20 January 2008

Attachment marriage

Just got done having a look at Danielle Bean's blog. I gather from it and from a quick drop-in at Heart, Mind & Strength (God, please support Pam Pilcher and her family) that there was a bit of a (courteous) dust-up about Attachment Parenting, or AP.

There is a corollary to that which I think is important: the willingness to be affectionate in marriage. We all know those married folks who show up together at a party or some gathering, and either split up immediately, only to reunite for the drive home, or who stay by each other the whole time, never touching each other.

I sometimes wonder if it's a sad side effect of the attitude that affection in marriage is simply about sex, and nothing else. (For a good discussion of this, see this article.)

To insist on interpreting physical closeness as a prelude to sex is a serious misunderstanding, and very dangerous to marriage. People need to be cuddled. It's such a strong need that they'll become very vulnerable to anyone who's willing to listen to them and touch them in a reassuring way. There is nothing quite so discouraging as to offer friendly, non-sexual touch and have one's hand removed ... however kindly it is done.

And now, a word from the grammar lady

When you have the frame of an idea - the skeleton, so to speak - and you want to fill in the blanks and make it whole - put meat on it, in other words - you want to flesh it out.

Not flush it out.

Thank you. You may go back to what you were doing.

A priest to pray for

A post on The New Liturgical Movement today highlighted an article Dr. Jeff Mirus of Catholic Culture wrote in which he discusses The Other Health Crisis: Why Priests are Coping Poorly by Fr. Paul Stanosz in Commonweal.

Dr. Mirus' article absorbed me. As he points out, "this article unintentionally demonstrates an extremely important spiritual point."

It is important to read both articles in their entirety. However, a flavor of Fr. Stanosz' conclusions may be seen in these sentences, which appear towards the end of his article:
For me personally, acknowledging that the church and priesthood are in decline will lower my expectations of my bishops, brother priests, and my parishioners ... I’ll learn to say “no” when diocesan officials ask me to take a third, fourth, or fifth parish. I’m not advocating apathy in the face of decline; I’m merely recognizing that the decline began before me and will continue after me. Even Pope John Paul II, with all his vision, courage, and tenacity, was unable to return the masses to the church. The new evangelization he called for remains to be undertaken.

And so I anticipate ministering to a shrinking Catholic flock as I grow old. This does not mean that the work and mission of the presbyterate will be increasingly irrelevant. On the contrary, it will be all the more pressing and challenging. Embracing this reality decreases my anxiety, sharpens my vision, makes my expectations more realistic, and makes my spirit less likely to burn out; it leads me to care for my health, so that I will be able to care for those entrusted to me. To restore health to our pastoral function, we priests first need to admit our own pain and disorientation in a foundering church.
In his words, one can sense Fr. Stanosz' tired resignation. My heart grieves for this priest, and for all who feel as he does.

Read Dr. Mirus' article to see what he thinks. For my part, I was struck by the solutions Fr. Stanosz recommends: "embracing" the reality of a foundering American church, and taking care of his health.

At only one point does Fr. Stanosz mention his boss (not the archbishop; Jesus). And it is in a remarkable paragraph.
An aging presbyterate should not exhaust itself in implementing new programs that are at best only Band-Aids. Instead, we must acknowledge the magnitude and the complexity of the forces that lie behind American Catholicism’s loss of vigor, and stop blaming Vatican II or the bumbling bishops who shielded pedophiles and failed to protect children. We should avoid blithely scapegoating “the culture of death” and the evil of the secular world. After all, there are currents of sin and grace in both the church and the world. An eagerness to blame “the world” may keep us from seeing our own failure to embody the compassion and virtue of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Mirus discusses the many problems and implications of the passage, and I (again) recommend reading his article. What struck me about it was Fr. Stanosz ends by saying, in essence, that we should embody the compassion and virtue of Jesus.

I think, for me, that is the key.

While it could be argued that one might embody the compassion and virtue of Jesus, there is only one way that is going to happen ... and that way is not mentioned anywhere in the article.

