Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I'm Trying

I want people to know that I'm really trying to be kind and thoughtful with this new endeavor. But I still have to be me, which is to be snarky, pessimistic, and always questioning. I understand that I need to work harder on one set of qualities than the other. Please keep this in mind before you automatically assume I'm trying to roast someone over the coals or pigeon-hole them.

I had thoughts yesterday, that again, this wasn't worth it, both emotionally and spiritually. And yet my desire to blog has mostly never waned, and many folks wanted me to continue. So my hope is that this can continue without damage or regrets.

By the way, unless it's absolutely necessary, I would appreciate it if anonymous commenters would at least give themselves some sort of name or moniker at the end of their comments, as it cuts down the confusion of who I and others are conversing with.

Also, out of curiosity, I was wondering if there are specific blog posts from the old blog that any of you remember that you believe would make for a great re-post when I get busy.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hold Your Applause, The Jury's Not Out

I don't know the average age of the people who routinely read my old blog and who are reading this one now, but I'm gonna guess that it's about age 35 to 55 years old, with most in their late 30's to early 40's. Which means that, likely, most of the people reading this right now grew up in an era of Catholicism that was, well, I don't really know how to characterize it other than to say that it's for sure not how it is now.

For me, looking back (and hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?), my Catholic faith was mostly a big nothing, with the exception of a few stellar moments like my First Communion. My parents were typical baby boomers who wanted their faith life to feel good and meet their personal needs, after having grown up in an era of supposed rigidity and guilt. Thus, I got kid-only masses, guitar masses, backyard masses, and was forced to re-do my first confession face-to-face when we moved into Rembert Weakland's archdiocese.

A fitting symbol for this sort of thing is this song, one of my parents' favorites around the time I was five or six years old, after my Dad converted to the Catholic faith and had a spiritual experience with the Cursillo movement: 

(By the way, I LOVE this song, and hearing this song or anything on this album is near to making me cry, because it is a memory of my Dad, and also of a little piece of my childhood that was peaceful and secure. It is a beautiful album, with beautiful lyrics that any Catholic should respond to.)

But it's also a typical expression of my parents' generation, and we now know that expressions of Catholicism like this didn't carry most people of that generation for the long haul of Catholic faith. I'm not necessarily saying this of my own parents, but certainly I believe we can all agree that the baby boomer generation of Catholics reached out to this sort of thing in one way or another. Why? Probably because they were, in so many words, smacked one too many times with a ruler by Catholic nuns. And to be fair, that sort of upbringing is a wound of mis-guided Catholic teaching that they have the right to have to recover from.

So the baby boomers got smacked around in their Catholic faith and needed a gentler, more understanding version of Catholicism. And my generation got a version of Catholicism that was so down-home organic and touchy-feely that it mostly came off as meaningless.

Which brings me around to the Catholics who are now in their 20's and 30's. Specifically, I'm talking about the ones who are the "good" Catholics, the ones we encounter on the Catholic internet and blogosphere, the ones who are homeschooling and were homeschooled, the ones who attended or are attending good Catholic institutions like Franciscan Univerity (Steubenville) and Christendom College, etc. The ones with parents who had their acts together and fomulated a plan for their kids to be Catholics of neither the guilty stripe or the loosey-goosey stripe.

Imagine if you will a carefully orchestrated "wall" of Catholic insulation:

-Starting in the 1980's and really catching steam in the 1990's, two generations of children purposely homeschooled in Catholic households for the sole purpose of transmitting the authentic Catholic faith.

-Teenagers of the same two generations being bussed off to Right-To-Life marches and Catholic World Youth Days, where they met and befriended other kids of similar upbringing.

-These same two generations of Catholics being carefully maneuvered into institutions of higher learning such as Ave Maria, Benedictine, the University of Dallas, Christendom, and Steubenville. Places where the majority came from the same sort of Catholic homes, many homeschooled.

-Loads of Catholic weddings between pure, newly matriculated graduates of the above listed colleges and universities, all having been thoroughly schooled in Theology of the Body and NFP prior to marching down the aisle.

-These same young Catholic couples now reaching out to other similar Catholic couples, moms, and dads for friendship via local Facebook groups, homeschooling forums, and Catholic lay organizations such as Opus Dei and Regnum Christi or church pro-life committees, etc.

-These same young, bright, well-catechized and spirit-filled Catholics taking to the Catholic internet for discussion and exchange of ideas via forums and blogs. Including the ones devoted to apologetics, as well the ones discussing where to get the cutest diaper covers (see previous blog entry).

Think about this. Until thirty or so years ago, not withstanding a seminary or convent, when has it ever been possible to have such a complete Catholic experience that spans birth into adulthood? True, I am painting here with a broad brush, but overall, I think you get the picture. There are literally thousands and thousands of young Catholics who fit this profile, and I know a few of them personally in real life.

The $25,000 Question:  Is this real? Is this real Catholicism? Is this the preferred prescription for turning out an authentic Catholic human being?

To get where I am today, I had to fight and scratch and crawl to reclaim my faith and say out loud that I really and truly want to be a Catholic and live my Catholic faith. It was hard, it sucked, and I don't wish my personal experience on anyone. I am positive that there are people reading this right now who share my experience and know exactly what I'm speaking of. Likely, they are people of previous generations (baby boomers, Generation X, etc.) who didn't have the benefit or opportunity of a carefully sculpted/planned Catholic upbringing.

