Friday, April 29, 2011

Of birth certificates and conspiracy theories

I've hesitated to write about the Obama birth certificate story; but since I get fewer readers on Fridays I think it's safe--at least, I won't unwittingly offend too many people.

I tend to enjoy reading about conspiracy theories. It's fun to take each theoretical position seriously and look at the story, whatever it is, from first one angle and then another. It's also interesting to ponder how a fiction writer would deal with the issues around which conspiracies swirl; truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction is saner than conspiracy, a lot of the time. Similar past times of mine include actual dabbling in fiction writing, and solving the occasional puzzle game (but not those puzzles which tell you that four girls are picnicking in a park, that each is allergic to a different food, that each is wearing a dress in her favorite color but that no two girls have the same favorite color, that only one of the girls' names does not begin with a consonant--and then ask you: if the girl in the purple dress who is allergic to strawberries is named Jill, what is the name of the park in which they are picnicking? I hate those).

But I try very hard not to get swept up in conspiracy theories. The only down side of having spent most of my life on the more traditional side of Catholicism is that there is no shortage of conspiracy theories about religious matters, and diving into any of them tends to lead one out a rabbit hole and far from Rome. Whether the theory involves a false pope secretly replacing a true one, or a plot to keep there from being any true popes at all, or a secret scam involving Fatima, a fake Sister Lucia, and a handful of assorted and nutty apocalyptic "prophecies," these kinds of conspiracies abound. Perhaps the liberal Catholics have their own versions of these conspiracies--well, we know they do, because Dan Brown writes them as pulp novels which get swallowed as gospel truth by the liberal side.

The point is that while conspiracy theories can be anything from intriguing to annoying to frustrating to entertaining, they shouldn't ever be taken seriously. If, by some bizarre chance, they end up being true, they will stop being "conspiracy theories" or become either "news" or "history." While it can also be dangerous to think of either news or history books as sources of completely accurate and unbiased information, it is less dangerous to assume that items of news or history are wacky inventions than that conspiracy theories are, because nearly all of the time, that is exactly what they are.

With all of that said as a too-wordy preamble, there is just one thing that bothers me about this whole matter. Why, after years of insisting that the short-form Certification of Live Birth released during Obama's presidential campaign was totally and completely sufficient for identification verification purposes (even though ordinary citizens have to show the long form to do such things as get a passport) and that nobody needed to see the long form--why release it now, to satisfy the whim of the wealthy host of a reality TV show?

The president stated his reason simply: "We do not have time for this kind of silliness." At which point he promptly left town to appear on Oprah--an iconic moment in political history if ever there was one.

We can only speculate as to why the president didn't simply release the long form in place of the short form, or why he didn't at least release the long form long ago when its prolonged absence started fostering conspiracy theories. After all, presidents usually don't expect to remain private figures, and other recent presidents have released dull personal documents in droves, including not only birth records but school records, academic achievements (or the lack of such) medical records, and the like. So it does seem strange that President Obama would for so long stubbornly refuse to release such an innocuous and non-harmful document--especially when examples of his horrific student-days poetry have been out there for a long time.

I think the answer may not be much of a conspiracy theory at all. I suspect that in President Obama's mind, he has already done as much if not more than most politicians ever do to talk about their families and their pasts. After all, he wrote an autobiography--before even running for President! He bares all of his secrets there, so why does anyone need anything else--and how dare ordinary, common people, not chosen to be the One to bring peace and heal the planet be so incessant in their demands for more?

The birth certificate, like everything else we know about the president's past, tells virtually the same story he tells in Dreams from My Father. Virtually--because it is romanticized, of course. The real story that Obama speaks of so euphemistically is that his mother was a jet-setting socialist and his father a habitually-intoxicated wife-beating polygamist who was gone from the young Barack's life long before the young boy was two; it's possible, given this sort of thing, that Barack Sr. and Stanley Ann never lived together as husband and wife at all.

And none of that is even remotely President Obama's fault. But having gone to so much trouble to construct with care a romanticized and mythopoeic start fitting of our cherry-tree chopping, log cabin living, up from their own bootstraps figures who have occupied the White House in days gone by, Obama may possibly be annoyed at the stark reminders of the reality, as exemplified by such coldly mundane documents as birth certificates.

The alternative is that he is simply too removed from the common man to realize that the rest of us have to be willing to show all sorts of past documents relating to ourselves with very short notice, and that birth certificates, social security numbers, academic records etc. are so much a part of our lives that we can't relate to someone who spends two years, via his political team, telling us that it's simply not possible for him to release his long-form birth certificate. But that option makes me uneasy; I'd rather believe that President Obama wants to be remembered in concert with his roseate autobiography than that he just doesn't know or remember what it's like to be a member of the common throng.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The next step

As night falls, the death toll from yesterday's super outbreak of tornadoes rises to nearly 300, getting close to the record set by the 1974 outbreak which killed about 330 people (according to this site). Like many readers, I'm praying for those who lost their lives, their loved ones, and all who are affected by this terrible situation. I have family in the Birmingham area; fortunately, they are all fine, though naturally shaken by the scope and destruction of what their community has suffered.

Yesterday's tornado outbreak will take its place in the history books. But it may also cause us to take a look at some assumptions we've been making about tornadoes. I had the chance to attend part of a Texas Severe Storms Association (TESSA) conference earlier this year, and the information was deeply interesting (even if some of it was way above my head from a scientific standpoint). But one thing was said there that I've heard elsewhere about these deadly storms: we can mitigate the loss of life by having good information, by giving people enough time to make survival decisions and get to places of safety, out of harm's way of the swirling monsters bearing down on them at incredible speeds.

Yet in several news reports I've read today, I've learned that people did get good warnings with these storms. The National Weather Service, the various emergency reporting systems, all of them worked exactly as they should have and did an excellent job of telling people that these tornadoes were coming. In fact, according to the news, in some cases people had as much as twenty-four minutes of time to get to shelter from these monster storms.

And that warning obviously saved lives--but it couldn't save everyone. Not when storms might have been half a mile wide or wider in some cases; not when they were bearing down on populated, congested areas; not when there were no available basements, storm shelters, or other places of safety for people to flee to; not when houses were swept completely off of slab foundations as collapsing roofs killed some of the inhabitants. No, advanced warning could do little to save people then.

Which brings me to something I've been considering for some time, especially as a resident of Tornado Alley who lives in a slab-foundation home with no basement and no storm shelter: why do our nation's building codes not require, in all new construction, the building of at least one storm-safe room?

I realize, for instance, that basements are both costly and futile where I live; we have this soil problem which makes basements a poor investment for homeowners and builders alike. Many other parts of the country, including some of the areas affected by yesterday's super outbreak, also have expansive soils. But according to this FEMA bulletin, adding a safe room to a house during construction is relatively inexpensive; adding one later can be more costly (and can't be included into the mortgage, a consideration for most people). Still, few people even realize they can ask a builder to include such a room, and plenty of home builder's don't offer a storm-safe room as an option. Why not?

Of course, even if storm-safe rooms were required for new construction, it would be necessary for such rooms to be added to those existing homes which don't have them. Perhaps some sort of financial or tax incentive could be offered to homeowners to help them with the costs involved in installing a tornado safe room.

Some programs to help do this already exist at the federal level, but these efforts are targeted at building shelters in mobile/manufactured home parks or in some types of federally-assisted housing. I think those are good ideas, especially considering the numbers of tornado deaths and serious injuries usually occurring among residents of mobile or manufactured homes; but if the effort could be spread to include other types of homes, we might be better prepared in the event of another super outbreak of tornadoes.

After the storms of 1974, many considered that such a weather event was likely to be a "once in a century" occurrence. But even considering only the twentieth century there were at least two such super outbreaks; and yesterday's outbreak may rival, in some records, the outbreak of 1925.

We're already saving lives through advanced storm reporting and weather technology. But yesterday's tornadoes, and the rising and terrible death toll, are a reminder that warning people to take shelter from an approaching monster storm only works if people have someplace safe to go.

UPDATE: A quote from this article is telling:

"These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

"If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd have to be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" to survive, Carbin said.

Indeed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Romance requires mystery

The upcoming royal wedding isn't garnering the interest among Americans that the wedding of the late Diana, Princess of Wales to Prince Charles did:
How fascinated are Americans with Prince William’s and Kate Middleton’s nuptials next week? According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, not very. Only 6 percent have been following news about the wedding very closely, and an additional 22 percent are following it somewhat closely.

Women are paying much more attention to the wedding than are men, particularly older women. A third of women under 40 are following news of the wedding at least somewhat closely, as are more than 4 in 10 women who are 40 or older. In comparison, half of men are not following news of the wedding at all. “It’s their British thing; it’s their custom,” Edward Rakas, 57, of Colchester, Conn., said in a follow-up interview after the poll was completed. “I guess they enjoy it, but it’s just not something I’m interested in.”
Some political commentators are speculating that the American media is manufacturing the lack of interest in the wedding out of loyalty to President Obama, who wasn't invited; that seems like a stretch to me, especially since some of the people I've seen express a total lack of interest are, like me, quite conservative and completely unconcerned about whether or not this or that political figure made the cut for what is not a state affair.

