Guest Post by a Priest of the Diocese of Sacramento: Reflections on the Rancho Tehama Shooting

Some might not be aware that on November 13-14, five people were killed and 18 others were injured by a single shooter at eight different locations (including an elementary school) in a small unincorporated community in Northern California. This submission is by the Very Reverend Avram Brown, a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento. /QMB


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I went for a long drive Wednesday night.  You’ve probably been on longer drives, of six, ten or twelve hours.  I drove for just two hours, but in the pouring rain, in the darkness, it felt like a long time.  You’ve had that experience, where the wipers are swiping through the streaking drops, and the headlights reaching through the rain into the black.

I was going to a place I’d never been before, so I had the small glowing light of my GPS directing me to turn left here, bank right there.  Here in the California valley the land is completely flat, so flat you can flood fields for rice seedlings, but we’re surrounded by the foothills that lead into the mountains.  My route led me into those foothills, so I went from the ruler-straight valley roads to the winding rolling country highways where the autumn oaks stretched their bare branches over the road like skeleton hands.

I arrived at my destination at a tiny community center in a tiny town, a public building like you’ve been in before, which is just walls and a roof, and this one with its “Maximum Capacity 90” sign inside.  When I arrived the space was already crowded and continued to fill so we were far exceeding the sign’s instruction.  I found there four other priests, and about that many Protestant pastors, amidst the families, adults and children: some holding the tiny candles that today are powered by batteries.

We were gathered there for the familiar purpose of Catholics in the month of November, to pray for the dead. We were also there to remember those who were hurt, who were wounded in the violence of the day before. One of the pastors had a wireless microphone, which we passed around to the different members of the gathering, so they could share their story.

What stood out the most was gratitude.  Parents described their gratitude for the teachers whose quick response had saved the lives of their children.  Teachers shared their thankfulness for the children who been so brave, and that they had lived.  We had a lot of tears, and still some fear and anger.

When I was handed the microphone, I reflected on the moment when Jesus encounters his friends Martha and Mary, and they lead him to where their brother is dead.  That’s the one place, I pondered, where we find Jesus weeping in the Gospels.

I described how close Jesus is to us when we weep for the departed, and reflecting on how the disciples saw how close Jesus was to his Father, I invited the gathering to pray the prayer that Jesus taught them.

For us who believe, we don’t know what fear, what violence, we will have to face in our lives.  But we do know the one who has conquered death, whose light shines through every darkness.

A lot of things in life can offer us happiness, comfort, or soothing.  But we have to ask each of them how they handle death.  And if they don’t have an answer like our God can give, that’s our cue to leave them behind and embrace the one whose death gives us life.

I’ll always remember the dark road I drove and the candlelit gathering I found at the end.  And I hope when I arrive at my last day, I’ll embrace the one who has the answer for every death.  And I hope I’ll find you there.

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Another Vasectomy Question

From a commenter to my post, Vasectomy and the Catholic Church: Search Engine Q&A:

My wife has had repeated miscarriages since she has gotten older (seven so far). We have been abstaining to avoid another miscarriage. I believe it would be acceptable in God’s eyes for one of us to have a procedure that would make it impossible for her to become pregnant, but she does not. What does The Church say?

My response:

Dear ___________:

I received your question concerning the situation with your wife having had a number of miscarriages. As someone who has experienced (as a husband and father) two miscarriages myself, I am very sorry that you and your wife have had to go through this. Depending on how far along into a pregnancy the miscarriage occurs, it can be very traumatic and painful.

I’d suggest that you first go to a priest who you know and trust and talk to him about this situation. Since you earnestly asked the question, I assume you want to find answers that are authentic reflections of what the Church actually teaches. On occasion priests can be found who will put a “rubber stamp” on things that are pretty questionable. Such priests actually make things worse. If you don’t have a “go-to” priest, maybe begin by asking a trusted friend who he or she would see about this concern.

Please understand that *I* am not an authority on official Church teaching. But I can tell you that my *understanding* is that the Church’s view on “having a procedure that would make it impossible” for your wife to become pregnant would not be favorable.

This is because, first, there are other NON-PERMANENT things that you and your wife can do that don’t affect either your or your wife’s reproductive capacity. For example, many Catholic couples, for a variety of reasons, practice Natural Family Planning, which allows the couple to observe the wife’s cycle and determine which days she might be fertile or ovulating. The rest of the times during the cycle the couple need not abstain. There may also be other options that could be discussed further with a trustworthy priest.

There is also a second serious problem that would arise with a permanent procedure, which is that sexual union between spouses is intended by God to reflect the “unitive, procreative, and donative” elements of marriage. “Unitive” is essentially what Jesus talks about in the Gospel when he refers to the two becoming “one flesh”. “Donative” is the free giving of self to one’s spouse, which isn’t entirely possible once one intentionally interrupts the part of oneself that leads to procreation. “Procreative” is the part that brings about children.

