Monday, March 2, 2015

Complaining about priests

Last week, Rachel Lu, who wrote an earlier piece complaining about “schlocky liturgies” she endured while on vacation, answered her critics here:
Liturgy is an important element of Catholic life, and we need to think about what sorts of liturgical practice will make us better Catholics and people. It’s really not just a matter of taste. Good liturgy elevates our minds, and indeed all of our senses, drawing us closer to God. It’s often uncomfortable, because it forces us to grapple with the immensity of the mysteries that are found in the Mass. But that’s a healthy sort of discomfort. We ought to be challenged in that way, and it can actually be a good thing to feel a bit “alienated” at Mass, insofar as that alienation comes from the recognition that (as we read in Hebrews 11) we are “foreigners and strangers on earth,” and that our true home is with God.
Bad liturgy is often oriented towards making worship a more comfortable and communal sort of experience. It’s easy to understand why this would appeal. Modern people often like to shed formality in favor of something more “original” or “human” or “communal.” That’s really just to say that they prefer to downgrade ceremony into something that doesn’t require them to face up to the real, serious significance of what is taking place. Consider the absurdities that take place in many contemporary weddings and funerals and you should understand what I mean.
There’s a lot of it, pretty much in the same vein; you can read it all here.

It would be easy enough to write a point-by-point piece based on what Lu wrote, but I don’t think that would get at the heart of why what Lu writes, and the way she writes it, bothers me.

I’m not opposed to reverent liturgy (I use “reverent” instead of “decorous,” “formal,” or “uncomfortable,” words which appear often in Lu’s piece).  I’m actually very much in favor of it, if by “reverent” we mean that the liturgical rubrics are followed, a prayerful spirit pervades the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that innovations are strictly avoided.  

But that, I find, is not what many people who complain about “schlocky liturgies” or insist on their own particular vision of liturgical decorum are really talking about.  Most of them are complaining about the following things:
  • the priest’s choice or permission for music they dislike or find tacky
  • the priest’s choice to permit lay people to assist him in various roles--a choice which the Church fully permits and even in some cases seems to encourage
  • the priest’s choice--also permitted by the Church--for some of these people to be female
  • the priest’s continued use of ugly church buildings, many of which are old enough not to have been the choice of anybody within living memory let alone that particular pastor
  • the priest’s choice to permit or overlook ugly or tacky Church decorations (the Perennial Gripe about the Felt Banners)
  • the priest’s choice to permit or overlook Our Father-hand holding (or at least to mention it a time or six before realizing the people are being incorrigible about this and it’s not the battle he wants to fight, at least not right now)
  • the priest’s choice to use the option to let the congregation participate in the exchange of the Sign of Peace, which is in the rubrics and a perfectly permissible thing for him to do.
In other words, most people when they complain about “bad liturgies” or “schlocky liturgies” are really complaining about priests.  Specifically, they are complaining that the priests don’t have the same concern and care for the liturgy that they, the well-informed laity, do, because everybody knows it’s impossible to have a reverent and Holy Sacrifice of the Mass if women in purple dresses are allowed to assist as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or if girls are allowed to be altar servers or if Father has the execrable musical taste of much of his generation and actually likes “All Are Welcome.” (Side note: I have now sung that dratted piece twice in two Sundays, after 46 years of never hearing it, because we couldn’t get to our regular church this Sunday due to an icy neighborhood and when we went to the main church of our parish later in the day that song was on the list.  At least I had practiced it and wasn’t totally lost--much of the congregation didn’t even bother.)

I find this puzzling not because I don’t share some sympathies here and there, especially as regards the music--I wish we were singing Bruckner and Palestrina and Mozart and Bach and chant at every Mass instead of most of what we do sing, and there are some musical settings of the prayers of the Mass which ought to be taken out and shot--just the music books, though; I’m not bloodthirsty.  I find this puzzling because having gone through my own season--and it was a long one--of Snobby Liturgical Pride I finally realized that one of the worst liturgical abuses of all was my own idea that somehow I ought to be doing Something About Schlocky Liturgies, when, in fact, I am not an ordained minister of the liturgy whose job it is to do such things; I’m a pretty average lay Catholic wife and mother whose job is to assist at Mass like any other lay person, and to be willing to put my talents, such as they are, at the service of my parish community as long as Father thinks it’s a good idea and my voice holds out.

