Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Break

Yep, I've decided.

I am taking an Advent break from blogging. If I want to prepare for Christ carefully and properly this year, I have to step away from the Bubble. I may actually even get my Christmas cards out this year! (I skipped last year for the first time in decades.)

When I told one of my sons about the break, he told me that I had to do a Christmas post, at least. Well, I think I will refer you to the highly personal one that I ran last year, here.

And then my son said that, really, the most important thing was to remind people to "keep Christ in Christmas". So, consider yourselves reminded, people!

I will still be reading the blogs, and I will still be responding to comments on this blog, but except for that (and my ubiquitous presence on facebook), I will see you all in January!

Blessed Advent to all!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Understanding the two kinds of grace

This is a bit of a rerun. What follows is the modified answer to a Doctrinal Quiz Show from back in February (omitting the fun stuff like the bonus question and Bubble Awards!). It's a good prelude to my next (half-written) post that, God willing, will be fully written before you all forget there ever was such a thing as a Little Catholic Bubble! Okay, here we go….

There are two kinds of grace: sanctifying grace and actual grace.

Sanctifying grace is the very life of God (let that sink in!). It is interior grace, which dwells in the soul and transforms it, making it holy. The ordinary way we receive sanctifying grace is through the sacraments.

Actual grace is supernatural help from God (like nudges). It is external grace, working on us from the outside only; it does nothing to change the state of our soul. Everyone receives actual grace, and it comes to us when we need it. We have the free will to cooperate with it or ignore it.

Let's go into a little detail about each.*

Sanctifying Grace

I'll start with an analogy that was very helpful to me: We all know that our human nature is not equipped to live in the ocean. We will die there unless we have something outside of (or above) our nature to sustain us. Scuba gear is the apparatus that allows us to transcend our human nature and live underwater. Similarly, our human nature is not equipped to live in Heaven. Sanctifying grace is the "apparatus" that allows us to transcend our human nature and live in Heaven. We need sanctifying grace, for in our merely human state, we are simply not equipped to live in the presence of God.

When God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He immediately infused them with the extraordinary gift of sanctifying grace (i.e., a sharing of His divine life). This undeserved gift elevated them above their own human nature and allowed them to live in the direct presence of God. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve threw away this supernatural gift when they "fell from grace" by choosing to sin. Without sanctifying grace, they were now separated from God, and Heaven was closed to them.

Since the Fall, humans are no longer given the gift of sanctifying grace at their creation. However, thanks to Jesus Christ and His atoning death, we are able to receive the gift of sanctifying grace through the sacraments of His Church. At our baptism, our souls are infused with sanctifying grace (God's very life!), and we become fit for Heaven. Assuming we continue to live in God's friendship and not commit mortal sin, this grace can continue to grow in our souls throughout our lives (through our prayers, acts of mercy and love, penance, etc.), making us increasingly holy. We hope to die in a state of grace.

Actual Grace

Actual grace is like little nudges from God. These nudges can take many different forms and come to us from many different places (and people). Actual grace could come in the form of your mother reminding you not to miss Mass on Sunday, or a friend telling you that you should get to confession. It could be a catastrophic event which leaves you on your knees before God, when before you wouldn't have gone near Him. It could be the promptings of your own conscience when confronted with your sins. It might be a class you took or a book you read which compelled you in the direction of justice or righteousness or humility. It could be the unexpected presence of a holy person or the feeling of awe you get when you look at a coastal sunset. It could be just about anything which moves you closer to the Lord.

Actual grace can be acted on or it can be ignored; but just like a train, there will always be another "nudge" coming around soon. God never abandons anyone, and every human being on the planet receives as much actual grace as is necessary to prompt one to seek out salvation. Unlike sanctifying grace, actual grace does not touch the interior of a person, but only works from the outside. Actual grace does not change the state of a person's soul, but is merely the agent that pushes a soul to seek out and receive sanctifying grace.


*When I taught myself the Catholic Faith in the mid-90s (before I had internet), I bought a great set of little tracts from Catholic Answers. They were chock-full of practical, easy-to-understand information, and much of what you are reading here is from those tracts. You can find all of that today on their website.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just Curious: Any easy meals to help my pathetic self?

