Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keep Mom in Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent talk

Happy Advent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll answer my own questions:

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone up for a little Advent talk?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Another silly Thanksgiving post

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

Happy Thanksgiving--again! :)

A silly Thanksgiving post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:) :) :)

Happy Thanksgiving to all! :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving blog break

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you Thursday!

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

More good news!

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

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

Disappointed, but not surprised

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


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

Double sigh.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pope approves prostitution!

Er...um, nope. His Holiness did not just approve of prostitution.

But here's the thing: one could just as easily twist his remarks into approval of prostitution as approval of condom use during prostitution.

For a sane, rational look at what the Pope really said, go here for starters--though there are lots of others; I just don't have time this busy Sunday to gather them all.

But here's an analogy that makes sense to me: suppose that a drug dealer started worrying about all the people who were going to get AIDS by sharing needles in order to use the heroin he was selling, and then suppose that he decided to reduce that risk by handing out free clean needles to his customers. Could that be the beginnings of morality in a person who deals in grave sin, misery and death, and who is steeped in grave sins that place a huge barrier between himself and any kind of good relationship with the Lord Jesus which might possibly lead him to repent of his sins and seek eternal salvation? Sure, and the pope might even say so. But if the pope said so, would that mean that the pope was suddenly in favor of supplying drug dealers with clean needles in the fight against AIDS? Um, definitely not.

A homosexual prostitute is in the same position; his very acts and way of life are like a spiritual prophylactic placing an insurmountable barrier between him and a salvific relationship with Jesus. If, for one second, he starts to care about the physical life and health of the person who is also gravely sinning (perhaps even more so by taking advantage of the prostitute's desperation and vulnerability) by paying him to perform acts of sodomy and other sexual perversions upon him, this might be a door through which a return to morality and virtue might seep in.

But it's not the same thing as saying "Go ahead and hand out free condoms to fight AIDS!" If the individual makes this choice under some circumstances, he may be just barely beginning to recognize the filth and degradation of his way of life--and that recognition, along with pity or concern for the Other, are the first steps to recovery. But if government programs hand him the damned things with the attitude that as long as you're a worthless piece of expletive deleted whose inner life is dead and whose outer life is only worthwhile as a receptacle for the paid perversion of others, you might as well give some good customer service by wearing latex--then any beneficial aspect is gone, and the potential path to virtue that begins with individual choice erased altogether.

The Holy Father would no more approve of prostitution than he would condoms. But His Holiness is following in Someone else's footsteps, by caring about the potential morality and eventual salvation of prostitutes.

Friday, November 19, 2010


One woman is comparing her experience at Lambert Airport to a sexual assault.

Business traveler, Penny Moroney, was flying home from St. Louis to Chicago. Like all other airline passengers, she had to go through security first. When the metal in her artificial knees set off the detectors, she had to undergo more screening. When Moroney asked if she could go through a body scanner, she was told none were available.

A pat down was the only alternative.

Moroney explains “Her gloved hands touched my breasts...went between them. Then she went into the top of my slacks, inserted her hands between my underwear and my skin... then put her hands up on outside of slacks, and patted my genitals.”

“I was shaking and crying when I left that room” Moroney says. “Under any other circumstance, if a person touched me like that without my permission, it would be considered criminal sexual assault.”
When I got on the plane all I wanted to do was sob," says traveler Ella Swift.

Swift was one of an increasing number of passengers Transportation Security Administration officers are thoroughly searching by hand. They call it an "enhanced pat-down."

Swift says they told her she was singled out because she was wearing a skirt. She says the search earlier this month was very rough and left her in tears.

"The female officer ran her hand up the inside of my leg to my groin and she did it so hard and so rough she lifted me off my heels," she says. "I think I yelped. I was in pain for about an hour afterwards. It just felt excessive and unnecessary."

And this:

Special recommendations for Muslim women who wear hijab:

  • If you are selected for secondary screening after you go through the metal detector and it does not go off, and "sss" is not written on your boarding pass, ask the TSA officer if the reason you are being selected is because of your head scarf.
  • In this situation, you may be asked to submit to a pat-down or to go through a full body scanner. If you are selected for the scanner, you may ask to go through a pat-down instead.
  • Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.
  • You may ask to be taken to a private room for the pat-down procedure.
  • Instead of the pat-down, you can always request to pat down your own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.
  • If you encounter any issues, ask to speak to a supervisor immediately. They are there to assist you.

That last, of course, is from CAIR; reportedly Janet Napolitano is already considering whether or not Muslim women ought to be exempt from full-body scans and groping, though apparently all non-Muslim women ought to be willing to put up with being ogled and/or fondled, because, hey, they knew what they were doing when they bought a plane ticket...

Totally unacceptable.

If you fly out of town for Thanksgiving vacation next week, be sure to let us know at And Sometimes Tea if you encounter any of the aggressive/invasive screening procedures.

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

It's so nice to read an update like this one, from her family!

We cannot thank you all enough for your support and prayers!!! Praise be to God, Regina is continuing to improve. She has been off the ventilator for nearly 12 hours now, the feeding tube has been removed and tests for liver and kidney function are still consistently improving. She even ate a little cereal this morning! If things continue to go well today, she’ll be out of the ICU and into a “regular” hospital room tomorrow. We can’t believe how far she has come in just a few days. She’s still mostly “out of it” as the sedatives wear off, but her vitals are good and she’s been talking some. (What a relief it is to get to talk to her again!)

Thanks be to God for this good news!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

God bless Ron Paul

From his website:

Mr. Speaker, today I introduce legislation to protect Americans from physical and emotional abuse by federal Transportation Security Administration employees conducting screenings at the nation’s airports. We have seen the videos of terrified children being grabbed and probed by airport screeners. We have read the stories of Americans being subjected to humiliating body imaging machines and/or forced to have the most intimate parts of their bodies poked and fondled. We do not know the potentially harmful effects of the radiation emitted by the new millimeter wave machines.

In one recent well-publicized case, a TSA official is recorded during an attempted body search saying, “By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.” I strongly disagree and am sure I am not alone in believing that we Americans should never give up our rights in order to travel. As our Declaration of Independence states, our rights are inalienable. This TSA version of our rights looks more like the “rights” granted in the old Soviet Constitutions, where freedoms were granted to Soviet citizens -- right up to the moment the state decided to remove those freedoms.

Read the rest here.

Confessions of a domestic Church slacker

Advent 2010 starts November 28, which is ten days from now. Do you know where your purple candles are?

