Friday, 16 June 2017

Sue Recommends: Charming Roald Dahl Movie, and Other Delights

As many of you know, I can be one of the most critical critics ever, black spot on white page, etc. It can be a good thing sometimes. Sometimes. One of the good things about critics is that when they DO recommend something, it means a lot more. Or so I like to believe. So I thought I'd start a new feature on the blog- Sue Recommends. Books, movies, articles, recipes, and everything and anything else that happens to strike my fancy. You're very welcome. Who DOESN'T want more of my opinions on everything?



It's hard to find a movie that I genuinely delight in. Either they are badly directed/have poor acting (it's sometimes hard to tell the difference), enjoyable but morally iffy which spoils it for me (Italian Job), poorly disguising crudity as humour (most rom-coms or comedies), make my thumb ache from all the fast-forwarding because of the endless action scenes (James Bond) or gratuitous violence (Gladiator), or just have lame plots (Final Destination). Sometimes it feels like only kids' movies are left. But they're too kiddy. Yes, I AM hard to please.

But then I watched this kids' movie based on a Roald Dahl I read as a child. I didn't have high expectations because well, it was a kids' movie. Or at least based on a kids'book. But it was delightful! It was about a Big Friendly Giant, and oh, what a joy was every word that came out of his mouth! I enjoyed both the Giant and the little girl who played Sophie, and wholeheartedly enjoyed the inclusion of the Queen in the plot. If I ever think I would like to re-watch a movie, it seems like that's a good movie to own.

"Take a bite and I am positive you will be shouting out oh how scrumdiddlyumptious this wonderveg is!" 

"People would be rushing and bushing after me with goodness knows what and they would be catching me and locking me into a cage to be stared at. They would be putting me into the zoo or the bunkumhouse with all those squiggling hippodumplings and crocadowndillies."

Pros: Charming, family-friendly, BFG's accent and mumbly-jumbly language
Cons: Will completely confuse children who are trying to learn English


I heard Simcha Fisher mention them a couple of times, so I finally looked up the website... and found that they recently came to India. Well, came HOME to India. But for every girl who loves dresses, and has a hard time finding any with sleeves, or knee length or below, or just with any kind of class, these are GORGEOUS. Well, most of them, I haven't bought any yet, they are a little expensive - Rs 2000 and above. But there are group presents for birthdays! And Christmas! And finally a quick answer when people ask what I want!

Pros: So many gorgeous options! POCKETS! You can customize them when you order- your neckline, skirt length, etc. Who does that?? Gift voucher to eshakti is a great gift for self, mothers (the type who wear dresses), sisters, and most female friends.

Cons: It would take forever to choose because there are so many GREAT options. (Even my cons are pros.) Well, I guess they ARE a little expensive. Sigh. And so tempting to just waste time on the website fantasizing about owning them all.


Fr. Mike reminds me of some of my American Catholic friends- informal, a little tongue-in-cheek, constantly referencing pop culture, and so full of asides, I sometimes wonder if he's as ADD as the rest of us. But that's why he's so relatable.

I always say that the Catholic Church has the best content and the worst marketing. Fr. Mike does a great job with these short videos talking about everything from death to coffee to sleep habits to purgatory, and does it all in a likable and non-aggressive manner. If you're looking for byte-sized ways to grow in your faith, and knowledge of your faith, or even just start thinking about aspects of your faith you hadn't before, watch one of these every day.

Pros: Very short videos, easy to share, very logical and relatable, new and unexpected topics (in other words not just the same ones every Catholic blogger seems to write about), and often new takes on the same topics. Great for young people (yes, I'm getting old, I just referred to 'young people', and I didn't mentally include myself in that category). Could be great for youth group discussion starters.

Cons: Sometimes Fr. Mike is so good looking and charming, I wonder if I'm being manipulated. But then I remember that I have my charming moments too, and have tried my hardest to be authentic even while being charming, which is something I see in Fr. Mike too. Also, because the video are short, they don't cover it all. Obviously. I suppose sometimes you have to trade depth for brevity, or try to find a healthy balance of the two. I feel like there are sometimes important points missing, but there is always something to take away from the videos. Also, these videos are largely aimed at American Catholic teenagers, so it won't perfectly work for people who don't fit into that category. Still, I think most people would get something.

Okay, that's it for tonight, folks. Look out for more of Sue Recommends every week. Just kidding. Whenever I feel like it, and get down to it, and have time. We'll see. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Fluency in English is the White Privilege of India

English privilege. We grew up with it. With a much-coveted Convent education, jokes mocking those who spoke ‘broken’ English were too common. ‘On the light’ Ha ha! That’s ‘PUT on the light, or SWITCH on the light!’ ‘I’ll tell to Miss that you are teasing me!” “That’s ‘I’ll TELL Miss’, not ‘tell TO’! Gosh!” But practically everyone in school spoke ‘broken’ English at the beginning, because it was their second language. They came as little four year olds from homes where Marathi or Hindi was spoken, and were whipped (not literally) into English fluency through twelve years at an English medium school.

