Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is there still a place for Catholic print magazines?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but did we stop to think about the larger issue?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No blog post today... fingers are tired. :)

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. The humor part is over.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Translation Open Thread!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Blog Break

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Liveblogging from the Council of Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really? Really??

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

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

Update 5: I have good news and bad news.

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

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

I am stunned--STUNNED--by this.

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

A King but not the kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving and the Modified Stationary Panic

The blog post I was planning for tonight will have to wait. I keep getting sidetracked.

And it doesn't help that I finally realized that Thanksgiving is actually next week. As in, one week from today.

If this were a Typical Professional Catholic Mommy Blog (tm) that terrifying statement would be followed by a soothing virtual chuckle about how busy we all get this time of year, and then either a profound yet down-to-earth reminder of the fact that Advent's impending arrival is way more important theologically than Thanksgiving (important though that is! Thanks! Prayers! Eucharistic Themes! Family! Food! Love! Children! Tradition! Food! Joy! Peace! Laughter! Carbs--and did we mention the Food?!) or a poignant yet down-to-earth reflection on how coveting some Williams Sonoma (tm) turkey platter while making do once again with our slightly chipped discount store version is really a parallel to how God makes do with our faults, failings, and imperfections while holding in His mind the image of our future perfect selves (not in a grammatical sense) when, transformed by grace, we will be guests at the Eternal Heavenly Banquet, and nobody will ask us to carve the turkey or make us sit at the kids' table, though even the kids' table will be awesome in Heaven. 'Cause, you know, it's Heaven--and is it too early to sample the Thanksgiving wine?

Alas, this is not a Typical Professional Catholic Mommy Blog (tm). So instead of the sort of thing I described above, you will get my pre-Thanksgiving version of the Modified Stationary Panic (with apologies, once again, to Patrick F. McManus). As I wrote in the blog post referenced above:
I've actually been working on perfecting what humor writer Patrick F. McManus called, in one of his side-splitting books, the "Modified Stationary Panic." The Modified Stationary Panic is supposed to be for people lost in the woods; they modify their initial desire to panic by running wildly about and getting even more lost by, instead, doing all the shrieking, wild gesticulating, hyperventilating, and other panic-induced activities while running in place. All the panic, none of the coming to one's senses in another part of the state park--or even in another state, depending on your speed, stride, and level of panic.
The pre-Thanksgiving version of the Modified Stationary Panic, or MSP, involves avoiding running off to Canada (where the silly people--no offense to my Canadian readers--have Thanksgiving even earlier, on the second Monday in October) when one realizes that one hasn't even begun to plan out one's Thanksgiving menu yet, and instead doing all the panicking and flailing while seated in front of one's computer monitor. The level of panic may be ascertained by looking at what's actually showing on the computer monitor:
  • Panic Level Low: Mom is reading opinion blogs, with an occasional peek at the Betty Crocker website;
  • Panic Level Guarded: Mom is reading cooking blogs, with an occasional peek at the Food Network website;
  • Panic Level Elevated: Mom is not reading any blogs, and is pretending that the Science of Cooking website counts as science class for the eighth grader;
  • Panic Level High: Mom is reading all the sites already mentioned plus Epicurious, clicking back and forth so fast that she sounds like some sort of weak yet deranged woodpecker;
  • Panic Level Severe: Mom is slumped in her chair, staring blankly at the Martha Stewart Website's Thanksgiving pages and wondering if anybody actually ever does any of this stuff...

How does one deal with the pre-Thanksgiving Modified Stationary Panic? Don't ask me; I'm somewhere between "Guarded" and "Elevated" right now, with occasional surges when I think about the fact that I have yet to nail down side dishes and should make my pre-Thanksgiving grocery list by tomorrow at the latest. And here's the really funny part: we're not having company this year. Yes, all the panic and stress I'm already feeling is merely the level produced by the Quiet Thanksgiving at Home with the Immediate Family (my husband has some work obligations, so we're keeping it simple. At least in theory).

Which is why this blog post of Rod Dreher's nearly made me break out in hives; I can't even pretend that I could entertain twelve interesting people, six of them technically zombies, for a faultless and elegant dinner party in which good food, perfectly selected wines, and scintillating conversation was the order of the day; the fictional scenario was enough to make me gasp in horror (and not at the idea of entertaining dead people, either; at least they wouldn't be overly critical about the dull food and the total lack of anything approaching decor). I tried for a bit to push away the feelings of the incompetent hostess and pretend that I was just going to get to meet these hypothetical people, but it didn't work; all I could think about was filling my small house with brilliant or interesting or fascinating people, all of whom would get absolutely nothing out of the experience, not even a good meal.

