Obtuse to the Point of Dishonesty

I’ve been listening with interest to ACB’s confirmation hearings not only for the entertaining legal back-and-forth, but because my state senator — up for re-election this fall — is chairing the proceedings.

I did not come into the hearings planning to vote for Graham. However, nothing in what I have heard from him (full disclosure: I’ve listened to perhaps as much as 50% of the last three days’ hearings, but nowhere close to the entirety) has been objectionable. You may or may not care for his politics or his pushing through a nominee so close to an election, especially in light of his previous pledge not to do so (see: “integrity” below), but his behavior in the hearings themselves has been anodyne.

Meanwhile, separately, as part of my internal debate on how to vote in the senate race, I’ve of course had doubts about Jaime Harrison, Graham’s opponent, but primarily due to my usual objection to the Democratic platform: I think that protecting human lives is important, so running on a platform that openly supports the direct killing of innocent persons is a bit of a buzzkill for me. Still, I know many people who are in favor of legalized abortion for understandable (though mistaken) reasons, and so I didn’t automatically assume he lacked integrity based on that policy position alone.

Today, though, he proved that indeed he is not a person who cares about the truth.

I listened, live, to the exchange between Senator Graham and Judge Barrett which Harrison claims is proof that Graham spoke favorably of segregation. No listener fluent in the English language could mistake Graham’s plain meaning. He was in no way saying that he himself thought segregation was good. His point, very clear from the context and the plain meaning of the exchange, was that returning to segregation is so unthinkable that there is no chance the Supreme Court will be asked to revisit Brown vs. Board of Education.

None of this means that Senator Graham is a desirable candidate. But Harrison’s determination to willfully misunderstand the exchange tells us that in fact Harrison is just fine with lying about someone if it suits his purposes.

Not a good feature in a senator, and not a good feature in anybody. Don’t be like this. Insist on supporting your point of view with the truth.

Fox in the snow, yawning with it's tongue curled.

Fox photo via Wikimedia, CC 4.0. Hot tip: Subscribing to @hourlyfox on Twitter was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I would be sympathetic if that were the only account you followed at all.

Should Little Children Go to Mass?

Larry D thinks I ought to consider becoming a blogger, and to that end he tossed this bit of controversy in front of me: “Why We Don’t Encourage (Little) Kids in Church.”  It’s from Church of the Nativity, so they know a few things.  As long as we’re prophet-slinging, here’s an excerpt from Joel 2:15-16 (scroll down, I gave you the whole chapter):

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.

Faced with such Biblical evidence, I’m going to switch over to talking about common sense and experience.  We’ll look at three factors from NOT to MOST important as we weigh in on the noisy young thing problem.

Whether Someone Distracts You is Not the Question

Here are some things that are distracting at Mass:

  • Stinky homeless guys;
  • People with uncontrolled Tourette’s syndrome;
  • Very high heels;
  • Priests who tell pious legends that have long since been debunked;
  • The collection basket when you are trying to pray during the offertory;
  • When the HVAC kicks in all the sudden;
  • Your brain;
  • Needing to go pee.

Whether someone or something is distracting really isn’t the question.  Some distractions are God helping us mature spiritually; others, like poorly-sized HVAC units, are an abomination unto the Lord.  We’ll have to look elsewhere to discern which are which.

There are Strategic Arguments For and Against Little Children at Mass

Here’s one I’m firm on, because I have seen over and over and over again how this rolls: If your spouse is not Catholic, you need to take your oldest child to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day from the first time you return to Church after giving birth.

Trust me.  You have to do this.  What if it means you and young Mr. Colick spend the entire service standing on the front lawn?  You take him anyway.  If your oldest child spends his or her early years lounging around at home having fun with the non-Catholic spouse while you are at Mass, you are highly unlikely to get that or any other subsequent child to Mass, ever.  I have watched this reality many times.  Yes it sucks being that lone parent with no help and no support and Father Justascolicky treating you like you’re an idiot because you dare to bring a non-conforming child into the sacred assembly, but you must do this.  Add younger siblings as you are physically able.

