On Giants' Shoulders

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Why Aren't They Quoting GKC???

That's the question I've asked myself a lot lately when I've read books or articles about things like the movement towards being green, or the localvore movement, or the progressives talking about encouraging small farmers, or Bill McKinnon in Deep Economy, or even Wendell Berry. Sometimes it rather feels like they are trying to reinvent the ideas of Chesterton, Belloc, the Distributist societies, the Antigonish people in Canada etc. Of course all of these were really only seeking to extend the Catholic ideas articulated in Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum.

So often these people aren't even aware of someone like Schumacher who actually did get a bit of a hearing in the 1970's. I'll bet none of them have even read Joseph Pearce's book Small Is Still Beautiful. Yet they are all articulating similar ideas. We need to scale back, buy our food from people producing it closer to home, practice household economies, cut back on our use of energy. These people would have loved living at Belloc's country house where there was no electricity. It's just so ironic that they are missing out on the ideas of some people who actually saw how all of our problems have common roots. Perhaps if we can only encourage them to actually read what Chesterton and Belloc wrote, they might see some of the ways that various things are tied together.

So if you have a friend who's concerned about the earth, concerned about the economy, etc. how about recommending some Chesterton: The Outline of Sanity, or if they're more into fiction Tales of the Long Bow, or The Flying Inn, or Napoleon of Notting Hill. Or you could recommend Belloc's The Servile State. Or if they are snobbish about reading contemporary writers only recommend Joseph Pearce's Small is Still Beautiful. Promise you'll read something like Ed Begley's book or Bill Mc Kinnon's book if they'll only read some Chesterton, Belloc, or Pearce and then discuss it with you.

There's lots of food for thought there and it's a good way to point out that, despite some notions to the contrary, Catholic thought actually has good contributions to make to the dialogue. It isn't just the Buddhists and pagans who care about the earth, serious Christians do as well.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Next Stage of Mothering

When you have tiny babies, mothering is a very intense and stressful time. You listen to their breathing at night, you worry about every little temperature, odd diaper, strange cry, etc. You think things will get easier as they grow. In some ways they do, but at every stage there are new things to worry about, new challenges to face, new decisions to be made. A lot of parents figure that once the kids are eighteen the job will finally get easier or that it will in essence be done. Well that's not quite true. There is a sense in which you are done. You can no longer tell them what to do, you are no longer responsible for them legally. Yet there is a larger sense in which you really aren't done. They will continue to be your children, albeit grown up ones, for their whole lives. The stage of mothering that involves adult children can be fraught with all kinds of anxieties, tears, and agonizing prayers. What's hardest is that most of the time there isn't a great deal you can actually DO other than offer those agonizing prayers.

Over the past few months I've had more than one occasion to talk with moms whose grown up children are in one way or another disappointing them. Each of these moms have some grown-up children whose choices they are proud of, and others who are constantly driving them to their knees. It just goes to show that kids can grow up in the same household with the same parents and yet make very different decisions.

There are all kinds of ways that this stage in life can bring heartbreak. Within the past few weeks one family lost their beautiful daughter in a car accident while another had theirs arrested in a drug enforcement sweep. Which family is experiencing the greater grief? Is it the family whose lovely Christian daughter is no longer physically with them, or the family whose more rebellious daughter is facing a 5-40 year federal sentence if she's convicted of dealing crack cocaine? Is it harder for the mom whose daughter is living with someone she isn't married to, but planning a wedding in the not too distant future or the mom whose daughter had a baby several years back and now seemingly has no prospects for marriage at all? Is it the mom of the young man who seems to be drifting, but remains steadfast in his faith or the mom of the young man who has a successful career, but who has turned his back on everything his parents taught him to believe about God?

St. Monica had a son who for a long time was both a success and a disappointment to her. His career path had him on a trajectory towards success, his moral life was a failure. Later he had an encounter with God, but that led ultimately to a totally different career path. Monica had to let go of one dream in order to have the other come to fruition. She never got it all. With the joy of his conversion came the disappointment that he was not going to marry the daughter of a rich man after all.

