[S]tandard-issue hog farming involves the practice of tail docking—that is, shortly after piglets are born, their tails are cut off short. You might ask: why would we need to cut the tails off of pigs? Good question! Pig tails need to be cut off, in factory farms, because the pigs stand around all day in tiny, crowded spaces. Some of them seek to amuse themselves by biting other pigs on the tail. Often, the pigs being bitten are really just too listless to stop the biting. So their tails bleed. This can lead to infection, of course, but it could also lead to cannibalistic attacks on the bleeding hog—after all, pigs are omnivores! Now, having the tails docked won’t prevent tail biting, because there’s still a stump. But the stump is extremely sensitive, so even an otherwise very listless pig is likely to quickly put a stop to anyone’s gnawing on his stump. Hence, the infections or cannibalistic attacks can be prevented.
Now, tail docking is an extra task, requiring extra labor from pig farmers. So it would be nice if it were unnecessary. Fortunately, science plans to come to the rescue here—we’re working on isolating the stress gene in hogs, so that we can create new hogs that can be crowded into horrific conditions without becoming stressed out. If they’re not stressed into listlessness, they’re more likely to react quickly to anyone’s biting their tail. Problem solved.
Archive for the ‘Notes to a Friend’ Category.
When most Catholics think about Mary, we have one of two images in our heads: the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” We can too easily forget that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent. She embodies in her purity the greatness of humanity fully alive in God. She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us—but who also defends us.
And in doing that, she reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion”—not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.” The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.
If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church—Mary as mater et magistra—is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose. And as Mary’s adopted sons, we need to be bishops who lead and teach like the great Cyril of Jerusalem.
Having said all that, my thoughts today come in three parts. I want to speak first about the people we’ve become as American Catholics. Then I’ll turn to how and why we got where we are. Finally I’ll suggest what we need to do about it, not merely as individuals, but more importantly as a Church. We need to recover our identity as a believing community. And I think a good way to begin doing that is with the “catechetical content” of our current political moment.
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Americans aren’t fools. They have a good sense of smell when things aren’t right. And one of the things wrong with our country right now is the hollowing out and retooling of all the key words in our country’s public lexicon; words like democracy, representative government, freedom, justice, due process, religious liberty and constitutional protections. The language of our politics is the same. The content of the words is different. Voting still matters. Public protest and letters to members of Congress can still have an effect. But more and more of our nation’s life is governed by executive order, judicial overreach and administrative agencies with little accountability to Congress.
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Let me put our situation this way. The two unavoidable facts of life are mortality and inequality. We’re going to die. And – here I’m committing a primal American heresy — we’re not created “equal” in the secular meaning of that word. We’re obviously not equal in dozens of ways: health, intellect, athletic ability, opportunity, education, income, social status, economic resources, wisdom, social skills, character, holiness, beauty or anything else. And we never will be. Wise social policy can ease our material inequalities and improve the lives of the poor. But as Tocqueville warned, the more we try to enforce a radical, unnatural, egalitarian equality, the more “totalitarian” democracy becomes.
For all its talk of diversity, democracy is finally monist. It begins by protecting the autonomy of the individual but can easily end by eliminating competing centers of authority and absorbing civil society into the state. Even the family, seen through secular democratic eyes, can be cast as inefficient, parochial and a potential greenhouse of social problems. Parental authority can become suspect because it escapes the scrutiny and guidance of the state. And the state can easily present itself as better able to educate the young because of its superior resources and broader grasp of the needs of society.
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So it is with our Catholic understanding of God. Every human life, no matter how seemingly worthless, has infinite dignity in his eyes. Every human life is loved without limits by the God who made us. Our weaknesses are not signs of unworthiness or failure. They’re invitations to depend on each other and become more than ourselves by giving away our strengths in the service of others, and receiving their support in return. This is the truth in the old legend about heaven and hell. Both have exactly the same tables. Both have exactly the same rich foods. But the spoons in both places are much too long. In hell people starve because they try to feed themselves. In heaven they thrive because they feed each other.
