Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A "Cult of Well-Being"?

Are you following the Synod on the Family?  There was testimony from a Brazilian couple, Arturo and Hermelinda As Zambeline, at the Synod on October 9th.  They head up something called Our Lady's Team or the Equipe Notre-Dame Movement in Brazil.  They spoke about the role of sexuality in marriage, but they ended by calling on the bishops and priests to better educate the Catholic laity on contraception.  They said:
Holy Father, Synodal Fathers, ladies and gentlemen, if at least married couples found light and support with the clergy it would already be a great encouragement! Many times contradictory advice aggravates their confusion. We ask, the Magisterium to give the Fathers and faithful the great lines of a pastoral pedagogy, which helps to adopt and observe the principles agreed by Humanae Vitae.

Here is the text of their remarks.

In contrast to the Catholic view of marriage expressed in Arturo and Hermelinda's concern for "openness to life"  and the way in which marriage serves to "sanctify," here's another take on marriage from this human interest piece that was up on AOL the other day.  I read it against my better judgment and then spent way too much time wondering why I had bothered to read it, but it got a lot of comments. Families and marriages must be important to people.

To save you the possible misery of actually reading this piece, one Kama Shockey, a military wife, decided to move herself and her young daughter out of their remote location in southern California, where her often-deployed husband was posted, to go to Flagstaff, Arizona 400 miles away.  This was so she could be in a "thriving community" rather than be sad on post.  That I'm aware, this isn't such a highly unusual decision nor is it a particularly bad one. What struck me as weird was not the decision itself, but what this young wife and mother understood a family to be.

Kama talks about her family as if they're a casual affiliation of two adult people with separate lives running on different tracks. These two people are entitled to be happy, to "feel right."  These two adults happen to have a daughter who is also entitled to be happy.  Curiously, the daughter's path to happiness sounds an awful lot like her mother's path to happiness, despite what must be a significant age difference.   Kama fancies herself quite the post-modern, liberated and empowered woman, very wrapped up in her own feminine fulfillment.  She says:

I was teaching my daughter that no matter what her partner does in life, she can support him (or her) while also making her own goals, her own career, her own life a true priority. She will never be too old, too settled, too domestic to start over if what she's doing doesn't feel right. She was learning to define her own life, and realizing her mom isn't obligated to stay in a community of women whose only thing in common is the fact that their husbands were all gone at the same time.

Arturo and Hermelinda, our Brazilian Catholic couple testifying about marriage at the Synod on the Family, have been married for 41 years.  I hope Ben and Kama last even half that long, but I doubt it. Kama seems a bit too happy that Ben is sitting alone on his half of the matching furniture watching "bad DVDs" while she's doing what feels right. According to Kama, Ben knows this is all okay because he's a man.  Really. Hopefully, as a man, Ben will wake up soon enough to discover his unique role as provider, protector and male in the marriage.

I console myself with the possibility that Kama and Ben are not real people, that their tale is just a made-for-internet story.  But even if Kama and Ben aren't real, there are so many other married couples just like them who are: single women who labor under the illusion that they can raise a child alone, that their children don't need fathers; young couples who first have a baby, then move in together and then, maybe, marry "later;"  men whose manly roles in the family have been denigrated and shredded to the point of unrecognizable;  already-married couples whose commitment flags when they decide they're no longer "happy;" and those who view marriage not as mutual fulfillment with sacrifices but as individual fulfillment that's fun and easy.   Kama and Ben are, lamentably, poster children for the current state of marriage and the family.  They depict only too well what one of the Synod's cardinals has called the "momentary cult of well-being."  ( read  here and here).

I have to admire the likes of Arturo and Hermelinda as they and other couples testify at the Synod and articulate to the bishops and other assembled some of the specific ways in which Church teaching might help the laity to understand and talk to others about the truth of marriage and family so we might work to correct some of the distortions the culture imposes upon us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Be A Nice Catholic When It Comes To Homosexuality


The Church's on-going Synod on the Family had a recent testimony about including homosexual couples in (Catholic) family celebrations.  The testimony was given by a husband and wife pair, the Pirolas, who offered up the view that friends of theirs were doing a noble thing by welcoming their (the friends')  homosexual son and his partner to the family Christmas celebration.  In the Pirolas' words,  “What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighbourhood! It is a practical example of what the Instrumentum laboris [essentially the working papers] says concerning the Church’s teaching role and its main mission to let the world know of God’s love.”