If you and your spouse are both faithfully Catholic, or if it’s a younger sibling, you can be more pragmatic about it.

  • There’s value in growing up from infancy hearing, smelling, and seeing the Mass, and associating it with time spent with parents.  Grace builds on nature.  Imprint the shape of the Mass on your children.  They were made for this, so it as normal as getting used to family dinners or bedtime prayers.
  • There’s value in teaching the Mass early.  Quietly point out that Jesus is speaking to us during the Gospel, that we are praying for our friends during the general intercessions, that Jesus is coming to be with us during the Consecration, and that the words of the Last Supper are making present that most holy of nights.  A child can begin understanding these things before the age of two.

But at the same time, and even with that firstborn of a solo Catholic, you can be pragmatic. Make arrangements with the nursery volunteers to check in before Mass but to plan for your child to go to the nursery mid-Mass.  If your child only stays for the opening hymn and then slips out, that’s a start.  You can set milestones for spiritual growth, and reward your child for making it through the portion of Mass he or she is ready to endure.  If your parish doesn’t offer donuts, keep a box of cookies in your trunk.  Any kid who meets goal gets the reward after Mass.

And finally, you have to go with your own comfort level.  If you get uptight and freaked out at every little noise your child makes, use the nursery more liberally.  If you are so laid back you let your kid stretch out and play with his action figures on the stairs to the altar, get your act together and grow some self-discipline.  But for the vast middle of ordinary parents, find a place to sit that works for your family, then let your kids participate in the manner they are able.

Mass is Not a Lecture Hall

I am concerned by the spirituality reflected in this statement from Fr. White:

But if they can’t understand the readings and they cannot take Communion, it is unclear what they are “receiving” Sacramentally.

Let us give Father the benefit of the doubt and assume he expressed himself poorly.  Please to God he has a better understanding of what happens at Mass than this.

First an aside on “receiving”: When my son was little, I used to read to him on our porch.  He would be wiggling and squirming and doing gymnastics, and I would stop and say, “Do you want me to stop reading?  Because if you are bored we can take a break?”  And he would say, “No!  Keep reading!  I’m listening! Please don’t stop!”  I’d ask him to tell me back what he’d just heard, and sure enough, he’d been listening.  Children don’t always look like adults when they are being attentive.  (And adults have often mastered the art of faking attentiveness when they are not listening at all.)  I think in particular of the young boy with autism who sits in front of me most weeks at Mass, and clambers around the pews . . . his spirituality is on point.  It is not articulate.  It is not pretty.  But those who know him and can read him know that his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is rock solid — and that though he does not receive communion.

So we must not look at the outward behavior of children to assess their faith, anymore than we can trust in the outward behavior of grown-ups.

Now back to the question of what it is children receive at Mass, and even more importantly: What they give.

The Mass is the ultimate act of worship for humans, and the ultimate act of intimacy with His earthly creation for God.  For an infant less than about nine months old, participation at Mass will primarily be one of closeness to Mom and Dad — call it the proto-apprenticeship.  But from that time forward, bit by bit the child joins in the active worship of God.  A nine month old infant can clearly communicate preferences and meaningful actions, and can speak with the body before words are coming out of the mouth.  God is not some advanced subject you can’t start studying until second grade.  A relationship with God is literally the thing your child was made for — it is your child’s single purpose for existence.  Period.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, young children are able to participate in the worship of the community from a very early age.  If only someone will tell them what is happening, they can know that their prayers have meaning and value.  They can know that a time set aside to be with the Lord is precious and important.  They can be filled with a desire to raise their voices, however untrained, in praise and prayer.

They do this poorly.  Grown-ups do it poorly too.

The Church in her wisdom does not require young children to attend Mass every Sunday, because she knows that children vary in their capacity for enduring your parish’s feeble attempt at worship, which no matter how soaringly beautiful will always fall short of what it aspires to be.

