Tuesday 30 June 2015

Short Trip

I'm going to Belgium tomorrow afternoon after a morning appointment. Have a good weekend!

Monday 29 June 2015

Just a Little Pinch of Incense...Don't You LIKE Caesar?

You can sing a rainbow, too.
I didn't get to sleep this morning until three because a childhood friend draped her Facebook photo with the rainbow flag. A Catholic childhood friend. The last person I expected.

My first Facebook acquaintances with rainbow flags were, unsurprisingly, out-and-proud men who self-identify as gay. Apparently one was once-upon-a-time distressed thinking that I did not know he was gay. He felt deeply worried about it, and asked B.A., and B.A. assured him that I knew, which annoyed me, as actually I didn't know. I never assume anyone is gay until he tells me he is. Occasionally I gather that a particularly hip and stylish Catholic pal with certain mannerisms might experience same-sex attractions, but I assume from the company he keeps and his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament that he lives a life of strict chastity, and if he should fall into sin, he drags himself to the confessional and does his penance like everyone else is supposed to do.

Anyway, my out-and-proud pal, of whom I am very fond because he is quite lovable, self-deprecatory and utterly without malice, has draped a photo with the flag, and I was not surprised. Oh well, I thought. Oh well.  I felt even more resignation about the gay chap I met in local literary circles; I'm amazed he's so tolerant as to want to be Facebook friends with Catholic me, but I'm glad as he is a gifted artist and well worth knowing.

When a Catholic professional stage manager I know draped her photo in the flag, I thought, with a little less resignation, Oh well. She's in theatre.  She might even experience SSA, although I don't remember her mentioning this at university.

But then I espied another Catholic friend, a married mother of multiple children, covered in the rainbow stripes, and I was shocked. Holy crap, I thought. I don't believe it. It wasn't that I thought she wouldn't be PC; she lives a PC kind of life. I guess I hadn't  realized how far PC has gone.

I began to go through all my Facebook friends. A Catholic Studies PhD grad in the stripes--Being a smartass as usual, probably. Girl I knew in high school--Well, I have long thought she is ashamed of her Catholic upbringing and tried to hide it that time. Musician--Not gay, but not Catholic either. And then--Oh no...WHAT? This makes no sense!

But even then, I could see that from a sense of compassion she might do it. Or from love of child. "What if your child turned out to be gay?" people ask mothers, and  the mothers hug their babies and inwardly pledge to accept their children and their decisions no matter what. In a moment of maternal tenderness, this woman might have thought "Well, Caesar's not so bad"--he was a baby once--and chucked a pinch of incense before his statue.

Because that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? Nobody blames the average pagan Roman for having burnt incense before the gods of his nation. He didn't know any better, and he thought it a noble civic thing to do. And, if we think charitably, we might even see why the Romans were cheesed off at the Christians--widely rumoured to be utterly hateful people, said to do hateful things, especially to children--refusing to embrace the famous Roman tolerance of all things religious. The Romans adopted all kinds of foreign gods. The more the merrier. Plus, the Christians apparently hated Rome so much they burnt it down, etc., etc., etc. The very fact that they wouldn't burn teeny tiny pinches of incense before a statue of almighty Caesar... How intolerant can people be?!

We have many stories of Christians refusing to burn the incense and dying horribly yet paradoxially gloriously because of it. We don't have as many stories about Christians just going ahead with it and burning the incense, although my Asian Theology prof  LOVED stories like that. He practically licked his lips as he related the tale of some Japanese ruler nattering triumphantly over a tortured, broken formerly-Christian European missionary. Nice, eh? Must check to see if the prof is still a priest.

Anyway, the conclusion of this rant is that it almost doesn't bother me that men I know to be openly gay have wrapped themselves in the rainbow flag, but I am utterly horrified that married Catholic women raising their children as Catholics have. I wonder if they actually know that there are thousands of people with same sex attractions--particularly Roman Catholic and other Christian people with same sex attractions-- ho do not attend Pride parades, and do not fly the rainbow flags, and who might not appreciate such token gestures of "solidarity."

Meanwhile, and more pertinent to my own experience in life, I wonder if they know what a scandal they, the  flag-draped-married-Catholics, are even to Catholics who do not struggle with those kinds of sexual temptations. e.g. me. It's scary enough to be a tradition-loving Catholic in the UK, to say nothing of the arts world, to say nothing of the theological world, without ordinary people-in-the-pews suddenly forgetting on what marriage is.

I have to say I have a heck of a more respect for my funny, friendly out-and-proud pal, whose name I bring before the Divine Mercy whenever I remember, e.g. now, than I have for such PC Catholics. So shocked. So disappointed.

On the other hand, perhaps they're just not that bright  just didn't think it through.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Auntie Seraphic & the Anxious Eater

[Dear Auntie Seraphic]:

I have been reading your post on single life and why a person might still be single, when everyone around her is marrying. I struggle with my weight very badly and I know that this is why I don't want to put myself in the running and also why men seem to look through me if you know what I mean. They are friendly to me but no attraction which I understand, I am not fat or chubby I am very overweight. 

Can you do a post on this but not post my email please and also explain why, is it just fertile signals, that it is so disgusting to men, for example would your husband have married you do you think, if you were fat but still everything else you? Maybe understanding another's point of view how they see it that will help me understand what I am doing to myself and kickstart me into stopping overeating. 

Do you know why some people eat their anxiety and other don't, why some obsess about it and eat badly even if they know what they should eat? I had a good childhood so I don't know why I do this but I want to stop so I can be happy and then maybe if God wills it meet a nice man, my email is more about a happy single life than a happy love life. I would have no respect for a man who wanted me looking like this by the way, if I can see how wrong it is, how can he not? I am not looking for a chubby chaser I just want to be free and I am hoping for some tough love on this as I know that it is stopping me from a lot, I feel in chains.
Romans 7 15

Dear [Romans 7:15]

Oh dear. I am so sorry. That sounds like such a cross: not just the weight, but the anxiety that leads you to overeat.  

My instinct is that most men are attracted to women who look young and healthy. Women who have suffered for some time with eating disorders do not look young and healthy, from anorexics to the morbidly obese. I remember a woman in my university's athletic center. She seemed to be addicted to the Stairmaster, and she was so bone-thin, and with such thin hair and staring eyes, that she looked like Gollum. 

Now, clearly that woman needed psychiatric help,  I am a big, big fan of professional psychiatric help. I was in therapy for almost five years myself, and now I manage a mood disorder with anti-depressants. Eating disorders and any other mental or emotional disorder seems to me on the same moral level as cancer or any other physical illness. Very rarely is anyone blamed for being ill. However, it is the responsibility of the sick person to get medical help.

My advice is that you make an appointment at once with a medical doctor. Explain to the doctor your beliefs as to why you overeat. Ask for his/her recommendation for a counsellor who can help you to deal with anxiety without overeating. (Being reprogrammed to scrub the bathtub instead would be quite a blessing!)

The big issue here is not whether or not men find you attractive. The big issue here is freeing yourself from the chains and, indeed, saving yourself from long-term damage to your physical health and, indeed, an early death. Once you have sought medical help, for body and mind, then you can think about other people and romantic relationships. But for now I strongly recommend that you seek medical help.

If that is too big a step for any reason, look online or in the phone book for Catholic or other Christian counsellors and contact one. Back home, I would recommend "Catholic Family Services". 

Grace and peace,

I am not absolutely sure from this letter how overweight my reader is. However, as she mentioned "chubby chasers"--men who are sexually attracted to obese women--I assumed she is dangerously overweight. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important for long-term health; whether men find you attractive or not is quite besides the point. 