But I grew up in a home where English WAS our first language, and we prided ourselves on speaking English as well as (or better than) the British. It was a very desired skill. In a culture of humiliation, there was always something for fellow students to put others (and teachers too) down for, accents, ignorance, body size and shape, but mockery for imperfect English was pretty common. I don’t remember any incidents very clearly, but I know I subconsciously felt I was better than other people because I spoke better English, because that was the message I received from the world.

As I grew up I realized it wasn’t just school. Being fluent in English changed everything, opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed, gave us opportunities that most people didn’t have. Fluent English speakers have an edge on the job market, can grasp study material easily, present themselves better, and sound more intelligent and educated. Even socially, fluent English-speakers often band together, and often exclude people who didn't fit in that narrow social class. I've often heard young people talk about 'the wrong kind of crowd', and they're not talking about their morals, but their social class, their culture, and yes, their English. I've seen the divide even in our church community.

I realized as I worked with the underprivileged that the things that came so easily to me didn’t come as easily to everyone else. I could walk into a church or school office, approach someone in authority, and quickly win trust or at least lessen suspicion, and often get the help I needed by fluently and convincingly explaining myself. Even if I wore clothes that were not expensive or ‘upper class’, (in fact I more often look like a college student, with jeans and backpack), my English would convince people that I was someone of importance, someone they probably shouldn’t ignore. Basically, English has snob value.

Of course now there are a lot of people in India who have felt the sting for too long, and are turning the tables, with anger against anyone who is not fluent with the local language. English is simultaneously connected with snob value and an inferiority complex, not surprisingly since it came with the British and their class system and superior attitude towards the ‘natives’.

Still, 70 years later, fluency in English in India is usually equated with intelligence, education, ability, position, trustworthiness, status and often value. I only re-examined these assumptions as an adult, and realized that they were faulty. Slowly over the years I have tried to root out these lies and re-align my mind and behaviour with the truth. What is the truth?

1. English is just a language, a skill. It does not reflect character, intelligence or value.

2. As a language, it is for communication, not a status symbol. If someone with ‘broken’ English can communicate a thought, instruction or idea, then they have successfully used the language as a means to an end.

3. Someone who speaks several languages imperfectly is far more skilled and laudable than someone who speaks ONLY English perfectly (for example, I).

4. But a person’s skills in language or lack thereof can never detract or add to his or her value. Everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and consideration.

5. Because society at large gives me a privilege and advantage that I don’t deserve, I am responsible for using that privilege for the sake of those who have been deprived of it. ‘From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.’

6. English DOES open doors, especially in getting jobs, and a higher education, so whenever possible I should help people pick up that skill.

7. Reading books, articles and blogs, and watching movies and documentaries in English have given me a glimpse of a world outside of my small world, and that is a good thing. Once again, it is a good reason to help especially students with English.

8. The class (and caste) system is so ingrained in people’s minds, that I need to go out of my way to show and remind people that we are equal, that we are brothers and sisters, no matter our background, privilege or social status. Whenever possible, I need to choose the discomfort of speaking the language I am uncomfortable with in order to allow others to speak the language they are comfortable with.

This is one of the most beautiful and enlightening aspects of Christianity. Unfortunately too many Christians have ignored the truth and teachings of Christ and stuck to the status quo, because it protects their privilege. It’s time for us to make a change.

The Chilling Last Scene of The Prestige

Have you watched ‘The Prestige’? I watched it years ago, but it made a strong impression on my mind and heart, and for a while I couldn’t pinpoint why. SPOILER ALERT SERIOUSLY IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE DON’T READ ON. In brief, it was about the rivalry between two stage magicians. One is apparently the protagonist, and you begin to see how he one-ups the antagonist with his tricks, unexplained to us, the audience. You keep waiting for the secret of how he did what he did, but when you reach the end, everything changes in a chilling way, as you realize that the person you thought was the protagonist was actually the villain (sort of). Excellent story-telling.

But here’s the secret of his amazing disappearances and re-appearances. He had once found a way to tap into some mysterious way of cloning himself. (I’m a little hazy on the details of how he did it- using some electrical energy?) Anyway, the chilling part is when you realized that he would clone himself, and mysteriously appear in a different spot, to the wonder of his audience, while he KILLED his original self by dropping into an upright coffin size locked tank of water where he would drown himself. The movie ends with a view of a big room filled with rows and rows of tanks of water with a corpse in each one. Brr.

But what it made me think of was the morality of his action (yup, back to the Catholic INTJ’s mind)- since it was a clone of himself, did he have the right to kill it? Since he created it, couldn’t he also dispose of it?

And of course that comes back to the pro-choice argument- my body, my choice. Of course it’s more complicated in The Prestige, because it seems like almost suicide. Which is of course, the perfect example of ‘my body, my choice’, and which is becoming legal in some places.

For suicide in general, the reason why Catholics do NOT believe it is a valid moral choice is because your life is not really your own. You DIDN’T create yourself, life is a gift loaned to you, and you are not the final arbiter of your own life or death (or anyone else’s). Obviously for many people who do commit suicide, it happened under great mental strain, sometimes brought on by a long struggle with depression. The Church entrusts those people to the Lord, knowing that HE knows. BUT we believe that where there is life there is hope, and no matter how much suffering a person is going through, life is never to be thrown away.

