Have you heard the Maasai Creed?

The truth is, no matter how much we believe what we recite at Mass, it’s rare that the old, familiar words stand out as fresh and powerful.

It’s all too easy to let habit and familiarity take over, and to stop hearing what they have to say. We don’t even realize we’ve stopped listening; our brains just say, “Oh, this old thing again” and check out.

Sometimes the best way to deal with this is to deliberately, firmly take your attention in hand and direct it toward the old, familiar thing.

Whatever else you can say about Catholics, you can’t accuse us of despising something just because it’s old! The words of the Mass are very rich, and if we’re open to it, we can often perceive something brand new, or newly exciting, springing up from that ancient soil.

But it’s also legitimate to strive to hear that same old, ancient thing in a slightly new way, to remind you how confounding it really is. This is what happened to me the other day, when I stumbled across the Maasai Creed.

As the name suggests, it was written by and for the African Maasai people, with a group known as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit in 1960. It is essentially the same as the one that we recite every week . . . and yet just different enough that it knocked me flat.

I believe I’m going to print it out and hang it in my house, so the kids can see it, too, because even in their tender youth, they’re probably already allowing repetition to dull their ears when we say the creed.

Our relationship with God shouldn’t require constant thrills and novelties. He values fidelity through the dull valleys of our faith.

But when He does put something fresh and interesting in our paths, it behooves us to stop and enjoy it!

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
Image by Nicola Stockton from Pixabay

The financial cost of NFP and FAM. Please take my survey!

Everyone knows that barely any Catholics use NFP, because it’s hard and it’s counter-cultural. But even among those who are ready and willing, there can be obstacles. One of those obstacles is money. I’ve put together a survey to get an idea of how much of a problem money is for people who use or want to use NFP. The survey is anonymous, and I will use the information in an article I’m writing. 

It’s not a scientific survey, but I’m hoping to get enough responses to give me an idea of what is common around the country and the world. You don’t need to be Catholic to take the survey! It has seven questions, is anonymous, and should take about two minutes to complete. I’d be very grateful if you could take the survey and share it on social media or with anyone who might be interested. Here’s the link, or you can use the embedded widget below.

Follow-up question: What other obstacles might prevent you from using or trying NFP, besides money? Distance? Opportunity? Childcare? Cultural attitudes? What else? 

 

 
Create your own user feedback survey

Image Love for money (Free photobank torange.biz) / ©torange.biz Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

My body safety class for grade 2 faith formation

This year, I took the plunge and volunteered to teach faith formation at my parish. I got grade 2, which is preparation for first confession. I took a short online course about child safety and had a background check done, and I assume I was approved by the pastor, who knows me. I was given materials for the class (Alive in Christ from OSV and Rooted from  Ruah Woods), but what I cover is more or less up to me; but I am required to do one class about safety. 

A few people asked me to share my lesson outline, so here it is. I thought it went pretty well, but who the heck knows? I hope to continue teaching this class next year, so I’d be grateful to know what you think and what improvements you would suggest. I try to have a lot of variety, to get them to answer and offer ideas, to read a memorable, engaging book, to get the kids to engage their bodies when possible, to do visual things whenever possible. Kids this age are very eager to absorb rules and facts, but I also want to make sure I’m conveying how beautiful and welcoming Jesus is. I’m just trying to remember that I’m showing up for the Holy Spirit to use. 

This is the only class completely dedicated to bodily safety. I’ll be returning to the topic later in the context of other lessons (for instance, the idea that the seal of confession is for the priest to keep, and a child has no obligation to keep things that happen in confession secret). The class is one hour long and includes kids who are well-catechized and kids who know very little about their faith. I’m well aware that this one class isn’t adequate to keep kids safe, but at least they will have heard an adult talk about it, and they will know it’s okay to talk or think about. 

PRAYER. We began with a prayer, remembering to make the sign of the cross carefully and respectfully. Prayer: “Jesus, we are here to learn about you. Please help us to hear good things so we can come closer to you. Amen.”

REVIEW. Sign of the cross. The cross is everywhere, not just in church but all over the world, in buildings, in nature, etc., even in our own bodies. (Recall places we have seen crosses, which they were supposed to hunt for during the week.) If we stand up and stretch out our arms, our own bodies make a cross. God puts the cross everywhere to remind us that Jesus is always with us.

REVIEW: The Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix. (We read this last week, and the kids were enthralled.) Remember how the paralyzed man’s friends opened up the roof and lowered their friend down, because they knew that, if they brought him to Jesus, Jesus would help him. We can’t open up the roof, but we can always bring our friends to Jesus and ask Jesus to help them. [Name friends and relatives we want to bring to Jesus and ask Jesus to help. Kids agreed that they would like this to be a recurring feature of the class. Ended up naming mostly pets.]