In other words, say the Pirolas, take the love that God has for each of us with all our various flaws and mirror that love to others who, just like us,  have their own flaws. We'll be living our faith and evangelizing to the world!  The gay son and his partner won't be offended!  Everyone can have Christmas together without a showdown!

Besides their rather bold assertion concerning the "main mission" of the Church, the Pirolas have also unwittingly, or conveniently, homogenized the matter of God's love to solve the thorny problem of how the Catholic faithful should engage with matters of homosexuality. Their comment suggests that God's love is a simple matter, easy to understand, easy to communicate to others and easy to attain. The presumption in the Pirolas testimony is that God loves us no matter what --yes--but that he doesn't really expect us to conform to his ways.  Not exactly. For starters, one might recall that when Christ defended the adulterous woman against her detractors, he did also tell her to go and sin no more.  The Ten Commandments come to mind as well.

In rebuttal to the Pirolas sanguine conclusion about their friends' behavior,  Voice of the Family  (VOF) countered: “It is because we desire the eternal happiness of those we love that we need to support them to overcome temptation and to live chastely. This path is not easy, but nor is any cross that is the way of true mercy, love and new life.”  Voice of the Family mentions the damage done to all members of a family including young children when actions "normalise the disorder of homosexuality."

Voice of the Family rightly points out that the son's homosexual actions are a wrong according to the Church, a wrong in need of correction if a depth of love and caring are to be shown for the son.  VOF is right to note that there are those in a Catholic family who will see the acceptance of a homosexual partner at a family event as approval of that partnership and, by extension, see homosexual behavior as compatible with Church teaching, which it isn't.

I had hoped that one of the outcomes of the Synod would be guidance from our bishops and priests as to how faithful Catholics might engage the modern, secular culture on the matter of homosexuality. More specifically, I had hoped that the bishops would begin to fashion a way that the Catholic laity might deal honestly and openly with the matter of homosexuality in the family.  Like abortion, co-habitation, pre-marital sex and divorce, homosexuality is an issue in many families, Catholics no exception.

Though they set the stage nicely for laying out the dilemma of witnessing to Church teaching on homosexuality, neither the Pirolas or VOF provide much of an answer. The Pirolas demonstrate a healthy longing to spread Christian love, but they seem woefully unconcerned about simultaneously spreading a fractured if not false picture of the Church's teaching on homosexuality. In their zeal to spread the love, they have also fudged over the matter of witnessing to the truth. We are enjoined (in Matthew 18:12-17) to correct error as part of the loving care shown to others so that not even "one of these little ones should perish."

On the other hand, VOF telling the culture about the "disorders" of homosexuality will not only fall on deaf ears, it will fall on hostile, combative ears.  The very intent and focus of the activist homosexual community is to gain society's emotional and legal stamp-of-approval for homosexuality as a normal  and very "ordered" sexual behavior.  While VOF may understandably talk to fellow Catholics about the disorder of homosexuality, it will only sound like the punitive, authoritarian Church wanting to bring down fire and brimstone on evil homosexuals if  we talk to the secular culture in those terms.

How then to be loving and truthful, to point out error without arrogance. If, when discussing homosexuality,  the Church has as its primary focus to not offend the gay person in the family, to not offend the  secular culture and its mainstream media mouthpieces, then the Pirolas and the rest of us---I think of our own Cardinal Dolan here--might don our rose-colored glasses, host homosexual partners for Christmas, march in all manner of parades and even publicly yuk it up with the President of the United States whose aggressive policies threaten the religious freedom of Catholics.

If, however, the point is to get at the truth of human sexuality, including the purpose of being created male and female, while still able to engage the modern culture, we as Catholics will have to use a bit more ingenuity than even VOF who, though they speak the truth of the matter, speak it in language foreign to the secular culture we're trying to reach.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Catholic Parishes in NYC: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Michael Voris sounds off in this video about bad parish closings in the Archdiocese of New York and the bad Cardinal Dolan who's supposedly favoring bad liberal parishes to be kept open over good "traditional" parishes to be closed.  Michael makes it sound like a pretty bad and ugly scene in NYC.  He covers one potential parish closing that's created a certain amount of buzz among some of us, Church of the Holy Innocents in mid-town Manhattan, West side.  Here is an accounting by one blogger and another here.

I made a point of attending Candlemass at Holy Innocents a couple years ago, partly to attend a Candlemass service, but also to take in the restored Brumidi mural.  The Mass was beautiful, reverent and packed, but the church itself, exterior and interior,apart from the Brumidi mural, emodies the gritty, busy, dirty neighborhood where it's located.  Never a neighborhood where I'd choose to linger, I felt the same about the church sanctuary.

