How Clerical Trust is Rebuilt

A friend wrote in anguish to ask: How do I know what priest I can trust?

It’s a question borne of damning evidence:

  • Cardinal McCarrick promoted through the ranks and honored by the nation’s top Catholic universities despite the “open secret” that he was using his power to get away with molesting seminarians.
  • The Diocese of Lincoln failing to protect its college students and seminarians from the vocations director who molested them.
  • Cardinal O’Malley wisely canceling his appearance in a panel on protecting children and young adults at the World Meeting of Families because the seminarians at Boston’s St. John’s Seminary have spoken up about the sexual harassment they endured.
  • The Pennsylvania grand jury’s massive report on the covering up of sexual abuse — even to the point of Cardinal Wuerl approving a monthly allowance from his diocese for a priest removed from ministry because of his sadistic molestation of altar boys — and the report doesn’t even cover the whole state.

It goes on and on.  The hushing up of the immorality is rampant and entrenched.  It infects not just the United States but clergy at every level, all around the world.

And yet you know in your heart that at least some priests are good. At least some of them are trustworthy.  Who are they?

The Stakes are Life and Death

One of the consistent themes in reports of victims — children and adults, men and women, across the nation and over several generations — is the use of god-language to placate the victims.  God wants us to do this. Blasphemy in the extreme.

If sexual abuse in general is terribly damaging, it is all the more so when the abuser twists the victim’s relationship with God — cursed if you do, cursed if you don’t.

In a cover-up culture, the victim is abandoned and forsaken.  What should be a source of support in a time of suffering is now the death blow.  It is no wonder that victims attempt suicide, and that some succeed.

So the question of trust matters.  You need to know before pouring your heart out to your priest: Is this guy gonna see I’m vulnerable and take me for an easy mark? Is he going to realize my kids are easy prey because they live in a home where the adults are struggling with some serious issues?

How do I know whom I can trust? is a life or death question.

Less terrifying but still serious: We have learned that many priests who aren’t themselves predators have been complicit in the cover-up culture.  Do you want to walk into a counseling session with a guy who is a lifelong practitioner of denial and gaslighting?

When you are already vulnerable, you need to choose your counselors wisely.

We Can’t Live Alone

Trust no one.  That’s how it feels right now.  That feeling is not misplaced paranoia.  That feeling is the result of the fact that all across the United States and around the world our clergy who should have been trustworthy have shown themselves not to be.

But the Trust No One way of life isn’t tenable.  Human beings are made for community.  We are made to know and be known, to love and be loved.  Interdependence isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Extending trust to other humans, even in our most vulnerable moments, is necessary for our own good.

But to whom can that trust be given?

Trust is Earned

In a private conversation, a colleague who would know said to me, Bishop X is a good guy.  I don’t know Bishop X from a shelter pet.  Backwater diocese, doesn’t make the news, Bishop X is just this guy who has worked with my colleague long enough that they’ve gotten to know each other and Bishop X has shown himself to be trustworthy.

I thanked my colleague for saying so, because right now there is nothing Bishop X could say that would prove his innocence.

Right now, our clergy have no credibility — and many lay employees have no credibility either.  They cannot speak up in their own defense, because lying and dissimulating are such entrenched habits in the administration of the Catholic Church that you simply don’t know who is telling the truth.  We’re living in the world’s largest Agatha Christie novel.

And yet Bishop X has someone vouching for him.

How’d he get so lucky?  By his actions.

Trust Isn’t Instant

The trouble with trust is that it takes time to prove.  You don’t really know how your priest will handle a difficult situation until he’s given a difficult situation to handle.  You have to actually see him admit to mistakes, or hold the painful conversation, or step in and forthrightly bumble his way through complexities that have no one right answer, but can at least be faced bravely and without flinching.

Can you trust your teen to call you if she needs a ride home because her friend started drinking at the party?  You’ll never know until the night when she’s stuck out at the party with the drinking friend.

We build a hope of trustworthiness on many small things.  Does your priest always prioritize smoothing things over, even if it means tolerating small-scale corruption?  Is maintaining a good reputation his most important value?  Are complainers dismissed as cranks?

