Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Best Sort of Gift

Last Sunday I was in the bathroom at church during the homily so I only got to hear bits of it when Father was particularly loud. Der Kinder has settled into some kind of a pattern in which his favorite time to want to eat on Sundays is during the homily. This is unfortunate as I don’t have the guts to feed him right there in the pew, and for some reason I feel like the cry room has their air of a private club about it; as though it belongs to the regulars who are all comfortable with each other and spend the whole Mass there, so I don’t want to use it either, which means I wind up in the bathroom. The highly, highly inconvenient bathroom where it is solely by the grace of God that I have not done anything disastrous like let the back of my skirt fall into the toilet water or drop Lucas on the floor because I need to adjust too many things at once. However, I have strict instructions from myself not to complain to much on this blog because people like to read about good stuff more than they like to read walls o’ whining, no matter how wittily written and I don’t write that wittily anyway. Harrumph. Where was I? Right, I was in the bathroom listening to tiny snippets of the homily.

Father said something along the lines of “Growing in holiness (or becoming holy) does not consist in being active (or doing things), but in being receptive.”

At first I thought, well, hmm, I’m not sure I agree with that, which means that I don’t understand it because let’s face it, this particular priest is wrong about very, very little. It sounded to me like the kind of sit-back plaster saints who I used to resent because being holy came so easily to them.

I read a kid’s biography of her when I was little and came to the conclusion that being holy was the domain of impossibly perfect, highly sheltered, and rather prissy little girls who died young. I nearly despaired of ever being holy.

…. And those three paragraphs are all that remain of a once-glorious and 8x longer post which WordPress decided to eat after I had worked on it for six days and finally clicked the “Save Draft” button in case my laptop reset itself in the middle of the night as it is occasionally wont to do. I can’t possibly rewrite it. There were too many moments of inspiration that I have no hope of duplicating. It involved Star Wars, the Virgin Mary, and a great deal of soul-searching. I wrote it in the middle of the night so that it wouldn’t keep me from ignoring Der Kinder, which means that I just lost a LOT of sleep for nothing.

I guess I’ll just skip to the end then. So much for the elegance of writing, with definitions, examples, metaphors, distinctions… This will be bare-bones.

Receptivity is the key because we cannot take grace and wield it like a sword or a mecha. God must bestow it on us, and we cannot earn it. Grace is the key to holiness by its very definition, which is “the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” Grace is God doing us a favor, because without it we can do nothing good. Oh sure we might be able to talk a good game, but really people can’t do good without God’s supernatural gift of grace when they are mired in bad habits and have the willpower of a wet tissue. Mental angst springing from slowly crushing one’s conscience aside, it’s very, very easy to sin. (However, it is not very easy to go to Hell, what with God loving us like crazy and just waiting for us to tell Him we’re sorry and don’t want to do bad things anymore so He can forgive us. Well, apologizing and trying to amend one’s life can be very hard. So I tried to be upbeat, oh well.)

But that’s where grace comes in! We cannot earn grace. We do not deserve grace. The splendiferous thing though is that God gives us to it anyway, in sufficient quantities to overcome WHATEVER difficulty is before us. It’s true. There is literally nothing on earth which we cannot overcome*. But this is only because of God’s gift of grace. A gift we cannot obtain by ourselves… one which we must receive.

We must also be receptive to it, and that is where the priest’s words come in. We must be open to God’s grace. We can’t grow in holiness without grace.

It’s not easy for me to be open to things that make me a better person, because they are generally hard work and require change, both things which I dislike and, shamefully, avoid as often as possible. There is also the Catholic notion of doing things to be more open to grace, which is NOT the same as doing things to “earn” grace, as we are often accused of doing. I am much better at putting up walls and being lazy. However, while I was reading Dwija over at House Unseen, she linked to a post by Dorian Speed which was about rewarding behaviors rather than outcomes. It condensed into deciding that my New Year’s Resolution is going to manifest itself as a sticker chart, which is a tad kindergartenish but hey, it sounds like it would work perfectly with how I tick and one must begin building self-discipline somewhere. I’ll write more about that later.

Well, in order not to make this turn into another six-day magical disappearing post, and also to finish clearing myself off the couch so our friend can crash on it since he gave up alcohol for Lent and has discovered tonight that his tolerance has gone significantly downhill, I will stop typing.


*Mental illness and disabilities brings special rules into play. Personal guilt for wrongdoing is proportionate to how much we freely choose an action. Mental illness and disabilities interferes with our ability to evaluate, choose, and act freely. If a person, by dint of their their brain chemistry or other messed-up mental wiring, is fully or partially incapable of properly assessing decisions and making morally correct choices, their personal guilt can be mitigated to the point of being nonexistent. This is why people who suffer from mental problems and commit suicide because of it can still receive Christian burial despite committing an objectively mortal sin without receiving absolution before death.


