On Prayer and Coloring: At Play in God’s Creation

Cover Art courtesy of Franciscan Media. Click through to go to the ordering page.

I accepted a review copy of At Play in God’s Creation because I wanted a coloring book.  That’s my real reason.  I’m going to talk about some controversial topics, but here’s a two-sentence review for those who are short on time:

  1. I love this book.
  2. Sr. Patricia would also love this book.

When Sr. Patricia and I are having a meeting of the minds? That tells you we’re in some heady waters indeed.

What’s in this book?

At Play in God’s Creation is an adult coloring book with a prayerful twist to it.  Amid the pictures, there are quotes from mystics and prayer-questions.  I’ve scanned a few portions of pages of my work-to-date so you can get a feel for what kinds of quotes and pictures we’ve got, see below.  There are a couple pages of suggestions for how to pray-while-you-color at the opening of the book.

Is it namby-pamby wishy-washy 1970’s nonsense?

Ha.  That’s the question of the day.  Here’s a nice short article from Catholic Stand, “Christian Mysticism and Its Counterfeit,” that lays out the problem.

My reading of the text of the coloring book is that it stays within the bounds of Catholic thought.  There are references to “finding your center,” which can be dicey, and there are plenty of Gather-hymnal word choices and grammatical devices.  So the book is operating at the hairy edge of the narrow road, yes — but I don’t think the author goes over the cliff.  If you are reading the text with a well-catechized Catholic lens, and you’ve waded through authors like Bl. Julian of Norwich and come to shore edified, it works.

Likewise, if you were drawn to the book because you do color but you don’t pray and don’t know a thing about prayer and this is your first baby step into some kind of spiritual life, I think it could be a comfortable starting point rather than a hindrance to more formal and informed Catholic prayer as you moved forward.

Also, the author of the text reminds you not to pass judgement on the thoughts that enter your mind as you’re prayerfully coloring, so when you get to this page and think to yourself, “One of these flowers is a ninja throwing star!” that’s okay.  No judging, guys.

ninja-star-flower

Is Coloring Praying?

Coloring could be helpful just because it is good for a busy person to quiet down and do something calm and relaxing for a change.

I think this is a bit like the old joke about smoking-while-you-pray vs. praying-while-you-smoke.  I advise you not to smoke, but I can attest from my proto-hipster days that actually, yes, a moonlit night, silence, and a decent cigar make for good spontaneous prayer, if you’re so inclined.  But that sort of prayer is not the same thing as praying the Rosary or the Divine Office or the Mass for serious.  It’s not the same thing as actually carrying out Ignatian Exercises with your whole heart and mind focused on prayer.  It’s a good thing, and you should try it frequently — not smoking, but spontaneous prayer as you are engaged in quiet activity — but you’re cheating yourself if you never go deeper.

Still, we aren’t tube worms.  We don’t live in the depths all the time.  When we’re trolling the shallow waters of ordinary activity, we don’t therefore stuff our souls in the closet. It is in fact good, wholesome prayerful activity to take a little R&R by coloring a Celtic knot while letting your mind range over a St. John of the Cross quote, and your life, and how the two intersect.

"Where there is no love, put love -- and then you will find love."

Why Does Jen Like the Book?

Here’s a page I work on when I’m sitting in the car waiting for a teenager to come out after volleyball practice:

labrynth

Come on guys, color my hopes?  My hope is that said child will notice I’ve shown up before I have to reach for the bridge-of-the-support and phone her to let her know someone’s waiting, thanks.   Not every single phrase and picture in this book is a perfect match for me personally; I trust that there is someone out there who needs and will benefit from a cute version of the Four Creatures of the Apocalypse, and that we two must share an artist.

But hey, here’s an impending bloody-shipwreck . . .

ship

. . . and on the facing page when you make it to fair land, there’s a not-friendly dragon reared up ready to scorch you.

dragon

I like this book because I get the ordinary benefits of coloring (relaxation, art-for-non-artists, etc.) combined with a keen sensitivity to the reality of spiritual struggle.  Not every single prayer-prompt in the text is my cup of tea, but most of them have their moments when they are spot-on.

Verdict: If this is the kind of book you would like, you will like it.

***

Related:  I got this lovely Christmas card from someone at Ave Maria press, featuring artwork from Daniel Mitsui’s adult coloring book The Mysteries of the Rosary.  That might better suit the taste of some of my readers.  (Hey, Ave! – I will totally review that coloring book if you mail it to me.)

Related to Related: But why am I on someone at Ave Maria’s mailing list?! Oh, that’s right, there’s this book! Today’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and if you want to know my fit-for-print thoughts on that topic, and a few others, get the book.

