Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Convergence of two happy things: The Catholic Writers Conference is coming around again, and I’m putting together an index of my writing on discipleship and evangelization.  In trolling my posts at New Evangelizers, I came across this one that is apropos of the conference season.  And yes, if you’re a Catholic who likes to write (fiction or otherwise), you should give the Catholic Writers Guild a good looking over.  More on that soon.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Why bother with Catholic fiction?  As I write this, I’ve just returned from the Catholic Writers Guild’s annual live conference (our online conference is held in early spring), and once again I’ve met dozens of great Catholic authors eager to reach a Catholic audience.

I’ve also had a few discouraging conversations with publishers.  “We’re really only able to sell retellings of saints stories. We’d like to do other fiction, but we can’t.”  “We love that children’s fiction series, but we can’t break even on it, so we had to cancel further installments.”   “We want to do fiction, but . . .”

It’s a hard market. Over the past 50 years, Catholics in the pew have taken the notion that anything true, good, and beautiful is indeed “Catholic”, and run with it . . . right out of the Catholic market, and into the secular bookshelves.

And there’s something to that.  After all, we Catholics don’t need to decorate every story we read with a crucifix and a Hail Mary in order to be edified.  Reviewers like Julie Davis at Happy Catholic mine the treasures to be found in all kinds of strange corners.  The Catholic faith truly is universal, and so it’s no surprise that all good literature evangelizes, regardless of the label that goes with it.

Still, there’s a place for explicitly Catholic stories of every genre.  Why?

Catholic identity

Our faith is not just a cultural identity, but yes, we’re human, so it does matter to us that we aren’t the only Catholics out there.  My daughter is a big fan of the Anna Mei series from Pauline Books & Media.  These stories are your basic middle school coming-of-age stuff, and the Catholic faith is part of the fabric, but not the crux of the plot.  Still, I love that my daughter can see a Catholic character turn out for Mass on Sundays, or say grace with her family.  We all need to know we aren’t the only ones doing this religion thing.

Solid answers to hard questions

John McNichol is a house favorite at our place, since we have that middle school boy sci-fi / alien-attack demographic sewn up tight.  McNichol gets criticized for putting  religious conversations in his dialog.

Well, guess what?  That’s what teens really talk about.  McNichol is a veteran middle school teacher and father of 10 bazillion teens, so he knows that, and he puts real questions teens ponder into the mouths of his teen characters.

But here’s the rub: unless it’s Catholic fiction, those questions aren’t going to get a Catholic answer.

Catholicism is not generic

You know what irritates me on Facebook?  Vague “spiritual” feel-good platitudes being spouted by people who should know better.

Oh, I know, I need to lighten up a little.  And I’m the first in line to be ecumenical when ecumenical is possible.  But sooner or later we need for Catholics to claim their faith as the one and only.

Catholic fiction lays down the gauntlet: our faith is not one choice among many.  It’s not just a “flavor” or a “style” of religion.  A sincere faith means we’re going to have an awful lot of explicitly Catholic stories to tell, because our faith offers something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you with me on this?  If so, here’s what I propose we do next:

1. Talk about it.  

There are lots of folks in the pews for whom this idea is absolutely radical.  It’s just not on their brain.  At all.  So mention it.  Drop a line in conversation like, “I love being able to find good Catholic novels for my kids.”  Or, “It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t trashy for a change.”

2. Start buying Catholic fiction.

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, ask them to stock it. Print out the book info for the title that interests you, and ask them to order it.  If you have a parish library, donate good Catholic fiction to their collection.

3. When you read a good Catholic book, leave a review . . .

. . . at Goodreads, Amazon, and the publisher’s website. Then mention it to your friends – online and in real life.

People want to be able to practice their faith.  Reading good Catholic fiction is a way that many people can be encouraged,  inspired, and yes, even catechized at times, in a way that comes so naturally to story-loving humans.

***

Read any good books lately?

What titles would you recommend for the Catholic reader looking for a good story to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

(Psst!  FYI for new readers – the blog discussion forum is here.)

 

Catholic Writers Conference Live! Logo.

 

Easter Report: Five Good Things

#1 Fr. Gonzo finishes strong. I probably shouldn’t call him that, it might encourage him.  The man who gave me this thing forty-something days ago decided to launch, his words, the “Mother of All Easter Vigils.”  If that man left out even a single speck or jot of an option, as found or legitimately inferred in ye olde Roman Missal, please, not a word.  Also next year, I’m having a nap and a cup of coffee before the vigil.  Or else just doing like last year and going to the Sunday evening Easter Mass, which was quite nice and ought to be offered more widely.

