Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week blog break

Well, I'm taking my Holy Week blog break a little early this year (though I think at least once I took the whole week off, or at least intended to until Breaking News happened).  Alas, I seem to have acquired a bladder infection--which would normally make me write a rant post, but instead, I want to tell you some things I'm grateful for.  I am grateful for:

--my doctor, a good Catholic family man who responded to me quickly on a busy Saturday after I called to tell him my over-the-counter UTI test strip was giving me a positive result; a few words of conversation about what happened last time was all it took for him to call in a prescription and not even bother to try the short-course antibiotic this time, as it didn't do much last time.

--my pastor, who replied to my email during the busiest week of the year to confirm that since I'll still be taking the antibiotic on Good Friday I don't have to fast if I can't.  Which was really reassuring, because I didn't know how well fasting while on an antibiotic would work out.

--my husband, who has been telling me to rest, and who pretty much ordered me to stay off my feet today after I was up most of the night last night with this stupid thing.  Because he knows me so well.

--my daughters, who have taken over everything.  Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and even helping Dad do the pre-Easter grocery shopping.  If I told you how awesome they are you wouldn't even believe me. :)

--my mother-in-law, who despite dealing with serious back pain and an upcoming surgery for a hernia offered to host Easter dinner at her house instead.  But I should be fine (hopefully) by Sunday, and I have such terrific helpers!

--and Larry D.'s prayers, 'cause I did make it to Mass on Sunday.  Skipped the three hour Easter choir practice Sunday afternoon and sent my family, but I did get to be there for Mass.  Which was great.

And of course, I'm grateful for all of you, and I wish you all a blessed Holy Week and a joyous and happy Easter!  See you next week!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The religious test question

Article VI, paragraph 3,  of the United States Constitution, reads as follows:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

I think it's important to be clear that we're about to see the principle of a religious test reinstated in the United States, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on gay "marriage".


There are approximately 70 million Catholics in the United States of America, or just under 1/4 of the country's population.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church on the subject of gay "marriage" is this: while homosexual attraction is not sinful, acting on that attraction is sinful, and marriage remains the union of one man and one woman.  In other words, gay "marriage" is something Catholics can't believe in, advocate for, or approve of while remaining Catholics in good standing with the Church.  Granted, lots of those 70 million Catholics are non-practicing and functional heretics anyway, but the point is that you can't in any way claim that the Catholic Church approves of gay "marriage," because she doesn't, and won't ever do so.

However, if SCOTUS decides to "Roe" the nation on gay "marriage" and impose it on the nation via judicial fiat, one of the most immediate effects of such a ruling would be to require a de facto religious test for many public offices.  Because the ramifications of a SCOTUS pro-gay "marriage" ruling would be to define those who don't accept gay "marriage" as bigots and any anti-gay "marriage" position as bigotry, the Supreme Court would essentially open the door for a prohibition against "bigots" holding many public offices.  This would mean that the only Catholics who would qualify for public office would be the heretical ones who dissent against Church teaching against gay "marriage," while faithful Catholics who accept all Church teaching would be barred--officially or unofficially--from serving in many branches of the government.  An immediate example that comes to mind is that of chaplains serving in the United States Armed Forces: will they be required to officiate at gay "weddings" or to otherwise violate Church teaching, or will the government simply decide that "bigots" don't get chaplains anymore?  I fully expect that to be one of the early battlegrounds.

If the Supreme Court decides that opposition to homosexual acts and opposing the pretense of two-man or two-women "marriage" is the same thing as racism, then no quarter will be given to any religious citizen whose deeply held religious beliefs oppose gay "marriage."  Whatever is done to Catholics and the Catholic Church in a post-gay "marriage" America will be the template for the eradication of religious beliefs that call homosexual activity sinful on the grounds that to hold such beliefs makes one an evil bigot who cannot be tolerated by a free secular people.

The religious test is coming.  Are we ready?

Friday, March 22, 2013

A short blog post containing a short rant

Dear retail clothing stores of America:

Approximately 40%, give or take, of the women in America are under five feet four inches tall.  Yet most clothing for women is offered for those who are about five feet eight or nine inches tall.  This can lead to deep frustration when a five foot two inch tall woman must purchase an actual grown-up outfit instead of making do with clothes that are clearly not her size.

Compounding the problem is the sad fact that many clothing manufacturers think that petite women have exactly three body styles: skinny, elfin, and emaciated.  I strongly suspect that in the third-world clothing factories where petite clothes are made, a 12-year-old boy is standing in for the petite female model in each factory; so long as the outfit fits him (in all offered sizes), the manufacturer shouts "Perfect!" and sends the clothing out the door.  While I fully support giving economically disadvantaged young boys jobs, this way of doing things doesn't help actual women who have done things like given birth and nursed babies, and who could only fit into your garments after serious amounts of plastic surgery.

Manufacturers consistently say that no one actually buys petite garments, and they assume that short women prefer to buy "real" clothes and have them altered.  If by "prefer" you mean "are left desperate and with no other choice," you might be right.  Apart from the "perfect fit for a 12-year-old boy from an economically disadvantaged part of the world" problem, there is the little problem of style.  Short women apparently want skirts that hit them at mid-thigh no matter how old they are; short women also apparently have no fashion sense, no taste, no ideas about color or line, no concerns about huge prints and large buttons, and no particular care about what they put on--that is, if we judge from the usual offerings in the petite department.  There are two choices in the petite department: dressing like a slightly colorblind toddler, or dressing like a woman in her late nineties (but only after age-related vision problems have cropped up too much for her to be able to tell what she's wearing).

