Throughout the talk, I wondered if the new standard to which Catholic Women’s Writing was being held was any less restrictive than the old one, whatever that is. Edginess and Pain has replaced Mommy Blogging, but if you don’t prefer to be either edgy and painful or to write about the The Three Graces I Obtained In The Grocery Aisle, what is there? Can women, even boring women who have a lot of kids, write about ideas, or just life? Is it necessary to prove our woman bona fides by talking about our clitoris and our orgasms and our vaginas, as some panelists seemed to think was a biological imperative?
. . . Writing the truth about pain, or fear, or brokenness is valid because the human experience encompasses these states. Writing about our bodies is valid because every human life is shaped by the body and its glories and its limitations. But these aren’t the only ways to write, even for Catholic women, and they’re not even always the most interesting ways to write. It’s okay to just write about a topic unrelated to sex (or not-sex) or relationship (or not-relationship). It’s okay to be a woman and write without referencing being a woman. The category of womanhood is bigger than any one box, even once all the liturgical cupcakes have been consumed.
In the combox, a reader writes:
This is what I aspire to. I wonder if anyone touched on the marketability factor. There’s a lot of pressure, for bloggers on paid platforms, to be Pinnable, Perennial, or Controversial. That pressure doesn’t mean there’s no audience for other kinds of writing, but other kinds of writing don’t multiply clicks the same way.
There’s some truth to this. There are a variety of strategies for successful blogging and other types of publishing, but ultimately neither servers nor paper pay for themselves. If you write for a publisher of any kind, your work has to draw enough readers to keep the publisher alive. If you are writing independently, you’ve got to pay the bills and feed yourself.
That said, pull a writer from Mrs. D’s list: Amy Welborn. Professional female Catholic writer whose work covers a whole lot of interesting stuff, and none of it falls into the false dichotomy concerning our supposed slots as Tigers or Cupcakes.
Adding to the list: Kathy Schiffer and Elizabeth Scalia are both accomplished journalists who will take on who needs taking on, but don’t need to wimper about The Patriarchy in order to do it. (Scalia haunts the whole spectrum — Aleteia runs both cupcake and tiger work as slivers of their massive Catholic pizza. She, personally, is closest to Peggy Noonan in her essays, and something like if Knox took his gloves off in her books.)
Simcha Fisher, I guess she’s her own special category in Catholic publishing, but she’s support-a-family-doing-this marketable, and yes she writes on controversial topics, we all do, but she doesn’t write off anyone else’s script. She writes what she sees.
Like Mrs. Darwin, I’m just throwing out a few names who’ve been in front of my face today. The point is this: Being marketable as a writer doesn’t require you to fit a particular mold. If you take a look at any given mold, you see a few people excelling and a lot of copycats spewing miserable drivel that no one really reads. It makes the category seem larger than it really is. The single common factor among writers who make a living at writing is that they all put in the work it takes to do this as a career.
What is it you hope to get out of being published?
I think sometimes when people go to a conference and complain about how All The Big Writers Are XYZ, what they mean is, “I can’t get famous enough because people don’t appreciate my greatness.” That’s a good way of thinking if you’d like to make yourself obnoxious or suicidal, but it’s no way to be a Catholic.
There are loads of reasons not to write. I practice those reasons with unsettling skill.
“Because I don’t fit the mold” is not one of the reasons. If you actually don’t fit the mold, maybe you have something original to say for a change.
Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.
However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.
The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.
This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger. Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.
Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.
What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.
That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.
So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.
And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.
Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.
So next up on the dashboard is a post sharing parents’ confirmation class experiences from around the country. But meanwhile, Margaret Rose Realy — yes, this Margaret Rose Realy — let me in on the secret about The Lake of Beer.
No one told me about this.
We have a Lake of Beer.
Catholics get a Lake of Beer.
People: Christian Mysticism –> Lake of Beer.
I don’t understand why we’re not taking advantage of this situation.