So it's only natural that I wonder about these people who have, essentially, lived inside of a Catholic bubble their entire lives, some even purposely seeking careers where they can work for or within Catholic institutions. I wonder if their faith will actually get them through when the shit hits the fan? As it surely will, because life has a way of beating you up.

I am not saying here that their faith WON'T serve them. I can't say that because the jury is still out. We don't know yet. I am simply suggesting that like the baby boomers before us, and as with my own generation, it takes many decades of evidence to make a fair assessment.

This is not to wholly criticize people who have taken this path, or the parents who set them on that path. Hardly. Not only is it a universal truth that parents mostly do the best they can and make the best decisions they can with what they have to work with, it's also true that such a path had/has never been available before, and heck, why not try it since the previous methods of Catholic indoctrination weren't producing stellar results. If I had children in the 1980's and 1990's, perhaps I, too, would have went the renegade route and homeschooled with an eye to an authentic Catholic education and experience that would encourage, rather than deflate Catholic faith.

I just question the difference between "encourage" and "insulate."

Some reading this are laughing at me right now, because they know what kind of school my child attends. OK, you're allowed one laugh, and I laugh with you, too. Just a little. But see, I'm walking into this with eyes open, benefitting from my own crawl/scratch my way to faith experience, as well as watching the often questionable Catholic secular-ish perfectionism that more and more characterizes the John Paul II generation of Catholics.

I am not necessarily saying there is another way, as of yet. I am not here proposing something else that I think works better. I will suggest that a wall-to-wall Catholic experience is highly suspicious because of the homogeneous nature of it, but like I said, people do what they need to do based on the circumstances. We're doing what we think we need to do with our son, but we're open to the plan changing if need be.

Overall, my point is: Those who clap and jump up and down in enthusiasm for this young, bright, faith-filled generation of Catholics who are doing everything right need to recognize sooner or later that standing around clapping for the next two to three decades is going to get mighty tiring, as they wait to see if this is all turning out like it should or like we all want it to (me included). Some of these young Catholics, married or not, haven't yet "lived," in the sense that joblessness, death, illness, financial worries, marital problems, etc., haven't yet run their course.....because admit it, it's a very blessed person who gets through life without problems like these (usually one on top of the other) wreaking their devastation and testing your faith.

It's fine and well to gush all over some blog about how NFP has been such a blessing in your life when you're three years into your marriage. Report back to me in fifteen years and tell me how it's going.

Do I sound jaded? I'm sure I do. But please don't look at it that way. I'm naturally a questioning type, watching and observing, and wondering aloud. I want to believe in this form of Catholic engineering, I really do. Undeniably, our family is participating in some form of it.

Through it all, whatever path we plan, hope for, or take, we have to remember that in the end, it's just yourself and God and working out your salvation, which no one can do for you. No institution or Facebook group or college degree can get you to heaven, and of course we all know that. God has blessed us with these helps, thankfully.

But still, we can not insulate ourselves from the valley of tears that we live in, and I worry some of us say that we understand the concept, but then turn around and try to wave a Catholic wand to attempt the opposite. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Who I Am

Who I am just seems destined to be controversial and off-putting to other people.

It still takes some getting used to, even while I've been dealing with this my entire life.

Maybe I'm just tired of it.

Maybe I'm just tired of having to deal with it in new waves in new places.

Heavy sigh.

Could Someone Please Clear Up Some Abortion Semantics For Me?

Yesterday, for the first time in YEARS, and I do mean years, I quickly got into it with someone on Facebook. It was about abortion and I was arguing with someone who is very, very Catholic and very, very anti-abortion.

Right there was the problem. I kept saying "anti-abortion" and I got accused of specifically, being ignorant and pro-infanticide.

I was like, huh? I hate abortion. I don't wear it on my sleeve like lots of other Catholics, but I'm completely against it.

So then I was told that "anti-abortion" and "anti-choice" are catch phrases of the enemy side.

Again, huh?

Could someone please explain this to me on, literally, the moron level? I'm a writer and I do words, so when I say "anti-abortion," I mean, literally, against abortion.

What did I do wrong?

If this is a bunch of bullcrap semantics propaganda, I'm gonna be mad.

Again, idiot/moron level is what I need. Thanks!

Cutsey Catholicism, Let's Be Friends!, And All That

One thing I never thought I'd have to think about if I were to be a mostly orthodox, practicing Catholic was which company or Etsy store has the cutest diaper covers. Or which local parish has the most members attending the Catholic Moms' bunko party (which means, of course, that's the most fun Catholic parish around). Or which super-enriching Catholic women's program also includes a wine and cheese social afterwards that you do not want to miss!

But if you looked at one or two local internet Catholic forums of Catholic women, you'd think that's what it's all about. Or at least a big chunk of it, alongside questions about which internet site has the best selection of Catholic storybooks.

I admit I am often (repeat often) annoyed or amused by this brand of good-Catholic-mommy stuff.

I know that part of my annoyance is simply because of  my age, which is now approaching mid-40's. I mean, there comes a time when you just have your circle of good friends, Catholic or not, and you're content and satisfied with what you have. Usually that contentedness comes with the passing of time, long after the initial or prolonged struggle with the disillusionment of staying home with young children. Contentment does come, it really does, even if in bits and pieces.

Still, most stay-at-home moms from time to time feel isolated and/or wonder if changing diapers and picking up smashed goldfish crackers out of the carpet is all there is, and so they try real hard to find more friends with whom to commiserate and find friendship. I've been there, and actually, with a five year old, I'm not quite yet out of the woods. So wanting some "fellowship" of sorts between other decent practicing Catholic mothers is understandable.