Funny Story: There was some brouhaha a little bit ago that I decline to link to, in which a group of ostensibly-Catholic women were recording themselves preaching on the Gospels, with the goal of proving that hey! Girls can read the Bible and talk about it too!  Put a cassock on it!

And I was like, No duh. CatholicMom.com does have some male voices on the Gospel Reflection Team roster, but the group is definitely mom-heavy, as we’d expect.

But you know what’s really super cool, and has nothing to do with boys and girls and everything to do with the grace of God?  Showing up at Mass and your pastor preaches a sermon, and you’re like, “Yeah.  That’s way better than anything I would have said.”  Coloring book or no coloring book, pray for your priests.

The Physiology of Fasting and other Penitential Links

Link #1 The Physiology of Fasting

Late last Lent an Orthodox friend and I were whining about how much we hate fasting.  There are people in this world who don’t have much appetite, and he and I are not those people.  Furthermore, at his parish he knows these guys who fast for days and days during Holy Week, and hold up just fine.  We’re not talking St. Starvicus of the Empty, Empty Desert who lived on a weekly mouthful of bitter herbs in the second century. We’re talking about flesh-and-blood normal guys with day jobs in modern America.

How do they do it?  We had a number of theories, and mine were all wrong.

Not too long into Easter (happy happy feast feast) I stumbled on a website run by a physician whose practice includes overseeing a lot of clients who fast extensively for health reasons (primarily in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, as it happens).  Dr. Jason Fung is a normal (secular, slightly potty-mouthed) Canadian-guy MD with normal-people clients and a lot to say on how fasting affects your body, and why our non-eating Orthodox friends are experiencing something radically different when they fast than that misery you feel on Ash Wednesday when you eat one regular meal and two small snacks.

–> I have no opinion on whether or how you should fast, other than that you should mind the Precepts of the Church and also common sense regarding your own health and state of life.  But if you are bored, here’s a site with the answer to the question of What’s with those people who don’t eat for days on end?

Here’s the archives of the entire “Fasting” category on his website.

Here’s page 1, if you want to start at the beginning.

I mention it now during Advent because if you want to run pre-Lent experiments on yourself, now’s the time.

Link #2 Vader Did You Know?

A profound thank you to Jane Lebak for sharing this link.  Sometimes a song is so bad that the only good use for it is turning it into a Star Wars plot summary.

#3: Not a link, just a PSA

Dear Adults Who Edit Hymnals,

Did you know that young people are linguistically competent?  You might have noticed the way they are constantly making up words and phrases that confound you to pieces.  This is because they are able to learn languages, even English.

Therefore, it is not necessary to wipe every use of the word “Thou” from your hymnal.  People under the age of 150 are able to learn new words, just like people in previous eras were able to learn new words like “telegraph” and “wireless” and eventually even “social security check.”

Also, you look very stupid when you “fix” a hymn for us by making it grammatically incoherent in the effort to remove verbs ending in “est.”  So perhaps you are not able to master the English language. But the rest of us can pick it up pretty well, thanks.

Sincerely,

Jennifer  <– So done with offering it up.  Just done.  Get me to confession, please.

Link #4: My Classic Collection of Advent Links

When I moved the blog to the new location, I didn’t pull over the entire old sidebar.  FYI the new sidebar has lots of good stuff, including a freshly-harvested crop of internet reading now that I’m back to goofing off on the internet.  But if you’re looking for the annual collection of Old Reliable Advent Links, here they are:

This is not the year I grow the list, but look, when I searched Wikimedia for “Advent” this slightly-wrinkled manuscript page from the “O Antiophons” category popped right up:

File:Sapientia.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Benedictine monastery of Podlažice [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Nicholas Magic, even in the off-year

St. Nicholas 2015 was more festive, but this year, thanks to the wonders of iBreviary, a poor spiritual life, and my top most annoying-to-other-parents parenting habit, we just scraped out an observance of the feast.

What happened is that late last night I finally unearthed my long-interred blogging computer.  Things have been good here.  I took about two weeks to get over a cold, then a third week to pounce on the opportunity to turn my bed into a work table while the SuperHusband was in Canada for three nights on business, and forsook a return to blogging in order to sort and purge the wall of backlogged paper files that had been looming over me for about a year.  Now, finally, the layer of dust on the screen of my tablet has trails of finger-marks where I returned to the internet last night, briefly, and am trying again today.

How to make me have a crush on you like I’ve got a crush on Ronald Knox: Announce that you’re hosting Stations of the Cross during Advent!  Yes, friends, I’m living in the wonderland.  Mind you I have not actually attended Stations at my parish this Advent, because the timing hasn’t worked out yet, but I can be all happy and joyous that other people are having their spiritual lives put in proper order, anyway.

