Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Nuff said.

Margaret Sanger or Mother Teresa? This should not be a difficult choice. Cilnton's response at the end puts the decision we must all make in the starkest of terms: Is it the role of the state to protect the radical will to power of a few select human persons or is it to protect those conditions (including life itself) necessary to human excellence? One could (and I do) argue that a woman cannot attain her feminine excellence while being, in many cases, coerced by the culture surrounding her to abort her unborn child.

Thanks to the Feminine Genius.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Belated feasting

I completely forgot to put up a post for St. Gianna's feast day yesterday. We were so busy celebrating with Miriam Gianna that the Internet just didn't happen (which is as it should be, right?). Three-year-olds are so lovely, because they can be content with just a holy card, a round of "Happy Feast Day to You," and some oatmeal cookies.

I'll send you over to Catholic Manhood for another link and a little note.

Happy post-feast day to our lovely firstborn!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Colbert, Glendon, and Kmeic

Well, you either laugh or you cry. I think it's time to laugh. Here is Colbert most wonderful interview with the increasingly limp Douglas Kmiec, who infamously made the case that now-President Obama was the most pro-life candidate available to Catholics last year. As mentioned once or twice on this blog, Kmiec's arguments on that score resemble a rather wistful Swiss Cheese. Colbert pokes a few more holes in him.

While Kmiec's theological and pastoral contortions may provoke pity, Mary Ann Glendon's decision to turn down Notre Dame's Laetare Medal at this year's commencement inspires hope. Her letter to Fr. Jenkins, the university's president, is articulate, gentle, and yet unambiguous. The NC Register has great commentary from Fr. Raymond de Souza. May her tribe increase.

(American Papist has a list of bishops--with links to their statements--who have responded to Notre Dame in kind.)

And now, enjoy the show:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Douglas Kmiec
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage Commercial

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I know myself in the other.

Here is a marvelous reflection on the nature of the Jewish-Christian relationship from the new Spengler First Things blog. God's beloved is not two peoples, but one; his passion is undivided for his divided children. Enjoy this little excerpt:

"The Christian-Jewish engagement is nothing, if it is not a matter of mutual Unheimlichkeit —a marvelous word that in the case of Freud’s essay is translated as “the uncanny,” but implies a kind of creepiness for which there is no real English cognate. If you step onto your morning train into the office, and someone gets out and walks by you who looks exactly like you, that is unheimlich. Meeting a Doppelgänger is unheimlich. God is the jealous (better translation: impassioned) bridegroom of Israel. When Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah, makes eye contact with Israel, the People of God in the self-conception of the Christian Church (using Barth’s upper-case), it is unheimlich."

It is uncanny, indeed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Catholic Identity and Christ

Amy Welborn has a good reflection on Catholic identity over at Beliefnet (yes, she's about the best thing that ever happened to that site). The questions she ponders have been swimming around in my head this year, especially. I've been teaching at a small Catholic homeschool academy for almost four years now and am a "parish" member of a university Newman center. The former is not only delightfully orthodox but also distinctly and deliberately traditional in taste: prayers in Latin, Baltimore Catechism, the Fr. Laux books, rosary bracelets, scapulars, etc. The university center, while providing valid sacraments, leans in the other direction: Marty Haugen Muzak, its own peculiar variations on liturgical postures, little interest in Adoration, no mention of doctrine (never), etc. The Catholic styles, tastes, and degrees of orthodoxy I encounter are, to say the least, varied.

Now, I am fully convinced of two things with regard to this discussion. First of all, your "tastes" and preferences in terms of "Catholic identity"--do I like stained glass? am I convinced that it's "cool" to be Catholic? do I find the Novus Ordo completely overrated?--do not matter at all. Second, these tastes and preferences matter tremendously.

Do you see my problem? Let me spell this out.

Our preferences in liturgy, music, or even what we deem appropriate at Mass in a sense do not matter. For example, multiple teachers at my little school have spoken with real disdain or distrust of the LifeTeen movement. They object to the Christian Rock music employed at Mass and what they perceive as the use of emotion to bring about conversion. "It just feels too Protestant." It would be better, they say, for these kids to be exposed to silence, chant, and beautiful architecture. After all, it is beauty that will draw them. Now silence is important, chant is one of the great treasures of the Church, as is architecture; but the point of all these things is to draw us to the person of Christ and to inspire us to submit to his authority on earth. "By their fruits you shall know them," and LifeTeen has borne great fruit in the lives of many of my friends. LifeTeen Masses may not be appropriate for Vatican City, but they do evidence the life of the Holy Spirit living in these teens.

