Thursday, June 30, 2011

Unexpected but brief blogging break

If anybody came by today looking for my promised post about young adult literature--I sincerely apologize. I'm deep in the midst of a soon-to-be revealed writing project, and my self-imposed deadline is about to expire (and what kind of writer would I be if I actually met any deadlines, especially the ones I select for myself?)

Still--I have nearly completed what I set out to accomplish, and hope to share it with all of you after this holiday weekend. So rather than do a shoddy job on a post about something I find important, I'd like to begin the discussion about books written for young adults and/or children--and what's wrong with some of them these days--after the July 4th weekend.

As for my not-so-super-secret project: it involves a third blog that will probably still be very much under construction when I unveil it next week. It will not be a political blog at all, and while it won't exactly be a mommy blog either I think my fellow Catholic moms who aren't at all political will find it to be a welcoming and hopeful sort of place.

I hope my fellow American readers have a lovely Independence Day! Till next week!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The most charitable assumption

I'm busy today, and so the lengthy blog post I had planned for later, involving the much-less-controversial topic of young adult fiction and what's wrong with it, will have to wait; it may appear late tonight, or else tomorrow.

Since I can't manage that, though, let's talk about the real chumps in the whole gay "marriage" thing: my fellow Catholics.

Sometimes I'm tempted to believe that at least 75% of the people who call themselves Catholics in America haven't got enough of the brains the good God gave them to be able to blow their own noses without serious risk of self-injury. This just goes to prove it (hat tip: the Deacon's Bench):
One of the more interesting findings of the poll is that white Catholic voters approve of the 53-year-old Cuomo by almost 3-to-1, or 62 percent to 22 percent, despite the Catholic Church’s staunch opposition to the gay marriage bill, which the Senate passed Friday and Cuomo signed shortly thereafter.

“It’s up, up and away for super-Andrew after the close of the legislative session,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Governor Cuomo’s job approval is high, even among Republicans, and almost 3-1 among Catholics.

Please note: my assumption that my fellow Catholics, especially 62% of the New York ones, are startlingly unintelligent and deeply brainless and almost completely ignorant about the Catholic faith is the most charitable assumption I can make. Otherwise I would have to think that 62% of my fellow Catholics in New York were non-practicing indifferentists, heretics and/or apostates, and that, my friends, would be awfully judgmental of me, as would the corresponding assumption that the Church in New York is a total and absolute failure in the area of proper catechetics, especially in matters dealing with the Church's teaching on marriage and the family--and it's not like scandalously high divorce, abortion, and contraception rates among New York Catholics already illustrate that, or anything.

UPDATE: To avoid confusion, let me state the following (some of which I said in response to a commenter): this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek humor. I actually do believe that most Catholics in America have very little understanding of Catholic moral issues because they, like most Americans, have almost no training in philosophy or logic. In addition to the decline in quality catechesis, most Catholics are wallowing in a syrupy moral mess where the only commandment God ever gives anybody is, "Always be as nice as possible!" The corollary to this commandment is: good is that which is sort of nice and makes people feel good about themselves, while bad is that which is sort of mean and makes people experience a loss of self-esteem. In that calculation, divorce, homosexual sex, fornication, pornography use, and similar ills can be called "good," while the Church's rules about marriage are "bad" and "hurtful."

You'll hear this sort of nonsense a lot from Catholics who have never heard of Aquinas, let alone any Catholic philosopher who came after his time, and who have no idea what morality actually is, or how, absent a lot of sugary sentimentality, to figure out if something is good or bad, pleasing or displeasing to God--which is the only moral calculation that really matters.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The sins of Sodom

I'm stealing this from a Facebook friend, who pointed out how appropriate the present daily Mass readings are in light of the NY decision.

From Monday's reading:
Then the LORD said:
“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out.”
From today's (Tuesday's) reading:

The sun was just rising over the earth as Lot arrived in Zoar;
at the same time the LORD rained down sulphurous fire
upon Sodom and Gomorrah
from the LORD out of heaven.
He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain,
together with the inhabitants of the cities
and the produce of the soil.
But Lot’s wife looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.

Early the next morning Abraham went to the place
where he had stood in the LORD’s presence.
As he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah
and the whole region of the Plain,
he saw dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace.

Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain,
he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval
by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.

God is always in charge of every situation. It is fashionable to pretend that this is not true; or that God is some sort of abstract, changeable construct existing only in the minds of men or else some tame spiritual pet; or that the real sin of Sodom was that when the men of the town showed up at Lot's house intending to rape the male strangers whom Lot was sheltering (not knowing they were angels of the Lord in disguise), they were so inhospitable that they forgot to bring a casserole/hot dish and a side gelatin salad to pass around.

We play such games at our peril--even if our own sins do not as yet rise to the level of the sins of Sodom. None of us deserves to escape misery and suffering, myself least of all. Confronting that reality, many of us cry out with the Apostles, "Who, then, can be saved?" And we hear, again, the mystery: that what is impossible for us is possible for God; in that is our hope.

Monday, June 27, 2011

You can't have both

Think religious believers are foolish to be worried about attacks on religious freedom in the wake of this gay "marriage" decision in New York? Maybe not:

Though there was unnecessary secrecy in the negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a determined effort to achieve marriage equality in New York. He shares credit with the four Republican state senators who bucked their party and threats from conservatives to do what they knew was right. State Senators James Alesi, Roy McDonald, Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland, all from upstate districts, deserve the support of their communities. They showed the kind of strength that is extremely hard to find in today’s politics.

In drafting a compromise, however, Senator Saland and other Republicans insisted on language that carves out exceptions for religious institutions and not-for-profit corporations affiliated with those religious entities. That provision allows those tax-exempt entities to refuse to marry a same-sex couple or to allow the use of their buildings or services for weddings or wedding parties. There was simply no need for these exemptions, since churches are protected under both the federal Constitution and New York law from being required to marry anyone against their beliefs. Equally troubling, an “inseverability clause” in the act appears to make it impossible for any court to invalidate part of the law without invalidating the whole law — raising questions about what happens to couples during an appeal.

While some civil rights advocates are optimistic that these provisions are relatively minor, we are deeply troubled by their discriminatory intent. The whole purpose of this law should be to expand civil rights without shedding other protections in the process.

The New York Times apparently believes that it is unnecessary to protect religious believers--and that doing so proves "discriminatory intent."

But there's more, from this:
But in one very important way, gay marriage will not quite be marriage even in New York, even 30 days from now when the law goes into effect. That is because the psycho-sexual-financial-commercial-legal dramas that entangle the domestic lives of straight people often have another component: religion. And religious institutions have an exemption in the new law over accommodating gay people. It was key to the passage of the legislation.

Marriage without a church or temple wedding isn't the real thing. Why can some people have all the bells and whistles in the church of their choice but not me? Of course, there have been and will be congregations and churches that allow gay men and lesbians to be married in their midst and to bless those unions, recognizing that God loves them just as much as Governor Andrew Cuomo does. But some rich and influential religious institutions are not only free to continue to reject gay men and women as equal beneficiaries of all aspects of faith but will now also rally their congregants to reject politicians who are willing to abide with this extension of secular civil rights — no matter how much acceptance there is of same-sex marriage elsewhere, no matter how many wedding announcements appear in the New York Times.

I write this as a deeply religious Christian who is pained that the church that otherwise provides me with so much spiritual comfort and joy will never allow me to marry within its walls. Some clerics may be "liberal" enough to turn a blind eye to gay relationships so long as they do not have to recognize them, much less grant them any kind of imprimatur. And as of now, even in New York, religious institutions cannot be compelled to perform such a simple act of charity. [Emphases added--E.M.]

The writer goes on to say that, of course, the state can't force a church to change its beliefs. But once upon a time most of us believed that the state couldn't force the perverse fiction of gay "marriage" upon its citizens...something to reflect on before we take this writer, or any other same-sex attracted person, at his or her word when he or she says that it would be wrong to force churches to change their beliefs.

The question as to how religious freedom would fare in a post gay "marriage" world has been asked before, of course. Here is an interesting article some readers may remember, from 2006:

Marc D. Stern, whose many years handling religious freedom cases for the American Jewish Congress have made him an expert in the area, can hardly be identified as a conservative agitator. Yet he firmly believes that legal recognition of same-sex marriage will make clashes with religious liberty "inevitable."

"No one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them," Mr. Stern has written. But for other individuals and institutions opposed on religious grounds to same-sex marriage, its legal acceptance would have "substantial impact."

