Friday, February 24, 2012

Salt of the Earth

In yesterday's Traditional Breviary, the Second Day of Lent, there was a reading from Matthew 5:13-19.  This is the passage in which Jesus tells us, his followers, that we are the salt of the earth.   Salt was indispensable in the ancient world and in our age as well.  Salt was even used as a method of trade and currency.  The word "salary" comes from the word salt. 

Two of the most important uses of salt is to improve taste and to preserve food. When Christ old us we are the salt of the earth, he meant that we are here to save the world, just as he saved us.  That is a heavy responsibility, for as Christ said, to whom much is given, much is expected.  We have been given salvation, and we are expected to share it with as many people as we can. 

But what if we don't follow through with this awesome responsibility?

Here is the passage from Matthew:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled. He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
St. Augustine, in his great wisdom, gives us a clear understanding of what it means to be the salt of the earth, how it is possible to lose the power of savoring others and what happens when we lose our savor:
The Lord would have us understand how that men do lose their power of savouring others with righteousness when they are willing to place their eternal welfare in jeopardy for the sake of any temporal advantage, like as attainment of ease or luxury, or escape from suffering or toil.  For that which is eternal, unlike things of this world, can neither be bestowed by men, nor by them taken away.  [St. Augustine says here that if we lose our savor, we will have no one to blame but ourselves because no other human can take it from us.]  Hence, when he asketh : If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? he would have us understand the question to be : If ye, by whom mankind is preserved from corruption, be willing to lose the kingdom of heaven so as to escape trials or persecutions in this world, who is there to preserve you from corruption, seeing ye are they that God hath chosen  to preserve all others from corruption[A heavy judgment will be placed on all to whom God has given his Spirit and who then, like Esau choosing a pot of lentils over his birthright, choose earthly things instead of heavenly.]

Those that should be the salt of the earth, but have lost their savour, are thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.  But no one that suffereth persecution is truly said to be trodden under foot of men.  Rather, that one is truly trodden under foot of men  who through fear of persecution hath lost the savour of righteousness.  For no one can be trodden upon, unless he be beneath him which treadeth upon him.  And certainly no one who hath his heart in heaven, no matter how grievously he doth suffer in his body on earth, is rightly said to be beneath anyone who misuseth him. 
No other human being can hurt us spiritually.  We can only do that to ourselves by choosing the physical temporary things of this world over the spiritual and eternal things of heaven.  As Christ said, "fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell."  (Matthew 10:28)  Lent is all about choosing the spiritual over the physical.  We have 40 days (plus Sundays) in which to learn these lessons and hopefully apply them for the rest of the year, and the rest of our physical lives, as well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Time For Fasting

Today, Ash Wednesday, is an obligatory day of fasting in the Catholic Church for all adults between 14 and 59 years of age.  Exceptions, of course, can be made for health conditions.  Fasting permits one regular meal and 2 small snacks not to equal one regular meal.  Drinking of liquids is also permitted. 

In the Traditional Brevary today, there is a reading by St. Augustine that shows the benefits and potential pitfalls of fasting:

From these precepts it is evident that our every action should be directed towards the attainment of an interior life, which alone giveth true happiness. For if contrariwise we seek our reward in outward things, we shall be conformed to the fashion of this world, and thus forfeit God's promise of happiness, to wit, that we shall be conformed to the image of his Son. Such happiness, inasmuch as it concerneth inward things, is all the more certain and enduring. Howbeit, the special teaching of this passage is this : That vainglory can come forth, not only from worldly elegance and human pretensions, but even from a condition of sad countenance and dirty disfigurement. Furthermore, the latter kind of vainglory is the more dangerous, in that it deceiveth under the pretence of an humble service of God.

On the one hand, whosoever sheweth unbridled indulgence, whether in bodily comforts and dress, or in other forms of elegance, thereby standeth manifestly convicted as a follower of the pomps of this world. Nor doth such an one, by his pretence of godliness, deceive anybody. On the other hand, whosoever from choice, and not of necessity, professeth Christianity in such wise as to draw attention unto himself by reason of his seeming humility, or his particular disregard for outward things, this man is to be judged from the fashion of his other behaviour, as to whether therein he sheweth a desire for mortification, or rather for vainglory. For the Lord biddeth us beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. Rather, as he saith, by their fruits shall ye know them. 
Now here is the test of the seeming godliness of such folk. When some adversity bringeth upon them the loss of the advantages which they had gained, or sought to gain, by their profession of godliness, then it must needs appear whether they be wolves in sheep's clothing, or sheep in their own. Nevertheless, a Christian should not seek to tickle the fancy of other folk by a parade of elegance, on the plea that hypocrites do seek to beguile the unwary by a display of frugality. For sheep should not lay aside their own clothing because wolves do sometimes falsely assume the same.
Let us pray.
Grant, O Lord, unto thy faithful people, that they may both piously undertake the venerable solemnities of the Fast, and persevere in the same with unfailing devotion. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
R. Amen. 

