Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 was great.

I completely forget what my resolution for 2008 was. I think it was along the lines of, "I must not eat so many Lime Tostito Chips." But then again, I was pregnant at this point last year.

2008 was great. Along the lines of Jen from Conversion Diary, here are 8 lessons learned (or re-learned).

1. I must make time for prayer every morning. It is a proven, scientific fact in our household that, when Erika says her morning prayer, the day is a happier day. Resolution for 2009: Make time for Morning Prayer--even a truncated version--every morning.

2. The man who asked me to marry him six years ago is a "just man" in the line of Joseph. 2008 gave him many opportunities to grow in, er, virtue. Between a pregnant wife, a newborn, endless reams of dissertation data, odd hours experimenting with rodent behavior, and a two-year-old-who-turned-three--he had his hands full. And was ever-gracious about it. Resolution for 2009: Mirror his graciousness.

(Baby) life is beautiful. I was really able to enjoy every moment of Isabella's babyhood in a way I couldn't, because of my own pride and impatience, enjoy our first child. Resolution for 2009: Keep enjoying every moment of childhood.

4. All life is beautiful. Since college, I've been on a hiatus from pro-life activism. The recent election woke me back up: there is no sustainable morality that does not receive and love human life from the moment of conception. Resolution for 2009: Witness to life.

5. Divorce is horrible. This was no surprise. Ever since I fell in love with Todd, whose parents divorced when he was 12, I've seen how awful it is. But it's only been since we had Miriam that I've been confronting it's deeper scars. Resolution for 2009: Pray for and witness to the beauty of the marital vows.

6. Obedience is always enough. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. To my vows. To the Church. To Christ. To the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Where my heart is--and submits itself--there my treasure is. So, set your heart--and submit it--to what lasts. Resolution for 2009: Meditate more on obedience.

7. I love life in the country. Our two extended vacations to NH this year confirmed it: being in an isolated place, with woods and "growing things," brings untold peace to my heart. I don't spend as much, I don't "need to get out." Resolution for 2009: Cultivate a cloistered heart even amidst all the suburban sprawl.

8. The Mother of God is my dear friend, even when I neglect her. Mary has been so quiet in my life lately, but I am always shocked by the force of her presence when she does "show up." Resolution for 2009: Walk with Mary more.

And, of course, I will be renewing my yearly resolution since 2000: "Don't be stupid." It's amazing how these three little words can save you a lot of trouble!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moses contra mundum

Loud and clear now: "Ideas have consequences."

One idea that had particularly happy consequences for me--as a woman--was the Judeo understanding of marital monogamy. Michael Novak gives a succinct and enlightening review of philosopher Dennis Prager's work on the advent of that idea.

"The ancient world considered sexual “normality” to be fulfilled in the ungoverned sexuality of males, to which women were merely instrumental. In many of the cultures surrounding Israel, sexual acts between males were given equal or even superior value to those between males and females...

Against this common vision of sexual normalcy stood the towering Moses. He taught Israel, virtually alone, to embrace a new standard for human sexual life. This standard gave its blessing solely to sexual acts between a man and a woman in the covenanted relationship of monogamous marriage. What a great channeling of sexual energies this provision achieved. What a great concentration of energies it brought to the world. What great, non-instrumental dignity it gave to women."

The basis of our society's insistence on equality between the sexes is precisely the Mosaic law. Sexual intercourse no longer plays center-stage in human affairs: it has a place, and it is that place that provides sexual equality.

"Is sexual activity the highest end of life? For Moses and the people of Israel, it assuredly was not. It was of course a great good, and one essential to the perpetuation of the human race. Sexuality was not meant to be repressed. But it was meant to run—and to run deep—in only one channel."

If men and women share an ethic that requires the same continence of each, then both are judged according to the same standard: their respect for and dedication to that one channel. Equality. At the same time, there is still room for a robust understanding of masculinity and a true appreciation for femininity. There's no need for women to become "like men," eradicating their fertility or their particular vulnerabilities in order to dominate.

