Ready for school? Take this quiz and see.

The department stores have been ready since the middle of May. The clothing catalogues have been ready since early June. The teachers have been ready for close to 72 hours now.  How about you, mom? Are you ready for BACK-TO-SCHOOL?

Here’s a quick quiz to find out how much gin to buy:

***

Clothing! Are you ready?

(a) Your school doesn’t require uniforms, but you do. Your children’s outfits for the next three months are chosen, monogrammed, pressed, and shrink-wrapped (with alternates for unexpected nippy weather) in a special digitized wardrobe that automatically yanks garments out of rotation if anyone in (ugh) public school is seen wearing them.

(b) Each kid owns enough clothes to go all week without wearing anything with holes, obvious stains, or beer slogans.

(c) You really need to stop stalling and get the winter clothes sorted and put away.

Lunches! Are you ready?

(a) You spent the summer perfecting the spreadsheets that tell you when to place bulk orders at Whole Foods so that the everyday staple pantry items (quinoa, bulgur, kefir, quingur, bulfir, and kefoa, which is pronounced “feh”) dovetail with the seasonal produce you expect to harvest from your garden, which you water using barrels that collect your hot yoga sweat, which, not to brag, is quite organic.

(b) You have a general idea of what your kids like to eat, and you try to pack it for lunch. If they don’t gobble up every bit of their packed lunch, they can always fill up on PBJ when they get home.

(c) You give yourself a gold star every time the school doesn’t send home a note saying, “Braedonica only had a pickled cocktail onion and a baggie of dog food in her lunch again. Please remember nutrition matters for young brains, sadface!”
By gold star, you mean “martini.”

Transportation! Are you ready?

(a) Yes, there is a bus that will pick up your child and bring her home, but, chérie, yellow is just not her color. So you’ve hired a dedicated Lyft driver for the morning and afternoon commute. He only drives an Audi, though, and that’s how it’s going to stay until a certain little offspring nudges that GPA up above 3.8.

(b) You’re going to be the mom waiting at the bus stop in a robe, or occasionally that mom driving frantically to school in a robe. So you’re not morning people, so big deal.

(c) You are seriously considering buying an RV and just living behind the school’s swing set until next June, because you’re really, really, really not morning people.

Homework! Are you ready?

(a) Per the training your child has received since he was at four months’ gestation, he doesn’t even want to play, snack, rest, or goof off until homework is completed, double-checked, initialed by both parents, autoclaved, and stowed away safely in the lightweight titanium binder etched with “For Your Consideration, Magister.”

(b) Your kids know they are expected to keep up with their work. They also know that Mom will forget to ask if they have homework half the time, and they only really have to do it when Daddy comes home before bedtime, because Daddy Always Remembers. Doing a little over half their homework earns them a solid C-, which is their version of the American dream.

(c) You know what we do for homework around here? We endure. That’s what we do for homework. Initial that, pal.

Extracurricular activities! Are you ready?

(a) It’s so hard, isn’t it? You beg and plead for the children to just relax and be kids, or at least choose an after-school club that is just plain fun, but every year it’s the same thing: “Motherrr, we simply can’t turn our backs on our commitment to fostering functional STEM literacy among the unwed pregnant cat population. Be the change you wish to see, Motherrr!” they say.
You worry, but you’re also proud. So proud.

(b) Each kid gets to do one thing, and that’s it. There’s only so much extra driving and extra check-writing you can stand.

(c) Extracurricular? As in besides school? They want us to do a whole other thing? Does weeping quietly in a corner count as extracurricular? Because we can do that.

Traditional Beginning-of-the-year Teacher Gift Ideas! Are you ready?

(a) Wait, what?
(b) Come on.
(c) Kill me.

***

ANSWER KEY:

If you answered mostly (a), you are so ready, it’s already next year, so why not stay home and read back issues of GOOP by the light of your own intense awesomeness?
If you answered mostly (b), you are like 90% of the population, so relax.
If you answered mostly (c), you can hang around with my awful kids, and we’ll all feel better.

***
Image by ThoseGuys119 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A version of this post ran in 2016. So sue me. 

Book review: The Ghost Keeper by Natalie Morrill

Very few, it turns out, can be trusted, and nothing will be the way it was.

But despite the contemporary resonances, this is not a political novel. It’s a story about what it means to survive, and what it means to go home; what it is like to love, what it is like to be betrayed. It is about guilt and responsibility, about how to live with unspeakable burdens, and about how to survive when, as one character says, “everyone is excused, but no one is forgiven.”

But this is not a dark novel, either. Or, rather, it’s dark like the earth is dark, sometimes crushingly heavy, but also fertile and alive—partly because of where the story brings us, and partly because the writing itself is so luminous.

Read the rest of my review of The Ghost Keeper in Dappled Things

The Ghost Keeper

What’s for supper? Vol. 181: Omnipod, oyakodon, and Eggos

They tell me it’s Friday! Here’s what we apparently ate this week:

SATURDAY

Even though we had just come back from vacation that afternoon, I really put myself out there for my family and came up with an entire four-course meal, including chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, and biscuits.

Man, am I a good mother! 

SUNDAY
Grilled ham and cheese on sourdough, chips

Corrie helped with ham placement.  

MONDAY
Spaghetti with sausages

A request from the kids. I remember cooking this, but not eating it. I  think maybe Damien and I went running and then got half price sushi at the half price sushi place? That sounds right.

TUESDAY
Oyakodon on rice noodles, sesame broccoli, spicy honey cucumber salad

Almost a really good meal, if I had been just a smidge more competent. Oyakodon is apparently a staple in Japan. It’s chicken and onions cooked in a savory broth with a little runny egg on top, and served over rice. It turned out we didn’t have rice, but only rice noodles. And then I couldn’t find dashi, so I substituted beef broth with a dash of fish sauce. Since I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt. But then I also, um, accidentally tripled the amount of sugar it called for. 

It was still a tasty, cozy dish. You slice up chicken thighs and onions and cook that in the broth, then drizzle beaten egg over that and let it cook just a minute, and then slide it over your rice with some scallions or whatever, and spoon broth over it.

I may make it again, but probably when it’s cold out. I made a recipe card but somehow lost it. Bah! Here’s the more authentic recipe I based it on

I cut the broccoli into spears, spread them in a pan, drizzled it with sesame oil and a little soy sauce, and sprinkled it with sesame seeds and pepper, and then roasted the whole thing. This is ridiculously tasty and takes, like, six minutes start to finish. 

The cucumber salad is a snappy, refreshing summer side dish, also very fast. Vinegar, honey, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and a few other things. Recipe card at the end if I can find it.  Here’s a terrible picture. 

I feel like we went to the beach after supper. I must really be feeling the pressure to end summer right. 

