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 Jägerstätter

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Are "Slaughter Rules" a good thing?

Blogging will be light for the next week. I have out-of-town company arriving tomorrow and lots of family things going on. It will be a whirlwind of a time but should be fun.

Today’s Washington Times has a sports editorial by Tom Knott discussing a move by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference to limit the point spread of a high school football game to fifty points.

If a coach allows his team to defeat an opponent by more than 50 points, he will receive a one-game suspension and perhaps be ordered to attend sensitivity-training class.
This is a poorly conceived rule on so many levels, starting with a coach having his backup quarterback take a knee on first down in the fourth quarter in order to prevent his team from exceeding the 50-point rule.
Does this leave intact the self-esteem of the players on the overwhelmed team?
Do they feel better about themselves if the winning team has been required to take pity on them?

I hate to see teams run up the score, but I also hate to tell kids to quit playing. My kids have been on both sides of this equation and there is no perfect answer. In youth baseball there is often a "slaughter rule" that ends the game once a given point spread is reached. In indoor soccer the dominating team pulls a player and plays down a man once the slaughter rule goes into effect.

My daughter played soccer for the dominant middle school in the county. They had a game scheduled against a brand new charter school. This team routinely lost by scores of 20-0 when they played the other local schools. When it was my daughter’s turn to play this team, her coach played only the second string players during the first half. In addition, the defense played offense and the offense played defense. The score was 1-0 at half time. During the second half the starters got to play but again the defense had to play offense and the offense had to play defense. If you scored more than one goal, you came out of the game. The final score was 10-0.
In another lopsided soccer game, the team decided they would score in numerical order.

Some coaches have stated it is more humiliating to have a team play these kinds of games rather than just play and let the score continue to soar. Personally, I prefer to see a team adjust its game with self-imposed conditions to limit the point spread. This should be done as discreetly as possible to minimize embarrassment of the losing team. I don’t like to see a coach leave his star players in and keep his reserves on the bench when the score differential becomes obviously insurmountable.

Competitive sports are tough. Avoidance of excessive humiliation is not a bad thing. But in the end, there is a winner and a loser. That is why we keep score.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Confidence of Paul

Perhaps because of or in light of my soccer sidelines observations this past weekend, today’s first reading and our priest’s homily about it had me squirming a little.

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more.
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you,
for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20: 24-27)

Paul is anticipating his martyrdom, yet he approaches his Final Judgment with confidence. He knows he has faithfully represented Christ to all he has encountered.

How well have I represented Christ? Have I been a model of Christian truth, charity and compassion as I drove the crazy freeways around Washington D.C.? How about as I interacted with other soccer parents? Do I bring Christ’s love and mercy to my family?

I am afraid I cannot answer with the confidence of Paul. Fortunately Christ is merciful. I can ‘fess up my failings and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. Then once again I can seek to faithfully declare “the whole counsel of God”.

Soccer Parenting Primer: Referees

The Spring Crunch is upon our household as school, sports, Scouts, etc. wind down. This past weekend we had nine soccer games on the family calendar. We ended up 8-1-0. If you love soccer (as I do) it was great fun.

Of course spending that much time at soccer field complexes with multiple games occurring simultaneously gives me ample opportunity to watch soccer parents as well as soccer games. This leads me to my next installment of the Soccer Parenting Primer: Soccer Parenting and Referees (You can read previous installments here and here.)

As a soccer parent, you are there to watch, encourage, and cheer. You are not there to coach. You are definitely not there to referee. The game of soccer is very fast and very fluid. There are rules. However, the referee has a great deal of latitude on whether he will enforce the rules. Fouls that endanger players are almost always called. On the other hand, pulling an opponent’s jersey is illegal. Yet if it would be more advantageous to the non-offending team to let play continue at that moment, the referee may not call the foul. The offsides ruling causes no end of consternation. To be called as offsides, a player must be in the offsides position at the time his teammate plays the ball (not when the ball reaches him) and either interfere with play, interfere with an opponent, or gain advantage from being in that position. This allows for a great deal of subjective judgment on the part of the referee. Therefore, the referee controls the game. It is his judgment, at a given moment, from his perspective that matters. Your judgment, even if you are yourself a trained referee, is of no consequence. The referee and his subjective opinions are part of the game of soccer. For those who are used to the instant replay precision of American football, this can be difficult to understand. A detailed source for the Laws of the Game of Soccer can be found at the FIFA website.

There is nothing to be gained by shouting criticism at the referee. In fact, if there is constant heckling of the officials, the subjective judgment can certainly be swayed against a team. You do your team no favors by angering the referees. Soccer etiquette requires all officials to be addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am”. At the younger age groups, the referees are often less experienced. Many times they are teenagers Combine this with novice soccer parents who don’t know the rules as well as they think they do and it can be an explosive situation. Therefore, every team needs a level headed parent to set the tone for the rest. Many leagues require teams to designate a parent to be responsible for fan behavior. I recommend this parent carry a bag of hard candy suckers. As soon as parent starts getting negative hand him a lollipop. It is very hard to shout criticisms and insults with a Tootsie Pop in your mouth.

Set a good example for your children. You want to be proud of their play on the field. They want to be proud of your behavior on the sidelines. Soccer is a beautiful game. However, it is just a game.

Friday, May 26, 2006

They might have to turn off the TV!

Since when is cable television one of life’s necessities? The Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal directs us to this story from the ABC local affiliate in Texas City, Tx. It seems the local cable television company is charging customers an extra dollar is they pay their bill in person in cash.

Time Warner is charging more to folks who can least afford to pay. Geneva Hurst, 82, is upset because she had to pay a dollar extra when she paid her cable bill in person at a Texas City service center. She doesn't have a checking account or credit card and cashes her Social Security check to buy food and pay bills.

Geneva said, "I goes there. I don't have a checking account but I pays it in cash. And I walk in there one day and I paid it in cash and she says when I paid -- 'Oh, you know, we have to charge a dollar extra.' ... It's a sad thing. It's so sad, 'cause poor people, we just barely getting by with what we're already paying."

Of course consumer zealot, Marvin Zindler, is all over this injustice. How dare this big cable company cover the cost of doing business in cash by charging cash customers an extra dollar. That is a whole twelve dollars every year.

You know, if this were the electric bill or the phone bill I might actually have a little sympathy. Those are true necessities. However, this is the bill for cable television. Cable television is a luxury. It is a want not a need. If you cannot afford an extra twelve dollars a year, then perhaps you cannot afford cable television. Since when is ESPN or HBO an essential expenditure?

Do I have cable television? Until two years ago the answer was “no”. When we moved to our current home we had to get cable in order to get high speed internet. The phone company did not offer DSL at our new address. I purchased the smallest package possible. No ESPN. No CNN. No Nickelodeon. Definitely no premium movie channels. If it is not on the broadcast channels, we are probably not watching it. So I know firsthand that life goes on without cable television.

Mr. Zindler, there are so many issues worthy of our concern. An extra dollar on the cable bill is not one of them.

St. Thomas University joins the Club

St. Thomas University in Minnesota has joined Notre Dame, Villanova, Boston College, and a host of other “Catholic” Universities who don’t want to make their Catholic identity too obvious. It seems that graduating senior Ben Kessler received a “Tommie” award and was invited to speak at the commencement ceremonies. He used the opportunity to reflect on some of the controversies and issues that had marked their academic career at St. Thomas. He correctly pointed out that faithfully following Catholic teachings would have eliminated these controversies. He also pointed out that we are called to an attitude of selflessness rather than selfishness. I guess some of the graduates and their families were not in the mood for a sermon and took offense to this address. The president of the university, Fr. Dennis Dease apologized for the speech finding it “inappropriate”. Endorsing Catholic teachings at a Catholic university is inappropriate?

American Papist has a good summary of the events as well as a video of the speech. Fr. Martin Fox wrote to the president of St. Thomas University expressing his disappointment that the university did not support Ben Kessler. He has posted Fr. Dease’s response here.

The good news is that Ben Kessler is receiving a lot of support in the blogosphere. I hope he is aware of it. This young man is in the process of becoming a priest. He has shown great courage and fortitude. He will make an excellent priest.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Save the Baby Humans!

“Save the Baby Humans!” I always have thought that is such a sad but poignant bumper sticker. Are our societal priorities so askew that we need a reminder to care about baby humans? Shouldn’t we instinctively want to protect baby humans more than we anguish over the plight of baby whales?

