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

Friday, December 23, 2011

This Christmas, Why Not Stay Home?

I’m one who loves the holidays.

I’m also one who despises what they do to people, myself included.  For example, I find myself often becoming frustrated from the sudden scarcity of available parking spots anywhere and everywhere - and, judging by the lack of civility displayed in parking lots, it's clear that others feel the same way I do.   Also, the fact that I can’t seem to get anywhere on the road in any decent amount of time only adds to my already heightened sense of irritability and I sometimes find myself wishing things for my fellow drivers that have nothing to do with glad tidings or cheer. All of this combined with the downright frightening displays of self-entitlement by people and children (including my own little darlings, at times) is enough to make me want Christmas to disappear as quickly as the this year’s number one selling toy. Bah humbug!
The face that says it all.  Maybe he's upset that he
didn't even make the top ten sellers this year.

But really, I do like Christmas.

I know many of us travel during Christmas, and, for some, the inevitable visit to a local relative’s home is always looming.   Not to mention, that at some point, we have to do the grocery shopping and, being good Catholics, attend Christmas mass.

But outside of these necessary holiday rakings-across-the-hot-coals endeavors (except for Mass), this Christmas I’ve decided that what I want to do the most, what will ‘feed’ me and my family the most spiritually, and what will contribute the most to my family’s harmony away from the ‘gimme more' madding crowd is this: I’m going to stay home.  That is, I’m going to make it a point to stay indoors more than going out to buy more stuff.  I’ve already been practicing.

I did make one exception the other night when I went out to Adoration.  After the kids went to sleep, and the grace-inhibiting traffic on the road had abated, I took myself to see Jesus because, you know, He is the ‘reason for the…<gag>slurp<cough>,' Phew.  Caught myself before that cliché got out.

Where was I?  Oh, yes. There I was at Church, before Jesus, when I realized something I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit: there, in our Lord’s presence, I was still at home.  It’s not an elitist thing to say at all. 

I know we usually get all warm and fuzzy inside when we see nativity scenes, and understandably so: Christ was born.  But let’s not forget what that took.

What’s cool is that, despite things being, how shall we put it, less than ideal for the Holy Family during the the time of Our Lady's delivery, Jesus came anyway. And so to say our ‘home' is in Jesus’s presence is not to say that things are perfect or even nice, it’s to say Christ comes anyway.  And that’s ideal for any sinner.  He comes when we’re tired, down, disillusioned with humanity and cynical about everything.   Good thing too, or else we’d never get to open presents. 

Only kidding.   Sorry about that - I too am a victim of the din and dim of this time of year.  What? Is that Gentleman Jack in my eggnog?  Why yes, yes it is.

This Christmas, I highly recommend staying home and/or spending sometime adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Even travelers can do the latter.  Either way, it's still 'home'.  It’s the same Christ that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in a manger, after all, only not as cute and wiggly.  And if you’re like me, the 'inserting yourself into the Christmas story' tactic just ends up with you being the donkey anyway, and so it’s nice to be with our Lord in the here and now, as I am presently, rather than imagining what my stink would’ve stunk like back then.


If you’ve already made plans to visit someone’s house, or go to a party, cancel them.  The exception to this is Christmas dinner at your grandparent's house where roast beef and yorkshire pudding abound.  Just saying. If you can’t do it this year, do it next year or some other year.  But do it sometime, and prepare to be surprised about how the Holy Spirit comes to invigorate your home in unexpected and beautiful ways.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Quote From Peter Hitchens, Brother of the Late Christopher Hitchens

I can't remember where I got this quote but it has been on a "sticky" on my laptop's desktop for over a year.  It's from the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, Peter Hitchens:

An English Boomer on the Boomer Generation:
We were differentiating ourselves from our parents--the denizens of a worn-down, seemingly defeated post-war generation, a crumbling empire, burdened with ancient and unexamined premises, weighed down by old songs and bored with ancient psalms, eager to cast off the dreary dross we associated with the glum burdens of adulthood. By rejecting our parents' half-hearted beliefs, and refusing ourselves to be parents, we were staving off in our own minds the march of time, the fact of aging, the grim biological fact of our own mortality. By remaining forever rebellious adolescents, we imagined that we need never grow old and die. Having children in itself is in some sense an admission that we must replace ourselves--because we were replaceable. And that is something our narcissistic generation could not admit. And so we didn't. Peter Hitchens  The Rage Against God.

It's amazing who different two brothers can be, isn't it?  Even scripture holds profound examples of brothers who are complete opposites.  Eternal rest grant unto him, oh Lord.  Let the perpetual light shiny upon him.  May he rest in peace. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Girl with the ‘Interior’ Tattoo

The upcoming release of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has sparked some discussion about the morality of tattooing, and Msgr. Charles Pope’s excellent post on the topic makes it nearly indisputable that permanently altering our appearance for decorative purposes is not what God intended for our bodies.

Getting tattooed is not a sin, per se, but, as Msgr. points out, the book of Leviticus speaks against it, and, given that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the act of using them as a canvas upon which to inscribe worldly designs is, shall we say, somewhat of a desecration of them.  The same can be said for excessive, bizarre piercings.   And, did I fail to mention that both require the puncturing and repetitive wounding of the skin? Msgr. Pope, you had me at “infection.”

The purpose of tattoos, as we all know, is to depict something of personal significance outwardly.  The media glamorizes such self-expression through TV shows and movies that practically mythologize tattoo parlors, tattoo artists and the people who get ‘tatted.’ In The Girl with A Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker extraordinaire ‘set apart’ in so many ways, one of which is having a dragon tattooed on her back.  “She’s different,” we hear one character remark in the preview as she struts across the screen with bleached eyebrows and a black mohawk. And so, naturally, big companies trust her with their background investigations.

Why look anywhere else for quality employee assurance?
What Hollywood would like us to think is that we are somehow more “ourselves” with an external sign, which is the opposite of what Christianity teaches.  We believe that we are not what we adorn ourselves with whether it’s body art, material goods, or even other people.  At our innermost core, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and while no tattoo can ever take away from that, neither can it, no matter how religious it is, ever fully express it either.  

Of course, Christians who evangelize by getting ‘inked’ are just responding, in a very human way, to the supernatural desire to love and honor God.  Still, I would argue, they haven’t gone far enough.  How about this:

Instead of sitting in a tattoo parlor undergoing the pain of rapid pin pricks, why not obey God’s law and feel the ‘sting’ of dying to yourself as you place God’s will above your own.  Now try doing that all of the time, especially when it’s hard, and then your might get a taste of what the path to sainthood really entails.

Want the face of Jesus, or Our Lady on your body?  Instead of doing that, why not get to know them by reading Scripture, or by reading the writings of the saints in order to let the Holy Spirit more deeply forge the image of Christ within you?

