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.


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

When People Tell Your Kids that Porn is Just Fine

I have a daughter who adores rabbits, and therefore she knows what porn is. “No, dear, you can’t have that particular bunny sticker,” I had to explain several years ago, when she was searching Amazon for, well, bunny stickers.

Why not? She wanted to know, of course.

“Because that’s the logo for a company that sells pictures of naked ladies.”

No need to discuss sex, or what makes porn distinctive. She can intuitively know, by the simple fact that she shuts the door before changing clothes or going to the bathroom, that selling pictures of naked people is wrong-headed.

She has a righteous indignation about the purveying of pornography because a perfectly good rabbit has been co-opted into the works. At her age, I expect she feels as badly for the rabbit as for anyone.


The children’s grandmother has a stall in an antique mall. It’s one of these old brick factories that’s now home to a hundred or so vendors of everything that turns up at estate sales. If you want a case of Coca-Cola, unopened, from 1967, this is your place. I have to stay out of there because my sponsor at Vintage Books Anonymous threatened to stage an intervention.

The kids have been going to help their grandmother keep her stall clean and organized since as long as they’ve been old enough not to be a menace to porcelain. They dust knick-knacks and re-fold linens, and put out the latest crop of dishware, and they love doing it. The owner of the mall and the other vendors who work the counter know the kids, and the kids know them.

This week while working at the shop, my nine- and eleven-year-old daughters, always on the lookout for bunny figurines, came across a basket of Playboy that one of the other vendors had displayed on the front counter of his stall.

It’s not just an antique mall anymore, it’s a porn shop.

“Does the owner of the mall know about this?” my husband and I asked, when we heard about it late that night. The vendors stock their own stalls, there’s no central merchandise system.

“Yes. She told him he had to tape the covers shut.”

Ah. I see.

We’re knowingly putting out pornography for children to find as they hunt through the acre of treasure.

“It was right next to the big display of pocket knives,” one of my daughters said helpfully. Because you know, boys are interested in those sorts of things.

Things People Tell My Children About Pornography

But they’re vintage Playboys. I got that argument. It was related to me secondhand by my children, who’d been told that by someone at the shop; I heard it again directly from one of the vendors at the shop. As if dusty porn were somehow not porn.

I told the story to the kids of Msgr. Roth of blessed memory, who preached one Sunday about living out your faith all week long. He’d gone to visit a parish family, and they’d realized too late that their porn was sitting out on the coffee table. They apologized and put it away. Not in the trash—just out of sight. “Don’t put it away for the priest,” he said to the congregation. “You shouldn’t have that in your house at all. If it’s not okay for the priest to see, it’s not okay.”

I don’t know which family he had visited, but I know that I got a babysitting job for a family from church that year, and that was how I got my chance to see what’s inside the covers of Playboy. Apparently church people don’t hide it for the babysitter, either.

But they’re taped shut. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re selling pornography at your store. You’re telling the world that it’s fine to buy and sell this stuff. You’re making the decision to attract buyers of pornography to your business.

But that guy who runs the stall is just trying to make a living. That’s right. He’s decided he wants to profit off the exploitation of women and the uncontrolled lust of those who find pornography so compelling.

I didn’t use those last terms with the children. But I did explain to them, when the topic came up again, that the suicide rate among women involved in the porn industry is astronomical for a reason. They can appreciate why.

Don’t Keep Calm, Don’t Carry On

“I can tell you are very emotional about this,” I was told when I phoned in my complaint.

Yes, indeed. Discovering that people are knowingly putting out pornography for my children to find makes me emotional.

There are times when calm is not the answer.

What kind of sick person thinks we should feel calm about this?

As I told my children, who were well aware I was in rare form over this incident: Women are dead because of what this industry does to them. It is right to be upset about that.

The reality is that we Trumpers think the exploitation of women is AOK. It was fine for those church families way back in the ’80’s, so why wouldn’t it be fine now?

One of the children expressed, in a later discussion, some of the nonchalance they’d absorbed from the world around them. And thus I explained: To tolerate the buying and selling of pornography in your place of business is to say that you think it’s just fine for girls like mine to be exploited this way.

If it’s not okay for your sister to be treated that way, it’s not okay for anybody’s sister to be treated that way.

Parents: Would you be willing to paste your daughter’s face on that centerfold?

Doesn’t feel so wink-wink-giggle-giggle when you look at it that way.