7 Quick Takes: Things That Make Me Go “Rawr!”

1. When I catch myself in the Toilet Swirl of self-loathing and drown myself in the internet to escape. This usually revolves around how I am too lazy to do chores and blame it on the fact that the baby (Der Kinder) is awake, so of course I can’t start any involved project because I’ll just be interrupted every time he needs anything. Then when he is asleep I justify it by saying he’s asleep, it’s the only break I’ll get to relax without feeling guilty that I am not interacting with him. Ironically, I’d have a lot less stress in my life if I just did the hard stuff that I don’t want to do, because it’d be done a lot faster and I wouldn’t be twisting myself into knots around it. There are also the Spending Money, Improperly Raising My Baby, Cockroaches Will Soon Overthrow My Kitchen, and Houseplant Murderer toilet swirls.

2. When I forget something in the apartment when I have just gotten Der Kinder all cozied up and buckled into the carseat. I know that I’ll be right back, and I know I’ll be fewer than 100 yards away, and I know he’s not going to boil to death in 2 minutes in December, but by golly there are other people in this apartment complex and I really don’t want the cops called because I wanted to run back and fetch my crocheting or see if his sock fell off on the walkway or if it is still inside the apartment (in which case I don’t care because it’s locked up, and will not spend any time hunting for it). So I have to haul him out again, and even if he had actually been happy about the prospect of a car ride, this in-and-out of the carseat business tries his patience and also is fairly uncomfortable so he becomes grumpy and uncooperative, and worst of all, ceases to smile which means if I am grumpy too, there is no instant cure to help both of us cope.

3. Mommy wars. Anything and everything that smacks of mommy wars. I have my baby. I do not have your baby and you do not have my baby. Unless I am actively torturing, murdering, abusing, or otherwise seriously, immediately, harming my child, mind your own gosh darn business. I will extend the same courtesy to you. No we’re not going to “do” Santa, and I don’t appreciate the notion that we are sucking the magic and imagination out of our child. I don’t go around telling you that you’re lying to your child and teaching him to be a bribable gimme pig who will expect the moon and a spaceship to get there as long as he ponies up a few chores and doesn’t talk back for 24 days. Why do you care if I do or don’t babywear, go trick or treating, use flouride toothpaste, or homeschool? I think there’s a bright line between informing someone about an option she may wish to pursue if she hasn’t ever encountered it before, or is misinformed, and would be of benefit, versus throwing out facts (or just statements) like guilt-trip darts, hoping to hit her heart so she will feel terrible and do what you want her to do. Vaccinations, red dye, high fructose corn syrup, carseats until 6th grade (and they’d better be rear-facing or your kid is going to die!), sunscreen or no sunscreen or no sun, pureed foods at 4 months or baby-led weaning at 6 months or just nursing with no definite end but it’ll happen at some point probably. Just leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. This hasn’t come up with me in particular but I read about it often and I dread the day when I march out there in public with Der Kinder and start my fate as Mother on Trial, where everyone else becomes Judge and Jury instead of advice-giving support group who knows when to stop giving advice and just support. And that’s not EVEN the one-upmanship aspect of the mommy wars of who can give their child the most unique name, restricted diet, vintage clothes, homemade food, decorated nursery, thematically-appropriate or just extravagant birthday, exotic vacation, personalized wrapping paper, complicated hairstyle, exciting homeschool experience, or trendy accessories.

4. Women’s clothing. Originally I had this separated into several sub-categories but really it’s just women’s clothing. The sizes have absolutely no basis in reality. Sometimes the shapes don’t either. And if it isn’t really lousy, it’s really expensive. If it’s great AND inexpensive, someone found it at Goodwill. I found one thing at Goodwill that was a truly incredible find but then I washed it and destroyed it before I ever wore it. It was this gorgeous Oscar de la Renta skirt that was Actually Long and would have brought several beloved blouses out of retirement because they would finally have something to go with again. Alas, poor Oscar was dry clean only. I have had some limited success with teaching my clothes that we are too poor to afford regular dry cleaning – or even intermittent dry cleaning, because the cheap cleaners are cheap for a reason and I am tired of their probably-unethical shenanigans – and they submit to the gentlest washing I can do at home (I don’t do handwash either except for my old mantilla which was white and actually got dirty, as opposed to my current black one which I will happily believe is clean forever unless it starts to stink). Apparently only very rich people can afford clothes that they can nurse in without having to partially or totally undress (in the case of a dress). I have been hunting after nursing clothes – in particular ones that I can wear to Mass – and by golly it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack except when I find it, it pricks me in the wallet-place and runs away laughing. And let’s get into the issue of wearing clothes that are actually covering and flattering. For some reason the powers that be have decided that if clothes are modest, they are either unbelievably expensive (in the hundred dollar range) or unbelievably frumpy (the 80s called; they want their oversized sailor collars back).