Interlude: The last two pop feminists (I make a distinction between "pop" and true feminists because the popular feminism that refuses to ground itself in biological/historical/spiritual reality cannot liberate women in any meaningful sense) with whom I spoke at length insisted that the death of Judeo-Christian ethics in the public square would, finally, free women from guilt. I think they meant that, although they enjoy almost every conceivable freedom and are essentially "the same as" (rather than "equal to") men, they still see the existence of human beings who ascribe to Judeo-Christian sexual ethics as ... well, a downer.

I think they just want to be free from guilt-inducing downers.

But to return to Moses: It is ironic that these so-called feminists seek to eradicate the very tradition that made feminism as an idea (and therefore as a reality) possible. Novak again:

"From this sublimation [of sexual activity to marriage] there arose two great social consequences. First, women achieved sexual equality with men in the holy union of marriage. 'In His image [God] made them, male and female He made them' (Genesis 1:27). This text says clearly that the divine radiance in human life shines through the marital union of man and woman. Therein, each person finds completeness. Only together, fully one, does the married couple bear the image of the Creator.

The second great consequence is to channel immense energy into society through its fundamental unit, the family—and not just energy, but also a continuity of consciousness, and the dream of a more perfect future. Thus Judaism gave birth to the idea of progress. Judaism introduced the ancient world to the reality of progress... Making progress is always, in time, an unfinished business."

There is a lot of unfinished business as far as bringing the ideal of Judeo-Christian marriage into practice--both at the macro- and micro-levels. It is imperative to note, however, that without this ideal, the very bedrock ideals of feminism will crumble. Ideas have consequences.


I just finished reading Evelyn Waugh's biography of St. Edmund Campion (thanking God for vacation reading time!). It's simply astonishing to my coddled little suburban American brain: the starkness of the choices with which those men and women were faced, the tenacity of their faith, the joy of their suffering. All my mental gymnastics attempting to make the Church palatable or respectable (or even sufferable) to those I meet seem vapid. Campion and his fellow priests knew the difference between making Christ attractive and making Him into a tapioca pudding.

Christ is attractive because He spoke the truth about the human condition, provided the remedy, and gave a Church to guard that truth and remedy. And He died so we would know this: God does not change according to our comfort zones. Great joy in that. And great trembling!

It's a great read: Waugh makes the biography into a cross between a novel, a history, and literary appreciation (of Campion's letters and works).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas 2008

Gloria in Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
a god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
the bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
for the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendor spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
who mounts if the mountains fall,
if the fixed suns topple and tumble
and a deluge of love drown all--
who rears up his head for a crown,
who holds up his will for a warrant,
who strives with the starry torrent
when all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
the Fallen Angels fell
inverted in insolence, scaling
the hanging mountain of hell:
but unmeasured of plummet and rod
too deep for their sight to scan,
outrushing the fall of man
is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
the spout of the stars in spate--
where the thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
and the lightening fears to be late:
as men dive for a sunken gem
pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
the fallen star that has found it
in the cavern of Bethlehem.
~GK Chesterton

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where I am.

This is the bridge under which I drove with my dad Sunday night--about 5 minutes from my parents' home. Beautiful.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fourth Sunday

"What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise?” ~John Henry Newman, Plain and Parochial Sermons

Whatever we give him this Christmas, it cannot out-do the generosity of God. He ventured all for us, without a hope in any of our promises.

The light comes!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Love poem for every woman.

The first book of Scripture to capture my heart--rather than my head--was the Song of Songs. In college, with the usual glee of the naughtily orthodox co-ed, I loved to insist to the Muslim student downstairs that the Christian Bible contained erotic poetry. And it does.

The last few days of Advent remind me of the Song of Songs--the intense longing and waiting for "I-know-not-what." (Those blessed enough to have been virgin brides know what I mean.) That physical longing for something as yet unseen is the visible side of our hearts' deepest longing for our Creator--an experience to ponder in our hearts as we wait for Christ and, ultimately, for heaven.

So, I was delighted to open up my copy of First Things to find this poem. What every husband wishes he could write for his wife--a beautiful interplay of the days waiting for marriage and the days waiting for heaven-with-her.

Ghazal to the One

Sun's bliss, leaf shadows, a honeyed breeze--
The world as he would have it be for you,

Your faithful, humble, and obedient servant,
One who has no other goddess before you.

