Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Fun: What should my new blog be named?

Okay, it's Friday, and I was up until 3 a.m. yesterday working on the second book in the Tales of Telmaja series. This one will have about 15 chapters, unless my team of advance readers tells me to make massive cuts in the material.  I've already made massive cuts of anything that didn't advance the story, though, so... (And Alicia, does this answer your "time management" question from yesterday's comment box? :)  I don't manage time; I'm an unrepentant night owl with writing obsessions and a killer caffeine habit!)

So for some blog fun today, I'd like to run a very non-serious poll:

A: If I move this blog to a new platform, should it get a new name?

B: If you answered "yes" to A, do you have any suggestions for the new name?  What are they?

I have no idea how long it's going to take me to do the move, let alone whether I'll stick with And Sometimes Tea or go for something new.  Change is good, though, right?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pondering my blogging future...

I hope readers will forgive a post that's really just an excuse to think out loud, but to be perfectly honest, this is a post that has been on my mind for a while now.  Sure, Blogger's move to this ugly new posting interface with all its annoying quirks and headaches (literally) has been a catalyst for me to start putting these thoughts into words, but the thoughts have been circulating for a while now.

I used to post at least one thing every weekday, and I'm still most comfortable following that schedule.  As I've written somewhat recently, though, I've also gotten more comfortable with taking unscheduled or unannounced breaks from posting, and will probably need an extended break again soon as I get my second Tales of Telmaja book publication-ready.  I also post (though less frequently) on the Tales of Telmaja blog, and though I feel bad about neglecting the Coalition for Clarity blog as much as I do, I still post there on occasion as well.

One thing I've always said--and this is true--is that I don't post primarily to get page views or hits, or to pander to a specific audience, or to land a paid blogging contract.  I respect people who do, but the only writing with which I ever hope to earn any money is my children's fiction writing (and I'm perfectly content if that never nets me more than a pittance, because when it comes right down to it I don't do that for the money, either).  I don't think I could ever do this kind of writing for a living, for reasons that are both complicated and, ultimately, personal.

Nevertheless, I've noticed two things about my traffic lately: one, it has dropped off some from the past, and two, many of my page hits and views involve long-ago written, archived stuff, not my most recent postings.  (True fact: the post that gets the most page views is this one, proving that the power of a good headline is amazing.  Another true fact: I had one good headline in me, and that was it!) :)

Pundits have been predicting the death of blogging for a long time now, and yet some of us still truly enjoy this format as opposed to the fast-paced, instant-sharing, frenetic, "like" or "dislike" world of Facebook, Twitter, and similar pithy observation/cute pic factories.  Maybe it's because some of us are just wordy (always a possibility).  Or maybe it's because the joy of writing barely exists on those limited-character screens, where the pressure to say something replete with sound-bite cleverness so that a moment's thought becomes a viral meme is always present, and the pleasure of translating thoughts into words and paragraphs is subsumed beneath the demand for brevity which, however much it may be the soul of wit, is seldom the sum of it.

But just as people seem to prefer the quick posting of the other types of social media, so do they seem, these days, not to want to spend time actually reading blog posts.  I'm not the first person to notice, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but the truth is that blogs are starting to be as neglected as newspapers and TV news.  Well, some blogs, anyway; I can't speak for everyone here.

And yet--I'm pretty much addicted to doing this, and will keep on even if I end up with two readers and one of them is me because I forgot to tell the site tracking tool to ignore my visits again.

Because I'm contemplating moving the blog to a different platform (possibly Wordpress, though I haven't completely figured the move out yet), I'm starting to wonder if it isn't time for a reboot of sorts.  This blog was originally a place for me to share whatever it was I was thinking about, whether it was homeschooling or politics or Catholic thought or fiction writing or random silliness, but lately my posts have tended to be focused on Catholic teaching as it applies to social issues and culture.  I write about that stuff because it's important, and I don't intend to quit, but if I do restart in a new location I'd like to go back to being able to write just about anything instead of keeping to a self-imposed tendency to stick to things that have some sort of religious/cultural significance.

If I did "reboot," so to speak, I think I would more or less combine the fiction-writing blog (which is tiny anyway) with the overall blog instead of trying to maintain two separate ones.  The C4C blog would remain; I'm not the only writer who has posted there and it's possible at any time that the issues of torture and so forth would require that blog to be more regularly updated (though we can sincerely hope not).

I'd like your opinions, if you'd like to share them! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More on Catholic voters and Romney

Yesterday, reader Rebecca in ID left this comment under the recent Romney post:
So...I still don't quite get it. Is your conscience telling you something my conscience isn't? I agree with you that Romney et al are just more of the ruling class and I am completely unimpressed with him, not to mention unedified. But it either is true or untrue that we can as Catholics in good conscience vote for a lesser evil to prevent a greater, right? Am I misunderstanding that teaching? If I am understanding it correctly, then the third-party vote or the refusal to vote is not (or should not be) a matter of a demand of conscience, but a difference in strategy. Where am I going wrong in my reasoning? Believe it or not, my question to you was prompted by a disagreement with my dh--he gave one of my friends a lecturing to because she stated that she intends to vote for Ron Paul. He kept insisting that you have to vote for Romney in good conscience, and I kept insisting that this is not what the Church teaches. Now it seems that you are saying that a well-informed conscience would not allow you to vote for Romney--or maybe you are just talking about your own private conscience, but then it seems that if this only applies to you, where is the discussion and what is it about? 
I think these are good questions, and I want to take a stab at answering them.  But please bear in mind: I’m not a trained Catholic theologian, nor do I play one on TV. :)

But here’s my best understanding as a Catholic laywoman who has been attempting to pay attention to these matters ever since the last election cycle (note: not very long).

