TOPIC CHANGE: Remember the Pants Pass?

A long, long time ago, back when we were young and dewey, and ultra conservatives were still blackballing me for being a toxic radical castrating feminist, rather than friending me like crazy as the freshest incarnation of Catherine of Siena, I made a thing called a Pants Pass.

It’s weird. I know. Let me sum up: This mediumish name in the Catholic world put out a weird little message (“not a hard-and-fast directive!)” listing 14 reasons why women ought to wear skirts and dresses allatime. Oh yes, it’s still online. Bunch of Catholic women unanimously declared it bullshit, and to that chorus I added my Panstifesto.

There was a strenuous backlash among the Assholio Community, and so I felt compelled to fisk the not-a-directive in more detail. Here’s the salient part, which led to the creation of The Pants Pass. The sola skirtura guy had said:

[Wear skirts] for us, the minority of chaste men who merit the gift of enjoying your beauty in such a way as to be grateful to your creator without temptation. Make it so it is good for men to look upon you, rather than requiring us to look away (which is a tragedy).

“Merit?”  “Make it so it is good?”  I’ll translate this for you:

I don’t cheat on my wife, and that’s really hard, so I’m entitled to some compensation.  So line up, girls, and show me something special.  Neutrally modest isn’t good enough — I deserve something niiiiiiiice.

Oh, you sound just like Padre Pio; really you do!

Several other men in various comboxes expressed a similar idea of their right, as a virtuous man, to enjoy all women in a virtuous way.  They’re not satisfied with cracking down on their own wives — they feel that they’ve won the privilege of savoring and setting the standards for everyone else’s wife, too.

A few guys said that they could tell by the way I talk that I’m a disobedient wife.  How can they tell?  Because their wives wear skirts.  I usually don’t.  Therefore I must be disobeying my husband.

Never mind that my husband likes me in pants.  Which I mentioned.  So I guess they’re saying . . . that I should be obeying them?

Luckily for me, I have a husband who is just dying for someone to say something like that, so he can punch their lights out.  He recently quit smoking, and is looking for someone to punch.

But, ladies, what if your husband likes you in pants, but you happen to leave the house without him?  What if you’re doing some errands, you’re wearing pants, and some pigeon-toed guy with a scaly neck sidles up and confronts you for revealing the fact that you have legs — two of ‘em?

He scowls through his horrible beard and, once he gains control of the self-righteous quivering that shakes him from head to toe, he speaks:  “WHERE IS THY SKIRT, WOMAN?  WHY HAST THOU APPEARED AT WALMART IN THESE DETESTABLE PANTALOONS?  DOST THOU NOT RESPECT THY HUSBAND’S WISHES?”

Here’s what you do:  print out the following card, laminate it, and show it to the guy.

While he’s mentally translating it into Latin so it makes sense to him, you will be able to make a speedy getaway.  And since you’re wearing dem pants, you’ll do it without showing any skin!  Run, ladies, run!

Okay! So now we’re all caught up.

The reason I’m bringing this up now is because (a) aren’t we all looking for something, anything to talk about, other than The Thing? And more importantly, (b)  my dear friend Elisa of Door Number Nine has actually made and actually laminated some actual Pants Passes, which you can actually buy. $2.75 a pop, and worth every penny, I say.

And because she is who she is, she made up this little video, just to . . . well, I don’t know why.

You guys. That was eight years ago. Remember when the Catholic internet was torn apart by a battle over pants? I shall sigh forever.

The Weight of Bells

It is an honor to be there, inside the church, under the steeple. But not all honors are easy to bear.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Maxpixel (Public Domain)

Marriage advice that’s great . . . for toddlers

Ah, June, when the internet is awash with advice about marriage — most of it lousy.

Either it assumes that men and women are puppets in a simple story, rather than complex human beings who are learning how to love each other; or else it applies to some marriages but by no means all; or else it’s really good advice . . . for parents dealing with toddlers.

Here are a few bits of marriage advice that work great for a toddler-parent relationship, but is awful advice for a marriage:

Never go to bed angry.

For little kids, sure. I believe in soft landings at bedtime. No child learns lessons when he’s exhausted — and most parents don’t teach good lessons when they’re exhausted, either. Bedtime is time for a hug and as much affirmation as you can muster. If your kid has been a louse all day long, bedtime is still time to say, “I love you,” and maybe remind yourself that your kids isn’t always an irrational demon. Tomorrow you really can start again.

