Thursday, February 28, 2013

Happy birthday, Thad!

Today we're celebrating my husband Thad's birthday!  He even got to take the day off so we can enjoy the whole day together.  I love it when that happens!

Comments will be posted as I can get to them--the two veil posts are still attracting comments, so I'll be sure to check in when I can to free up any that are stuck in moderation.  Your patience is appreciated!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A bee in my bonnet

Okay, I'm still on the "veiling" thing.  Mainly because the other post I'm working on, about the growing push for transgender "rights" especially as that is manifesting itself in the public schools, is going to be massive and linky and I don't have time to finish it tonight.

But it dawned on me that I finally figured out why there's so much tension about this among the Catholic female Internet community (the Catholic female real-world community may or may not reflect that tension, but I don't know).

Imagine for a moment that instead of choosing to wear chapel veils, women who wished, for whatever reason, to cover their heads instead had chosen bonnets.

There's a good reason for that choice--I'm not just being silly.  Look at the pictures of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, after all--the first native-born American saint.  Her widow's bonnet was the original inspiration for her first order's habit (though eventually a more traditional cloth veil was adopted).  Catholic women throughout America's pioneer days would probably have worn some style of bonnet to Mass on Sundays.  The bonnet was the sort of hat many women would have worn and used all the way up to the late 19th and early 20th century, when more daring hats replaced the simple, humble cloth or straw bonnet.

But can you imagine the effect of Catholic women in America writing today about the call to bonnet (as in, wear a bonnet to Mass)?  Can you imagine earnest discussions of "bonnetting" (I'm assuming the "t" would double before adding "-ing," but I admit that there could be grammatical dissension on that point) and whether or not the Church had ever truly abrogated the "bonnetting" requirement?  Can you imagine every single bonnet-proponent politely but firmly ignoring all the people who reminded them that the Church had never required "bonnetting" at all and had never used "bonnet" as a verb in regard to women's head coverings?  Can you imagine them ignoring the truth that lots of other head coverings were worn, most of them ordinary, everyday, garden-variety hats, and not only were they worn but they were worn out in public most or all of the time so that a woman didn't have to stand at the church-steps, eyes demurely downcast, while she gracefully pulled at the bonnet-strings so that that thing that had looked a bit like an elaborate collar on the back of her neck suddenly popped on over her head, beautifully framing her now-blushing face?  Can you imagine them comparing the shape of the average tabernacle (okay, not in Los Angeles, but in most sane places) to a bonnet and solemnly opining that we bonnet what is holy?

No, neither can I.

And that, I think, is why a lot of everyday, average, ordinary Catholic women, women like me who actually like traditional things and would in most cases be pleased with the return of some of the important ones (like chant, or antiphons at Mass, or artwork that doesn't look like a toddler with crayons got at the blender again) get deeply irritated with all this "veiling" stuff.  Look, if you want to cover your head at Mass, and you are female, fine!  Go ahead and do so.  If you want to wear a hat sometimes but not all the time--guess what?  You're allowed to do so.  If instead of a hat you want to imitate Jackie Kennedy or 18th century Spanish Catholic ladies of quality by putting some lace on your head, fine!  Go ahead and do so.

What you are not allowed to do is to insist, hint, insinuate, or whisper that only brazen, irreverent women show up at Mass without wisps of lace on their hair, or that wearing lace on your hair acts like a talisman that suddenly makes the wearer holier, closer to God, and closer to what the Church really wants.  Because none of that is actually true, and truth is more important than veiling bonnetting covering your head at Mass.

Did the chapel veil kill the head covering requirement?

I'm so late posting this (is it already Wednesday, technically?  Sigh...) that I almost didn't, and after you read this, some of you will probably think I shouldn't have. :)

But after reading Jennifer Fulwiler's veil-wearing post, I had some things to say.

In fact, I've said them before:


and here,

and here.  For example.

My main point is this: since the Church no longer requires women to cover their heads at Mass, women are not required to cover their heads at Mass.  Women are still free to wear hats indoors, including into churches and at Mass.  They are also free to drape themselves in lace veils through which you can see their hair quite plainly.  They can do so as personally pious practices, or to look nice, or because they're having bad hair days, or, in fact, for any reason at all.  The only thing they are not free to do is to insinuate that women wearing a head covering is required or even strongly preferred by the Church at this time, because, quite simply, it isn't.

Many people have wondered why the Church stopped requiring women to cover their heads at Mass.  Was it feminism?  Was it a misunderstanding during Vatican II that led to women abandoning the head covering before the rules were clear?  Was it a recognition in Canon Law that the practice had already fallen into disuse?  Was it an understanding that in a relatively short time period women went from customarily wearing hats in public all the time to almost never wearing them, and was that because of feminism, of shortages after World War II, or for some other cause?

I think all of those things may have played a role; Church historians may, from a distance in the future, be able to see more clearly just what happened to hats at Mass or even in Protestant churches where they also disappeared.  But I have a radical new theory as to one thing that may have signaled to authorities in the Catholic Church that it was time to say goodbye to this particular requirement: the dawn of the chapel veil itself.

Oddly enough, as I've mentioned in previous posts, a lot of women today seem to have this rosy idea that generations of past Catholic women always wore lovely lace veils to Mass.  Unfortunately for this rosy view, handmade lace was very expensive, and machine-made lace didn't get its start until 1768; it took the next century or so for handmade lace to dwindle as it was replaced by the much cheaper machine-made variety.  Lace mantillas were certainly the custom among wealthy Spanish women, but even in Spain and the Spanish colonies ordinary women didn't own lace veils.  Most women covered their hair when they were outdoors, and whatever sort of hair covering they owned, they wore to Mass--certainly their newest or nicest one, but the same sort of thing, whether it was a twist of fabric, a hat or bonnet of some sort, or whatever the case might be. 

So where does this idea come from, this idea that to cover one's head at Mass meant some sort of lace drape?  Aside from places where the influence of the Spanish mantilla might have been felt, I think it's safe to say that for most American Catholic women today, the notion that the lace veil is the traditional covering comes from that vintage hair accessory known as the chapel veil.  But what, exactly, was the chapel veil?

Most of the information I can find about this little lace cloth worn on the head indicates that it was initially an abbreviated form of the customary Spanish mantilla, and it was originally adopted for use in warm climates.  How exactly it traveled to the United States is something I still haven't found, but from everything I've found its widespread use was adopted just as customary hat-wearing was declining: because a woman no longer put on a hat, a head-shawl, a heavy scarf tied under the chin, a bonnet, etc. to go outdoors, she might actually find herself in the position of being near a Catholic church, wishing to enter or make a visit, and being unable to do so because she didn't have the proper headgear on.  Enter the chapel veil--not usually the long, lovely lace folds we see today, but a little round or oblong bit of lace that could be folded up and kept in a pouch in one's purse--something like this.  With this, a woman could make a spontaneous visit to the Blessed Sacrament or even pop in for a daily Mass when she wasn't wearing a hat--a more and more common occurrence after about 1960, when she was more often hat-less than not.

But then something happened.  I suspect that it was something rather simple, really.  Women who realized that hats were going out of fashion, who searched in vain for hats appropriate for Mass as the styles became more outrageous, women who got used to wearing that little scrap of lace over their heads and thinking it satisfied the Church's rule that they had to cover their heads--they saw Jackie Kennedy wearing a slightly longer bit of lace to Sunday Mass and thought--well, why not? If the First Lady, who can afford any hats she likes and who has designers just waiting to make hats especially for her, thinks it's perfectly okay to ditch the outdated and cumbersome hat for a simple drape of sheer fabric that really doesn't hide one's coiffure at all, why shouldn't we?

And so they did.

Granted, that's just speculation on my part, as is what follows.  Because I think that what follows is that the Church, in the person of her authorities, realized that if average women thought that the point of covering one's head at Mass was just to put something on the hair, even if that something was nothing but a scrap of lace or a bobby-pinned handkerchief or, worse, a paper napkin or some tissues held in place by art or mystery or one determined if unfolded hand, then the meaning of the custom had long since been dissipated, and the legalistic attempts to satisfy the letter of the law were reaching the point of silliness.

None of that is meant to cast the slightest bit of aspersion on those of my fellow female Catholics who have started to wear something on their heads at Mass and who feel that by making this special effort they are doing something that enhances their ability to pray, to stay focused, and to make a particular sacrifice for God.  He loves our little voluntary sacrifices; I am sure of that.  And since there's no longer any requirement that the hair actually be covered, a bit of see-through lace is as capable of being a meaningful voluntary act of penance and sacrifice as anything.

