Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

They came, and still come, from all walks of life, from wealthy families and poor ones, bearing recognized last names and obscure ones.

They have fought, and still fight, in the wars our country undertakes, from the Revolutionary War to the present Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts.

They have been widely divergent individuals, brought together by everything from honorable desire to mere circumstance.

But they became family, in a kinship no one wanted for them: the family of men and (more recently) of women who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.

Sometimes they served in wars where high ideals and noble purposes banded together in defense of freedom, of our way of life, of America herself. Other times, they were caught up in political realities beyond their control, sent to fight and to die by lesser men for venal purposes wrapped up in the flag and coated with faux patriotism. It mattered little when their still and lifeless forms made the journey home; their heroism and sacrifice did not depend on truths that in some instances wouldn't be known for some time after the last cease-fire, and the cowardly decisions made by political leaders don't ever taint the honor these men and women deserve for their willingness to lay down their lives, if necessary, for each other, for their families' peace and security, and for all the citizens of a too-often ungrateful nation.

It is a grave and weighty duty to send the men and women of our armed forces into harm's way. This duty should never be undertaken by people who don't understand the gravity of the sacrifice, the sobriety with which any such decisions ought to be made, or the moral imperative to consider deeply and with great caution whether a war is just, whether it is necessary, and whether there is any realistic chance of success. To send our soldiers around the globe to be glorified security forces is to betray the line of heroes who have gone before into battle--gone, and not returned alive to the shores of the land they loved so greatly.

It is easy for those in power to loose sight of that, though. In the lifetimes of many of us, this sacred compact between those in power in our nation and those who go to fight, and even to die, on our nation's behalf has been broken again and again. If we were a nation of serious men and women, we would demand that the criteria for going to war be tightened, so that only when the war is clearly just, clearly necessary, and clearly able to be won without recourse to evil means would the awful step of declaring ourselves to be at war with another nation ever be contemplated. Instead, it seems as though our leaders have made it easier and easier for war to be entered into, sometimes without even those steps our Constitution envisioned as being necessary for the declaration of war. This is wrong; we risk trivializing the lives and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, when they can be sent into battle without the minimal safeguards needed to ensure that the sacrifices being asked, even demanded, of them are being asked in justice and with humble awareness of the possible and terrible costs.

On this Memorial Day, as we pray for the souls of those who have died in service to and defense of our nation, let's also ask God for the wisdom and courage to hold our political leaders accountable for the prosecution of every war, and to insist to them that as Americans we will not make light of the sacrifices our troops are asked to make. Let's ask God to strengthen our resolve to demand that our nation enter wars only when they are just, necessary, and possible to win (with a definition of "success" being defined at the outset of the conflict, not midway through it). And let's ask Him, too, to protect all those still currently in danger in those faraway places, where they stand for us, and for our nation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Post about death penalty at C4C blog

Are you interested in discussing the death penalty? I'm opening up a conversation about it here:

Justice, mercy, and the death penalty

Come and join in!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And also with you...

I found this recent, if brief, report from a Catholic priest-blogger on the new translations of the Mass in English to be heartening:
I`m on the diocesan clergy retreat at Ushaw this week so this is just a quick post. Some priest bloggers have discussed recently using the new translation of the OF Mass before the official launch date. I thought readers might be interested to know that Mass at the retreat today was celebrated by our bishop and priests using the new texts. Everyone dutifully replied `And with your spirit`. No-one died and no horses appeared to be frightened. My impression was that it seemed a bit more wordy but it was a huge improvement on what we have had. I expect we`ll be using the new translation the rest of the week.
Father Brown then updates--no, they're using the present translation after that one "trial run" of the new one. Like a commenter on Father Brown's site, I like the line about the horses. :)

There seem to be quite a few priests blogging about the new translations, such as Msgr. Pope, who posted this piece today about the difference between "And also with you," and "And with your spirit." Msgr. Pope explains:
Of all the questions I’ve had about the New Translation of the Roman Missal the most common revolves around the response of the people “And with your spirit” as a replacement for the current “And also with you.” One woman said to me, “It sounds as if our bodies no longer matter?”

Flawed Premise? Most of the controversy around the issue is premised on a notion that the current expression “And also with you” is a more formal equivalent of “Same to you.” As if, when the Priest says “The Lord be with you” and the congregation were to respond “Same to you, Father.” But this is not really what is being said by the congregation or what is meant by the Latin response et cum spiritu tuo (and with your spirit). The current translation is not only inaccurate, it is misleading because most people think they are say “same to you, Father.”

Well, if that isn’t what is being said, what really is being said? In effect, the expression et cum spiritu tuo (soon to be accurately translated “and with your spirit”) is an acknowledgement by the congregation of the grace and presence of Christ who is present and operative in the spirit or soul of the celebrant. Christ’s Spirit is present in the priest in a unique way in virtue of his ordination. Hence what the dialogue means is:

  • Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
  • Congregation: We do in fact acknowledge the grace, presence and Spirit of Christ in your spirit. [All emphases in original--E.M.]
Read the rest, here.

It's interesting that what is meant, in the liturgy, to be an acknowledgment by the people of the priest's unique role in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has dwindled into a mere "you, too, Father!" which has, in turn, become so rote and so mechanical that it barely means anything. Most of us have heard a variation of the joke about this phrase, which goes something like this:

A priest is struggling with a microphone which keeps cutting in and out on him as he attempts to say Mass. Finally, in his frustration, he says "There is something seriously wrong with this microphone!"

And the congregation replies, "And also with you."

For forty years now, the English world has used a translation of the Mass which has been, to put it politely, somewhat lacking. My Spanish-speaking parish family members, when they attend Mass in their native tongue, say, "And with your spirit," (Y con tu espiritu) among other responses which are close to the Latin. That the English has been so vastly different for so long from the Latin, the Spanish, and other translations is actually rather embarrassing.

And the resistance to the new translation is telling, too--because it seems to be not so much a resistance to the idea of making the English align more closely to the Latin, as to the repudiation of the model of "dynamic equivalence" in translation and the notion that the English used at Mass should be the kind of ordinary, simple, inelegant English prevalent in modern speech. The defenders of "dynamic equivalence" seem to be defending not merely a translation model, but an unfortunate notion which swept through the English-speaking Catholic world following the Second Vatican Council--the notion that churches exist for a community to gather and share its stories and journeys in a friendly, folksy, down-to-earth environment devoid of anything majestic, reverent, awe-inspiring, or, indeed, conducive at all to that act we call "worship." An example of that kind of thinking can be found here, among many other places:

Where we worship shapes our prayer and how we pray shapes the way in which we live. Using metaphorical equations to design the worship arena my hope in any project is that the congregation will be transfigured by the very space it is helping to create or transform. I believe that places for worship become sacred when the celebrations of life-cycle events occur there. In this sense the building is designed primarily to house the assembly and its worship of God. It is not an object of devotion by itself nor is it a temple to honor the deity. The fundamental blueprint for the building is found in the memories and hopes of the community. This is why participation of the congregation in the building or renovation journey is extremely important.

The time honored ingredients of a worthy place for worship include stories of faith, pilgrimage pathways, transforming thresholds, intimate settings for personal prayer, art work that prompts works of justice and seating plans that engage the community in the public rituals. To evoke a sense of the sacred the building must be designed with attention to detail, scale, proportion, materials, color, illumination and acoustics. All art and furnishings must be of the highest caliber afforded by the community. Sensitivity to ecological and economical factors cannot be overlooked.

Memory and imagination are the main tools in any worship space project.
The above is Richard Vosko's philosophy, from his website; he has designed many "worship spaces" in which "...and also with you..." sounds appropriate for the mundanity and banality of the space, but in which "And with your spirit," may sound rather...jarringly ineffable inside such temples to humanity.

Resistance to the new translation will come, then, primarily from that quarter which thought that the Second Vatican Council heralded a new age in transformative religion, an era in which incense, bowing, majestic words and reverent attitudes would give way to casual demeanor, everyday speech, hand-holding and hugging, and the like--all leading up to that day when men stopped worshiping God, and showed up at church primarily to give Him an opportunity to admire us in our great specialness. The sloppy translations were a piece of the new edifice called the "worship space"--not the only piece, to be sure, but an important one.

Those who resist the new translations seem to be deeply afraid that if people begin praying the Mass according to a more reverent, dignified, majestic translation of the Latin into English, that all of a sudden all sorts of other things, from garish art to the explosion of EMHCs to the shoddy, banal-sounding music to the "druid temple in-the-round" architecture will seem, suddenly, cheap--too cheap and too silly to present as our best efforts to the almighty God Whom (Richard Vosko notwithstanding) we gather to worship and adore.

"Wait!" they seem to exclaim, wringing their hands. "We worked so hard to change the Mass from some stuffy, remote thing fixated on God to something the whole family can enjoy! We've spent our whole lives trying to sing a new Church into being! And now...now you're turning the clock back to a time of formality and reverence! Can't you see that this makes it look as if, all along, there was something terribly wrong with all of our ideas, and plots, and plans???"

