Monthly Archives: July 2011

Weekend nothing

Until I get home internet access and a laptop that will make it worth it (once I get more readership, maybe I’ll put up a donation widget!) I only have Internet access during the week, except through my phone. Not so good for long or well-edited pieces.

But I did want to share the following link on forgiveness. It’s a good follow up from my last post, though unfortunately, I can’t remember how to embed a link using WordPress Mobile. Meh. I’ll fix it Monday.

http://shirtofflame.blogspot.com/2011/07/only-believe-that-everything-belongs.html

I loved this paragraph:

Just as Christ blew apart for all time the old “law” of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, he also blew apart all notion of counting the cost, hedging our bets, playing things close to the vest. To forgive is not to let someone off the hook—this time. To forgive is not to be outwardly “nice” and inside to plot vengeance. To forgive is to open our arms and heart wide, to remain woundable—as Christ did on the Cross.

Anywho, have a great weekend, everyone!

One in Seven

A family of strong opinions and stubborn, loud personalities,  heated discussions were inevitable on holidays.  To borrow from Matthew 18:20, wherever two or more Watsons or Martinezes are gathered around holiday pie and coffee, there political tension shall be in their midst. 

Our passion for Reagan-era politics were something that defined us.    Before I was two, if I heard my grandfather turn on Rush Limbaugh, I’d throw my toys down and sit in front of the radio. Before I knew how to add, I knew that Bill Clinton was a lying sonofabitch, and Hillary still scares me just a little.  [Especially those caricature pictures of her.  Shudder.] 60 Minutes was a Sunday night ritual.

Watching debates about politics from the sidelines shaped me into the person I am and from an early age, I’d pipe up with commentary that I can imagine was as obnoxious as it was adorable.  Our country’s history and current affairs were a big deal.   To this day,  people and families who don’t talk about, or don’t care about things like that seem strange, and I wonder, “What do they talk about? Each other? Psh.”

Couple hard conservatism with a fervor for criminal justice. My dad had known he wanted to be a cop after a stint in the Marine Corps from the time he was young,  both my grandmothers worked in jails and had personal investments in the outcomes of sheriff elections,  and conversations about major investigations and criminal cases in the ’90s (OJ Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Oklahoma City Bombing, the beating of Rodney King) dominates no small part of my childhood memories.  My grandma still watches Court TV almost exclusively, except when she takes a break for her Mexican soaps and Project Runway. 

So after Thanksgiving dinner one year, when the younger kids had gone off to watch the first tv airings of Christmas movies on CBS, and the adult discussions had ensued,  it lead to the opportunity for me to announce that I was opposed to the death penalty.  This time, at age 16, it was not a flippant opinion I took up on a whim and would forget later, and they knew it.  My dad looked at me like I had just announced that I really wanted to get a summer job in the prostitution field.

They always knew I’d grow up to be a bleeding heart liberal.  They knew it from the time they had first read to me the story of  The Little Red Hen and, being four, not seeing the analogy on the welfare state, thought the hen was just being a total meanie by not sharing her bread. 

My announcement that year has lead to many discussions, heated as they are long, since.  At first, my arguments were rather weak, lead by my heart rather than my head, stemming from an instinctive understanding that most who supported the death penalty did so out of desire for vengeance, and that this seemed wrong to me.  The valid arguments I did have, hard to articulate.  I often lost.  But I stood my ground, and with time, became immoveable with information.

Did you know that one in seven people on death row are later found innocent?   Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, there have been 1,263 executions.  Statistically speaking, that means 180 innocent people have been killed for crimes they didn’t commit. 

Of course, there are many who say that the collateral damage of having one innocent killed is the cost of achieving “justice” for the six who are guilty.  This argument comes from a surprising amount of people who otherwise identify as “prolife.” 

If you read (which I encourage you to do) the stories of how some of these innocent men came to be convicted of these crimes, it would appall you.   Their lives have weighed on the statements of prison snitches (inmates who lie about having overheard the confession of a fellow inmate in order to obtain a sentencing deal),  false confessions (confessions coerced out of suspects by physical or psychological abuse), mistaken witnesses, white coat fraud, failure to test DNA, and corrupt law enforcement.  The statistics are astounding.

In my reading, it seemed to me that the underlying pattern was that the prosecution and the victim or the victim’s families wanted nothing more than justice to come from somewhere, somehow.  For it to be closed– done with.  If there was a chance that they had brought their daughter, wife, mother or friend’s killer/rapist to justice, then they could close that horrible chapter of their lives and move on.  This is, of course, understandable.  But it’s also wrong.

