Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Dutchman’s Handy Guide to Confession

Face-to-Face, In-The-Box, or By Mail?
There are three ways to confess, two of them approved by the Church. 

  •  The traditional way is to kneel down at a grate, where the priest cannot see you, and only be heard.  This has the advantage of anonymity and is probably more hygienic than other methods. 

  •  Since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council however, the practice of face-to-face confession has been encouraged.  While this procedure may have its advantages (if you can think of any, let me know) it has the disadvantage of allowing you to see the priest’s reactions.  If you’re anything like me, soon enough he will wince and squirm, or his lip curl up in disgust, and this is so very amusing that you will be tempted to go making stuff up just to see what kind of reaction you can get out of him, making what should be a sacred encounter with the Divine into yet another occasion of mischief. 

  •  A third method is simply to write your sins on a 3x5” card and mail this to: 

          Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
          Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193
          Roma, Italy.

(As of 2014 correct postage would be $1.10.)  While not actually approved by the Church, what priest, upon receiving this missive, would fail to give Absolution?  I think the question answers itself and the $1.10 you spend in postage is penance enough already.

Choosing a Confessor

            The best confessor of course is one who is deaf and will thus just nod his head and give you absolution without a lot of prying questions or disparaging comments about how “… no girl in her right mind would agree to a thing like that!” 
A half-deaf confessor is not merely half-as-good as this but is in fact a whole lot worse, as he will often repeat what you have said, loudly, just to make sure he’s understood.  (Who hasn’t heard Fr. Tramari ask loudly, “What do you mean, ‘for-the-nation’?”
This leaves two kinds of confessors left, soft and hard. 
The soft type come in two varieties, the Liberal Relativist, who will assure you that what you’ve done isn’t really a sin at all, and the Big Softie, who will thank you for coming to Confession as if you are doing Jesus some kind of a favor just by being there.  Avoid these types, as you will come away feeling like you have washed your hands in mayonnaise. 
By all means pick the hard confessor, of the type to be found in more Traditional parishes.  Even though he will tell you that your sins are not only quite heinous, and that he finds them personally repugnant, but he will give you an onerous penance (weeks of fasting, painful mortifications, and lengthy pilgrimages to distant shrines are not uncommon), the advantage is that you really do feel forgiven, and that’s what this is really about.

Examination of Conscience

            Now, if you just walk up to the confessional, your whole mind will just be a jumble of transgressions, half-remembered nights of drunken excess, and questions about that slip of paper in your pocket with nothing but a phone number and the notation “Let’s do that again, big boy!”  No, you need to organize your thoughts so as to put your confession on a systematic basis.
            What constitutes a sin is actually a complex business.  Lately, a lot of “New Age” types have been pushing this notion of “Doing unto others as you would have done to you,” but this is both simplistic and misleading.  After all, I know that I wouldn’t want to be tied to a table and belt whipped, but I’ll bet I couldn’t visit two or three taverns on Halsted Street before I found someone who would pay me to do just that to him.  So the Church, in Her infinite wisdom, has come up with a few useful lists that cover most of the bases on sin, and you would do well to review these before confessing.

  §  Four Worst Things
            There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: willful murder (Gn 4:10), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4), and the Sin of Sodom (Gn 17:20-21).  Let’s look at these case by case.
            •            Willful murder isn’t just killing; it refers to killing in an unjustified way.  Naturally, life being a messy business and circumstances being what they are, not all killings are unjustified.  While it is self-evident that one might kill in self-defense, or to protect ones family, it is also no sin for the soldier to kill in the line of duty, nor for the workingman to exterminate his class enemy.
            •            Oppression of the Poor is quite possibly the most heinous of sins.  In our corrupt age many loathsome practices have become not only accepted but widespread, including (but not limited to): letting out money at interest, speculating in commodities, land, or currency, “white slavery,” market manipulation, expropriation of surplus value by “investors,” and all the rest the Bible condemns!
            •            Defrauding workers of their just wages doesn’t refer merely to some kind of out-and-out trickery, but actually to the whole system of low minimum wages, under-employment, union busting, and “off-shoring,” that drive down wages. 
            •            What is meant by “the Sin of Sodom” is rather opaque and has been debated for centuries by theologians and scholars.  Opinions have varied from it being a rather amusing and wholesome form of contragenic coition to it being a lack of hospitality.  But really, are either of these are so abhorrent as to cry to Heaven for vengeance?  Perhaps the answer is to be found in the fate of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt.  As Sodom was described as prosperous, and as the poor woman was turned into salt, which has often been used as a form of money, we can apprehend that this crime is probably that of speculating in currency.