Which brings us to The Prestige and pre-born babies. If it was my act that caused this life to exist in the womb, then is it not my right to dispose of it as I wish? But of course, that comes from a warped idea of personhood, or seeing other persons merely as a means to some kind of end, or their value only connected to the way they affect one’s own life. The Prestige protagonist created life and destroyed life (even his own) just as if human life was any other kind of resource.

But the Catholic perspective is that there IS something different about a human life. We are not just resources. Every life is precious, valuable, whether or not it is ‘wanted’ by the co-creators, which is all parents really are. Every ugly and cruel society comes from forgetting this basic truth. Think of the Holocaust, or any other genocide, the child soldiers of Africa, sex slavery, even colonialism. It comes from the evil of forgetting the worth, the unrepeatable value of every human being, and choosing to use them, abuse them or dispose of them, according to the perceived way they affect one’s own life.
The Prestige reminded me of how common that worldview is, and how chilling.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Day I Realized I Was Old

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t mention my age to someone. Thirty-one is significant enough that it seems to warrant a great many mentions. And yet, with my lucky genes that make me look about ten years younger, I JOKE about old age, but quite comfortably feel young, dress young, and assume most people think I’m young.

But the moment of truth unhappily arrived two days ago. I was on my annual family vacation in the hills, and the mango tree of my childhood called temptingly to both my very energetic nieces.  With a loop of rope attached to a branch, a hoist up by a ten year old second cousin, and they very smoothly swung themselves on to it. They were regularly spotted perched up in the tree.

“Ah, tree-climbing is the best! I think I might try it again.” I’ve been a tree-climber from the age of five, and have spent many happy hours up a tree. I had climbed trees as an adult too, and was quite pleased with myself when other people oohed and aahed at my skill. I had climbed the selfsame mango tree not long before, I thought. Maybe a couple of years ago? Or perhaps five or six years ago? I don’t really remember, I’ve been an adult so long, the years roll into each other.

I approached the tree confidently as the children welcomed me. But something seemed wrong. I feel like the tree seemed larger than it did a few years ago. Wasn’t it supposed to work the other way round? “I’ve done this heaps of times. Piece o’ cake.” But where do I put my foot? There seemed to be no foothold anywhere close by.

My ten-year-old second cousin, a solid little boy, offered me a foothold of his looped hands. Eh, that should work. I’m pretty light. Just hold still, Mikey.

Crash! I brought him down with my tiny frame. Okay, maybe not. Now what? I gazed at the tree, not wanting to give up that easily. Perhaps I could grab the rope and swing my legs up like my niece had?
There are some things in life one just KNOWS. And I KNEW that I did not have the arm strength, body strength, or general flexibility to pull that off. I have never regularly exercised in my life, never lifted weights, and yet have managed most physical exertion fairly easily. I knew I wasn’t fit, but I never felt really UNFIT until that day. (Apart from being winded the other day after just two dances at a wedding.)

My younger brother decided to cheer me on and tell me I could do it. He just couldn’t understand my SURENESS about what I could not do. Probably because he is a mere 25 years of age. He finally gave me a hoist up. I grabbed the branch, and clung for dear life to it. “Aah! I can’t do it! I can’t do this! I’m stuck!” “Are you joking? You’re joking, right?” asked my brother. That’s the problem with regularly being over-dramatic about everything.  I assured him about my seriousness about my dilemma by continuing to scream. He finally pushed me up. Not the most graceful moment for someone who tries to avoid awkward situations.

Somehow I got my legs up. Is the same body I’ve owned my entire life? Why won’t it do what I want it to do? I enjoyed my brief moment of glory up in the tree, but couldn’t get any higher than the first fork in the branches. “Angle the camera so I look like I’m higher up!” And then of course, I had to face the descent. How bad could that be? I’m 5’4” and it was probably only a foot more than that. But once again, I was immobilized by fear. I just knew that hanging from the branch by my arms and then dropping was going to be useless because of the aforesaid lack of arm strength. But I had no option. After playing it all out in my head several times, I finally did it, scratched my hands and landed on the ground safely.

I suppose now is when I should seriously start thinking of Couch to 5k, or Zumba, or not sitting on my butt all the time. Or I could just blog about my deteriorating strength. I guess you know which option I’ve chosen today. Welcome, old age. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

What Not To Say in Confession: An Open Letter to Priests

Dear Father,

Thank you! Thank you for saying yes to Jesus, and to His call. We live in a world hungry for grace, and we receive that in the sacraments, that YOU give us.

We know that there are many Catholics who don't make it to Confession very often. Confession is one of those things that people either think is super cool, or super weird. For many of us, we understand that Jesus is giving us the great gift of speaking our sins out loud, physically and spiritually dumping them into His hands, and then receiving the free gift of forgiveness- through YOU. How cool is it that as you say the words "I absolve you of your sins...", it is really Jesus speaking through you.

