Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.
However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.
The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.
This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger. Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.
Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.
What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.
That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.
So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.
And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.
Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.
Continuing with Book Week. Box #2 raises a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What part do chastity-education programs play in teaching teens (and grown-ups) about the right use of their bodies?
My thoughts follow, but first you should show know what was in the box:
YOU from Ascension Press. I reviewed AP’s Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition some years ago, and liked it immensely. A first glance at YOU is similarly positive. It’s a much bigger and deeper program, and from everything I’m seeing among teens in the circles I run in (church-school-sports), YOU looks like a solid answer to a very serious need.
As I flipped through the books the other night, several things caught my eye:
The advice for how to teach teens is dead-on.
The parent booklet gets right to first things first. It’s like they know they only have a paragraph to win us parents over.
The curriculum, as will the best Theology of the Body presentations, starts with the bigger picture, lays the essential groundwork on the dignity of the human person, and leads from there into a positive message about the goodness and appeal of chastity.
YOU is working off ideas that have been tested with teens over and again and found to work. (Not surprising, given who the authors are.)
It’ll be a while before I get a chance to read the leader’s guide and parent guide (leader’s guide contains the full text of the student book) cover to cover, as well as watch the whole DVD series. Thus I wanted to flag this series now, because I’ve got a very positive impression at first glance, and if you’re planning programs for your parish you might want to request your own review set rather than waiting on someone else’s opinion.
Where do ready-made chastity programs fit into the big picture?
If you phoned me this afternoon (please don’t) and asked me what I recommended for taking your generic typical-American-parish from zero to full-steam-ahead on teaching teens chastity, here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Start with a good parent-centered introduction to chastity, such as Family Honor’sLeading and Loving program. There are lots of options for meeting formats, but (using L&L as an example) I strongly recommend investing the time and energy into spreading the program out over six weekly sessions rather than doing a single big-weekend event. This gives you time for parents to get to know each other, to have time to talk with the leaders in detail, and to begin to form a small group atmosphere. It lets parish leadership begin to identify the parents who are in the best position to help other parents. It also gives lots of time for listening, and thus for learning where parents in your parish are coming from and what questions or difficulties they are having.
–> Make sure you’ve got the depth of back-up resources to assist parents with their concerns. At a minimum: NFP instruction, good pastoral help with thorny marital irregularities, some resources for dealing with pornography, and access to support for parishioners grappling with same-sex attraction (personally or via a friend or family member’s situation) such as Courage. It’s no fair telling people they need to radically change their lives, then wishing them good luck and washing your hands.
2. When parents are ready to start sharing the message of chastity with their teens, do a parent-teen joint program. There are any number of options, and many of them (Family Honor is an exception) assume parents won’t be present. Don’t go there. You need the parents totally involved and on board. Your six hours in front of an eighth grader are nothing compared to the influence of the parents. Even if the program you select doesn’t call for parental presence, adapt it to make it a parent-teen program.
3. Keep working discipleship on all the parts of the Catholic faith. Salvation isn’t about sex-ed alone.
4. Programs like YOU will have the most impact if you roll them out after you have a critical mass of parents who are actively seeking to foster chastity in the home, and a critical mass of parishioners and parish leaders who are disciples.
I’m not saying there is no fruit that comes from grabbing a random teenager who’s fully immersed in the wider culture and subjecting the child to a few weeks of Catholic teaching. Good things can happen. But the reality is that an hour of your life in alien country rarely makes you want to join the aliens, if you were heretofore perfectly happy back home in Depravityville. More likely, you’ll go home thinking you met a bunch of crazy people and thank goodness you’ve escaped.
Making disciples is work. YOU looks like it’s got loads of potential as a help in that work, which is why I mention it now. But making disciples is long, slow, constant work. There are no short cuts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  . 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.
What’s with the radio silence? Let me just tell you.
But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’sTheology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity. The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could. So put that on your calendar.
The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.” I usually stick to code on these things. But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically. I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.
Now back on topic. A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”
Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer. So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.
The very, very, long answer:
But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed! Isn’t that cool?! I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind. June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.
I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation. Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse. No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.
It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.
Some other interesting body-things for this summer:
Dang it I can’t talk anymore again. The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time. This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.) 80% isn’t 100%. On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.
–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations. Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking. So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour. But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.
Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.
Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .
This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again. Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day. More on that below.
I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:
Impaired oxidative phosphorylation [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.
Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”
The answer is that at this writing, no I am not. But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot. (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache. Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad. So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is. I think most other people can also use those adjectives.
