30 July 2008

A thought about Latin

Fr. Z has posted a clip of Benedict XVI arriving for vacation in a favourite spot. The clip shows the Holy Father speaking to the assembled people and greeting them, and thanking them profusely.

In Italian.

In fluent, easy, comfortable Italian.

The anti-Latin crowd must grind their teeth at his fluency, just as they must have when John Paul II spoke so many languages. They've been telling anyone who will listen that people cannot be expected to learn a new language, especially not Latin.

But it's a language like any other. The Romance languages - Spanish, French, Italian among them - spring from Latin, which makes them easier to learn if you are familiar with the source. And so much Latin is present in common English constructions that a knowledge of it is a positive help when learning vocabulary and reading.

So to say that people cannot understand the Mass if it's in Latin is neither compassionate nor charitable. It's insulting.

28 July 2008

Blogger Tony Woodlief has a great story in Image

Last month's Image journal contained a powerful story, Name.

Then I ran across Sand in the Gears blog, and realized that Tony Woodlief is the author of that amazing story.

Tony's comments aren't working or I'd tell him directly. In the meantime, I can definitely recommend the story, and Image journal, for that matter.

It's put out by the school which Karen Hall over at Some Have Hats heard about from commenters when asking for info about low-residency MFA programs... and where I shall go for my MFA, should that happy day ever arrive.

27 July 2008

A few words about, and for, Dr. P.Z. Myers

At the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog, Fr. Tim Finigan reports on the desecration of the consecrated host by Dr. P.Z. Myers.

Dr. Myers is childishly proud of what he's done. He thinks he's gotten away with something. He thinks he's shown the Catholics a thing or two.

What did he think would happen?

Wouldn't he be chagrined if someone, who'd not heard before that Catholics believe Jesus is actually present in the Host under the form of bread, said, "they believe that? but why?" - and picked up the Gospels to find out?

I think there ought to be consequences for what he's done. The university must be held to its published principles and not allowed to pick and choose which groups they will defend from hateful acts.

But we don't need to exact revenge. Desecrating a Host does not reduce the amount of Jesus in the world. He is still alive, still with us.

I gather that Dr. Myers wanted to prove that, since there would be no dramatic supernatural intervention, Jesus was not in the Host.

Dr. Myers forgets that there was no dramatic intervention on Calvary, either.

Jesus puts Himself in our way deliberately, and makes no attempt to protect Himself.

Dr. Myers did not perceive Jesus when handling the Host.

That's OK. Lots of us overlook Him, even those of us who know better.

Nevertheless, Dr. Myers, Jesus was there. You touched Him. The Son of God Who walked this earth - that Jesus. You could have asked Him for anything, sir, in that moment. You could have listened for His voice in your soul. Instead, you did some childish, hateful things, and then bragged about it.

Why did you do it, sir? Were you just wanting some attention to liven up your life for a while, or do you really have a grudge against Jesus?

To ask it another way: would you have done those things if no one knew about it?

Either way, if we Catholics are on our game, you will hear almost nothing from us.

You might even think we don't care.

But, see, there's no point in trying to defend Jesus from the likes of you. Not only doesn't He need it - legions of angels, etc. - the shameful truth is, He needs to be defended even from us, even on our very best days. Without His love and grace, any one of us could sink to the level of baseness you displayed. It's no great feat to throw Jesus' gift back in His face.

In the end, your stunt wasn't even very original. The rusty nail? It's been done before.

And, in spite what you did, and the fact that no bolt of lightning descended on your unworthy, sinful head, we Catholics are still here, and we still believe.

You know what? Lightning bolts don't descend on our unworthy, sinful heads, either.

Jesus laid in your hands, helpless. He let you do what you were going to do. While you did it, He loved you, Dr. Myers.

You see, nothing you can do will make Him stop loving you. It might keep you from being able to love Him, but that's different.

He's still loving you, Dr. Myers.

If you want to get His attention, you don't need to do anything but say His name. If you can't bring yourself say the word, say it in your heart.

He's listening.

Tell Him what's really going on. Tell Him how you feel about Him, and religion in general. Tell Him why you did those nasty things to Him.

