Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Series Mania

Series Mania

Last week, my husband brought a stack of books home from work. He’s a librarian, so that’s a normal occurrence. But all these books were novels! For me! A month earlier than I’d expected!! (Which reminds me – I must return them on today. Other desperate readers are in line behind me.)

First, I got to read Tongues of Serpents, the latest (and I assume the last) novel in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. The final book in a series is always bittersweet – a series that doesn’t end gets dull and exhausting, but it hurts to say goodbye to characters still in their primes. Novik handled it well, I think. The book follows Temeraire and Lawrence as they go into exile in Australia. Novik wraps up the main story-lines, but leaves a few of the side plots unfinished – perhaps there will be room for other novels in the world she’s created? The ending was satisfactory- not unicorns and rainbows, but a good, sturdy ending that was faithful to the characters we love. I’m sorry to see the series end, but I’m glad it ended well.

On the other hand, since the series HAS ended, it’s time for all my friends who wait until and author has finished to get started on this series! (Thank you, George R.R. Martin, for breaking their hearts and turning them into cynics. I just love waiting years to discuss books with the people you’ve burned. ) I like to describe Temeraire as “Master and Commander meets  The Dragonriders of Pern for grownups.” It’s the Napoleonic wars. With dragons. And Lawrence, a naval captain, acquires a young dragon by mistake. Except, where McCaffrey’s dragon riders are perpetual adolescents, Novik’s are adults, with adult responsibilities, problems and aspirations.

Honestly, if you’re at all interested in fantasy, you ought to read this series.

(As a bonus, Novik was also part of the team that designed the “Never Winter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide.” I wish I was a tenth as talented as she is!)

The second book my husband brought home was good clean YA fun: Ally Carter’s latest Gallagher Girls novel:
The Gallagher Girls books take place at an exclusive school for teenaged spies. While the early books had the feel of Katherine Hepburn’s screwball romantic comedies, the more recent ones have been dealing more with the dark side of being a teenaged spy. In Only the Good Spy Young, Cammie is in hiding from “The Circle,” a shadowy, black-helicopters style conspiracy. A missing teacher holds the key to her father’s disappearance, and Cammie is ready to risk her life for the information. After all, she’s a Gallagher girl, and that’s what Gallagher girls do. The book ends with a dark cliffhanger, which means we’ll get at least one more book in this series. I can’t wait.

Ally Carter’s YA books are clean (just a few kisses), exciting, and have well-crafted characters. Even though she writes romantic spy thrillers, she doesn’t cut any corners. I can’t wait until my own daughters are old enough to read these – they’re the sort of YA I wish had existed when I was in junior high!

The final book was critically acclaimed, much anticipated, and had an incredibly long waitlist at my library. Suzanne Collins' MockingJay is the final book of the “Hunger Games” Trilogy. The books are set in a post-apocalyptic United States, where “The Capital” rules over 11 districts, each devoted to serving a particular need. There are farming districts, fishing districts, technology districts, etc, The districts are surrounded by barbed wire and wilderness. Their residents are not permitted to travel or to communicate with people in other districts. Once a year, the capital holds something called ‘The Hunger Games.” The games are a coliseum-style battle to the death – a version of ‘Survivor’ where the contestants kill each other for the entertainment of the capital.

Each district must send two tributes – a boy and a girl. Katniss is from 12, the mining district. When her delicate younger sister is chosen for the games, Katniss volunteers to go, and to die, in her stead. Her spontaneous act of love makes her an instant celebrity.

The first book in the trilogy follows Katniss as she fights in her first Hunger Games. In the second, the districts are beginning to tire of the Capital’s cruelty, and Katniss must stop a rebellion or risk losing her family. In Mockingjay, the third book in the series, Katniss is among the rebels, an unwilling symbol of the revolution. Her life has become a series of compromises as she attempts to protect the people she loves. But how can she even be sure that she’s chosen the right side in the conflict?