WEDNESDAY
Chicken burgers, corn on the cob

I really don’t remember Wednesday. I was doing . . . something. I remember a lot of driving around, like a lot of driving around, some unpleasantness at Home Depot, and then I think we had a guilt trip to the playground, so we ate late. What an exhausting week it has been. I keep accidentally staying up until 2 a.m. and then dreaming I’m pregnant. 

THURSDAY
Pulled pork sandwiches, french fries

Thursday was a bit nutty. We were gone for many hours for the training for Lucy’s new insulin pump. Damien took a small detour because the town we used to live in was cordoned off with a naked man shooting at police, and that’s his territory. The town, I mean. Not being naked and shooting at police. Then we dashed home, gobbled up supper, and went to Mass. I remember behaving rather badly, I forget why. 

Lucy’s pump just has saline solution in it now, not insulin, while we learn how to use it. So she is pretty pleased to be a daughter of Neptune, with salt water running through her veins. 

I made the pulled pork by dumping a hunk of pork into the crock pot with some Coke, cooking it all day, draining it, shredding it, and dumping in a bottle of barbecue sauce. It was indeed food. 

FRIDAY
Birthday party!

I cleverly got Clara to bake the cake on Thursday night before staying up till 2 a.m. and dreaming I was pregnant. Then I frosted the cake this morning ,and then I dropped it on the floor. Actually I dropped it, rescued some of the layers, reassembled what was left, and then dropped it again. Why? Well, WHY NOT?

So I ran out for a store-bought cake and it came together pretty okay. 

The candles are grouped around the letters “L-U-C-Y.”
I knew this party was coming, but somehow didn’t really make any plans. Happily, I did have garbage bags, paper bags, and thumb tacks. Voilà, The Gate. 

I mean, it does look ominous. I briefly considered tearing up bits of paper and threading them on threads and hanging them from the ceiling so you got that Upside Down effect with the drifting ashes or whatever it’s supposed to be, but even I could tell that was a bad idea. 

The kids are upstairs at this very moment making a Scoops Ahoy sign. The guests will be here in a little bit, and then we’ll have ice cream, then have a little beach trip, and then come home for pizza and cake. Phew. 

Okay, here are some recipe cards, quick, before the guests get here!

Sesame broccoli

Ingredients

  • broccoli spears
  • sesame seeds
  • sesame oil
  • soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat broiler to high.

    Toss broccoli spears with sesame oil. 

    Spread in shallow pan. Drizzle with soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds

    Broil for six minutes or longer, until broccoli is slightly charred. 

 

spicy cucumber salad

A spicy, zippy side dish that you can make very quickly. 

Ingredients

  • 3-4 cucumbers, sliced thin (peeling not necessary)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1+ tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Optional:

red pepper, diced

  • 1/2 red onion diced

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Serve immediately, or chill to serve later (but the longer you leave it, the softer the cukes will get)

 

 

Another holy day of (pant, pant) obligation

[This essay was written several years ago, for a different Marian solemnity; but the basic idea still applies!]

Behold, our traditional observation of this wonderful solemnity:

Husband wakes up early, brings two of three high school kids to school A in town B, where they can’t come in late because they have a morning concert in school D and the bus leaving School A won’t wait. He comes home, calls schools A, B, and C about lateness of Kids 1, 5, 6,7, and takes them to early Mass at Church 1 in town B. Also takes baby, because he is superman. Comes home, drops off kids, goes to work in town D. I pack up Kids 1, 9, and 10 and bring them to town B to drop off Kid 1 at work, then take the other two to lunch at Wendy’s because it is Kid 9’s birthday, and then we go to Mass at Church 2 in town B, and then go home. We all go to the bathroom. Then we pack up Kids 9 and 10 and go to School C in Town C, where we pick up Kids 6, 7, and 8, then swing by the library in Town B to pick up Kid 5 who goes to School B, and then pick up Kid 2 who has walked from the bus stop to her doctor appointment in Town B. Then we go back home (Town A), wolf down some hot dogs (leaving kid 4 at home since he already went to Mass and doesn’t sing), scramble into our pretty dresses, hoping kids 2 and 3 have made it home on the bus, and swing by Kid 1’s work in Town B (hoping she has eaten at some point) and bring her with us (not forgetting the cookies which Kid 3 baked last night!) to the Unitarian Church where Kids 5, 6, 7, and 8 have their concert and bake sale; and drop off Kids 2 and 3 so they can walk across town in the dark and the cold to late Mass at Catholic Church 1. After the concert, we drive home, drop off Kids 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 in town A and pick up Kids 2 and 3 in Town B. AND THEN WE ALL GO HOME. And then my husband comes home from Town 4, and we open birthday presents for Kid 9, assuming we’re still able to make our muscles function enough to sit up.

(And no, there was no way of just prudently planning ahead to make things simpler. This was planning ahead. We couldn’t go to a Vigil Mass yesterday, because yesterday looked a lot like today, except with a different kid going to work, my husband having to travel to Town E for work, and one kid going to Roller Derby.)

So when someone asks how we are observing this important feast day, I give a little shudder and say, “Oh, we’re just going to get to Mass.”

And that is pretty good.

When we were figuring out the logistics, I honestly considered skipping Mass. It’s a war of obligations, and the kids truly couldn’t back out of their concerts or be late; but since we’re all healthy and able-bodied and no one is pregnant and the van is running, and my husband was ready and willing to make it happen, I realized that we could do it, and so we should.

We may not be wearing Marian colors or lighting special candles at our charming home altar, or making flower crowns or crafting special crafts; but we are putting forth a huge effort to get to Mass. And this tells our kids (and ourselves!), “THIS IS IMPORTANT.”

So if you had a hard time getting to Mass but you did it anyway, you honored Our Lady. If it was a tight squeeze and maybe you stumbled in late and breathless, with hungry, overtired, confused kids, you showed them, “THIS IS IMPORTANT. This is worth doing. This is The Thing You Make Time For.” And you honored Our Lady! Mass is where Mary wants you to be. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

Legionaries of Christ will publish list of credibly accused priests “soon”

By Damien and Simcha Fisher

The scandal-plagued Legion of Christ will publish a list of its own clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. Gail Gore, spokesperson for the priestly order founded by sexual predator, morphine addict, and charlatan Marcial Maciel, said in a recent email exchange that the Legion will publish its list “soon.”

“We will be releasing our list of Legionaries who have received substantiated claims of sexual abuse soon,” Gore said. “The Legionaries of Christ are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for all children and all people who interact with its members and are involved in its ministries.”

Since 2002, a growing number of dioceses and religious orders in the United States publish their own lists of credibly accused clergy members, but very few include members of the Legionaries of Christ, despite lawsuits, police reports and direct victim statements that name Legion priests. 

There are, for example, no Legionaries on the credibly accused list of clergy in the Diocese of Manchester, despite at least one lawsuit alleging the sexual abuse of children, and subsequent cover-up, at a Legion school in Center Harbor, NH. Legionaries are also absent from the Dallas, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles lists.

