Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Friday, April 28, 2006

Quality of Life Judgments

I want to clarify some issues with the Andrea Clark case. If Andrea Clark communicated she was ready to have the ventilator removed or to discontinue dialysis, it should be done. It is within her moral purview to make that request. If she is unable to make that request, then the question should fall to the guardian entrusted with making these decisions for her when she is incapacitated. There is no moral dilemma if either Ms. Clark or her designated guardian opt to discontinue life support. The moral complexity arises when Ms. Clark's desire is to remain on life support and a hospital committee disagrees because they have made a quality-of-life assessment and found Ms. Clark's life "without meaning".

William May explains why quality-of-life assessments are inappropriate for determining who should live and who should die in his book Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life:

"Quality of Life" judgments are inescapably arbitrary and unjust. Different authors assign different qualities that one needs to possess "meaningful" life, and the same authors at times list different qualities in different apologias for their position. More significantly, the qualities alleged to make life worthwhile (intelligence, ability to respond to stimuli, awareness of others, etc.) all admit of enormous differences in degree. But some cutoff point has to be assigned, above which the quality of life is "meaningful" and below which it is not so that death can be mercifully administered. Such cutoff points are arbitrarily asserted, with different authors assigning different "weight" to different factors and different degrees of ability within the chosen criteria. It is evident that this way of determining who should live and who should die is utterly arbitrary and unjust."

It is an evil arrogance that allows an individual to presume his assessment of the worthiness of another's life is more valid than this other individual's own assement of the meaningfulness of his own life.

Andrea Clark Case now Unresolved Again

Wesley Smith has posted the latest developments here. Andrea Clark will not be moving to Chicago. However, they have found another physician to assume her care and St. Luke's has agreed to delay the removal of life support until at least Tuesday to give this new physician a chance to make a thorough assessment. He quotes Lanor Dixon, Andrea's sister as saying:

St. Luke's has agreed not to pull Andrea's life support at least until Tuesday. On Tuesday, a committee of doctors from St. Luke's will meet to discuss how to proceed with Andrea's case. Andrea's new doctor--a doctor who shares our values about the sacredness of life--will take over her care on Tuesday and will fight for her right to live. Let us all hope and pray that the committee meeting on Tuesday is chaired by doctors who have a reverence for life and not a former abortionist like the St. Luke's ethics committee chair."

Vatican Says Boycott Da Vinci Code. I Say.....

Archbishop Angelo Amato urges a boycott of the Da Vinci Code. I agree, but instead of just staying home, go see Over the Hedge instead. If we stay home, Da Vinci Code still wins top film for the weekend. If we all go to see Over the Hedge, maybe we can make the Da Vinci code performance less spectacular.

Resolution to the Case of Andrea Clark


The Houston Chronicle reports on the resolution reached between St. Luke’s Hospital and the family of Andrea Clark. A hospital in Chicago has agreed to accept her. As I reported in the update to this case yesterday, the family received the offer from the Chicago hospital yesterday. If the family agreed to move her yesterday, St. Luke’s would pay the transportation costs. If they waited until today St. Luke’s would pay half. If they waited until tomorrow or later, they would pay none of the costs. So while St. Luke’s is pointing out how generous they are to pay these costs, it should be noted that this is just a financial decision for them. It is probably cheaper for them to pay the transportation costs than it is to keep her in the hospital through Sunday when they planned to remove her from life support. Their declining financial contribution to the transportation costs supports this.

Significant points from the Houston Chronicle article include a quote from the letter written by the head of the St. Luke’s ethics committee, Dr. Robert J. Carpenter, Jr.

The conflict erupted April 19, when Dr. Robert Carpenter Jr., chairman of St. Luke's ethics committee, wrote Ward and Dixon to say that the committee had unanimously agreed with Clark's attending physician that "the life-sustaining treatment currently being provided to your sister is inappropriate and should be discontinued."
Although St. Luke's officials said federal confidentiality laws prevent them from talking about the case, the letter stated that Clark was "experiencing substantial pain and suffering."

This indicates the decision was made because the ethics committee made the decision that Andrea’s life is not worth living. In truth, that is not their decision to make. That is Andrea’s call.

Fortunately, there is a move afoot to reform this law. Texas health care officials and lobbyists from both sides of the issue are meeting in Austin with the hope of providing recommendations to the 2007 Legislature. The Houston Chronicle reports this statement from Dr. William Winslade.

Dr. William Winslade, a prominent bioethicist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said the reforms should include a more impartial process.
"One problem with the law is that it gives all the bargaining power to the hospital and doctors," Winslade said. "I think it would be better if an external mediator looked at cases. I'm sympathetic to hospitals on these issues, but I've talked to too many families who feel browbeaten and without recourse."

There is no doubt that St. Luke’s was feeling the pressure of all those who wrote, called, and emailed concerning this case. Fortunately, it is becoming harder for those who do not recognize the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death to operate in secret.

A wonderful reference book is William May's Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life. You can purchase it from the link in the left sidebar.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Selling Victimhood

I just finished listening to the sales spiel of a young woman who is going door to door trying to get me and my neighbors to buy or renew a magazine subscription. Actually, she isn’t trying to sell the magazines. She is trying to sell her victimhood. You see she didn’t have all the opportunities she is sure I had. She is a poor, single mother of a two-year-old son and twin ten-month-old daughters. She is just trying to stay focused and keep her life on track. Won’t I please take an interest in her life and buy a magazine subscription. My neighbors took an interest in her life. She gets a 50% commission. Oh, please, please, please, won’t I just order a magazine?

She had nothing to say about the products I was supposedly buying. In fact, I didn’t even have to receive the magazine. I could buy a subscription for her benefit and donate the subscription to a women’s shelter.

I didn’t buy a magazine. She seemed stunned I couldn’t be guilted into a purchase. She recited all my neighbors’ names and told me how much they wanted to help her. I told her I wished her well, but I really did not want a magazine. She wished me a blessed day and proceeded to the house next door.

I appreciate that she is going door-to-door hawking magazines, trying to make ends meet. However, I would appreciate it much more if she were really selling magazines instead of trying to sell her hard luck story. She comes to my door with the expectation that because people in my neighborhood have the outward appearance of success, they owe her a donation. Sales is hard work. I know. I’ve done it. I sold Avon in high school. I worked in a shoe store. I’ve waitressed. It is tough starting on the bottom rung of the ladder. However, it is much tougher if you think you are on an escalator that is just going to lift you up instead of a ladder you have to climb.

Neither of my mother’s parents graduated from high school. They were Hispanic Americans born on the north side of the Rio Grande in South Texas. (Actually, their parents were also born in Texas. As far as I can tell, my family just happened to be living on the north side of the river when the border was drawn.) They were Spanish speaking Americans in an Anglo world with all the discrimination and hardships that entailed. But they were hard workers and pushed their daughters to be the same. They also kept their Faith. Both daughters graduated from high school. All five of their grandchildren went to college. One went on to medical school and one attended law school. No handouts. No government programs. No excuses for not taking advantage of educational opportunities. From the time each of us got on the bus for kindergarten, we knew we had a mission. We had to do well in school so we could go to college.

I hope this young woman can someday understand that going door-to-door pulling heartstrings isn’t a real job. Selling magazines is a job. I might buy a magazine someday. I don’t think I will ever be in the market for victimhood.

More about Andrea Clark

Wesley Smith of Secondhand Smoke and Amy Welborn of Open Book have hosted blog discussions of the case of Andrea Clark. I wrote about this case here. has a series of articles here. A quick summary is Ms. Clark is a seriously ill patient at St. Luke’s hospital in Houston, Texas. This is an Episcopal hospital. She requires a ventilator. Her family states she is coherent when she is not sedated from pain medication and she is able to communicate with them by moving her lips and blinking her eyes. They state she has clearly communicated she wants to continue with this treatment.

The hospital convened an ethics committee as they are authorized to do under Texas law. They determined her care is futile. Therefore, they want to remove life support and allow Ms. Clark to die. Once the committee’s decision is made, the family has 10 days to find alternate care. If they are unable to do so, they proceed with their course of action. In this case, the deadline is April 30.

In the discussion of this case, there have been quite a few statements to the effect of “You guys just want unlimited care for everyone!” That is simply not true. What I object to is the decision for removal of care is taken away from the patient and given to a hospital committee that may or may not have the patient’s best interest in mind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s ability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected. (CCC 2278)

It is the will of the patient that must be respected. This does not mean that a patient can demand and receive any treatment he desires. The case of Andrea Clark deals with the withdrawal of care, not the institution of new treatment. The assertion is that Andrea is content with the status quo. She still finds value in her life. It is not within the moral purview of the ethics committee to override her assessment and declare her life is of no value and take actions to terminate it.