Matthew 19:14 is not a mistake.  I know very well that bringing little children to Mass is a form of suffering.  So suffer them.



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I liked this picture.  If you don’t think it’s on topic, what do you know? Maria Magdalene, 1899, Viktor M. Vasnetsov (1848–1926) [public domain] via Wikimedia.



Pat the Bunny for Young Adults

When I was a kid we had Pat the Bunny. It’s a little board book that shows Judy and Paul doing various activities, and then you, the reader, do that thing too:

Judy can play peek-a-book with Paul.  Now you play peek-a-boo with Paul.

Judy can read her book.  Now you read.

And so forth.  There’s a tiny book-inside-the-book you can flip through when it’s time for you to read.  There’s a piece of cloth for you to lift up when it’s time for you to play peek-a-boo.   The title comes from the page where Judy pats the bunny, and then there is a fuzzy bunny-shape on the page for you to pat.  Hard not to like a book like that.

Over Father’s day the Art of Manliness ran a piece on the importance of doing strenuous outdoor things with your son.*  It’s the same concept: First your son learns how to do challenging things with you, and then he goes on to do them himself.

So now we’re moving on to Pat the Bunny, Young Adult Edition:  Mommy can organize a month long trip in a foreign country, now you organize a month-long trip in a foreign country.

This was just what I’d hoped the boy would learn from last year’s adventures, but I don’t think I was quite ready when he came to us a couple days ago, observed how he has been a very low-budget child to raise up until now, and would we kindly chip in towards him spending a month wandering around France this summer?

Um, okay.

This is what young adults do.  Some of them go off and get their own apartment.  Some of them take a summer job on the other side of the country. Some of them hit the road and travel around.

Can he do this?  Yes, and he knows how.  He’s done international flights and trains and public transit.  He’s done hotels and apartments and restaurants and grocery stores and hut-to-hut hiking.  He’s familiar with the French obsession for regulation headshots slapped on anything and everything, and how to hunt down a photo-booth when you need one.  He’s even demonstrated his ability to read a French neighborhood and know whether it’s one non-locals should be wandering.

What he hasn’t done is doing the thing all by himself, with the parents tucked away on another continent.  Of course not, he just turned 18.

When his great-grandfather was 18, he was wandering France, too, though with somewhat more supervision and quite a lot more danger.

18-year-olds are adults.  They are young adults with not much experience.  It’s the job of parents to give them experience.  First you do it with your kid, and then your kid does it on his own.

Yes, he even knows about taking pictures of the map.


*I’m a firm believer in doing adventurous outdoor things with your daughters, too.  Girls are different from boys, but they benefit from outdoor sports just as much, sometimes for the same reasons, sometimes for different reasons.  Humans are made to play outside.  It’s good for us.

Capitalizing on Your Children’s Laziness

I’m deskavating again, and just came across a wooden box with some random items.  Two pens, two markers, an empty lead-refill box, and a flashlight.  The box had apparently been sitting in the kitchen or living room, and the people I live with got the idea to drop things they didn’t feel like putting away into the box.  Then someone stuck the box on my desk, because that’s where we pile things we don’t feel like putting away.

So now I have this cool flashlight, which is great, because I’ve been wanting one to keep in my overnight bag for traveling.  Wow that saved me $5 and a trip to the store.

I’m putting the box out in the living room to see what else I can collect.

How To Be An Internet Catholic and Charitable Too

We’ve got a new round of Catholic internet drama going, and it hardly matters what the excitement is this time.  I’m keeping my nose out of it, because otherwise my post will lose its perennial freshness.  Ever ancient, ever new — that’s Catholic craziness for you.*

Meanwhile, for those who haven’t sworn off  iGossip and taken up gardening or macrame, here’s my three top tips for keeping your head on straight and your friendships in order, even when someone’s wrong on the internet.