Don’t trust that guy.

As with our children, the way we extend trust to our clergy is by giving them little chances to prove themselves.  If you can look back over the years you’ve known your parish priest, or your bishop if you spend that much time with him, and you can see a track record of honesty and integrity — despite whatever his garden-variety flaws might be — there you go.

If you have no such relationship, then start building that relationship.  Contact him about a problem — something that isn’t going to devastate you if he fails to address it properly — and see how he handles it.  Are his actions consistent with someone who really wants to solve the problem (even if it can’t be solved easily), or does his priority rest with good PR and making sure nothing gets in the way of his personal ambitions?

Watch over time: Does he keep “loyal opposition” involved in parish or diocesan life, or does he sideline anyone who doesn’t shut-up-and-put-up?  When a staff member does something wrong (it’s going to happen, to err is human), does he correct the error or does he try to act like his staff are above reproach?  Does he himself openly acknowledge his own mistakes, or does he blameshift and gaslight?

It’s a slow process.  Trust is proven over time.  If your clergy have already shown themselves, over and over again, to be stand-up guys who can be counted on to do the right thing — thank God!

If guarded optimism is the best you can offer right now, then try to find a sane balance between the “guarded” and the “optimism,” neither too fearful nor too over-trusting.

And if you have no evidence of your priest or bishop’s trustworthiness, allow it to be just that: No evidence.

Maybe he’ll prove himself down the road, and that will be good.

File:Artgate Fondazione Cariplo - Canova Antonio, Allegoria della Giustizia.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 3.0 photo by  Fondazione Cariplo

 

 

 

The #2 Thing Anyone Can Do to Help the Church

There are two myth-making forces at work in the McCarrick scandals.  One is denial.  Clinging to the idea that there are a few bad apples, and they are just so very sneaky and that’s why they got away with their crimes.

The other myth is that the good guys can fix this.  We imagine we can run over to Costco and pick up the plenty-pack of Accountability Spray, and with enough elbow grease the house will be squeaky clean again.  Everyone pitch in!

If the Church is a house, myth #1 is that the fridge is a disaster and needs to hauled to be the dump, can’t decide whether to fumigate the couch in the den or just burn it, and let’s rip out that musty carpet in the back bedroom — then everything will be fine again.  A few cobwebs and a squeaky staircase?  Typical old house.  Relax.

Myth #2 is that sure, we belong on an episode of Hoarders, but if we call in the team we can all work together until the junk has been cleared out and the walls and floors are all scrubbed down.

That’s not what we have.  What we have is extensive rot in load-bearing walls.

What does the rot look like?  It looks like this comment from the fabled orthodoxy-wonderland Diocese of Lincoln:

I’m glad someone has finally spoken about this.  A fellow-seminarian (now-priest) and I were tormenetd by MK’s [Msgr Kalin] behaviors for a long while.  Our experience was part of what led +Fabian to order that at least 2 people accompany MK on the stadium walks.  I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

What was happening is that Msgr. Kalin, who was both diocesan director of vocations and director of the University of Nebraska Newman Center, was molesting his students.  The former student explains:

Since you seem to be afraid to read between the lines, I will state it plainly: repeatedly asking to touch and be touched in inappropriate places, asking for “French kisses”, and doing these actions without being given permission — to say nothing of the entire grooming process by which these actions/gestures were normalized.  I finally said something after my friend walked into the chapel literally *shaking* after one of these episodes, because until then, I thought it was just me.  It was at that point I woke up to how twisted the whole situation was and had been for some time.  Now, think about the fact that this is coming from the person who made himself your confessor and spiritual director.

UPDATE: Here is an account of Wan Wei Hsien’s experience that provides a clearer timeline of events.

This is the same Msgr. Kalin who was the picture of a balanced commitment to priestly chastity in an interview for American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church:

When I asked Kalin about homosexuality, he said, “I get to know a candidate pretty well before I recommend him to the seminary, and if I think someone is an active homosexual, I’ll take him aside and we’ll agree that the priesthood isn’t for him.  On the other hand, Bishop Flavin always said that he didn’t care what someone’s inclinations were, as long as he was sincerely committed to a chaste life.”

