Respect has no substitute

Respect has no substitute; neither assistance nor obedience nor love can supply it or take its place It may happen that children are no longer obliged to help their parents; they may be justified in not obeying them; the circumstances may be such that they no longer have love or affection for them; but respect can never be wanting without serious guilt. The reason is simple: because it is due in justice, because it is founded on natural rights that can never be forfeited, even when parents themselves lose the sense of their own dignity.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

The Rise of the Retrosexual

I’m a fan of the blog The Art of Manliness, which offers a useful counter to the dominate male images of our consumer culture. Brett McKay, the site’s founder, has reported on what he calls a “Menaissance,” a movement to re-establish a more classical understanding of men based on the values and style of the WWII generation.

In this short video, Brett explains why he thinks is this happening and why it appeals to today’s young men:

On the Work to be Done

I’ve been out of the office the past two days on retreat with the DREs of the diocese. It was a wonderful, Spirit-filled retreat, and I’m grateful for the time “away” — until I get back to my office and see the pile of mail and paperwork on my desk!

It would be easy to grump about the work to be done “ signing bills, responding to voice mail, writing memos “ but this Lent I’ve been trying to re-adjust the way that I look at the interruptions and intrusions. Instead of rolling my eyes and sighing, I’ve been trying to see them as God might see them: not as detours from my work, but as the real work!

Both St. Mark and St. Luke record the story of Jairus, a synagogue official, asking Jesus to heal his dying daughter. On his way to Jairus’ house, a woman afflicted with hemorrhages touches Jesus’ clothes and is miraculously healed. Jesus could have paid her no mind and hurried on his way “ he had work to do! “ but instead he stops, addresses the woman, and assures her that “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

It’s easy to let surprises in our work tear us down and aggravate us. And I’m not suggesting that we should all be workaholics. (Even Jesus had to get away from the crowds at times!) But sometimes those interruptions are actually moments calling for grace, when God asks us put aside what we think is important in order to do his work.

Thoughts for a New Father

My best friend and his wife recently found out that they will be welcoming their first child into the world this spring. At his invitation I sent him the following thoughts about fatherhood, having endured loved it through nine years and four kids. The remarks have been edited to remove personal information.

#1 – Congratulations! You are no longer in control of your own destiny.

Here’s the thing: you are now 100% responsible for another human being in this world. You have established a relationship that, short of death, cannot be severed or broken. (And I’m not even sure death breaks it.) You have to make sure that this little person is fed, cleaned, clothed, educated and loved. Every decision you make from here on out will have to include this as part of the equation — everything from “Should I take this new job” to “What type of milk do I buy for the family?”

So forget about the myth of the autonomous individual making his way in the world. It’s not true to begin with, and now that you have a child it’s even less true.

(By the way: Your wife is 100% responsible, too. It takes 200% to raise a child.)

#2 – You will be amazed at what you will endure for your child.

Let’s just get this one out of the way: within the first year of your child’s life you will be graced with the following bodily fluids flowing from your child onto your person: urine, poop, vomit, regurgitated milk, mucus, and a couple I still haven’t identified. If you have a boy, you’ll get it within six months. (Our oldest was so consistent about trying to pee on us that we had our own little maneuver when changing him: we’d take his diaper off, then immediately use it to cover him back up because you could be sure that as soon as fresh air hit him there would be a stream shooting up.)

The thing is, you won’t care one bit. I know I was worried about how I would handle these things, but the first time our oldest looked into my eyes, smiled, and vomited all over my shirt, I didn’t give it a second thought because I was so much more concerned about him and how he felt. The “oh-my-God-my-child-just-unhinged-his-jaw-and-spewed-on-my-leather-upholstery” reaction gets pushed out of your mind because you’re so focused on making sure that your child’s OK.

#3 – The most important thing you can do for your child is put your wife first.