So long as people aren't twisting themselves into knots to justify why they are or are not wearing a hat, headcovering, chapel veil, mantilla, scarf, knit cap, hood or snood, or other covering, I have no problem at all with this form of voluntary penance, and neither should anybody else, in my opinion.  As long as everybody is clear that that is what it is, of course.  Because if the Church actually were to require women to start covering their heads at Mass again, we might have to request clarification as to whether today's modern machine-made lace, which is so transparent and which tends to enhance rather than to obscure female beauty, really fits the bill.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Homeschooling: revenge of the nerds?

Char at Such a Pretty Bubble has a post up today that has me scratching my head a bit:
Here's the profile of the (primarily) religious homeschooling parent, as I see it. Note that the profile is not a checklist, with one needing to meet all of the below criteria. A homeschooling parent might match up with only one of the following points, a few, or many of them. Although I believe that more than one item will apply:

-As a child/teen, teased or bullied at school and/or in their own neighborhood, and/or within their own family
-As a child/teen, maligned and/or ignored at school, in early employment situations, or within their own family
-Quiet, non-disruptive type that sits on the sidelines watching and/or hoping to not have to participate
-Extremely intelligent
-Extremely intelligent in the "absent-minded professor" sort of way, perhaps related to some sort of autistic spectrum disorder
-As a child/teen, could have been placed on the autistic spectrum, but for whatever reason, never was
-Socially awkward (i.e. geeky)
-Socially awkward (i.e. excessive shyness)
-Socially awkward (i.e. class-clown/troublemaker type to compensate for inability to "fit it")
-Abusive background (emotional, physical, sexual, or religious)
-Family of origin is dysfunctional (alcoholism, drug addiction, parent is in prison, etc.)
-Family of origin is broken (i.e. divorce, one-parent family, lived with extended family, adopted, military)
-Struggles with depression and/or anxiety
-Struggles with scrupulosity
-"Type A" personality
-As a child/teen, routinely failed academically in school
-As a child/teen, routinely excelled academically, but was never challenged and felt bored
-As a child/teen, had direct and/or overbearing relationship with parent, sibling, or close friend that was overly-successful in academic, extracurricular, career, or social endeavors
The problem I have with this "profile" is that I can't think of a family member, friend, or acquaintance of mine who does not fit this profile according to Char's parameter--e.g., that the hypothetical religious homeschooler she's envisioning may only meet one of these criteria.

And this is true regardless of how this person educates his or her children, or, indeed, even if this person doesn't have children!

In other words--it's far too broad of a list of possible traits that might identify a group, because I would guess that the overwhelming majority of Americans can say "yes" to at least one of these criteria.

I spelled that out in the comments at Char's blog (agreeing with another commenter who beat me to it) and added, in part, "I think I get what you are trying to say here: that homeschooling parents are primarily broken people who blame school for a large part of their brokenness and are trying to keep their kids from being broken in the same way...."

To which Char replied, "Bingo!"

So I think that her list was mainly an attempt to noodle out something she's thinking about but can't quite nail down (and I get that, and have done that in blogging).  But I think what she really means is: religious homeschooling is sort of what happens when the legions of picked-on, beat-down, broken kids decide to take their marbles and go home, so that at least their own kids won't have to deal with the reality that most regular school environments are openly hostile to kids who are at all different from the type who can become what the school wants to produce.

Let me repeat a part of that, because it is something I truly believe as someone who was homeschooled myself for two years in high school long before deciding to teach my own kids at home: Most regular school environments are openly hostile to kids who are at all different from the type who can become what the school wants to produce.

Now, there's nothing wrong with institutional schools wanting to produce a certain type of student; John Dewey's educational philosophies were all about that concept, and the type of student schools wished to produce back then was the type of the good citizen.  The good citizen fit well into society, knew how to complete his post-secondary education (if applicable) or how to get a good productive job straight out of high school if not, could perform the basic duties of citizenship such as voting and civic activity and also fit in well to his community, becoming a good neighbor in due time, and in many other ways was a model of what an American citizen was supposed to be.  Even in Dewey's day there were probably plenty of students who didn't succeed, but the outcome of public education was fairly clear, and even in the religious schools the parameters were only increased, not greatly changed: that is, a Catholic school would produce a good Catholic American, a religious Protestant school would produce a good Christian American (though the public schools, back then, overlapped that particular goal), and so on.

Has that changed?  In fact, it has not.  The goal of most public schools and the private schools who still accept the public schools' goals overall is to produce a good citizen.  What has changed is our notion of society, and of who and what a good citizen is supposed to be, such that the rising tension between what institutional schools wish to produce and how sincerely religious Americans wish to raise their children is already great, and will become, in the future, unbearable and unworkable for the sincerely religious person.

For example, in the public schools, the good citizen is presumed to be sexually active somewhere between ages 13 and 16, and thus the good citizen must know all about the various sex acts and sexual identities they might be discovering and how to obtain the proper prophylactics and/or birth control depending on what type of sex they want to have, and with whom.  This is because the good citizen does not believe in the myth of chastity, but does believe that he or she has a duty to mitigate the public health consequences of his or her teenage (and, indeed, presumed lifelong) promiscuity by accepting the conventional wisdom that the only two negative consequences of unmarried sexual activity are STDs and unwanted small humans.  Thus, it becomes the proper job of the school to instruct children about sex, public health STD prevention goals, birth control, abortion, and prophylactics, and to provide any form of birth control or facilitate access to abortion which parents may not be already providing or facilitating out of some religiously-motivated lack of good citizenship.

Again, in the public schools, the good citizen is presumed to be on the right side of history regarding the "inevitable" acceptance of gay "marriage," and the mechanisms are already being put in place to further shame the religious student as being a bad citizen for his or her rejection of the notion that two men or two women make up a "marriage."

You would think that Catholic schools would be a clear sign of contradiction to this stuff, but I've shared here before about my Catholic high school's "health" teacher who mocked the Church's teachings against contraception and told us all about birth control--and my parents were paying a small fortune they didn't have for that education under the belief that the school would be teaching us according to the faith.  I've asked before for proof that this situation has improved from people whose kids have gone to Catholic high schools, and I've gotten crickets.  And it's a sad-but-true reality that one of the biggest things ex-Catholics share is 8 to 12 years of Catholic schooling.

So where Char sees religious homeschoolers as broken people who blame their brokenness on schools, I see some of us as having managed to survive our Catholic school education with our faith mostly intact (or, for some of my friends, finding their way back to the faith after a few years in various sorts of wildernesses) and realizing that it doesn't make sense to pay a Catholic school to make "good citizens" of our children given what our culture and society thinks of as "good citizens" these days.  Would there have been times when I might have liked a good non-diocesan Catholic small school or co-op as a "best of both worlds" option?  Sure.  Did that option exist where we live?  No.

Does any of that make homeschooling a "revenge of the nerds" scenario?  Not really, unless it's a hallmark of nerds to be first in line to abandon failing methodologies and models and think up new, exciting, more efficient ways to do things.  Hey, wait...

Friday, February 22, 2013

And people think Catholics are weird

Whatever else you read today, go and read Austin Ruse's post, The Prisons of Scientology.  Here's an excerpt:
According to one account, Scientology teaches, “that we are all trapped in this universe; that we used to be ‘free’ and powerful but we have gone down a ‘dwindling spiral’ of degradation, life after life, eventually, after trillions of years, becoming powerless and mired in suffering; that L. Ron Hubbard developed the only road out of this trap back to ‘real freedom’ and power; that the Church of Scientology is the only valid source of this technology; and that we will only get this one chance to make it out.”

We became trapped because 75 million years ago, “a tyrannical overlord named Xenu ruled the [Galactic] Confederacy.”  Xenu had been chosen by a Praetorian Guard called the Loyal Officers, who turned on him: “Xenu and a few evil conspirators – mainly psychiatrists – fed false information to the population to draw them into centers where Xenu’s troops could destroy them.” 

These beings – called Thetans – were killed and packed into space planes resembling DC-8’s and sent to Teegeeack, now called Earth, where they were placed in volcanoes and blown up with hydrogen bombs. Being immortal, the Thetans “became trapped in an electronic ribbon and placed in front of a ‘three-D, super colossal motion picture’ for thirty-six days, during which time they were subjected to images called R6 implants.” 

