What Genre is Genesis?

So we’re at ladies’ Bible study the other morning, and the topic of literary genres in the Bible comes up.  Not everything is a scientific treatise (this blog post is not, for example), and we aren’t obliged to read Genesis as if it were one.

Which got me thinking: What genre is Genesis?

It’s not exactly poetry, though it has plenty of poetry in it.

I’ve seen arguments for calling it “myth,” but those arguments always involve long explanations of why the word “myth” doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means.  I’m not sure that’s what is anyway, even after all the explanations.

A romance, maybe?

It is one, but it isn’t just that.

The defining feature of Genesis, it seems to me after two hours of new discoveries in just chapters 1-3 — and I was pretty sure I’d already gotten the bulk of the discoveries out of Genesis on the previous seven zillion readings — the defining feature is that you just keep learning more, and more, and more about God and His relationship with man.

Which leads me to my new name for the genre: Theological Concentrate.

Related: Julie Davis at the always-excellent Happy Catholic blog has some good notes on Genesis today re: Joseph, Potiphar’s wife, and avoiding temptation.

The book we’re studying is Courgageous Women: A Study on the Heroines of Biblical History by Stacy Mitch.  So far so good. Doesn’t play around in going right to the thorny topics in Genesis 1-3.   Cover art courtesy of Amazon.com.

When Wild Monkeys Take Over Your Classroom

Allow me to tell you a story about this woman who foolishly volunteered to help at church, and wild monkeys came and pelted all the splash bombs at each other.

One of my kids is in classes once a week at St. Optimist’s, and a couple weeks into the new school year the director identifies a problem: Students are dropped off at class early (a good thing), and therefore teachers are having a hard time getting their classrooms set up in the half-hour before the program begins.  Due to assorted logistical constraints, it is not possible to set up earlier.

The director assess the situation, looks at our available resources, and proposes: Since we have an empty classroom and a number of background-checked, fully-trained classroom assistants who are free during that crucial half-hour, how about all the kids who arrive early report to the spare room, where volunteers can do music with the kids.

“Music with the kids” is a time-honored way of occupying children during downtime, and the parents are all in favor of extra minutes of music education.  Somehow I am that music person.

–> Mostly likely because I am foolish enough to think: I have long years of experience with keeping children occupied and educated.  I have written my own VBS program from scratch and pulled it off (with the help of a good team), including the part about music-with-kids.  I wrote the lyrics to a VBS song and made up hand motions and everything.  I can totally do this.  Not a problem.

So I say to myself: Some people complain that Mrs. Fitz can be a little dry when she teaches.  These children are about to go into ninety minutes of class time, some of them are quite young, and we don’t want to push their sitting-still skills too far.  Also, Mrs. Fitz isn’t exactly a trained musician, to put it politely. But she has written a VBS program before.  Mrs. Fitz is usually pretty popular when she thinks up games for the kids, indeed she keeps both Wiffle balls (red and blue for sorting by team) and a bag of splash bombs on hand, because you never know when you’ll need them.

This could be why Mrs. Fitz’s classes get a little carried away sometimes.  <<– That reality was not something I was thinking about when I wrote up plans for the first go-round.  Indeed we could describe the first attempt at planning the “Music Games” half-hour as “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

It was not a good idea.

It may well have been my most spectacular teaching failure ever.

***

Setting aside all the minor infractions against good classroom management skills that did not help: The game thing just wasn’t a good idea.

About half the children were enthusiastic about games and eager to do interesting activities oriented towards developing an awareness of rhythm, tempo, and communication skills (like paying attention to what your singing partners are doing). The other half of the children were clearly hard-wired to receive the sensory input of “there is a foam ball in my hand” and immediately activate the DODGE BALL IS ON centers of the brain.

No one got hurt, and that’s about the only positive to report on the post-incident review.

I felt compelled to speak to the other volunteers afterwards and say: “It is very important that you know that I know that our class this morning was an absolute disaster.”  –> There are few things more painful than having to return in a week to “co-teach” with someone who thinks that Lord of Flies, Foam Dodge Ball Edition is a desirable classroom experience.

None of the other parents immediately quit the program and moved dioceses, so the frank apology maybe kinda worked.

