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.

***

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

Animal-Human Embryo Ethics Simplified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Baptize the Cat People.

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

 

Related: 

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

Active Participation and the Things We Do with our Bodies at Mass

So let’s talk about the feet of Jesus.

God becomes Man, and the prophet sent to prepare the way for Him declares, “I am not fit to untie his sandals.”  We can imagine our Lord untied his own sandals most of the time.   She may or may not have been the one to remove his shoes, but we know the sinful woman did wash those feet.  That woman might or might not have been Mary Magdelene, but Mary certainly did know those feet as well.  The feet she saw pounded through with nails weren’t generic metal feet hanging in your hallway, they were the feet she had held and caressed and perfumed.

I have a friend who is a nursing student, and she tells me that when she has downtime working in the critical care unit, she’ll fill the hours by going around and washing the patients’ feet and massaging them with lotion.  Very sick patients typically have feet in horrible condition and a desperate hunger for human touch, both.

When Mary Magdalene met the resurrected Jesus in the garden, she wasn’t like Thomas who asked to see the pierced hands and side; had she asked, it probably would have been to see the feet.

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Cappellone di San Nicola, Basilica di San Nicola da Tolentino, Tolentino, Italy, courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

***

In my absence from the internet, another Catholic food fight has broken out over the question of what people should do with themselves during Mass.  The latest round concerns the direction priests point their feet.  Where your feet go, you go.

Because humans are body and soul both, what we do with our bodies at Mass matters.  The Mass can’t happen if the priest stands in a corner and prayerfully wills it to be so.  Human wills express themselves in bodily action.  In carrying out the actions of the Mass a priest makes the Mass happen — it can happen no other way.

The other sacraments are the same.  Thus the question of feet is important.

***

We Catholics get fervent in our opinions about what everyone should do at Mass because we know deep in our souls that our bodies matter so very much.  Thus we’re fifty-some years in to a massive Catholic food fight over how we laypersons might best carry out “active participation” in the sacred liturgy as mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Says the Church:

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.

[Paragraph 14.]

It’s a food fight that typically devolves into two questions: Who else can we put a cassock on, and how do we persuade Catholics to sing more?

So I want to tell my story about active participation in the Mass, and singing, and the feet of Jesus.

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Maria Magdalene, 1899, Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926) [public domain] via Wikimedia.

***

I like words.  I am the person who pays attention to the words of all the hymns we sing at Mass.  I like to sing at Mass, because I like having all those words about God and to God moving through my body and coming out of me.  I was pretty happy at St. Populus, my home parish, where every Mass was a folk Mass in the best meaning of that term: We served up a four-hymn sandwich sing-along every Sunday, always and every time meant to be that part of the Mass when everyone joined in with gusto.

The actual amount of gusto varied.  But that was the goal.  It was a goal that I loved.

Then my husband reverted to the Catholic faith (good) and I discovered that he could sing (interesting) and he became a cantor at St. Populus (variable).  There wasn’t another bass available to help him with his cantoring skills, so he drove down to Our Lady of Classical Choirs and pestered the choirmaster until they got tired of his badgering and agreed to teach him to sing.  One thing led to another, and I ended up with 50% of my family in the choir loft at not-my-parish.

The trouble with OLCC, in addition to being not-my-parish, was that half the time you couldn’t even understand the words they were singing — even if it was English.  The sound bounced off ancient plaster mercilessly.  Furthermore, whether you could understand it or not, the bulk of the Mass on any given Sunday was done in the style of Not a Sing-Along.   I was aware that the whole thing was purported to be exceedingly beautiful, but couldn’t we all just have four nice easy hymns to sing together as a group?  Please??

***

Then some things happened.  One thing was that I was now living with three people who played this strange, purportedly beautiful, music around my house all the time.  I got to know the music better.  It was no longer weird sounds bouncing around a tall building, it was something my ear understood and could make sense of.

Another thing that happened is that over at St. Populous we had a little Latin club going on Friday mornings for about a year, long enough for we ignorant laypeople develop to a working familiarity with the meanings of the words that tended to bounce around during the Gloria and Sanctus and all those other things that were Not a Sing-Along down at OLCC.

I am persuaded that I am the Bread of Life is all the proof anyone needs that ordinary people aren’t quite as stupid as our betters pretend.  If you can teach we slobs in the pews to memorize the key points of John chapter 6 in an irregular, non-rhyming, voice-cracking, genre-less song, than we slobs can probably learn all the other, much easier, supposedly-too-hard-for-us stuff as well.

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St. Mary Magdalene, Piero di Cosimo (1462–1521), [public domain] via Wikimedia.

***

The final thing that happened to me was decrepitude.  OLCC became an appealing parish to me for two reasons:

  • There was a wall I could lean against.
  • No one would try to speak to me.

Not-my-parish for the win.

I remember this night at Mass when active participation ceased to be about marching around or singing along.  I was at OLCC, sitting in the pew because standing was not on my to-do list (decrepitude), it was some feast or another, and the Gloria was going on forever, and ever, and ever.  The choir would sing some line of the Latin, and then sing it again and again in fifty different variations of hauntingly beautiful soaring tunes.  Then on to the next line.