These Body Thetans are in all of us and the goal is to get “clear” of them and become Operating Thetans by walking along the “Bridge to Total Freedom,” which Scientology alone possesses. And the only way to get “clear” is through Scientology “technology” that costs hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to access. But this is the only way to salvation. 

I was surprised by the data that 25% of Scientologists are former Catholics. I can't really imagine why anyone would go from the Catholic faith to Scientology. But then again, I can't imagine taking up a religion that requires a belief in space aliens sent here on space planes to be blown up in volcanoes and then shown a movie...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Best and worst of Holy Week?

It's been a bit weird around here this week--a migraine socked me down yesterday and kept me a bit fuzzy around the edges today, so that I had one of those days where I'm trying to catch up on yesterday's chores while not falling too far behind on today's and trying not to think about tomorrow.  Or the weekend. :)

Anyway, that's why I decided to write this post now instead of waiting until we actually get closer to Holy Week, because there's something quintessentially Catholic about being all proud of one's Lent and how well things are going until one looks at the calendar and realizes that Lent started last Wednesday, and that there are still 37 days of it to go (counting until Easter, that is, and not the Easter Vigil).  Sigh.

My questions are simple, and there are two of them:

1. What do you like best about Holy Week?

2. What do you like least about Holy Week?

I'll go first.

1. Holy Thursday.  Definitely.  Oh, I know there's the whole "washing women's feet" liturgical irregularity and bit of silliness, which I rather wish would go completely away, and I'm not even opposed to reverting back to the ancient custom of not washing anybody's feet during Mass on Holy Thursday but going back to the immemorial custom which prevailed from 1570 to 1955 of washing 12 men's feet after Mass on Holy Thursday.  Why can't we get that tradition back, I wonder?  The choir could keep singing "Pange Lingua" quietly and unaccompanied, people could drift out of the Church after a visit to the chapel or altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed, and the 12 men could gather in an appropriate place set apart for them, such as one of the front pews, while Father washes their feet.  This would be a quiet and humble thing befitting the original intent of the custom, I believe.  But I digress--the reason I love Holy Thursday is because it is quiet, solemn, focused on the beginning of our Lord's Passion, and the music is wonderful (and those people who complain bitterly about a single word of sung Latin all year either keep quiet or go elsewhere, apparently).  It's not that the Good Friday service isn't also beautiful and moving--it is--or that the Easter Vigil isn't rather amazing--it definitely is.  But I'm drawn to Holy Thursday for reasons I find hard to articulate, except that it feels like the small bit of quiet before the approaching storm of darkness and then the glorious triumph of Light, the last, tiny bit of peace, and the memorial of the indescribable gift of the Holy Eucharist, given by the Man who is also God who knows full well that the words He speaks about His Body "...which will be given up for you..." and His Blood "...which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins..." will be fulfilled in the anguish of a death few of us can really contemplate for long without averting our gaze from what even the angels can hardly bear to see.

2. The Good Friday fasting dilemma.  Okay, there, I said it. :)  But living, as we do, in a non-Catholic country where people don't get Good Friday off from school and work in many places has a strange impact on the Good Friday fast, if you intend to go to Good Friday services (say, to sing at them, beginning with the Stabat Mater during Stations of the Cross 30 minutes before the services start, around 6:30 or 7 p.m., until they end).  I used to be crazy enough to try to keep the "main meal" for after we returned home (and only Thad and I are bound by the fast at this point).  But the result of trying to go all day without food (apart from the two permitted snacks) plus standing and singing on and off for a roughly two-hour period was--not good, shall we say.  So I relocated the "main meal" to be served a bit early, before we leave for church--and that means that in the middle of the afternoon, right when I'd really like to be focused on our Lord's Passion and death on the Cross, I'm cooking, and thinking more than I'd like to about food.

I know, I know.  Gripe gripe gripe.  I should have known what I was getting into when I realized I wasn't called to religious life. :)  But it's weird, a little, because in other, more Catholic countries, and even in more heavily Catholic parts of this country, the Good Friday services are held somewhere between noon and 3 p.m., which fits in nicely with fasting.  When your Good Friday services start about 6:30 and you live about 30 minutes from the church--well, havoc is going to be wreaked on the dinner hour no matter what you do, but skipping Good Friday services for no reason other than to manage the fasting better seems counterproductive to me.

So those are my "best" and "worst" features of Holy Week.  It's your turn now!  What do you love best?  What do you wish could be different?  I'll try to check for comments a bit more frequently on this one to make sure everybody gets a chance to have his or her say.

UPDATE: Sigh.  I always forget that people give up reading and/or commenting on blogs during Lent.  Oh, well.  Maybe I'll repost this one after Easter. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nobody wants to be mistaken for the crazy uncle

I've been accused in recent days of having it be my "schtick" to make fun of traditional Catholicism or traditional piety.  Which is a little unfair, because my "schtick" has always been to make fun of everybody, myself included.  I'll offer a few examples:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

Exhibit F

Exhibit A pokes fun at both "radtrads" and "neo-caths."  Exhibit B pokes fun at women priest wannabees.  Exhibit C is the recent "Benedict X V I" parody song which pokes fun at "ultra-trads."  Exhibit D was written after the controversy around an open lesbian demanding Communion at her mother's funeral; Exhibit E is poking fun at women priest wannabes again, and Exhibit F is poking fun at radical leftist nuns.

From this you can clearly see that I only make fun of people on the trad side of things.  Er, no.  If anything, leftist nuns and women priests should be the most angry at me, because in addition to the above parodies I tend to sling the occasional outrageous arrow of fortune at them more often than I do at anyone else.

And yet, the only people I ever really hear from are the traditional people, who seem to think that any humor directed their way is proof positive that O.F. types hate the "real Mass" and everyone and everything associated with it--which would come as news to my big sis and her husband and their seven boys and their Latin Mass community none of whom I hate in the slightest.

I do understand, having been alive during the Four Silly Decades of the Post-Conciliar Apocalypsicle (not to be confused with the actual Apocalypse, during which people will actually physically die horribly instead of being near-lethally annoyed at Mass), how people whose spirituality is best served at Masses said according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite are somewhat pardonably inclined to be a bit gun shy and occasionally just slightly touchy about people being unaware of their long and hard-fought struggle to be allowed to have the E.F. Mass in Latin and how in some dioceses permission for this has been handed over so sparingly as to be rather stingy of the ordinary instead of generous and loving as the Church seems to have intended it to be.  And I also understand how very tiresome it must be, if you're an average joyful Catholic who loves the E.F. Mass but doesn't mind the O.F. either and is actually quite pleased that the Church offers both, to be lumped in with a particular breed of Sour Internet Trad who at the slightest provocation will tell you seriously that while he accepts the O.F. Mass for now, he knows that it was all a Masonic plot funded by a Jewish conspiracy group to undermine the once-likely resurgence of the glorious and Holy Roman Empire, instead of which we have the likes of Obama, Snooki, the Karadashians, and Honey-Boo-Boo as our political and cultural apices--none of which, of course, your ordinary joyful E.F. Mass-attending Catholic thinks.  Nobody wants to be mistaken for his crazy uncle, after all, and the average E.F. Mass Catholic shouldn't be.

That said, though, I really think that learning to laugh at ourselves is the first step toward true humility.  People are funny, and groups of people are even funnier.  As Catholics our behavior and ideas are sometimes inexplicably hilarious to other people, while I find atheists a riot at times and have been known to chuckle at materialists as well, though of course they wouldn't believe it unless a) they were there at the time and b) they could rule out choking or an asthma attack.  I've heard stories of cradle Catholics attempting to convert non-Catholic friends by handing them books showing pictures of incorruptible saints, for instance, and not even realizing that a book full of photos of dead bodies might not be the first or best argument to make in favor of the notion that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ intentionally founded as the ordinary means of salvation for all humanity.  I don't mean any disrespect to God, to the incorruptibles, or to the zeal of those sorts of Catholics when I say that that is just screamingly funny.

And sometimes we do things that are so contradictory that to fail to laugh at them is to fail to embrace our own humanity.  Have you ever, for instance, been really, really annoyed with someone at Mass, only to have the Offertory hymn be announced: "Christians, Let Us Love One Another," and had to choke back an appreciative giggle at the coincidence?  Have you ever written a really insightful blog post about love and families and then caught yourself screaming at your kids over something as inconsequential as dirty socks or unmade beds not ten minutes later?  Or, perhaps, delivered a passionate speech to six friends at a coffee shop about how you can't possibly engage in public speaking?  Have you been telling a friend on the phone how wonderful homeschooling is just as your child has a major math meltdown and insists she isn't going to learn any more stinking numbers?

