Conspirators Unite! #Dogmatags

All ready for my senate confirmation hearing.  Instructions on how to get your own are here.

Image description: Me in my black t-shirt with large yellow lettering that says “The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me.” Below in smaller print is the TCC logo and “CatholicConspiracy.com.”

Loud Dogma? Get the T-Shirt.

My editors here at the Catholic Conspiracy have succumbed to my pleading and issued a The Dogma Lives Loudly Within Me t-shirt that suits my aesthetic demands:

The Dogma Lives T-Shirt

The best link for the moment if you want one of your own is: http://www.cafepress.com/mf/110941637/the-dogma-lives_tshirt .  From there you can choose a variety of size options including maternity, kids’ and baby options.  The editors went with the more expensive shirts because their research indicated the quality is significantly better.  To offset that, they are offering the GAME20 coupon code, which gets you 20% off your order.

Note that shipping is more favorable if you purchase all your shirts in one go-round, so poll your friends and relatives before you do your batch order.

If this not your dream design . . .

Look around. I see that Amazon has quite a few options when you search “dogma lives loudly within me.”  Of particular note: Nerdy Catholic Tee’s has these with the Spinal Tap theme going on, if your dogma is turned up to 11.  Click around, they offer it in women’s as well, and have other cool designs you might like.

If the dogma lives loudly in you, let people know.  There shouldn’t be religious tests for public office.

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.

 

File:Dianne Feinstein, official Senate photo.jpg

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

In Search of the “Real America”

There’s a meme going around right now about what “real Americans” are like.  We see pictures of heroic rescues in the Texas floods contrasted with recent racist or fascist violence.  The “real America” is the good one.  The real America is where people pull together, act bravely, and give everything to help their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be.

I don’t disagree.  America really is that, and we have the pictures to prove it.

The difficult bit is that we aren’t only that.

***

I have some assorted friends whom I profoundly love and respect, and to whom I owe a perpetual debt of gratitude for the goodness they have brought into my life.

These friends are like me, though, in that they are noticeably flawed.   (Like me in kind, not degree – evidence is I’m more flawed than they are.)

I don’t want to hear about that.  Even if I do sometimes notice their weaknesses, I want everyone else to shut their mouths.  What I see in them, what I want everyone to notice, is the beauty and goodness and truth they bring to this world.   I want to shout: Do you not understand what they did for me? For you?!

***

This instinct to see the good in our friends is how we get to an All Dogs Go To Heaven theology.  It’s a good instinct.  We can see that our friends are made in the image and likeness of God, inherently lovable and worth loving.  That’s an accurate view of who they are.  The thought of such a person going to Hell is unthinkable.  We’re not alone there.  God Himself has been quite explicit about His desire to save the world rather than condemn it.

***
Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side!  We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

***

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving.   God can see those parts though.  The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be.  The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

***

We aren’t supposed to like nastiness.  It isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable to live with horrid people.  We should want to be surrounded by peaceful, loving, generous folk who fully live out the commandments.  (Never ever forgetting Proverbs 27:14, but of course there are others as well).

So it’s understandable that we have low patience for certain sins.

***

What is lost in our national discourse is the appreciation of the complexity of other humans.  Someone can be terribly wrong in some ways and entirely right in others.  Someone can both commit serious sins and carry out marvelous good works.  (I’ve got the first part down, thanks.)

You can be a racist nationalist who risks your own life rescuing total strangers.

You can give away your fortune aiding the poor, and also devote yourself to killing the unborn.

You can be a notorious philanderer and also an unshakable civil rights martyr.

The combinations are unlimited, and Americans seem, collectively, to be trying out all of them.

***

Where our national discourse goes wrong is in trying to mount the opposite of the ad hominen attack — call it the ad hominen defense.  If my side is right, my men must be perfect.  An attack on my ideas is an attack on me and mine.

We are unable to admit the possibility of human weakness and complexity, nor to properly rank the seriousness of our failures.  Thus we end up in bizarre situations both divisive and falsely “unifying.”

Sometimes, out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings or overlooking their virtues, we’re afraid to condemn their serious sins.  Better to get along and smooth things over for a day that never comes when somehow we’ll dialog our way past the impasse without ever opening our mouths.

Other times, out of fear of seeming to approve a vice or a poorly-formed conscience, we feel compelled to commit a course of Total Condemnation — economic, political, and personal.

***

Let me show you a video of the way of peace.  This is South Carolina removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

It came down because of decades and decades of peaceful protest. Did it take too long? Yes.  The remedy for sin always takes too long.  Do people suffer injustice in the course of the long, slow path of peaceful protest? Yes.  But people suffer injustice from violent protest, calumny, and vicious personal attacks.  There’s not an option for waving the Fix Everything Wand and presto-change-o the world is magically better.