In fact, I've seen at least one other Catholic female blogger express (on Facebook, so I can't link to it) a lack of interest in this wedding despite her long-ago interest for the wedding of Charles and Diana. I, myself, was enamored of that royal wedding, watching as much coverage as I could and collecting newspaper articles about it (yes, it was that long ago--there were still newspapers). But perhaps the explanation is simple: I was a teenaged girl then, and perhaps royal weddings are only interesting to teenaged girls here in America.

There is one other possibility, but it's so politically incorrect that I hesitate to mention it. Years ago, a Catholic friend of mine commented on a wedding he had attended. The wedding was an expensive affair held at an island resort; the outdoor wedding ceremony was glitzy, the decorations and appointments costly, and everything from the bride's gown to the food and drink served to the smallest detail of decoration was ostentatious and first-quality.

But my friend said that the wedding was boring--because, according to him, it's pretty boring to go to a wedding of a man and a woman who have been living together for years. How, my friend wondered, was this day any different for them from any other day in their lives, except that they were throwing themselves a lavish party to celebrate themselves in their specialness? Did the idea of marriage actually mean anything to these people, or was it just the "next step" you take because people expect it, and you get nice gifts out of it, and it's a good opportunity for your friends to show up and tell you in word and deed how important and terrific and wonderful you are?

Considering that couples who live together before marriage have a much higher risk of divorce when compared to couples who do not, these aren't pointless questions--but the real point is that my friend found it hard to take an interest in a wedding with what he saw as so little romance to it.

Romance requires mystery. It is hard, I think, for those of us whose standards of morality still include the phrase "living in sin" to find anything terribly romantic about the marriage ceremony of a couple who have been, as this article so quaintly puts it, "shacking up." We can pray for the couple, we can hope that they will beat the odds, we can, if we wish, be faintly glad that they are making what a much less polite age used to call an honest man/woman of each other, but it's hard to muster a great deal more interest than that.

There are exceptions to this rule, however. This interesting story of the mass Catholic wedding of fourteen couples is one; others involve couples who became aware of the sinfulness of living together without the Sacrament of Matrimony, and who agreed to follow the Church's rules, separating until their wedding day and taking advantage of the Church's programs to educate them more deeply in the faith, particularly in regard to Catholic teachings concerning marriage and human sexuality. It is not at all impossible for a couple who has lived together to rebuild the foundations of their relationship in such a way that they can enter the married state joyfully and, with the graces of the sacraments, live a long and happy life together.

And that's much more exciting--and much more mysteriously romantic--than any number of royal weddings.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Those pesky head coverings

Yes, it's time for another Catholic blogger's post about head coverings at Mass. And here you thought I would take a less obvious route after the refreshment of Easter, didn't you? :)

But, dear readers, it has come to my attention that there is quite a serious development in the discussion of head coverings at Mass, and as someone who has definitely addressed this issue before, I would be remiss to avoid discussing it now.

Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to tell you that women are, after all, required to cover their heads at Mass. They're not. Ed Peters, Cardinal Burke, and Jimmy Akin all say so (though Cardinal Burke does think there's an expectation, though a non-binding one, that women who attend the Extraordinary Form Mass will, indeed, cover their heads). It is entirely up to each individual woman to choose whether or not she would like to cover her head at Mass.

No, the issue that has me worried is a corollary to the main issue, and one that, I admit, I haven't thought much about until recently; then, having seen videos, pictures, or images of various Catholic men who are speakers or teachers or leaders, I started to wonder: how many men are carelessly committing the irregularity of covering their heads at Mass?

That men should not cover their heads at Mass is obvious. It goes all the way back to St. Paul, who wrote: "The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man." 1 Corinthians 11:7 (And, lest any think I'm quoting some modernist translation, that's the Douay-Rheims, folks.)

And in an unbroken line of tradition since then, men have steadfastly not covered their heads at Mass***; it is a venerable practice, and should not be set aside by modernity!

Some are, no doubt, scratching their heads in puzzlement. Men aren't wearing hats at church, are they? What is the problem here?

Now, here I must be delicate, as I will not commit the sin of rash judgment, and say for certain that this man or that must be covering his head in church. Perhaps my alarm is for nothing, and perhaps I am too suspicious. It wouldn't be the first time.

But you'll notice that St. Paul says nothing of hats; he says men should not cover their heads in church. And what is a toupee, if not a covering of the head?

Sure, a man might argue that a toupee is just hair. But it isn't his hair. And many Orthodox Jewish women can satisfy their law's requirement to cover their heads by wearing a wig; what is a toupee, if not a demi-wig?

Other men might argue that the culture looks unkindly at men with bald heads, and that it is imperative that they cover their baldness with a toupee so that their professional careers etc. will not suffer. Perhaps; but do they think that God does not see their actual baldness? Cultural standards of dress are terrible, but we don't automatically approve of every garment at Mass--and a toupee is a head covering, which is prohibited for men from Biblical times.

Still other men might say that they are hardly covering their heads; their toupee merely covers a small bald patch, and represents a tiny percentage of the total of the head. These men might perhaps have an argument, but they must be willing to submit to the Vatican so that an exact percentage of head-covering that doesn't count as "head covering" for males may be determined. I personally think more than 25% is iffy, but the Vatican might go for 33%, instead, and I would bow to their right to rule in this matter.

But would toupee-wearing Catholic men similarly incline the head, so to speak, in humble obedience? I think some would harden their hearts, and continue to be motivated by their vanity and the immodest desire to look attractive to women other than their wives (who have surely seen their uncovered heads already).

The sad thing is that we've spent all this time in discussion and argumentation about women and head coverings (which are, for reasons which continue to puzzle me, synonymous for too many people with mantilla-inspired veils instead of being sensible hats or bandanas or berets or things that actual woman might actually wear out in public). Yet we've ignored the strong likelihood that there are Catholic men violating the principle of not-covering by wearing a wig, or a toupee, or some similar aid to vanity and faux-youthfulness. (And the question as to whether hair-plugs are artificial enough to count as "covering" is one I am too timid to debate.)

Still, I trust the Catholic blogosphere! Surely, now that I've raised this timely and important issue, Catholic bloggers will take up the banner and demand an end to head-coverings for men--because God has counted each hair on each of our heads, and He won't be fooled by this sort of thing.

***I speak of lay men; I believe that there are rules for when and how various clergy-hats are to be worn, and when removed, in church.

NOTE FOR THE HUMOR IMPAIRED: This entire post is a joke. I wrote it to illustrate the kind of hand-wringing that goes on here and there in the Catholic blogosphere about whether women ought to be forced to go back to covering their heads in church. Surely we have more important things to worry about! :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Termite update

The termites have been treated! Yay!

And in the process, I got to clean out our coat closet and rearrange my kitchen in a way that makes much more sense; our builder decided it would be a great idea to put the hot water heater in the pantry, but after a few early battles with pantry moths we long ago moved the food to separate cabinets and put a conglomeration of dishes in the "hot water pantry." After today's termite treatment, I decided to relocate the dishes we actually eat from to a different cabinet altogether, and to keep the "hot water pantry" for the pots, pans, trays, etc. I should have done this so long ago! The pantry we moved the dishes to has tons more room than the narrow pantry shelves did, and having all my cooking dishes in the pantry means not having to hunt among several cabinets to find one of those pots you don't use all that often (you moms know what I mean--you have at least one of those).

So, of course, the termites made me think about sin.

Don't we, often, put off tackling some vice or bad habit out of sheer inertia? We think we're not really doing so badly; we realize that sometimes we're struggling more than we ought to be, but really there's not anything so terribly wrong with us, right?

But just as the termites in our house were secretly building a mud-tunnel behind the wall of the coat closet (which backs up a bathroom), our small sins and bad habits and imperfections are secretly building a similar structure in our souls. If we leave it alone, eventually those things will start to eat away at our virtues just like the termites wanted to start eating away at the wood (and luckily, it looks like they didn't actually accomplish any of that--we have no structural issues at all!). Sometimes we'll get a shocking reminder that we really do have some problems to deal with: with the termites it was the sudden and scary appearance of the swarmers in our home, but with sin, I think it's those moments when we think over our days and realize that we are ashamed of ourselves, of something we did or said, some way we presented ourselves, some vice we gave into--and that these bad habits and sins are starting to swarm around us, becoming ever more visible and ugly to those we love.