I mean, yes, “Infinity Mercy” is a fine theme for Confirmation class. Sure sure sure. But there outta be an asterix and fine print on the bottom of the t-shirt that says and also a Lake of Beer.
Artwork: Stained Glass of St. Brigid of Ireland via Wikimedia [Public Domain]
I accepted a review copy of At Play in God’s Creation because I wanted a coloring book. That’s my real reason. I’m going to talk about some controversial topics, but here’s a two-sentence review for those who are short on time:
When Sr. Patricia and I are having a meeting of the minds? That tells you we’re in some heady waters indeed.
What’s in this book?
At Play in God’s Creation is an adult coloring book with a prayerful twist to it. Amid the pictures, there are quotes from mystics and prayer-questions. I’ve scanned a few portions of pages of my work-to-date so you can get a feel for what kinds of quotes and pictures we’ve got, see below. There are a couple pages of suggestions for how to pray-while-you-color at the opening of the book.
My reading of the text of the coloring book is that it stays within the bounds of Catholic thought. There are references to “finding your center,” which can be dicey, and there are plenty of Gather-hymnal word choices and grammatical devices. So the book is operating at the hairy edge of the narrow road, yes — but I don’t think the author goes over the cliff. If you are reading the text with a well-catechized Catholic lens, and you’ve waded through authors like Bl. Julian of Norwich and come to shore edified, it works.
Likewise, if you were drawn to the book because you do color but you don’t pray and don’t know a thing about prayer and this is your first baby step into some kind of spiritual life, I think it could be a comfortable starting point rather than a hindrance to more formal and informed Catholic prayer as you moved forward.
Also, the author of the text reminds you not to pass judgement on the thoughts that enter your mind as you’re prayerfully coloring, so when you get to this page and think to yourself, “One of these flowers is a ninja throwing star!” that’s okay. No judging, guys.
Is Coloring Praying?
Coloring could be helpful just because it is good for a busy person to quiet down and do something calm and relaxing for a change.
I think this is a bit like the old joke about smoking-while-you-pray vs. praying-while-you-smoke. I advise you not to smoke, but I can attest from my proto-hipster days that actually, yes, a moonlit night, silence, and a decent cigar make for good spontaneous prayer, if you’re so inclined. But that sort of prayer is not the same thing as praying the Rosary or the Divine Office or the Mass for serious. It’s not the same thing as actually carrying out Ignatian Exercises with your whole heart and mind focused on prayer. It’s a good thing, and you should try it frequently — not smoking, but spontaneous prayer as you are engaged in quiet activity — but you’re cheating yourself if you never go deeper.
Still, we aren’t tube worms. We don’t live in the depths all the time. When we’re trolling the shallow waters of ordinary activity, we don’t therefore stuff our souls in the closet. It is in fact good, wholesome prayerful activity to take a little R&R by coloring a Celtic knot while letting your mind range over a St. John of the Cross quote, and your life, and how the two intersect.
Why Does Jen Like the Book?
Here’s a page I work on when I’m sitting in the car waiting for a teenager to come out after volleyball practice:
Come on guys, color my hopes? My hope is that said child will notice I’ve shown up before I have to reach for the bridge-of-the-support and phone her to let her know someone’s waiting, thanks. Not every single phrase and picture in this book is a perfect match for me personally; I trust that there is someone out there who needs and will benefit from a cute version of the Four Creatures of the Apocalypse, and that we two must share an artist.
But hey, here’s an impending bloody-shipwreck . . .
. . . and on the facing page when you make it to fair land, there’s a not-friendly dragon reared up ready to scorch you.
I like this book because I get the ordinary benefits of coloring (relaxation, art-for-non-artists, etc.) combined with a keen sensitivity to the reality of spiritual struggle. Not every single prayer-prompt in the text is my cup of tea, but most of them have their moments when they are spot-on.
Verdict: If this is the kind of book you would like, you will like it.
