Friday, September 30, 2011

Redefining marriage, again

Just when you thought it was crazy enough to redefine the word marriage to mean two men or two women who live together and engage in homosexual sex acts, a new redefinition pushes the limits of the much-abused term even further:

(Reuters) - Mexico City lawmakers want to help newlyweds avoid the hassle of divorce by giving them an easy exit strategy: temporary marriage licenses.

Leftists in the city's assembly -- who have already riled conservatives by legalizing gay marriage -- proposed a reform to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime.

The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

"The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends," said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.

"You wouldn't have to go through the tortuous process of divorce," said Luna, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has the most seats in the 66-member chamber.

Luna says the proposed law is gaining support and he expects a vote by the end of this year.

In a twisted, bizarre, diabolical way, this makes sense. If all marriage means, as gay rights activists have told us over and over, is that two people luuuuuuv each other and are haaaaaapy together, then why shouldn't marriages end the second that's no longer the case: no muss, no fuss, no divorce, no harm, no foul? The couple (or group--I'm sure the number part of the definition will be the last to fall) simply divides up the assets, the children, and the family pets according to the prearranged terms of the contract, and goes to find someone else with whom they can share contracted happy temporary conjugal bliss--because isn't that all there is to love, anyway?

Of course, one could imagine the marital tension in homes escalating as the renewal date of the contract looms closer, not to mention the confusion for the poor children as they ask, "Are you and Daddy really married, or only temporarily married? Will I have to go live with Daddy and his new girlfriend when the contract expires?" etc. But nothing--let us say it clearly!--nothing must stand in the way of the selfishness of the adults out there who want to have their wedding cake and eat at the illusion of total radically selfish individualism, too. If homes are destroyed, children devastated, and cultures and societies brought to tottering ruin, we can still claim it as a victory provided that individual selfishness is exalted as the one truly prevailing and lasting human virtue.

And--if I may slightly misquote my talented sister who really ought to publish some of those poems of hers, someday--Satan's hysterical laughter will echo through the empty darkness.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Like slow poison

When I made this list, I originally had a question mark by Zenit; while there were plenty of Legion of Christ connections, Zenit seemed to be rather quiet about the affiliation, and there was no hard confirmation of the Legion's ownership of Zenit that I could find online (and without that, knowing the Legion's propensity to harass and sue, I wasn't going to post Zenit as a "definite").

Today, I updated that post to remove the question mark. Here's why:
Jesus Colina, the founder and director of the news agency Zenit, has announced his resignation after a decision by the Legionaries of Christ to enhance the Legion identity of the agency. [...]

In an exclusive interview from Rome with Catholic News Agency, Colina explained the details behind his departure. [...]

How do you explain this decision?

Well, in reality I think this decision is the culmination of a gradual mutual loss of trust which began several years ago. The manner in which the Legion of Christ hid the information about Fr. Marcial Maciel, which was discovered bit by bit by the press, caused a breakdown of trust in this institution on the part of the director of the news agency.

I understand the difficult situation in which the superiors of the Legionaries of Christ found themselves. Now in public statements they have said they already had proof of Fr. Maciel’s different lives for years before his death. Nevertheless, despite the statement issued by the Holy See in 2006, they continued to present him as a role model, even at his death and after his death.

The superiors invited me to a Mass celebrated at the chapel of the Legionaries’ Center for Higher Studies 30 days after his death. During the homily, before hundreds of religious, Fr. Maciel was presented as a role model. This is particularly grave, because it is one thing to avoid a scandal in revealing the crimes or the double (although you would have to say the triple or quadruple) life of Fr. Maciel, and quite another to continuing maintaining this myth of sanctity that the congregation had promoted during his life.

Moreover, since a number of years had passed since the Vatican statement was issued calling on Fr. Maciel to retire and to publicly acknowledge his lies and crimes, the impression was spread among the religious and those close to the Legionaries that the Pope had unjustly punished him. This to me is very grave, especially considering everything that this Pope has done for the congregation.

Do read the whole CNA exclusive interview with Mr. Colina here.

Among those who still support the Legion or one of its many branches, affiliates, apostolates, missions, schools, etc. ad infinitum there have been some that have written or left comments from time to time asking me if I don't think it's possible for the Legion truly and sincerely to reform. Some have even asked, with that peculiarly passive-aggressive and self-serving form of "charity" for which the Legion is known worldwide, whether I don't think it's sort of mean to maintain such a list with its obvious negativity. Um, no, and no.

Let me clarify that first "no." Of course it is theoretically possible for the Legion to reform. But the Legion would have to internalize the idea that there was something that needed to be reformed. And this latest word from inside a Legion-affiliated apostolate is not exactly encouraging. Zenit was criticized, and rightly, for pulling its punches on the matter of Maciel until after the whole ugly story was already circulating.

But that was several years ago, some might argue. Sure--but as of last December, there was still concern about the idea that the Legion was not forbidding private study of Maciel's writings and even what might be called private "veneration"--because why else would people wish to keep photos? Have there been any changes to that policy? Are those within the Legion of Christ still permitted (or even subtly encouraged) to study the life of the Founder absent some ugly details, to focus on his written works (at least, the ones that don't appear to have been plagiarized) or to keep small pictures as if they were "holy cards" tucked into their prayer books?

It is my honest (and Constitutionally protected free-speech) opinion that the Legion's refusal to internalize a denunciation of Maciel is like a slow poison that will eventually destroy the Legion altogether. The interview with Mr. Colina seems to bolster that opinion.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Quitting Facebook is not torture, but common sense

Back in January of 2010 I wrote this post about how it took torture to get me on Facebook. I'd never been interested in social networking sites, but after some wonderful people set up a Coalition for Clarity Facebook page about the time I had started the C4C blog (and, remember, it's a good thing that blog isn't updated more often, because no news about torture is good news...right?) I joined FB so I could add news items on occasion to the blog.

Recently, one of the C4C Facebook page's admins remarked that the page was scheduled to be archived. Neither of us has the slightest idea of what that means or what, if anything, to do about it. I suppose that if torture becomes a burning political issue in another year or so, the page might be resurrected, but for now, I think it's gone rather quiet.

So my main reason for joining Facebook in the first place has evaporated, and although I've enjoyed the occasional contact with friends and family there, the time has come for me to deactivate my account.

Why? Well, here's one reason:

Facebook has admitted that it has been watching the web pages its members visit – even when they have logged out.

In its latest privacy blunder, the social networking site was forced to confirm that it has been constantly tracking its 750million users, even when they are using other sites.

The social networking giant says the huge privacy breach was simply a mistake - that software automatically downloaded to users' computers when they logged in to Facebook 'inadvertently' sent information to the company, whether or not they were logged in at the time.

Most would assume that Facebook stops monitoring them after they leave its site, but technology bloggers discovered this was not the case.

In fact, data has been regularly sent back to the social network’s servers – data that could be worth billions when creating 'targeted' advertising based on the sites users visit.

So, you click over to Facebook, and check out what's happening. Then you go read news sites or other web pages, and since you didn't actually log out of Facebook (and who ever does? It's a pain to remember your super-secure, tough, impossible-to-crack--you hope--password every time you want to reenter the site), Facebook was tracking you and collecting information that is worth a fortune.

And--think about this for a second--the sort of information they were gathering about you is the sort of information that, were you to be accused of a crime, a police officer would have to get a court order to obtain; but because you voluntarily used Facebook you were just handing over all of it gratis and without any reservation of your rights.

I find that troubling.

Then, of course, there have been recent changes that have made the site more cluttered, more difficult to navigate and read, and harder for the user--because, as many people point out, the user isn't really the customer; it's all the people who mine the data about you who are Facebook's real customers. So making the site user-friendly is never going to be a primary goal, unless Facebook messes things up so badly that users quit in droves (and they make it difficult to quit completely--you have to submit a request if you want your account permanently deleted). And there are more changes looming on the horizon which may impact privacy:
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said its new features create "frictionless sharing."

But they are causing friction with some users and consumer groups.

Facebook unveiled last week services that make it easier for its 800 million users to share more information about themselves and their lives online. The social networking service showed off a dramatic redesign of users' profiles, a timeline that charts in chronological order all the information users have shared in the past. Facebook also said that third-party applications would — with users' consent — automatically share every action users take, such as the songs they listen to or the videos they watch.

Privacy watchdogs are urging the Federal Trade Commission to look into the new features that they say push users to share more than they may feel comfortable sharing. [...]