[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.” I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs. So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]
And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:
Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.
This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life. Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there. Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.
And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:
. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.
This thing I hate. I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks. Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately. I just get all the fatigue. (Um, and I always have a cough. So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)
Exercise does help. The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do. Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise. I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.
–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time. If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards. Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep. There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.
The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others. So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do. Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.
Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.Not being snarky there. I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”) Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).
So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible. I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues. If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later. It might be just lucky coincidence.
Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:
It took me a long, long time to figure this out. Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.
I live in a warm climate. I don’t mind being sweaty. I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day. Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on. I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself. (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).
The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”
It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise. Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.
The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate. Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.” But it’s certainly my loudest. As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE. This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing. I’m home all day with four kids. There’s noise. There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.
What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides). And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.
So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog. I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that. But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:
Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake. Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me. I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.
So we went. And I was fine. Dreamy fine. No problems. Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc. Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.
Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy. Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often? Two reality checks:
Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.
So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.
And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning. So yeah, CAWOG. I’m rolling with it.
I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut. (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there. I guess it’s dry now. But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.
Another girl in the accounting department and I both reverted to Christianity after we got married. (Recall – I actually converted at work. By which I mean, literally in a meeting with the customer. Yes indeed.) So one day we were standing there in the cube farm when I learned this fact, and I knew enough about her past life and mine to be able observe in solidarity, “It’s a lot easier to become a Christian after you’re married.” She knew what I meant, and she agreed on the spot.
Mortal sin is a potential hindrance to conversion every time.
Just being married, though, didn’t put me out of the woods on that point. The priest who ushered me back into the Church helped the spouse and I get our marriage convalidated, introduced us to NFP, and generally kept us pointed in a safe direction. I was finally learning the fullness of the Catholic faith.
A decade and some later, I’m still unpacking it all.
The trouble with Christians is that we’re both body and soul. The tendency is to treat Christianity as being only about your soul, as if it were the “real” prize and your body were just the packing peanuts. Don’t ingest, don’t expose to open flame . . . just kind of keep the packaging from making a mess and you’re good.
Our bodies aren’t packaging. Our bodies are an integral part of us, and how we live in them is what our Christianity is. When we say humans are made in the image of God, male and female, the human body is part of that divine image. We literally can know something about God by looking at our bodies. Our bodies and souls, together, provide a snapshot of God. That’s what it means to be an image of something. My photo isn’t me, and it doesn’t tell you everything there is to know about me, but it is an image of me. It does reveal things about me you wouldn’t know if you didn’t have the photo.
Even when we talk about mortifying our bodies, in pious Christian language speaking of “hating” the flesh, what we mean is this: Use it properly. Live a rightly ordered life. To prepare your soul for heaven is to prepare your soul for your heavenly body.
One of the things I do is teach sex-ed. I write about a lot of things, but I write about topics like porn, and BDSM, and name-that-thing-nice-girls-don’t-talk-about, because what we do with our bodies is what we’re doing to ourselves. You matter. You were created to be treated with love and respect. We live in a world where people have no idea what that looks like. They don’t know what it means to be loved and respected.
That’s what the Theology of the Body is about.
What does love really look like?
Sometime in the months leading up to my conversion, I failed to fill out my time card at work properly. The department secretary, a Christian, came and told me I hadn’t given her the form I owed her.
I started making excuses in my defense. She said, “I forgive you.” I kept making excuses. She kept repeating: “I forgive you.”
There’s a long list of before-and-afters for me as a Christian. People who knew me before my conversion can vouch for the fact that I was no picture of saintliness. People who know me now will observe that my principles have radically changed, but my ability to live up to those principles is still woefully lacking. We call ourselves “practicing” Catholics because we still don’t have it right, even after years of trying. We’re still practicing.
Studying the Theology of the Body doesn’t make me holy. But what it does do is make it possible for me to try — because I finally understand what it is I’m supposed to be trying for, and why, and how it works. We can’t practice a skill we don’t even know we’re supposed to have. And when that skill is living in the half of your being that is integrally connected to the other half your being, well, wow. It’ll change your life.
Back to NFP: So yesterday I woke up at six (normal), and thought it might be prudent to see if I could sleep until seven, what with having a long day ahead, and having been so tired all week. Success. Seven rolls around, SuperHusband’s alarm goes off, and now there’s no more stalling except that old married-lady trick: Reach for that thermometer.
Here’s the thing you need to know, you innocent ones, about women of a certain age: We pretty much know whether we actually need to get a temp that day or not. Round my castle, yesterday was not that day.
