Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Today's post...

...is at Tales of Telmaja.  Don't forget the weekly writing prompt!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Stating the obvious

I had planned a different post for today, but after battling this stupid bladder infection over a second weekend (new antibiotic now; seems to be working, finally, I hope...) and trying to get caught up on a few chores today now that I'm starting to feel a bit better I'm a bit less coherent than usual (and you thought that wasn't even possible).

So, instead, I'll share a few links to things elsewhere which do a very good job of stating the obvious.

1.  Amy Welborn is right.  The media doesn't want to cover the Gosnell trial because people in the media don't think he's wrong.  Sure, it was tacky of him to wait until those unwanted fetuses were technically out of their mothers' birth canals before snipping their spinal cords, but whatevs--the customer paid for a dead child, and she gets a dead child, so what's the problem here?

2. Chris Broussard is right.  Christians do believe the following, as he put it:
"If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that that's a sin," said Broussard, comparing homosexuality to any other sex outside of marriage. "If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ."
So long as we're clear that we're talking about a lifestyle which includes or is centered around homosexual sex acts, then yes, Christians believe that's a sin.  Sure, there are Christians who have "evolved" away from that belief, usually the ones that bless fornicating couples and ordain open atheists, but who died and made them God, anyway?

3. Hector Molina is right: trying to "sell" religion to the unchurched by presenting Jesus as "the original hipster" is the same kind of well-intentioned bad idea that leads to round churches, Marty Haugen songs, and the Rite of Dismissing the Children So They Can Go Color Things.

4. Mark Shea is right--conservative Christians are going to be increasingly targeted for social adjustment in the military, where they will probably end up being disciplined one day for saying such Christian things as "marriage is between a man and a woman" or "sex outside of marriage is sinful."  Of course, pretty soon conservative Christians will likewise be increasingly targeted for saying such things in public, in writing, in schools, in hospitals, in libraries, in corporate jobs, or just about anywhere outside the actual walls of an actual church building, because that's what today's left means by the concepts "freedom of speech" and "freedom of religion."  Oh, but don't worry; gay "marriage" isn't going to hurt anybody.

5. Magister Christianus is right:  There is something seriously wrong with a culture in which girls ages 4 to 14 perform at a charity event dressed like Vegas showgirls complete with sequined bras and bikini bottoms, and with a booty-shakin' dance routine to match.  What the Hell (literally) is wrong with parents that they see nothing wrong with this?

6. Rod Dreher's Catholic priest friend who visited him recently is right: things are (slowly) getting better in the Church--and the presence or absence of joy in someone's life isn't some kind of optional extra, but something really important.

It's nice when so many people out there are so right!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rethinking those cheap tee shirts

If you haven't been following this situation regarding a garment factory in Bangladesh, it's heartbreaking:
AVAR, Bangladesh (AP) — "Save us, brother. I beg you, brother," Mohammad Altab moaned to the rescuers who could not help him. He had been trapped for more than 24 hours, pinned between slabs of concrete in the ruins of the garment factory building where he worked.

"I want to live," he pleaded, his eyes glistening with tears as he spoke of his two young children. "It's so painful here."

Altab should not have been in the building when it collapsed Wednesday, killing at least 238 people.

No one should have.

After seeing deep cracks in the walls of the building on Tuesday, police had ordered it evacuated. But officials at the garment factories operating inside ignored the order and kept more than 2,000 people working, authorities said.
DHAKA, Bangladesh - As Bangladesh reels from the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide factory inspections is bringing renewed scrutiny to an industry that has profited from a country notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence-level wages.

After a factory fire killed 112 garment workers in November, clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labor groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.

In the meantime, threats to workers persist. In the five months since last year's deadly blaze at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., there were 41 other "fire incidents" in Bangladesh factories , ranging from a deadly blaze to smaller fires or sparks that caused employees to panic, according to a labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO umbrella group of American unions. Combined, the recent incidents killed nine workers and injured more than 660, some with burns and smoke inhalation and others with injuries from stampedes while fleeing.

Wednesday's collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 300 people is the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh's fast-growing and politically powerful garment industry. For those attempting to overhaul conditions for workers who are paid as little as $38 a month, it is a grim reminder that corporate social responsibility programs are failing to deliver on lofty promises.

More than 48 hours after the eight-story building collapsed, some garment workers were still trapped alive Friday, pinned beneath tons of mangled metal and concrete. Rescue crews struggled to save them, knowing they probably had just a few hours left to live, as desperate relatives clashed with police.

What does all this have to do with being able to go into a big-box store and buy cheap tee shirts?  Read on:
Labor groups argue the best way to clean up Bangladesh's garment factories already is outlined in a nine-page safety proposal drawn up by Bangladeshi and international unions.

The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.

The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world's largest clothing brands and retailers , including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M , but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.

At the time, Wal-Mart's representative told the meeting it was "not financially feasible ... to make such investments," according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press. [...]

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner did not directly answer questions about the unions' safety plans in replies to questions emailed by The Associated Press. H&M responded to questions with emailed links to corporate social responsibility websites.

In December, however, a spokesperson for the Gap , which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains , said the company turned down the proposal because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades.

H&M also did not sign on to the proposal because it believes factories and local government in Bangladesh should be taking on the responsibility, Pierre Börjesson, manager of sustainability and social issues, told AP in December.

Let's recap, shall we?

--More than 300 people died this week in yet another Bangladesh garment factory "incident."   Over a five month time period more than 660 people were killed in similar "incidents."

--Major players in the one-TRILLION-dollar clothing industry do not want to pay up to $500,000 a year for independent factory inspections or face the possibility of legal liability connected to these "incidents."  They are willing to help pay for training materials for employees, though as a person cited in the article pointed out it's pretty hard to train employees as to how to escape an inferno or a building collapse (and that's before we get into the problem of not enough doors and escape routes and frequently-locked doors and gates, etc.).

--The workers who work in these unsafe, dangerous conditions make less than $40 a month.

--Wal-Mart (tm) had profits of 15.7 billion dollars in 2011.  The Gap had profits of over $300 million dollars in 2012, a strong showing compared to previous years.

--The companies are taking the position that it is up to local authorities to improve factory conditions--that's not the job of the mere customers of the factories.  Lest we take that at face value, remember that with rising materials cost and sluggish retail sales those same companies are absolutely dependent on cheap, cheap, cheap labor to keep those profit margins at levels that make investors happy.  If the government of Bangladesh actually enacted a widespread and honest (e.g., not subject to bribery or corruption) rehabilitation of the garment industry, the factories' increases in production costs would be passed on to those global garment customers--and the big guys would most likely take their business elsewhere, to the next third-world location where people are desperate enough to work in rickety tinderboxes for a dime or so an hour making cheery tee shirts in bright colors with cute or sassy sayings on them, because heaven forbid that Americans are going to be told they have to spend a whole dollar or two more per shirt, or investors be grimly informed that profits only increased at an average rate for the year.

You know what I think?  Given the eternal consequences of having to answer to God as to why I was willing to be indifferent to the screams of someone else's husband or father trapped and dying in the rubble or the flames of such a factory so long as I could pick up inexpensive summer tops, I think this: those tee shirts cost way too much after all.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I'll probably get in trouble for this one...

...but over at the Coalition for Clarity, I take the position that the Boston bomber should not be put to death.

Go here to read if you're interested in this sort of issue.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dear parents of young children at Mass...

Dear parents of young children who bring those children faithfully to Mass every week, or just about: this post is for you.

Yes, I'm continuing to write about the question of bringing children below the age of reason to Mass on Sunday, mainly because I keep reading the comment threads (particularly this one and this one) and seeing downright heartbreaking comments from parents of young children who get glared at, stared at, scolded, forced to sit in the cry room (as opposed to choosing to sit there), and, in one instance, actually shunned (a woman with a developmentally delayed two-year-old wrote that people will get up and leave the pew if she and her family sit down beside them).

Even though it has been many years for me, I still remember what those years were like, the years when we drove over an hour each way to Mass with children ages 2.5, 1.5, and newborn.  I remember feeling like people hated to see us coming, that even though the older two were mostly good at Mass already they weren't wanted, that the baby was downright unwelcome (and me with her), and that these good, pious, holier-than-thou aging Catholic baby boomers were seriously annoyed by the mere fact of our presence--and that's when the girls were sitting perfectly silently and looking through board books; heaven forbid one of them became, you know, audible.

I expected that attitude out in the world; I know we live in an anti-child, anti-family age, sort of like the age when a certain innkeeper took one look at the travel-weary poor young couple, the woman already experiencing birth pangs, and told them they could sleep in the stable.  I bet he hoped they would just leave, so the sound of the Child crying wouldn't disturb his better guests, so they would become someone else's problem.  That's how most people in our age view children: they are someone else's problem: their parents' problem, mostly, unless the parents are able to pay someone else to take care of them and have the sense to hire sitters whenever they must visit a restaurant or shopping mall or grocery store or fly on an airplane to a family funeral and stay in a hotel, because the alternative--inflicting one's regrettable offspring on the adult world--is rude, and shouldn't be done.  What else can you expect from an age which sees babies during pregnancy as 1/3 of a person at best, and that much only during the third trimester when some laws may restrict killing her by abortion?

