Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Children, Working Moms, and Learning to Love

Finally, whereas before I had been convinced that having children would prevent me from using the years of learning and experience I had amassed at school and at work (where would I find the time?), I have come to see that I have good things to share in large part because of the ability to love that children have provoked in me.  St. Thomas Aquinas was right:  "Lord, in my zeal for the love of truth, never let me forget the truth about love."  How does this work?  In practical terms, of course, one discovers that she can get off the couch at 11 p.m. to pick up a child somewhere, simply because that child needs a ride.  One learns that she has the fortitude to pick up an extra job in order to pay for braces or a school trip.  Maybe most importantly, however, one learns how to communicate with other people, to decide in advance to give them "that look of love they crave" once you begin to see them as other people's children.--Helen Alvare, "Fear of Children," in Helen Alvare, ed., Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), pg. 31.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Downton Abbey, Chesterton, and (Anti-)Catholicism

So I live with a Downton Abbey fan right now, which means the show has been playing in the background. And I heard Lord Grantham's expressed opinions about Catholicism. The Telegraph has more.  Excerpts:
The unseemly debate in last night’s Downton Abbey over whether the late Lady Sybil Branson’s daughter should be baptised as a Catholic touches on prejudices that its writer Julian Fellowes knows about only too well.

“It is really to illustrate that casual, almost unconscious anti-Catholicism that was found among the upper classes, which lasted well into my growing up years,” says Fellowes, 63, who is a Catholic and an old boy of Ampleforth.

Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, has, in a previous episode of the series, opined that Catholics have “something Johnny Foreigner” about them. “It wasn’t that they were nasty – Robert certainly isn’t – but they thought that somehow Catholics were un-English and so 'not quite right’,” says Fellowes. “I am not aware that anyone else has ever touched on it, so I thought it might be interesting...
(For more on the Spanish Inquisition, see here).  The Catholic Herald is rather surprised there's not been more discussion of such things.  Excerpts:
Up to now I have been puzzled by the way Tom Branson, the Fenian ex-chauffeur and son-in-law, seemingly has no religion. I assumed he was a Protestant (some Irish nationalists were), but it turns out that, no, he is a Catholic after all. Funny it has only surfaced now, as I am pretty certain that someone like the Earl of Grantham, a self-proclaimed anti-Catholic, would not have employed Catholic staff, and would have died of apoplexy att he thought of his daughter marrying one.

How rife was anti-Catholicism in the 1920’s?

Drawing on my admittedly partial knowledge, among the upper classes it was common. It is possible that the aristocracy were less anti-Catholic than the people in the rungs directly below them: after all the Earl of Grantham would have known several Catholic peers, whom he would have seen regularly at the House of Lords. (The Earl in Downton never seems to go there, which is one of the many historical oddities of the series, but let that pass.) Edward VII, the recently deceased King, had several Catholic friends. So, one would imagine that Catholics were socially acceptable in the highest ranks of society, though this would not have extended to intermarriage, partly because of the Church’s laws on that. But further down the social ladder it was a different matter altogether...

Please note, though, that the Earl of Grantham lives in an Abbey, that is, his estate was stolen from the Church at the time of the Reformation. One can never like those whom one has unjustly defrauded of their rights...
Along those lines, I was thinking about the show the other day, and a snippet of Chesterton kept popping into my head from The Return of Don Quixote. Excerpts:
..."Do you mean," asked Herne almost timidly, "go into--Seawood Abbey?"

"Yes," answered Murrel shortly. "I daresay we're in the same boat. I might find the other house a little harder."

They completed the rest of their programme by a tacit, not to say taciturn agreement; and so it fell out that, before they had exchanged many more words, they had actually come within sight of all that for so long they had not seen and had avoided seeing; the evening sun on the high lawns of Seawood and the steep Gothic roofs among the trees.

Certainly they needed no words of explanation when Michael Herne halted and looked across at his friend, as if bidding him go on. Murrel nodded and went quickly with his light and agile step up the steep woodland path and over the stile and dropped into the avenue leading up to the main gateway. The gardens seemed much as they were of old, but rather neater and in some nameless fashion quieter; but the great gate, that had always stood open, was shut.

Monkey was no mystic; but this fact affected him with a mournful thrill that had in it something of mysticism. That incongruous element increased upon him in some indescribable subconscious way as he approached the great doors and, for the first time in his life, knocked on them and rang a great iron bell. He felt rather as if he were in a dream; and yet as if he were near to some more strange awakening. But queer as were his unformed anticipations, they were not so queer as what he found.

About half an hour afterwards he came out of the great doorway, which was closed after him, climbed the stile and came quietly down the lane to his friend; but even while he was still approaching, his friend felt that there was something odd about his quietude. He sat down on the bank and ruminated for a moment; then he said:  "An extraordinary thing has happened to Seawood Abbey. It has not been exactly burned to the ground, because somehow it seems to be still there, and looking rather more well-preserved than before. It has not been, in any material or meteorological sense struck by lightning from heaven. And yet I am not sure . . . anyhow a most stunning and crashing catastrophe has fallen on that Abbey."

"What do you mean? What has happened to the Abbey?"

"It has become an Abbey," said Murrel gravely.