So we go to confession and we tackle the sin--and that's a great start. But then we have to look around at what else needs to be done. In the termite comparison, the gentleman who treated our house cut a hole in the closet wall facing the plumbing pipes, sprayed a termiticidal foam, and installed a plastic "door" in the wall that we can open periodically to make sure the critters don't return. And I relocated the dishes, not because the hot water heater had attracted the bugs, but because it theoretically could, and so it, like all the plumbing areas in the house, was treated as well.

If we find ourselves going to confession again and again for the same sins (and who doesn't), it may be because we've failed to look around the house of our souls to see the areas where the sins are getting in, so to speak, and to rearrange what needs to be rearranged, change what needs to be changed, and weed out or remove the clutter that keeps us from remaining vigilant.

Here's the problem, though: sometimes we know that. We realize that things aren't perfect in our soul's house. We know that something is out of order, that something needs to change. But as each day goes by, the inertia I mentioned before keeps us struggling to live with an imperfect situation (dishes scattered randomly, a coat closet overwhelmed, a soul untidy and prone to disorder) rather than begin what appears to be a Herculean task of reordering, cleansing, restructuring, and purifying--to say nothing at getting a peek behind a wall of our interior castles to find out whether we've allowed anything dark and noxious to build a home there.

The next time some part of my life seems to be swarming out of control, I hope I can remember this lesson. The process of eradicating sin is a lifelong effort; sadly, there's nothing that can keep sin at bay as long as termites can be kept away. But we do have the Mass, the sacraments (especially confession), and our connection to the life of grace to help us grow stronger, and to keep the effort going, so that we don't slide into the inertia of spiritual sloth, or think that our vices or sins or faults are far too great a problem to be tackled at all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Triduum blogging break

I won't be blogging for the Triduum; our family's participation in our parish choir means that we will be very, very busy from Thursday through the Easter Vigil.

Before I go, though, I'd like to ask two Easter-related questions, one silly, one not. First, the silly one:

What is your favorite kind of Easter candy?

Now the not-silly one:

What is your favorite piece of Easter (not Lenten, not Holy Week, but Easter) music?

My favorite candy, since chocolate is a migraine trigger for me and I avoid it, are those Reese's white chocolate peanut butter eggs. I know some people hate the combo of white chocolate and peanut butter filling, but I find the sweet/salty contrast really enjoyable.

My favorite piece of Easter music is more difficult to nail down. I love all sorts of Lent/Holy Week music, including Ah, Holy Jesus, O Sacred Head Surrounded, and all the Latin pieces we can sneak in (we're doing Anton Bruckner's C Major setting of the Tantum Ergo for Holy Thursday). But many Easter hymns, like this setting of Jesus Christ is Risen Today, while lovely to listen to, are murder on a soprano's vocal range (well, on mine, anyway; these days I struggle with anything below the middle "C"). So I'd have to say that I'm most looking forward to singing the Regina Coeli on Divine Mercy Sunday (which falls, by happy coincidence, on May 1st this year).

How about you? Favorite Easter candy--favorite Easter song?

Have a blessed and holy Triduum and a Joyful Eastertide!

(Oh, and if I don't blog Easter Monday it's because that's when we're having the termite treatment done.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What to do about it

The comments below yesterday's post about liturgical abuse were very interesting. Abuses mentioned provoked thoughts in my mind ranging from "Well, that's not so bad," to "Oh, my gosh, how horrible!" with just about everything else in between.

I think it is always distressing to witness an example of liturgical abuse, regardless of how serious the situation is; it's even more distressing to feel as though nothing ever gets done, that one's protests are ineffective or one's questions go unanswered, and that in general the average priest, pastor, or bishop takes liturgical abuse far less seriously than lay people do.

I'm not sure that is actually true, however. Certainly there are some clergy members, from priests to bishops, who are indifferent to liturgical abuse or who celebrate the Holy Sacrifice indifferently and irregularly themselves. But is this the case in the majority of situations? Even if it was so in the not-so-distant past, is it still so now? And will it be so in the future, once the new translation of the Mass in English is implemented (and with it, the opportunity--carpe diem!--for pastors to improve many things they've probably left alone till now)?

I think that what happens sometimes is that a parishioner sees some irregularity, confronts the erring priest directly or his pastor about it, gets a lot of push-back or stonewalling, and marches away in disgust, believing that priests just don't get it, and don't really care whether or not the Mass is celebrated reverently or by the book. Sometimes, though, this seeming lack of caring comes from the way the matter is approached, the timing, the seriousness of the complaint, and many other things that have nothing to do with whether the priest in question cares about liturgical abuse.

Father Z. has a permanent link to a post he wrote detailing how to write to the Vatican, to bishops, etc. While this is helpful, I think that it might be a good idea to consider the more general question: what should we do when we witness liturgical abuse? My ideas here are not particularly original, but I've used them myself, and share them for what they're worth:

1. Determine whether what you saw was, in fact, an abuse. It's amazing how easy it is to miss this step. I myself was composing letters in my head on the way home from Mass one Sunday before I got home. Then I looked up the thing I'd seen happen, and found out it was a new directive coming from Rome clarifying a rubric that had been unclear before. There are various optional liturgical actions etc. that priests might have for various Sundays or feast days, and rushing to complain before finding out whether anything out of line actually occurred only makes a person look like a chronic complainer--who will henceforth be ignored.

2. Try to gauge the seriousness of the abuse. Sometimes that is easily done, in the more obvious cases, when a priest is playing fast-and-loose with the rubrics, or is making up the whole rite, or both. Other times, though, it isn't; what seems like an outrageous violation of the Holy Sacrifice may be relatively small. When in doubt, talk to other Catholics about it and see what they think, or do a little research to find out if the incident is something that anyone could easily see is not permitted, or if there is a bit of uncertainty about it. One important note: bear in mind that some "abuse" is merely a momentary lapse on the part of the celebrant; I've known priests, for example, who say daily Masses so often that they honestly forget the Creed at the first Mass on Sunday, and launch straight into the prayers of the faithful. Never call "abuse" what might be accident or honest mistake.

3. Find out whether the abuse is a regular occurrence or a one-time mishap. Serious one-time mishaps ought to be dealt with anyway, but it makes a difference whether we can say, "Father Smith always omits the Creed on Sundays," or whether it is only true to say, "Sometimes Father Smith omits the Creed when he is rushing to get to the hospital chapel for their Mass which follows ours a bit too closely."

4. Make sure you know who is responsible for the abuse. Did you see a lector or EMHC behaving in a way that violates the rubrics? Was it a deacon? Was it a priest--and if so, a regular priest, a "frequent" visiting priest, or a visiting priest you've never seen before? Was it the pastor, or is the abuse clearly taking place under his direction? Or did a lay person not assisting in some specific area do something untoward?

5. Give the pastor both time and your trust that he will take care of things. Only if you know for certain he won't should you proceed further; it is the job of the pastor to make sure the liturgy is being conducted correctly in his parish, and if he tells you that the matter you're concerned about isn't anything to worry about and won't happen again, take him at his word.

Once you've determined those things, you have to decide your best course of action. If the abuse is relatively small, has only happened once, and was committed by a deacon or assistant, you may want to find time to speak to the pastor about it. Never do this on a Sunday, especially not the Sunday when the abuse occurred and your emotions might cause you to take a tone that won't be appreciated. Pastors are really busy on Sundays. They don't have time to worry about what Father Smith just did at the 10:00 Mass when they are preparing for the 11:30. Ask the parish secretary when a good time to call or visit Father might be, or leave a message asking him to call at his convenience.

If the abuse involves the pastor, or is frequent and regular, or is terribly serious, I would suggest writing an actual, real letter (not an email, even if the pastor is relatively tech-savvy). Keep in mind Fr. Z's tips on writing, and if you are writing about something the pastor did, write to the bishop of the diocese, and carbon-copy the pastor and the diocesan vicar of priests (if possible).

Here is a sample letter, using an example from my blog comments (and I hope the commenter doesn't mind!):

Address of writer
City, State, Zip
Date

The Rev. Thischurch Pastor
St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church
Address of parish
City, State, Zip

Dear Rev. Pastor:

Let me begin by saying how truly blessed I am to be a member of St. Michael's parish! Your attentive care to all the souls here, the concern you and all our priests have for the Mass and the sacraments, and the obvious signs of faithfulness and fidelity to the Church among the congregation are a joy to experience.

I am particularly grateful to Ms. Slightly Nutty for her work with our parish teens, and to Father Youngatheart for celebrating the Youth Mass once a month. Their dedication is inspiring, and their obvious love for the youth of the parish serves as a good example to all of us.

However, it is my understanding that the teens' practice of acting out the Gospel instead of having Father read it, as required in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 133-134), is not permitted in the liturgy. While their enthusiasm while doing so is palpable and sincere, it would seem that this practice is not consistent with the mind of the Church as to the proper way of reading the Gospel at Mass. Perhaps some time could be made for the teens to present their skits or performances immediately following Mass in the parish hall as coffee and doughnuts are being served?

