advent with the world's hectic Christmas demands--some of which take place long before Christmas has even arrived?

Feel free to post anonymously on this one if you'd like.

I'll answer my own questions:

1. We're trying several new things this year, but the one I'm presently enthusiastic about involves the Advent readings I mentioned above. After going back and forth about various readings/meditations/etc. for Advent, I remembered that I'd been given a lovely book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel as a gift; the book, titled Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation contains a short reading and prayer for every day of Advent, for every day of the Christmas season as well, and some "extras" and hymns in the back of the book. We always found it difficult to do a lengthy Scripture reading in the evening when we light the Advent wreath's candles; yet adding some special devotion in at the end of the day has always been an important part of how we mark a liturgical season, especially since the evening hours are the only times when Thad can join us. These simple reflections are exactly what we needed this year, as the girls are more than ready to take a more serious approach to Advent.

2. As readers know, I'm an inveterate night owl. That much is okay; some people find it easiest to function at 5 a.m.; others at 8 a.m.; others at 8 p.m.; and others at or even after midnight. In fact, I thought jokingly after Mass yesterday that yesterday's readings were almost a vindication of us night owls, with the cry to stay awake and remain vigilant as we wait for the Lord.

However, take one night owl, add Christmas shopping, baking, preparations, and stresses, and you end up with a recipe for disaster--or at least for a mom who is staring in disbelief at a clock which reads "3 a.m." more often than she'd like to admit. Therefore, the Lenten discipline I most want to work on is getting to bed at what reasonable people would call a decent-ish hour, even if earlybirds who are sound asleep by 9:30 p.m. shudder at the notion that midnight or so is a decent hour at all.

3. This one is a puzzler, to be sure, and I can't claim to have it all worked out yet. I know, for instance, that Thad will have various company-related "Christmas" activities during Advent. There will be other things that crop up through the month of December which will tend to put the focus solely on Christmas, and on secular Christmas activities, at that. And some things have to be done before the 25th arrives, if they are to be done at all.

I'm tending to think that the key is simplicity: to do a few things simply, instead of trying to do many things lavishly; to focus on what ought to be done instead of what can theoretically be done. But that's only the beginnings of an answer, and not a concrete one at all--so I'll be interested to see how others have dealt with this issue.

Anyone up for a little Advent talk?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another silly Thanksgiving post

Our Auxiliary Backup Cat, Smidge, decided to play a new game today, in honor of Thanksgiving. We're calling this game Crouching Panettone, Hidden Kitty:

Happy Thanksgiving--again! :)

A silly Thanksgiving post

Come, ye thankful people, cheer
All the Catholic blogosphere:
Raise your voice in happy song
And feel free to Tweet along.
All the posts we share and read,
Through a Google reader feed--
Make us laugh, or cry, or smile
Gladly Catholic all the while.

Thank the Lord for Jeff and Mark,
And for CMR's fine snark,
Thanks for Amy, Larry D--
And for Life-after-RC.
Thanks for Sister and for Paul
And for Dr. G. Nadal,
Thanks for blogs like Catholic Light,
And for all who work and write.

Gratefully of blogs we sing,
Blogs that make us laugh and bring
Humor, joy and great delight,
With the things they craft and write--
Waltzing Matilda, Karen too,
Deirdre, Charlotte, all those who
Chronicle their Catholic days
In unique and joyful ways.

Thank you, Lord, for Robert too,
And his hard work to please You,
With his writing careful, clear,
At his own blog, here, and here--
Where he does the greater part

Of the Coalition's art,
Making evil plain to see,
Standing up for clarity.

And for readers great and small
Lord, we thank you most of all,
For the people who join in,
Reading, lurking, commenting.
For their patience, friendship, grace,
Making in a virtual space,
Something that is joy to see:
A Catholic community.

Lord, for all Your gifts sublime,
Whether real or online,
We join in with voices raised,
Offering our grateful praise.
As we pause today to sing,
All our thanks to Christ, our King,
Let us spare a small, glad cheer
For the Catholic blogosphere!

:) :) :)

Happy Thanksgiving to all! :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving blog break

For the first time in years, we actually managed to start our school year in early August. I've been hearing from other Texas homeschoolers how wonderful that is, because you start school when it's too hot and miserable to be outside anyway, and then, come Thanksgiving, you can take a whole week off, because you started so early.