Robert Araujo addresses this at Mirror of Justice in his post entitled, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A few years ago I found myself on the periphery of a controversy involving the applications of several student groups that were seeking recognition by the student government so that they could qualify for campus funding and other university benefits. One group was “Law Students for Choice.” The University administration correctly stepped in and noted that it would be a problem for the institution which asserts a Catholic identity to recognize this group as a qualifying student organization. In response, some members of the university community then began to raise questions about a student pro-life group that was also seeking recognition around the same time. I don’t believe the latter group ever got by the student government board. Oddly enough, the Animal Rights group made it through to the finish line, so to speak, and on to become a recognized student group.

Professor Bainbridge touches on the same topic in his post Put People First. The US House of Representatives has passed a bill with large bipartisan support (vote was 349-24) requiring state and local preparedness offices to take into account pet owners, household pets and service animals when drawing up evacuation plans.

… this legislation sends a message that states and localities should expend resources to save pets in an emergency. Do we really want first responders spending time coaxing a scared dog onto a helicopter when they could be off saving people? Do we really want to spend taxpayer dollars on saving and sheltering pets instead of people? Money doesn't grow on trees and in a world of scarce resources, tragic choices have to be made.

I like my cat. He was a stray that showed up on our doorstep nearly ten years ago. My husband was certain we would not be keeping the cat so he forbid us to name it. Therefore, the cat became The Cat or TC for short. Ten years later that is still his name. I feed the cat, make sure he gets his yearly check up and shots, and have nursed him through a few cat fight injuries. In the last year he has developed hyperthyroidism so I am giving him a pill twice daily. His kidneys don’t work as well as they used to so he gets a special cat food. I am amazed at the medical options I have been offered for my cat. For about $1200 I could subject him to a radioactive iodine treatment for his hyperthyroidism thus ending the twice daily shove-a-pill-down-his-throat routine.

When I lived in Southern California the local newspaper ran an article about the large number of pet psychologist who practiced in the area. Our region boasted of more pet psychologists than any other area of the United States. The article interviewed one psychologist who discussed a particularly satisfying treatment of a depressed canary.

We must be a tremendously wealthy nation when so many resources are devoted to our domestic animals. I have to ask the same question Robert Araujo asks in his Mirror of Justice post:

But, I ask, do they care about people as much as animals? If it is good to hope for animals, famous or not, is it also not a good to hope for people, be they famous or not? The answer to that question must be yes. But our culture, which is quick to display its empathy for a famous animal, does not always respond in a similar fashion when even one person, let alone thousands or millions, is forgotten by the same culture.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Immigration Should not be a Racial Issue

I really don’t mean to keep coming back to the immigration debate. I guess it keeps coming to me. I wrote about a reasonable discussion of the issues here. This issue presents really tough questions with no easy ansers. Today’s Washington Times highlights voices that smack so loudly of racism that it is difficult to take their concerns seriously.


"We're on the cusp of very critical legislation that centers on immigration -- both legal and illegal," Frank Morris Sr., chairman of Choose Black America, a new coalition of black Americans opposed to illegal entry, told reporters at the National Press Club in Northwest. "African Americans are going to be hurt if this legislation moves forward, [and] we are here to sound the alarm."

… Area residents attending the press conference said that black students are held back in already poor school districts by peers who don't speak English, and that monies for improved educational facilities are spent on bilingual teachers.

So the issue isn’t really immigration. It is those people who don’t speak English.

"It just infuriates me that our children's education has to be shortchanged for a subculture that in many instances doesn't want to assimilate," said the Northwest resident, who is in her 60s and has watched the D.C. landscape change for more than 30 years.

Of course support for assimilation is why this group chose the moniker “Choose Black America” instead of “Choose America”

Claude Anderson, another member of the coalition, called for a lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to protect the rights of black Americans, who he says are losing voting power and being pushed out of affirmative-action programs by illegal aliens and their supporters.

Excuse me. I don’t think illegal aliens vote so how are black Americans losing voting power? Oh, I see. Competition at the affirmative-action trough is spurring this group to action.

This is a critical public policy issue. Let’s talk about economics and national security which are the crux of the issue. Let’s talk about the impact of illegal immigration on all American workers without concern for their race or ethnicity. The adverse effects will impact those who are poorly educated with low job skills. If those affected are disproportionately black then these black leaders should focus on improving education and job skills, not on holding a place in the queue for government favors.

Two generation ago, my maternal grandparents were of Mexican heritage but American born. I think their parents were also American born. They lived with all the bigotry and discrimination that was commonplace in their day. The Anglo ushers in their Catholic Church directed them to sit in the back of the church so they wouldn’t mingle with the white parishioners. I don’t think either of them graduated from high school. However, both their daughters graduated from high school. All six of their grandchildren graduated from college. One of these grandchildren attended law school and one attended medical school. It took two generation to make this kind of progress. It was not the result of any government program. It was the result of my grandparents’ belief in Faith, family, education, and hard work.

Introduction to the Didache

Among the many things the brouhaha over the Da Vinci Code did, was to highlight the abysmal state of adult Catholic catechesis. In particular, knowledge of Church history is negligible. I am really hoping that bishops, priests, and directors of religious education see this and spring into action. Or maybe us folks sitting in the pews will spring into action to seek the true history of our Faith. For while our faith stems from the Divine, it has a very real earthly legacy. It is important to appreciate this legacy and understand its relevance to our faith today.

Fathers of the Church blog has a good introduction to the Didache. This first century document brings into focus the Church at near apostolic times.

Twenty-first century Christians tend to romanticize those founding years of the Church as a golden age of unity, when believers absorbed sound doctrine by osmosis, and when Christians couldn’t help but love one another, and bless their persecutors, and feed the poor.

But that’s not how it was. Early on, the Church faced serious threats from self-proclaimed Christians who denied, for example, that the eternal Word truly became flesh (see 1 Jn 4:2 and 2 Jn 1:7). They also denied the reality of the Eucharist and the necessity of the Church. Quite early in the game, there were even some teachers who held that revelation was a private affair between God and the individual believer. They spun wildly creative religious systems (see 1 Tim 1:4) and gave a green-light to unbridled lust (see Jd 7). To legitimize their “revelations,” such heretics often attributed oracles to the apostles (see Gal 1:7 and 2 Thess 2:2).

Amid this confusion came order and orthodoxy in the Didache. It is, perhaps, the earliest ancestor of today’s Catechism of the Catholic Church. And, indeed, the new Catechism quotes that first one several times

The Didache is evidence that the beliefs and practices central to our modern era Catholic Faith have been part of our Faith since the beginnings of the Church. When modern heresies arise (often just echoing previous ones) we need to be prepared to answer with confidence. Knowledge of the early Church is a good start.

Thoughts from Fr. Neuhaus

Zenit has a wonderful interview with Father Richard Neuhaus. Do read the whole interview but a few excerpts really stand out for me:

Q: Your book seems to echo G.K. Chesterton's statement that there was never anything so exciting or perilous as orthodoxy. Why do you believe this is the case?

Father Neuhaus: I am always honored to be associated with Chesterton, one of the great Catholic spirits of modern times.

Yes, orthodoxy is a high adventure -- intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically and morally. It is ever so much more interesting than the smelly conventions that so many, viewing orthodoxy as a burden, embrace in the dismal ambition to be considered progressive.

In the encyclical "Redemptoris Missio," John Paul II said that the Church imposes nothing; she only proposes. But what she proposes is an astonishment beyond the reach of human imagining -- the coming of the promised Kingdom of God, and our anticipation of that promise in the life of the Church.

It is a great pity that so many are prepared, even eager, to settle for something less than this high adventure.

For instance, in "Catholic Matters" I discuss the preoccupation with being an "American Catholic" when we should really want to be "Catholic Americans." Note that the adjective controls.

The really interesting thing is not to accommodate our way of being Catholic to the fact of our being American but to demonstrate a distinctively Catholic way of being American.

Q: A major theme in your book is the importance of a revitalized liturgy for renewing Catholic life. How do you see that occurring?

Father Neuhaus: Don't get me started. The banality of liturgical texts, the unsingability of music that is deservedly unsung, the hackneyed New American Bible prescribed for use in the lectionary, the stripped-down architecture devoted to absence rather than Presence, the homiletical shoddiness.

