Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kitten!

Today our oldest daughter, nicknamed "Kitten" on this blog, turns sixteen. 16!!! I can't believe it; it seems like yesterday, or last week sometime, that Thad and I were discovering that the doctor was going to induce my labor nearly a month early and our grand parenting adventure was going to start much sooner than we had anticipated. ;)

Kitten is a wonderful girl--smart, sweet, kind, responsible, competent in millions of ways, talented, artistic--I could go on and on. Today's birthday celebration included a shoe-shopping trip--her choice, and a reminder to me that these girls of mine are growing up so very fast.

As has been our tradition for the last few years, I will now turn the blog over to Kitten herself, so that she can say hello:

Hi! Kitten here. Wow: sixteen already. I can't believe how fast the year has flown by. This past year has been full of fun surprises and hard (school) work.


We started the celebration a little early by stopping yesterday at one of my favorite pet shops and looking at the animals there (that's right, Kitten, you were only looking at all those adorable cats. Just keep telling yourself that our two cats are plenty.) Today we went shoe shopping, and I bought two pairs of awesome high heels! I'm already taller than Mom, and the shoes make it even better. :) We also stopped in at yet another pet store and saw this sweet guy. I hope he finds a good family soon!


We went out for an early birthday dinner, and afterwards picked up ice cream to go with my cute birthday cake. We plan to enjoy the rest of this evening celebrating my birthday and New Year's Eve all in one.


Happy New Year to all my mom's blog readers!


--Kitten :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

That "New Translation" cookie recipe...UPDATED

(For the UPDATE, see below.)

I'll be resuming regular blogging, God willing, on Monday, Jan. 2--but come on, you didn't think I'd manage to be quiet for a whole week, did you? :)

I hope all of my readers had wonderful Christmases; I certainly did, as did my loved ones. God is good.

Now to business: most of you have probably already seen the "New Translation Christmas Cookie Recipe" which originated on Commonweal's blog and was posted in this version by Msgr. Pope just the other day:

Christmas Cookie Recipe
(Revised Translation)

Serves: You and many.

Having procured one chalice butter, 2/3 chalice sugar, cream these ingredients, that by their commingling, you may begin to make the dough.

In a similar way, the butter is having been made commingled, with the sugar, beat in one egg.

Gather these dry ingredients to yourself, which you have received, so that, having combined them, you may add them to the dough which you have already begun to make: 2 1/2 chalices sifted all-purpose flour. 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Make the precious dough with your venerable hands.

Into the refrigerator graciously place the dough, so that it, having been chilled for the duration of 3 or 4 hours, before the rolling and the the cutting of the cookies.

When, in the fullness of time, you are a ready to bake these spotless cookies, these delicious cookies, these Christmas cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rolling out the dough and taking up the cookie cutter or stencil of your own choosing, fashion the cookies into forms that are pleasing.

Sprinkle colorful adornments of the cookies like the dewfall.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies have jut begun to attain to the brownness that is graciously granted them by the oven’s heat.

May these cookies be found acceptable in your sight, and be borne to a place of refreshment at your table whereon they may be served with milk, hot chocolate, or with your spirits.

Now, I can enjoy the lighthearted spirit of joking good humor offered here as well as anybody. And because I appreciate this good clean fun for what it is, I'd like to offer, in the same spirit, the original 1970s version of this cookie recipe, before it was translated as you see above. I can't say where I got this version, but Larry D's friend Sister Patricia Owens O'Flannary, OP might possibly have been involved:
Winter Holiday Cookie Recipe
(Original Version)

Serves: All.

Get some butter, margarine, or other oil-like substance of your choice. Also get some sugar or other sweetener. (Note: exact amounts are patriarchal and legalistic! It's up to each person to decide how much of these ingredients to use!)

Mix them together, apologizing to each for inflicting this oppression on them; use the opportunity to reflect on injustice.

Now add an egg, unless you are a vegan and you'd be offended. Stir the egg in vigorously but don't "beat" it, because "beating" is violent and wrong.

In another dish, preferably an earthenware bowl of no particular design that is by its sheer ugliness authentic and real, mix some flour and salt. Add this, with some cruelty-free vanilla, to the butter/sugar/egg, or margarine/sugar substitute/no egg, or whatever you've done so far.

Make sure everyone has a chance to stir the dough so that all will feel welcome. Then chill the dough in the refrigerator for a time, and ponder the coldness of the old, rigid way of making cookies compared to this new enlightened approach.

Bake the cookies in a reasonably hot oven. You can, if you like, use cookie cutters, but free-form dough shapes are more compelling and tell their own stories, while cookie cutters impose dull uniformity and inflexible shapes on the dough, which is really sad when you think about it.

The cookies are done when you feel like they're done! Serve them to groups of people sitting in circles on the ground, because we don't want to get all formal or anything.
That certainly casts a light on the new translation version, doesn't it? ;)

UPDATE: A brilliant commenter at Msgr. Pope suggested a Marty Haugen version of the Cookie Recipe. I'm glad to comply. I don't think I'll need to tell you what tune to hum this little ditty to:

The Singing Cookie Recipe Song

Here in this place, the oven's preheating,
Now is our hunger banished away,
See in this space, the mixer is whirring,
Making us snacks for to brighten the day.

Gather them in, the sugar and butter
Gather them in, the eggs and the flour;
Wash and prepare each cute cookie cutter
Have them at hand for the time and the hour.

We are the young--and baking's a mystery,
We are the old--we've done this before,
Careful, say moms throughout human history:
Sugar's a mess to clean up from the floor.

Gather them in, the salt and vanilla
Gather them in, the rest as you know;
Add soda too, but just a scintilla,
Stir it and make it to form a soft dough.

Here you must chill the dough till it's ready:
Here you must roll and cut--the next phase--
Here you must bake, with hands that are steady,
All of the shapes in the oven on trays.

Give us to eat the golden-brown cookies
Give us to drink some milk with them, too,
Nourish us well, the chefs and the rookies
Make everybody clean up when we're through.

:)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Just us Catholics

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers an early Merry Christmas--or, for you sticklers, a happy last couple days of Advent!

Kidding, kidding.

Well, sort of. Actually I had a funny dream last night, and even though there is statistically nothing less interesting to other people than other people's dreams, I'm going to share it anyway, because it's my blog and I can, so there.

I dreamed I was in a church hall--it was sort of my parish, and sort of not, the way dreams are. A dear friend was hosting a children's craft activity, and I was sort of helping, which is funny considering that I'm the least crafty person in the world. There were random side plots going on too, but they're not important. Anyway, as the craft activity finished, an irate woman came marching up to my friend and me. Here she thought, she said, that two homeschooling Catholic moms could be trusted not to undermine her efforts to raise her children as True Catholics. Yet here we were letting them do Christmas crafts before Christmas--and, to make things worse, in a church where the altar had already been decorated for Christmas, even though it was not yet December 24, let alone late afternoon on December 24, which is when, as every real Catholic knows, it is only appropriate to begin decorating for Christmas! How dare we! and so on.

In vain did I try to explain to her that my poor pastor, with two churches to look after, could hardly wait until December 24 to put up the Christmas decorations in both churches; in vain did I try to explain that our mission Church did not as yet have daily Mass and so no one would see (and be affronted by) the Christmas decorations before the Christmas Mass; in vain did I try to get her to be reasonable about it. She was just Offended, with a capital O.

I woke up and chuckled at the dream--but then, being me, I thought about it. Was it really all that farfetched? Isn't it true, sadly so, that we really have become that polarized in our expressions of the Catholic faith here in America in the year 2011?

Go to one Catholic blog, and you'll learn that True Catholics will only support Candidate A for president. At another blog, you'll learn that True Catholics will never, ever vote for A but might possibly vote for B. A third blog denounces B as the Catholic choice and sneers at any Catholic naive enough to support B, when C is still in the race...

Or, at one Catholic blog, you'll learn that the EF Mass is the only choice for a Real Catholic; at another, the OF; at still another, the OF but only the former translation; at yet another...

Or, at one Catholic blog you'll learn that parish religious ed. must be supported by all right-thinking Catholics; at another, than Catholic schools are the only way to raise decent kids; at a third, that homeschooling is the only morally correct choice...

Or, at one Catholic blog you'll hear that shorts and jeans are fine for Mass; at another, that the biggest issue facing Catholics today is immodesty in dress; at another, that women who fail to adopt the sola skirtura as their way of life are failing to follow the Blessed Mother and are prideful and indecent; at still another, that veils are still actually mandatory for Mass and the evil modernist pseudo-church has suppressed this truth...

Maybe my dream's not so funny. And maybe we've got a long way to go, just inside the Church, just us Catholics, before "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men" isn't an impossible ideal.