But marriages are more complex. If you suffered a minor annoyance before bed, then yes, you can decide, “Meh, I’ll shake this off and give my love a kiss, because the major good in our marriage overrides the minor bad.” Sometimes the reason you’re angry is because it’s time to go to bed, and a good night’s sleep will set everything to rights.

But if there’s something actually worth being angry about, you’re not going to work through it after a long day when you’re both exhausted and not thinking clearly.

Most marriages go through rough spells, and going to bed angry isn’t the end of the world. Sometimes, spouses will wake up in the morning, feel rested, and decide to apologize, or at least they feel more ready to address the problem in a constructive, loving way.

Or sometimes they will realize, “I’ve been angry for twelve years, and I don’t want to live like this anymore. Time to make some changes.” This can’t happen if you paste on a contented smile just because you now have pajamas on.

Just open up and express what’s bothering you if you want things to change.

For little guys? Oh lort, just tell me what is wrong and I will fix it. Or if I can’t fix it, I will read you Frog and Toad so you forget about it.  Here, have a bit of chocolate from my secret stash. I’m glad you told me what is wrong. I would be upset, too. I love you.

It’s not that simple between spouses, though. Oh, don’t suffer endlessly in silence. No one, husband or wife, should offer themselves up as an open sewer for whatever the other spouse wants to dump.

But it’s also not useful to allow an endless stream of complaint to flow from your lips. Listen to yourself. Do most of your words reflect the true nature of your experience of your marriage? Or are you super devoted to being “honest and open” when it comes to the bad, but suddenly stoic and self-contained when it comes to the good?

Expressing anger and frustration day in and day out is more likely to shut down communication than to open it, whether your unhappiness is justified or not. One of the reasons I finally started seeing a therapist was because I didn’t know how to tell the difference between big problems and little problems, and even when I could tell, I didn’t know how to adjust my response accordingly.

Being honest isn’t the same as opening the floodgates. Honesty is also about discernment. It’s less stream-of-consciousness blather and more poetry, in which words and ideas are carefully chosen and balanced to express something true.

Also, some bad spouses just don’t care. You may be doing your level best to express, in as truthful and balanced a way as possible, that your marriage has serious problems, and it may just not work. Communication is vital in marriage, but it’s not magic. It’s only useful when both spouses are willing to listen and willing to make changes.

Just submit to the head of the household and all will be well.

In most toddler-parent relationships? Absolutely. Dear child rolling around on the floor like a maniac, I am bigger and smarter, and I am in charge of you. Just obey. Put clothes on, because it is snowing. Do not put your head in the dentist’s aquarium. Forever forsake the idea of eating that lightbulb, ya little dummy. Submit, and all will be well.

But in most marriages, this crap advice leads to unhappiness, resentment, and even abuse — and it often expands to abuse of children, too, which the wife feels unable to stop, or unwilling to acknowledge. Unquestioning submission lets insecure, immature, un-self-controlled men to treat their families like garbage in the name of godliness, which is just as bad for men as it is for women and children.

Couples who obsess about wives obeying husbands tend to gloss over the extraordinarily heavier burden God lays on men, which is to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (and no, not even St. Paul says that men have to do their part after women do their part, but if she’s being a lippy dame, you are off the hook, being-Christ-wise.)

In loving, functional relationships, it’s not even on the radar, because husband and wife will both be focused on working out what’s best for the family and best for each other, rather than on who’s obeying whom.

Unpopular opinion: Wifely obedience is occasionally useful in loving relationships in times of some forms of extreme crisis. It’s like when the government declares a state of emergency and suspends habeas corpus. It’s not a long-term plan; it’s to get the union through until things can function the way they’re supposed to again; and it’s only a good idea if the leader isn’t a tyrant.

And then there are other forms of extreme crisis that call for the wife not to submit, but instead to extricate herself, at least temporarily, from the idea that she’s in a marriage. When the husband is being abusive or otherwise dangerous, obedience would be wrong; and she is required to simply protect herself and her children.

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Next time you hear some bit of marriage advice that’s popular but rubs you the wrong way, maybe this is the problem: It’s good advice for a parent-child relationship, but completely inappropriate for a marriage between equals who love each other.

What would you add to my list?

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Image: Kewpie bride and groom on Ebay

The lady of Medjugorje is not your mother

In the Gospels, she says, “Do whatever He tells you.” In Medjugorje, she snickers and says, “You do you.”

Forty-seven thousand times.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Does God get off on seeing us suffer?

A Facebook friend posted this status:

Rule of thumb: Use NFP as often as you must forgo Sunday Mass.

His point was this: Just as we have to have serious reasons to miss Sunday Mass without sinning, we should have serious reasons to postpone pregnancy.

