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, October 31, 2007

Not quite as planned

It is time to turn it over to the Holy Spirit. I reported here that I was going to moderate a discussion group on the book The Apostles by Pope Benedict XVI. Well it begins on Sunday and I am not sure if anyone is showing up. The publicity for it has not been what I expected. I thought there was going to be a full-page flyer in the bulletin but instead there are two lines in the bulletin under the Religious Education news. Understand that the Religious Education news section of our bulletin has always been for CCD news so no one reads it if they don’t have children in the CCD program. We do not have a culture of adult education in our parish so no one is expecting news for the general parish to be under the religious education banner. The flyer is posted on the parish web site but it takes three clicks to get to it and once again it is posted under the CCD news. On top of that, the parish web site is only a few months old and isn’t often used by the average parishioner in the pew. I sent out emails to all the folks I know who might be interested in such a group, but that is only a small microcosm of our parish. If I can get a handful of folks involved, that will be great. I am content with starting small. So I am going to try to get over my disappointment with the apparent half-hearted support of the parish administration and just pray for the humility and grace to accept whatever God wants for this endeavor. Your prayers for this catechetical effort are greatly appreciated.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mother-Daughter weekend in Williamsburg

I had a lovely weekend in Williamsburg with my daughter. The soccer tournament didn’t turn out exactly as we hope since they came in second instead of first in the State Cup, but as always I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my only girl. She has grown into such a young woman. While we still have lots of parent child interaction, “Please pick up your____, Don’t forget your_______, and Be home by_______” , she has also matured to where we can have some lively, interesting, conversations on a wide variety of topics. I took great pleasure in her observations after we attended Mass at St. Bede’s in Williamsburg.

This is a new church built in-the-round as is the style of the Diocese of Richmond. Unlike many of the round churches we have visited in this diocese, this church has kneelers, holy water, votive candles, and statues of saints. In other words, it looks very Catholic. The liturgy was also fairly orthodox. The wine was poured into individual metal chalices before the Eucharistic Prayer instead of consecrating a large flagon and then pouring the Precious Blood into glass or pottery chalices as I am used to seeing in parishes of this diocese.

My daughter hopes to eventually study architecture and right now has a special interest in church design. She pointed out how awkward this particular round church design is in two key areas. The tabernacle is set aside in a glassed-in Eucharistic chapel located near the entrance of the Church. When one enters the sanctuary, it is not within sight. Consider the main entrance of this circular church as the 6 o’clock position. The altar is the center. Behind the altar is the choir and a very impressive set of organ pipes. We sat at the 3 o’clock position where there is a very large, beautiful wooden carved crucifix situated behind the pews in a shrine with votive candles. She felt confused when she genuflected as she entered or exited her pew. There was no tabernacle in sight and the crucifix was behind her. What exactly was she reverencing with her gesture?

The ambo is to the side of the altar and canted a bit. This means that when the priest proclaims the Gospel or gives his homily his back is to about a quarter of the congregation. My daughter noted that the same people who advocate the round churches tend to be the same people who object to priest saying mass ad orieintem. She found this ironic since the round church by design really puts the priest with his back to some of the people. Contrast this to saying Mass ad orientem where the priest is not turning his back on the people but putting himself in a position to lead the people.

The weekend was not all church talk. We chatted about television shows, food, school and soccer. But as the specter of sending her off to college next fall looms ever closer it is reassuring to see she has a good grasp of the fundamental tenets of her faith.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Speaking of English Class....

For those who couldn't quite see themselves in the Math Diva t-shirt, try this one on for size. Barb, I thought of you when I saw this shirt!