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Optimism and pessimism are twin forms of self-deception. We need instead to be a people of hope, which means we don’t have the luxury of whining.
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Serenity of heart comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we claim to believe. Acting on our faith increases our faith. And it serves as a magnet for other people. To reclaim the Church for the Catholic imagination, we should start by renewing in our people a sense that eternity is real, that together we have a mission the world depends on, and that our lives have consequences that transcend time. Francis radiated all these things during his time in Philadelphia.
If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them. And the reason we do it is because too many of us have welcomed the good news of Vatican II without carving its demand for conversion onto the stone of our hearts. In opening ourselves to the world, we’ve forgotten our parts in the larger drama of our lives—salvation history, which always, in some way, involves walking past St. Cyril’s serpent.
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Catholics today—and I’m one of them—feel a lot of unease about declining numbers and sacramental statistics. Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church. But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter Church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness. Making sure that happens is the job of those of us who are bishops.
Losing people who are members of the Church in name only is an imaginary loss. It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay. We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight. We have nothing to be afraid of as long as we act with faith and courage.
We need to speak plainly and honestly. Modern bureaucratic life, even in the Church, is the enemy of candor and truth. We live in an age that thrives on the subversion of language.
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If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really “ours.” It’s a moment for courage and candor, but it’s hardly the first moment of its kind.
This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church. And so we can say with confidence: Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us. And St. Cyril of Jerusalem, patron of bishops, be our model and brother in our service to Mary’s son, Jesus Christ.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, if left unchecked, modern society would annihilate itself if given the chance. It feels like we are there. Our collective hypocrisy is clear, as we (rightly) condemn Trump while we pick up 50 Shades of Grey at Red Box. We are all of us consumers of self-gratification.
In other words, our pornified culture exposes us as a people of enfeebled desires. We’d rather fantasize with images than do the work required for deep and meaningful relationships. In our hyper-connected society, we’ve become distracted from one another, ransoming real relationships for cheap gratification. The word “distraction” comes from a Latin term that means “torn apart.” We are not only disconnected from one another, we exploit each other, and tear ourselves apart.
In his famous Oxford address “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said that we allow lesser objects to satisfy our desires, unaware that ultimate gratification is offered to us. “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
That grabbing and ripping is the the method that remained legal after the “partial-birth” abortion ban. (Gunter eventually describes this procedure: “The fetus is essentially taken apart with a D and E to fit through the dilated cervix.” But, she says, this is not “ripping,” but “simply surgical technique.”)
Supreme Court nominees will not save you. National security advisers will not save you. An Ivy League education will not save you. A quarterback who’s cool under pressure will not save you. Tax breaks will not save you. The love of Mr. Right will not save you. A traditional priest will not save you. A progressive priest will not save you. This pope will not save you. A different pope will not save you.
If there’s any heresy the internet encourages, it’s the passionate conviction that “all we need is….” All we need is a Republican president or a more compassionate bishop or a baby who sleeps through the night or a diet that actually works or a higher minimum wage or better paternity leave or free reign to go after ISIS or a new iPhone or a good harvest and then we’ll be happy.
No. All you need is Jesus.
We all seem to know, Christian or not, that we’re in desperate need of a savior. Every four years, we find that savior in a political candidate, appalling as he or she may be. In between, our savior might be an ecclesial movement or a dear friend or a cup of coffee. They’re not bad things until they’re everything and then they’re idols just as much as any golden calf or statue of Bel.
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It’s not just politics, of course. We look to money and love and fame and comfort to save us just as much as we do to our political leaders—more. We make them our gods, confident that what we need is a raise or a faithful spouse or a vacation or more reliable internet provider and then we’ll be okay.
Those things might be nice. Or they might be bricks building up into a wall of self-sufficiency, good things that blind us to our need for a savior. And without making a single deal with the devil or even skipping a single Mass we suffer the loss of our souls because we have installed created things in the place set aside for the creator.
Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD
Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness.
With borderline personality disorder, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.
Borderline personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood. The condition seems to be worse in young adulthood and may gradually get better with age.
