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For all the saints (including all the jerks)

A few years ago, Max Lindenman asked “What saints can’t you stand?” The responses are pretty interesting: There are some saints that no one likes, because they were unpleasant weirdos. Then there are some that inspire and enchant some people, while repelling and disgusting others. For me, St. John Vianney is one of these repellant types. Every time I hear a saint quote that makes me go, “WHAT?!?!” it turns out to be St. John Vianney. Oh, well—there are plenty of other saints.

When John Paul II was canonized, all of my favorite people were overjoyed that this holy man was being honored, but some Catholics were dubious, even snotty. Some simply don’t like him (how??), while others had serious doubts about his worthiness. It occurs to me that, when people react differently to the saints, there are three lessons to be drawn.

First is that even saints are a product of their times. Sincere spirituality takes different forms according to fads and culture—that’s just the human condition. And so when Padre Pio threw the lady out of his confessional and refused to speak to her until she stopped selling pants to women—well, he was a man of his times. At the time, selling women’s pants truly was a deliberate assault against gender distinction as it existed in that time. The woman in question probably was doing something wrong, just as a woman from the Middle Ages would have been doing something wrong by showing her bare knees: It’s not because knees or pants are intrinsically evil, but because it’s all about context and intention.

Now, it’s very possible that a Padre Pio alive in 2014 would be just as furious at a female pants-seller of 2014. And there’s our second lesson, which is: Saints can be jerks, too. Saints are not infallible; saint are not flawless. Saints sin. They may say or do t hings which are false, silly or harmful. If a priest today threw a woman out of confession for selling pants, he’d be sinning. He might still be a saint: He’d just have to go to confession for that particular sin.

And the third lesson we can learn is that this variety in saintliness is a feature, not a bug. When I adore Saint Fonofrius, but you think he’s a drippy bore, that’s part of God’s plan. It’s one of those “Catholic with a small c” ideas: The Church is here for everybody. While there are certain things that every single living soul is called to, there is always a matter of proportion. For some saints, generosity is their talent. For others, it’s great physical courage. For some saints, their entire lives tell a story of incredible singlemindedness and purity of intention; for others, God used them as the finest living example of someone who kept screwing up, repenting and trying again.

God is the light, and the saints are various types of lamps: Some produce a lovely glow; some produce a brilliant beam. Some make more heat; others are better for atmosphere. Some are for ballrooms, some are for bedsides, some are for keeping traffic orderly. The light inside is the same, but different styles show that light in different ways. A surgeon wouldn’t use a Tiffany lamp in the operating room—but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the Tiffany lamp. It’s just not the right one for that particular job.

So, the grumblers against John Paul II wish he had been a better administrator? Me too. But it wasn’t his particular talent. They wish John Paul II had been more canny, more suspicious of Maciel? Me too, and can you even imagine how much he must have wished it himself. But that wasn’t his particular talent.

When he trusted Maciel, it was a mistake committed because he was a product of his times (nearly everyone trusted Maciel; the Legionaries were apparently bearing wonderful fruit; and false accusations of pedophilia were a common tactic in his home country). It’s also possible that he committed this mistake because of personal flaw: He was Pope, and should have been more careful. (That is absolutely not for me to say—but this is a man who went to confession daily, so he clearly thought he was a sinner.)

But let’s not forget the third lesson: A saint is someone who does the most he can with his particular gifts from God. John Paul’s particular talents were an incredible strength and courage, a contagious joy, a spectacularly original mind, and an unprecedented ability to reach out and draw people to Christ. All of his works were works of love. And that’s why he was declared a saint: He used what God gave him to reflect his share of the light of Christ.

*****
[This post originally ran in a slightly different form in 2011.]

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How to make your Halloween magnificent!

We never did find out what Wish Bear was so angry about. I thought she looked magnificent.

We never did find out what Wish Bear was so angry about. I thought she looked magnificent.

Our founding fathers didn’t die face down in the mud of Vietnam only to see my children struggling through the night with only Mary Janes, Good and Plenty, nameless lollipop blobs, and Bit-o’- Chicken to sustain them, like I did when I was a kid. Those were dark times. We can do better.

Read the rest at the Register.

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It’s our 17th anniversary SALE-abration!

I can’t even believe I just said that.

Anyway, tomorrow is my and Damien’s 17th wedding anniversary, which we will be celebrating with great joy, eventually. Heck, we’ve kept it together for seventeen years, more or less, so I guess we can hold out for one more week.