Meditation On Lent: What is True Asceticism

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Today we are reminded of just how temporary life is when we receive ashes on our foreheads and are told in the traditional Mass:  "Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return."  One of the antiphons from the traditional Mass sets the tone for Lent, taken from Joel 2:13:
Let us change our raiment for sackcloth and ashes: let us fast and mourn before the Lord: for our God is merciful to forgive us our sins. 
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a journey of mortification and self denial.  Why do this?  Why enter into mortification?  What is the reason for self denial?  We live in a society which is all about self indulgence.  "If it feels good, do it."   "You deserve a break today."  But for the next 40 days, Christians will say no to themselves and yes to God. has a good reading on the meaning of asceticism and the virtues and dangers associated with it.  Self denial and penance are not done in Lent or any other time of the year just for the sake of penance, but to draw us closer to God.  As this reading from warns us, it is possible for penance and self denial to be merely empty expressions which have no spiritual benefit.  If we are not developing humility from our spiritual practices, we may be doing it all in vain. 
The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue. At present it is not infrequently employed in an opprobrious sense, to designate the religious practices of oriental fanatics as well as those of the Christian saint, both of whom are by some placed in the same category. It is not uncommonly confounded with austerity, even by Catholics, but incorrectly. For although the flesh is continuously lusting against the spirit, and repression and self-denial are necessary to control the animal passions, it would be an error to measure a man's virtue by the extent and character of his bodily penances. External penances even in the saints, are regarded with suspicion. St. Jerome, whose proneness to austerity makes him an especially valuable authority on this point, thus writes to Celantia:
Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.
Thus asceticism according to the definition of St. Jerome, is an effort to attain true perfection, penance being only an auxiliary virtue thereto. It should be noted also that the expression "fasting and abstinence" is commonly used in Scripture and by ascetic writers as a generic term for all sorts of penance. Neither should asceticism be identified with mysticism. For although genuine mysticism can not exist without asceticism, the reverse is not true. One can be an ascetic without being a mystic. Asceticism is ethical; mysticism, largely intellectual. Asceticism has to do with the moral virtues; mysticism is a state of unusual prayer or contemplation. They are distinct from each other, though mutually co-operative. Moreover although asceticism is generally associated with the objectionable features of religion, and is regarded by some as one of them, it may be and is practised by those who affect to be swayed by no religious motives whatever.
The article then shows the difference between natural asceticism and spiritual asceticism. 