No? Me neither. In fact, I think I have to go buy a set of purple votives for my Advent...er...candle thing. As it's in a straight line on our fireplace mantle, it would take an extremely charitable person to call it a wreath. But we decided against a wreath years ago when one of our enthusiastic little girls almost knocked the candles over for the umpteenth time, and though our young ladies are long past the age when candles are dangerous for them, we have, in the meantime, added cats to our home. Emmett, our Main Cat, is so laid back and cautious and incurious that were I a believer in reincarnation I would suspect he was some Republican Senator or other come back to life in a more suitable form; but Smidge, our Auxiliary Back-Up Cat, probably has some of Kipling's mongoose in him--except that Smidge's motto is not "Go and Find Out!" but "Go, Find Out, Attack, Destroy, and Neutralize!" which makes him more like a modern-day military industrialist.

Which is why, when Kitten, our oldest girl, handed me some Advent music to take to last week's choir practice (Kitten is extremely organized and fond of keeping track of our music schedules--yay!), my first and second thoughts were, "Oh, gosh. I wonder where I put the Jesse Tree last year?" and "I wonder if we should actually hang up the Jesse Tree, or if Smidge is going to see it as a large brightly-colored felt challenge and good shredding practice for the Christmas Tree Demolition Derby?"

Were it not for regular choir practice, my first indication that Advent was upon us would be either Father's purple vestments or the congregational singing of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on the first Sunday of the season. In fact, when the girls were little, that usually was my clue to start running around like a maniac looking for candles and wreaths and recipes and activities and wherever the heck I'd put the Jesse tree the year before, in preparation for my annual Christmas stress, on the one hand, or Christmas disappointment, on the other, when I failed to pull off any of the cute and clever and deeply liturgically significant and delicious and lovely and charming and Scriptural things all the other Catholic women out there were doing to celebrate this beautiful time of year.

But that was back when I was younger, and my children were younger, and I wasn't yet comfortable enough in my own skin to realize that my gifts and talents, such as they are, simply aren't the sort of thing that produces hand-crafted yet lavish and useful Christmas gifts, or whips up whole freezers full of delicious treats, or designs and creates an Advent-appropriate decorating scheme that can be magically transformed, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, into a Christmas wonderland. And attempting to do these things had an unfortunate tendency to take a toll on my sanity (which, regular readers know, is never at a terribly high ebb anyway). And that it's perfectly okay to see some blogger's really creative and clever Advent preparation idea, and even to admire it, without feeling pressure to duplicate it in one's own home--particularly if the creative and clever idea involves a) a glue gun, b) a sewing machine and/or iron, or c) anything requiring truly precision scissor-use.

There were times when this made me feel like a domestic Church slacker (and no, I'm not talking about pants again). There was a temptation to believe that all of these things, or at least the staggering majority of them, were required in order to ensure one's children a meaningful Advent followed by a spiritually significant and holy Christmas. Oh, sure, they weren't technically required. But if you didn't want your children to grow up and become bitter ex-Catholic media types who grudgingly went to Mass at Christmas only because they didn't want a prolonged Christmas lecture from you, then you had to get cracking on everything from the Advent Alphabet to the Nativity Zoo (in which animal crackers might be used to represent symbolically how all of the animals from Noah's Ark were present in spirit with the cows, donkeys and sheep in the creche), and everything in between. [Nota Bene: as far as I know I just made both of those up. If there really is an "Advent Alphabet" craft, or a "Nativity Zoo" craft, let me assure the creator(s) of either that I'm not in any way dissing either idea, or anyone who chooses to do them.]

Now, that wrong impression I had was mine, and only mine. And as I grew up a bit, I realized that our ability to do different things each liturgical season--but especially Advent and Christmas--was going to vary. Travel, illness, other obligations, could and did get in the way of planned daily or weekly Advent activities. Yet my children have grown in the faith, and in their appreciation of these seasons, not by any effort of mine, but by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, nourished by our usual habits of prayer and worship.

So, if this year Advent is approaching you unawares, or you can't find your purple candles, or you have either a cat or a dog or even, by God's great gift and blessing, a rambunctious toddler around whom some activities (glitter!) are a Really Bad Idea--prepare your heart anyway, and rejoice anyway, and celebrate anyway. What you can do, do with love and kindness and attention and patience and peace; what you can't do, let go, and be at peace. The most important thing the domestic Church models to its members is Love--the Love of God, the Love that is God. The rest is negotiable--yes, even the Advent Wreath and the Jesse Tree.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No easy answers

Ahmed Ghailani was convicted today of one count of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property:

The first former Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in federal criminal court was found not guilty on Wednesday on all but one of the 285 counts he faced for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings.

The verdict will likely kill the already fading prospect of putting other Guantanamo detainees on trial in U.S. civilian courts.

After deliberating for five days, a jury of six men and six women found Ahmed Ghailani, 36, guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property, but acquitted him of all 276 counts of murder and attempted murder, as well as other conspiracy charges.

Ghailani, a native of Tanzania, was sent to New York for prosecution in June 2009 in what the Obama administration hoped would be the first case in a series of federal prosecutions of Guantanamo detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four co-conspirators accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.[...]

Ghailani still could be sentenced to life in prison, and faces a minimum of 20 years, according to the Justice Department. But the verdict was a blow to administration officials who were quietly confident that Ghailani would be found guilty on all charges, despite the judge's ruling against the government on a key issue. Just last week, a senior administration official said a not guilty verdict would be a "disaster" for the administration's Guantanamo policy.

The question as to whether detainees suspected of terrorism should be treated as international criminals, prisoners of war, or some hybrid combination of the two is a difficult one. Today's results make it likely that further trials in civilian criminal courts will be avoided--but what should be done with potentially dangerous detainees--and what should be done with the ones who end up being innocent, as some have? This is the sort of situation which has, I think, no easy answers.

Update on prayer request

I received this update to the prayer request posted here and many other places yesterday. Please keep praying!
Regina's condition has remained stable for nearly 24 hours now. A feeding tube has been inserted, which sounds bad, but is a positive sign. The doctors have decided to allow the sedation to wear off a little bit instead of keeping Regina completely "out." While this means that her parents now have to watch her struggle much more, which is horrible for them, it also means that she has been able to squeeze her mother's hand and give her father a thumbs-up sign in response to their questions, which encourages them and the doctors. The doctors say that, while Regina is still very seriously ill, they now have more hope. One doctor said that her recovery would be a marathon rather than a sprint.

Thank you for your continued prayers. The family gains strength from knowing that so many people all around the country are praying and offering sacrifices for Regina, asking friends to pray for her, putting her name on parish prayer chains, and posting prayer requests for her on blogs.
As today is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, let's ask St. Elizabeth to intercede for Regina, that Jesus will quickly give her full healing, and keep her and her family close to His Sacred Heart at this difficult time.