Our children, like Monica's need our prayers. I think there are a lot of mothers who wish that there were a St. Ambrose around to lift them up and say, "the son of those tears will not be lost." We may not have an Ambrose around, but we can be encouragers to the moms whose children seem to be very lost right now. We can offer our prayers for their children and for them. We can encourage them to continue to love their children, no matter what. And the other thing we can do is to not judge them. It's so easy to play the what if game. What if they hadn'tlet their daughter date that young man, what if they hadn't sent their kids to that school, what if they had sent their kids to that school, what if they hadn't had so many kids, what if they'd had a few more, what if the mom had stayed home instead of working, what if the mom had gotten a job instead of just staying home, what if they had spanked less, or spanked more. On and on it goes. At this point the what if's really don't matter, what they really need is our love, our compassion, our encouragement, and our prayers. I've joked a lot in recent years that we need a La Leche League type organization for the mothers of grown up kids. Perhaps we could call it The Saint Monica League. Only humble or humbled mothers need apply. Equipment required: boxes of kleenex and kneeling mats, a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Baking Memories

Often when I'm in the kitchen baking the very process stirs up particular memories. For example, kneading bread makes me think about my Grammy Lyon and watching her knead bread in her pantry. The very act of kneading bread brings back smells of aromas, the feel of her metal counter, the sight of her apron. Or when I'm making chocolate chip cookies I remember the very first time I helped make them, not at home, but at Susan Demasi's house which I think I only visited one or two times. Today I made my friend Martha's banana bread. Well actually, it's only a recipe that Martha gave me that she came across when we were in the process of doing a recipe swap. She hadn't even made it herself until then. Still I always think of it as "Martha's Banana Bread," even when, as today, I make it with variations (like adding chocolate chips and walnuts). Or there's the tea cookies that Aunt Drucilla always made at Christmas. I made them for Abby's shower a little over a week ago. Somehow I doubt there were nearly as special to the rest of the guests as they were to the few of us who counted on Auntie bringing them for Christmas every year. There are memories of making lemon meringue pie with my mother, and messing up a meringue the first time I tried to do it by myself.There are even things like Grammy Rowell's filled cookies that in fact are more someone else's memories.

I wonder whether my children have baking memories. We certainly did a lot of baking together when they were growing up. From the pies that my son made with graham cracker crusts and instant pudding when he was 4 to the apple pies that Abby learned to make with her dad to enter a pie in the fair, we were always a cooking together sort of family. I wanted us to make memories as well as food, but I don't think I knew how much some foods would end up reminding me of some people.

I never actually baked anything with Martha. I sometimes baked things for her, and she sometimes made things for me. She was my first contemporary friend in town, the first other young married person I knew here. She was younger than me, but more experienced in a lot of ways. That is to say she'd been a wife longer and was already a mother. She was suffering from secondary infertility when we met and we were both struggling to achieve a pregnancy while it seemed like around us pregnant women were blossoming like dandelions. Eventually we had both had babies. Our sons were born 13 months apart and then my daughter and her youngest son 7 months apart. That's the happy part of the story. From there things began to go horribly wrong. Ultimately she lost her husband at age 44 and then she died herself at 48. The years in between weren't friendly to her and our friendship also stagnated.

Still I remember her for her genuine thoughtfulness to others, her ability to keep a n immaculately clean house in the midst of incredible turmoil, her fierce love for her children even when they disappointed her. So when I bake banana bread I remember all the good things about her, and some of the not so good things sort of drop away. She's one of the people I try to remember to pray for when we're praying for the dead, and she's one of the people I put on my Mass intentions in November. As far as I know she died while still struggling with her relationship with God and the Church, although she did receive last rites while in a coma.

I'm going to share her recipe for banana bread with you. Even though you won't have any memories of her, she may be able to use your prayers anyway. So if you say prayers for the dead when you bake it say a prayer for Martha. If you don't say prayers for the dead you might at least remember that once upon a time I had a friend who baked, but whose life was far less happy than it might have been, but who is remembered with love.

Martha's Sour Cream Banana Bread
1/2 cup shortening (Martha used Crisco - I use butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs well beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Cream the sugar and shortening together, then add the eggs and bananas. Mix the dry ingredients together then add to the creamed mixture. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees.

Now for my variations: I like to add about a half to three quarters of a cup of chocolate chips and a half a cup or so of walnuts (chop them if you like, I don't always bother).

The recipe says to bake 45 minutes to an hour, but the loaf I took out of the oven today took over and hour. That may be because I simply through in bananas without measuring to see exactly how much volume there was there, or it may simply be that my accubake oven isn't all that accurate. So bake it until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the center of the loaf.

This is a really moist banana bread and it remains so even if you use non-fat sour cream. Enjoy!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes

Yesterday at the end of Mass Father Mayo told us that the bishop had announced the priest assignments for the next year. For the first time in 10 years there is a change at our parish, and it's a very major one. Both of our priests are leaving. Father Mayo is moving to Senior Priest status and will be returning to his home area. This means that while he'll be helping out in parishes etc. he will no longer be a pastor. After 45 years and at age 70 it's time to slow down. That was not totally unexpected. He had told our RCIA class 11 years ago that he would probably take this step at 70 . What was less expected is that Father Mattison is leaving as well. He will be becoming pastor of a parish about 45 minutes to the south.