At least I'm not actually having a huge dinner party for important and fascinating types. And when it comes to Quiet Family Thanksgivings, I'm the worst critic in the room--my husband and children are very loving and accepting. But the sort of Modified Stationary Panic that would be induced by Rod's fictional scenario really would have me running away to Canada.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's pretty pathetic

Some good news on the local pro-life front:

Abortion practitioner Neal Adam Poch has quit doing abortions at a Fort Worth, Texas Planned Parenthood abortion clinic and local pro-life advocates say a new pro-life law the state legislature approved is the reason why.

Jeff Williams, the coordinator for 40 Days for Life in the large northern Texas city says Poch quit his post as a Planned Parenthood abortion practitioner on Saturday. He credits the new law requiring abortion practitioners to give women considering an abortion the opportunity to see the ultrasound they perform beforehand with prompting Poch to stop doing abortions.

“The abortionist that has been performing abortions at Planned Parenthood is 75 years old and he lives in Tyler, Texas,” Williams said. “For about 13 years he has driven from Tyler to Fort Worth weekly to perform abortions. With the new requirements of the law, his work load has nearly doubled in having to perform the ultrasounds on Wednesdays and Thursday morning early enough in the day to allow for 24 hours before they kill the babies on abortion days. With the significant increase in workload, the abortionist was unwilling to put forth the additional effort to continue killing babies in Fort Worth.”

“Dr. Neal Adam Poch has performed his last abortion,” he said. “And although Planned Parenthood will likely replace him, it is most likely that there will be no abortions at Planned Parenthood in Fort Worth this week. And that is an answer to many of our prayers.” [...]

Williams says Poch didn’t stop doing abortions because he had a change of heart on abortion, but said, “He quit because of the inconvenience pressed upon him by a change in the law.”

For those who don't know this area, Fort Worth and Tyler are about 130 miles apart--a two hour drive and then some, on most days, given traffic conditions. For a 75-year-old doctor to drive this distance weekly just to kill babies at the local abortion mill is rather disgusting, if you ask me, and so I'm glad that the new law inconveniences him enough to make him quit.

I'd be happier if this man were to realize the horror of what he's been doing, of course. But if there's a lapse in services for a while at this local abortion mill, meaning that babies won't die there until Planned Parenthood can find a replacement who doesn't mind showing women their tiny unborn children's heartbeats before he rips those children to pieces and gets rid of their bodies as "medical waste" at their request, then the Texas law is doing exactly what it should be doing, in my opinion.

And if abortionists in Texas get so tired of having women change their minds after seeing that amazing little beating human heart on the ultrasound screen that they all end up quitting, so much the better. For all the rhetoric about "choice" which tries to make it seem as though having an abortion has no more moral aspect than choosing an ice cream flavor or a pair of shoes, it's pretty pathetic that a clinic in a decent-sized Texas city was counting on an elderly man to drive two hours in order to meet the demands of the "right to choose to have my unborn child killed and disposed of" crowd.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shadowy turkeys

Sorry for the late blogging; I've been busy, and no, it's not with National Novel Writing Month, because I never even start the day's novel writing until after I've written the day's blog post. :)

But I'm not too busy to be outraged by this, from Detroit:

A handful of retailers recently announced they would open late on Thanksgiving Thursday for Black Friday shoppers, but serious bargain shoppers just landed the biggest fish of them all: Walmart.

Opening the pages of its Black Friday ads for Facebook and Twitter fans, Walmart announced it will open earlier than ever before — at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving — for hardcore shoppers. So if you’re looking to save on electronics and toys, prepare to push away from the dinner table and hit the road.

Also opening early, at midnight on Thanksgiving, are Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s. Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills will open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving while Tanger Outlets in West Branch and Howell open at 10 p.m.
I'm glad to know that retail workers are fighting back, and I fully support their efforts:
As more retailers try to turn Thanksgiving Thursday into Black Friday — some employees are fighting back.

More than 80,000 people signed an online petition on asking retail giant Target to reverse its decision to open its doors on Thanksgiving Day — and allow workers to spend the holiday with family and friends. [...]

The campaign was launched by Anthony Hardwick, a Target employee from Omaha, Nebraska, following news that the company’s management had moved the standard Black Friday opening time from 5 a.m. on Friday to midnight on Thanksgiving. The new opening time will require employees to arrive at work by 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

“All Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones on Thanksgiving,” said Hardwick, who works as a part-time parking attendant at a Target store in Omaha, in a press release from ”With the midnight opening, employees like myself will have to leave for work right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. We don’t mind hard work, but cutting into our holidays is a step too far.”

“If Target doesn’t reverse its decision and allow associates to spend Thanksgiving holidays with their family, they might suffer from a fast-growing consumer backlash,” Hardwick added.