I have been blessed by the grace of Confession many, many times in my life. I have often been in a pit, feeling low, lost, negative and dispirited, but after going to Confession... SOMETHING changes. There is a lightness, a new hope. Grace touches my soul. And I begin again.

However, as someone who has been to many, many Confessions over the 31 years of my existence, I've noticed some trends that I thought I would point out. I've heard the Church call for dialogue, and priests and bishops who want to hear back from the laity. So this is me responding.

So, Father, can I ask you, please, not to say or do these things?

1. "Don't be so hard on yourself." Actually I'm not being hard on myself, I just have a pretty good awareness of how I'm messing up. I'm honest. Don't mistake that for scrupulosity. Or even humility. Believe me when I say I've sinned. That's why I'm at Confession. I actually said that to a priest once. "No Father I'm not being too hard on myself. I don't even try very hard to do things differently." "Oh," he said and thought for a moment. "Well then, try harder." "Thank you!" I said, relieved. Thank you for believing me, and saying what I needed to hear.

2. "That's not really a sin." Well, the Church says it is. Or if God has asked me to do something, and I've refused him (whether it's praying for an hour every day or going for daily Mass), then that's a sin. Don't minimize or dismiss my sins because they are not the same as other people's sins. I've started preparing a little speech about why my sins are really sins because this happens so often. "Yes I knew what God was asking of me, and I chose to do something else. I had an option, it was not impossible, but I ignored the grace that Jesus offered."

3. "If you really loved Jesus, you wouldn't sin." Well, Father, I guess I don't love Jesus enough, but I'm trying. And I want to. Please don't make me feel bad about the fact that my love is imperfect and weak. Or that my sin means I don't have a relationship with Jesus, or have never had a real encounter with Him. I once quoted Saint Paul to a priest who said this- "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." (Romans 7: 18-19)

4. "Don't focus on your sins. Focus on God's love." The REASON I'm at Confession right now is BECAUSE of my sins. Yes, it is unhealthy to be constantly focussing on my own sins. However, I NEED to acknowledge the weight and ugliness of my sins in order to fully receive the mercy of God. And Confession is exactly the place to do it. I need to say them out loud, and I need to say how many times. It is so much easier just to gloss over them, or be vague about them, or rush through them. But that may not be what I need. If I don't accept how bad the bad news is, I'll never believe how good the good news is.

5. "Didn't you come for Confession just two days ago?" Yes, Father, and I messed up after that, which is why I'm back here. Similarly, "You take us priests for granted by coming so often for Confession." Jesus said seventy times seven, so I'm taking Him at His word. You get to be Jesus. That's what "in persona Christi" means. Pope Francis said "God never tires of forgiving us, it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." Father, we need to know that it's okay for us to come back EVERY time we fall. If we were not trying to change, we wouldn't be coming back to Confession.

6. "You're coming to Confession after 30 years?? How dare you?" Father, the correct response when someone comes back to Confession after years of being away is "Praise God!" If the angels are rejoicing in heaven, perhaps we humans can allow ourselves to as well. Pope Francis said, "I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best."

7. "We don't hear Confessions at this time/place." You are holding in your priestly hands a valuable treasure- the gift of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. How can you refuse to give that to those who need it? Of course, there are some times when it's just not possible. But if it IS, thank God, and make yourself available. I once made my Confession in a car at an airport parking area just before an international flight. A friend in the States who was about to get on a flight, realized she needed to go to Confession, and just happened to see a priest at a pharmacy. She approached him, and he agreed to hear her Confession. Who knows what courage it took the penitent to finally approach you? How could you risk turning this soul away from God? There is NOTHING more important, except perhaps Mass. No administration work, meeting, or meal can be more important. (IMHO :-D)

Instead, could you do/say these things?

1. Welcome the penitent with eye contact and a smile. Sinners are returning to God! Rejoice! Make them feel welcome, and at home with you. How would Jesus receive a penitent sinner? Perhaps not impersonally or in a clinical manner.

2. Tell them "Thank you for that beautiful confession." Let them truly feel like they encountered mercy.

3. Tell your parishioners "I'm available whenever you need me for Confession. Just text or call me, and we can set it up." What a beautiful gift! I know priests who do that. What a gift and witness they are!

4. Have a regular weekly time when Confession is available at the parish, and make announcements again and again so people know. Come early to daily Mass, and tell parishioners you are available for Confession. Make it easily accessible.

4. Don't rush them. Let them say everything they need to say. Ask "Anything else?" and wait. One of my friends experienced a profound conversion because a priest asked her, "Is there ANYTHING else you need to confess or talk about?" and she shared a heavy load with him... which she would never have done if he hadn't asked.

5. Um, and also allow them to say the Act of Contrition aloud. Most priests I know don't, and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to.

Also, did I say thank you? Many, many souls have experienced their deepest moments of grace and conversion in this beautiful sacrament. "With great power comes great responsibility."

I'm praying for you!