READ ALOUD. Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.  [This is a book about physical safety and having a partner who helps you. It was provided by the parish, so I went with it. It’s not a perfect match, but it’s a cute and funny book that the kids like, and it was a good intro to talking about keeping your body safe with the help of other people.]

DISCUSS: Who made our bodies? God made our bodies for us. God even came down from Heaven and got a body, too, so we know that bodies are very important. They are a good gift for us, and it’s our job to try to take care of them. God wants our bodies to stay safe. Here are four things you need to know about keeping your body safe:

HUGGING AND KISSING. Sometimes someone asks us for a hug or a kiss, and we don’t want to do it.  This is okay! We don’t have to hug or kiss if we don’t want to. What are some things we can do instead of hug or kiss? Get suggestions from kids, then fill in: Shake hands, blow a kiss, fist bump, high five. I picked kids to stand up and we practiced acting it out: “How about a kiss?” – “No thanks! How about a high five?” 

SECRETS. Sometimes people tell us something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, or they ask us to do something that makes us feel bad or uncomfortable or creepy or weird, and they tell us we have to keep it a secret. Do you think you should keep it a secret? No! What if it’s an adult who tells us to keep it a secret? Still no!  You’re just kids, and it’s not your job to keep secrets that make you feel bad or weird or creepy or uncomfortable. Kids don’t have to keep bad secrets. If someone wants me to keep a secret that makes me feel bad, I should tell an adult in my safety network right away. 

[Here I meant to make a distinction between keeping something a secret, and not giving away a surprise, but I forgot.]

SAFETY NETWORK. What is a safety network? It’s an adult who will listen to you and who will help you. Everyone gets a piece of paper and traces their hand, then writes the names of five adults in their safety network. They can bring it home and hang it up so they will remember who their safety network is. They can finish it at home if they can’t think of five names right now. 

PRIVATE PARTS. At this point the kids got pretty antsy, so I had them all stand up and stretch. We stretched our arms way up high, way in front of us, way down, and way in back of us. Then I talked about how all the places we stretched to is places we should feel safe. 

Imagine going swimming, and think about how we’re covered by our swim suits. The parts of our bodies that are covered by swim suits are private parts. Sometimes we need adults like our parents or doctors to help us with our bodies, like if we are sick or hurt, but we need to know that most of the time, no one gets to touch our private parts. If a doctor is doing it, we should have someone from their safety network, like a parent, with us. If anyone does anything with our private parts that makes us feel weird, we should tell an adult in our safety network right away. 

I also meant to say, but I forgot: No one can make a kid touch their private parts. No one should show a kid pictures of private parts. If any of these things happen, I should tell an adult from my safety network right away.

A few times, the kids started to veer into territory that I thought wasn’t appropriate for me to discuss in a class, so I gently told them that would be something they should talk to their parents about. 

SING. I wanted to change the mood a bit, so we learned “Jesus loves me.” 

Lyrics:

Jesus loves me! This I know, 
For the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to Him belong; 
We are weak, but He is strong. 
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so. 

A few of the kids already knew it, and I accidentally stumbled on the brilliant pedagogical method of repeatedly mixing up the words, so they had to correct me, which they enjoyed. We sang it a few times and then I handed out coloring pages and crayons. All I had was a Celtic cross, so I asked them what else they would like me to bring in next time. (Here are some links to free coloring pages you can print, many courtesy of my friend Cindy Coleman, a very experienced catechist):

Orthodox Icons

Ukranian Icons

Drawn2BeCreative-saints
http://www.drawn2bcreative.com/free-printables/

Paper Dali http://paperdali.blogspot.com/p/freebies.html
Catholic Saints, Liturgical Year and Catholic Going-Ons

Waltzing Matilda
http://www.waltzingm.com/p/coloring-pages-month.html

Saint John the Baptist Church Religious Education http://www.sjtb.org/releducolor.html
Mysteries of the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Creed, Saints

Catholic Playground
http://www.catholicplayground.com/
Saints, Marian, Biblical, Stations of the Cross

Sermons4Kids
http://sermons4kids.com/colorpg.htm

St Anne’s Helper
http://www.saintanneshelper.com/coloring-pages-to-print.html

The Catholic Kid
http://www.thecatholickid.com/

Life, Love & Sacred Art
https://life-love-sacred-art.blogspot.com/…/coloring…

We did some more singing while they colored and waited for their parents to show up. We were supposed to end with a prayer, but I forgot. 

I sent out a email to the parents, outlining what we would discuss in class. They had the option to opt out if they didn’t want their kids in this class, and I let them know I’d be telling the kids to ask them if they had questions I didn’t think were appropriate for class. 