Want to entrust yourself to the artistic talents of someone else?  Why not spend time before the Blessed Sacrament with the confidence that God can make your life a masterpiece of His grace if you let Him?

Want a piercing?  Be like Our Lady: allow your heart to be pierced.  Say "yes" to God, in other words, and experience what having love for Him and others truly means.

Instead of an external mark or tattoo, why not be the gal, or guy or with the ‘interior’ tattoo? The kind that can’t be removed by lasers because its been inscribed by God on our souls through frequent reception of the sacraments and perseverance in faith through the trials, failings, redemptions, risks, rejections, sacrifices and daily penances of Christian life.  The kind where if someone were to peer inside our hearts, there they would see a rendition of Christ crucified, or Our Lady or another Mother Theresa or Padre Pio.  Ink not required.

What role Salander’s ‘tat’ actually plays in a movie that is a collection of every brand of sexual sadism out there is difficult to discern (it’s the self proclaimed ‘feel bad’ movie of the Christmas season).  But Lisbeth Salander, in a way, is basically what Catholics are supposed to be but in a perverse rendition: ‘different,’ and a dragon tattoo supposedly proves it. 

As we get closer to Christmas, it may to helpful to reflect on how Christ’s coming has permanently altered us, has made us ‘different’ from the culture all around us...on the inside, that is.  As the Christmas song goes, "Then He appeared and the soul felt its worth." 

From Isaiah, we learn that God, remembering his people has "inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Is 49:16 NASB) and later, Christ would bear actual wounds on His hands for our sake. Now those are a physical markings that bring us closer to our true identity than any tattoo ever could.

Monday, December 12, 2011

One of OLOP's Own Goes Home

Though he had "SJ" (society of Jesus) scrolled after his name, Reverend Raymond Devlin was a regular fixture, and I would say, belonged to Our Lady of Peace Church, where he often assisted, especially with confessions.

It was in confession where, before giving you absolution, he asked you one simple question, "Are you sorry for your sins?"

It's a good question.  One we should think about often.  Are we sorry?  I can still hear his voice in my head.

He was a fine priest, a good man and quite the character.   His brother Joe Devlin was also Fr. Joe S.J.   They are now buried in the same grave together in the Jesuit plot of Santa Clara's Mission cemetery.

 In his life he personified the passage, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grains, but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (Jn 12:24)Who knows how many people he ministered to and affected in his life - most likely tens of thousands.

An aura of holiness always surrounded him.

He went home to be with our Lord and his family in Heaven and lived from Oct 7, 1924 until December 6, 2011.  May he rest in peace.

Read his full obituary here.

Read or contribute to his online guestbook here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

To Veil or not To Veil? That is the Question

I’ve met some wonderfully devout Catholic families who wear veils during mass.

I’ve also met some wonderfully devout Catholic families who don’t.  Mine doesn’t, but I swear, there's an inexplicable draw about those veils.

I used to think that chapel veils were a sign for some sort of spiritual elitism.  But, in a way, I was just being a ‘un-covered head’ elitist adamant that I didn’t need a veil to be all holy-like.  And of course, you don’t need a veil to be holy and those who wear them already know that.

Some families opt to wear chapel veils because that is how mom and dad grew up and they're just passing the tradition on to their kids.   Others choose to 'veil' simply as a sign of reverence for our Lord and I have a deep respect for anyone who wishes to show, in their dress, that the mass is like no other hour in their schedule.  

And secretly, I think I’ve always found the lacy veils to be pretty and attractive.  It's not such a big secret, actually, considering I wore one for my wedding. See:

Many moons and pounds ago...
But, then again, it could just be my inner Spanish flamenco dancer wanting to leap out in passionate, mantilla clad form. 

Deep down, I realize that, if I don’t keep the Spanish dancing doña at bay, I’d probably show up to church looking something like this: (strumming of guitar sound)

Hm. Alright, maybe not quite that flamboyant.  Probably something a bit more muted, such as this:(dramatic angelic choir music)

Oh, yes, I would.  Six inch comb and all.

The important thing to understand about veils is that, whether you decide to veil or not to veil, either way, you aren’t doing anything wrong.  No matter what some might claim, the requirement for chapel veils was already in decline when the mass rubrics of the 1962 Missal did not mention them. Similarly, and more recently, the 1983 Code for Canon Law is silent about the subject.  So, no, you are not obliged wear one, but at the same time, it’s equally fine to wear one. 

We need to avoid the temptation (maybe you haven't been tempted this way but I have) to believe that some invisible veiled/veil-less rivalry exists somewhere six feet above the temporal plane. Although, that would be an, er, interesting ‘battle’ to witness (The Veils unleashing a hail storm of lacy netting and the Bald Caps deflecting with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), the truth is that the efficacious grace of the Eucharist is available to all properly disposed Catholics regardless of headdress.  

The important thing, of course, is what’s in your heart … unless what's in your heart happens to be a flailing Spanish flamenco dancer.  Whatever you do, don’t let her out.  Appease her with chocolate and Gyspy Kings music, but do not, I repeat, do not let her flamenco in church.  That might have been okay in the old translation (no it wasn’t) but the new translation, not so much.

And speaking of Gypsy Kings, who knew these guys made music videos and that they have over three million views?  Take look, if you can bear it:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The New Translation...And Screaming Children

Here's what the new translation really looks like, at least, from the perspective of one family.

On Sunday the diaper bag was packed, the goldfish cracker supply was stocked, we ascended to the Feast of the Lamb in our truck arriving with our purchased new translation cue cards just in time to hear the pastor remind everyone about the changes.  And then came the "fun".

The priest's announcement must have flown over the heads of about sixty percent of the congregation who all responded from memory of the old translation throughout the mass.  Another twenty percent just seemed confused and stayed silent.  The remaining congregants stood at the ready, a plethora of cue cards in hand.

Is she upset over the new translation?  Nope she's just your typical bebe
at a newly translated mass having a 'lost in translation' moment.

As mass started, my son began driving his toy car over his seat and sailing it into the kid behind us.

So my initial "And with your spirit," went something like, "And with your...no, dada, no!"

Then my daughter wanted fishy crackers. Then water.  Then more fishy crackers.  Then to be picked up.  So I confessed, "through my own fault, through my own fault, through my most grievous fault" in between responding to her requests.

We then attempted to pay attention to the readings as my son 'played' by hitting our faces and then giving us kisses a second later.  By the end of the homily, my husband had to take the little guy outside, leaving his fancy cue card in his seat.  As I glanced in the direction of my husband's empty seat, I realized that, new translation or not, some things never change, one of which is the screaming children.

As I've previously written, I'm quite excited for the new translation, having only been exposed to the old one the whole of my life.  I'm excited that I will be doing some of the things my parents and grandparents did, and that my children will do the same.

