Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very blessed and Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Just war and Christmas dinner conversations

Rod Dreher today warns the families of Harvard students that the kiddies are being sent home complete with a "placemat guide" on how to discuss sensitive issues with their families at the holiday dinner table. You really have to go here to read Rod's post and see the placemat image; no mere description can do it justice.

This gives me the perfect springboard for a post I've been planning for a while now; the person with whom I discussed this potential post (and who gave me the initial idea) knows who she is. :) The post idea came from the notion that while we always want to react as good Catholics to the less than Christian or charitable things that might get said around the Christmas dinner table, there may be natural limits to what we can say without escalating the situation.  I said that we really needed to apply Just War teaching to Christmas dinner table conversations, at which point this post went from being nebulous to inevitable.

To begin with, here, from Wikipedia, is a brief summary of the Catechism on Just War:
The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church - sometimes mistaken as a "just war theory"[16][17] - found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force":[18]
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).
Now, I don't in any way mean to take these principles lightly, but it occurred to me during my conversation with the person mentioned above that these are sound principles to apply to other situations as well, and in particular the situations that arise when, at a Christmas party or event of some kind, a relative or friend voices an opinion that is clearly outside of Christian teaching and thought.

Say, for instance, that the ordinarily kindly Uncle Isidore says, with a beam on his benevolent countenance, that all the refugees should be rounded up and sent home, or at least put into camps where they can't hurt anybody but each other. 

One's first impulse is going to be to engage dear Uncle Isidore in verbal combat--he is wrong, and you have Church teaching and quotes from the saints and your pastor's recent homily on the subject to back you up.

But perhaps discretion is the better part of valor? You decide to ponder the Just War principles as you make your decision:

1. Is the damage inflicted by Uncle Isidore's wrongheaded opinions going to be lasting, grave, or certain? Here we're not talking about the damage to Uncle Isidore himself, because when one of our brothers (or uncles, as the case might be) is wrong about something all the principles of fraternal correction argue in favor of a private conversation on the subject. We ourselves know that when we're wrong about an issue of moral significance we respond better to a one-on-one chat in an unthreatening environment, not an "all weapons fired" verbal assault at a family dinner party. Instead, we're talking about whether or not Uncle Isidore is doing damage to the other guests--the friends or neighbors who may not be Catholic, the young and impressionable, or even the other family members who though practicing Catholics are not all that well versed on what the Church teaches in regard to refugees or immigrants. If everybody knows Uncle Isidore well and takes all these things he says with an eye roll and a request for more gravy, we may have nothing to do. But suppose we have decided that, yes, our silence in the face of Uncle Isidore's statements may be taken as consent and that consent may scandalize somebody; it is now our duty to move on to:

2. Have all other means (apart from direct verbal engagement) been shown to be impractical or ineffective? It's one thing if Uncle Isidore is speaking during a moment of complete silence and if he clearly expects you personally to respond; but it's another if you can create reasonable doubt that you've even heard him, by asking Great-great Aunt Sophronia, perhaps, if the sweet potatoes are pureed enough for her, or by getting up to attend to something at the children's table (there's always something that needs to be attended to at the children's table!) or by waxing enthusiastic about your favorite Christmas carol that was sung last night at Midnight Mass (or earlier, provided that admitting you went to Mass before midnight on Christmas Eve won't be taken as a sign of the apocalypse by Cousin Justinian or somebody, which puts you right back in the hot seat). But what if dear sweet Uncle Isidore prefaced his remarks by insinuating that you've become a squishy liberal and has challenged you to respond? What if his remarks, in fact, were the throwing down of the verbal gauntlet? Do you charge? Not so fast--you still need to consider:

3.  Is there a serious prospect of success? If by "success" we mean actually getting Uncle Isidore to see that Church teaching sort of frowns on sending people who are desperately fleeing wars and violence back into the wars and violence, or (as an alternative) making them live in interment camps more or less permanently, then maybe not--at least not during a dinner table conversation (see the point about private fraternal correction above). But if by "success" we mean laying out those ideas for the others (who we reasonably think may be scandalized by Uncle Isidore's opinions) to consider while making it clear (though civilly) that we do not ourselves agree with him we may have a reasonable chance of succeeding. However, there's still one more step to consider:

4. Will our verbal engagement with Uncle Isidore lead to evils and disorders greater than the evil we're trying to eliminate (that is, the possibility that some may be confused or scandalized both by Uncle Isidore's statements and our apparent tacit consent to them)? This is where it really gets tricky, because as everybody who has ever participated in such a family dinner table discussion before knows that sides get taken, lines get drawn, feelings get hurt, and people who haven't thought deeply about refugees before this moment may be drawn by family loyalty or a host of other things to defend Uncle Isidore to the hilt. Now, it's also possible that Uncle Isidore will clarify and say that he only meant that those refugees who can't pass our screening tests should go back, or be kept under watch, which may even be a reasonable opinion, and we should consider the odds of an outcome like that as well, when we're making our calculations.

Of course, in the actual Just War doctrine, we know that some weapons are disproportionately harmful and we must not use them. I mention this in case anybody, in the midst of these calculations, is tempted to employ the nuclear option of asking Great-great Aunt Sophronia to recall a childhood Christmas memory. True, Great-great Aunt Sophronia will immediately launch into her favorite and oft-told anecdote about how her whole family crawled backwards on their knees up a snow-covered hill for two miles to get to Midnight Mass, and how her little brother Mickey, a new altar server that year, believed those awful Sullivan boys who told him that to receive at Midnight Mass he had to fast from 9 a.m. Christmas Eve day, with the result that when he knelt to receive Communion he fainted and bashed his head open on a marble protrusion, and had to get seventeen--or was it eighteen?--no, seventeen stitches and spend the rest of Christmas vacation in bed with a concussion. But this will lead to immediate and forceful arguing about topics ranging from public transportation to Vatican II to Communion fasts to receiving Communion on the tongue while kneeling vs. Communion in the hand while standing to affordable health care to whether relabeling Christmas Vacation "Winter Break" is yet another sign of the apocalypse. Thus, it is far better not to deploy this particular weapon at all, since it clearly leads to ills greater than the one we were trying originally to avoid. 

Still busy...

...but don't miss this: an account written by an ex-intern at Church Militant:
Through this influence, for four and a half of five years, I had an uncontrolled fiery passion for all things Catholic. I told people "the way it is," and if they didn't like it, take it up with God. For me, everything was black and white, Good Catholic vs. Bad Catholic. I believed the Body of Christ was 90% cancerous with modernist heretics and estrogen-filled men who wanted to dialogue with sin and falsehood, and it needed a good amputating so we could purify the Church.
In my mind, the Pope needed to excommunicate the vast majority of cardinals and bishops to save the Church from their evil teachings. Catholics both clerical and lay needed to be penalized and reformed. We needed to go back to mandatory kneeling and Eucharistic reception on the tongue, more Latin in Mass than the average Roman citizen could speak, and so much incense you couldn't see the person in front of you (I still wouldn't mind this one, mostly for the smell.)
I was an ardent defender of the Truth, and I viciously attacked anyone who dared question someone like my main hero, Michael Voris.
Four years of living my Catholic faith like that was dispelled in four months. And how did that happen? It's quite simple, really.
I worked at Church Militant. [...]
My head continued to swim with all these questions, and the more I questioned what we did, the less visibly loyal I became in the office. I began openly questioning why we were going to publish this or that information, and what good it would do, in the end. Needless to say, this was not appreciated.
After a little over two months of working there, my attitude and perspective had changed almost completely. I had come to believe that the public bashing (not to be confused with occasional respectful disagreement) of a cleric is immoral. I had become a regular viewer of Bishop Robert Barron (seen as nothing less than an enemy of the truth at Church Militant,) and I had decided that perhaps bishops and cardinals who weren't completely orthodox weren't terrible people after all. Despite theological issues, I believed they ultimately had good intentions. This was a breakthrough in my mindset which had been taught by Church Militant to believe these men were literally evil and intentionally trying to destroy the Church.

I realize that we laypeople struggle with this sort of thing all the time. How much is too much, when we're criticizing a local prelate or talking about a parish issue? How do we know when it's okay to go public with the details of any particular situation? What is the difference between mere venting, constructive criticism, or possibly sinful detraction?

Those aren't always easy things to discern. But I think the young writer of the blog post linked to above has zeroed in on something important: when you are in the business (that is, the actual making of money) of stirring up controversy in the Church, you'd better be clear on a daily basis about your motives.