***

Image: detail from an illustration from The Miracle Man

Snickering through museums: How we managed to enjoy Renoir: The Body, The Senses

While hunting around for some images from the Renoir: The Body, The senses exhibit, I came across this review in The New Yorker, which begins, “Who doesn’t have a problem with Pierre-Auguste Renoir?”

Um.

I skimmed, I skimmed. The upshot seems to be that Renoir was a misogynist because boobs, but we should halfway forgive him, because art. And that’s why I live at the P.O.

We did make the drive to the Clark Art Institute to catch the exhibit in person before it left town. Here’s how we managed to have a wonderful time, despite how problematic everything is:

We do actually have some issues to overcome when we spend exclusive time with art. Damien calls it “museum anxiety:” that terrible fear that you’re missing out on something exquisite and important; that you’re not “getting it.” In the past, I have recommended bringing kids along with you — not just for their own sakes, but because we can follow their lead and skip right over the pretensions and anxieties so many adults labor under.

Even if you don’t have kids with you, you can imitate their approach, and it will dissipate that stifling museum fog. I did this when I had the rare opportunity to spend 45 minutes alone in the Princeton Art Museum. I went for the ancient art gallery, and decided I would let myself laugh out loud at anything that struck me as funny — and there was a lot of it.

After about the fourth room at the Renoir exhibit, I got softened up, and recalled I had no obligation to try to impress the other grave, whispering museum-goers with their complicated necklaces and flowy linen pants. I actually went a little overboard, and when I saw yet another elderly gentleman soberly studying a set of rosy, glowing ass cheeks, I had to stifle the urge to sneak up behind him and emit a falsetto, “Niiiiiice!” like Peter Venkman. But seriously, Renoir: quite the ass man. And why not? They pretty. 

Letting myself snicker a bit breaks down my head garbage and leaves me much more open to stuff that’s not funny at all, but just plain beautiful. This one hit me right between the eyes and made me cry, and I can’t even remember why. 

I think I was just glad to be alive, with eyeballs.

They had some thought-provoking pairings at this exhibit, which included not only Renoir but Degas and Cezanne and other contemporaries, as well as later artists influenced by Renoir. One interesting set was a Renoir “Woman Combing Her Hair” (which really doesn’t narrow it down much) and a Degas also showing a half-nude woman combing her hair (which I can’t seem to find anywhere).

Here’s where I have to admit that I know what the guy was talking about in the New Yorker. The two paintings were of similar subject, but Renoir had buttered his gal up to a light-filled sheen, and the entire world faded into a hazy chorus rejoicing in the loveliness of women’s backs. But Degas approached the woman from above, and you got the impression she had a book propped awkwardly on her thighs to while away the time while she was painted. You felt the strain in her muscles; whereas Renoir’s gal would probably be content to stay there forever, endlessly brushing in the golden sun. This is no knock on the Renoir. It was just different, that’s all. Both women were real flesh, really real flesh (and Renoir apparently got dinged by critics by showing too much fat and including too many colors); but I got the impression Degas was more aware that they were human, too.  

It’s strange how you see something better once you have something to compare it to. Like Richard Wilbur says:

I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savour’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? 
 
I take Wilbur’s answer to the question “why this mad instead?” to be “it just do.” If it works, it works. My senses do stale, and I’m just glad there’s a remedy, whether it’s juxtaposing art, or just snickering.
 

I actually enjoyed the rest of the museum more than the special exhibit. It’s a world-class collection, well worth the trip on its own, but small enough that you can see everything without dashing around like a maniac. The Clark does a good job with its labels, providing little bits of information you might not pick out on your own, but without dictating too narrowly what you’re supposed to think of a particular piece. 

Among some Degas studies was a quote about how an artist should practice a composition over and over again, hundreds or thousands of times, so that nothing must appear to be by chance. I could see that was how he did it — there were the many, many studies, right before my eyes — but the end result was that it did appear to be by chance. Even when you know it’s a grindingly hard-won skill honed over thousands of hours, it does feel like the artist just happened to casually snag some familiar arc of the arm or angle of the elbow or weight of a thigh. Pff, Degas, what does he know about art. 

There are a number of Renoirs in the permanent collection, including this one, which struck me for the first time as something of an inside joke for artists: Here is this gal, dressed to the nines to sit in her garden and embroider. 

She’s surrounded by lush, boisterous foliage and blossoms, and what is she making so intently?

A little handkerchief with a little, delicate, stylized floral pattern on it.

I don’t know, I just thought it was funny. Flowers vs. floral. Art! What are we even doing? I don’t know, but we can’t seem to stop. 

Many Renoirs showed women with their fingers working closely together, with something lovely flowing out from between them like a waterfall. 

Women are like that, I guess.

Damien and I both adored all the John Singer Sargents. The Clark has the slightly silly but entirely successful Fumée d’Ambre Gris, which you should be required to study before you can buy white paint. 

and several others. The Portrait of Carolus Duran really grabbed us.