In all the happy anticipation of the changes I was slightly surprised to read so much criticism about them online.  Or was I?  Objectors to the new translation seem to have forgotten this: we attend mass because we want to be filled with God, not with ourselves.  It's the ol' letting Him increase and me decrease maneuver, which sometimes means that the Church occasionally revises her language in order to faithfully convey Christ's original message.  Allowing His actual wording, or the wording in our Latinate tradition to shine through, seems all well and good to me. Accuracy, in anything, is kind of important, right?  I suppose I simply don't understand how a more accurate translation of the mass can be a bad thing.

For anyone who holds this line of thinking, listening to the static of those who feel some sort of identity-loss as Catholics, or that Vatican II has somehow been cast aside (which shows a complete ignorance of the documents of the council), in the promulgation of the new, more accurate, translation, is all a bit silly.

Having said that, I've yet to actually hear the changes on the clerical side.  Again, this is because the screaming children at mass have are in need of being "newly translated" so that they convey their messages more accurately, reverently, and at a lower decibel.

Parents, all people who try to humble themselves daily, are used to having to learn new ways of letting God penetrate their lives in between scooping up cranky children and fallen fishy crackers from the floor. New translation of the mass?  Neat, let's see what happens.  Is the world ending, as some would charge?  No.  Will the fishy crackers continue to be packed?  Definitely.  Will kids still be crabby?  Of course.  But I'd rather listen to mine than to certain other screaming children of God, who, well, you know.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

With gratitude for all our blessings (even the laundry), pax to you and yours!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Piety of Little Ones

Teaching children about the Faith can be filled with beautiful moments.

Having said this, it can also be funny.  Holiness, or reverence thereof, distilled through the toddler and child genius is entirely comedic in the purest sense: kids have no idea they're being funny because they're genuinely trying to be holy...with laugh out loud results (and I'm convinced it's just the kind of laugh you need as a parent to remember to be lighthearted in your own Faith).

What I'm calling the 'hilarious piety' of little ones can take many unexpected forms.  Here are a few examples from my home.

“T’ank you Bwessed Muddah, fo’ the pawking spot.”
Alright, guilty as charged: I pray for empty spots when I’m parking.  I suppose, to my own credit, that I must also consistently express my gratitude to “Bwessed Muddah” when they come.

My daughter has picked up on this and now routinely thanks Our Lady whenever we come upon an available space.   “T’ank you bwessed Muddah, fo’ the pawking spot,” her little voice spouts from the back seat.  It's cute, especially since she still can't say her "r's" correctly.

What can I say? The toddler realizes that prayer pays off (ahem, especially when it gets her closer to the mall ice cream) and that's a stronger conviction than many people have.  Of course we'll introduce her to the eternal, non-temporal fruits of prayer soon enough, but I'm not giving up praying for those parking spots anytime soon either.

Whacking the top of head, or, the sign of the cross
Who knew that teaching your kids how to do the sign of the cross could be such an “adventure?”  The three year old, because she mirrors us, makes her sign of the cross like the Orthodox (head, heart, right shoulder, then left shoulder).  When the 20 month old starts his prayers he just whacks the top of his head instead.  To our loving-parent-zombie eyes it’s funny every time.  But it gets really exasperating hilarious when you insert the holy water at church into the equation. 

We can't really get past the threshold of the vestibule before the little guy is already diving off of whoever is holding him to stick his whole hand in the holy water.  And then he smacks the top of his head. He’s probably just doing what he thinks is always done around water.  He’s been taking notes during bath time, at the beach and around the pool.  'Water' equals throw yourself into it and get as much of it on you as possible.  So every time we go to mass he emerges looking newly baptized.  On one hand he's a toddling metaphor for Christian re-birth; on the other, a baby who's always in need of a shirt change depending on how much he's literally 'splashed out' in his use of the sacramental.
Their favorite phrases…set to the tunes of church hymns
This is a new level of piety that I’d never encountered before I had kids.  I know I certainly was never this creative. Basically, the girl cutely imposes her own lyrics upon parts of the mass.  Favorite words, phrases or names become set to the tune of hymns.

For example, heard at Church:
            “Chwist has dieed, Chwist is wisen, Chwist weww come again!”

Okay, now try it with,
 “ I want caaaaake, I want caaaaaake; Ma-ma, I want caaaaaake,”
Heard at home, thank goodness.

Or how about this version of the Alleluia:
You know the one, right?

Now with their cousin's nickname, which is Naynay (short for Naomi), set to it, same intonations and everything:

I guess I should just be grateful that she remembers how to sing the parts of the mass (and I am)!

Don’t get me wrong, we really are trying to raise our kids to be reverent Catholics!    We didn’t aim to achieve any sort of comedic piety, but instead, it just kind of happened and continues to happen on its own.  What about you?  Do you have any examples of the religious fervor of your little that emerge in comedic ways?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homeschooling: What I Wish I Had Known

During my time both attending and teaching at Catholic schools, I was always a bit skeptical about homeschooling.  For my credential I had jumped through countless hoops and taken a zillion tests for the sake of proving that I was a competent instructor. It was therefore odd to think that a community existed out there, and literally 'out there' from my perspective, who had to audacity to teach their children without any of my same rigorous training.

At least, that’s how I remember thinking about it.  And I wasn’t alone.  My instructors, colleagues and peers all felt the same way; how could any of our coursework (which was expensive) and 'necessary' training ever be dispensed with? Without it, how could anyone even hope to know how to structure a lesson? Didn’t every subject need a daily objective, anticipatory sets and state standards? Shouldn’t instruction always be differentiated and take English language learners into account?  Shouldn’t a chart of Bloom’s taxonomy be hanging somewhere to make students be truly successful?

What made things really weird for me was the realization that those kids, the ones who learned from their parents, actually thrive when learning at home. Thrive, as in, learn stuff, the same stuff I taught my students. In fact, homeschoolers do better than the national average on standardized tests, and attend college at the same rate as their schooled counterparts. My personal interaction with home educated kids can confirm at least the spirit of these statistics; many have an intimidating base of knowledge to rival any mainstream student.  It’s been a bit sobering, actually, to realize that your friend’s nine year old, who is just starting to swim, also reads Tolkein over breakfast.   Or that someone else’s daughters, barely able to write their letters, can read and perfectly sing a piece of music Acapella.  In other words, homeschooled kids not only fair well academically, but, instead of being recluses, are exposed to things that I only wished I could have taught my students in the fifty-minute slots I was given to make their edu-ma-cation happen.

In a way it’s no surprise.  In Teacher Training Land, you’re taught that the best way to make your students learn anything is to teach them one-on-one. The irony is that this type of interaction with students is almost impossible in the actual classroom (which is why the tutoring industry remains permanently robust).  This means that the best way to educate kids is a method that logistically, a teacher can’t offer them in the classroom. To do that you’d have to do something crazy… like homeschool, for instance.

I completely acknowledge that many children do well in school.  I was one such child. Unfortunately, there is still a widespread misconception that homeschooling is too elementary (in the Sherlock Holmes sense) and cripples children socially.  What these well-meaning folks don't realize is that, these days, homeschooling is in its 6.0 version with families that have networked and built a system based on the talents, ideas and contributions of all involved.  When I taught, I can’t tell you how many times we solicited (read: begged) for parent involvement. Everything we did was always geared toward ‘building community.’  With homeschooling, the families are the community, and everything they 'have' they put in or created themselves.  There's a deep sense of ownership amongst these families that I have not witnessed anywhere else, where parents are dedicated to making their kids' and their own experience as meaningful as possible.  They don’t just pay tuition and expect to get their money’s worth (or pay taxes and expect a ‘service’) as is frequently and sadly the case in a school.

When I taught, I witnessed many a very good, involved parent, who truly wanted to make their children's school experience as bright and memorable as possible.  I wish I had known then what I know now about homeschooling, because part of me wonders if those valiant parents would have seen their efforts flourish even more in a different setting. Much classroom pedagogy, at its heart, is common sense.  It’s as easy as, “What shall we learn today?” but also as challenging as “What shall we learn today?”  Of course, there are terrific homeschooling curricula out there too.

Let's not forget faith.  Fostering faith in children, even from the view point of a Catholic School, is still considered the domain of their parents, as it should be.  From my experience, Catholic parents who possess a strong conviction for homeschooling, also tend to hold strong convictions for their Faith.  It is frequently the case that these parents achieve an enviable degree of success in passing on their values to their kids, perhaps because they did so uninhibited by the obstacles that arise in school (such as peer pressure and an agenda-driven curriculum).  Which isn't to say that a child is guaranteed to stay Catholic if home schooled and many schooled children do stay close to their faith.

For me, homeschooling has come as a pleasant surprise by not being as I first expected it to be.  It does require a paradigm shift that many people are not used to or even comfortable with, but I suspect that that is because we all grow up in a country with an education system which promises to do something many parents don't feel capable of themselves.  For the record, no homeschooling parent feels particularly 'capable.'  But the truth is, no matter what, all parents alike are always the primary educators of their kids, whether they send them to school or not.  Homeschooling offers families the chance to experience learning in a primordial way and gives an unrivaled witness to the sacred continuity that can, and always has existed between a family's domestic life, learning, and Faith.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I'm Psyched for the New Roman Missal Translation

The excitement for the New Translation of the Roman Missal, due to be implemented this Advent, finally hit me the other night after my initial stage of typical cradle Catholic indifference (“Oh, the Roman Missal is changing.  Neat.  What’s for lunch, again?).

I admit that experiencing any profound enthusiasm in anticipation of the changes has been slow going for me. But then, my curiosity became a bit more peaked when blue pieces of cardstock with chant appeared in the pews at church.  And then my mom surprised me the other night when she handed me a chart thing with the changes that pertain to the assembly* (it was a guide published by Ascension Press).  Anyway, the nerdy Catholic girl that lives inside my tired mom body instantly began scouring the bolded additions in the “new text” column and comparing them meticulously to the soon-to-be-defunct text. 

But it wasn’t until my mom said, almost in passing, “Oh yeah, I grew up doing that,” at the part where we are now supposed strike our breast three times and say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault;” that I realized: hey, this is… awesome!  You mean I get to do what my parents and grandparents have always told me they did at mass? Wow…We’re actually going to do it together now? Whoa. And, bonus: my kids will grow up doing the same as their parents (which is not something, that, until now my parents have been able to say).

In other words, we will now have commonality of experience in the liturgy, particularly with the breast striking but also with the new response “And with your spirit” (Identical to the original: Et cum spiritu tuo).  This phrase emphasizes the fact that Holy Spirit (remember Him?) works through the priest, just as He did with Christ.


Oh yes, and there are some other things that have me psyched.  The word “consubstantial”: love it! And it makes a whole lot more sense: Jesus is one and the same substance as the Father, plus it massages my conviction that everyone should know a bit of Latin.  A longer Gloria - sweet.  A shorter Nicene - thank you.  Oooh, and we get to say “holy” Church again.  Whoa, holiness.  How long we have missed you.

*the link will take you to the USCCB's site, to a convenient chart with the changes for the assembly.  There you can also download a PDF (it's only one page) or open it in iBooks if you have an iPhone.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy Your Parish Church!

In this time of economic and moral downturn (read: suicide leap) I choose to occupy my parish church grounds as often as I can. Here’s why.

While our friendly mainstream occupiers are shutting down business districts, threatening law enforcement and turning public streets into a politically charged “Woodstock,” the Church is holding its own concurrent version of social rebellion, where the faithful can revel in holy hippie-ness (is that a word?), or hippie holiness, or whatever can be equated with casting off the world in pursuit of personal sanctity.  We're going 'back to basics,' back to the things that matter the most: faith, family, friendship, and yes, fun!  
Miniature Catholic occupiers (going incognito, dressed as saints) at our Shrine.
One of them is the Auxilary Bishop, though, so we're okay.
For example, our parish homeschooling group just held their annual All Saints Day celebration where the kids dressed up as saints and paraded around for the community.  Families came together to basically run an event that simply offered a couple of hours of God-centered fun. 

So what does this have to do with today’s “Damn the Man!” climate?  Everything! 

Although it's difficult to tell, Wall Street's protestors are really looking for what we all are looking for in a time of crisis: hope.   Everyone needs hope.  But they’re looking in the wrong place (which isn't to say we shouldn't protest injustice, but I'm more than a bit skeptical of their strategy).   Catholics on the savvy, on the other hand, know where they can go to find hope and protest "the Man": their own Church. 

That's right, we’ve got hope; the Catholic Church has it.  Real hope. And looking around at my fellow parishioners during our All Saint's celebration, at a community assembled with their children looking like an amalgamation of saints and hobbits proved that to me.  Pick any deficiency in society, and we Catholics have “got an app(licable) Catholic response” for that.  For instance:

Fatherlessness.  The number of men taking on the responsibility of dad-hood, at large, has severely dwindled.  We’ve got fathers! I saw lots of them during our parish All Saints festivities, holding their babies, snapping photos, helping their wives and building community alongside one other.  Imagine: a network of supportive dads all endeavoring to educate their children, work for their families, and deepen in their faith in the process.  Real men.  Real fathers who are also teaching their sons to do the same.

And we’ve also got Fathers with a capital “F.”  Priests who love us.  I mean, really love us.  They're not only shepherds for our souls, but they also want to be a part of our lives.  You should have seen how they all lit up like cassock donning Christmas trees at the sight of the kids dressed up as nuns and friars!  They love us and we love them and they are Fathers to us all.  And who knows how many of our sons will grow up to be like those good men?

In society, the nuclear family is broken.  We’ve got families!  Lots of families.  Big, intact  (they always seem to go together, don’t they?) families whose kids may not always wear the trendiest clothes but they're too busy enjoying life to notice that they may lack some of those oh-so-important material ‘things’ that are supposed to make us happy but never do.

