The Joke is Already Too Old…..

…..But nonetheless, irresistible. Such is life with the 24-hour fast-paced news cycle, courtesy of the digital age. It’s a “net” for fishers of men, and puns. L’Osservatore Romano reveals that Pope Francis is in fact a Cafeteria Catholic! Notice that Pope Francis, modeling virtue for us, chooses his food at the Catholic Cafeteria, and not his dogma! When it comes to his dogma, he defends the Magisterium, including the less-tasty veggies. So, don’t be the wrong kind of Cafeteria Catholic.

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Our Mission Group’s Visit to Unbound Headquarters

On the seventh day of our mission trip in Guatemala, our leader (Fr. A) needed to return early to the States in order to attend a diocesan program, leaving us with an important task: enroll four children who belong to a family that he has known for many years in Unbound.

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Our group departs the mission and heads to Unbound Headquarters

Within this family, the two older sisters who Father knew as toddlers (nearly 20 years ago) have grown up and are now mothers. One has an 18-month-old baby boy, and the other has a 3-year-old daughter. The other two children — ages 7 and 9 — are sisters to the new mothers, and aunts to the 18-month-old and 3-year-old. Finally, the grandmother to the babies and the mother to the girls, along with her hardworking husband, are the elders of the family, and also have a 13-year-old son (already sponsored in Unbound).

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Arrival at Unbound Headquarters

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Touring the grounds of the headquarters, led by Unbound personnel

We all climbed into the back of a red Ford 4×4 truck that the mission uses to transport people, and we traveled up the hill to the Unbound headquarters, called Hermano Pedro. There, we were welcomed with a tour and information about the various programs offered by Unbound.

Unbound currently operates in 24 countries in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa. Its largest presence is in Guatemala, where it started. The organization recently changed its name from Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA).

In Guatemala alone, Unbound helps nearly 80,000 children who are sponsored as well as over 4,000 aging or elderly people. But over 6,000 more people in Guatemala await sponsorship, not to mention the other countries where Unbound has a presence.

For $30 a month, a child’s family receives assistance with nutrition, medical care, education, and other needs the family may have. An aging person receives similar benefits according to their needs. There is also a scholarship program for kids who wish to go on to higher education, which in Guatemala has already graduated a physician and attorney. Finally, there are opportunities to sponsor a seminarian.

A sponsor receives letters from his or her sponsored child, and recently Unbound has begun offering low-cost trips to their locations in order to make it possible for sponsors to get to know and form relationships with their sponsored children.

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The way our mission group went about enrolling these four precious children was, shall we say, unconventional. But Fr. A wanted it to happen, and our group fell in love with the whole family. Four separate families in our group (including mine), each sponsored one of the children. We first visited the Hermano Pedro headquarters and then went down to the offices of this family’s particular project for enrollment.

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At the Atitlan Project to enroll the four children

I think a lot of people dismiss the “sponsor a child” organizations because it isn’t easy to visualize the reality of a situation somewhere on the other side of the world. Guatemalans are joyful people with a beautiful culture, but the way they live is definitely nothing like the First World. In many cases, all they have is Jesus and each other. True material needs are oftentimes never truly met.

When the San Lucas Toliman mission began in the 1960s, only one in two Guatemalan children here lived past five, and while that has improved there are still too many things to count that these people do not have and we take for granted every day.

It is our responsibility to find ways of helping to provide a future for a people who have been plagued by civil war, corruption, poor infrastructure, inadequate medical care and nutrition.

Every person on Unbound’s website is a real person, with basic needs that without assistance go unmet. Over 90% of the $30 you contribute to sponsor someone goes directly to the sponsored individual, delivering extreme value compared to anything else in your monthly budget.

If you subscribe to a television service, you can afford to sponsor an Unbound child. If you can buy a coffee from Starbucks once a week, you can afford to sponsor a child. If you are using a smartphone, you can afford to sponsor a child.

20140709_183539And if you come here and meet the young or aging person you sponsor, apart from changing that person’s life, it will change your life too. A visit will help you understand what your $30 means. In fact, the family will tell you what it means to them.

