Give up your pride. Only God saves.

The central problem the fellow was grappling with wasn’t lust, it was pride. There’s no such thing as protecting your wife by sinning. The only way out of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum is to take yourself out of the center altogether, to admit defeat, to seek personal repentance, and to let God work out how to bring salvation out of that humility. The fellow couldn’t make any progress with his sexual compulsions because he was trying very hard to make sure he was still in charge — not only of his own behavior and his own soul, but his wife’s soul, as well.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.
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Image: Daniel R. Blume via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Stealing is stealing, even when it’s digital

It’s time for a little review: Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong. Even when the thing you stole is digital.

I’ve had online material copied and distributed without permission and plagiarized many times. You know: stolen. Many of my creative friends have had their work stolen, too. That doesn’t surprise me. The amazing part is how hard it is to convince people it’s wrong.

The argument seems to be: What difference could it possibly make? It’s just . . . particles of ether, or something. It’s not like stealing something real!

But whether the stolen item is physical or digital, it always makes a difference in the soul of the person doing the stealing. Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong. And more often than you may realize, it makes a difference to the creator, and to the rest of the world, too.

I’ll beat you to the punch: here’s a hilarious spoof commercial covering this very topic:

Note that “But they made a joke about it on British TV!” is not an actual moral defense.

Here are a few of the arguments defending stealing that I’ve heard from people who ought to know better:

No, I didn’t pay you when I used your stuff, but I have a huge platform! You should be grateful for the exposure.

No, people die of exposure. People are grateful for being paid for their work. (They shouldn’t be grateful; they should just accept it as just. But most creative people will tell you, it makes us all misty-eyed when someone willingly pays us what our work is actually worth.)

No one expects construction workers or IT guys or landlords to turn over their goods or services in exchange for exposure, so there’s no reason writers, photographers, graphic designers, or musicians should do it. Or maybe they will! It’s possible. But it’s their choice to decide whether it’s a good trade. Not yours. Just like the goods and services are theirs, not yours.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But I used your work to spread the word of God! Why would you even think of charging for such a thing? Isn’t that simony or something?

No, it’s the laborer being worthy of his wages. Because even Catholics doing work for Catholics have to eat. They can choose to volunteer, but they are not required to volunteer, and it may not be possible for them to volunteer (See above: Catholics have to eat).

Imagine a world where everything Catholic is done by volunteers. Good stuff, right? You want the official catechism to be written up by the nice lady who sets out the donuts at the 10:15 Mass, yes? And you’d like for your pastor’s vestments to be sewn by the third grade catechism class as their service project. Eh? These things are important, and you’d rather have them done by skilled professionals? Then you’ll want to find someone who’s devoted years and years to honing their craft. And to occasionally eating.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But it’s not an actual, physical thing. It’s not like there’s less of it in the world, once I’ve downloaded my copy.

Every time you take something that’s not yours to take, and you don’t pay for it, two things happen:

One is that you sin. I know I keep saying it, but it’s true, and important.

Second is that you make things that much harder for people who have very small businesses or who are just starting out. When we allow ourselves and our children to feel entitled to free stuff, it puts newbies straight out of business. We should be grateful if something is free, but never angry our outraged when something actually costs money. With that attitude, there really will be less of everything in the world, because the little guys won’t be able to afford to produce anything.

I had no idea it was illegal or immoral. It’s just so easy to grab things that are online.

Plausible. But now you do know, so cut it out.

It can be complicated. The laws in place are not always obvious or even consistent. When in doubt, ask. Ask the person whose work it is, ask someone who has experience using intellectual property, ask a lawyer friend. But don’t just assume that anything you can download is free.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

 

But I took the watermark off before I used it, so. 

Are you freaking kidding me? How’s this: “But I cut the security tag off, so this leather jacket is now mine.”

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But I’d never be able to afford the price she’s charging.

That is so sad! But you could say the same about a Mediterranean vacation, an ivy league education, or a lovely lobster dinner. If a thing costs money, and you don’t have the money, then you probably can’t have the thing. You can ask the seller if he’d like to donate it, or you can ask other people to give you money to buy it, or you can find some way of raising the money to buy it. But you can’t just take the thing.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

I’d never steal from small business owners or artisans. But this is a huge business, and they’ll never even feel it.

