Monday, April 8, 2019

TRH on Catholic Normalcy No. 3: Starting a Family

by Dan Masterton

In an underrated later episode of The Simpsons, Homer almost converts to Catholicism. Bart gets expelled from public school, so his parents place him in Catholic school, which is a more affordable private school option that comes with great discipline (delivered by stereotypical Irish nun and priest). Homer goes in intending to scold the priest, but instead, he is quickly wooed by a pancake dinner, a bingo night full of prizes, and the opportunity for a clean slate through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

When he returns home, Marge suspects something, saying, “You’ve been out all night and you look like you’ve accepted someone as your personal something.” Homer admits he’s been at the Catholic church and likes what he found. Marge hears him out a bit, but she’s still mad about the incense at a recent Catholic wedding that ruined her pantsuit -- she swears she won’t be having another twelve kids. Homer reassures her he only means ten, tops, and slides her a pamphlet: Plop ‘til You Drop.

This is the low-hanging fruit of Catholic stereotypes. We are the faith that is simultaneously lampooned for being prudish and backwards with sex while also being prolific in having children (which, according to science, is the result of having sex). Chalk it up there with the Christological controversy at Chalcedon as one of the great paradoxes of our faith.

I am happily married to my beautiful, loving wife, Katherine. We were married when I was 26 and she was 24; our first child was born when I was 28 and she was 26. To us, that felt normal and just about the right timing; peculiarly, many people remarked that we were young, even though we didn’t feel like we were.

We have had and continue to have a strong relationship and have effectively practiced Natural Family Planning according to the Creighton Model, which has naturally spaced our pregnancies right in line with our mutually discerned intentions. Now, with a two-year-old daughter and the hope and desire for more children, we’re living the increasingly full rigors of family life -- weathering the lean, late nights and reveling in the joy-filled good times.

But all of this wouldn’t be considered normal by most people, and I don’t just mean by non-Catholics or non-believers but by many fellow Catholics, too. Married at 24? Just enjoy your 20s and “settle down” later after you figure more of this out. Using NFP? Why do that outdated, unscientific stuff when birth control is available. Kids before 30? Get some more time and money under your belt first. Maybe some people would jump into these adventures similarly to how we did, particularly if their situations were different, but we certainly feel more like oddballs then mainstreamers. Why do all of this?

I was eager to start a family. My heart told me that waiting until we had more money, less student debt, a bigger home, etc. was attractive but perhaps not all it’s cracked up to be. Having entered a career with minimal earning power, and knowing what Katherine’s earning power would be following her terminal degree, I knew it’d get better financially, but not earth-shatteringly so. To me, my (our) youth, health, and energy were the greatest assets, more than any house, minivan/second car, suburban forever house, or other thing could ever be. Let’s invest that into starting a family now.

I knew we could bootstrap it as needed through our kids’ childhood, be smart and tactful as they grew up, and do our best to save toward our home, our kids’ education costs, and our retirement as we could along the way. The latter invited fidelity and humility while the former path felt abstract and potentially indefinite or even endless; the goalposts for “readiness” just felt like they could be moved and adjusted over and over again forever. Meanwhile, I wanted to invest my late 20s and 30s into my kids’ early years. I knew I could crawl and climb and carry with greater ease and trade the liberty of twenty-something life for the potential of an empty nest and grown kids to visit in my 50s. And ironically, having to discern all this through the constant reevaluation of NFP rather than the less complex equation of artificial birth control only affirmed the ideas we considered; the process can be challenging, but the open, regular dialogue has been a backbone of our marriage.

At its core, I simply felt called to fatherhood -- and not in general, not later, not sometime. Part and parcel of my discernment of marriage to Katherine and with Katherine was having kids and raising them with her. We both knew that the fullest sense of who we were made to be was waiting in our family, where we felt the ways we loved each other would be drawn even more strongly outward from us through our children. In fact, one of the handful of reasons I liked the name Lucy for our first child was that Katherine thought -- and I agreed -- that she’d come into her own as she became a mother, and the name Lucy shares root words with light, i.e. she is the light that brings who Katherine (and me) more fully to who she was made to be.

On a wider scale, I’m very ok with a mess. I’m a minimalist, kind of anti-materialistic, and very ok with hodge-podge, beat-up, mismatched, used, repurposed, resourceful stuff. This comes from my not-quite-desert-ascetic but definitely Catholic spirituality. So when it comes to family life, I don’t need everything to be “ready.” Yes, I want a safe, secure, healthy family life. No, I do not need pristinely painted walls, matching new furniture, or frequent professional photo shoots, etc. (though, occasional photo shoots for sure). Give me Lucy’s used end table from the letgo app; give me wall art, pillows, and curtains handmade by Katherine and friends for the nursery/bedroom; give me my grandma’s old sitting chair from her living room.

Basically, give me a mess. I’m good with the mess. I enjoy the mess. Two kids will make it crazier? Let’s go. God wired me to be a multi-track thinker; it certainly makes contemplative spiritual life tricky, but it puts family management in my wheelhouse. I can think through the household chores as I wind Lucy down for a nap, so that I can get clothes to the washer, pay the bills, move clothes to the dryer, do some dinner prep, catch up on some writing and editing, retrieve and fold the laundry, and then get some milk and a snack for Lucy as she wakes up. Thank God I’m 30 as I take a bite out of this life. It’s uniquely tasty.