The other solution is online ordering, but even that's not much of a solution, because many online retailers seem to think that petite women are happiest when wearing Capri pants or jeans and brightly colored tunics; we never, apparently, conduct business, attend weddings or funerals, teach or give lectures, appear on camera, or do anything else that requires that we look like actual adults with actual lives.  "You are short," the manufacturers seem to say to us all, "and therefore no one will take you seriously anyway.  Why not attend a wedding in turquoise Capri pants and a scarlet and turquoise paisley tunic?  It's not like anyone will actually look down far enough to see you."

We get it, clothing manufacturers.  Offering attractive, stylish clothing to the 40% of women who are too short to wear your usual stuff is not economically sensible, and besides, petite women don't really care, do they?

But we do.  Oh, we do.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Monstrous inhumanity at Gitmo

You've probably seen these kinds of posts popping up in the Catholic blogosphere already today, but I wanted to take part in this effort to raise awareness about what's going on at the Guantanamo prison...

Did you know that there's been a hunger strike going on among prisoners held at Guantanamo for six weeks now?  And that the number of those participating has risen to include 24 of the 166 prisoners there, most of whom have been held for eleven years now without even being charged?  And that half of them have been cleared to be released or transferred, but they're still being held?

Neither did I.  And information in the mainstream media about all of this has been rather scanty.  For instance, here's a bit from a Reuters piece:
Periodic hunger strikes have occurred at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002 to house suspects captured in overseas counterterrorism operations after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The prison has 166 inmates. Nearly all have been held for 11 years without charge, and about half have been cleared for transfer or release. Many are Yemenis who the United States will not repatriate at this time because of instability in that country.

More than 50 lawyers representing the prisoners sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week urging him to help end the hunger strike, which they said began on February 6 to protest the confiscation of letters, photographs and legal mail, and the rough handling of Korans during searches of their cells.

They said the participants' health had deteriorated alarmingly, and that some had lost more than 20 or 30 pounds (9 to 14 kilograms). Kelly said the prisoners who spoke to Guantanamo staff cited other reasons for the strike.

"They had great optimism that Guantanamo would be closed. They were devastated apparently ... when the president backed off, at least (that's) their perception, of closing the facility," Kelly told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee in Washington.

Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman at the detention camp, said 24 Guantanamo captives were on a hunger strike and eight had lost enough weight that doctors were force-feeding them liquid nutrients thorough tubes inserted in their noses and into their stomachs. Two were hospitalized with dehydration, he said.
 And here's a similar look from CNN:

More prisoners have joined a hunger strike at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The number of suspected terrorists involved has risen to 24 as of Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale said.

There were 14 last week. U.S. military officials deny detainee lives are in danger. [...]

Beginning last year through mid-February, between five and six detainees started and stopped hunger strikes, Breasseale said.

But the numbers grew after lawyers for some of the detainees drew attention to conditions at the facility, Breasseale said.

"The reports of hunger-strike related deteriorating health and detainees losing massive amounts of weight are simply untrue," Breasseale said.

David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 detainees at Guantanamo, said his February visit shocked him.

"I think every one of the clients I saw had lost 30 pounds or more when I was there," Remes said. "They were weak and chilled."

Remes said two of his clients were unable to meet because they were too weak from their hunger strike. He said he knows that at least six of his clients are participating.

Can you imagine the outcry that would be taking place in the mainstream media if this were happening in a Republican administration?  And it would be justified, make no mistake.  Holding prisoners for eleven years without even charging them with crimes, when half of them could be released or transferred today, is simply monstrous inhumanity.  Calling the prisoners "detainees" and "suspected terrorists" shouldn't reduce their humanity in our eyes; if you've been held as a "suspect" in jail for eleven years you are no longer a suspect; you are a political prisoner.  Where is the evidence that any of these people were ever involved in actual terrorist acts?  At the very least, the ones who have been cleared to be released but are still being held are having their human rights violated in the most egregious way.

Go to the Ironic Catholic's blog post to find links that will help you contact the president and your elected officials about this.  And I encourage you to pray for the situation to improve and for the prisoners to be treated with their full human dignity, which would include at the very minimum releasing and transferring those who have already been cleared for this to happen.

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Another review of The Telmaj!

Simcha Fisher's daughter has reviewed The Telmaj, and I must say, I agree with her completely about being able to pronounce the names of characters in sci-fi stories! :)

Go here to read the whole thing.

Thank you so much, Miss Fisher, for your very kind book review! (And I appreciate that you also shared the review on Amazon under my book listing!)

Oh, heck, yeah! (Or: classical music to blast from a car stereo)

(Link to cartoon)

I have always been a classical music geek.  I am the only one in my house, but that doesn't stop me.  Tuesday evening I was watching a TV show with Thad and the girls, and during one scene I interrupted the characters' conversation to inform my family that the music playing in the background was Brahms' Waltz in A Flat Major.  I got eye-rolls.

So I loved the Savage Chickens cartoon above, and just for my fellow classical music geeks among my readers (all five of you!), here's Chopin's Prelude in E Minor, Op. 28, No. 4.  Now, it's not bad, but if you're going to blast Chopin from your car stereo, I'd rather hear either his Waltz, Op. 64, No. 2 (which is a favorite of mine) or else the "Heroic" Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, which would both be awesome for the blasting-from-car-stereo purposes.

