Sunday, August 30, 2015

Virginia Lieto's FINDING PATIENCE -- review and blog tour

It is both an honor and pleasure to contribute a review of Virginia Lieto's Finding Patience, a book for children ages 4-8.  Virginia, whose blogging work I have mentioned frequently, is also raffling five signed copies of Finding Patience. You can enter that raffle by clicking here.

Virginia' s spry, simply illustrated book introduces the Livingstone sisters:  Faith (age 8), Hope (5), and Charity (3).  The girls and their parents, Peter and Grace, have relocated and face unpacking the house and meeting new people.  Their kind new neighbor, Luke Gabriel, raises puppies. Taking a break from unpacking, the Livingstone girls visit the puppies.  Faith, feeling alone and friendless, bonds with the litter's shy puppy.  As school approaches, the Livingstone girls get anxious--to start school itself, to play, and for Faith, to meet new friends.  Unfortunately, the first day comes and Faith spends the day alone.  On the bus, in class, and at lunch--nobody speaks to Faith.  Her mother delicately yet firmly encourages Faith to wait. Mother and daughter pray, asking God for patience.  That night, her father and sisters add Faith's request to their prayers.  Faith struggles through a second, and then a third, day.  She and her sisters pray for old friends and new, and for patience.  By the third evening, Faith regains some confidence and plays with her sisters.  As they do, Mr. Gabriel visits to deliver a puppy--the same one with whom Faith bonded a few days before.  Charity names the puppy "Love," which leads to one of the best passages in the book:

"Now that Faith had Love, being ignored on the bus didn't hurt as much."

Strengthened, Faith begins to participate in her new school's daily routine.  When a rude boy budges her in the lunch line, Faith does not overreact.  She recognizes God had given her patience.  As she walks to her seat in the lunchroom, she joyfully thanks God in silent prayer.  As she sits down, Faith then makes her first friend.



As a father of three teenagers I certainly recall the days of bedtime reading.  And I now wish I had access to a book like  Finding Patience.  It conveys crucially important lessons to an audience that needs precisely this message.  Young readers themselves will enjoy learning to read as they learn about patience.  Parents reading to their children will catch Lieto's rich symbolism throughout:  the family's name embodies their firm presence for each other "living stone," and the neighbor "Luke Gabriel" stands as a messenger announcing good news.  It is, after all, when Faith receives Love that she discovers she has patience.   Furthermore, it is helpful that institutional Christianity--an entity that surely has tested the patience of many bloggers and blog-readers--appears as a benign reality.  Lieto portrays the Livingstone girls attending a "Christian academy," but that could be Catholic or Protestant. The children wear uniforms, but apart from the ICHTHUS/fish symbols on the boys' shirts, the book does not clutter mind nor eye with unnecessary distinctions.  The focus remains on Faith and her sisters.  Thus Lieto's intended audience can imagine themselves in Faith's shoes--they can see themselves gaining patience and friends just like Faith does.

Along the way, for adult readers Finding Patience conveys a truth discussed in the Church's Catechism #773.  The Church's Marian charism--its internal, spiritual life--precedes the Petrine--its external, authoritative voice.  Importantly, Faith's mother, Grace, helps her begin her prayerful search for patience...and thus friendship.  So, in addition to conveying virtue--part of the natural law--Virginia's book also imparts a Marian lesson.  External expressions and actions, if they are to be authentically Catholic and Christian, must be formed first spiritually. Faith's teacher doesn't orchestrate the classroom to coerce classmates to become friends, nor does her father intercede to demand other children like his daughter.  Lieto's childhood readers already know that truth:  Mom and Dad can protect us, but they cannot make or script friends for you.  Christian friendship comes from God and thus is a gift.  Finding Patience illustrates this wonderfully on many levels.  The book should find its way into many parents' gift choices as well as the appropriate collections at schools and public libraries.

Next step:  TOMORROW, MONDAY, August 31, be sure to check Sarah Damm's review of Finding Patience.  A Catholic mother of six children, Sarah blogs unflinchingly about the joys and crises she faces.  Her review of Finding Patience will shed more light on the trials and temptations Virginia's book so deftly covers.

And keep up with the other bloggers reviewing Virginia's book.  There's a new Catholic renaissance growing.  It's online as well as in the pew, and many of Virginia's blogging colleagues contribute significantly.  We're all part of the New Evangelization!


Friday, August 21, 2015

the Us, not the They and the It

Albany's bishop, Edward Scharfenberger, is the real deal, folks.  His latest article in The Evangelist lays out some important challenges and reminders for the Church.

What if each of us took personal responsibility not only for some of the good and important works we expect to be done by the Church, but also in the face of the corruption that, during its pilgrimage throughout history, has tarnished the Church, its reputation and its integrity?