The Name, the Guest, the Beloved are all one,
And he, vouchsafed that vision once, bows down before you.

The blessing of friends, the gratitude of children,
The work of your hands--a table spread before you.

A fantasy he blushes to mention: the desire
to rearrange time since and time before you.

Another not so foolish--he'll wait for you
When he reaches that riverbank, as he supposes, before you.

~Robert Mezey

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The Philosopher family is headed north for three weeks of Advent and Christmas. We're praying for snow, holy conversation, and lots of laughter with our families. Pray that there are no ice storms up the East Coast tomorrow!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Babies, bonding, and God.

The First Things blog had an interesting post today (it includes links to some pretty interesting work on fertility and faith). It seems that the (few) Americans who are reproducing are those practicing their faith: "religion is a family affair."

From a secular point of view, there may be several causes of note. (1) Pregnancy and childbirth--as well as the care of a newborn, I'd add--invite one to fall back upon faith as an aide (AMEN); (2) contemplating the death of a child also intensifies the parents' need for God. Put positively, having children and "life together" give life such a sense of purpose and meaning that suddenly the question arises--could not every life have purpose and meaning? Creation itself?

And just as a thing cannot bring itself into existence, neither can it give itself meaning. Something--Someone--outside of it must ... exist.

Thomas Aquinas strikes again--this time in the midst of smelly diapers, sleepless nights, and the beauty of a child. There must be meaning; ergo there must be God. Faith from fertility.

(Oh, and then the sheer joy of meaning may even inspire more babies!" Fertility from faith.


Except, you can't see her taking breaths!

Thanks to Elizabeth Scalia.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

"John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine."

~Augustine, Sermons, Office of Readings for the Third Sunday in Advent

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Miriam the Philosopher

Miriam: "Mother, why is there not nothing?"

PM: (wondering if she's been reading her Aristotle on the sly) "Well, because God exists."

Miriam: "Oh. That makes me happy! Happy birthday, God!"

For some reason, she refuses to say that Christmas is Jesus' birthday. She'll only say, "Happy Birthday, God!" and then inform me that "Jesus is God." I think there's an unstated premise in this syllogism somewhere...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Requiem aeternum...

Dona ei, Domine ... lux perpetua ....

May the choirs welcome him on the far side... Dear friend of faith and reason, pray for us before the face of Truth.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ

Here is the First Things memorial.

UPDATE: The picture above is from Benedict XVI's visit to NYC this past year. He made time to go personally to the Jesuit infirmary where Dulles was living at the time. Here is a brief description of that visit.

"Guadalupe!" one of Miriam's favorite words at the moment. She mutters it under her breath as she colors. It is fun to say and it is today's feast day: Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rehabilitating Obedience.

I've been pondering how desperately we need to reclaim the virtue of obedience (to rightful authority, of course). Pascal prompts me. Newman prompts me. I really should write an article or something...

Then, this from an old Richard John Neuhaus essay. And I realize he's said it so well that all I need to do is pass it on to you:

"I may not understand an authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, I may have difficulties with a teaching, but, as Newman understood, a thousand difficulties do not add up to a doubt, never mind a rejection. I may think a teaching is inadequately expressed, and pray and work for its more adequate expression in the future. But, given a decision between what I think the Church should teach and what the Church in fact does teach, I decide for the Church. I decide freely and rationally--because God has promised the apostolic leadership of the Church guidance and charisms that He has not promised me; because I think the Magisterium just may understand some things that I don't; because I know for sure that, in the larger picture of history, the witness of the Catholic Church is immeasurably more important than anything I might think or say. In short, I obey. The nuances of such obedience, of what is meant by thinking with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia), are admirably spelled out in the 1990 instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "The Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian." It is an instruction that can be read with enormous benefit also by those who are not professional theologians. My point is this: liberal Catholicism cannot be reinvented, it cannot be rehabilitated, it will not be vibrantly Catholic, until it candidly and convincingly comes to terms with obedience."

I'm convinced. (I'd add that liberal philosophy can't come to terms with the human condition until I also comes to terms with the tradition.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dec. 8--The Immaculate Conception

A dewdrop of the darkness born,
Wherein no shadow lies;
The blossom of a barren thorn,
Whereof no petal dies;
A rainbow beauty passion-free,
Wherewith was veiled Divinity.

