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More edification than you can shake a shtick at

Is it Eastertide? Is it the springtime? Or is it the Zoloft finally kicking in? Either way, I’m having a terrible time buckling down and worrying about serious things, and look at the time! Let’s play a little game.

The rules are simple: Remove one letter from a famous movie title, and briefly describe the new plot. Here are a few of my favorites from last time:

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

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

Even Samurai . . . get the blues

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

Chintown A buddy action movie starring Jay Leno and Bruce Campbell

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?

STUPID, RIGHT? Dangerously stupid.

Okay, here are my new contributions:

Dadpool: We’re so, so tired of antiheros. Time for the greatest regular old hero of all: Dad. Get that man some sun block!

Fifty Shades of Ray: In no particular order, because I already got yelled at enough this week: Ray Charles, Ray Romano, Ray Liotta, and Ray Krok. That’s four. Thirty-six to go…

God’s Not Dad: In this inspiring Christian drama, a courageous young cult member finds the guts to speak truth to power and calls out his father as not, in fact, being the reincarnation of Zeus. More edification than you can shake a shtick at.

Aging Bull:  Ferdinand: The Latter Years. What happens when all the pretty ladies no throw no flowers no more?

EST Side Story: In this gritty daylight savings time-inspired reimagining of a classic, two star-crossed lovers come very close to dying tragically for love, but forget to reset their clocks to Eastern Standard Time, and miss the rumble altogether. Oogly-oo!

It’s a Wonderful Lie: Everyone would have been way better off if George Bailey had never been born, but his kind neighbors conspire to delude him into thinking he’s well-loved and productive.

Be-Hur: The Caitlyn Jenner story. Gladiator booooots, OMG!

Finding Emo: Is that an ocean, or are you just crying a million million billion billion tears?

To Ill A Mockingbird: You gotta fight . . . for your right . . . to nest in corncribs.

Good Ill Hunting: He’s the illest mathematician from here to Gardena!

The Best Ears of Our Lives: In this chatty, semifictionalized biopic sponsored by Q-Tip, Leonard Nimoy and Vincent Van Gogh wax nostalgic. HA.

Aws: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and a grizzled fisherman set out to conquer it . . .with an adorable army of feisty shih tzus! Aww.

The Eer Hunter: At this point, my daughter shouted, “They can’t all be about ears, Mama!” Fine.

All Quit on the Western Front: They were sick and tired of Judy’s nonsense, that’s why.

You can’t possibly do worse than that. Whatcha got?

 

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For the Catholic Suffering from Scruples

Scrupulosity might look foolish or even funny to outsiders, but for people gripped in its claws, it’s hellish. I mean that literally: it feels like we are locked away from God and His love. Scrupulosity is a coil of fear, doubt, guilt, and despair.

Read the rest at the Register. 

***

Detail of “Anxiety” – Sculpture by Ahad Hosseini, photo by Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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How the Little Sisters of the Poor tripped the circuit

Raise your hand if you expected the Supreme Court’s response to the Little Sisters of the Poor case yesterday. No one, right? I know! I had very little hope that they would rule in favor of the sisters, and I didn’t expect any response at all until summer at the earliest.  There hasn’t been a decision yet, but they did basically ask the sisters, “Okay, fine, we’re out of ideas. What do you think would work?”

That’s no victory, of course, but it’s no defeat, either. A couple of things made me laugh as I was thinking over the situation. First, it looks like the GOP has accidentally blundered into a good deed for once. I had been so mad at them for refusing to even consider Merrick Garland. I get that they are super mad at Obama for being Obama, and I get that it’s super unfair that an outgoing president should get to exert such influence over the makeup of the court. But Garland was really the best that anyone could hope for, unless we think that Hillary or Trump were planning to use their necromancy skills to nominate zombie Scalia. Which they were not. The stonewalling was yet another example of the dysfunctional and spiteful short-sightedness of the party. It feels so good to lash out now, and who cares about next week? Bah. It’s like they’re all five years old.

But look what happened. The court was split 4-4 when the Little Sisters’ case came up, and if they couldn’t come to an agreement, then the decision would automatically bounce back down to the lower courts’ previous decisions, which is an inconsistent mess that was guaranteed to bubble back up to the supreme court again eventually. Nobody wants that. So the court was very motivated to search around for some kind of workable solution.