If for personal satisfaction, or self interest, or any other merely human reason, a man aims at the acquisition of the natural virtues, for instance, temperance, patience, chastity, meekness, etc., he is, by the very fact, exercising himself in a certain degree of asceticism. For he has entered upon a struggle with his animal nature; and if he is to achieve any measure of success, his efforts must be continuous and protracted. Nor can he exclude the practice of penance. Indeed he will frequently inflict upon himself both bodily and mental pain. He will not even remain within the bounds of strict necessity. He will punish himself severely, either to atone for failures, or to harden his powers of endurance, or to strengthen himself against future failures. He will be commonly described as an ascetic, as in fact he is. For he is endeavouring to subject the material part of his nature to the spiritual, or in other words, he is striving for natural perfection. The defect of this kind of asceticism is that, besides being prone to error in the acts it performs and the means it adopts, its motive is imperfect, or bad. It may be prompted by selfish reasons of utility, pleasure, aestheticism, ostentation, or pride. It is not to be relied upon for serious efforts and may easily give way under the strain of weariness or temptation. Finally, it fails to recognize that perfection consists in the acquisition of something more than natural virtue.
It is prompted by the desire to do the will of God, any personal element of self-satisfaction which enters the motive vitiating it more or less. Its object is the subordination of the lower appetites to the dictates of right reason and the law of God, with the continued and necessary cultivation of the virtues which the Creator intended man to possess.
* * * 
Wherever the Church has been allowed to exert her influence we find virtue of the highest order among her people. Even among those whom the world regards as simple and ignorant there are most amazing perceptions of spiritual truths, intense love of God and of all that relates to Him, sometimes remarkable habits of prayer, purity of life both in individuals and in families, heroic patience in submitting to poverty, bodily suffering, and persecution, magnanimity in forgiving injury, tender solicitude for the poor and afflicted, though they themselves may be almost in the same condition; and what is most characteristic of all, a complete absence of envy of the rich and powerful and a generally undisturbed contentment and happiness in their own lot; while similar results are achieved among the wealthy and great, though not to the same extent. In a word, there is developed an attitude of soul so much at variance with the principles and methods generally obtaining in the pagan world that, from the beginning, and indeed throughout, under the Old Law, it was commonly described and denounced as folly. It might be classified as very lofty asceticism if its practice were not so common, and if the conditions of poverty and suffering in which these virtues are most frequently practised were not the result of physical or social necessity. . . . The motives and the manner of this imitation are laid down in the Gospel, which is the basis taken by ascetical writers for their instructions. This imitation of Christ generally proceeds along three main lines, viz.: mortification of the senses, unworldliness, and detachment from family ties.
* * *
The character of this asceticism is determined by its motive. In the first place a man may serve God in such a way that he is willing to make any sacrifice rather than commit a grievous sin. This disposition of soul, which is the lowest in the spiritual life, is necessary for salvation. Again, he may be willing to make such sacrifices rather than offend God by venial sin. Lastly he may, when there is no question of sin at all, be eager to do whatever will make his life harmonize with that of Christ. It is this last motive which the highest kind of asceticism adopts. These three stages are called by St. Ignatius "the three degrees of humility", for the reason that they are the three steps in the elimination of self, and consequently three great advances towards union with God, who enters the soul in proportion as self is expelled. It is the spiritual state of St. Paul speaks when he says: "And I live, now not I ; but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20). Other ascetic writers describe them as states or conditions of the beginners the proficient and the perfect. They are not, however, to be considered chronologically distinct; as if the perfect man had nothing to do with the methods of the beginner, or vice versa. "The building of the spiritual edifice", says Scaramelli, "is simultaneous in all its parts. The roof is stretched while the foundations are being laid. "Hence the perfect man, even with his sublime motive of imitation, has always need of the fear of damnation, in order that, as St. Ignatius expresses it, if ever the love of God grows cold, the fear of Hell may rekindle it again. On the other hand, the beginner who has broken with mortal sin has already started in his growth to perfect charity. These states are also described as the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways.  
It is evident that the practice of unworldliness, of detachment from family and other ties, must be of the greatest number not the actual performance of those things, but only the serious disposition or readiness to make such sacrifices, in case God should require them, which, as a matter of fact in their case, He does not. They are merely affective, and not effective, but none the less they constitute a very sublime kind of spirituality. Sublime as it is, there are many examples of it in the Church, nor is it the exclusive possession of those who have abandoned the world or are about to do so, but it is the possession also of many whom necessity compels to live in the world, married as well as single, of those who are in the enjoyment of honour and wealth and of responsibility as well as of those who are in opposite conditions. They cannot effectively realize their desires or aspirations but their affections take that direction. Thus there are multitudes of men and women who though living in the world are not of it, who have no liking or taste for worldly display, though often compelled by their position, social or otherwise, to assume it, who avoid worldly advancement or honour not out of pusillanimity, but out of unconcern, or contempt, or knowledge of its danger; who, with opportunities for pleasure, practise penance, sometimes of the most rigorous character who would willingly, if it were possible, give up their lives to works of charity or devotion, who love the poor and dispense alms to the extent of, and even beyond, their means, who have strong attraction for prayer, and who withdraw from the world when it is possible for the meditation of divine things; who frequent the sacraments assiduously; who are the soul of every undertaking for the good of their fellow-men and the glory of God; and whose dominant preoccupation is the advancement of the interest of God and the Church. Bishops and priests especially enter into this category. Even the poor and humble, who, having nothing to give, yet would give if they had any possessions, may be classed among such servants of Christ.
I especially appreciate this reading because it shows that outward appearance means nothing.  Many who appear to be very poor and unworldly may not be so at all, and there are those who appear to have all the material good this world can offer and yet have no affection or attachment to it whatsoever and could leave it without a backward glance. 

If you wish to read more of this article on asceticism, go here

As we make our Lenten journey, we should keep in mind that it is not our outward appearances that we are trying to change but our inward attitudes, our emotional attachment to the world and wordly things.  If we do all the right physical mortifications and penances for Lent, but do not change inwardly, we have accomplished nothing.

