Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My new favorite website called "Catalog Living."

It's a humorous look at the fictional lives of the fictional people whose homes are full of the perfection you can only find in catalogs, magazines, and the open-house homes in brand-new neighborhoods.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The secret guidelines of Vatican II

Someone I know visited a parish not her own this weekend. The archdiocese was that of San Antonio; the people of San Antonio have been awaiting the appointment of a new bishop, since their former bishop, Archbishop Jose Gomez, is now the coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

My friend was therefore not surprised by the fact that, during the Mass she attended, the prayers of the faithful included a prayer for a new archbishop for the San Antonio archdiocese. But she was rather taken aback by the form the prayer took: the people at this parish prayed, specifically, for "...a new bishop who will uphold the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council..."

As my friend put it, "Why the Second Vatican Council? Why aren't they praying for an archbishop who will uphold the Council of Nicaea? Or of Trent? Or..." and so on.

Of course, the answer is as simple as it is depressing: because in the mindset of some progressive Catholics, the Second Vatican Council a) represented a radical departure from Catholicism 1.0, the oppressively medieval version which took over sometime after Constantine (yes, they do read Dan Brown) and got out of control by the 1960s, and b) is under attack by Extraordinary Form Masses, the new English translation of the Mass, a generation of rising young orthodox clerics, the continued absence of a female priesthood, and the unfortunate fact that things like abortion, contraception, and homosexual sex acts are still actually considered sinful. Therefore, a prayer that one's new archbishop will "...uphold the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council..." is only comprehensible if you understand what, to a progressive Catholic, Vatican II really meant.

After all, what exactly do the petitioners want, when they beseech God for a new bishop who will uphold Vatican II? Do they worry that Dei Verbum will be ignored? Are they laying awake nights, wondering if enough young people are being inspired to missionary activity by Ad Gentes? Do they think that a new archbishop might be lacking in his ability to conform the diocesan schools to the high ideals outlined in Gravissimum Educationis? Does Inter Mirificia seem threatened somehow?

Of course not; and that's why they're not really referencing the documents of Vatican II in their prayer, but merely the "guidelines." Or what they, like most progressive Catholics, have come to believe the "guidelines" of Vatican II really are. It's almost as if progressive Catholics have a secret stash of conciliar "guidelines" that are being increasingly attacked by those Catholics who have never seen nor heard of these "guidelines," and who, frankly, find the notion that Vatican II had anything to do with these unfortunate ideas to be preposterous.

I can't help but wonder whether there aren't a significant number of progressive Catholics who really do believe in the "Guidelines of Vatican II," (formerly known as the "Spirit of Vatican II," until someone pointed out that believing in "spirits" was so Council of Constantinople I), and who almost picture a whole set of documents, which would look something like this:

The Guidelines of the Second Vatican Council (with apologies for the bad Latin. And English):

1. Communitas Primaria. This secret guideline of Vatican II makes it clear that the community is the most important, most wonderfullest, most speciallest thing in the whole-wide banner-draped world. Jesus is important because He is the life of the community!

2. Signum Rusticanus. This secret VII guideline orders that all statues, good art, and stained glass images of the saints be removed and replaced with felt banners, geometric stained glass, and art which is incomprehensible to anyone but the artist. In this way the community and its specialness can take center stage (literally) because nobody's going to be distracted looking around at the hideous decor. We'll just have to look at each other, garbed in our tee-shirts and shorts of community specialness!

3. Feminarum Antistitarum. This secret VII guideline all but admitted that women would make the most amazing priests--priestesses?--well, we'll get to that--but that first a couple of generations of Catholics would have to get used to the idea, something that would be accomplished by making sure that women took over every role imaginable in the parish, and did so much of the "lay ministry" tasks that honestly it would just make perfect sense for the community to decide that it no longer needed Rome's permission to take the next step, order some tie-dye vestments, rent a boat, and, well, you know.

4. Culpae Nihil. This Secret VII guideline clarified what most people suspect anyway: there's no such thing as sin, nothing is anyone's fault, all sex especially is good and noble and heroic, and the only possible bad thing you can ever do is judge somebody, because that's very un-community of specialness of you.

5. Cantor et Ductor. This Secret Vatican II guideline specified that the song leader is in charge of "doing liturgy," and the song leader should always select music that celebrates the community in its sacred specialness, and should never, ever pick anything written before 1970 or which can't theoretically be played on guitars and accompanies by homemade tambourines.

These, and a few others (feel free to add them on your own blog or in the comment boxes!) are the secret "Guidelines of Vatican II" that progressive parishes are increasingly worried about. After all, it wouldn't take much--just a few young priests who have studied the documents of Vatican II and who agree with them but who would also like a little Latin, some incense, some decent artwork, some good music, and a proper level of attention paid (in homilies and otherwise) to the reality that we're all wretched sinners in need of God's mercy--for the "Guidelines of Vatican II" to disappear from the Church forever, and to remain nothing but a bad memory and a collection of truly unfortunate churches designed and built during the brief and terribly destructive self-infatuation of the People of God.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Love casts out fear

On Friday I linked to this article, which is yet another hallmark of our slow slide into cultural suicide:

Nearly one in five American women in her early 40s is childless, according to a report that shows a striking increase in women who don't have biological children.

The trend was much less common in the 1970s, when one in 10 women did not have children by 40 to 44, the age bracket researchers use to designate the end of childbearing years.

The report, released Friday by the Pew Research Center, cites social and cultural shifts behind the change, including less pressure to have children, better contraceptive measures and expanded job opportunities for women.

"I certainly think it's notable that there is such a large increase in the share of women who do not have children for whatever reasons," said D'Vera Cohn, a coauthor of the study. She said that some women were childless by choice; others wanted children but could not have them. A "very, very small number" would go on to have children, she said.

"The fact that nearly one of five women does not have a child of her own -- that's an enormous transformation from the past," Cohn said.

Granted, not all of the childless women are childless by choice; but that phenomenon is growing as well, along with the strangest (to me) iteration of this unusual lifestyle: the married couple who choose never to procreate.

As a Catholic, I don't really understand the lifestyle choices of the "poor silly girls" who simply shack up with men on a serial basis, needing no more committment than a door key--but it is rather easy to understand why women in these irregular situations would choose to render themselves chemically sterile or have themselves (or their partners) surgically spayed or neutered, so to speak. Bringing children into a tenuous relationship with a built-in "expiration date" would be beyond foolish. But it is much harder to understand why a married couple who is both physically capable of having children and not yet too elderly to do so would choose childlessness.

The Catholic mindset views children as blessings from God, desirable for their own sake and because they are at all times the living symbols of their parents' love. So deep is the connection between marriage and childbearing that I have seen several Catholic priests say or write that for a Catholic couple to attempt to marry in spite of a publicly expressed intention never to have children at all invalidates the marriage; that is, upon examination if the publicly expressed intention is revealed their marriage will be held to be invalid. Now, what constitutes a publicly expressed intention, etc. will vary, so it would be imprudent for casual observers to pronounce on the validity of a marriage; but in general, a Catholic couple may not enter a valid Catholic marriage having expressed a desire to remain childless by choice.

But what about those who are not Catholic or not particularly religious, who want marriage (e.g., they aren't satisfied with merely shacking up), yet who insist they don't want children? Are they merely selfish, or are there other factors at work?

I spent some time this afternoon reading what childless couples and those who have studied them have to say about their reasons to avoid having children. Though there are many reasons, I noticed that one word cropped up again and again: fear. Take the following, for instance:

--fear that having children would mean giving up some of their privacy as a couple;

--fear that children will take up too much of their time;

--fear that children will cost them too much of their money;

--fear that their careers would suffer from the demands that children and child-rearing would put upon them;

--fear of change;

--fear that things like freedom, social lives, the ability to travel or be spontaneous, etc. would disappear;

--fear of certain specific aspects of child-rearing (diaper-changing gets mentioned a lot, as if childless couples think there is something so disgusting and horrific about changing an infant's diaper that they would much rather not reproduce than ever have to experience this act);

--and, saddest and most telling of all, the fear that having a child would so negatively impact their relationship with their husband or wife that the marriage would fall apart.

In fact, as regards that last one, childless couples are statistically more likely than couples with children to divorce. But the perception that bringing a child into one's marriage would end the marriage is just so terribly sad to me. It is my experience, and the experience of most people I know, that having a child just adds to the love and joy of the family; it doesn't subtract in any way from the love between husband and wife, but bonds them in a way that is hard to describe to a person who has never experienced the joy of seeing a new little soul gazing up at both mother and father with wise wonderful belonging in her infant expression.