So, whether you will attend Midnight Mass in Latin or the five p.m. vigil with guitars, whether you will dress for Christmas Mass in velvet and lace or a suit or in slacks and a warm sweater, whether you are at Mass every Sunday or not quite, whether your children are eagerly joining you in the parish choir (as mine are) or are being dragged unwillingly to Mass for Grandma's sake, whether your house has been decorated like the North Pole since Thanksgiving or whether you've draped a suspiciously tree-shaped lump in the living room in swaths of purple fabric until after Midnight Mass, whether you will vote for Gingrich or Paul or Santorum or even Obama (though I hope not because of his anti-life policies, but despite them): I wish all of my Catholic brothers and sisters a most Merry and Blessed Christmas.

And I wish the same for my Christian brothers and sisters in the Christian family.

And the same for my non-Christian brothers and sisters, in the family of believers, as fellow children of God.

And the same for my non-believer brothers and sisters, in the human family, because from my perspective we still have the same Father.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

You know it's almost Christmas...

...when a blogger writes a post about why she wears the veil to Mass, and another blogger links to and expands on that post, and as of this writing, neither post has attracted the humdrum hundred comments such posts generally attract.

This, despite the fact that the first post was posted on Dec. 15.

And that it was linked to on New Advent.

My thoughts on the wearing of a veil are well known, of course, but I wanted to give those of my readers who aren't swamped in last-minute preparations for the upcoming Holy Day a chance to visit these blogs if they like. Or talk about veils here, if you want. I'm winding things down here, and will probably put up the last pre-Christmas post Friday and then take roughly a week off (give or take), but I will try to check in on comments periodically.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cultural laments from other blogs

Today, you need to go and read a few other blogger's posts. Trust me: this will be worth your time.

First up, my friend Magister Christianus, who has written an eloquent post about what it's like to be a serious Christian teaching in a public high school:
As I walked the halls of the public high school where I teach Latin, returning to my room after submitting six failures from Latin I to the guidance office, I felt the weight of an elephant on my chest and burning tears around the rims of my eyes. It was not the six failures that produced these sensations, but they contributed to a cumulative, crushing effect. Perhaps it was that one of our students was raped on her way home earlier this week. Perhaps it was the cheating scandal that has rocked our school, involving a young man who photographed with his phone a final exam and sold it to students. This same young man was discovered to have stolen multiple tests and quizzes from another teacher during the teacher's absence. Perhaps it was a colleague's discovery that a student had gotten onto his computer and changed grades. Perhaps it the sadness I have felt for some time and that hit critical mass yesterday over a former student who is a friend on Facebook. This student, who must be in her late twenties by now, was a dark, edgy girl as I recall her. Now, she works at a local bar, and the vast majority of her body not covered by clothing is decked out in tattoos. I do not want to know what a former student looks like under her clothes. She friended me a long time ago, and I accepted, but now I see frequent updates of her in all manner of undress at her work, which seems to promote such appearance. I am praying the Lord will draw her to Him and out of the life she is living. [...]

Yet today as I walked the halls, I felt oppression. My school is above average in academic, athletic, and artistic/musical achievements. We have the awards and statistics to prove it. We are, however, feeling the crushing weight of the immorality and despair that seems to be sweeping the nation, if not the world. I found myself wanting to get out, to leave, to do anything but bear the burden of this weight.

And then I thought of Mother Teresa and of Jesus. How long did Mother Teresa work in the slums? What oppression did her soul suffer? What weight of sin did our Lord have to carry in the moral sinkhole of the 1st century Roman empire? In the garden of Gethsemane, He asked our Father, "Let this cup pass from me," but added in His typical, faithful way, "nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."
Go and read the whole thing here.

The thing is, culture matters. When you have a nation that scorns chastity, shuns morality, and decides that the only virtue is pleasing one's own self, that is reflected in our youth, and wreaks a terrible human toll.

Next up: I don't agree completely with Patrick Archbold here, but this is a pretty thought-provoking piece of writing:

Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence. I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is. But some things were different in the back then. First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue. And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact. That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different. When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable. [...]

Our problem is that society doesn’t value innocence anymore, real or imagined. Nobody aspires to innocence anymore. Nobody wants to be thought of as innocent, the good girl. They want to be hot, not pretty.

I agree with most of what Patrick is saying--but I would point out that in its day, prettiness was also something of a commodity. Pretty, after all, is a quality of the young--and only of some of them. Plenty of virtuous, modest, well-behaved girls in former ages were never pretty, and the plain, the too-fat or too-thin, the freckled or harsh-featured girls often missed out on those chivalrous impulses men had for the young and attractive, as did those women too old to be considered "pretty." I would, instead, speak of a different kind of female beauty, the kind of beauty that doesn't have to be "pretty" to inspire. Like this, for instance.

Last, but not least, Rod Dreher has written the customer service rant par excellence:

I no longer fear Hell, for I have spent two days dealing with AT&T customer service.

Honest, I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. It was the kind of experience that makes you think this must be a movie, or the Soviet Union. And it’s still not over! How are these people still in business? [...]

Well, the deadline came and went, and no phone service, and no Internet. I phoned AT&T myself. It took four minutes and 56 seconds of navigating through the automated customer service system before I finally got put through to a human being. And off we went again. It was as if the entire set of conversations Julie had had the day before had never occurred! After 45 minutes or longer on the phone with this particular person, and getting absolutely nowhere, my head was throbbing, and I lost my temper. I asked to be put through to a supervisor … and was transferred back to the automated system, at the very beginning.

I really do lack the words to describe how incandescently angry I was at this point. I had to give the phone to my wife to handle from that point on. I heard her say the words, “What do you mean it won’t be on till Friday?! That is unacceptable. You all have had over a month to make this work!”

I took the phone at that point. At least 30 minutes later, and three different customer service representatives (“Sir, I don’t know why they transferred you to me; this is not my area”), I reached the end of the line. The man told me there was nothing to be done. He said if it didn’t come on by midnight, that I should call this particular number. I realized there really was nothing else I could do at that point. There was no one left to talk to. He told me he lacked the authority to transfer me to a supervisor. I believe he was lying, but at that point, all I was capable of was screaming. (Julie had already asked me to go to the back of the house to carry on these conversations, because I was frightening the children). I gave up.

Read the whole thing here.

Of course, the real problem is that we now live in a culture that values low-cost goods and services and high returns for the stockholder over such old-fashioned notions as quality, customer service, and standing by one's words or promises. These days, an overseas customer service person can assure the irate American on the other end of the phone that tomorrow or the next day the problem will be fixed--and then, to all extents and purposes, the irate American ceases to exist, as far as the ironically-named customer service specialist is concerned. It is not the job of the customer service person to waste company resources and drain stockholder value by actually, you know, fixing the problem. And when the even-more-irate American customer calls back tomorrow, well, maybe he'll call at a different time and someone in a different country will answer the call; the odds are against getting the same person twice, especially given the automated maze at the beginning of the system.

I'm not (of course) the only person out there who writes cultural laments, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to share three really good ones with all of you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Worst Christmas children's shows?

Once again, I'm posting extremely late in the day. Why are vacations full of everything but free time, I wonder? :)

Online movie ticket site Fandango held a poll to determine the top ten worst Christmas movies. Here's their list:
1. SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS 23%
2. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 16%
3. JINGLE ALL THE WAY 10%
4. JACK FROST 9%
5. SANTA WITH MUSCLES 5%
6. ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS 5%
7. HOME ALONE 3 4%
8. DECK THE HALLS 4%
9. SURVIVING CHRISTMAS 3%
10. CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS 3%
Now, I don't think this list is anywhere near comprehensive enough. Where are the claymation titles? Where is this recent holiday monstrosity starring Hallmark's (tm) characters Hoops (tm) and Yoyo (tm)?

Of course, this list isn't really a list of horrible children's Christmas entertainment, whether movies or TV, so I guess I can give this poll a pass for not including such things. But now that I've brought it up, here's the question of the day: what is the all-time worst children's Christmas feature you've ever seen, and why?

Oh, and because Mark Shea has been ruthlessly running it all week, we'll take the Star Wars Holiday Special out of the list right from the get-go. We'll concede that that is in a special category of awful all its own. But other than that one, which gets your top vote for worst, most annoying, most obnoxious, most dreadful, most dreary, or just plain most horrible children's Christmas feature?

My vote is for The Year Without a Santa Claus, which I thought was just--weird--when I saw it as a kid (though some of the songs, alas, stayed in one's head). But I know some people love that one, so...what's your vote?

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas dinner dilemma

I'm posting this as a bleg to my readers: do any of you find Christmas dinner to be a sort of dilemma?