"What do you mean?" cried the other, leaning forward with sudden eagerness.

"I mean what I say. It has become an Abbey. I have just been talking to the Abbot. He told me a good deal of the news, in spite of his monastic seclusion; for he knows a number of our old friends."

"You mean it is a monastery. What news did he give you?"

"He was full of Society Snippets," said Murrel in his melancholy voice. "It all began with Lord Seawood dying about a year ago. The property went to his--his heiress, who it seems has 'gone over' as the saying is. She's become a Catholic; and a very extraordinary sort of Catholic too. She has given up all this vast property to my friend the Abbot and his merry men; and gone down to work as a nurse in some Catholic settlement or other down in the Docks...
And this. Excerpts:
“Other English gentlemen have stolen before now, and been covered by legal and political protection; and the West also has its own way of covering theft with sophistry. After all, the ruby is not the only kind of valuable stone in the world that has changed owners; it is true of other precious stones; often carved like cameos and coloured like flowers.” The other looked at him inquiringly; and the priest’s finger was pointed to the Gothic outline of the great Abbey. “A great graven stone,” he said, “and that was also stolen.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What It Means to be a Christian

is a great book. The heart of the Christian response to Jesus's gift:
Becoming a Christian is not at all something given to us so that we, each individual for himself, can pocket it and keep our distance from those others who are going off empty-handed.  No: in a certain sense, one does not become a Christian for oneself at all; rather, one does so for the sake of the whole, for others, for everyone.  The movement of becoming a Christian, which begins at baptism and which we have to pursue through the rest of our lives, means being ready to engage in a particular service that God requires from us in history.  We cannot of course always think through in detail why this service has to be done by me, now, in this way.  That would contradict the mystery of history, which is woven together from the inscrutability of man's freedom and God's freedom.  It should be enough for us to know in faith that we, by becoming Christians, are making ourselves available for a service in the whole.  Thus, becoming a Christian does not mean grabbing something for oneself alone; on the contrary, it means moving out of that selfishness which only knows about itself and only refers to itself and passing into the new form of existence of someone who lives for others.--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), What It Means to Be a Christian, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), pg. 54-55

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Meaning of History, the Universe, and Everything

According to the Pope. Excerpts:
If, meanwhile, we look at the world in faith, we know that there is another, second breakthrough point within it: the moment at which God became man, the moment at which was achieved, not just the breakthrough from nature to mind, but the breakthrough from Creator to creature. That is the moment when, in one place, the world and God became one. The significance of all the history that followed after can only be that of including the entire world within this union and, on that basis, giving it the fulfilled meaning of being at one with its Creator. "God became man, in order that men might become gods," is what Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, said. We can say, as a matter of fact, that the actual meaning of history is being announced to us here. In the breakthrough from the world to God, everything that went before and everything that followed afterward is given its proper significance as the great movement of the cosmos is drawn into the process of deification, into a return to the state from which it originated.--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), What It Means to Be a Christian, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), pg. 53

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Meaning of Life is Love

As proven by the fact that no one is born alone, no one dies alone (thanks to the communion of saints, the omnipresence of God, and your guardian angel), and the path to deepest satisfaction, joy, and peace is through agape love.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hope for Victims of Human Trafficking

Important information. Excerpts:
...For victims of trafficking in the United States illegally, there's often a fear of deportation – something their captors often use to brainwash them. ICE Director John Morton said this shouldn't be a concern, though.

"The law expressly allows for these women to be given temporary immigration status so that there isn't any threat of deportation. They can come forward, help us with our investigation and prosecution and work with us to get them back on firm footing. Ultimately, the law allows for them to stay permanently in such circumstances," he said.

The road to recovering from the horrific treatment many of these women have suffered is a long one, but El-Sawi says success stories abound.

"On a personal level, obviously it makes me feel better to know that someone that's been victimized for a number of days, months, years is finally able to make their own choices for once. For a long time, many of these women had no choices. The traffickers had complete control over them," El-Sawi says. "Knowing that they're going to be stabilized, some victims keep in touch, call and say, 'Hey, I got my GED, I'm in a healthy relationship, I've opened my own business.' They've thrived..."
Who are the victims of human trafficking?  Excerpts:
There is not a consistent type or profile of a trafficking victim.  Based on U.S. federal law, trafficked persons in the U.S. can be men or women, adults or children, and foreign nationals or U.S. citizens.  Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education.  Some immigrant victims are currently in the U.S. legally, and others are undocumented.  Some form of vulnerability tends to be the common thread amongst all different trafficking victims.

It is essential to remember that vulnerability to human trafficking is far-reaching, spanning multiple different areas such as age, socio-economic status, nationality, education-level, or gender. Traffickers often prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse - conditions that are present in all spheres of society.

Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C.  They are forced to work or provide commercial sex against their will in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets.  Some victims are hidden behind locked doors in brothels and factories.  In other cases, victims are in plain view and may interact with community members, but the widespread lack of awareness and understanding of trafficking leads to low levels of victim identification by the people who most often encounter them.  For example, women and girls in sex trafficking situations, especially U.S. citizens, are often misidentified as "willing" participants in the sex trade who make a free choice each day to be there.