I have no way of knowing if the assertions and allegations of Andrea Clark’s family are accurate. They are very serious. Even if the hospital cannot comment on the medical specifics of this case, they should be able to comment on the values and priorities the ethics committee uses to make these kinds decisions. Important information to know would be:

Who makes up the ethics committee and how are they selected?
What financial relationships exist between the hospital and ethics committee members?
Do they recognize individual human dignity and autonomy?
Is their primary focus the most economically advantageous utilization of hospital resources?
Are they made aware of the insurance status of the patient and the financial impact to the hospital of various care alternatives for any given patient?
Do they make judgments on the quality of life of a given patient?

St. Luke’s hospital needs to publicly address these issues. Their absolute silence is worrisome.

UPDATE: This just posted at

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bird Blog Update

Well, what a surprise. I knew the purple finch couple was acting feisty today. The Leyland cypress is visible from my office window, but actually backs right up to a family room window. As I peered into the branches from that window I saw a small nest filled with gray “fuzz”. Suddenly, Mama and Papa finch showed up and that fuzz developed wide open beaks! Five baby birds were eagerly awaiting dinner. Talk about sibling rivalry. There was no sharing here. The beak that was open the widest and reaching the highest is the one that got fed. After the feeding frenzy was over and the parents left to replenish the food supply they curled back up into a mass of gray downy feathers. I must say that even though Papa didn’t seem to help much with the nest building, he is certainly doing a great job feeding the kids. Mama sits on the nest keeping them covered and Papa is doing most of the feeding, though sometimes they do share the task. Needless to say my productivity was a bit down today. But kids grow up so fast! I will enjoy them while I can.

Bird Blog

I would never consider myself an expert ornithologist, but I love watching and identifying birds. Our current home backs up to a wooded park so the bird watching is primo. This past Christmas I received the perfect birdfeeder. Actually it is three feeders. It is a tall cast-iron pole with three shepherd hooks. One holds a feeder of safflower seeds. One holds a feeder of salted peanuts. (This is a favorite of the woodpeckers) One holds a suet feeder. I was able to place it where it is clearly visible from the kitchen window but in a clearing so it is inaccessible to the squirrels. I also have a tube feeder of niger seed mounted to the back deck railing. This has a steady stream of goldfinches and purple finches. I am not sure if it is the nearby availability of the birdfeeders, but something has made the Leyland cypress tree outside my office window a veritable housing development for the birds.

The lower branches are home to a mourning dove couple. A little higher up a purple finch couple established a nest. Now I don’t want to anthropomorphize these birds too much, but I did get to watch the purple finch couple build their nest over several days. It seems Mama purple finch made countless forays to collect nest-building material while Papa purple finch stayed in the tree—I assume to hold their spot. Whenever she returned Papa would jump up and down excitedly. I don’t know if he was commenting on her finds, making an amorous appeal, or just supervising the nest-building process. In any case, she seemed to be doing her best to ignore him and he seemed to be doing his best to annoy her.

Today I noticed another bird couple has staked out a spot in the upper most branches. I am not sure what kind of bird they are. They have a very white breast with a very clearly marked black throat patch.The cap is brown and the back is brown with white speckles. I am guessing they are house sparrows, but they are bigger than the sparrows I usually see around here. They are bigger than the purple finches. I am not sure the finches are too happy with their new neighbors. There seems to be a bit of arguing going on.

This community of feathered friends fascinates me. It is also is a real distraction. I think it has taken me twice as long as usual to get through my email, handle soccer team business, and peruse the blogosphere. Well, I have much too much work to get done so I must pull myself away from this ornithological domestic drama and get busy. I will have to leave the bird watching to God for now. Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing. (Mt. 10: 30)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Euthanasia in a Texas Hospital?

Please read this post on Amy Welborn’s blog as well as the discussion following it. Also read this link.

The gist of the story is that Andrea Clark has been critically ill at St. Luke’s hospital since November. According to her family, she is not comatose nor is she brain damaged. She does require a ventilator and dialysis. She communicates by moving her lips and blinking her eyes. An ethics committee at St. Luke’s Hospital (an Episcopal hospital) has determined that her quality of life does not merit further care and her continued medical care is futile. The family states Andrea clearly communicated her desire to continue life support until she dies naturally. Her family concurs with this decision. However, according to Texas law, the ethics committee has the final say and is legally free to override the family’s decision. Once the ethics committee makes their decision, the family has ten days to find another hospital to care for the patient. If they cannot do so, the hospital proceeds with the cessation of life support.

Equally disturbing is the sisters’ assertion that there is an agreement among Houston area hospitals to refuse admission to patients another Houston hospital has deemed to be receiving medically futile care. If this is true it is probably an attempt to limit legal exposure. If hospital A deems a patient’s care is futile, but hospital B accepts the patient and successfully continues care, then hospital A is open to litigation because hospital B proved them wrong. If the hospitals collude never to accept a “medically futile” patient from each other, this scenario never occurs.

There are a lot of unanswered questions and this case is not getting a lot of media attention. I have heard no statements from physicians about the medical condition of Andrea Clark. However, there is no question that the Texas law authorizes a hospital committee that is under the economic influences of insurance companies to make the ultimate decision of who lives and who dies. That alone is cause for concern.

A Blogger's reflection on proclaiming the Gospel

My trusty daily Mass companion, The Magnificat (which, by the way, you can order from the link to your left) had one of those meditation’s today that makes you think God is poking you in the ribs and saying, “Did you get that?”. I enjoy reading the meditation during my reflection after Communion. Today’s offering was written by Father Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges, O.P. He was a Dominican priest who died in 1948. He speaks to the idea of proclaiming the Gospel:

Anyone who loves Jesus Christ seeks forthwith to communicate him to others. Once charged with electricity, he transmits the current. To him in whom dwells the fullness of the Spirit, every spirit connected with him is a transmitter….

The preacher is of no account spiritually, if he himself is not holy. People might say: “He spoke very well” (a theatrical success), or: “He is right” (a university success). But the silent adherence which results from the contact of souls communicating in God, transmitting the flame from one to the other—that, he will not experience.

The first paragraph with its electrical metaphors seemed directed directly at me as a Catholic blogger. On first reading of the second paragraph I immediately thought of the priests who have scandalized the Church with their deviant behavior. However, as I reflected I noted that Fr. Sertillanges did not say “The priest is of no account spiritually,” but rather “The preacher is of no account spiritually”. All of us who proclaim the Gospel are preachers. I may offer an entertaining or clever turn of phrase (a theatrical success). I may offer a cogent, persuasive argument (a university success). However, if I do not get up from my computer and live the Gospel, I am of no account spiritually.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Church Etiquette

I was looking at the web site of St. Mary Margaret Catholic Church in Winter Park, Florida. Included was a page on Church Etiquette. I think this needs to be published in most parish bulletins around the country. Read the whole thing here. One of the passages that struck a chord with me was the following:

Leaving Before the Final Blessing:
Leaving church before the dismissal ignores another important part of the Liturgy. At the dismissal, we celebrate our commission as set forth by Jesus Christ himself. In that, Jesus’ last words to his disciples were “Therefore, go out and make disciples of all nations….. And behold, I am with you until the end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20. Our liturgy has a beginning (“In the name of the Father …”) and an end ("Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord…").

To leave immediately after Communion is to treat church like a fast food restaurant where we come and go as we please. We live in a fast-paced world where we seem to be hurrying from place to place. But in God's presence, we need to make every attempt to fight this pressure to move on to the next thing on the day's agenda. Eat and run at McDonald's - but stay in church and thank God for his precious gifts.

I would actually expand this and ask the congregation to stay until the end of the final hymn. I can’t believe so many people are so tightly scheduled that they cannot stay an extra five minutes and enjoy our lovely choir.

This discourse also addresses arriving on time and proper attire for Mass.

The one area that I find interesting is their encouragement to use the nursery for children under age five. Five seems rather late to start learning how to behave in church. My kids were fine until about age one. From one until about three I sometimes put them in the nursery. However, by age three they were in Mass with the family. They did not always behave like angels, but if they became too disruptive we took them outside. Believe me, they learned pretty quickly that being removed from church was a big deal. After the first time, one good Mommy look was usually enough to bring them into line.

In any case, I think I will send this to my pastor so he can adapt it for our parish bulletin. What do you think?

Confession Tips and Divine Mercy Sunday

I have mentioned before our priests have really been encouraging us to take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Today our priest congratulated us on responding to this call. Four priests were hearing confessions during Holy Week and each spent at least 9 hours in the confessional to accommodate all the penitents.

He then said after hearing so many confessions he thought he would offer a few pointers.

1. Give an approximate length of time since your last confession. “A long time’ could mean anything. Was it three weeks, three months, three years, or three decades?

2. Tell the priest your station in life. Are you married, widowed, a student, working full time, etc. This gives the priest a chance to put your confession in context. ( I had never heard this suggestion before, but it makes sense)

3. The priest needs enough information to understand the nature of the sin, but doesn’t need excruciating detail. “I violated the fourth commandment” is a bit vague, but a blow-by-blow description of an argument is unnecessary.

4. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is for absolution and forgiveness of sins. If you are looking for counseling or spiritual direction, an appointment with the priest in his office is better.

5. Any version of the Act of Contrition is fine. Feel free to make up your own if you can’t remember the formal prayer. Just express your sorrow and your intent to do penance and sin no more. ( Has anyone else heard children say “ I am hardly sorry” instead of “I am heartily sorry”?)

We had a large beautiful picture of the Divine Mercy Jesus in the front of the sanctuary today. There was a video presentation about St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy Devotion this afternoon followed by Adoration and recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Jesus, I trust in you.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pro-condom groups offend Russian Sensibilities

I think the whole world is talking about condoms!

Lyudmila Stebenkova, a member of the Moscow municipal legislature is calling on Putin to limit the activities of international groups advocating the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.

"They even show children how to put on a condom!" she complained.

Shocked by a
UNICEF film distributed to Moscow schools, Stebenkova urged the Moscow legislature -- which, like the national parliament, is controlled by United Russia -- to vote in favor of an appeal calling on Putin to limit the activities of international anti-AIDS groups in Russia.

A draft text of the proposed appeal to Putin has received the backing of Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

She should see what passes for sex education in United States public schools!

A DaVinci Code Alternative

Tony at Catholic Pillow Fight has a great idea. Instead of just boycotting the release of the Da Vinci Code on May 19, go see another movie. Specifically, go see Over The Hedge. This should be a great family friendly movie and maybe we can help this movie eclipse the performance of the Da Vinci Code at the box office. I think it is worth a try!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Catholics and Condoms

Seems there is lots of talk about condoms today. Mirror of Justice offers a piece from Commonweal debating the cost of the Church’s ban on condoms. Supposedly retired Cardinal Martini says condoms are okay to prevent the spread of AIDS from one spouse to another.

Okay, the doctor in me has to say this. Condoms are not completely effective in preventing AIDS. Yes, they decrease the likelihood, but they do not reduce the risk to zero. This is from the Center for Disease Control Web Site:

The surest way to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is uninfected.

For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100 percent effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD. Furthermore, condoms lubricated with spermicides are no more effective than other lubricated condoms in protecting against the transmission of HIV and other STDs. In order to achieve the protective effect of condoms, they must be used correctly and consistently. Incorrect use can lead to condom slippage or breakage, thus diminishing their protective effect. Inconsistent use, e.g., failure to use condoms with every act of intercourse, can lead to STD transmission because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse.

To be fair, the web site does go on to say

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS
Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Of course, it also doesn’t define what “highly effective” means. Is this 99.9 % or 51%? The only thing we can be sure of is condoms are not 100% effective in preventing the transmission of AIDS.

I have never understood the preoccupation with getting Vatican approval for condom use to prevent AIDS. The activities which spread AIDS are non-monogamous heterosexual sex, homosexual sex and IV drug abuse. All of these activities are viewed as immoral by the Church. Is it really reasonable to believe that someone will refrain from using a condom because the Church thinks it is immoral? The Church’s opinion hasn’t mattered when they are engaging in sinful sexual activity. Why would the Church’s view on condoms be more influential than its view on sex? It is silly to expect the Church to tell us how to sin “safely”.

The argument for condoms to prevent AIDS once again tries to divorce sexual activity from the Catholic view of sexuality. It assumes that we are slaves to our sexual urges. Fortunately, the Church gives us more credit than that. Perhaps these condom proponents missed reading Deus Caritas Est. Condoms aren’t needed when Eros is sanctified by Agape.

One Step Forward for a Catholic University

After recent controversies at Villanova and Notre Dame, it is good to see a small step in the right direction by a Catholic University. The Washington Post today reports that Georgetown University will drop the links to abortion services from its Women's Center webpage. Todd A.Olsen, vice-president for student affairs at Georgetown, stated in a letter to Patrick J. Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society that the links would be removed and the university tried "to ensure that we provide a broad array of resources and services in a manner...consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity."

Even a small step forward should be welcomed and congratulated.

Iced Tea in a Blizzard

Karen Hall at Some Have Hats responded to a meme requiring six random revelations about herself. The one that caught my eye was “I would drink iced tea in a blizzard. In fact, I have.” I have much the same feeling, though it isn’t shared by too many here in NORTHERN Virginia. My family’s roots are in Texas and Louisiana and I have spent much of my adult life living in the southeastern United States. Iced tea is a staple of life. Now, I prefer mine unsweetened and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. My heart does skip a beat when the waitress asks me “sweetened or unsweetened” when I order my tea because I know I have returned to the promised land where that brewed elixir over ice is appreciated.

A couple of decades ago or so, I was newly married. I left my comfort zone in Dallas and followed my husband to Upper Peninsula Michigan. I had much to learn about life in a northern clime. My husband tasked me with buying a snow blower. Excuse me! I had never heard of such a contraption and the thought of so much snow that it required a motor driven device to remove it was beyond the pale of my imagination. Of course, when the first snowfall was greater than my cumulative lifetime experience with snow the concept became clear. I also had to become accustomed to the fact that the Dairy Queens closed for winter. It makes sense. No one is hankering for a chocolate dipped cone of soft-serve when the temperature hasn’t gotten above zero for the last week. There were great stretches of time when I refused to acknowledge we had a high temperature for the day. If the temperature never got above 20-degrees we had a low and a lower. Under no circumstances does “high” describe 15-degrees. The final blow to my Southern sensibilities was when I ordered iced tea in a restaurant during February. The waitress smiled and very politely explained that iced tea was not in season. They only serve it during the summer. Did I hear her correctly? Iced tea is a seasonal drink? I was not asking for eggnog in March. I was asking for iced tea! Well, I had already done much to adapt to the hostile environs of this frozen region. I was not going to be deprived of iced tea. I smiled back at the waitress and asked her to bring me a pot of hot tea, a slice of lemon and a glass of ice. So there amidst the twenty feet of accumulated snow I enjoyed iced tea. It almost felt like home.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Catholic Perspective on Professional Sports

Please check out Christus Vincit for a Catholic perspective on baseball as well as other professional sports. Too funny!
(H/T to argent for the link)

Soccer Mom that I am I couldn't help but notice that the MLS was left out of this exercise. Here are the MLS standings:

Eastern Conference Standings

Finn’s Kansas City Wizards (3-0-0)
McCarrick’s DC United (2-0-1)
O’Mallley’s New England Revolution (1-1-1)
Meyer’s New York Red Bulls (0-0-3)
George’s Chicago Fire (0-1-2)
Campbell’s Columbus Crew (0-2-1)

Western Conference Standings

Grahmann’s FC Dallas (2-0-1)
Chaput’s Colorado Rapid’s (1-1-1)
Mahony’s Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1-1)
DiNardo’s Houston Dynamo (1-2-0)
Mahony’s Chivas USA (1-2-0)
Nierderhaur’s Real Salt Lake (0-2-1)

Pray for teenagers and for their parents too!

Just eight days ago I asked readers to pray for young drivers. Well, at this morning’s Mass we learned that a 17-year-old young man in our community died last night when he ran his car into a tree. The full details have not been released but it is suspected that alcohol was a factor.

After Mass, while I waited for my youngest to complete his altar server duties, I prayed for this young man and especially for his family. As a mother of three teens, I identify with the grief and anguish this young man’s parents must be feeling right now. I then prayed even harder for my own children. I think back to my own high school years. Teetering on the edge of adulthood is such a precarious perch. I now realize why my mother seemed to be constantly praying when I was a teenager. I am certain it was her prayers and God’s grace that saw me through those turbulent times.

Parenting a teenager must be worth some extra credit points on the path to sainthood. It is a continual act of faith. You have to believe that you laid the groundwork for good character when they were younger. Eventually you have to let go and trust them to follow through with moral behavior. Teens have the physical makeup of adults but often have the judgment of children. They make mistakes. As a parent you need the energy to help when they need it and the wisdom to know when they don’t. I don’t know how I could survive these years without time spent on my knees in prayer, a good supply of devotional candles, and my rosary on my fingertips.

So once again, I ask for renewed prayers for our teens, especially when they get behind the wheel of a car. And perhaps we should add prayers for their parents as well.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Does fidelity to the Church compromise the intellect?

There is a wonderful series of articles on the topic Authority and Reason at Mirror of Justice. The gist of the debate is do we compromise our intellect if we accept Church authority? The most recent post by Michael Scaperlanda is brilliant. In spite of his professed humility, Professor Scaperlanda provides an eloquent defense of subordination of one’s own intellect to the Wisdom of the Church.

To quote Winnie the Pooh, “I am a bear of very little brain.” I am bounded by my own intellectual limitations, my education, my family, my culture, my biases, my preferences and desires (both ordered and disordered), my will, my profession (we are, I think, a profession of rationalizers), and this particular and very short moment in history in which I live my life. As a bear of very little brain, I must rely on the authority of others to help guide me through life, even (and maybe especially) life as a practicing intellectual.

