Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s narrow pro-life way

Today, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa posted a heartbreaking message on the Facebook page of her pro-life organization, New Wave Feminists.

I’m watching the last 14 years of my life’s work crumble while someone with an anonymous email account tells me they wish my nazi bitch ass would die. Because now it’s their turn.

The alt-right is done decimating me, so the pro-choice left is coming to pick through the scraps.

If you haven’t been following this miserable saga, here’s a recap:

Several years ago, Herndon-De La Rosa founded the secular pro-life, pro-woman group New Wave Feminists, and Kristen Hatten joined her as VP four or five years later. Hatten was initially anti-Trump; but in 2016, she started showing signs of becoming a white nationalist. It was baffling, but undeniable; and so, a few years ago, Herndon-De La Rosa cut ties with her and scrubbed evidence of her from the organization, because, duh, they’re pro-life. You can’t be a white nationalist pro-lifer.

Hatten had been mostly inactive as a pro-lifer after being ousted from NWF, but her alt right views started to surface on the internet; and so on April 5, Herndon-De La Rosa made this statement denouncing her ideas and reiterating that they do not represent the ideals of NWF. She included five of the openly racist images Hatten had recently shared on her page.

Herndon-De La Rosa said:

***Please do not use this post as a reason to attack Kristen and spam her page. I simply needed to state this publicly so that it was on the record that she is not a part of NWF any longer (and hasn’t been since Nov. 2016), since unfortunately there still seems to be some confusion.***

I hate to have to do this publicly, but because many of you started following Kristen Hatten and her page “Chronicles of Radness” through NWF, I feel it’s necessary.

This is not the Kristen I knew. I don’t know what’s happened but she’s changed. As soon as we saw the very beginning of this transformation she was immediately removed from New Wave Feminists.

I’m posting this because many of you still follow her on social media, perhaps without even realizing the vile things she’s sharing, so take a look for yourself and decide if it’s something you support.

That should have been the end of it. Hatten is not especially prominent and didn’t have a large following; but genuine pro-lifers have no tolerance for hatred, racism, violence, antisemitism, etc., so it’s a good idea to make things nice and clear.

Astonishingly, Abby Johnson, one of the most well-known faces of the American pro-life movement, publicly defended Hatten. As is her habit, she deleted her comments after they were challenged, but she said repeatedly that Hatten is not racist. Hatten herself has said repeatedly that she does not mind being called “racist.” She calls herself an “ethno nationalist.”   Johnson repeatedly chided scandalized pro-lifers for talking about Hatten instead of to her; but when several people explained that they had talked to her in private, and that Hatten affirmed her alt right views, Johnson had no response.

All the pro-lifers I knew were almost as horrified by Johnson’s defense of Hatten as they were by Hatten’s views themselves. What a dreadful disservice to the pro-life cause. Johnson tried to make the case that her behavior was charitable — that she operates by refusing to cut ties with people she disagrees with, and this is why she has refused to publicly challenge Hatten’s alt right statements, even though she was warned that refusing to distance herself from Hatten was damaging the pro-life movement which Johnson represents.

Johnson does communicate with people in the pro-choice movement; this is her work. But she very readily cuts ties with those in the pro-life movement who challenge her, and then erases evidence of her own troubling words. She routinely deletes comments that challenge her even in the mildest terms. So she is selective in which opponents she decides to maintain ties with.

Johnson has done good work. This is undeniable. Whether her recent behavior shows sympathy for Hatten or merely an astonishing thinness of skin, I truly do not know.

For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter. The damage was done. The Huffington Post and NARAL spotted the debacle for the PR disaster it is, and are now touting Hatten’s views and Johnson’s defense of her as evidence that the pro-life movement is riddled with alt-right rot:

Hatten’s views present a problem for the anti-abortion movement as it continues to jockey for mainstream acceptance and tries to distance itself from right-wing extremists. Throughout the history of the abortion wars, a great deal of violent energy has been generated at the confluence of anti-abortion activism and white supremacy. The first known murder of an abortion provider was committed by a former Klansman. The kinship isn’t hard to understand: Both are movements of the status quo, dedicated to preserving a white patriarchal order.

This is exactly what I said would happen when I wrote that if I were pro-choice, I’d vote for Trump. When pro-lifers don’t make it crystal clear that some ideas are unacceptable, the world leaps on the chance to make the case that those ideas are central to our cause.

So how, as pro-lifers, should we respond when someone who calls himself a pro-lifer behaves in abhorrent ways?

We have four choices:

1.We can ignore it, for any number of reasons, and hope no one notices.
2. We can be horrified at the damage this person is doing, and openly, strongly denounce the person and heap damnation on her head.
3. We can defend the person because we don’t think it’s right to attack people.
4. Or we can be horrified at the damage this person is doing, and openly, strongly denounce her ideas, and heap damnation on her ideas, and refrain from denouncing the actual person.

Because we are pro-life. Even pro the life of someone on the alt right.