1. Remember Who’s Talking

The Catholic internet is composed of two groups of people:

A. Calm people.  To wit: Jimmy Akin, and then this one really sweet mom lady who posts pictures of her kids eating solemnity-themed cupcakes.  There might be a third.

B.  Hotheads.  That’s the rest of us.

Oh, I know, even now you’re rushing to either dissect a Church Father or quick find an obscure Catholic holiday your children can celebrate with costumes made out of paper plates, so that you can squeeze into Category A. But admit it: If you take a strong interest in controversial topics like politics, liturgy, or catechesis, you probably have just a touch of opinionated fireball inside that cool, calm exterior.  Maybe more than a touch.

And here’s the clincher: Those other hotheads you’re reading right now?  They are living in a completely differently world than you.

You’ve been given a view down the shirt of every staff member of your parish; she’s been informed one time too many that her ankles are a near occasion of sin.  He attends St. Simon & Garfunkel’s, and has been twitching every since they went to an all-harmonica Mass three years ago; your parish bulletin is now published almost entirely in Latin.  Because people complained Greek was too hard.  Your religious ed program consists of, “Pick a color you really love.  Share with your friends how it makes your feel.”  Their religious ed program consists of, “You may get up off your knees as soon as you have the Vulgate memorized.  Then you may work on your diorama of the fires of Hell.”

I’m joking, kids, I’m joking.  But seriously: Very many times, the source of the argument among faithful Catholics is not a radically different understanding of the faith; it’s a dramatically different experience of how the faith is lived in their corner of the universe.

Even if you and the other keyboard-jockey both attend the same parish and the same Mass, the two of you have different backgrounds.  Different playground traumas.  Different incidents that color your view of the Church.  Consider the possibility that your worthy opponent has good reasons for being so wrong-headed.

2. Try to Talk Your Friend Off that Ledge

One of the highlights of my internet life is seeing how many people who think I’m absolutely, horribly, wrong about something are perfectly ready to engage in productive dialog, if I take a genuine interest in what they have to say and why they say it.

(I know, some of you shuddered when you heard the word “dialog”.  Listen: It can be good.  It’s not always a code word for “namby pamby faithy-ism.”  Respectful conversation can be a fruitful means of getting closer to the truth – iron sharpens iron and all that.)

The mark of a crazy person isn’t the odd temper tantrum or hot-button topic.  Everyone has their bad day, bad week, bad decade.  It happens.  Have you tried gently asking a few questions, or did you go on the counter-attack?  I know the counter-attack urge, I understand it, trust me.  (See: Hothead.)  But don’t be shocked that someone gets defensive when you go on the offense.  It is the mark of Christian maturity to resist when the hotheads try to work you into a lather.

And if you did go on the offensive (see: Hothead, Takes One to Know One), from that moment on you’ve got to consider every harsh word in your little brawl to be just a bad night at the pub.  You engaged.  You were part of the problem.  Brush yourself off, go home, sleep off the hangover, and try to be friendly next time.  Give your sparring partner the same charitable benefit of the doubt you’d like extended towards yourself.

3. Let Go of the Envy

Blogging, Facebook, Twitter . . . these media all require us to put ourselves out there.  There’s nothing inherently sinful about being a person who has a knack for marketing.  Don’t begrudge someone their one big talent.  Don’t assume that, “I have to make my writing pay because I’d fail out of engineering school in half an hour,” is  the same thing as, “I possess an enormous ego.”

Do people who depend on writing to earn a living have to be utterly focused on bringing the paycheck in?  Yes they do.  Just like people who depend on plumbing or electrical work or writing software have to be focused on keeping their profession profitable.  Everyone has to eat.  But just because the construction company has to watch its bottom line doesn’t mean that every foreman is a self-centered money-grubber who’d happily see your children crushed to death during breakfast, just so long as your account is paid in full and your check has been cashed.

A concern about page views or advertising revenue or book sales can be a professional hazard.  But a professional hazard does not make every professional hazardous.