The teens do need eventual exposure to the rich culture that human beings have built up around the Church, but we do well to remember that--however beautiful--human culture is just human. It is Christ who is divine and is the one we need.

On the other hand, tastes matter immensely when they tie directly into virtues of obedience and love. There are human things that every Catholic should know, but not so that he or she can be "more Catholic" or "a Real Catholic" or "a Super-Solid Catholic." We need to encounter some of these things because they may just help us to love Jesus Christ more.

For example, Eucharistic Adoration is not just about me being orthodox. It's a practice that came about in the Church as a result of and a way to foster a deeper passion for Christ truly present in the Eucharist. Some people have a distinct distaste for Adoration, and this distaste needs to be overcome. Other dislikes do not need to be overcome, such as a dislike for Christian Rock, because there's nothing intrinsically necessary about Rock 'n' Roll to your relationship with God. But profound love for the Eucharist and the desire to be in its Presence is necessary to our relationship with God.

These are just my preliminary thoughts (what? she has more thoughts?), and I will end here with Welborn's words. The point of all this is that as Catholics we need to constantly re-examine what value we are placing on our "Catholic Identity." We are not called either to re-affirm the Gothic arch or churches in-the-round. We need to find our attraction to the Church in the person of Christ and in his sacraments:

"When I read Pope Benedict (and, incidentally John Paul II), I don't see the "It's Cool To Be Catholic" or "Let's reaffirm our Fascinating Catholic Identity" in play. I see... ...the assumption that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, his loving, serving, redeeming presence on earth. ...people today, as they always have, need Christ. They need salvation, forgiveness and mercy. ...Our call as Catholics is to bring that loving Christ to others - through what we do as Catholics individually and institutionally - but the direct, explicit goal is not to get people to like Catholics, think well of Catholics or be impressed by Catholics. The goal put on Christ. And serve. And love. And bring others into his embrace."

Amen. If we put on Christ, the rest--beauty, truth, goodness, culture--will follow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Bella!

We are so happy you are here and can't remember life without you.

On a side note, today is also the Feast of St. George (Old Calendar). We pray Bella will slay many dragons for the glory of God!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Tears of God

I came to Fr. Benedict Groeschel's latest book, The Tears of God, with a bias. I don't think I shall ever recover from the depth and incisive rhetoric of David B. Hart's Doors of the Sea, his examination and refutation of Christian attempts to rationalize human suffering and catastrophe. Nothing, I assumed, could top that.

But my bias was soon overcome, for Groeschel has neither written a theological examination of suffering nor attempted to explain philosophically the Christian world view on the non-being of evil. Instead, he has written a book for those who are experiencing catastrophe themselves or are close to those experiencing it. Since we will all suffer at some point, he also explicitly recommends it for those preparing their hearts for that moment.

He has written the book as one entirely immersed in that point of view which Hart so perfectly articulates.: "We Christians are not obliged (and perhaps not even allowed) to look upon [catastrophe] and to attempt to console ourselves or others with vacuous cant about the ultimate meaning or purpose residing in all misery. Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to resuce his creation from ... the empitness and waste of death [and] the forces ... that shatter liing souls (Hart, 101)." In perfect unison with Hart, Groeschel gives experiential witness to the fact that God himself has willingly suffered catastrophe and to the fact that this matters in our lives.

The Tears of God is eminently practical (Groeschel is a trained psychologist), leading the reader through the experience of catastrophe and the steps of sorrow that follow. He uses anecdotes from the attacks on the World Trade Center, the genocide in Rwanda, and--most predominantly--survivors of the Shoah and World War II to illustrate his points. More than illustrations, however, these living examples of grief offer hope to those of us suffering now. They have "come through the fire" and cleaved to the cross of Christ. In their relationship with a God who suffers with them, they find the strength to continue and even rebuild lives that were seemingly destroyed.

Groeschel urges his readers to meditate on heaven, especially as described in Revelation 21 and 22: "I read these chapters very often because that's where I'm going, and I await the coming of the Lord." His simple faith and (oddly enough) forceful humility on this point is particularly moving, considering our cultural tendency to suppress the thought of death or the end times. Groeschel, in contrast, finds them most comforting in times of great pain.