  §   Decalogue
            A favorite list of probable sins is the Ten Commandments. We are all familiar with this enumeration and need not dwell on it here, except to point out that frequent mass goers are usually given a 10% discount on this list.  Ask your confessor for details.

  §  Other Enumerations of Sin
Many people find it useful to consult other lists of good or bad conduct.  Pope Gregory’s list of Seven Deadly Sins, the Boy Scout Law, the Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian, the Ten Point Program that Marx and Engels outlined in their Manifesto, Ovid’s Ars Amorata, and Satchel Paige’s six pieces of advice on How To Keep Young have all proved to be useful reviews of conduct.

Give Your Confessor A Break

            Remember, he’s stuck in the box with no way out and he feels it’s his duty to give you advice, so make it easy for him.  If you confess to just one thing, then he has to talk to you about that, and he’s just as embarrassed talking to you about it as you were telling him about it.  So by all means, include a few sins that are easy for him to talk about.  Supposing, for instance, you’ve been regularly committing a sin that involves a fellow you met on Halsted Street, every knot you learned as a Boy Scout, and a whole lot of Jergen’s Lotion.  WOW — Father Thelander is bilious just thinking about it, and he certainly doesn’t want to ask a whole lot of questions about this abomination, so if you mention something else in the same confession, he’s going to talk about that instead.  Vanity is always a good thing to confess.  Of course, you’re not as gorgeous as me, but that probably doesn’t stop you from thinking you are, and you can confess that.  I always do.  Similarly, my son usually J-walks on the way to confession so that he can confess that.  Be creative!

A Final Word

            No matter what you’ve done the Confessional is always open, to you and God’s mercy endures forever.  As our Holy Father has recently reminded us, “Don’t be afraid of confession, it’s no worse than a bad cold.” Remember the immortal words of Little Richard, “If God can save a broken-down old homosexual like me, then he can save just about anybody!  Woo — Bless My Soul!”

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Pope and the New Year

I would like to take this moment at the end of the year to make a few predictions about what our Pope Francis will and will not do in the year to come.

• He will not (he CANNOT) change Church teaching. Fornication will remain a sin, women will not be ordained, and auricular confession will still be required for the remission of sin. Right now, liberals are hoping for “change,” but they won’t get it and will soon enough become disillusioned.

• He will continue to hammer away at social justice. I sincerely hope that this will actually lead to changes, not of Church teaching (which already kick-ass on economic teaching), but in breaking the un-holy alliance of socially conservative Catholics with anti-working-class political parties.

• He will continue to demonstrate the kind of radical love that is at the heart of the Christian message. It is plainly his ministry not to lead the Church (as Leo XIII or John Paul II did), nor to rule the Church (as Pius XII or Benedict XVI did), but to set an example of how Christians should live.

• Finally, when Pope emeritus Benedict dies, I predict that Francis will issue a statement to the effect that he was the right pope at the right time, that the Church was in a condition of disorder (with badly chosen bishops, a liturgy rife with abuses, and the scandals associated with sexual abuse), and that Benedict set the house of the Church in order, so that Francis would be free to exercise his very different calling.

I LOVE these two popes (almost as much as I love Leo XIII and Alexander VI) and I see the working of the Holy Spirit in first choosing the one, and then the other.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another of my Unpopular Opinions

Illinois is about to get same-sex marriage and I’m against it and I think I need to state my position on this so that there’s no misconstruing it. 

It’s not because I’m homophobic. In fact, I’m bisexual. (How bisexual? Before I met my future wife, the longest relationship I’d ever had was my four-year high-school relationwhip with Wally.) I’m certainly not in favor of penalizing homosexuals, favor equal opportunities for them in jobs and housing, I just don’t think their relationships constitute a marriage. 