Use whatever words you like. He can take it.

He loves you.

Great Catholic comments on a post on contraception

Thanks to Alicia for posting this. I didn't even read the article... just enjoyed the comments.

26 July 2008

Humanae Vitae - here's what I think

Humanae Vitae was published into a world which was primed for its rejection. Among the factors I perceived were at work: the recent adoption of the television into homes, with the earliest publicly-announced broadcasts in the United States (personal liberty) and the USSR (control by disinformation); a frenzy for innovation in all areas of life; and a disproportionate number of young adults.

Television, and its secondary technology, recording, were initially under some control, but, as we all know, there is virtually no limit to what can be broadcast now. Recording allows the most foolish and ill-advised presentations to be forever available and repeatable (I am thinking YouTube). To sell television in the then-current sponsorship model, entertainment programs must appeal to the broadest audience, which usually means stripping them of distinctives, especially in matters of belief.

Innovation without reference to the past became the norm. From the ridiculous (the abandonment of phonics-based reading education for "look-say" methods pervasively used in schools during this time), to the sublime (what happened to the Mass in the wake of Vatican II), the passion for newness was everywhere, and never more so than in the area of sexual behavior. Innovations with profound implications were foisted upon society in an apparent vacuum. Those counseling prudence were mocked, when not simply ignored.

The post-WW II "baby boom" resulted in teeming hordes of young persons whose minds were full of what they saw in movie theaters and on television, but little else. In school, they were denied the tools which would have enabled them to read omnivorously and quickly. In their classes, reference to the sages of history was proscribed. Religion, when it was admitted, was to be seen as only personal. God could not be stipulated as an absolute when discussing anything. According to the professors, the only reliable source of information about the meaning of anything came from within, based on experience. Critical thinking came to mean simply being critical, instead of doing the intellectual heavy lifting required to thoroughly learn a topic and come up with original ideas based on it.

If the young had been taught to think for themselves... if they'd had the skills to read well... if they had been protected against the distractions and misinformation disseminated by television and movies... and if the Church had not been swept off its place of authority in the public mind by dissenters who proclaimed the worthlessness of her teaching, without even the first glimmer of a clue of what the teaching really was...

But if is a big, sprawling, slippery word.

So here we are, 40 years later, with lives full of experiences formed in a crucible of our own making. If we are honest, we will admit that, by deriding the wisdom of those who had gone before, we merely consigned ourselves to slogging through the same muck they did. Their writings and clear guidance were not meant to spoil our fun, stunt our personalities, or ruin our lives. They did not hate us, sight unseen! They meant to help us avoid slog, instead to start from the intellectual and moral point they had attained with such suffering and effort, so we could go on further, bringing the rest of our human family along with us. Instead, we spurned their patient work, and declared our little experiments to be better than anything they could ever have dreamed of.

We were deceived.

To those who still regard Humanae Vitae, and all that went before it, to be simply wrong, I say this: be honest. Do not say that the Catholic Church should not teach this. What does it matter to you what she teaches? Say the truth: I cannot do this. I do not accept its teaching. I cannot be persuaded. But before you declare that, you really must read the encyclical, once, carefully. To do otherwise is at best simply childish; at worst, it is intellectual dishonesty.

There will be those who dismiss it out of hand, citing science and medicine as far more advanced than some gang of old celibates. Oh, really? There is no shortage of empirical proof of the ills predicted in Humanae Vitae: women exhausted from trying to manage career and family, cast off after bearing children; rampant divorce; wholesale slaughter of unborn children; loss of dignity, loss of respect, loss of control, and harm to the environment (from all the hormones in the water supply). It is pointless to say they're not related, unless the way set forth in Humanae Vitae is really tried. And I am not speaking exclusively of attention to a woman's hormonal patterns, although there are plenty of testimonials as to the benefits of NFP, for conceiving as well as for spacing children. I am referring to the framework, the foundation, which Humanae Vitae and all similar teaching the Church assumes: marriage as a vocation.