Respectfully yours, etc.

Now, I'm sure some people will say that they've written letters exactly like the above to no avail. That's where you have to know what to do if the letter is ignored and the abuse continued:

1. Write a second letter. Refer to the first letter. Carbon copy the second letter to the diocesan office of liturgy and worship, or to the vicar of priests or vicar general, or some combination of these people.

2. If there is no response there, write a third letter to the bishop, copying everybody you've contacted so far.

3. Still no response: contact the appropriate Vatican office (again, copy everybody). Be prepared to wait a long time before hearing back.

Obviously, if a matter is going to get to number three above, it's going to have to be serious. Writing to a Vatican office (or even to one's bishop) because Father Smith skipped the Creed one time on Sunday, April 4, 2011, and he might have done so because a toddler fell out of a front pew and bruised his forehead right as Father was about to stand up after the pause between the homily and the Creed (but you're still really mad about it) isn't going to look all that good to the eventual person who has to read your letter.

Some people will read the above, shake their heads, and say, "It's just too much trouble. Why should I have to do any of this?" But if we're going to complain about serious liturgical abuses, we owe it to our pastors and bishops to be willing to do what it takes to bring these matters to their attention. They can't be everywhere, at every parish Mass; if we witness something truly offensive to Our Lord the least we ought to be willing to do is write and mail a few letters.

Prayer request

My mother-in-law is in the hospital having surgery today. It's a fairly serious matter and the surgery is complicated.

Prayers for her speedy recovery would be appreciated!

Thanks, all!

UPDATE: She is through the surgery and is resting; she'll be in the hospital for several days. Thank you for your prayers!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Readers: share your stories of liturgical abuse

Mark Shea says he's having an Amy Welborn moment today:
So, my proposal is this: I would like to ask my readers to let me know what you hear this Triduum. The hundreds of followers of One of the Few Real Catholics in America deluged me last week with the certitude that this Triduum would oblige thousands of other Real Catholics to bail on their parishes this weekend in search of a Truly True Catholic parish (or perhaps no Catholic parish at all if their diocese is not up to snuff). The basis for bailing is that Michael Voris seems certain that there are ever so many priests and bishops who will "breathe a word" about Earth Day, thereby proving (to those incapable of thinking) that their parish is celebrating "Pagan Easter".

But since, as I have just kindly pointed out, 1) there are any number of ways of mentioning Earth Day in an orthodox way; 2), we have no particular reason for supposing the Gore memo will have any impact at all and 3) even *if* the Gore memo was mentioned and somebody included a little "give a hoot, don't pollute" mention in a homily or voiced an opinion that global warming is something to take seriously, that *still* doesn't constitute "paganism" or "earth worship". In order to be actually pagan, somebody has to propose that a creature is a deity to be worshipped because that's what paganism is: exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! (Romans 1:25).

So tell me what actually happens in your parish this Triduum. I want to get a sense of how much the Great Voris Pagan Easter Panic in my comboxes last week was rooted in reality, and how much was hysteria. (My sense, in case you haven't figured it out, is "pretty much mostly hysteria"). But since "my sense" plus five bucks will get you a cup of Starbucks, I thought I might collect a bit of data. So I need to hear from as many of you as possible, since the Panickers will be hypersensitive to the slightest hint of Impurity, while normal people who are not inclined to comment will not, particularly if the homily is a perfectly ordinary one.
(Of course, in the comment boxes beneath Amy's most recent post, somebody accuses the Holy Father of writing something Manichean--so I wonder what sort of response Mark will actually get.)

I like what Mark is proposing here. In fact, I'm going to do something similar myself. Instead of telling me what happens this week, though, I'd like to ask all my Catholic readers two specific questions:

1. What is the worst example of liturgical abuse at Mass you personally witnessed in the last five years?

2. What, if anything, did you do about it?

Note well: I'm asking you for things you personally experienced at Mass, not things your second cousin's best friend in Oklahoma read about in an underground Catholic newspaper. I'm also asking you to stick to the time limit: five years. This is because as a lifelong Catholic I could fill a book (or at least a small pamphlet) with liturgical abuses I have witnessed in my lifetime, but when I really think about it most of them occurred between twenty-five and thirty years ago, in my junior high to high school years. This doesn't mean I've never seen anything since, but anything really jarring has been rare.

That said, I'll share two things to give you an example, both of which occurred roughly in the last five years:

1. A visiting priest ad-libbed the whole Mass so much, including the prayers of consecration, that we slipped out as communion was being distributed and drove across town to attend another Mass, just in case that one was invalid. I wrote to the pastor, and got a nice letter back reminding me to be grateful for the service of all priests--but agreeing that what we'd experienced was problematic and not what the faithful had the right to expect. That particular visiting priest never returned to our parish.

2. A parish priest became agitated during a Mass for the poor souls on Nov. 2., insisted at the homily that we should be celebrating because all the deceased were in heaven, railed against the Church for insisting on purple vestments and a spirit of penitence at this Mass, and finally tore off his purple vestments and celebrated the rest of the Mass in his alb. This priest had a late vocation after his wife died, however, which should be taken into account (as lingering grief can make us do strange things). I intended to write a letter, but just three days later our beloved choir director died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I lost sight of the matter.

In five years, those are the worst things I've seen. Perhaps that means nothing other than that I'm in a halfway decent diocese, but I don't know. Certainly it makes the constant drumbeat that the Novus Ordo Mass is riddled with serious liturgical abuse everywhere it is celebrated seem like an exaggeration to me.

But now it's your turn. What's it like where you live? What is the worst liturgical abuse you've personally seen between 2006 and today? What did you do about it?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Purely-pure vs. Happy-clappy: a tale of two Churches

When I was a young Catholic, I spent some years fervently believing in the existence of two Catholic Churches. One was the Church of my imagination, the Catholic Church of the Purely Pure, the Church that really, truly did everything Jesus wanted exactly the way He wanted them to; the other was the Church I actually knew, consisting of the many parishes in which I spent my formative years as my family moved around the country.

In the Church of the Purely Pure, there were no felt banners. That I knew with a surety that was rooted in the depth of my soul. There was no banal music; there were no jarring bits of architectural lunacy; there was a lot of magnificent stained glass. No one ever attended the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Church of the Purely Pure without being dressed in at least their second finest clothes (since ball gowns and tuxedos would have been ostentatiously out of place even for those who owned such things). The priests in the Purely Pure Church didn't just "say the black and do the red," they did so with machine-like perfection, exemplifying sacerdotal authority, reverence, humility, grace, and total self-effacement at all times. The congregation never coughed or sniffled (and children were always perfect); nobody ever shattered the heavenly banquet with any reminder of earthly humanity; and in every prayer, posture, song, word and gesture the congregation also modeled reverence and awe in the presence of the Lord. From twenty minutes before Mass began until twenty minutes after the entire place was liquid with silence and pierced with crystalline jewels of saintly light, permeating through those beautiful windows; it was, in a word, Divine.

This Church had existed, I was sure. The voices of those Catholics I listened to, the words of those I read, the opinions of those I sought informed me that this Church had been every church and parish in America, until the dreadful Second Vatican Council had put an axe to the foundations of this ancient institution, and had substituted a raw and ugly sapling for the venerable tree that had once grown on this not-so-ancient land.

Instead of that Church, though, I knew a different Church--the Church of the Happy-Clappy, the Church of Haugen and Haas, the Church of the modern American suburban parish, where the only sin was talking about sin or otherwise making people feel uncomfortable. In that Church's parishes, felt banners ironically proclaimed the mediocrity of their creators and their surroundings; the music was auditory torture; the architecture was jarring on purpose. Stained glass windows, candles (except for the ones mandated on the altars) and incense had disappeared; statues were removed and replaced with abstract art, much of it pagan in tone or influence. The priests in this Church ad-libbed the Mass with congregational approval and had a tendency to act like stage performers; the lay people flitted around the altar like moths drawn to a cracked porch light; the people in the pews sang and prayed and gestured "Look at Us! Aren't we Special?" the whole time, spending no time at all thinking about God or what He'd like in the way of worship. There was a ceaseless din in the place, and before and after Mass people acted like the whole point of being there was to chat and gossip and tattle and talk; if there was a quiet place in the whole building, it was the dark ugly closet into which the Eucharistic Lord had been shoved (because we can't possibly have Him at center stage, upstaging Father Performer, can we?).

For many of my young years I held this dual view of the Church in my mind: the beautiful Church I'd never seen, and the Happy-Clappy one I was all too familiar with. The former was probably in Rome, at least somewhere there, because the pope would insist on it--but was it anywhere else? Anywhere I could find? The latter was as cheaply ubiquitous as a fast-food restaurant, and about as satisfying; nobody there, I was sure, followed the Church's teachings on anything, and going there Sunday after Sunday was depressing and dull.