Related: Marcel Lejeune has good handbook out now, written for those seeking to overcome their addiction to pornography. Cleanesd: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn is right to the point, and includes a compact, readable introduction to the deeper issues of the faith behind the right appreciation of human sexuality. Highly recommended for anyone who’s concerned about this issue, whether it’s a personal problem or you just happen to care about your fellow humans.

Cleansed - A Catholic Guide To Freedom From Porn

Cover art courtesy of Pauline Media

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


That was fast.

Whoever prayed for the SuperHusband’s ribs, THANK YOU.  It worked.  Now please apply your efforts to Hathaway’s lungs.  Thanks.

(PS: People tell me the radio thing sounded good enough.  So double-thanks on that one.)

And two things to read:

Chris T. on when and how to give to a worthy cause.

Pope Francis on just about everything.

About that Book You’re Reading this Summer

. . . here’s what you need to know:

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry WeddellYou’ll be reading ​Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell, which I happen to think is one of the most important Catholic books on the market today.  Important enough that I’m putting together a local book club in my own town, to meet and discuss the book. And so are you?  Yes?

And because you like to talk about things on the internet, you’ll be visiting’s Lawn Chair Catechism discussion group.  Led by Sarah Reinhard, whom you’ll recognize as one of my favorite writer-people.  And who is an extroverted friendly person, so I bet sheee never clams up when it’s time to drop the J-word.  She’ll be doing one of those linky-link festivals, or you can participate in the combox at, or at a participating blog near you.

(This blog is very near you.)

Because you don’t have a ton of money . . . Our Sunday Visitor is watching out for you: From now until the end of the month, you can purchase the book from the publisher’s website for $10, free shipping, no minimum.  This is basically the wholesale price.  Sarah asked OSV for a little coupon, and they responded with extreme generosity.

Because actually you’re illiterate very busy, but you like to talk about evangelization, or at least just complain about what’s wrong with the world . . . has pre-released the weekly discussion questions, which include a cliff-notes executive summary of each chapter.  Find the link at the Lawn Chair Catechism landing page.

Lawn Chair Catechism at

Because you’re exceedingly irritated that I’ve suddenly started using Facebook to post links to this event, and not a single cat photo . . . send your hate mail to Christian LeBlanc, Fr. Longenecker, and the SuperHusband.  They started it, not me.  I just write stuff and talk a lot.

Blurry Cat Photos are over-rated. Read Forming Intentional Disciples instead.

Who else to blame?  Will Duquette say you should read it too.

And so does Mark Shea, but he’s friends with Sherry Weddell, so he’s probably just making it up.

I, on the other hand, have never even met Sherry, or even stalked her on the internet, so you can believe me.

PS: Pope Francis Says: You probably don’t want to answer all the “your parish” questions on the internet.  But discuss in the privacy of your own local evangelization group?  Yes indeed.

7 Takes: Other Than Bacon

If you’d gotten the impression I’ve spent the last two weeks with no other thoughts than bacon . . . that would be a reasonable guess.  Since it’s Friday, I’ll be sociable and make a list of seven.

1. At, I wrote yesterday about how to evaluate your Christian Formation situation using the Great Commandment.  It’s a fleshing-out of this comment I left at William O’Leary‘s combox:

Couldn’t agree more. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your *mind*, and all your strength.

Which means the more your mind is capable of, the more it needs to study the faith. If you don’t love Jesus, you’ll love something else. If you don’t worship Him, you’ll worship something else. If you don’t work for Him, you’ll work for something else. –> And if you don’t use your powers of reason to know and understand Him . . . that blank space in your brain will be filled with something else.

We’re made to know God, and know Him fully. No other way to be happy.


2. At CWG today, I tossed up a couple links on writing competence and the new evangelization.  Something we struggle with at the writer’s guild is that fine line between “encouragement” and “enabling”.  If we had a narrower focus, like “only literary fiction”, or “only professional authors with trade-published credentials”, it wouldn’t be so difficult.  But since we represent all faithful-to-the-Magesterium Catholic writers, from aspiring amateurs on up, every genre . . . it’s a bumbly boat.

I like the bumbly boat, of course, since it’s the only one that’ll let me in.

3. Is it a cult, or just weird and stupid? Fr. L. posted an excellent article on the traits that characterize cult-like behaviors.

Readers here will be assured, having reviewed the criteria, that I am in no danger of becoming a cult leader.  Whew.