American Catholic by Charles Morris, p. 387

Predators cover their tracks.

A healthy, sane person would react to such betrayal with shock, despair, and disbelief.   If the lone-predator myth were true,  then when Msgr. Kalin’s deception was uncovered, a clear-thinking supervisor would do a thorough investigation and either exonerate the accused or determine the man was not competent for ministry.

What was bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s solution to this problem?  Require seminarians to only visit their director in pairs.

That’s right: The bishop understands that the director of seminarians can’t be trusted alone in the room with a seminarian . . . but he still thinks the man is competent to direct the formation of the diocese’s future priests?

This is the behavior of people in abusive relationships.

***

Here’s an interesting article in that it shows you the shiny veneer of a dysfunctional family.  Compare the key players in that happy vocations story to the names in Rod Dreher’s efforts to dig out the facts on the Kalin case (quoted above).  Gives you pause for thought.

***

People in abusive or dysfunctional relationships behave in insane ways.  There is constant blame-shifting, avoidance of responsibility, and generating of excuses and distractions to cover over the real problems.  Anyone who tries to speak reason or point out real problems becomes the enemy.  The status quo must be preserved.  Everyone tied up in the abusive relationship has somehow come to believe that their safety is threatened if anything disrupts their twisted, tormented way of life.

So seminarians are sent to see their director in pairs.

A generation of priests in one of the most boomingly orthodox dioceses in the nation were formed by a notorious lecher who was left in office after his crimes were known to the bishop.

That’s not about McCarrick.  That’s about Bruskewitz.  Different theology, different politics, different dioceses . . . same problem.  All across the nation and around the world, whitewashed pillars of the church are decayed to the core with this rot of abusive and dysfunctional relationships.

***

I and others who have been writing about the McCarrick fallout get letters from church-workers, clergy and laity alike.  We get thanked for our open, outspoken coverage of the bishops’ failure of leadership.  And invariably there’s a coda: “I can’t say anything myself.  I have to be careful.”

Yes, I know about that.  I know about being pushed out of a parish ministry because I held someone accountable for a gross failure of common sense where child safety policies were concerned.  I know about silence and “discretion” that involves never, ever, speaking up with plain answers.  I know about people accused of sexual crimes against children threatening lawsuits if you share public information about the status of their legal case . . . even as they are in the process of inviting your own children to their home.

I know about that.

***

I also know that things are complicated.  I know that false accusations happen.  I’ve been the key witness in a case defending an innocent man against an egregious and absolutely fabricated, revenge-motivated accusation.  I know that decent people get overwhelmed in difficult situations, and we don’t always handle the moment in the best way.  I know that sometimes you are under the gun and you do something really dumb, and you regret it later, and you resolve to never do it again.  I know that sometimes you examine a situation carefully, and you still come to the wrong conclusion about the best way to handle it.  I know that sometimes you just don’t understand how serious a situation is, and you don’t treat it with the gravity it deserves.  Stupid happens.  It happens to all of us.

***

Here’s the difference between stupid and dysfunctional:  Healthy people don’t build their lives around defending and perpetuating stupid.

***

So what can anyone, in any state of life, do in response to the rot of abuse and dysfunction in our Church?

Of course #1 is to fast and pray.  You know that.  You don’t need a blog post about it.

The response that hurts is #2: You have to act like a healthy person.  You have to refuse to be part of the cycle of dysfunction and abuse.

The only way for the Body of Christ to be healthy is for members of that Body to be healthy.  The gangrene stops here.

***

That’s not fun.  It gets ugly fast, because the dysfunctional people will pull out every weapon they have to fight your insistence on sane behavior.  You can expect lying, evading, shunning . . . the works.

What does it mean in parish life?  It means you might not have much of a parish life.  It means that you might become the persona non grata, because you refuse to play along and pretend everything is fine.  It means you or a family member might be denied the sacraments.

***

Oh no!  In that case—

Think about it.  You’re afraid that if you refuse to sin, and if you refuse to be party to perpetuating sin . . . you’ll be cut off from the grace of God?

That’s not how God works.