Peacefully refusing to accept injustice works.  It has worked marvels of healing and change in a place where you would never have said fifty years ago that all this would come to pass.  It worked in a place where people are still fallen.  Sinful people who do wretched things made that flag come down.  Gracious people doing their best to make the image of God shine in the darkness made that flag come down.  They were the same people.

File:Texas National Guard (36916700965).jpg

U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle: “Soldiers, fire fighters, paramedics and neighbors ensured more than 1,000 people and hundreds of dogs and cats were safe, evacuating them to dry ground and local shelters.”  Courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Talking Privileges for Converts vs. Cradle Catholics

Fr. Matthew Schneider has an article up at Crux, weighing in on the Should Converts Just Shut Up debate (which Crux started).  Fr. Schneider probably says something very nice and that readers here would be okay with, because he’s good for that.  I don’t recall we’ve ever disagreed before.  Fr. Longenecker said something nice, for example.  But I couldn’t read Fr. Schneider because I’ve started breaking out in the blogger-version of hives (BVH) every time I even see this discussion.

BVH reaction: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??

Kids.  We have a way of evaluating people’s opinions on any topic, religious or otherwise.

We ask: Is it true?

It doesn’t matter whether the opinion comes from a cradle catholic, a convert, a heretic, or a rank atheist.  What matters is whether it is true.

It is normal to take an interest in a person’s credentials.  Sometimes, perhaps laying in the ER with your brain bleeding, you have nothing but credentials to rely on in making decisions.  But if you’ve gone so far as to become a Catholic writer, then it is my hope that no matter how incompetent you are at medical or financial or engineering decisions, you have the ability to weed out the Catholic Faith from Not the Catholic Faith.

Those of us who have half an hour’s experience comparing what credentialed Catholics say to what the Church says can let you in on a secret: It is neither the number of years being Catholic, nor the sorts of degrees acquired, nor the kinds of sacraments received that determine whether someone is writing the truth.  It is whether the person sufficiently desires to tell the truth that they make the effort.

Earnest people make honest mistakes, and dishonest people foment errors, and both categories of people are the reason we keep our thinking caps on.

I think if I were, therefore, to provide a useful bit of ad hominen caution for the unwashed masses about whom everyone is so concerned, it would be this:  If your betters are telling you it is the type of person and not their ideas that need evaluating in order to discover the truth, you should stop reading those betters.

 

 

Parish Programs vs. Discipleship Relationships

As parish programs are starting up with the school year, I want to talk about the necessity of one-on-one discipleship.  This is something that many people on parish staff have zero experience with.  But it’s just spending time with someone listening to them and providing a type of companionship that is ordered towards helping each other become better Christians.

This time could include praying together, talking about problems or personal struggles, answering questions about the faith, sharing good resources, doing a Bible study together, or providing practical how-to help – but it isn’t one thing: It’s paying attention to what the other person needs, and responding to that need.

I pause here to note: Discipleship isn’t grooming successors.  If you run a parish program, of course you keep your eye out for people who can take on responsibility within your program.  But discipleship is about helping the other person to daily answer their individual call from God, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with your program.

(Indeed: I find it very fruitful to be in mutual-discipleship relationships with people whose work is entirely separate from mine.)

Discipling someone is time-intensive.  You have to spend quantity-time being with each other, and at least some of that time has to be one-on-one time, when personal difficulties can be discussed in confidence.

Everybody in your parish needs this.

Parish staff cannot, therefore, meet the needs of all parishioners (unless your parish only has four people in it, maybe).

Therefore a parish communal life that consists of bringing in the herd, giving them a message, and then sending them home to their separate lives will not work.

Parish staff can hope to personally disciple a very small number of people. The goal should be to work towards helping those few people in turn be mature enough Christians that they can disciple others, and on and on.

A culture of “discipleship” is not just a culture where growing in one’s Christian faith is highly valued; it’s a culture where personally spending time helping each other grow is a normal activity for all members of the community.

Furthermore, to be successful, the two people in a discipleship relationship must like each other.  Otherwise spending time with each other won’t be any fun.

Therefore blind-date discipleship doesn’t work all that well.  As a result, the parish culture needs to be one where people meet each other, get to know each other, and form “horizontal” relationships.  It’s not 100 parents who each know the DRE and smile at each other in the car line.  It’s 100 parents who form friendships in a crystalline network among each other.

You can easily see that it is also therefore necessary that welcoming and incorporating newcomers into that web of parish friendships is essential.  We don’t stop at greeting the stranger.  We don’t stop at inviting the stranger to the potluck.  We learn the stranger’s name, we make sure the stranger has someone to sit with, we create opportunities to get to know the stranger one-on-one, and now the stranger is no longer a stranger and the process of getting involved in discipling one another is underway.

