Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rehabilitating obedience.

Reading the Church Fathers for Lent has already been a great exercise (of course, I missed yesterday's reading, but that's what mercy is for). One of the themes that strikes me every time I read these ancient texts (all have been pre-110 A.D. so far) is their emphasis on obedience. It reminded me of this post from 3 years ago...

Needless to say, obedience gets a bad rap in our culture. It's as if our country spent the 60's and 70's shaking off authority, tradition, subjection, and obedience--some of which really had to go--and now can't salvage the beauty and strength of these disciplines. We got rid of the 50's suburban housewife thing (which I do not lament, precisely because she produced the children of the 60's), and also lost the way men and women can complement each other in a home. We were liberated from all sorts of harmful prejudices (real and imagined), and now can't find any reason for the only legitimate prejudice, a horror of sin.

But for the past few months I've been noticing the prevalence of obedience in the Scriptures. What I call "obedience words" pop up repeatedly: subdued, subjection, authority, to reign. I've also noticed how happy the writers of Scripture seem about all this subduing. These are from the Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer:

Paul: "Do you not know," he cries, "that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6: 16)

And again, "When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all." (I Corinthians 15:28)

David (or whoever wrote Psalm 47): "The Lord, the Most High, we must fear, great king over all the earth."

Then, of course, there's the whole "obedience to other people" motif. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands. Children, honor your parents. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Those can be a bit harder to swallow, because although God may give these other people authority over me, I may not find their edicts palatable. Don't I know better than my mom and dad?

The first observation is this: Human beings are an obeying sort of thing. That means that, just by virtue of being human, we are going to live in subjection to something. The second point is this: Also by virtue of being human, we get to choose to whom we subject ourselves.

That choice will either make us happy beyond all comprehension, leave us dissatisfied and wanting more, OR make us perfectly wretched and miserable.

For example, I am currently subject (among other pregnancy cravings) to Lime Tostito Chips. Wow. I just have to be munching on lime-flavor-dusted chips every ten minutes. And they leave me wanting more chips. Then I want more. I'm never full when I am obedient to the Lime Tostitos.

I have in the past chosen to be obedient to a debilitating frustration with a college roommate. Oh, that was a tough year. I was wretchedly miserable just thinking about going back to the room. I hated the way she hummed, talked on the phone, and dressed--it was like sandpaper on my soul. That was bad obedience, and it was my choice.

But there is one obedience that has given my endless joy: "Lord, I come to do your will." Subjection to God, and to God through the "righteous authorities" around me, is so much more fundamental than obedience to Lime Tostitos or to personal grudges. It is so fundamental, in fact, that it makes all the other slaveries--to sin and to weakness--seem small and silly. God subjects all the other authorities in my life to himself, and those that are found wanting he offers to take away.

I suppose that is why the persecuted Christians all over the world find so much joy in suffering for Christ. They may be frustrated day-to-day, being unable to raise their children in the faith or profess their beliefs openly, but they know they are not ultimately subject to anyone but God.

I'd like to end this now--the rambling must cease. I am subject to the authority of my children's needs, after all. And that obedience has certainly been a gift and a joy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Digging in the virtual attic, I found this old post.

And just because existentialism seems in high fashion these days, here it is again: The Problem of the Good Atheist.

Fr. Neuhaus on atheism. Atheists have a hard time explaining why we should care about "humanity" or about doing good things, since life is ultimately meaningless. Enter the existentialists.

"Existentialism" gets a lot of press because it's so, well, comfortable.

A basic thought-pattern of existentialism is that truth is one thing, but meaning is another. So, the truth is that human life is uncreated and finite; but we--brave new men!--can give meaning to life by creating meaning. If I say life has meaning, then by golly, it does!

Enter Father Neuhaus (of blessed memory), commenting on popular atheist writer, Comte-Sponville:

"If we ... reject the theological rationale for the unity of the universal and personal, can both survive? 'All truth is universal,' Comte-Sponville writes. Fair enough. But then the question follows immediately: 'How can a truth belong to me personally?' His answer: 'Things do not matter in and of themselves but only through the attention we bring to them and the love we bear them.' It’s a familiar and modern existentialist solution: Truth is truth, but then there is meaning, which is quite another matter. We serve truth but we make meaning. 'We do not love an object because it is valuable; rather, our love confers value upon what we love.'