How God works is that He rewards His prophets by having them thrown into a cistern.  He rewards His son’s obedience with the Cross.  But His grace is right there the whole time.

File:Dome Cappella Chigi from inside, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy.jpg

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Minecraft for Adults!

The 14-year-old, she of recent heart-surgery fame, got to talking about wanting to be the one to design the rooms for a much-wanted minor renovation of our living space.  (Tip: When your children double in size, they need slightly more bedroom space than back in the glory days when you could squeeze them all into bunks like pint-sized sailors.)

The girl likes to design and decorate.  She keeps begging to design my classroom for this fall (yes, me with a regular teaching job — whoa!).  She has built whole neighborhoods in Minecraft, year after year of new communities.  She went through a phase where she played World of Tanks with the prime object of driving around looking at the houses.  And of course there have been countless 3-D models built — wood block, plastic block, cardboard doll houses, you name it.

So I told her if she wanted to design her brother’s new bedroom, she needed to get on Google SketchUp and do it there.

She grabbed the good computer (smart kid — knows when she can get away with claiming the parents’ computer) and started searching around.  Periodically she’d call out with a question from the other room, but after enough times of me calling back, “Look up a tutorial on YouTube and watch that,” she quit asking for help and just figured it all out.  Which was necessary, since I have never actually used SketchUp.  I just knew it existed.

Five or six hours in, she declared,”This is addictive. It’s like Minecraft for adults.”

Which is when I quick started googling architecture schools.  I kinda like the look of Benedictine’s program — nice balance of real art and real engineering courses (you have to dig up the student handbook-catalog to see the whole program laid out — wish they’d stick the course of study up on the website directly).  By nightfall her father was already giving her the talk about how if she wanted to be an architect she’d need to spend a summer framing houses.  It is possible the parents can be a little intense at times.  But he’s right, of course.  I pointed out she’d end up wickedly fit, and SuperHusband added she’d end up with a killer tan.  The latter seemed to pique her interest.

We’re on day two of the SketchUp marathon, and if nothing else, she’s found a way to pass a long and uneventful post-op recovery.  Whether it turns into a profession or not, it’s good for a teen to discover she can teach herself genuine adult professional skills.

File:Vista sketchup dell'ingresso al museo del Castello Sforzesco..jpg

Sample of some SketchUp art by BennedettaG, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 3.0.  L.’s drawings contain more water features.  We are not building water features, FYI.  Nor arches.  

In other news: The boy made it to his apartment in France despite getting delayed and re-routed.  I was pretty proud when I learned he’d managed to get himself and two other beleaguered travelers across Paris to catch the last TGV of the night to their destination city — complete with standing his ground with the evasive SNCF employee who was reluctant to let foreigners know national secrets about catching trains.  (Eventually a supervisor showed up and insisted the minion answer questions because it was obvious the boy wasn’t going to leave until he was assisted, and the supervisor wanted to go home for the night.  Mr. Boy reports all the other Parisians were quite helpful, there was just that one throwback from the days before the French discovered that “customer service” is a thing that can help draw customers to your tourist-centered economy.)

Is it nerve-wracking wondering if your sweet little baby whom you swear was only born five minutes ago is going to have to find a place to sleep in a strange city late at night?  Sure.  But sooner or later, a kid has to learn these arts.  And he had the sense to know that if you arrive at your destination at midnight, you scrap the plan to walk to your apartment and hail a cab instead.   When you let your kids practice the adult skills, they start developing the adult instincts.  It is good.

Pro-Parenting Tips: Doubly-Virtuous Children

Something I like about our parish school is that every week the students bring home a folder of all their graded work, so we parents can see how they are doing.  We sign off on the papers and send them back to school, so the teachers know we’re in the loop.  Here’s my 6th grader’s latest religion test, on the theological and cardinal virtues:

You’ll notice the teacher marked #8 incorrect.  The instructions are to match the cardinal virtue to the statement, and #8 is “The virtue that enables people to give respect and obedience to their parents.”  The cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice, temperance (self-control), and fortitude.

Obeying your parents is exactly the kind of thing thrown out as a classic example of the virtue of justice.  I use it myself all the time.  If I were taking the test, that’s the virtue I would have picked from the list.  So the teacher isn’t exactly wrong here in saying “justice” is the correct answer.