Privacy watchdogs aren't the only ones who say Facebook is stripping away its users' privacy. Writer Ben Barr of technology blog Mashable in a blog post said, "We're at the point of no return."
"Facebook's passive sharing will change how we live our lives. More and more, the things we do in real life will end up as Facebook posts," Parr wrote. "And while we may be consoled by the fact that most of this stuff is being posted just to our friends, it only takes one friend to share that information with his or her friends to start a viral chain."
Viral chain--or something like this:
Oops. Our story so far: A mom posting on Facebook about the messy condition of her sons’ bedrooms unwittingly tipped athletic authorities that they didn’t live full time in the district, resulting in their high school football team, Perry County (Linden, Tenn.), forfeiting three games. The Vikings, ranked third in division Class 1A, had been 5-0 overall, 2-0 in league.
I'm not saying the family shouldn't have been following the rules about school districts--they should have been. But this is still troubling, not to mention horrible for the boys involved.

There are so many ways that "passive sharing" of posters' information could end very, very badly; a viral chain is only one of a whole host of bad possibilities. I can only imagine how many improper uses of what ought to be private information could come up--but, again, as happy social networking users (or company owners) point out regularly, the information you post on Facebook is not really a relatively private conversation between friends and family; it is a wealth of data for which advertisers are ready and willing to pay.

With all of that, with my growing discomfort with the site, and with my general dislike of the raiding of privacy in the name of advertising and marketing, I've decided to go ahead and deactivate my Facebook account later this evening (and I'll probably go back and request a permanent deletion soon after). I'm just not comfortable with the idea that things I don't choose to share with a public audience might be shared anyway, and I highly dislike the notion of a corporation spying on my Internet usage (for the record, I'm also uncomfortable with the government doing the same). Frankly, I waste enough time on the Internet without having to waste it at a place where my interactions are going to end up being sold to the highest bidder. And since I never really used it all that much anyway, quitting Facebook is, for me, just common sense.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The stage is set

Several people today have linked to Fr. James Schall's post from last week in which he warned that we may be edging closer to religious persecution of Catholics and a breakaway, "official" Catholic Church similar to what China has:

A situation analogous to that in China can be foreseen: an “official” break-away church that follows government decrees and an underground church that still maintains the central truths of reason and faith. One suspects that the degree of hatred for the Church is more widespread and deeper than we like to admit. The situation, however, is not so different from what Scripture would have us expect.

Things change almost too rapidly for us to appreciate their scope. With legalized same-sex “marriages,” as they are equivocally called, in which children are adopted, we will have mandates to educate them in Catholic schools as if no problem exists. The children, legally deprived of a mother or a father, will be presented as from “normal” families. Several writers have suggested that parents teaching children that problems exist with homosexual life or adoption will be investigated for “child abuse.”

Kevin O'Brien then continues the theme:
I will be bold enough to add another prophecy, based simply upon observing what we see today and what we've seen in the past generation. And that is this: two-thirds of the Catholic bishops in the United States will collude with the spirit of antichrist in the coming generation and will glibly and complacently join in the fun of the sham Christ and his sham Church. (Emphasis and link in original--E.M.)
I've written in a similar vein, myself. Here's something from a post I wrote during the Obama/Notre Dame kerfuffle:
Barack Obama has from even before his election adopted a strategy of "divide and conquer" when it comes to American Catholics. His goal is to associate with, reward, appoint, and honor Catholics who either openly and fiercely dissent from the Church's teachings on abortion, or who are at least willing to be good little quislings and keep their mouths shut about it in order to curry favor with him. At the same time, he doesn't shy away from marginalizing and excluding Catholics who are faithful to the Church's teachings, so much so that he has thus far refused to name a single pro-life Catholic to any position in his administration, not even to serve as ambassador to the Holy See. It is clear that Barack Obama thinks there are two kinds of Catholics: the ones who actually accept all that superstitious nonsense about the right of the unborn to keep on living instead of being ripped apart in their mother's wombs, and the enlightened ones who recognize that unfortunate viewpoint for the medieval nonsense it is, and who are more willing to follow the One than they are to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Obama has gone out of his way to show which kind of Catholic he prefers. [...]

All the good little Catholic quislings who have made this grand illusion possible should be proud of themselves. Thanks to their actions, Americans are beginning to get the idea: there is a Right Sort of Catholic, and there is a Wrong Sort. And the Right Sort are the ones who think that the Church's teachings about abortion and other aspects of sexual morality are optional, regrettable, or wrong; but the Wrong Sort are the ones who accept the fullness of the Church's teaching in these and in all areas, and who are not willing to prostitute themselves and their faith for the sake of political profit.
Can anyone doubt that the future official state-approved American Catholic church, with no ties to Rome and complete obeisance to the secular laws, will be filled with, staffed by, and smiled upon by the Right Sort of Catholics?

Here is where non-Catholic observers tend to say, "Wait a minute, though. This is America. We have a Constitutional protection for freedom of religion. You won't really be persecuted for belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, and the idea that a competing state-approved fake Catholic church would ever be established is a complete phantom." These observers may be partly right--it may take longer for the dismantling of the Constitutional protection, and the rebirth of "freedom of religion" to mean "freedom of worship" as is presently underway, to reach their full maturity. But it is not right to say that no such curtailing of religious freedoms could ever happen; they are happening now.

Take the increasing mandate from various states to compel even religious adoption agencies to be prepared to place children with unmarried fornicating couples, same-sex couples, and the like, regardless of their religion's long-established teaching on the evils of fornication and homosexual sex acts and the right of children to be raised by a married mother and father--preferably their own, but acceptably a different married couple if the birth parents are unable or unwilling to fulfill their parental duties. In the eyes of these states, religion is simply a private, personal thing that should not in any way influence a person's actual conduct in public, let alone the policies and practices of an organization which owes its existence to the charitable teachings and practices of any specific faith. What I termed in my earlier post the "Right Sort" of Catholic agrees fully with this premise; he or she might state it this way, "I have the luxury of being able to ponder esoteric notions of good and evil, but children need homes and same-sex or fornicating couples have the right to be given children they can't or don't wish to make either naturally or by manufacturing." Only the "Wrong Sort" of Catholic will insist that virtue is meaningless when it does not lead to right action, and that grave harm is done when innocent children are deliberately placed in situations of intrinsic evil and inherent instability.

Or take the situation of Catholic health care agencies and health insurance companies being forced to pay for contraception. The state is using its brute power to force the Church to pay for something that is gravely, intrinsically evil, something that can (given a person's knowledge) kill the soul and destroy the user's chance for eternal happiness. Once again, the Right Sort of Catholic will say, "I don't really have a problem with birth control myself, and certainly it ought to be used to decrease the surplus population. Even if I did have some sort of mystic, ethical problem with it, though, the Church shouldn't be able to stand by and not pay for it in a society whose members demand that it be given to them free of charge. Might makes right, after all." Only the Wrong Sort of Catholic will point out that no one has the right to mandate access to grave evil, let alone to force others to pay for it.

How long will it be before the Right Sort of Catholics decide to start their own version of the Catholic Church? Not as long as we'd like, I suspect; I know for a fact that "womenpriest" conference attendees were already discussing this some twenty years ago (we had a family friend who was involved. Long story), and I can't imagine that today's crop of would-be Catholic priestesses are more patient and more hopeful of revamping the Church in their own image. In fact, by faking their "ordinations" and presiding over totally fake and completely inefficacious "sacraments," it may be argued that the creation of the future state-approved, fake, American Catholic church is already well underway.

So far, of course, the "Roman Catholic Womenpriest" movement claims (despite their excommunications) to be working inside the Catholic Church. They are not, of course. Their actions have placed them outside the Church--but they claim to be inside, and is any secular agency going to refute that claim? Of course not. I could easily see, in fact, a situation in which the "Womenpriest" branch of the fake "Catholic" church grows large enough to become the preferred church of politicians, glad-handers, movers and shakers, and others who want to be Catholic without actually having to follow any of the Church's teachings--sort of like the fake "Catholic" church this fellow belongs to.

In fact, I can see the situation unfolding as it might in some future dramatic retelling: America, having preserved religious freedom for over two centuries, is discovering what other nations at other times have discovered: that the freedom of churches ultimately will clash with the power of the state, which believes itself to be the only true arbiter of men's conduct and ideas. To proceed forward with the imposition of a totally amoral, secular, profit-driven view of humanity, though, the state must once and for all cripple religion, and the state's especial enemy is always going to be the Catholic Church, which has managed for two thousand years to outlive tyranny and shovel dirt on the graves of dictatorships. An epic drama looms as these two forces draw closer and closer to their inevitable collision...

The stage is already set. The house lights are going down; the murmurs of the audience grow softer. The first act in the play is about to begin--and there's precious little time to change what promises to be a tragedy into anything else.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The path to holiness

Several times recently, as I have clicked around the Catholic blogosphere, I have come across posts referencing the Sacrament of Penance, sin, and the four last things.