May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lent: Going into the Desert

The Holy Season of Lent begins in just a little over 24 hours.  This is the most solemn time of the Christian year leading up to the most solemn day of the year - Good Friday, commemorating the death of our Lord, and then to the most glorious day - Easter Sunday, the resurrection of the Lord.   I will be sharing my Lenten experiences as best as I can here. 

But before beginning my journey into the spiritual desert of Lent, I want to post what the New York Times has to say.  Yes, that's right - the secular paper of record.  I hear and read of what different people plan to do during Lent.  Some say it's not a time to give up anything, but to go out and do good.  No, that is not what Lent is about.  Certainly doing good is something a Christian should always strive to do, but that is not the focus of Lent.  Lent is about forsaking our lives on this earth and striving for the spiritual. 

The New York Times explains it very well:

February 18, 2012
In a Lenten Season

Some may think of Lent as a time to make up for the excesses of Mardi Gras. But Lent, which begins Wednesday, isn’t a time of recovery. To Christians, it’s a 40-day season of preparation for Easter, the holiest day in the liturgical year. But the idea of Lent can be embraced by all of us, religious or otherwise.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is something you hear from all sorts of people. Yet there’s something tricky about the secular notion of Lent. You give up something personally important, so its absence will remind you of your purpose in giving it up, but not so important that it disrupts life much. You give up chocolate, but not refrigeration. Bread, but not the Internet. Coffee, but not “Downton Abbey.” Americans are not a naturally ascetic people, and it shows. Fasting lies at the heart of Lent, and most of us are not fasters. We choose our Lenten sacrifices from a very short menu.

But what if this were really a season for renunciation, even for non-believers? In the ancestral stories of nearly every culture, wisdom comes from the bare places, from deserts and dry mountains. The season of Lent itself is based on a “wilderness” — the one in which Jesus fasted for 40 days after his baptism.

It’s common to read this story and others like it as though the wilderness were little more than a blank backdrop. I read it a different way. Wisdom comes from the bare places because they force humility upon us. In these Lenten places, where life thrives on almost nothing, we can see clearly how large a shadow modern life and consumption cast upon the earth. In secular terms, Lent seems the opposite of Christmas — “What are you giving up?” versus “What are you getting?” Perhaps it might be a season in which to learn the value of abstention and to consider how to let the bare places flourish, or even simply to exist.
There is a certain wisdom in this, and one which, I'm afraid, many Christians and, in particular, Catholics reject. But as Christians we need to take Lent further than the goals of the above article. Lent isn't about merely letting barren places flourish. It is about getting rid of whatever it is that separates us from God, shedding whatever is keeping us "earthbound." We go into the desert, leaving behind all our physical comforts, all of our security blankets, everything that we cling to on this earth and learn to embrace the spiritual. We empty ourselves not so we are barren, but so that Christ can fill us with Himself.

Rick Santorum - Mario Cuomo, Jr.?

A few days ago I wrote about Rick Santorum's confusing message regarding birth control.   He is personally against birth control but still voted for it when he was senator because birth control "is not the taking of a human life."  That is most certainly not in line with Catholic teaching, although Senator Santorum professes to be a devout Catholic.  I can only compare this to Governor Mario Cuomo, who was personally against abortion but did not want to impose his beliefs on others.  I guess I could say I am personally against murder and mayhem, but I don't want to impose my belief on others. This just reeks of hypocrisy.  There is no way to have any kind of rule of law with this sort of philosophy.

Well, Senator Santorum has backed up his remarks about contraception in an interview with Greta Van Susteren.  Take a look:

February 17, 2012 11:13 A.M.Rick Santorum dismissed Santorum super PAC donor Foster Friess’s contraception comment on MSNBC (“Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”) in an interview last night, saying he wasn’t “responsible” for everything his supporters said. 
Santorum said he had “deeply held beliefs” on the issue of contraception, but noted that he didn’t look to the government to impose his moral views.

“Only when there are real consequences to society or to the rights of individuals do I feel a need to speak out,” Santorum said. “And that’s why I do on the issue of abortion because we have another — we have another person involved in the decision.”

“But the issue of contraception, that’s not the case,” he added. “It’s something that people have a right to do in this country. And it certainly will be safe to do so under the Santorum presidency.”
Friess has written an apology on his blog for telling the joke.
I was listening to a very interesting interview on Youtube with E. Michael Jones in which he was discussing the ramifications of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  He talked about the Republican and Democratic parties and what they really stand for.  He said the Democrats are the party of sodomy and the Republicans are the party of usury, and each has vowed never to interfere with the other.  That is why nothing ever changes no matter which party is in power, and why our country continues in a downward spiral.  Rick Santorum is just another part of that power structure. 