***

But of course I didn’t get fired either, which meant that I had to come back a week later with a much better plan.

The new plan had three prongs to it:

  1. Plan ahead to prevent those minor infractions (of mine) against good classroom management skills.
  2. Plan ahead to be ready for the wild monkeys and know what you are going to do when they enter the room formerly known as Dodge Ball Free-For-All and are tempted to act up again.
  3. Ditch the games and go with a super-calm approach to music time instead.

We can always re-introduce games another time.

And it worked.  Some of those kids who were primed for Total Nerf War made superb music students when I gave them a format that didn’t involve anything remotely resembling PE class.   Teachers reported that the kids arrived to class calmer than they’d been all month, and overall behavior the rest of the morning was better as a result.

***

Lessons learned:

  • No, I am not making it up when I say at the outset of my book Classroom Management for Catechists that yes, in fact I’m horrible at this stuff.  It was a madhouse.  Total insanity.
  • That’s pretty embarrassing, but the following week I proved my other assertion: You don’t have to be naturally good at classroom management in order to learn how to teach well.  It’s a skill.  You can learn it, and you can review and improve as-needed over time.

I also maintain that there’s a time and place for every kind of class. Some groups of kids do really well with active, even boisterous, learning activities, and some kids do phenomenally well with the exact opposite.  What are you, omniscient?  I’m not.  If you plan wrong, change your plans until you get them right.

 

Classroom Management for Catechists by Jennifer Fitz

Ordering notes if you are so inclined: For bulk orders, phone or e-mail Liguori and find out what the best deal is.  It may be worth while to combine orders with a neighboring parish in order to get a volume discount.  There’s also a Spanish edition, Manual del manejo de clase para catequistas.  The book is useful for anyone who has to manage groups of children.  You can read my summary of what it’s about over at my books page.

 

 

 

 

Price Gouging is Evil.

Up at the Register: What is Price Gouging and Why is it Wrong?:

In a crisis situation, it is possible for monopoly suppliers to charge prices for goods that buyers cannot afford — thus becoming not ordinary monopolists but price-gougers. Note well: This doesn’t mean buyers don’t recognize the value of the supplier’s work and risk. Rather, the problem is that the reason it is possible to charge exorbitant prices is because the goods and services in question are necessary for survival. People will literally die if they don’t have clean water.

Contrast this to the Disneyland scenario: People will not literally die — nor even figuratively do so, we hope — if they don’t have a Disney vacation.

Price gouging is the act of choosing to profit off someone else’s life-and-death desperation rather than to show generosity.

It is bad for you to do this to yourself.

Most people instinctively know that price gouging is a nasty thing to do.  A few people though, rightly observing that price rationing via free markets is ordinarily the go-to method for figuring out how to satisfy unlimited wants and needs with limited resources, get busy in their head thinking up rationalizations for why it’s just “good economics” to allow price gouging.

It isn’t good economics, and for those people, the Register article puts a toe into the world of price elasticity of demand and all that stuff.

Summary: You can be a decent capitalist and still have moments — fire, famine & flood come to mind — when you notice that the market is there to serve you, not you to be slave to the market.

 

File:Lots of bottled water.JPG

Lots of Bottled Water, photo by Brett Weinstein, CC 2.5 via Wikimedia.

Back-to-School Means Back-to-Apologetics

Last night’s report from the corner public high school: “My history teacher explained to the class that the difference between Catholics and Protestants was that Catholics idolize Mary.”

Ah.  Well, there’s academic precision for you.

After learning that this particular teacher was a Lutheran, I produced my go-to book for children who have to deal with Lutherans who can’t be nice to the BVM:

Beginning Apologetics 6

Begining Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary from San Juan Catholic Seminars has a page devoted to key quotes from Martin Luther concerning the Blessed Mother.

If you let your kids out in public, they need to know Catholic apologetics.   Parents, don’t count on your local parish to provide this education to your children.  Maybe your parish offers excellent religious education or maybe they don’t, but it’s your job to oversee your children’s formation.

A good Catholic upbringing doesn’t erase free will.  All the best formation in the world is no guarantee your children will remain Catholic into adulthood.  But if you don’t even give them the tools they need to attempt a defense of their faith, you’re kinda asking for it.