UPDATE 11/18 You've probably already seen this elsewhere, as I'm late blogging today, but Regina's family has a positive update:

We’re still anxiously awaiting the removal of the breathing tube and Regina waking up…but her progress continues to be good. Her lungs still have too much fluid to take her off the ventilator today…but most-likely tomorrow. They just now took her off the dopamine (the last of the BP medications); they’ll be keeping an eye on that. Her kidney function isn’t as good as we’d like to see, but she has continued to make steady improvement. They started her on a feeding tube yesterday (and that’s going well). The doctor described her overall condition as “out of the woods, but still close to the trees.” But we'll take that...Deo gratias!
We can’t thank you all enough for all your thoughts, prayers, Masses, etc. We have been OVERWHELMED by everyone’s love and support..thank you all so much! I’ve simply received too many emails to respond directly to each of them….please know how much we appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers!

Keep praying!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Catholic Church still Catholic; media discomfited

Ah, what fun it has been to read secular press accounts of the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Let's take a look at a few; all emphases are added by me, unless otherwise noted:
America's Catholic bishops pulled a shocker Tuesday in picking their new president, disregarding tradition and precedent by rejecting the current vice president and instead choosing a man seen as more outspoken and conservative. [...]

Kicanas faced a barrage of last-minute criticism in recent days over how he dealt with a priest who was accused of molesting more than a dozen boys and is now in jail. Victims' advocates spoke out against Kicanas, but the more significant opposition came from conservatives, who considered him too moderate in tone.
Notice that last, particularly. Kicanas wasn't rejected because of lingering concerns over his handling of a priest accused of molesting; he was really rejected because conservatives, who don't care about the Scandal ordinarily, thought he was a moderate instead of a hard-line snarling vicious Rottweiler-wanna be. Right. Anybody want to buy a bridge?

Here's another:
BALTIMORE — In a surprise move, the bishops that lead the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, elected Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York to be their president on Tuesday, rejecting the conference’s more liberal vice president. It was the first time in history that the bishops had not voted to elevate the vice president to the president’s post, affirming a conservative turn among the bishops.

The vote, which was close, cements Archbishop Dolan’s prominent profile in the leadership in the American church. He is already the prelate of the nation’s most visible diocese, is comfortable in the news media spotlight and was selected by the Vatican to help conduct an investigation of the church in Ireland, which has been devastated by a sexual abuse scandal.

The bishops passed over their vice president, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, who represents the more liberal “social justice” tradition of the American church and is known for advocating dialogue between Catholic liberals and traditionalists. Archbishop Dolan is a moderate conservative who is willing to put his affable and outgoing demeanor in service of a more assertively confrontational approach to the church’s critics.
In other words, the Grey Lady tells us that those mean old assertively confrontational conservatives wouldn't choose a man noted for his ability to dialogue with both liberals and traditionalists, instead preferring a man who is good at the art of smiling and smiling whilst being a villan. Umm...sure. And newspapers are about to come back with a strong new business model, too.

And there's this:

Traditionalist Catholics led an upset victory in the choice of a new head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. For the first time, a presumptive successor to the presidency was passed over in the voting. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops elected Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan over the current vice president Gerald Kicanas.

Kicanas was a protege of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who was known for his "common ground" approach and emphasis on a broad spectrum of Catholic social teaching. Dolan is closer to the traditionalist approach, defined not only by opposing abortion but also by publicly slamming Catholic politicians for pro-abortion rights votes. Veteran Church-watcher David Gibson, blogging at Disputations, called it "a shocker."

I'll grant that this move by the USCCB was certainly a surprise--and a good one. It's not that Kicanas is really, as some of his supporters have alleged, in favor of either abortion or gay marriage; but his failure to respond adequately to President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame and the troubling cloud left by his handling of the case of accused molester Fr. Daniel McCormack, who was approved by Kicanas for ordination despite some significant warning signs during his seminary days, would not have inspired great confidence in a body that has, frankly, yet to inspire great confidence in many American Catholics.

Still, it's funny to see the media spin on this--as if Kicanas is only as Catholic as, say, Joe Biden, and therefore the Right Sort of Catholic in their eyes. The palpable media discomfiture at the election to USCCB president of a man known more for a quiet sort of orthodoxy speaks volumes about the media's true desire for the Catholic Church in America: they'd like it to become a sort of pro-abortion, pro-gay "marriage" social club that pays frequent lip service to the right sort of environmental or social justice causes while not actually asking anyone to make real sacrifices or adopt real change--exactly like the Democratic Party, in fact.

Prayer request

I have received a prayer request from reader "Lisa" who shares the following:

Earlier today, I sent a message to our statewide Catholic homeschooling
elist asking for their prayers for a friend of ours , but I just got
word that the girl's condition is much worse than I realized, so I want
to get the request out to all of the prayer warriors I know. The update
I just sent to the elist is below.

Thanks and God bless,


I just got an update about the 13yo homeschooler. Unfortunately, the
situation is very grave. Please offer all of the prayers and sacrifices
you can for this young lady. Just yesterday, she seemed to have a fairly
run-of-the-mill flu-like illness, but when she suddenly became much
sicker, her parents took her to the hospital, where it was determined
that she has a bacterial infection. Her body is in shock, which has led
to the failure of some organs/systems. The family's pastor has visited
and the other children are being cared for right now, so the best thing
we all can do right now is to pray and to ask others (parish prayer
chains, etc.) to pray, too.

God bless,

Heavenly Father, you gave to St. Margaret of Scotland, whose feast is celebrated today, an enduring love and concern for children. We ask for her intercession for this young lady who is so gravely ill, that if it is Your will she will speedily be healed and restored to her family. St. Margaret of Scotland, pray for us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I don't give to the CCHD

Before Mass this Sunday, a lector read the announcements, as is the custom in our parish. This week, he reminded us that the second collection would benefit the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). He further said that the campaign was "strongly supported" by our bishop, Bishop Kevin Vann.

The bishop was, of course, not present, so the notion that he "strongly" supports the CCHD's fundraiser remains hearsay. I wish that I could believe that Bishop Vann is not terribly supportive of the CCHD, although if I have learned one thing about the Catholic hierarchy here in America, it is that so many of them are terribly, terribly slow to let a truly awful idea die, preferring instead to keep it in some kind of zombie state and attempt to solve its hemorrhaging cash flow problems with extra appeals to the faithful to surrender their brains (and their cash) to keep the undead thing going for another year. Or decade, as the case may be.