NOTHING will change if he should somehow be elected as president.  Rick Santorum is a Potemkin Village.  He, like all the others, is not what he appears to be, and if you listen carefully, he will tell you just that.  Romney equals Obama equals Gingrich equals Santorum.  They are all one and the same person. 

We get the leaders we deserve.  And these days, that ain't much.

Dr. Jones' interview is in 4 parts.  Here is the fourth part of it in which he talks about the Republicans and the Democrats. 

Pope Paul VI Prophesied The HHS Mandate on Contraception

Catholic Bishops and others have been railing against the Obama adminstration for attacking religious liberty by forcing Catholic institutions to go against the clear teachings of the church in supplying contraception to their employees.  Father Z's blog has one posting after another attacking the Obama administration on this issue.  But even he had a posting quoting from Humanae Vitae, which says that if contraception is allowed to be commonly used, government forces would start using it against the people.

From Humanae Vitae:
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.
If you have never read Humanae Vitae, please click on this link and do so.  It will be an eye-opening experience as to why there is so much evil in our world.  Pope Paul VI, led by the Holy Spirit, gave a sober warning to all of us.  We have no excuse.  We can try blaming Obama, the liberal media, entertainment, etc. etc., but we really have no one to blame but ourselves.  First and foremost, those Catholic authorities who told us that we did not have to follow Humanae Vitae but instead follow our consciences, will have to bear much of the blame.  The use of artificial contraception lies at the heart of most of the world's problems.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Majority of Births for Women Under 30 Are Out Of Wedlock

The following article was the headline in the New York Times on February 17.  It is actually a very distressing article explaining that for all women under 30, there are now more out-of-wedlock births than babies born to married women.  This paints a very bleak picture for both the women and children involved.  As pointed out in this article, "Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems."  And amazingly enough, this New York Times article also points out that contraception is a direct cause of this problem.  "The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill." 

There doesn't seem to be any resolution to this nightmare.  The United States is fast descending into hell.  Yet I must give credit to the New York Times for printing this article and not trying to whitewash it in any way, but showing just how tragic it is. 

Again, if the world had just listened to Pope Paul VI when he gave us Humanae Vitae, we would never see headlines like this.  All of those bishops and priests who told Catholics that they could make up their own mind about using birth control have much for which they must answer. 

February 17, 2012

For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage


LORAIN, Ohio — It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.

One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.

“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.

The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill. Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.

Here in Lorain, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline of the married two-parent family has been especially steep, dozens of interviews with young parents suggest that both sides have a point.

Over the past generation, Lorain lost most of two steel mills, a shipyard and a Ford factory, diminishing the supply of jobs that let blue-collar workers raise middle-class families. More women went to work, making marriage less of a financial necessity for them. Living together became routine, and single motherhood lost the stigma that once sent couples rushing to the altar. Women here often describe marriage as a sign of having arrived rather than a way to get there.

Meanwhile, children happen.

The Safe, Legal, Rare Illusion - The New York Times Shows the Lie Behind Abortion and Contraception

Very few media outlets have promoted abortion as consistently and vigorously as the New York Times.  So when I read this editorial, written by Ross Douthat, who has many times in the past promoted abortion, I could have been knocked over by a feather.  There must be an awful lot of prayers being said on behalf of the pro life cause to produce an editorial like this one in the New York Times.  This article seems to be at least partly the result of the ongoing conflict between the Bishops and the Obama administration.  I wonder what Mr. Douthat would think if he actually took the time to read Humanae Vitae?  Much of what he writes here was written by Pope Paul VI.  Artificial contraception leads directly to abortion.


The ‘Safe, Legal, Rare’ Illusion

AMID the sound and fury of the latest culture-war battles — first over breast cancer dollars and Planned Parenthood, and then over the White House’s attempt to require that religious employers cover contraception and potential abortifacients — it’s easy to forget that there is at least some common ground in American politics on sex, pregnancy, marriage and abortion.

Even the most pro-choice politicians, for instance, usually emphasize that they want to reduce the need for abortion, and make the practice rare as well as safe and legal. Even the fiercest conservative critics of the White House’s contraception mandate — yes, Rick Santorum included — agree that artificial birth control should be legal and available. [I always find it ironic that those who promote abortion as a good thing still say they want it to be done only in rare circumstances.]  And both Democrats and Republicans generally agree that the country would be better off with fewer pregnant teenagers, fewer unwanted children, fewer absent fathers, fewer out-of-wedlock births.