#2 There was a bacon accident.  Sometimes people are like, “Oh you’re a homeschooler? Could you make me a craft and a casserole?” These are the very same people who would squirm if I said, “Oh you work in an office?  Could you make me a 1040x and a manuscript proposal?”  So anyway, I tried making bacon in the oven Sunday morning, and I did it by following the directions on the package.  More or less.

The difficulty is that it came out perfect.

Perfect bacon is cooked to the point of extreme crispiness, just short — but nearly to the point — of crumbing at an untoward glance.

Sadly, the man I married and many of our offspring are under the impression that bacon is meant to be sort of chewy and moist.  I’m okay with that.  All bacon is good to me.  I will totally put on my inner St. Therese and eat wet bacon.  No problem.  Canonize me now.

But I accidentally cooked the bacon too long, and it was extremely, very, astonishingly good.  The difficulty is that there wasn’t any spare bacon to undercook for the other people, and that was kind of sad.  I’m open to continuing practice on this art until I nail it.  Eight weeks of Easter calling my name.

#3 First child trained in the ways of the IRS! It’s pleasant having Easter after the taxes go in.  I literally dropped off four envelopes at the post office on the way over to the Vigil.  Mr. Boy got A Real Job last summer, which means he had a real tax return (two – one federal, one state) this spring.  I had him do the process step by step on his own, and then I’d check it and show him what he did wrong (if anything — a 1040EZ isn’t that hard, even if it’s more complicated than it used to be), and he’d fix it, and we’d move on to the next thing.

It is well worthwhile to start doing your taxes on your own right from the beginning, and to keep with it year after year as things slowly get more complicated.  Pays off in the long run.

#4 Fedex is a wondrous thing.  It’ll be three kids and I on the big trip this summer, and I ordered those three some useful books to prep for the trip and work on their French.

FYI of all the suppliers I found, Decitre.Fr had the best deal on international shipping if you’re looking at many low-budget books rather than one expensive book.  Each kid received a book on the Mass. The boy received two history books and an atlas.  The girls each received a coloring book on Alsace (primary destination), a second coloring book on a relevant topic (history for one, all-things-Christian-faith for the other — between the two, they’ll have encountered most museum, historical site, and art-related vocab), and a book of personal interest for motivating the reading practice (cats or rabbits).

I went with cheap books because I wanted them physically light and compact, and intellectually not too intimidating.  That also allowed for a slight overflow on the order, so duds could be culled and everyone still get good books.  –> Not true duds, but a couple of the books that looked nice on the internet turned out to be either too little-kid or else too difficult for a beginning student of the language; I set those aside for me.

Anyhow, on international orders there’s not an option (with Decitre) to have books sent in sub-packages, and I knew a few of the books would take a couple weeks to be ready to ship.  So when I got the shipping notice Spy Wednesday, I figured it would be a late Easter?  Nope.  Packaged Wednesday morning, queued at CDG by Wednesday evening, onto a plane and into my local Fedex office Thursday morning.  I went out for a walk Thursday morning, and as I was coming back to my yard at 9AM the Fedex mini-van showed up with a package for me to sign.

You didn’t used to be able to get foreign books this easily.  I like the modern world.

#5 Journaling Bibles.  So that left one child with no books in her basket, because: Poor planning.  The Easter Bunny was pretty pleased she’d gotten to Aldi to pick up Not-Slave-Labor chocolate, thanks.  So then the bunny remembered this argument from a month earlier.  The girl is in the FCA at school, and apparently all her friends have “journaling” or “notetaking” Bibles.  These are Bibles with wide margins or other white space where you can essentially illuminate your own manuscript.

Could she have one for Confirmation please?  And how about right now, so the Holy Spirit can get to work ASAP?

The difficulty is this: Apparently Catholics have given up on illuminating, or else we just don’t publish trend-Bibles — I’m sure our publishers are full of good excuses for the lapse.  The situation is bad enough that Catholic Icing has a great tutorial about how to convert your Catholic Bible into a journaling Bible by covering up the footnotes with bits of paper.

A girl I know does not want to cover up footnotes with bits of paper

Thus in the spirit of Easter is For Heretics, Too, I caved.  On the way home from Costco with all the Easter food, I did check my local Catholic bookstore to see if there was something, anything, that I could pass off as a journaling Bible, but no dice.  (There are lots of great Catholic Bibles out there, by the way.  Just not ones for coloring in.)  But after that, into the breach: Walmart for Bible-shopping it would be.