What's not understandable to me is when becoming a "good, orthodox Catholic mom" of the 21st century becomes near to like a lifestyle brand that one chooses. I'm really unsure of how to articulate this, so I'm going to first steer this discussion to a blog post I recently discovered at "The Heresy Hunter" blog, which includes a video trailer for a Catholic reality TV show in which Jennifer Fulwiler allows her "crazy" Catholic life to be filmed:

"It's All About Meeeeeee...Reality Catholic TV...Is Finally Here! (aka Picking on Jennifer Fulwiler, Or Not?). [I added the part in parentheses.] Make sure you read the commbox as well; the commbox is just as important as the actual blog post.

For the record, I have never before seen or heard of this "Heresy Hunter" blog until just a few days ago, discovering it on someone's blog role. I have no opinion of it, and neither support it or take issue with it, as a whole. The title is clever and intriguing, I admit, but given my Catholic mood of late, I'm more suspicious of this blog's content and mission than not.

Nonetheless, an admittedly fearless blogger over there has made observations about modern Catholic culture that I have been too chicken to make myself, even though I have been thinking similar thoughts for a long time. And it all ties into what I'm trying very unsuccessfully to get to the heart of here in my own blog post. As one commenter over there said, emphases mine:

"This is the new age of Catholicism in the West. It's suburban, urban, successful, and attractive, and very cleverly balanced between the materialistic secular culture and the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the "we want it all generation", which is taking over what has come to be known as the "new evangelization" of the Church in North America...When we need Catholics who can renew the Church, what we seem to be getting is another newer, hipper, brighter generation of self-servers. And some of them are just so nice, and clever, and attractive, and family-oriented. Home-schoolers and NFPers and we've got lots of kids living the good life kind of folk. Makes good advertising but I don't think it will do much for Holy Mother Church."

I have had similar thoughts way too many times. Each time I think like this, it makes me uncomfortable because I am admittedly someone who believes that we have to reach people where they are, rather than isolate ourselves from the culture in which we live. For example, some people are reading this blog post on their iPads and checking their Facebook feed at the same time. This is reality, that we live in western culture, warts and all, and there's no escaping it.

But what if "where we are" as 21st century Catholics really is a sort of wishy-washy, consumeristic, secular-ish Catholicism that uses "fun" and "relevancy" as the measuring stick of goodness and we don't know it? Thus, how much of our lives as Catholics should reflect the culture around us? Aren't we supposed to be part of and fit in with that culture so that we can simultaneously stand out as being counter-cultural because of our Catholic Christian faith, morals, and ethics?

They say that mimicry is the highest form of compliment. Perhaps. But within the Christian realm, I have found mimicry to be more ridiculous than not. A look within Protestant Christianity confirms this ridiculousness with abundance: Christian rock and pop bands that are virtually indistinguishable from the real-thing variety. Christian marketing efforts that often rival secular marketing, such as with the Vegetales and the whole "What Would Jesus Do?" racket. Mega-churches with Starbucks inside.

Though people don't want to admit it, the same goes on within the Catholic world. Some time ago I was annoyed with all the praise and glory being given to the series of teen-targeted books written by Catholic Regina Doman, which were very similar in nature and theme to the Harry Potter genre. All fine and well, but then there was a merchandise line introduced to promote her books, and homeschool mothers who required their daughters to wear ankle-length skirts were suddenly OK with their daughters wearing commercial t-shirt advertisements for Catholic fantasy literature. Not that there's anything wrong with that at all. (I mean it.) But these are the same people who often make it a big deal to show off how successful they are in shunning worldly/secular kinds of things with a vengeance.

Lest you think I'm picking on homeschool Moms and/or Catholic kids who really do need uplifting literature to read, what are your thoughts about the cover of this book?

(I took this photo from "Aquinas & More Catholic Goods" on the internet. Feel free to patronize them if you so choose.)

In what way does this book look any different from the reams of chick-lit garbage out there, save for the word "Catholic"? [Disclosure: I sometimes read chick-lit garbage. And my kid loves the Vegetales.] Granted, I have been informed that authors rarely have any say over the cover designs of their books. However, what Catholic author would see this and not throw a fit? That is unless this is exactly the worldly look they were going for, given that perhaps - perhaps - it's now just a given that we really are, as that above commenter said - "very cleverly balanced between the materialistic secular culture and the Holy Catholic Church."

I bring up this book because this book got brung up to me.

At the beginning of the school year, knowing that I would be staying up in Milwaukee every day because Alan only has half-day kindergarten, I ventured into the fray and joined a Catholic Moms' book club that met once a month. I figured I'd try to make some new friends amongst other good Catholic women and get to read/discuss a Catholic book while I was at it. Since I read multiple books a month, I thought this was a great idea.

Much to my dismay, this is the book they chose. (I say this because I had fantasies of book clubs being these intense, high-brow intellectual discussions, which is not what it turned out to be.) And when I got to the group - some of the women hadn't yet been born when I was attending my high school prom! - it was clear that most of them were perfectly satisfied by this selection, perhaps even excited about it. While it was never officially articulated, my initial impressions were that a pink book cover with the words sex, style, and Catholic was not to be resisted because it was so hip! So relevant! Sort of like quick Catholic soundbytes for the busy Catholic mom's soul.

Now, before you think I'm being snarky and mean, I want to repeat here that I really do believe we need to reach people where they are. Some Catholic women, well, they are where they are. This is why, for example, I will support Christopher West, even while I do take serious issue with how he presents and teaches the subjects he does. Better that people learn what the Church teaches about sex and fertility, etc., in some way than not at all. Likewise, better that a nominal Catholic woman pick up this book and finish reading it with a new sense of purpose in being Catholic than not.