Monday, 10 April 2017

Rad-Trads, Liberals, and Finding Balance in the Catholic Church

I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post about Catholic Camps, people who identify themselves as liberals or traditionalists. My views haven't changed, but once again I've been thinking more about this topic. It seems like most Catholics fall into one or other extreme, and lose track of the holy balance God is calling us to. Why does it worry me? Because both sides can lead others astray, and both have loud voices and influence on the faith of simple uncatechized Catholics, and people joining the Church, who don't know what to think. And it seems like leaders of both extremes are leading their flocks astray.

Why I'm Concerned About RadTrads/Catholic Fundamentalists*:

Many traditionalists seem to live a life of fear and suspicion. They see the devil hiding behind everything that isn't explicitly Catholic. It seems like nothing is morally neutral to them. If it isn't explicitly for God, it is for the devil. If the Church has left something to the prudential judgment of the faithful, leaders in this movement will come up with a more black and white ruling.

Life seems to be one big death trap. They are very concerned about the truth, but often at the expense of love. Some live in the past, seeing danger in modernity. Many see the salvation of the world as inextricably tied up with beautiful liturgy, as if Jesus came to this world solely to give us a beautiful Mass. So often it seems like they are legalistic, concerned more with winning an argument than winning a soul. One of the worst trends I've seen is of Francis-bashers- so called faithful Catholics who literally consider themselves more Catholic than the Pope. There are entire websites and blogs devoted to bashing Pope Francis. Often people with this extreme worldview spend a lot of time writing and blogging and nitpicking about everything. They often see apologetics as their mission, their sole way of evangelizing. Also, they seem to be very contemptuous of liberal/progressive Christians. I've seen a LOT of name-calling, and uncharitable behaviour.

Radtrads are very suspicious of anything that sounds or looks Protestant, as if there is nothing good that can come from a non-Catholic Christian church. (We can't sing that hymn in church, a Protestant wrote it! Praise and worship? No thank you, Adoration seems more Catholic. Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? That sounds too Protestant to me.)

Strangely enough, overlapping with the radtrads are the Catholic fundamentalists, very influenced by their Protestant counterparts. Many of them are stridently pro-Trump. Like Christian fundamentalists, they are overly focussed on outward appearances, very specific rules about modesty are often found here. They send a lot of Whatsapp forwards quoting exorcists about the devil's latest way to get you (Halloween and Harry Potter), don't believe anything that the mainstream media reports, and believe everything that the conservative media or conservative commentators on FB do (even WHEN IT'S ALL IN CAPS). They also love conspiracy theories.

You often know radtrads more for what they disapprove of than what they love, and they can be hard to identify with or talk to.

Why I'm Concerned About Liberal or 'Progressive' Catholics*:

Liberals swing far far to the other extreme of radtrads. Practically everything goes (except authentic Christian doctrine). In India, we have many very liberal priests, religious, theologians, and seminaries. These are the guys teaching seminarians that the Church's perspective is just one of many perspectives to be considered. And when that foundation goes, so does everything else. Many liberal Catholics seem very angry with the Church. Down with the patriarchy, they cry! God is Father and Mother! Never mind what Jesus said. Women priests! It's only a matter of time. Yoga? Great idea! Let's build retreat houses and spiritual formation based on yoga. What are you worried about?

Liberals will rarely seriously consider that Satan is not just a concept, but a person. The only evil is ignorance, they say. And down that slippery slope they fall, some seminarians studying other religions, and joining them. The fact of new age practices leading to spiritual oppression or possession is ignored or disbelieved. The spiritual aspect of the Church's mission is all but dismissed. Our mission is to build a society of justice and peace, bring the Kingdom of God through eradication of poverty, and empowerment of women. Evangelization is a dirty word. The world needs a Kingdom of love, but we don't think they need a King. Anyway, Jesus is hidden in every religion, so really what's the point in evangelizing.

Liberals are very 'liturgically innovative' as I like to phrase it. The Mass as it is is just not good enough for them. "For the Sign of Peace, let us turn to our neighbour, take their hand, trace a cross on it and say 'Jesus loves you'." "I can't just make a sign of peace, Father?" "For the Communion Rite, we will pass the Communion bowl around, and everyone just pick up your own Communion." "Aargh, Father, liturgical abuse!!" "For the first reading, we will take a passage of St. Ignatius' writings as it is his feast." "That is NOT okay, Father!" Liberals see the half-asleep state of many Catholics, and their solution is to make the Mass 'creative', 'lively', and 'interactive'.

Liberals are a little bit obsessed with the environment. A friend of mine went on a Lenten retreat a few years ago during Holy Week. I asked her what the theme was, and she said it was all about the environment. Not sin and salvation? Not repentance? Not dying with Christ, so that we can live with Him? Nope. The environment. The culminating activity was going out and planting trees.

Liberals seem to be as contemptuous of traditionalists, as traditionalists are of them. Sometimes I think of liberals and traditionalists as opposing personality types- the type who love rules and structure and black and white, and the rebels who love pushing boundaries, and struggle with authority. Interestingly enough, I've met both liberals and traditionalists who are equally skeptical of the Charismatic renewal. Then again, I've found Charismatics who have fallen into errors of both extremes.