Parish Programs vs. Discipleship Relationships

As parish programs are starting up with the school year, I want to talk about the necessity of one-on-one discipleship.  This is something that many people on parish staff have zero experience with.  But it’s just spending time with someone listening to them and providing a type of companionship that is ordered towards helping each other become better Christians.

This time could include praying together, talking about problems or personal struggles, answering questions about the faith, sharing good resources, doing a Bible study together, or providing practical how-to help – but it isn’t one thing: It’s paying attention to what the other person needs, and responding to that need.

I pause here to note: Discipleship isn’t grooming successors.  If you run a parish program, of course you keep your eye out for people who can take on responsibility within your program.  But discipleship is about helping the other person to daily answer their individual call from God, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with your program.

(Indeed: I find it very fruitful to be in mutual-discipleship relationships with people whose work is entirely separate from mine.)

Discipling someone is time-intensive.  You have to spend quantity-time being with each other, and at least some of that time has to be one-on-one time, when personal difficulties can be discussed in confidence.

Everybody in your parish needs this.

Parish staff cannot, therefore, meet the needs of all parishioners (unless your parish only has four people in it, maybe).

Therefore a parish communal life that consists of bringing in the herd, giving them a message, and then sending them home to their separate lives will not work.

Parish staff can hope to personally disciple a very small number of people. The goal should be to work towards helping those few people in turn be mature enough Christians that they can disciple others, and on and on.

A culture of “discipleship” is not just a culture where growing in one’s Christian faith is highly valued; it’s a culture where personally spending time helping each other grow is a normal activity for all members of the community.

Furthermore, to be successful, the two people in a discipleship relationship must like each other.  Otherwise spending time with each other won’t be any fun.

Therefore blind-date discipleship doesn’t work all that well.  As a result, the parish culture needs to be one where people meet each other, get to know each other, and form “horizontal” relationships.  It’s not 100 parents who each know the DRE and smile at each other in the car line.  It’s 100 parents who form friendships in a crystalline network among each other.

You can easily see that it is also therefore necessary that welcoming and incorporating newcomers into that web of parish friendships is essential.  We don’t stop at greeting the stranger.  We don’t stop at inviting the stranger to the potluck.  We learn the stranger’s name, we make sure the stranger has someone to sit with, we create opportunities to get to know the stranger one-on-one, and now the stranger is no longer a stranger and the process of getting involved in discipling one another is underway.

Finally let me clarify that a culture of discipleship doesn’t mean every parishioner is paired with exactly one other parishioner in a formal disciple-teacher relationship.  Some people might have that experience, such as if you are working one-on-one as a catechist with an RCIA candidate receiving individual instruction.  But what is normal and good is a network of discipling relationships.

For example: Jane gets out and walks every morning with Sue, and they talk about whatever’s on their minds; Sue meets Keisha once a week for Bible study; Keisha and Ann and Sarah have a girls’ night once a month where they talk about their work and family challenges; Jane and Ann do a monthly meeting where they talk about the ministry they run together;  Sarah and Maria having a monthly engineering meeting at work (all business), and then they go to lunch afterward and chat about their faith; Maria teaches religious ed on Sunday nights, and her helper Monica learns from her in class, and also they belong to the same quilting club.

Some will be relationships of teacher to student, some will be clearly peer-to-peer relationships, and most will be a combination, because everyone has their strengths and gifts and struggles.

This is copyright Jennifer Fitz 2017.  Permission granted to share it around freely for non-profit educational use; I only ask that you attribute and either share in its entirety or provide a link back here so people can read the whole thing if they like.  If you’re a glutton for this stuff, the Evangelization and Discipleship page on this site has links to other articles on related topics.

South Carolina Catholic Quiz Bowl

Something fun if you are in striking distance of South Carolina (you don’t need to be in-diocese to participate): My friend Carol Pelster, who is a tremendous pleasure to work with, is organizing a SC Catholic Quiz Bowl to be held in Columbia, SC in early November.  Her daughter Veronica writes:

My mom and I are happy to announce a date for the first annual Catholic Quiz Bowl of South Carolina! The date is Saturday, November 11 at 1 pm at Our Lady of the Hills.