When we talk about these elements, we can’t give what we don’t possess, and sometimes that’s not our fault. If a person is born sterile, it doesn’t mean they can’t marry. But we aren’t free intentionally remove our own “faculties” either. Doing so is essentially a rejection of a gift from God. We are, in the moment, returning the thing that God gave us for our own good and happiness and choosing something else that God did not intend.

“Unitive, procreative, and donative” aspects of sexual expression also help us understand *why* sex is reserved for marriage. It simply isn’t possible to do what God intends for us in the sexual act with a partner outside marriage. We might be “having sex”, but at least one (if not all) of the elements intended to present in the act are missing.

When we turn one or more of these elements “off” within marriage, we run the risk of harming the marriage itself.

Please know that I will be praying for you and your wife, and wish you a very blessed Easter.

“Son of Quartermaster” Reports on Food in China

FullSizeRenderQuartermaster’s Note: This is a “guest post” by my oldest son, a 13-year-old beginning 8th grade this year, who traveled with me to China this Summer.

In China there were many times when our group would sit down to a meal, and just be blown away, by food that didn’t even cost half the amount of a much lower-standard American Chinese restaurant, but looked and tasted three times as good!! In this way Chinese cuisine in China was on a whole other level.

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A chef at a restaurant in Beijing preparing to serve the famous “Peking Duck”

One of the things noticeably different in the places we ate, yet such an improvement, was the lack of fried flavorless meat with an overwhelmingly sticky sweet sauce (e.g., lemon chicken, General Tso chicken, orange beef, etc.). Instead, meat was carefully cut according to its cooking method, seasoned and flavored with things like cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, all sorts of other interesting spices and ingredients, and without heavy doses of syrup or sugar.

There were lots of interesting proteins to try: in addition to chicken and beef, we enjoyed pork, lamb, mutton, duck, and an array of fresh seafood. One of my favorite dishes was lamb cut into strips and stir-fried in a hot wok with lots of different spicy peppers and cumin. It was brought to the table atop a little portable stove that kept the aromatic meat sizzling through the meal.

With at least one vegetarian in our group at all times, we enjoyed lots of different

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American fast food such as KFC is fairly popular in large Chinese cities, but we were too busy enjoying all the authentic Chinese food to try it

vegetables and tofu. I don’t normally like tofu, in part because it’s rather flavorless, but the preparations of it in China were varied in terms of texture and cooking method — we sampled it in soups, cubed and deep-fried or cut into ribbons and stir-fried. Generally, tofu actually tasted like something edible, and since we always had other dishes with meats at mealtime, the amazingness of the meat balanced out the quantity of tofu, so that the tofu dishes became another fun thing to try.

During my visit to China I learned some things about stereotypes concerning Chinese food. For example, dog as food is not as widely accepted in China as the stereotype suggests. In fact, one of our hosts in Taiyuan shared his experience that animals like dogs and mules are sometimes consumed as food in China, but usually eaten only in certain areas and at specific times, like special festivals. He also told us that he would not eat the meat of an animal that he knew has been mistreated.

Picture2Soy sauce is a universal condiment at the Chinese restaurant in the United States, but not something you find on the table in China; it’s still an ingredient in cooking, but it is far more common to find a condiment such as hot chili oil or malt vinegar (certain provinces, such as Shanxi, are famous for special vinegars). All you salty rice lovers, being your own soy sauce.

The weirdest thing I ate in China was definitely scorpion, which we tried on Wong fu Jing street in Beijing. It was my first fried arachnid, and while crunching into something with tiny little legs and a stinger was a new experience, the taste was similar to crispy fried chicken skin, and hence, not bad. The most upsetting part of the experience with eating scorpion was watching the live ones that had been skewered and anchored in display baskets, waiting for their turn in the fryer, squirming around while remaining fixed in place.

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YUM!

As a seafood lover who is especially fond of sushi, I enjoyed visiting the local markets in Beijing, which had an absolute top notch selection of not only fresh and live fish, but all sorts of shellfish, shrimp, crab, octopus and squid, oysters, claims and other mollusks. We saw an amazing variety of things from the sea during our visit.

IMG_1918My personal food favorite of the trip definitely goes to the dumplings (“Jiaozi”). Unlike potstickers common in American restaurants, jiaozi are steamed and very tender. The dumplings contain a delicious mix of meat and vegetable, and usually a little “soup” that escapes when you bite into one. They are served with vinegar and chili oil. I enjoyed them so much, and literally ate dozens of them during the trip.