That fourth option is the one Herndon-De La Rosa chose. Did it work?
No, of course not. Because the world is a disgusting place, and hungry for blood. Facts don’t matter; all that matters is that we can tear some flesh. And that’s why she’s currently suffering horrendous abuse from both sides, not only from the alt right but from the far left: Because she chose that narrow path that hates the sin but not the sinner.

I saw some pro-lifers savage Herndon-De La Rosa for not savaging Hatten; for not denouncing her thoroughly enough; for not repeatedly shouting from the rooftops that her former friend is now garbage.

But she chose the narrow road. It didn’t work, but it was the right thing to do. And when the righteous do the right thing, they are made to bleed. Cf Golgatha.

Please pray for everyone involved. If you are pro-life and so reject racism, please denounce racism and other alt right poison everywhere you see it, on the right and on the left. It’s our duty to make things crystal clear. But our goal isto save lives, and that includes the lives of the unborn, the lives of vulnerable minorities, and the lives of people who’ve allowed themselves to be swept into the ugly sewer of the alt right. The most vulnerable come first; but pro life means all lives. It is possible to take that narrow road. It’s not safe, but it is possible.

Hatten and others on the alt right are not past salvation. Their ideas must be publicly savaged. They themselves should be given a chance to repent. They will not repent if their ideas are tolerated; but they will also not repent if they are called human garbage.

Here is the key to knowing if the group you’re spending time with is powered by ideals, or by ideology:  When you stand by your ideals, you will suffer. When you are fighting for an ideology, you will insist that others must suffer. Pro-lifers, which one sounds more pro-life to you? And are you willing to suffer for your ideals, or will you just find a new mob when your old one disappoints you?

Image by John Loo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

On Benedict XVI’s birthday, meet him on his own terms

Today is the 91st birthday of our beloved Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. A good day to pray for this great and good man — and to meet him for the first time, if you haven’t already, in his writing. (Book links are affiliate links.)

You’ll recall that, according to the mass media, Benedict XVI was a cold and creaky Emperor Palpatine who grinned with black gums as he brought his cruel fist crashing down on life, liberty, and the pursuit of sexy fun. They really believed it, too, because they are morons.

But you’re not a moron! Do yourself a favor and read something the man actually wrote, like the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth. These make excellent reading in adoration, and will bring you closer to Christ. What more could you want? And it will be easy.

That’s the real surprise of reading Ratzinger: there’s no wading, no disciplined gritting of teeth, no grinding of mental muscles as you make your way through his works.  I’m ashamed to remember how amazed I was to find myself enjoying his writing — and I am a lazy reader, believe me. John Paul II, by contrast, was so handsome and approachable, so warm and compassionate in person. He was evangelization personified. But his writing style . . . gevalt. I’d rather nibble my way through the Berlin Wall than read all the way to the end of a JPII encyclical. This is a me-problem, not a him-problem; but still, it’s a problem.

But Benedict XVI was (is) just the opposite. To see or hear him (at least in the snippets that rose to the surface of pop culture) was to reinforce every stereotype about the authoritarian, elitist, unapproachable magisterium of the Church. But to read him is like watching the sun rise, gorgeously, joyfully, making everything it touches clear and beautiful. And he knows his audience, understands their prejudices, anticipates their questions, and speaks directly to them. There are great depths in his writing, but they are depths you can plumb.

Try his short work In the Beginning:” A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. Many Catholics live with an uneasy shame when we face the question of how the world began. We are half afraid that the Church isn’t ready to deal with science — that it defiantly insists we believe God made the world with big old hands in six 24-hour days, like a white-bearded Gepetto who’s been taking his pep pills.

Well, no. The Church is well aware of all the theories of how the universe came to be (it was a priest, Georges Lemaître, who first hypothesized the Big Bang theory), and she has spent a considerable amount of time synthesizing Genesis, astronomy, and cosmology, and working through the existential ramifications of various theories of how the world came to be. Ratzinger gently, firmly, and wittily guides us through what she has learned, not like a scholar speaking to scholars, but like an experienced professor who knows his material and his students equally well. I recommend this book for high schoolers and anyone else who thinks we must choose between science and faith, or anyone who rejects both unthinking fundamentalism and sneering rationalism.

Don’t be stupid, be a smarty! Meet Benedict XVI on his own terms. I guarantee you’ll be delighted, both with what you come to learn about Christ, and what you come to learn about Ratzinger himself. He’s a gentle and brilliant friend you need to have in your life. He is a man full of heartfelt courtesy and love — not abstract, intellectualized caritas, but a sweet yearning to save, comfort, sanctify and teach his flock.

A version of this post originally ran at the National Catholic Register in 2016.

photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) Pope Benedict XVI Holds His Final General Audience via photopin (license)

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?


Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

. . . and they’ll never let me forget it

Whenever my daughter Irene isn’t where we expect her to be, someone says darkly, “She’s probably sitting on the floor, playing with blocks.”