The difficulty is that this is my child’s test.  And I assure you, my kid is absolutely right.  If I had to put up with me, I’d need fortitude for sure.

Why We Homeschooled So Long

At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues.  Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me.  Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms.  It looked ideal.  It practically called her name.  There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light.  For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.

And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child.  Maybe I should send her to school.

Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom.  By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you.  Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read.  All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five.  They were physically unable.  Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.

Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that.  Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world.  This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to.  You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store.  You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature.  Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out.  Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.

***

(If you want to understand the great Maria Montessori vs. Charlotte Mason wrestling match, the missing piece is this: Charlotte Mason’s audience had access to the real world; Maria Montessori’s students were kids who would otherwise have spent their day alone in a tiny working-class flat while their parents put in 14-hour shifts at the local factory.  Much of Montessori is about providing Mason when Mason can’t be had.  At The Register I’ve got up a piece that is an example of that kind of adaptation, in this case for teens.)

***

I’m still a big believer in homeschooling.  I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education.  For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school.  As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table.  I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning.  When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.

So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?

The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need.  When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences.  Homeschooling let us do that.  Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.

Anyhow, all this to say: Let your kids play.

 

Related: On the Forming of Young Christians

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Not my children, but mine play this game too.  Photo by Abi Blu, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

So How’s It Going, Jen? (Spring 2018 Edition)

I’m about a year overdue on a personal update.  Short version: It’s good.  Very, very good.

How good is it?  So good that if I don’t work and workout enough every day, I get restless.

And that’s about all there is to say.  About me, anyhow.

***

I thought I’d post an update now because the last of my homeschoolers is starting school next week, and that can make people think, “Something must be wrong,” or, “The mother must be burned out,” or stuff like that.  My close homeschooling friends are aware that L. & I were due for a change of format, and we looked into creating a multi-day hybrid school (which may yet happen a different year); both of us seem to do better when we’re working with a group of friends rather than just the two of us solo.  But I would have gladly transitioned that direction and kept on homeschooling.

What happened, though, is that A.’s 6th grade teacher got to talking about schools for next year (for A.). My 8th-grade homeschooler L. & I did the advance work scoping out a school the teacher suggested we look into, and L. loved the school.  It seemed ridiculous to tell a kid that she shouldn’t try a thing she really wants to do, that looks like it could be a good option for her in terms of her total formation, and which was a realistic option for our family.  Starting at the midterm in 8th grade (at the administration’s invitation) seemed like a wise idea, since it allows L. to give the school a try before the pressure of high school credit- and GPA-tracking kicks in.

Something fun: We were nervous about the school’s placement exams.  L. is a super-bright, extremely observant and creative kid, with an undeniable knack for problem-solving, but test-taking is not her strong suit.  She’s an outside-the-box thinker, and she doesn’t excel at working under pressure.  The school (small, church-operated) is not equipped to provide extensive learning support services, so they assess students prior to admitting them to make sure the students are coming in on grade level.

We were a little worried, because I grade that child’s math tests.  I know she can solve the problems (because she can explain how to solve them, teach other people, etc.), but her tests don’t always show it.  She sat through a day of 8th grade classes and said she was confident she could do the work, and I trusted her judgement on that — but wasn’t sure the tests would agree with her assessment.

Much to her surprise, even though she thought she did poorly on the math exam (and perhaps she did), she placed firmly at grade level.   Double surprise: She placed in a 12th+ grade level for reading comprehension.  (Spelling . . . not so much. But we knew that was coming.  Not a show-stopper.)

Sooo . . . guess that homeschooling thing was going okay.

She’s excited.  I’m happy for her.  And now I’m figuring out what my new occupation is going to be.

Here’s a nice hiking photo from France last summer.  By “Here’s a nice hiking photo  . . .” we mean, “Why yes, it’s going very well, thank you.”

The Advent Wars Escalate

We’ve reached a new low on the Battle for Advent: My house now sports an Ordinary Time Tree.

