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Damning Suffering

Why is it that redemptive suffering is so very unnatural? Why is it that suffering, instead of causing us to be more open and sympathetic to others, instead seems to crush love and understanding before it can take root? Why is it that suffering seems to push us over the edge to hell?

I noted this a long time ago with my physical suffering. Aside from a grand total of one time in which it was mystically good, my physical suffering serves to quench this already smoldering wick. When I am in pain I can’t participate in liturgy, I don’t have enough energy to see the pain in others, and I care nothing for any supposed virtue associate with fasting. Pain is a spiritual hazard as much as it is a blessing.

I observe this same phenomena when it comes to emotional pain. For instance, I would think that people who have unfulfilled longings of spouses or children would have incredible empathy for homosexuals or women with “vocations of the unacceptable sort.” Based on the transformative and purifying nature of suffering, I would expect that those struggling with their own incomplete vocation would be beating down Rome’s door decrying the evil bias which prevents chaste homosexual men from ever being priests, no matter how perfect their lives.

But that isn’t the case. It seems the more one should understand, the more one is actually carried away by thinking that one’s own pain is the worst thing in the world.

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand my own life and I really, really don’t understand it when I see seemingly pious Christians who are so consumed with themselves that they shrivel up into themselves rather than giving themselves to those whose suffering they could alleviate, if only they could see beyond their little painful world.

Lord have mercy, for we have sinned against you.

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Why I Won’t Vote for Newt Gingrich

I am Catholic. That fact influences the way that I vote.

I don’t know anything about Newt Gingrich’s current political stances or plans and I do realize that they may bear little relation to what he has done in the past. But I do know that I can’t vote for Newt Gingrich.

You see, Newt Gingrich became Catholic. I believe that he has a real, valid, sacramental marriage. I also believe that it is a sin to contribute to someone else jumping into inevitable the near occasion of sin.

GINGRICH: There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them.

I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness. Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there’s a forgiving God.

Somebody once said that when we’re young, we seek justice, but as we get older, we seek mercy. There’s something to that, I think. I feel that I’m now 67 I’m a grandfather. I have two wonderful grandchildren. I have two wonderful daughters and two great sons in law.

Callista and I have a great marriage. I think that I’ve learned an immense amount. And I do feel, in that sense, that God has given me, has blessed me with an opportunity as a person. Forget about all this political stuff. As a person, I’ve had the opportunity to have a wonderful life, to find myself now, truly enjoying the depths of my life in ways that I never dreamed it was possible to have a life that was that nice.

And so it doesn’t matter to me what Newt’s current political views are, or what he has said or done in the past politically. What matters is that, in his own view, political power makes him especially vulnerable to marital infidelity. And, also in his own view, he currently has a marriage that is worth far more than any political stuff.

Because I seek to take Newt Gingrich at his own words, I will not vote for him. It does not matter if he would be the best president ever. It is simply not okay for a Catholic who values marriage to contribute to the downfall of another’s marriage.

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Mother’s Day Fun

Before mass started the priest approached us and started talking to Josh about whether he was still doing the sort of work where he could live anywhere, and whether it was really my job that was keeping us from moving back to the area. He then told Josh that Josh was failing in his role [as financial provider] since we were geographically constrained by my job.

I interjected that I would much rather work than be at home doing nothing. The priest responded that I should have children and stay home with them. I replied that God is in control of that. The priest agreed and then suggested that I should spend more time shopping to keep busy, and Josh could spend more time working.

After mass the deacon was handing out blessed flowers to the mothers. As I walked by without taking one the priest questioned the fact that I did not have a flower. I responded that I do not have any children. The deacon confidently added “yet” and the priest countered that I was a wife. I continued walking as this conversation took place and left the church without a flower.

In the car I told Josh that while the priest’s gesture would have been perfectly pastoral for some women struggling with Mother’s Day jealousy, I really, really don’t think that the nurturing associated with being a wife is the same as being a mother! And I wonder what he would have told a single woman? “Oh, but you take care of your pets/houseplants!”

Back at Josh’s parents house I informed his mother that I am a failure in my role as a wife because I don’t know how to fill my time with shopping. She said that the priest was clearly giving advice based on what he sees, and that it works well for many of the couples around here.