Will they? After Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Kohl’s announced plan to open at midnight on Thanksgiving – the biggest fish of them all — Walmart — decided to go even further and open at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Think about that: employees at Walmart might have to be at work by eight or nine p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to get ready for the big Black Friday rush (or should we start calling it Black Thursday, and decorate for the holiday with shadowy turkeys or something?) That means they can't linger at the Thanksgiving table, they can't stick around for a late dessert and coffee when all that turkey-induced tryptophan wears off, they can't travel over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house (unless Grandmother lives close to the shopping centers); in a word, they can't enjoy a whole day off on Thanksgiving Day. Are the descendents of Ebeneezer Scrooge lurking in the corporate offices of Walmart, Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Kohl's?

Look: I know perfectly well that lots of people have to work on Thanksgiving, and on other holidays as well--police officers, firefighters, doctors and nurses, military personnel, hotel workers, pharmacy technicians, even some restaurant workers (because not everyone has family to go to, and because all the other workers I listed above might well need a cup of coffee and a sandwich to get through the dreary work hours). But we know that those people are at work for really good reasons: to keep people safe, to help those in need, to care for the sick and the hurt, to attend to the real and basic needs of travelers and others, all of which are acts of charity.

But forcing retail store workers, many of them paid only minimum wage, to leave their families during the Thanksgiving feast so they can prepare to be trampled even earlier than usual by bargain-crazed lunatics drunk on consumption and filled with greed, competitiveness, and a level of hostility usually seen only on the battlefield doesn't even begin to be justifiable on the grounds of charity or human decency. In fact, it's just the opposite; it's a decision by the multinationalist corporate owners to pander to the worst qualities of present-day Americans--and if they were doing it on purpose to hasten America's downfall they could hardly have planned a better strategy.

In fact, I'm pretty sure our multinationalists would like to do away with the whole notion of pausing for a day in November to give thanks with our families for the blessings of liberty and life in this nation, because for one whole day people aren't out there putting themselves first, indulging in mindless shopping and spending, propping up our consumer economy with selfish and thoughtless consumption; instead, they are, mostly, enjoying a home-cooked meal with family and friends, and remembering that life is about more than acquisition. Which makes the whole day a shameful waste, from the perspectives of the presidents and CEOs of the companies listed in the article.

And I, for one, won't be shopping for Christmas gifts at any of those stores this Christmas. Because life is about more than acquisition, and the shadowy turkeys who want us to forget that don't deserve a dime of my money.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A non-post

Sorry for the lack of blogging today. We've had a busy day, and now I'm battling another stupid Monday migraine.

Back tomorrow. Good Lord willin' and all.


Friday, November 11, 2011

The seven percent

If you take the current population of America and figure out how many American veterans there are (a little over 22 million), you can discover that the percentage of Americans living today who are veterans of our military is approximately seven percent.

Some calculations I've seen put the percentage slightly higher, either by adding active-duty personnel or by subtracting non-veterans below 18; but seven percent is about right for a general calculation. ABC puts it this way:

According to the 2010 Census, the population of the United States is 308,745,538. Including active duty, national guard and reserves, the population of Americans in uniform is 2,317,761, meaning that less than1 percent, .75 percent to be exact, of the country's population is a member of the military.

While only a fraction of a percent of the country's population is currently serving, 7 percent of the population is veterans. There are 22,658,000 veterans in america today, just 8 percent of which are female.

I am blessed to live in a family in which three people represent that 7 percent: my husband and his mother and father are all Air Force veterans. I am grateful to them and to all veterans for their service to our country; the OWS protesters, who like to call themselves the ninety-nine percent, could learn a lot about duty, honor, responsibility, hard work and sacrifice from the seven percent.

Happy Veterans Day to all veterans, all active-duty military, and all of their families--and God bless!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We all need to put the victims first

Joe Carter over at First Things is saying what a lot of people are thinking in regard to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal:
For the past few days I’ve been trying, without success, to make sense of the disgusting spectacle at Penn State. My reaction can be summed up in one word: inexplicable. The actions of Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Mike McQueary, the rioting Penn State students—all of it is inexplicable. I tell myself that it must be an anomalous event, for I can’t bear the idea that it may be symptomatic of our larger culture. [...]

If you are the kind of person that can leave a child to be brutalized than you have lost your humanity. May God have mercy on your soul.

And if you’re a student at Penn State who is more upset about a coach being fired than a child being raped then please make that opinion as broadly known as possible (rioting is a good means of communicating your viewpoint). Your peculiar take on moral priorities needs to be made public so that the rest of us can avoid coming into contact with you in the future. [Link in original--E.M.]

There have been so many things written about this, that I don't want to add to the verbal clutter. Still, there are a few things that need to be said.

First, yes, the Penn State situation is proof that the culture of child sexual abuse and the coverup of such abuse does not exist solely in churches, let alone solely in the Catholic Church. The truth is that most institutions reflexively try to protect their image when they find out that someone they have trusted, someone whose fall would shame the institution, has been committing serious crimes, especially the crime of child sexual abuse. This is morally outrageous.

