Sunday, February 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Thad!

I usually write a blog post to wish each member of my family a happy birthday as that day arrives, and though I'm getting to this very late, and have to keep it very short, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to wish my dear husband Thad a wonderful and happy birthday.

We enjoyed celebrating with him so much today, and are so truly blessed by his presence as the head of our family, that mere words can do little to express our gratitude and joy on this auspicious occasion.

Happy birthday, Thad--from hearts full of love and admiration!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Striving to be healthy, not thin

Susan Peterson's husband, John Christopher Peterson, bought a box of old magazines at an auction. Look at this great image from one of them!

Apparently in the 1930s it was considered unattractive to look like the "skinny" girl in the "before" drawing inset; the young woman, to be considered beautiful, needed some serious curves.

As I've watched the Olympics these last two weeks, I've been struck by the difference between the athletic young men and women competing for gold, and our culture's idea of the wispy female and slender male as the height of beauty. Especially noticeable has been the difference in the "core" of the athletes, that area that extends, according to this article, from the trunk to the pelvis; unlike skinny supermodels, most of the Olympic athletes I've seen tend to have solid, muscular cores that would not meet our culture's idea of the sort of thinness in the waist that is necessary for beauty. Consider this: supermodel Gisele Bundchen is five feet, ten and a half inches tall, and weighs only one hundred and thirty pounds; skiing gold medalist Maria Riesch, who is just over five feet, eleven inches tall, weighs one hundred and seventy-nine pounds, nearly fifty pounds more than Gisele, though the two are almost the same height.

Those of us who have struggled in our lives with weight issues, myself included, often get hung up on a particular number on the scale or a particular idea of a tiny waist and slim profile. Some people are naturally built that way, true, and may struggle more to remain strong and retain good energy levels than they do to stay thin. But it's not necessary to have a tiny waist to be healthy; the magazine ad reminds us that the tiny waist wasn't always considered a benefit to one's overall attractiveness, either. The challenge for me, and for many other women, I'm sure, is to strive toward optimum health without fixating on some unattainable idea of slenderness that is not necessarily related to a strong and healthy body.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The abridged edition

I've decided to add another intermittent feature to And Sometimes Tea. Like all the occasional features I post here, it will appear--or not--on Fridays--or not. I'm sorry, but master of consistent memes I'm...not.

But this one occurred to me for two reasons. First, there are usually quite a few articles I collect over the course of a week or so which are possible blog post starters; news or events I think are interesting, or I want to comment about, but never manage to get to as other things arise.

Second, Fridays are tricky, especially during Lent. Sometimes I reach an hour much later in the afternoon than usual without having managed to give this blog much thought, and with the prospect of family Lenten devotions, chores, and dinner preparation still ahead. This makes it difficult for me to focus on doing decent writing.

So I thought it would be a good idea to combine these two negatives and make them a positive (yes, we have been doing lots of math lately; thanks for asking!). In the abridged edition of And Sometimes Tea, I'll put up the links to the interesting articles I haven't quite managed to get to, along with a sentence or two of brief commentary. We'll see how it goes, or if this is one of those one-time features that disappears quietly into the blogging void as a not-so-good idea.

Without further ado, then:

And Sometimes Tea: the abridged edition

1. Reasons to reconsider college: here's a cautionary tale of a doctor who owes a whopping $555,000 in student loan debts, a debt it may take her decades to repay. In combination with Ramesh Ponnuru's interesting essay about whether college is really necessary, this is food for thought for parents of high school students. My take: if your children want to go to college, and you're not independently wealthy, you need to find out what they plan to study and how they plan to pay. Working a year or two before college to earn tuition money is a good idea; borrowing insane amounts of money that will hinder a vocation is not.

2. From the "Keep an eye on it!" file: Democrats are pushing for a "Safe Schools" bill that would be a nightmare for traditional parents. Under the guise of protecting students who are "sexual minorities" as early as elementary school on, this bill gives a huge amount of control over education to the federal government and creates a legal pipeline for the most bizarre types of sexual indoctrination of schoolchildren. The bill, HR 4530, has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. My take: it may be that this will go nowhere, especially in an election year; but we can't afford to ignore it, either. It might be a good idea to let your House Representative know early on that you don't like the sound of this bill.

3. A beautiful, uplifting story in the Houston Chronicle tells us about the recent death of an elderly nun, Sister Damian Kuhn, and her loyal support for the Astros baseball team. The unlikely friendship of Sister Kuhn with the team's owner and the way Sister Kuhn's love for God and for her vocation shone through her life, even in her innocent love of baseball, makes for some compelling reading. A gem of a story!

4. Would you pay more than 26,000 for a virtual--not real, mind--island? A fascinating look at how the virtual goods market is growing. My take: I think there's a line somewhere between innocent fun and insane commercialism when it comes to purchasing something that isn't even real or tangible. I'm not too sure that too many people are ending up on the right side of that line, either.

5. The Christian Science Monitor asks the provocative question: did Woodstock hippies cause the present economic situation? Actually, the question is being asked by a producer of documentary films named David Bossie, whose film Generation Zero blames the narcissism and self-absorption of the hippies for the eventual economic collapse, as hippies-turned-yuppies-turned-Wall Street speculators brought their "me first" values and "never say no" morals to the world of high finance. My take: I'd love to see the movie; the hypothesis seems quite sound, to me.

6. Could we really get to Mars in 39 days? My take: if you were a rocket, and someone filled you with superheated plasma gas that's more than 51 million degrees (F) hot, you might be capable of speeds exceeding 35 per second, too. All kidding aside, sounds fascinating, and will be interesting to see if this works--a shot in the arm for space agencies, perhaps.

That's all for the abridged edition! See you next week!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thought for the day

Talking to my mom this evening. A profound question was raised:

What good is email, when Mom can't email me a cheesecake?


Two options

I so much appreciated everyone's thoughts in the comment boxes below yesterday's post. Since there's a lot to say about the whole Novus Ordo/Extraordinary Form debate, I wanted to delve into this topic just a little bit further.

I have this idea that what the Council fathers really envisioned, in terms of the new Mass, was a relatively uncomplicated set of changes which would have simplified things a bit, made the Mass easier for newcomers to understand, and removed some of the things which had been, in a sense, "tacked on" to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass over the centuries. (The Last Gospel, for instance, was not initially a part of the Mass, but was a private devotion added on gradually which was officially added to the rite in 1570, according to this.) Instead, wholesale changes were made which not only disturbed the faithful, but also led to quite a few totally unauthorized changes appearing, which, along with a poor catechesis about what the Mass really is, has had devastating effects on Catholics in many places, including our own country.

When I wrote yesterday's post, I wanted to highlight some of those effects. The gradual "dumbing down" of even the language we use to talk about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the persistent view that the community's participation is somehow necessary for the Mass to take place, the echoes of a lot of bad 1970s psychology about affirming us all in our okayness, are things we still have to deal with as Catholics in America as we seek to help with Pope Benedict XVI's vision of a reform of the reform.

I really do believe that the pendulum has swung just about as far as it can swing in the wrong direction. The generations that gave us guitar Masses and happy-clappy theology are beginning to retire from their roles as clergy or lay leaders of various "ministries" (and I think dropping the use of the word "ministry" for everything under the sun is one thing we still need to work on). Young, faithful priests are beginning to emerge from seminaries as older, more "creative" ones (shall we say) reach the evening hours of their day of labor in the vineyard. More lay Catholics have had access to solid, orthodox Catholic programming, books, websites, and other sources of information than ever. It is no longer necessary to read one's inky copy of The Wanderer in secret to find out why something being done in the parish seems really wrong to you; The Wanderer can be read online, along with many other wonderful Catholic news sources. It is harder for a not-quite-orthodox priest or a well-intentioned but wrong-minded lay person to get away with something that really oughtn't be done, especially in those dioceses which have been blessed with faithful, orthodox bishops who are willing to stand up for the right of the laity to have the Mass as it ought to be, not as someone's personal plaything.

This does not, of course, mean that we are out of the woods--but at least we're no longer stuck deep inside the woods being attacked by the liturgical equivalent of rabid squirrels. (Sorry, E.S.).

What do we do, going forward?

I think there are two paths to take, both of which are valid options. The first is to choose either an Extraordinary Form parish or Mass to attend, and build up the community there, strengthening it and helping draw other people to experience our Catholic liturgical heritage.