But when you zoom out on our social life, looking to our close proximity, most of our similar-aged friends and family are on different tracks. We have friends whose early adult lives were or are stacked up with graduate studies, medical school and residency, moves for career and school, moves for relationship discernment, assertive career pursuits and paths, and more. Looking at about our 15 closest friends and family members/couples in Chicago, two-thirds are married or engaged to be married soon, and only three have kids. The interesting thing is that almost all of these people are faithful, mass-going Catholics -- so this trend of delaying marriage and family (whether personally chosen or thrust upon them circumstantially) or not pursuing one or both at all isn’t just outside the Church but within it, too.

As a result, despite my personal vocational security, I often find myself frustrated. Why are we so often on an island with our daughter? Our friends are wonderfully loving and patient with her, but why don’t they have kids of their own yet so they can all play together? I don’t linger long on accusatory angst over differences of disposition; instead, reality pulls me back to earth with reminders of what people without kids may be facing or thinking -- infertility or trouble conceiving and sustaining a pregnancy, career challenges and discernment, personal issues with physical or mental health, interpersonal marital challenges, and Lord knows what else.

I always hope our marriage and attempt at parenthood is an accessible, realistic, gritty example for our friends and family. And most of all, I hope others would be comfortable inviting us to accompany them through any and all of their discernment, whether thick or thin. Ultimately, I try to live my marriage and family like I live my faith according to an old “garden analogy” -- if I tend to my faith and my family and my marriage with diligence, and if my garden blooms and grows in beautiful ways that others can witness, then I hope others would see it and ask me about it.

* * *

One of the realities any couple has to face is that falling completely in love with someone means both that they will love you profoundly and that they will hurt you profoundly. Deepest love can only be given and received with authentic vulnerability. By opening oneself wholly to another, one also becomes vulnerable to potential hurt.

Love perfects as a decision, and making the decision to love your significant other invites the possibility of serious hurt as well as amazing, joyful love. It’s a reality we embrace as we dig into the depth of marital love. I would offer that this same reality is true of having, raising, and loving children. It should be a decision integral to the marriage, and it should be a decision of love, which inevitably makes one vulnerable to both pain and joy. My daughter drives me up the gosh dang wall when she obstinately refuses things we ask, when she is selfish and won’t share, when she’s inconsolably awake in the middle of the night, and more; my daughter also brings my heart its greatest consolation when she spontaneously gives hugs and kisses, when she learns new words to express herself (current highlights: “thank you” and “ta-da!”), when I witness her learning in real time, and much more.

If you have the courage to say before God and the Church that you commit yourself to marriage, then that same love that binds you and your spouse can flow forth from you to your future children. The light of our faith shines through the Sacrament of Marriage on into our weary parental hearts and conveys the Love of God forward from parents on to kids.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 04/04/19

by Dan Masterton

"American Mothers are Trying Harder Than Ever–So Why Do We Feel Like We’re Failing?" by Elizabeth Tenety via Motherly

This is a great examination of the palpable challenges for mothers, and for parenting and starting/raising a family more broadly as well. I knew that managing our lives would be wholly different and decidedly more complex once we had kids; I did not have a way to know the degree to which that would be true. I am immensely grateful for my twelve weeks of paternity leave, and I cherish that we chose to take our leaves together. It kills me that so many go without this benefit, and I feel like (hope!) the social tides are turning in a positive direction here.

"Pete Buttigieg on faith, his marriage and Mike Pence" by Fr. Edward Beck via CNN

I gotta say Mayor Pete is my early favorite in this crowded Democratic field (I also like the intelligence and pragmatism of Andrew Yang, the thoughtfulness and authenticity of Julián Castro, and a few other bits). I read his memoir, and I've found his interviews and appearances to be heavy on integrity, consensus solutions, and practical approaches. Additionally, his religious attitude is refreshing. He's a I-just-live-my-faith sort of guy who just likes being a church-going Christian. That's a plus. What's troubling are the beginnings of unattractive answers on abortion (say it ain't so, Pete!) when I'm just looking for someone who moderates their pro-choice positions. Overall, Mayor Pete remains exciting and intriguing. Check him out.

"When Joe Biden Voted to Let States Overturn Roe v. Wade" by Lisa Lerer via NYTimes

I don't mean to make these links heavy on politics, and especially don't mean to hit you with two abortion-heavy links. However, I wanted to include this interesting history on Senator Biden's policy positions. It shows the way a thoughtful, earnest guy tries to wrestle with a difficult issue. I certainly don't agree with the way he proceeded in all of this, but the article profiles the process and the evolution thoroughly.

