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.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Convergence of two happy things: The Catholic Writers Conference is coming around again, and I’m putting together an index of my writing on discipleship and evangelization.  In trolling my posts at New Evangelizers, I came across this one that is apropos of the conference season.  And yes, if you’re a Catholic who likes to write (fiction or otherwise), you should give the Catholic Writers Guild a good looking over.  More on that soon.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Why bother with Catholic fiction?  As I write this, I’ve just returned from the Catholic Writers Guild’s annual live conference (our online conference is held in early spring), and once again I’ve met dozens of great Catholic authors eager to reach a Catholic audience.

I’ve also had a few discouraging conversations with publishers.  “We’re really only able to sell retellings of saints stories. We’d like to do other fiction, but we can’t.”  “We love that children’s fiction series, but we can’t break even on it, so we had to cancel further installments.”   “We want to do fiction, but . . .”

It’s a hard market. Over the past 50 years, Catholics in the pew have taken the notion that anything true, good, and beautiful is indeed “Catholic”, and run with it . . . right out of the Catholic market, and into the secular bookshelves.

And there’s something to that.  After all, we Catholics don’t need to decorate every story we read with a crucifix and a Hail Mary in order to be edified.  Reviewers like Julie Davis at Happy Catholic mine the treasures to be found in all kinds of strange corners.  The Catholic faith truly is universal, and so it’s no surprise that all good literature evangelizes, regardless of the label that goes with it.

Still, there’s a place for explicitly Catholic stories of every genre.  Why?

Catholic identity

Our faith is not just a cultural identity, but yes, we’re human, so it does matter to us that we aren’t the only Catholics out there.  My daughter is a big fan of the Anna Mei series from Pauline Books & Media.  These stories are your basic middle school coming-of-age stuff, and the Catholic faith is part of the fabric, but not the crux of the plot.  Still, I love that my daughter can see a Catholic character turn out for Mass on Sundays, or say grace with her family.  We all need to know we aren’t the only ones doing this religion thing.

Solid answers to hard questions

John McNichol is a house favorite at our place, since we have that middle school boy sci-fi / alien-attack demographic sewn up tight.  McNichol gets criticized for putting  religious conversations in his dialog.

Well, guess what?  That’s what teens really talk about.  McNichol is a veteran middle school teacher and father of 10 bazillion teens, so he knows that, and he puts real questions teens ponder into the mouths of his teen characters.

But here’s the rub: unless it’s Catholic fiction, those questions aren’t going to get a Catholic answer.

Catholicism is not generic

You know what irritates me on Facebook?  Vague “spiritual” feel-good platitudes being spouted by people who should know better.

Oh, I know, I need to lighten up a little.  And I’m the first in line to be ecumenical when ecumenical is possible.  But sooner or later we need for Catholics to claim their faith as the one and only.

Catholic fiction lays down the gauntlet: our faith is not one choice among many.  It’s not just a “flavor” or a “style” of religion.  A sincere faith means we’re going to have an awful lot of explicitly Catholic stories to tell, because our faith offers something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you with me on this?  If so, here’s what I propose we do next:

1. Talk about it.  

There are lots of folks in the pews for whom this idea is absolutely radical.  It’s just not on their brain.  At all.  So mention it.  Drop a line in conversation like, “I love being able to find good Catholic novels for my kids.”  Or, “It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t trashy for a change.”

2. Start buying Catholic fiction.

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, ask them to stock it. Print out the book info for the title that interests you, and ask them to order it.  If you have a parish library, donate good Catholic fiction to their collection.

3. When you read a good Catholic book, leave a review . . .

. . . at Goodreads, Amazon, and the publisher’s website. Then mention it to your friends – online and in real life.

People want to be able to practice their faith.  Reading good Catholic fiction is a way that many people can be encouraged,  inspired, and yes, even catechized at times, in a way that comes so naturally to story-loving humans.

***

Read any good books lately?

What titles would you recommend for the Catholic reader looking for a good story to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

(Psst!  FYI for new readers – the blog discussion forum is here.)

 

Catholic Writers Conference Live! Logo.

 

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

Concerning Ferocity

Arguing about the “Fearless Girl” statue is old sport now.  Pause for a moment and take a look at a completely different argument.  Here is  Zachary D. Schmoll at The Public Discourse: “Physician-Assisted Suicide Tells People Like Me That Our Lives Are No Longer Worth Living.