Not being able to go live in Rome, I simply festered in resentment and would-be righteous anger: I knew what my various parishes ought to be, and felt as though I was personally suffering for what they were not. That I was also sitting in judgment on my fellow Catholics, including most of my pastors, bothered me not at all: I could see the fruits of their indifference, mediocrity, and light heresy; why call my attitude judgment when it was merely observation?

I wish I had a "Road to Damascus" incident to recall, here, but when I looked back on this time in my life not long ago, I realized that my slow conversion from this mindset wasn't punctuated by anything quite so dramatic. Instead, over the course of quite a few years, I came to see that this belief of mine was wrong, entirely and dangerously so. There has never been a Church of the Purely-Pure; there is not now a Church of the Happy-Clappy. There is the Church, and there are Catholics, and they--and I--are for the most part fallible human beings inclined with the best will in the world to make mistakes and shatter the vision of perfection I once thought was my stolen birthright.

Though I don't remember one particular incident or moment that brought me to this understanding, I do remember a few. Among them are these:

--the pastor/confessor I had who kept assigning me to read 1 Corinthians 13 as my penance;

--my feeling of absolute surprise at hearing a former parish's choir pray aloud for the unborn and for an end to abortion (and my near-immediate shame at having assumed they'd all be pro-choice hippie liberals);

--my gearing up to do battle on a liturgical matter only to find out that my pastor had already insisted to the offending party that the rubrics be followed;

--my gearing up to do battle on another matter involving a Catholic friend--only to have that friend instantly, unquestioningly, and wholeheartedly accept the Church's teaching in an area in which he had been honestly unaware of that teaching;

--my surprise (and joy) when some guitar-playing Hispanic parishioners at a parish were absolutely delighted by some hymns in Latin and were eager to learn more;

--my humility in seeing so many people, more than I can list, embrace crosses I can't even fathom while continuing to serve the Lord cheerfully in any way they can...

There are so many more, far too many for me to list here. But one thing I've learned is this: when I go bristling into any situation as a secret member of the Church of the Purely Pure, I nearly always end up ashamed of my suspicion that my fellow parishioners are not-so-secret liberal Catholics who will resist anything truly Catholic to the core of their beings. Are there some like that? Sure, perhaps a handful. But are they the majority? No. And am I, in my Purely Pure impulses, always right about what the Church teaches or what she wants? No--I'm human too, and make just as many mistakes as anybody.

Do we have work to do, here in America, to help with the reform of the reform? Of course we do, and that work has already begun. Better liturgies, better catechesis, better discipleship: those are the three things we will begin to see, and need to help bring about. But the absolutely wrong, spiritually poisonous thing to do at this juncture, is to pit the Church of the Purely Pure against the Church of the Happy-Clappy as if they were not one Body.

I still hate felt banners, and would love to experience, at Mass, a reverent silence that is golden in its liquidity. But I no longer hate the people who make felt banners, or scowl at two elderly ladies who are delighted to see each other before Mass (and totally unaware how far their voices are carrying). I no longer sit in judgment on the people who lector, who serve at the altar or serve as EMHCs, or sing those Haugen songs; being in the choir means I'd have to judge myself for the banality of the music, but how will the music ever improve if nobody who wants to sing sacred music ever joins the choir?

We have work to do. Let's do it as one, instead of pitting ourselves in haughty judgment against each other.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I love Him

The termite problem is on the way to being resolved! (Finally, she said.) Looks like I'll get to that Catholic wedding post next week, though; too busy this afternoon to do it today.

In the meantime, Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy tagged me with a meme. I don't usually do memes (and if you tagged me for one and I never responded I probably meant to and am sorry I didn't) but Larry's comes at a good time.

The rules are simple:

Those tagged will share 5 things they "love" about Jesus/ Or why they love Jesus.
Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here with their name so that others can read them.

Now, I could do what others have done and list the things I love about Him as they pertain to me (e.g., because He saved me, because He came to die for me and for all of sinful humanity, etc.). But instead, I will list five of His sayings from the Gospel that always make me think of Him with admiration, love, and affection. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Mt. 19:14) Can anyone, especially any mother, not hear in these words His great love for children, His joy in them, His endless and boundless patience with them--and with us? Can we, hearing that, fail to try our best to imitate His patient love?

2. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!" (...) Luke 13:34. It is easy to think of the Son of God as the stern judge who is just waiting for us to fail--but it is wrong to think of Him so. With so much love and pain did He speak of His chosen people. With such love does He speak of us, and with such pain does He view our sins.

3. "I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven." Luke 10:18 This is an odd one, perhaps, but I recall Chesterton referring to it; I think the context was discussions of those who considered Jesus merely a wise teacher, and said He never pretended to be anything else. Clearly, He spoke to the disciples in ways that made it clear He was no mere man, but God. Why does this inspire my love? Because He really is Who He said He is, and everything He suffered for us, He did deliberately and whole-heartedly. How can I not love Him for that?

4. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Luke 23:34. Pretty self-explanatory--but do you ever think of the terrible physical and mental anguish He was in when He spoke these words? I can't even bring myself, sometimes, on a good day, to forgive people who generally like me for trivial and even imagined slights--yet He, covered with wounds, bathed in blood, surrounded by people laughing at His agony--He prayed these words.

5. "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day." In His promise--my hope. In His great gift--my salvation. May God so will it!

Anyone who wishes to do this meme is hereby tagged! I have to dash, and can't make a list.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eradicating the theology of the bawdy

Not long ago, Simcha Fisher held an interesting discussion of NFP over at her wonderful blog. Unlike many such discussions, the comments tended toward the honest, thoughtful, and encouraging, but there are always at least a few Catholic commenters, when NFP is the subject, who are eager to decry NFP as "Catholic contraception," to interpret "just cause/grave reasons" as "you'd better be on your deathbed before you even talk about it," and to insist that it is the positive duty of every Catholic wife to give birth as many times as is theoretically possible or--quite literally--to die trying.

In responding to one commenter who seemed to be of this sort, I used the phrase "Theology of the Bawdy" to refer to the philosophy of the sort of Catholic gentleman who appears to believe that his wife is generally supposed (according to ancient Catholic traditions) to be a maid, cook, nanny to their many children and all-around household servant, but who is absolutely required to drop these things and pay the marriage debt whenever he requests this; it is, in fact, his just recompense for having to work at a dull office job and spend too much of his free time in home maintenance and other husbandly chores instead of living the ideal, untrammeled masculine existence which is his birthright, and which involves plenty of masculine recreations and entertainments (e.g., hunting, sporting events, video or computer games, the perusal of medieval literature or the collection of antique smoking jackets, etc.) and none of that messy "husband and father" stuff. I will freely grant that this person is a caricature, and that I originally intended to exaggerate the notion of the adherent of "Theology of the Bawdy" ideas for humorous effect.

Today, however, I read Deacon Greg Kandra's discussion of the Guttmacher Institute's statistics claiming that 98% of Catholic women use artificial contraception. Let's stipulate up front that the Guttmacher Institute is hardly an impartial body, and that by including Catholic women who only bother to go to Mass once a month or so they haven't necessarily captured the precise statistic of active, practicing, otherwise faithful Catholic women who fail to follow the Church's teaching against artificial contraception. That said, though, the most eye-opening thing I read was in Deacon Kandra's comment box, where a commenter (and I hope she won't mind me quoting her here) said this: "I think it takes a lot of courage and faith in God to use NFP during a marriage. I say this with deep trepidation, but the biggest draw back I’ve encountered is an unwillingless on behalf of my husband to abstain. I think a lot of men who grew up in the Post Pill era have never been told that they can’t have sex, ever. It’s really hard to get someone to change in a marriage..."

It struck me that the sort of man Deacon Kandra's commenter describes, and the man who insists that it's much, much easier for his wife to give birth to a dozen children than for him to have to suffer through periodic abstinence, are brothers in a way. Both are believers in the Theology of the Bawdy; that is, both think that sex within marriage is an absolute right, and that no considerations of his wife's health and ability to care for their children on the one hand, or his wife's immortal soul on the other, are good enough reasons for him to lay aside his own physical desires and subordinate his recurring need for sexual intimacy to a higher good. In a way, each is ready to objectify his wife instead of seeing her as a total person; the one wishes to exclude her fertility by means of a chemical or other artificial attack against it, while the other, deep down, thinks of her sufferings during pregnancy or her desperate need for space between baby number six and baby number seven as mere trivialities exaggerated by the female tendency to make a fuss about trifles.