I'm starting to think that Catholic blogs, like the liturgy, have seasons. First, there is Advent, in which Catholic writers spar about when it is holiest and best to put up Christmas trees, why we shouldn't have any parties or eat cookies or anything celebratory until after the 25th of December, and why we should all practice a pure Little House on the Prairie frugality and give our children a few simple wooden toys as gifts (and then after Christmas, perhaps, put up a rueful post about your child's favorite bit of garish plastic and which grandparent gave it to him or her, frustrating those readers whose parents do not give garish plastic as gifts and whose children were less than enchanted with the simple wooden toy idea). Then, there is pre-Lent, during which Catholic writers gripe about leftover Christmas goodies and plan diets, express their deep longing for the mortifications of Lent, and scold those who take their Christmas decorations down before Candlmas; Lent follows, and with it lots of introspective posts about the faith coupled with posts complaining about the weather, homeschooling (one's own, that is), and the general sluggishness of life--though a few of the more seasoned bloggers write lofty spiritual posts about why they are giving up blogging/Facebook/Twitter for Lent (the reason given is that they need less virtual clutter in their lives, or that they are in need of monastic silence, and while that's true in some cases I think others just don't want to post during a six-week state of sugar deprivation). After Lent there is joyous Easter posting complete with pretty outdoor pictures, as fits the season. Sometime after Pentecost we enter Ordinary Time, during which Catholic bloggers will write about veils, modesty, the Liturgical Wars, sin, virtue, politics, culture, the sacramental life of the Church, why other Catholics are so darned annoying, the Sixth Commandment, elections, Church news, Catholic motherhood, the new school (or homeschool) year, sacred music, and the like. Then it's time for the Annual Halloween Pumpkin-tossing Fight, just in time to prepare for the pre-Advent fretting...

...I'm kidding. Mostly.

But, as I said, I've noticed a kind of mini-meme lately having to do with sin and the Sacrament of Penance, which are both quite good things to write about. It's true that there's a great deal of difference as to how these things are discussed on a priest's blog as on a lay person's blog (which is not surprising, really). Priest bloggers tend to exhort the faithful to go to confession more often, to make a good confession if they haven't lately, and to examine their consciences carefully and well; lay people tend to talk about the benefits of confession, how important--yet difficult--it can be to get the whole family there regularly, and to express frustration about inconvenient confession times, weird penances, flaky advice (including the infamous "Oh, that's not a sin! Don't worry about it!" response given to anything confessed from a small lie to a bank robbery***) and the like.

I do appreciate priestly exhortations to get to confession, but I also admit to some of the frustrations. We try to go every four to six weeks, God willing. We take advantage of one of two half-hour time slots our pastor has; and, as I've said before, he's the pastor of both our small mission parish with 300 registered families, and our larger sister parish with 1200 families, so I don't criticize Father for not being available for confession more often. But still--he's responsible for hearing confessions for 1500 total families, and priest-bloggers are fond of saying families should go once a month at the minimum (weekly is better, say some!). If 1500 individuals, let alone 1500 families, showed up for confession every week I think Father might not be able to handle the crowd, in much the same way that I might not be able to handle a dozen copperheads should they, and a thousand scorpions, show up unexpectedly in my living room.

I would like to hope that every priest who exhorts his faithful to make weekly, or even monthly, confessions is making time for that to be possible. In my whole life, though, I've only met one such priest (note the 13+ hours of confession Father has scheduled for a single week!). In that amount of time, this dear priest could actually hear the confessions of 1500 individuals in a month--what an example he sets for his brother priests!

And that brings me to the point of this post, which is not, in fact, about confession, or even about sin.

Yes, it is important to try very hard to conquer sin in our daily lives; in fact, one is not being a serious follower of Christ without such an attempt. And yes, in order to root out sin, especially sins which have become habitual, or which could involve grave matter, or which could lead us into committing grave sins, we need to be aware of our sins, examine our consciences without scrupulosity or fear, and make a habit of regular (and even, if we are blessed by a priest like the one I mentioned above, frequent) recourse to the Sacrament of Penance. Yes, both priests and our lay brothers and sisters are acting in charity when they remind us of these things.

But holiness is about much, much more than the avoidance of sin. In fact, the greatest saints, the ones who persevered in the pursuit of holiness all the days of their lives, would be the first to admit that they could not completely root out sins and imperfections and the desires and temptations toward sinful things in their earthly lives. The fallenness of our human nature does not permit anyone born with that taint of original sin to reach perfection upon earth. We must wait until we behold our beloved Christ after we die to realize fully how far short we still are--and yet how greatly He loves us and wishes us to remain with Him forever. We will, I think, embrace Purgatory joyfully, eager to be back in His presence cleansed of those things we didn't even realize still clung to our souls.

If we go too far in equating holiness with the mere avoidance of sin, I think we run the risk of becoming like the unworthy servant in the parable of the talents. So fearful of incurring his master's wrath that he could do nothing good, the servant buries the money, taking comfort in the notion that at least he won't lose any of it. Instead of being rewarded for his caution he is punished; he has not made use of what his master gave him, but has instead in selfishness and fear acted as though the responsibility was never given to him. While we cannot become holy without learning to hate sin and turn away from it, we also can't become holy by fixating so strongly on the avoidance of sin that we begin to shun others, to seek only the purest and most like-minded of people with whom to associate, to consider anything "worldly" or "secular" to be inherently evil or at least impossibly tempting, and, quite simply, to "write off" as lost and worthless anyone who does not live as we do and share, not merely our faith in Christ and His Church, but our smallest personal tastes, likes, preferences, and approvals of minor things.

The path to holiness may frequently be lined with reminders of our sinfulness and our need for confession, but the paving stones are very different. They call us to live our specific vocation as faithfully and willingly and earnestly as possible, to try to die even a little bit to our own selfishness every day, to look for Christ in the eyes of everyone we meet--and to recognize Him joyfully in the poor, the ill, the weak, the oppressed, and to serve Him in them to the best of our poor ability. Becoming good, learning to be holy, is not just about avoiding evil, nor must we think that we must completely conquer sin before we can try to embrace goodness. No one in this life will completely conquer sin; our Blessed Mother was the only person never to sin, and the rest of us will fall woefully short of her--but we please her, and her Son, when we make the valiant effort--and yet, that alone is not enough.

If we would become holy, we must be like the son in the Gospel from this past Sunday, who, after saying he wouldn't serve his father, went and did so anyway. Did he, from that day forward, never displease his father again? It's doubtful. But his service was a step forward on the path to holiness, the service of doing his father's will. It is the same for us; the path to holiness requires a leap of faith from stone to stone, as each stone reveals to us the Father's will. We will reach heaven by following that Way of Love, and only by following Him there.


***Hypothetically, that is. For the benefit of any uptight readers I will state for the record that I've never heard anyone admit to confessing a bank robbery, let alone being told that such was not a sin. I am using "bank robbery" as an all-purpose grave sin here for the sake of humor.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The write grammar book

It's rare for me to step outside of my politics/culture/morality/virtue posting to do a homeschooling post--rare, but not, I hope, totally unheard of. Those of my readers who don't homeschool and aren't much interested in homeschooling may skip this post, if they like. :)

This year, Hatchick is in the eighth grade, and I wanted to find a fun component for her work in English grammar. So many grammar books seem to boil down to dreary drills and excruciating sentence dissection; Hatchick has always been an enthusiastic writer, and I wanted something that would teach some good grammar concepts without stifling her love of writing or making her fearful of errors in a way that would restrain her natural written exuberance.

I've found that book (and, standard disclaimer, I have not been compensated in any way for writing this; in fact, I found the book by searching vaguely on Amazon in the hopes that something more enjoyable than Excruciatingly Difficult English Grammar for Serious Eighth-Graders Who have Already Picked Out the Top Three Colleges of their Eventual Choice, or similar tomes, would turn up). The book is called Hot Fudge Monday, and though Hatchick has only been using it a little while, she is enjoying it immensely, as am I.

I'd like to share with you Hatchick's writing assignment from today. The book asked (not in these exact words; I don't want to infringe copyright) the student to imagine that he or she was a chicken in a long line of road-crossers, and to describe his or her own daring expedition across a local highway; the focus of the assignment was on using exciting verbs. In the interest of full disclosure I admit to correcting a couple of small spelling errors, but otherwise, the following is Hatchick's work:
It was finally time, time to bolt across the road, right into fame! Right into glory! Or right into a four-door sedan...It was time to muster up all of my chickenly courage and follow the path that my ancestors took, to take chances and flit and fly across the road. Ha! It will be a dangerous task, to laugh in the face of danger and so to continue to laugh until I reach the other side, throwing care to the wind and striding confidently along.