It would be too terribly unkind to mutter in reply, "...and also with you."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More considerations regarding Sunday best

If you didn't see it, this post from yesterday about Sunday clothes has generated a lot of interesting and thoughtful comments. An anonymous commenter left this one, which I found very insightful:
I'm Jewish, raised in a moderately religious household in a predominantly Jewish community. Our religion has very complex and often conflicting attitudes about synagogue attendance: aside from the most observant, it's often seen as a chore you undertake as little as possible and historically, attendance is low vs other religions. Services are long (easily 2-3 hours for daily services, often 4-5 hours for holidays). And attire is strict: there's a fair amount of dress-up expected with pants usually prohibited.

I got to college and found myself with a Catholic roommate. She was the first Catholic friend I'd ever had and vice versa; we became very close and remain so many years later. Jean attended Mass religiously, pun intended, every Sunday without fail. That ritual for her became part of our lives, playing a role in what time we headed to brunch or a movie. Two things about her commitment fascinated me: her service was short, perhaps an hour, so she didn't see it as the chore that synagogue was to me. And she was allowed to wear pants and more casual clothes than I. She was never sloppy and always beautifully accessorized as only a 20-year-old likes to do, but she didn't have to worry about having the right dress or that coordinated suit jacket and skirt that I had to consider.

The memory of Jean practicing her religion with such familiarity and ease was something vivid that's stuck with me for years. I still attend synagogue, probably not as often as I should, and it's still a production of dressing up and setting aside an evening or half-day. As an adult, I know those factors still affect my commitment. I envy Jean's dedication to Mass and that of you all posting here. I hope that your religious and lay leadership appreciate the fact that you all see your churches as much more user-friendly destinations that those of us in other religions do. And in turn, it provides them value in your regular attendance and support. The debate about modesty vs immodesty doesn't mean much if people aren't in the pews.
This is an interesting perspective, one that I think many of us should perhaps consider. I often hear about how women of this or that Christian denomination dress beautifully every Sunday, or how people from this or that faith would never dream of entering their places of worship without being in their most formal clothing--but one element that may be missing from those conversations is that people in many other faiths lack something particular that Catholics have. No, it's not just the Eucharist--people of Eastern Orthodox faith have that. Where we Catholics are truly unique is that we are bound under pain of grave sin to assist at Sunday Mass every single Sunday unless we have a serious reason to miss it.

What this means is that any Catholic who approaches his or her faith with even minimal seriousness will be at Mass on Sunday, period, end of sentence. The serious reasons that can cause us to miss Mass, such as illness, the care of children, significant distance, dangerous weather conditions, and the like are, ordinarily, rare events. Absent those rare events we will be there.

So what does that mean, in terms of our clothing?

In the first place, it means that when a Catholic can't really buy one or two expensive outfits of "special occasion clothing" and wear these to Mass--because "special occasion clothing" is not, generally speaking, made for repeated wearing and cleaning/washing. Whatever a Catholic wears to Sunday Mass is going to get used approximately 60 times a year in America (52 Sundays, six holy days of obligation minus Ascension Thursday Sunday plus Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday)--give or take. So our Sunday best, whatever it may be, can't in a practical sense be the same kind of thing we might only wear a few times a year--or we'd have to own an awful lot of clothing!

In the second place, it means, especially for a Catholic wife and mother, that our Sunday best may have to be a little flexible to account for the times and seasons of our lives as wives and mothers. I remember the only time I regularly (as opposed to occasionally) wore slacks to Sunday Mass was during my pregnancies, for example--it is often all but impossible to find a dress that will fit throughout a pregnancy (and for some strange reason designers seem to think that pregnant women want to wear above-knee length skirts and dresses, but that's a different sort of rant altogether). A mother who is caring for toddlers at Mass, or whose infant child is prone to explodey-diapers or frequent spitting-up may not be able to wear a fancy outfit. And many Catholic women weave in and out of the seasons of pregnancy, nursing, and the caring for young children at Mass; true, in the strictest sense Mom's need to care for the littlest ones may excuse her from the obligation to attend Mass, but I'd much rather see moms of littles at Mass, even wearing slacks or simple skirts, than have them be absent from the Sunday celebration for fear of being under-dressed.

In the third place, there may be matters of local climate and/or custom to deal with. When we had snow here in Texas at Christmastime, for instance, I had to wear slacks to Mass on at least one occasion--because all of my skirts are lightweight, and perfectly adequate for the weather here at least 90% of the time, but not warm enough for snow or for temperatures below freezing. Women who live in colder climates might say, "Wear tights! Wear long underwear!" but I own neither of those--and no wool or heavy skirts, either. On the other hand, a woman in a much colder climate might have a hard time finding appropriate tops to wear during an unusually warm summer--her 3/4 sleeve summer tops might feel uncomfortably hot should the temperature reach 90 degrees, especially if the church building she'll be going to is not air-conditioned, as is sometimes the case in cooler places.

There are other matters to consider as well; this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of them, and I've focused more on the problems women might encounter because I'm more familiar with them. I know men have to make various considerations, too, especially those men who don't own suits, don't wear ties at work, etc. But the question remains: does this mean abandoning the whole notion of Sunday best? Does it mean giving in to our sloppy-casual culture and its distaste for "dressy" clothes?

I don't think so--but I do think it means exploring creative ways to incorporate the idea of "Sunday best" into our wardrobes without feeling the pressure to invest in expensive, impractical, short-lasting or difficult-to-clean garments in order to satisfy some outward notion of how we ought to look when we step inside our parish church each Sunday.

In the musical Hello, Dolly! there is a song about Sunday clothes; the refrain goes like this:
Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out
Strut down the street and have your picture took
Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about
That Sunday shine is a certain sign
That you feel as fine as you look!
Beneath your parasol, the world is all a smile
That makes you feel brand new down to your toes
Get out your feathers
Your patent leathers
Your beads and buckles and bows
For there's no blue Monday in your Sunday clothes!
As a woman I notice one thing right away about these lyrics--they're focusing in quite a bit on accessories. The dress might simply have been the woman's newest dress; the time period of the musical would go along with that. Eventually, with wear, the dress would be demoted, first to an ordinary street dress, and then to a dress one would only wear at home--but it was new, so it was for Sunday. The rest, though? A parasol, feathers (in the hat, perhaps, or worn other ways), patent leather shoes or belts, and "beads and buckles and bows," were what made the outfit.

Times may have changed a lot, but women, and our tendency to accessorize, haven't changed all that much. (Again, I'm speaking more to women, here--men's clothing choices seem much more limited to me.) There are some simple ways a woman can turn a basic outfit--a nice skirt or dressy pair of slacks paired with a pretty top--into a "Sunday best" outfit. A lightweight dressy sweater or blazer, a selection of colorful scarves (which can be a very inexpensive accessory depending on where they are purchased), some jewelry, an attractive and well-coordinated hat, some pretty shoes--any of these articles can turn an everyday outfit into a "Sunday best" one, without necessarily costing a lot of money or relying on clothes which are impractical for other areas of a woman's life. And if, for some reason, the toddler is having a bad day or Mom has signed up to help dismantle the Easter decorations after Mass, etc., the accessories can be easily removed or left at home.

Now: does this mean that people are obligated to spend hours of time planning and purchasing Sunday best clothes or accessories? Heavens, no. But I've found myself taking a little more time and effort that I used to, and part of the reason I do this is because at our parish there are many women who clearly try to put forth a "Sunday best" look, not for vanity or to be a fashion plate, but with a sense that it's fitting to dress up a bit when coming to Sunday Mass, every Sunday, at (in our parish's case) 8:30 every Sunday morning. To tell the truth, I started feeling a little like I wasn't making enough effort, when I would show up in a "mom skirt" with a "mom top" and no real adornment or effort to dress up at all, and see my fellow parishioners looking quite nice despite the early hour.

But here's one final thought (and I know this is too terribly long already!): I think that there are, indeed, many more important matters than how we are dressing on Sunday morning. Certainly if we are noticing other people's clothing and judging them we are in the wrong spirit altogether (extremes of fashion/immodesty are an exception, as these things generally force themselves upon our notice). If, however, we are feeling called to make a bit more effort to look nice as we venture forth to Sunday Mass, we don't need to give up on that thought simply because our culture makes dressing nice for anything so difficult. A little creativity, a little forethought, a little care and attention--no different from what we might do if we were going out for a dinner alone with our husbands, perhaps--will suffice.

I'm eager to hear your thoughts!

At the heart of marriage

A reader sent me a link to this blog post by a gentleman who doesn't much like the habit Catholics and others have of using scare-quotes around same-sex "marriage":
One of the little tics that Catholic opponents of same-sex marriage have developed is to refer to it as "marriage." As in this from the USCCB's latest letter to Congress:
The movement to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex (a.k.a. same-sex "marriage") has changed the law substantially toward that end, at both the state and federal level, and it has become increasingly clear that laws like ENDA have been instrumental to those changes.
The point would seem to be that because marriage by definition cannot be between persons of the same sex, it is necessary to use quotation marks lest anyone imagine that we are acknowledging that such a thing can or could exist. And, moreover, that since marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic church (this year's very Catechetical Sunday theme), the word itself must be kept free from pollution.
The blog writer then goes on to point out that Catholics often use phrases like polygamous marriage or incestuous marriage without the scare quotes--so why put them around same-sex "marriage?" Clearly polygamous marriage or incestuous marriage also don't fit the sacramental model, so why reserve the scare quotes for same-sex "marriage?"