Laughing at ourselves is the first step in learning not to take ourselves too seriously, and not taking ourselves too seriously is the first step toward humility, and humility is one of the lower rungs on the ladder of wisdom.  There may be times when we can be justifiably upset over the mocking of our Lord or His Church or other sacred things, but we have to realize that there's a difference between someone making fun, say, of the E.F. Mass itself and making fun of an old Internet debate regarding whether buckles are required on clerical footwear at same (and it should be noted that Father Z. seemed to be taking the matter far less seriously than a few of his commenters), just as there is a big difference between making fun of the O.F. Mass itself (e.g., calling it "happy-clappy" or invalid) and some of the unfortunate trivialities associated with that Mass, such as a song we'll be singing this week which changes its time signature, I kid you not, ten times in fourteen measures of music--come on, what is up with that?  If I couldn't make fun of stuff like that, I think I'd pop, or something.

The point is, this isn't a Trad-bashing blog.  It's an everybody-bashing blog.  But only when we take ourselves too seriously over things that aren't.  Because this is also an everybody-loving blog, when it comes down to the important point that we're all children of God, however flawed, silly, sinful, or corrupt, and so long as we're all working out our salvation together in fear and trembling or at least open to the possibility that God and salvation are real things and that people working toward them are sincere about it all, I think we'll all get along just fine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Prostitution and Christian feminism

Back in 2011, I wrote a sort of defense of Christian feminism on this blog.  I realize that it's bad form to quote your own old posts, but it's also bad form to reinvent the wheel, so as my jumping-off place for this post let me repeat some of my own words about Christian feminism here:
To me, the initial burst of feminism, which focused on women's rights to vote, to own property in their own names, and to be treated legally and otherwise as fully human beings in their own right, is perfectly compatible with the Christian understanding of womanhood. In Genesis, after all, the word used to describe what Eve is to be to Adam is often translated "helpmeet." Scholars disagree (as biblical scholars usually do) about exactly what the original Hebrew words are supposed to mean, but they do know that it conveys a couple of ideas: Eve is an opposite to Adam, but she helps him; her role is to help him. Not wait on him slavishly or put up with abuse or bad treatment; not act like a queen and expect him to rush around and wait on her and fulfill her most outlandish whims: help him.

It is unfortunate that this idea of woman was ever twisted in such a way as to create a reality in which women were seen as secondary, second-class, or second-rate. But it was. It is one thing to say that women and men are supposed to be helping each other according to their unique gifts and abilities in the primary duty of all human beings, namely, to know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in the next, and quite another turn it into a mandate requiring women not only to accept that men see them as inferior beings, but even to think of themselves that way, and to insist that a true understanding of God and His plan for women really does mean that women are and must be inferior to men, as too many Christian churches tell their female adherents in word and deed even today, and as society in general told women for generations.

If we don't understand that feminism began as a reaction against such an un-Christian idea of women as a sort of unhappy afterthought of God's which made it the duty of men to keep them in their place, we will never understand why we are where we are today.

But the Christian feminist can't just stop there. She can't point to the many real ills of the past, and, indeed, in some societies, of the present, and use these as a justification to attack her own female nature, to hate men, to kill unborn children or agitate for their killing, or in other ways to create an even greater rift between men and women than there was before.

The goal of Christian feminism should be a return to the idea of balance, of men and women as equal partners and helpmeets to each other in this work of knowing, loving, and serving God, in a relationship in which neither is exploited, hated, or dismissed, and neither is a tyrant or a despot, but both are respected and loved for their whole selves, including their masculinity or femininity.

I use this as the starting point for this post for a reason: I've been thinking a lot about a true vision of Christian feminism lately, and how, properly understood and employed, such a vision might really benefit Christian women and help them to recapture the notion of true womanhood, which is neither a vision of vintage femininity locked in a particular era nor a perpetual battle waged against men (or, even sillier, against male pronouns).

What prompted this line of thought of mine?  Well, lots of things, but today specifically I've seen two opposite cases where a proper philosophy of Christian feminism (and given the negative connotations of the word "feminism" I wish there were a better term, but haven't seen one used yet) might help people come to terms with certain realities that are being discussed.

The first thing is a discussion, taking place over at Rod Dreher's blog,  about whether or not legalizing prostitution has been a good thing.  As anyone familiar with Rod's comment boxes can guess, the pro-prostitution people are outnumbering us anti-prostitution folks by a significant majority.  Trying to argue that prostitution is intrinsically evil over there is pretty much an exercise in futility, but that doesn't stop me from trying.  But I also try to frame the issue in terms of the exploitation of women (and, indeed, of the vulnerable men who end up in the sex industry too) because it seems to me to be a position consistent with ordinary secular feminism as well as Christian feminism to say that prostitution is inherently exploitative, ugly, and harmful to those engaged in it.  Surprisingly enough the secular feminists seem to be more divided on the issue than I might have thought, and I realize that for many feminists, prostitution is just another form of "empowering" consensual sex, even though what is being consented about has more to do with a desire for money driven by absolute desperation than anything else.  It may be left, ultimately, to Christian women to articulate that what is gravely wrong with prostitution is that it reduces human persons to objects, just like torture or abortion reduces human persons to objects, and that in particular the women who make up the vast majority of sex workers worldwide are not only at risk morally but also substantially at risk of physical and mental harm, exploitation, and slavery from the "work" they are doing.

The second thing I saw today that made me think of Christian feminism is this article about the Irish Prime Minister apologizing concerning the infamous Magdalen laundries:
The Irish State has finally said sorry to 10,000 women and girls incarcerated in Catholic Church-run laundries where they were treated as virtual slaves.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into issuing a fulsome apology on Tuesday evening to those held in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.

The apology in the Dáil (Irish parliament) came about two weeks after a damning 1,000-plus page report was released detailing the way women and girls were maltreated inside the nun-controlled laundries.

Survivors groups were enfuriated when the Irish premier initially declined a fortnight ago to explicitly apologise for the state's role in sending women and girls into the Magdalene Laundries, sometimes simply for coming from broken homes or being unmarried mothers. [...]

The Taoiseach said what happened to the Magdalene women had "cast a long shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are".

He said he "deeply regretted and apologised" for the hurt and trauma inflicted upon those sent to the Magdalene Laundries.

Apologising to the women and girls of the Magdalene Laundries, he told parliament that they deserved "the compassion and recognision for which they have fought for so long, deservedly so deeply."

He said he hoped "it would help us make amends in the state's role in the hurt of these extraordinary women."

Believe it or not, I've heard the Magdalene laundries mentioned in positive ways in some places and among some people--people who think that the right sort of thing to do with an unwed mother is to incarcerate her in a convent, for instance, for an unspecified amount of time, and make her work for no pay and with no promise of release, just as happened in the Magdalene Laundries.  Unfortunately these people are not the secularists at Rod Dreher's blog, but some of my fellow Catholics, who think that all sexual immorality is really the fault of women, and that if women would just go back to being virtuous and chaste men necessarily would also, so it's really the fault of feminist and liberated women that men ever sin.

Again, I think the voices of Christian women, perhaps Christian feminists, are needed to counter these kinds of ideas.  Incarcerating these young women in convents, some of them not even guilty of sexual sin and deeply sad and puzzled about why they were sent away from their homes, was never a good idea.  In ages past when feminism wasn't even on the horizons plenty of men coerced or tricked or manipulated or forced women to be their partners in sin, and there were even outwardly "virtuous" women who secretly engaged with full agreement in sinful activities.  But to see sexual sin as always being women's fault is to cultivate a belief that women are somehow more fallen, more flawed, and more responsible for sin, when in fact a woman in the Middle Ages who sold herself for bread for her starving children was a lot less guilty than the man who bought her services.

There are people who think that women who engage in prostitution are always the really guilty parties, while the men who pay them are more easily forgiven.  I see women caught up in prostitution as vulnerable and often as exploited victims, since few women ever choose such a life with full freedom.  And I remember a certain life experience of a late Franciscan priest, who recounted that as a solider in World War II he would give his pay to the girls seeking to prostitute themselves to servicemen on the condition that the girls would go home (which they gladly did).  This did not make the good priest beloved by his fellow soldiers; in fact, it made them angry that this fellow soldier/future priest was spoiling their fun.  But he was trying to save the girls and was trying to save them, too, if they ever had the grace to realize it.