You want to use words like “deft” and “confident” with John Singer Sargent, but that’s so inadequate. Check out these hands and cuffs:

Look at those shadows! Look at that ring! And you know these are just little phone pictures. You really need to see it.

Same thing with the portrait of Mme. Paul Escudier.

You could almost get a paper cut on the edge of that ribbon plopped on top of her head, but then you get really close and what do you know? It’s just paint. I don’t know how he did it, except that he believed in himself! Ha.

We kept coming back to A Venetian Interior.

This is where I want to find and murder the guy who recently suggested that museums are obsolete, since we now have digital photos of all art and can just go look at it whenever we want. You have to see it in person. We both felt very strongly that that one streak of yellow wasn’t actually paint, but was actual light, and it’s probably why he decided to paint this scene.

They also have several Winslow Homers, which is always a treat. Wear a jacket, because some of them are brisk. 

Speaking of brisk, I think some people sneer a little over Frederick Remington, because it’s American White House horsey art. Maybe I’m making that up. Anyway, check out this shadow of a horse on the snow in the moonlight, and then get back to me:

This is from “Friends or Foe?”

A few other random things that caught my eye:

This fond, doting Mary from the Netherlands:

This is from Virgin and Child with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist. Quinten Massys, 1520. 

And these terrible children with a cat who has just about had enough:

And that’s why this cat lives at the P.O.

One final note: They had another special exhibit downstairs: Ida O’Keeffe, the lesser-known sister of Georgia O’Keeffe. Apparently there were three artistic O’Keeffe sisters, and when the other two started showing some inclination toward art, Georgia swatted them down pretty savagely, because you can only have one Artist per family. One sister meekly abandoned her ambitions, but Ida struggled to make her own name; so Gerogia cut her off. Sheesh!

So before we went into the gallery, I mentioned to Damien that Ida wanted some way to set herself apart from the more famous Georgia and her famous . . . flowers. He says, “Well, that’s easy. All she had to do was paint penises, instead.” I snickered, but you know what? We walked into the room, and this is what Ida did:

Talk about a “mad instead.” (She also painted some banana plants.)

Anyway, go see a art! Cut yourself some slack, let your mouth hang open like a yokel, and just see what there is to see. Don’t forget to laugh at the funny ones.

You can probably skip the museum cafe, though. That really is there just to impress you and make you feel like you can’t complain when it’s terrible; but nobody in the world needs to pay $16 for a microwaved grilled cheese, even if it is called “croque monsieur.” 

What’s for supper? Vol. 186: The world is cold, but food is warm.

Everyone is sick and mopey and overworked, and there is frost on the windshield in the morning. And we’ve decided that Corrie is watching far too much TV, so we are doing a little detox there, which is hard on everyone.  So I focused on cozy, unchallenging meals for this week. Here’s what we had:

SATURDAY
Steak, hot bread, salad

Well, London broil. That’s a steak, right? Everyone looked so droopy and sad, I thought we could all use some steak, and it happened to be on sale. Damien seasoned and broiled them, and I bought a few of those pull-apart bread rings and threw them in the oven right before supper. I put out some salad but it remained largely unmolested. 

The pictures are lackluster but the meat was great. Much better than the other way around, as sometimes happens. 

SUNDAY
Grilled ham and cheese, chips

Sunday we went to Mass and I led my first faith formation class, which went great! Overall. Some of those kids know a lot and some of them know hardly anything, but they are all interested in Jesus! And why not? He is an interesting guy. 

We came home for lunch and some of us were clever enough to fix ourselves steak and cheese sandwiches. 

Then we met my dad and went apple picking at our absolute favorite orchard, Wellwood Orchards in Springfield, Vt. It’s way up in the mountains where the air is so clean and good. You buy your bags and then get into a wagon, and a tractor pulls you wherever you want to go. We wanted mostly Macintosh, Macouns, and Cortlands, although some of the younger and more naive children were swayed by the deceit of that apple that calls itself “delicious.” 

This orchard has a little farm animal petting zoo, with cute little goaties and fancy ridiculous chickens, and the sun shone down, and the air smelled like apples, and it was just a good day. There are a bunch of pictures on my FB page. Here’s my favorite:

We also stopped at the Vermont Country Store and spent more money on candy than I have ever imagined it was possible to spend on candy. Irene bought wax lips with fangs, because Monday is school picture day and she’s not made of stone. 

MONDAY
French toast casserole, sausages, plums, OJ

Continuing the theme of “life is cold; here is some food that is hot.”

I’ll do my best to make a recipe for french toast casserole, but it turns out different every time. It’s definitely a good meal for kids to help you make. Although I would not recommend letting your very contagious four-year-old mix the orange juice in the other room. We ended up making a whole separate batch for those who did not wish to drink plague juice. 