This may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that your relationship with your wife is more important than your relationship with your child. It only takes a few minutes on Google to find statistics on how divorce and broken families screw over kids in major ways. You and I are both fortunate enough to come from families that, despite lots of trials and tribulations, have remained intact. I don’t know about you, but seeing my friends who have parents who are divorced, I’m extraordinarily grateful for that. Not that they aren’t decent, well-adjusted people, but I also know that they’ve had to endure a lot more crap in their lives than I’ve had to, even given my family issues. Having an intact family has been a great blessing in my life.

One of the promises I made to myself when my first child was born was that I would do everything in my power to ensure that he had that same advantage. Which, ironically, means that I invest more in my relationship with my wife than with the kids. Which, again, isn’t to say that I come home, throw some food into their room and say goodnight. But I want my kids to know that I love their mother and that they are a result of that love — and are loved as a result.

#4 – Decide now what your values are.

This is important for two reasons: a) so that you can pass on your values to your children, and b) so you know where you priorities are. The first is pretty straight forward: start thinking now about the lessons you want to impart to your child so that you won’t be reacting later on to lessons he’s learning somewhere else. (Children are sponges that soak up everything in their environment, whether you mean them to or not. This was hit home to me the first time my oldest started talking about Star Wars, even though I had never tried to intentionally pass it on to him.) And start thinking about what values you will and won’t allow into your house (via tv, the internet, etc.).

The second is a little more subtle. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the things that I have to give up in order to be a halfway decent father. There are so many conferences, classes, and other opportunities out there that I would love to participate in that, if given the chance, I could be gone every other weekend. But I know (and my wife reminds me) that doing so would be a very bad thing for the family. So we compromise and work out what things I do and what I don’t.

The point here isn’t that I’m “paying the price” for putting my family first, but that my wife and I make those decisions together. If she thought we could maintain a happy home life together even if I was gone more often, then I’d be packing a lot more suitcases. But that’s not a decision I can make on my own. By talking through our values and how we’re going to put them into practice, she gives me a level of accountability that keeps me from doing anything to the family that would compromise my stated values. That’s a good thing.

On Settling

Every time I read an interview with Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, I like her a little more:

Men and women were asked, if they [had] any deal-breakers for going on a second date, what would those be? And men named three. If she’s cute enough… warm and kind… and interesting enough to talk to, she gets a second date. Men are not going, “Am I going to marry her?” Men are like, “Do I want to spend another two hours with her?”

Women named 300 things that would be deal-breakers for a second date. We’re talking a second date, another two hours with the person. And they were things like, “You know, we were having a really good time, but then he did this Austin Powers impression, and it just so turned me off. I can’t get that out of my head.” Well, if she goes on a second date with him, and he starts doing Austin Powers impressions, then dump Mr. Austin Powers guy. Don’t go on that third date. Absolutely not. Who wants that? That’s annoying. But the thing is, there’s no correlation between the guy who’s the nervous first dater… and the guy who’s going to be the great life partner that you’re going to fall in love with.

Men and women were asked, if they [had] any deal-breakers for going on a second date, what would those be? And men named three. If she’s cute enough … warm and kind … and interesting enough to talk to, she gets a second date. Men are not going, “Am I going to marry her?” Men are like, “Do I want to spend another two hours with her?”CNN: How did women respond?

Gottlieb: Women named 300 things that would be deal-breakers for a second date. We’re talking a second date, another two hours with the person. And they were things like, “You know, we were having a really good time, but then he did this Austin Powers impression, and it just so turned me off. I can’t get that out of my head.” Well, if she goes on a second date with him, and he starts doing Austin Powers impressions, then dump Mr. Austin Powers guy. Don’t go on that third date. Absolutely not. Who wants that? That’s annoying. But the thing is, there’s no correlation between the guy who’s the nervous first dater … and the guy who’s going to be the great life partner that you’re going to fall in love with. The smooth, charming guy who sweeps you off your feet on that first date, there’s not saying he’s going to be a better life partner than the other guy.