The Christian feminist will not excuse completely a woman who freely engages in prostitution, but neither will the Christian feminist say that a woman can easily choose for herself or her family to starve instead, or that it is easy to escape one's pimp or kick one's drug habit or overcome the other pathologies that lead to prostitution in the first place.  On the other hand, the Christian feminist will not excuse a man's sin in visiting a prostitute on the grounds that it's really the woman's fault for making herself available, but she will not ignore the reality that men and women both need each other's help and cooperation to overcome all sins, including the sins of the flesh.  As I said when I first wrote on this topic, men and women are supposed to work together as equal partners and helpmeets, and if we could strive for that, we might see a world where prostitution was seen as unthinkably degrading to men and women alike.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Great Catholic Lenten Blog Fights: The Sunday Question

It was bound to happen, ladies and gentlemen.

The ability of lay Catholics, especially Internet lay Catholics, to pick fights about seemingly everything never ceases to amaze me, and this year, the great Lenten Blog fight theme is this one: is it really okay to take a break from your voluntary Lenten penances on Sunday, or isn't it?

In the "It's okay!" corner we have Simcha Fisher, who writes:
Get it? Because it's Lent, but it's also Valentine's Day!  Yes, yes, Valentine's Day is a made-up holiday, but it couldn't hurt to at least find out whether your beloved cares about it -- and if so, do something nice.

But  not too nice!  Because it's Lent!

Well, my husband and I are just gonna celebrate Valentine's Day on Sunday, because Sundayisn'treallypartofLent,there,Isaidit.  But if you gotta do something today, here are a few ideas for how to combine romance and suffering, sweetness and pain.
(Of course, the rest of her post is about how to celebrate Valentine's Day during Lent with just that right mixture of romantic sweetness and the reminder that we're all clinging with our fingernails on the edge of the chasm that leads to eternal damnation, and some of us have short fingernails--but that just makes the "Sunday isn't Lent" admission all the more stunning.)

Peter's confusion aside, I've been sorting through a Lenten quandary of my own. It must be about ten years ago when it was first suggested to me that on Sundays we get to enjoy whatever it is we gave up for Lent. At the time it seemed like a radical and exciting proposition: Candy during Lent. Amazing.

And over the last decade, the chorus of voices heralding fasting-free Sundays has only grown. It seems to have become the norm, such that if you even think about continuing your fast through the weekend you get a friendly reminder that "HEY IT'S SUNDAY WHICH IS A MINI-EASTER SO MAKE SURE YOU EAT THAT BROWNIE!!!"
I did a year or two of breaking my fast on Sundays and found it to be--how do you say--weak sauce.

It's simply not very hard to give something up if you still indulge in it on a weekly basis. Let's say, for example, that you're giving up ice cream for Lent. Are you really having ice cream more than once a week on a regular basis in Ordinary Time anyway? Not unless your goal is a diabetes diagnosis.

And so, I've placed myself pretty resolutely in the "Man-up-and-fast-on-Sundays" camp. When I debate this point, however, I'm usually told that Sundays are not part of Lent anyway, a contention proven by the fact that the number of days in Lent only equals 40 if you toss out the Lord's day. But if that were true, we wouldn't celebrate the "first Sunday of Lent." 
Now, I'm a cradle Catholic raised by two cradle Catholics who were themselves raised by cradle Catholics, et in saecula saeculorum.  And in our family we always, always, always considered Sundays a "day off" from Lent.  

In fact, given that our family has lots of Irish and French ancestry I suspect that the "Sundays aren't part of Lent" thing was originally invented by priests who recognized that asking either Frenchmen or Irishmen to give up, say, spirituous liquor for a whole 40 days without a break would simply have required the invention of modern psychiatry a whole heck of a lot earlier than it actually happened.  Permitting the flock to take a wee break from abstention was also probably better than having waves of the scrupulous flock to Confession the last chance before Easter to admit that they had inadvertently stirred some sugar into their coffee after Mass, or some such thing.  In other words, telling the faithful that it was okay to take a small break from voluntary penances was probably motivated by pastoral sensitivity.

But what about those required penances?  What about back in the good old Real True Catholic days when the Church made everybody fast all of Lent?

Here's where it gets interesting:  on this old blog post of mine you can see the rules for Lent given by Bishop Corrigan of New York in February of 1887.  If you enlarge the image from the old New York Times archives on that post, you will see that it is spelled out that fasting is required on all the "week days" of Lent (which included Saturday back then) and that abstinence is required on Fridays and a few other days (Ash Wednesday etc.).  But then it says quite clearly: "On Sundays there is neither fasting nor abstinence, but fish cannot be used with flesh meat at the same meal at any time in Lent."

So, apart from that interesting prohibition against surf 'n turf or the kind of hoity-toity dinner with a fish course during Lent that held true for Sundays as well as weekdays, the instruction is clear: there is no fasting or abstinence on Sundays.

It seems, therefore, that the pre-Vatican II Church didn't see easing the fasting requirement on Sunday to be "weak sauce" at all, but as something that would remind people of the special character of Sunday in the Christian week.  And that was back when the fasting was otherwise mandatory for many people (excluding the elderly, the infirm, those whose work was primarily physical, pregnant or nursing women, etc. who weren't bound at all by the law).

Now that Lenten fasting is, apart from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, voluntary and can be done in ways other than limiting the meals, what should Catholics do about Sunday?

I would recommend the following:

1. If you are voluntarily adhering to the strict fast (e.g., one full meal, two smaller meals, nothing in between) daily, then you should probably think about taking a break from that on Sundays.  The Church herself didn't require it as far back as 1887, and I think the wording of Bishop Corrigan's announcement, that is, "On Sundays there is neither fasting nor abstinence..." comes out more like a command than a suggestion (though perhaps that's merely an interpretation of mine).  When we try to do more than the Church requires (unless we are acting under the direct supervision of a spiritual director or lawful religious superior in religious life) we often crash and burn.  If back in 1887 when people were used to fasting from midnight on before receiving Communion the bishop of New York was reminding people not to fast on Sundays, we might want to think that the Church had an inkling of the right idea about such things.
2. If your voluntary penances are other than the strict fast, then whether you continue them on Sunday or continue to give them up probably depends on what they are and what giving them up means to you.  Steve Karlen uses the example of someone giving up ice cream for Lent; if you eat ice cream daily as a meal substitute and give it up for Lent it would be different to have it on Sunday than the scenario Steve envisions, in which someone merely relocates their weekly dish of ice cream from, say, Thursday evenings to Sunday.  On the other hand, if you give up putting butter on things for Lent (as one of my children once did), it might be okay to put some on your Sunday toast (especially when every other day of the week you're eating your toast and sandwiches dry).

But here, too, common sense should apply.  If you give up watching TV during the week, it's sort of problematic to record everything you want to watch and go in for a marathon TV-watching session on Sundays; and if you find yourself staying up until midnight on Saturdays (when you normally wouldn't) just to crack into the tin of chocolate-chip cookies, it might be time to rethink things a bit.  This kind of rethinking applies to the "But Pop-tarts (tm) aren't dessert!" and the "I pledge not to eat between my normal six meals a day..." approaches to Lenten sacrifices as well.

3. Most important of all: eyes on your own plate/paper/sacrifices, with the minor exception for parents of minors who may need guidance at times.  If you and your family continue your voluntary penances on Sunday and someone else doesn't, smile, agree to do what works for your family, and keep going.  Nobody should be made to feel guilty about either eating or not eating that brownie on Sunday (well, except for me, because if it's chocolate it will trigger a migraine and I'll be in bed all day on Monday, so I can't eat them any day of the week, Lent or not, which is why I no longer give up chocolate for Lent because I can't have it anyway...see, this is what happens when I have to type the word "brownie").

I've got an idea.  How about we give up criticizing the perfectly lawful things other Catholics do during Lent for Lent?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Scariest Valentine's Day Card Ever

First, you have to go to the Such a Pretty Bubble blog and see the "Liturgically Correct Vintage Valentine's Day" card that blogger Charlotte was given by a Baptist friend.