"Just One Game" by Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation

Finally, another sports thing! Sportssportssports! One of my favorite sports writers out there is technically a blogger but approaches his craft with such thoughtfulness, nuance, and deliberate contextualization that he's better than a lot of the bigwigs. Here, Brett reflects on the realities of Opening Day and being a fan at the start of a season with high expectations for a good team. We will inevitably overreact (just as we are) and get disproportionately upset -- we shouldn't dismiss that, but there's also danger in going so extreme. Brett brings his usual carefulness to help get us grounded for another 162-game season.

Monday, April 1, 2019

TRH on Catholic Normalcy No. 2: Primary Priorities

by Tim Kirchoff

I’d like take a break from my colleagues’ discussions of family life and Christian vocation to talk about something far more worthwhile: politics. More specifically, the primary season is (already!) beginning, and candidates for every level of office are looking to build momentum.

If nothing else, the 2016 election proved how much primaries matter. The awful choice with which we were confronted in the voting booth in November was the result of a lengthy series of primaries in which candidates, party officials, media personalities, and voters all made decisions that contributed in some way to the result. Trump’s fixation on building a wall was not inevitable, nor was Trump’s nomination, or Clinton’s. If we are conscientious in the way we approach the 2020 primary season, we may be able to make a much more satisfying decision next November, or if we fail in 2020 as we did in 2016, at least we will have dared something different.

As Catholics, we are not politically unified. Many of us are more likely to argue with fellow Catholics over partisan politics than we are to argue with members of our respective parties about moral policies. We focus more on justifying our voting patterns and partisan affiliations than actually influencing our parties for the better. We are sycophants when we ought to be prophets, representing our respective parties within the Church more than the Church in our political parties.

What would happen if, for just one year, we reversed this dynamic? Instead of trying to change someone’s mind (or even just convince ourselves) about the merits of one party or candidate, let’s challenge our parties to be worthy of the support they demand of us.

I have in mind one issue for each major party—one subject on which the party orthodoxy is so willfully morally blind that even the slightest challenge to it would be noteworthy and ever-so-welcome.


The administration’s family separation policy was, from the very start, a moral travesty, and the depth of this policy’s turpitude has only become more apparent with time. The administration, with other viable policy alternatives, decided to detain children separately from their parents before their asylum hearings. These children were traumatized and maltreated, apparently with few or even no considerations made as to how they might be reunited with their parents afterward. All of this was done, rather transparently, in order to try to scare people away from applying for asylum. That is, people who were trying to enter America legally were subjected to needless and deliberate cruelty in order to dissuade people from attempting to enter through this entirely legal method.

Catholics who lean Republican must not hide from this awful truth. The Republican Party needs to understand the intentions and effects of this policy. If you’re a Catholic who leans Republican, talk to your politically-active friends about the family separation policy. They should be willing to agree that any reasonable person would be entirely justified in regarding the administration’s policy as deliberately cruel, and that "never seeing your children again" is.


The board members of Democrats for Life of America have been quite vocal lately. Charles Camosy recently suggested that there is room in the Democratic presidential primary field for a pro-life candidate. I confess I see a great deal of appeal in the idea of a pro-life democrat like the governor of Louisiana stepping forward and showing just how much of the Democratic Party is in fact open to a pro-life candidate, regardless of whether they end up winning the nomination.

Here, though, I want to focus on what the laity can accomplish on the ground, as opposed to actions that depend entirely on the decisions of politicians. Michael Wear’s recent essay in The Atlantic offers insights that are more immediately relevant.1
“There is no sense that anti-abortion Republicans are influenced by the stories of women like Dr. Jen Gunter or Erika Christensen. There is no sense that pro-choice Democrats are aware of sincere pro-life Americans, or take seriously the claim that abortion is an attack on the very human dignity Democrats rightly invoke (and, yes, many anti-abortion Republicans ignore) when discussing immigration, poverty, or human rights. Now our politics are only for the absolutists, those who deny any place for doubt or humility. 
[…] I have spoken with women who work at pro-life pregnancy clinics who condemn any language that shames women or increases the moral burden women feel. They work with pregnant women who are facing immense pressures and seemingly impossible situations every day, and approach the issue of abortion with compassion, not callousness.”
What I would like to see from the Democratic side is a repudiation of the talking points that denigrate pro-lifers, either by pretending that pro-life pregnancy clinics don’t exist, or by pretending that these clinics exist only to shame and coerce women into giving birth. The truth is that the people most involved in the pro-life cause are working not to deny women a choice, but to empower them and give them the necessary resources (financial and otherwise) to recognize that abortion is not their only option.

Speak to your Democratic friends about the good work done by pro-life activists. Praise pro-lifers, and let your friends in the Democratic Party know that the single best way for a presidential candidate to get your attention would be to acknowledge the pro-life movement in good faith.

* * *

The biggest obstacle, which I have thus far ignored, is that many Catholic Republicans will be inclined to think of the family separation issue as something that was fabricated or, at best, exaggerated by biased media, and many Catholic Democrats have a view of the pro-life movement that is colored by the worst elements of the movement. Catholic partisans will not be in a position to argue what I suggest above, because too few of them will even be prepared to believe the argument in the first place. Catholics on both sides are more prepared to believe partisan sources than members of their own Church.