Not a Sing Along.

It was a Pray Along.

I finally got, for the first time in my life, a chance to pray the Gloria with something that felt like justice.  No more wincing at the splendor of tu solus sanctus then quick keep moving, time for the next big idea.  Each idea, one at a time, washing over the congregation, swirling around in a whirpool of words, seeping into our thoughts and wetting the soul’s appetite for the next line of the prayer.

***

It isn’t that they don’t ever do hymns or plebeian Mass settings down at OLCC.  Nor do I have any less love for a good rousing Sing Along Mass.  Singing is good for you.  It’s good for all the parts of you, and it would be a strange and disastrous thing if we pewsitters all gave it up and used no other part of our bodies than our ears at Mass.

Curiously, the part where feet come into it was during a Mostly Sing-Along Mass down at OLCC.

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Noli me tangere, Titian (1490–1576), [public domain], via Wikimedia. I have no idea why the artist thought Mary Magdalene would think the gardener worked naked except for a loin cloth and a long white cape.

***

Because I am decrepit, I can’t always sing, or can’t sing the entirety of a Sunday’s pewsitter parts.  Because I am a word-person, lately sometimes I do the very weird thing of standing there with the hymnal open, mouth shut, eating up the words with my mind while the congregation sings them aloud.

This past Sunday, though, I was unusually decrepit even for me.  I found a seat against the wall, and didn’t even bother trying to lip sync the Our Father.  I was pretty happy to just be standing-along during the bulk of the standing parts.  I was secretly pleased that the side aisles were relatively empty and all I had to do was wave to a couple people several rows behind me during the Sign of Peace, and then I was freed to go back to my still, silent bubble.

I didn’t know, on Sunday, that Internet Catholics were busy arguing over which way priests point their feet.  The readings were not exactly about feet, except that they were.  The Law living within us, He is the image of the Invisible God, the parable of Mercy-Made-Flesh.

We don’t have to guess what active participation might mean, because Sacrosanctum Concilium tells us straight out:

11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain [28] . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

It means that when our Lord comes to us, we recognize Him and respond accordingly.

The carrying out of those laws governing valid and licit celebration aren’t the stones of an empty tomb.  The carrying out of those laws is the business of our bodies doing what our bodies are made to do.  What do our bodies do? Our bodies are the means through which ours souls express themselves.

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Mary Magdalene , Ambrosius Benson (circa 1495–1550), [public domain] via Wikimedia.

Related:

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The Meal at Simon’s House, 1637, Frans Francken the Younger (1581–1642), via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Your Whole Life is Worth Living, Not Just the Shiny Parts

Not Dead Yet is hosting a protest of the latest hot new pro-suicide film.  If you are unable to protest directly, at least share the information around social media, to let people know that you, too, think suicide is never the answer.

Meanwhile, on the question of whether life is worth living when it isn’t everything you’d always imagined, reprinted below is what I wrote two years ago today on the horrible expression, “I got my life back!”  Let’s just say that most people who use that expression didn’t actually experience the separation of body from soul.

PSA, if you get this blog via e-mail or feed-reader: All these links above I shared in my twitter reading-feed, which you can see easily, and any number of other good links, by clicking to through to jenniferfitz.com and cruising the sidebar.

***

5/28/2014

At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry.  If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”

And that would be nonsense.

I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful.  I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance.  I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve.  Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.

But here’s what: My life has been here all along.

It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest.  I was living my life.  And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!”  Oh please.  I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it.  I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*

My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments.  Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers,  but I can keep track of three?  That’s my life.  Part of it, anyhow.  Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done?  Life.  My life.  Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult?  Mine.  All mine.

When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself.  You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be.  Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same.  Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?

Bigger on the Inside than the Outside

It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose.  Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly.  The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness.  And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort.  Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.

The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted.  We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty.  For peace. For the good of souls everywhere.  We become more like Christ the more we work for that good.  And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.

File:Detail of Silver Processional Crucifix - Museo Nacional del Virreinato - Tepotzotlan - Mexico.jpg

 

*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus.  Lots of ways to treasure those darlings.  Mine do well at home.  Except when they don’t.

 

This post first ran on Patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz two years ago.

Artwork by Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On Meeting the Rich Young Man

This past Monday the Gospel was from the story of the Rich Young Man. We read it this year in Mark chapter 10, but you can find the account in Matthew 19 and Luke 18.

A week in, I still want to write about it, so I will.

MK 10:17-27
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

A lot of people are recorded in the Gospels asking our Lord questions, or asking Him for other stuff. The first thing I notice here is what the question is: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now it’s possible that the man is just trying trip Jesus up or start an argument. But there’s evidence to follow that this is the thing he wants to know. Asking this is commendable, because I think a lot of us just don’t even care about the question or the answer. We assume we already know the answer – whether eternal life is possible, and if so, what it’s like and how we obtain it. But here’s someone who isn’t presuming.

Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

This initial answer has obvious rhetorical bearing on the fact that Jesus is God. But for we mere humans, the question of goodness comes around at the end, back to the question of eternal life.