This brings me to the second thing that made me laugh yesterday. I realized that this is, in fact, the way the constitution was designed: to be so cumbersome and complicated that, out of sheer frustration, we sometimes get backed into doing the right thing. What a marvelous machine! It’s like a circuit breaker. We have this moment of panic when the lights go out, but then we realize that it’s better than the entire system getting fried. Turns out we can’t run the air conditioner and the space heater at the same time — and when you think about it, why would you want to? Pick one. What kind of house are we going to live in, hot or cold? Just stop and think, why don’t you?

This country isn’t over yet, and it’s our dysfunction that might actually save us. What do you know about that?

***

image of “Contemplation of Justice” photo By Daderot
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Happy Meatster!

Reminder! Friday is still within the Octave of Easter, and so it’s not a day of penance. There is no requirement to abstain from meat or make some other sacrifice. (Even the more stringent Catholics say so.) On the contrary, all the days within the Octave of Easter are solemnities, which means it’s time to feast.

So, meat it up! And thank God that we belong to a Church which teaches that the Beatific Vision is the most sublime experience of perfect happiness, and simultaneously thinks that we can rejoice in our Savior by having a big ol’ juicy steak. What a deal.

 

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The heart in the shadows

When I was pregnant with my Corrie, the doctors told us that she might have Down Syndrome or Trisomy 13. It wasn’t that she showed any clear symptoms, but more that she had certain traits which sometimes go along with these conditions. Modern technology and good insurance means you have to decide how much you want to know.

Spoiler for new readers: Corrie just turned 13 months old, and she has neither Down Syndrome nor Trisomy 13, nor any other abnormal condition besides an overwhelming enthusiasm for life that wears us out all day, every day. She was 10 lbs., 1 oz. at birth, and is now . . . glorious. She wears size 3T, she started walking at 7 months, she says at least a dozen words, she has a giant, heavy-headed mastiff wrapped around her finger. She tells baby jokes, manhandles us, and behaves like the healthy, beloved, cheerful little anarchist that she is. All is well.

But at the time, when the doctor took us aside for a special talk, we had no idea what we were facing. Naturally, we prayed that she would not have a condition that caused severe deformities and a likely early death. But a diagnosis of Down Syndrome was a slightly different question.

My husband and I had different responses. He is a crime reporter, and sees people mainly when their lives have gone horribly wrong.  His days were filled with families who routinely neglect and abuse even healthy, typical children, so you can imagine the dark life of a kid with special needs. He’s also more practical than I am, and was already thinking about how we could pay for special care, how we would fit yet another school system into our bonkers schedule, and how she would live after we died. For my husband, the possibility of a disability was an unmitigated disaster, a guarantee of suffering, and the only reasonable prayer was, “Please don’t let this happen.”

I was less fearful, but even at the time I was aware that my perspective was skewed, too. I spend so much time around pro-lifers, who in turn spend so much time pushing back against a monstrous eugenic tide. You hear so often about the delights and affections of children with Down Syndrome, you can almost get the idea that life with them is a walking dream, that their parents have won a golden opportunity to enjoy sunny childhood forever and ever with a sort of blessed, human Winnie-the-Pooh — a fantasy which is depersonalizing in its own way. People with Down Syndrome are not pro-life mascots or bunny rabbits or huggy-wuggy puppets; they’re people, with immortal souls and distinct personalities. And they often have myriad health problems which are anything but cute.

But I did know that, as we waited for the next doctor’s appointment, we weren’t waiting for something to happen to our child; we were waiting for a description of the way she already was. Above all, she was our child, our beloved. Months ago, as I set the timer for the pregnancy test, waiting for that second shadowy line to appear, I prepared my heart to embrace whatever was already true, and to focus all my emotional energy on being open, rather than wishing for one thing or the other. I wanted to be welcoming from the first moment. I did the same as we waited for our level two ultrasound appointment.

When the day came, we got a sitter, my husband took the day off work, and we drove up north to the hospital with the specialist who could peer into our baby’s shadowy insides and tell us what it all meant. First we met with a geneticist, who questioned us minutely about every inheritable abnormality both our families carried. I made sure she knew that there was no condition on earth that would make us even consider aborting our baby.

Then, I lay for a long time in the twilight of the ultrasound room as the technician probed and scanned and shoved my organs around, with none of the normal “Sorry about my cold hands!” or “I bet you have plenty of pink clothes already, huh?” She had to fight with the baby, who wanted to roll away and not reveal the secrets of her anatomy. Finally, the tech flicked on the light and told us, “You have a beautiful baby girl.” And smiled at us.

Yes? We already knew she was beautiful. All of our babies are beautiful. All of everyone’s babies are beautiful. I had seen her heart beating, beautifully. And then what?

Then we realized that she thought she had already given us a diagnosis. When she said, “You have a beautiful baby girl,” she was telling us, “Your child isn’t defective; instead, she is beautiful.” But seeing our still-expectant faces, she hastily elaborated that the baby showed no signs of any kind of abnormal condition. As far as she could tell, this baby was entirely physically healthy in every measurable way.

And that was that. I wanted to tell the technician, “We were ready, though! We already loved her.” I thought of how many times she must open the door of that dim room and let out parents who are crushed, grieving, already making plans to undo what was already true. Already making plans to stop a beautiful heart from beating.

It felt strange to be so relieved. How we burden ourselves, trying to show grace in carrying loads that haven’t been given to us.

There’s no tidy bow for this story. If our child had been born with and died from a severe birth defect, we’d still be mourning. If she had been born with a genetic abnormality, I suppose we’d still be in the early stages of learning how to care for her. As it is, she’s who she is, just like she would have been if she had been born with some grave defect. We did love her from the start, and we still do. Like all of our kids, she’s changed us. She’s brought joys and trials. We still have no idea what the future will hold, or how much heartache and pride she will bring us, or how she will live when we die. She is the light of our life, a life that is already full of light.

I’m writing this down not because I’ve learned anything, or really been through anything. I am grateful that I was given the grace to hold open the door of my heart from the beginning, loving her already in the twilight of uncertainty. No one can probe all the shadows and tell us what they mean, what they will mean. A heart that is open is a heart that can beat, and that is beautiful, beautiful enough.

 

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We call this Friday good

from “East Coker,” from The Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot

IV

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind us of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

***

Image: Matthias Grünewald: The Crucifixion (detail) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Happy birthday, priesthood!

Holy Thursday is many things: the day of the Last Supper, the day when Christ was betrayed, the day when Christ washed the feet of His apostles. It was the day that Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. And it was the day that He instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders, giving the first priests the power to turn bread and wine into God, body, blood, soul and divinity.

A great day for humanity! So much help was poured out for us on that first Holy Thursday. In particular on this year, I’m grateful for our priests. I’m thinking of all the men who’ve poured out their lives for their flocks . . .

The priest who let me in in the middle of the night when I went for a hysterical walk across town and decided I needed to go to confession for the first time in years now now now. The priest who took us seriously as a dating couple and encouraged us to stay on track. The priest who thought some of my spiritual struggles might be physical, and told me which tests to ask for.  The priest who took over our parish when the pastor retired. The pastor who came back out of retirement to help the new pastor, because there weren’t enough priests to go around.

And all the hundreds and hundreds of priests who forgive our sins, baptize our children, bury our dead, officiate at our marriages, and bring us the Eucharist. All the priests who proclaim the gospel, who bless and encourage us, who counsel and comfort us. All the priests who sing, whether they can sing or not. The priests who fight a thousand spiritual and physical battles on our behalf. The priests who endure suspicion and ridicule from a jeering world, and criticism and grousing from their own people. The priests who are expected to know everything, fix everything, pay for everything, and please everyone. And yes, all the priests who are tired and grumpy sometimes, and who say the wrong thing, or miss opportunities, or make things worse because they are just men. Every single priest wakes up in the morning and see an impossible job in front of him, and he gets up and goes to work anyway.

We love you, our priests, and we are praying for you, especially during the glorious marathon of the Triduum.

A prayer for a priest from Catholic.org:

O Jesus, our great High Priest, Hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priest, Father [N]. Give him a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of his priestly life.
In his loneliness, comfort him In his sorrows, strengthen him In his frustrations, point out to him that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show him that he is needed by the Church, he is needed by souls, he is needed for the work of redemption.
O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your son who is close to you because of his priestly ordination, and because of the power which he has received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs him so much.
Be his comfort, be his joy, be his strength, and especially help him to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.
Amen.

***

Photo: By Matthias Ulrich. The original uploader was Matteo3000 at German Wikipedia – selber fotografiert, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19508162