While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable.  These may include: undocumented immigrants; runaway and homeless youth; victims of trauma and abuse; refugees and individuals fleeing conflict; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals.

Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are highly vulnerable due to a combination of factors, including: lack of legal status and protections, language barriers, limited employment options, poverty and immigration-related debts, and social isolation.  They are often victimized by traffickers from a similar ethnic or national background, on whom they may be dependent for employment, shelter, and other means of support.

Runaways and at-risk youth are targeted by pimps and traffickers for exploitation in the commercial sex industry or different labor or services industries. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats, and violence.
Trafficking victims in the U.S. under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 include:
  • Minors (under age 18) induced to perform commercial sex acts
  • Those age 18 or over who are forced, deceived, or coerced into providing commercial sex acts
  • Children and adults forced to perform labor and/or services in conditions of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, through force, fraud, or coercion
The needs of survivors of trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims, often requiring a multidisciplinary approach to address severe trauma and medical needs, immigration and other legal issues, safety concerns, shelter and other basic daily needs, and financial hardship.  For more information about the services available to victims of human trafficking, including comprehensive service referrals in the U.S., click here.
For other sources of assistance, see:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fidelity, Fido, and Faith

Coolness.  St. Francis would approve.  Excerpts:
...Tommy, a 7-year-old German shepherd, used to accompany his owner, Maria Margherita Lochi, to services at Santa Maria Assunta church in San Donaci, Italy, according to the Daily Mail, and was allowed to sit at her feet.

After Lochi died, the dog "joined mourners at her funeral service" according to locals and "followed after Maria's coffin" as it was carried into the church.

Tommy, a stray who was adopted by Lochi, has been showing up "when the bell rings out to mark the beginning of services" ever since.

"He's there every time I celebrate mass and is very well behaved," Father Donato Panna told the paper. "He doesn't make a sound."

None of the other parishioners has complained, Panna said, and villagers give the dog food and water and allow him to sleep nearby.

"I've not heard one bark from him in all the time he has been coming in," Panna added. "He waits patiently by the side of the altar and just sits there quietly. I didn't have the heart to throw him out—I've just recently lost my own dog, so I leave him there until Mass finishes and then I let him out.

Examples of this type of extreme canine loyalty are incredibly common..."
Reminds me of this:
...First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer's features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

“Is it?...is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

“And who are these gigantic people...look! They're like emeralds...who are dancing and throwing flowers before here?”

“Haven't ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”

“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.”

“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”

“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?”

“No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”

“And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.”

“They are her beasts.”

“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”

“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”

I looked at my Teacher in amazement.

“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough int the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”― C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Roe v. Wade, and Doublethink

The incoherency of modern American law on unborn human beings. Excerpts:
...“Well, if it were established that an unborn fetus is a person within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, you would have almost an impossible case here, would you not?” Mrs. Weddington replied, “I would have a very difficult case.” And then she laughed nervously. Justice Stewart, not laughing at all, continued that this is akin to ruling that if a ”mother thought that it bothered her health having the child around, she could have it killed.” Mrs. Weddington said, “That’s correct,” and declined any further response.

Our laws still, chillingly, reflect this inconsistency. On the one hand, we have the almost decade long 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act which federally recognizes a “child in utero” as a legal “victim” if he or she is injured or killed by crimes of violence, and laws such as the one decided in Alabama this month that recognize “unborn children are persons with rights that should be protected by law.” On the other hand, we have abortion for all nine months of pregnancy and impunity for the ones that kill those children, children who are not even guaranteed the protections given to convicted murderers and rapists in some states. It was not funny 40 years ago, and it is still no laughing matter. These are children being killed. Aren’t children people too?

Gay Paris Joins the Protest Against Gay Marriage

This is very, very interesting.  Excerpts:
Perhaps as many as a million people marched in Paris last Sunday and at French embassies around the world against proposed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in France. One of the surprises in the French campaign for traditional marriage is that homosexuals have joined pro-family leaders and activists in the effort.

“The rights of children trump the right to children,” was the catchphrase of protesters like Jean Marc, a French mayor who is also homosexual.

Even though France is known for its laissez faire attitude toward sex, pro-family leaders were quick to organize huge numbers. When President Hollande announced his intentions to legalize homosexual marriage last November, a demonstration against the proposal gathered 100,000 protesters. And then what started as a debate about homosexual rights changed to one about a child’s right to a mother and a father, and the numbers in opposition exploded and has come to include unlikely allies.

Xavier Bongibault, an atheist homosexual, is a prominent spokesman against the bill. “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview. “[T]he most serious study done so far . . . demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”

Jean Marc, who has lived with a man for 20 years, insists, “The LGBT movement that speaks out in the media . . . They don’t speak for me. As a society we should not be encouraging this. It’s not biologically natural.”

Outraged by the bill, 66-year old Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law who has done relief work in war-torn areas, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it, as an amputation."

"As soon as I learned that the government was going to officialize marriage between two people of the same sex, I was thrown into disarray,” he explained. It would be “institutionalizing a situation that had scarred me considerably. In that there is an injustice that I can in no way allow." If the women who raised him had been married, “I would have jumped into the fray and would have brought a complaint before the French state and before the European Court of Human Rights, for the violation of my right to a mom and a dad."