It doesn't matter if you make a pittance. It doesn't matter if the sum total of your earnings is just a few dollars from blog sidebar ads. If you make money by commenting, as a lay person, on the Church herself as well as on matters of faith and morals, you owe it to yourself and your audience to make sure on a daily basis that you are not stirring up controversies for the sake of clicks or page views or the watching of videos.

I myself have at times been guilty of intemperate speech in my writings. It is a small comfort that I have done so as a completely unpaid nobody in the Catholic blogging world. With blogging in decline, it might be vastly tempting, were one paid to write, to play the faux outrage game with just about everything, because outrage sells pretty well among the Catholics of my generation. We can, however, be better than that--and as Catholics, we have the moral duty to try to be.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Desultory December blogging

The problem with promising to blog regularly as soon as National Novel Writing Month is over is that as soon as NaNoWriMo is over, there are only twenty-five days left until Christmas.

One of these years I'm going to figure out how to do all of these things simultaneously. But for now, blogging is just going to continue to be a bit desultory.

And what's desultory blogging without a cat picture?

Smidge, by the way, would like you to know that that is NOT a balloon string in front of his face. He does NOT try to play with the balloon that Kitten bought me on my birthday; adult cats do not demean themselves by sneaking off at every opportunity to wage fierce imaginary warfare on EBIL BALLOON STRINGS OF DOOM!!! or anything like that. That's his story, and he's sticking to it. :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Holy Day NON-Rant post

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception! I hope you were able to make it to Mass today (or will still be able to go tonight).

We went last night! Yes, our little mission parish has its vigil Mass back (at least, for this feast day).

I've ranted a lot in recent years about the loss of vigil Masses for Holy Days of Obligation. While I understand that priests have lots of obligations especially in places (such as Texas) where parishes are spread out and priests sometimes serve more than one church, I also have felt the frustration of looking at available Mass times in a thirty-mile radius of where I live and saying, "Impossible. Impossible. Impossible. Nearly impossible. Excruciatingly difficult. Impossible..." and then shooting for the "excruciatingly difficult" option, with the "nearly impossible" option on standby in case the excruciatingly difficult option falls through at the last minute.

Last night's vigil Mass was merely difficult (not excruciatingly so, let alone impossible). It meant some people leaving work a bit early and others rushing home to after classes etc., but it could be done, and we did it. We had a "plan B" in the form of tonight's Mass at our nearest church for some of us if we couldn't all make it together as a family last night, but since we ended up being able to make it as a family and to sing with our choir it made the Mass feel special to me--it has been a while since that has been possible for us on a Holy Day of Obligation.

And because I wasn't, for the first time in a while, either darting in at the last minute or anxiously watching the time so people could leave in time to get to work or school, I actually listened with something approaching attention to the readings and the Gospel, and I noticed for the first time the neat parallel between the first reading and that Gospel: our first parents sinned by disobeying and eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, and the fruit of their sin is Original Sin and death; Mary, the new Eve, pronounces her "Fiat" to God's will, and the fruit of her obedience (in a manner of speaking) is the Incarnation--and this "fruit of thy womb, Jesus," will negate the eternal consequences for us of the fruit of Adam and Eve's sin.  Hardly earthshaking, and you could probably shake a tree on the campus of any good Catholic college and find a few dozen first-year theology majors who could explain this better and much more clearly, but it was still a nice thing to sit and think about for a few minutes last night.

So I'm just grateful to have the vigil Mass for the Holy Day option back again (and at a time that is remotely possible--the other problem we've had with the occasional vigil Mass is that sometimes they are scheduled far too early. I've said it before, but I honestly think that some people who work in Catholic parishes are unaware that the vast majority of their working parishioners no longer leave work promptly at 5 p.m. each night). We had a bigger crowd last night than I remember in a while, too, so clearly we're not the only people who need this option.

How about you? Was it hard to find a Mass where you live? Can you go to Holy Day Masses as a family for the most part, or do you usually have to attend split Masses to make the obligation?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A lovely birthday

I have had a truly lovely birthday today!

Middle-of-the-week birthdays are quiet. People are at work and school, so we usually do our celebrating in the evening.  But I had a very nice walk with Hatchick around our nearby lake this afternoon; the weather was gorgeous!

Later I chatted with family members on the phone as I put together a simple lasagna for dinner (my choice; everyone's always willing to pitch in and/or order out, but this was what I really wanted to do today). Thad came home a little early (which I always appreciate), and then Kitten and Bookgirl arrived from work and school respectively bearing flowers, a balloon, and a birthday tablecloth and plates to go with the general birthday decor (which they all put up this morning).

Then we commenced the party with dinner. They showered me with presents, spoiling me rotten! Afterwards we relaxed with some fun TV, and enjoyed a carrot cake as the grand finale:

Sometimes the quiet birthdays are the loveliest, especially when they're filled with so much love. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Of blogs and fiction

National Novel Writing Month 2015 ended Nov. 30 at 11:59 p.m., and so the only excuse I have for not blogging yesterday is that it takes me a bit of time to transition from fiction writing to opinionated ranting. Should be back online with that shortly, but please excuse any strange lapses into civility, politeness, or attempted dialog.


So, there's this:

I actually got to 50K with about ten days to spare, and at ten minutes to midnight on Monday night I managed to finish the whole first draft of A Smijj of Havoc, with a final word count of just over 83,000 words.

I have to admit it: I love writing fiction. I enjoy blogging, too, but for me the joy of daily blogging was greater back when there seemed to be more of a "Catholic blogging community" out there. These days, Catholic bloggers are dropping like flies. Some are just shifting platforms, while others are giving up altogether. And I get that; when people don't bother to read your blog and act all annoyed if you don't just a) post a blog link on Facebook and b) pay no attention if a flock of commenters then uses the post as an excuse to repeat their favorite Catholic Blog Rants even if those have nothing to do with your post, it can be hard to keep going.

And that's before we even talk about the reality that many people jumped on the "blog for money" bandwagon back when it was a shiny new bandwagon full of glittering promise, only to wake up a decade later and find out that the blogging bandwagon industry has gone the way of the buggy whip, so to speak. One of the great things about being a Tiny Insignificant Catholic Blogger is that I have never made a dime doing this, and never will. I'd love to make money as a fiction writer someday (and have started to make just a dribble of it), but somehow that seems different--maybe because when I publish a book I create an actual product to sell instead of shooting off my mouth the same way I used to back when telephones still had cords, with the difference being that I used to have to call multiple people if I wanted to distribute my rants over a wider audience, and now I can freely rant to anybody who is still reading (and, surprisingly, some of you still are).

And Sometimes Tea may not be updated as close to daily as it used to be, but I'm not planning on quitting. So long as there are still people willing to argue, discuss, and engage on issues of faith and culture I'll be here. I hope you'll keep reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pernicious nonsense

Hi, there! I'm NOT blogging just now. No, really. I'm almost at 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo and I should be crossing that line today. Plus I want to finish the manuscript so I'm shooting for 70,000 words, but that's my own private insanity that shouldn't trouble anyone else.

However, someone shared this piece by Taylor Marshall with me on Facebook and asked me to comment. So I did. Quickly and off-the-cuff. And then someone else asked me to share those comments here.

So: this is not a blog post. It is quite literally what I just put up on Facebook with the slight alteration of the link placement.  I'm not even changing the font:

I had someone ask what I thought of this piece. My reply: it's pernicious nonsense. I'm not blogging just now because fiction writing is taking up all of my time, but here's a few random observations:
1. There are, according to the UN, 9 million Syrian refugees. Even if every one of them was an observant Muslim bent on imposing Sharia law on America, and even if our nation granted them instant citizenship (two very big "ifs"), there aren't enough of them to create a 51% voting majority. Now, perhaps Marshall is arguing that eventually there will be enough of them to do this (given a few generations and assuming no American assimilation whatsoever). But I'm pretty sure St. Thomas Aquinas wouldn't allow us to neglect charity in the present to avoid, preemptively, a potential future ill.
2. It is arguably true that a greater threat to the common good of our nation (as Catholics understand it) exists right now from militant secularists who are already voting in their own "Sharia law" of sexual license and rampant immorality (and taking steps to punish those who disagree). Yet these, mostly, are our fellow citizens by birth. I do not think St. Thomas Aquinas would advise us to go all Maccabees on reckless secular humanist revolutionaries' hindquarters even though they threaten public morality and virtue way more than a Syrian widow and her children do. It would sort of be against order and whatnot.
3. Marshall falls off the rails with his "homeless person" analogy and his "Good Samaritan = hotel accommodations" analogy. To take the latter first, the Samaritan paid to put the wounded man up in a hotel because the Samaritan was traveling on business and presumably far from home, not because he cravenly feared having a wounded man in his house, which is so blindingly obvious I'm surprised it even has to be said. To go back to the first: I think that it depends on who the "homeless person" is. If you refuse to open your home to a homeless person who happens to be, say, your own son, brother, nephew, cousin etc. who is in dire need and who promises to respect your property and live according to your house rules (and you have no legitimate reason to suppose he won't keep those promises) then you would indeed be sinning against charity if you refused. But how does that relate to the analogy of the refugee? No one is demanding that we turn our homes into *either* homeless shelters OR refugee shelters. Some extraordinary individuals actually do invite the homeless or a refugee to share their homes, and this heroic charity models Christ better than all of our fearful formulations do. But such an act of charity remains the proper discernment of the individual. What the Christian *state* ought to do, in terms of both homeless shelters and refugee populations, is ask itself, "How can I welcome the stranger?" not "How can I make sure that none of my personal tax dollars are going to bums or Muslims?" Alas, we are not a Christian state.