Of course, if we get away from piano pieces, I'd recommend the Swan Lake scene 1 Allegro giusto (which I like almost as much as the main theme) or possibly this bit of Dvorak's New World Symphony. And that's before we even start talking about bits of opera...

Okay.  I'm done now. :)  But if you like classical music, what piece could you listen to anywhere, even in a car?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!  What a great day for our new Pope Francis to have his Inaugural Mass.

Since several people this week have searched for this old post of mine containing a song in honor of St. Joseph, I thought I'd repost the part with the song here:
There's a beautiful song in honor of Saint Joseph which is particularly fitting for today. Listen to it here (click the button for the MIDI file); the lyrics are below:

O blessed Saint Joseph, how great was thy worth,
The one chosen shadow of God upon earth,
The father of Jesus! Ah, then, wilt thou be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady! a father to me?

For thou to the pilgrim art father and guide,
And Jesus and Mary felt safe by thy side;
Ah, blessed Saint Joseph, how safe I should be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady! if thou wert with me!

When the treasures of God were unsheltered on earth,
Safekeeping was found for them both in thy worth:
O father of Jesus, be father to me,
Sweet spouse of our Lady! and I will love thee. 

Have a great celebration today!  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Out of the mouths of babes

In reading some of the various posts by various people who are worried that Pope Francis' choice of plain black shoes means that he's planning any day now to sell the Sistine Chapel on e-bay, I have had occasion to remind myself that sometimes I, too, veer into the errors of grumpy liturgical nitpicking.

Yes, even after this sort of thing, I still find myself sympathizing more with the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society than I ought to.  I scrutinize, criticize, grumpicize, and even sigh over such horrible practices as The Rite of Sending the Children Out To Go Color Things, the songs with more time signatures than a time-travel movie, and the practice at our church of giving people a blessing on or near the occasion of their birthdays.

About that last: I don't really mind Father reading a prayer straight from the Book of Blessings over those celebrating birthdays which mentions the day of their birth and asks God to grant them "...many happy years, all of them pleasing to You..." etc.  It's a nice blessing.  And I don't even mind that the choir sings to them, because thanks to our Byzantine-raised choir director we sing "God, Grant You Many Years," instead of "Happy Birthday" or some other secular garbage.  What I mind is the timing: after Communion, before the final prayer and blessing.  In other words, it's still during Mass.

Now, I get that Father can't do it before our 8:30 a.m. Mass as he's most often saying the 7:15 a.m. Mass at our main parish 25 minutes away.  And he can't easily schedule it for after as he's most often dashing out our door to get to the main parish in time to say the 10:00 a.m. (At both churches, the before-Mass question "Is Father here yet?" is quite common, especially if the choir director or servers need extra instructions for a special Sunday.)  And if he waited until after the final blessing the birthday blessing recipients would likely be trampled by those exiting (though I can't really complain, as our congregation is fairly respectful in that regard; we don't have the Parking Lot Grand Prix so much).  But that doesn't stop me from thinking that this birthday blessing business is not really necessary, and not particularly liturgically correct.

But sometimes, it's an occasion of something rather special.  Like the time our most senior parishioner received a blessing on the occasion of her 95th birthday.  And when a parishioner who has been fighting a serious form of cancer for many years now receives her annual blessing, I think we're all rejoicing with her.

And then there was yesterday.

Father read two names, and two children came forward--both of them turning six, a boy and a girl who greeted each other with that kind of sweet camaraderie that only those who have endured--er, received--religious education together can share.  As Father prepared to read the blessing, he asked the children, as he usually does when children are being blessed, if they had anything special they'd like to pray for.

The little girl asked shyly for prayers for her grandparents, which was very sweet.

The little boy rattled off something with enthusiastic zeal, which Father repeated for us to hear: "I want to pray for the whole world, that all people will become Jesus' favorite children!"

Father clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder, and said, "I think we need you to be a priest!"  And he encouraged the young lady to consider religious life as well.  The parish joined in pretty enthusiastically with the song asking God to grant these two many years.

Should the birthday blessing take place outside of Mass?  Probably.  But it's not my call.  And regardless of the liturgical correctness of it all, I feel pretty privileged to have experienced that particular moment yesterday.  Out of the mouths of babes, and all that.

Friday, March 15, 2013

If the new pope...

If the new pope chooses "Francis" as his name, you're going to wonder which Francis he is honoring.

If you wonder which Francis he is honoring, you will check the Internet.

If you check the Internet, you will find that the new pope intended his name to be in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

If the new pope's name honors St. Francis of Assisi, you will start to think about St. Francis of Assisi.

If you start to think about St. Francis of Assisi, you will be struck by his humility and by his radical poverty.

If you are struck by St. Francis' radical poverty, you will look around at your cluttered house and think, "We have way too much stuff."

If you think "We have way too much stuff," you will start cleaning out drawers and closets on a Friday afternoon.

If you start cleaning out drawers and closets on a Friday afternoon, pretty soon it will be Friday evening, and you won't have had time to blog.

If you haven't had time to blog, you will think about why...

...and a post like this one will result.

See you next week!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The pope as inkblot among Catholic (and other) bloggers

I hope nobody thinks I mean anything offensive against our new pontiff by my headline.  What I'm really talking about here is how Catholic bloggers, and even some non-Catholic ones, have fallen into what I can only see as a sort of predictable trap: spinning the news of the elevation of Pope Francis in such a way as to make it fit their favorite templates.