Picture the typical Catholic family on Christmas day. The whole family has gone to Mass (or, at least, those family members who did not contract a dreaded right-before-Christmas virus or something) either the night before, or at midnight, or fairly early Christmas morning. The wonders under the tree have been unwrapped and explored, removed from frustrating packaging, had batteries added or been assembled; the family has then enjoyed a Christmas breakfast ranging from the simple and ordinary to the elaborate and extreme. Now, the youngest family members are down for a Christmas midday nap; the next youngest are playing with their Christmas toys; the next youngest are settling in for a good Christmas squabble until Dad notices, and so on. Everyone is relaxed, Christmas music plays softly--and Mom heads for the kitchen to get preparations underway for Christmas dinner.

So far, so good, right? But unless Mom is an enthusiastic cook who dreams up and plans her Christmas dinner with joy, what happens next can vary a lot...and so can Mom's mood and her enjoyment of Christmas.

One of the problems for us Americans is that we've had Thanksgiving a month before. Some families find it extremely important for Christmas dinner to be Thanksgiving Mark II, complete with turkey, dressing, cranberries, traditional sides, fine china and glassware, and all the panoply of the Thanksgiving meal, with, perhaps, a few unique Christmas touches (such as, perhaps, a real Christmas pudding, though that is not something I've ever tasted myself). Other desserts may be anything from the much-maligned yet under-appreciated fruitcake to the same sorts of pies one might serve at Thanksgiving; and the whole scene is supposed to convey the rosy glow of a Norman Rockwell painting.

But I have to be honest: I find the idea of cooking what is essentially a second Thanksgiving dinner a month after Thanksgiving rather difficult. On Thanksgiving Day the cook or cooks have the whole day to prepare and cook the meal; on Christmas Day the cook has considerably less time, and unless he or she absolutely loves cooking a huge meal and finds it a relaxing and enjoyable hobby to do so he or she is possibly going to be a bit cranky by the time the family troops in to eat. And, let's face it: preparing what is essentially the same "Holiday Meal" twice in a month is a bit boring. Sure, you could change the main course from a turkey to a ham or vice versa, and you can tinker with the sides and desserts a bit, but you're essentially doing the exact same sort of cooking.

Now, I know that lots of people skip the "Second Thanksgiving" type of Christmas dinner. There are all sorts of other meals that individual families embrace as their own family tradition. For instance, my sister's late mother-in-law reportedly made Christmas a day for a deli spread (which would be great in Texas in years when it's 70 degrees at Christmas). Around here, it's traditional for some people to order tamales for Christmas (or for New Year's). Many cultures have traditional Christmas foods which are very far from what is customary in our culture.

So, my bleg is this: I'd like to hear from readers who have Christmas food traditions that go beyond a second round of Thanksgiving fare. What do you cook and serve? Is it a family custom, a cultural tradition, or some combination? Is Christmas a day to pull out all the stops and go gourmet, or is it a day for a sort of glorified snacking?

Share recipes, if you like! I'm hoping to get some new ideas, having done everything from a fairly traditional Christmas dinner to some decidedly non-traditional choices in years past.

I'm posting this rather late, but I'll check in for comments first thing tomorrow. :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Schlocky songs of the retail season

I saw the above comic at XKCD, and it made me laugh in that rueful way that we Gen-X types tend to laugh about the cultural dominance of the Baby Boom generation. It's funny because it's true.

What's also true is that there's only one religious song on the "Baby Boom" chart area, and only two on the whole chart. Which is one of the reasons that being bombarded with so-called "Christmas music" on radio stations, in stores, and in public places from about the end of October until noon on Christmas Day is so deeply, deeply annoying.

It's not that I want to be racing through some ugly ShopMartGoGetBuyStore while being serenaded by religious songs, either; in fact, there's little in life that's more jarring than doing some Christmas shopping while hearing some electronically-enhanced minimally talented pop star jazzing up Silent Night or something similar. To focus in on the Babe of Bethlehem is to realize with a sickening sense of shock that our culture is absolutely mad in its consumerist frenzy which just happens to coincide with that holiday Christians call Christmas.

At least it's the secular songs that most often get parodied in commercials, particularly car commercials. No, I don't want to celebrate "Happy Honda (tm) Days," and no, I don't think the current Nissan (tm) sale is "The Most Wonderful Sale of the Year." But it would be a heck of a lot more offensive if someone started singing "O Come, All Ye Shoppers," "What Deal is This?" or "Savings We Have Seen on High," or some such stupidity.

There are nine more days left of Advent, which means nine more days of being surrounded by the verbal equivalent of cheap tinsel. After that, when the Christian world actually begins celebrating the Christmas season, the stores will be busily dealing with Christmas returns and gearing up for the next big retail holiday, the January Clearance/pre-Valentine's Day Sale. But at least we won't be bombarded with special schlocky songs during that retail season; at least, we'll only be bombarded with the usual schlocky songs that stores play for our ceaseless torment.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gung-ho for Gingrich?

As the last debate of the Republican primary gets underway later tonight, I find myself primarily thinking something along the lines of "Newt Gingrich? Really?" and speculating that if Gingrich is, indeed, the nominee, the Obama camp is going to party like it's 1999 (the year Gingrich resigned from the House of Representatives, for those of my readers too young to remember).

It's not that I can't understand why in a field of shining mediocrity someone like Gingrich would stand out to some Republican voters. What, really, are the other choices? Romney the perpetually underwhelming, whose strong conservative credentials date back all of five minutes or so in election timing (and not even that, to critics of Massachusetts' health care system and easy-imposition of gay marriage under his watch)? Rick Perry of Trans-Texas-Corridor and "hang-em-high" fame? Ron Paul, who tends to make enough sense to make our ruling class deeply uncomfortable, but who is not without problems of his own? Darling of many Catholics Rick Santorum, who looks like the clear moral choice until you start checking his record on torture ("enhanced interrogation") and wondering why he's bashing the bishops on immigration? Michele Bachmann or Jon Huntsman, neither of whom have had what you might call traction since this whole thing started?

Against such a field of glittering inadequacy, Newt Gingrich stands out with a near-presidential aura. He can, after all, speak well (and he doesn't need a teleprompter). He is a Catholic convert and a family man (provided you focus only on his single recent valid marriage and not on the two earlier ones whose endings involved adultery). He says all of the right sort of red-meat/Red State things to all of the right sorts of people. And he's perfectly able to bash Washington insiders with a straight face, despite having been one for much of his own adult life.

What I find amazing is that some of the same people who are currently gung-ho for Gingrich had all sorts of complaints about the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue--complaints about his being more style than substance, complaints about his being essentially a good speech maker but little else, complaints about his having no new ideas and no serious plan to implement the hope and change he was talking about, and so on. But ask any of them what Gingrich's qualifications for the presidency are, and they'll talk about the long-ago Contract with America (that didn't quite pan out as expected); ask them what Gingrich's new ideas are, or how he plans to lead in a time of economic and political uncertainty, and you'll find it rather hard to get a substantive answer from many of Gingrich's self-declared supporters. The only idea seems to be that in an age of Twitter soundbites and marketing disguised as campaigning, Gingrich could beat Obama in what would probably prove to be a highly entertaining political campaign; we'll get around to defining what Gingrich is actually for or what he wants to do that's really substantially any different from what Romney or anybody else wants, once he's the nominee.

You would think that people would have had enough of four years of strong personality but erratic leadership in the White House, but you would probably be wrong. The narrative seems to be, "Sure, he's an unstable egotist with a tendency to grandstand, but he's our unstable egotist with a tendency to grandstand." Which is, alas, not all that reassuring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Changes

Well, I'm back.

First of all, I want to express my deep gratitude to those of you who have sent me messages of encouragement and kindness "behind the scenes," so to speak. All of your emails, phone calls, etc. were very, very much appreciated. I know that I have a terrific set of regular readers and commenters, and I'm extremely grateful for that fact.

Which brings me to my second point: I've been disturbed a few times lately, culminating in the thread below a recent post, by the incursion of some newer and mainly anonymous commenters who seem to be generating more heat than light. Some of you in contacting me privately admitted that my comment boxes aren't friendly places, that in trying to maintain an atmosphere of free, easy conversation I've unwittingly made my blog a place where a few verbal bullies can shout down everyone else--while technically not violating my rules regarding civility or against obscenity. And that bothers me, because I'd rather have more of my regular readers feel as though they can chime in without having to worry that they or their ideas are going to be attacked or ridiculed by those whose facility with writing is such that they can disguise an attack as a merely rational question or point.