We can never vote for a candidate who supports intrinsic evil IF (and it's an important if) we are voting for that candidate because of his support of intrinsic evil: that is, we like the evil and want it to happen.  Thus, it is not moral for a Catholic voter to vote for a pro-abortion candidate because the voter likes abortion and wants it to keep happening.

We can not, under ordinary circumstances, choose to support a candidate who supports intrinsic evil IF (again, important) a candidate who does not support intrinsic evil is running in opposition.  Given America's two-party system, many people would insert the word "viable" after "candidate" in the previous sentence: that is, just because a "no-evil" third-party candidate with no possible chance of success is running for election does not mean we must support that candidate over the two candidates from the parties who have actual chances of winning--but I don't have the proper qualifications to weigh in on that debate, other than to say it seems reasonable that if there really are only two possible winners one is not forced to support someone with no chance of winning.

In a race where both candidates support some intrinsic evil, it is possible morally to support one of the candidates given a) that one candidate supports less that is evil or will do more to limit the harm of the greater evil supported by the other and b) that there are proportionate reasons to support the candidate you reasonably believe and rationally expect will limit evil.

And here's where we get to Rebecca's question pertaining to individual conscience.  If Rebecca (hypothetically) believes that Romney will not support evil to the degree that Obama does and that Romney will in fact limit the harms possible from the evil Obama supports, AND that it is proportionate to vote for Romney (who supports some evils) to limit harm potentially caused by Obama (who supports other, putatively graver evils) she can vote for Romney in good conscience (given all the usual caveats about the informing of one's conscience, etc.).

Since I (not hypothetically) believe that Romney is not trustworthy about the evils he claims not to support (since he was pro-abortion a decade ago, presided over the gay "marriage" debacle in Mass., etc.), that he supports evils that are potentially every bit as grave as the ones Obama supports, and that if there truly is a proportionate reason to support Romney I have not yet discovered what that may be, I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney at all.

Now, if a Catholic says or writes something like this: "We have to vote for Romney to stop Obama!" then we can take that in good faith as shorthand for a belief that Romney doesn't support as much evil as Obama, that Romney will limit real harms from evils Obama supports, and that there are proportionate reasons to vote for someone with Romney's beliefs.  But if a Catholic says or writes something like this: "Anybody who claims to be a Catholic has to vote for Romney, and any Catholic who throws away his or her vote on some third-party candidate is not only an idealistic fool but is actually helping evil triumph over good!" is not saying anything like the same thing, and has to be challenged for saying it.

And those are the people I'm challenging, the Catholics who publicly or privately have said to me and others like me that we're not really being good Catholics about our potential votes since we have said we don't plan to vote for Romney.  I respect attempts to convince voters like me and to change our minds by highlighting what you think are the evils Romney will stop and/or the proportionate reasons to vote for him, but I can't respect what is nothing more than name calling and political tribalism.

40 Days for Life begins today

Just a brief reminder:
It's official! This 40 Days for Life campaign will be a record-setter! The campaign, from now through November 4, will be the largest and longest internationally coordinated pro-life mobilization in history ... and you can help save lives by getting involved TODAY!
Here's a quick rundown:
  • 316 locations -- the most ever!
  • 49 US states -- plus Washington, DC
  • 7 Canadian provinces
  • Australia, England, Spain and -- for the first time -- Uganda
  • Many NEW cities ... 46 first-time campaigns
The full list of locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign has just been posted. Click on the site that is closest to where you live. You will be redirected to the web page for that local 40 Days for Life campaign. On that local web page, sign up with your name and e-mail address to get involved and help save lives! 
Pray for the success of the 40 Days for Life campaign!
I still remember posting daily about abortion and related issues for the whole 40 days one year.  While I'd really like to do that again, I have to be honest: it can't happen until I move to a new blogging platform.  One reason I didn't blog yesterday was because I hate this new Blogger interface so much that I almost have to force myself to come out here and blog.  Reason?  Chronic migraines.  The dead-white "compose" page actually hurts my eyes; I can't look at it for long without feeling like I'm risking a really bad headache.
But I didn't want the kickoff day for the 40 Days for Life campaign to go by me!  I think it's terrific to go to their link and see the huge number of cities and places where people will be praying in front of abortion clinics (e.g., baby-death centers) for the next 40 days.  Even if I can't join physically, I'll be doing my best to join in prayer during this important time, and I hope you will pray too!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Romney deal-breaker

[Off topic: still hating the new Blogger interface.  Still sending negative feedback every single time I blog, because when--not if--I do make the switch to a different platform I will know, at least, that I tried to get the Blogger folks to listen.]

TMZ has the real reason why pro-life Americans should wash their hands of Mitt Romney (hat tip: Mark Shea):
TMZ has learned Mitt Romney's son Tagg -- who had twins this year through a surrogate -- signed an agreement that gave the surrogate, as well as Tagg and his wife, the right to abort the fetuses in non-life threatening situations ... and Mitt Romney covered some of the expenses connected with the arrangement  ... and it may boil down to an incredibly stupid mistake.

The twin boys -- David Mitt and William Ryder -- were born on May 4, 2012.  We've learned Tagg and his wife Jen, along with the surrogate and her husband, signed a Gestational Carrier Agreement dated July 28, 2011.  Paragraph 13 of the agreement reads as follows:
   
"If in the opinion of the treating physician or her independent obstetrician there is potential physical harm to the surrogate, the decision to abort or not abort is to be made by the surrogate." [...]

