Monday, April 30, 2012

My tidy little template

Many Catholic bloggers have already commented today on this unusual story:

Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino has moved to quell a backlash against a group of conservative priests in Platteville by warning parishioners they risk formal church censure unless they stop spreading "rumors and gossip."

The action by Morlino, which two Catholic scholars called highly unusual, appears to include the possibility of offenders being prohibited from taking part in church sacraments such as communion, confession and burial.

The warning came in a five-page letter Wednesday from Morlino to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Platteville. The congregation has been roiled by opposition to the traditionalist priests, who began serving the parish in June 2010.

Within months, church donations fell by more than half, and about 40 percent of the church’s 1,200 members signed a petition seeking the priests’ ouster. The church’s 77-year-old school is set to close June 1, a loss many parishioners tie directly to the collapse of donations. [...]

The priests are from the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, a group known for traditionalist liturgy and devotion to strict Catholic teaching. They do not allow girls to be altar servers or allow parishioners to assist in distributing communion. Critics say they emphasize doctrine over pastoral care and institute changes in a heavy-handed way.

Morlino has stood by them and did so again in the letter to parishioners, the primary purpose of which was to announce his decision to accept the parish’s recommendation to close the school. The priests have admitted "that they undertook some changes in a way that was abrupt for many people," Morlino wrote, yet he said no one has provided concrete examples of the priests straying from church doctrine.

In the end, "the Catholic faith is being taught according to the proper understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and what remains are personal likes and dislikes, along with inflated rumors and gossip, some of which may even rise to the level of calumnious inciting of hatred of your priests, the faith and myself," Morlino wrote.

Strong words; the bishop's entire letter can be seen here.

I'm not writing today to comment on this specific situation for the simple reason that I don't know anything about this specific situation. I would be interested in learning about what's going on from people inside the parish, both from supporters of the new priests and from those who have had problems, because to me a balanced look requires input from both sides. But since I don't know, I won't speculate about the inside of this particular scenario.

Why write at all, then? Simple. There was a time when, reading such a story on the Internet or anywhere else, I would have just assumed that the story fit the, to me, usual template: orthodox priests promote orthodoxy, heterodox parishioners get all outraged and cause trouble. The only thing different would be the ending, the bishop's support of the priests--because from my perspective the one thing orthodox priests couldn't ever count on was the bishop standing with them against the angry heterodox parishioners.

That time when I would easily make this story fit my prefabricated template and dismiss any notion that the parishioners could have any legitimate complaints is long gone. It was shattered by an experience I wrote about here. In that instance, parishioners who were quite orthodox, who had been in the parish a long time, and who had very legitimate complaints about a new parish employee were, to put it bluntly, treated like dirt. The message was clear: the pastor was calling the shots, and he didn't have to listen to parishioners. He, too, wasn't violating any Church laws--but, in my opinion, his bad judgment in the hiring situation was made worse by his complete failure to listen to people who knew what they were talking about in an area in which he admittedly had no expertise. Having shut down all communication, he left those parishioners, my family included, with two choices: continue to put up with an intolerable situation, or leave. We left, and found a new parish home that has been a real blessing in our lives.

So I was a bit troubled by the paragraph in the bishop's letter discussing the parish school at St. Mary's in Platteville, because his excellency seems to be saying that the parishioners who left the parish, taking their donations with them, have somehow let down the schoolchildren. Sometimes the only healthy thing to do, from a spiritual perspective, is to leave a parish and attend another one (absent any rigid enforcement of parish boundaries, that is, which is the situation in most of America today as far as I know). This is especially true if one's parish priests or other parish employees have behaved in ways which, while not violating ecclesial law, fail to measure up to the standards of common politeness and human kindness. Again, to be clear, I am most emphatically not saying that this is what is going on at St. Mary's in Platteville, WI. I'm just saying that it does happen, and is not even all that uncommon.

That's why I can't make these stories fit into my tidy little template anymore of "orthodox leaders good, wishy-washy liberal parishioners who jump parishes at the first sign of trouble bad" which used to govern my reaction to stories like these. It's not always that simple. Nor is it always a matter of mere hurt feelings which leads to people seeking other nearby Catholic parishes--sometimes it's a betrayal of trust and an inability to reconcile which puts members of the Body of Christ at such odds with each other. And that's always a sad thing to see.

Friday, April 27, 2012

No post today...'s why:

Wrote the last 33 pages last night between about 8:30 and midnight. My fingers are tired.

See you next week! :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mark Shea and the politics of personal distraction

I've noticed an interesting thing happening on Mark Shea's blog lately. I have a feeling it happens on lots of other Catholic blogs, too, but I've just been noticing it at Mark's, so I'd like to share it here.

Early this week Mark had posted a link to a Pure Fashion show, for instance, but altered the post when a commenter pointed out that Pure Fashion is a Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi creation. My longstanding post in which I try to keep up with the names of various Legion ministries was kindly linked to, and I popped in to the comment box to explain that I do try to keep the list current, and am happy to update the list when a group, say, is no longer a Legion associate. Needless to say, someone showed up to wave the "uncharitable" flag by insinuating that I didn't care that various apostolates were faithful to the Magisterium, etc.: I was just "naming and shaming" them based on Legion affiliation.

Resisting the impulse to answer with that ever erudite expression, "Well, duh!" I explained that I was naming them because the Legion is so coy about admitting their associated works for reasons which are totally inexplicable, and that as to shaming, it really all depended on whether you thought that there was anything to be ashamed of in having been founded and run for years by a now-deceased man who fathered children while a priest and also molested young men, some of them children, or whether you thought the Legion's actions since those revelations are the actions of a fully contrite and humbled order dedicated to a period of quiet reflection and a new mission the prime objective of which is to discover what the Legion's charism actually is.

The point of the "naming and shaming" comment, though, I suspect (though I admit I don't know for sure) was to confound me into confusion and make me look like an uncharitable person...for keeping a list of Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi affiliations. Which is not, itself, an uncharitable thing to do, but that tends to get lost in the comment box shuffle.

While I was still pondering this little experience (by which I mean that I'd totally forgotten about it) Mark himself got tagged, rather hysterically, by a different politics of personal distraction group. His crime? Failure to find Medjugorje to be the source and summit of all Marian apparitions, and--horrors!--being one of several male (sinister!) Catholic writers to be guilty of this failure!

I'll let you have recourse to your smelling-salts bottles before I continue.

You see, the charge made by Medjugorje supporters is that anything less than full-throated enthusiasm for the belief that Mary is appearing there with frequent lengthy messages to the faithful despite the disapproval of local bishops is the same thing as attacking Medjugorje (and possibly Mary herself). One is not allowed to be cautious about Medjugorje, or to be indifferent to it, or even to say that one is unconvinced that Mary is appearing there--there are only two choices: approval or denigration. And the detractors, according to the supporters, are part of a Vast Catholic Internet Conspiracy to keep the truth of Medjugorje from being known, when everybody knows that everything Mary has reportedly said so far and everything about the lives of the seers etc. is--wait for it--faithful to the Magisterium.

At this point I began to notice a little pattern.

The thing is, someone or something Catholic can, indeed, be apparently faithful to the Magisterium yet not be all that worthy of support. Some groups which have started out faithful to the Magisterium in Church history have sadly not ended that way--and some groups which started out unfaithful had real conversions and joined to the Church. But no one would fault a contemporary of a dubious historical group or apparition for steering clear of it until the Church spoke definitively about it--that's just common prudence. And no one could fail to feel sorry for a group that went from fidelity to the Magisterium to separation from the Church, though that has happened too in two thousand years of Church history. The point is that a group's apparent fidelity to the Magisterium taken in a snapshot of time does not tell us whether the group (order, apparition devotees, etc.) is going to remain in good standing with the Church; there are other things to look for when deciding prudently and responsibly which Catholic organizations and so on are worthy of one's time, efforts, and support.