It's a good question, and it deserves a good answer. I'm not, of course, a Catholic apologist or theologian, so if my answer fails to be as good as it ought to be I will hope for correction from those more qualified to address these matters--but here's my offering:

Marriage, as the Church understands it, is both a natural and a supernatural state. As a natural state it originates in the Garden of Eden, with God's command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it (Gen 1:28). But after the Fall, human beings sometimes failed to live according to the natural state of marriage. Polygamy, incest, and even divorce/remarriage were examples of human failings in regard to natural marriage.

But even as these things represented failings, they also did not alter the key reality at the heart of marriage: marriage was, and is, ordered toward the physical unity of man and woman in that act which alone among human sexual behaviors is potentially capable of producing new human beings. That act is, of course, called sexual intercourse.

The polygamist erred in believing it possible to engage in this act with a multiplicity of women without changing the morality of the act. The incestuous tribe erred in taking as husband or wife a person too closely biologically related to themselves. The divorced/remarried person erred, and still errs, in making a promise of fidelity, exclusivity, and permanence to one person--and then turning around and making the same promise a few years later to someone else. But none of these people errs by redefining marriage in such a way as to make sexual intercourse between the spouses not only unnecessary, but indeed, physically impossible.

A same-sex couple cannot engage in sexual intercourse. They can, of course, perform a variety of sex acts on and with each other, but none of those acts has ever been considered to lie at the heart of what marriage is (and, indeed, some of them are forbidden even to married people from a Catholic moral perspective). But that act which alone among human acts is potentially capable of creating a new human life is not an act which they can engage in together.

The Church has always taught, and continues to teach, that people who are not capable of the act of marriage, that is, of the act of sexual intercourse, cannot be married--even if they are heterosexual. That is, a heterosexual man who is physically incapable of the marriage act, or a heterosexual woman who is physically incapable of the marriage act, cannot enter into a valid marriage even with a member of the opposite sex, from the Church's point of view. It should be noted that this same thing does not hold true for a husband or wife who becomes incapable of the marriage act at some time after the marriage. But if, at the time they seek to marry, one or both spouses is not physically capable of the marriage act, they cannot marry. It should be noted, here, that the impediment refers only to the ability to engage in the marriage act, that is, sexual intercourse--a marriage is not invalid, nor is it rendered invalid, if the couple can engage in sexual intercourse but are infertile. There is a lot of misunderstanding about this from the same-sex side of the argument; the way to understand it is to recognize that the gift of new human life is a total gift from God, Who is the Author of life, and Who may chose to bless one family abundantly with children while asking another family to carry the cross of infertility for a time, or even for the whole of their married lives. But the God Who blessed Sarah, and Elizabeth, and Hannah with children when they were thought to be barren can also give life where that was not thought possible--so long as the couple is capable of engaging in the one act of all human actions which has the potential of resulting in a child.

At this point, some of my same-sex attracted opponents will argue that I'm making it sound as if marriage is all about sex! My answer to that is--well, it is. Not, of course, in the sense that sex is the only thing married people ever do or think about or desire, but in the sense that the life of physical unity and its results in terms of the little gifts of love who wander around the house needing diapers one minute and driver's ed the next (from the perspective of many parents)--yes, marriage is about the sexual unity of husband and wife, and the great blessings this fruitful unity can produce, the precious gift of new souls for the Kingdom of Heaven, entrusted for a time to a mother and a father who are only too aware of their own failings and shortcomings.

Are polygamy, incest, and serial divorce serious attacks against the love and unity of the married couple and the family? Yes, they are--but they aren't, at their root, so much an attack against marriage as a grave distortion of it. If sacramental marriage is a mirror image of the mystical union of Christ and His Church, then these distortions of marriage are like a funhouse mirror reflection--containing, here and there, glimpses of the truth, but too twisted and bent to be recognized.

And same-sex "marriage" is, to these, the empty frame of a mirror against a blank wall, simply because it does not contain any recognizable aspect of what the concept marriage means at all. With no sexual complementarity, with no possibility of engaging in the marriage act of potentially-reproductive sexual intercourse, with no reflection of the mystical union of Christ and His Church, what does the relationship of two people of the same gender have in common with marriage, anyway? That it involves two people (most of the time)? That those two people are romantically and physically involved? Those two criteria also describe a whole host of other human relationships which do not aspire to be called marriage, and indeed, which would not seek the term provided they had the slightest understanding of it.

When Catholic writers put the scare quotes around same-sex "marriage" (as I often do), it's not done to be snide or insulting (or at least, I don't mean it that way, ordinarily). It's done, instead, to point out that calling the pairing up of two same-sex people a "marriage" is to ignore the sexual reality that has existed at the heart of the concept of marriage from the earliest human history, a reality that has prevailed in the understanding of that concept in every major civilization that has ever existed. Even when distortions like polygamy have occurred, those distortions did not deny the importance of sexual intercourse or of the potential producing of children--far from it.

But same-sex "marriage" advocates do deny the importance of sexual intercourse to the concept of marriage. They also deny the importance of child-bearing, motherhood and fatherhood as complementary concepts, the capacity for sexual union as a central reality of marriage, and other such ideas.

To the same-sex "marriage" advocate, two men or two women can "marry" because there are two of them and because they are romantically and physically involved. Philosophically speaking, this is not unlike declaring that a slice of bread is the same thing as a chocolate chip cookie, because both are baked and made primarily of flour--ignoring the role that yeast plays in one, and that sugar and chocolate play in the other. But anyone who crumbles a slice of bread over a bowl of ice cream, or tries to place ham, mustard, and cheese between two chocolate chip cookies, is unlikely to buy that the superficial similarities of bread and cookies outweigh the many important and intrinsic differences.

In a word, I place scare-quotes around same-sex "marriage" because it involves such a difference in the definition of the word marriage from the one I, and most people in human history, have understood that I find the word out of place in context. If I were to write of a chocolate-chip-cookie ham "sandwich" I would use scare quotes, too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A culture of slobby couture

As he promised last week, Msgr. Charles Pope has a post up this week discussing proper attire at Sunday Mass. I found it to be a balanced and sane look at the question for the most part, with advice given both to men and to women on how to dress nicely for Mass.

One minor quibble I have is that Msgr. Pope generally just says, "...at Mass..." or "...in Church..." to talk about these concepts. As I wrote here, I think there's a difference between dressing for Sunday Mass and dressing for daily Mass or for times when one will be in the church building for other purposes (e.g., helping to clean the church). No one expects the standard of Sunday Best to govern those times when we might pop in to the church for a little visit, or when we are signed up to help remove live evergreens from the church after Christmas (and for which occasion a fancy dress or crisply-ironed suit would be highly inappropriate).

Beyond that minor quibble, I also disagreed slightly with Msgr.'s point number 11, which reads as follows: "Women should wear a nice blouse (if they are not wearing a full dress). The blouse or shirt they wear should not be too tight." As I explained in the comments, most "nice blouses" these days are cut one bust size smaller than the shirt size--because clothing designers want blouses to be tight and revealing. I know very few women who can wear a blouse and look nice in it, and most of them are, to put it delicately, not particularly well-endowed, so to speak.

And when it comes to dresses--well, where are they? Any woman who has had to find a dress for some occasion can agree that the dresses available today leave a lot to be desired. Like blouses, dresses are often cut to be tight and revealing, or made of clingy fabrics that leave little about the woman's figure to the imagination.

Sure, there are places that specialize in "modest dresses." However, a lot of these dresses seem to be knee-length or slightly above knee; I'm not going to debate whether that length is "modest" or not, but I will just point out that few women over the age of 35 display their knees to advantage, something that even many secular fashion advisers agree about.

Another problem with dresses, even the ones from shops specializing in "modest dresses," is the price. Dresses can easily cost between $80 and $120, and can go up considerably even from that point. This is especially true if you are petite, tall, or a "women's" size, as the price of dresses in these "specialty" sizes can be ridiculous. The availability decreases in these special sizes, too--it's much easier for me, as a short woman, to find skirts and tops to wear than it is for me ever to find a decent dress.

Add to cost, availability, and so forth the problem that so many dresses are dry-clean only (never a sensible choice for a mother of toddlers, for example) and you begin to understand why so few women wear dresses anymore, even to Mass.