A pro-family coalition that includes homosexuals is certainly different than in the United States and likely most places around the world. It is unclear why at least some French homosexuals would not only favor man-woman marriage only, but would campaign against homosexual marriage. It could be that France has allowed for civil unions, for all couples, for more than a decade. Whatever the reason, this potent coalition may stop homosexual marriage in France...
There's more here on the European situation and the debates on gay marriage. Excerpts:
...Every time Benedict XVI speaks out against marriage between homosexuals, he is immediately besieged with criticism. But the last time he did so, in the annual pre-Christmas address to the curia, this did not happen. Everybody silent.

Acting as shield for the pope was the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, whom he cited in support of his own ideas. And none of the opinionists on the other side felt like taking aim against a luminary of European Judaism, in addition to the head of the Catholic Church.

In effect, the French case is teaching a lesson beyond its borders, in the battle for and against what the Church calls “nonnegotiable principles,” central among which is marriage between man and woman.

The intention of the Hollande presidency to extend legal legitimacy to marriages between homosexuals has seen the lively reactions not only of the Catholic Church, led by the archbishop of Paris, but also of authoritative representatives of other religions and of the secular world, including the feminist philosopher Sylviane Agacinski, wife of the socialist (and Protestant) former prime minister Lionel Jospin, and, of course, chief rabbi Bernheim, with a 25-page document in which he overturns one by one the arguments in support of homosexual marriage and of adoption by same-sex couples.

In citing the manifesto by Bernheim, Benedict XVI called it "carefully documented and profoundly touching.” And with this he extracted it from its French context and offered it to the attention of the whole world.

In Italy, the pope's invitation was promptly accepted by the nonbelieving intellectual Ernesto Galli della Loggia, who in "Corriere della Sera" of December 30 not only reiterated with abundant citations the arguments of the chief rabbi, demonstrating their consistency with those of Benedict XVI, but wrote that he fully shared them and hoped that they could finally be discussed without having to bow to the reigning conformism in favor of gay marriage.

Galli della Loggia is an intellectual who has always been read with attention in the Vatican. His wife, the historian Lucetta Scaraffia, writes regularly for “L'Osservatore Romano,” and is a close friend of its director, Giovanni Maria Vian. And in fact, the newspaper of the Holy See gave great emphasis to this shift in "Corriere," as if it were the symbolic falling of a wall.

Galli della Loggia is not the first nor the only one, among secular Italian intellectuals, to have distanced himself from the chorus of accusations against the “obscurantist” Church.

After him, on January 2, also in “Corriere Della Sera,” a famous psychoanalyst, Silvia Vegetti Finzi, took a stance against the adoption of children by same-sex couples.

And before him there was the declaration of the “Ratzingerian Marxists”: the philosopher Pietro Barcellona, the theorist of operaismo Mario Tronti, the political scientist Giuseppe Vacca, the sociologist Paolo Sorbi, all of them members of the Partito democratico and previously of the Partito comunista, and all of them now converts to the “anthropological vision” of pope Joseph Ratzinger, in defense of life “from conception to natural death” and of marriage between man and woman. They held their last meeting in December in the quarters of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with the imprimatur of the secretariat of state...
Something's going on in Europe. This is really unexpected. How will this affect the gay marriage discussion in the US? Will it affect the gay marriage debate in the US?

Some further interesting datapoints to add to the discussion. Excerpts:
...John D’Emilio, noted professor of history and pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies has, as a gay man and leading LGBT theorist, been vocally opposed (shown here and more recently here) to the idea of working for the legalization of same-sex marriage. He contends it is contrary to queer ideals and unjust to gays in other types of relationships. D’Emilio and our French friends are not odd outliers. Here is another and another and another and a few more and one more leading gay voices that assert the passage of same-sex marriage can actually be discriminatory and limiting. Uhm...
And more. Excerpts:
...France—the country in which a former head of state could be buried from a Catholic cathedral, with his wife and his mistress in the front pews, and no one showing the slightest discomfort with the arrangements--seems to epitomize the moral fatigue of the West. So why is the French opposition to same-sex marriage so much stronger than anything we have seen elsewhere in Europe or North America? Why has the public opposition come not only from Catholic prelates and defenders of traditional morality, but even from avowed homosexuals, who make the compelling point that they are not the same as heterosexual people?

Could it be because the French—while they are as exhausted as we all are by debates about sexuality—are always ready for an energetic debate about language and the meaning of words?

Unlike Americans, who revel in the use of slang and in the changing patterns of words’ connotations, the French expect a level of precision in their language. For nearly four centuries the Academie Francaise has been issuing authoritative rulings on the meaning of words. The French understand that a change in the meaning of a word can mean a change in the way people think and act; it is a step that should not be taken lightly. The word “marriage” has a meaning, and the French instinctively realize that if that meaning is altered, the institution itself is changed.