The thing that hurt was encountering that same attitude within the doors of the parish church.  You know, the Catholic Church.  The pro-life Church.  The pro-family Church.  The Church that teaches--truly, I believe--that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil and gravely sinful.  I exclaimed more than once in frustration to my husband that it seemed that the Church wanted us to have these children, but after that the parish wanted us to keep them out of sight, out of mind, and preferably out of Mass altogether.  I know, young parents, how utterly tempting it is to just do exactly that, to skip Mass on Sunday mornings because, hey, "care of infants" exempts you from the obligation, and after a few years of sleeping in and reading the comics and having pancakes together you'll get back to Mass--maybe--if it's still important enough to you by then...

But don't.  Please don't.  Trust me on this.

Those angry people who glare at you and your kids would probably glare at puppies and kick kittens for mewing too loudly when they're trying to get their peace and quiet on their favorite park bench (and heaven forbid anyone brings children to the park...).  Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh.  But, honestly, unless your child is running up and down the aisles unattended or otherwise behaving so badly that your first impulse is to lie to everybody and pretend he's a neighbor kid visiting for the day, the glarers and starers are grumpy because you brought the child with you, and if you discuss the matter long enough, they'll inevitably reveal that fact.  Oh, sure, it starts out with a gentle question about why a parent whose child has been engaged in non-stop Banshee wailing for the entire homily doesn't take the precious tyke out for a quick visit to the vestibule (and maybe the water fountain--bless her poor little throat), but sooner or later the attitude is revealed to be this: your child might become a problem, so you have a duty to avoid that by not coming to Mass until you can be sure your child is old enough not to become a problem, because anything else is rude and inconsiderate of the pre-child, post-child, and childless Mass-goers.

And to that, I offer this advice: tell 'em to put a lid on it.

Oh, you can't use those words, exactly.  So here are the words you can use (and I wish I had):

To those who glare or frown just because you come in and sit down, "Excuse me.  I couldn't help but notice your expression, and I just wanted to tell you that little Benedicta is terribly afraid of scary faces.  Perhaps it would be better if you didn't turn around again, or she might start to cry..."

To those who hog the seat ends so that you can't plot a quick escape, "Excuse me, but last Sunday I had to take little Xavier Aloysius out three times: once for fussing, once for crying, and once for a really, really bad exploding poopy diaper that dripped all over the people we had to climb over.  Is there any way you'd consider letting us sit here at the end?

To those who turn around to stare if the child is fussing: "Oh, don't worry!  I asked Father to have the ushers tell us if Thomasina Teresa gets too loud for him.  We hate to climb over the people at the end of the pew more times than we have to."

To those who fidget at every noise the toddler makes--well, technically, you're talking to the baby, but you get the idea: "Now, little Timotheus, what have I told you about setting a bad example?  You're making those grown ups all fidgety, and you know we're not supposed to be fidgety at Mass.  Please sit still for Mommy--there's a good boy!"

And if these ideas don't work, you can hand the baby to the redheaded woman in the choir for a while (yes, this happens at our church with one precious little guy, and I LOVE it) so you can attend to the older toddlers.  :) 

But, please, keep coming to Mass with your children. If you weren't there, I'd be tempted to be even more critical of my fellow adults than I already am, and that's not good for my soul.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Today's post...

...is at Tales of Telmaja.

Don't forget about the weekly writing prompt!  And don't miss Hatchick's awesome drawing! :)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wedding anniversary, terrorists, and screaming babies at Mass

(How's that for a post title?) :)

Today, Thad and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary.  Well, "celebrating" may be too strong of a word; he has a busy Monday at work ahead of him, and I'm still dealing with the recurrent bladder infection that sidelined me all weekend, so we'll probably just celebrate quietly at home.

Thad pretty much did everything this weekend: chores, grocery shopping (Kitten went along because she loves to help), picking up pizza for Saturday's dinner, getting the girls to Mass Sunday morning (and I hated to miss it, because I love Good Shepherd Sunday), and just generally being awesome.  I told him yesterday that he really does model the very concept of Love to me, because his love always has a strong component of selfless service to it--he always makes me think of the way God loves us, in the way he loves me and our family.  That's something our world tends to forget a lot when it talks about love--that love is fundamentally a giving thing, a sacrificial thing, something that pulls us outside of our comfort zones and challenges us and helps us to become our best selves.  Compared to how the secular world tends to see love, as a mix of romance, sex, good feelings, and that all-important consideration of What We Get Out of It, real love is mysterious, heroic, and permeated with the kind of truth that comes from the Divine Love Who is God.

Since I spent the weekend trying to get over this stupid illness, I had lots of time to think, and in addition to thinking about Thad, our anniversary, and what love is, I found myself thinking about two other things: the "screaming babies at Mass" conversation, and the capture of the 19-year-old member of the deadly Boston bombing terror duo.  I wouldn't be me if I didn't see connections.

I was talking to Kitten about the suspect who was captured alive--mentioning in disbelief that he is only two years older than she is, and wondering aloud what happens to people, and why someone would commit such evil and throw his life away like that?  She pointed out that some people are taught to hate others and to think of evil deeds as good, which is not the sort of thing that she and her friends are taught.  I pondered that, because of course we don't know fully yet what the bombers had been taught or what they believed, though there are vastly troubling signs.  But it is true that people tend to reflect their core values and beliefs in their actions.  Where it gets tricky is that sometimes a person's true core values and beliefs are at odds with what they appear to have been taught or what they profess to believe; evil lies in the heart of a person, and plenty of seemingly good people have committed atrociously evil acts because what they claimed to believe and what they actually believed were completely at odds.  Still, if this turns out to be a case of young Muslims being indoctrinated by radicalized forms of Islam (as it certainly appears as of the time I write this), that doesn't completely answer the question as to why someone could coldly place bombs at the feet of innocent people and then walk away from them, knowing that death and destruction was about to descend upon these real people standing right there in front of them.  The problem of terrorism is a familiar sort of problem, after all: it is at its deepest roots a failure to love, an ability to reduce other human beings to objects who are in the way, a coldness about others that is devoid of mercy, or pity, or reason--a complete inability to "Do unto others..." or to love other human beings as if even the most difficult of them to love were really another self, a beloved other.  This is, in the end, why it is so important to root out from our own hearts that same tendency--which is, in most of us, thankfully far weaker than the impulse to kill and harm, but may take the form of the impulse to dismiss and denigrate, to sneer at or scorn: pale shadows of the worst forms of objectifying other human beings, but still troubling in their relation to those strains of darkness.

And that brings me to the "screaming babies" conversation.  I admit, myself, that I struggle to love those who don't think children belong at Mass until they're capable of sitting still, or of doing advanced calculus, whichever comes first (I kid, but only slightly, as most parents know).  I do need to try to put myself in their shoes a little, and to realize that as the second oldest of nine children I grew up mostly immune to baby noises apart from full-throated unrelenting colic-screaming (which came as something of a shock when Kitten was a baby, and which made me apologize to my mother for having to endure it with me).  I need to remember that some people really do have such extreme sensitivities to their environment and surroundings that even the gentle, repetitive "Da-da-MMM-boo-shlursh-da-da-da" noise of a baby, or the indignant "But I AM being good!" announcement from a toddler is truly intolerable to the point where it interferes with their ability to pray at Mass, and I need to censor my first, second, and third impulses to advise those sensitive adults to get over themselves and, instead, think of a gentle, kind way to suggest that perhaps they could find a Mass at their parishes where children aren't present in large numbers so that they won't be troubled.

But the reason I struggle to be loving to those who are really intolerant of the mere presence of children at Mass is because I see that attitude as one which falls in with our culture's tendency to view children themselves as objects: noisy, messy, inconvenient, sleep-depriving objects who add no value to anyone's lives except perhaps those of their parents, for whom they are simply a chosen lifestyle accessory and not, as they were seen in other ages, as vital members of the community without whom the community in fact would not be able to continue at all.  The worst form of that objectification of children is the form of terrorism known as abortion, which kills a living member of the human family when he or she is at his or her weakest and most vulnerable stage of development, still inside his or her mother's womb.  But there are other forms of it as well, and a growing and vocal number of adults have started to treat children as unnecessary excrescences who simply Do Not Belong in a widely expanding circle of public places.