I don't think it's an overstatement at all to say this: men and women learn the fullest extent of their ability to love when they welcome into their home the child who is the fruit of their love. I think it says something about the disease rampant in our selfish culture that so many people are too afraid of this kind of sacrificial love to wish to experience it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Writer's block

I'm sitting in front of the computer with approximately fifteen minutes until the pizza dough is ready for the "flatten it into pizza, top it appropriately with veggies and cheese, and bake it into twin discs of pi r goodness" stage. The sad thing is that I've been sitting here for most of the other twenty-five minutes the dough has been rising. I flit from news site to blog page, note interesting stories, ponder one, reject another, skip over a third, muttering "Drat all headline writers..." as I discover that the story's not even remotely the interesting quirky bit of news reality I had hoped it would be.

What to write about, what to write about...

I could do one of those "links" posts, I think. Then, instead of having to decide right away right this second which of these stories is the sort of thing I want to examine to the tune of five hundred words or so, I could just offer the link with a sentence or two of brief commentary. Those posts seem to work when I'm pressed for time--but at the same time, they're oddly unsatisfactory, too truncated and too full of links for the average person to bother clicking on. Besides--and here's the deal-breaker--I don't have a whole list of things I really, really wanted to write about all week but never got to. I'm finding the summer heat and pressing end-of-school chores to be interfering with my ability to concentrate on the news. I mean, I read this whole piece about that town in Canada that spent beaucoup bucks (Canadian) getting ready to host, with full maple-leaf pride, the G-8 summit--only to have the world leaders decide a couple of years ago to go the G-20 route instead, necessitating a venue change to Toronto, and leaving this little town with millions of dollars' (Canadian) worth of unused buildings and unnecessary renovations--and all I could think was Canada. It's cool there right now. They could turn those buildings into inexpensive hotels for broke Texans who need to escape the heat for a week or two in late June. It could be an international humanitarian gesture...

Clearly, not the stuff of which semi-decent blog posts are made. Hmm. What to write about, what to write about...

There's that story about how more women are childless than ever, along with that smug bit about parents being fatter than non-parents (they should meet my mom; nine children and she weighs about 105 pounds--in the winter in her coat and boots, that is), topped off with that terrible article about the parents who tried to sell their baby outside Wal-Mart; what is wrong with our culture, when it comes to parenting and child-raising and, you know, growing the expletive deleted up and getting off the drug of narcissistic selfishness (not to mention, in the baby-sellers' cases, methamphetamine)? I almost--almost--cheered for the inmates who roughed up the dad in jail, when they found out on the news what he was in for. But while I could pour out an angry rant in the time it takes the pizzas to bake, I have a feeling that a lot of this--women denigrating marriage, women rejecting motherhood, etc.--is really symbolic of a cultural decline that needs more thought than what I'd put into an angry rant on a Friday afternoon in the summer when all the remotely sane people have already logged off of the Internet and won't be reading blogs till sometime next week (if then).

In the end, I decide to do what I did above--write about writing, about the process of reading and sorting and pondering and rejecting and filtering before putting a single word into the little "post" box on my blog screen. Because on the days when the process of reading and sorting (etc.) leads to a big nowhere, when even as verbose a person as I am finds it hard to come up with anything even remotely interesting to say, it's better, sometimes, to admit to the writer's block brought on by June and heat and pizza night and summer blog stats (with the exception of the link from New Advent earlier this week--thanks so much!) and to give up the week as an indifferent mix, promising to do a little better next week.

Which I do promise.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

An evening in Avonlea

Tonight, Thad had to work late, so the girls and I ate dinner in front of the TV (a rare occasion). We were watching some of these discs, enjoying the chance to reacquaint ourselves with this charming version of the Anne of Green Gables stories and to share and discuss them together.

In the blink of an eye, Anne seems to grow from an awkward, romantic-minded orphan to a polished young lady who handles herself well in any situation. I'm seeing a similar transformation occur in three young ladies who aren't even aware of just how fast they're growing, just how much they've matured in the last few years--and yet, just how much more they will grow in the years that lie just ahead of us.

In the fictional Anne's day, there were little clues that a girl was becoming a young woman. She stopped wearing her hair in a long pigtail under a plain straw hat, and started to pin up the large imposing knot of hair, and crown it with some whimsical yet grown-up fashion that could still be called a "hat," if somewhat imaginatively at times. She stopped wearing sturdy shoes and started wearing more elegant ones; she spent more time in front of a mirror and less time gathering flowers in a field; she started to dream not of romantic scenes involving the Lady of Shalott, but of more homely ones, involving bridal lace, a trunk full of hope-linens, and a groom whose face was still shadowed, but who was nonetheless real.

In this movie version (and perhaps in the books as well; it has been a long time since I read them) Anne thinks she wants a teaching career, along with the adventures she can find away from Avonlea. But being away from home teaches her that the grand adventure of life doesn't require one to travel far from home to live it--and that in her own dreams the dream of husband, hearth, and home may have lain dormant for a short time, but were there, waiting for her to grow up just a little more and realize that life was calling her down a path she never thought she would take.

When I talk to my daughters about adulthood (and we have these conversations more often these days, as the mystery and promise of growing up seems more and more enticing), we often speak of two different things: the job or career they might hold (and the course of study required to achieve it), and their vocations. As Catholics, we believe that all people are called to a vocation--to a way of living that goes beyond what they do and speaks more to how they serve God, which itself has a lot to do with who they are being called to be. No matter what sort of work they do, studies they take, adventures they have, ultimately their vocations will be God's call for them to follow the best path to holiness and to Him.

Things have changed a lot for women since the days of Anne. In particular, women are encouraged to think of "relationships" as things that are nice to have but not terribly essential, which do not need to be permanent, or held down by the stuffy notion "marriage" at all--but to think of their careers as the important and meaningful work that defines them regardless of the relatively unimportant thing called "family" lurking in the background. And that is something--well, something "tragical," to put it in Anne-speak.

Because it is in the nature of a woman to wrap herself up in the people whom she loves. It is something few women really lack--this nurturing, self-sacrificing impulse that wishes to pour itself out daily in service to all of her beloveds. It is something that is stifled or stunted only at a great cost to a woman. It is why, in the movie, Anne returns to Avonlea even before she realizes that she does actually love Gilbert and wants to marry him; she returns to be with the people she loves, and to cast her lot with them, for good or ill.

If my daughters are called to marriage, they will enter that state at a time when it is widely denigrated, under many different kinds of attack, and not respected as the permanent and exclusive committment it is meant to be. They will also enter it at a time when the notion of giving up one's job to stay at home (eventually) with one's (hopefully) future children will be even harder than it is today--and it's not easy today. If any of them are called to religious life, they will enter the life of a religious sister at a time when the world tends to see sisters as a quaint anomaly, a medieval throwback--and a sign of contradiction. If, by chance, they are called to remain single, they will be challenged to live lives of loving service to the community instead of the hedonistic selfishness our culture expects of single people.

But whatever their vocations end up being, I know one thing: an evening in Avonlea is a reminder that a woman is never happier than when she is surrounded by the people she loves, and can live, with great joy, a life of selfless and happy service among them.

Happy Birthday, Charlotte!

I know it's late, but I couldn't end the day without wishing my sweet sister-in-law a very happy birthday! Charlotte, you're a terrific sister-in-law and a great friend!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Time to stop pretending

Patrick Madrid has written an eloquent and thoughtful post about Maciel and the Legion:
By now, a year and a half after the well casing of Marcial Maciel's double life finally blew apart, wrecking the Legion-of-Christ rig he had constructed to house and conceal it, and gushing a torrent of nauseating revelations into the public consciousness, we all have a bad case of Maciel-fatigue. I know I do. I'm sick of it. (And if you aren't sick of it, watch the video at the bottom of this post and I predict you will be. Sick at heart.)

And yet, we should shake off the fatigue, brace ourselves, and take stock of just how widespread the damage could become that this man (and whoever knowingly abetted him in his depredations) has inflicted on the Church.

How bizarrely ironic that the order Maciel established to be a vanguard of joyful, militant, conquering supporters and defenders of the pope should now be one of the present pope's biggest headaches. This thought undoubtedly torments many Legionary priests and affiliated laypeople who've been wondering whether to abandon the burning rig or stay put and, hoping against hope, wait for the fire that threatens to consume everything to be extinguished.

In my estimation, amidst all the uncertainty, at least one thing is certain: The Legion of Christ as we have known it is over, and it's not coming back. [...]