In the second half of the book, Groeschel's voice disappears. He has collected (and in some cases written) prayers for times of catastrophe--for murder victims, suicides, those who themselves have caused catastrophes, the seriously ill, imminent death, natural disaster victims. He also includes an anthology of Scripture quotations and some spiritual essays for private reading.

The overall result is a brief, but insightful, handbook for those who suffer. It takes only a few hours to read Groeschel's own thoughts, but the reader may return repeatedly to the prayers and meditations. It is a beautiful resource, a love letter to those who share in Christ's unending Passion.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Tears of God.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It is what it is.

Miriam is playing orphanage on the floor, dressed in her St. Therese costume. "I am taking care of the babies with no mommies or daddies." She loves this, our little mother superior.

But after lying on the ground for the babies' (monkeys', ragdolls', bunnies') naptime, she begins to get restless.



"These babies are stinky!"

"Oh, dear, why are they stinky?"

"Well, that's just the way God made them. They're just stinky babies."

So observant, that little nun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Your children shall be like olive branches.

MSNBC blandly claims that children decrease the quality of "marital satisfaction."

Admittedly, one researcher notes, there are different kinds of happiness: "Children don't ruin everything, Stanley points out. 'There are different types of happiness in life and that while some luster may be off marital happiness for at least a time during this period of life, there is a whole dimension of family happiness and contentment based on the family that couples are building,' he said. " Well, duh. But I will not mock too roundly this one little piece of light in what is, for the most part, a dark piece.

Elizabeth Foss has a beautiful reply to the snippet/article, which simply begs some sort of interpretation. Read and ponder.

UPDATE: And I love the First Things comment: "Sure. If by “marital quality” one means selfishness, self-centeredness, or egoism."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter 2009

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

May the Morning Star which never sets find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns forever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


As we enter the Triduum, the betrayal of Christ comes to the fore. The following is from Magnificat.

Judas is the symbol in the human world, as Satan is in the spirit world, of non-being, of self-destruction, of life-refusal. Moved (as seems most probable: we are told in the Gospel that “he was a thief”) by an ignoble greed he commits the most ignoble of sins, betraying his master and friend with a kiss; yet even so all need not have been lost, all would not have been lost, if, when he threw down teh silver, the purchase-price of blood, he had had not remorse but repentance in his heart. His darkness might have been creative, as was Peter’s; but there is nothing creative about remorse, only the empty, sterile longing that what has been done my be undone; bu we cannot rewrite our history, and Judas, unable either to rewrite or to bear what was written, shose the ultimate act of defiance of the Creator, repudiated the boon of life, and chose death instead…

Peter stands in sharp contrast to Judas: he too betrays his master, by denying him, but he goes out and weeps bitterly over what he has done, tearsnot of remorse but of true sorrow. His darkness is indeed creative, the sorrow giving him a deeper love, and the deeper love a great strength; so that in the end he becomes the Rock on which the Church stands immovable.

~Father Gerald Vann, OP (An English Dominican priest, lecturer and author, died in 1963)

The connection.

I find it difficult to express--and, more fundamentally, to fathom--the tremendous leaps in scale employed in the "Culture War" arguments.

A favorite pro-abortion argument centers on the suffering of a particular woman, the victim of violence, who needs our loving support and encouragement to make the difficult, but necessary, choice and end her child's life.

Then there is the favorite atheist/agnostic argument that appeals to "science" and "scientific fact," the power of "progress," and the imbecility of "religion" and "religious experience." All these are categories so broad as to be entirely devoid of meaning. Similar non-concepts include: "nature," "quality of life," "tolerance," and "green."

I see, too, there's been an uproar over Dr. Jeff Steinberg's fertility clinic, which offers hair- and eye-color selection to prospective parents. This in the very same society in which Down Syndrome fetuses are aborted at a rate of 90%. Apparently, eye-color genes are off-limits, Down Syndrome genes are up for grabs.

Finally, with the advent of our current economic crisis comes the not-too-shocking revelation that perhaps the baby-boomers ought to have invested in children rather than lattes, put up with anything rather than divorce, and flushed those birth-control pills (which, incidentally, are killing frogs in suburban America--so much for "green"). The reaction, in my limited social circles, however, has largely been: shrug. Yes, someone really should start reproducing, but, ho-hum, how would I ever pay for college for more than one kid? The leap from "we need a next generation" to "I should consider having children sooner rather than later" is not made.