Marriage. The no-longer greater institution of marriage is in tatters and several groups are poised to ‘redefine' it. Hm. Remember when marriage meant a husband and a wife, a mom and a dad, who were committed to each other for life?  We’ve got that!  I saw that at our carnival too! I know what you're thinking: mom-and-dad-marriage is like soooo ten years ago, and before then, like soooo only the bedrock of every society that ever existed. Er...so, yeah, we've still got that; we’ve got people persevering in their vocations to holy matrimony, granted, the latest statistics on sacramental marriage don't look so good.  

One of the organizers of the All Saints event took
 this lovely photo of me and mine.  That's the girl
dressed up as St. Rita (sewing credit: the grandma
and her godmother ) and the boy, who's busy
fiddling with his tummy button.
Society objectifies women. The Church reverences womanhood. See that huge statue of a woman in the picture at the beginning of this post? That’s Our Lady, Jesus’s mama, our mama too, the woman we honor above all others; our example of faith, trust and courage.  The Church recognizes womanhood's distinct beauty; our bodies are not to be used, our fertility is not to be feared, our gifts as women are not to be hidden.  Looking around at the good women, some of whom I know personally, for me and for them, it’s not: I’m a stay-at-home mom because I’m a woman.  It’s: I’m a gifted, well educated, and truly liberated woman called to give myself creatively, selflessly and utterly as I work for my family at home.  (Not to discount the stay-at-home dads, of course, you guys rock!)

Society: lotsandlotsandlotsa temptation to pull you away from sainthood. The Church: well, hey, look, we’re trying!  And sometimes we dress up our children up as saints to bring the idea of sainthood within reach (if only you had seen them that morning…we parents probably achieved some degree of sanctity just getting them ready for the parade).

In short, I choose to occupy my parish church because that’s where true hope lies.  I have the best occupation strategy in this world: one that looks beyond this world to the next, one that doesn’t bring fruitless mayhem, but manifests the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are love, joy, peace, perseverance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Fruits that endure forever, no matter how unjust society becomes. Hope, in other words, that we can all really believe in.

Here's a link to an absolutely awesome article by Scott P. Richert, with a similar title to mine, written in response to a blog post on America, The Catholic Weekly's site.  His is a slightly different angle, more scholarly, less costumes, but ultimately the same gist: Catholics, occupy your Church! Read it here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why Are We Surprised at the Obama Administration's Actions?

Here’s my two cents on the current war between the Obama Administration and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops.

When I first read that the Obama's U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Migration and Refugee Services decided not to grant money to the USCCB’s Office of Migration and Human Services, because the Bishops were faithfully adhering to the tenets of their faith and not referring victims of human trafficking for abortion and contraception, I was angry.  Objectively speaking, most of those victims are women and children and contraception and abortion harms and perpetuates crimes against women, not to mention, kills children.  In true justice the bishops cannot refer women to these ‘services’ anymore than they can forgo or deny the reality about their consequences altogether.

Now, before I continue, let me say that I am not a ‘blame the bishops for everything that’s wrong with the world’ kind of Catholic.  I am, however, a ‘blame the cradle Catholics for the state of the world’ sort of cradle Catholic (I am one myself) and many bishops definitely fall under that umbrella.  If you think I’m being unfair, please know that B16, would agree with me.  And so I am about to make a very broad stroke about who’s to be faulted for this current calamity, and I, myself, am included.

As infuriating as the decision to award the grant to another organization, the white elephant in the room at the USCCB headquarters is this: most Catholics voted for Obama and they did so without being deterred by a unified, vocal hierarchy.  I personally know how many, many, many were told from the pulpit and at their universities that he was their only moral option because of how he was going to care for the poor, environment, education etc., in short, that he was the only truly ‘social justice’ minded candidate.

It was therefore easy for many a well meaning Catholic, cradle especially, to ignore the greater concerns of social justice raised by the magisterium: the ones that hold moral and life issues as tantamount to all others. As such, Catholics then voted for the best version of “hope” that society can offer: one that requires the dismissal of the moral tenets of their faith.

And if Catholics are willing to do that, what can they expect others to do in turn?  That’s right, disregard and not hold any reverence for their Faith, no matter the good it does (e.g. aid victims of human trafficking).

What goes around…

At best the current administration is only acting exactly as loyal to our Faith as we ourselves have been. At worst, he is launching an all out assault and discrimination of Catholic conscience.

The USCCB is to be commended for calling out such a blatant miscarriage of justice and we need to support them in every way if they seek legal action against an administration so fueled with animus against all things Catholic

But there is a great lesson here: make decisions or vote based on a blasé attitude for the Church’s moral teachings and reverence only what is socially acceptable, and you will reap what you sow. At some point it all comes around back to you – watered down regard for your beliefs to match your own watered down example.  Call it logic, call it Karma, but don’t call it shocking or unexpected. 

And hopefully as Max Lindenman pointed out, Catholics who voted for Obama, who now may be feeling the alienation the rest of us 'radical' lovers of life, Church and conscience have been experiencing may just reconsider which side of the fence actually has their's and everyone's best interests at heart (read: the one not willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable for the sake of a political agenda).

It’s time for Catholics to start voting aligned with the Church’s teachings and to blaze the way of true justice by practicing it themselves first.    

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Hazards of Grandma's House

In this post I am not going to talk about the traditional 'hazards' of visiting grandparents' houses (i.e. the kids becoming too spoiled, or unwanted interference in your parenting). Instead, the title refers to the bodily hazards posed by some, shall we say, cultural outdoor landscaping common in the West, especially amongst Latinos. 

You see, I’m Hispanic (don’t let the married surname fool you) and so I’m intimately acquainted with how Latin-American gardens and backyards require an assortment of threatening cacti and rocks that your family has “lifted” from the desert through the years (because we all routinely travel to the southwest, dontchaknow?).  These items feature in our gardens before any consideration is given for the potential of the harm they pose to small children - they are pretty, to be fair.  In this case, it’s decoration over function, unless function means occasionally running to the emergency room (make that the bathroom sink with some rubbing alcohol and some pliers) with your kid.

Also, our yards most likely include algae coated water features and statues of saints.  More on these in a moment.

I’d like to believe that these items are set up in our gardens with the intention of making Hispanic children wiser, stronger and perchance, more pious.  You see, a child acquires the savvy to avoid playing near a cactus plant in an instant.  What better teacher than a prong through your fingertip, or several covering your abdomen, to deter you forever? It's no fun, but, hey, it works!

Also, we learn the verbal code for when anything is dangerous.  For as long I can remember, if we children were in danger of touching something potentially hazardous, my parents would shriek in unison, “Pika-PIKA!” which is commonly used around cactus plants.  It refers to the sharp prick of a cactus' spines.  And so, growing up you know that you should not go near something because it's pika-pika. (If you try this on your kids, keep in mind that it’s mandatory to say ‘pika’ at least twice in quick succession).