[Sheesh, guys, I’m buying some unapproved-translation, books-missing Bible for coloring in, I’m not shelling out a lot of money on this, really??]

Walmart is smarter than a Catholic publisher.  They carry a mass-market, paperback version the HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible, and it’s easy to find if you go to the book section — shelved both with Bibles and with adult coloring books, since it’s both a Bible and a coloring book.  The inside looks like this:

My child wasn’t looking for one that was pre-illustrated, but we both secretly like it.  Some of the illustrations are very apropos, such as the image of Christ Crucified in the margins next to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy.  I could do without Mary With Rosy Cheeks, but Catholics have done far worse to the Blessed Mother and somehow the Church still stands.

My teenager spent her afternoon working on her Bible.  Her younger sister said, “We should have brought these to that retreat last month!”  I think I can work with this trend.

Easter Egg Wreath by #3.  Leaving a child alone with a hot glue gun has its advantages.  For more on the cost of becoming a Pinterest Parent, see here. Okay, I see the photos aren’t loading anymore.  I’ll fix that and update. [Update: Okay – all fixed now, I hope!]  The text explains the less-pretty parts of the crafting life. 

 

The Blessings of Being Flipped Off

by: Vincent Weaver

Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.

However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.

The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.

This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger.  Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.

Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.

What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.

That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.

So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.

And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

Lent Days 21 & 22: St. Joseph Delivers the Goods

St. Patrick may have declined on the green candy, but St. Joseph came through with Krispy Kreme.  He came Monday afternoon, in the guise of our crazy-happy-Catholic friends who stopped by to pick up a child from a homework-date, and held out a dozen hot-doughnuts-now.  Can I help it if the Church in her wisdom made Monday a solemnity?

No I cannot.  If you’re going to observe the fasts, be in on the feasts, too, or you aren’t so much a Christian as a Stoic.

So I was obliged in Christian duty to welcome the doughnuts with delighted gratitude, and you’ll be glad to know I did my Christian duty wholeheartedly.

Would St. Joseph Bring Home Krispy Kreme?

There are of course wrong-headed people in this world who have been deceived into believing Some Other Doughnut is a better doughnut, but that is not the question I mean to address.  All we can do for those people is pray; reason has nothing to do with it.

We can, however, reason out the question of: Was St. Joseph the kind of father who’d bring home the doughtnuts?

[Insert for the word “doughnut” the 1st-century counterpart: Some kind of scrumptious but utterly uneccesary low-budget treat that young Jesus would have jumped up and down when He saw it coming, and the Blessed Mother wouldn’t have minded if she did, thank you Joseph, what’s the occasion?]

I argue that he was.

Mary, being preserved from sin, would have been careful with the money.  When she shopped, she would have had in mind the hours and strain of the work Joseph did to support the family.  She would have looked for ways to make the feasts festive, yes, and she may well have had some small savings from her own work that she used for the odd splurge for the family.  But I don’t imagine the Holy Family was overloaded with junk food.

And that, in turn, would give St. Joseph his opening for bringing home the doughnuts.

He who put in the long hours, and worried about savings, and was well aware he’d need money for lumber to patch the roof next autumn — he was a normal man.  Mostly he’d want to make his wife and child happy by providing the daily necessities; but sometimes he’d want to show up at the house at the end of a long day and pull out the donuts.

 

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, original, out of the oven and on the conveyor belt about to be glazed.

Photo by Neil T [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  FYI if you like less-sweet doughnuts, when the “Hot Doughnuts Now” light is on you can request a dozen “Original Glazed” un-glazed and they’ll pull them off the line for you at the point shown in the above photo.  Take them home and top them with whatever you like.

 

Lent Day 18: Catholic Childhood Memories

From St. Patrick’s Day:

Child climbs in car, we’re driving to the Catholic homeschooling co-op for drama class.  Late and having rushed out the door, as per usual. “Mom, are you wearing green today?”

“Yes I am.  I have my green sweater on.”

“Shoot.  I’d better find something green.”

Mother, feeling resourceful: “Want to borrow my green scapular?”

“Um.  No thanks.  I’ll clip this green hand-sanitizer holder to my belt loop.  That’ll work.”

 

More St. Patrick’s Day:

Same child, having solved the green problem and moving on: “St. Patrick was supposed to come last night and leave us candy.”

Skeptical mother: “Oh was he, now?”

“Or green toys or something.  Or a leprechaun comes.”

Mother, still skeptical: “Oh I see.”