5. People who think there are only three groups of people on the subject of having babies: 1. people who use contraception, 2. people who use NFP full-time all-the-time, that is, who chart all the time and seemingly are always either purposefully avoiding or purposefully trying to achieve pregnancy, and 3. honest to goodness providentialists who think that every married woman should have all the babies she can possibly have. I have written before about how annoying this is. Every time the NFP discussion rears its head it reappears like a bad joke about priests and altar boys. Well there’s a group number 4, too. Group 4 is the people who just have sex if they’re ok with a kid coming along nine months later or if it’s pretty obvious that a kid isn’t going to come along because of one reason or another (clear case of lactational amenorrhea and whatnot), and who don’t have sex if they aren’t. Group 4 isn’t for everyone but it does exist and I rather like being in it, it’s really no fuss and so far, one and a half years in, there are no problems. There’s probably a Group 5 too, of people who chart on and off depending on their needs. I’m just tired of NFP users writing articles on otherwise perfectly loveable blogs like I Have to Sit Down and Barefoot and Pregnant who characterize everyone who doesn’t use NFP as either contracepting or CRAYYYYYYYZEEEEEEEE and by implication bad Catholics (because they think women should have babies all the time, because they get all Judgy McJudgerson about people who use NFP while they are not openly dying and therefore must have *gasp!* “contraceptive mindsets“, because they just plain don’t understand the difference between “serious”, “grave”, and “well, quite important to me, anyway”, etc.). To be fair there are a lot of crazy people out there, and most of them find their way to Simcha Fisher’s NCRegister combox. But there are some people who aren’t.

6. Speaking of Barefoot and Pregnant, I completely agree with her on her astute assessment of Bad Catholic’s recent-ish post musing about how Catholic spouses ought to relate to each other.

Junior’s going to bed early tonight. Early like now. And no more cable TV at Billy’s house.

I mean, wow. Her post doesn’t make me go rawr, his does, because way to look like a big sack of crazy out of touch creepitude, dude who usually does an excellent job presenting our case and not freaking out the normies. I posted awhile back about how Catholics discuss (or don’t discuss, as the case may be) sex. This is a good example of how not to do it, and besides it doesn’t reflect the Catholic understanding of how spouses relate to each other by means of the marital embrace anyway. I’m a poet who loves hopelessly romantic, overwrought imagery myself and even I was skeeved by what he wrote. Besides, it’s contradictory. He starts out by saying each of the spouses desires to control the other, and ends with saying each of the spouses desires to be enslaved by the other. I guess if you’re a switch that’s possible but it still can’t happen simultaneously. And tying this in to the war on women? Is this whole post supposed to be a heavily veiled version of the old joke wherein marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy? If what he’s talking about is accurate, and the Theology of the Body is at its heart one big riff on how Catholic sex is all about “Take me!” instead of “I give you myself”, and the parties lose their agency and their selves, then yeah I’m going to jump on the side of the fence of people who pointedly ignore it. [God made us individuals with own distinct free wills, personalities, minds, etc and yes while in marriage the two become one flesh, there’s a point where this delightfully overwrought romantic imagery of two individuals melting and swirling together to become one has to stop. It’s all right to say that married couples ought to be of one mind and one heart. It’s quite another thing to talk about one controlling the other, or one submitting all control to the other, until no one is in control of anyone and yet both are in control of everyone, to the point where I can’t have a favorite food that isn’t my husband’s and he can’t have a favorite pastime that I don’t enjoy. It becomes a mess. if God really wanted this one flesh thing to be a mishmash then we’d have mind meld and actually become the same person in two different bodies.] (That part actually doesn’t make more than about half a lick of sense but I’m leaving it in in case anyone else can figure it out. If you can’t, just forget I said it.) There’s an imbalance in “Take me!” instead of “I give you myself” because instead of taking an active role in loving another person, you desire the other person to force you to love him. You’re not giving yourself. There’s no outpouring of love. There’s a safety catch, because you chose to give up your agency to choose and that’s kinda, sorta, like not choosing so really we can blame things on Eve who blamed them on the serpent and no one accepts responsibility, which makes it much easier to back out when things go sour. It makes me think of why people wish Calvinism were true, because then God does all the heavy lifting of loving us and saving us (which He does anyway) but we don’t have to make an effort to participate because of irresistible grace. If we’re saved we have it made. God takes us instead of us giving ourselves to Him. If the other party accepts the invitation to enslave me then I don’t have to work at the relationship; he’s in control. If I’m in control, then I don’t have to work at the relationship either because what I say goes and there is no argument. I don’t know if that makes sense either but the main point is, that post left a very bad taste in my mouth and a desire to take away Marc Barnes’ collection of yellow-covered poetry books.

7. The fact that this post took me 24 hours to write and now I can’t think of a decent #7. Also that it is no longer Friday and I tried so blinking hard to be done on time. Rawr.

(7 Quick Takes is hosted by Jen Fulwiler of Conversion Diary.)