We have obtained documents indicating that, in at least one major diocese, Legion officials quashed a police investigation of a Legion priest by lying to detectives about the wishes of the alleged victim. 

Gore has declined to comment on the actions of other dioceses, and she did not respond to questions about how soon the Legion list will be published. 

Maciel’s notorious behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, and the sexual abuse of those children and others. Jason Berry of NCR has reported that Maciel took advantage of widespread corruption inside the Vatican to cover his crimes.

“For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican,” Berry wrote.

The Vatican’s 2010 assessment of Maciel is devastating in its frankness about Maciel’s true nature.

“The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder,” the Vatican statement reads.

“Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.”

Edward Pentin reports that Rome knew about accusations of abuse by Maciel as early as 1943

Pope Benedict XVI barred Maciel from active ministry in 2006 after his history of pedophilia became incontrovertible, but the Legion continued to celebrate Maciel’s birthday, hang photos of him in their centers, and refer to him as “Nuestro Padre” until they formally fobade these practices in December of 2010.  Steve Skojec, who lived in and worked with Legion communities for several years, describes the spiritual manipulation inherent in the Legion’s very structure, and notes that they continued to extol Maciel and his legacy in January of 2019

According to Zenit, “[T]he norms [adopted by the Legionaries in 2010] do allow Legionaries and consecrated members of Regnum Christi to keep a photograph among their personal belongings, and to read Father Maciel’s writings or listen to his talks in private. Additionally, the writings of Father Maciel may be used when giving talks and sermons, but without citing the author.”

When asked whether Maciel’s name will be included on the upcoming list of credibly accused Legion priests, the spokesperson did not respond. 

What’s for supper? Vol. 180: The stupids at sea

Maybe you noticed a dearth of new writing here last week. This is because the Fishers went on a Real Actual Vacation! In 22 years of marriage, the longest family vacation we’ve ever taken was three days, and that involved a yurt, a skunk, a bathroom made of corrugated tin, and another skunk. So a full week in a real house near the honest-t0-goodness ocean before any of the kids move away for good is pretty swanky! I found the place in December, and all this year, I’ve been getting knotted up in tighter and tighter balls of anxiety, so sure it was going to fall through and be terrible in one way or another.

It was magnificent. A nearly perfect week from start to finish. Not only did no one drown, throw up, get burnt to a crisp, get bitten, get lost, or get escorted off any premises, we had no other problems at all. Except one night I thought there was a ghost in my room, but that was my problem. Actually, I threw up once, but that was just a migraine triggered by the unwise choice to eat fried dough with sugar. And also Corrie briefly had fake meningitis, but she got better. 

Some people, upon arriving at the beach, instantly become sun-kissed and  smashing in their flowy cotton caftans, silver toe rings, and sporty sunglasses, and they know how to work the umbrella and stuff, and they don’t get attacked by their own kites. We, on the other hand, look and act like a bunch of giant weirdos, because that is what we are. But we were all there!

I assumed that, for the privilege of living four blocks from the ocean, we’d have to put up with thumping music, clouds of pot smoke, and drunken morons with firecrackers all night, but no! The house was just beyond the fried pickle-frozen daiquiries-overpriced boogie boards-half price baja jackets-your name on a grain of rice-tarot card-freehand henna-Led Zeppelin tribute band tonight only zone, and our block was remarkably quiet and staid. And the view from our bedroom window was a water tower and church steeple on one side, and on the other, this serene, wild-smelling salt marsh, populated only by egrets and cormorants. Amazing.

Since I’ve somehow missed the last two weeks of What’s for Supper posts, I’ll do one now, although we firmly resolved to cook as little as possible, and we never did get around to cooking live lobsters.

SATURDAY
Deli sandwiches

We arrived at the house in the late afternoon, unloaded, dibsed rooms, and headed straight to the beach. Woo hoo!

There is nothing better than the ocean. Just nothing at all. It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re up to your thighs in frigid, frothing salt water, the breeze is whipping through your hair, the sun is glittering, and the foam really does look like little white horses galloping madly to the shore. Oh boy!

The tide was out and hardly anyone was there. A perfect way to begin. 

SUNDAY
Frozen pizza

Sunday, we made our way to St. Patrick church, two blocks away, which has a gorgeously preserved, 105-year-old carved wooden altar and communion rail. The kids have never been to an ad orientem Mass before, so that was cool, as was my little impromptu lecture about common misunderstandings surrounding it and how it ties in with the final scene of The Dawn Treader. They enjoy my lectures so very much!

Then we came home for a quick lunch and then WENT ON A WHALE WATCH. I delivered all the appropriate warnings about how there’s no guarantee we’ll see anything, and it’s just nice to be on a boat. But we came across a bunch of frolicking dolphins before we even left the harbor, and then we saw SO MANY WHALES.

Humpbacks and finbacks, including two mother-and-calf pairs

just swashing around, flipping their tails, blowing sighing rainbow sprays, and rolling over. Extraordinary! We learned that whales don’t breathe involuntarily, so part of their brain is always awake to make sure they keep breathing. So they go into a sort of half-sleep and slowly, dreamily rise and fall in the water. This is what the mother and calf were doing. 

I cried like a 44-year-old white lady seeing her first whale. 

Not that I’m planning to give birth with the aid of a humpback midwife or anything (I’m not pregnant, also. Sheesh, settle down), I really do understand why people think whales are mystical beings with some special wisdom to impart to humanity. They are so graceful and numinous, and they clearly understand . . . something, anyway. They were both gravely aware of and regally indifferent to our stupid little boat, and they move as if they’re operating in some slightly other reality.

Here’s one especially curious calf. Check out that green glow:

 

NUMINOUS. I highly recommend Al Gauron Deep Sea Fishing and Whale Watching if you’re in the area.

MONDAY
Burgers, chips, broccoli and dip, watermelon

There was a grill in the yard, but it was smelly and weird, so we just cooked inside. We had good long beach day, and the kids discovered riding the waves.

We had a sandy lunch wrested manfully away from the seagulls, who have no respect for a diabetic child’s medicinal pop tarts with unicorns printed on the frosting. Sheesh, sea gulls! 

Corrie made the executive decision that Monday was arcade day. You guys, the arcade has not changed one tiny bit in forty years. Skee Ball is still a quarter. I still suck at Skee Ball. I still don’t understand the thing with the sliding platforms that push quarters around. I have yet to whack even a single mole. It was awesome. 

I also very much enjoyed graciously handing out stacks of quarters to children who desperately wanted another stack of quarters. 

TUESDAY
Rotisserie chicken, veggies and hummus

Rotisserie chickens currently cost less than raw chickens, for some reason.

