All posts by Jennifer Mazzara

Jennifer Mazzara has been a Catholic for 26 years, and a blogger for 6. She is a mother of two beautiful little men and shares her daytime with them playing with trains or just watching the world go by outside our door. Her big man is in the United States Marine Corps, and her family's life in the the military couldn't be more blessed. She blogs at Midnight Radio.

Virtuous Peds?

“My sexuality has never been the central part of my life,” says Devin. “It kind of remains in a box inside my head but never controls me, and I go about my life.”

 These are sad and lonely words, the words of a man who admits to a lifelong sexual attraction to children.  I read the pull quote above and assumed they were written by someone with “same-sex attraction.” I was shocked to discover that was running a feature not on “chaste gays” but on “virtuous pedophiles.”  What a concept: a class so feared and vilified is reaching out in an apparently positive way, and (more shocking) they can get coverage in a national outlet like that. 

It will twist your brain in knots if you keep reading into the comments.

“I would like ask the question of what is normal … Homosexuality used to be stigmatised and called “the gay” like it is something you could catch.”

 In the same vein, one of the men interviewed in the article itself says:

“Regarding the therapist, one of the problems we face is that we are scared of seeking out therapists, who may report us to authorities just for our feelings. Being ‘outed’ can be devastating. The second problem is that many therapists see us only as potential abusers and not as people who need to build a decent (celibate) life.”

“Outed”?  Do they realize that they are using the exact same kind of rhetoric that the homosexual community used and continues to use?  How does anyone not expect that one day pedophiles will receive exactly the same kind of acceptance that homosexuals are now enjoying?  Return to the first commenter above and read it again. 

While sites like anonymous go on crusades and shut down pedophile file-sharing sites today, at the same time the state of California is trying to illegalize SSA therapy for minors—they don’t want parents to “harm” their children by treating SSA as an illness.  I won’t link to them, but the Salon article (or a quick google search) can point you in the direction of many completely open hubs for those with attractions to children.  Normalcy is just whatever we get used to.  “BoyLove” and “GirlLove” are just someone’s preference.    

In the other corner, there are a number of commenters whose reaction to this article is both aghast and visceral.  Many express a desire that all pedophiles be “cut up for parts” and similar expressions.  Amidst the violent comments this calm woman caught my eye:

 “I’m down on the idea of a public association for pedophiles. The existence of civil associations like this comes from a particular history of rights groups: they were organized by groups like gays, women, and people of color who were oppressed by society. But pedophiles are stigmatized, and rightly so, because sex acts with children is criminal and amoral.”

Is there a dichotomy here or what?  A sex act with a child is criminal and immoral.  Does this commenter know that, for now at least, the code which governs the behavior of military personnel forbids not only sodomy, but adultery as well?  They are both crimes.  Who decides that it stops at pedophilia? 

Where does it end?  For a Catholic reader, you could read this, walk away, think “eew” a little, and be done.  After all, we’ve enjoyed reading blogs and essays recently by those with same-sex attraction, who discuss their sorrow at a condition they would rather not have—and we pray for their continued success in living a life of holiness.  This sounds similar, right?  Let’s pray for these people that they are helped to always be stronger than temptation.

But for the modern world, especially for the militant “tolerance” society of Western culture in general, they are twisting themselves in painful, tortuous contortions.  Most want this to be wrong, to be wiped off the face of the earth, and many express violent and hateful thoughts toward pedophiles.  But others get excited by the possibility of creating virtual (i.e. computer-generated) child pornography and making it widely available to those with sexual attractions to children, saying, “One criticism of ‘ordinary’ adult porn is that men come to prefer it to sex with real partners. That would be a fantastic result when it comes to child porn!”  At this point, they have removed the rug from beneath their own feet by preaching tolerance, by refusing to accept the limits which wisdom and very long tradition had placed on sexual behavior.

Fundamentally, it all comes down to a lack of belief in chastity itself.  No one can imagine being chaste, “waiting,” staying a virgin, celibacy, or even abstinence within marriage for any reason.  If a gay person cannot imagine being chaste, no wonder they are repulsed by pedophiles—its assumed to be only a matter of time before they act on their inner tendencies.  The entire contraception debate centers on a lack of belief in the idea of chastity—contraception is “preventative” precisely because no one can fathom persons simply, well, going without sex.  (“Abstinence isn’t preventative, “ they say,  “its imaginary.”) 

