Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vocabulary Lesson

Mr. President, the word of the day is the·sau·rus.

While we're at it, let's drag out some other goodies the English lexicon has to offer, such as in·sip·idba·naldis·in·gen·u·ous, and con·de·scend·ing.

         In a word, em·bar·rass·ing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: 2013

Using a large chunk of our Christmas money for something grown-up and practical, we have officially made the switch from nasty old teflon to classic cast iron.  We covered the basics: a large and a medium skillet, a griddle with a smooth side and a grill side, and a dutch oven.  It will take some getting used to, but at least I'll feel like we're consuming fewer toxins on a daily basis.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Crafty Brother

My brother is usually the soul of practicality, and this time the end result looked very trendy.  Christmas wrapping made of old outdated navigation charts: frugal AND green!  More interesting than old newspaper any day.

Pinterest, you know this is for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Commentary Break

While I'm crazy busy with work and Christmas crafts, please consider this latest offering from Molotov. :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Different Kind of Bridal Party

Sometimes the vast sums of money spent on weddings these days can be absurd.  Admittedly, our wedding day can be one of the most important of our lives, but it isn't the caterers or the string quartet or the expensive venue or the limousine that makes it special.  Family and friends make it special.

In that light, we're pleased to highlight a cause that we think is well worth the money.  My husband's college roommate and best friend has been asked by his sister to walk her down the aisle and give her away at the altar as she takes her religious vows in Florence, Italy.  She will be joining the Sisters Adorers Of the Royal Heart of Jesus, the female branch of the Institute of Christ the King.  What this world needs are more habit-wearing nuns, seriously.  

Please consider donating if some of your charitable budget hasn't yet been earmarked.  We're talking about a great little Catholic family with a couple of kids and no realistic hope of dredging up a spare $2000 for trans-Atlantic travel on their own.  Even a little can go a long way.  Thanks!

"Help Me See My Sister Become a Nun!"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Loud and Clear

Most of the time, messages from God can be generally vague and extrapolated from the resources provided for that purpose (Scripture, homilies, etc.).  We expect them to be mostly about living good Christian lives and that ongoing struggle that is increasing in virtue.  But sometimes, divine guidance can be very blunt, extremely specific, and about seemingly the most mundane things.

A few days ago, a friend of mine (he knows who he is) shared this inspirational meme on Facebook.

Of all the things I've been dreaming of doing, those Krav Maga classes I've been talking about for months jumped to mind.  I can procrastinate like no other, and I usually invent a string of excuses.  It probably costs too much, I'm too busy right now, I need to get in shape first, etc.

I've always wanted to take some kind of martial arts class, but frankly I've been too intimidated to actually take the plunge.  There's a Krav Maga studio right here in the neighborhood, so we can't beat it for convenience.  We have no kids to work around, and it's extremely unlikely that I'll be pregnant anytime soon.  I probably have more free time now than I ever will again.  Add to that, I now have a part time job that should cover the expenses.  As frustrating as these months alone can be while Dave is deployed, I'm feeling driven to find a semi-violent physical outlet.  Really, nothing is stopping me but me.

I was still thinking about it this morning, and puzzling out the details before Mass started.  I was sitting in my favorite section of my favorite pew, and just couldn't get it out of my mind.  I was so intent on it in fact, that it took me a while to notice that the church had shiny new hymnals in all the pews.  How nice.  As we all stood for the processional, I flipped open the one in front of me, and saw the dedication on the book plate inside the cover.

Generously donated by 
Krav Maga - Maryland

Are you serious?

Okay.  I'll pick up a class schedule tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

So Over It

This deployment is going to put me back on blood pressure medication.  For being so brief (as deployments go) it has been WRETCHED, and I'm not even entirely sure why.  I would like very much to walk away from my life right now, thank you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Welcome To the Fake World

It's no wonder people don't seem to have a firm grasp of reality.  This whole culture of American consumerism is permeated with rank artificiality.  I spent eight hours at work yesterday unboxing more fake candles than I have ever seen in one place before.  I promised myself years ago that I would never own a plastic battery-powered candle.  "Flickers like a real candle!"  Not it doesn't; it flickers like a faulty lightbulb!

We have fake smells, fake flavors, fake fur, fake leather, fake flowers, fake trees, fake fingernails, fake diamonds, fake sunlight, whole fake lives in fake computer-generated worlds with fake friends and fake money.  Even real money is fake now.  Did you know quarters and dimes used to be made of silver?  Maybe you did, but lots of other people don't.  Almost everything real in our lives seems to have been replaced by a cheaper, more convenient plastic imitation.

I think it's high time we got back to the nitty-gritty.  Burn real candles this holiday season, and set the table with real flowers once in a while.  I don't care whether you buy a prepared arrangement or pick some dandelions out of the backyard.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Too Much Hanky-Panky In the Workplace

Seriously, I work at a retail store.  I was there all night . . . with two other women . . . in different corners of the building.  You would think there would be no better environment for intense concentration and productivity.  But I reckoned without the music being piped in through the speaker system.

Personally, I prefer to have music while I work.  It usually keeps me awake and makes the time pass more pleasantly.  But, as of yesterday, they've started throwing in a few Christmas tunes with the regular pop assortment.  I don't mind Christmas music, and I have been known to play it out of season while working on Christmas projects.  A little Adeste Fidelis or First Noel gives me warm fuzzy feelings.  However, there are several selections I absolutely detest (Jingle Bell Rock, Run Run Rudolph, By Gosh By Golly, Frosty the Snowman, to name just a few), and unfortunately that seems to be all the store is going to play.  Just to make it ten times worse, they only play the jazzed-up modern covers, which frankly sound more ridiculous than the originals.

BUT, I will listen to Frosty all day long if I could tune out the "adult themed" carols.  I know practically all songs are love songs, and they usually aren't singing about having some cocoa and watching TV.  But if I have to hear the "extra sexy" version of Baby, It's Cold Outside every work day for the next six weeks, I may have to start slapping people.  It's like being trapped in a closet with two people getting hot and heavy on the other side of the door.  You don't want to listen, but you don't have much choice.  Besides that, the whole premise of the song is one selfish bastard trying to get what he wants in spite of his lady friend's better judgment (after quite possibly slipping her a rufie), and that bothers me.

Maybe I'm over-thinking it, but it made it very difficult to work.  It didn't help that the woman's voice sounded vaguely like a case of tinnitus.  I'm trying to count holes in the pegboard to set planograms, and I had to start counting out loud.  Reprieve was brief, as the musical canoodlers were soon followed by THREE (count them) different versions of Merry Christmas, Baby, which to me sounds a lot like "Thanks, babe, for buying me all this expensive stuff (and probably providing other services), and letting me crash on your couch, because I'm probably a deadbeat leach." That also bothered me.