As it happens, I've got a terrific example to illustrate this point from (of all places!) Mark Shea's blog. Mark posts these two posts detailing Michael Voris' supportive interviews with E. Michael Jones, a man who apparently believes that the Jewish people are behind every bad thing that has happened to Christians over the last couple thousand years, give or take a few, and who associates with people who also practice this brand of anti-semitism.

So, predictably, the first commenter under the first post asks what "anti-semitism" means anyway--the idea possibly (again, I'm speculating) being to derail the discussion from the outset by making it look as though Mark Shea is being a big meanie to accuse people of hating Jews simply because they wish to raise (to them) thoughtful and sensitive questions about whether or not the Jewish people planned the attempted airplane shoe bombing, were responsible for the Fukushima disaster, and are secretly promoting world atheism--because these are perfectly rational questions for Catholics faithful to the Magisterium to spend their Holy Hours pondering.

Um. Not.

The common thread running through all of these posts and comment box conversations is this: people who promote and defend groups, apparitions, and even individual Catholics whose goals or ideas are of perhaps less than rock-solid status have a defense mechanism that is starting to be easily recognizable when they--the devotees, that is--feel as though their pet group, apparition, or Catholic new media star is under attack. That mechanism is to attempt to make anyone who disagrees with them look like a dissident Catholic who doesn't have to be engaged with or argued against--because we all know (or do we?) that the only way to treat dissidents is to dismiss them entirely. One or two pertinent combox questions of the "But have you stopped beating your wife yet?" variety is all they need; and you can just about bet that sooner or later they will raise the "Magisterium" flag, in order to be able to say later among their friends and confidants, "I called that Shea fellow (etc.) out and reminded him that the Legion/Medjugorje/Voris/Jones/etc. is fully faithful to the Magisterium, and he shut up pretty quick." The implication being, of course, that Shea (or whomever) is a flaky heretic who is comfortable attacking, if not the Magisterium itself, at least those Magisterium-faithful groups and people Shea (or whomever) secretly hates and would probably destroy if he (or whomever) could.

And that's a pretty insidious tactic, given, as I mentioned above, that outward fidelity to the Magisterium is only one of several important things to look for in any group or public Catholic figure. For instance, the Magisterium doesn't cover whether it's okay for Catholic groups to engage in high-pressure, guilt-laden fundraising tactics that stay just a bit to the right side of honesty; the Magisterium doesn't specifically mention what to watch out for in terms of a group becoming too clique-like or single-focused or, shall we say, near-fanatical about something the Church herself is mildly enthusiastic about in a balanced sort of way; the Magisterium pretty obviously doesn't condone anti-semitism and can define it quite well, thank you; and the Magisterium is clear that when it comes to apparitions, Catholics are pretty free to pay no attention at all even to approved ones, but that when one hasn't been approved it's a good idea to be mindful of the duty of obedience to the proper authorities.

Bottom line: taking a fellow Catholic's concerns about a group which may indeed be (or may not be) faithful to the Magisterium as a sign that that Catholic dislikes the Magisterium and/or willfully hates groups that are faithful to it is nothing but the politics of personal distraction, in which an attempt is made to distract readers from the gravity of the issue at hand by raising false suspicions about the fidelity of the Catholic writer himself. With the Legion of Christ, we saw this tactic time and time again, until the Vatican finally spoke--and even afterward, there are still those who equate criticism of the Legion with criticism of the Magisterium and the Church. The same thing is true with Medjugorje, with Michael Voris and/or E. Michael Jones, and with hosts of other things. Yet while the Magisterium is itself infallible, there's no guarantee that fallible groups or people who merely intend fidelity to the Magisterium will be--and it's a dangerous mistake to think that the two concepts are the same.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Converts: it's your turn!

When I posted yesterday's survey I got a comment from a convert to the effect that the survey was geared toward cradle Catholics--which it was. But it got me thinking that it might be interesting to do a similar unscientific survey of converts to Catholicism as to what effect, if any, mainstream Catholic education had on their conversions.

It should be obvious that people who choose as adults to become Catholic will be learning about the faith somewhere, and most of them also participate in parish RCIA programs as well. But I'm interested in the total picture of what aspects of Catholic education may influence people to become Catholic.

So here are the questions:

1. At what age (approximately) did you convert to Catholicism?

2. Did you ever attend a Catholic grade or high school? If you did, did the education you received there impact your desire to convert positively, negatively, or not at all?

3. Did you ever attend a Catholic college? If you did, did the education you received there impact your desire to convert positively, negatively, or not at all?

4. Prior to your entrance into an RCIA or similar program, had you ever attended a religious education program at a Catholic parish? If so, did it help you along the road to conversion?

5. How did you go about learning about Catholicism prior to the decision to begin the conversion process officially via a parish or priest? That is, did you learn by reading, by talking to Catholics, by participating in online discussions, etc.? Anything you did to learn about the faith should be mentioned here, including anything I didn't mention. :)

6. If you are married, was your spouse a Catholic prior to your conversion? Did he or she influence your desire to be Catholic?

7. If you have children, have you enrolled or would you consider enrolling them in diocesan Catholic schools?

8. If you attended a parish RCIA program, how helpful was it in answering your questions about Catholicism?

Okay, my Catholic convert friends--have at it! And please feel free to add anything you think I should have asked, but didn't. :) Again, I'll approve anonymous comments for this post--there's no need to share personal information with your name attached unless you wish to do so.

And, as with yesterday's survey, please feel free to share this with others if you like!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Catholic education survey--please answer and share!

The Bedlam or Parnassus blogger has a good post today talking about the importance of Christian education. He references a recent post by Cardinal Dolan in which the good cardinal says:
Sound familiar? We Catholics have known this for years: there is no more tried-and-true way of passing on our Catholic faith to our kids than by sacrificing to put them in a Catholic school. Data proves they persevere in the faith at higher rates, pray better, are more faithful to Sunday Mass, live gospel values, are more generous to their parish, even have happier marriages, volunteer more, and transmit the faith to their own children, than those not in a Catholic school.
All due respect to Cardinal Dolan, but--really? Data shows that? I'd like to see that data, please. And if it's data from before, say, 1970, then I think that it's just slightly possible that the data has changed, rather.

Also, when that data was collected, were Catholic homeschools counted as Catholic schools, or not? I'm guessing not--but I'd like to see how Catholic homeschools did in the metrics of perseverance in the faith, attendance at Sunday Mass, the living of gospel values, generosity to the parish, happier marriages etc. One small thing: I would also like to see "generosity to the parish" measured in terms of percent of annual income donated, not total donation dollar amount; it shouldn't surprise anyone that graduates of Catholic schools are comparatively more wealthy given that many Catholic schools these days cost too much for most poor Catholic families to be able to afford to send their children to these schools in the first place.

In fact, I'd like to see a survey done among Catholics. I described the survey in a comment at Magister Christianus' blog this way, though I've altered some of it slightly here:
I wish that a study would be done of Catholic school students that would ask these questions at least four or five years after high school graduation:
--Were you educated in Catholic schools primarily, public schools primarily, or home school primarily?

--Do you still go to Mass every Sunday? If not, about when did you stop (e.g. high school, college, after college)?

--Do you still accept Church teachings in all areas? In particular, do you reject (at least in principle--I realize that to be a sinner is not to cease to be a Christian) the sins of fornication, of contraception (if married), of abortion, and all other sins of sexual immorality? Or do you think the Church must change her teachings in these areas to conform to the culture?

--Do you pray? If so, do you pray daily? Weekly? Or less often?

--Do you go to confession on a regular basis?

--Do you see your relationship with God as very important, somewhat important, or not important at all?

--Do you see your relationship with the Church as very important, somewhat important, or not important at all?