Related: I got this lovely Christmas card from someone at Ave Maria press, featuring artwork from Daniel Mitsui’s adult coloring book The Mysteries of the Rosary. That might better suit the taste of some of my readers. (Hey, Ave! – I will totally review that coloring book if you mail it to me.)
Related to Related: But why am I on someone at Ave Maria’s mailing list?! Oh, that’s right, there’s this book! Today’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and if you want to know my fit-for-print thoughts on that topic, and a few others, get the book.
Funny Story: There was some brouhaha a little bit ago that I decline to link to, in which a group of ostensibly-Catholic women were recording themselves preaching on the Gospels, with the goal of proving that hey! Girls can read the Bible and talk about it too! Put a cassock on it!
And I was like, No duh. CatholicMom.com does have some male voices on the Gospel Reflection Team roster, but the group is definitely mom-heavy, as we’d expect.
But you know what’s really super cool, and has nothing to do with boys and girls and everything to do with the grace of God? Showing up at Mass and your pastor preaches a sermon, and you’re like, “Yeah. That’s way better than anything I would have said.” Coloring book or no coloring book, pray for your priests.
Have you been to confession lately? Fr. Pavone is human, and like you, he is capable of sinning. Like you, he is capable of acting in willful disregard of the law of God. He’s also, like you, capable of acting in culpable ignorance. We who view from the outside cannot know the state of Fr. Pavone’s soul; we can, however, inform our consciences to the point that we can perceive when an objectively sinful act has been committed.
Now it is likely that in his tactics Fr. Pavone sinned against the virtues of prudence and temperance; certainly his bishops have found it so. For the remainder of this essay I’m setting that aside, already dealt with extensively elsewhere. We are going to look only at the sin against the cardinal virtue of justice. Did Fr. Pavone give God His due?
What is the Purpose of the Altar?
In our spiritual lives we often invoke the image of the sacred altar. We speak of uniting our sufferings with Christ on the Cross, and Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When we offer up a Mass for a given intention, we might say that we placed that intention on the altar. You’ll often notice when you attend Mass that the priest will have a card right there on the altar reminding him of the intention for that Mass.
Thus we can understand how someone — anyone — might have the natural instinct to place some significant object on the altar in an act of devotion and offering.
To avoid sin, however, requires obedience to supernatural instincts.
The altar of the Mass is the place where heaven meets earth. We who enter a Catholic church are entering the Holy of Holies. We are people who, at the moment of the Consecration, see God and live. We are so used to this sacred privilege that we forget how unspeakably privileged we are. The daily duty of caring for the parish church can create an over-familiarity with sacred things, to the point that we start to forget they are honest-to-God sacred.
Our Strength is in the Lord
Time and again in the Old Testament, we see the Lord do valorous deeds for the people of Israel. That miraculous action didn’t end with the Incarnation: We can cite miracle after miracle in the long history of the saints down to our present day. These miracles are not mere emotional adjustments. God acts in the physical and social world, at times miraculously delivering physical healing, political victory, and military protection.
These miracles happen not on our schedule but on God’s. They also follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern that illuminates the nature of Fr. Pavone’s error. Step 1: We turn to God for His miraculous provision. We acknowledge our complete dependence on God’s saving hand, and abandon ourselves entirely to His divine will. Our help is the Lord who made heaven and earth. Step 2: God intervenes for the good of His people when and how He pleases.
In the beginning there was God, and then He made heaven and earth. The sacred altar belongs to that First thing. It is a holy place set aside for the Presence of God in the shockingly same way God Is, outside of all time and space.
Righting the Sacred Order
God wills the protection of all innocent lives. He wills an end to abortion. It is the desire of God that men would freely act to end this atrocity. It cannot but be the desire of God to come to our assistance in the work of protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us. These facts are incontrovertible.