And, though I am a Catholic, and believe the sacrament of marriage was ordained by God, I also believe that civil marriage is a contract and the state has every right to regulate contract law in such a way as to benefit society as a whole. It may be blasphemous for two men, or divorced persons, or anybody else to merely SAY they are married, but blasphemy is no business of the state.
Completely gratuitous picture of Harry Hay

No — from the state’s point of view this is property law. The state is conferring a special relationship, with special prerogatives, tax advantages, and benefits upon people entering into a contractual relationship, and we must ask why these people deserve these benefits. 

I believe it is because that the ONLY thing that this contract contributes to benefit society is the creation of families. And by that I do not mean the formation of a mere household, but the begetting and raising of children. These children are our future, they are the citizens of tomorrow, they are the people paying out our pensions when we retire, and cleaning our bed-pans when we are senile and invalided. 

When we postulate the creation of families as the purpose of marriage, then "marriage equality" becomes nonsensical, because same sex couples cannot create children, and are thus intrinsically unequal to heterosexual couples. 

We in the industrialized West are faced with a demographic crisis. We are barely replacing our numbers and those who would make the best parents (and presumably have the best children) are having the least children. The simple fact is that the more education a woman has, the fewer children she is likely to have. Our best educated women are wasting this education on vulgar commerce instead of having children and we should do something about it. 

We could start by forgiving a portion of student loans for second and third children. We could re-structure our income taxes to penalize couples where both earn high incomes as an incentive for capable women to remain home with their children, We could increase the exemption for children, improve the quality of our schools, any number of things. 

But extending the benefits of marriage to sterile couples is exactly the wrong policy in the face of this demographic crisis.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I knew guys just like this.

Frank Rich wrote a really interesting article on a gay friend he had known while growing up:

I knew guys just like this.

My father was in advertising and there were a lot of art directors, film directors, and set decorators who were just this sort of brittle, well-educated homosexual with exquisite sensibilities.  There was a huge break between those that had come of age before the counter-culture (who put much stock in being well dressed and erudite) and those of the hippie generation (who later became the core of Disco culture).

I remember in particular a fellow who lived down the street from us, a Mr. Sloan who, in the seventies, was probably in his sixties.  He often would walk down the alley in the late afternoons to see who was out, joining them for a cocktail and perhaps staying when they threw a few steaks on the grill.  He was often our guest and, like my father in those summers, drank wine spritzers years before they became fashionable.  He wore nice clothes, but dressed carelessly.  Old frayed khaki trousers, huaraches, a carelessly buttoned red paisley silk shirt, a gold chain around his neck, again years before those became fashionable.

He was obviously homosexual, yet nothing was ever said about it.  His stories (and he was a treasure trove of good stories) would often begin with an ambiguous statement like, “In the late 1930’s I was traveling in Europe with an older gentleman …”  And his stories really were truly amazing.  He had met Hitler at a reception at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin just weeks before the war began “… and let me tell you, Göring was a much more charismatic fellow …”  Had crossed the Atlantic on the Andrea Doria’s sister ship and then came back on a tramp steamer.  Had participated in the first protests against HUAC in San Francisco in the 1950’s “… because people were losing their jobs for being a little pink — and, who isn’t a little pink?”  Had tried peyote in the same sweat lodge that Aldous Huxley had visited.  Often commented on public figures as if he had inside information “… Jim Thompson?  Oh, he’s a fairy …”  The guy knew more ways to win a free drink in a bar than anyone I’d ever met; things like how to make sugar burn, or six triangles out of eight matches.

Mr. Sloan took an interest in me.  He would often pick up the TV guide from the Sunday paper and circle the movies that he thought I should watch (“All About Eve,” “Brief Encounter,” and “Death Takes A Holiday” were typical).  He told me to read P.G. Wodehouse and Gore Vidal.  He was very sharp, witty, and brought this out in me, patting my wrist when I made a clever quip, “Oh, Jeff, that’s a good one!”

He smoked constantly, his fingers were tobacco stained and his deep baritone voice was raspy at times.  He worked for a rather prominent interior décor firm (I want to say Colby’s?) and every morning, on the Today Show, they would run an advertisement showing a well decorated room with Mr. Sloan narrating about how in order for a room to really fit in a home it had to express the character of the people who lived there.  At the close, the announcer would intone, “… these are the words and the work of one of our experienced designers …”  (These ads continued to run for years after Mr. Sloan’s death.

Then, in 1974, a deep recession hit and Mr. Sloan was laid off.  At first he was fairly light hearted about it, claiming he could live well enough off his unemployment check “… and it gives me time to paint.”  But then the unemployment checks stopped coming and he had to dip into his savings.  And then, just as the recession was lifting, he was diagnosed with cancer and the firm wouldn’t rehire him.  He was at that point, a broken man.  Very sick, unemployed, unemployable, living on money borrowed from friends.  My father gave him $20- (a substantial sum at the time) to walk the dog once or twice each week.

 About six months after his diagnosis, Mr. Sloan died.

There was no funeral.

Much as I had liked and admired Mr. Sloan this was a stark lesson to me.  I was probably sixteen, and seeing more boys than girls by a wide margin at the time, but I decided right then that I was going to get married and start a family.

That I wasn’t going to die alone and unloved.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spirtual but not Relegious

"People can always make claims to any kind of experience. The question is always: Who cares? Why should anyone care where someone else gets a spiritual high? Because no one really cares, the claim to be spiritual but not religious is always safe. It’s never a threat and can be dismissed quite easily. The claim to be religious is different. It is a claim that God himself has taken the initiative to reveal himself to us and tell us who he is and who we are. Religion binds us to God according to his will, not ours, in a community of faith that he has brought into existence. Being religious can therefore be threatening."
Francis Cardinal George

Friday, February 8, 2013

Abortion in a Box

This all started on Facebook, when someone made a group called “I support showing graphic abortion images in public.” Now, I am as pro-life as anybody, but I don’t think gory pix are going to change anybody’s mind, so I posted on the page:
“Sorry, but I don't. When my oldest daughter was about six or seven we stumbled upon graphic images in front of a clinic that we didn't even know was there. She was quite traumatized and, rather than blame the abortionists, she blamed the protesters. Today she is "pro-choice" and I think this encounter contributed to that.”

Then, one Tim Locklear (a gun-nut from O-max) counter-posted:
“That is SUCH crap kind sir... To be honest, my 5 year old KNOWS what Abortion is...and that it is murder...and WHEN she has seen them, it makes her as sad as it makes me...”

 I tried to explain:
 “My point is very simple. People do not like being shown revolting pictures and are very likely to resent the people showing these pictures DESPITE the intention of those people”

He never responded, but sweet and friendly April Fitz Scheidler did:
“There is something to what you say about being turned off the pro-life side because of a negative association with the horrific pictures. Still, I wonder if the image itself stays in the mind longer than the negative feelings toward the people showing it.
I also wonder about our feelings about protecting our children are a good reason to keep the graphic images out of the public eye. What cost are we willing to pay to stop abortion? Is it right to shelter children, at the expense of the truth being shown? I think sometimes we, even prolifers, want to keep abortion in a "box", only to be taken out when we feel like thinking about it. I know I'm guilty of that.
You are obviously committed to stopping abortion. Going out to pray at clinics is probably the most difficult place to be. So I respect your thoughts about the signs, but I wonder if you have really wrestled with all aspects of this issue.”

Okay, yes, I want to keep abortion in a box. Let’s start with I am pro-life. I am a Catholic who accepts the Church’s teachings on EVERYTHING. Let’s go beyond that and say that, even when I was a godless communist, I believed that abortion was genocide against workers in the womb. Though my parents were bourgeois liberals, and I grew up in a pro-choice household, since becoming an adult I have always been pro-life.

But, having grown up liberal, I know and understand the other side. About a year ago I shared a story with Mrs. Greer, a very sweet and pious woman from my parish. It seems that my youngest daughter, Willa, had to do a report for school on a contemporary political issue, and she chose abortion. This involved actual fieldwork, and so I took her to an International Socialist Organization meeting about the “War on Women.” The irony here is that even though Willa and I are hard left (and Willa very much impressed the comrades there with her fluency in Marxist jargon) we opposed the ISO line on abortion and were there as spies. Mrs. Greer saw the humor in this, but she also said something along the lines of “It must have been awful to be in a room with such hateful people.” I contradicted her flatly, saying, “These aren’t hateful people. They earnestly want a better world. They love the poor and social justice. They are far better than most mopes you see walking down the street. They support abortion rights because they actually think that’s best for women.” Now, Mrs. Greer has known me for years, our children have played together, I have had dinner at her house, we pray for each other, and so she simply had to take my word for it. PEROPLE ON BOTH SIDES OF THIS ISSUE ARE TRYING TO BE MORAL.

 Now, when I say I am a Catholic and accept ALL of the Church’s teachings, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard. From what I understand, research has indicated that 70% of fertilized eggs may never go on to become a full-term pregnancy. Is God really that prodigal of souls? Was Heine right?

     The older brother, lowers his dark torch.
     Sleep is good: and Death is better,
     yet Surely never to have been born is best.

 I cannot think so. I have real difficulty with the idea that God bestows a soul upon every fertilized egg, only to destroy seven in ten before they can be saved. And this is the nut of the issue, isn’t it? Only an idiot would deny that LIFE begins at conception, but does all life have a soul? The godless are forced into not discussing the issue, because they can make no demarcation between life and ensoulment, while Catholics dare not to. For if they did, then the question becomes open.

I did some printing for Rabbi Mikva recently and had a nice talk with her about the issue. Being a serious and pious individual, she saw the central issue as being that of the disposition of the soul, and she quoted Saint Thomas Aquinas to me about ensoulment. Would God really waste 70% of souls? It is hard to think so.

And, if we are to believe the opinion polls, most Americans think not. Two-thirds of Americans think that first trimester abortion should be legal, while the numbers fall off a cliff for second and third trimester. Plainly, people have difficulty thinking that the earliest stages of development are human, yet become very protective once it begins to look like a baby.

 And we have to ask ourselves: do I believe in democratic government? It is obvious that a simple majority of opinion does not constitute truth or right, but when we subscribe to the idea of democracy we have to ask ourselves how far does that extend. At some point, our moral principles must supercede our commitment to democracy. Certainly, genocide is beyond tolerating, and deomocide as well. A government that will not allow the free practice of my Catholic faith is one that must be opposed. How far must a government go in opposition to our principles before we will call upon a man like Franco? Is abortion so intolerable that we would use violence to topple a government that allowed it? The man who shot Dr. Tiller thought so. I cannot.

As long as I am left in peace to live my life as a Catholic, I can accept the will of the people. Frankly, I am much more concerned about that poor pharmacist who was fined because he refused to dispense oral contraceptives. Frankly, I am glad that I am closing my unprofitable business rather than be faced with the prospect of paying for insurance that covers abortifacients. Frankly, I wish that Illinois would enforce the parental notification law that is on it’s books so that I can be certain that my under-age daughter does not make a catastrophic mistake.

Yes — I keep abortion in a box. I live and work in the art district, where people are overwhelmingly liberal, so I don\t talk about it. I don’t think that any politician is actually going to get rid of something so popular as abortion, so I don’t vote that issue. And I oppose showing graphic pix of abortion because I think it’s counter-productive.

 Most people have fixed beliefs. Abortion is not an issue like taxes, were we can talk about them being too high or too low and compromise in between. No, it is either right or wrong, and people usually fall on one side or the other. Usually, it bothers people. It’s bloody, and it’s messy, and on some level they have to acknowledge that something is being killed. But, they don’t want to be caught either. If they don’t want that baby, at that time, with that person, they want a way out. And seeing an horrific pic of a mutilated fœtus is just going to irritate them.

Conversions are made one at a time. It is a tricky business to nudge someone into thinking something new. You cannot push them, for then they will push back, and you have to know when not even to nudge, when to allow them to think it over. Life is a messy business.

Most Saturday mornings you will find me at the corner of LaSalle and Division, in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic, saying the Rosary with Darlene and Lynn. This is the kind of protest I like. Low key, pious, friendly. We give witness.

When my son was eleven or twelve, I laid down my three rules for him. “If you are caught doing drugs, I will throw you out of the house.”

He nodded, for he knew I was fanatically anti-drug.

“If you corrupt a good catholic girl, I will throw you out of the house.”

This was reasonable enough and he nodded.

“And you must never be party to an abortion.”

 “Or you will throw me out of the house?”

 “No—“ I shook my head, “Worse than that. You will never forgive yourself.”


“Do you think I will ever forgive myself?”

 He just stared at me.

“Not ever!”