He has in mind schools, health care centers, social service agencies, summer camps, homeless shelters, nursing homes, orphanages, retreat houses, community centers, athletic programs and private businesses or services that operate by religious standards, like kosher caterers and marriage counselors. [...]

Chai R. Feldblum, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a proponent of same-sex marriage, agrees that permitting gay couples equal access to civil marriage will inevitably burden the religious liberty of those religiously opposed. [...]

For Professor Feldblum, the only honest position is to admit that "we are in a zero-sum game in terms of moral values." In her view, the dignity and equality of gay people should almost always outweigh considerations of religious freedom, though she believes that such freedom might weigh more heavily for religious institutions "geared just towards members of the faith" as opposed to those that interact broadly with the general public.

In other words, even five years ago the answer to the question: does gay "marriage" burden religious freedom? was "Yes, except for those willing to keep their bigotry locked up in the Church itself--and it really doesn't matter so long as same-sex attracted people get what they want."

Watch for that answer to have real, concrete, and grievous effects on religious believers in the state of New York over the next five years. Proponents of gay rights have been clear all along: you can either have gay "marriage" or religious freedom, but you can't have both. It shouldn't surprise anyone that they would choose their own self-interest above the rights of religious believers; and I won't be all that surprised when gay rights activists start agitating for the taxation of churches that won't marry gays, for such churches to lose their ability to sign civil marriage licenses (requiring, for instance, Catholics to have one 'civil' wedding and then a religious ceremony which is totally separate), and to punish "bigoted" and "discriminatory" churches any way they can. It is intolerable to them that our faith, and the faiths of others such as Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and some Protestants, should be able to continue to teach that two men or two women are not only not married but merely codifying their perverse sexual behavior; they will not let that rest for long.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Canonist Edward Peters says...

...Cuomo ought to be barred from receiving communion:

Cuomo’s concubinage gives prominent bad example against marriage, but his official actions in regard to “gay marriage” have changed the very definition of marriage in the populous state under his care; Cuomo’s living arrangements are of immediate canonical concern to only two of New York’s eight arch/bishops, but his political actions in regard to “gay marriage” negatively impact the pastoral mission of every Catholic bishop, parish priest, deacon, and lay minister throughout the Province of New York; finally, while most of the bishops of New York said little or nothing about Cuomo’s living with a woman not his wife, his long-standing actions in regard to “gay marriage” were challenged repeatedly, directly, and forcefully by the Archbishop of New York and by all his seven suffragans.

In light of the foregoing, I see no way, absent a public reversal of his public conduct, that Andrew Cuomo may present himself for holy Communion (per Canon 916), and, if he does present himself, I see no way that a minister of holy Communion may administer the sacrament to him (per Canon 915). Indeed, the only question in my mind is whether the ordinaries of New York should lift from the shoulders of individual ministers the burden of reaching this decision, by making a determination to this effect themselves and, assuming they do reach this conclusion, whether they should announce it publicly or in a personal letter to Cuomo. (Personally, I think a public announcement more befits the markedly public character of Cuomo’s conduct and responds better to the danger of scandal presented to the faithful by his actions).

I agree wholeheartedly--but we'll see.

UPDATE: Peters does not say "excommunicated" but rather that Cuomo should be barred from receiving communion under Canon 915. In any event, a clear and public instruction of that fact would be a much more decisive step than a mere suggestion that really, you know, Catholic colleges might not want to give this wicked man awards and things.

Brace yourselves, New York...this is proof

...the agenda continues.

Sweden, I remind readers, has had gay "marriage" for all of three years:

STOCKHOLM (AP) — At the "Egalia" preschool, staff avoid using words like "him" or "her" and address the 33 kids as "friends" rather than girls and boys.

From the color and placement of toys to the choice of books, every detail has been carefully planned to make sure the children don't fall into gender stereotypes. [...]

Breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the national curriculum for preschools, underpinned by the theory that even in highly egalitarian-minded Sweden, society gives boys an unfair edge.

To even things out, many preschools have hired "gender pedagogues" to help staff identify language and behavior that risk reinforcing stereotypes. [...]

Director Lotta Rajalin notes that Egalia places a special emphasis on fostering an environment tolerant of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. From a bookcase, she pulls out a story about two male giraffes who are sad to be childless — until they come across an abandoned crocodile egg.

Nearly all the children's books deal with homosexual couples, single parents or adopted children. There are no "Snow White," ''Cinderella" or other classic fairy tales seen as cementing stereotypes.

Egalia doesn't deny the biological differences between boys and girls — the dolls the children play with are anatomically correct.

What matters is that children understand that their biological differences "don't mean boys and girls have different interests and abilities," Rajalin says. "This is about democracy. About human equality." [All emphases added--E.M.]

I've been saying for years that the real "gay rights" agenda was to force society to abandon heteronormativity by attacking and destroying any notion of the traditional family and traditional gender roles. This is proof that I am right; this is what gay rights activists really want. They see both traditional gender roles and the mother-father-biological children norm of the family as the biggest threats to them, and seek to destroy them both--and destroy anyone who claims that there is anything inherently better for individuals and for society about the traditional family and traditional understandings of gender.

Think New York kindergartens and "Head Start" programs and the like won't closely mirror this Swedish school within a decade or so? I wouldn't take that bet--and the tension between religious believers who reject this sort of pernicious nonsense and the liberal agenda cheerleaders who think that a post-heteronormative world in which gender is a meaningless social construct will be a new Eden is going to grow to the point where peaceful coexistence is simply impossible.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A principled reaction

God bless Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who had this to say after last night's travesty in New York (Hat tip: Whispers in the Loggia):
Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have deconstructed the single most important institution in human history. Republicans and Democrats alike succumbed to powerful political elites and have passed legislation that will undermine our families and as a consequence, our society.

With this vote, Governor Cuomo has opened a new front in the culture wars that are tearing at the fabric of our nation. At a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling to stay in their homes and find jobs, we should be working together to solve these problems. However, the politicians have curried favor with wealthy donors who are proponents of a divisive agenda in order to advance their own careers and futures.

What is needed in our state is leadership and not political gamesmanship.

In light of these disturbing developments and in protest for this decision, I have asked all Catholic schools to refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration.

The above request is intended as a protest of the corrupt political process in New York State. More than half of all New Yorkers oppose this legislation. Yet, the governor and the state legislature have demonized people of faith, whether they be Muslims, Jews, or Christians, and identified them as bigots and prejudiced, and voted in favor of same-sex “marriage.” It is mystifying that this bill would be passed on the last day of an extended session under the cover of darkness. [Emphasis added: E.M.]
That is a step in the right direction. When so-called "Catholic" politicians are the ones who cast the deciding votes for legislation that brands all their fellow Catholics as "bigots" they should be shunned, dis-invited, ignored, and openly opposed. Too many Catholic-In-Name-Only politicians like to rattle on and on about their "Catholic" memories while helping to destroy religious freedom in this nation. We should make it impossible for these disgusting CINOS to prostitute their fake Catholicism in exchange for Catholic honors--and Catholic votes.

I honestly believe that Andrew Cuomo, at the very least, ought to be publicly declared to be excommunicated. It is scandalous that this man can continue to claim to be Catholic and march up to receive Communion when he is living in sin in what Edward Peters called "public concubinage" which adds the scandal of open adultery for himself and his girlfriend; to this he has added the grave sin and scandal of his support for same-sex sodommarriage. How much more does he have to deviate from the Church before his bishop admits that his relationship with the Church is no longer in good standing?

But that aside, at the very least, no Catholic organization, parish, school, etc. should ever invite Cuomo or his Catholic partners in crime to any event ever again (let alone honor them!) unless they publicly repent for the evil they have foisted onto their fellow Catholics in New York. Let them keep trying to trade on their "Catholicism" for votes when their fellow Catholics see them for what they really are.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My pledge

Newsflash: Republicans in New York are as much a bunch of cowardly traitors as Republicans everywhere else in America.

Republicans apparently have no problem using the force of the law to define every single Catholic in America as a "bigot," from here on out.

I pledge by my faith that I will never, ever vote for a Republican again, as long as I live.

Links aren't funny

I read Stephan Pastis' comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, just about daily on the Internet. I've even shared some of them here; the "embed" code was available for free, and anyone could post a PBS comic on a blog or website (which would automatically link back to the originating site).

I wanted to share today's comic, too. But since the last time I've shared a PBS comic, the site has changed to become a "Go Comics" website.

Go Comics is, in my not-always-humble opinion, the least user-friendly comics viewing website available online. There is a push for registered membership, followed by more pressure to sign up for the paid "Pro" membership, for one thing. I have other complaints--but the inability to share comics easily is the biggest.