I think that most sane parents would agree that children, especially infants and toddlers, actually do not (generally speaking) belong in a few places, such as really fancy restaurants, live-action theaters (except for those putting on entertainments specifically for children), and a few other such venues.  But in recent years I've seen adults gripe about children at sit-down casual dining chain restaurants (as if the fact that there's no clown or drive-thru automatically puts a restaurant out-of-bounds for families with small children), children at libraries, children at grocery stores or clothing stores, children accompanying Mommy to the bank, post office, or dry cleaners, and so on, children traveling with their parents on airplanes or trains or buses or staying with them in hotels, and on and on and on, as if we're supposed to be a society like that of Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang where all the children are either imprisoned or hiding out of sight of the adults.  Bear in mind, these complaints were not at all about children being miserably undisciplined or misbehaved in public; I have sympathy with those complaints.  No, the complaints I'm talking about had to do with the mere fact that children were allowed to be present, and that in being children (e.g., talking, asking questions, appearing bored, etc.) they were a Serious Inconvenience to the unrelated adults who expected, apparently, to be surrounded by other adults, and only adults, at all times when in public.

Why is that troubling?  Apart from the obvious reasons, I think that this attitude our society has toward children is, indeed, a failure to love--and specifically it is a failure to love the smallest, weakest, most vulnerable and most helpless of our members.  We see this not only in our treatment of infants and small children, but in our treatment of the elderly, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the lost and the broken.  One of the least appealing ideas Americans sometimes voice is the idea that we really are all completely equal such that a child's noisy behavior, an elderly person's issues, a disabled person's needs, etc. are almost a kind of fault--because these things clash with our "bootstraps" notions that everybody can get along just fine with hard work and ingenuity (and maturity and physical health and intellectual ability and inborn talent and wildly good luck and trust funds and...oh, wait, don't look at any of that).  We end up putting an objectified value on human life itself such that we only celebrate those who are Doing Well, as if doing is somehow more important than being, as if worldly success matters more to God than a heart like this one.

Most of us fall short of such selfless love.  This weekend, I got another glimpse of it, as Thad just stepped up and took care of everything without question or complaint, as loving husbands are wont to do.  And I pondered sadly what the opposite of that selfless and sacrificial love looks like: drawn large in the portrait of a killer, and sketched faintly in the echoes of unwelcome that families with small children face in society today, even in our churches--and in my own heart, when I sit in judgment against those who complain about children instead of looking for mercy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Update on the "screaming babies at Mass" post

Deacon Kandra updated his post on the "screaming babies at Mass" question with an eye-opening letter from the woman who originally complained:
Thank you for posting my questions; I really do appreciate it, as do a few of my priest-friends who are also wondering what more they have to do to get parents to take disruptive babies & young children out of Mass.
The comments really saddened me.  I have worked as a DRE for all age levels, & am working on my master’s degree in theology.  My husband & I also have 6 children, ages 15-27, so we have a fair amount of experience with kids at Mass.
What most saddened me were the comments by clergy & laity alike saying that disruptive children belong at Mass.  It seems that we’ve forgotten what the Mass really is–the worship of God, the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.  It is not meant to be a place to socialize children.  They should be prepared to join the worship of God along with the rest of congregation.  It is not a place to be oogling the newest baby or be waving at kids who are antsy.
People like to say that because the Church encourages couples to have children that we are obligated to have babies & young children at Mass.  It seems to be that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” He wasn’t teaching in the synagogue!
Yes, parents have a duty to raise up their children in the faith.  But, before they have the ability to participate in the Mass & have a basic understanding of what the Mass is about, they belong at home.  It isn’t fair to expect them to behave beyond their age level. 
Babies & young children have almost no attention span, & need to be moving around.  It isn’t fair to them or the adults who’ve come to Mass to participate in parish Masses to be constantly distracted by crying, screaming, banging toys, etc.  That’s what happens in day care centers.
I appreciated the few comments by adults who agree with what I’ve said.  When we had babies & toddlers who couldn’t handle Mass, my husband & I split-shifted.  He’s always attended daily Mass; Sunday Mass was my one chance to worship Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Our pastor told us one evening when he was at our house for dinner–he came over frequently because all our kids (& my husband & I!) loved him–he enjoyed walking in for 7:30am Mass on Sundays & seeing me sitting quietly in prayers, completely at peace–”She always looks so peaceful, like she’s already in heaven!”  He understood.  I was with Our Lord!
When a mom has babies & young children, that is the time to develop a very deep inner prayer life that will carry her through the rest of her life.  It is the time to be available to your kids, to play Mass at home so they can learn about it.  To invite priests & religious brothers & sisters to your home, to visit religious good stores, to take opportunities to introduce your kids to the faith on their level.  My husband would take our kids to Saturday morning Mass once they were able to sit still while reading or playing a game for at least 30 minutes, usually around age 4+ yrs.  Sunday Mass began when they entered kindergarten.
All of our kids are practicing our faith.  All of them know it well enough to defend our faith in high school & college classrooms, at work, to friends, in the newspapers, etc.  We receive many favorable comments from priests & friends about the apologetics work our kids do.  They’ve learned their faith through family discussions as they were growing up.  We homeschool for religion.
Kids remember nothing of their religious instruction before age 5 or so. They remember the fun things they did like playing Mass, role playing the gospel readings, etc.  They’ve always enjoyed being at Mass because they never were forced to sit through it before they were able.  Young children learn best through fun activities & that’s what we, as Catholic parents, provided.  But, Mass is not “a fun activity,” & should never be reduced to that.
Thanks for reading this long post, Deacon Greg.  I guess, after sacrificing for so many years, I feel like I’ve paid my dues & am entitled to be at Mass without being forced to leave or not come because of the crying & screaming.

Several things strike me about this letter.

The first is that originally the letter writer was talking about screaming babies at a Saturday Mass, and now she's taking the position that children under the age of 5 don't belong at Mass, period, and if people would do things right and "pa(y) their dues" as she did, she wouldn't have to be bothered by anyone else's children.

The second is that she seems to think that we can't worship God properly if noisy children are present.  She even brags about her own past level of peacefulness at Mass on Sunday morning which was for "her," since she left her husband and children at home, and seems to think that this level of peacefulness is the right of every Catholic at Mass on Sunday.  Both of these things seem "off" to me; even saints had to "offer up" the noisy tooth-clicking or rustling of the other nuns in the pew at Mass, so I tend to think that the original letter writer has an unrealistic view of humanity.

The third is that she has worked as a "DRE" (Director of Religious Education) for all age levels and is getting her master's degree in theology.  I have to wonder whether she told the parents of the children she was instructing that they ought not to be bringing the children's younger siblings to Mass on Sunday?  I wouldn't be surprised, as I've encountered officious and wrong-headed DREs before.

The bottom line here is that this woman chose to keep her own children at home on Sundays (or, apparently, to make her husband do so; she says he was allowed to go to daily Masses when the children were small) until they were approximately five years old, and so she seems to think that this is the "right" way for Catholic mothers to handle the vexing question of what to do on Sunday mornings when the youngest children are not ready for kindergarten yet.  The reality that this simply would.not.work for a great many Catholic families and that it is not in the least what the Church requires does not appear to have occurred to her at all.

I've known of young families who encountered this sort of attitude at the parish they attended for whom this was the last straw that led them out of the door of the Catholic parish and into a nearby Protestant fellowship.  Their view was simple: the Church does not allow artificial birth control, permits NFP for good reasons but otherwise encourages large families and generous welcoming of children--and yet Sunday after Sunday they were frowned at, scolded for bringing the kids, glared at if a teething infant squawked for 2 seconds, told to sit in the cry room, lectured about their children's behavior, and made to feel like they were truly unwelcome at Mass, to the point where the bitterness of it all was interfering with their relationship with Christ.  I myself experienced this--when the girls were little we were driving over an hour each way with three children under the age of three to attend Sunday Mass, and the pastor was a very nice and encouraging sort but the congregation would stare with sour faces if we dared to sit anywhere but the cry room.  Our decision to move away from North Carolina was partly motivated by the ugliness we encountered week after week at Mass, in fact; I wanted to raise my children Catholic, and could see that we were going to get absolutely zero help at the parish level until the children were seven or so.  That health issues would mean those three, so close in age, would be our only ones wasn't yet known to us.  But I don't think "Oh, I paid my dues!  I deserve a quiet Mass each week!"  Instead, I LOVE babies at Mass and always go out of my way to tell the stressed young moms what a great job they are doing.  They don't hear that out in the culture; they get treated like "breeders" whose kids just aren't welcome anywhere--and do we really want Mass to be one of those places where kids aren't welcome?

So all I see when I read this woman's letter is the sad reality that lots of Catholics in America today really do think children don't belong at Mass.  At all.  Until they're at least five or six years old, and have to start showing up for those two-year First Communion prep classes.  Is it any wonder why so many of their parents bring them for those, and then the whole family disappears again until it's time for Confirmation?  If we make the Mass an "adults only" club, we shouldn't be surprised if families get the message and go away.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Screaming babies at Mass--when worldviews collide

Deacon Greg Kandra has a post up--a rare one, in that he's allowing comments--in which he shares a reader's question about why parents take screaming children (infants, babies, toddlers) to Mass.  After all, what do they get out of it?