Our Lord proceeds to lay out what goodness looks like:

You know the commandments:

You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”

Now here’s this shocking answer that I don’t think shocks enough:

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

How many people can you say this about? Some, I’m sure. But most of us? I don’t think so.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him

Catch that? I infer from this exchange a series things:

  1. The man was telling the truth. He really had been keeping the commandments.
  2. He knew that it wasn’t enough. That’s why he approached Jesus and asked the question: He’d been keeping the commandments, and was stirred by a sense that there was something greater for him. That being satisfied with his (impressive) observance of the law was not the way to eternal happiness.
  3. Jesus isn’t about to go all table-flipping. What follows isn’t a rebuke. It’s the next thing. Here’s someone who wants the next thing!

and [Jesus] said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

So this is the next thing. The man’s reaction isn’t all zip-a-dee-doo-dah:

At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

This is the moment when people love to hate the rich young man. But really? Have you done this? Have you done something close to this? Because if you’ve freely given up everything you owned and all your security and all your safety, you’re in rare company. You probably don’t read this blog, and you probably do know that it’s a big thing.

I don’t mean it was taken from you. I mean you gave it up freely.

Everything?

Even the women who followed Jesus and supported the disciples from their wealth didn’t give up everything – hence that wealth. The Apostles still had their livelihood to turn back to. After Jesus died, they went back to fishing.

I would hazard that most serious Christians disciples whom I know personally are already feeling the pinch just by taking a bit of risk, or choosing to live a little more simply, or choosing to give a little more generously.

Now think about the man’s reaction from another angle: Why did his face fall?

Because the man took Jesus at his word.

He didn’t convert the command in his head to something less – something easier to live with. Nor did he take it to mean, “Here’s a suggestion, but you might have other ideas and those could work too.”

The Gospels tell us the man went away sad, but we don’t know what decision he made. What we do know is that when he left, he was actually wrestling with the decision. He was taking it seriously. He was counting the cost.

It’s really easy to follow Jesus when you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s a lot harder to convert when it means necessarily giving up things you’re not sure you can live without, or not sure you want to.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”

This comment should scare you. You probably have things left to lose.

The disciples were amazed at his words.

So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”

Even the disciples had things left to lose, at that point. Eventually they’d get down to nothing, but that was later.

Meanwhile, back to that question of goodness:

Jesus looked at them and said, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

Sooner or later, we reach the limits of our human perfection. Some of us are sufficiently bad that we hit the wall early and hard. Some, like the rich young man, have to be squeezed to find out where the faults lie.

Christianity isn’t the worship of our human goodness. It’s the worship of the Goodness that comes to rescue us when ours is fresh out.

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Artwork: Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) – 1879, Beijing, China [Public Domain] via Wikimedia.

How to Have a Good Mother’s Day – 2 Steps

I don’t really, truly hate Mother’s Day, contrarian posts on the topic not withstanding.  There are reasons for this.  Two reasons, and they are my patented method for having a good Mother’s Day despite the fact that it is, as it happens, that day.  These two steps should work pretty well for most non-mothers, though in some cases the best you’re going to get is not as bad as it could have been.

Step 1: Don’t Expect Things

Evil presumably well-intentioned people use this holiday to sell you all kinds of ideas.  The idea that you should want to give or receive a particular gift, or that you should want to go to brunch, or that you should want to participate in their fundraiser, or heaven forbid, but it happens, that you should suddenly take an interest in purchasing greeting cards.*

Marketing plus cultural momentum can cause you to develop any number of unrealistic, unhealthy expectations.  Resist clinging to these ideas and others like them:

  • That your family life is and always has been just like the last five minutes of any episode of Little House on the Prairie.
  • That you like the food other people cook for you.
  • That today the weather is going to cooperate.
  • That you are going to get that nap you’ve been really wanting.
  • That the homily at church is going to be any good, and the Ave Maria is really going to hit that special place in your heart this time.
  • That the lady who gave you that really weird statue of Mary had better aesthetic sense than you after all.
  • That your kids are going to spontaneously give up fighting for twenty-four hours.
  • That your life is pleasant.
  • That you are going to enjoy this day.

Best Mother’s Day reading?  The Silver Chair.  Puddleglum has it going on.

Cultivate the right attitude, and when people ask you Monday morning, “Did you have a good Mother’s Day?” you’ll be able to respond quite honestly, “Well, it was almost exactly like the descriptions of the Second Coming, only heavier on stinging insects and with a conspicuous absence of an actual end to time and beginning of eternal life, which I’d been looking forward to — but hey, now I feel totally like the real Second Coming is going to be great.  So yeah, it was good.  How about yours?”

Step 2: Get Yourself a Present

Bacon is traditional, but you can totally branch out on this one.  Waiting for other people to figure out what floats your boat is overrated.  Take the initiative.  The only rules are that it be something you actually want, and that it be something you can afford.  Driving yourself deeper into debt is not Mothers’ Day compliant.

Wait a minute?  You’re not a mother? Hah.  Who said that had anything to do with it?  You have a mother, and that’s what counts.  Get yourself a prize.

 

Note to Skeptics:  I am not kidding.  Try the method for yourself and be amazed at the results.

 

* I know many people who purchase greeting cards and are otherwise upright citizens with precious gifts to share with the world.  Don’t judge, guys.  Don’t judge.