It's time for an utterly selfish "Just Curious" (because this is much more about me than you)!

While I take a lovely hiatus from fighting the Culture of Death (don't worry, I'll be refreshed for the battle again soon), I need your help with something.

As you are well aware, I am not a cook. I've analyzed why preparing a meal is so stressful and difficult for me in particular, and I have concluded that it's all about my utter inability to multi-task. The best way I can describe it is that I am completely linear in my thinking and in my execution of tasks. I am not spacial (as opposed to special, ha ha), and I think that most good cooking requires spacial thinking.

So, today I am going to coin a phrase and ask if you have any "linear meals" to share with me? I will make it easy and give you an example of a linear meal, one that we use at the Miller home. Please note the number of ingredients and steps:

"Amazing Beef"
(which we have dubbed "Spicy Beef")

  • Small roast
  • 32-oz. jar of pepperoncini peppers
  • Crushed garlic

Place the roast in the crock pot. Dump the entire jar of peppers and liquid over it. Add garlic. Cook all day on low.

The end.

Oh, I almost forgot: Serve over rice.

Okay, so do you get the picture? That's what I am looking for. I'm "just curious" if you all have any linear meals to share with me. If so, kindly put the recipe in the comments, which won't take long and will fit nicely in the little box, because it will be so short and linear, right?

Bless you!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Quick Takes: Proud Mama Edition

And in the nick of time….

1. I am one proud mama! At the wonderful Bioethics Defense Fund event this evening, my younger daughter gave a short testimonial to those in attendance. It was her first shot at public speaking, and she did an amazing job! Poised and eloquent. I think the girl may have found her calling!

That's my girl!!

What an honor that our beloved Bishop Thomas Olmsted was in attendance:

Why, yes! That is the same red dress I wear to every event now!

2. The week started out fantastically as well, with an awesome blogger meet up last Sunday! Alison from Matching Moonheads flew in to town, and Danya (He Adopted Me First), JoAnna (A Star of Hope) and I got to have a fun girls' lunch together! As usual with these blogger meet-ups, we could have gabbed for hours!!

Life is good when you blog!

3. Loved the fact that sweet Alison, above, who looks like she is about 19, has her Ph.D (as does her dear, fresh-faced husband)! We've got a highly educated group of Catholic blogger ladies around these parts, as there are at least two more Ph.D's in our midst (I'm thinking of Stacy at Accepting Abundance, and Wheelbarrow Rider). You go, girls! Who says we devout Catholic women are uneducated, unenlightened and oppressed?

4. What do I do now? I had a few more quick takes semi-prepared, but they are just too dang depressing to include with the joyful stuff. I don't wanna include them anymore! So, as my (then) six-year-old said happily when in the middle of a family play with his cousins, I might go random….

5. My favorite sport is baseball. I love baseball. I love it so much that the very first research paper ever I wrote was on the history of the Negro Leagues. (The second one I wrote was on the history of demonic possession! I should post that one on the Bubble, but I don't want to scare y'all!)

6. My elder daughter has this quote from Saint Augustine on her facebook page, which I love:
I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. 
His yoke is easy, His burden is light. Thank you, Jesus.

7. I love bamboo sheets. Have you ever heard of bamboo sheets??? Neither had I, until I bought some a few years ago. It is like a foretaste of Heaven to sleep on those sheets. They are calling me…. See ya!!

Thanks to Jen for hosting!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A journalist's loaded words, a nun's proud dissent, and a bishop's humble faith

We all know that some things, like death and taxes, are inevitable.

And we Catholics know that misrepresentation of Catholic beliefs by the mainstream media is also inevitable.

And in Phoenix, we Catholics know it's inevitable that an article by Michael Clancy of the Arizona Republic will be biased against the Catholic Church.

