One Weird Trick for Understanding Homeless People

Over Thanksgiving the topic of services for the homeless came up at dinner, and last night the subject again resurfaced.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person, because people are complex and their stories are unique.  You can speak of common factors among this or that sub-group (mental illness, lack of a personal social net, etc.) but the intricacies don’t satisfy.  People want to “understand homelessness” as if it were a tricky lock in need of the right key and combination.

Finally I told my husband that if he wanted to understand why someone would be persistently homeless, despite the many social services available in our area (which help!), here’s what you do:

Think about something that you, personally, absolutely stink at.  The part of your life where you just can’t seem to get your act together.  Other people manage to do this thing just fine, but you don’t.

[In my husband’s case: Keeping the garage clean.  We could say the same about my desk and my inbox and let’s not even talk about the state of my refrigerator.  Other people might struggle with family relationships, or road rage, or over-eating, anorexia, compulsive shopping . . . whatever.]

You persistently, year after year, struggle with this thing that ought to be simple.  Sometimes you make progress, and other times you fall back into the pit.

Other people who have this problem are sympathetic; those who don’t have this problem wonder why you can’t get your act together in this area.  You’ve got so much else going for you — what’s the big deal?

Think about that problem.  Think about all the things that contribute to that problem.

Some of things might be outside your control: Your health, your work schedule, your family dynamics.  Some of the things that contribute to your problem are just your own personal collection of weaknesses and foibles.  Many things are a combination — your circumstances work against you, and you work against you, too.

Be really honest about acknowledging your problem and all the many things that make it so persistent.

***

And that’s it.   Now you know.

 

File:OldBeggar1.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, public domain.

The Problem of Evil Revisited

I always carry a knife sharpener, this one, when I travel, because I abhor dull knives.  In the US when I travel I either bring my own chef’s knife and cutting board, or anticipate buying one at my destination if necessary. I didn’t need any of that in France, I discovered happily and without too much surprise.  The French are civilized and value good meals.

In Chamonix on the Epic Vacation, while the boy trekked away at summer camp, two girls and I invested in lift passes for the valley and spent the week riding up mountains.  At the Aigulle de Midi lift, they check your bags before they let you into the cable car

The amount of profiling going on at the security checkpoint was blatant.  A group of climbers were waved through at a glance.  I opened my backpack and the security guy noted the heavily bagged, unidentifiable object within.  “What is this?” he asked.

“Picnic,” I said.  Cutting board, a good sharp knife, sausage, bread, cheese, and so forth.  I was concerned that after a long wait we’d be sent home because of the knife. I prepared to open the inner bag and see if I couldn’t talk the guy into holding the knife for us to pick up when we came down at the end of the day.

But the guy never even saw the knife.  I said picnic and he didn’t bother to look further.  Middle aged lady with a couple little girls in tow.  If I say it’s my picnic, it’s probably a picnic.  He assumed, rightly, that neither I nor the climbers, though they too of course were equipped with sturdy knives, had any intention of stabbing our fellows during the long ride up the mountain.

An Armed Society . . .

Security in France is pretty good these days.

This is a photo of the TGV station at Charles de Gaulle airport:

In the foreground you see a seating area and reputable coffee machines (I’m not sure how good they are).  Look deep in the center of the photo.  That’s one of a group of four heavily armed soldiers who were doing the rounds outside the secure area of the airport.  They are, in this photo, all standing guard looking down towards the platform while the TGV from Marseille arrives and unloads.  Once the train emptied without incident, they continued their patrol.

There are groups of soldiers like this throughout the country at key spots (the Strasbourg cathedral had its share), and armed police stationed elsewhere. When we visited the shrine of St. Odile, an officer (with back-up on the grounds) was stationed at the monastery entrance all day.

Officers like these are the reason that the stabbing in Marseille earlier this week was limited to just two victims, instead of becoming a mass-casualty rampage.  This is one of the reasons we preferred to vacation in France.  The torpor with which the UK has begun to rearm its police officers did not inspire confidence.

What It Takes to Feel Safe

The reason I feel safer when a group of French soldiers is patrolling the train station is the same reason the security guy at the ski lift let me pass without looking too closely at my bag.  I have no reason to suspect the French military or police are going to harm me.  I could not say that about every group of soldiers around the world.  These officers — four strong men, heavily armed — are capable of unspeakable evil, but they don’t commit it.  Those climbers and I, working as a group, would have been capable of holding a cabin of tourists hostage and murdering them all, but we didn’t.  We had no desire or intention to do so.

Security works when you manage to make the good guys stronger than the bad guys.

France attempts this via security profiling and a strong police presence, combined with fairly strict gun laws.  The success of this strategy is variable.  You can see a summary of French terror attacks here.   Note that since the 2015 attacks in Paris, off-duty police officers are now allowed to carry firearms — the reasoning behind that is self-evident.

The laws themselves, though, are not what makes security work (when it does).  We can think of nations where the local citizens need to arm themselves specifically against the police and military.  What makes security work is when the law is ordered towards giving the upper hand to the people who can be trusted with it.  The French police generally do not go around terrorizing the populace.

Are Americans Safe People?

Last week I had the chance to listen to Representative Cezar McKnight tell a story from his childhood.  I’ll blog more about the context of the story another day.  But here’s what he remembers:

His parents, a black couple who by McKnight’s telling were sometimes mistaken for a mixed-race couple, owned a nightclub-liquor store in rural South Carolina.  One day his mother, alone with the children, was in the store when men in KKK garb gathered outside.  They had no idea what these men wanted or what their plans might be, but there was plenty of reason to be afraid.  His mother took the shotgun they kept behind the counter and prepared to defend her children and herself if necessary.

She had sound reason to trust neither her fellow citizens not to harm her nor the authorities to come to her aid.

By and large Americans share this sentiment today.  The impulse to arm or disarm America is rooted in the essential equation: How do we make the good guys relatively stronger and the bad guys relatively weaker?

This is a practical question that should not be entirely put off.  Attacks such as the recent massacre in Las Vegas, the Boston Marathon bombing, or the 9/11 attacks are particularly vexing because they pose, in their time, new problems that the (then-) current modes of security have not anticipated.    How shall we anticipate such problems in the future, preventing them when possible and curtailing them when not?  How do you give the good guys the upper hand?

This is not, however, the only way to study the equation.

On the Art of Being Good

What is necessary to make any law work is for people to be good.

It’s paradoxical, since of course if people were actually good, you wouldn’t need the law.

“Just make people good,” furthermore, sounds even more far-fetched than “disarm the bad guys” or whatever other security plans people are devising.   And yet, weirdly, it is the one thing that actually works.

There are police officers who do not shoot innocent civilians. There are soldiers who protect their citizen rather than terrorizing them. There are ordinary people who, though capable, refrain from evil and sometimes even rise to heroic virtue.  Unremitting goodness is the reason you can go buy groceries without being raped and murdered.   Where that decency is lacking, death reigns.

This is hopeful, because we can see that even though nobody is perfect, we can also see that there are places where the people are generally good enough for the purposes of peace and safety.  This is discouraging, however, because evil cannot be fixed with a law or an executive order.

What must be understood in the face of a horrifying crime is that the relationship between good laws and good people is inextricable.  A good law is designed to protect good people and ward against evil people.  The law cannot depend on human goodness alone for its strength, though — it must anticipate abuse of the law, because people will try to abuse it.  But the law itself is not sufficient.

The bulk of the work in creating a safe, civilized society is not in the work of the law, but in the work of helping each other become people who do not do evil things.  Our mission is nothing short of overturning the present culture of narcissism and death.

That is a long road — an unending road. But it is also something that we as ordinary people can work to accomplish.

Who Owns “Social Justice”?

One of the news sources I flip through occasionally is Al Jazeera It’s not the only place I’d turn for information (goodness gracious!), but for coverage of Middle Eastern politics it’s a bit more thorough than the average American paper, go figure.  Al Jazeera also has good human rights coverage sometimes, such as this investigation into Britian’s modern-day slave trade.  Catholics are big into human rights.

The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.”  It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.

We have to cut this out.

Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing.  We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life.  We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat.  We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.