But knowing that this is the case, I have to address it. And though I've avoided making this particular decision for a long, long time, I think the time has come for me to implement moderated comments--which is the biggest change you will see in the days ahead.

I've got to be honest, here. I hate moderated comments. They seem to stifle conversation; they put commenters at the mercy of the blogger's often-varied schedule; they can create misunderstandings of the "why didn't you approve my perfectly innocent comment?" variety, and they can be a headache for both the blogger and his or her readers in a host of other ways.

However, I've reached the point in my blogging life where I just can't see a way around this. I want this blog to be a place where most readers feel perfectly safe in leaving comments, and that can't happen so long as verbal bullies can show up and leave drive-by postings which I may not see for hours. Even when someone has really crossed the line, and I delete his or her comment, the original commenter to whom they were responding may already have seen it, have been hurt by it, and possibly even wondered why on earth I let the hurtful comment stand. My only other option would be to ban all anonymous comments--and yet some of my most valued readers and commenters technically post "anonymously," though they are courteous enough to sign a name or nickname to each comment so we know to whom we're talking. So that option is out, as far as I'm concerned.

Moderated comments it is, then. I ask all of you for patience as I implement this major change.

There are a few minor changes as well. The most important of those is that I've taken the nearly-unprecedented step of deleting the post that caused all the trouble last week (I think I've only deleted a post once or twice before, and that was back in early blogging days when I just wasn't satisfied with something, long before I had regular readers and commenters). There's just no reason to leave it up right now. In future when I post anything at all about chastity, virtue, or sexual morality, I will remember that few people, including few self-described Christians, actually believe in any of those concepts any more, and will either leave comments closed or stay out of any combox battles that develop. I'm just going to have to take a Matthew 7:6 approach to discussions of chastity and sexual morality in the future.

I'm also deleting and rearranging some sidebar items (which won't matter to those of you who read this blog in a reader). There's no special reason for that; I'm just in a clutter-purging mood in my real life and it's carried over to the blog. My pledge not to vote for Republicans (I already don't vote for Democrats), my link to the big Legion post, etc. can still be found by searching my blog, but I have far too many items in my sidebar these days (and some, like the countdown clock for the new Mass translation, are, blessedly, out of date!).

Another minor change is that blogging may occasionally be a bit more sporadic and less news-driven than it has been in the past. While I still find myself most comfortable with a five-day posting schedule, there are times when I run out of time in a day and feel as though I should choose between tossing up a post anyway, regardless of quality, or skipping it altogether--and sometimes skipping it is clearly the better option. :)

Blogging will be especially sporadic, and possibly non-existent, during Christmas week, though as always I reserve the right to change my mind about that.

One final thing: at this time I formally place this blog, and all who enter to read it, under the protection of St. Michael the Archangel:

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio.
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae coelestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute, in infernum detrude.
Amen.


Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

Comments--moderated--are open again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Taking a blog break

I was planning to write my Pantone "Color of the Year" post today--a lighthearted, silly bit of fluff that I do every year.

But after the ridiculousness that took place in a recent comment box, I'm done blogging for the time being.

Blog will reopen when I feel like it. If I feel like it.

Comments are closed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Postless

No post today.

Dentist appointment.

Enough said.

Monday, December 5, 2011

People like us

I received the loveliest email from a reader yesterday; with the reader's kind permission, I share some of it with all of you:
I passed the local PP abortion clinic yesterday morning. There is a crisis pregnancy clinic less than half a block away. Yesterday morning a group was praying outside PP - which as far as I know doesn't offer its "services" on weekends. I pulled over and made the Asian sign of greeting - hands together as in prayer, smiled and waved. They weren't certain what I was going to do - I presume they are used to some hostility as well as some friendliness.

Once they decided I was a "friendly" they gave the sweetest, warmest smiles. I really can't believe I used to view pro-life witnesses with such hostility and suspicion. I feel like I've crawled out from under some rock. Imagine raging at people who want to protect babies.

Thank you for your part in lifting that veil of illusion. Buddhist practice, which includes a chant for the happiness of all beings, including specifically "those born and to be born" also played a role.

Offering women only the choice to kill their babies is a pathetic comment on our society. Or a comment on our pathetic society. Whichever or both!

First of all: Deo Gratias!

Secondly, I think that what my reader points out here is very important; one aspect of our pathetic society is that we tend to demonize those with whom we disagree. It's not enough for us to have sometimes deep philosophical differences; we have to convince ourselves that the one on the other side of an argument is really The Other, as in, the one with whom we have nothing to do.

I've been guilty of that myself in the past, and I most sincerely apologize for it. Christ taught His followers again and again that we are to see The Other as our neighbor, and then to love that neighbor as we love ourselves. This does not mean that we will always agree about things; it also doesn't mean that we are obligated to accept our neighbors' viewpoints or ideas when we do disagree. We just have to accept our neighbor in his or her intrinsic being as someone like ourselves, with the full worth of every son and daughter of the King Whom we await.

If we want to end the horror of abortion, if we want to stand against torture and the capricious use of the death penalty, if we want to work for a society of renewed morality, greater integrity, and a stronger sense of both justice and mercy for all, we have to start by remembering that the people on the opposite sides of any of these issues are people like us. For those of us who are Christians this means recalling that each of them is created, like us, in the image and likeness of God, called to the same noble destiny of eternal happiness with Him that we are. It means refusing to see them as monsters or demons. It means praying for them as earnestly, when they fall, as we would pray for one of our own family, and as we hope for our own salvation.

It means that the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is linked inextricably to the command to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strengths. And it means that we have to love all of our neighbors; perhaps we must love most those who annoy or irritate or frustrate or confound us the most.

My reader learned that the people praying for babies weren't really enemies, and the people praying outside that clinic learned that my reader was a friend. Imagine the good we could do if we could all learn this about each other; if we could keep that thought uppermost in our minds as we interact daily with The Others, only to find that they are our neighbors and friends.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Santa essay, for those who want to fight about it

I've had quite a few people searching this week for an old blog post of mine.

Actually, it was originally published as an essay at the Dallas Morning News; it may still be available in their archives, but I'm suspecting you might have to have a subscription to access it now.

Since 'tis the season, though, I thought I'd make it easy for those who are looking for it:

In my house tonight, the children will be waiting for St. Nicholas with eager joy. Not all Christian parents would be happy with this situation.

Some have decided that whether you call him Santa Claus or St. Nick, the Christmas Eve night caller is not welcome in their homes. The real St. Nicholas, they say, was a holy bishop about whom little is known. This jolly fellow surrounded with legends of secret generosity or stories of elves and reindeer is really just a fib. And Christians don't lie to their children.

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all – we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts. When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward.

And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe. We fill our homes with songs and stories, and turn ordinary rooms into glittering palaces. The everyday world is swept away.

Read the whole essay here.

I'm happy to report that my children suffered no damage from our sharing the mythical aspects of the St. Nicholas story with them, and even appreciated the whole thing when it was time for them to move beyond it.

I'm happy to share another blogger's experience of the same thing, and to point out that we need a bit more pretending around childhood, instead of the stern realism that wants five-year-olds taught the mechanics not only of sexual intercourse but of various perverse sex acts as well.

I'm happy to insist that we don't have to start the reading of every fairy tale or the playing of every princess DVD by sitting with our children and saying, "Now, you understand that this isn't true, right? That it's just a story? That there have never been dragons to be killed or enchanted princesses to be awakened with a kiss? I wouldn't want you going around and believing in any of this," even if they do, in fact, believe in a magical land full of princes in disguise and noble deeds and heroic chivalry until they're old enough to realize that the world of childhood enchantment wasn't strictly true--but that it ought to be.

And I'm happy to wish, as his feast day draws nearer, that all of my readers will welcome St. Nicholas, whether he visits their home and children or not--and that those who choose not to continue this charming tradition will not stigmatize the rest of us as evil liars bent on fraud and diabolical deceit--because we all know that the hallmark of the evil one is stepping back and letting a holy saint in Heaven take the lion's share of the credit for parental generosity and gifts of love once a year, right?

Um, not.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What do Catholic men want to talk about?

Patrick Archbold says that girl Catholic bloggers get all the fun:

Girls get all the good topics. By good, I mean the kind that lead to lady cat fights in the comboxes, ya know, good. Guys just don’t have this kind of well from which to draw from. I think some examples are in order.

Breast feeding. Girls can go there, guys can’t even drive by the neighborhood. I am even uncomfortable writing the word. But female Catholic bloggers always have the breast feeding font from which to draw material. I realize in retrospect that the wording in the previous sentence was probably ill-conceived, but you get the point. Whether you are pro, con, indifferent, a BF nazi, an anti-BF nazi, or any combination thereof depending on your hormone balance, you have a ready made BF post just ready to pump out. Ok, ill-conceived again, but still. Guys just do not have anything comparable guaranteed to fire up the crowds.