In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI examines the parable of the Good Samaritan and the use of the word “misericordia” (p. 197). He writes that the word in Hebrew “had originally referred to the mother’s womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him [the Samaritan] ‘viscerally,’ touching his soul. ‘He had compassion’ — that is how we translate the text today,” but in fact a more literal translation of the word means that the “heart is wrenched open.”

On a bright sunny Guatemalan day in July, as I held the hand of a lovely little seven-year-old girl in traditional dress and we walked together toward the centuries-old church, my heart was wrenched open. And all I could do was offer a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving me this opportunity. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for wrenching my heart open.

When she visited with her family to wish us farewell on the last night before we headed home, my heart was once again wrenched open because she recognized me and received me with affection, as though she had made a place in her heart for me, despite the fact that I must have appeared to her to be a most peculiar pale bearded giant, bringing to mind the possibility that she is my Good Samaritan as well.

Sponsoring someone in Unbound is a privilege that costs almost nothing. Do it!

[originally posted 07/07/14 while on mission, and updated 07/25/14]

 

As the Family Breaks Down, Government (and Its Machine) Rises Up

One of the great social engineering experiments of the 20th Century is our U.S. Government’s approach to welfare. Beginning with the New Deal and reaching its zenith in LBJ’s Great Society, the government has encouraged a dole for the poor, but its programs were designed to deliver not greater independence and family support, but dependence and apathy, fostered by personal selfishness.

Statistics indicate that over the past century, an ever-increasing number of children are born to single or unmarried households. Now, the numbers show that more than half of all children born today are born outside a stable marriage.

Statistics also indicate that while we were promised a reduction in abortion through the widespread adoption of artificial contraception, this too has not happened. Instead, the number of abortions performed annually is a number that continues to climb.

I think we are now on the tail end of this laboratory of failure, and so we can see the bad effects perhaps not precisely, but with better clarity than before. Robust families — consisting of a father and mother, a plurality of children, and a network of extended families and friends — simply do not hold the same position in our society as they once did.

In place of traditional vanguards, we have been offered an insidious message and illusory promise by “progressive” forces:

“You can and should be an entirely autonomous individual.” 

Think about it. Nearly every social ill is premised upon this same message:

  • Spend more money on yourself, because it’s yours.
  • Use birth control if the idea of a child is too much of a burden.
  • It’s okay to divorce, because if your spouse does not make you happy, you should be free to do what makes you happy.
  • Get an abortion because there is no dad and keeping a child would ruin your life.
  • Enter into any deviant sexual relationship that you want, call it whatever you want, even call it marriage if it feels good, and let anyone else (and the truth) be damned.
  • Use contraception to control the number of children that you have, limiting children to a manageable number for youYou decide.
  • After all, there’s more to your life than who is dependent on you; anything else would be unfair, to you.

I am convinced that this message, and the powers promulgating it, are not accidental. This is not mere shrapnel in the Culture War; rather, this is the primary weapon — a quiet killer of lives, and the thing hardens the soul. 

It is an effective weapon, because destabilizing the family is to remove it as cornerstone of society, leaving an opening for placement of a new cornerstone: Big Government.

Why Big Government? For those who drive the ship as it expands, Big Government means power, money, control — all things that can be grown exponentially by limiting the numbers of those on top.

Meanwhile, open hands and mouths facing the District of Columbia still need to be fed. But the real mothers of the world have been told to spend their time on themselves, engaged in their own pursuits. Fathers have been told something different but just as destructive: they are irrelevant and might as well do whatever they want, too.

Big Government fancies itself the New Jerusalem so that the New Psalmist might cry out “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts.” (Isaiah 66:10-14).

And yet we know that Big Government is not a true mother. It has no love for the people it feeds. It makes no act of the will directed toward the good of another.

Rather, Big Government is the anti-mother: it dispenses pap, it is a harpy; its breasts are withered, sagging and dry. To suck fully of the milk of her comfort is to receive a mouthful of dust and rusty nails.

Dust and rusty nails, presented in near-perfect packaging, is all that Big Government has. And it shows. After generations of undermining the family to the point that moms and dads don’t know how to raise children, and children don’t know how to be children (much less grow into functional adults), the government would turn to itself once again to replace natural human relationships with…… wait for it…… specially programmed robots.

