Lent Day 16: Less Saintly

From this morning’s readings:

Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.

Ho yeah, we’ve got that here.  Two weeks into Lent-o-rama it is.  Cat Hodge writes about the second-week lull here, and Scott Reeves writes about it here.

Ashes have worn off, can’t remember where my sackcloth got to, and I’m now in that phase of Lent where even ordinary-time decent behavior seems to have scooted off and left Wretched Sinner to reign.

Lent will do this to you.  There’s nothing like trying to be a better person to make it clear how much worse things are than you’d been lulled into believing.

I am fortunate because, by complete accident of state-of-life and no smart planning ahead on my part, I picked an intermittent personal penance.  You know the type — get to Adoration once a week, or say a Chaplet on Fridays, or some extra odd or end that you couldn’t do every day if you wanted to, because your life is like that, but which you could manage once a week or on certain days.

Serendipitous help: When that day of the week comes around, you’ve got a built-in ‘reset’ button.   If you’ve fallen into Apathetic Christian Mode, the ridiculousness of performing some superlative act when you can’t even hold together normal Christian life will, perhaps, slap a little remorse and repentance into you.

Lenten Implosion Syndrome is not a bug, it’s a feature.  Lent prepares us for Easter, and Easter is not the day when we saved ourselves.

Franciscan Monastery, Peru.  Stone building lit up against black night sky.  Complejo San Francisco, Arequipa, Perú.
Photo by Diego Delso, of course.  Guessed that as soon as I saw it on Image of the Day. [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Click through and scroll down for the brief but enlightening description + implicit exhortation.

Lent Day 6: Purple Shirts

Yesterday as I came out of Mass, a friend of mine noticed I was all Lenten in my purple shirt.

I died a little death.

I have an irrational dislike of being matchy-matchy with the liturgical season.  (I don’t care what other people wear.  It’s just me I think about — you’ve long suspected that, I’m sure.)

The difficulty is that I got three new purple shirts last fall, and they are my favorite shirts.  If I’m going to wear a shirt that is not stained or faded or both, it’s 50-50 on the odds that shirt might be purple.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I like my purple shirts as much as I like my black shirts.  They match my purple watch and my purple glasses (which I updated for black glasses, heh) and my purple book and everything.  I like purple.

It is not my fault that the Church likes purple, too.

So I decided Sunday morning that I’d get over my irrational aversion and just wear the purple turtleneck and suck it up.  I was very hoping no one would notice, but obviously someone did.

There is no deep spiritual meaning to any of this.  Some things that happen in Lent have no deep meaning, they just are.

***

PS: My link above to my 2015 discussion of this issue includes some comments on penance on St. Patrick’s day.  As this year’s feast does fall on a Friday, you’ll have to consult your bishop to find out your options.  There’s not one single answer for the whole US, let alone the whole world.

File:Peter Alsop with cat on head.jpg

Photo:By Moose School Productions (http://peteralsop.com/gallery/peters-headshots) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  I have no idea whether you should like Peter Alsop or not.  I know that I liked his purple shirt photo best, of all the viable choices on Wikimedia.

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 4: The Chicken of Vengeance

SuperHusband prays morning and night prayer per iBreviary, and when I’m around I pray along with him.  Usually he does the bulk of the reading and I get the responses, but this morning he is hoarse with a wicked sore throat, so I was the reader.

It’s a different experience.  When he reads, I get to sit back and listen and my thoughts can range over the psalms as they come my way.  As the person responsible for pronouncing all the words, in contrast, there’s no time for anything but quick thoughts.  Unlike lectoring, especially for a big event, where you take time ahead to pray over the readings and practice them a bit, morning prayer is dashed off on the spot.  Unlike praying one of the hours by yourself in silence, when there’s someone else waiting on you, you can’t just stop and ponder at will.

You get one shot at the reading, cold, no stops.

Another difference is that when an idea strikes you, it strikes and sticks and there’s no considering just how apt it is, because you’ve got to keep moving.  But the imagery can be quite vivid.  For example: Chickens.

The verse that got me was this:

Though the wicked spring up like grass and all who do evil thrive:
they are doomed to be eternally destroyed.