Now for the stupid mistake.  We've learned Tagg chose the same surrogate in 2009, who gave birth to a boy.   Attorney Bill Handel -- a nationally-known expert in surrogacy law who put the deal together between Tagg and the surrogate -- tells TMZ when the 2009 contract was drafted there was no Paragraph 13 providing for abortion because Tagg and his wife didn't want it.

Handel says in 2011, when the second contract was being drafted, everyone involved "just forgot" to remove Paragraph 13.  Handel says, "No one noticed.  What can I say?"
Now, some Catholic voters will jump on the "mistake" part and claim that it's no big deal that a standard "abortion clause" was included in a surrogacy compact.  If they do, they're missing the forest for the trees.
Catholics know, or should know, that IVF is intrinsically morally evil.  There is no circumstance under which it can be good.  Consider this article about Tagg Romney's twins, which refers to the boys as "...the biological product of him and his wife..."  Given that the way IVF and surrogacy usually work, how many "biological products" were created and have been frozen or destroyed in the process of achieving this "successful" outcome?  IVF is nothing more or less than the commodification of children, turning human beings into mere possessions to be bought and paid for.
And the woman whose womb was rented, whose body was seen as a good to be purchased, was treated by Tagg and his wife as a mere reproductive prostitute, selling something no human being should ever sell.  The violation of the integrity of all women by treating some as living, breathing incubators ought to disgust every Catholic voter; it should not be something to be brushed aside as unimportant. 
What does this have to do with Mitt Romney himself?  He helped pay for this arrangement.  If you want to see what a man really values, look at how he spends his money.  Mitt Romney is not against the commodification of children or against using women as reproductive prostitutes or living incubators.  He paid for this.
I have never intended to vote for Mitt Romney (N.B.: I've never intended to vote for Obama either, and will never vote for such an avowed merchant of death as he is).  But I think this ought to be a deal-breaker for all faithful Catholic voters; at the very least, when my Catholic friends or family start to insist that I MUST vote for Mitt to prove my Catholic credentials, I'm going to have one really powerful reason why I, at least, will not and should not vote for him.

Friday, September 21, 2012

We're going to miss him

As you may have already heard, Fort Worth Bishop Kevin Vann is moving to Orange, California:
Over recent years, it’s hard to think of a national project on which Bishop Kevin Vann hasn’t been intimately involved.

From serving on the three-member USCCB team that oversaw the Stateside implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus and mediating the bench’s oft-delicate relations with the nation’s Catholic hospitals, to filing suit against the Federal government over the contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration’s sweeping health-care reform, the 61 year-old prelate has cris-crossed considerably more ecclesial turf than the sprawling 28 counties of Northwest Texas he’s overseen since 2005.

Now, however, the latest task comes via Rome... and given its centerpiece, well, it’s worth its weight in Crystal.

This morning, the Pope named the energetic head of the booming Fort Worth church to lead the diocese of Orange, succeeding Bishop Tod Brown at the helm of the 1.3 million-member fold in Los Angeles’ southern suburbs.
What can I say?  People of Orange, you are quite lucky.  We in Fort Worth are going to miss Bishop Vann!  I do hope that he will continue blogging, even if his blog name has to change...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NFP and sacrificial love

Before I get to my blog post of the day, let me just say that now Blogger is forcing me to use their stupid new posting template, and I hate it hate it hate it hate it, and I'm seriously considering moving all three of my Blogger blogs either to Wordpress or to Typepad.  Would like to hear from those who have made such moves as to which is my better option.

Okay.  On to the post itself.

The Badger Catholic linked today to this post at Fructus Ventris, which I found interesting:
And then, there is the third group - possibly the smallest minority among married Christians in the present time. Those who believe that it is occasionally moral and ethical to exert some control or judgement over their use of their fertility, but who also decline to use methods that either temporarily or permanently destroy fertility or block its transmission. They learn to identify the fertile days of the cycle, and make choices about intimacy based on this knowledge. This group can often end up trying to explain themselves to both the QF types and the "birth control is just responsible stewardship" types. To one, they are explaining that abstinence is not the same as contraception - to the other they are explaining that just because they are using periodic (or total) abstinence for avoiding or delaying pregnancy, they are not contracepting. It is a tough place to be in. But NFP is not just "Catholic birth control". It respects the way God created the body by not destroying fertility, and it respects the unitive aspect of marital love by not putting a physical or chemical barrier between the spouses. And its very difficulty is such that I think it is difficult to use for frivolous reasons. Contraception has become so easy that it becomes possible to think of pregnancy as the exception, rather than the rule, when considering the consequences of sexual relations! 
 Read the whole post, which is well worth the read, here.

I really liked this writer's look at the "between a rock and a hard place" space NFP Catholics, or Catholics using any natural and morally acceptable method of birth spacing or pregnancy avoidance for that matter, find themselves.  I especially like her statement that it's really hard to use NFP for frivolous reasons--which is what I want to talk about today.