What's really strange, and I mean "strange" in the most baleful and sinister sense, is how Fr. Maciel's cerement-swathed hand reaches out from the grave to besmirch the memory of Pope John Paul II — the pope he feigned such adoring dedication to for all those years. While he surely harmed many men, women, and children by exploiting and devouring their trusting innocence and generosity in order to sate his own appetites, it seems that what distinguishes him as a truly implacable sociopath whose life was "devoid of scruples" is that he preyed upon even his own children.

The more it goes, the more it seems as if the trail of destruction lying in the wake of this man's astonishing 87 years of bustling activity on this earth doesn't just diminish, but dwarfs, whatever good he may have done along the way in the greedy, grubby pursuit of his goals.
Or, as William Shakespeare put it: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." (Julius Caesar)

One of the most frustrating things, according to those who were once in the Legion/Regnum Christi and have now left it, is how the habit of pointing to the fruits of the Legion has continued even in the face of the allegations that Maciel not only fathered children out of wedlock, but molested at least one of his own sons. "But look at all the good the Legion does!" is a refrain common to the pro-Legion side of things.

It's natural to want to defend an organization or individual priests one has had good experiences with. But real reform of the Legion requires the willingness to move beyond that, to be willing to see the ways in which the bad formation, bad principles, bad practices, etc. might have tainted even those things one personally experienced as good.

And that's especially hard, given fallen human nature. We tend to get defensive about things we like; we tend to react as though we ourselves are under attack. This has happened, astonishingly enough, in parishes where priests were removed for credible allegations of sexual misconduct, even with children--whole parishes would defend the priest being removed, and brush aside questions of serious wrongdoing as though what really mattered was that Father instituted hand-holding during the Our Father--or that Father finally banned that liberal practice. Abusive people are extremely good at the diabolical art of manipulation, after all, and gaining all that support was probably always a kind of "Plan B."

If the garden-variety abuser could do that much, how much more did Maciel do! He began creating a kind of self-hagiography from the get-go. He created structures that were (arguably) designed to help him hide his more nefarious activities, and instituted disciplines that kept anybody from questioning him. He encouraged a multiplicity of "apostolates" and "works" to keep everybody busy--often doing duplicate work--but apparently kept things in a state of confused entanglement all the while. And, as has been pointed out here and many other places on numerous occasions, all of the Legion works and apostolates seemed at all times to have one overarching goal: to grow the Legion. It wasn't said that way--it was said as if "growing the Legion" meant "bringing about the Kingdom," that all that was necessary to create the Kingdom of Christ on earth was for the Legion to be as big, as powerful, as financially productive, and as untouchable as possible.

I think it's fair to say that Maciel did not, himself, really do any good at all--any lasting, permanent good, that is. What he did was create, for his own purposes and his own ends, the illusion of good--the better with which to entrap souls, supply himself with victims for his perversion as well as with wealthy donors to furnish him with a luxurious and devious lifestyle, and bring about not the Kingdom of God, but the kingdom of Maciel instead. The more we learn about the way this man conducted himself here on earth, the more we can see the evil of that way--but how, then, to pretend that that way can produce anything really good, anything really beautiful, anything really lasting or geared toward God's greater glory?

I think it's time to stop all such pretenses. What will emerge from the ruins of the Legion will, as Patrick Madrid said, be very, very different from what exists now--or it will simply cease to be.

Unhappy General Stanley

In the brilliant work The Pirates of Penzance, Sir William S. Gilbert's plot includes a Major-General (who happens to have the last name Stanley); this Major-General tells the pirates that he is an orphan, in order to play upon their sympathies and keep them from stealing his daughters (to marry them, of course; this was Victorian entertainment, after all). Eventually, the pirates learn the awful (though rather unbelievable) truth: Major-General Stanley is not, after all, an orphan. The Pirate King confronts him with these words:
With base deceit
You worked upon our feelings!
Revenge is sweet,
And flavours all our dealings!
With courage rare
And resolution manly,
For death prepare,
Unhappy Gen'ral Stanley.
I couldn't help but think of this quote as beleaguered General Stanley McChrystal flew to Washington to face the music created by an unmelodious article in Rolling Stones. Of course, General McChrystal wasn't facing death--but then, neither was the fictional General Stanley, given the comic ineptitude of the Pirate King and his band, and given Gilbert's extraordinary ability to extricate his characters from convoluted plots by...creating even more convoluted ones.

Now, why on earth would comic ineptitude and convoluted plots come to mind? Could it be this mention of Rahm Emanuel--or maybe this whole piece? Excerpt:

Mr. Obama, aides say, consulted with advisers — some, like Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who warned of the dangers of replacing General McChrystal, others, like his political advisers, who thought he had to go. He reached out for advice to a soldier-statesman, Colin L. Powell. He identified a possible successor to lead the war in Afghanistan.

And then, finally, the president ended General McChrystal’s command in a meeting that lasted only 20 minutes. According to one aide, the general apologized, offered his resignation and did not lobby for his job.

After a seesaw debate among White House officials, “there was a basic meeting of the minds,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and a major player in the deliberations. “This was not good for the mission, the military and morale,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Mr. Obama has forced out officials before, including the director of national inte

lligence, Dennis C. Blair; the White House counsel, Gregory Craig; even General McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David D. McKiernan.

But this is the highest profile sacking of his presidency. The time between Mr. Obama’s first reading of the Rolling Stone article and his decision to accept General McChrystal’s resignation offers an insight into the president’s decision-making process under intense stress: He appears deliberative and open to debate, but in the end, is coldly decisive.

Well, that's one way to look at it, anyway.

I'm not unsympathetic to the dilemma President Obama faced on this one. The thinly-veiled contempt with which General McChrystal's aides spoke, as quoted in the Rolling Stones article, could not be left unaddressed; nor could the general's own disdain for the Vice President. At the same time, though, the president's timetable on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, already lagging, now seems even more unlikely. The general put Obama in a pretty tough situation.

But this situation wasn't unavoidable. To an extent, what contempt or disdain the Commander-in-Chief may get from military leaders may be, at least a little, his own fault. That may or may not be fair--but a real leader doesn't worry about the fairness or unfairness of a negative view of his policies or competence, so much as he considers whether the negative view has any truth to it.

General Stanley McChrystal may be "unhappy General Stanley" after all of this. The question is whether President Obama, in his role as Commander in Chief, will take seriously the idea that both his leadership and that of the vice president may not be inspiring as much confidence among our troops--and their leaders--as is necessary during the prosecution of a war.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ancient images of an ancient faith

This is just really neat:

ROME — Twenty-first century laser technology has opened a window into the early days of the Catholic Church, guiding researchers through the dank, musty catacombs beneath Rome to a startling find: the first known icons of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Vatican officials unveiled the paintings Tuesday, discovered along with the earliest known images of the apostles John and Andrew in an underground burial chamber beneath an office building on a busy street in a working-class Rome neighborhood.

The images, which date from the second half of the 4th century, were uncovered using a new laser technique that allows restorers to burn off centuries of thick white calcium carbonate deposits without damaging the brilliant dark colors of the paintings underneath. [...]

Last June, the Vatican announced the discovery of the icon of Paul at Santa Tecla, timing the news to coincide with the end of the Vatican's year of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI also said tests on bone fragments long attributed to Paul "seemed to confirm" that they did indeed belong to the Roman Catholic saint.

On Tuesday, Vatican archaeologists announced the image of Paul was not found in isolation, but was part of a square ceiling painting that also included icons of three other apostles — Peter, John and Andrew — surrounding an image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

"They are the first icons. These are absolutely the first representations of the apostles," said Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of archaeology for the catacombs.

Go here to see the amazing images.

Poor silly girls

So, a couple of girls decide to write about why their live-in boyfriends are just dreamy and how no stuffy old marriage business could possibly make their lives any better:
Once upon a time, marriage made sense. It was how women ensured their financial security, got the fathers of their children to stick around, and gained access to a host of legal rights. But 40 years after the feminist movement established our rights in the workplace, a generation after the divorce rate peaked, and a decade after Sex and the City made singledom chic, marriage is—from a legal and practical standpoint, anyway—no longer necessary. The two of us are educated, young, urban professionals, committed to our careers, friendships, and, yes, our relationships. But we know that legally tying down those unions won’t make or break them. Women now constitute a majority of the workforce; we’re more educated, less religious, and living longer, with vacuum cleaners and washing machines to make domestic life easier. We’re also the breadwinners (or co-breadwinners) in two thirds of American families. In 2010, we know most spousal rights can be easily established outside of the law, and that Americans are cohabiting, happily, in record numbers. We have our own health care and 401(k)s and no longer need a marriage license to visit our partners in the hospital. For many of us, marriage doesn’t even mean a tax break. [...]