A common insult levied at the Catholic Church is that it "treats people like children." I don't see that at all. If anything, the Catholic Church has always had a view of humanity which transcends anything the world has to offer. Yet its ideals are not invented; they are revealed in Scripture, and the Church simply points to them and does everything she can to help them be attained.

Very recently there has been an upsurge in an interest in tradition among the youth. Traditional orders of monks and nuns are flourishing. Young men are entering seminaries where they can be traditionally trained for the priesthood. From the world's point of view, a traditional Roman Catholic priest is either a hero or a fool. To live in continence and celibacy, without a family of one's own...? When undertaken by a mature individual with a right intention, definitely heroic. The Church has a very high view of what people can do with God's help. Her faith is often rewarded: the last two Popes are exemplars of how the celibate, continent man can take the people of God as his family, and be a good father to them.

But if a priest is called to heroism in his daily life, what about laypersons? Of course they are... and none more than observant Catholic spouses. They live out the virtues of faith, hope, and love every single day of their lives. Couples who practise contraception may still be devoted to one another, but no one will deny it takes another whole level of maturity, discipline, patience, and trust in God to live as a family, open to His gift of children.

By the way, it takes no less of those virtues to live through the sorrow and grief of greatly desiring to have children but being unable to conceive, or carry to term. It takes strength and grace to withstand the well-meaning offers to medically correct the situation by using unnatural methods. Those who cannot accept God's will in this matter can end up in grievously disordered situations, in which scientific achievement is the god, and the consequences to human life and emotions are studiously ignored.

Finally, again to be honest, Humanae Vitae's reception was compromised by The Spirit of Vatican Two, at least in the United States. Humanae Vitae was published in 1968. It dropped into an environment of eager relinquishment of things which were once distinctives of Catholic life. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in their pastoral document of November 18, 1966 stated:
Catholics in the United States are obliged to abstain from the eating of meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during the season of Lent. They are also obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. Self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended. Abstinence from flesh meat on all Fridays of the year is especially recommended to individuals and to the Catholic community as a whole.
What they said: "In order for you to have a more authentic Christian experience, pray and study and find another ascetic discipline, if you like, to replace Friday abstinence." What we heard: "This was a mortal sin, but now it's not." Stunning!

Then, on May 29, 1969, Memoriale Domini was published, which reported,
...in certain communities and in certain places this practice [communion in the hand] has been introduced without prior approval having been requested of the Holy See, and, at times, without any attempt to prepare the faithful adequately.
(Hmm... sounds like most of what came after Vatican II.)

It also contained these words:
...with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant.

This method of distributing holy communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful's reverence for the Eucharist.
It goes on to record the vote from the bishops:
1. Do you think that attention should be paid to the desire that, over and above the traditional manner, the rite of receiving holy communion on the hand should be admitted?

Yes: 597

No: 1,233

Yes, but with reservations: 315
By the time this vote was taken, you know it had to be a widely-known practice. But, for some reason, Pope Paul VI kind of waffled, and ended pretty much by saying, "well, if you must ... send me a note in six months and let me know how it goes."

What that translated to, for those two worthies, John & Mary Catholic, was, "we used to say this was sacrilege; but, oh, all right - go ahead."

And, of course, in the meantime, Latin missals were being thrown into the trash, Mass was being said entirely in the vernacular versus populum, and women gave up covering their heads.

But, in the midst of all that, the Church forbade contraception - and had the gall to couch it in the idealistic 50s claptrap that Vatican II was supposed to do away with!

John & Mary Catholic heard: "Oh yes, there will be top-to-bottom reforms, you won't recognize the ol' Church, - but when it comes to this? Ha ha, just kidding!"

Pope Paul VI was asking a hard thing. On the one hand, he was asking for heroic sacrifices, and saying that this was an unchangeable principle. But the bishops were sweeping away penalties for other things which had seemed no less important and logical. While not a scholar, I do try to understand, and even I was bewildered. It didn't make sense. In the end, it came down to this: I'd become a Roman Catholic at 14 knowing that I would have to be willing to welcome children as God sent them, if I was ever married. I took it very seriously, to the point where it was a factor in losing my dear one.