I admit I only read two essays in the pink Catholic book. They were fine. For example, there was one essay that might possibly help a woman who thinks that to be a good Catholic she needs to wear a jeans jumper and a chapel veil learn that NO, she can be who God created her to be, and if she wants to get a pair of new knee-high leather boots at Macy's, then go right ahead! (I agree.) Maybe it was even a message *I* needed to hear about three years ago when I was struggling with the "truth" that all the good Catholics wore long skirts and chapel veils and I was feeling mighty discouraged and angry about it.

Yet I couldn't shake the feeling that deep down the ultimate message of the book was this: Be a faithful Catholic, live your faith, be pro-life, raise up an authentic Catholic family, etc., etc., etc., but don't forget that you can be FAB-U-LOUS while you're doing it! I could be wrong, but as I perused through the book, there might even have been an essay that admonished women to care more about how they looked so that their husband would find them more attractive? I might be wrong; someone will surely tell me if I am. This sort of advice rubbed me the wrong way.

Is it unfair that I make this assessment without having read the book in its entirety? Yes. But let's face it: the look of a book, the theme of a book, and the kinds of people who are attracted to a book speak volumes. Or is it NOT the kinds of people who are attracted to a book, but more HOW the book is MARKETED to certain people? Really, the truth is likely that I'm asking the chicken or the egg question: which came first? No one has yet successfully answered. Are expressions of western Catholic culture (such as this book) a reflection of reality or is it the other way around?

Ultimately, I'm not concerned with the pink Catholic book or the specific women at the book club that I eventually dropped out of. The women who submitted essays for that book (including Jennifer Fulwiler) are perfectly fine Catholics, and the women who were in that book club were lovely, well-meaning Catholics who really did try to help me feel welcome. It just wasn't the right fit for me, especially since I had to miss because John's mother died in November and Alan had surgery in December and sometimes they met on days when Alan didn't have school. I'm sure if I had stayed, I might feel somewhat different.

But I'm telling you, I see things. Locally. On the internet. In the Catholic blogosphere. Things that make me wonder what the heck is going on out there in certain Catholic circles. Those who followed my first blog know that I was highly critical of  the now defunct "Faith & Family Live" blog for exactly the sort of spirit and experience that I'm questioning here. I'm serious, if I had mentioned in a commbox over there that I was making and marketing a Catholic laundry detergent - basically Tide in a bottle but with a label that said something like "St. Ann's Suds" -  they would have fallen all over themselves to buy it and promote it and talk about how wonderful it was that they could now buy laundry detergent from a good Catholic.

Would you like me to name blogs and portals where I think the same women now congregate? I bet you would. But I won't. I'll try to be charitable. But you and I know they are out there in abundance. In fact, I'm waiting for something like a Catholic jewelry party to show up in my Facebook feed any day now, replete with a reminder to bring along your favorite bottle of wine to share so that we can have a fun, fun, evening!

Actually, I kinda/sorta went to one of these things this past fall. Not saying what or where and I'm purposely obfuscating the details. Let's just say the parking lot had massive, shiny new SUVs and there were lots of Coach purses and perfectly clad children and mothers. And when I tried to introduce myself to some of these Catholic moms, you would have thought I had landed out of a spaceship, presumably because I wasn't wearing some unspoken Catholic "uniform" of the fun, suburban Catholic mother? (Either that or social networking has completely erased any sense of manners and real human interaction from our repertoire?)

And yet at this event, the Elf of the Shelf was being derided in lieu of a better, more wholesome Catholic version of, basically, the same exact concept! The better, more authentically Catholic counterpart: My Secret Angel and Me. (Except I'm not sure this product was made by a Catholic?) Anyway, all I heard was: "This PRODUCT bad, but this PRODUCT good." It sounded as if the main goal was to not deprive our children of a PRODUCT because all the other kids in our culture were having fun with their (non-Catholic) PRODUCT. We must have Catholic equivalency items! We must have someTHING and it should be Catholic and fun! (Yes, I realize that the Angel concept is a better one than the elf, but that's not my point here.)

I worry that I'm part of the problem (which some will argue is not a problem at all) because I, too, have a longing to belong to social constructs that serve to affirm an American experience and expression of Catholicism. I mean, what's wrong with having fun with other Catholic women who really and truly want to be good Catholics? Is there something inherently evil about a Catholic bunko party?


But still, I have to ask if there is indeed something wrong with, for example, Jennifer Fulwiler allowing herself to be filmed for a Catholic reality TV show, setting some kind of example for other Catholic women that suggests, "This is how a good Catholic mother looks and lives." And then thousands of those women following her on Facebook and then likely buying the book she's written that is soon to be out, etc. How far do we go in wanting to "fit in" with other Catholics before we realize we're just buying into a Catholic branded lifestyle, without looking deep into our own souls and having a quiet conversation with Christ about what HE wants us to look like or how to live?

Is what Jennifer Fulwiler did wrong? I don't have an answer for that. But I'm thinking maybe I should jump the gun and get on that Catholic jewelry home sales idea while I still can.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why I Got Up At 5:30 a.m. On New Year's Day

As per the preceding blog post, let it be known that I have finally returned to the sacraments. All good, right?

Well, maybe not, if you're plagued with scrupulosity.