What do you do in a world like this?

Still Trying

Eventually, they tell me, the emotions will fall in line with the will.  That is, if you decide to “go forth and do” a thing when you don’t feel like it, somewhere along the line you’ll eventually start feeling like it after all.  The emotions are trainable.  The soft underbelly of human nature will get accustomed to getting up early, to being drooled upon, to staying out at a dull party, to having guests stay a day or two too long.

So they tell me.

In the meantime, I received advice from a priest to spend just five minutes a day taking mental tally of how many things about my life are really good right now.  Don’t necessarily do it first thing in the morning, either, he said.  Do it at midday, or in the evening, or whenever that particular moment is when you feel like chipping off your fingernails with a screwdriver.  In taking stock of God’s blessings, we’re reminded of His presence in our life.  After all, health, children, prosperity, and employment are the kinds of things we don’t get through our tiny effort alone.  Once I’m that far into the thought process, I usually find myself realizing that the fingernails and screwdrivers are also blessings and I’ll be darned if I don’t suddenly discover I’m praying.

But even that small advice seems to require a huge amount of discipline.  I probably wouldn’t have spent the five minutes today, except I was thinking about the advice because I wanted to use it in this post.  It’s so much easier to just go to sleep (my house is so clean when I’m asleep) or take a walk (my children are so quiet when I’m not around them) or eat a snack (my pajamas are very slimming).  Where does the initial discipline come from?  What gets you out of the rut in the first place?  It can’t be the regular sort of effort.  I’ve put cars in the mud before, and I know very well that ordinary effort got them in there.  It takes extraordinary effort to get them out.

This morning, my husband attempted to jump start me.  He said, “Look around at the good people you know.  See their lives, their habits, their happiness.  Think to yourself, I want to be like them.  I want what they have.  And imitate.  Perfection is a process, and not an event.”

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Joseph and Jennifer Mazzara are a young, married Catholic couple. Meeting at Christendom College, they wed soon after graduating in 2008. God has blessed them with two sons! Jennifer now raises them, teaches piano and runs the local chapel’s RCIA program. Joseph joined the Marines. Their websites are The Three B’sMidnight Radio.[/author_info] [/author]

404 Error

My brain is not in the least interested in our symposium topic this week.  The address for “mercy” + “forgiveness” + “killing” NOT “animals” was not found.

Like any good writer, I hunted around for input, hoping to get some ideas about either mercy or killing.  According to my mom friends, every mother’s life “is killing them” about 90% of the time.  Husbands without emotion receptors of any kind; children with some kind of olfactory disability that renders them unable to tell that they smell really terrible; family that decides now is a perfect time to go off the deep end and become unnecessarily confusing/helpful/unhelpful/communicative/uncommunicative.  These three things I fear, and a fourth makes me quiver with fear.  So not much material there that’s uplifting or helpful on “killing.”  I killed a bug yesterday, but that wasn’t a big deal since it redounds to the dignity of bugs to be smooshed.

Also according to my mom friends, there is a lot about being a mother that’s tied up with mercy.  One said, “I definitely understand God’s relationship to us as Father more than I did before I was a parent.  You know, the whole, “making rules that seem stupid to us but are for are own good,” that type of thing.  When my kids are in trouble and I’m punishing them, I’m always looking for a way out of it.  It’s no fun punishing them so I like to move on to the forgiveness part as quickly as I can…I think God’s always waiting for the teeny tiniest little request for help and mercy and He’ll be right there ready to shower us with it.”  So she’s obviously a good mom and has meaningful things to say on mercy. Another said, ” Being merciful somehow goes hand in hand with a good cabernet.”  (I have lovely friends.)  And that’s an uplifting idea if I’ve ever heard one.

For me, being merciful as a mother is about being just, about only punishing when necessary yet never leaving deserved punishment unadministered.  Mercy is not about letting your toddler get away with everything, so that he’ll have chronic temporary happiness.  Instead, I know (from experience and from advice) that mercy is about teaching your toddler that getting your own way all the time will make you miserable, exhausted, and quite possibly injured.  It is for this reason, my son, I do not allow you to climb the bookshelf.  Again.  And again.  On the other hand, sometimes I have to let him eat cookies for breakfast, since I just did.

So.  Happy Mother’s Day, and congratulations to all mothers on living a life that it turns out is largely about mercy, and also partially about feeling like roadkill. 