 

File:Charnel House at St Helens Church, Cliffe, Kent, England, 2015-05-06-5136.jpg

Photo:By Slaunger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Want to know what this quaint little cottage is?  Here’s the description from Wikimedia:

The Charnel House, located in a corner of the graveyard at St Helen’s Church in Cliffe, Kent, England. The Charnel House was built during the mid 19th century. It was used as a make-shift mortuary until the bodies were taken away to be buried. Its location close to the river Thames is key as bodies found were washed up or floating along the Thames were retrieved and taken to the charnel house to be stored awaiting identification and burial.

The building continued to be used until the start of the twentieth century, when a series of Public Health Acts forced buildings such as this to become redundant. After this, the Church used it for storage and at one time a hive of bees was also put in there to deter intruders. It is now classified as a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.

And why is it the Wikimedia Image of the Day on the vigil of Mother’s Day?  Because Wikimedia knows.  Yes, indeed.  What you need is a cottage full of bloated corpses, or angry bees as you prefer, and then your holiday will be shiny and bright just like it ought to be.

What’s a Parent to Do When the Parish isn’t Following Virtus Requirements?

Here’s a question forwarded to me by Simcha Fisher, because she knows I sometimes write about this stuff.  If it sounds like your parish, it’s probably not.  Anecdotal evidence from parents and catechists suggests this happens pretty often.

Updated: Here’s the link to the US’s Virtus program, for those not familiar with the concept.  Since every diocese sets its own additional policies, for the purpose of this Q&A, just think, “safe environment practices.”

This is my question: What is a parent supposed to do when the Virtus requirements aren’t being followed in his or her parish?

This is an actual problem in my parish right now . I don’t have any reason to suspect anyone of any wrongdoing, except for the lack of judgement being shown by our young priest who runs the youth groups. The problem is lack of chaperones. It’s a two-fold problem because (1) no parents are volunteering to chaperone the regular meetings, and (2) he holds the meetings anyway, even when no parents show up and he is the only chaperone.

All the advice I’ve been getting from the various people I’ve asked is to work with the priest to get chaperones. I’ve been trying to do that, but it doesn’t sit quite right. Obviously, if there’s abuse, you’re supposed to report it to the police. Hopefully we all know this by now. But is there an actual protocol or reporting structure that’s supposed to be followed for a problem like this?

Some opening thoughts:

The first thing to keep in mind is that the number one reason people ignore rules is that they don’t think there is a problem.  It’s possible Father Lackadaisical is up to no good, but other explanations are more likely.

Second thing: There may or may not be a strict requirement of more than one adult in the room.  With older students, alternate accepted practices may include:

  • Adult avoids being alone with students — at least three people in the room who are able to speak for themselves, but that might consist of one adult and several students;
  • Door stays open (only works if there are other people in the building);
  • There is a window into the room, and other adults in the vicinity who could look in at any time;
  • Event is entirely in public, such as if the leader meets the youth at a restaurant and is never alone with a student.

Your parish or diocese may have specific guidelines, or your pastor or program director might be given some latitude in assessing the situation and making a judgement call.

Even if none of these alternatives are accepted standards in your diocese, and in fact there is a strict requirement that two Virtus-trained, background-checked adults be present at all times, the most likely explanation (not the only) is that the youth group leader feels he is nonetheless creating a sufficiently safe environment, and therefore would rather not cancel an important program for lack of other volunteers.

How to Intervene

There are some basic standards for addressing safety violations of any kind, and after running through the list we’ll talk ramifications below.  Assuming there’s no reason to believe anyone is in actual danger (you’d call the police), your primary option is to run up the chain of command.  Who does what, where, and how will depend on your parish and your diocese, but it’s something like this:

  1. Talk to the youth group leader directly (which you’ve done).  Offering to help out is excellent.
  2. Bring the issue to the attention of the next higher-up in the parish.  This could be a parish Virtus coordinator, the director of faith formation, or some other administrator.
  3. Bring the issue to the attention of the pastor.
  4. Bring the issue to the attention of the diocesan administrator responsible for implementing your Virtus program.  This could be the diocesan director of  youth ministry, a diocesan child-safety coordinator, or some other person.  Ask around.
  5. Write the bishop.

FYI, experience speaking here, it’s easy to do this wrong, or to do it right but still end up not getting anywhere.  You may accidentally be referred to the wrong person, or to the right person but who doesn’t know what they’re doing.  It happens.  Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Some Things that Might Happen

Depending on your situation, this could all turn out any number of ways.  Here are some possibilities:

Your intervention is received with gratitude.  Some people know they are overwhelmed, and appreciate all the help they can get. Some people are conscientious enough that when they unwittingly err, they are thankful that others have their back and save them from disaster.  This is the ideal, and you have to act with the charitable assumption that it will be the case.

If this is the case, what you can expect is:

  • Father Naive will make an effort to reform his ways;
  • He will still some times screw it up, unless a superior (not you) manages to instill some serious fear into him.

Just keep patiently helping him out.  People who want to be helped will generally let you help them.

However, be aware that this might not be the case.