This is because, several years ago, she insisted on being the one to run into the city library and fetch the middle school kid while the rest of us waited in the car. And waited.  And waited.

And waited.

It was punishingly hot, everyone was hungry and angry, the baby was screaming, and I was too low on gas to run the air conditioner. I didn’t have enough big kids in the car to stay with the little kids while I went in myself, and I didn’t have a quarter for the parking meter anyway, so we had to wait. And wait. And wait. No kid. Eventually I sent a second kid in to find the kid I had sent in to find the other kid; and when that didn’t work I sent a third — no, a fourth kid in. We had all read the story about Clever Elsie, and nobody liked where this was headed.

But no, just a few minutes after he had gone in, that last kid emerged with all the others in tow. He reported indignantly that he had found Irene just sitting on the floor playing with blocks. Just playing with blocks, while we waited!

Irene, of course, defended herself. There was a very good reason! She couldn’t find the first kid, and she looked in the computer alcoves, in the manga section, by the fish tanks, everywhere a boy might be. Having done her due diligence, she then sensibly wondered if maybe he was in the bathroom in the children’s room upstairs. But the bathroom door was locked, and no one answered when she knocked — a telltale sign that it must be her brother inside, because he never answers when you knock. So she plopped herself down on the floor outside the bathroom and passed the time by playing with blocks until the unreliable crumb would decide to stroll himself out and stop inconveniencing everyone.

What she didn’t know was that the children’s bathroom is always locked, and you have to go ask the librarian for a key. No one answered her knock because no one was in there. So there she was, blissfully building little castles outside an empty bathroom, while the rest of us steamed our brains out in the car while the baby screamed and screamed. And we’ll never let her forget it.

We cherish memories of abject failure by our loves ones, even more than memories of perfect birthday cakes, golden hours reading fairy tales, or happy meals with laughter and song. Why? Because twisting the knife is fun! I don’t know. I can only imagine how many happy evenings Adam whiled away, reminding Eve of that one tiny little mistake she made that one time, years and years and years ago. Never mind all the good times, all the hard work and dedication, all the nice loincloths she made for the family. No one wants to reminisce about the day she invented lentils. Nope, it’s always, “Hey, remember that time you doomed mankind?”

Parents, especially, are popular targets of this selective memory. My kids, Irene included, live for the chance to remind me that I once picked up the kids at school and drove all the way into the next town before I even noticed I forgot Sophia. On Valentine’s Day! They always forget that I was nine months pregnant and it was a certifiable miracle I could remember how to use a steering wheel, much less count heads, and I did go back and get her. It’s not as if I just washed my hands of her and got on with my life without Sophia like some kind of bad parent. Nope, it’s just The Day Mama Forgot Sophia . . . On Valentine’s Day. And they’ll never let me forget it.

Then there was the time when my own parents went into what I remember as a long and completely unreasonable tirade about careless children who knock over their cups at meals, causing untold frustration and inconvenience for everyone else at the table, who just want to sit down at the end of a long day and enjoy a meal without having to jump up and clean something every five minutes, if people would just be a little bit more considerate and take the extra two seconds it takes to move their cup out of the way of their elbow so it doesn’t get knoc–

and then, of course, my father knocked over his cup, and my mother knocked over her cup. It was glorious. Glorious. And we’ll never let them forget it.

Now you tell me about your public shame. I want to know what they’ll never forget about you!

In which I answer anything!

Seeing as I was so far behind in all kinds of all work of all kinds, I said “Ask me anything!” on Facebook. Here are (most of) the questions, with my answers. By the way, “Ask me anything!” is commonly abbreviated as “AMA,” and so is “against medical advice.” MAKE OF IT WHAT YOU WILL.

If you could take a weeklong vacation in another country, which would be your first choice?

For most of my adult life, I would have said “Italy” without even considering anything else; but today, the thought of walking on cobblestones fails to compel. Plus, I remember how Rome smells. So I’ll go with somewhere trite, predictable, and full of white sands, clear waters, hammocks, and cocktails.  I don’t even care where, as long as someone gets me to the right gate.

Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Because rods are horrible? Everyone likes Easter, but nobody wants Good Friday. Everyone thinks the Eucharist is great, but nobody wants to think about how Jesus felt when He decided to get devoured.

If you could learn any art medium you don’t already know how to use, what would it be?

Pottery. I want to make a nativity scene where Mary is taking a nap and Joseph is holding the baby.

Were you born this way? 

No, but it came upon me suddenly along with my first teeth.

How do you REALLY feel about Texas?

If it were possible to relocate UD to some more reasonable state, I’d do it.

Cantelopes: bad idea or good idea?

They bulk up fruit salad and make it more economical, but I draw the line at honeydew.

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

If sitting in the snow and drinking Rolling Rock counts as dancing, then yes.

Top ten favourite things to eat!

Not in order, or in combination: Sourdough bread, shrimp, mango, dill pickles, tzatiki sauce, mint chocolate chip ice cream, salt bagels with lox, steak, most things with cilantro, key lime pie.