But if you want five more minutes of laying in bed, a sudden diligence in Following the Method is a dodge that even St. Josemaria WAKE UP Escriva can’t get down your back about.
So I got my minutes. Thermometer beeps, and if you don’t go turn on a light and check and see what it says, and write that down someplace, Josemaria’s gotcha. So I do that, because I don’t want to be in deep trouble with select saints.
Benefit of NFP: You know a fever when you see one, the way baseball fans know a bad batting average when they see one.
–> This caused the surreal experience of knowing I was sick, but since I still only felt like a tired person waking up in the morning, I had no idea exactly what sort of sick I might be. Also, NFP saved Thanksgiving, because:
(a) If I hadn’t known I was sick, I would have gotten up and prepped for co-op.
(b) I would have felt tired and unmotivated, but I would have chalked it up to a moral failure on my part, made extra coffee, and pushed through it. Probably grabbed some allergy medicine when I felt a little sneezy.
(c) Well, yes, by 10:30 my throat would have been very, very sore. But I would have assumed it was from talking too much, not enough fluids, something like that.
(d) My friends at the co-op would have observed my pathetic __insert doubtful behavior here__, but they do that every week, so even they might not have realized I was a walking bio hazard.
(e) Germs. Incubation periods. Major holidays around the corner. Doesn’t take a public health official to add it up.
So you see? Moral of the story: The quest for holiness had side benefits for the wider community.
What happened instead is that I called in sick, other people went about their lives happily, and I spent the day mildly ill (not that bad, if you don’t have to talk to anybody and can sleep a lot of the day), read books, and then goofed off on the internet while my children faked doing schoolwork. Which means two more side benefits for the wider community:
A couple notes re: full disclosure on this one, since no one is pestering me at this very minute to get off the computer:
I read the first edition (issued by OSV). The cover pictured above is the revised and expanded edition from Ignatius. You can still buy the old version direct from Fr. L, but I bet the new one is even better.
Fr. Longenecker sent me a review copy because I had been so kind in my comments about Catholicism Pure and Simple, a book I paid for with my own money and think was money very well spent. I’ve also reviewed The Gargoyle Code (loved it), and astute readers may have noticed I tweet an awful lot of Fr. L’s posts from his blog.
This is because he writes good stuff. My usual rule for when he, or anyone, says dumb stuff, is to take it up privately or else just ignore it.*
I would torment you by saying, “I also read a pretty bad book yesterday,” but that would be unkind, unless I meant to tell you which bad book it was. I do read bad books, though not usually an entire bad book.
–> If you reach the point where you have read all the very good books, and need a list of books that are pretty good but have a few glaring weaknesses and possibly even some objectionable content, e-mail me. I know a few. But I bet you haven’t read all the very good books yet.
*I know this is difficult for you to believe, longtime readers of a blog with a whole category called Rant-o-Rama. But I assure you, my curmudgeonly powers far exceed anything you witness on the internet.
(3) I demonstrated my incompetent streak yesterday by attempting to open my review copy of SImcha Fisher’s new book, but luckily the author herself came to my help when I pleaded. She regrets associating with me, I’m sure.
But hey! I read the book! It’s very good, and fills a niche about the size of a deep sea trench in the literature on NFP. Also, I laughed at select passages — not out loud, but that silent, tears-rolling-down-cheeks thing that you do when something is too funny for laughing out loud. (There were other parts that exhort the reader to maturity and selfless love and all that. I was duly solemn during those parts.)
Giveaway opens Friday, and I will sit on my hands and not quote any punch lines. Therese-like self-control here.
I started the week all productive. New quarter. Got the checklists printed out, vowed, “This time I will stay on track!” all that. Also, I had to pick Mr. Boy’s next literature choice. I went through the Kolbe Jr. High Lit Course Plans, and Merchant of Venice kept popping out at me. I was leary after the Great Poetry Fiasco of 2013, but I heeded the little voice.
And I got a brilliant idea: Since two big kids are always hanging around wanting to talk to use from 9-10, formerly known as “Kids Are In BED AND PARENTS HAVE ADULT TIME”, yes I am shouting by the end of that sentence, I figured out a way to either get the children to go to bed, or live out the homeschool fantasy of everyone sitting around reading Shakespeare together in the evening. Win either way, right?
So Tuesday night I hand out copies (mismatched, but we rolled with it) of the play, we divied up the parts for Act 1, Scene 1, and it went pretty well. Some of us were having so much fun, we went ahead and started scene 2.