For most of my life, I thought that I had placed my trust in the Church and looked to it as the authority for my life. In reality and unbeknownst to me, as regards the intellectual areas of my life, I had given authority (for the most part) to the high priests of secular liberalism as filtered through a reductionist version of Catholic Social Teaching. In a way, how could I have escaped this authority? After all, it is part of the cultural air we breathe, as Jean Elshtain has said. And, although I was raised Catholic in faith and concern for social justice, I was not raised in the Catholic intellectual tradition (most who went through CCD in the 1960’s and 1970’s can identify with this).

Once my eyes were opened a little over a decade ago (thanks in large part to a prominent law professor who is not Catholic), I could think freely and openly (at least to myself) about these questions of authority. One of the first things that I noticed was that secular liberalism, like communism and fascism, had an inadequate anthropology – an inadequate understanding of the human person. Using my limited reasoning powers, I refused to give any of these ideologies conscious authority over me or my intellect. The Catholic Church, however, seemed to have a more complete, a more reasonable, and more coherent anthropology. And, I consciously placed myself under its authority.

Do read his entire post as well as the several other thought provoking pieces here, here, and here.

Pope Benedict XVI, Teacher

Lots of discussion today about the one year anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Amy Welborn has a very nice reflection.

I remember the death of Pope John Paul II as a real test of my faith. I was in college when he was elected. My faith had matured and blossomed under his papacy. He was the only pope my children had known. How could he be replaced? Then just when the anxiety would reach a peak an inner voice would say, “Hello, there. Where is your faith? No matter how charismatic, holy, and influential John Paul II was, he was still just a man. We are not the Catholic Church of John Paul II. We are the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ. Christ himself promised the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church.” So I had to trust. I reminded myself this Church had survived for 2000 years. It had enjoyed great popes and good popes and it had endured the not so good. I had Christ’s promise it would continue.

I was thrilled with the election of Cardinal Ratzinger because I was confident he would stand firm and not let the church be led down the path of conformity with the world. What I was not prepared for was his talent as a teacher. I loved John Paul II but I found I often had to read an analysis of his writings to appreciate them. Pope Benedict’s words speak with the utmost clarity directly to me. His writing is not simplistic but it is so understandable. The language is rich and the thoughts profound. Both my intellect and my soul are fed with his words. I love being his pupil.

Catholics and Sex

An interesting post and discussion here about Catholic teaching on sexuality.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Did Lent Make A Difference?

Here we are on the Tuesday of the Octave of Easter. Lent is behind us and we are now free to enjoy the Alleluia of Easter! We joyfully proclaim the Gloria at Mass. Oh, it is so easy to revel in the Resurrection that Lent becomes a shadowy memory. I am once again free to indulge in a Starbucks coffee. The question is, did Lent change me? Am I different this Easter than I was last Easter because of Lent?

I hope I am changed. I think I am changed. I did take time to study and reflect on the Liturgy. My appreciation of the Triduum services was much deeper because of it. I am anxious for next year when I will try to take advantage of the Chrism Mass and a Tenebrae service that I was unable to attend this year.

I know I am not as changed as I wanted to be. I had really hoped to emerge from Lent with a new commitment to discipline of my mind, body, and soul. Okay, I am a little more disciplined in some things. But I still find it hard to get myself out the door and to daily Mass on time. How hard is it to find my car keys, put the cat out, and grab my copy of the Magnificat just five minutes faster? Obviously, it is harder than it should be for me. And how well did I carry Christ to the world around me? I received him often in the Eucharist. Did my comportment reveal His real presence to others? That daily silent prayer time? I did have good intentions, but there was just always one more thing to do before I could sit down and really pray right. Learning Latin prayers? I made progress, but I am not ready to stand up and recite the Pater Noster in public.

You know, I don’t have to wait until Lent 2007 to work on these things. Spiritual growth is a year round, life long process. Lent is just a convenient time to take stock and focus on areas that need a little extra work. As I approach Divine Mercy Sunday at the culmination of the octave of Easter, I remind myself of the struggles of Lent. I can thank God for the grace of my successes and pray for forgiveness of my failings. Confident in His mercy, I can pray my act of contrition as I firmly intend, with God’s grace, to confess my sins, do penance and avoid all that leads me to sin. I understand that better this year than last, so, yes, I think Lent did make a difference.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Villanova Controversy Continues

I have blogged and commented on blogs about the obligations of a Catholic University. Last week Amy Welborn wrote about a controversy regarding a pro-life memorial on the Villanova campus. At first it seemed that in spite of a few objections to the memorial to victims of abortion because it might “offend” non-Catholics on campus, the board of trustees was expected to approve the placement of the memorial statue. Well, such obviously Catholic behavior at a "Catholic" university is not to be. Read the most recent developments here.
I have sent my response to the Villanova administration:

Please note that it is very difficult to find a major Catholic university willing to proclaim itself in alignment with Catholic teachings. I cannot imagine any reason to hesitate to approve the Maternal Bond memorial for the Villanova Campus. As a Catholic parent of four children I will certainly be watching the actions of the board as an indicator of whether or not Villanova is a courageous Catholic university or simply a secular university hijacking the name Catholic. Please stand up for the Faith and for the defense of those who cannot speak for themselves, especially the unborn. Please approve the Maternal Bond memorial.

You know, all these non-Catholics that Villanova administrators are worried about offending knew they would be attending a Catholic university when they applied to Villanova. If they find Catholic teaching “offensive” they should go to school elsewhere. No one is forcing them to attend a private Catholic institution. Doesn’t the administration realize their hesitation to publicly proclaim the Truths of the Faith is offensive to Catholics?

True Femininity

In today’s Gospel, Matthew recounts how Mary Magdalan and the Other Mary met the Risen Christ as they left the tomb. Jesus first revealed himself after the Resurrection to these two women. He charged these women with spreading the news to his disciples. Our parish priest spoke this morning of how this act enshrined the dignity of women. It was women who would first be the bearers of the news of the Resurrection and messengers of the Truth for mankind. Pope John Paul II understood the unique role of women when he spoke of the “feminine genius” in his Apostolic Letter MULIERIS DIGNITATEM. Yet today’s cultural view of feminism often seeks the opposite of true Christian femininity.

Naomi Schaefer Riley writes of this in Friday’s Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal. She asserts that today’s feminism is unnecessarily pushing women into dangerous situations. This is brought to the forefront with all the allegations and counter-allegations surrounding the Duke lacrosse team. I have no idea what really happened. I do know that no woman should ever be subjected to physical or sexual abuse by any man. Such abuse is wrong, immoral, criminal, and a host of other adjectives. Justice demands any perpetrator of such abuse be punished. However, I also know that it behooves a woman to avoid situations that are inherently risky for such abuse. The alleged victim in the Duke case had hired herself out to go before a group of college-aged young men and dance in a sexually provocative fashion. In common parlance, she was working as a stripper.

Today’s radical feminism touts such behavior as liberating. Why should a woman shy away from sexual bravado when it is considered acceptable for men to do the same? Why should a woman avoid getting drunk when the guys do it all the time? Radical feminism would have you believe it is a sign of equality that today’s women approach alcohol and sex just as cavalierly as men. Let me set the record straight here. It is now and always has been equally wrong for men and women to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage and it is now and always has been equally wrong for men and women to drink to excess. I admit the societal shame attached to these activities has not always been equal for men and women. That does not change the moral truth. It does not seem to me to be a societal advance to have both men and women marching towards depravity.

Furthermore, women are usually smaller than men. Their smaller mass leaves them more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. They often are not as strong as men leaving them more vulnerable to physical attacks. An interesting quote from Ms. Riley’s article:

In a survey conducted two years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health, one in every 20 women reported having been raped in college during the previous seven months. Rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, but the kicker rings true: "Nearly three-quarters of those rapes happened when the victims were so intoxicated they were unable to consent or refuse." And those are just the ones who admitted it.

So what do I tell my teenage daughter? I tell her she is as smart and as capable as any man and should be treated with equal dignity. However, not every man has been raised to believe this so she needs to be cautious. She shouldn’t make herself vulnerable by drinking alcohol or dressing provocatively. Rather than a sign of shame, modesty is recognition of one’s dignity and an attempt to protect it. God gave her this dignity and Christ affirmed it. Just like the women at the tomb, Christ has charged all women including my daughter to bring the news of the Resurrection, Grace, and Redemption to mankind. That is true femininity.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

One of several lovely hymns we sang at this morning's Easter Mass:

Be joyful, Mary, heav'nly queen,
Gaude, Maria:
Your Son who died was living seen,
Alleluia, Laetare, O Maria!

The Son you bore by heaven's grace,
Gaude, Maria:
Did all our guilt and sin efface,
Alleluia, Laetare, O Maria!

The Lord is risen from the dead,
Gaude, Maria:
He rose with might as he had said,
Alleluia, Laetare, O Maria!