French proponents of same sex marriage insist that they are simply opening up the institution to homosexual couples. “Marriage for all” is their slogan. But marriage has always been open to all. A homosexual man has the same legal right as a heterosexual man to enter into a marriage—which, over the centuries, has always been understood to mean a union between a man and a woman. The government does not ask prospective spouses to demonstrate that they are sexually attracted to each other before issuing a marriage license. The state only observes what is obvious—the gender of the two partners—before determining that a legal marriage is possible.

The real debate, in France and elsewhere, has never been about whether everyone should have the right to marry. The important debate has always been about what marriage is. Words have meanings. The French, of all peoples, understand that...

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Day

First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony at the proper time.  For this I was appointed preacher and apostle (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying), teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.--1 Timothy 2:1-8
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.  Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.  Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God.  Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king.--1 Peter 2:11-17
They sent some Pharisees and Herodians to him to ensnare him in his speech.  They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?”  Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.”  They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.”  So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him.--Mark 12:13-17
God bless the President of the United States, his family, and all his administration.

Men, Women, and The Couple That Prays (Ritually) Together

An interesting point.  Excerpts:
...We women, who buy and read nearly all of the popular Catholic Marriage books sold in this country, frequently read about the importance of Husbands and Wives Praying Together. And we’re told that family rosary with all the kids kneeling or slumping around the living room does not count. We’re talking about a special, quiet, set-aside time with you, your spouse, and God, where the two of you join hands and offer your spontaneous and heart-felt praise, thanks, and petitions. Out loud. Together. Well, together but taking turns.

Are there more than 100 Catholic male, non-Steubenville graduates * in this country who enthusiastically go along with such a program? (not just tolerate it out of love for their wives, but really enjoy it?) I’d be surprised.

This type of intimate, spousal prayer might sound beautiful to women. But to most guys–good, devout guys–not so much. It requires seat-of-the-pants verbal skills that many of them do not have. Not to mention a willingness to, at times, express emotions that are hard for a guy to discuss with his wife in an ordinary conversation, let alone talk to God about with his wife listening in. It’s one more example of a woman finding it therapeutic to talk about her problems, and the man finding the same activity to be close to torture.

So wives who want to persuade their husbands to pray with them, but find them recalcitrant, would be well-advised to drop the hand-holding, spill- your- guts- to -God- together idea, and go for something that is more realistic. That is, utilizing the type of prayer that the Catholic tradition excels at. Namely, reciting formal prayers that were written by someone else! Or I should say, reciting formal prayers while investing them with your own will, intentions, feelings, etc...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chesterton on Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, and Democracy

From Dale Ahlquist.  Excerpts:
...Have you seen Les Misérables yet? You probably don’t know that in 1902, G.K. Chesterton wrote an essay on a nearly-forgotten writer named Victor Hugo, predicting that he would become very popular again. Chesterton wrote,

“…Hugo is a vague and remote figure, a doubtful and little discussed author. Yet he was, beyond question, one of the greatest men of letters that Europe has seen, and the day of his return into intellectual triumph is remote indeed, but certain.”

“Every one of his great novels was in itself a small French Revolution. In Notre Dame de Paris he revealed to the modern world all the beauties and terrors of the old medieval order, and showed how pitilessly the individual was sacrificed to such an order. In Les Misérables he showed, with a far more sensational illumination, how our own modern order of law and judgment and criminal procedure was, as far as the sacrifice of individuals was concerned, as cruel as any medieval order. In Ninety-Three he showed that such a sacrifice of individuals became necessary, and in a strange, bitter manner, attractive, even in the modern age...”
For the whole essay, follow the link at the top of the page..

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On When You're Actually, You Know, Suffering

Jennifer Fulwiler offers hope to modern mothers (and the rest of us.)  Excerpts:
...December was a hard month. I couldn’t seem to stay on top of anything, and my inability to deal with life seemed to get worse by the week. Three days before Christmas I cleared off an entire evening to wrap presents, and quickly became so angry and overwhelmed that I went to bed in disgust instead. I felt like I barely survived the chaos of Christmas day, and in the week before New Year’s Eve I hardly lifted a finger around the house. I was unmotivated to do anything. I began backing out of social events, and felt exhausted by even the simplest tasks around the house.

I was aware of my abysmal state, and knew what the problem was: I’m lazy. And kind of a whiner. Not to mention not being fully dedicated to my vocation, and unwilling to carry my (small) crosses. Christ asks a few simple things of me, and even gives me this lavish, first-world life surrounded by luxuries, and I let a little pregnancy fatigue keep me from getting the job done! If only I were more open to God’s grace, I’d be able to unload the dishwasher without feeling like it was such a big deal.

I’m ungrateful.

I’m spoiled.

I’m lazy.

These are the thoughts that were going through my head for the better part of a month. And so when the doctor at the Emergency Room sat me down and told me that my lungs were full of blood clots, some of them large, and that he was astounded that I’d been able to function at all, I almost cried with relief. To be completely honest, I was more relieved than I was scared. I know the facts about pulmonary embolisms and know how dangerous they are. Later, I did experience worry and fear. But first, relief.