I browned up some frozen breakfast sausages and set out a bowl of sweet little plums, lovely, dusky little plums. 

TUESDAY
Pork and ricotta meatballs on spaghetti with Marcella Hazan’s sauce

Sometimes you see a recipe and you just know. This one, from the NYT, calls for ground pork, ricotta, parmesan, bread crumbs, eggs, and salt and pepper, and that’s it. You bake them, so it’s nice and easy.

They don’t look like much, but they are delightfully fluffy and so full of flavor (although I thought the amount of salt it called for was way too much), with little creamy pockets of cheese. I ended up using three pounds of pork and one pound of ground beef, and more parm than the recipe called for, and panko bread crumbs; so I guess that’s a good enough reason to make up my own recipe card. I had to cook them ahead of time and then heat them up in the sauce, but next time I want to cook them right before we eat them, so they can be as light as possible. They did soak up a lot of the sauce, which was unexpected. Possibly because of the panko bread crumbs.

I made Marcella Hazan’s miraculous three-ingredient sauce in the morning in the crock pot.

Boy, does it not look like it’s going to be delicious. BUT IT IS. 

This was a popular meal, and we have been snacking on meatballs all week. In fact, the other day, I was working and thinking about meatballs and asked Benny to snag me a couple. This is what she brought me:

WEDNESDAY
Hot dogs, beans, fries

This meal was just a gift to myself. I actually asked Benny and Corrie to make it for me, and they somehow didn’t do a very good job, but still. 

THURSDAY
Nachos

Again, no culinary adventures, but everyone was happy. I spread tortilla chips in a pan, spread cooked, seasoned ground beef over that, and sprinkled it heavily with shredded cheddar, and then topped it with chopped scallions. The scallions were third gen, if anyone cares. 

I had mine with salsa and sour cream. And very good they are, nachos. 

FRIDAY
Fish tacos

I splurged on batter-fried frozen fish instead of the breaded kind. We have tortillas, shredded cabbage, cute li’l cherry tomatoes, lime wedges, sour cream, and ooops, I forgot to buy avocados. 

Here’s the recipe cards!

 

French toast casserole

An easy, kid-pleasing meal, pleasant and cozy for breakfast, brunch, or brinner. Use any kinds of bread you have in the house. You can also add raisins, slices of apple, or whatever sounds good. 

I'm not putting measurements in, because you can make this so many different ways, so it's more pastry-like or more custardy. Use the same proportions you'd use to make regular french toast and it will be good. 

Ingredients

  • bread, torn up
  • eggs
  • milk
  • dash of salt
  • white or brown sugar
  • cinnamon
  • vanilla

Instructions

  1. Grease a casserole dish or cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350.

  2. Tear the bread up into chunks and spread them in the buttered pans.

  3. Mix together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla, and pour the batter over the bread. Stir up the bread so all of it is wet. 

  4. If you like, you can let the casserole sit for a few hours to let the egg soak in, but it's not essential.  

  5. Sprinkle the top with more sugar and cinnamon, if you like. Bake for 40 minutes or so, until the egg is all cooked and it's a little toasted on top. Serve in wedges and drizzle with syrup, sprinkle with powdered sugar, or serve with jam or fruit toppings. 

Pork and ricotta meatballs

Adapted from a NYT recipe, found here.  Very easy to put together, and the extra creamy, fluffy, cheesiness make these remarkable. 

Ingredients

  • 1 lbs ground pork
  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 2+ cups panko bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 32 oz ricotta
  • 8 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425.

  2. Lightly mix together all ingredients in a bowl. The ricotta doesn't need to be completely incorporated. Form into balls. This makes about 75 walnut-sized meatballs. 

  3. Grease a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the meatballs on it. 

  4. Bake for about half an hour, until the meatballs are slightly browned. 

Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce

We made a quadruple recipe of this for twelve people. 

Keyword Marcella Hazan, pasta, spaghetti, tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes, broken up
  • 1 onion peeled and cut in half
  • salt to taste
  • 5 Tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Put all ingredients in a heavy pot.

  2. Simmer at least 90 minutes. 

  3. Take out the onions.

  4. I'm freaking serious, that's it!

Fr. Pavone cashes in on dead babies again

You will remember when Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life dragged the naked corpse of a baby onto a consecrated altar, in order to bully Americans into voting for Trump. I guess he wasn’t quick enough to snag the thousands of fetal remains recently discovered in the house of a late-term abortionist; but he’s doing the next best thing: Name the Aborted Babies is up and running on the PFL site:

“Along with bestowing a name . . . ” What gives anyone that right? Are these babies pandas at the zoo, to be “adopted” by critter-loving fans? Or maybe Pavone will offer a certificate of authenticity for only $29.99, so you can proudly display the name of your very own aborted baby in beautiful calligraphy. Suitable for framing, great as a Christmas present. 