At which point, Splash.
Yes. My child vomited over Shakespeare.
Said child reported after, “My stomach felt weird, but I wasn’t sure . . .”. So hard to tell the difference between a stomach virus and Literature Dread.
[Everyone’s better now, thanks for asking.]
When we restart, I’m issuing a bucket with each manuscript.
2. I updated my e-mail software. I hate it. That is my excuse for why I can’t find your e-mail anymore. I will grow and change and find your message and reply to it. Soon. But not before late afternoon today.
Good Catholic friends, please tell me you know that you’re not supposed to take the Lord’s name in vain? So I will charitably assume that if you gasp “Oh my God!” when talking about someone else’s clothing choice, or the water bill this month, or what happened in Congress, that you are in fact moved to prayer. I think you should cut it out, because everyone *thinks* you’re just taking the Lord’s name in vain, and maybe you even are. But I’m not going to presume.
What with being Catholics, we tend to cling tightly to our right to use “strong language”. All those things St. Paul has to say about our word choice are trumped by our Lord’s choice insults, yes? So we say. I’ll not take up that fight today.
But if you’re going to resort to coarse, over-used cliches of insults for lack of a broader vocabulary — perhaps your imagination is foiled in the face of tribulation — would you please kindly restrict yourself to accurate metaphors?
For example, some people accuse the Church of thinking sex is dirty or shameful or I don’t know what. It’s nonsense of course — quite the opposite: If we are very particular about chastity, it’s because sex is so powerfully good, holy even, and should not be profaned in any way. We only have seven sacraments, and one of them has to do with sex. Yep.
So, please oh please oh please, speak as if you’ve been catechized. Do not sling around crude terms for the marital act as your insult of choice — let alone as your darkest and strongest insult. Do you really think that intercourse is some foul, nasty, evil thing? When you search for some vivid way to describe a sordid injustice, is the first thing that comes to mind your experience with the marital act?
I certainly hope not. Clean it up.
4. Come see me talk. St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Columbia, SC, Saturday Nov. 9th, daytime. I’m just doing a panel in the afternoon, on the “Classroom Management” topic. In the morning I’ll be listening. I kinda wish I could listen in the afternoon, too, the other panelists look pretty interesting – I can’t find an internet link, but the overall topic is stuff like bullying, working with special needs students — useful. Contact the Diocese of Charleston Catechesis Folks to get more info or to RSVP. There’s a nominal cost that covers lunch -n- stuff. Gorgeous site, too, do visit the church and cemetery if you come.
5. Speaking of sex . . . I’m hosting a blog tour and giveaway for Simcha’s new book on NFP. Where should I do it? Here? Amazing Catechists? Patheos? I need to pick a spot.
6. Speaking not of sex . . . My friend Karina Fabian has a new book out. I haven’t read it, but I keep meaning to blurb it. If you like clean adult sci-fi, Catholic-themed usually, fun and a quick read, take a look. I’ve never not enjoyed reading one of her books, though I don’t do the zombie thing — I had to crop her cover for my presentation on finding a publisher this past summer at CWG, because, gross. Firmly planted in my Hardy Boys Not Thomas Hardy preferred category.
7. Aren’t these beautiful? I can’t decide whether they’re in budget or not. I do need a holy water font for the house. I’m nervous about the glass. But wow. Pretty.
(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.
3. FTR, I homeschool for the library books. The village never even entered into it. I just want to read. A lot. There aren’t many jobs let you do that. (Also I like teaching my kids, like being with them, like playing outside, like traveling during the school year, and it’s the only Catholic school I’ll ever talk my husband into paying for . . . but it’s mostly for the books.)
4. NFP Apps. I like a pen and a free-in-the-mail calendar myself. (Helps if you don’t particularly need a graph or white baby stickers. About once a year I break out the graph paper to make sure I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing. But most of the time, 4/10 of degree shows up real nice just looking at the numbers.) But all you smart-device people can do NFP the Smart Way.
Also a Bleg: Anyone have an RCIA text you really love? I’m dumb enough to try to make up an answer to that question, but someone who knows the field would be better suited to give the real scoop.
6. AtPublic Discourse: the obituary of an honest historian. Beautiful story. Especially if you’re the kind of person who reads a history book, and then rants towards your children about all the dumb ideas the book promotes without presenting any evidence whatsoever.
My kids say I complain a lot. I reply that easily 10-if-not-15% of the time, it’s because there’s something worth complaining about. The rest of the time, yeah, I’m just grumpy. Probably the nicest grumpy person you know.