I stood at the edge of the road, and then began to dash across the road!

I raced and zoomed along, I dodged a Dodge, catapulted over a Cadillac and hurried and scurried closer to the finish. Suddenly a Ford stopped right between me and the finish! I stopped, and began to prepare myself for the final sprint. Ford or no Ford, by golly I was going over there! I closed my eyes, darted forward and leaped over the car!

If the camera hadn't had a slow motion replay, no one would have believed it. But needless to say, I was now a hero.
Hatchick admits that she needs to work on some spelling (which, as I said, I fixed) and also that she is a tad too fond of the exclamation mark--it's amazing how seeing your work typed on a screen helps you to catch such errors. Still, I thought she did a good job of completing the assignment's specific task of using good, colorful, interesting verbs, and in some places this little story of hers made me laugh. Homeschooling moms know how rare and wonderful it is when both student and teacher-mom are laughing instead of crying when it's time for grammar.

As I said above, we haven't been using Hot Fudge Monday for long, yet. But I'm really liking it so far, and, more importantly, so is Hatchick. This would not be the perfect grammar book for the student for whom writing more than a sentence is akin to torture. But for the child who loves to write and who finds endless grammar drills dreary beyond belief, this book might be a good fit; it might, if you'll excuse the dreadful pun, be the "write" grammar book for such a child.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The siren-song of consumerism

I like Barbara Curtis, and I like this piece she wrote for the Catholic Herald in Arlington, VA about the dangers to teens of consumerism:

OK, so what’s a parent — who needs more than a slingshot to battle the giants — to do? You can start by blocking consumerist channels. Or sitting down and watching your teens’ favorite shows with them to see what’s really going on.

You can counter the pressure of consumerism by helping your teens understand how susceptible we all are to advertising. Take product placement, which took off in 1982 when the movie “E.T.” portrayed the irresistible little alien following a trail of Reese’s Pieces. Within two weeks of the movie’s release, sales for the obscure candy shot through the roof.[...]

Your teens probably think as they watch TV that they’re the customer and that the ads they watch display the products being sold. Not so. For television networks, the customers they serve are their advertisers. And the product sold is the viewer.

That’s why the cost for a commercial can vary from $19 for a 30-second daytime spot on a local cable channel to $2 million for the same amount of time during the Super Bowl, which attracts the largest television audience every year. The price paid by customer/advertiser is based on the number of viewers during that time slot — the same way we buy meat by the pound.

Encourage your kids to look at commercials with a critical eye, identifying what factors underlie the message: guilt, greed, manipulation, fear, flattery, status-seeking

And one final thought: Teens cannot learn to control their impulses for more, more, more if we say yes, yes, yes. Even if you have the money to buy your child everything he wants, it’s really not the loving thing to do.

All of this is good advice, but there's one additional piece of the consumerist puzzle that I think needs to be addressed (and, to be fair to Barbara Curtis, it's sort of outside the scope of her piece). It is, simply, that we parents and our attitudes toward consumerism will have a definite impact on our children, and may, in fact, have the greatest impact of all.

As is often the case in the parenting world, this is true whether we are impulsive spendthrifts or carefully thrifty (or no matter where we fall in between). A child of thrifty parents who is involved in and understands his parents' approach toward consumerism and is able to see the rewards of thriftiness will probably grow up to be thrifty himself; but a child of thrifty parents who is told "No," without explanation when he asks for certain things, who constantly feels deprived of the sorts of toys or games his friends have without understanding at all the reasons why this is so, and who sees what appears to him to be hypocrisy in that his parents will buy the occasional expensive item for themselves (even if it is needed for work, for instance) will quite possibly grow up to be more of a spendthrift and even to resent thriftiness as a tool of unfair parental control.

Similarly, the child of spendthrift parents may adopt their attitudes and values about money and spending, or he may dislike some of the consequences such as unpaid bills, threatening phone calls from bill collectors, and the occasional deprivations of things the family really needs.

It's not that hard to guess how children might be affected by their parents' attitudes towards consumerism and spending in the more extreme cases. But what about those who try to be balanced, to spend and save, to avoid the hype as much as possible and to be responsible consumers?

I think the first question we need to ask is: are we really balanced? Do we really spend to much or save too little? Do we really avoid the hype, or are we constantly intrigued by the newest, latest, greatest things? Are we really responsible consumers, or do we try not to pay too much attention when we hear of sweatshop conditions or violations of human rights?

How important are things in our lives? Do we pride ourselves, say, on dressing simply or eating plainly, but rush out to buy the newest iPhone (tm) or similar device? Do we begin to complain about a computer, television, music player, etc. that still works perfectly fine just because it is a few years old, and better ones have come out since we bought ours? Do we women covet the latest styles in shoes or handbags, and look down on people who buy their shoes or handbags at discount big-box stores? Have we, indeed, ever judged others because they don't have what we do--have we looked down on them for not driving the right sort of car or wearing the right sort of clothing or carrying the right sort of gizmo or gadget?

How susceptible are we to advertising and to peer pressure? Do we find ourselves needing something we never knew existed just because a shiny catalog featuring the item showed up in our mailbox one day? Do we try very hard to keep up with the Smiths or the Jonses, even though our lives aren't really that alike? Do we complain aloud about the things we don't have?

Have we fallen for that most insidious of all consumerist calls, the call to simplify our lives which somehow requires us to get rid of 3/4ths of what we own and then replace it all with simpler, humbler, more well-crafted, more organized and more meaningful stuff?

Our children are watching us. The way we answer these questions, many of which I need to work on myself, is going to impact how susceptible they are to the siren-song of consumerism when they enter the adult world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eyewitnesses and guilt

My apologies for this sparse post; I'm battling a stupid migraine again. Hope to be better by tomorrow.

But I couldn't avoid putting this up
:
AP) JACKSON, Ga. — Troy Davis, the condemned inmate who convinced hundreds of thousands of people but not the justice system of his innocence, filed an eleventh-hour plea Wednesday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Georgia authorities from executing him for the murder of an off-duty police officer.

His execution had been set to begin at 7 p.m., but Georgia prison officials were still waiting for the high court's decision nearly two hours later. [...]

Though Davis' attorneys say seven of nine key witnesses against him have disputed all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges have repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial. As the court losses piled up Wednesday, his offer to take a polygraph test was rejected and the pardons board refused to give him one more hearing. [...]

He was convicted in 1991 of killing MacPhail, who was working as a security guard at the time. MacPhail rushed to the aid of a homeless man who prosecutors said Davis was bashing with a handgun after asking him for a beer. Prosecutors said Davis had a smirk on his face as he shot the officer to death in a Burger King parking lot in Savannah.

No gun was ever found, but prosecutors say shell casings were linked to an earlier shooting for which Davis was convicted.

Witnesses placed Davis at the crime scene and identified him as the shooter, but several of them have recanted their accounts and some jurors have said they've changed their minds about his guilt. Others have claimed a man who was with Davis that night has told people he actually shot the officer.

"Such incredibly flawed eyewitness testimony should never be the basis for an execution," Marsh said. "To execute someone under these circumstances would be unconscionable."
One of the things I learned when reading this book is that lawyers on both sides of a case know quite well that eyewitness testimony, which has the reputation for being the most reliable, is actually often the least reliable sort of testimony there is. Eyewitnesses are rarely natural observers just because few human beings are natural observers; instead, eyewitnesses, like most of us, can be suggestible, distracted, swayed into thinking they saw more than they did, or even capable of being convinced that they saw something just because they heard it, or heard about it, or were otherwise near the scene at the time.

Most of us have seen the video in which viewers are instructed to count the number of times a basketball is passed around--and plenty of us have missed the man in the gorilla suit who shows up during the video. Many of us will be willing to swear that we saw a couple and their children at Mass on a particular Sunday, and be surprised later to learn that only the wife and a few of the children were present, because the husband and the other children were home ill. If you gather a room full of co-workers together and ask one of them to identify all the left-handed people in the room, it's rare that the person selected will be able to do so. Aside from the natural or trained observer, most of us don't focus that closely on what is happening around us.

Here's a test for my Catholic readers: those of you who read New Advent daily, to whom is the site dedicated? I had to look. You can click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to find out.

You would think that trauma would heighten our observational skills, but I think that's only partly true. We will notice some details much more clearly than normal, but other details will escape us altogether. I remember, for instance, having to evacuate a downtown store because a fire alarm was pulled; I remember walking down an escalator which had been stopped on purpose for people to evacuate that way, and trying to see if I could smell smoke (I couldn't). I can't for the life of me remember the name of the store, how old I was at the time, or even (given my family's nomadic habits) what city the store was in!