Me?  My 1st Week of Advent gift was showing up to Adoration for a half an hour before fetching the kids from school, and sitting there in the pew when guess who walks in? My own kid. The whole fifth grade, not just my kid, but my kid’s the one I was particularly pleased to see.  How to make me have a crush on your parish school? Random acts of Eucharistic Adoration, thanks.

So that was last week.  This week, the gift iBreviary gives to good little children with bad parents: Time Zone Problems.  If you check my sidebar on this blog (click through if you are reading this from e-mail or a feed-reader), the iBreviary widget will take you to today’s readings.  Except that iBreviary is from Italy, so today means What Italian people are experiencing.  And thus, late in the evening in North America on December 5th, what you see is the feast of St. Nicholas of Bari.

Ack! A celebration!

So I quick summon children and remind them to put out their shoes, then wrack my brain trying to think up some festive item already on hand that I can stick in those shoes to mark the feast.  Fortunately, the SuperHusband has had a bucket of biscotti from Costco stashed in a secret location.  Italian-American is our theme for this year.

But sadly, no, it’s not that simple.

Naturally, I completely forgot to put the biscotti in the shoes.  Thus it was a cold, dark, wet, barren St. Nicholas waking for us.

So let’s talk about lying.

People hate this.  I mean, they can’t stand it.  It makes heads spin.  But here’s what we do at our house: We let our kids know how the world works.

I know!  Thus over time they learn all kinds of  adult secrets, like where babies come from, and that there’s a moment in the mandatory confirmation retreat when you open a heart-warming letter from your parents, and also that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny are all games of pretend.

Is our home life thus devoid of all magic?  By no means.

The real world is far more, dare I say it, amazing than some cheap sleight-of-hand holiday trick.

If you tell your kids Santa is real, whatever.  Not my problem (I’m not going to tell your kid that, but you can).  So be it.  To me, orchestrating such moments of artifice is a pale and pathetic imitation of the beauty of faith in the real world, where real miracles, both natural and supernatural, happen all the time.

I don’t object to figurines of Santa at the Nativity; but today (December 6th) in particular, and every day more generally, we get St. Nicholas adoring Christ, for real, at the Holy Mass.

Is that too abstract for children?  By no means.  Children know very well that what something looks like is different than what it is. They know that there is real supernatural power in this world.  The game of Santa or St. Nicholas is, if you let your children play the game rather than hogging it for yourself, like a game of house or soldiers or any other dress-up: We’re children playing at real things, trying them out.

The game is marvelously fun, even when you nearly forget it, twice.

If your children are in on the game, the wonder of it no longer depends on falliable you.  It now can rest on its own power, and wreak its real marvels even when you yourself are a few marvels short of a shooting match.

Thus, today, as I was rushing out the door at 7:10 to quick drive a teenager to school before coming back for the 5th grader, said 5th grader noticed the shoes were still empty.

Oops. Time is tight, but the feast is only once a year.  “Run back to your room, quick, so St. Nicholas can come.”

I grabbed a stool, she went and hid in her room for a minute, and I found St. Nick’s stash of biscotti and quick doled it out, one-per-shoe.  Magic accomplished.

Related:

You Can Have Santa Magic Without Lying to Your Kids

Catholic Life Hacks: St. Nicholas Day S’Mores

 

File:Icon c 1500 St Nicholas.JPG

St. Nicholas Icon courtesy of Bjoertvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

This is a post that sounds like satire but is not.  This is a post about cold, hard, liturgical reality: The best Catholics are the slackers.

That’s right friends.  You agonize every year about whether you’re doing Advent, or Christmas, or Lent, or Easter just right, and you have the pictures on Pinterest to prove it.  Dear, dear one, lose your life and you’ll find it.  The best way to be liturgically on the ball is to drag through life barely holding your head above water.

Here are five proofs hidden in the couch cushions at the home of that friend who never invites you over because her life is such a trainwreck.  Not kidding.  This works.  Especially #2.

#1 No new music.

New music is for people who have time to learn things.  Now mind you, I don’t object to the odd innovator.  But nothing says in step with the season like singing last millennium’s music.  Or the millennium before that.  If it was good enough for Advent 1016, it’s good enough for me.

#2 No gratuitous shopping trips.

Christmas is so commercial! they weep.  Not if you don’t have the time, money, or energy to go the store, it’s not.  You don’t have to be poor in the spirit, just poor in something that keeps you out of the mall.  I’ve tried it both ways.  Not shopping is better.

#3 No decorating and entertaining excess.