Where cultural liberals and social conservatives differ is on the means that will achieve these ends. The liberal vision tends to emphasize access to contraception as the surest path to stable families, wanted children and low abortion rates. The more direct control that women have over when and whether sex makes babies, liberals argue, the less likely they’ll be to get pregnant at the wrong time and with the wrong partner — and the less likely they’ll be to even consider having an abortion. (Slate’s Will Saletan has memorably termed this “the pro-life case for Planned Parenthood.”)

The conservative narrative, by contrast, argues that it’s more important to promote chastity, monogamy and fidelity than to worry about whether there’s a prophylactic in every bedroom drawer or bathroom cabinet. To the extent that contraceptive use has a significant role in the conservative vision (and obviously there’s some Catholic-Protestant disagreement), it’s in the context of already stable, already committed relationships. Monogamy, not chemicals or latex, is the main line of defense against unwanted pregnancies.

The problem with the conservative story is that it doesn’t map particularly well onto contemporary mores and life patterns [I congratulate Mr. Douthat for his honesty in this statement]. A successful chastity-centric culture seems to depend on a level of social cohesion, religious intensity and shared values that exists only in small pockets of the country. Mormon Utah, for instance, largely lives up to the conservative ideal, with some of America’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births and abortions. But many other socially conservative regions (particularly in the South) feature higher rates of unwed and teenage parenthood than in the country as a whole.

Liberals love to cite these numbers as proof that social conservatism is a flop. But the liberal narrative has glaring problems as well. To begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.

At the same time, if liberal social policies really led inexorably to fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions, you would expect “blue” regions of the country to have lower teen pregnancy rates and fewer abortions per capita than demographically similar “red” regions.

But that isn’t what the data show. Instead, abortion rates are frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to deliver the “rare” part.

What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance, has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian abortion rate is more than twice as high.

These are realities liberals should keep in mind when tempted to rail against conservatives for rejecting the intuitive-seeming promise of “more condoms, fewer abortions.” What’s intuitive isn’t always true, and if social conservatives haven’t figured out how to make all good things go together in post-sexual-revolution America, neither have social liberals.

At the very least, American conservatives are hardly crazy to reject a model for sex, marriage and family that seems to depend heavily on higher-than-average abortion rates. They’ve seen that future in places like liberal, cosmopolitan New York, where two in five pregnancies end in abortion. And it isn’t a pretty sight. [Can you believe this was printed in the New York Times?!]

Mother Dolores Hart - The New York Times and Maureen Dowd Praise a Holy Catholic Nun

Mother Dolores Hart in her days as a
Hollywood actress with one of her
co-stars, Elvis Presley
Satan must be getting awfully cold down there.  Here is yet another positive article from this weekend's New York Times, this one about Mother Dolores Hart.  Dolores Hart was a young, beautiful Hollywood actress headed for a big Hollywood career, who instead turned away from Hollywood and answered the call to become a Catholic nun.  This story was not just printed in the New York Times, but written by Maureen Dowd, who has basically made a career of attacking the Catholic Church. 

It is not mentioned in the article, but Mother Dolores played the role of St. Clare in the movie, Francis of Assisi.  St. Clare left a comfortable lifestyle to become a nun and one of our greatest saints.  Ironically. St. Clare is the patron saint of television because towards the end of her life, when she was very ill and could not make it to Mass, she saw the Mass projected on her wall.  It would still be several hundred years before TV was invented.

I have to admit that I had tears in my eyes at the end of this article.

Where the Boys Aren’t

HOW do you marry God after you’ve kissed the King?

Easy. Just ask Dolores Hart.

The 73-year-old Benedictine nun is planning to attend the Oscars next Sunday. She will be a lot more covered up than she was the last time she went to the ceremony — in 1959, as a presenter and a gorgeous starlet who had given a blushing Elvis his first screen kiss.

Grace Kelly deserted Hollywood at 26 to become the bride of a prince. Hart, dubbed “the next Grace Kelly,” deserted Hollywood at 24 to become a bride of Christ.

That stunning spiritual elopement is the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary called “God Is Bigger Than Elvis,” a rare look behind the walls of the cloistered abbey in rural Connecticut where Hart has lived for half a century. (It will be shown on HBO in April.)

“God was the vehicle,” she said of her odyssey. “He was the bigger Elvis.”

Nuns in America are a dying breed, and the church’s antediluvian male hierarchy gets more worked up about allowing Catholic women contraceptives than investigating sexual abuse of children by priests. [Maureen just couldn't resist this jab at the church.]