Christmas Lights on a fir tree, up close
Maternal Penance in Mixed Media, Detail

I told the children they ought to crown it for the feast of Christ the King, but they were too busy ignoring admonitions about liturgically-correct decorating schemes while they quick tied up all the cut limbs with red plaid bows.  In memory of the souls in purgatory, I’m sure.

***

Early last week my trusty Surface Pro (reliability rating: 7th Circle of IT Hell) spontaneously quit working, forever and ever amen, while I was using it.  I assume it was pre-punishment for my caving on the tree.  So I spent the week sharing one PC with a man who was home “on vacation” working all day at the one PC.

And that’s the story about how I became a Black Friday shopper.

Surreal part: No lines, no crowds, no traffic.  I gather that the “we’re closed on Thanksgiving (until 5pm)!” thing is causing all the crazy people to get their manic shopping needs taken care of on the vigil, leaving the daylight hours to those of us who don’t love the contact-sport side of holiday shopping.

Disturbing part: I purchased a laptop named after a deadly sin.

It was on sale, so it’s okay, right?

More disturbing part: It was not the right deadly sin.

If you told me I was blogging from a machine called wrath I’d consider it truth in advertising.  Sloth and gluttony come to mind as obvious runners-up. Were it a school chrome book, now the go-to way to avoid the hassle and expense of textbooks even though students don’t learn as well online, we could call it avarice.

But envy?  Nah.  It’s shiny, but not that shiny.  Envy is why we have the ordinary time tree.

 

Advent, Christmas, and Your Child’s Vocation

It’s time for the Advent Wars to flare up again here at the Fitz castle.  I think I’ve found my solution, and it’s related to my latest at the Register and a new book out by Suzan & Eric Sammons.

Let’s start over at NCR: 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest.  I’m pretty sure that post is now officially the most popular thing I’ve ever written.*  To clarify and provide related links, at the blorg I put together a compendium: Evangelization and Discipleship for the Boys & Girls Who Live At Your House. With that as a preface, here’s how my solution to the Advent Wars fits into my approach to fostering vocations in my kids.

There are 12 Days of Christmas, and They Don’t Start Until December 25th

The annual battle concerns when to put up the Christmas tree and how to decorate it.  The mother resides in the Advent Austerity camp.  The more closely we imitate the lodgings of St. John the Baptist the better, right?  The children, led by the Eldest Daughter, would be perfectly happy to have Rudolph on the Roof beginning November 1.  In years past children have literally sneaked the fake Christmas tree out of the attic while I was sleeping and set it up in the living room in total silence.  This might be the one thing they manage to accomplish without any bickering whatsoever, so I count my blessings and offer it up.

But this year things will be different.

This year, Suzan Sammons put into my hands a review copy of her new book The Jesse Tree: An Advent Devotion.  I like it.  There’s a chart that shows you how to get all your ornaments up during Advent, no matter how weird of a liturgical year we’re having.  The sample ornaments in the book are crazy simple.  The daily suggested reflection and prayer hits the spot without overwhelming.  It’s like this book was written by a couple Christian parents with a pile of kids.   I recommend this book.

The Jesse Tree

Also you longtime readers know me: I’m not doing no Jesse Tree.  Sheesh.  Who are we kidding?

But you know who can do a Jesse Tree?  My crafty Christmas-crazy kids, that’s who.  So the new deal is this:

  • IF children want to do the Jesse Tree . . .
  • AND the teenagers who now have drivers licenses agree to do all the craft supply shopping . . .
  • AND the teenager who tends to hog craft projects solemnly promises to let her little sisters have a fair share of the ornament-making work . . .
  • AND the 11-year-old who best succeeds at daily routines and pestering us all into responsible family behavior and who happens to be a great Junior Lector agrees to host the Jesse Tree prayer time each evening . . .

THEN parents will fund the ornament budget and let children put the tree up before Advent begins, FOR ADVENT ORNAMENTS ONLY.

That’s my solution.

How does this fit in with my vocations post at the Register?  I’m so glad you asked.

Kids need to own their faith.