When you steal from a giant corporation, it’s almost certainly true that the CEO won’t feel it. Instead, his employees earning minimum wage will feel it. And your fellow consumers will feel it. So that’s who you’re sticking it to. Classy!

Here’s the thing, especially in entertainment: If I download a pirated movie instead of renting or buying, it won’t make a difference to the CEO of Warner Bros. He doesn’t need a crumb of my $11.99, and neither does the billionaire movie star. But the gal who wrote the script, and the guy who did the walk-on part, and a bunch of other people whose names zip by in the credits? They probably don’t have 9-5 jobs, and they really do need every crumb. They may very well be getting through dry spells by living off royalties and residuals from past work. But if everyone is watching a pirated version of the movie they helped make, they can’t live.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

Anyway, this company supports gay marriage, while I’m here raising a Godly family [or: Anyway, this company opposes gay marriage, while I’m here raising a tolerant family.] This is my little way of sticking it to the man.

Even if it did hurt the bigwigs to steal from their corporation, we’re still not permitted to return evil for evil, and we’re not permitted to do evil so that good may come of it. A CEO who allows his corporation to do evil is responsible for the evil he has done. An individual consumer who does evil is responsible for the evil he has done. You’re not scoring points for your side by stealing from someone you consider evil. You’re just putting more evil into the world.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

It’s not really stealing to violate the terms and conditions I agreed to, because it’s just legal mumbo jumbo, and who reads that stuff? If they really wanted to restrict how I use this, they should have locked it down better.

So you really want to live in a world where your word means nothing, and only brute force is binding? Remember this next time you sign a contract to buy a car, and you make your payments on time, but the dealership owns a very big tow truck, so they go ahead and get their car back. Because if you really wanted to keep it, you should have locked it down better.

The fourth commandment requires us to abide by just laws, even if those just laws are written in teeny tiny script that you didn’t feel like reading before you agreed.

To sum up:
Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

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Image: A fellow who just wasn’t grateful for all the exposure he got. Photo By Joadl (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I forget I’m a Christian.

We went to confession on Saturday. I popped in with my five-year-old, thinking partly about the gallons of ice cream melting in the car, partly about the colors they chose to repaint the narthex, and partly about how soon I’d need to get home in order to get lasagna baked before it was too late in the evening, Oh, and I thought about my sins.

I Willard Mitt* that I silently groaned when I saw which priest was suiting up for the confessional. There’s nothing wrong with him; I just don’t like him, and sometimes I feel like he misunderstands what I confess (although believe me, it’s not complicated or interesting). I brusquely reminded myself that, whichever man heard my confession, it was Jesus’ presence that counted. Hoop de doo, off we go.

So I bleated out my lame, cruddy little list, which was more or less the same as the lame, cruddy list I bleated out the last eleven times I went (including two weeks ago. The exact. Same. List). When the priest spoke, he said something I’ve strangely never heard before. He told me to pray to the Father to help me realize when I’m about to sin, so I can pray for help to resist.

I don’t know if it was just his advice of the day, or if he meant it specifically for me, but Christ definitely meant it specifically for me.

The other day, shaking my head in disgust and amazement, I told my husband, “Sometimes I forget I’m a christian!” And it’s true. It’s not that I do a bad job; I just plain forget. I say my prayers in the morning, and then the first challenge that comes up, I buckle like a damp saltine. It doesn’t even occur to me to put up a fight; and it’s only later, as I go to bed, that I realize how badly I lost the battle. I lost because I didn’t even realize there was a battle.

What a very excellent reminder (and, to my thinking, yet another form of Catholic mindfulness) that priest gave me: Ask God to help you notice the choice. Do I choose to be a christian right now, in this very second, or do I choose not to be? Because there is a choice, whether I acknowledge one or not. Hell doesn’t care if you run in with eyes open or slide in half asleep, as long as you pass over that threshold.

Scrupulous people don’t need this advice; but most of us are not scrupulous. Most of us need a reminder to open our eyes.

*this is a joke with no point at all.

Is Vatican II to blame for the sex abuse scandal?

The Catholic Herald UK reports

Mgr Peter Smith, former chancellor of Glasgow archdiocese, said the Church accepted conventional wisdom of the 1970s that it was “better to repair the [abuser], to fix them or to redeem them”, than punish them. In that era priests accused of abuse could be sent for therapy rather than face criminal charges.

