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.