This isn't the kind of post where it would be helpful for me to point fingers, because, after all, I'm probably guilty of it myself.  But you know the kind of thing I'm talking about: angry-trad bloggers go all angry-trad on the pope, sane-trad bloggers take sane-trad views while distancing themselves from the angry-trads, Ordinary Formers either note the angry-trads and their exploding maniples or point to the sane-trads and their oil-on-troubled-waters approach, pro-life bloggers highlight the new pope's pro-life record, social justice bloggers highlight his social justice record, and the introspective introverts who crowd the Catholic blogosphere fire off three blog posts, eight Facebook updates, and 12 tweets on the all-encompassing topic: What I Thought When I Heard About the New Pope, and How It Is Affecting Me Personally.  (And if you guessed that tears, damp or misty eyes, or hard blinking is going to be mentioned, you're probably a subscriber.)

And just for fun, the mainstream media staggers back in collective shock when they learn that the pope is still Catholic.

This is such a human thing for us to do, isn't it?  I can't help but think of the eleven Apostles, huddled together in that room after the Crucifixion.  At first, there was probably nothing but shock and fear: Jesus was dead, Judas had killed himself, and who knew who would be next?  I imagine there was a lot of silence going on.

But eventually someone broke the ice.  Who, I wonder?  Was it Matthew, who had worked along with the authorities once as a tax collector, with, perhaps, some practical ideas about where they could hide and how long they could exist on whatever money they already had (if the money hadn't vanished when Judas did)?  Was it James, one of the Sons of Thunder, with harsh words for all of them--harshest for himself--and a call to go buy weapons and take the fight to the ones who had started all of this?  Did they all start to argue and squabble along familiar channels, in the kind of arguments they had engaged in even before Jesus had been so cruelly executed?

The election of a new pope is nothing like the Crucifixion, of course, and I don't mean to strain the comparison too far.  My point is just this: the apostles didn't somehow magically become new, different people after the Crucifixion.  Even after they saw the risen Christ they were only beginning to change, and Pentecost showered forth the Holy Spirit upon them--but they were still exactly who they were.  They were just on the way to becoming their best selves, not their worst ones.  Only Judas who gave up before the transformation could begin would forever be his worst self.

And we also are on a journey to our best selves, not some hypothetical best self whom we'd be if the Fall hadn't happened, but the real best self, the one we are called to be and given time to become.  Only if we refuse to cooperate with grace will we fail to reach that journey's end.  Only if we give up and close ourselves off to the possibility of true repentance and redemption will we fail.

I mentioned St. James: tradition has him as the first of the apostles to be martyred, as his death at Herod's hands is mentioned in the New Testament.  The one who along with his brother had asked to be at Christ's right and left in the Kingdom was the first to die, and St. John the last--and the only one not martyred, as fitting the only one who didn't flee from the Crucifixion.  Their best selves: they had wanted earthly glory once, but became worthy of much greater than that.

So even a Catholic blogger like me can become her best self.  Even when I slip up and fall back into the old snarky templates.  God has a way of transforming us toward the good, if we let Him.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Never mind the nuns on the bus...(Updated)

...now we have a pope on one.  I just love this report from Cdl. Dolan:
Much has already been discussed about the new pope being a humble man who denied himself some of the luxuries provided to previous cardinals in his country’s capital, Buenos Aires, but his actions Wednesday further hammered home the point.

Bergoglio was known to ride the bus to work in Argentina, and did so going to and from the hotel where the cardinals participating in the conclave stayed this week.

Dolan told reporters the surprising story of how the newly elected pope decided to take the bus back to the hotel Wednesday with the rest of the cardinals instead of riding in the Holy Father’s car.

“So we take the buses over and cardinals kind of wait outside to greet the new Holy Father as he comes back to Doma Santa Marta…and as the last bus pulls up, guess who gets off the bus? Pope Francis,” Dolan said. “So I guess he told the driver, ‘That’s OK. I’ll just go with the guys on the bus.’”

Now that's just awesome.

Seriously, I know that some people are already engaging in preemptive hand-wringing so that if Pope Francis ever does something they don't like they'll be able to congratulate themselves on having been prepared for it, whatever it is.  Meanwhile, having just been elevated to the papacy, Pope Francis quietly climbs aboard the last of the buses heading back to Doma Santa Marta.  I get the feeling this is going to be an interesting papacy...

...and the next time liberal nuns are on about their politically motivated liberal activist bus trips, I can honestly say, "So what?  The pope rides the bus too.  But he's still faithful to the Church's teachings, and you can be too."

UPDATE: Be sure to see the picture Deacon Kandra shared--as the deacon notes, the new Holy Father didn't even sit up front or take a window seat! :)

Habemus Papam!

Like most of you, I've been glued to the news about the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy; he has chosen the name Pope Francis.  Thanks be to God, and may God guide him in the days that lie ahead!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Going out on a limb (Updated!)

Mark Shea prognosticates about the next pope:
Gather round children as I summon my mystic powers to foretell that which must and shall be!!!

The next Pope will be the one who wins the most votes in the Conclave.

He will be elected when the white smoke rises from the chimney at the Sistine Chapel.