The second, and the one I've chosen, is to work within a Novus Ordo parish or Mass, by doing whatever you can to help influence more traditional aspects in terms of the liturgy, the architecture or art, the music, the sense of reverence and holiness, and the like. I wouldn't always have taken this option, but at present it's my best one. It does require patience, something I could use a lot more of; but it can be rewarding, too. For instance, during Lent we're using the Latin Chant Mass settings in our hymnals. We're even going to learn the Gloria for Holy Thursday Mass. I'm not sure how the congregation is taking things, yet, but I think it's wonderful to hear the Latin, the simple solemnity and reverence of it reminding us that we're there to worship. I'm so glad our choir director has chosen to do this, and glad to lend whatever support she may need in doing it.

However we choose to help with the reform of the reform, let's not forget to pray. God will lead us to do what He wants us to do, and so long as the spirit of anger or bitterness remains far from us, we can do anything He asks with joy and peace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sister Manners and the Attack of the Worship Space

As readers may remember, I attend a Novus Ordo Mass every Sunday. I'm not one of those who thinks the Mass is itself deficient or wrong in some way, though I'm eager for the reform of the reform. I do believe that most of what went wrong after Vatican II is not so much the fault of the Mass as of those who saw the changes as an opportunity to promote their own agendas, which were often far-removed from the mind of the Church.

Still, there are times when certain things about parish life--both at my parish and others--will cause me to understand why it is that some people think the Mass itself is at fault. What are we to make, for instance, of the insistence that the church building is now a "worship space?" What are we to think of dreary art, unfortunate music, uninspired and pothering homilies that encourage us to love ourselves more and more each day, and the intrusion of the idea of community in places where it really has no business?

In my wanderings around the Internet, I sometimes happen across a parish website or bulletin that typifies this sort of "Spirit of Vatican II" mentality. I'm not necessarily talking about some parish which is practically notorious (at least in the Catholic blogging world) for hideous offenses against Catholic teaching; I'm referring more to the sort of parish which is rather common, and sadly unremarkable in the landscape of the modern Catholic parish.

Take, for instance, this parish. I'm not singling it out as some rare and extreme example of the worst excesses of the post-Conciliar period--not at all. In fact, I only happened across it because I came across a sort of "advice column" page on the website, which we'll get to in a moment. But it's not that there's anything terribly wrong with the parish's website. My own parish's website probably isn't much different--and that's actually the problem. As you click around to the various links, what you'll see are a lot of words, words like:
  • faith tradition
  • lived out in community
  • communal celebration of liturgy
  • hospitality is a prerequisite
  • stewardship
  • leadership team
  • social ministry
  • communal sung prayer
  • fellowship
and so on. The most recent bulletin also mentions the parish book club's current selection: The Shack. Sigh.

What words won't you see? Well, a few I didn't see--though perhaps if I'd read each link thoroughly I might have found one or two:
  • Jesus Christ (though "Jesus" appears on the page about funerals)
  • Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
  • Reverence
  • Worship (unless it was followed by "space")
  • Call to holiness
  • Prayer
and a few others of that sort.

Like I said before, the sad thing about this is that it is not at all remarkable. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of parish websites that are virtually identical. And it's so hard to put your finger on what exactly is wrong--because it's not that "community" or "fellowship" or any of the other words in the first list are evil concepts or bad ideas, after all. It's just that they are ideas that can't stand alone, that without some of those words in the second list they exist as incomplete things.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the reason I stumbled across the website at all was because I found this page: Sister Manners Goes To Mass. It reads like an advice column, and while some of it is the sort of advice to Catholics few people would quibble with, other parts of it...are not. Here are some examples: (NB: the examples do not all occur one after the other in the original, but given the format I chose not to insert the usual ellipses to indicate that this was the case.)
Dear Sr. Manners: What’s with the drums, maracas, synthesizers and all the other instruments at Mass? Are they appropriate?

Gentle Christian: Even Sr. Manners, paragon of liturgical etiquette that she is, admits that she prefers certain styles of music over others. However, she also recognizes that liturgy is not a personal devotion, and appreciates the variety of music as a sign of the variety of people in the community. Read the psalms. They instruct the people to praise the Lord with tambourine, ten-stringed lyre, cymbals and dance, and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. The point is, dear Christian, that there are many ways to praise God with music. While personal tastes and preferences differ, many styles of music can be included in good liturgy. Good liturgy involves the whole person -- senses, intellect, emotions. Music can affect all of these. A stirring spiritual, a meditative hymn, a contemporary liturgical song and a "golden oldie" can all be appropriate. The religious music of various cultures can invite the mass-goer into a new experience of prayer. Just as the musicians do not impose their personal tastes on the congregation to the exclusion of all other styles of music, so Sr. Manners urges you, dear worshipper, to recognize that music which does not appeal to you might lead another person to a fuller participation.

Dear Sr. Manners: Why are visitors asked to stand at Mass? And is all that clapping appropriate in church?

Gentle Christian: Visitors are celebrated, because of all the places they could go while visiting this area rich in history and amusements -- for this time period -- they have chosen to be at Mass. What a wonderful witness to the community! Secondly, welcoming all should be a primary focus of a church that proclaims itself "Catholic," i.e., universal. Sr. Manners hopes that parishioners, once made aware of the presence of visitors, continue the welcome in a friendly greeting after Mass, an invitation to stay for coffee and some pleasant conversation. Now about the clapping ... A warm, appreciative applause is simply another expression of the community’s sentiment. Clapping to welcome a visitor, congratulate a first communicant, or thank a fellow-parishioner for his or her ministry is neither disrespectful nor inappropriate.

Dear Sr. Manners: I prefer to bring my toddlers to Mass. As long as I bring toys and snacks to entertain them, isn’t this okay? The people around me seem to be amused by my child’s activities, and my little one’s occasional crying or talking should be understandable to parents. What do you think?

Gentle Christian: Oh dear.... Sr. Manners is afraid you have confused the worship center and the nursery. The nursery is the proper place for the entertainment of small children while the adult community focuses itself on offering praise and thanksgiving to God. Although the Scripture says to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord," Sr. Manners is of the opinion that this refers to singing, not to toddler chatter. Young children who spend a happy hour in the nursery will begin to understand that coming to Church on Sundays is a regular part of the family’s routine, and something to which they will look forward. Your fellow Christians will duly admire and entertain your child during the fellowship after Mass, for which -- of course -- your family makes time.

Dear Sr. Manners: I think it is nice that people are greeted when they enter the Church on Sunday morning. But I’m a shy person and kind of rush by to get to my seat. Do you think I am being impolite to the greeters? ... I don’t mean to be....

Gentle Christian: Two considerations come to mind. First, the simple etiquette of responding to a greeting does apply here. The individual who offers the greeting deserves the courtesy of a response. Equally important, however, is that the greeter is there as a representative of the parish community. He or she is welcoming you in their name and is there as a sign of the communal nature of the Sunday Eucharist. You are not at Mass for private prayer or a "me and Jesus" encounter. You are there as a member of the Body of Christ to offer praise and thanksgiving to God as the community celebrates Eucharist, led by the presider. Awareness of the community is essential to good liturgy, and that starts by graciously accepting the greeting given in the community’s name when you enter the worship space. That greeting sets the context for the whole celebration.

Dear Sr. Manners: What should I do if I have a cold and am offered the cup at Communion?

Gentle Christian: Christian sharing does not include those nasty cold germs. Out of respect for the health of one’s fellow members of the Body of Christ, it is permissible for a person with such a problem to pass up the cup. Barring such circumstances, however, the faithful are urged to fully participate in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup -- the better to symbolize the unity of Christ and his people. While she is on the topic of the cup, permit Sr. Manners to address another unpleasantry: Lipstick is meant for the lips -- not the rim of the cup. Wearers are cautioned to be moderate in the use of such adornments, trusting that their natural beauty will shine through.

My first thought upon reading this page was that I'd really like Sister Manners to meet Father Zuhlsdorf. That would be something, no?