What is a Catholic Quiz Bowl? This idea comes from our experience participating in the RC (Roman Catholic) Challenge in Oregon. This is a jeopardy style game for 5th through 12th graders with questions pertaining to the Catholic Faith, the Bible, the Saints, the Liturgy, etc. My siblings and I all thoroughly enjoyed this friendly competition and benefited immensely from this motivation to study our Faith. As a seminarian in Nebraska my brother started something similar there. Now, we are hoping to spread it to the South East!

What do we need to make this happen? What we need most is volunteers for the day of the game. Volunteers will ask the questions, keep score, time the games, and be door monitors. The more volunteers we have the smoother this will go. If you would like to volunteer please let my mom or me know. . . .

How does the game work? Players will be on teams of 3 to 4 players. Two teams will play against each other with the moderator asking the questions. There will be two types of questions: toss up, which anyone can answer, and bonus questions. For bonus questions the team members will be able to consult with each other to come up with the answer. Each round will be about 20 minutes. Multiple games will be going on at the same time (hence the need for many volunteers). Winners play off against each other until there is champion. More details and sample questions will be discussed at the planning meeting.

How does your child sign up to participate? My mom is working on a registration form [see below]. However, it is not too early to start talking to your friends and getting teams together. Each team will need a name and 3 to 4 players within the same age range (5th-8th grade or 9th-12th grade). This is not just for homeschoolers [parish groups, etc] –anyone in the appropriate age group is welcome. Also, don’t forget to study!

Please let me know if you are interested in helping or have questions.

God bless.
~Veronica

 

The registration form is now ready:  Catholic Quiz Bowl SC 2017 Entry Form

Here’s a poster you can share liberally: Catholic Quiz Bowl SC 2017 poster

A Facebook page and other web presence is in the works, and I’ll update this post when that time comes. Meanwhile, you can share this post with anyone you think would be interested.  Remember that your team can be put together with whomever you like — it’s a good activity for youth groups, religious ed classes, or Catholic schools, but you can also just create your own mishmash team.  If your parish or family or poker club wants to send multiple teams, that’s super.

How to Prep for the Quiz Bowl

Carol writes:

For studying, kids should refer to a good catechism, Bible, Mass Missal, Lives of the Saints, and   Church History.  For some questions to practice with (though ours will be rather less obscure)  you can look at this:  http://traditionallearning.com/rcchallenge/.

I would guess (I haven’t seen the question bank, and won’t) that any flash cards or Catholic trivia games you happen to own would be good for practicing.  Also brush up on your go-to lists (12 Apostles? 10 Commandments? Gifts of the Holy Spirit?), and so forth — the appendices of most religious ed textbooks contain good starting points.

Good luck, and get your entry forms in early so you don’t have to pay the late registration fee.

File:Copper question mark 3d.png

Image courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

When You Can’t Shut Up About Evangelization & Discipleship

It turns out I have a lot to say on certain topics.

The start of my index of posts on Evangelization and Discipleship is now up here on this blog. I put it together because I happen to need to be reminded of things I kinda know but always forget.

The index is still in progress. I started by going through my posts at NewEvangelizers.com, then went through everything in the “Evangelization” category at my Patheos blog.  There’ll be more later, but for now we’ve got plenty.  The topmost section contains the basics, and I think I’ve managed to find all the posts I definitely wanted for the 101 pile.

Head’s up for the unaware: I can be a bit pointed.  The especially acerbic bits are down at the bottom of the page in a clearly-marked category of their own.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.  

Samaritan womans meets Jesus at the Well, by Annibate Carracci

Artwork: Annibale Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Why Big Parishes are a Bad Sign

In the past few weeks I’ve gotten to visit two of the Diocese of Charleston’s newest parish church buildings.   St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg and St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken are both well worth a look.  (Our Lady of the Rosary is still on my sightseeing wish-list; meanwhile, for something fun, go see the stained glass at St. Andrew’s in Myrtle Beach — there is more information about those windows available at the church when you visit.  If you’re off the beaten path, Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood is charming and bright — the photos don’t do it justice.)