Two of the teenagers bailed out and went home in their fancy pants teenager car before evening, leading to yet another rekajiggering of sleeping arrangements. Although we had three bedrooms with five beds, a sleep-in porch, and three pull-out couches, and an air mattress, Corrie ended up sleeping on a quilt on the floor in our room, and in the morning, she changed her name to “Puppy Stupendous.” I mean. She’s not wrong. 

She did not especially want to leave the beach on this day. Her protest took the form of repeating, “Hello. My name is Sandy McGoo” over and over and over and over and over again, all the way home. Then when we got home, she refused to hose off because, HELLO, she is SANDY MCGOO, who is SANDY. Using all my powers of We Are All Having a Happy Vacation, I persuaded her that it was at least as much fun to be Lipstick Lady, who takes showers before applying lipstick. I still can’t believe that worked.

Then we found a touch tank that was $1 a head instead of $6 a head. At least we think it was a touch tank exhibit. Anyway, we touched a lot of things.

 

WEDNESDAY
Fried food

We beat the thunderstorms and got in some swim time in the morning. But first we bought some shovels. My goodness, if I had known how much joy could come from being shovel owners, I would have bought them shovels long ago. 

We also got a kite. When I was little, you could get just a scrap of plastic with a stick on it and some string, and you would run and toss it up in the air, and it would catch an air current and you could just sit there and watch it swoop around for hours. Now all they have is these complicated trick kites with multiple tethers and flexible joints, and they go up only to immediately hurtle down at your face at top speeds. We gave up pretty quick, because we were there to swim and don’t need that kind of hostility at the beach. 

We had dinner at the Clearly Just Someone’s House, But It’s By the Water and They Have Enough Chairs Café. The kids had burgers; Damien and I had lobster rolls. One kid had a falafel wrap, which made me wonder if she had gone vegetarian and I, bad mother, didn’t notice, just like I didn’t notice when one kid got a nose ring; but then I remembered she had a burger for lunch. Kids these days with their falafel.

You’ll notice I don’t actually have a ton of pictures. That’s because I LEFT MY PHONE AT THE HOUSE ON PURPOSE. I am working at being more present in the moment and not having the freaking thing on my person at all times, and it felt pretty good.

There were supposed to be fireworks on the beach, but most of the kids were too wiped out, so Damien, Lena, and I headed out, and waited a pretty long time in the surprising August cold before realizing there were no fireworks. I was so relieved. Even though they didn’t want to go, I felt so guilty about seeing fireworks without them. We did go get a cocktail, though, and I didn’t feel guilty about that at all.

Moe got a video of the storm gathering power:

 

THURSDAY
Hot dogs for kids, sandwiches for grown-ups

Beach in the morning, with some clambering around on the rocks and tide pools before the tide came in. Some promises involving shell bits and hot glue were made. Ice cream was consumed. Then the kids went home for hot dogs while we headed out for something other than hot dogs. 

We walked for kind of a long time looking for the perfect restaurant, and finally settled on a place that was made by assholes for assholes. It was basically La Grunta, except with lobster instead of deer. After a bunch of assholes wearing leis and toe rings cut us in line for the Hospitality Hut, we overheard two assholes saying it would be a half hour wait, and that wasn’t even for the asshole deck. So we got the hell out of there and went to a little hole run by Lebanese people who just wanted to make you a sandwich without any bullshit. We got two sandwiches to go and gobbled them up by the water.

We could have gotten closer to the water, but I felt a strong need for a seat with a back on it. 

FRIDAY
Domino’s

Only a few kids still wanted to swim by this point, as we had been in or on the water every day for the last six days. I wanted to, but not as much as I wanted to complain about my sore neck and stress out about what we had done to the rug; so Damien took some kids to the beach and I went to lie down while the other kids packed and vacuumed. Apparently  Benny buried Corrie in the sand up to her neck and then ran away. No jury on earth would convict. 

Then they came home and de-sanded one last time, I dragged seaweed out of the drain one last time, and then I took the little girls to the playground one last time, which was a leetle bit further away than we remembered. Benny was pretty exhausted and melty on the walk home, and she wanted some help for the last few blocks. So Corrie got behind her and pushed. 

Saturday morning we checked out, and then made one last pilgrimage to Ocean Boulevard to eat fried dough and purchase the long-promised souvenirs. This is a good technique if you are feeling a little blue about vacation being over. By the time all the kids have found something they like, everyone will be thoroughly sick and tired of that town and you will be overjoyed to leave. 

I bought myself an artificially-colored capiz shell wind chime made in Indonesia for white ladies who cry about whales, because I’m on vacation, dammit, and that’s what I wanted.

And that’s how the stupids went on vacation! 

Let’s see ’em make a keanu out of this!

Hi, I’m the Jerk. I’m allowed to write movie reviews on Simcha’s blog once a week under two conditions. One: I keep the language clean. Two: I have to wear pants when I write. (Somehow, she can tell.)

I know, some of you were made SAD by my review of Yentl. I know some of you thought I should probably go to the beach for a STAYCATION, and maybe cool it for a while. I even know some of you,…thought I should,…stop writing,… altogether,…

And you know, I was gonna ditch the whole thing this week. I wanted to concentrate on my philanthropic work, hand write some letters to loved ones, and organize the agenda for my next Opus Dei meeting. (We’re gonna complain about our wives this time!)

But then I got a letter from one of my fans. Not a letter, really, but a fan fiction comic book he had made of Point Break, this week’s movie. OK, more like a set of obscene drawings of Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves with Lori Petty. OK, and maybe he glued pictures of his head on Lori Petty’s body. Hallie, you might want to find a good attorney.

“I do have a JCL and can assist with you annulments! Call Now!”

Point Break

You can pretty much smell 1991 all over this movie.

First you got Swayze in full bore Swayze mode. Scruffy beard, long hair, Zen nonsense. It’s practically a Ben Gazzara cameo away from being Road House. (And yes Dan, there are plenty of boobs in the movie. Now quit it.) But you see, this movie is working on a totally different plane. They give us a complete Swayze – BUT HE’S THE BAD GUY!!!

Mind Blown!

That’s right, he’s the leader of the Ex Presidents, a surfer gang that goes around robbing banks so they can surf year round. Hey, you know, now that I’ve typed that out, it doesn’t seem that stupid after all. Hmm.

But you know what? There’s this totally cool FBI agent who is on to them. Yeah, he’s brash and he plays by his own rules, but he gets the job done. You know who I mean. Agent Pappas as played by Gary Busey.

I got a Cademy Reward at home!

No Gary. That’s your BAFTA award. Jon Voight won that year. Remember?

Nevermind.

So Agent Pappas is out to get Swayze when he is joined by rookie agent Johnny Utah, as played by Canoe Reeves.

That’s Keanu.

Geshundheit.

Here is where we hit the Keanu Vortex. How did this guy ever have a career? He makes Tom Cruise look human? He has the charisma of wet cloth. HE HAS BEADY EYES. The existence of Keanu Reeves, Movie Star, is one of those unfathomable mysteries of the universe.