Then pray to God, O Virgin fair,
Gaude, Maria:
That He our souls to heaven bear.
Alleluia! Laetare, O Maria!

He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

They laid Jesus in a Tomb

Last night I watched the Passion of Christ. Not the Mel Gibson version. This was the parish high school youth group performing their annual Living Stations of the Cross. Imagine a dozen or so high school students devoting a huge chunk of their spring break to planning and rehearsing this reenactment of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus. Son #2 had the role of Jesus. Little Sister was part of the jeering crowd. (You know pretending to show contempt and disdain for her brother sure came easily to her!) As always, it was a very prayerful and moving presentation. The Stations ended with number XIV, Jesus is laid in the tomb. This is where it should end on Good Friday. Some are uncomfortable with leaving the Stations with Christ in the tomb. After all, the story doesn’t end there. How true. But our celebration of the Triduum doesn’t end there either. There is no closing blessing at the end of Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. That is because the Triduum is a single event that ends with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. The final blessing takes place there. Our faith sustains us as we wait until Easter to celebrate the Resurrection.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Triduum has Begun

He is doing something right. I have mentioned several times on this blog that we have a new pastor. Since the arrival of our new pastor there have been some changes. We got rid of the OCP Music Issue and are now using the St. Michael’s hymnal. At least once per month we are using some Latin responses in the Novus Ordo. We now have confessions six days per week. We have a weekly Holy Hour with Exposition and Benediction.

I believe the fruits of these changes were visible last night. The first Mass of the Triduum was packed. I have never seen it so well attended. The parking lot could not hold all the vehicles of Mass attendees. The church was perhaps not as crowded as it will be Easter Sunday, but it was filled enough that latecomers had to sit in the balcony. And what a lovely service. All three of our priests concelebrated the Mass with our pastor as the primary celebrant. Six high school young men were altar servers. The music was beautiful. Clear voices with minimal instrumental accompaniment sang Pange Lingue. Now that the choir is in a choir loft, we can hear the ethereal beauty of the music without the distraction of watching the performers.

Father used his homily to speak a little about the vocation of the priesthood. To emphasize the importance of fostering vocations in our youth he chose 12 high school young men from the altar server corps to participate in the foot washing rite. Each was dressed in a coat and tie. It was truly inspiring to see such youthful participation in this solemn rite.

I am convinced our parish is undergoing a renewal in our faith. I do not believe any single development can account for this renewal. It is not a revolution. Instead it is the steady hands of our priests holding firm to a course of orthodox Catholicism. Pray they have the grace and strength to continue.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

White shoes on or after Easter

Thanks to Mama T at Summa Mammas for this interesting option for Easter footwear. I know it meets the criterion of white shoes on or after Easter, but--I don't think so.

One last Lenten Confession thought

Cardinal James Stafford, major penitentiary, gave a moving homily at a Holy Week penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica. In it he offered the following examination of conscience:

-- Do I turn from pride, envy, and ambition and follow Jesus' way of humility? The choice between pride and humility is made concrete by my attitude toward Scripture. Am I docile and open to the Word of God? Am I ready to be judged by it rather than to judge it myself? Do I spend a disproportionate amount of time in reading newspapers and journals, watching television and using the Internet in comparison with the time spent reading and meditating upon the sacred Scriptures?

-- Have I been lacking in poverty of spirit and thus have been unable to hallow the name of God among men? Have I placed my happiness in the possession of external goods? Have I encouraged those in doubt and error to follow what is true and good?

-- Have I been lacking in the meekness which prays that God's kingdom come and that I not resist him?

-- Have I lacked the tears to mourn over the knowledge that the fulfillment of God's will on earth must be accomplished within the conflict between body and spirit, between heaven and earth, as I am forced to say, "I see another law in my members, warring against the law in my mind"?

-- Have I been lacking in the hunger and thirst for justice so that I and others, especially the poor, have not been supported and sustained by being given their daily bread?

-- Have I been lacking in mercy whereby I forgive the injuries of others?

-- Have I been lacking in purity of heart, thereby surrendering to the temptation which creates duplicity of heart? Have I sought affective satisfaction in evil acts or thoughts with myself or with others and thus lost the simplicity of a heart fixed solely on God?

-- Have I been lacking in the willingness to be a peacemaker whereby others might have called me a child of God?

-- Have I received the good things from God's bounty with a deep sense of gratitude and accepted with patience the evil that comes to me?

-- Have I been lacking in the practice of justice which regulates my relationship with others and has as its end the establishment of peace?

-- In my work and civic and political responsibilities, have I acknowledged that the perfection of all the beatitudes is found in the acceptance of persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

--Have I followed the precepts of the new justice that Jesus mentions after the beatitudes, his precepts on fasting, prayer and forgiveness?

What I found truly beautiful about this examination of conscience is that it is based on the Beatitudes instead of the more commonly used Ten Commandments. It offers a fresh perspective. His first item also strikes a chord.
“Do I spend a disproportionate amount of time in reading newspapers and journals, watching television and using the Internet in comparison with the time spent reading and meditating upon the sacred Scriptures?” As a Catholic blogger I have to really watch this. I spend a lot of time reading and writing about Scripture and prayer. But how much time do I actually spend reading Scripture and in prayer?

(H/T to American Papist for this link!)

Easter Blessings to all as we enter the Triduum! May all the spiritual lessons and insights we have discovered during this Lenten journey strengthen us as we move forward.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Even Pro-Lifers shouldn't use the Mass as a form of protest

Gerald Augustinus has an interesting post about an incident last year involving Cardinal Mahony and pro-life demonstrators. My first reaction is very much like Gerald’s. I am outraged that a pro-abortion politician is being honored in Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. I am disgusted that openly pro-life young people were not welcomed. Cardinal Mahony’s open arms welcoming reception of rainbow sash protesters makes this even more unsavory.

However, after reflection, I don’t know that I can give the pro-life group a complete pass on their actions. I cannot tell from the news article if they were trying to enter the cathedral for a Mass or for a civil ceremony. No group should use the Mass for protest. There is no excuse for Cardinal Mahony to honor a pro-abortion politician at the cathedral. However, his poor judgment is not justification for compromising the sanctity of the Eucharist. It is scandalous and disgraceful to use the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion for any protest or political purpose. That is why the “rainbow sash” wearers should be asked to remove their sash before receiving communion. Protestors who are using their presence at Mass as a form of political demonstration are out of line. It is equally scandalous for politicians of any stripe to allow themselves to be photographed while receiving communion and use the pictures for campaign purposes. This is an abuse of the Blessed Sacrament.

I realize after viewing Gerald’s account of the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference it seems making a mockery of the Mass is not beyond Cardinal Mahony. However, no orthodox Catholic group should contribute to the dishonor by disrupting Mass with a political statement.

Pray for Young Drivers!

Well child #3 just got her learner’s permit. She has actually been eligible to do this for nearly nine months, but we just never found time to sit in the DMV for hours. So far none of my children have been chomping at the bit to drive. I am very happy about that. Saves some on the insurance premiums and saves a bundle on the wear and tear to my nerves. When they are driving I am in a constant state of prayer. I can't count the number of Hail Mary's that have accomanied my children's driving excursions. It seems like the news reports a teenager killed on the roads at least once per month. As I leave my neighborhood I pass two roadside shrines along the suburban thoroughfare that mark the site of a fatal accident involving a teenage driver. Most of these accidents are single car crashes related to driver inexperience, high speed, and all too often alcohol.

The Washington DC Metro area is not a fun place to drive. A few months after I moved here, my dentist asked me if I was grinding my teeth at night. I had no reason to think I was but he thought my teeth looked like I might. Then I realized I was grinding my teeth when I drove around the Beltway. I guess I am used to it now and it isn’t quite as stressful as it was at first, but I still don’t look for opportunities to drive. To the inexperienced driver, this area can be a nightmare.

We are fast approaching the season of proms, graduations, and end-of-the-year parties. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could weather these next few months without the tragic report of another teen killed while driving? Let’s keep all of the young drivers in our prayers. Remind them to drive no faster than their guardian angel can fly!

An Alms-giving Quandry

I know that during Lent we are supposed to engage in alms-giving and I have been trying to do so. However, if I am going to offer my money I want to know it will be used wisely. That is why I have such mixed feelings about all the solicitations for charity with little trinkets, note cards, address labels, or even shiny pennies. Part of me says if I make use of the gifts I should thank the group with a donation. However, I really don’t have time to investigate every one of these organizations and I am hesitant to just throw my money at anyone who asks. What do you do?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Outside My Circle of Orthodoxy

I get frustrated with wayward liturgies. I am enjoying my Lenten reading. (Letter and Spirit by Scott Hahn) I am pleased to see our parish paying attention to the Divine Mercy devotion. I am not excited about altar girls in the diocese and am relieved our pastor has decided not to expand our altar server corps to include girls. I am thrilled to see our new hymnal chock full of traditional hymns and Latin responses. I can share these sentiments with my Catholic blogging friends and the friends I see at daily Mass. However, when I leave my little circle of orthodoxy, my opinions are met by blank stares. Many of my Catholic friends aren’t convinced they need to show up at any Mass much less be concerned with the liturgical correctness of the Mass. They are still judging the Church by the standards of our culture instead of judging our culture by the standards of the Church.