In fact, most of the women I see at Mass are wearing either a skirt and top, or a pants outfit. And we can deplore the casual nature of this all we want to--until we go shopping, and try to find something that isn't either a skirt and top or a pants outfit. Our culture decided before many of us had even reached adulthood that dressy skirt suits, pretty Sunday dresses that were modest, washable, and affordable, and similar traditional articles of apparel were hopelessly outdated. I can remember adult women wearing those long hippie-looking sun-dresses to Mass when I was a child--so the "slobby casual" look has been around for a pretty long time, at this point. Compared to the mini-dress at Mass, even a pair of jeans is a better alternative; so often, when we talk about what people ought to wear to Sunday Mass, we're not being realistic about the clothing options available to us, but imagining that Catholic women are simply avoiding buying the reams of modest, decent, affordable, dressy "Sunday Best" clothes that are available in every store (complete with a helpful shopkeeper who knows his customers by name, and an on-site tailor to make those tiny little adjustments necessary for a perfect fit).

In other words, it's easy to think that we can somehow go shopping in the clothing stores of the past, when the culture still provided plenty of opportunities for both men and women to dress nicely, when a man of middle income could afford half a dozen suits (as my father had, when I was a little girl), and his wife, a closet full of nice dresses.

But we live in a culture of slobby couture, a place and time when people seldom dress up for even the most solemn occasions. Buying even a handful of decent skirts and pairing them with tops that are a step or two above a tee-shirt is a time-consuming, frustrating, expensive chore for most women, and even a traumatic scenario for some. That mythical, idyllic clothing store where a variety of tasteful, grown-up, well-fitting Sunday Best clothes with decent necklines, decent hem lines, ample room for bust and hips without showing off either, with both a wide variety of sizes and affordable price tags, does not exist any more.

That doesn't mean, I must emphasize, that we ought to give up on the idea of dressing nicely for Sunday Mass whenever possible. But it does mean that we may have to be more creative and more flexible about what our Sunday Best really is. If showing up for Mass bearing the marks of a slobby couture culture displeases God, I'd have to think that sighing over the clothes we don't have and probably couldn't afford even if they did exist isn't going to be pleasing to Him, either.

All is not Lost

[Scene: an institutional-looking room in the Secret Catholic Blogging Headquarters, with chairs gathered in a circle. The chairs are occupied by secret, semi-secret, and not secret Catholic bloggers. A Moderator sits among the others.]

Moderator: Welcome, everyone, welcome! Let's get started.

(She nods toward the person seated to her right, a woman wearing a red sweater.)

Woman: Hi, I'm a Catholic blogger....

Chorus of voices: Hi!

Woman: ...and I've never watched Lost.

Moderator: And that's okay. Right, gang?

Second woman: It's fine.

Man with hat: No problem.

Man without hat: We're all in the same boat. Like in the show. If we'd watched it, that is.

Moderator: Who's next?

Man without hat: I'll go. Hi, I'm a Catholic blogger...

Chorus of voices: Hi!

Man without hat: And I...I've never watched Lost. Well, almost never.

Moderator: And that's okay. Isn't it, everyone?

First woman: It's okay.

Man with hat: We're here for you, dude.

Man without hat: See, my wife watched it. So I saw a couple minutes here and there. And I saw almost half an episode once because she said it was really important. Something about "the others," or something.

Man with bow tie: We hear you.

Man without hat: I still can't keep the characters straight. Sawyer? Hurley? Charlie? Who the Catholic Safe Swear Word are these guys, anyway?

Second woman: That's right. Let it all out.

Moderator: We're with you. Let's all take a deep breath.

(Everyone takes a deep breath, holds it, and releases it slowly.)

Moderator: Would someone else like to share?

Second woman: Hi, I'm a Catholic blogger...

Chorus of voices: Hi!

Second woman: ...and I've never watched Lost.

Moderator: And that's okay.

Woman with pearls: It really is.

Second woman: Is it? Because I'm a homeschooling mommy blogger. I write about school work and crafts and recipes. And all of a sudden all the women whose blogs inspire me are writing about Lost all the time! When will it ever end?

(She leans forward and holds a hand-crafted lace-edged embroidered handkerchief up to her face.)

First woman: It's all right.

Man with hat: Don't worry. It will get better.

Man with bow tie: They'll have to move on eventually.

Man without hat: Don't let it get to you.

Woman with pearls: Just keep your chin up, honey.

Moderator: Good advice, good advice. I think we have time for one more. Anyone?

Man with bow tie: Hi, I'm a Catholic blogger...

Chorus of voices: Hi!

Man with bow tie:...and....and....

Moderator. It's okay. Just get it out.

Man with bow tie:...I....I pretended that I was going to watch Lost. I kept telling my Catholic blogging friends that I was going to rent the DVDs and get caught up. Pretty soon I started making ridiculous excuses, like telling them my new TV didn't work with our old DVD player, and things like that.

Second woman: Nobody's judging you. We all understand.

Man with bow tie: I...I tried, once or twice. I really did. But...but...this is embarrassing.

Man without hat: You can do it. We're on your side.

Man with bow tie: It's just...it's television, people! After a while it's all...the same! Boring, even! I just couldn't force myself to watch hours and hours and hours of it!

Woman with pearls: And that's okay.

Moderator: Yes. Yes, it is. It's okay not to like to watch television enough to stick with a series show that ran six years with 121 episodes and that had a huge ensemble cast and more plot twists than a Cold War-era intelligence report and...whew! Looks like we're out of time. Those of you coming back for the couples' support group, "My Husband/Wife Watched Lost and I Didn't," please note that the time has been moved from 7:30 to 8 P.M., as we're having to lengthen the time for the "My Teenager Can List All the Cast Members from Lost but is Flunking American History" session. Thanks for coming, everyone! Bye, now!

Chorus of voices: Bye!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oh, boy...

Pearls Before Swine
Change "resume" to "writing project(s)," make a couple of other alterations, and this rather resembles me. And probably a good many of you, too...

:)

Abortion and truth in advertising

British television viewers may start seeing TV ads for abortion tonight:
London, England (LifeNews.com) -- British television viewers will see an ad promoting abortions for the first time on TV tonight on Channel 4. However, a pro-life legal group is hoping a last-minute legal action can stop the television ads for the Marie Stopes International abortion business.

The Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice allowed rules changes that paved the way for the new ads.

Without the television and radio commercials, MSI has relied on magazines, taxi and bus ads, and advertising through alternative newspapers.

The ad will run on Channel 4 after 10:00 p.m. but the Christian Legal Centre informed The Sun newspaper it hopes to block what it calls an advertisement for the "destruction of human life." [...]

The television commercials asks if women "are late" -- in terms of whether they missed their last period -- and advises them to call a 24-hour abortion hotline.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, a voice of sanity in the debate about laws requiring abortion-bound mothers to view an ultrasound image of their children before signing off on the tiny one's execution:

A dozen states are considering laws that require abortion clinics to provide ultrasound images for women seeking abortion. Obstetric ultrasound is a safe and noninvasive procedure using high frequency sound waves to provide a picture of the moving fetus on a monitor screen. A "transducer" is placed on the abdomen and moved to capture different views inside the uterus. The fetal heartbeat can be viewed as early as four weeks, and other fetal measurements can be made accurately from the images on the screen.

Opponents of these laws, like the editors at USA Today, say the ultrasound mandates "cross a line" and force "unnecessary medical procedures" on women. Yet the reality of abortion in America suggests this rhetoric is off the mark.

There are far too many stories of women who were not fully informed before their abortion and are suffering now because of it. In fact, there are women in court today suing abortion doctors for lying to them about the state of development of their child. The people in various states considering these laws have the right to decide that women deserve factual information before an abortion and that the best information about fetal development is an ultrasound picture. [...]

Abortion proponents could adopt this standard of practice voluntarily, of course, but they won't. Abortion clinics are for-profit ventures, and notoriously underregulated — animal hospitals and beauty salons are better regulated than some abortion clinics. They will always oppose laws that strengthen a woman's right to know because when women are empowered, they tend to choose life for their children. That's good medicine, but bad for business.

In considering these two separate matters--commercials for abortion on British TV, and laws in America requiring women who choose to kill their children via abortion to view an ultrasound image of the child first--I can't help but think that abortion is one of those consumer products which could only be hurt, not helped, by truth-in-advertising requirements. Imagine if during every abortion ad on TV, the abortion promoters had to add, in one of those silky undervoiced "disclaimer" bits, something that went like this:

Announcer: Your abortion will end the life of the developing human being inside of you. He or she will likely be either dismembered alive and removed, shredded alive via a suction device, poisoned to death and delivered, or simply delivered alive and left to expire. You will not cease to be a mother via this abortion, as you will remain the mother of a dead human child. If you are having an abortion because you are poor, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or in a bad relationship, you should be aware that after the abortion you will still be poor, addicted, or stuck with the kind of jerk who doesn't want children. Abortion will not solve any of your present problems and may create future ones. If you are unhappy about your abortion, your abortionist does not offer any money-back or other guarantees, as once he has killed your child he doesn't give an expletive deleted about what happens to you, and isn't about to refund any of your cash.