At least Lori Petty’s time as a movie star was short lived. For some reason, she kept getting cast as the spunky, tom boy heroine who fell hard for some meat head like Canoe. Then she made Tank Girl.

I now teach gym.

Good for you.

So Canoe goes undercover and learns the ways of surfing from Swayze. They totally become like soul mates. And they jump out of an airplane. But that was really part of some nefarious plot by Swayze to outsmart Canoe.

Yeah, you can outsmart Canoe by taking him skydiving. You can also outsmart him by telling him if he closes his eyes, he’ll turn invisible.

Here’s the thing: Aside for the terrible, terrible acting, this is a really good movie. It has a classic tension between two leads. Like an old Western. If they weren’t on opposite sides of the law they would be friends.

Check out this clip of the chase scene. The action beats are terrific.

Alright, I totally want that red Lincoln.

If you don’t own Point Break already, you must. Be warned, though, members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers make cameos throughout the picture. There is a lot of bad language, quite a bit of nudity, and even Lori Petty gets nekkid. Yeah.

As some of you may know, my parole officer says this does not count as time off my sentence. Basically, between the halfway home restrictions and the time it takes for me to pan handle enough for a 40, I have a little less free time now that I have to show up for the community service.

What I’m saying is, I’m gonna start writing these in advance. But that means I won’t be able to do a poll for a while. Send your requests to thejerkdoesnotlikeyou@gmail.com

Next week: Sean Connery’s sci-fi adventure Zardoz. It’s directed by John Boorman, who made Excalibur, one of Simcha’s favorite films.

 

Gary Busey via Flickr
Keanu Reeves via Flickr
Lori Petty via wikimedia

 

Who knows what evil jerks in the hearts of men?

Hi, I’m The Jerk. You might remember me from that time I got your cat pregnant.

MEOW!

If you’re still reading and not simultaneously trying to call the police, Bob Barker, and your local exorcist while throwing holy water on your computer screen, allow me to apologize.

If I have ever offended you for any reason, I am sorry. Did my snarkiness about Opus Dei inflame your righteous heart? I’m sorry. Were my jokes about Rutger Hauer too cruel for your delicate tastes? I’m sorry. Are you a member of the La Leche League? Really, really, really sorry.

Accepted!
 
(For the uninitiated, that’s Dame Judy Drench, the attorney for the La Leche League. It’s … complicated.)

You must be asking yourselves if the ol’ The Jerk finally got sober. No, no sobriety for me, I’m drunk on faith. Real Faith. Real Catholic Faith.

See, my whole life changed recently when I discovered how awesome Catholicism can be when combined with crappy production values and sketchy facts. That’s right, I’m now a Vortechie.

That’s Vortexie!
Nice marmot.

During a recent bender that included cough medicine, Miller Genuine Draft, and lots and lots of cat nip, I stumbled across this guy on Youtube. I know so much more about Real Catholicism now. Like this:

1. Harry Potter wants to sodomize your children.

2. All the bishops are secretly gay. All of them.

3. And the Jews are out to get me.

Talk about the Good News!

I’ve decided to let The Vorinator be my guide going forward, starting with this movie review. I know a lot of you ladies wanted me to review something girly and lame like The Princess Bride, but I now know I don’t have to do anything you say. The only thing I owe you is my masculinity, meaning my ability to get you pregnant. Real Catholic Pregnant! You want wine? Buy your own bottle of Boone’s!

On to the movie!

THE SHADOW

I know what you’re thinking, it’s all about a guy who people think is no good, but he’s secretly the most awesome super hero ever. WRONG!

It’s all about the Jews.

You tell ’em!

That’s right, see, the “hero” lives in New York. New York City! Is a billionaire. Runs a secret society that has agents in every area of society. Lives in New York City!

I also run the media. And Arbys.

Yup, this perverse monstrosity of a “movie” is trying to get us to root for this Shadow person. Who is played by Alec Baldwin no less! People used to think of him as the most talented Baldwin brother, when in fact he is simply the most disappointing Baldwin brother.

So, you watched The Cat In The Hat?

In the movie, based on the degenerate “radio” show, The Shadow learns everything about controlling people’s minds in the far east. Do I need to go any further? He’s obviously trying to undermine The Church.

Who wants to hold my hands while we say the Our Father?

SEE!!!

Ugh. It’s bad enough we’re supposed to “root” for this person, but then the amoral movie producers, who probably live in Hollywood(!) thrown in this excuse for a woman as the female lead.

 

I secretly want to be a priest!

That’s right, Penelope Ann Miller! A woman so vile Our Lady weeps every time she gets a movie “role.” Know why? Take a look at this:

I don’t care about the marital debt.

138731_7780

YOU CALL THOSE BIRTHING HIPS?

Oh, and get this, The “Shadow” is supposed to save Penelope Ann Miller’s father from the villains. Guess who plays him?

Well hello.

That’s right, Father “James” Martin’s favorite actor, Sir Ian McKellen! Who is gay!

There’s more to this plot, I think. To be honest, I spent most of the movie’s runtime in a simmering rage at the affront to the Real Catholic faith it showed in scene after scene after scene. I have to say this: If the Mass were still in Latin, this movie would never have been made.

True Dat.***
Images:
Cat: Watchduck (a.k.a. Tilman Piesk) [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
“Dame Judy Drench”: via Flickr 
Marmot via Flickr
Alec Baldwin via wikipedia
various movie stills from the movie, durhay
Ian McKellan via Flickr
Creative Commons license

Knock knock. Who’s there? Rutger Hauer.

Hi, I’m The Jerk. You might remember me from that time I was marketing athletic clothing for Catholic women.

Pretty classy, am I right? Big seller in the Steubenville.

At this point, some of you may be wondering where Simcha is, and why she is letting me get away with this again.

See, for reasons even I don’t quite get, there are times Simcha ditches the blog and allows me to post here. Confidentially, this usually happens around the same time The Moody Blues tour comes around.

Dorks in White Satin

This being county fair season, Simcha is otherwise indisposed for the duration.

During the last foray into the depths of my movie watching despair, Cari  made a request for the next review. I immediately rejected her idea as stoopid. Then, I remembered some of the other movies I’ve reviewed.

OK,  so Cari gets her review.

Ladyhawke!!

 Before we delve too deeply into this mess, I gotta say, I have no memory of watching this movie.

Don’t get me wrong, I did watch it just a few nights ago. I was mostly sober too. But, it just kinda of slipped away right after watching. Strangely, this is not the first time I’ve watched this very same movie, only to forget it nearly instantly.

If I can reveal a little bit about myself – don’t worry, the pants will stay on – I never forget movies, or TV shows for that matter.

Seriously, I can pretty much give you a run down of every episode of F-Troop, or anything starring William Bendix, and don’t get me started on the first season of Murder She Wrote, before that show lost its edge.