Now, I know the reason Charlotte says this is a liturgically correct vintage Valentine's Day card: because the little girl is wearing a veil.  Like a chapel veil.  Lacey, with scalloped edges.

But in reality, is that a chapel veil on her head?  She doesn't appear to be at Mass.  Her head is not bowed, her eyes are not closed, her hands are clasping a garishly-large lace-decorated heart instead of being correctly folded (flat palms only, people!  None of this "here is the church, here is the steeple" nonsense).  It's just barely possible that she's getting ready to go to Mass, but if so, why is she clasping that card?  Does she have a crush on one of the altar boys, and is she really so lost as to all sense of propriety as to present herself at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass toting such an obviously flirtatious message, which would be as ill-timed as it would be shocking to the most-likely oblivious young man who is the darling of her childish heart?

Let us, in charity, admit that this is not even remotely possible for a young lady skilled in the art of chapel-veiling (hey, if other people can make it a verb, so can I, even if verbing weirds words).

Unfortunately, this leads us to an even less wholesome speculation: the young lady is borrowing either an oversize antimacassar or a table runner or, perhaps, a mantle-scarf in order to present herself to her pint-sized sweetheart in the visage of a bride.

"Be mine," she seems to say with that demure blushing expression, "and accept this pretty paper heart I made you.  Oh, and in exactly sixteen years twelve days and four hours when I turn twenty-one I expect you to meet me at the altar of St. Ubiquitous the Unwavering to join me in the state of Holy Matrimony, at which point I will embark on the sacred duty of making sure you get to heaven, even if that means running your life in every painful detail from that day forward, till death do us part."

What could any high-spirited little boy do except take to his heels and run for the hills?  Unless, of course, his mother and hers are watching and think it's cute, at which point he'll have to turn bright red, take the card, mutter something unintelligible, and go hide in his room until she gets a crush on somebody else or he graduates from college, whichever happens first.

In fact, even if the girl of the card loses interest in him, I imagine the object of her affection seriously courting some other young lady some day, and even thinking about popping the question, only to have her tilt her head and blush in just that exact same way, such that the "run for your life!" reaction comes first and sober reflection later.

Which is why I officially declare this to be the Scariest Valentine's Day Card Ever.  Gentlemen readers, you are welcome.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What I want from CAPE Catholics

Ash Wednesday Mass at our little mission church was packed.

I mean, packed.  Wall-to-wall people, classrooms opened for people to sit in, a couple of people brave enough to sit next to the loud redheaded soprano in the choir: that packed.

Now, I know that some of them were from our sister parish because perhaps the time (6:30 p.m.) was better for them than the Masses offered there.  And some of them may be area Catholics from other parishes that didn't have an evening Mass at all, or had an earlier or later one.

But I can't help suspecting that some of them are CAPE Catholics.

CAPE, of course, stands for "Christmas-Ash Wednesday-Palm Sunday-Easter," and signifies Catholics who come to Mass those four days out of the year.  Back when my girls were little and we weren't singing in the choir, I used to have to fight my annoyance with the CAPEs on those four occasions, mainly because if you got up with a baby to walk out to the vestibule you'd come back to find your family squished up in the middle of the pew and several newcomers occupying the seat you thought you'd get to come back to.  Let's just say that charity is put severely to the test on those occasions.  Let's also say that I failed that test frequently. :)  It's hard, in the ordinary, human way, not to wish that the CAPE Catholics would not be so...present.

However, what I really want, as a daughter of the Church, from the CAPE Catholics is what the Church herself wants, which is the exact opposite: I want them to be more present.  With the Church, I'd like them to come every Sunday, every Holy Day, even a weekday here and there.  I'd like them to see their relationship with Jesus Christ as the most important thing in their lives, and I'd like them to realize that since He went to all that trouble to found a specific Church as the ordinary means for their--and my, and your--salvation, they can best build that relationship with Jesus Christ in the arms of that Church, who like the loving mother she is cares deeply about them and wants them to find the true happiness of knowing, loving, and serving God in this life and being happy with Him forever in the next.  I want them to partake of the sacraments not just once in a while, but all the time, especially Confession and the Eucharist.  I want them to be like long-lost brothers and sisters joyfully welcomed back home with the minimum of awkward questions about their absence and the maximum of loving embraces from those of us waiting for their arrival.

It's true that if every single CAPE Catholic did come home this way, we'd probably have to schedule a few extra Masses and build a few more churches and ordain a lot more priests and open more schools and so on--but wouldn't that be a happy problem to have?

CAPE Catholics, especially the ones who might have been near me tonight: won't you please consider coming home this Lent?  Sure, our Sunday Mass is at 8:30 a.m., but if a confirmed night owl like me can make it, I bet you can too.  Or, if not, there's probably a Catholic parish near you with a Saturday night or Sunday morning Mass that will fit your schedule a bit better.  Why not find out?

Hope to see you Sunday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

A parody, with many apologies

Okay, I'm just going to preface this post with tons of apologies to get them all out of the way. 

I started thinking about writing this parody after reading Rod Dreher's post in which a Traddy Catholic friend of Rod's labeled Pope Benedict XVI a "coward" for resigning.  I can't help it; I'm wired that way.

But I want to stress that I'm poking fun at this particular type of Ultra-Trad Catholic, the type of person who thought the whole "God's Rottweiler" moniker for our pope when he was still a cardinal was an encouraging sign, the sort of person who honestly thought that in the first year or so of his papacy Benedict XVI would forbid the Novus Ordo Mass and reinstate what was still being called the "Tridentine" back then as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  This is the person who criticizes Father's shoe buckles for not being large enough, or the sort of person who thinks that the only real problem with the SSPX is that they're a bit too liberal (even if he stays grudgingly under papal authority himself).

In other words, I do not think that every single traditional Catholic or every single regular Extraordinary Form Mass attendee thinks this way.  In fact, my fictional Ultra-Trad doesn't really think this way, because he probably doesn't exist.

But that couldn't stop me. :)

So, one more apology: to Don McLean, for badly parodying "American Pie" in the following song, "Benedict X V I" (and yes, you have to say the letters separately as letters instead of saying them as a mere number, or the rhyme doesn't work).


Benedict X V I

Not so very long ago
I can still remember how “Habemus Papam” made me smile
And I thought if he had the chance, he’d make those wacky liberals dance
And we’d forget that VII for a while.
But February made me bitter--with each new tweet up from Twitter
Bad news from each blog host; I hated each new blog post
And everybody seemed to find lots to say that was too kind
And I thought I would lose my mind the day the pope resigned.

So bye, bye Benedict X V I
Seems the Novus is still Ordo and I just don’t know why
And all my friends, from the Low Mass and High, are singing
“Popes should stay the pope till they die,
Popes should stay the pope till they die.”

Did he write that “God is Love” and isn’t that on a felt banner above
The altar in that “worship space”
Now, do you know Gregorian Chant? Do modern church songs make you rant?
And can you explain what’s up with all that lace?
Well, I thought that this pope was our guy, ‘cause I saw that grim look in his eye
When the nuns got on that bus--man, I thought he’d kick and fuss
I was a great nitpicker with an axe to grind and I thought he would be my kind, but
I knew I had been too blind the day the pope resigned.

I started singing, bye, bye Benedict X V I
Cause the Novus is still Ordo and I just don’t know why
And all my friends, from the Low Mass and High, are singing
“Popes should stay the pope till they die,
Popes should stay the pope till they die.”

For forty years we’ve lived the pain of the “Gloria” sung like a refrain, but
That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
And Benedict should get a pass for the new translation of the English Mass
(Though Latin’s still the one for me.)
Oh, but while the pope was occupied, the LCWR drifted wide
The nuns screamed “patriarchy,” but that was just malarky!
And while their broad brush-painted slimes got printed in the New York Times
We sang our Compline after nine the day the pope resigned.

We were singing, bye, bye Benedict X V I
Cause the Novus is still Ordo and I just don’t know why
And all my friends, from the Low Mass and High, are singing
“Popes should stay the pope till they die,
Popes should stay the pope till they die.”


I read a blogger for some news, but felt that he was too amused
I just sighed and clicked away.
I tried to watch EWTN but thought about it all again
How Benedict should have done things my way
On Facebook my friends, Trad and lapsed, shouted loudly in all caps
And some of them were sniping face to face while Skyping...
And a man I know to be a knave, Cardinal Mahony, the liberals’ fave
Made travel plans for the conclave the day the pope resigned.