My second, though, is how sadly--deficient, for lack of a better word--this all is. In quick order:

  1. No, many instruments are not appropriate at Mass, especially if we are talking about parishes of the Latin Rite in nations that have a fairly strong Western Christian heritage and connection to that culture, and thus have no reason not to use an organ; not all music styles are appropriate for Mass; it has nothing to do with personal preferences, and everything to do with the difference between sacred and profane music and the use of music at Mass.
  2. Visitors shouldn't be asked to stand, and the only person entitled to clap at Mass is God, for Whom we are gathered. If He doesn't choose to clap, nobody else should, either. Sure, not the worst thing, but not exactly conducive to reverent worship, either.
  3. The parent has not confused the nursery with the "worship center;" the parent, poor soul, is still under the impression that the "worship center" is a Catholic church, and thus that her little Catholics are perfectly welcome. This doesn't excuse the parent from removing the child if things get out of hand, of course, but where exactly in the nursery does a child ever learn about the Mass? Oh, that's right--she doesn't have to, because when she's too old for the nursery she's just the right age to be sent out of the church to color things in the middle of Mass (otherwise known as "Children's Liturgy") until she's old enough to drive. Or vote. Assuming she's still Catholic by then, which is actually assuming rather a lot.
  4. The greeting doesn't set the tone for anything, not being a part of the Mass, and the Mass could proceed as scheduled if there were only one person beside Father there. The community doesn't confect the Eucharist, though Sister Manners is charmingly oblique about that.
  5. I don't know about Sister Manners, but when I go to Mass I don't break bread or share a cup. I receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. I choose to receive Him under the appearance of bread, because I was raised with that custom and because I recognize that He is fully present in the smallest fragment of the consecrated Host, or the tiniest drop of the Precious Blood.
It's hard not to be frustrated by this sort of thing. It's hard not to cast one's eyes upon the Risen Christ crucifix to the side of the table in the worship space and ask, "How long, O Lord?"

Choose Laughs

I thought this was fascinating:

If you're like most people, you're way too smart for advertising. You flip right past newspaper ads, never click on ads online and leave the room during TV commercials.

That, at least, is what we tell ourselves. But what we tell ourselves is hooey. Advertising works, which is why, even in hard economic times, Madison Avenue is a $34 billion–a–year business. And if Martin Lindstrom — author of the best seller Buyology and a marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies, including PepsiCo and Disney — is correct, trying to tune this stuff out is about to get a whole lot harder.

Lindstrom is a practitioner of neuromarketing research, in which consumers are exposed to ads while hooked up to machines that monitor brain activity, pupil dilation, sweat responses and flickers in facial muscles, all of which are markers of emotion. According to his studies, 83% of all forms of advertising principally engage only one of our senses: sight. Hearing, however, can be just as powerful, though advertisers have taken only limited advantage of it. Historically, ads have relied on jingles and slogans to catch our ear, largely ignoring everyday sounds — a steak sizzling, a baby laughing and other noises our bodies can't help paying attention to. Weave this stuff into an ad campaign, and we may be powerless to resist it.

This is the really good part:

To figure out what most appeals to our ear, Lindstrom wired up his volunteers, then played them recordings of dozens of familiar sounds, from McDonald's ubiquitous "I'm Lovin' It" jingle to birds chirping and cigarettes being lit. The sound that blew the doors off all the rest — both in terms of interest and positive feelings — was a baby giggling. The other high-ranking sounds were less primal but still powerful. The hum of a vibrating cell phone was Lindstrom's second-place finisher. Others that followed were an ATM dispensing cash, a steak sizzling on a grill and a soda being popped and poured. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

Imagine that--we humans may be hardwired to pay attention to and cherish the sound of a happy baby above all other noises. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Of course, in addition to merely thinking about it, I start having ideas about ways to use this new knowledge. In particular, I think it would be pretty amazing to see this in pro-life advertising. Imagine smartly-made pro-life ads featuring shot after shot of laughing, happy babies--a montage of motherly bliss, so to speak. A simple tag-line screen at the end (still with the cute noises in the background) could read something like: Choose Laughter. Choose Love. Choose Life. I think that would get noticed, don't you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Will the Legion be dissolved?

Is something in the wind regarding the future of the Legion of Christ? Consider this:

The result of Rome's investigation (known as an "apostolic visitation") into the Legionaries of Christ will result in either the dissolution or the re-founding of the order, according to sources close to the Legionaries in Spain. There, a Basque bishop, Ricardo Blazquez, is in charge of the visitation; in the US, it is being led by the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput. Their main task, apparently, is to assess whether the order's members will be accepting of whatever Rome decides.

Dissolution would mean the houses, universities and other properties of the Legionaries would pass into the hands of the dioceses where they are located.A new institute could then be founded. [...]

According to a former Legionary quoted by the Spanish religious journalist Jose Vidal, the ordinary priests and members of Regnum Christi, want a root-and-branch reform --if necessary, by means of a dissolution -- in order to give a new institute a fighting chance. But the order's leaders are fighting a defensive rearguard action, arguing that they knew nothing of the double life led by Maciel, and were therefore neither accomplices in his abuses nor did they attempt to cover them up.

While the leaders admit that Maciel had a mistress and a child, and are keen to distance themselves and the order from him, they are treading carefully, aware that no order has ever survived the repudiation of its founder. [Link in original--E.M.]

Should the Legion be dissolved? Are there institutional problems that run too deep to be fixed otherwise?

I'd say, yes. But if you're not sure, take a look at a letter from a French Legionary priest:

“Yes, my mail is checked. So what? Yes, the apostolic work is intense and tiring. So what? Yes, I get up early, I pray three hours a day, I live a disciplined life. So what? Yes, I am under obedience, that is, I freely renounce my own ability to make decisions in submission to my superior. So what? Yes, I am poor amidst the modern technological resources I use for the apostolate. So what? Yes, I am chaste and I am careful not to have preferences or special friendships. So what? Either I take this on, or I leave. Nobody is forcing me.”

“I see the Legion as a work made by human hands and therefore needs to be purified and perfected. It has made mistakes, yes, and it will continue to do so. Any organization facing such a situation is entitled to differences and hesitations. Benevolent exterior criticism is also normal and understandable. All of this is now clearer than ever. And although I may be wrong, I have no fear, because I know how to tell the difference between God and his works.”

“I also believed, especially after living with Fr. Maciel for three years at the headquarters, that he was holy. Why not?”

“But,” the French priest explained, “I never put my supernatural trust in him as a human person. My faith is not affected by his disordered life, but on the contrary, it is purified. Of course I am affected by the scandal, and the cries of the victims fill me with sorrow. But all of this does not call into question God’s call.”

Fr. Durodie added, “I do not judge those Legionaries who have left to join the diocesan clergy. I give thanks to all of the others who have given me the testimony of their freedom."

“It is easier to leave the boat passing through the storm than it is to stay on board. It is easier to live a peaceful life or to journey down a long and tranquil river. But i know in the depths of my heart that God called me to the Legion." [...]

“I also thank all those who have doubted and those who have walked away from us at least for the moment: they teach me humility and the joy of living for God,” he concluded.

Let's put Father Durodie's letter in perspective (and I mean no disrespect to Father; it's just important to see what he's saying, here). The "mistakes" he refers to are not merely the sexual abuse claims made against the founder, both by numerous seminarians and by women; the "mistakes" are not Father Maciel's children, however many of them there are (and I don't know if the Legion has officially admitted to more than one--does anyone know that? If so I'll update). The "mistakes" include the culture of secrecy and dependence that allowed Father Maciel to live his horrific double life; the "mistakes" continue, to the extent that that culture of secrecy and dependence continue.

It is not that Father Durodie's mail is checked that is the problem, in other words; it is that Father Maciel's apparently was not (and more awful is the idea that it was, and that there was open collusion in a cover-up of his scandalous activities). It is not that Father Durodie is disciplined; it is that Father Maciel manifestly was not. It is not that Father Durodie is obedient, poor, and chaste--but you get the idea.

More troubling still is that Father Durodie manages, under the guise of charity, to cast aspersions on those prudent souls who have severed their ties to the Legion. He does not judge them; why, he gives thanks for them because they teach him humility and joy--but it is he who has chosen to remain aboard the boat tossed by the storm, not motivated by a craven desire for safety. It is difficult to perfect the art of the oxymoronic charitable insult (though I've known a few Southern women who had that skill down pat, bless their hearts) but Father's style here is quite familiar to those who have had any dealings with the Legion about anything at all. Those who leave the Legion always have doubts and fears (unworthy of the Legion!); those who remain always have strength of character and the deepest possible dedication to their great devotion (which is what being a Legionary is all about).

