Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: Shark Week

Earlier this week, I had a call from the religious ed. office that they'd figured out what was wrong with the A/V system, if I wanted to try to watch a movie again with the class, on our last day. That was a good option, especially as we were adding in the 6th and 7th graders because they were going to be teacherless this week. I bought more snacks and went to the library to pick up Soul Surfer, with its perfect tween blend of just enough religion, blond girls in bikinis, and a shark. The kids were a bit disappointed that we weren't going to watch Spiderman: Homecoming, which was the other library movie in my bag, but people allowed as how Soul Surfer was an okay substitute.

My friends, I don't even have to tell you what happened. For the second week in a row, an with a different system, technology wrestled us to the ground. While my poor overworked DRE searched for the missing cord that would allow us to have sound with our visuals, I coaxed the crowd along, getting the eighth-graders to tell the younger class their confirmation names and what they'd done for service hours. "Oh, MrsD, that's a nice idea!" you say, and it would be a good idea in a cozy sharing circle, but the rows of tables and the reluctance of any child to stand out by making him- or herself loud enough to be heard, meant that I trooped from table to table, feverish baby on my hip, and repeated each answer so that it could be understood across the cafeteria. The sixth and seventh graders seemed less jaded, and answered questions a bit more readily. It helped that I'd had some of them in my class last year, so that they were excited to meet the baby they'd watched grow all year.

The DRE's own third-grade class, all four of them, sat waiting politely in the back of the cafeteria, so I included them in the general snacking.

After a while it became clear that whether or not the cord was located, we were simply out of time to show a movie, and yet there was still an hour of class time left. This was actually okay. My mojo already died last class, so I didn't have mourn it as I did then. The day was sunny, so we headed to the playground, and I took the third-graders along since they'd been so good.

Still, you can't milk playground time forever, even on a lovely spring afternoon. I brought the troops in with half an hour on the clock, and this time I made them all sit on the floor up front. (I am gifted with a carrying voice, but it's wearing to combat the acoustics of a school cafeteria.) We tried on different topics for size. I asked the eighth-graders if they could remember one thing I said during the course of the year. Someone remembered about the 25 popes, someone else remembered that we'd talked about the gifts of the Spirit, and I made as much hay with that as I could.

"If you don't remember anything else I've said all year," I said, "remember this: God loves you. He loves you more than your parents do. He loves you more than you love yourself. If your friends abuse you and think you're stupid, God still loves you. If you disappoint your parents, God still loves you. If you hate yourself, God still loves you. He knows you better than you know yourself, and you are his. And nothing you can do can make him stop loving you.

Then I tested the entire group to see if they knew more prayers than my four-year-old. (Did I mention that I'd brought my four-year-old for the second week in a row so that he could watch a movie?) He had to be hauled to the front for trying to worm his way under the stage curtains, but fortunately one of the sixth-graders is also my child and so took the baby for me.

"Prayer isn't just saying words that you memorize, though. The Hail Mary is a prayer, but that's not all that prayer is. The Mass is the perfect prayer, but that's not all that prayer is. Prayer is turning your mind and your heart toward God. And since the Bible tells us to pray always, there must be other ways of praying than formal prayers. If you're sitting on the bus staring out of the window at the spring day, and you think, 'That's beautiful!', you're talking to the Creator of that beauty. If you're frightened or in a bad situation and you think, "Help!", you're praying. Who are you asking for help? Yourself?"

We talked the Eucharist, but I don't remember much what I said, except to emphasize that the Eucharist is actually God, his body and blood. Jesus didn't explain it away as a symbol or a nice thing we do, and he was willing to be unpopular and to lose friends to make it clear that he was speaking literally about his flesh being true food.

We still had time to fill, so we said the Divine Mercy chaplet again, with the same meditations as last time. By the fifth decade the room was quiet (all except my four-year-old) and people said the responses with eyes closed.

Right before I dismissed the room I gave an Honorable Mention to one of the fellows who spent the year doing quiet acts of service for me, helping to neaten the room up each week after class when I had my hands full with baby or papers, without needing to be asked or looking for service hours. Everyone deserves to be honored at some time in his or her life for the necessary work that others don't see or appreciate. I wish I'd brought a gift card or a little prize, but I hope that the public acknowledgment was a bit of a reward.