Modesty. This is a great topic that is almost completely off limits for Catholic dudes. Let’s face it, if I write a 1000 word post on the proper placing of hemlines so as to look feminine yet not unduly tempt anyone, several things can happen and all of them are bad. Many involve restraining orders. But girls can simply write “I think that shorts on women are ....” and voila, instant and vicious combox mud-wrestling by women in Laura Ingalls dresses. You just can’t buy that kind of clean fun. But no. Guys can’t write about modesty because we don’t get it and if we do get it, it just proves we are insensitive or pervs, or worse, an insensitive perv or something…

Read the rest here.

I posted a reply to Pat on the website, but the Register's comment form is being a bit twitchy and wants to moderate what I wrote (probably because it's a bit lengthy, and not because of my history of being critical over there). While I'm waiting for my comment to show up, I thought I'd just share what I wrote over here--because that's another way to get a post done when it's nearly 11 pm CST and one hasn't blogged yet:
Oh, come now, Patrick. I'll grant you that as a non-girly yet female blogger I get to have the catfight topics *and* the geopolitical ones. But I've never seen a fight break out over modesty or nursing that comes even close to the fights that break out regarding these topics:

-whether or not torture is ever permitted (and whether waterboarding counts);
-whether the death penalty ought to be banned, even if the Pope says so;
-whether the GOP is still the great Catholic hope against abortion even if Romney the Perennially Uninspiring is the nominee

And in addition, here's some "manly Catholic guy" topics that will probably get some conversations going:

-whether signing your children up for organized sports is a required act of Catholic manliness or a form of insanity;
-whether or not Real Men smoke, and if so, what (so far, the voting among men seems to this way: pipes and/or cigars, Truly Catholic and Manly; cigarettes or illegal substances, just stupid)
-whether you should let your sons be altar servers if girls get to do it;
-guns in the house: yes or no?
-the exact level of housework/chores a man can do before he risks losing his masculinity;
-whether or not Real Catholic Men use NFP

Those are just for starters, of course; next time you get stuck at 11:30 and are falling back on the boring yet geopolitical, just drop me an email, and I'll be happy to help! Especially since the modesty/nursing/endearing children stuff is DONE TO DEATH, and I'd love to see a good male-combox wrestling match over any of the male-friendly topics listed above or probably about a dozen others. :)
I have no idea whether or not Pat will ever take me up on my offer--and I do have a few more topics to suggest. But right now, I'd like to hear from my male readers, especially my Catholic ones: what topics pertaining specifically to lay male Catholics and their struggles to live the faith in today's world would you like to see bloggers address? Are there any that you think have been addressed either a) never or b) so rarely that it seems like never?

Because I think the reason female Catholic bloggers bring up nursing and modesty and cute things our kids do and educational struggles and those sorts of topics are not just to generate traffic and links, but because women do seem to want to talk about these things. Since I'm not a mommy blogger, I don't tend to blog about these topics all that often (and I've learned to stay out of actual, bona fide catfights). But is it true that men don't have similar topics they'd like to discuss, or is it simply the case that men's topics get short shrift in the Catholic blogosphere? What, exactly, do Catholic men want to talk about? I'd be happy to help host some of those conversations, too, even if I am a girl and all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is there still a place for Catholic print magazines?

Over at the National Catholic Register, Tim Drake points out that the Catholic publishing world continues to grow smaller:

Come 2012, Catholic readers will have fewer print publications to choose from. Economic changes that have rocked the publishing world in general continue to whittle away at the Catholic publishing universe, resulting in additional shrinkage and consolidation.

As of January 2012, Ignatius Press will no longer be publishing Catholic World Report or Homiletic & Pastoral Review in print. Similar to the changes made to Crisis magazine, both publications will continue to be available online only.

Today, publisher Bayard Inc. announced that it will cease publishing Faith and Family magazine, which it acquired from the Legionaries of Christ earlier this year. Faith and Family was acquired by Bayard not long after EWTN acquired the National Catholic Register from the Legionaries of Christ. Instead of continuing to publish Faith and Family, Bayard is re-booting Catholic Digest, with editor Danielle Bean, as more of a faith and family periodical.

In other Catholic publishing news, Sophia Institute Press acquired the Catholic website Catholic Exchange in November. In 2008, Sophia became the publishing arm of Merrimack, NH-based Thomas More College, and later became the publishing arm of Atlanta’s Holy Spirit College.

It should be noted, of course, that Catholic magazines aren't disappearing entirely. Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review, two excellent publications that are content driven, timely, and focused on important world and theological matters will continue in an online format, as Tim Drake points out.

Is there still a place in the world for Catholic print magazines? Magazine publishers, like newspaper publishers, are starting to ask themselves the hard questions. Many of us saw and smiled at this video of a baby who thinks that a magazine is simply a broken iPad whose buttons and links are irrevocably broken:

but did we stop to think about the larger issue?

When I'm looking at a magazine--yes, even a Catholic one like Faith and Family (or perhaps especially a Catholic one) I'm aware of, and annoyed by, the commercialism. Not only are there ads frequently dispersed throughout the magazine, but there are also so-called "articles" which are simply lists of products to buy, complete with helpful price and store information in case your home is sorely lacking in these items. It's bad enough to encounter this in a secular magazine (which I usually only see in a doctor's or dentist's office), but it's somehow even more jarring to see these things in Catholic publications--sometimes juxtaposed, with no conscious irony, opposite reflections about poverty of spirit or calls to simplify our lives in accordance with the Gospel.

And yet like anyone who has ever been paid to write anything, I know that advertising is the lifeblood of the publishing business. The fact that websites can offer their content for free comes from the reality that it is the advertisers, not, by and large, the subscribers who pay for content. The old paid-subscription/paid-issue model which used to work both for magazines and newspapers is dying; having introduced consumers to the idea of content that is free (bordered by advertising space that is valuable), the publishing world finds it increasingly hard to sell the notion that you ought to be paying for ad-riddled content.

There's the crux of the matter, too. When I click on a popular blog or webzine site, I know that there will be ads. I also know that the content comes to me for free because there are ads, and so instead of being annoyed by the ads (provided they're not the invasive sort) or frustrated by some sort of hidden "shop-shop-shop!" context, I'm mildly grateful that the advertisers are making it possible for me, and others, to read an assortment of interesting writers on a variety of topics. I sometimes even click a link or two.

All of this makes it harder and harder for magazines to compete--which means they have to sell more and more ad space, and dedicate more and more of their glossy real estate to the process of selling you things. This has been a difficult enough task for secular publications, but how long can a Catholic magazine endure when it preaches "Blessed are the poor in spirit!" on, say, page 24, and then features a lovely selection of beatitude-inscribed kitchen towels on page 25 (buy now! All of your truly Catholic friends have these! Only $39.99!)?

There may still be a place in the world for Catholic print magazines. All print publications are having to adjust their models, their expectations, and their revenue projections, and Catholic publications are no exception. Still, it's hard for me to imagine how Catholic magazines will endure when the children who think magazines are just broken iPads grow up and become adult consumers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No blog post today...

...my fingers are tired. :)


(And I'd like to congratulate my friend Ed, who beat me to the winner's circle this year!)

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011's Top 10 Feminine Gifts; or, an attempt at humor

When Taylor Marshall posted his "Top 10 Manly Gifts..." list last year, I went on a bit of a redheaded rant about it all.

This year, Taylor has posted...the same list. The same exact items. Only two (or three, depending on how you look at it) of which are less than $50.00. (Yes, the pipe by itself is $39.99, but Taylor specifically suggests that you buy the carcinogens to go with it, and I'm assuming that will add a bit to the price; there are also two of the four knives technically below $50, but one of them is only less than $50 if you don't buy it new, apparently.) The rest range in price from $50 to $200--but at least they aren't "lame" like ties or polo shirts.