The bishops, for all their faults in moral leadership, can at least offer us an example here. The bishops have different interests and areas of activism, but they fundamentally trust -- or at least do not eagerly contradict -- USCCB committees on other issues. The bishops trust each other on abortion, immigration, and the environment more than they trust partisan sources.

We in the laity, meanwhile, have very little trust in each other. In losing trust in each other, we lose the ability to witness to the whole of the Gospel. We have become too much part of our parties, too defined by the dominant political culture, rather than living out our vocations in the different parts of the political spectrum. Catholics on the right aren't sufficiently familiar with the Church's involvement in serving immigrants, much less engaging in solidarity with immigrants. Catholics on the Left repeat tired lines about abortion opponents as being merely "pro-birth," and in the worst cases issue barely a whimper in defense of the unborn,2 so far divorced are they from the realities of pro-life activism.We need to pursue at least some small ways that we can renew trust in each other.

1 Also the author of a book that helped radically change the way this long-time Republican thinks about politics and the Obama administration.

2 Michael Sean Winters makes this case rather well here.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 03/28/19

by Dan Masterton

Almost halfway through Lent! Hope your resolve in good and strong, and your temptations remain a welcome invitation to Lenten prayer. My fast from alcohol has been enjoyable and refreshing while my daily caffeine limit has come with its struggles. I appreciate the chance for intentionality and feel like its been a good rooting in moments of prayer.

On to some links!

"Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good" by Nellie Bowles via the NYTimes

This is fascinating. There's ton of interesting trends identified and analyzed in here, not least among them the flip in perception of technology. Whereas previously, technology was seen as a signifier of wealth and advantage, it's now often felt to be that a lack of technology indicates one's freedom to choose. This is a great taking-of-stock for where we're at with processing technology.

"E.U. Sets Standard With Ban on Single-Use Plastics by 2021" by Hillary Leung via Time

Per usual, the US will lag behind other places that are more willing to acknowledge human agency in ruining the earth. Capitalism has its benefits, but ecological and environmental concerns are not given much weight when it comes to making money. Kudos to the EU for this first step and a continued emphasis on polluter-pays. Hopefully, they see success while not sacrificing much economically and more places in the US will follow and put pressure on the federal standards here. Hopefully, people with disabilities, young kids, and others who depend on straws can gravitate to alternative reusable options.

"How Theo Epstein has changed from Boston to Chicago" by Jesse Rogers via ESPNChicago

Let me sneak a sports story in here. Theo Epstein is the President of Baseball Operations for my favorite team the Chicago Cubs, meaning he oversees all executives involved with personnel, player development, etc. He is lauded within the industry and in other sectors for his leadership style, which is founded on communication, transparency, and getting ahead of the curves. Here, this profile talks about how he's matured since getting his first big job in his late 20's, inviting the influence of being a husband and dad into his work philosophies and taking a different approach to how he manages people and his role. Cool read.

"Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)" by Daniel Burke via CNN

This one is a cool study in modern religion. It covers a lot of neat angles into the Church of LDS, from religious leadership to prophecy to semantics and more. This religion has long been fascinating to me for their claims of new revelation, their unique cosmology, their differing practices, and most of all, their excellent strong family life. This article is sort of a where-things-are-at report that digs into some of the current developments.

"Pope Francis ring-kissing controversy draws confusion over the long-standing tradition" by Christopher White via Washington Post

I'm not real into this controversy, as it's sort of just a way to fight a culture war within the Church. However, this article and this journalist do a solid job of laying the groundwork for why this is a tradition and how Francis is handling it. Regardless of what you think or don't think, this is a solid read if you just want to become more informed surrounding this issue.

Monday, March 25, 2019

TRH on Catholic Normalcy No. 1: Achievement and Success

by Laura Flanagan

The Restless Hearts have been reflecting a little on how “normal” a Catholic can and should be, and how countercultural our faith challenges us to be. I think it’s always a valuable start to look to Mary, model of the Church. In a homily from earlier this year, Fr. Hugh Barbour describes Mary as “a perfectly normal woman with perfectly normal human sensibilities and manners who also possesses the knowledge and the power of a hidden mystery that utterly outstrips any normal human expectations.”1

The lack of knowledge of this hidden mystery seems to me to be the saddest aspect of the recent bizarre (and yet unsurprising) college admissions scandal. Whatever the cost to their integrity, whatever the desires of their children, whatever the impact on other prospective admits - the only acceptable path forward for these people’s children was admission to a certain level of university.

This secret network of privilege brought to mind a fictional example; a few months ago I ended up reading Emily Giffin’s recent pop fiction contribution, All We Ever Wanted. Brace yourself for spoilers ahead.

At the beginning of the book, a photo surfaces of the wealthy main character’s son sexually assaulting a fellow student at their prestigious high school. The mother begins to wonders how they must have formed their son that he would choose to behave so despicably. The events of the book primarily spiral from that self-reflection.

Her husband and best friend (whose son was also involved), ostracize and undercut her when she doesn’t seem totally on board with doing everything possible to erase the crime. They both recognize her internal conflict and see it as dangerous to their “saving” the boys from the ramifications of their actions, which will no doubt echo through their lives. Meanwhile, she forms a motherly relationship with the girl victimized by her son. Eventually, she leaves her son to the consequences as a final act of re-formation, while letting him know that she still loves and always will love him. Several years later, the young man tells the young woman: “She saved me.”

