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To enthusiastic fans of Donald Trump

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Two people were facing the congregation at Mass last Sunday: The priest, of course, and an interpreter, who was signing for the deaf people in the pews.

Scratch that, there were three people facing the congregation. The third was a profoundly disabled man, his body twisted permanently into a pretzel, his skull misshapen, his features preternaturally mobile. He didn’t seem able to face the altar, but spend most of the hour bobbing and grinning and leering at the rest of us, while his caregiver patiently redirected him over and over again, calming him when he got agitated, soothing him when he got loud.

Why is it so hard to meet the gaze of folks like this? If ever there was a low-risk social interaction, it’s making eye contact with someone who can’t talk at all, much less expect something witty or suitable in response. “Just smile at him,” I tell myself. “Just be friendly and sincere, and then move along.” Still, I avoid eye contact. It’s obviously not about him. It’s about me.

That hour nagged at me.  Two faces, the translator and the disabled man demanded our attention, their eyes shining, their hands busy with gestures that meant nothing to me. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. If today you see a face and it keeps grinning and winking and nodding at you, at least you could ask the Holy Spirit what’s up. Here’s what I think it is.

The sign language translator was there because there are some folks in the congregation with a disability. They cannot hear, so they need extra help to have God’s word conveyed to them.

I am disabled, too, spiritually. I need a translator. There is something in my heart that fears and rejects mentally and even physically disabled people, and I’d rather they just turn around and leave me alone with my smart, attractive children and friends. I’m a pro-lifer, so I am ashamed to respond this way to any of God’s children. It is a common but severe defect. I want to be open, but I am not, and I can only fake it about half the time. Most of the time, I just avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. I’m not alone or unusual in this, but that doesn’t make it all right.

I don’t mean to reduce another human being to a symbol. This man was attending Mass, and certainly wasn’t there just for my benefit or edification. He has a name, and he obviously has at least one person who loves and cares for him. But he was also, for me, a translator, someone turning to face me to convey a message that I wasn’t able to hear on my own without his help. Sometimes you don’t realize you are deaf until a translator turns up.

So there is more. It made me ask myself: Who am I having the hardest time facing right now? Who do I not want to look in the face? Who am I reluctant to treat as fully human?

Easy to answer in January of 2017: Enthusiastic Trump supporters. Over and over again, despite my resolve, I lose my temper with them, I get nasty, I get personal. I am just so angry at what they have chosen for me and my family and my beloved country. There they stand, shamelessly twisted in their worldview, not even hiding their faces, just leering and gesticulating. Turn around! Shut up! Get away from me! I want to yell (and sometimes do).

I’m not proud of behaving this way. I call myself a pro-lifer. This is a severe defect, that I allow myself to respond to other human beings with open, personal contempt and derision. It’s especially egregious because I often write about our obligation to show love to each other.

I don’t know what to tell you. I’m working on it. Yes, this post is the best I can do right now. Those of you who happily voted for Trump and continue to champion him, I think you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and I will not apologize for calling it twisted and awry to admire and champion a wicked man. Whatever your motivation, you have done something objectively terrible to our country.

But the way I respond to you is my problem, not your problem. I have a defect, and I know it. Thank you for looking me in the face and helping me be more aware of my defect. Thank you for being the translator who alerts me to just how deaf I am. Please pray for me, and I will pray for you. And then maybe we can all just turn around and face the altar, like we’re supposed to.

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Image: Detail of Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Creative Commons)

 

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And in His hand, the golden ball

I’m not sure if you want to cry, or what; but if you do, you might consider reading Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Quick summary: In Renaissance Italy, a ragged street boy falls in with a travelling show troupe, and as he grows, he becomes an expert juggler. Eventually he strikes out on his own, and becomes a celebrated performer all over the country. He has a complicated routine, but always ends with a rainbow of balls and then “The Sun in the Heavens,” a single golden ball that he tosses impossibly high.

He enjoys his fame; but then times get hard, the clown gets old, and no one cares about his act anymore. He even drops “The Sun in the Heavens,” and the crowd jeers. Now a ragged beggar, he stumbles back to his old hometown, where he takes refuge in a dark church and falls asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night to blazing lights and music, as a procession of villagers and religious present Christmas gifts before a statue of Mary and a somber Child Jesus.