I know! It gives even me the willies.
So, is this awesome proof of Mark's amazing link to Holy Stuff, or is it proof that he really is a Dark Lord who dabbles in powers better left unexplained and unexplored?  You decide.

In the spirit of this, which is a certain antidote to all of those "Here's who I think the next pope will be!" blog posts from Catholics some of whom should know better, I will offer my own amazing predictions below:

--The next pope will be (gasp) a male!  Yes, an actual male, not a male as described by some United States passports coming soon to a security line near you.

--The next pope will be (double gasp) Catholic!  Not the way this guy is, though, thank goodness.

--The next pope will have been a cardinal!  For at least some length of time!

--The next pope will be told by Reuters that his job is to lead a troubled Church in a troubled time of troubles and troubledness!  (Thank goodness nobody ever told Reuters that the preferred liberal Catholic term is "broken.")

--The next pope, unlike any candidate for SCOTUS ever, will actually have formed important opinions in his life and may even have (astonishingly enough!) written them down!

--The next pope, as polarizing as this may be, will be boldly pro-virtue and anti-sin!  This means he will be against things like contraception, abortion, unmarried/adulterous/homosexual sex, war, torture, and the unjust use of the death penalty, and in favor of things like babies, opposite sex married couples who stay together for life and raise their kids in the faith, peace, humane treatment of all detainees or prisoners or enhanced bad guys or whatever we call 'em these days, and giving sinners lots and lots of chances to be sorry and repent.  Amazing, isn't it?

 Okay, your turn!  Go out on a limb with your blindingly obvious predictions about the next pope while there's still time before he's elected!

UPDATE: I called the Reuters thing, didn't I?  After today's failed ballots Reuters' current article says this, just below the headline:

(Reuters) - Black smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel for a second day on Wednesday after a secret conclave of cardinals held two more inconclusive votes for a new pope to lead the troubled Roman Catholic Church. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

If Reuters uses "broken" tomorrow, I want credit.  (Okay, kidding.  Sort of.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

One's parish is not one's property

I know, I know, the Catholic blogosphere is supposed to be all Papabilia all the time this week--who do you want to see elevated to the papacy, who would be a disaster, is it time for an American pope (short answer: h-e-double-hockesticks no!) and on and on.  But if I joined the other Catholic bloggers in endless chatter about this stuff, you might end up missing the story of the Indiana Catholic parish that is bitterly divided over a most serious issue: the refusal of the church to permit a grieving widow to install a couch-shaped, NASCAR-logo engraved headstone over her late husband's grave.  I kid you not:
An Indiana woman who wanted to honor her late husband with a headstone that captured his interests in sports and the outdoors is suing a Catholic church for refusing to install it.

Shannon Carr spent $9,600 on the black granite headstone to mark the grave of her husband, Jason Carr, who died in an August 2009 automobile accident. The headstone is shaped like a couch and features images of a deer, a dog and color logos of NASCAR and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Rev. Jonathan Meyer, priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church, notified the monument maker that the headstone didn't meet the cemetery's standards and couldn't be placed in the church's century-old graveyard, The Republic reported. But Carr says in her lawsuit that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis Properties Inc., which owns the cemetery, never produced any regulations for the plot until more than a year after she tried to have the headstone installed in 2010.

The issue has divided the church community and sparked allegations that the church hasn't treated Carr's family with compassion, which Meyer denied.

"We provided the family funeral rites, prepared a funeral meal and offered family members individual counseling after the services," Meyer said. "We were with them the entire way until this matter came up."

Meyer says in an affidavit that photographs of the monument were shown to the St. Joseph Parish Council six weeks before Carr purchased it and that the council determined the monument wasn't acceptable because of its secular nature. He said he informed Carr of the decision.
Read the rest here.

Now, I don't mean to make fun of anyone's grief.  The loss of a beloved husband has to be an excruciatingly painful thing, and Mrs. Carr shouldn't be mocked in her sincere desire to honor her husband's memory.  He was a young man, only 32 at the time of his death in a tragic auto accident, and he left two sons as well as his grieving wife behind.  But as you can see from that preceding link to Mr. Carr's obituary, Mrs. Carr and the family had already asked family and friends to wear NASCAR or Colts shirts and jeans to Mr. Carr's Catholic funeral, and Father Meyer apparently didn't object to that small, if unusual, gesture of love for the deceased man, so I don't think this is a case of "Catholic Church is being a big meanie to a grieving family."

I think, rather, that this is a case of "Catholic Church reminds people that gravestones aren't supposed to be secular in character."  Putting words of love, relevant Bible verses or prayers, and the like on gravestones reminds us that the dearly departed continues to exist and that it is a good and wholesome thing to pray for their immortal souls, which even now may be straining to leave Purgatory behind and enter forever into the eternal presence of God.  Using a headstone, instead, to enshrine a person's earthly interests and hobbies is a quintessentially pagan thing to do, in that it focuses the viewer on the secular elements of the person's life instead of his or her eternal destiny.