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Confession: Thanks, But I’d Rather Blame the Priests

I have often seen people (especially priests) lament the fact that Catholics “don’t go to reconciliation” and that the lines for communion are long while the lines for confession are short. The implication is that nothing has changed with the priests, but that since Vatican II–the bishops–changed everything, the laity now feel free to ignore the sacrament of penance and go for years without reconciliation.

Perhaps that is true, but even if it is, the solution must be as much the work of the priests as the laity whom they insist should be more frequent penitents.

I once waited in line for almost 3 hours for a chance to confess at a penance service. It is typical for the local priests in small New England towns to help each other out by coming to each other’s parishes for penance services, but apparently not enough were willing to come this evening. There were at least five priests there, but presumably either the pastor did not think it worth risking a low turn-out and “wasting” his brother priests’ evenings by having them drive half an hour to hear 5 confessions, or else not enough priests were willing to respond to the request and show up for a penance service at a parish that was entirely out of their official responsibility. In any case though, anyone who had hired a baby sitter for the evening, or was sick, or had other good reasons to limit their time either had to get one of the first few spots in line, or else was unable to confess that evening.

There have been many more times when I would show up at 3:05 when confessions were scheduled from 3-4pm on Saturdays, only to find the line so long that after waiting for almost an hour the priest would have to apologize and leave to celebrate mass, while several people still waited for confessions–many of whom were presumably looking forward to receiving the Eucharist, but would now have to wait another week. Did you read that sentence? Look at it and imagine confession lines 10 times longer and twice as rambling, and you’ll have the right idea.

Yesterday I arrived at church just as confessions were scheduled to start. There were already 5 people in line in front of me. A few minutes later there were two more people behind me, and another man who had walked out after he realized how long this would take. The pastor walked by with decorations in his hands. He saw the situation, went to the back of the church and got the priest who was supposed to be hearing confessions. I hoped that the pastor would pull up a chair the way did sometimes during Advent and Lent, and hear a few confessions. But he left without ever saying a word.

By the time I walked into the confessional at least 6 people had left the line  without having their confessions heard. Based on the number that were in line behind me, and how soon mass started, I suspect that at least 10 more were turned away without their confessions being heard.

I have no idea what the pastor was doing that day. I have no idea what the other priests in residence at the parish were doing. I have no idea whether the priest hearing confessions was caught up in something supremely important and really could not have come sooner.

All I know is that somewhere along the way, perhaps starting with the archbishop himself, many pastoral decisions were made. And these pastoral decisions made it so that many people approached confession, but had to leave without receiving the sacrament.

The pastor and priest hearing confessions are not young men. Undoubtedly they have been through a lot and are rightly jaded. They know that balance is important, and that God isn’t actually going to condemn anyone to hell for not being able to confess due to long lines. But I sincerely wished that a younger, rosy-eyed priest with visions of sainthood had been there in order to at least volunteer to return to the stuffy confessional after mass and hear the remaining confessions for anyone who could stay.

The truth is that sometimes the lines for confession are as long as the lines for communion, and it is a lot more work for priests.

People don’t just fail to go to confession because they don’t value it. The truth is that many of us value confession exactly as much as priests do, and that balanced value of confession means that we are willing to put in the equivalent amount of work. In my mind, an hour once a week for a priest (you know, the uber-religious person whose actual job is showing up to run church-stuff) is pretty much the equivalent of 20 minutes every 5 years for a lay person (you know, the person whose job is something other than religious stuff) when it comes to confession.

Yes, there are many priests out there who place great value on the sacrament of confession. But there are also many who don’t think that it is worth sitting around in an empty confessional for hours a month just to catch a few more souls that can’t make it to the standard confession times.

The lines for confession may be “short” but in my experience the lines of faithful priests willing to hear confessions are often disproportionately shorter.

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Fasting and Fertility

First of all, yes this is serious, and no, this isn’t about abstaining from sex, it is about fasting from food. And I’m not talking about fertility signs that one must chart in order recognize, though obviously those are great to consider too, if you’re the charting sort. Secondly, part of me thinks that no one will respond, but do remember that anonymous comments are fine. You can even call yourself things like NotASAint to make up for publicly admitting to penitential practice, okay?

Please talk to me about fasting and fertility.

It only recently occurred to me that it makes sense for fasting to impact a woman’s fertility cycle. Obviously if one is experiencing a shock of not eating meat and dairy and/or dramatically reducing calories, one’s body is likely to respond in many ways, among them going into starvation mode and delaying ovulation.