I think I covered my objections to this sort of thing pretty well last year; I also wrote the following:
Now, I have a feeling that if I were to write a blog post titled "Top Ten Truly Feminine Gifts for your Wife or Mother" and include a $130 handbag, a $140 bottle of perfume, or a $200 bracelet, and then list four more gifts in the seventy dollar and up price range while insinuating that the "usual" gifts of music cds, scarves or gloves or slippers, or perhaps a festive Tupperware (tm) set were "lame" or "generic"--well, I think that gentlemen readers would, quite rightly, cry foul. It is not, after all, very difficult to buy one's spouse a truly "manly" or "womanly" gift if one's gift budget permits the purchasing of a couple of rather expensive items. It is much more difficult to accomplish the same thing on one income and after having purchased gifts for one's children and relatives and co-workers; it is much more difficult to come up with satisfactory presents for one's husband--or one's wife--when money is tight and the budget for indulgences is severely limited.
Rather than write another rant about Taylor's list this year, I think it would be more fun to take my own suggestion from last year, and write my own list. Since, however, my attempts at humor are sometimes not all that easy to spot (my fault, alas), I thought I would try to avoid misunderstanding by first saying this:

The part of this post written in red, below, is meant to be humorous. I do not think there is, or ought to be, a top 10 list of Feminine Gifts for your wives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers (or other women who embrace True Femininity while rejecting the masculinizing influences of the modern world). In fact, I think that women, like men, are quite different in their likes and tastes, and that there's no one right perfect pre-1960s way of being truly feminine that somehow defines femininity in a way that no other female way of living does. But for the sake of humor, we'll pretend that I do think exactly that for a moment, so that I can create a fitting counterpart for Taylor's list.

2011's Top 10 Feminine Gifts for your Wife, Daughter, Mother or Grandmother***

As every feminine Catholic woman knows, but (alas!) many manly Catholic men do not, the kinds of gifts you give the lady in your life are mostly just okay--if that. Many men seem to think that shopping, being a frivolous, trivial, female sort of activity (heaven only knows how much time the little woman wastes each week in the grocery store!), is not expected of men, and thus they feel put upon as Christmas draws near--must they really extinguish that manly pipe sometime before evening on December 24th and drag their manly-boot-clad feet into some glittering department store long enough to purchase whatever perfume is pre-wrapped at the fragrance counter?

Sadly, most women won't actually tell you what they want for Christmas, either out of that mind-game stuff girls like (e.g., if he really loves me he should pay enough attention to me to know what I like!) or because she is too distracted by the silly non-essentials of the season to have time to make a list. But when Christmas is over and she's back for her regular visits to the beauty salon, let her have something more to say to the question, "So what did he give you for Christmas?" than a sigh, a pout of those pretty lips, and the admission that you once again went for pre-wrapped perfume, or a pair of gloves, or an electronic gizmo that you actually wanted for yourself.

But how can you manly men know what the fragile little creatures around you actually want for Christmas? Well, here's a list that ought to be foolproof, and if it's not, chances are your woman is a closet feminist, or something:

10) A companion to the men's gift suggestion to the old-school shaving brushes (and a little cheaper, too, gentlemen!), may I suggest an old-school beauty brush set like this $95 Giorgio Armani one from Neiman Marcus? Now, maybe your wife or mother will insist she doesn't need such a thing--the cheap, plastic throwaway brushes that come with the inexpensive makeup she buys with the family budget in mind do just fine--but don't believe her. What truly feminine woman wouldn't want to create, as the ad copy on these brushes says, that perfectly airbrushed look? And think how dainty and feminine and spoiled she'll feel as she applies her makeup with these little trinkets, designed, with their shiny silver case, to appeal to her girly side.

9) Alas, there just isn't a counterpart to the men's suggestion of a pipe and tobacco; truly feminine women shunned even the jeweled cigarette holders. Still, we women have our addictions, and chocolate is one of them. There are many fine gourmet chocolate shops available online as well as what you may have in the local area--perhaps you already know what her favorites are? If not, this box of sixteen handmade gourmet chocolate mice might make her scream, but in a good way--none of that jumping on a chair business to go with it. At $48, it probably will cost you what your pipe and tobacco cost her (except for the worry that you'll die of cancer, but we're not counting those costs today).

8) Nothing says "I'm a truly feminine woman" like a pair of high heels, right? And if she can buy you boots--number 8 on Taylor Marshall's list--then surely you can figure out how to buy her high heels (I'm thinking this is one time that a gift certificate might work). Although the top brands will be much more expensive than your manly boots, she should still be able to find a nice pair of heels for between $95 and $135 (the price of the boots). To make the gift extra special, go shopping with her so she can ask your opinion as to whether the heels she's selecting give her that desired feminine effect.

7) Why not buy a Kindle for her, too? For both men and women, though, I'd spring for the slightly more expensive model that doesn't come with ads, as the $79 version does. There's nothing particularly manly or feminine about having to sit through commercials before you read a book. :)

6) The chances are good that the women in your life already have nice Bibles (she's probably still treasuring the one someone gave the two of you as a wedding gift, even if it's an inferior translation; women are so foolishly sentimental that way). To fit with her busy lifestyle as wife and mother, why not buy her a copy of Shorter Christian Prayer (about $12 at Amazon)? Customer reviews even say it fits well in a purse. :)

5) I love that Taylor suggests one homemade gift, even if Mom has to go searching hardware stores in the middle of the Christmas season to be able to make the truly manly rosary. Mom doesn't need a rosary, though; she has dozens. What she needs from her manly man is nearly always going to be: shelving. Whether she wants you to build shelves, buy shelves and put them together, or mount a single shelf somewhere in the house, if you want your wife to swoon this Christmas, tell her you'd like to give her a homemade gift: and then ask her what kind of shelving she most desperately needs. (Of course, this only works for the truly helpless feminine type (like me) and not for women who can, and do, design and install their own shelving.)

4) Alas, women don't need guns. Unfortunately for you men, the phrase "feminine protection" doesn't mean a pink-handled Glock. But Taylor says that every man should own at least one gun, and I say that every woman should own at least one LBD, or "little black dress." This, again, may be a gift certificate situation, as the dress will likely need to be selected personally by the woman who's going to wear it; the basic black dress for a matronly grandmother will be very different from the one needed by the girl who is being really attractive in a modest, vintage sort of way to all the gun-toting prospective manly Catholic future husbands out there. As you can see from the link, the price of such a dress is comparable to the price of a firearm.

3) While you're brewing your own beer, your wife, mother or daughter could be making her own candles! She likes candles, right? What could be more retro and feminine than a house full of homemade romantic candlelight, especially after you've installed the shelves that make it possible for her to keep the candles out of the toddler's reach? This kit seems like a good deal at $64, considering all the candles you can make before you have to buy more supplies.

2) Chances are your wife doesn't need a $200 luxury kitchen appliance to go with your meat smoker (unless she's making do with an inferior mixer and could use this one). But if her kitchen is already good to go, put that money where she'll really appreciate it: into a really nice bag, the sort she wouldn't buy for herself. Perhaps she likes designer names or styles (the more modestly-priced ones, that is); perhaps she'd be more interested in this leather organizer ($199) or this English leather book tote ($159).

1) Taylor's last category is knives, ranging in price from about $30 to about $75. Now, some women like knives, too, but we're focusing on Top Feminine Gifts here, remember? And what could be more feminine than pearls? You could get anything from delicate earrings (if her ears are pierced) to an eye-popping 100 inch strand to a gold-clasped bracelet--all you have to do is determine what kind of jewelry she wears most often or what she most wishes to have to complete that truly feminine look she so desires.

So there you go. You now have no excuse to buy your wife a pre-wrapped perfume gift, a pair of gloves, etc. Well, except that you might not be able to afford these little feminine luxuries, or your wife might be a totally different kind of person who doesn't want any of this stuff and doesn't see any of it as bestowing on her some sort of retro-feminine "cred" among people who go for that sort of thing...

***This part of the post is humor. I have not been compensated in any way to link to these items, I don't own them, and I don't mean to imply any product endorsement. E.M.

Okay. The humor part is over.

Perhaps the best advice I can give to men and women at Christmas is: don't buy "manly" or "feminine" gifts, and don't take advice from people who make lists. Instead, think for a minute about your wife, your mother, your grandmother; your husband, your father, your grandfather, and so on. Think of them as individual human beings, with individual tastes, likes, dislikes. Within your budget, think of a way to give them something that shows that you care about them as human beings, if that is possible to do; and if it's not, if they really don't need things, perhaps the gift of time or some service is a better gift after all.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Translation Open Thread!!!

Tomorrow morning, God willing, I will get to experience the new translation of the Roman Missal in English at Mass, at 8:30 a.m. I will be sleepy enough to have to think about "And with your spirit," I'm sure!

I've been watching my countdown widget on the sidebar all week. :) And cheering. :) ;)

But for some of you, even here in America, the new translation has already begun! I speak, of course, of those of you who attended a Vigil Mass for the First Sunday of Advent.

And as Sundays are busy for us, what with Mass and choir practice and all, I may not get back to the blog in time to post the appropriate words of thankfulness and joy--but I wanted to give my readers a place to do so if they wish.

So: what did you see? What did you hear? How did the congregation seem to take it? Any thoughts?