I've written a few posts over the years about the CCHD and its problems. Here are a few of them:

Obama and the Faith-Based Initiatives

Zen and the Art of Asbestos Removal

Shut Down the CCHD

The definition of help

Rather than repeat all of that information, I'd like to use a Q & A format to discuss some of the main issues I have with the CCHD:

Q. Isn't the CCHD simply a Catholic way to contribute money and other resources to help the poor?

A. No. On the USCCB's website, in the section about grants for the "community organizing" grant recipients, we can read the following:
Ineligible for Funding

The following general classifications do not meet CCHD criteria and/or guidelines for community organizing grants:
  1. Organizations with primary focus on direct service (e.g., daycare centers, recreation programs, community centers, scholarships, subsidies, counseling programs, referral services, cultural enrichment programs, direct clinical services, emergency shelters and other services, refugee resettlement programs, etc.)

  • Similar language can be found at the "Economic Development" grant section on the site.

    What this means is that the CCHD does not raise money which is then spent on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or others of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The CCHD primarily raises money with a view toward "empowering" the poor by giving them a voice in various political efforts in which they have an interest.

    In fact, the mission of the CCHD is as follows:

    The National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) established the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Catholic Church's domestic anti-poverty program, in 1969 with two purposes. The first purpose was to raise funds to support "organized groups of white and minority poor to develop economic strength and political power." The second purpose was to "educate the People of God to a new knowledge of today's problems . . . that can lead to some new approaches that promote a greater sense of solidarity."

    The CCHD philosophy emphasizes empowerment and participation for the poor. By helping the poor to participate in the decisions and actions that affect their lives, CCHD empowers them to move beyond poverty.

    Q. Well, what's wrong with any of that? Shouldn't we help the poor by working for justice and empowerment?

    A. Possibly. But the CCHD has never repudiated its early links to ideas and organizations connected to radical Marxist agitator Saul Alinsky; in fact, as documented here, Alinskyite organizations still receive funding from the CCHD.

    Catholic social teaching, with its focus on unity and solidarity with the poor, generosity in deed and action, true concern for others, and a desire to help those in need is not the same thing as Marxism or socialism, which promotes class envy, derides the idea of private property or ownership, sees political power as the only goal worth achieving and political activism/unrest as a necessary stop toward the achievement of that power. Too often in the past, among CCHD grant recipients there have been those who blur the lines between these two very different ideas.

    Q. Such as...?

    A. Such as ACORN, which the CCHD no longer funds--but did until the spotlight turned on ACORN and its various practices which were at odds with Catholic principles.

    Q. But if the bishops are being more careful about funding, then what's the problem?

    A. The history of the CCHD has been riddled with the funding of organizations which are dubiously radical politically, and have included the funding of pro-abortion groups among others. If there were clear, strong evidence that the ACORN incident had caused a change in structures and ideals at the CCHD, with a greater scrutiny of grant recipients and a humble apology for abusing Catholic funding raised in the past, it might be prudent to give to the CCHD. But not only has there not been a real apology for past abuses, there is evidence that the abuses continue.

    Consider this recent article:

    CHICAGO, Illinois, November 12, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The national office of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) awarded a grant in 2010 to a Chicago-based group, despite the local CCHD branch’s strong warnings that the organization in question coordinated a school-based health program that provides contraception and refers for abortions. The decision to award the grant was made even as CCHD was faced with calls for a boycott over its funding practices, and in the midst of an effort at reform.

    The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), a community organizing project focusing on a wide range of issues such as anti-violence, housing, and immigration, received a $45,000 national grant this year for general operating expenses – the third year in a row it has received such a grant.

    This grant was continued despite strong evidence from the Reform CCHD Now Coalition (RCN), and the local CCHD office, that they were engaged in activities seriously contrary to Church teaching.

    RCN found that SWOP is implementing a school program called Elev8 at Marquette Elementary School. This program includes the provision of health services to the children through a school clinic; but the clinic also provides sex education, distributes condoms and oral contraceptives, and refers for abortion. To run the clinic, SWOP chose an organization called Access Community Health, which provides contraceptives without parental guidance.

    Now it has been revealed that the SWOP grant was awarded despite opposition from the local CCHD office, which vets all grants. [...]

    When vetting SWOP, Flores called the health clinic at Marquette, posing as the father of a grade 7 student who might be pregnant. The nurse told him “in no uncertain terms” that if his “daughter” was pregnant, they could refer her to the nearest abortion provider, he said. Otherwise they could get her “the pill” if he wanted.

    CCHD guidelines prohibit awarding grants to groups that promote or participate in activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church.

    That article was published just a few days ago, on November 12. Yet the USCCB insists that the CCHD does not give grant money to groups whose activities contradict Church teachings. So how did SWOP end up with $45,000 in donations given, primarily at Mass, by faithful Catholics? And how can Catholics really trust that the USCCB is carefully vetting groups that receive grant monies to ensure that these groups are not engaged in pro-abortion, pro-contraception, pro-gay "marriage," pro-euthanasia, or other activities which clearly contradict Church teaching--let alone that groups are not aligned so far to the political left of the spectrum that they decry private property ownership or call for Marxist-socialist "redistribution of wealth" as a solution to poverty?

    The sad reality is that as of right now, Catholics simply can't trust that the USCCB has done due diligence in ensuring that Catholic donations given to the CCHD aren't being used to promote and support anti-Catholic practices and ideas. In fact, it is more than likely that they are.

    True concern for the poor is an important aspect of Catholic living. But giving to the CCHD to grow its various "community organizing" and grassroots political efforts may not be the most effective way to help the poor; in some instances, giving to the CCHD means giving to organizations whose notion of helping the poor is diametrically opposed to Catholic principles. Instead of giving to the CCHD, Thad and I will be considering how much money we would probably have placed into the collection basket, and will send that amount, instead, to a local pro-life organization which directly helps women in crisis pregnancies and their babies. Giving money to the CCHD just doesn't make sense to me as a Catholic--even if my bishop reportedly holds quite a different opinion.

    UPDATE: Another interesting link: Reform CCHD Now looks like they've got a great deal of specific information about this problem.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    The TSA Christmas Anthem

    You've probably been following the news this week about the choices facing holiday travelers as they pass through security on their way to our nation's air travel options:

    The number of scanners has roughly doubled since Napolitano's announcement and they are now found in 68 U.S. airports, and the Transportation Security Administration says the controversial devices have proven to be a success.

    "We have received minimal complaints," a TSA spokeswoman told CNET yesterday. She said that the agency, part of DHS, keeps track of air traveler complaints and has not seen a significant rise.