Those of us who received the bulk of our catechesis after 1965 missed out on basic tenets of our Faith. Religion turned into pop psychology and the emphasis moved from focusing on the sacraments to focusing on our feelings. Building up our self-esteem became more important than acknowledging our sins. The glory and splendor of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was not enough. We needed entertainment and affirmation of our selves in the Mass. Fortunately the tide is turning in Rome. Straight talk about the importance of the sacraments, the sacredness of the liturgy, and the unchangeable teachings of the Church were plentiful with Pope John Paul II and are continuing with Pope Benedict XVI. The question is are Catholics in the pew getting the message?

In the last year, our parish has gone from having confession once a week on Saturdays to offering confession every day except Sunday. On Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays the priests begin hearing confessions at 7:00 pm and stay until the line runs out. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they begin hearing confessions thirty minutes before the 6:30 am and 9:00 am Mass. (I think anyone who is in church by 6:00 am to confess their sins has already done penance!) On Saturdays there are confessions beginning at 3:00 pm. You know with all these additional times to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you would think there would be no waiting. Instead, the lines are getting longer and longer. Having the sacrament so readily available takes away the excuses. It also helps that our priests never miss an opportunity to extol the benefits of confession. I was at the church yesterday for a committee meeting and there were at least 50 cars in the parking lot for the evening confessions. This morning before the 9:00 Mass three priests were hearing confessions and they still couldn’t get them all heard before Mass started. Something as simple as more frequent confessions can be the impetus for a real renewal of the Faith of a parish.

One must crawl before we walk and walk before we run. Very basic catechesis like, “you are supposed to go to Mass every Sunday”, and “confession is good for you” comes first. Every priest should read Cardinal Arinze’s address on the liturgy. The way the priest celebrates Mass is itself a form of catechesis. Following recent guidance, our pastor asked us to bow slightly as a gesture of reverence before receiving Communion. As the priest replaces the consecrated Hosts in the tabernacle all six altar boys, the Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and the priests who helped distribute communion all kneel. These bodily gestures of respect teach the reverence due the Eucharist.

Hopefully we will see a day when the importance of weekly Mass attendance and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation are common knowledge and the average Catholic in the pew is delving into the spiritual works of the Church Fathers. Until then I will remind myself that some of us are crawling, some of us are walking, and some of us are running. We need to have patience and pray for grace so that no one is left behind.

America's Worst Generation?

Curt Smith wrote in yesterday’s National Review Online that today’s generation of kids, in contrast to the Greatest Generation of World War II, may be America’s Worst Generation.

visit any mall to see the contrast. Teenagers jostle the elderly. Few boys open a door for girls. And girls are too busy dressing like an MTV Video "ho" to notice. Dialogue is a contact sport; English superfluous to profanity. What's the matter with kids? Gaucherie is their DNA. Recently I called the wife of a national pollster "ma'am"; she reacted like Dracula at the sign of the cross.

Another statement that caught my eye was

A University of California at Berkeley survey of middle-class children from age 5 to their early 20s says that discipline helps manners and mores. Raised right, you act right.

Did we really need a university study to tell us that?

If children behave like spoiled brats the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of their parents. Don’t blame “society”, the media, or the schools. These influences only fill a void left by spineless parents. Whether or not your kids think you are cool and their best buddy is not the gold standard for good parenting.

Parents try to make up for their perceived failings by imposing less discipline. Remorse over a divorce, or too much time spent on the job leads to “buying” love with extra spending money and fewer restrictions. Shouldn’t all this freedom make the kids happy? Only in the very short run. True love is expressed with time and attention, not with twenty-dollar bills. Lasting happiness comes from instilling strong moral values, discipline, and respect for others. That takes time, energy, and grace. But that is what it means to be a parent.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. David Lehman has a delightful piece in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal about the joys and benefits of memorizing verse.

There are in fact many ways to teach poetry. Possibly the best method is the most old-fashioned one: learning by rote. It may seem counterintuitive in the age of Google, but if the goal is to convey the pleasures of poetry, it's hard to do better than to memorize great poems and recite them aloud for the edification of others…I know, however, that the students, even the ones afflicted with stage fright, will ultimately enjoy the process and revel in the moment of recitation. And they will almost certainly learn more about a Shakespeare sonnet or an Emily Dickinson enigma by committing it to memory than by writing a paper analyzing the structure of the former or the characteristic use of dashes in the latter.

My mother-in-law is gifted with the appropriate poetic verse always on the tip of her tongue. My husband, while not as accomplished as his mother, can credit a bit of poetry with winning my heart. We were part of the same college crowd and a group of us were socializing one evening. We began to speak of birthdays. When I mentioned mine he immediately recognized the date as the Eve of St. Agnes and beautifully recited a few lines from the poem, Eve of St. Agnes by Keats. I was smitten. Here was a man who would recite poetry in public. Well, the rest shall we say is history. Of course he did go on to become a fighter pilot and I really can’t say he has quoted much poetry since that day, but he certainly made good use of what poetry he did know.

As we begin Holy Week, let me offer one of my favorite hymns as poetry.

Lift High the Cross
By George W. Kitchin

Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore his sacred name.

Come, brethren follow where our Savior trod,
Our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God I conqu'ring ranks combine

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As thou hast promised, draw men unto thee.

Thy kingdom come, that earth’s dispair may cease
Beneath the shadow of its healing peace.

For thy blest cross which doth for us atone,
creation’s praises rise before thy throne.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

How Should I Approach Liturgical Abuses?

I’ve written about this before, but a couple of articles brought it back to mind. A few months ago my daughter and I happened upon a church in the diocese just south of our home diocese. We walked into a wide open auditorium room with folding chairs. There were no kneelers. Of note, this is not a temporary arrangement but the final configuration of the sanctuary. We entered through the central main entrance and found no holy water. There were no saints, no stations of the cross, no crucifix, and no visible tabernacle. In other words, it was completely void of any traditional Catholic imagery. The gathering congregation was quite noisy as they all chatted in the sanctuary. Suddenly the lights blinked twice. The room quieted and the entrance hymn and processional began. To my surprise, a digital screen behind the altar began to display “inspiring” landscapes. These views changed throughout the Mass. The Eucharist used “home baked bread” for the Blessed Sacrament. At the end of communion, the remnants were whisked away uncovered on a big pottery platter. There was no sense of reverence or awe. It reminded me of someone clearing the dishes after dinner. The words of the liturgy had been tampered with as well. The creed was some sort of modified Baptismal vows. All in all, it felt like a very Protestant rendition of the Mass.

I was so uncomfortable with the Mass I wrote a letter to the Bishop. I described the events and offered my prayers for the parish. This bishop is new to the diocese and I knew he had inherited a real mixed bag of liturgical heterodoxy. The bishop was very gracious and forwarded my concerns to the pastor. The pastor’s response included the following:

They do have a tabernacle. It is in a lovely little chapel somewhere else in the building. In that chapel they have the stations of the cross and an icon of Mary.

They have holy water at the side entrances and it is refreshed weekly.

They gather in the worship space with conversation and view this fellowship as the actual beginning of the liturgy.

He then closed with the following statement: “I do not seek to convert them to our way of celebrating and invite them to look for a Church that meets their expectations”.

This came to mind because I read Cardinal Arinze’s address from April 3, 2006 given to a conference on the liturgy. Please read the whole address, however, pay special attention to the following quotes:

Those who refuse to adore God must not decorate themselves with the apparently nice title of liberal intellectuals.

If we are to call a spade a spade, we shall inform such people that they are unreasonable, ignorant and blind to most obvious facts. A child who refuses to recognise his parents is not a liberal. He is a brat. Would it be wrong to call him stupid, and unaware of common sense, and even of his own best interest? And God is to us much more than parents are to their children. On the other hand, God is not a rival to us human beings. He is not a threat. He is not a killjoy.

Everyone can thus see why the tabernacle of the Most Blessed Sacrament is located in a central or at least prominent place in our churches. It is the centre of our attention and prayer. The October 2005 Synod of Bishops emphasised this point (cf Prop., 6, 28, 34). In some of our churches some misguided person has relegated the tabernacle to an obscure section of the church. Sometimes it is even so difficult for a visitor to locate where the tabernacle is, that the visitor can say with truth with St Mary Magdalene: "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him" (Jn 20:13).