So we get two new priests. I don't know either of them, although my daughter is familiar with one of them. The new pastor is currently pastor of a parish 45 minutes to the north and is about 25 years younger than Father Mayo. The new parochial vicar (assistant pastor) is a priest from Nigeria. So the changes will certainly be big for him. I'm so tremendously glad that Africa has so many priestly vocations that they can send priests to America to minister. It's so exciting that we get to have one of those priests at our parish!

I must admit that I'm both excited and nervous about the changes. It's certainly going to be different. Having to switch confessors is going to be a real change. While I've certainly been to Mass many times with priests other than these two celebrating, it's been at parishes other than my own, going to another parish was a bit like going to another family's home for dinner. This is going to be a change at home, so to speak. I've certainly seen these changes in the Protestant world I came from, and in fact in the first two years I was at Christ the King we actually had 3 different parochial vicars. So it's not as if change was a truly new thing. It's just that for 10 years there's been no change at all. There's a familiarity about that, and familiarity is one kind of good feeling. However, this change is ripe with possibilities.

One somewhat sad element in this change is that the priest who celebrates Mass at my daughter's wedding will not be either of the priests who have been here throughout her years at Christ the King. Fortunately, the priest doing the wedding ceremony itself is a priest from another parish who happens to be very special to my daughter and her fiance. It's only the Mass itself that will be celebrated by one of our two new priests. So their new beginning will be marked by our new beginnings as well.

So hold onto your hats folks, the winds of change are blowing through.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, formerly called the Feast of Corpus Christi. It's one of the most essentially Catholic feasts out there because it celebrates a central belief of the Catholic faith. Today is the day that we focus especially on what we receive at every Mass, Jesus really present in the Eucharist. To understand this concept it's important to look at the readings from Sacred Scripture which we heard today at Mass.

First there was a reading from Deuteronomy: "Moses said to the people: "Remember how for forty years now the Lord your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.

"Do not forget the Lord your God, who brought you our of the Land of Egypt, that place of slavery, who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpnets and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers."

Here we come face to face with the first "bread" that came down from heaven. Manna was a "type" (something that foreshadowed) of the bread from heaven that would come later. This is like seeing the Passover lamb as a "type" of the Lamb of God who would die on the cross on Calvary (at the same hour as the passover lambs were being slain according to some sources I've read). In each instance in the Old Testament the "type" points to something in the New Testament, which is always greater than the type itself.

The second reading was from the letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthinans: "Brpthers and sisters: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf is one, we though many, are one body for we all partake of the one loaf." There are no words about this being a mere symbolic act, rather it is a participation in the body and blood of Christ.

Finally there was the gospel reading from St. John's gospel: "The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood as eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.' "

Many of Jesus's hearers were scandalized on that day and left him. He did not call after them saying, "Hey, guys, you misunderstood, it's just a symbol." Today many are scandalized as well. It's far easier to not be scandalized by a mere symbol However, if you read carefully what Jesus said, what St. Paul said, what the early Church fathers said, you quickly get the picture that this doctrine was not some development tainted with paganism (as I was taught in my Sunday School class) or something that suddenly came on the scene with Medieval scholasticism as some people think. While this is a doctrine which has had thousands and thousands of words written in an attempt to explain it, it is one which was clearly held by the earliest believers.

When I was a little girl the church I went to was a little fellowship which was essentially little more than a house church (in fact the meeting place was in a room in a house, not a separate building). Outside the house was a sign which probably proclaimed it to be Bethany Full Gospel Assembly of God. The pastors we had faithfully attempted to proclaim the full Gospel, not just parts of it. However, somehow the epistle that was read at Mass today and the section of St. John's gospel that was read today, never got dealt with. Not then, not in a similar church I attended in high school and through the early years of my adulthood. Nor did those verses get dealt with by the Protestant pastors through the rest of my middle years. By not dealing with those passages these pastors were staying true to their Protestant and Zwinglian roots, but they were inadvertently presenting us with a truncated Gospel, not the full Gospel. I don't blame them; most of them had never been taught any better themselves. It took me until I was in my forties to discover that there was more to the Gospel than what I had been taught.

Once you "get" the bare bones of this particular part of the Gospel, you begin to understand why so much could be written about it. Every author comes at it from his own vantage point. Every homily I've ever heard on the subject was a little bit different. But in the final analysis the question really is: is this Jesus or isn't it? If Jesus is really there in the sacrament and you claim to follow Him, how do you stay away? If you think He isn't really there, then what do you make of His words, of St. Paul's words, of the words of the earliest believers? Even the earliest of the Protestants held to a far higher view of the Eucharist than most Protestants today. Why was this? It was those very questions that sent me on a journey which ended at a Catholic altar 11 years ago. My challenge to my Protestant friends is to start reading all the Scripture passages dealing with communion and read them with an open heart. Then read what the earliest Christians had to say on the subject. There's a Penguin edition of the writings of the early Church fathers that has some relevant passages. Then sit back and prayerfully think about what you've read and ask God to show you how it all fits together. For my Catholic friends, the same reading plan might be helpful, if only so you can explain the full Gospel to your friends who've received only the truncated one. To make this an important issue is not simply a Catholic agenda., it was made an important issue by the Lord himself. He offers Himself to believers, that's what this Feast is all about.

Monday, May 12, 2008

End of Life Care

This is an issue that our family has had to face four times in the past 8 years. Today there is an article at Catholic Exchange that goes into detail about what the CDF has clarified about this issue. Thankfully, from my perspective anyway, I found that the way that we dealt with each of these situations was appropriate according to the current guidelines. I truly wish the guidelines had been out there 8 years ago when we had to face these issues the first time. I'm glad that the guidelines are there now. I'm glad that we had doctors who were willing to treat patients this way, even though in each case they also offered the more expedient route. Each case was unique, but in many ways in each case we were faced with similar decisions. We had good experiences with hospitals, caregivers, visiting nurses,Hospice, and doctors. We had bad experiences with hospitals, caregivers,visiting nurses, Hospice, and doctors.

Our bad experiences with Hospice made us reluctant to use their services ever again. I report this with some reluctance because I know that Hospice has been of tremendous help to some families. However, our experience was that Hospice was willing to withhold care at a point where this care actually would extend the life of the patient and would provide relief from discomfort as well. When we coupled that with the willingness of physicians to suggest withholding IV fluids and feeding we became pretty convinced that there seems to come a point at which the medical community stops being as concerned about their primary patient and starts focusing their concern on the family. It seems to take a pretty determined family to get the focus back on the patient and provide the care needed to ensure that life is not ended prematurely.

These issues don't generally have to be considered until your parents are aged, and the first time you are confronted by them you may find yourself less knowledgeable than you should be. There is, however, no guarantee that you won't have to confront them earlier and in a crisis situation. This kind of crisis happened for my sister's family when she had a pulmonary embolism at age 51. She died less than a week later, but the family in that period had been faced with the question of removal of IV's, whether to continue with a ventilator etc. They were told at one point that she could remain in her current state for years. As it turned out, even with IV fluids, the ventilator, and medications her body began to fail. We were not being faced with a long term situation, but one in which she was at the end of life. She had IV fluids to the end and died peacefully in her sleep.

I would recommend this article to all serious Christians. I would also caution people that hospitals and doctors sometimes do things (like suggesting the withholding of fluids, refraining from using artificial feeding, and pushing pain meds) in large part for the family's "benefit" even if they don't know the family's wishes. When my husband's aunt was in the hospital a year ago the doctor was suggesting simply stopping feeding her. She was suffering from her third bout of pneumonia in a year and she had become less and less able to swallow. We ended up explaining our perspective in a written document and he had a feeding tube put in. Auntie lived for another 8 months, she clearly wasn't quite ready to die yet. When she did die, it was peacefully at home with a caregiver by her side. The visiting nurse who saw her the day before her death and who signed the death certificate saw us as an unusual family because we were willing to give the level of care we did. I think we saw it as only the care that we owed Auntie and the responsibility that we as Christians had for someone at the end of life. What we have discovered, however, is that you have to fight to provide this kind of care. The other kind of care is far more easily available. We may not have doctors who are actively killing their patients (although the use of morphine in some cases does raise questions in this respect), but there are a lot of doctors more than willing to convince families that withholding care is an appropriate course of action.

I honestly think that doctors are responding in part to families who do consider disabled people as simply a burden. I think they are looking at families and believe that they can provide relief to them when actually curing the patient is beyond their skill. I think that they don't see the value in the long patient hours spent by a bedside, not just in the life of the patient, but in the life of the family as well. I think they certainly don't appreciate the spiritual benefits that can be derived.

Because I would hate to see other families go into this process without being familiar with the guidelines, I am suggesting that everyone go to Catholic Exchange and read them. The article isn't one of the main ones, you'll have to scroll down to find it. However, I honestly believe it's important enough that you should take the few minutes it takes to read it and then save it for a time when you may actually be in need of the information.