So how do we find balance between these two extremes?

There is just one answer: Faithfulness. Be faithful to what Jesus has already given us! Read the Catechism and the documents if you're not sure. Don't add, and don't take away. Pray, study, and be humble. Jesus loves you, and has promised to keep His Church free from error (in teaching, not in the individual morality of each of Her members). If you trust Him, trust His Church. This practically means:

1. Don't condemn practices that the Church has not condemned. However, study what the Church DOES say on the topic, and share that with others.

2. Don't support or advocate or excuse practices which the Church has specifically rejected or condemned. The Church is usually very careful about what it rejects, and has a ton of reasoning for why it does so.

3. Follow ALL of the Church's teachings and disciplines- including the ones on contraception, care for the environment, avoidance of New Age practices, care for the poor, Lenten fasts, etc. Why is THAT particular teaching important? Look it up. Don't just dismiss it because you don't think it's important.

4. Listen to what the Pope is saying, even if it's not about your pet topics, or the topics you think he SHOULD be speaking about. Ask God for the heart of one willing to be taught.

5. Be charitable with those you disagree with whether online or off. Assume the best motives, even while you patiently correct, rebuke and encourage. And stop reading blogs or watching videos that are overly negative, uncharitable or reactionary.

6. Love and treasure the truths and sacraments of the Church, but don't be scared to learn from non-Catholic Christians. Ecumenism is not a bad word.

7. Please, please don't mess with the Mass! 'The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.' General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Fix these words in your heart! The Mass is already awesome, we need to enter into that, not change it to make it something else.

8. On matters that are not clearly defined by the Church, pray and make a prudential decision for you and your family. And don't judge or condemn Catholics who made a different decision.

9. Be known as much as for your love as for your willingness to stand up for the truth.

In other words, if God has called you to be Catholic, BE CATHOLIC!

*This is not specifically about YOU. I've met many people who fit into these categories. If the cap fits, wear it. If it doesn't, pray for those whom it does.

Further Reading

The Two Most Revolutionary Verses in the Bible - Peter Kreeft

Excerpt: The strong point of conservatives is that they conserve. They are faithful. They keep the faith. They are anchored in the faith. Their weak point is that they tend to be pugnacious and angry and graceless and merciless and loveless.

The strong point of liberals is their soft heart, their compassion. Their weak point is their soft head, their lack of principles, faith, fidelity, and anchors. They are strong on mercy, but weak on justice and on objective and unchanging moral principles—strong on love but weak on truth.

The Trouble with Yoga- Catholic Answers

Excerpt: Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.

I Used to Be Anti-Harry Potter

Excerpt: As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.

The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)

Nitpicky Church Rules

Excerpt: There is grace in humility and obedience. That doesn't mean blind faith or blind obedience-just doing stuff because anyone says so. But it means taking seriously the faith I profess- I am no longer my own, I belong to Jesus. Trusting God has to mean something.

When I Get Tired of Being Catholic

Excerpt: I dream of a day when I can go to Mass and hear solid, challenging, truth-filled homilies, where our pastors are visibly 'other Christs', in their humility, wisdom and love, treating parishioners as coworkers in the Kingdom, not inferiors, where the hymns radiate beauty and lift our hearts to heaven, where parishioners are DISCIPLES first, whose love for one another is visible, who welcome the outsider with open arms, whose priority is service to the poor and mission.

Friday, 10 February 2017

What PMS is Really Like

Ugh I'm hungry. I desperately need chips. Right. Now. Why am I so hungry? And why are there no chips in the house? There is NOTHING in this house to eat!!!!! DOES EVERYBODY HATE ME? Oh let me check the date. Yes indeed, PMS it is. Or is it? Maybe this is normal me. Let's keep track through this day. Hunger? Out of proportion irritability? Unexpected tears? Check, check, check. 

(Buy stash of chips. And chocolate.)

Unexpected setbacks/interruptions occur during the day: THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING! (RAGE) Okay. Calm down. You're over reacting. But I'm MAD!!! Aaarghh!!

(Deep breaths. Send message to friends to ask them to pray for me to survive the day. Pray a dramatic psalm calling on heaven to aid me. God responds by sending unexpected chocolates.)

I can do this. It's just PMS. Just because it FEELS like everything is sad and depressing and overwhelming doesn't mean it really is. Get a grip.

(Sigh angrily/stalk past/morosely ignore anyone who has the misfortune to be in my sphere. Expletives rise to the surface of my brain again and again. Some escape.)

Okay, Sue, stop acting like a jackass. Fake it till you make it.

(Eat chips)

I'm tired. And mad. And everything feels vaguely depressing. I should sleep. But I'm depressed so I can't. I know, I'll look at Facebook. Again. People I may know.. Who the heck are these people? Why do they look so boring? Why do most Indians have such terrible profile pics? OHMYGOD why does this idiot have those dog ears and nose? What the heck is wrong with these people? Facebook is SO boring!!!