From Wikipedia (which is admittedly not always the best source):

"Scrupulosity is a psychological disorder characterized by pathological guilt about moral or religious issues. It is personally distressing, objectively dysfunctional, and often accompanied by significant impairment in social functioning.[1] It is typically conceptualized as a moral or religious form of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD),[2] although this categorization is empirically disputable.[1] The term is derived from the Latin scrupulum, a sharp stone, implying a stabbing pain on the conscience.[1] Scrupulosity was formerly called scruples in religious contexts, but the word scruples now commonly refers to a troubling of the conscience rather than to the disorder.
As a personality trait, scrupulosity is a recognized diagnostic criterion for obsessive–compulsive personality disorder.[3] It is sometimes called "scrupulousness," but that word properly applies to the positive trait of having scruples."

For the record, many theologians might take issue with this definition. Or maybe not.

To most Catholics, scrupulosity isn't as extreme as this Wikipedia definition makes it. Certainly it's not for me. However, in fairness, I need to point out that there are Catholics who suffer scrupulosity to the degree it's explained above, and they are a special/extreme case.

For most who have garden-variety scrupulosity, it's more a nagging thinking process that makes one question whether or not something they did, said, or thought is a venial or mortal sin. Or whether decisions made in one's life qualify as objectively sinful or not. And worrying about it more than would be normal or healthy. Even possibly pre-worrying about decisions and actions that haven't even happened yet.

Which is exactly what happened to me this past New Year's. You know, that little "holy day of obligation" thing on January first?

Here's our deal: Every New Year's Eve since we've been married (except one) we have spent the night at the home of good friends so that we can ring in the New Year as late as we want and not drive home. We have fondue, a few drinks, and play games. Last year, we set off fireworks. Then the next morning, my friend makes a great big New Year's breakfast and we basically hang out all day into the next evening.

None of which leaves room for going to mass on a holy day of obligation without screwing up the big, fantastic breakfast that my non-Catholic friend makes, and which is important to her and to us.

Oh, yeah, they have those afternoon masses of anticipation the day before around 4 and 5 p.m. Except we're always scurrying around our house like freaks at about that time, packing up stuff to spend the night and making platters of food, etc., to bring to our friends home.

So for our entire marriage, I don't think we've ever made it to mass on January first, save for maybe once?

This year, since I had just been to confession and communion for the first time in 22 months, I was immediately seized with the distinct possibility that I would put myself right back into the same boat I had just left if I missed mass on January first. And boy was I mad and upset about it.

See, I believe my worry about putting myself right back into a state of mortal sin was scrupulosity, as well as the evil one working to accomplish the same. To me, scrupulosity plus the devil equals "don't go," since going would then be an act against my free will, rather than an act of desire and love for God. I firmly believe that going to mass - any mass - out of fear of hell is an automatic reason to NOT go to mass.

Still, I peeked at the mass schedules for Catholic parishes near my friend, hoping some mass time that didn't interfere with our New Year's plans would magically appear. And it did! At 11:00 P.M. on New Year's Eve or 6:00 A.M. on New Year's Day morning. Lovely. I said to John, "Yeah, let's tell our friends that we want to spend New Year's Even with them, but then bail for an 11:00 p.m. mass. That'll look great! Or hey, we want to spend New Year's with you, but we want to make noise before the sun is up and after we've all just had like four hours of sleep to go to mass. They'll sure love having us over! Not."

So I ignored it. For awhile. Until the guilt and loathing overtook me.

Sometime before midnight, I whispered to John, "What if we got up at 5:30 a.m. and just went to mass totally tired and came back and tried to go back to sleep? We'll just try to be really quiet coming and going so we don't wake anyone up." (Caveat Emptor: Their dog hears anything and everything and just starts barking insanely. And If Alan hears us, he'll be awake, and then EVERYONE will be awake. And the number of times in my life when I've been able to go back to sleep after being up can be counted on one hand.) Honestly, the whole idea was depressing and seemed utterly ridiculous, especially on a day when the temperature that morning was in the single digits.

I have to admit, John did hesitate when I made this proposition, but he eventually agreed. Note that John is not the type to hesitate when it comes to duty to the Church and God. I point this out to show how completely the whole idea was at odds with the situation.

We did it. We rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m., threw our clothes on over our pajamas, bundled up in coats and scarves, literally tiptoed out of the house, froze our asses off scraping ice off our frigidly cold car, and drove the 7-8 miles to the church, the journey of which was devoid of any other vehicle than ours until we turned into the entrance to the church.

Of course, being almost the only humans on earth stupid enough to get up at that hour and go to mass on New Year's Day, we ran into someone we knew there, with neither of us having even combed our hair, and my husband's hair literally sticking up on one side from sleeping on it. But we made it! We got to that mass on a holy day of obligation!

And for what? I still don't know. I'm supposed to say for the graces that come with mass and for the Eucharist, etc., right? OK, fine. I got that and I am thankful. But I still can't shake the feeling that I went so as not to be in mortal sin and I resent it. I don't feel that I did it for love of God (well, OK, maybe a little), rather, I feel like I did it out of a sense of "have to, gotta, must."

I believe I got up at 5:30 a.m. on New Year's Day because I am scrupulous. Because I have an irrational sense of guilt that was already in play before I even had something to be guilty for. Because I was afraid.

This is not to say there wasn't anything good about the mass. Of course there was; I recall some great moments of prayer and being excited about the beautiful Christmas decorations. I know I was happy to be back in that communion line.

But still.

So now that I'm back from the "dark side," I'm consumed with worry about crossing the line back over there.