I think that this comment from a young mom is pretty much how I see things:
As the mother of an eight month old infant, I live in fear of a parishioner that asking, “Why is your child in Mass?” As a baptized Christian, my child should be a celebrated member of the congregation.

Some weeks, I spend a majority of the Mass in the back of the church looking at statues and other beautiful artwork because my son simply can’t handle sitting still for an hour during Mass. We try to be respectful of the other parishioners around us and leave briefly when my child acts up, but sometimes it’s not possible to get to the gathering space before he really belts it out. Understanding parishioners go a long way towards difusing a situation. A child can sense when Mom or Dad is not at ease.

It’s also not just about what the child gets out of Mass – the parents are there to worship as well. God must give a special grace to parents of young children, because some weeks I don’t feel like I got anything out of the Mass. However, when my husband and I baptized our child, we promised to bring him up in the faith. How can we do that if he doesn’t come to Mass with us? And with no family in the same town as us, if we didn’t bring our child to Mass with us, we wouldn’t be able to go at all. [...]

But there are an awful lot of comments like this:
There were times when the noise from irate children was so bad and the parents weren’t doing anything about it, so I left. I could not take that much disrespect and distraction. Please don’t use the “Jesus loves the children” line. Yes he certainly did, but that doesn’t mean we all should tolerate noisy babies at Mass. Please don’t tell me to go to an earlier Mass, my work schedule doesn’t allow for that. God gives me special graces too for being at Mass. That is not unique to parents with young children. Getting the kids started young does not guarantee they will continue to attend Mass as they get older. I have been around a long time, and have seen countless young parents believe they were setting the right example; years later, those same kids are nowhere near the church.

I consider myself to be a devout Catholic, have been all of my life. I go to Mass because I want to participate. I want to honor Jesus. I want to be around other adults too. I want to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Do I have to do penance by listening to a screaming child in order to accomplish this? No, I should not have to. All of the focus here seems to be turned on those “poor Parents’ who are doing their best, which I have no doubt that they are, but would you sit in a restaurant, a theater, a ball park, or any other public place and let your child/baby act up? I very much doubt it (well, some people are arrogant enough to do just that, I have seen it). After so many years of this, I have gotten to the point where I just leave whereby denying myself reception of the Blessed Sacrament, although at times I have waited outside until Communion time then came back in to receive. As parents you must understand something. You are not the only one’s who are “offering it up” by stepping out of the Church when you child acts up. I have offered up the distraction of the crying many times. Finally, I also am a parent, when my children were young, it was a given that I would step outside with the babies anytime they acted up/cried or fussed. My thought was about the others who were present at Mass, that they should not have to put up with this. Most parents at that time did the same. My parents did the same. If we missed a part of the Mass, that is the way it was. I didn’t feel denied any graces because I felt that being a considerate parishioner was more important than putting others through unnecessary beguilement. I didn’t center the whole thing around myself like I have a “right” to be there so I will just let my kids cry. Of course, that was in another era, when people were more considerate and respectful of others. It wasn’t the “all for me” and what I want generation. There are sacrifices all young parents must make. In my opinion, one of those sacrifices is removing an irate child from Mass when the situation is warranted. If it means going to the cry room, then go there. If you have to go to the narthex/vestibule, then go there, or go outside in warm weather. But don’t think you have a “right” to cause a disturbance to others because you do not.

I have every right to be at Mass too, and have the right to be able to pray without distraction. I am rarely at a Mass anymore, including weekdays, where there isn’t some child acting up. I have even been at Adoration, supposedly a time for quiet prayer with Our Lord, and someone would be there with a crying baby and would not leave. How insensitive! I do not consider myself to be a pious person. I am a Catholic like all of you who is also doing my best to survive. I have my own problems in life to cope with, just like you do. That is my opinion, however unpopular it may be here. But I will tell you, my opinion is not unpopular among my peers. The question asked here was a pointed one, so I am giving a pointed response. God Bless You. [...]

and this:
I agree completely with Preshen, at 8:09 p.m.

I’d also like to suggest that if it is at all possible to leave he very young with a baby sitter, or to stagger the parents’ Mass attendance, then the children can have it presented as a privilege for “big boys and girls.”

I’ll also note that many people acknowledge in their comments that children who are screaming at Mass should be removed, but seem to think that they are disagreeing with the original writer — as if that weren’t exactly what he said. Instead of getting on his case, they should be getting on the case of parents who are so self-centered and lacking in Christian love for their fellow Mass-goers that they are unwilling to remove their screaming infants until they quiet down.
 and this:
I do ‘t know. I never had children of my own, but I do find the screaming really hard to bear at times. Last Sunday I was at a 7:30 PM Mass that was graced by a real screamer who seemed to want to be in competition with the priest, the lector and the cantor. He or she was quiet when there was silence, but once anyone spoke the screams began. A little cry once or twice is not objectionable, but this was absurd. And, contrary to how some commenters have taken this question, the problem is not with children over the age of three or four, but with babies and toddlers, the little ones who have no ability to understand or even be directed to anything.

When I was little my parents took turns attending Mass. It wasn’t till I was about three and had been prepared by my mother through nimerous advance visits to the church so I knew what it was and Who lived there that I went to Mass and we were able to go as a family. The slight delay doesn’t seem to have damaged my spiritual life!

Obviously, the noisy children are blameless as they are too young to understand any of what is happening or even where they are. For them it’s simply an uncomfortable experience of enforced inactivity in a strange place with strange sounds and smells. No wonder they cry and scream! I can’t help wondering if their presence really is of any value for them, or if it leaves them with unhappy memories of a place in which they were confined and uncomfortable. My belief is that it is more a source of the latter. And I personally think that it is more parental laziness that is the reason behind all the screaming.

and this
Don’t you find that the parents who allow their children to disrupt a Mass, are the same parents who allow their children to disrupt in restaurants, movies, stores – generally anywhere in public? There really is no hope for those parents – they are ignorant of societal norms and general rules of etiquette. I notice that the parents who are raising their children reasonably will arrive fairly early and take one of the back seats or near one of the exits and will sit on the aisle in order to make a quick exit when a child begins to act out.

My parish has volunteer babysitting for children during Mass — mostly us old Grandma types who love being with little ones. I also find that the crying room is just quiet enough for me when the ignorant fool parents are letting their children scream. You will often find the crying room filled with us oldsters — peace at last.

and this:
Seems to be a lack of understanding of the reverence of the Mass, and a show of their selfishness.

and this:
Being 60-something I remember a day when mothers and fathers went to Mass separately so one could stay at home with young children. Today that is not the case. While it is nice to go to Mass as a family; one also must consider the other Mass goers and the parents themselves. This is a time for God. Young children and babies can’t understand that. One thing to do is to sit at the back of the Church so that it is easy to remove a child who is screaming.

Personally, I would not take a habitually disruptive child to Church at all until he reaches the age where he learns to behave. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t take one at all.

For most of us concentrating at Mass is a challenge. A crying child, or even a child who behaves, makes it that much more difficult.

I especially resent it when a child is disruptive during the Consecration.

and this:
What a self-assured, arrogant response from this woman. Oh so she finds that screaming infants help her relationship with God? Good for her, she can attempt to pray while her baby screams at home.

As for the rest of us, your child screaming does *not* make me a saint. It takes my attention away from God and tempts me to hate my brother or sister Catholics.

Your self-assurance that the crying will be *good for us* is worse than the college bro blasting Macklemore from his dormroom window, assuming everyone with ‘good taste’ will be down with it at that moment.

Okay, then.

It pains me to see how much my fellow Catholics have absorbed the world's view of babies and small children, that they are noisy, messy, inconvenient and disruptive and have no place in the adult world. I think that most sane, reasonable parents try to take a baby or toddler out of the Mass if the child has really reached "meltdown point."  I also remember trying to sit somewhere toward the end of a pew so I could make a quick exit with such a child, only to lose that spot to adults who clearly didn't want me climbing over them with the baby, but who also clearly didn't want me to keep my exit-spot.  The idea that split Masses are the answer just makes me laugh--in our girls' early years we lived in rural North Carolina, mission territory, and drove over an hour each way to Mass on Sunday.  I know that Catholics who live in areas where there are Catholic Churches on every corner don't get that this is the reality for many, many rural Catholics.  And the idea that one should just hire a sitter every Sunday morning is about as realistic as Marie Antoinette's advice about the cake, and even less so for nursing infants.