"Perhaps Comte-Sponville will succeed in convincing his fellow atheists that humanity is to be loved even though our lives have no value. But one may be forgiven for entertaining doubts. The heyday of the modern existentialist approach was the 1930s, the decade before millions were killed in death camps, gulags, carpet bombing, and other horrors continuing into our time. It is not only in the horrors of history, however, but in the dark knowledge of our own hearts and in the irrepressible demands of reason that thoughtful people will find it implausible that the humanity we are to venerate is worthy of being venerated only because of our veneration. Andre Comte-Sponville’s 'atheist spirituality' betrays a very large measure of the wishful thinking that he attributes to Christian faith.

"Comte-Sponville reminds us, however, that there is atheism and then there is atheism. This is a truth underscored by Father Ranier Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, in a recent essay:

'The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit. Albert Camus called them 'the saints without God.' The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2). This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot over those of Julian of Norwich. There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. . . . The word 'atheist' can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who—at least so it seems to him—is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Am I still smiling?

The new evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown ... it is all about a 'yes' to everything decent, good, true, beautiful and noble in the human person. The Church is about a 'yes!', not a 'no!'

—His Eminence Timothy Michael Dolan, Cardinal-Archbishop of New York

Read or watch the entire reflection here.

Via Elizabeth Foss.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Asking help from the Mater.

A friend sent this quote from Edith Stein's Essays on Woman. I thought it a fitting help for the first day of Lent, when the fast is new and fresh and terrible.

"Mary is the most perfect symbol of the Church because she is its prefigurement and origin. She is also a unique organ of the Church, that organ from which the entire Mystical Body, even the Head itself, was formed. She might be called, and happily so, the heart of the Church in order to indicate her central and vital position in it. The terms body, head, and heart are of course simply metaphors.But their meaning, nevertheless, is somehow absolutely real. There is a distinctive coherence between head and heart, and they certainly play an essential role in the human body; all other organs and limbs are dependent on them for their existence and function. Just as certainly, through her unique relation with Christ, Mary must have a real--that means here a mystic--relationship with the other members of the Church. This relationship extends far above that of the other members in intensity, nature, and importance; it is analogous to the relationship which a mother has with her children, a relationship surpassing that which the children have amongst themselves. The title of Mary as our mother is not merely symbolic. Mary is our mother in the most real and lofty sense, a sense which surpasses that of earthly maternity. She begot our life of grace for us because she offered up her entire being, body and soul, as the Mother of God.

That is why an intimate bond exists between Mary and ourselves. She loves us, she knows us, she exerts herself to bring each one of us into the closest possible relationship with the Lord--that which we are above all supposed to be. Of course, this is true for all humanity, but most particularly for women. The maternity and bride hood of the Virgo-Mater is continued, so to speak, in their maternity, natural and supernatural, and in their life as brides of Christ. And just as the heart sustains the other organs of woman's body and makes it possible for them to function, so we may genuinely believe there is just such a collaboration of Mary with every woman wherever that woman is fulfilling her vocation as woman; just so, there is a collaboration of Mary with us in all works of the Church. But just as grace cannot achieve its work in souls unless they open themselves to it in free decision, so also Mary cannot function fully as a mother if people do not entrust themselves to her. Those women who wish to fulfill their feminine vocations in one of several ways will most surely succeed in their goals if they not only keep the ideal of the Virgo-Mater before their eyes and strive to form themselves according to her image but if they also entrust themselves to her guidance and place themselves completely under her care. She herself can form in her own image those who belong to her.

p. 240-241

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Miscellania on Mardi Gras. 2012.

I'm thrilled (that's the best word I can find) that it's the Eve of Lent. After all the noise--internal and external and online (whatever online is)--I'm ready to keep some serious silence. After thinking it over seriously, though, I have decided to actually try to write more here at the Philosopher Mom. Writing is not chatter for me--it breeds silence and recollection. It's a Lenten discipline.

Good-bye Facebook. (But these posts will still show up automatically!)