John Bannister Tabb

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent

Behold! He comes. And, behold! We are going...

"But when we shall have come to that judgment, the date of which is called peculiarly the day of judgment, and sometimes the day of the Lord, we shall then recognize the justice of all God’s judgments, not only of such as shall then be pronounced, but, of all which take effect from the beginning, or may take effect before that time. And in that day we shall also recognize with what justice so many, or almost all, the just judgments of God in the present life defy the scrutiny of human sense or insight, though in this matter it is not concealed from pious minds that what is concealed is just." ~ Augustine, City of God, Book XX, Ch. 2

Friday, December 5, 2008

Girls and boys are different.

Yesterday my ninth-grade religion class--two girls and four boys--discussed heaven. We often discuss heaven, but this time it was actually part of the reading assignment.

One of the boys asked whether there would be any pain at all in heaven: "Like, if we're playing paintball, wouldn't it hurt just a little. To be fun. Ya know?"

Well, okay. I conceded the possibility: not all pain is bad, so there can be pain in heaven. But our experience of it will not be like our experience of pain here.

Then I dropped the bombshell: "Maybe heaven will be so beautiful that it will hurt just a little."

Uh. Faces dead as doornails. "Huh?"

Now, it is a near and dear maxim to my heart that True Beauty pierces--it makes us hurt a little. Our being aches with the beauty of a moment or thing or person. It had not occurred to me that perhaps that was a post-14-years-old moment in my life.

Then.... LIFE in the classroom! The girls awoke, "Yeah, like a beautiful piece of music." "Or a beautiful day." "Like Christmas."

They got it. And the boys.... never did.

Is the pain of love a more feminine intuition? I have no doubt that one day those boys will experience what I was talking about. But the girls got it first.

Anecdotal evidence.

At the beginning, the end.

I love that the liturgical year begins by looking forward to the second coming of Christ. The first two weeks of Advent are a time to prepare our hearts for "the day when He appeareth." We are told that he is "like the refiner's fire" and "he shall purify." Sometimes I'd like to just leave all that purifying for him on "that day"--leaving it all in an abstract future, something I'll just passively receive when I get there.

In a way, it is true that we can't prepare adequately for that day. But it is also true that we must prepare: we must practice saying "yes!" to the Returning Christ by saying "yes!" every moment as he comes to us now. "To those who are faithful in little things..." He is purifying us now so that we shall be wholly his then; he redeems our suffering now so that we shall rejoice on that day. My reaction won't be, "Darnnit! It's the day of reckoning!" Rather, if I say yes to him today, on that day I will say, "Gloria! It is the day of reckoning!"

This is all inspired by a little blurb from Elizabeth Foss's column. She wrote, remembering the unexpected and harrowing days of bedrest:

"A couple of days before Sarah Anne was born, I commented to my priest that it is much more difficult to sin when one is on bedrest. He raised his eyebrows. No, I continued, maybe it’s not the bedrest so much as it is the knowledge that at any moment I could hemorrhage and once the bleeding began, I could die. Indeed, nothing drives one to one’s knees (figuratively, in my case) like knowing a serious medical situation lurks around the corner. Nothing makes avoiding sin seem more urgent than knowing the accounting could be quite near.

The reality, of course, is that none of us knows what day is our last. None of us knows when life might change suddenly and death might loom large. But few of us pray that way. Ever."

Let's start praying that way. Always.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The inevitable question.

It's "holiday" party time. And here comes the inevitable question over that (small) glass of merlot: "So, what do you do?" Or, even better: "You have your Master's? Great! What are you going to do with that?"

Usually, I respond with, "Oh, I'm home with my kids right now."

But sometimes I'd really like to bust out some Mother Teresa:

"Love one another. It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start."

I'm loving my husband and my children to the point of the cross.

That's all I do.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dirty word?

Darwin asks, "Is 'planned' a dirty word for Catholics?"

In usual form, the answer is funny and philosophical. The comments are also worth your perusal.

Because any philosophy that rejects reproduction is doomed...