Consider the recent piece Clancy wrote about Sister Margaret McBride, the nun who excommunicated herself last year when she authorized the abortion of an 11-week-old unborn child at St. Joseph's, which was then a Catholic hospital:

Let's hone in on the first part of the second sentence (emphases mine):
Sister Margaret McBride, who was targeted by Bishop Thomas Olmsted for her role in a lifesaving medical procedure that the bishop deemed an abortion…

Whoa, whoa… hold up.

Does anyone see anything fishy here? "Targeted"? Bishop Olmsted "targeted" a nun?

In reality, the bishop was made aware of Sister's approval of a direct abortion at a Catholic hospital in his diocese. The bishop later confirmed that, by her own actions, Sister had excommunicated herself. How does this constitute a "targeting" of the nun, exactly?

Seasoned journalists such as Clancy choose their words carefully. So, ask yourself why he would choose the loaded word "targeted" in this instance? Could it be that he'd chosen a side and wished to sway the reader? And, is that the job of a local religion reporter?

Now, on to the next curiously chosen word. "Deemed"? The bishop "deemed" the "lifesaving medical procedure" an abortion? Ummmm, no. The procedure wasn't deemed an abortion, it was an abortion. If it weren't an abortion, there would be no issue at all.

Again, ask yourself why the reporter would choose a word that implies deceit or pretense on the part of the bishop? Clancy leads us to believe that in fact some other procedure --a good and healing and moral "lifesaving medical procedure"* -- took place. Yet this mystery procedure is never actually named in the article. Call me crazy, but I don't think it's the bishop who is being deceptive here.

So, while the first part of his sentence tells us a lot about reporter Michael Clancy, this second part tells us something about Sister McBride:
…[Sister McBride] will be honored this weekend by Call to Action, a national group that supports a married priesthood**, women priests, gay marriage and other positions that the church opposes.
Call To Action (CTA) is a notorious group of Catholic dissenters that has been trying to remake the Church in its own image for decades now. Its members are embarrassed by Church teaching (especially on human sexuality) and disdain the institutional Church. They have an open contempt for faithful clergy, from the Holy Father on down. It's no surprise that these folks would honor a "progressive" nun who authorized an abortion in a diocese with a faithful bishop --the kind of bishop that CTA cannot stand.

After one courageous bishop, Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, publicly excommunicated the members of CTA in his diocese, the Vatican approved the action and stated:
 [T]he activities of ‘Call to Action’ in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic Faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint…. Thus to be a member of this Association or to support it, is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic Faith.
When this organization that is incompatible with the Catholic Faith offered Sister McBride the Call to Action 2011 Leadership Award, she was thrilled to accept. She was, in her own words, "very proud to be receiving this award".

'Nuff said? It is for me.

While Sister McBride is being feted by the those who despise the Catholic Church, and while reporter Michael Clancy continues to promote the "Victim-Hero Nun vs. Mean and Heartless Bishop" narrative that the public loves***, Bishop Thomas Olmsted has been faithful and humble through it all, finding his identity in Jesus Christ alone. Listen:

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great. 
 Matthew 5:11-12

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 
John 15:18

*Direct abortion of a child is never a cure for any medical condition. However, there may have been a truly lifesaving treatment available for the mother and her child: A doctor in Milwaukee has a 100% success rate in saving both patients in the case of pulmonary hypertension in pregnancy.

**For the record, the Church does not "oppose" married priests. The Latin Rite has a longstanding discipline of priestly celibacy that has served the Church well, but there are occasional exceptions to that discipline, including my own associate pastor who is married with six children.

***Check the vicious anti-Catholic comments that follow almost every Michael Clancy story on the Church. If such raw bigotry and hatred were directed at Muslims or Jews, how fast do you think the Republic would move to close down the comment box?


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The most important question in the gay "marriage" debate

I am thrilled to have stolen one of Joe Heschmeyer's posts to present as a guest post today in the Bubble. If you don't read Joe's blog, Shameless Popery, you need to rethink your priorities, people. His attorney mind always impresses me. Joe, take it away…. 