One visit for Candlemass doesn't mean much of course,and the church may just be in need of some tender, loving care.  It is the case that Holy Innocents is now under the direction of the good Fr. Rutler and it does appear that he was rather unceremoniously decamped to St. Michael's all the way west from Church of Our Saviour where he left behind a renewed spiritual life, aesthetic revitalizations along with many saddened parishioners.  All this accurately noted by Voris.

One of the things Michael Voris isn't accurate about and never fully explains is the Archdiocese-wide, Making All Things New initiative. Voris only mentions a "ten-year gallop" of closing parishes, a "massive contraction" in the diocese with a "hit list" where the litmus test for survival is how traditional the parish is, and if it's traditional, it goes on the chopping block. On one side is the good Holy Innocents, good Our Saviour and good St. Michael's among Voris's "thriving community" parishes list as opposed to the bad St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street (gay-friendly) and the deplorable Church of St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street (gay-friendly).  Michael Voris's analysis spirals ever-downward with doom, gloom and dire warnings.  Michael, why so much nay-saying with most of it not fully explained?

There's no mystery about Making All Things New.  It was previewed for us back in 2010 by then-bishop Dolan and he made very clear what would be happening to some of the 400 parishes in the diocese. They would be merged with others creating clusters and some will be closed.  There's a wealth of information on the initiative on the archdiocese website and it's reported on frequently in parish bulletins and Catholic media. My local parish regularly informs of the meetings, reports and progress of the initiative and most everyone is quite aware of the new clusters being formed, including the saddened parishioners at Our Saviour who, yes, do feel deprived of their pastor and in some sense their church.

Closer to home, in my own neighborhood, St. Brigid's was scheduled for destruction back in 2001.   Its closure had nothing to do with being either Voris's good or bad, though maybe it was ugly in the sense that it was literally falling down.  Located all the way over on Avenue B, St. Brigid's is as close to being as far east as you can get without being in Brooklyn and it's demise would have held little interest for anyone except its faithful parishioners. As one of them commented:  “I kept thinking: If we lived on Park Avenue or Madison Avenue, they would not be treating us like this.”  I don't think Michael Voris would have cared much about St. Brigid's either.  There was no way to spice up a plain old parish closing due to a decaying physical plant with no money to restore it located in a neighborhood over-run with non-church going college students, youthful out-of-town transplants and curious tourists who probably don't even know the church exists.

However, St. Brigid's survives today (with the inclusion of St. Emeric's) and is now in my "cluster" for a rather simple reason--$20 million from an anonymous donor.

Maybe a like-minded guardian angel will emerge for the Church of the Holy Innocents. And while the guardian angel is at it, maybe he or she can save all the other parishes in financial difficulty in the diocese, not to mention tossing a billion or so to help out a decaying urban Northeast center, New York City itself.  It's the stuff of a good mystery story to believe, as Michael Voris suggests, that the diocese is cash-strapped because it colluded with the devil to create a diocese filled with gay parishes.  The Archdiocese of New York is closing schools and churches, dealing with homosexual parishes, fighting the liberal vs. traditional battle and generally having to "make all things new" in much the same way that many dioceses across the country are doing I would think.
Where is our guardian angel?  Sir or madam, please bring us several million dollars and several hundred thousand faithful Catholics who have lots of children, love traditional Catholicism and want to live in New York City and keep its parishes alive.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Millenials Are A Mess

I saw an article entitled Why The Millenials Are Doing So Poorly and figured I should find out just how badly my kids are doing.  The article features a photo of a kid in a dunce cap.

Just so we know who we're talking about, according to the Pew Research Center, Millenials are those born 1981 to the present.  The Baby Boomers are defined by the years 1946-1964 and the Gen X-ers  are those born between 1965 and 1980. (Millenials are sometimes split into Generation Y born between 1975 - 1992 and Generation Z born between 1993 and present.)  Finally, the Silent Generation is the 1928-1945 group.

The results of a Pew Research Center Study are at least part of the reason that Mark Bauerlein from Emory University, the author of the article, is in abject despair about this age group who he essentially trashes in this article.  I read the Pew Research article he refers to and I even took the Pew Research Quiz to find out how "millenial" I am and I couldn't agree less with Bauerlein.  He's writing on Minding The Campus, a website whose focus I share (or thought I did), but, frankly, an academic is an academic. Nobody is ever okay except them.

A quick Wikipedia check of Bauerlein reveals him to be a convert to Catholicism and a liberal or libertarian on social and political issues.  He wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation.  He sounds a lot like Michelle Obama on The Tonight Show talking about knuckleheads.