If you have borderline personality disorder, don’t get discouraged. Many people with this disorder get better over time with treatment and can learn to live satisfying lives.
Borderline personality disorder affects how you feel about yourself, how you relate to others and how you behave.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection
- A pattern of unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel
- Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image that include shifting goals and values, and seeing yourself as bad or as if you don’t exist at all
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours
- Impulsive and risky behavior, such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating or drug abuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship
- Suicidal threats or behavior or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
- Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights
Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD, from Mayo Clinic
Studies have shown that there are three patterns of behavior that hamper communication and, when repeated, may destroy your relationship. While there are positive things to do to, here are three behaviors to avoid: being critical, defensive and detached.
Criticism means censure, personal attack or denouncement. This is a message from the “you” perspective. It is not the same as complaint. The difference, while subtle, is pregnant with consequences: when criticizing, we refer to a person, and when complaining we indicate a behavior we wish to be changed.
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2 and 3. A defensive attitude and emotional detachment
Perhaps the other person in the relationship is constantly criticizing you and takes everything out on you. It is natural that you become defensive and avoid taking responsibility. It is nearly an instinctive reaction. The thing is that it takes you nowhere. A defensive attitude and emotional detachment effectively prevent us from communicating with one another; they are conducive to distance and barriers. This makes communication increasingly difficult, if not impossible.
I cannot tell gentle reader how shocked (shocked!) I am to learn that Donald Trump talks dirty in private; or that Hillary Clinton says one thing to small paying audiences in Wall Street, and quite another to big audiences across the USA. This changes everything. It revolves my commitments 360 degrees. From a position of condemning both candidates, I come out giving my support to neither. Or perhaps the turn was only 359; for the shrieking hypocrisy of the international media, and the whole political class, has possibly moved me one point closer to Trump. It is hard to pick out, however, one-sixth of a second on the dial of a small watch.
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How incomprehensibly strange is this world; how large, in the passing of trivial events. In thanksgiving for the peace that passeth all understanding, let us whisper deep to deep.
Community service is a noble concept that obscures and confuses more than it helps. The idea implies that those in need are encountered mainly beyond the ordinary circumstances of every day life. It creates a false dichotomy between ordinary and charitable activity. It excludes all but altruistic motivations and devalues genuine engagement with others.
Catholics don’t believe that community is distinct from ordinary living. Community is primarily the family. This natural truth is supported by the supernatural reality that the original community of persons is the Holy Trinity. Through the family we encounter the every day needs of love which require us to serve one another.
Our tradition provides us with a rich lexicon for this service: the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Catholics do not serve; we work. Catholics do not merely give; we show mercy. The acts themselves occur ordinarily in family life: feeding, clothing, comforting, instructing, visiting, et al. In other words, the habits of merciful work and engagement occur as a normal part of daily activity, not as an add-on to normal life.
Catholics would do well to stop referring to “community service” altogether, and instead adopt the language of public spiritedness or public life. The only practical distinction between our works of mercy is where they occur and not when. This language also has an added benefit: it expands our political engagement beyond that of sound-bite politics.
To mandate “community service” at a public school is moral preening and a manifestation of statolatry.
On the subject of abortion, Tim Kaine is a mess intellectually and a coward morally. That some people find his argument persuasive is only another sign of how attenuated we have become, nationally, in our facility for reasoned argument. The facts of abortion are the facts of abortion, irrespective of what any pope, president, governor, senator, or mere justice of the Supreme Court says.
Being a Catholic is one reason to oppose abortion. Being a human being is another. Tim Kaine, a cheap and shallow sophist, isn’t a particularly inspiring example of either.
Kaine has also made an idol of government.
To hoarders, belongings are physical anchors in a stormy world. Hoarders might otherwise lead functional lives, but according to experts who spoke at the conference, many derive security from having their keepsakes always in view.
“People who hoard tend to live their lives visually and spatially, instead of categorically like the rest of us do,” said Randy Frost, a psychologist and co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, in an interview with Fresh Air. They sort things by location, rather than importance. When he asked one hoarder where her electric bill was, she responded “on the left side of the pile, about a foot down.”
Far from being dirty or disgusting, hoarders might actually be too careful. A common manifestation of OCD is scrupulosity, or an extreme fear of wrongdoing. For example, a highly religious person with OCD might have a fleeting, blasphemous thought one day—”What if God is actually terrible?”—and obsess for days about what thinking it means.
[M]y moderately smug disdain is directed at the writers and “experts” who breathlessly report and analyze these trends—especially when, as is the case in the New York magazine piece, consumerism is highlighted as a contributing vice. “Ours is a spendy culture,” one subheading announces with vague judgmentalism while surrounded by ads for Tiffany and Burberry. “It’s expected that as you earn more, your lifestyle should swell accordingly . . . . If you can’t Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat your material progress, it might as well not exist.”
My question is: Why on earth would we expect anything different? Our culture gives us no compelling reason to resist the allure of conspicuous consumption. We have gutted society of any institutional recognition of, let alone support for, traditional virtues, and yet we vainly expect people to live virtuously. It may be impossible to improve on C.S. Lewis’s concision: “We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Now, the virtue I’m thinking of here is not the old-timey Puritan concept of thrift. Thrift can certainly be virtuous, but it can also emerge just as much from a preoccupation with wealth as conspicuous consumption does—a preoccupation with economic status in the future rather than the present. It’s an idea that is easily co-opted by a secular culture where class is considered a reasonable proxy for moral worthiness.
I’m thinking instead of the relatively unknown and little understood virtue of detachment. We shouldn’t be too surprised that detachment has been largely forgotten; more than almost any other virtue, it relies for its coherence on the public recognition of the divine that secularism has systematically purged from our society. Detachment from worldly goods and concerns only makes sense if there’s another world to which we owe our loyalty.
Perhaps the most well-known description of detachment comes from Jesus himself in the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Secularism solves this dilemma elegantly by erasing God. Only mammon remains.
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We’ve gutted all the social and spiritual foundations of a healthy relationship with worldly goods, and there’s nothing our hordes of life coaches and inspiration mongers and financial therapists can do to replace them. It’s foolish and even a little cruel to expect a society of slaves to mammon to resist their master.
The problem of loneliness among the elderly is not just confined to the summer holidays in Rome – it is a growing problem around the world.
Earlier this month, Katie Hafner for the New York Times reported that in Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone. In the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. Studies in both countries show the prevalence of loneliness among people older than 60 ranging from 10 percent to 46 percent.
While not a physical sickness in and of itself, chronic loneliness can also be detrimental to physical health. Several studies show that social isolation or feelings of loneliness can lead to an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and even an earlier death.
Sr. Constance Veit, communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic sisters whose mission is “to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.” They currently operate more than 25 homes for the elderly in the United States, as well as homes all over the world.
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Statistics compiled in the UK have found that a million seniors go as long as a month without talking to anyone. The statistics in the United States are probably similarly shocking, Sr. Constance said.
“To think of an older person going a month without speaking to friends or family, that’s pretty bad,” she said.
Pope Francis would agree. The pontiff once called neglect of the elderly a “mortal sin” after visiting an elderly woman in August who hadn’t seen her family since Christmas.
“It is a mortal sin to discard our elderly…The elderly are not aliens. We are them – in a short or in a long while we are inevitably them, even though we choose not to think about it,” he said during a general audience in March 2015.
“Children who do not visit their elderly and ill parents have mortally sinned. Understand?” he added.
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The most important thing that people can do is to combat the problem is to look for meaningful ways to connect with the elderly in their lives, Sr. Constance said.
“Even if you feel like you don’t have elderly people in your life, chances are you do have elderly people in your neighborhood or in your parish, maybe in your extended family of aunts and uncles,” she said.
As we grow older, touch is a communication that transcends age and time. No matter how old we are, we all love to have our hand held, our backs rubbed, or the feel of a warm embrace.
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty.
Shelter the homeless.
Visit the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
Bury the dead.
Give alms to the poor.