It is possible to get permission to share Go Comics comic strips on one's website--for a price. But just sharing a strip with one's small blog audience because the strip is eerily reminiscent of one's own frustrations with the world of put-together furniture? Nope. Not possible.

Oh, but I can link to the strip. See that link, readers? Isn't it funny? No? Why, I'm surprised.

Of course, readers can click on the link to go to the comic to see why I think it's funny. But maybe you come to my blog through Google Reader, and don't want to click on the link. Maybe you have children in the room, and have no idea what sort of advertising will come up on the Go Comics site. Maybe your computer's internet connection is slow, and the advertisements on the page make it load so slowly that you no longer care why I thought Pastis' joke about put-together furniture was worth sharing. Maybe you read my blog at work on your break--but your company blocks certain commercial sites like Go Comics. Or maybe as you skim through your Google Reader you see links and think vaguely that perhaps they lead somewhere interesting, but you haven't got time in your allotted-fifteen-minutes-of-blog-reading to click on them all, so you move on.

Sure, this blog post is a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are plenty of serious issues in the world, and the inability to share easily the things one finds amusing is hardly a big deal. But in all honestly I find the trend toward making Internet content less free and more difficult to share and enjoy a stupid one--almost as stupid as buying put-together furniture when you have the manual dexterity of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and about as much patience.

postscriptum: Yes, I could hypothetically steal the comic strip image without permission. But I'm a born rule-follower. Except when it comes to put-together furniture.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

By force if necessary

Legislators in New York are still trying to decide whether to bring the gay marriage bill to a vote, and have tacked on some language aimed at protecting religious freedom. But not everybody is happy with that:

A religious exemption for caterers? Really? Doesn’t this expose the fundamental contradiction between “religious exemptions” and equal civil rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people? If you include catering, a completely contractual and voluntary arrangement to provide food services, in a “religious exemption” clause, you are just catering to bigotry instead.

The situation in New York risks becoming an example of “over-accommodation.” The “Free Exercise Clause” of the U.S. Constitution usually means protections against infringements against individuals’ beliefs and practices that are “fundamental,” “ultimate,” and that have “formal and external signs like clergy and the observance of holidays.” New York’s current laws are already sufficient to protect serious questions of religious conscience in the fundamental issue, namely whether a faith group would be required to perform a same-sex wedding. They won’t.

Of course, the writer of that article is herself a former Catholic, now atheist, so I have a feeling she doesn't get why being placed in a position of having to choose between your religious faith and your livelihood might be a big deal to some. Her focus on catering ignores the reality that asking a Catholic caterer, an Orthodox Jewish caterer, or a Muslim caterer to serve food at the celebration of a same-sex couple's "wedding" is asking them to ignore the teachings of their religion about the impossibility of two men or two women ever being "married," and to risk the possibility of creating scandal by giving the appearance that they have no problem with such a "wedding." Even worse, of course, is the likelihood that should a religious believer actually cater at such a "wedding," and anything at all goes wrong (as things often do at big parties), that the angry same-sex pair will sue the caterer and allege that the burned chicken or cold entree was done deliberately out of bigotry instead of merely being the sort of accident that can happen when you're hired to serve food to 450 people none of whom actually shows up on time, thanks to the photographer.

And as to "voluntary" and "contractual," well, remember the photographer in New Mexico who was sued for refusing to photograph a lesbian ceremony? The reason caterers, photographers, and others are being included in religious exemption language is because otherwise business owners who refuse to enter these "voluntary" and "contractual" business arrangements with gay pairs might be sued and have to prove that they were, in fact, already booked on the day in question or otherwise unavailable--or face the kinds of punitive fines Elaine Huguenin did for refusing to offer her (voluntary? contractual?) services to a lesbian pair.

Let's be honest, here: religious freedom, as far as gay rights activists are concerned, means only that you have the right to go to your place of worship and pray and worship there. It does not mean that you have the right to live as though you actually believed any of the things your church, synagogue, temple, or mosque actually teaches. Anyone who dares to try to do that in a post-gay marriage state will be branded a bigot by the full voice of the government, and punished accordingly.

Which is one reason why religious exemptions aren't worth the paper they are written on; they are a mere tactic to force the pro-gay agenda, and will be revoked as soon as is convenient. What the government gives, the government can take away. And a government which has defined all opposition to gay marriage and the grave moral evil of gay sex acts as bigotry will not hesitate to impose that view, by force if necessary.

UPDATE: Here's an example of the way religious believers who oppose gay "marriage" are treated already. Imagine how much worse it will be when the government is the one punishing thought crimes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Legion-affiliated school: advice to a reader (input welcome!)

I recently received the following letter from a reader who is trying to make educational choices for her young child; she gave me permission to post the letter (and my response) here, and to ask my readers for their input/insight also. My reader writes:
Dear Red,

My husband and I have one child (close to kindergarten age) so far, and we've decided that homeschooling is not for us. The reasons are many and varied; the decision is pretty much made.

The public school system in our area is atrocious and considered either the worst or second worst in the state. Thus, that's not an option for us, and actually, based on principle, never really was. Neither my husband or I benefited from our own time in public schools and we just don't generally believe in them, period.

Obviously, we'd love to count on local Catholic parish schools, but quite frankly, we're not impressed. Our child has been in a pre-K program at our parish, and while it's fine, it's not outstanding from the perspective of teaching the Catholic faith, even if at a basic preschool level. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we believe our child is at either the best or second best Catholic parish school in our town. So the fact that we're not overly-impressed with it isn't saying much.

What to do? Well, we started investigating that weird class of independent Catholic schools that are termed "authentic Catholic schools." Generally these are small schools run outside of connection with a parish - some have the blessings of local dioceses and some don't. We could care less whether or not a school has the local bishop's approval or blessing if it's authentically Catholic.

In our area, there are four "authentic" Catholic grade schools. We've ruled out three of them for reasons dealing with distance/traffic, too much of an SSPX presence (students, not staff), and being too small. The fourth school is a dream-come-true, but quite a drive. We're willing to do it.

But then it came to our attention that there was a fifth "authentic" Catholic school on our radar screen that we didn't know about. In a nutshell, it's a Legionnaires'/Regnum Christi associated school - but it's not (more on that below.) So as not to leave any stone unturned, we toured the school (a 2-day process), and absolutely fell in love with the place. Although we're not in love with the price tag nor the drive/commute to it. The cost of this school is naturally the most of the five schools.

Going in, we were aware of the potential financial dimensions that might accompany anything associated with the Legionnaires. You know what I mean: Stories of discrimination by the Legion against families that don't "look good" on financial paper. In fact, we were direct and upfront with the school administrators about that topic and are satisfied with their answers.

Additionally, we were also aware going in of the rumored poaching techniques used by Regnum Christi members to get others into the organization, etc. This, too, we discussed with the administration and are satisfied with the responses we received. As I mentioned above, the school is "no longer" considered an official Legion associated school. As a technical matter, it never really was. But since the scandal, even while the priest serving the school is LC and has chosen to remain with the Legion, the school's only association is that they follow the Legion's-based educational method, which is from the National Consultant's for Education (NCE).

Seeing the Holy Spirit at work in this school was an eye-opener. Even better, the educational techniques and results at this school were almost too fantastic to be believed. Yet, with our own eyes, we saw what can be done with children when teachers who know what they are doing expect nothing but excellence from their students. As an example, this year's 7th grade class have just completed a sophomore-year high school Spanish text book.

Other than the exorbitant cost (for us), we're sold. This is where we want our child, because attending this school would be a golden ticket to life. Our child could basically get into any private high school of our choice and probably on scholarship.

So the problem? Everything in this school looked a little too perfect, straight, and ordered. Which, as I read around the internet, is a signature style of anything associated with the Legion and Regnum Christi. For a while, we were thinking they were putting on quite a show, but then realized they weren't: All the children wearing the exact same pair of shoes, and children rising when we entered their classrooms and saying things like, "Good morning, Mrs. Jones. My name is Richard. Welcome to our school." Examples like this are fine and laudable. We liked it.

But what about three and four year olds being constantly physically guided and turned towards their teacher by a cadre of aides all day - everytime they wiggled or squirmed? Or kindergarten boys wearing formal ties to school? Isn't that sort of unnatural? And what of children who looked happy and well-adjusted, but didn't seem to have the energy and joy of "normal" children as we encountered them at any grade level? I'm not implying that the children in this school seemed like robots or zombies, but something was just "off."