We saw this happen weeks ago, on a shockingly large scale, when Casey Anthony was acquitted of murdering her daughter.  From an objective point of view, the lack of physical evidence was more than enough to give the jury reasonable doubt, and yet it was not the people close to the victim crying out against this supposed breach of justice. The general public was sent into a twittering outrage.  [Alannis Morrisette could take a lesson in what Irony really means.] 

The public, some of whom had only heard of Caylee Anthony when they got curious about their friends’ statuses, were suddenly tearing their hair in lamentation over our country’s criminal justice system and how it had failed that poor little girl.  Some going so far as to threaten the lives of members of the jury.

Whether Casey Anthony committed the crime is no longer the point. The trial’s over, and she can’t be tried again.  The point is that, this time anyway, our justice system worked.  It worked because we, as a supposedly moral civilization, believe that it is better to let a guilty person walk free than to condemn an innocent. Or, at least, we should.  The Casey Anthony trial, however, proved to me that the bloodthirst of the days of the coliseum are long from over.  It doesn’t matter who pays, as long as someone does.

From a Catholic’s point of view,  the death penalty should be considered heinous, and honestly, a renouncement of belief in God’s justice.  We all want to take matters into our own hands and dole out justice as we see fit– it’s human nature.  But if we believe that God should be the sole ruler of life and death, and that He will punish sinners accordingly, then we should be satisfied to simply have dangerous people off the streets, and our 21st century prisons are more than sufficient. 

As of 1998,  only slightly more than .5% of prisoners  were listed as “escaped” or “AWOL.”

[UPDATE: I had meant to acknowledge here that 13 year old statistics were the most recent I could find from a reliable source, even when using a Google search term as blatant as “number of prison escapes in united states per year.”  If anyone knows where I can find more up-to-date information, please pass it along.]

True, there are still thousands of escapees a year. Why aren’t you hearing about them? The vast majority of escapees are “walk-aways” from community corrections facilities that have minimal supervision. Dramatic, Hollywood-style escapes from maximum security prisons are the ones that draw media attention.

Like their maximum security counterparts, the minimum security walk-aways are usually recovered. State prisons reported that more escapees and AWOL prisoners were returned than escaped every year from 1995 to 1998. The last year with more escapees than recaptured prisoners was 1994, when 14,307 prisoners escaped and 13,346 were returned.

Federal prison breakouts are rarer than state prison escapes. One federal prisoner escaped and was recaptured in 1999, out of a prison population of more than 115,000. He was the only one to escape in the past four years.

I urge everyone to read up on some of the sites I’ve cited.  If you ever get around to reading Actual Innocence,”  you’ll understand how common and how avoidable wrongful convictions are, and how very frightening it is.  That these people, in most cases, did not even know the victim and were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, should hit home that this could happen to you or someone you know.  If it ever does, I wonder if you’ll still believe that only the guilty are put to death.

For more information and useful statistics, check out The Innocence Project and http://www.antideathpenalty.org/

Human Solutions

I didn’t write yesterday; I may not write anything else today.  I have days where I just drop my face onto my keyboard and think, “Ugggghhhh,  I can’t write.  I suck.” 

This usually happens after one of three things happen: 

  1. Someone tells me how much they liked my writing.  I always feel this manic tick go off inside me that tells me I have to top, then, whatever I wrote before, so as to actually be deserving of praise.  Right now. This instant. I need to pump out something absolutely epic, that will change the life of the reader with my gritty insight.  Something poignant, yet witty.  Then my eye starts twitching.  I told you from the start— I crave approval, but when I actually get it, it does weird things to me.
  2. I start reading other people’s blogs;  blogs written by people I very much admire.  And when I finish, I slump my shoulders, take a long drag from my coffee, think, “Uggghhh, why didn’t I write that?  I’ll never be able to say that kind of stuff without sounding like an idiot.  Well, who cares? It’s not like anyone’s actually reading your blog.”  Face:Keyboard. 
  3. I have an idea for a post, but haven’t worked it out to the point where I can articulate it and am consequently consumed by a need to get my thoughts on paper.  But since the thought is half-formed, it comes out looking like:  “sahsadfdhgfdhgf-soap-nachos-conclave-synergy-Armando Guebuza-ashdkgkhghg.” 

Yesterday, all three happened, which sent me into a spiral of artistic and melodramatic self-loathing.

I’ve learned that if I’m in a bad mood, coffee is actually not a good idea for me.  This is counter-intuitive, since I usually think: Coffee + Happy = Energy = More Happy.  But apparently, Coffee + Bad mood = Energy = Restless Crankiness. 

So, having had multiple cups of coffee by the time I got home last night, I really was not keen on a quiet evening at home with my book, alone with myself and my dumb writing.  I tried, I really did, to just sit with my book and my soup.  But in the end, after a phone call from my sister, I went to Panera in search of just some basic human contact, had another cup of coffee (and a bagel) and tried to read again.  No luck.   With the dangerous combination of intellectual frustration, caffeine-induced restlessness and your average bout of moodiness,  all I wanted was a good, real life conversation. 