    A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures--a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls "enhanced pat-downs"--go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)

    Unions representing U.S. Airways pilots, American Airlines pilots, and some flight attendants are advising their members to skip the full-body scans, even if it means that their genitals are touched. Air travelers are speaking out online, with a woman saying in a YouTube video her breasts were "twisted," and ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts emerging as an instant hero after he rejected both the body scanning and "enhanced pat-downs" options and was unceremoniously ejected from the security line from Memphis International Airport. [ All links in original--E.M.]
    You can read more here. And here. And here. And don't miss this one:

    Some travelers are also livid about how children are being screened. During a trip last Sunday by a father and son through Orlando airport in Florida, the 8-year-old boy was selected for extra screening by TSA after going through the metal detector.

    The father said the officer described the procedure before conducting it. Then he patted down the boy in the open security area, using the backside of his hands to check his genital area, he said.

    "I didn't think it was going to be as horrible as he was describing," said the boy's father, Bill, who works as a lobbyist in Washington and did not want his full name used.

    "We spend my child's whole life telling him that only mom, dad and a doctor can touch you in your private area, and now we have to add TSA agent and that's just wrong," he told Reuters. "At some point the terrorists have won."

    And then there's this, too:

    PHOENIX - A Washington, D.C. resident has formed a website critical of TSA pat-down procedures, calling on people to "opt out" on one of the busiest travel days of the nation.

    Brian Sodergren designed optoutday.com in an effort to get people to experience the new TSA pat-down procedures.

    "Getting a plane ticket doesn't mean you're consenting to someone being able to look under your clothes or feel your genitals," said Sodergren during a phone interview with ABC15.

    Sodergren wants passengers, pilots and flight attendants to "opt-out" of the X-ray body scanners and go through the pat down procedure. [Link in original--E.M.]

    So, unless the nation wakes up and refuses to accept the "naked picture" scanners and/or a pat down that includes genital contact, flying anywhere just became permission for employees of the Transportation Security Administration either to see images of your naked body or to grope you--or, possibly, both. And if you are traveling with children--why, according to the federal government, failure to grope an eight-year-old's private areas might somehow be unsafe for the traveling public! So any objection on your part is irrational, and deserves to be derided and ignored.

    With all of this in mind, I'd like to suggest an appropriate Christmas Anthem for those hapless members of the public who have to travel during this year's holiday season (to the tune of "Home for the Holidays):

    Oh, I guess I'll be groped for the holidays,
    'Cause you know I've got to fly a long way home,
    So I'll pause at security and stand in place:
    Since the TSA won't let me if I don't.

    I'll walk right by the naked scanner with my hands above my head
    Like the victim of a mugging or some crime,
    And down the hall someone'll look right at my figure without clothes:
    It's degrading and insultin'
    Gee, you'd say that it's revoltin'

    But I guess I'll be groped for the holidays,
    'Cause no matter how far I have to roam,
    If I won't let the TS Agents have their way,
    For the holidays, I won't be going home.

    What's that you say about the Constitution? Fourth Amendment? Well,
    If you want to fly those rights don't mean a thing,
    See, the terrorists might win if TSA can't cop a feel
    Even Granny might be sittin'
    On some C4 in her knittin',

    So let's all just be groped for the holidays,
    Like good mindless little sheeple-bleating drones,
    We'll put up with abuse in a million ways,
    For the holidays, if it means getting home.

    Thanksgiving Sunday

    This was bound to happen, sooner or later. But that doesn't make it a good thing:

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Black Friday is coming a day early for Toys R Us this year, the toy seller said Thursday.

    It's another signal that this year is shaping up to be a very aggressive holiday selling season. Toys R Us' announcement comes on the same day that Wal-Mart announced free online shipping on holiday deals.

    Toys R Us stores will open at 10:00 p.m. nationwide on Thanksgiving Day. Recently stores have been opening their doors earlier, even on the Thanksgiving Day holiday. This is the earliest that Toys R Us has ever kicked off its Black Friday "doorbuster" deals.

    "This opportunity is designed to accommodate the early shoppers and help alleviate crowds that build from that point forward," said Toys R Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh.

    Doorbuster discounts are the deepest and most-coveted deals. Shoppers often wait on line for hours -- sometimes overnight -- for stores to open their doors on the day after Thanksgiving.

    So, if Toys' R Us is opening its doors at 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day...what time, exactly, will shoppers start lining up? And what time will the hapless retail employees have to be at the store, instead of home with their families celebrating the holiday?

    It's getting to the point where Thanksgiving is facing the same pressure nationally that Ascension Thursday faced for Catholics. The American bishops, realizing that too many people were skipping such an important feast day altogether because it always fell on Thursday, moved the observance (in many dioceses) to Sunday, making the previous Thursday just an ordinary day in the Easter season. Though it is an absurdity to celebrate "Ascension Sunday," it was better, thought the bishops making the decision, to do this than to have far too many Catholics not show up for Mass at all on this important holy day.

    And now, Thanksgiving may simply be too inconvenient for people, falling as it does on a weekday/workday/shopping day. It's bad enough that people have to celebrate a holiday that requires gathering with actual family and cooking actual food; now they'll have to choose between hanging around for the pumpkin pie and coffee and rushing out to start lining up for the Black Friday sales. Wouldn't it be better simply to move Thanksgiving to Sunday, so that people can have a whole week of "Black Week-Before-Thanksgiving Sales" with their hype and hoopla and supposedly steep discounts on goods manufactured for pennies an hour by the hopeless citizens of various third world human-rights-abuser nations?

    Thanksgiving Sunday could be a good compromise; those stores which insist on being open anyway usually keep shorter hours on a Sunday, and if all of the "Black Week-Before-Thanksgiving Sales" expire on Saturday night, there won't be a hugely compelling reason for shoppers to rush out immediately after the turkey dinner to line up outside of electronics stores and other venues. Those who do want to skip out early from family festivities can use the traveling excuse--have to catch that Sunday night flight home to be ready for work Monday morning!--while those who do want to stick around for pie and coffee won't feel any pressure to go queue up for three-dollar toasters or half-off toys.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that Thanksgiving Sunday might be the only way to keep Thanksgiving on the holiday calendar. Otherwise, some bright-eyed advertising genius is going to decide, one of these days, that his company's "Black Friday" sales should really begin on Wednesday evening--and when that happens, the poor old turkey dinner holiday might as well give up the ghost.

    Because the greed of the American company can only be matched by the greed of the American consumer; and both would be willing to sell Thanksgiving in exchange for pre-Christmas deals, so long as the price is right.