We often hear from those who have discerned that God is not asking them, personally, to abstain from marital relations or limit their family size temporarily or even indefinitely that NFP is "selfish," or that "most people" use NFP for "selfish" reasons.  As someone who has used NFP for about fourteen years now due to a serious medical issue, I have to say in all honesty that I've never met anyone who is using NFP for selfish reasons.  Yes, anecdotes aren't evidence, but when I've met fellow NFP Catholics the reasons they give for using NFP tend to involve the following:

1. Serious physical or mental health reasons involving at least one spouse;
2. Serious (as in potentially devastating) financial reasons;
3. Prudent temporary financial reasons (that is, a job change that has left the couple temporarily "between" health insurance, etc.);
4. Prudent concern for other pressing responsibilities, including the care of the children already born, the care of one or more special needs children, the care of elderly or ill parents or other extended family members, etc., such that seeking to add another child right at this moment would impact the ability to meet these other obligations.

These are the reasons I've heard most often; some of you may have other serious reasons or have heard of other serious reasons for using NFP--my list isn't meant at all to be definitive.  But the one thing I can honestly say I've never heard is this: "Oh, we use NFP because we only want two kids so we can have a huge house and a wealthy lifestyle and all the perks of limiting our family size..."

As the blogger I quoted above points out, NFP doesn't really lend itself well to that sort of thinking; I'm not saying it never happens, just that it's probably very rare.  Why?  Because NFP itself is ordered toward self-denial: and not selfish, unilateral self-denial, but the mutual decision of both spouses to accept the demands and the cross of periodic abstinence for the good of each other, the family, and their vocation in general.  The loving and mutual sacrifice of some occasions where the marital embrace might otherwise be enjoyed simply does not go well with a mindset that would seek to limit family size only for some purely selfish or materialistic reason--especially when that sacrifice is repeated month after month, year after year, and must sometimes be accepted as necessary for the whole of the remainder of the woman's fertile years.

In fact, while it is certainly true that one spouse may act selfishly in denying the marital embrace at times, or one spouse may act selfishly in demanding the marital embrace at other times, it is difficult for both spouses to act selfishly when they have made a careful, prayerful, and prudent decision to use NFP or another natural means for a time--and if they have any doubts or are not "on the same page" about the decision, asking for spiritual direction is always a good option.  I think most of us would agree that it is selfish for a spouse either to withhold or to demand the marital embrace unreasonably--but the key word there is "unreasonably."  Just as it is not at all selfish or sinful (on the contrary!) for spouses to abstain immediately following the birth of a child, so is it not selfish or sinful to abstain for any other sufficient and good reason.

When couples are committed to acting out of mutual love and respect for each other in all things, it is hard for them to remain selfish.  NFP is not an "enabler" of selfishness any more than fasting is an "enabler" of picky eating; the things we do which are sacrificial by their very nature will lead us closer to God, if we are properly disposed to let them do so.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When college costs your immortal soul

Think that college costs too much? Some people are finding new, creative ways to pay for it:

Norah, who asked that her last name not be included for privacy reasons, has taken a slightly different route. She decided to become an egg donor at Shady Grove Fertility Center in Maryland this year, one of the largest fertility centers in the country.

The 24-year-old grad student earned $6,500 for her first egg donation, which almost covers her entire first year of school. A couple more egg donations will leave her with enough money to pay the full cost of the program -- around $15,000.

"When I worked a second job [between college and graduate school], it took me almost a year working in retail to make this same amount I've already made from one egg donation," she said.

Along those lines, a sperm donor at California Cryobank, who requested to remain anonymous, said he has earned $2,600 from making sperm donations for the past year, helping him cover his college living expenses and lab fees.

California Cryobank, which has several locations around the country, said nearly half of its qualified donors are college students, and sperm donors can make up to $1,200 per month -- or $14,400 a year -- if they donate three times a week.

Other cash-strapped college students are using their looks and sex appeal to find "sugar daddies" who are willing to foot their tuition bills.

One 21-year-old student said she receives a monthly allowance from a 37-year-old "sugar daddy" she met through online dating site SeekingArrangement.com, which helps rich men find young women who are looking to be supported financially. In exchange for her company, she says her sugar daddy has been making her full tuition payments of $1,500 each month.

According to SeekingArrangement, that allowance is low compared to what most college students on the site receive. About 41%, or 350,000, of the sugar babies on SeekingArrangement.com are college students, and two-thirds of them say they are using their sugar daddy as a primary or secondary means of paying for college -- receiving an average of $4,200 a month for college expenses, according to the company.

What an age of liberation for women it is! These days, a woman can easily support herself through college by selling her genetic material or other parts of her body to willing and eager customers. And if the sugar daddy balks at having to buy the woman's birth control, well, we have Sandra Fluke just waiting to insist that it should be the job of Catholic colleges to subsidize this sort of creative tuition arrangement!

Let's hope for the egg-sellers that the little bundles of commodified joy don't turn up some day to meet their real "Moms," only to learn that their "moms" sold them off to the highest bidder to pay for another semester's worth of women's studies courses. Hey--it's the new normal, right?

And let's hope the sugar babies don't take British literature to find out what earlier times thought of women who did what they are doing for cash. Selling access to one's sex organs these days just doesn't carry all of that baggage from earlier eras, and today's sugar baby can rest assured that all the kind, decent, husband-material men out there will be waiting to ask them out when they graduate and don't need a sugar daddy anymore--because what man wouldn't be eager to date and then marry a woman who sold herself to pay for college? In fact, it's to be hoped that men will soon have equal access to this sort of thing, and be able to sell themselves to cougar mommies to pay for that all-important degree. Why, I bet that before long it will become acceptable for rich people to have a "protege" again, a young, attractive college student of either gender whose education they are sponsoring in exchange for sexual favors. It's amazing how history repeats itself, isn't it?