I’m not really a lonely person.  I spend a lot of time by myself, and I’ve never been the type who minded that so much.  In fact, if I have just too much time with too many people, I start to want to kill them and so I go catch a movie by myself and I feel better.  Most people tell me that going to the movies by yourself is lame and asocial, but I’d like to remind them that it at one time may have been the only thing keeping them from an untimely death.  Rachel, I’m talking to you.

But this time, I was cursing the year I was born as two years too early to be able to go to a dark bar and spill my troubles to a chatty bartender like a Freudian psychologist patient with daddy issues.  I drove around for about 20 minutes in a residential area, not totally sure where I was or where I was going, until I popped out, unexpectedly, onto the route I take to get to the church. 

Hey, I can take a hint. 

I sat in Church for a little while, not really saying much, or feeling like I was hearing much on God’s part.  This is usually okay with me.  When I worked at the church, if I just needed to get away from the soul-crushing florescent-ness of the church’s kitchen, I’d go up to the chapel, just to sit.   Sometimes I’d have deep thoughts, and sometimes I’d just think about whether or not the spaghetti sauce could use more basil.   I used to think of it like sitting in church and not saying much was like being able to sit in comfortable silence with a friend.

After a while, my inability to pray and the ensuing silence between God and I started to feel like “awkward silence,” and I wondered if it was my fault because I didn’t come to church often enough anymore.  Annoyed that I had come all that way to the church and not felt any more at peace,  I heard the piano playing downstairs.  Well, I sighed exasperated, that was it.  Any little bit of prayerfulness I had was waning fast, as my mind kept wondering who was playing the piano, what they were playing, how nice it sounded, but how goshdarn distracting it was, etc., etc.  So I walked out of church, leaving my purse and missal behind, and went downstairs.

It turns out that of all the people who could have been on the otherwise-deserted property,  there was no more perfect person to have picked that moment to distract me from my attempt at meditation.  Once thick as thieves, though granted, fraught with complicated adolescent hormones.  He was my best friend until unique circumstances eventually ended our former closeness and by now, we hadn’t talked for more than a few minutes in a long time.  Things change, and people grow up, lives diverge into different paths. But if you’re lucky, there’s still a solidness there in a friendship, and a bond still intact, no matter how long its been stagnant, even after its been deluged in a lot of pain, misunderstanding or separation.  The bond’s changed, but it’s there, simplified and laid bare, and better for that.

So we caught up for a solid half hour– more than we’ve talked in seven months, and left with promises to pray for each other,  and no matter how long  it is before we catch up with each other again, an almost tacit agreement that we would still be friends.  “I’ll be there… I mean… you know what I mean.”  “Yeah.  Me, too.”

It’s funny how God works.  And not to sound cheesy, but it occurred to me what a generous gesture it was.  He gave me, who doesn’t come make visits often enough as it is, an answer to a prayer against loneliness in human form, when His company should be all I need.  He wants me to come to Him, but when I do, lets me leave.

[UPDATE:  I was trying to think of a better way of explaining what I meant by this.  It’s like a Father seeing His child, sad and lonely, and instead of making it another unhappy lesson in coping, and blind trust, sent me off with a piece of candy, knowing there will be plenty of other times for me to learn the hard way. In other words, He gave me a good break.]

I went back upstairs to get my things from the chapel, and as I walked out, I mouthed a thank you.

How to Make a Bowl of Cereal

If I ever have kids, they’re not leaving the house until they’re 30.

I sometimes take a step back from myself and imagine what I would say if I were not myself and were someone else, perhaps my inner 40-year-old. My inner 40-year-old would say, “19? Go home. If you’re an age that ends in “teen,” you don’t belong here. You look like you’re playing dress up. Take off those ridiculous heels and go home.”

It’s not that I think my parents made a mistake in letting me leave the house when I did. For one thing, it wasn’t up to them. Short of shackling me to the bunkbed I shared with my sister, I don’t think there was anything they could have said or done to stop me when I was ready. I was 18, had a car, a destination, and it was just as well that I also had their blessing.

I spent most of my early life looking forward to my 18th birthday as the day that I was magically granted a nice car that never ran out of gas or needed repairs [I wonder if my mom remembers the times I would ask if we could go visit my grandparents in California. Of course, mom, I know airplanes are expensive. But why can’t we just drive there? Driving is free!] and a house and a dog and a horse, because when I was 18, no one could stop me from the simple task of putting up a fence like the one in my Aunt Sue’s backyard and keeping a horse there. It really can’t be as hard as you think, dad. Gosh.