As for tough love, I don't think anyone with a physical or mental illness or disability needs "tough love." They need loving, professional care. 

Meanwhile, the women in Britain are the fattest in Europe. Eating habits here are simply terrible, and overweight women are so much a part of life that they can be television stars, romantic leads, you name it. Edinburgh is full of overweight women and their correspondingly overweight or contrastingly skinny boyfriends. Being overweight does not immediately excommunicate you from male society. Being terribly unhappy, on the other hand.....

One of the big shocks for women who lose a significant amount of weight is that this does not solve all their problems. When I was 115 pounds and incredibly fit--ah, those were the days--I walked, scowling, one day through a blue collar neighbourhood and heard, "Great body. Too bad about the face." I was sooooo mad, I still remember it 16 years later. It only occurs to me now that I wearing my "If anyone talks to me, I will knock them flat" expression.  I was thin (and strong as wire), but was I happy and confident? No. 

Men are sexually attracted to all kinds of women, and this is not necessarily connected with their emotions. However, men get crushes on happy women. Men fall in love with happy women. They will stick with their women when those women are sad (unless those men are jerks or the women are abusive), but I am confident that what men most admire in women is happiness.

Update: I see that I didn't answer the hard question. Well, I do think B.A. would have fallen in love with me if I were overweight. I don't think he would have fallen in love with me if I were miserable. And I don't think he would have fallen in love with me if I were obese because obesity--a serious health problem--is much more likely to elicit pity and horror than admiration. I would have fallen in love with B.A. if he had been overweight, and I married B.A. even though he was underweight, but I don't think I would have fallen in love with B.A. if he had been obese. Portly is one thing, but obese is another. 

Friday 26 June 2015

In Desert and Wilderness

I am just home from taking a pregnant young married lady and her husband around Edinburgh, and I see that the USA has done something or other about g*y m*rriage, which I am otherwise going to ignore because m*rriage is a permanent relationship, entered willingly and in freedom, by a m*n and a wom*n for the purpose of procreation and mutual support. It was such before the Mayflower reached Plymouth Harbour, and it will be such when Plymouth Harbour is washed into the sea.

Meanwhile I have embarked on a new Polish project, and it is to read W Pustyni i w puszczy  ("In desert and wilderness") by Henryk Sienkiewicz from cover to cover. As I am reading one page a day, that will take me about 250 days. The reason I am reading only one page a day as so not to feel overwhelmed by all the words I do not understand. When I come across a word I do not understand, I underscore it in pencil and continue reading. Then I look up the underscored words in my dictionary.

I started this grand project on 19th June, and I have read 8 whole pages. This means I am halfway through Rozdział (Chapter) 2. Hooray for me. In today's page, Mr Rawlinson, father of Nell, explains to Stanislaw Tarkowski, son of Mr R's best pal, explains the geopolitical situation of Sudan. (It is 1884, and they're all madly colonial, Mr T going engineering grunt work for the Brits.) In yesterday's page, Mr Rawlinson mentioned Khartoum and General Gordon in the present tense, so I have a terrible feeling that all will be very bad very soon.  Nell's French governess does not want to go on the two families' exciting trip to Medinet, and I cannot blame her.

Anyway, it's all very hard, so very crushing and healthy for my ego.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Self-Defeating Behaviours 2

Resentment Yesterday I was at swing-dancing, being shoved around and even lectured at by men. Giving unsolicited feedback at swing-dancing is a social faux-pas, but etiquette is not so highly stressed in the Edinburgh swing scene, alas. Normally I do not mind a tip or two, but I definitely mind it when the guy is wrong. I also mind being shoved in the back and having my wrist wrenched. 
Normally I hang onto resentment like a favourite blanket, but last night I shoved it away. Do not resent the men, I thought. Either gently correct them or let it go. Today I offered a good article on feedback to the club website because someone ought to teach us all how to behave, and I don't want it to be me. If ever I am a swing-dance teacher, I will give a workshop on good manners on the dance floor. But for now I am just a semi-newbie, and my primary goal is to be asked to dance a lot. And for a 40+ in a room full of university students, I do pretty well. 

Aha! Expectations. If you are over 30, you should check your expectations. As a woman over 30, you can expect to find companionship among men over 30, but not necessarily among men under 30. Of course, younger men often take a shine to older women, but it is not the absolute norm. When you are 35, you shouldn't sulk and feel sad because men in their mid-twenties think you are way older than they. You are way older than they. And no matter how young you feel--everyone feels young unless we're depressed or ill--or look, you are still over 35 and you are just not as attractive to the vast majority of young men as the 19 to 30 set. Sorry. 

Happily, there are also men in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s who are interested in women, and the older they get, the more likely they are to  (A) understand that the girls in their 20s think they are hideous (B) find girls in their 20s inexplicable and even dull. Girls in their 20s have never been to a Roxy Music concert or even know what Roxy Music is. Indeed, even I at my advanced age had to google it right now. But if I recall correctly, chaps now in their 50s think Roxy Music the bomb. (Oh, this is 40-something person slang meaning "fantastic.") 

So do not resent 20-somethings for not noticing you are alive, breathing or even female, if you are over 30. Most of the little things are dead poor anyway, being in college, or the military, or the breadline, or internships. They cannot support a family of three; they can barely support themselves. The tallest cutest twenty-something guy at swing-dancing is a full-time waiter. O tempora, o mores.

If you are under 30, you should keep in mind that most of the men of your generation are dead poor, and the idea of supporting a wife and family scares them to death. The idea of being married to wives who do way better than them financially also scares them to death, especially since although we have progressed to the idea of Wife as Breadwinner, we have not progressed so easily to the idea of Husband as Housewife. They are haunted by the idea that they have nothing to offer women nowadays, which is why I think we should emphasize their size and brute strength as much as we possibly can.  

Repelling Kind Gestures. You and I know that we are not crippled (unless we are) and we don't need a seat on the bus more than a man (unless we do) and we are perfectly capable of carrying our own bags (unless we aren't). However, nothing discourages a man's attempts to "be a gentleman" than telling him so. Every woman who humiliates a man in public for trying to do her some kind service of strength should be dragged into the market square by all the other women and beaten with a skipping rope. Because of this woman, that man will sit in his bus seat while before him a standing pregnant woman fights down nausea. Because of this woman, that man will let the door slam shut in the face of a woman holding a noisy child with one hand and a heavy shopping bag in the other. Because of this woman, I collapsed outside Aldi surrounded with my weight (it felt like my weight) in groceries around me. Bad, bad woman. Naughty, naughty, naughty. Gender traitor, gender traitor! Whack, whack! 

The nicest thing you can do for a man in this world that has so devalued masculinity is to allow and encourage him to perform signal acts of strength. Now that we all know the average woman is just as smart as that average man is, just as good at math, if allowed to be, etc., etc., we should let men shine in the unique ways that they can, and one of them is getting lids off jars. This ability is actually very important to the smooth running of life. 

Demanding Kind Gestures. However, you cannot nag them about signal acts of strength. Once upon a time in a group, I offered to help another over-30 with her bags.

"Thank you, but it's not YOU who should be offering," she said and shot a covert look at the oblivious 20-somethings around us. 

"Give me that bag," said I and tried to check my companion's complaints about young men who do not carry bags, the young men in our group being in earshot or almost thereof. For this kind of passive-aggression does not help the cause. Utterly not. If you have heavy bags, or a bag of any size (except your purse), and you want young men to carry for them for you, the way forward is to say plaintively but directly, "Will one of you big strong young men help little me with my bags?"

