Suzanne Bercier

Earlier this week, my dear friend Suzanne Bercier died. She had cancer, which is never fair, but Suzanne especially was so beautiful and so good.  We were college roommates.

She was from rural Louisiana, and everything you’ve heard about gracious, mellow Southerners was true in Suzanne. She had a merry eye, and thick, glossy hair; she was tall and slender, and when you sat down at her table, she made you feel like she’d been waiting all day for that moment.

She had an unshakable faith in the power of the Holy Name. When her room filled up with chatty, catty girls who veered into gossip and viciousness, she would whisper the name of Jesus and wait for the conversation to right itself.  She always invited, never pushed. The cafeteria was right next to the chapel, and when it was late afternoon, I met Suzanne hundreds of times:  she was heading to the bright chapel for daily Mass, I was fleeing to my smelly room for evening despair. And she would smile and invite, invite, invite. Want to come to Mass? Want to join us for a rosary? Okay, see you at dinner!

One clattering drawer of her dresser was full of bottles and powders, and every afternoon she would wince her way through a tall, clotted glass of some kind of chlorophyll drink.  Maybe she would have been sicker without all those handfuls of vitamins, I don’t know.  She endured so many colds and coughs, but holy cow, she worked, and worked, and worked. The idea of leaving an assignment undone was unthinkable to her, and she muscled her way through every dense text and incomprehensible passage. She chose Wallace Stevens for her junior project, because she was always looking for beauty.

In four years, I never heard her say an unkind word. She would laugh at herself, but never at anyone else.  She was a fountain of generosity. When we came back to school our sophomore year, I saw her in the parking lot, she held out her hands to me, and for a moment, we danced. It was strange, and I broke away laughing, but that is how she was: she was glad to see you, and held out her hands.

God rest the soul of Suzanne Therese Bercier, and God comfort the family that she loved so much and missed so much when she was away. And one more time, here is the song that could always get her to sing along:



Stupid movie game for punsters!

Today, I’m letting Fozzy Bear be my spirit guide.  Here’s the game:  take one letter out of the name of famous movies, and describe the new plot. Got the idea here.

Here are my contributions. Warning: all are stupid.


Ear Window A Being John Malkovich-esque metathriller in which Alfred Hitchcock witnesses a murder after crawling inside Grace Kelly’s head through her ear

Pats of Glory To you, they may just be pieces of ordinary butter, but to me, they’re . . . pats of glory

The Lives of Oters A frolicsome family of water mammals goes in search of their missing T

He Godfather  Tarzan must decide whether to resist his destiny as a mafia overlord

Even Samurai . . . get the blues

Oy Story A heartwarming story of friendship, loyalty, and gefilte fish

Das Bot A tense thriller set entirely on board software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet

Star Was A melancholy rumination by Mark Hamill on the fleetness of fame

Full Meta Jacket  A tightly knit band of overeducated hipsters wear jackets printed with pictures of other jackets

Madeus An angry black woman seeks to drive her musical rival to exhaustion in this rollicking, race-baiting tragicomedy set in 1823 Vienna

Some Like T Hot Some, however, prefer it with ice.

Chintown A buddy action movie starring Jay Leno and Bruce Campbell

Mr. Mith Goes to Washington When a lisping, cross-dressing Jimmy Stewart tries his hand at politics, he’s in for a rude surprise

Er Spike Jonez’ brilliantly re-imagined romcom, which explores modern ideas of love and intimacy, causing the audience to not know what to say

Hotel Wanda John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis star in this harrowing historical drama about courage in the face of genocide

Fining Nemo You lose track of your kid twice, you lose custody. First time, you just get a fine.

The Princess Brie In this fairy tale cult favorite, cheddar and swiss bow down to the Princess Brie

Back Swan  A young girl gets a tattoo, thinking she will never ever get tired of swans

All Abut Eve Are women individuals, in command our destinies? Are we truly free of the ancient past? Or when it comes down to it, don’t we . . . all abut Eve?

PIC Fozzie Bear


Wacka wacka! Thank you very much.

Okay, now your turn!


And that’s exactly why I wrote my book.

Okay, so I’ve been trying not to grouse publicly about it every time someone says boo to me. This is not that!

I came across a review that thought the first two third of my book (“NFP and your spiritual life” and “NFP and the rest of the world”) were good, but he really didn’t like the third part (“NFP in the trenches”).  He’s an NFP teacher, and thinks that maybe we need to talk about intimate things, but only in an intimate setting:  literally, person to person. His review got a comment:

I, too, have taught & used NFP for a long, long time and see or been told all sorts of things. In short, this is difficult ground to cover and perhaps this book has sold out too much to the sexual comfort levels of our current culture.

And I says to myself, I says, Well, that’s exactly why I wrote my book.  This person teaches NFP, and she thinks that sex should be uncomfortable. For way too many people, that is the message they’re getting about sexuality and their faith: don’t get comfortable! Don’t be honest. And God forbid you should be a product of “our current culture.”

But what if you are a product of our current culture? What are you supposed to do? When people are already wounded, it’s not very helpful to say, “What a shame there are wounds.” We need someone to lift the bandage.

Listen, I know this book is not for everybody. I may have a monstrous ego, but I never imagined I was writing The Definitive Compendium of Ideas that are Perfectly Suited for All Conceivable Audiences.  I know there are plenty of people who don’t want or don’t need to get really specific or frank about sexual matters. The cover was supposed to serve as a warning: Attention, squeamish people! Nakedness inside! If the cover freaks you out, you should probably pass on what’s inside.