My trip to China this summer was one of the most tantalizingly awesome trips I have ever embarked upon, for me and my palate. I hope to travel there again very soon, and for anyone reading this, I hope that that your experiences involving China are filled not only with God’s love and grace, but also with the amazing Chinese  cuisine that I love so much.

Gaudete Means Rejoice!

FullSizeRender 4As the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday seems a turning of the corner within the liturgical season. We begin to “Rejoice!” as we approach the Nativity of our Lord.

As a family, we marked the occasion by putting up our Christmas decorations. The Christmas tree will remain festooned only with lights until the 22nd or 23rd when we’ll decorate it with all the ornaments and everything else.

I decorated a little, but most of what I did on Sunday concerned another highly important thing, beer! I managed to brew a big batch (almost 25 gallons) of Religious Liberty back in October. It was ready to keg.IMG_0579

I decided, for fun, and since I’m somewhat lacking in variety this year (it’s been far too busy!) to mix up the dry-hopping.

Religious Liberty is normally all Cascades in the boil, and then also dry-hopped with Cascades. The result is a very “citrusy” pale ale, specifically orange flavors.

I decided to dry-hop two of the five kegs the regular way, but then also make a “Christmas Liberty” version, still dry-hopping with Cascades but also adding an equivalent amount of Simcoes, which are known for having a “piney” or “resinous” aroma.

Finally, since only four kegs fit in my kegerator at once, I decided to “cask” the last keg (which for me, means letting it sit at cellar temperature for 2-3 months to allow it to carbonate naturally).

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Pope Benedict is at the Synod on the Family

[NOTE: For the first time on Quartermaster of the Barque, I fired the censor and used the same profane word three times. Anyone who might be scandalized should go away.]

It is wearying that so much attention is paid — even in a circle so apparently festooned with the best kind of people as we churchblogging Catholics — to individuals who seem to delight in raising the anxiety level and drama of the Business.

Pope Francis, we are told, is presiding over pure chaos. Schism anon, because he intends to permit divorce. divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. Same-sex marriages, or at least blessings of civil ceremonies, or tacit approval of some unacceptable sort for same-sex relationships will be another fruit of the Synod. All the while, there will be a bunch of sloppy cloppy platitudinal relatios that either are meaningless in terms of content or loaded with ambiguity.

I call bullshit. And here’s why.

His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (ya know, the guy with all the memes currently trending on Facebook with the “clear teachings” on the family) is present at the Synod, at least figuratively.

A pope can’t be blamed for dying. Every pope has died. Every pope will die, until the end of time. But Pope Benedict didn’t die and, (Deo gratias) hasn’t died. No, he chose to renounce the chair.

And let’s not indulge any of those utterly absurd claims that he was somehow coerced to do it. Double triple quadruple infinity bullshit. Benedict told us that he was not coerced. Are you calling God’s Rottweiler, the one and only der panzerkardinal, a LIAR??? You’re actually going to accuse Joseph Ratzinger of committing a potentially supreme violation of conscience?

No? Good. So let’s roll that steaming nugget away, OKAY?

We know that Benedict prayed and received assurance that a decision to abdicate would not harm the Church, but perhaps even strengthen it. It would be utter bullshit to argue that His Holiness did otherwise, or that he neglected his sacred obligations, or intended to cause evil or harm.

Pope Francis, however enigmatic, has given no cause to be branded a heretic or enemy of the Church. And moreover, by all appearances the other bishop in white is serene. This moment in the Church is secondary to his will. He acted. From that we should all draw immense comfort. He continues to shepherd us, pray for us, and walk with God.

A Week Ago We Went to the Pacific Ocean…..

And all I caught was a terrific summer cold. My immune system is still in combat mode. But that’s life. A cold is a great reminder of our tremendous olfactory faculties.

It was a great trip to this same campsite on the Northern California coast where I’ve been going for nearly 30 years. We were blessed to have Fr. A with us for one night. We enjoyed some great beer, and as a slight alternative to traditional camping cuisine, the first night I made New England Clam Chowder, with fresh clams, and sourdough bread, which is a big favorite in our family.

Proper Quartermaster Provisioning

Proper Quartermaster Provisioning

The Hike

The Hike

The Vista

The Vista

"Beach Art" - Unknown

“Beach Art” – Unknown

Tidepools

Tidepools

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Preparations under way for Holy Mass

Preparations under way for Holy Mass

Verdict: The Quartermaster is Right about Cry Rooms

Over a year ago, I wrote a post (entirely grounded upon my opinion) condemning cry rooms in Catholic churches. That post generated a fair amount of traffic, comment and controversy. At least, a “tempest in a teapot” amount of controversy.