Well--it is wonderful! The girls had one little history quiz to get out of the way this morning (because they'd already studied for it on Friday, so it made sense to go ahead with the test) and now we're all free for the whole week!

The great thing about this is that there are things that I couldn't realistically do in August (cleaning out closets comes to mind) that are perfect for right now, when it's only...81 degrees out. Hey, compared to triple-digits, that can feel downright chilly! And we're supposed to cool off even more; it may be below 60 for a high on Thanksgiving day.

And, of course, I'm finishing up NaNoWriMo--I'll hit 50K by tomorrow at the latest, but as I'm really trying to finish the whole book before Nov. 30 the extra time will come in handy.

So blogging will be sporadic-to-non-existent. Depending on whether I can actually keep my virtual mouth shut for a whole week, of course.

I will pop in on Thursday, though--to thank my readers officially for being the best blog readers on the Internet. Who cares if His Dark Lordiness has almost 500 followers? My readers are quality readers. :)

See you Thursday!

An update on the young lady we've been praying for

More good news!

Thanks to everyone's prayers, the good news keeps coming: Regina is doing much better. She's out of the ICU, off the blood pressure meds, breathing without any assistance whatsoever, eating pretty well and she's even walked up and down the hall several times on her own power. Her progress has been remarkable...she should be going home within a couple of days. It's been a real testament to the power of prayer...she was so-o-o bad on Monday night (her heart had stopped for 2 minutes). Now, it looks like she'll definitely be home for Thanksgiving. And WHAT a Thanksgiving we'll have! Deo gratias!!!

Thanksgiving has come early for this family. May God continue to bless them!

Disappointed, but not surprised

At Mass yesterday the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection was taken up. Once again we heard that our bishop, Bishop Kevin W. Vann, "strongly" supported the effort.


I guess Bishop Vann doesn't really care that the CCHD has a terrible history, a spotty track record, and a present reality of still giving to grant recipients who give out contraception and/or refer for abortions. No, I don't honestly think he doesn't care; I think he doesn't know, and hasn't made any effort to find out. And I think that the default position of bishops is: we can't suddenly stop supporting something we've supported for years, just because some disgruntled lay people have exposed the hideous underbelly of the thing we've been supporting! Why, if we stopped supporting it now, we might appear to lack credibility!

Double sigh.

I'm going to be honest about something a little personal. As a small-"0"-orthodox, Cold War/Spirit of VII Era, pro-life conservative Catholic (how's that for a plethora of labels?), I have sometimes believed that the biggest obstacle for me to be able to understand and accept the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church has been--the United States Catholic bishops. Sure, there's been the exception here or there, but so often the US bishops as a whole appear to support such leftist and socialist ideas (which is not what Church social justice teaching is, not by a long shot) that they appear to be slightly to the left of Nancy Pelosi in their pronouncements and support of left-wing initiatives. And since I don't think the Church in America is, or ought to be, the Democratic Party at prayer, I have been impeded in my understanding and acceptance, on occasion, of important Church teachings by this odd reality.

Church teaching against torture is the obvious example. Back when I wrestled with the idea, I won't say that there was ever a time when I actually thought, "But the US bishops oppose torture--so there must be something good about it!" However, I wouldn't be surprised if I came pretty close to framing the issue in that way (and I've certainly encountered torture defenders since then who think about the issue in that way, and I can't help but sympathize even as I firmly oppose any pro-torture conclusions).

As wrong as that was of me, I can't help but look at certain things the US bishops have done or continue to do as--not justifications, but explanations for why some Catholics of a certain age and experience tend to roll their eyes when the bishops talk about things like health care access, or immigration reform, or just wages. Because, frankly, we still are tempted to think that by "health care" they mean socialized medicine, and by "immigration reform" they mean open borders, and by "just wages" they mean redistribution of wealth. And it's not entirely our fault that we tend to be tempted to think those things.

Which is why, when I heard again that Bishop Vann was "strongly supporting" the collection for the dodgy CCHD with its tendency to give grant money to organizations with all sorts of dubious ties to leftist, pro-abortion, and ultimately anti-Catholic activities, I was only disappointed, not surprised. The only time, I'm afraid, I'm ever surprised by any of the United States bishops is when they do something that is clearly orthodox and Catholic.