But there are an awful lot of people who are hearing nothing but, “Sex is beautiful. Sex is meaningful. Sex is profound” and they want to believe it and they want to live it, but they are having a hard time figuring out how it applies to their actual specific naked bodies.  Many people read about covenants and veils and sacredness, and end up thinking either (a) this doesn’t apply to me. There must be something wrong with me or (b) this doesn’t apply to me. There must be something wrong with the Church.

So, that third section of my book, where I get pretty specific? It’s not supposed to answer all your questions about sex. It’s to help you and your spouse ask and answer those questions together — and to let you know that it’s okay to talk about these things. Yeah, I can live with that kind of “selling out.”


(DISCLAIMER: I didn’t link to the review, because I’m not trying to heap shame on anyone’s head, or encourage any kind of comment duel. I love getting reviews, good or bad, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t criticize me! I just thought the remarks I quoted were especially telling, and highlighted something important.)


RIP Jeremiah Denton

PIC Jeremiah Denton

Denton was the American POW who famously spelled out “T-O-R-T-U-R-E” in Morse code with his eyelids when he was forced to be part of a Vietnamese propaganda film. According to the New York Times:

Commander Denton was held in various prison camps, including the notorious “Hanoi Hilton,” and endured beatings, starvation, torture and more than four years of solitary confinement, including periodic detentions in coffinlike boxes. He and other officers nevertheless maintained a chain of command and a measure of discipline among the prisoners.

“I put out the policy that they were not to succumb to threats, but must stand up and say no,” he told The New York Times in 1973. “Figuratively speaking, we now began to lie on the railroad tracks hoping that the sheer bulk of our bodies would slow down the train. We forced them to be brutal to us.”

The commander was often punished for urging others to resist. He also devised ways for prisoners to communicate by signs or numbers, tapping on a wall or coughing signals in a sequence.

I don’t know much about his post-war career as a senator; but I read his war memoirWhen Hell Was In Session as a teenager, and was struck by how compassionate he was toward the soldiers who did break under torture.  A very strong man, but not merciless.  Jeremiah Denton was a Catholic with seven children. Eternal rest grant unto him, o Lord.


Springtime in New Hampshire

We’ve been stuck inside for a long, long time, and tempers can flare

and maybe we don’t feel as sorry as we should

but then Mama calls us in for supper

and we run right in

or at least we try.   (Yes, I actually had to get her unstuck. That mud is not fooling around!)

P.S. No sisters were harmed in the making of this photodrama.  But they did get muddy.  Really, rea

Love and betrayal and love again

I don’t have the mental energy to rehash everything that’s been said by me, Emma Smith, Leticia Adams, Calah Alexander, or anyone else in the debate over how to talk about fidelity in marriage.  If you missed it, you can probably count yourselves lucky!  It was a doozy.

But for anyone still standing, here’s what I keep thinking of: a passagefrom The Screwtape Letters. The “patient” — the soul the devil is trying to win — has converted, then failed, then returned again to God in true humility. Screwtape, the master tempter, says to his apprentice:

The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of “grace” for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.

The first conversion, when everything was new and thrilling, was absolutely necessary.But it’s not sufficient. Here’s what Kate Kelmelis had to say on my Facebook page:

I’ve been following this exchange and when I think of the original article (and the other newlyweds who piped up in agreement) what came to mind was Peter. “Even though others may leave you, Lord, I WOULD NEVER”. And in response to Jesus telling him he would deny him not once but three times that very night, more confidence from Peter “I would follow you even to death!” We all feel that way when first in love. It’s not strange or unusual that young couples “know” that they could each “never” betray one another. Catholics and non Catholics alike feel this way. And like Peter there’s nothing bad about it really, except that they haven’t been tested. Until you’ve been put to the test you just don’t know what you will or won’t do. You don’t know who you are (or will become). Not to say adultery is an inevitably. Just that I’m really wary of ever thinking there are sins that “good Catholics” just don’t commit. Good Catholics are as vulnerable to temptation as anyone else. I don’t see why some people would get so offended by that fact. Is our love for our spouse more pure than Peter’s was for Christ? Seems doubtful.

Yes indeed.  And it was only after Peter realized that he was capable of betraying Christ that he became the head of the Church on earth.  It was only after he sinned and was forgiven that he had the strength and courage to die for the one he loved.

And I have something else to say.

Many people are complaining that it’s dangerous or scandalous for engaged people or newlyweds to hear married people speaking about infidelity or betrayal of various kinds.  This may be true; but it’s also true that we’re not always talking to engaged people or newlyweds. Not everything that’s said in public has to be specially tailored for every conceivable audience.   It’s okay for people to discuss things that don’t apply to you or aren’t aimed at you.  If you are reading something that is upsetting or scandalizing you, stop reading. It’s really that simple.

If I were thrilled to be pregnant with my first child, I wouldn’t spend hours and hours reading about the reparative therapy that babies go through when they have serious birth defects. It would FREAK ME OUT, and rob me of the joy of my pregnancy. But it would be insane for me, as a pregnant women, to say, “I know that my baby will never go through that, because I take my vitamins and eat kale and get plenty of sleep.” And it would be downright offensive to tell mothers of those other babies, “You can’t say these things in public. It’s sad, and might scare other women away from wanting to have children.”

You know what’s scandalous? It’s scandalous to tell suffering people, “Don’t you speak.” It’s scandalous to tell them that their sorrows are making other people sad.  Good heavens. There are worse things than being sad. One of them is being happy and telling other people that, if only they were stronger, they’d be happy too.