Then, in January 2014, the Holy Father baptized a group of babies at the Sistine and said that “the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the infants who will make a noise…” I posted a followup to the original post on cry rooms entitled: Pope Francis agrees: Children Don’t Belong in Cry Rooms, and Neither Do You. I stated, somewhat “tongue in cheek”, that Pope Francis agrees with me.

Source: Flickr, under Creative Commons license; Author: jason john paul haskins

Source: Flickr, under Creative Commons license; Author: jason john paul haskins

Tongue in cheek because, while I am an avowed opponent of cry rooms myself, it seems fairly apparent (to me, at least), that I don’t speak for our Holy Father.

Everyone knows that fame and Catholic blogging are never partners, but shortly after I posted that blog about Pope Francis, I received an e-mail from a pretty “famous” Catholic “personality” who blogs, who objected (primarily) to the headline and my attempt to conflate the words of Pope Francis. He (fairly) pointed out that the secular media engages in this practice, and we should be careful not to do the same thing to try to bolster our own opinions.

I was somewhat humbled. Disappointed that my first one or two brushes with a “Catholic celebrity” hadn’t exactly garnered me any favorable ratings. I thought it charitable that this person elected not to make his disagreement public without first approaching me privately.

If nothing else, I wanted to be fair. And I was afraid of being denounced. So I changed the title of the blog post and I made a few modifications to the article. I thanked him via e-mail, and told him it had been very exciting to discover that he even knew who I was, much less had taken me seriously enough to spend the time to write me an e-mail.

Although I’m trying to be more circumspect when it comes to inferring the Holy Father’s positions, I don’t think there’s much left to infer regarding the Pope’s opinions regarding cry rooms, because on December 14, 2014, he said this:

“Children cry, they are noisy, they don’t stop moving. But it really irritates me when I see a child crying in church and someone says they must go out. God’s voice is in a child’s tears: they must never be kicked out of church.”

Read the rest here.

Just to be fair, this article does not state that Pope Francis is speaking directly about cry rooms. Okay? But it strains credulity to suggest that a pope is in favor of cry rooms when he says children must never be kicked out of church, because that’s exactly what cry rooms do.

14745079586_c1d31054d3_osuppose, if we must get really pedantic, that some parents may view cry rooms as a comfort or oasis from worry about disturbing others during mass. I suppose that some might not agree that cry rooms equate to being “kicked out of church”.

But I say in response, “If you built it, they will come.” If a parish constructs a cry room, it sends the clear message that crying babies and their errant parents should go there. It sends the clear message that certain members of the faithful are not welcome to take part in mass with the rest of the assembly. In effect, a cry room effectively does what Pope Francis says must never happen.

The Pope’s statement is NOT infallible, magisterial, take it or leave it dogma of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. It falls squarely into a matter normally relegated to the local Ordinary, at least to date (AFAIK). But if you, like me, believe that Pope Francis is the type of pastor who is always pointing to Christ, then we need to earnestly reevaluate whether cry rooms belong in our churches, because as of now it’s not purely about my opinion (or yours).

Holy Father has Message for Fathers suffering Workaholism

From January 28, 2015 general audience:

“Father is a universal word, known to all. It indicates a fundamental relationship that is real and ancient as the history of mankind. Today, however, we have reached the point of affirming that ours would be a ‘society without fathers’…. And, as often happens, we have passed from one extreme to the other. The problem of our times no longer seems to be the invasive presence of fathers, but rather their absence. … Fathers are so focused on themselves, on their work and at times their personal fulfilment, that they even forget their families, leaving children and the young to their own devices. … Now, on this shared path of reflection on the family, I would like to say to all Christian communities that we must be more careful: the absence of the paternal figure in the life of children and the young produces lacunae and wounds that can be very serious. And in effect the deviances of children and adolescents may to a considerable extent be due to this lack of examples and authoritative guidance in their everyday life, to this lack of closeness and love from their fathers”.

Truth. Read the rest here.

Even though, as a father, I am “here” much of the time (at least physically) it is still too easy to forget that what frequently occupies our attention — respect, success, money — is entirely unimportant compared to the magnificent gifts we find in our children and family.

And, the one thing (no matter how distracted I am) that constantly catches my attention is how quickly it all goes — how one minute you’re holding a little baby, bouncing him on your knee and changing his diapers, and how the very next minute he is bounding through the door with youthful vigor, emptying your refrigerator, and “borrowing” your underwear and socks. In another minute, he’ll be standing on the lawn of some college quad somewhere, watching you drive away. And in a minute after that, God willing, you’ll be bouncing a grandchild on your knee, and passing him back to mom or dad when the little one has a soiled diaper.

I suspect that a question we may have to answer to Our Father in Heaven, relative to our roles as fathers, is “Where were you?” Not, “Where were you, when your {boss}{client}{customer}{coworker}{vendor} needed you?”