And that was it. I wished eighth grade a happy summer and told seventh grade I'd see them next year, and my year was done. (Sixth and seventh grade still have two more classes, but rank hath its privileges.) I have thoughts about what I need to do next year, but there's a whole summer to write that post. I think maybe I've had some good object lessons in humility and in just letting the Holy Spirit work, whether or not I came off as particularly wise or knowledgeable. Who cares! For now, I'm checked out of religion class.

Confirmation Catechist, signing off.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Remedy for Concupiscence

One of the traditional reasons for marriage that Catholics talk about is as a "remedy for concupiscence", drawing I take it on Paul's observations that it's best to be celibate, but it is better to marry than to burn.

The way many people take this is to say that some people simply aren't suited to not have sex, and thus marriage gives them an area in which they are entitled to have sex.

This ends up being problematic in many ways. It can lead to one spouse claiming a 'spousal right' to have sex even if the other doesn't want to. It can also lead to married people claiming that if they need to avoid pregnancy, they should have a right to use artificial birth control despite Catholic teaching to the contrary, because clearly marriage involves a right and need to have sex.

I'm wondering if one of the ways that marriage is a "remedy for concupiscence" is that marriage takes what might otherwise be a raw desire for sex as sensation or fantasy, and instead ties it to another person who needs to be treated well and loved. In this sense, part of the "remedy for concupiscence" is realizing that sexual desire can't be morally satisfied in the abstract, it must be dealt with in the context of a specific other person who also has emotional and physical needs and vulnerabilities. In some sense, when single, the sexual drive is about "I want sex" whereas if you're living marriage virtuously sex must be thought of not just in terms of "what do I want" or "what does my spouse want" but "how do I treat my spouse lovingly?"

Friday, April 20, 2018

Southeastern State Study for Fourth-Graders

I was staring at the screen, trying to find the right phrases for an old project I'm revising -- a play based on the book of Esther which I wrote at the ripe age of 16, to be finished by Monday so my brother can announce casting to his youth group for a summer performance -- when I registered that the baby's babbling was coming from an unusual location. I ran up the stairs and there, around the landing, on the 15th step, was 9 month old Pog holding onto the railing and looking unsure whether he should keep ascending the last two steps or just throw himself down.

"Baby, hi! Hi, baby!" I said, picking him up. "Hello! How did you get up here?"

"Mam," he said, and spit up all down my front, cleverly avoiding his bib.

This child and his death wish notwithstanding, I have to have this play finished by Monday because I have another project due by the end of April. I'm going to write a textbook, a state study for fourth-graders on the Southeastern states (former Confederacy minus Missouri, minus Texas, plus Maryland and Delaware), 25,000-30,000 words. The outline is due at the end of the month. That would be in a week and a half, during which time we'll trust that Pog doesn't choose to go down the basement stairs and learn to operate the table saw.

I'm putting together my list of topics to cover in a history of this region, for this age, and while I still have concentrated reading to do, I've been discussing with Darwin and scribbling ideas. This textbook is for a Catholic publisher, and while it is not intended to be "Catholicky", I don't need to shy away from Catholic contributions to the development of the South.

Here's my list of topics, not organized into a narrative structure. Some obviously need more words than others, but it seems that these should at least be touched on.

Indian Tribes and Settlements
The Spanish mission at St. Augustine
Spanish Florida
The Indians of the Southern states
English Settlements and how they differed from the northern settlements
Maryland, the Catholic colony
Indentured servants and the first slaves
Farming and backwoods
Mason-Dixon Line
Virginia and the Founding Fathers
Revolutionary War
French Louisiana and the Louisiana Purchase
The Cherokee and the Trail of Tears; Seminole Wars in Florida
Tobacco, Cotton, Sugar: Plantations and the agricultural economy of the South
Confederacy and Border States
Civil War: North vs. South
War Zones and Reconstruction: Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and the Klan
Jim Crow
Poverty and Public Works
Electricity, TVA
Civil Rights Movement
The South Becomes Cool: the rise of air conditioning, new industry, population growth

Knowing that we have an erudite readership, I welcome your input. What's the most important thing you think fourth-graders should know about their Southern state? Feel free to add details even if I've already touched on a topic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Angel that Troubled the Waters

Thornton Wilder, author of acclaimed plays such as Our Town, enjoyed writing short plays, little scenelets that could be read or staged. His interest in the form dated back to his schooldays, when he used the flyleaf of his Algebra book to scribble a proposed table of contents for a future book of plays, tentatively titled "Three-Minute Plays for Three Persons": "Quadratics in those days could be supported only with the help of a rich marginal commentary."