May I say a further word on the importance of silence in our churches and chapels. Moments of silence help us to prepare for the celebration of Mass. During Mass, a few minutes of silence help us to meditate on the lessons, the Gospel and the homily just heard. Silence after receiving Jesus Holy Communion is a time for personal prayer to Our Lord. At the end of Mass and at all other times in church, silence is a mark of reverence for God's house and especially for Jesus present in the tabernacle.

and finally this

It follows that individuals, whether they be priests or lay faithful, are not free to add or subtract any details in the approved rites of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22). A do-it-yourself mentality, an attitude of nobody-will-tell-me-what-to-do, or a defiant sting of if-you-do-not-like-my-Mass-you-can-go-to-another-parish, is not only against sound theology and ecclesiology, but also offends against common sense. Unfortunately, sometimes common sense is not very common, when we see a priest ignoring liturgical rules and installing creativity in his case personal idiosyncracy as the guide to the celebration of Holy Mass. Our faith guides us and our love of Jesus and of his Church safeguards us from taking such unwholesome liberties. Aware that we are only ministers, not masters of the mysteries of Christ (cf I Cor 4:1), we follow the approved liturgical books so that the people of God are respected and their faith nourished, and so that God is honoured and the Church is gradually being built up.

Let me tell you, I felt a great big “I told you so!” welling up within me. Of course then I also read an insightful piece on Jimmy Akin’s blog. One particular quote jumped out at me:

Don't make the mistake of turning over your happiness before God to someone else. You don't have to do that. You may tell yourself, 'I just can't stand the way this Mass is being celebrated,' but you're wrong. People say that they can't stand something when they know full well that they can. They're simply trying to rationalize a decision they want to make by telling themselves that they don't have any choice.
You do have a choice. You have a choice how you will react to what someone else is doing. You can choose to react in a way that mourns whatever offense has been committed yet leaves your spiritual peace intact. Or you may choose to react in a way that poisons your spiritual life and robs of you of the peace God wants you to have. But it's still your choice.
You can't control what another person is going to do. But you can control how you choose to react.

I realized my attendance at Mass in this neighboring diocese had turned into an exercise in “hidden pictures”. I go to Mass and concentrate on finding the liturgical abuses. Granted, these liturgical abuses are usually not very hidden. I am fortunate to have a wonderful home parish with a reverent and inspiring celebration of the Mass. So when I am traveling I don’t need to get myself tied into knots over the practices of these churches. I am not sorry I pointed out questionable liturgical practices in the church I visited. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to instruct the ignorant and prayerful, loving catechesis is not condemnation. Perhaps the pastor will give my concerns a second thought. However, the bottom line is I am attending Mass, even when traveling, because I need to meet my Lord in the Eucharist. He is most assuredly there whether or not the Tabernacle is visible.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How Secular Can Notre Dame be, and Still be Catholic?

If you walk into my house and observe my family I hope you know a Catholic family lives here. Statues of saints nestle amongst the plants in the front flower beds. A crucifix hangs over the front door and in virtually every room. The periodicals scattered about include The National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and The Magnificat. There is probably a rosary on one of the family room end tables. Open the kitchen cabinets and copies of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are pasted on the inside of the door. As we set the table to enjoy our plenty I want to remind us of the need to serve others. We will always say grace at meals. Dinnertime conversations will include news of the day and comments about what the Church thinks about the issues. You will find us at Mass every Sunday. No excuses. (Other than childbirth. Two of my kids were born on Sundays)

On the other hand, you will also see artwork that is not religious in nature. Our periodicals include the Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Economist. The dinnertime conversation is not always catechesis. It is just as likely to be analysis of a recently played soccer game. Our television is tuned to something other than EWTN most of the time. The music in our lives includes much more secular music than sacred music. Everything that comes into our home is held up to the backdrop of our Catholicism. Some things never make it past the front door because they are such an affront to our Faith. We let a limited slice of the secular world into our home. Yet I don’t think it has compromised our Catholic identity.

I think this is the struggle facing Fr. Jenkins at the University of Notre Dame. How much of the secular world can he let into the university and still retain a Catholic identity? He has decided to renew the practice of performing the very vulgar and controversial play, The Vagina Monologues at Notre Dame. You can read his statement here. You can also read the very passionate debate on the issue at Amy Welborn’s blog. Last I checked it had nearly 200 comments.

The decision to allow the production of The Vagina Monologues does not a priori have to compromise Catholic identity if it is done against the backdrop of Catholic teaching. This is not the history of the production, however. It is usually done as part of a feminist protest that decries the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality. In the same way, Brokeback Mountain could be shown on campus. However, a festival that celebrates the homosexual lifestyle should not be on a Catholic campus. There is an unlimited secular world to engage beyond the gates of Notre Dame. If it wants to retain (some might say rebuild) its identity as a Catholic university, Notre Dame must be willing to place limits on what comes within its gates. Otherwise, it is just a university.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

One more thing about Confession....

This is sort of a postscript to my first post today. Fr. Guy Selvester at Shouts in the Piazza offers a poignant perspective on Judas Iscariot. Judas Iscariot’s great sin was not in his betrayal of Jesus. It was his failure to repent and ask for God’s Mercy. Isn’t that the most liberating thought? No sin or failure is too big for Christ’s Divine Mercy. All we have to do is repent and ask. It almost makes me giddy to think about it.

Well, if you are all geared up for confession but need a refresher course, take a look at the National Catholic Register online resources. Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things also has some helpful information.

So what are you waiting for? Get in line. Father has an unlimited supply of Christ’s Mercy and it is yours for the asking.

Ten Days until Easter. Time to 'fess up!

Today is April 6. Ten more days until Easter. Have you been to confession yet? If not, it is time to get going! Here is a powerful reflection on one person’s experience with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Recently, I received the Sacrament of Reconciliation from our new pastor. He has been in the parish for about nine months, but until now but I had always found myself confessing to one of the parochial vicars. Our pastor has brought some changes to the parish that I heartily endorse. As with all change it has ruffled some feathers, but I really believe the parish will be stronger for it. His demeanor has been a bit scolding sometimes so when I found myself in his line for confession I approached with a bit of trepidation. Yet, when I found myself in the confessional I was struck with the joy and love he exuded as he administered the Sacrament. He did not deny or minimize my failings, but he responded with compassion and mercy. I truly felt Christ’s Divine Mercy. I realized this man may not always be a gifted administrator. He is, however, a gifted priest.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Court has Spoken: Liturgical Music Matters!

There is so much being written about the Catholic Church’s interaction with civil authorities. The Catholic League is suing San Francisco for violation of the First Amendment because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the Vatican. Of course this is the same city that condemned a gathering of evangelical Christian teenagers as disgusting. Catholic Charities in Boston has stopped doing adoptions because the state insists they place children with homosexual couples. State agencies are pressuring Catholic hospitals to provide services that are inconsistent with Catholic teachings. The list goes on and on.

Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice writes of a case where the courts have said interference in Church affairs is not within their jurisdiction. It seems a Mr. Tomic was the music director at a Catholic Church in Peoria, IL. There was a dispute with the Bishop’s assistant over music selection. Mr. Tomic was fired. His replacement was a younger person. Mr. Tomic filed an age discrimination lawsuit. His argument was that music selection was not a religious function and therefore not covered by the “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws. Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree and wrote a wonderful opinion. The most significant statement in this opinion is the following:

”At argument Tomic’s lawyer astonished us by arguing that music has in itself no religious significance—its only religious significance is in its words. The implications is that it is a matter of indifference to the Church and its flock whether the words of the Gospel are set to Handel’s Messiah or to “Three Blind Mice.” That obviously is false. The religious music played at a wedding is not necessarily suitable for a funeral; and religious music written for Christmas is not necessarily suitable for Easter. Even Mozart had to struggle over what was suitable church music with his first patron, Archbishop Colloredo, whom the Mozart family called the “arch-booby”. Music is a vital means of expressing and celebrating those beliefs which a religious community holds most sacred. Music is an integral part of many different religious traditions, including the Catholic tradition.”

There you have it. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has declared the music matters. Perhaps Judge Posner would like to rethink his position on getting involved in internal Church affairs. He has a far greater appreciation of the significance of liturgical music than many Catholic music directors. He has already indicated he would not allow “Three Blind Mice”. Maybe he could get rid of Marty Haugen too!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Stay-at-home-moms a drain on society?

Oh the Dutch! This is the society that has been the world’s leading proponent of euthanasia. It is bringing us the Groningen Protocols to legalize killing seriously ill babies and disabled adults. Now it is going after stay-at-home-moms. Dominico Bettinelli’s blog points out a Dutch politician who wants to penalize women with college degrees who want to stay home with their children because they are "destroying capital". Sharon Dijksma, a Dutch member of Parliament, proposes a substantial financial penalty for women choosing not to enter the work force. This is motivated in the Netherlands by the state funded education system. The state does not think it has gotten its money’s worth from these women it educated. However, a more serious underlying premise of this proposal is that women who stay at home to care for their children offer no societal benefit. What greater “capital” is there for a society than its future generations? Does the Dutch Labour Party really believe raising well adjusted children with a firm moral grounding is a worthless endeavor? Do they really think a college-educated mother has nothing of value to offer her children that an uneducated babysitter cannot provide?

Of course America is not free of this thinking. Linda Hirshman, a professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University reveals a similar perspective at Inside Higher Ed:

Recent analysis of the opt-out revolution reveals that the only group of mothers not continuing to raise their work-force participation despite economic ups and downs is mothers with graduate and professional degrees. Their numbers are flat and have been for several years. Their decisions matter because their careers, if realized, would be influential. Their decisions are a mistake because they lead them to lesser lives, by most measures, and because these decisions hurt society.

You can read her entire essay here but be warned she chooses to use some profanity when discussing comments by her critics.

Okay, I plead guilty. I am a medical doctor and I am choosing to be a stay-at-home mom. We are not independently wealthy. This has meant some lifestyle adjustments. I have not always stayed at home. My first two children were born during my family practice residency. My third child was born when I was in the military. The fourth child came when I had my first civilian job. I gradually began to decrease my work hours over the next few years because I felt the kids needed me more and more. I need to be there to greet the kids when they come home from school. I can tell by the look on their faces how their day went. If I waited a couple of hours to see them, school would be a million miles away and I wouldn’t have a clue. A great deal of learning and bonding goes on during the shuttling of kids from one activity to another. It takes time to teach the intangibles like faith and morals. It has been a blessing to be available to my children when those teachable moments arise. Once they are in high school it is even more important. I want to know who their friends are and where they are spending the after school hours. The sexual activity, drinking, and drug abuse by teens is most likely to occur when they are unsupervised after school.

My husband and I both felt the needs of our children were more important than our careers. However, his career as a military officer had far less flexibility than mine as a family physician. My career was the one that compromised. This wasn’t a sexist decision. This was a family-first decision.

I am not trying to fuel any “Mommy Wars”. Every family has to set priorities and act accordingly. And as with our family, what works for a while may not work forever. Situations change. As parents we have been entrusted with children as a gift from God. Parenting in and of itself is a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Far from being a drain on society, being a good parent is a treasure for society.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Who is teaching your children about sex?

Is anyone really surprised by this? Add to the constant barrage of media sex, the public schools telling the children, “We know you are all having sex so this is how to do it safely”, and it is a recipe for wanton promiscuity. The answer is for parents to clearly convey important moral teaching about sexuality. There is no substitute.

Soccer Parenting Primer: The Early Years

Ah, soccer. The spring season began this past weekend. The sweet sounds of soccer cleats slapping the leather ball and the referee’s whistle fill the air. I have been watching kids play soccer for nearly 15 years. All my children have played soccer at various levels. It is a wonderful game with so many positive lessons for children. Volumes are written about teaching children soccer. However, not nearly enough is written to instruct parents about being soccer parents. Writer that I am, I cannot tolerate this void. Therefore, I will expend a few words on the topic of soccer parenting.

The Early Years

Your child may really be an athletic prodigy. However, as you lace up his or her cleats, please dispel yourself of any notion that today’s game for five-year-olds has any bearing on his future college scholarships or professional soccer career. The purpose of these five-year-olds playing soccer is to run around on the field and have a blast. In the process they will learn the very basic principles of soccer. The ball is to be kicked. The purpose is to kick it into the goal. It matters which direction your team is going. It is good to take turns kicking the ball and share with your teammates. You don’t want to share the ball with your opponents.

Don’t kid yourself that no one is keeping score. Every kid on the field knows what the score is. Soccer is a competition. At the end of the game, one team will have more points than the other team. That said, there is no reason to stress winning or losing. There are no league standings. Congratulate every child for playing. Reward them all with snacks.

That brings me to the subject of soccer snacks. After game snacks are appropriate until about age ten. After that they are just a burden on the parents and aren’t really appreciated by the kids. After the game these kids are getting into Mom and Dad’s car carrying a soccer ball and water bottle. You want them to manage a tower of chocolate frosting too? Please leave the homemade frosted cupcakes for the classroom birthday party. I know you want your children to eat healthy foods, but please let soccer treats be a real treat. Bags of carrot sticks may satisfy the nutritionist in you, but the kids want something fun. A once a week individually wrapped packaged of processed sugar like Twinkies will not hurt them. Bring enough for the siblings to avoid contentious pleas to share on the ride home.

Who came up with the idea of serving orange slices at half time? The oranges leave sticky fingers and the orange rinds make a mess of the sidelines. They are a pain to prepare and transport. If the kids need a half time pick me up, it is better to give them a sports drink pouch. The kids don’t need a lot of volume. They do need hydration. Their hands stay clean and the empty pouches just go in the trash. It is also so much easier on the parents. I propose we ban orange slices from the sidelines.

Parents, remember your child is supposed to be learning things other than soccer. This is the time to cheer and encourage. Never yell anything negative at your child or at any other child on the field. Soccer etiquette requires the referee to be addressed as sir or ma’am regardless of age. The referee is doing the best he can. He may not be very experienced so he is learning too. There is a shortage of good experienced referees. Many quit because they can’t stand the harassment from the sidelines. Be patient. Be a good example.

This is also a time to teach teamwork and commitment. Joining a soccer team is a commitment. When a player fails to show for practice or a game he is letting down his team. Think carefully about absences.

In twelve years your child may or may not be playing soccer. He or she may be a soccer star looking at a free ride to college. However, it is far more likely he or she will be a healthy physically active young adult who has nurtured a love of a wonderful game. If he or she is not playing soccer, don’t let it be because you couldn’t learn to be a good soccer parent.

Catholic Guilt

Catholic Guilt. That phrase gets thrown about a lot. Sometimes in jest. Sometimes in a pejorative tone. What does it really mean? Catholics are called to measure every aspect of our lives against an absolute standard of right and wrong. We are encouraged to make an examination of conscience daily. We must own up to the times we have fallen short of this standard. We confess them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, receive God’s forgiveness and try again.

Our standard of right and wrong is absolute. However, life often comes at us in shades of gray. Catholic Guilt is that twinge of discomfort we feel when our actions fall in the gray zone. It is the sense that we need to think again and be sure we are doing the right thing.

I just hung up the phone from another call soliciting a charitable donation. My mailbox is full of requests for money to feed hungry children. I can’t take care of them all. But am I doing enough? That is the question Catholic Guilt makes me ask.

Today’s Gospel reading (Jn 8:1-11) is the account of the woman, accused of adultery, who is brought before Jesus. Jesus does not condemn her. Rather he challenges her accusers. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The scribes and the Pharisees leave, one by one. Jesus offers the woman forgiveness and admonishes her to sin no more.

Jesus offers us this same forgiveness. He offers us his Divine Mercy without condemnation. We only need to repent our sins and ask. Catholic Guilt allows us to recognize our sinfulness so we know to approach our Lord for forgiveness. It is not an oppressive burden. It is the Truth that sets us free.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Loud Peeps over Easter

In St. Paul, Minnesota a secretary at city hall decorated the City Hall lobby with a stuffed bunny and colored eggs and a sign that said “Happy Easter”. This was done at her expense. No city funds were used. Tyrone Terrill, the city’s human rights director had the display removed for fear of offending non-Christians. (Do you think he has plans to address the “offensive” name of his city as well?) Well, the jocular people of St. Paul have responded by covering the base of a City Hall landmark statue, the Vision of Peace, with boxes of those sugar rush inducing marshmallow chicks and bunnies known as Peeps. A small laminated sign renames the statue the “Vision of Peeps”.

In my own neck of the woods, the Fairfax County park authority is having numerous events to celebrate an unnamed spring holiday. Multiple spring egg hunts and visits by the Bunny have been scheduled. In fact, Lake Accotink Park isn’t even hiding eggs. They are sponsoring a “bone hunt”. Doesn’t that sound like fun? As far as I know, the event on the front lawn of the White House is still referred to as the Easter Egg roll. Why did neighboring Fairfax County officials shy away from the term Easter?

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the brouhaha that erupts every December over the use of the word Christmas would migrate to spring and focus on the word Easter. But let’s be realistic. Acknowledging that the tradition of coloring eggs and receiving gifts from an oversized rabbit are part of the American Easter celebration in no way commits one to believing in the resurrection of Christ. Would I be offended if the Park Department sponsored an event featuring a traditional game, dance, or activity associated with a Jewish or Muslim holiday and acknowledged the connection? Absolutely not! So why should my non-Christian neighbors be offended that that colored eggs are associated with Easter? Or that decorated evergreens are associated with Christmas? Recognizing the historical connection to a given cultural or religious group is not an endorsement of that group.

With only two weeks left to go in Lent, I really have very little concern about the status of the Easter Bunny. He never arrives at our home until after we go to Mass. I have two weeks remaining to make myself and my household spiritually ready to welcome our Risen Lord. This preparation does not involve colored eggs, cuddly bunnies, or marshmallow chicks. Instead, we have two more weeks of repentance, prayer, and sacrifice before we can raise our voices in the glorious “Alleluia” of Easter.