I don’t think that I shock my body enough or reduce calories enough to have fasting impact my fertility directly (at least not these days, and I didn’t pay such close attention back in the day when I fasted more). But one way that it might impact me is stress. Required fasting is incredibly stressful for me. I continually have to figure out what is appropriate in order to both be penitential and still do all of the things that I need to, and I am not yet adept at balancing different needs for food and fasting in one kitchen.

Fasting is so much easier for me outside of Lent, because there are basically no rules. Even though there are times when I eat far less than what is allowed/suggested for Lenten days, it is easier. At times it can be stressful to try to figure out what is most appropriate for me on any given day, it is at least less stressful than having the whole YOUMUSTFASTTODAYORELSEYOUAREINDANGEROFMORTALSIN thing hanging over my head. Seriously, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fill my heart with dread and my mind with stress.

And my body shuts down. Then I am somehow shocked by the fact that it magically starts back up again once we return to feasting and leave our fasting far, far behind.

Of course that is just my best recent guess of how things play out in my body. I don’t actually know which factors of fasting impact fertility, and whether it is that direct. But there does seem to be something there, and I am really very interested in what others have noticed in this area.

I don’t care if you’re male or female and speaking from personal experience or random abstract hypothesizing. Just tell me what you know about fasting and fertility!

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Is there ever a medical reason for using the Birth Control Pill?

One of the troubling things about Catholic discussions of appropriate therapeutic use of “the pill” is that most people who are black-and-white assertive types don’t actually know what they are talking about, and the experts who do know what they are talking about confuse people. For instance, what is your first thought when reading this Catholic expert answer?

Q:  Is there ever a medical reason for using the Birth Control Pill? There is always an alternative which may uncover the problem which caused the gynecologic disorder for which the pill was prescribed. There is always a reason why women don’t ovulate normally, have intermenstrual bleeding, have pain or infertility. To prescribe the pill for these symptoms may delay or prevent a diagnosis. Source.

Do you see what that actually says? You might think that it is a very long drawn out “no” but that isn’t what it says. What it basically says is that prior to going on the pill there is always an option for diagnosing the actual source of the issue. Going on the pill without investigating the issue might mean risking a lack of correct diagnosis.

But this says nothing about whether there will be non-pill remedies once a diagnosis is made, or whether the diagnosis will be helpful for anything other than having a nice name for one’s symptoms.

The real answer is that yes, there are sometimes medical reasons for using the pill, and even NFP only doctors will prescribe it for therapeutic reasons. One can hope that they will first do a good job of making a correct diagnosis and then exhausting other options for treatment, but sometimes the same hormones that are used for contraception can also be used to eliminate pain and preserve fertility.

It is confusing and troubling to some, but it is also reality. And it is probably better to simply not address the subject if one is unable to address it fairly.

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On Humor. Online.

First of all, humorless fellows, begone! This post is intended to be like the best posts online: written for an appropriately cheering choir. And if you dare to mock me at all I will be unalterably offended. Even though I’m purposely using words like “unalterably” in order to tease you into mocking me. I probably should have used “inexplicably” instead.

Alright, now that they’re gone, I want to have a very clear, straightforward discussion with the two of you that are left. And by straightforward I mean that there will be absolutely no pictures included since images are confusing. Here are the basic facts to keep in mind about humor. Especially online.

Humor should never be used online. The only exception to this is when you’re emailing a friend who knows you well and you have room for 10-paragraph disclaimers explaining your joke before, during, and after the joke. As my professor of amusement in seminary told me: tell them what’s going to be funny, tell them the funny thing, and then tell them what you just told them was funny. Of course that could just been a speech book that I read once, but the point still holds. There is only one  acceptable way to use humor, and that is the way in which it is so carefully explained that no one will find it enjoyable in the way that evil humor is.

Remember that there is a reason that both the “choleric” and “melancholic” are referred to as “humors.” Humor isn’t funny. Making people approach things in anything other than a directly didactic manor is not a laughing matter. We should all take our work online SERIOUSLY the way that God and Saint Josemaría intend us to.  Everything that you say online must be carefully calculated to have the most serious, salubrious effect. It does not matter if the result is both soporific and sanctimonious as long as it is salvific. Now chant that five times fast and I’ll guarantee that you’ll be holier.