We must charitably assume that Fr. Pavone’s recent actions were motivated by a sincere desire to serve God. All the same, he committed an act of sacrilege. We can defend him with mercy, for who among us is not also a wretched sinner, but we can’t defend his action with approval. To do so would require contortions along the lines of proposing that first God made heaven and earth, and then the next day He Is.
No no no. It must always be the other way around. It is unable to be otherwise.
The objective gravity of Fr. Pavone’s sin was in putting a second thing first. He failed to remember the supreme sacredness of the altar.
You have probably done that once or twice, if only in thought if not in word or deed. You may have heard about, if not witnessed yourself, reprehensible violations along these lines committed by clergy and others who ought to know better. We humans are woefully fallible.
Mercy and Reparation
Fortunately, there are remedies. Begin by forming your conscience as to the sacredness of the altar of the Sacrifice of the Mass. If you do not live in a parish where the sacred altar is treated with due reverence, make a pilgrimage to a place where it is. Lex orandi lex credendi.
Then proceed with prayer and fasting for the reparation of every rent in the sacred relationship between God and man. Contemplate our Lord’s mercy on us sinners. One of the missions of Priests for Life is bringing healing to those who, knowingly or unknowingly, committed a grave offense against God and man in the act of abortion. As it is for abortion, so it is for every sin: No one who desires to repent is beyond the reach of the Lord’s infinite mercy.
Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target. The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.
Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.
Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.
Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large. I said so here. This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.
Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you? You can change that.
You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself. You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin. You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.
You can stop that now. You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.
Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves. There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy. When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.
I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.
I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.
Food stamps don’t cause abortion. Adultery? That causes abortion.
Quick aside on modesty.
When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing. That matters, of course. But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy. He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.
It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters. Not so. It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.
Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons. But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.
Link Round-up. Here are all kinds of loosely related links. At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.
Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.
5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .
12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .
(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners. And that’s just a beginning. Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)
A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.
But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along. And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.
This is depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps. I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season. Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.
And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:
In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing. The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness. The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .
. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?
You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.
There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.
Continuing with Book Week. Box #2 raises a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What part do chastity-education programs play in teaching teens (and grown-ups) about the right use of their bodies?
My thoughts follow, but first you should show know what was in the box:
YOU from Ascension Press. I reviewed AP’s Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition some years ago, and liked it immensely. A first glance at YOU is similarly positive. It’s a much bigger and deeper program, and from everything I’m seeing among teens in the circles I run in (church-school-sports), YOU looks like a solid answer to a very serious need.
As I flipped through the books the other night, several things caught my eye:
The advice for how to teach teens is dead-on.
The parent booklet gets right to first things first. It’s like they know they only have a paragraph to win us parents over.
The curriculum, as will the best Theology of the Body presentations, starts with the bigger picture, lays the essential groundwork on the dignity of the human person, and leads from there into a positive message about the goodness and appeal of chastity.
YOU is working off ideas that have been tested with teens over and again and found to work. (Not surprising, given who the authors are.)
It’ll be a while before I get a chance to read the leader’s guide and parent guide (leader’s guide contains the full text of the student book) cover to cover, as well as watch the whole DVD series. Thus I wanted to flag this series now, because I’ve got a very positive impression at first glance, and if you’re planning programs for your parish you might want to request your own review set rather than waiting on someone else’s opinion.
Where do ready-made chastity programs fit into the big picture?
If you phoned me this afternoon (please don’t) and asked me what I recommended for taking your generic typical-American-parish from zero to full-steam-ahead on teaching teens chastity, here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Start with a good parent-centered introduction to chastity, such as Family Honor’sLeading and Loving program. There are lots of options for meeting formats, but (using L&L as an example) I strongly recommend investing the time and energy into spreading the program out over six weekly sessions rather than doing a single big-weekend event. This gives you time for parents to get to know each other, to have time to talk with the leaders in detail, and to begin to form a small group atmosphere. It lets parish leadership begin to identify the parents who are in the best position to help other parents. It also gives lots of time for listening, and thus for learning where parents in your parish are coming from and what questions or difficulties they are having.
