The other week when I posted my rant-o-rama about the misuse of the label “amazing,”John Hathaway went right to work at the blog discussion group pulling out of me the what’s really going on here?? We managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and below I’m going to explain what I think is the biggest, most deadly part of going around thinking other people are “amazing.”
But first, a few side issues that deserve some resolution:
We quickly agreed on the usual explanation for surly bloggers: I was being cranky.
I do concede that the word “amazing” has shifted to take on a second, diluted meaning of generally “nice” or “good.” I’ll spare you a long talk about how we already had words that meant those things. (To wit: nice and good are still around.)
Furthermore, I generally don’t care if other people have the odd shoddy linguistic habit — don’t we all? If you’re itching for a fight, you’ll get more fervor out of me if you bring up the Oxford Comma.
(Yes! Even though I am a convicted comma abuser! We pundits would have nothing to do all day if we sat around waiting for our holiness to arrive before we opened our mouths.)
Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.
Superman is Amazing
Let’s talk about Superman. He stops speeding bullets. He leaps tall buildings in a single bound. He’s the guy you look for when you need something done that ordinary people just can’t do. He’s called “amazing” because he does things you and I never could.
Ordinary people of course are “amazing” in the sense that we are each the precious and intricate handiwork of God. Spend half an hour learning about the things we’ve discovered to date about, say, the way a human nerve cell functions, and you’ll be rightly amazed. Furthermore, our loved ones bring all kinds of invaluable gifts to the world simply by being themselves. Despite my cantankerous headline the other day, your children are in fact amazing even when all they’re doing is drooling over their baby food. There’s that.
But sometimes we call someone “amazing” not out of simple wonder at the marvel of human worth and dignity, but more in the Superman-sense of amazing. We have gotten to where certain classes of people who happen to be doing hard things are given the Superman label.
Doing this isn’t just over-enthusiasm. Such labeling actually causes humans to die.
Hard Things Don’t Require Superman
Life is hard. Humans — all of us — are called to do hard things.
When somebody is dealing with some tremendous difficulty, they aren’t being Superman. They are experiencing human life.
Lately though, our society has gotten that idea that difficulties are only for Very Special People. We consider suffering to be the sole province of amazing superheros, and do all that we can to excuse everyone else — people who are “like us.”
If you have a baby with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and you don’t choose to abort that baby, people call you “amazing.” Only special superhero people can do that; ordinary people would have to abort, because they just can’t take it the way Amazing SuperParents can.
Thus it follows that if you happen to be raising a child with a serious illness or disability, or you happen to be such a person yourself, surely you are “amazing” for experiencing such a life.
If you reach a point where your family member’s illness or disability becomes overwhelming, you’re “amazing” if you continue to care for that person rather than opting to go ahead and put the sufferer to death. If you yourself are the one directly suffering and you choose not to commit suicide, again you are “amazing” for enduring what “ordinary” people just couldn’t do.
No! No! No!
Not Killing Innocent People is an Ordinary Person’s Job
There’s just nothing “amazing” about not committing murder. Ordinary old you is a person who is called to man-up and do your best to muddle through difficult circumstances.
Some people endure their hardships with admirable fortitude and good grace, while others of us aren’t winning any prizes for Sufferer of the Year. But all of us, by mere dint of our humanity, should anticipate the time when we, too, will bear our share of hardship. We don’t have to seek it out; it will find us.
When it comes, we will not be Amazing Supermen. We’ll feel the sting of the bullet and the penetrating wound and the leaking of life from our bodies in an unstoppable river of blood. Suffering hurts. Suffering is difficult. Suffering eventually robs you of this mortal life.
Death by Admiration
The going expression is that if you put someone on a pedestal you’ll see their clay feet, but I don’t think that’s the gravest risk anymore. Anymore, the pedestal is where we put people we want to admire from a safe distance. If you keep far enough back from someone who’s working through a difficult part of life, and you squint so you don’t see the messy parts, you can convince yourself you’re looking at Superman.
You can say to yourself, “I could never do that. I’m not Superman like that person is.”
You can say to other people, “I don’t expect you to do that difficult thing, because if you’re not Superman it’ll be just too hard for you.”
You can say, “Well, they are the ones who chose not to abort or euthanize — if they’re having a hard time, it’s not my fault they tried to act like Superman.”
These are lies. The people you know who are doing hard things right now? They are ordinary people.
If you admire someone’s fortitude or good grace, don’t say, “Wow you are so amazing!” as if your friend were from another planet, possessing super-human attributes. Rather, say, “Wow. When my time comes to face some similar trial, I hope I’ll have learned enough from your example to be able to do you proud.”
People will tell you that this or that deplorable book or show or song requires depraved content in order to explore “mature” themes.
So here’s a tip: Watch the film Room. (Wikipedia has the full plot synopsis here.) It’s the story of a teenage girl whose kidnapper keeps her in a storage shed for years, and visits nightly to rape her. We meet her as the twenty-something mother of a five-year-old son, still locked in that shed and now raising her child in captivity. Movie topics don’t get a whole lot darker than that.
Do not watch this film when your little kids are home. (Do watch it with your teenagers – parental guidance required).
But guess what? In the hands of a good director, you can swim deep into some very nasty, brutal crimes without anything of the gratuitous voyeurism that so many lazy producers lather on like cupcake frosting. You can have your (plot-essential) rape scene without actually having to watch someone get raped. You can show terror, desperation, and suicidal depression without morbid violence. The very light touch on the use of foul language is a textbook case study in when and how such words might properly belong in a script.
In addition to being a study in How to Handle Extremely Dark Topics, the film is also, as any good film should be, about the true, beautiful and good. If you are a writer, you should watch this film for its genius use of the breadth of the English language. For any human, the very last lines of the film are stunning in their ability to sum up one of the greatest struggles of the human heart with piercing simplicity.
Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target. The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.
Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.
Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.
Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large. I said so here. This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.
Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you? You can change that.
You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself. You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin. You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.
You can stop that now. You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.
Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves. There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy. When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.
I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.
I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.
Food stamps don’t cause abortion. Adultery? That causes abortion.
Quick aside on modesty.
When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing. That matters, of course. But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy. He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.
It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters. Not so. It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.
Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons. But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.
Link Round-up. Here are all kinds of loosely related links. At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.
Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.
5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .
12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .
(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners. And that’s just a beginning. Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)
A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.
But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along. And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.
This is depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps. I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season. Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.
And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:
In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing. The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness. The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .
. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?
You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.
There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.
A hot newish thing in scientific research is combining human and animal genetic material in order to do something-or-another. Here’s a quick rundown of the moral issues involved, including “What if there were Cat-People?”
Principle #1: If it directly kills an innocent person, don’t do it. Some of the procedures under scrutiny involve removing genetic material from human embryos (for whatever purpose, noble or otherwise), and thus killing the embryo in the process. A human embryo is a human being. A very tiny, very young, very immature human being, but a distinct human person all the same. Just because your friends can’t drive or hold down steady jobs doesn’t mean they’re disposable.
Don’t kill the innocent humans. That’s a hard-and-fast rule. Therefore, any procedure that requires the direct killing of any innocent person is a no-go. Always and everywhere.
Principle #2: Human beings have eternal souls. Now let us imagine you acquired your human genetic material through some moral means. A question that then arises is: Does our use of that human body-part cause a new human being to enter into existence?
We have situations in which no such thing happens. You can donate your kidney and liver and heart and all kinds of stuff to some other person, and the recipient remains one person, the same person as before, and you remain the other. (You might be dead, but you’re still you.) No new human is created via organ donation. We can conceive of situations in which the use of human genetic material works in a similar way — the donated body part does what it does, but it doesn’t cause a new human person to come into existence. In such a case, as long as other criteria for moral action are met, there’s not a problem.
We have, likewise, situations in which the pro-creation of a new human person does or could happen. It is not necessary for us to analyze the state of science at this very moment. All we need to know is that if a new human being is made via cloning, genetic donation, or what have you, we’ve violated a moral law. It is immoral to procreate outside the bonds of marriage. But, like all the other immoral ways people procreate, we also know that every human person is endowed with inherent dignity that comes from being an eternal soul created in the image and likeness of God — regardless of the circumstances of conception.
Therefore, though it is patently wrong to create new humans via cloning, IVF, rape, adultery, and whatever else science might devise other than the marital act, the new humans so-created still must be treated with all the same rights and privileges the rest of humanity is owed.
Principle #3: When in doubt, err on the side of protecting the sanctity of human life. People are stupid, though, and sometimes evil. We can envision, therefore, some dreadful situation in which scientists create part-animal-part-human hybrids. Is this new creature a human being?
Well, that would be hard to know, wouldn’t it?
We could be quite certain that if, say, you donated a human lung to a pig, the pig is still a pig. We know that because that’s how it works when you donate a human lung to a human. The recipient remains what and who the recipient always was. There are moral problems with donating human tissue to animals, for example: Why was a perfectly good human lung wasted on a pig? Those issues must be dealt with, but they are different from the question of whether the pig just became a human person. The pig is still a pig. Not one you want to barbecue, though. Ick.
In contrast, let’s say we created an embryo in-vitro (don’t do that, it’s wrong), but rather than using 100% human genetic material, we used some portion of non-human tissue as well. The resulting being might be obviously “human” or might not be. But here’s the rub: You could not count on appearances alone to know whether you had a human person. Does it look mostly like a human, but really it’s a dog-soul animating a modified dog-body, more like the animal recipient of human organs? Or, in contrast, does it look mostly like a dog, and lack many of the characteristics we take for granted as being “human” but in fact it’s a human soul animating a damaged human body?
It is quite probable that we might find ourselves in the situation of having to say: Who knows?
And in that situation, the moral response is to assume it’s a human person until proven otherwise.
Conclusion: Baptize the Cat People.
Should you create human-animal hybrid creatures? No! You shouldn’t be procreating humans in the laboratory at all, unless it’s you and your spouse up late going at it the old fashioned way. But in the event that hybrid-creatures are produced, we would be obliged to treat them as if they were human, no matter how miserably inconvenient that turned out to be.
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.
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 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.
She doesn’t want to be there. One of the most offensive and pernicious lies in the film industry are those “cheerful prostitute” characters. It’s all well and good to write nuanced characters. But the whole happy-whorehouse thing isn’t just cheap tricks for lazy writers who can’t think up real stories. It’s the glamorization of something that, if it happened to you, would destroy your whole world.
I will spare you the thought exercises, since I try to keep this blog shiny clean. But don’t tempt me. I’m a writer, and that means I can make you see things you didn’t want to see. Just go ahead right now and throw into the trash every DVD you own that perpetuates that lie. And change the channel, forever, if you see it on TV. Thanks.