That’s right. In an age where individual autonomy, “choice and freedom” have supplanted virtue and sacrifice, and literally obliterated the sanctity of the family, the answer is that we will rely upon automatons to raise our children, because we just don’t feel like doing it anymore.

Since the nuclear family only consists of 1.2, or 1.6, or 1.7 kids in the first place, there are no brothers, sisters, aunts or uncles either, so that socialization will occur between a person and the equivalent of an ambulatory idiot box.

Robots can also change the diapers of our parents and visit them in their nursing homes, delivering messages assuring our love and affection. They can nurse us when we are in the hospital. They can euthanize us when we are no longer useful, citing to “quality of life.”

Hell, if machines can sound, look, and even feel human, who are we to get in the way of someone so addled as to think actual relationships with them is possible? All that matters is that we can pass the burdens of every human obligation upon our own creations, so that we (so we are told) can finally be free.

[N.B., a great contrast: we pass our burdens to our creations while God takes our burdens back upon Himself. Listen to the Teacher! He knows what love is!]

As Catholics, it is time to reclaim our identity and spit out the dust and nails before it’s too late. Give your children yourself rather than the television and computer. Teach them how to behave. Give your children some brothers and sisters rather than a government-issued robot. Give your extended family and friends a welcome in your homes rather than sending them gift certificates to Outback Steakhouse.

Our Mother is the Church, and She — not Big Government — is the New Jerusalem. 

Pray for Your Children’s Spouses

On LifeNews.com there is an article about Ex-Planned Parenthood Director Abby Johnson, who says that every abortion performed by Planned Parenthood would earn $313.29, and that she was directed from on high to double the abortions performed at the facility where she was director.

Planned Parenthood’s public face is akin to Big Tobacco’s: we know our products kill, we like to pretend we don’t want you to buy, but we’re selling the hell out of what’s on offer. It’s been a long time since Big Tobacco had the type of government support that Planned Parenthood enjoys in this day and age. Wrapped up in Planned Parenthood’s messaging is rabid attempt to legitimize. Since Roe v. Wade, legality has replaced morality. 

This made me think about an interesting conversation with the two older boys last Sunday. We began talking about growing in virtue and enduring the teenage years. For one of them, this time is just around the corner. We are called to chastity whenever we live outside the married state, and no time of life can be more difficult for remaining chaste than when we are young and experiencing these feelings for the first time. Urges for young people are new, and strong.

Then we started talking a bit about how chastity is designed to make us aware that sex has consequences, that the natural result of sexual activity is pregnancy, but that our culture has decided to elevate sex as a good into itself, a “good” which would only be possible because of artificial contraception. We can’t pretend to oppose abortion or same-sex marriage or divorce without acknowledging that artificial contraception has more to do with these things than nearly anything else.

Then came this question for me: “What if your wife doesn’t tell you the truth, and uses contraception or gets an abortion? Would having sex be a sin?”

I paused. Wow.

What impressed me about this question was that these boys are already seeing themselves not as male sexual actors but as potential fathers with a role in the lives of their future children. They are already inclined to express care and concern, and exhibit a willingness to act in protection of the life in their care.

But they worry that a future spouse may not see things the same way. In my mind, such a worry is well-founded, considering the state of catechesis among Catholics, not to mention the general sexual ethic throughout the West.

So we talked at some length about how since marriage is a permanent and lifelong commitment, we must take the time to get to know a future wife or husband. It is important to have these discussions before leaping into bed, before marriage. It is important to know that you can trust your spouse with your children. 

As a parent, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to have these discussions. It’s part of the beauty of getting to be here with them all the time, and getting to teach them in homeschool. Where would they go, who would they talk to, if not us?

But what of their future spouses? Will they come to marriage having received the same upbringing and understanding about life, marriage, and sex?

Because of these questions, every parent should pray for the future spouses of their children. Pray fervently — not just that each child receives a spouse (who wants one) — but that God supplies the grace to both future spouses in each marriage so that they can jointly answer his call to marriage. 