Children and Church

As the father of four children (ages 8 1/2 years to 4 days), Beth Lewis Samuelson’s reflections on children in church resonates with me:

What does a child-tolerant church look like? First, the church ”and all of us, really ”must remember that where there are women, there are children. Today, with the widespread use of birth control and the prevalence of abortion services, the bittersweet burden of motherhood is no longer seen in the wider culture as a normal phase of life, but rather as a lifestyle option. As a result, many people don’t wish to be inconvenienced by children, who are seen as someone else’s “choice,” not the collective responsibility of (in this case) the church community. At an infant dedication ceremony, the entire congregation enters into a covenant with the parents to help raise the child to love and serve the Lord. That is what I remember hearing as a child, as I sat with my parents through many a long church service.

In a child-tolerant church, families with small, squirmy children are truly welcomed, not separated and exiled. An infant’s vocalizing, a dropped toy, the movement of a restless child in a pew ”all are viewed with tolerance, if not sympathy. Parents whose small children start to scream get up and take them to the cry room or the church foyer. The few moments of noise as a child is carried out are endured by the congregation and politely ignored. No one enjoys the disruption, of course, but all are mindful of having been in the same position or, at least, that all are called to “suffer little children to come unto me.”

I’m aware that, when I was young, my parents went to separate Sunday liturgies and kept my sister and I at home. While I am sympathetic to those who wish to spare others from distractions during Mass, my wife and I decided early on that we would take our children and celebrate the Eucharist as a family. Even on Sundays when my wife sang with the choir we would attend an earlier service as a family.

The bottom line for me is: children who are baptized members of the Church have every right to participate in her liturgical celebrations, just as any adult. I can’t imagine that anyone would ask an elderly person with severe Parkinson’s disease to leave because they constituted a distraction; nor would we expect a couple caring for an older mentally handicapped child to do so. So why we expect children to be tucked safely in a cry room or nursery is beyond me.

We must welcome all members of the Body of Christ. Christ suffered and died for all — even the toddler throwing Cheerios at the back of your head during the Gloria.

Lethal Logic

“The lethal logic of Roe v. Wade is that nobody has rights that we are bound to respect if they cannot effectively assert those rights. They are at the mercy and the discretion of those who can effectively assert their rights. We’re not talking simply about the unborn, we’re talking about the aged, the radically handicapped, the deformed.”

– Father Richard John Neuhaus, We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest

Who’s Missing?

I had given up, after wrestling for a better part of the day, articulating my own thoughts about the juncture between today’s inauguration and Thursday’s March for Life. Then Matthew Warner summed it up better than I ever could:

In Barack Obama’s lifetime our nation has struggled in accepting African-Americans and treating them as equals.   Finally, we’ve had a breakthrough.   A black president.

Unfortunately, in that same struggle to the top for one class of people – in that same lifetime – we’ve trampled the rights of yet another entire class of people.   Indeed, many of us no longer believe these people are actually human.   Sound familiar?

Of course, I am speaking of the 50 millions abortions that have occurred in the US alone during the last lifetime.   50 million voiceless human beings that were denied and are still being denied their human rights.   That are treated as garbage.   That are not given a seat at the table or a spot on the bus.   That don’t get the chance to drink from any water fountain or attend any school.   They will never get the opportunity to march on Washington.   They are not even given the dignity of being treated as 3/5 of a person.

March for Life Prayer for Pilgrims

This morning, across the nation, many people will be setting out for Washington, D.C., to participate in Thursday’s March for Life. Please keep these pilgrims in your prayers:

Our Lady of Guadalupe,
we turn to you who are the protectress of unborn children
and ask that you intercede for us,
so that we may more firmly resolve to join you in protecting all human life.

Let our prayers be united to your perpetual motherly intercession
on behalf of those whose lives are threatened,
be they in the womb of their mother, on the bed of infirmity, or in the latter years of their life.

May our prayers also be coupled with peaceful action
which witnesses to the goodness and dignity of all human life,
so that our firmness of purpose may give courage to those who are fearful
and bring light to those who are blinded by sin.

Encourage those who will be involved in the March for Life;
help them to walk closely with God and to give voice to the cry of the oppressed,
in order to remind out nation of its commitment
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.

O Virgin Mother of God, present our petitions to your Son and ask Him to bless us with abundant life.

Amen.