punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Reason Than Ever To Homeschool in California

With the passage of bill SB 48, the 'sexualization of textbooks' in California, the state has now supplied me with the final straw I needed to keep the children home for school.

But even without the bill, let’s just say the CA school system was already teetering in my good graces.

Even the headline that could summarize this post would read like something out of The Onion: “California Textbooks Sexualized: Bill Advocates Now Bewail that the State’s Students Still Can’t Read.”

And yet the tragedy is: it’s true - California students' literacy rates are notoriously low on a national level.

At a time when teachers have been ‘warned’ (you know, via a post-it placed in teachers’ lounges which cost the state $15,000 a piece) that their benefits may be ‘on the table,’ which is often one step away from being ‘on the chopping block’ in three years time, elementary school students starting in kindergarten will now learn about something called “sexual orientation.” This means they will have to be taught what sex is, then, right? When is the appropriate age for that? Usually that curriculum comes in 5th-6th grades, for 11-12 years olds who are developmentally ready for that information.

But now the state wishes to expose 6 year olds to whole gamut of sexual behavior. Try explaining ‘transgendered’ to a child who’s just figuring out what it means to be a boy or a girl which is complicated enough without trying to imagine what it is to be a boy who feels trapped in a girl’s body – and visa versa). Anyone with kids can tell you, you will end up doing more harm than good!

And the really creepy aspect of the bill, as if discussing these topics with children is not disturbing enough, is its mandate to discuss ‘non-traditional’ forms of sexual behavior in only a positive way. I ask you, when was the last time we mandated something be praised in schools? We don’t even make that consideration for our presidents - Grover Cleveland may be your favorite president, but I may have some issues with him and might want to discuss as much in U.S History class (please don’t email me on this, I don’t know the first thing about G.C).

All in the name of tolerance, of course. And don’t think the state doesn’t already spend tons of money on anti-bullying programs which address respect for all. But judging by the state’s track record with teaching students to read at grade level, perhaps we can surmise that the success of those respect ‘diversity’ programs probably peaked in success rates before they were even published.

So where do parents and teachers have to go from here? Homeschooling, or private cooperative school settings (which I’m starting to regard as the greatest thing since sliced bread) and these can even be based in a parish. It is at ours. Although, come to think of, it, it remains unclear how this bill may affect private schools, home schools and all of the rest.

And so, thank you, California, on behalf of myself and many who will now use this as an opportunity to do what you so obviously cannot do: to teach my children in a way that both respects their psychological development and which allows them to read and write whole paragraphs before they get to high school. Thank you because now I get to preserve their innocence from convoluted, politically driven notions about reality. I can now truly count on them learning that “up” means “up”, “down” means “down,” that “red” is “red,” “boy” means “boy” and “girl” means “girl.”

And “confused” means “confused” which is what you seem to be, California. One day, dear great state that once was, I hope you do start reverting back to things such as psychology and child development in order to write your curriculum. And I hope that true tolerance does start extending to all, even to parents like me who would have appreciated just the option of objecting to a bill targeting my children. Until then, those of us who respect proven science, who all seem to be of Faith now, will actually use and teach it!

Readers, here are facts and editorials about the bill that speak for themselves:

Read the SB 48 Bill with highlighted alterations here.

Read the LA Times editorial against politicians writing policy here.

Summary of main arguments here.

An excellent video where Dr. Miriam Grossman, child psychiatrist testifies to how the bill completely disregards child development here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NFP and the Bigger Picture

Whether you love it or not, everyone agrees that it takes sacrifice to abide by the principles of NFP.

But is that a bad thing?

“Temperatures, charts and abstinence…Oh my!” goes the caricature of a couple huddling together (or sleeping in separate rooms) through the forest of each month anxiously gathering information, waiting for the ‘right time’ to pursue conjugal relations all the while trying to resist the pull of nature (if abstaining for sufficiently serious reasons, of course) completely un-helped by our immediate-gratification centered culture.