There is truth to the accusations that I’m ungrateful, spoiled, and lazy. No false humility here — I really do posses all those attributes to some degree or another. But it was simply not true to say that those faults alone were the cause of my suffering. I was struggling against a terribly difficult physical condition, and my body was running in the red zone for all of my waking hours. In those weeks when I was unaware of the reality of my situation, I worked under the incorrect assumption that my circumstances were normal, and that therefore the problems must come down to spiritual and mental character defects on my part. Not surprisingly, this caused me to be in a state of constant inner turmoil. In fact, it was reminiscent of the buried angst that simmered silently within me when I was an atheist: whenever you live under false assumptions about reality, you will live in anguish. It may be buried and only pop up occasionally, or it may burst to the surface in explosions of acute despair, but whenever you try to jam a square peg of your perception of reality into the round hole of actual reality, there will always be friction.

And you know why I bring this up? Because I think I’m not the only one who could benefit from an outlook-shattering diagnosis.

Once I felt like I had permission to admit that one area of my life was legitimately hard, I began to look at other areas as well. And in the process I’ve been reminded of something I’d known for a while, but had slowly forgotten: that 21st-century motherhood is really hard, whether or not you have clots in your lungs...

Friday, January 18, 2013

Born This Way?

"The world's not just dark—it's absurd. It's not as it was meant to be."--Dean Koontz

Valjean, Javert, and Modern America

An interesting post from Leah Libresco.  Excerpts:
...For the condemned in our prisons, there is no guarantee of a kindly bishop or an operatic epiphany. Released prisoners face the same kind of discrimination suffered by Valjean, with similarly tragic consequences.

Across the country, grassroots activists have urged state and local governments to pass “Ban the Box” legislation. These bills would prevent public-sector employers from asking job candidates to indicate if they have a criminal history in their initial application. This legislation doesn’t blindside employers; a criminal conviction will still turn up in a background check made, once the employer has decided to make a conditional offer of employment.

What Ban the Box bills do is keep criminal histories from being an immediate disqualification from a job. If former prisoners cannot reenter the workforce on release, they are likely to turn back to criminal activities. Too many former prisoners share Valjean’s experience of being turned away from honest work because of stigma or stagnation of skills behind bars. Training and welcoming former prisoners makes us safer by lowering the risk of recidivism. But, too often, we ignore pragmatic concerns in favor of the self-righteousness of Javert, the police inspector who cannot forgive or acknowledge a prisoner as his equal.

When Jean Valjean appears for the first time in the stage musical Les Misérables, he is in the process of being paroled, and he is in an argument with his former jailer. When Inspector Javert barks out “You are a thief,” Valjean replies, “I stole a loaf of bread.” For Valjean, his crime is an action in the past, regretted and repented. From Javert’s point of view, the crime isn’t something Valjean did; it’s something he is, now and forever.

Our criminal justice system frequently takes the same view. Over five million citizens are denied the right to vote because they have committed a felony. Disenfranchisement is not akin to parole check-ins or other prudent defenses against recidivism. It is a denial of the former prisoner’s membership in the body politic.

When a prisoner’s sentence is finished, the debt between him and society is settled. The time served made restitution for the crime committed, so now the criminal justice system must reintegrate him into full participation in society. If prison does not prepare prisoners to become full, happy, healthy citizens, we have not held up our end of the bargain. The social contract and the bounds of civil society demand this much of us...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Will Be Like God: The Meaning of Life

We are called to deification, to be sons in the Son. Excerpts:
The story of the Fall of our race as it comes to us in Genesis is marked by the ironic promise made by the serpent to Eve: "When you eat of [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God" (Gen. 3:5).  Just as the devil would later tempt Christ, the Second Adam, with a distorted view of his divine sonship ("If you are the Son of God," Mt 4:3), so he beguiles Eve with a distorted account of God's purpose ("If you eat, you will be like God").  There is a certain truth lodged in the serpent's words.  It was indeed the purpose of God that the human race become like God.  This is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.  In this respect the devil's seduction was especially effective.  He dressed up the path to disobedience with a promise that represented God's true purpose for our race.  But instead of attaining to likeness to God through obedience and fear of the Lord as we were intended to do, we set out on our own path to "become like God," imitating the disobedience of the devil, and reaping the fruit of death instead of partaking of the tree of life.--Daniel Keating, Deification and Grace, (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007), pg. 108.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Northwest March for Life

Hey, Washingtonians!
On Tuesday, January 22, 2013, the 35th annual March for Life and Rally will be held in Olympia at Noon...

Bring a friend, a church group, a civic or campus group. Carry a red rose, the symbol of the pro-life movement and the victims of abortion. You are encouraged to bring a sign identifying the area you come from or the group represented. We want to acknowledge your group and provide you with a program of the day’s events...

According to the terms of our permit, there can be no solicitations of any sort on the Campus. Please do not violate our permit...
There will be a Mass prior to the March. 9:30AM with Archbishop Peter Sartain @ Marcus Pavilion, St. Martin's University, Lacey, WA. (5000 Abbey Way SE, Lacey, WA 98503-7500)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Trillion Dollar Coin

I'm sorry, but is there a universe in which this sounds like a good idea?  Excerpts:
...the law inadvertently gave the Treasury secretary the power to mint, say, a $1 trillion coin, or even a $5 trillion coin, or even a $1 quadrillion coin.