–> Make sure you’ve got the depth of back-up resources to assist parents with their concerns. At a minimum: NFP instruction, good pastoral help with thorny marital irregularities, some resources for dealing with pornography, and access to support for parishioners grappling with same-sex attraction (personally or via a friend or family member’s situation) such as Courage. It’s no fair telling people they need to radically change their lives, then wishing them good luck and washing your hands.
2. When parents are ready to start sharing the message of chastity with their teens, do a parent-teen joint program. There are any number of options, and many of them (Family Honor is an exception) assume parents won’t be present. Don’t go there. You need the parents totally involved and on board. Your six hours in front of an eighth grader are nothing compared to the influence of the parents. Even if the program you select doesn’t call for parental presence, adapt it to make it a parent-teen program.
3. Keep working discipleship on all the parts of the Catholic faith. Salvation isn’t about sex-ed alone.
4. Programs like YOU will have the most impact if you roll them out after you have a critical mass of parents who are actively seeking to foster chastity in the home, and a critical mass of parishioners and parish leaders who are disciples.
I’m not saying there is no fruit that comes from grabbing a random teenager who’s fully immersed in the wider culture and subjecting the child to a few weeks of Catholic teaching. Good things can happen. But the reality is that an hour of your life in alien country rarely makes you want to join the aliens, if you were heretofore perfectly happy back home in Depravityville. More likely, you’ll go home thinking you met a bunch of crazy people and thank goodness you’ve escaped.
Making disciples is work. YOU looks like it’s got loads of potential as a help in that work, which is why I mention it now. But making disciples is long, slow, constant work. There are no short cuts.
God becomes Man, and the prophet sent to prepare the way for Him declares, “I am not fit to untie his sandals.” We can imagine our Lord untied his own sandals most of the time. She may or may not have been the one to remove his shoes, but we know the sinful woman did wash those feet. That woman might or might not have been Mary Magdelene, but Mary certainly did know those feet as well. The feet she saw pounded through with nails weren’t generic metal feet hanging in your hallway, they were the feet she had held and caressed and perfumed.
I have a friend who is a nursing student, and she tells me that when she has downtime working in the critical care unit, she’ll fill the hours by going around and washing the patients’ feet and massaging them with lotion. Very sick patients typically have feet in horrible condition and a desperate hunger for human touch, both.
When Mary Magdalene met the resurrected Jesus in the garden, she wasn’t like Thomas who asked to see the pierced hands and side; had she asked, it probably would have been to see the feet.
In my absence from the internet, another Catholic food fight has broken out over the question of what people should do with themselves during Mass. The latest round concerns the direction priests point their feet. Where your feet go, you go.
Because humans are body and soul both, what we do with our bodies at Mass matters. The Mass can’t happen if the priest stands in a corner and prayerfully wills it to be so. Human wills express themselves in bodily action. In carrying out the actions of the Mass a priest makes the Mass happen — it can happen no other way.
The other sacraments are the same. Thus the question of feet is important.
We Catholics get fervent in our opinions about what everyone should do at Mass because we know deep in our souls that our bodies matter so very much. Thus we’re fifty-some years in to a massive Catholic food fight over how we laypersons might best carry out “active participation” in the sacred liturgy as mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium. Says the Church:
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
It’s a food fight that typically devolves into two questions: Who else can we put a cassock on, and how do we persuade Catholics to sing more?
So I want to tell my story about active participation in the Mass, and singing, and the feet of Jesus.
I like words. I am the person who pays attention to the words of all the hymns we sing at Mass. I like to sing at Mass, because I like having all those words about God and to God moving through my body and coming out of me. I was pretty happy at St. Populus, my home parish, where every Mass was a folk Mass in the best meaning of that term: We served up a four-hymn sandwich sing-along every Sunday, always and every time meant to be that part of the Mass when everyone joined in with gusto.