The point is, I have a mind for crap entertainment. I never forget this stuff.

Even your old buddy Kolchak?

Especially my old buddy Kolchak. Though, that zombie episode kinda blew.

Aside from the other night, the memory of which gets hazier the more write, and the more beer I drink, I did see Ladyhawke in the theater when it came out. I remember the theater lobby. I remember the popcorn. I remember the lights going down. But the movie?

You remember me, right?

Who?

I’m Rutger. Rutger Hauer.

Umm.

I starred in the Ladyhawke?

Ahhh.

The producers manage to find the Dutch equivalent of NyQuil for the leading man. Honestly, this guy is a lamer version of Christopher Lambert.

Thank you!

We’ll get to you later.

Hey, Dutch people, lookit, we kinda saved you like every time The Nazis invaded you, and you thank us with Rutger Hauer? Next time don’t expect us to come running.

The plot, as I gather, concerns this here Hauzer fellow and his pet bird, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Cheep cheep. Cheep cheep.

Some of you fellas may disagree with me here, but this lady is like the boring version of cardboard. Has she ever been interesting? She’s not even convicncing as a lady cursed to turn into a hawke every day. You wants a convincing bird lady?

BWAAAKAAAAAAAAAAAAA! 

Anyhoo, so it seems Rubarb and Birdy were in love, but it had to be kept secret from the scheming, control-freak cleric whose sexual perversions led him to use black magic.

 

Yes. Please send all hate mail to thejerksoesnotlikeyou@gmail.com.

No, the bad guy movie bishop is this guy:

He kinda looks like my grandma, before we put her in the home.

Bishop Old Lady here puts a curse on Ruger Howitzer and Birdy Bird Bird so that all day, she’s a hawke, but all night he’s a wolf. This movie easily could have been called Manwolf. Except that’s even stupider than Ladyhawke.

This wacky curse keeps the pair separated, even though they are always together. It’s one of those great unrequited romances that make up so much our our literary culture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQc9L2RbQkw

C’mon. Like I’m the only one who sensed the tension there?

The unhappy couple was betrayed to the bishop inadvertently by their confessor, who kinda blurted it out when he had too much to drink and was talking to the bishop. Not gonna say anything about confessors I have had. Not. Gonna. Say. Anything.

The filmmakers managed to get the great Leo McKern for the role of the disgraced priest.

Leo gotta eat.

But the whole lynchpin for this movie? The one actor whose dynamism pulled it altogether into a rousing entertainment? The next great action star?

They didn’t get that guy. Instead, they hired this guy:

Yup. Matthew Broderick. It kinda makes sense to put him in a period picture set in the middle-ish ages, with knights on horses and whatnot, given his – let’s say- proclivities.

Neigh!

It’s not that this is the worst movie ever made. Far from it. It’s just kinda dull, and extraordinarily forgettable. It’s almost as if this was created as an experiment in induced memory loss. I do blame the director, Richard Donner.

 

I put the “smug” in “Smug A-Hole”

Not to be all judgey, or anything, ’cause being judgey is bad, but this guy is going to Hell. Not only did he make Superman boring, not only did he fail to ever make a sequel to The Goonies, but this is the moron who helped make Mel Gibson a major action star.

If you want to see a real movie, with a vaguely European leading man, ton of action, a kickass soundtrack, and loads of Sean Connery, I suggest Highlander.

About time, sweetheart.

Speaking of which, Highlander will be the subject of my next review. Assuming Meatloaf still plans to bring his tour out this way, expect that sometime soon.

 
 
 
 
 

The Contraceptive Mentality, Part 2: Grave reasons and obedience

This is part two of an essay about NFP and that notorious “contraceptive mentality.”  In part one, I discussed where the phrase originally came from and what it means, and a bit about the difference between contraception and using NFP to avoid pregnancy. This essay can be read independently, but I’d rather you read part 1 first!

grave reasons to avoid pregnancy?

It is true that you can’t avoid having a baby for just any old reason, or for no reason at all, as long as you’re using NFP to do so.

Pius XII said in 1951:

The mere fact that the couple do not offend the nature of the act, and are prepared to accept and bring up the child (which in spite of their precautions came into the world), would not be sufficient in itself to guarantee the rectitude of intention and the unobjectionable morality of the motives themselves.

In other words: you’re not magically insulated from sinning just because you don’t use contraception.

He said:

[T]o embrace the married state, continuously to make use of the faculty proper to it and lawful in it alone,[in other words: to have sex] and on the other hand, to withdraw always and deliberately, with no serious reason from its primary obligation, would be a sin against the very meaning of conjugal life.

Pretty serious stuff. He’s saying that if you get married and then only ever have sex in infertile times without a serious reason, then you are sinning against marriage itself.

People who look down on NFP love to throw about this quote and say, “SEEEEE? Pius XII said that if you don’t have a baby every 18 months, it’s basically not even a marriage!”

Some Catholics will tell you you have to be just about dying before you can consider putting off conception. You have to be in a concentration camp, or you have to have cancer, or your roof just blew off, or your head just fell off. 

But that is not what the Church teaches. She asks us to think carefully, to pray, to consider our other children and our other responsibilities, and to behave in a loving and considerate manner to our spouses, and then to decide whether or not this is a good time to accept the great gift of a child.

The Church (in Pius XII’s Address to Italian Midwives and Paul VI in Humanae Vitae) gives us examples of the categories of reasons we can legitimately have for postponing or avoiding conception: “medical, eugenic, economic, and social reasons” or “physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.” But it doesn’t get specific. It just gives the general categories.

It doesn’t spell out the specific good reasons because they vary very widely from couple to couple, and in individual couples from year to year, or even month to month. Something that’s a serious reason for one couple might be no big deal for another couple; and something that was a huge concern when I was 20 might seem like nothing when I’m 40, or vice versa.  (There’s an entire chapter about this, called, “Why Doesn’t the Church Just Make a List?” in my book.) I believe the lack of specificity from the Church is deliberate, because it’s an invitation for individuals to assess their particular situations, rather than taking shelter in (or running scared from) a “check box” mentality in their spiritual lives.

The man and woman confer the sacrament of marriage on each other, and so it is up to the two of them to decide, as the experts in their particular marriage, if they have a just, defensible reason for using NFP.

Maybe you don’t believe me! You hear people saying that the Church teaches you must have “grave reasons” to postpone pregnancy. 

Well, it’s doesn’t. Angela Bonilla has done some great legwork here. Her essay is short, but here’s the even quicker version: In his address to Italian Midwives, Pius XII said “gravi motivi” which sure sounds like “grave motives” — which sure sounds like your motive has to be, like, “I’m almost in the grave, here!” But that’s called a “false cognate.” “Grave” in Latin sounds like it should translate directly to “grave” in English, but it doesn’t.