Now perhaps Mrs. Carr has never learned this (newsflash: Catholic catechesis continues to hover somewhere between spotty and abysmal), but that is why this should have been a teaching moment.  Or perhaps, and I don't want to psychoanalyze someone from Internet news articles, her tenacity in actually suing the parish for not permitting the headstone is a manifestation of unresolved grief and pain stemming from her tragic loss.  Only those who actually know Mrs. Carr might know this, though, and like I said, it's beyond anyone's capacity to diagnose from mere news accounts.  The point is this: one's parish is not one's property, and if the pastor says you can't have something--whether it's the name "iKid" for your child in baptism, a unity candle or a flock of doves at your wedding Mass, a personal videographer at your child's First Holy Communion, or a secular headstone in the parish cemetery, the question to ask would be, "Why?" not "How dare you say no?"  Most of the time--and I emphasize that most--there is a good, sound, Catholic reason why the thing you think you're entitled to or that you believe everyone else has is something that, in point of fact, the Church doesn't permit.

It is fair to point out that in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council this was not always the case.  People were told they couldn't have a rosary at a wake, or that they couldn't have an actual wake before a funeral, or that their daughters couldn't wear veils to their First Holy Communions (though that never seems to have been a widespread problem), or that they couldn't have the Agnus Dei in Latin at a wedding Mass, or that some perfectly harmless, if private, devotion couldn't be allowed to happen on church property even when there was no chance anybody was going to confuse it with the liturgy.  But that is because that some pastors, in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, forgot that the parish wasn't their property either, and if parishioners these days are confused about that, at least they come by their confusion honestly.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My dinner with zombies

Larry D has a Friday Feature on his blog today asking the question:
If you had the opportunity to have a meal with any 3 people, living or deceased, who would they be?

Now, not just any three people. They can’t be fictional, for one thing. And of course, there will be a category.

The category this week is: Authors 

So, which three authors (not poets, not songwriters, not playwrights – I’m talking writers of fiction here) would you like to break bread with?

As I told Larry during our recent interview, I'm kind of glad this wasn't an official interview question, because I'm terrible at this stuff.

In the first place, whenever somebody starts asking this particular sort of question, my first thought is that I would have to host this dinner party.  Now, I'm not a good hostess, or a natural one.  I do all right when entertaining relatives, mostly because they are forgiving and don't expect much (and boy, do they get it!).  But the thought of having to invite over for dinner people I know only slightly or only by reputation breaks me out in a cold sweat, and when you add to that the notion that these are famous people, some of whom are technically dead, my mind goes somewhere to the west of blank.

What do you feed zombie authors, anyway?  And don't say "brains," because I'm pretty sure even in death Jane Austen wouldn't turn cannibal.  But she would probably still have exquisite table manners, which would make me all shrinking and nervous over my total ignorance of Regency-era etiquette and how that would apply to a dinner party in which Austen might be seated alongside someone like Oscar Wilde or Geoffrey Chaucer.  At least Chaucer would have no more idea of what fork to use during the Pluperfect Penultimate Whimsical Fish Course than I would.

On Larry's blog, I answered the question with the easy grouping of Lewis, Chesterton, and Tolkien.  But, as I also said, I'd get dismissed--being female--when they got to the port/cigars stage of things, which is also when the good conversation would break out.

But there's a bigger problem than what to do with an undead Chesterton at a dinner party, and it is this: I'm not all that sure that having dinner with authors, living or dead, is going to be the witty and scintillating experience people think it would be.

Lots of authors are shy introverts, after all.  Some of them, in person, are (or were, if we're talking about deceased ones) rather gauche or clumsy or bombastic.  Some of them had full-blown personality disorders that made them, in person, unpleasant to be with, no matter how delightful it was to cuddle up with their prose.  And this is especially true of fiction authors; nonfiction writers, after all, live in the real world in order to write about it, and thus may actually be really nice to meet and talk to (at least, that's been my experience so far).

So: take three of those people, completely ignore whether they're actually alive or not, forget about the social customs and food they're used to eating, disregard the possibility that you don't speak their language (Dostoyevsky comes to mind), overlook the strong chance that at least one of them was rather unpleasant in person, plunk them down at a dinner table and make them endure dinner hosted by an overstressed redhead who is clearly out of her depth both in terms of the mechanics of the party and in terms of any conversations that arise, and what do you have?

You have a dinner with zombies.  Or at least one, anyway, who will try to choke back her sobs until it's all over because she doesn't own the proper lace-edged handkerchief to weep into, and doesn't want to disgust Austen or the Bronte sisters by grabbing paper tissues.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

An interview about The Telmaj!

The wonderfully talented blogger Larry D whose blog, Acts of the Apostasy, is one of the first I read every day (and, no, not just because my Google reader is alphabetized!) has done me the tremendous favor of interviewing me about my book, The TelmajThe interview is here.

If I could have parents read just one section of the interview, it would be this one:

LarryD:  You mentioned you wanted to make the story exciting but leave out the graphic violence and sex that seems to inundate kids’ lit these days. But there’s more to it than just that, right?

EM:  Oh, yes. I initially thought about getting The Telmaj published by a Catholic fiction publisher because even though the book is not overtly Catholic I wanted to tell a story full of good and evil, right and wrong, and the kinds of virtues and values that seem to be sadly lacking in many children’s books these days. But the publisher I sent it to, while thinking it was very publishable, explained that she couldn’t publish anything but overtly Catholic fiction–that is, fiction that would show Catholic characters going to Catholic schools and Mass on Sunday, that sort of thing.

While I understood that, I think we’re reaching a point where even trying to tell a story in which characters struggle to do the right thing and have no trouble identifying certain evils really is writing Catholic fiction of a type. So many books, even for children, rely on a kind of “situational ethics” where whatever the characters we like do is good, and whatever the characters we don’t like are doing must be bad (unless they, too, are just the victims in all this). Sort of like how we view political parties these days.