But, the coup de grace, and probably a new low for the whole genre of Christmas music, was Backdoor Santa.  Basically, in almost as many words, this guy who considers himself some kind of sex god goes sneaking around through backdoors "when the other boys are out" pleasuring all the women of the neighborhood who love it so much they call him "Backdoor Santa."  Oh, and he bribes the children of these households with loose change to leave him and mom alone.  The sleeze meter was maxed out.

This is as fabric store!  Little old ladies shop here!  Who picks out this music, and what's wrong with them?!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Domestic Dream Team

I've been meaning to write a long and wonderfully sappy post about how awesome my husband is for quite some time, but once again my Pandora station took the initiative and picked out the perfect song for the occasion.  So, in the meantime, I made a video instead.  It basically says it all in a nutshell.  (The text was originally red, FYI, but YouTube turned it into a sort of salmon color.  I guess you can't win them all.)

I'm getting a little desperate to have him back at home.  The world can go hang for all I care, so long as we can face it together.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

War on Debt II

Since officially putting this household on a war footing last month, we have successfully reduced our total debt by 11%.  That was a combination of my new paychecks, the sale of some pre-marital assets, and general penny pinching.  Seriously, I'm tearing dryer sheets in half at this point.  I don't think we'll be able to maintain this pace, but it would sure be nice if we could.  I'd at least like to maintain a 3.5% decrease each month, which would represent five months' worth of payments.  Once the debt is gone, we can officially start building the adoption fund.  I'm currently searching the apartment for stuff worth listing on Ebay.

I can't believe I get so excited about paying bills.  It's like buying back our lives a few months at a time.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Different Sort of Hopeful Audacity

The more I find out about Werner von Haeften, the more I like him.  For those who don't recognize him, he was adjutant to Colonel Claus von Stauffenburg, a longtime member of the German resistance, and a key participant in the July 20th plot to assassinate Hitler in the  Wolfsschanze.  Despite the best laid plans, the whole attempt quickly unraveled when the bomb failed to kill its intended target.  Von Haeften, Stauffenburg, Friedrich Olbricht and Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim were executed by firing squad in the early hours of the following morning in Berlin.  Apparently at the last moment, von Haeften moved to take the bullets meant for Stauffenburg.  He was thirty-five years old and left a fiancée, Reinhild von Hardenberg, also active in the resistance.

Unfortunately, I think we might need role models like this in the future.  I don't know what may happen, but that particular strain of selfless courage and loyalty will be a necessity, regardless.

I'm not too keen on "Werner," but having a son named Haeften would be awesome.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Penetrating the Bureaucracy

Those of you who have been keeping track of us know about our dealings with the MVA.  Everything progressed uncharacteristically smoothly when we bought the new car, so we dared to hope it would all be smooth sailing from now on.  But apparently there had to be at least one last glitch.

As soon as we secured a loan for the new car, we were sent the blue title listing PNC Bank as the lien holder.  When we paid them off eight months later, PNC sent us something which looked like a pink version of the same title (though it clearly insisted that it was NOT in fact a title) stating that PNC no longer held any claim to the car.  The cover letter told us the real title would be sent to us directly from the MVA, allowing ten days for delivery.

After waiting sixty days without hearing a word, I finally trudged out to the local MVA Express in hopes of finding a real person who could tell me what the heck was going on.  I took the kiosk ticket for "Miscellaneous" problems, because none of the other categories seemed appropriate.

After standing in the proverbial DMV line, I told the nice man what the problem was.  The way he rolled his eyes made it immediately clear that PNC had told us a lie.  Apparently this happens a lot.  The upshot of it was that I could take the blue title and the pink un-title all the way back to Annapolis to have a "clear title" printed free of charge (how nice), or I could just staple the two together and call it good.

At present I'm opting for the stapler.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Appropriate

I need this on a throw pillow or something.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

For All Saints and All Souls

Here's another quick musical tidbit.  During my morning prayers a few days ago I was mentally regretting that I didn't have any music that could remind me of the kids without reducing me to tears.  My Pandora station spit this out.  Who says God doesn't use the Internet?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Practical Tips

File this away under things you never knew you needed to know.  In the unlikely event that you are ever the victim of a spell or hex, there is a protocol governing the discovery and disposal of the malefice responsible.  Several hard-working exorcists have developed these guidelines through some painful trail and error, so it's advice worth taking.

First of all, the three most useful substances to have on hand in any hairy situation are exorcized (or at least blessed) water, exorcised olive oil, and exorcised salt.  All three are efficacious in their symbolic ability to cleanse and heal body and soul.  The water is particularly useful in cleansing objects or spaces, the oil in ridding an afflicted individual of impurities or foreign objects which may need to be coughed up, and the salt in protecting places from evil influences (such as in cases of infestation).  Used in faith, these can apparently be remarkably powerful.

In the (unlikely but not impossible) event that you discover a strange object you believe to be the root of a curse, there are a few key things to remember.  These objects can be braided or knotted cords, colored string, figurines, bones, small animals, rocks, wire, or really anything.  What makes them suspicious is that they can appear where you least expect them, like inside your clothes, mattresses, pillows, or food.

  • DO NOT TOUCH these things with your bare hands.  Chronic illness has been known to occur as a result.  
  • The objects must first be sprinkled with holy water, then burned in a well-ventilated space (preferably outdoors), and the ashes disposed of in running water.  You may skip the burning if the object isn't flammable.
  • Not all running water is created equal.  DO NOT attempt to dispose of anything in your plumbing, at least not unless you want to take advantage of your flood insurance.  A storm drain is a better choice.
  • During the whole procedure, it is best that everyone present pray constantly.
Unfortunately, this also applies to that pillow or mattress which might have yielded the object in question.  Your neighbors will think you're crazy, and you might get a public citation, but this is the tried and true method.

Again, read this book. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh, the Suspense!

It's no secret, my favorite Tolkien character of all time is Elvenking Thranduil.  I've been looking forward to The Hobbit movies for their own sakes, but I was particularly interested in (worried about?) how they would adapt his character.  I've been trolling around on Google for a while looking for sneak peeks.  Lo and behold, there are finally a few to be had.

? ? ?

Ok, I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Maybe it will grow on me.  No offense to Lee Pace, but I personally had another type in mind . . .

And, of course, he had to have a voice like Josh Groban.

ANYWAY, I'm more than a little sorry we might still have to wait until next year to see the Mirkwood Elves.  I will do my best to endure with quiet dignity and grace.  In the meantime, here's my favorite bit of fan art, plucked from the vast expanse of the internet:

That's the sort of bow I expect Elvenking Thranduil Oropherion to carry.  I suppose that's Celeborn with him having a bad@$$ Sindarin family reunion.  It makes me want to write fanfiction again.