Bring Back Some Works by the Dead White Males (and Females)

My daughter, a high school senior, is taking AP English. This class focuses on the study of literature. Unfortunately, the curriculum is so infected with political correctness and multiculturalism, the choice of literature leaves a great deal to be desired. My daughter, who has been an avid reader since her early elementary school years, finds this survey of literature abysmal. The books celebrate African, Asian, and Native American cultures while condemning all that belongs to Western Civilization. She started off reading Ceremony to raise her consciousness of Native Americans. She then went on to read The Road and see nuclear holocaust as the fruit of American policy. Next is When Things Fall Apart where she reads how Western colonialism destroyed African culture and drove the African protagonist to suicide. Upcoming titles include a Latin American drama, House of Spirits and the Oprah special, Beloved by Toni Morrison. Each of these may be interesting well-written books. However, in an introductory literature survey course, the selection should be focused on literature and not on making a political statement of inclusivity. How many of the aforementioned titles will still be in print after fifty or more years? Why don’t we focus on books that have withstood the test of time in order to learn the qualities of timeless literature? Once the basic tenets literary analysis are established, go ahead and design your ethnic or gender based literature surveys. How does the writing of Toni Morrison stack up against the writing of Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott? There are reasons some books become classics. Study those so that you have a metric by which to judge the works that follow.

What He Said!

While I am talking about Religious Education, please read this pastoral letter on Confirmation by Bishop Corrada del Rio. I hope more diocese take on this evaluation of their confirmation preparation programs and make it more visibly the Sacrament of Initiation that it is meant to be. This discussion of the interrelatedness of the Sacraments is outstanding. Do take the time to read the whole thing, but here is a small excerpt.

We can see, then, the relationship of the Sacraments of Initiation to the liturgy and to the Call to Holiness. The sacraments draw humanity into the truth and love of God revealed in Christ, thereby disposing the faithful to live this love more deeply in their daily lives of Christian freedom and witness. The celebration of the sacraments are themselves supreme witnesses to the truth of the Gospel. Above all, this is true of the Eucharist, during which the Gospel message and the Church are made manifest (see SC 6-8, LG 26). The relation of Baptism and Confirmation to the Eucharist becomes clear; each prepares a person to take his appointed place within the life of the Church. Baptism makes one a member of Christ's Body, the Church, sharing in the apostolic mission as a child of God offering Him spiritual worship (see CCC 1213). Confirmation is given to strengthen the baptized that they might be more perfectly bound to the Church and, as true witnesses of Christ, spread and defend the faith by word and deed (see CCC 1287). Like Christ, the confirmed have been anointed by God to "bring glad tidings" (see Luke 4:18). In the Eucharist, those who have received the baptismal priesthood and the anointing of confirmation publicly proclaim the Gospel in union with the whole Church as they participate in the Lord's own sacrifice (see CCC 1322). Thus, fully-initiated Christians render glory to God, grow in holiness, and announce the Good News until Christ comes again in glory.

Here we go!

Anyone who has read my blog any length of time knows that I have been pining for some adult faith formation in our parish. I am happy to say the parish has responded to my request and is sponsoring a discussion group of The Apostles by Pope Benedict XVI. Yours truly will be moderating this gathering so if any of you are in the neighborhood and want to join our Sunday evening group, you can get more details here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Catholic Carnival 142 is waiting for you!

Matthew at Play the Dad? No, be the Dad! is celebrating his 100th blog post by hosting this week's Catholic Carnival. There is info on politics, parenting, the liturgy, apologetics, and service all from a very Catholic perspective. Take a look!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Anti-Catholic U.N. agenda

I am so tired of absurd claims like this one.

The rapid spread in Latin America of the virus that causes AIDS is made worse by the Roman Catholic Church's stand against using condoms, a U.N. official said on Monday.

Excuse me. But what are people doing that they need condoms? Are they engaging in extra-marital sex? Are they engaging in homosexual activity? The Church doesn’t approve of these activities either. So is this UN official suggesting that people are ignoring the Church teachings on extra-marital sex and homosexual activity and taking to heart the Church ban on contraception, including condoms? Such allegations are no more than tactics to pressure the Church to fund condom distribution programs. The U.N. doesn’t care what the Church believes. It just wants Church money and resources to enable people to continue their immoral behavior without consequences.