Our Lent down South takes place during true spring.  Plum trees are in blossom, azaleas are working on it, the camellias of winter are fading away and the daffodils are long since awakened.  The early grasses are bright and vigorous and lush, though they’ll give way in a few months to the stubbornly invasive weed-grasses of summer.  All year long, the various grasses take their turns at conquest.

But they cannot withstand the ravages of the chicken.

If a chicken decides she wants a square a dirt, that square of dirt she will have, and everything in it.  The chicken does not care what your plans are.  The chicken landscapes as she will, and if you wish to make her cooperate with your plans, you’d best set firm boundaries delineating which earth is hers and which is yours.

And so, reading this morning, I could not help, of course, to imagine the Avenging Angel as a chicken.  They’re both winged.  They are both, to their prey, a fearsome specter.  If ever a great chicken comes to destroy you, be afraid.

A chicken in the background on dirt, separated by heavy fencing from a bed of lush grass in the foreground.
Chicken prison. Because she may not have my strawberries.

There’s a Saint Out to Get You This Year

If you don’t already know who it is, go to the Saint’s Name Generator and let some holy soul pick you for 2017.

 

The first year I tried this, I got St. John Bosco.  It was an obvious.

The next year, St. Matthew.  The need was clear, though I’m not convinced I kept up my end of things.

Last year, St. Andrew.  He works in obscurity, but work he does.

And then there’s this year, 2017.

So about that Rosary thing . . .

If you aren’t already familiar with the story of how I accidentally joined the Legion of Mary, you can read that story here.  An excerpt:

I’d never even heard of the Legion of Mary.  But this lady was fast.  She had my name on those forms in an instant. There’s the x for your signature, here’s a copy of your prayers to say every day, and don’t worry, it’s not a mortal sin if you miss a day, but do keep up with it.

“But I don’t go to this parish,” I told her.

They weren’t picky.

I signed.  And then I had to go home and explain this to my poor husband, a protestant who believed in neither the Blessed Sacrament nor prayers to Mary.  Oops.   Luckily he recognized the swift hand of God in answering my prayers for a better prayer life, and if it made no sense to him personally, who was he to argue with God?

And who am I to argue either?

That was all great until, as I wrote in 2015, things began to get complicated.  It is difficult to pray the Rosary (or any other talking-prayer) when you get light-headed when you talk.  The hagiographers won’t have any work to do with me, because I’m not one of those saints with heroic perseverance.  After a long period of trial and error I finally decided to sub out the Office of Readings if I couldn’t reasonably pray the Rosary, since that’s far easier to pray along with silently.  It’s reading.  They put the word reading right there in the name of it.

(I thought about making myself a rosary to read. Like a slide show or something. But then I didn’t.  I guess I should do that.  And yes, I tried apps and things, but nothing suited.)

So then, as I wrote the other day, I got better again!  Woohoo!  Which means that I transitioned, slightly unaware, from World’s Worst Auxillary Member of the Legion, But She Has an Excuse to WWAML, No Excuse.  I had forgot I could do this thing again.

But you know what?  God didn’t forget, and neither did this other guy.

Enter Rosary, Stage Left; Saint, Stage Right

Two big things happened in the last weeks of December.  I can’t remember which happened first.  One was that in the course of cleaning out the house, I came across the stunningly beautiful rosary that a friend had given me as a gift some years ago.  I used to pull it out for the Easter and Christmas seasons, but I’ve been slack about keeping up with liturgically-timed theme-changes lately, and honestly I had sort of, I’m mortified to admit this, forgotten it.  But it pushed its way in front of my nose before Christmas, you betcha.

Then I forgot it again, because it was still Advent.  I know!  But it gets worse!

Meanwhile, my boss here at the Conspiracy posts that she got St. Andrew for her 2017 saint.  He’s well-used among Conspirators, but still in good shape.  So naturally I had to go compulsively find out who my 2017 saint would be, even though it was still firmly 2016, but you know, Facebook.  Must click the link.

So I go, and I pray briefly, hit the button, get to the screen which tells you to pray, and I pray again.  A Hail Mary this time.  Hit the second button:

St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort.

If you are in the Legion of Mary, you are now laughing manically and thinking about wiping up the coffee you just spewed all over your screen.  Sorry about that, maybe you should read the blogs of more reputable members.

The Case of the Unblessed Rosary

So I was officially put on notice.  No shirking in 2017, not for me.