As a man with a physical disability, I need a lot of help to perform many basic daily activities. I still consider myself to be an independent thinker, but my physical independence is substantially limited by my severely reduced muscle strength. I need help to drive my van, get dressed, prepare my meals, and complete other daily tasks. For me, this is life. For many others, this level of dependence is motivation to consider bringing life to an end.

If you are wondering why the supporters and detractors of the Fearless Girl both seem to have a point, the point is implied by Schmoll: We are suffering from a fortitude-deficiency.

I give the benefit of the doubt to writers who create super-fighter female characters.  Aren’t all superheros a stretch of the imagination?  It is not necessary to have a feminist agenda to identify with a girl-fighter character.  There is the appeal of the underdog; there is the charm of the unlikely hero.  Quick art relies on facile stereotype: If you want “artistic tension” write yourself a hulking ballerina or a grandmother who hates crochet, done.  Thus one can object to fighter-girls on the grounds of bad artistry, sometimes.  To my mind, the main offense of the female super-fighter character is that she’s mostly hired for the job of over-filling her super-bikini.

Girls are not for that.

I know girls who fight with swords, or play rugby, or do other things that require physical toughness.  They do not fall out of their clothing.  Also, they are women, not wannabe-men.

It should require no proof or explanation that men and women are different from each other.  Faced with a culture determined to argue against the self-evident, conservatives sometimes lapse into stereotypes in order to make that point. Stereotypes fail because men and women resemble each other intensely. We all have wrists and necks and breasts and jaws and feet, which tend to be different between men and women, but the tendencies are not absolute.  It isn’t that women have flippers and men have tentacles; we all have hands.  A male hand and a female hand resemble each other far more than either one is like a dog’s paw or a horse’s hoof.

So it is with human emotions, human reasoning, and human passion.  There are differing tendencies between men and women, but other than motherhood and fatherhood and your part in the act that gets you there, there is nothing in the human experience that is the exclusive province of only men or only women.  A man is sensitive and compassionate and nurturing in a masculine way by definition: If it is a man expressing those traits, he is doing it in a way that men do it.

Women identify with traits likes toughness because toughness is a feminine trait as surely as it is a masculine one.  Like hands or feet or ear hair, there are differences in how that toughness tends to express itself in the lives of women compared to the lives of men.  But it is certainly there.

If you do not think women are made for feats of intense physical difficulty and danger, I fear your parents owe you an apology: That story about the stork is just a myth.

You are here on this earth because a woman gave birth to you.

Oh, but that’s not the same as manly physical difficulty and danger!  No, it isn’t.  A man’s body is made to express its strength and daring in a different way.  Strength and daring are not male traits or female traits; they are human traits.  As with hands or feet, there tend to be differences between men and women in the embodiment of those traits. But if we try to say that physical toughness and daring are solely the province of men and not women, we don’t end up with a definition of masculinity; we end up with an argument for abortion.

We are a culture that values not toughness but power.  It isn’t fortitude we treasure but autonomy.  It isn’t the ability to endure great trials that we prize, it is the ability to conquer decisively.  If there is real danger? We want an out.

Life involves danger and pain.  From the moment of conception to the last breath, danger and pain are risks we all run, and sooner or later both will overtake us.

The fundamental argument for abortion is this: I would rather you die than that I suffer.

The fundamental argument for euthanasia is this: We would rather you die than that we suffer.

The fundamental argument for assisted-suicide is this: I would rather I die than that I suffer.

We talk a big talk about being “fierce” but actually we are cowards.  We are only “fierce” in the face of bronzed threats — frozen solid, unable to harm us.  We can stare down a picture of danger all afternoon; real danger makes us proud to run and hide.

A ferocious beast will kill for its own gain.  It is not ferocity but fortitude that we humans undervalue.  We like these girls who fight because we know deep inside that we humans are created for the fight.  We are created for living dangerously, and for facing the trials of our life unflinching.

File:Budapest kunst 0010.tif Virgin Mary with St. Barbara and St. Catherine of Alexandria

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia: The Virgin Mary with saints Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria.  I dunno, were those girls all that tough?  Hmmn.