You unleash a nasty wave of gossip and backbiting.  If your parish or diocese is dysfunctional, you may already know this is coming, or you might be stepping into the mire for the first time.  If you happen to have a great parish, you might get away with just some temporary unpleasantness and then the restoration of good relations.

One or more administratively incompetent persons persist in carrying on as they’ve always carried on.  Of all the spiritual gifts, the gift of administration is the one talked about least but needed most.  Consider a novena to the Holy Spirit — no I am not joking.

You discover the joy of working with psychopaths.  If this happens to you, you’re basically out of luck.  If you were good at dealing with amoral, self-centered people who were masters at manipulation, you probably wouldn’t have written to strangers on the internet for advice.  Assume the psychopath is going to convince everyone that you’re the crazy one, done.

–> If there’s no crime taking place, once you’ve done your part to bring the problem to the attention of those in authority, you are free to move on.  You will probably want to find some other activity for your family.  You will definitely want to share your experience with a trustworthy, clear-thinking person who can help you sort out whether or not you’re the crazy one.

It turns out the youth group leader is a predator and there is in fact an abusive situation in the works.  This will make you dream of the joys of working with garden-variety psychopaths.  Expect a messy, long, painful ordeal that completely changes your life forever — and since you’re only the bystander, you’ll count yourself lucky.  This is, statistically speaking, pretty unlikely. But if it is happening in your parish, as much as you don’t want to be the one who has to get involved, thank God you’re there.

And finally, prepare yourself for one very likely outcome, regardless of how well or poorly everyone else responds:

You don’t handle the situation with grace and aplomb.  You’re an ordinary mortal with a limited set of gifts.  If you don’t happen to have that perfect combination of patience, wisdom, fortitude, diplomacy and pixie dust, there’s a good chance you’re going to at least partly screw this up.  Cut yourself and everyone else a little bit of slack.   When the other people who end up involved in this don’t handle it as well as you’d like, remind yourself they are mere mortals, too.  If you haven’t done so already, cultivate an abiding love of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

 

Best wishes.  Readers, in your charity please take a moment to say a prayer for all those who have to get involved in confronting problems of this nature.  Thanks.

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Artwork: The Chaperone, Herman ten Kate [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

When You’re a Catholic Who Doesn’t Have It Together

I have this friend whose job is to hold my life together.

I don’t mean that she’s a kind, caring, conscientious person — though she is that, too.  I mean that I pay her by the hour to take care of some non-negotiables in my life that would otherwise fall by the wayside.

I think one of Satan’s more pernicious lies, and it cuts two ways, is other people have their act together.

Well, some of us do, some of us don’t, and on our best days many of us are half-n-half.

How Do You Know When Someone’s Life is Coming Unglued?

There are people who do their best to keep their public face together despite inner collapse, and people who brandish a veener of chaos but secretly have their act together.  In my experience, people who are losing it exhibit a few common signs:

  1. The friendships get erratic.  If someone you had every reason to believe was your friend suddenly loses his temper, quits coming around, gets cagey about commitments, or won’t take your calls, unless you’ve really done something to deserve it, it’s probably not you.  Psychopaths will give you good reasons for why you deserve to be maltreated.  Your friend who is coming unhinged, in contrast, is the person who knows better, doesn’t have an excuse, and is probably too tired or overwhelmed to even explain why.
  2. Simple stuff goes out the window.  “Simple” is relative of course — if your friend never did keep up with the dishes, dishes in the sink are just a sign of situation-normal.  When your friend is losing it, what tends to go are the things that hit either the low-priority-high-pleasure corner of the spectrum or the should-do-usually-do spot.  Doesn’t get a thrill out of changing the oil, but always managed to do it before without any difficulty.  Always loved sending Christmas cards, let it go this year.
  3. Small requests seem monumental.  You’re unlikely to see this one overtly, because it often shows up indirectly.  Your friend probably won’t come out and say, “I was hoping to attend, but if they make everyone find a White Elephant gift I’m just not coming to the Christmas Party this year.”  It sounds so lame.  How hard is that?  Instead, the friend just doesn’t come, or else the friend values the event enough to pull off the cost of admission, but there’s a spike in #1 and #2 behaviors to go with.

I’d like to pause here and say that while these “no longer have it together” behaviors can be associated with depression, a lot of people who don’t have their act together are not depressed.  These are things that you see among people who are the opposite of depressed: People who are working their tails off to hold their life together and do as much as they possibly can, despite the fact that the odds are against them.

Confounding Situations

There are a couple things that can make it hard to really believe your friend is going over the edge.

Your friend still accomplishes quite a lot.  Demanding vocations abound.  If someone’s running a parish, or a business, or a family, there will always be one more thing to do.  As your friend is working like crazy to hold together as much of that vocation as possible, you’ll see results.  You’ll see activity.  You want to know why Father just lost it in his private meeting with you (see #1, above)  about the candle budget, when he didn’t have any problem pasting a smile on his face through the entire two hour long Vacation Bible School songfest?  Because he just endured the songfest, and it used up every ounce of willpower he had.