We are fortunate to live in a diocese where good design is flourishing.  I don’t for a moment wish to naysay any of the hard work and sacrifice that went into creating these beautiful new buildings.   On the contrary — I am grateful beyond expressing.

But let’s not delude ourselves: The very existence of some (not all) of this new construction should be an elegant, delightful, but shocking warning sign.

The Myth of the Flourishing Parish

Let’s look at St. Mary’s as a case study.  The original St. Clare’s chapel, now devoted to perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, was succeeded by the first St. Mary’s Help of Christians parish church early last century.  You can read an insightful history of Catholicism in the region — dating back to the 16th century — here.  The historic St. Mary’s parish church is still in use.  It wasn’t replaced because it was no longer habitable.  It was replaced because there were too many parishioners to fit into the building.

This sounds like a good problem, right?  It is, in a way.

It would be more accurate, however, to say: There were too many parishioners for the number of priests.

The Catholic population in Aiken, SC, as with the rest of the diocese, has grown significantly due to retirees moving south (we get your empty church parts to refurbish our buildings), professionals moving here from other parts of the United States, immigrants arriving from around the world, a certain number of conversions, and of course old-fashioned human reproduction.  Some of this represents spiritual growth; some of it is just other parts of the world sending us their Catholics.

But regardless of the cause, an unavoidable fact is now set in stone, brick, and concrete: We are not producing priestly vocations in adequate numbers.

A Faith Not Even Worth Living For

The Diocese of Charleston has a good vocations program going.  There’s always room for taking any initiative to the next level, but over the past twenty years the diocese has gotten conmendably serious and hard-working about reaching out to would-be seminarians.  We do have vocations flowing.  We have some superb new priests, and more on the way.  Fr. Jeffrey Kirby didn’t receive the state’s highest civilian honor for nothing.

Still, the arithmetic doesn’t lie.  Some parishes are on fire with the faith.  Some Catholics — in every parish — are wildly in love with Jesus and have the fruit to prove it.  But mostly we have to make larger buildings because we have pewsitters who love the pews, but who wouldn’t want to get carried away with any craziness.  Catholicism is legit here these days.  Church-going is civilized.  If you’re nicely married, it’s a wholesome place to raise the kids.

We feel good about our faith and we do good works, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d really give your life over for.  We pat ourselves on the back if we get the teens to Adoration for ten minutes.  We’re wildly excited if a young couple gets married in the Church — the idea that most young adults would remain Catholic after high school is a rich fantasy.  Some statistics, via Brandon Vogt:

  • 79% of former Catholics leave the Church before age 23 (Pew)
  • 50% of Millennials raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today (i.e., half of the babies you’ve seen baptized in the last 30 years, half of the kids you’ve seen confirmed, half of the Catholic young people you’ve seen get married)
  • Only 7% of Millennials raised Catholic still actively practice their faith today (weekly Mass, pray a few times each week, say their faith is “extremely” or “very” important)
  • 90% of American “nones” who left religion did so before age 29 (PRRI)
  • 62% leave before 18
  • 28% leave from 18-29

If you’re not even Catholic, you are highly unlikely to become a Catholic priest.

Old Warning Signs

For as long as I’ve been talking to catechists and faith formation leaders, the refrain has been the same: “The kids in religious ed don’t even go to Mass.”  Some do, of course (mine, and quite a few others I know), but a surprising number of children are dropped off for CCD but never taken to Mass.  The situation is so dire that some parishes have resorted to requiring children preparing for sacraments to provide hard evidence they attend Sunday Mass, such as getting a bulletin signed.

Here’s another example by way of a personal story. My daughter’s would-be confirmation sponsor is an ardent young Catholic well known by many in the local Catholic community. As we put together paperwork, however, we discovered that due to an oversight when the family purchased a new home, they are not presently registered at the parish they attend most.  We’ll get it all straightened out one way or another, don’t be scandalized because there is no scandal.

But the underlying situation is this: It is now the rule that the way we “prove” someone is a “practicing Catholic” is via a set of papers and financial transactions.  Get registered, turn in collection envelopes, and you qualify for a “Catholic in Good Standing” letter.  The idea that one could simply be a faithful Catholic known in one’s community is utterly foreign to the present practice.