This would be accompanied by ultrasound images of actual abortions, preferably recorded using 3-D or 4-D ultrasound technology. The ad could then revert to its original theme, much in the same way those pharmaceutical ads do right after they tell you the many and lovely ways in which their product could theoretically permanently alter, injure, or cure you (but you'd be free of that unsightly rash!).

No, abortion will never be advertised truthfully. Truth in advertising would put the abortion pimps and hustlers out of business for good.

Repulsive and potentially damaging

While I don't agree with the author of this piece in every respect, it is still an interesting look at something that has cropped up in the care and education of children in Australia--and might be headed to America before long:
HOW would you react if you found out an adult had been in your three or four-year-old's childcare centre asking the following questions:

"Do boys give you the dreamy eye?"

"Are you a flirt?"

"Have you ever kissed a boy?"

If a carer asked these questions, I would be complaining to management in no uncertain terms.

If someone off the street tried to ask these questions, I would be calling the cops.

So why is it acceptable for Monash University academic Mindy Blaise to be asking three and four-year-olds these exact questions, as part of her ongoing study into what she calls post-structuralist and queer theory?

Sure, the questions come from an illustration in a popular Clarice Bean book by Lauren Child. But it doesn't make any difference. Regardless of the source, they are still inappropriate.

As she details in a paper in the latest Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, Blaise wants to show that young children are already sexual beings and that she is just creating a safe space for them in which they can express their "sexual knowledge".

In fact, she even wants the early childhood curriculum to be changed to give teachers a chance to "engage with children differently about their sexual knowledge".

In one experiment in an Australian childcare centre (she won't say which one), she gets the children to photograph objects or dolls they think are cool, sexy or pretty, and in another to respond to a photograph of two crocodiles kissing. One of the children notes that "one is a boy and one is a girl".

Blaise responds: "Heather (the child) has drawn upon the heterosexual matrix in her naming of the crocodiles as complementary genders. In doing so, the possibility of imagining same-sex desire has been closed off."

Is it just me, or does Blaise actually seem disappointed that some kids aren't showing signs of being gay?

Do read the whole thing; like I said, I don't agree with the author about some major issues, but that's part of what makes a piece like this so interesting--because two people from very different philosophical backgrounds can agree that the attempts at sexual indoctrination or other sexualization of young children is simply wrong.

Even other researchers are not happy about Dr. Mindy Blaise's research, as this article from Austrialia's Daily Telegraph shows:
Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said he was deeply concerned by the research and surprised it cleared the university's ethics committee.

"Why the hell can't we just let children be children?" he said.
Why not, indeed?

Here's a clue, from the same Telegraph article:

Monash University's Dr Mindy Blaise, who spent five days at an unnamed childcare centre, wants sexuality to be an official subject at kinders and preschool centres.

It would include discussions about homosexuality.

Dr Blaise said it was important that kids felt "healthy sexuality was not dirty or wrong". [Emphasis added--E.M.]

And why do three and four-year-olds need to talk about homosexuality? Well, remember those crocodiles? Again, from the Telegraph:

During her research, Dr Blaise also asked children to photograph things they thought were cool, sexy or pretty, and to discuss a photograph of two crocodiles kissing.

She described encouraging a discussion about sexuality, desire and love in relation to the crocodile picture.

When one child noted that the crocodiles were a boy and girl, Dr Blaise noted that the children appeared to think only about heterosexuality.

Not once did children talk about the possibility of girls being attractive for other girls, or boys being cool for other boys, she concluded.

In other words, you see, three-year-old and four-year-old children are already too "heteronormative" to satisfy society's desire to reshape sexuality in a way that ignores the reproductive aspect and tears down all gender constructs as too oppressive and damaging to be left in place. Gender-specific words and concepts like "mother" or "father" have to go, as do any other references to gender roles or the idea that men usually find women attractive, or that women usually find men attractive.

Thus, it's not even remotely acceptable to certain academics like Dr. Blaise for a child to assume, that because two crocodiles are kissing, that one must be a boy and the other a girl. That tiny tot clearly has been oppressed by the heteornormative agenda, and must be liberated by frank discussions of lesbian sex in preschool! (The rank speciesism of showing two reptiles engaging in a human-specific love-expression will be addressed when further studies are funded, etc.)

Otherwise, the dreadful possibility that toddlers will think that sex, or at least some kinds of sex, is dirty and wrong looms over us all. Of course, the notion that toddlers, who have barely figured out their excretory organs, should be learning anything at all about the reproductive act (oh, sorry, how un-p.c. of me--about the various sexually pleasurable acts humans are capable of) is one that most parents will find astonishingly wrong and misguided--if not, as the author of the first piece I link to suggests, absolutely criminal.

But the natural modesty of children, and the whole idea that there is a "latency period" during which children's curiosity about adult behaviors is mostly dormant or limited to various easily-answered common sense questions (such as "How does the baby get out of Mommy's tummy?") which mainly deal with actual reproduction and not the various sex acts humans are capable of, are under attack by many different forces in society. So long as young children still think that parents come in opposite gender pairs and that love and affection between adults is mainly ordered toward creating these pairs, society will remain appallingly heteronormative. And that's simply unacceptable to the type of professional academic who has a vested interest in seeing to it that children reject "heteronormative" gender roles and embrace alternative sexuality--or, more accurately, in convincing schools and other academics that her ideas are cutting-edge and important, instead of, from the perspective of parents, repulsive and potentially damaging to the psychological states of young children.

Friday, May 21, 2010

At the Coalition for Clarity blog...

...two new posts:

Is it still "enhanced interrogation" if someone else does it?

and

Torture is torture (with a link to the excellent Gilbert Magazine editorial on the subject).

If you are interested in this issue, please come and read!

Truth from the comics

This is so true:

Pearls Before Swine

:)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Clan of the Cosmic-Harmonics

From two of my favorite bloggers come tales of nuns. Okay, technically, religious sisters, since I don't think the majority of the ladies we're talking about here live in cloister. But anyway--first up, Larry D at Acts of the Apostasy:
So, the International Union of Superior Generals met in Rome last week. 800 women religious leaders of different congregations and orders got together to dialogue. Riveting.

And as it happens at many of these conferences, a "declaration" was drawn up. The NCR wrote about it - need I say more?

Of course I do! It's me! So I'm going to reprint their conference declaration, a statement that "aims to express the spirit, intent and direction of the organization for the next three years through a series of public commitments."

To provide a bit of atmosphere, I've added a soundtrack. As some of you may recall, I've done this once before.

Click the green arrow and then slowly read the declaration. Lighting incense and dimming the lights will help set the mood. [Links and emphases in original.]
Okay, now, you just have to go to Larry's blog and read the actual declaration. If you choose to play the soundtrack, don't have any beverages nearby. But honestly--what else can we make of a document written by religious who use phrases like "...Taste and share together the Word and the Bread...." and "...Live in harmony with the whole Cosmos and to dwell respectfully on this Earth..." I don't know about you, but there are aspects of the Cosmos I don't want to be in harmony with. Like the flu virus, or tornadoes, or anything demonic. I'd rather avoid them.

On a similar topic, Mark Shea links to a report about women religious, which--surprise, surprise--suggests that traditional orders are growing and thriving and the Clan of the Cosmos Harmonics are...not. Mark has some pithy comments:

If you are going to be a nun who refused to repent and believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and instead goes in for goddess worship or wants to pretend to be a priest, then for heaven's sake, leave the Church and go do the pagan thing in style. This tedious betwixt and between business of dour nuns in sensible shoes and iron gray hair doing embarrassing displays of liturgical dance without even lasciviousness to spice up the proceedings is excruciating. It's like the way so many liturgists still tend to think that 1963 music from juuuuust before the British Invasion is hep and speaks to Today's Generation. It's as if the whole thing is trapped in amber, neither fully Catholic nor gutsy enough to be pagan. And yet, theologically, a lot of it is now thoroughly pagan, rejecting not merely "Catholic particulars", but the God of Abraham (Patriarchy!) and even monotheism (Lack of Diversity!). Yet these dying orders of nuns linger around the rectory, using the xerox machines and spreading a boring message that the rising generation of Catholics could not care less about.
Of course, Mark is painting with a pretty broad brush. Not all these orders are still using Xerox machines. A few of them have grudgingly accepted the evil carbon-sucking computer printer as part of their ministries.

These two gentlemen have given me a chance to repost my ode to liberal women religious, inspired by Dr. Seuss:

On Beyond Jesus (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Said Sister Androgina Guevara Mao,
(An old friend of mine who worships the Tao):
You start out by studying Adam and Eve
(Though I find that story too hard to believe)
Then you go through the prophets; you study the kings
Who all hated women (misogynist things!)
Some poems called psalms, and some proverbs, and then--
You get to the Gospels; and that's where it ends.
You read about Jesus, you learn His whole story,
With good bits with women, and other parts gory,
And then you should know, from the very Creation,
The whole of the story of humans' salvation.

I was nodding--because that is how it should go--
When she frowned and said sternly: No. Oh, dear, no!
That's what they tell you, that's what they try
To make you believe while you live till you die.
But some of us know this is no place to stop!
I could keep finding prophets and myths till I drop!
You can stop, if you want, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But not me!
I won't stop here, not at any price!