Mother Teresa was renowned for an extraordinary, relentless, heroic charity. Her order is full of those who regularly rescue dying persons and tend to their loathsome physical conditions and, in truth, embody the compassion and virtue of Jesus.

However, they do not try to rev themselves up for this exclusively by sitting around and singing songs about how wonderful it is to be with Jesus.

They kneel on the floor, and they pray and meditate on Jesus. Then they go out with their hearts and minds and thoughts attuned to Him, so that they readily recognize Him in His most needy ones.

Analyzing her deeds and achievements, John Paul II asked: "Where did Mother Teresa find the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others? She found it in prayer and in the silent contemplation of Jesus Christ, his Holy Face, his Sacred Heart."

In his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI mentioned Teresa of Calcutta three times and he also used her life to clarify one of his main points of the encyclical. "In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service." Mother Teresa specified that "It is only by mental prayer and spiritual reading that we can cultivate the gift of prayer."
From Wikipedia

Fr. Stanosz refers to "... high stress, poor health, and low morale. More and more [priests] are battling burnout and depression as well as suffering heart attacks and dying prematurely..." Yet we know that health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, increased longevity, and reduced risk for depression, may occur in people who regularly practice their spiritual faith or who are part of a religious community. Fr. Stanosz rejects "disciplines and devotional practices that flourished in the middle of the last century," identifying them with unsuitable candidates to the priesthood. He does not mention the prayer habits and lifestyles of those priests who are suffering. However, Carlo Carretto wrote: "I do not believe in theologians who do not pray... When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation."

While perhaps not to Fr. Stanosz' taste, there is a worldwide initiative to help priests through Eucharistic Adoration which has been launched by no less than the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.
Women were also mentioned as important members of this new initiative. “The vocation to be a spiritual mother to priests is not well known, poorly understood and therefore not commonly practiced, despite its vital importance. Regardless of age, all women can be spiritual mothers to a priest”, the congregation noted. Women are also encouraged to pray anonymously for a specific priest and to spiritual accompany him.
My patron saint - one Fr. Stanosz likely does not "cotton to" - was committed to interceding for priests.

Dr. Mirus gave a balanced, clear analysis of Fr. Stanosz' article. I think there are some of us who can clearly see what Fr. Stanosz perhaps cannot, in his exhausted and dispirited state. Let us pray for him.

Is divorce ever a good thing?

Tim Harford, writing in The Undercover Economist on Slate, thinks so. The article is well-written and thought-out, and worth reading. The money quote for me:
[Research shows that] the new laws had an unexpected—but rational—effect: by giving women an exit-option, they gave men stronger incentives to behave well inside a marriage. The result? Domestic violence fell by almost a third, and the number of women murdered by their partners fell by ten percent. Female suicide also fell.
Having lived through the fallout from my mother's dogged commitment to her toxic marriage, followed by my own unintentional following in her footsteps, I cannot but agree with his conclusion to that paragraph:
It is a reminder that the binding commitment of marriage has costs as well as benefits.
Harford writes,
While the divorce rate has been falling for three decades, it would be a shame if it fell too far. Justin Wolfers comments, "We know there exists something called an optimal divorce rate, and we're 100 percent sure it isn't zero."
Read the whole thing.

H/T The Anchoress.

19 January 2008

A passionate rant

One of my regularly occasional stops when grazing blogs is Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. He recently mentioned the Jane Austen presentations on Masterpiece Theatre, and seguéd into a review of Karl Keating's recent newsletter in which he opines about "soul mates":
Liking is something that "just happens." Loving is something we have control over. Liking is a spontaneous emotional reaction. Loving is an act of the will. You never will like everyone, but you can love anyone.
OK, I'm with him so far as that goes... but English is poverty-stricken when it comes to the word "love." There are lots of kinds of love - and some of them are not willed.
What seems incongruous is that "you can love anyone." I am not saying that you will, because in all probability you won't. But it is theoretically possible in a way that liking everyone is not.

Many years ago, when I first practiced law, I one day was appointed to represent a rapist at a hearing. He was perhaps the only person I ever have met who seemed to have an entirely dormant conscience. I found not the least thing likeable in him, and I knew that, unless he changed dramatically and unexpectedly, I never could like him. But I also knew that I could love him, because love is an act of the will.