On Killing: Everybody’s tired.  Nobody feels really well.  Everybody feels like they’re no good at least some of the time.  Now please get up and go to work anyway.

On Mercy:  Charity believes all things.  The good you see in people may not be the whole truth about them, but it is true.  So start there, and make a fuss over it until it turns into something more.

Speed of Life

That’s a catchy, clever little phrase. “The speed of life.” David Bowie used it for a song. I think there was a movie. I don’t have a particularly strong grasp of reality at the moment, though.  Writing coherently has slipped way, way down on my list of priorities–right after things like ‘wax the cat’ and ‘alphabetize M&Ms’–and so has my motivation for keeping up on what’s new, what’s interesting, what’s good, what’s true, what’s beautiful.  I’m just surviving. It’s been a busy month.

I have a really cute little month-old baby (happy birthday!).  That’s him in the picture.  I also have a dear darling toddler, who learned how to open doors about a month ago.  The neighbor brought him back home, so it’s all ok.  I also have a dear darling husband, who took time off from work so that we could travel north and bond over the awful ordeal that is buying a home.  They’re all here next to me, snoring away in the hotel bed.  They’re all sick.  At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I’ve given serious thought over the last couple of days as to whether Divine Providence can, in fact, “pile on” or if that’s only something humans do.  Surgery incision acting up?  Of course!  Paperwork for money messed up?  Naturally!  Ten days in a hotel with no internet and a major school assignment due?  Yes!  Insomina?  Bring it on.  Plans fail to visit with my mom?  Affirmative.  Ran out of wipes?  Check.  Wrong size diaper?  Check.  Gas costs over $4.00 and we’re still 300 miles from home?  You bet.  Brought one dress shoe each from two different pairs?  I could go on and on.

The solution to this problem is pretty simple.  I put my head down and charge through, getting irritated often and falling asleep at meals during the moments when everyone under the age of 3 is behaving well.  I keep my head above water, sometimes realizing that my life is actually pretty beautiful and the little problems are, well, little.  Vitamins get forgotten, the extra readings for class are ignored, the car is a filthy disaster zone, and my son hasn’t eating anything other than pancakes and apple slices in about a week.  I do the bare minimum, which at this point is get dressed every day and try to remember that I can, in fact, nurse the baby to get him to stop crying.

This morning, when I sat down to write, I seriously considered just posting a cute picture of the new baby and saying, “Look!  I’m busy!  Isn’t he cute?  Ttyl!”  It’s fun to complain about one’s tough life, though, so once I got started I didn’t stop.  I listed all my problems, all my complaints, all the millions of ways that things could be easier if only “someone else” could get their act together.  I wanted to be noticed for my sacrifices, viewed as the total heroine that I feel like.  As I wrote, I saw a connection between “life” and “Life” and decided that could be my point for this post.  So I deleted all the nonsense about how cool I am and this is what you’re left with–a really good example of what a sleep-deprived, highly distracted, B-grade writer comes up with when up against a soft deadline but feeling so guilty about missing her last post that she’s writing something anyway even though it probably isn’t very good.

Keeping your head above water is sometimes all you can do.  Your family will still exist, life will still be beautiful, and you are still loved.  It doesn’t matter that things are a mess, everything is misplaced, and you feel exhausted (and fat, and useless, and frumpy, and milky, and exhausted, and fat).  You are living your life.  The same thing, at least for me, can sometimes be said of the spiritual Life.  So what if you only made it to Easter Sunday mass, out of the entire Holy Week extravaganza?  So what if you make it to confession only once a month (or, uh, less) and can only come up with “I’m a really bad person.” So what if you’ve said the same decade of the rosary ten times in the last week, because you keep distracting yourself and forgetting how far you got?  You’re praying, you’re penitent, and you’re approaching Christ in the Eucharist.  You’re trying.  Your head is above water.

A priest friend of mine once said “fake it ’till you make it,” meaning keep up with habits of spirituality even when they seem pointless or you don’t “feel” like it.  Right now, my physical life is merely keeping up old habits of hygiene and other civilized behaviors–a kind of inertia that makes sure I don’t wander down to the continental breakfast in my nightgown.  Admittedly, it’s a pretty low ebb, but it is still life and I’m still living it.  Spiritual life sometimes reaches those low ebbs, ebbs which feel so lazy that it sounds pretentious to call them “dryness.”  One day organization and peace and serenity will come and you’ll finish the rosary the first time, or make a really good examination of conscience in the confession line instead of at home a week earlier.

Jesus knows all about the speed of life.  He’s there for you, even if all you do is shower and make it to the couch.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Joseph and Jennifer Mazzara are a young, married Catholic couple. Meeting at Christendom College, they wed soon after graduating in 2008. God has blessed them with two sons! Jennifer now raises them, teaches piano and runs the local chapel’s RCIA program. Joseph joined the Marines. Their websites are The Three B’sMidnight Radio.[/author_info] [/author]

The Cookie Monster

As usual, a great and heated debate has cropped up over what appears to be a pretty innocent situation.  A little girl in a funky green outfit arrives at your door, knocks, hands over a trifold, glossy, full-color form, and pipes, “Dooywanna buy some Girl Scout Cookies??”

And your heart goes, “Aww, she’s so little.”

And your brain goes, “Pretty sure that the corporate office up there is in bed with Planned Parenthood.”

And your tummy goes, “SAMOAS!!”

I’ll be honest.  Most of the time, I go with my stomach.  I imagine there are lots of other well-meaning people out there who do the same (or go with their heart, which is the next most likely thing for me to do), and I think that’s ok.  Unfortunately, there is a real and deep problem with the Girl Scouts of America and their support of feminist agendas, Planned Parenthood, and GLTB agendas which do attempt to undermine the values which Christians hold sacred. The questions of whether or not it is ethical to support the Girls Scouts of America is not a new debate.  Catholics who send them a big check every year, or work at the council level or above, probably need to do a little soul-searching.  But this week, we’re talking about those front-door cookie commandos, and how Catholics need to turn away the little vendors with a kind explanation about GSA’s political agenda being incompatible with our morals.

At LifeSiteNews, a good friend of mine has written a follow-up article about the cookie debate, which is generating some pretty vehement criticism (the original article from LifeSite is here).  “Reconsider?” the commenters fume.  “Give them a chance???” they wheeze.  “Like, srsly??????”  Those of us out there who go with our tummy, apparently, are contributing to the Next Great Evil Thing in society.  Meh.  I grant you the evil of Planned Parenthood, and I’ll even grant you the Girl Scouts being sketchy.  I don’t do March of Dimes, or Pink Ribbons, or any of that other stuff, because of clear connections with questionable agendas.

The author of the article agrees that the relationship between the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood is troubling, but suggests that we can counter that liberal agenda while still giving support to the small, local groups.  My “defense” of Girl Scouts in general is even more radical in its subsidiarity than the LifeSite article tries to be.  Mr. Jalsevac suggests that perhaps, since they appear to do good on the local level, whether we can find a way to support individual troops?  I don’t even care about the troop.  I want to support that little girl on my front step.

Because what I see on the step is an American child out with her mother or father on one of the few days a week they are able to be together as a family.  For an entire morning, or afternoon, that little girl is developing a work ethic alongside a parent, doing a brave thing by knocking on strangers’ doors, and doing it because the adult with her is loving and supportive.  I see a freezing mom or dad, bored and tired, smiling and encouraging their daughter to speak up, to explain the cookies, and to answer all my questions.

I could not answer the door, which is the easiest solution.  I could answer, listen to the spiel, then say “no.”  I could answer, listen to the spiel, and say, “Good job!  I’d buy cookies but I don’t like the GSA’s policies.”  I could scream, “Baby killers!!!” through the window.  But I don’t see how passing on the guilt of the corporation to that little girl is really fair to her.  I do admit, all levels of Girl Scouting are somehow involved with the top-floor agenda, and I was in Girl Scouts briefly myself, so I can attest to the feminist bent of much of their literature and programming.  (As for troop autonomy, which is mentioned in the LifeSite comments, my troop was pretty autonomous.  My troop leader literally tore whole sections from her handbook and trashed them, and we were only allowed to to merit badges that were outdoors, crafts, or learning about other countries.  Sounds like autonomy to me.)

However, most of the 6-8 year olds who come to my door are utterly clueless about those agendas, as are their parents.  Unlike many of the other situations where we boycott a company or avoid a product, in this situation there is an innocent child caught in the middle.  She’s trying to learn, to grow, and she trusts her parents who have allowed her to join this organization–one that to her means friends, badges, a field trip to the planetarium, and yes, selling cookies.  While sending a letter to PepsiCo or ignoring that “Pink Ribbon Race” invite from your neighbor is straightforward, undermining someone’s planetarium trip (and the judgement of her parents by extension) isn’t quite the same thing.

And if I buy a box of fatty, overpriced, same-as-last-year sugar bombs in order to reward the little girl for her effort, I will still sleep in peace that night.

(Image credit  Which is a little ironic, and could start an entirely different debate about what we let our kids get involved with, influences of corporations, and how to boycott junk in all its forms.)


Joseph and Jennifer Mazzara are a young, married Catholic couple. Meeting at Christendom College, they wed soon after graduating in 2008. God has blessed them with one son, and with another kid on the way! Jennifer now raises that one son, teaches piano and runs the local chapel’s RCIA program. Joseph joined the Marines. Their websites are The Three B’s, Midnight Radio.




Living the Life

I’ve found a little group really living out the Christian life–going outside themselves and giving to others.  It’s a pleasure to see people making their everyday actions purposeful, and a pleasure to watch the joy that grows in their life as the “hundredfold reward” comes rushing back.  Mothers make their home and hearth a gift to God, fathers offer their work, and we’re always reading in some Saint or another’s book that children, too, can make their daily life a  gift to Christ.  Sound kinda gooey?  Unlikely?  Norman Rockwell-esque, maybe?  It doesn’t have to be.

I challenge you to find a self-gift any more rock awesome fun than this one.

A group of North Carolina high school/elementary school brothers has taken the task of praying for vocations to a whole new level.  Through their local diocese, the boys chose one young man as their personal project, praying for him every day for a year–since you get a picture of him to hang in the house and not his actual person, he’s obviously flat.  Thus, the “Flat Seminarian Project.”  Area homeschoolers started the project at the beginning of the school year, asking families to take their seminarian into their lives (literally carrying around the picture if they wanted) and pray for him daily, taking pictures of themselves with the Flat Seminarian in order to compete for a prize.

Praying for a stranger for a year and making part of your family life by hanging him on a wall or taking him to church isn’t enough for these guys.  Nope,  “Michael” the seminarian has achieved 3D greatness through the medium of LEGOs–one seminarian, one camera, 365 days of plastic adventure and prayerful support.  Originally inspired by the online project of a high school science teacher, who took a photograph of his own LEGO figures every day for a year, the boys decided to integrate the obvious fun of taking pictures of your toys every day for a year (woo-hoo, religion class!) with the worthy Flat Seminarian Project.  And so the black-suited, Bible-toting LEGO Mike was born.  Starting January 1st, the brothers brainstorm once a week about coming models, do a photoshoot, and post the photographic evidence of Christian brotherhood to their blog daily.

This morning Simcha Fisher has a post about the “priest type,” noting that the universality of the Catholic Church makes for pretty broad variety in her ministers.  Specifically mentioning seminarians in her post (I love it when a plan comes together), she does highlight the one thing they all seem to have in common:

They all—even the ones who had dreamed of the priesthood since childhood—had to turn their backs on something, in order to say “yes” to God.

Turning your back on something can make life hard and lonely.  The solitary walk of a Priest is long, and the intercession of other Catholics on his behalf is a vital part of his sustenance.  Contact your own parish or diocese for information about seminarians!  Or, stop by this little blog to add your prayers for Michael to the boys’ spiritual bouquet.  They’re only 5 days in to the project, but I know these kids will stick it out, and that their “fun” is completely matched by their sincerity of prayer and love for a young man they might never meet.  Mystical Body of Christ?  You bet.

The diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, has their seminarians “available” now, if you want to adopt a young man who already knows he might get turned into a Flat Seminarian.  I encourage everyone to approach their own vocations office about this fun idea, and spread the idea to new places.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Joseph and Jennifer Mazzara are a young, married Catholic couple. Meeting at Christendom College, they wed soon after graduating in 2008. God has blessed them with one son, and with another kid on the way! Jennifer now raises that one son, teaches piano and runs the local chapel’s RCIA program. Joseph joined the Marines. Their websites are The Three B’sMidnight Radio.[/author_info] [/author]

Red Carded

The game is life.  The crime?  Having a large family.  Modern culture isn’t particularly family friendly, in a whole host of ways, and in the shuffle between living and surviving, large families are getting “benched” because they can’t perform up to standard…or worse, because their behavior is considered a crime.

Why?  Why do we penalize those who replace themselves?  My husband sat down one day and looked at an average family (his own) for a couple of generations, looking at the natural tendency in a family for only one or two of the children to have several children of their own.  Through three generations, he found that the family basically replaced itself with only a small surplus–if he hadn’t been one of nine, there would actually have been an overall Mazzara deficit!  Again, this is a natural thing, not a criticism.  Some siblings don’t marry, some marry late and only have one child, etc.  (In my own family, counting both sides, we have four grandparents, eight children (fifteen if you count spouses), and seven grandchildren.  See the problem?)

For my mother-in-law, the penalty she paid for over half her life mainly consisted of funny looks, unasked-for commentary, and snarky doctors who assured her if she kept having babies they’d all have Down Syndrome.  (They didn’t.)  But that was then.  Large families were unusual, but most adults remembered growing up around large families, or had come from one themselves.  The family discount still existed, hand-me-downs were cool, and driving a vehicle large enough to hold your entire family didn’t require a second income to pay for gas.

Today the average family size been “small” for over a decade (fewer than 10% of all households had more than two whole people living in them in 2004).  Today, the penalties for falling outside the norm are more extreme than a generation ago.  They’re starting to become institutionalized.

Over the last three years, we’ve watched close friends go through the ordeal of losing a job and being forced to move to a new home in order to start life over.  With five children, moving far from friends and family ended up being the only option–affordable housing was rare, and what was available was refused to them because they had so many children.  Legally, landlords are prevented from evicting families with young children from their property.  So what do the landlords do?  They won’t rent to families in the first place.  In New Jersey (where our friends started out) it’s illegal to place more than two persons in a room, so our friends were forced to look for a four bedroom home.  Catching the drift?  For a family in that kind of desperate situation, it amounts to breaking the law if you’re simultaneously poor and open to life.  There’s no way to live within the system.

In my own life, we’re insulated from the trials of losing our income and also enjoy living in a community where the average number of children is slightly higher than the national average (3.5 according to this site).  That doesn’t protect us from modernity or society’s malaise in general regarding children.  Have a child?  Why isn’t he in childcare?  Having another?  Ready to quit?

You want to accompany your wife to a doctor’s appointment?  Too bad.

You decide to give someone leeway when they’ve got a troublesome family issue at home?  What a pushover.

It’s time to move and you elect to live where your family is happy, rather than where it’s convenient for work? Kiss your career goodbye, buddy.

I’m getting sick and tired of the “progressive” attitude in life that penalizes families for being, well, families.  It feels like being in high school, where the cool kids ignored you if your jeans were the wrong brand.  I have no idea where I read it, but sometime in the last week I heard “we never really leave high school” and it feels so true.  Now the cool kids are the ones who either (a) don’t have a family at all or (b) put their family a distant second behind job, career, image, etc.  We aren’t playing the game their way, and we’re suffering for it.  Our friends are surviving now, but they’re living dangerously in debt and it will take years before “comfortable” is a word in their vocabulary.  They’re beyond being benched–their family was just about carried off the field unconscious.  Who else do you know that’s been sidelined, penalized, criticized, and hurt just because they have a family they care about?

Donning the Liturgical Apron

My thanks to the blogosphere, which takes sufficiently little notice of me to complain when this post wasn’t published on time…three.  weeks.  ago.  Hurricane Irene came and took our internet, then Labor Day took me visiting family, and yesterday saw me still recovering from the effects of a fabulous Catholic wedding and the party which must, for sacramental validity, follow and last until silly hours.  So, here’s my post from three weeks ago, warts and all.

Want to enjoy cooking more?  Put on an apron.  Really, try it.  Like most things humans do, we’re constantly searching high and low for the biggest, baddest, newest, fastest, bestest new tool to help us complete a task.  The interior design industry continues to rollick along, currently valued at several billions, and steadily growing.  We love stuff!  Looking back through time, we find humans since creation have been striving to make the most of themselves, of their environment, of their families.  Tattoos?   Pyramids?  Babel?  Smartphones?  It’s all self-expression, and we gather these things around ourselves in an effort to feel secure, to feel totally equipped to tackle the world around us.

So.  Try putting on an apron.  Suddenly, the disaster that you’re [accidentally] wearing is part of the act, a dash of ambiance, you’re the chef.  You’re happy to be in your environment, because now you’re part of it.  No wonder, then, that bringing “the right tools” to Mass yields similar results.

Dressing up for church used to be a fabulously lush business.  The hats, the suits, the ties, the dresses, the bonnets, the shoes…a whole plethora of items were part of the every-Sunday ensemble of churchgoers (and not just the wealthy ones, either).  Pick up a book written between 1800 and 1950, and somewhere along the line you’ll find either a reference to “Sunday best,” “new church shoes,” or a laconic damsel frustrated by some damage to her “best Sunday-go-to-meeting hat!”  It used to be part of the atmosphere, an outward recognition that one’s inward disposition for worship was something special.

Gone are the days of hats and three-piece suits.  (Oh for the days when even the homeliest of men were rendered irresistible by a classy, well-cut suit.  Swoon.)  Gone, also, is some of the communal reverence and sense of the sacred that should surround any act of worship, but especially the Sacred Liturgy.  Those who know no different still manage, I know, to know and love God, despite their cutoffs or tanks.  But how much more would they get from Mass if, say, they were wearing an apron?  Or, not to mix metaphors, a dress?  Or a really nice tie?  Or (holy of holies) actual dress shoes, with socks?

Down the street from us, the Protestant chapel has a sign with their services listed by time, and in the message area it says, “Casual attire welcomed!”  I don’t know how many takers they have, but if our Catholic chapel is any indication, it might as well say “Beach and bedtime attire welcomed!”    I assume that there are many Protestant churchgoers in their flops and tanks, just as there are many Catholic.  Everybody’s doing it, to the degredation of the whole Christian family.  How sad is that?  Imagine skimming the classifieds, and you see:

SM, Son of God, seeking casual relationship with redeemed flock.  No commitments, just want to hang.

What?  No way!  God seeks a radically intimate, eternal, personal, committed relationship with each one of us.  Not something casual.  Not something careless.  And he showed it by dying on a cross.  How far have we come, that the idea of even trying to meet him halfway by dressing up, by showing reverence and attention to appearance, doesn’t even cross our minds any more?  In his Holy Thursday homily this year, Pope Benedict discussed the parable of the wedding garment, saying:

For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast, whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way.  Jesus also knew about guests who come to the banquet without being robed in the wedding garment – they come not to rejoice in his presence but merely out of habit, since their hearts are elsewhere. In one of his homilies Saint Gregory the Great asks: Who are these people who enter without the wedding garment? What is this garment and how does one acquire it? He replies that those who are invited and enter do in some way have faith. It is faith which opens the door to them. But they lack the wedding garment of love. Those who do not live their faith as love are not ready for the banquet and are cast out. Eucharistic communion requires faith, but faith requires love; otherwise, even as faith, it is dead.

Faith is a decision, an act of the will, the “internal disposition” (which charity demands we assume in others–even those who subscribe to the gospel of flops and tanks) that has risen to dizzying heights of importance in today’s society.  I feel, I believe, I want, I think…all these intangibles are given primacy of place, so that an “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude has made its way even into the pews.  The flops and tanks are surely Faithful, so that’s all that matters.  But the Holy Father asks us to go deeper.

Love is a decision, but (most importantly), love is an act.  Love is action, an external indicator of how our insides are functioning.  Love is putting out the trash, putting on a tie, wiping noses, keeping an opinion to oneself.  Faith brings us into the feast, and with relative ease.  After all, the flops and tanks in the pews are fundamentally good people and their Faith is sincere.  But the effort of love, the time or trouble it takes to put on the dress or tie, that’s tough.  That’s a departure from comfort for the sake of the Beloved.

Which brings us back to the apron.  Going to get the apron takes time, takes trouble.  Where is it?  When was the last time I had it?  Is it even clean?  (Gross, I know.  Don’t judge me.)  But once we’ve got it, once we’re over the bump of making the effort and leaving our comfy place, we discover the joy of love, the magic of sacrifice.  We are happy in the apron.  Cooking is fun.  Work is pleasant.  Worshipping our Lord and King is easy, because we’re properly equipped for the job.

(photo credit)

Thrift, Justice, and the American Way

My husband, patient soul, is not a big fan of documentaries.  They’re often dull, they’re seldom short, and they’re typically liberal.  (Why is it, for example, that the punchline of every documentary made since 1996, regardless of topic, boils down to “stop having babies, because we’re killing the planet!”  Bah, humbug.)

Still, I enjoy them, especially the greenie documentaries about food, health, and how the automation and industrialization of our nutrition sources is, overall, a bad thing.  Mankind has a duty, I believe, to shepherd and steward the fruits of creation, not only for himself but for the good of the whole (don’t cringe) ecosystem.  After all, we live in it, so clearly it’s in our own best interests to take care of it.  For me, this has always meant not wasting stuff, recycling within reason, having a little garden (or, in my grandparents’ cases, enormously huge gardens), and turning off the lights in empty rooms.  Now, as an adult with a family, little has changed about my outlook, except a newfound and sudden realization that thriftiness is, unfortunately, not always compatible with healthiness, nor even conservation.

Americans, per capita, spend less of their annual income on food than any other nation in the world does.  We might spend, say, $100 per month on cell phones, and $100 per month on cable, and $100 per month on eating out, and $50 per month on going to the movies, but all heck breaks loose if the grocery bill tops $200.  Why??  The focus of a mother, especially, can and should be on how to provide the best things for her family, not the cheapest, yet we consistently make choices that say the opposite.  I do it all the time.  One of my favorite lunches is quick, easy, enjoyed by my toddler, and only costs $0.89!  It’s a Totino’s Party Pizza!  Yay!  But it isn’t healthy.  Why wouldn’t I choose to spend less money on cell phones and movies, and more on feeding my family?  Because it’s easy to cut costs on food.  Processed food is cheap, readily available, quick, easy, filling, familiar…the list goes on.

We tried this year to have a little backyard garden (foiled at every turn by the deer and the raccoons), and the single jalapeno pepper that survived the animal onslaught sat triumphantly on the counter for weeks before I actually used it.  Next year, I know a little more and can plan a little better.  We don’t have pets any more, so indoor herbs are safe.  What else can I do?  There’s a line, I know, between slavish Earth-worship and actual stewardship.  What kind of things can I do to eat healthy, run an efficient home, but not put my support and/or money into a community sector that, likely, thinks the primary contribution I can make to conservation would be to use birth control like it’s a religion?  I want to find a Catholic approach to living, care for my family without unnecessarily counting the pennies, and strike a balance between  treating our earthly home well and realizing that, after all, it’s only here for us to use.  What do you do to have a healthy, thrifty home?

Spes et Mutatio

My darling husband, making a move on the Pontiff's Ring

Some of our contributors are off in the wilds of Spain this week, taking part in World Youth Day.  We heard from Trista on Monday, and Marc is posting (with video) all through the week at Bad Catholic.  It’s great fun, as a stay-at-home-pilgrim, to watch the joy and excitement of those lucky young people who have gone to be with the Pope during this great event.

I had personal friends who attended World Youth Day in Toronto way back in 2002, and then I was in college when Cologne, Germany, hosted Benedict XVI on not only his first World Youth Day, but his very first Apostolic visit as Pontiff. Those were heady days, the earliest months of Benedict’s reign, when all of Christendom was alive with hope, with expectation, with excitement!  The drama of a Papal funeral, then the unbearable anticipation during the Conclave–then bells, horns, streamers, shouting at that white smoke!  Dozens of us packed into the campus rectory, most still eating lunch (it was about 12:30 Eastern time when Ratzinger first appeared at the balcony), and the chaplains were alternately shouting in excitement and shushing the rest of us.  Who is it?  Where is he?  Could it be?  WHO is it??

We were all “young people,” people who by definition only remembered one Pope, and that was John Paul.  “The Pope” simply was John Paul, we had known no other, and now here was this old, philosophical, methodical, serious German sitting on Peter’s throne.

And we loved it.

Now, six years and many letters, audiences, and Apostolic visits later, Catholic youth are still fired up by Benedict XVI, because he’s our Papa.  The great change he has brought into our lives, the “radical departure,” has been nothing other than a renewed commitment to preaching the beautiful paradox of Truth–unchanging, immutable, yet forever mysterious and discovered anew.  Bringing continuity and tradition back into our lives, the Pope has brought love and given a safe haven for the millions of souls across the globe that yearn desperately for solid ground.  The secular world tells us that solid ground is old hat, is limiting, is merely there to hold us back.  In Madrid, millions of pilgrims are gathering because they know the Truth will set them free.

Stay tuned this week, look into the sites, like Seth at OneBillonStories, where 21st-Century pilgrims are sharing their experiences with the rest of us.  Pray for them.  Ask them to pray for you.  Join the throng, drink in the hope, revel in the change.  Catholicism is young again!