To raise children, I would need to be able to rely on my faith, not only for myself, but to teach them. In the wake of Vatican II, the Church's message was incoherent, and all that was good and beautiful was headed for the Dumpster (literally, in some cases). I didn't recognize the Church any more, and the Church didn't want the likes of me. Coming on top of my already extremely distressing home situation, it was just too much.

I didn't have the wisdom or the experience to know that the Church has gone through lots of similarly challenging times, and survived. I was incredibly hurt and angry, and I left. I didn't go anywhere else, though. There really is nowhere else, for a Catholic. I can go just so long, eating the dry straw that is Protestant doctrine, before I have to go back to the pasture that is the Truth. And, when I did, I would get out my dear old prayerbooks (rescued from garage sales and trash bins over the years), and my precious Douay Rheims Bible (another garage sale), and I would comfort myself, in private. Because all those things were Wrong and Bad in the new church.

With Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict has not just made it clear the the Extraordinary Form of Mass is Good, he has given us permission to enjoy the beautiful, helpful books and practices from centuries gone by. He has made me feel welcome again. He has shown me the courtesy and kindness and respect for my feelings which was never forthcoming from the liberals.

It may be too late for me. My life did not go down Catholic paths, although I never really left. There will need to be some big changes in my life before I can take my place again as a Roman Catholic. I owe it to Benedict to try. He has certainly come more - far more! - than halfway. I would never have considered trying to go to Mass before S.P. Now, I have no excuse.

Earlier, I said that the Catholic Church does not treat souls like children, because its standards are high and its faith in grace unlimited. Benedict's approach to the youth at World Youth Day could not be called condescension. He painted a picture of what they could do, and urged them to do it, for the love of God. And yet, I do feel like a child, sometimes... like a dirty, tired, hungry child who's been chased out of the house and forgotten about, left to wander about, begging for scraps. Benedict is going out into the hedgerows and coaxing us back in. He is protecting us from marauders, feeding us good food, and giving us the treasures which are rightfully ours. By giving the priests the right to say the Extraordinary Form of Mass, he has preserved it forever, because there will always be priests who want to say that Mass. By making sure the Extraordinary Form is available, Benedict has ensured that the faithful will be there - those faithful who know what the Mass is, and cannot accept the deformative changes, even after 40 years of being told how Wonderful We Are. And by giving the faithful a place to pray and know God, led by priests who know how close the Church came to losing the Extraordinary Form forever, Benedict has, quite simply, saved the Roman Catholic Church. "Where two or three are gathered in my name..."

1968 - one Cardinal remembers

Cardinal James Francis Stafford has written a reflection on the year in which Humanae Vitae was set forth. It is posted at Catholic News Agency. Cardinal Stafford is Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary. He writes,
It was the year of the bad war, of complex innocence that sanctified the shedding of blood. English historian Paul Johnson dubs 1968 as the year of “America’s Suicide Attempt.” It included the Tet offensive in Vietnam with its tsunami-like effects in American life and politics, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee; the tumult in American cities on Palm Sunday weekend; and the June assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in southern California.
In my own life, this sense of upheaval was made complete by my parents' acrimonious divorce. All of this took place in the context of the idea that "God is dead." Life had no moorings.

I appreciate the Cardinal's honesty. He relates how, while he was a priest serving in Washington and Baltimore, the Baltimore Metropolitan Health and Welfare Council undertook a study in 1965-1966 to advise the city government in how to address the issue of a sharp rise in unwed pregnancies. He writes, "At that time, the Board members of the Council, including myself, had uncritical faith in experts and social research. Even the II Vatican Council had expressed unfettered confidence in the role of benevolent experts (Gaudium et Spes 57)."

He goes on to say, "Not one of my professional acquaintances anticipated the crisis of trust which was just around the corner in the relations between men and women. Our vision was incapable of establishing conditions of justice and of purity of heart in which wonder and appreciation can find play. We were already anachronistic and without hope. We ignored the texture of life."