And by the way, my friend did hear us trying to leave the house before the crack of dawn, and when we returned, her dog went berserk when we came back in the front door, waking everyone up. Sigh. However, miracle of miracles, myself and everyone did manage to get back to sleep. Coincidence?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Answers To At Least Ten Or More Questions

1. How's it going with Alan and school? Alan's adjustment; the school itself; your reaction to the change in your day; your interactions with those you've met through the school etc. (Maureen)

Alan is doing spectacularly well at his non-diocesan, independent/private Catholic school. In October he was already reading (without pictures and pictograms), and each week he has a spelling test consisting of about 9-10 three-letter words and he has scored 100% on all of them. All of his math tests have scored at 100%. He asks many questions about what he learns about his Catholic faith and/or talks to us about it quite often. I attribute this success to: A.) A small classroom with only 5 children, B.) A fantastic teacher, C.) The use of primarily old-school curriculum, most of it originating from home school sources (Little Angel Reader, Saxon Math, etc.), and D.) A learning environment that is focused on the academic in a happy, cheerful, and age-appropriate manner without lowering the standard to "everything has to be fun all day, all the time!"

That being said, Alan is probably the liveliest, most talkative child in the class, and we need to work on that a bit. Not that he doesn't have one or two "contemporaries" who feed off of him and one another. The fact that he is the sole only-child in the school, coming from a rather loud, free, and expressive family likely explains this situation.

As for me, I generally stay at the school everyday, since we have a 70 mile round trip each day to the school. Given that Alan attends half-day kindergarten (the only one in the metro Milwaukee area?), it just makes sense. I run the milk program and work on various tasks or projects, as needed. Often times I sit and work on cross-stitch. I have been a substitute teacher a handful of times, which I've loved. Occasionally, like today, I take a break and sit in a local coffee shop and blog or work on my own stuff. Granted, I could do that at the school, but sometimes a person just needs a change of scenery.

Each day at this school is a struggle and a blessing. Despite the fact that I am a morning person, waking up at 5:30 a.m. every day sucks. I get up and get myself ready before I rouse Alan and my husband, and I'm screaming out here, "I'M TIRED!!!." We leave the house at 6:50 each morning. Still, each day, as I drive into downtown Milwaukee, I can see the sun rise above Lake Michigan, and it never ceases to inspire me.

The good news is that every single person at the school, and I do mean every single person at this tiny school, is a joy to be around in one way or another each and every day. Almost five months in, I have yet to see a single instance of back-biting, negative gossip, or uncharitability. Everyone is cheerful, inviting, and caring. As a result, Char here has to work overtime to be the same in return, and I AM EXHAUSTED!!! It is HARD WORK being a Christian! I literally come home spent and in need of sleep because I am trying so hard to act in accordance and reciprocity of the example set before me. Not that I want to behave in a contrary manner, and not that the school necessarily demands such behavior. It's just so real and authentic that there's no other way in which to respond but to respond in like.

I directly attribute a large portion of the reason I have returned to the sacraments to the fact that the employees and families of this school have set an example that brings me FINALLY to the hope I have for a normal Catholic community/experience. Unfortunately, after 18 years, the school is at risk of closing next year, which I'll talk about some other time.

2.  Did you get to know the family across the road? (Amethyst)

This question is referring to the Lutheran home school family that now lives kitty-corner across the street from us. It has been a slow process, but yes, we have gotten to know them somewhat better. That being said, I have yet to meet the father, who works multiple jobs with odd hours. Alan plays over there maybe once every two weeks, and once in awhile, the Mom and I get to chit-chat. I admit that I'm always wondering if deep down they think we're heathens because we're Catholic, but I try to quiet that voice and go with the flow. They are the kind of homeschoolers where the home school has taken over the house, as opposed to the sorts of families who confine homeschooling to a designated area or room in their home. So when I visit, it's always interesting to see what the kids are working on.

3. Do you have a favorite saint and/or devotion? (Kasclar)

Not yet. I don't know enough about enough saints to answer. I feel good vibes towards Saint Jude and Saint Mary Magdalene (and not for freaky/goofy/liberal reasons!) Recently, I have reason to attempt a devotion to the Infant of Prague. I'm interested in most things Mary. I wish I would spend more time on the Divine Mercy devotion. Finally, our family is getting more and more "into" the Schoenstatt movement, which I do plan to blog about in the future.

4. Were you mad at the Church recently? (Angela)

Um, yes. I still am a little mad. The good news is that I've realized I can compartmentalize my anger over one or two very specific issues while at the same time continue to be a practicing Catholic and partake in the sacraments, which should (theoretically) help heal the remaining open wounds I have. For a long time, I couldn't see that and didn't want to see that. Though I mentioned it a handful of times on Cheeky Pink Girl, none of you know how many, many, many, many times I missed mass on purpose; months upon months upon months. I figured that if the main attraction for me was the Eucharist, and I couldn't partake in it, then why bother going? And besides, I wasn't interested in seeing any smug, self-righteous Catholics who hurt me just by their very existence.

Back this past summer, I contacted blogger Mark Shea, since I kept longing to talk about my issues with someone I actually believed was normal, intelligent, empathetic, and non-judgemental. He was all I could come up with in that category, which is a direct testament to his writing. I believed that what I saw in print was what I would get one-on-one, and I wasn't disappointed. He actually had me call him at home one night, and we were on the phone for about 2-3 hours. It was amazing how fast he honed in on the issues and made his diagnosis. (Granted, I only shared with him ONE of my issues - the other issue, well, I still don't know where to go and what to do about it.)