Seemed like as good a time as any to put my dear beloved ebook back on sale. I wish I could put the paperback or audiobook on sale, but the ebook is the only one I control.The price is now as low as Amazon will let me set it: $2.99.

 

sinners guide to nfp cover

 

Here is an excerpt from a recent review that I really liked:

The chapter on discerning when to use NFP, and when not to, is well balanced and empowering. The chapter on free will and discerning God’s will is brilliant, easy to understand and should be cut and pasted into any book about discerning God’s will for your life! The chapter on laughing and sex is helpful and also very amusing. Her chapter on what husbands and wives can do for each other is also helpful, but all these things do not make the book as valuable as the main thread of her argument that runs through each chapter.

Fisher’s main point is this: sex is for grown-ups. So if you want fantastic sex, you need to grow up! When we are childish, petulant, selfish and lazy in our approach to sex, it will be disappointing to say the least. So the struggles with married life are a gift in that, learning to be a grown-up in our most intimate relationship not only makes that relationship much more fun, frolicsome and fulfilling, it teaches us to be grown-ups in every other aspect of our lives. In short, marriage helps us grow in holiness.

I like that very much. Happy anniversary to us!

anniversary pic 1

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Mercola Officially Endorses Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass to Cure Ebola

No, really. Here’s the article, and here’s the money quote from one Dr. Robert Rowen, an “oxidative therpist” (emphasis mine):

Ozone is quite versatile, as you can administer it in many different ways. It’s extraordinary in terms of its anti-infective and antiviral action, and it has virtually no toxicity, making it a prime candidate for both prevention and treatment.

Ozone is only hard on the lungs, but it can be given in other ways. It can be given intravenously. It can be given in the bladder, in the vagina, in the rectum, via injection – anywhere.

You read it here first, folks. Right up the ass, and away goes the virus! (For the Mercola-resistant among us, here’s a wee bit of background about the effectiveness of oxygen therapy.)

Rumor has it that, for a small fee, you can request a specific nurse to administer the ozone into the orfice of your choice.

sexy ebola nurse

Well, goodnight, everyone.

 

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Seven Quick takes: Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

Wow, I haven’t done a 7QT in forever! And I’m not actually doing one now. This post originally ran in 2010. I was inspired to rerun it when the The New Yorker printed this appreciation of A Canticle for Leibowitz . Enjoy, thou parents looking for some decent fiction for your older kids!

***

Sorry this is so long.  I didn’t have time to write anything shorter.

Seven Quick Takes:  Seven Really Good Books for Young Adults

When I was in high school, everything we read had to be about either the Holocaust, or suicide, or both.  An exception could be made for books about racism, provided several lynchings were described in technicolor.  Then, after we finished our assigned reading for the year, the school board would hold a workshop on what to do about rampant and debilitating depression in the student body.

Well, it’s too late for me, of course.  As soon as I’m done with this post, I’m going to go huff some wood glue, write a note blaming my parents, and OD on some Xanax I stole from the locker room while listening to Nevermind (to my younger readers:  check your oldies station if that reference puzzles you.  Oh, lord. . . )

But you still have a chance.  Here are seven books of fiction I recommend for your teenager or almost-teenager.  Kids that age do enjoy a good bout of angst, but these are books that don’t glorify teenage gloom, or teach that it’s the world’s job to learn to appreciate the delicate genius that is Teenage Me.  Not all of the books are about teenagers, and all of them could easily be enjoyed by adults.  Most of these books are about courage, and about something that teenagers really need to know:  how to discern true love from its flashier counterfit.  With the possible  exception of the Patterson novels, I don’t think this list is too girly.  The only other thing they have in common is that they are stuffed with good ideas that young people need to hear, and the writing is far above average. There is even one post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, such as the young parsons enjoy these days.

–1–

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

This one is often included in YA lists, but not for the right reasons, I think.  Teenagers won’t fully appreciate the themes of love and fidelity in this  fleshing-out of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but there is plenty else in this gorgeous and searing novel to grab them by the scruff of the neck and shake the stupid ideas out of them.  Heartrending and intense.  For grades 9 and up.

–2 and 3–

Two novels by Katherine Patterson:

Jacob Have I Loved is a coming-of-age novel about twin girls living on a crabbing island in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1940′s.  One sister is lovely, talented, fragile, and secretly vicious — the other, the narrator, is plain, strong, and full of rage.  The character of the horrible old grandmother is unforgettable.  The book achieves something I always look for in a novel:  honesty about the flaws of the main character, with flashes of sympathy for even the worst characters.  Flawless in structure, characterization, and style.  For grades 7 and up.