What is the airspeed velocity . . . Oh, never mind.



Because, because, because, because, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

If you were pope for a day, what one doctrine would you change?

Trick question! Doctrine doesn’t change. It just sneaks forward a little bit when you’re not looking, like in “Red Light, Green Light.”

How are you? Lots of life change in your home.

I’m so effing tired. But I want to be Lucy when I grow up.

We hope that God will bless us with many children. What is your best tip (of any kind) for those with large families?

Be ready to change your mind about all kinds of things. But go easy on yourself if you’re having a hard time changing your mind, because change is hard.

Next time you’re in Michigan, would you like to come for dinner?

In theory, yes. In practice, I’m much too shy, and will have to be trapped into it, but then I’ll be glad.

How do we deal with the really really bad times of NFP? I love your book, but there’s a specific situation that I’ve seen come up that you didn’t address, and that’s the feeling that women sometimes get of being “used”. For example, if a woman can’t have a very “enjoyable” time during the available days, so only the man is experiencing full pleasure, she can sort of just feel like a receptacle for semen. I’d love to know how you think we should personally deal with this (besides the obvious of prayer/communication) and how we can support friends who deal with this.

Great question. I think it deserves its own post, so I’m working on that now.

Should I take the undercarriage wash option at the car wash?

 I never do, and how that works out is, my mechanic really had to squint hard before he passed my car for inspection, because you can put your finger right through the rocker panel, boop! What is it, an extra five bucks? Yeah, definitely don’t spend that extra five bucks. That’s what I would do.
What’s 2+5
Need context.  Is it days past peak? Is it carbs in chicken nuggets? If not, I don’t understand the question.
Imagine you’re a queen in a beautiful country where you are loved and can do whatever good you want without being criticized – What would your favorite queenly ensemble and jewels be? Money is no object.
Let’s also add that I have a waist again, have somewhat better posture than Tony Soprano, and have lost sixty pounds and grown my hair long again, and the answer is: Italian Renaissance for the dress, with acres and acres of velvet and brocade and seed pearls. But for jewelry, I’d go straight to India. When I feel bad about everything, I google “Indian wedding jewelry” and just wallow for a while.
Will you pray for me and my family?
Are you planning to answer?
Yes, but I’m also planning to put together that six-cube storage unit I got on clearance, because it will make All The Difference, and it’s been leaning against the dining room wall, still in the box, for two months now.
Is the plural of platypus platypuses or platypi?
It would be either platypuses or just platypus, or possibly platypodes. The one thing to avoid is trying to sound fancier than you actually are.
Sometimes people think you can make any word that ends in “-us” plural by changing the “us” to an “i,” but that only works if the word is derived from Latin and the pluralized form in Latin ends in “i.” So, the plural of nucleus is nuclei; the plural of fungus is fungi; the plural of alumnus or alumna is alumni. But there are words which end in “us” for which the correct plural ending is not “i,” like chorus or hummus or hippopotamus or callus.
Octupus, for instance, was Greek before it was Latin, and so it makes no sense to say “octopi” for the plural. In general, if you see a word that ends in “pus” meaning “foot,” the correct plural ending will be “pods” or “podes,” or simply “puses.” Changing it to “-i” is the equivalent of saying “between you and I.” I realize it doesn’t really matter, not like kindness or ethics or good quality shoes matters; and I’ve probably got some detail wrong. But still. Just say “platypuses.”

Urn A has 7 red and 3 orange ping pong balls and Urn B has 7 orange and 3 red ping ping balls. An Urn is selected at random and a ball is selected at random from that urn. If the ball is orange, what is the probability that the selected urn is Urn A?

After skimming this question and concluding that it is mathy, my answer is this: I always recommend that you skip the first four urns and go directly to Urn E. There is an importance in being Urn E.

Almost a joke! Almost!

More serious question: What was the most surprising thing you learned as a result of your child’s Type I diabetes diagnosis?

I answered that in part here.  Other than that, I can’t get over how many carbs there are in garlic powder.

Who is your favorite child?

Another trick question! No one is currently cleaning out the car or making supper, so they’re all on equally thin ice.

How do you do it? I have half as many kids and I’m burned out. Yet you’re so creative and spiritual and wise. I spend all my time in the car!

Oh lordy. Remember what my mother said about homeschooling: It’s impossible. If you keep this in mind, it’s easier to do.

Did this question result from breakfast gin?

Nope. Three times in the last week, I fell asleep on the couch before finishing even one evening gin. Once I fell asleep while actually holding my drink. But I did not spill it! There’s life in the old dame yet.