But then I turned 16 and I got a job and had a few minimal expenses and some distant concept of what it meant to have rent to pay. So by the time I was on my second second-hand car, I realized that it was probably unlikely that I would actually be out of the house by 18. I also sort of came to terms with the fact that this was not only acceptable, most people aren’t actually independent of their parents until after they graduate college, or get married. This was such a dire reality for me that during the Midterm Breakdown of Spring Semester 2010, I sat at the table with my parents, crying because I was afraid that I would never be able to provide for myself and would have to rely on some guy to marry me before I could move out of the house.

Mere months later, at age 18, I was packing my car up to make the 500-mile trip to my new home.

For the first 8 months, I was still not “on my own.” I had almost no bills, a ton of freedom and lots of people to help me out if I were in a bind. But I had no money, and very little independence, which is a whole lot different from “freedom.”

So I got a job (try two) and an apartment and am now, in every possible way, on my own. Even emotionally, I’ve made myself a bit of a loner in that sense of detachment I think most adults have because they understand that people will not always be there when you need them and that you might just die alone, so you might as well get used to the idea. I don’t say that in a jaded, bitter way; I just say it because it’s the truth.

Then there’s your own physical well-being. When you nearly dismember yourself with a staple like I did last night, you have to go out to Walgreens at 10pm and get your own bandaids. There, you see one of your boss’ clients and hope they don’t recognize you, and realize what it’s like to be offended when they don’t. I mean, seriously, c’mon. You see me all the time, lady! Too often, in fact! You come in without an appointment, like, three times a week! Lady? I’m not old enough for the sweats-and-no-make-up me to look so grotesquely unrecognizable from the black-dress-and-brushed-hair me, right? Right?! You better just be pretending not to recognize me. Seriously. Look at meeeee.

To those of you who have been at this whole adult thing for a long time (a nice euphemism for “old”) this is not worth writing about. This is like me writing an instructional article on how to make cereal. But for me, all the time I’m finding some other new thing I hadn’t accounted for in my daydreams of what adulthood would be like. Things like having to check the mail every day.

Checking the mail every day is weird. Grocery shopping is weird. Walmart really intimidates me. To varying degrees, I live some version of this article almost every day.

When you haven’t actually done it, there’s no way to predict the exact way you have to itemize every dollar and every minute spent. There’s no one to remind you of literally, anything. The buck starts and stops with you and your survival strategy. Only you can decide when the dishes in the sink have reached critical mass. This sucks in ways you can’t even imagine, and there are times you think, “I can’t do this by myself anymore.” But you can and you do. And it’s fun. It’s good to have a chance to know that you’re a complete person. Independence is invaluable to me, as it has been since I could first utter the words, “I do it MYself” to my parents.

I write all this wondering if I’ll ever show this to my kids, as a warning or encouragement, when it comes time to decide if they’re ready to face The Great, Wide Somewhere. It won’t matter, though. In the immortal words of Crush the Turtle, “Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?” Experience isn’t passed on by word of mouth, and sage advice honestly rarely matters. Like me, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. And like me, they’re going to be fine.

Especially if they wait until they’re 30.

UPDATE: Oh my gosh, guys, a giant spider just skittered across my floor. This is one of those times I feel like I am just not good by myself. Without someone to “GETITGETITGETIT” while I screech from atop a chair, I am fairly demobilized. If anyone wants to stop by my apartment and rescue me, I’ll be here, trapped on my couch while the spider moves in and leaves its towels on the floor.

Fish on Fridays: Catholics aren’t bothered, why are you?

I’ve only been to Bella Casa, a pizza place on  the corner of 16th and Farnam, a handful of times, but already I’m recognized by the owner as the girl who gets cheese pizza on Friday. 

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to have the once-a-week-vegetarian talk with people I know.  If I go out to eat in a group, I spend the most time looking over the menu, trying to find something meatless (and I don’t do fish), that will also satisfy my need for protein.   I’ve become accustomed to asking waiters what they recommend for vegetarians and with that becoming an increasingly popular trend for health or ethical reasons, they’re more than happy to help. 

It’s really not a big deal.  I actually really like veggie burgers, and grilled portobello mushrooms make a good, filling meat substitute without tasting like meat at all. 

But when I explain to people why I’m being such a high maintenence foodie,  I get the whole gamut of reactions.  Everything from interested questions, timidly insincere nods, to being publicly quizzed on whether or not I know why Catholics are called to abstain from meat.  “I bet you didn’t know that Pope So-and-So only instituted that practice because he had family in the fish mongering industry.”

Actually, I have heard that one before, several times, in fact, and I’ve done some research. I’ve found nothing conclusive to support that claim.   In fact, it was surprisingly hard to find anything that answered my question about when and why that tradition came into being, other than that we do it in memory of Our Lord’s Passion, though no one said why it was the meat of warm-blooded animals. 