Mr. Davis may or may not be guilty. But if seven key witnesses have doubts about their testimony, I think that executing him now makes the whole idea of "reasonable doubt" a total mockery, and shows that our justice system is more interested in validating itself than in making sure someone is actually guilty before he is executed.

UPDATE: Davis was executed at 11:08 p.m. Eastern time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The petty little sins

A commenter on yesterday's post mentioned that Catholic blogs sometimes look a bit puritanical, in that we (collectively) spend a lot of time talking about sins against the Sixth Commandment and not, say, sins of usury or economic injustice. I agreed with him that sins against economic justice are a real problem in our world today--but except for a few people at rather high levels, the temptation to commit economic injustice probably doesn't happen all that often for the average person. It's not like your garden-variety Catholic wakes up one day and says, "Hmm. I think I'll oppress the poor today, charge a bit too much for my goods/services, and exact staggeringly high interest on any loans I happen to give."

Which is quite true. But then I thought about this some more.

Most of us, even when we're talking about the Sixth Commandment, aren't tempted (at least not at first) to commit the Big Sins. We're tempted to commit the Petty Little Sins that can lead to the big sins over time.

Few of us happily married Catholic bloggers, for instance, are out there plotting adultery. But some happily married Catholics (bloggers or not) fail to recognize the dangers inherent in getting too friendly with members of the opposite sex. They look up old flames on Facebook or similar sites, perhaps, or they engage in rather flirtatious online conversations with like-minded opposite sex Catholics who live safely in other states. They may never be actually tempted to commit adultery, but they are still being tempted to cheat on their spouses--not to cheat sexually, perhaps, but to give time, effort, emotional support, etc. to some person other than their own husband or wife, and to begin to view their own husband or wife rather negatively in light of the "good, fun" relationship they are having with this other person (or, perhaps, even people). Without even realizing it, they have possibly taken the first step away from their marriage, all without doing something that rises to the level of objectively grave sin.

Then, too, there are other temptations against chastity that don't get talked about. We've had plenty of people show up here on this blog, for instance, to argue about how the way other people dress does or does not affect them--but how many people who are insistent on modesty in dress find themselves giving a total pass to the television shows they like when these shows drift toward egregious immodesty and have no redeeming literary or other value? How many people who uphold the Church's teaching against homosexual activity have no problem watching a show like Glee, for instance? How many people who insist that they cannot without sin view the sight of a woman's knee at Mass don't mind at all that Dancing With the Stars is regular viewing in their household? How many women have made jokes about the UPS drivers' uniforms when they are "out with the girls," or commented on the physical appearance of their favorite actors?

And, of course, what is true about the Sixth Commandment is true about the others.

We probably won't be in a position to give someone a loan and charge him usurious interest. But how many Catholics--and other followers of Christ, as well--think it's fine to cheat a little bit on their taxes? How many are silent when they see the cashier accidentally enter the code for ordinary lettuce instead of the more expensive variety they have in that little plastic bag? How many stretch a store's generous return policy to the breaking point? (I sat aghast, once, hearing a Catholic talk about how she would buy brand-name stuff at a local thrift store and "return" it for full credit at a department store that carried the same brands and did not require receipts for return. I considered her actions to be theft, but was too stunned to say so.) How many people accept government aid they don't really need or could do without on the grounds that it is available and they would be fools to pay for things themselves that the state or nation is ready and able to hand them?

Then there's the Third Commandment. Full disclosure: I'm bad at this one. How many of you are, too? How many of you do errands or servile work or other things that break the Sunday character just because it's convenient? I'm not talking about the occasional justified sort of thing, but about making a habit out of treating Sunday as if it were Saturday, minus the hour or so you actually spend in church. Like I said, I'm bad at this one, so I'm not asking readers to ponder anything I'm not pondering here.

And maybe we don't actually take the Lord's name in vain, but maybe we've picked up an unattractive habit of casual swearing or vulgarity. And maybe we don't kill people, but maybe we don't do as much for the pro-life movement as we ought; or maybe we're a bit violent in our attitudes and thoughts toward people in a way that is occasionally depersonalizing (I'm a redhead. Enough said). And maybe we don't dishonor our parents, but maybe we're not as good about visiting or picking up the phone or taking the time to be present to them and really listen (not talking about deeply dysfunctional relationships, here, but ordinary ones). And maybe we don't bear false witness, but maybe we gossip or have a habit of petty character shredding or have developed the "defense mechanism" of always thinking and believing the worst about other people (and being cynical when they seem to be good). And maybe we don't covet anything or anyone belonging to our neighbor, but maybe we nag our own spouse about what other people's spouses do around the house etc., and maybe we immerse ourselves in self-pity about how our house looks compared to how it ought to look, based on magazines and home improvement shows and friends and neighbors who have more money than we do.

I think that it's natural to focus on the big sins, because they betray something deeply wrong with our present culture in this modern age, something that started several hundred years ago and continues to spiral toward decay and destruction. But in our own personal lives, it's the petty little sins that stand between us and holiness, and that can, if left unchecked and unresolved, lead us to the big sins that can cut us off from eternal life. The petty little sins shouldn't be ignored; they are symptoms of our mortality, and can grow to become deadly if we never focus on them at all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

That "Catholic bloggers are mean" meme...

There's an interesting meme popping up in the Catholic blogosphere these days. You may have already noticed it; I've been seeing examples of it pop up for some time now, but a recent sample can be seen here. I don't mean to pick on the young man who wrote that one, though; his post is just a continuation of the meme I've been seeing here and there, and has some good points to it.

The meme, however, goes something like this:

1. The main problem with the Catholic blogosphere is that people are mean there.

2. Bloggers are snarky and dismissive, and commenters are vile and vicious.

3. We need to turn the Catholic blogosphere into a holy and blessed place by remembering that we are talking to real people and speaking only as we would if they were in the room.

I disagree with points one and two. As to point three...well, let me share a little story.

Yesterday some things happened at my parish that I disliked. I may, eventually, blog about the issues in guarded terms, because to get too specific about the incidents would be to risk committing the sin of detraction and also might needlessly embarrass some people involved in the liturgical abuses when they were only doing what they were told and were not at fault. However, when something was mentioned that touched on these issues at choir practice (which is held on Sunday afternoons), I could not keep quiet any more (not that I was actually trying all that hard) and I let my opinions on the matters be known. Someone in the choir who reads my blog (hi, there!) then started nodding and said something along the lines of "There's the blog..." or it might have been "There's the blogger..." Either way, the point was that in sharing my true, heartfelt opinions with some people who I knew quite well would be generally sympathetic to my point of view I was actually able to be as real and genuine and honest as I am here every single day.

Are the people who read this blog sympathetic to my points of view? Not every person and not on every issue--but that's what makes it interesting. Because blogging is a very unique form of conversation, where the exchange of ideas does not happen in real time, each person can think out his or her response to each idea, and disagreement is not necessarily a hostile thing. In real life, we all have a tendency to pull our punches a little bit, because we never really know if our honest, heartfelt opinions might cause needless pain to the sort of person who not only disagrees with us but has emotional baggage such that disagreement is somehow synonymous with hostility, or who thinks that he or she is being personally attacked every time we say, with fully civil politeness, "You know, I'm not sure I really agree with you on this," or some similar thing.

But the blog world is different, because blog readers can quickly and easily see if they are reading the sort of blog where the blogger expects to be affirmed in everything he or she says and where commenters provide a sort of chorus of positive reinforcement to each other, or if they are reading the sort of blog where the blogger doesn't mind vigorous and thoughtful disagreement and permits commenters to engage each others' ideas and thoughts in a manner that may be quite forceful, though it must, I think, remain civil. There are uncivil blogs; I've peeked in on occasion to one I won't mention whose purpose seems to be to attack the people the blogger doesn't like and whose commenters tend to fill the comment boxes with speculation about the blogger's victims' emotional and psychological well-being or lack thereof, but that sort of thing will never really have wide appeal in the Catholic blogging world, and at least these particular people have a nice safe place to vent without becoming Internet stalkers or some such thing.

I think there is plenty of room in the Catholic blogosphere for blogs in which the blogger's own honest (if sometimes forceful) opinions are aired and the vigorous exchange of ideas permitted, just as there is plenty of room in the Catholic blogosphere for blogs of personal affirmation and positive reinforcement. Different types of people or people in different stages of their lives will be drawn to these different blog types, and there is no need to label blogs where forceful ideas and vigorous disagreement occur "mean" or to insist that niceness is the same thing as charity.