Second, child abusers, pedophiles especially, know very well that institutions have a horror of being exposed as a place where someone in a trusted position was getting away with the sexual abuse of children. On the occasions, however rare, when pedophiles are careless enough to get caught--even caught so graphically as Jerry Sandusky is alleged to have been caught--the pedophile will use institutional horror and fear of exposure to his benefit. These people are lifelong manipulators, and children aren't the only ones they manipulate.

Third, the first and second points do not in any way exonerate specific Catholic authorities, most especially bishops, in situations where they knew that children were at risk from a pedophile priest and did not take sufficient action--or, sometimes, any action--to protect the victims. We are not wrong to expect people of faith to act differently from mere secular authorities when children are at risk. We are not wrong, in fact, to demand that they do.

Fourth, we all need to put the victims first. To that end, I ask the following questions, expecting no answers, of course, but just asking readers to reflect on them:
  • Have you, yourself, or someone who is close to you, ever been tempted to the sexual abuse of a child--or acted on such a temptation?
  • If so, have you (or the person close to you) sought the appropriate help or been turned in to the proper authorities?
  • Have you or someone close to you ever been sexually abused? Did the abuse happen when the victim was a child? Is the abuser still at large, and still putting children at risk?
  • Have you ever encountered a victim of child sexual abuse? If the victim was still a child, did you report the abuse? If the victim is now an adult, did you listen respectfully, avoid blaming him/her for the abuse, and do whatever you could to help him/her locate help if needed?
  • Have you ever been dismissive toward those coming forward to talk about abuse? Have you, especially if the accused abuser was someone in your immediate or extended family, "tribe," school, church, etc., been inclined to believe the abuse did not happen, or acted as though the story was a fabrication without any evidence supporting that notion?
  • Have you shared the popular, and thoroughly deplorable, cultural opinion (which I saw displayed recently on a secular news website's comment thread) that boys who speak out about being sexually abused by older female authority figures (teachers, etc.) are not really victims at all but are "lucky" to have had such experiences? On the other hand, have you been inclined to dismiss the abuse of girls by older men as something almost "normal" and nothing much for a girl to get over?
  • Have you, in any other way, enabled a culture of the cover-up and dismissal of the sexual abuse of children as "no big deal," something that did not need to be opposed with strength and conviction?

Like I said above, I don't think these are questions demanding immediate or public answers--just quiet, thoughtful reflection.

Something else worth thinking about: this article:

If the allegations are true, this much is clear: They’re all at fault. McQueary knew exactly what he witnessed and didn't call 911. (Why hasn't he been fired yet?) The others either knew and are covering it up, or didn't ask the right questions.

Here’s what isn’t clear: At least six men could have called 911. Not one did. Why?

It starts with the obvious: “People don’t want to be pulled into conflicts with others,” says Roy Lubit, M.D., Ph.D., a forensic psychiatrist in New York who treats victims of sexual abuse. “They especially want to avoid potentially difficult situations in the future, like going to court. So they tell themselves it’s not their business, or they cannot be sure what is going on, or convince themselves that someone else will take care of it.”

But this situation is more complicated than that. “Organizations are also very self-protective,” adds Dr. Lubit. “The number-one rule is, Don’t embarrass the organization. Whistle blowers are often treated very badly.”

Read the rest here.

I can't help but wonder: what does it say about our society that this is true?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trusting and testing

I don't watch reality TV, so it was from other sources that I learned that the Duggar family is expecting their twentieth child. The only thing I have to say directly to the Duggars is that this is certainly their business and their decision, and that I wish Mrs. Duggar what I would wish any expectant mother: a healthy pregnancy and a safe and happy delivery.

So: why write about this at all? Well, there's one thing about the reaction I've seen to this news on the Catholic blogosphere that bothers me just a bit. Granted, the reaction of secular commenters is far worse, with the nasty jokes and the pro-sex, anti-baby slant; but I think this is an instance where for me, as a Catholic, it's more important to address one not-so-great Catholic reaction than to take the easy target of the totally wrongheaded secular one.

The reaction I'm talking about is this: someone will mention some prudential concerns they have for the Duggars, in a thoughtful way--concerns about Mrs. Duggar's age, the scary situation that developed with her last pregnancy and the medically-intensive birth of the tiny preemie (number 19) who, by the grace of God, is doing well, and that sort of thing. And someone else will "slap down" the first commenter with a withering observation something like this: "The Duggars are trusting God. That's all that matters."

Well, certainly we should all trust God. And we all hope that in their private decision making as a couple, trust in God was part of the Duggar's conversation, though none of us is, or should be, privy to such private discussions that take place between married couples. But to step away from the specific and to the more general, as I insist on doing, I must object to the notion that totally ignoring maternal health concerns even when these might be significant (and I'm not saying they definitely are in the Duggar's case, mind) is always and everywhere the same thing as trusting God.

Sometimes, it might be. But sometimes, ignoring serious or significant maternal health concerns is no different from testing God, not trusting Him.