But Hart soldiers on at the bucolic Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine monastery and working farm in Bethlehem, Conn., which observes three periods of silence a day. She is a mother prioress and spiritual guide to 38 other nuns (and she is the only nun who is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).

Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman played luminous nuns in movies, but Hart was the luminous beauty who, in real life, cut her hair and put on the habit. When I was little, we would watch her old movies on TV — especially “King Creole,” “Where The Boys Are” and “Come Fly With Me” — and puzzle over why anyone would leave sparkly Hollywood for a strict nunnery.

The British tabloids considered it such lunacy that they kept trying to scout out the “real” reason, reporting on a rumor that Hart had scurried off to the convent in shame after bearing Elvis’s love child.

“If anybody knew me, I mean, I was just too Catholic,” she said, denying the gossip to ABC’s “20/20” in 2002.

Mother Dolores Hart today
The documentary begins with Hollywood publicity shots and clips showing Hart — with her big blue eyes, creamy voice and lithe figure — draped in furs, gowns and men. Flash forward to the senior citizen in her old-school habit, leavened with a jaunty black beret decorated with three bird pins. As you watch her playing cancan music for a pet parrot, you wonder: Could she be the only woman who starred in movies who has never had any cosmetic enhancements?

Her parents were beautiful too, and tried to make it in Hollywood. But they didn’t flourish in the movies or in their marriage and divorced. They were only teenagers when they had her and could not handle it, she said, noting, “This was a tragedy to my grandmother; she wanted to have me aborted.”

Hart became a star effortlessly, praying for roles and receiving daily Communion. But in 1958, while on Broadway in “The Pleasure of His Company,” she felt fatigued. A friend suggested taking a break at the abbey’s guest cottage.

“And I said: ‘Nuns? I don’t want to go anyplace where there’s nuns,’ ” she recalled. Her friend replied: “Oh, don’t be so stiff. Just try it. They’re contemplative and they won’t talk.” She arrived once in a studio limo yet loved the simplicity, feeling she “could find my inner certitude.”

She confessed to the mother superior that she was worried “that it was wrong as a Catholic to be in the movies because sexually you could be aroused by boys and you could get involved sexually with men. And my leading star was Elvis. She said: ‘Well, why not? You’re a girl. Chastity doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate what God created. Chastity says use it well.’ ”

She was preparing for her wedding to Don Robinson, a Los Angeles architect, with a dress designed by Edith Head and a home designed by her fiancé, when it hit her that she was in love with God.

She wore a bridal dress and lace veil when she entered the monastery, but it was a rocky honeymoon. The other women considered her, as one put it, “a lightweight.”

“The first night,” Sister Dolores recalled, “I felt like I had jumped off a 20-story building and landed flat on my butt. I had no idea that it was going to mean singing seven times a day, working in the garden, 10 people in one bathroom, the sternness.” She compared it to being skinned alive.

Robinson never married. “I never found a love like Dolores,” he told the documentarians. He came to visit his old love for 47 years until he died in November.

In the last scene, on one of their final walks, the pair hold hands. Afterward, by herself, Sister Dolores’s eyes fill with tears as she makes the sign of the cross.

The Catholic Argument Against Artificial Birth Control - From the New York Times!

The New York Times has been called by many, including yours truly, Satan's bible.   It is one of the most left-leaning newspapers in existence, has seemingly campaigned against traditional value and morals, and has printed article after article bashing the Catholic Church.  But this weekend, something happened at the paper.  Here is the first of several articles from the NY Times that actually shows the negative outcome of liberal, secular values and even shows the Catholic church in a positive light.  As far as I know, hell has not frozen over, but I could be wrong.

The first article is about a priest in New Bedford, Massachusetts who unashamedly defends the Catholic Church teaching on artificial contraception and has even convinced many people in his parish to change from a contracepting life style.  Catholic bishops, priests politicians, and anyone else who is in the public eye would do well to read this article.

The Message on Contraception, Without Apology

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — It was last Sunday morning, and the Rev. Roger J. Landry, whose accent is from working-class Lowell, Mass., but whose college degree is from nearby Harvard, had just finished officiating at the 8:30 Mass at St. Anthony of Padua, his church in this old whaling town. After his fiery sermon attacking the Obama administration, several people in the pews applauded — a sound striking for its echoes in the cavernous, awesome church, and for its rarity. One does not applaud in Mass.