The Dangers of Magic

(After a few distractions, we're back to our regularly scheduled October series.)

I'm not talking about stage magic.  We're talking about witchcraft, curses and hexes.  Yes, they're real, and all demonic in origin.  This was truly frightening to me, because I never would have imagined it was possible.  Apparently, like all demonic activity, it's just another way God honors our free will and provides occasion for grace.

Father Amorth defines a curse as "harming others through demonic intervention."  He considers spells and witchcraft to be two different kinds of curses.  Seriously, this is not some innocent pastime for adolescent girls.  People get hurt doing this.  "Those who practice any sort of magic believe they can manipulate superior powers," he says, "but in reality it is they who are manipulated."

Naturally Father Amorth is most familiar with his native Italy, where a robust tradition of sorcery and spiritualism still survives.  In this context, his vocal opposition to the Harry Potter franchise is understandable.  "When curses are spoken with true perfidy," he says, "especially if there is a blood relationship between the one who cast them and the accursed, the outcome can be terrible.  The most common instances that I have encountered involved parents or grandparents who called down evil upon children or grandchildren.  The most serious consequences occur when the evil wish is against someone's life or when it is pronounced on a special occasion, such as a wedding.  The authority and the bonds that tie parents to their children are stronger than any other person's."  These curses apparently do not die with the ones who cast them, and can be frighteningly effective despite blessings, exorcism and prayer.

A spell may also be known as a malefice or a hex, and involves brining evil upon someone by means of a physical object, a kind of anti-sacramental.  Direct application involves the victim ingesting the cursed object, which according to Father Amorth, can be made of almost anything: "it can be menstrual blood; bones of dead people; various burned powders, mostly black; animal parts -- the heart seems to be the favorite; peculiar herbs; and so on.  But the evil efficacy is not so much in the material used as in the will to harm through demonic intervention."  Not surprisingly, one of the first symptoms of a spell of this kind are stomach pains which only improve when the substance is expelled through vomiting or otherwise.  Indirect application involves hexing the belongings of the victim or a proxy, "dolls, puppets, animals, even real people of the same age and sex."  Remember voodoo dolls?  Apparently they actually work.  The examples he gives are rather hair-raising, but I'll let you read the book for yourself.

Despite all this, he cautions that true hexes are still rare.  Although he has personally dealt with several, he has seen still more cases which had legitimate psychological explanations.  Sometimes curses fail, through the inexperience of the sorcerer, the prayer life of the intended victim, or the intervention of God.  "It would be a most grave error to live in fear of falling victim to a hex," he says.  Still, neither is it a good idea to completely deny their existence.

He describes witchcraft at length, which covers a broader range of activities than just spells and hexes.  Even when used for the most mundane and apparently innocuous personal purposes, witchcraft and genuine magic are always interaction with Satan and always come with harmful side effects.  In 2002, our neighbors' teenage daughter told me and my sister that she had been practicing witchcraft in her spare time, and had recently managed to open a door without touching it.  Later she complained of seeing a man in black at the foot of her bed at night.  Naturally I can't verify any of it, but it may be a useful case in point.

The moral of the story?  Witches aren't funny.  Dress your kids up as saints, for pity's sake.

And read this book.  (But not late at night.)

War On Debt

The entirety of this household's debt is now represented by one student loan.  It is the final major obstacle to greater financial security, the beginning of the adoption process, and generally getting on with our lives.

They say it will take 18 years to pay it off.

They say it will cost another $21,000 in interest.

I say it will not.

Let the games begin.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Routine

I finally took a job.  I really couldn't justify not trying given my wide open schedule.  It's one of those thankless and faceless part time retail jobs, but I wanted something disposable.  The real miracle is that they were still willing to hire me after I demanded never to work weekends or any later than 4 PM on weekdays.  That should nicely coincide with the husband's schedule, so there shouldn't be any real disruption of our home life.  That is, when we have a home life.

Deployment is every bit as sterile an existence as I remember.  The only thing to do is to somehow make the time go by without being terribly conscious of it, because if I were I'd be twice as miserable.  On the other hand, not having anyone to spend time with has allowed me to get a remarkable amount of work done on those Christmas stockings commissioned this year.  Despite an earlier bout of despair, I might actually get them all done in time.

But, speaking of deployments and general loneliness, I've been realizing just how vulnerable I am.  Living alone anywhere is still very new to me, and more than a little unsettling, especially with the strange characters we've had knocking on the door lately.  I've started making an effort to brush up on my target practice when I visit the old homestead, but that doesn't do me much good in the meantime.  So, in the interest of taking at least minimal precautions, I swung by Target after work today and picked up an old fashioned, wireless, all-purpose offensive weapon with built in fire escape.

Best of all, it doesn't require a license.  Yet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Timing Is Everything

My current sewing entertainment is a show called "I (Almost) Got Away With It," a docu-drama about fugitives from justice who were eventually captured.  It's a fairly routine true crime show, but one thing keeps jumping out at me.  It crops up in almost every episode.

"Minutes after the murder, police arrive . . ."

Note the key use of the word "after."  Don't live in the green zone people; your safety is your business. That is all.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hello! This Is Reality Calling . . .

Wednesday I was trapped for an hour in the waiting room of the Hyundai dealership while my car was serviced.  The widescreen TV was of course tuned to MSNBC.  It was a long hour.

There aren't any liberals in my house.  There really isn't any liberal media in my house.  I know they're out there, but watching their programming was like stepping through the looking glass.  Are they serious?

This isn't a political race, it's a schoolyard war.  The commentary amounted to little more than "Hey, stupid!" and "Yeah, your mama!"  Maybe the conservative networks are the same way these days.  I don't really watch any of it.  The whole democratic process has become a farce.  People are either slaves of the media zombies or have no idea what is really going on.  And the two are not mutually exclusive.

I found myself sitting there feeling sour and thinking, "Yeah, well we'll just see how all your precious government programs fare when hyperinflation strikes and the currency implodes.  Suckers!"  For a second, I was actually hoping the crash would happen sooner rather than later just so we could have a big "TOLD YOU SO!"  Not very Christian, I know.  Sorry.

But, seriously, it's coming!  The party is over.  We have bigger problems than tax hikes or free condoms.  Don't like it?  Shut up and take a number.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Concerning Psychics

Now this is a word most traditional Catholics have a strong reaction against.  If not completely bogus, we are under the impression that all activities of psychics and mediums are strictly forbidden by Church teaching.