What is the kitten’s name?
Lando. He totally earns it, too, if you skip the part where Lando redeems himself and turns out not to be a complete asshole.
When are you going to write a book about confession?
I would like to, as I have written more about confession than any other sacrament, and also I need the money. Would people put up with a book of collected essays? I’m so tired. But I need the money.
Would you be willing to join Fans of Simcha Fisher and make it official? I created it but didn’t add you because I know you hate that.
But I’m not a fan of Simcha Fisher! Or if I am, it’s in the bad, sledgehammer way.
when are you going to record another podcast? I miss them!!
This week! I’m sorry. We’ve just been so exhausted. Did I mention that? I’m afraid I may not have mentioned that. It warms my heart that you actually listen, though.
How are you so adorable and I love you so much?
See above, where I spend three paragraphs on insisting on “octopodes.” That should take care of it.
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
African or European?
Some do.
You are starting an MLM. What are you selling?
Underwear my kids will wear. I don’t even care if I end up on the bottom of the pyramid. Someone needs to make this underwear.
What is the most dangerous item in your house, right now?
A set of walkie talkies we gave Irene for her birthday. The kids now have unlimited power to say, “What? . . . over!” as much as they like.
Will my children ever STOP EATING EVERYTHING? (The 2yo was licking the fridge yesterday. WHY???)
Your children are simply listening to their bodies. Unfortunately, their bodies are telling them to drive you out of your gourd.  Then they will eat the gourd, too.
What’s the best strategy for defeating a dragon?
Procrastination. The dragon will eventually wander away in disgust to find someone who’s more engaged, and then you can shrug holily and tell yourself it’s God’s will.
While sitting quietly before a Tabernacle, praying your heart out… have you ever thought about opening that little Tabernacle door and freeing Jesus?
No, but I’ve had to keep myself from crawling up there and climbing inside with Him.
How do you go from accepting the Real Presence in your mind to having your heart know it?
I don’t think my heart knows it, most of the time. It’s not the same thing as feeling it, if that helps. I think if we felt it for more than a moment or two at a time, it would be unbearable and we wouldn’t be able to live.
But yes, it’s hard to go on never having that breakthrough. My father says that when he converted to Christianity, he told his landlord about it, and the man said, “You saw the light, huh?” My father said yes. And the man said, “I never have.” He was a Catholic. That was many decades ago, so I pray that, at some point, that man not only knew about the light but did eventually see it, at least one time.
I’ve found it less helpful to try to flog myself into believing, than to simply and quietly thank God for being present. Talk to Him, not about Him; and then be at peace, and let Him do what He will.
Why is your child not making more stop motion videos to entertain my kids?
I don’t know! We need more Elijah the Introvert. He would love more subscribers. That might light a fire under him.
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That is, as you well know, nobody’s business but the Turks’.
Can you run by Costco and pick up hamburger and milk and chicken nuggets? We’re out.
Even though our family  could singlehandedly be the business model for a local Costco, we don’t have one. I’m stopping at Aldi, though. Every day this week. I don’t know what this week’s food post is going to say, other than “arrrrrrrrgh.”
How can I convince my five-year-old that Trader Joe’s really does only sell his favorite “gingerbread mans” cookies at Christmas?
First go convince Alex Jones that Emma Gonzalez is the best thing that’s ever happened to this dang ol’ country, and then move on to your five-year-old. It will be a breeze in comparison.
Favorite saint and why?

Currently Francis De Sales. He always has something sensible and solid to say. He knows what kind of traps he lays for ourselves, and he takes that into account while constantly redirecting us to something better.

Favorite verse from Scripture and why?

John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Would you take a (nonordained) position in the Curia if offered it?
[quickly looks up “Curia.”] No way. Honestly, I’ve worked for some nightmarish bosses, but Pope Francis? Brrr.

Easter and other people

We made it to the Easter Vigil most years when I was little, often bundled in down jackets over our frilly Easter clothes.

We could just barely hear Fr. Stan‘s voice, muffled with age and with an aging sound system as he read the opening prayers. Then there was silence while we waited inside the church, twisted halfway around in our pews, wanting to follow the action outside but feeling so odd to turn our backs to the tabernacle. There would be swishing and clanking noises as the fire was prepared, and sometimes a whispered warning to the altar boys with their wide, flammable sleeves. Then more silence, and then . . .

Christ our light!” would come crackling from the twilight outside.

Then a kind of magic that made you forget your awkwardness: Here came the flame. First we could only see a few points of light in the dark, then a few dozen, then enough to make the dark stained glass flicker, and then only a few pews were left separating you and . . .

some guy with a Bic lighter. Every single damn year, one of our well-meaning brothers in Christ thought he could speed things up, make Easter a little more efficient. No sense standing around waiting for that one flame to make its way all the way ovah heah! Here ya go, yut, no problem.

It makes me laugh now, but it didn’t seem funny at the time. We wanted the real Easter flame, not the fake butane one! Here it comes, contaminating the entire church! Somebody do something!

Well. It’s surely not in the spirit of the risen Christ to get all snippy and say “No thanks” when someone offers you a little light in the darkness.