I don't want to make this too personal, but long time readers know my own situation. Were my husband and I to ignore that situation and demand to have more children (and, yes, for any new readers, we do use NFP and have never used artificial contraception), we would be testing God's ability to provide us with certain specific things we would need in order for a happy outcome (including, perhaps, a medicine that might not even exist); or we would be rushing to embrace a potential maternal martyrdom that might not, in fact, be God's perfect will for my three daughters who sort of still need me around.

Now, that is our best and most reasoned prudential decision, and it was not made easily or lightly. Another couple in some similar situation might make a different prudential decision--but that is why the Church leaves such decisions to couples who have just reasons to postpone pregnancy. The guidance of good pastors, the wisdom of serious spiritual advisers, the shared experiences of others can all be helpful, but in the end, decisions about having a baby or postponing pregnancy must be made by the couple together.

And provided the couple seeks to think with the mind of the Church on these questions and only uses means of fertility regulation which remain open to life, all of these decisions are about trusting God. I'm going to repeat that: all of these decisions are about trusting God.

Do I trust God to give me medical advisers who have good information about the risks of further pregnancy for someone who has had my experiences? Yes, I do. Do I trust God to "override" NFP if He knows that some new medicine will not only increase a baby's chances for survival, but also keep me from ending up in the hospital for months? Yes, I do. Do I trust God in His wise choice of a spouse for me, who balances my more emotional longings for a new baby with the reality of our situation? Yes, I do.

In these, and thousands of other ways, we trust God, who planned our family before we ever met--and we are no different from those other faithful Catholic spouses who use natural means of family planning to help them make prudent and loving decisions about when to try for a new little one, and when to say, however reluctantly, that the time is not right, or that it may never be right again.

And the family of many who discovers with a holy joy and a holy fear that their wise and prudent openness to life has been answered with another little blessing is also trusting God, as the Duggars may certainly be doing.

But the woman who is led or forced by her community, Catholic, Evangelical, or otherwise, to believe that seeking through moral means to postpone pregnancy in the presence of just reasons is somehow the same thing as not trusting God is being spiritually abused. And if those just reasons include a serious threat to her physical or emotional health that is being waved aside as if her just concern about this threat is the same thing as a moral weakness, a display of unrighteous selfishness, or some such thing--then she is being abused in ways that go beyond the spiritual, in my firmly-held belief: because no one should be forced to put the Lord our God to the test.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Iterum iterumque

As articles about the new Mass translation go, this one, from the AP, isn't all bad--but it's not all good, either:
Each Sunday for decades, Roman Catholic priests have offered the blessing — "Lord be with you." And each Sunday, parishioners would respond, "And also with you."

Until this month.

Come Nov. 27, the response will be, "And with your spirit." And so will begin a small revolution in a tradition-rich faith.

At the end of the month, parishes in English-speaking countries will begin to use a new translation of the Roman Missal, the ritual text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass. International committees of specialists worked under a Vatican directive to hew close to the Latin, sparking often bitter protests by English speakers over phrasing and readability. After years of revisions negotiated by bishops' conferences and the Holy See, dioceses are preparing anxious clergy and parishioners for the rollout, one of the biggest changes in Catholic worship in generations. [...]

Many clergy are upset by the new language, calling it awkward and hard to understand. The Rev. Tom Iwanowski, pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell and New Milford, N.J., turned to the section of the new missal that calls funeral rites, "the fraternal offices of burial."

"How can I say those words? It doesn't make sense," said Iwanowski, who has been a priest for 36 years. "It separates religion from real life."

In the new translation, in the Nicene Creed, the phrase "one in Being with the Father," will change to "consubstantial with the Father." When a priest prays over the Holy Communion bread and wine, he will ask God for blessings "by sending down your spirit upon them like the dewfall."

There are a lot of things that could be said about this sort of complaining, and most of them have been said already; I find it interesting that it's mainly priests of a certain age who are upset with the new translation, while younger priests don't seem to have as many difficulties. But what I really notice here is that two of the main complaints people seem to have are cropping up over and over again--iterum iterumque, as it might be put in Latin.

"And with your spirit." "Consubstantial."

Of all of the many changes made to the heretofore poor and unsatisfactory English translation of the Roman Missal, why are these two small bits brought up again and again as problematic or unwieldy?

I think that these two parts are being brought up because they are symbolic of what the former translators tried to change about the Mass in English, and are a clear sign that their view of what translation should be has indeed been rejected in the present age.

There is simply no way to get around it. Those responsible for the English translation of the Mass had an agenda to strip away not only the sacredness of the language used at Mass by English-speaking people, but also to downplay scriptural references, loosen the connection between the English translation and the Latin original, and impose a dull, mundane, banal, trivial and trite language of prayer upon the English-speaking world. This is not, of course, how they saw it: they saw their work as making the Mass more relevant, more ordinary, more easily accessible to modern man.