Okay, then! Back to noveling. :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

What if the pope doesn't like you? Or, guest post # 2: my sister writes again!

My awesome sister, Heather Sprinkle, wrote a guest post for this blog last week that was quite well-received. She has sent a second installment that I'm sure you will also enjoy! I appreciate so much that she is willing to write a few posts for me during National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. November) because right now I'm about 38,000 words into a space adventure in the middle of a war involving people who move ships by teleportation (otherwise known as: Tales of Telmaja; see the sidebar for links to more information especially regarding the three books in this series I've already published!). So having Heather's take on some of the ongoing issues in the Church and the world to share with all of you is especially nice!

So here, without further ado, is her latest:

What If the Pope Doesn’t Like You? 
Heather Sprinkle

Edward Pentin wrote a post on his blog at the National Catholic Register titled: “Pope Francis on Keys to Authentic Christian Humanism” in which he focuses on the Holy Father’s apparent dislike of “conservatism and fundamentalism.” Pope Francis, according to Pentin, was addressing the Italian Church in Florence in “a lengthy address,” but Pentin’s quotes largely deal with the Pope’s rejection of conservatism and fundamentalism as demonstrated by what the Holy Father defines as Pelagianism and Gnosticism.

Cue the wails of those leaning toward sola historica. Comments immediately ensued moaning about the state of the Church, the imminent preaching of heresy at the highest levels, fear for the future, and just how horrible horrible horrible this pope of ours is.

And I started to wonder: What if the Pope doesn’t like me?

Yeah, just think about that for a minute. We all want to be liked, don’t we? We want to be affirmed in our okayness and esteemed. And it’s personal. It really is. When the Pope; someone we should respect and to whom we should give the benefit of the doubt says, according to Pentin, “…it is useless to look for solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of practices and outdated forms that even culturally aren’t able to be meaningful,” it seems like he’s looking right at those of us who care about the historical forms and practices of the Church and saying, “I don’t like you. Your insistence on dressing nicely for Mass is meaningless. Your study of Gregorian Chant is a waste of time. Your organization of forty hours devotions is obstructionist.”

What to do, what to do…? Well, what not to do is get upset and call the Pope ugly names. What not to do is assume that a) you have the whole story, and b) the Pope is addressing you personally and c) that you are one hundred percent perfectly totally right in your interpretation of the Holy Father’s words. Maybe a little examination of conscience is in order. You know, it’s possible to go to Mass nicely dressed and spend time looking down on, and feeling sorry for those poor dweebs who don’t know any better, isn’t it? It’s possible to give a great appearance of being good so as to become a burden to those who look to you for an example but can’t measure up to your perceived perfection. It’s possible to get so caught up in this novena or that appearance of Our Lady that we spend too much time measuring our lives against certain promises that we forget to live. Maybe a little perspective is in order. The Holy Father has a world full of children to minister. Just because we have instant access to nearly every word that drops from his lips doesn’t mean that every word is directed to us, personally. In other words, “It’s not about you!” Remember there was a time prior to the internet when this address of the Pope’s would have been recorded by a journalist, archived, and forgotten until an official biographer dug it up.

But what if the Pope really doesn’t like you? Does it really matter? I mean if you’re respectful of his official words, mindful of the unchanging and unchangeable teachings of Holy Mother Church, doing your best to be the best Christian you can be, day by day, always learning and growing in the Faith, then what can it matter? None of us is so important that the Pope has to like us or the Church will suffer. None of the “practices and outdated forms” we like or find meaningful or spiritually healthy are so essential that the Pope has to like them or the Church will suffer. Those leaning toward a sola historica mentality often accuse ordinary Catholics who give the Pope the benefit of the doubt of “popolotry.” Yet it seems to me that getting upset about everything he says is just as bad as thinking everything the Pope says is Inspired-by-God. It’s another kind of popolotry. So what if the Pope doesn’t like us? He doesn’t have to. My wise mother taught me that we don’t have to like anybody; we just have to love everybody. So as long as the Holy Father love us, and we him, we’re all good.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sola historica--a guest post!

I'm so sorry it took me all day to find the time to put up the guest post that I told you about on Friday. Here it is!


Heather Sprinkle

Modernism, that heresy of “anything goes,” has been with us a long time. Condemned in 1907 and 1910 by Pope St. Pius X, it essentially holds that the Church must change with the times. It has reached its tendrils into all aspects of Catholic thought where that thought informs the sciences and modern life. It even seems that it has now been around long enough to engender a reaction that goes beyond a vigorous opposition. This reaction is Modernism’s counterpart; its “equal and opposite,” so to speak. This trend of thought in its most extreme form engenders a break with the Church as with the Pius X groups or their more extreme brethren. It also has a form which is becoming more prevalent, or at least more vocal. This trend of thought has certain characteristics that both align it to and set it apart from Modernism, as well as some distinct dangers to the faith of its own.

This growing trend has been noticed with some concern by other Catholics who have tried to define just what they think is going on. For example, it has been called neo-Pelagian in nature, perhaps because of its appearance of relying more on forms of virtue than on indwelling grace to achieve salvation. This characterization, I think, fails to grasp the essence of this trend and only looks at the externals. Jansenism is another possible characterization, with its rigid morality and emphasis on the difficulty of attaining salvation. This may be somewhat accurate, but it also fails to tell the whole story.

This new trend of thought has several important aspects which characterize it.

One: A deep distrust of modern Church leadership that goes beyond merely having rational concerns about this or that individual prelate. It evinces a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality and also “guilt by association.” It often assumes the worst possible interpretation of a prelate’s actions or words. For example, you might hear something like, “Cdl. Kasper is a liberal theologian. Pope Francis obviously likes him. Therefore Pope Francis must have a secret Modernist agenda.”

Two: A dislike of both Vatican II and the Novus Ordo that goes beyond rational concerns about the wording of this document or that prayer. You might read something calling the Novus Ordo illicit, or Vatican II heretical.

Three: An impressive knowledge of Church history and doctrine, coupled with a willingness to use that knowledge to make accusations of heresy regardless of the dictates of charity. You might hear, “That interview proves that Pope Francis is promulgating heresy. St. Thomas Aquinas makes it perfectly clear. We have a duty to warn the faithful!”

Four: A willingness to tolerate certain sins for what is perceived to be the greater good. Arrogance is perceived as strength, wrath is always righteous, and rumor and gossip are the only means to the truth.

Five: A belief in a sort of crypto-Church. This one’s a bit difficult to explain, but essentially it is the belief that the post Vatican II Church is in all important aspects a new religion, though the old true Church still exists underneath, protected and passed down by her faithful few who reside in a type of mental catacomb.

All of these beliefs combine to form a trend of thought that, while it may have its roots in a resistance to Modernism, has become something else, something that like Modernism can be a danger to the faithful. It is a mentality of, perhaps, sola historica: a divorce from the entirety of Catholicism and a reliance on bits and pieces of Church history and doctrine, read and studied but used not to deepen faith and understand the Church as a whole, but to do war on a church that is increasingly perceived as an enemy. It foments distrust, derision and despite between laity and leadership and ignites fear and confusion. It cannot be Catholic. It must be resisted.


--Heather Sprinkle writes from the Midwest, where she has been attending the Extraordinary Form Mass for over twenty years. (She is also my awesome older sister, the mother of seven of my nephews, and the kind of homeschooling mother who makes the rest of us look like pikers.) 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Watch this space

I've been working hard on my new NaNoWriMo novel, but I wanted to pop in here for a second to tell you that I'm going to have a guest-poster on Monday!  She has written something that I think is a really interesting look at the various reactions we're seeing to Pope Francis and his endeavors. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

On Sunday, Nov. 1, National Novel Writing Month 2015 will begin.  Which means it's about to get even quieter around this blog than it has been.