The final collection was titled The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays. The Library of America's Story of the Week site is posting that title selection, about the Biblical story of the healing waters of Bethesda, written after Wilder had won the Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It is indeed a lovely playlet that takes not much more than three minutes to read and enjoy.

As the Angel says, "In Love's service only the wounded soldiers can serve."

Monday, April 16, 2018

Moral Bandages over Moral Outrages

It is said, with truth, that the Church is not a preserve for the holy, but rather a hospital for sinners. That's good, because we're all sinners, and the Church does indeed offer us both God's law, which tells us how to live to a holy life, and the graces of the sacraments which make it possible for us to follow the path of virtue. This is important to remember in a culture which makes much of 'meritocracy'. We do not earn our own salvation through our own virtue. Grace is given to us freely and unearned. All we have to do is be willing to cooperate with it.

And yet, this hospital imagery often seems to attract those wedded to another idea, people who see the Church not as a hospital in which people are healed of their sins, but as a sort of homeopathic clinic in which people take vanishingly small doses of trendy virtue and then insist that they are healed, without believing that any real application of the Church's powers of healing is necessary.

This struck me today when I ran into a piece of the "here's what's wrong with the Church's teaching on contraception" genre. MrsDarwin and I have both written posts over the years dealing with NFP and the overly rosy way in which it is sometimes pitched as the solution to all ills: improving communication and filling your marriage with romance and divorce proofing your relationship all in one happy-happy system. This, of course, is not true. Natural Family Planning is a means of very much decreasing (or used the other way, increasing) a couple's chances of getting pregnant by timing when in the wife's cycle they have sex. It is considered a moral means of spacing or avoiding pregnancy by the Church, and like any discipline the practice of it can (undertaken in a virtuous spirit) be a way of growing in moral strength and virtue, but it's by no means magic.

But making the equal and opposite error to this magical thinking approach, there seems to be a mini-genre these days of pieces arguing that the Church's teachings on sexuality must be changed because using NFP is too hard and so people should have the option of using artificial birth control instead. Often, what these articles propose to do is apply birth control as some token cure to a relationship which sounds to have much deeper problems. This is no exception. The author describes the plight of a friend as follows:
My friend is a wonderful person, a devout Catholic, and very pro-life. She and her husband were using NFP, and had been for years. Unfortunately, over the course of her married life, my friend has suffered several traumatic miscarriages. She has struggled with severe depression and PTSD related to pregnancy loss. In addition to her miscarriages, she also has four living children who suffer from a variety of physical and emotional ailments. Her children have been in and out of specialists’ offices, therapist appointments, and hospitals. Given these circumstances, her anxiety surrounding the possibility of another pregnancy was extreme. It seemed like every time we got together, all she was able to talk about was how afraid she was of becoming pregnant. To make matters worse, her husband had minimal tolerance for the periodic abstinence required by NFP. The possibility of her becoming pregnant was actually quite high. I began to be afraid that, if she did become pregnant, she would attempt to commit suicide.

Now think for a moment about what's being said here: Her friend has suffered multiple, traumatic miscarriages and is terrified she will get pregnant, so terrified that the author fears the friend will commit suicide if she gets pregnant. And yet the friend's husband has "minimal tolerance" for the restrictions of his free access to sex whenever he wants it which might result from practicing some periodic abstinence.

If this is an accurate account of the relationship, isn't it a horrifically bad one? If the topic were anything other than sex and contraception, and you think of an area of activity where it would be considered okay for a husband to have "minimal tolerance" for something essential to prevent his wife's bodily harm or suicide? Could insisting on sex which seemed likely to lead to such grave consequences seem like anything short of abuse?

To drive her point home, the author recounts:
One weekend in early autumn, I suggested that we take a trip out to the Blue Ridge, just the two of us, to go apple picking. I hoped that an afternoon away would give her a respite from her anxiety, and a change in routine, though I also knew that it was only going to be a temporary break. As we drove away from the city, we were chatting cheerfully about recipes and movies we’d seen recently. But the time we were driving home, tired after an afternoon out, we had returned to the familiar subject.