Basically, Mark said I HAVE to forgive all the Catholics who have hurt me. I DID NOT want to hear this. He also suggested that the enemy, Satan, was attacking me, which also made me flinch. On the one hand, it was great to have someone laugh with me about all the crazy, conspiracy theory, uber-judgemental bullshit that one experiences both in the Catholic blogosphere and in real-life orthodox/TRAD circles. But still, at some point he had to shut down my comedy act and remind me that no matter how mean and misguided some of these people might be, they are fellow human beings, fellow Catholics, fellow Christians. He made me understand that until I forgave them - including the nameless, faceless, anonymous troll types, I was dead in the mud.

I sat on this advice for a long time, not wanting to give up the ghost. At other times, I thought about it quite a bit. Sometimes I would move toward finally going back to confession and having a desire to confess all this anger. But every time I got close, something would happen to screw it all up. I vividly recall one such incident: We were at mass at a local basilica that is situated in an idyllic, natural setting. It was a beautiful fall day and for once I was open to going to mass. As soon as our family got situated in our pew, I looked up to see a father come in with a train of about six children. Most of the children were girls, and all of them (including a little girl who had to be about 2-3 years old), were wearing frumpy skirts down to their ankles. Right away I knew they were part of the "Modesty Squad" and I became instantly enraged. To my mind and tastes, these girls looked ridiculous. And for the rest of mass, all I could think about was how wrong this family was, how stupid I thought they looked, and how this is not the way to produce relevant Catholics who will make a difference in the world. At the same time, I kept telling myself things like, "Shut up, Char, what's it to you?" or "They have one way of being Catholic, you have another, and if it's real to them, what business is it of yours?" Of course, this family was sitting in plain view the entire mass. I literally spent large portions of the mass staring down at the wood in the pew, trying to force myself to not even catch sight of them. It was stuff like this - or an occasional peak onto Father's Z's blog, etc. - that would stop me in my tracks and keep me grounded in my anger.

At one point, I had a theme song for my anger. I showcase it here because if you listen to the lyrics, you will see how low I had gotten. The song is full of Catholic reference and the video, disturbingly so?, Catholic imagery. (Note: I still think this is a beautiful, insightful song, despite the heretical aspects of it. I expect aesthetes and artists to "get it." And yes, I know what Morrissey is referring to in this song, but I appropriated it for my own use.)

I was a good kid
I wouldn't do you no harm
I was a nice kid
With a nice paper round
Forgive me any pain
I may have brung to you
With God's help I know
I'll always be near to you
But Jesus hurt me
When he deserted me, but

I have forgiven Jesus
For all the desire
He placed in me when there's nothing I can do
With this desire

I was a good kid
Through hail and snow I'd go
Just to moon you
I carried my heart in my hand
Do you understand?
Do you understand?
But Jesus hurt me
When he deserted me, but

I have forgiven Jesus
For all of the love
He placed in me
When there's no-one I can turn to with this love

Monday - humiliation
Tuesday - suffocation
Wednesday - condescension
Thursday - is pathetic
By Friday life has killed me
By Friday life has killed me

(Oh pretty one, Oh pretty one)

Why did you give me
So much desire?
When there is nowhere I can go
To offload this desire
And why did you give me
So much love
In a loveless world
When there's no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love
And why did you stick me in
Self-deprecating bones and skin
Jesus - do you hate me?
Why did you stick me in
Self-deprecating bones and skin
Do you hate me? do you hate me?
Do you hate me? do you hate me?
Do you hate me?

If any of you are still with me after that, thanks. Like I said, that was the lowest, angriest point.

So anyway, Mark Shea helped me, the school helped me, and the prayers of my husband helped me. Right before Christmas, I went to confession after 22 months, and then joyfully, back to communion. Which resulted in me promptly returning to a scrupulous mindset, which is yet another issue for another time.

I still struggle with anger towards other Catholics. How could I not? I'm still me. I still have very strong opinions about the Catholic faith and how it's practiced. I will obviously continue to blog about this stuff, which is why many liked my first blog and why many wanted me to continue blogging. But this time around, in some way, shape, or form, I desire (please help me Holy Spirit) to do it in a way that is not only "me," but also a tad thoughtful, as well.

5. Has the drama at [bleep bleep siren we interrupt this sentence to not specifically go there] died down? (KNelson)

Dear Mr. Nelson, this past fall it got decidedly worse. For obvious reasons, I can't discuss it here. If you or anyone else wants to know, just email me. You, of all people, Mr. Nelson, would be very interested in the next chapter. At the current time, things are calm for all involved.

6. Will we every hear you sing? (Kerri)

What an odd, interesting question! Answer: Probably not. I don't like to sing in public unless it's a professionally rehearsed scenario, like a wedding. That hasn't happened in a long time.

I don't sing in church choirs because, regrettably, I don't like to sing church music. I would rather be in a choir that sings show tunes, etc.

There are old videos of me singing in high school, on videotape (VCR). If they ever get transferred to some digital format, I'll consider posting one.

6. Is the cigar smoking trad-ish priest still at your parish? (Alice)

No. He got moved to a parish one town south of us. We still hang out with him recreationally, going out to eat or having drinks with him at the rectory where he lives. Fittingly, we gave him cigars for Christmas.

When Alan had surgery at Children's Hospital in December, the traddy-ish priest did the pre-surgery blessing/anointing. He was also at our home until after 11 p.m. on the Epiphany, blessing our house and shooting the shit with us. Sometimes we go to mass at his parish.