The book is obviously meant to bring up the issue of privileged families using all their resources to protect their own from what would ordinarily change the entire course of a less privileged person’s life. If your god is prestige or wealth, as it seemed to be for the families caught up in this college admissions scandal, these are the lengths it makes sense to go to, if you can. This masquerades as “the best possible life for my child.”

The best possible life for your child is one in which they really know the hidden mystery that Mary knew: that God’s humility and love for us overflows, and He calls us to imitate him. When that mystery is the foundation of everything for which your child strives, and focuses how they respond to whatever may come - that’s when they’ve succeeded.

So what actions should set apart the Christian from the non-Christian? How are those of us still in the Church any different from the growing number of “nones” in the country, those with no religious affiliation at all?

People often take the same action with differing motivations. Why would someone support an abuse survivor and value justice for perpetrators, even when the victim is unknown to you and the offender is your own son?

Giffin’s protagonist was a sexual assault victim in college. She sees herself in the victim, and attempts to value this girl in the way that no one had helped her. Others, with no personal experience of that particular sin, see acknowledgement of and justice for assault as necessary in forming everyone - including the perpetrator - in valuing a humanist view of human dignity.

Each of those previous two people show a partial knowledge of the hidden mystery. Catholics take this action because of God’s complete revelation of the human person - created in the image of God, beloved by Him even unto death, not to be abused by the desire and power of the strong and the privileged. That’s a far stronger image than the humanist view. And then we have to say that’s why we did it, when asked.

Towards the end of her life, Dorothy Day said, "If I have accomplished anything in my life, it is because I wasn't embarrassed to talk about God." A Catholic mother in Giffin’s fictional situation might also choose to allow her son to meet the justice system. She might humbly admit her failure in formation (although perhaps not publicly, as that could harden him, and may be more virtue signaling than ongoing virtue formation). She might state her hope that these repercussions would correct the course of entitlement and self-involvement that led to this terrible sin. She would pray that her son would allow Christ into his heart to change it. Such sins are an opportunity for the spiritual work of mercy, “admonish the sinner” - and that work of mercy goes directly against the gospel of prestige and wealth.

What do you do with success if you do come by it honestly?

I enjoy hearing about the family of long-time NFL quarterback Philip Rivers. He lives fairly modestly with his wife and kids, of which there are nine on the outside as of last Wednesday. He did spend a chunk of his ample earnings on a custom SUV and driver so he can watch film on his commute... thus making the most of his drive time and fulfilling his obligations both to his work and his family.

The ultimate holiness of a family is not reducible to whether they put time with each other first, or whether they practice NFP. However, from the distance that I and many others “know” the Rivers family, they seem to be joyful and stable, while honoring their commitments. That witness can go a long way, and Philip Rivers seems to be “always ready to give a reason for his hope,” as the first letter of Peter advises.2

The peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, can be very starkly juxtaposed with the current parental and child levels of anxiety about achievement. One of the reasons people often give for not having more children is that they feel they won’t be able to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to their academic/social success. Meanwhile, parents of four or more children generally have lower stress levels than those of two or three.3 Parents of children with Down Syndrome also have less stress than most parents.4 What sounds most like the peace of Christ?

Some people will see what those with that peace are achieving, but honestly some of us might turn out to be a “waste” in the sight of the world. I’m certainly wasting the full earning potential of my college pedigree. Whether or not my parents are disappointed by that fact is based on why they thought I should go to college, and in particular Notre Dame.

St. Edmund Campion is a great example of this “waste.” He was a celebrity-level academic, and was primed for an illustrious career in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. Instead, he stumbled across some cold hard truth while reading the Church Fathers, became Catholic, fled the country, was ordained a priest, returned to minister to England’s Catholics in secret, and was martyred for doing that. His promise and talent were never actualized… or were they?

If you want your kids to go to certain school because it will form them in truth and in mercy, go for it. I think my life and maybe my priorities would be a lot different if I hadn’t attended Notre Dame, but I can’t be sure about that. Obviously, though, you wouldn’t cheat to get them into that school. If your child wasn’t admitted, you would pray - perhaps together! - and take God’s redirection.

If your highest goal for yourself or your child is sanctity, and not money/the best college/the most experiences, you don't have to be so stressed over those things (or pay money to get your pretend-coxswain into USC). While sainthood is hard work, anyone can do it. That’s the hidden mystery Mary knew - even (and especially) the lowliest handmaiden could magnify the greatness of the Lord. The rest of our worldly success is gravy and gift.

1 Here's the link. The emphasis above is mine.

2 Here's a secular primer on the Rivers family, and an extended interview where he talks about his faith in real life.

3 See this story from

4 This article, too.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 03/21/19

by Dan Masterton

This past Sunday to Tuesday, I directed a three-day Kairos for my students, the 15th one I've been a part of. It's a well-crafted distillation of the Spiritual Exercises, pedagogically adapted for teenagers to engage in an intensive multi-day/overnight retreat. The exposure teens gain to the power of trust, vulnerability, and companionship gives them potent experience of God's love moving in their community. It's a must for any teen, whether through their Catholic high school, their parish or local community, or perhaps even in college.