Children may also become stronger physically, thanks to these items.  Skin, as we all know, becomes stronger after it has scabbed and scarred.  And let’s not forget the gift of a stronger immune system due to the algae in that germ infested birdbath.  After all, if it doesn’t kill you…

The presence of a saint's effigy may cause a child to make several acts of faith, especially when asking Our Lady or St. Francis of a Assisi to intercede as their soccer ball, yet again, has rolled into that magnet-for-your-toys bed of cacti.  

Alright, I’ve given you a taste of my childhood.  Am I wiser, stronger and more pious due to eventually being able to navigate my parents and grandparents’ backyards without calamity?  I’m not sure, but, as my mom likes to remind me: I survived my youth and am now ‘super’ Catholic.  How much of this I owe to our back garden, I just don’t know.

Fast-forward to my adulthood and having two kids under four years old.  The generation playing out back may have changed but the hazards haven’t. The hazards of grandma’s house, that is (dum dum dum).  

Don’t get me wrong, my kids and I love visiting Nana’s (my grandma or the kids' great-grandma's) and Yaya’s (grandma's or my mom's) houses.  It’s the only 'yard time' my kids get - otherwise we’re at public parks (we don't have a yard). However, unlike those parks, it is with great trepidation that I send them out to "play," read: give me a heart attack every two seconds.  And my reason for my being nervous should be obvious: which objects do you think my kids run for? Every. Single. Time.

You guessed it, the birdbath, the stones and the cactus lined perimeter of Nana’s pool, of course (it's just so fun to run on it really, really fast!).  It never fails that I’m the one beseeching the Our Lady and St. Francis statues, “Please, please don’t let my kids stick their hands in the yucky water, fall on the pika-pika cactus plants or bean each other with the stones!”

I guess my prayers were answered because, the other day, my eighteen month old son took to hurling a ball repeatedly into the microorganism laden bird-bath instead.  He enjoyed the splashing, and I didn’t mind so much about the water getting on his clothes.  What doesn’t kill him, after all…

Yaya’s house (my mom’s place) is a bit more child-friendly – no cactus, just a raised planting bed to bring the spiders up to waist-level for my kids.  Water feature? Check. Disclaimer: it’s not a birdbath, it’s a fountain, but birds bathe in it and it turns green sometimes, so whatever. Stones?  Yup. Lots of them. Virgin Mary statue? Of course!  Need you even ask?  We’re Mexican, after all, and it wouldn’t be a properly, Hispanic garden without one.

I haven’t even gotten started on the dogs and all the fun that goes along with them.  But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what could go wrong with those.

Far, far away, on the south coast of England, in my husband’s childhood backyard there’s a lawn, a tree and some hydrangeas, I think.  But wait, they're all strong, wise and pious people too!  So that blows my theory out of the water - the grimy, jello-textured birdbath water, that is.

Mom, grandma, if you both are reading this, first, I love you!  Second, I love most things about your yards - the fruit trees, the 'other' trees (whatever they are - they're nice), the annual salsa plants you both cultivate every year (tomatoes, jalepenos etc).  Oh, but why am I including a link to child friendly play structures here and here so close to Christmas?  I don't know, but let's just say I'd rather the kids be praying to Our Lady as they slid down a slide, rather than into an Ocatillo!

Monday, October 24, 2011

On Loving Those Who It Is Difficult To Like: A Reflection on Last Sunday's Gospel

This Sunday's Gospel gave us the two greatest commandments.  The first is to love God and the second, which is like it, is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In all honesty, I've never really understood atheism because, to me, loving God seems like a very easy thing to do (I realize that I'm speaking from the perspective of faith).  After all, God is love, all goodness comes from Him, all things work for the good for those who love Him; He is truth, is full of mercy, is a disciplinarian in the best sense, is out for our best interests, and has 'got our backs' with His wise providence.  Even from a solely intellectual perspective, to my mind it seems like such a facile leap from loving the concept of the Judeo-Christian God, to believing in Him, at least in the "having nothing to lose, now that I know who He is," sense.

But the loving of one's neighbor part? Um, yeah, sure I love my neighbor.  I mean, I don’t hate anyone, not even my ‘enemies’... I just assume they’re completely misguided and deficient in some intellectual capacity. Wait, you mean that isn’t love?

I think the second commandment is simultaneously much easier and harder than the first.

Loving one's neighbor is easier than loving God, for some. We can see this in how many of the faith-less are much more loving to others than some of the faith-ful.  The horizontal plane, after all, is the domain of the empirical, where you can 'measure' love by the evidence of human efforts, for example: selfless acts, kind words, as well as money or time we donate to a good cause. These can all be accomplished without inserting God, or the 'vertical' into the scheme.  However, dismissing the 'vertical' aspect of love, as atheists do for the exclusive emphasis on 'horizontal' plane of charity is not without its share of problems.  This is especially true when trying to arrive at the reasons for doing anything good to begin with.  The classic "What’s it all for?" or "Why bother doing any good at all, if there isn’t a heaven?" questions inevitably arise.  But the horizontal can lead to the vertical - how many times do we cast our gaze upward after witnessing a great act of charity on someone’s part?

Loving one's neighbor is also harder than loving God, because the people you’re supposed to love, in themselves, are often the furthest thing from God.  Even those we do genuinely love; we’re lucky if we also like them or want to spend any of our free time with them.

Of course I speak from experience on both sides of the track. I’ve struggled with loving others, and others, I am confident, have struggled with loving me.

I once heard someone say, and perhaps, you too have heard it said, “The person you love the least, that is the most you love Jesus Christ.”

Well, then I want to love everyone with all my being, right, because that is how I want to love the Lord!

Except, then I turn on my computer and realize that those people who make negative comments about my Catholic posts on Facebook are still around and it’s difficult to like them for that.

Then there are the people who ruin social situations because they cause everyone to cringe at every word that falls out of their mouths and it’s nearly impossible to feign any symptom of likeability around them.

Then there are the people who have no sense of ‘boundaries’ and feel at liberty to fling their weight and words at me like I’m a robot with no feelings who is not entitled to any reaction to them – not even a constructive one.

Then there are those that constantly disappoint me with their decisions.

Then there are the self-obsessed ones that are so me-oriented that I just want to roll my eyes at any mention of their ‘problems’ ("My convertible just got a dent and my lap-dog and I are ticked!" Boo. Hoo.).

Then there are the ones who make me uncomfortable because, historically, they’ve vocally declared their opposition to everything I hold sacred.

I’m sure that if I sat and thought about it some more I could add to my list of unlikeable people, but what would be the point?  Friend or enemy, like or dislike, the mandate is the same: love ‘em.  And so to the cyber bullying, socially inept, verbally abusive, and conceited let-downs of the world I go to show them the love of God! Wait, what?