Meanwhile, I again discovered that gorgeous rosary I’d re-forgotten, but had cleverly put on a shelf where I’d stumble across it more reliably.  The second time, I remembered something else: I’d never gone and gotten that rosary blessed.

There are two reasons for its heretofore unblessed state:

(1) My friend who gave it to me is not a Catholic, she’s just an extremely thoughtful and generous person who had this beautiful thing she knew I’d treasure made for me.

(2) At the time I received it, I had no idea rosary-blessing was even a thing.  No one tells you anything when you’re Catholic.  You can go years and years not knowing all kinds of stuff “everyone knows.”   Problem I might rant about another day, but for now, on to the happy ending.

So I’ve got St. Louis M. breathing down my back, a forlorn rosary dying to be put to its proper use, and hey, the year begins with the feast of Mary, Mother of God.

So yes, even though Father was miserable with a cold today at Mass and it pained me to ask him to say one more thing with that throat of his, I totally hauled that rosary out and had it blessed.  And then I went home and used it.  1 down, 364 to go.

Get yourself a saint if you haven’t already.  Happy New Year!

File:Людовик Мария Гриньон де Монфор.jpg
You could do a lot worse than having this man on your case.

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

 

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

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

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

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

#1 No new music.

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

#2 No gratuitous shopping trips.

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

#3 No decorating and entertaining excess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5 No skimping on the fullness of the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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:

Life and Death Decisions Made Beneath the Pedestal

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.

Superman is Amazing

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

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

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

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

Hard Things Don’t Require Superman

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

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

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

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

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

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

No! No! No!

Not Killing Innocent People is an Ordinary Person’s Job

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

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

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

Death by Admiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

File:1527-Kalender Celebi Rebellion-Suleymanname.jpg

By Matrakci Nasuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

50 Shades of Donald Trump

Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target.  The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.

Rebecca Bratten Weiss responds to another variation — same argument, different famous incident:

“But Bill Clinton…”

Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.

Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.

Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large.  I said so here.  This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.

Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you?  You can change that.

You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself.  You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin.  You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.

You can stop that now.  You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.

***

Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves.  There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy.  When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.

I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.

I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.

Food stamps don’t cause abortion.  Adultery? That causes abortion.

***

Quick aside on modesty.

When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing.  That matters, of course.  But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy.   He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.  

It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters.  Not so.  It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.

Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons.  But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.

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Link Round-up.  Here are all kinds of loosely related links.  At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.

Timothy Scott Reeves, an evangelical Anglican philosopher with strong ortho-catholic leanings writes on our tendency to rely on chariots and horses instead of trusting in the Lord.

Simcha Fisher has an excellent piece on why consent alone is not sufficient.

Nathaniel Peters at Public Discourse writes:

Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.

Faithfully Catholic, orthodox, conservative Katie O’Keefe catalogs her series of encounters with so called “locker-room talk” sexual abuse, and how she learned from an early age that protesting was futile:

5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .

12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .

Father Longenecker has sensible, hard-nosed advice on what to do after the elections, which promise us four years of disaster no matter what.

And here is a short, heartening story on seminarians already following that advice.

Erin Arlinghaus writes about:

Mary Pezzulo writes about the bad news for feminism that will come with the election of our first female president.

To which end, here’s a refreshing antidote: Watch a conservative, pro-life female governor in action, successfully managing a natural disaster. I don’t know how long the SCETV archives will be up, so here’s a link to the governor’s YouTube channel where you can find most of the videos.

(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners.  And that’s just a beginning.  Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)

Here’s Meg Hunter-Kilmer saying what many of us are saying:

A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.

To round out the reading, from a man who’s no slouch on Catholic faithfulness, Archbishop Chaput shares his thoughts on faithful citizenship:

But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along.  And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.

This is depressing and liberating at the same time.  Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become.  Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps.  I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season.  Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.

And finally, a few links from my own archives:

Adultery is Not the Only Option: Five Things You Can Do to Keep Your Vows Intact

Here’s a patron saint for those who’ve fallen for the idea that Catholics need to be all sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:

In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing.  The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness.  The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .

. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?

You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.

There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.