As we neared home, she became more anxious, and she finally told me that she had decided that if she became pregnant, she was going to have an abortion. I was not shocked. I knew how much she feared another miscarriage, and I knew how wholly overwhelmed she felt. I also knew that this would be absolutely catastrophic for her. She was passionately pro-life. She was terrified of losing another child. For her to have an abortion would, I felt, simply be a step on the way to her becoming suicidal.

I told her that I thought that this was the time for her and her husband to consider using contraception. I didn’t say this lightly. I have my religious commitments. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that using contraception would be temporary, something to give her peace of mind so that she could have some time to heal before going back to following the Church’s teachings. But I knew that contraception was absolutely necessary to her, at least short term. Things could not go on the way they were heading. She needed a break from constant fear.
So the friend is driven to the point of considering abortion as her only way out if she gets pregnant, and the author thinks this would be just a stop on the way to suicide. And yet, her solution to for a friend whose husband is apparently driving her thoughts of abortion and/or suicide is not, "You should get help. He's treating you badly," but rather, "You should use artificial birth control against your moral convictions so that you can keep giving him the sex he demands."

For the Church to act this way would not be acting as a moral hospital, because to act this way is not to offer healing. This is the moral equivalent of putting a few drops of essential oils on a gaping chest wound and saying, "Be healthy!" The husband in this scenario is being treated as some impersonal force of nature, but he needs to have the full moral weight of the Church's teaching power turned on him, telling him that he is treating his wife badly and needs to do better.

The author reports that she had a few moral worries about her advice to her friend, so she discussed it with two priests:
Part of me was, and is, certain that the advice I gave was good. But, I am prone to scrupulosity, and so I soon made an appointment to talk with my parish priest. He was very encouraging. He told me that things happen that are very difficult for couples. Sometimes, this really is the best advice for a given situation, even if the Church’s teaching is true. I was relieved, but my conscience was not satisfied. We had talked so long that I had run out of time, and I didn’t get to ask him to hear my confession. My conscience was still bothering me, and it sent me to confession to a different priest when I was traveling a few weeks later.

This priest had a different assessment of the situation. He told me that I had not said the right thing. He said that this was something that my friend and her husband had to work out on their own. He also told me that I could not control whether or not my friend committed suicide, and I shouldn’t try. All I could do, he said, was make sure that she committed suicide in a state of grace, without the sin of contraception on her soul.

I consider this the worst advice I have ever been given. I was shocked. I was horrified. I have been re-evaluating my relationship to the Church’s teaching on sexuality ever since.

One priest offered a way of accompaniment. He encouraged me to accompany my friend, and offered to speak to her himself. He did not reject the Church’s teaching outright, but he did advocate flexibility.

The other priest insisted on rigor, and he considered women’s lives an acceptable price to pay for this purity and rigor. All the criticisms that the Church devalues women seemed to be vindicated by his words.
Now, one should never rule out the possibility that people are deeply confused or stupid or even just plain wicked, so I can't say that it's impossible that the second priest said what the author recounts him as saying. But let's be clear, the statement that all she could do was, "was make sure that she committed suicide in a state of grace, without the sin of contraception on her soul." has to be either the author's hyperbolic misrepresentation of what the priest said, of the product of a deeply, deeply confused priest. To commit suicide is itself one of the gravest sins possible. That is why for much of the Church's history it was the practice to refuse a Christian burial to those who committed suicide. Modern practice varies from this out of respect for the possibility that a person who commits suicide may well repent and ask God's forgiveness in the moment of death. Surely God could welcome into His present event such a late repenting person.

So the idea that we are responsible for making sure that someone commits suicide in a virtuous state is a complete crock. If the priest did indeed say that, he's wrong in an incredibly disturbing way.

That said, there's a really big problem with the author's reasoning that she's defending, and it has to do with the way in which too often people do not treat all moral prohibitions as if we really mean them.

I'm reminded of an incident many years ago when a friend who was vegan was visiting. Knowing that he was vegan, we made extra efforts to make sure that no meat, fish, dairy, etc. were served. Then we were shocked to hear him relate an anecdote about eating meat recently. When we asked him about it, he said, "Well, you know. I usually don't eat meat. But if it's really inconvenient..."