Vigil Mass attendees, go right ahead and start! The rest of us can add our comments tomorrow through the day, and I'll leave this up on top for a good part of the day Monday as well, so that those who don't read blogs on the weekend can chime in.

[And for those of my readers, my friends and my family members who attend the Extraordinary Form Mass: I know, I know, I get it. Nothing changed for you. We're happy for you! But today we're really happy for ourselves, as well, so--rejoice with us, that the coin of good translation turned out to be hiding in a crevice in the floor instead of gone for good.]

:)

UPDATE: God sure has a sense of humor. After years of waiting for this change, I woke up not feeling well and we ended up at the 10:00 Mass at our sister parish where the music is always...interesting...

But despite that, I couldn't stop smiling at the beauty of the prayers Father was saying, especially the Eucharistic Prayer. There were a few minor slip-ups on the part of the congregation, but everyone seemed willing to learn--the pew cards were definitely in use!

For the congregation, I honestly think that nobody really minded "consubstantial" or "I believe" or "visible and invisible," etc. If John and Mary Catholic are having any trouble at all, it's remembering not to blurt out "and also with you," reflexively. Of course, as the jokes go, Catholics will say "and also with you" in reply to "May the force be with you," or to a priest muttering "There's something wrong with this microphone," and in similar situations, so it may take a while for us to retrain ourselves.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Blog Break

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a most happy Thanksgiving! I have blogged through Thanksgiving week before, but let's face it: hardly anyone is sitting around reading blogs right now, and that's a good thing.

As always when I say I'm taking a break, there's no guarantee that a post or so won't pop up. :) But my intention is to resume blogging on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when all you Cyber Monday shoppers will be out there anyway.

I was reading a piece on Thanksgiving horror stories the other day; the piece itself is kind of dull, but some of the stories in the comments were hilarious (of course, this being Yahoo, some of them were also obscene and some were--better left unmentioned). Here are two of my favorites, bad grammar, spelling and all, from the comment section:
Have you ever set something on top of the car, then drive off...then when you get where your going and reach for it ...you know you messed up...left it on top of car and drove off..well....I've lost a lot of phones that way in the past...but only one fully cooked turkey..
My friends deep fried a turkey. They removed the turkey and brought it inside to check if it was cooked through. It was! So they carved it and started eating dinner. The fryer never got turned off. The front porch went up in flames and because they were hunters, guns and ammunition started to blow up! Fortunately, everyone got our unharmed...except the house itself and all their belongings. NOT a good way to enjoy the holiday...nevermind having to make the call to the landlord!
If you want to share a Thanksgiving horror story of your own, the comment box is open and available!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Liveblogging from the Council of Jerusalem

I know that during Thanksgiving Week some people don't have time to read blogs. Some of them are too busy helping major retailers try to turn Thanksgiving Day into yet another "Sale-A-Bration" as we've already done with Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, and half a dozen other American holidays which were once important occasions for Americans to gather their families and friends and pause for a moment of thanks and reflection and are now a chance to sell cars, mattresses, and consumer electronics. For which I am not thankful. But I digress; most of my readers are probably busy in normal ways, involving planning the Thanksgiving Menu or the Thanksgiving Road Trip to see relatives or picking out the Thanksgiving Fight Topic to engage in with said relatives--is there anything like the holidays?

But even if you're busy, take a moment to read this (hat tip: Deacon Kandra):
Again, to be expected. What does trouble me, however, are those serious, orthodox Catholics who simply cannot take yes for an answer. Nobody and nothing is Catholic enough, good enough or perhaps bitter and dark enough to satisfy them. You know the types. The love is really deep; so deep you could dig for days and never find it. Every politician should be excommunicated, anyone not completely against abortion is “pro-death” and I positively despise the people in the pews next to me.

They prefer the bunker to the banquet, the ghetto to the get-together. They are defined by how much pain they claim to have, believe that the remnant of the remnant is all that can save us, and the remnant of the remnant is them — or maybe on a good day the handful of people who are their equally strident Facebook friends. Odd as it may seen, they blog and use the Internet a lot, largely because they don’t trust the mainstream media, which for them means everyone in journalism apart from their favourite right-winger, who usually loses them when he inevitably doesn’t follow the line on something or other.

No archbishop, however devout and courageous, is ever quite conservative enough for them and always part of a cabal or a conspiracy, and no Catholic activist or author ever quite sufficiently pure. They claim to believe in Church authority, but constantly bash Catholic leaders; they claim to love Jesus, but they seldom turn the other cheek or love their friends, let alone their enemies; they see glasses, and chalices, half empty when they’re half full; and, extremely worrying this, they receive the body of Christ with numerous complaints and vendettas against their fellow worshippers.
Now, every time something like this gets posted, comments tend to take a "yes, but..." tone: yes, but orthodox believers really have suffered; yes, but this or that bishop really is a heretic, yes, but the very mention of Latin sends ordinary-seeming parishioners into a spittle-and-foam-flecked frenzy of anger; yes, but unveiled women and pantsuited nuns really are signs of the Apocalypse, and so on. (Side note: why does everybody always blame the nuns? One generation of Catholics blamed ruler-wielding habit wearers for ruining their faith, and then the next generation griped about the pantsuit brigade. Maybe the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our nuns but in ourselves...)

The problem with the "yes, but" attitude is that most people who say that sort of thing are actually quite reasonable traditional-leaning Catholics. They are not the people shouting "Get a spine!" to Bishop Olmstead--Bishop Olmstead!! They are not the people who think that Michael Voris is too liberal. They are not the people who opine that those Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo can be saved, but mainly because of their ignorance (though, alas, I didn't see a pixel fight break out over whether that ignorance is really invincible, given the availability of kindly trads who can set us Ordinary Form types straight about the problems). And they are not the people--I can't provide links this second, but these discussions exist--who say that women are risking Hell for wearing slacks or not 'veiling,' or who say that every child commits a mortal sin if he/she disobeys his/her parents even in small matters provided the child is at least seven years old, or who say that natural family planning is as evil as contraception, or who condone torture as being all but commanded by God, and so on.

In fact, if one of the various radtrad blogs or forums had existed in the first century, I think the posts might have gone something like this:

I'm liveblogging from the so-called Council of Jerusalem. You all already know how unhappy I am with the name; isn't a "council" something the pagans do? Anyway, so far Peter the Fisherman is all over the place, like he expects to run the whole show. Paul's not here, yet, though. We'll see what happens when he gets here.

Update: Paul's here! Woo! Now we can get this party started.

Update 2: I'm already getting nervous. The anti-Moses sentiment is much, much stronger than I would have thought from these guys. They can't all be pushovers, right? Right? Sigh.

Update 3: Brace yourselves, people: we've got some earthshaking news. I mean it--you're not going to believe this one: the Gentile converts are not allowed to...wait for it...eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Or blood. Or meat that's been strangled.

Really? Really??

One would have thought that even Gentiles drawn to Our Lord and Savior could have figured out that bit on their own. I mean, it's so...so...bloody obvious (pardon the pun). But apparently we've gathered the Twelve (or should I say the Eleven? No, I know, not the time or place to get into the radical innovation of replacing the guy God kicked out--like this one will turn out any better, because mere mortals are better judges of character or something--but like I said, not the time) to sit around and discuss the blindingly obvious. Are they even going to get to the big one, the circumcision debate, or will they punt?

Update 4: Another earthshaking announcement: the Gentiles are to refrain from fornication and sexual immorality. Good grief, people, we needed a whole stinkin' council for this?

Update 5: I have good news and bad news.

The good news is, the Twelve (Eleven!) finally stopped playing around and got to the burning question: whether or not the Gentile males have the obligation to follow the beautiful and immemorial sign of the covenant of God Himself and be circumcised, or whether they can essentially keep their pagan bodies while claiming to have faithful hearts.

The bad news is--they don't have to be circumcised.

I am stunned--STUNNED--by this.

Look, if they're not going to conform to all of God's Law, whole and entire, which Our Lord Himself said he wasn't going to abolish, why bother conforming to any of it? What's next--fertility rites in the places of worship (well, except for the no immorality rule, which would sort of turn most fertility rites into something pretty deadly dull. And no, I don't speak from experience)?

So much for expecting the leaders Christ chose for us to be guided by Him in these decisions. I think we can all see pretty clearly now that that was a fool's dream. Some of us already thought it was, frankly--because Paul really ought to be in charge; he's one of US. Or so we thought.

But Paul was only here as a sort of observer, apparently. I'm pretty sure he didn't get to vote, or whatever they did to decide this. The thing that's really disappointing me about Paul is that he's going along with it. Something about obedience and the Holy Spirit, or something. Well, all I can say is that there may have been a Spirit at this council, but it wasn't holy. They should have done an exorcism before they got started.