Finally let me clarify that a culture of discipleship doesn’t mean every parishioner is paired with exactly one other parishioner in a formal disciple-teacher relationship.  Some people might have that experience, such as if you are working one-on-one as a catechist with an RCIA candidate receiving individual instruction.  But what is normal and good is a network of discipling relationships.

For example: Jane gets out and walks every morning with Sue, and they talk about whatever’s on their minds; Sue meets Keisha once a week for Bible study; Keisha and Ann and Sarah have a girls’ night once a month where they talk about their work and family challenges; Jane and Ann do a monthly meeting where they talk about the ministry they run together;  Sarah and Maria having a monthly engineering meeting at work (all business), and then they go to lunch afterward and chat about their faith; Maria teaches religious ed on Sunday nights, and her helper Monica learns from her in class, and also they belong to the same quilting club.

Some will be relationships of teacher to student, some will be clearly peer-to-peer relationships, and most will be a combination, because everyone has their strengths and gifts and struggles.

This is copyright Jennifer Fitz 2017.  Permission granted to share it around freely for non-profit educational use; I only ask that you attribute and either share in its entirety or provide a link back here so people can read the whole thing if they like.  If you’re a glutton for this stuff, the Evangelization and Discipleship page on this site has links to other articles on related topics.

What It Takes Not to Be a Nazi

Fourth of July a fellow on a bicycle saw me photographing the parish war memorial in Sigolsheim.  He asked me where I was from, and I told him the US, and he proceeded to thank me for coming.  Periodically throughout the conversation he thanked me again, and before leaving he repeated merci about seven times.  There was a reason for that, which I’ll get to.

A typical way of inscribing a war memorial in France is to write Mort Pour La France, but in Alsace that’s not usually the case, for the obvious reason.  A Nos Morts is the common alternative that glosses over the whole question of whom you died for, and gets to the point: You died.  Here’s the memorial outside the parish church in Uffholtz, A Ses Enfants Victime de Guerre:

Uffhotz War Memorial

Here’s Sigolsheim, in two parts.  You’ll notice WWII was disproportionately bloodier than WWI for Sigolsheim, including a significant number of civilian deaths:

Sigholsheim War Memorial 1

Sigolsheim War Memorial 2

That’s because the Nazis dug in and held hard, and a giant set of battles were held in the village itself, which you can read about in extensive detail here.  When German empires decide to assert themselves, annexing Alsace is the default method.  (And why not throw in Lorraine while you’re at it?)   This is the reason that headquartering European postwar peace initiatives in Strasbourg is so symbolically important.

Persuading the Third Reich to retreat from Alsace was bloody-difficult, and American soldiers played a major part in that work, which is half the reason the fellow on the bicycle was so profuse in his thanks for my coming to visit and taking an interest in the local history.

Here’s the village of Kayserberg’s thank-you plaque:

Kaysersberg Allies LIberation Memorial

The American flag flies above Sigolsheim at this war memorial:

US War Memorial Sigolsheim

Everything in red on this map of the the Allies’ Alsatian offensive is American forces:

Map of the Allied Offensive to Retake Alsace

American soldiers aren’t buried at the Sigolsheim memorial (there are American war cemeteries elsewhere).  There is a cemetery, though, for the French forces killed in battle in the immediate vicinity:

French war cemetery Sigolsheim

You’ll notice in the picture above that most of the graves are crosses, and a few are not.  Here’s a detail of the rounded-rectangle gravestone in the bottom right:
Detail of Jewish headstone

It would obviously not be kosher (pun intended) to use a cross to mark the grave of a Jewish soldier.   It is not only American and native-born French soldiers, however, who were instrumental in liberating Alsace.   The Zouave soldiers buried at the Sigolsheim war cemetery have grave markers like this:

Detail of Muslim headstone

In other words, if you’re grateful France is free, don’t just thank an American — thank a Muslim.  Ah, but how much did those Muslim soldiers contribute?  About like this:

As the video shows, the cemetery is built on a hill in a half-circle, and the graves are laid out in four equal sections.  The two flanking sections are Muslim graves, and the center two sections are mixed Christian and Jewish graves.  History is complicated.

Whether the fellow on the bicycle would have thanked me so profusely if I were a North African tourist I couldn’t say.  I’m not one.  What we do get mistaken for in Alsace is German tourists.  We look the part and come by it honestly, if distantly.  German tourists come up and ask us directions, in German, which doesn’t get them very far.  Locals either attempt to speak German with us or else apologize that they have no German (neither do we — how about French?).