Scharfenberger knows this is the great temptation:  to take only the good of the Church--its victories, its martyrdoms, its service--and foist all the bad--gee, what scandal will it be today?--onto somebody else's shoulders.  Nope, God alone separates the wheat from the chaff.  In this world we must take the one with the other.  That being said, Catholics do have justifiable pride in the Church's accomplishments.  On the other hand, worldly success isn't the only metric...and the Church knows it.  Worldly success can become its own temptation and occasion to sin, and that reality sits atop our own human frailties and fallness.  We can, do, and will make a mess of perfectly good situations...because we are human.  And humanity is not perfect.  Scharfenberger:

This is the risk of freedom and autonomy, as Pope Francis has often noted in his daily homilies. We are all sinners, but the corrupt have taken a step beyond, in that they have become hardened in their sin so that it becomes a habitual pattern. Their "genetic code" -- as the Holy Father put it -- has not changed, since they still have a relationship with God and can turn to Him. Instead, however, they have made a "god" of themselves and their own desires.

The temptation to corruption can occur at any time, in places high or humble. The damage of which those in authority -- both in sacred and secular office -- are capable is enormous, as we see when public officials abandon their moral conscience in order to placate constituents or conceal their own complicity in some form of plunder.

Here's where Scharfenberger really riffs it good.  It's precisely in this fallness, this inescapable reality which we nonetheless are called to avoid, that we must not erect the oh-so-tempting "Us" and "Them" categories.  That alone starts the Church--which is an "Us," our community locally, nationally, and globally--towards becoming an "It."  And while the Church is an institution, it must always resist the temptation of becoming institutionalized.  Scharfenberger concludes:

The Church must never harden into a "them" instead of an "us." If it does, "it" will only turn more into that cold-seeming, heartless, bureaucratic fortress that everyone says we do not want to be.

Only the Church of "us" -- our Church -- is capable of responding in a human fashion: person-to-person, the way Jesus did, and especially to sinners.

Perhaps the remembrance of our own imperfect reality -- as sinners in need of a Savior -- will spare us from its very hardened state of the corrupt whom we may be all too tempted to point the index finger of one hand at -- even as the other three fingers inevitably point right back to us.

Read the whole thing here.  Bishop Scharfenberger has been a great gift to Albany since his installation in April, 2014.  The diocese has a great history (first diocese to be formed from New York City in 1848) and a great spirit.  It has been an inspiration (and challenge!) watching him lead the diocese in the 21st century while maintaining the legacy of his predecessor, Howard Hubbard. 
 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Catholic Social Teaching: It's Time to End the Misrepresentations - Crisis Magazine

From 2012 and still relevant:  Anthony Esolen lays out the terms of engagement in: Catholic Social Teaching: It's Time to End the Misrepresentations - Crisis Magazine.



Esolen:



I’m sick of it.  I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding sex and marriage is one thing, in that old-fashioned trinket box over there, while Catholic teaching regarding stewardship and our duties to the poor is another thing, on that marble pedestal over here.  I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding the Church and her authority is one thing, the embarrassing Latinate red-edged tome tucked away in that closet, while Catholic teaching regarding the laity is another, and pass that bread this way!  No, it is all of a piece.  What the Church says about divorce is inextricable from what she says about the poor.  What she says about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is inextricable from what she says about the respects in which all men are created equal—and the many respects in which she insists upon a salutary inequality.  When we fail to see the integrity of the faith, not only do certain truths escape our notice; the rest, the truths we think we see, grow monstrous, like cancers, and work to destroy the flesh they once seemed to replace.

Esolen establishes the entire conversation around the encyclicals of Leo XIII (1878-1903) (and thus basis for Esolen's 2014 book Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching.) Just as today, Leo recognized that not much permanent can built atop secularism's shifty ground.  Not that folks don't try, obviously.  Either way, Esolen reminds us that Catholic social teaching calls us to (at least) two vocations:  1) witnessing to the truth in the marketplace, i.e., get out there and speak to and in defense of the Truth--the Gospel; and 2) minister to those crushed by their furtive embrace of secularism.  There will casualties, and it's not our place to stand along the sidelines, pointing our fingers, clucking our tongues "Look what you got yourself into now!"  No, Esolen argues, we are called to love.
"We must insist upon this connection.  I cannot give amoral love.  But human beings need love; they need the love that brings them deeper into the truth."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Physical War, Spiritual Weapons

Requiring a strong stomach to read, here is an expose on ISIS' "theology of rape."  Author Rukmini Callimachi:

“He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity.

The systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority has become deeply enmeshed in the organization and the radical theology of the Islamic State in the year since the group announced it was reviving slavery as an institution. Interviews with 21 women and girls who recently escaped the Islamic State, as well as an examination of the group’s official communications, illuminate how the practice has been enshrined in the group’s core tenets.

 Does Islam condone slavery?  The Qur'an mentions it, but, Callimachi deftly notes, so does the Bible.  <<panic ensues among the literal inerrantists reading this blog...surely a small group>>  Callimachi:

In much the same way as specific Bible passages were used centuries later to support the slave trade in the United States, the Islamic State cites specific verses or stories in the Quran or else in the Sunna, the traditions based on the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, to justify their human trafficking, experts say.

Scholars of Islamic theology disagree, however, on the proper interpretation of these verses, and on the divisive question of whether Islam actually sanctions slavery.

Many argue that slavery figures in Islamic scripture in much the same way that it figures in the Bible — as a reflection of the period in antiquity in which the religion was born.
“In the milieu in which the Quran arose, there was a widespread practice of men having sexual relationships with unfree women,” said Kecia Ali, an associate professor of religion at Boston University and the author of a book on slavery in early Islam. “It wasn’t a particular religious institution. It was just how people did things.”


Lovely--a group of violent men who believe themselves chosen by God alone to resurrect sexual repression and violence as an act of praising GodThink this is a problem for another part of the world? Well, a heck of a lot closer to most Spiritual Diabetes readers, a couple in Iowa convicted of their own sex-slave-trade crimes

According to federal court documents, the 20-year-old victim was tortured, sexually abused and forced into prostitution after being abducted in Iowa by Hodza and Sorensen [the mid-30s man and woman couple arrested] in mid-December.  The victim told federal officials that she was forced to engage in prostitution in order to earn money for Sorensen and Hodza to use for food and gas during their journey from Iowa to Virginia.



But how to defeat this?  As good King Theoden once mused, how to respond to such reckless hatred?

As Aragorn responds, ride out and meet it.

Mad Max: Fury Road took a swing at these issues earlier this summer.  Max and an equally tough heroine, Furiosa, battle to save innocent women trapped as "breeders."  The movie drew feminist support for its portrayal of women's agency instead of the usual passive helplessness.

But ISIS and the issue of sexual slavery aren't movies or a great book, they're real life and there are real women being forced into sexual bondage because doing so fits theological worldview of a powerful group of men.

OK, a couple ancillary arguments:
*  How can Amnesty International maintain its argument for decriminalizing prostitution?  The ISIS prostitutes women for pleasure and spiritual fulfillment.  They've long since dispensed with the need to make money from such savagery.
*  How 'bout we take seriously Hadley Arkes' argument about NARAL's origins and the self-preservation concerns of male power surrounding the legalization of abortion? 

Because all of these issues involve male commandeering of female bodies.  As George Will argues, we have expertly honed our ability to convince ourselves that murder of the innocent actually improves our own lives.  This, folks, is power--raw, unfiltered, unadulterated power.  And just to compound things even more, how about Carl Trueman's recent argument that the Marquis de Sade is the best voice for our age.  We are, Trueman suggests, all sadists now.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Mary Daly (1928-2010) long ago concocted a possible option:  absolute rejection of the male-dominated world for a gyno-centric vision.  Daly, an upstate New York native (Schenectady!) who graduated from my employer (The College of Saint Rose), epitomized the "radical" in "radical feminist" during the 1970s and 1980s.

To quote Raising Arizona, what else ya got?

To avoid lapsing into mansplaining, I humbly suggest the Theology of the Body.  Yes, yes, I know, St. John Paul II coined the idea and phrase.   And he was a man.  Too frippin' bad--have you noticed who defends TotB online?  You guessed it--Catholic women, both mothers and women in religious orders.  That's because TotB provides a spiritual vision of both motherhood and female physical space that are, to borrow Daly's phrase (but certainly not her meaning!), gyno-centric.  In TotB women retain a surprisingly significant (from modern secular standards) degree of self-determination regarding sexuality and pregnancy.  This is not your parents' "barefoot-and-pregnant" stereotype of Catholic feminity.  That market, it seems, has been cornered quite expertly by these Protestant clowns.

And in its spiritual vision of some very physical activities (sexuality, pregnancy, giving birth), the Theology of the Body offers us a spiritual weapon of immense magnitude and power against the savagery of ISIS's "theology of rape." Not primarily physical resistance, although it will lead to that--because this renewed spiritual appreciation of gender difference and feminine power clarifies just why groups like ISIS must be stopped.   That's the tough challenge now confronting us who inhabit the Catholic sphere:  maintaining our insistence on "the Gospel of Life" while recognizing the need to employ, in admittedly rare situations, lethal force.  And in the cases here--Iowa, Ohio, and elsewhere--we need to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate anybody--man or woman--who enacts these theologies of sexual violence.  The state has that duty, and the weakest among us rely on the rest of us to uphold our responsibilities towards them.  Negotiating these very real crises and the attendant spiritual pitfalls--using violence might tempt us to think that righteous violence is always permissible...but we know it isn't--requires that "diet and exercise" regimen that combats spiritual diabetes in more mundane aspects of life.

quack, quack, zombies!