--Which of these best describes you: I am a practicing Catholic; I am Catholic, but I don't go to Church often; I am no longer Catholic; I am no longer Christian; I no longer believe in God?
I initially said that I'd like to see Catholics ages 22 to 32 respond, but now I think it would be helpful simply to ask any Catholic age 22 and older; stating one's age in one's responses would be totally optional. My suspicion, which I shared at Bedlam or Parnassus, is that Catholic students educated in Catholic schools since about 1970 would show rates of loss of faith and/or loss of practice of Catholicism that would be similar or even greater than those Catholic students educated in public schools since that time.

This is because in a time and in places when Catholic schools were nearly ubiquitous, run by devoted religious sisters, affordable to all families in the parish, and very orthodox in their teaching of the faith, it took something approaching religious indifference for a parent to choose to send a child to public schools. But today, when Catholic schools are more scattered, are run by lay teachers some of whom openly reject Church teaching, expensive to the point of economic elitism in some parts of the country, and rather weak in terms of orthodoxy, it is not religious indifference that prompts some parents to choose public schooling or homeschooling for their children; in some situations, parents choose to avoid the Catholic schools because they don't want their children to lose the faith!

I have no way to conduct a formal, scientific survey. But I would be very interested in seeing the results of an informal one--and thus I ask my Catholic readers if they or their children over 22 would be interested in answering my questions in the comment boxes. I would also ask readers to share this survey any way they'd like (your own blog, Facebook, etc.).

One final note: some might wonder why my question about Church teaching focuses on the area of sexual morality. I chose this area because it is highly relevant to the Church today, given the impending political battle over contraceptive coverage and religious freedom. While it might be instructive to find out if, say, Catholic school graduates reject the Immaculate Conception or the Hypostatic Union, I don't think it will be as instructive as hearing where Catholic graduates of Catholic, public, and home schools stand in terms of their acceptance of Church teaching regarding sexual morality.

Please answer! Please share! Let's find out if Catholic schools still do the best job of passing on the Catholic faith--because if they don't, then that is a problem in need of a solution.

UPDATE: I was asked if answers to the survey can be anonymous. Yes, they can, for this post--I will publish whether you tag with a nickname or not.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness

First of all, many thanks to those readers who told me how to get the classic blogging template back for now. Yes, Blogger plans to take it away from me again, fairly soon, but in the meantime I will be free to explore other blogging formats and decide if I want to move. (Not kidding, Blogger: leave the classic option available, or some of us will go elsewhere.)

Yesterday Thad and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary by taking the girls to early Mass and then heading out for a day of total fun which included driving to a great used bookstore in Denton, heading further north to Gainesville, and then driving across the Red River into Oklahoma just to say we did. :) Many adventures, including shopping at this German bakery (inside a gas station, but truly amazing--the apricot pie is especially delicious!) and doing a bit of antiquing, were part of the program. We all had a great time! As I told the girls, while their dad and I appreciate the times we get to go have dinner or something together, we really enjoy including them in our anniversary celebration, because marriage doesn't just unite two people: it unites two families, and makes a third and new one into which children are, by the grace of God, born and cherished.

Our culture doesn't see marriage that way. From over-the-top wedding promotions which tell the bride-to-be, over and over, that it is her special day and thus she should get to have everything exactly the way she wants it, to popular culture exalting the thought that extended family and/or one's children are nuisances and that you should spend as little time with them as possible, to the commonly accepted idea that marriage isn't permanent and nobody should really ever think so, to the increasing notion that marriage can be any two people of any two (or more--the idea that there are only two is fading) genders, the deconstruction of marriage is well underway.

How does this sort of thing happen? I think that future historians will look at the ruins of what used to be Western culture and see the signs going back further than many of us do. Many of us tend to think that all of the madness and insanity we see growing around us goes back a matter of forty or fifty or sixty or even seventy years--but it may be that the future historians will see the threads of the destruction of the West and the demolition of the Western notion of marriage and the family trailing off further than that into the distant past.

But it does seem, from people I talk to who are a few decades older than I am, that the pace of the destruction has picked up quite a bit, and that some of the "movers and shakers" in the deconstruction of the family consider themselves to be Christians--yet they are comfortable agitating for LGBTQ "marriages," porn use in the home, and other things that Christians used to be pretty much universally against. I think that my question from the previous paragraph--how does this sort of thing happen?--might be a little bit easier to answer if we focus on this question: how did so many self-proclaimed Christians end up abandoning, wholesale, Christian teaching against sexual immorality?

It's pretty hard to read the New Testament and come away with the notion that God really doesn't care whom you sleep with, what you do in the sex act department, whether you are married, whether you divorce and remarry, and so on. The best a sexual libertine Christian can come up with is a sort of weak objection by negatives, a protest that Christ didn't specifically address moral question a or sex habit b. But that ignores a few important realities about Jesus and His background as an observant Jew. If He had come, for instance, to tell people that fornication, adultery, homosexual sex acts, etc. were all just fine for His followers, one would think He would have made a point of saying so, since this would be a huge departure from Jewish teaching of His day.

Instead, the few times sexual matters come up in the Bible, Jesus has a tendency to go further than the Law. A man is guilty of adultery or immorality, Christ says, not only by sleeping with a woman not his wife, but merely by having deliberate lustful thoughts about her. Moses permitted divorce, Christ says, but divorce will not be permitted for His followers, because to divorce and remarry is to commit adultery. To the woman caught in adultery He shows mercy and will not condemn her to die--but He does tell her that she must avoid this sin from now on. In no way does Christ sound as though He does not care at all what people do with their bodies in their bedrooms--He sounds like there are clear standards of right and wrong, and that if anything, His ideas are stricter than the Mosaic Law except in terms of temporal punishment for these sins.

In case any of that is unclear, though, the Holy Spirit also inspired the Epistles, in which matters of sexual morality come up so often that it's difficult to list them all. Suffice it to say that the serious Christian can come away from the Epistles with one of two beliefs: either St. Paul and the other writers, the earliest Church leaders, were already completely off the rails and untrue to Jesus' desires for His Church in their writings about sexual morality, or they were following what He taught them with the sort of specific explanations and expansions one would expect from pastors and shepherds as questions were raised among the flock. If you believe the first, there's no good reason to be a Christian at all, because if Christ's first followers were completely wrong about one very important matter then it's likely that they were wrong about others, and that nothing at all remains of Christ's intentions for His Church by this time. If you believe the second, you can't very easily justify a total tossing of about two thousand years of Christian teaching and thought about the grave evils of various sexual sins--and yet this is what far too many self-proclaimed Christians today appear to want to do.

The question is, why?

I have a theory about at least one of the many contributing factors to this. I think that as Christians started lacking discernment about their entertainment choices, allowing themselves to consume media without that Christian discernment, they began to be enticed more and more into the desire to be children of the world instead of children of God.

I need to be clear about this: I don't mean that Christians should only read Christian books, see Christian plays or movies, watch Christian TV shows, etc. It is difficult to engage the world if you don't know what's going on in it, and no one can say that the entertainment media presents a false view of what's going on. They may, and do, draw false conclusions about it all, and they may, and do, ignore the very real problems in favor of tidy "happily ever after" solutions, but the answer to those defects is not to ignore secular media altogether and pretend that the Christian novel about the nice minister and his nice family and nice church and nice community who faces a real crisis when his nice daughter wants to marry a nice boy from another nice family but a not-nice person (gasp!) in the church starts a false rumor about him that the minister sadly believes until the truth is nicely revealed actually represents the real world.