How many U.N. sponsored chastity programs are there? The Church would better serve the people and stop the spread of AIDS by bringing John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to the people instead of distributing condoms. Of course, don’t expect any U.N. officials to applaud such efforts.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Legacy of Virtue

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself
but is not rich in what matters to God.”

Today’s Gospel reading is a familiar parable. Perhaps it is too familiar. It is very easy to tune this out and say, “Oh, I know this one. No need to pay much attention.” That is why I am very thankful to Fr. Gould, the priest who said Mass this morning. He offered a new twist to think about. It is especially timely considering my previous post.

Father offers this parable as a lesson for parents. We want to provide everything we can for our children. We want to offer them earthly treasures. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. However, if our focus becomes too narrow and we neglect building up treasures in Heaven, have we really done our job as parents? What good are European vacations, a fancy car, an enviable house, designer clothing, a prestigious education, or a sizeable inheritance if we have not provided our children a legacy of virtue.

I can tell you it is a challenge to live in America’s wealthiest county and keep my family trained in justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. I appreciate Father reminding me I have a personal and a parental responsibility to seek the treasures of Heaven.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Am Not the Enemy

We are the parents. God gave us our children. It is our responsibility to see that they are properly nurtured in mind, body, and soul. So why then do the state, the schools, the medical community, and even the parish religious education offices think we are incompetent? Why do I feel like I have to ask permission to parent my child?

The latest assault on parental authority comes in Maine. A school-based health clinic will now dispense oral contraceptives and contraceptive patches to girls ages eleven to thirteen. The girls must have their parents’ permission to use the clinic services, but once that permission is given, parents are not notified of what types of services are utilized. They will be dispensing powerful hormones to newly post-pubescent girls and their parents won’t have a clue.

What is the message this clinic is sending to the students? How about, Your parents don’t really know best. Their teaching is irrelevant. You make your own decisions and we will help you do what you want. Is the clinic staff going to take responsibility when one of the thirteen year olds has a stroke because she started smoking while taking birth control pills? Are they going to explain away her HIV infection because she got drunk and was gang raped at a party? After all, they told her loud and clear that it was fine for her to be sexually active in spite of her parents’ admonishments against it. Why should she listen to her parents’ objections to drinking, smoking, or drugs? This exclusion of parents in the critical decisions for their children is a serious threat to the social institution of the family. And as we have seen, the destruction of the family does not bode well for society at large.

Unfortunately, too many parents have become numb to this assault. It is now taken for granted that the school will teach about sex, the doctors will decide what immunizations are given, and the parish religious education office will teach children the faith. Too many parents are just passive observers. They just blindly chauffer their children from one indoctrination activity to another. And when a parent tries to wrest control from one of these institutions they are labeled as a trouble-maker, a fanatic, or an unfit parent.

From the Catechism:

The family must be helped and defended by appropriate social measures. Where families cannot fulfill their responsibilities, other social bodies have the duty of helping them and of supporting the institution of the family. Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life. (CCC 2209)

Therefore, contrary to common practice, the schools, the state, the medical community, and the parish religious education program are there to assist me in the parenting of my children. It is my prerogative to dictate how much assistance I will accept.

For example, I opt my children out of the tenth grade sex education program at their public high school. Its lesson titles include Which contraceptive is right for you? and Are you gay? Of course I have heard some tongue clicking because I am sheltering my children too much. I don’t know why some people assume that if my children don’t get information at school, they will not get it. I am a board certified family physician with 15 years of active clinical practice under my belt including time spent as a physician in a college health clinic. Believe, me. I am not naïve about what kids know and do. I want my children to be prepared. But I prepare them with both biological and spiritual information in a unified “curriculum” that my husband and I teach them from early childhood through their teenage years.