The Church proposes a beautiful, sensible, logical, theologically-sound way of looking at social issues, and it’s ours to love and cherish.  Enjoy it.  Own it.  Don’t let anyone deny you your right to the entirety of the Catholic faith.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

New App Simplifies Trafficking, Incest & Statutory Rape

CHARLOTTE, NC — A new App called Nurx ensures sex traffickers, abusive relatives and overbearing boyfriends are not burdened by complicated encounters with health care professionals, while ensuring that the girls who service them never, ever, meet a physician, nurse, or clinic work who might intervene and contact the authorities.

“If a teenage girl is engaging in a behavior that has potentially life-threatening consequences, that’s not something her parents need to know about,” the health care provider explained.  “It’s better just to give her a medication with known fatal side effects without ever consulting a physician in person.”

Critics have questioned whether teenagers are able to reliably choose their own prescription medications, but teachers and school administrators all agreed in an industry consensus statement, “If there’s one thing we can say about teenagers, it’s that they are reliable, diligent, and filled with a deep sense of personal responsibility.”

The document went on to say, “No teenager would ever lie on a form on the internet.  Sexual predators don’t ever use fake identities on the internet either. So this is completely not a public health concern.”

“We care about girls’ reproductive health and freedom,” a public health official observed.  “Many girls have said they’d ‘rather die’ then let their parents know what they’re doing. Nurx is here to make that possible for them.”

 

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Need a prescription?  Internet doctors can help you with that.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [CC 3.0]

 

 

 

One Weird Trick for Understanding French Culture

I like France.  I like France very, very much.  More epic vacation blogging to prove that point is coming soon — meanwhile I hope you are enjoying Erin Arlinghaus’s reports from Chamonix.  But there are few related bits of French culture that are astonishing to Americans, or should be.   An interview with Gabrielle Deydier helped pull all those threads together for me, and will hopefully help other Americans appreciate a strong difference between American and French culture.

Gabrielle Deydier is fat.

That’s radical, because being fat is not something French people do very much.

I know this, because one of things I’ve been meaning to mention here in my collection of vacation blog posts is that if you are a plus-sized person, you need to plan ahead when traveling in France. For example, of our various accomodations during our trip, most of the bathrooms were very spacious — larger than a typical American bathroom.  One, though, in a perfectly reputable non-chain hotel, was tiny like you’d find in the smallest of travel trailers.  A bathroom so small you’d be wishing for that giant powder room they had in coach on your flight across the Atlantic.  It’s just assumed that the people coming to the hotel are thin people.

This worked out well for us, because my rail-thin children could go shopping and buy clothes that fit them, which we don’t get to do in the US very much.  But not everybody comes in extra-extra-slim, so if you are planning a trip to France and space needs are a concern, that’s something you want to find out before you make reservations.  Seriously: Ask for measurements in the room you are booking.  (If you’re tall: Ask them to measure the length of the bed, if it isn’t given in the room description.  Inquire about ceiling height in the shower as well.  And remember, every room is different in a non-chain French hotel or B&B.)

So back to Ms. Deydier.  Her book is called You’re Not Born Fat, and it chronicles the shocking amount of open prejudice and insult she has received as a fat person trying to live and make a living in France.  She literally lost her job as a teaching assistant after a month of harassment about her weight — harassment that came from the teacher she worked with, who openly mocked and criticized her in front of the students.   She writes about the lengths the French will go to in order to be thin, including a huge and sometimes-deadly bariatric-surgery industry.  As she writes for Le Parisien, the rate of suicide among those who undergo surgery is double that of those who do not.

If you wish to understand this mania, spend in a little time in the mind of America in the 1950’s.

Keeping Up Appearances

A good friend of mine from high school in France (who later struggled with anorexia in college) came to visit me in the US.  We toured around a bit, and of everywhere she visited, my grandparents’ home was where she felt most at ease.  She described them as being “like the French.”  My grandparents are not French.  But my grandparents were model 1950’s Americans.  They lived by the etiquette book.  Every bit of bourgeois conventionality youngsters rebelled against in the late 1960’s my grandparents embodied in every fiber of their being.

The French, you see, put a very high value on appearances.

Consider adultery, for example.  It is widely accepted as a part of life, so much so that there is even a specific time of day devoted to it.  But discretion in the rule.     The hacking of Ashley Madison was a disaster, because it broke of the rule of don’t-ask-don’t-tell.  Lifelong marriage is highly valued, but “fidelity” is about maintaining the family home and unity in public life, not about who sleeps with whom.  Your wife’s children are your children, and it’s illegal to get a paternity test showing otherwise without a court order.

Thus, in turn, comes the law making it illegal to show a video featuring happy children with Down Syndrome. Abortion is the ultimate tool for keeping up appearances.  And this brings us back to the 1950’s.  While Americans never embraced adultery the way the French do (but did still tolerate it for the sake of the marriage), Americans have a long history of institutionalizing disabled children:

Between 1946 and 1967, the number of people with disabilities that were housed in public institutions in America increased from almost 117 000 to over 193 000, a population increase that was almost double that of the general post-war “baby boom”.  As time went on, those admitted were becoming younger and their disabilities more pronounced. In regards to Down syndrome in particular, there were many cases where fathers and doctors conspired to have a baby institutionalized and then told the mother that the baby had died.

Now, of course, we just abort them.  The French do as we do, but with the French twist of not permitting any reproachful reminders that there were better choices.  Smoothing things over is the highest goal.

On ne naît pas grosse par [DEYDIER, Gabrielle]

Cover art courtesy of Amazon.fr.  FYI a good source for French-language books if you wish to order online for shipment to the US is Decitre.Fr.  They don’t have this particular book in stock in paper right now, though.

A Thank You Note for Senator Feinstein

Dear Senator Feinstein,

I wish to thank you for your extraordinary comments to Professor Barrett, in whom, you assure us all, the dogma loudly lives.  (May that be said of all Notre Dame’s faculty one day, please God.)

The reason I wish to thank you is because, like most people, I have some things I believe to be true.  I also have children, most of whom are now teenagers.  Teenagers do this thing that’s necessary for the good of the species, but aggravating all the same: They question the beliefs of their parents.

I would like them, for example, to believe with all their heart that texting and driving is always to be avoided because it poses a serious danger to themselves and others.  I think that’s true, I assume you do as well, and since one day my children might be sharing the road with you, we both have a strong interest in their coming to accept that belief and act on it.  You might say that you and I are dogmatic on that point.

Another thing I’d like them to accept with all their heart is the Catholic faith.  That’s something that probably isn’t so easy for you to understand.  See, here’s the difficulty with kids these days: They don’t fake religious beliefs in order to get along and smooth their social paths.  Back when you were a kid?  Yeah, people did that.  They might be Catholic because it was their family heritage, or they found the communal life appealing, but without necessarily feeling that they had to accept the entirety of the Catholic faith as being exactly true.  I think you work with some people who are like that.

But we of the younger generations don’t do fake-religion so much.  There are a few holdouts, of course, but for the most part, if a young adult these days practices a religion, it’s because he or she thinks it is true.   That’s especially so for Catholics, because in many circles (yours, for example), there’s no real social benefit to being Catholic.  Sometimes it even kinda sucks.  (In a join-your-sufferings-with-Christ kinda way, don’t get me wrong . . ..)

So, like many Catholic parents, even though I try my best to pass onto my children the things that I think are true — both about road safety and the reality of human existence in a larger way — I am well aware that my kids might choose to reject my beliefs.  And though they might lie and say they don’t text and drive even if they do (please God no), they probably won’t get around to lying about being Catholic, at least not after they’ve moved on to college.

And that’s why I want to thank you.  See, my boy is a senior in high school, and like many boys he doesn’t always share his inner thoughts with the world.  I don’t always have a clear read on what he thinks about the Catholic faith.  But this morning?

I showed him the video of you making your famous quote.  He laughed so hard at how ridiculous you were — it was truly a wonderful moment for a mother to share with her son.  We made jokes about “dogma” and a little bit of woofing sounds (which got our actual dog excited and after that she stood at the door all day watching for squirrels because she could tell we knew dogs were important), and also he joked about “those dangerous Christian religious extremists refusing to kill people!”

It was a really fun time for the two of us.  It was also a moment when I knew that my boy understood a person should act on his or her beliefs.  Otherwise they aren’t really much in the way of beliefs, are they?

So thank you very much for giving us that little gift.

I wish you all the best,

Jennifer.

PS: My son also thought you looked drunk.  But you weren’t, I don’t think.  He really hasn’t spent that much time around either senators or drunk people, so he’s not necessarily the best judge.

 

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Photo via United States Congress, US Senate Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Anti-Racist Jesus Visits Canaan

Today the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman came around in the readings again.  I once heard a deacon preach that this incident just shows that Jesus was “human” like the rest of us, where “human” is code for “sinful.”

I don’t think so, sir.

Back in 2014, I wrote a bit of Gospel fan fiction, taking the words of Scripture verbatim, but filling out the details Scripture doesn’t supply.  Everyone does this when they read, and sometimes our fill-in-the-blanks interpretations are justified and sometimes they are not.  I wrote a follow-up post on why I hold with the Jesus is Not a Jerk Thesis.  I still hold with that reasoning:

Thus when the infamous quote comes around full circle in conversation with the Canaanite woman and his disciples, we have a Jesus who:

  • Is master of the Law, not slave of it.
  • Has praised the faith of pagans.
  • Has spoken of the redemption of the very region they are now standing in.
  • Has willingly and freely healed non-Jews.
  • And has said that perseverance in prayer is desirable.

And then He pulls out a pun in his dialog, turning the meaning of the expression on its head.

Were I writing that same story today, I wouldn’t write it the way I wrote it back then.   Today my mind is on the idea of racism, and for the reasons I summarize above (see the original post for more details), I tend to view this encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman as the counterpart to what today we would call an anti-racist moment.  Jesus has been attempting, through word and action, to teach his disciples that salvation is for the whole world.

They will eventually get that message (“neither Jew nor Greek”), but they haven’t got it yet.

Here they are being asked to heal someone’s daughter of a demon.  A demon, guys!  This is serious, serious trouble, and it’s the kind of trouble that elite religious healing-commando people ought to be on the job taking care of.  Instead they say: Send her away. She’s bugging us.

What exactly do you do with people whose hearts are so hardened?

Give them another talk?   You can only give so many talks.

Our Lord, being fully God, had the ability to know this Canaanite woman.  He had the ability to know how she would react under pressure, and what sorts of things would wound her and which would not.

People are cured of their bigotry only when they get to see the world through the eyes of the person they’ve pushed off and objectified.  The disciples would have happily dismissed the woman as some noisy, intrusive, undeserving gentile.  Jesus says what needs to be said — he verbalizes what they are thinking — so they can see how unjust it is, and they can see in her response how deserving of their respect she is.

 

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Artwork: The Canaanite Woman, via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

 

What Memes Mean

Here’s something interesting about the social media reaction to the racist violence and demonstrations in Charlottesville: People felt the need to assert that racism is wrong.

It was a specific kind of assertion: Not just anger or frustration or sadness, though there was that.  Rather, there were many assertions that seemed to be purely about the need to affirm that yes, in fact this is evil.

Contrast this with, say, the announcement (I saw several over the past few days) that someone’s child had died of a terrible accident or illness.  Those announcements spur people to offer their prayers and condolences, and often in the wake of certain kinds of deaths there will be some venting of how much we hate suicide or drowning or cancer or whatever the source of the problem was.   There might, later at a less sensitive time, be links shared on how to cope with that problem or ways to prevent it in the future.

But no one feels the need to wave a flag saying, “Guys! Drowning is bad!”  or “Cancer isn’t glamorous!” or “It’s time we put aside our love of fatal traffic accidents!”  There are no links to inspiring stories about people who campaigned to persuade the world that being crushed in a landslide is in fact undesirable.  There will be no hopeful mention of the man who used to just love the prospect of dying from massive burns and smoke inhalation, but thanks to a profound change of heart, he now realizes that’s not what people should want out of life.

These evils are self-evident.  You might disagree over the extent to which they can or should be avoided (close all the mountain passes!), but you don’t disagree that these things are bad.

 

***

People can’t shut up about the evil of racism because it is still a pressing topic for them.

Perhaps your friend who daily asserts that skin color doesn’t matter can remember a time when he did think it mattered.  Maybe he wasn’t that bad, but he was bad enough.  He looked down on people of other races, or he felt that somehow his own people were superior, or that there was some justification for certain types of discrimination.  Maybe he theoretically believed in human equality, but in practice he felt that most people of this or that race were not, in practice, as educated and moral and generally deserving as people of his own race.  Maybe he still struggles to shake off the vestiges of prejudice.