The Most Important Question in the Gay Marriage Debate

A lot of people, even a growing number of Christians, have trouble understanding opposition to legalized gay marriage. After all, if the whole "marriage is one man plus one woman" thing is based on religious values, why force views those on other people? And what's the deal about destroying the sanctity of marriage? How is a heterosexual couple's marriage damaged in any way by gay marriage? For me, a single question helped clear up all of this...

“What is marriage?”

I. The Traditional View of Marriage, and Why Society Should Protect It

A. What Traditional Marriage Is

It seems to me that there are basically two views of what marriage is. The first is the traditional view. A good working definition comes from the Code of Canon Law, which says that marriage is that institution “by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Can. 1055 §1).

This view of marriage isn't unique to Catholicism, or Christianity, or even religion. Cultures across the world (with all sorts of religious views, or none at all) have understood marriage to be something very near this for as long as marriage has existed. What's fascinating about this is that even with the diversity of marriage customs and norms, much remains the same.  Even cultures which permitted or encouraged polygamy recognized that the polygamy was heterosexual, and tied to procreation. A man might have two wives, but he's just committing himself to caring for two families as a result. And even cultures which encouraged homosexual and pedophilic sex (like Ancient Greece) never thought of those sexual and even romantic relationships as marriage-potential.

Perhaps more striking, the thing that gets overlooked is: all of these cultures have marriage. Many of the cultures punished premarital or extramarital sex; others simply declared that premarital sex acted as a marital covenant. If marriage is simply a social construct, it's certainly striking that all of these cultures across the globe, in both the New World and the Old, independently enshrined this construct at the heart of their cultures.

B. The Importance of Family

The reason for this universally-accepted tradition of marriage is obvious: family. Parents are the primary educators of children, and they pass on the culture's values. Children raised in this environment are statistically better citizens: more law-abiding, less violent, and so on.  We're born with our own desires. It's largely through education, much of it at the feet of our parents, that we learn how we're supposed to act.

Even animals understand this instinctively. You don't see birds just leaving their chicks to raise themselves, or be raised by some other bird, or by “the village.” A great many species mate for life, and even amongst those that are effectively polygamous, there's a real sense of family tied to the biological parents of the animal youth. Obviously, this isn't true of all animals, but it's remarkable that it's true of any. Now-Secretary Hillary Clinton wrote a book, It Takes a Village. Former-Senator Rick Santorum's response came with a more accurate title: It Takes a Family. Both sociologically and even biologically, he's right.

So “family” is critical to society. And traditional marriage is critical to family. The logic of it is obvious. Our sexual desires are often fleeting, but when we act on them, and a child is conceived, that's a lifelong consequence. In the absence of marriage, women in particular are vulnerable, since they're ones (biologically) who are left to raise the child if the man splits.  By tying heterosexual, potentially-reproductive sex to marriage, society ensures that a family is formed.

Given this, it makes absolute sense for society to enshrine traditional marriage into its laws and norms. We want (and even need) a society in which there aren't a lot of children conceived out of wedlock, and that those children conceived out of wedlock are still raised in a family (thus the popularity of "shotgun weddings" and the like). Enforcing this as the norm by law through legal recognition of the institution of marriage, and the thousands of incentives tied to marriage, is absolutely sensible. It's a principle that virtually everyone in history has understood (including those who freely engaged in non-reproductive sex outside of marriage).

II. The View of Marriage Behind Gay Marriage

A. The “Romantic” View of Marriage

Almost without exception, those in favor of gay marriage approach the question through a common lens. You can discover this quickly, by asking, "Why should gays be able to marry other gays?" The answer will nearly without exception be that  “these two people love each other.” And for about two hundred years in the West, we've really harped on this notion that marriage is the result of romantic love.

Let's be clear a couple of things. First of all, romantic love is ideal: I wish every married couple was romantic towards each other. The biological and spiritual purpose behind eros and romance is to help get through the rough patches in marriage, to make marriage joyful, and to remind us of the incredible love God has for us. But let's be clear about something else: romantic love isn't necessary for marriage. The canon law view calls it a "partnership," and in selecting the word, carefully avoided anything suggesting that romance was necessary for marriage.