It is time for parents to understand that being in the driver’s seat as a parent means more than just sitting behind the wheel of the minivan. It is time for institutions to abandon their adversarial stance towards parents. They are to cooperate with my agenda for my child, not fight it. No one loves my child more than I do. I am not the enemy. I am the parent.

UPDATE: Fr. Robert Araujo at Mirror of Justice has a wonderfully insightful piece on this topic.

AND ONE MORE THING: Since I wrote this piece I have been struck by another thought on the middle school health clinic issue that I have not seen addressed anywhere. What is the age of consent for sexual activity? Is anyone asking these middle school girls about their sexual partners? My guess it is they are not 11-year old boys. By handing out contraception to girls who are legally too young to give consent for sexual activity, aren't we possibly enabling them to be victims of statutory rape and/or sexual abuse?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on St. Eusebius

Argent has a very good translation of Pope Benedict’s Wednesday General Audience teaching on St. Eusebius. As you may remember, Pope Benedict is using his Wednesday General Audiences to provide excellent catechesis on the early Church Fathers. Do read the whole thing, but I was especially struck by these words:

Like the Apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at the Last Supper, the pastors and the faithful of the Church 'are in the world' (Jn 17,11)but not 'of the world.' Therefore, the pastors, Eusebius reminds us, should exhort the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling, but to seek the future city, the definitive Jerusalem in heaven.

This 'eschatological reservation' allows the pastors and the faithful to keep an authentic scale of values, without ever yielding to the fashion of the moment and to the unjust demands of prevailing political power.

The authentic scale of values, Eusebius's whole life seems to tell us, does not come from the emperors of yesterday or today, but from Jesus Christ, the perfect man, equal to the Fahter in divinity, but a man like us.

Referring to this scale of values, Eusebius does not tire of "warmly recommending" to his faithful "to guard the faith with every care, to maintain concord, and to be assiduous in prayer" (Ep. secunda, cit.).

Dear friends, I too recommend to you with all my heart these perennial values, while I greet and bless you with the words which St. Eusebius used to conclude his second letter: "I address you all, my brothers and holy sisters, sons and daughters, the faithful of both sexes and every age ... so that you may bring our greetings even to those who are outside the Church but who deign to nourish sentiments of love for us" (ibid.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Catholic alternative to the College of Holy Cross conference

The actions of Jesuit-run College of the Holy Cross have saddened and angered many Catholics. The school is sponsoring a conference on teen pregnancy featuring Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts as part of the program. Bishop Robert J. McManus, in whose Worcester diocese Holy Cross resides, has issued a statement condemning the conference. In defiance of the Bishop’s statement, Holy Cross refuses to cancel the appearance of representatives of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

Dawn Eden writes on her blog, that not only is the college continuing its support of a platform for Planned Parenthood’s message, the college refused to provide space for an alternative presentation on the Church’s teachings on sexuality.

A Holy Cross alumnus, a current student, and my employer, the Cardinal Newman Society — whose mission is to renew and strengthen Catholic identity at America's 224 Catholic colleges and universities — asked Holy Cross to grant a venue for a counter-event presenting Church teachings on sexuality. The college refused to grant the space. So, with the support of Bishop McManus, the Cardinal Newman presenting an event at St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester on the night before the teen-pregnancy conference. Here is the official press release — please tell your friends.

If you live in the Worcester area, please plan on attending this presentation. It is important that we support Bishop McManus in countering the message of the culture of death. If, like me, you are too far away to attend in person, please offer your prayers for the success of this alternate program.

Some may ask why Bishop McManus doesn’t do more. The truth is there isn’t a whole lot more he can do in the short term. The college is not run by the diocese. I believe he does have the option of pulling the school’s authority to call itself a Catholic college. However, a look at the school’s website indicates that probably wouldn’t have much of an impact.