I'm trying to empty my head of all the loose threads: hence, the Mardi Gras Miscellania post.

1. As I was kneading some bread (you have to have good bread for Ash Wednesday), I listened to a fabulous interview on Ancient Faith Radio with Warren Farha, the owner and founder of Eighth Day Books. He had some interesting things to say about the advent of the electronic book. "Knowing" him as I do through his lists and lists of books, I don't think he's just being self-interested: He suggests there are serious theological reasons to resist throwing out the hardcovers and converting to Kindle. "We are incarnate. Our liturgy is a bodily experience." He's saying that, as human beings, we don't just encounter ideas or words in our minds or "spirits," but we encounter them in our flesh. There's something very physical about my memories of books in my life--certain covers, pages that smelled a certain way, spending an afternoon browsing along my parents' bookshelves. Some of the most forceful lines I ever read--the most formative lines--I encountered because I picked up a book and thumbed through it. I think he's on to something.

2. Getting ready for Lent. Every year, I think of at least 26 sacrifices that would be so good for me to make. Every year I end up violating even the three or four I choose to keep. Am I ready for failure again? Yes! Bring it on. Because: Did you get a load of St. James this morning? Holy Lenten failures, Batman!

3. I found this wicked cool schedule of readings in the Church Fathers. There's even a Church Fathers Readings LITE for moms like me. Check it out!

4. Does anyone know where I can get a good dose of Irenaus of Lyons? A dear friend (the same guy who told me to read Cassian) assigned him next, and it turns out that Irenaus is just not that accessible.

5. Homeschooling has been a blessing this year. Far from isolating us, it has given us a sort of home and community ready-made for us here in CT. I'm hoping to have some time to organize my thoughts on Ages of Grace and other various curricula I've been working with. Suffice it to say: do not let anyone tell you that homeschoolers are alone or without support. Sometimes you have more options and more company than is actually good for the children! When strangers ask me if I'm going to "keep doing this," I can only reply, "I hope so, with all my heart."

Time to slice strawberries and defrost that fabulous Red Velvet Cake.

Have a blessed Mardi Gras and a glorious beginning to the Great Fast. Here's Thomas Merton's poem of the Christ Child going into the desert to start you on your way.

The Flight into Egypt - 1944

Through every precinct of the wintry city
Squadroned iron resounds upon the streets;
Herod's police
Make shudder the dark steps of the tenements
At the business about to be done.

Neither look back upon Thy starry country,
Nor hear what rumors crowd across the dark
Where blood runs down those holy walls,
Nor frame a childish blessing with Thy hand
Towards that fiery spiral of exulting souls!

Go, Child of God, upon the singing desert,
Where, with eyes of flame,
The roaming lion keeps thy road from harm.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Contra Wills.

I've been trying to work through the legal, spiritual, economic, and personal upheavals since the HHS mandate was announced. Then came the minutes of hope--the President will make an announcement--followed by a return to the slump (even Sr. Keehan is still sad).

Then there have been the personal battles begun. Friends, relatives, and even the hygenist notice you're Catholic, recall hearing something about the bishops, and the floodgates open.

There are also the Links Wars on Facebook. I post something I found logically sound, charitable, and compelling. My third cousin-once-removed's ex-girlfriend from the Maldives then comments, telling me and my world that I'm clearly a repressed Jew who hates ovaries and wants her to live in the slums with her 20 children. Then I notice an old friend has posted Gary Wills. And I wonder whether I should change the baby's diaper or respond. I change the diaper.

But my heart just aches and cries for the next hour. I swear I'll never check Facebook again.

So, while the girls are down for a nap and the Big Girl is copying Bach's "Minuet in G Major" (the awesome one that starts with an arpeggio-thingy), I head back to Gary Wills. If this is the sort of thing that the "other sides" see as compelling and logically sound, then perhaps I need to really read it.

The first rule of defending your position is this: You must be able to articulate the attack on its own grounds.

Here's my best attempt at Wills' argument.

He starts out with, "By a revolting combination of con men and fanatics..."