Then, when one of the big strong young men, or maybe even two, depending on the number of the bags, leaps forward to help little you, you say "Oh thank you very much" like a woman who has been untied from the railway tracks. 

Naturally you never, ever, ever say "should" to a man who is not your son or paying pupil. Never. Nor should you keep up a running commentary on how rotten he is, how spoiled, how rude, how insensitive and so apparently ignorant of the good manners that were the norm fifty years ago. The one and only place I have ever been where men automatically give up seats to women, carry their stuff, lift heavy things, take the lids off the pickle jar is (wait for it) Poland.  

I recall a Frenchman leaping to my assistance on the train platform in Milan, but I was a striking foreign 28 year old. I suspect today he would study his copy of Le Monde with such fierce intensity, both middle-aged me and my suitcase would be completely invisible to him. Sigh, sigh, sigh. If lucky, I would be rescued by a minute Polish priest, who would risk the hernia for the pleasure of the challenge and of subsequently scolding me for travelling with such a heavy bag. "What if I were not here?" Good question. 

Personally I enjoy going through life telling young men they are handsome, necessary, good-looking, strong and marvellous--which is not difficult as these are the only kind of young men I have anything to do with--but as I am middle-aged and married I cannot tell if this is a good way to attract men. I think it probably is, if you are under 30. Over 30 and unattached, you might be found be a bit alarming. On the other hand, you might find yourself with more attention than you know what to do with. I recommend trying it and then emailing me after a few months to let me know if it's working. 

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Self-Defeating Behaviours 1

Although many women with mental health issues marry, not all of them do. (I say them, not us, for I have a more of an emotional health issue than a mental health issue. Pause while I go take my pill. Okay, I'm back.)

Interestingly, some men are terribly attracted to women with mental or emotional health issues, and not necessarily because the men are rotters. When I first met B.A. he told me all about an ex-girlfriend on anti-depressants, and my thoughts slid uneasily to the pills in my suitcase. Of course, I was also greatly cheered, for men tend to be attracted to the same kind of women over and over again. Poor B.A. is doomed to the sort of women who fling ourselves on kitchen floors and wail. On the bright side, we're rarely boring or holier-than-thou.

However, to get back to the women with mental health issues who don't marry, it's probably a good thing that they don't marry, for marriage can be quite mentally and emotionally challenging. Trying to take care of your own mental health while nagging at your husband to see a doctor about that cough/enormous multicoloured mole/swelling on his neck would be almost impossible. Meanwhile, not a lot of men have the emotional resources needed to care for a wife who is actually psychotic. There are at least two Single women in my parish who are insane, and one of them is certified psychotic, and so if either asked me why she is Single, I would probably point to that. 

Life is hard. 

Of course although  a few Single women are probably Single because they are severely mentally ill, being Single is not a sign of severe mental illness, especially as there are lots of married women who become severely mentally ill. 

So where am I going with this, you are wondering, eyes wide at the computer screen. Well, although I think most of the time Searching Single women are still Single because the vast majority of Single men are just not interested in marriage being (A) dead or (B) underemployed or (C) dead scared of women or (D) addicted to porn or (E) called to celibacy as a Sign of the Kingdom (F) homosexual, I acknowledge that sometimes women are Single because of our own disabilities, habits, attitudes or poor choices.  

Naturally, women don't want to hear this. Women don't want to hear this so much that our own women friends usually don't make us unless we repeat "Why am I Single?" so often they snap. 

Meanwhile, if you are under 30, the answer to "Why am I Single?" is usually, "Because the vast majority of men of our age and type have been killed by war/corrupted by the sexual revolution/deadened by porn/devalued on the job market /discouraged by divorce laws." So, really, there is no point in worrying why you have not managed to snag one of the few early-marrying outliers. However, once you are 30 and you notice vast numbers of men your age and type now getting married, you may want to ask your best and bravest female pal if perhaps you have a personality quirk which, though highly endearing to fellow women, repels the so-called stronger sex. 

I did this myself, and it was not as painful as I thought. My chosen pal was a devout Catholic who had studied Saint Edith Stein's and John Paul II's theology of women, and we had had many conversation of the "Dear God, what do men want?" variety. So she thought about the problem of Seraphic for a bit, and then we met in a café that neither of us was attached to,   in case this was a horrible experience, and my pal told me that she thought I was still Single because I wanted a man who was more intelligent and more educated than I was. 

"That's it?" I asked incredulously. 

And apparently that was it. I was healthy, striking, funny, friendly to men, fun to be around, but I seemed determined to marry only within the tiny percentage of men [whom my friend and I perceived to be] more intelligent and educated than myself.  

I was so pleased and relieved, I swore at once to stop trying to marry university professors, and within a year I was engaged to a fellow Ph.D. drop-out. Ta-dah! 

Naturally all B.A.'s male friends will blow raspberries and insist than B.A. is vastly more intelligent than I am, blah, blah, blah, blah. However, I think we are pretty evenly matched, and B.A. just gets more credit because he has a proper job and talks about the Scottish Enlightenment all day. 

It is curious that this was my problem because at earlier ages, I could have been given different answers. Of course, between the ages of 19 and 25 I was Single because I was dating men I couldn't, in the end, commit to. DUH. 

Seraphic age 21: Why am I Single?

Seraphic age 40+: Since unlike most women you know a zillion Catholic men of the early-marrying variety, I would say it is because you have the maturity of a grape in spring.

Seraphic age 21: Aw. You're mean. Aw. I'm not listening. Fingers in my ears. La la la!

Seraphic age 40+: Also you have severe undiagnosed depression, and Prozac would be helpful.

Seraphic age 21:  Oh how dare you? Oh the shame. Oh the taboo of mental health issues and the shame of Prozac!

Seraphic age 40+: Yeah, you are going to have get over that.

Then there was me at 27.

Seraphic age 27: Why am I Single?

Seraphic age 40+: Well, you're not actually Single, sugar-pie, because your annulment hasn't come through yet. Come back when your papers are hot off the marriage tribunal's printer, and we'll talk.

Seraphic age 29 (with papers): Okay, I've been officially and churchily Single for months now. Why am I still Single?

Seraphic age 40+: Because you have been dating the wrong kind of man. Stop dating the wrong kind of man!  Stop it! Stop it! (Takes papers and wallops Seraphic age 29 over the head with them) No more atheists, no more alcoholics...!

Seraphic age 29: There's a nice Protestant guy at work...

Seraphic age 40+ (has small seizure): Have you learned nothing?

Seraphic age 29: Hey, I'm not a sectarian freak or anything.

Seraphic age 40+ (wallops Seraphic age 29 all around the room): Yes, you are! Yes, you are! Admit it! Embrace it!

Seraphic age 29: Eeek! Help! Crazy woman! Eeek!

(Exits, pursued by older, fatter self.)

Seraphic age 35: Why am I Single?

Seraphic age 40+: Shut up. You're boring me now. I'm watching Poirot

Seraphic age 35: It's because I'm ugly, right? I'm ugly. It must be because I am ugly.

Seraphic age 40: This summer in Germany, you were hit on by a discerner, a seminarian, an overenthusiastic migrant at a bus station, Max's uncle and that scary priest. Go make me some popcorn. 

Seraphic age 35: The discerner was nice. Why didn't I go for the discerner? He was a trained engineer! Why was I so distracted by Max? Why couldn't I have gone for the discerner? Was it because his grandfather was in the Luftwaffe? What's wrong with me?

Seraphic age 40+ (watches Poirot, eats popcorn).