My job at Mass is not to nitpick and criticize and roll my eyes (I’m not saying it never happens, just that it’s not my job).  No, my job at Mass is to pray, to plead for forgiveness and ask God to help me do a better job in all those areas where I always need help, to offer to Him those dear hearts in my family and among my friends and especially those people I’ve promised to pray for, to beg Him to draw everybody in the world close to His Sacred Heart, to remember that nobody alive is yet lost to His Mercy and to beg for that Mercy for myself and those I pray for as greedily as any child begging in front of a cookie jar, and then to receive Him Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and carry this priceless Treasure with me in prayer for as long as He remains present. Oh, and to sing a lot.

So much of the liturgy wars boils down to complaining about priests and what they are doing.  I bet that if we just prayed for them at Mass instead, we’d see some really good things happening. Maybe even some Palestrina.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Snow Day

And this is why I didn’t blog yesterday.  :)

Celebrating Thad’s birthday quietly at home today, as the roads are still rather difficult.

See you Monday!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Till death do us part--the scandal of Catholic divorce

Recently I’ve been seeing various things sent around in preparation for this year’s ordinary Synod of Bishops, at which event the continuation of the discussion on topics of marriage and family is planned.  Many of the things I’m seeing are petitions and letters begging the Holy Father not to change Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.  Which is not even on the table, actually--there are no plans whatsoever, from anything I’ve heard or read from any reliable source, to tinker with ancient Church teachings or settled doctrines at this or any synod.

What is possible (though it has yet to happen in any way at all) is that the pope and the bishops with him might agree that there could be better pastoral ways of handing the many situations of divorced and (civilly) remarried Catholics than to continue to use a one-size-fits-all annulment process that made sense in a world (not so long ago, alas) where even the secular world agreed that marriage was intended to be a sacred and binding union between a man and a woman that was supposed to be lifelong and ordered toward the good of the natural family, both the begetting of children and the raising of them in enduring and stable homes.  In the world we have today where most civil marriage or civil partnership laws philosophically presuppose that marriage is a the legal recognition of a temporary adult sex partnership based solely on the feelings of happiness and satisfaction each partner experiences, and dissolvable at any time either partner no longer feels happy or satisfied (without any reference to children or the stability of their homes whatsoever), it makes a certain amount of sense for the Church to consider whether the presumption of a validity based on the natural human elements of marriage (regardless of considerations of the sacramental element) can no longer be made for the vast majority of marriages taking place outside the Church’s own auspices.

These are complicated questions, and they are made more complicated by the unevenness of the pastoral reality on the ground in many countries; in some countries, even a “no-brainer” annulment of a first “marriage” between a baptized Catholic who never set foot in a Church after his Confirmation (and precious few times before it) and his Wiccan girlfriend conducted on a beach by a New Age priestess reading from her “Book O’ Wedding Platitudes” and concluding with the words, “I now pronounce you soul-mates!” or something can take hundreds of dollars and many years to complete, while in other countries such an annulment takes little time or money at all (as it shouldn’t--there’s more lacking there than mere dispensation paperwork, to put it lightly).

I am not worried that the Church is suddenly going to declare that every person who is divorced and remarried outside the Church can just ignore that first marriage and do whatever they want, because the Church isn’t like that.  The thing I do find worrisome--and not in a sense of wondering what the synod might do about it--is the worse scandal: the scandal of Catholic divorce.

To be clear, when I use the term “Catholic divorce” I don’t mean any baptized Catholic person who has ever divorced, or any Catholic person who divorced and was granted an annulment and went on to marry in the Church, or anything like that.  What I mean is the scandal of people who are solid, orthodox Catholics, who went through marriage preparation correcting the instructor’s occasional lapses into heresy, who made firm promises to avoid the evils of contraception, who had beautiful Catholic weddings and lovely Catholic baptisms for their babies and who were pillars of their parish churches--and who still ended up divorcing, often bitterly, often with an injured and innocent spouse on one side and a definitely guilty and reckless one on the other.  The case of Bud and Bai Macfarlane has always seemed to me to be a model of this sort of situation, where a seemingly happy Catholic family is destroyed when one spouse decides to lob the “divorce” bomb into the midst of it all.