This is grotesque. The grotesquerie never ends. 

Naming is an act either of authority, or of ownership — the act of a parent, or of an owner. You don’t get to name a baby unless you’re the parent; and you don’t get to name anything else unless it’s something that can be owned. So what does this mean, for strangers to name unborn babies they’ve never met, who do have parents? Who gave them that right? The abortionist who collected their little bodies apparently saw them as trophies, as something to collect. And now the second wave of vultures descends to squabble over their bodies again.

You cannot restore dignity to unborn babies by treating them like objects, or like trophies, or pets, or mascots, or props. You don’t treat them like objects when you want to kill them, and you don’t treat them like objects when you want to show how pro-life you are. You don’t treat them like objects, because they are human. That’s all there is to it.

But Fr. Pavone, who never met these children and has no idea who they are, will offer you the chance to name them, and all you have to give him in exchange is your email address. No doubt a respectful 24 hours will pass before you start getting appeals for money to reelect Trump in the name of your very own dead baby. 

With our evening prayers, we recite the prayer written by Fulton Sheen: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of the unborn baby I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.” It’s a little chewier than I normally get in prayer, but I do it as a tiny act of penance, for the sake of all those unborn babies. “Spiritually adopting” an unborn baby means pledging to pray for him; and praying for a child means turning him over to the Holy Spirit.

So pray, yes, pray for these poor babies. Pray for them as individuals, known and cherished by their Father in Heaven. And pray for their parents. Pray for the mothers — some of whom have surely repented and named their own babies themselves.

But do not dare to let yourself think of these children as something you can have, something you can get a piece of while this story is still hot on social media. They are not yours. They are real people, not gimmicks to inflate a political mailing list. It is grotesque.  

I don’t fault well-meaning pro-lifers who are in agony thinking of those poor children held captive by a ghoul. They read about an outrage, and they want to do something, and this feels like doing something. I don’t fault people looking for something meaningful to do in the face of evil. 

But I do fault Fr. Pavone, and everyone who works with him. His work is a lucrative, scandalous scam. and he should be forced to retreat from the public eye. He is grotesque. 

***

Related reading: The Scandal of the cross, and the scandal of Fr. Pavone

Graphic images have their place, but not at the March for Life

For my series covering pro-lifers actually serving the vulnerable, see:

“Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border.”

St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

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The scandal of the cross, and the scandal of Fr. Pavone

[This essay was originally published at The Catholic Weekly in 2016.]

Just before the American presidential election, Fr Frank Pavone, an American celebrity priest, released two scandalous videos. Fr Pavone co-founded and directs Priests for Life, a group dedicated to furthering pro-life causes, mainly through political action, and often by indiscriminately deploying graphic images of aborted fetuses.

In the recent videos, Fr Pavone places a naked, dead, human fetus on a consecrated altar and delivers a long political message supporting Donald Trump. Pavone has been stingingly rebuked by his bishop, both for callously exploiting a dead child as a political prop, and for desecrating an altar. An investigation is underway.

In the wake of this priest’s disgraceful behavior, a protestant friend asked me:

I understand why using a human body to make a point is wrong. Is there any resource to understand why depictions of Christ on the cross (indistinguishable from a bodily state of death) is appropriate? Full disclosure: I am Protestant and the churches I’m most familiar with almost never have the body of Christ depicted on crosses. This is even more confusing to me because we are made in the likeness of God- part of the reasoning behind why using a baby’s body to make a point is not dignified or acceptable. I think that depictions of Christ’s suffering aren’t wrong in general, but alongside of or in the centre of worship it sometimes makes me feel worried. Is this a topic you would tackle or have resources to journey through?

There is a lot I could say about the way that dead child was treated. I’ll let Mother Church speak, because her words are always more measured and fruitful than mine:

CCC. 2300 The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.

So let’s talk about that crucifix. Naturally, all Christians understand that death is not to be feared or shied away from, because it is the door to eternal life. But … why can’t we Catholics just focus on the “life” part? Isn’t it kind of ghoulish to have all those scenes of execution hanging around? It seems in bad taste at best, and maybe grotesquely backward at worst, as if we’re missing the point – fixating on the problem rather than the happy ending. 

No. The crucifix, corpus and all, gives our Faith and our entire lives meaning. We believe that Christ rose from the dead and that we will, too, someday; but we also understand that, just as Christ suffered on earth, so do we suffer now. And this is why we display so many crucifixes, and not just bare crosses: because we are still in the throes of that suffering. We need the crucifix to remind us that Christ is with us in our struggle. There is no pain, no sorrow, no failure, no fear, no doubt, no grief, no darkness that He did not personally feel and carry and endure.

