Honor Thy Father and Mother

“I know they did the best they could.”

Really? I tend to grit my teeth whenever I hear someone – often a Catholic or Christian – say words to this effect. It’s very unlikely our parents did the best they could, just as it is very unlikely *we* are doing the best we can. Isn’t that what sin is all about?

What I’m hearing is a child making excuses. Often, it seems to us that the only way we can live with what our parents did to us is to ‘honor’ them by excusing them. Note that I’m not suggesting that we err in the opposite direction of blaming everything on our parent’s failures, but that it is also wrong to simply dismiss everything by saying it was the best they could do.

The most honorable attitude towards parents is one of generous honesty: assume good intentions wherever possible, but don’t pretend that bad things were good or acceptable.

One must first honor Our Father by honoring the truth.



Two points, one more personal, one more simply logical:

1. It would more true to say that I’m Catholic because of my reaction to abortion than to say that I oppose abortion because I’m Catholic. In 1973, when Roe v Wade came down, I was attending a Catholic high school. Recall also that, in 1973, that utter poser and manifest intellectual fraud Paul Ehrlich’s star was rising – his proposition that we’re all doomed, DOOMED!, by population growth was accepted wisdom, even in most Catholic circles. The result was and is that most Catholic families now days have maybe 2, or, if they’re wild and crazy, even *three* kids, tops.  This was already true in 1973. More than 2 kids = evil evil bad bad.

I’m the 7th of 9 children.

So, my 14 year old mind put 2 and 2 together with admirable alacrity: I’m NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. My very existence is a MISTAKE and an affront to RIGHT REASON.

And Roe v Wade was intended to provide the mechanism to make sure people like me were nipped, as it were, in the bud.

It was also clear that the other arguments were smoke screens. People – completely innocent people who were just trying to exercise their inalienable right to cross the street –  get hit by cars all the time – yet, somehow, that fact does not  result in pedestrians having the right to preemptively bazooka oncoming traffic. Similarly, we are not, in general, under either legal or cultural rubrics, granted cart blanc to solve our problems by acting violently towards others, however unfair it may that we suffer.

“Life is pain, you Highness – anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.” Or, more precisely, life isn’t fair. Good and bad things happen to us that we don’t deserve. To live well means to humbly accept the good and heroically and cheerfully endure the bad. Every age prior to this one, pagan and Christian, agreed. How could they disagree and have their eyes open?

The proponents of abortion here apply a vicious end-around: they assert, without any evidence other than their fevered wish for it to be so, that pointing out that 1) bad things happen; 2) getting pregnant can appear as a bad thing; but 3) that even though a woman may be put into a very unhappy set of circumstances by a pregnancy she wishes she didn’t have, that that fact alone does not result in a right to kill the child – that, asserting these things is equal to being heartless to the women involved, or, more viciously, tantamount to the brutish bigotry of sexism. Not only does that not follow, but is historically and currently the exact opposite of the truth: the same people most vehemently opposed to abortion are the people most strongly and vocally in support of providing care to both the mother and child.

But the filter has been set up, so this fact cannot be seen.

During most of my college career, I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, and lived a pretty dissolute life – however, a no point did my conviction that abortion was wrong waiver. Seeing the Church, alone, take the stand that abortion was an evil that must be opposed at every step – well, that helped convince me to come back.

2. Traditionally, if a person claimed to be Napoleon, we’d think, unless he happened to be leading the French legions in the early 19th century, that he was insane. The vehemence of his conviction didn’t really figure into it. We sane people hang our hats on the idea called Objective Reality – that the world isn’t how we imagine it to be, but rather that the quality – the truth – of our opinions is measured by how well they correspond to objective reality.

This fundamental concept, which is the basis of all culture, technology, and science has been under attack for a couple centuries now, starting with the followers of Descartes. But it’s a mind game, and every honest person knows it – you can’t live with other people if you *act* as if you believe reality depends on what you think of it, no matter how energetically you argue the point. You got friends, family, a job? You’ve conceded the point. To behave otherwise is the very definition of insanity.

Yet, the belief that what the mother chooses to believe determines REALITY is the core of the pro-abortion argument. The unborn baby is a baby, if the mother so chooses, and a lump of tissue, if she chooses.

A rational mind should recoil at and reject such manifest nonsense. This is like arguing that 2 + 2 = whatever you want it to equal – if that’s true, math is impossible; if a mother gets to choose the reality of her baby, society is impossible.

Even apart from the horror of abortion, from which any human should shrink, the logic that underlies abortion should be rejected as absurd and destructive.

Abortion is a physically painful topic to me – thinking about it keeps me awake at night and puts my stomach in knots. On a physical, rational, societal and personal level, abortion is insane.

Please, Lord, hold close to your heart all those mothers, fathers and babies, and all the people who helped them abort.  Help us care for all the mothers, fathers and children now at risk. Help us accept and embrace whatever penance and suffering that is our lot for our part in this horror. May your love envelope all of us, and heal all of us.

Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

Fear, and the Assessment of Risk

I took perverse delight, when my kids were little, in letting them climb as high as they wanted to on the toys at the park, when there were moms present. If I let a toddler get more than about 12″ off the ground, some panicky woman would be sure that, despite the cushioning layer of wood chips and despite the success of the human race in surviving lo these many millennia, I was risking that child’s life, and was an evil, bad parent.

Since we have multiple kids, my usual response, if someone brought it up, was: ‘It’s OK – we have spares’ – intending to cement my rep as a monster.

(Side note: once, our 2nd, a daughter, grabbed a snow disk thing and shot down a hill far beyond her level of competence and ended up spiraling off into a wood at high speed – miraculously missing all the tree, and coming out mere scared and scraped up. At that point, I stopped with the ‘spares’ joke – no, we don’t have any spares. Please, God, forget I even ever said that in jest!)