But Father Landry did not mind the enthusiasm. He is a traditionalist, and he is eager to share his opinions with his flock. This is a priest who believes official Catholic teaching about contraception, and who is not afraid to say so.

Such men may not be the exception, but it’s not clear that they are the rule [unfortunately, all too true]. As the furor over the Obama administration’s mandate for employee health insurance has made clear, Roman Catholic bishops condemn contraception, equating some forms of it with abortion. But many parish priests are conflicted. Some disagree with the teaching, and others agree with it but avoid discussing the topic, knowing how thoroughly their parishioners have embraced birth control.

Father Landry worries that other priests’ reticence keeps Catholics in the dark on church teachings on contraception. “In most places,” he said, “they don’t hear about it because there are a lot of priests who are conflict-averse, and when you preach in a way that people aren’t pleased, not only do you lose parishioners, but you lose their budget envelopes along with them, and you’ll also get some nasty e-mails and face-to-face conversations.”

Father Landry, 41, is balding, ruddy and blue-eyed, and he speaks quickly and confidently. He gives his parishioners the stiff, 80-proof doctrine: the church hierarchy bans all artificial contraception, and the withdrawal method. The only permissible forms of birth control are abstinence and “natural family planning,” using knowledge of a woman’s cycle to restrict intercourse to times when she is unlikely to conceive.

He was just a small boy at morning Mass, watching the priest give Communion, when he first heard a whisper of a calling: “I just had the little insight as a 4-year-old that the priest must be the luckiest man ever, to be holding God in his hand and giving him to others.” He entered seminary after graduating from Harvard in 1993, and he arrived at St. Anthony’s in 2005, after stints in Fall River and Hyannis, Mass.

As a priest, Father Landry has tried, gently, to lead couples away from contraception. “I know from their having told me that many of the couples here have stopped contracepting,” Father Landry said. “In terms of the numbers, it’s probably between 15 and 20 couples who have explicitly told me that.”

Father Landry gets his message across in several ways. First, he talks to engaged couples about their plans for a family. To facilitate that conversation, he gives them a questionnaire.

“The last question,” Father Landry said, “is always ‘Are you planning to have children? Are you planning to start right away after you’re married?’ The vast majority of couples answer, ‘Yes, we definitely want to have children, but we want to wait two or three years.’ ”

The priest asks if they are aware of church teaching about contraception. “Shockingly, 50 percent of the couples that I prepare for marriage have never heard that the church teaches about contraception,” he said.

Father Landry also gives sermons on contraception, something very few priests do. [When is the last time you heard a sermon on contraception?]  He says he relies on Pope John Paul II’s argument against contraception, which he summarizes. “That God has made us fundamentally for love,” Father Landry said, “and that marriage is supposed to help us to love for real. In order for that to happen, we need to totally give ourselves over to someone else in love, and receive the other’s total self in love.

“What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.”

Father Landry argues that contraception can be the gateway to exploitation: “When that petition is made for contraception, it’s going to make pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.”  

Many non-Catholics — and many Catholics — see the church’s teaching on contraception as cruel toward women. But Father Landry says it’s women who intuitively get how divorcing sex from procreation allows men to use them; in his experience, it is almost always the woman who moves a couple toward abandoning artificial contraception.

“They have a lot of times experienced having been used in their marriage or their previous relationship,” Father Landry said.

After Mass, during the coffee hour in the church basement, parishioners expressed a range of views on the pastor’s teachings.

One couple with grown children agreed that if they had benefited from Father Landry’s teachings years ago, they would have had more children. “We definitely would not have used contraception,” the wife said, “not if we had it to do over again.”

An older woman with white hair, sitting near the doughnuts being sold for $1, appeared to disagree. “Don’t get me started on him,” she said, rolling her eyes when asked about Father Landry’s teachings on contraception.

Father Landry does not think contraception is the most important issue he faces. He worries about couples living together before marriage, not to mention the poverty and violence that afflict New Bedford. But he sees the Catholic sexual ethic as crucial to his message — and not just the part about contraception.

Last spring, scenes of a movie called “Whaling City” were being shot in St. Anthony’s. During the filming, the priest noticed that the church’s rack of sexuality pamphlets was being depleted.

“I saw all the camera men and sound guys,” Father Landry said, “and in their back pockets, coming down the main aisle, one had one on pornography, the other had ‘Sex and Contraception’ hanging out of his pocket, the other one had ‘In Vitro Fertilization.’ ”

Father Landry aimed his cellphone camera at one of the men and “snapped a photo of his derriere,” he said. “Because it’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”  
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