I don't wish to single out Father Durodie, who, after all, has only written what a great many probably think; there are probably a hundred or more active Legionary priests or lay people who could write sincerely in much the same vein. I must say with the deepest conviction that I believe that dissolution of the order could, for so many such men and women, only be a great mercy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The skinny

I've been enjoying the Olympics, particularly the ice skating--whatever else one might think of it, it's a lot of fun to watch.

I don't know if I'll be awake long enough to watch much of the ice dancing tonight (and sometimes the costumes leave a lot to be desired, particularly, well, fabric), but I did find this article rather inspirational:

Heading into their second Games, Belbin and Agosto, the Olympic silver medalists in 2006, are once again among the favorites to win a medal in the competition, which begins Friday with the compulsory dance. What should give them an edge this time, Belbin said, is something she would have never dreamed could help them: her newly found muscles and curves.

She can thank one of her coaches, Natalia Linichuk, for that.

Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, who were the 1980 Olympic ice dancing champions, began coaching Belbin and Agosto in the summer of 2008, when Belbin and Agosto left suburban Detroit for a fresh start.

Linichuk took one look at the 5-foot-6, 105-pound Belbin and said, “You need to gain 10 pounds.” She said more muscle would help Belbin skate faster and more fluidly.

“At first, I said no way, but then I started to understand that it needed to be done,” said Belbin, who is from Kirkland, Quebec, but holds dual citizenship. “I don’t feel like I had a safe, well-thought-out or well-researched diet until the past few years, until Natalia gave me that ultimatum.” [...]

“I was always like, there will never be a day when I can’t fit into my jeans,” Belbin said. “But this past summer, I came to him and said my jeans are so tight. I never thought I’d see that change in my body. It really, really made a difference. It feels good, though.”

Belbin began marveling at her new body. She had gained 10 pounds. Her waist size increased two inches because her core was so much stronger.

Agosto could see a huge difference in Belbin’s skating. During lifts, she was no longer a sack of potatoes, holding on for dear life. She could hold her positions much better, and that made it easier for Agosto because she did not move around as much.

And another writer's perspective on this story:

The difference in their skating is noticeable. Last season, they took silver in Skate America and the Cup of China. This season, they took gold in the same events, and they are contenders for gold in ice dancing.

So when you watch Belbin compete for gold this weekend, realize that you're not just looking at a beautiful woman. You're looking at a beautiful, healthy woman.

A beautiful, healthy woman, indeed--just compare these two pictures, the first from 2006, and the second taken last year.

When was it decided that in order to be beautiful, a woman had to be thin--not just slender, but practically emaciated? I think the fashion industry has a lot to answer for, here, and Victoria Beckham's recent statement to the effect that the industry should continue to allow size zero models fails to see the devastating effects that the pressure to be thin can have, not only on these women, but on girls and women generally.

And how insane is this?

A top Canadian model weighing 105 pounds said she's being shunned from the catwalk for being too fat, The Sun reported Thursday.

Former Vogue cover girl Coco Rocha, 21, is only a size four in clothing, but she said she’s not in demand for shows anymore.

“I’ve been told to lose weight even though I am really skinny," she told the newspaper.

Rocha’s revelation reignited the controversy over stick-thin models who are often copied by vulnerable young girls.

The fashion industry moved away from size zero catwalk queens following the deaths of two anorexic model sisters in Uruguay in 2006 and 2007.

We women have to stop accepting the notion that thin equals beautiful. We have to stop crazy diets and five-pound-drop marathons. We have to quit letting an industry that essentially views women as walking clothes hangers with figures (or lack therof) to match make us feel fat even if we're in a good weight range for our heights and frame sizes. We have to learn to quit fixating on the scale and start asking the questions: am I healthy? Do I have enough energy to get through the day? Do I exercise regularly, and get enough sleep?

Most important of all, we need to let our daughters see us asking those questions, and not asking "Why can't I be thin?" as if the goal of womanhood is to come as close to skeletal as possible while still having a recognizably female figure. Tanith Belbin looks wonderful with those extra ten pounds and those extra two inches of waist, and her pursuit of health--not thinness--is an inspiration.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The end game

Once again, the battle for gay marriage has resulted in casualties (hat tip: Matt Archbold):

The Archdiocese of Washington's decision to drop its foster care program is the first casualty of the District of Columbia's pending same-sex marriage law that will obligate all outside contractors dealing with the city to recognize gay couples.

Its decision, posted late Tuesday on the archdiocese's Web site, announced that the archdiocese had ended its 80-year-old program Feb. 1, the day the city's contract expired with Catholic Charities, the church's social services arm.

"We regret that our efforts to avoid this outcome were not successful," Catholic Charities Chief Executive Officer Ed Orzechowski said in a statement. "Foster care has been an important ministry for us for many decades. We worked very hard to be able to continue to provide these services in the District." [...]

The Vatican has long opposed any church role in aiding homosexuals to adopt. In 2003, it said that placing children into same-sex households was "gravely immoral."

But with more states legalizing same-sex unions, the Washington Archdiocese is the third diocese in the country to leave the adoption/foster care business. The archdioceses of San Francisco and Boston, which had contracts with California and Massachusetts, respectively, ceased their programs in 2006 after each state legalized gay marriages and made it clear that the local Catholic Charities affiliate would have to work with homosexual couples. (California has since repealed its law allowing same-sex marriage.)

There is no doubt that gay activists will insist that it is the Archdiocese who is at fault here. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League addresses that here:

Archbishop Donald Wuerl is a man of principle and prudence: he did not want to end the foster-care program, but he was left with no realistic option. District lawmakers could have granted the kind of religious exemptions that would have ensured a continuation of services, but instead they sought to create a Catch-22 situation for the archdiocese. Surely they knew that Archbishop Wuerl was not going to negotiate Catholic Church teachings on marriage, yet that hardly mattered to them. The real losers are the children who were served by the Catholic Church.

Those who say that Wuerl is throwing the kids overboard are phonies. If Planned Parenthood were told that as a condition of public funding it had to refer Catholic women having second thoughts about abortion to a crisis pregnancy center, it would scream violation of church and state, refuse the money and end this program. Well, Archbishop Wuerl isn’t about to allow the state to run roughshod over Catholic doctrine, and that is why he is being forced to drop the foster-care program.

Just as a reminder for those who would say, "Well, but if the Church is going to accept state funds, then the Church has to place kids with gay couples, with swingers, with polygamists, or with anybody else the state thinks can handle kids!" the issue is not usually all about funding. Catholic Charities in Massachusetts stopped handling adoptions, for example, not because they couldn't get state funding, but because the state would not license them to handle adoptions unless they agreed to place children with homosexual couples.

Why does the Church oppose the adoption of children by couples living a lifestyle based on homosexual acts? From the Vatican document, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons":

Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race. The possibility of using recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction, beyond involving a grave lack of respect for human dignity, does nothing to alter this inadequacy.

Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which represents the human and ordered form of sexuality. Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life.

As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.

In other words, it's wrong to make children pawns in a game of social experimentation. It's wrong to decide that a child doesn't need both a father and a mother, and that, further, he'll do just fine with two of one and none of the other. It's wrong to see heterosexual marriage as some sort of archaic oppressive social construct which fails in its connection to procreation to realize that people are just more sexually creative these days. It's wrong to see children as some sort of super-consumer product, all that's needed to give the stamp of domestic bliss to two men or two women who demand that their union, centered around gravely immoral acts, be called marriage.

And the Archdiocese, and indeed the Catholic Church, recognizes the gravity of this wrong and refuses to participate in it, especially when vulnerable children are being made the pawns in this kind of game. As secular society grows increasingly hostile to Catholic principles, though, the vast network of social aid that Catholics are responsible for creating and maintaining is going to be increasingly challenged. Those who wish for social change, especially gay rights activists, would like nothing better to drive not only Catholic adoptions, but Catholic hospitals, Catholic schools, and every other sort of Catholic institution or service (excepting only actual parishes, and if we didn't have the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion that exception wouldn't exist) out of business, as the price of their failing to accept the new secular sexual gospel that declares that that homosexual sex is the highest human good possible. That is the end game of the gay rights movement, and anyone who doubts that hasn't been paying attention.

UPDATE: Larry D has a great post about the potential harm of gay adoptions. Go read!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

"Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."