The problem, though, is that as Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness we can't afford to be uncritical consumers of mass media entertainment. The Bible tells us: Test all things; hold fast that which is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21) There is a reason to keep a critical distance from the worst excesses of our entertainment media: it is because our culture is not merely sick, but dying from a terminal illness which wishes to spread itself as widely as possible. The goal of much of what passes for entertainment is to titillate, to entice, to arouse on the one hand, and to dull the moral reflex, to push an agenda in which accepting all sorts of evil is good while questioning evil is bad, and to cast those who believe in truth, and in right and wrong, as rigid and frozen people who are trapped by their moral character into pathological unhappiness.

We see the fruits of this when nice, seemingly ordinary self-proclaimed Christians start arguing that perhaps sodomy isn't such an evil, and porn is fine for married couples, and threesomes might spice up a Christian marriage, and graphic sexual fiction is a good read instead of worthless filth. From there to arguing in favor of dismantling marriage and rendering the concept totally meaningless is a short step, and it's a step plenty of trendy Christians who seem to care more about what the world thinks of them than they do about Christ are all too eager to make. But as Christians in a secular world teetering toward godlessness, we need to decide which side we're on: are we going to stand firm with Christ, or deny Him in favor of a dying culture full of banal immorality?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I hate Blogger...

Okay.  I was all set to write a nice post having to do with things like noise and silence, which is fitting given how long it's taken me today to get to blogging in the first place.

So I go to my blog, click on the "new post" button, and....

...the horror.

Those of you who are using Blogger know what I'm talking about.  For those of you who don't blog or don't use Blogger, let me tell you what has happened.

For years now I've opened that "new post" window and seen a small friendly tan-trimmed rectangle wherein I could enter my posts.  It had easy-to-find buttons for things like links and quotes and justification and so on, and down at the bottom you could set your post options, for things like whether you were going to allow comments and whether or not you wanted to schedule the post for a later time.  It was easy on the eyes, and intuitive, and best of all it was familiar.


See, I hate certain kinds of change.  Furniture rearranging is fine, as are other household moves.  New routines and new schedules take some getting used to, but I can deal.  A new electric can opener won't really throw me off my stride, and even a new fridge that looks almost exactly like the old one--emphasis on almost--has not taken me long to adjust to.

But I hate when electronics change.  I hate having to buy a new computer monitor, for instance--it's as if somebody moved a window in my home while simultaneously moving the neighbor's house slightly, too.  I hate it when you upgrade a word processing program and all the tools and buttons you're used to are now in different places and do different things--because I have to stop writing long enough to think about them, and it throws me off my stride.

And now, instead of my familiar tan rectangle I get an ugly square of glaring, Eyestrain White against an uglier block of gray.  Buttons are stretched out along the top, with the "Compose" and "HTML" buttons on the opposite side of where they used to be; the "justification" menu requires a pull-down, and the whole look "behind the scenes" is so depressingly mind-bogglingly unattractive and unappealing that I don't honestly know how long I'll be able to keep blogging on this platform.

Which is ironic.

Because for years other blogging friends have told me to come to WordPress or some other platform so I could experience the perks: better comment moderation, more options for post appearances, more design possibilities, fewer failures or other glitches, and so on.  And my answer has always, always been: Oh, I know Blogger's not that great, but it's what I'm used to.  It's familiar.  And I hate change...

Well, Blogger, if you're going to impose these ugly, unwanted changes on me whether I like them or not, maybe it's time I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried somebody else's blogging platform.  Because right now, tonight, I really, really hate Blogger....

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Liberal Nuns: a reminder to be Catholic first

As everybody in the Catholic blogosphere has already said, the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious did not receive a glowing report from the Vatican. Quite the contrary. Of course, the nuns blame health care:

Word of the Vatican’s action took the group completely by surprise, Sister Sanders said. She said that the group’s leaders were in Rome on Wednesday for what they thought was a routine annual visit to the Vatican when they were informed of the outcome of the investigation, which began in 2008.

“I’m stunned,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

Bloggers tempted to cheer at this outcome might consider Omar F. A. Gutierrez's sober analysis:

Second, we shouldn’t be cheering because the year is 2012. We’ve known about this goofiness among the women religious for how long? Where I grew up, I remember the weird, quasi-pagan rituals the local sisters would do in the mid 80’s. My Mom would come home and report these things to my young ears and I just wondered where in God’s name the bishops were… and were these the same splendid sisters who taught me in grade school?

Sure, we should be glad that the Holy Father and the USCCB is taking hold of this situation now. God bless Archbishop Sartain who will be taking on this Herculean task, but honestly, why did it take so very, very long to address something so obviously corrupt. Since this all seems to be a matter of enforcing canon laws, again why did it take so long?

In one convent I entered some years ago – not in Omaha – I read the newly drafted mission statement of the women religious community that was so proudly displayed in the lobby. Nowhere in this mission statement did the name of Jesus or Christ appear. NOWHERE. The word “Eucharist” didn’t even appear in the mission statement even though the particular order was dedicated to adoration. Instead, it was a bunch of drivel about being modern St. Francises as they strove to bring reconciliation between Mother Earth and humanity. It was about being a prophetic voice of change to the rest of the Church. Blah blah blah. This should not have taken as long as it did.

Amen to that!

In fact, back in 2008 when the visitation of the LCWR was first underway, I wrote a post about it here. The whole post follows, for those newer readers who may not have seen it then:


Many people have already posted excerpts from this, reported by the Catholic Key, which helps explain why some women religious are being investigated:

When religious communities embraced the spirit of renewal in the 1970s, they took seriously that the world was no longer the enemy, that a sense of ecumenism required encountering the holy “other,” and that the God of Jesus might well be the God of Moses and the God of Mohammed. The works of Thomas Merton encouraged an exploration of the nexus between Eastern and Western religious practices. The emergence of the women’s movement with is concomitant critique of religion invited women everywhere to use a hermeneutical lens of suspicion when reading the androcentric Scriptures and the texts of the Tradition. With a new lens, women also began to see the divine within nature, the value and importance of the cosmos, and that the emerging new cosmology encouraged their spirituality and fed their souls.

As one sister described it, “I was rooted in the story of Jesus, and it remains at my core, but I’ve also moved beyond Jesus.” The Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative for these women. They still hold up and reverence the values of the Gospel, but they also recognize that these same values are not solely the property of Christianity. Buddhism, Native American spirituality, Judaism, Islam and others hold similar tenets for right behavior within the community, right relationship with the earth and right relationship with the Divine. With these insights come a shattering or freeing realization—depending on where you stand. Jesus is not the only son of God. Salvation is not limited to Christians. Wisdom is found in the traditions of the Church as well as beyond it.
I couldn't help but be reminded of a story:

On Beyond Jesus (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Said Sister Androgina Guevara Mao,
(An old friend of mine who worships the Tao):
You start out by studying Adam and Eve
(Though I find that story too hard to believe)
Then you go through the prophets; you study the kings
Who all hated women (misogynist things!)
Some poems called psalms, and some proverbs, and then--
You get to the Gospels; and that's where it ends.
You read about Jesus, you learn His whole story,
With good bits with women, and other parts gory,
And then you should know, from the very Creation,
The whole of the story of humans' salvation.

I was nodding--because that is how it should go--
When she frowned and said sternly: No. Oh, dear, no!
That's what they tell you, that's what they try
To make you believe while you live till you die.
But some of us know this is no place to stop!
I could keep finding prophets and myths till I drop!
You can stop, if you want, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But not me!
I won't stop here, not at any price!

If you stop here with Jesus, you'll never explore
The non-androcentric religions galore:
The ones that have goddesses, holy and wise
With perhaps a bit more than their fair share of eyes,
The one around Buddha--you really should try it!
If nothing else Buddhism's good for your diet.
And then there are legends of spirits that come
When you carve a big totem or beat a big drum.