To tell you what you already know, the American family is in the throes of change. Gone are the days of the nuclear nest; in its wake is a motley mix of single parents, same-sex couples, and, yes, unmarried monogamists. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, who studies the nature of love, might say that’s a symptom of our biology: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. For us, it’s not that we reject monogamy altogether—indeed, one of us is going on six years with a partner—but that the idea of marriage has become so tainted, and simultaneously so idealized, that we’re hesitant to engage in it. Boomers may have been the first children of divorce, but ours is a generation for whom multiple households were the norm. We grew up shepherded between bedrooms, minivans, and dinner tables, with stepparents, half-siblings, and highly complicated holiday schedules. You can imagine, then—amid incessant high-profile adultery scandals—that we’d be somewhat cynical about the institution. (Till death do us part, really?) “The question,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage-Go-Round, “is not why fewer people are getting married, but why are so many still getting married?”

The feminist argument against marriage has long been that it forces women to conform—as Gloria Steinem once put it, marriage is an arrangement “for one and a half people.” No woman we know would date a man who’d force her into the kitchen—and even Steinem eventually got hitched—but we’d be fools to think we’ve completely shed the roles associated with “husband” and “wife.” Men’s contributions to housework and child rearing may have doubled since the 1960s, yet even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two thirds of the housework. (One study even claims that the simple act of getting married creates seven hours more housework for women each week.) In the workplace, meanwhile, women who use their partner’s name are regarded as less intelligent, less competent, less ambitious, and thus less likely to be hired. We may date the most modern men in the world, but we’ve heard enough complaints to worry: if we tie the knot, does life suddenly become a maze of TV dinners, shoes up on the coffee table, and dirty dishes? “The bottom line is that men, not women, are much happier when they’re married,” says Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina who studies marriage and family.

Do read the whole thing, but watch out for the suffocating narcissistic vapidity, if you do.

My first reaction to this unfortunate piece was: poor silly girls. Sure, that's just a visceral response--but at least it, unlike the article, is based in reality. I have to shake my head--what are they thinking, really?

Have they thought about the fact that the rather absurd notion that people do best in serial monogamous relationships lasting three or four years each is eventually going to put women on the very wrong side of the age equation, for one? Or do they think that feminism has undone untold centuries of human evolution such that the men they want to partner with ten, twelve, or sixteen years down the line will no longer be attracted to much younger women who are likely fertile and will, instead, be eager to shack up with a never-married woman approaching her late forties or early fifties who may even have a couple of children from her earlier adventures in cohabitation?

Have they considered the reality that the available men in their age group in a decade or so will probably have reams of baggage, including children of their own (and possibly even wives to whom they are still married)--or do they expect to find an abundance of men in their mid-to-late forties who have never been married, who have never had children, who owe no alimony or child support to anyone, and who are otherwise excellent shacking-up material? If they do, they need to quit watching so much "VoSC*** in the City" and start paying attention to real life.

Have they, in their pondering about how awkward it was to be shuttled around at the holidays etc. among formerly-married-but-not-now parents, how difficult it might be for their own children someday? "Oh, Lance is spending Thanksgiving with his dad and dad's newest girlfriend, and Jennifer is with her dad's ex-wife and her new husband, because Jen really bonded with her stepmom back when her dad and his ex were still married, and Paul--my current boyfriend--is visiting his parents in Iowa, but I decided to skip it this year because Paul's grandmother keeps hinting that we ought to get married, and really I've been with Paul three years now, so I'm thinking I'm due for a change." Right. Not marrying the various fathers of one's children is not going to make things easier for one's children than marrying multiple fathers would be--but I don't think these girls really care, as yet, since children are just a pleasant--or not so pleasant--future abstraction to them.

The truth of the matter is that cohabitating really is just "playing house." It's something children do when they don't want to give up their selfishness, their desire to keep their relationship options "open," or the intrinsic childishness that causes them to fail to see what a terrible injustice it is to potential children to bring them into such a tenuous relationship.

Real love doesn't want to keep its options open--it says to the beloved, "I choose you, now and forever, regardless of what troubles and pains life may throw at us, with hope for the future and with joy." Or, in other words, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health...but you get the idea.

***Violations of the Sixth Commandment

Monday, June 21, 2010

The usual hullabaloo

So, last week Thomas Peters blogged something negative about the D.C. Macy's store's gay marriage themes in its storefront wedding advertisements.

Andrew Sullivan reacted in his usual way (no, not the "Sarah Palin's baby is really Laura Bush's extramarital love child with secret paramour Karl Rove!" way, but the "call everybody I disagree with about gay sex a 'Christianist' and pretend that the Catholic Church's teaching on the intrinsic grave sinfulness of homosexual sex acts is just exactly like the Taliban's tendency to crash planes into buildings and otherwise seek to murder everybody they disagree with" way.) Leaving the disturbing Freudian analytical potentials aside, Sullivan's 'Christianist!' epithet has moved way beyond tiresome into downright silly, making his various claims about baby Trig's parentage seem almost thoughtful by comparison.

Patrick Archbold writes about the teapot-tempest here:

Peter’s simple remark that “DC would be a hard place to raise kids. I’m beginning to think that’s more and more the case, especially if you live near the Macy’s,” has garnered him all kinds of rebukes including Andrew Sullivan boringly charging him with “best American Taliban template for bigotry.”

Oh please. Peters rightly responds to the all the hubbub by saying, and I paraphrase, “Duh, I am Catholic.” [...]

Rather than dive into the subject of the absurdity of gay marriage, let’s look at this display from a business perspective.

It is inarguable that the percentage of self-identified gay people is rather small. Experts suggest that it is somewhere around four percent of the population. That is a pretty small market segment but why not target it? Perhaps because the majority of people actually oppose gay marriage. In fact, in every state in which gay marriage has come before the electorate it has been defeated, sometimes with very large majorities.

How does it make good business sense to target a population of less than four percent while risking alienating the large majority of potential Macy’s shoppers? It doesn’t. I would call it a bad business decision but we all know this decision has nothing to do with business. [Link in original--E.M.]

Patrick's take is a good one--except for one thing. The Wedding-Industrial Complex, which wants to sell every American on the idea that it's just not even worth moving beyond cohabitation if you can't afford Your Dream Wedding (average cost: $30,000 and rising), is all for gay-marriage. It's a huge untapped potential market, after all. This article from last year noted that the wedding industry could grow by sixteen billion dollars if all 50 states legalized gay marriage--and that estimate was made in 2004 by Forbes; the numbers could be higher by now.

So there's a lot of money for Macy's to make by "betting" on gay marriage, considering that like most traditional department stores, Macy's makes a percentage of its annual revenue around bridal registries and the gift purchases they drive. If they alienate their actual weekly-Mass-going, educated enough to understand Church teaching on gay marriage and to accept it fully Catholic customers in the meantime--well, those six or eight couples probably wouldn't have shopped at Macy's in the first place.

I only wish I were kidding.

Truth is, businesses like Macy's have nothing to lose by showing ads featuring women clasping hands with other women, or men with other men. If Macy's could make money pushing polygamy, they'd probably show happy "Big Love" style groups, too, the women all dressed in identical and expensive wedding gowns with the tuxedo-clad man beaming in the center. If Macy's could make money promoting incest--well, but let's just not go there.

So in the end, this situation is nothing but the usual hullabaloo--a Catholic pointing out rather mildly that ads featuring same-sex "married" couples are pretty distasteful to Catholics, and someone on the same-sex "marriage" side acting as though such statements are outrageous and bigoted instead of--well, Catholic. But with D.C. now a "same-sex 'marriage' zone," Catholic's rights to express our disagreement with the idea that a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, can in any real sense of the word be said to be married without changing the historical and legal definition of the word is probably on the way out, just like it has been in Massachusetts and every other place that has legalized same-sex "marriage."

A few guiding principles

Well, it may be the first day of summer, but it's still Monday--which means that it's ten p.m. and I finally have time to write something.

This is an interesting, but disturbing article at the New York Times. The author details her father's agonizing last years of life, made worse, not better, by the pacemaker that ironically was helping to keep him alive:

The system rewarded nobody for saying “no” or even “wait” — not even my frugal, intelligent, Consumer-Reports-reading mother. Medicare and supplemental insurance covered almost every penny of my father’s pacemaker. My mother was given more government-mandated consumer information when she bought a new Camry a year later.