This will be my ninth year participating, and I'm going to be writing the first draft of Book Seven of the Tales of Telmaja series.  I hope to have good news soon about the publication of Book Four, which means I only have two unedited manuscripts in the series to work on (well, until December, anyway, when Book Seven will join the queue).

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year and want to add me to your "buddy" list, my nickname over there is the same as it is here: Red Cardigan.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 26, 2015

A few things I wish everybody knew about migraines

This past Friday, I ended up in bed with the worst migraine I'd had in a while.  I blame the rain that rolled through Texas at the end of last week; others of my migraine-prone friends and family members who live in this area were suffering too.

I went through my usual emotions of frustration and irritation. I hate missing a whole day because of a migraine.  I hate missing parts of days, too, which happens a lot more often.  But I'm lucky, after all--my husband is used to migraines because his mom had them for years; one of my daughters (so far) seems to have inherited the "migraine gene," and lots of my sisters and friends in the area are also among the millions of Americans who suffer from migraines.

Why am I lucky? It's not because misery loves company; most of us who have migraines wouldn't wish them on our worst enemies, let alone our siblings or children. No, I'm lucky because being surrounded by people who either get migraines themselves or are closely connected with people who do means that I don't have to spend a lot of time clearing up misunderstandings about migraines.

It occurred to me, though, on Friday, when I was lying in a dark room with ice in a kitchen towel feeling physical pain with each flash of lightening and the louder roars of thunder, that other migraine sufferers aren't that lucky.  For their sake, I'd like to share a few things that I wish everybody knew about migraines, in no particular order:

1. Migraines are not "a bad headache."  Everybody gets bad headaches sometimes. They're no fun, certainly.  But when someone equates migraines with "a bad headache" and further implies that the sufferer just needs a brisk walk or a hearty snack to be able to get back to normal, they really aren't helping the situation.  Here's what one website says about migraines:
Migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms. For many people the main feature is a painful headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick and vomiting. Migraines can be very frightening and may result in you having to lie still for several hours.
The symptoms will vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks. Your attacks may differ in length and frequency. Migraines usually last from 4 to 72 hours and most people are free from symptoms between attacks. Migraines can have an enormous impact on your work, family and social lives.
2. Migraines are not all alike. You may know somebody who gets the kind of migraine where he or she (more sufferers are women, but I've known men who suffer terribly from them) must go to bed for 12 hours but is then fine, and who only gets these migraines once or twice a year, but that doesn't mean that someone else is exaggerating if he or she ends up in bed for three days or gets migraines weekly.  There is even a kind of migraine, the Status Migrainosus, which is a debilitating migraine that can last for weeks--the pain can occasionally be so bad that the person must be hospitalized.

3. The affects of a migraine can vary person to person and attack to attack.  For instance, I'm still catching up on emails etc. from last Friday because it wasn't a terribly good idea for me to spend time looking at a computer screen until today.  However, with my more ordinary, garden-variety migraines I can often spend a limited amount of time on the computer--so long as I'm sitting still and don't mind correcting tons of stupid spelling mistakes, because I often lose my ability to spell correctly when I'm in migraine mode.  Others I know have similar limits regarding what they can or can't do on any given day.

4.  Because of those limits, some people who suffer from migraines are sort of hesitant to make long-range plans or commitments, especially when these involve optional (as opposed to mandatory work-related, school-related, etc.) activities.  I personally tend to cringe when people ask me if I can join an activity a couple of weeks ahead, or sign up for a weekly event, because while I hate letting people down I also just don't know how I will feel tomorrow, let alone a week from today or a month from today or every Wednesday from now until next spring.  Many of us who deal with frequent migraines already feel like we are using all of our energy to do the things we have to do on a daily or weekly basis, so if we're not terribly enthusiastic about joining something, it doesn't mean we're antisocial or extremely introverted (well, it doesn't necessarily mean that).

5. People with migraines will draw the lines in different places when it comes to social activities, too.  I don't like to go to movie theaters, for instance, because the noise, flashing lights, and extreme temperatures are all inclined to be migraine triggers for me.  Other people may have to avoid certain kinds of stores or venues (for instance, those stores which carry lots of highly-scented products).  Again, though, because there are different kinds of migraines, there are different places that are problematic for some but fine for others.

6. In general, migraine triggers can be different for each person.  Yes, some triggers--like hormones or weather--can affect large numbers of migraine sufferers (though when it comes to weather, for example, some will suffer before a storm reaches the area, some during the storm, and some as it moves through and away--and some unlucky souls will be in pain the whole time). But other triggers may cause migraines in some people but not in others.  Food triggers can be especially hard to track down; one of mine is chocolate.  (Some doctors believe chocolate isn't actually a migraine trigger but that we women, being all emotional and whatnot, think it is.  The last time I ate chocolate it was by accident--there was cocoa in a sweet "french toast flavored" bread I had bought.  I didn't know the cocoa was there, and really enjoyed the bread, but had puzzlingly persistent migraines as long as the loaf was in the house.  It wasn't until one of the girls looked at the ingredients and realized that chocolate was a major ingredient that the headaches were explained--and they went away as soon as I stopped eating that bread.  But, you know, some doctors are quite sure that chocolate can't possibly trigger migraines.) Other foods that can trigger migraines include alcohol and foods that are rich in tyramine such as aged cheeses and certain meats.

7. I think the worst question migraine sufferers can get is, "But can't you take something for that?" Sure, there are lots of migraine medications on the market, ranging from over-the-counter drugs to prescription-only medicines to off-label use of drugs meant to treat different conditions. The problem is that migraines are frustratingly difficult to treat. Some people will be helped by a medicine and experience both real relief from pain and a lessening of frequency or duration of migraines and associated symptoms, but others--a lot of others--will not. One fairly common problem is that a medicine or treatment may help for a while, but then stop helping, and unfortunately in these cases the migraines sometimes become worse than they were before the treatment was tried. And if you are battling any other health conditions as well as migraines, some of the migraine medications may not be recommended for you.  Sometimes the answer to the "can't you take something" question is, "Yes, and I do take something, but it doesn't always help, and it's not helping today."

8. The bottom line here is that migraines are a frustrating and difficult reality for lots of people, but our lives are made a lot easier when we have people close to us who understand, and are patient with us on our bad days.  Like I said above, I'm lucky this way.  If you know someone who deals with this problem, I hope you are as understanding and patient as my family and friends are, too!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A blast from the past

Well, it's Back to the Future Day, which means that it's the day that fictional characters from a movie set in 1985 traveled 30 years into the future, to October 21, 2015.  The funniest part of all the various movie references I've seen in recent weeks is the strange coincidence that the Chicago Cubs still have a shot (however small) at the World Series (in the movie, they were the alleged winners of the 2015 Series--at least, before Marty McFly wrecks the timeline). But naturally a lot of people have been talking about how the 2015 of the movie creators' imagination compares to the real year (obviously, we still need real hoverboards).