The fuzzy thinking is overwhelming. The rapid leaps from the particular to the general, and the inability to apply either one to me, here, now, render us mentally, spiritually, and emotionally obese and atrophied. Like the inert humans in Wall-E.

This has been up until now an exercise in Rage Against the Machine. But what is to be done? In order to escape the vicious cycle, the answer is for me, here, now to live the culture of life. All the mushy-brained arguments for our culture's ridiculous ethic spring from the basic error: That man creates himself. That our self-actualization is our highest ambition. That God is in my image. There is no one to answer to at the end of all things. Few are the ones who connect these thoughts to their misguided compassion toward the unwed mother, their devotion to nature, their "well-done" divorces, their 2.0 children. But this is the connection.

I must live in opposition to those convictions. Obedience to divine authority is our highest lifestyle choice. I am in God's image, an image not of my making. I will face him at the end of days. My life is his to do as he has asked: not just to reproduce (although I am particularly fond of reproducing), but to love and enjoy my children. Not just to witness to the world, but to suffer and pray for the world. Not just to plant my organic garden, but to take a holy pleasure in the gifts of the earth and the gift of a simple life. Making the connection and living the connection.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Have you had your SoulWOW yet?

It's almost Easter. The Church asks us to make a minimum of one SoulWOW (er, Confession) every year. If you so choose (remember, it's a minimum request--you can do more), then before Easter is The Time To Do It. As I dig deeper into my own dirty little self, I appreciate more and more the efficacy and efficiency of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Surely there are no more beautiful words on this earth: "I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

God doesn't ask for lofty thoughts or passionate feelings (though they are both goods); he does ask for contrition, confession, absolution, and penance. Enjoy that WOW now!

(WOW. This diocese is taking Benedict's whole "technology and evangelization" thing seriously!)Thanks to Amy Welborn.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Passion Sunday and the Child

This past Tuesday, Miriam announced, "I have to go to Mass today." Tuesday is not a good Mass day for our house. Between ballet lessons, laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning, Mass just doesn't happen. But she was insistent and even a little frantic: "I have to go to Mass."

And so I compromised. "We can stop by the Adoration chapel on the way to the library," I suggested. "You can bring him some of your flowers."

She made up a little green vase with her carnations left over from the Annunciation. She was very serious.

We walked into the Adoration chapel, Isabella gabbing and burbling, Miriam solemn-faced. I sat in the back with the baby while Miriam approached the altar and put the flowers down. Then she turned and whispered loudly, much to the amusement of the elderly woman next her, "MOM! I HAVE TO SIT HERE ALONE AND PRAY BY MYSELF!!!!"

I nodded, "Okay."

She turned and sat and, still talking in her loud whisper, "JESUS! I'M SO SORRY FOR HURTING YOU. I HOPE YOU LIKE YOUR FLOWERS. I TRUST IN YOU, AMEN!" Then she bounced out of her pew and ran back to me. Out we went through the doors, Isabella still burbling and waving bye-bye.

"What was that, Miriam?" I asked

"That was my little confession. Because you and Daddy go to Big Confession, and I can't go there because I'm a girl, so I have to have my little confession."

I'll admit it did cross my mind to assure her that she has never hurt Jesus, explain that she's not of the "age of reason." But I didn't. If she wants to offer him flowers and her sadness, then she needs to respond to that desire in her own heart.

I've been thinking a lot about our need for Christ's death and passion, for those six hours he hung in agony. All creation needed those hours, not just the adult, rational sinners. "All creation is groaning in expectation for the revelation of the sons of God." Miriam, in her little 3-year-old innocence is part of that creation. She wanted to "groan in expectation" before the altar. So she brought him flowers and her little heart.

May we all rush to reconciliation with such determination this week. May we all thirst for his body and blood this week. All of creation is waiting. Come, Lord Jesus, to your Cross and your glory.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poem for a Friday

in Lent. It is good to enter into the meaning of death a little--its scandal. It inspires thirst in our souls for the coming Holy Week. We realize how radically the death of Christ changed death's aspect. Here is death without Christ.

The Fall

The death of a man is like the fall of a mighty nation
That had valiant armies, captains, and prophets,
And wealthy ports and ships over all the seas,
But now it will not relieve any besieged city,
It will not enter into any alliance,
Because its cities are empty, its population dispersed,
Its land once bringing harvest is overgrown with thistles,
Its mission forgotten, its language lost,
The dialect of a village high upon inaccessible mountains.

~Czeslaw Milosz, 1981

John Paul II, RIP

"The souls of the just are in the hands of God."