I’m old-fashioned enough to think that for children, the reinforcement of the ideas of good and evil is a good thing to do–not in a cartoonishly simple way, but in a way that helps them ponder these kinds of questions.

LarryD:  I thought you weaved those virtues into the story very well – they were evident without being preachy, and the characters reacted and acted in real ways. And at an appropriate level, for your audience.

Moms and dads of great readers: if you have children aged 9-12 (or even a bit younger; I know some 8-year-olds have read my book) and you're not letting them have access to the over-sexualized stuff on the young adult shelf, please consider my book for your kids!  I'd be most grateful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mr. Paul goes to Washington

Yesterday at the Coalition for Clarity blog I posted about US Attorney General Holder's discussion of the use of drone strikes against American citizens on American soil.  Holder said, in part:

“The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no President will ever have to confront."

But the letter merely says that the president has "no intention" of carrying out drone strikes against US citizens on US soil without due process, not that the president cannot do this.

Holder was replying to questions from Rand Paul about John Brennan, who is the administration's nominee for CIA director.  Given that neither Holder nor Brennan will rule out the use of drone strikes against American citizens on American soil, Rand Paul is presently--as of this writing--in his seventh hour of filibustering the vote to confirm Brennan.

Senator Paul knows that he doesn't have the votes to block the confirmation, but he's certainly reminding us what can happen when a man stands on principle.  The amazing thing is that the principle--that no president, no administration, no CIA and no governmental agency should have the right to strike against United States citizens on American soil without due process--should be one with broad bipartisan support, not one that leads all but those most concerned about civil liberties to shrug and dismiss the issue.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A culture of Marthas

Sorry for not posting yesterday; it's starting to be a busy spring around here!  Which made me think, as usual.

Last week, I saw various people post reflections and thoughts about the pope emeritus and his last day as Pope Benedict XVI.  I didn't write anything then myself, mainly because his last day coincided with Thad's birthday and we were out celebrating instead of home glued to the EWTN feed.  But the biggest jolt I got came from the priest who said Mass a week ago Sunday, who reminded us that in the space of that week we, who already don't have a bishop--he was sent to Orange, CA--would now also have no pope.

That pause in the Canon is getting longer and longer...

Still, I realized that there is something I'm really grateful to the pope emeritus in all of this.  The late Pope John Paul II gave us all a wonderful example of perseverance in the face of physical decline, but Pope Emeritus Benedict is giving us something else our age needs: a model of what to do when discernment tells us that it's time to stop doing something, to step back, to step away.

I think we need this.

Too often in the modern age discipleship has been taken to mean "For God's sake (literally--not flippantly) do something!"  Our churches are teeming with volunteers and opportunities to volunteer, our communities demand more and more action, our lives become a race--not toward the glorious finish as envisioned by St. Paul, but more like the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland: we're going in circles, but boy, are we going fast.

Our culture is addicted to activity.  It starts young, with the pressure to sign our children up for things before they have technically even been born--or, sometimes, before they've even been conceived.  Stopping to smell the roses is only a virtuous activity if we're also weeding around them and laying mulch in the flowerbed simultaneously.  Family mealtime, family game time, family anything-time has to be centered around action, and we can sometimes find ourselves even trying to turn family prayer-time into a quest to say more prayers and add more devotions instead of slowing down a little and allowing for a bit of contemplation.

Unfortunately our parishes have fallen victim to this bias for action as well.  There's always something else to sign up for, to bring baked goods or car wash equipment for, to volunteer to do or to join, to be a part of or a member of or on the committee for.  None of these things are unimportant in themselves, but too many times we don't really seek discernment before signing ourselves or our families up for one more thing...

And in the hustle and bustle and hubbub, sometimes we forget to ask whether any of this is really helping us to grow closer to the person of Jesus Christ, to our own families, to each other in our communities--or is the action just a substitute for that intimacy, that closeness, that "Be with me!" call of love to the beloved other that is the most important thing in life?

We are, quite simply, a culture of Marthas.  We need to remember that Jesus said that Mary, who sat at His feet and listened and loved, had found the better part.

Pope Emeritus Benedict gave us quite a gift the other day: the gift of being able to discern when God's will is calling us not to do something, or to stop doing something, or to step aside and let others take over.  We are too inclined to think that it has to be us, that we have to be involved, that the world or our family or our parish will stop functioning if we don't keep overstretching ourselves to the breaking point.  But that's not true.  God wants us to know, love, and serve Him--and how and when we are to serve Him is something we should work out quietly and prayerfully, not by jumping to add our names to every list that circulates.  It is sometimes okay to discern that what God wants us to do, for His sake, is to stand down for a while, so we can sit at His feet and listen to Him.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Trendy transgender madness

Whenever I think the world just can't get any more insane, something like this comes along:
(CNN) -- A transgender rights group announced Wednesday that it has filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on behalf of a first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl.

The filing stems from a decision announced last December by officials at Fountain-Fort Carson School District that Coy Mathis could no longer use the girls' bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.
Mother Kathryn Mathis said she and her husband were shocked. [...]

Kathryn Mathis said she got a call "out of the blue" from the school in December saying that Coy could use the boys' bathroom, gender-neutral faculty bathrooms or the nurse's bathroom, but not the girls' facilities.

The district "took into account not only Coy, but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls' bathroom would have as Coy grew older," the school district's attorney, W. Kelly Dude, told CNN Tuesday.