If you stop here with Jesus, you'll never explore
The non-androcentric religions galore:
The ones that have goddesses, holy and wise
With perhaps a bit more than their fair share of eyes,
The one around Buddha--you really should try it!
If nothing else Buddhism's good for your diet.
And then there are legends of spirits that come
When you carve a big totem or beat a big drum.

So, on beyond Jesus! To Zeus and to Hera!
Don't let a word like "heretic" scare ya.
There's so much empowerment you'll never know
If you stop at Jesus. So go, go, go, go!
Go on to the Norse Gods, to Freya or Thor
You'll learn so much more than you could have before.
Cosmology, circles, spell-casting and chant--
But not the old sort. No, that kind we can't.
We've forgotten the words, if we ever did know them,
Besides, we worked hard so we could overthrow them.

On beyond Jesus! There's so much beside Him!
The gods of the Romans, (though they crucified Him)
Are interesting sorts, like the two-headed Janus.
We'd put up an altar to him, but they'd ban us,
Those narrow suspicious ones coming to check--
They've seen our free writings, but called them all dreck.
They stopped at Jesus, and now you can see,
Just what would happen to you--and to me!
If we stopped at Jesus, and never went past Him.
We'd be just like them--but we will outlast them!

Oh, maybe some orders are doing quite well,
Who stopped at Jesus. It's hard to tell.
They have new members, and growth, and much joy.
But what we have is better. Oh boy, yes, oh boy,
We went beyond Jesus! Our convents are empty,
Young Catholics avoid us, or say things contempt-y.
We have no future, we turned from our past,
We built nothing permanent, nothing that lasts.
But we did explore all the gods ever prayed to!
Except the real God, unless we were paid to.

So what if our convents are left now in tatters?
We went beyond Jesus. And that's all that matters.

I shook my head sadly as she finished talking,
Said my goodbyes, and quickly left, walking
Straight through the big labyrinth inside her foyer,
She shouted at me, but I just ignored her.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The fog of the war on crime

It's a terrible thing to contemplate: Last week, a team of police officers broke into a home in Detroit expecting to arrest a homicide suspect. Instead, a little girl was shot and killed. And this isn't the first time the officer alleged to have been involved in the child's death has been in trouble:

Detroit -- The man who allegedly fired the shot that killed a 7-year-old girl during a raid Sunday spent his free time helping kids in need.

He also is accused in a 2009 federal lawsuit of being part of a team that broke into a home, shot two dogs and pointed a pistol at children, including an infant.

The revelations paint two different pictures of Officer Joseph Weekley, a member of the Detroit Police Special Response Team who was placed on a desk job after his gun discharged during a raid early Sunday, resulting in the death of young Aiyana Jones. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

What actually happened the night of little Aiyana's death may end up being solved by the review of a videotape--because Officer Weekley is one of the Detroit Special Response Team officers regularly featured on A&E's reality show, "The First 48."

Is it a good thing for law enforcement members to be part of a TV show? Not everyone thinks so:

DETROIT — When police burst into a home in search of a murder suspect, a reality TV crew documented the raid — and may have recorded the death of a 7-year-old girl accidentally killed by an officer.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones' death put a spotlight on the growing number of reality shows that focus on law enforcement. A number of big-city departments have used shows such as Fox's "Cops" to attract recruits. Others have shied away from the up-close attention. And critics have questioned whether police behave differently when cameras are watching. [...]

Gary Brown, City Council president pro tem and a former deputy police chief, does not believe there is a correlation between Huff's death and actions of officers Sunday.

"I assume they are going to be professional. I would hope the crew didn't have any impact on policies and procedures," he said.

But criminal defense attorney Marvin Barnett said the cameras probably played a role in how the raid was conducted, especially in the use of a flash-bang grenade designed to stun people inside a building.

Barnett said he could not recall the use of such devices on houses with children inside.

"We are making the police actors in a reality drama, and it might make them decide to showboat," said former Detroit Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, who does not recall reviewing the deal with A&E but said she would have opposed it. "Everybody wants to be John Wayne."

Some say that having TV crews present during raids like this one simply increase police accountability. If video from the raid does prove, as Aiyana's family's lawyer claims, that a shot or shots were fired from the porch of the home before the home was entered, that would certainly be an instance of such increased accountability.

But it won't bring back to her family an innocent child who was asleep on a couch the night her world exploded in burning light and gunfire.

Creating a uniform

[Note to my male readers: this post will probably not interest you much. Feel free to skip it.] :)

Here's an interesting idea: a woman decided to see if she could wear the same black dress for an entire year:

(CNN) -- One outfit at a time, Sheena Matheiken was determined to make a change

She sported a simple, tunic-style dress for not one, two or three days. She did it for 365 days in a row.

The New York resident gave herself the fashion challenge of reinventing the same black dress. She did it by adding colorful tights, funky shoes and patterned tops, all donations from eco-friendly designers, thrift shops and mail-in leftovers from strangers.

Her outfits varied. Some were random, others organized; some bright, others muted; some classic, others modern. For example, she dressed as an intergalactic goth mermaid one day. The next, she became a modern hippie adorned with a floral bandana and cutout tights.

Matheiken completed her yearlong Uniform Project this month; the effort started a year ago to raise money for the The Akanksha Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit helping children in India's slums attend schools. She raised enough money to send 233 children to school for a year.

Matheiken also wanted to bring awareness to sustainable fashion. That's not a bad lesson for those of us feeling the recession's pinch.

Now, Ms. Matheiken is a very small, "gamin" sort of woman, and even so I think the actual dress ought to have been at least knee-length. But it's the idea of this, more than the execution, that intrigues me, especially the concept of "sustainable fashion."

You might say that those of us living on one income have been practicing "sustainable fashion" for a long time--except we called the idea "hand-me-downs." Or "thrift-shop couture." Or "raiding the clearance rack off-season." Or...but you get the idea.

Still, without even realizing it a lot of us (well, me, anyway) have trouble keeping the clothing in our closet to a sane number of pieces. I'm inclined to blame the climate here in Texas--it's really hard to imagine how to wear the same article of clothing in 100 degree weather that I wore when it snowed back at Christmas; but in many ways I've learned to prune certain items from my wardrobe that I don't need often enough to justify owning. And it's not just the climate, as the Uniform Project demonstrates--a lot of it has to do with buying too many things that don't work together, and failing to invest in the good basic pieces from which a wardrobe can be built.

It would be interesting to think of the equivalent of Ms. Matheiken's black dress, only more suitable for homeschooling moms who are not young and gamin, and organize a wardrobe around it. If you were going to do something like this, what clothing item or items (up to three) would you choose?

I think I would chose a basic black mid-length skirt and a pair of black or navy blue slacks as the center pieces in a wardrobe of this kind. What about you? If you were going to attempt to create a "uniform," what would it be, and how would you do it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What could be worse?

You may have already read about this one, from Damien Thompson:
A ghastly discovery today: plans to subject Pope Benedict XVI to trendy musical tripe when he celebrates the Beatification Mass for Cardinal Newman at Coventry Airport on September 19. According to Nick Baty, a supporter of the little gang of composers who have liturgical commissions sewn up in this country, the music for the Mass will include:

• Eucharistic acclamations by Fr Peter Jones, who wrote the tiresome Coventry Gloria for John Paul II’s visit in 1982. Yes, he’s still going strong;

Christ be our Light by Bernadette Farrell, one of the inner circle of old trendies whose work is forced on Massgoers by cloth-eared PPs every week;

Salisbury Alleluia by Christopher Walker, another of the inner circle;

• A Gloria by Alan Smith (you can hear a taste of it here: not trendy but utterly banal) and a psalm by Paul Wellicome. According to this document, both men are members of the relevant Birmingham diocesan committee;

• One of the most hideous of all folk hymns, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace;

• Some Taizé. You would have thought we’d heard enough Taizé over the years, but apparently not. [All links and italics in original--E.M.]

Pope Benedict XVI, of course, is a man with a great appreciation for the Church's rich patrimony of classical music. Inflicting this sort of musical pablum on His Holiness is rather like inviting a famous Hollywood director to one's home and then forcing him to sit through hours of cheesy home movies. Shot in black and white. On purpose, to be "arty."

The horror.

I'm acquainted with two of the songs from this list: Christ Be Our Light and Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. I'm also acquainted with truckloads of Taize, as no Catholic born after 1965 has escaped the droning of this music. Oh, sure, some of it's not absolutely terrible. But it is to chant what Arthur Dent's tea experiences aboard the Heart of Gold were to tea (remember, each time Arthur asked the ship's beverage dispenser for tea, it produced a liquid that was "...almost, but not quite, exactly unlike tea..."). Taize is almost, but not quite, exactly unlike chant--and the fact that it's even a tiny bit like chant on occasion and probably by accident only adds to the frustration.