Loving is not an act we carry out very successfully. I don't remember feeling any love toward that rapist--pity, perhaps, but not love. Yet I must have realized that I could have loved him, had I willed it. A saint would have willed it, but not even a saint could have willed himself into liking him, absent the rapist reforming and becoming likeable.
Of course. But already Mr. Keating's words betray a potential for deeper understanding. Saints generally give up pretty quickly on forcing themselves to do anything like love the unlovable. They love God and the souls He created, however not-Godlike their material selves are in that moment. If you force yourself to do anything without being conscious of God's love, you will soon exhaust yourself. Just sayin', is all.
In summary, then, when it comes to basically good people whom we meet, it is possible for us to love any of them. This even applies to prospective spouses, and here I come to the real point I wish to make.
That was an abrupt transition ... from the spiritually evolved ability to love the unlovable, to considering a prospective spouse, with only a "when it comes to basically good people whom we meet..." - but that's a stylistic nitpick, so let's soldier on:
As you know, Catholic Answers hosts chastity talks by various speakers. Such talks are aimed at young audiences--high school and college students, chiefly--and, by necessity, the speakers themselves are young. At least they are still years away from middle age.

Some speakers who have spoken for us, when first starting out, told their young audiences that somewhere out there was a Prince or Princess Charming, someone fated from all eternity to be a young person's perfect match. Listeners were told something like this: "Save yourself for that one person that God has set aside just for you."

When I learned that this is what was being said, I told our speakers to cut it out--because it wasn't true. It sounded romantic, and it sounded pious, but it wasn't true. It left each young listener thinking that there was one and only one person whom he could love and have a happy marriage with and that, if he waited long enough, God would arrange for the couple to meet.

That's not how real life works. When I have a chance to speak to young people, I shock them by saying, "Within easy driving distance, there are a hundred people whom you could marry and have an equally happy life with."
Yes, it is shocking - because it's not true. (What is 'easy driving distance,' anyway?) He backpedals with, "Of course, there also are a hundred or a thousand with whom they might be miserable" - but, as they say, the damage has been done. But wait - there's more:
My point was that a marriage is what you make of it, under grace. In the old, old days, marriages often were arranged--and often turned out very well, no worse than the average marriage entered into by people who imagined they were marrying a Prince or Princess Charming.
When you're talking about something as important as marriage, I think there's a bit more substantiation needed than a careless statement like that. How does he know? And what does "turned out very well" mean?
This does not, of course, mean that every match is a good one or that every match is wisely entered into. (I am reminded of Dr. Johnson's remark, when told that a man who had been very unhappy in marriage had remarried immediately after his wife had died: "It was the triumph of hope over experience.") But it does mean that fairy tales should be left to children.

It does no harm for a ten-year-old girl to dream of a Prince Charming, but half her life will be wasted if she still thinks, at thirty-five, that she should wait for the appearance of a Prince Charming whom God has reserved for her and that she should let pass other prospects with whom, in fact, she could be sufficiently happy.
There's only one word for nonsense like this.


One needs to approach marriage like any other vocation: with prayer, soul-searching, and thoughtful observation and learning.

I suppose a reasonable analogy would be when one called to religious life thinks about whether they want to join an order or, in the case of priests, become a diocesan priest. At one point I was discerning a vocation, myself. (And it was one of those where I often prayed, "would you please let me alone, Lord? Go pick on somebody else!" Heh.) But, in the course of my discernment, I learned that, were I to enter religious life, I would be happiest as a Discalced Carmelite - didn't figure out if the active life would suit me more than the contemplative, because at that point my family needed me and I had to abandon the project - whereas the Benedictine or Franciscan charism are not attractive to me.

One can't just "be a nun" any more than one can just "be a wife." Your vocation involves aspects which you must choose ultimately based on your heart and what you learn through prayer, meditation, and fact-finding.