A better translation of the phrase, and the translations which now appear on the Vatican website, uses the following phrases when it talks about the reasons for using NFP to space or avoid pregnancy: “serious reasons,” “just causes,” “worthy and weighty justifications,” “defensible reasons,” and “just reasons.” Janet Smith, no loosey goosey liberal squish, says that “the range of reasons is broader and perhaps more liberal than many think.”  

And these just and serious reasons, as Pius XII said, “not infrequently arise.” Ask yourself: if you have to be in super duper agonizing trouble before you can use NFP, then why did he say that they happen a lot? The Church asks us to be careful and thoughtful. The Church does not ask us to ruin ourselves, or to absolutely refuse to listen to our doctors, or to refuse to listen to our spouses, before we can use NFP. The Church cares for us more than that.

obedience is educational

So.  Am I saying that any reason at all is a good enough reason to put off having kids? Am I saying that it’s impossible to use NFP for trivial or selfish reasons?

No. It can happen. Nice young lady is planning her wedding, and she’s making a checklist of everything important: buy 43 yards of burlap and gross of mason jars for centerpieces at the reception, schedule a bunch of tanning sessions, and lay in a good stock of games for the honeymoon just in case she’s fertile on her wedding night, because duh, she’s getting married to her boyfriend, not to a bunch of babies. Babies are smelly little crotch goblins, and they ruin your abs and ruin your fun, and probably she’ll work her way around to having one at some point when she needs attention, but she truly cannot see what having a baby has to do with the super awesome love story she’s documenting on Instagram right now. 

That there would be a selfish reason to use NFP. Most people can see that there is something wrong with this attitude. It’s one thing to expect more from your marriage than simply cranking out babies, but it’s another to despise the very idea of having children. This is not what the Church had in mind when it says that “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” and that children are the supreme gift of marriage. 

Familiaris Consortio says, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” The Church really means this. The Church is not okay with us thinking of sex and marriage as fun and babies as gross.

But goodness knows, there are other ways to be selfish in marriage besides selfishly refusing to consider having a baby. People like to speak as if eagerly conceiving is generous, and trying to avoid conceiving is selfish, but married love is more complicated and more demanding than that.

As one commenter said:

You can be selfish by imprudently indulging your sexual desires without consideration for the good of your spouse or of existing children or of any child that might result. Or you can be selfish by refusing to even discuss the possibility of more children when your spouse desires them. You can be selfish by putting all of the burden of family planning decisions on your spouse, so that they have to tell you “yes” or “no” all the time. You can be selfish by withholding yourself to punish or try to manipulate your spouse when you’re unhappy with them. Or you can be selfish by making sexual demands of your spouse when you know they feel unloved and used by you. You can be horribly selfish and abusive by coercing your spouse into sex through threats, force, or manipulation (psychological or religious).

Using NFP doesn’t automatically protect you from being selfish in these very serious ways, and neither does refusing to use NFP. People speak as if using NFP or not using NFP is the final word on what kind of marriage you have, but it’s really just the beginning. 

 But here’s the thing. A selfish, petty, immature view of sex and marriage very often corrects itself, over time, if you’re trying hard to be loving and obedient in other ways; because a loving marriage, a marriage that is obedient to what the Church really asks of us in its teaching on sexuality, is an educational marriage.

Think of all the dumb ideas you had about marriage when you were unmarried, or a newlywed. You were wrong about all sorts of things. You were immature. You were selfish. You were naive. You had stupid priorities. This is what it’s like, being young and inexperienced. You think you know so much, but you don’t.

And Jesus is willing to work with this. The Church just asks us to have the right overall intentions, more or less, and the Church asks us to try to be obedient, and to go to confession when we’re not. And starting with simple obedience, simply refusing to use contraception in marriage, is an excellent start.

If a young couple in the 21st century says, “All my friends have had IUDs since they were 14, my dad’s having a vasectomy party tomorrow, my step mom is angry at me for not giving her a grand dog instead, and my OB/GYN wrote “just an idiot” on my chart . . .  but I’m going to install an app to keep track of my cervical fluid, because for some reason the Church says I should” — my friends, this is a big deal.  This is really something big. That’s something the Holy Spirit can and almost certainly will build on.

Paul VI says in Humanae Vitae:

The teaching of the Church on the regulation of birth, which promulgates the divine law, will easily appear to many to be difficult or even impossible of actuation. And indeed, like all great beneficent realities, it demands serious engagement and much effort, individual, family and social effort. More than that, it would not be practicable without the help of God, who upholds and strengthens the good will of men.

In other words, it’s hard to go against the world, and the Church knows it. Even a celibate old white man knows it. Obedience, especially obedience in matters of sexuality, is hard – probably harder today than it ever has been, when we have people telling us we’re foolish and selfish and creepy and irresponsible for trying to behave as if our marriage vows actually mean something.

But Paul VI went on:

Yet, to anyone who reflects well, it cannot but be clear that such efforts ennoble man and are beneficial to the human community.

Obedience is the fertile soil where all kinds of wonderful fruits can grow, and woe to him who wants to barge in and trample all over a nice, new little garden just because it’s not already mature and bountiful like a well-established orchard that’s been cultivated and nourished for decades. 

Paul VI acknowledges that the way of virtue is a process, not an instantaneous event, which is why he urges priests to preach the truth but to be gentle, encouraging, and loving, and urges married couples to keep praying, keep repenting, keep moving forward:

“without ever allowing themselves to be discouraged by their own weakness.”

It’s like the parable, where the one son refuses to obey his father, but then he feels bad about it and does what his father tells him to do after all. And Jesus says that that guy did his father’s will. Obedience to Christ — even immature obedience, even gloomy obedience, even half-understood obedience, even stop-and-start obedience — is a big deal. Jesus likes obedience. Jesus honors it. Jesus runs with it. He picks up the slack in our attitude, and He uses it to instruct us. I’ve seen it happen, over and over and over again. It’s happening to me right now.

So if you come across someone who’s using NFP for what seems to you to be trivial reasons, you really don’t need to defend Christian sexuality with a big heavy mallet and go, “NO! STOP! You are using NFP with a contraceptive mentality! You’re just like the rest of the world, and shame on you!”

If a Catholic you know is heading into marriage with the intention of never having children, then yes, you probably need to say something, especially if you think you’re in a position to prevent an invalid marriage from taking place and causing pain and sorrow down the road.  The Church understands the very nature of marriage is a state that obligates us to at least be willing to accept the gift of children.  That’s what marriage means. It means binding yourself together in front of God and becoming fruitful in the way that God wants you to be fruitful.

But marriage is instructive. It’s educational. Grace is educational. Obedience is educational.

back to grandma

Remember the very old grandmother, the one who needs your help? Remember how there was an undeniable difference between caring for her because you love her and then inheriting her fortune, and caring her to lull her into a false sense of security, murdering her, and inheriting her fortune? Let’s return to her.