First, the obligatory clarification: When he said “use NFP,” he meant “use NFP to avoid pregnancy.” In fact, infertile couples trying to get pregnant may also “use NFP,” and even abstinent women use may “use NFP” to diagnose and treat a whole host of health issues.

That being said, the statement he made is technically true, but disastrously misleading. Here’s what I mean:

We have an obligation to go to Mass on Sundays unless there’s a serious reason not to do so. The catechism says:

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

We go because we are obligated to go; and we are obligated to go because it’s good for us to be there. Okay.

But some people believe that you must be at death’s door before you’d even consider foregoing Mass, and it never occurs to them that it’s selfish and wrong to drag your germy, spluttering, sneezing, infectious self into a building full of babies and old people. You shouldn’t skip Mass because you have a slight headache or you’re not in the mood; but you shouldn’t force yourself to go to Mass if your physical presence would be bad for other people. Some of your fellow parishioners are medically fragile, but, unlike you with your flu, they won’t be stronger next week. For their sake, out of respect for their desire to be at Mass, you need to consider staying home for now. If you make a decision in good faith to stay home, then you are not sinning by skipping Mass, even if you could physically survive the hour.

In the same way, choosing to forgo conception is not just about your personal willingness to suffer. You have to take other people’s legitimate needs into account. You may be willing to have another baby now, but is it just and fair to the rest of the people you’re responsible for? If one of your other kids in in crisis and needs attention badly, is there anything holy about deliberately becoming barely functional for several months? Can you ask your already-overburdened husband to unwillingly take up even more slack, and call that “being one flesh?” Or can you ask your already-exhausted wife to unwillingly do even more than she’s already doing, but somehow call it “generosity?”

Sometimes selfishness masquerades as piety. I’m not afraid to suffer! Well, that’s nice for you, but what about the suffering you’re causing to other people as you pat yourself on the back for your selfless heroism?  You don’t live alone in a hermit’s cell. Your choices affect other people, and you’re not allowed to ignore them because it strokes your spiritual pride. You’re not entitled to be generous with other people’s lives. You can ask them to be adaptable (and oftentimes, that’s all that another baby requires: adaptability); but their lives are not yours to sacrifice.

So that’s the first complication to what seems like a tidy little aphorism. It’s true that we need a serious or just reason to postpone pregnancy or to skip Mass, but those reasons are not all about us.

The second problem is that the “Try harder! Suffer more! Lemme see you sweat!” approach has to do with how we perceive God, and goes beyond NFP. The “agony = holiness” approach assumes that God is only truly pleased when we’re in horrible pain all the time, and the only way to tell if we’re following God is if we’re falling apart. If life is tolerable, we must be doing something wrong.

This is, if anything, worse than the first problem. The first problem shows that we don’t have sufficient love for other people. The second problem shows we don’t have sufficient love for God.

The second problem, the “agony = holiness” approach, portrays God as barking, sadistic drill sergeant of a deity, hellbent on whipping us into shape by smacking us down the minute we blink like the sniveling, puling weaklings we are.

God.
Is.
Not.
Like.
That.

He doesn’t despise us. He’s not out to get us. He’s not itching to see us squirm between the screws of the torture device He calls “morality.” I understand that the 21st century is not chock full of Catholics who are too strict with themselves, but neither is it chock full of Catholics who truly look to Christ as the source of love and solace in our sorrow.

God is not a sadist. God doesn’t relish watching us torment ourselves. He sometimes lets us fall into suffering — and make no mistake, pregnancy, or going to Mass, can be a form of suffering!  But when we do fall into dark times, He jumps down into that pit with us, to help us dig our way out, to help us become stronger, and to keep us company while we’re there. He doesn’t stand at the edge looking down, jeering and cheering as we writhe in pain below. He is the Lamb who was slain, not the drill sergeant who gets off on pain.

We must be willing to suffer, but we’re not required to seek suffering out. We’re not required to constantly ratchet up our own pain. 

We are required to seek love out. We are required to constantly ratchet up our desire to see God in everyone and everything.

And guess what? Sometimes God looks like joy. Sometimes God looks like peace. Sometimes God looks like prudence. Sometimes God even looks like contentment.

So be obedient, pray often, and seek God and His love in obedience, rather than focusing on the rules themselves. If God is giving you a way to take care of yourself and take care of others, whether that’s making a spiritual communion while drinking tea at home, or whether that’s looking prayerfully at your family and thanking God for the size it is right now, then you are pleasing the Father who loves you.