And so my father’s electronically managed heart — now requiring frequent monitoring, paid by Medicare — became part of the $24 billion worldwide cardiac-device industry and an indirect subsidizer of the fiscal health of American hospitals. The profit margins that manufacturers earn on cardiac devices is close to 30 percent. Cardiac procedures and diagnostics generate about 20 percent of hospital revenues and 30 percent of profits.[...]

In 2005, the age-related degeneration that had slowed my father’s heart attacked his eyes, lungs, bladder and bowels. Clots as narrow as a single human hair lodged in tiny blood vessels in his brain, killing clusters of neurons by depriving them of oxygen. Long partly deaf, he began losing his sight to wet macular degeneration, requiring ocular injections that cost nearly $2,000 each. A few months later, he forgot his way home from the university pool. He grew incontinent. He was collapsing physically, like an ancient, shored-up house.

In the summer of 2006, he fell in the driveway and suffered a brain hemorrhage. Not long afterward, he spent a full weekend compulsively brushing and rebrushing his teeth. “The Jeff I married . . . is no longer the same person,” my mother wrote in the journal a social worker had suggested she keep. “My life is in ruins. This is horrible, and I have lasted for five years.” His pacemaker kept on ticking.

The article is several pages long, and contains many details which, as a Catholic, I can't approve of--the contact between the author's family and the pro-death/pro-suicide Hemlock society, for one major thing. But at the same time, there's a serious question raised: why was a pacemaker put into the chest of a man who only needed an operation for a hernia, whose slow heartbeat was only a risk factor for that surgery, not a dangerous condition for him generally, and who had already survived a stroke two years previously? Why, in a man already 81 or 82 years old, was a pacemaker a prerequisite for an operation to relieve him of a painful hernia?

The author suggests many answers: lawsuits, Medicare policies, profit to doctors and hospitals from pacemaker "sales and installations" (for want of a better phrase), and the like. But she also points to the frustration her mother had, in dealing with the doctors prior to her father's hernia operation, in that alternatives were not discussed, the pacemaker's powers and longevity and what that might do were not mentioned, and in general there seemed to be no choice: either let this elderly and ill man continue to suffer pain from a hernia, or permit the installation of a pacemaker.

In our increasingly technological age, many of us may find ourselves facing the same questions and dilemmas as we care for aging grandparents, parents, and someday, for ourselves or our own spouses. The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out a few guiding principles:

2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

2278 Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of "over-zealous" treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

2279 Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted. The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying, even at the risk of shortening their days, can be morally in conformity with human dignity if death is not willed as either an end or a means, but only foreseen and tolerated as inevitable. Palliative care is a special form of disinterested charity. As such it should be encouraged.

Where does the desire to "turn off" a pacemaker fall into these guidelines?

I think that a pacemaker can legitimately be considered to be extraordinary, burdensome, or disproportionate in some instances, especially in the very elderly patient who is not in especially good health to begin with. This is not an attempt to discount the lives of the elderly--not at all!--but to recognize that a device which might be only moderately burdensome to a much younger person may, indeed, be intolerable to an octogenarian.

In the article, the author quotes a doctor who is morally opposed to turning off her father's pacemaker, likening the act to a direct act of euthanasia. However, the author says that the expected result of turning off the pacemaker would only have been to return her father to his previously slow heartbeat, a symptom of his age which was not impacting him prior to the insertion of the pacemaker. Clearly, in a situation like this where a Catholic was trying to decide what to do, it would be important to determine whether the turning off of the pacemaker would be likely to be a direct cause of death, or whether, in fact, the patient could continue to live in relative happiness for a reasonable amount of time without the device--and it would be important to gather sound medical opinions from doctors involved in the patient's care.

One of the things I found disturbing about the author's discussion of the Hemlock Society and related matters was this: it was unclear if the goal really was the mere removal of the burden of the pacemaker, or if the goal was to end her father's life (and suffering). If the goal were the latter, then merely turning off the pacemaker might not have had any such effect--which just highlights the danger for Catholics navigating these new waters of high-technology end-of-life care options. It is one thing to order the cessation of some burdensome care or treatment when there is little hope for improvement, and the care is causing more suffering than it is alleviating; it is quite another to order the cessation of this type of care in the hopes that death will result.

Though this is outside of the scope of the article I'm commenting on, I do want to mention that any talk of ceasing extraordinary or burdensome care (or deciding not to accept such care in the first place) does not in any way relate to food or hydration, both of which are necessary to all but those people who are actively dying. Food and water are ordinary care, and can't be refused regardless of the means of delivery; a feeding tube does not have to be inserted into a patient who is actively dying and whose body no longer absorbs food, but for anyone else a feeding tube is no different from a spoon, in terms of how "extraordinary" it might be.

Our lives are in God's hands from the beginning to the bodily end; our souls do not die, and that is a hopeful thought when pondering the possible indignities of old age, suffering, and death. But for us as Catholics, treating the patient with dignity does not mean seeking the patient's death; nor does it mean prolonging life through burdensome and extraordinary means. What it does mean is recognizing in the elderly, ill, and dying the same humanity we all share, and that God chose to take upon Himself, and treating them with the love and compassion with which we hope ourselves to be treated. It is likely that it will not be at all easy, but nothing worth doing ever is, is it?

Friday, June 18, 2010

I think we should call them heroes

When he heads out the door every morning, he's supposed to be ready to focus on all the demands his corporate employer can throw at him--and answer, on the first ring, a call from his wife asking for the phone number of that plumber they used last time, because one of the kids is using potty-training sessions to conduct his own version of the "Will It Float" segment of the Letterman show, titled, "Will It Flush?" (My guess: board books--yes, eventually; plastic bath-time book and rubber duckie flotilla--no.)

He's supposed to balance work and family, which sometimes means taking a day off for a birthday-party stroll through the zoo--while answering pages and phone calls on a bench outside the exhibit they've come to see.

He's supposed to pitch in and contribute to the home-maintenance, according to his skills and abilities--lawn care, car care, designated trash hauler, Mr. Fix-It, Sir Honeydo--there are as many hats as there are jobs, and chances are that at least one of the hats has one of those flashlight bands around it (or a light built into the brim) because it's too hard to have someone else hold the flashlight exactly in the right place to see what's wrong with the garbage disposal without that person inadvertently blocking the light as she leans forward to see the problem. Whatever his jobs are, he's supposed to do them cheerfully, routinely, before anybody asks--because he's supposed to notice when he comes home after sitting in a gray depressing cubicle all day that something he usually attends to hasn't yet been done.

If he has sons, he is supposed to teach them to become men--to step up to the plate and shoulder big responsibilities, to learn teamwork and leadership and determination, to help them find their way in the world someday; but also to learn exquisite manners, real compassion for his mother and sisters, and the willingness to pitch in with chores he instinctively sees as feminine, so their future wives, if they marry, will appreciate them fully. He's supposed to teach his sons to succeed and excel--and to change diapers and help out with cooking and cleaning. Above all, he's supposed to teach them respect--respect for themselves, for others, for women, for the elderly or ill, for the physically handicapped or different--and he's supposed to teach these things not only by leading, but by setting an example of a person his sons can respect.

If he has daughters, he's supposed to bond with them, support and encourage them, foster their self-esteem in thousands of different ways; he's supposed to set the example of what their future husbands should be like (should they marry) by the unfailing respect and love with which he treats their mother. He's supposed to tell them that they can achieve whatever they set out to do, but also help them to move beyond the age when they are likely to be dreamers, and help them set practical and realistic goals geared toward adulthood. As he does with his sons, he should teach his daughters respect, and above all that they should respect themselves far too much to welcome the sort of boyfriend who doesn't respect them as he ought.

He's supposed to see kneeling in prayer as a posture of manly strength, not a habit of female weakness; he's supposed to set an example of the loving father, so that his children will not have any difficulty seeing God as the Loving Father of all. He's supposed to cultivate virtue and avoid vice, to shun the many temptations to lust our culture presents, to drink in moderation (if he drinks) and never to use the enjoyment of alcohol to the point of abuse. He's supposed to be faithful to his wife not only out of love for her, but out of justice, what he owes to her and to his family. He's supposed to be willing to communicate honestly and fearlessly about problems and even seek marital counseling if this becomes necessary.

He's supposed to enjoy a reasonable amount of time to himself, but not supposed to plop in front of the computer or ball game or other means of entertainment all day long or all weekend long when his wife and family need his help--or just need to interact with him. He is, just like his wife, supposed to put aside his natural desire for some free time during the years when the children are small and there is much to be done.