Let’s say you go to her house with the intention of completely deceiving her. You’re just a jerk. You’re going to take care of her, but you’re just there for her money. You sweet talk her in the most insincere way, because you just don’t take her seriously as a human being. You just want to use her.

So you move in, and you go through the motions: you say good morning every morning, and comb her hair, wash her face, help her pick out her clothes, listen to her stories, look through her photos, live in her house . . . and slowly, you start to get attached. You start to realize that this is someone you actually care about, and that she actually cares about you.

And it changes you. When she dies, she leaves you her money, and yes, you’re happy about it.. But you’re even happier that you got to know her. You’re a different person now. You started out doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons, but if you keep at it, your reasons start to change. You start to change.

I get letters like this all the time, about NFP. People say, “I started out using contraception in my marriage, and then we switched to NFP because the Pill was making me crazy and giving me migraines and killing my sex drive. But had no intentions of ever having another baby, because I liked being a size 3, and I had this gorgeous white velvet couch.”

They say, “I wasn’t ready to hear the full message that the Church wanted to give to me. But we started using NFP over the years, and slowly, slowly we changed . . . ”

That’s a direct quote. This is what happens when you obey God, because his commands are not random. He has his reasons for asking us to do the things he asks of us: because he wants to teach us about about selves, and he wants to teach us about him. He wants to teach us how to love him.

the phrase makes more trouble than it’s worth

In the mean time, let’s just drop the phrase “contraceptive mentality.” Every single time I’ve seen the phase used, it’s used incorrectly, and this is dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

It’s dangerous becuase encourages us to judge each other. “They use NFP, but are they using it in the right way?” Who cares? What, your own soul doesn’t keep you busy enough? It’s none of your business. You have no idea what their real reasons are. For all you know, they’d like a dozen children, but they can’t. In the mean time, you’re sinning by assuming anything. For real, that’s a sin.

It may actually cause other people to despair.  It may be really, really, really hard for them to reject contraception. Telling them they’re obeying the Church but still failing can make them think, “Why bother?”There’s no way I can please such a demanding God.” And they will quit. 

 It can make marriage into a reductive numbers game. Generosity and fruitfulness and trust in God in marriage can take many forms besides pregnancy – and selfishness and pride and vanity can take many forms besides avoiding pregnancy.

It encourages us to approach God with fear, and to look for rules rather than seeking a relationship. I’ve seen this, too: a woman who’s clearly barely surviving, and she’s trembling, tears rolling down her cheeks, terrified that she’s committing the sin of contraception with her mentality. She completely forgot that God loves her and doesn’t want her to be miserable.

We would do better to speak less about sex and more about love. Less about how to manage conception, and more about how to grow in love. 

DIscerning in your own marriage

I’ve been talking about refraining from judging other people’s motives for using NFP. But what about it the one we’re worried about is ourselves? What if we’re afraid we have selfish or petty reasons for using NFP, or that we actually do have a contraceptive mentality, in the strictest sense, even though we’re using NFP?

Well, maybe you do. NFP isn’t magic. Some people find NFP really simple and routine, and it would be fairly easy for them to just get in the habit of avoiding a pregnancy without really having to think about it much, so they never do.

I have heard that there are people like this. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually met one, but I suppose there are.

But decent people tend to question their own motives, and to wonder if they’re letting themselves off the hook. If you are uncertain about your reasons, and you’re troubled by the idea that your reasons to avoid pregnancy may not be legitimate, do start with being obedient, and offer your obedience to God. It can actually be a form of pride to persuade yourself that simple obedience isn’t good enough, and that your faith is so fancy, you have to do extra!

But then after obedience, ask God to open your ears to whatever is the next thing he’s telling you. Pray this a lot. Be patient. Let God speak to you on his own time. But here’s the thing: Be ready to hear that God is not mad at you. Be ready to hear that you’re not sinning. Be ready to be at peace for a time. 

And you could ask yourself:

Do I actively hate children? Do I routinely describe babies as parasites or tumors? Do I throw rotten fruit at 15-passenger vans? Do I feel a deep sense of disgust and contempt when people talk about married love, chastity, fidelity, and goodness? Do I think the institution of the family should be abolished?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may have the contraceptive mentality that John Paul II was talking about. That “anti-life” mentality.

Here are some more questions to ask yourself:

Do I deeply fear children because I’m afraid they’re going to mess up my life when I got it just the way I like it? Do I avoid learning more about the Church’s teaching on sexuality because I’m afraid I’ll have to change something? Do I think of children mainly as a burden to be escaped, without making any effort to learn how to enjoy them? Am I using NFP as a sop to God, so he’ll retreat and leave me alone in the rest of my life?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, that doesn’t mean you should have another baby just to teach yourself a lesson; but maybe you are listening to the world too much. Or maybe you’re approaching your faith as a kind of checklist of sins to avoid, rather than as a relationship with God.

Or maybe you are having some spiritual difficulties that go beyond discerning family size. Sometimes fear and reluctance toward children has its origins in past or current abuse. Maybe you are in a material or emotional crisis and need help.

Maybe you just need to get caught up on sleep! See if there’s any way you can go on retreat. Try to commit to five minutes of morning prayer a day, and see if you feel more at peace with where you are and where you’re headed. And seriously, get caught up on sleep. It’s ridiculous how much it helps. 

Maybe you’re just in a really hard season right now, and you need to give yourself some time, and you can revisit these questions later. 

Here are some questions you cans ask yourself while you’re using NFP:

Does God make me nervous sometimes? Do I have mixed feelings about having a baby? Would I cry if I got pregnant right now? Do I feel like I’m done having babies? Do I sometimes feel angry and resentful about how difficult it can be to live the Church’s teaching on sexuality? Do I wish I could go to the bathroom without people pounding on the door asking for ice pops? Do I wish I could just have sex and not worry about it?

If you answer anything at all to these questions, you are probably a normal human being who is having a normal marriage. You’re fine. But do get some sleep. And remember, God isn’t mad at you. 

But be content to start with obedience. At the heart of love for God is obedience. That is how all the saints express it: you start with doing what you can, and that’s how you let God into your heart — and there is no telling what he will do to the place, once he gets in.

This is especially true when we’re being obedient about sexuality. When we disobey God about sexuality, we make it into a dead thing. And no wonder it’s hard to understand, then, why we can’t just do it whenever we want, however we want: Because it doesn’t feel sacred. We allow ourselves to grasp it carelessly, like Uzzah, thinking it’s just another heavy thing to hoist around and move where we will. But inside it is something sacred, something that comes to us from eternity. You don’t just go grabbing it. 

But when we do obey, even with white knuckles, God has this tendency, sometimes, to open up the ark and let us play. 

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Image: Photo by Vassill via Wikipedia; Relief, Auch Cathedral , France: the Ark of the Covenant (public domain)