No, what should be happening here is that people who think of the Mass as a kind of pious entertainment for adults should get over themselves.  I think about what Mass must have been like in a medieval cathedral, for instance, when almost nobody could hear a thing happening on the altar and only a handful could read well enough to follow along in a missal assuming they were wealthy enough to own such a thing, and I can't help but compare that to the entitlement attitude on display in these comments, the mindset that says, "I have a right to a quiet, peaceful, solemn Mass without having to deal with the squeaks and squawks made by your regrettable offspring!"  It doesn't compare at all well.

The sad part is that some of the complainers would be the first ones to insist on the liturgical principle that the Mass is about God, not us, and that we're there to worship Him, not primarily to have a nice pious experience.  I think that when your worship of God is interrupted by outrage that His littlest children are being fussy just now accompanied by great thankfulness that you were never as selfish, clueless, and disruptive as young families are today, you may not be getting as much out of even the quietest Mass as you think you are.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Murder stops a beating heart

The people of North Dakota have this crazy idea that nobody should have the right to stop an innocent human being's heartbeat.  That shouldn't be controversial, right?  Apparently, it is:
It’s now become the center of the national debate over abortion. Lawyers and activists see a new law passed there -- which would prohibit the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks -- as a step toward toppling Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.[...]

The North Dakota law makes it a felony for a doctor to perform a nonemergency abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. It’s the narrowest window of any state, prohibiting terminations some four months earlier than the current legal limit.

In Bismarck, the capital, lawmakers have been asked by Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple to set aside money to defend the measure, even as many, including Weisz and Nelson, predict a court will strike it down. Abortion-rights advocates plan to sue to block the law before it takes effect Aug. 1.[...]

 Forty years ago, the Roe v. Wade ruling said women have a right to privacy to terminate pregnancies up until a fetus is viable outside the womb, then considered to be about 26 weeks. Technological advancements have since reduced that limit to around 23 or 24 weeks. 

A ruling based on such a fluid marker is vulnerable, said Mathew Staver, who argued on behalf of clinic protesters before the Supreme Court in 1994. He’s the founder of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Florida-based Christian nonprofit specializing in anti-abortion litigation, which has offered free assistance to North Dakota and Arkansas, where lawmakers passed a 12-week ban last month.

“Viability is not a determination on the value of life or whether there is a life,” Staver said. “It’s only a reflection of the available medical technology.”

Instead, abortion rights should be attacked on the grounds that the beginning of life should be measured by the same standard used to determine when it ends: a heartbeat, he said. 

The truth is that those who favor abortion have never really cared much about embryonic or fetal life. In order for there to be Sex Without Consequences, there has to be a legal way for a woman to kill the child growing inside of her and dispose of the body before anybody can see.  Whether or not the human being killed has a heart beat, measurable brain waves, or other markers of life doesn't matter: so long as at least some part of the baby remains inside her mother's womb, her mother gets to kill her--at least, that has been the American position.

We're starting to see some erosion in that position, and I think that North Dakota is taking a step in the right direction.  If you stop the beating heart of an innocent human being, that's murder--and the human being's age or condition of dependency shouldn't matter.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Today's post...

...is here, at Tales of Telmaja.

Don't forget to check out the Weekly Writing Prompt! :)

Monday, April 15, 2013


I've been away from my computer today, and didn't even hear about the bombing at the Boston Marathon until my sister mentioned it on the phone this afternoon.  Like many if not most of my readers, I'm praying for the victims and their families tonight, that God will grant eternal rest to the deceased and comfort and healing to those who loved them.

And for all of us:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just a matter of detail

I've been out today, and apologize for this late blog post.  I was thinking I wouldn't manage to post at all, but a reader sent me a link to the following with a request that I write about it:
The grand jury report in the case of Kermit Gosnell, 72, is among the most horrifying I've read. "This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy - and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors," it states. "The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels - and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths."

Charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, Gosnell is now standing trial in a Philadelphia courtroom. An NBC affiliate's coverage includes testimony as grisly as you'd expect. "An unlicensed medical school graduate delivered graphic testimony about the chaos at a Philadelphia clinic where he helped perform late-term abortions," the channel reports. "Stephen Massof described how he snipped the spinal cords of babies, calling it, 'literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.' He testified that at times, when women were given medicine to speed up their deliveries, 'it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.'" [...]

Until Thursday, I wasn't aware of this story. It has generated sparse coverage in the national media, and while it's been mentioned in RSS feeds to which I subscribe, I skip past most news items. I still consume a tremendous amount of journalism. Yet had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would've been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet. Then I saw Kirsten Power's USA Today column. She makes a powerful, persuasive case that the Gosnell trial ought to be getting a lot more attention in the national press than it is getting.

The media criticism angle interests me. But I agree that the story has been undercovered, and I happen to be a working journalist, so I'll begin by telling the rest of the story for its own sake. Only then will I explain why I think it deserves more coverage than it has gotten, although it ought to be self-evident by the time I'm done distilling the grand jury's allegations. Grand juries aren't infallible. This version of events hasn't been proven in a court of law. But journalists routinely treat accounts given by police, prosecutors and grand juries as at least plausible if not proven. Try to decide, as you hear the state's side of the case, whether you think it is credible, and if so, whether the possibility that some or all this happened demands massive journalistic scrutiny.

Read the rest here.

To be perfectly honest, I'm disgusted that this story hasn't been front page news, but I'm not in the least bit surprised.  If you approve of abortion, then Dr. Gosnell's only crime here is sloppiness and procrastination, in that he sometimes waited until after the baby was born to kill him or her.

But guess what?  As I wrote during the 2008 presidential election, our current president doesn't think that babies born alive during an abortion should be rushed into a NICU or otherwise allowed to live.  That "...burdens the original decision..." of the woman and her doctor.  The full quote is here.

It's just not that much of a surprise that people who think that abortion is a good way to get rid of an unwanted baby if contraception fails should not particularly object to the idea that infanticide is a good way to get rid of the same unwanted baby a few months later if the abortion has been delayed for some reason and the baby survives the late-term procedure.  The mother paid for her child to die.  Her child should die.  The rest, by pro-choice logic, is just a matter of detail.

And the mainstream news media, which likes to pretend to be diverse, is not at all diverse when it comes to abortion.  The vast majority of people who work in the news industry are in favor of legalized abortion on demand, though they like to use the phrase "pro-choice" to describe their position.  They were slow to pick up the Dr. Gosnell story, and have continued to be rather reticent about it compared to things they really care about (like gay "marriage"), because it's an uncomfortable story for them to cover.  Yes, Dr. Gosnell killed post-birth fetuses in unsanitary conditions and presided over at least one or two women's deaths, but that's just unfortunate.  Abortion doctors (or abortionists as we pro-life people like to call them) are heroes to most in the mainstream media, and while they can't come right out and editorialize that Dr. Gosnell is the victim of some kind of pro-life witch hunt, it's probably the sort of thing that has been whispered around the water coolers of more than one major news media outlet.  And the opinion that pro-life people are the reason poor women don't go get abortions when the baby is smaller and can't breathe outside the womb yet has actually been publicly circulated--in other words, if it weren't for those mean pro-lifers and their clinic protests, no woman would wait until the risk that the child might survive the abortion materialized before paying someone to terminate the little human parasite.

So, no, the media hasn't been falling all over themselves to report this story.  It's not, they tell us sanctimoniously, really newsworthy.  But if that were true, then we would have to accept the corollary that this sort of atrocity goes hand-in-hand with abortion; it's expected, really, and only poor ignorant women would ever think otherwise.  Which tells us a lot more about the people who make up the MSM then they would like us to know.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Today's post...

...is up at Coalition for Clarity:
In recent days, Dawn Eden, Mark Shea, and Simcha Fisher have been writing about anti-Semitism, especially a form of loud Internet anti-Semitism that tends to be associated with self-described Traditional Catholics.

Please note the careful phrasing of the above.  Just because some people who describe themselves as Traditional Catholics say rather disgusting things about the Jewish people does not in any way mean that all who are drawn to the Extraordinary Form Mass hold these opinions, or that anti-Semitism is somehow a component of traditional Catholic beliefs.  I am not saying either of these things, nor should those who love the Extraordinary Form but rightly reject all anti-Semitism feel as though this post is still somehow directed at them.  It isn't.

Here are some things the Church has said that are relevant to this topic:
(Read the rest here.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You can't have both

Now, this might end up being an interesting test-case showing what happens when religious principles collide with the gay "marriage" agenda:
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Tuesday filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts, a Richland florist that refused to supply flowers to the same-sex marriage of a longtime customer.

Ferguson said he sent a March 28 letter to owner Barronelle Stutzman asking her to reconsider and supply flowers to customer Robert Ingersoll.  Through an attorney, Stutzman declined to change her position.

“As Attorney General, it is my job to enforce the laws of the state of Washington,” said Ferguson.  “Under the Consumer Protection Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation.  If a business provides a product or service to opposite-sex couples for their weddings, then it must provide same sex couples the same product or service.” [...]