This is almost true, and really depends on what we mean by "psychic."  Perhaps we would be more comfortable with "clairvoyant" or "mystic."  The issue is not the ability, but the source of the ability and our attitude towards it.

In a nutshell, genuine psychic individuals are either gifted with a special charism or paranormal talent by God, or have purchased forbidden powers from Satan.  Those who are trying especially hard to become psychic risk falling into the latter category, which is no laughing matter.  

Father Amorth claims to often make use of people he calls "seers" and "sensitives" during his exorcisms.  They can be useful in identifying evil presences, curses, hexes, and in revealing their causes.  He also cautions that these feelings are not always 100% accurate and must be thoroughly investigated.  

Because of the proliferation of suspect spiritualists at large, Father Amorth offers some criteria for identifying the good ones in An Exorcist Tells His Story.

"I would like to suggest four guidelines for determining the presence of true charisms.  (1) The individual or the community lives the Gospel in a profound way.  (2) The individual or the community performs the services completely free -- not even accepting donations, as through these it is easy to become wealthy.  (3) The practices used must be common means to obtain grace approved by the Church, avoiding unusual or superstitious actions.  For instance, they must not use 'magic' formulas but prayers, the Sign of the Cross and imposition of hands, and nothing that could offend modesty.  They should avail themselves of water, incense, and relics and avoid anything that is extraneous to the normal ecclesiastical use.  They should pray in the name of Jesus.  (4) The fruits must be good.  This is an evangelical rule that sums up all the other rules, 'the tree is known by its fruit' (Mt 12:33). . . .
"I will say that the seers and sensitives I have chosen to consult -- among the many that I have been offered as such -- have all been very prayerful individuals, rich in goodness and charity, and especially very humble.  If I had not discovered them by chance or because someone informed me of their talents, they would never have told me.  What are these talents?  Charisms?  Paranormal abilities?  I tend to believe that it is a paranormal gift that the person uses to serve others.  I do not exclude that it can be a charism.  I have never noticed in these people any sign of tiredness or loss of strength.  I have witnessed a gradual strengthening of these gifts through their use; this leads me to believe that we are faced with paranormal talents.  I will add that it is very difficult to find true seers or sensitives.  On the other hand, there are a multitude of people who believe they have and are reputed to have these gifts.  We need to be very careful."
Obviously, trying to contact the dead is still very much out of the question.  And like all extraordinary gifts and graces, being "psychic" is not something anyone should go clamoring after.  So don't even think about sending an application to any of those psychic schools or spiritual colleges popping up everywhere.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Music Break

Ok, time out.  I've just found a brilliant new addition to my "Saddest Music of All Time" playlist.  I don't know why I gravitate toward songs that are essentially emotional wrecking balls, but their cathartic value is truly amazing.  Today's offering is Things Left Unsaid by Disciple.  Like a lot of other songs I want, it's a hidden bonus track on the special edition of the CD in question, and iTunes doesn't carry it.  Phooey.  In the meantime I'm stuck with YouTube.  I didn't make the video, so I can't be held responsible for any typos.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ghosts, Part I

"We're Catholic; we don't believe in ghosts."

We've all heard it.  We might have even said it.  As Catholics, we do focus rather a lot on the minutia of the Four Last Things, insisting on categorizing and defining everything about them we possibly can.  Consequently, while we certainly believe in the existence of disembodied spirits, we like to think they are all neatly organized into their various compartments, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.  But are they?

We know that demons "prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls," in the words of the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.  I remember a question raised in our theology class about the nature of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, namely whether they were physical places with boundaries outside this world or instead simply different states of being -- within the beatific vision, permanently deprived of the beatific vision, and temporarily deprived of the beatific vision.  I'm not qualified to make any conclusion and hope to do more research on the topic.  More on that later.

When someone today says, "My house is haunted," it sounds a little sketchy to those of us who have been conditioned to dismiss ghost stories.  But all he's really saying is that there is a spirit of some description loose in his home, which isn't so far-fetched.  Our friends and neighbors on the secular side of the fence are simply observing things the Church has recognized all along.

If you ask your average ghost hunter or paranormal enthusiast to describe different kinds of hauntings, you'll likely be told they come in two varieties, intelligent and residual.  Those of the intelligent variety are either benign or malignant.  For now we'll just consider the malignant ones, which are certainly the most urgent cases, and also the ones most thoroughly addressed in Catholic tradition.

Demons are most often responsible for malignant "hauntings."  Quite possibly they are always responsible.  There is apparently still a great deal of debate among exorcists and theologians as to whether damned souls can participate in demonic activities such as possessions and infestations.  The evidence would suggest that they can, but that evidence generally comes from the mouth of a victim of possession during exorcism, rendering it essentially useless.  The Devil is a liar, after all.

(I'm assuming, of course, that we all believe in Satan.  Contrary to popular belief, he was not suddenly done to death in the 1960s by the advances of modern science.)

The Devil acts in the world in a number of ways, ordinarily by temptation to sin, experienced on a daily basis by every human being since the dawn of time.  He also engages in a number of extraordinary activities which, like all things Catholic, have sophisticated names.

  • "Infestation" refers to demonic activity associated with places or things.  Catholics are more likely to give credence to a haunted house if it is instead called a case of demonic infestation.  The classic symptoms include everything on a ghost hunter's list: footsteps, bangs, voices, growls, cold spots, objects being moved or thrown, the feeling of being watched, strange smells and odors, power outages and surges, moving doors and windows.  Pets often respond negatively to a demonic presence in the home.
  • "Oppression" refers to any physical action or harm done by a demon, including beatings, scratches, pushing people out of bed or down stairs.  Many saints have experienced this.  Demonic oppression can also include the sabotage of the victim's work, health, or relationships.  The Book of Job in the Old Testament is a prime example.
  • "Obsession" is a kind of super-temptation, a mental attack which takes the form of an unnatural fixation or obsession, hence the name.  Italian exorcist Father Francesco Bamonte, quoted by Matt Baglio, says, "Some are thoughts and impulses that urge people to harm others; some make people think that only a pact with Satan can get them out of their troubles or bring them success; some are thoughts to profane the Eucharist; others are thoughts to drive one to suicide."  Obsession can also cause nightmares.
  • "Possession."  This is the one everybody knows about.  It's more common than most people think, but the rarest kind of extraordinary demonic activity.  I'll devote a whole post to this topic later.

With this background, those paranormal reality shows start to make more sense.  Don't laugh; it can be quite telling to see what the uncatechized have to say about the phenomena they witness.  My recent favorite is The Haunted by Animal Planet, a series of biographical sketches of families and their pets and the hauntings they encountered.  Once you get past all the sound effects and the sensational editing, at least half of them seem to be describing textbook cases of demonic infestation, oppression and obsession.  Some episodes include legitimate house blessings and exorcisms performed by Fr. Bob Bailey of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  Fr. Bob has apparently become the go-to priest for the mainstream paranormal scene, allegedly with the permission of his bishop.  