    An open note to Jim Davis

    Dear Mr. Davis,

    I am writing regarding your comic strip which ran yesterday, Veterans' Day, and your subsequent apology for the timing of the strip. My children read your strip online daily, and when we shared a laugh over yesterday's strip, it didn't occur to any of us to take the strip as a slam against veterans. My husband is a veteran, as are both of his parents, and we were planning a small family celebration of the day, so it's not as though we were unaware of the significance of the date. It's just that, as regular readers of the strip, my girls know that these "squished spider" series that appear periodically in Garfield's world are quite likely to contain an episode like yesterday's, and none of us thought for a moment that you would deliberately plan to insult veterans.

    In fact, our family has always been impressed by your way of doing things. Your comic's website, for instance, makes all your past strips available for instant viewing (and searchable by date or keyword) at no charge; many cartoonists are not quite so generous with their archives. You also offer tons of games and other "freebies" on the site. Of course, you do advertise your products which are for sale, too--but on the whole the site is easily the most family-friendly comics website on the Internet.

    You also displayed tremendous class when a creative person decided to see what happened when Garfield is removed from the Garfield strips; it's hard not to respect an artist who not only doesn't get mad at someone's parody/altering of his work, but admits enjoying it and even joins in the fun.

    The point I'm trying to make, here, is that anyone who has followed or been a fan of your work over the past thirty-plus years already knows that you're just not the kind of person to poke fun at the idea of military service with its accompanying sacrifices. Your quick and sincere apology, which my girls saw on the website and shared with me, was a simple confirmation of that fact.


    Erin Manning

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Brief blog break

    The wake and rosary for our dear friend's sister will be this evening, and the Funeral Mass will be tomorrow. Our little choir will be singing at the funeral.

    Your continued prayers for our friends and for their departed loved one are greatly appreciated.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    It's beginning to look...

    I found this, from Rebecca Hagelin, to be food for thought:

    "He's been asking me for weeks to get him a Nintendo DSi for Christmas," Alicia explained.

    Her son, Alex, is only nine. Christmas is well over a month away but he's been relentlessly pressing for the "must-have" electronic toy that his classmates already own. Money is tight for Alicia's family these days, and the handheld device starts at 149.99. Games are extra, at $35 a pop.

    Alicia doesn't indulge in expensive clothes, trendy bags, or "must have" purchases-at least for herself. But when it comes to her son, mom-guilt too easily clouds her perspective.

    And retailers and advertising gurus wouldn't have it any other way. As one pollster for the retail industry put it, "It's not all about being cheap this year."

    One toy company sends out something called, The Great Big Christmas Book. I foolishly thought that this advertising book might, in the midst of the toy ads, suggest the real reason for the season---the birth of Jesus Christ. Not to be. The book invites kids to "start flipping through the pages to show their parents - and Santa - the toys that will WOW them on Christmas morning," said a senior executive for the toy company. Kids can check the item off in the box provided, and mom and dad have an instant "gimme" list.

    But our children's hearts are the poorer for it. Marketers manipulate the Christmas season to make our children want ever more "stuff" - to focus on how much they can "get". Remember that old joke, "He who dies with the most toys wins"? Come Christmas morning, many kids - and so many of their parents - act as if that sick joke were true.

    This is hardly a new problem, of course. Our tendency to focus too much on the material aspects of Christmas, and not nearly enough on the spiritual ones, has been a problem for our culture for a very long time.

    True, 24/7 marketing, children's access to television and the Internet, peer pressure from classmates who are quick to rank and ridicule their classmates who don't own brand-name items, expensive toys, designer clothing and the like, the relentless pressure to fit in, and similar things may be new--or magnified, compared to what children in the past were exposed to. But the tendency to make Christmas a feast honoring consumerism and the gratification of ownership instead of the birth of Christ has been around for too many years to count.

    This produces a reaction in some families. Some parents decide early on to limit Christmas gifts, or even avoid them altogether, in favor of a minimalist approach to the Christmas celebration; this can cause tension, though, with extended family, who will rarely if ever support such a decision. Other parents try to teach their young children both generosity to others and poverty of spirit, so that they are pleased to receive small, humble gifts instead of flashy expensive ones. Still others find themselves arguing over the gift situation every year, with one parent wanting to make up for his or her own sense of childhood deprivation, and the other insisting on not spoiling the children or making them greedy or focused on materialism.

    I think it's possible to go too far in the direction of asceticism, though, for the simple fact that the Church does not expect us to be ascetic on her highest feast days--and Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ, is certainly one of those days. The key is to find balance, to enjoy some secular celebrations without being obligated to incorporate every secular observance into one's home, and to focus on the primary spiritual and religious meaning in a way that keeps the focus on Christ, Whose birth is a part of God's greatest gift to us, the gift of salvation.

    It's hard to keep that focus clear when we live in a culture that began decking the commercial halls before Halloween, and in which Christmas music is already blaring nonstop in most stores and businesses, even though it's not even Advent, yet. And when our children are surrounded by "gimme!" messages psychologically designed to create in them intense desires for something they didn't know existed until yesterday. And when an abundance of red and green creates a dizzying traffic-light message in the halls of commerce: a red that doesn't mean stop, and a green that means "Buy!" instead of "Go!" and from which the yellow light of caution and prudence is altogether absent.

    But just because it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas when we're still a whole 45 days away (and 19 days from Advent) doesn't mean that we (and our children) have no choice but to become obsessed with that latest, greatest gizmo we'd like to find under the tree. We have the ability to choose to keep our eyes on Christ, and remain with Him in Ordinary Time until Advent, and then to journey with Him through that season of preparation until the bells begin to ring for the first Masses celebrating the Christmas feast, as the sky grows dark on the 24th day of December.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    The most daring thing

    If you read any news coverage leading up to the Pope's visit to La Sagrada Familia in Spain, chances are that you read all about the "huge gay protest" that was planned. Thousands, we were told solemnly by major news outlets, of gay couples were going to stage a "kiss-in" and kiss in front of the pope as he made his way to the basilica. The event would be a major disruption; speculation as to whether the Holy Father would be forced to take notice of it in his homily was widespread.

    Well, things weren't exactly as they were hyped:

    About 200 people protested against Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Barcelona on Sunday by jeering and staging a gay "kiss-in."
    The protest by gays and lesbians took place as Benedict was being driven in his bullet-proof popemobile to celebrate mass at the city's iconic basilica, La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family).

    The Pope did not react to the gay-kiss demonstration near the church, and the protesters were outnumbered by thousands of flag-waving supporters of the pontiff.