“It’s okay.  He can come tonight instead.”

 

Then, Saturday morning . . .

“Mom. St. Patrick forgot to come last night.”

Mother: “St. Patrick doesn’t come to our house.”

“Or a leprechaun.  All my friends get candy from the leprechaun on St. Patrick’s day.”

“All your friends, eh?  What are the names of those friends?”

Hems and haws for a moment, then clarifies that it’s actually her sister’s friends.  “All of A’s friends at St. Urban’s get candy.”

“Oh do they?  What are the names of those friends?”

“Um. Well there’s Benedicta.”

Mother is not surprised.  Benedicta’s mother is like that.  “Anyone else?”

“And Assumptua.”

“Isn’t she Benedicta’s sister?”

“Well, yes.  But they both got candy. The leprechaun comes to their house.”

“The leprechaun doesn’t come to our house. Good try.”

 

Good problems, Catholic School edition:  When your child is sobbing and begging to be allowed to go to school, and swears she really isn’t that sick.

 

Weird problems, Saint Books edition:  

Bored child: “Mom, do we have any of those little saint books but that aren’t about  someone who becomes a monk or a nun and all they do is pray?”

Mother chooses not to argue, though there may have been a slight eye roll.  “Um.  Let’s go look.”  Thumbing through the shelf that contains middle-grades saint books, Mother pounces on St. Isaac Jogues, who was neither a monk nor a nun.  “How about this one?”

Child frowns and shakes head.  “No.  I want one of these saint books.”

Ah.  Well.  In that case . . . “How about this one?”

“Is it boring? What did he do?”

“He got tortured by Indians.”

“Okay.”

Saint Isaac and the IndiansSaint Isaac Jogues -- With Burning Heart

For all your tortured-by-Indians needs, book covers courtesy of Ignatius Press and Pauline Media.

Lent Day 8: Can’t Go Wrong Saint Books

PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series.  They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself.  It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.

I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these.  Need to rectify that.

 

Saint Teresa of KolkataSaint Catherine Labouré and Our LadySaint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Damien of Molokai -- Hero of HawaiiSaint Maximilian Kolbe -- Marys KnightSaint Isaac Jogues -- With Burning Heart

Artwork courtesy of Pauline Media.

 

Lent Day 5: Cheesecake??

As Scott Reeves explains so well, Lent is more than just a self-help program.  That said, if you aren’t going to gather up the fortitude to reckon with your near occasions of sin during Lent, when will you?

That is the rationale behind our resolution to eliminate extraneous sugar from the family diet.  We theorize, but aren’t certain, that at least one of our children would benefit from a diet with relatively less sugar and relatively more fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates; we suspect that making that transition will improve the mental health of everyone, directly and indirectly; thus it’s a switch that, we think, will make it easier for all of us to become more like the people God created us to be.

That’s the hypothesis.  We’re testing it during Lent because honestly it’s hard to make yourself give up something good, easy, and pleasant when you aren’t even sure it matters.

With that in mind, SuperHusband went to Costco.

“Please don’t bring home more of those yogurt things,” I asked him before he left.  Yogurt in itself is not a problem food, but the individual servings of flavored yogurts the kids devour like starved goatherds come with a piles of extra sugar.

“But [certain child with low appetite] loves them, and they’re mostly healthy,” SuperHusband observed.

“Well, just look at the nutrition information and do the best you can,” I said.

So he and our reluctant eater went off to Costco and came home with . . . cheesecake.

Um, darling?  Lent?

Outside of the penitential seasons, we always get some kind of good treat for Sundays.  But during Advent and Lent I tend to scale back — not a hard and fast rule, mind you, but let’s just say that a giant tray of cheesecake is more Easter-Christmas-Birthday than Sackcloth-and-Ashes.

SuperHusband explained: “I looked at all the nutritional information, and this one had the best fat-to-sugar ratio of just about anything.  A bazillion times better than those yogurts.”

I believe him.  We’d acquired this particular cheesecake a few weeks ago for a birthday party, and it was noticably better than typical, and it was not overly-sweet at all.  Very much in the real-food category of convenience items.

Okay, then.  My goal isn’t to satisfy some preconceived image of what is and is not “penitential” enough to satisfy the St. Joneses.  My goal is to meet the unusual but pressing nutritional needs of one of our children.   Cheesecake to fulfill our Lenten resolution it is.