But if we take any kind of moral prohibition seriously, that's not how our morals work. Something which is seriously wrong does not become okay because there's a compelling practical reason for doing it. Often we're tempted to think that way, especially with sins that seem particularly socially acceptable at the moment. But pick a sin which we rightly have a moral horror of right now, but which might have passed as darkly romantic in the past:

You come upon young Wolfgang prowling picturesquely back and forth along the battlements of a brooding Gothic castle. Wolfgang says to you, "I am so consumed with desire for Federicka that I am tempted to throw myself from these battlements and make an end of it all! But still she refuses me. I saw here in the street the other day, and I thought of seizing her and forcing myself on her. But no, that would be a sin. And so I walk the battlements and wonder if I should kill myself." Do you tell Wolfgang that he should seize Federicka and have his way with her, lest he be tempted to do some desperate outrage upon himself? Or do you take it as your job to make sure that he commits suicide while innocent of the sin of rape? NEITHER! To assault the fair Federicka would be wrong. To kill himself would be wrong. You cannot encourage either one. You cannot enjoin one to avoid the other. His claim that refraining from the one sin may force him to commit the other is a false claim. He is at moral liberty to do neither and if you are going to "accompany" him, you need to accompany him in doing neither of these terrible things.

If we can see the flaw in the moral logic of Wolfgang's Gothic struggle, we should be able to see the flaws in the quandaries trotted out here: We better approve of birth control or she'll abort. We better approve of birth control or she'll commit suicide.

Perhaps the readiness to engage in these kind of trades shows that even for a lot of Catholics who say they take the Church's teaching on contraception seriously actually think of not using artificial birth control as a sort of moral taste rather than an actual moral law. If we treat using birth control like a vegan who eats meat for convenience when traveling, we don't actually think it's a sin.

I do think that using artificial birth control is a sin, and that's precisely why we can't engage in some sort of moral barter, blessing one sin on the argument that it will make it possible to avoid another.

We are sinners, in that we have all sinned. But it is also possible for all of us, with God's help, not to sin. A husband can not pressure his wife for sex when he knows it is contrary to her physical and mental health. A wife can resist the urge to kill herself or her child, even when the world seems to be imploding around her. However fallen we are, God always will give us the strength to not sin if we ask for his grace and if we do our own part by using our active will to choose not to do what is wrong.

What we must not do is try to turn the Church into a fake hospital, putting a frail human bandage and a few murmured words of "accompaniment" over a wound which needs real healing.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: The Day the Mojo Died

Today was our second-to-last Confirmation class -- although since Confirmation has already happened, perhaps we're just eighth grade religion class. And perhaps that's the reason why attendance is down 50%, causing me to declaim, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," as I put down the roster. No one nodded in recognition. My quote-fallen-flat didn't really bother me, though, because we were about to have movie day, an easy win for any teacher.

A digression, here, about the cottage industry of G- or PG-rated live action films, usually with a faith-based theme. I've realized why they exist. It's because sometimes a teacher needs to show a group a movie, and there is such a mix of personalities and abilities that a movie of more unquestioned excellence may be too much: too slow, too ambiguous, too thoughtful to hold attention, or too violent, or too real. These "clean flix"-type movies are a step further removed from reality, hence more easily digestible. And the content is so unobjectionable that you can pick one off a shelf with your eyes closed.

That's not what I did, of course. I selected a few movies from a stash in the DRE's office, previewed them, and picked a film called The Mighty Macs, about a scrappy girls' college basketball team winning the National Championship in 1972. It had the newbie coach whose husband thought she shouldn't be working, and the college in danger of being closed, and the nun questioning her vocation, and the poor girl, and the girl who just wanted to be engaged, and the girl who didn't get the basketball scholarship to the bigger school. A grab bag of dramatic elements, sure, but it was workmanlike. It was too long, but I realized that I could start the movie about twenty minutes in (filling in the missing exposition before we started), and that would buy us enough time. I did wonder if it would hold the boys' attention, and then I thought, sheesh, I've watched enough boys' sports movies in my day and enjoyed them well enough. Let the guys deal with it.