Bauerlein notes that Millenials tend to vote as Democrats, give Obama a fairly high approval rating, lean favorably toward activist government.  But on the "quickie"quiz, Millenials identify as politically conservative in roughly the same proportion as the other age groups.

Bauerlein writes that Millenials "judge politics by how it affects them, and we see that personal-only perspective in their social focus."  While it is the case that a high percentage of Millenials have some sort of "social networking profile," it is also the case that a lot of people must be on electronic devices a lot of the time;  I text as much as a Millenial, I play video games as much as  Millenial (oh dear), read a daily paper as much as a Millenial (rarely if ever) and watch TV as much as a Millenial (rarely if ever).

A defining characteristic of Millenials according to Pew Research studies is disaffiliation.  Millenials "are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics."  I find that to be anecdotally true among the Millenials I know including my own kids.  I don't think that's necessarily a bad trait.  Yes, it could reflect apathy or malaise but it may also reflect a healthy skepticism of the lines that have been drawn in the sand for the Millenials by their predecessors.

Millenials didn't come from nowhere.  They're  inheritors of a popular culture and a set of values that they didn't create or even help to evolve as did many of us Boomers, whose children the Millenials are.    Heaping criticism and disdain on them as Bauerlein does is mis-placed, uncharitable. Low marriage rates among Millenials, low levels of social trust, skepticism that God exists, where did it all come from? We have the opportunity to influence, mentor and educate this group. And the responsibility.  Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory, must cross paths with hundreds of students a year.   As Catholics, if that applies, and it apparently does to Bauerlein, we're called to evangelize the culture.

Get out there and get to work, man, and stop crying in your beer with grumpy articles like this one.




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is Meriam Ibrahim A Modern-Day Perpetua or Felicity?

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is the Sudanese woman sentenced to death in her native country of Sudan for having married a Christian.  Though Meriam professes Christianity, the government claims that because her father was Muslim, Meriam is a Muslim and therefore she's violated the (Muslim) faith by marrying a Christian.   The account of her husband, Daniel Wani, is, meanwhile, a bit confusing.  Apparently a Sudanese, he's variously described as being a U.S. citizen, a lawyer, living in the United States and here it states he's in a wheelchair and dependent on Meriam for everything.

Viewed from a Western, 21st century perspective, the story is hard to believe, bordering on the unimaginable especially when one considers that Meriam was sent to prison for her so-called crime of apostasy while 8 months pregnant, is in prison with her 20-month old son, is to be given 100 lashes and put to death by hanging.  Is it the 21st century or the 11th, 2014 or 1014?  Or is it perhaps 203 A.D.

The Future Victims of the Colosseum
Henryk Siemiradzki
That's the year Roman Emperor Septimius Severus ordered a group of Christians fed to wild beasts if they would not denounce their Christian faith.  Among them was Vivia Perpetua, then 22 with an infant son (Meriam is 27 with a young son), along with a slave, Felicity, who was pregnant when imprisoned and gave birth to a daughter in prison (as did Meriam).  Perpetua and Felicity, both young mothers, steadfastly professed their faith though gored and bloody. That they endured this most horrific of deaths in a Carthaginian amphitheater is a painful reminder of their astonishing courage and faith. Such martyrdom may or may not be in store for Meriam and I don't know that she's a Catholic, but regardless hers is a modern-day tale suggesting that the Christian persecution and heroism of darker times cannot be relegated to the ash heap of history.

The story of Perpetua and Felicity is easily accessible, but I read a particularly thoughtful account in a little book called Married Saints by John Fink.  You may find more here and perhaps here where you might also take a look at the author's book.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day



This is President Reagan's 1984 speech in Normandy commemorating D-Day; in the audience, surviving Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs. (It's said that the Ranger motto can be traced to one General Cota on D-Day.)  Note the Stephen Spender poem referenced by Reagan which is quite beautiful.

The Truly Great

By Stephen Spender 1909–1995 Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
Share this text ...?


In contrast, there's President' Obama's speech of today.  Obama has difficulty evoking  those "who in their lives fought for life, Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre."  Actually, by unfortunate and clumsy contrast, Obama's words make up "the traffic to smother With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit."  


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peter Salins, You Forgot The Real Magic Bullet

An argument is made in this article for universal preK as a way to address the country's education deficits particularly in the lower socioeconomic classes.  The author, Peter Salins, starts off by acknowledging that most attempts at pre-K programs, such as Head Start, have been failures and he points out why, namely, they were little more than daycare programs.