Where to begin? A "high church" Lutheran or Anglican -- and I was the former -- braces himself upon becoming a Catholic.

The heart of what went wrong, however, and the real need for a "reform of the reform" lies in the fatal misstep of constructing the liturgical action around our putatively amazing selves rather than around the surpassing wonder of what Christ is doing in the Eucharist.

All that having been said, however, be assured that there has never been a second or even a nanosecond in which I've had second thoughts about entering into full communion with the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time.

(H/T to Pontifications for the link)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An Exciting Medical Possibility!

After all the publicity about Terry Schiavo the label Persistent Vegetative State is ubiquitous. However, it is also very poorly understood. How does one define Persistent Vegetative State? According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
A persistent vegetative state (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death") sometimes follows a coma. Individuals in such a state have lost their thinking abilities and awareness of their surroundings, but retain non-cognitive function and normal sleep patterns. Even though those in a persistent vegetative state lose their higher brain functions, other key functions such as breathing and circulation remain relatively intact. Spontaneous movements may occur, and the eyes may open in response to external stimuli. They may even occasionally grimace, cry, or laugh. Although individuals in a persistent vegetative state may appear somewhat normal, they do not speak and they are unable to respond to commands.

Of importance in this definition is that the patient is not dying. The patient is profoundly disabled.
Today’s Guardian covers a report in the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation. Three patients in a diagnosed PVS were given Zolpidem, a short-acting sleep medication with seemingly miraculous results.

A drug commonly used as a sleeping pill appears to have had a miraculous effect on brain-damaged patients who have been in a permanent vegetative state for years, arousing them to the point where some are able to speak to their families, scientists report today.

The dramatic improvement occurs within 20 minutes of taking the drug, Zolpidem, and wears off after around four hours - at which point the patients return to their permanent vegetative state, according to a paper published in the medical journal NeuroRehabilitation

Could this really be true? Obviously this needs lots more study and no conclusions can be drawn yet. However, I also think it should prod those who advocate withdrawing care from patients in a PVS to pause and reconsider their position.

Have it His Way!

Tony at Catholic Pillow Fight posts a rant from one of his readers, Andrew. In addition to horrendous spelling Andrew puts forth all sorts of accusations and allegations about Christianity. He states openness to truth yet spouts debunked myths about the Church as if they were fact. (Perhaps he is distantly related to Dan Brown) However he does ask an interesting question: With so many unanswered prayers, why do you think God exists?

Just what are you afraid of ???? I mean how do you reconcile the Holocaust in world war 2, praying didnt(sic) do much good then did it, same for the Killing fields in Cambodia and all these Hurricanes last year, I could go on and on.

The fallacy that guides this poor soul is that our prayers control God. God does not run a Burger King style prayer outlet with the slogan “Have it Your Way”. Rather, God invites us to “Have it His Way”. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Thy will be done”. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “Thy will, not mine”.

Jesus invites us to offer our petitions to God with confidence. Yet we are also called to conform our will to God’s. So much happens in our lifetimes that we do not understand. Our human vision is very limited. God with His perfect understanding of all things knows our needs better than we know ourselves. Just perhaps what seems like an unanswered prayer is in truth the perfect answer.

Faith is a grace. It is not the conclusion reached by an exercise in logic. That does not mean it is illogical. It just means that logic and reason alone do not lead us to Faith. A really interesting book is Faith on Trial by Pamela Binnings Ewen. Ms. Ewen, an attorney, applies the standards of courtroom evidence to what we know about Jesus. Our evidence fares quite well. However, it still takes that final leap of faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Our Faith is not a natural product of logic. However, it is also not an anathema to logic.

Andrew is not unique in his perspective. The popularity a few years ago of The Prayer of Jabez is proof of that. It was supposed to be the newly rediscovered prayer that held the key to getting what you want from God. We must humbly remember that God is not created in our image. We are created in His.

So today offer a prayer for Andrew and others of his persuasion that they will be blessed with the grace of Faith. And once you offer that prayer, trust that God will answer it. Not on your terms, but on His.

Monday, May 22, 2006

There but for the Grace of God...

Right now the Episcopal Church is suffering a great deal of pain and anguish. As I have loved ones affiliated with this church, I grieve with them as they see their church travel down a path that seems contrary to the Gospel.

Catholics watch the Episcopal Church closely. Episcopal foibles are well detailed here, here, and here. (I’m not picking on Gerald. He just had several recent posts addressing the issue so it was an easy link.) We watch not with prideful gloating but with guarded caution. Many in the American Catholic Church want to lead us down this same path. In the Episcopal Church’s woes, we see our future if we ever allow the foes of orthodoxy to gain the upper hand. Seeing the Episcopal Church keeps me on my knees praying for the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, and the Priests of our Catholic Church. It takes strong shepherds to keep the flock from straying.

We must continually trust that for every dark spot in the Church hierarchy there is an even brighter light. For every Cardinal Mahoney, there is a Bishop Finn. Jesus promised our Church would prevail. I must surrender myself to that promise and trust in Him.

Ironic Immigration News

Here is a bit of irony in the immigration debate:

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had migrated to Mexico instead of the United States, he couldn't be a governor. If Argentina native Sergio Villanueva, firefighter hero of the Sept. 11 attacks, had moved to Tecate instead of New York, he wouldn't have been allowed on the force.
Even as Mexico presses the United States to grant unrestricted citizenship to millions of undocumented Mexican migrants, its officials at times calling U.S. policies "xenophobic," Mexico places daunting limitations on anyone born outside its territory.

So Many Books....

I am a hopeless bibliophile married to another hopeless bibliophile and raising a whole passel of bibliophiles. Needless to say, bookshelves are the most important pieces of furniture in our home. Our family reading list ranges through popular fiction, literary classics, religious and spiritual works, and history. I know the economically prudent thing to do is to make use of the library cards that each of us has possessed since our toddler years. However, there is something distinctly unsatisfying about savoring a book that will not someday reside on my bookshelf. When the children were younger and were devouring picture books by the dozen, the library was perfect. The library is also a wonderful source for the junk food of literary endeavors that get us through an airplane trip or a day at the beach. But I covet ownership of any book that has nurtured my heart, mind, or soul.

For this reason, Fr. James V. Schall’s essay, Reading Without Learning, sang to me. Please read the entire essay but these words capture the essence of a bibliophile's soul:

Besides, something about a book irradiates its own mystique. I continue to maintain that what we mean by education, that strange word, still has mostly to do with books -- books we possess, keep. Recently, I was given yet another book; this time a friend of mine was in London, the same man that gave me Belloc's Places. He came across Maurice Baring's Lost Lectures. Somewhere he found a copy of this relatively rare book, a book published by Peter Davies in London, in 1932. The Preface to this book begins with the following sentence: "These Lost Lectures are for the most part talks delivered to imaginary audiences." What else does anyone need but this enticing invitation to make him hasten to join this "imaginary audience!"

John Paul I wrote a famous book called Illustrissimi. The book contained his never-delivered letters to famous people from Don Quixote to Chesterton. I rather like the idea of giving a talk to an imaginary audience or writing a letter to someone long dead to express my appreciation for what he wrote even if I came across it long after the author had died. A Jesuit companion also gave me the review from the New York Times (May 5), replete with photos of author and book cover, of Peter Kelly's The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of Great Books You'll Never Read. This title is not unlike a medical encyclopedia, with graphics, of diseases not yet known, but, as Herbert Ingram implied, still who can resist reading about such terrible diseases?

After a certain age, one begins to suspect that the world is full of books that he will never read. One of my definitions of a noble and well lived life is one in which, on the occasion of death, the man in question still has many books on his shelves not yet read. This is not to deny that we want to check also the ones that he did read. Tell me what you read, and I will tell you what you are. I believe the same principle would hold if we put it negatively, "Tell me what you don't read, and I will tell you what you are."

My teens have had great fun poking holes in the assertions of the Da Vinci Code. They loved the essay Screwtape on the ‘Da Vinci Code’ by Eric Metaxas. However, they were sorely disappointed when they tried to share this work with their friends. The number of high school students who had read or at least were familiar with C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters was few. Again the words of Fr. Schall:

To all of us, there must come, as Plato said in the seventh book of the Republic, that awakening of our minds -- minds we already have -- that turning around, that astonishment that something exists that we do not know about but want to know. If our schools or universities conspire, by their theories or their atmosphere, to prevent us from wondering about the highest things, we are on our own. We need not be defeated by a very expensive education that teaches us that relativism is true, or by a free education that teaches things that corrupt us. I suppose what I want to say to students, at the end of any academic year, especially to those whom Plato called the "potential philosophers," not to be defeated either by one's own vices or one's own ideology or one's own lethargy. But this reaction can only happen to us if we suddenly are alerted by something outside of ourselves, something that is true or beautiful, something that is.