The reason that you must never for a moment slip into humor is that anyone may read what you say out of context, and that may damn their eternal soul, for which you will be soul-ly responsible. It does not matter how clear you make it that you like to joke. Even if you change your profile picture to something outrageous, yea, even then you must expect everyone to take each individual statement with the utmost seriousness, and therefore you must utter type it with the greatest gravitas. It is utterly unreasonable to think that people will have the opportunity to learn truth in a straightforward fashion from another source. It is most obvious that the briefest of encounters with less than seven score characters from your keyboard may be utterly crucial in determining their eternal destiny.

Goodness is bound up in writing to the public-schooled lowest common denominator the same way that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Cling to unambiguously easy statements with the same vigor that you cling to your virtue and vodka. Or your guns and your religion. Or whatever it is that you cling to. Never, never, expect any grain of sophistication from your reader. For example, questions such as “is the Pope Catholic?” should only be used in private discussions with your confessor lest you cause radical traditionalist weaker brethren to stumble over your sedevacantist questioning and lack of fealty to the Pope. And while you’re at it, try to avoid using phrases like “fealty to the Pope” since everyone will assume that you’re talking about the fourth vow of a certain Jesuitical organization which will not be named here.

Embrace a starkly monolithic Catholicism. And then force and enforce it on others. After all, if Jesus thought it would be good to make Peter the rock on which the Church is built, how much better is it to have a Church built entirely of one stone?! Paul was out of line in more than one place in scripture, and never mores so then when he mislead people into thinking that it was okay to be different from each other. If you think that something is insulting, unclear, or less than perfectly congratulatory, it is. Do not be lured in by the evil Paulists who will tell you that there is beauty in diversity and that it is okay for some to be somber instructors while others are smirky, snarky, stumblers who say whatever they think.

Furthermore, pay no thought to those who are attracted to humor. The need for humor is intrinsically disordered and those who give into such an inclination give into acts of grave depravity. All healthy people will naturally be drawn to the monolithic Catholicism explained above. Those people who are not attracted to boring didactic Catholicism, for instance many Episcopalians, should simply be entrusted to the mercy of God who judges all with justice. Anyone who appreciates humor is nothing other than a temptation sent straight from the devil to lead you into compromise. Ignore all of your nagging fears about losing some because you were unwilling to become anything other than an uptight Catholic in a group of uptight Catholics in order to draw uptight Catholics closer together. That is, after all, what the Church explains that Paul really meant. Christ died for the many, meaning that Christ died for those who can give true glory to God in the somnolent splendor of un-funny truth.

Recognize that there are varying degrees of perniciousness in humor. Humor which engages in jabs at your expense should always be assumed to be the epitome of evilnessssssssssss straight from the serpent outside of Eden. Humor which pokes fun at your friends is the second worst, humor about the Church is next, and humor about your enemies is best.

Expect to be understood. Rejoice (somberly) in the fact that as long as you keep yourself spotless from any stain of the world humor online, everyone will understand exactly what you say. More importantly, they will be given the gift of insight into your deepest heart and will understand what you mean. It is only humor that prevents us from truly connecting with others. As long as you keep yourself far, far away from all appearance of humor God will bless your relationships. Everyone will read your words with graciousness, assume that you’re a truly wonderful person who means no harm, and grant you precisely the charity which you withhold from them in your disdain for all humor.

I’m sure that I will be back later to update these instructions, but in the meantime I would love your help with expanding them. I want to eventually be the (or, better yet, thee!) authoritative source for a lack of humor online. Then people will really know that I am Catholic, even if I utterly fail to be Christian because of that whole love thing.

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One of the things about Twitter (as opposed to the Blog world) is that you get the chance to sometimes see who really hates you. There are many people who probably hate my blogs, but I’ll never know. After all, if they comment or email telling me that they hate my blog, then I know that they are still interested in it to some extent. But on Twitter one can block another person.

And I must confess, I’m a little bit fascinated with the concept of being blocked, and wondering why people block me. I only block people who are spammers, so I am inclined to imagine that these people must see me as an irredeemable evil. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they let me follow them and learn from their wisdom?

Just now I was again taken into contemplating this issue because the top of the #CatholicRulesforTwitter page contained tweets from two people who are blocking me. One I know about because she is a woman whom I respect, and I previously sought her out to follow, only to discover that I was blocked. The other I did not know about at all until I saw his funny tweet and went to star it and add him to my Catholic Dads list.

