On My Bookshelf: Eleanor

eleanorBooksellers and libraries in my area seem to promote authors in our region. This is a good thing. Feeling somewhat dissatisfied with the science fiction I’ve been attempting to swallow the past year, I turned to a volume my local library marked “fantasy” on its spine, Jason Gurley’s Eleanor.

As I read the cover, I thought a fusion of genres would appeal. Eleanor is YA coming-of-age fiction, “urban” fantasy in a small-town setting, and a wrenching exploration of loss encompassing three 20th century decades of a family’s tragic misfortune.

Most of the novel finds title character as a precocious teen who can somehow travel to strange realms outside of ordinary life, even to her family’s past. As the narrative unfolds, she deals with an abusive, alcoholic mother, a divorced, distant father, a boy who is a kindred spirit, and the death of a twin sister. The strong point is how the author handles the emotional life of a troubled teen. Mr Gurley struggles a bit to present the fantasy elements decently. When young Eleanor is sent to a “dream” world to embark on a quest that will change history and save her family from tragedy, it gets a bit weird and disconnected. The novel introduces some elements that are never quite resolved and left me with some questions. Mainly, “What was that part about?”

There are stumbles that keep this book from the category of “very good.” There’s a mention of a college athletic scholarship for Eleanor’s grandmother–such a thing didn’t exist in the 1960’s. It would be an easy solve to move the story to 1980-2010, and a good editor would offer that advice.

The episode with six-year-old Eleanor and her twin lacked believability. Young children can be precocious, but they were written to talk and think like the book’s teenagers. Another easy fix: move the accident to age ten or eleven and adjust the timeline a bit.

I don’t think I’d want to be a book editor. And since Eleanor is already published, there’s not much to do about it now. But if I were Mr Gurley’s editor at Crown and this landed on my desk, I’d send it back with a mixture of disappointement and praise. The man definitely has the chops to make improvements on an excellent story wrapped with some mediocre elements. I would be interested to see how the author matures as a writer and tightens up his research and plotting. Otherwise, it’s a good page-turner if you like modern fantasy with some twists.

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Amoris Laetitia 163: The Transformation of Love

amoris laetitia memeWe wrap up Chapter Four of Amoris Laetitia with a brief discussion (163-164) on how love is transformed.

First, a helpful acknowledgement that many millions more couples today experience very long relationships. Marriages that once were cut short by death from childbirth, illness, and war now last decades. Are we prepared to review common situations that were once rare, providing new help as needed?

163. Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed.

The challenge with the notion of renewal is that the “danger” of not renewing arises. But it need not be so. A relationship between young adults will go through many stages before reaching old age. Partnerships evolve all the time without breaking–why not marriages?

While one of the spouses may no longer experience an intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging and the knowledge that neither of them is alone but has a “partner” with whom everything in life is shared. He or she is a companion on life’s journey, one with whom to face life’s difficulties and enjoy its pleasures. This satisfaction is part of the affection proper to conjugal love. There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life. Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy. The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage.

This notion of being companions and partners strikes me as quite Ignatian. Are you readers detecting anything else of note? Please comment.

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Persecution, Or Lack Thereof

armenian-refugeesI noticed Msgr Charles Pope’s commentary on religious persecution on his NCReg blog. I don’t know that his “stages” aren’t really more symptoms–they don’t seem to have a natural progression about them. When I first read them, it struck me that they certainly have been applied to both major party candidates for US president, plus persons or groups with whom the Church itself has been at odds.

1. stereotype
2. vilify
3. marginalize
4. criminalize
5. persecute

That last one seems a bit repetitive on the theme, but let’s go with it.

  1. Human beings as a whole stereotype persons, groups, and even experiences they haven’t fully understood. So people naturally attribute present events as of a kind with occurrences in the past. For example: my boss yells at me–this plays the tape of a parent’s disapproval, and I react with less than optimal maturity. Maybe we can’t always stop to understand a new situation. Or maybe we’ve never met Muslim folks who have experienced profiling or unfair treatment in society. It’s easier to associate dark-skinned non-Africans with terrorists. Bosses with mothers. And so on.
  2. It seems that a lot of conservative Catholics recently vilified American women religious for crimes exaggerated, petty, or imagined. No doubt a few women religious said or did things that raise questions. One might ask why abortion escorts or non-Christian speakers weren’t approached personally, instead of an issue for the entire group. Especially since an entire association was criticized for overblown crimes such as feminism. Or listening to non-Catholics. Or focusing on the poor and needy.
  3. I also recall a lot of otherwise loyal Church employees losing jobs–not for explicitly immoral acts, but merely for refusing to march in lockstep with the more extreme factions of the so-called pro-life or pro-family movements.
  4. My facebook feed is still peppered with calls to send Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump to prison. Enough said.
  5. Msgr Pope wrote, “Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with ‘hate crimes’ for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.” I think it’s one thing to take a stance on the Church’s moral position. It’s another to step into the middle of someone else’s business and be a boor about it. We all know what happens when a liberal goes to a conservative blog and begins to offer Church teaching that doesn’t fly with what the majority wants to hear. Heaven forbid that prudential opinions a offered to the contrary of group-speak. And let’s be honest: the experience is similar for conservatives who visit and comment on liberal sites. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God … or wait: you don’t really want to hear about that, do you?