When they are all gone, he gazes as the statue; and, remembering that he once made children smile, he suits up and goes into his old juggling routine one last time. He works his way through all his tricks, and finishes with the rainbow of colored balls. Finally he adds “The Sun in the Heavens.” He juggles it higher than ever before and cries out, “For you, sweet child, for you!”

And then his old heart gives out and he falls dead to the ground. A sacristan finds him and calls a priest, who blesses the old man’s body.

But the sacristan backs away in fear: The child Jesus is smiling, and in His hand, He holds the golden ball.

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Among other things, it’s a story of when things are almost too late — when we almost miss Christmas, because of all the hustling and costume changes and juggling and fuss.

If you can, remember that phrase: “For you, sweet child!” — and toss Him one golden ball.

Apologize to someone if you were rude.
Put your phone down and read a book to your kid.
Let an insult pass without comment or retaliation.
If a street person asks for one dollar, give him ten.
Stop and pray for someone, or give a word of encouragement, before you go on with your juggling routine.

For you, sweet Child! He will catch that ball, and smile.

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Pretend you’re Starbucks.

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So far, I have met zero Christians who are mad at Starbucks. My Facebook feed has, however, been overrun by Christians who don’t care what Starbucks puts on its cups, and are embarrassed by the few noisy meat heads who say they feel persecuted by having to drink their $11 lattes out of a red cup rather than a red cup with a light red reindeer on it.

Which leads me to believe that this is one of those Big Fat Nothing stories, and the more noise we make about denouncing it, the closer to Something the story becomes. Cameramen at ballgames turn away when there’s a streaker on the field, so let’s do the same, eh?

I do wonder, though, what you would do if you were Starbucks, and you really did, for whatever reason, want to make “the holiday season” (Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/What Have You) more pleasant or meaningful for the world. Let’s say you have tons of money and nothing but good intentions. What gesture would you make, big or small? Could be something commercial, or something for your customers, something for your employees, something secret, something global, or whatever. What would you do?

Best answers will be read on the air this evening at 5 Eastern, as I chat with Mark Shea on his show Connecting the Dots. You can listen to the show live on Breadbox Media here. I’m Mark’s co-host every Monday, and you can hear podcasts of previous shows with me and Marks four other co-hosts (one each weekday) here.

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Hunger and Help: Are Community Fridges the Answer?

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The community fridge not only feeds the hungry, but helps cut down on waste. In the United States, recent data suggests that as much as “133 billion pounds of food … [or] 31 percent of the total food supply” is wasted in a typical year, rather than going to feed someone —  a waste which Pope Francis said is “like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.”

But food safety laws prevent communities in the U.S. from setting up community refrigerators like the one in Spain.. A couple of UC Davis students ran afoul of these laws when their community refrigerator was shut down after a few months of food-sharing last year. 

Read the rest at the Register.

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Am I my brother’s enabler?

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Don’t worry, I’m not going to write about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner; not really. (The best take I’ve read on that topic is here.)

I do want to talk about a question circling, like a fly around an overripe peach, the topic of Jenner, transsexuals, sex, gender, gender dysphoria, and gender reassignment surgery: the question of whether we ought to call someone “she” just because that someone wants to be called “she,” even if we think that someone is really a he.  It’s the question of how we should respond to someone whom we think is horribly mistaken.

How can we remain loyal to the truth, and to sanity, if we play along with a sick (and dangerously popular) fantasy? It’s not doing the person, or the world in general, any favors to pretend that up is down, so why should we pretend that he is she, just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

Well, you could make a good case that it’s just simple courtesy to refer to someone by their chosen name (and accompanying pronoun). How can we extend Christian love to someone while using a name that’s been rejected as foreign and hurtful? How can we have a conversation with someone if we offend them with our opening words?

On the other hand, you could also make a good case that of course it’s acceptable to say “he” of a man who has been surgically, chemically, and cosmetically altered to resemble a woman. Jeering and mockery are out, but many people simply can’t bring themselves to say “she” when that’s no woman. We can remain courteous, and refrain from any obnoxious grandstanding, and still refuse to be dragooned into using the vocabulary that E! Magazine insists we use.

Because I don’t know any trans people, it doesn’t matter much to me. I just say “Jenner” when referring to the trans person in the news, and I could go with either “he” or “she” and still sleep at night.

But here’s where I get hung up. From the camp that insists,”HIS name is BRUCE andHEEEE is a MAN,” I keep hearing that calling Jenner “Caitlyn” is enabling – that saying “she” is making it easier for a wounded, misguided, suffering, probably mentally ill person to persist in a self-immolating delusion. I hear that, by saying “she,” we’re complicit in a sin and a crime, and that we’re actually obligated to refrain from playing along with something so wrong.

“Enabling.” Well, there is such a thing, of course. Enabling is when you offer a shot of whiskey to someone who’s struggling to stop drinking, because hey, it’s his choice. Enabling is when you bail your no-good, DUI, vandal, rapist son out of jail because it might frighten him to spend a night in the tank with actual criminals. Enabling is when you lie to your buddy’s wife to cover up for his infidelity. Enabling is cleaning up the mess, sheltering a sinner from the consequences of his behavior, making it easy for someone to avoid facing the truth of what his life has become.

But it’s not “enabling” to treat someone with respect. It’s not “enabling” to treat someone as an equal. It’s not “enabling” to say, “Nah, I guess I don’t need to swat you down.”  It’s not our place to treat everyone we meet as if they are in some way our patient, our spiritual underling, our disappointing ward.

And yet, lately, everyone with a keyboard and the ability to skim Wikipedia deems himself enough of a expert to dish out therapeutic protocols to everyone who crosses his path. It wouldn’t be good for you, with your complicated spiritual and psychological struggle you’ve been dealing with for decades, and which I have learned about just now via Reddit, to hear me use the pronoun “she.” I’ve never met you and never will, I don’t know anyone like you, and I know nothing about your condition, but I wouldn’t want to enable you, via the precious 450 pixels I could dish out to make up the pronoun “she.”

Uh huh.

Fulton Sheen once gave twenty bucks to a beggar on the street. His companion was annoyed, and asked, “How do you know he won’t spend that money on booze? How do you know he really needs it?” Sheen’s response: “I can’t take that chance.”

He wasn’t that man’s therapist. He wasn’t his substance abuse counselor, his confessor, his parole officer, his accountant, or his father. He was simply a stranger on the street, coming into brief contact with someone with an outstretched hand. There are worse things we can do then to enable the Holy Spirit to pass, with simple kindness, between us and a stranger.

 

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Grace is free, but not all fees are simony

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The expense of obtaining a decree of nullity makes it difficult for some people to come into full communion with the Church. When annulments are expensive, there is also the risk that outsiders (or even Catholics) perceive that annulment is just “Catholic divorce,” for sale to parishioners with enough ready cash. But here’s the problem: it really does cost money to do it right.

Read the rest at the Register.

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Service-based family trips?

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Great question from a reader:

I appreciated your article in Catholic Digest about worthwhile charities.  I was wondering if, in your research, you may have come across any charities that encourage families to get involved?  I am desperately looking for an organization that encourages families to come, maybe for a week or two during the summer, to engage in service in a supportive Catholic environment.  I used to volunteer with such a group in rural Appalachia (the Passionist Volunteers, but they don’t exist anymore) and I think it would be great for my kids.  Any thoughts?  Any local groups even that I could try to get my kids involved with?  I’ve tried a few things, but nothing has worked out.  It is hard to find something where you can take a wide span of ages (my 4 kids are 13, 11, 4 and 2) but I know my family needs to find something where we are doing for others and not just hanging out at home.
Anybody? If you can (and I know it’s not always possible), please leave comments on this post, rather than on Facebook, so that future readers searching for this information can find it! Thanks.

And if you’re looking for someone to give alms to this Lent, do check out that article, which describes 33 wonderful charities, some of which you probably never heard of.