These are, of course, not the only people to block me, but I find it most fascinating because they represent opposite ends of the Catholic spectrum. I would like to pretend that that must mean that I am perfectly balanced, but I know the truth is just that I somehow manage to offend everybody!

One of the things that I loved about the big ol’ Twitter party that Jonathan started was the fact that so many of us with our very different preferred versions of Catholicism were having such a great time enjoying the humor. I could see the tints of our various approaches easily through the joking, but it was pure fun.

And somehow, even people who loathe me enough to block me were drawn into the goodness of it all. The funny thing about being a part of the Church is that you can never really block another member out. They will still reach you, and impact you, through the greater Communion.

Now, if only I can manage to be as chill about the people whom I offend with my blog…

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Confession: Reconciling Advice and Reality

Have you ever corrected a priest in the confessional? I haven’t.

There have been times when I should have, such as when the priest seriously misunderstood the substance of my sins. There have also been times when what the priest said simply was not factually true. I don’t think that I will ever believe it is right to correct a priest on basic religious facts during confession.

When I went to reconciliation during last Advent the priest heard my confession (you’ll never guess what part of it was based on the following ;-)) and then responded that God hates lukewarmness and has said “because you are neither hot nor cold I will spew you out.” I nodded attentively and said something like “I’m Laodicea” as the priest paused to catch his breath. But then he continued on “of course you don’t have to worry about Jesus ever spewing you out, that was the Old Testament God who said that.”

I am obviously recounting this story from my memory which I don’t trust to be exact, and so it occurs to me that perhaps the priest was not mistaken about the location of the passage to which he referred. But if that is the case then the potential for heresy in the statement is even higher.

When I told Josh about the priest’s statement Josh suggested that I should have corrected the priest. After all, priests tend to have a few things that they say over and over again to penitents, and it is not good for this particular piece of misinformed advice to be spread around.

But that was absolutely out of the question for me. For me, reconciliation is supposed to be a time of humility, and instructing the confessor does not at all fit in with that. I suppose that if I thought that the misinformation were truly pernicious, I would later schedule a non-confession appointment with the priest and bring the issue up then.

It does strike me as quite possibly wrong that I see confession as such a structured time of hierarchical humility. It is not about the pursuit of truth in life or even my spiritual life; it is about shutting myself down in the hope that God will swoop in and clean up in the formally prescribed way.

I know that in reality the best answer is probably “it depends upon the situation, the facts, and all involved” but I suspect that most people are probably as dogmatic as Josh and I in our preferences for the “correct” course of action.

How about you? Would you correct a priest during confession? Have you ever?

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Funny Stories About Confession

I can’t be the only one with stories about confession that I find amusing, can I?

For instance, I once went for something like 4 confessions in a row with different priests with each one laughing at me at some point during my confession! And I thought that I was confessing different, not-especially-amusing sins. But for some reason each of them found something funny.

But my most amusing confession moment was one time when I was in a long line before Mass. I had waited almost an hour and as the time for Mass approached two silver-haired people behind me started complaining about how long the line was taking. They worried that it wouldn’t go fast enough because young people have so many sins that they take a long time. I was the only young person in front of them and found this amusing because I often feel the same dread of older women in front of me because of the stereotype that older women talk for hours in confession about who-knows-what that they have already confessed every week for the last 50 years. I was going to confession fairly regularly at that point, had my conscience examined with my sins concisely formatted, and knew the priest hearing confessions. Since he was a rather perfect confessor who was not about to prolong things right before mass, I was in and out in much less time than any of the older people who had been in line before me.

I still don’t get the older people’s concern. Even if we young people do sin more, how long does it take to say “I killed three firemen, had sex with 18 married men, and lied more times than I can count… maybe twice an hour while awake. For these and all my sins I am very sorry?” Amount of sin has nothing to do with how long it takes to confess it.

One other amusing story from waiting in long lines was the time I heard an older man talking to another person about how he hadn’t been to confession in decades. He did not understand the concept of older people confessing recently because he thought that only younger people got out and about to have the opportunity to sin. Considering the fact that none of my sins to be confessed that time involved getting out of the house, I found this a rather funny idea.

Please share your amusing confession stories!

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