The fact is that human beings don’t deal well with a lack of uniformity. Catholics like Msgr Pope have a comfortable position in the Church. A parish pastor can certainly order a faith community the way he wants it. Leaders often insulate themselves from the real world, and problems that don’t fit the mold. We all know people in authority who just don’t want the bad news.

Sometimes, the matter is personal. A bride and groom may not like, for example, that they can’t have a Catholic outdoor wedding. Their perception is that they are being persecuted, especially given the popes have outdoor Masses during high-profile events all the time.

Sometimes persecution is just plain-and-simple conflict. Something that needs talking out, listening, and diplomacy. In some quarters, that kind of thing is vilified for being “too nice.” But in reality it is just a matter of good manners.

I’d suggest that Msgr Pope’s “stages” are a matter of sociology–how groups react when a minority surfaces that upsets the status quo. Not a step-to-step guidebook for marginalizing organized religion. The Church, our local parishes, and social media are not immune from these symptoms.

Serious persecution does happen. It has serious signs. When refugees travel across a good chunk of a continent to escape violence. When the people who don’t escape are wounded, enslaved, or killed. When people in safe havens refuse to open their borders and doors to those in need, and the midnight knock at the door goes unanswered.

To be sure, people losing jobs and friends is a serious personal matter for any human being. It is compounded when added to the list of losses are family members, homes, schools, art, religious sites, and whole communities.

If we look to the Gospel example, Jesus doesn’t preach about when we lick our own wounds, bandage our own injuries, feed and water and clothe ourselves, we did it for him. The Lord invites the Christian believer to do it for others. Showing mercy and kindness to non-Catholic victims of religious persecution is a demonstration of the Lord’s agency in the world. If our Muslim, Jewish, or Protestant sisters and brothers want to stand up for us, by all means, let’s express gratitude for that.

But when it comes to American Catholics standing up for real persecution, let’s broaden our horizons. And if we’re really afraid to go overseas, let’s start with standing up to bullies within our own borders. Let’s stand against punks who steal lunch money, damage personal property, stereotype minority students, vilify the un-cool kids, marginalize the non-athletes, criminalize the ones who have committed mistakes and not crimes, and who suffer persecution as the Lord knew: abuse by leaders, abandonment by friends, humiliation, or even death at the hands of overzealous authority figures.

Meanwhile as I ponder the Latin American refugees I’ve known, my grandmother’s relations murdered in Nazi Germany, and pictures of people like those Armenian refugees above, please count me out of the religious persecution schtick. I’m a proud Catholic, and I want no part of it.

Image credite

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More Mercy

more-mercy

Light posting as I’ve been plunged into a busy post-summer, including our parish’s More Mercy event. This will be an encounter with four of Jesus’ more loved parables, along with music and prayer.

It seems there really is life offline, so after the Amoris Laetitia posts run their course (they are all lined up in the draft file) hard to tell what the future will be on this site. It likely won’t be a busy one.

If any readers happen to be in the neighborhood tonight, stop by and experience More Mercy.

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Amoris Laetitia 162: When The Witness of Marriage Excels

amoris laetitia memePope Francis goes negative on celibates:

162. Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or option to another, to spend money as one sees fit and to spend time with others as one wants.

But not for long. The witness of many married couples is worth emulating:

In such cases, the witness of married people becomes especially eloquent. Those called to virginity can encounter in some marriages a clear sign of God’s generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a more concrete and generous availability to others. Many married couples remain faithful when one of them has become physically unattractive, or fails to satisfy the other’s needs, despite the voices in our society that might encourage them to be unfaithful or to leave the other. A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper to charity to love than to be loved.(Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1.

Pastoral ministers know these stories of commitment quite well. Clergy and religious impact institutions and can have a wider influence in the community and in the Church. Often married persons give very powerful witness to the Gospel values of commitment and self-sacrifice, but do so in unknown places, mainly within the walls of a home.

Check Amoris Laetitia online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 161: An Apologetics for Virginity

amoris laetitia memeToday, more on virginity. These appear to be the synthesis of Pope Francis on virginity, his own chosen state in life:

161. The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the backdrop of Christ’s definitive love, journeying together towards the fullness of the Kingdom. For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death. Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving. For “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him”. (Redemptor Hominis 10)

I know I want to sit with this eschatology/history thought a bit longer before I make more of a statement on it. I find myself in easy agreement with the focus on either marriage or virginity as ways to love. Do marriage and virginity always represent such a division of values, even complementary values as expressed here? What do you think?

Check Amoris Laetitia online here.

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Amoris Laetitia 160: Marriage and Virginity Not In Conflict

amoris laetitia memeWe touched on this matter in yesterday’s post. St John Paul rejected the notion of values not being in conflict:

160. Consequently, “it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence”.(John Paul II, Catechesis (7 April 1982), 2) “There is no basis for playing one off against the other… If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels”.(Id., Catechesis (14 April 1982), 3) A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”.(Ibid.)

Perhaps some of the perception of conflict is in our human nature wanting surety, and defending the choice we have made. Sometimes that commitment is accompanied by doubts. Often the most strident voices in favor of a stance are, on the inside, the most shaky in terms of their own self-confidence.

Remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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