Your friend doesn’t talk about his problems.  There are people who just love to talk about their problems, and there are people who don’t.  It’s a spectrum, and for a lot of people who are overwhelmed by significant, difficult, persistent life problems, there are some common reasons they aren’t going to bring up those problems in conversation:

  • The situation is confidential, embarrassing, or involves another person whose privacy would be infringed.
  • There are in fact no real solutions to the problem (and yes, they’ve investigated).
  • The problem is the sort best discussed only with those few people who have experience with it.
  • It’s depressing talking about what’s going wrong when you could be enjoying hearing about something good.

It’s easy to spout platitudes about the importance of “sharing one’s burdens” or “talk therapy,” but consider the hubris involved in appointing yourself the one person who must be informed of your friend’s every moment of difficulty.  Consider instead the possibility that your friend loves and values you, but still doesn’t care to talk about the situation right now.

Your friend continues to pursue personal interests, even impressive ones.  A difficult life isn’t necessarily an unhappy life, nor a life devoid of all talent.  There’s a tendency to say, “Gosh, she’s able to take care of that dumb horse of hers, how come she can’t help out with the church picnic like everyone else?  She’s just malingering.”  That dumb horse, as it happens, is the thing that keeps her sane, the one thing she’s going to hang onto until the bitter end, because when your whole life is a train wreck, you want a little refuge of sanity.

In the same manner, an overwhelming life doesn’t mean all your talents suddenly dry up and blow away.  If your friend was always perfectly capable of spitting out a copy of a Dutch Renaissance Master on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, unless his hands fell off, he’s probably still going to be able to do that (and even if his hands fall off, he’ll probably find a work-around and get back at it).  That he does something he finds easy but you find astonishingly difficult doesn’t mean he’s got his act together.  It means he’s still capable of doing some things that are easy for him.

The Two People This Matters To: You and Everybody Else

I write about all this for two reasons.  The first is that it’s easy to think everyone else has their life together, and therefore you’re a crappy person and a failed Christian if you do not.

Can moral failure be the reason your life isn’t working out? Sure.  But it’s also possible that your life is hard regardless.  For most people, moral failure is the bitter rind that surrounds our life, no matter how good or how bad the rest of the fruit is.  It’s the seed you spit out and eat the rest.

Your life can be going to pieces despite no particular uptick in sin, just an uptick in lousy life circumstances.  Don’t confuse the two.  Keep working on the holiness, but don’t measure the holiness by your outward success.

The second reason is that it’s easy to think everyone else has their life together, and therefore they are crappy people and failed Christians if they do not.

Pastoral Perspectives on Apathetic Catholics

There are categories of Christians who get a pass.  If they have some obvious or publicly acknowledged excuse for their inability to meet spec, the whole parish pats itself on the back for winning at the Welcoming and Accepting contest just for letting the miserable slobs in the door.

Meanwhile, there’s this cycle of desperation that causes the rest of the parish to eat its young.  It goes like this:

  1. Parish leaders are falling apart at the seams because they can’t do it all.
  2. Therefore they beg pewsitters to step up and do it all.
  3. Pewsitters were already falling apart at the seams themselves.
  4. Leaders burn out, pewsitters either develop a talent for ignoring pleas or else they give up and go home.

There are other types of dysfunction, but this is one I keep seeing.  Are there people in your parish who would step up and help out if only they understood the need and were invited to help?  Yes there are.  Invite them (and very often they go uninvited because they have some outward reason you think they won’t meet spec, when really they’d love to be wanted and put to work).

But there are other people who seem to have it all together and they simply do not.  They cannot help you, or they cannot help you in the way you are asking of them.

Suffering is Not New

Let’s quit talking about the modern world.  For a hundred years and more, people have been writing about about how the pace of the modern world is the problem.  Well, it is, in the sense that none of us have to live in any other world, so this world’s the one that’s going to give us trouble.

But life isn’t difficult because it is modern, it is difficult because it is life.  Not having your act together is one of the facets of human life since shortly before we got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.   The poor will be with us always, and when we get a turn at experiencing some sort of poverty, that’s just us having our turn at being those poor.  Not having your act together is, technically speaking, a sort of blessing.

File:The Scream Pastel.jpg

Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  I think Gary Larson’s Wiener Dog Art version is a little better, though.

Book Review: Getting the Marriage Conversation Right

(There’s a book review coming at the bottom of this, but I need to lay out some preliminary matter first.  And this is a post concerning sex.  Not for children.)

To be Catholic is to be aware of a long list of my own faults.  Let’s review a few of them:  I goof off too much (not just on the internet, everywhere).  I lack patience for the most trivial of inconveniences.  When I’m irritated, I use my verbal powers for evil and not good.  I spend way too much money on myself, and far too little on the poor.  I procrastinate.  On any given day, there’s a decent chance I spent the time I meant to spend praying (not an exorbitant quantity) doing some other more entertaining and entirely optional thing.  For those who are familiar with the Little Flower, we could safely describe me as the Little Weed.  The anti-Therese.

And that’s just my public sins.  For every one you see on the kitchen floor, there’s a hundred more in the walls. If Therese is one of our few Doctors of Church, I’m guaranteed a spot among the vast number of Patients of the Church.