Picture source here.

A blessed Ash Wednesday to all.

Many prayers for a miracle

Rod Dreher has posted more details about his ill family member here. His sister has cancer, and the situation is very serious indeed.

So serious is it that Rod writes:
"We need a miracle. We really, really do. And we need it fast. If you pray, think of Ruthie. We who love her, Mike and their children can do a lot for them, but the one thing we can't do is save her life."
It seems to me that when a person asks for a miracle, we ought to pray for one. And, to help us, we might ask for the intercession of a Catholic whose present status is "venerable" or "blessed," since a true verifiable medical miracle is always important to that person's cause for canonization--not for their benefit, of course, but for our own, because having recourse to the saints in our prayers and daily lives is a great gift God gives us, for His glory.

Therefore, I would like to ask that those of you who join me in praying for Ruthie Leming might ask for two things:

1. A complete and miraculous healing from all the cancer in her body, and
2. That this healing be accomplished by the intercession of Father Solanus Casey, whom you can read about here.

May God be with Ruthie Leming and her family at this frightening time; and may He grant, through the intercession of Father Solanus Casey, a complete and miraculous healing to Ruthie from all the cancer in her body, for His glory and the strengthening of our faith. Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh, Canada.

What does education look like in a country that has legalized gay marriage? It looks like this (hat tip: Mark Shea):

HAMILTON, Ontario, February 15, 2010 ( - Public school children in Hamilton, Ontario will not be permitted to withdraw from classes that promote homosexuality, according to the Hamilton Mountain News. At the same time, according to a leaked document obtained by a local journalist, teachers are being instructed to tell parents who object to the curriculum that “this is not about parent rights.”

At the end of January, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) hosted a professional development day dedicated to “equity” training, where they distributed a sheet to teachers with “quick responses” they can offer to parents who object to the school board's “anti-homophobia” curriculum.

That document was obtained by journalist Mark Cripps, and posted on the website of the Hamilton Mountain News. Cripps observes that the handout “basically indicates parents have no rights when it comes to their child’s education at the HWDSB.”

In addition, Cripps reports that, “The board says no child will be excused from the class when topics of homosexuality are brought into the classroom.”

The school board is developing a new equity policy, as required of all boards under the Ontario Ministry of Education's equity strategy, announced last year. Among other things, the Ministry is requiring all boards, Catholic and public, to develop a plan for combating “homophobia.”

View the document here.

Let it be said that as a Catholic I oppose all unjust discrimination against anyone. There is no reason to treat people with anything less than respect for their humanity, for their status as a child of God.

But insisting that children be taught that the long-standing teaching of the Catholic church (and similar faiths) that homosexual acts are gravely morally evil and that thus gay marriage cannot be condoned because it is, itself, an attack on that inherent human dignity is nothing less than evil. And giving teachers a "script" in which they are, essentially, to attack parental rights, religious rights, and the notion that certain topics involving sexuality ought not be addressed with young children is forcing those teachers to acts as agents of an intolerant state which is so blind to its own bigotry against parents and religion that it cannot see what it is asking these teachers to do.

We can expect the same, here in America, if gay marriage ever becomes a reality; Massachusetts has, after all, attacked parental rights and religious beliefs in the same way in its increasingly depraved public schools. For now, we have the luxury to shake our heads and say: Oh, Canada.

The Cool Catholic Blogger's Guide to Blogging Etiquette

In my travels around the Internet, I have noticed (though it pains me to admit it) some breaches here and there of blogging etiquette. It pains me even more both to notice and admit that sometimes I'm the one doing the breaching. Blogging courtesy rules are apt to be fluid and non-authoritarian, and the ones I'm proposing here are no exception; they're just things that I, personally, think are usually done, ought to be done, ought not to be done, or even ought never to be done. Someone's else's list of rules might be different, or include whole hosts of things I've never thought of or noticed.

Be that as it may, I think my little list of what is cool and what is not cool in the world of blogging--specifically Catholic blogging--is worth sharing. The great thing about blogging is that you're free to disagree, and to tell me about it in the comment boxes. :)

So, here we go:

Cool: Leaving comments for a blogger beneath a post you liked, or disliked, or reacted to in some way between those extremes.

Less cool: Forgetting to choose an alias for commenting, so that you become "Anonymous number 12 at 11:53 A.M." for the rest of the conversation.

Not cool: Trashing or insulting the blog host or other commenters, using obscene or abusive language, or using the comment box to dredge up old battles you've had with the host or other commenters.

Reasonably cool: Leaving the occasional off-topic comment out of necessity; example: "Hey Persephone, sorry to bug you, but what time is the virtual book club meeting this afternoon? Lost my link...:) :)"

Less cool, but totally forgivable: Leaving the occasional off-topic comment because you just really want to share; example: "I know this is OT but my toddler just clomped into the kitchen in Daddy's shoes and ordered his big sisters to clean their rooms. LOL!"

Really, really, really not cool: Leaving off-topic comments designed to drive traffic to your own blog; example: "Hi all! Lysistrata, just loved this post on the history of bristle-blocks. It reminds me somehow (strange, I know!) of the series of posts I wrote on the necessity of adopting the brand-new but arguably ancient custom of replacing all the drapes in one's home with liturgically accurate curtains for each liturgical season--see here, and here, and here. Comments are still open, ladies--hint, hint!;)"

Cool: Being inspired by a blogger's recipe, craft idea, or conversation starter, and using it in one's own blog post.

Not cool at all: Not bothering to mention where you first saw the idea, preferably with a link back to the original blog post by the creative author of the idea. This is especially not cool if you take credit for the idea as if you invented it.

Exceptions: If you really did independently come up with the idea, that's fine. It's also not necessary to give credit to someone for sharing an ancient custom or tradition (e.g., filling an Easter basket with candy). It is further not ordinarily necessary to credit someone who has posted a prayer; the prayer of St. Francis, for instance, belongs to St. Francis (and he'd say it really belongs to God), not to a blogger who posts it on his feast day (unless, of course, she posts it cleverly spelled out with her children's stuffed animal collection, complete with instructions on the paper pattern to lay out the toys and a guide to proper stuffed-animal species alignment for the most pleasing effect. And I'm pretty darned sure that's an original idea, so if anyone is actually crazy enough to do it, link back here!). :)

Cool: Deciding you no longer have the time, the inclination, the sanity etc. to read a particular blog.

Not cool: Making a big dramatic announcement about how you're leaving, and how disappointed you are with the blog, the blogger, the commenters, and anybody else who has ever been involved in the blog.

Cool: Letting one or two people whose email addresses you have know privately that you won't be around that particular virtual community for a while.

Not cool: Failing to send a similar email to the blog host or hostess if you have actually become acquainted in real life, either in person via a face-to-face meeting or by telephone conversations, real mail sent back and forth, and so on.

Especially not cool: Dropping a "blog friend" (e.g., someone you've actually met personally and/or shared phone conversations, emails and regular mail with) without a word of explanation. People moving on from friendships: normal. People not bothering to inform the friend: always uncool.

Cool: Sharing your excitement, on your own blog, about something you've accomplished, including writing a book, starting a small business, or founding an apostolate.

Still cool: mentioning these things from time to time, and linking to them.

Less cool: Sneaking in mentions of the book, the business, or the apostolate (with ultra-helpful links to where people can spend money either buying the book, purchasing the products of the small business, or donating to the apostolate) on a too-frequent basis.

Not cool at all: turning a personal blog into a 24/7 virtual billboard for the book, the business, or the apostolate. Nothing wrong with wanting to advertise in the sidebars or provide links to a separate book/business/apostolate blog you've set up, but not really nice to stop telling those cute stories about your triplets or sharing those marvelous mitten knitting patterns or comfort-food recipes to write post after post whose substance can be boiled down to "Buy My Stuff!"

Cool: Coming up with lists of ways to be a cool Catholic blogger.

Not cool: Pretending you've got the final word or know it all--which means I'll stop here, and let others add their Courteous Blogging Wisdom!

(But if you decide to do it on your own blog--I'd appreciate a link back to this post. I'm just sayin'.)

A prayer request

Rod Dreher posted on his blog this morning the news that a family member is in an emergency medical situation. It is quite grave, as he is traveling to be with his family this afternoon.

Please keep Rod, his ill relative, and all his family in your prayers throughout the day.