Collins closes her series on a much darker note than Novik chose for hers, but it’s the right note. In the end, a new beginning in post apocalyptic America can’t be as happy as one in nineteenth century Australia.

So, that was my weekend – a welcome respite in the land of good fiction – better fiction than I can write—unless I get back to work and start working harder!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Associated Press Story on 3gf

The Associated Press published a story this weekend on the 3gf - Regnum Christi's so-called Consecrated Women.  Hundreds of papers have picked up the story -- hopefully it will make more Catholics aware of the situation these women are in.

If you know anyone considering the 3gf, or considering sending her daughter to the school in Rhode Island, make sure she reads this article.

Discernment doesn't just mean warm fuzzy feelings.  It means prayer and RESEARCH - faith and REASON.

If your daughter wanted to join the Franciscans, the sisters would suggest that she read up on their history and their founder and their way of life.

Do the same bare minimum BEFORE she gets involved with the 3gf!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Prudence in the Face of Spiritual Scams

If someone trained by Bernie Madoff, using a “Madoff-Approved” investment strategy tried to get me to invest with him, I’d send him away. Quickly. Loudly. With a few sarcastic remarks.

I like my money. I want it to grow. So I wouldn’t imprudently risk it with someone trained by a known conman, no matter how nice and earnest the young investment advisor seemed. And, if he wasn’t trying to con me and he really couldn’t see why a method designed by Madoff was a bad idea, I would be flabbergasted.

Here’s the thing : My kids, and their faith formation, are a LOT more important to me than money. (Obviously –or I wouldn’t keep having them, since there seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of kids and the money in the bank…)

So, when someone comes to me and wants me to let my kids participate in a Marcial Maciel approved youth activity – and when they start NEW Maciel-approved youth activities and ignore the programs origins, I get a little…annoyed.

My parish school is now using K4J in religion class. (Thank goodness we home school!)   Challenge is using the home school mailing list and sent my daughter an invitation to one of their events. (sigh)  I honestly can't comprehend why parents think it's OK to enroll their kids in programs approved by a man with no religious sentiment or scruples (Citation ).  
No one would choose a “Madoff-approved” investment scheme for their hard-earned money. It would be imprudent. So why are they LESS prudent with their children than they are with their retirement funds?

And I apologize for the lack of intelligent argument. But blogging beats screaming.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Of Stolen Cows and Crooked Lines

I’ve been arguing with Jack Keogh, otherwise known as “The Monk,” for months. We’ve butted heads on several blogs, we’ve disagreed vociferously, and on a few occasions, if we’d been in the same pub, I would have leapt across the table and tried to strangle him!

With that history, I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I opened “Driving Straight on Crooked Lines.” I think I was expecting a rousing defense of the Legion. Instead, Jack gave a fascinating, deeply personal account of what it was like to be a Legionary in the early days. His writing puts the reader behind his eyes and takes you along for the ride. In the end, his book answered a few important questions for me: What were they thinking? Why didn’t anyone see? Why would anyone have stayed? How do people decide to leave?

It seems like most accounts of Legion life have been written by melancholic introverts with a tendency toward extreme scruples. For these people, Legion life was Hell. The whole structure seemed to be set up to keep introverts miserable, subservient, and broken. Unfortunately, these accounts also repel many current LC and RC – it’s easy to write the authors off. “Well, of course the Legion was a bad experience for him. He was a bad fit! He should never have stayed! After all, it’s not like the door was locked!”

Jack Keogh was not introverted, melancholic, or overly scrupulous. He was an extrovert, set all afire in his quest to save Latin America from the communists. He was an optimist, and enjoyed most of his time in the Legion. He saw Maciel’s crushing lists of rules as mere guidelines, and broke them without guilt, treating punishments as the price to pay for having some fun.

And Jack did have fun. Lots of fun. As a driver, he didn’t have to spend much time in stifling community life. He traveled with Maciel, met heads of state and movie stars, and received glamorous assignments like turning around failing schools, working with cardinals, and establishing a Legion presence in a wealthy New York suburb. He took vacations, went to musicals, and entertained wealthy donors.