Yes love, we’ve heard all about how so very tired you are from all the time and energy you spend getting your house (and office, and wardrobe) just so for the holiday season, and how much work it was to put on your fabulous collection of carefully tailored parties (one for clients, one for employees, one for the neighbors, one for the close friends, one for the other friends, one for the friends who can’t be with the other friends . . .).  Sweetie pie, if you were really tired?  You wouldn’t be doing all that stuff.

You know how tired people entertain?  By sleeping. That’s how.  It’s very entertaining, try it sometime.

Liturgical tip: Start the season utterly exhausted, and you’ll never, ever have to wonder if you’re losing the “real meaning of Christmas” amid all your busyness.

#4 Your Christmas tree will always go up at exactly the right time.

This is the great thing about trees: They look great anywhere.  Your Christmas tree might be sojourning in the forest all winter this year — that’s very contemplative, you know.  But imagine for a moment that you mustered the wherewithal to drag a tree, or some inventive product that reminds the casual viewer of a tree, into your home this holiday season.

Some Catholics, under those circumstances, would have to worry: Have I done this too early? Too late?  When exactly is the tree supposed to enter the home?

Not you, exhausted slacker friend!  If it arrives early, it’s an Advent tree, or else it’s you managing to get something done ahead of a time for a change.  If it comes in the 24th, hey, perfect!

But what if, say, you pull it off the neighbor’s curb on the 26th? You’re a shining example of good stewardship, both financial and environmental.  Rejoice — you’ve been heralded in a century-and-change of papal encyclicals. Woohoo!

#5 No skimping on the fullness of the season.

What’s the big rush in taking down the Christmas decorations?

Would it really be the feast of the Presentation if there weren’t a few reminders of the Nativity artfully displayed about your home? What about the Annunciation, huh?  Are you so spiritually adrift on the tides of the seasons that you’ve never noticed the parallel between the manger and the tomb?  It might be easier to catch those connections if you weren’t so keen to whisk away your baby Jesus to His summer home in the attic.

And of course there would have been no Easter if we hadn’t had Christmas first.  Leaving out your past-due decorations is like living every day of your life in a dusty, slightly dented, but arguably beatific living Gospel.

While organized, industrious people pack up their holiday spirit in order to bustle onto the next big source of ennui, we slackers bask in the glow of eternity, our living-rooms perpetually witness to timeless truths.

Happy Advent! And other seasons, too, while we’re at it.

File:The giant Advent Calendar at 383 Smith St. Fitzroy, VIC.jpg

Photo by Eag383 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

St. Thomas Becket, Pray for Us! (Post-Election Thoughts from Me & Other Smarter People)

When I saw this photo of President Obama and President-elect Trump shaking hands [click the link, it’s not public domain], this was my reaction:

They look like men shaking hands at a funeral.  And I mean that in a good way.

It is possible to undertake an unpleasant task with both seriousness and good grace.

Here’s another photo that is public domain, from the same meeting.  If President Obama can be cheerful, surely we can put off our gloom?

Obama meeting with Trump, both men in good humor
A more cheerful moment – as one also sees at funerals. By Jesusemen Oni / VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Erin Arlinghaus writes here about the difficulty of making the post-election adjustment after actively campaigning against Trump. Readers will recall that I was ardently 3rd party (Any party but these!! Please!) and wrote both here and at Patheos about why one should not vote for Donald Trump.  I have not changed my mind.

My initial reactions Wednesday morning were threefold, and fourth quickly followed:

  • I was astonished that Donald Trump had won.  Truly astonished.
  • I felt great relief knowing we would not, therefore, be experiencing a Clinton presidency.  I was surprised at how strong my sense of relief was, when I had essentially accepted that reality as what we were going to get.
  • I was consoled that at least we could now hope for a working fourth estate.  Please, ladies and gentlemen of the press, do your work.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by reports of the sobriety with which Mr. Trump transitioned into office-elect.

My thoughts immediately turned to another politician who did what was needful when the moment came:

It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took “Thomas of London”, as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry’s wide dominions.

. . . Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy.

. . . A great change took place in the saint’s way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected.

St. Thomas Becket proceeded to exasperate his friend the king at every turn by the unexpected seriousness with which he took on his new office.  That exasperation eventually led to the saint’s martyrdom.

Donald Trump could surprise us just as wonderfully.  Pray that he will — though without the martyrdom, Lord willing.

 

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The murder of Thomas Becket, from a manuscript circa 1200, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Related:

Brandon at Siris on the implications of protesting a free and fair election:

But the anti-Trump protests people are having in various cities are annoying me. Are they protests of specific voting injustices? No. The protesters are protesting voting itself. I have no sympathy whatsoever for this. It is, frankly, revolting, as if the United States were some tinpot fresh-from-dictatorship little country, without any sense of due process or the importance of elections, both essential to American honor. Good-faith negotiation is one of the key principles of a free society; and if you have a problem with the fact that you can be outvoted by people whose views are distant from your own, protesting the fact now is a sign that your participation in the election was not in good faith.