An employee at Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts said late Tuesday that Stutzman was not present, adding:  “None of us will have any comment.”  Last month, Stutzman told KEPR-TV in the Tri-Cities:

“He (Ingersoll) said he decided to get married and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry.  I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’  We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.”

Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed, were decade-long customers of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts.  They went online with the refusal and the story went viral.  Stutzman refused to change her position, saying:  “It’s a personal conviction.  It’s not a matter of being right or wrong.  It’s my belief.”
 Why might this shape up to be an interesting test case?  Here's my completely inexpert opinion:

1.  In this case the state Attorney General is the one suing the florist, not the same-sex couple.  The Washington State AG apparently thinks it's his job to force people to support gay "marriage" in public even if they disagree in private.  But that pretty much makes a mockery of any notion of religious liberty, or even of the right of businesses to refuse service to customers for any reason at all, a right that businesses take seriously.

2. The men in question had been customers of this florist, and she hadn't had any problem selling them flowers for other occasions, so the state's claim that she's discriminating based on sexual orientation can only be understood as a state requirement that business owners must keep their disagreement with same-sex "marriage" to themselves.  In other words, it's pretty clear that the florist didn't refuse to sell flowers to these gay customers just for being gay.  But she told them it would violate her religious beliefs to provide flowers for their wedding--and if her faith is against same-sex "marriage" or teaches that it is a pernicious and diabolical lie to call two men or two women "married," how can the state force her to violate her religious beliefs to provide flowers for such an occasion?

3. Perhaps more troubling is the AG's insistence that if you provide a service for heterosexual customers, you must provide the same or similar service for same-sex customers or risk a lawsuit for illegal discrimination.  What if a florist didn't want to provide floral decorations for a convention run by the North American Man-Boy Love Association?  Would the fact that he or she provided floral arrangements for other voluntary associations automatically mean that only illegal discrimination would keep him or her from wanting his/her flower shop to do business with NAMBLA?

This case is definitely one to watch, and once again, it puts the lie to the often-repeated claim by gay "marriage" activists that gay "marriage" isn't going to interfere with anybody else's rights.  The truth is that you can either have same-sex marriage or religious freedom, but you can't have both.  Right now, only one of those two principles is mentioned in the Constitution, but I have no doubt that gay "marriage" activists would be fine with jettisoning the very notion of religious liberty, one of the principles on which our nation was founded, in the pursuit of their goals--because they see any religious teaching about the perverse sinfulness of homosexual acts as nothing more than bigotry, and they are not at all disinclined to use the power of the state to crush all opposition to their way of life.  And if religious liberty is a casualty of their war to redefine marriage, they really don't care.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Just a reminder

Today's blog post is here.

Homeschooling moms and writers of all ages: my Tuesday posts will feature free writing prompts.  Have fun with them! :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

A review of Rod Dreher's new book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

This evening, a package arrived in the mail for me: my pre-ordered copy of Rod Dreher's new book, titled The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

It was really exciting to get a real-life copy of this book, especially since I was one of the people who had the tremendous honor of reading this book when it was still in manuscript form.  It was such a privilege to see the book evolve during the process of its creation, and Rod should be very proud of what he has accomplished with this book.

Because I got to read the book a little early, I also got to write my review a little early.  Here, for anyone interested in buying and reading this book--and I hope you are!--is what I wrote:

A Tale of Two Siblings: A review of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming 

You may have heard that Rod Dreher’s new book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, is a tearjerker.  That is true.  I pride myself on not crying while reading books; it’s a lit. major thing.  But when Rod shared an early draft of the chapter chronicling his sister’s death, my tears started falling as I read--not gentle drips, but the sort of crying that alarms the family and causes shortages in the facial tissue supply.  This unwonted damp-eyed condition continued sporadically throughout my reading of the manuscript, and I defy anybody to read this book and not get at least a little misty-eyed at key points, even if you’re a lot tougher than I am.

    But it would be a mistake to think that this is ultimately a sad book, a book about loss and death.  Those are certainly parts of it, and nobody who has heard anything about The Little Way of Ruthie Leming can pretend to be surprised by those parts.  This, however, is a story of hope and healing and life, an intimate look at a remarkable community and the people in it, a song in honor of the kind of place we all wish we were from or could return to; and at its heart, it is a tale of two siblings.

    One was Ruthie, a brown-eyed spunky girl who was as much at home hunting deer as gracing her high school’s homecoming court, a girl in love with her place and her people, who embraced life in St. Francisville, LA as if it were nearly obscene to imagine being happy anywhere else.  The other, of course, was Rod himself, enchanted from his earliest childhood by his great-aunts’ stories of faraway places with magical names like Paris or Tegucigalpa, cut out to be a great reader and a stubborn indoorsman, and slowly growing aware that the same place that made Ruthie say “Home,” with a shining light in her eyes was inexorably choking the life out of him.  High school was bullying and torment until a wonderful opportunity beckoned: a boarding school for gifted children, a school away from home.  It was the first time Rod would metaphorically shake his town’s dust from his feet, but it wouldn’t be the last.

    And that difference between Ruthie and her brother was a painful one, a point on which they simply couldn’t agree.  As life took Rod far away from a place called Starhill and the town of St. Francisville, Ruthie settled down there, marrying, having children, following her dream of teaching in a local school.  This place wasn’t just someplace she lived; it was her place.  It was home.  And for reasons she couldn’t understand, her brother had rejected it, choosing instead to live in places as strange as New York City and to make a living by writing, something that almost seemed dishonest from her perspective.  But to her brother, going away from St. Francisville meant finding people who didn’t think it was odd to drown yourself in books, to read and think and talk and write about big ideas, to care about applying those concepts to your own view of life and its important qualities, to write well for the sheer joy of it; going away from home meant survival, and life, and the realization that for him, too, there was the possibility of a community, albeit of a different type.

    But a strange symmetry was rising up between these two very different siblings.  For as Rod struggled with theological truths, religious practices, and ideas about God, Ruthie simply prayed, and simply believed.  And as Rod wrote a book passionately defending the old traditional ideas about home and family and education and food, Ruthie was simply living those things--or, truth be told, some of them; to the end, for instance, she dismissed her brother’s foodie habits as a fancy innovation that was as much an attack on her way of living as his family’s decision to homeschool.

    To the end.  And that end came so suddenly, and with so little warning, in the cruel form of lung cancer that struck this vital and happy woman from out of the blue, and for seemingly no reason at all.

    And it is here that The Little Way of Ruthie Leming defies its tearjerker reputation, because it’s not really a story of Ruthie being struck down by illness and death--it’s a story of her ability to embrace her illness with great faith, to refuse to her last day to give up or give in, to keep fighting and keep going, and to be as present to her family as she could be throughout her suffering.  And it’s a story of a remarkable group of people, her people, her hometown community, rising around her, surrounding her with love and care for the rest of her days, and sending her off, when the time came, in proper style, with the strangely regal mingling of love, laughter, and grief with which a people lays to rest a beloved daughter, one of their own.

    In this mystery of faith through suffering and love beyond death Rod witnessed something remarkable.  It was something he might never have appreciated if he had not left his hometown for so long, or been so often away from his sister’s side.  Ruthie was not, he is quick to say even today, some kind of plaster saint; she was a real person, with real flaws.  But the manner of her life, the type of Christian resignation (which is not a defeated thing at all) she showed in her death, and the real witness of love poured out by so many who knew her was a powerful thing, something all too rare in our world of grumpy empiricism.  And for the first time, Rod began to see beyond the hurts of the past to the truth of this place that had always sparked Ruthie’s enthusiastic love: this place with names just as magical as Paris or Tegucigalpa:

St. Francisville.



    So in the seeming ending that was Ruthie’s death, Rod and his family begin their new journey home, to be there for his own parents and Ruthie’s children, and to make a free and conscientious choice be part of this amazing community which, in all its quirky reality, is still a place full of love and hope.  Things don’t always work out as they might, and in real life neat, tidy endings would be more trite than happy.  Still, anyone who journeys with Rod along The Little Way of Ruthie Leming will be more uplifted than sad, and more joyful than sorrowful--and one gets the strong sense that Ruthie herself would insist on both of those things.

Brief housekeeping note

As I mentioned last week, I'm planning some changes for this blog.  Specifically, I realized not long ago that while I still post approximately five times a week here, I'm not posting nearly as often as I should on my two other blogs.  So the blog schedule going forward is going to be as follows:

And Sometimes Tea (this blog): posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on the topics of politics, religion, and culture.

Tales of Telmaja (my book blog): posts on Tuesdays about writing and about getting children to read, and also about issues related to children and entertainment generally.

Coalition for Clarity: posts on Thursdays about social justice issues from a Catholic perspective.

I think moving to this schedule will allow me to focus my efforts a bit better and also free up a little more time for my fiction writing pursuits, which have not moved ahead as quickly as I had hoped.

And, as always, I reserve the right to change my mind. :)  But we'll see how this works.