    Considering that some reports put the crowd of Catholics attending the Mass at La Sagrada Familia at 6,500 guests and that thousands more Catholics turned out to cheer and wave and show their support for the pope and the Church, I'd say that a protest of 200 people--only 100 couples!--is pretty pathetic. And that's not even mentioning that some observers have opined that the "200" number is at least 100 more people than were actually participating in the "kiss-in." There's a very good chance that Pope Benedict didn't even notice the lip-locked exhibitionists, whose idea of a protest is clearly culled from the pages of juvenile fiction.

    That didn't stop the New York Daily News from labeling the protest "massive" in a misleading and rather stupid headline. To many of the scribes of the imploding mainstream media, anytime a single same-sex attracted person stamps his feet in the general direction of 2,000 years of Christian teaching it is news; the same-sex attracted person becomes a kind of David, standing alone and brave with all the force of Sexual Progress at his back, as he takes up his slingshot against heteronormativity, the traditional family, the Church, Christian morality and virtue, and the like, and, with tremendous force and courage--er, stages a kiss-in at which thousands unaccountably fail to show up.

    It is perfectly understandable why the employees of the MSM would wish to cast the battle in these terms. They, too, would like to stand with all the force of Sexual Progress at their backs, and they, too, would like to tear down, deconstruct, and destroy heteronormativity, the traditional family, the Church, Christian morality and virtue, and the like, even though chances are they were raised in a traditional family involving opposite sex-parents who were at married to each other at least for a little while, and may even have "breeder" siblings who occupied their own mothers' wombs before or after they did, as horrifying as such a thought is to your average MSM journalist, who wishes fervently that he had been grown in a dish and implanted into a surrogate mother who happened to be married to a Vegas drag queen, because of all the cache such a heritage would give him among his peers.

    The thing is, the MSM has been trying to tear down, deconstruct, and destroy the traditional family, the Church, Christian morality and virtue, and the like since even before William Randolph Hearst had a little idea to go into the newspaper business. Which is something to bear in mind when the media assures you with all the solemnity they can muster that "thousands" of gay activists are going to force the pope to notice them by a daring and audacious act of visual protest. The most daring and audacious thing a same-sex attracted person can do today is to accept Church teaching on sexual morality, live according to that teaching, and seek to worship, pray, and engage in true Christian fellowship with the people of his parish--but as the MSM tends to frown upon any course of action which doesn't correspond to their view of reality in which history, after several dull centuries of Christian domination, finally began sometime in the 1960s when people stopped listening to the Church and decided on their own that sex was nothing more than a really fun game, best played with multiple shifting partners of either (or, for the truly daring, both) genders.

    In Spain Pope Benedict XVI is offering, once again, a truthful view of the matter--that a life lived in communion with Christ is a life that is full, and rich, and joyful, but a life lived apart from Him in pursuit of worldly pleasures and treasures is a life dessicated, empty, and ultimately meaningless and sad. As meaningless and sad, in fact, as betraying love with a kiss aimed at hate--no, not like the poor misguided handful of protesters, but like Judas, who is their true model, and whose fate may God spare any of us from sharing.

    A prayer request

    I've mentioned before that Thad, the girls and I are active members of our tiny mission church's choir; we've become good friends with our choir director, her husband, and their children.

    Her husband is one of three children, and we've met both his brother and his sister; we've also gotten to know his parents. Thus, we were sad for the whole family when we learned that his sister died unexpectedly at the end of last week; she had gone into the hospital a few days before with some unexplained symptoms, but tests had been inconclusive and she appeared to be in good overall health, making her sudden decline and death all the more shocking to her family.

    Please pray for the repose of her soul, for comfort and strength for her grieving family, and especially for her elderly parents, who are really suffering right now.

    God bless, and thank you.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Don't forget...

    ...to set your clocks back tonight.

    Here's a recent article about the pros and cons of Daylight Saving Time.

    And if, like me, you hate the annual clock shifting as much as I do, here's a couple of things I've written about it before:

    Rise and Shine...Or Not

    Daylight Saving Time Blues

    At least the "fall back" time isn't so bad, what with getting to get up for 8:30 a.m. Mass when my clock says it's six, but my body seems to think it's actually seven. But as I've written before--why are we doing this, anyway? Does it make much sense to have "Standard Time" at all anymore, when "Standard Time" is only "Standard" for a little over four months?

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    A Grammer lesson

    Earlier this week (or maybe last--this week has been a blur!) I happened to notice, when I was reading news articles, several headlines like this one off to the side of the page, grouped under the "Entertainment News" section.

    I don't make it a habit to read "Entertainment News." The cult of celebrity isn't something I admire about our nation. But when I saw the headlines about Kelsey Grammer and his wife divorcing (and Grammer's younger current girlfriend), I had two thoughts in quick succession. The first was that any woman who becomes a man's third wife (unless he has had the deep misfortune to be a widower twice over) ought to know that her divorce from that man isn't a matter of "if" but of "when." The second thought was simply that my level of respect for a man who dumps his wife (and walks out on his children) for a younger woman is zero.

    Lest my gentlemen readers immediately cry foul, I will hasten to add that I have a similar feeling about women who dump their husbands for--not necessarily younger models (since society tends to laugh at older women who get into the business of acquiring boy-toys) but certainly richer or more successful ones.

    Divorce is a complicated business to discuss. The truth is, I don't have a lot of respect for many people who have engaged in it--but this must be said with a few caveats. A man or woman who must legally separate from a spouse who is physically or significantly mentally abusive is merely protecting himself or herself (and, possibly, the children). A man or woman who must legally separate from a spouse who is committing serial adultery with no repentance and no believable promise of reform is also protecting himself or herself, from the potentially deadly venereal diseases the spouse is bringing home to them. There are, perhaps, a handful of other reasons why a person might have to separate from a husband or wife (e.g., alcoholism/drug abuse for which the spouse refuses to seek help, involvement in some serious crimes which place the innocent party at risk, total spousal abandonment, etc.). To take the necessary steps to protect oneself in these types of situations is not an attack on marriage, but the protection of one's own life and the lives of one's children.

    And while the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce at all, it should go without saying that I don't think it a bad thing for a man and a woman whose marriage has been declared invalid by the Church to separate--in fact, since they are not married, there would likely be sin and scandal should they remain together. Those who seek annulments should not be thinking of it in any way as "Catholic divorce," since it is no such thing; but if the Church declares that you weren't properly married in the first place, then you ought not remain together.

    Having gotten most of the obligatory exceptions to the rule out of the way, I'll return to my premise: I don't have a lot of respect for divorce. I have plenty of respect for the innocent party in a divorce action, the person who thought that his wife or her husband would at least agree to counseling, the person whose life is unraveling around him or her, the person who finds himself or herself fighting for things he or she once took for granted, like access to the children. But for the person who initiates a divorce action, exceptions above excluded, I simply can't find a great deal of respect or sympathy.