Reassess your decisions as necessary. But don’t assume that the thing that appeals to you must automatically disappoint God. Obedience doesn’t always bring agony. Sometimes it brings relief. Be content to be loved.

Why it’s okay to say I “have” to go to Mass today

This morning, I was stunned — stunned, I tell you! — to realize that this Saturday is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is always a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States, even if it falls on a Saturday or a Monday. So yes, we have an obligation to go to Mass twice this weekend.

“Obligation.” American Catholics get a little itchy around that word. As someone inevitably points out, we don’t have to go to Mass; we get to go to Mass.  It shouldn’t feel like an obligation to go to Mass, anymore than it’s an obligation to eat a delicious feast.  If we truly understood what was happening at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we’d be breaking down the door to get inside, and not hoping we get let off the hook.  Maybe, someone always says, we should call them “Holy Days of Opportunity.” Why, there are seminarians in Nigeria who live inside abandoned detergent bottles, and every one of them would walk eleven miles on his knees to get to Mass on a Holy Day, or any day.  Tell them about the weight of your “obligation.” Tell them what you “have” to do.

Hard to argue with that.  And yet people who say these things are glossing over something central to our existence as children of God:  the sweetness of obedience for the sake of obedience.

It would be wonderful if we simply always wanted to go to Mass.  It would be Heaven on earth if we enjoyed doing all the things we ought to do.  And sometimes it really does work out that way.  As we increase in holiness, our desires become more and more aligned with God’s desires, and there is less and less of a struggle between what we want to do and what we ought to do.

But knowing how you ought to be is not the same as being that way. The Church gives us obligations because she knows we need them.  This is an idea which sets the Church apart from so many other religions:  the much-derided “rules and regulations” that the Church lovingly imposes show that the Church understands human nature.  If we were only ever invited or encouraged, we’d hardly ever turn up.  I’d like to think I’m different, but I know I’m not.

And so we have our obligations:  go to Mass, confess your mortal sins, fast and abstain, and so on.  These obligations are in place because they confer grace to us.  They force us to do the things that are good for us.

But the obligations are there for another reason, too:  they give us a chance to obey.  We obey even if we’re crabby, we obey even if we have a headache, we obey even if we feel tired or bored, or if we feel guilty or unworthy.  We obey, in short, because we know who we are:  we are children of God.  We are under His protection, and that means we’re also under His authority.  What an uncomfortable concept for the 21st century American!  I do what I’m told, because that’s my job — it’s who I am.  Obedience for the sake of obedience acknowledges our imperfect natures, and God receives this obedience joyfully.

If obedience for the sake of obedience seems shabby and pathetic to you, think of it this way:  Sometimes, I delight in shopping for nutritious food, in preparing it in a delectable and attractive way, and in watching my children happily nourishing themselves.  It would feel odd to say I’m feeding them because I’m “obligated” to.  I want to!  I like it!  And that’s how it should be.

But sometimes, when dinner time rolls around, I’d rather just grab a bottle of wine and go hide in my room.  But I gotta give them dinner, and I’m really glad I totally understand that it’s my obligation to do so.  Now, it would be great if I always had that marvelous feeling of satisfaction and delight when feeding my kids.  But I suspect I’m working more time off purgatory when I feel nothing of the kind, but I do it anyway.  This is what motherhood means:  sometimes being the one who delights in working for your kids, and sometimes being the one who works for kids despite a complete absence of delight.  I know I’m a mother, so this is what I do.

It used to be that high born people were bound by a sense of noblesse oblige.  Because of their social rank, they felt themselves obligated to behave honorably and responsibility.  You could say that modern Catholics ought to cultivate a sense of “humblesse oblige” – the notion that we are obligated to obey because we’re sinners, because we’re fallen, because we’re children.  We obey because God is God, because the Church is the Church . . . and because it doesn’t matter if we’re delighted about it or not.  We obey because we willingly gave ourselves over to obedience to God the Father and to the Church, our Mother.

I’m grateful for the obligations the Church imposes.  And deep down, I wish she would impose more, because I’m lazy.  I’d like to see some Holy Days of Obligation moved back to weekdays, and I know that the small trials I endure would be more fruitful if my sacrifices weren’t optional.

All the same, it’s a good idea to remember that I obey, it’s because the thing I’m doing is good for me . . . but also because obeying itself is good for me.  Obedience for the sake of obedience isn’t everything, but it isn’t nothing, either.  At least it reminds me of who I am.  Humblesse oblige!