On the other hand, every other single damn day of the year is a day for substitutes, for good intentions, for not-the-point, for whatcha-gonna-do.  Surely we can get it right on Easter. Surely we have that much coming to us. What is more pure than the light of Christ? What is more simple and searing than a candle that divides itself but is not dimmed? When are we allowed to experience this loveliness except in the middle of the night in fragile, early spring, with the ground still trembling from the stone as it was rolled away?

And . . . what if there was more than one guy with a Bic out there, and we just didn’t know it?

I hope you’re not looking for a lesson here, because I don’t have one. We were way too tired to go to the vigil Mass this year. I spent most of Easter yelling at everyone I love the most, and I don’t even know why. I was sorry afterward, if that helps. I was even sorry during. Still, if I were all alone, without all these damn people, I’d get it right. I know I would. Would I rather be alone?

Christ plays in ten thousand places, better in the face of someone who just wanted to help than in someone who loves beauty and is enraged when she doesn’t get it. The idea that hell is other people made me laugh then, but it doesn’t seem funny now. To be alone, getting everything the way I want it: That is Hell.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember a single year when the Easter candle wasn’t adulterated with a helpful, dopey Bic lighter or two. Whatcha gonna do. Even though there never was even one time when we did it right, I still have it in my mind that there was something pure and holy there in that congregation, or else there wouldn’t have been anything to be spoiled.

We don’t want to miss His approach, but we don’t want to turn our backs to Him, so we plant our feet on the ground facing East, we twist at the knee, and we wait for someone else to get it right. And the Lord, too gracious to sigh at yet another night of missed-the-point, came to us without delay.

“Christ our light!” comes to us over an aging system. But it does come. Next time someone offers me a dumb little butane flame, I’ll try to accept it with thanks, in honor of the undimmable loveliness of the Lord. Because ten thousand places is so much better than none.


Photo: Steve Moses via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How to ruin Holy Week for your parents

This year, I had no trouble at all with Light Saber Sunday.
Normally, when you bring a bunch of kids to an extra-long Mass and give them each their very own blessed palm branch, that’s what you get:  furtive duels with blessed light sabers. Also blessed viking swords, blessed mustaches, blessed Harry Potter wands, blessed baby ticklers, blessed back scratchers, and blessed old-lady-in-front-of-us-neck-pokers, and of course blessed Wolverine knuckle blades.  At first you think your kid is miraculously giving the responses in ecclesiastical Latin — and then you realize he’s using the cover of the sign of peace to put a cutting curse on his little brother.  “Peace be with you!” – “Sectumsempra!”  No.
As I say, I managed to sidestep all that this year, with the simple method of having a three-year-old who really only visits the inside of the church as as courtesy. If by “courtesy” you mean she screams “I DON’T WANT JESUS!” loud enough to make the usher’s ears bleed, and then bolts out the door, to spend the rest of the hour eating grass and rolling around in the snow like a medieval pilgrim with an especially hardcore confessor.

But I’m pretty sure the rest of the little creeps were being palm branch Wolverine.

It’s far too late to change the culture of laxity and irreverent hooliganism in our family’s pew. But maybe at least I can get a little company in my misery? To that end, here are some tips, from my evil children to yours, about how to ruin this, the most holy time of the year.

Know your stuff . . . .until it counts.  You’ve probably spent the last several months doing some heavy-duty catechism, yes?  Your poor mother realizes that the sacraments aren’t going to prepare themselves, so you are actually getting regular religion lessons for once. You can reel off the corporal works of mercy without stopping for a breath. You can come up with the definition of imperfect contrition and transubstantiation and sanctifying grace without skipping a beat. You might even know that when the bell rings, you’re supposed to look at your bellybutton.

But just wait. Fr. Happy is going to ask the First Communion kids some questions, isn’t he? He’s going to wait until everyone’s quiet, and he’s going to demonstrate just how well-prepared the angelic tykes really are. He’ll go with something really basic, so as not to embarrass anyone.

“Who can tell me,” he will say, “Whoooooo can tell me . . .who made the world?”  And your kid will shoot up her hand like she’s volunteering for a tour of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And when the priest chooses her, she will proudly say, “Odin! From the dead body of Ymir the Frost Giant!” High fives, pagan.

Learn all the wrong lessons.  On Holy Thursday, our kids watch The Ten Commandments while I finish up the cooking for Passover, which we celebrate on Holy Saturday before making Easter eggs. Okay, fine, that is a tiny bit confusing even for kids who have grown up thinking chopped liver is a sacramental.

But still, some things seem really clear.  Like that scene in The Ten Commandments, where the Hebrew slaves are dragging those big old stone blocks around in the hot, hot Egyptian sun, and just sweating and suffering and just having the ever loving tar whipped out of them by Edward G. Robinson? That’s kind of a striking scene, right? So my son is watching this, complete enrapt, eyes as big as saucers, clearly moved to the core at this spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man.

And then he speaks. “Boy,” he says, “Ohh, boy. I wish I had a whip.”