The paper is reporting Mgr Smith’s words with the strong insinuation that Vatican II is to blame for the scandal. I’m not sure if that’s what he really meant, or if his comments might be taken out of context. But I have most certainly heard other Catholics say outright that we can pin the sex abuse scandal on the laxness, the sloppiness, and the psychological sentimentality of the 70’s and Vatican II’s implementation. Vatican II, at least the way it played out in many places, was all about letting go of mean old rules and regulations, and doing what felt good, they argue. Of course we had abusers.

But they are forgetting one thing: Almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970. They weren’t formed in feel-good Vatican II seminaries. These were old school guys. They are the ones who were molesting kids, and their world was the world that allowed it to happen.

The sex abuse scandal has three components:

1. Priests abusing kids;
2. The Church knowing about it, and letting it continue; and
3. Various people either not believing kids or parents who reported abuse, or being too in awe of priests to do anything about it, or blaming the kids for the abuse.

This third one has absolutely zero to do with any touchy-feely spirit of Vatican II, and everything to do with what Vatican II set out to change in the Church, because it needed changing.

Priests did not suddenly begin to abuse kids in the early 70’s (although the reports of alleged abuse peaked then; which is not to say that there was necessarily more abuse, but only that more people reported it). Many of the victims who came forward to report childhood abuse, after the Boston Globe‘s work started to gather steam, were children in the 1950’s. At that time, it was unthinkable to criticize a priest, unthinkable to believe that Father could do wrong, unthinkable to go over a priest’s head. There simply wasn’t any precedent for doing such a thing, other than, like, Martin Luther.

Sex abuse by clergy wasn’t a problem of loosey-goosey, post-sexual-revolutionary perverts infiltrating an institution that had heretofore been utterly chaste and holy. This was a problem of a horrible marriage between two deadly trends in the Church and in the country as a whole: the nascent sexual perversions that pervaded 1950’s American culture, and the institutional perverted understanding of authority and respect.

Where do you suppose the sexual revolution came from? Out of nowhere? It never could have happened if things weren’t already rotten underground; and it was just as true in the Church as it was everywhere else in the country. It’s a lie that things were wholesome and pure in the 50’s. But that grotesque artifice of happy, shiny exteriors worked exceedingly well together with the “Father knows best,” mentality. If Doris Day had to smile and have perfect hair no matter what, good Catholic families had to be respectful and obedient to their pastor no matter what. There was no room for going off script, even when lives were at stake.

Children who were molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who knew their kids were being molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who reported abuse were not believed, because it was Father.
Kids were rightly afraid that no one would believe them. Parents were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Parishes were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Bishops were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. And so this horrible carapace of silence was formed to cover up and cover up and cover up, shift the blame, shift the responsibility, and never look at the person at the heart of the problem.

And yes, the errors of the 70’s perpetuated the problem. It is very true that in the 70’s, the 80’s, and beyond, the Church and the rest of the country believed that one could simply see a therapist, attend a few classes, and not be a real danger to kids anymore. That was horrible. But it was no worse than the attitude it replaced, which was that Such Things Never Happened, and if they did, we Simply Don’t Talk About Them.

Of course, dreadful to say, the abuse scandal almost certainly goes back further than the 1950’s — centuries further — but those victims aren’t alive to give their testimony. But at very least, we can put to rest the idea that this hideous stain on our history came about by means of the Vatican II-style “Church of Nice.”

It’s always tempting, when we see gross behavior, to blame it on those who speak of mercy, of forgiveness, of healing. It’s tempting to think, “If we just clamped down and got tough, like we did back in the old days when everyone wore hats, then we’d have none of this nonsense!”

But the real lesson here isn’t that mercy is an error. The real lesson is that mercy and forgiveness can be abused just like innocence can be abused, and that evil is endlessly adaptable. It will grab hold of whatever weakness, foolishness, and wickedness is popular in any age, and it will put it in the service of sin.

Hell is overjoyed when we learn all the wrong lessons from suffering. Violation of innocents was horrible enough. Let’s not compound the outrage by trying to root true mercy, true forgiveness, and true compassion out of the heart of our Church.

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Photo by Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, faithful Catholics, why are YOU here?