And we need the crucifix to remind us that all of these things have already been redeemed, once and for all, by the one perfect sacrifice that came about when he willingly suffered and died to buy us back from death. The crucifix is both a reminder that Jesus shares what we suffer, and that Jesus has already taken on all the weight of the suffering we cause. 

When a priest has the immense privilege of saying Mass, Christ actually re-offers Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, to the Father. He does not suffer again, and He does not die again; but He does offer Himself again, as a living sacrifice, through the consecrated hands of the priest, because He never tires of giving Himself over for us, His beloved. 

And all of this happens on the altar, which is no mere table or stage set or piece of furniture. It recalls both the table of the Last Supper, where Christ instituted the Eucharist, and the altar on which Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, in a prefiguring of the sacrifice that God the Father would make of His own son.

Heaven and earth converge on that altar. 

And this is why the actions of Father Pavone were so appalling. He, as a priest, ought to know better than anyone else that there is nothing that one can add to the sacrifice that takes place on that altar, where the actual body of actual God actually lies. The sacred altar is not the place for jokes, for ad libbing, for politics, or for anything besides the reason it was made: to be a place where God comes down from Heaven.

On that consecrated altar, not only do we join Christ in re-offering the sacrifice of Calvary to the Father, but we take his now-living body into our bodies.

And here’s the crux of it: It really is all about bodies, and how we treat them; the issue of Fr Pavone showing disrespect to the dead baby, and the issue of Fr Pavone showing disrespect to the altar? They are the same issue. You cannot separate them. You cannot take the crucifix away if you want to live. It was no accident that Jesus died such a public death, up on a high hill where everyone could see His shame, His suffering, and His bloody death. Recall how Moses cured the Israelites in the desert by forcing them to look up on the snake mounted on a cross. They had to look in order to be healed. And so must we look at a crucifix if we want to be healed.

If we were unwilling to face, to contemplate, to remember, to glory in the crucifixion, it would be like accepting a gift with thanks, but refusing to look inside. It would be like going to a doctor, but refusing to show him our flesh. It would be like joining in marriage but refusing to come to bed. You cannot refuse the body if you want life. We must look. We must show. For our own sakes, we must not turn away.

The Church teaches us to be careful with how we treat dead bodies, but also to be careful with how we treat living bodies – our own bodies, the bodies of others, and most of all the body of Our Lord. We believe that the consecrated Host is literally the living body of our living God. Before He died, He told us to remember Him, including the sacrifice He made for us. And so we honour that Ever-living God by obeying.

This is why we display crucifixes so prominently in our Churches: Because He told us to. He wanted us to know what He has done and will do for us, with his actual body. On the cross, His poor bleeding arms reached out east and west, stretching out to bring salvation to the generations who came before Christ and to all the generations yet unborn. And the crucifix also extends vertically, as He hung upright, bridging the gap between God and man. 

It’s not just an empty cross. It’s occupied Right in the middle of that intersection of worlds is the body, the body, that undeniably real human body of the Beloved Son, with the fountain of mercy pouring forth from His pierced heart.

To my protestant friend: You say that depictions of Christ’s suffering in the centre of worship makes you feel worried. It should. It should shake you to the core. 

Non-scale victories for your spiritual life

Like half the country, I would like to shed a bit of weight. Before you send me a V.I.P. discount code for your amazing protein shake, let me assure you: I do know how to lose weight. I have done it many times before. There was the time I ate only coffee, ice, lettuce and horrible pre-mixed whiskey cocktails from the gas station. The pounds melted off, and I was an emotional wreck. Then there was the plan where I spent countless hours on the StairMaster while reading Wordsworth and crying. I know they say you cannot lose weight by exercise alone, but what if you are too dizzy to eat? You just have to know how to work it.

With this glory-free history of hitting my goal number on the scale, I am fairly content to be what I am now, which is fat but more or less happy. If I am neither wasting away nor in danger of knocking out close friends when my arteries violently explode, then I feel like I am doing all right (and so does my doctor).

Here is what I have discovered: I have a much better shot of keeping my weight in reasonable check without losing my mind if I think less about the scale and more about “non-scale victories.” Instead of focusing solely on numbers, I accept credit for achieving things that are harder to quantify but are worth so much more—things like reaching the top of the stairs without wheezing, shopping for clothes without sobbing, or finding out the garlic bread is all gone without flying into a rage.

A non-scale victory is when I painfully resist a second helping and realizing once I have cleared my plate that I really am already full. Or when I give into temptation and scarf down far, far more cheese than any sensible being should ingest—but the next day I simply start over with my target plan, rather than spiraling into a black vortex of self-loathing.

What makes these victories both poignant and powerful is they do not reduce me to a clinical number, but instead they acknowledge and rejoice in the specifics of everyday life. Yes, the number on the scale matters, but I am more than a number. And when I see myself as a whole, worthy person with some flaws, rather than as a giant, walking flaw, it is easier to build on what is good.