May each of us find our minds awakened and our souls spurred to seek knowledge, beauty, and truth.

(H/T to American Papist for the link to Fr. Schall!)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lead Your Spouse to Heaven

Saturday morning’s Mass was attended by at least 50 couples participating in the marriage preparation conference. Each couple snuggled up in the pew and they were all so much in “luv”. Eyes and engagement rings sparkled. I wanted so much to believe that each of these couples were the perfect match. Yet the statistics say otherwise. The divorce rate hovers around 50%. It is no different for Catholics vs. non-Catholics though this statistic may be skewed by self-identification as “Catholic”. Many who label themselves as Catholic never attend Mass or other religious activities yet keep the Catholic label due to their childhood affiliation with the Church.

Father’s homily was addressed to these couples. He described Mary as the perfect disciple of Christ. We should each model our own discipleship after Mary’s. If we follow her lead, she will lead us to Jesus and to eternal life. Then Father spoke of the vocation of marriage. By accepting this vocation, you accept the duty to lead your spouse to heaven. That phrase really struck a chord with me. What a great yardstick for evaluating a relationship. My husband and I have been married nearly twenty-two years. Thinking back on what attracted me to him, in addition to his brief recitation of poetry, was his virtue. I could really trust that he would seek the moral high ground.

My teens have not done a lot of dating. They do a lot of coed group activities. However, we are starting to see relationships form and fade. I had to share Father’s words with them when I returned home from Mass. As their relationships develop they need to answer the question, “Will this person lead me to heaven?”

We are approaching the peak wedding season. Say a prayer for all those entering this blessed vocation. May they each seek to lead their spouses to heaven.

A Voice of Reason in the Immigration Debate

Finally, a voice of reason in the immigration debate. Mary Ann Glendon tries to move beyond the political pandering in the debate on immigration and look at both sides of the issues. Her essay in First Things looks at the potential benefits and the potential costs of immigration. One issue that is often not addressed by either side in the discussion is the decreasing number of workers in relationship to pensioners. The declining birth rates of Europe and the United States are making the sustainability of government social service programs questionable.

Now that the dependent population in affluent countries includes a much smaller proportion of children than ever before, increased pressure on social resources is already provoking generational conflict in the ambitious welfare states of northern Europe. If political deliberation about the impending welfare crisis remains within a framework based primarily on the idea of competition for scarce resources, the outlook for the most vulnerable members of society is grim—as witness the growing normalization of the extermination of persons who become inconvenient and burdensome to maintain at life’s frail beginnings and endings.

Opinion leaders in the aging societies of Europe and the United States have generally avoided mentioning the relation between the birth dearth and the need for immigration. Consequently, there has been little discussion of what should be obvious: An affluent society that, for whatever reason, does not welcome babies is going to have to learn to welcome immigrants if it hopes to maintain its economic vigor and its commitments to the health and welfare of its population.(emphasis mine) The issue is not who will do jobs that Americans don’t want. The issue is who will fill the ranks of a labor force that the retiring generation failed to replenish.

Meeting the challenge of the declining ratio between active workers and retirees will require many sorts of adaptations, but replacement migration will have to play a part in crafting effective responses. The good news is that America enjoys several advantages over Europe. To begin with, the United States has a fertility rate of 2.08 babies per woman, while in the European Union the estimated 2005 fertility rate was 1.47, well below the replacement figure of 2.1. More, the United States has a long history of successful experience in absorbing large numbers of new citizens from many parts of the world. (While the absolute number of new immigrants is currently the highest in United States history, it is proportionately less than in previous eras of large-scale immigration.)

However, Ms. Glendon also acknowledges America’s almost unique respect for the rule of law. Any policy that seems to flout the importance of law will be unworkable. Therefore, general amnesty for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States is not a realistic option.

Overshadowing all other concerns is alarm over the fact that there are 11 or 12 million immigrants in the United States who have entered or remained in the country illegally. To comprehend the depth of feeling attached to that issue, one has to keep in mind that there is no country on Earth where legal values play a more prominent role in the nation’s conception of itself than the United States. That was one of the first things Tocqueville noticed in his travels here in the early 1830s, and, as the country has grown larger and more diverse, its reliance on legal values has become ever more salient. In the culture struggles of the late twentieth century, Americans had to rely more heavily than ever on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the rule of law to serve as unifying forces. Persons who come from societies bound together by shared history, stories, songs, and images can easily overlook or underrate the importance of this aspect of United States culture. Persons who come from societies where formal law is associated with colonialism may well find the United States’ emphasis on legality rather strange. But no solution to the challenges of immigration is likely to succeed without taking it into account.

Ms. Glendon offers a framework for crafting a solution. It is based on the principles set forth by the Mexican and U.S. bishops in their 2003 pastoral letter.

The five principles set forth in the 2003 Joint Pastoral Letter issued by the Mexican and U.S. bishops, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, might be helpful in setting the stage for new approaches that could expand the pie for both sending and receiving countries. The letter asserts that (1) persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland; (2) when opportunities are not available at home, persons have the right to migrate to find work to support themselves and their families; (3) sovereign nations have the right to control their boundaries, but economically stronger nations have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows; (4) refugees and asylum seekers fleeing wars and persecutions should be protected; and (5) the human dignity and rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

To those five principles, a sixth should be added: a principle recognizing the need for a highly diverse, rule-of-law society to be careful about the messages it sends to persons who wish to become part of that society. And the bishops might have done well to note, as Pope John Paul II did in Solicitudo Rei Socialis, that solidarity imposes duties on the disadvantaged as well as the advantaged: “Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity should not adopt a purely passive attitude, or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all(emphasis mine).”

Perhaps if we can calm the rhetoric, we can see our way clearly to respect the human dignity of all concerned while still honoring and protecting our national well being and sovereignty.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Fell victim to the Othercott!

The whole family including College Son who is home for the summer went to Mass this evening with plans to see Over the Hedge afterwards. The theater was packed. Over the Hedge was sold out until the 10:05 pm showing. Interestingly, The Da Vinci Code was not sold out. I am afraid I am past the stage of taking in a movie after 10:00 pm. We went out for Mexican food instead and the older kids are off to rent a movie. Maybe the Othercott is working!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Immigration: More Questions than Answers

I haven't broached the immigration debate in my blog before today. That is probably because I feel conflicted. I want to welcome the immigrants and offer support as they embark on a new life in America. But, I want to know who they are. I want them to be contributing members of our American community. I resent being told the corruption and incompetence of their home country governments obligate my government to assume responsibility for their livlihood.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse has some interesting words about the immigration debate. To me, the striking words in her essay deal less with the specifics of immigration policy and more with the way the debate is being conducted.

We have a set of immigration laws that are not being enforced. We also, obviously, are not enforcing our labor laws. The employers who hire illegal workers are almost certainly not in compliance with every aspect of our labor laws governing hours, wages, benefits and working conditions.

Both the immigration and labor laws lie in wait to be enforced when convenient. That’s a recipe for undermining the rule of law, the key thing that makes us richer than the rest of the world. This is true, regardless of the exact content of the laws. Any laws you don’t intend to enforce or that you intend to enforce selectively, invite corruption.

But as we look at how the immigration debate is unfolding, there are even more reasons to be concerned about the rule of law. The mass demonstrations of the past weeks reveal a much more sinister development: the arrival of French-style street politics in America.

Look at the control the French public employee unions have over public policy. More than a million people came out in the street to oppose a law that is an entirely reasonable attempt to deal with youth unemployment, which has been over 20 percent for a decade. The French public employee unions organize the students to fill the streets, scare the government and control the “debate.” It is policy-making through intimidation. France is a banana republic with bad weather. If the Left has its way, it will be coming to a street near you.

Left-wing groups are actively working the immigration debate. Leftist unions and organizations worked behind the scenes of the high school demonstrations of the past weeks. Think about it: a network of e-mails went out over the week-end of March 24-25. The next week, high school kids from all across the country “spontaneously” ditched school, aided and abetted by left-wing groups, including, in Los Angeles’ case, their own school officials.

Not all the advocates for illegal immigrants apply these strong arm tactics. The Washington Post ran an article yesterday about illegal immigrants making their case by lobbying Congressmen in their offices on Capitol Hill. They wanted to put a human face on immigration policy. They did a good job:

Villalva has just finished telling four of his senior staffers her story, words in Spanish and English, tears spilling down her cheeks. How she left home at 15 because her family was starving. Survived the desert to "help my dad," whom she didn't see again for nine years. Now, married, she has three children, who are Americans.

"The only thing we want to do is work and build the country," says Villalva, and the Hill staffers watch her, riveted.

The men and women who worked the Capitol corridors are good sincere, hard working people who only want an opportunity to succeed the American way. You know what? I want these people to succeed too. I am happy to share my country with them.

Contrast that with the Mexican flag waving crowds demanding benefits from America. That sense of entitlement is a portent of generation after generation of poverty stricken immigrants living in ghettos. Don’t break my country’s laws and then demand my tax dollars to support your health care, education, and subsistence. We have enough American citizens who eschew education and hard work for dealing drugs and living on the government dole. We don’t need to add to that population.

The question is how do you tell the difference? How do you know someone is going to be a hard working American, push his kids to get an education and establish a legacy of prosperity? Who merits our compassion and assistance and who deserves a quick trip to the other side of the border? There are no perfect answers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Economic Power?

Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice pointed me to this interesting site for the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. The article Be Wary of Power by Rev. Robert A. Sirico caught my eye. He warns against turning to government programs to cure economic ills.

Some people imagine that there is a third way between the market economy and socialism, and in a sense they are right. But the way to it does not lie with government programs. Before I explain that, let us consider the unseen effects of substituting government means for voluntary human energies.

We often use the word voluntary to identify charitable actions taken in society that do not result in profit. But consider that profit in a market economy also results from voluntary actions. They involve willing buyers and willing sellers, willing workers and willing capital owners. All “capitalist” acts result from volitional choice, a decision by individuals to make exchange based on the forecast that doing so will improve their lots in life. A better term for charitable activities, as distinct from commercial ones, would be non-pecuniary activities.

So by voluntary human energies, I really intend to sum up the whole of economic affairs insofar as they do not involve forcing people to do things they would not otherwise do. This includes activities ranging from the small scale transactions of the peasant farmer to the complex financial transactions of Wall Street. All involve individuals choosing to trade to improve their standard of living.

We can contrast this with government means, which always involves an element of force. Whether it is taxation, regulation, or restrictions on consumption, all government programs are designed to thwart what would otherwise be voluntary decisions. Whether you believe some intervention is necessary, let us be clear that an increase in government management of the economy always means an increase in the use of force.

I am not ready to wholly endorse his argument, but it is well written and provides important ideas to ponder. It is a good follow on to my earlier post on the EEOC.

Hazing and Athletes

Dan Daly has an important commentary in today’s Washington Times about college athletes and team hazing. This is in response to the suspension of the Northwestern University women’s soccer team after pictures of its initiation rituals showed up online. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. As Dan Daly asks, “Why do athletes stand for hazing?”

I must be culturally deprived, because on none of the high school and college teams I played -- basketball, baseball, football, even tennis for a season -- was anyone blindfolded, stripped down to his jockey shorts and asked to wait for further instructions. Nor were women hired to gyrate in our presence.

You see, back then, in the dark ages of the late 20th century, athletes didn't need such adventures to properly "bond." They spent more than enough time inhaling one another's body odors, more than enough time gasping for air and cursing the coach who kept asking for "one more" -- one more lap, one more line drill, one more up-down. That's where the unity came from -- from proximity and shared pain. You proved yourself to your teammates with your perspiration, mostly. No self-abasement was required.

Guess that's too boring for today's athletes. Leaving your blood on the playing field is no longer enough, apparently, to be granted membership in The Club. You have to leave your blood off the playing field, too -- or at least your dignity.

How did we get from making the freshmen carry the equipment bags to making the froshwomen (as we used to call them) frolic around in their panties while wearing T-shirts covered with assorted crudities -- scribbled, naturally, by the team elders.

This is also not limited to college athletes. There is a great deal of pressure put on high school athletes to fit in as well. Team drinking parties are common. It takes very strong character to walk away and say, “That’s not for me.” Coaches and athletic directors often turn a blind eye. They are hired to produce winning teams. Suspending the star player jeopardizes the season. Few athletic directors or coaches have the spine to do it.

My teenagers used to laugh at me because they always get “the lecture” before they go to a party.

If there is any drinking, any drugs, any sexual activity going on, you are to leave the party immediately. Don’t just stay and say, “I won’t drink or do drugs or engage in sex.” Your presence puts you at risk. Call me. I will come get you.

They laughed because they couldn’t imagine being in that situation. None of their friends would do anything like that. They didn’t take into account the friends of their friends or the cousins of their friends or the new teammates. They don’t laugh anymore. They have taken me up on my offer and I have retrieved them. Interestingly, parents were home when these parties got out of hand. They were just letting the kids have their “privacy”.

So to answer Dan Daly’s question, “Why do athletes stand for hazing?” Perhaps no one ever told them they have a value and dignity that goes beyond the touchdown pass or the laser shot on goal. No one has the right to compromise that dignity. They have a duty to protect it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Duck and Cover at the EEOC?

The WSJ Opinion Journal runs an intriguing piece by Roger Clegg. Mr. Clegg is the president and general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Virginia. He was invited to speak about affirmative action before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He submitted his remarks ahead of time as requested. He states that once his remarks were reviewed, his invitation to speak was withdrawn because his remarks would criticize the EEOC.

Last month, I received an invitation to testify before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about affirmative action and diversity in U.S. companies. The testimony was scheduled for today, and I was asked to share my written statement to the commission beforehand, last Thursday, which I did. Late Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the commission, telling me that because of what I had to say, my invitation had been withdrawn by its chairman, Cari M. Dominguez.
I urged the commission to reconsider this decision because it would put the commission in general and the chairman in particular in a bad light. Yesterday I was notified that the entire meeting--not just my panel, but two others--has been "indefinitely postponed."
The problem is that my testimony told the unwelcome truths that (a) American companies, in their "celebration of diversity," frequently discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity and sex, (b) this violates the law, and (c) the EEOC is not doing anything about it. I was told that it would lead to a "mutiny" among the career people at the commission if I was given a "platform" to say such things. It might even turn the proceedings that morning into a "circus," and Ms. Dominguez, I was told, did not want the EEOC "to look like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights back when Mary Frances Berry headed it."
The irony is that the effort to silence a witness because of his political incorrectness is exactly the sort of thing that Ms. Berry might have done. Actually, it's worse. Ms. Berry, whatever her considerable shortcomings, actually did allow me to testify on more than one occasion.

Do read the entire piece linked above. Even more interesting is the written version of his planned presentation to the EEOC. He names specific companies and their specific violations of employment law done in the name of diversity.

Mr. Clegg raises some significant questions about the value and fairness of employment preferences based on ethnicity or gender. If the EEOC meeting was truly canceled to avoid addressing these issues someone has some explaining to do. If these preferences truly bring about a valuable and desirable end, then the EEOC should not be afraid to allow them to be challenged. The validity of these policies is in doubt if the EEOC’s only defense is to avoid debate.

Loyalist Bishop

The Mainstream Media just doesn’t get the Church. Today’s Washington Times headlined its article about the choice of Bishop Donald Wuerl as the new archbishop of Washington with, “Vatican appoints loyalist for D.C.”. Loyalist? Is there any other kind of Catholic? The Catholic Church is not a democracy. There are no political parties within the Church. To be a Catholic means to accept Church authority. Yes, there are those who try to parse Church doctrine to fit their own personal point of view. There are also those who openly reject the authority of the Magisterium. Once one rejects the authority of the Church, one ceases to be Catholic.

That is why I hate to see the labels “liberal” or “conservative” applied to Catholics, though I admit I find myself falling into that speech pattern at times. “Liberal” and “Conservative” are such political terms. A Catholic’s loyalty to Rome is not a political allegiance. The Church is not about politics. The Church is about Truth. And not just any truth, but God’s Divine Truth.

So Bishop Wuerl was not chosen because he is loyal to the philosophy of Pope John Paul the Great or Pope Benedict XVI. He was chosen because he is a loyal, orthodox, faithful, Catholic. As all Catholics should be.

Gardening for Lent

“Grow! Grow! Grow!” That is Youngest Son talking to the many pots of basil on our deck. Why is an 11-year-old boy worried about the growth rate of basil? Because where there is basil, there is pesto sauce. And where there is pesto sauce there is “pesto pasta”. And that is one of his favorites.

All summer long I pinch the basil to keep it bushy and producing lots of leaves. I keep making pesto sauce that we enjoy on pasta, as a pizza sauce, as a sandwich spread, or any other way I think to use it. As the supply allows, I put an aliquot in the freezer to get us through the months when the basil is out of season. Most importantly it has to get us through Lent. Friday Lenten meals are often a pot of pasta with pesto sauce and a little grated Parmesan cheese. I ration the frozen reserves during the fall and early winter. I have to make sure I keep enough available for Lent. That is why my son is out on the deck exhorting the basil plants to grow. He wants plenty of pesto sauce in the freezer by the time the basil falls victim to the first frost.

So, yes, we are in the Easter season and we are headed for Pentecost and Ordinary time. But right now my gardening focus includes Lent. “Grow, Basil! Grow!”

Catholic Mom’s Pesto Sauce

Place the following in a food processor:

4 generous cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not that powdery stuff in the green can)
1 head of garlic, roasted*. Peel cloves and add to mixture
3/4 cup toasted pecans. (I know pesto sauce usually uses pine nuts, but I’m from Texas so I use pecans.)
1/2 tsp salt—more or less to taste

Process until smooth
Scrape down sides of food processor bowl. Continue processing as you add a stream of good quality olive oil until the sauce is the desired consistency. I usually make it as thick as pudding. Adjust the salt if needed and your done.

To freeze, put about a cup in a plastic freezer container. Cover with a thin film of olive oil. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, pushing out any air pockets. Close the container and freeze. Thaw it when you are ready to use it, give it a stir, and you are ready to go.

* I use a handy dandy terra cotta garlic roaster. I just lop off the pointy end of a garlic head, put it on the roaster base, drizzle with a little olive oil, cover, and zap it in the microwave for 90 seconds. I can then squeeze the softened garlic from each clove.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Writers Write about Writers

Garrison Keillor has a terrific essay about writers. (H/T to Summa Mamas for the link)

The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.

The biggest whiners are the writers who get prizes and fellowships for writing stuff that's painful to read, and so they accumulate long résumés and few readers and wind up teaching in universities where they inflict their gloomy pretensions on the young. Writers who write for a living don't complain about the difficulty of it. It does nothing for the reader to know you went through 14 drafts of a book, so why mention it…

Clarity is hard. Honesty can be hard. Comedy is always chancy, but then so is profundity. Sometimes one winds up as the other. Illness is, of course, to be avoided, and also megamalls and meetings involving vice presidents. But writing is not painful, no more so than a round of golf.

Oh but English teachers love to know the pain the writers felt as they concocted their collection of symbolism and metaphors. Many an English teacher has tried to convince me of the greatness of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I know the experts think it is the greatest book ever written. The truth of the matter is it is unreadable. When I wrote my analysis of Ulysses for my college English class I had to concentrate on an aspect that was illustrated in the first three chapters because I just couldn't read any more than that.

I left the world of medicine and now try my hand at writing. I hope my writing is never the delight of English teachers. I don’t want my work to require layer after layer of analysis. Maybe my reader will pause and ponder an idea for a moment. Maybe my reader will laugh or cry. Maybe there will be an epiphany as a new perspective crystallizes. Hopefully, my words transmit faith, hope, humor and wisdom. I write no clandestine messages. I am trying to write truth.

Catholic MLS Standings

In light of the post below, I thought it was time to update the Catholic MLS standings. Please note DC United will soon have a new bishop. Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh will be moving to DC.

Eastern Conference Standings

McCarrick’s DC United (4-1-2)
Finn’s Kansas City Wizards (4-2-1)
O’Malley’s New England Revolution (3-2-1)
Campbell’s Columbus Crew (3-3-1)
George’s Chicago Fire (1-1-4)
Meyer’s New York Red Bulls (0-1-5)

Western Conference Standings

Grahmann’s FC Dallas (4-1-3)
DiNardo’s Houston Dynamo (4-2-1)
Chaput’s Colorado Rapid’s (2-3-1)
Mahony’s Los Angeles Galaxy (2-5-1)
Mahony’s Chivas USA (1-3-1)
Nierderhaur’s Real Salt Lake (1-5-1)

UPDATE: Standings as of June 9, 2006 are here

Looking for Priests in Cleats?

If you have read this blog for a while, you know I love the game of soccer. So I am really impressed with the soccer themed vocations campaign by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England in Wales. Catholic Online has the full story by Simon Caldwell of Catholic News Service:

The Gregorian chant sung in churches and soccer anthems that resound through Britain's soccer stadiums may seem a world apart, but those venues are often the only two places where people sing together, said a church official.

With this in mind, the Catholic Church is drawing on the "beautiful game" as part of a new campaign to attract "single, practicing Catholics in their 20s" to the priesthood….

"Football plays a major part in many young men's lives," Father Embery said in a statement April 28. "The 'beautiful game' is not just a job, it becomes a whole way of life.

"It takes many years of training, dedication and perseverance to get to a professional standard – the support of your team is invaluable, and it's not just about a one-off public appearance at the weekend," he said. "We want young men to see that some of the motivating factors for footballers are just as applicable to the Catholic priesthood, and that being a priest is a very rewarding and satisfying vocation – and a lifelong one, too."

Okay. A soccer themed vocations campaign might not be too effective in the United States. But Americans love sports analogies. Imagine the slogans if the US Conference of Catholic Bishops tried a football or baseball themed vocations drive. Anything would be better than the Diocese of Rochester campaign discussed at Rich Leonardi’s blog.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Oh! It is one of those kinds of Catholic Universities

Last week my daughter received a brochure for John Carroll University in the mail. I really didn’t know much about the school so I didn’t pay attention to it. My daughter is at that stage in her high school career where our mailbox is cluttered with all kinds of “fan mail” asking her to consider one college or another. My husband sure noticed it. He picked up the brochure from the kitchen counter and exclaimed, “You would want your daughter to go to this school?” Taking a closer look at the brochure, I realized their cover girl student was dressed in low-slung jeans, midriff baring top, and striking a sexy pose. No, I don’t think I want my daughter there. The brochure went straight into the trash.

Today, I read Dom’s blog, with its comments about John Carroll University.

Finally, they also want to know what he will do about John Carroll University, which according to the Cardinal Newman Society, refers students to a pro-abortion counseling center, which sanctioned a performance of the “Queer Monologues,” and whose Gay/Straight Alliance supports all kinds of extremist gay activism in direct defiance of Catholic teaching.

Now I know. That provocative brochure cover was no accident. This is another one of those school’s whose idea of being a Catholic university differs substantially from my own.

Da Vinci Code a Blessing?

Fr. Jim Tucker comments on the Da Vinci Code as a “blessing in disguise”.

Sure the book's silly, and people with immature faith can be harmed by it, and the movie will probably be even sillier. But it seems to me that anytime that religion and the secular culture come together, there is an opportunity for evangelization…

I don’t welcome this blessing. I agree that rather than just rant about the movie and how it offends us we need to make the best of a bad situation and use it as an opportunity to evangelize. However, this is very similar to the situation our Episcopal brethren faced when NBC was airing the dreadful series, “The Book of Daniel”. The national Episcoal church leaders welcomed the series as an opportunity for evangelization.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. (See post below) If that impression is bad, you are starting at a disadvantage. The book and movie, The Da Vinci Code, will provide a first impression of Catholicism for many people. I cannot rejoice in that. The popularity of this book among Catholics reveals the great deficiency in most Catholic’s knowledge of the Church. If our bishops are spurred to action because they realize the dismal state of adult catechesis then perhaps the Da Vinci Code can be welcomed. Otherwise, I view it as much more of a cross for the Faithful to bear than a blessing.

Soccer Lessons for Life

How did I spend my Mother’s Day weekend? Of course I went to Mass. Passing on the Faith is my first priority of motherhood. We also grilled flank steak. Yum! We eschew eating out on Mother’s Day. Why fight the crowds when we can put together a feast in the comfort of our home? The perfect Mother’s Day present was to have my oldest son return home from college. Now I have all my chicks back in the nest. I will enjoy this for the next few weeks. Like any good Soccer Mom, I spent the weekend on the sidelines cheering my kids. Four games this weekend. We were 3-1-0. Yea!!

We had one of those teachable soccer moments this weekend. My daughter’s club team is one of the top teams in the region. They are just starting the college recruitment process. We are used to having college coaches watch the tournament games, but you don’t expect college coaches to be watching the league games. Our girls took the field as the previous game finished up. They began their disciplined warm up. Most of them went about it with game level intensity. I noticed a gentleman watching the girls. As a mother and as the team manager, I try to keep an eye out for who is around the field. The gentleman introduced himself to me. He is the women’s soccer team coach for a D1 school in Pennsylvania. His son had been playing in the previous game and he noticed the high school age girls taking the field. He also noted the quality of their warm up. He was going to watch the game for a little while and scout for prospective college players.

After our team had been warming up for about twenty minutes, our opponents arrived. They had a very casual warm-up style. The college coach approached me and asked me what I knew about this team. I told him if they qualified for our league they had to be a decent team. We had not played them in the last year so I really didn’t know much about their current status. He then commented about their lack of intensity in the warm up.

The coach positioned himself on our end of the field. He watched the first half of the game and left. I don’t know if he is going to actively recruit any of our players. I do know our team made a favorable first impression on him. That impression was made before the starting kick-off. The seriousness with which the girls approached the preparation for the game was as important as the seriousness with which the girls approached the game itself.

After the girls finished their warm-up, our team coach let them know the college coach was watching the game and had already watched their warm up. He emphasized every part of a mission, whether it is a soccer game, a school project, or a career, is important. You can’t slack off on the preparation and expect to perform only when you think you are in the limelight. Sometimes you are in the limelight and don’t know it.

The girls did win the game. I hope many of them took home more than a victory Saturday afternoon. I hope they have a renewed appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work they do to earn the victories.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Man refused hip replacement surgery because of anti-abortion protest

Here is an interesting item from London’s Times. It seems Edward Atkinson is a 75-year-old gentleman in need of a hip replacement. He was in the queue to have this procedure done when he aroused the ire of the National Health Service. Mr. Atkinson is an anti-abortion activist. He recently mailed pictures of aborted fetuses to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. For this he was jailed for 28 days and banned from receiving the hip replacement operation. Times commentator Mike Hume writes:

It is bad enough that you can be refused medical treatment on the NHS for eating, drinking or smoking too much. Now it seems that you can be denied an operation for protesting too much in support of your religious or political beliefs.

Obviously freedom of speech standards in Great Britain are a bit different than they are here.

Spouse of a Soldier

Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. The following is an essay I wrote not too long after September 11, 2001. It is published in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul. Please keep all military members and their spouses in your prayers today.


It was 1990. The winds of war were swirling fiercely. My husband was an F-16 pilot. I knew he would be leaving soon. I had received many words of support and comfort for which I was very grateful. Still, terror gripped me. I knelt in church on Thanksgiving Day and felt the warm stream of tears flow. A small age-worn hand grasped mine. This tiny, frail woman next to me understood. She had sent her husband to World War II, her son to Vietnam, and now her grandson, my husband, to Desert Shield. From this diminutive form I drew great strength. For the sake of my husband, my children, and my country, I could now hold back the tears.

Not long after the new year dawned my husband and his comrades strapped on their jets and headed over the ocean. We wives banded together. We laughed together and cried together. We commiserated over all the household catastrophes that only happen when husbands are away. We didn’t speak too much of our fears. Those were understood.

Inside I quaked with every scud launch. Every report of a downed plane wrenched my soul. Yet, before anyone else could see the strain in my face, one of the wives would see it. She would speak no words, but would grasp my hands. I would do the same for her. We understood.

The day came when our husbands returned. I had heard that they were coming, but was afraid to get my hopes up. Part of me was steeled for my husband to be missing. When I saw him, tired and worn, step into the hangar I felt like a new bride.

After the band stopped playing, the parade was over, the hugs and kisses were given, and he was home, I could only cry and tremble the way you do after a near-miss head-on collision. I thanked God for my husband’s safe return. I thanked God for the loving support of family and friends. I thanked God for the strength of the wives. He understood.

Ten years later we are spouses not wives. The last decade has wrought many changes. Some things, however, remain constant. Whether husband or wife, we are still married to soldiers. When duty calls the soldier will answer. In fact, he may seem eager to leave those he loves and fight the good fight. It is hard to be married to a hero. The spouse of a soldier is called to understand. Understanding makes you a hero too.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Motherly Love with Conditions

I listened to a woman talk about wanting to adopt a child. Normally, I am very supportive of those who want to adopt. However, as I listened, the motivation behind her desire to adopt troubled me. She never spoke about what she could do for the child. It was all about what the child was going to do for her. She was physically unable to have children of her own. However, she had always pictured herself with a little girl that was dressed in ribbons and ruffles. Therefore, she only wanted to adopt a girl. She couldn’t wait to be able to send out photo Christmas cards like all her friends did and have her little girl posed by the Christmas tree. She would feel like a more complete woman once she was a mother. She definitely did not want a foreign child because she didn’t want it to appear obvious that her child was adopted. As far as I know, this woman and her husband have not adopted a child yet. I hope whoever does the screening for adoptive couples sees this woman may not be ready to selflessly give herself as a mother to a child.

Wesley Smith at Secondhand Smoke points out a development reported in today’s Washington Post that reminds me of this woman. Great Britain has approved the screening of embryos for the propensity to develop cancer as adults.

The new decision expands that policy to include some genes that significantly increase the odds -- but do not guarantee -- that a person will get cancer. The policy also for the first time includes diseases -- primarily breast, ovarian and colon cancer -- that do not strike until adulthood and often respond to treatment…

The kind of testing in question, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, is conducted on one or two cells removed harmlessly from a three-day-old test tube embryo created by in vitro fertilization. If a cell is found to harbor an unwanted gene, that embryo is not used.

Just like the woman I encountered above, parents can seek to have a made-to-order baby. Right now the intent is avoiding cancer. What if we find a gene controlling diabetes,obesity, intelligence, or depression? This is what happens when the focus is on the utility of a life. Rather than accepting all life as a gift and acknowledging the intrinsic dignity of all life, this kind of policy encourages arbitrary measurements to judge the worthiness of a life.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, say a special prayer for all the parents who open themselves unconditionally to the gift of life.

Mother's Day Draws Near!

Mother’s Day is just three days away so those of you who still need to do some shopping had better hop to it! I am blessed to have my own mother and my mother-in-law still alive and well. Presents to them were put in the mail yesterday. I did find some interesting references to Mother’s Day around the blogosphere.

Dawn Eden reports that Planned Parenthood has turned Mother’s Day into a fund raiser. Give an online donation to Planned Parenthood and an e-card will be sent to your honoree informing them of your donation. How precious! One of the cards says, “Every child a wanted child”. How true, Every child is wanted by God. The folks at Planned Parenthood just think God’s will isn’t nearly as important as a woman’s “right to choose”.

Not to pick on lawyers today, but someone is suing over a Mother’s Day promotion because it discriminates against men. Rob Vischer at Mirror of Justice points out this lawsuit against the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. It seems last year the team ran a promotion for Family Day Sunday that fell on Mother’s Day. Red nylon tote bags were handed out to all women over the age of 18. Michael Cohn alleges in his lawsuit this promotion discriminated against all males as well as fans under age 18. This year’s promotion will give away Mother’s Day Ladies’ Tote Bags to the first 25,000 fans over the age of 18, male or female. Of course this still doesn’t appease Mr. Cohn. His lawyer insists this promotion still discriminates against fans under the age of 18.

I know this Sunday is a time to honor mothers in a special way. I must admit I feel honored every day because God has given me the privilege of being a mother to my four children. With the prayers of our Blessed Mother and with God’s grace, I pray I can be the mother my kids need and deserve.

Malpractice Suits Never Feel Trivial

Today’s Associated Press news offered an interesting study from Harvard that found 40% of all medical malpractice cases filed were groundless. There was no evidence of medical error or no evidence of patient injury. What I found puzzling was the response of the researchers.

The vast majority of those dubious cases were dismissed with no payout to the patient. However, groundless lawsuits still accounted for 15 percent of the money paid out in settlements or verdicts.

The study's lead researcher, David Studdert of the Harvard School of Public Health, said the findings challenge the view among tort reform supporters that the legal system is riddled with frivolous claims that lead to exorbitant payouts.

I am just having a hard time understanding why Mr. Studdert thinks this is evidence those supporting tort reform are in error. Even if a groundless lawsuit does not generate a payout for the patient, it does generate substantial legal fees for the physician, insurance company, hospital, pharmacist, etc. The patient spends half of any award on legal fees. The only ones benefiting from our current system are the attorneys for both sides.

I know we always look at the patient as the victim of this issue. However, I can tell you from personal experience, being named in a lawsuit is a gut wrenching experience for a doctor especially when the claim is groundless. Many years ago, I was one of a whole list of physicians named in a frivilous lawsuit that was eventually dismissed. I knew I had done everything correctly for this patient. The whole ordeal of waiting to be deposed and wondering what this was going to do to my career was extremely stressful. I also felt a strong sense of betrayal. I had established a caring relationship with this patient and had given her the best medical care I could. I knew the suit was being pushed by someone other than the patient, but I still felt betrayed. In the end, I was never deposed. Once the lawyers took the patient’s deposition, the whole case fell apart and went away. It took five years for that to happen. In the meantime, it was a horrible cloud hanging over my medical career. Actually it never went completely away. Because I had been named in a suit, my career had a black mark. Every time I applied for a state license or for hospital privileges or to be a provider on an insurance plan, I had to explain that lawsuit. That experience forever changed the way I viewed the doctor patient relationship.

I know I am not alone in my reaction. I spoke with an attorney friend who specializes in malpractice defense. She commented on how emotionally traumatic it is for many doctors to be named in a lawsuit. She remembers going into one doctor’s home and seeing sticky notes pasted on the bathroom mirror saying, “I am a good doctor. I am a competent doctor. They are not after me. They just want money.” It is very difficult to treat the lawsuit as just part of the business. It feels very personal. I am glad that the vast majority of the groundless lawsuits don’t result in monetary settlement or award payouts. However, don’t ever think the filing of a lawsuit is without consequences. Someone always pays.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bishop Finn: Now that is a Bishop!

Jimmy Akin and many others have been covering the National Catholic Reporter’s piece about Bishop Robert Finn, bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He took over the diocese one year ago and has made sweeping changes. The National Catholic Reporter is highly critical of the new bishop and these changes. Well, that figures. All of these changes are moves towards orthodoxy. It sounds like the flock he inherited was more like a herd of cats than a flock of sheep. It took decisive action to round them all up.

Of course, rounding them all up is what the National Catholic Reporter and some heterodox elements of the diocese object to. They were used to being able to create their own vintage of Catholicism with little regard for the Magisterium or the universal Church. What really irked National Catholic Reporter, was Bishop Finn’s control of the diocesan newspaper. The previous bishop, Bishop Raymod Boland, had never meddled in the publication of The Catholic Key, the diocesan newspaper. The Catholic Key editor, Albert de Zutter, states, “Bishop Boland must have said a hundred times, ‘If you want a catechism, go buy a catechism. A newspaper is not a catechism.’ ” Contrast this with Bishop Finn who immediately upon becoming Bishop ordered a column by Notre Dame priest, Fr. Richard McBrien to be discontinued. When asked about this by the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Finn responded:
“Everybody seems to make a big deal out of canceling Fr. McBrien’s column.” He said, “Quite honestly, it was fairly a no-brainer for me.” The column did not match what he thinks the mission of the Catholic press is, Finn said, namely, “to help people understand the message and the teaching of the church.” He has also said the “Catholic press should be true, not ‘fair.’ ”

The other big change was the cutting of the budget for the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry. The center had trained 700 people in a 21 year time span at a cost of $5000 per person. Bishop Finn felt the diocese could use these resources to develop a broader adult catechesis program. There was also a great deal of concern that the curriculum of the Pastoral Life and Ministry Center was not in concert with magisterial teachings.
Again, Bishop Finn’s response to the National Catholic Reporter:

It is clear that Finn was dissatisfied with the diocese’s primary lay formation programs, New Wine, in particular. Finn told NCR, “The particular approach and the content and so forth of the flagship programs … did not reflect some of the magisterial teachings particularly of the time since the program was written.”

The program had not been updated with the latest “encyclicals, different apostolic letters and things like that,” Finn said. The bibliography cited texts that were prominent 15 or 20 years ago “among some theologians, mostly American theologians, and they were not necessarily renowned for their defense of church teaching,” Finn told NCR.

Finn also told NCR that he had a problem with “the style of the course, and I talked about this with some of the members of the center too.”

Center programs, he said, “had been given birth during that period of time when there was a lot of emphasis on process and sharing and a little less on content and so forth.”

People today, he said, “want to be able to discuss and explain and even defend their faith intelligently with other people they encounter. ”

Do read the entire article. Rather than make me resent Bishop Finn’s firm hand as I believe the National Catholic Reporter intends, this account make me want to stand up and cheer. I can only ask, “Does he have a twin?” I know of a diocese in California that could use such a shepherd.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

May is Military Appreciation Month

May is Military Appreciation Month. May 12 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day. May 14 is Mother’s day.

If you know of a Military Wife or Mother, let me suggest a gift idea: Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul. I do have two essays in the book (Spouse of a Soldier and Patriotic Women Bake Cookies ).

Proceeds from the book sales go to the non-profit group From their web site:

The mission of The MilitarySoul Foundation is to make a positive difference in the lives of military families, military personnel and patriots by uniting and supporting kindred spirits.

To facilitate emotional and financial support to troops and their families.

To increase public awareness of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces and their families.

To sponsor or participate in projects that improve the quality of life for troops and their families as deemed appropriate.

To document and preserve the esprit de corps of military personnel and families.

To maintain an interactive portal that will enrich lives by providing inspiration, resources and community.

Even if you don’t buy a book, please remember our military and their families in your prayers.

Apologetics or Catechesis?

What do Catholics really believe? In spite of its brevity, this is not a simple question to answer. I recently began attending an apologetics discussion group that I thoroughly enjoy. Each meeting we have the opportunity to explore the depths and roots of an aspect of Catholic doctrine and prepare ourselves to explain this doctrine to others.

Karen Hall wrote something on her blog today that reminded me of my apologetics group.

I love Cardinal Arinze. I do. I'm thrilled at his statements about the Da Vinci Code. I just wish he'd do something about all the blasphemy within the Church while he's on his anti-blasphemy campaign.

When I first began attending the apologetics discussions I realized there are two foci. Some are very intent on answering the allegations and myths propagated by non-Catholics. Some are interested in answering the concerns and misconceptions of those Catholics who have lapsed from the Faith. I realized there is a very fine line between apologetics and catechesis.

My heart leans more towards the catechesis side of the equation. Of course, I am always thrilled to learn of non-Catholics who have searched for the truth and found it in Catholicism. Their faith is strong because they had to actively choose to become Catholic.

That is what is missing for many cradle Catholics. They are passively Catholic. It is something in their background. It bears little relevance to their day-to-day lives. Imagine if we could ignite the fire of Faith in all those nominal Catholics who have drifted away from the Church and the Sacraments?

I wish there was a magic formula for lighting that fire. I know it starts with prayer. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we must reach out to those in need of catechesis. So often we treat eighth grade confirmation as a graduation. It is actually a commencement. It is the beginning of an adult understanding and study of the Faith. It is a life-long process. We need this shouted from the pulpit. We need basic catechesis taught from the pulpit. My current parish is the first one where doctrine such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the reality of Hell have been topics of homilies. Our pastor tells us over and over that when the Bishop made him pastor, he also made him responsible for our souls. He will have to answer to God if he fails to intervene and allows us to persist in ignorance and sin. Therefore, he will not remain silent if he sees errors in our understanding.

In addition to good preaching we need real catechesis for adults. I am not talking about Bible sharing where we talk about how a verse makes us feel. I don’t mean the “Jesus loves me” touchy feely stuff. I am talking about nuts and bolts information about our Faith. We need to learn all those things our post-Vatican II CCD classes left out. What are the consequences of our Faith? What does being truly Catholic require of us in our family, in our schools, in our jobs, and in our community? The questions are never ending. So too should be the maturation of our Faith.