    When you research the common causes of divorce, you find that the big reasons, the ones that involve abuse and infidelity and so forth, don't usually end up on top of the lists. The sort of things that do end up there are things like poor communication, incompatibility of various types, personality differences, and different expectations about things like chores and children. For these sorts of reasons, reasons that some decent counseling and a desire to preserve the marriage can often overcome, people are willing to destroy their own families.

    Because divorce is destructive of families, harmful to children, and detrimental to society. There are plenty of statistics available that will illustrate all of these points. We've gotten in the habit, as a nation, of disregarding those statistics, though, in favor of the idea that the happiness and sexual fulfillment of adults are the key ingredients of a happy and stable society, that so long as these things take precedence over every other concern, all will be well. We've tricked ourselves into thinking that divorce is no big deal, that it's just the natural result of trying to make a lifelong committment out of what ought to be a few years' diversion; we've consoled ourselves with the idea that kids are resilient, and that so long as they have some good role models somewhere it doesn't really matter if they're on their third set of step-parents (and, hey, that means more Christmas gifts, too, so it's all good, right?).

    Far too often, though, divorce is nothing but adult selfishness at the expense of the innocent children who suffer the most from having Mommy and Daddy live at different homes, or in different zip codes, or even in different time zones. When the safety of the innocent is at stake in the marriage in the first place, as I said above, there may exist so compelling a reason to take the step to separate legally that the innocent party must consider it; but to decide to tear one's family into shreds so that one can shack up with a younger or richer or hotter person instead is the kind of behavior that just screams "pathetic loser" to me.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    In loco parentis

    So, San Francisco, that bastion of liberal tolerance, that home of anything-goes sexual licentiousness, has proven its obesophobia by an act of intolerance aimed at young Jolly-Americans--those very people most at risk of self-hatred, confusion, and pain stemming from their desire to live the Jolly lifestyle:
    SAN FRANCISCO — Lost in the nationwide electoral tumult Tuesday was another important vote, this one by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which took on one of the great (tasting) issues of our day: the Happy Meal.

    The board, whose political leanings can sometimes fall somewhere between Democrat and Dadaist, passed a ban on restaurant toy giveaways unless the aforementioned meals meet certain healthy nutritional standards for calories, sodium and fat.

    The bill, which passed 8 to 3, was sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar, who had recounted how he had been horrified by his daughter’s collection of giveaway toys and envisioned the bill as a way to strike a blow against fatty, salty fast food. Mr. Mar said he hoped it would act as an incentive to fast-food companies to “provide better choices.”

    McDonald’s called the bill misguided. “It’s not what our customers want,” said Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for the company, in a statement. “Nor is it something they asked for.”

    Clearly, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors doesn't know what it is like for a young Jolly child to be force-fed the message that his love of french fries is disordered and must be reshaped to fit society's demands. And they're willing to punish him for that disordered love by denying him free toys! How...bigoted of them.

    All kidding aside, I was struck by the fact that Supervisor Eric Mar was moved to sponsor this bill when he became horrified by his daughter's collection of the free meal toys. Unless Mar's daughter was riding her tricycle through the drive-thru and ordering Happy Meals unknown to her parents, chances are that an adult was colluding in the purchases of said meals. Chances are also that the adult was a parent, and that the adult wasn't motivated to make the purchase at all by the presence of a bit of cheap foreign-made plastic advertising some cartoon or movie. So why does Mar think that banning the inclusion of the toys will suddenly motivate more responsible child-food-selection behavior from parents...such as himself? And if Mar's wife was the one making the purchases--well, she is, according to Mar's bio, a public school teacher, so is her decision making process really going to depend on whether a free toy is included with her daughter's meal?

    But this is the typical liberal way of solving a problem: deny the role of personal responsibility, insist that the trouble is really society's fault, and then punish those least able to effect any change in the matter--in this case, the children who will be disappointed by the lack of a toy with their meal, since they've become used to getting one.

    Now, we could talk about whether Happy Meal toys are a good idea, or not; we could talk about the materialism and consumerism involved; we could talk about the exploitation of third-world workers who toil away for pennies a day to produce worthless items to be given away free to the children of rich nations; we could talk about whether the cumulative piles of restaurant toys are wasteful and difficult to dispose of without negatively impacting the environment; we could admit that on long road trips the toys go from being "scourge of parents' existence" to "saviors of parental sanity;" we could focus on the marketing of movies that aren't even appropriate for young children through this venue; and we could probably find dozens of other, related issues to be brought up in a vigorous pro/con Happy Meal toy debate. All of these are legitimate points of discussion.

    But do Happy Meal toys make kids fat? Well, let's see--did kids eat McDonald's hamburgers or cheeseburgers, with a small french fry and a small drink, long before Bob Bernstein had his sales-increasing idea? Um, yes (I remember doing exactly that as a child). So unless you believe that there's some magical, mystical way that the same food increases its obesity-causing properties simply by the inclusion of a cheap toy, the removal of the toy will have little effect on the number of children who still regularly consume a cheeseburger with fries and a soft drink.

    Do we have an epidemic of obesity among young children in America? It would seem so. But I have a feeling that this has very little to do with Happy Meal toys, and a whole lot to do with other matters, including the decline in unscheduled outdoor play time for children, the rise of sedentary entertainment possibilities, the absence of mothers from the home (since it takes a great deal of constant, focused discipline to prepare a home-cooked meal every day if you're not actually at home, but working outside of it, every day), and the fact that fresh fruits and vegetables cost ten times more than junk food, according to this article.

    The reasons for American obesity are both puzzlingly complex and frighteningly simple. The complex part has to do with our ongoing subsidies of things like corn and sugar, ingredients that fill junk foods, processed foods, calorie-laden beverages, and a whole lot of other worthless calorie options (and the resulting cheap price and wide availability of such foods). The frighteningly simple part, though, has to do with each individual's ability to make good food choices, to reform bad habits, and to address the emotional and other mental aspects of overeating.

    And when it comes to children, there is one sure-fire weapon against obesity: the word "No." Because parents are the ones who are in charge of what our children eat, and though it may be a struggle to get them to eat good, healthy food sometimes, that struggle is worth the results.

    But it's not a struggle some government body can make on our behalf. It's not a struggle that has to take away every fun aspect of childhood, either. The reason children need parents is because they need responsible grown-ups willing to find the proper balance between the occasional Happy Meal and the regular, healthy meals cooked at home. It takes a pretty crazy sort of government to think that banning Happy Meal toys is a proper act of in loco parentis.