His ecclesiastical superior, Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan of Baltimore, had been appointed by Pope Paul VI along with others as additional members to the Papal Commission for the Study of Problems of the Family, Population, and Birth Rates, first established by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1963 during the II Vatican Council. This was the group which did the (in)famous study which was submitted to the Pope, which seemed to show that contraception was a necessary adaptation to the demands of modern life and economies. As it turned out, even Cardinal Shehan believed this.

But then-Father Lawrence had come to a different conclusion, based on his personal history of early introduction to an integrated view of sexuality and holiness thanks to his parents, and his direct observation in his ministry of the dreadful consequences which followed in the wake of a loss of appreciation of meaning in sexuality. He writes, "I had taken a hard, cold look at what I was experiencing and what the Church and society were doing. I came across an idea which was elliptical: the gift of love should be allowed to be fruitful. These two fixed points are constant. This simple idea lit up everything like lightning in a storm. I wrote about it more formally to the Cardinal: the unitive and procreative meanings of marriage cannot be separated. Consequently, to deprive a conjugal act deliberately of its fertility is intrinsically wrong. To encourage or approve such an abuse would lead to the eclipse of fatherhood and to disrespect for women."

His remembrance then takes a tragic, graphic turn as he describes the effect of the carefully orchestrated dissent on the morale of the priesthood. You need to read it to know that he speaks honestly, from his heart, in spare but clear language. "Conversations among the clergy, where they existed, became contaminated with fear. Suspicions among priests were chronic. Fears abounded. And they continue."

And then he says something striking: Priests’ fraternity had been wounded. Pastoral dissent had attacked the Eucharistic foundation of the Church. Its nuptial significance had been denied.

Surely he was not alone. Many, many priests must have felt betrayed and bewildered.

25 July 2008

Humanae Vitae, revisited

I recommend Mary Eberstadt's article, The Vindication of Humanae Vitae," (First Things, August/September 2008), as a well-written retrospective about what happened when Humanae Vitae was promulgated.

(And, if you haven't read it, you need to. Don't believe what other people say about it; read it for yourself.)

(OK, done? All right, let's go on.)

The Catholic Church is pleading, on behalf of your soul and everyone else's, for you to stop and consider the notion that love is what being human is all about. No other creature on God's earth can love the way we can, but we must learn to do it.

When we are young, self-absorbed, and foolish, we're impatient with any kind of restraint. When we shook off guiding principles in the 60s and 70s, we did not gain our freedom from anything except a reasonable chance for happiness.

This review of “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation” (Sheila Weller, Atria Books) by Stephen Holden from the New York Times back in May (free registration required) describes a book chronicling the lives of three singers who were icons in their day. The last two paragraphs are beautifully written, and strictly copyrighted, so I can only recommend you hop over there and check it out. The review concisely and almost lyrically conveys how the book depicts the consequences of life and love undertaken without the framework of centuries of Christian wisdom.

Innocence, youth, and virginity are precious because they are so easy to lose. Indeed, they're often thoughtlessly relinquished like Esau's birthright: for "a mess of pottage," or, worse, taken, by cynical adults.

I'm one of the victims of the sexual "revolution" of the 70s. (I prefer "regression." Be that as it may...) I was a staunch Roman Catholic, a convert who had read a lot of Scripture and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the Church was about. My dear friend and I loved each other, but I was chaste. He was ignorant of my reasons, but accepted my explanation. Another girl decided she wanted him, and took the most direct and effective way to persuade a handsome, inexperienced 18 year old man to stay by her side without the tiresome process of discernment, building a relationship based on shared values, etc. They were married in a grand Catholic wedding a couple of years later.

OK, so he chose another. What's the big deal? It is this: he and I were long-time friends, and right for each other; our relationship was based on everything but inappropriate intimacy; and we had bonded to one another. She was entirely different from me. He never forgot me. After their divorce, he looked me up. Eleven years after that, after losing track of me, he drove wistfully around the streets of our old neighborhood during a rare visit, hoping against hope he'd see me.