So the 'nuclear option' some of us have discussed--well, I'll be clear, I've been against it. But now it's looking more and more like something we might have to consider. Paul's out as our leader, though. I could try one of the Jameses, maybe or his brother John--but they're not as much 'sons of thunder' as they used to be. All this love and forgiveness crap, instead of calling down fire and brimstone on the unfaithful (heck yah!).

Comments are closed until I get back, which may take a while. I've got a wagon wheel to fix, and I'm out of time until after the Sabbath (which, yes, I still keep, and have kept ever since I converted to Jewish Christianity from my pagan roots--what is it about "immemorial" that's confusing you people?).

Friday, November 18, 2011

A King but not the kingdom

Rod Dreher's been writing some interesting stuff lately about religion, faith, belief, religious orthodoxy, churches, and the subjective experience of faith to the believer. The latest, and lengthy, installment is here.

I hope to get into the discussion once it gets going (and while I realize how necessary moderated comments are anymore for most public blogs, I have to say the one thing I dislike about Rod's new blog is the whole moderated comments situation; true, comments seem to get approved reasonably quickly, but there's enough of a lag that the more conversational style of Rod's older blogs is sometimes missing). But in the meantime, I wanted to take a look at a section of the post that I honestly found rather stunning (and this excerpt itself is a bit long, I'm afraid):

I bring this up not to argue about Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy, but to illuminate how subjective considerations inevitably affect the choices we make. If you are reading this in a small town in Nevada, the mother of three children and without a spiritual home, and the nearest Orthodox church is 500 miles away, I would question whether or not you should even investigate Eastern Orthodoxy. I say that because I truly and deeply believe that to be redeemed is not to hold the correct ideas, but to submit to the Holy Spirit, and to be changed from within, to become more Christ-like. It’s hard to do that alone, and even harder to help your kids do that alone. What does it avail you to unite with the truest form of Christianity (as I believe Orthodoxy to be) if you will be all alone in the practice of it? You may be called to do this, but I would wonder if your growth in holiness would proceed more within the Baptist church (if a good one was close to you) or within the Orthodox church, which does not exist in a manifest form near you? As I see it, it’s better to know Jesus imperfectly than to not know Him at all. How you unite yourself to a Baptist (or Catholic, or Presbyterian) church when you believe that the Orthodox Church contains the fullness of truth is a difficult problem.

Anyway, this is what I was trying to get at with the “subjectivity” of religious truth — and why I am a lot more open to the view that religion is what people do, not the ideas in their head. Again, I deny that it’s an “either/or” — it’s really a “both/and”. My point is simply that religious claims belong to an order of truth that can only be truly known not by being affirmed in one’s mind, but also must be inwardly appropriated with enough passion to make them change one’s life. This is what Bellah means when he says if you want to know what people believe, look at what they do, not what they say they believe.

There is Scriptural validation for that position. This is also what Thomas Merton was getting at when he said that he thought wrongly that he was truly converted to Catholicism because his intellect was converted. He learned later that until and unless the will is converted, all conversions will be precarious. That’s an important insight, and it speaks directly to the “truth is subjectivity” point.

What’s more, Jesus did not set out a religious system. He gave us a narrative to show us how to behave. He was Truth Incarnate. To unite yourself to Truth required an act of subjective will. You had to love Him. You still do. Rationality, and religious systems, are only true and good if they point to Him, and open the doors to Him. The Church is not an end, but only a means to an end. If you believe in the Orthodox faith, you will agree that the Orthodox way is the way Christ intended to Him, the most efficacious way. If you believe in the Catholic faith, then likewise. And so forth. To believe this is not to deny that people can’t find their way to unity with God through other forms of the Christian faith, and under certain conditions, in other faiths. But it is to recognize, as I think we must, that even forms of the faith that know the way to the Truth imperfectly nevertheless have some connection to it, which is to say, to Him. [Emphasis in original--E.M.]

Why do I find this stunning? Because after discussing orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and in the midst of making a somewhat valid initially if ultimately (I truly believe) misleading point about the role of the subjective in the ability of the believer to grasp and encounter religious truth, Rod makes the amazing statement: "What’s more, Jesus did not set out a religious system. He gave us a narrative to show us how to behave."

Neither Rod's Church, the Orthodox, nor my Catholic Church, teach or believe that Jesus did not set out a religious system--that is, that He did not found a Church. Now, perhaps I'm misunderstanding Rod, or his phrase is unclear; but what does "set out a religious system" mean if it does not mean "found a Church?"

Belief that Christ is God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and (as Rod says) Truth Incarnate means that we believe that He knew exactly what He was doing when He selected the Apostles, told them at the Last Supper to "Do this in remembrance of Me," gave them the great commission to make disciples of all men, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so on. It also means we believe, for those of us who are Catholic, that Jesus saw fully what the infant Church would make of such things as Apostolic succession and that Gospel phrase, "Thou art Peter, and on this Rock I will build My Church." It's not really possible for those of us who belong to the Catholic Church to see these words as merely parts of a narrative about how we are to behave without reducing them to such minimal importance that Christ might as well not have said them at all.

I realize that Protestants don't see things this way. But (if my Protestant readers will be patient with me for a moment) their view, generally, of what the Church is was formed in an essentially negative way. With the Catholic Church fully present in their lives, the early Protestants decided that their notion of Christ's church was, in a very true sense, whatever the Catholic Church was not. Protestant ecclesiology was, I think, in an important way, meant as a negation of Catholic ecclesiology in its earliest formation. So if the Catholic Church said that Christ meant to found a visible Church to which Christians were meant to unite themselves not merely spiritually but sacramentally and actually (as in, accepting Church discipline about such various things as fasting and Sunday Mass attendance), the Protestants in negating those concepts eventually came to see the Christian church as more an invisible and spiritual community of those who had accepted Jesus Christ and His Word.

I know I'm being extraordinarily general here; I don't mean for this post to get into the many various differences in the way different Protestant denominations have developed a theology of the church, but only to point out that Rod's words I cited above, while not particularly startling if voiced by a Protestant, are absolutely shocking when spoken by someone who was Catholic for a decade and is now Orthodox--again, unless I'm completely misunderstanding what he means.

Why? Well, to look at how the Catholic Church sees this, take a look at this portion of Archbishop Dolan's address to the USCCB from just four days ago:

You and I believe with all our heart and soul that Christ and His Church are one.

That truth has been passed on to us from our predecessors, the apostles, especially St. Paul, who learned that equation on the Road to Damascus, who teaches so tenderly that the Church is the bride of Christ, that the Church is the body of Christ, that Christ and His Church are one.


That truth has been defended by bishops before us, sometimes and yet even today, at the cost of “dungeon, fire, and sword.”

That truth — that He, Christ, and she, His Church, are one — moistens our eyes and puts a lump in our throat as we whisper with De Lubac, “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”

The whole thing is worth reading, but I want to point to one more section:

Perhaps, brethren, our most pressing pastoral challenge today is to reclaim that truth, to restore the luster, the credibility, the beauty of the Church “ever ancient, ever new,” renewing her as the face of Jesus, just as He is the face of God. Maybe our most urgent pastoral priority is to lead our people to see, meet, hear and embrace anew Jesus in and through His Church.

Because, as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people -- to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith -- are convinced that Jesus and His Church are one. As Father Ronald Rolheiser wonders, we may be living in a post-ecclesial era, as people seem to prefer
a King but not the kingdom,
a shepherd with no flock,
to believe without belonging,
a spiritual family with God as my father, as long as I’m
the only child,
“spirituality” without religion
faith without the faithful
Christ without His Church.
So they drift from her, get mad at the Church, grow lax, join another, or just give it all up.

If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will.
Jesus and His Church are one. It does matter, then; it matters terribly what Church one belongs to. That doesn't mean that I don't fully respect my Protestant Christian brothers and sisters wherever they are on the journey of faith; it doesn't mean dragging out erroneous ideas of what extra ecclesiam nullam salus meant; it doesn't mean that it's my job as a lay person to hurl condemnations and anathemas at every non-Catholic Christian. But it does mean that, were I the fictional woman in Nevada Rod is talking about in the excerpt above, I would be risking my eternal soul to be convinced that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ for the salvation of men and yet choose to remain outside of her (even if the nearest Catholic parish really were hundreds of miles away). To join the Baptist church instead, even if only for the Bible study and spiritual fellowship, would smack of religious indifferentism, and would likely lead one away from the Catholic Church in the long run.

It matters, because Christ and His Church are one. If you seek to follow the King but demand to remain outside His kingdom, in what sense do you really seek to know Him--let alone to love Him and serve Him?