And then, every weekday morning, he's supposed to head out the door, to go back to work for employers for whom the phrase "24/7" is increasingly not an exaggeration, but a pretty close estimate as to how much time they expect him to spend working for them. And he's supposed to grab the phone if it rings and displays his home number, just in case there's something more serious going on than a minor bathroom flooding issue.

We call these men, "Fathers." I think we should call them heroes.

Happy Father's Day to all the great dads out there!

Does this change things?

When I wrote this post about Abby Sunderland, I realized that some people were bound to disagree. I've learned as a parent that some parents have a much greater tolerance for their children's potentially dangerous adventures than I do. Then again, I only have daughters, so it's perhaps not all that strange that they are naturally more cautious than sons might be, or that I see my role as easing them into the world, not letting them set sail at 16 on a solo voyage to see how it all goes.

I haven't mentioned the somewhat disturbing wrinkle that developed in Abby's story:
Reality check: After nearly losing their 16-year-old daughter Abby to rough seas on a solo sail around the world, did Laurence and Marianne Sunderland try to cash in with a television reality show, "Adventures in Sunderland"? [...]

Laurence Sunderland told the Los Angeles Times Monday that he had cut ties with Magnetic Entertainment, the company with which he had planned to do the show, because he was not happy with the direction it was taking.

"There is no show at this time, nor will there be," he told the newspaper. "They were assuming Abigail was going to die out there. They were relying on her dying, and so we cut the ties."

Magnetic Entertainment's website is, as I write this, a placeholder. But a cache of the page shows the "Adventures in Sunderland" blurb--and did when I checked the website earlier this week. Exactly when plans to feature the Sunderland children in a reality show fell through is unclear--but there is still talk that hints that Abby might write a book about her adventures.

I didn't rush to write about this, though I was interested in it, because I wanted to give Abby's family the benefit of the doubt. But it seems clear that at least at one point, there were plans to shop a reality TV show about the family--about Zac Sunderland's voyage, about Abby's voyage, or perhaps a combination; or maybe the concept would have evolved into something else entirely.

So, does that change approval for the degree of risk the Sunderlands are willing to allow their children to undertake?

For me, it doesn't make much of a difference; I already said that I don't think sixteen-year-olds should be attempting solo circumnavigations, and it seems that several sailing associations might agree, as they no longer officially recognize any records set by such young sailors. But for those who were more inclined to defend the Sunderlands, I have to ask: does the fact that there was even talk of a reality show--even if it didn't get anywhere--change your opinion? Can parents be dispassionate enough to make sound parental decisions when somewhere in the background, somebody has an idea for potential fame (and, possibly, fortune) based on the child's adventures?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cat Stevens, dewfall, and the spirit of obedience

Larry D informs us that Bishop Donald Trautman is still having problems with the new Mass translation. From the article in US Catholic:

Did Jesus ever speak to the people of his day in words beyond their comprehension? Did Jesus ever use terms or expressions beyond his hearer’s understanding? Jesus did explain the parable of the sower privately to his disciples in Mark (4:10-12) and Luke (8:9-10). In John 6 many of Jesus’ disciples found his Bread of Life discourse hard to accept. In these instances it is the message—not its vocabulary—that required further explanation.

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy showed pastoral wisdom when it specified that liturgical texts should “be within the people’s powers of comprehension and normally not require much explanation.”

But in the new Missal there are whole prayers that are extremely difficult to understand. For example, in the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, the prayer after communion reads, “Let the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful within by the sprinkling of his dew.” In the epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit in Eucharistic Prayer II, the celebrant will pray: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall.”

What will people understand by “the sprinkling of the Holy Spirit’s dew” and “dewfall”? The words are pregnant with poetry and scriptural meaning, but if they fail to be understood by the average worshiper, they fail pastorally. Or consider the opening prayer on the Monday of the fifth week of Lent: “May we bring before you as the fruit of bodily penance a cheerful purity of mind.” What do these words mean?

Notably, the bishop is still having problems with "dew" and "dewfall." I don't really think those are obscure words, outside of the vocabulary of the average person. Even a small child sees sparkling drops of water on the grass in the early morning and wants to know if it has rained; the word "dew" describes something very everyday and normal, not something inaccessible and esoteric.

The singer formerly known as Cat Stevens apparently didn't find the word "dewfall" too obscure to use; otherwise he might have omitted this verse from his song "Morning Has Broken," based on Eleanor Farjeon's poetry:

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass
Sure, it's poetry--but it's not some odd, obscure bit of sixteenth-century verse; the words are plainly understandable.

But I don't think the comprehension factor is really the issue for some of the people objecting to the new translation. Let's look at this example Bishop Trautman cites:

But this pastoral style is missing in the new translation, which is especially evident in Eucharistic Prayer III. Presently we pray: “Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters and all who have left this world in your friendship.” This is a clear, straightforward, hope-filled, understandable prayer. However in the new Missal it reads: “To our departed brothers and sisters and to all who are pleasing to you at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to your kingdom.”

Contrast the phrasing: “welcome into your kingdom” versus “give kind admittance.” The first is inspiring, hope-filled, consoling, memorable. It conveys the thought, “Lord, welcome, open your arms.” “Give kind admittance” is dull and lackluster, reminding one of a ticket-taker at the door.

To me, "Welcome into your kingdom..." is a bit of an imperative to be addressed to God. While "give" might also be seen as an imperative, the preceding phrase softens that, while "give kind admittance" might be seen as imploring God rather than commanding Him--which too many of our present prayers seem, sometimes, to do.

While I don't wish to appear overly critical, here, it seems to me that Bishop Trautman's attitude is less than helpful. The spirit of obedience and trust in the Church's ability to improve the English translation of the prayers of the Mass is going to be hard enough to cultivate at the parish level, without bishops openly being hostile to the whole idea--and repeating the same complaints again and again. We wouldn't want a spirit of rebellion to spread across the landscape of English-speaking Catholics like--well, like dewfall--would we?

A proposal on hospital visitation

Reader Geoff G. links to a sad story about a man whose same-sex partner's parents and family would not allow him into their son's (his partner's) hospital room to say goodbye when their son was dying of a sudden heart attack.

Of course, Geoff assumes that I would agree with the parents on this one, and even when I said I didn't, creates some "guilty by association" that says that because I think homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil and that same-sex marriage is wrong from both moral and sociological standpoints, I might as well be standing in that hospital room holding up a barrier.

Now, if I said that because Geoff G. approves of homosexual sex acts, same-sex marriage, etc. he must necessarily approve of bathhouses, anonymous sex trysts in public parks or public bathrooms, and the North American Man-Boy Love Association, I would be engaged in an act of demonizing my opponent. I don't believe that just because some people think that homosexual sex acts are good and fine and morally terrific, etc., they must believe all of that other stuff--but Geoff has no problem putting me on the side of the Hospital Barrier Brigade just because I accept my 2,000 year old religion's clear, strong teaching that homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil, just like adulterous sex acts, unmarried sex acts, sex acts performed on oneself, or a whole plethora of other perversions too unpleasant to mention.

In fact, though, the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality is more subtle than Geoff or his friends generally understand. Let's take a look:
Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
What does this say, in brief? It says three things: one, that homosexual sex acts are gravely morally evil; two, that the inclination to this act (not the person suffering from the inclination) is objectively disordered, but is for most a trial, and is not a reason for any unjust discrimination against same-sex inclined people; and three, that just like everybody else, homosexual people are called to chastity.

So what is unjust discrimination? To understand that better, let's look at some things that might legitimately be opposed in regard to same-sex people: same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples, and the teaching of same-sex sexuality to children as something which is morally good. In each of these examples there is no way to proceed without insisting that homosexual acts are morally good, something to which the Church can never agree (as the Catechism spells out quite clearly).

But things which do not require the Church to blunt her teaching about the grave immorality of every same-sex sex act do not fall into that same category. Allowing, for example, the same-sex partner of a dying person into the person's hospital room is in no way a condoning of the sin of homosexual activity. It is simply an act of human charity which ought not to be withheld ordinarily. Except in rare circumstances, then, depriving the dying person of the ability to take leave of his partner (and vice versa) would be, in my opinion, an act of unjust discrimination. (And to be clear, by "rare circumstances" I have in mind such things as the dying person's own request that the partner not be admitted first and foremost, and afterward such considerations as the person's medical needs and so forth).

This is where the same-sex marriage advocates tend to get a little angry. Oh, it's easy for me to say that it's okay for two men or two women who have had a sexual relationship to be allowed into each other's hospital rooms, but without marriage there's just no way whatsoever to make sure the person's wishes will be respected, etc.