St. Mary Magdalene as an Example of Perseverance

July 22 is the Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene. From the Office of Readings is a homily by Gregory the Great (Hom. 25, 1-2, 4-5: PL 76, 1189-1193) in which St. Gregory explores the Magdalene as an example of perseverance:

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.

We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

Ivanov, Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, c. 1835

Now we know what he’s been thinking about…..

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Daniel Stockman

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Daniel Stockman

Turns out Rodin’s Le Penseur is likely trying to decide whether or not to take that golden opportunity to shock himself rather than being alone with his thoughts. But I’m unclear whether it’s the “being alone” part or the “thinking” part that the study group of 200 people disliked so much.

Fifteen minutes of alone time sounds kind of like a gift to me, but that’s because my life is the exact opposite of sensory depravation. I am deprived of quietude most days, but even that I would not change. One day, this house will be quiet again, and then I’ll have to think. Better get me a pair of rubber-soled shoes so I have something else to do.

Making a “Murse” and Coping with “Borrowing”

Last night, I went to bed lamenting a particular problem.

I have too much stuff to carry in my pockets. Usually I’m carting a stack of books, my phone, my tablet or laptop, my glasses, and a bunch of papers that need attention. Most of the time, I’m only lugging the stuff from upstairs to downstairs and vice versa.

I try to keep my things together and out of reach, but there are little miscreants here who are positively fascinated with my very mundane possessions, just because they’re mine.

Back when I had an office and practiced law full-time, I used my briefcase to hold the items I’d need for the day. I took it from home to the office to court. It has an unbelievably good leather smell. When we moved back to California, the briefcase I received as a gift from my wife for graduation from law school went up in a closet to collect dust:

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It occurred to me that I might feel better if I still had something to carry all my things in, where children aren’t allowed. Because, the children are always stealing from me, and I suspect my wife does too.

For Christmas and birthdays, I  receive a new box of pens. But then these pens magically disappear and only reappear when a child needs one. A few weeks ago, the oldest bought me a couple of black Sharpie markers, which have also disappeared, despite my full-tilt rants about “Where are the new Sharpie pens that no one else but Daddy are allowed to use???”

Some of the things perpetually stolen from me include: copy paper, bonded envelopes, scotch tape, the stapler, rubber bands, scissors, packing tape, thumbtacks, batteries, glue, screwdrivers and pliers, power cords, and chapstick.

If an item belonging to me does not totally disappear, then it will be found somewhere logical, like on the floor next to the toilet in the bathroom, because that’s exactly where it makes sense to stumble upon a combination of things like butchers’ twine, paper clips, and some pipe cleaners.

Or you might discover a dozen and a half business envelopes addressed to Grandma, each containing a couple (or up to six) index cards with scribbles on them, and each covered with at least two upside-down postage stamps. Hate to tell you, kid, but the United States Postal Service does not pick up from your Melissa & Doug mailbox.

Last week, while I was in Guatemala, the babysitter helped the boys to make “lava lamps” using water with food coloring and oil. Problem is, no one thought I’d mind them using an entire 24-ounce bottle of extra virgin olive oil from the deacon’s olive ranch to make them, which they used after they already cleared out all of my vegetable oil.

Sometimes it seems so egregious that you begin to suspect it’s deliberate.

The more you try to saturate the house with the disappearing items so there’s plenty for everyone to use, the more the children consider the bounty of these items to be permission for a bacchanalia of garbage manufacture.

Scarcity seems only to remain for me, the one who paid for the stuff. God forbid that one pair of scissors remain in the drawer where I keep them in the kitchen. After all, I only bought 6 pairs at Ikea the last time we were there.

2014-07-17 13.22.35Obviously, I can’t hoard everything and cram it into one easy-to-carry bag, but I think it’s time to put the briefcase back in use. At least I can put my most used things in there.

20140717_095429And I can’t get any more weird than I already am, so I don’t really care if you call it a briefcase or not; you can say it’s my “Murse”, because that’s what it is: a bag for my stuff that children are not allowed to invade. It’s a Murse and not a diaper bag, because a diaper bag is for their stuff.