Or perhaps your other friend grew up in an openly racist culture (if she’s old enough, she almost certainly did), and she still has memories of segregation and overt discrimination.  Maybe she remembers the callous things some people used to say, and the downright mean things other people used to do.

And perhaps that other group of friends who are always asserting racism is wrong are doing it not because it has ever been an issue for them, personally, but because they are regularly encountering people who are racist.  Maybe they see racism in action.  Maybe they overhear racist comments.  Maybe they get into arguments with others who try to make the case for racism.

***

This is why people post those memes.  The repetition grows tiresome for us who aren’t at that point.  We don’t need anti-racist reminders anymore than we need reminders that air should have oxygen and diesel fuel doesn’t belong on your drinks table.  We wish you would quit posting pictures of different-colored kittens all snuggled up together in a display of racial solidarity, and get back to sharing the plain old non-polemical kittens for which the internet was invented.

But we’ll be patient.  Because if you are a recovering racist, or you spend your day with not-yet-recovering racists, maybe you need an outlet.   If Solidarity Kittens help you, then please: Be helped.

***
In the making of this post, I looked through many kitten photos on Wikimedia, because I’m committed to social justice that way. Other things you might like to know about:

Enjoy.

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Kitten photo by: Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Netherlands.  

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Cute Kittens poster via Wikimedia, Public Domain.

French Culture – Marriage, Family Life, and Sexuality – Interesting Links

My latest at the National Catholic Register touches on some interesting bits of French culture where marriage is concerned.   I didn’t have room in a short essay to create an annotated bibliography, and anyway I stumbled on more interesting stuff than I’ll ever write about.  Here’s a list of assorted links of potential interest to select readers, with a few comments at the bottom related to my essay topic.

In talking about cultural contrasts, here’s an article on France’s military-run brothel system, dating from World War I.  Here’s a short history of the United States’ approach to the problem of venereal diseases during the same period.  The differences are striking.

This Google preview of Fathers, Families, and the State in France, 1914-1945  has some history of the role of paternity during that time period.

 

All kinds of interesting parental-rights cases from the European Court of Human Rights are summarized here (in English).

On the question of legitmacy: Children Born Outside Marriage in France and their Parents. Recognitions and Legitimations since 1965.  Text is in English, and loaded with statistics concerning changes in practice over time.

Here’s a research paper exploring the range of issues in how biological versus social paternity is handled across Europe.  It is useful as an introduction to the kinds of issues that are in play, and how different countries have dealt with them.

Some Wikimedia articles that highlight the way French law handles questions of maternity and paternity:

A more academic discussion of the question of genetic testing legislation in Europe is here.  The European Journal of Human Genetics discusses the legal situation in Western Europe here.

Wikimedia’s English-language summary of the history of posthumous marriage is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posthumous_marriage. Note there is a slight error, it is Article 171 that gives us the pertinent law.  The related topic of proxy-marriage is discussed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_marriage.

There’s a bit on the case law concerning posthumous marriage in Europe if you scroll down to paragragh 247 of Le Couple et la Convention Européenne des Droits de l’Homme .  Google translate struggles a bit on this one.  The French Code Civil (in French) is here.

On the topic of posthumous marriage, the only Church document, at all, which I could find was this: http://www.radiovaticana.va/Afr_bulletin/14_05_14.html.  The relevant part is here, boldface mine:

D. AUX CHEFS DE FAMILLE
24 – Chers chefs de famille, votre place n’est plus à démontrer, et votre responsabilité est capitale. L’impact de votre action peut être positif ou négatif, selon que vous agissez conformément ou non à la volonté de Dieu. Il vous donne de prendre soin des personnes qu’il vous confie. Votre mission est à la fois honorable et complexe. C’est sur vous que repose la cohésion de la famille, en matière de dot, de gestion d’héritage et de conflits, de traitement des veuves, des veufs et des orphelins. Dans cet ordre d’idées, à la lumière de la tradition et de l’Evangile, nous dénonçons la pratique illégale qui consiste à demander une dot trop élevée. Respectez ce que prévoit le code de la famille (art. 140). Nous condamnons la pratique du mariage posthume (versement de la dot lors du décès de la conjointe). Appliquez-vous avec courage, avec toute votre force, à accomplir dignement votre mission de chef de famille.