And we were singing bye, bye Benedict X V I
Roger M. should be in jail and I surely know why
And all my friends, from the Low Mass and High, are singing
“Popes should stay the pope till they die,
Popes should stay the pope till they die.”

We were singing, bye, bye Benedict X V I
Yes the Novus is still Ordo and I just don’t know why
And all my friends, from the Low Mass and High, are singing
“Popes should stay the pope till they die.”

Some thoughts on the pope's resignation

I want to share here some thoughts I had about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement today that he will resign at the end of the month.  I wrote this over on Rod Dreher's blog, in the comments, and realized that I might as well share it here rather than attempt to write something new; this is pretty much what I think so far, though I've been very interested to read other reactions:


I was deeply surprised by this news this morning, but to say that I’m either shocked or upset by it would be too much. In the last couple of years I’ve attended several funerals of parishioners in their 80s or even late 70s, and I know that people in this age group often go from relatively healthy to incapacitated rather quickly. We think that because many live longer and some are active into their 90s that we’ve conquered the frailty of old age, but this isn’t true. If Pope Benedict XVI has seen in himself the signs of ill health and wants to spare the Church the long decline that she went through with JPII–who, ironically, might have felt pressured to remain in the papacy precisely because various factions in the Church were calling for his resignation so strongly–we should trust him that he has good reasons.

Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Look for the American media to throw the word “unprecedented” around, even though it’s inapplicable. Just because the last time a pope resigned it was about 77 years before Columbus set sail and ended up here does not mean the Church hasn’t ever seen this before. The Church has been around a lot longer than the American media (Deo gratias!).

2. Anyone who expresses the notion that this pope’s papacy was a failure hasn’t read any of his encyclicals or other writings. This was not a papacy of reform, but a papacy of instruction in the fundamentals. It was necessary that such instruction would precede a papacy of reform, just as it was necessary that a period of reflection and care would precede the retranslation of the Mass into English (and as to that, a mere 40 years was *quick,* people–we’re dealing with Ents).

3. The marginal Catholics or non-Catholics who think the next pope will usher in their specific radical innovations (e.g., women priests, Church approval for contraception, lay-led Eucharists, or whatever other nonsense is out there) are doomed to be disappointed, because they always will be.

4. The ultra-Trad Catholics who think that the next pope will rise up and crush the Novus Ordo (better known as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite–get used to that term, please!), female altar servers, or bad music are also doomed to be disappointed, because they also always will be.

5. The people inside or outside the Church who have visions of a pope who will singlehandedly toss out heretic or erring bishops, place whole nations under interdict for their faithlessness, excommunicate Catholic politicians (in America and other nations) on the left for being pro-abortion and on the right for being pro-torture etc., and otherwise resemble a movie character or a media caricature instead of an actual pope are likewise doomed to be disappointed–and the ironic thing is that if any pope ever actually exhibited such characteristics the most disappointed people would be the ones who profess to want this.

6. The so-called Malachy prophecy is nearing its expiration date–and by that I mean that it is overwhelmingly likely that it is a fake and will be proved so when the next pope after this coming one is elected. This will not stop the media from running breathless “Is this the last pope?” articles from the time Benedict’s successor is elected until the time *that* pope’s successor is elected, and if they can get away with it they’ll keep going after that. But eventually people will lose interest.

7. The Cafeteria *is* closed, and always has been. The mistake some made is that they thought that instead of a cafeteria the Church was serving a hospital dinner or an airplane in-flight meal on a rigidly sectioned tray, when she has always been presiding over a banquet. That is why it doesn’t trouble her to permit the Extraordinary Form while refining the Ordinary Form in the Roman Rite, while simultaneously embracing a multiplicity of other rites centered around her Eucharistic feast. Those who think of the Church as a cafeteria from which they can select the truths or ideas they like and reject the rest are just as wrong as those who label as evil innovations the Church’s outspoken stance against the death penalty as being unnecessary to the modern state, and against torture as being an unjust and evil objectification of the human person.

The bottom line for me is this: if Pope Benedict XVI thinks he’s no longer strong enough for what has become in the modern age a physically and mentally demanding position, I think his decision to resign shows his characteristic graciousness and humility, and wish him well, and pray for him and for his successor.


Okay, your turn.  What do you think?  Comment box is open (though still moderated, alas).

Friday, February 8, 2013

I've lost my taste for recreational outrage

The title of this blog post comes directly from something I said in a conversation I had yesterday with someone who would probably like to remain anonymous.  But the context was this: we were talking about how we no longer "get" those people we know who live and breathe certain types of books, documentaries, TV shows, radio programs, blogs or newspapers, etc. which are centered around clarifying how we are the solution to every problem, while they are the ones causing the problem in a number of shadowy cabalistic conspiracy-oriented ways that, if we only knew the whole truth (the way your host or author or blogger does!) would horrify us.

Now some people will read the above paragraph and automatically jump to the conclusion that I'm bashing conservatives.  I'm not.  Recreational outrage is a right-and-left wing problem.  For every person who is convinced that President Obama is going to stage a military coup or alter the Constitution so he can run for a third term on his way to becoming a king after he's confiscated all of our guns, there is a person on the other side of the political spectrum who sincerely believes that hidden in the Republican agenda is a carefully crafted policy of extermination to be unleashed against women, gays, and various small Middle Eastern countries, should the Republicans ever unlawfully seize power (by pretending to win an election) again.  For every Republican who thinks that totalitarianism a la Nineteen Eighty-four is just around the corner, there is a Democrat who thinks that the future depicted in The Handmaid's Tale is lifted directly from the secret Republican Party platform--the one they don't share at conventions.

For Catholics, though, taking either of these extremes as the truth is problematic.  At the very least it is dangerous to the virtue of charity to assume that your political opponents are enemies hell-bent on oppressing you or even killing you.  At the worst, consuming this kind of recreational outrage uncritically can lead to a temptation to a kind of gnosticism, wherein you become one of the few whom God is warning (via your favorite blog writer or radio host) about the perils of the impending collapse of civilization, so that you can be one of the people prepped to survive it all.  The reflections of the late Pope John Paul II on the theme "Be not afraid!" do not go well with the mindset that stashes a bug-out bag by the back door.

And one danger of seeing either left or right wing style totalitarianism lurking around every corner is that we might lose our ability to recognize real dangers.  The HHS mandate is a case in point: there is a framework within that directive that would pose a specific and definitive danger to freedom of religion, which is why arguments against the mandate are proceeding in courts, and why the administration has tried twice now to convince people of faith that they won't be asked to compromise their values (when, in fact, they will be).  If the administration had full faith in the mandate's ability to hold up in the federal courts, they wouldn't even be making fake offers of concession at this point, but that they are doing so just shows that even they realize that they've probably gone too far and crossed the line between the separation of church and state in the direction they never seem to think possible (because, yes, the state also has a duty to stay out of church business, and that includes not being able to force religious orders of nuns to pay for contraceptive coverage for the sisters, which ought to be patently obvious to anyone with actual brain cells).

So: is the HHS mandate something worth fighting against?  Of course.  Is recreational outrage about the HHS mandate which downplays the actual danger of the mandate in order to capitalize on some hypothetical future danger that might be much worse the same thing as fighting against the mandate?  No, not really.  If you're a promoter of recreational outrage, all actual attempts to curtail liberty are only useful in ginning up the proper levels of anger, frustration, and subscription or advertising sales which flow from the first two.  If the Supreme Court comes along at some point, reads the HHS mandate, looks over their collective eyeglasses and says, "Really?  You tried to enforce this against the churches and other religious citizens?" and gives the thing the smackdown it deserves, the recreational outrage types will spend the first several inches of their blog columns or the first half-hour of their radio program telling us why the good news is much less good than we'd like to think, and why the next danger to the Republic is already so grave that it will take at least 10% more subscribers before the details can be released.

And though I've used the HHS mandate as the example here, there are plenty of other nonpartisan examples out there (yes, nonpartisan, because even many left-wing Catholics find the HHS mandate outrageous, even the contraception dissenters).  We could use the example from yesterday regarding giving the president--any president--the power to order drone strikes against American citizens.  The point would be the same: for those who want to fight against threats to liberty, victory is defined as overcoming the particular threat, but for those who want to prolong the culture of recreational outrage, there's always something else to get lucratively angry about somewhere down the line.