Rather than selling it, he might deposit it at the Federal Reserve. Presto! The shiny new asset would erase a trillion dollars in debt liabilities. Then, the Treasury could carry out its spending — including disbursing Social Security checks and Medicare payments — without hitting the ceiling, a cap on total debt issuance that currently stands at about $16.4 trillion.

When Congress raised the ceiling again, the administration could then take the platinum coin and destroy it. With a token the size of a penny, the White House could head off another round of Congressional brinkmanship and another run at a fiscal cliff...

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which mocked up a fake trillion-dollar coin with President Obama’s face on it, noted the absurdity of the idea by saying that the amount of platinum it would take to mint a trillion-dollar coin would sink the Titanic.

(A technical point, but a relevant one: such a coin would not need to contain a trillion dollars’ worth of platinum.)...
This is one of those times when having a fiat currency seems like a really, really bad idea.  The whole suggestion sounds awfully like this, only without the whole hoax aspect.

Minimum Wage, Just Wage, and Social Justice

The Anchoress has some interesting reflections.  Excerpts:
...The issue of pay disparities between the CEO of any company and it’s “front end” employees is one of those fights I leave to others, like Moses; I am never sure if people are seriously suggesting there should be no difference, salary-wise, between them, or if they’re just trying to make a point. Morevoer that whole “at some point you’ve made enough money” argument is one I truly would be much more sympathetic to, if it were more broadly (and fairly) applied — meaning if it were a standard applied to athletes and artists and media-elites and not just to corporate “fat cats.” Because that sentiment is apparently not meant to be uniformly applied throughout the monied classes, I tend to doubt the sincerity of those who promulgate it.

All of that said, however, I don’t know how anyone can accept an idea that a man who has worked faithfully and industriously for 20 years, at any job, should still be making minimum wage...

To keep a loyal, well-trained and dependable employee at minimum wage — the same wage paid to unskilled workers newly hired — is pretty unconscionable. The job itself might not be “worth” $15 or $18 an hour, but the intangibles that such an employee brings to the job (dependability; knowledge of policy/procedure; demonstrated sense of responsibility; did I mention dependability) should be worth $12.50 an hour or so, shouldn’t it?

Last April, the HHS Mandate-rejecting Hobby Lobby store chain — citing its Christian sensibilities — voluntarily bumped up their minimum wage scale for their employees — $13 per hour for full-timers, and $9 for part-time. They’ve done that for the past four years.

In so doing, Hobby Lobby exhibits a tendency to broad-mindedness that goes missing within our minimum wage policies, and exposes a paradox inherent therein: by dictating what the minimum wage must be, we have trained business owners to a somewhat narrow, reactionary way of thinking. Prior to minimum wage laws, a smart employer knew that he could not keep good employees without paying them their worth. Once employers were told what they “must” pay, however, it created a baseline that mentally (and perhaps emotionally) narrowed, rather than broadened an employers sense of what wage was fair or deserved. In fact “fair” and “deserved” went out the window. If all a businessman (or woman) had to do was make sure a minimum wage was being paid, what did fairness or merit have to do with anything?

And that sort of thinking, born of the good-intentions of our own government — is how we get to the reality of a 20-year employee making $8.25 an hour, and having to live a pretty hardscrabble life.

This is unjust and dehumanizing; our minimum wage laws have helped corporations see employees less as skilled humans who might have more to bring to the table, but instead as units whose predictable, mandated wages sure make it easy to budget and finagle where they can...
She goes on to excerpt an essay which indicates some of the ironies and problems with the entire project of having a minimum wage. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sherlock Holmes, Life-Long Learning, and The Game is Afoot

I, of course, believe there are a ton of other very important things to learn from Holmes, but this is a good start!  Excerpts:
...Holmes doesn’t have to keep learning. How easy it would be to have his reputation do all the heavy lifting and let the same old tricks of the trade continue to, well, do the trick. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he chooses to take those cases that keep challenging him, that allow him, in his words, to seek “knowledge at the old university” of life.

And in that continuous quest for self-correction, in his never-flagging intellectual curiosity, Sherlock Holmes is set apart from everyone who lets the lure of complacency reel them into successful indolence—an indolence that will soon translate into the atrophying of the very creativity and drive that got them there to begin with. And that’s one lesson in Holmesian thought we would do well to remember, no matter how successful we ourselves might get.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pornography, Addiction, and the Libertarian Fallacy

An interesting set of important points.  Excerpts:
...The standard view is that people should be left to look at porn as much as they like, just as they should be left to buy guns, eat unhealthy foods, divorce and remarry eight times and make nothing of their talents: it’s a free country, after all.

But what is freedom? If you listen to the theologian and philosopher St Augustine, real freedom doesn’t mean the right to do anything whatsoever. It means being given access to everything that is necessary for a flourishing life – and, it follows, being protected from many of the things that ruin life.