Of course, now I am quite happy to have been Single all that time, for it left me free to meet Benedict Ambrose, and when you meet the Perfect Man for You, you suddenly cease to mind all that Singleness and wish only that you had met him earlier which, if he lived his whole life on another continent, was pretty unlikely. The very fact that you managed to meet him at all will strengthen your belief in God's Providence and mercy. 

The only thing I have to add today is that by the time I asked my pal for her definitive opinion on why I was Single is that I had completely got over resentment for men. I cannot stress how damaging resentment for men is in your quest for wedded bliss. YOU MUST NOT VOICE RESENTMENT FOR MEN! Except, naturally, to your shrink, if you have one, so as to stop THINKING your resentment for men. If you THINK it, it will beam from your face and repel the multitudes. But I will write about that tomorrow. 

I should have written about that today, but I got all distracted by the Drama of Me. As usual.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Miss Campbell, RIP

One of our parishioners has died, and I would like all readers to pray for her soul. As she was about 94 and went to Mass every day, this may be more of a situation in which we should ask her to pray for us. Still, one never knows unless someone is actually canonized, so of your charity, please pray for Una Campbell.

Here is a story about her I found online.  On top of her impressive work of mercy, I draw your attention to the fact that she never married.  

What if you lived to be 94 and never married? What would your life be like? I hope your life would be at least somewhat like Miss Campbell's.  Like many other very elderly ladies in Edinburgh, she was as sharp as a tack and took much pleasure in the city's packed calendar of cultural events. She always brought a tea towel to our Sunday Mass, so as to help with the washing up after After-Mass Tea. She usually had a chat with the Master of the Men's Schola and other parishioners. Meanwhile, although she was a stalwart of the TLM, she also went to daily Mass at the local Jesuit parish, where she was a reader. On the occasion of her 90th birthday, we had a little party after our Mass, complete with cake and a speech by an elderly man who had been her pupil!

Via Facebook, I have been informing all of her fellow Edinburgh TLM-goers home and abroad of her passing. The responses are flowing in from positive infants in their early to mid-20s: Requiscat in pace. Miss Campbell and her tea-towel was a constant of our Sunday worship, and evidence that you can serve others even when you're over 90. She'll be missed, but I am delighted to think that she is young again. 

She died at home in her Edinburgh flat--I'm happy about that, too. Saint Joseph, patron of a good death, pray for us!

The TLM in Hong Kong: Guest Post

Latin is Latin--ubique.
Well, however much I shall write about Single Life again (or, more likely, publish new Auntie Seraphic Letters), Tuesday is reserved for poor Protestants who read Flannery O'Connor and say, "Yes! Catholicism is for me! I want to believe what Flan believed and worship as Flan worshipped!" Personally, I have always been confused by the concept of Flan O'Connor as Catholic missionary as most of her characters seem  to be Southern Baptists. However, two of my favourite (as yet unpublished) stories are about Scottish Episcopalians, so I suppose it all makes sense.

During one visit home in Toronto, I introduced myself to a handsome German scholar at a theology meeting, and the Oratorian Father he was talking to gave a loud yip and cried, "Seraphic Single! You converted one of my parishioners!" The handsome German scholar looked confused, but I forgot all about him because the story was that a nice Protestant girl in Toronto had become interested in Catholicism, had gone to her local parish church, had been hideously confused and disappointed by what she saw there, had gone home and  had typed "Traditional Latin Mass" into the internet.  And, lo, one of my blogs turned up, featuring my rather hyper real-time description of the TLM. She was so intrigued by my account of the TLM/EF, she looked for one in Toronto and found the Oratorians. She checked them out,  "sought instruction", as we say in circles that shudder at the thought of your average RCIA program, and Bob's your uncle's patron saint. 

Therefore, I am determined to keep on writing about the Traditional Latin Mass, for I love Protestants so much, I wish them all to become Catholics. I am too shy to tell them in public--I mean, imagine what Calvinist Cath would say--eek!--so I write it here. 

Okay, so today we have another guest post from our travelling Traddie, Expat Housewife. Expat Housewife is from Continental Europe, but lived in Scotland for some years, and now lives in the Far East. 

It is very hot in Malaysia, and the poor thing can't get to the TLM in her town, for there it is offered only by the SSPX, and she is very respectful of the fact that św. Jan Pawel II said "Nie" to the possibility of us little traddies sneaking off to the SSPX to escape the guitars and tambourines okayed by our local ordinaries. Let us pray for a speedy reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome, so that Expat Housewife can be happy every Sunday, not just when she flees the country. 

Without any further ado, here is her report on the Traditional Latin Mass, fully legit and supported by the local ordinary, in Hong Kong: 

TLM in Hong Kong
by Expat Housewife

I was in Hong Kong the first weekend in June. It was a kid-free long weekend, when my husband and I went to explore another Asian metropolis, our annual treat. (My mother babysits in Kuala Lumpur- her annual treat.) I was very excited about going to the TLM there because the word has spread via a couple of blogs that it is well attended and has the full support of local bishops.

The mass takes place in a chapel of a school, in a residential neighbourhood that is a little bit further away from the city centre. Hong Kong is huge, so I left the hotel two hours in advance, just to be safe. I took the underground and then a taxi because the street was not on my map. The neighbourhood was lovely, with quiet streets, low apartment buildings and houses, and full of trees. I entered the courtyard of the school and immediately felt at home. It was full of youngsters and their parents who went to the early mass. They were hanging around and chatting among numerous statues of saints. The most prominent one was of Don Bosco and Dominic Savio, and I realised that it was a Salesian school.

I made my way to the chapel dedicated to Mary Help of Christians. TLM is celebrated there every Sunday at 12.30, except for some feasts when they use a bigger church. This has been in place since 2001, and the community has significantly grown over the years. I was an hour early, but there were already many people there. I was greeted at the door by a woman and her young daughter who gave me the booklet with the propers and the music. At the pew I found a missal. It was produced by the TLM community and had the Latin, Chinese and English text.

The chapel was very plain: a new building with no embellishment. Luckily, there was no tacky stuff either. The chapel was bustling with activity. Two priests and several altar servers were arranging the altar and rehearsing the entrance of the procession. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it was obvious that they were preparing for something extra. I had a look at the booklet and saw that the first piece to be sung was for the reception of a bishop. A woman sitting next to me confirmed that a bishop would preside, and that we would have a Solemn High Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated by Bishop Joseph Ha. I was very excited because such a thing is rare these days, and until then I only once had a chance to be present at a pontifical mass.

By the time the mass was supposed to start the altar was beautified, and everyone around it was properly dressed. They went out and came back in with the bishop, while we sang the assigned hymn for his reception. Then they disappeared again and got dressed for mass, and while waiting I turned around to see how many people were there. The chapel was full, and my estimate was well over 200 people, perhaps close to 300. There were a few mantillas, but most women went with heads uncovered. There were a few westerners present, including one man singing in the choir, a few Filipinos and other Asians, and the rest were all locals I assumed. The usual: all age groups, including families with young kids, and many men.

The mass was lovely. There were three deacons and eight altar servers and they were well trained. They helped the bishop couple of times, and everything ran smoothly. The music was a mixture of Gregorian chant and polyphony, and while the choir was not amazing they were good, and the people in the pews sang along with force and gusto. The choir consisted of both men and women, although men were greater in number. The choirmaster was directing both them and us at the same time, which was very impressive. The sermon was in Chinese (I assume it was Cantonese), so I didn’t understand a word. The bishop made a couple of humorous remarks at the beginning and everyone laughed, but then he continued in a more serious tone. He spoke in an animated way, gesticulating a lot and the people paid attention, nodding at times.

We were treated with O Salutaris Hostia and Panis Angelicus after communion. It was very beautiful and moving. The mass lasted an hour and a half, but I hardly noticed. After the final blessing most people rushed out into the courtyard, and I witnessed several groups in animated conversation. The TLM community has post-mass fellowship once a month, and I wondered if the regulars have a strong sense of community.

The Tridentine Liturgy Community’s website is http://tridentine.catholic.org.hk, and I hope they will upload the photos from the day soon. Sadly, I forgot my camera at the hotel, so I have no pictures to treat you with. If you are ever in Hong Kong, I urge you to go to mass to Mary Help of Christians. It was great, and I hope to get a chance to visit again. 

---Expat Housewife

Seraphic notes: Isn't it amazing that anywhere you go in the world, the Mass is the same? Oh, wait a minute. Well, isn't it amazing that anywhere you go in the world, the 1962 Extraordinary Form of the Mass is the same? Yeah, that's pretty amazing. Thank you, Expat Housewife, for this edifying report. And thank you once again, Papa Ratzi, for giving the EF back to us. Merci, grazie, danke, dziękujemy! And what is more, so much more, for we can all say it together with una voce, tibi gratias agimus!

Monday 22 June 2015

Auntie Seraphic & The New Normal

I haven't published a "Dear Auntie Seraphic" letter in awhile, as I have been pondering whether or not I am really called by God to dispense advice to you young things. However, yesterday I read a Dear Auntie Seraphic letter so jaw-dropping and yet so much of a snapshot of our times, that I am indeed going to post it.  Here it is. Sit down. Don't spit coffee on the computer screen.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am perhaps writing in the heat of the moment, but I feel I need to, else I will forget about it as work and other obligations take over.

I frequently attend an EF Mass in a place in suburban [X]. Which is all good, by the way. Now after Mass, it is an informal custom for all the young people to hang about the edge of the parking lot, where we socialize.

Now there was this girl (let's call her Stacy - not her real name, obviously) who I knew (and who I admit I carried a torch for a little bit) who I had not seen for a while (in part because recently I've been [away] ). So this Sunday, after Mass, I go see her, and like any normal male, I say, "Afternoon, Stacy, haven't seen you in a long time!" She greets me back in a friendly manner. Then I ask,  "How is Charlie (again, not his real name)?" Charlie was last I checked her boyfriend.

She says, "Oh, no, Charlie and I broke up. I have a girlfriend now."

Naturally, I was bewildered, so I asked clarification, and yes, she was, in fact, stating that she not only had SSA, but was in an, ahem, relationship with another woman.[...] I was naturally caught off-guard, so I tried to change the topic, but most of the rest of the conversation was rather awkward to say the least. (Let us remember this discussion is taking place immediately after Mass.)

How can I a) make amends, and b) try to be friendly with Stacy, even though I believe all that the Church teaches on those sorts of relationships? I naturally can't affirm everything is all right, given Church teaching; on the other hand, I do still want to be her friend, and don't want to be the one who drives her out of the Church even more. I'm asking for advice.


Caught off-guard.

When I was at my own local EF Mass yesterday, I contemplated Middle Eastern Christians who tattoo Christian symbols to themselves as a safeguard against forced conversion. I suppose the idea is that even if in the agonies of fear and torture their tongues forswear +Jesus Christ+, their very flesh will continue to proclaim him Lord. Of course, the Christian tattoo might result in death. However, there are many things worse than death. 

I pondered whether or not it would be a pious action to have myself tattooed with a "nun" or some other Christian symbol, but then discarded the idea as fanciful. Living in the UK, I don't need a tattoo to keep faith. After all, I have the internet. 

So, knowing perfectly well that social death may ensue, in a few years when this post is found by the curious, if not now, I shall tattoo the following to my blog:

Dear Caught Off-Guard,

First of all, you didn't do anything wrong. It is weird when, after the EF, someone tells you that they are (in effect) living in a state of mortal sin--or contemplating doing so, as we can assume in charity that Stacy never lays a lustful hand on her "girlfriend" and by "girlfriend"  she means only "we go to the movies together, read each other romantic poetry and swear undying fidelity to each other."  But even if we assume this (in charity), it is normal for your jaw to drop and your brain to freeze like ice-cream. You don't need to "make amends". 

If Stacy had said "Charlie and I broke up. I'm dating Mr Smith now", and Mr Smith is a married father of four, we could assume again in charity that they never lay lustful hands on each other. Nevertheless, we would still be surprised and shocked that someone who goes to Mass, let alone the EF, would feel so comfortable mentioning her unusual and scandalous entanglement to us afterwards.

In short, Stacy has blown it. Not you. You are and were uncomfortable, and understandably so. Stacy was rude. I don't feel I can say anything else about Stacy. But I do feel comfortable saying that Stacy was thoughtless and rude.  I wonder if she considered what an effect mentioning her lesbian relationship would have on the sexual imagination of a young man. Probably not. Girls can be incredibly stupid. And thoughtless. And scandalous.

As you were hoping for a relationship with Stacy, I don't think Stacy would make you a good friend anyway. So I recommend just being polite to Stacy when you see her. "Hi, Stacy, how are you?" is friendly enough. "Coming into the parish hall for a cup of coffee?" is as friendly as I'd recommend. Otherwise, you might find Stacy trying to get you to "affirm" her relationship by acknowledging her "girlfriend" at parties, etc. 

Actually, it has just occurred to me--happy thought--that Stacy might have just said that as the ultimate way of discouraging your regard, had she noticed it. In short, she might have been lying. That would be a sin, but at least it would give you an excuse--actually, the obligation--not to think about her in future. For a girl to tell a guy she knows outside Mass that she is in a lesbian relationship just to discourage him would be pretty extreme, though. So I admit this possibility is far-fetched. 

Ultimately, Tracy is not marriage material, and I highly recommend not spending any time worrying about her and her social life.  There are people whose job it is to talk to Tracy about her life choices; you are definitely not one of them. So continue to say "Hello, how are you? What's new?", but otherwise keep a respectful/wary distance and go out and meet three new girls.That's my advice.

Grace and peace,
To wax less charitably about Stacy this morning, I wonder if she wasn't deliberately pushing at the boundaries of traditional Catholic modesty in a most unladylike fashion. As we recall from Anna Karenina, as far as fashionable society was concerned, Anna's big sin wasn't having an affair with Vronsky, it was being open and obvious about it. These Russian Orthodox sophisticates could understand and even wink at adultery, but acting like open vice was virtue was highly dangerous to society and therefore RIGHT OUT. 

Well, as we all know, increasingly the only sin non-Christians recognize is hypocrisy. However, hypocrisy isn't just "the tribute vice pays to virtue"--it protects virtue.  One wonders if Stacy would be so open about her sex life (if sex life it is) to her four year old cousin, but--alas--I suspect she might be. Because, for some reason, she chose not only to say "Charlie and I broke up" but the truly gratuitous "I have a girlfriend now" right after traditional Mass, to a traditional Catholic. 

Of course, the most charitable explanation is that she made that clear because she didn't want my reader harboring renewed hopes of romance. Still, "I have SSA" would have made that clear without scandalizing my poor reader. Still, perhaps she is very young. Perhaps it is harder to say "It turns out I'm gay" than "I have a girlfriend now."  Never having been there, I do not know.

But I have been situations in which a woman or a man has told me gaily of an irregular relationship as if it were all perfectly alright and only a Big Meanie would think otherwise. The biggest temptation to Christians in the comfortable West is the temptation of feeling tolerant and open-minded and splendidly hospitable towards The Marginalized Other, especially when the only other option is feeling like a lemon. Well, too bad. If feeling like a lemon because people are rude enough to embarrass us after Mass with the details of their scandalous-to-us love lives is the worst we have to put up with in our public fidelity to God, we are seriously lucky. 

Update: I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have a similar conversation myself.

Me: Well, hello there, old crush object! How's my principal rival, old whatshername?

Chap: We broke up. I have a boyfriend now.

Me: A whatsit?

Chap: A boyfriend. I'm gay.

Me: Holy crap. That's rather hard cheese for poor whatshername, isn't it?

And it occurs to me I never considered how dear Charlie the ex-boyfriend must be feeling.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Rare Jewels

It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, and I am reflecting on an email I got from a reader who went on a first date with a convert, which seemed to go very well, and then his perhaps over-the-top enthusiasm suddenly melted into a puddle of silence.

My Nice Catholic Girl reader wondered what she did wrong, for this was (my version) a Nice Catholic Boy in his thirties, and they are rare in her neck of the woods, etc, etc.

My first thought was that this supposed Nice Catholic Boy was a jerk for coming on so strong and then losing all interest, behaving more like a kid of my generation who was crazy for Space Invaders until PacMan came along than like a polite adult man whose life presumably revolves around God.

My next thought was that, though NCB are indeed probably rare in her neck of the woods, so are NCGs. If NCBs are so precious and desirable to NCGs, then surely NCGs must be precious and desirable to NCBs, too.

Now I shall ponder Benedict Ambrose, which I often do, being married to him, and the fact that he was still Single at 36, which was surely a miracle. There was dear old B.A., cheerful, intelligent, well-educated, witty, attractive to women and also, one must add, attracted TO women, and yet he was still not married when I came along, and WHY?

I'll tell you why. It was because there were no Nice Catholic Women in their thirties around. The only Scottish one he knew became a nun. When I came buzzing by Edinburgh on holiday, I had a sad sense that B.A. would make some nice super-trad, Latin Mass going girl a great husband. Little did I know it would be some years before such a girl stumbled upon B.A.'s Latin Mass community.

Meanwhile B.A., meeting a woman who actually thought his interest in Catholicism was an amazing feature instead of a bug, acted decisively, so here I am in a Scottish attic instead of having brunch in Toronto where I belong, help, help! I had been to a Trad Latin Mass only once in my life before I met B.A., and I had found it extremely confusing and dull. However, I was open to looking at it again, and I thought B.A. was super-cool, and I have red hair like all his principal crush objects, so here I am.

In Toronto, where there is a large and vibrant Catholic community, there are a lot of NCGs and NCBs. A lot. In Edinburgh, where there isn't, not so many. And therefore, I recommend to NCGs from big Catholic communities to go out of their way to meet NCBs from smaller communities because they might not be feeling so spoiled for choice.

When I think of the vast cultural divide between devoutly Catholic men and non-Catholic women in general, I really have to wonder why, after an eye-opening foray into The World Out There, devoutly Catholic men do not throw themselves at the feet of the nearest, good-natured, reasonably good-looking (to them), devoutly Catholic woman and propose marriage. And when I say, devoutly, I mean, obedient to the precepts of Humanae Vitae. I mean, if so many not-so-devout Catholic couples use artificial birth control, just imagine the likelihood of a non-Catholic woman throwing her Pills away, let alone accepting the Speech with good grace.

This reminds me of an anecdote from my undergrad days. A guy I knew from my Catholic college walked a girl from another college home after a college club meeting, and she was initially delighted because she fancied him. She invited him in, but with some reluctance he said he couldn't, and off he went to his own bed in his own dorm, five doors down from Father Whatsit. The girl consulted me as a mutual friend. Was he gay? she wondered.

"No. It was probably because he's Catholic," I said.

"Huh?!" said the girl and, you know, it's too depressing to continue. That was around 1992.  Now somewhere someone is probably writing a homily about how cruel it is for Catholic men not to go to bed with lustful non-Catholic women, and how we must accept such lustfulness as a Sign of the Times and the mutual mingling of flesh as a form of interreligious dialogue, etc.

So as rare and precious as Nice Catholic Boys might seem---and, incidentally there's more to "Nice" than not just demanding premarital sex as a "normal part of an adult relationship"--I posit that Nice Catholic Girls of the same area are just as rare and precious. You shouldn't put up with nonsense from any man, and you shouldn't feel sorrowful and self-doubting when a supposed Nice Catholic Boy stops texting. His loss, my little sugarplum!

A NOTE: If you are interested in someone in your community, it is best not to tell people in that community, in case you later have second thoughts. If you tell Mary Kate's or John Paul's pals that you really fancy Mary Kate or John Paul, then you can bet your last penny that Mary Kate's/John Paul's pals will tell him/her. They will also tell other people, and this will create an environment of pleased expectation which may be very embarrassing to Mary Kate/John Paul, particularly if she/he indicates that she/he welcomes your regard and you drop him/her flat. What kind of self-absorbed, insensitive, unstable weirdo are you, your community might think. Shame, shame, shame.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Laudato Sii

I, your humble auntie, almost never read papal encyclicals, so it is very unlikely I am ever going to read Laudato Sii.

The two great papal encyclicals that have a major importance for my life are Humanae Vitae (Paul VI) and Mulieris Dignitatem (Saint John Paul II).  WAIT! Hold the phone. Apparently Mulieris Dignitatem is not even an encyclical; it is an Apostolic Letter.

Five years of theology school, and I do not know the difference. Moan, groan. How can this be?  I graduated Cum Magna Laude from my theologate, and I fled the anti-theologate, so you would think I would know.

Meanwhile, even I know that Benedict XVI's most important work (for me),  Summorum Pontificum, is not an encyclical but a motu proprio which is a ... hmm...

Wait! The internet has jogged my memory. Encyclicals are to BISHOPS.* BISHOPS are supposed to read the encyclicals, ponder them in their highly trained theological brains, and then come up with a plan to filter the information down to their not-so-highly-trained priests and laypeople.

Sadly, bishops do not always have highly trained theological brains and are chosen for their administrative skills instead. In such circumstances, they turn to priests and professors they trust, with mixed results.

Well, unless you are a bishop or your bishop is going to call you up to tell him what to think, the fact that Laudato Sii is for BISHOPS lets me and you off the hook. We can wait until our bishops write little guides to Laudato Sii and then read them.  And I am sooo glad because I do not want to plow through 200 pages written by whoever wrote them before Francis signed off on it. Not all popes write their own encyclicals--that is definitely something I remember.

But I am relatively sure Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who were two of the most formidable and skilled Catholic intellectuals of the 20th century, wrote their own encyclicals. I really ought to read them. When I was a teenager, I tried to read JPII and gave up, thinking I just wasn't smart enough. Little did I know that it wasn't me, it was his writing style, not to mention the difficulty of translating philosophical Polish into English and, presumably, Latin.

To be honest, it wasn't until the past six years that I really got an insight into Saint John Paul II's greatness. Reading and rereading Mulieris Dignitatem until I understood it was a real eye-opener, a fantastic experience.

So, really, before I read anything by Pope Francis (or his advisors), I think I will read all the papal writings of Saint John Paul II. This may take some time.

Meanwhile, here is quite a thoughtful essay on the topic by Canada's most under-appreciated brilliant prose stylist, David Warren.

Update: Here is a cool and handy guide, courtesy of EWTN, on the relative weight of papal pronouncements. Apparently a motu proprio has even MORE authority than an encyclical.  I just did not know that. Does this mean Summorum Pontificum has even more weight behind it than...Humanae Vitae? (!!!!)

*Oh wait. EWTN doesn't say encyclicals are just to bishops. Sigh, sigh, sigh. It's all so confusing. It's like trying to find out if Pope Francis actually studied anything in Germany or just sat around the Mensa in Sankt Georgen reading Tintin in German--just like little me.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Art and Identity

I'm still fascinated by the Rachel Dolezal case although I really dislike speculating on what her home life was like. A family of four white people--as Rachel apparently has a white natural brother-- attempted to raise four black children in the USA, which is in fact a very controversial thing to do, Rachel apparently first learning about black hair from styling her black baby sister's hair....

Meanwhile, media response is doing a see-saw between "Rachel is Outrageously Wicked" and "Rachel Can Be Black if She Wants."

I can hardly wait until my US-born dad arrives in Edinburgh, so I can ask him what he thinks of the whole mess. He may be too clever to say anything, however, but just laugh merrily at the media circus around it all.

Interestingly, although my father and all his family were American for generation after generation, the immigrants marrying into pre-revolutionary war families, I have never felt particularly American. Naturally I could pass for American, as to the British I sound American, and I can describe Rolling Prairie, Indiana in excruciatingly boring detail. Naturally I know a lot about the USA from the news and took "American History" in high school. I even have rights to American citizenship, but getting it would entail my father doing a lot of paperwork and signing forms, etc.  And, of course, that would be a sock in the eye to my identity as a Canadian, for a strong theme in Canadian identity is not being American, just as not being English is a strong theme in Scottish identity. Interestingly, B.A. could pass for English, and once he was attacked by an anti-English Scot on a train. ("Keep yoor bluidy offensive English voice DOON!")

Despite the stern rebuke of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I coat my face with paint all the time. Unlike most women in Scotland, I do this not to look darker but to look lighter, which is to say, more cream and less strawberry. I deliberately give the impression that I am less pink than I am. I also employ tricks to make my eyes look bigger and my eyes bluer. And I wear bright red lipstick as a tribute to the film stars of the 1940s and 1950s, whose glamour I wish to emulate. My lipstick expresses an old-fashioned attitude towards femininity, and if I hoodwink everyone around into thinking I have never thrown a left-hook in my life, where's the harm?

(Feminist: The harm is that you communicate the idea that women are weak, attention-seeking and always welcome sexual advances, you throwback.)

Because I love costumes and read a lot of advice on the topic online, I dress for swing-dancing in outfits inspired by the conventions of the 1940s. I don't think this is fooling anybody, although it does at least suggest a commitment to swing-dancing.

Women use clothing and make-up as expressions of our own or assumed identity all the time. The only man I know who has ever accused us of actual lying with our make-up is Saint Thomas Aquinas. Saint Thomas More was so disturbed by women's artifice that in Utopia (I believe), he suggested that carefully chaperoned fiancés have a look at each other naked before they marry.

Susan Brownmiller went so far to say in Femininity is something we do more than that we are. I don't buy this, but I do think what we wear on our faces and bodies is an expression of our identity, even if it is an identity we assume.

Yesterday I took a pencil and drew the front of the Historical House. Today I will take liquids and powers and paint "Seraphic Goes to Swing-Dancing" on my face. Whereas I will leave my drawing behind me, I will take my painting with me and turn it into a live performance I might call "No Matter What Happens I Will Smile For Two Hours Straight." Instead of  being myself, the married middle-aged writer, I will be Smiling Girl Who Studies Polish And Is Pleasant to Dance With.

Of course, disguising yourself as an attractive, carefree, cheerful young woman who studies Polish and is pleasant to dance with may get you into a spot of social bother, as I pondered last week when someone asked for my phone number. The first time I debuted in Edinburgh circles as an attractive, carefree, cheerful young woman who is pleasant to dance with, a resident American took a shine to me and pumped my pal for information. Naturally she told him at once that I was married, which was apparently a shock.




Well, where do we draw the line? When are we authentically playing with identity with our clothes, hair, make-up and facial expressions, and when are we simply lying?

UPDATE: Holy guacamole. I have discovered how to continue to experience life as a Single woman insofar as a happily married woman can ever do that: sitting around hoping men will ask me to dance. It is, of course, Single life on a very small and limited scale, and it's over as soon as I get up and go home. But there is a point where sitting there, smiling, just feels like.... AAAAUGH!

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Reclaiming Our Catholic Heritage (MTC 1)

Today is Traddy Tuesday, a day dedicated to traditional Catholic devotions and liturgy, so that would-be converts who read all about them in books don't fall into despair when they can't find them in their local Catholic Church or when they ask a jovial Catholic about them and hear them referred to as "all that rubbish." The horror.

As much as I love my "Nova et Vetera" column at the (Toronto) Catholic Register, and very grateful I am to have it, too, there is a special place in my heart for my old (defunct) "Mad Trad Corner" column in (Saskatchewan's) Prairie Messenger.  When I write a column for the Catholic Register, I imagine the ladies of my mother's CWL reading it with interest and agreement. I imagine the Fathers of the Toronto Oratory casting an eye over it, too. Alas, I fear my old professors do not read it, but when he was still alive, Carl, the college janitor, read it religiously. Bless him.

(Sudden aside: I have known three splendid janitors in my life, who all had a soft spot for me, and I for them. What is it about janitors? Talk about spiritual fatherhood! My three had it in sackfuls.)

"Mad Trad Corner" was another story. As it appeared in the most... ahhhhhhhhh... "progressive" print Catholic paper with any notable circulation  in Canada, I knew I was on mission territory. It was really brave of the editor, who had asked me to write, to accept my column idea in the first place. From the very beginning, she was under a lot of pressure to drop the column. To her credit, she withstood the assault for 27 or 28 weeks. 

Why the pressure? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the hermeneutic of rupture. There are powerful and influential theologians, priests, media types, etc., etc., who firmly and honestly believe that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was a New Pentecost that ushered in a New Church, a Church that reclaimed the purity of second century Christianity while accepting the modern day with love. Anything that recalls the Catholic culture between 400 and 1962 makes them shudder. Double plus ungood, and that certainly includes Saint Augustine, the greatest Christian theologian after Saint Paul. Having jettisoned the Early Church Fathers, they follow after the Latter Church Fathers (and, no doubt, Mothers) and write enthusiastic little préces on their work, full of gibberish.

And that is why, my little angels, I could hear the shrieking from Saskatchewan even while sitting in the converted linen closet of my Scottish attic, when the following was published in 2010: 

Reclaiming Our Catholic Heritage 
When I proposed a column for the Prairie Messenger called “Mad Trad Corner,” I was mostly joking. Friends have warned me not to write too often about traditional devotions, for fear I’ll be pigeon-holed as a Latin Mass nut. However, I am a Latin Mass nut—there’s no getting around it. Every Sunday I run about my apartment looking for my black mantilla, missal and bus fare, and travel for over an hour to a little wooden church to hear a beautiful Missa Cantata and an edifying sermon. My formerly Anglican husband is in its minute choir.

My love of the 1962 Mass sometimes puzzles readers, to say nothing of friends from the Toronto School of Theology. After all, I was born after the Second Vatican Council, and therefore shouldn’t have nostalgia for what some call “the bad old days.” And, indeed, I don’t. What I have is a great respect for all the ecumenical councils, including Vatican II, an event which was meant to invigorate the Church, not toss out our traditions. And I am excited about such signs of the times as Summorum Pontificum (2007), the papal letter granting us more access to the beautiful Mass of John XXIII.

In his December 22, 2005 remarks about the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XVI critiqued the hermeneutic (interpretive lens) of rupture, the view that the documents of Vatican II split the post-conciliar from the pre-conciliar Church. He suggested that this hermeneutic of rupture has caused much confusion, division and loss. And, having grown up entirely in the post-conciliar Church, I heartily agree.

In 1985, despite ten years of Catholic school, I felt woefully unprepared for my upcoming Confirmation. By Grade 8, religion class was an afterthought, alternating with or substituted by art class. The most tangible preparation for Confirmation was our stole project. We were directed to snip sacred symbols out of felt and glue them to felt stoles. We were also told to memorize the Apostles’ Creed and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the bishop wouldn’t confirm us if we didn’t.

I knew the Apostles’ Creed, and I duly memorized the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit without understanding what they meant: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and The Fear of the Lord. The first six sounded good, but “The Fear of the Lord” worried me. For ten years teachers had stressed that we need have no fear of the Lord. The Lord, I had sung over and over again, was kind and merciful. The concept of divine justice got lost in choir practice and the scraps of felt. Divine justice was right out of fashion in 1985.
 I consulted my mother
“Of course, you should fear the Lord,” she said. “You fear your father, don’t you?”

I didn’t. My father is a kindly man who rarely raises his voice. Was I supposed to fear him? How sad! But my mother had become a Catholic in 1969, and did not know how to explain, as St. Thomas Aquinas had explained, the concept of filial, as opposed to servile, fear. St. Thomas Aquinas was right out of fashion in 1969. I should have asked my cradle Catholic dad.

I seemed to have been baptized into a Catholicism much different from the one into which my dad was baptized. His Catholicism included a liturgy that had developed slowly and organically over the centuries, pausing at the Council of Trent to be codified and made the standard for the Latin Church. There was a nun among his aunts. Nuns ran his primary school. He went to a Jesuit boarding-school. He learned the Baltimore Catechism by rote. He even—for he became an altar server—memorized the server’s Latin responses for the Mass. He knelt for Benediction.

My Catholicism included folk guitars and snappy tunes at our vernacular Mass. There were no nuns in my family. The last nun standing retired from my primary school when I was five. My brothers couldn’t go to my father’s Jesuit boarding-school, for it had closed. I never learned any catechism by rote. I didn’t know for years that the Mass had been in Latin. I first knelt for Benediction at my high school graduation; I had never heard of this devotion before.

I was a child, not of Vatican II, but of the hermeneutic of rupture. But slowly, thanks to those who preserved them, I began to find the ancestral treasures my father’s generation had taken for granted. What I hope to do with this column is to share them with you.

This was revolutionary. That is, it was counter-revolutionary. And I knew it when I wrote every column, and I counted each week I wasn't fired as a victory.  My column made me a good friend, too, in the person of a young priest who, despite everything, managed to learn and to say the Traditional Latin Mass out there in the prairies.

Monday 15 June 2015

Ministry to Angry Catholics

I'm being denounced somewhere or other, which doesn't really matter, and mostly I'm thanking heaven that my critic is too chivalrous to denounce me by name.  Meanwhile, he is a lot more intelligent than the few critics who have  also slagged off your humble auntie online. Naturally I wish he would not attribute to me uncharitable motives for the things I write, but I imagine he is sorely tried by my colleagues.

There are several polemical Catholic blogs out there, and I read three or four from time to time. The most extreme is probably "Mundabor" which is highly  (like, Not Safe for Work or Little Brothers highly) critical of Pope Francis from the traditional side of things. Mundabor is so extreme, when I mentioned him to two VERY polemical conservative Canadian Catholic bloggers they looked embarrassed and said, "Oh, do people admit to reading Mundabor?"

Personally, I am a big fan of the Freedom to Read--for adults, not kids, mind you--so as an adult I'll admit to reading anything I read.  Therefore I don't read anything I would be too embarrassed to admit to reading. Thus, I will have a look to see what our hot-tempered Italian correspondent in London has to say today, but I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey. I leave it to Saint Thomas to Aquinas determine if it is worse to read an Italian Catholic slagging off Pope Francis than to read hysterically terrible lady porn. Personally, I think the porn would be worse for me.

Anyway, there are a lot of angry Catholics out there. Angry, angry, angry. However, I don't think the fact that they are angry disqualifies them from membership in the human race. Many Catholics have good reason to be angry.

I didn't know that, of course, until I grew up. I had lived a pretty sheltered existence with my tolerant parents, and nobody I knew (then) had been messed with by priests as a child, or had been walloped by nuns, or been to a Mass performed by Bishop Remi de Roo, and I wasn't even that conscious that the Catholic faith was taught WAY differently and much more carefully a decade before I was born. My childhood parish priests seem to me now pattern cards of orthodoxy. Well, the most important ones, anyway.

Instead of being angry, when life got me down--e.g. the pagan-to-me hijinks at university--I got depressed instead. This is actually less healthy than getting angry, for what is depression but taking out your anger on yourself?

My attention was recently brought to Angry Catholics by a youngish Jesuit brother online who was denouncing LifeSiteNews and the Angry Catholics who called up a Jesuit community in Ontario  many years ago to complain mightily about.... Well, he didn't say, but I fear from what he did say that it was a photograph of a Jesuit of that community saying Mass on a bale of straw. 

Each of us no doubt has our opinion on whether or not a priest ought to say Mass on a bale of straw when a nice solid coffee table would do just as well and probably better. At any rate, it came as a surprise to this chap, when a novice, that Catholics could get so angry about something like that. Removed from the past 60 years of Church history, it doesn't seem worth phoning up the SJ switchboard about, but I imagine this was--forgive me--the straw that broke the Angry Catholics' back.

Had I been at the switchboard, I like to think I would have made an appointment with each and every Angry Catholic who called or wrote in. Try to imagine me as a Jesuit priest. I realize this is hard, so just turn me into a red-headed guy with a brush cut and freckles, not too tall, but not too pudgy.

Anyway, I would meet every one who accepted my invitation in my office in two chairs in front of my desk and invite each one to have a go at me. They could say anything they liked. They could curse me up and down and sideways and question my parentage and insult my mother and cry and scream. I would draw the line at punching me, however, for obvious reasons.

And once they had it all off their chests, and I had handed them the tissue box, and they had blown their noses, I would fetch my secret whiskey bottle, and we could have a proper drink like men and women.

They would probably say, "Sorry about that, Father. I know it's not really your fault."

And I would say, "That doesn't matter. Now go to chapel and tell God an edited version of what you just told me. And when you look at the crucifix, remember that Our Lord took those wounds for everybody."

Because guess what? Being Christ-like means voluntarily taking the stripes for other people out of love. I'm not sure it would be appropriate for me to sit there and take the screams of fellow Catholics furious with priests who say Mass on bales of straw or create other scandals, but I suppose if I am ever the editor of a Catholic newspaper, it might be appropriate for me to sit in my office with Catholics who feel betrayed by Catholic media and let them cry and carry on. In fact, I think it would be my duty. Anger shouldn't be left to fester. 

I think we need to honour the anger of Angry Catholics. Their honest anger, of course. Saint Thomas Aquinas praises Righteous Anger, but he is very down on Wrath. We also have go to stop being so whiny about the slightest criticism. What people on social media claim is "nastiness" is sometimes not nasty at all. It's merely disagreement. 

At any rate, I definitely think we should stop being so prissy. Of course, I don't feel like becoming a Catholic polemicist. I don't have a taste for it, and I sense that there would be terrible spiritual dangers in it for me. However, I don't feel like condemning Angry Catholics either, or just ignoring them, or commenting on how sad and ill and damaged and twisted, etc., etc., they might be. Mostly what I'd like to do is have coffee with them and say, "So tell me your story." And, if asked my advice, I'd send them off to a church or chapel afterwards, to tell the same story to God and wrest answers to their questions out of Him.