And so they translated Et cum spiritu tuo as "And also with you," when it clearly meant no such thing. And they imposed the clunky, grammatically awkward, theologically inaccurate phrase "one in being" for the closer (if still not completely theologically precise, according to some, though that's far outside any area of expertise I might have) perfectly good English word "consubstantial."

These two changes were only two of the many made, but I think the reason so much of the resistance is centering around these two is that these are two that will be easily seen by the people and understood for what they are: a firm reminder that the words prayed at Mass do matter, and that the careful, accurate expression of theological and spiritual concepts is far more important than creating a sort of lounge-hall/tearoom environment where people can shuffle in wearing sweats and tee-shirts, relaxing in the laid-back gathering space and shooting the breeze with their neighbors until Father processes in to some seventies-inspired tune or other to begin the Mass with the important unofficial Rite of Asking All the Visitors to Stand and Tell us Where They're From so we can Clap for Them, followed by some joking folksiness on Father's part, followed by the loosely-interpreted Introductory Rite, followed by the Rite of Dismissing the Children so They Can go Color Things...

The new translation will not be an immediate cure for the problems many people experience at Sunday Masses in the English-speaking world. But it is a huge step in the right direction; the new formality, theological depth, scriptural references, and sacred nature of the language we will pray at Mass will make the innovations, the clapping, the tyrannically-imposed folksy-down-home atmosphere, and similar abominations seem significantly out of place when compared to the words being said and sung. I think that those who like the status quo know this quite well, which is why, given the opportunity to complain about the new translations, they keep harping on "And with your spirit," and "consubstantial." Iterum iterumque, so to speak.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A nice time-out in the cry room

Forgive the missed post Friday and the lateness of this one; I'm still battling this stupid virus. (And, Larry D, don't ask me about my word count for Nanowrimo. I tend to get even more feverish just thinking about how far behind I am...) :)

I'll have to beg your forgiveness for one more thing: I know I promised to try not to wade into Father Zuhlsdorf's comment boxes, even when I click over from New Advent to read a post he's written as sometimes happens. But, like I said, I'm still sick, and found myself doing a bit of mindless clicking instead of what I was supposed to be doing (word count! word count!).

It seemed harmless, though; Father Z. had shared a cute story about an overzealous usher telling a woman her son's toy car wasn't permitted in the LATIN MASS, about which Father wrote:

I think I would have been tempted to respond, “And what part of LATIN MASS gives you permission to walk around church, ignoring the sacred action and reprimanding mothers?”


Without having been there, it is hard to know what to say. But it strikes me that the usher was on pretty shaky ground. Sure, all children at LATIN MASS should look just like the sweet little darlings in the pastel artwork depicting young ones praying head-bowed, pink hands together at their bedsides as a guardian angel hovers over them. That’s what all children at LATIN MASS should be like.

In the meantime, on my planet when little Stupor Mundi is making too much noise, and how much is too much and I am not at all sure, then attentive parents – used to their prodigy’s din at home – takes the diminutive treasure out.

That isn’t always possible and children can be obstreperous. Even at the LATIN MASS! Do be sensitive to noise levels. You might be used to the noise your child makes. Others are not.

Which seems quite wise and sensible to me, striking that balance that I think most parents would agree with: try to take a noisy child out of church when it is necessary, use quiet measures to keep the child quiet in church when possible, and use common sense to try to ascertain when the quiet measures (books, soft toys, etc.) no longer work and the trip out to the back is needed.

And, sure, as we've discussed here, the biggest problem occurs when a child is prolongedly and miserably noisy and parents seem clueless about both the rising decibel level and the rate at which the child is becoming a distraction even to the saintly great-grandmother of 97 (age and number of great-grandchildren) who is known to be the most patient person in the entire parish and is nearly stone-deaf anyway: what do we do when that happens? Fortunately, that situation is relatively rare; what happens more often is that parents experience a few moments of what we might call the betrayal of the power of positive thinking, in which their fierce hope that Johnny will quiet down in a second is so badly ruined--and then they still have to face the Walk of Shame to the vestibule well after everybody thought they'd be taking it.

Since I know, though, that the opinions of seasoned parents tend sometimes to clash a bit with the opinions of seasoned non-parents and the opinions of long-ago seasoned parents who are sure that nobody in their generation ever heard of coddling a child so much as to actually bring him to Mass, I thought the comment box would be...entertaining.

Unfortunately, some of it was scary.

Here are some bits and pieces of actual comments over there. I won't link to each comment this time, but you can read the thread yourself if you like (though as of this posting it's already up to 135 comments):
...I don’t get it. Parents are so darn tolerant these days. Kids just run the roost. When I was little, even very little, I was required to do as I was told, and if I was told to sit quietly, that’s what I did. If I disobeyed…well, heaven help me. I would have got a severe and immediate slap-down, fully approved of by any other adult witness in the vicinity. The very idea of indulging a kid with food or toys, or even books would have been off the map. Trust me, if properly trained and handled, even the youngest and most disruptive kid can sit quietly for an hour, if only the parent is serious about making them...