It surprises me to think that I was once a regular consumer of recreational outrage.  What surprises me even more is the humble reality that I sometimes still am--especially the Catholic sort.  I may have lost my taste for endless battles about the identifying color of the political handbasket our nation will ride to the underworld in, but I've not yet learned to apply the same sort of discretion to endless battles about whether the Novus Ordo is a real Mass, or whether treating women as equals is somehow defined as removing their right to vote.  Perhaps in another decade I'll wise up a little more.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A history lesson

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity)

The blogger Magister Christianus, a classical scholar and teacher, is sharing an important history lesson with us today:
So what was this ultimate decree of the senate that caused such confusion and judicial hullabaloo? It was a vaguely worded decree that seemed to give the consuls, the chief executives of the Roman state, unlimited power. It stated, "Consules videant ne quid res publica detrimenti capiat." "Let the consuls see to it that the republic suffer no harm." The problem with this was that, if interpreted to mean the consuls could order the summary execution of citizens, then it seemed to violate a series of laws dating back to the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the republic in 509 B.C., all of which guaranteed a citizen's right to a trial in a capital case.

In the events of 63 and the Catilinarian conspiracy, Cicero tried to get around this by maneuvering the senate into a position to judge Catiline and his followers hostes, or public enemies. A hostis was an enemy outside of Rome who had taken up arms against her. Cicero argued that this was precisely Catiline's state. He had, in fact, stockpiled arms and men in the passes around Etruria and was planning a military strike on Rome. As historians have observed, however, included one Classics graduate student in his Master's thesis, that while it was perfectly legal to kill an enemy combatant, such as Hannibal, the questions still remained as to whether the senate had any judicial authority to pronounce someone as hostis, and even if it did under certain circumstances, whether it could summarily strip a citizen of his rights as a citizen. Could the senate point its finger at a citizen and proclaim, "You are a hostis and as such we can kill you with impunity.

So why the history lesson? A white paper has just been released from the Obama Department of Justice arguing for precisely the same power to be given to the President. Precisely. The difference between President Obama and Cicero (okay, there are vast differences between the two) is that Cicero tried to work within the law. His efforts may be seen as questionable, but he did at least keep up some pretense of democratic process. This is not the case with our President, as Glenn Greenwald's article in The Guardian makes clear. Let's face it. If the ACLU is against President Obama on this one, then you know something is up. The President's efforts to secure this power to himself have been wrapped in secrecy. There is nothing of Cicero's open-floor speeches making the case.
 Read the rest here.

When I read Magister Christianus's post, I was struck by the idea that even back in Roman days, anyone who objected to this vague decree might be met by the hostile question: "What are you saying?  You think it's okay to stand by and twiddle our thumbs and let the Republic come to harm rather than take out our enemies before they can destroy us?"  Which, when you come to think of it, is a question that has an oddly familiar ring.

Torture, drone warfare, giving the President of the United States the power to order the assassination of American citizens without due process--all of these are what happens when liberty and reason are surrendered to a climate of fear and suspicion.  We don't have to doubt the eventual outcome.  We have the lessons of history to show us what happens when people trade liberty for security, and end up with neither.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Oh, ****!

A Catholic school got some unwanted attention last week after it issued a challenge to female students--but only the girls--to stop cursing:
Catholic school girls think it’s just plain sexist that they were asked to take a no-cursing pledge on Friday — and the boys weren’t.

What the hell is up with that?

Lori Flynn, a teacher who launched the civility campaign at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, said the rationale was simple: “We want ladies to act like ladies.”

And besides, the principal, Brother Larry Lavallee, added, the girls have the foulest language.

That’s bull, according to an unscientific sampling of students of both genders who were hanging out in the hallways before the morning ceremony. Research by psychologist Timothy Jay, a professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of “Why We Curse,” backs the view that men are typically more profane. In general, people who are more extroverted, dominant and hostile tend to swear more.

Yet, despite their annoyance at what they said was a clear double standard, many girls were game.

This kind of "girls must be ladies, but boys will be boys" double standard annoys me.  So I was glad to read (hat tip: Deacon Kandra) that the no-cursing pledge has been opened up to boys:
Days after a coed Catholic school made headlines for asking only its girls to take a pledge to stop cursing, it administered the oath Monday to some boys who sought equal opportunity.

Some staff members at Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington were upset that the media attention and online comments that followed The Record’s coverage of the girls-only pledge on Friday focused largely on criticism that the campaign was sexist.

The school administered the civility pledge Monday to teenage boys who chose to participate, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, which oversees the school.

“Once the boys heard about it on Friday or Saturday, a lot of them said, ‘We’d like to get in on it,’” Goodness said. It was unclear how many boys took part, he said.
I find it encouraging that the boys themselves asked to participate while being realistic--as the rest of the article discusses--that it won't be easy to cure themselves of an all-too-prevalent sort of speech pattern in our country.

All of which means that I do not agree with those who think that habits of casual cussing or cursing or however you prefer to say it are just fine and dandy.  Do I think it's immoral or a sin to let the occasional expletive fly, even in print?  No, I don't.  Do I think it's rude and insensitive to pepper your speech or writing with words that include the Lord's name being taken lightly, words connoting sexual violence, words that are scatological, or words that call down imprecations on their targets?  Yes, I do.  Why?  Because these words are meant to be coarse and vulgar, and even though they may have lost their power to shock all but the most sheltered, the last thing we need in our culture today is more coarseness and vulgarity.  And it's particularly rude to swear in front of children, those elderly who were raised in a generation when public swearing was truly offensive, and anybody who is especially sensitive to this sort of thing (victims of domestic violence, for example, were often treated to the worst four-letter insults on a regular basis, and thus tend not to laugh and shrug when people start yelling four-letter words in their presence).

Whether a swearing habit actually rises to the level of sin is something I think people ought to take up with their confessors or spiritual directors; I suspect that the answer is "It depends," followed by a lot of specific questions by the spiritual director about the person's particular state, the words employed, the context of the swearing, and so on.  But does something have to be sinful before Catholics can agree that it's rude enough not to be encouraged?  I mean, there's nothing objectively sinful about making armpit noises that resemble the sound of flatulence, but most of us would agree that it would be rather rude to do so while, say, waiting in a cashier's line at the grocery store.  A lot of cursing these days is the verbal equivalent of making armpit noises in public: not particularly intelligent, not especially enlightening, and telling the hearers more about the person engaging in that behavior than they probably realize.

So I'm glad to see the young men and women at Queen of Peace high school take a step away from the popular culture's widespread acceptance of cursing and swearing as a sort of speech code for the cool kids.  If it's uncool to prefer the use of language which strives to avoid these words and phrases, then I admit to being uncool.

UPDATE: Pat Archbold has a different take on this.  He writes:
While I am not in favor of either gender cursing, I have no problem with asking young women to be superior to their male counterparts.  Even in a coed school (which may or may not be such a great idea) we need to teach our boys to be men and our girls to be ladies.  And guess what, ladies don't curse (much).

I think it is perfectly sensible and reasonable to single out girls for a call to better behavior.  Boys will be called to behave like men in their own way, but boys are different than girls.  I think that our world and our culture already suffers from the lack of the former benign influence of ladies.  Today, we have all too many girls who grow up merely into curvier versions of the vulgar male counterparts.

Bottom line, you cannot make ladies of young women by asking them to be equal parts sugar, spice, slugs, and snails.

The world does not need more women who act like men.  We need something better than that, we need ladies.  We don't merely need the other sex, we need the fairer sex back.
Needless to say, I have huge problems with his framing of this.  It's okay to teach boys to be men but girls to be "ladies?"  Nope.  Either you're busy teaching the boys to be gentlemen as well, or you're admitting that you want women to adopt a whole bunch of artificial stereotypical ideas about how "ladies" don't curse and do dress for a day at home with infants and toddlers in an outfit something like this and stand helplessly in front of doors just hoping some big strong fellow will come along and open it for her out of the kindness of his heart and the awareness that in her gloves and heels it's just unseemly for her to be doing the physical work of door-pulling, while reserving for men the option to sit around in jeans and tee-shirts watching football and engaging in recreational belching and cussing and borderline-sinful conversations about hot babes because anything less is somehow emasculating.

No, and no, and no.

Boys and girls are different.  Cussing is rude and vulgar in either sex.  To let fly a cuss word in moments of extreme provocation is no more wrong for a woman installing her own shelves than it is for a man doing the same thing; she doesn't get to be shamed with the additional charge of being unladylike on top of the vulgarity.