That said, my leisure reading was a bit constrained this week.

"San Quentin’s chaplain: California’s death penalty moratorium has given us hope" by George Williams via America Magazine

Recently, California's governor issued an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty. This effectively pulled hundreds of prisoners off death row in California, which had the largest death row population of any United State. This article goes inside California's biggest prison, where these prisoners do their time. One of the many great details provided by this chaplain is the first-hand experience of prison personnel dismantling the execution apparatuses -- what a powerful action, especially when juxtaposed with the grim "work" of execution prison-workers have too often done in the past.

"Trash, permit violations and mud: why some Chicagoans hate ‘Windy City Rehab’" by Stephanie Zimmermann, Mitch Dudek and Matthew Hendrickson via the Chicago Sun-Times

My wife, Katherine, and I have taken to watching this show, not because we love house-hunter shows and can't get enough of them (we definitely can get enough) but because the idea that these flips took place at disclosed addresses we know well from our years living in the city. As we watched though, what bothered us more than the personality of the host was the fashion by which she worked -- all high-end, all high-margin, all well into the million-dollar range. Of course, she's capitalistically out for profit, but she often talks about history, story, and artifiact objects with a romance that doesn't match her profit-driven work. This article features excellent reporting that discusses the impact of expensive flips that drive up home prices, conversions that turn multi-flats into single-family homes, and more. It's fantastic journalism.

"New Year Ushers in Excitement for Cristo Rey St. Viator Las Vegas" via the Viatorian Community

This is a total homer move by me, an alum of St. Viator High School. My fave religious community has been working hard over the last few years to move from ideas and a feasibility study to the concrete, brick-and-mortar building of a new Cristo Rey Network school. I would argue, and have, that Cristo Rey secondary education is the most effective concrete thing that the Church is doing to serve and accompany socioeconomically marginalized populations. It's awesome to see my beloved priests and brothers shepherding this important work into reality and growing the network of this exceptional ministry.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 03/14/19

by Dan Masterton

"Raising three kids is organized chaos. Here’s why I’m having a fourth." by Liz Tenety via the Washington Post

When Jim Gaffigan and his wife had their fourth child, he described it this way: “You know what it’s like having a fourth kid? Imagine you’re drowning, then someone hands you a baby.” (They have five kids now.) In this reflection, the author talks through the realities of having lots of children and tries to defuse some of the side-eye and skepticism that parents can evoke. Personally, I feel strongly about  having kids sooner rather than later and dislike the narratives of "readiness" that seem so common. This author tackles it with an authentic tone.

"With Alex Trebek's announcement comes unease over the words 'fight' and 'win' applied to cancer" by Heidi Stevens via the Chicago Tribune

This column is right on. I started to draft a blog about this but found myself struggling to both speak my mind honestly and be duly respectful to people with cancer and their families. This author strikes the balance I couldn't find by describing the potential harm of "fight" language when it comes to this stupid disease. I wish Alex Trebek the prayers and blessings of a grateful viewer and admire his courage in trying to tackle his diagnosis with ferocity.

"Gov. Newsom to Suspend Death Penalty by Executive Order; Political Fallout Likely" by Scott Shafer via KQED

It was a serious bummer when California failed to repeal its death penalty. As a former Californian for one unusual year, it was neat to participate in a presidential-year election and complete a ballot full of binding statewide initiatives. In the case of the death penalty, the people of California had a chance to repeal it themselves, but the majority ruled against repeal. Now, the governor has decided to utilize executive powers to declare a moratorium and halt executions on America's biggest death row. Much like Illinois, hopefully the law will catch up and formalize this so that no person will be executed in California again.

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As a final note, the recent plane crash in Ethiopia was a tragedy on many levels. One way it touched me was through the death of 4 staff members from Catholic Relief Services. I got to visit Uganda on an education immersion with CRS with other teachers from Catholic high schools. While the whole national apparatus was directed by an American expat, the operations and groundwork were done almost exclusively by native-born Ugandans or immigrants from other African countries. Their expertise and knowledge was astounding, and their hospitality and warmth endeared us to them so quickly. The folks who passed in this plane crash were CRS staff from these types of local programs, and it's such a sadness to lose them as they sought to do such valuable development work. May God bless them and their legacy of development to the people of Ethiopia.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 03/07/19

by Dan Masterton

I totally flubbed meal-planning this week, as I was not thinking in terms of Lenten meat abstinence when I did the week's grid on Sunday (my wife and I sketch out the week on a basic grid chart called "The Swirling Storm of Life" each Sunday night). Crockpot pulled pork had to slide from Wednesday to Thursday in favor of cheese pizza; pasta night on Friday could remain but will lack its usual meat sauce. Luckily, today is in play, and our crockpot is making us those neighbors cooking something that makes the stairwell smell good instead of ooky. I even saw one Catholic org refer to today as Meat Oasis Thursday. I'm here for that.