I brought this up to one of the administrators and felt that he was slightly puzzled or offended by my questioning. He explained that the youngest children in the school are indoctrinated into a certain mode and expectation of behavior so that they are primed and ready for the advanced educational curriculum they will experience as they move through the school. This answer made sense to us, as the educational caliber of this school is fantastic, and to achieve what they do there you can't have an unruly, distracted bunch of kids. But still, I'm bothered by the seamless, perfect facade of the school as a whole. Even the teachers were dressed perfectly with big smiles on their faces all the time, which I can't believe is normal. The only "normal" people I encountered there were the Regnum Christi (?) consecrated single women who assist at the school with religious education.

Some would argue, as we have in our discussions between husband and wife, so what? Children are little sponges and capable of great things if they are given the right opportunities and the proper environment to learn. Why not expose your child to such an environment? We'd be idiots not to, right? Parents today push too little and expect even less. What's wrong with setting the bar higher?

But still, what if the price of absolute educational excellence and stellar Catholic catechesis is breaking the individual will and spirit? This is the question I'd like to know your thoughts on: Is a school like this unrealistic? Is it bad news in terms of the Legion connection, or what?

I know you won't hold back, Red. So thanks in advance for your response!
First of all, I'd like to thank my reader for writing. School decisions are never really easy, and when you've decided that homeschooling just can't work (and I do know some situations where it really can't), it can be hard to figure out how best to fulfill the obligation of Catholic parents to see to it that their children are instructed in the faith.

I remember when our oldest, Kitten, was approaching school age. I was torn and agonizing about a lot of things: should we start kindergarten when she was four-and-a-half (December birthday) or wait until she was five? Should I use a pre-packaged curricula or make things up as I went along? Reading and math were the most important things, right? How could I make sure Kitten was progressing properly in these areas without neglecting others?

The result was that our first year was way more stressful than it needed to be, for both of us. I was trying to do things like science and history with a child who should probably have been spending 30 minutes a day printing letters and numbers, followed by some read-aloud and craft time. Instead, I was stubbornly clinging to a math program that was far too advanced for her, doing phonics drills, and insisting on seatwork. Eventually, I got hit upside the head with some common sense, and we slowed down, simplified, and didn't worry about what grade level she was in--and the results were a child who started reading eagerly, still struggled (still does!) with math but found it doable anyway, and slowly recaptured her initial delight with the idea of learning.

What I learned--and this applies to the LC/RC affiliated school my reader mentions--is that trying to make all children embrace a heavy academic, structured program in kindergarten or even first grade is not going to work for every one of them. Some, certainly, will thrive. Others will shut down, and you'll have to spend time undoing the damage.

Now: on to the Legion matter.

My advice here to my reader is as it always is when people mention Legion-related things to me: be very, very, very careful.

Here are the red flags I see in my reader's letter:

1. Cost: the fact that this is the most expensive of the five schools the reader mentions is fairly typical of LC/RC institutions. And certainly the appearance of good educational value is being given--but the LC is so good at appearances. My worry here would be twofold: one, that there will be "hidden costs" (e.g., mandatory fundraisers, "emergency" appeals, etc.) that will only crop up after my reader has decided on this school and her child is attending it. And two: that the cost will continue to rise each year until the reader's family can no longer afford the school, which will have "priced" them and other families out of it. Both of these are things people have experienced with LC affiliated schools.

2. Level of Legion involvement: My reader says the school isn't really LC, an impression the school itself apparently gives. But the priest serving the school is LC, the school uses an LC-based educational method (and some of my readers may have experience with that), and there are Regnum Christi "consecrated" (not really) women serving as (probably) low- or unpaid classroom aides! To me, this sounds like a school that is more Legion than not.

3. Too perfect: Maybe I'm just getting cynical, but when things seem too perfect to be real they generally are. There is nothing wrong with expecting standards of polite and well-mannered behavior from children; I spent a lot of years instructing my children in those things. There is something a little wrong with complete conformity outside of the military, in my mind (and especially when children are involved).

4. Physical correction: My reader mentions that when three- or four-year-olds (!) wiggled or squirmed, they were physically turned toward the teacher by aides! This is just wrong for the following reasons: a) the child's physical boundaries are being violated at a time when he or she is supposed to be learning not to let strange adults touch him; b) three-year-olds should be playing, not sitting in classrooms; c) four-year-olds who are not squirmy are unreal, and d) no method of instruction for the very young should rely on physical reinforcement of a stiff and unnatural posture. What really worries me here is that the administrator my reader asked about all of this acted, in her word, offended by the question! My reader's gut instinct is right, here: no matter how terrific the academics of the school might be (emphasis on might), it is not reassuring to see children as young as three being forced to go through the physical motions of remaining still at a desk for hours at a time just so they will be prepared for the harder material they will encounter in approximately six to eight years.

If I were this reader, I'd choose school number four, and give this one a pass.

Now it's your turn, readers: what advice would you give this reader? I'm especially interested to hear what those who have experience with the Legion, particularly Legion-run or Legion-affiliated schools, have to say.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Discussing some talking points

The Father Corapi story continues to unfold, and several bloggers have been keeping everybody up-to-date as to what's going on. I've read these accounts, and pondered them, but since I don't have any particular knowledge or insight to share about the specifics here, I'm going to discuss some general things that are loosely related not only to this situation, but to any situation in which a priest leaves active ministry (except, of course, for retirement due to age or disability or both). I'm speaking solely of situations where a priest "quits" the priesthood (acknowledging that he is still a priest forever, etc.) whether due to his own desires and requests, or against his will because of accusations, allegations, proven criminal conduct, or the like.

1. The negative feelings of the priest's parish family, friends, family, or even "fans" are real, and shouldn't be ignored. If a priest, for example, in a rural parish decides after an agonizing internal struggle that he can't honor his priestly vows and seeks to be released from them, people in his parish family are going to react. Some will be supportive, understanding, kind, and prayerful; others will feel hurt, betrayed, and angry--even if they, too, are prayerful. These feelings are, of course, greatly magnified if there is any scandal attached to the situation: if, for instance, the parishioners arrive at their humble parish one Sunday to find the bishop saying Mass for them, followed by a meeting in which the bishop formally informs them that their pastor has been removed following a serious and credible allegation of abuse of a child (a situation all too unfortunately prevalent in the last decade).

The fact that people have feelings and need to process these feelings when bad things happen is hardly news. But sometimes, some people seem to think that if the bad news involves a priest, all personal feelings are to be suspended, and any honest expression of anger, doubt, fear, a sense of betrayal, or even depression or despair are to be stifled at all costs. This is not healthy, because it is normal and human to have these feelings and to express them (always striving for modest and charitable expression rather than immoderate and intemperate expression, of course).

This stifling of emotion has led to some difficult times for some parishes when, for example, the parish splits in half as half the parishioners defend Father Whosis out of loyalty and the other half are visibly crying, upset, or frustrated at what is going on--and well-meaning peacemakers try to insist that nobody ought to be reacting emotionally in either direction, or even talking about things at all. I've seen a little of this in the various comment box discussions of the Father Corapi matter, and it bothered me, because merely having feelings about the situation and expressing those feelings isn't the same as attacking and judging or mindlessly following Fr. Corapi, as the case might be.

2. If a priest leaves the priesthood for whatever reason, this does not negate any good influence he may have had on your life or your family's lives. Many, many Catholics during the Scandal struggled with this one. How could they ever look at the baptism photos of their children, knowing what Father Whatsit did to other people's children? How could their happy memories of their own First Communion day be retained, knowing that Father Thusandso was committing terrible sins right around that time? How could Father Thatone's marriage prep class--so full of wisdom and insight!--be looked back on fondly, when Father Thatone ran away with the married parish secretary only a few years later?

The truth is, all human beings struggle with this sooner or later, because we all know people--not all or even mostly priests--who are strange combinations of good and bad (and we ourselves are, too). We remember how relatives could talk fondly of Great-grandfather even though he had a serious drinking problem and very loose habits which were a sad trial to his long-suffering wife; it is not hypocritical, but human, to cherish the good in people, even when that is hard to do. If a priest had a good effect on our lives, we should thank God for that; and if that priest later falls, whether into great sin or simply out of the priesthood, we should not think any less of the time in which he was, probably without knowing it, an instrument of God in our lives: for isn't that what we want people to do in regard to us? And isn't the command to do unto others as we would have others do sufficient?

3. No matter why the priest is leaving active ministry, being laicized, etc. the devil did not make him do it. I want to be careful here, because it is quite true that the devil hates the office of the priesthood a great deal. It offends his unholy pride that God should have allowed sinful mortal men the ability to confect the Eucharist, administer the sacraments, and serve as the living conduits of divine sacramental grace for the benefit of the whole Church--and there's no doubt at all that the devil hates the Church.