There are a bazillion ways to be Catholic, and kids need to figure out for themselves which devotions and prayers and disciplines are made for the type of people that they are.  If God fills you with a passion for Pinterest projects, you should run with it.  My eldest daughter has long been certain she has a vocation to marriage, and I don’t disagree.  The homemaking side of holy day observances is part of such a vocation.  So why shouldn’t she practice it?

If I do everything for my kids, they’ll never learn how to do things themselves. That’s true of laundry, cooking, homework — and it’s true of their faith.  You have to give kids chances to practice being Catholic, all on their own.  Now that two of my kids can drive?  I totally let the kids go to whatever Sunday Mass they want, regardless of when the parents are attending.

It is really important that kids know down to their bones that the faith is something they do, not something they only do with their parents.  They have to practice showing up at church alone so that it feels normal and natural for them to wake up on a Sunday and get in the car and drive to Mass someplace.   I don’t mean you’re a bad parent if your whole family gets in the car and goes to Mass together every week.  I mean that we parents need to look for ways — and this Jesse Tree thing is an example — that happen to be good ways, given your own family life, for your kids to practice taking charge of their faith.

You’re still the parent.  They aren’t totally spun off on their own yet.  But if you see some good opportunity for a kid in your family to do a thing he or she naturally wants to do and that provides that chance to take the lead on the faith, let the kid have at it.

Related Links, Starting with Crafts:

  1. My friend Sandra pointed me towards Ginger Snap Crafts, where you can find instructions for wood slice ornaments and for snowflake ornaments among many others.  You could switch out the snowflakes for Jesse Tree symbols. The wood grain nativity set was what originally caught her eye – don’t use treated lumber if you want your preschooler to be able to build Bethlelem with it.
  2. You do know about Catholic Icing, right?

From Advents Past:

5 Ways to Give Your Family a Peaceful Advent

Well Hello, Advent.  We Meet Again.

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

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I don’t know why all the lists come in fives.

Two New Holiday Movies & a Grammar Lesson:

Dickens, Scrooge, and the Road to Redemption: A Review of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Reviewed by Tony Rossi

“The Star”: Hijinks and Holiness Make a Fun Christmas Story for the Family.  The handful of Catholic writers I’ve talked to who’ve seen the preview have loved it — and some of them are quite prickly about Hollywood getting hold of Bible stories.  So scout around for reviews if you’re not certain.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season Because you love America and Tiny Tim and don’t want a reindeer to have to die each time you abuse an apostrophe.

Who is that Eric Sammons Guy?

It turns out he writes good books.

And did you notice how beautifully edited those two books were? I did.  It was Suzan Sammons we have to thank for that, in case you’re ever looking for a good copy-editor.

And finish to the round up . . .

The Top Three Things I’m Most Glad I Added to My Holiday Season

These have stood the test of time.  They are my go-to holiday things.  Now you look around and find your holiday things.  Happy Advent Wars!

 

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Image by Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

*Correction: As of mid-morning, How to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic still had the lead in total shares.  Look at them both and vote with your sharing buttons!

A Thank You Note for Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I wish to thank you for your extraordinary comments to Professor Barrett, in whom, you assure us all, the dogma loudly lives.  (May that be said of all Notre Dame’s faculty one day, please God.)

The reason I wish to thank you is because, like most people, I have some things I believe to be true.  I also have children, most of whom are now teenagers.  Teenagers do this thing that’s necessary for the good of the species, but aggravating all the same: They question the beliefs of their parents.

I would like them, for example, to believe with all their heart that texting and driving is always to be avoided because it poses a serious danger to themselves and others.  I think that’s true, I assume you do as well, and since one day my children might be sharing the road with you, we both have a strong interest in their coming to accept that belief and act on it.  You might say that you and I are dogmatic on that point.

Another thing I’d like them to accept with all their heart is the Catholic faith.  That’s something that probably isn’t so easy for you to understand.  See, here’s the difficulty with kids these days: They don’t fake religious beliefs in order to get along and smooth their social paths.  Back when you were a kid?  Yeah, people did that.  They might be Catholic because it was their family heritage, or they found the communal life appealing, but without necessarily feeling that they had to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith as being exactly true.  I think you work with some people who are like that.