To be fair, not all of those calling for civility and kindness in the Catholic blogosphere are saying that all, or even most, Catholic blogs are hotbeds of incivility and meanness. But I sometimes have a suspicion that the only reason this doesn't get overtly said is because the people saying it are themselves too nice to say so. It would be a shame if an idea that Catholic blogs could only exist if they steered clear of controversial topics, barred any contentious debate, and banned commenters for the crime of being annoying (as opposed to, say, being actually vile or vicious) were to take hold. I can't imagine this blog existing were it to be renamed "And Sometimes Tea, not that tea is better than coffee or the beverage of your choice, and no insult implied to those who drink neither, because of course we all have our own personal ideas as to what a good drink might be..." for example.

What worries me, then, is this notion that blogging and commenting (and Facebook posting etc.) are somehow inherently objectifying and tilted toward meanness simply because they are public. On occasion one might encounter a blogger or (more often) a commenter who does not realize the conversation occurring is a public one, but that is rare. In the example this young writer very humorously opens his comments with Jack and Jill are having a private conversation except that Jack (who initiates the conversation) treats the discussion like a blog comment session. The real problem, to me, is that sometimes Jill wishes to have a private conversation, mistakenly thinks a Catholic blog is a place to have one, and totally fails to realize that she has voluntarily entered a debate, complete with podiums and comments from MSNBC-wannabes, until Jack raises a rather mild hand and says, "Now, Jill, that's an interesting idea, but I believe you might be mistaken..." at which point Jill dissolves into public tears about how mean Catholic bloggers are in general and Jack is in particular.

I am sure that there are some people who think that debates are inherently objectifying affairs that are tilted toward meanness, too. But we don't usually expect debate participants or debate watchers to say so; they presumably know the rules before they participate or watch such things. The bottom line, then, is that if you are the sort of person who does not like vigorous debate in real life, you should probably steer clear of the sort of blogs where debate is the order of the day. There are plenty of blogs which avoid debate and keep conversations very mild, and although these are not the sort of blogs toward which I (for example) naturally gravitate I know there are plenty of people who prefer that sort of writing to the sort of writing I do here, and that is completely fine.

What is not particularly just is to complain that Catholic bloggers are mean when you simply dislike debate. It is just as objectifying to complain about people carrying on public and rather nitpicky conversations without considering whether there are people in the world who quite like public and rather nitpicky conversations and who are capable of keeping these things perfectly civil. Deo gratias, we are not all the same, nor should we have to be.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sadness

Over at The Deacon's Bench, Deacon Kandra posts this photo and caption:

Vice President Joseph Biden blesses himself after receiving communion at the memorial Mass for Archbishop Pietro Sambi on 14 September 2011.

Now, it's not absolutely clear from the photo that Mr. Biden has received communion. However, given that Mr. Biden apparently does receive communion when he attends Mass, it is quite likely.

My reaction to pictures like these is sadness. It seems so abundantly clear that few of those in authority really care if our politicians who not only support abortion but are instrumental in funding and abetting it are eating and drinking condemnation upon themselves at the holy altar. The same thing is true for those political or public figures who receive Holy Communion despite adulterous relationships (even when those relationships involve civil marriage) and other grave problems which place the person in the position of being in manifest grave sin who ought to be barred from causing scandal by their reception of Holy Communion.

Alas, the comments at Deacon Kandra's site show an almost abysmal ignorance of the whole question of Canon 915, the notion of obstinate perseverance in manifest (public) grave sin, or even the idea that people who are themselves conscious of mortal sin must refrain from receiving Holy Communion so as not to commit the additional grave sin (mortal, under the right conditions) of sacrilege. This is also deeply sad, but not surprising. I, too, grew up in the era of the smile-button/felt-banner catechesis, and was led to believe on more than one occasion that short of deliberate homicide mortal sin was almost impossible to commit, and that even if one did do something rather wrong, one ought to decide for oneself if one felt "okay" about going to Communion--nobody could, or should, stop you or ever tell you that you really ought not do so without sacramental Confession first. It was enough to think about one's sinfulness and be sorry about it in a vague, general way.

Which is bad enough, of course. But in the case of someone like Mr. Biden, there's no evidence whatsoever that he's even remotely sorry for those actions and votes of his which have, over his career, helped to kill countless innocent unborn human beings. Mr. Biden quite likes abortion, by all evidence; he's certainly committed to its continuation and to the idea that taxpayers ought to pay for it and that women need, really need, the ability to rip their unborn offspring to shreds on the taxpayer's dime--in the name of freedom, of course. So the sight of him receiving the Body of Christ, Who innocently bore tortures not unlike those endured by our suffering brothers and sisters in the womb, is unsettling at least, and may be a scandal to many.

Beyond that, though, there is the harm potentially being done to Mr. Biden's own soul, as he takes Holy Communion without really being in communion with the Church on an important teaching of grave importance to our age. And thus, sadness is my reaction to the photo--sadness for Mr. Biden himself, and for those he may be leading astray by his thoughtlessness in this serious matter.

What do you, especially my Catholic readers, think of this picture?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Our work is not our vocation

I wasn't planning to weigh in on the Father Pavone situation, which Ed Peters has covered very thoroughly here. For those who haven't heard, Father Pavone's bishop, Bishop Zurek of Amarillo, has recalled Fr. Pavone to the diocese to discuss some questions regarding to the finances and accounting associated with Fr. Pavone's pro-life ministries; Father Pavone is being obedient in action by heading for Amarillo, but perhaps a bit imprudent in speech, in continuing to discuss the matter via Catholic media instead of waiting until after he meets with his bishop.

I wasn't, as I said, planning to comment on this matter, at least not at this point, because as I see it this is a dispute between an ordained priest and the bishop who has rightful authority over him, and hopefully it will be amicably settled. This is not a Father Corapi situation; it isn't even a Father Euteneuer situation, and thus it doesn't call for a great deal of discussion.

That's what I thought, anyway, until I read this:

Father Frank Pavone told reporters that he will seek incardination in another diocese following Bishop Patrick Zurek’s decision to end the priest’s ministry outside his diocese.

Speaking at a press conference before he celebrated Mass at Amarillo’s cathedral, Father Pavone said that “I do not foresee myself staying incardinated in Amarillo.”

“It’s a sensitive issue,” he added. “We’re working it out behind the scenes. But I say that in light of the bishop’s apparent unwillingness to let me do pro-life work full time, I will seek that elsewhere.”

And this:

Pickets will be conducted at many of the diocese's 49 parish churches, with special emphasis on St. Laurence [the diocese’s former cathedral] and the nine other parish churches in the City of Amarillo proper,” Gregg Cunningham of the Center For Bio-Ethical Reform said in a press release. “Street pickets will be supplemented by the operation of a fleet of large billboard trucks bearing signs which will also depict aborted babies and urge Amarillo Catholics to tactfully contact Bishop Zurek to request that he ‘free Father Frank.’”

“The trucks will be accompanied by aircraft towing large aerial billboards which will also bear aborted baby imagery and exhortational text messages,” added Cunningham, who has been a longtime ally of Priests for Life. “These pickets will continue until Bishop Zurek releases Father Pavone from what amounts from ecclesiastical ‘house arrest.’”

Oh, that will be helpful. Sigh.

With all due respect to Father Pavone--and I have plenty of respect for him and for his ministries--this is getting out of hand. There's more, I think, than a little touch of the "rock-star priest" about what Father Pavone has been saying in the media. Father's supporters--the ones planning to picket--are openly criticizing the bishop's actions as if Catholic bishops were notoriously hand-in-glove with Planned Parenthood, or something. Granted, there may be bishops worth criticizing in this regard, but I've never heard of Bishop Zurek being one.

The truth is that God, working through Bishop Zurek--Father Pavone's lawful authority--could call Father Pavone today to some other work or ministry for the good of the Church, the good of Father Pavone himself, or some combination of these. If God did call Father Pavone to some other ministry, that would not at all be proof that God is not on the side of pro-life ministries. Rather, it would be a reminder that all of us, priest, religious, or lay, are given a vocation for our own good, and that the work we do as a part of this vocation may vary greatly from year to year. The work, that is, is important--but it is not of primary importance. God can, and does, lead us to varying tasks and responsibilities throughout the course of a healthy and holy vocation, and no one is so indispensable to his or her work that he or she must be allowed to continue it at all costs.

A wife and mother has many different works and tasks to accomplish during her years of living her vocation, and that vocation changes drastically from her newlywed days to her raising-toddler days to her mom-of-older-kids days to her empty nest days; in a sense she returns to the wifely vocation of her youth, but has the joy of being available to her children as they find their own vocations and to, if she is blessed with them, her grandchildren as well; a husband and father may traverse a similar path in his vocational life, and may also find himself leaving pleasant work outside the home for less pleasant work because the family needs this from him. A parish priest may go from being a mere assistant to an associate pastor to a pastor responsible for a parish; he may even become a bishop someday, with a whole host of new obligations. Or, a pastor, as one of mine did, may be asked to go and lead a seminary, an important work very different from administering a parish. A religious priest or brother or sister may be sent by his order to many different places and take on many different roles within the community, learning a cheerful humility and willingness to serve along the way.