In the same way, one needs to be very discriminating when it comes to one's spouse. To add to the difficulty, there is no time of one's life when it is more difficult to think clearly. But the one you marry will not only be your life's companion; you are engaging the co-creator of your children and the one to whom you will entrust the raising of those precious lives.

I believe Mr. Keating's intentions are the best, but I believe he is mistaken. I think his message to young people is erroneous, and risks hurting lives. His message discourages faith - the kind of warm, confiding faith which gets one through so many difficult years as a youngster.

It gave me such comfort to know that God had in mind the right vocation for me, and, in due time, if I was open to experience and listening to Him, I would find out what it would be. To say that there is no one He has picked out for us belittles His reach and His power and, most of all, His love. Either He is God, or He's not. If He is, let us trust Him.
It does no harm for a ten-year-old girl to dream of a Prince Charming, but half her life will be wasted if she still thinks, at thirty-five, that she should wait for the appearance of a Prince Charming whom God has reserved for her and that she should let pass other prospects with whom, in fact, she could be sufficiently happy.
Some of us are destined for the single life. The only way to find out is by the absence of a suitable spouse. Some of us are destined for religious life, and to marry without conviction of vocation will keep us from that. Life has those disappointments which, if patiently and prayerfully endured, can be turned around into joy beyond description. Mr. Keating may not mean his "shocking" words this way, but I hear, and those kids hear, "Just because God has been inside your soul, that doesn't mean He knows what you want and need. Even if He did, He wouldn't care, and He wouldn't (or couldn't) do anything about it. You're on your own. Just go find someone and quit dreaming."

Let's hear from a Doctor of the Church:
Thérèse, the little Spouse of Jesus, loves Him for Himself; she only looks on the Face of her Beloved to catch a glimpse of the Tears which delight her with their secret charm. She longs to wipe away those Tears, or to gather them up like priceless diamonds with which to adorn her bridal dress. Jesus! . . . Oh! I would so love Him! Love Him as He has never yet been loved! . . .(from her autobiography)
That was her vocation: to love Jesus. And she did, as fiercely as anyone ever has. She fought to be with Him and did so at a very young age. She knew what she wanted and would settle for nothing less.

That, my friends, is passion.

Is Pope Benedict XVI a passionate man? Let's see: he's 80 years old, but he works like a horse and does everything he can to be the kind of leader a Pope should be. He loves God, his brother, Mozart and cats. But, brothers and sisters, he is passionately in love with God, and passionate about serving God's people.

Do you want a priest who isn't passionate about God and his vocation?

Do you want a spouse who isn't passionately in love with you???

How can Mr. Keating counsel those with the vocation to marry to give up the idea that there is one person they are meant to love, and instead resolve to be content with only "...sufficiently happy"?

If God does not, or will not, or cannot give us what we need day by day, then it's God's intimate, caring, miraculous, all-powerful love which is the fairy tale.

This from an apologist.

God help us.

13 January 2008

"His back to the people" - here we go again

Fr. Z. goes over an AP article on the Mass which Benedict XVI offered in the Sistine Chapel, in which the temporary little altar was not used, but the original altar, the design of which fits in with breathtaking beauty.

The breathless "it's a break with tradition!" thing is just too funny. It's got some of us laughing our apses off.

11 January 2008

St. Thérèse has done it again

You have to see this to believe it.

The parish of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Alhambra has established the Extraordinary Form as a regular Sunday mass at 1:00pm. This is not surprising. The parish is under the care of the Discalced Carmelites (there are three establishments in the immediate area), and has had perpetual adoration for a long time.

They are the first to be listed on the archdiocesan website, below the list of those Masses established under the previous "free and generous" policy. {polite cough}

I cannot begin to imagine with what chagrin the Archdiocese resigned itself to posting that Mass.

(One notes that the page is still called "indult" - http://www.archdiocese.la/ directories/ parishes/ indult.html. And, of course, the link is to "Tridentine (sic) Masses".)