4. Sometimes I wonder whether what I wrote somewhere else is really of interest to readers here, and whether I should post a link. The other month when some people were freaking out because Pope Francis Is Not Pope Benedict, I posted some thought at AC.  Naturally I linked it all back to catechesis, since I didn’t want Lisa M. kicking me off her blog.  And because it was relevant.

I re-read my post and thought it wasn’t that bad.  So you could go look, if you wanted.

5.  A non-bacon recipe: Venison stroganoff. So good you can eat the leftovers cold for breakfast. What to do:

  1. Use the recipe for beef stroganoff from the Joy of Cooking.
  2. Skip the beef step.  Toss your hunk of venison roast in the crockpot with a little liquid (water is a liquid), cook on low all day.  Take it out and chop it up.
  3. Start up the Joy recipe.
  4. Crazy Innovation: Add parsnips — yes parsnips!  Peel and shred them (you have to shred the onion anyway), and toss them in after the onion but before the mushrooms, and let them saute a bit before you put in the mushrooms.
  5. When the mushroom mixture is all cooked up, toss in your diced venison, then the white whine wine, and then the sour cream.  I’m sure it’s possible to use too much sour cream, but I don’t have any proof.
  6. You’ll be serving this over rice — oh wait, most people do noodles, but actually rice tastes better. Yes, I said that.
  7. Regardless of what you put your stroganoff over — or nothing at all, if you’re having it cold in the morning for breakfast — you’ll want to make gravy with the venison drippings.  Chunk of butter in the bottom of saucepan, melt it, dump in a bit of flour and mix like a crazy person, and when it’s a nice pasty-paste, pour in the cooking liquid from the venison, mix it up.  (Immersion blender is your friend.)  That’s it. Best gravy in the world, easy-peasy.

6. I know.  It’s not deer season.  Too bad.  Ask your friends to open up their freezer to you.

7.  I had a long train of thought (hanging out laundry), and ended up with this thought: If there one thing — and only one thing — I could ask bishops and priests to do over the next year towards the reform of the Church, it would be this:

Make the Catholic Faith the Non-Negotiable Minimum Standard for Those in Ministry

People freak out when you do this.

So I completely get that it’s an unpleasant task, and clergy want to be all pastoral, and all that.  And to be clear: I want the pews packed — packed — with tax-collectors and other sinners.  That’s what not what I’m talking about.  I’m speaking only to those in ministry.  The DRE who tells the confirmandi that gay marriage is AOK.  (Didn’t happen at my parish, whew.) That kind of stuff.

And that’s something only those in authority can actually enforce. We lay folk can do all kinds of helpful things to make up for a pastor who can’t read a contract, or doesn’t know how to hire a good plumber, or whose fingers freeze when it comes to dialing 9-1-1 . . . but we the laity can’t really do a whole lot when the hierarchy decides to be indifferent to the practice and teaching of the faith.

So that’s my new one thing.  I figured out it’s the source of my chronic grumpiness about these or those other little hot-button topics.  So I’m resolving to at least keep my temper-tantrums focused on the real issue.

Meanwhile, since what comes around goes around . . .  What do you think is the one thing clergy wish laypeople would do?

Your Father is Just This Guy

In the past 48 hours I’ve been guilty, more than once, of uttering crude expressions of impatience concerning select clergy.  Not publicly, and not out of ill-will, just a general, “Will this guy get with it for a change!”

Lots of us are guilty.  We want all these guys we call “Father” — the one we grew up with, or without, and the ones in our Church — we want them to be wonderful.  We want them to be holy, and kind, and wise, and good.  And we want them to know what to do.  To know how to fix things.

But they’re just these guys.  They wear funny clothes.  They have strange taste in music.  They are too indulgent with that child, and too severe with the other one.  They didn’t do Christmas / Thanksgiving / Birthdays / Math Homework / Yard Maintenance / The Easter Triduum just the way we think they should.  They work too long, or retire too early, or both.

They stink at interior decorating.   And most of them snore.

Also, when you get to be a parent of a certain age, you look back and do the math, and realize just how young your father was, way back when, when you as a child thought he was so old.  When you thought he knew everything, because you were six? He was barely into adulthood.  When you thought he knew nothing, because you were sixteen? He was still just cutting his teeth on the What Do I Do With This Teenager of Mine problem. And when he’s eighty, he’s being eighty for the first time in his life.  He’s just improvising.

He’s guessing.  That’s what fathers do.