Plenty of married couples find the spark dimmed or dead, and marriage can be rough-going sometimes. When you swear your allegiance to another human being "for better or for worse" for the rest of your life, you're knowingly pledging that even though marriage might seem awful, you'll stick to it. If marriage wasn't hard sometimes, so bad you wanted to quit, you wouldn't need to promise you wouldn't quit. No one has to pledge to keep doing something they're obviously going to do, and enjoy doing, like eating or relaxing. They'll just do those things without provocation.

So the problem with gay marriage is actually something distinct from the problem with homosexuality. Homosexuality is wrong because it perverts sex from something reproductive into something non-reproductive. But homosexual marriage goes a step further, and turns the bedrock of society, marriage and family, into something fleeting and pointless.

Here's what I mean. If romance is the critical factor in marriage, just consider that married couples often don't feel romantic towards each other, even if they did at the outset. It's easy to love the other person on your wedding day. It's harder when they've let themselves go physically, there's a screaming baby, and the house is a mess. Meanwhile, there may be someone else -- a co-worker, a friend, whoever -- who you do feel that "spark" with. The New York Times caused a minor controversy in December when it ran in its marriage section, "Vows," a blurb spotlighting a couple who met while married to other people. The story was told as if it was romantic to do the forbidden and abandon your families for a new fling. But this is absolutely consistent with this view of marriage. So is the sky-high divorce rate in America, and the massive amount of infidelity, homosexuality, and premarital sex. We're a culture taught to follow our hearts and our hormones, and those are fickle things.

B. Peering Over the Precipice

So here's my point. Because the heart is fickle, don't condition marriage on romance. If you're serious about being open to having children with this person, and working with them to raise children, and staying together until death, whether things are wonderful or awful, great. If not, wait to marry until you get to that point with someone.  Marriage is one of the single most important decisions most people will make in their lives, and it rarely gets the serious treatment it deserves.

More importantly, even if individuals want to stupidly declare, in a fit of romantic passion, that they'll be together for better or worse (while closing their eyes tightly to what "worse" might mean), as a society, we need not indulge that madness. Society has a huge vested interest in family, and by extension, traditional marriage. Society has no interest whatsoever in just-romantic marriage without a connection to family.

Interestingly, even many gay marriage advocates recognize this. Alan Dershowitz at Harvard argued that the solution to the gay marriage debate is to end governmental recognition of marriage altogether. Time Magazine agreed, arguing that marriage is just a religious or spiritual practice. This is the sort of end-point of the campaign to redefine marriage: leave "marriage" something so vague and meaningless, an idea whose meaning is unique to the person declaring him- or herself "married," that it ceases to be a protectable institution at all.  Of course, the consequences of trying to become the first society without marriage are ones that we can't even fathom.

The point is clear. Society, including the state, has a clear interest in protecting marriage, if marriage means what it always has meant. But if "marriage" becomes an amorphous and individualistic romantic concept, what role could society possibly have in regulating or promoting that? So the end point of the gay marriage debate is necessarily the implosion and unraveling of the institution of marriage, even if individuals still declare themselves "married" in non-recognized ceremonies.

III. Conclusion

Understanding this clash of visions explains nearly everything. When opponents of gay marriage say that it destroys the sanctity of marriage, what they mean is that gay marriage is incapable of being marriage, as that term has been traditionally understood for thousands of years. So a government that embraces gay "marriage" is a government that discards marriage (as traditionally understood) in favor of something much more volatile and dangerous. Likewise, if the government started to declare business merges "marriages," the term marriage would be deprived of its meaning until it meant something vague and sort of meaningless.

To imagine that a culture that drains marriage of its meaning, or tries to substitute (in its place, or in addition) something foreign as a new form of legally-sanctioned "marriage", can do so without it having far-ranging unintended consequence is naivety to an astonishing degree.

My point is that gay marriage is a sort of "point of no return" in a much broader fight that most Americans have somewhat disconnected from. Rather than viewing this as a battle over "gay rights" or anything else, this needs to be understood as a battle of the definition of what "marriage" actually means, and whether marriage is a thing that society and government can and should fight for.