Coincidentally, I've just stumbled across something that I consider a real blast from the past, courtesy of Patrick Archbold who is now apparently guest-blogging at a site called What's Up with the Synod: Liveblogging the Apocalypse.  Patrick has apparently decided that the Synod, and the state of the Church today generally, is explained by Fatima:
Besides the prophecies and teaching about the end-times proper (The time of Antichrist, the Return of Christ, and the end of the world), no other period in Church history has been prophesied more than the end of this current era. More on that in a moment.
How can I be so sure that our era is the era so long taught and prophesied? Fatima, that is why. Fatima is not a stand-alone event in the history of private revelation. The warnings and promises of Fatima concur precisely with the teaching of the fathers and doctors and copious amounts of approved private revelation from saints over millennia.
A very short summary of events looks like this:
The Church is in crisis and seems close to its eclipse.
The climax of this Church crisis occurs concurrently with a global war (particularly in Europe and starting with civil strife/war breaking out in France and Italy),
grievous but short-term persecution of the clergy and faithful,
AND a heaven sent chastisement [...]
How long until such things might happen? We don’t know. If one looked at the cold war of the sixties and the devastation to the Church and the liturgy that occurred with and after the Second Vatican Council, one might have been convinced that the moment had come. But in retrospect, we now know that those events were just the opening volleys in a war that has brought us to this moment. Truly, in very real ways, the errors of Russia have spread around the world in the post cold war era. They are now so pervasive that prelates at the very top of Church hierarchy espouse them daily without blush and to much applause. (All emphases in original.)
Now, why is this a blast from the past?  As a teen who was nearly the same age as Marty McFly in 1985, I got sort of caught up in Catholic-apocalyptic stuff.  It started with my avid reading of the ultra-conservative Catholic paper The Wanderer, which I still respect (which is why this blog still hosts the "History of the Wanderer" posts you can find in the sidebar).  Unfortunately, from The Wanderer it was (at times) a relatively short step to all sorts of books, videos, and so on which held as their main position the idea that the Church was in a terrible state of crisis, that most if not all bishops hated the Mass (the real one, anyway), and that it was the supreme and sublime duty of every true faithful lay Catholic to resist at all costs anything the institutional Church came up with, because the institutional Church was so corrupt and rotten that pretty soon she would fall completely apart, save for a brave but tattered remnant of those select elite people who really, truly understood why Latin is the only heavenly language, why lay EMHCs were a mark of the devil, why women on the altar were all Jezebels who should probably be fed to wild dogs like their Biblical predecessor, why the sight of a woman with an uncovered head at Mass was deeply disgusting to Our Lord, why the Three Days of Darkness which would sweep the wicked from the world in violence and terror and leave only the faithful behind was really proof of God's great mercy, and why all of these things had been somehow predicted by--you guessed it--the seers of Fatima.  Oh, but not the false Lucia who was paraded in public from time to time and who never really distanced herself from the corrupt Church; no, everyone who was anyone knew that the real Lucia was being kept a prisoner somewhere so she couldn't verify to everyone the true contents of the Third Secret (which would say something like the mark of an anti-pope was his willingness to pray the Mass in the vernacular) or that Fatima hadn't really been consecrated to Mary properly as of yet.

I've written about some of these sorts of things here and here before. The important point is this: when I gave credence to writings about how most of the Church was corrupt beyond belief, and few bishops or even priests actually believed in God or in Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, or that the hope of the future of the Church rested in a tiny band of faithful Catholics most of whom lived in the US and spent their leisure hours watching videos about how God was going to smack down the rest of the world any day now, I was not exactly brimming over with charity toward my fellow men, let alone my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I can only be thankful that those days were long before the Internet, when websites and other sources are only too ready to steer Catholics onto the shoals of sedevacantism. I can also be grateful that thirty years later I'm not still caught up in that sort of thing, but have been blessed beyond belief to see the face of Christ in many bishops, priests, and lay people who share with me their faith in Christ and love for Him in a million little ways, none of which are in any way diminished if they don't particularly like the Latin hymns and Mass parts I honestly do prefer, or if they assist Father at Mass as EMHCs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Blessed are the merciful

I apologize for my spotty blogging lately; things are about to get even more sporadic around here as National Novel Writing Month kicks off in ten days, and I plunge back into fiction writing.  This year's novel will be book 7 in the Tales of Telmaja series, and I hope to be publishing book 4, A Smijj of Conflict, in the very near future.  Many thanks to my patient book readers and my patient blog readers for putting up with me all this time!

I'm in the throes of the final edits of book 4, but I wanted to pop in here for a bit to talk a little bit about this idea we've seen floated here and there: the idea that mercy demands that we find a way to readmit people who are divorced and remarried outside the Church to Holy Communion.

I honestly don't think that the Church is moving toward any sort of blanket permission for that sort of thing. What might happen--and it's still a big "might"--is that a tiny handful of people whose first marriages were very likely invalid but who cannot for excellent reasons prove this invalidity (think, for instance, of couples married in Catholic parishes in Baghdad about 15 years ago, perhaps, which parishes and all their records no longer exist) might be on a case-by-case basis allowed to receive Holy Communion under extremely rare and specific circumstances for some sort of pastoral reasons.  Maybe.  We don't even know yet if that will happen, let alone the wider permissiveness some Catholics fear.

But having said that, I wonder a bit about this idea that "mercy" demands the divorced and remarried be admitted en masse back to Communion. Setting aside the reality that it's not very merciful to let people eat and drink condemnation upon themselves (as St. Paul warns of sacrilegious Communions), aren't we making an awful lot of assumptions when we--or some of us, anyway--agitate for Holy Communion for all or most remarried people?

Sure, there are situations where the innocent spouse, abandoned and betrayed, is the one who has later remarried.  The innocent spouse might not even have been a Catholic at the time his or her first marriage fell apart.  He or she may feel the call to become Catholic later, or may have "remarried" a baptized Catholic who eventually decides that it's important to get the marriage blessed, if possible.  And there may be lots of reasons why the first marriage, even if it was the wedding of two Protestants in a Protestant church, might be invalid (though it could have been valid as well).  But that's why we have an annulment process, so that if the first marriage was invalid that invalidity can be determined.

However, when we call for mercy, we ought to make sure that we're not overlooking a different sort of case, a sort I've personally encountered among friends and extended family: the kind of case where two Catholics marry in the Catholic Church, and one spouse decides five or ten or fifteen years into the marriage that he or she doesn't want to be married anymore, or at least, not to this particular person to whom he or she has vowed perpetual fidelity...and the other spouse wakes up to a nightmare of betrayal and abandonment, and often the reality of his or her spouse's adultery as well.

Not all of these marriages were invalid. Some of them may indeed have been invalid for the usual sorts of reasons, but some, perhaps most, of them were entered into by two baptized and practicing Catholics who knew what they were getting into and who had no impediments to the marriage. And if the marriage was valid, no annulment is possible for either party.

Imagine, if you will, a Catholic wife and mother (and, yes, I know women often institute divorce, but most of the cases I know involve a woman being abandoned so I am using that example) who is going along in a struggling marriage, working to improve things, praying, taking the children to Mass and educating them in the faith--and one day she finds out that her husband is leaving her. Maybe he's bored with the life of husband and father and pines for his freewheeling single days; maybe he's selfish and self-centered; maybe--and this is frequent--he's been involved with a mistress, and wants to keep up that adulterous relationship.  The divorce happens, in spite of the innocent party's objections (thanks to our no-fault divorce laws).

Then her husband "marries" his partner in adultery. The kids have to spend time with the father who left them and the woman he calls his "wife." His real wife keeps taking the kids to Mass, keeps teaching them the faith, keeps praying, finding some solace in her parish life and the sacraments.

Her husband tries to have their marriage annulled, but the Church rules in her favor. Theirs was a valid Catholic marriage. His selfishness, his betrayal, his adultery, his abandonment--none of that changes the reality that he entered a valid sacramental covenant with her that can never be broken apart from death.

But now he wants the Church to accept him and his partner in adultery. He demands that the Church readmit him to Holy Communion, and his mistress (if she is Catholic) as well.

If we insist that the Church be "merciful" to him, what are we doing to his real wife? How is it merciful for the Church to ignore the grave wrong that has been done to her--not a wrong which has somehow been righted, but a wrong that permeates her life and fills her days and impacts everything she and her children do? She is the one to whom this grave injustice has been done, and her faithless husband's demand for "mercy" is actually yet another instance of his great cruelty to her. Ought the Church facilitate this cruelty? Ought the Church turn her back on her suffering daughter and embrace the instigators of that suffering without holding them accountable in any way for their ongoing wickedness to this man's real wife and to their children?

In the Beatitudes Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy." How is the man who betrays and abandons his wife to marry another, or the woman who betrays and abandons her husband to marry another, being merciful to their real spouses? They are not being merciful; they are being cruel beyond all telling. And those who insist on the kind of cruel mercy that ignores the suffering of the faithful spouse need to rethink things a little.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Catholic: here comes everybody

As everybody knows, James Joyce once wrote "Catholic means 'Here comes everybody.'"

This has been clearly on display lately as Catholics watch and read the reactions from various Catholic writers and thinkers about what is going on at the Synod.  Here, for instance, are two very different blog posts about the Synod:

From Sherry Antonetti:
But I didn't know how to explain, that if we give the slightest sliver of a yes, God will flood through that crack, and saturate our lives with grace except to say, I know it to be true. So if you've watched Pope Francis or heard his teachings, and felt your heart flutter "Yes." at some point because of what he is doing, that's God courting your soul, seeking you in particular out, for something bigger than you imagined. The seed cannot comprehend it will one day be a redwood, or the child, an adult, or the rain drop, one day, part of the ocean. And we can't possibly get what God has in store prior to being in the midst of it, nor would we likely trust it if we knew prior. It's why He doesn't give us the whole of it all at once, but builds up our capacity over time.