I heard long ago (and found some others say it on various forums that popped up on Google) that because warm-blooded meat was a rich man’s food, and fish, a poor man’s food,  the pope wanted the rich to identify with the poor in this way.  This doesn’t seem likely to me either,  but a whole heck of a lot more likely than the idea that a pope was taking religion-changing measures to help out the fish industry during a time when, due to the availability of fish and the conditions of the majority, it was probably doing well enough on its own.  I get that there have been corrupt, power-seeking popes in the Church’s history, but I’m just not buying it.   

Eventually, I found that the teaching is first mentioned in The Didache of the Apostles, written in the 1st Century.  Hey, good enough for me!  The Didache contains basically all the other core truths of Christianity.

Whatever happened in history, though, I can think of one reason that abstaining from meat on Fridays is good for Catholics: It reminds us of who we are.   Most of the week,  it’s easy to forget you’re Catholic.  Since high school, I’ve gone months at a time where every waking moment was spent either at a church, at a convent, with nuns and prayer schedules and in all other ways, identifying as Catholic in a routine that was just taken for granted.

Between August and December of last year, I worked at my Church and its school and went to Mass every day. When the semester ended and I got a paying job, I still went to Mass several times a week until moving to the other side of town made only Sunday Mass possible.  And I miss it.  I miss feeling as Catholic as I did.  And yet, there are people who’ve never had the opportunity to have daily reminders of who they are and their duty to the Church.  For all of us who have to live in the world and can’t spend life kneeling in Adoration, we have Fridays.  Fridays that make us think before we order a Bacon Double Cheeseburger: “Oh, shoot, it’s Friday. Guess I’ll go home and… make a PB&J.”  Whatever was in the heart and mind of the man who first gave us this duty, God surely saw the benefits of this. 

The same goes for my scapular, and my veil, and all the other little things required of Catholics that make us put in the little extra effort, that remind us that men are meant to be in the world and not of it.

I don’t mind explaining to people that there is one day a week that I don’t eat meat.  Some people are genuinely curious and thoughtful.  I’ve had very nice people, non-Catholics, say how much they love my scapular, and sound proud to show that they even recognize one when they see it. 

No, what bothers me is the people who presume to tell me that my traditions are dumb.  People who won’t say anything negative about Muslim women in a Hijab, (these are often feminists who, I would think, would be the first to recognize this as a gross injustice against women by their male oppressors. Instead they admire the courage it takes to go against the American-Judeo-Christian grain in such an open way.  Apparently, sticking it to one Man is more important than sticking it to another) or even acknowledge that they’ve noticed it out of fear of being accused of bigotry or hate, will openly laugh at my religion’s traditions.  Literally– the same individuals.   Jews have much more finicky diets than Catholics in regards to meat, (for much stranger reasons) and I don’t hear anyone scoffing at them.

“I went to Catholic school,” I said once.

“Oh, so that’s why you are the way you are,”  sneered my coworker.

“Probably.”

Replace “Catholic school” with “Buddhist monastary” or something like that, and I couldn’t imagine anyone having the gall to act like it’s anything less than extraordinary.  And dare I become indignant at this offense, and it just fans the flame, while being accused of a hate crime against any other racial, ethnic or religious group is seen as the ultimate taboo. 

People seem to think that most non-Christian religions are exotic, exciting and progressive (read: trendy) compared to stodgy ol’ Christianity.  Quote Gandhi and every 20-something (and anyone who read “Eat, Pray, Love”) in the room will solemnly nod in agreement; quote the Psalms–sublimely poetic, in even a superficial way– and you’re a religious fanatic.   Then they feel they need to fix you, to unravel those crazy ideals of yours when they’re obviously so 1489.  Outdated. Obsolete.  In so many words, I’ve been made aware my “corruption” is some people’s personal undertaking.  No, they don’t even pretend to respect my religious sensitivities.

Yes, I have a persecution complex.  Yes, this makes me angry that I, a bigoted, brainwashed, bitter (how’s that for alliteration?) Christian am more respectful of my tolerant, enlightened, open-minded liberal friends than they are of me.    It upsets me that some of my friends, who care about me, won’t read my writing because I spend too much time talking about “Catholic stuff.”  Yes, it hurts.  But that’s reality, and being Catholic is all about living in reality and dealing with it as it is. 

I’m probably preaching to the choir.  Pretty much all the Catholics I know will be nodding in agreement, I think.  We all know that the people who are crying out the loudest for “tolerance” are the ones most likely to be incited to anger or condescending antagonism  at the sight of a Catholic living his or her Faith.