Ooh. Ouch. Well, that was a nice, objective way to engage Americans across diverse backgrounds. The "con-men" he identifies as the Republican candidates (they are exploiting this controversy to gain political points--no surprise there) and the "fanatics" are the "stupid..." bishops of the Catholic Church. So, we have "con-men," "fanatics," and "stupidity."

He does have some real objections under the rhetoric--he obviously just wanted to first make it as hard as possible for any sincere believing Catholic to listen to his argument. I think it's worth looking at, because his op-ed follows the trajectory of almost every in-person argument (I mean, exchange of opinions) I've had so far.

Wills: "The bishops’ opposition to contraception is not an argument for a “conscience exemption.” It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom."

First, his first sentence is right: the bishops' opposition to contraception is not a part of their argument at all. Reading the statements by spokesman William Lori, bishop of Bridgeport, or any bishop for that matter, I cannot find a single argument defending the Catholic (and Orthodox) teaching on human sexuality. In fact, he (and many others) have identified this teaching in the category as the Jewish Kosher laws. He assumes that his interlocutors will not, in fact, be remotely interested in any arguments--Scriptural, Magesterial, or natural law--for or against Humanae Vitae.

The last two claims, however, are false. The appeals of the bishops for an exemption clause is not an attempt to force any non-Catholic to stop using birth control. If you Google "Medicaid birth control coverage by state," you discover (via the Kaiser Foundation) that in almost every state, every FDA-approved form of prescription contraceptives are available to Medicaid patients. You will also find that your local Women's Center, Planned Parenthood, and countless on-line non-profits are ready to assist you in purchasing--not just condoms--but your contraceptive of choice. At my last OB-GYN appointment, I was offered the phone numbers for three separate "clinics" that would assist me in my family-planning choices.

There is nothing in the bishops' request for an exemption that would substantially change any of these services. Religious dictatorship? Because a group (an infinitesmially small group, Wills claims) does not want to pay for something they believe is evil? He doth protest too much--and it makes no sense.

But on he plods: "Contraception is not even a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture or the Creed is it forbidden. Catholic authorities themselves say it is a matter of “natural law,” over which natural reason is the arbiter—and natural reason, even for Catholics, has long rejected the idea that contraception is evil."

One might say the same about the Kosher laws, the hijab, and Christian Scientist medical practices. Mr. Wills' interpretation of Scripture and the role of natural law in Catholic Tradition is his own business. I certainly agree that--to unaided human reason--the condemnation of contraceptive sex is, at best, puzzling. But the point is this: Mr. Wills has claimed that natural reason is the arbiter of what is right. The question of human politics is: What happens when men of good will arrive at different conclusions by the exercise of their reason? Two humans reasoning about one issue rarely reach an agreement: What then, Mr. Wills? Do we force a dictatorship on one another? We've seen that before.

All the bishops want is the freedom to follow their own convictions--to which they have as much a right as Wills.

Mr. Wills: “What matters here is that contraception is legal, ordinary, and accepted even by most Catholics. To say that others must accept what Catholics themselves do not is bad enough.To say that President Obama is “trying to destroy the Catholic Church” if he does not accept it is much, much worse."

Well, no. That's not what matters here. Religious convictions rarely hold a majority.

The First Amendment is not about protecting the free exercise of what almost everyone does. It's about protecting the free exercise of those few who otherwise would be crushed by the majority. That's why we have a Bill of Rights--so that when slaves, African Americans, Jewish Americans, women, and other minorities are denied these rights, they can appeal to our founding agreements as a nation.

Then Mr. Wills really holds out the olive branch: "Yet a man who believes that contraception is evil is an aberrant from the American norm, like the polygamist or the faith healer."

Yes. I am an aberrant. Does that mean I am unworthy of the protections of the First Amendment? (For an introduction to HHS mandate's relationship to the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, see Rivkin and Whelan). So there have been bishops who were total jerks and criminals. Does that mean the entire Catholic population has forfeited its right to free exercise?

Then Wills gets into his second argument: "The Phony Contraception Argument." You can read it for yourself. Basically, he repeats his claim that there is no Scriptural, historical, or natural law argument to support the Church's constant teaching. Then he argues that the only basis left to explain our aberrant views of sex is our historical hatred of the body as "unclean." (Incidentally, "unclean" does not, in traditional Judeo-Christian thought, connote sinfulness or unworthiness. It actually denotes a purposeful emptiness that is filled only by holiness--the unclean woman is holy, the unclean animal is holy, the unclean act is holy--set apart for God. It was only with the destruction of the rituals of purification that "unclean" came to mean "unredeemable.")

That's fine. I'm sorry he feels that way, but I'm still not going to pay for his bacon. If I'm such a rare aberration, how does my desire to bow out of the HHS plan in any way affect women's access to birth control? Wills' opening argument is defeated by his closing:

Then he launches into an attack on the authority of "the Church": "Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” "

I think this argument is meant to liberate me from any authority other than my own puny brain and the legal demands of the HHS mandate. "You're not going against the Church! You are the Church, and the Church said so herself! Ergo, there's no one to go against!" (I'm going to ignore the obvious fallacy: You can ignore the authority of your church, because your church has authoritatively spoken: you may ignore our authority. Sweet. Nothering matters ever.)

Then he points out that, prior to the publication of Humanae Vitae, lots of Catholics wanted the pope to reverse the Church's teaching on contraception. But he didn't! "When Paul reaffirmed the ban on birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) there was massive rejection of it. Some left the church. Some just ignored it. Paradoxically, the document formed to convey the idea that papal teaching is inerrant just convinced most people that it can be loony.... When Pius IX condemned democracy and modern science in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), the Catholic historian Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does. The reaction to Humanae Vitae proves that."

But Wills left out a significant part of the narrative: "Some left the church. Some just ignored it." And some? Some embraced the teaching whole-heartedly, uniting themselves with the unbroken tradition of all the people in history who have displayed a "deep historical disrelish for sex itself" (to quote an earlier passage). That "some" is a part of the Catholic Church in the United States--an aberration, perhaps, but still a cohesive sub-culture in our country. (See photo at right: "Look! Our pope told us to hate sex!")

Then I'm not sure what Wills does--he attacks Rick Santorum as a fanatic (again), citing Santorum's adherence to Humanae Vitae's teaching as his primary evidence. That's fine. I'm not asking Wills to vote for Santorum. But I sure as hell defend Santorum's right to run, and my neighbors' right to vote for him, and Wills' right to lambast him. The last bit isn't worth engaging--because Wills has failed to articulate his opponents' viewpoint. He has not addressed the First Amendment, the legal statutes related to it, or the question of our freedom for lunacy. I'm willing to be called a lunatic, but not to be told by the government that I have to conform to Wills' form of sanity.

And that was all very therapeutic for a few minutes. But there's still my family, my friends, and that third-cousin's ex. We're all so convinced of our rightness, and we're all willing to throw each other under the emotional bus to be right. Perhaps a glass of Merlot will help. Or a stiff bout of English tea.

Or Lent, and a good, heavy bout of fasting from Facebook.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guest Post: "Government Pork," by K. Fabian

This parable originally appeared here. I'm interested to hear how y'all think it fits (or does not fit) the current argument over the HHS Mandate. Please comment! And if you're looking for another letter of petition to sign opposing the mandate "compromise," here is a link to the StopHHS website.

Government Pork.

Once there was a wonderful town full of people who loved to eat, and many wonderful and varied restaurants that served excellent food: Italian and French, Japanese and Mongolian, Middle Eastern and even a kosher delicatessen. Not everyone liked every restaurant, of course, and some people even thought particular restaurants were odd, but they appreciated the variety available to all.

There were also a lot of pig farmers, and people enjoyed the fresh pork. One year, they had a mayor who loved fresh pork. He thought it was the right of everyone in the town to have pork at any meal they wanted. “Why,” he’d say,” if there was only one meal I could give my kids, it’d be pork chops!” Of course, lots of the people loved pork as well, and they applauded his enthusiasm.

One day he sat in his office, thinking about how much he and others liked pork, and he decided that every restaurant should serve pork and wine, at every meal. Oh, maybe not every individual would want to eat pork, but they deserved the right to have it on their plate! Otherwise, they didn’t really have a choice, right? And so, he set out a decree that all restaurants would serve some form of pork in every meal.

Well, the delicatessen and the Middle Eastern restaurant were upset by this. They couldn’t serve pork—it was against their religions. So they went to the Mayor and asked to be excused from this rule. “After all,” they said, “people know we never serve pork.”

“But you should. People have the right to pork. Some of your customers eat pork. Even some of your employees enjoy a good ham!”

“And if they wish to, they may–but not in our restaurants,” the owners said. “It’s against the kind of restaurants we are to serve pork. And we have customers who do not want pork, who would be offended and do not want to pay for pork.”

“Well, I’m offended that you won’t serve it—and I’m sure other pork lovers agree that your attitude is most disagreeable.”

“Our customers and our employees know where we stand, and they continue to frequent our restaurants and work for us. We serve them well, but we do not serve them pork. We have the right to our own menus. We should not be forced.”

But the mayor stood firm. “No,” he said. “Everyone has the right to have pork, and it’s my duty to make sure it’s always available, whether you agree or not. It’s healthier than beef anyway. If you don’t like it, you can pay a fine and stop serving food—or you can close down.”

The restaurant managers refused to change their menus. Many people stood by them—because they, too, would not eat pork and didn’t want to pay for it; or because they agreed that restaurants should choose their own menus; or because they didn’t like the mayor telling people how to run their own businesses. The movie theaters stood by him, because they were afraid if the Mayor could change menus, he might also start dictating what shows would be played.

The pork lovers, however, were incensed. How dare the restaurants not give them pork if they wanted it?

“I can’t eat beef; what should I do then?” one demanded. “Do you just want to send me away to starve?”

“We have other dishes,” they said. “Our menu and service would be no different than before. We can feed you many things; just not pork.”

Nonetheless, the press, too, said that the two restaurants would rather let people starve rather than eat pork.

Despite the outcry of the pork lovers, more and more people said, “Let them choose their own menu!”

So the Mayor called the restaurant owners into his office. He had a compromise, he said.

“I won’t make you buy pork. You don’t have to prepare it, or touch it. Instead, all restaurant suppliers will have to supply pork to every restaurant, free of charge, and for those that don’t want to serve the pork, suppliers will cook it and put it on every plate themselves. You just look the other way.”

“But there would still be pork in our restaurant!” the owners cried. “Besides, they will increase the price of meat to cover their new expenses.”

“Oh, they wouldn’t do that. I’d tell them not to. Besides, the point is you wouldn’t be actually serving pork. See how well that works? Everyone gets pork and you can say you never provided it. And if your patrons don’t want to eat it, they don’t have to; it’s enough that it’s there for them.”

So, problem solved?


(“Hold on!” one restaurant supplier said. “I’m Jewish!”)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pillars of Salt.

"Just the place to bury a crock of gold," said Sebastian. "I should like to bury something precious in every place where I've been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember."

Sebastian is Evelyn Waugh's tragic bright young thing in the brilliant Brideshead Revisited. His remembering becomes worship, and he clings to his irrecoverable childhood (famously in the form of his teddy bear, Aloysius). I thought of him after a conversation about remembering. We were remembering the places where we were happy: particularly college, when the world was ours and what we did with our freedom was do things that felt holy.

For 4 years, I belonged to that small sub-population at the Catholic University of America that exists mostly in the Top 5 Catholic colleges: Thomas Aquinas, Christendom, Steubenville, the University of Dallas, and... well, praise be to God, there are more than 5 now. Here is a taste:

It's just so true.

It is possible to go to Confession weekly, attend Adoration every day, say the entire Liturgy of the Hours with your dearest friends, study the Great Books and the Doctors of the Church, and be so wrapped in a world that feels comfortingly sanctified all the time.

Get this: There is nothing wrong with that. Those college years are years of intense formation. Looking back at my habits of being, I'm starting to think that I was such a cute little puppy. Have you ever watched little puppies playing? There's a reason they play. If they don't play at being big dogs (and even sometimes think that they already are big dogs), they will never get to become big dogs. If little monkeys don't get to imitate their parents, they do not survive in the wild to become the parents of new little monkeys. My Ana Therese--now 21-months old--plays intensely at dancing, mothering, and praying. I don't grudge her this time of formation, because I know it's crucial to her growth into a young woman who knows she is loved and is capable of loving. The mother delights in her children's play. Our Father delights in our play at pleasing Him.

However. We grow up.

Eventually, the Catholic girls have to leave that bubble. We graduate (sometimes only after several degrees), we enter the workforce, we marry and have children, or we enter a religious order. We grow, and even if our daily lives continue to include the Sacraments and the prayers of the Church, that comforting feeling they once gave us will leave.

I remember when I was first married and jumped out of that puppy life. I was disoriented. Where was my structure? Where was that control? Had it all been pretend? I went into mourning, because I had become so attached to that formation period. I didn't want to take my final vows and move into adulthood. Several years into childbearing, I felt like I had completely lost myself--that Catholic girl who constantly read the Fathers and prayed for hours in the chapel was gone.

She was not gone, but she was invisible. The visible reality of my sanctity, it seemed to me, collapsed under the demands of my adult vocation. Graduates of that formation period have several reactions to the change: Some old friends have declared that all of our prayers and sacrifices were a farce. Because the farce was exposed, it had nothing enduring to offer. It was fun, but now we are beyond all that. This is not true.

It mistakes the path for the summit. It mistakes the stream for the source.

When a seed is buried in the earth and watered, it cracks wide open. It grows pale and the shell rots. The root slowly reaches down for stability, and the shoot pierces that barren earth. The years of playing at sanctity were the seed, and they have fallen away. The girl who lived as a seed is no longer a seed, but is broken and growing up. I reach for the Sun because I died.

My days do not look now like they did when I was 22, or 24, or 27. It does not mean that I'm starting all over again every time a new child is given or a new crisis strikes. When I am able to sit in a church for an hour in silence, it is water to my soul. When I can get to the Sacrament of Confession, I am complete and whole and healed.

I can no longer brag that I say the entire Rosary every day (the 3-year-old cries), wear a mantilla to Mass (the babies tear it off), fast every day of Lent (angry mommies are a near occaision of sin for children), and have read all of Benedict XVI's encyclicals. Instead, I boast in the strength of Christ, because soon He will be all I have.

It is easy to mourn the "glory days." I still hear old men exclaim, "College! The best years of my life!" They were beautiful years, but not the best. This is better, because it is closer to home. I'm not a puppy any more (more like a juvenile!), and I want to be a big dog.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Pope and the CEO.

From the Catholic Company, we have The Pope and the CEO, the personal testimony of former Swiss Guard Andreas Widmar and his reflections on the leadership principles of Bl. Pope John Paul II. It is a fun read, providing unique access to the hidden, daily habits of one of the greatest men of the 20th century. Widmar saw the pope interact with housekeepers, dictators, presidents, nuns, and people of every faith on the globe. After his service in the Vatican, he went on to become a business leader in Europe and America. He stopped practicing the faith, but after making millions returned to the Church largely because of his memories of John Paul. His story in itself is enough to make the book worthwhile.

Widmar structured his chapters on different themes in the Christian life: self-knowledge, prayer, detachment, community, and moderation, to name a few. In terms of spiritual reflection, the book is probably best for someone just starting to explore or return to faith in Christ. Each chapter ends with three or four questions for personal reflection, making it an ideal book for a reading group, Bible study, or men's group.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Pope and the CEO. They have some good resources for Lent!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Time for a laugh!

This is for the Mothers of Many. I feel your pain.

Thanks to the Modest Mama!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The gift of understanding.

The last two weeks have been a blur of emotions, a rush to understand, come to terms, and combat "the spirit of the age." The HHS mandate poked its head into our lives one day and changed forever the way faithful Christians and Jews see their position in our country. That takes some getting used to.

Of course, I hope that we do not lose this fight and that we do maintain our freedom to treat pregnancy as nature-gone-right.

It's hard, however, not to look into the future and wonder: Will my children--should they choose to remain Christians--be prohibited from attending medical school? Will the Scientist Dad and I be forced to pay heavy fines for refusing health insurance? Will our priests and bishops find themselves crippled by financial penalties or prison? Will Catholics who own businesses be forced to close them?