Holy Cross offers students a broad-based liberal arts education in the Jesuit tradition. Top-ranked nationally by all widely regarded sources, Holy Cross holds itself to its own high standards of teaching, learning, and research. The College devotes itself exclusively to undergraduate education and promotes close ties between students and faculty. With approximately 2,700 students, Holy Cross is small enough to foster genuine community and large enough to support wide-ranging academic offerings. Graduates go on to prominent academic and professional programs and pursue their individual talents in many careers and service activities.

The campus is designed for learning. The hilltop setting provides inspiring views, the architecture and landscaping are inviting, and the facilities and technology are first rate. Holy Cross is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, a forward-looking city of 170,000 that has many resources, including 13 colleges and universities. With a tradition of academic excellence that dates to its founding in 1843, Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England and has grown increasingly diverse in the last decade.

Note that it never proclaims a Catholic identity. The only time it uses the word “Catholic” is in the last paragraph when it uses it in an historical context. Note also that the school holds itself to “its own high standards of teaching, learning, and research.” Nothing is mentioned of the standards of the Catholic Church. Based on the actions of the university administration and this non-committal mission statement, I would say the College of the Holy Cross is a school with historical ties to Catholicism, but very little residual Catholic identity. I can’t see that the bishop acknowledging this situation will change much in the day-to-day operations of the school. The administration has already indicated a total disregard for the bishop’s opinions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Prayers for Elizabeth Clark

The Apostolate for Family Consecration is a tremendous resource for families trying to live as a Domestic Church. I just received the following letter from the founder, Jerry Coniker. Please offer your prayers for the recovery of his granddaughter, Elizabeth Clark.

Dear Members, Cooperators and Friends of the Family Apostolate,
This is a message for prayers for my granddaughter Elizabeth Clark, daughter of Sheri and Joe Clark.
Elizabeth was in a head-on car accident on September 27, which is Gwen's birthday. She is still suffering in the hospital. It is a miracle that she survived. Her ankle was twisted like a corkscrew - the doctors said it would have been better on her if it broke. They reset it after 3 ½ hour surgery and hopefully it proves successful. Also, one of the vertebrae in her neck was hit hard and they hope that they don't have to do surgery.
But the worst part is that because of the laceration in her liver, it is still not fully operating. They are trying to keep her vital signs stable. She is in deep pain.
At age 11, Elizabeth wrote the attached letter to her grandmother Gwen, on the day of her funeral. Elizabeth is a person who thinks of others before herself. She is an honor student, Student Body Vice President, president of the Key Club within the school and varsity tennis junior captain. She was going to the state championship for tennis. She does not drink and is truly considerate to everyone without exception. Over 300 of the student body at St. Joseph High School where she is a junior joined together to pray the Rosary of their own accord and since her accident, attendance for Eucharistic Adoration has increased.
Countless emails are coming to her assuring her of their prayers and thanking her for being who she is. She never knew that she was impacting so many people. Her brother and her cousins dressed up for the Prom but instead of going to the dance, they spent the early evening in the hospital with Elizabeth. Archbishop Dolan has called her three times and personally visited her in the hospital. Also, Cardinal Arinze is praying for her personally.
I am asking you to storm heaven for this 16 year old grandchild. She is offering her suffering for the other patients in the hospital particularly those who do not have a mother to attend to them like my daughter Sheri is attending to Elizabeth. She is also offering her suffering for her family and for our work.
Let us pray for the gift of zeal within the Family Apostolate at all levels. God is calling us to a much deeper commitment to the mission that can save family life throughout the world.
Thank you and may God bless you,
To Jesus, through Mary, 
in union with St. Joseph,

Jerry Coniker
President/Co-Founder with wife Gwen

Works of Mercy in the Domestic Church

Many years ago I attended a seminar about youth ministry. The nugget I took away is that teens that keep their faith are the ones whose families attend Mass together every Sunday, who pray together, and who do charitable works together. The first two are not surprising, but the third item is one that I would like to explore a little more.

The Church gives us a very succinct guide to charity in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

Admonish the sinner
Instruct the ignorant
Counsel the doubtful
Comfort the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive all injuries
Pray for the living and the dead

Notice that both Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are important. We must not focus on one to the exclusion of the other.

I would like to see the concepts of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy more explicitly taught. I was an adult before I every heard of these. This is where the Domestic Church comes in. I keep a copy of the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy taped to the inside of the kitchen cupboard. I hope this reminds my family that as we set the table for our supper, we are to give thanks for our blessings and share with those less fortunate.

I know many of us give regularly to our parish and to other charities. Are our children aware of our generosity? It is so easy to write a check or donate online without our children knowing. We need to let them see how we share our treasure. They don’t have to know how much money we are giving. They do need to know we are giving. I know the automatic payment plans are very convenient for parishes, but I think children learn an important lesson when they see their parents drop an envelope in the basket every Sunday.

When we offer canned food for the food drive or clean out our closets and donate them to the St. Vincent de Paul Society we need to remind our kids that we are feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

We should teach our children the Spiritual Works of Mercy and point out to them how we perform them. Teaching about the faith, whether in the religious education class or on this blog, is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. My children don’t necessarily directly contribute to this process. However, when they pitch in at home so that I can take the time to teach, they are taking part in this Spiritual Work of Mercy. Certainly, offering intercessory prayers at Mass is praying for the living and the dead. However, gathering at home to offer a Rosary or other prayer for the intentions of others makes a profound impression on children.

As with all things in our Domestic Church, remember the principle of Pizza Dough Spirituality. Gently and gradually nudge your family into an increased awareness of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Your children will learn the charity you model.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Holding Parents Accountable

I sure wish there was enforcement like this in Virginia.

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Which is worse? Hosting a party where a teenage girl is left alone where she passed out in her own vomit? Or not knowing she was there? Either way, a Montgomery County man faces 22 criminal counts for allegedly helping his child host a party where there was underage drinking, according to police and prosecutors.

George Barberi of Damascus faces charges ranging from reckless endangerment, which carries a possible five-year jail term, to something called 'maintaining a disorderly house.' That's a charge that basically amounts to providing a place for underage kids to drink. The party took place in August.

Having received the phone call that says “Mom, come get me. There is beer at this party” while my child was at a chaperoned party for a school-sponsored activity, I would love to have had the fear of law enforcement on my side. In spite of all the proclamations against underage drinking made by our school personnel, there is very little they can do when the parents are making the drinking possible. I know some parents say you can’t really control teenagers and alcohol, but these parents do every parent a disservice when they enable underage drinking.

An example in humility

I lived in California for three years in the mid 1990’s. I don’t know if it is the proximity to Hollywood or there is something in the water, but California can be a truly challenging cultural experience. In California was the first time I ever went to a shopping mall and felt viscerally frightened of teenagers. My oldest came home from kindergarten and asked when my husband and I would be getting divorced. He was the only child in his class that did not have divorced parents so he assumed it was inevitable. Looking at the Catholic leadership in that area includes the likes of Cardinal Mahoney and Bishop Brown. (Don’t get me started on those two!) So when blogs started broadcasting that the Bishop of San Francisco had given communion to men in drag who were mocking women religious, I could only shake my head and pray that we will eventually be liberated from such liturgical nonsense.

However, I am heartened to find that the Bishop of San Francisco, Bishop Niederauer, has offered a very humble and sincere apology:

After the event, I realized that they were members
of this particular organization and that giving them
Holy Communion had been a mistake.
I apologize to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of
San Francisco and to Catholics at large for doing so.
The manner of dress and public comportment of the
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is deeply offensive to
women religious and to the witness of holiness and
Christian service that women religious have offered to
the Church and to the world for centuries. The
citizens of San Francisco have ample reason to be
grateful to women religious for their unfailing
support of those most in need, and to be deeply
offended when that service is belittled so
outrageously and offensively.
Someone who dresses in a mock religious habit to
attend Mass does so to make a point. If people dress
in a manner clearly intended to mock what we hold
sacred, they place themselves in an objective
situation in which it is not appropriate for them to
receive Holy Communion, much less for a minister of
the Church to give the Sacrament to them.
Therefore I conclude that the presence of the
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Mass on October
7th was intended as a provocative gesture. In that
moment I failed to recognize it as such, and for that,
as I have said, I must apologize.

It is very easy to criticize our priests and our bishops. And there is no doubt that much of the criticism is well deserved. However, I also think that an apology such as this should be publicly accepted. I am very happy that this bishop did not obstinately persist in justifying his errors out of pride. I hope I can be equally gracious in admitting and apologizing for my own errors, of which I am sure there are many.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Parents Matter

The Yahoo headline reads Study: public and private school students test at same level.

Students at independent private schools and most parochial schools scored the same on 12th-grade achievement tests in core academic subjects as those in traditional public high schools when income and other family characteristics were taken into account, according to the study by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.

Reading further, the press description of the study actually contradicts this headline.

The study looked at 1,000 low-income students from cities who are part of a nationally representative sample of kids surveyed over a period of years, along with parents and teachers, as part of a federal research effort.

In trying to determine whether the type of high school attended by a student made a difference academically, the new study tried to separate out the effects of income; earlier eighth-grade test scores; parental expectations; whether parents discuss school with their children and whether parents participate in school activities.

When all these factors were accounted for, the only kind of private schools that had a positive impact on student achievement were Catholic schools run by holy orders such as the Jesuits. Such schools have more autonomy from the church than most Catholic schools, which are typically run by a diocese and are overseen by a superintendent in the local bishop's office.

What also came out in this study was that parents matter.

The students in the study were all poor and fit the demographics of those who would be eligible for the kind of private-school voucher programs or other school-choice initiatives generally favored by conservatives.

However, what the study shows is that family involvement matters more than whether a student goes to public or private school, said Jack Jennings, the center's president.

Okay, that rates a pretty big, “Well, duh!” The press treatment of this story is definitely meant to use this study as evidence against vouchers. There are also some snide swipes at religiously affiliated schools. There are lots of limitations to this study. For example, it is based on testing 12th-graders. There is such a high drop-out rate for public school students in this demographic group that students who would have brought down the performance ranking of the public schools were probably not available for testing, having dropped out before 12th grade.

But the real meat of the story is that no school, no government program, no special curriculum can replace parents. Parental involvement and more importantly, parental expectations are critical to student performance.We can throw all kinds of money at nanny-state programs, but it will have little impact if it is culturally acceptable for parents, especially fathers, to be functionally absent from their children’s lives.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cats in the Cradle...

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

This song by Harry Chapin was one of my favorites in high school. It had a haunting melody and was easy to sing along. I didn’t realize the poignancy of the lyrics until many years later when I became a parent. I am the model for my children. My behavior, my priorities, my values are their normal. Do I know what I am teaching them?

Apparently, too many parents have abdicated their job as role model. So much so that Senators Barack Obama and Dick Durbin have introduced legislation to make federal money available to schools that need to teach their students how to behave.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Representative Phil Hare (D-IL) today introduced the Positive Behavior for Effective Schools Act (H.R. 3407, S. 2111), which directs resources to innovative programs designed to teach positive behavior as a way to improve school climate and make it easier for students to learn. Positive Behavior Support (PBS) programs define and support appropriate behaviors by explicitly teaching students about good behavior and including it as part of the curriculum.

I am all for giving children the skills they need to learn and good classroom behavior is one of those skills. However, I cringe to think about how good behavior is defined by government bureaucrats. We’ve seen how these bureaucrats have handled sex education: No sexual activity is ever described as wrong. Lesson plans include tips on picking out the right form of contraception and instructions for correctly using condoms. Students are encouraged to explore the possibility that they are homosexuals because homosexual behavior is perfectly acceptable.

What about the children who have learned good behavior at home? Are we going to take time away from their core subject education to cover lessons that should have been learned by the time these students completed kindergarten?

I am really tired of seeing my taxpayer dollars spent to make up for what parents have neglected. I am also tired of seeing these surrogate parent programs perverted into an indoctrination of a single political viewpoint. I can see it now: Good behavior is all about inclusivity to the point that there are no absolute standards. Good behavior means never confronting immorality because that would be judgmental. Good behavior means never mentioning God because it might offend others.

No thank you. I want to proudly sing the song and say “He’d grown up just like me” not “He’d grown up just like Hillary, Bill, Barack, and Rudy.”

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Outrageously" Pro-Life

National political happenings seem like hometown news when you live in the Washington DC suburbs like I do. This past Monday, the Diocese of Washington celebrated the annual Red Mass to mark the beginning of the Supreme Court’s session. Justices in attendance included Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito, Jr. One justice who was definitely not in attendance was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She described her feelings about the Red Mass with these words:

Before every session [of the court], there's a Red Mass. And the justices get invitations from the cardinal to attend that. And a good number of the justices show up every year. I went one year, and I will never go again, because this sermon was outrageously anti-abortion

Justice Ginsberg, you knew you were going to a Catholic Mass. You had to know the Catholic position on abortion. Were you really surprised by what you heard? Are you really so arrogant as to think that Catholic teaching will be modified to accommodate your liberal sensibilities?

This year’s Red Mass featured a homily by Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Do read the whole thing. It is probably best that Justice Ginsberg stayed away since she would have been offended by these words:

Yes, "ideas have consequences," and perhaps a way to view our participation in this annual Red Mass in our nation's capital is as our humble prayer for the red-hot fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing the jurists, legislators, and executives of our government the wisdom to recognize that we are indeed made in God's image, that deep in our being is the life of God, and then to give them the courage to judge, legislate, and administer based on the consequences of that conviction: the innate dignity and inviolability of every human life, and the cultivation of a society of virtue to support that belief.

As I say to young people being confirmed, think how differently you would treat yourselves -- always with dignity and respect -- if you believed you were a vessel of the divine, and think how you would treat others if you held that they were, too.

… Maybe we're here because we realistically acknowledge that, in a world where we're tempted to act like animals instead of like God's icon, in a culture where life itself can be treated as a commodity, seen as a means to an end, or as an inconvenience when tiny or infirm, in a society where rights are reduced to whatever we have the urge to do instead of what we ought to do in a civil society, we need all the wisdom and fortitude God can give us, as civic leaders, magistrates, as ordinary citizens, to achieve, as Cardinal James Gibbons exhorted, "liberty without license, authority without despotism."

Be sure to keep our justices and legislators in your prayers. Perhaps we should offer a special prayer for Justice Ginsberg. We should pray that the hardness of her heart will be softened by the Holy Spirit and she will recognize the Divine dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. Perhaps she will one day find herself “outrageously” pro-life.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

O, Angel of God

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God's love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide.


Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.

Pope John XXIII had a wonderful reflection on the Divine Gift of our Guardian Angels:

According to the teaching of the Roman catechism, we must remember how admirable was the intention of divine Providence in entrusting to the angels the mission of watching over all mankind, and over individual human beings, lest they should fall victims to the grave dangers which they encounter. In this earthly life, when children have to make their way along a path beset with obstacles and snares, their fathers take care to call upon the help of those who can look after them and come to their aid in adversity. In the same way our Father in heaven has charged his angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland, so that, protected by the angels' help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise...

Everyone of us is entrusted to the care of an angel.

In the spirit of living the liturgical calendar, I think I will serve angel hair pasta for dinner this evening and see if I can figure out something to do with angel food cake for dessert. Consider adding the Guardian Angel prayer to your mealtime or bedtime prayers.