A generalized profile of an infested house is as follows.  There is usually an initial cause of the infestation, some involvement in the occult or hardened habitual sin.  This may predate the family currently in residence.  Many people describe an oppressive atmosphere in the home.  Small, inexplicable things happen: instruments play, doors open and close, objects move, pictures fall from the walls.  Pets become skittish, stressed, fearful, aggressive or overly protective.  Dogs fixate and bark at nothing.  Members of the family may see shadows or hear noises at night.  Some may have chronic nightmares.  There may be inexplicable temperature fluctuations.  In extreme cases, people claim to hear voices or see large black shapes, usually with red eyes, in the closet or in corners of the room or at the foot of the bed.  Members of the family may become severely depressed, have obsessive thoughts of suicide, or even attempt suicide.  Their condition may improve, however, when they are removed from the house.  The relationship between family members often becomes strained; disproportionate fights and arguments occur regularly for little or no reason.  This also can improve when the family leaves the house.  In cases in which the infestation predates the family in residence, some research into the history of the home may reveal other suicides.  Any one of these things might be explained away, but taken together they generally spell trouble.

If this sounds like your house, or a friend's house, schedule a house blessing as soon as possible.  Not just the holy water blessing, but the salt-throwing kind.  Father Amorth strongly recommends having blessed and/or exorcised water, olive oil and salt on hand in the home at all times.

Source Material

These are my two primary sources, An Exorcist Tells His Story by Gabriele Amorth (one of the leading exorcists in Rome), and The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio, both of which I highly recommend.  There is a bit of overlap, as Mr. Baglio also uses Father Amorth as a source.  Other books I've read on the subject include More Stories by Father Amorth, and Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin.  Hopefully I can broaden my library soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Stubborn Realities

"It's not real."

I remember hearing that explanation quite often when I was a kid.  Ghosts aren't real.  Witches aren't real.  Magic isn't real.  Spells aren't real.  Curses aren't real.  Don't worry, it can't hurt you because it doesn't exist.  My mother was very firm and practical about it, and I was satisfied with that.  After all, if we had a choice, most of us would prefer to live in a world in which dark spiritual complications don't exist.  Unfortunately, I've been doing a bit of research over the past few years, and guess what . . .

It's all real.

Growing up in a Catholic home, we never questioned the existence of Satan.  Demons were simply a fact of life, as were angels, heaven, hell, and purgatory.  That, however, was the extent of our awareness of the spiritual world.  To some degree we felt, like the rest of the modern population, that we lived in a rational scientific world in which things like witchcraft were at worst a pathetic waste of time.  Now, as I read the accounts of respected modern exorcists who deal with preternatural phenomena on a regular basis, I'm discovering that some of those things we dismissed in our childhood are actually very real and can be very dangerous.

But, before anybody decides to sleep with the lights on, rest assured the Catholic Church has an answer for all these problems.  Some people would prefer not to know about any of this for their own peace of mind, but ignorance is no protection.  I would rather be informed and have a plan of action before I am ever confronted by something the exterminator can't explain away.  Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

October is here.  That usually means people are picking out their pumpkins and fussing over children's costumes.  With Halloween and All Souls Day just around the corner, there's no time like the present to consider some of these spiritual realities which can be all too easy to ignore or forget.  I'll be posting about them all month.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The End of the Road

It will keep you awake at night, but everybody needs to see this.  It confirmed what I already knew and painted an even bleaker picture than I expected.  In hindsight, I wish I'd been bringing in a second income all this time to pay down these debts faster.  I'm a little frantic now.  Is there a patron saint of bad currency?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Despair: It's Catching

I'm not a huge fan of Romney by any means, and when I heard about the huge gaffe he allegedly made, I was expecting something juicier than the fact that he was caught despairing of certain blocs of voters.  Seriously, can you blame him?  People barely know which way is up, but they can recognize the difference between red and blue.  And I thought I was uninformed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Such a Little Thing . . .

I love autumn, but unfortunately if I miss my medication by just an hour or two, I'm almost guaranteed to spend the day with my nose and eyes swollen shut.  Necessarily, all productive activity then comes to a standstill.  Also frustrating is that my medication seems to wear off a few hours before it's alleged 24-hour cycle, which means I have to remember to take it a little earlier each day.  I'd rather get up at night to take a pill than spend the next day beside a HEPA filter with an ice pack on my face.  I look forward to the cold barrenness of winter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

iTunes Highlight: David Garrett

My Pandora stations introduce me to all kinds of new artists, but I'm always a sucker for classical crossovers.  Today's highlight is David Garrett, born David Bongartz in 1980 to an American ballerina and a German lawyer.  He took his mother's maiden name for his stage persona because it was "more pronounceable."  David first took an interest in music at the age of four when his older brother was given a violin.  He was winning competitions by the age of five, and recording by thirteen.  Almost makes me sorry I gave up piano after two years.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Mwa-ha-ha!  THE CAR IS OURS.  We made our last (very aggressive) loan payment yesterday, it cleared this morning, and the title will allegedly be in the mail within the month.  Our savings account is severely depleted, but it was worth it.  Debt is a four-letter word around here, and this investment represented more than a third of the family debt in January of this year.  The loan didn't mature until January of 2018, and in the end PNC Bank only took us for less than $400 of interest.  The student loan is another matter, but now it has our undivided attention.  Eating budget food and being an energy nazi has paid off once again.

I'd still rather have kids, but in this political and economic climate, I am glad we're able to pay this off so quickly.  More on that later.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nature is Knocking

To cross the forbidden threshold carries the penalty of death.

It's cricket season again.  It's nothing like the great cricket invasions we saw in Texas, but they're still driving the husband crazy.  We've always had a "take no prisoners" attitude about bugs in the house, but we have yet to break-out the big guns.  My family resorted to something we called the Bug Vac during those seasonal invasions, and I have to admit I'm tempted to acquire one of our own.  However, that would also mean someone would have to empty the bag once in a while.  Yuck.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Good News, Bad News, and a Miraculous Recovery

Good news!  After abandoning our apartment to the wrecking and repair crew for three days, our kitchen has been gutted, refitted, and reassembled.  The new vinyl on the floor is a vast improvement over what was there before, and all the carpet was shampooed from the entryway to the dining room!  Those pesky stains by the front door are finally gone and all the high-traffic areas look like new.  The biggest improvement by far is that the sink is in perfect working order and doesn't smell like sewage.  We're looking forward to cooking real food again.