I’ve lost my patience with the Francisco-Obsessing.  He’s just this guy.  He dresses funny.  Guys dress funny.  It’s what they do.

I know the Holy Father, and your bishop, and your parish priest, and your dad, they all do certain symbolic actions that send important messages.  But you know how there’s all those NFP instructors who make that smarmy admonition that husbands should do the charting, as if the measure of a man’s worth could all be summed up in one glorious epitaph, “He Recorded Her Mucus Faithfully”?

A man is not a symbol.  He’s a person.  If he doesn’t chart, but he does do his best to earn a living, and help rear the children, and say nice things to you now and again, and maybe even change your oil, doesn’t that count for something? You can be the dad that tells bedtime stories, or the one who reads the Bible at breakfast, or the one who plays ball on Sunday afternoon, or the one who takes a kid along when he goes to the hardware store . . .  and you don’t have to be all of them.  Being one guy is enough.

Guys who cheat on their wives, or abandon their children, or refuse to support the family, or commit any number of gross abuses of their responsibility?  They deserve the harsh words that come their way.  Guys who don’t discipline their children, ever, or can’t be bothered to see they get a decent education, or don’t listen and take action when the kids come to them with problems?  They need a serious talking to.  They need to put on their Man Pants and step up to the plate.

But the guy who dresses funny and dines at all the wrong restaurants?  Whatever.  He’s not a better dad because he’s so dapper, or so frugal.  He’s not a worse dad because he wants Thanksgiving served on heirloom china, or on paper plates.

And you can’t know what it all means, not really.   If he surrounds himself with elegant things, he’ll be accused of being self-indulgent, or pompous, and also of being erudite and cultured.  If he wears the same pair of jeans for fifteen years straight, he’ll be accused of being slovenly and lazy, and also a “man of the people” who “doesn’t get caught up in appearances”.  Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t.

Maybe he’s just this guy.

Francisco’d better appoint good bishops.  He’d better elevate good cardinals.  He ought to direct the curia deftly, pay attention to necessary reforms, and teach clearly and accurately.  He needs to cultivate his own spiritual life lest he fall into greater sins than the one he commits already (whatever they are, I have no idea what they might be), and in the hopes that he might yet grow further in wisdom and holiness.

Lord willing, he’ll do all this, and do it well.

And if he does, I pretty much don’t care where he lives.  I don’t care what he eats.  I don’t care about the car he drives, the shoes he wears, or the kind of music he listens to at night.  Not so long as none of it’s immoral, and none of it prevents him from doing his real Dad Jobs.

And if he screws it up?  He’s accountable for that, too.  It’s a false piety to think that “Honor Your Father” means “Pretend Sin Is Not Sin”.  Francisco has serious responsibilities.  Heresy and dissent are rife within the Church. Corruption, crime, and immorality among the clergy and laity have got to be addressed.  What is true and good — whether it comes in more formal or more humble trappings — needs to be encouraged and promoted.  No amount of visiting prisoners or chatting with the help gets a pope excused from doing his (other) fatherly duties.

But any man who’s doing his Dad Jobs gets a free pass to dress as goofy as he wants, sit in his favorite comfy chair, and stock his beverage cooler with whatever the heck he wants. He’s a father.  Call him to task on his Manly Responsibilities, if indeed he neglects them.  You don’t have drink his Pabst Blue Ribbon, or his Glenfiddich, if turns your stomach.  More for him. So be it.

Holy Thursday’s tomorrow.  Pray for priests.



I {heart} Francisco

Because of stuff like this:

Hat tip to Fr. Z, who gets accused of many things, for calling off the dogs on his end of the liturgical spectrum.  And for getting our brains on straight, thank Margaret Rose Realy, who’s posted the Thursday prayer for priests.

Let me just point out that even though I can be the worst of complainers (and I’m sure others find plenty to complain about in me, rightly so), from the day these guys begin to answer their vocation, they spend the whole rest of their lives under constant attack — sometimes from us in the pews, always from the one who hates them most.

Pope Francis

Why would the new pope begin his pontificate by a) praying for his predecessor, and then b) asking us to pray for him?  Because it’s what is needed.


Seven Takes: Life, Death, Warped Things Governments Do

No, I’m not back to regular blogging.  But I had approximately seven things to say, and it’s a Friday, so that makes this Seven Quick Takes, right?

1.  Why yes, that was us you saw at the National Vocations Meet-Up March for Life.

Low point:  Children in tears due to experience of being a southern-person whose mother does not know how to dress them for cold weather.