So, on beyond Jesus! To Zeus and to Hera!
Don't let a word like "heretic" scare ya.
There's so much empowerment you'll never know
If you stop at Jesus. So go, go, go, go!
Go on to the Norse Gods, to Freya or Thor
You'll learn so much more than you could have before.
Cosmology, circles, spell-casting and chant--
But not the old sort. No, that kind we can't.
We've forgotten the words, if we ever did know them,
Besides, we worked hard so we could overthrow them.

On beyond Jesus! There's so much beside Him!
The gods of the Romans, (though they crucified Him)
Are interesting sorts, like the two-headed Janus.
We'd put up an altar to him, but they'd ban us,
Those narrow suspicious ones coming to check--
They've seen our free writings, but called them all dreck.
They stopped at Jesus, and now you can see,
Just what would happen to you--and to me!
If we stopped at Jesus, and never went past Him.
We'd be just like them--but we will outlast them!

Oh, maybe some orders are doing quite well,
Who stopped at Jesus. It's hard to tell.
They have new members, and growth, and much joy.
But what we have is better. Oh boy, yes, oh boy,
We went beyond Jesus! Our convents are empty,
Young Catholics avoid us, or say things contempt-y.
We have no future, we turned from our past,
We built nothing permanent, nothing that lasts.
But we did explore all the gods ever prayed to!
Except the real God, unless we were paid to.

So what if our convents are left now in tatters?
We went beyond Jesus. And that's all that matters.

I shook my head sadly as she finished talking,
Said my goodbyes, and quickly left, walking
Straight through the big labyrinth inside her foyer,
She shouted at me, but I just ignored her.

In other words, as Gutierrez's post points out, the tendency of American nuns to combine sincere and much-appreciated works of charity with goofy leftist political activism and even goofier paganism and a wholesale rejection of many of the Church's teachings in various moral areas is not a new problem, and this first attempt to address it is long overdue. If the sisters quoted in the NYT piece are truly surprised, shocked, and appalled that it has come to this, then a small reminder is in order: Catholic nuns, like Catholic priests, Catholic brothers, Catholic deacons, and all other Catholics, are supposed to be--you know--Catholic first. If you really think that the Church is a misogynistic and patriarchal society which oppresses women, and that abortion or birth control are liberating, that sex outside marriage, divorce, and other forms of immorality are good ideas, that gay "marriage" is just trendy enough to be worth supporting, and that Jesus Himself a) would have no problem with any of these things and b) isn't really any more important than Gaia or Isis or various unnamed spirit-gods and demigods of other traditions, then the question isn't "Why, then, are you a religious sister?" but "Why the heck are you even Catholic?"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How effective are political videos?

A group named Catholics Called to Witness has put out a video encouraging Catholic voters this year to stand up for life, marriage, and religious freedom. The video is here:

I've seen it pop up on a few Catholic sites here and there, and I'm curious: what do you think of the video?

I'm a Catholic who is in agreement with the idea that the sanctity of life, religious freedom, and defending traditional marriage are tremendously important, so I'm not asking (at least not in this post) whether you agree or disagree with the issues raised here. I'm actually asking the following questions about the video itself, and political issue videos like this one--and feel free to answer any or all as you choose:

1. Do videos like this about issues you are interested in impact your vote positively, negatively, or not at all?

2. Do you share videos like this one (about issues you care about) with other voters?

3. Have your political opinions ever been influenced by a video?

4. Have you ever first heard about or become interested in an issue because of a video? E.g., if you hadn't heard of the religious freedom debate set against the 2012 presidential campaign, would a video like this one make you curious enough to do a little research into what was going on?

5. Do you think videos like these are mainly aimed at voters who already agree on these issues, voters who disagree, or voters who may be ambivalent--in other words, what is the target market?

6. Given your answer to 5 (if you answered), what is the target market for this particular video?

I know that political ads in general can be effective--most people who are at least my age remember this ad, for instance. But I'm curious about "issue" ads produced by groups other than the political parties. Do these ads work? Why or why not?

That's a lot of questions--hope I get a few answers!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fluke, and others, on equal pay

Hold on to your hats, folks: Sandra Fluke is back in the news, this time writing for CNN about the equal pay gap:

As a graduating student surrounded by classmates about to assume their first jobs, I assure the senator that none of my female classmates is thinking, "Salary isn't that important to me. I don't plan to work hard and don't need to be paid fairly, because I won't be a breadwinner. A man will come along to take care of that for me."

Instead, many young women about to enter the workforce are focused on paying off their student loan debt. Those who are also mothers are worried about how to financially provide for, and simultaneously care for, their young children. The single moms among us face even larger challenges. And we are worried about our sisters who don't have college degrees and so don't have the same earning power.

What female students might not remember is that the men with whom we stand shoulder-to-shoulder at graduation don't face the same financial challenges. Many young women of my generation believe they live in a post-feminist world, without unfair sex discrimination -- a world in which career paths are designed with fathers and mothers in mind. Unfortunately, that world doesn't exist quite yet.

A significant gender pay gap still persists. That's why we cannot be passive as we acknowledge Equal Pay Day, which marks the day when a woman's earnings catch up to what her male peers earned in the previous year. To millennials, it's startling to see that women still earn just 77 cents to the dollar of what men earn. Women of color are hit especially hard: African-American and Hispanic women earn 70% and 61%, respectively, of what white men earn. Without any male income in their household, single women and lesbians may feel the pay gap effect all the more. This wage gap costs working women and their families more than $10,000 annually and jeopardizes women's retirement security.

This gap isn't just about women making different choices in their careers. Even after accounting for occupation, hours worked, education, age, race, ethnicity, marital status, number of children and more, a difference of 5% still persists in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation. After 10 years in the workplace, that gap more than doubles to 12%.

There's lots more, if you have the stomach for it.

And there's a little problem, too--I mean, a problem aside from the same woman who demanded that religious citizens have an obligation to provide her with free birth control now insisting that women should be treated no differently from men. Which is it, Ms. Fluke? You can't have it both ways! But the problem I refer to is simple: Fluke doesn't cite any statistics supporting her claim that even after accounting for choices and differences in background pay still differs by 5% to 12% for people one to ten years post-graduation--and other reports, which do cite statistics, paint a very different picture.

Take this, from Steve Tobak at CBS, written last March:

According to all the media headlines about a new White House report, there's still a big pay gap between men and women in America. The report found that women earn 75 cents for every dollar men make. Sounds pretty conclusive, doesn't it? Well, it's not. It's misleading.

According to highly acclaimed career expert and best-selling author, Marty Nemko, "The data is clear that for the same work men and women are paid roughly the same. The media need to look beyond the claims of feminist organizations."

On a radio talk show, Nemko clearly and forcefully debunked that ultimate myth - that women make less than men - by explaining why, when you compare apples to apples, it simply isn't true. Even the White House report: Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being explains why. Simply put, men choose higher-paying jobs.

Here are 8 reasons why the widely accepted and reported concept that women are paid less than men is a myth. The timing couldn't be better - today's International Women's Day 2011. What better time to empower women with the truth instead of treating them like victims. And, in case you're wondering, Nemko's source of information is primarily the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - rock solid.

Read the 8 reasons here.

Now, if that's not enough, take a quick peek at this essay by Carrie Lukas in the Wall Street Journal from last April:

The Department of Labor's Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.

Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.

Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions (which is also why men suffer the overwhelming majority of injuries and deaths at the workplace). They put up with these unpleasant factors so that they can earn more.

Recent studies have shown that the wage gap shrinks—or even reverses—when relevant factors are taken into account and comparisons are made between men and women in similar circumstances. In a 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30, the research firm Reach Advisors found that women earned an average of 8% more than their male counterparts. Given that women are outpacing men in educational attainment, and that our economy is increasingly geared toward knowledge-based jobs, it makes sense that women's earnings are going up compared to men's.

Hmm. 8% more doesn't sound like 5 to 10% less, does it?