In His mercy, after all those years apart, God has brought us together again. But, at times, around my dear one's kids, I am overwhelmed with the magnitude of my loss. Their mother is still part of their lives. Our exchanges are cordial. I am still tempted to anger towards her at times, but, by the grace of God, I think: No. I can let go of that, and leave her to God. He knows all. He knows what happened, and how and why it happened. I can repent of my part in it (not speaking up when my friend needed a good smack upside the head, back in the day) and be grateful for the renewed friendship and love I have now.

It would be dishonest for me to pretend I accepted Humanae Vitae. I did not. I was dismayed by it. Watching my own mother's struggles in the wake of divorce didn't help me feel any too confident about the permanence of marriage, so I wanted to get my degree and start working before I had children. I shouldn't pretend that it was easy to remain chaste while we were dating, either; when my dear one and I became friends, he was shorter than I, endearingly freckled, with a round face and smooth chin. By high school graduation, he had attained his full height and hirsute adornments and had filled out, with powerful neck and shoulders, a heart-stopping smile, and a quiet male confidence that completely undid me. We managed because he genuinely loved me and cared for me, not always because I was strong and resolute. So I could not imagine marrying him before I'd established myself in the working world. That was years away. And how would we live? Where would we live? etc. etc.

When I met him after his divorce (and he'd gone from merely devastatingly handsome to the picture of male perfection in the meantime, a devoted father to his kids, successful in his work, and as obviously fond and respectful of me as ever), I learned that his parents had pitched in to help to a great degree during his troubled marriage, even renting him a house of theirs. It was a painful but necessary lesson for me: God would have cared for me. I was wrong to let my fears guide my life decisions.

I did, of course, again and again. But, finally, I think God's getting through to my dim brain. I'm stepping out in faith more often, after due prayer and reflection, and He's blessed me beyond all telling.

Humanae Vitae isn't about telling people what to do. It's not about dried up little old single men who've never touched a woman trying to dictate to those in the real world. It is a kind of Cliff's Notes to the wisdom of Scripture, tradition, and reason in the all-important matter of personal love and relationships. God does expect us to trust Him. When it comes to building a family, He's given most of us women entirely natural means to space children, including breast-feeding and paying attention to our body's signs. But that does require that we relax into His provision, and it requires that we know ourselves - emotionally, mentally - and that we focus on what we're doing; in other words, it means we have to grow up.

The Holy Father spoke movingly of God as courting lover in his meditation on the Angelus before leaving Sydney (one report and transcript here).
As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes.

In fairy tales, the story ends there, and all "live happily ever after". In real life it is not so simple. For Mary there were many struggles ahead, as she lived out the consequences of the "yes" that she had given to the Lord. Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. When Jesus was twelve years old, she experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when, for three days, the child went missing. And after his public ministry, she suffered the agony of witnessing his crucifixion and death. Throughout her trials she remained faithful to her promise, sustained by the Spirit of fortitude. And she was gloriously rewarded.
I knew all that, all those years ago. I just couldn't step out in trust. I still have many cowardly moments. My ability to love is defective due to my own faults; that doesn't mean God is mistaken about how best to show love. Just because I cannot always believe He loves me enough to care for me through everyday miracles, that doesn't mean He won't do so.

Will I be able to trust this time? Pray for me, please, that I may know and do God's will in my life, for the sake of those whose lives mine will touch.

What Summorum Pontificum meant to me

On July 7, Fr. Z posted a request for reflections on what Summorum Pontificum meant to people one year later. Well ... after much editing, it's still too long for the combox.

I came into the Church in 1971. My essential formation as a Catholic was provided by a 1926 Manual of Prayers, which contained all the information one needed to be a Catholic: prayers, laws, explanations. After the Bible, the second most important book in my conversion was The Story of a Soul, the writings of the saint I subsequently chose as my patron, Thérèse of Lisieux.

The other day, I came across these verses in the Fourth Poem of the Song of Songs (New Jerusalem Bible):
I opened to my love,
but he had turned and gone.
My soul failed at his flight,
I sought but could not find him,
I called, but he did not answer.