Ushers of Divine Mercy

Saturday afternoon found me in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and in need of a trip to the confessional.  (No, I’m not scrupulous.  Just wretched.)   Holy Cross Catholic Church is about the size of a large convenience store, done in the style of 1970’s Neo-Traditional with a vigorous nod to Appalachian folk art.  Like the town itself, it is everything lovely and nuts and comfortable and joyful about American popular culture, Southern style.

For all that the parish embodies Americana, Holy Cross has something I’ve almost never seen in any of the many parishes I’ve visited: A greeter at the door during the hour for Confessions.

It makes sense of course.  If you know you’re likely to have visitors, it’s logical that you’d want to be ready for them.  I showed up, and the usher, with name tag and friendly welcome suited to his post, pointed out where the confessional was and where the line was forming and generally made sure I was all set.

Pigeon Forge is a small town in a rural county, and on any given Saturday the bulk of the Catholics on the ground are probably not parishioners.  I don’t think people usually come to Pigeon Forge for the purpose of confessing, though if you wanted to make the trip for that purpose, I can vouch for the place in that regard.  I do know that a lot of people come to Pigeon Forge for other reasons, and every single one of those visitors is a dreadful sinner just like the rest of us.  A few of them perhaps want to give the soul a good sprucing up after a visit to the Nike Clearance Store (or whatever else it is people do in town — evidence is I did that).

I suspect the parish has a particular charism for the Sacrament of Penance and for Divine Mercy.  In addition to the artwork in the nave and sanctuary, on the Lighthouse Media display rack in the lobby, there were exactly two talks on CD available for you to take home: Scott Hahn’s “The Healing Power of Confession” and a Spanish-language version of Scott Hahn’s “The Healing Power of Confession.”  Somebody wants you to be good and forgiven.

CD cover art courtesy of Lighthouse Talks / Augustine Institute.

FYI if you dislike face-to-face confession, be assured that as you step into the combination classroom / office / confessional / room-with-a-view, there’s a solid screen with a kneeler so you have the option of confessing anonymously if you so desire.  If you’ve ever sat in line at the parish, you know why I’m making that assurance. Don’t panic when you see people sitting in the window. You have other options.

Easter Report: Five Good Things

#1 Fr. Gonzo finishes strong. I probably shouldn’t call him that, it might encourage him.  The man who gave me this thing forty-something days ago decided to launch, his words, the “Mother of All Easter Vigils.”  If that man left out even a single speck or jot of an option, as found or legitimately inferred in ye olde Roman Missal, please, not a word.  Also next year, I’m having a nap and a cup of coffee before the vigil.  Or else just doing like last year and going to the Sunday evening Easter Mass, which was quite nice and ought to be offered more widely.

#2 There was a bacon accident.  Sometimes people are like, “Oh you’re a homeschooler? Could you make me a craft and a casserole?” These are the very same people who would squirm if I said, “Oh you work in an office?  Could you make me a 1040x and a manuscript proposal?”  So anyway, I tried making bacon in the oven Sunday morning, and I did it by following the directions on the package.  More or less.

The difficulty is that it came out perfect.

Perfect bacon is cooked to the point of extreme crispiness, just short — but nearly to the point — of crumbing at an untoward glance.

Sadly, the man I married and many of our offspring are under the impression that bacon is meant to be sort of chewy and moist.  I’m okay with that.  All bacon is good to me.  I will totally put on my inner St. Therese and eat wet bacon.  No problem.  Canonize me now.

But I accidentally cooked the bacon too long, and it was extremely, very, astonishingly good.  The difficulty is that there wasn’t any spare bacon to undercook for the other people, and that was kind of sad.  I’m open to continuing practice on this art until I nail it.  Eight weeks of Easter calling my name.

#3 First child trained in the ways of the IRS! It’s pleasant having Easter after the taxes go in.  I literally dropped off four envelopes at the post office on the way over to the Vigil.  Mr. Boy got A Real Job last summer, which means he had a real tax return (two – one federal, one state) this spring.  I had him do the process step by step on his own, and then I’d check it and show him what he did wrong (if anything — a 1040EZ isn’t that hard, even if it’s more complicated than it used to be), and he’d fix it, and we’d move on to the next thing.