Friday, April 5, 2013

There really are two Americas

I'm sure you've seen this story by now:
A family's criticism of inflight entertainment allegedly prompted a United flight to be diverted over "security concerns."

In a story published in The Atlantic, one family recounts traveling from Denver to Baltimore with two young sons, ages 4 and 8. During the flight, the PG-13-rated detective film "Alex Cross" was shown on drop-down monitors across the plane.

The family worried about their young children seeing inappropriate content in the film.
"Alarmed by the opening scenes, we asked two flight attendants if they could turn off the monitor; both claimed it was not possible," the family said, according to The Atlantic.

After some back and forth between the family and the flight crew, the family reportedly relented to the movie being shown and did their best to engage their children to keep them from watching the movie.

"We asked if the captain has the authority to address this issue, but received no response," the family said. "Throughout these interactions the atmosphere was collegial, no voices were raised and no threats, implicit or explicit, of any kind were made. The flight continued without incident, while my wife and I engaged our children to divert their attention from the horrific scenes on the movie screens."

But shortly after that, the captain announced the flight was being diverted to a Chicago airport due to "security concerns." 

When the family disembarked, they were questioned by law enforcement officials then booked on a new flight.
Just in case you were wondering, here's some of what happens in the movie in question:
Parents need to know that Alex Cross is a quasi-prequel to the other James Patterson-based dramas featuring a much-older Cross (played by Morgan Freeman in Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls). The younger version of Cross (played by Tyler Perry) is even more willing to chase criminals and do what's necessary to stop them -- and that doesn't necessarily mean getting them behind bars. The violence isn't as extreme as, say, a Quentin Tarantino movie, but it's probably equivalent to one of the newer Bond films. In other words, it's not just shootouts, but also scenes of torture, a decapitated head, and a pregnant woman killed for pleasure by a villain who takes joy in inflicting pain. Even iffier? In the end, the movie's message seems to be that even officers of the law sometimes need to take a morally questionable path toward justice. Also expect some language ("s--t," etc.), a scene with a lingerie-clad woman, and lots of GM vehicles.
It was apparently the scenes showing sadistic torture and violence that had the parents worried; even if their children couldn't hear the dialog, it's pretty hard to ignore an in-flight movie on one of those big, drop-down screens (as opposed to the newer individual monitors on some flights).  The parents were right to complain about this; when you're on a plane, you're pretty much a hostage to what's being shown on an in-flight movie screen.

But what really gets me about this story is that the comments I've seen on various articles dealing with it take two very divergent tacks: one group is just as outraged as the parents over this sort of thing being shown on a flight (especially since young children were present), while the other thinks the parents are spoiled modern parents who think the world revolves around their kids.  A common theme from the second group: if you don't want your kids seeing torture scenes and partial nudity on a plane flight, tell them not to look.  It's your job, not society's, to protect your little knee-biters and rug rats from the world of the adults.

And that's pretty much exactly backwards to what people of many cultures and societies used to believe.  Many cultures had this idea--crazy, I know!--that children didn't need to see, hear, witness, or spend time thinking about graphic violence and explicit sex acts.  In those cultures, children weren't exposed to magazines in the checkout lane featuring half-nude women and salacious article titles about sex tips, shocking as it may seem to us; they also didn't have to see blood-spatter on screens or grow up thinking that watching someone who is shooting people or cutting their heads off or otherwise murdering or torturing them in violent ways is an acceptable form of lighthearted entertainment.  While we may think it was sadly backward of them, those cultures thought that an immersion in sex and violence during a child's formative years wasn't particularly good for the child or for society.  Now, of course, we know that only guns kill people, and that slaking an unquenchable thirst for virtual blood never, ever translates into actual violent impulses; and as for sex, why, any 8-year-old worth his salt is five years or less from diving into the cesspool of teenage promiscuity, so what harm does it do him to watch on-screen simulations a few years earlier?

At least, roughly half of the people commenting on this news story seem to be of the mindset I've just described above.  The rest of us still think that unrelenting graphic violence and sex scenes aren't terribly appropriate for the younger set, and that showing such films on an airplane, of all places, where parents can't exactly get up and leave with their young children is just crazy.

So why the divide?

Because about half of America still thinks that parents who are raising their children ought not to have their job actively impeded by society, but should, instead, be helped by society whenever possible to raise upright, intelligent, morally healthy young men and women.  And the other half of America thinks that morality is optional, virtue is outdated, goodness is whatever you think it is, and that having children is just a lifestyle choice which ought not to inconvenience anybody but those choosing to make it.

There really are two Americas.  And the America that thinks children are an unnecessary and annoying excrescence who should put up with whatever sewer-slime the adults around them are rolling in and consuming is the America that is winning the culture war.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Posting today...

...at the Coalition for Clarity blog:

Justice and mercy shall meet

Should a prisoner in Saudi Arabia have his spinal cord severed after spending ten years in jail for a crime against his own best friend ten years ago, when he was 14?  Come over to C4C and read the whole thing, if you are interested!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Do you remember Thomas Beatie, the transgendered man who was born a woman and who kept his--er, her--er his? female reproductive organs so that she--er, he--er, she?  could give birth to children with his--er, her--oh, forget it: with Beatie's wife who can't have children.  The children's actual father is a sperm donor, just so we're clear, but Beatie claims to be the children's father in that special way that only a woman who thinks she's a man who actually gave birth three times can be.

Well, Beatie wants a divorce, but that troglodyte state known as Arizona won't give Beatie one.  Arizona, the big meanie, says that Beatie is a woman and that they don't recognize same-sex marriages as valid; thus they don't have the power to grant same-sex divorces, even if one of the women considers herself a man and has had some surgery to make herself look more like one--though that surgery stopped short of removing her reproductive organs or her ability to give birth.

Confused yet?  It gets better.  Beatie, trying to make sure that Beatie's name becomes synonymous with the word "chutzpah," says the courts by denying Beatie a divorce are--wait for it--going to mess up Beatie's children:
Beatie, who plans to appeal the ruling in his divorce case, was born a woman and later underwent a double-mastectomy and began testosterone hormone therapy to become a man, but retained female reproductive organs and gave birth to three children. He married his partner Nancy in early 2003 in Honolulu and became pregnant because Nancy was unable to have children. Thomas Beatie conceived with donated sperm. The couple eventually moved to Arizona.
"Imagine what this is doing to my children," Beatie said as he held the hand of his girlfriend of one year. "In time, they are going to look back and see that a court said that's not your daddy. I'm sorry, that's who I am. I am my children's father."

I'm almost speechless.  Almost.

Imagine this: you are a woman who wants to be a man but not to the extent of removing your reproductive organs because you want to have children in an odd arrangement with your romantic female partner and the kind of "father" who pleasured himself and collected the results in a test tube, and you go on to have three such children, and then you think that the biggest possible harm being done to your children is that you are not being granted a divorce by the state of Arizona because they won't play along with you and pretend you're a man?

Unbelievable.  But this is the world we live in, where the unlimited right to define yourself and your relationships apart from any conceivable reality is not seen as harmful to your children; only the refusal of big ol' meanies like the state of Arizona to affirm you in your delusions can possibly do any harm.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Brief prayer request

I don't have a lot to write about today, and I'm planning some changes to my blogging schedule anyway, starting next week.  So could I just ask those of you who pray to join me in praying for an increase in Christian unity?

I think that one of the two messages Pope Francis has given us so far has been to continue Pope Emeritus Benedict's work to try to bring about unity between the Churches of the East and the West.  More and more I think that however impossible this may seem, we, or our children or grandchildren, may see the end of the great division between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.  Wouldn't that be amazing?

And I also think that the time may come soon for an increase in unity between Protestant Christians and Catholics.  We are already largely united in battle against the forces of anti-religious secularism, and as those battles increase our unity must also, if we are to prevail.

I don't really know why I feel compelled to pray for this intention at this time, but I do.  So I've started adding in a prayer here and there in my daily prayers for an increase in Christian unity and for the Holy Spirit to bring back all of His children to work and pray and strive together.  If you'd like to join me, please do!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Hand-wringing over the foot-washing

On to the foot-washing thing: and this post is NOT an April Fool's Day prank, just so everybody's all clear on that. :)

Since I don't usually blog during the Triduum, I missed a lot of the controversy which occurred when Pope Francis washed the feet of two female prisoners on Holy Thursday.  As everybody knows, the Holy Thursday Mandatum, or the ceremonial washing of men's feet, has been a part of Holy Thursday Mass since the ancient and venerable year of...1955...

...wait, what?

Wikipedia has its faults, but there doesn't appear to be anything at all inaccurate about this:
In Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which celebrates in a special way the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles.

Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the twelfth century, when "the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner."[3]

From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet unconnected with the Mass. The 1955 revision by Pope Pius XII inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1–15). [All links and citations in the original--E.M.]

