Emergency Confirmation Class Reboot

So next up on the dashboard is a post sharing parents’ confirmation class experiences from around the country.  But meanwhile, Margaret Rose Realy — yes, this Margaret Rose Realy — let me in on the secret about The Lake of Beer.

No one told me about this.

We have a Lake of Beer.

Catholics get a Lake of Beer.

People: Christian Mysticism –> Lake of Beer.

I don’t understand why we’re not taking advantage of this situation.

I mean, yes, “Infinity Mercy” is a fine theme for Confirmation class.  Sure sure sure.  But there outta be an asterix and fine print on the bottom of the t-shirt that says and also a Lake of Beer.

File:Stbrigid.jpg
Catholic mystics do it right.

Artwork: Stained Glass of St. Brigid of Ireland via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

The Solution to the Big Parish Problem

Yesterday I wrote about why ever-expanding parishes are a sign of trouble. This does not mean that a big parish is a bad parish; it means that if a diocese is growing in pewsitters but not in religious vocations, it’s growing spiritual fat, not muscle.  The good news is that stored energy, in the form of pewsitters, can be converted into a healthy Body of Christ just as soon as the head makes up its mind to start doing the things it takes to regain spiritual vigor.

A large parish that is pulling this off right now is St. William’s in Round Rock, Texas.  Over at the blog discussion group, Martina Kreitzer writes:

You should come visit St. William in Round Rock, Texas. We are the largest parish in the diocese with no sign of growing slower. Our post confirmation program retention rate is 4x the national average . . . and our parish faith formation programs (pre-k through high school) are thriving in ways that make our “mega church” work. We are also blessed to be a 100 year old parish in which the founding family still attends (and can often be seen in the trenches of service oriented work). We come from humble beginnings, have a multicultural background, and are rich in heritage – Mexican/Anglo/rich/poor, etc.

You should come talk to our priest, Father Dean Wilhelm, our adult faith formation director Noe Rocha and our high school and middle school youth ministers, Chris Bartlett and Gwen Bartlett (they are brother and sister). They are also co-founders of a mentoring ministry called Next Level Ministry, designed to help youth ministers get the most out of their programs.

Martina is behind the Jesus is Lord program, one of the key elements of St. William’s success, and which you can read about in detail:

Jesus is Lord Series Introduction

Week 1: God’s Love

Week 2: Sin and It’s Consequences

Week 3: Salvation – God’s Solution for Sin

Week 4: Repentance – Recognize and Receive

Confession

Week 5: Holy Spirit – Going from the Seat to the Feet

Prayer Session

Week 6: Jesus is Lord of My Talent

Week 7: Jesus is Lord of My Time

Week 8: Jesus is Lord of My Treasure

Week 9: Jesus is Lord of My Sexuality

Week 10: Intentional Discipleship and Commissioning

Is this program suitable for parishes not quite like St. William’s? Definitely.  It’s being used at Texas A&M’s legendary St. Mary’s Catholic Center, where vocations are flourishing.  You can watch the campus video series here.

What is this “Intentional Discipleship” business?

Back up a second though and notice the title for Week 10 of the Jesus is Lord series.  If you are not familiar with the concept of “Intentional Discipleship” you need to read Sherry Weddell’s excellent books on the topic, Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.  The first book explains the problem, and the second tells you step-by-step how to solve it.  Book three, Fruitful Discipleship comes out in April 2017.

FID and BPID are both best suited to intermediate-level lay readers. You don’t have to be a genius or on staff at the parish, and both books are eminently readable, but when my own discipleship group read FID, some of the members found the density of the book a little overwhelming.  After you’ve read the book yourself, if you want to communicate and discuss the ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples with a broader audience of parish lay-leaders and future lay-leaders, the free CatholicMom.com study guide for Forming Intentional Disciples provides a snapshot summary of the key ideas and a few discussion questions for each chapter.

For the whole dang parish, Brandon Vogt’s book Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church is an excellent 101 on evangelization and discipleship for the ordinary Catholic.  He offers a video course as well, which I haven’t reviewed but which you may find helpful.

So there you go.  And if all fails, The Catechism of the Catholic has a few pointers as well.

 

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

 

Dear Protestant Friends, Please Don’t Have Church on Christmas

I’ve heard there’s a stir among some Christians concerning assorted Protestant congregations declining to have services Sunday morning the 25th.

I wish to encourage this habit.  

I’ve already told my mother-in-law that if *her* mother-in-law, whose Baptist church is hosting a service Christmas Eve only (during which time she’ll be busy with the family), if she in her deprivation would like to visit my Catholic parish Sunday morning?  I will absolutely attend two, yes two, Christmas Masses so that my poor beleaguered Protestant relative has company.

[I’m obliged to be at Mass on the vigil, firm commitment.  And, yes, I hate crowed Christmas Masses just as much as everyone else. But I’ll take one for the team, you bet.]

I’ll be honest, I’m surprised to hear about this year’s church-service defecting.  Years ago (2011?) my son was sitting with my husband at his evangelical church on a Sunday Christmas morning, and the pastor in his sermon asked, “And why are we here this morning?”  To which my son responded: “Because it’s Sunday.”

Which was correct.  In years when Christmas didn’t fall on a Sunday, my then-Protestant husband came to Mass with the mackeral-snappers, because that was the only Christmas-morning action in town.

Thus a year or two later my husband came to Mass with us one Christmas non-Sunday morning and promptly forgot to ever go anywhere else.  Within a month he’d gone and reverted to the Catholic faith.  Thank you Protestants!  Keep up the good work!

So it’s with mischievous hopefulness that I’m hearing so many non-Catholics won’t be having church this Sunday.  You Catholic friends?  Stand in the back and help the vagrants find seats in your pews.  Thanks everyone!

Related: 10 Reasons It’s Safe to Come to Mass this Christmas

 

File:Anbetung der Könige im Schnee.jpg
Artwork by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick Note on Living Wages & Social Justice: Profiteering

While waiting for the timer on the pizza to beep, I came across Theodore Seeber’s post about a hypothetical scenario (linked from yet another blog writing on yet another topic) concerning a business owner who sources his clothing from a sweat shop.

There is much to say on the topic of just wages, and if you check the early archives of this blog you’ll see where I’ve gone and said a goodly portion of it.  The question of culpability looms large, in that often we cannot know or control every aspect of a commercial transaction.

The one concept I thought worth highlighting from Seeber’s comments is that there is a moral distinction to be made between solidarity and profiteering.  Everything else equal, if the business owner is profiting from the low wages and poor working conditions at his factories, it is a serious sin.  That should be contrasted to the situation of, say, a subsistence farmer whose hired workers live and eat just as badly as the employer.

In terms of economic theory, the challenge is overcoming the idea that just because an exploited worker is better off being exploited than being dead, does not therefore mean that we have a free and fair exchange of labor for wages.  Anytime your only alternative to a course of action is certain suffering and death, we cannot say your choice has been “freely” made.

For more details, see Rerum Novarum.

File:Mariani pope.jpg

Pope Leo XIII, who knew what he was talking about.  Courtesy of Wikimedia [public domain].

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.

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. 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.

 

File:Thomas Becket Murder.JPG
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.

Related Links: