Monday, June 18, 2012

Gosh, wow.

When a publicly-professed atheist of highest intellectual calibre announces she's praying St. Patrick's Breastplate, along with the Liturgy of the Hours, the blogosphere's elite sit up a little straighter at their keyboards and take notice. Thus, Leah Libresco's post over at Patheos healed me of my slouch for the day. Read the whole thing. I particularly love her closing quotation:

It makes me so happy… A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.

Can anyone hear an echo of Edith Stein in there?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Good works, failure, and love.

A great undertaking (at least, one that appears great) is a frightening thing. 

For the more phlegmatic, the fear comes in the guise of work and conflicts. 

For the diffident, any demand that he really care about anything smacks of torture. 

For the controllers, the prospect of failure is terrifying. 

Controller. But that's a great bridge!

I fall into that controller group (strong northern European stock!). My natural vices tend to a real hatred of waste, laziness, and indifference. By nature, I also fear failure. 

And so, I am caught. I cannot help but undertake what seem to me Great Things. I often stall mid-way because I am afraid the efforts will come to Nothing. This is simply the sort of person I became through nature, nurture, and my own, regular rejection of God. Grandiosity, failure, shame. 

How does a controller--choleric, driven, and impatient--escape the brutal cycle? I'm facing this odd little project and all sorts of fears pile up. Have I disobeyed my archbishop? Have I tried too hard? Have I promised something unreal? Have I overreached my health? Is this to the detriment of my children?

Notice: at the heart of every fear is "I". I, I, I... as if everything depended on me. It does not. St. Ignatius wrote (and Mother Teresa was fond of recalling): "Work as if everything depended on you, and leave all the results to God."

Song of my heart. 

This is the salvation of the controller. If I must work (and I must, I am part German!) at some apostolate, then how has Christ redeemed my broken nature? 

In five words: You did it to me. 

The controllers and leaders can find freedom from all fear if they put all hope of success in this simple statement: You did it to me. 

It is a declaration and a promise. If I undertake this mission for Christ, to Christ, then whatever the outcome in human terms, all is fulfilled. He has fulfilled every action already. The goal of all our projects--great, small, successful, and futile--is to love God. And while our motives are always mixed and broken in life, He sees our hearts. He knows our love as intimately as our sins. We become "worthless servants," but servants set free by their worthlessness. Whatever we do is His, for Him to bless with success or to discard so that He might embrace us. 

My daughter brought me a painting yesterday. "Mummy, this is yours." I praised the effort and then I hugged her and told her I loved her. Now that painting is in the garbage outside, covered in milk and cracker crumbs. Failure? Only a cynic, closed to love, would think so. 

How beautifully the Father loves us, his poor little busy workers. I will bring Him a painting that He might discard it and hold me close.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Education Alternatives: Unschooling.

What with burying my life in alternatives to traditional education (hybrid academies! distance learning assistance programs! dig a hole in the dirt and sit in it! take a nap!), I've come across several families in which "alternative education" means "unschooling." It's always a little scary to address educational decisions--talk about tapping our deepest passions as parents--but it is also vital that parents working in alternative education face and discuss the implications behind our educational choices. What we do speaks to our children and they will ponder what we did for them (or to them!) all their lives.

Unschoolers tend to be as separate from home educators as they are from traditional educators. While "unschooling" suggests a negative--what it is not--there are actually a number of shared, positive principles in the unschooling community. Most parents believe that their children are natural learners, that a child driven by his own interests will learn more efficiently than a child driven by testing standards, and that a parent's role is to help the child set goals so he can reach goals he sets for himself. (Of course, within the unschooling community, these beliefs manifest in many different ways.)

Unschooling families choose to learn free from a set curriculum--unlike in many homeschool homes, there is no attempt to recreate the traditional school syllabus or scope and sequence.

The biggest question is, of course, Does it work? The maddening answer is, of course, yes and no.

First, the yes. Unschooling can work very well in particular situations. I've found that it can be fun and fruitful for a mother (or father) who enjoys hands-on work, long walks through muddy fields, and doesn't feel much need to "check" her kids' progress against the rest of the world. Unschooling is generally what does happen (by default) for small children in a large homeshcooling family. The 3-year-old doesn't need a curriculum, but does need lots of time to absorb herself in play, a little guidance in getting started (or finishing) on a project. Even a 5-year-old can flourish with a pile of books, a sketchbook, and lots of time.

Again by default, we naturally find ourselves in "unschooling" periods of life. Mom is pregnant and sick, or postpartum and tired, so the syllabus just doesn't happen in full. She can get everyone to the library (maybe) and order art supplies online, but that's about it. Great things can happen.

But then there's the no.

There does come a time when the parents must answer this question: What is the goal of education? Clearly, the goal of everything we do as parents must eventually redound to eternal salvation. There are many ways of bringing our children up in the Faith. But if education at eternal salvation, it does so in a more specific way. Education both helps the individual to flourish as an individual and as a social animal.

The basic philosophy of unschooling presupposes a sort of Rousseauian "voluntarism"--or, the assumption that all a child's activities should voluntary, as far as is possible. The problem is that, in the Catholic worldview, a child's capacity to choose the good is not yet fully formed. A child is not a "noble savage." He's just a savage.

Once the children reach a certain age, there are certain skills that become necessary for her to pursue her passions. There are virtues and strengths that she has not yet encountered and which she will need in order to--later in life--be both a strong individual and a "servant of all." Not all children will become the next Pascal, but all children need an ordered and sequential introduction to the beautiful numbers Pascal saw. Not all children will become teachers, but all children need to learn how to communicate effectively--not just in lengthy opinion pieces on a blog--but also in the specific situations in which their world and culture place them.

In a sense "unschooling" is a wonderful way to introduce children into the world of a more formal course of study. It's also a perfectly normal and acceptable break from the formal lesson plans over which most moms slave. For a few children, unschooling may indeed be the only way they will ever learn--think of Mozart. But parents must make the decision to abandon all structure in the full awareness of what unschooling implies about human nature, human society, and the reasons we exist.

John Garvey Brings It On.

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, posted a clear and moving explanation of CUA's decision to bring the HHS mandate to court. Alma mater, I salute you.

Particularly poignant is his commentary on Eleazar of Maccabee fame (if your family is unfamiliar with the Books of Maccabees, now is a good time to read them aloud!):

"A wonderful story in the second book of Maccabees describes the martyrdom of the old scribe Eleazar. It occurred during the Hellenizing campaign of Antiochus Epiphanes. He forced the Jews "to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God." 

Eleazar was ordered on pain of death to eat pork. He refused. The men in charge of the sacrifice, who had known him for a long time, took him aside and offered to spare him if he would just eat something that looked like pork. "Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life," he said, "lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his 90th year has gone over to an alien religion[.]" And so they killed him."

The point, Garvey says, is twofold: First, God's law is higher than the law of the state, and it is "cruel" for any government to force its citizens to choose between their beliefs and their freedom. Second, Eleazar is a witness to the communal aspect of our Catholic praxis. Whatever we do, "the young" --and I would add, those who have rejected the Faith-- are watching. Even the appearance of compromise in matters of morals is a grave sin against the spirit of the law.

Garvey also mentions the much-touted reality that a majority of Roman Catholics do not practice the Church's teaching on fertility and sex. While this is a tragedy and symptom of our human failure, however, it hardly changes the truth. Truth does not shift and change with societal norms: rather, practice seeks to conform to truth, goodness, and beauty. That's why the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are called transcendentals. They transcend the changing and shifting man-made laws.

Garvey's essay is brief, but forceful. It is a great example of the unapologetic, but nevertheless sympathetic, approach we all need to be ready to take toward the world. He does not dismiss objections. He does not call names. He doesn't even mention the leaders in government behind this mandate. He simply states who he is, what he believes, and what he must do.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

St. Gianna Berretta Molla: The Gift of Life.

The Catholic Company is offering St. Gianna Berretta Molla: The Gift of Life, by Sr. Susan Helen Wallace, FSP. For this book, I'm going to let my eldest, almost-7-year-old Philosophical Winky, write the review. It's her first blog post ever, so give her a round of applause!

St. Gianna loved Jesus very much. She had her First Holy Communion when she was 5 years old, and when she was 7, she received her Confirmation. Sadly, her sister, Aemilia, died of a coughing sickness. Her mother died from a heart attack on April 29th, and four months later her father died on September 10th. Gianna was living far away at her university. Gianna was very sad to have lost her parents, but she studied hard, and her little sister, Virginia, entered a convent.

Gianna wanted to study medicine and she helped the people who needed a doctor's care very kindly with all her attention, thinking to herself that she wanted to treat every one of them the way she wanted to treat Jesus. If someone couldn't afford to go into the hospital, they sometimes gave her a chicken or some eggs and sometimes a bouquet of flowers. Very often she gave them money.

Gianna met this man named Pietro and she was very kind to him, so they got engaged and they got married. Then they settled to live. Now, once at the breakfast table, Gianna thought it was time for a surprise for Pietro. So, she said, "Pietro, we are going to have a baby!" He said, "When?" She said, "In November!" St. Gianna had her first baby, and they named him Pierluigi. She had another baby named Mariolina. She cared very well for them. Then she had another baby named Laura.

When she had Laura in her tummy, she felt a little more painful than when she had had the other two children. But she didn't complain and was very sweet. She worked very hard. She still wanted to practice medicine, and she asked Pietro if she could do children's care. Pietro said, "Yes." And so, she was a pediatrician.

She had her fourth child, but for this child, she suffered a lot of pain. A tumor was growing near to where the baby was. So, the doctor said that they had to do this kind of operation. It would probably kill the baby. There were different parts of the operation: one part would kill the baby, another part meant she would not be able to have children anymore, and the last part was that she would be in danger if she didn't do it, but the baby would be fine. So, when Pietro was driving her to the hospital, St. Gianna told Pietro that if he had to choose between  them, then she told him to choose the baby.

The baby was born, but Gianna was very sick. Her little sister, Virginia, came to see her. No one was allowed in the room except for Virginia. Gianna asked Pietro to get permission so that she could go home to see her house, and so later on Pietro got the doctor's permission. She went home.

She died and was put in a coffin. She was carried behind four priests, and behind her was Pietro and the other children. But her fourth baby, Gianna Emanuela, was too little and had to stay in the hospital. Later on, Gianna was put in a gold house with a mosaic inside it. Her oldest son, Pierluigi, had wanted this. He wanted his mother to be in the gold house. While his mother was still in her coffin and had not yet been put into the gold house, he asked his father Pietro if she could see him or if she could touch him.

This book was very wonderful. I thought it was very sweet and it taught me a lot about St. Gianna. Later on, I thought she was the perfect saint for me! I never want to change her from my patron saint. She taught me a lesson: I can work hard to help my family and I can work very hard on my schoolwork and try to do as my mom and dad ask me to. It's a really good book, and I love the pictures. I think that ages 6 to 12 would enjoy it. (PhilosopherMom's Note: I loved it, too!)

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from TheCatholic 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 St. Gianna Beretta Molla