... The youngest is a boy, 22 months old. He is silent during the whole Mass (usually a Low Mass, lasting 50-70 minutes, but has also has been to a ~115 minute High Mass)...Before that his mother or I had to take him out of Mass every time he made a sound. We used the time as an opportunity to teach an invaluable, and infallible lesson — outside the church there is discomfort, pain, damnation, and Hell — ONLY INSIDE the Church is there peace and the opportunity for salvation. It hurt him when we had to take him outside. Thus in only 16 months, he learned to not make a peep at Mass. No toys, books, or food were involved...

...I have five children. The oldest is seven. My wife is in the choir. If one of my children misbehaves I beat them. They learn real quick that they need to sit and be quiet. If parents pray the Rosary as a family and discipline children during Rosary, expecting them to be at best behavior, this doesn’t become a problem at Mass....

...The idea that you should appease ill mannered children in church with talk, toys and food, is not just stupid, its EVIL. Quit kidding yourselves. You are in denial. You are NOT being good parents...Contrary to the New Age sycophants here, applying some firm discipline with the back of the hand, or as they grow older, a good leather belt, will not warp your little terrorist into hating Mass or leaving the Church. Quite the opposite, it will instill the necessary FEAR in the developing child...
And then, from a non-parent, this truly lovely--and I mean that--comment:

I have nieces and nephews who have stopped attending mass with their spouses and children because the have felt that their young children were not welcomed thanks to sneers from their fellow parishioners and over zealous ushers. I have no children of my own, but I have 13 siblings 67 nieces and nephews and 43 great nieces and nephews. Many of them have gotten out of the habit of attending Mass on Sunday (or have even attended more “family friendly” evangelical churches)as they failed to go when their children were babies and toddlers.
Now I might be foolish but when my church prepares babies and their families for baptism they are held up on the alter and introduced to the congregation a week or two prior to their baptism. I thought we welcomed them into our community. I think of them as ‘my/our” children in Christ. I enjoy seeing them in the pews with their families on Sunday. I enjoy watching them grow week by week, month by month, year by year. Sure they can be disruptive at times (What family member isn’t? Families are like that.), but nothing on earth brings me closer in heart to Jesus Christ than having the eyes of a small baby on his/her mother’s shoulder in the pew in front of me locking those eyes on me and then smiling…it is like Christ Himself has acknowledged my presents before Him. Without these children the Catholic Church has no future. I think ushers should default to Jesus Christ on this issue…It is His church after all. We are no more welcomed and no more invited than the small children. I think He may even favor them.
I'm really glad that the commenter who wrote the above took the time to do it. It helps a lot to know that the "Beat the little children until they learn that CHURCH is about SUFFERING!" crowd is not really representative of Father Z.'s readers. That group, I think, needs a nice time-out in the cry room until they can stifle their more violent impulses toward toddlers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bishop Vann on the new English translation of the Roman Missal

Well, I've been too sick to blog.

But Bishop Vann of our diocese here in Fort Worth has something I want to link to instead: a nice discussion of what's coming:

When the Second Vatican Council provided for wider usage of the vernacular in the Sacred Liturgy, it also envisioned that the initial translations would be reviewed and changed after a time of practical experience using it in the Liturgy. The publication of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal in Latin in 2000 was seen by the Church as the time for this review. Also, in March of 2001, the 5th instruction on vernacular translation of the Roman Liturgy, Liturgiam Authenticam, was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This new instruction on translation recognized that various vernacular translations of liturgical texts were in need of improvement through correction or a new draft. This is when the new English translation of the Roman Missal began.

Liturgiam Authenticam mandated a method of translation called ‘formal equivalency’. This method of translation requires that the texts be translated without omissions, as close to the original Latin syntax as possible and doctrinally precise, using language that preserves the dignity and beauty of the original text. This method of translation is very different from the method used by the translators of the current Missal. The translators of the 1970 Missal following the 1969 instruction Comme le Prevoit used a method called ‘dynamic equivalency’ for their translation which allowed translators to render the text more freely, in a sense to re-imagine the text in the common language of the people. This method allowed for the paraphrasing of texts and removing those parts of the text that were considered to be superfluous. In many instances, with this method of translation, much of the richness of the language present in the Latin liturgy was literally lost in translation.

However, using Liturgiam Authenticam as the basis for this new translation of the texts we pray in the Mass, we will be praying in English, in some ways for the first time, the ancient texts that Church has prayed for hundreds of years. This new translation reflects the dignity and noble simplicity of the original Latin. The English used in the translation is not the language of everyday speech, but the elevated language of great poetry and prose, language that is worthy of the worship of Almighty God. The translation, because of its closeness to the original Latin, reflects more precisely the doctrine of the Church, sometimes using words which, while part of the patrimony of the Church, are unfamiliar to our ears. The new translation of the Roman Missal will also more closely connect the English used in the Roman Missal to what is already being prayed in the majority of European languages, including Spanish. [All emphases added: E.M.]