"However, I'm certain you can appreciate that, as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls' restroom."
Sounds reasonable, right?  Not to the usual suspects:
"It's sad that the Mathis family had to file a civil rights complaint in order for their daughter to be treated equally," said Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in a statement. "The students clearly aren't the only people at this school who need more education."
Except that we're not talking about the Mathis family's daughter.  We're talking about their son, who is biologically male, even if he likes to wear girls' clothing and refer to himself with female pronouns at the tender age of six.

Those of us who have been warning about the slippery slope the gay rights movement was going to lead to can now say, "I told you so," because the next big push is going to be for Americans to accept transgender rights along the same lines.  Which means that a man is no longer a man and a woman is no longer a woman; rather, any person is whatever gender it declares itself to be on any given day and time.  Gender, you see, is just a social construct that has nothing whatsoever to do with anatomy, just as marriage is a social construct that has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of human reproduction.

In Massachusetts, the state that brought you gay marriage followed by mandatory gay fairy tales read in the classrooms, there is now this
Last week the Massachusetts Department of Education issued directives for handling transgender students – including allowing them to use the bathrooms of their choice or to play on sports teams that correspond to the gender with which they identify.

The 11-page directive also urged schools to eliminate gender-based clothing and gender-based activities – like having boys and girls line up separately to leave the classroom.

Schools will now be required to accept a student’s gender identity on face value.

“A student who says she is a girl and wishes to be regarded that way throughout the school day and throughout every, or almost every, other area of her life, should be respected and treated like a girl,” the guidelines stipulate.

According to the Dept. of Education, transgender students are those whose assigned birth sex does not match their “internalized sense of their gender.”

They said gender nonconforming students “range in the ways in which they identify as male, female, some combination of both, or neither.” [...]

Another part of the directive that troubles parents deals with students who might feel comfortable having someone of the opposite sex in their locker room or bathroom.

The state takes those students to task – noting their discomfort “is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.”

And any student who refuses to refer to a transgendered student by the name or sex they identify with could face punishment.

For example – a fifth grade girl might feel uncomfortable using the restroom if there is an eighth grade transgendered boy in the next stall.

Under the state guidelines, the girl would have no recourse, Beckwith said.

“And if the girl continued to complain she could be subjected to discipline for not affirming that student’s gender identity choice,” he told Fox News.

“It should not be tolerated and can be grounds for student discipline,” the directive states.

In other words, if you live in Massachusetts and your fifth-grade daughter is dealing with her menstrual cycle at school for the first time and the "girl" in the stall next to her has a penis, and your daughter is not happy about having to share a bathroom with this anatomically male "girl," she--your daughter, that is--is a bigot who must be re-educated to be properly disposed toward sharing her private spaces with males who think or say that they are girls.  Because the right of some boys to believe they are females despite clear evidence to the contrary is much more important than your daughter's right to feel safe in the bathroom at school, you understand.

This is madness, but it's trendy madness.  It's the kind of madness that makes sense to an age with no morality, no virtue, and a growing scorn not only for truth itself, but even for objective reality.

And this madness is growing.  A lawsuit in Maine last year ended up ruling that a school did not discriminate against a male "girl" by asking him to use a staff bathroom, but the parents are appealing the lawsuit; and just this week Mark Shea shared news from a reader about Maryland Senate Bill 449, which lets any person define its own gender and use any bathroom, changing room, locker room, or other gender-segregated space which it wants to.  In other words, a serial rapist can dress up as a woman without actually being transgendered and there's nothing in the proposed Maryland law that would make him prove he is actually a transgendered person; he could then proceed to the women's bathroom, and it would be illegal discrimination to stop him from entering it.

Bringing that sort of thing up, though, gets you lots of loud screaming from the male-to-female transsexuals out there, because they claim that they're the real victims in all this; they can't dress according to their inner female identity and then use the men's room, and they won't attack women because only some of them still like to have sex with women and few of them are rapists anyway, so what's the big deal?  Why shouldn't a five-foot-two-inch tall woman like me be perfectly comfortable using a restroom or department store dressing room beside a six-foot-four "woman" with huge hands, stubble, and a pronounced Adam's apple?  Am I just some kind of transphobic bigot?

My arguments that I have no way to know that a man dressed that way is actually a transgendered person instead of an opportunistic heterosexual rapist tend to fall on deaf ears, or to be dismissed as offensive.  It's as though no one wants to admit that of course men who prey on women will try to get away with this once women have been conditioned to accept the presence of obvious males (even in dresses and high heels) using the restroom or changing room or locker room with them.  It's as though no one wants to admit that of course average women will be far less safe once it's considered bigoted to object to the presence of a male in one's private spaces such as bathrooms, changing rooms, and locker rooms. 

But there is a reason why it was definitely bigoted to make people with different skin colors use different facilities, but not bigoted to make people with different anatomy do so.  Men and women actually are different, and not in some pie-in-the sky, theoretical way, but in terms of things like reproductive anatomy, physical size and strength, and so forth.  Unfortunately, in our world, words mean what we want them to mean; "marriage" can be redefined to describe the sexual partnership of two men or two women, and "girl" can mean a boy, if the boy wants it to.  It really is a form of madness, but in our world today, "madness" means sanity, sanity means bigotry, and truth is nothing but one's personal perceptions of that thing we call "reality," which also means whatever we want it to mean.