Just go ahead and throw up. Why the heck not? You just got a haircut, you cleaned your ears for once, your nails are trimmed, and your mother is pinning all her hopes on getting one single, lousy family portrait. Just one, that’s all she asks. She is just going to flat out beg you to pretend, for the tiniest fraction of a second, to be a decent human being — one who is not crossing his eyes, nor licking his sister, nor screaming, nor clutching any unseemly part of his anatomy.  Just really quick, guys! Here, under the lilac tree! Scoot in so all those old tires aren’t in the shot! Sweetie, get your braids out of your mouth! Honey, you’re holding the baby in front of your face, I can’t see you! No no no, don’t put her down in the mud. Yes, perfect, that’s perfect, now hold it —

Let it go.

And that’s why Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto Me.” Because He was afraid their parents were gonna deck them in this, the holiest time of the year.


A version of this post first ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

RIP Fr. Stan Piwowar, a priest forever

After 57 years as a priest, Fr. Stan Piwowar has died. He was 92 years old.

He confirmed me, officiated at our wedding, baptized two of our children, and served his parish and his savior faithfully, day in and day out, as the pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Claremont, NH from 1965 to 2008.

I never met someone who cared less what people thought of him. In the summer (before he had air conditioning installed installed) he could celebrate Mass wearing his lightest vestments and a white terrycloth sweatband around his head.

You have to imagine a short, stout, Hobbit-like man, with bowed legs, thick glasses, and fantastically bushy eyebrows, with a permanent, benevolent smile on his lips and in his eyes. So every June or so, he would come stumping out of the sacristy with this terrycloth sweatband on his bald head.

“I’m not trying to look mod,” he would carefully explain every year. He just didn’t want the sweat from his head to get in his eyes. Then he would make the sign of the cross, and then we would know summer had officially started.

He had other quirks, acquired over decades and decades of saying the same things over and over again. The “Hail Mary” always came out “Blessed art thou th’amongst women,” for some reason; and the phrase “And now, my dear friends, we’re on page [whatever number]” made its way into the Mass so often, it felt like an established part of the liturgy. He wanted to make sure no one got left behind, so he always told his dear friends what page to go to.

He used to wink and wave and nod and grin at babies and children who made noise during the Mass. He could be reading the most bloody, heart-wrenching passage from Job or Jeremiah, and it was still time for a mid-sentence wink and a little wave from the pulpit.

As fairly new Catholics, my family was a tiny bit scandalized by this jolly informality. Surely he could wait until after Mass was over. Then we heard that, years ago, someone in his congregation had given a young mother a hard time about her fussy baby, and the woman left the church and didn’t come back. Fr. Stan then gave one of his almost unheard-of fire and brimstone sermons and charged his congregation never to let such a thing happen ever again. And to my knowledge, it never did.

If anything ever surprised him, he never showed it. I once turned up at the rectory in the middle of the night, hysterical with some teenage problem or other. I had been out walking in the dark, feeling worse and worse, and I found myself passing by the rose bushes that surrounded his front porch. There was a light on, so I pounded on the door and he let me in right away. Put me in a rocking chair, gave me some tissues, heard my confession, and gave me a “Footprints in the Sand” plaque.

And Tootsie Rolls. He handed them out to babies and grandmothers, mourners and wedding guests, in and out of season, through Lent, on the street, anywhere, any time. I used to think Fr. Stan got his Tootsie Rolls from the post office, where there was always a ready supply for customers. Turns out (or so I heard) that it was the other way around: They got their Tootsie Rolls from Father Stan. If someone told me that all the Tootsie Rolls in the world originally came from Fr. Stan, I’d believe it.

It was impossible to insult him. His parish was alway seemed to be running a financial surplus, because no one knew how to say no to him. He would hold annual appreciation banquets for volunteers. If you didn’t want to go, no problem; he’d present you with a gift certificate for a restaurant, so you could go have dinner on your own. And some more Tootsie Rolls.

It was impossible to correct him. He was so intensely loyal, and so intensely stubborn, as only a Pole can be, it was absolutely no use to tell him anything. Even the bishop left him alone, and he did what he liked. What he liked was serving the Church and serving Christ, but he did what he liked.

His sermons were usually basic catechesis. Sometimes, apparently suddenly realizing he had a captive audience, he would expand more than anyone was bargaining for. I remember one warm Sunday, he had already preached for about ten minutes, and then casually mentioned, “And now, my dear friends, we’ll just go through a brief synopsis of the Ten Commandments . . . ” And so he did, one by one. And we sat there, staring up at the dusty Polish crystal chandelier, squinting our eyes at heavily crowned statues and the faded mural of the death of St. Joseph, who, dying as he was, could see the light at the end of the tunnel, unlike us. But at least there would be Tootsie Rolls.

After Mass, he’d transition seamlessly into Benediction with Eucharistic adoration. He knew people would be less likely to slink away if he didn’t give them a chance, and he really wanted us to have a blessing, and so he’d say, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace AND NOW MY DEAR FRIENDS, we’ll have benediction, it’ll take only about five minutes!” and then he’d start briskly spooning incense into the censer.