The watchmen met me,
those who go on their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they wounded me,
they took my cloak away from me:
those guardians of the ramparts!
I did not grow up knowing about the Real Presence. When I read in the missal that Jesus was really present in the consecrated Host, I dug into the Gospels, especially John's, and Paul's reference in Corinthians. I was amazed that they all said the same thing, and that the Church had accepted those writings and ordered her spiritual life around them for two thousand years. My first act of abandonment to God was to trust that Jesus really meant what he said, as reported by the Gospel writers and Paul. If it was not the right interpretation, both Jesus and Paul had wide-open opportunities to correct it. They didn't.

Therefore, a consecrated Host is not a cracker. It is Jesus, the Son of God.

If Jesus were to appear by your side right now, what would you do? I would kneel and reach for his wounded hand, burst into tears, and thank him. (My hair is too short to wipe his feet with. I would regret that.) In communion before the reforms, I could kneel to receive Jesus and welcome him into my heart. There were tragic, horrible things going on in my life in those days. It was an inexpressible comfort to kneel quietly, knowing Jesus was really with me in that mysterious way, that he loved me and knew what I was going through. No one in my mortal life would ever be so close to me. If I wept thinking about it, I could pull the mantilla forward a bit so no one would notice my tears. Sometimes during thanksgiving I was given the grace of thoughts of profound comfort and love; sometimes, correction; and, sometimes, just silence - Jesus and I would just be together for a while. Those were the best moments of my life as a Catholic.

Becoming a Roman Catholic took courage. It meant everything from Friday abstinence to refusing inappropriate intimacy on dates. It meant going to confession. It meant thinking seriously about my vocation, trying to discern God's will for my life. It meant learning enough to be able to explain my faith. It was something I did with my whole life. There's no way I would have done it merely for some kind of abstract idea or cause. I did it because a Person made himself known to me and invited me to "come and see." But I was just beginning to get my bearings when the changes were imposed - usually without more explanation than, "it's a reform." I never doubted Jesus, but I could not believe what was going on in the Church. It was not the same Church I'd struggled into.

My soul failed...

Worse, the "watchmen" - those zealous guardians of The Spirit of Vatican Two(tm)(r) - beat me and wounded my spirit by declaring the traditions I loved, and which had brought me into the Church in the first place, to be wrong, and calling me disobedient to want them. They took my cloak from me - my Roman Catholic identity. They forbade me to kneel to greet my Lord. They spent vast sums to tear up the churches so I would never be at risk of thinking about God and the saints instead of Fully Participating. Confessionals became quasi-therapy stations, where you sat in a chair to talk to the priest, instead of confessing to God on your knees. The liturgy was put into the changeable language of the everyday world, then subjected to the academic fad of linguistic reductionism until it was stilted and childish in vocabulary and tone. The priest, who ideally could be as devoted a husband and father as any other healthy man if he hadn't discerned Jesus' call to celibacy, was no longer offered the charity and respect of modest dress by women. It was decided that for a layperson to touch the consecrated Host wasn't sacrilegious, after all. And, all along the way, the cantor brayed into the microphone and energetically waved us through songs which would be acutely embarrassing to offer to Jesus, if he was really there.

If he was really there.

Remember the "informed conscience," the concept generally (ab)used to get around difficult teachings about the use of sex? I claimed it for myself for a different reason. I concluded that my faith was in peril whenever I went to any O.F. Mass, especially in the Los Angeles archdiocese. I shook the dust from my feet and haven't been back. I will not be bullied any more.

And then came Benedict.

Summorum Pontificum floored me. It is a clearly worded instruction, to those deluded "guardians of the ramparts," to stand down. If I return to the Church, it will be because of that letter, as well as Pope Benedict's gentle, reasonable invitations, his intellectual prowess, and his firm leadership. (I accuse Fr. Z of conspiring with him in this. When he posts the texts of the talks and interweaves his emphases and commentary, I read them because I don't want to miss any of his bon mots.)

In one of the Song's allegorical interpretations, I can hear the Church, Christ's bride, saying to her Lord as a result of Pope Benedict's leadership:
The most exquisite fruits are at our doors;
the new as well as the old,
I have stored them for you, my love.