The actual amount of gusto varied. But that was the goal. It was a goal that I loved.
Then my husband reverted to the Catholic faith (good) and I discovered that he could sing (interesting) and he became a cantor at St. Populus (variable). There wasn’t another bass available to help him with his cantoring skills, so he drove down to Our Lady of Classical Choirs and pestered the choirmaster until they got tired of his badgering and agreed to teach him to sing. One thing led to another, and I ended up with 50% of my family in the choir loft at not-my-parish.
The trouble with OLCC, in addition to being not-my-parish, was that half the time you couldn’t even understand the words they were singing — even if it was English. The sound bounced off ancient plaster mercilessly. Furthermore, whether you could understand it or not, the bulk of the Mass on any given Sunday was done in the style of Not a Sing-Along. I was aware that the whole thing was purported to be exceedingly beautiful, but couldn’t we all just have four nice easy hymns to sing together as a group? Please??
Then some things happened. One thing was that I was now living with three people who played this strange, purportedly beautiful, music around my house all the time. I got to know the music better. It was no longer weird sounds bouncing around a tall building, it was something my ear understood and could make sense of.
Another thing that happened is that over at St. Populous we had a little Latin club going on Friday mornings for about a year, long enough for we ignorant laypeople develop to a working familiarity with the meanings of the words that tended to bounce around during the Gloria and Sanctus and all those other things that were Not a Sing-Along down at OLCC.
I am persuaded that I am the Bread of Life is all the proof anyone needs that ordinary people aren’t quite as stupid as our betters pretend. If you can teach we slobs in the pews to memorize the key points of John chapter 6 in an irregular, non-rhyming, voice-cracking, genre-less song, than we slobs can probably learn all the other, much easier, supposedly-too-hard-for-us stuff as well.
The final thing that happened to me was decrepitude. OLCC became an appealing parish to me for two reasons:
There was a wall I could lean against.
No one would try to speak to me.
Not-my-parish for the win.
I remember this night at Mass when active participation ceased to be about marching around or singing along. I was at OLCC, sitting in the pew because standing was not on my to-do list (decrepitude), it was some feast or another, and the Gloria was going on forever, and ever, and ever. The choir would sing some line of the Latin, and then sing it again and again in fifty different variations of hauntingly beautiful soaring tunes. Then on to the next line.
Not a Sing Along.
It was a Pray Along.
I finally got, for the first time in my life, a chance to pray the Gloria with something that felt like justice. No more wincing at the splendor of tu solus sanctus then quick keep moving, time for the next big idea. Each idea, one at a time, washing over the congregation, swirling around in a whirpool of words, seeping into our thoughts and wetting the soul’s appetite for the next line of the prayer.
It isn’t that they don’t ever do hymns or plebeian Mass settings down at OLCC. Nor do I have any less love for a good rousing Sing Along Mass. Singing is good for you. It’s good for all the parts of you, and it would be a strange and disastrous thing if we pewsitters all gave it up and used no other part of our bodies than our ears at Mass.
Curiously, the part where feet come into it was during a Mostly Sing-Along Mass down at OLCC.
Because I am decrepit, I can’t always sing, or can’t sing the entirety of a Sunday’s pewsitter parts. Because I am a word-person, lately sometimes I do the very weird thing of standing there with the hymnal open, mouth shut, eating up the words with my mind while the congregation sings them aloud.
This past Sunday, though, I was unusually decrepit even for me. I found a seat against the wall, and didn’t even bother trying to lip sync the Our Father. I was pretty happy to just be standing-along during the bulk of the standing parts. I was secretly pleased that the side aisles were relatively empty and all I had to do was wave to a couple people several rows behind me during the Sign of Peace, and then I was freed to go back to my still, silent bubble.
I didn’t know, on Sunday, that Internet Catholics were busy arguing over which way priests point their feet. The readings were not exactly about feet, except that they were. The Law living within us, He is the image of the Invisible God, the parable of Mercy-Made-Flesh.