So to those who worry about this Pope or the Synod, don't. For those who feel left out because they aren't singled out, don't. Open the scripture for the day, steep in it and trust it to be true, trust that God speaks, and has a magnificent plan designed just for you, only for you whether or not you're singled out by the Pope and called on the phone, or your special interest group is focused on by the Synod or the next encyclical. Regardless of worldly acknowledgement, you are called by God. Get to the business of being Catholic, of living out the Beatitudes, for lived out, that plan helps with the restoration of those three relationships on some level and will make you, feel very joyous and loved. You will be luminous if you allow yourself to stop worrying about the darkness, or about how you are not being singled out.
Some concerned friends and I got together and have produced an open letter to those faithful Synod Fathers asking them to walk out on the Synod if it maintains its current direction.
The Code of Canon Law 212 §3 states that the Catholic faithful “have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful…” 
Therefore, we faithfully request that each and every faithful Catholic bishop at the Synod, having made every effort to resist these attacks on Christ’s teaching, if its direction remains unaltered and those faithful voices remain unheard, do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the Synod before its conclusion so as to prevent greater scandal and confusion. [Emphasis in original.]
Here comes everybody; or, rather, here comes opinions so widely divergent that only in a truly universal Church would both of them come from practicing and faithful Catholics.

My own opinion is more like Sherry Antonetti's, except that I might be even less worried about this Synod than she is.  It's not a doctrinal Synod.  Church teaching is not up for grabs and will not change.  The fears on the Patrick Archbold side of the argument seem to boil down to a fear that creative pastoral approaches and greater care in how certain sensitive topics are addressed will lead to confusion, and will especially lead to the mainstream media declaring that teachings really have been changed (and crowing in triumph about it).  But I'm far less afraid of that than I was in the pre-Internet days, because it's not that hard today to refute the MSM's perpetual ignorance of Catholic matters.  If a major newspaper could print, about a decade or so ago, a phrase about the Eucharist which assured readers that for Catholics the Eucharist represented the Body and Blood of Christ, then there is no reason at all to suppose that they'll ever get any of the more subtle or nuanced teachings right, even if they did want to, which, given their agenda, they likely don't.  But the idea that the "faithful Catholic bishops" ought to arise en masse and shake the Synodal dust off of their feet to prevent the risk that the media will tell people that the Church has changed her teachings on marriage is sadly naive, because that same media would, in the event of a "faithful" walkout, also report that "right-wing" or "conservative" bishops were jeopardizing Pope Francis' papacy and teetering on the brink of schism--because they always do see things in political terms, and a walkout is a political act they can certainly understand.

In fact, I would say that if the Holy Spirit is still leading the Church, and if He is looking at the state of Christian marriage and especially of the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with a certain degree of concern for His children, it is somewhat unjust to get all bent out of shape because bishops are talking about these matters and what to do about it all in a way that, according to clusters of lay people, runs the risk of confusing the simple.  The simple probably aren't paying much attention to the Synod in the first place.  And those Catholics who never go to Mass and get all their Catholic teaching from the New York Times certainly won't be any worse off after the Synod than they are right now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I was going to blog today...


I even started the post.  But, alas, the day slipped away from me.  As did my chair:

On the bright side, I should have a post tomorrow, as I've got one saved in progress. :)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What the people need from the Synod

I've been a lazy blogger this week.  True, I got sidetracked by some Facebook discussions about why women won't be deacons in the Western Church and why it's silly to derail the Synod to talk about the feminist agenda for the umpity-eenth gazillionth time just because some of my fellow females get all bent out of shape about things like women's ordination (but...but only to the diaconate!  We swear!), male pronouns in prayers and music, and a phrase like "fellow females." To those ladies and their supporters I have my usual advice: man up!  We don't need deaconesses.  We need married couples to quit using birth control, stay faithful to their wedding vows, avoid porn in all its ugliness, raise their own bleepin' kids, and stop acting like marriage is some rom-com fantasy instead of what everything else in human existence is: hard work, sacrifice, suffering, and disconcertingly large amounts of joy threaded in among the work and sacrifice and suffering.

And then we need to look around and help people who are shouldering way more suffering without the leaven of joy.  People like this lady:
When I married my husband, I was full of joy and hope because I believed the Church’s teachings about marriage, and my husband professed them too. He was chivalrous and faith-filled and a true friend when we courted. But as soon as we were married, all thoughtfulness and self-giving from him ceased, and a burning anger took hold instead.
Bewildered, I looked for answers in spiritual direction and Catholic books. Time after time priests turned me down for spiritual direction, saying they were too busy or wouldn’t meet with a woman, so go to the confessional or counselling instead. In the confessional I was told go to counselling. But my husband did not want to go to counselling—it was too hard to make the time with us both working, and it was so expensive we could never afford to attend more than a few sessions. Those few times we went to a Catholic counselor did not change anything.
The Catholic books told me to love more, to sacrifice more, to give him affection and build him up with words. All these things I tried to do, but his temper kept burning a hole in my heart and in the heart of our children. I tried to tell him time and again how his words were hurting us, but he ignored me or simply excused himself as “only human” or accused me of thinking I was perfect to shut me down. I asked what he wanted me to change and he said “nothing.”

When is the last time you heard a homily that talked about the sin of wrath, of unjust anger? When is the last time you heard a priest exhorting his flock to avoid temper tantrums, outbursts of rage, bad language, incendiary speech, and forms of entertainment designed to make people angry and self-rightous toward others (such as certain types of talk radio)?  When is the last time you heard a priest start talking about the love of God and neighbor (as most of them do) and then break it down into practical things like, "You know, men who love their wives don't yell at them for not doing the laundry the way they expect it done, or fuss at them because the children are playing loudly when the Almighty Football is on TV.  And women who love their husbands don't nag and nitpick them to death over the timeliness of the kitchen garbage removal, or make them feel like an idiot if they don't load the dishwasher the way she likes it done."  Things like that.

Now, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and if you have an obsessive desire to see women admitted to Holy Orders, then even this lady's problem would have been solved by...wait for it...Deaconesses!  Because a lady deacon would have cared, and listened, and offered practical help...

Oh, bosh.  Nobody is more critical of women than other women.  Nuns, now--I could see nuns helping women in these situations.  But married female permanent deacons?  If married Catholic women want to help other married Catholic women by counseling them in situations where they are struggling in their marriages, then they should just do it.  No ordination is necessary for this sort of thing.

What is necessary, though, is that certain feminist agitators and their episcopal supporters stop seeing the Synod as their own personal ideological playground and remember that they're supposed to be helping struggling, suffering, even shattered families.  They're supposed to be recognizing that an awful lot of our culture is made up of people who are not merely hostile, but totally apathetic to the idea of marriage, people like this:
For many other couples, especially those approaching the four-year mark, this kind of relationship might lead to a march down the aisle — but not us. Starting with our conversation on our very first date, in which he urged me to “Never get married,” we’ve both made it clear we’re not interested in matrimony, holy or otherwise. If it’s not a priority for either of us, if I’m not invested in becoming his wife — and the cultural baggage that entails — why do it?
My parents got divorced when I was 2 years old, and several of my relatives have divorced as well: grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and uncles, cousins. So I didn’t grow up thinking of marriage as the only way to ensure the longevity of a relationship. I’ve never lusted after a wedding venue or wanted to plan an elaborate ceremony. Marriage has always felt like something other people do.
There's more of that out there than we want to admit from within the Catholic bubble.  There are more young people finding the whole idea of marriage irrelevant.  The other side of the coin is made up of young people, many of them Christians, who sort of take it for granted that you're supposed to have a "starter marriage" when you're young, but of course once you grow up a little you'll have an amicable divorce and marry the sort of person you actually want to raise kids with. Sort of the "upwardly mobile real-estate model" of marriage, with its "starter homes" replaced by more expensive and bigger homes in better school districts when it's time to have a family.

And in the midst of all of that is the Church, insisting (as she should) that marriage is supposed to be permanent and faithful and exclusive and open to life.  But she herself, through Pope Francis, has been saying that the Church needs to walk beside her children more tangibly and substantially as they embrace this reality amid a culture that ignores or despises it.  And walking more tangibly and substantially means not ignoring the woman who comes to her pastor in pain because her husband is a mean-tempered man whose anger is ruining the family; it means not ignoring the woman whose "good Catholic" husband abandoned her for a floozy or, even worse, because he'd rather be alone and basking in a selfish lifestyle full of pleasures than actually be a father to his kids.  It means not brushing aside the fears of the man whose wife is addicted to the sort of daytime television that tells her she can't be happy so long as she is married; it means not ignoring the man whose wife walked out on him because his hairline receded, his waistline expanded and his wallet contracted, and is now in a bitter custody battle with him over the kids, whom she no longer wants raised Catholic.