Bad news.  We can't move all our furniture back just yet because the new baseboard around the wall in the dining room hasn't been painted yet.  We haven't heard anything about it, and I'd really rather not move all our stuff more often than necessary.  I'd call the office and ask, but it's a long weekend and there's nobody home.  Also, we're not sure whether or not they disconnected the refrigerator when they redid the floor, so all our food is suspect.  In the meantime, when we went to finally load the dishwasher with all of our dusty dishes, we discovered it doesn't work.  It seems to either be broken or disconnected from its power source.  And, of course, it's the weekend and there's no maintenance people around to look at it.  It will be hand-wash only for a few days, I guess.  Good thing the sink is clean!

In other news, my four-year-old Mac laptop has been under the weather for the past few months.  The battery case was starting to bulge out of the bottom, and the mouse pad had fritzed out.  I'm rather attached to this laptop because it was a graduation present, and also because there's no way we can afford a new one like it just now.  I had heard that although it is recommended to replace a bulging battery, far worse cases than mine had been seen functioning in the wild.  My sister's four-year-old Mac had just suffered a fatal stroke, and mine had begun manifesting the same symptoms, so I didn't think investing in a new battery would be the most prudent choice under the circumstances.  I resorted to a $15 external mouse to extend the useful life of my aging computer, expecting it to give up the ghost any day.

However, earlier this week the battery was bulging more than usual, and the safety concerns won out. I did some poking around online and discovered that not only is four years the common life span of a MacBook battery, but that a swollen battery is often the cause of mouse pad malfunction.  Whodda thunkit?  Resolved to buy a new battery, I found that was selling them for $130 and for $50.  For a few seconds I was a bargain shopper, but I've seen too many cautionary tales about cheap blackmarket counterfeits lately.  I decided reliability was worth paying for.  So far so good.  The mouse pad made a complete recovery as soon as the new battery was installed.  Here's hoping I can keep the laptop running long enough to get our money's worth.

Monday, August 27, 2012

In Search of a Better Liturgy

Well, I never thought it would happen, but it has.  About a month ago, the wife and I were subjected to a semi-heretical homily in which the priest, while not denying the miracle outright, suggested that what was truly miraculous about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not the feeding of the 5,000, but that the people had been moved by the example of the young boy with the five loaves and two fish to share with one another, as he had shared with Jesus.

Needless to say, I was more than a little upset with the good father.  I had been looking for an excuse to attend mass at a different parish anyway, one of a more ritualistically old-school frame of mind.  Sadly, as beautiful as St. Alphonsus Ligouri in Baltimore is, they have no parking lot, and I wasn’t too eager to just leave my car in the middle of downtown Baltimore for an hour and a half.  Having to dash out after Mass to rescue my car before the meter ended also meant that it would be difficult making friends at this church.

In the wake of Anglicanorum Coetibus, however, the banks of the Tiber have begun to flow a little wider here in Maryland.  Taking advantage of the Holy Father’s offer to come home while keeping their liturgical traditions intact, three Anglican parishes have entered into the fullness of the Catholic faith in Maryland: St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, Christ the King in Towsend, and our soon-to-be parish, Mount Calvary in Baltimore.

Nestled in downtown, Mount Calvary was founded in 1842 by a group of Episcopalians who were greatly inspired by the Oxford Movement then taking place in England.  From the start, the pastors and parishioners at Mount Calvary often got into trouble with the Anglican Diocese of Maryland for their “Romish ways.”  In 1868, Rev. Alfred Curtis, the pastor, sent shockwaves through the Protestant Episcopal Church when he began saying daily Mass at Mount Calvary; it was also around this time that (gasp!) confessionals were installed in the church.  Eventually, Curtis would leave Maryland, and go to England to be received into the Church by Cardinal Newman himself.  He returned to America and served as Bishop of Wilmington (1886-96) and Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore (1896-1908) under Cardinal Gibbons until his death.

In the meanwhile, Curtis’ successor, Rev. Joseph Richey, was disciplined by his bishop for using altar candles, wafer bread, elevating the Host, making the Sign of the Cross, and carrying a crucifix in processions.  In 1899, the Eucharist replaced Choral Matins as the principal Sunday service; in 1910, the word “Mass” replaced “Celebration” in parish correspondence; and in 1916, the Good Friday Mass of the Pre-Sanctified was established to welcome new catechumens into the church.

Like the Anglo-Catholic parishes of London’s East End, Mount Calvary was also known for its charitable works.  It helped open and operate churches for black parishioners (at a time when most Marylanders still strongly believed in segregation), children’s hospitals and soup kitchens.  In 1872, the pastor founded an order of nuns, the All Saints’ Sisters, to operate the parish’s ministries in the city.  Like Mount Calvary, the Sisters were also accepted into the Catholic Church, in 2009.

Oh, and did I mention that in the late 1840s and early 50s, and young officer of the Corps of Engineers named Lieutenant Robert E. Lee attended services here with his family?

It is a beautiful little brick church, simple and yet elegant.  They have never been “wreckovated,” and so the high altar holds pride of place, unmarred by any picnic tables.  I have not heard their choir, which I am told is excellent, but the organ, the first Baroque-inspired organ installed in the United States, provides music of a quality that is sadly lacking in many Roman rite parishes today.  And in such a small parish (only 30 or so people), we were warmly welcomed the first time we attended Mass there. 

The reason we started going, of course, was the liturgy.  The more I attend the Anglican Use, the more I wonder why we had to retranslate the Mass at all.  Descended as it is from the old Sarum Rite, it seems closer to what a true English-language mass should be then the hodge-podge that is the Novus Ordo (a valid hodge-podge, to be sure, but hodge-podge nonetheless).  The chants follow the Gregorian style, so it is not too difficult to follow along for us poor Latin singers.  It is a beautiful liturgy, and I can only hope that more Catholics become acquainted with it in the future.   

In all fairness, I must admit that we did give our old parish another chance this past Sunday, but once again the homily was so wishy-washy, the priest so eager not to give offence that, according to my wife, if you had parsed his sermon, it would have come out as sheer nonsense.  One of the readings was the old “wives, be subordinate” section that has all modern priests shaking in their boots in fear.  Rather than actually explain what it meant for us today, the priest tried to explain it away, accusing St. Paul of being unable to think outside of his cultural upbringing, harping on “equality,” and in effect not saying much of anything substantial.  I have the okay from the wife to send a deregistration letter to this parish, and we will soon be joining the community at Mount Calvary.  Hopefully some of you can join us in the future.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

House of Cards: A Cautionary Tale

The Housing Crisis.  The Real Estate Bubble.  The Credit Crisis.  "The worst financial crisis of modern times."  We've all heard about it.  An incredible number of people experienced it.  I, for one, never understood it.  Economics is not my strong suit, and I was fortunate enough to be far too busy writing papers and studying for exams to give it much thought.  This documentary, House of Cards, made the whole process abundantly (and maddeningly) clear.  So, for anyone else of my generation who may have missed it, here's a breakdown of the financial train wreck we call the Housing Crisis.
  • September 11, 2001, happens.  Expecting a severe economic stall after the tragedy, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan preemptively lowers interest rates to encourage spending.
  • Encouraged by "the lowest interest rates in a generation," many Americans take the plunge, buying homes and committing to mortgages.  
  • Responding to demand, residential development increases.  Brand new neighborhoods start popping up.
  • While all this is going on, the actual price of a new home is increasing at a greater rate than the average American income because of the inflated demand.
  • Because the prices are rising, new homeowners (mortgage holders) find they have significant equity in their new homes as soon as they move in.  
  • As demand for real estate slows because of the rising prices, lenders and mortgage companies begin looking for new and appealing ways to package their product.
  • "Subprime mortgages" become popular, or mortgages for people with shaky credit who would ordinarily be considered a bad risk.  There is little or no vetting process for these mortgages, and as a consequence many people are granted loans they cannot afford.
  • A quick note about how the market works: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were government institutions established to increase homeownership by buying home loans from mortgage lenders.  As the new owners of these mortgages, these two companies would receive a steady flow of monthly payments, pool the money and sell shares.  These shares are called "mortgage-backed securities."  While they dominated the market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were able to dictate the terms of the mortgages they would buy, terms which used to be strict.
  • However, while Fannie and Freddie are momentarily distracted by internal accounting scandals, a crop of new mortgage lenders in California takes advantage of the chance to sell risky subprime mortgages to Wall Street.  Suddenly there are no more rules.
  • Wall Street likes to sell their mortgage-backed securities to foreign countries, like China and India, which are suddenly flush with cash.  These countries see American mortgage-backed securities as low-risk, high-return investments, which would have been true under normal circumstances.  However, international demand in turn leads Wall Street to pressure the risky subprime mortgage lenders to supply more mortgages, regardless of quality.
  • Mortgage lenders drop all standards in order to meet Wall Street's demand, offering subprime mortgages to people who have no business taking out a loan.  There is no investigation, so it is simple for applicants to lie about their stated income.  Sometimes the lender will cook the books on the applicants' behalf, with or without their knowledge.  The lenders then flip the risky "liar loan" to Wall Street, which would then flip it to unsuspecting international investors.
  • None of the firms on Wall Street want to be the first to impose stricter standards, because such a move would be "suicidal" in that market.
  • Suddenly, many Americans in a lower income bracket find themselves able to "afford" a home loan, the American dream.
  • (Remember the rising cost of homes across the market?) "Adjustable-rate mortgages" become popular, mortgages with low interest rates for the first few years before jumping to a higher rate.  Borrowers who accept these terms usually plan to refinance before the rate changes, counting on the house continuing to increase in value.
  • When homeowners discover the new equity suddenly put into their homes by the rising costs of the real estate market, they are quick to refinance, a move which gives them ready cash but also a larger mortgage.  Small-town America goes on a spending spree, causing retail sales to improve.
  • While the mortgage-lending market is booming, everyone wants to get on the act.  People with no training and no qualifications begin selling subprime mortgages.  The more loans they close, the more fees they collect.  Any candidate is a good candidate.  Meanwhile, these are all profitable because of Wall Street's demand.
  • Encouraged by the sudden increase in homeownership (and the alleged economic recovery that implied) the government encourages the mortgage companies to invent still more kinds of mortgages to make them more accessible to those who essentially could not afford it.  They call these "greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage."  Mortgage companies and Wall Street are both eager to comply.
  • Deceptively complicated products with cryptic names like the "pay option negative amortization adjustable rate mortgage" are created.  Laymen call it a "pick-a-payment mortgage," in which any unpaid interest will be added to the principal each month.  The end result is a mortgage that gets "paid up" rather than down, trapping the homeowner in debt.
  • All this risk is held together by the notion that home prices would continue to rise.
  • As the loans became riskier, the rating agencies (which the international investors relied upon to vet their investments) are convinced to bend the rules, giving a mortgage-backed security which originated in a risky subprime mortgage the same rating as another backed by a stable traditional mortgage.  AAA is the safest rating, and international investors would allegedly buy anything rated AAA.
  • While the market was booming, banks invent yet another way to repackage their product for investors.  A "collateralized debt obligation" (CDO) is a collection of several parts of several different mortgage-backed securities, a sneaky way to intermingle the bad mortgages with the good ones.  Only the mathletes understand them, and unwary investors take them on faith often without any idea what they are actually buying, trusting the fraudulent AAA rating.  Again, the appeal of these investments is predicated on the notion that housing prices would never fall and that homeowners would not default on their payments.
  • As international demand increases for CDOs and other mortgage-backed securities, Wall Street leans harder on the lenders and mortgage brokers, who in turn aggressively issue mortgages to anyone willing to sign the dotted line, qualified or unqualified.  All the while, everyone in the business is becoming fabulously wealthy.  This peaks in 2004-2005.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac find themselves missing out, and abandon the standards they had once enforced, embracing the subprime mortgage business.
  • Homeowners, made euphoric by the perception of their sudden affluence, spend whatever additional equity they have in their new homes.  With no ability to pay off such a huge mortgage, everyone plans on refinancing later to stay afloat, trusting prices to continue rising.
  • By 2006, subprime mortgages begin to default, beginning the avalanche.  Suddenly feeling the pain, Wall Street begins to cut off the risky mortgage brokers, driving them out of business.  With fewer mortgage brokers willing to make risky deals, prospective homeowners are no longer able to qualify for a mortgage.  With fewer prospective buyers, housing prices stall.  When housing prices stop rising, homeowners are not able to refinance and find themselves stuck with crushing debt, many trapped in adjustable rate mortgages.  As the interest payments on adjustable rate mortgages begin to increase, more mortgages default.  Many families find they owe more on their homes than they are now worth and abandon them to foreclosure.  Neighborhoods of new homes became ghost towns.  
  • As housing prices fall and mortgages default, the mortgage-backed securities and CDOs begin to sour.  International investors realize they have been sold a crate of lemons, setting off the global credit crisis.  Demand for those investments abruptly dries up, crashing the market.  Banks and investment firms begin dying like flies.  Hence the cry for bailouts.
This is why it's apparently a buyers market right now.  I think I'll pass.
The moral of the story: human nature is a b----.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Have you noticed how few frozen dinners come with conventional oven instructions?  Nevertheless, I refuse to capitulate to the cultural tyranny of the microwave.

I never thought I would like burritos because I never thought I would like beans.  I still don't like beans, but somehow mixed up with meat, cheese, and salsa, they aren't too bad.  We may be eating quite a few of them before this kitchen fiasco gets worked out.  If the budget runs out, we'll be stuck with cereal.  Dry cereal.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Home Sweet Hole In the Wall

So, after little more than a year, our apartment has decided to self-destruct.  On Saturday night, the sink started backing up, full of nasty silt.  This happened once last year, so we thought we knew the drill.  Of course, this kind of thing always happens on the weekend, and I didn't think standing water in the kitchen sink really qualified as an emergency.  Unfortunately, when we returned from church on Sunday, we discovered standing water around the sink, under the sink, and on the floor.  Of course, the counter was cluttered with odds and ends, so all kinds of things were contaminated.  One large roll of paper towels and several disinfectant wipes later, the majority of the kitchen items were evacuated.

I called for emergency maintenance, and the office sent somebody over in one quick hurry.  He fiddled with the problem for a while, dragged up more foul-smelling silt from the drain, and declared himself out-classed.  He called some real plumbers, who in turned fiddled for a long while and also declared defeat.  They promised to return sometime during the week to "camera the line."

In the meantime, we must subsist on fast food.

They were back on Wednesday, prepared to perform a colonoscopy on our pipes.  From the back room, I heard lots of suspicious sawing sounds.  When they were done, they left a big whole in the wall, claiming to have found and marked a "break in the line."  They predicted it would be necessary to "tear out" the whole kitchen.  In the meantime, that hole has released all kinds of new noxious smells which continue to remind us of mildewy basements and old gym clothes by turns.  Hence the small and entirely inadequate air-freshener.  

I went down to the office today to inquire how long we'll have to put up with this situation.  After all, the sink is a muddy mess, the countertops are unsanitary and the whole place smells horrible.  It has kind of crippled any attempt to cook in there.  No one could tell me how long it would be.  They suggested it would be okay to use the sink and the dishwasher if the sink was draining.  I tried it.  The sink isn't draining.  I left a message.

In the meantime, our kitchen paraphernalia has taken up residence on the table and in plastic bins.  I think I will acquire more air fresheners.   Fun times.

In addition to the obvious problems, the water from Sunday's flood seems to have gotten into more than just the particle board.  Every other floorboard under the entryway carpet is suddenly severely warped.  They'll likely want to tear that up, too.

And, if they ever can get around to it, our bathtub isn't draining properly.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fifty Shades Too Many

It's alarming how popular these books are.  Alarming, but not really surprising.

I'll have to admit my comments will largely qualify as an uninformed opinion, because I refuse to read it.  I ventured a cautious peek in the bookstore just because I was morbidly curious. Not only is it porn, as far as I could tell it's poorly written porn.  And it's a runaway success?

I'm not 100% against sex in novels.  It happens between characters and is often integral to the plot, but there are artful ways to imply it, gloss over it, etc.  It's about knowing what to describe and when to cut the scene.  If the book is so much about sex that there is no other plot, it doesn't have much chance of being an edifying read.  In short, the wild popularity of books like "Fifty Shades of Grey" are disturbing to me as a Catholic and insulting to me as a writer.

Fortunately, the Church is prepared for these kinds of things.  I'm pretty sure they didn't have pulp fiction in mind when they wrote this prayer, but it will do just fine.

O glorious Apostle of the Gentiles, Saint Paul, who with such zeal didst busy thyself in destroying at Ephesus those books which thou knewest well would have perverted the minds of the faithful: turn upon us thy gracious eyes also at this present day.  Thou seest how an unbelieving and licentious press is attempting to rob our hearts of the precious treasure of faith and spotless morals.  enlighten, we beseech Thee, O holy Apostle, the minds of so many perverted writers, that they may cease once for all to do harm to souls with their evil doctrines and lying insinuations; move their hearts to hate the evil that they have done and are doing to the chosen flock of Jesus Christ.  For us, too, obtain the grace of being ever docile to the voice of the Supreme Pontiff, that we may never allow ourselves to indulge in the reading of bad books, but may seek instead to read and, so far as it is given to us, to diffuse those books which by their salutary doctrine shall assist all of us to promote the greater glory of God, the exaltation of His Church and the salvation of souls.  Amen. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Prayer Fatigue

When I was growing up, my family said the rosary on a semi-regular basis.  When we started taking our faith more seriously, we began saying the rosary more often.  First daily, then three times daily, and inevitably when the new mysteries were added, four times daily.  Our homeschooling house started to resemble something like a domestic convent.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it was my siblings and I who insisted that we add the Luminous Mysteries to our routine.  However, an excess of prayer without an excess of piety can make the mind wander.  Cue the robot voices.  (Have you ever tried to pray the rosary with another family?  Everybody's rhythm gets messed up.)

When I left home for college, suddenly there was no one making me stop and say the rosary at regular intervals everyday, and I quickly fell out of the habit.  I've been trying to take it up again recently, but it's been difficult.  The whole point of the rosary is that the repetition is conducive to meditation, but unfortunately I find myself meditating more about my grocery list than about the life of Christ.  I have to make myself sit down and do it because it seems like such a chore.  It's my fault for not praying it properly, but I can't seem to focus for more than two Hail Mary's.  When friends or family suggest, "Hey, let's say the rosary!" my first thought is unfortunately, "No, not again!"  I think I'm suffering from rosary burnout.

My prayer life in general really hasn't been great these past years.  Between not wanting to pray the rosary and dealing with all the emotional drama, I settled into a numb resignation to what was apparently the will of God.  All my prayers were reduced to simply praying that God's will be done, which seemed a little superfluous after a while.  Surely God would do His will regardless.

It deteriorated to the point that we were Catholics on Sunday, and living what my husband would call "the life of the virtuous pagan" during the week.  It was time for a change of approach.  The rosary is great, but there are thousands of other devotions to chose from.  We instituted a designated prayer time in the evenings (which we're still trying to stick to), and since neither of us can get excited about the rosary yet, we each read silently from whatever we find edifying at the moment.  My current favorite is a 1957 edition of The Raccolta we found at a second-hand book store.  The difference is night and day.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Raccolta is self-described as "A Manual of Indulgences (Enchiridion Indulgentiarum): Prayers and Devotions Enriched with Indulgences In Favor of All the Faithful In Christ Or of Certain Groups of Persons."  Although this edition is apparently long out of date and many of the indulgences no longer apply, it's still a treasury of some incredible prayers for every occasion (with the official Latin versions).  My prayer life is three-dimensional again.