 

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Photo Collage by DonkeyHotey (New York Primary 2016) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Physician Assisted PTSD – When Bad Medicine is Disguised in a Mental Health Diagnosis

Rebecca Frech wrote last year about her doctor-induced case of PTSD:

And in that moment, I can tell by her face that no one has updated the chart. It still says Conversion on the line for diagnosis. Nobody has put in the test results and new diagnosis from last October. I can see it as plainly as I can see that her eyes are brown. We’re still suspect, and this still isn’t over.

This week she updated with the news of the definitive diagnosis for the medical reasons behind her daughter’s paralysis.  It would be easy to think that Ella Frech’s case is an anomaly.  We might think that it’s unusual for a serious medical condition to be dismissed as a pscyhological disorder.

It isn’t.  It is woefully common, and there’s a reason for it.

The Diagnosis that Doesn’t Discriminate

It isn’t only Acute Motor Axonal Neuropathy that gets the nutcase treatment.

Stephen Gaudet writes here about being accused of faking his severe asthma:

Feeling proud about what I had accomplished through daily exercise, I shared my marathon story with one of the intern doctors who was assigned to me. Rather than congratulating me, he basically accused me of faking my asthma. His words were ” There’s no way you could’ve walked a marathon if you have severe asthma.” I found out later that in my chart he actually wrote, “patient presents with factitious asthma, claims he walked a marathon“. That probably explains why some of the nurses were treating me so strange during the hospitalization. A rumor had spread that my asthma was very mild and probably psychosomatic in nature. I remember some of the medical staff trying to convince me that my breathing difficulties were all in my head and that I had some kind of generalized anxiety disorder. Are you freaking kidding me! And even scarier, this happened at a well respected teaching hospital.

That incident caused me a lot of grief and took over 3 years with lots of letter writing by my pulmonologists to have that false information removed from my medical record. The reality is that these are the kinds of screwy preconceived generalizations that people have about the way sick people should look and behave. And if I want to be completely honest here, there have been times when I’ve guilty of the same.

For background: Gaudet is a respiratory therapist who is treated by one of the top pulmonologists in the nation.

Here’s Dr. Michelle Roger, a neuropsychologist, writing about the mental health misdiagnoses of patients with dysautonomia:

Just about every Dysautonomia patient with whom I’ve spoken over the last few years has, at one time or another, been told that the symptoms they were experiencing were all in their head. Diagnoses such as Anxiety disorders, Depression, Conversion or Somatoform disorders, and even Bipolar disorder are haphazardly applied to patients when no clear aetiology can be discovered to explain their symptoms. Normal reactions to abnormal situations, and purely medical/physiological symptoms are over-pathologised or misdiagnosed with alarming regularity, and to the detriment of the patient.

When unfounded these diagnoses leave a mark on the patient, a wound which if left untended will follow and influence all future relationships with the medical professionals. It also leaves a glaring mark on medical records that will be incorporated into future investigations and the overall diagnostic process. Even when unsubstantiated or proven to be untrue following psychological assessment, it can prove extremely difficult to remove such diagnoses from a patient’s medical file.

Here’s a summary of Dr. Alex Flore’s presentation on the problem of mitochondrial disease being misdiagnosed as Munchausen syndrome by proxy:

It is possible that what may be interpreted as “red flags” of Munchausen’s may alternatively  be attributed to the demands and anxiety related to care of a very sick child.  For example, anxious parents may not give a good history, or may “doctor shop” because they are unsatisfied and may be unhappy with the care their child is getting, especially when they feel that no one can actually diagnose, treat or understand the problem.  Certain conditions, especially mitochondrial disease, will present with intermittent symptoms, and it will take a skilled and patient clinician to arrive at the right diagnosis – one that is an illness not Munchausen’s by proxy.

Psychologists have described that the population of patients and parents of children with Mitochondrial Disease are much more vulnerable to a false Munchausen’s by proxy accusation simply due to the nature of the disease.  In fact, a hallmark characteristic of mitochondrial disease is the presentation of several unrelated symptoms that together, “don’t make sense”.  Clinicians who feel that a parent is intentionally making symptoms appear, is behaving to insure that the illness continues, and consults multiple physicians may suspect Munchausen’s – but should still “trust, then verify.” In other words, believe the parents, run appropriate diagnostic tests, seek the input of every part of the child’s team, and take very seriously the responsibility to the child to act as an advocate and do no harm.