The parish was actually named for St. Thérèse before her canonization in May, 1925. From their parish history:
On January 26, 1925, the [Discalced Carmelite] Fathers were able to take up permanent residence in a newly acquired home at 515 Vega Street, purchased for $37,000. (the house had been built in 1899 by Seth Champion). The Carmelites blessed their new home on January 27, dedicating it to Blessed Therese, thus becoming the first Irish mission of the Discalced Carmelites.
St. Thérèse is my patron saint. Her intercession is often like her life and her Little Way: hidden, easy to discount, full of deep meaning, and powerful for those who are aware of it. What she asks, she gets. I have no doubt whatever that she asked our good God for her parish to be the first listed on the Archdiocesan as offering the Extraordinary Form of Mass on a regular basis, and I have no doubt He was glad to comply, that those who love that form of Mass may find her parish and have solace there.

When her relics were brought to Alhambra, I had the great joy and blessing of making a visit. I made a special prayer that day for courage and perseverance, two virtues which seem entirely lacking in my character when it comes to my Faith. I could not persevere when things went so far wrong after Vatican II; I hadn't the courage to stand up for what I knew was right. I was spending so much time protecting myself against spiritual corruption that I finally fled. During her visit in 1997 it seemed like there would be no end to the nonsense; the Catholic Church was unrecognizable; where was Jesus? So I was led by God at that time to ask St. Thérèse as a special favor for courage and perseverance.

I would like to say that I was given those virtues, but that's not what happened at all. I'm just as weak as ever ... weaker, even. My courage is in Jesus. I rely on Jesus alone. If there's anything courageous to be done in my life, I do it entirely in His strength and guidance. My perseverance is a kind of stubborn resolve to love Him no matter what. Archbishop Mahony and certain Jesuits and all that crowd can do what they will; I shall not quit loving Jesus. Nor will I quit seeing Jesus as the Christ, the King. I kneel in His presence.

Archbishop Mahony finds that disobedient, and therefore scandalous. So I don't give scandal. I don't kneel at Mass. I can't, because I'm not there.

But I do kneel at the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Jesus would be within His rights to annihilate me for my cowardice. Instead, He has graciously condescended to give us Pope Benedict XVI and has supported and blessed him in his arduous work. I was astonished at Summorum Pontificum - and deeply humbled. And now ... this. At a parish near enough to me to remove all excuses from attending. The parish named for my patroness, St. Thérèse.

I asked for courage and perseverance. Instead, the more acutely aware I am of my weakness and my need every moment for God's love and forbearance, the more I am given.

Bank of America + Countrywide? Eeeewww!!

Bank of America is set to acquire Countrywide.

I have a credit card with BofA which I am doggedly paying off. Once that's done I shall never use it again. I warn everyone away from the place. They are the absolute worst chiselers, always just on this side of the law. Let's just say you'd have to compartmentalize well to work at BofA, or go through some pretty elaborate rationalizations ... because if you do business with them, you're supporting an organization which is really out to get people. I don't like their attitude. It's the kind of bullying that gets shrugged off with "We're acting within the law."

Countrywide ... unfortunately, my home loan is with them. They have a fascinating little trick associated with the "pick your own payment date" deal. I won't detail it here. It's legal, I suppose, but if I were foolish enough to use them again for credit I'd pay more than I have to for interest - and I'd never know why. I found out by accident by taking the time to ask some open-ended questions of one of those kids who call trying to sell you a line of credit. If you have that option, chat up one of those kids and see if you can get them to tell you your internal account status. Not what's reported to the credit bureaus, but what they see on their screens.

Separately, they had a scary computer issue right after I got my loan. I spent HOURS on the phone with reps - one of whom actually burst into tears because she'd had so many people call HER in tears. Those of us who had that twice-a-month payment option - which Countrywide apparently dreamed up without involving their programmers - were getting threatening letters from Countrywide because our loan payments were going into a black hole in their computer system. So far as Countrywide knew, no payment had been received - yet my account showed it had been withdrawn. The suspense was, would we get it straightened out this month BEFORE the report went to the credit bureaus? That was not fun.

I just hope BofA has done some serious due diligence. I'm afraid they'll find some horrible messes buried in the computer systems at Countrywide ... the kind that class actions are made of.