But when we speak of individuals, we must admit that the devil hates everybody. His special hatred is reserved for saints, regardless of their vocation in life--he hates them because they draw closer and closer to God, further and further away from his tricks, persevering in grace throughout their earthly lives and, drawing their last breaths, escaping him forever.

Some writers have a tendency to say things like: "Fr. Soandso is leaving the priesthood. This is very sad. The devil hates priests--lay people have no idea how greatly and fiercely he tempts them daily..." etc. This is where I think well-meaning people sometimes end up sailing in rather dangerous waters, spiritually speaking, because the undeniable implication in statements like these is that Father Soandso is not responsible for his actions, or at least his culpability is greatly diminished, because after all Satan won't leave a good priest alone and will increase his temptations until the good priest finally falls into sin. The truth, of course, is that priests, like the rest of us, have free will and face temptations from the world and the flesh as well as the devil. If I choose to have dessert when I know I shouldn't, is that the weakness of my flesh or Satan lurking in the freezer next to the ice cream? If someone trades honor and virtue for unscrupulous business dealings to gain wealth and fame, is that the siren song of the world, or Satan beckoning from Wall Street? The truth is, the devil can tempt us through our weaknesses, but our weaknesses are usually centered around the seven deadly sins, the weakness of the flesh, and the appeal to pride and vanity thrown out by the world. Before we say with assurance that Father Soandso has given in to a diabolical temptation, perhaps we should consider whether our intention in saying this is to speak seriously about the nature of sin and the ubiquity of temptation, or whether we're trying to give him a pass for his actions.

4. Praying for priests is an excellent daily habit; no priest has ever fallen into sin or left the priesthood because not enough lay people were praying for him. How can I say that? Well, again, because for a priest to fall into sin one specific thing has to happen: the priest needs to make a free choice to do something wrong. This is, sadly, a surprisingly easy thing for a priest--or any one of us--to do; we do it daily. Yet sometimes when a situation like the Father Corapi one, or like any instance of scandal involving a priest, crops up there is bound to be at least one person piously suggesting that if only we lay people would just pray more, priests would not be tempted so much, or if they were tempted, they would have the strength to resist.

We all need prayer in our lives; it is our daily connection with God. And it is, as I said, a good habit to pray for priests, whether to pray for them generally, or to pray for specific ones (particularly one's own pastor), or to do both. It is likewise good to pray for the Pope, bishops, deacons, lay religious men and women, and one's fellow Catholics, as well as all Christians, all who don't know Christ, all who don't know God, and the whole world. We don't know how, in the economy of salvation, God chooses to use our prayers; but it seems to me we ought to be sure that God is not looking from Heaven on a priest wrestling mightily with some serious temptation and thinking, "Oh, dear. Only 23% of this priest's parishioners have prayed for him in the last week--so I will withhold My grace from him so that he has no recourse but to fall into this sin." Anybody who thinks that's how God operates needs to re-read the Catechism for starters (and I'd go to Deus Caritas Est after that, but that's just a suggestion). Again, I think the ultimate effect of the "Lay people don't pray enough for priests!" guilt trip is to remove the responsibility for the sin (whether grave or not) from the person who committed it.

None of these points are specific to the Father Corapi situation, of course. But I have seen them, or variations on them, every time a priest is accused of something, found guilty of something, leaves the active ministry seeking laicization (and sometimes marriage), and the like. I thought it might be helpful to some to offer my thoughts on these talking points that seem to swirl around discussions of priests who leave active ministry (voluntarily or otherwise).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Redefining some more words

Been busy today; still am. I've got time for a short post on the redefinition of words.

Let's face it: people who want to redefine the word "marriage" so that it can mean the romantic/sexual partnership of same-sex couples aren't thinking nearly big enough. Why, they've barely begun to redefine marriage! And when they're done redefining marriage, there are a whole host of other words they ought to redefine, too, just to keep up with emerging social trends. In my helpful way, I've got some suggestions:

1. Marriage: yes, I know, this one's already being redefined so that gender difference and the ability to participate in the one sex act that actually makes new people (let alone unites the biological parents for the sake of those new people) have nothing whatsoever to do with it at all. But come on, people--that's so narrow and limited. Why should marriage be about two people? Why shouldn't it be Adam and Eve and Cindy and Jane and Patricia? Or Eve and Steve and Jim and Bob and Joe? Or all of them: Adam, Steve, Jim, Bob, Joe, Eve, Cindy, Jane, Patricia, and all of their various offspring? Or none of them: if a woman wants to marry herself, isn't it stupid to tell her she can't? Isn't it terribly bigoted and hateful to insist that just because the word "marriage" has implied a husband and wife, one of each, for a whole lot of centuries that this is the best or only way? And another thing: why should marriage be about sex? If the heterosexual roommates Janet and Jill want a marriage to protect the dozen or so children the two of them have created with the help of different and transitory males whose company, however pleasant, doesn't last, who are we to tell them they can't get married and be Parent One and Parent Two to those kids? Why, don't we want them to have a stable family? And still another thing: is there any reason other than religious bigotry why James isn't allowed to marry his adult daughter Sarah? Hey, he divorced Sarah's mom a long time ago, and didn't even realize Sarah was his daughter when he met her at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch--how heartless and cruel would it be for society to tell them their love can't be celebrated with a walk down the aisle, a cake, and tax breaks? Why shouldn't the word "marriage" be as meaningless as any other word?

2. Parent: for far too long we've primarily used this word to refer to people who actually have and raise their own biological children. Sure, adoptive parents use the word, too, but that's because they are acting in loco parentis, so to speak--taking over the mother and father roles for children whose own parents died, or were unfit, or for some other tragic reason couldn't actually parent their children. But this word is so narrow, so restrictive! It has such heteronormative connotations! It ought really be replaced by the more politically correct phrase "parenting partners" to refer to any number of adults who are involved for any length of time at all in a child's life--but if we can't get people to use the new phrase, we'll just have to insist that "parent" simply means anybody who shows up during a child's minority. This way, we'll include biological mom, biological dad (unless either or both are reproductive prostitutes, in which case they forfeit the right to the term), stepmom, stepdad, lesbian "moms," gay "dads," mommy's new boyfriend who moved in after he'd known mommy for two weeks and had slept with her a few times, the lady at the daycare center who has spent more time with the child than any of mommy's boyfriends, and...well, just anybody! We'll get rid of stupid heteronormative holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day and insist that children celebrate Parenting Partners Week, which will have all the celebratory fun of the ALA's Banned Book Week, but none of the clever tee-shirts. Won't that be fun, boys and girls and others?

3. Child: right now we use the word "child" to refer either to humans during the age of legal minority, or to humans to whom we claim the outdated paternal or maternal relationship. That second will have to go; speaking of "our children" is not only offensive to those who have to pay people to manufacture children for them--it is also offensive to those beings older than age 18 who nonetheless are convinced that they would like to remain in a permanent juvenile state: people like this, and also many others who reach the age of 30 or so without ever cooking for themselves, doing their own laundry, or otherwise demonstrating independence. Who but a bigot would deny people the right for themselves to define their inner age, or release their inner child? What kind of ageist do we have to be before we realize that age is merely a social construct, based on an irrational belief in the actuality of time (which, of course, is a merely superstitious and largely religious way of describing what is actually relative to an observer's vantage point and way of chronicling events)? The word "child" should clearly mean, just like the word marriage, anything any individual or group anywhere ever wants it to mean. If that means we'll have thirty-five-year-olds in day care and ten-year-olds driving on the freeway, well, isn't that the price we have to pay for freedom and a truly secular society?

I could add some more, but I think you get the idea; you'll have an even better grasp of what I'm getting at if you read Matt Archbold's post today about the new trend of sexualizing baby girls by letting them shake their diapered-booties in bikinis marked "Juicy" across the derriere. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "bikini babes," doesn't it?

But hey, if we can define to the point of idiocy words like marriage, parent, and child, it's only fair that we start defining bikini babe to mean an infant dressed up like a future employee of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch. And so long as Daddy doesn't actually consummate his burning passion for his baby girl until she's old enough to give consent: why, only a bigot would object to their marriage!

Bigot (n.) a person (perbeing?) who is intolerantly devoted to his/her/its own opinions or values, and treats with intolerance people who just want the right to marry their adult daughters, or a group of men and women, or themselves, etc.; be "parenting partners" to a kid for a couple of months because it will give them easier access to the hot single mom they're presently enjoying carnally; or sleep in cribs and be bottle-fed well into their adult years, preferably at taxpayer expense.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Family first

After enjoying a full day--Mass (singing in the choir), brunch at home, some fun "guy shopping" with all of us along (he's looking at cameras, but not expensive ones), and a couple of minor errands, my dear husband is outside right now (7:29 p.m. Central Time) mowing the lawn.