And truth be told, it is tough at times to practice NFP. Wait…you mean following God’s will can be challenging? Since when? (tongue in cheek)

Mostly when people air their discontent with NFP it’s because of the periodic monthly abstinence when postponing pregnancy (which, again, should be the exception not the rule of marriage) or it's because of difficulty interpreting fertility signs, or it's the trudge work of the data collection aspect of the method. But considering the bigger picture can rescue us from dwelling on the dismay of “holding off” with our spouses and having to be rather scientific with our bodies and our record keeping each month.

Big picture reality check #1: consider the murky alternative.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because a third of my generation has been aborted, or because I grew up in a contraceptive-mentality, pornography-saturated culture, or perhaps watching several friends and family struggle with fertility and become diagnosed with cancer very young has swayed me, but I believe strongly that NFP is literally a God-send to humanity.

And it has nothing to do with being some sort of “special” person who has been granted a subdued or muted personality suited to NFP. I am not very demure at all and my husband and I are just like every other fertile couple out there who are not immune the effects of the other’s nearness. More revolting to us, however, (and I consider this an act of Grace) is the murky alternative. Cancer? A distorted conscience? Hell? No thanks...for me and my house, we’ll just abstain for awhile each month and then proceed to have completely natural relations. Again, I concur that abstinence is hard but not as hard a living the alternative…that all sounds really impossibly difficult.

Big picture reality check #2 God has a plan and it involves natural law.

Let me say from get-go, that complete openness to God’s plan for one’s family size, i.e. throwing out any notion of ‘planning’ (whatever that means) is absolutely awesome. I’ve learned that this is called “Providentialism” (the couples who just go-with-it, ‘Providentialists’) and Providence we are told in scripture, never fails. With this in mind, we can also make the link that, in the case of sufficiently serious reasons, God, in all His Providence has also given us the most effective method known to science (and endorsed by the Church) with which we can indeed manage how many kids we have: the symptom thermo method i.e, NFP. In other words, practitioners of NFP are Providentialists also.

But, there’s more than just household size management at stake, isn’t there? Souls and the ‘soul’ of society are on the line. God’s plan and the entire architecture of Natural Law requires adherence to higher principles which, if followed, bring us into contact with how God envisioned and continues to invite all humanity to live in regards to how we express covenantal love in marriage with our bodies.

To the engaged couples who come and listen to our NFP talk I emphasize that the hardest thing about NFP is that it requires an entire paradigm shift in how we view marriage, fertility and children. Gaudium et Spes teaches us that children are "really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents "(50). In other words we are called to reject the cultural ethos that treats pregnancy like a once or twice in a lifetime terminal diagnosis, and 'surprise' pregnancies as a failure of some sort.

Instead, the practice of NFP has the potential of helping couples to a.) cease regarding fertility as something to be feared, medicated or cured b.) view children, born or pre-born, as possessing inherent worth whether or not they are ‘wanted’ or ‘planned’ (they are always planned and wanted by God,) and c.) dismiss the notion that unlimited sexual access to your spouse is the measure of a healthy marriage. It's quality over quantity with NFP, but if you were wondering if NFPers have less sex than contracepting couples, the answer is no. NFP couples meet if not the exceed the national monthly coitus average, which is 8, if you were curious.

Not to mention that sexual satisfaction is more potent if we are not overly-saturated with it, even within marriage. It’s also immeasurably more fulfilling when you can anticipate the “green light” time with a spouse whose other attributes, such as their faith, character and dedication to family life, you’ve grown in awe and appreciation for. Images of classic courtship tales where knights woo a tower-bound maiden, who both must 'want, but not yet have,' remain timeless for a reason. We all wish to be desired, not just conquered.

Big picture reality check #3: NFP is effective.

