The Morning After

I had trouble falling asleep last night. I think, or rather hope, it was more because of a lingering nasty flu than the political news I was following yesterday. I finally drifted off between coughs about 4am. But given the wild dreams that followed, my subconscious must have been working hard to clean up that inner slate.

Lots of people on all sides asking, “How could this have happened?” Is Mr Trump’s successful candidacy a b****** offspring of economic hardship and racism? For a while I’ve caught the whiff of just plain rudeness. I don’t know if I’ve woken to some clarity after watching a deinonychus eat poodles in a mansion, but I see a few threads connecting today.

They say the Obama presidency was built on the internet. I don’t doubt it. I think the heir apparent is Donald Trump. People scratch their heads about his brash talk and ask how he gets away with it. Those folks probably don’t get online much. That brand of ugly has been all over the Catholic blogosphere for years. I’m sure that conservative Catholics are not unique in that respect. From what I see some Catholics get mad, attach themselves to a willing guru. Want to find a kissing cousin to Mr Trump? A conservative Catholic won’t need to look far, or even get past the end of the alphabet.

On one level, some people are just tired of being polite when their inner demon is just urging them to let loose. The whole array of online communities from Facebook to specialty locales like St Blogs shows numbers of people who are on a slow boil. Does the medium contribute to the indulgence of rude? I suspect it does.

Not disconnected from all this is the curious case of Tony Spence, reported here at Commonweal. I’ve known colleagues and friends to be ousted from jobs at the urging of an angry self-appointed Temple Police. It happens for any number of reasons and knows no single ideology: we don’t like the music, we don’t like musicians, we don’t want to pay, we don’t like their marital status, their Twitter feed, their politics, their not being as anti-abortion as we are … Many Catholics would love to get their claws into bishops and maybe a pope or two. Is this any way to run a Church? It seems like it’s the way we run a society these days. Stoke the anger, find somebody to blame, and run with it.

One of the commenters at Commonweal asked, “But why should the Church employ a person with such views?” What about this? He was excellent at his job. Mr Spence on his detractors:

What blows my mind is these groups are given so much credibility and have influence. They are destructive. We’re only talking about a few hundred people in a very big church, but church leadership sometimes doesn’t have confidence in its own voice and these shrill challenges make them jump for cover.

This is accurate. We have a lot of followers in leadership positions in both politics and in the Church. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People can grow into good leadership. The key is to find trusty support: knowledgeable people who can keep the presumptive leader from running off the rails. We don’t see this in the cult of celebrity. How many big names in pop culture go down because fame and power have clouded good judgment?

Bullies smell fear and indecision. That is why they keep their power.

John Gehring’s conclusion from that Commonweal piece:

The bishops’ conference, and the American hierarchy more broadly, face a crossroads. Culture warriors are digging in. Self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy will only grow more emboldened now that they can claim another scalp. There is nothing joyful, inspiring, or authentically Catholic about any of this. Catholics on the left and right don’t have to agree on everything to recognize a better path is possible. The ideological purity tests and ugly character assassinations that sicken our secular body politic should be a cautionary tale for our church.

The Church has dealt with that tale for over a decade now, and select quarters seem disinterested in putting down that book. But not all. We are seeing a thaw, or at least something of a truce, as discerned here.

A lot of this energy has shifted to national politics now. Mr Trump is a natural consequence of the angry internet. However unforeseen by some, the fruit looks undeniable to me.

Posted in Commentary, Hermeneutic of Subtraction, Politics | 9 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 26: Sin Enters In

amoris laetitia memeWe finish our look at labor (paragraphs 23-26) and its impact on the family.

Remember that we’ve looked at labor in the context of a fruitful home (Psalm 128:2), and that labor is part of a greater expression of human gifts and talents–an opportunity for rejoicing and the praise of God (128:5-6).

Being humans, sin enters in, even in the sphere of labor:

26. Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah (cf. 1 Kg 21) and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice (cf. Lk 12:13; 16:1-31).

Ravaging of the environment has human consequences; it is not a matter of maintaining natural balance for its own sake.

But generally speaking, sin enters into every human relationship, and we must confront it. Especially within ourselves.

Amoris Laetitia is available online in pdf format. Read ahead or back, as you wish.

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No Trump, Not Not Trump

bridgeI post less on politics these days. Certainly not because I lack interest. Not because I’ve moved on from a state with fairly deep political sensibilities. Really, it’s more because I believe more in local politics. And since few of my readers are from my neighborhood, things that engage me might not mean much to them. So I write little about it.

When I first heard the “not Trump” meme, I was thinking No Trump from my favorite card game. I actually enjoyed the particular difficulties of playing hands without a trump suit–they have a challenge and a certain danger to them. There is great satisfaction in playing a long game: losing an extra trick early so that I can squeeze out something extra in the end. Reading the blogger’s advice at the hyperlink, I noticed this:

You must give something away first in order to achieve success later. Don’t immediately play all your high cards! It’s like an investment. Give up some of your losers at the beginning in order to “promote” your underlings in that suit. Then you can take control and reap the benefits afterward.

When I read about the various protests at a certain presidential candidate’s events, I wonder what it’s all about and why. If I were a Republican, and I felt strongly about the long-term viability of my party, maybe I would protest and speak out and blockade and stuff.

For the Not-Trump protesters who are non-party and not publicity plants of some sort, I have to ask: why bother? Are you a Republican? If not, why interfere in a game in which you have no skin? The man in question is not yet a final candidate for office. What is it to non-Republicans that he earns some measure of success among his supporters? I’d rather focus on the candidates (local and otherwise) that I prefer.

If some criticize Donald Trump as a celebrity, who is to blame for that status? Many Americans seem to want the easy path: fame, recognition, fawning adulation handed on a platter of good luck. Mr Trump is not the first presidential political contender to have enjoyed a first career as a celebrity media star. Unless more people get involved at the local level and work their way up, he might not be the last. Cue this: think about getting started.

This might be one of the few times I feel impatient with protesters. To be sure, they have the right to protest. And if Mr Trump gains a likely nomination, it may shift to a responsibility to protest. But otherwise, I see this as another aspect of the Hermeneutic of Subtraction. Trying to make things better by excising things we dislike is no effective investment. If nature abhors a vacuum, then other similar stuff will just fill the empty space.

If people are angry and upset about disenfranchisement, the economy, corruption, immigration, jobs, or what-not, then why not augment protesting with things useful, constructive and positive? Get informed about local issues. Go to town meetings and forums and get involved on a committee. Join a union. Get involved at school or at work.

To me, it seems that effective involvement is like playing no trump at bridge. Sacrifices must be made in the beginning to ensure success later. There is also the matter of compromise and cooperation with the partner’s cards. Working with others, playing a long game: that seems appropriate for a healthy American way of life. Why don’t more see it that way today?

Posted in Games, Hermeneutic of Subtraction, Politics | 3 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 25: When Work Is Lacking

amoris laetitia memeSometimes, work is lacking for members of a family. It affects more than just the economy of community or a household.

25. This having been said, we can appreciate the suffering created by unemployment and the lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of Ruth, Jesus’ own parable of the laborers forced to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life.

Pope Francis doesn’t mention it here, but finances are one major point of stress for many families, a trigger that eats away at family life.

Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here.

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Timing the Drop-Out

The Post-Confirmation Summit in Rhode Island last month addressed inactive Catholics after the “graduation” sacrament.

According to research conducted by The Dynamic Catholic Institute, 85 percent of young Catholics stop actively engaging in their faith after receiving the sacrament of confirmation. For many in the diocese, this number is alarming, as it not only shows low engagement among young people, but indicates a smaller number of future Catholic adults.

The handful of parishes I’ve served, with and without schools, leads me to a conclusion that would indicate we might better focus efforts at another “graduation” sacrament. First Communion.

My estimate is that two-thirds of Catholics families are marginally involved at best. They come to Church for the sacramental moments. Some might drop their kids off for one to thirty-five weekly hours of education or child-sitting (however that might be viewed by adults and offspring). If kids aren’t coming to Sunday Mass with their parents, I don’t think we can count parochial school or faith formation nights as “actively engaging” for young people. Not for more than a slim slice of the whole.

I don’t have reason to discount DC’s 85% figure of inactive baptized Catholics. That seems to fit with the numbers I remember from Iowa State. Out of 30,000-plus students, about 6,000 (give or take) identified as baptized Catholics. About 700 signed up as parishioners, and some hundreds more came for Family Weekend and Ash Wednesday, the main two days of “obligation.”

If the parish schools in the Ocean State are finding high percentages of Sunday-active families, then maybe the post-Confirmation effort there is sound. I noticed they surveyed kids as young as 12. I suspect that church disengagement is already complete by then for most young Catholics.

For the rest of US Catholics, I don’t intend to denigrate their schools. But the reality is that the lion’s share of their effort is made in the realm of secular education, not faith formation. The system works great for families in which the parents are disciples, more or less, and the focus for girls and boys is less education and more training for discipleship. For this conference, or any similar effort to be successful, it has to be about formation and apprenticeship as disciples. Until we get committed disciples in the seats–and that probably means parents on Sundays–I suspect religious education is useless.

And if we’re going to focus on post-Confirmation, I’m afraid we’re about six to ten years late to the fork in the road for most young people. And if Providence and other places are misreading the expiration date, then I would worry that practical steps won’t help much.

What do you think?

Posted in Commentary, evangelization, Parish Life | 2 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 24: The Dignity of Work

amoris laetitia memeWe continue with a reflection on work. Hopefully readers don’t see this as a diversion before the main topic. Remember, this is part of a biblical reflection. My sense would be to take the whole passage (Psalm 128) and reflect on its whole, rather than just be alert for what we might think is relevant to the planting and blooming of a family.

24. Labor also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of one’s family: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children!” (Ps 128:5-6).

Not quite a diversion, but an apt reflection on the work of a wife and mother:

The Book of Proverbs also presents the labor of mothers within the family; their daily work is described in detail as winning the praise of their husbands and children (cf. 31:10-31).

This passage is used, but less often and only in part, at weddings. Again, I would be careful about taking the particular prescriptions of a culture of the ancient world and applying it wholesale to the present day. The point is that women work too, and work hard. Their labor is vital to a fruitful family.

The New Testament witness:

The Apostle Paul was proud not to live as a burden to others, since he worked with his own hands and assured his own livelihood (cf. Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:12). Paul was so convinced of the necessity of work that he laid down a strict rule for his communities: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Th 3:10; cf. 1 Th 4:11).

I’m also reminded of the Benedictine tradition begun by that famous abbot of Nursia. Work is not just part of family life; it is part of the life of a disciple.

Remember: Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. If one paragraph a day is too slow a pace for your personal curiosity, go there to read in full.

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Coma, As In Hair, Not Sleep

I like the mythological stories connected to the constellations of Earth’s sky. Often enough, some mortal gets rewarded for some effort of derring-do and in death ascends to the night sky to be admired and imitated by future generations. What to make of the faint collection of stars known by the Latin name Coma Berenices? Did the lady slumber? From the Greek, κῶμα is indeed deep sleep. But in Latin, it refers to hair.

Berenike IIQueen Berenike II of Egypt (in gold, left) didn’t make it to the heavens. But her hair did, supposedly. As the story goes, she worried when her husband went off to war and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite for his safety, making a vow to cut off her hair if he came home safe. He did. So she did. After leaving her tresses at the altar, they had disappeared by the next morning.

(Gold coin image credit)

King Ptolemy III Euergetes was most displeased by the disappearance, so the court astronomer pointed out a faint cluster of stars and convinced his sovereign that the goddess so approved of the offering, she placed it in the sky to honor the queen.

daniel in the denGood thing they didn’t have many (any?) astronomy charts in those days, as that collection of stars had indeed been noticed by earlier skygazers, who saw it as the tuft of a lion’s tail. Leo, in fact.

(Daniel and friends image credit)

Good thing the king didn’t know he was being sold a big cat’s end to calm him down. Care to speculate if the king found out whether his flunky would end up like Daniel, above, or with something as tame as a black eye, below left?

Black Eye GalaxyThe reality is, tail or tresses, Coma Berenices is a fairly faint constellation. I guess blondes don’t have more fun in space. This region of the sky does have some significant sights, though nothing much can be seen in it unless the observer is well beyond city lights. The north pole of the galaxy is here. That doesn’t sound significant for our small planet, but it means minimal galactic dust for deep sky viewing.

(galaxy image credit)

If you have a telescope or a collection of images, go to Coma for other galaxies (like the Black Eye Galaxy). There is also a minor meteor shower emanating from this constellation in the last days of Advent.

Check the star map below. CB is near Leo and Virgo from the zodiac, and a bit south of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Here in the northern hemisphere, you can see these stars just about year round–but only in dark rural skies.


That ancient Egyptian astronomer had to wait for the promotion from tail to hair. It wasn’t until Tycho Brahe in the early 1600’s that Berenike’s hair was promoted from an asterism (think Big Dipper) to a real constellation (think Ursa Major), recognized scientifically. Like today, I guess geeks go for blondes, even four long centuries ago.

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