 

File:Raised slice- 10-18-15.jpg - Picture of a whole cheesecake with one slice removed and being held up by the spatula.
You want to know what penance is? Scrolling through Wikimedia looking for just the right picture of cheesecake . . . and not eating any of your kids’ cake sitting in the fridge. No need for a hair shirt here, thank you.

 By Sirabellas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lent Day 3: Put a Raincoat on It

Something we are doing this Lent is cutting out extraneous sugar from the family diet.  (Why?  Not to lose weight.  I’m the only chubby member of the family, and I don’t eat all that much junk food.  But we’ve noticed that some of the castle residents tend to be more emotionally volatile when they are living from snack to snack, and thought that peace in the home was worth attempting.)

There’s not a hard-and-fast rule to that resolution, but there are some obvious changes.  Don’t stop for donuts as a way of rewarding the kids for meritorious behavior, for example.  One of the chief challenges is that the children are all enthusiastic chefs, and several of them specialize in variations on pastry chef.

Therefore I had to confiscate the sugar.

If I didn’t, they’d go on quietly creating delectable baked goods whenever the parents weren’t looking.  They  might not even do it out of defiance — it’s just a habit.  So I took the sugar canisters from the open shelves in the kitchen and stowed them in a laundry basket in the parents’ bedroom (double Lent: that room is already cluttered enough without adding “pantry” to its list of responsibilities).

Next I had to take the chocolate chips.  Mid-morning Ash Wednesday I find a child happily creating chocolate candies.  “They aren’t for today!” she chided me solemnly.  How dare I question her penitence, sheesh?  So I added the canister of open chocolate chips to the laundry basket, and later found the resupply of chocolate chips* in the laundry room cabinets and put those in the basket too, because otherwise children would take the initiative to fix the Lenten inventory problem in the kitchen.

So now in my bedroom I’ve got a basket full of sugar and chocolate chips — really good chocolate chips, not those sorry ones that are mostly corn syrup.   Really, really, good chocolate chips.  In my bedroom.  Staring at me as I walk in after dropping a child off for an internship, on a Friday morning when I’m pretty hungry and trying to be virtuous but have not had breakfast, and did I mention they are really, really, good chocolate chips?

So thank goodness not-my-truck needed an oil change and so I had to switch vehicles with the spouse so I could take care of that this afternoon, and therefore I had to empty my junk out of the truck before he went to work, and that meant, as I was being reined in by the siren song of especially, wondrously, notoriously good chocolate chips, that I had a raincoat slung over my arm.  I was going to hang up the raincoat in the closet, since it’s a sunny day and I thought I wouldn’t be needing it.

But you know what needs a raincoat on it?  A basket full of chocolate chips.  And then I don’t have to look at temptation, glowing in the rays of springtime — Lenten — sunshine every time I go to my room.

Thank you, raincoat.  Thank you, oil change.  No thank you, chocolate chips.

 

Four umbrellas against a wood backdrop.

Photo via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

*The reason I have an inventory of chocolate chips is because we prefer, when possible, to acquire them from Equal Exchange or some similarly reputable source.  Since we live in the South, we can only mail-order chocolate during the cold months.  It’s practically pioneer living, you know.

Lent Day 1: Father Gonzo Makes His Mark

1.1 This morning, an unwary child says: “I haven’t decided what to give up for Lent.”

Evil Dictator: “Not to worry.  I’ve got you covered.”

Between cutting out extraneous sugar and sending us all to bed on time, child, it’s gonna be a long Lent.  But a calm one, so we hope.

1.2 A different, diligent little Catholic bear, was determined to set a fixed penance.  “What if I give up Netflix and Amazon?”

“What’s your goal?” Evil Dictator inquires.

Discussion ensues.  Child finally resolves, after taking advice, to write on her card to turn in at school: “I will give up all TV and movies, with the exception of shows my parents or teacher tell me to watch.”

1.3 Good problems: And your Catholic school student wants you to come to the school Mass in the morning, which is always very good . . . and your spouse and your boy are going to be singing Allegri’s Misere Mei Deus at the evening service.  Here’s an abridged version:

Another version, unabridged, and with girls in it:

So yes, I went to both.  Ashes and Holy Communion at Mass #1, and then sat back and enjoyed the music and prayed along at Mass #2.

1.5 My school child wasn’t so keen to double-dip, and asked if maybe I could require her to watch a little Netflix while I was at the second Mass.  Well, darling, funny you should mention that.  Evil Dictator’s got quite the talent for finding all the kids’ French-language videos on YouTube, and that’s something you need to be watching over the next few months.

I pulled up tabs of French-language entertainment and . . . she read books instead.  Her English is gonna be excellent before Lent is out.