Providence

Whew.  That last post really took it out of me, so this one will be far shorter. (I hope. There’s always the chance that I’ll hop on the Tangent Train and won’t jump off)

Anyway, all I want to say is to trust your instincts, because they’re almost always more than that.  They’re directions when you don’t have a map.   How many times have I begged God, “Just tell me what to do! SEND ME A SIGN!” when in reality, He’s probably already pulling me to the right thing every time, and I would know that if I would just shut up for two seconds.  

I always feel like I’m looking at the world with new eyes when I realize that something I was doing, seemingly without reason, was indeed for a very good reason. 

Prayer is much more than talking to God.  Prayer is letting your heart sit silent so God can get a word in edgewise.

Loved into Being

With gay marriage being the second most talked-about socio-political issue, my nature demands that I sort out a definitive position on the matter. This is going to be a long post, and I know it’s going to upset some people. If you’re going to write me just to tell me that, trust me, I already know. Save your breath.

“That’s disgusting” he said in a low voice, malicious, with just a hint of fascination and I followed his gaze toward two men shopping together a few clothes racks away. I don’t know if they were a couple, but judging by the stereotypes I was familiar with, both were obviously gay.

I smiled and shrugged, then turned away, worried about being caught staring, ashamed of my friend’s rudeness, ashamed of my discomfort in the proximity of gay men, and moreover, ashamed of my shame. If I were really a good, chaste Catholic girl, I would share in my friend’s revulsion at this vagrant display of uncloseted homosexuality. I should take my discomfort as an instinctive sign that I was right to recognize sin and shy away from it, indignant. Two men with frosted hair shopping together? How dare they! Don’t they know there are children around?! Instead I felt nothing but confused sympathy for the men who were possibly unaware of the contempt emanating from my shopping companion’s stare. And I was just sure that I would be declared a bleeding heart humanist were I to defend them, even in the name of good Christian charity. In fact, I feared that that was what I was. And anyway, because my opinions on the matter were vague, half-formed and possibly with more emotional foundation than intellectual–I have had gay friends and some of my family members are gay– could I say anything that would not contradict the Church’s teaching? “Well, they seem like nice people” would be beside the point. So I said nothing.

For a long time, I had a hard time making a decision on where I stood with the whole issue, and I avoided it. I couldn’t make myself believe that homosexuality was a choice. People don’t choose to have life be any more difficult than it has to be, and I don’t think anyone– Catholic, secular, gay or straight or otherwise– can deny that gays have it tough. Even setting aside the obvious things like prejudice, the pool of partners is clearly more limited than that of heterosexuals, making the opportunities for heartbreak even more abundant than it already is.

And if it’s not a choice, if people really are “born that way,” how can we Christians, whose whole religion revolves around Love and acceptance of the Will of God, treat other people, having no more control of their lot than we, with such hatred?

But then there was the “problem” of the Church’s teaching that the lifestyle is a sin, that it’s unnatural. And the Church’s teaching makes sense to me. Men and women’s bodies were built specifically for each other.

If someone had never heard of homosexuality and I told them the things that go through my head when I see a good-looking guy, they’d say: You want to put your what in his where? It’s common sense. Gay sex makes about as much sense as eating chalk, and pica is still recognized as a disorder by the APA1. Last time I checked.

[That’s Steve Gershom, a Catholic, celibate, gay man. I cannot recommend his blog enough, as it’s one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever read and gives a real-life, Catholic perspective the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else. His take on chastity is one of the best I have ever read, and applicable to everyone.]

Anyway, I was confused, until I first heard the term, “SSA:” Same Sex Attraction. As in, “He has Same Sex Attraction,” not “He is gay.” Finally, the vague opinions I had on the subject started to come together and make sense. Yes, the lifestyle is wrong, and acting on the attraction would be a sin. The inclination towards such a thing, a defect. No one wants to think of their friends or family or themselves as defective, but it’s true. And more importantly, it made me understand something that deep down, I think I already knew: that “SSA” is just one of the many defects we can put in the blank spot after “He/She has…” He/She has a tendency to be selfish. He/She has trouble concentrating during Mass. He/She has a drinking problem. He/She, has heterosexual temptations against purity. The tendency towards our own personal weaknesses, each unique as our fingerprints, is a defect found in all of us. Same Sex Attraction is just one of the many hallmarks of a fallen race, one of the literally countless shapes that the cross of temptation takes. Being tempted toward a vice is not a vice itself, as even Our Lord was tempted.