He treated everyone exactly the same, with the same sincere geniality, the same implacable good will. It’s impossible to imagine him sucking up to anyone, talking down to anyone, trying to drive anyone away, or giving anyone special treatment.  He was utterly tireless, utterly reliable, always moving, always serving, always turning up where he was needed, nobody’s fool, always smiling and giving out blessings. And Tootsie Rolls.

Once, we accidentally called him “Uncle Stan.” But he was a Father to the core.

There was a banner on the wall in the sanctuary of St. Joseph’s. When I was little, I craned my neck to read it, wondering why it was hung in such an awkward spot. Finally I realized it wasn’t for the congregation: It was for the priest to see, as he made his way to the altar. It said, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

God rest the soul of Fr. Stan, a good and faithful servant, a happy man, a priest forever.

In which we suddenly become a juvenile diabetes family

Yesterday, we took our ten-year-old to the ER because she couldn’t stop throwing up. Within a few hours, they diagnosed her with type 1 diabetes. That night, they transported her to a bigger hospital and hour away (the same one where my dad had his bypass surgery recently), and that’s where we are now.

She is okay, thanks be to God. It is a good hospital. Things are going to change for our family. I know almost nothing about diabetes, so now we start to learn. She is resting now, and we are waiting to meet with a team of doctors at some point this morning. Got very little sleep last night, and Damien and several of the other kids have a bad stomach bug, SO THAT’S GOOD.

We ask for your prayers to get through the next few days and whatever comes next. From today’s Magnificat reading for the Feast of St. Joseph:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

So raise a glass of spite, boys!

As we all know, drinking yourself stupid is no way to honor St. Patrick. Also, it’s offensive to actual Irish people when Americans perpetuate the stereotype of heavy drinking as characteristic of this noble people who happen to be heavy drinkers.

And green beer is for losers. Do not drink green beer. Beer is not green, begorrah. Beer is not green.

Isn’t it time that we, as a sensitive and responsive people, find some way to recalibrate our alcohol consumption so that nobody’s widdle feelings get hurt? Begorrah?

Here’s what I propose: don’t drink because it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Drink despite St. Patrick’s day.  What, you don’t have any other reason to get a medium-sized load on, assuming you can find a glass that your lousy kids haven’t filled with sand and glue and left in the driveway?

1. Drink because it’s almost spring. Hooray, spring! Have a drink. What other reasons? Let’s see . . .

2. Even though you’re not Irish, your teeth are like that because of heredity, and you’re doomed to carry flossers around in your purse, to become intimately familiar with that faded oil painting of irises on the oral surgeon’s wall, and to occasionally experience the disquieting sensation of tiny shards of bone working their way through the wall of your gum. Yes, that would be pieces of your skull coming out of your mouth. That seems fine. Have a drink.  It’s a kind of oral care.

3. You keep finding what looks like a really perfect college for your kids, and then it keeps turning out they’re yet another one of those “please let us know if your roommate isn’t following the underwear folding guidelines. You know, for her soul” colleges. Bottoms up.

4. 43 years old; still don’t know how to use eyeliner. Glug glug.

5. They’re going to clone a T-rex, I guess. Honest to goodness, I feel like death by imprudently reconstituted savage dinosaur is the best kind of future we can hope for right now. Cheers!

6. I guess we’re still talking about thigh gap, still? (I unlinked the link because of bad effing language, but really, all you need to know is that they’re still talking about thigh gap, still.)

7. A Michigan candidate for US Senate has proposed arming homeless people with pump-action shotguns in an effort to reduce crime.

Maybe he’s making a statement? Or maybe he’s just a libertarian. O dinosaurs, do not delay.

8. Begorrah, I got up at 4 a.m. because my head was killing me, and then right before it was time to get up, I threw up for no reason. No, I’m not pregnant.  I just thought about what kind of day it was going to be, and throwing up felt right. And now I need to start boiling the traditional repulsive slab of red fat strings, in honor of St. Patrick. First person to play Clancy Brothers at me is going to get a wedge of hot cabbage served up in the worst way.

9. You know what, the Clancy Brothers deserve their own number. Those sweaters. Gevalt.

10. I don’t mean to be a hideous racist or whatever, but having married into a supremely Irish family, it occurs to me that doing something just to spite someone else, whether it’s drinking or not drinking or taking a breath, is probably the most Irish thing you can possibly do. Unless maybe it’s doing something you do enjoy doing, but pretending you don’t enjoy it and that you’re doing it just to spite someone else, because that’s not crazy at all, you crazy Irish person.

So I’ll leave you to sort that one out. I’ll be over by the bar, by which I mean the driveway, digging glue out of my glass. These fragments I have shored against my ruins. Shantih, shantih, shantih and have I mentioned, begorrah.

A version of this post originally ran at Aleteia, if you can believe it, in 2016.
Image: William Murphy via Flickr (Creative Commons)