I think that Catholic men of this kind do suffer, as Deacon Kandra's commenter says, from the effects of a dysfunctional culture's disordered sexual appetites. Already going against the cultural mainstream by rejecting promiscuity and striving to live according to chastity, they are then told that, should a need for the spacing or regulation of the births of their children occur, they are to use moral means all of which involve periodic abstinence. Again, the one man rejects this notion by demanding his wife use birth control; how dare the Church tell him he has to give up sex occasionally if there are serious reasons for his family to remain at its present size? The other rejects the notion by attacking NFP altogether; how dare the Church buy into this modernist, Vatican-II, weakness by letting married couples shirk their responsibility to have big families--and how dare they expect him to accept the sacrifice of periodic abstinence to bring this about?

The reality is that neither men will take "No," for an answer. The graver sin, of course, is the one that involves the demand for artificial contraception, which is intrinsically evil; but the man who insists his wife keep bearing children despite some extremely serious health problem or other pressing need is hardly blameless.

I have focused on men in this blog post because the two recent incidents I came across, along with a few others I've heard about both on blogs and in real life, involve Catholic men who refuse to accept the fullness of the Church's teaching in this area, and who involve their wives by demanding that they use artificial birth control on the one hand, or who disrespect their wives by absolutely refusing to consider moral means of birth regulation on the other. But I'm sure that there are Catholic women who also refuse to accept limitations on their desire for physical intimacy and collude willingly in the sin of contraception; that is, there are women who are influenced by the Theology of the Bawdy, too, and who view sexual intimacy in marriage as something that does not relate in any way to the gift of a child and the vocation of Christian parenthood. The trouble with a dysfunctional culture is that it infects everybody, and can make it difficult to know how to begin to deal with problems like these.

One thing is sure: if 98%--or anywhere even close to that amount--of Catholic women are using artificial birth control, then they and their husbands are equally participating in intrinsic evil, in grave sin. The failure of the Church in America to proclaim the truth about human sexuality and the true human freedom that comes from living in accordance with God's law is a great shame; it is also something the Church must address, if the Theology of the Bawdy is to be eradicated once and for all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cluelessness and pink toenails

A reader asked me to comment on the J. Crew little boy/pink polished toenails controversy. If you haven't read about it, it's here:

It began when a photo of J. Crew's president and creative director Jenna Lyons painting the toenails of her son Beckett in an ad was sent to customers last week in a feature, "Saturday with Jenna."

"Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink," says the caption. "Toenail painting is way more fun in neon."

My take is pretty simple: Jenna Lyons is apparently not overly blessed with parental intelligence, to put it as kindly as possible.

Do I think she was trying, as president and creative director of J. Crew, to send a pro-trangendered/pro-LGBT message by allowing the photo of her towheaded boy wiggling his poster-paint-pink toes in the consumer advertisement? Well, no, primarily because charity demands that I not believe a mother could be that selfishly exploitative of her own son without some sort of evidence that she is that kind of person, which does not exist. Since I have no basis to believe that she is a selfish and exploitative mother, then, I must sadly conclude that she was simply clueless; that she failed to realize that what is probably a cute little custom in their home would appear to be sending a pro-LGTB message in our politically charged culture.

And based on the reality of LGTB organizations cheering this ad as some sort of breakthrough/validation/super-duper special moment in corporate America, the inadvertent message was sent--which, I think, is what some of the right wing backlash is addressing, not so much the photo of the boy and his mom and their nail-polish game.

Now, I have girls, so I can't say if I would have been the sort of mom who thought it was cute, or just sort of weird, to let a little boy run around in my high-heels with lipstick and nail polish, or whatever it is some moms of some sons think is cute these days; but if I had been that sort of mom, I would have limited the photographic recording of these games to a couple of sweetly embarrassing pictures to be saved aside for the little tyke's engagement party or something. I would not have posted them on Facebook to be easily shared by all my contacts, and I certainly wouldn't be so thoughtless as to put them in an advertisement going out to total strangers--creating the very real risk that my hypothetical son's real playmates would see it and tease him about it. That's just not a "cool mom" thing to do, in my opinion.

Because--let's face it--kids grow up. One day they're posing in a onesie on the living room rug; the next day they're playing in the dirt wearing a diaper and a smile; the next day they're letting you paint their toenails pink; and a week or so later they're navigating their teenage years, which is hard enough to do without being known as The Boy With the Pink Toenails. Or the Babbling Twins on Youtube. Or...but you get the idea.

When it comes to parents behaving rather cluelessly, though, I have a credo: never ascribe to politics or malice or an agenda what can be chalked up to short-sightedness or plain stupidity. Because, as every parent knows, we all have our stupid moments; and the Golden Rule sort of requires that we look past other parents' stupid moments with the same tolerance and good humor with which we hope people are viewing ours.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A new nephew!

I have a new nephew! Baby Kolbe Joseph was born early this morning. Mom and baby are reportedly doing just great!

Congratulations to my brother and sister-in-law on the arrival of their third precious child!

Maintaining equilibrium

I'm still dealing with the termite situation--getting quotes and treatment options, wondering if they've really been lurking in my house for two years now, trying not to picture that in a creepy-flashback-to-the-X-files sort of way, etc.

But don't miss this terrific post by Mark Shea today over at Inside Catholic:

They. Don't. Care. Sure, there are a few serious pro-life GOP members in Congress. But the proof is in the pudding. For 30 years, the bulk of Stupid Evil party policy and practice has made it clear that pro-lifers are useful, not respected. For 30 years, Stupid Evil Party Presidents have phoned it in on Roe v. Wade Day, not wanting to actually be seen with us. For 30 years, both parties have maintained a sort of equilibrium that has been an archetypal Hegelian Mambo, which sees the slow and steady erosion of concern for human life and the family, while the Stupid Evil Party continues to take our vote and slowly sell us down the river.

Why? Because the principal concern of both parties is not the common good, but their own increase of power and wealth. We are the necessary apparatus that the Constitution (that increasingly irrelevant document) forces our ruling classes to use to obtain that goal (and there are strong signs that an increasing number of our rulers itch to find a way to trample that obstacle down once and for all). Yet still we go on trusting them as they plunge us into world historical levels of debt, continue and expand our wars of Empire, and give not one thought to the prospect that one way to reduce our gigantic load of debt is to, for instance, stop maintaining a huge military presence in more than a hundred countries which it is not our business to police. World War II and the Korean War have been over for quite some time. The Soviet Union is gone. Why, then, does the Party of Family Values not oppose President Barack Obama's nation-building experiments by bringing troops home to raise their families? Because only a sucker believes that either party cares about families. [...]

We live already in a plutocracy, as President Obama made clear a couple of days ago when he surveyed the hoi polloi with his cool eye of imperial regard, informed us that he remembered what it was like to pump gas, and told us to get used to sacrificing for the regime. We learn the same thing every time some wag notes that nobody in the ruling class ever has to balance their own checkbook. We are learning it as Congress shaves a microscopic sliver off the mountain of debt they are bequeathing our children and then turns to us and seriously expects us to applaud their largesse. We have a fabulously rich ruling class that is, as rich and powerful people always are, radically out of touch with reality (since one of the chief functions of wealth is to shield the fallen human soul from the consequences of its actions). It is no wonder that this class is also fundamentally supportive of abortion and always will be: after all, abortion is all about making somebody else pay for our bad choices -- which is all our Ruling Class does. [Links and emphasis in original--E.M.]

Do read the whole thing.

When I posted about the budget battle here last week, a commenter's solution was that we should tax the hell out of the rich. One problem with that idea is that the very people who would have to vote for such a tax are themselves members of the rich ruling class, and even if they could be so altruistic as to vote to hose themselves, they surely would not accept the ostracizing and exclusion that would come with championing something that their kind would universally oppose, decry and deplore. Another problem, of course, is that the rich would simply turn around and tax shelter and lawyer the hell up, so that the proposed taxes on the "rich" would trickle down to the working family of four making $60,000 a year--who would still seem plenty "rich" enough to those at poverty level.

No, the ruling class would rather eliminate enough of those working class and poverty level people so that they don't ever have to condone an increase of taxes they already see as far too high on their wealth (even with the tax shelters and trust funds). Abortion is a pretty efficient way to get rid of whole swaths of society which are likely to grow up to be needy, dependent, or criminal; why, Freakonomics says so.

Which is why the two parties maintain their equilibrium on abortion, with the Democrats insisting that it's a terrible, horrible, awful, thing that should be a personal and private decision and totally legal, and with Republicans insisting that it's a terrible, horrible, awful thing that should only be legal when it involves children conceived in rape, or incest, or as IVF leftovers, or in various other instances when the question of the morality of killing the unborn must give way to political expedience or potentially lucrative medical research. Except for the pro-choice Republicans, who agree with the Democrats that killing unborn children is truly nasty and horrible but really, really important for women anyway, because what American mothers need most is the unfettered ability to kill their unborn kids, preferably with government funding available to ease the inconvenience of it all.

We don't really have two political parties in America anymore. We have the right and left talons of the same rapacious eagle, intent on growing its own power by confiscatory taxation and the funding of things we don't need and can't afford, let alone of those things intrinsically evil and disgusting to anyone of decent morality. And we ignore this reality to our detriment.

Monday, April 11, 2011

This blog post was eaten by...

Today, just to prove how a Monday can be, we had bugs start dropping from the ceiling. Freaky, earwig-like bugs. Except they had wings, twice as long as their bodies, and antennae that did not have a bend in them.

They were coming from a couple of vents, one in the girls' bathroom and one in the living room. We vacuumed up bugs at twenty-minute intervals while waiting for the pest control guy to come by.

He came by as his last appointment of the day, around five p.m. He gave us the bad news: termites.

(The company in general has totally failed to impress us. We pay them for quarterly pest control service, and when I called to tell them that we were seeing around a hundred critters every twenty minutes and could someone please come by, they started acting like I wanted somebody--oh, sometime later in the week, or early next week. No, I said. Today, I said. Right away, I said. Five or six p.m. as his last appointment of the day was the best they could do, they said. Termites, he said. About 2 grand to treat, he said. I'll call you with a price quote [tomorrow? the next day? We still don't know] he said. Bye, he said, giving us no further advice on what the heck we were supposed to do about the freaky critters dropping from the ceiling in the meantime. We called the company back to ask, and they promised that either he would call us or they would. Nobody called. We may be shopping around for a better pest control company. Right away, she said.)

Anyway, the planned follow-up to the post about Catholic weddings has been postponed until I don't have to glace up nervously at the ceiling every five seconds while typing, because the fear that winged termites in the throes of a mating swarm are going to drop on you any second sort of takes the joy out of writing about the Sacrament of Matrimony and related issues. If blogging is a bit sporadic in the next day or two, it will probably because my desire to write is being slowly eaten by...

...termites.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Aborting government

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity)

In approximately six hours, the threat of a federal government shutdown may be realized if Congress can't pass a budget. And yes, the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood has remained a live one:

"We know the whole world is watching us today," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

He, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner all agreed a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades. But there were disagreements aplenty among the principal players in an early test of divided government — Obama in the White House, fellow Democrats in control in the Senate and a new, tea party-flavored Republican majority in the House.

For much of the day, Reid and Boehner disagreed about what the disagreement was about. [...]

Originally, Republicans wanted to ban federal funds for Planned Parenthood, a health care services provider that is also the nation's largest provider of abortions.

Federal funds may not be used to pay for abortions except in strictly regulated cases, but supporters of the ban said cutting off government funds for the organization — currently about $330 million a year — would make it harder for it to use its own money for the same purpose.

Democrats rejected the proposal in private talks. Officials in both parties said Republicans returned earlier in the week with a proposal to distribute federal funds for family planning and related health services to the states, rather than directly to Planned Parenthood and other organizations.

Democrats said they rejected that proposal, as well, and then refused to agree to allow a separate Senate vote on the issue as part of debate over any compromise bill.

Instead, they launched a sustained campaign at both ends of the Capitol to criticize Republicans.

I highly doubt the whole world is watching this budget showdown; most Americans aren't even paying all that much attention. Because, if they were, I think more Americans would be outraged that the Democrats in Congress are ready to abort the funding of the federal government rather than stop funding the nation's largest abortion chop-shops run by Planned Parenthood.

For my part, I think that there are several bloated government projects that could stand to be aborted. Consider this list of some such projects from last year, courtesy of the Citizens Against Government Waste. Here are some of my favorites:
$12,500,000 by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) for 13 projects, including: $2,750,000 for polymer research; $1,000,000 for wheat genetic research; $1,000,000 for a phosphorous reduction cooperative agreement through the Kansas Livestock Foundation; and $250,000 for workforce development and out-migration through the Kansas Farm Bureau Foundation (KFBF). In addition to the appropriation, KFBF has also applied for a $7 million stimulus grant for rural broadband deployment. To add insult to injury, the Kansas Farm Bureau, which is conveniently located at the same address as the foundation, had a fund balance of $98 million at the end of 2007. [...]

$775,000 for the Institute for Food Science and Engineering (IFSE) requested by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.). One of IFSE’s research areas is called “Pickle Science and Technology” which the institute’s website boasts, “is dedicated to increasing product value by improving production and quality of pickled vegetables. The program, which enjoys significant industry support, includes the annual national evaluation of pickled vegetable products.” With the continued spending of taxpayer money on initiatives like these, it is not surprising that taxpayers are in a financial pickle of more than $12.7 trillion in debt. [...]

$61,600,000 for 30 projects by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), including: $14,000,000 for the Cooperative Institute and Research Center for Southeast Weather and Hydrology at the University of Alabama; $6,000,000 for six projects for the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville; $1,000,000 for the Tools for Tolerance program at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California; $250,000 for a wireless area network for the city of Hartselle (population 13,888); $200,000 for the Cherokee County Methamphetamine and Marijuana Reduction program; and $150,000 for Zelpha’s Cultural Development Corporation for the University of Alabama’s After-School Delinquency Prevention program. [...]

$1,200,000 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House appropriator Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) for the American Museum of Natural History for infectious disease research. Funding museum research in a defense bill really bugs taxpayers. [...]

$1,250,000 by Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) for research into the long-term environmental and economic impacts of the development of a coal liquefaction sector in China. Sen. Byrd has directed $2,070,150 to this project over the past three years. [...]
I could go on, but you get the point--and that's before we look at the number of "historic" small theaters, museums, and other businesses being restored with federal money, because apparently the people who actually live near these things don't care to spend state or local funds to fix them up. Something to bear in mind as you work on your taxes this weekend, anyway.

So, I'm all for a government shutdown, if it comes to that. I'd much rather abort wasteful government than continue to permit federal funds to finance the Abortion Kings of America over at Margaret Sanger's racist, eugenicist organization, Planned Parenthood (unofficial slogan: "We kill more of the poor than drugs and gun violence combined!"). Let's hope enough of the new Republicans are thinking the same thing tonight.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Certain fashions

"Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Divine Lord very much." --Our Lady's words to Jacinta Marto, one of the little seers of Fatima.

The above quotation is one that you will run into whenever discussions of modesty in dress take place among Catholics. Some people present it as a pious point to ponder; others use it as a club to enforce early 1900s standards of dress, particularly female dress, as the only possible modest dress for Catholic women; still others dismiss it entirely.

I find the quote to be similar to other quotes from the past that are taken somewhat out of context, like this one. Oh, it is not that I am saying that Our Lady is being misquoted; as far as I know, that particular phrasing/translation is the most commonly seen one (though I have seen people insert the word "immodest" between "Certain" and "fashions"). But I think that those who take this out of context take it to mean one thing only: that some articles of women's clothing would be introduced which are inherently immodest and that these articles of clothing in themselves are offensive to God, such that no decent woman ought to wear them; then, further, those who read the quote this way point to the introduction of slacks for females soon after Fatima as "proof" that what Jacinta was referring to as being offensive to God was definitely the wearing of slacks or trousers by women.

Here is where I wish I could find the original quote by Blessed Jacinta in her original language--because I've also seen the quote translated as "Certain fashions and styles will be introduced..." which makes me wonder just what the original words are.

The reason I wonder is because only a few years after Fatima, the fashion and style of the Flapper made its appearance.

Looking back, the Flapper seems to us a vintage figure of fun, so to speak. Her "shocking" dresses are not all that shocking now (except for the most extreme sort), and her ditching of the traditional corset and binding undergarments in favor of less complicated foundations seems more like something to celebrate than to excoriate (and, indeed, I've never seen even the most modest ladies calling for a return to the modest undergarments of the Fatima day and age, some examples of which may be seen here).

However, the Flapper was more than a pioneer in less massive garments; she was also a girl who drank, smoked, danced, went to "petting parties" where her conduct with members of the opposite sex was uninhibited and truly immodest; she shunned religion, laughed at anything conservative, and cultivated "an air of nudity," as this writer says, in her bare-armed and bare-stockinged style.

What was shocking about the Flapper, though, was not merely her clothes; it was her manner, her attitude, her desire to flaunt areas of her body which up to yesterday everybody covered up, and her casual approach to sex and physical encounters. The Flapper as a type (because there were probably a lot of silly girls who aped the fashions without immersing in the philosophy) was presenting to the world a truly immodest new mode--that is, a new fashion. And until the Great Depression, the Flapper's hedonistic and overtly sexual mode of dressing, acting, and living was increasingly accepted by, quite frankly, people who ought to have--and did--know better.

Now, do I think that Our Lady had the Flapper specifically in mind when she told Jacinta that certain fashions would be introduced that would offend Our Lord very much? Not necessarily--but I do think that Our Lady was talking about more than clothes. And just as the fashions of the late 1960s and early 1970s were wrapped up in revolt against decency, ideas about free love, bra-burning feminism, and the like, so were the fashions introduced by the Flapper about a lot more than what people were wearing.

What kinds of fashion might offend Our Lord today? I think the answer is both complicated and simple: complicated because it's hard to pinpoint specific clothing items that are always and everywhere immodest, but simple, because if we're looking at the attitudes and mindsets behind some of the ways people have of dressing we can figure things out much more easily. Here's the simple part: clothing which is designed and worn specifically to sexualize the person wearing it, to reveal in a lust-inducing way parts of the body which ought to be kept hidden, and to do so as part of a cultural mindset which promotes the notion that sex is simply recreation and has no intrinsic meaning or value beyond that of scratching an itch or relieving oneself ought not be worn by Christians.

How can you tell if clothing fits that description? Well, I think padded bras for eight-year-olds are a pretty obvious example; most, alas, of what hangs in the "Juniors" department is going to be problematic, and anything designed on purpose to display large amounts of female cleavage or certain male assets in a way designed to cause people to violate the sixth commandment ought to be rejected.

For the most part, I think that dressing modestly is not that hard to do. I don't share the notion of some Catholics who think that Our Lady was holding up 1917 in Portugal as the last stronghold of modest clothing (and if she was, then I demand that men go back to wearing suits all the time, too. There, I said it.). I think that what Mary said was what she said: that certain fashions would be introduced which would offend Our Lord--and, frankly, from the Flapper to the 1960s to some of today's clothing choices, it's pretty easy to identify the fashions that offend Him--because they're meant to.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grocery expense bleg

In the comments below this post, I get taken to task by a reader who thinks it's unfair for me to hint that grocery stores overcharge their customers. To be honest, when I wrote that post, I was thinking more of a department store which shall remain nameless but whose receipts always declare, "You've saved $$$ today!" when in fact you've just spent money, and probably more than you were hoping to spend, on clothing items for your family or the like.

However, in the back-and-forth about grocery stores and prices, I found myself pondering the often-quoted statistic that says Americans spend less of their incomes than nearly anybody on groceries--somewhere around 10%, say most sources. But when you go to track that statistic down, you find debates about the usefulness of it, based on these and other grounds:
  • families of below-average income spend proportionately more on the basics, and are thus more impacted by rising costs;
  • the statistic seems to be costs of food per person, not per family;
  • Americans, especially those in two-income families, eat out frequently--are these costs counted as "grocery expenses" or not?
and so on.

Just for fun, I considered our family's grocery costs as percent of income. I used net income rather than gross for the purpose of this exercise--because as an interested party in family budgeting I can tell you that the "gross" figure is not very useful, and if we made our spending decisions based on money we never actually see we'd just be broke all the time. But I'm open to discussion about whether it would be better to recalculate these figures based on gross pay instead of net.

We are a one-income family of five. Estimating our net income and our ordinary grocery expenditures, and subtracting a certain amount for non-food items (though frankly since these are also regular expenses I'm not sure we should subtract them!), I end up with a grocery expense percent of between 20 and 24 percent of net income. And we're not buying extremely expensive foods; we eat no beef at all and try to keep processed foods to a minimum.

Now, this isn't a scientific example; I'd have to go through weeks worth of grocery receipts line-by-line to remove things like laundry soap and then recalculate using an exact net income instead of an estimate--but I think the 20% mark seems about right, when I look at our spending generally, and I'd be really surprised if it were a whole ten percentage points lower than that.

So here's my bleg: how about you? What percent of net income does your family spend on groceries? I'm particularly interested in these details:
  • Are you a one or two income family?
  • How often do you eat out in restaurants?
  • Is either parent a stay-at-home parent?
  • What is your best estimate of the percent of net income you spend on food items?
If your budget for groceries includes non-food items, don't worry if you can't guess exactly how much is spent on food alone; I still wonder if "grocery" shouldn't mean "things we regularly buy at the grocery store," even if those things include soap and paper goods.

Again, this isn't an attempt to get a scientific result--I just have a feeling that there are plenty of exceptions to the "average Americans only spend 10% on groceries!" statistic, and would like to hear from you to see if that's true for your family.

Thanks in advance!

A wedding proposal

As The Deacon's Bench reports, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe has issued a pastoral letter on cohabitation which reminds people that the Church sees marriage as between one man and one woman, that living together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage is gravely morally evil, and that it is very important for those who wish to be united to the Church via the sacramental life of grace to take steps to regularize their situations, should the be in the unhappy position of living in sin with a partner.

Overall, I think the letter is tremendously good, and I hope it produces good fruits in the archdiocese of Santa Fe and elsewhere. I would like, though, to look at this one section from the letter:
We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage: those who cohabit; those who have a merely civil union with no previous marriage; and those who have a civil union who were married before. These people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion. They are in great spiritual danger. At the best - and this is, sadly, often the case - they are ignorant of God’s plan for man and woman. At the worst, they are contemptuous of God’s commandments and His sacraments.

Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate. Often their plea is that they “cannot afford a church wedding” i.e. the external trappings, or that “what difference does a piece of paper make?” - as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin.
While I agree with Archbishop Sheehan that many people simply make excuses about why they can't stop cohabitating and get married, the statement "We can't afford a church wedding," does bear some investigation.

When I took a brief tour of a few parish websites of parishes in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, I found that the amount of money expected by the parish for a wedding varied from just under $600 to $1000 or more. I have discussed this before, and have heard from some Catholics--indeed, from some priests--a statement like this, "Well, people spend between $10,000 and $30,000 on a wedding these days. Why shouldn't the Church get a thousand dollars? There are lots of expenses involved in a wedding Mass, after all."

I'm sure that's true. However, what's not true is that every Catholic couple is planning to spend at least ten thousand dollars on a wedding. Especially in these days, a frugal wedding with a simple backyard reception is slowly becoming a more popular option for young Catholic couples (and, indeed, for other couples as well).

I mentioned this over at The Deacon's Bench, and a commenter there pointed out that the Church can't charge for the sacraments; that these fees and stipends are voluntary and that no one will be denied a Church wedding over the inability to pay a set price.

Again--true. However, if you were one member of a cohabitating couple slowly rediscovering your Catholic faith, and you looked at your parish's website to get wedding information and read the following, what would you think?

You will initially meet with the Parish Wedding Coordinator who will walk with you through the preparation of the Sacrament of Marriage. The pastor will preside at your wedding. A deacon may preside at the ceremony with no Mass.

The couple is responsible for all proper legal papers from the city and state. Below is what is required by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Please Note: The time & date of your wedding will be scheduled tentatively. All paper work, stipends and fees must be provided before a time & date is secured. [...]

Donations & Stipends

There are many expenses involved in running a parish and in the preparation of your wedding. Below is a list of the donations and stipends for weddings.

· $175.00 for accompanist and cantor (Checks are made out in their names.)

· $100.00 stipend for priest or deacon

· $250.00 donation for the use of the church

· $10.00 for each altar server (2 for a Mass)

· $100.00 for the flower arranger & the cost of the flowers (optional, unless you are bringing in your own flowers)

· $50.00 for the church wedding coordinator.

If you read that, wouldn't you think that a) the archdiocese itself requires the payment of stipends and fees before your wedding can be scheduled, and b) most of the money (e.g., the stipend for the priest and wedding coordinator whom you must use, and the donation for the use of the church) is actually required, and not negotiable?

I think a couple might be forgiven for thinking so--and in that case, for deciding that they "can't afford" a church wedding when they can "get married" at city hall for considerably less money.

I'll grant you that the vast majority of couples wishing to get married in a Catholic parish have the ability to pay a reasonable sum to the parish, and indeed ought to, considering the amount of trouble a Catholic wedding can be for a pastor (particularly when the people getting married haven't been in the church building since their Confirmations--but that's another blog post).

But for those who really don't plan for their weddings to be a costly spectacle in which Bridezilla fulfills every Oscar Night/Red Carpet fantasy she's ever had--and especially for those who value the sacrament as they value their faith and their regular practice of it--could there not be a better, simpler, less costly option?

It seems that someone could come up with a proposal for Catholic weddings that would make more sense, especially for those for whom an extra thousand dollars or so isn't that easy to come by. I've heard of a few dioceses experimenting with Sunday Mass weddings, in which the couple's Nuptial Mass is celebrated with the parish at a previously scheduled Mass time; the readings, etc. are for Sunday, but the Nuptial blessing is given and the couple allowed some small say in the music, reserved seating for a reasonable number of guests, and so on. I don't know if, generally, the Church approves of this practice or not, but it might be a way to decrease the expectation that one's wedding day is one's own property instead of a sacrament being witnessed (representatively) by the whole Church.

In any case, when people say that a Church wedding is too expensive, they might be under the impression that the fees and stipends are mandatory--an impression we should be careful to correct, especially when the couple in question are cohabitating and seeking, with humility and repentance, to place themselves in the arms of Christ so He may lead them forward into holy matrimony.