Then there was the matter of whether or not such a temptation can, or even needs to be, expelled entirely. “Prayed, willed or even married away,” as some believe. Elizabeth Scalia writes,

I have a theory that our gay brothers and sisters are, in fact, planned, loved-into-being “necessary others,” and that they are meant to show us something of God from a perspective that we cannot otherwise broach. I suspect art is a part of it. I do not presume to guess what attractions Michelangelo felt, but I could not view his stunning work throughout the Vatican and in Rome without recalling a quip someone (I believe Camille Paglia) once made, that when gays were closeted and presumably less active sexually, their energies had been subsumed into creating transcendent, living, time-smashing masterpieces. Now that they were “out”, said the wag, their art was mundane, mostly unmemorable, often lazy and insubstantial.

I know I am entering deep and destructive currents by even daring to swim here, but homosexual questions are all around us—gay marriage, certainly is at the forefront (and there again, we may actually have some instruction from Christ, in Matthew 19) but there is also the issue of recognizing the many homosexuals in our church who are excellent, joyful priests, faithful to their vows and their flocks—and they are questions begging for temperate, reasonable and loving dialogue.

Elizabeth, who wonderfully states that gays are “loved into being,” focuses mainly on homosexual influence in art, and I agree with her. But I would press further with the belief that people with SSA are called to celibacy, towards something even more noble. I propose that [y’all, this is where I take a deep breath and baricade myself behind my computer screen] many men have SSA because they are called to be priests. Of course, I’m not saying all of them are– I wouldn’t like it if I, a single girl, were told that since I may never get married, ought to just become a nun. The single life is a vocation as well as the married and religious life. I’m just saying that it fits.

The issue I’m tackling now is that I have to stand here, with a firm grip on what I believe now: that SSA is real, intentional by God, but a call to celibacy. How can I, an ignorant little straight girl, tell anyone else, “Sorry, but you’re just going to have to deal with it or burn in hell.” And yet, I’m Catholic and to pretend I believe otherwise would be hypocritical and dishonest, so I might as well just say it. [UPDATE: Believe you me, I want there to be some kind of a loophole, but Matthew 19, as Elizabeth cited, makes the situation pretty clear.]

I am trying not to sound as though I pity celibate gays. Perhaps I don’t know the troubles of Catholics with SSA, but as a young, single, Catholic girl, I’m no stranger to celibacy or the struggle that goes with that, and the discipline it demands to not even let your thoughts wander into dangerous territory. But celibacy is not the worst state to be in. In fact, St. Paul would argue that lifelong celibacy creates a climate in the soul that is perfect for obtaining heaven, and St. John Chrysostom says:

…celibacy is, as we said, an imitation of the angels. Therefore, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man.

But why do I say angel? Christ, Himself, is the glory of virginity…

So it’s entirely likely that the soul of a celibate gay man could be in better shape than a straight, married man’s. And celibacy is something not only catholic gays are bound to, but also single heterosexuals.

Furthermore, to pity them seems to imply that their SSA is the beginning and end of their being. Or really, that anyone’s sexuality is all there is to know. While theirs is a cross I can’t begin to imagine carrying, God never sends anyone one too heavy to walk with.

Catholic as a Cup of Coffee

Buzzed on my third cup of coffee right now, (and considering draining the last of the now-lukewarm coffee left of this morning’s pot into my cup) I find my thoughts on the drink turning philosophic. Though it might be more accurate to say that my thoughts are zipping between writing a few words here,  compulsively refreshing facebook, and reading webcomics, which is not my style. Normally if I want to write about something, I just type away until I’m done, while today I feel like a squirrel with ADD.  I’m not sure if this flies in the face of the claim that caffeine gives you more focus or if it proves it because I CANFOCUSONEVERYTHINGALLATONCE… LIKE… SOME SUPERHERO THAT CAN FOCUS ON A LOT OF THINGS.  But it’s no surprise that coffee makes a person think, as coffee houses have been attributed as the birthplaces of new, often revolutionary ideas and philosophies since the bean was first introduced to that side of the Mediterranean.

The purpose of coffee houses as a place to hold intellectual discussion has changed little since their introduction, though now it’s college students writing theses and holding study groups and anthropology majors discussing last night’s NPR program from behind plastic lenses,  instead of bearded men smoking pipes discoursing over the new philosophies proposed by that Hobbes fellow.

Coffee found its true home in America, though, when it was brought over in the 1700s, and really became a symbol of independence from England by becoming the official substitute for tea during the Revolution.  When I think of coffee drinkers, I don’t think of Europeans sitting on outdoor patios sipping espresso in tiny cups.  I think of construction workers carrying thermoses, and hurried office workers in suits and ties.  I think of stained mugs growing cold on a messy desk and my drowsy, Californian grandmother in the morning, sitting on the porch in her robe, smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of black liquid that, during the time of these memories, made me wrinkle my nose and wonder how a person could stand to sip something that so closely resembled mud in looks and in taste. 