We have a trampoline. We just tell the kids to be careful, and let them have at it. Other than a few bangs and bruises, we’re about 8 years in without a serious injury. My kids – imagine – climb trees, often to see just how high up they can get. As soon as they are big enough to control them – around 10 or 12 – I let them use the cordless power tools, including the saw.

Add this to the whole family bed, no mandatory classes style school, and general disdain for what the world counts as ‘achievement’, and, clearly, I’ve RUINED our kids.

Except for the part where they are all happy, healthy, intellectually active and doing very well at whatever it is that interests them – including, in the case of the 17 and 19 year olds, college.

We buckle seat belts. We wear bike helmets. We only eat mushrooms obtained from reputable commercial sources. But – 6 kids on the trampoline? 6 year old 20′ up in a tree? 12 year old cutting a 2X4 with a cordless saw (after instruction and supervision by Dad)? Sure, we do that, too.

I worry about my kids’ souls, and worry about raising competent kids who are not afraid of their own shadows. But shark attack level risks? Not so much.

“Be not afraid” after all.


I Found the Priest Whose Fault It Is…

… that a large percentage of priests not only believe that it’s OK to spontaneously improve on the Church’s liturgical prayers, but that they, personally, are capable of doing so.

At a baptism a couple years ago, the priest simply couldn’t read the black – he ad libbed everything and – here’s the distressing part – he was really, really good at it. The new stuff he was making up flowed nicely, was in complete sentences, and even seemed appropriate and made sense. I was impressed. Not saying the new, improved spontaneous prayers were profound or even orthodox – but they weren’t obviously stupid or obviously inappropriate either.

I imagine that other priests think that that’s what they sound like when they wing it. Let me just say this to them: No, you don’t. Generally, what you make up is inconsistent, hard to comprehend and just plain silly. Of the hundreds of priests I’ve listened to over the years, exactly *1* could pull it off. You are not that one.

And to that one: This is all your fault!

TMI: Why I’ll Never Divorce…

Complaining to my beloved about having to go in for a further medical examination of the embarrassing sort us old guys seem particularly liable to:

“The last time, they discovered I still had a little dignity left, so I’m going in to have it removed.”

“You sure keep your dignity in an odd place.”

This, while she still likes me. I’m too cowardly to find out what it would be like if she didn’t.

All Right Thinking People Can Agree…

That, while the Marvin Gaye and Credence versions are very fine, the Gladys Knight version of ‘I Heard It Through the Grape Vine’ is the rockingest take on that song.

So why is it, when I’ve gotten an ear worm, that my mind keeps moving back to Marvin’s or Credence’s version? Why can’t I have Gladys’ version in my head on endless loop?

It’s Just Impossible

Thinking about an odd thing that I think anybody engaged in discussion about life issues or morality will find familiar: the unshakable, heart-felt belief that celibacy and sexual self-control are not possible. For many people, it is a core, foundational belief that, for a healthy human being, chastity in any of its forms is delusional and harmful. People who promote it are insane, and only the psychologically imbalanced could ever practice it.

If you truly believe this, then all those Catholic people, especially priests and nuns vowed to a life of celibacy can be nothing other than horrible lying hypocrites or sexually tortured lunatics. Or both.

Here’s where reality has no chance of breaking through – this belief becomes a filter, so that nothing that might contradict it is allowed to enter the mind. So, for example, among my friends are many happily married couples who have been faithful to each other for decades, even some who practice Natural Family Planning (meaning: they practice a particularly challenging form of sexual self-control: sharing a bed with a desirable and licit spouse with whom you have agreed to refrain from sex for a week or so at a time, for decades on end). There are evidently millions of couples around the world like this – and, in my unscientific sample, they are among the happier people on earth.

The True Believer, most often revealed in comments such as: “sex is natural, like breathing or eating”, has got to quibble with or out and out deny that this state of fulfilling and voluntary delayed sexual gratification is 1) possible, and, more important, 2) that it is desirable. The character of uptight sexually repressed bigot is as much a stock character in the comedy of the true believer’s life as Harlequin is to comedia dell’arte. More important, there is simply no place in their world for happy chaste people.

This makes conversation, let alone agreement, difficult. Like anyone who has spent half a century around all different kinds of Catholics, I’ve come across some bad ones. However, I’ve also been blessed to know dozens of happily celibate priests and nuns, and dozens of chastely married people. Some are just blessed – celibacy or chastity is not all that difficult for them, just as resisting greed or sloth or gluttony isn’t very difficult for some people. Others fight the good fight, and fight it and fight it until, exhausted, they die.  But theirs is a noble martyrdom, not a waste. I’m thinking of those priests and nuns I’ve know with the energy level of a nuclear power plant – there’s some mighty sublimation going on.  On the whole, even the ones who find it hard are not sexually tortured – they still laugh and smile and enjoy the company of people.

Now, this is of course anecdotal and personal, but it explains why, even as I struggled to behave well sexually, I never believed is was impossible, and, more important, I believed that chastity is a good thing. And I think many Catholics share this experience.

So, when we are challenged (I almost wrote ‘taunted’) with the claim that no sane person denies themselves sex any time they can get it, we think not of some white-knuckled fanatic with forehead veins throbbing, but we think of our friends, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts and uncles and so on – and we know, first hand, that chastity and celibacy are worthy goals, and that many good and sane people succeed in them.

Unless this issue is addressed, I don’t see how conversation is even possible between, for example, many pro- and anti-abortion people. If one side believes that sexual self-control is, while difficult sometimes, completely within the capacity of normal men and women – and a good thing – and the other believes that sexual self-control is out of reach for healthy men and women, and a bad thing in any event – that’s your quandary, right there.