Father Pavone has been blessed to be permitted to use his not inconsiderable talents in pro-life ministries he founded for many years now. If God wills it, he will be working in this field for many more years; but if the ministry is to be fruitful, it must be founded on that vocational obedience which every priest owes to his lawful superior. I do pray that this situation will be resolved quickly and amicably for the good of all involved, but especially for the good of Father Pavone and Bishop Zurek.

Prayers for Rod's family

I learned this morning that Rod Dreher's sister, Ruthie Leming, died this morning; Rod has posted about her death here. Readers may recall my request for prayers for Ruthie when she was first diagnosed with lung cancer; although she lived longer than many with so terrible a diagnosis, her passing this morning is terribly sad news for her grieving family, and I ask all of you to join in prayer for Ruthie and her family today.

Today in the Catholic calendar is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. I ask my Catholic readers, and anyone else so inclined, to offer today this litany of our Lady of Seven Sorrows for Ruthie Dreher Leming and her grieving family.

Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

by Pope Pius VII

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of the Crucified, [etc.]
Sorrowful Mother
Mournful Mother
Sighing Mother
Afflicted Mother
Foresaken Mother
Desolate Mother
Mother most sad
Mother set around with anguish
Mother overwhelmed by grief
Mother transfixed by a sword
Mother crucified in thy heart
Mother bereaved of thy Son
Sighing Dove
Mother of Dolors
Fount of tears
Sea of bitterness
Field of tribulation
Mass of suffering
Mirror of patience
Rock of constancy
Remedy in perplexity
Joy of the afflicted
Ark of the desolate
Refuge of the abandoned
Shield of the oppressed
Conqueror of the incredulous
Solace of the wretched
Medicine of the sick
Help of the faint
Strength of the weak
Protectress of those who fight
Haven of the shipwrecked
Calmer of tempests
Companion of the sorrowful
Retreat of those who groan
Terror of the treacherous
Standard-bearer of the Martyrs
Treasure of the Faithful
Light of Confessors
Pearl of Virgins
Comfort of Widows
Joy of all Saints
Queen of thy Servants
Holy Mary, who alone art unexampled

V. Pray for us, most Sorrowful Virgin,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God, in whose Passion, according to the prophecy of Simeon, a sword of grief pierced through the most sweet soul of Thy glorious Blessed Virgin Mother Mary: grant that we, who celebrate the memory of her Seven Sorrows, may obtain the happy effect of Thy Passion, Who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.

The Seven Sorrows of Our Lady

1. The Prophecy of Simeon
2. The Flight into Egypt
3. The Loss of Jesus in the Temple
4. Mary meets Jesus Carrying the Cross
5. The Crucifixion
6. Mary Receives the Dead Body of Her Son
7. The Burial of Her Son and Closing of the Tomb.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If the wrong person is elected...

There are a lot of people on both sides of the political aisle who will tell us in exaggerated terms how quickly our nation will go to you-know-where in a portable wicker product should their party's candidate not be elected in the coming presidential election. It's easy for the less politically agitated to ignore such warnings, or at least, to think them overblown. But recently humor writer Tim Siedell wrote to warn us all about a Very Serious Danger to our nation should the wrong person be elected in 2012; this is one warning we should all take with the utmost seriousness we can muster while simultaneously holding our sides and spewing the beverage of our choice onto our keyboard (or, for you young'uns, onto the keypad of your smart phone or other mobile device):

The 2012 presidential campaign has begun, and it's already shaping up to be a historically contentious fight. The stakes are high.

Some of our nation's celebrities won't be content with simple endorsements and appearances this time around. They'll have no choice but to threaten to leave the country if the election doesn't go their way.[...]

Empty threats? Perhaps. But, by definition, all threats are empty until they aren't. We've already lost Gwyneth Paltrow to Europe. What if the next person is someone the public will actually pay to see in a movie? No, these threats are exactly that. Threats. Existential threats that strike at the very heart of America's economy and geopolitical standing in the world. It's time we take them seriously.

Celebrities are America's greatest natural resource. And because celebrities care more about the environment and other important things than the rest of us, they actually make the world a better place by their mere existence. They are like the trees in the rainforest, filtering out the bad stuff and filling the world with good. If they disappear from America, we'll suffocate. We must act now to make sure celebrities are unable to follow through on their campaign threats. [...]

There was a time when America made things like, well, things. Today, we make Snookis and Kardashians. It's what we're good at. And we simply can't afford to let the same thing happen to our entertainment industry that happened to the automobile industry. In some ways, it's already begun. Every actor like Johnny Depp who leaves America creates a vacuum that is often filled with a Russell Brand. Our celebrity infrastructure is already eroding.

Read the whole thing here.

Chilling, isn't it?

Can you imagine the fallout from a sudden exodus of America's best and brightest citizens--or, wait, from a sudden exodus of America's celebrities, who should not be confused with the former? Well, can you? (And wipe that grin off of your face.) I can imagine just some of the terrifying consequences, listed here in no particular order:

1. Movies would have to have actual scripts again. Yes, as terrible as it is to contemplate, Americans would stop going to movies to see the latest greatest hottest most interesting/controversial/frequently divorced stars, and would start going to movies expecting to be...entertained. Sure, CGI explosions would help to make up for the loss, but sooner or later somebody would have to write a movie script containing a plot, dialog that didn't rely solely on grunting, cliches, or expletives, and at least some plausibility factor. It would be hard, and difficult, and our heroic would-be scriptwriters would have to make many painful sacrifices, such as actually learning to write--but none of that would help if movie producers and directors didn't buy well-written scripts, continuing instead to look for shoddily done "star vehicles" despite the absence of stars.

2. TV, too, would be impacted. Gone would be the plethora of shows focused on detailing every aspect of a celebrity's life, from the outrageous to the ridiculous to the get-outta-here. Gone, too, would be those shows that exist solely to show off how well the lead (who could be doing/has done films and/or Broadway) can mug the camera and upstage the minor characters who serve only to set him or her off. Since that would remove about 75% of all current programming on the major channels, there would be a lot of dead air time until TV execs figured out what to do about it all.

3. American businesses would suffer. Without celebrity tweeting about an Italian designer's limited-edition stuff being sold at a big-box store, for instance, would people have been mobbing said store yesterday trying to get the stuff before it was all gone, in the kind of cultural display of elegance and good manners last seen when panicked citizens were fleeing Pompeii? And that's just one tiny example of celebrities doing what they do best--helping Americans realize that we just can't live without a particular item so that we rush right out to buy it. Why, we might forget to shop for anything but food and essentials, instead of drooling over gadgets and gizmos and toys and overpriced handbags! It would be terrible, and would certainly not help the economy any.

4. The magazine industry, already tottering on the Cliff of Irrelevance which overlooks the Dustbin of History, would be given its final push. If a magazine is published using the trees of a forest, but no celebrities appear within the magazine, was it ever really published at all? Enough said.

5. Our formerly American celebrities would take up residences in various parts of the world, meaning that traveling Americans might run into them when they are trying to get away from it all. Or, worse, the various parts of the world might try to send our celebrities back...

Clearly this next election is fraught with piles of hidden peril. The sudden upswing in the use of words like "fraught" is a minor peril compared to the loss of our priceless celebrities, who do so much good for themselves that the trickle-down effect means that they eventually do good for us all. And the danger that they will all go off and be replaced by C-listers is too hideous even to contemplate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dressing like adults

Is there a wistful longing for more appropriate clothing in churches, schools, businesses etc. moving through our culture?

Maybe.

You've probably already seen this, from last week:

"Casual Friday" has become a staple of American office culture. But what about "Casual Sunday"?

For decades, houses of worship have been consecrated by tidy congregations in their very best dress. Trim suits and ties pulled straight enough to choke the fidgety young parishioner were the norm, anything less being sure to draw the scorn of the flock.

But the culture has changed, and with it the Church. For some preachers and priests, word of this "new day" is written not in any holy book, but rather on the T-shirts young worshippers now wear to Sunday Mass.[...]

"I'll say it from the pulpit," Rev. Pilcher declares. "This isn't the camper's mass, this isn't the hunter's mass, it's the Holy Mass."

Speaking with Our Sunday Visitor, a religious publication, Father Pilcher described one uncomfortable showdown with a young woman and her family.

She had worn a "skimpy" dress to a church service. When asked, privately, if she would take a more conservative tack for future engagements, the woman angrily refused, citing other churches that had welcomed her particular style. The young lady's parents were soon in Father Pilcher's office, defending their daughter's right to bare arms, among other things.