10 July 2008

Whom to blame for the credit crisis

Ben Bernanke.

Forbes Magazine called it, 'way back when Bernanke decided to stop the madness of speculation in real estate.

He could have eased back ... slowly ... and let people wake up gently.

One can only speculate that he was new in his job, and wanted people to know he was boss. So, he slammed on the brakes.

We are paying the consequences.

The abrupt rise in interest rates squeezed homeowners who had gotten in way over their heads, with risky mortgages with inflexible balloon payments.

They quit buying. Businesses started feeling the pinch.

Add in gas prices, and there you have it: a mess.

Bernanke evidently didn't figure in the logic of markets.

Had he been more moderate in the controls he imposed, the gas price hikes would have taken care of the problem for him, restricting people's spending and helping them wake up to financial reality.

That said, it's not fair to make Bernanke our Dad when it comes to money.

Too many of us overspent. Too many of us didn't factor in The Future, with its unknowns. We bought on credit, got into upside-down mortgages, and refused to save money.

We were greedy.

We didn't trust God to provide our needs and legitimate wants within our incomes.

We declared it was our "right" to have new shoes, a vacation, a facelift, a new book, or a car.

I'm hurting, too. I have some debts that make me think I'll be 70 before they're paid off.

However, I'm OK for right now. God has provided me what I need, and SO much of what I truly want: Himself, and heart's ease in family and friends.

I was already in tight-budget mode before this began. In fact, I had the opportunity to sell my house, without fixing it up, for an astronomical sum of money, five years ago. I passed on the chance. It would have meant moving someplace which cost an equally astronomical sum, and I didn't want to leave California. And my house is a blessing in disguise: it's terribly shabby, but it's in a lovely spot. I enjoy privacy, safety, and quiet - all of which are extremely important to me right now.

So God has provided. I'm learning to trust Him more and more.

Maybe this current crisis will be an opportunity for others to do the same... to abandon themselves to His love, and quit worrying about clothes and food and, most particularly, status.

The only status that matters is where we stand before Him ... or, rather, kneel.

God cannot give to those whose hands and minds are hearts are full of themselves and their "accomplishments."

It is hard to empty oneself, let go, let God. I know. It is a daily, sometimes hourly, discipline.

But I can tell you this: it's a LOT easier to do it voluntarily than to wait for Him to pry away the pretty things for your own good. Because, sometimes, He cannot do it gently, because we will not take the point otherwise.

He is there to help through the hurt... but He'd so much rather you never got hurt at all! By trying to care for yourself without reference to, and guidance from, Him, however, you are setting yourself up for pain.

Lots of lessons to learn, for all of us, these days. May God grant we will be humble, teachable, and open to His leadings.

01 July 2008

Still here

... just busy with work, family and friends.

Wait: read that again... especially the last part.

"Family and friends".

Something new for me.

Part of finding pasture, I guess.

For most of my life, two things always either made me scoff, or at least feel puzzled:

- if their house was threatened, people would grab their photo albums; and
- people would say, "I want to be with my family."

Neither of those ever made any sense to me.

Oh, I have plenty of photo albums ... don't get me wrong ... but none from my 20-year marriage. It never occurred to me.

Even while I was in it, I didn't want to remember. In fact, the only way I could remain was to put it out of my mind. Daily, hourly, by the year.

And family ... for so many years, that meant "purgatory." The emotional torture might end someday, but, in the meantime ...

God has given me a new life. I'm starting to cherish photographs. And family - what's left of mine, and the burgeoning one I shall eventually join - is precious to me.

I'm blessed with health and the means to keep clean and sleep in private, but for a long time I was no less wandering and confused than any one sees on the streets, tugging along their cart of worldly possessions. My hunger, desolation and notions were just as keen, if of a different kind.

Who's to say that God cannot rescue anyone who will allow Him access to their heart, mind and soul?

And who's to say that God isn't working on the most confused person you know?

Be God to them, to the degree you can and still be safe. Be consistently loving, cheerful, and kind. And pray. He is there, in the darkest, most bewildering life. He never forgets His own. He never lets them go, so long as they recognize Him in any form.