I have a feeling that when many people start worrying about the divorced and remarried being admitted to Communion en masse, this is the sort of situation they’re thinking about--because I know few adult Catholics who have never encountered this sort of situation in their own or extended families or among friends or acquaintances.  The idea that people who know what marriage is, understand its earthly and heavenly significance, and who ought of all people to be committed and dedicated to building it up, “Till death do us part,” are instead actively seeking to destroy their own marriages is shocking and terrible.  Adultery is often involved, as are the whole host of usual problems (but, as I hope is clear, I’m not speaking of situations where an innocent person has to separate from his or her spouse due to abuse, including criminal behavior--such situations are obviously evil on the part of the abuser, but in those cases the spouse who leaves usually has little choice, and is trying to protect himself or herself and the children, which the Church fully supports and encourages).  At the root of most such divorces is an almost incomprehensible selfishness (especially when children are involved).

The Church, through the synods, is working to call back to the fold people who don’t have to remain separate from it, people whose first marriages were clearly invalid for excellent reasons and who may believe erroneously that none of that matters.  If I have any particular hope for the ultimate results of the Church’s present focus on marriage and family, it is that the scandal of validly married, active Catholics destroying their own families for no good reason at all is firmly and solidly addressed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Of double-standards, heresy, and the Future ex-Catholic Apostates of America

In recent days, San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone has come under fire from the secular news media (as well as from many of San Francisco’s alleged Catholics) for a plan that would ensure that teachers in archdiocesan schools did not engage in morally reprehensible conduct themselves or overtly promote such conduct (contrary to Church teaching) to others in public statements.

One of the issues at hand is the problem of people identifying themselves as Catholic schoolteachers going out on social media to bash the Church for refusing to bless homosexual sex acts or the sinful unions centered around them, or giving vocal support to other grave sins that can (under the usual conditions) help a person choose eternal damnation and the fires of Hell.  Revealing a bit too much about their own lack of actual Catholic education, San Francisco’s Catholic school parents are apparently outraged that the archbishop actually thinks that sodomy, fornication, adultery, masturbation, contraception, abortion, or porn use are morally problematic for Catholics; some San Francisco Catholics seem to think that such activities are not only benign but exactly what everyone needs to have a good weekend, or something.

Part of the outrage seems to be on free speech grounds.  Why, just because someone works for a Catholic school doesn’t mean he or she couldn’t moonlight as a porn star, advocate for gay “marriage,” or belong to NAMBLA, right?  It’s not like we expect teachers to be people kids can look up to or that we’re so judgmental that we don’t think porn stars are admirable models for the youth of American anyway...

One thing that I find interesting, though, is that even in the secular world the idea that your employer should just overlook anything impolitic or against your employer’s values really doesn’t exist:
NEW YORK (AP) — When one of Ileaa Swift's employees posted homophobic comments on Facebook, the reaction was quick.
"It posted around 1 in the morning. The next morning, when I got up, I had all these calls and emails and hate mail," says Swift, owner of Swift Travel Deals in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Whether it's comments about news events, long-held beliefs or a bad joke, an employee's offensive posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can damage a company's image and profits. If the comments are racist, homophobic, sexist or against a religious group, tolerating discriminatory comments puts an employer at risk for lawsuits and losing customers. [...]
The staffer persisted, moving her comments to her own page. The employee's online arguments with people enraged by her posts cost the company business, including bookings from gay and lesbian clients.
Swift fired her.
"It's one of the hardest things I've had to do because she was a superstar agent, but we have to respect (our customers)," Swift says.
In the secular employment world, just writing on social media that, say, as a Catholic you support your Church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman can theoretically get you fired.  Yet somehow the Church is supposed to hire people who are clearly undermining the Church’s mission of Catholic education (as evidenced by the complete and palpable lack of any such thing in any of the students--or their parents--as quoted here)?  And not only to hire them, but to ignore and overlook it if they’re shacking up with same-sex or opposite-sex partners, working as Planned Parenthood deathscorts, or posting all over social media sites their absolute hatred and vicious contempt of the Catholic Church and all her teachings--as they collect their paychecks from her?

I admire Archbishop Cordileone’s attempt to reign in the galloping heresy and sickening acceptance of immorality on parade in the halls of the Catholic schools of his diocese.  I can’t help but wonder, though, if it isn’t too late, and if the only thing that might save the Catholic schools of San Francisco would be to shut the schools condemn the buildings, bulldoze them, burn the rubble and then salt the earth with prayers of exorcism before starting over--preferably with a model of Catholic education that is actually Catholic, rather than pricey “private schools in the Catholic tradition,” which is code for “Gathering Space for the Future ex-Catholic Apostates of America."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Washington State Hates Your (Religious) Freedom

In case you haven’t been following the sad case of Washington State Florist Barronelle Stutzman, the facts are pretty simple: when long time customers to whom she had sold flowers for other occasions asked her to provide the floral decorations for their gay “wedding,” she explained that her deeply held Baptist religious views would not let her do so--because marriage is between a man and a woman.