It has cooled off to 100 degrees.

Happy Father's Day to my sweetheart, a man who always puts his family first and gets embarrassed when he's praised and thanked for it. :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fr. Corapi has left the priesthood

Father Corapi has announced that he has left the priesthood.

Details here.

Without wishing to encourage gossip, I have to say that this is the strangest announcement of its kind that I've ever read, especially considering the new website and the announced title of Corapi's soon-to-be-published autobiography.

Prayers are probably the best response.

A prayer for New York

Regular readers know that over the years I've posted lots of objections to gay "marriage" on secular grounds. Some of these posts can be read here, here, here, here and here; there are more, but that's a good start.

I make these arguments because I do think that the secular, human reasons to preserve marriage are important, and because I'm aware that I live in a culture too diseased to do anything but dismiss religious notions when these notions are raised in the public square. That said, I've been heartened to see, in the latest gay "marriage" debate out of New York, religious speakers and thinkers taking their place in the debate and pointing out that saying an argument has religious underpinnings does not automatically exclude the argument from the public square--unless we're going to admit that secularism is synonymous with atheistic nihilism, which is something secularists dislike admitting.

Rather than rehash my various secular reasons to oppose gay "marriage" today, then, I'd like to take a look at the religious side of this debate, to share my own religious reasons which, joined with and in concert with my understanding of the civil and secular reasons, are why I will always oppose the travesty of gay "marriage" and fight against it. I give fair warning to those of my readers who support gay "marriage," though: first, that there are religious aspects to my opposition does not negate my secular reasons; and second, since you already reject fundamental Christian teachings about morality, particularly sexual morality, and virtue, you will probably lack the basis even to understand what I'm talking about here. In a word, I write this for the benefit of my Catholic and orthodox (or Orthodox) Christian readers who possess the framework in Scripture and understanding of Church teaching to get this. It is my personal understanding of what the Church teaches, and is, as always, subject to fraternal correction by anyone who knows better than I do (and there are many who do).

From the beginning God intended man and woman to live in a covenanted union with three distinct aspects: life-long permanence, exclusivity, and fruitfulness--this last finding its fullest expression in the gift of children who are the natural and expected result of the union. The creation accounts in Genesis show our first parents, Adam and Eve, in this type of union; even after the Fall their union continues and produces the first of our ancestors. Marriage, then, in the order of creation, pre-dates even the Fall of Man.

Why? I think it is because human marriage, in its blurred and imperfect way, first points to and then echoes, however distantly, the mystical union of Christ with His Church. The Bridegroom lays down His life for His spotless Bride; the Bride submits in all things perfectly to Her divine Spouse; the outpouring of His divine life through her calls into being, through the waters of Baptism, the spiritual children of God, who then share in the living nourishment of grace, most perfectly in the Blessed Sacrament in which the Bridegroom becomes present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity for the feeding and strengthening of His family. The union of Christ and His Church is to be of at least earthly permanence (since He promised she would endure until the end of time); it is exclusive (He does not have many Brides, but one); and its fruitfulness can be seen stretching back to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the Church came into being.

In order to reflect the union of Christ and His Church, then, human marriage must be ordered toward those three things: permanence, exclusivity, and fruitfulness. (It should be noted, as concerns the last, that "ordered toward fruitfulness" means simply that a man and a woman must be physically capable of the reproductive act; those who are not may not marry, according to the Church, but those who are must not necessarily be capable of fertility, which is always a gift, and may not be commanded.) There have been many human attacks upon this image of marriage: polygamy, adultery, divorce, contraception, the use of sex outside of marriage, and so on have all attacked the reflection of the mystical union of Christ with His Church. Gay "marriage" is just a newer variation on the old theme.

Each of these attacks on marriage is a twisting and corrupting of the human experience in order to shatter any possibility of the likeness of God and His Will in them. We have many similar twisting corruptions in our culture--abortion is one, as it is a twisting of a child's mother into his bitterest enemy, the one who orders his destruction and pays for his killing--and gay "marriage" is another. The gender-difference and complementarity of the couple which reflects the union of Christ and His Church; the couple's biological ability to participate in an act of love which in its highest expression calls forth into being a new person, created in God's image and likeness, which is both a reflection of and an entering into God's creative power; the appreciation of sexual morality and the call for chastity both outside and inside of marriage which is a reflection of the holiness and purity of God; all of these are tossed aside as unnecessary and unimportant to the new definition of gay "marriage." Instead, there is a coinciding--not a joining or a union in any real sense--of, to continue the metaphor, two false gods and no church, or two faithless churches and no God--with no power to participate in the act of procreation, no possibility of fruitfulness, no purification of the sexual desire, no mutual growth in holiness of the couple--nothing of what Christian marriage is about at all. Gay "marriage" is, in fact, ordered toward sinful acts and ordered against God; it is ordered toward the eternal damnation of those who enter it, not their mutual growth in holiness and working toward salvation. It is powerless to draw a couple immersed in it closer to Christ (except by their eventual rejection of its evil, which is always devoutly to be prayed for). It is, in a Christian sense, nothing like marriage at all, except as a demonic inversion of it.

And no power in Heaven or on earth can ever make it anything else.

New York hovers at the edge of the abyss on the question of redefining marriage to include this demonic inversion called gay "marriage." I ask my fellow Christians to pray for New York and for the defense of marriage; I further ask my fellow Catholics and any fellow Christians who wish to do so, to join me specifically in this prayer (Latin or English, your choice):

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.

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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Exhibit B

So, what would a Benedict Option lifestyle look like, in theory?

I think it would vary a lot, family to family, location to location. But one thing is sure: people trying to disassociate from our culture in an intentional way would probably avoid buying games like this one:
This is not a review. I'm only able to tolerate playing Duke Nukem Forever for about an hour at a time, and then I have to take a shower to wash away the stench of the thing and maybe go to my Quiet Place and turn out the lights and listen to soothing music. Or perhaps play a little Portal 2 to remind me that games don't have to be this grotesquely awful, and that there is goodness and decency left in the world of PC gaming.

It's not that the game is vulgar, gross, sexist, crass, and stupid. It's certainly all those things, and deliberately so. It would be pointless to rail against the misogyny, omnipresent scatological references, juvenile sexuality, outrageous gore, or profanity. Those were always going to be signature elements in any Duke Nukem sequel. Complaining about them would be like going to Hooters "for the food" and complaining about the way the waitresses dress.

The only real point to be made about these elements is this: while the original Duke Nukem managed to be somewhat tasteless while still being a decent game, Duke Nukem Forever is grindingly, insultingly, nihilistically tasteless while simultaneously being one of the worst shooters I've played since Corridor 7. What was a send-up of 1980s action stereotypes in the original is now just self-referential, tired, and joyless. [...]

If this game was a person, he would be a paunchy middle-aged man with a bad combover and a silk shirt open to the waist to reveal the cornicello tangled in his matted, graying chest hair. It is so desperate to be Super-Alpha-Male-Plus-With-Extra-Testosterone-On-Top that it winds up merely sad and sickening.
Read the rest of Thomas McDonald's excruciatingly well-written anti-review here.

And speaking of Hooter's, people opting for the Benedict Option life would probably not be stupid enough to try to schedule a Catholic fundraiser there.

I'm all for trying to reform the culture. But we're not going to reform it by going along with its worst elements as unreflective consumers mindlessly absorbing and imbibing them. Recognizing that we live in a cultural wasteland, and learning to say "no" to its allures, demands, and glittering follies is the first step for anyone who wants to live in, but not of, the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exhibit A

As we continue these "Benedict Option" discussions--not by plan, but because I've found the comments interesting and thought-provoking--I realized that my opinions on this idea have changed as my children have gotten older.

When they were still rather young--when ideas like this one began to circulate--I was more negative, more worried that any idea of gathering together for strength would lead to weird Catholic-cult communities, more of the opinion that we had to live in the world and make our peace with it. But I realize now that part of that negativity came from just how easy it was to make choices for my children--to homeschool them, to select acceptable television and movies, to pre-read all their books, to postpone discussions of the real evils in our culture on the grounds--good, ones, I still think--that they were much too young to learn about divorce, cohabitation, homosexual matters, and the like (let alone graphic details about dysfunctional and sinful ways of living).

Now, I'm grateful for the high school religion program we use and its careful discussion of the evils of the world (and the necessity to avoid peer pressure to participate in these evils or to give the scandalous impression that one approves of them). But I'm under no illusions as to how difficult the years that lie ahead will be for my children and for children raised as they are.