“Lord, it’s just too hard,” I say often, and about many things.  This last Sunday it was about loving one’s neighbor.  “You’re the likable one, Lord!  You are the easy one!  They’re not!” But then, neither am I.

Sometimes I need reminding that I could place myself in any one of my own categories: cyber-bullying – not bullying, per se, however, I admit that I am guilty of leaving an angry comment around cyberspace at times.  Socially inept?  Sure, I  have my moments where I’m the bonehead asking a stupid question or saying odd things.  Verbally abusive? Well, yes, if I’m being very honest.  My husband can attest to this (we’re within the first five years of marriage and we work on forgiveness a lot right now).  Conceited? Yes, I’m tempted to consider myself 'above' others, or their superior at times (my kids temper this, bless their needy little souls).  A let down?  Now this one is humbling. Yes, I have let myself, those around me and God down at various times throughout my life.  And to be sure, I’m not done in that department either.

So what makes me get up in the morning and try again?  It’s simple, really simple.

I’m loved. By others, and by God out of His sheer goodness only.  Think about that for a minute.

So if an unlikeable character like myself is loved by such a good God who has all the reason He needs to smote me from the earth, shouldn’t I at least attempt to extend this to others? And truthfully speaking, the times when I most needed someone to show they cared for me, I was probably at my worst, most unlikeable, humanly speaking.  What a great mercy and severe reality-check it is to be truly loved.

So, I again I go to extend that olive branch to those who may cost me the most in terms of comfort and force upon me the pain of rejection or being bullied.  But as cost goes, it’s the kind of cost where I have everything to gain, and nothing to lose by ‘paying the love of God forward.’ Yes, it's hurts, but I'd liken it to a growing pain that occurs when the membrane of your capacity to love expands.  You know, the best kind of pain and the best sort of love: the kind that loves no matter what.  God’s love for me and everyone.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steve Jobs and "The Spiderwick Chronicles"

I haven’t been able to shake something that's been haunting me since the passing of Steve Jobs. It’s something that Jobs said before he died.

Before his death, Jobs enlisted a biographer for the sole purpose of leaving his kids with “a better understanding of their father.”  His exact quote was:
"I wasn't always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did." 
Something about his words reminded me of “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”  Briefly, one of the major plots in the story surrounds a brilliant inventor/scientist, Dr. Spiderwick, who is father to a young daughter.  This inventor “discovers” a hidden/invisible world that is enshrouded by ours (it helps that he lives near a forest, of course.) To “access” this world, he invents devices to see it, and he and his little girl attempt to co-exist with its various trolls, fairies and monsters (apparently common household items like peanut butter and salt are all you need...or was it honey and a perimeter of smooth stones? I can't remember.)  Caught up in his discoveries, one day he is literally “taken up” by fairies and his “taking” is witnessed by his helpless daughter.

David Strathairn as Dr. Spiderwick
Decades later, a new family, unfamiliar with Dr. Spiderwick’s inexplicable disappearance, moves into his awesomely creepy house and discovers his diary which contains his discoveries, inventions and various warnings.  When things go pear-shaped the person who they consult is Spiderwick’s daughter who is now elderly.  I won’t spoil the end for you, but needless to say, even though Dr. Spiderwick and his daughter discovered a magical world, and the former had devoted his life to it, what do you think the latter wished for through the years, more than anything?

You guessed it, all she wanted was to be with her dad.

I suppose I couldn’t help but wonder if this is how Jobs’ kids might have felt or feel about their dad.  I suspect something of this sentiment prompted Jobs to leave behind a written account of his life for his children.

Regarding Steve Jobs’ personal life, I don't know much else other than what he himself has said.  He was a very private man.  I live in Silicon Valley and whenever he popped into the Apple Store in Palo Alto, it never failed to be headline news.  And I truly appreciate his genius for inventions and his entrepreneurial skills, and I believe in reverencing the dead.  I therefore mean no disrespect at all when I say that if I personally, as a parent, had to select which of Jobs’s two legacies – his children or his innovations are more important, I would choose his family.  This is not to diminish his contributions to the world, certainly, and I'm not trying to imply that anyone is saying anything to the contrary; I believe that it was his love for his family which prompted Jobs to open up to a biographer to begin with.

The fact remains that, although I use Apple’s products, love Pixar's films, and work on a MacBook Pro, if they had never been invented, would my life still be just as wonderful (i.e. contain all sorts of lasting, non-temporal blessings) without them?  The answer, of course, is yes.

This is because, even if my iPhone or iPod did not, nor ever existed, I would still have the things that, I believe, matter the most: my faith and my family, especially my children.  If someone, long ago, had approached me and asked, "Would you prefer to have a gadget to ease your life at the expense of taking someone away from their family? Or to not have these things at all?"  Again, I would opt for his family above my own convenience every time.

It is therefore with some sadness that I've been reflecting upon Job's words regarding his children, but also with great hope that the love they share transcends any absence that might have been felt during his life and now also, in his death.  His words force us to beg the question, "Is any invention ever worth the time spent away from one's family?" I leave it to Jobs' own children to answer that question.

I have prayed for the repose of the soul of a such a putatively great man, and I continue to pray for his family.  May the family of Steve Jobs find peace in this time of grieving, and may the soul of Steve Jobs rest in peace.  Amen. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Obedience Makes Us Beautiful

I once entertained notions of joining a religious order.  I’ll be honest, I discerned a vocation for a very long time.  I checked out cloistered orders, missionary orders, teaching orders – and then I met my husband and the rest is history.

But it turns out that between the two vocations, religious and holy matrimony, my “problem” in living out the call to both of them, is the same: obedience.  Deep down, I detest being "told" what I should do even when it may benefit me or someone else.  I don't mean obedient as a wife in the Stepford Wife sense (seriously, if my husband sees me ironing something he knows that it must be either Christmas or Easter).  But I do mean that I've located a deeply rooted resistance in myself toward any action/outside force that attempts to tell me what to do, how to dress or which requires that I truly die to myself in some way. I credit being faithful to the Magisterium first to grace, second to its inherent reasonableness and only thirdly to my assent (which is strengthened by a personal relationship with God and Our Lady). All of these factors tend to keep my fallen nature at bay, and I hope, help me to live a charitable life.  But, at times, even as a grown woman, living this way comes with some internal resistance.  That fallen nature I mentioned means that my "obedience problem" or rather, my problem with being obedient occasionally rears its head (and usually when I'm tired, hungry, lonely etc).  Such a problem, of course, is rooted in pride.

I do like to think that I am presently less proud than I once was. I now have children, you see.

Nothing puts you under strict obedience more quickly than having a new little person cradled in the bed next to you completely dependent upon you for each and all of their needs.  In fact, I would even say that pregnancy is where you first experience that sense of total obligation as you take steps to rearrange your life (and your house) around your soon to be arriving, bundled ‘master.’

Now, I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t slip into post-partum mode very gracefully.  Even with my husband around at the beginning to help ease the transition when my daughter was born, I still found life with a newborn to be much more demanding than I thought it was going to be.  It was then that, I believe, I received my first ‘instruction’ in obedience – whether I felt like it or not, was enjoying it or not, or believed I was capable or not I still did ‘it.’ I mothered, which was something I had never done before.

They say that if you ever want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  Well I say that if you ever want to make God chortle, tell him how capable you are.

The truth is, no matter how ‘put together’ you may think you are (and I assumed I had very erudite control over my life, emotions, my beliefs about parenting etc), no matter how prepared you think you are (I had a degree and a career, after all) and no matter how wonderful a person everyone says you are, nothing unearths the rebellion out of you like having to make sleep-deprived decisions all of which entail more and more sacrifice from you in a way you never thought possible before.

But, in way, there’s true beauty in that.

Did Christ know whether or not He could go through suffering and death upon a cross?  I don’t know, but He did it and it’s kind of like that with being ‘obedient to God’s will’ as a parent.  Can I go through with parenting everyday for the rest of my life?  I don’t know, but I’m going to do it with trust that God is forming the image of Christ in me.  And that’s beautiful.

Disobedience, in contrast is ugly. Disobedience is the reason the world is in the state it's in now.

And here’s the irony.

Now that my children are toddlers, guess who’s expecting obedience from them?  Yup, me.  And guess when things are the most peaceful in our home?  That’s right – when all are obedient to each other, children to mom and dad, mom and dad to their vocation and all are obedient to God. With obedience we become what we are meant to be.  With obedience we become beautiful because obedience is beautiful.

Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, obedient to doing "something beautiful for God," pray for us!
Artwork Credit: Mt. Angel Abbey

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why Not Supporting a 'Good' Cause Can Be Truly Compassionate

Unlike what our critics sometimes say about us, the Christian perspective is not overly negative, but nor is it naively optimistic. 

However, I appreciate that this is sometimes difficult to tell from an outsider’s perspective.

Consider the following example.

You’re at the grocery store and about to pay your bill when the cashier asks, “Would you like to donate to such-and-such an organization or a foundation-for-this-cure?”  Or “Would you like to donate to end (insert disease) forever?”  

Of course the answer, especially to the phrasing of the last question for all Christians is an emphatic, “Yes!  Of course I want for disease-x to be eliminated!”  

But hold on a minute. It’s more complicated than that.

Now, if you’re a Christian up to speed on some of the ugly-methods-in-the-name-of-a-good-cause-scientific research conducted in the medical field today, such a seemingly benign request to support what appears to be an indisputably worthy endeavor should make several bells go off in your head.   Why?

Thanks to a wonderful invention called the internet, you now know that many organizations use morally reprehensible methods, for instance, the destruction of human life, in their 'quest for a cure.'  And they do so despite sound evidence that such practices are unnecessary, not to mention completely unproductive.

And so how does the store scenario end? You say “No thank you,” and walk out feeling like everyone who overheard you is shaking their heads at your overt callousness.  You hope they didn't notice that you were wearing a cross or scapular as you withheld your donation to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients worldwide.  I concede that, from the outside, it may look like we don't care about sick people. But, in fact, the opposite is true.  We’re actually the ones being consistently compassionate in that instance, because, as charity-touting Christians, we are concerned for all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including those in danger of being exploited.

I don’t know about you, but, upon entering adulthood, not being able to unflinchingly support medical research has actually brought me great sadness.  Sometimes the injustice of it all really hits me.  I remember a time, pre embryonic stem cell research, when we kids enthusiastically handed over our allowance money to the cashier and took delight in writing our names on the paper shamrocks that became plastered, along with hundreds of others, at the front of the store. 

Make no mistake, though, now that I know which organizations perpetrate harm on people for the sake of people, thanks again to the wonderful internet, I would not risk donating to any such organization.  And I do realize that there is no way to completely isolate oneself from stopping all of one’s money being used for evil;  these days, it seems like every restaurant or business trendily gives to one questionable cause or another. You can’t even buy a box of cereal or a coffee mug without being informed that part of your purchase goes to an association which is investing in ‘cure research.’ I try to avoid these items, again, not because I hate people and want them to suffer, but, as Christians, we are called to observe and practice the cardinal virtue of justice, and minimizing our participation in evil is a part of becoming fully just.

Of course, you will meet some Catholics that openly support many of the organizations in conflict with Church teaching.  These Catholics do more harm than good when they don’t want to hear about all the “dreary stuff” and my suspicion is that their desire to “do good” in the world enables a convenient denial that “good,” indeed, has become evil (such as when you don’t support a popular organization) and “evil” has become good (as when the potential to save life requires the condoned destruction of life.)

This all sounds very negative, I know, but it’s true and nothing is more compassionate than telling someone the truth and living it consistently yourself.

In truth, we Christians also have hope.  Real hope, not the kind that sounds nice on the news only the have the rotten bottom fall out from under it a generation later.   There have been several advancements and ‘miracles’ using the completely ethical and effective method of adult stem cells.  There have been recent breakthroughs using reverted skin stem cells (iPs) which are cheap to manufacture and produce incredible results.  The day I am asked to support those companies championing such effective and fruitful research or the day that all companies observe ethical stem cell research is the day I will be able to give again!  And it appears to be in sight.

Even my state, California, which took three billion dollars of taxpayer money (you heard me) and sank it into embryonic stem cells (while they hiked up state university tuition by almost 30% in the meantime) has almost silently shifted funding to adult stem cells instead.  So much for ‘progressive’ thinking.  It turns out the only ‘morality’ liberal minded stem cell companies observe is: money.  If they can make a cheap stem cell and a profit more quickly than an expensive, unyielding embryo, then they’ll readjust their moral compass accordingly.  Trust me, for a Californian, somehow the words, “I told you so – and thanks for making us bankrupt as you made your buddies rich,” just don’t even come close to expressing all we could about this subject.

I realize that well-meaning people support organizations believing them to be admirable.  However, although an end that someone seeks may be 'good' (like a cure for a disease, for example) for something to be fully moral, its ends and the means to achieve it as well as its circumstances must also be licit.  That’s ‘straight Aquinas,’ in case you wondering.

But from the outside, I’m sure it totally looks like we’re a bunch of inconsistent do-gooders who don’t believe in helping our sick neighbors.  In truth, we are concerned for the good of everybody involved including those who are sick, those who treat them, those who work in pharmaceuticals and those at the embryonic stage of life who are the most vulnerable.

As someone once said, “As a former embryo myself, I like to think I had a dignity even at that point that no one should be allowed to violate.”

See?  Holding a value for every human life is not a negative perspective at all.  Nor is it overly positive.  It acknowledges reality.  A cure for people must be found but not at the expense of the life of another.