The people are begging for the Bread of Life.  Those in the Synod who are handing out the stones of opportunism and the scorpions of feminist ideology instead should be ashamed of themselves.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Healing the family

The Synod on the Family has gotten underway, and if you are reading the mainstream news you will have heard that the "conservatives" are digging in and insisting that nothing much is going to change (well, duh).  This, however, comes as a great surprise to certain Trads who are certain--positive, even!--that the pope is about to toss out the indissolubility of marriage and commit apostasy among other things and usher in a new age of truly-true Catholic gloom, doom, bitterness and despair which will be nothing like the current age of truly-true Catholic gloom, doom, bitterness and despair, for reasons which aren't quite clear.

Meanwhile, at my tiny little mission church, parents with young children are probably getting tired of seeing me around, because I'm one of those annoying people who makes it a point to stop and talk to moms and dads whose little ones are having a difficult sort of Mass and encourage them and tell them that it gets better (no, really!) and just generally letting them know that I (and many others) are glad they are there.  I am always glad to see families with little ones at Mass.  I know how hard they are trying because while those days are a memory for me, they're not that distant of a memory (and I have a good memory, anyway).  I remember those frantic Church-math calculations you make: Let X equal the number of microseconds between the baby bumping her chin on the pew and the time she starts sounding like an air-raid siren, and let Y equal the amount of time it will take me to inform the oblivious older toddler that we've got to get out, now, and join Daddy who is in the back with the two-year-old, and let Z equal the intensity of the withering stares tossed in our direction while we make the quick dash of shame...And sometimes, with the best will in the world, you get the calculations wrong and think that maybe the little howler or screamer or shrieker will quiet down any second now until Father or an usher or somebody has to let you know (gently, if it's a nice parish, or coldly if it isn't) that it's a good idea to cart the extremely good vocal cords and their operator outside for a spell.  At which point that bible verse about begging the earth to swallow you or mountains or trees to fall on you starts to make a terrible kind of sense.

Pope Francis has been talking about how hostile our modern world is to families.  He's referred on several times to the loneliness and isolation that comes from creating a world where it is seemingly better to surround yourself with things than with people. And he makes it clear that the two sets of people he's most concerned about are children and the elderly: children, because they get seen as irksome responsibilities and inconveniences instead of joyful wonders, and the elderly, because they are seen as irrelevant or  frustrating instead of fonts of experience and even (sometimes) a bit of wisdom.

The elderly, in fact, sometimes point out the breathtaking speed at which our world has changed. Many of them started out in a world where divorce was a sickening tragedy that probably wasn't anything that happened to anybody you knew--certainly not anybody in your immediate family--and ended up in a world where divorce is so common that few young people getting married would be able to say, truly, that for serious Christians divorce ought not even be considered as an option (apart from serious abuse or some similar tragedy).  Young people today are starting out in a world where divorce is common, adultery had its own website, porn is ubiquitous, chastity almost unheard-of, virtue an unknown concept and vice celebrated with parades.  None of these things build up the family; none of them are meant to.

But the Holy Father is on to something else important when he (just like all the popes of the recent past) talks about global greed, consumerism and materialism, a capitalism unmoored by ethics or solidarity with the poor, and an economic system that sees people as, simultaneously, "working objects" and/or "consumer objects."  A "working object" who has the luxury--and, indeed, our world sees it that way--of coming home to a stay-at-home wife who is home with their children, a home-cooked dinner on the table, and time for real family engagement as a form of evening leisure tends to be a less effective "consumer object" than the perpetual man-child with his apartment and movies and video games and toys, and plenty of money to spend on this month's latest and greatest gadget, which is clearly superior to last month's latest and greatest (which is, alas, already obsolete).  And a "working object" who gives up remuneration to raise her family is an even greater threat to casual consumerism in most instances. (It should go without saying that the same is true if mom is the "working object" and dad the stay-at-home parent, rare though this is.)

How do we fix this sort of thing?  There are no shortcuts.  The other side has slick media campaigns to teach us that atomization is wonderful, divorce is just common sense when people live as long as we do today, sexuality is fluid and alterable, and that the highest and best goods are not odd concepts like "truth" or "beauty," but the truth of the shopping mall and the beauty that comes in some sort of bottle.  The only way to work against that is to do the work, as Pope Francis has said, of building relationships.  Of building strong families and real friendships.  Of building each other up, not as objects, but as children of God and brothers and sisters in the human family.

It means treating people you meet even casually, even for a moment in the grocery store or once a week at Mass, like real human beings, and taking a moment or two to care, for real, about them and about what burdens they are carrying.  It means smiling at that exhausted mom or dad out in public or at church with an unruly little one, instead of patting yourself on the back that your kids never did that (which probably isn't even true, and if it is you should be thanking God on your knees instead of being harshly critical about those not similarly blessed).  It means seeing in your husband or wife, your children, your parents or in-laws, your siblings, and your neighbors, not strangers but those beloved Others for whom Christ laid down His life, and for whom we are called to do the same.

It will be the work of many generations, perhaps, to heal the family of all its modern brokenness. That doesn't mean the work isn't worth doing, or that our little efforts aren't worth making.  But it does mean that we may have to step outside our comfort zones a little and stop thinking that Pope Francis just can't wait to strike a new blow against the sanctity of family life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bad week for the culture of life

I've had a slight cold this week, which is one reason why I haven't been blogging (the other reasons are my usual lack of focus and the fact that one of my fiction books has been driving me crazy).

But I wanted to refer to a few things that have happened this week, because this week hasn't been a great week for the Culture of Life:

--Planned Parenthood continues to reveal that they are mass killers on a grander scale than most such killers throughout human history;

--Even Pope Francis' pleas for clemency couldn't stop the state of Georgia from executing a woman who incited her lover to kill her husband, although the actual killer got life in prison instead;

--A shooter went on a rampage at a college in Oregon, specifically targeting Christians and killing ten people;

--Brave young American men and women continue to die in the Middle East in the name of freedom, while questions about the wisdom of our even being there anymore get swept under the political rug;

--Russia began airstrikes in Syria, while the US and others condemned these actions by saying they would fuel more terrorism.

We can, and should in many cases, focus on these issues individually. Planned Parenthood should be defunded, the death penalty should be abolished wherever it is no longer needed for public safety, sensible measures to keep guns out of the hands of would-be mass killers should be debated and sound actions taken, or Middle East commitments should be scrutinized closely, we should avoid escalating war while not failing to condemn unjustly disproportionate acts of war.

But I think we're missing the underlying cause of much of this, which is that when you spend half a century or more convincing people that humans are not particularly special, that there is no eternity, that we are nothing but organic pain collectors racing toward oblivion, that shallow and fragile relationships are more self-satisfying than sacrificial and lasting ones, that children don't need mothers or fathers, and that we have no duty or obligation to anyone other than ourselves and no concerns greater than our own pleasures and entertainments, you have created a people who care so little about human life that none of these issues particularly matters anymore.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome

In an interesting move, R.R. Reno of First Things explained that the site has decided to stop hosting Maureen Mullarkey's blog:
Maureen has a sharp pen and pungent style. Her postings about Pope Francis indicate she’s very angry about this papacy, which she seems to view as (alternately) fascism and socialism disguised as Catholicism. This morning she put up a post that opens with the accusation that the Vatican is conspiring with the Obama administration to destroy the foundations of freedom and hobble the developed world. I've had my staff take it down. [...]
I’ve criticized Pope Francis and his encyclical, Laudato Si. However, Maureen’s commentary on Francis goes well beyond measured criticism. She consistently treats him as an ideological propagandist, accusing him of reducing the faith to secular political categories. This is her way of reducing him to the political terms she favors. And those terms are the ones used by radio talk-show hosts to entertain the public with mock-battles against various Empires of Evil. I don't want First Things to play that game.
I am impressed by this decision.  I became even more impressed when I read the blog post in question, which is now being hosted at another site which apparently has no problem with its intemperate language or barely-veiled insinuations that this particular Holy Father is a secret political agitator (whether Marxist of Fascist remains in question) out to destroy the Church. Here's a brief sample of it:
The road show is over. The spectacle flamed up and subsided, a Roman candle of demonic sanctimony. Think of it as pre-game warm-up for the main event: the global climate summit in Paris, November 30 to December 11. The Vatican is partnering with the Obama administration, at the U.N. and later in Paris, in magnifying state control over a free society and tightening the screws on the developed world. This, in the name of saving the planet from the production and growth of those very means by which the poor can raise themselves out of poverty. [...]
I cannot not help but wonder if this week-long showcase of misdirected sermonizing, and often ambiguous pieties, signaled the de-Christianization of the Catholic Church. Were we witnessing the descent of Catholicism into one more “ism,” an ideology using language onto which an audience could project its own meaning? After Cuba, the non-stop showboating, pageantry, and preachments in the wrong places took on the look of a Faustian bargain between the Vatican and cynical brokers of worldly prestige—an exchange of truth (including that of the gradual but ongoing diminishment of poverty) for power.
I can't recommend reading the rest of it; it's not just nonsense, but pernicious nonsense.  It is invective without substance.  It is a quintessential example of finding a button (Pope Francis' concern for the disproportionate harms done to the poor by the global economy, for instance) and sewing a whole vest of shadowy conspiracies to destroy the Church from within, shackle the Free in chains of government control instead of letting them loose to Build Businesses and Save the World through Commerce, and stop the spread of American Exceptionalism (the only thing that will truly help the world's poor) throughout the globe around that button.