This was not always true in America. We used to have a culture that valued chastity and virginity for the young. We used to have social mores and rituals designed to protect the innocence of young men and women, and to reinforce the values they learned at home. This didn't mean that every young man and woman grew up still practicing chastity--but there were fewer excursions into immorality, none of them casual; there were still consequences for making those sorts of life choices. Yes, the consequences impacted women more than men: they still do, owing to the biology of reproduction. But we didn't have daytime talk shows around the idea that it's perfectly normal not to be able to identify the father of one's child (to give just one example of how far we've fallen culturally).

In fact, our culture today is openly hostile to the kind of virtues we used to see as important for our young people, and for society as a whole. Chastity is only one of them (though the totally erosion and destruction of chastity as a value has had, arguably, the worst effects on our nation). The virtues of loyalty and hard work, the virtue of truthfulness, of responsibility, of modesty in speech and dress, of humility and patience with others, and many similar virtues have fallen by the wayside in our nation's cultural understanding. Lying to the IRS or to one's boss about one's schedule, disloyalty to friends depending on which set you happen to be with at one time, flaunting one's wealth or connections, shirking responsibilities by ignoring them or throwing money at others to do them, theft of things like music and games through illegal copying--all of these things are shrugged at and accepted by most Americans, and if anything, people who refuse to participate in these sorts of things are seen as hopelessly out of touch, or "holier than thou."

And Catholics are not standing firm against any of these things; if anything, they're leading the parade of cultural oblivion. Here's exhibit A (hat tip: New Advent):

It is June — that time of year when many of us will be receiving wedding invitations. One thing that may have changed from years past is the likelihood that the address on that invitation is for a country club, beach or community center rather than a Catholic parish.

The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million. To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010. [...]

It’s not that Catholics are less likely to marry than non-Catholics. In 2010, 53 percent of Catholics surveyed in the General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that they were currently married. By comparison, 51 percent of non-Catholics surveyed were married (including 55 percent of Protestants and 43 percent of those without a religious affiliation). Instead, many Catholics are choosing to marry outside of the Church.

We can see this trend in polling data as well. In a 2007 survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, 46 percent of unmarried Catholics who indicated some likelihood of marrying in the future said it is “somewhat” or “very” important to them to marry in the Church.

It's just not important to increasingly large numbers of young Catholics to get married in the Church--or to get married at all. And though some of the unmarried include people who embrace a vocation, either to priesthood, the religious life, or the single state, I'm afraid that the majority are those who have embraced, instead, the hookup, cohabitation, transient-partnership lifestyle as an alternative to marriage.

Some commenters yesterday said something along these lines: if the faith doesn't have a hold on your children, no amount of surrounding your family with like-minded people will help. I'm sure that's true to a degree--but is it honestly fair to expect young Catholics to find the way to live lives of heroic sanctity in a culture that is hostile to every manifestation of virtue and grace? And that tells them, over and over, in entertainment, cultural experience, casual, everyday contact with their neighbors, etc. that they are the ones with the problem, that virtue is an outdated notion of no relevance to today's enlightened, modern people?

The wreckage going on in the area of Catholic marriage is Exhibit A of the consequences of ignoring the deleterious effects of a culture on a people living within it. History shows us that we're not the first people to struggle with this; no people is totally immune to the culture that surrounds it, especially when that culture does its worst to choke off virtue and deny goodness a hearing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

So what, exactly, is the Benedict Option?

The comments below yesterday's post have taken an interesting turn, as commenters discuss the Benedict Option. Readers who remember Rod Dreher's blogs on Beliefnet are familiar with the term; others may not be. Here's Rod, from an article written in 2009 at The American Conservative:

Perhaps it’s a measure of the depths of my cultural pessimism, but when I take a sounding of the conservative predicament these days, I find myself not asking, “What would Reagan do?” but rather “What would Benedict do?” Benedict of Nursia, I mean, the 5th-century founder of Western monasticism, the man most responsible for preserving European Christian culture through the Dark Ages.

The Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre famously ended his landmark 1982 book After Virtue with a gloomy meditation about the collapse of a common moral sense in the West. He suggested that we were too far gone into nihilism and relativism to save and that those devoted to the traditional virtues should consider hiving off, as Benedict and his followers did in Rome’s final days, to build communities that can withstand the incoming tide of chaos and despond. MacIntyre wrote that our unawareness of how lost we are “constitutes part of our predicament,” one that can only be adequately addressed by “another—and doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

What could that mean for conservatives today? That we should consider what I’ve come to call the “Benedict Option”—that is, pioneering forms of dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values. The case for traditional conservatives to make a strategic retreat to defensible perimeters, so to speak, has become even more appealing since 1999, when Paul Weyrich issued his famous fin de siècle call for conservatives to pull back radically from “a [cultural] collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.” [...]

Conservatives have worked so hard over the past few decades to fight for civilized standards against a short checklist of modern barbarisms—abortion, gay marriage, political correctness, and so forth. What we failed to consider was that we had become barbarians ourselves.

The barbarians of the Roman era wandered and marauded aimlessly. We accepted rootlessness as the modern condition. We defended our unrestrained consumer appetites by spiting those who would counsel limits as freedom’s enemies. Despisers of communism, we worshiped capitalism, naïve to its revolutionary power to dissolve bonds we ought to have cherished and things we ought to have conserved. Though we like to think of ourselves as apostles of excellence preaching against the depredations of Hollywood trash and academia’s political correctness, we have reduced ourselves to sneering at the concept of elitism and celebrating ignorance and vulgarity as signs of authenticity.

We cast aside the sense of temperamental modesty, of restraint and of fidelity to honorable traditions that have been conservatism’s philosophical patrimony, and exchanged it for a pot of ideological message. When MacIntyre wrote that the barbarians “have already been governing us for quite some time,” he didn’t mean the Democrats alone.

I've argued before against the "intentional community" solution myself, and if the Benedict Option were to be seen as a complete withdrawal from the world, a sort of Catholic (and other Christians, etc.) Amish movement, I couldn't be for it. (Not now, anyway; whether such a thing will arise sometime near the end of history, before the Second Coming, is something I'm afraid I'd rather not learn in my lifetime--though admitting that reveals my weakness as a Christian.) For one thing, I'd be helpless in an agrarian society. Not everybody's cut out to run a self-sufficient farm, raise livestock, etc., and I'm most assuredly not. :)

But I'll admit that my ideas about the Benedict Option have been evolving. I once saw it primarily as a desire to escape from the evils of the world to some Purely Pure place, and further saw how badly such notions usually turn out; now, though, I'm starting to think of it as a plan to find strength in numbers and thus to be able to resist the darker elements of our slowly decaying culture in order to stand firm against the immoral rot being peddled as goodness by our increasingly wicked nation.

What would that really look like?

To be honest, I think it's already started. Like-minded people are forming communities--there's just a preponderance of virtual communities so far, and not as many physical ones. There are some places, though, that are growing in size--and other communities slowly losing families with children, as people simply give up on the idea of trying to raise morally informed children in certain places which have been at the forefront of the destruction of morality and virtue in this country.

And I think these efforts will increase, as religious believers start to realize just how hostile this nation is to us and to our values. To use one obvious example: only a handful of religious believers actually think that chastity is a virtue and that virginity ought to be the default mode of life for the unmarried (and that anything else is a sin). Most Americans no longer believe this, seeing sex as mere recreation and a rite of passage for teens, and the only "virtue" involved being the use of prophylactic contraceptives to give the illusion of physical safety to the acts in question (mental or emotional safety is dismissed as unimportant, and moral safety as illusory and unreal). It is, to put this as clearly as possible, more culturally acceptable (and I speak of both males and females here) for an unmarried person to be a slut than to be a virgin.

It is also a cultural imperative to be a greedy consumer who hypocritically accepts various "green" initiatives to offset his guilt about purchasing boatloads of junk manufactured overseas by wage slaves; to act on every impulse; to disdain family in favor of more transient relationships; to demand a share of the federal pie as supplied by other people's tax revenues; to view child-rearing as a drudge job best outsourced to others; to keep one's head down and mouth shut at work in the name of diversity; to avoid sincere religious practices which make others "uncomfortable;" and to shun meaningful hobbies and activities in favor of increasingly vapid entertainment which sells even more consumer goods both for the purpose of viewing or accessing the entertainment and for the purpose of imitating those pretty puppets on the various screens with their shopping and clothing and homes and fashions and cosmetic surgeries.

Is this really what we want for ourselves and our families?