That may be why Carrie Lukas writes this year, in Forbes, that it's time to end the myth that women don't get equal pay:

Equal Pay Day is supposed to represent the day that women have finally earned enough to make up for last year’s wage gap. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time working women earned 81 percent of what full-time working men earned in 2010 (the most recent data available), leaving a “gap” of 19 percent between the sexes. But that means to make up for that “under-payment,” women would have to work through March 10. So we are celebrating Equal Pay Day more than a month late.Yet the mistaken logic of Equal Pay Day goes deeper than this simple calculation. Equal Pay Day presumes that the difference between men and women’s average earnings stems from discrimination, as President Obama suggested in his official proclamation last year: “I call upon all Americans to recognize the full value of women’s skills and their significant contributions to the labor force, acknowledge the injustice of wage discrimination, and join efforts to achieve equal pay.”

The wage gap statistic, however, doesn’t compare two similarly situated co-workers of different sexes, working in the same industry, performing the same work, for the same number of hours a day. It merely reflects the median earnings of all men and women classified as full-time workers.

Lukas then repeats some of the points she's made before: that men work longer hours and are over-represented in difficult, uncomfortable, and dangerous jobs, while women choose careers that have perceived rewards beyond mere salary; she points out:

Unsurprisingly, children play an important role in men and women’s work-life decisions. Simply put, women who have children or plan to have children tend to be willing to trade higher pay for more kid-friendly positions. In contrast, men with children typically seek to earn more money in order to support children, sometimes taking on more hours and less attractive positions to do so.

Academics can debate why men and women make these different choices. The important takeaway, however, is that there are many reasons that men and women on average earn different amounts. It’s a mistake to assume that “wage gap” statistics reflect on-the-job discrimination.

Sandra Fluke insists that women are paid less than men when they do the exact same jobs working the exact same hours and with the exact same level of education and experience. But Carrie Lukas, Marty Nemko, and a whole host of writers, economists and others have refuted that claim time and time again. The bottom line is that when women make educational and career choices like those of men and spend the same number of hours working they can meet or even exceed men's salaries. But women want to be free to choose to put their children or families ahead of their careers, to work shorter hours when necessary, to reject certain dangerous or unpleasant career fields, to seek family-friendly jobs and occupations, and to decide for themselves whether they measure in terms of dollars accumulated or in terms of less-traditional measures of job satisfaction. Shouldn't true feminists respect the reality at work here, and honor the choices women make in these areas?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Titanic guest-post!

As you surely already know, yesterday, April 15, 2012, was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, an event which had about as much resemblance to a movie of the same name as a certain Disney film about a Native American woman had to that woman's actual life, conversion to Christianity, marriage to John Rolfe, and early tragic death from an illness.

Of course, if you get your history from films, you probably get your theater from journalists and your math from politicians, none of which is an especially good idea.

I asked an older gentleman and choir friend yesterday whether there was a drink that would be particularly meaningful with which to celebrate the anniversary of the loss of the Titanic; without missing a beat he suggested the Hurricane or the Torpedo, either of which would have the desired result of sinking the imbiber to the floor with reasonable speed and efficiency. Instead of that, though, I'm commemorating the sinking of the Titanic in a different way: by turning the rest of this blog post over to my dear sister Heather Sprinkle, who is an avid amateur Titanic-history buff and a font of knowledge and research about the Titanic. I can't thank her enough for agreeing to do this and share some of that interesting hobby with all of us! Without further ado, then, here is my sister's fantastic post to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic:


by Heather Sprinkle


Before 1912, the word evoked an effort beyond human capabilities: gigantic, colossal, Herculean. These words also spring from similar origins in Greek mythology and refer to larger than life mythological beings that strode the world in the dawn of time. Yet the word Titanic has taken on a mythology of its own. From 1912 the word is forever linked with an image of a great liner slipping into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic on a starlit April night. In common use are the phrases “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” or “the band played on.” You don’t have to be an expert in Titanic lore to appreciate the tragedy that changed the meaning of the word and introduced catch-phrases synonymous with futile action in the face of overwhelming disaster.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the sinking, there were those who wanted to forget that the disaster was something real that happened to real people and turn the whole thing in to a sort of myth that fit their beliefs and agendas. While most churches gave spiritual comfort and prayers for the dead, a few pastors issued thundering denunciations of “pride” and “greed” and God’s hand striking the impious rich, forgetting the many immigrants traveling in search of a better life. Some Irish Catholics grumbled against the Belfast shipyard where Titanic was built; suggesting that God had finally had it with the Pope-hating Protestants, forgetting first that Titanic’s sister ship Olympic had enjoyed steady success since her launching, that there were a significant number of Catholics traveling aboard Titanic, and that religious tensions in Belfast were neither limited to the Harland and Wolf shipyard nor to anti-Catholicism. Both the Americans and the British launched inquiries tasked to get at the truth of what led to the Titanic disaster, forgetting that even with the best intentions in the world, political posturing and a certain CYA attitude will hamper a thorough investigation. Charles Lightoller, second officer aboard Titanic and senior surviving officer, was dismissive of the American inquiry and essentially called the British inquiry a “whitewash.” In fact, as a direct result of new lifeboat regulations, the ship Eastland rolled over and sank in the Chicago River, killing 844 people; mostly women and children. The ship, already top-heavy, became unstable as a result of the weight of the additional lifeboats.

Today modern students of history have at their fingertips a wealth of information that can give a haunting glimpse into the real lives of real people affected by the sinking of the Titanic. That, along with the continuing discussions among scientists, engineers and those in the naval community regarding the ship herself make Titanic a compelling study.

For me, the disaster takes shape in the small moments: a few words from a survivor; a sudden revelation. It is survivor Lillian Asplund’s memory of the unpleasant smell of fresh paint and people of the third class (or steerage, as it was known) leaving their doors open. It is survivor Lawrence Beesley’s account in his book of walking down a flight of stairs and realizing, from where his foot is hitting the stair, that the ship was beginning her downward tilt. It is Charles Lightoller marking time while loading lifeboats by checking the water’s climb up a spiral staircase; the lights continued working under the water, casting an eerie greenish glow. It is survivor Col. Archibald Gracie after his desperate swim, enjoying the dubious safety of an overturned lifeboat packed with other survivors. One man suggests they pray, and after taking a quick poll of religions, the men pray the Lord’s Prayer together. It is reading the wireless messages sent by Titanic and other ships that night, put together from the wireless logs of those other ships. (For radio enthusiasts, Titanic sent : CQD/MGY and SOS/MGY along with her position. CQ means “all stations-attend” and D means “distress.” MGY was Titanic’s call sign.) It is learning how commands were issued from Titanic’s helm and what they meant, and discovering that when sailors talk about “striking” an object; they generally mean “running it over.” Titanic didn’t run into an iceberg, she ran over one: in fact, a protruding underwater shelf that lifted part of the ship, causing a torque and an unbearable strain that popped rivets and broke her steel plating.

Titanic is in a sense one of the first modern disasters. There were photographs, articles interviews, inquiries, and books – hundreds of pages of documentation within the first year of the disaster. Today there are hundreds of books and articles, movies, documentaries and excellent web sites where people from all over the world can share their interest in every aspect of Titanic from her architectural plans to exploration and salvage operations. Below the waves Titanic rests; a home for an amazing variety of deep sea life; in the end this life will consume and replace what’s left of her. Above the waves Titanic lives in a community of dreamers, artists, scientists and engineers; the casually interested and the obsessed, in an effort to remember and to understand that is truly Titanic.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my father a very happy and blessed birthday! Dad, we love you! :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hell will hurt

I have to say that having spent some time in the Pacific Northwest and having attended Mass at this cathedral (where I and my classmates were sternly instructed NOT to kneel during the Canon) I find myself terribly, even violently, unsurprised by this:
Seattle's largest Catholic church will not be taking part in signature-gathering to stop same-sex marriage, despite a recent call by Western Washington's Catholic leaders.