Go and read the whole thing here--and may I take this opportunity to thank Bishop Vann for such a clear reflection on what we're about to do, and why we're going to do it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace: not peaceful

I went to bed last night with a nagging cough.

I woke up today with a worse one, and though I keep wanting to believe that it's just allergies, I suspect that I've caught a mild cold.

Which is no big deal, of course. Except the cough is deep enough to be reminding me of the stupid bronchitis I had all summer; I'm supposed to sing a solo on Sunday (Faure's Pie Jesu) which might very well not happen now, and I'm well aware of the fact that I spent most of last winter drifting from virus to virus. And the winter before. And...

I know, I know. I need to boost my immune system. Trust me, I'm working on that.

But I'm having a little problem right now with a little thing we do each Sunday at Mass known as the Sign of Peace.

I have no problem with exchanging a Sign of Peace in theory. Turning and bowing the head to each neighbor, as is done in some countries, seems to me to be a lovely and symbolic gesture of reconciliation with one's fellow men.

In practice, though, I have two problems with it. One is the awkward location of this liturgical moment, just after the consecration and the Our Father, just before the Agnus Dei and the reception of Holy Communion. Even if the Sign of Peace involved nothing but the mild bow I describe above, it would detract a bit too much, in my laywoman's opinion, from the focus on the presence of our Lord Who is with us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. I think it ought to be moved to the beginning of Mass, especially if it involved the polite bowing thing.

But that brings me to problem two: here in America there is no mild head bowing, no mere polite gesture toward the two people one is standing closest to. No, the Sign of Peace is more like the Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace, in which people three rows apart will fling themselves across empty pew space (or, worse, across other parishioners) in order to shake hands with every single person they can possible reach in the interlude before the choir starts singing the "Lamb of God."

And heaven help the choir, should they be--as we, alas, are--not secluded in a nice choir loft in the back of the church, but sort of off-to-the-side/frontish (and believe me, we've tried to figure out a way to move, but our tiny mission parish wasn't built to accommodate a choir and we barely fit where we are). Lately it has seemed like an unofficial Wandering Contagion Committee made up of people who themselves or whose children are noticeably, demonstrably, palpably ill with nasty colds has formed a rotating schedule to a) sit as close to the choir as possible and b) leap across the aisle to shake hands with each and every choir member, even though we're getting ready to sing that Agnus Dei and sort of need to be paying attention just then. It's as though a group of people got together and decided, "Hey! The choir's being standoffish! Do you notice that they almost never leave their seats and go looking for people to shake hands with--they just stand there, acknowledge each other with a smile or so, and then turn to look at the director! They're missing out on the whole Great Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace--we have to help them feel included!

Do us a favor, O Fellow Parishioners: don't.come.over.and.shake.our.hands.

If there are one or two excessively friendly, excessively hand-shakey choir members (and there might be; I'm just saying) they will come to you. They will also jump and hurry back to their places as the music for the "Lamb of God" starts--but that's their business. Some of us like to be standing with music open and ready so we can come in strong on the first note.

And if you are sick, or your sweet children (and I mean that) are blowing their noses and coughing all through Mass as you help them with Kleenex (tm) or your sleeve or the back of your hand, please, please, please don't lunge across the aisle to shake hands because you think the choir's being standoffish, or out of habit, or whatever. My voice is my instrument, and a cold "breaks" it for at least a week. We only have three sopranos (one of whom is not available every Sunday); if you share too many illnesses with the singers you could easily wipe out a whole section of our little choir.

Of course, if you or your children are sick, you shouldn't be shaking anybody's hands at Mass. Jimmy Akin has been saying so for years, and I totally agree. The elderly, the medically fragile, the very young should be our primary concern; the Mosh Pit Lunge of Peace doesn't take precedence over simple charity.

Now, I know that readers are probably dying to point out to me that I shouldn't assume I've picked up this most recent bug at Mass. It is cold and flu season, after all, and I could just as easily have acquired my most recent mild virus just about anywhere--the grocery store, any other place where I've run errands, family gatherings, etc. True enough.

But when I find myself tensing as the Sign of Peace approaches at Mass, when I find myself reaching (discreetly or otherwise) for hand sanitizer after shaking hands with somebody who has stopped coughing into his hand just long enough to shove that hand in my direction, when I find myself thinking vastly non-peaceful and uncharitable thoughts in the very moment of all moments when I should be trying my hardest to be focused on our Lord, all I can do is admit my own weakness and the fact that the Sign of Peace itself has, ironically enough, become a near occasion of sin for me.

And I'm sure that's not what the Church has ever wanted it to be.