So let us imagine, for a moment, that my problem is not that I am overweight but that my spiritual life has gone rather flabby. Imagine I look into the mirror of my soul, and I really do not like what I see. What to do?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

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Damien and I are on “This Catholic Life” with Peter Holmes and Renée Köhler-Ryan

This was so much fun! Damien and I were guests on the “This Catholic Life” podcast, co-hosted by of Peter Holmes and Renée Köhler-Ryan. Damien opens the show with an incredibly important question you won’t want to miss, and then we go on to discuss all sorts of issues surrounding NFP and sex and love and suffering and happiness and whatnot! And, not to be that person, but fully half the people on this episode have a completely adorable Australian accent.

You can listen to the episode here or on these platforms: iTunes, Google Play, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Stitcher, Anchor, TuneIn, Blubrry, Spreaker, Player.fm, Radio Public, Overcast

Damien and I went to college with Renee and it was a pure, pure pleasure to talk to her again. Hope we can do it again before another two decades elapse. 

Sweet mamas, don’t forget to carve out time for these few essentials

Got a new baby? Along with all the joy and fun that comes with welcoming a new child into your home, you will notice some other, unwelcome arrivals: tons and tons of unsolicited advice about how to run your life. Everyone has an opinion about what is really important, and much of this advice conflicts with or contradicts other advice, leaving a new mother feeling confused and overwhelmed.

Be at peace, new mama. There are really only a few essentials to keep in mind, in order to live your life in a happy, healthy, even joyful way.

First of all, remember that self-care is essential. Mothers are expected to care for everyone around them, but how can they do this if they are falling apart themselves? Remember to carve out a small amount of time every day just for you. This might sound selfish, but is it selfish when a car needs gas in its tank?  You must take care of yourself if you want to do your job right.

An essential part of self care is your spiritual life. Mothers are the cornerstone of society, and we simply can’t bear that burden alone. Prayer strengthens us to take on the physical and emotional tasks we face every day (and on through the night!), so it is essential to carve out some time every day for prayer. When we neglect our prayer life, it’s only a matter of time before everything else we attempt will become a shambles. And nobody likes a shambles. 

Speaking of shambles, scientists have shown that order and cleanliness are actually essential to our mental well-being. Chaos and disorder may seem like the easy way out, but they actually make it harder to make decisions and think clearly, which are essential for day-to-day survival in this challenging time. So be sure to carve out some time to straighten up your environment each day, and don’t skip the corners. Don’t be afraid to really scrub hard, and don’t skimp on the bleach. You’ll thank yourself later!

But we can’t always wait for delayed gratification. Sometimes immediate relief is essential, so be sure you’re getting some exercise. Studies have shown that even short bursts of physical movement throughout the course of the release endorphins that go a long way toward keeping our moods stable, our skin clear, our hearts healthy, and our eyes bright and our minds twinkly. Even if you don’t have a full, uninterrupted hour to spare, make it a point to carve out twenty minutes here and there, all day long, all week long, starting right this minute, and really push yourself.  Really push hard. No, even harder than that. Remember the shambles.

You’ll also find regular exercise gives you more energy to do something that is absolutely essential: putting in some one-on-one time with your other kids. It’s all too easy for them to feel displaced and neglected when the new baby comes, so it is essential to carve out some special time to connect with them, consistently and intentionally, academically, emotionally, spiritually, and just for some plain old silly old hands-in mommy-and-me fun, or else they will grow up to be crack whores.

Naturally, kids aren’t the only ones who crave and need connection. Did you know that 84% of new dads are unfaithful in the first four hours after their wives give birth, all because the women who vowed to love them weren’t willing to carve out some time to keep that spark of romance alive? After all, your children are important, but your marriage is a sacrament. A sacrament! A SACRAMENT. Come on. What is the matter with you. 

And what woman can even think about romance when she doesn’t feel pretty?  It is essential that you look pretty. Look prettier! With your hair and your makeup and your clothes, including a flattering, properly-fitted bra that is easy to nurse in, because it is essential to normalize public breastfeeding, which is beautiful, but also don’t be a big weirdo about it, because that is not attractive. If you’re not attractive, the world will see your eye bags and your hip bags and your bag bags, and they think that babies make women ugly, and that will be the end of babies, and there will be darkness and void over the face of the earth, and also crack whores. Carve. Out. Time.

Last but not least: enjoy your baby. Oh sweet mamas, these precious days are so fleeting, so don’t forget to carve out some time for joy. Joy time is essential and there just isn’t enough of it. Seriously, time is running out for joy. Set an alarm and get that joy in. 

And that’s it! Just carve out time for these few, simple essentials, and you’ll find that everything else that you need to do just falls into place.

***

 A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2015. 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay