Sunday, 31 May 2015

Priest Threatens to Sue Blogger II

Deja vu all over again! 

Really, they shouldn't do that. Not a good idea. Not good. Not good at all.

Update: More on young Father Dan's social media adventures. The pub talks sound like a great idea, but I hope the content is real Catholicism and not just a mishmash of  "cool ideas," e.g. "g*y m*arriage is consistent with Catholicism, yessiree!"

Update 2: Young Father Dan's side of the story can be found on his Twitter account.

Update 3 (June 1): Not anymore, I see.


My thoughts:

1. All priests and seminarians should be very careful as to what they post on Twitter or write anywhere. This is not because they might "get into trouble" but because they might create a scandal.

2. If a priest is mad at a practising Catholic, he should call up their pastor. Seriously. Then the pastor can call up Joe or Mary Catholic and say, "Hello, Joe/Mary! It's Father Such-and-Such. How are you? Listen, I hear you've taken a scunner at poor young Father Dan's tweet about the Holy Spirit being female. He's feeling very upset and embarrassed about it. Could you find it in your heart to give the wee scamp a break? He's new at this, and....! What?  He tweeted what? Well, I suspect he's been reading America again. Oh, that James Martin! He writes about how much he loves Sex in the City, and then ALL the young priests think it's cool to watch that sort of thing!"

3. The LAST person the priest should speak to, heaven help us, is a LAWYER.  "Simon son of Jonah, do you love Me?" "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."  "Sue my sheep," our Lord did NOT say.

4. There are nice ways to point out to a priest that he has fallen into some ghastly heresy, and there are rude ways to point out to a priest that he has fallen into some ghastly heresy.  Quoting a short but highly relevant snippet of the Catechism is a nice way. Also there are nice ways to write to a bishop, and rude ways to write to a biship. Father Z has tips. I would add, "Use nice thick paper. Everyone likes a letter printed, typed or written on good, thick, expensive paper."

Should I ever write a letter to Cardinal Marx, you can bet it would be on the best paper I could buy. The chap is, after all, a Prince of the Church. Let me see. How to start? "Mit brennender Sorge...

Update 4: My heart is moved by the youth of this priest. I think he's only 28, which may seem old if you're 22, but let me tell you, from where I sit 28 is positively tadpolish.

Update 5: Whup. I see he tweeted something gratuitously nasty and stupid about the Queen. My maternal feelings have fled.

Saturday, 30 May 2015


Today is Seraphic Singles Saturday, and given the heart-storms of yesterday, I think we should continue yesterday's conversation about feeling self-conscious about our looks.

I think the first thing to say is that we were all born with the face and bodies God gave us. We all got half our genes from our mother and half our genes from our father, and so we probably look a lot look either, or both, or like their parents, or like their grandparents, or like a combination of them all. When we are children, our adult relations and friends often amuse themselves by contemplating our appearance and offering opinions as to who we look like. Hopefully they ultimately admit that we're unique. The fact is that we are both: we are a genetic continuation of our ancestors and we are also unique. Even identical twins don't have the same fingerprints, for example.

"Grandpa will never be dead as long as we are alive," said I drily to my mother last summer as I contemplated our aging faces in the hall mirror. When I was twelve, it would never have occurred to me that I looked like my grandfather, save for the colour of my hair. However, as the years rolls on, I see him in my face, and ultimately I am pleased if not, you know, ecstatic. I enjoy thinking about my grandfather although we didn't have much time to get to know each other: he died when I was 4.

Looking like our family makes us aware that we belong to a family, and even if we are not that fond of our families, or never knew our birth family, it distracts us from concentrating too much on our own individual selves. We are not alone. We are not the only one who has this feature or that.  I have fuzzy hair, and kids made fun of me for that. But my American grandmother had fuzzy hair in 1910, and the neighbourhood children made fun of her, too.  Interestingly, in the 1970s and early 80s the taunt I got was "AF-ro! Af-ro!", whereas in 1909, my grandmother was called "N****'s Wool." Different words, same barely concealed contempt for black people and people who just look like them.

Dear me, why did I grow up so self-conscious about my hair? Let me think. Hmm.

Which brings me to the utter horror of the playground and the early discovery of children that there is no faster way to make another child angry than to say "You're ugly." If your elementary school was like mine, and I very much hope it wasn't, children remarked upon each other's physical appearance all the time and did a lot of comparison. R. (a boy) was shortest. J. (a girl) was tallest. E (girl) was fattest. N. (girl) was black. (N. was the only black girl in the school, and it wasn't until we were 13 that the principal came into the classroom to ask the boys to stop calling her a N****.) T. and K. (girls) "developed" early, which was not how the boys described it. H. was deemed ugliest, poor thing. She's married now, and she has big, beautiful brown eyes nobody in my class ever noticed behind her glasses.

Somehow--I'm not sure how--it was determined who in the class was pretty and who was handsome. Now when I look at our class photos, I see a lot of rather ordinary looking--and shockingly young--children. The coolest boy now just looks dopey. The boy I had a crush on has such a strong resemblance to sex-killer Paul Bernardo that my heart froze when I first saw the police drawing of the "Scarborough Rapist". The pretty little blonde--well, I guess she really was a pretty little blonde. And I was nowhere near as ugly as the boys told me, day in, day out.

Oh dear. All about me again. Well, the point I am trying to make is that we are influenced by the messages we are given over and over again, and if the children you went to school with didn't make you self-conscious about your looks, perhaps it was the expensive and lucrative efforts of Madison Avenue. If every girl and woman felt pleased by her appearance from birth until death, the $170 billion cosmetics industry would collapse, and believe me, it doesn't want that to happen.

And, therefore, sisters, we are presented with photographs EVERY DAY of what women "are supposed to look like" modelling make-up, nail polish, clothes, you name it. And the photos do not actually represent the reality of the models, some of whom are incredibly self-conscious about their long legs, long necks, bony arms, etc., etc. If we see those women often enough, we want to be those women or, thanks to the magic of mimetic desire, own their stuff.

Now it gets tricky. We assume that because we find those women incredibly beautiful, men must be throwing themselves at their feet. However, this is not necessarily the case. For one thing, many of them are teenagers, sometimes barely teenagers. Also, some of them are actually unusual-looking in real life and are/were horribly bullied by boys in school.  (Not ALL boys, I imagine. ) Their industries are fraught with control-freaks, playboys, cocaine and a lot of other things that do not add up to shy hand-holding on the third date, family-themed weddings and fifty years of wedded bliss.  Also, not to put too fine a point on this, some of them are as dumb as stumps. And why not? Lots of teenagers are dumb as stumps and people with quick intelligence tire rapidly of having to stand all day with their mouth hanging open just so:

I hope Georgia grew up in the UK, not the USA, for at  a North American school she would have been teased mercilessly about that gap between her teeth. In fact, I know with utter conviction that if she had been in elementary school with me, she would have been called "Bunnicula." Oh, and the boys would have occasionally asked her if someone hit her chin with a chisel.

Once we are aware to the lengths to which power-crazed children and the cosmetics industry have gone to make ourselves feel absolutely terrible about ourselves, we can detach. The power-crazed children were LYING to us. The cosmetics industry is BRAINWASHING us. The proof that you don't have to look like Brooke-Shields-at-19 or Georgia-Jagger-Now to find love and keep is right there before your eyes at your married parents' breakfast table, on Facebook or at the mall.

Especially at the mall. Because we see with the eyes of love--indeed, because when we love our mothers we see them the way God sees them--we look at our mothers' wedding photos and think that they were incredibly beautiful. I think my mother must have been magazine-beautiful when she was 24, but I also think I might be biased. And on Facebook, we are fond of our friends, and so think they are pretty and attractive, and yet if they told us they were going to drop by the Ford Modelling Agency to see if they could get on its book, we would probably yelp "Oh NOOOOOOOOO!" The thought of our friend's beloved features being picked apart and judged by strangers would be just too horrible.  Meanwhile, there they go, dating and marrying and reproducing, without as much as a wink from a talent scout. A miracle?

No. An everyday occurrence. If you go to the mall or the High Street, you will see couples of all kinds hand in hand together. A typical young Edinburgh couple is a scrawny red-haired sunburned young man and an overweight girl with a ring through her nose and a stroller with a howling red-haired infant in it. Perhaps other strangers idly wonder what one saw in the other, but I never do. I assume that they started off as friends who got each other's sense of humour, shared a number of interests or prejudices, happily agreed that Hibernians was rubbish and Hearts pure dead brilliant (or vice versa), and then had a lot of fun in bed together or, if religious (doubtful), just made out a lot on the couch.

Men ultimately love who they love, and she is almost never a supermodel. Men who fixate on multiple women, who go on about the vast numbers of "beautiful women" in this country or that, and who seem to loathe the women around them or who merely share their nationality, are not ready to get married.  Not by a long stretch. They're just bigger versions of the boys in the playground shouting "Af-RO!" and "T. has big tits!"

Such men may never grow up, never make real friendships with women, never get married. And the loss is their own.

UPDATE on Pretty Girl Problems. When I told my mother that I wish I looked like Brooke Shields, she replied that if I looked like Brooke Shields, I would just have her problems. Unbeknownst to me until five minutes ago, one of Brooke's problems was that the aptly named Garry Gross took nude and sexy photographs of her when she was 10. At this was in the 1970s, and Brooke tried to get them banned in 1981, the courts decided they were not actually child pornography. Such a swinging time, the 1970s. So cooool.

UPDATE 2 (15:53 BST) Full Disclosure. The author of the above piece is going out for dinner and a film with some classmates, so she has put concealer under her eyes, foundation (SPF 15) all over her face and under her chin, darkened her eyebrows with powder, lined her eyes with white and grey pencil, put mascara on her short eyelashes and applied a "natural" (for her) coloured lipstick.

She is also wearing deodorant and perfume, and there is roughly a tablespoon of coconut oil in her hair.

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Piękność Myth

It is Polski Piątek, and today's post is for Julia, whose brains have been addled by rumours that all young women in Poland look like supermodels. She has been reading the manosphere--naughty, naughty, naughty. No woman in her right mind should read the manosphere. It leaves a sticky goo on your brains, rather like what has happened to the Historical House's burn (stream) because some IDIOT(s) let raw sewage seep into it.

As I warned Polish women in Krakow, there are American men who think of Poland as a land of beautiful feminine virgins who are longing to experiment sexually with American men. And so, sad to say, young men who go to Poland are often just like older men who go to Vietnam and Thailand: they're sex tourists. Cheap sex tourists, who think they can take some girl's virginity for the price of a cup of coffee or maybe a cocktail.

Incidentally, none of my readers should "date" tourists. Every girl of my mother's generation knew that Canadian girls should not, should not, should not, have too much to do with American boys on holiday. American Boy could do whatever and, since nobody knew his family and they weren't around to shame him into good behaviour, disappear back to the States. Amusingly, my father was an American boy. However, he was a foreign student. Foreign students have professors and deadlines; they can't just do whatever and go home. Also he was (and is) a devout Catholic.

I am glad that Julia is actually going to Poland, so she can see the reality of Polish life, which is that not all Polish women look like models, no matter what the stupid manosphere or homesick Polish men say. For me, the revelation began in the queue for the budget airline flight for Krakow, the very first time I went to Krakow. There were heavy middle-aged women, and there were slender young women, and none of them looked like models. They looked like ordinary people. The most startling thing about Poles--for me, anyway--is that they are all--and by all I mean 99.9%--white.

Generally speaking, and I do mean generally, young Polish women are slim, and middle-aged women are either slim or tending towards stout. There are different gradations of slim and stout, but I haven't seen Polish women with skeletal arms, nor have I seen Polish women who are obese. As for supernatural beauty, I have seen only two Polish women in Poland who I thought looked like supermodels. One was a waitress at Wedel, and one was on a rapid train to Warsaw.

Also generally speaking, women in Poland are much more feminine compared to the men than the average Edinburgh girl seems to be, but this has as much to do with the men as it does with the women.  Let's just say that the Polish bar for manliness is rather high.  Sure, Polish girls (unlike Scottish girls) are reluctant to get dead drunk in public, but Polish men can drink whole bottles of vodka at one go in an evening without dying.

(Do NOT try that at home!)

One of my Polish friends says it is very important for Polish women to know how to drive because they must pick up their drunken husbands from wherever they call and bring them home in safety. I just fell in love with her practical attitude and cheerful assumption that all Polish men drink more than the legal driving limit on a regular basis.

Quite apart from the drinking, Polish men show an interest in women rather more marked than that of British men, for example. This may be because Polish women-in-general are polite to Polish men-in-general, very accepting and caring and bringing them cold drinks, etc. It's a theory. But I think it is also because Polish society expects men to look at women instead of shrieking in horror at the "male gaze."  Men in Poland sometimes look markedly and meaningfully at me, which I find absurd but highly flattering. So far, however, none have attempted any gallantry, which is just as well. My 20 something compatriot M was hit on at some church or other when she was contemplating Baroque grandeur. Having grown up Canadian, albeit Polish-Canadian, in cold Toronto, she was dumbfounded.

I'll tell you what I think it is, and this is not such an original thought, for I have heard and seen it elsewhere. The northern hemisphere as we know  now it (plus Australia and New Zealand) was born bloodily from the Second World War. Whereas it split North American men and women, for the men had to go to hell and the women didn't, it brought European men and women closer together. My Canadian grandfather had a horrible war--not that he talked about it much, but I had a look at where his regiment went--and my grandmother spent it selling hats at Simpson's department store and playing cards with her mother and sister. But European women--French, German, Polish--had wars just as bad as the surviving men did, if not worse, and so there was not quite so much resentment, buried or otherwise, when the men came home.

And when I think about it, it does seems rather unfair that the narrative of "men coming home" in the UK, Canada and the USA is all about how the women, having taken up the men's jobs, didn't want to give them back to the men when the men, maimed one way or another, came home. Oh shock horror, the women had give the jobs back, sulk, sulk. "We took care of our men," said a German Catholic lecturer sternly to one of my friends. "We healed them."

Am I off topic? I'm not so sure. The solidarity of Poles (against outside oppression, anyway) may explain why Polish men abroad (surrounded by foreigners) go on about how beautiful Polish women are, and the post-war rift between Anglosphere men and women might explain why American men trash American women all the time. A hundred years ago, American men would have said loyally that American women are the best, loyal and true.

Because we all love lists, I will now list ways I think we can be more like Polish women, if that is what we want to do:

1. We can all police younger women and shout at them when they eat too many doughnuts.  If accused of "fat-shaming", we can pretend we are really worried about diabetes.

2. We can eat meat, cheese and raw vegetables with one slice of very good bread for breakfast, eat a big lunch beginning with soup, and eat meat, cheese and raw vegetables for supper with another slice of the very good bread. No dessert. Desserts are only for important occasions. Okay, maybe an apple.

3. We can be unfailingly polite, friendly and yet formal to men in public.

4. We can refrain from cursing and getting drunk.

5. We can look sad and helpless when something is heavy in the expectation that some man will notice and help us. In the Anglosphere we may be standing there looking sad and helpless for a good long time, but it will be good practise for travels in continental Europe.

6. We can also refrain from fighting with men when they bait us. One of my Polish friend says that when men try to make her mad, she just laughs--"Ah ha ha!"--and inwardly despises them.

7. We can agree when people complain about something and add our own complaint. If someone says the government is a gang of crooks, you can agreeably say they all deserve to be whipped in the public square. If someone says the weather is terrible, you can agree that at this rate we will all begin growing webs between our toes.

8. We can read up on traditional, herbal or New Age remedies for various health problems and discuss them endlessly with our friends. When men around admit to illness, we can listen eagerly to their symptoms and promise them healing drinks made from mashed up lemons, honey, ginger, marjoram, beetroot, etc., etc. I know a woman who allegedly kept a terminally ill relation alive with beetroot juice. "Disgusting," said my Polish informant, wrinkling his nose.

9. Whenever someone looks hot, we can offer to bring them a glass of water. Apparently little Polish girls in Edinburgh bring little Polish boys cups of water whenever they look hot; the schoolteacher who told me this has done her feminist best to break them of this habit. "Is that not interfering with their cultural norms?" I asked a tad coldly. I'd bet the grocery money she wouldn't say boo to a hijab.

10. We can look forward to spoiling our grandsons while driving our granddaughters completely insane.

UPDATE: I looked up "How much vodka can kill you" on the internet, and indeed many people are interested in this question. Personally, I love vodka--good vodka, not supermarket swill-- and drink it neat. But three shots over the course of a long and heavy lunch is what I can drink without being drunk. I shall now amuse myself by seeing how much Polish men on the internet say is their limit.

Update 2: The sad story of Anna, British teenager, brought to you by the NHS. I bet that wasn't Chopin she was drinking. Ew, gross. The possibilities have just occurred to me. I once tried to drink Smirnoff neat. It was then that I realized why the Screwdriver cocktail was invented: the orange juice kills the taste of nasty horrible cheap domestic vodka

Update 3: Here's Vice on the topic. Binge drinking is more likely to kill you if you haven't built up tolerance. Men in vodka cultures have very likely been building up tolerance since adolescence.

Update 4: How sad is it that I start off thinking about the frequency of beautiful women in Poland and end up thinking about vodka?

Update 5: This is hilarious. I think the advice is just for men, though. I have an English friend who says that the one big difference between mass British drunkenness in his youth and now in his old age is that now British women get off-their-faces drunk, too. What Anglosphere girls have to understand is that women in continental Europe don't. They just don't, and if you do, everyone will look at you like you were the one who poured raw sewage into the local stream.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Plugging Away

I forgot that yesterday was Artistic Wednesday, so I will write about Art today.

Art is not magic. Art is the application of skill on a canvas, real or metaphorical. You can learn how to do any art, and if you practice it frequently, with attention, you can become rather good at it. That said, I am surprised that I am becoming rather good at swing-dancing. But this is foolish of me, for I have been taking two hours of lessons a week since March.

However, the surprise is born of my former hatred for swing-dancing and inability to push myself through the initial weeks of misery, boredom and embarrassment. I did not know then, as I know now, that forcing myself to go to class would pay off eventually.

Interestingly, the reason I used to start swing-dancing classes, during bouts of university, was the hope of meeting men. The reason I started swing-dancing classes this time about was to keep a shy friend company. That said, I have always liked Big Band music. If she had wanted company to salsa....

Incidentally, there may be a correlation between a man's personality and his chosen dance form.  Last week I asked a Latino man if he were interested in salsa, and he said no, it was too bossy and macho. And last night I asked a Polish man if he also danced the tango, and he said no, it was too serious. Another Polish man went on at some length about how much fun swing is. But I digress.

Early efforts at any art form are going to be rudimentary and probably pretty dumb. It turns out there are universal and possibly necessary human stages in drawing and painting. The wannabe sketch artist and painter has to go through the stages, and the only way to do that is to try again and again and again and again and take advice from teachers instead of giving up. I haven't yet worked through the stages myself yet because I haven't done enough. However, I can make pastry, and have been able to make pastry even since I married, whereas before I was married, my pastry was rather hit and miss. (On one memorable occasion, I gave up in a tantrum and asked my mother to finish my poor whatever-it-was. ) At first I thought it was the change in atmosphere, but now I am convinced my hands + brain just "clicked."

My first stories were rudimentary and pretty dumb. Here is the earliest (extant) story I ever wrote:

A Winter Wonderland Tale
by Dorothy

THE LITTLE SNOWFLAKES. The Little Snowflakes come lightly down. On a cold winter,s day. All the little children go to play in the snow. P.S. I bet the children have fun!

Frankly, there is a lot to critique in this composition. First, it seems to have two titles. Second, it reveals a misunderstanding of conventions surrounding the use of capital letters. Third, unnecessary sentence fragment. Fourth, the author has confused the comma with the apostrophe. Fifth, the author has inserted her own personality--tacked onto the end--in an obtrusive way. Sixth, the author has a lot of nerve talking about "little children" in that patronizing tone when I see by the date that she is only seven years old.

However, speaking as a published author and columnist, I am impressed by the phrase "come lightly down." As it so happens, the fat snowflakes of Toronto winters do come lightly down. When I read that sentence, I can see again the view from a now-smashed kitchen window into a now-destroyed Toronto garden and hear the utter stillness as the flakes fall from the dark grey sky on a windless day.

A+, Miss Cummings. Keep on, child. Keep on.

Over thirty-five years later (on May 21, 2015 to be exact), I wrote:


John's flatmate Bob loved horror films. In the evenings, John would often work late in his room, televised shrieks and groans of agony seeping under the door. Sometimes he would pause in the doorway of the sitting-room as he went to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He noticed with sadness that the first victims of homicidal lunatics usually looked rather like himself: tall, willowy, bespectacled. They were often scholarly and soft-spoken, too, tongue-tied around girls, fond of animals.

This is harder to judge, as I--not the seven year old I used to be--wrote it. However, I will suggest that it shows a marked development in style. For one thing, there's no derivative tosh about "little children."

Nevertheless I suspect it was harder for me to write that than it was for the embryonic author to besmirch the white page  of her first journal with her fat, blue, slightly chewed pencil. I know this because I have made a strict promise to myself and B.A. to write three pages of fiction every day, and the end of last story I finished is marked "May 12."

Why the delay? Above all, I think I am out of practice. Squeezing your mind until it produces images and conversations that run down your arm into your pen and onto the paper is a lot of work. It takes practice.

Blogging, however, is like breathing in and out. At least, I think it is like breathing in and out. I've done it at least five days a week, at least fifty weeks a year, since November 2006. If I gave it up cold, I might have a hard time starting again.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Vocation to Single Life Denied!

Just saw this.

I shall now go all trad on you all, and say that the solution to the problem is to stop thinking of anything but religious life and the celibate priesthood as a vocation.

My friend Aelianus once went on at great length about how being single and then being married (and presumably single again when your spouse dies, I would add, and then maybe getting  married again) is just ordinary human life. A vocation, he says, is a call OUT of ordinary human life.

If you're single, or if you're married, don't get all twittery about your "vocation." You've got a state in life. If you're single, you have a harder row to hoe, I think, although parents of young or violent children might argue with that. My own life is way happier now that I'm married, but nobody is drooling formula down my shirt and I don't have a son in jail.

If we just go back to the idea that the only vocation-vocations are religious life and the priesthood we can all calm down and get on with life. Singles won't feel like they are being shamed when people argue there is "no such thing as a vocation to the Single life" and marrieds won't think our state in life is just as noble and as worthy and as much a sign of the Kingdom of Heaven as that of vowed religious. It isn't. Come on. I am still scratching my heads at the fury of married old ladies in theology school at the idea nuns and priests might secretly think they have chosen the better part. They did. What's the deal?

Monastics--especially virgins--are in first place; they have dedicated their entire lives to God. They get first prize. The rest of us get super-happy-fun-romantic-time, or faint copies of it, instead. There is actually no mention of super-happy-fun-romantic-time in the Gospel, so it is a good thing for marriage that Our Lord went to the wedding at Cana, otherwise St. Augustine would have lost the early Christian marriage-is-worldly-and-obsolete-we-should-all-never-have-sex-and-thus-bring-about-the-end-of-humanity-and-usher-in-the-Kingdom wars.

Well, squabble in the combox if you like.  Frankly I think we're called to all kinds of things. I feel called to write for Single Catholic women, even though I gave up my Single Catholic women blog.

Manliness and Fatherhood

A very good article here.

Got a bit teary at the story about the retired marines.

The Loneliness of Adult Women

A married reader wrote the following comment in the combox of one of my "Mother's Day" posts a bit late, so it wasn't automatically posted. When I saw it, I decided not to post it, in case feelings were still raw. It honestly didn't occur to me that married mothers would get upset with Single and childless readers for venting when I told them they could go ahead and vent. It's not like the Catholic world has many places for Catholic Single women to do that.  Next year I will put up warning signs, and suggest that mothers skip my blog for a week while we childless women swim about in the bitter puddle of our tears.

Here's the comment, which was sent to me in an email afterwards, so I respect that the writer really wanted us to read it:

As a 33-year-old mother of three young children, I just wanted to chime in and say that my experience of being at home with the children is that it is incredibly isolating and lonely. I love, love, love my daughters and wouldn't change a thing, but I have very few people to socialize with. The playgrounds are empty M-F 9-5. My neighbors who are retired and home during the day have no interest in interacting regularly. I work from home, so my only work interactions are e-mail communications. I was the first of my group of friends to have kids, and, sadly, most of my single friends abandoned me. There were quite a few women that I last saw at my first daughter's baby shower. The saddest part for me is that my non-Catholic friends have been more likely to put in the effort of maintaining a friendship after I became a mother than my Catholic friends were. BTW, I never gripe about any of this (or anything else) on Facebook; I reserve my "things that might annoy my friends posts" for the occasional, mild pro-life post. So, while there are certainly some mothers venting on Facebook and not returning the calls of their single friends, there are some of us who privately deal with the daily challenges of mothering young children and who jump at the limited opportunities for two-way friendships.

I think this comment deserves more than "Cry me a river, married mother of three" because--except for the internet stuff--it could have been written by my own mother in 1978.  She found being at home with us "incredibly isolating and lonely."  Her high school and college friends were not Roman Catholics and did not take the traditional marriage-babies-homemaking route. They lost touch, mostly, and there were no other young women around to replace them. My mother joined the Catholic Women's League and had bridge parties, and the other members were a generation older than she was. 

Meanwhile, homemakers were right out of fashion. Feminists in public office even called them parasites, and the chattering classes made nasty remarks about marriage being legalized prostitution. And my convert mother was not embraced by the comfy old Catholic world of inevitable pregnancies and constant baby clothes swapping because it no longer existed and hadn't yet been born anew.  

So I know perfectly well that married women can feel very lonely and miss other women, especially other women their age, many of whom are doing things that sound a lot more Important (from a worldly perspective) and Fun. It would not have occurred to my mother, I think, that it might have hurt my father's colleagues' childless wives on a very deep level to see her young face, and her pretty house full of children, and her apparent rejection of the rat race/hamster treadmill they had embarked on. The working world, supposedly paved with gold, was still not all that nice for women in the 1970s. 

Of course, the colleagues' wives usually did have children, but they were busy.  And one thing I have learned from moving to Edinburgh in middle life is that when you are an adult woman it can be hard to make friends with other adult women. Single or married, women over 30 are just too busy.  Any time they can spare for socializing with other women goes either to workmates or to their best mates, who are never going to be some foreign lady who washed up on Portobello beach six years ago. 

I have one (ONE) born-Scottish female friend, and now she lives in England. All my other female friends came from Scotland from somewhere else. The married ones are married to Scots. They are either at least a decade younger than me or at least a decade older than me. And it was a long time before I made Catholic female friends, or any female friend whose shoulder I could literally cry on. (In desperation I called up a childless friend my mother's age and wept to her, which was certainly the right thing to do.) And my attitude to that was, in a nutshell, Duh. That's what marriage means. That's why you have a big party after the ceremony: you're not just celebrating with your family and Single life friends, you're saying "Good-bye."

I learned that from the Anne books. When she married Gilbert, Anne had to LEAVE Avonlea. Anne had to make new friends. Anne very rarely saw her old college friends.  Anne hung out with a much older woman, Miss Cornelia Bryant, and had to wait a long time to make friends with a woman her own age (Leslie). She spent most of her time at home with her children, her husband and her housekeeper. Of course, she was involved in church activities and the Ladies' Aid. I am not sure what the Ladies' Aid was, but they most definitely did not go out for cocktails and girl-chat.

It is unusual to hang out with a pack of women your own age once you leave university and begin work and/or raising a family. Married or Single, this really isn't going on that much. (My best Catholic friends at home get together once a year: when I turn up.) If I do go out for a drink, it is almost always with Hipster Isabella, who is 24. If I run off across the fields to visit a neighbour, it is almost always to my MP's wife, who is over 60.  Most of the  women whooping it up in Edinburgh pubs on weeknights are either in university or well over 40 and possibly alcoholics. 

The solution to the loneliness of adult women is partly for people like me (and Lucy Maud Montgomery) to tell younger women to expect it. Even if you don't take up responsibilities, most of the women your age will, and that means all-we-girls-born-in-Year-X party-time is over. 

Adult women get lonely. End of.  And Single women don't usually have the time or the patience to hang out with mothers of young children.  Chatting with a woman who keeps interrupting you to talk to her children, over and over again, gets boring unless you love the woman and would listen to her read the telephone book if that was the only way you could see her. It's a miracle I can think of two women-with-children friends I love that much.*

As for how to alleviate the loneliness, I recommend joining groups of women who share your basic way of life, and not expecting them to be your age or born-and-bred locals or whatever. My mother joined the Catholic Women's League. I got involved in Polish cultural stuff. Most of my mother's friends are still older than she is. Most of my friends here are fellow foreigners. 

And of course there is the internet.

*Update: It would be a kindness if married women with babies and small children invited Single childless female friends to supper, however. Don't do anything special or extra. Don't worry about the house. The Single friends, if they accept, will be flattered to have been asked and they will learn a lot about the reality of your life over supper. Not to put to fine a point on it, they will go home feeling awed or at least a little sorry for you and rather more cheerful about their Single state. 

Update 2: It just occurred to me that if you love hanging out in big groups of women, I know of a really fantastic all-female community with 32 members so far.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Sheep are Smart

Why do people of other rites risk death to get to Mass? 
Today is Traddy Tuesday, the day I acknowledge the poor would-be converts who read wonderful books about Catholicism written before 1962 and race to their local Catholic church only to be miserably disappointed.

Naturally the next thing to do is to go to a parish which offers the Traditional Latin Mass, aka the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. You may not understand what is going on, but at least you are in the atmosphere your wonderful books were describing.  Do not--I hope you know this already--go up for communion.

Do not expect people to greet you afterwards. If you want to know more, find the TLM-saying priest and tell him that you are not yet a Catholic but you read X and Y and have fallen in love. If the priest is on his game, he will say, "Wonderful. Come and see me in my office!" If he is not, he will say something else, and you will have to say "I am  now seeking Instruction."  Hopefully he does not then send you off willy-nilly to any old RCIA program, but finds you a copy of The Baltimore Catechism or The Penny Catechism and makes an appointment to see you in his office. Just like in those books you have been reading.

By the way, my mother told me last night that the principal parish priest of my childhood, whom I thought was utterly retired, loped off to another province to say Traditional Latin Masses. Suddenly All Was Made Clear to me, i.e. why this parish priest, my parish priest, was so devout, old-fashioned, devoted to Our Lady and the rosary, an excellent confessor, etc. I'm delighted. I always suspected my latent traddery may have been fostered by this priest, but I wasn't sure. Mostly I put it down to Father Robert J Fox's Prayers for Young Catholics, Father Lovasik's  Heroines of God and the old textbooks I found shoved to the back of a  classroom cupboard.

This good old priest never said the TLM in my hearing although--come to think of it--the indult Mass was welcomed in our parish church during his regime. He sang the Opening Hymn (not the Introit) and the Recessional Hymn at the top of his lungs although--come to think of it--they were more traditional than not. And of all the homilies I heard in Canada over the years, Sunday after Sunday, one of the few I remember is his homily on the power of the rosary. It was that good.

Also, when I stopped coming to our parish church--choosing to go instead to the exciting Cathedral where my brother and a lot of Cute Boys sang polyphony and Gregorian Chant--he asked my mother about me. He was worried I had stopped going to any Mass. HE HAD NOTICED I WASN'T THERE and cared enough about my soul to ask my mother about it. This was in a big city parish in the 1980s, not a little village kirk in the 1950s, so imagine how moved I was and still am.

Where was I? I am trying to get to the part where I point out that for centuries priests said masses knowing that their parishioners would spiritually profit thereby without having to have the rituals spelled out to them. For this is what I want to talk about.

My Polish teacher teaches Polish by yammering on in Polish, knowing full well we don't understand everything she says. She knows that the more often we hear Polish, the more we are going to make sense of it. We have our dictionaries, her lectures, our homework, the Polish films she lends us. She doesn't baby us along. She certainly uses as little English as she can. There are some things you can't learn by explanation anyway, like how to pronounce "ę". You just have to do them.

Not only does she yammer on so we can learn intuitively, she tells us all kinds of controversial things about Polish life. She tells students who are cohabiting with their Polish "partners" that this is considered quite shocking in [rural?] Poland. She discusses highly political songs, critical of both left and right. Although keenly interested us in not dropping out, she never pulls her political/cultural punches.

And her students keep turning up because we know she is a good teacher and even if we are blown away by the realities of Polish life (as taught by our teacher) we take her word for them because A) she is Polish and B) she studied Polish as a Pole in university. And naturally she thinks Poland is wonderful and does not make snide remarks about Poland or any Pole alive. I have no idea what she thinks about Komorowki or Duda or any other Polish politician, for she is much too professional to tell us. If I had to sum up her attitude, it is Poland Is Super Fantastic And You Are Truly Fortunate to Be Learning Our Beautiful Language And If You Drop Out I Will Pity You From the Bottom of My Heart.

Contrast this sense of responsibility with the priest who explains during Mass everything he is doing, in baby language, beginning and ending Mass with distracting jokes that have nothing to do with the faith, not actually teaching us anything about the faith during the homily, except to observe how kind +Jesus+ was to the person/people he spoke to in the Gospel, and how we must be equally kind to others, and maybe throwing in a running joke about the thuggish authority of the local bishop for a laugh.

And contrast him with the  priest who soberly marches into church as if he were going to a private audience with a Great King, led through a dark and ornate passageway by servants bearing candles. He approaches the altar as if it were the throne of a Great King, which, come to think of it, it IS. He kneels, and we kneel. The priest  is, after all, our official spokesman, trained in the high courtesy of the official Court Protocol of the King of Kings. This is serious stuff.  This priest's whole life is directed at asking for the King's blessing on and forgiveness for the people in the priest's care. And he is not just an ambassador; he is the local shepherd, and if he doesn't ultimately hand back the King's sheep with our wool all nice and clean and fluffy, all four legs intact, eyes shiny, free from scabies and rabies and wolf-bites, the King will have something to say about it.

My friend Sister Marta, who grew up on a farm in Slovakia, told me once that sheep are not, as is believed by city-dwellers, stupid. Sheep are, in fact, very clever and really do, just as Our Lord said, know their shepherd's voice. "Sheep are SMART," she pronounced in somewhat stilted English. I doubt that sheep understand Slovak any more than they understand English--or Latin--but when the right shepherd speaks, they run to him.

Bizarrely, now that the laity are told--or tell each other--that they are "now" fully adults in the Church, Mass is more often than not conducted as if we were eight year olds who need to be entertained constantly to keep us from wriggling with impatience.  I wonder if this dumbing down of the Mass is what sent tens of thousands of men hurtling out of the priesthood to embrace wives and family life instead, leaving a skeleton staff of some real saints and, for this psycho-sexual reason or that,  not inclined to marry anyway. It's one thing being one of the local Ambassadors to the Court of the King of Kings; it's quite another being the  warm-up act to Sunday brunch.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Viral Bouquet Toss Destruction

Well, well, well. I just saw this. 

And now the whole internet-watching world knows that this guy publicly belittled his girlfriend's hope to marry him. At her cousin's wedding.

Wow. Just wow.

As jokes go, that's not very funny.

I see they've been "together" for four years.

I admit it's a tad unusual, but B.A. and I married seven-and-a-half months after we met in person.

Four years, no wedding.

Seven-and-a-half months, wedding.

Yes,we were 36 and 37 when we met, but at 27 and 32 these people are not shy, gawky teenagers uncertainly entering adult life.

FOUR YEARS?!?!?! What sort of character revelation is he waiting for, I wonder. And, come to think of it, if she doesn't yet see how dumpable he is, friends and family should step in.  After all, they've made the state of their non-union very public.

Well, it's her life, and I generally am pretty good about not giving advice when I haven't been asked for it. But if any of you, my little sugar dumplings, wrote to me to say that you went to a family wedding with your boyfriend--whom you love--and he knocked the bride's bouquet away from your outstretched hand to raise a laugh, I would say to dump him. At once.

If living together, I would say, "Move out. Take your stuff. Leave the keys. Imagine his heart racing in panic and fear, or worse, excitement. (She's gone! Who-hoo! Boy-man party time!) Book off some vacation time. Plan a trip to Paris. Or Rome. Florence is also very nice.

"Do not go back without a tearful apology and a ring. Unless, of course, you already have children together. In which case, what can I say other than I'm really sorry he did that to you. Try to find happiness in being a good mother. Pray a lot."

The Polish Vote

We did not have Polski Piątek last week, so today shall be Polski Poniedziałek. That way I can tell you all about going to the Polish Consulate to visit a new friend and see Polish Pretend Son vote.

For, lo, Polish Pretend Son is back in Edinburgh for the long weekend (today is Whitmonday aka May Bank Holiday), visiting old friends, going to dances and buying B.A. and me a fancy and truly delicious bottle of gin.

After Mass, the Cup of Tea of Peace and the Gin and Tonic of Excess, Polish Pretend Son displayed a special letter he has that lets him vote from abroad, and we ambled off towards the Polish Consulate, accompanied by an ex-postie (postman) who knows Edinburgh like the back of his hand and Google maps.

The Polish consulate, a handsome old white house facing a playing field, is all the way north, past even the Royal Botanical Gardens. As I toddled along beside Polish Pretend Son in my high-heeled shoes, I began to think that it was rather inconveniently placed for the Edinburgh Poles, let alone me. However, it was a fine day,  the route passed chic streets, elegant avenues and pretty parks, and it was amusing to see Poles walking to and from the Consulate. I even bumped into a Polish-as-a-Second-Language classmate escorting his Polish wife or girlfriend home from voting.

The consulate itself has a front hall leading to two front rooms, one on either side. On the right side was an elegant, airy room with a big tables pushed end to end, with volunteers or consular staff sitting behind them with computer print-outs of names. On the left side was another room, slightly less elegant, with a closed counter-window in the wall, and booths set up for private voting. The boxes for the ballots were back in the right-hand room.

Sadly, my new friend wasn't there, so we asked after her, and it turned out she was at the Polish polling station in the New Town. So we went to the New Town and, to my great excitement, for I have written a story featuring the house, the polling station was in the Polish ex-servicemen's club.  So in we went and, surveying its Georgian charms,  decided it was more elegant than the Polish Consulate. It is also where the Polish children's Saturday Polish school classes are held, which I have long heard about, so it is agreeable to know where they are now. To my chagrin, though, the ex-servicemen's club did not look the way I imagined, so I shall have to edit my story a bit.

There were two polling stations there, but my friend was in the one on the ground floor, so we saw only that one. Amusingly--and as left-wing Polish acquaintances had complained--there was a portrait of John Paul II on the wall. Someone had done their best to cover him up with curtains, but his face still smiled over them. However, I don't see what was so terrible and conflict-of-interest about that. Sometimes Catholic schools are polling stations, and nobody bothers to cover up the crucifixes. At least, I certainly hope not!

The New Town polling station, with its tables of patriotic volunteers, was much quieter than the Polish Consulate, but big crowds were expected after  the afternoon Polish mass(es) let out. I had an interesting conversation with one gentleman about Polish houses in Edinburgh; the Ex-servicemen's club was founded after the war, in 1948. He said that during the war the Free Poles had a house on Royal Terrace.

And that is all Polish news I can think of except that in my last class, our teacher gave us all children's maps of Poland and asked if anything surprised us.

"There's no Lwów," I said.

"Lwów is no longer in Poland," said the teacher, smiling indulgently, and I decided not to mention that I was pretty sure I had seen it marked in on other maps, albeit behind the Ukrainian border. Either that, or I have been utterly brainwashed by highly nostalgic Polish friends.

Meanwhile, where Lwów used to be, the map-makers have stuck an illustration of Poland and its borders. Over it march cartoon figures of Zbiegniew Herbert (who was born in Lwów) and Czesław Miłosz, whose birthplace is also no longer in Poland, so I wonder if the map-makers were having a little joke.

Lwów is now known as Lviv.  Lwów-Lemberg-Lviv is politically like Jerusalem: three or four different peoples believe it really belongs to them. But now I could get into serious trouble by writing on this topic, so I will shut up. Apparently Leopolis, to give the town its Latin name, is even more beautiful than Kraków, so I would very much like to see it one day.

There were two (according to the "non-partisan" [ha, ha, ha] BBC) "right-wing" candidates for the post of Polish president, and Mr Duda won. My left-wing Facebook friends seem to have held their noses and voted for Mr Komorowski, and my right-wing Facebook friends seem to have held their noses and voted for Mr Duda. So I guess nobody is ecstatic (except Mr and Mrs Duda, presumably), and all my Polish friends can enjoy a good grumble for the next few years.

Update: I will have an article in Niedziela soon. I was quoted in Niedziela once. Here that is.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

That Thing in Ireland Today

Well, I wonder if the Catholic priests of the world will think what happened in Ireland today worth
mentioning in their Sunday homilies. The vast majority will probably avoid it to talk about happy-happy (Oh! Look! Romero!) so here's my two cents.

It's not true that the bishops of the Church in Ireland said and did nothing, for I found their website and saw a number of homilies. Pardon me if I don't link to the bishops of the Church in Ireland today. I've run out of adjectives to describe them. It's been a long and noisy day. 

As a pal wrote on my Facebook page today, "Welcome to the New Pentecost. It's a little different from the last one." 

A tale from my Boston College days. After the PhD seminar in which a certain Irish-American theologian came in get us to discuss ways in which we could have convinced the Boston Archbishop to disobey Rome and farm out Catholic kids through Catholic adoption agencies to male-male couples, I had a little discussion with my seminar director. He was (and presumably still is) a decent old boy, the only one of my professors I was sure was actually fond of us students in a fatherly way and not just grooming us as disciples, allies and spies. 

The topic was gay marriage, and finally I stopped pussy-footing around and said something like, "Okay, so using the lowest possible Christology, Jesus was a very well educated, deeply devout, itinerant first century Jewish rabbi, right?"

"Right," said my professor.

"So would a well educated, devout, itinerant first century Jewish rabbi have thought it okay for a man to "marry" another man?"

My professor laughed heartily.

"Are you kidding?"

I'll pray for Ireland's faithful remnant, perhaps 37.9% of the population. It wasn't QUITE the landslide the papers are saying after all. Hopefully the 37.9% won't be beaten into submission. If so, I highly recommend the Collins Easy Learning Polish dictionary.

Writing Truth

Despite everything, the UK's sweetheart.
It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, but all I can think about this morning is how the slow drip-drip of televised media transformed a devoutly Catholic country into something else. We are what we consume, and if we watch four hours a day of television, we will become what the broadcasters wish us to be. If instead we spend our evenings in reading Scripture and the writings of the saints, we will become what God wishes us to be.

Consider your own internet reading habits. I'm no-one, really. Not a professor, not a saint, not even a spiritual director, but people follow my posts and even repeat my mantras. Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. We must be rooted in reality. Men are who they are and not who we would have them be. Wait for him to ask you out. There are married mothers of children who have thanked me for the advice they think helped them to marry, and single women who have thanked me for giving them peace. They are thousands of miles away, they have rarely (if ever) met me in person, and they might not recognize me in the street, but all the same, they credit me for that much influence in their lives. Such is the power of media.

Externals influence internals. That is why what you wear to Sunday Mass does matter, and why the presence of innocent, goodhearted, eager women on the altar probably does discourage vocations to the priesthood. That is why poor Sammy Yatim, the Syrian Christian teen whose parents brought him to the comparative safety of Toronto, adopted the gangsta talk and gangsta habits that led him to scholastic failure, depression, despair and ultimately death.* That is why music has the power to lift you up and cast you down. That is why your habitual scowl or frequent smiles repel or attract young men your age.

We eat, and our bodies respond to the food we give it. We consume media, and our minds do the same. And for the most part the media is not persuasive, intellectual argument. Au contraire. The media is art, and it usually bypasses the intelligence, aiming right at the passions. Doctor Who was once a rather silly show, aimed at children. It is now a cultural juggernaut, written for adults, with fantastic scripts, dazzling special effects, great acting and an obvious "progressive" philosophical and sexual agenda.

How are Catholics and other Christians going to compete with such amazing and talented non-Christian artists as the fantastic screenwriters who script the best and most influential British television or the sexy singers who present the most influential songs? This is a serious question, because I am beginning to see that competing with these artists is what we are going to have to do if we don't want to be shoved to the very peripheries of society, or worse. Societies built on whipped cream will not withstand aggressive Islamism.

My suggestion is that we all become artists. Not propagandists, mind you,  for the minute a Catholic artist is tempted to propagandize, his or her art turns to kitsch. There is no need to propagandize. All is needed is to learn the artist's craft and to express the truth. For example, the truth about marriage, and how sexual fidelity is essential to the flourishing of a marriage.

(The bravest thing the Sex and the City movie did, when it tried to convince us that Anthony and Stanford would ever find each other attractive enough to "marry", was have Anthony admit that he hadn't the slightest intention of being sexually faithful to Stanford. And this does indeed reflect the reality of long-term homosexual partnerships.)

Your lives have been helped or hindered by the state of your parents' marriages. Once again, externals influence internals. You could not help but learn, on a very deep level, for good or for ill, rightly or wrongly, what male-female relationships are supposed to be like. Or, if you grew up without any opposite-sex parent or step-parent (or married grandparents), you might have grown up with an empty space in your psyche and find male-female relationships (or your own identity as a man or woman) utterly confusing.

And you get to write about that. You get to paint about that. You get to sculpt, dance, sing, act about that. You get to write or create any kind of art about what growing up male or female, looking forward to love and faithful marriage in the light of Christ, in a society that has largely turned its back on Christ. You get to write about telling a priest in the confessional about your struggle not to be sexually selfish or greedy or exploitative, and either being given encouragement, or discouragement or even utter scandal. You get to write about your temptations, and what happened when you resisted, and what happened after you gave in.  You get to write about the shocking joy of discovering a man you love--a man, such a different creature from a woman!--deeply and miraculously loves you.

And I will tell you something. There is still room for you and your characters in the hearts of the art-consuming public. One of the most beloved characters in Anthony Horowitz's Foyle's War is a chaste and cheerful, rather conventional (for the 1940s), upright young lady named Samantha Stewart. Like most of clever British television, Foyle's War has a marked "progressive" agenda, but so far Sam has been allowed to be the kind of nice English girl  British people of the 1940s really did consider  to be a thoroughly nice girl. And British people of the 21st century love her for it.

My birth country of Canada is famous for ice hockey, the one sport in which we really excel. And why do we excel in it? Because almost all Canadian boys whose parents can afford it play ice hockey. Many Canadian girls do too. All five of my parents' children played hockey. The boys, I believe, were pretty good, and my youngest sister was too. I was simply terrible. However, out of a nation of tens of thousands of children playing ice hockey--most of them, I hope and pray, enjoying it--comes hundreds of really superlative hockey players, year after year the men's and women's national teams beating the Americans, Russians and Swedes (our own real rivals) over and over again.

In order for devout Catholics to make any mark on the hearts and minds of the people in our societies, including badly catechized and often incredibly naive fellow Catholics, we must train ourselves in the arts. We must learn to write, to paint, to design, to act, to dance, to compose in a way that is both attractive and an expression of the nobility of the human being as a child of God and yet threatened by the damage, in this earthly life, of sin.

We must all do it, leaving our Catholic enclaves to show our work to the world, and out of our numbers of "good enoughs", there will arise Catholic geniuses. Of our millions, perhaps a hundred thousand. Of our hundred thousands, tens of thousands. Of our tens of thousands, a hundred. We will not know who those people will be; we might strive to become one--indeed we should--and find ourselves completely outstripped by our fellows, whom we will admire, because we love the ability to express the Truth more than we love ourselves.

*This Wikipedia entry is somewhat inaccurate, however. Yatim did not graduate from Brebeuf; he transferred to an  school with a program to help underachievers.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Dream about the Irish Referendum

Nota bene: another dream.

Last night I dreamed I was in Ireland on the eve of the s*me-s*x m*rriage referendum. I was there as part of a travelling Catholic group, though whether this was mainly from my Canadian past (Jesuit profs, bless them) or from my British present, I am not sure. I think it may have been a mix.

I had taken a break from regular business to look for a dress. On the way back to a likely shop, I had three encounters concerning the Referendum. The first was with a group of schoolboys. A gang of schoolboys, including one black boy, were taunting and questioning another boy for not supporting the Yes side. He ran away shouting, "Because it's my FAITH."

"What is going on here?" I demanded. "How dare you gang up on that boy for supporting what is right!?"

The only one brave enough to address me was the black boy, although I can't remember our conversation.

The next encounter was with a young woman, a teacher I think, in her 20s, standing at the doors of a church as early evening Mass let out.
It's not MY job to advise Catholics on marriage!!!

"It's terrible," she grumbled. "The other schools have g*y activists coming in, of course, telling everyone to support Yes,  but in our schools, the nuns are just telling us to be nice."

"Why don't they just teach the Catholic faith?" I wailed.

"I don't know," said the young woman. "It's terrible."

"But this is Ireland," I kept thinking. "Ireland."

It was almost time for the Mass I was supposed to be at, I thought, so I went back to where my friends were, and obviously this was a dream, for one of them was Berenike, who couldn't be in Ireland, for she is in a cloistered convent. But it seemed I still had time to buy the dress I fancied, so I rushed off, Benenike and our Glasgow friend Thomas ambling behind.

Evening was well advanced now, and the sky was dark. And suddenly, as we walked along the dark pavements, and under an urban railway bridge, Our Lord appeared in the sky. He looked grim.

I fell on my knees, shouting "It is the Lord", and Berenike and Thomas were down on their knees so fast, I assumed they could see him too.

It was a very short vision. He was thin, dark, with large dark eyes--very much like an icon, and He was holding a folded up piece of paper. And after about six seconds, He was gone.

I told Berenike and Thomas was I had seen, and we scurried off to Mass, I forgetting all about that dress. I angrily told someone that it wasn't true anymore that in the last days Ireland would be permitted to drown when the rest of the world went up in flames. (A legend I heard in real life decades ago, and heaven knows where it came from.)

Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.

*  *   *   *   *

Waking life:

In the 1990s, a visiting Irish archbishop harangued mass-goers at Toronto's cathedral with a stirring Irish sermon, including the proud declaration that Ireland would never, ever, betray the Faith.

My ex-husband-to-be, who increasingly loathed Catholicism as the years went on, sighed, sneered and rolled his eyes. But I was happy and comforted at the thought that Ireland, dear old Ireland, was still the great rock of Western Catholicism, a wonderful happy pious Catholic land where perhaps one day I might actually be able to live.

It never occurred to me then that with Celtic Tiger money coming in the door, the Faith would fly out the window, or that Ireland's historical abuse scandal (of which there would be hints in the 1997 Irish film The Butcher Boy) would harden Irish hearts against their current priests and bishops. Indeed, I did not know until I saw The Butcher Boy that Ireland, too, had a problem with "clerical sexual misconduct", as it was called in my 2003 "Introduction to Ministry" class. In fact, I knew next to nothing about contemporary Ireland, despite ticking off the "Irish" box whenever presented with an ethnicity survey.

I know very little about Ireland now although at least I have dropped the "Kiss me I'm Irish" sentimentality common to North American descendants of Irish Potato Famine refugees.

Well, most of it. After all, my Scots-Canadian mother and my father's German-American mother were converts. The Catholicism of my family comes from the Irish part, unbroken through the male line, from the Famine Irish to their American sons to their sons and so on to my Canadian brothers and sisters and me.

Also  the English-speaking Catholic community in Toronto from the mid-19th century to 1950 was heavily Irish, and annual St. Patrick's Day celebrations lasted at my elementary school until the 1980s, by which time the Italian immigrant parents (et  probably alia) were thoroughly disgusted. So when trads, resentful of the Anglo-Irish Magic Circle, make remarks about "Irish Catholics", I always rise up and announce that I am an Irish Catholic ("...and so are YOU, X, with your Irish Catholic grandfather!")

At any rate, the Irish referendum is not really "my" fight, but I see that my psyche chose to dwell on it all the same, and as far as I can recall, this is the first time I have dreamed about the Second Person in the Trinity. Ten years ago or so, I dreamed about the Third.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Complementarity/ Babies and Art

Last night I went to swing-dancing night, and I almost fainted halfway through the second hour of classes. The ballroom was very warm, but that in itself should not have made me feel faint. I was quite alarmed; the spectre of early death by heart failure (not unknown to my family) hovered.

I texted B.A. the news so that it would not be a total surprise if a few hours later I dropped dead.

"I guess Doritos are not the wonder food they're cracked up to be," replied B.A.

It is true that, having spent the whole day in a chair reading and writing, I had consumed nothing but coffee and Doritos. B.A., noticing this, had harangued me on my poor health choices and sedentary lifestyle and remarked that at least I get exercise at swing-dancing.

I went to Tesco and purchased a healthy-looking falafel wrap and a bottle of antioxidant juice containing wheat grass and flax along with various juices. (B.A., at home, made a salad.) After I consumed the juice and wrap, I felt much better and danced the third hour away.

Being gently chided by B.A. about my health was a reminder of how it isn't just men who abuse their health unless corrected by spouses. It was also a reminder of how complementarity is supposed to work: man and woman take care of each other.

It was a contrast to the jokes of a new man in swing-dance class who exulted in the idea of pushing women around. He gave me the impression of someone who wanted to settle old scores, and I nervously asked him to remember that I was not his boss. ("Nor your mother," I added silently. "Nor your old teacher, nor that female supervisor.")

How should one treat a follower in swing-dance? Like a florist handing a bouquet  in a crystal vase, I think. You can guide her here, and you can guide her there. You can even gently swing her about in a controlled and disciplined manner. But you must not push her or pull her or foolishly drive her into another dancing couple or whack her against a table.

How should one treat a lead in swing-dance? "You're the boss!" I like to say. Hopefully he's a good boss, the kind you can sincerely praise or, if he's a bit awkward, train up diplomatically, as would  a veteran secretary. Being the ultimate in temps, you behave so that you will be, um, hired again--or spotted and hired away by an even better boss. As it were.

If this seems all very retro, it's certainly a lot better than thinking about men driving horses. In gloomier moments, I think about men driving horses. Of course, when I look at the advanced swing-dancers, they look totally equal and complementary, each adding his or her bit of dancing genius. The Cool Girls do not in least seem like horses, bouquets or secretaries. Well, given the retro outfits, maybe secretaries.

Nota Bene: This is about a dream.

So last night I had my first ever dream about an ultrasound. In this dream I had gone to see a doctor about a persistent tummy ache, and it turned out that I was pregnant.

I was most surprised to hear that. I thought I had just put on tummy fat from abuse of Doritos, giving up Pilates, etc. The dream-doctor popped me on an examination desk and drew blood, poked me here and there, examined reports and announced happily that everything was going all very well.

In hindsight, this was obviously a dream for at no point did this British female doctor mention "termination" which, given  the NHS and my age, in real life she would have done at least five times. Of course, perhaps the pregnancy was advanced enough that it was no longer legal to kill the baby, for next the friendly dream-doctor showed me the ultrasound--which was more of a video, really--and the baby seemed rather advanced. He--most definitely a he--rolled around and made terrible faces and seemed even to be silently yelling.

Benedict Ambrose, exactly like himself in this dream, was torn between anxiety and delight in the sight of this child, half him and half me, and asked if we should name him right away. And fortunately, I said no, I thought we should wait until we knew it wasn't a dream. I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a dream, which I thought  would be very unfair. Meanwhile, I was torn between wanting to tell everyone, and not wanting to tell anyone, in case I miscarried after all. Interestingly, I told my new friend Jackie (hello, Jackie!); why Jackie turned up in this dream, I know not. At any rate, she knew as soon as she saw me without my having to tell  her.

I was very pleased at the thought that I was having the ultimate female experience after all and was somebody's mummy, and as for worries about changes in my lifestyle, I worked from home anyway, so really, I wouldn't have to arrange or worry about anything domestic. I could just carry on. So I was feeling very satisfied and happy about it all and then, as children finish their creative writing assignments, I WOKE UP.

And instead of weeping and wailing, I felt fine. I got up and began working on another story for my collection. The baby in the dream probably didn't symbolize a real human baby, anyway,  but artistic creation. The rolling around, terrible faces and silent yelling most definitely remind me of my stories coming into being, as does the memory of the baby being both a stranger and familiar. I am not entirely sure my stories can be considered "half-B.A.", but they are certainly born out of life with B.A.

No sense of loss, for the new baby is developing on paper. His name is "Clarence" although I think of him as John.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Those Nasty Far-Right Catholics

Power to the Persons! What? Oh, uh, the People!
I did not break the story of Michael Coren's April 19 formal embrace of the Anglican Church of Canada. My Facebook link to the Anglican Church of Canada's own April 23 Facebook declaration of Coren's switch followed that of another Catholic journalist. I blogged on the topic on April 27, and so did Vox Cantoris in Toronto.

Before blogging, however, I wrote to MC himself because my very first thought, when I saw the news, was that the critique he had received from his (I thought) fellow Roman Catholics about his

 A) remarks about how nasty the Church is to call homosexuality "disordered" (not an insult, as he very well knows, but a technical, theological term) and [its sexual acts] sinful,

B) suggestions that parents who object to the proposed new sex education program in schools are "homophobic", and

C) insinuations that pro-life activist Mary Wagner is an attention-seeking wannabe martyr

had flicked him on the raw so much that he had rushed off to a liberal Protestant denomination, female clergymen and all, scarfing whole handfuls of anti-depressants on the way. I take anti-depressants myself, and when you're depressed, the mildest of contradictions from a stranger can feel like a horrible betrayal by a beloved friend.

Now, personal correspondence is personal correspondence, but even though I'm a Catholic journalist--and, Holy Saint Thomas, but does the mainstream Catholic press groan in agonies of conscience for days before publishing anything controversial--I'm a journalist in wicked BRITAIN, so I will say that MC's reply led me to believe that until that moment, MC had not known the story had broken.


Mindful that I was sitting on the biggest Catholic news story of the week, I asked him for an interview, and he turned down my request.

He also made a remark about "the Church of Nasty," and I wrote back to rabbit on about how it was also the church of saints, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (almost certainly a homosexual) and Saint Edith Stein, for whom he might have an affinity.

I later regretted mentioning her although Catholics of Jewish descent I've met have been very proud to be both Catholic and Jewish. (In the past decades the Coren family--MC's uncle Alan is still a household name in the UK among those who remember Punch, and I recently saw his cousin Giles on TV--seems to have regarded its Jewish roots mostly as a historical curiosity.)  MC mentioned later with distaste that people had been citing his Jewish background, and I wondered later if he had spun my remark about "affinity" in his mind into some lurid anti-Semitic smear.

Because, not belonging to Fleet Street but to the mainstream Catholic press, I was still entertaining the most charitable assumption, which was that MC had flipped his lid. When I wrote my blogpost, I reminded myself that although this was indeed the biggest Catholic news story of the week, MC could be mentally ill and therefore not entirely responsible for exchanging the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto for the Anglican diocese of Toronto without informing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese's official newspaper, whose prize-winning columnist he was.

This, however, became harder to believe when MC wrote to a supporter, “Some right-wing Catholics finally realized I’d been an Anglican for a year and spent last 24 hrs telling everybody.”   He had earlier said he was an "Anglo-Catholic"--something I emphasized in my subsequent column--but here he was saying "I'd been an Anglican for a year" which suggested something more culpable than a depressive episode. Incidentally, his remark was untrue. All the supposed "right-wing" Catholics had discovered--most of us from the Anglican Diocese Facebook page--was that MC had been an Anglican since some as yet unknown date before April 23, 2015. It took social media comments from Coren for us to realize it had been "a year" or "over a year."

The "right-wing" Catholics have morphed into "far right-wing bloggers", by the way, which is truly giggle-worthy, as I don't think dear Vox has secular political opinions and I had just voted for my dear friend George, who belongs to the Marxist end of the SNP spectrum. And meanwhile, MC keeps harping on the terrible abuse he and his family have allegedly received from Catholics since he was "outed" although, except for one potty-mouthed photoshop job, I have seen little evidence of that.

The nastiness of Catholics to Michael Coren, our inability to spell or keep bile from spewing, has been a  theme of his writing for the past year. When he smeared Mary Wagner, he responded to the criticism by groaning over all the abuse he had received, including from Mary's mother. (Jane Wagner wrote an open letter online, which was not abusive: I don't know about "childish" but MC's insinuations about Mary did strike me as "spiteful" and they shocked me into (A) writing a rebuttal and (B) visiting Mary myself.) Coren's change of heart on matters homosexual came not from intellectual arguments but, apparently, from abuse he had received when he objected to Africans executing homosexuals. As the vast majority of Canadian Catholics, "right-wing" or otherwise, would agree with him that executing people for either homosexuality or homosexual acts is wrong, I cannot imagine who it was who wrote him abuse--if they did.

For here is the sad nub of the matter: in terms of MC receiving outrageous abuse from Roman Catholics (or anyone else), the only evidence his readers have for this is MC's word itself--the reputation of which, considering the suggestio falsi of the past year regarding MC's religious identity, has never been so shaky.  Meanwhile the horrible irony of his phrase "Church of Nasty", which the National Post so obligingly published in its headline, is that there were many "left-wing Catholics" who would have pointed to MC as the nastiest public Catholic in the Archdiocese of Toronto. MC's brand of polemics, original and entertaining as it was for those who agreed with him, was downright un-Canadian.

And this is why I am writing about Coren again, mere hours after advising Vox not to do so. Yesterday Father de Souza wrote in the National Post to complain about MC's complaining, but in the combox, sure enough, were commentators mistaking intellectual honesty for nastiness. I'm Canadian born and bred, and one of the worst things you can say, as a Canadian, to other Canadians, is that another Canadian is nasty. (In Toronto, "right-wing", let alone "far right-wing", is pretty bad too.)

Being nasty is downright un-Canadian, and given the sad history in English-speaking Canada of prejudice against Roman Catholics, the libel that Roman Catholics are A) nasty and B) downright un-Canadian is really easy to stick. Because we have strong Roman Catholic principals that are at odds with the Anglo-Canadian zeitgeist, whether that is saying Mass (an abomination to 19th century Presbyterians) or objecting to same-sex marriage (an abomination to 21st century agnostics), we are called INTOLERANT.

Being intolerant is a terrible social crime in multicultural Toronto, which is so big and crowded, the average man on the street/subway train wishes everyone would shut up and leave him alone to get from A to B untroubled. And as Michael Coren has been in Toronto since 1987, you can bet that he knows that. Indeed, he has built a career on it because his British polemical style was unique to Toronto. And he also knows--indeed he wrote on it--that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in Canada, and so if he wishes to keep his trademark polemical style as a new member of the"liberal" media, trashing Catholics is the way to go. Because when, instead of just shutting up and going with the new status quo, the poor conscience-stricken Canadian Catholic feels that he or she must protest, it is all to easy to label him or her a hater.

 I am writing this not so much for my fellow Roman Catholics as I am for my fellow Canadians, especially my fellow Torontonians, of whom I am very fond--perhaps even fonder now that I, like over half of them, have become a foreigner, one foot in Canada and  the other in the Old Country. (Special affectionate thoughts for the insanely grumpy Russian loudly broadcasting punk-folk Russian music over some device on my North York bus.)

In short, my fellow Canadians, take anything Michael Coren says about his critics--and his alleged hate mail--with a good heaping kilogram of salt. I am not sure how long Toronto will take a white, happily married, male Englishman's "poor little me" meme seriously, but I hope it gets old fast. Thinking of Joe and Ioanna Toronto swallowing Coren's tales of woe with their morning coffee makes me grind my teeth.

As I believe Coren likes football (i.e. soccer), my great hope is that he can make a switch to sports reporter. He is a good writer, and sports reporters are often awesome writers. Increasingly few men in the West care for religious debate, but sports is serious stuff, and those who read the sports pages are very serious about accuracy. There isn't much room for waffle, suggestio falsi or poor-little-me, but there is quite a lot of room for enjoyable polemics.

Here is a round-up of mainstream Catholic responses to Coren. I wish to bring to the attention of Canadians that not a single Catholic bishop (our real authority figures) has had anything to say on the topic. Not the pope, not a bishop. Just editors and journos, only one of whom is a priest. Note the disappointing lack of bile:

Carl Olson, Catholic World Report
Dorothy Cummings McLean, (Toronto) Catholic Register
Karl Keating, Catholic Answers (May 11)
Peter Stockland, Convivium, (Toronto) Catholic Register*
Karl Keating, Catholic Answers (May 18)
Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Reporter
Father Raymond de Souza, National Post

*Well-catechized Roman Catholic readers will have difficulties with Stockland's ecclesiology.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Best Life

"Mary has chosen the best part..." (Lk 10.42)
Today is Traddy Tuesday, a day dedicated to talking about the restoration of time-honoured Catholic  
traditions, like the traditional Latin Mass, which is now called the "Extraordinary Form of the Mass." When I was a child, I was so confused by the descriptions in old books of Catholic rituals,  I can easily imagine the confusion of those converted to Catholicism by the writings of G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) et alia.

Yesterday I wrote an article about the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Cecilia's Abbey at Ryde, and as I was there mere days ago, of course they are still very much at the forefront of my mind. They are such delightful women, and not at all what I thought, as a teenager, women religious had to be.

At first I overemphasized in my article how marriageable my nun friends had been, and when B.A. came home for lunch, we had a row about this, with a great deal of shouting from me, poor man. However, I concluded (as usual) that he was quite right, and so I just emphasized the fact that my nun friends had good friends among men their age. Meanwhile, I realized that all my shouting and histrionics were due to my own regrets. Unfortunately, and I am very ashamed to admit this, when I was 19 or so and occasionally mistaken at pro-life conferences for a nun, I resented it. I thought it meant I was as plain and ineligible as a little brown mouse, which to my froward mind was a horrible, horrible fate.

Why are even religious girls so obsessed with female beauty? In Anne of Green Gables' Scots-Canadian Presbyterian tradition, such an obsession was considered shockingly frivolous. It was goodness that mattered, not good looks. "Handsome is as handsome does," summed it up. "Look in a mirror long enough, and you'll see the devil looking out," is what my mother's Presbyterian granny told her.  And although we Catholic girls may find that funny, we have to admit that our lives are rather constrained and sometimes even stunted by the need to look "beautiful."

Ironically, there are few female garments more beautiful and flattering than the black-and-white habits and veils of a Benedictine nun. And there is also--which I know from being married--few attitudes more freeing than not caring if men-not-our-husband find us beautiful or not.  As a teenager, I could not imagine not caring.  And yet I knew perfectly well that, although objectively (I suppose) Brooke Shields was more beautiful than my mother, I found my own mother more beautiful than any other woman alive. And now I cannot imagine any group of women more beautiful than the Sisters at Ryde, eyes shining as they rush to the grille to chat away to guests.

However, that is now. When I was a teenager, I didn't know any contemplative nuns. At school I saw only one sister of apostolic life who wore her black habit, and she did so--we students assumed--in a cantankerous spirit of rebellion against her order. Her sisters wore a range of 1980s outfits and sometimes carried handbags of remarkable ugliness. At best the sisters resembled dignified maiden aunts, and at worst hard-nosed businesswomen in their mannish haircuts and suits. And although I felt faint stirrings of a religious vocation as a teenager, I really couldn't imagine myself in one of those suits.

What really poisoned the wellsprings of religious vocation was my own belief that the best female life was that of a Great Beauty and Wit, but the way religious life was presented to us was no antidote. Martha really socked it to Mary when the sisters presented the foundress of the school's order to us as a Feminist Heroine who Liberated Women Religious from the Cloister. The cloister was a sort of Jail in which Backward Male Prelates of the Counter-Reformation wished to Keep Women, and Were Very Suspicious of Women Who Wanted to Feed the Poor, Visit the Sick, Educate Girls, etc.

I was not the brightest of girls, but it struck me that if the main attraction of religious life was to be a feminist, then there were easier and more effective ways to be a feminist than to go into religious life. And these were the 1980s, remember. There was no internet. There were no quick ways to discover that religious life was more than feminist striving, and that contemplative life was not a kind of prison in which one wore itchy hair shirts, but freedom from the distractions and stupidities of the world. The pantsuits--and, admittedly, scarily foreign orders that advertised week in and week out in the CR--were it. And worse, when I went to university, I discovered some of the pantsuits there were into New Age tomfoolery.

(Nota Bene: I hasten to say that the women religious--who were not nuns, properly speaking--of my school were excellent, if not always popular, teachers and administrators. They did a good job turning out educated girls. They just didn't do a good job fostering vocations to the religious life.)

Therefore, it is not terribly surprising that I thought the best life for me was to be married, preferable to the most intelligent and ambitious man around, after demonstrating to myself that I was attractive to several men. An appalling attitude, but hardly an original one.  And now who's sorry, eh?

Of course I am very happy to be married to B.A., and I'm glad I had at least a last-minute hope to have children, even if they never arrived. But when I think about Ryde, the happy nuns,  their beautiful gardens, their glorious singing, their tasks, their perpetual virginity and their total gift of themselves to God, I think that I was robbed--or that I robbed myself, which is worse. This could have been mine, I thought last Thursday. This happy life of prayer and study, of music and fellowship, of beautiful habits and unabashed wearing of spectacles.  This best life.

For let's not be all sentimental and prizes-for-everyone-who-has-not-got-prizes about this. The best life for men and women on earth, the numero uno vocation, the vocational pearl of great price, is monastic life. Even Thomas Aquinas, a mendicant friar, agreed that contemplative Mary has the edge over active Martha. But let not the best be the enemy of the good--marriage is great, apostolic life is great, and living out Single Life, if that is what you are called to do, can be great too. But life as a consecrated virgin in an enclosed monastery gets (literally) the golden ring and (metaphorically) first prize at the vocations fair.

As delighted as I am to hear that this long-term Single reader or that has married and had babies, I would be even more delighted if just one young reader read something I wrote about St. Cecilia's and applied to be a postulant. I think such a reader would have to be a bit of an "old soul" or certainly be more intelligent and mature than the vast majority of teenage girls are allowed to be today. Such a reader would not try to freeze the blood of her friends with gruesome exaggerations of the privations she expected to find in the cloister--as I did indeed once hear a girl do, and so was not at all surprised when she left. (Adolescent Catholic girls can be incredibly silly about something as beautiful and sacred and wonderful as cloistered life; they should leave it alone until they grow up. If they cry all the way there--another girl I knew--they shouldn't be allowed in!)

Once again I mourn the fact that I was so old before I had much sense. Truly we exaggerate the wonders of the adolescent state. Blah. Well, if you are a Catholic woman under 40 who has never been married, whether you are a punk (I think they have an ex-punk) or a classical violinist (they have one) or an accountant or a PhD (they have those, too) and are a stable sort of person, you know what I think you should read next.

By the way, the youngest nun is 23; she entered at 19. They tell me she gardens a lot. My friend Sister Mary Thomas, who is about 35,  is in charge of the bees.