On to this week's links!

Statement by Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. The Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church: Notre Dame’s Response

Sorry to those of you with Domer fatigue from this blog's contributors, but this one warrants a look. Nothing the Church does in the wake of so many years of so much abuse and coverup will ever be enough, especially to the victims of these sins. However, that doesn't mean earnest efforts shouldn't be made to take positive steps that respond to the shortcomings of the Church. Notre Dame, certainly an imperfect Catholic institution itself, laid out a blueprint for the next steps it will try to take. The road map here is a good start.

Loop's Zero Waste Platform Is Changing The Culture Of Disposability One Pint Of Ice Cream At A Time by Sara Weinreb via Forbes

I'm grateful for my college, my current coworkers, and many close friends who have taught me some finer points of conservation -- things like what "recyclables" aren't actually recyclable in most places (damn you, #6!), what things are compostable (future life goal when done with apartment living), and habits to get away from disposable culture (reusable shopping bags to the rescue!). Now comes a new company trying to take that reusable bag life and draw on the old "milkman" concept to make us greener. Loop will launch soon, and several articles help lay out the way you can subscribe to everyday household products delivered in a reusable tote and in reusable containers. Read more in the article, and consider signing up for email alerts ahead of when they roll out.

The Eclipse of Sex by the Rise of Gender by Abigail Favale via McGrath Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame

This is a deep dive, so put on your scuba gear first. I know that as I try to learn about the complexities and nuance of sexual orientation and gender identity, I often find myself struggling as I seek to understand more. There are a lot of layers to what sexuality is, especially when it comes to our understanding of our bodies and explanations of gender. I have a lot still to learn and think about, but this article (at least what I grasped of it) helped me think further on this tough stuff.

The Abortion Debate Needs Moral Lament by Michael Wear via The Atlantic

This article is excellently deliberate, measured, and fair. Without bending to either extreme of a wedge issue, this writer takes the time to carefully explain the ways that the entire debate is broken. It's worth a full read, and I'll just use the conclusion an enticement to start from his beginning: "What the abortion debate needs is not an increase of moral outrage—we have plenty of that—but instead a sense of moral lament. It is to our collective shame that our politics seem incapable of such a development."

Awkward Moments with Jason Benetti via the Cerebal Palsy Foundation

Jason Benetti is a Chicago native who has attained his childhood dream job of being the play-by-play guy for the Chicago White Sox. He is professional, polished, and proficient while at the same time being wonderfully grounded, humble, and self-deprecating. He's an awesome get for the White Sox, who hopefully have their play-by-play man for decades to come. Benetti also has cereal palsy and is a great teacher and advocate for CP. Perhaps my favorite element of that is a web series he voices called "Awkward Moments," in which clever animations accompany his narration in explaining various aspects of what life is like for people with CP. It's educational and heart-warmingly funny.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

#TreatYoShelf: 02/28/19

by Dan Masterton

I feel like the cold has been hanging around pretty profoundly here, even though I can see March cresting the horizon from the bow of my ship. Good thing Lent is late this year because I feel it's my Chicago Catholic right (rite?) to bask in the spring sunshine on a bright Easter morn. Ash Wednesday and spring-forward weekend are coming right up. Before you lock down your Lenten sacrificial choices, why don't you treat yo' shelf?

"They're young, they're fun and they're alcohol-free. The 'sober curious' movement takes off in Chicago." by Nara Schoenberg via Chicago Tribune

A leading contender for my Lent is to watch what I drink, namely giving up alcohol and restricting caffeine. Personally, I don't overutilize or depend upon either, but I feel like the second thought I'll have in this special season will be a good nod toward the spiritual emphases of penitence. These folks mention no religious motivation, but they're among a set popularizing an alcohol-free social life. They celebrate the clarity, honesty, and authenticity of their social interactions, and I say, "Here, here," but am not sure if they'd welcome a toast.

This is a really neato burrito tilt on the Church reorganization that's going on and must unfold to help renew the modern Church. As parishes reorganize, merge, and close, land and buildings are left with reduced or no use, and dioceses sit holding underutilized/unused space. This author pieces together some of the initial details of a way to repurpose all of this at the service of the people, particularly those most in need. He admits that he's short on the complete details, but I feel like the ideas behind his outlined proposal are realistic and certainly an expression of justice. 

"Pope Francis approves canonization of John Henry Newman" by Hannah Brockhaus via Catholic News Agency

I'm a little behind on this one, but it's exciting even if not no new. Cardinal Newman is one of the most prolific and insightful writers in the semi-recent history of Christianity. He is the author of some excellent prayers, chief among them My Mission of Service and the poetic prayer Lead, Kindly Light. He is also commonly cited as the inventor/founder/articulator of campus ministry, a movement that changed the course of my life, thanks to my fine high school, and gave me my vocation and career. Can't wait to invoke the patronage of this great saint in my campus ministry office.