Father Michael Ryan, head of St. James Cathedral, tells parishioners in a letter that gathering signatures for Referendum 74 would "prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community."

A recent letter from Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo to the over 200 plus churches in the Archdiocese approved and encouraged the gathering of signatures in opposition of the recently enacted same-sex marriage measure.

But Father Ryan says in his letter that the leaders left it up to each pastor to decide whether to participate.

And so Father Ryan has apparently decided that using this opportunity to preach and teach the truth about the grave moral evil of homosexual sex acts and the further evil of participating in the total sham of pretending that relationships based around that evil are in any way analogous to marriage is too "hurtful" for Seattle's cathedral parish.

Newsflash, Father Ryan: Hell will hurt. It will hurt the people whose emphatic and obdurate adherence to grave moral evil with full knowledge and sufficient reflection causes them to spend eternity there by their own sinful choices. It will hurt the straight person who fornicates or uses contraception; it will hurt the person who shacks up without Holy Matrimony, and it will hurt heterosexual adulterers and homosexual partners who contribute to each other's residence in eternal punishment because they decide that their sex habits are more important than God.

The Catholic Church didn't make up her teachings against sexual immorality yesterday. For more than 2,000 years she has taught that the path to eternal life is not the one traveled by those who persist in mortal sin. Those who obstinately and permanently reject the Church's teachings against sexual immorality, whether they wish to approve of adultery (even the kind that pretends to be a second but invalid "marriage"), of fornication (even the kind that pretends to be all but "marriage" but is really nothing more than the old story of shacking up), and of homosexual partnerships (even if they try to force the state to pretend that these, too, are somehow "marriages") do not have a place at the banquet of Eternal Life. The same thing is true for all those who embrace grave sin against any of the Commandments and who do not repent before they die. To pretend otherwise is to reject Christianity itself, to reshape Christ and His Church into something He and she are not.

I wish Father Michael Ryan could have met one of the priests I recall from my childhood, who would unhesitatingly have issued him one of this priest's not-so-coveted "Society of Judas Iscariot" memberships, complete with the buttons my priest friend would hand out or mail to those deserving of membership in this not-illustrious Society. Judas is the patron of all those who want to remake Christ and His Church into their own images, to suit their own agendas, to further their own plans. Judas wanted a different Christ than the Son of God; in our own day, people like Andrew Sullivan want a buddy-Christ who is cool with mortal sins so long as those sins are sexual in nature, but who is still opposed to the things Andrew agrees are evil and wants Him to be opposed to.

Perhaps Father Ryan's congregation is full of people like Andrew who think that if they pretend hard enough, Christ will not be Christ, sin will not be sin, evil will not be evil, and Hell will not be real. Wishing to avoid hurting anyone's feelings on earth, they're totally okay with abandoning those people to a less-than-positive eternal fate. It is one thing to support, encourage, and exhort our fellow sinners as we wish for the same for ourselves--but I know, from the depths of my own sinfulness, that those who help me were those who call sin by its real names and encourage me to weed it out of my life, and to keep at that focused gardening lest those weeds grow up again. But it is something different, something ugly and untrue and sad, to pretend that sins are good things and that it is "hurtful" to say otherwise to people who sit in the cathedral's darkness like stunned sheep who can't find their Shepherd.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

We are experiencing technical difficultires...

...with that fridge I mentioned in yesterday's post.

Alas, it's not the lack of fridge-door sized cats, either (though I suspect our cats are both way too big to sit in the bins, I do not have the sort of death-wish necessary to find out for sure). It's that the particular fridge we bought and had delivered seems to be a bit confused as to this whole notion of "food-safe temperature," preferring to keep the fresh food section at a rather unhealthy 50+ degrees. It will, reluctantly, cool things off to 40 degrees if pushed to the near-maximum cold setting, but the second the door is opened to permit the removal of food, the fridge tries hard to return to its preferred 50-degree setting and stay there as long as possible before any sounds of incipient cooling return.

We've tried various things that troubleshooters recommend, but had to come to the conclusion that this particular fridge needs some serious help. Luckily, the big-box hardware store we purchased it from is willing to swap the fridge out for us rather than make us try to fix an appliance that has only been in our house since Monday; unluckily, no one around here has the model we bought, so we have to go pick a totally different one and then pray (and you know I mean that literally--who's the patron saint of appliances?) that this time around the refrigerator will work.

And I'm grateful.

Why? Because in today's economy, being able to buy a refrigerator and have it be nothing more than a slight inconvenience is something to be grateful for, and having stores with decent appliance-return policies is also something to appreciate. I know of families for whom a major appliance failure right now would be a financial catastrophe, and though we're far from wealthy it's a positive thing that we can purchase something of this price level and pay it off without incurring interest in a few months. I've also known what it's like to live in a rural area and have much more of a run-around (geographically and otherwise) to do some of the simplest things. And I know--who doesn't?--how frustrating it can be when you don't have good options or have experienced poor customer service, etc.

None of that is true here, so provided we don't repeat the "problem out-of-the-box" experience, we'll be good to go. Which makes me stop and think about how blessed we are, and how grateful I am for our blessings, even the ones I usually take for granted--like food kept safe from spoiling. And cats who are too big to sit in the fridge bins. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are children welcome?

Well, I'm back! Did you have a nice Easter?

I did. Of course, our 12-year-old refrigerator decided that Holy Week was a good time to display threatening signs of imminent compressor failure, but we're sort of used to appliances picking holidays around which to die. The new fridge appears to be working fine. We went with a lowish-end model after reading horror stories galore about planned obsolescence and the notion that a fridge should really only last five or six years these days--you know, like cars. Grr. Arrgh. What happened to a nation that used to build appliances that could last two decades or more? Of course, the most amusing thing was that the new fridge is black and reflective (because that color was in stock), while we had a white non-reflective one before. It has taken the cats a couple of days to stop being jumpy when we open the fridge lest the other cats, the ones they can see in the door when they walk by, decide to jump out at them. Our main cat, Emmett, is still a little nervous, but Smidge has decided to make friends with the fridge-cat on the excellent grounds that the fridge-cat never interferes with him and has not made a single move in the direction of the cat food.

Between a busy Holy Week full of choir obligations, the fridge thing, and today's invasion of ants into our kitchen (ahh, spring! And to think that the pest control guy was just here on Monday...) I've been a little bit away from the Catholic blogosphere--but not so away that I didn't notice the latest Great Catholic Blogosphere Rant-Debate-Fight, over the subject of whether or not blessing children in the communion line is Terribly Wrong and must be eliminated posthaste or mildly annoying or really not such a bad thing after all. On the side of Terribly Wrong and must be eliminated: Father Cory Sticha, who started this latest round, and Father Z. On the side of perhaps mildly wrong or perhaps not so awful: Deacon Greg and the Anchoress. On both and neither and even more extreme positions: legions of commenters on each blog.

Now, I have a couple of things to say about this (you knew I would).

First, I have no strong opinion about the blessing of children in the communion line. If the Church says "It's wrong, so cut it out," that's fine by me. It has been years since my children were infants or toddlers, and I can guarantee you that back then, by the time we drove over an hour each way to Mass every Sunday from our home in the rural South with three children under the age of three, the only thing I was concerned about in the communion line was whether or not any of the children were reaching total nuclear meltdown point, and if so, whether it was more prudent to wait outside during the final blessing and the recessional hymn or to climb back into the bench while ignoring the grimly contemptuous scowls from those sitting around us who thought we belonged in the glassed-in Chaos Room in the back (which was always full to the brim with adults who arrived at Mass late and thus glared just as hard at the children, along with children who had clearly been told that Mass was playtime and behaved accordingly). In other words, I really don't care if priests everywhere stop blessing children in the communion line or even smiling at them there on the grounds that any notice given to toddlers in the communion line is liturgically incorrect; that's their call. I think that most parents of infants and toddlers would agree: it's already so excruciatingly difficult to get young children to Mass that a little tap on the head by Father isn't a make-or-break point for most people.

Second, where I disagree with Father Sticha it's here:

Of course, people don’t like to hear that. They think it makes the kids feel “special” that they receive this blessing. (As an aside, I think the parents and grandparents get the warm-fuzzies more than the kids do.) Of course, they can’t be blamed. For 30+ years, they’ve been fed a mindset that the liturgy is malleable to whatever we want to do with it. Blessing for kids? Sure, we can add that right during Communion. Having kids come up for the homily and sit with the priest on the sanctuary steps? Sure, we can do that. Holding hands during the Our Father and running around the nave greeting people during the Sign of Peace? Absolutely! Whatever makes you feel good!

As I’ve studied more about the theology of the liturgy, I’ve come to the realization that this “feel good” approach is sending the wrong message about the liturgy. I’ve also become concerned that this has dangerously damaged their relationship with God, and they are blissfully unaware that any damage has been done. Instead of liturgy being the community focusing their minds and hearts on worship of God, it has become a social activity, focusing on ourselves. Now, we don’t come to liturgy to turn to God, but to ourselves. For this reason alone, I despise blessing children in the Communion line (and yes, I chose that strong language very carefully), and encourage other priests to stop immediately.

To me, this seems like a rather deplorable example of Blaming the Laity for what priests initially did wrong. I'm sorry, but I recall much of the past 30 years as a Catholic, and I can honestly say that there was never a spring day in, oh, 1978 or something when mobs of feel-good warm-fuzzy parents and grandparents stormed the communion line demanding a head-tap from Father for their little cherubs. No, what happened was that priests decided it would be nice to acknowledge the pre-first-communion kiddies in some way, and the blessing notion took off. Where, exactly, this came from, nobody seems to know. Commenters on various blogs have pointed to customs in other countries, to pre-Vatican II habits and postures, to the Eastern practice of giving even infants-in-arms the Eucharist, and to Novus Ordo-style disobedience and hippie-dippy stuff, but there doesn't seem to be a clear point of origin for this custom, except for this one incontrovertible fact: priests decided to do this, and then--only then, and after considerable time--did the laity come to expect it.

Which, when you think of it, is the truth for nearly all of the liturgical abnormalities of the post-Conciliar period (and probably before, but I don't know much about pre-Conciliar liturgical abnormalities). In fact, of all the liturgical irregularities I can think of, only one, the holding of hands during the Our Father, clearly originated from the laity. The others did not (no, not even the "running around the nave" during the Sign of Peace, because I can clearly recall many priests leaving the altar during the Sign of Peace to shake hands with as many parishioners as they could reach, something which is quite obviously forbidden). I say this not as a mere pointing of the fingers of blame, but just to point out, in charity, that it's sort of odd to hear a priest scolding his parishioners for having become accustomed to a liturgical abuse that was the fault of other priests, without mentioning that priests were ever at fault here. If the people seem to think--and I'm taking Father's word for it that they do--that their children will be missing out on something important if the blessing is eliminated, would it not be beneficial to apologize to them for the fact that they were misled by earlier shepherds, some of whom probably all but insisted that the little tykes be dragged up for a head-tap? To me, too many articles and posts like this written by priests fail to own up to the clerical responsibility for liturgical abuses. If the people got used to seeing the Mass as a personal plaything, they were led in that direction by Father Ad-Lib and Father Liturgical Loosey-Goosey; they did not wake up one day right after the Second Vatican Council full of the idea that lay people should demand things like the Rite of Dismissing the Children so They can Go Color Things.

Which brings me to my third point.

There is a question here, to me, which needs to be answered, and answered as soon as possible: Are young children, that is, infants, toddlers, and children below the age of reason, actually welcome at Mass or not? I know, I know, plenty of people say they are, and there are dear priests like this one who make a point of saying so very encouragingly. Yet there are lots of other voices to hear, and these voices are especially loud in the ears of parents: voices which point out that children below the age of reason don't actually need to be at Mass, that they can't participate in the Holy Sacrifice or receive Holy Communion (in the West), that their presence is distracting to those who are there for the real business of worshiping God, that mothers are excused from attending Mass when they have infants to care for anyway (so long as Mom makes her Easter Duty, that is), that split Masses are the best solution for families even if that means that Mom and Dad never attend Mass together until the last of their numerous progeny is old enough for Holy Communion, that "we have a nursery," that "we have a special Mass in the gym for families with children," that "Saturday night Mass has guitars--the kids love it!" and so on and so forth.

The message that parents are getting, loud and clear, is this: Don't bring your children to Sunday Mass. And if you look around at most parishes in most places in America, you will see how well parents are receiving that message, because you will see how few families with small children actually bother to show up on Sunday mornings. (Yes, I know that there are exceptions--but they are exceptions). Or, take a look at the children gathered for their First Communion Mass, and see how many of them actually come to Mass with their parents on a regular basis--sure, some pastors have instituted the laudable practice of making children who are going to receive the sacraments prove that they've been at Mass, but that only works for the time period immediately prior to First Communion. Lots of those children, and their parents and younger siblings, will disappear after First Communion and will next be seen when they register for Confirmation preparation--if they bother to come back then.

Now: does giving the children a liturgically-incorrect tap on the head with words of blessing (or without) when their parents come up for communion address this problem in any way? No, not really. But does the ambivalent attitude on display in far too many parishes about whether or not children are actually welcome to come to Sunday Mass with their parents when the children are still too young to sit angelically still and seraphically silent for an hour impact parents' decisions about whether to bring their families to Mass or not? Sure, it does. And do parents tire of the split-Mass Sunday routine, given the pressures of modern life, and eventually figure that they won't bother coming to Mass until the kids are old enough--especially given how many of them out there have never heard that it's a serious sin to miss Mass on Sundays without a valid reason, or who might think that "care of infants" covers both Mom and Dad until the youngest baby is five or so? I'm sure that plenty of them do.

The bottom line, for me, is this: priests, by all means don't bother giving children in the communion line a silly head-tap of blessing, especially if it's not allowed. But if you don't figure out some way to make sure that infants, toddlers, and young children and their parents really are welcome at Sunday Mass--not barely tolerated with tight-lipped endurance, but truly welcome as Christ welcomed the children--then the question of whether or not to bless children in the communion line will become moot: there won't be any children coming to Mass anymore anyway.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Yes, I know I'm on break...

...but given today's weather, I wanted to do two things: first, be publicly thankful that the 12 tornadoes that hit our general area today totally missed us (we didn't even get hail!), and second, offer a prayer for those who were in the paths of these storms, and now face the difficult and dangerous job of cleaning up and digging out.
A Prayer to Our Lady in Time of Trouble

Holy Virgin Mary, you are reigning in glory, with Jesus, your Son.

Remember us in our sadness. Look kindly on all who are suffering or fighting against any difficulty.

Have pity on those who are separated from someone they love.
Have pity on the loneliness of our hearts.
Have pity on the weakness of our faith and love.
Have pity on those who are weeping, on those who are praying, on those who are fearful.
Holy Mother, please obtain for all of us hope and peace with justice.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week Blog Break

I'm taking a break for the whole of Holy Week this year, and will probably resume blogging Easter Tuesday or Wednesday (though, as always, I could duck in anytime before then). I hope that all of my readers will have a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter!

(And no, my not blogging has nothing to do with this. No, really. I usually blog just fine during Script Frenzy. It's Nanowrimo that gets difficult...)