But the thing I really wanted to say about coffee is that it’s the official (I hereby decree it) drink of Catholics. Yeah, yeah, it was discovered by Islamic monks.  But if it hadn’t been for dear Pope Clement VIII,  it may have been forever confined to the regions of North Africa due to over-zealous Christians who pronounced it “Satan’s drink” because of its connection to Islam.  After trying it himself, His Holiness announced the drink so delicious as to be “baptized” making coffee the only beverage I know to be an actual member of the Mystical Body of Christ.

At least, I think that was the point I was getting at.   It’s actually been about three hours since I started this post, and, excuse me but, I need another cup of coffee…

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Help with Inspiration

“I don’t really do inspirational,” I said to my office mate, heavy air quotes on the word “inspirational.”  Days before, he had recommended “The Help,”  a recent book about the lives of black women who worked for white, Southern families in the 1960s.  

Running dangerously low on reading material, and trusting Tom’s taste in books, as love of literature seemed to be a main component of what we have in common, I ran to Border’s soon after (hot button topic today, for me, or what?) specifically to buy this book.  I was disappointed to find that, judging by the back-of-the-book reviews and summary,  and from flipping through the pages to get a feel for the author’s style, that it was just too… “inspirational.”  It was the kind of book Oprah (God rest her soul*) gave away at show tapings, and I don’t say that just because it’s a book about black women.  It had lines that were written specifically, it seemed, to be quoted in a facebook status. 

I walked out of Border’s with “The Disappearing Spoon,” a book about the Periodic Table.

Now, I’m not exactly a cynic, despite having a mean sarcastic streak and a proclivity toward dark humor.  And I’m told I can be a touch insensitive.  But as I told Tom,  if I need to be told something is inspirational, then it probably isn’t.  

What I’m talking about, I only just realize as I sit here, in fact, is the inspiration that is superficial.  It’s easy to inspire people by telling the story of strong women who rose triumphant above their station, as I’m sure they did, in the end of the book.  Or maybe they didn’t, like the many who suffered continued oppression even after the civil rights movement, but certainly, by the end of the book, there was some form of personal triumph of love and friendship that is expected in the end of a New York Times Bestseller of its type, and in that, alone, inspiration is easy to find.

But I was wrong to say I don’t “do” inspiration.  I love it when art inspires me, and knocks me out with the strong, but inutterable realization that I just saw or read something important.  I like the kinds of books whose inspiration “washes over me,” which are the words Tom assigned to my preference.  I’m inspired by words that show me the way towards the author’s intentions, then leave you grasping at air looking for a way to describe exactly what it is, instead of spoiling the ending for me by telling me what it is outright.  A slow dawning of the mind, like a sunrise. An inspired essence, rather than an inspired sentence.  I want to be inspired, but not in quite so many words.

 

*I know that Oprah isn’t dead.  But try telling that to her 15-20 million daily viewers with an O-shaped void in their daytime tv playlist.

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Leila Was Robbed

Surprisingly, I have so many ideas for posts that I actually had to write them down so as to not forget them. I wasn’t intending to write another Sedevacantist post so soon after the last, but this post Leila, author of Little Catholic Bubble, has her story of “reversion” called, “I Was Robbedthat I thought was worth sharing. The thing is, I agree with her 100% on every single accusation and observation she has made regarding post-Vatican II Catholicism. And because I went to a Novus Ordo Catholic school as a youngster before being pulled out and home schooled, some of the things she talks about are things I witnessed firsthand.

I agree with her, but I guess I take it a step further by rejecting the entire institution that produced this generation of Catholic clergy that are driving people out of the Church. [As I say that, a little voice in my head nods and says, “Mm. Matt 7:16.”] I have a hard time understanding the people who see the problems, and yet stand behind the men who, if not entirely condoning it, do not entirely reject it, and do little to stop such heinous errors.

At any rate, and no matter where I believe her conclusion that, in my mind falls somewhat short of the mark, her story made me go, “Yes! Exactly. Now, why don’t you come visit my Latin Mass?”

UPDATE:

I thought I should mention, especially so as to not scandalize any sedevacantist readers that at one point, she does say:

Catholics — be they priests, bishops, religious, theologians or laymen — who do not profess loyalty to the Holy Father and the Magisterium should have the integrity to identify themselves as Protestants, for that is what they are, i.e. they exist in a state of protest against the Roman Catholic Church.

I suspect that she is referring to the liberals, but I thought I’d throw it out there that, in case she is referring to Sedevacantists, or if anyone thinks that that is applicable to us, that we are still not in protest against the Roman Catholic Church. We are in protest against what many believe is the Roman Catholic Church, and we will certainly profess loyalty to the Holy Father, if ever one is once again seated in the Chair of St. Peter.

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