High point: Making a brief retreat into the National Gallery to go potty, rest, and warm-up, then re-emerging to a gentle made-for-TV snow flurry, taking up our signs, and falling into line with these guys.  Who sing beautifully.

Weird Point: The Metronome, as my 3rd-grader calls it, is determined not to take my money.  I kept trying to pay full fare, but the machines refused me at every turn. Fortunately the kind metro-ladies are apparently used to clueless tourists with five children in tow, and sorted me out with a combination of generosity and exasperation that I think must be the hallmark of the metro system.

2. Petersburg National Battlefield is a good place to run the kids and get your history fix all at once.  The ranger does come around checking to see if you’ve paid.

–> Touring tip:  Always ask if you’re supposed to pay.  Because they expect you to pay, even if they never ever tell you that.  And the ranger lady has a gun.  Luckily I had asked.

Discussion Question: Any Particular Reason the Union had to engage in war?  Why not just let the Confederacy secede, and work on patching things up diplomatically?  Put another way:  Did the US Civil War meet just war criteria for the Union?

My boy says yes.  I’m playing neutral professor-person.

In other US history topics: The essay “Smuggler Nation” in this month’s Harpers is really quite good. One more shovel of fodder for that pirates-vs.-privateers topic that’s always coming up around this household.

Our other airline-miles magazine subscription, Western Horseman ran a great piece a month or so ago on the troubles ranchers along the US-Mexican border are having with Mexican smugglers, and the lack of cooperation from some of the US border patrol in keeping their lands safe.  I can’t seem to find an article link.  But let me just say right now, that if you purchase approximately one plane ticket every five years, and want a family-friendly periodical to purchase with your miles before they expire, WH is the one.

3.  My son objects to the strong language in Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Views the Body.  It pleases me greatly to discover I’ve reared a middle-schooler who complains about words like “damn” and “hell” improperly used.

4.  My January New Evangelizers column was 10 Ways to Support Evangelization Even When Your Parish is Falling Apart.

I picked this photo.

Apparently it grabbed someone’s attention, because the Catholic Vitamins people invited me to do an interview for their podcast.  Which is exciting, in an I-hope-my-phone-battery-doesn’t-die-while-we’re-talking kind of way.  I think I can bribe my kids into being quiet with the promise of Krispy Kreme donuts.  Also, presumably this is just one step on the long road towards true fame? By which I mean, of course, being on Rhett & Link’s Good Mythical Morning? My son doesn’t think I’ll ever be quite that good, but he puts on an encouraging face all the same.

5.  Helen Alvare nails it on the head in her analysis of the new HSS regulations.

Let me observe once again that there would be no moral objection at all if the government merely required employers to pay workers a sum sufficient to pay for the desired contraceptive services — for example, by putting the necessary funds into a healthcare savings account that employees could then use to purchase supplemental insurance if they so chose.

And how exactly is it “freedom of religion” if insurance companies and self-insurance administrators must sell (or give away, per the new iteration of regulations) products they may themselves object to?  Is there no legal right to sell insurance for some but not all health care services?  Will insurers eventually be required to pay for euthanasia as well?  Apparently there is a religious test required in order to enter the insurance industry.

6.  Speakin’ of that constitution thing . . . my boy observes that 2/3rds of gun deaths are suicides.  (Wikipedia’s citing 60%.) Which puts a certain corner of the culture in the odd position of wanting to outlaw something they’re trying to legalize.  Apparently depressed and disabled people should die, but only at the hands of licensed death-care providers?

If you aren’t from Gunlandia, you probably should not visit It takes a special red-state redness to enjoy.

7.  You know you live in a warped culture when you feel the need to clarify something like this: “For the record, I’m 100% opposed to all forms of murder and suicide.”

Ooh, oooh, want me to exasperate everybody in one single catechism quote? How about this one?  Enough to make everyone you know get all squirmy-wormy:

2269 The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death. The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger.

The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.70

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Happy February.

Up at AC: We’ve Got a Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy, Now What?

More belaboring of points.  Or perhaps my accountant-training beginning to show.  Between a love of procedures, and hammered-into-head lessons about keeping lawyers at bay, yes, these are the things I have learned to think about.  It’s not good enough to have the policy.  You have to teach people what it says, and make sure they know how to apply it.  And then actually follow the steps.

Otherwise you get this.  Which nobody wants.