Is wanting the great music of the Church to be a part of the Church's liturgical celebrations merely liturgical snobbery? Not really. Nobody who pays good money to go to a rock concert, for instance, would appreciate it if the opening act consisted of a retired opera singer, a trio of kazoos, a bagpipe and a steel drum, all performing their signature experimental "Wagner/Celtic/Caribbean fusion sound." It's a question of what is fitting.

At a rock concert, rock music is fitting. In Church, sacred music is fitting. As the tune played when the exhausted cartoon mouse-monk character struggles his way across a montage of dreary desert scenes, hiding to avoid predators, struggling with thirst, and fulfilling a dozen other animated visual stereotypes, Christ Be Our Light might be fitting (I dare you to play the music clip at the link above and not picture my cartoon mouse-monk). But at a papal Mass?

In fact, I think the top ten songs more inappropriate to schedule for a Mass at which His Holiness will be present would be these:

1. Ashes, by Tom Conry

2. Gather Us In, by Marty Haugen

3. Song of the Body of Christ, by David Haas

4. Bread of Life by Rory Cooney (nice bit of heresy to sing at Mass, to be sure!)

5. Bread for the World, by Bernadette Farrell

6. Only a Shadow, by Carey Landry

7. Women of the Church, by Carey Landry

8. Anthem, by Tom Conry

9. Let Us Walk in Justice, by Sr. Suzanne Toolan RSM (some of the worst lyrics ever)

10. Glory and Praise to Our God, by Dan Schutte

Oh, I could easily put ten more. Or twenty. Or...but you get the idea.

What song do you think would be a terrible one to schedule for a Mass when Pope Benedict XVI would be present? Don't be shy--list it in the comment box!

Politicizing the Eucharist

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, of course. And what would Pentecost be without the annual temper tantrum otherwise known as the Rainbow Sash Movement?

CHICAGO, Ill. (Catholic Online) - On Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010, Catholics throughout the world will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Birth of the Church. It is one of the Solemnities of the Church year. Sadly, members of a Homosexual Equivalency Activist Movement which calls itself the "Rainbow Sash" have announced their plans to attempt to disrupt the celebration of the Holy Mass throughout the Nation.

They have specifically announced their intention to openly confront one of the great Churchmen of the United States, the Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Francis Cardinal George, OMI.

"Rainbow Sash" makes their plan and aims clear on their web site with these defiant words:

"Members of the Rainbow Sash Movement will be entering Cathedrals across the nation on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010. In Chicago Cardinal Francis George will be directly challenged in his Cathedral at the 11AM Mass.Cardinal Francis George of Chicago is one of the Vatican's generals in the war against Gay Families. Here is someone you should get to know because he would deny your right to employment, housing, marriage, adoption if you are Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender. Nobility would call him to resign, but ego will not allow it."

On Friday, February 5, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acting through Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, the archbishop of Chicago and president of the Conference, issued a strong repudiation of "New Ways Ministry." The group is comprised of people who, like Rainbow Sash, openly dissent from the clear teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the immorality of homosexual practice.

Often times when the discussion of denying Communion to politicians who promote, vote for, support and encourage abortion comes up, the opposing side decries what it calls "politicizing the Eucharist," even though it is actually a matter of the Church enforcing her own laws governing reception of Holy Communion. However, when active homosexuals don rainbow sashes to identify themselves as people who commit homosexual sex acts and are unrepentant about that in defiance of Church teaching, and yet demand the Eucharist anyway, there is no outcry from the left, even though this is clearly politicizing the Eucharist; that is, it is an attempt to make reception of the Eucharist a political issue, instead of a matter of doctrine and Church law.

Of course, the fact that this group persistently engages in this rather childish act shows something about their understanding of the Catholic faith. They appear to believe that Church teaching is merely political, that if homosexual sex acts were called "intrinsically evil" in the past, it was only because people hadn't yet met enough same-sex attracted people and heard their stories and encountered their journeys, etc., and that at this point in human history nothing but rank bigotry could possibly see anything sinful about sex acts committed by two men or two women in the context of a loving relationship.

The problem is that "intrinsically evil" is not the same thing as "culturally or socially opposed." The phrase "intrinsic evil" is reserved for those things which are always and everywhere wrong. There is no circumstance under which a homosexual sex act could become a morally good act (though there are, of course, circumstances in which the moral guilt of one or both parties might be lessened). The Church has no more power to declare an intrinsic evil permissible than she does to declare that the sun may no longer rise.

Those who disagree with the Church about her teachings on homosexuality have the ability to cease being active members of the Catholic Church; they can even make a formal act of apostasy and join another church. What they cannot do is insist that the Church change her teachings to accommodate them; the Church has the duty to spread the Gospel, not to alter it beyond recognition in order to appease and pacify all the people who want to call themselves followers of Christ without caring in the least what it is He is calling them to follow. (Here's a hint--the feast of Pentecost has an awful lot to do with the answer to that question.)

The Holy Spirit strengthens His Church and preserves her from error--which means she's not free to call sins virtues, or vice versa. The only spirit that would like to see the Church stop teaching that sins against the Sixth Commandment (in the Catholic enumeration) are gravely morally evil is not a holy one at all.

Dangerous loyalty and women

Over at Life-after-RC, Giselle has a post up about the Legion's so-called "consecrated women" that got me thinking:

This site is gut-wrenching for a variety of reaons, not the least that each one of these girls/women struggled mightily in her soul to be as selfless and generous as humanly possible with God. Unfortunately, each one did it under the direction of an unscrupulous and highly manipulative congregation which has treated their gift of self abominably. For starters:

  • they are not really consecrated;
  • they have no canonical protections;
  • the long list of rules they adhere to were not approved;
  • the congregation they obey is in serious trouble with the Church;
  • the wealth of said congregation has been shuffled and hidden so that they have to beg for soap and toothbrushes;
  • they are subject to an impending visitation of their own shortly; [....]
(Link in original--E.M.)
I've also read, at Life-after-LC and elsewhere, about how many women of Regnum Christi are still (at least by appearances) fiercely loyal to the Legion and Regnum Christi. They still send their children to Legion schools, participate in multiple apostolates, and dismiss the fact that the whole thing was started by a sexually deviant con man who was declared by the Vatican to be devoid of religious sentiment as a minor problem they will have to "move beyond" as they bravely face the misunderstandings and criticisms pointed at them.

While we could chalk this up to that difficulty all of us have with admitting we were wrong about someone or something, I think in the case of women there's an added wrinkle, which is this: many women have a capacity for loyalty that goes beyond reason or sense, and that makes it very easy for them to be manipulated by the unscrupulous.

We see that dynamic all the time in the case of battered women. Beaten or abused by husbands or boyfriends, these women will often refuse to press charges, insist that the bruises were their own fault, welcome the abuser back into their lives again and again, and stubbornly resist the efforts of family or friends to help them get out of the situation. Some of these women, true, are poor, uneducated, and desperate, and they tend to adopt a twisted logic that says that as long as the abuser is a "good provider" he is not really so bad; but other women are neither poor nor without options, yet they will put up with the same sorts of things, and remain committed and loyal to the one who is hurting them.

And for every one women who meets the above description, there are probably dozens more who put up with serious emotional abuse from a husband or boyfriend. They accept belittling, ridicule, questioning of their every decision, control over finances/friendships, emotional distance, and the like, and make excuses for it (e.g., "He's just traditional/old fashioned; he was brought up to think women ought to be X or behave like Y, he's just concerned about me, etc.").

Based on the multiple relationships he had with women, we can see that Maciel was very good at manipulating them. He appears to have understood just how to appeal to women, whether he was making them his mistresses, flattering them for substantial donations to his "Movement," or using them as docile and obedient covers for his hideous way of life.

Maciel may be dead, and his scandals exposed. But just how good he was at commanding the unthinking and even dangerous loyalty of women can be seen in those women who are still defending the Legion and Regnum Christi with every fiber of their beings.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The right to be bored

The very kind people at MercatorNet have published a piece I wrote, about how electronic gizmos can get in the way of the state of mind that precedes creativity:
Children aren't the only ones with these gizmos, of course. For the younger set it may be video games and personal DVD players, but the adults have their pacifiers, too--phones, internet devices, handheld computers and the like, all instantly available the moment a line becomes too long, an elevator ride too crowded, or a pause in conversation too pronounced.

It's as though the citizens of the twenty-first century have decided that human beings have a new right, the right never to experience so much as a moment's lapse in the onslaught of entertainment and information with which we surround ourselves. If we're aware of any tedium, the fault is a simple one to remedy: we just need the latest electronic device to fill those moments of inactivity and keep us from ennui.

But if we embrace this new right, I think we are at risk of losing a much more valuable, much more intrinsically human right: the right to be bored.
If you're interested, the whole piece is here. Thanks!

The sin and scandal of it

If you've been following this story, you know what has happened so far: a Catholic religious sister approved an abortion at a Catholic hospital, and her bishop, Thomas J. Olmstead, has confirmed that in so doing the sister, Sister Margaret McBride, has incurred the penalty of automatic excommunication.