What if you trusted people when they said the godparents or sponsor were good Catholics?  We have come to fully expect people would outright lie as a matter of course.

Thus we live with a different set of lies.  We as a Church are so alienated from any sense of real community that we depend on bureaucratic proxies that supposedly indicate a practice of the faith, but everyone knows that they don’t.  Everyone knows that teenagers go through confirmation to make their parents happy, and then drop out at first opportunity.  Everyone knows that the confirmation class is composed of kids who last attended Mass at their First Communion.  Everyone knows that when we teach the Catholic faith assiduously, the kids whisper to themselves, right there in class, which parts they think are bunk.

The parts they think are bunk are almost invariably the parts their parents likewise think are bunk.  The Catholic Church is the stronghold of people who know how to shut up, smile, and get along.

Repeating Ourselves to Death

Any student of Church history can attest that things have always been shockingly bad.  The behavior of Catholics is the incontroveritble evidence that God must be holding this institution together, because it sure isn’t us.  That is not, however, an excuse to keep on behaving badly.

I write this today because I’m concerned that our beautiful new buildings will lull us into continued complacency.  We will persuade ourselves that what we’ve been doing is working.

It isn’t.

The buildings themselves cry it out.  We shouldn’t have mega-parishes.  We should have enough priests that when the parish overflows, we’re ready to form a second parish nearby.

The lack of priests isn’t some mystical aberration.  God isn’t suddenly pleased with the idea of men exhausted from administering multiple parishes and saying half a dozen masses in a weekend and having to rely on collection envelopes to know who comes to Mass because they couldn’t possibly meet all the parishioners they are supposed to be pastoring.  Nonsense.

We have no priests because we are very good at getting along and forming lovely clubs, but we are terrible at being Catholic.

If we don’t change this, St. Mary’s beautiful new building in Aiken will enjoy a brief sojourn as a Catholic Church, and then go the way of Sacred Heart across the river, no longer a church, now just a lovely but Godforsaken building.

File:Sacred Heart Church, Augusta, Georgia (8342846689).jpg

Artwork: Postcard courtesy of Boston Public Library (Sacred Heart Church, Augusta, Georgia) [CC BY 2.0, Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I was asked two related questions by parish friends this week, and I answered incorrectly:

  • What things do we do to help our kids “Keep Christ in Christmas”?
  • What are we doing for Advent?

I thought the answer to both was: Nothing.  This year, anyway.

I was sorely mistaken.  Since both these are going to be discussion topics for our Family Fellowship group this week, here are my notes so I can keep my facts straight.  These are things we do, and which have held together through the years, and which I think are probably helpful.  Some are easy for anyone to do, some of them maybe not.

#1 Be a Disciple of Jesus Christ

When the SuperHusband and I first became Christians, I was a little disconcerted to notice how little our extended family’s observances of the feast involved any particular worship of Christ.  It had not bothered me before, but now somehow it seemed wrong to gather together for a meal and gifts and not much Jesus-ing.  A lot of years later, I’m not bothered.  Those of us who are Christians get plenty of Jesus-ing all year long, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and we don’t need every single moment of every single feast to have a little cross tacked on it.

(For the record, there is a very Christian grace before the big extended-family supper Christmas Eve and plenty of Christian-household backdrop going on.  We’re not celebrating Festivus or something.)

My point is this: When every day and every week of your life is built around the worship and service of Jesus Christ, there’s not a need to make sure your wrapping paper has manger scenes on it.  Both the “Christ” and the “Mass” in “Christmas” are patently obvious.  Forgetting that Christmas was about the birth of Christ would be like forgetting what your own birthday was about.  It’s unlikely to be problem.

#2 Dang I Love My Parish

My DRE has a passion for keeping Advent, and the pastor’s completely on board.  (Yes, it unrolled in that order — she predates him on the staff roster.)  Rather than rushing to quick celebrate Christmas with the kids before the break, there are Advent events throughout Advent, and Christmas is unleashed on — get this — Christmas.  The religious ed classes host Christmas parties the first class back after the break, while it’s still Christmas season.