I don't believe that for a minute--and I can think of other situations, not even same-sex ones, where the right to have certain visitors admitted or others excluded becomes very difficult to ensure when one is in the hospital for whatever reason, and where the marital status of the person in question doesn't even affect the situation.

So I propose some common sense legislation that would solve this problem. We could call it something like, "Hospital Visitation Act of 2010," or perhaps come up with a catchier name. This Act would declare that the right to be visited in the hospital by the people of one's choice was to be protected, and would create a way for adults to designate, well in advance of hospitalization, up to ten people (or so--that's just a working number) who are to be allowed visiting privileges under any circumstance except those where for medical reasons the hospital can't allow any visitors (e.g., highly contagious illnesses, certain ICU situations, etc.). Anyone other than those ten people could still be admitted if the patient was alert, conscious, and could request their presence, but in the event that the patient was no longer able to communicate his or her wishes, at least those ten would be allowed (and there could be a tier system as well, so that in the event the hospital is only allowing a few visitors the right ones would be at the top of the list). For minor children, of course, visitors would still be up to the parents or guardians.

I'm not entirely sure just how the list would be created, maintained, etc. On the one hand, the system would have to allow for easy changes; on the other, it would have to prevent people from fraudulently putting themselves on someone else's list. But those aren't insurmountable obstacles in our technologically advanced age.

Would there still be problems, if, for instance, a man left his former girlfriend on the list but forgot to add his present one, or any such similar situation? Sure--but at present, both of them could show up claiming to be the man's wife or sister, and hospital personnel shouldn't have to bear the burden of needing to verify every person's identity before admitting them to a patient's room.

And the occasional relative or friend might be annoyed at not being on someone's list, but when the patient is out of danger they can take it up with that patient, instead of blaming society, heteronormism, bigotry or any other such thing for leaving them out.

After all, hospitals have visiting rules for the safety and comfort of their patients. If the parents of a same-sex attracted man use those rules to deny his partner a reasonable visit, they are out of line; but we could, I think, create a system which allowed all people, not just same-sex ones, a greater degree of control over who visits them in the hospital without in any way needing to tamper with the ancient definition of marriage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ah, but in Mr. Darcy, it's a feature, not a flaw

Poor Maureen Dowd. After swooning back in the campaign--remember that? It seems so long ago--that Barack Obama was the second coming of Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy, she now seems to be perennially frustrated by the awareness that even Jane's Mr. Darcy would have made a terrible politician or national leader, and that her own personal version isn't doing much better:

President Obama was supposed to be a soothing change. He had a rough childhood. Michelle once told a friend that “Barack spent so much time by himself that it was like he was raised by wolves.” But he seemed to have come through exceptionally well adjusted. “His aides from the Senate, the presidential campaign, and the White House routinely described him with the same words: ‘psychologically healthy,’ ” writes Jonathan Alter in “The Promise,” a chronicle of Obama’s first year in office.

So it’s unnerving now to have yet another president elevating personal quirks into a management style.

How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?

President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision. It has made him unable to understand things quickly on a visceral level and put him on the defensive in this spring of our discontent, failing to understand that Americans are upset that a series of greedy corporations have screwed over the little guy without enough fierce and immediate pushback from the president.

“Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, La., residents on Friday. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

Once more on Tuesday night, we were back to back-against-the-wall time. The president went for his fourth-quarter, Michael Jordan, down-to-the-wire, thrill shot in the Oval Office, his first such dramatic address to a nation sick about the slick.

You know the president is drowning — in oil this time — when he uses the Oval Office. And do words really matter when the picture of oil gushing out of the well continues to fill the screen?

While I'm left wondering about the odd descriptor of Jonathon Alter's which Dowd cites--after all, whom do you know who you would routinely introduce or describe to others as "psychologically healthy?"--Dowd's larger point is mostly on target. Say what you will about the president's response to the Gulf Oil crisis, there's been a disturbing lack of empathy displayed. The residents of Louisiana do not, in fact, expect the president to act like a movie-superhero and "plug the hole" by a dazzling display of super-skills. What they do want is the reassurance that their plight is being noticed and recorded, that there will be real, tangible help for them which will not take years to administer nor be swallowed up in the swamp of corruption often present at local government levels, and that the company whose inattentiveness led to this catastrophe will be held accountable in some specific way.

Instead, the president seems to be getting testy and moody, talking about posterior-kicking one day, setting up an Oval Office display a few days later, complaining that after all, he's only the president. In this, the first real test of his office that didn't involve mere politics, Barack Obama has been found wanting. The usual political solutions are worthless; the usual words mean little. What's required is that shade of leadership which lays the self thoroughly aside, and focuses in on the people who have suffered and lost the most, that kind of deep compassion which, if a political leader can't actually muster, he must learn, early on, to fake convincingly.

A bloodless dispassionate self-centered analytical approach is only going to infuriate the ones who most long for that sort of leadership. But in Mr. Darcy, that kind of thing was a feature. In a United States President, it can only be a flaw.

But while I agree with much of what Dowd writes here, I must shake my head at her question quoted above: "How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?" As a candidate, Barack Obama was only dazzling to those on the left--Dowd included--who imbued him with nearly superhuman attributes cloaked in dizzyingly hyperbolic words, as they gushed and thrilled and tingled and shivered every time the future president opened his mouth. Had they listened--really listened--to what our current president was saying back then, they wouldn't be so surprised now, to find out that when faced with a crisis that demands both leadership and compassion, President Obama has been able to produce only Chicago-style bravado.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is divorce contagious?

Speaking of trendy ideas that are bad for children, let's talk about another one: divorce. Now, nobody really defends divorce as a good idea--nobody, except for daytime talk show hosts and women's magazines and divorce lawyers and...well, okay, so there are people out there who think divorce is a good idea. Scratch that, then.

But anyway, nobody pretends that, apart from egregious, addiction-rife or abusive situations, divorce is actually good for the children. So why, then, do so many adults end up doing it?

Here's a novel idea: maybe divorce is contagious:

(CNN) -- Divorce is contagious in social networks, a new study says. The idea is based on the theory of social contagion, or the spread of behavior or emotion through a group. In this case, the heated feelings and actions of one person's divorce can be transferred like a virus, causing others to divorce, according to the study.

Not only can the risk of divorce spread from one couple to their friends or family, it can also affect relationships at least two degrees of separation away from the original couple splitting up, said James H. Fowler, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Your decision to split from your spouse can influence whether your friend gets divorced. It also can sway your friend's friend, according to preliminary findings by Fowler and fellow researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities.

Some therapists offer anecdotal reports of the divorce influence on friends.

Jay Slupesky, a California marriage counselor, said he's seen women separate from their husbands because they were inspired by their divorced female friends. Slupesky is working with several couples who are empty nesters in their 40s.

"It makes total sense," said Slupesky.

"Let's say the wife has a friend who is getting divorced -- it may give her a little more courage to pursue it."

Marriage therapist Gerry Lane in Georgia said he agrees divorce can be contagious. He said his clients' friends have triggered their desires for a divorce -- even among previously happily married couples.

"The people you associate with have a powerful influence over you," he said. "It's never just coming from inside the person."

Hmmm. Sometimes I have a hard time buying this one.

Couple A is getting a divorce. Couple B are happily married, but when Mrs. A, Mrs. B's best friend, tells her all about the divorce, Mrs. B becomes thoughtful. "Maybe I should get one of those," she thinks. "After all, I bought the same purse that A has, and I decorated my living room in the same colors..."



I'd guess that what really happens is that like-minded couples tend to be friends, and that families also tend to be composed of at least some like-minded people. Thus, a Catholic couple who takes their wedding vows very, very seriously and would never consider divorce is unlikely to be affected by divorces in the Protestant extended family of one of the spouses; a Protestant couple who believes in "covenant marriage" and seeks ways to work out conflict that don't involve the divorce courts is unlikely to be thrown into divorce-planning by a friend who is unhappy in his or her marriage, etc.

But these days, few people take marriage as seriously as my hypothetical Catholic and covenanted-marriage Protestant couple do. A lot of people focus in so intently on the wedding (Starring: The Bride! In "Her Special Day!" etc.) that they forget to consider what marriage is all about--or if they do, they think vaguely that of course they love each other and will be happy forever and ever, but if things don't work out...

I bet that this study could be reworked to show that some people think marriages ought to be permanent, others think it can be temporary, and that there aren't as many close friendships between these two groups as one might think. Thus, the divorces in the second group only remind others in that same group that they never really expected the marriage to last, and maybe it's time they explored other options...