For reasons legitimate and not-so-legitimate, the right side of the American political spectrum has been characterized as inundated with conspiracy theories.  And this beyond the garden-variety 9/11 & "birther" stories.  This certainly includes Christians and even some Catholics who should know better.

 Let's not forget, though, that the Left suffers from this malady, too. Here's a recent installment:  the POW-MIA flag should be grouped with the Confederate battle flag as symbols of hate.  Author Rick Perlstein concludes:
That damned flag: It’s a shroud. It smothers the complexity, the reality, of what really happened in Vietnam.
We’ve come to our senses about that other banner of lies. It’s time to do the same with this.

In the short time since the article's publication (August 10, 2015), Perlstein and an American Spectator editor issued apologies over using the term "racist." (Found at the end of the linked story)  However, Perlstein stands by his claim:  the POW flag derives its power from a secretive and sham process that hides the real truth.

So we have quacks on the right (already presumed) and quacks on the left.  Maybe this is why scenes like this from World War Z resonate so well:
Here we are, minding our own peaceful business, when suddenly over the wall come these crazies hell-bent on our destruction!  They're mad!  They hate us!  Only solution:  shoot.them.in.the.head.  (Corollary:  watch Father Robert Barron [bishop-to-be!] give a Catholic theological take on the movie here.)

Over a decade ago Michael Barkun noted some of the reasons why conspiracy theories gain so much traction in American life.  Significantly, "stigmatized knowledge" -- theorists claim to possess "true" knowledge that all others outside the enlightening community consider worthless, irrelevant, or just plain wrong--fuels the intransigent passion.  The more the "true" knowledge is debased by outsiders, the more fervently they adhere.  Hence a spiritual diabetes angle:  conspiracy theories are the attempt to slake thirst with full-sugar/corn-syrup soda pop.  You need water and a sensible diet to combat diabetes, not something that will send your already-elevated blood sugar sky-rocketing.  Spiritually, as one might expect this blog to argue, the remedy lies in the Roman Catholic tradition wherein natural law and revelation work together, each providing unique knowledge, while maintaining freedom for the individual. And animating all of it is the Gospel.  This is not always sexy nor thrilling, and occasionally it's stigmatized itself, but it is the only sure remedy and preventive care for some of the whackiness that seems to inundate our world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Upcoming Blog Tour with Virginia Lieto

Virginia Lieto, one of the Catholic blogosphere's most diligent contributors, has a new book coming out and Spiritual Diabetes will host a stop on her book's blog tour.  Very grateful to be included with so many outstanding Catholic bloggers.



Blog Tour Set! I’m Blessed and Humbled!

Friday, August 7, 2015

auto-tune the Church

Hot new designer church labels, y'all.


Somewhere, somehow this all fits under the canopy of "inculturated Christianity."  The Gospel makes more converts by sense within the cultural categories wherever the Gospel is present.  A sort of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" or, a tad more earthy as my wife's French-Canadian grandfather once told an equally stubborn New Hampshire priest, "You attract more ants with honey than vinegar."  SO, that means, repackage Christian truths to fit better the culture in which Christians find themselves.

But darn it, those snobs at the Washington Post don't get our hip, trendy ways.  One Post contributor doesn't want a hipster Jesus.

Now all that comes under the big, overstuffed file folder labeled "American Christianity."  All sorts of stuff there--end-timers, home-schoolers, the Duggars, Westboro Baptist Church, oh, and a bunch of normal, everyday folks who, on the basis of their Christian faith, try to make the world a better place. But the minute you connect that word "updating" with anything "Catholic" and just watch your servers melt and if you're not careful, you might break Google.

So:  aggiornomento!

All this and the only thing I could think about while scrolling through the trendy logos was this autotune.  Some might say that IS the best Catholic autotune "the Church keeps backin' up, backin' up, backin' up...because our Holy Father taught us good..." HA HA--ROTFLMAO.  No, autotuning the news is basically the same as these continual stabs at relevance and trendiness.  There's always one more new logo or sign, when really all you need is Jesus, the Cross, the empty tomb, and the Church. Of course, those old landmarks can lead us in new directions, too.  But that's not auto-tuning the Church;  it's evangelization.