It is well worthwhile to start doing your taxes on your own right from the beginning, and to keep with it year after year as things slowly get more complicated.  Pays off in the long run.

#4 Fedex is a wondrous thing.  It’ll be three kids and I on the big trip this summer, and I ordered those three some useful books to prep for the trip and work on their French.

FYI of all the suppliers I found, Decitre.Fr had the best deal on international shipping if you’re looking at many low-budget books rather than one expensive book.  Each kid received a book on the Mass. The boy received two history books and an atlas.  The girls each received a coloring book on Alsace (primary destination), a second coloring book on a relevant topic (history for one, all-things-Christian-faith for the other — between the two, they’ll have encountered most museum, historical site, and art-related vocab), and a book of personal interest for motivating the reading practice (cats or rabbits).

I went with cheap books because I wanted them physically light and compact, and intellectually not too intimidating.  That also allowed for a slight overflow on the order, so duds could be culled and everyone still get good books.  –> Not true duds, but a couple of the books that looked nice on the internet turned out to be either too little-kid or else too difficult for a beginning student of the language; I set those aside for me.

Anyhow, on international orders there’s not an option (with Decitre) to have books sent in sub-packages, and I knew a few of the books would take a couple weeks to be ready to ship.  So when I got the shipping notice Spy Wednesday, I figured it would be a late Easter?  Nope.  Packaged Wednesday morning, queued at CDG by Wednesday evening, onto a plane and into my local Fedex office Thursday morning.  I went out for a walk Thursday morning, and as I was coming back to my yard at 9AM the Fedex mini-van showed up with a package for me to sign.

You didn’t used to be able to get foreign books this easily.  I like the modern world.

#5 Journaling Bibles.  So that left one child with no books in her basket, because: Poor planning.  The Easter Bunny was pretty pleased she’d gotten to Aldi to pick up Not-Slave-Labor chocolate, thanks.  So then the bunny remembered this argument from a month earlier.  The girl is in the FCA at school, and apparently all her friends have “journaling” or “notetaking” Bibles.  These are Bibles with wide margins or other white space where you can essentially illuminate your own manuscript.

Could she have one for Confirmation please?  And how about right now, so the Holy Spirit can get to work ASAP?

The difficulty is this: Apparently Catholics have given up on illuminating, or else we just don’t publish trend-Bibles — I’m sure our publishers are full of good excuses for the lapse.  The situation is bad enough that Catholic Icing has a great tutorial about how to convert your Catholic Bible into a journaling Bible by covering up the footnotes with bits of paper.

A girl I know does not want to cover up footnotes with bits of paper

Thus in the spirit of Easter is For Heretics, Too, I caved.  On the way home from Costco with all the Easter food, I did check my local Catholic bookstore to see if there was something, anything, that I could pass off as a journaling Bible, but no dice.  (There are lots of great Catholic Bibles out there, by the way.  Just not ones for coloring in.)  But after that, into the breach: Walmart for Bible-shopping it would be.

[Sheesh, guys, I’m buying some unapproved-translation, books-missing Bible for coloring in, I’m not shelling out a lot of money on this, really??]

Walmart is smarter than a Catholic publisher.  They carry a mass-market, paperback version the HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible, and it’s easy to find if you go to the book section — shelved both with Bibles and with adult coloring books, since it’s both a Bible and a coloring book.  The inside looks like this:

My child wasn’t looking for one that was pre-illustrated, but we both secretly like it.  Some of the illustrations are very apropos, such as the image of Christ Crucified in the margins next to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy.  I could do without Mary With Rosy Cheeks, but Catholics have done far worse to the Blessed Mother and somehow the Church still stands.

My teenager spent her afternoon working on her Bible.  Her younger sister said, “We should have brought these to that retreat last month!”  I think I can work with this trend.

Easter Egg Wreath by #3.  Leaving a child alone with a hot glue gun has its advantages.  For more on the cost of becoming a Pinterest Parent, see here. Okay, I see the photos aren’t loading anymore.  I’ll fix that and update. [Update: Okay – all fixed now, I hope!]  The text explains the less-pretty parts of the crafting life. 

 

A Love Fully Human and Fully Divine

I always have trouble when Christians say, “Jesus had to die on the cross in order to save us.”  It makes me think: I suspect God could have saved us however He liked.