So be it.  Some people talk about so-called “Catholic Guilt”, and those people are invariably the ones who missed out — in whole or in part — on the real deal: Catholic Mercy.  If I don’t crumble in despair at the state of my soul  (and yes, actually despair is one of my sins as well), it’s because there’s hope for me.  Not hope that I’m going to wake up one morning suddenly meriting Heaven.  But because Someone Else has gone ahead and opened Heaven for me.  He loves me with His whole being, and will do anything — anything — to give me an shot at eternal happiness, mine only for the asking.  And not just me — He loves everybody that way.

My experience with evangelization is that few of us are converted because we suddenly discover how wretched we are, and thus desire to jump into the cosmic shower.  Quite the opposite: We long to know God, and having been drawn to Him, we begin to see, bit by bit, what life in Heaven looks like.  And what kind of baggage we’ll be leaving at the door when we get there.  Some things we drop like an old stinky garbage bag, in a flash of horrified understanding. Other things we keep stuffed in our pockets, sure they are part of us, or sure that these are little treasures we can sneak through eternal security . . . and it is only late in this life, or at the beginning of the next, that we catch on to the fact that, oops, we’ve been running around with the spiritual equivalent of a moldy rotten banana shoved in that coat pocket.

I’ve got rotten bananas in my pocket. (Usually only spiritually, though there was that one time I waited a month to clean out my tote bag . . . ick.)  But if your argument consists of, “Jen, you stink!” my response is, “Um, why yes, I do.”

I hate the topic of Gay Marriage.

Hate it.  Let me count the ways:

1) Because I know that the people who favor gay marriage do so for entirely understandable reasons.

2) Because I’m not an idiot.  I’ve known plenty of folks who favor same-sex unions, and who are, put simply, better people than me.  And they’re far and away better people than some of our rotten-to-the-core unrepentant clergy who’ve spent decades hiding despicable offenses.

3) The division concerning gay marriage doesn’t have its roots in questions about homosexuality.  For the last fifty years, the going cultural norm has been that whatever I desire, sexually, should be acted upon.  That marriage vows are no vow at all.  That children and marriage have nothing to do with one another.  That children have no particular need to be raised in a home with their mother and father.  That any parent-type figure will do just fine.

An aside: People have a hard time accepting that adopted children feel a genuine grief concerning their biological parents.  That very illusion — that your parents were unable to care for you, but hey, you have nothing to cry about — feeds into the destruction of marriage.  Something my dad said to me very plainly when he remarried after my mother’s death — I knew it, but he was absolutely right to lay it on the table  — was, “Your stepmother is not a replacement for your mother.”

It is a beautiful and wonderful thing when some loving person can step in and fill some portion of the blank left by the loss of loved one.  But it doesn’t erase the loss.  Acknowledging the loss makes it possible to delight in the sheer gift of this new and full and lively relationship, because we can accept it on its own terms, not pretend it is the other gift now gone.

4) A significant portion of the so-called Christian world doesn’t even acknowledge the horror of abortion.  An even larger chunk, including many people whose genuine faith in Christ I don’t doubt for a moment, think sterilization and contraception are AOK — desirable even.  And I don’t want to contemplate the numbers in the Church who approve or encourage the sin against purity we used to discreetly but emphatically call “self-abuse”.  Before you start citing the ancient Jewish law concerning homosexual acts, review the details concerning Onan, eh?  Struck dead on the spot?  Actions speak louder than words.  Disapproved.

5) I know that condemnation is the way of the world.  To ask for so-called “mercy” in the wider world is to heap condemnation upon yourself.  So I know that for many people dear to me, if I ever say, “Well, actually this one thing you’re doing is wrong,” those people I love will hear my words as code for, “Actually I hate you and I was just faking nice.”  Which isn’t true.  See my sins above — faking nice is not one of my virtues.

So to discuss gay marriage, at all, is to be accused of hatred.  I can discuss contraception, and people just think I’m a little daft.  I don’t mind that.  But I dislike the fact that to open this topic is to have a number of people I respect, admire, and count as friends, be tempted to assume the worst about me.  Well, the worst about me lies elsewhere.

[For the record: People hate you just as much if you talk about modesty in any specific terms.  Which I will be doing at NewEvangelizers.com in a couple weeks.  I’m racking up the voodoo rays this month.]

On to the Book Review

Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue by William B. May is a short, readable booklet, written for a Catholic audience who wants to defend the sacrament of marriage, but suffer from poor rhetoric.  The assumption is that you the reader agree with the Catholic teaching, but perhaps you articulate it poorly.  You may even be currently basing your arguments on any number of details that simply aren’t Catholic.

Or you may be a Catholic who wants to follow Church teaching, but doesn’t understand why the bishops are so adamant about not allowing civil unions as a peaceful live-and-let-live alternative.

There is a single refrain that explains the disconnect between reality and popular culture.  The going definition of marriage in our society is this:

“Marriage is the public recognition of a committed relationship between two adults for their fulfillment”.

And let me observe right now: If this is your definition, it is logical to accept gay marriage.  Trouble being, that’s not what marriage is.  It is what civil marriage has become.  But it’s not what it is supposed to be.  Here’s the Real Ale definition of marriage, the one the Church is trying to defend, too little too late:

“Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union.”