As I read, I got sucked in by all the travel, glamour and fun. I had to work to remember that, as the Vatican declared in its communiqué, Marcial Maciel had no religious sentiment or scruples. If I, an adult reading Monk’s memoir, found it so easy to be sucked into the exciting world of the early Legion, is it any wonder that so many boys were ensnared by Maciel’s order?

Still, even as Jack was having fun, there were hints of the revelations to come. Maciel repeatedly condones or recommends acts of dishonesty –For instance, lying about the contents of a lost suitcase to receive a bigger settlement. Or allowing the brothers to build a compartment in the bus so that they can smuggle electronics and alcohol across European borders. Why did they go along with his suggestions? It seems like their consciences were lulled to sleep by the knowledge that Maciel was a living saint. So obviously, these sins weren’t really sins, but simply God’s Providence helping the young congregation save money.

In between all the fun and busy-ness, Jack has doubts about the Legion. He begins to think of Maciel as a ‘slick operator,’ not a living saint, but a flawed man that God is using for great things. Jack has doubts about his call to the priesthood, and is on the verge of leaving several times. Yet whenever he’s about to return home to his family, there’s a new challenge or treat. Legion life becomes fun and exciting again and he doesn’t have time for all that difficult reflection and doubt. In a way, Maciel is almost Satanic, tempting Jack away from his vocation and a deeper relationship with God with pretty baubles – enjoyable but fleeting.

Jack is a golden boy in the Legion – loved, feted, coddled and treated as long as he is useful. Then the day comes when he’s no longer useful, and, like so many Legionaries before him, he’s exiled, ignored, and finally gone.

In the end, I think it was his early faith formation that helped him leave. Even though Jack enjoys himself in the Legion, he has a niggling sense that something’s not right – that the life he’s living isn’t really what religious life is supposed to be like, and that Maciel isn’t really what the founder of a congregation ought to be.

 I found myself wondering about the other sort of Legionary—the sort who grew up in a Regnum Christi family, spent his formative years in K4J and Conquest and then went straight into Apostolic School at 12. How can a boy like that even understand what’s wrong with Maciel’s vision? If he’s been formed to be Maciel’s ideal apostle since pre-school, how can he hope to break free as an adult?

Jack was lucky – he had a loving family who was happy to welcome home the prodigal son. Because of his time as ‘Golden Boy,’ he had friends and connections on two continents. He was able to build a good life for himself outside of the Legion. At the same time, I finished the book feeling deeply sorry for him.

The Legion took twenty years of his life. Those are twenty years where he had almost no contact with his family – twenty years that opened a chasm between Jack and his brother, twenty years he couldn’t spend sharing his parents’ joys, and twenty years that his absence contributed to their sorrows.

I also mourned for the Church. As a boy, Jack had dreamed of being an Irish missionary priest and ministering to the sick in Africa. If only he’d tried his vocation with a different order, instead of with the Legionaries!

I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in the early history of the Legion, to anyone who wonders why some Legionaries insist that the Legion was a good experience for them, and for any of my friends and acquaintances who still aren’t sure why people are so upset about the damage that the Legion and Regnum Christi have done to the Church.

One huge caveat – Jack does not tell his story straight through from beginning to end. He jumps around a lot, going forward and backwards in time. I found it helpful to make a timeline to keep track. Still, I enjoyed the book – Jack’s voice is unique among ex-legionary accounts, and he gives an excellent view into the founding of the Legion. I didn’t go into this book expecting to like it or to like Jack Keogh. (Honestly, I was ready to rip it apart before I began.) I finished it with a deeper understanding for how Maciel tempted the early Legionaries, and how even those who weren’t abused were seduced and used.

In a way, Jack’s tale is like the story of a young Irishman who is kidnapped by fairies and spends years dancing and eating and drinking under the hill- only to emerge decades later to find that he’s been frozen in time while the world has grown and changed- and the ‘gold’ given to him by the fairies turns out to be nothing but a pocket full of dried leaves.

While it might not be essential for understanding Maciel or the Legion, it’s helpful for understanding the Legionaries, where they’re coming from, and how they might get to where they need to go.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An English Catholic Changes his Mind about Pope Benedict

A lot of people have been apprehensive about the BBC's upcoming documentary on Benedict.  The BBC has claimed that it's fair and balanced, but this is the BBC we're talking about, right?  So how COULD it be?

Well, an article in the Catholic Herald gives some hope that the movie will actually be interesting and fair (Highlights mine) :

The making of this film has been something of a voyage of discovery for me. I can’t be the only Catholic in the world who had major apprehensions on April 19 2005 as the conclave made its decisive choice to elect the first German pope since the 11th century (I don’t count Adrian VI, born in Utrecht in 1459, part of the Holy Roman Empire). I was worried about whether the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might be just a little too polarising. I am no expert of conclave arithmetic, but my hunch was that he simply had too many doubters inside the College of Cardinals to get the required votes. Wrong. And I have been wrong about him, too. It is not that he has changed radically since taking up the papacy; it is simply that when you have to make a one-hour programme on one of the most clever and gifted people on the planet you have to look behind the headlines and the angry rants on the blogosphere. In short, you have to do justice to the man as best as you can.

The whole article is worth a read.  Basically, as the filmmaker read Benedict's works, interviewed people who know him, and got to know the "real" Benedict, he learned something important about Orthodoxy--something I can't stress enough.   Orthodoxy is NOT something that fits into a neat little political box manufactured by the world..  It's not about liberals and conservatives.  It's BIGGER than politics.  Benedict is not "conservative on liturgy and abortion but liberal on economics and the environment."  He simply views EVERYTHING through the lense of God's relationship to man and man's realtionship to God.

Anyway, after reading the linked piece, I have hope that the BBC might manage to produce a decent documentary on the pope.  

Monday, September 6, 2010

Of Screaming Dolls and Chortling Babies

The local junior high does a project called ‘Baby Think It Over.’ The kids bring home a computerized doll that periodically cries, demands attention, and needs to be ‘fed,’ ‘burped,’ and ‘changed.’ The doll records all the interactions, and the students get a grade based on how well they care for their ‘baby.’

This is billed as a pregnancy prevention program. Pro-life groups have even funded the project in the past.

Basically, the doll gives a good indication of what a really bad day with a baby would be like- if your baby was made of plastic, wore an expressionless mask, and had three modes: 1. Crying hysterically, 2. Calmed, but waiting for you to do something wrong so it can record what a bad parent you are, and 3. Zombie-like torpor. (I.e. “Is this thing even on?”) Actually, I forgot about the fourth mode: dead. You can give the doll ‘shaken baby syndrome’ and fail the class. Except that normal parent-type interactions with a one month old are enough to ‘kill’ these dolls!

Supposedly, these dolls prevent teen pregnancy by showing the kids that being a parent is hard work. But when a girl’s out by the lake in her boyfriend’s truck, is she really going to push all the hormones aside and say “Wait, this feels good right now, but remember that screaming doll project?” She won’t have time to think about her horrible day with ‘baby’ until she’s staring at the second line on the pregnancy test. Instead of “Baby Think-It-Over,” they should be called “Baby Abort-Me.”

The dolls also send the wrong message down the line. They don’t treat babies like a gift or a blessing. Instead, they teach the students that babies will ruin their lives. We live in a world where many kids will never get to experience younger siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins, or even a regular babysitting job. For many students, “Baby Think It Over” will be their only baby experience. How can we ask our children to be open to life when we’ve spent years teaching them that new lives are nasty and irritating? When ‘baby’ means ‘something that screams at you for months on end,’ can we be surprised that Peter Singer is quoted as a mainstream voice?

If we really want our teens to learn about parenthood, we should encourage them to spend time around real parents. Instead of spending a weekend babysitting a doll, they should spend time helping new moms and their babies. Students should rock a colicky baby so a new mom can shower, help out with chores and older kids while a mom nurses, or make dinner for a family with a new baby. They can learn about the challenges and rewards of children the old-fashioned way: as members of a community.

We don’t need to teach our kids that babies are a bad thing to be avoided. Rather, we should be teaching them that marriage, sex, babies, and families are good things, but that they’re good things that need to happen in the right order. We need to give them the spiritual and emotional strength to avoid those dangerous evenings by the lake. We need to give all teens, not just the Catholic ones, the message that marriage and family are worth the wait – that they’re a gift that’s waiting for the right time, not a penalty for bad behavior.

What messages does the screaming baby project send to your kids? Think it over, baby.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The "Virtus" of Bad Liturgy

I’m teaching CCD at my parish this year. It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking, because I have the second graders – First Confession AND First Communion! We’re using the Ignatius Press Faith and Life series, which looks like a great text.
Last night, I did my mandatory Virtus training. The moderator was very good – she’s the principal of our local Catholic School, but the videos themselves were pretty terrible.

The information was superficial and out of date, especially with respect to technology. Even the discussion of ‘warning signs’ was nothing new or unexpected- after a year and a half of following the Legion saga, I’m apparently pretty well-informed about child abuse and the tricks molesters use to groom children. (Hey, maybe the bishops should make an updated video, featuring Father Maciel!)

One thing really jumped out at me. Periodically, the video showed scenes of parts of the Liturgy to emphasize the idea that we as a Church must “Protect God’s Children.” The baptism scenes were fine, but every other scene showcased an example of Bad Liturgical Practice.

We saw: A girl taking a glass chalice filled with the Precious Blood from a lay minister, drinking it herself, and then passing it back to the lay minister.

A bishop filmed in front of a bookcase holding clay chalices.

An apparent Mass which involved children processing in holding multi-colored burlap banners.

A really bad folk choir.

Children being sent out of Mass for a ‘Children’s Liturgy of the Word.’

As I watched, I wondered what message the Bishops were trying to send by including bad liturgy in the Virtus video.

1. Was it supposed to evoke warm fuzzy feelings? “Why, that parish is just like MY parish!” It didn’t, because those liturgical abuses wouldn’t fly around here.

2. Was it supposed to show us what the Bishops think a parish SHOULD look like? If so, I weep for our Church.

3. Or was it something more subtle? Was it supposed to help us make the connection between Liturgical abuse and sexual abuse? After all, if we can’t treat the body of our Lord and Saviour with respect, why would we treat the bodies of our neighbors with respect? Is there a short, slippery slope that runs between sloppiness at Mass and sin?

I have a feeling that the makers of the video were aiming for 1 and 2. But I think our pope would probably point to number 3. When we take Mass and the Eucharist seriously and let all our relationships flow forth from that first, essential relationship as Christ, we cannot use other people as objects. When the Mass goes, everything else starts to go too.

Of course, abuse can happen in ‘Good Liturgy’ settings too – because good liturgy can not be our goal. Our goal is to love and adore Christ. I think that a reverent liturgy flows naturally from a love of Christ in the Eucharist and a realization that we’re in the presence of God. (For instance, I noticed my 6-year-old’s behavior at Mass has improved DRAMATICALLY since we started attending Children’s adoration once a month.) If you have a nice-looking Liturgy, but no love, it’s just an empty pageant.

On the other hand, most awful liturgies are also empty pageants, focused on the congregation instead of the Divine.

In the end, I did learn something at Virtus training. Father Z is right. “Save the Liturgy, Save the World.” It’s not a coincidence that the pope who is focused on cleaning up the filth of abuse in the Church is also focused on cleaning up the Liturgy. If we can’t respect God, we won’t respect each other.