Non-psychiatric misdiagnoses happen, too, of course.  It is frustrating when a physician (or team of physcians) flubs a diagnosis through honest error — we humans aren’t ominiscient, so it’s bound to happen.  It’s galling when the misdiagnosis involves dismissing serious serious symptoms as some much more benign illness that doesn’t fit with the case history.  But pushing off a poorly-substantiated mental health label on a patient with an atypical presentation is both physically and emotionally harmful to the patient.

Unfortunately, this dangerous habit is actually enshrined in medical practice.

I Guess You’re Just Nuts, Then?

Many misdiagnoses are just idiocy.  Some popular lazy-diagnoses include fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety disorders.  All of these disorders have specific criteria you can use to evaluate yourself (or your patient) and see if they apply.  It’s almost helpful when a physician throws out with confidence, “I think it’s probably just ________” and inserts some illness utterly outside his or her specialty, and which a quick Google search would immediately rule out. Then you know you have a stupid doctor, done.  It’s wearying, and can put you off the medical profession for a while, but it’s possible to come to a definitive conclusion one way or another.

There’s at least one mental health diagnosis, however, that can’t be ruled out by logic and good medicine.

Conversion Disorder, which is what Ella Frech was persistently misdiagnosed with (despite presenting with symptoms of a known side effect of one of the medications she was taking), is where modern medical practice bares its hubris.

Here’s the Mayo Clinic describing how Conversion Disorder is diagnosed:

There are no standard tests to check for conversion disorder. The tests will depend on what kind of signs and symptoms you have — the main purpose is to rule out any medical or neurological disease.

In other words, and you can read the whole page and see for yourself, if you’re definitely sick but no one can figure out why, then conversion disorder.

That’s it.

Dr. Allen Frances writes at Psychology Today about the failed effort to get the DSM to attempt even a modest stab at valid diagnostic criteria above and beyond heck if we know:

Many of you would argue that I didn’t go nearly far enough- that there should be no ‘Somatic Symptom Disorder’ at all in DSM 5 because there is no substantial body of evidence to support either its reliability or its validity.

. . . I am sympathetic to this view, but realized that it would have no traction with the work group and chose instead to lobby for what seemed to be clearly essential and relatively easy changes that would solve most, if not all, of the problem.

. . . My letter cautioned DSM 5 that it was invading dangerous territory. Here was my warning to the DSM 5 work group:

• ‘Clearly you have paid close attention only to the need to reduce false negatives, but have not protected sufficiently against the serious problem of creating false positives. You are not alone in this blind spot—in my experience, inattention to false positive risk is an endemic problem for all experts in any field. But your prior oversight needs urgent correction before you go to press with a criteria set that is so unbalanced that it will cause grave harms.’

• ‘When psychiatric problems are misdiagnosed in the medically ill, the patients are stigmatized as ‘crocks’ and the possible underlying medical causes of their problems are much more likely to be missed.’

• ‘Continuing with your current loose wording will be bad for the patients who are mislabeled and will also be extremely harmful to DSM 5, to APA, and to your own professional reputations.’

I also raised the point that this could lead to a boycott of DSM 5. Pretty strong stuff, I thought. But totally ineffective.

Somatic Symptom Disorder (which is the umbrella term in the current terminology under which Conversion Disorder falls) is thus a particularly hazardous diagnosis because it has no symptoms of its own.

It is literally a disorder whose defining symptom is, “We the physicians don’t know what you have.  Therefore, it must be psychological.”  This is an awkward assertion for a profession that has evolved more in the past century than any other field of human endeavor.  The developments in medical research just in the past twenty years are astonishing and marvelous.  My children’s high school biology textbooks are utterly different than mine, because the depth and scope of our knowledge about human cells and the chemistry of the human body is orders of magnitude past what we knew a generation ago.

It seems, therefore, ludicrous that any sane person could hold that our knowledge of medicine is now perfectly complete.  But this is the implicit assertion of somatic symptom disorders.

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I sometimes joke that idiopathic means that you and your doctor both agree the other person is an idiot.  But really it just means we don’t know.  That happens.  Humans aren’t all-knowing.   What is the sane response to ignorance?  It isn’t to fabricate some fanciful explanation to cover over your lapse.  The sane response is to humbly admit, “I’m sorry I don’t know.”  And, where the stakes are high, the sane person adds, “And we should keep investigating until we get a solid answer.”

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Illustration contains a bit of humor in the fine print, [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.