He is very traditional (without having bailed to the Latin mass side, although I always wonder if he secretly wants to), and we enjoy the free (very free) exchange of ideas and Catholic happenings with him.

7. Every now and then, I read a news story about something very cool that someone has done or is doing - something that makes me sit up and thank God for making my fellow human beings so brilliant or loving or insightful. Have you read such a story lately, and if so would you care to share your thoughts on it? (John Henry)

I read a lot of books. If my week is going the way I want it, I will read from start to finish one to three books. Not every week is like that.

But in answer to your question, have I lately read anything like that? No. Not unless you want to thank God for the gift of excellent writers, in general, who make reading a good book possible.

However, just the other day, I discovered the program called America Unearthed on the History Channel 2. Being an archaeology junkie, this was right up my alley. And the premise of the show, that much of the learned history that we subscribe to is wrong, was like a premise after my own heart. It didn't hurt that the first episode I saw had to do with copper mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is a pet subject of mine in conjunction with my family's genealogy.

By the way, I do have to mention, in conjunction with Question #4 above, that blogger Mark Shea makes me thank God for the great human beings He created. And I think I'll add blogger Elizabeth Esther to that list, too.

8. Did you enjoy the latest Hobbit movie? (Priest's Wife)

Didn't see it and didn't want to. I am allergic to anything elves-goblins-Renaissance-Harry Potter-wizards-dungeons-spells, etc. I consider The Hobbit as part of that category. Although that being said, whenever it was a few years ago, I did go see "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe."

By the way, my husband loves anything C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I understand why both authors are important to Catholic thought, so I'm not stupid enough to deprive my child of those authors when the time comes around. If the school he's at stays open, he will be reading plenty of both.

Another reason I probably wouldn't see The Hobbit is because if everybody is doing it or seeing it, my automatic knee-jerk reaction is to avoid it like the plague. If it seems like it's part of the Rite of Being a Good Catholic, I usually want no part of it, unless it's an organic development that makes sense. Case in point: "Bella" and "The Passion of the Christ." Have seen neither, and both are physically in my home. With "Passion of the Christ," it's because I can barely handle the sanitized 1960's movie versions of the crucifixion, so I know I won't deal well with an intensely graphic one. With "Bella," I want to be free of everybody's gratuitous gushing about how great it is and evaluate the movie on its own merits, but just haven't gotten around to it.

9. How did you choose the new blog name? (Maureen)

I thought a lot about how the teachers and families at Alan's school appeared to be good, holy, and well-meaning Catholics without living in a bubble. Granted, outside secular folks probably think the school and the practices of the families that go there are oppressively bubble-ish, but for people like me who search for the middle ground within Catholic orthodoxy, it was immediately obvious that something was different about the school, and it intrigued me and continues to intrigue me. And then I got to thinking about the reality/truth (at least I hope so, it remains to be seen) that a person can, in fact, be a decent, holy Catholic without living in a bubble or subscribing to bubble-ish notions. I decided that I wanted a major theme of the blog to be "popping" bubble thinking, and conversely, examining whether or not certain Catholic beliefs and practices might actually be aspects of bubble living without our recognizing it?

The "such a pretty" part of the name likely comes from a deep subconscious suspicion of anything that smacks of perfectionism. There's probably some mean part of me that relishes the idea of popping Catholic bubbles.

10. Do you know how glad I am to see you return? (Sherry)

No, I didn't, but thanks! It's nice to hear.

It was also nice to know I'm still held in some sort of esteem by people with actual brains, such as Erin Manning.

As a favor, if YOU think I have any sort of brain cells firing correctly, would you mind adding me to your blog role or doing a tiny little post like Erin did? I'd really, really appreciate it.

Whew! I've  been writing for almost three hours! It's almost time to pick Alan up!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Twenty Questions

Well, not really twenty. More like however many it takes.

Everyone visiting this entry gets to ask me ONE question in the commbox as a way of starting me off on this new endeavor. I'll answer the questions as a separate blog post.

As many of you know, there's not much I won't answer. Of course, I reserve the right to refuse, but your question would have to be pretty outrageous and rude.

Be serious, be silly, be asking about the new blog, be asking me something you always wondered, whatever.


I'm not sorry for being Catholic.

I'm not sorry for being conservative.

I'm not sorry for being really opinionated.

Or snarky or sarcastic.

I'm not sorry for being honest.

I'm not sorry for trying to be real or authentic.

I don't plan on changing any of that. Rather, just wanting to be more thoughtful while I'm doing it.

We'll see how that works.

Still, I defer to the previous entry, "I'm Sorry."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm Sorry

I'm sorry for my other blog, Cheeky Pink Girl.

I'm sorry because it caused me such pride.

I'm sorry because it encouraged others into pride.

I'm sorry because it gave me a platform to be overly self-righteous.

I'm sorry because it gave others additional opportunities to showcase their own self-righteousness.

I'm sorry because it hurt other people, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.

I'm sorry because it gave others reasonable and sometimes unreasonable occassions to hurt me back.

I'm sorry because I sometimes relished in the celebrity that I gained from it for quite some time.

I'm sorry because after a time, many abandoned me and made me feel lonely and worthless.

I'm sorry because I was often times thoughtless.

I'm sorry because I didn't think it all out before I started the blog.

I'm sorry because despite all the good things on my former blog, the bad things overshadowed it all.

I'm sorry because despite being an excellent writer, I didn't use my gift to its best ability.

Please forgive me.