Salins explains that if these programs were content-rich, taught by qualified professionals and, if they were more fully integrated into the nation's education system, they could successfully provide the "cultural literacy" that is necessary for getting kids started on the right educational footing.  In fact, Salins suggests that we "scale up" preschool through the public education system so that all children can take advantage of it. In order for the effects of the pre-school to be lasting "we must fully incorporate preschool within the regular district educational system [italics his]. Under this rubric, school districts would extend their educational ladder by two years below kindergarten, creating an integrated pre-K-to-grade-12 curricular program -- accessible, without extra charge, to all local schoolchildren."  This sounds logical enough until one realizes that Mr. Salins, who himself is smart enough to have written a book about being smart, Smart Society, has overlooked the real magic bullet, the family.

Throughout history, being poor or coming from a lower socioeconomic bracket has not generally been an impediment to being smart.  Some of us need only think of our depression-era parents, my own for starters. My father was one of five children born to Italian immigrants, both mother and father largely illiterate with no English spoken in the home.  My father's mother died when he was 12 and his father was a man of erratic behavior and work habits. The family was held together by an older sister who became mother and homemaker as best she could.  She encouraged my father, a feckless student until his high school years, to go to college. He went on to enjoy a very successful career as a civil engineer.  One sister was a nurse, another a secretary.  In Salins' quick-fix world, my father and his sisters would have been in universal pre-K under the tutelage of some highly trained professional (in a bilingual program no doubt).  But they did fine without someone feeding them their ABCs in a high-powered cultural literacy classroom.  In its place, they had the family. 

My father's sister, my aunt, kept the family together  not because she cared whether her siblings would be smart, but because she placed value on home and family life. She knew instinctively that keeping her siblings close at hand was the best way to ensure continuity and security in their lives, an environment that would in turn give them the foundation to function confidently outside the family. Besides, if she didn't care for her own, who would?  

Salins himself acknowledges that the family is where it all starts. Though his article makes only one reference to families and one to single mothers,  he says that disadvantaged children come from families "unable to provide the cognitive stimulation" necessary to launch them on a solid educational path.  Salins has identified the problem, broken and disabled families, but, somewhat perversely, he has come up with a remedy that treats another problem--fixing government pre-K programs.  In so doing he leads us into a fine Catch-22 of treating the symptoms while leaving the root cause untouched, thereby giving rise to the same symptoms all over again.  Instead of again putting band-aids on pre-K programs, why not work on building up the family since the success of the former admittedly depends on the health of the latter?

If it were possible to develop a productive, educated society by having every government-run school district pour knowledge into the heads of three year-olds, Salins' enthusiasm for universal pre K might make sense. But the toddlers he's talking about are human beings who in addition to some cognitive literacy need stable homes with mothers and fathers who are their first teachers, their first defenders and their champions. Before young children can sit in a classroom, they need to develop an awareness of who they are, where they fit in, they need to learn social skills and self-control.

Salins will never find enough teachers no matter how highly trained to do all this. It's not the job of a pre-K teacher or any classroom teacher to provide what only the family is uniquely created for. Families don't have to be perfect to be effective and parents don't need to be as rich as Rockefeller or as smart as Einstein to fulfill their role.  They don't even need to be the greatest parents.  They just need to know how important they are to the development of their children.  

How do we change the culture of family life in our soceity?  Consider the fact that the average six-year old can rattle off the earth's endangered species and deems it a crime to hurt the rain forest, that the average teenager knows not to smoke, drink or use drugs, but, yes, to use a condom, that the average citizen knows that smoking is evil and getting fat is worse. Suppose as a society we cared as much about our mothers and fathers and children as we do about which elephant is nearing extinction, or whether a 16 ounce drink is healthy.  Start educating teenagers about the advantages of being married before having children. Let teen age girls and young women know that one route to poverty can be through single motherhood, that if you want to avoid that pitfall, practice chastity and get a high school degree.  Educate young men about the importance of fatherhood, of being a man and the rewards that go with the role of provider and protector.  Instruct young people that marriage is among the best protections against poverty, that stable homes produce the highest index of wealth.  Support churches and civic groups that work to build up and counsel healthy marriages and healthy families.  Re-examine divorce laws and structure the tax code in such ways that reward stable marriages and intact families.

Our society's magic bullet is not government-run education, but our human treasure in the form of our children and their parents.  The family, reasonably healthy, reasonably intact, but fully supported and strengthened by the society as a whole will do the work that no policy expert or expert teacher can come close to doing.