Consider pornography. Part of the problem is that it’s extremely tempting to some people, as alcohol and crack cocaine are. Commentators who don’t investigate the issue much, who might once have had a peek inside Playboy or caught a preview of a naughty film on the television channel of a hotel rest too easy that there’s no problem. But there is. A largely unwitting alliance made up of Cisco, Dell Oracle ORCL -0.14% Microsoft MSFT +1.40% and thousands of pornographic providers have now found a way of exploiting a design flaw in the male gender. A brain originally designed to cope with nothing more tempting than an occasional glimpse of a tribesperson across the savannah is lost with what’s now on offer on the net at the click of a button: when confronted with offers to participate continuously in scenarios outstripping any that could be dreamt up by the diseased mind of the Marquis de Sade. There is nothing robust enough in our psychological make-up to compensate for developments in our technological capacities.

We are vulnerable to what we read and see. Things don’t just wash over us. We are passionate and for the most part unreasonable creatures buffeted by destructive hormones and desires, which means that we are never far from losing sight of our real long-term ambitions. Though this vulnerability may insult our self-image, the wrong pictures may indeed send us down a bad track. Contact with a particular kind of unhelpful video clip can play havoc with our ethical compasses. This doesn’t of course mean that we should cede all our freedoms to an arbitrary and tyrannical authority, but it does suggest that we could sometimes accept a theoretical limit to our freedom in certain contexts, for the sake of our own well-being and our capacity to flourish. In moments of lucidity, we should be able to appreciate for ourselves that untrammelled liberty can trap us, and that – when it comes to internet pornography – we could be doing ourselves an enormous favor if we took steps to limit what we consume.

It is perhaps only people who haven’t felt the full power of sex over their logical selves who can remain uncensorious and liberally “modern” on the subject. Philosophies of sexual liberation appeal mostly to people who don’t have anything too destructive or weird that that they wish to do once they have been liberated.

However, anyone who has experienced the power of sex in general and internet pornography in particular to reroute our priorities is unlikely to be so sanguine about liberty. Pornography, like alcohol and drugs, weakens our ability to endure the kinds of suffering that are necessary for us to direct our lives properly. In particular, it reduces our capacity to tolerate those two ambiguous goods, anxiety and boredom. Our anxious moods are genuine but confused signals that something is amiss, and so they need to be listened to and patiently interpreted – which is unlikely to happen when we have to hand one of the most powerful tools of distraction ever invented. The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, it is a deliverer of constant excitement which we have no innate capacity to resist, a system which leads us down paths many of which have nothing to do with our real needs. Furthermore, pornography weakens our tolerance for the kind of boredom which is vital to give our minds the space in which good ideas can emerge, the sort of creative boredom we experience in a bath or on a long train journey.

Only religions still take sex very seriously, in the sense of appreciating the power of sex to turn us away from our sincerely-held priorities. Only religions see sex as potentially dangerous and something we need to be guarded against. We may not sympathize with what religions would wish us to focus on instead of sex, we may not like the way they censor, but they do recognize that sexual images can indeed overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Les Miserables, the Bishop of Digne, and Holiness

What a bishop ought to be.  Excerpts:
...Thirty years earlier, Hugo had solidified his anticlerical credentials by crafting the repulsive, licentious Archdeacon Claude Frollo in "Notre Dame de Paris." It was time to try a new approach in "Les Misérables," so he rendered an ideal priest against whom clergy could measure their fidelity to tenderness and mercy. His expectation—as we know from the contemporaneous diary of his wife, Adele—was that corrupt priests would be shamed and indicted by comparison with a good one.

With Bienvenue, Hugo created a no-frills bishop who lived in a modest cottage, having surrendered his episcopal palace to the hospital next door. There were no locks on the doors; a simple push of the latch allowed entry.

The bishop subsisted on less than one-tenth of his state entitlements, with the remaining funds dispensed to provide for the release of fathers in debtors' prisons, meat for the soup of people in the hospital, and other unpopular charities. He had a sliding scale to officiate at marriages and preside at funerals. From the rich he exacted more, from the poor nothing at all.

Fearless, Bienvenue rode into territories overrun by bandits to visit his people. Without complaint, he assumed responsibilities that lazy curates chose not to. He agonized over the guillotine, and having accompanied a prisoner to his execution he was certain—as was Hugo himself—that anyone witnessing the death penalty would declare it a barbaric act unworthy of a civilized society.

The cleric in Hugo's novel was without the entourage nurtured by other bishops. There were no opportunistic seminarians eager to latch onto his coattails and ride into the corridors of power. It was clear to everyone that his star wasn't in ascendance. Bienvenue mused about seminaries that bred sycophants, where ambition was mistaken for vocation and upward mobility—from a modest biretta to a bishop's mitre to a pope's tiara—was the prized trajectory.

The greatest fear of young priest recruits, Hugo explains, was that merely associating with the virtuous Bienvenue could unwittingly cause one to convert to his lifestyle. It was widely known that virtue was contagious and no inoculation against it existed.

The trade-off for Bienvenue was that he was loved by his people. They had a bishop whose center of gravity was a compassionate God attuned to the sound of suffering, never repelled by deformities of body or soul, who occupied himself by dispensing balm and dressing wounds wherever he found them.

He found them in a town called Digne, a name conveniently derived from the Latin dignus, the root of the word we know in English as "dignity." Bishop Bienvenue conferred dignity with abandon on those whose dignity was robbed by others. He had an endless supply of his own to share and a lot of practice when Jean Valjean knocked on his door...


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