As I understand it, the whole idea of the Benedict Option was that people who positively reject these ideas, who put religious faith and teaching at the center of their lives, and who consciously (even if slowly) work to move away from the culture of consumption and entertainment (including the left-right political entertainment, which is often no more substantial than any other form) would find each other and somehow gain some proximity to each other--whether the physical proximity of living within a particular area, or the spiritual proximity of attending a particular parish or church, or even, if no other proximity were possible, the more tenuous connection that can be formed by virtual communities of people working for positive changes in their lives. And these changes would have as their goal not only the rejection of the ugly, immoral pseudo-culture of twenty-first century America, but the creation and preservation of real culture, informed by faith, lived by families, with those universal and redemptive aspects that real culture has for those immersed in it.

As Rod would say: discuss. Would you embrace this idea of the Benedict Option? What changes would you make, and why?

Monday, June 13, 2011

News from the Benedict Option front

I'm back--sort of. Last week's "not-blogging blogging" really worked out well for me, and I'm thinking that over the summer I may stick to this sort of non-schedule. That way, I'll blog when I actually have something to say, instead of blogging daily whether I'm stuck on "boring" or not. :)

In other words: blogging will be sporadic--expect me when you see me.

Today a reader shares some interesting, if rather depressing, news from the culture war. She writes as follows:
I thought you'd find this [from the Tonys--E.M.] as sad and unsurprising as I did. Of course, the Book of Mormon (written by the creators of South Park) was the big hit of the night and if you want to know what it's about you can read a synopsis on Wiki but watch out for language (the names of some of the characters are horrific). What I find even more disturbing is that Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted again this year, did an opening number all about how Broadway isn't just for gay people anymore. One of the lines:

"Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theater!"

I wonder if he considers his surrogate a breeder or just a uterus for hire?

Sigh. I used to love the theater. Not so much anymore.
She shared this link as well.

This is the sort of thing I was getting at when I spoke of Hollywood's obvious bias in favor of leftist extremism. Out here in "flyover country" we tend to find the idea of paying some woman to rent out her womb so you can grow someone else's baby in order to create your ideal family a bit disturbing. But in Hollywood and on Broadway they think it's funny to joke about those matters--because they find us rubes and our attachment to the idea of the one father, one mother, biological children norm to be rather silly and bourgeois.

If they do succeed in recreating this nation in their image, we'd better be prepared to take the Benedict Option and preserve what we can of real faith and culture in small domestic monasteries (centered, perhaps, near large religious ones) until the madness is over. Which it will be, eventually, if history is any guide.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Happy Birthday, Hatchick!

Today we celebrate the birthday of our youngest daughter, whose fondness for hats--from her baby days right up to the present!--earned her the nickname "Hatchick" on this blog.

She's turning 13 today--which means I now have three teenaged daughters! They're all truly wonderful girls; I'm really blessed, and can only say that my mother's occasional frustrated wish that I'd have children just like me did not come true. :)

Hatchick is a terrific young lady: smart, funny, with a great sense of humor and many talents. She enjoys reading and science (particularly meteorology) but is not too grown-up to play, and especially enjoys playing with the "girl cousins" who are closest to her in age. She sends out a daily newspaper to our extended family members which includes her popular comic strip titled "Sneaky Ninja Dude;" his adventures keep her younger cousins--and her older sisters--and some friends--and, frankly, me too!--in stitches.

Hatchick is interested in the world around her and not intimidated by much at all. She is--and I know this will scare some of my regular readers!--decidedly to the right of me politically on many issues. Watch out, world!

Since she is 13 today, she is now entitled to write part of this blog post herself! So without further ado, I introduce to you: Hatchick!

Hello, I'm Hatchick, and as Mom said, I love hats.

The daily newspaper that I send out is based on articles that my family and friends send in to me, and the comic strip, "Sneaky Ninja Dude," which I draw on the computer.

I do have views on politics, and I can't help but feel that even with laws, and other things meant to help us retain order in the U.S.A., everything is in one large, jumbled, conglomerate of a mess. Sure, everyone likes us to think that everything is under control, but is it really? For example: we are fighting in different places for different reasons. But why are we fighting these wars? How exactly are nations and countries supposed to solve their differences by attacking each other? War gives each nation a sense of distrust for each other, so how are other countries supposed to make and keep peace with the U.S.A. if they don't trust us to hold up our end of the bargain? Such peace is weak.

Sorry, once I get started it's hard to stop.

I am excited about being a teenager and hope in future to try my best with school (even algebra....). Playing is fun for me. I like to make tents out of pillows and blankets because I enjoy them, and our cats enjoy them too! (Sometimes I have to rebuild the tent, due to a cat jumping ON TOP of it!)

I really couldn't have a better family and I love them all. :)

That's all for now! :)

That's my girl! Happy birthday, Hatchick--it's a privilege being your mom, and watching you grow up. I know these next few years will go by very quickly from my perspective!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What if we shut it all down?

First we had this:

In a March 8 letter to the charitable arm of the Diocese of Springfield, the Illinois attorney general's office said it was investigating reports the group "discriminates against Illinois citizens based on race, marital status and sexual orientation in its provision of foster care services."

The letter, which was included as an exhibit in a lawsuit filed by the charitable arms of the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet, warned that such policies violated the Illinois Human Rights Act, a statute that bars discrimination, harassment or retaliation based on marital status or sexual orientation, among other things.

Now, we have this:

( - David Hansell, who runs the federal government’s Administration for Children and Families, told a group of high school students at the U.S. Department of Education’s “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT)” youth summit on Tuesday that the Obama administration is recruiting “LGBT parents” to adopt children.

“[O]f course, we’re also trying to recruit more foster and adoptive parents who are lesbian and gay,” Hansell said in a general session of the summit held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. (As previously reported, the Department of Education barred reporters from attending the summit’s breakout sessions, which were also held at the hotel.)

You know what I think?

I think it's high time the Catholic Church in America called the secularists' bluff.

First, every single Catholic organization which aids in the adoption of children should shut down. Yes, this would be sad for the children--I'm not ignoring them. But it would be much, much worse if the government forced Catholic agencies to place children in evil situations, such as making them pawns in the gay "marriage" game.

Then, every branch of Catholic Charities in the United States should be closed. The plan would not be to abandon the poor, but to disentangle completely from both government aid and the "strings" which accepting this aid always creates, and from government agitation and political activism. A new, purer version of Catholic Charities could then be set up in which no government funds would ever be accepted and no political activism would ever be condoned. Oh, and as a totally private, church-funded agency this new charity could possibly avoid situations like having to pay for the mortal sin of artificial contraception for its employees. And if that's not possible: then no more Catholic Charities, ever.

Next, every Catholic hospital and health care agency would shut down. There would be no more pretexts about "Oh, this is a Catholic hospital, but the government requires us to hand out emergency contraception, and a separate agency performs abortions down the hall, and our doctors prescribe birth control to their patients, etc." and all the associated bull excrement that our so-called "Catholic" hospitals play with now. If it would be possible to open the hospitals in the future under Catholic moral principles, fine--but I suspect that it won't be.

Then, every Catholic school that accepts government aid, uses mandated secular curricula, and otherwise entangles itself with the government would close, as well. This would include every single diocesan Catholic school. In the states where it's possible to run a private religious school free from government aid and/or government mandates, small private Catholic schools could reopen. These schools would teach according to Catholic doctrine unapologetically and would have student bodies which would be at least 98% Catholic; there would be no more pandering to wealthy non-Catholics to view the schools as a less-expensive option (compared to ordinary private schools) to keep their little darlings sheltered from the chaos of the local public school district; there would be no more watering down the curricula so as not to offend the benefactor parents who are not married, are divorced and remarried, are publicly supporting abortion or birth control, and are otherwise openly dissenting from Catholic teaching. If the government made even that sort of small, private Catholic school impossible--then no more Catholic schools.

Imagine, in a time of economic downturn, the consequences of ending all official Catholic involvement in the secular American world. Imagine the strain on existing government agencies, already underfunded, understaffed, and so burdened with red tape that they can hardly do much as it is. Imagine what it would be like if we Catholics called the secularists' bluff, and said, "So, you want us to restrict our Catholic faith to Sundays at Mass? Fine. Bye!" and left the public playing field, focusing our efforts on funding our own, non-government-entangled Catholic groups (what a boon that would be, for instance, to orthodox religious orders like this one or this one!). Imagine what it would be like for America if, labeled "bigots" for our religious beliefs, we Catholics rebuilt the Catholic ghetto--and retreated there.

Frankly, I'm starting to think that secular America deserves for us to do exactly that.