Those are the immediate fears that come to mind. But then I think again on those brave men and women who have gone before us--the English martyrs, the Japanese martyrs, the Mexican martyrs, the parents silenced in the Soviet Union, and so many more. Their sufferings have passed and they are blessed "who washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb." All these materials concerns--what if?--surely come to nothing. It is a shrug in the vastness of eternity.

That is not to say these fears are unreal or should be ignored. We must, in fidelity to the Word made flesh, resist the apocalyptic endings. God is found more readily, for weak souls such as me, in a peaceful life free from the temptations of persecution. "Who shall abide the day of His coming?" Grant us peace in our day, is our daily prayer.

What the Christian life gives to us, however, is not a promise that we will escape extreme hardship. Even if our generation is able to "flee the wrath," our surrender to Christ has asked of us the most difficult thing of all. Regardless of the rise and fall of churchmen and politicians, we who are in Christ have received the heavy cross of understanding.

Caryll Houselander writes of this in her phenomenal Reed of God:

"In the world in which we live today, the great understanding given by the Spirit of Wisdom must involve us in a lot of suffering. We shall be obliged to see the wound that sin has inflicted on the people of the world. We shall have X-ray minds; we shall see through the bandages people have laid over wounds that sin has dealt them; we shall see the Christ in others, and that vision will impose an obligation on us for as long as we live, the obligation of love..."

That is a much heavier burden than any fine, loss of healthcare, loss of livelihood. We can see so clearly behind the current threats of persecution and in our family and friends' cold reactions to our distress. We see the pain and darkness of the world outside of the Church. Our hearts are broken and "haunted" by a nostalgia, not for the 1950's or 1200's, but for a homeland we have yet to see. The HHS mandate breaks my heart, not because I'm worried that Bella can't become a doctor, but because of the "tragedy of misunderstanding" between those who have chosen the "middle way" with the world and those who have chosen the "danger of the Divine Lover."

What can I do?

Caryll again:

"The only thing to do is to go on loving, to be patient, to suffer the misunderstanding. Explanations even of what can be explained seldom heal--and there is so much that cannot be explained.

"Even the presence of Christ in us does not do away with our own clumsiness, blindness, stupidity. Indeed, sometimes because of our limitations, His light is a blinding light to us and we become, for a time, more dense than before. We shall be irritable, still make mistakes, and still very likely be unaware of how exasperating we are...

"If we realize we are a little absurd, the love of humility will come more easily."

Whatever the trajectory of our little nation--and it is so little in light even of human history--the Way is still the same. We will plug on either to glorious martyrdom or an insignificant ordinary old age. But we will have no fear, for along with the spirit of understanding we have been given the spirit of strength. The Bride shares the strength of her Lover, because when she received him and his sorrow, she received all his might as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The eternal return.

I haven't written in days. And this is not an apology--it's just that I'm realizing how wonderful it is to be able to write. My head is full of schedules, spelling lists, Latin declensions, and visions of pyramids; my hands are full of laundry, dirty tissues, diapers, and the timer for more Tylenol dosages. It's mid-winter. Repetition. Waiting in the repetition.

I want to write about the education of women, the visible and the invisible, the rotten, dirty tricks of evil, the horrible HHS mandate, and the joy of heaven. Repetition. All that is has been before.

But today, I will wait again.

And rest again.

And read my Caryll again:

"Some truths need to be told over and over again. Our Lord repeated certain truths about Himself and used certain images of Himself over and over again, like the rhyme in a song. Repetition not only instills an idea into our minds, but it also has the same power that rhythm has to make the idea part of us and dear to us, even when it is hard in itself -- and this gently and easily, just as a tune heard many times, sometimes quite unconsciously, becomes part of us and dear to us.

"But there is a difference between Christ's repetition and ours. He speaks creative words because He is God, and because, as a man, He is a poet whom not other poet has ever come near to: His words echo and re-echo through the human heart. We, on the other had, tend to become tedious in repetition, even when the thing that we are saying concerns God and is beautiful in itself.

"Yet everyone who writes about the Christ-life knows that unless certain things are repeated in every book he writes, much, or all of it, will be almost meaningless to many who read it." ~The Little Way of the Infant Jesus