Jim Curley at Bethune Catholic as usual sums up what I do think (and when not that, what I *should* think):

In other words, (my interpretation), if we as a people live our lives correctly, the country will be taken care of, including having good choices at the ballot box.

 

What we had this year is the two major candidates who reflect who we are and how we live as a people. Think on that for a bit. Angry, immoral (or amoral), bigoted, sexually immature, animalistic, liars, and cheaters.

 

. . .  we will go a long way for the future of the country if we as citizens reform our own lives.

 

One other (final) point. I have gotten many emails throughout the election season saying I need to vote for Trump because this priest or that priest gave a homily or talk saying so. (“Hilary is evil, Trump is just bad”). The problem is that politics is mostly in the realm of the laity. We should follow guidelines on voting from the Church, but how to play the political game is the laity’s. So many people hid behind the cassocks of clergy to justify a vote for Trump. I still don’t believe there was any justification. I hope I am wrong.

And here’s what I said to my good friend and colleague Kathy Schiffer, who endorsed Trump (So wrong! But I love you anyway!), in discussing the election results:

One thing I *won’t* do is attack a politician for something that’s not actually happening.

It’s one thing to inform yourself in an election based on past behavior. But I won’t be slinging criticisms for the dark joy of it. If he wants my disapproval of his presidency, he’ll have to earn it 🙂.

May our president-elect marvel us with unexpected wisdom, diplomacy, and integrity.

***

My main response to the post-election riots and Calexit is in the form of a bit of satire over at Patheos.  It upset some people; if you don’t like dark humor, please read some other blogger. To keep abreast of my list of recommended reading, follow either my @JenFitz_Reads account on Twitter or the corresponding (and essentially identical) JenFitzWrites page on Facebook.  I nearly never converse at those locations, but I do feed a lot of interesting reading, both from my feed reader and links other people suggest.

For civilized conversation on all the dark and heated topics I cover on both blogs (and the odd pleasant topic as well), the place to look is my blog discussion group on Facebook. I am not always there, but if I’m active online, I look when in I can.  Readers are welcome to post non-spam links of interest and converse without me, that’s the point of the group.

You can find links to all these places in this blog’s sidebar.  If you turn off your ad-blocker, you can also find out who sponsors the Catholic Conspiracy and consider giving them a bit of your business this holiday season. We never post annoying pop-up ads, so it’s safe. The mix varies, but at this very moment the three sponsors showing are the Shrine of St. Anthony, Rugged Rosaries, and a service that provides profanity-free movies.  Thank you to these and all our supporters who keep this blog on the air!

Can a Good Man Sin?

I do not know Fr. Frank Pavone, but I have friends who hold him in high regard.  There can be no questioning the sincerity of his devotion to the cause of ending abortion.  I agree with the sentiment that we who are pro-life are not vocal enough in our opposition to the massive slaughter taking place in our country.  While it is evident that I disagree with Fr. Pavone concerning certain tactics, I am not one to confuse squeamishness with righteousness.

Zeal can at times cloud our judgement.  I am an expert in rash behavior, and the decision to place a deceased infant on his chapel’s altar was, I firmly hope, an act of miscalculated passion.

It was certainly a sin.

Have you been to confession lately?  Fr. Pavone is human, and like you, he is capable of sinning.  Like you, he is capable of acting in willful disregard of the law of God.  He’s also, like you, capable of acting in culpable ignorance.  We who view from the outside cannot know the state of Fr. Pavone’s soul; we can, however, inform our consciences to the point that we can perceive when an objectively sinful act has been committed.

Now it is likely that in his tactics Fr. Pavone sinned against the virtues of prudence and temperance; certainly his bishops have found it so. For the remainder of this essay I’m setting that aside, already dealt with extensively elsewhere.  We are going to look only at the sin against the cardinal virtue of justice.  Did Fr. Pavone give God His due?

What is the Purpose of the Altar?

In our spiritual lives we often invoke the image of the sacred altar.  We speak of uniting our sufferings with Christ on the Cross, and Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When we offer up a Mass for a given intention, we might say that we placed that intention on the altar.  You’ll often notice when you attend Mass that the priest will have a card right there on the altar reminding him of the intention for that Mass.

Thus we can understand how someone — anyone — might have the natural instinct to place some significant object on the altar in an act of devotion and offering.

To avoid sin, however, requires obedience to supernatural instincts.