This is the radical reality that animates the entirety of Christian thought on marriage and sexuality.  Each child has a need to be raised by his mother and father.

Sometimes bad things happen — death, or serious sins such as an abusive parent, or a rapist father — that make this need impossible to fulfill.  When that happens, we have no choice but to go with the next best thing, whether it be single parenting, or remarriage, or adoption.  The next best thing, in the context of a response to tragedy, becomes the very picture of self-giving love.  Anyone who steps into fill the void for a child who is unable to be reared by both his mother and his father?  A true hero.

We live in a fallen world, and marriage faces countless obstacles.  Getting the Marriage Conversation Right addresses each of these difficulties in turn, and explains how we are to understand a proper response to _______ problem.  The book repeatedly admonishes us to avoid the temptation to condemnation, and maintains a thoroughly Catholic — that is, merciful — response to the many problems that individuals may face.

No hate-spewing.  No tsk-tsking.  No “they deserve what they get”.  None of that.

Who Should Read This Book?

The audience is those who accept, or wish to more fully accept, Catholic teaching on the sanctity of marriage.  If you aren’t interested in being convinced, you won’t find this book convincing. It’s a book of explanations for why the Church teaches as she does, and how to effectively communicate that teaching to others.

The reading level is all-adults.  The tone is conversational and the word count is short and to-the-point.  This is an excellent resource for a parish study group.

Helpful for Outsiders?

If you are in favor of same-sex unions, will this book help you understand the other side?  A lot depends on your mentality.  This is an unabashed defense of the Catholic teaching, written by and for those who want to agree with it.  There is no effort to create, within the book, an apologetic geared towards the worthy opponent. Yes, if you read the booklet with a desire to understand, in the spirit of true dialogue, why people oppose same-sex unions, you will in fact learn why people oppose same-sex unions.

But if it’s going to make your blood boil to see anyone lay out a defense of a position you abhor, then yeah, it’s going to make your blood boil.  No way around it.

Summary: Good book.  Short, readable, gets straight to the heart of the matter.  This is the first title I’ve read on this topic, and it does a good job at what it does.  For those who oppose same-sex unions, but don’t really know why, or how to explain their position, this book makes a good start.

Boilerplate:This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Things I’d Rather Not Think About

1. My CatholicMom.com article for March is up.  It’s on homeschooling when you struggle with self-discipline. It’s one of those topics where I wish I could be showing off my tremendous compassion for those poor people who just can’t seem to get it together.

I drew the line at posting a snapshot of my kitchen for the photo.  Instead, you get a picture of men hitting each other with sticks.  Same concept, seemlier illustration.

2. Have I mentioned how much it irritates me to have to follow the entirety of the Catholic faith, and not just bits and pieces? I assume others hate it just as much as I do, because so far no one has commented on my post this month at New Evangelizers. In which I take up the topic of whether Cardinal Mahoney ought to attend the conclave, and how that question fits in to a wider question of mercy and evangelization*.  And good administration.  You knew that was going to be fit in somehow.

3. I set the kitchen timer to tell me when to pull SuperHusband’s dress shirt out of the dryer. (Yes.  Dryer.  I know.)  It worked.  I just went and pulled it out and hung it up right away.  I can be very diligent about laundry, IF I’m supposed to be doing the taxes.

4. Taxes, episode 2.  That’s today.  Backside of the 1040, and yeah, it’s the Schedule A I don’t feel like dealing with.  Tired of being responsible.  I get tired of that very quickly.  But I’ll do it, of course. There’s nothing like, “We will seize your house if you don’t mail in this worksheet” to really motivate a lady.  UPDATE: DONE. WOOHOO!

5.  About that NE post.  Whenever I think “conclave”, the plot for a murder mystery pops into my head.  It’s a good thing other people volunteered to answer questions at Dorian Speed’s ElectingthePope.net.

6.  Please pray for the repose of the soul of Mr. W, our elderly farming neighbor who passed away peacefully in his sleep.  Funeral was packed, SuperHusband tells me, not a surprise.  Then pray for this family, who would be very grateful for any number of miracles.

7.  You can discourage the Friday meat demon by quick throwing all your meaty leftovers into the freezer Thursday night.  (Or give to dog if close to spoiling, but not quite inedible yet.)  Pull them out and return to fridge Saturday, when the coast is clear.

And something I’m happy think about:

Señora M., my catechist friend from down the road, reports a big milestone: She led her first English-language religious ed class the other night.  We first met in the Our Lady of Guadalupe room at the big Advent event in December, and since then she’s been helping out as a classroom assistant at her parish.  She phoned me this morning, and I made it through the greetings in Spanish, and then I had to plead, “No entiendo.” She gave me the big news in English.  But she isn’t giving up on me that easy, she’s determined to get my Spanish into working order.  I’m honored.

*Some people equate “mercy” with “giving them a pass.”  Those who have been privy to my ire know that the moment you start bungling on sexual abuse prevention and prosecution, is the moment I become a lady you do not like.  Do not confuse mercy with tolerance.  It’s not about overlooking the trivial flubs.  It’s not about saying, “Really it wasn’t so bad.”  Mercy only has meaning there where we want to give it least.