Take pleasure in the work that you do, and take pleasure in the success of others who do similar work.  There is a massive need for evangelization.  Our mission at St. Blogs is to colonize cybersapce.  Scratch the internet, find a faithful Catholic.  That’s the goal.  Get out there, be that Catholic.

Have a great weekend.

File:V&A - Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515).jpg
St. Paul wants YOU to preach the Good News.  But possibly in some other corner of the known world, if the two of you can’t quite get along.  Artwork by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

*Let’s just see how perennial this problem is . . . I originally published this post, verbatim, on May 31, 2014.  Entitled, “How to Stay Sane in St. Blog’s,” you can read the original at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz/2014/05/how-to-stay-sane-in-st-blogs.  I updated the title because last time someone wondered what “St. Blogs” referred to, and I had to update that post with a link to an explanation.

Lent Day 23: Bored and Annoyed Just Right

I knew I hit my penance just right this year when I found myself thinking, “I’m not really liking this. But other than that, it’s not a problem.”

What I’m noticing this year is how important it is not to be afraid of the penance you’ve chosen.  If you fear you are harming yourself, you are going to give up.  If you are confident that what you are doing is not harmful, you have a better chance of talking yourself off the ledge.  It can be helpful, in that regard, to try the thing outside of Lent before you commit to a whole season of it.

For some more thoughts on hitting the sweet spot: What Makes a Good Penance? Three Tips for Mid-Lent Adjustments.


Meanwhile, a glimpse at my spiritual life, Lent Edition:

8:00 pm: I am so bored at the prospect of carrying out any of the choice of chores in front of me that what I long to do is go off to a quiet place for some contemplative prayer.

8:10: Well, that was a great two minutes of prayer, but now it appears I’m just thinking about random stuff. Not actually praying.  Try to get mind back to praying.  Praying is great!  Love God!  Talk to God! Listen to God! Be with God!

8:15: Okay, actually I’m falling asleep.  

At which point I turned on a bright light and pulled out the review copy of the extremely wonderfully very good book you can hear about soon.  It’s by Julie Davis and as good as her last book, but in a completely different direction.

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Artwork: Christ in the Garden, Jeremias de Decker, 1656.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

The disciples’ inability to stay awake is the evidence that they had no  idea what was about to  happen.  When you are expecting trouble, you stay awake.  You sleep when you think everything is fine for now.

Lent Day 9: Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him . .

UPDATE: Simcha Fisher has the details on how you can help Anthony’s family — and him as well.

+ Please pray for the repose of the soul of Francisco Antonio Gallegos, and the consolation of his heartbroken family. +

Soldiers at dinner in Base Hospital No. 9, A.E.F. -from a history of the work of the New York hospital unit during two years of active service in France.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons. From the accompanying text: “. . .the petty trials and difficulties are now fading from the memory, and in their place stand out the big things that really counted and made our adventure . . . worth while.”

Thanks for asking, I don’t know either.

I’ve been meaning to write a health update since last September.  I sat down then to write that everything was still great (yay!) except that gosh, I was really very tired.  Just a cold, though, no worries.

Seven or so colds later (I lost count at six, but there was at least one more), I started to turn a corner around the new year.   I’m definitely better than I was in the fall, but every time I start to be happy with the new normal, the new normal decides maybe I’m getting a bit uppity about this “having energy” thing.

But things are better.  Late February I was at a parish event, enjoying myself and enjoying seeing all the good things happening at church, and I was thinking to myself, “Why haven’t I gotten more involved with this group sooner?”  And then I remember: Oh yeah, it’s only been a month that I could reliably have a conversation without getting a headache.  I really enjoy that change, by the way.

So I’m writing on a day when I’m flopping around miserably, utterly useless, mostly flat on my back.  But I’m hopeful that’s a one-off, and with a little rest I’ll be back to the new preferred-normal.  But we’ll see.  I really have no idea.