Nous vous assurons, de notre soutien, de notre proximité, de notre prière et de notre bénédiction.

The context is not (at all whatsoever) the French civil law on posthumous marriage.  Rather, the bishops are condemning the practice of asking too high of a dowry, and therefore also the practice of “posthumous marriage” as a vehicle for receiving the payment of the dowry when the bride has died.

By way of comparison on the topic of the French civil code’s practice of posthumous marriage, here’s the Code of Canon Law on the topic of “radical sanation,” which is something completely different.  It’s of interest because it shares the concept of “going back in time and fixing things” where marriage is concerned.  And that’s it — no other connection between the two.

 

File:Zingende boerenfamilie Rijksmuseum SK-A-376.jpeg "Singing Peasant Family"

I searched on “French Family” and the results came up Dutch.  Thanks Wikimedia!

The Best Part of “Serving the Poor”

This spring, #3 and I have been volunteering about three times a month at either the shower-in-laundry place or the homeless-people clothing closet.  At S&L we move laundry through the machines, clean showers between users, keep track of who’s in line for a shower next, and make sure the supplies are in order.   At the HPCC, we’re back-end.  Elderly ladies with a firm disposition for taking no nonsense deal directly with the client; we naive pushovers sort through donations, take a look at the current inventory and decide what to send on to outlying ministries, and get the rest logged in and put away.

This is enjoyable work for many reasons.

It is relaxing.  You set aside all your other worries and just focus for a couple hours on getting a useful and manageable task accomplished.

It is companionable.  The other volunteers and the clients are interesting, fun people to be with.  For my daughter and me, it’s something we can do together, and we end up working more and more as a team.

It is satisfying.  You never wonder, “Did that guy really need a shower?”  Yes.  He needed a shower.  You made it possible for him to have one.  Done.  Likewise, no one comes and asks someone else’s grandmother to pick out second-hand shoes and clothes for them unless they really, truly, need some shoes and clothes.

It is refreshing.  After you’ve waded through enough sophisticated blather over the years from non-homeless people, it’s nice to be around people who have no particular social skills.  They just want a shower and some shoes, done.  We don’t ask you to listen to a talk about Higher Things or make a promise that you’ll never drink and you’ll always work really hard. We just tell you when the shower’s ready.

It is edifying.  Here are friends joking together, family members proud of each other, worried about each other, looking after each other, telling stories about each other — all this beautiful humanity in front of your face.  Everyone has a story of home, even when home is outside.

All these things I love.  But there’s something that keeps moving me most, week after week: The generosity of total strangers.

This week we had to stop off at St. Urban’s on the way to S&L.  “Oh, by the way, tell them down there we’ve got a pile of stuff the Sodality of Mary collected.”  #3 & I took a look at the pile, determined it would fit in our freshly-emptied front seat, and brought it ourselves.

This whole stack of things was exactly what S&L needed.  Late in the afternoon, after the waiting area had emptied, we sorted through the stuff to put away.  You have toothbrushes or lotion or shampoo, and you go to put it away, and discover the amount on the counter is the right amount to fill the gap on the supply shelves.  Here’s something we almost ran out of, but church ladies took up a collection and now we have it, just when we need it.

***

Every week when we’re pouring detergent or spraying disinfectant or setting a few more miniature bars of soap in the bin by the towels, we’re holding someone else’s generosity.  None of that stuff comes from grants or government-supply.  It’s all collected a piece at a time by people all over the city who’ve gone through the trouble of gathering supplies together and getting them delivered.

Imagine having the job of opening and delivering 500 hundred Valentines a week.  Then imagine that they weren’t love letters between boyfriend and girlfriend or parent and child, but rather each one said:

Dear Person Who Matters to Me,

I’ve never met you, I know your life sucks and people don’t want to be around you and some of it might even be your own fault, but I’m glad you’re here in my town with me.  I care about you, and I want to make your life a little bit better, and I want you to know you are not alone.

Love,

Your Secret Friend.

If you got to catalog and count and deliver box after box of that sort of love?

You would like that job.

Vintage Detergent Advertisement, circa 1948 File:The Ladies' home journal (1948) (14785694143).jpg

Artwork from Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons