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.