This is not just good for holding onto Catholic liturgical order.  This is good because it causes us all to be keenly aware we are out of sync with the wider culture, and therefore aware of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  It also gives me a little bit of ammo in my effort to keep things purple around the house, though admittedly that’s push-and-pull.  Yes, in fact we do have the best Advent Lights on the block.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But I would say the biggest help we get in terms of the parish enthusiasm for observing Advent is that it completely prevents our brains from equating what we do as Catholics with that merchandising event going on at the mall.

#3 We’ve got a great Advent calendar.

The one we happen to own is the Tony Wolf Advent Calendar, which I reviewed when I first got it years ago. Each day from December 1st through 24th there is a mini boardbook ornament that contains a Bible story, prayer, hymn or carol.  All put together you get the highlights of the story of Christmas from Adam and Eve forward.  There is no Christmas Advent tree up yet this year, so I told my ten-year-old to hang the ornaments on the hooks on the mantel where our stockings will eventually go.

She loves this.  She loves reading aloud the day’s mini-book, singing along if it’s a hymn, and keeping all the ornaments organized on their hooks.  The other kids are older now, so the ten-year-old’s the chief user. I remember myself having a little mini-book Christmas ornament and how much I liked to read it (mine was The Night Before Christmas).  Bite-sized books are captivating.

There are other similarly good options, it doesn’t have to be this exact product.  I remember growing up that my best friend’s family had a homemade Advent calendar with pertinent Bible verses for each day — same principle.  I think the takeaway here on why this concept works so well is that kids like to open a new thing every day, so they bring the momentum to the daily observance, and the day’s thing isn’t just a piece of chocolate or a picture from a snowy village, it’s a piece of the Good News.

#3.5 We Stink At Advent Wreaths, Forever and Ever Amen

For your amusement, here’s a photo from a glorious Advent past:

 Monstrous silver Santa and Reindeer Candlebra with clashing candles in various shades of purple.

I would have kept the thing, but it was too bulky to store easily.  This year we’ve got an assortment of mismatched white candles with purple or pink ribbon tied around the base.  We never remember to light them.

I’m completely in favor of Advent wreaths.  I have happy childhood memories of lighting the candles at dinner every evening.  We just aren’t there.  Sorry.

#4 But We’re Good at Caroling!

Way back before we had kids, the SuperHusband and I started up hosting an annual caroling party.  It’s easy and fun and you can do it too.

As we dropped the ball on this one in recent years, some friends have picked up the relay.  Mrs. A who first started hosting an Advent tea party every year (most years) when our girls were little has merged that tradition with a potluck supper and caroling party afterwards.  It’s a good event.  We stick to classic Christian carols (Silent Night, We Three Kings, What Child Is This, etc.) plus We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  We only plague neighbors who show evidence of celebrating Christmas, so we’re not foisting our zeal on innocent bystanders.  The response has been 100% positive.

We’re up to 4/6ths of the family now singing in some choir or another at church, so the kids get a strong dose of sacred music there as well.  We go to one of those parishes where the songs are all about Jesus, which is a big boost.

#5 Jesus Fairyland

Or Bethlehem, as you prefer.  Way back at the time of our first caroling party (before kids), I didn’t have a nativity set, so I made one out of Lego bricks.  Since that time we’ve added humans to the family and all kinds of toys.  Playmobil. Fisher Price.  Little Woodzees.  All that stuff.  Thus we have evolved an annual tradition of creating not just the manger scene but a good bit of Bethlehem and environs.

We’ve had years that featured Herod’s castle and a Roman circus (the better to eat you with, my dear), though the best was during the preschool years when we had the big red barn with the door that mooed.  A traditional nativity set can sometimes look too much like Camping with Baby Jesus — Pass the S’mores.  The circumstances of the Incarnation hit home more soundly when you’ve got a neighborhood of cozy cheerful dollhouses, and then the Holy Family camped out in what truly looks to modern eyes like a place only fit for farm animals. 

This year, having just pared back the toy collection, we’re focusing on the unrolling of the historic events day by day.  Right now the angels are all up in Heaven, at the top of the bookshelf in front of the vintage Hardy Boys collection, waiting for the big day.  (That is what Heaven is like, right?)  Mary and Joseph are in a caravan headed towards the city of David. The Wise Men are still home watching the sky.  The stable is busy being just a stable, though the innkeeper — you might remember this from your Bible study — likes to come by every day and visit with his pet bunnies.  St. Ignatius Montessori, pray for us.