Part of movie day is snacks, and I'd bought snacks for 40, knowing that 40 wouldn't show up and so there would more for everyone else. As some of the students laid out the food, the DRE wrestled with setting up the multi-thousand-dollar projection system, installed a year or two ago to bring our parish's media situation into the 21st century. No more unwieldy carts with TVs and DVD players. Even our tech-jaded kids' eyes lit up when they watch the projection screen descending majestically from the ceiling.

And they watched as we struggled to turn it on, and the projector refused to light up. They watched as we flipped through the menu, trying to figure out why we were getting no input. They watched as we finally got sound, but no picture. I narrated through the trailers we were hearing: the school bullying movie; the one about policemen trying to be better fathers; the one where the surfer gets her arm bitten off by a shark. (That's the one I would have liked to have shown; the mix of bikinis and sharks would have been a sure-fire hit.) Finally, after 25 minutes (during which the DRE generously put her own third-grade class on hold to help me out), we had: nothing. We could not make the system work.

A multi-thousand dollar investment, which failed at the moment when I needed it. A looming hour and five minutes of class time, for which I had prepared no talk, no activities, no games, no anything but a movie in a case, laying uselessly on the table. And me, me with nothing.

At the beginning of the year, I could extemporize. I could compose entire classes in the shower, with anecdotes and thematic transitions. I could speak in class at the drop of a hat, and what I had to say was coherent, entertaining, and theologically correct. Those days, alas, are in the past. My teaching mojo has been braking to a clanking, poorly-oiled halt. In fact, I had been considering divesting myself of my pride and moving to a packaged series for next year, perhaps the acclaimed Chosen series, well-reviewed and full of pithy, presentable speakers known for their youth ministry.

A series that relies on playing a DVD every class.

"Hit the gym, kids," I said.

As they charged around with the basketballs, I considered and prayed and supervised my four-year-old running in and out among the boys. (Had I mentioned that I brought my four-year-old along to class today to watch the movie?) We couldn't spend the rest of the time in the gym, and there are kids in the class who don't enjoy gym time as much as the others. Perhaps some parents are paying for a glorified babysitting experience, but most of them expect their children to be learning about the Catholic faith, or doing some kind of religiously-themed activity, even if it's faith-based movie day.

Eventually, I put together a plan in miniature. I could legitimately end the class 15 minutes early, giving me half an hour still to fill. We cleaned up the balls and sat back down in the cafeteria, and I asked if anyone had had anything bad happen to them that week. I had a few people volunteer responses -- a near-miss with another car, a drowned backhoe, a broken waterline, drama with friends. Then I told my own story of how within the course of two hours I killed two phones: my own I dropped in the toilet (it fell out of my pocket, honestly), and after Darwin lent me his, I pulled it out of my pocket and discovered that the screen was inexplicably, irreparably shattered. I asked about good things that had happened and had a few more answers: qualifying for a big event, a winning sports game, good time with friends. And then I talked about how we could view all the events of our lives, good and bad, in light of the cross; about how the cross put everything into perspective, and how examining our day and spending time in prayer was crucial especially now that the kids were ending their religious-education time; about maintaining a relationship with Jesus. I was ineloquent and desperate, hunting for words and watching the clock and praying for the inspiration that eluded me. Finally, we prayed a chaplet of Divine Mercy, since the kids remembered the responses from last week. Before each decade I suggested intentions.

1. with each prayer think of a family member or friend who needs mercy.
2. with each prayer think of someone you hate, and pray for mercy for them.
3. with each prayer think of someone you love, and pray for mercy for them.
4. with each prayer think of your own sins, and ask for mercy.
5. with each prayer think of a wound of Jesus -- his hands, his feet, his knees or shoulders or a slash of the whip, and ask for mercy.

We finished our prayer. Twenty-five minutes of class time left.

Reader, I dismissed them. Those with parents waiting left. Most others called their parents to come. Some went off to the gym, and some, who had to wait for siblings, watched the baby as I filed my attendance sheet.

And that was it. The last of my teaching mojo has evaporated. By myself, I could not put together a coherent theological reflection for a group of bored teenagers, even if I tried. Now the Holy Spirit can work freely through me for our last class two weeks from now, because I've run out of my own steam. It's all you, God, because it's not me anymore.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Repost: Writing about Writing about Writing

So sorry for the lack of posting. Real life intrudes, in many good and some less good ways. For starters, the least trying, and least consequential, aspect of my last 24 hours is that I've ruined both my own and Darwin's phones, in two separate incidents. In any event, this post from 2016 seemed like a good one to re-run.