11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain  . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
It means that when our Lord comes to us, we recognize Him and respond accordingly.
The carrying out of those laws governing valid and licit celebration aren’t the stones of an empty tomb. The carrying out of those laws is the business of our bodies doing what our bodies are made to do. What do our bodies do? Our bodies are the means through which ours souls express themselves.
Another girl in the accounting department and I both reverted to Christianity after we got married. (Recall – I actually converted at work. By which I mean, literally in a meeting with the customer. Yes indeed.) So one day we were standing there in the cube farm when I learned this fact, and I knew enough about her past life and mine to be able observe in solidarity, “It’s a lot easier to become a Christian after you’re married.” She knew what I meant, and she agreed on the spot.
Mortal sin is a potential hindrance to conversion every time.
Just being married, though, didn’t put me out of the woods on that point. The priest who ushered me back into the Church helped the spouse and I get our marriage convalidated, introduced us to NFP, and generally kept us pointed in a safe direction. I was finally learning the fullness of the Catholic faith.
A decade and some later, I’m still unpacking it all.
The trouble with Christians is that we’re both body and soul. The tendency is to treat Christianity as being only about your soul, as if it were the “real” prize and your body were just the packing peanuts. Don’t ingest, don’t expose to open flame . . . just kind of keep the packaging from making a mess and you’re good.
Our bodies aren’t packaging. Our bodies are an integral part of us, and how we live in them is what our Christianity is. When we say humans are made in the image of God, male and female, the human body is part of that divine image. We literally can know something about God by looking at our bodies. Our bodies and souls, together, provide a snapshot of God. That’s what it means to be an image of something. My photo isn’t me, and it doesn’t tell you everything there is to know about me, but it is an image of me. It does reveal things about me you wouldn’t know if you didn’t have the photo.
Even when we talk about mortifying our bodies, in pious Christian language speaking of “hating” the flesh, what we mean is this: Use it properly. Live a rightly ordered life. To prepare your soul for heaven is to prepare your soul for your heavenly body.
One of the things I do is teach sex-ed. I write about a lot of things, but I write about topics like porn, and BDSM, and name-that-thing-nice-girls-don’t-talk-about, because what we do with our bodies is what we’re doing to ourselves. You matter. You were created to be treated with love and respect. We live in a world where people have no idea what that looks like. They don’t know what it means to be loved and respected.
That’s what the Theology of the Body is about.
What does love really look like?
Sometime in the months leading up to my conversion, I failed to fill out my time card at work properly. The department secretary, a Christian, came and told me I hadn’t given her the form I owed her.
I started making excuses in my defense. She said, “I forgive you.” I kept making excuses. She kept repeating: “I forgive you.”
There’s a long list of before-and-afters for me as a Christian. People who knew me before my conversion can vouch for the fact that I was no picture of saintliness. People who know me now will observe that my principles have radically changed, but my ability to live up to those principles is still woefully lacking. We call ourselves “practicing” Catholics because we still don’t have it right, even after years of trying. We’re still practicing.
Studying the Theology of the Body doesn’t make me holy. But what it does do is make it possible for me to try — because I finally understand what it is I’m supposed to be trying for, and why, and how it works. We can’t practice a skill we don’t even know we’re supposed to have. And when that skill is living in the half of your being that is integrally connected to the other half your being, well, wow. It’ll change your life.
I have a daughter who adores rabbits, and therefore she knows what porn is. “No, dear, you can’t have that particular bunny sticker,” I had to explain several years ago, when she was searching Amazon for, well, bunny stickers.
Why not? She wanted to know, of course.
“Because that’s the logo for a company that sells pictures of naked ladies.”
No need to discuss sex, or what makes porn distinctive. She can intuitively know, by the simple fact that she shuts the door before changing clothes or going to the bathroom, that selling pictures of naked people is wrong-headed.