(Eat chocolate)

Friend texts to ask if I want to go for a walk. Ugh. I just can't. I can't do anything.

I hate my life. Only I don't. This is PMS speaking. Don't forget!!! I don't know what to do. Maybe I'll just lie in bed and check Facebook again. OHMYGOD WHY IS MY PHONE RINGING??!!

(Answer phone and pretend to act like a normal human being.)

(Eat more chocolate.)

Watching 'About Time' (time travel rom-com): This makes no sense! So many plot holes. But oh.. (tears) it's about valuing each day because each moment is precious especially when you have a sweet little family of your own.. Which I don't.. (INTJ brain intrudes) although you're probably so sleep-deprived when you have babies that it's hard to appreciate how precious each moment is, so I guess I'm not missing that much.. Plus I do have a family.. BUT DO I REALIZE HOW PRECIOUS EVERY MOMENT IS WITH MY PARENTS NO I DON'T WASTING THIS PRECIOUS LIFE. Ugh get some sleep, Sue.

(Go to sleep late because I'm mad and sad, and repeat the next day.)

Thank God this only happens once a month.

[Okay this is slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect. But not that much. Some people think this is a private topic. But I think this is an act of service to men everywhere (and women who don't get it like this.) We don't really hate you. It's just PMS.]

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Trump, Internet Wars, and Things Falling Apart

Years ago I had to read a book called 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe, which I actually don't remember at all except for the title, and a little bit of the poem that the title came from: The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I feel a bit like that today. Is Trump really the president of the United States of America? Are there really people who think he's basically a good guy with bad press, and is going to make everything better? Are there really people who think all Muslims are potential terrorists, that the risk of terrorists or drug peddlers justifies turning away homeless and desperate refugees? Yes, I know some of those people.

But then can it still be possible that there are people who deny the personhood of an unborn baby, and think anyone who is anti-abortion must be anti-women? People who think the burden of nine months of pregnancy is too much to expect any woman to HAVE to pay in exchange for the life of a baby? People who think you can criminalize those who commit infanticide, but not those who perform abortions? Yes, I know some of those people.

And yet, when I go online and start reading people's feelings and thoughts and opinions and stories, and follow Internet wars on different issues, things can seem blurry. Sometimes it just makes me think everyone is crazy, especially when I read comments (the dregs of the Internet). But often it gives me empathy- I can understand why people believe those things. Often out of fear, insecurity, and from buying into strident angry memes, blogs and articles. Out of a particular belief so strong that everything else seems unimportant, or a distraction. Or out of an emotional reaction to a bad experience from their own past. Or often out of an unwillingness to judge, or fear of identifying with fringe elements. And very likely (maybe subconsciously) out of a need to seem politically-correct to your world, to 'your' people, the team you identify with. Our view of how people perceive us can influence so much.

So then is nothing true? Or is everything? When the people you identify with fail you, or seem to have blind spots, and the people on the other side have good points, even while stridently rejecting truths you believe in, whom can you trust? How can you live with this constant stream of argument, debate, invective, and varying perspectives on EVERY possible issue? What can you hold on to when everything and everyone seems to be going crazy?

1. You could dig in your heels, go with the dehumanizing of every perspective that is not your team's perspective, and mock or demonize the other side mercilessly. (I don't recommend this.)

2. You could read as much as you can, and make up your mind on every issue. But this is exhausting, and you could still be wrong. You're limited, and you could very likely be wrong- plenty of people must be.

3. You could ignore everything that makes you uncomfortable, say it doesn't affect you, and lose yourself in one of the many forms of escape our world provides- hours of  TV shows, or Dota, or food, or career goals, or making more money, or spending more money, or playing or watching sports. There's something for everyone.

4. You could pick ONE principle by which you measure all opinions, perspectives, beliefs, and actions, and not only choose where you stand on that issue based on the ONE principle, but live your life according to that ONE principle.

I choose the fourth way (even though imperfectly), and the ONE principle I choose is LOVE. But how do I guard against counterfeit versions of love? One could say all they live by is love, when they mean the warm but fleeting feeling they get that could lead them to pet a puppy, but condone infidelity, perform a random act of kindness, but go back to a selfish, materialistic lifestyle. How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to support gay marriage, or defend the truth that every child needs a mother and a father? How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to tell women with crisis pregnancies to consider abortion, or to warn them about how traumatic abortions can be for them, that they are already mothers, and that you will love and support them through pregnancy, and after the baby is born too?

There is an answer. Love is not just a principle, but a Person. He has a name and a face. He is both Love and Truth. Because those two things go together. Love without truth isn't love, and truth without love isn't truth. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a great piece 'Good People, Bad People, Truth and Lies':

Without God — or, to phrase it another way, without objective truth — we are sailors without a compass, trying to rely on gut instinct to navigate troubled waters. It might work out some of the time, as is evidenced by the number of nonbelievers who are indeed “good people” most of the time. But it leaves us vulnerable to the legion forces that try to steer us off course, and it makes it almost impossible to weather a great storm. If we don’t know the truth about who we are, why we’re here, where we came from and where we’re going, we’re on shaky ground to begin with; and when we deny the existence of objective truth on matters of what is good and bad, what is right or wrong, we lose control of our own lives. [Read the rest here.]

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17


Everything is falling apart- families, nations, morality, political systems, our sense of security, and peace of mind. Nobody can say that our world is doing well. But I believe that if we cling to Him, cling to love; hold on to Him, hold on to love; if we regularly evaluate and change our lives and our beliefs by holding them up to His standards, then in the midst of the craziness, we're going to be okay. Because only the things done for love and in Love will survive. Everything else WILL pass away. Trump will pass away. Everything we build our lives on, consider valuable, argue about, and fight for will pass away. Except love. It is only when we lose touch with God, that it's easy to lose touch with truth, and often with love.

So that means taking time off from the constant stream of news and opinions on the Internet and TV to BE with the One who is Love. When's the last time you were really quiet? No phone, no Facebook scrolling, no taking in of new information? Choosing to know Him means choosing the silence of prayer each morning. It means allowing Him to calm my mind, and to give me clarity and courage and love. It means choosing love in my daily interactions with the people around me. It means speaking the truth at the right time, even strongly and passionately, but ALWAYS lovingly and courteously.

Love does win in the end. In the meanwhile, let's keep fighting the good fight.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dr. Beth on the Chronic Singleness Disorder

Dr. Beth, 8 (pad and pen in hand): Can you tell me your name and the sickness that you have?

Me: My name is Humility and I suffer from chronic singleness. What can you do for me, Dr. Beth?

Dr. Beth: Well.. I need to ask you. When you watch shows about couples, do you feel sad for yourself, or good for the other person?

Me: I feel good for them, but I also feel bad for myself.

Dr. Beth: Hmm, okay well, I see... I think that's a little... what do you feel more?

Me: Depends on the time of the month.

Dr. Beth (looks confused): Huh?

Me: Never mind. Moving on. What can you do to help me with this problem of chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: (places a finger on her lips thoughtfully) Well.. (succumbs to a fit of giggles)

Me: Keep going.

Dr. Beth: Okay. I have.. I have sent you, well, not sent you, I am going to put you into a volunteer school to teach kids.

Me: Okay... but what's this got to do with...

Dr. Beth: You'll be working with another teacher..

Me: Oh!

Dr. Beth stops and stares at me, smiling suspiciously.

Me: What's this got to do with my chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: You'd have to be come friends with the teacher.

Me: Uh huh? Tell me more.

Dr. Beth: (Big smile) He's a male.

Me: Oh, is that a fact?

Dr. Beth: (nodding and smiling self-consciously) Yes.

Me: Is he a good Catholic?

Dr. Beth nods yes.

Me: Does he love the Lord?

Dr. Beth: He's a volunteer!

Me: Oh. Okay. Where do we go from here? Why is he still single? How come there's not a lot of girls already trying to marry him?

Dr. Beth: (shrugs) They don't really care.

Me: Is he not really nice?

Dr. Beth: He's nice! Some girls just don't see it in him. Coz they treat him badly. He's been encountering lots of girls which have been mean to him. But (big smile) I don't think you'll be mean.

Me: Uh.. nooo.

Dr. Beth: So that's why I'm putting friends with him.. with you. So.. well.. um.. yeah..

Me: I thought you had a different plan which involved lots of possible guys.

Dr. Beth: No. Well.. there's a website. And you just told me you wanted to pick someone from a whole guy.. line of guys..

Me: No! What? I didn't say that!

Dr. Beth: Then?

Me: I want to meet them, not just pick them from a website!

Dr. Beth: Ok. So um I'm going to order some guys.. not order but ask them to come here.

Me: How do you find them? I still don't understand that part.

Dr. Beth: It's a website, dear.

Me: How come? There's so many nice girls out there. How come they haven't met any of those nice girls?

Dr. Beth: (Shrugs) I dunno. How am I supposed to know other persons' personalities?

Me: Tell me about that whole personality thing. You were telling me something about personalities. Like, that's how you found them?

Dr. Beth: What?

Me: You said something like you checked my personality and then you checked their personality...?

Dr. Beth: Yes. (Picks up Mother Teresa peg doll) Mother Teresa here, she put everything on my... (pause) something that you put into the computer, and it helps.

Me: Like a USB?

Dr. Beth: Huh?

Me: Like a flashdrive?

Dr. Beth: Yeah, a flashdrive. So, uh, it stores everything, and then I have a website, everyone has their website, of um, Look For Me. The website is called Look For Me. (Big smile, pleased with herself.)

Me: Really? Lookformedotcom?

Dr. Beth: Yes! Have you looked at it?

Me: I have not looked at it as yet.

Dr. Beth: I'll download it for you. So Mother Teresa here has downloaded all your information, just by kissing you on the cheek.

Me: Wow. Impressive.

Dr. Beth: I know. She's very cool. Thank you. Yes. So, as I was saying, you will need to... (long pause)

Me: That's it?

Dr. Beth: You'll have to come to me tomorrow at 2.

Me: Thank you.