*Be sure to read Joe's follow-up post, "What's the State Interest in Promoting Gay Marriage?"


Friday, November 4, 2011

Quick Takes! Marie Bellet, Norwegian wisdom, and a little tiger

1) You may not have noticed, but I am not churning out the posts the way I used to. To avoid blogger burnout (I'd hate to see the Bubble burst!), I've had to slow way down. I hope I won't lose any of you if I publish only once or twice a week, but I have to find balance, especially coming into the holiday season. Of course, it's not as if the action stops when the posting slows, since there is still quite the discussion going on under the last post. We are well into the second page!

2) The fallout from the post entitled "Leila's sins and shortcomings on public display" "Why I never should have had eight children" has been too much fun!

For starters, Marie Bellet emailed me! If you don't know who Marie Bellet is, then I am thrilled to be the one to introduce you! When I was just a wee lass with four children (probably around the same time I was pondering that fifth child), Marie was my constant companion. Her first album, What I Wanted To Say, was written when she had seven small children (she has nine now), and the songs were so incredibly synchronized to my own life and feelings that I often told people it was like she was singing me spiritual direction. I could write a whole post on each of her songs and its meaning to me. Marie added more albums through the years, and I love them as well. Lo and behold, she emails me words of encouragement after having read "that post" and then sends me copies of her brand spanking new album, Everything Changes, which fits perfectly with the time of life and motherhood she and I have reached today. Moms in their forties and fifties with some grown children will especially relate!

I really could go on and on, but I will end by saying that I have two copies of her new CD that have not been spoken for, and if you tell me why you want one, you may be a lucky recipient! As those of you who have yet to receive your Bubble onesies know, it may take me some time, but I will get them mailed eventually. I plan on a random drawing if we have more than two takers.

3) More great responses from "that post" included emails from Catholic brothers and sisters as far away as Portugal and Brazil (LifeSite has an edition in Portuguese!), the gift of a wonderful book from the Jeub family, Love Another Child (which they do well, as they have 15 kids!), and this remarkable video sent by the Schweitzer family, made by their son Josiah about his little sister with Down Syndrome:

Wasn't that cool?

4) Switching gears now, JoAnna found a quote from a pseudonymous Norwegian blogger reprinted on John C. Wright's blog yesterday, and it eloquently states what I have often pondered but didn't know how to say:
I never fail to be amused by how sex transforms liberals from hard-headed sociobiologists into velvet-minded romantics. From a strictly biological perspective, the ultimate purpose of sex is procreation alone, and the pleasure we derive from it is simply nature’s little stick and carrot. Why, then, this irrational and adamant defense of non-procreation and anti-natalism from people who otherwise jump at any opportunity to smugly wax prosaic about man being just another animal or the Darwinian origins of everything from organized religion to the nuclear family? 
The reason, I believe, is duplicitous. To liberals, sexual hedonism is not valuable because it brings pleasure, but because it serves, Rousseau-style, to tear down the deleterious influence of civilized society. Had liberals really been friends of sexual joy and pleasure, they would have realized that sex is more valuable when it is limited or mystified by things such as pre-marital chastity or modest clothing. These things turn sex into the best it can be — a sacred ritual — rather than simply a biological act no different than defecation or sleep. 

5) Last year I met JoAnna in person at the Bioethics Defense Fund "Passion for Life" benefit, and this year I'd love to have more blogger meet ups! The Witness for Life Honoree for 2011 is Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, and that alone is worth the price of admission. This annual event is one of the most inspiring nights of the year, benefiting one of the most important pro-life organizations out there, whose work is not typical but is desperately needed. Sign up here, and I'll see you there on November 18!

6) My little tiger! The cute baby fingers just kill me… ahhhh!!!

7) Get prepared. My next post is a guest post by the brilliant Joe at Shameless Popery, "The Most Important Question in the Gay Marriage Debate", and it's a great follow-up to One Man's post about gay "marriage" and civil rights. I can't stay away from that topic for too long, because it's too important culturally to let go. Join us, as it's sure to get interesting….

Have a great weekend, and thanks to Jen for hosting!