Hmmm.  Okay, then.  But clearly this custom has always been all about the ordination of the Apostles as the Church's first priests, right?

Well, not exactly.  According to blogger Jennifer Miller, who cites a book titled The Easter Book by Father Francis Weiser, the Mandatum used to include not only religious superiors, bishops, priests, etc. washing the feet of some of their subordinates, but also Christian kings, queens, emperors, and other nobility who would wash the feet of some of their poor subjects (and queens, of course, would wash the feet of poor women when they would practice this custom).

Okay, okay.  But eventually the Church cracked down, formalized the ritual, and made sure everybody knew it was all about the priesthood, yes?

Well, no:
In the pre-1955 ritual, the Washing of the Feet, commonly known as the “Mandatum”, from the first word of the first antiphon sung during the washing, is done as a separate service from the Mass. After the stripping of the Altar is complete, and generally after a break of some hours, the clergy and servers go in procession to a place set aside for the Mandatum. (The service was often done immediately after Vespers, but it was not obligatory for the Vespers to precede.) If there is no other place where the Mandatum may be conveniently done, it may be done before the main altar of the church, but this is not the ideal practice.

The Gospel of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is repeated, with all of the ceremonies normally observed at a Solemn Mass. After this, the priest washes the feet of 12 men, wearing an apron as Our Lord Himself did at the Last Supper. As he comes before each of the twelve, the priests genuflects before him, in imitation of our Lord’s humility. The subdeacon kneels to hold up the foot of each of the 12 men as the priest washes it, and the deacon proffers a towel with which to dry it, after which the priest kisses it.

Sigh.  Okay, then, but at least they were still men getting their feet washed, even if it was happening outside of Mass, right?  And then the pope in 1955 made absolutely sure everybody knew that there were important theological reasons for men and only men to get their feet washed in church on Holy Thursday, right?

Again, not exactly:
Although the practice had fallen into disuse for a long time in parish celebrations, it was restored in 1955 by Pope Pius XII as a part of the general reform of Holy Week. At that time the traditional significance of the rite of foot washing was stated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the following words: "Where the washing of feet, to show the Lord's commandment about fraternal charity, is performed in a Church according to the rubrics of the restored Ordo of Holy Week, the faithful should be instructed on the profound meaning of this sacred rite and should be taught that it is only proper that they should abound in works of Christian charity on this day."

So, what do we have?

We have an optional part of the Holy Thursday Mass which was added to the Mass in 1955; prior to that the Mandatum took place outside of Mass, and in even earlier ages it included lay rulers washing the feet of their subjects as well as bishops, priests, etc. washing the feet both of other clergy and of lay people.  At least one form of the Mandatum seemed to center around washing the feet of beggars, paupers, or other lowly people, while the other form seemed to center around washing the feet of priests, deacons, or seminarians (some of whom might have received the minor orders); however, from about 1570 on the Mandatum specified 12 men, but said nothing about whether they were to be lay people or clergy, or whether, if lay people, they should be beggars or the poor.

The present instruction in the rubrics specifies men, but the number 12 is not included in the present instructions.  So if the number was specified in previous law, it was dropped at some point--and it would be interesting to learn whether there actually used to be a requirement that 12 men should participate, and, if so, at what point that requirement was changed (especially: did a decline in the number precede the change in the law, or did the change in the law precede the relaxing as to the number required?).

I will grant that people who are interested or confused by what Pope Francis did on Holy Thursday are not necessarily legalists or Pharisees.  Here in the United States, a group of loudmouthed agitators, some of whom, alas, were bishops, pushed to include women in the foot-washing thing under the mistaken impression that the Mandatum was always and everywhere about the priesthood.  Some of them rather sneakily declared that of course the Mandatum wasn't really about the priesthood, but about serving the lowly, and after all women were treated as lowly people by some Catholics in some ages past, so...

...and the joke is on them, really.  Because the Mandatum has always had these two parallel ideas associated with it.  When bishops washed the feet of 12 or 13 beggars after dinner on Holy Thursday they certainly weren't calling the beggars to the priesthood (at least, not right then and there), but reminding the faithful that they, their Lordships and Excellencies the Bishops, who wore fine clothes and were rather high up socially, had the same duty to kneel in the dirt and wash the calloused feet of filthy, ragged paupers that Christ had exhorted and modeled as the duty of all priests to His own Apostles: this is what Christian leaders are to do, what sets them apart from the worldly ideas of power.

So including women in the foot-washing doesn't in the least point to an impossible and silly idea that women should be priests.  All it does is say to the faithful that for right now we all need to remember that being a good Christian means, first and foremost, being willing to serve, even when we are outside of our comfort zones and faced with the lowly or oppressed or those we'd rather not serve.

And including women in this practice has some good precedents: what the Church opens up to lay men, she often opens at some point to lay women.  An example I've used before of this reality is that of the choir: once choirs were all clergy or possible future clergy (including young boys already in the seminary); then they started including lay men; eventually they started including lay women as well.  Perhaps there are those out there who think that all the Church's present problems started when women were allowed to sing at Mass, but I would venture to suggest that opinion is in the minority.  There are other examples of this sort of movement, and at times people have thought that the Church moved too hastily or too incautiously to allow women to do something that males had typically done before--but again, once lay males are allowed to do something, it seems to become less of an argument to say that the aspect of maleness is somehow more significant than the distinction between the clergy and the laity.  To give an example of what I mean, there were plenty of people wringing their hands over Pope Francis' decision to wash the feet of two women because they insisted that the maleness of the participants was necessary so as to point to the priesthood.  The fact that at most parishes men who are ineligible for the priesthood (in the West, anyway) by virtue of being married men are chosen was not seen as a significant drawback to this "pointing to the priesthood" aspect of the Mandatum: after all, some of the Apostles were married, and married men could be ordained someday, so...etc.  But that's why the Church gets to have the final say about those things that should be restricted to lay males only, and those things which lay men or lay women can do.

Now, I realize that what many people are upset with here is that the pope didn't say ahead of time that he was changing the rules, nor has he yet officially changed them.  I would point to the reality, though, that sometimes things mentioned in canon law do change before the law officially changes.  Consider the 1917 Code of Canon Law, number 1262, which read as follows:
1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.
2. Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.
It is interesting to note that both of these provisions in the law had fallen into widespread disuse long before the 1983 Code was promulgated; neither provision is mentioned in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and thus we may be reassured that men and women are not expected to sit separately in church.  Oh, yes, and women don't have to cover their heads.  But what was the status of those men and women who shamelessly sat together at Mass before 1983 (even if the women wore hats)?  Were they committing a sin to sit at Mass together?  Were their pastors in error for not informing them of the governing canon?  Were their bishops the ones responsible?  What about the popes during those years between the time when people obeyed this law and when husbands, wives, and their children of both sexes started occupying a single pew--should they have spoken out, or immediately issued an update to the law if they were okay with this practice?

As I learned last January through a series of conversational posts, it's a mistake to think of all of canon law as this uniform, equally unchangeable, static thing that has to be amended or updated before any variation can be made.  The confusing part for the average lay Catholic is that some of it is, and some of it isn't, and the people who get to decide what is and what isn't are usually one's lawful superiors in the Church: one's pastor, one's bishop, the pope.  Nobody thinks that Pope Francis sinned somehow by washing women's feet (well, okay, almost nobody; I haven't checked in with the folks at Rorate Coeli, for example).  Some people think he did some harm by being vague about this, by not changing the rules first and officially, or by setting a bad example that will make other people ignore parts of canon law they don't like.  The sad truth is that the liberal agitator types don't have any problem ignoring the bits even of Divine law they don't like, and have never been much constrained by canons (though perhaps cannons--oh, but it's Easter Monday, so I won't go there).  And I suspect that His Holiness will either quietly make an official change before next year's Holy Thursday, or else quietly wash the feet of priests or deacons or seminarians at a Mass inside St. John Lateran, so that any particular interest/approval/outrage over this will fizzle.

But those of us who have been somewhat traditional in our approach to Holy Thursday Mass should take heart in knowing that this Mandatum has had some different forms over the ages, and that it's not at all going to wreck things if women are officially allowed to be included.  In fact, I strongly suspect that it will be like the altar girl thing: celebrated by the people with pink womynpriest axes to grind, and then eventually muttered about when it becomes blindingly obvious yet again that letting lay women take part in something says absolutely nothing in favor of the silly, impossible idea of Catholic priestesses.  In fact, the more times lay women are allowed to do certain things in church, the more the agitators are going to have to realize that there's simply no way to sneak into the priesthood: the Church has declared definitively that she can't ordain women, and that's that.  In the end, the ones doing the hand-wringing over the female foot-washing may be the people who cling to the outmoded, outdated notion that any day now the Holy Spirit will overturn 2000 years of tradition and remake the Church in the agitators' images.  It's not going to happen, and Pope Francis is pretty clearly against any such notion.