My ever-efficient wife, dumped a bunch of old papers and photos in the briefcase before cramming it into the library closet, so I had to go through it to make it ready to use. I discovered a couple of funny things. A Christmas necktie, my old bar cards and security cards. Somehow an old newspaper clipping has survived through the years, documenting the first time that my wife and I were photographed together, 25 years ago:

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Me (front left), a sixth grader — and she (middle back), an eighth grader, following our middle school’s speech contest

I sort of wish I could go back and tell that doughy boy not to steal scissors from his mom’s drawer without returning them. Or to stop using every last ounce of vinegar and baking soda in the house to make volcanoes. That kid was almost as jerky as my kids. But that kid’s parents didn’t have as much stuff to steal.

If you’re getting updated “play by play”, why not just *watch* the Darn Thing?

We get it — Francis is the pope; he has to be neutral. But c’mon, if you are so neutral that you can’t watch the game, how does receiving “play by play” updates otherwise satisfy a commitment to neutrality? I guess one man’s neutrality is another’s self-flagellation.

And what’s wrong with not being neutral anyway? Is he not allowed to say he likes Catholicism best too? A pope can’t like Spanish wine, or French cheese, or Chinese food without irritating the Italians, the Swiss or the Japanese?

In recent memory, all the popes have had a national origin, none were natural citizens of the Vatican, and at least some of them (St. JP II comes to mind) admitted to a natural (and understandable) fondness for their home countries.

Does this mean that JPII cast aspersions on people from other countries, or made infallible statements ex cathedra regarding the superiority of Polish pierogi over Lithuanian zeppelins? Of course not.

So this is just dumb. Let him admit (I’m surprised he hasn’t already) that he wanted Argentina to win and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI simply prayed harder than he did and Germany won because of it. After all, BXVI has more time on his hands now, which should be a true sign of just how neutral Francis really is.

It’s Proud, Fishy, and one Heck of a Whopper

whopper_smallThe “Proud” Whopper from newly self-anointed Buggery King. I suspect it tastes just as crappy as the original Whopper, but covered in more colorful wrapping with an even stupider message. I wonder, is it proud to be crappy and stupid, or just stupid?

Meanwhile, a Guinness commercial depicting a loyal pubowner “leaving the light on” for a noble veteran is making the rounds on Facebook, and it’s expertly crafted to draw tears (among Guinness-drinkers, no less — a notably stoic crowd), although the truth is that the ancient and storied company has reversed itself on centuries of tradition in a mere half decade. Its values, alas, have gone the way of countless other “responsible” corporate citizens: no boundaries for decency in the pursuit of sales.

Likewise for Sam Adams Brewing and Heineken, and let’s not even get started on Starbucks Coffee.

I’m not sure that boycotts work. I don’t know. But I’ll tell you I have no interest in holding something in my hand that tells a sympathetic story for something that is directly contrary to my deeply held beliefs. And I certainly have no interest in putting something in my body that does the same thing. The more corporations use their products to be associated with values contrary to my own, the less inclined I am to patronize their stores and restaurants.

Guess what, Burger King, Guinness, Sam Adams and Starbucks: I can make my own (non-crappy, non-proud) burgers, I can make my own stout, I can make my own ale, and I can make my own coffee. I don’t need you, I don’t need your branding, and I don’t need to become another of your advertisements for the indecent and immoral. I prefer plain coffee and beer, sans sexual orientation of any type. So count me out.

As for corporations that make smartphones, maintain search engines, change my oil, and sell me groceries, ours is a tenuous relationship. I kind of have to get these things from somewhere, so if there are two roughly equivalent products, you’d better believe I’ll choose the one that doesn’t make me cringe in memory over the last round of corporate pandering.

Meanwhile, my Catholic smartphone project (expected completion: Fall 2017) is stalled in development. I’ve got a pretty good case design (Legos and pipe cleaners), but my 1962 Missal and used Vol. II Liturgy of the Hours that make up the guts (i.e., chipset) are not synchronizing easily. It’s literally the size of a brick and the battery is perpetually dead (because there isn’t one). And it only makes really poor-quality calls, to God.