The gay couple, her long-time customers, decided to sue her like most nice, kind, long-time customers would the minute they didn’t get their own way about something (not).  And Washington State has ruled against her in a breathtakingly bad decision:
RICHLAND — A florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated state consumer-protection and anti-discrimination law, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom rejected arguments from the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland that her actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion. While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected, he said. [...]
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented the couple, welcomed the ruling.
“The law is clear: If you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples,” Ferguson said.
The law allows for penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, as well as legal fees.
The state will likely seek those against Stutzman individually, as well as her business, said Peter Lavallee, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office
To sum up: a Christian may not practice her Christianity when it interferes with a gay couple’s right to demand floral arrangements for what many Christians see as an evil mockery of marriage.  And the State will punish a Christian for practicing her faith in her place of business--which she OWNS--by confiscating “penalties” not only from that business but from her personally as well.

Christians, you see, don’t have the right to own flower shops unless they will kneel at the altar of Ba’al to pour out floral libations in celebration of the wickedness of gay “marriage.”  The state has the right to force them to do so.

The National Organization for Marriage’s blog has more details about this outrageous case.  The Alliance Defending Freedom website contains links to the whole outrageous decision, in which the court ruled that freedom of religion means that believers are free to have beliefs, but not necessarily free to express them in public or act on them.  Chillingly, the court cited the New Mexico decision in Elane Photography LLC vs. Willock in their decision--if a photographer can be forced to photograph a gay “wedding” despite her Christian beliefs that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, the Washington Court said, then this creates the precedent that forces all religious believers to participate in gay “weddings” whenever they are asked to do so.

Or, as Mark Shea has been putting it for years: Tolerance is not enough.  You MUST approve.

If you are a Catholic, a Christian, an observant orthodox Jewish person, a Muslim, or anyone else whose religion teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, and you happen to own or work at a place which provides goods and services for weddings, there is only one thing you can do: Get. Out. NOW.

I hate to shout, but the bars are closing in, and if you don’t restructure your business today in such a way that you no longer provide any goods or services for weddings, you will be forced in the very near future to cater or photograph or provide flowers or bridal gowns/tuxes or other wedding-related items to gay couples.  Trust me--they will seek out your business on purpose to destroy it if they have any suspicion that you might be a religious believer who doesn’t believe in gay “marriage.” 

The courts keep ruling against religious freedom.  In the name of tolerance and inclusion they are helping move our culture to a place that is completely intolerant of religious faith and completely ready to exclude all of us from the market place, unless we’re prepared to sell out our religious freedom and kowtow to the illusion that two men or two women are, in any way that we understand it in the light of our religious faiths, “married."  The court in Washington is prepared to punish Mrs. Stutzman if she doesn’t accept their “settlement offer,” a fine of just over $2000 and a promise that from now on she will serve all the gay “weddings” she’s asked to serve as a florist.  Mrs. Stutzman, may God bless her, is standing firm, prepared to lose her business and all her personal assets as well rather than participate in something she truly believes is wrong in the eyes of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  She does not stand alone, but maybe it will take a million florists and a million bakers and a million photographers saying to all of their customers, “I’m sorry, but the one kind of event I won’t provide my services to are weddings of any kind, because America no longer allows me the freedom to practice my faith in regards to weddings or marriages--in fact, according to this great nation I am an evil bigot who must be silenced and punished for my deeply held belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.” 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Third Quarter Blues Ideas

Today was a snow day--well, technically an ice day.  My college girls got to stay home, as did my husband.  So that long and serious blog post will have to wait.

Several times recently I’ve had some homeschooling friends mention the problem of the Third Quarter Blues.  I wrote about it years ago here--essentially it’s the phenomenon where somehow winter and home life and homeschooling all seem to become overwhelming all at once.

That post talks about the phenomenon in more detail, but here I want to share some ideas for breaking up the monotony of the third quarter.  While I’m only homeschooling one now, and she’s in high school, I remember those long winter days all too well, and the doubts that come crowding in: should I actually be homeschooling?  Are my kids learning everything they need, or anything at all?  Will we ever see our living room floor again? and so on.