Of course, those of us who still have an ounce of sanity left would tell young people that when college is costing them their immortal souls, it costs too much. But since college-educated young adults, thanks to today's colleges, are pretty sure they have no souls anyway, why should they care?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Marriage: a blessed vocation

Msgr. Pope, whom I greatly admire, has a post up today about marriage:

Marriage statistics today are very alarming. In 1974 there were just over 400,000 marriages in Catholic Parishes. In 2004 there were 197,000 marriages. Currently of women under 35, only 40% have ever been married [1]. Seventy percent of African American women and fifty-one percent of Hispanic women are currently unmarried. Forty-five percent of white women (non-Hispanic) and forty percent of Asian women are unmarried [2]

These alarming statistics don’t mean they aren’t having babies and nationally more than 40 percent of all children are raised by single mothers. The numbers are higher in most minority categories.

Explanations vary, from the higher economic independence of women, to (seemingly endless) college study programs, to poverty etc. Few of the studies I tracked reference promiscuity,which I think is a big factor. Why get married when when of the important reasons to do so (respectable recourse to a great physical pleasure) has been “put on sale” for cheap and is considered “respectable” under almost any circumstances by a promiscuous culture?

Another factor, as I have discovered in some 24 years of priesthood is that, despite our over all cynicism about most things, most people, especially women, remain highly idealistic about marriage and think it should be a kind of perfect society. Yes, wine and roses, candlelight dinners, high romance, the storybook, “happily ever” after version. Crying babies, dirty laundry, weight gain, frayed nerves…please, we’ll have none of THAT in this fantasy.

But the problem with unrealistic expectations is that they breed resentment, when the reality does not measure up. There is an old saying, “Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.”

Read the whole thing here.

Now, I hate to disagree with the good monseigneur, and I don't completely disagree. But I do think that for faithful single Catholics who attend Mass every Sunday and wish to pursue the vocation to marriage, the problem is not necessarily one of having too high or unrealistic expectations. The problem is in finding a potential spouse who shares one's view of what marriage is, what it is for, and how to live it.

For instance, most good Catholic young men and women would agree that the vocation of marriage includes the vocation toward becoming parents under most circumstances (God may say otherwise through the cross of infertility, but this is not something most young men or women would know before marriage anyway). But how many young Catholic couples see eye-to-eye when it comes to children, parenting, etc.? When I was a student more than two decades ago at two different uber-Catholic colleges, I was shocked at how many good Catholic Mass-going college boys openly expressed the desire for wives who would "work," insisting that child-care was no big deal and that stay-at-home mothering was nothing more than a refuge for the lazy. (To be fair, one gentleman of Italian heritage said the opposite: that he would want his wife to quit working the minute they got married, because it's hard enough to run a household even before the children came along--I sincerely hope he found his true love!) As I said, the attitude of the other Catholic gentlemen shocked me, because the view that raising children is such an unimportant task that it can be outsourced to the cheapest "help" one can hire so one's wife can help one achieve the dream of wealth and financial success is not exactly the view of the Church.

This view, of course, is not limited to men; many Catholic men express a desire to find a wife who would be willing to put her career ambitions on hold for a time for the sake of children, only to learn that the women he meets have been told so often that even if they marry, the marriage will probably end in divorce, so they have to "protect" themselves by having a good career and can't "afford" to be stay-at-home moms that they aren't even willing to consider a life for their potential children that doesn't include daycare from six weeks of age followed by very early preschool. Some of these women have the attitude that devoting themselves to raising their children would be "wasting" their lives, an attitude that is certainly prevalent in the secular culture.

Another issue is that some young men and young women don't seem to realize that marriage (like every vocation) is for the salvation of the couple themselves and for that of their potential children as well as for those whom their lives touch. Marriage, in other words, is not a mere combining of households, goods, and routines, but is fundamentally rooted in the shared Christian life of the couple entering it. Two people are called, essentially, to stop being mere autonomous individuals and to learn to put the Beloved Other first in all things. Marriage is not, by any means, an instantaneous or magic cure for selfishness or self-centeredness, but it is ordered toward helping each member root those vices out of themselves as they work toward becoming what the act of marriage itself points to: two becoming one. A husband or wife who remains selfish and insists on having the world revolve around himself or herself is not experiencing the fullness of the vocation of marriage, but is holding back some integral part of himself or herself from the totality of the gift of self to other. That, I think, is at the root of many (if not most) marital problems, whether on the surface those problems seem to be about money or children or extended family or sex or work or any other thing: in reality, what is going on is that one spouse is demanding that his or her whims and wishes be catered to in some area without any real effort made to understand or appreciate the wishes of the other. For young people who have yet to enter marriage and who live in a world that tells them ceaselessly to put their own interests first, even laying aside the "self" long enough to get to know the "other" in a real and authentic way can be a daunting task.

To look at this issue another way, here's the reality for many serious young Catholics today:

--Many of them would prefer to marry a fellow Catholic;
--Many of them would prefer that fellow Catholic to be living the faith, attending Mass and going to Confession, and not living a life at odds with morality or virtue;
--Many of them wish that potential Catholic spouse to share their ideas about what marriage is, what it is for, and how to live it;
--Many of them, even if they meet these first criteria, struggle with the world's ideas about children and child-raising, what marriage is, how to root out selfishness and learn to live as a truly united couple instead of two wholly autonomous people struggling for mastery, etc.

It's hard enough to find a potential spouse who takes the faith seriously, is not at odds with the Church about fornication or contraception, understands what the Church means when she speaks about marriage as a vocation, etc. To add to that the importance of being on the same page with what marriage is and how to live it is to add, some would say, the impossible.