She has a righteous indignation about the purveying of pornography because a perfectly good rabbit has been co-opted into the works. At her age, I expect she feels as badly for the rabbit as for anyone.
The children’s grandmother has a stall in an antique mall. It’s one of these old brick factories that’s now home to a hundred or so vendors of everything that turns up at estate sales. If you want a case of Coca-Cola, unopened, from 1967, this is your place. I have to stay out of there because my sponsor at Vintage Books Anonymous threatened to stage an intervention.
The kids have been going to help their grandmother keep her stall clean and organized since as long as they’ve been old enough not to be a menace to porcelain. They dust knick-knacks and re-fold linens, and put out the latest crop of dishware, and they love doing it. The owner of the mall and the other vendors who work the counter know the kids, and the kids know them.
This week while working at the shop, my nine- and eleven-year-old daughters, always on the lookout for bunny figurines, came across a basket of Playboy that one of the other vendors had displayed on the front counter of his stall.
It’s not just an antique mall anymore, it’s a porn shop.
“Does the owner of the mall know about this?” my husband and I asked, when we heard about it late that night. The vendors stock their own stalls, there’s no central merchandise system.
“Yes. She told him he had to tape the covers shut.”
Ah. I see.
We’re knowingly putting out pornography for children to find as they hunt through the acre of treasure.
“It was right next to the big display of pocket knives,” one of my daughters said helpfully. Because you know, boys are interested in those sorts of things.
Things People Tell My Children About Pornography
But they’re vintage Playboys. I got that argument. It was related to me secondhand by my children, who’d been told that by someone at the shop; I heard it again directly from one of the vendors at the shop. As if dusty porn were somehow not porn.
I told the story to the kids of Msgr. Roth of blessed memory, who preached one Sunday about living out your faith all week long. He’d gone to visit a parish family, and they’d realized too late that their porn was sitting out on the coffee table. They apologized and put it away. Not in the trash—just out of sight. “Don’t put it away for the priest,” he said to the congregation. “You shouldn’t have that in your house at all. If it’s not okay for the priest to see, it’s not okay.”
I don’t know which family he had visited, but I know that I got a babysitting job for a family from church that year, and that was how I got my chance to see what’s inside the covers of Playboy. Apparently church people don’t hide it for the babysitter, either.
But they’re taped shut. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re selling pornography at your store. You’re telling the world that it’s fine to buy and sell this stuff. You’re making the decision to attract buyers of pornography to your business.
But that guy who runs the stall is just trying to make a living. That’s right. He’s decided he wants to profit off the exploitation of women and the uncontrolled lust of those who find pornography so compelling.
“I can tell you are very emotional about this,” I was told when I phoned in my complaint.
Yes, indeed. Discovering that people are knowingly putting out pornography for my children to find makes me emotional.
There are times when calm is not the answer.
What kind of sick person thinks we should feel calm about this?
As I told my children, who were well aware I was in rare form over this incident: Women are dead because of what this industry does to them. It is right to be upset about that.
The reality is that we Trumpers think the exploitation of women is AOK. It was fine for those church families way back in the ’80’s, so why wouldn’t it be fine now?
One of the children expressed, in a later discussion, some of the nonchalance they’d absorbed from the world around them. And thus I explained: To tolerate the buying and selling of pornography in your place of business is to say that you think it’s just fine for girls like mine to be exploited this way.
If it’s not okay for your sister to be treated that way, it’s not okay for anybody’s sister to be treated that way.
Parents: Would you be willing to paste your daughter’s face on that centerfold?
Doesn’t feel so wink-wink-giggle-giggle when you look at it that way.
Related: Marcel Lejeune has good handbook out now, written for those seeking to overcome their addiction to pornography. Cleanesd: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn is right to the point, and includes a compact, readable introduction to the deeper issues of the faith behind the right appreciation of human sexuality. Highly recommended for anyone who’s concerned about this issue, whether it’s a personal problem or you just happen to care about your fellow humans.