This plea goes for sinners whose souls are heavy with old-fashioned sins of the flesh, and also for sinners whose souls are heavy with the even older sins of pride and presumption.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here.

Bless me, Father, for I have neurally adapted

They discovered, as expected, that people initially had a strong emotional and neurological response to lying; but as they continued to lie, they felt less and less emotional response (flushed cheeks, racing heart) and, accordingly, their brains’ amygdalae responded less and less.

The study is especially interesting because the participants’ brains were reacting not to conditions outside their control, but to their own free choices. So, yes: Lying gets easier with practice.

It’s hard to know what to say about a study like this, other than, “Well, duh.” The Church already has a word for this phenomenon — and a cure, as well.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Stone Man by Gilgongo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It was a beautiful confession

On Saturday, we went to confession. Mine was a pretty standard operation: “Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last confession. I did that thing I always do, and that other thing I always do. I also did that other thing I always do, except more so than usual. And I stopped doing that thing I usually do, but then I started again.  And I was mean on the internet. For these and all my sins, I am truly sorry.”

And the priest said what this particular priest always says: “Thank you for that beautiful confession.” He says this when I have a long and sordid list, or a short and sordid list, or when he can barely understand me because my nose is running from the sordidness of it all. The point is, I am not aware of ever having made a confession that any normal human being would consider “beautiful.”

But the confessional is not a normal place. It’s the one place that no one would ever go for normal, worldly reasons. No penitent goes to confession to get ahead in life, or to make money, or to get a full belly, or to impress anyone; and no priest goes to confession to be amused or entertained. It’s where we go to unload our miseries, to show our wounds and our infections, to take off the disguises that make us appear palatable to each other.

So, not beautiful. No, not especially.

Or is it? If the ugliness, the squalor, the sordidness, and the running nose were all that happened inside a confessional, then it really would be an ugly place — just a latrine, a ditch, a sewer. But of course, the part where we lay out our sins is only the first part.

What happens afterward is more obviously beautiful. The priest reaches out and picks up the ugly little load you’ve laid in front of him. And right then and there, he pours the living water over it until the parts that are worth saving are healthy and whole again, and the parts that cannot be salvaged have been washed away entirely. What is useless is gone; what was dead is alive again.

This is beautiful!

And the beauty of absolution does one of those neat Catholic tricks where eternal things reach back in time and impart beauty wherever they want, regardless of chronology. The beauty of absolution makes the confession itself beautiful. Even though my sins are ugly, the very fact that I’m bringing them into the confessional has something beautiful in it: the beauty of trust that I will be forgiven; the beauty of believing that something real and life-changing will happen; the beauty of being willing to accept forgiveness even though I know that I don’t deserve it; and the beauty of knowing that, whoever’s turn it is to sit behind the screen, it is really Christ who is waiting to meet me.

If that isn’t beautiful, then nothing is.

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This post originally ran in the National Catholic Register in 2014.

The X-Plan for salvation

Beep beep. I am here to tell you that, sometime after that seventh time (or maybe after the seventy-times-seventh time) a light bulb will click on in that dopey son’s head. After being rescued without comment one more time after time after time after time, that son is very likely to decide on his own that this is no way to live, and he’d rather face the jeers and yucks of his stupid friends than the quiet patience of his father one more time.

Not because he’s scared of his father, but because he’s not. Not because his father is mad at him, but because his father loves him, and it finally feels like it’s time to live up to that love.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

I so imperfect

resentful

You can start over even if you’re not sure God loves you. You can start oven even if you’re not sure He should.

And you don’t have to run. You can shamble over resentfully. You can sidle in doubtfully. You can skulk in with fear, doubt, despair, or even rage. As long as you go because you’re acknowledging that things are not good as they are, then that is good enough. It may not feel like it is enough, but that is what Christ has promised.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: photo credit: trepelu toes (detail) via photopin (license)

Oh, such depravity. Tell me more!

What interests me is how eager so many people were to believe that the sick, twisted, evil of California just got a little sicker, more twisted, and even eviller. There is a very fine line between drawing back in horror and swooping in with glee, and thousands of outraged readers, bloggers, pundits, and shock jocks vaulted right over that line.

Why? Because evil isn’t content with prowling around like a ravening lion, looking to devour this and that. It wants us to sit on the sidelines and cheer it on, munching popcorn as we enjoy the spectacle.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly here.