Of course, if you've been reading the story in the secular media, you've heard words about the "dying pregnant woman" whose life was "saved" by the abortion; you've also heard that the Church excommunicated Sister McBride, when of course as any Catholic realizes she excommunicated herself by participating in the brutal slaughter of an 11-week old human being.

Just so we don't lose sight of what we're talking about, here's a ten or 11-week old unborn child (image removed).

And here is video of a child about ten weeks of age. There are many more at that sight to look at, too.

I know that a condition like pulmonary hypertension would be complicated by pregnancy. But as far as the medical details, I defer to Gerard Nadal, who knows what he's talking about:
What we do know is this: An 11-week pregnant woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension was deemed in need of an abortion to keep the developing pregnancy from killing her. It’s a serious matter. The abnormally high pressure in the narrowed arteries of the lung make the heart work harder at pumping blood. The prognosis is usually poor, but there are several medications available to treat the condition. [...]

First, the abortion is not akin to pressing a reset button for the pulmonary hypertension. There is no immediate (in minutes) rebound to pre-pregnancy physiologic status. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
So this is not like preeclampsia or hypertension of pregnancy, in which case the delivery of the child usually lowers the blood pressure fairly quickly. The pregnancy was not the threat to this woman--her pulmonary hypertension was. The pregnancy was a complicating factor, certainly, but killing the child did not "cure" the woman or save her from dying or any such hysterical thing.

I do have one minor quibble with Gerard; I think we need to stay away from the framework which suggests that because this happened in a place with plenty of secular hospitals willing to perform an abortion there was no need for the Catholic hospital to to so--because the flip side of this will come back to haunt Catholics, if under government health care Catholic hospitals in poor rural areas are coerced into performing "emergency" abortions. We can't ignore the peril of suggesting that simply because other willing executioners of this child existed the Catholic hospital was off the hook, so to speak; the Catholic hospital had an opportunity to lead the way by providing care for both the mother and the baby, and it failed utterly to do any such thing.

That said, I am sadly not surprised that a Catholic religious sister would apparently see no contradiction between her faith and vows on the one hand, and the slaughter of an innocent human being in utero on the other. There is, alas, no shortage of feminist nuns who completely lack any understanding or acceptance of the Gospel of Life, and are all too willing to adopt the "pregnancy-as-oppression" framework their secular counterparts push at every opportunity. I wonder whether the bishop, or any other responsible party, has inquired into whether the hospital in question routinely dispenses contraception, including the abortifacient variety; so many so-called "Catholic" hospitals do this, oblivious to the sin and scandal of it.

Despite the hysterical shouting from the media (who has never met an abortion it didn't love), Sister McBride's actions did not "save" anybody. Sister McBride has the blood of an innocent human child on her hands, and has cut herself off from the life of grace of the Church by her actions. How long she will chose to remain unrepentant and thus remain in the state of excommunication is up to her at this point. She is, of course, perfectly free to leave the Church altogether, which I suspect might only formalize an interior disposition cultivated long ago at the knees of the Moloch of our popular culture. Certainly any religious sister with the slightest familiarity with the Gospel of Life could not so cavalierly defend her decision to have an eleven-week-old child put to death for the crime of inconvenient existence.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Good and bad from the Associated Press

While no one I know defends those Catholic priests who abused children or any bishop who knowingly and willfully covered up for those priests, I think few Catholics support the idea that the victims of abuse ought to be able to sue the Vatican. Aside from questions concerning the sovereignty of the Vatican, there is also the indisputable fact that in our litigation-happy world, permitting people to sue the Vatican because they don't like something a local bishop did would lead to thousands upon thousands of frivolous lawsuits that would be a waste of time and money for everyone involved--except the lawyers, who would profit to an unprecedented degree.

But the defense against the idea that the Vatican should be sued isn't the most interesting part of this AP article:

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Monday will make its most detailed argument yet for why it is not liable for bishops who allowed priests to molest children in the U.S., in a motion that could affect other efforts to sue the Holy See in American courts, The Associated Press has learned.

In a motion to dismiss a lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, the Holy See is expected to argue that a key Vatican document calling for secrecy in church trials for sex abuse cases was not, as victims' lawyers say, proof of a Vatican-orchestrated cover up. The Vatican's U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, said Sunday there was no evidence the document was even known to the archdiocese in question — much less used.

In addition, the Holy See is expected to assert that bishops aren't Vatican employees because they aren't paid by Rome, don't act on Rome's behalf and aren't controlled day-to-day by the pope — factors courts use to determine whether employers are liable for the actions of their workers, Lena told the AP.

He said he would suggest to the court that it should avoid using the religious nature of the relationship between bishops and the pope altogether as a basis for civil liability, because it entangles the court in an analysis of complicated religious doctrine that dates back to the apostles. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

It's not every day that the apostolicity of the Church, one of her four marks, gets mentioned in the secular press, even as part of an indirect quote.

Of course, while I like that part of the AP article, I have to find fault with this phrase from the first paragraph: "The Vatican on Monday will make its most detailed argument yet for why it is not liable for bishops who allowed priests to molest children in the U.S...." I know some bishops are not blameless, in that they shuffled priests around or tried to look the other way when situations involving child abuse by priests surfaced in their dioceses. But not even Cardinal Law can be said to have "...allowed priests to molest children..." and the AP should know better than to use such an inaccurate and inflammatory framing of the issue.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Manufacturers of angertainment

Given all my anti-Legion posting, I don't really like linking to anything at the National Catholic Register's site; but when Mark Shea creates such awesomeness as this, I'm afraid I'll have to bend my usual rules:

Some years back, a friend of mine was leaving evening prayer at our local Dominican parish when he found himself confronted by an angry lady scowling at the Dominicans in their habits. My friend happens to be a history prof at the University of Washington. The lady started muttering at him about the monstrous crimes of the Dominicans and how everybody (including my friend) was a blind sheep because they knew nothing about the medieval Church and the crimes it has committed. (Surely, if any subject is taboo in our culture, it is discussion of the sins, both real and imagined, of the Catholic Church). My friend asked, “What crimes do you mean?” She replied, “Why don’t you ask your Dominican friends about the 46 million people they killed in the Inquisition in the 14th century?”

My friend had nothing to say in reply to this. The woman took that as confirmation of her crushing rhetorical blow. My friend was thinking, “That was roughly the entire population of Europe at the time. The Dominicans slaughtered all of Europe and then killed themselves?” The woman wandered off, muttering.

The 46 million (or 5 million) killed by Dominicans, or the Vatican, or Constantine’s Vatican if you are a Da Vinci Code true believer is a classic example of pseudoknowledge. One of those things you pick up somewhere and repeat with a knowing air that substitutes for actual familiarity with the subject you are expounding upon. If somebody questions whether you know what you are talking about, you don’t deal with the question of whether you know what you are talking about. You simply say, “So! You want to make excuses for the murder of innocent people by religious bigots!” in the same tone you use to say, “You left your soiled underwear on my coffee table.” For, of course, at the end of the day, it will remain the case that some number of people (46 million? Several thousand?) were put to death… well, not by the Inquisition exactly but certainly by the secular authorities working with the Inquisition. So the story is close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades and that’s all that matters. The idea is not so much accuracy as truthiness: the sense that you have righteously scored off bad guys. And if they are bad guys, then they don’t really deserve to be spoken of accurately, do they? They should have thought about that before they started killing off their millions, or however many it was. The point is: I am righteously angry and when I have righteousness on my side, I don’t need to know what I’m talking about so long as I land some good hard punches on the jaw of Evil.

Now, you do have to read the whole thing; Mark ties this pseudoknowledge idea into what people think they know about the Scandal (as opposed to the very real problems worth getting upset about) and about Cardinal Law, who probably shouldn't be running a basilica but isn't being sheltered in Rome from criminal prosecution, since nobody in America (or anywhere else for that matter) has actually charged him with anything.

But I think Mark's wider point is just as valuable; how often do we frame our positions, arguments, discussions etc. about everything from politics to moral issues to religious matters against a backdrop of this same sort of pseudoknowledge? And how often do we do so under the mistaken impression that our wrath is righteous anger, while that idiot on the other side of the argument clearly has some rage issues and isn't capable of discussing things with the calm dispassionate reason with which our own arguments resonate?

Okay, so I've just described the Internet--but there's more to it than that. Our culture has built an industry out of the irate pushers of pseudoknowledge, all shouting at each other to make their points. Public discourse has suffered as a result; it's much easier to spread pseudoknowledge in a thirty-second soundbite than to refute that pseudoknowledge in a scholarly article of a few thousand words--because millions will hear and remember the soundbite, and only a handful will bother to get more than a paragraph into the rebuttal, especially if the author is an irenic soul instead of a manufacturer of angertainment.

Mark's really on to something, here. Ultimately it's something detrimental to our consumerist culture, which craves the fast food of drive-by scoring off of one's opponents instead of the real nutrition of a lengthy and peaceful debate which has more to do with the soundness of the arguments offered, than the tribe to which the debaters belong.