Another excellent novel by Patterson, suitable for grades 5 and up, is The Great Gilly Hopkins.

It’s like Flannery O’Connor, Jr.  Great portrayals of hypocrisy, great portrayals of genuine love by a genuine Christian, who happens to be a fat, trashy, semi-literate foster mother named Trotter.  It could easily have dissolved into melodrama, but resists.  My only quibble is with the character of the black teacher, Miss Harris — she seems a bit too glibly drawn as the hard-as-nails and smart-as-a-whip black teacher with a heart of gold, etc.  All the rest of the characters, though, are thoroughly believable, from Trotter, to her pathetic ward William Ernest Teague (W.E.T.), to the greasy-haired would-be sidekick, Agnes Stokes.  (See, I remember all their names, and I haven’t read this book for years.  It sticks with you!)  I believe it’s sold as a novel about racism, but it’s really just about love, failures of love, and redemption.

–4–

The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter

I know, I know.  The guy passed it off as an autobiography, and it wasn’t.  Pretty awful — but darn it, I still like the book.  It is beautiful and funny, and I feel happy while reading it.  I wish I knew the characters in real life, which is more than you can say for most novels or autobiographies.  If you’ve heard that this book is just a piece of anti-white propaganda, you’ll be surprised.  I suppose there’s a message in it, but it’s not the main point — the story is, and it’s a wonderful story about a boy growing up with his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather in the mountains during Prohibition.   Also, it makes descriptions of scenery interesting.

Apparently it’s been criticized as perpetuating the “noble savage” stereotype of the American Indian, but, again, I just don’t see that.  What I read was an ancient story of happiness, broken by a terrible grief and darkness of separation, and then a return to happiness, until Eden is outgrown.  To read more into it than that is to deprive yourself of a good story.  For grades 6 and up.

–5–

A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

This one is for older teens, for sure.  The story is complicated and demands a lot of the reader.  To be honest, I’m too tired to explain the plot to you.  It’s about Catholic monks and Jews and miracles and nuclear war and space travel and mutants.  It’s a crazy, grotesque, hilarious, fascinating epic with lots and lots of ideas.  There is a disturbing theme of the cyclic nature of history that seems to imply a “new” Immaculate Conception, but a teenager with a good grounding in the faith won’t be troubled by it.  I like how the priests are real men.  It will appeal to lovers of science fiction, but is so much more than that.

–6–

The Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi

Three collections of short, sweet, funny and poignant stories from post-WWII Italy about a large and rash village priest and his rival, the equally large and rash communist mayor Peppone.  If you don’t enjoy these stories, there is something wrong with you.  I could do without the cartoonish illustrations by the author, but the stories are hugely entertaining, and touch on all kinds of interesting theological ideas.  Don Camillo’s conversations with the crucified Christ in his church are authentic and moving.  For grades 7 and up.

–7–

Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

Please note that, for your edification, I hunted until I found what is probably the most hideous and irrelevant book cover ever to cover a book. I mean, look at it! What the hell is that?

The first two books of the space trilogy are great stories and provide so many memorable scenes (the third in the series, That Hideous Strength, takes a different turn and is not for the kiddies).  It was from Perelandra that I learned that evil isn’t interesting and the devil isn’t clever or charming — as Ransom learns one night as keeps watch on the beach with the Un-Man, and they have the following dialogue all night long  “Ransom.” –  “What?” – ” . . .Nothing.”

For more mature teenagers — there are ideas about sexuality which are entirely Catholic (yes, I know Lewis wasn’t), but which less mature kids won’t be able to manage.  The only part that might strike readers as dated is the fact that the villain wants to conquer worlds and force humankind on the universe, whereas today’s humanist villains are more interested in shrinking and curtailing the human race.  It might be an interesting conversation to discuss what the current evil ideas have in common with the ones in the books.

There are many, many wonderful scenes in both books.  I was especially affected, as a teenager, by the passage in Perelandra where Ransom protests to God that there is a representative of Evil in the world, fighting for the soul of the unfallen Lady — and why is there no champion of Good?  And the silent and terrifying  answer comes booming back at him:  you.  There is also the memorable phrase, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, here goes!  I mean, Amen!”  Lewis’ descriptions of scenery are the only drawback to these books — he does go on and on, and you have to read really carefully to understand what he is describing.  I think these passages could simply be excised without any damage to the books.  For grades 10 and up.

————–

You’ll notice there is no Madeleine L’Engle in this list.  I read her books several times as a Young Adult, and I’m sure they influenced me, but I just don’t like her.  I don’t like her smarmy characters, I don’t like how her ideals of family life are utterly saturated in six kinds of snobbery.  I don’t like the loosey goosey games she plays with comparative religion, and her stories leave me cold,  irritated and unsatisfied.  I’m always astonished that she’s described as some kind of genius — her prose always strikes me as hokey and stilted.  She is very original, I’ll admit, but I have very little patience with her “Oh-the-aching-wonder-of-it-all” genre.  I wouldn’t say “don’t read her stuff,” but I think you’ll do just fine if you never do read her.

Okay, so, yay, I wrote a blog post!  Thanks to the gracious and prolific (in every way)Jen Fulwiler for hosting Seven Quick Takes every Friday.

UPDATE:  In the comments of the original post, several readers mentioned Patterson’s Bridge to Terebithia and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  My take:  yes, Bridge to Terebithia is just awful.  As reader Suburban Correspondent put it,  “It was everything that was wrong with YA books in my youth – all the hopelessly messed-up adults, the characters manipulated by the author to send some sort of message.”  Yup, pretty much a blight on Patterson’s career.  Her books that I recommended are totally different.  I also remember that her novel The Master Puppeteer was quite good, and is about a boy.  She has written many  historical novels for young adults.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fantastic — good call, folks.  I can’t imagine a boy really enjoying it, but it really is a wonderful book, despite some hokiness  It’s about a girl growing up in the slums in Brooklyn before and during World War II.  Betty Smith’s other books, unfortunately, are dreadful!  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is fiction, but obviously semi-autobiographical, and is very moving and full of insight into a young girl’s mind.  Some of her notions about sex could be a little damaging to susceptible girls, though, so you should probably read this one first, and discuss it with your daughter.

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These 3D printable masks could save Halloween.

Halloween is in eight days.  So far, I have (a) ordered one light blue hoodie from Ebay and (b) yelled at everybody.  Since we have to come up with nine costumes — or 17, really, since the older kids always pick a trick-or-treating costume that would be inappropriate for school, and so we have to come up with a second costume that won’t trigger an automatic lock-down. Thank goodness we’re terrible Catholics and quietly ignore All Saint’s Day, except for going to Mass, or we’d be looking at eight days to find 27 costumes.

Anyway, here is something amazing: printable paper masks of animals and other creatures from Wintercroft Masks. You pay a small sum, download a PDF, print it out, cut and assemble, and then paint them if you like. Very nicely designed, and the guy says they are structurally quite sturdy. Check out the lion:

 

mask lion

 

You can see he spray painted it gold for a neat Tron Lion effect, but you could also do a more naturalistic style, or you could make it kind of stylized and tribal. Lots of possibilities!

 

mask skull

 

Same for this one. Very effective with just plain white and black, or you could go for a dia de los muertos effect.

Here’s a tiger:

 

mask tiger

 

which could also easily be a leopard or adorable kitty cat, depending on how you decorate it.

There are lots more. It says it will take you two to three hours to assemble the masks. If you click on the individual pictures in the gallery, you will see strange and hilarious vignettes of people wearing the masks in odd settings. No shipping costs, no shopping, and you can still consider it semi-homemade. Love it.

Oh, so if you’re wondering, here are our kids’ plans for Halloween (and yes, the big kids are dressing up. I don’t care). From youngest to oldest:

  • 2-year-old: Rainbow Dash (that’s who the light blue hoodie is for. I can quickly and easily make a mane, ears, tail and cutie mark out of felt and hot glue, right? Tell me this will be simple. Lie to me.)
  • 5-year-old: A fairy princess (GOD BLESS YOU, FIVE-YEAR-OLD)
  • 7-year-old: A Creeper from Minecraft (just a painted box head and green clothes, right?)
  • 8-year-old: I forget what
  • 10-year-old: Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator
  • 12-year-old: Two Face (there is still some deliberation about which version. I am recusing myself from that debate, on the grounds that I don’t care)
  • 14-year-old: An elven princess who enjoys sewing her own costumes!!!!!!!!!
  • 15-year-old: This guy from Die Hard:

PIC “now I have a machine gun ho ho ho”

 

I am torn about this one. Yes, it’s an easy costume. And yet . . .

  • And the 16-year-old is putting together a Kakashi Hatake costume. That’s all I know about that, except for the yelling.

And what are we going to do about the school-appropriate costumes? I think they will all just have to be paper foxes, and like it.