The altar of the Mass is the place where heaven meets earth.  We who enter a Catholic church are entering the Holy of Holies.  We are people who, at the moment of the Consecration, see God and live. We are so used to this sacred privilege that we forget how unspeakably privileged we are.  The daily duty of caring for the parish church can create an over-familiarity with sacred things, to the point that we  start to forget they are honest-to-God sacred.

Our Strength is in the Lord

Time and again in the Old Testament, we see the Lord do valorous deeds for the people of Israel.  That miraculous action didn’t end with the Incarnation: We can cite miracle after miracle in the long history of the saints down to our present day.  These miracles are not mere emotional adjustments.  God acts in the physical and social world, at times miraculously delivering physical healing, political victory, and military protection.

These miracles happen not on our schedule but on God’s.  They also follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern that illuminates the nature of Fr. Pavone’s error.  Step 1: We turn to God for His miraculous provision.  We acknowledge our complete dependence on God’s saving hand, and abandon ourselves entirely to His divine will.  Our help is the Lord who made heaven and earthStep 2: God intervenes for the good of His people when and how He pleases.

In so doing, we often experience the Lord’s sacred paradox.  We put our trust in the Lord, not in chariots and horses — only to turn around and see the Lord using chariots and horses to deliver us.  The order of the operation is the hinge on which the whole of salvation rests.

In the beginning there was God, and then He made heaven and earth.  The sacred altar belongs to that First thing.  It is a holy place set aside for the Presence of God in the shockingly same way God Is, outside of all time and space.

Righting the Sacred Order

God wills the protection of all innocent lives.  He wills an end to abortion.  It is the desire of God that men would freely act to end this atrocity.  It cannot but be the desire of God to come to our assistance in the work of protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us.  These facts are incontrovertible.

But there is another incontrovertible fact: The altar is reserved to divine worship and nothing else.

We must charitably assume that Fr. Pavone’s recent actions were motivated by a sincere desire to serve God.  All the same, he committed an act of sacrilege.  We can defend him with mercy, for who among us is not also a wretched sinner, but we can’t defend his action with approval.  To do so would require contortions along the lines of proposing that first God made heaven and earth, and then the next day He Is.

No no no.  It must always be the other way around.  It is unable to be otherwise.

The objective gravity of Fr. Pavone’s sin was in putting a second thing first.  He failed to remember the supreme sacredness of the altar.

You have probably done that once or twice, if only in thought if not in word or deed.  You may have heard about, if not witnessed yourself, reprehensible violations along these lines committed by clergy and others who ought to know better.  We humans are woefully fallible.

Mercy and Reparation

Fortunately, there are remedies.  Begin by forming your conscience as to the sacredness of the altar of the Sacrifice of the Mass.  If you do not live in a parish where the sacred altar is treated with due reverence, make a pilgrimage to a place where it is.  Lex orandi lex credendi.

Then proceed with prayer and fasting for the reparation of every rent in the sacred relationship between God and man.  Contemplate our Lord’s mercy on us sinners.  One of the missions of Priests for Life is bringing healing to those who, knowingly or unknowingly, committed a grave offense against God and man in the act of abortion.  As it is for abortion, so it is for every sin: No one who desires to repent is beyond the reach of the Lord’s infinite mercy.

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Life and Death Decisions Made Beneath the Pedestal

The other week when I posted my rant-o-rama about the misuse of the label “amazing,” John Hathaway went right to work at the blog discussion group pulling out of me the what’s really going on here??  We managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and below I’m going to explain what I think is the biggest, most deadly part of going around thinking other people are “amazing.”

But first, a few side issues that deserve some resolution:

  • We quickly agreed on the usual explanation for surly bloggers: I was being cranky.
  • I do concede that the word “amazing” has shifted to take on a second, diluted meaning of generally “nice” or “good.” I’ll spare you a long talk about how we already had words that meant those things.  (To wit: nice and good are still around.)
  • Furthermore, I generally don’t care if other people have the odd shoddy linguistic habit — don’t we all?  If you’re itching for a fight, you’ll get more fervor out of me if you bring up the Oxford Comma.

(Yes!  Even though I am a convicted comma abuser!  We pundits would have nothing to do all day if we sat around waiting for our holiness to arrive before we opened our mouths.)

Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.

Superman is Amazing

Let’s talk about Superman.  He stops speeding bullets.  He leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  He’s the guy you look for when you need something done that ordinary people just can’t do.  He’s called “amazing” because he does things you and I never could.

Ordinary people of course are “amazing” in the sense that we are each the precious and intricate handiwork of God.  Spend half an hour learning about the things we’ve discovered to date about, say, the way a human nerve cell functions, and you’ll be rightly amazed.  Furthermore, our loved ones bring all kinds of invaluable gifts to the world simply by being themselves.  Despite my cantankerous headline the other day, your children are in fact amazing even when all they’re doing is drooling over their baby food.  There’s that.

But sometimes we call someone “amazing” not out of simple wonder at the marvel of human worth and dignity, but more in the Superman-sense of amazing.  We have gotten to where certain classes of people who happen to be doing hard things are given the Superman label.

Doing this isn’t just over-enthusiasm.  Such labeling actually causes humans to die.

Hard Things Don’t Require Superman

Life is hard.  Humans — all of us — are called to do hard things.

When somebody is dealing with some tremendous difficulty, they aren’t being Superman. They are experiencing human life.

Lately though, our society has gotten that idea that difficulties are only for Very Special People.  We consider suffering to be the sole province of amazing superheros, and do all that we can to excuse everyone else — people who are “like us.”

If you have a baby with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and you don’t choose to abort that baby, people call you “amazing.”  Only special superhero people can do that; ordinary people would have to abort, because they just can’t take it the way Amazing SuperParents can.

Thus it follows that if you happen to be raising a child with a serious illness or disability, or you happen to be such a person yourself, surely you are “amazing” for experiencing such a life.

If you reach a point where your family member’s illness or disability becomes overwhelming, you’re “amazing” if you continue to care for that person rather than opting to go ahead and put the sufferer to death.  If you yourself are the one directly suffering and you choose not to commit suicide, again you are “amazing” for enduring what “ordinary” people just couldn’t do.

No! No! No!

Not Killing Innocent People is an Ordinary Person’s Job

There’s just nothing “amazing” about not committing murder.  Ordinary old you is a person who is called to man-up and do your best to muddle through difficult circumstances.

Some people endure their hardships with admirable fortitude and good grace, while others of us aren’t winning any prizes for Sufferer of the Year.  But all of us, by mere dint of our humanity, should anticipate the time when we, too, will bear our share of hardship.  We don’t have to seek it out; it will find us.

When it comes, we will not be Amazing Supermen.  We’ll feel the sting of the bullet and the penetrating wound and the leaking of life from our bodies in an unstoppable river of blood.  Suffering hurts.  Suffering is difficult.  Suffering eventually robs you of this mortal life.

Death by Admiration

The going expression is that if you put someone on a pedestal you’ll see their clay feet, but I don’t think that’s the gravest risk anymore. Anymore, the pedestal is where we put people we want to admire from a safe distance.  If you keep far enough back from someone who’s working through a difficult part of life, and you squint so you don’t see the messy parts, you can convince yourself you’re looking at Superman.

You can say to yourself, “I could never do that.  I’m not Superman like that person is.”

You can say to other people, “I don’t expect you to do that difficult thing, because if you’re not Superman it’ll be just too hard for you.”

You can say, “Well, they are the ones who chose not to abort or euthanize — if they’re having a hard time, it’s not my fault they tried to act like Superman.”

These are lies.  The people you know who are doing hard things right now? They are ordinary people.

If you admire someone’s fortitude or good grace, don’t say, “Wow you are so amazing!” as if your friend were from another planet, possessing super-human attributes.  Rather, say, “Wow. When my time comes to face some similar trial, I hope I’ll have learned enough from your example to be able to do you proud.”

File:1527-Kalender Celebi Rebellion-Suleymanname.jpg

By Matrakci Nasuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Please Join Us in Praying Monday November 7th

Join us by not joining us, that is.  The Conspirators are taking a day off Monday November 7th to fast and pray for the elections on Tuesday.

FYI for those who are wondering about my recent absence from this blog and social media, no, I haven’t been extra prayerful in advance.  I switched around my schedule to very good effect, but have ended up not quite making it to the PC at the end of the day.  More blogging is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, pray!

Your Kid is Not Amazing and Neither are You

Today’s rant is brought to you by Facebook.  Thank you, Facebook!

What happened is that my boss posted photos of her kid in a creative, super-cool Halloween costume.

(You can see a sample of them on Ella’s wall. FYI if you mostly read Family Circus and Umbert the Unborn, it’s probably not going to scratch your itch; then again, you probably don’t read here anyway.)

It is an above-average costume in ways that made it hard to find the right adjectives — so let me begin by forgiving the people who used my trigger-word in their reactions.  But we must be clear: The costume is not amazing.

Here are some things that are amazing:

  • A freak natural disaster that destroys a whole town except one building, and that building happened to be the place where everyone went for refuge.
  • Thousands of skeptics witnessing the sun dancing in the sky at the site of an approved Marian apparition.
  • Organic chemistry.