1.6 So I show up at church for Mass #2 and Father Gonzo takes a look at me and says: “Did I do that?!”

Jen with massive black ashen cross on her forehead.
I sure didn’t do this to myself.

“Yes you did.”  And let me say: There’s nothing like walking around all day with Father’s Revenge, as the guidebook calls it, to bring out all the evidence of your horrid inner disposition.

40 days to get my act together.  Or forty seconds, everyone’s hoping.

Why Annulments Matter

From this morning’s Gospel:

He [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

One of the reasons I think that people get upset about the question of divorce, remarriage, and Holy Communion is that they don’t understand what’s happening.  I’d like to look today at the question of what an annulment is, and I want to do so by way of an analogy.  Like all analogies, it is imperfect.  Still, I think it sheds light on the overall situation.

An Otherwise Decent Guy Gets Into a Mess

Imagine you’re a young man in your twenties.  Like many young people, you were a tad promiscuous during college, something you shouldn’t have done, but, well, you did.  One Saturday morning you answer the door and one of your college girlfriends is standing there, with a darling little boy at her side.  He’s the spitting image of his mother.

Your ex-girlfriend explains that the boy is probably yours. She apologizes for not informing you sooner, and appeals to your better self and asks you to do the right thing.  The boy needs his father to be in his life.

A Decent Guy Becomes a Stand-up Guy

After you recover from the shock if it all, you do exactly what she was hoping: You agree that of course you will do your best to be a good father to any child of yours.

This isn’t going to be easy.  There are good reasons you and the boy’s mother stopped dating each other.  There will be lots of complications to work through.  You are now going to have to devote a massive amount of time and income and emotional reserve to the rearing of this boy.  You’ll have to reorganize your career and personal plans to make sure you can give this boy the attention from you that he deserves. It’s not easy to be a parent, and it’s even harder when you aren’t married to your child’s mother.

But you are a decent human being, and the least you can do in this world is be a good father to your own child.  It’s not something you have to think about.  Of course you’ll do it, you tell her.

Except There’s This Other Guy

There’s one hitch though: Neither of you are 100% sure you’re the father.

The dates all work out, but honestly? She was a tad promiscuous herself.  There’s at least one other college friend who might be the father instead.

Your ex-girlfriend thinks it’s more likely that you are the father, which is why she came to you first.  She asks you to take a paternity test, which will clear up all doubt.  You agree that’s a good idea.

Why Does Paternity Matter?

Let’s review two important facts:

  • It’s quite likely you are the father.
  • You have every intention of being the best father you can to this little boy, if he is in fact your son.

But still, it’s important in this complicated situation to ascertain paternity if possible.  Why?  Two reasons:

  • It’s important because the boy has a right to be reared by his own father, if possible.  There are many situations in which, unfortunately, a child cannot be raised by his own biological parents.  But if it is possible, he and his parents will both rightly want that to happen.
  • Likewise it’s important because the responsibilities of a man towards his own child are significantly different than his responsibilities towards children in general.

You’re a stand-up guy.  If the boy isn’t yours, you’ll still wish him and his mother well, and you’ll do all the things that any decent man does to help the children of his community.  But it would not be fair to you to expect you to rear a child to whom you have no particular connection, and it also would not be fair to the boy and his real father.

The two of them deserve the opportunity to be father and son, if that is possible.  It would be an injustice for you to step in and presume the rights that properly belong to some other man.

What’s a Marriage Tribunal?

A marriage tribunal is something like a paternity test.  A paternity test attempts to answer the question: Am I the father of this child?  A marriage tribunal attempts to answer the question: Am I married to this person we’ve assumed until now was my spouse?

As with paternity tests, we don’t examine the validity of marriages except in difficult circumstances — situations where there is reasonable doubt.  If you are separated or divorced, the question might reasonably come up.  Whatever circumstances led to the separation might hint that no valid marriage was ever contracted in the first place.

Like a paternity test, the purpose of a marriage tribunal isn’t to give you the answer you want, its purpose is to give you the truth: Do I have a solemn and irrevocable bond with this other person, or do I not?

 

File:Biertan house for divorcing people.jpg

Photo: The Beirtan house for divorcing people, via Wikimedia.  The photographer’s description explains: “This small building stands next to the church of Biertan (Birthälm). There was the habit to close there for two weeks the couples that wanted to divorce. Inside there was only a bed and the necessary to eat. It actually worked because in 400 years only one couple eventually decided to break up.”  By Alessio Damato [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0].