Animal-Human Embryo Ethics Simplified

A hot newish thing in scientific research is combining human and animal genetic material in order to do something-or-another.  Here’s a quick rundown of the moral issues involved, including “What if there were Cat-People?”

Principle #1: If it directly kills an innocent person, don’t do it.  Some of the procedures under scrutiny involve removing genetic material from human embryos (for whatever purpose, noble or otherwise), and thus killing the embryo in the process.  A human embryo is a human being.  A very tiny, very young, very immature human being, but a distinct human person all the same.  Just because your friends can’t drive or hold down steady jobs doesn’t mean they’re disposable.

Don’t kill the innocent humans.  That’s a hard-and-fast rule.  Therefore, any procedure that requires the direct killing of any innocent person is a no-go. Always and everywhere.

Principle #2: Human beings have eternal souls. Now let us imagine you acquired your human genetic material through some moral means.  A question that then arises is: Does our use of that human body-part cause a new human being to enter into existence?

We have situations in which no such thing happens.  You can donate your kidney and liver and heart and all kinds of stuff to some other person, and the recipient remains one person, the same person as before, and you remain the other. (You might be dead, but you’re still you.)  No new human is created via organ donation.  We can conceive of situations in which the use of human genetic material works in a similar way — the donated body part does what it does, but it doesn’t cause a new human person to come into existence.   In such a case, as long as other criteria for moral action are met, there’s not a problem.

We have, likewise, situations in which the pro-creation of a new human person does or could happen.  It is not necessary for us to analyze the state of science at this very moment.  All we need to know is that if a new human being is made via cloning, genetic donation, or what have you, we’ve violated a moral law.  It is immoral to procreate outside the bonds of marriage.  But, like all the other immoral ways people procreate, we also know that every human person is endowed with inherent dignity that comes from being an eternal soul created in the image and likeness of God — regardless of the circumstances of conception.

Therefore, though it is patently wrong to create new humans via cloning, IVF, rape, adultery, and whatever else science might devise other than the marital act, the new humans so-created still must be treated with all the same rights and privileges the rest of humanity is owed.

Principle #3: When in doubt, err on the side of protecting the sanctity of human life.  People are stupid, though, and sometimes evil. We can envision, therefore, some dreadful situation in which scientists create part-animal-part-human hybrids.  Is this new creature a human being?

Well, that would be hard to know, wouldn’t it?

We could be quite certain that if, say, you donated a human lung to a pig, the pig is still a pig.  We know that because that’s how it works when you donate a human lung to a human.  The recipient remains what and who the recipient always was.  There are moral problems with donating human tissue to animals, for example: Why was a perfectly good human lung wasted on a pig?  Those issues must be dealt with, but they are different from the question of whether the pig just became a human person. The pig is still a pig.  Not one you want to barbecue, though.  Ick.

In contrast, let’s say we created an embryo in-vitro (don’t do that, it’s wrong), but rather than using 100% human genetic material, we used some portion of non-human tissue as well.  The resulting being might be obviously “human” or might not be.  But here’s the rub: You could not count on appearances alone to know whether you had a human person.  Does it look mostly like a human, but really it’s a dog-soul animating a modified dog-body, more like the animal recipient of human organs?  Or, in contrast, does it look mostly like a dog, and lack many of the characteristics we take for granted as being “human” but in fact it’s a human soul animating a damaged human body?

It is quite probable that we might find ourselves in the situation of having to say: Who knows?

And in that situation, the moral response is to assume it’s a human person until proven otherwise.

Conclusion: Baptize the Cat People.

Should you create human-animal hybrid creatures? No!  You shouldn’t be procreating humans in the laboratory at all, unless it’s you and your spouse up late going at it the old fashioned way.  But in the event that hybrid-creatures are produced, we would be obliged to treat them as if they were human, no matter how miserably inconvenient that turned out to be.

 

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File:The ball of yarn; (1854) (14804043403).jpg

Artwork: The Ball of Yarn (1854) by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons