Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Loving your enemies, more important than ever

Particularly enlightening:
Part of this stems from our tendency to think of certain foundational elements of our own belief systems as “common knowledge.” I recall, for example, a conversation in which I referred to Immanuel Kant as one of the philosophers that “everybody knows.” Someone quickly pointed out to me that this is absurd: large swathes of the human race could not tell you that Kant is a philosopher, much less identify any of his beliefs. But because I first read Kant in high-school, I naturally think of him as someone that any reasonably educated person knows.
I would say I have committed this particular sin many a time.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Austin Ruse attacking Simcha Fisher?

For being Jewish? Weird. I bet this is what the Venetians attacking Constantinople felt like. Besides which, Simcha is awesome.

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Friday, March 09, 2018

Senators making things worse for people quitting smoking

Under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, in order to market “safer” tobacco products manufacturers must demonstrate that they would (1) significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual tobacco users, and (2) benefit the health of the population as a whole. In addition, the Act limits the labeling and advertising claims that manufacturers can make on their products’ behalf.
These may be well-intentioned restraints, but overly strict interpretation of the rules can do far more harm than good.

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Monday, March 05, 2018

Bermuda with some rare sanity!

Last year a court, as happens so often these days, unilaterally imposed ‘same-sex marriage’ on Bermuda. That judicial fiat has now been legislatively reversed and, while “domestic partnerships” are recognized in Bermuda, some of which partnerships will make it legally easier for same-sex partners to carry on their common life, only one man and one woman can enter marriage in Bermuda. In short, Bermuda law again respects reality.
EP makes the interesting point that
But the second question is, I think, one of prudence (practicality or politics, if one prefers) and hence, I hold that, precisely as a matter of practicality, recognition of domestic partnerships is eligible for debate. But to treat a matter of prudence (domestic partnerships) as if it were a matter of principle is a serious mistake. Among other things, that kind of thinking has, I suggest, helped reduce a matter of principle (the definition of marriage) to a matter of politics.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Pope goes medieval

Who would have thought we would be replaying the 11th and 12th century investiture controversies a thousand years later in China:
Perhaps this will end with President Xi standing in the snow . . .

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Welcome back to Justine!

I don't have the tools to see when the last time she posted an article was but I'm guessing 2008? Perhaps if we're lucky the ever mysterious Z(ed) will join us again!

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When Prolife articles stop being meaningful

If you are Catholic and look around on Catholic or pro-life news sites, unfortunately you will come across many articles like Judie Brown's on Catholic Lane which offer the boilerplate defense of pro-life values without engaging in meaningful intellectual discussion on today's pro-life movement and the present moment we face as a society.

Here is my comment, or response to Brown's article:

There is a danger in reducing a person's view point to a single quote. I agree that this quote Brown highlights in the opening paragraph, appears contradictory and problematic. How can we ascribe value to human life and yet life have intrinsic value? Perry says both. It would have been better if Brown had linked to the article in which Perry stated this to get the full context, instead of another opinion piece on LifeNews.com. When I eventually clicked my way to Perry's original article, and another article on CRISPR written for the Nation, it becomes clear that Perry does believe that all human life has intrinsic worth. Yet he is pro-choice. I agree this is a difficult stance to defend and I do not agree with Perry. Yet it is important to see where he is coming from, perhaps more so than to attack the idea that one could be a father of someone with Downs Syndrome and yet prochoice. Brown attacks repeatedly the idea that we can "ascribe" value to human life. This is certainly true from a Catholic perspective. However, Perry is writing for a secular audience, and unfortunately, the world we operate within does indeed ascribe more value to some human lives than others, whether or not it is our place to do so. When Perry says "I’ve spent many years now asserting the need to re-order how we ascribe value to diverse human lives," I think it is precisely the devaluing of the lives of people with Down Syndrome he is fighting against. Perhaps he should have phrased it differently, and instead of "we" he could have said "people." While in truth we cannot ascribe value to human life, sadly this is something society does through all sorts of systems (imprisonment, abortion, euthanasia, inequalities in education, access to health-care, etc.) Perry in his articles goes on to support what he calls "neurodiversity" and indeed goes on to explain how people with Down Syndrome can contribute to economies and lead happy lives and help make families and marriages stronger. And yet, based on his writing, he does not seem to make human worth contingent on how we contribute to economies or make our families happy. Perhaps the statement we need focus on here is the point of commonality between Church teachings and Perry's views: "My son might not participate in the capitalist economy, live independently, or speak (he might also do all of these things!), but his value as a human is intrinsic."
Brown's article should focus on how can someone who has a son with Down Syndrome and believes human life has intrinsic worth, still be prochoice. She takes his quote totally out of context and does not look deeply into this man's beliefs, which is easily done by reading a few of his articles. He places the basis of his pro-choice stance in the idea of bodily autonomy. People with disabilities have a very long history of having their bodies controlled, from forced sterilizations, forced medications and procedures, to the ultimate control: euthanasia or termination. Perry stands in solidarity with some people in the disabled (or differently-abled) community: this long history of bodily control that has only very recently been overturned in very modern human history (and is still not fully overturned on a global scale) fears prevention of abortion as another way to force or coerce control over their bodies. Of course not everyone in the disabled community is on the same page with this belief. Many are prolife. Even if you disagree with Perry's stance, there is value in seeing the roots of his perspective to more authentically engage in meaningful dialogue about his beliefs.
A more interesting article would be to look at Perry's prochoice stance as rooted in disabled rights and the fear of control over the bodies of disabled people. The key word here is "fear." When our beliefs and actions are coming from a place of fear, then this is the larger problem. If a mother wants to terminate a pregnancy out of fear that the disability will be too much to bear, the problem is the fear driving the mother. If disabled people are prochoice because of fear of society legislating control over their bodies, again the problem here is the fear driving them. As a society we need to overcome the basis of this fear by being so supportive of differently abled people, and so supportive of people with these diagnoses, that it takes the fear away. We need to have abundant services, medically and otherwise, for people with disabilities. We need a social safety net for such people, access to healthcare, employment, education, counseling, etc., so that life is not viewed as a sentence, but a well-supported, meaningful existence.
Perry points out in his essay the hypocrisy of some Republican pro-lifers who would make it impossible to terminate a pregnancy based on prenatal diagnosis, but who cut funding for special education and disability services. (Source: https://www.thenation.com/a...
We need to spend more time understanding where people like Perry are coming from and building from our common ground: respect for all human life as having intrinsic worth. I think that from there we can see how Perry is doing right by drawing attention to the slashing of services to disabled people. There is a common ground all Catholics should come together over: supporting individuals and families with disabilities.
We should focus on building a strong society to support and love such individuals, with easy access to strong services. We should focus on getting accurate information out to families facing a prenatal diagnosis on Down Syndrome and perhaps putting them in touch with other families with children with Down Syndrome, rather than scaring them with a diagnosis and pressuring them into abortion. We need to work on our genetic counseling and health practitioner counseling, so that families aren't making decisions from a place of fear.
Fear is our enemy. A poor prenatal diagnosis is most pregnant women's worst fear. As a society we need to offer them and their children options for hope and support.
Not to mention it is morally problematic to outlaw abortions based on prenatal diagnosis, when morally speaking, no abortion should be legal. It seems to me that the prolife movement is getting desperate. Faced with the difficulty of overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal, the prolife movement today focuses on chipping away access in select places and in select cases. A woman who faces a poor prenatal diagnosis, can simply say the abortion is for other reasons, not for the diagnosis, and still have her abortion. This kind of legislation solves nothing, but allows pro-life legislators to put a false feather in their cap that they have "done something" to support the movement. A more meaningful pro-life moment would be one that engages in dialogue with parents like Perry to see what they could do to be more supportive of families raising children with Down Syndrome and other life-long disabilities.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Mary, Spouse of Saint Joseph


Why does it strike my Catholic ears as so alien to hear the words, “Mary, Spouse of Saint Joseph”? Because we expect to hear “Spouse of the Holy Spirit,” of course. But was she not also the wife of Saint Joseph?

Now this is not going to be a theological essay so much as a personally revealing reflection. I balk at the term wife. I embrace motherhood, and the terms “mom, daughter, sister, teacher” and even “daughter-in-law,” but for some reason I am not embracing of the term “wife.” In fact, I resent that my husband has me listed in his cell phone as “My Wife.” He is fond of telling Siri “Call my wife,” and having my cell phone ring. When I first saw that I was listed as “My Wife” in his phone, I was offended, but couldn’t immediately place why. I suppose because it reduces me to a role, a relation. I prefer my name. I am not merely someone’s wife, I am a whole person, who is rather complicated, and who has a public role as teacher and mother and scientist and many other things that go beyond wifely duties. Am I being too sensitive? The only person I have listed by their relation to me in my phone is my mother, who is listed as “Mom.” Maybe to be fair I should change that to her proper name so as not to be a hypocrite. But I feel parent relationships are different. Your entire life you know them as mother or father. Most children don’t call their parents by a first name. But my husband does not go around calling me “wife.” And I don’t go around calling him “my husband” except in public online essays such as this where I prefer to give him a little anonymity.

But I digress. Was not Mary spouse of Saint Joseph? Yes, she was. Although the English translation is “betrothed” at the time of Jesus’ conception, I have heard and read that it was understood in Jewish tradition at that time as a marriage, legally at least, even if she had not yet been taken into Joseph’s house, which is why the Gospel goes on later to discuss the possibility of divorce when Joseph learns of her pregnancy.

Maybe we as Catholics have trouble accepting that she was truly married to Saint Joseph because we have a tradition that says the marriage was never consummated. So does that mean it wasn’t truly a marriage? After all, the Catholic Church seems to teach in all those pre-Cana classes that sex and marriage pretty much go together. Yes, they do, and yet, not having intercourse doesn’t make the marriage less valid, according to canon law. So, by modern day Catholic standards, and ancient Jewish ones, Mary and Joseph were truly married, even if not living together.

So why this hesitation to call Mary, “Spouse of Saint Joseph” or “Wife of Saint Joseph”? And it isn’t just a personal hesitation, if you try to Google these terms, you get far more results for “Joseph, husband of Mary” or “Joseph, Spouse of Mary” than you will for “Mary, Spouse of Joseph.” I suppose it comes from our Catholic discomfort with marriage being associated with sex and thinking of Mary in a sexual relationship with Joseph, as the term Spouse or Wife might imply, even if our tradition holds otherwise. In fact, the idea is so abhorrent to us strange Catholics that for centuries we depicted Saint Joseph as an old-man, more of a father-figure or caretaker of the young Mary, than a young handsome man. Like this Baroque painting by Guido Reni:



Okay, so reason number 1: Catholics are uncomfortable with even the hint of anything sexual between Mary and Joseph, so we make Joseph look old, we have a whole tradition that says her virginity was consecrated before marriage (which I find a bit dubious because there is no record in Jewish tradition of this practice… ) and we avoid titles that may have sexual implications, like “wife” or “spouse.” Catholic tradition also maintains that she remained a virgin.

Reason number 2 (which fits with reason #1): Mary is Spouse of the Holy Spirit. That’s kind of a big deal. I will not examine here the history and theology behind this title, but suffice it to say, a lot has to do again with Mary’s virginity.

But Mary WAS wife of Saint Joseph, even if there isn’t palatable to us Catholics obsessed with her virginity to talk about it. And as a wife myself, I often find myself reflecting on her role as such.
Not much is said in the Gospels about her relationship with Joseph, so much is left to the imagination. We assume some things, such as that Joseph must have been very holy to have been chosen by God as the suitable spouse for Mary, and adoptive-father of Jesus. Other details are held again through “Tradition” though not in Scripture. Very little, actually nothing, is said of the personal relationship enjoyed between Joseph and Mary. I least I hope it was enjoyed. I’d like to think they honored each other as husband and wife, and being two holy people, enjoyed a peaceful marriage, despite the upheavals and hardships they faced. I like to think Joseph was a rock for Mary to lean on, and she a fountain of peace for him to draw upon.

And life must have been difficult. From the strange circumstances of Jesus’ birth and the subsequent flight to Egypt, to just everyday life under authoritarian rule and oppression by a foreign presence. In general people didn’t live too long back then, and life was generally hard I imagine, with long days of labor and many physical discomforts.

What was their marriage like? One can only imagine. And indeed what we imagine is probably more reflective of our own selves then of the Holy Family.

One time I imagined I was like Mary a little bit, in that I had a long hard day of travel in a foreign area while pregnant and then at the end of the day, we couldn’t get into our lodging and I wept on the streets as we were temporarily homeless. Okay, the analogy falls apart. I wasn’t in labor, and we were on a nice European vacation. My reaction to not finding lodging was quite different than Mary’s I assume.

(Warning**: Long digression ahead!) The day started in Barcelona. I was six months pregnant. On our way to the train station we witnessed a mugging. I was stepping into the cab as a couple ran past being chased by some thugs threatening them with a glass bottle (in America it would have been a gun.) One man threw the bottle and it hit my husband. He was hit so hard he had a black and blue spot that lasted for weeks, but he likes to think he saved the chased tourists from taking the blow.

After that ordeal we went to the train station to board what we thought would be a fast train to France. But the train we planned to take was completely full. Although we had rail passes, it turned out you needed to make reservations in advance to save your seats. We were forced to board a local train that would take the entire day to make the journey from Barcelona to where we needed to go in France. We took the next train available. There was no food sold on board and we had packed no snacks. As a pregnant woman, I became famished and grumpy. If I had known we would be on such a long slow train ride without food, I would have packed something to eat. Finally, afternoon sometime (we had left early morning) we arrived in a border town between France and Spain. We had to get off the train and go through some sort of customs and wait for the next train. The station was paltry and didn’t even have a vending machine. The bathroom doors wouldn’t close, and we took turns holding the door as we went to the bathroom, which had no toilet paper. Although the town proper was a bit of a hike and we had limited time before the next train, I was so famished I demanded we make the trek with our luggage to get food. We did and found something small to eat and made it back in time to catch the next train. I was in a bad mood because if we had been on the train I wanted, we would have been in our destination in a couple hours, but instead we were wasting our entire vacation day en transit. I grew increasingly discontent at the length of the train-ride. We finally arrived at our station, but not our destination. We had to pick up a rental car and then drive to Aix, which was our final destination. The process of checking out the car was tedious, and getting the car, and figuring out stick-shift was very stressful. And we were hungry. Then managing to drive to Aix using GPS. We finally arrived as the sun was setting, not in the morning as I planned. And my husband had no plan for how to contact the couple on Air B&B we were renting from. We rang their bell. No answer. We went to a café in town with wifi and he attempted to call and email them and kept returning to the apartment. I ate a hearty portion at the café, but was so upset that we were unable to get into our apartment. I was so tired, and perhaps hormonal from pregnancy that I started crying uncontrollably. I must have been a sight: weeping pregnant American woman, alone at a sidewalk café in beautiful Aix, sobbing loudly with luggage in tow. I couldn’t stop crying. My bewildered husband returned.

Eventually we connected with the couple, got keys to the apartment and had a wonderful time in Aix. The apartment was the most beautiful place we stayed in all our European journeys and I loved Aix so much. But, I lost it in that moment. I blamed my husband for not making appropriate plans, for not having an international cell phone, for not knowing about the need for train reservations, etc. etc. I was blaming him for everything because he isn’t much of a planner and likes to wing it on travel. We didn’t even know how long we were to stay there or where we would stay next, and I hated that uncertainty. I was crying not just because I was hungry and tired but because I feared I hadn’t married well. Yes, this was the conclusion was drawing from my husband failing to make arrangements with our Air B&B host. If you think this is a bit over-dramatic, you are probably right. 

Now what did Mary feel during the birth of Jesus when they arrived in Bethlehem. I imagine the dialogue went something like this:

Mary: “Honey, I think it’s time.  I am exhausted after a long day of travel, and the child is near to arriving. I need a place to rest right away. Where did you plan for us to stay?”

Joseph: “Um, I hadn’t really planned… I just figured we would check into an Inn.”
(Some time later after awkward exchange with inn keeper.)

Mary: “Wait, aren’t you from this town? Don’t you have family or friends we could stay with?”

Joseph: “I was born here, but I didn’t grow up here, so I don’t really know anyone.”

Mary: “So you didn’t plan ahead and make arrangements for us to stay with any family? Didn’t you know I was with child and would need women to attend to me in my hour of need? Where is our family support?”

Joseph: “Sorry, I didn’t think you would be giving birth now.”

Mary: “Look at my belly!!! Look how pregnant I am! You knew this could happen and yet you dragged my ass* here anyways.”  (*Referring to animal, not body part, obviously.)

Joseph: “Look honey, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize… I just thought we could stay at an Inn.”

Mary: “But the census! You knew the town would be full of people! Didn’t you think of that? I trust you!”

Joseph: “We can stay in the stable, it’ll be okay.”

Mary: “I’m having a baby!! You want me to labor in a place where animals feed and shit?”

And here Mary vacillates between rage and fear and bursts into tears in exasperation.

Okay, okay, yes, I am projecting myself into the story here. Mary probably said no such thing. But do you think she at least had some of those thoughts??? Or did she trust so completely in God, that fear was not part of the equation? I like to think it was trust in God and that no such dialogue took place. But if had been me, poor Saint Joseph would never have heard the end of it.

What about when Jesus was “lost” for three days. If I had been Mary I would certainly be blaming Joseph. And for three days I would have been verbally abusing him for losing our only child, you know, the Messiah. But we don’t imagine our saints bickering and blaming each other. But Mary did say she was “anxious.” She was after-all, still human. As much as she trusted in God, this trust did not preclude the feelings of anxiety, and perhaps fear. She must have been fearful going into childbirth. Many women died in the process after all, or lost their child. And it seems she went into labor unaided by what would have been the ancient equivalent of a midwife or doula I imagine.
“Do not be afraid.” The angel told her at her moment of conception. Yes many of the events of Mary’s life would be frightening and anxiety-provoking, and she must have experienced feelings of anxiety and fear. We always paint her as so sublimely serene at the annunciation and birth, but I like to think of her fear and anxiety and pain. Childbirth must have been painful; it always is. But the difference between Mary and myself is that she trusted the Lord in all these situations and probably was not lashing out at her husband or anyone else for that matter.

I have much to learn form her example.

Giving Mary and the Holy Family human faces and feelings does not detract from their divinity, but helps them to become more real. Imagining Mary in the pain and fear brought on by childbirth, helped me labor through mine. Imagining Mary doing her household duties and breastfeeding, helps me to see the dignity of such thankless tasks. Imaging Mary anxious for three days as they searched for her son… I don’t think the word anxious does it justice, Mary was probably downplaying things a bit. She was likely terrified! But I imagine she still did what was rationale: consult her husband and kinfolk and search for the missing child, retracing their steps. She handled things with more grace than I would have. She did not blame others for the situation, or break down into hysterics, but trusted in the Lord, prayed, and did what she could to find her son.

This image: the anxious wife and mother searching for her son, is what I can identify with. We live in an anxious world. With the threat of nuclear war, public shootings and acts of terrorism as part of the background noise in which I am raising my children, anxiety is a constant companion. Mary, the anxious mother, is not a saintly title, but that sets an example for me of how to struggle through challanges with grace.  Again, nothing is said of how she and Joseph talked to each other in private, but I have to imagine that although some of the emotions were similar to mine, her response must have been entirely different.

As I struggle through the early years of marriage, I shall call upon “Mary, Spouse of Saint Joseph” to help me be a better wife. Mary was sinless, but Joseph was not. She must have had to put up with a few flaws from Saint Joseph. Did he ever speak a harsh word out of frustration? It’s not easy living with a saint, let alone two. Did he ever feel inadequate? He must have made mistakes sometimes and Mary had to put up with them. I’ll have to ask Mary to show me the way to be a better spouse. I can’t compare my marriage to that with the Holy Spirit, but I can look to how she lived with the very human Joseph. I think “Mary, Wife of Saint Joseph” is a title we should become more comfortable with as Catholics, since so many of us are wives and the struggle to put up with our husbands and embrace our vocations to marriage can be quite real.


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