So here are a couple of my cute German kids walking towards the gate out of the KL-Natzweiler Concentration Camp, up near the village of Struthof in the Vosges mountains:

Walking towards the gate - KL-Natzweiler (Struthof) concentration camp

People who didn’t walk out might have died here in the cell block:

Cell block, Natzweiler-Struthof

At which point they would have been incinerated in this crematorium:
Crematorium Natzweiler - Struthof

When we talk about concentration camps and the evil of the Nazi regime, the usual thing is to tell kids, “If you were Jewish . . .”

Struthof, as KL-Natzweiler is often called locally, is different, in that it was chiefly used not for eugenic purposes but for those who resisted the Nazi regime.  Thus more to the point for our nice German boy in the photo above: Let’s talk about the draft.

His great-grandfathers were all about his age (17) at the start of World War II.  They had the luxury of being second- or third- or more-generation Americans, and they all volunteered and served in the War for the US.  It was not a difficult decision.  They were the age your brother is now, I told the girls.

Had he been seventeen and American, the boy would have signed up too, I’m fairly certain.  But what if he had been seventeen and German — which, after a week of being mistaken for a German tourist (or an Alsatian local), is not at all a stretch of the imagination?  He would have had to decide between going into the Nazi army, or going to Struthof.

Which is why a guy on a bicycle, about my age, resident of a nearby village, passing by on July 4th evening outside the war memorial in Sigolsheim couldn’t stop thanking me for being an American who came to Alsace.  He saw I was interested in history, and started suggesting sites.  “Do you know there’s a US war memorial up on the hill?” he said.

Yes.  Just came from there, actually.

“And have you seen the three castles down by Eguisheim?”

Yes.  And the other one, and some other ones . . .

“Let’s see, so maybe you should go to –”

“Well actually,” I tell him, “we only have a few more days here.  We’re going to try to go to Mont Sainte Odile and to–” I try to remember the name —  “Struthof–?”

He stops.  “Oh.  Struthof.  That’s hard.”

I know.

But you can’t really appreciate the significance of the war unless you know the whole story.

“The concentration camp,” he says.  “Struthof.”

“Yes.”

“My grandfather was there.”

White flowers with red centers.detail of white blossom with magenta-red center.

Flowers at the Sigolsheim war memorial, in bloom on July 4th.

Remember When They Used to Have Eucharistic Processions?

Words from an otherwise perfectly nice Corpus Christi homily, spoken by an elderly priest to a Florida congregation with a hefty presence of retirees: “Some of you may remember way back when the Church used to have ‘Eucharistic Processions’ . . .”

Used to, Father?

Youngsters around the world remember it like it was yesterday . . .

File:Corpus Christi solemnity in Wroclaw 2017 P01.jpg

Corpus Christi solemnity 2017, St. Albert Church, Wrocław via Wikimedia [CC 4.0].  

The Holy Trinity Unexplained

I think my favorite day of the year might be Trinity Sunday.

It’s not obvious, except that every year it makes me gasp and be happy.  I probably like it better than other feasts because there’s never any obligatory feasting involved, thank goodness for that.

I don’t have anything to say about the Trinity.  The Catechism does have some things to say, and those will keep you busy for a while.

Meanwhile, here are some icons of the Holy Trinity.
File:Torki Holy Trinity.jpg

Photos taken just after dinner, I guess.

File:Unknown painter - The Holy Trinity - WGA23507.jpg

 

You get pictures like this to explain the unfathomable if you’re from the mystic eastern lung of the Church; in the west, we prefer bad analogies, of course.  It’s good of the Church to call this Trinity Sunday and not Struggling With Theology Sunday.

But you can have a pretty good feast day if you pick one known true thing about the Holy Trinity and for a few minutes let it sit in your brain unfixed.  This is the thing with mysteries: They are meant to be worked at.  They are meant to be announced and examined and slowly revealed, bit by bit, until in the fullness of time our thirst for understanding is satisfied.

 

Icons via Wikimedia, public domain.

How to Get a Long Penance

Over at Mother of Mercy, my preferred venue for confessions, I wrapped up a list of weightier sins with,  “. . . and losing patience with other people’s shortcomings, which I know is ridiculous, but there it is.”

Fr. A* was still thinking after the act of contrition.  “For your penance, um . . .”  when he does this, you know you’re in trouble, because it’s the sound he makes when he’s fitting the punishment to the crime, “. . . pray for anyone you may have lost your patience with–”

–maybe I can work with this–

“–in thought or in . . .”

Oh for crying out loud, Father!  Even if I kept my mouth shut?! Really??

So did I pray for you?  If you take a long time in the confessional, or you give evidence that you are unclear on why your car’s gas pedal is also called the “accelerator”?  Then yes, I definitely prayed for you.

 

File:Postcard of Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy.jpg

Postcard of the Basilica of Our Mother of Mercy, via Wikimedia (public domain).

*A is for Anonymous.  I have no idea who’s behind the screen.  That’s what I like about the place.