If this describes where you are right now, especially if you are homeschooling elementary schoolers, perhaps a few of these ideas might help:

1. Have a Theme Day.  I told a Facebook friend that a Tropical Day can be fun (blanket picnics, travel or educational videos about tropical islands, island-themed lesson plans, “sunbathing” on towels with umbrellas and a reading assignment, etc.).  We did a Space Day and a Dinosaur Day, but really the possibilities are endless--especially in these days of streaming video and free coloring pages!

2. Have a D.E.A.R. day.  When I was in “real school” my school did this once, and I LOVED it--because D.E.A.R. stands for “Drop Everything and Read.”  While this may work best if you have some avid readers in the home, I think it could be tailored for just about anybody--and what better time t do this than on some bleak February day when cuddling on the couch with some hot chocolate or tea already sounds like a great idea?

3. Have a Game Day.  Who says “pin the tail on the donkey” is just for birthday parties?  Party games, board games, card games--take your pick, depending on the children’s ages, and let the fun begin!  There are some card games out there that involve a bit of math.  And if, like me, you get lots of “religious junk mail” with plastic rosaries or angel coins or prayer cards, you can use these to fill a prize basket and sneak a bit of religious education in too! :)

4. Have a Dress Up Day.  Here in Texas, dressing up for fun over the summer holidays was never fun--it was Too Darned Hot.  But dressing up in the middle of winter on a school day for no particular reason was always fun!  Historical figures, literary characters, saints, or even cartoon characters are welcome on a costume day.  Some funny word problems during math class can add to the fun (e.g., “If Batman fills the Batmobile’s 20 gallon gas tank, and the Batmobile gets an average of 35 MPG, approximately how far can Batman drive before he’ll need to find a filling station?” etc.)

5. Have a “Home Economics and Management” Day.  I saw someone else suggest this, but when I was asking my girls for ideas for this post my oldest daughter also suggested it.  The idea is simple: in lieu of regular lessons, you all focus on some basic home economics tasks together--but you have to do them together (not just mom cooking and cleaning while the kids play because that’s called Saturday).  All of my girls learned to do their own laundry at age 10, and we did cooking lessons and cleaning lessons as well.  Not only is this a great way to kick the winter blues, but it’s a good way for active children to trade a day’s worth of seatwork for practical lessons involving skills they will really need.  And the payoffs for Mom are also great--just this weekend, while Thad and I were running errands, the girls decided to clean and declutter the house.  There’s nothing like arriving home with a week’s worth of groceries and walking into a sparkling clean living room!

None of these things are designed to replace regular schoolwork and activities, but if the Third Quarter Blues have got you down, you might consider planning a day like one of these (or based on an idea of your own).  A change of pace on what is usually a normal school day can do a lot for everybody’s moods and attention spans, and one of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility to be creative!

Friday, February 20, 2015


There’s an issue I really wanted to blog about today.  It centers around a story many of you have already heard, and it pertains to the decline in religious liberty in the face of the hostile imposition of a gay-rights agenda by the judiciary.

I will try to blog about it on Monday, because with a migraine that has lasted all day and that is making my vision a bit blurry as I type this, I don’t think I can do such a complex post justice right now.

I’m not sure I can do any post justice right now.  But I’ll try, by listing, in no particular order, ten things I am grateful for today:

1. I am grateful for my family.  They are always loving and helpful, and especially so when I’m battling one of these migraine monsters.  The banana bars Bookgirl and Hatchick put together to go with dinner were delicious!

2. I am grateful for my friends, both in-real-life and online (and you special ones who are both!).  I am grateful for people who post fun memes on Facebook that make me laugh out loud.

3. I am grateful for my faith, for its seasons, even for Lent (even if I grumble).

4. I am grateful for my parish community and all the good it brings into my life.

5. I am grateful for the path around the nearby lake, which is getting me out walking more often.  I am grateful that my two younger girls (who were home today) went for a walk with me--it helps, sometimes, to get some fresh air, even when your head is pounding.  I’m grateful for the chance to watch a baby turtle paddle its way to a pile of floating sticks, attempt to climb them, fail, and swim right back until it got on top of them triumphantly for some rest and sunshine; I’m grateful for the Great Egret we saw in flight.

6. I am grateful for a quiet evening at home.

7. I am grateful for many material blessings, including a freezer with plenty of ice cube trays and a slow-cooker that made dinner for tonight.

8. I am grateful that tomorrow is Saturday and I don’t have to be anywhere too early.

9. I am grateful that one of our cats (Smidge) likes to sleep on my feet when it’s cold outside.

10. I am grateful that migraines, like all things, do eventually come to an end.