Pray for us as we pray for you!


Perhaps in your life, you've heard someone pray for a "secret intention" or request prayers in some way that sounds so mysterious that you're dying to know the cause. Some people have a tendency to amp up drama, of course, but it's often true that people find themselves in situations in which they need prayers, but can't reveal the details, or know that the details aren't theirs to reveal. Even mentioning the subject invites speculation, so much so that often it feels like the better option to keep a situation to oneself.

Darwin and I were talking recently about the things that we'd like to write about, but can't. Not because they're bad things; not because they're scandalous; not because they even have to do with us at all. Everyone has some topic they can't breach with the general public. Perhaps that's because one's take on a subject would be painful to someone who might read it, and with whom one does not wish to burn bridges. This is a tricky thing for us especially, who have been processing ideas in public for eleven years, and find it a strain not simply because we like to write and discuss, but because it goes against the goad not to be able to write openly and honestly.

And yet, people are more important. Is it better that I add one more viewpoint to an issue, however unique my insight and experience may be, or is the work of prudence that I remember that people I know and love may find my words painful? If I want to process something, should I do it at the expense of another? Is discretion really the better part of valor? All things will be revealed, the scripture tells us. But until then, we delete that angry post or that thinkpiece or the lyric autobiographical essay because cold prudence is better than hot righteousness.

How mysterious, how worrying this all sounds! So vague and dramatic, and it really isn't. But one simply doesn't get to talk about everything in life. Not everything needs to be aired or can be aired, and perhaps that's all for the best.

And no, there's nothing wrong here. But in this case it did seem better to write vaguely than not write at all, if only because this is something I've thought about for a long time. How clear we want everything in life to be! How cut-and-dried, how black-and-white! Only in heaven do we get total clarity and full understanding.

Prayers for you all today, without needing any reasons or explanations.

Friday, April 06, 2018

It Does Get Better

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I had more little children than I had hands. Children do not need as many things as magazines and retailers and websites would have you believe, but what they do need is what cannot be bought: your time, your attention, your love, your protection. These things, though every parent wishes to give them to the best of their ability, are costly. They require vigilance and quick reflexes, and an almost superhuman energy investment. And though love multiplies easily, energy is finite.

Once upon a time, I had no backup. I don't count Darwin as "backup"; a father is an integral part of family life. "Backup" means extra help that frees up both parents, or at least fills in for one parent to some extent. We couldn't afford much help, and sometimes even when we desperately needed a babysitter we couldn't find one. The kids were not old enough to be much help, and trying to get them to do things around the house was far more work than doing it myself.

My friends, those days are in the past.

It is remarkable to me how easy it is to forget the trials of the past. It's been several years now since I had to worry about finding a babysitter. None of my children are of an age to drown themselves in the toilet (though that time is coming around again). I can run out to the store by myself, or go out for hours with just the baby. I can set a timer for ten minutes and reasonably expect to see an appreciably cleaner room at the end of that time. I can ask my oldest child to bring the van up from from the garage so that I can find the four-year-old's jacket while someone else puts the baby into the carseat. On Sunday morning, we make it to mass on time because most people dress themselves.

This week we took a road trip to Maryland to visit the cousins. We had to leave on Easter, and yet I had to sing at mass on Easter morning. We were able to leave within an hour of my getting home, because everyone had packed their own bag and loaded it in the car and helped with the laundry and put together the bag of snacks. We made terrific time because the baby slept most of the trip and the four-year-old is potty-trained. People did not fight in the car because they were singing or writing or reading A Wrinkle in Time or a biography of The Wright Brothers. It was... pleasant.

Parenting older children requires different time investments and different sacrifices. Many's the night Darwin and I have had to give up our own quiet time to chat with a teenager and listen to the triumphs and agonies of her day. The judgment of a nine-year-old boy is generally better from that of the toddler, but it's still dopey in different ways. The children still need your time, your attention, your love, your protection, but they start to give those things back as well.

It gets better!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

He Is Risen!

Christ has conquered death! A blessed Easter to all our readers.