But we of the younger generations don’t do fake-religion so much.  There are a few holdouts, of course, but for the most part, if a young adult these days practices a religion, it’s because he or she thinks it is true.   That’s especially so for Catholics, because in many circles (yours, for example), there’s no real social benefit to being Catholic.  Sometimes it even kinda sucks.  (In a join-your-sufferings-with-Christ kinda way, don’t get me wrong . . ..)

So, like many Catholic parents, even though I try my best to pass onto my children the things that I think are true — both about road safety and the reality of human existence in a larger way — I am well aware that my kids might choose to reject my beliefs.  And though they might lie and say they don’t text and drive even if they do (please God no), they probably won’t get around to lying about being Catholic, at least not after they’ve moved on to college.

And that’s why I want to thank you.  See, my boy is a senior in high school, and like many boys he doesn’t always share his inner thoughts with the world.  I don’t always have a clear read on what he thinks about the Catholic faith.  But this morning?

I showed him the video of you making your famous quote.  He laughed so hard at how ridiculous you were — it was truly a wonderful moment for a mother to share with her son.  We made jokes about “dogma” and a little bit of woofing sounds (which got our actual dog excited and after that she stood at the door all day watching for squirrels because she could tell we knew dogs were important), and also he joked about “those dangerous Christian religious extremists refusing to kill people!”

It was a really fun time for the two of us.  It was also a moment when I knew that my boy understood a person should act on his or her beliefs.  Otherwise they aren’t really much in the way of beliefs, are they?

So thank you very much for giving us that little gift.

I wish you all the best,

Jennifer.

PS: My son also thought you looked drunk.  But you weren’t, I don’t think.  He really hasn’t spent that much time around either senators or drunk people, so he’s not necessarily the best judge.

 

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Photo via United States Congress, US Senate Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Know if Your Clothes are Okay

In light of the recent controversy over whether FLOTUS was wearing the proper shoes for climbing into an airplane to visit a natural disaster zone, I offer this quick guide for how to tell whether you are wearing what you ought to be wearing:

You are a politician: Wear a suit.  Always wear a suit, except when you are being too uptight by wearing a suit.  In that case, you should forgo the suit so you can be disrespectful for not wearing a suit.

You are a business owner: If you want to intimidate your employees by showing you are a member of the corporate elite, wear a suit.  If you want to intimidate your employees by showing that you are powerful enough you don’t have to wear a suit, don’t wear a suit.  The proper way to dress is called “Giving out free food to poor people,” unless it’s part of your secret plot to oppress poor people.  The media will let you know.

You are a college student:  Wear exactly the right t-shirt.  Not wearing a t-shirt shows you are planning to oppress people one day, except when it shows that you are going to do great things one day.

You are a mother:  Go change your clothes immediately.  You obviously don’t care, at all, about your children, your family, or the downfall of civilization.

You are a father: Did you dress yourself?  We can tell.  Did your wife dress you?  We can tell.  Either way, you must never, ever, look like your mother dressed you.  Also, she should have raised you better than that.

You are a teenage girl:  Your clothes, if you choose to wear them, are just fine.  Everything you wear is just fine.  Anyone who says otherwise is body-shaming you.  You are not actually required to wear clothes, though, because that would be sexist.

You are a teenage boy:  You can wear whatever you want, as long as you are saving someone from imminent death.  Otherwise, please go away.

You are a disabled person being bullied or glorified on the internet: Your clothes are the unique expression of you — don’t change a thing!

You are a disabled person who hasn’t been born yet, or who requires any medical care, ever, for any reason: Die, wastrel.  Clothes are not meant for you.

You didn’t die, and now you’re out in public being weird:  There should be better funding for programs to make you less weird.

You are a thin, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Your clothes are just perfect!

You are a fat, beautiful, member of the British aristocracy: Hence the destruction of the realm.

You are FLOTUS:  Everything you wear is a symbol of why the other party would have saved us.  Or destroyed us.  Either one.  Your clothes are so versatile!

You are attending a Catholic church: Your clothes are one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance.  Just ask the person sitting in the next pew.  If you dare.

 

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, public domain, where the category Melania Trump in 2017 will meet all your stiletto-viewing needs.