But it's not impossible. Many of the Catholic couples I know are happy to be living marriage as a blessed vocation (myself included). Young single Catholics should know that even if they have to learn to lay aside their "ideals" about what their husband/wife should look like or do for a living etc., they should never settle for someone who doesn't share the Church's ideas about the vocation of marriage.

Two Amazon reviews!

Two people, neither of whom I know personally, have reviewed The Telmaj at Amazon.com! One of them gave me five stars, and the other four (with a request for more description, an area I admit I sometimes struggle with).

You can read the reviews here.

Many, many thanks to the reviewers (in case either of them stops by the blog!) and to those who have bought and read The Telmaj so far! :)

(Cross posted at Tales of Telmaja.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

A review of The Telmaj!

Longtime blog reader Will Duquette has published a very honest and sincere review of The Telmaj on his blog! Here's an excerpt:

On the whole, I enjoyed the book. There were a number of surprises, as well as some serious moral conflicts; and the last half kept me turning pages until I got to the end, where, to my satisfaction, Erin stuck the dismount.

Here’s the most important point, given Erin’s target audience: she doesn’t write down to the kids. The book is not without problems, but that’s absolutely not one of them. (If it was, I’ve have judged it one of those books not to be put down lightly, but rather to be hurled with great force, and no one would ever have known that I’d looked at it.)

Read the whole thing here.

A review by someone with Will's critical capacities is worth gold. It really is. I cheerfully acknowledge that I have work to do going forward with the series, but this really means a lot to me, and I have to thank Will (yet again!) for his honesty, forthrightness, and sincerity--all of which makes his generally positive summation mean the world to me.

(Cross-posted at Tales of Telmaja)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feet of clay

It hasn't been altogether easy lately to be a lay Catholic who wants to believe that the clergy has really learned everything they needed to know to go forward in such a way that nothing like the Scandal will ever happen again. On the one hand, I personally know good priests and bishops who were outraged by the Scandal, who have gone out of their way to examine the records of their predecessors, who have (in my own diocese) acted swiftly and justly to remove from ministry any priest whose red flags "mysteriously" got overlooked by former diocesan leaders. I know both clergy and lay leaders who not only combed through priests' records but through those of other diocesan personnel as well, and who instituted policies to mandate regular background checks and child safety training for clergy and lay people alike.

On the other hand, we recently had the remarks of conservative figure of the stature of Father Benedict Groeschel to the effect that sometimes the victims were somewhat to blame (the fallout from that interview continues, as I wrote yesterday); and then we saw Father Zuhlsdorf write a blog post excoriating the National Catholic Reporter for calling for Bishop Finn to resign--and apparently refuse to post any comments other than those joining in NCR-bashing, which latter is apparently an act of great charity. (It is my personal belief that no lay person should tell a bishop to resign; rather, a lay person can only exhort that bishop to spend serious time in contemplation to discern whether or not it is fitting for a successor of the Apostles to fail to disclose for some five months that a priest in his diocese was taking lewd pictures of little girls including pictures of their underwear-clad crotches and--in at least one instance--nude genitals; and further whether the bishop modeled the Apostles by continuing to permit that priest during those five months to have unsupervised contact with children while failing to disclose to their parents, teachers, or anyone else that this priest might just possibly pose a small, unimportant threat to the little ones' innocent virtue and the privacy which they were justly owed as children of God: but if the bishop discerns that it's fine for a successor of the Apostles to behave that way, and is, indeed, so far above reproach that a newspaper saying otherwise should be loudly denounced for its deplorable lack of faith in Christ, why then, the bishop has spoken, and the matter must rest. And if you actually need a sarcasm alert here, then you don't know me, right?)

The problem here is not that our leaders will still keep having feet of clay and behaving with unbelievable dismissiveness toward the very real problems caused by priests who use children (yes, even 14-year-old children with that "come hither" in their eyes) as their sexual playthings; the problem here is that we keep expecting them to do otherwise. Some (a very few) bishops deserve great praise for the amount of time they've spent listening to lay people, especially parents, and developing sane and sensible policies designed to protect children--but I would counsel parents even in those dioceses that in the horrific event that their child reports an "incident," they should not call the diocesan abuse hotline or the chancery or the parish or their pastor. They should go straight to the police.

This is because the reflexive tendency to "protect our own" exists in all of our hearts--and in the hearts of bishops and priests, all too often, "our own" means their brother priests and bishops, not the sweet little girl sharing her parents' pew or the pious young boy who has just started training to be an altar server. If a priest like Father Shawn Ratigan has photographed the private parts of that sweet little girl, or a priest like Father Edward Avery has sexually assaulted that pious young boy, it will be the rare pastor or bishop who seeks to protect the little girl or the little boy first instead of protecting the priest. It is sad to have to say this, but the truth is often sad.

Once parents understand this, we will also be able to understand something else: it is our job to protect our children, and in the horrible situation where abuse has happened, it is also our job to call the police. If our children are grown or nearly-grown, we should still use our vigilance (the Keeping Children Safe classes say so, after all!) to make sure all the other children in our parishes are safe, and to report, immediately, to law enforcement anything we have seen that suggest that a child is in imminent danger of harm. If our pastors or bishops won't do that job (and some will, like I said, but we simply can't assume they will), we must. That is all there is to it.

It is not time for us to develop feet of clay when it comes to protecting children. They are not served by a cowardly reluctance to do what is right. Nor are they served by our idolization of priests or bishops whom we think will agree with us about the primacy of protecting children--not when they have shown us again and again by words and deeds that for them protecting children from predator priests may not be a top priority at all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rod Dreher challenges the conservative Catholic blogosphere

Rod Dreher writes today about the National Catholic Register's decision to fire the man who conducted the disastrous interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel:

Several readers have e-mailed to say that John Burger, the veteran National Catholic Register writer and editor who conducted that controversial interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel (it’s been removed from the site; story about the controversy here) was fired by the EWTN-owned newspaper because of it. I confirmed with Mr. Burger that he was let go because of the incident, but he did not wish to comment further.

This is disgraceful on the Register‘s part, just disgraceful. I hope somebody in Catholic media with a job to offer will contact John Burger and talk to him. In 2002, when the Register was owned by the Legionaries of Christ cult, I was at a Catholic media seminar in suburban Washington. The event had been planned before the sex scandal broke, but by the time we all got there, that’s all anybody wanted to talk about. The LC priest who was then the publisher of the Register spoke on a panel, and praised his own newspaper for not dirtying its hands by reporting these scurrilous stories about clerical sex abuse. During the Q&A, I stood to challenge him, saying that this isn’t journalism at all, but a form of propaganda. As I recall, he did not really know how to respond. He must have assumed that because everybody in the room was a conservative Catholic, we would agree with him.

I had hoped that after the Register left LC hands and went to EWTN’s, that unprofessional mentality would depart as well. Apparently not. I don’t know John Burger, but this situation strikes me as EWTN scapegoating the messenger for the message. From what I can tell, Burger was sacked for not editing out comments from Groeschel that later proved embarrassing — in other words, for not protecting Groeschel from himself.

Rod later adds this update:
UPDATE: It will be telling to see if the conservative Catholic blogosphere speaks out against this sacking of John Burger, or at least raises critical questions about it.
I think it's fair of Rod to raise that question, because I think that the "circle the wagons" mentality exists both on the conservative Catholic blogosphere side and on the liberal Catholic blogosphere side; that is, while some conservative Catholic bloggers would hesitate ever to question or criticize the National Catholic Register or, indeed, anything owned by EWTN (because, let's face it, EWTN makes it possible for some Catholics to earn livings with their writing, speaking, and blogging efforts), some liberal bloggers would feel the same way about criticizing the National Catholic Reporter.

Speaking for myself, I can truly say that firing someone over an interview that turned out to be embarrassing to the interview subject--if that's what happened--is a bad sign. Why does it seem, sometimes, as though conservative Catholic groups, organizations, orders, etc. simply can't handle bad publicity of any kind, and will go out of their way to "punish" those from whom such bad publicity arises? Surely it is not necessary for the good of the Church that every single Catholic organization or apostolate maintain a facade of untouchable, error-proof serenity. People are human and make mistakes, and nobody expects the National Catholic Reporter, or even EWTN itself, to be infallible. Even someone like Father Benedict Groeshel, who deserves much praise for all the good he has done in his life, is not infallible; the interview he gave does not make him evil, but it certainly does make him human, and perhaps sheds some light on the thinking inside the American church that led to the Scandal being allowed to fester in silence for so long.

Can we not, as mature, adult Catholics, begin to grasp that the reflexive "protect the Church at all costs!" mentality actually hurts the Church more than honesty, forthrightness, charitable correction, and sincere contrition for past wrongs does? Our most recent few popes have not hesitated to apologize on behalf of the whole Church for wrongs and sins her past (and even present) leaders have committed, facilitated, or ignored, to the detriment of the whole Body of Christ. The capacity to say clearly, "This was wrong, and we are sorry for it!" does not weaken the Church at all; if anything, it shows her to be full of rightful concern for those harmed by any failure on her servants' part to live according to her fullest principles which come from Christ.

It's a form of pride, I think, to believe that the Holy Church needs our protection. She has been promised that protection by Christ Himself, and if her members err or sin, that does not in itself reflect badly on her--only on us poor sinners. Maybe it's just ourselves we're so anxious to protect.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A time for prayer

I didn't want to post anything earlier today about the Sept. 11 anniversary; plenty has been written in the last decade, and now that we are in the eleventh year past the terrible events of that unforgettable day, it seems to me that only those who were there or who personally suffered from the loss of a family member have something to say that is worth listening to. It is surely human to spend time (as I have in previous years) reflecting on such tragedy and evil, and to ponder the changes in our world that began on that day; but it is also human at some moment in time to realize that the time for reflection has steadily progressed into a time for prayer.

There are many excellent prayers we can offer on this sad anniversary. I tried, last year, to read (over the course of the whole week) the names of every victim and pray for each individual person. I did not finish that task, and will attempt it again at a later date if I can. But for now, recognizing that the victims of that tragedy are members of our human family, I suggest this prayer:

PRAYERS FOR THE DEPARTED
O Christ, rest in the souls of your servants with the saints, where there is no sickness, nor sadness, nor sighing, but life without ending. Remember, O Lord, our friends and relatives who sleep in the hope of resurrection to eternal life, and all who have departed in faith. Forgive them their sins, voluntary and involuntary, which they have committed by deed, word, or intention. Place them in refreshing places, where all sickness, sadness and sighing have been driven away, and where the light of Your countenance shines and gladdens all Your saints forever. O God, you have authority over life and death. We pray to You for the eternal repose of Your servants. Heal the sorrow of those who are left to mourn. Grant unto us all that we may be in the company of Your Saints and elect in your everlasting kingdom. Amen.
Eternal God, our Father, grant to the faithful departed the remission of all their sins, that they may enter without delay into their reward. This we ask through the Risen Christ, your Son and
our Lord.

Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book update and bleg

(Cross-posted at Tales of Telmaja)

I just want to take a moment today to thank everyone who has purchased a copy of The Telmaj so far! Your support and encouragement have meant a great deal to me, and I can't tell you all how much I appreciate it.

If you haven't bought a copy yet but plan to do so, I'll repost the links for your convenience:

Click here to order a printed copy.

Click here to order a Kindle copy.

If you HAVE bought a copy, I have a bleg for you! Would you consider reviewing the book at Amazon.com if you have read it? I'm especially interested in reviews from kids--with your parents' permission, of course!

If you are a blogger and you post a review on your blog, please send me a link to your review so I can share it!

Thanks again!

UPDATE: I completely forgot to mention: if you are an Amazon Prime member and are interested in a Kindle copy, you should be able to borrow a copy for free at the present time! :)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Better off now?

Although this election season has me in a state of near-violent apathy given the uninspiring nature of our choices in candidates, I have been noticing lots of typical election year rhetoric popping up here and there. One of the typical bits of such is the often-repeated question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

Depending on one's party, one is supposed to answer with a resounding yes or an unqualified no. Either way, though, the question is generally understood to have a primarily economic meaning--that is, am I earning more money, able to afford more stuff, and otherwise financially better off than I was four years ago, or not?

I want to make it clear that I understand that for many people this is a wholly legitimate question--if you've lost your job and/or your house in the last four years, or your business has gone belly-up, or you are underemployed because part-time or minimum wage work is all you can find, or if you are drowning in college debt with no employment in sight, then this question is certainly going to hit home.

But I wonder how many of us Christians ever ask ourselves this question in a more radical and Christ-following way? Here are some of the things I asked myself:

--Is my relationship with God better now than it was four years ago?

--Is my prayer life better now than it was four years ago?

--Are my relationships with my family, extended family, friends and community better off now than they were four years ago?

--Is my involvement with my parish family better now than it was four years ago?

--Am I practicing the Corporal Works of Mercy better now than I did four years ago?

--Am I practicing the Spiritual Works of Mercy better now than I did four years ago?

--Am I fulfilling the obligations of my state in life better now than four years ago? Am I a better wife and mother than I was four years ago?

--Am I rejecting sin and evil better now than four years ago?

--Am I, in general, taking my life as a Christian more seriously than I did four years ago, and accepting the crosses it pleases God to send me better than I did four years ago?

I wish I could tell you that I was able to answer all of those questions in the affirmative, but I wasn't. Clearly I have a lot of work yet to do.

But it's not the kind of work you can do by putting signs in your yard and bumper stickers on your car. It's not the kind or work you can do by assuming that lining up for one candidate or the other is the summit of Christian life, the most important work of discipleship. It's not the kind of work you can do by focusing your laser-like vision on the ocular specks of the unworthy crowd.

It's the kind of work that takes real interior conversion, a radical desire to hand over ever hour and minute and second of the precious "now" to our Lord for His purposes, and a willingness at all costs to see the world as being full of neighbors, other selves, and beloved others, instead of a knee-jerk reaction that sees the ones who disagree with us politically as bitter enemies unworthy of salvation (let alone civility).

And four years from now, I hope I can still remember that--and every four years after that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

At long, long last...

...I am both ecstatically happy and utterly terrified to announce that my first children's science-fiction book, The Telmaj, is now available.

Click here to order a printed copy.

Click here to order a Kindle copy.

When I started the Tales of Telmaja blog back in July of 2011, I thought that the process of getting my first Tales of Telmaja manuscript ready to self-publish and completing the publishing process would be quick and easy. Like most worthwhile endeavors, this one turned out to be harder than I thought it would be--but at the same time, most of the difficulty came in learning how to prepare a book for publication and then carry through all the steps needed to get from manuscript to finished book available for sale. Now that I know what to expect, I really do think that I can have Book Two ready much faster--I'm shooting, right now, for a mid-November release date, and it should be possible to achieve that goal.

What I've learned, most of all, is that if you are a first-time writer in a niche market--and children's science fiction counts as a niche--there is no good reason not to try this. Well, unless you're a celebrity who has committed a sensational crime and been acquitted via a spectacular televised trial, in which case first-tier publishers will beat paths to your door (but nobody should think of that as a preferable alternative to self-publishing).

To those of you who will buy this book for yourselves or for children ages 8-12, THANK YOU! I hope you will love Smijj and his adventures as much as I do, and I hope to hear from you (my email address is in the blog sidebar).

:)

(Cross-posted at Tales of Telmaja)

I'm back...

...and watch this space for some exciting news later this afternoon. :)

Before I get to it, though, I just wanted to share a couple of changes to this blog, one of which is an important change to the comment policy.

After experimenting with moderated comments, I've decided to go back to not moderating them for the present. That's because I've also decided to keep accepting comments from people who are signing in with some sort of Internet ID only: a Google ID, an Open ID, etc.--whatever the Blogger comment software presently accepts.

I hated to take this step, as some of my most regular and pleasant commenters do not have an Internet ID and have commented anonymously by signing a name or nickname at the bottom of their posts. Unfortunately, leaving anonymous comments open these days means that the blogger ends up spending a lot of time reading drive-by attack comments and deleting them from the blog email, not to mention dealing with the spam attempts that the filters miss. I just don't have time to do that anymore--sorry!

The other (less important) change is that blogging is going to remain a bit sporadic for the next couple of months. But you're used to that, right? :)