The Restless Hearts on Racism

Our first series in our renewed ministry of writing wrapped this week. On these last four Mondays, we shared some reflections on the sins of racism in our Church and our society. Please loop back and check out these posts in our series as we finish cooking up our next plan:

No. 4: Tim on racism as national original sin

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Finally, my old college friend and now Holy Cross priest, Fr. Mike Palmer, shared a fun perspective from the Notre Dame hockey arena. Fr. Mike hopped into the penalty box, presumably not because of anything he did wrong, and captured a great inscription that greets opposing players during their time in the so-called "sin bin." Maybe Fr. Mike will hear some penitents there someday...

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

TRH on Racism No. 4: Racism and Original Sin

by Tim Kirchoff

Some time before the publication of the USCCB's new pastoral letter on racism, I noticed that several bishops—including Cardinal Cupich and Archbishop Chaput, who are hardly on the same side of the political spectrum—had referred to racism as America’s “original sin.” I hoped that the letter could provide some insight into what precisely they meant by it. I was a little surprised when I got through the entire letter without that term even appearing, though I found it very briefly referenced in some of the supplemental materials.

I was not the only one to experience disappointment in reading the bishops' letter. I've noticed several criticisms of it, particularly as people have had more time to read and process it. The biggest criticisms I’ve seen are aimed at the failure to adequately address the Church’s role in perpetrating and perpetuating racism, and the absence of any discussion whatsoever of the term “white privilege.” Gratitude that the bishops are addressing racism collectively for the first time in a while has been replaced with disappointment in how little they managed to actually say. My disappointment was easier to get over, not least because the term I wanted to see explored is more obscure.

Regardless, I was still a bit puzzled by the proposition that racism is America’s original sin when a homily on a certain Holy Day of Obligation reminded me that Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the official patroness of the United States. Almost immediately, the ideas began to react in my head like baking soda and vinegar in a grade school science project.1

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaims that Mary was miraculously conceived without original sin, and with the help of God’s grace remained free from sin for her entire earthly life. Being free from sin was not something Mary accomplished on her own: it was God who rescued her from the consequences of humanity’s fallen condition. In doing so, God showed us what he hopes to accomplish in all of us, but we make a mistake when we assume that this work has already been completed in us. Original sin is something we inherited from our first parents, and we have to accept that we still have to deal with its consequences, even after baptism.

Similar things can be said of racism. We have inherited our country's racial difficulties from previous generations. We still have to deal with the consequences of their misdeeds today: in the economic circumstances of minorities, in laws that unfairly (if sometimes indirectly or unconsciously) target minorities, and in cultural narratives and tropes that carry with them racist undertones. For Americans today, racism is as inescapable as original sin, and we should not assume that, as a society, we have overcome centuries of persecution in a few decades, all through our own efforts. Even if we were to say that either the emancipation of slaves or the Civil Rights movement represent a sort of baptism, and even if we were to set aside racism against other ethnic groups, we would still have to deal with concupiscence, a tendency to fall back into sin.

In the end, I have come to understand the connection of the theological concept of original sin to modern institutional racism as an analogy.2 It's a framework for thinking about these issues in ways that keep us from seeking simple solutions. It is not just that racism has played some part in the American story from the very beginning and continues to affect us, but that we must not act as if its consequences can be overcome by human effort alone. I should not say that I have genuinely overcome racism, and I should not say that our society has genuinely overcome racism, any more than I can say we have overcome original sin.

My interpretation of the proposition that racism is America's original sin is, in many ways, disposable. But for me, remembering that Mary was immaculately conceived reminded me that I am not, and helped me think about what the bishops actually wrote about racism being a sin in more fruitful ways.

"Open Wide Our Hearts" is not the first time racism has been called a sin, even by the USCCB, but the simple act of putting racism in the category of "sin," if we carry that proposition to its conclusion, might help lay necessary groundwork for expanding the conversation on race beyond those who are or who strive to be woke.

As the moderator of a Facebook discussion group, I've seen accusations of racism derail or outright end more than one conversation. No matter how the accusation of racism is intended, the person being accused receives it as being somewhere between an ad hominem argument and outright profanity. Many generally well-meaning people don't know how to receive or process the suggestion that their arguments or perspectives betray some form of racism without perceiving all the deeply negative connotations of that term. This is a significant obstacle to anything resembling a national conversation on race- or even just one within the Catholic Church in America.

In thinking of and analyzing racism as a sin as the bishops do, we are in a certain sense liberated from the shame-inducing connotations associated with the label: we can think of racism as we think of avarice, gluttony, lust, or pride (if we understand pride as thinking of oneself as having greater worth or dignity than others, then racism is a form of pride). We can use terms like temptation, concupiscence, culpability, scrupulosity, and vincible or invincible ignorance in the context of race conversations.

In accepting original sin as an analogy for thinking about racism in the context of American society, and even more so treating racism as a sin in itself, we can adapt familiar Catholic paradigms to help us understand and lessen the deleterious effects of racism in our society.

1 I find this analogy fitting because, compared to some other people I could name, my thoughts on this subject are probably about on the level of a grade school project.

2 As it turns out, the term seems to have been popularized by a book published some time ago. I haven't read the book, and don't know to what degree my understanding lines up with the author's, or either Cupich or Chaput's understanding of the term. This is just the way of thinking about the term that I find most interesting and useful.