"I asked them if it would be O.K. if I wore only a bathing suit with the right liturgical colors and thongs to celebrate Mass. But my argument didn't work," he said. Appropriate or not, the family held their line, inviting the pastor to do just that.

Typical Catholic blogosphere modesty article? Not really--this one was posted on the ABC News website, which makes it somewhat unusual.

Then there's this, today:

When San Jose (Calif.) Piedmont principal Traci Williams decided to actually enforce a longstanding ban on miniskirts at the school, her school wide dress-code sweeps found a very surprised target: The school's cheerleading squad. Now members of the Pirates' spirit team are facing a season wearing sweatpants under their uniforms during all school days to avoid violating the dress code, a measure that they're none too pleased about.

"Pockets are hanging out," Williams told the Mercury News of skirts that had been identified in recent clothing sweeps. "Cheeks are hanging out. We don't want them bending over."

While the cheerleaders feel the school administration should ease up on its enforcement of the rule, the Mercury News reported that plenty of other students had been sent into a special building until their parents arrived with a change of clothes, all because their skirts were deemed to be too skimpy.

The cheerleaders are mad that their $300 uniforms are verboten. But the school principle pointed out that a rival school's cheerleaders wore skirts that were at least mid-thigh, making them permissible under the dress code; the problem isn't cheerleader skirts, but cheerleader skirts so short as to be indecent. Which, again, is not exactly new--what is new is a school principle putting her foot down and demanding a change in the way students show up for school.

And students aren't the only ones facing dress code crackdowns; some teachers in Pennsylvania are, too:

Monessen School District in Washington County recently updated its dress code for teachers after an administrator said visitors had a hard time distinguishing between teachers and students. Many other district forbid teachers from wearing jeans, ball caps and revealing clothes to work.

"There are 501 school districts in Pennsylvania. I think there might be 501 policies on dress for teachers," said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Monessen Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Chelen said the school board maintained a longtime ban on flip-flops and sneakers but also ruled out golf shirts for men and sleeveless clothing for women.

"Things were starting to get a little too casual," she said. [...]

Although fashions come and go, Chelen said there should be one constant: Teachers should dress more formally than students.

In other words, teachers are the adults, and they need to dress like adults.

In pondering the myriad modesty debates in the Catholic blogosphere, I've come to a conclusion of sorts. I think the real crux of the problem is what I just said above: the past few generations of adults have resisted to the hilt the idea that there is such a thing as adult clothing or that we should be bound by such a notion. Jen Fulwiler's recent article hints at a possible reason why; in our culture that celebrates recreational sex and worships youth as a prerequisite for sexiness, nobody wants to be told to dress, or act, our ages.

Look at the litany of clothing articles which keep getting mentioned as inappropriate for Sunday Mass: shorts, tee-shirts with inappropriate messages or words, spaghetti-strap tops or dresses, halter tops, exercise clothing such as sweat pants or yoga pants, too-short skirts or dresses, flip-flops, and so on. Now look at some pictures

here,
here,
here,
here,
and here.

Those are all articles of children's clothing from the 1940s and 1950s (similar to children's clothing of many earlier decades). Short pants, little strappy tops or dresses or halter sunsuits, obvious "playclothes," short little dresses designed to go well above chubby little knees for the child's ease of movement, soft, slipper shoes (which you can find if you browse the website above; it would take forever for me to link to all the pictures I liked!), sheer blouses and dresses designed to be work at the beach over a swimsuit--these were things that children wore.

Somewhere along the way clothing designers stopped making clothes for children and those for adults noticeably different. Now the tide is turning the other way, and clothes for children are being "tarted up" in ways they shouldn't be. But I really think the resistance to wearing nice clothing of even the business casual variety to Mass, to transact business in town, to restaurants that don't feature clowns and drive-thru windows started when people stopped wanting to grow up and take on adult responsibilities and adult lifestyles.

Alas, that's a problem that no amount of clever bulletin notices will fix.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Calls for silence?

First, a brief "housekeeping" announcement: anonymous commenting has been enabled again. I will be watching comments to make sure that trolls don't once again infect the blog, but I'm reasonably sure that things will be okay, and I dislike making my regular commenters jump through hoops to be able to post comments on this blog.

Now, then.

I don't want to pick on this particular blogger; this post is the first of hers I've read (hat tip: Mark Shea). But I've been puzzling over it all day, and have finally decided to write about my puzzlement. Ordinarily I would do this by going through the blogger's post and pointing out specific areas where I disagree; but, like I said, this is the first time I've ever read this particular blog, and I'd rather not take so focused an approach to discuss something that really is more a vague uneasiness than a direct disagreement. The blogger seems to be saying (and I'll be more than happy to correct this if my brief synopsis is not at all what she intends) that it does us no particular good as Christians to write and speak and act against such things as abortion, gay "marriage," the death penalty, etc. (I'm sure she would add war and torture and other hot-button issues that we Catholic bloggers tend to write about); and it does us no particular good as Christians to get into liturgical discussions with each other (and, again, here if she's saying we shouldn't be having liturgical wars I have no problem, but she seems to be saying that even discussing liturgy is a waste of our Christian time). We should be working instead on being a follower of Christ, on standing with the unborn and Death Row inmate and...er, um, Latin Mass devotee?...by converting our hearts, going to Mass and Confession, and working on rooting out our own personal sins.

So: being a follower of Christ by praying and working and living our vocations, going to Mass and Confession, and tackling the sins and problems of our own lives in order to give our hearts more completely to Him is good. But--being a follower of Christ by doing those things and also working to end abortion (via activism or education or volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers--or only via activism? It's not clear in the post) or to stand against gay "marriage" and for the preservation of the family or to work to hold the Church's teaching on the death penalty in its merciful fullness in your heart or to develop a true love for both of the liturgies of the Roman Rite and to be excited, perhaps, about the coming new translation that is a huge step in the right direction...that's somehow bad?

I'm not sure that I get this.

A Christianity that does not transform people, help them turn away from their sins and selfishness and pettiness, create saints out of sinners, and so forth would certainly not be a true following of Christ. But a Christianity that says nothing to the prevailing culture of death, recreational sex, injustice, poverty of matter and of spirit--is that a true following of Christ?

I can understand a call for greater civility in how we address each other (both online and in real life). I can understand a call for compassion, for kindness, for meeting people where they are--I try, imperfectly, to do that here on this blog and in my encounters with my fellow human beings.

What I cannot understand is a call for silence.

Silence in the face of our own sufferings and tribulations--sure, although the joy of being part of a community of believers is that we can also ask for prayers from our fellow Christians, and these prayers can strengthen and uplift us in the midst of the most serious of trials. If, however, we choose to be silent about our crosses, we can look to Christ as our model.

But silence in the face of the sufferings of others? Of the innocent? Of the poor? Of the people caught up in adultery or fornication or homosexuality, especially the ones who want desperately to hear a message that is counter-cultural and hopeful and truthful? Of people involved in lesser ills, but still ills, things that are roadblocks in the path that follows Christ--who may not, themselves, realize that they are held back in this way?

I wish to share a personal experience here, but I don't wish to cause the person concerned any embarrassment. So the references are oblique; I apologize. Someone I knew was involved in something the Church does not permit. I found out by accident--I would never have looked for the information. So I discussed the matter with my husband, and prayed, and then offered the person the information about this thing that this person was associated with.

I was prepared for pushback, hostility, indifference--I thought I was prepared for anything. But I was not prepared for the person's actual response.

This person immediately, completely, even joyfully eradicated the problematic association from this person's life. This person thanked me for the information with a sincere heart and a faithful Catholic outlook. My own reaction was humble gratitude that God would have allowed me to witness what the true Christian response to this sort of thing ought to be--especially given my own deep deficiencies, most notable when I resisted for so long the idea that Catholics ought not to approve of torture (a different issue, but a similar sort of thing, really).

What if I had remained silent? What if I had not offered, in love and with prayer, this information I had to my friend? What if I had convinced myself that doing so would somehow have been "un-Christian" instead of knowing it to be the thing I had to do? If God had held this person I refer to accountable for the association, how much more would I have been accountable, knowing what I did in truth know?

Again, I understand, and sympathize with, calls for civility, for avoiding any grandstanding, for steering clear of rhetoric that is deliberately inflammatory and that disrespects the people to whom it is addressed. I understand it, even though I sometimes fail in this area, for which I have many regrets.

But I don't understand calls for silence in the face of our culture's pervasive and perverted evils. I will never believe that the Christian response to societal ills is to shut up about them. Perhaps that reveals my own sinfulness--or perhaps silence is not the only proper response of a Christian to the evils of our age.