There are other things, of course.  But lately I’m wondering if people just don’t get out much, because they are constantly expressing their amazement at things I hope aren’t actually that astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, or breathtaking.

It’s normal to be impressed by someone’s display of intelligence and wit; it’s a bit insulting to publicly announce that you’re stupefied by it.

***

The amazing insult is constantly being hurled at mothers of many young children, and other people who are in the midst of doing hard things.  It stings two ways.

First is the if you only knew feeling.  I make this look easy?  Honey, you have no idea how hard this is. You’re not seeing all the ways this is difficult for me.

The second is baser: So you’re telling me that you didn’t think I was able to do hard things?

***

The amazing insult sucks all the merit out of an accomplishment.

My ninth grader has exceptionally good grades this year, especially when compared to many of her classmates.   Is there some staggering, shocking, startling secret to her achievement? No. She works hard for those grades.  She does the reading. She makes flashcards and studies them.  She turns in her assignments on time.  It’s not an astonishing accomplishment, it’s the fruit of her hard work.

I’m very sorry if you’d find it stupefying to discover your teenager did homework, but I assure you the school doesn’t fabricate these assignments with the expectation that students will roundly ignore them.

***

I don’t mean to be so much of a curmudgeon.  Once I sat down to help an artist friend with some accounting questions, and I said something along the lines of, “Accounting isn’t complicated.  You just keep a record of what’s happening.”  His retort was dead-on: “Okay, so how about if I told you that in order to draw something, all you had to do was look at the thing and draw what you see?”

Someone else’s talent can seem astonishing to us when it’s a talent we ourselves do not possess.  Like this video of Italian glass blowing (be patient, it takes a couple minutes to get past the intro and into the glass works):

There is indeed tremendous wonder and beauty in all the things that humans can do.

Still, I’m a little worried about people who are too-easily amazed.

File:Astonishment, lithograph by Thomas Fairland after W. H. Hunt, c. 1870s.jpg

Astonishment. Hand-colored lithograph by Thomas Fairland after W. H. Hunt, original watercolor, 1839, lithograph c. 1840s via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Top Ten Ways Jack Chick Will Spend His Purgatory

There are lots of people who know exactly what Purgatory is like, but few of them are available for comment.  A review of the literature, however, points to some likely ways that Jack T. Chick could be spending his hours of purification.

Top Ten Ways Jack Chick Will Spend His Purgatory

  1. Helping St. Anthony look for things.
  2. Putting finishing touches on portraits of the Blessed Mother.
  3. Listening to Saints Peter and Paul reminisce about everything that’s ever happened at the Vatican, for real.
  4. Meeting all the Jesuits.
  5. Praying along with the prayer requests mentioned on Catholic Answers Live.
  6. Assisting St. Rita in all the desperate pleas for help with last-minute Halloween costumes.
  7. Working with the purgatory-residing authors of anemic bread-wine-sharing-dinner-table songs to rewrite their lyrics into hymns suited to Eucharistic Adoration.
  8. Writing If I can’t keep my pagan gods’ names straight, I will visit the local library to fact-check 1,000 times on the blackboard.  In hieroglyphics.
  9. Preparing a big Thank You Jimmy Akin! sign to hang at the gates of Heaven.
  10. Passing out the plenary indulgences to the suffering souls who’ve just been released.

Remember, kids, for the love of all that is Jesuit: You can spring Jack Chick at any time. May he rest in peace.

***

As I shared in part 2 of my conversion story at New Evangelizers, I owe Jack Chick eternal gratitude:

Having to answer these egregious attacks on the Church was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Well, I just like the liturgy,” or “This seems to be where God wants me for now.”  I had to turn on my brain and find out: Is this faith true?  Can I know beyond a reasonable doubt that this is for real?  Because it’s lovely to have bright glowing memories of a spiritual experience, but what about when the shine wears off?  What about when all the scandals that have rocked the Church take their turn at my place for a change?  Will I still believe when things aren’t so easy anymore?

I still have my annotated copy of Are Roman Catholics Christian? full of penciled-in Bible verses refuting the assorted misinformation.  (Quick answer: Why yes, we are.  Thanks for asking.)

I can’t seem to find a proper review, but here’s my Goodreads blurb on Jimmy Akin’s excellent book The Nightmare World of Jack Chick:

Great book. As always with Jimmy Akin, it’s thoroughly researched, and calmly and charitably expressed. In addition, the book is a fun topic, not technical and it’s a quick read. Great choice for teens just getting going with apologetics. My son loved it!

You want this book.  Looks like it’s out of print right now, but you can read a version at Catholic Answers.

The Nightmare World of Jack Chick

Cover art courtesy of Catholic Answers and Goodreads.