It is very effective, in fact, when executed properly. The last part is the catch. To do something correctly takes practice and NFP is no exception to this. Like anything genuinely worthwhile or 'of God' this means: an exercise in patience, occasional frustration, “failure” (I dislike that word used in this context because it often means a child has been conceived) persistence, and spiritual growth. Ouch. And yet, thank God, I say! NFP therefore remains genuinely useful not only in postponing and achieving pregnancy: it’s effective in changing you – you are more sacrificial, you grow more trusting of Providence, you are more counter-cultural in your faith witness and able to do more crazy things, like, I don’t know, get rid of the NFP altogether. NFP’s whole aim seems to be to eventually eliminate the 'demand' or need for itself to which I say, Bravo!

NFP, which has a built in expectation of bodily and spiritual sacrifice, encourages creativity in love and selflessness which can only ever add to personal character formation. There is also no inherent contradiction present in NFP as there is with contraceptives– mom and dad aren’t saying “I accept you for all you are” publicly and then “I accept you for all you are except for your fertility” in private. Consistent self giving and total acceptance of your spouse in conjugal love inevitably extends into other areas of married life which leads to stronger marriages if not a recovery of what marriage truly is. That, I believe, is the big picture that we can all embrace and NFP, regarded realistically and in the context of today's need for stronger families, offers us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Indispensability of a Holy Parish

A holy parish is a powerful thing.  It can literally save your life.  At least that has been my experience.  How about yours?

I feel blessed to live near to one such parish, which has played a crucial role in the formation of faith throughout my life.

Our little family’s home base is unmistakably Our Lady of Peace Shrine here in Santa Clara which does not disappoint when it comes to having a plenitude of offerings for the spiritual well being of its people, especially ample opportunity to go to mass and confession. There the seeds of my faith were first planted (though I did not appreciate it at the time) and there, at that holy place, it continues to repose and grow.

What do I mean when I say that the place is 'holy?' It's a multifaceted answer, to be sure. I could and probably will dedicate several posts to Our Lady of Peace. Its activities, history and its most striking feature - a thirty two foot statue of the Virgin Mary, nicknamed the Awesome Madonna (and she is awesome!), who stands with outstretched arms perpetually awaiting her Silicon Valley children, all merit their own write up . However, the sum total of everything I could say about the where the primary holiness of parish resides would be this: in its dedication to orthodoxy and reverence for the Eucharistic Lord.

In both the cases of orthodoxy and Adoration lies God’s circular way of doing things. A dedication to orthodoxy, for example, leads inevitably (as evidenced by my parish) to standing-room-only crowds for mass and the sacraments, (as well as overflowing conferences, religious education enrollment, and monthly pilgrimages) which, in turn, leads to more dedication to orthodoxy. The same can be said for Eucharistic Adoration. Jesus may be exposed in the Eucharist in the first place but the demand to be in His presence (and I'm not sure this didn't come first) has only increased over time leading now to our Lord being perpetually exposed in the monstance. Good luck trying to lock the church doors at any time during the day or night at Our Lady of Peace because someone is always inside adoring!

Which brings us to another secondary measure of holiness: I believe that church doors remaining unlocked most of the time is a good indication of whether a parish is holy. This may sound like a trifle but, in fact, I’ve discovered it shapes an entire worldview. A brief anecdote will demonstrate what I mean:

I once invited two of my students to Our Lady of Peace to attend an evening talk. I will never forget the look on one of their mother’s faces when she turned up with her student at the Learning Center.

“Look at all of these people!” she exclaimed. “I could hardly find parking! Is some sort of event going on here right now?”

So accustomed to the commonplace sight of hoards of people at the Shrine, I hadn’t noticed. I looked around and realized she was correct.

“No,” I replied, “It’s always that way here. It’s the busiest parish in the diocese.”

Her jaw dropped and then she said, “But I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never heard of this place before!”

Then my jaw dropped, but for a different reason. Two realities collided in that moment. I knew this mom and her family as Sunday mass attendees and while she probably had never experienced a parish functioning regularly outside of mass times, holidays and special events, I had never met anyone who lived in the area who didn’t at least know about the area's only Marian Shrine (there are only two on the west coast). It was a bit of a culture shock moment, for the both of us, to be sure.  She didn't know that the Church could be so vibrant, I didn't know that you could miss it.

But what continues to be most striking about the incident is this: how two people, both mass-attending members of the same universal Catholic Church and diocese can have such polarized experiences of a parish. Again, I attribute this to holiness or lack-there-of: is one's parish a center of Catholic worship dedicated to orthodoxy and providing frequent access to the sacraments as well as education in the Faith? Or do the doors that lead to Jesus stay locked up most of the time?

Sadly, the parishes that have minimized the importance of Church teachings that are central to the formation and sanctification of the family (namely, life issues and sexual ethics) discover that, not before long, the number of cohesive families and children in the pews dwindles. And so where there is no demand, there is no longer a consistent "supply" of faith formation and sacramental practices.

In contrast, being a part of a parish where faith is life, you find something remarkable: families and individuals submerged in their faith at every hour of the day. This has been true for us: we don’t just go to mass, confession and conferences at Our Lady of Peace; truth be told, we live there and it is completely conducive to a family or an individual doing so.

And so, when I say that, without the Shrine, I simply don’t know what my family would do, please don’t read it as an assertion of some misconceived notion of my family’s personal holiness; if anything, it’s the sense of our unworthiness and need for the divine assistance that we utterly thrust ourselves with complete dependence upon our parish to supply the richness that life, centered on God, should contain.  I personally credit the Shrine as being the root my family's domestic harmony. Our life of faith certainly would be lonelier and more isolated without OLOP, which can be deadly in today’s Christian-hostile environment. She is everything a parish should be, not perfect, but striving for perfection which is what we are supposed to be doing anyway.

Our Lady of Peace, with her dedicated priests and holy nuns, lay organizations, and homeschooling group (we’re just starting to investigate that one) is an essential part of our existence; it is a second home to us and to many.  And I am confident that literally thousands would join me in declaring that short of the actual gift of faith itself, I consider Our Lady of Peace as the among the greatest gift that God could ever have given to me and to my family.

It goes to show that when God provides He does so in abundance! I submit that a holy parish is indispensible for both the life of my family and to that of the domestic Church as a whole. Starting with complete adherence to the teachings of the Church and reverence for our Lord, the droves of people who attend Sunday mass at OLOP continues to exceed both the capacity of her two naves and her two parking lots. There, in that standing-room-only-if you-are-lucky atmosphere one finally gets a picture of what a fully alive Church looks like.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ten Things You Can Always Anticipate On Vacations With Kids

We love our children. We love vacationing with them. Having stated thus, there are some things that inevitably occur or cross one’s mind when courageously traveling with young ones (we have a three year old and a one year old, so far).

Read on and let me know of any universal occurrences you’ve experienced in your travels with kids!

1. One shoe/sock (item that comes in a pair) will always get lost.
2. I don’t care what toys you brought or bought for each one, they will always want what the other has.
3. What one wants to eat, the other(s) will want to eat.
4. Where one wants to stand, the other(s) will want to stand.
5. Little digestive tracks inconsiderately misbehave (the poor things)!
6. Delirious tiredness leads to giggle-attacks right before bed and/or during other supposed-to-be-quiet moments.
7. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, count on something coming up at the last moment impeding your family's punctual arrival.
8. There will be at least one moment of weakness where you will wonder whether all of the hard work and hassle are worth it…or several such moments.
9. You will contemplate petitioning to make foot stools for sinks a mandatory component of every public bathroom; the same for baby diaper stations.
10. You will always wish for coin-operated laundry services, at the very least, wherever you go!

Decrease of personal fundage for the sake of exposing the kids to new places - check!
Increase of appreciation for biblical caravan travel where a whole community was there to help you out - check!
Deeper affinity with the Holy Family and what they must have gone through on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem - you bet! (Of course, I'm taking it for granted here that Jesus must have been a good kid to travel with - what other kind would run to the Temple of Jerusalem when lost?)