I don't know how anyone could read Laudato Si, watch the pope this past week and (especially) read what he actually said in his homilies and speeches and still come to the conclusion that he's some sort of stealth ninja operative of various anti-Catholic and anti-captialist powers hellbent on destroying the Church and (more importantly) America's Manifest Destiny to spread global multinational corporate values (complete with their unsafe factories and slave-wage jobs) all over the world as the true saviors of humankind.

It seems so strange to connect this Machiavellian figure of power with the affable and kindly pope who just visited our nation that I can only conclude that this is the manifestation of a new political disease.  We can call it "Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome," perhaps.

UPDATE: The remarkable Scott Eric Alt coined the term "Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome" back in 2013 and has used it regularly since.  I appreciate his pointing that out and apologize for my ignorance of the phrase!  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mothers and little gestures of familial love

If you missed any of the things Pope Francis said while he was here in America, you're in luck!  You can catch up.  :)

Here are the full texts of all of the Holy Father's remarks.

I encourage you to take the time to read as many of them as you can; sadly, even among our fellow Catholics there are those who are twisting and distorting what the Holy Father said or complaining about what he allegedly didn't say in order to undermine our trust in his leadership of the Church.  And there are so many gems in these homilies and speeches and talks--just consider this, for example, from Sunday's homily:
Faith opens a “window” to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. “Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded,” says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.
How lovely is that?  I think of it as being especially encouraging to mothers at home, especially mothers with young children.  I remember those years well, and I remember how often it felt like each day was spent doing so many of those "little things," and having those things seemingly go unnoticed.  No, moms at home don't need applause every day, but I think it is undeniably true that a culture that turns us all into consumers and places a dollar sign value on work is increasingly hostile to the idea that a woman who works without pay, without notice, without attention or recognition to raise her children and turn her home, as best she can, into a place full of little gestures of welcome and love for her husband and children and extended family and neighbors and community is actually doing anything of value.  Better she should get a "real job," say some elements in our culture.  Better she should pay other people to look after her children, so she can provide economic value not only to the structure of her family but to society as well.  What good is she doing staying at home?

I'm not trying to stir up the mommy wars here; I know that many moms who do work outside the home are also trying as best as they can to provide those little gestures of love.  That's not my point today, though; my point today is that our consumeristic and material culture values the moms who work outside the home and doesn't really know what to say to the ones who don't.  Not long ago I saw a lament from a young mother who was talking about the pressure she faces, not from her husband but from others, to do something other than look after her children.  If she could earn a few dollars as a writer or artist or photographer or by selling crafts or babysitting other people's children or cleaning other people's houses, so she said, then people in her community would respect her, but when she says she's "just a mom" she gets all sorts of flack and negativity.  And I think this is a problem for all moms--because when the only work of ours that is valued is the work that produces some money (however tiny the amount) and not the work of raising our children, this is really a slight against motherhood in general, against the vocation of being a wife and a mother.  It would be akin to saying to one's parish priest, "Well, yes, I know you're a priest, but surely you work outside the parish to make some money, right?"  

The family, as Pope Francis said many times last week, is in a time of crisis and danger.  One of the dangers I see is that people have forgotten what a family is, what it is for.  It is not primarily a resource-sharing operation.  It is not an efficiency model or a strategy to maximize income or take advantage of tax breaks.  It is, instead, a model of loving service, of a love that is incarnated by service first of husband and wife to each other, and then literally incarnated into their children who are, at first, in total and absolute need of their parents' services, but who will grow to serve each other and their parents in love as well.  In this model of the family the mother who is able to stay at home with her children, especially in their earliest years, is giving them a tremendous gift of immense value--the gift of herself.  And she gives this gift every day, in those thousand acts of little service that Pope Francis referenced in his homily.  She should not have to face pressure from our consumerist culture to go out and get a "real" job.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Helping the poor

There are, among some vocal Catholics, a distressing number of people who really don't like Pope Francis' emphasis on the poor.

I read something recently that really struck me, though: this pope is good at challenging all of us, not just those of us who think we're okay because we follow Church teachings on the big issues, oppose abortion and gay "marriage," and so on.

When Pope Francis speaks against abortion, for instance, some of us feel good about ourselves: why, we're pro-life!  We're on the right side!

But then when he speaks about abolishing the death penalty, or helping young people find work, or addressing the needs of the poor for food and shelter, or welcoming the immigrant--suddenly, some are not so comfortable.

Let's face it: except for the front-line workers who volunteer daily in crisis pregnancy centers or who pray outside abortion clinics on a daily or weekly basis (and I admire them with great gratitude), most of us can oppose abortion without having to do much.  We're against it.  We may, on occasion, send ten or twenty dollars to a pro-life ministry group.  Some of us were, for a while, suckered into thinking that "pro-life activism" meant giving time and money to wealthy politicians, but we were naive about that (alas, some still are).  It is easy to be a pro-life Christian in America.

It is less easy to be really concerned for the poor in a way that cuts into our own comfort level.  It is less easy to realize that our complaints about the material goods, most of them luxuries, we somehow think we are entitled to but don't have are a contributing factor in the poverty of our neighbors.  It is less easy to admit that we sometimes spend more on silly things like Christmas decorations or glitzy accessories (my own personal fault) than we do on relieving real suffering in our communities.  It is less easy to acknowledge that we've acquired some of the worst attitudes of materialism, attitudes like, "You should always buy the best (car, cell phone, computer) you can afford," or "It makes sense to spend a bit more to get good quality things that will last."

Pope Francis is asking us to do better than that.  And a priest I know is doing a really good job of living up to that challenge:
"He's again talked about the need to serve the poor," said the Rev. Bryan Jerabek, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church. "That's been a great inspiration."
Holy Rosary church was founded in 1889, celebrated its 125th anniversary last year and has been known for decades as a focal point of Catholic outreach to the poor in Birmingham.
On Sept. 20, Bishop Robert J. Baker dedicated the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center at Holy Rosary Church.
"It was a happy coincidence that we had our dedication the week the pope was coming to America," Jerabek said. "I think we answered his call." [...]
Now run by the diocese, the opening of the learning center signals a commitment to continue serving the needy, Jerabek said.
"We recognized there was a need for literacy program to help the students in the area improve their reading," Jerabek said. "We had 3rd and 4th graders who had trouble reading."
The new learning center is in an updated office building. "It's a remodeled building with two rooms and bathroom, where children can do homework and receive tutoring assistance," Jerabek said.
This is a simple and practical way to help poor children.  To find out more about the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center, you can go here.

I know that Catholics in America are capable of great generosity toward the poor.  I also know that all of us--and I am certainly no exception--have a tendency to become complacent.  Surely, we think, we're doing enough!  But are we?  That is a question we can only answer as individuals, and on a daily basis.  Perhaps what we did yesterday or last week or last year is impossible today, because the demands of our vocations to our families or our current financial status are not the same as they were then.  But on the other hand, perhaps our closets are overflowing with barely-worn clothing and shoes, our kitchens are overcrowded with gadgets and appliances, and instead of being content we are dissatisfied because someone else has a nicer house and better furniture. That is, at its heart, a spiritual problem, but it is one that has practical ramifications when it comes to our commitment to help the poor.

As Pope Francis speaks of the poor, instead of harrumphing and wishing he'd talk more about abortion or gay "marriage," perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves if we're doing all we can (as individuals and given whatever current realities we face) to relieve the sufferings of poverty.  It is not enough to see Christ in the unborn if we can ignore him in the bad neighborhoods, in the faces of the homeless, in the child who is struggling to read because his parents can barely read themselves and have no time to help him, and in all the ways in which He is present to us in the little ones of the world.