But He did it this way, so here we are.

Humans are thick about the nature of God.  You’ve just been created out of dust and given domain over the earth, and yet you’re unclear on God meaning what He said when He told you not to eat that one fruit.  Never mind ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army — did God really say . . .?

The Godliness of God is hard for us to grasp.

Even harder, judging from the pagan pantheons and our own understandable tendency to despair in the face of so much evil, is believing that God is good.  The gods of myth are fickle and self-serving; they come to our aid when it suits their own cause, not ours.

Thus the Incarnation.  Here comes God in the form of a man, which the mythical gods have done in their way, but this one is different.  This one loves the way that men love when they are very, very good men.

Mostly we humans like to push off thinking too carefully about love, because what we want is for the satisfaction of the present moment’s desire to be counted as “good enough.” But we do know real live goodness when we see it.  We honor the sacrifices of those who have given of themselves for others.  We know deep in our hearts that the very best people, the ones who embody Goodness itself, are those who care entirely about others and don’t consider what it might cost to give, they just give.

We know that.

And we’re not very bright about what God is like, so it is helpful for us to see that when God is a man, He loves the way that the very best men love.

***

There were good men living in the time of Jesus, just like there are good men living now.  Men who were heroic in their willingness to do what others needed them to do, in the mission of love and justice and mercy.  The Samaritan.  St. Joseph.  St. John the Baptist.  No doubt others as well.

Pontius Pilate was given the chance to be a heroic man.  His wife had been warned in a dream concerning Jesus, and passed on that message to her husband: Don’t mess with this guy.  Let him go.  Gentleman, recall that you chose your wife for this purpose. You elected her to be the one person whose advice you value most, so don’t squirm when she gives it.

He could have been a heroic man, sacrificing himself for the sake of love, justice, and mercy.  He knew very well that Jesus was innocent — he said so himself.

Instead he chose to be the coward of cowards.  What is the suffering of one innocent man compared to the danger I face?  And it was danger.  He was facing the end of everything, and so he pushed away the plain truth and talked himself into the crucifixion.

***

I do this all the time.  I push away what I know to be the right thing to do, because I do not want to lose some good I’ve convinced myself is more urgent.

***

The difference between God and us is that He’s God and we aren’t.  He’s all-powerful, our powers are limited.

We are capable of being fully human.  We are capable of being entirely the persons God created each of us to be.  We are capable of choosing heroic sacrifice rather than cowardice.  But we would still only be men.  Limited.

God-made-Man remained fully God even as He took on the fullness of humanity as well.   As man, he could be fully the best sort of man, giving of himself entirely.  But He was still God, and thus His powers were not limited.

***

Think of the best people you know.  Perhaps you have moments when you would gladly sacrifice yourself for someone else.  Perhaps you are a parent who would do anything to take on the suffering of your child so that your child can be spared.  Perhaps you see someone in grave danger, and know that if you could, you would give over even your very life to rescue that person.

Sometimes we get the chance to act on that impulse, but usually we don’t.  No matter how fully your heart is filled with generosity and a willingness to sacrifice, your powers are limited.  You would joyfully give your life to save that starving orphan in the war-torn country, but you can’t. You are limited by distance and other obstacles.   Maybe you can’t even give your life adopting some local orphan, because your means or the local bureaucracy or the other people who already require your help prevent you from being able to rescue that other one.

You and I can give everything we have, but we can’t give it to everyone.

***

We also can’t cause our sacrifices to do exactly what we want done.  My abilities are limited.  I can save some people in some situations, but other problems are beyond my powers.  I lack the mechanism to make the rescue happen.

***

Fully Man, Jesus was the best of men.  He was willing to sacrifice everything for the good of others.

Fully God, the power of His sacrifice is not limited.

He can save everyone, everywhere, everyhow.

He can breathe into dirt and cause humans to live on earth.  He can hang on a cross and cause humans to live in eternity.

He has the willingness and also the ability.

File:Caravaggio flagellation.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

FYI we have a family custom of unplugging for the Triduum.  Some of us will still be on the machine doing things like taxes and homework, but if you’re looking for me, I finally have a legitimate excuse for being gone.  Happy Easter!