Remembering our beloved father.

One day late in this post, but I love this picture. He would forgive me!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The truth will set you free...

I should title this, "The Lessons of Lent."

This is why the philosopher must be a lover of truth: only the hard truth of our "frigidity" and fragility can bring us to the truth about God. Fr. Benedict Groeschel said once, "Americans hardly know what truth is anymore. We are surrounded by too much advertising, and the media manufactures 'news'." We can hardly reflect on who we are and what follows death--our heads are so full of things for me and now. Only in relationship with the Truth himself, forsaking all others, will we be free. And that is joy:

"The one cure for repeated unfaithfulness is to lament it, to be peaceably humble over it, and to turn again to God as soon as may be. Until we die life's difficulties and humiliations will be with us because of our besetting ingratitude and unfaithfulness. yet provided that this is the result of our weakness of nature without affection of the heart, all is well. For God recognizes our weakness; he is aware of our wretchedness and our powerlessness to shun all unfaithfulness... Guard against discouragement, even though you witness the failure of your repeated resolutions to serve God. Take advantage of this recurring experience to explore ever more thoroughly the deep pit of your nothingness and of your corruption. From it learn utter distrust of yourself and complete reliance on God... Your trust in God can never be pushed too far. Infinite goodness and mercy should induce trust as infinite." ~Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ

Love Must Be Perceived (Part V)

Hans Part V

"If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize... The inner reality of love can be recognized only by love."

This chapter (V) is full of hope--a much-needed dosage after the "Failures of Love" reminded us of how frigid and finite our little post-lapsarian hearts are. Our selfish beings still retain some "glimmer," says von Balthasar, of what selfless love is.

As a mother, I love his first chosen analogy: "After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child's smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of the child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty sense-impressions gather meaningfully around the Thou." Love precedes and is the necessary condition for knowledge. Our very first relationship--which psychology teaches us is so dominant in the rest of our lives--is the premiere analogy of God's love. God, the transcendent, awakens love in us with his glance; knowledge of him follows love of him.

God takes our response to his love for granted, in the same way the mother assumes her child will, eventually, smile back at her. His movement toward us is entirely at his command; it is not a bilateral movement. Our very response to his love is his grace-filled design, his planning. This is a little offensive to our American sensibilities, because we want to claim some control over the "good that we do." von Balthasar reminds us, however, that the revelation of divine love--which alone is credible--is entirely God's. We receive our entire being, in cluding our ability to respond to him, from him:

"[T]he bride must receive herself purely from the Bridegroom; she must be 'brought forward' and 'prepared' by him and for him and therefore at his exclusive disposal, offered up to him."

Then he lists the created "conditions of perception," by which I think he means those four elements of revelation which we must have to receive the meaning of divine love. This is fascinating, because they are not what you'd probably guess at the first try.

God created:
1. The Church in her essential being (the spotless Bride)
2. Mary (the Mother and Bride, in whom "the fiat of the response and the reception is real")
3. The Bible (at once the given Word and the response of the author in one literary work)
4. The Bride and Mother (the Church and Mary together) proclaiming this Word in a living way

I think I could spend the rest of my life unpacking that, because my gut instinct is that he is right. The inclusion of Mary in such a lofty list--she's right up there with Scripture!--is not incredible, but wholly credible. She is a concrete, human being whose very existence is the perfect response to divine love. Surely we, as human beings, need such a person to have lived on earth in a physical existence. The divine economy surely demands it. I think I need to start saying my Rosary again more regularly, and perhaps more wisdom will come to my little brain.

The last really profound point I caught here was this: You must love that which you wish to communicate. Von Balthasar talks briefly about the Holy Spirit's role in revelation. The Holy Spirit is, of course, the very love between the Father and the Son, who communicates their being to the world. "The site from which love can be observed and generated cannot itself lie outside of love; it can only lie there, where the matter itself lies--namely, in the drama of love."

Of course, we might say, the Holy Spirit has to love what it communicates. After all, God is love. How obvious. But the implications of this for human communication are enormous: I think it explains why dissenters who write Church history or try explain Church teaching are so damaging to souls both in and estranged from the Church. They do not love what they are trying to communicate. While human love can blind us to faults, we must be infused with divine love in order to communicate God to others. Before we preach, we must be sure we love what we preach. And of course, that means we are trying to "be perfect as [our] Father is perfect."

What a great challenge for Holy Week.