Divorce, then, isn't really contagious. But the cultural rot formed by the sexual revolution has bred stagnant pools of spiritual corruption from which infection is freely drunk by plenty of people who see only glittering water, and are oblivious to the rotting sewage which drifts in mortiferous gobs to spread its pestilence abroad.

Not that well-adjusted

When that study came out not too long ago that reported that contrary to nature, human experience, and common sense lesbian couples make the bestest ever parents, I'm afraid my reaction was to yawn.

We've been through this before so many times.

A decade or so ago, the trendy agenda-driven studies came out to tell us all, breathlessly, that despite what everybody would always assume it turned out that day-care was so good for kids that those poor children being raised by stay-at-home moms were actually being deprived, and were not as well-adjusted as the kids getting on the little white day-care bus every morning, or being dropped lovingly off by two-career "quality-parenting" experts!

But then, later, some details came out, and the sample size was too small to be significant, and the stay-at-home moms may have been of lower socieoeconomic or educational status than the two-parent families, and that darned intern forgot to carry into the tens column in this one group of figures, and anyway, it turned out that the study authors' definition of "well-adjusted" meant "children who are able to name the entire cast of Barney, Sesame Street, and Caillou: Adventures in Juvenile Canadian Socialism. (Okay, okay, I know, but that's what it should be called.)

In the newest iteration of the game of "I can be even more politically-correct and daringly relevant than you!" we have a study purporting to show that a couple of lesbian parenting partners are so amazingly, incredibly good at raising well-adjusted children that they leave their heterosexual counterparts in the dust, raising questions about just why God didn't, in His infinite wisdom, foresee this and make lesbian sex acts reproductive, or select parthenogenesis as the means of human reproduction, or something. But it turns out that the study's notion of "well-adjusted" might not be everyone's, as this terrific essay points out:

“Gender nonconformity” used to be considered a negative trait, something, which if found, provided an argument against same sex parenting. But listen to Stacey and Biblarz turn “gender flexibility” into a positive trait.

  • “Twelve-year-old boys in mother only families (whether lesbian or heterosexual) did not differ from sons raised by a mother and a father on masculinity scales but scored over a standard deviation higher on femininity scales. Thus growing up without a father did not impede masculine development but enabled boys to achieve greater gender flexibility.”
  • “If, as we expect, future research replicates the finding that fatherless parenting fosters greater gender flexibility in boys, this represents a potential benefit. Research implies that adults with androgynous gender traits may enjoy social psychological advantages over more gender traditional peers.”
Gosh, remember when "gender flexibility" used to be called "gender confusion" and indicate a potential source of trouble for the little tyke displaying it? Apparently, now "gender flexibility" is a good thing for children (especially little boys), and since lesbian parenting partners are really good at sowing this sort of gender conf...oh, excuse me, "gender flexibility," why, they're just superior parenting partners, better than the child's own biological parents would be (or better, at least, than the biological lesbian mom and the sperm donor who filled the turkey baster).

And there are studies (though not the sort the pro-gay side ever accepts) which show, among other things, that children raised by homosexual parents are more likely to experiment with homosexual sex or to identify as homosexual than the general population:

Even though they attempted to argue otherwise, Golombok and Tasker's study revealed in its results section a clear connection between being raised in a lesbian family and homosexuality: "With respect to actual involvement in same-gender sexual relationships, there was a significant difference between groups...None of the children from heterosexual families had experienced a lesbian or gay relationship." By contrast, five (29 percent) of the seventeen daughters and one (13 percent) of the eight sons in homosexual families reported having at least one same-sex relationship.58

These findings have most recently been confirmed in a study appearing in the American Sociological Review. Authors Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz alluded to the "political incorrectness" of their finding of higher rates of homosexuality among children raised in homosexual households: "We recognize the political dangers of pointing out that recent studies indicate that a higher proportion of children of lesbigay parents are themselves apt to engage in homosexual activity."

Stacey and Biblarz also reported "some fascinating findings on the number of sexual partners children report," that: The adolescent and young adult girls raised by lesbian mothers appear to have been more sexually adventurous and less chaste. . . . In other words, once again, children (especially girls) raised by lesbians appear to depart from traditional gender-based norms, while children raised by heterosexual mothers appear to conform to them.59 (Footnote sources at link--E.M.)

Bear in mind that Stacey and Biblarz are the authors of the present study crowing over the superiority of lesbian parenting--so, apparently, being "well-adjusted" in 21st century America involves both gender "flexibility" (or confusion, depending on your viewpoint) and a greater willingness than one's counterparts to engage in same-sex sexual experimentation.

Since that's the case, I'm glad my children aren't so "well-adjusted" as all that. I'll keep on muddling along as a poor benighted heterosexual stay-at-home mom. But it's just as well--even when they were really little, my kids thought Caillou was an annoying little brat.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another link post...

Alas, another Monday choir practice has thrown me off schedule for blogging. So here's another of those intermittent links posts, where I share a link I posted to blog about and then never got to--along with a brief comment or two. As always, they're in no particular order:

1. New U.S. passport rules will allow transgender people to list their "new" gender even if they have not had sex reassignment surgery. Though for now a physician's statement that the person has received "appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition," is required I imagine that eventually that requirement will be seen as being too onerous. Without delving into specifics, I'd just like to say that given an Islamic doctor and an Islamic terrorist, this new law raises the prospect of "underwear bombers" to a whole new level, so to speak.

2. In related news, the New York State Senate did have the uncommon good sense to kill a bill that would have opened "...all public accommodations, including restrooms, high school locker rooms, health clubs, dorm rooms and other single sex residential facilities (like homeless and family violence shelters) to both biological genders, dependent upon whether or not an individual chooses to identify his or herself as the opposite sex (i.e. cross-dressers or transvestites)." With nothing more required for a man to gain access to a women's bathroom, locker room, or other gender-restricted area than for him to say that he is transgendered, a cross-dresser or transvestite, or to wear clothing signaling that, it's amazing that this wasn't titled "The Make Women and Girls Vulnerable to Pedophiles, Rapists, or Anyone Else Willing to Put On a Dress Long Enough to Gain Access to a Bathroom or Locker Room Act."

3. With temperatures rising and summer weather abounding, it's a good time to be reminded of the danger children face from being left in a parked car in the heat, and this essay was a good reminder. I know that lots of moms think this could never happen to them--but tragically, these sorts of infant or child deaths have occurred in all sorts of families, not just the two-income, who's taking the child to daycare type of situation we seem to hear about most often. If you or anyone in your family regularly drives young children, make it a habit to visually inspect carseats when you are leaving the car--it takes a couple of seconds, and can avert tragedy. Even if you think there's no way in a million years you'd ever forget a child in your car, get into this habit anyway. And, perhaps more important for some, never, ever leave your car unlocked in your garage or driveway--many young children have died because they have somehow managed to get into a parked car that was left unlocked, and what started out as adventuresome play ended as a nightmare, like this recent and terribly sad story. Even if you don't have young children at home, do NOT leave your car unlocked if there's any chance a child could try to climb inside.

4. Movies just aren't doing well right now, leaving a lot of movie industry types puzzled. I think there are multiple reasons: the bad economy and overpriced tickets, lackluster offerings, and the fact that we are into a generation of people who are used to seeing movies in the comfort of their own homes, with no sticky gross stuff on the floor or seats, no filthy public restrooms, no ridiculously overpriced snack offerings, no "arctic blast" air-conditioner settings, and no "eardrum-bleed" setting on the audio. Or maybe that's just me...

5. Is food too salty? Yes--but why? Maybe because too much of it is mass-produced into those pre-packaged offerings for sale at the grocery store, or sold by restaurants. It would be really interesting to find out just how awful most of that stuff would taste if it couldn't be over-salted or manipulated with sodium enhancers like MSG. I think most of it would end up tasting like cardboard--except that cardboard would probably be better for you from a nutritional standpoint.

6. You have the right to remain silent--but only if you say so. Is this simply a logical conclusion by the Supreme Court, or a threat to the liberty of all Americans? I lean toward "logical conclusion." But then, I've read lots of old Perry Mason novels, and the great fictional lawyer always advises his clients to talk--but to say this sort of thing: "Why, I'd love to tell you all about it, Officer. In fact, if it were up to me I'd do just that! But my lawyer insists I not say anything when he's not here. Tell you what--call him up, and I'll answer every single question he says it's okay for me to answer! But, otherwise, I guess I have nothing to say." We could call that the Mason Codicil to the Miranda Warning...