Watch thou, dear Lord,
with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give thine angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend thy sick ones, Lord Christ.
Rest thy weary ones.
Bless thy dying ones.
Soothe thy suffering ones.
Pity thine afflicted ones.
Shield thy joyous ones.
And all, for thy love's sake. Amen.

--Prayer of St. Augustine

Monday, February 15, 2010

A true champion

Chances are you've already seen this story, but it's too good not to share:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Twelve years ago at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, a 17-year-old speedskating prodigy named Kirstin Holum was tapped for future greatness.

When Holum placed sixth in the 3,000 meters – one of the most grueling disciplines in the women’s program, a lung-scraping four-minute bust of lactic acid torture – speedskating insiders predicted a golden future and speculated she may not even reach her peak for another decade. [...]

Despite an ongoing battle with exercise-induced asthma, Holum was a champion waiting to happen. Instead, Nagano would signal the final time she would pull on a pair of skates with competitive intent.

From that point on, her life began an entirely different journey.

“Speedskating was such a huge part of my life,” Holumn said in a telephone interview with Yahoo! Sports. “I still loved the sport, but I had this incredibly strong calling that it was time to move on and take a different path in life.”

There is no television and no internet at St. Joseph’s Convent in Leeds, England, meaning Holum won’t get to watch the Winter Olympics where she was supposed to become a star.

The peaceful surrounds of the convent is where Holum, now known as Sister Catherine, devotes her life to religious service as a Franciscan nun. That calling had begun on a trip to Our Lady of Fatima, a holy site in Portugal famed for a series of religious visions that appeared nearly a century ago. It was outside the Fatima basilica where Holum decided that a path of religious dedication, not frozen skating lanes, would be her destiny.

“It is funny now to think of how different my life is now,” she said. “I had the wonderful privilege of being able to compete as an Olympian, and now I am blessed to able to serve God and help those less fortunate.”

See pictures of Sr. Catherine in Leeds here; and do look at the sisters' mission and way of life!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Best. Pro-life. Video. Ever.

I think this has to be one of the best pro-life videos I've ever seen!

Hat tip: The Catholic Key blog.

This one needs to be shared!

Lent and decluttering

As we approach Ash Wednesday, I've noticed that there are lots of people out there tying Lent into decluttering. One example is here, and the topic being discussed is a kind of meme: get rid of forty bags of stuff in forty days.

Now, on the one hand, I realize that there's a kind of danger in tying Lent too much with our personal goals. Weight loss is a prime example: how many times have you approached a season of fasting thinking "Now I'll get rid of those five (ten, fifteen, twenty) pounds for sure!" I know I have--and I also know that this is the wrong spirit to have during Lent. Lent is not about making our diet or exercise goals, tweaking our daily routines, finally getting started on those New Year's resolutions or--cleaning out our closets.

But on the other hand, it can't be denied that materialism is a national ill we Americans suffer deeply from. Too much clutter--too much stuff--really can get in the way of our relationship with God. In our country, so richly blessed that even our poor are objects of envy in other, more desperately poor nations, we often don't realize how stifled and drowning in material objects and material pursuits we can be. Approaching our excess material goods during Lent with a firm committment not only to give away quantities of still-usable goods in good condition that we simply don't need to have could be an opportunity for spiritual growth.

How can we make sure, if we embark on some decluttering during Lent, that we really are setting forth in the right spirit?

I think in some ways this is something only we ourselves can know; but I think that there are some signs we can watch out for to help us determine our motivations. For instance, obviously, if our goal is to get rid of lots of old stuff so we can replace it with new stuff (even if that new stuff is "minimalist" or "quality" stuff) then we might want to rethink things. Or if we think that immersing ourselves in decluttering activities is better than taking up a more meaningful daily prayer routine complete with spiritual reading, then perhaps we're not quite on the right page.

One way we can help ensure that we're really trying to tackle the underlying materialism in our lives is to make sure that what we're doing really fits our needs. For example, I find that focusing on the number of bags of stuff eliminated isn't going to cut it, for me--if I embark on a decluttering program it's much more important that I outline the areas that need to be cleaned out and then tackle them, one at a time; I'm good at cleaning out my clothing, for instance, and terrible at dealing with the shelf above the washer and dryer--a much more mundane sort of task, quite likely to involve spiders in the corners and sticky bottles of old detergent that somehow got overlooked on recycling day.

Another way to make sure there's a spiritual benefit to decluttering during Lent would be to tie almsgiving, which we are supposed to be doing, to the process. Perhaps, if you are doing the "so many bags" method, you could tie a donation amount to each bag; that is, in addition to donating bags of usable items you could set aside an amount of money per bag to give to a specific charity that helps the poor. A family who is struggling financially might manage a dime or quarter per bag; a family that is well off might do ten or even twenty dollars per bag--but the point would be to link the spiritual benefits of almsgiving to the decluttering efforts. This would work much the same way for "number of areas cleaned" or "number of hours spent cleaning" or whatever else might work for you.

As with all Lenten efforts, the most important thing is to make sure that a merely external sacrifice is not all that is being made. Setting aside some of our Lenten prayer and meditation time to ponder the lives of those saints who have embraced radical poverty (St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind), offering our prayers for the poor, pondering Our Lord's beatitude that blesses the poor in spirit, and otherwise contemplating the ills of rampant materialism will help us keep our decluttering from being a merely outward effort, aimed more at opening up closet space than at fostering that interior change which is the goal of all Lenten pursuits.

Have you ever decluttered during Lent, with a specific, spiritual purpose? What did you learn from the experience? Or, if you are considering doing this, what are your goals, and what do you hope to learn?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Record snowfall

Turns out we set a record around here today, for the most snow ever in a single day; the old record of 7.8 inches was passed by 7 pm with 7.9 inches recorded, and snow still falling.

Emmett watched the snow for a while and then decided to solve the problem of the cold wet stuff the way he solves every problem: he went to sleep. It's a simple approach to difficulties that would be nice if we humans could get away with it.


UPDATE: Over nine inches now. I'll try to post the official total in the morning!

UPDATE 2: 11.2 inches. Wow!

UPDATE 3: Some pictures Thad took around our neighborhood, posted on his blog.

What we were doing last week

Blogging got a little spotty last week because we were having some tile put in (and more to do later). Most of it is necessary bathroom work, but we did decide to have a tile backsplash put into the place where our over-the-stove microwave used to be (it died a while back and we decided not to replace it--who really needs a $300 popcorn popper and leftover warmer, anyway?) ;)

So here are some pictures:


What do you think? :)

Do noisy children belong at Mass?

So, just how noisy and disruptive does a child have to be at Mass before the parents are more or less obligated to whisk the little tyke out to the vestibule?

Provocative question? Sure, but I'm not the one bringing the topic up--Patrick Madrid is:
At our excellent parish, there are a lot of families who have a lot of kids. I'm talking counter-cultural-to-the-2nd-power lot of kids. Many of these fine and devout Catholics are adept at the art of swiftly rising from the pew and hustling a talkative, crying, screaming, or otherwise disruptive child out of Mass and out into a hallway.

This is good and pleasing in my sight.

But there are some parents, not many, who don't seem to have learned a lesson of basic courtesy that I believe should be mandatory as part of all pre-Cana and Engaged Encounter preparations, and that is, "Thou Shalt Not Irritate Everyone in the Church to the Point of Distraction By Allowing Your Disruptive Child(ren) to Remain in the Pew and Make Everyone Else Miserable Simply Because YOU WILL NOT DO THE RIGHT THING AND GET UP AND TAKE THE CHILD OUT OF CHURCH BEFORE PEOPLE'S HEADS START EXPLODING."[Emphasis in original--E.M.]


Those parents must understand that by allowing their child(ren) to make loud noise during Mass is an injustice to everyone else and is very bad form. It's inconsiderate at best. How I do wish that our pastor would direct the lectors to make one additional announcement before Mass, right after they announce that everyone should immediately turn off his cell phone before Mass starts. Just add this: Parents, if your children get fussy and noisy, please, out of charity for those around you during Mass, take your children outside until they settle down."
Read the whole thing, and also read this post which started Patrick Madrid's musings on the subject.

This is one of those issues that is a veritable minefield to discuss. On one side of the issue, you tend to have people who believe that nursing infants don't belong in church (if, that is, there is the slightest chance of their getting hungry in the hour or two they might be there), that babbling babies don't really belong in church either, and that toddlers should also not be allowed to come to Mass until they are capable of sitting perfectly upright and still without fidgeting or holding a book or rosary or doing anything that might in any way be annoying to grown-ups--but that they must come when they have reached the age of reason, at which point excruciatingly perfect behavior is mandatory. Where the child is supposed to learn this excruciatingly perfect behavior has always been a deep mystery to me--obviously they aren't supposed to be in church long enough to learn it, and call me crazy, but I don't think church nurseries, cry rooms, and the Rite of Dismissing the Children So They Can Go Color Things has ever been all that good at teaching children not to be disruptive in church.

But on the other side of the issue you have pastors like an old pastor of mine--the dear pro-life soul loved to hear babies crying or fussing or vocalizing at Mass, and would scold the congregation that there were probably lots of noisy babies in Heaven and they'd better start getting used to it now--which made trying to tiptoe out with a newborn in full-colic mode a bit embarrassing--but, believe me, completely necessary.

And there really are clueless parents, too, parents who think that a tantrum is something a parent must endure and outlast--and by extension everyone else in the vicinity (and you will find these people not only at church, but at restaurants, stores, and just about anywhere else). Then you have the parents who think that as long as the child is being quiet, it doesn't really matter what he or she is doing--even if he or she is wiggling commando-style under the next two nearest pews to get a really good look at the Cheerios (tm) a toddler from an earlier Mass spilled all over the floor, or, in total boredom, kicking his or her foot softly but effectively against the pew in front of him or her.

All of that said, though, I really can't agree with Patrick Madrid on this one.

Why? Because our society already makes it really, really hard for people with families, especially families with young children. Because an announcement like the one he suggests would end up being incredibly hurtful to a young couple trying their best to bring their small children to church week after week, and would place a terrible burden on them--making them cringe at the slightest sound their children make, and causing worry and stress at each Mass for the family. Because there are times--children are so good at this!--when the fussing begins right at a moment when it is all but impossible to leave the church building--at, say, the moment of consecration during the Canon, when the parent has to weigh the possible disruption of a fussy child against the definite disruption of carrying said child, now in full-throated "No no Dada no take me owside me be good me be good!" mode, out past the silent kneeling worshipers while Our Lord is being elevated and the bells are ringing. Because for the handful of really clueless parents such an announcement would have no effect at all--I believe that when a parent is truly unaware that their child's behavior is disruptive, that awareness will not dawn simply because of an announcement. "But my child is good--he/she is just acting his/her age," such parents would likely think, smiling fondly at the child who is capable, in church, of being a holy terror.

So what should we do? Those of us who are no longer accompanied at church by small children should remember how hard that was, be patient and cheerful, and not rush to judgment. The truly clueless parent will either get a clue from Father or a well-trained usher or--God willing!--a kindly nun in full habit who manages somehow in that beautiful sisterly way to get the message across without offense or ire. Sooner or later even the most clueless parent will either come to understand--or the child will be old enough to Go Color Things, and all will be well.


February is such a weird month, isn't it?

For instance, today it's snowing. Snow in February isn't that unusual, of course, but in Texas it certainly is. My children enjoyed about an hour's worth of outside play before deciding it was just too darned cold, a sign of their increasing journey into the teenage years. If it had snowed like this just five years ago I'd have had to bribe them with cookies and hot chocolate to get them to come in.

February is the month when homeschooling days begin to drag, when it's easy to start rethinking everything you've ever done or worrying incessantly that failing to incorporate Mandarin Chinese or Ancient Greek into the curriculum back in the first grade has already put your children so far behind, educationally, that you'll never catch up, and when your children are interviewed some day on national television they'll assure the viewing audience that they succeeded in spite of you. February's worries aren't usually rational--but they stick like wet clumps of snow to your subconscious, causing icy feelings of guilt every time your eye runs over your interior landscape.

Paradoxically February is also the month when "It's good enough!" tends to become a homeschooling mother's rallying cry. Surely, just getting through the daily grind of the core curriculum subjects is Good Enough! Surely, letting your kids play in the sink and marking "Studied Archimedes' principle" on your lesson plans is Good Enough! Surely, some "video lessons" courtesy of Netflix (tm) are Good Enough! The thing is, sometimes these short-term homeschooling coping mechanisms really are good enough, as when mom is coping with a new baby or a round of gastrointestinal illnesses sweeping through the family like a digestive wildfire or unpacking after a tense and stressful move, and so on. The problem with February is that sometimes these reasons for "good enough" were over back in December, but somehow the strategy of "good enough" remained; and the longer it sticks around, the more likely it is that the Icy Clumps of Guilt will pile up any time you encounter a mother who chirps about her children's progress in Euclidean geometry and Egyptian hieroglyphics (because, of course, it's so important to delve into the mathematics of the pyramids and incorporate primary sources in next month's unit study on Ancient Egypt).

Another paradoxical thing about February is that just when you start feeling like you really need a warm piece of pie and a cup of cocoa to get through the day, it's Lent. After all the feasting of the Christmas Season Lent is a very good thing, but the gloom and dreariness of this particular month makes the privations of Lent even more meaningful, so to speak. Anybody could handle thirty-degree weather or piles of snow or icy rain or those thick, pale-gray clouds that have managed to put forth just enough effort to drain all the cheerfulness from the few sallow wisps of sunlight that are filtering through them if there were various desserts to look forward to. But Ash Wednesday dawns and we put away earthly cheers and comforts, and remember that we're dust.

In addition to the spiritual improvements February urges us to undertake (much of the time, though Lent can start in March, too, of course) there are the ghosts of our New Year's Resolutions haunting us with increasing frequency, and reminding us of various other improvements we had promised to make: diet, health, lifestyle, schedule, routine, whatever the case might be. During January we could keep up the illusion that we were making progress, really, so long as we measured it in some way that didn't rely on quantifiable data: but in February we face the hard cold reality that we haven't really begun at all, and must take steps immediately if we don't want our goals still untouched come spring.

So in its own unique way, February manages to pack quite a punch. There is, though, one really good thing about it: it's the shortest month on the calendar.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Odd Google Searches of the Week

It's time again for that intermittent feature where I post search terms people have entered into Google, which for barely explainable reasons have led them to this blog. As always, these are in no particular order:

1. Pop-tarts with tea. I have no objection. I do, however, have a sister who likes to eat pop-tarts with hot chocolate. Oh, and she butters her pop-tarts--at least, she used to. And she's unbelievably thin, too. Love you, sis! :)

2. Mick-a-matic camera. I didn't know what that was, so I Googled it myself. Turns out it's a toy camera from the early 1970s. Clearly the problem of character licensing toys to entice children to whine for them goes back even before cable television.

3. Marty Haugen, pro and con. You'll tend to get "con" on this site. Still, it's a positive sign that you're Googling the phrase at all--and if you have anything to do with a church choir, may I recommend also Googling "chant" and "sacred music" as well? :)

4. Is it wrong to send an orthodox child to Catholic school? Now, the problem with this one is that the searcher didn't apparently capitalize "orthodox." So I don't know if what he/she is asking is whether it's wrong for an Eastern Orthodox child to attend a Catholic school, something about which I'm not qualified to comment. But if the searcher means small "o" orthodox, then the answer is--quite possibly. Catholic schools are excellent at removing orthodoxy from their students--sad but true.

5. Can a practicing Catholic be pro-choice? Well, there are people who are practicing Catholics who call themselves "pro-choice," so it's not a physical impossibility or anything. That said, though, it's not possible for any serious Catholic to dissent in an open and active way from Church teaching about abortion and remain in good standing in the Church. Truth is--and this may offend some--most of the so-called "pro-choice" Catholics I've ever met have been almost unbelievably ignorant both about what abortion really is and about the historical weight and philosophical depth of Church teaching against it. Sadly, a lot of "pro-choice" Catholics think of the issue as "The Church just wants womyn (sic) to be barefoot and pregnant and subservient instead of letting them control their own bodies!" What's really weird is that a lot of these self-proclaimed "pro-choice" feminist Catholics

6. Minimalist ascetic austere zen simple life. My first piece of advice, grasshopper, is to avoid Googling a whole string of synonyms...

7. Liturgic pet. Granted, I wrote about liturgical pet peeves a long time ago, which explains why the searcher found my page. But, curious, I searched using the words "liturgic pet" and came across...liturgical pet clothing. For, apparently, Lutheran pets. No, really. Go look. And there are other places making similar items. Here's an example:

Hope you enjoyed this installment of the intermittent Odd Google Searches feature!

Catholics and the environment--a post at CMR

I've really enjoyed my guest-post stint over at Creative Minority Report. Matt and Pat Archbold are terrific guys with incredible blogging skillz and a fantastic blog, so it's been an honor to get to post over there these last four Wednesdays. It would be fun to blog there again sometime in the future!

Today's post for them was on the topic of environmentalism and Catholics--what is different about a Catholic approach to environmental issues, and why neither side of the political spectrum--the one that embraces mainstream environmentalism and its demand for population control uncritically, and the one that would like to pave over everything to increase profit--is a good fit for the Catholic world view. Here's an excerpt:

So it would seem that we can't, as Catholics, accept a purely commercial view of the environment either, one that shrugs off the potential environmental consequences of our actions and insists that we have the right to exploit the natural world for our own purposes.

The problem with both views of the environment, the commercial/exploitative view on the one hand, and the "man is a disease on the planet that ought to be (mostly) eradicated!" view on the other, is that each one contains at its core a fundamental misunderstanding about the proper place of humanity in the universe. The mainstream environmentalist view puts man as no more or less important than any other living creature on Earth; he is a purely material being whose control of the planet over less-sentient creatures is a kind of oppression that can only be ended when man himself agrees to become less numerous and thus less dominant over the other forms of life on the planet. But the commercial/exploitative view also sees man, and everything else, as materialistic--it sees man as the ultimate Darwinian survivor, whose fitness means that his tendency to exploit the material world for his own profit and gain is inherently justified.

In order to have a properly balanced view of nature and the environment, and of the duties of Christian stewardship of the planet, though, we have to be aware that man is not merely a material being, and that creation itself is not the result of a random accumulation of matter, but the work (however He chose to accomplish it) of a Divine Creator. Since creation is His work and reflects His glory, we are not free to exploit and destroy whatever we choose. But since humanity is His utmost creation, created in His image and likeness, we are also not free to elevate nature, animals, plants, and the like over the right of human beings to live and to survive. The intrinsic right to life of every human being takes precedence over lesser environmental concerns; people must come first in the hierarchy of creation.

Oddly enough, my post has stirred a bit of partisan ire. Apparently, admitting that we aren't entitled to view every inch of the Earth as potentially prime real estate is somehow a betrayal of the GOP; and one person commented to the effect that Catholics saying we ought to practice environmental stewardship is just going to encourage those Catholics who use the Pill. Not sure I get that one...

Anyway, the discussion promises to be somewhat lively, so if you're interested in environmental issues and the way these impact us as Catholics, head on over and jump in!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When you fast...

The image above spells out the Lenten regulations for the diocese of New York in 1887; it comes from the New York Times' archives, and can be found here. It's pretty neat to think that the New York Times used to publish the diocese's fasting regulations for each year, isn't it?

And the rules were sometimes varied. For instance, in 1915 there is mention of an indult dating from 1895 which exempted working people and their families from days of abstinence (but not fast days) other than Ash Wednesday, Fridays, Holy Week and Christmas Eve; another indult is mentioned which exempts working people from fasting as well. In an earlier article mention is made of a wide dispensation from fasting rules for various diocese dealing with influenza; in fact, an article from 1890 mentions that the pope was requiring no more than the ordinary Advent regulations because of influenza, and was instead recommending that the faithful apply themselves to works of charity during Lent. During other times, notably World War II, fasting regulations were likewise relaxed in many places.

Of course, every year various people were already exempt from the fast, as the article above lists: pregnant and nursing mothers, the ill, infirm or elderly, those who are "attaining their growth" (children), and those whose duties were "...of an exhausting or laborious character." The specifics in regard to what kinds of infirmities or illnesses exempted one, or how old children had to be when they were obliged to fast, or what exactly constituted duties "of an exhausting or laborious character" were presumably spelled out by one's own pastor in cases of uncertainty.

Why mention any of this? I find it is rather fascinating to take a look back at the past, and to see the various ways in which the rules for Lenten fasting and abstinence could change from time to time. Though the rules were certainly stricter than they are now, there were many times and reasons in which a person might be completely exempt from following them.

But no one was ever truly exempted from participating in the penitential character of Lent. Anyone who wasn't bound by the laws of fasting was still encouraged to make voluntary sacrifices or acts of penance, to remember the Church's call to give alms, and to engage in charitable works in the community.

Sometimes in the Catholic blogging world I will see expressed the notion that the Church ought never to have relaxed the rules for the Lenten fast. Those who think this way appear to think that the Church's rules regarding fasting and abstinence kept whole generations of Catholics in line, kept them physically and spiritually fit, capable of great and heroic feats of endurance. Without the stringent fasting rules, goes the argument, Catholics got soft, weak, and lazy; all the ills of modernity swiftly followed, in a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc construction.

But when I read the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI titled Paenitemini I see, not weakness or laziness, but both the appeal to freedom and a great deal of mercy. See, for instance, this section:

In the first place, Holy Mother Church, although it has always observed in a special way abstinence from meat and fasting, nevertheless wants to indicate in the traditional triad of "prayer—fasting—charity" the fundamental means of complying with the divine precepts of penitence. These means were the same throughout the centuries, but in our time there are special reasons whereby, according to the demands of various localities, it is necessary to inculcate some special form of penitence in preference to others.(60) Therefore, where economic well-being is greater, so much more will the witness of asceticism have to be given in order that the sons of the Church may not be involved in the spirit of the "world,"(61) and at the same time the witness of charity will have to be given to the brethren who suffer poverty and hunger beyond any barrier of nation or continent.(62) On the other hand, in countries where the standard of living is lower, it will be more pleasing to God the Father and more useful to the members of the Body of Christ if Christians—while they seek in every way to promote better social justice—offer their suffering in prayer to the Lord in close union with the Cross of Christ.

Therefore, the Church, while preserving—where it can be more readily observed—the custom (observed for many centuries with canonical norms) of practicing penitence also through abstinence from meat and fasting, intends to ratify with its prescriptions other forms of penitence as well, provided that it seems opportune to episcopal conferences to replace the observance of fast and abstinence with exercises of prayer and works of charity.

The purpose of restricting the days of obligatory fasting to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and of making abstinence from meat mandatory only during Lent, I think, was not to remove the penitential character from Lent, but to encourage those in wealthier countries to do more than fast from food, while removing from those already living in poverty any sense of being obliged to participate in fasting.

That those of us in more affluent countries have, by and large, failed to give witness against the spirit of the world by our acts of voluntary penance during Lent is our failure, not the Church's. That those who live in poorer countries no longer have to worry about sinning when they must eat at odd times during the day in Lent because food is available then, or because their daily work does not permit normal mealtime pauses, is still a mercy. That the scrupulous need not fear the forty days of Lent as a grueling journey in which every passing thought of a good meal haunts them as a grave sin is also a great mercy.

So instead of grumbling that the Church no longer demands that our neighbor subsist on one full meal a day for forty days, we ought to take some time to reflect, instead, on what the Church is inviting us to do. Perhaps the traditional fast is something our work and station in life makes not only possible but a joyful possibility; perhaps our tendency toward mild hypoglycemia makes our fasting a greater (involuntary) penance for those around us then for us, personally; perhaps we are being called to fast from something other than food, something that has gotten in the way of our relationship with God; perhaps there are luxuries and daily "treats" we have become accustomed to indulge ourselves with, and to diminish with these things the dreariness of the winter months. If we truly wish to respond generously to the invitation of the Church to make all but Ash Wednesday and Good Friday days of voluntary instead of obligatory fasting, we will discover what it is we can with the greatest generosity set aside and give up for these forty days.

As Pope Paul VI said in Paenitemini, fasting which is only external is not what the Church really wants of us; nor does she wish us to become mired in what His Holiness called "formalism and pharisaism." Rather, the external acts, united with prayer and works of charity and oriented toward inner conversion, are to be embraced as a necessary step in the pursuit of holiness. As we approach this Lenten season we may be surprised by the generosity and love the Holy Spirit will inspire in us, so that we may experience Lent as a time of purification.