My Aleteia piece on the suffering faithful…

gesu crucifix

 

 

is spotlighted today:

The Church is full of the obedient wounded. The flock who never strayed have troubles of their own, and some of these troubles come directly from original sin, the effects of which no doctrinal development, pastoral compassion, or rigorously trained professional can completely undo.

Poor family, they need to hear that their sorrows are known to God and to the Church. That the cross still hangs there above the altar because it must be faced, sooner or later, even when we’re inside the walls of the Church. Sacramental marriage is not a safe, cozy nest where no predators can find us. Every marriage includes some element of the cross.

Read the rest at Aleteia.

By the way, have you seen Aleteia lately? It’s gorgeous. They’ve revamped their whole site, and Elizabeth Scalia is bringing on lots of great writers.

Also, I’ve received tons of mail in response to the open letter to the Synod Fathers from Monica More that I posted last week (Married to an Angry Man). I am grateful that so many people took the time to offer responses and help. Please be patient while I work on responding.

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Does it matter if Medjugorje is real or not?

Maryja_02

I would say that Mary, my mother in heaven who knows me and loves me, would not be happy to see her children duped into following around a sock puppet that looks like her, even if it makes them say the rosary and go to Mass more often. I would say that, as the eternal queen of Heaven and earth, Mary can work to convert the hearts of sinners without the help of a tour guide agency.  I would say that no one should dare muscle past my Holy Mother and say, “Looks like you need some help with these pesky kids, little lady. You sit back, and I’ll put on a really convincing show, and we’ll have them peaceful and docile in no time!” I would say that no one must dare to lie to Mary’s children, especially in her name. There are some things you don’t mess around with.

Read the rest at the Register.

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“Well, excuse me if I care more about innocent babies than criminals!”

st peter square

Catholics who are in dissent from the Church  – those who reject Church teaching on contraception, or male priesthood, or whatever — often say that the Church is right about everything else, but regrettably wrong about this one issue.

And those of us who are not in dissent respond incredulously, “How could that be? How could the Church be right about the resurrection, and transubstantiation, and eternal life, but wrong about this one issue? How do you even swallow that idea?”

But it’s just as senseless to say, “I care so deeply about this one important moral issue that I refuse to even acknowledge that there are other important moral issues.” And yet this is exactly what we’re hearing in the wake of the four paper’s joint editorial condemning the death penalty in the U.S.  The comboxes are pretty much wall-to-wall reiterations of this argument: “Death penalty for criminals? Who cares? What I care about as a Catholic is ending the slaughter of the innocent unborn!”

This attitude displays a deep and disastrous misunderstanding of the consistency and interconnectedness of Church doctrine. The Church is consistent. Utterly consistent. All of her teachings spring from a unified understanding of what God is like and what human life is for.

So if we are going to pish-tush at some teaching of the Church — like the teaching that the death penalty is only to be used as a last resort when there is no other way of keeping society safe* — calling it “marginal” or “liberal,” or saying that we just can’t get ourselves to care about it? Then we are very close to being in dissent. At very least, we have what I might call a “dissenting mentality”: pretending to submit to the guidance of the Church, but actually only adhering to and defending the doctrines which appeal to us, while ignoring, scorning, or even openly defying the ones which we don’t like.

[the following paragraph added at 11 eastern for clarity:] I’m not talking about people who truly believe that the death penalty is, in some cases, the only way to keep society safe. I believe they are wrong, and that in this country, in this century, there is no compelling reason to execute any prisoner. But who I’m talking about is people who openly reject what the Catechism teaches:  who say, “The hell with that. Blood demands blood. Some people are just scum of the earth, and justice demands that we wipe them clean.”

If some doctrine makes us uneasy, and we admit that we don’t like it or understand it? No problem! That’s just being honest, and we all have some catching up to do. So pray, pray, pray, turn it constantly over to God, beg for understanding and the grace to submit, and have passionate arguments with people you respect. That’s fine. God never commands us to be instantly calm and happy about All the Catholic Things.

But for your own soul’s sake, if you have reservations or doubts, don’t be flippant or nasty about them, or, God forbid, proud of them.  Belligerently parading around with a “dissenting mentality” is like going to a friend’s house, greeting the host nicely, displaying perfect manners during dinner, — and then going to the bathroom and crapping all over the floor.  And then writing a gracious thank-you note for a lovely evening.

Guess what? It’s all one house. If you want to be a good guest, you have to behave yourself in every room.

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*2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68

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Obedience Gives Us Jesus

Icon_of_jesus_baptism

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

Why tell us that Jesus is the Son of God as soon as He does the one thing that the Son of God doesn’t really need to do? What does this tell us?

Read the rest at the Register.