Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Don't Break the Ten Commandments Anyway

In case you are wondering why traddies like me tear our hair and rend our garments and throw ourselves out the window into the snow and roll around wailing and generally making a spectacle of ourselves, it is because of homilies like this:

(Source: Vatican Radio)

"‘Brothers, call to mind those first days’: the days of enthusiasm, of going forward in the faith, when you began to live the faith, the anguished trials… You don’t understand the Christian life, even the spiritual life of each day, without memory. Not only do you not understand: You can’t live in a Christian way without memory. The memory of the salvation of God in my life, the memory of my troubles in my life; but how has the Lord saved me from these troubles? Memory is a grace: a grace to ask for. ‘Lord, may I not forget your step in my life, may I not forget the good moments, also the ugly; the joys and the crosses.’ The Christian is a man of memory.”

"Hope: Looking to the future. Just as one cannot live a Christian life without memory of the steps taken, one cannot live a Christian life without looking to the future with hope… of the encounter with the Lord. And he uses a beautiful phrase: ‘just a brief moment…’ Eh, life is a breath, eh? It passes. When one is young, he thinks he has so much time before him, but then life teaches us that those words that we all say: ‘But how time passes! I knew this person as a child, now they’re getting married! How time passes!’ It comes soon. But the hope of encountering it is a life in tension, between memory and hope, the past and the future.”

"‘Not taking risks, please, no… prudence…’ All the commandments, all of them… Yes, it’s true, but this paralyzes you too, it makes you forget so many graces received, it takes away memory, it takes away hope, because it doesn’t allow you to go forward. And the present of a Christian, of such a Christian, is how when one goes along the street and an unexpected rain comes, and the garment is not so good and the fabric shrinks… Confined souls… This is faintheartedness: this is the sin against memory, courage, patience, and hope. May the Lord make us grow in memory, make us grow in hope, give us courage and patience each and free us from that which is faintheartedness, being afraid of everything…  Confined souls in order to save ourselves. And Jesus says: ‘He who wills to save his life will lose it.’”(My emphasis.)


Saints have died rather than commit a mortal sin. It is possible to live your whole life without committing a mortal sin. Perhaps some people allow do themselves to live a half-life marked by dreary little venial sins instead of following Martin Luther's advice to "sin boldly," but others who have perpetually kept the commandments must certainly live brave and noble lives in which they are humbly aware that they, too, may fall into serious sin. Heaven knows how many really good people have fallen into sexual sin, for example, or have given into temptations to shoplift.

Also it is possible to live a full and happy life by remaining among decent God-fearing people. Of course, it is actually difficult to be around such people all the time. Many of us in the West have to go to school or work in places where the reigning religion is sexual permissiveness. The challenge then for the Christian is to show the love of Christ to his or her fellow students or co-workers without being compromised or causing disgust. 

We should be afraid of sin. Sin is awful. Sin can make us less than beasts.  

The world--especially as it is presented to us by advertisers--has some very messed up ideas about virtue and vice. Courage is not wearing the racy dress but wearing the modest dress. Indulgence is not eating the delicious pudding but never abstaining from puddings at all. 

Enough of the counter-homily, but really. This is why trads cry.

Update: A more charitable reading of this homily is not that the homilist was encouraging his hearers to court occasions of sin but that just keeping the Commandments is not enough. I am not sure who his audience is--mine is usually Catholic laywomen who interact with non-Catholics and CINOs every single day--but it could be some timorous Job-type who worries about sin the way a guy with OCD washes his hands. But how many people like that are there? Oh dear.

The Quebec Mosque Massacre

The French word for shame is "honte", and that is what I have been feeling since I learned that the police have only one suspect for the shooting in the Ste-Foy mosque and his surname is Bissonnette.

I try to avoid publishing the names of suspected assassins, as my mother told me that fame is one of their motives, but in this case I feel I have to spell it out because it is one of the most Canadian names there is--if you believe that the longer your family has lived in British North America, the more "Canadian" its name is. Needless to say, this is a controversial point of view. It is not, however, self-aggrandizing in my case, since my Scottish migrant ancestors landed in Canada no earlier than 1900---late enough that I could "go back" to Scotland and feel at home.

Incidentally, here is a list of the most common surnames in present-day Canada, and here is a list of the most common surnames in present-day Quebec. I see that Bissonnette is not on it, which rather trashes my assertion. You will have to take it from a Canadian that the name Bissonnette conjures up images of French-Canadian life. I see before me the "Farine (flour) Five Roses" sign as my train east once again pulls into Montreal's Gare Centrale.

It doesn't matter that I am not myself a French-Canadian. My husband is not a Gaelic-speaking Highlander, but he would feel terrible if Donald came down from the Isle of Skye and shot up the mosque in Inverness. Ste-Foy is very near birthplace of Canada, and so it hurts me both that innocent men were shot there--while praying--and that the guy who did it was from Cap-Rouge.

Yesterday's rumours that the killer was a sectarian Islamic convert--he was wrongly reported to have had a accomplice named Mohamed--have been replaced by rumours that he is a "Christian nationalist". As a Christian and a nationalist (depending on what is meant by that word), I am wondering what it is in Christianity or nationalism that would inspire a 27 year old to walk into a place of worship and shoot men at random. Anyone who wants to take up arms against actual Islamist terrorism has a number of options that do not include shooting innocent people.

The suspect's Facebook page was wide open to the dozens of insults that were posted there as soon as he was named, and that's clearly where journalists got his photo. (Being a journalist, I have chosen as many privacy option on my own Facebook as I can figure out.) Looking for any possible motive for his crime, I scrolled to the the suspect's "Likes", and to my horror,I saw that he had liked G.K.Chesterton's The Flying Inn.

The Flying Inn, published in 1914, imagines an England whose ruling class has taken a shine to Islam, particularly its dislike for alcoholic beverages and its option for polygamy. I'm a little frightened that GKC may have influenced this young man, and I am thinking uneasily about how stirring renditions of Lepanto--a traddie favourite--might inspire a shortsighted youth to take up arms against the paynim in freaking Ste-Foy.

Monday, 30 January 2017

What Can Catholics Do about the Crisis of Faith?

If you think the Roman Catholic Church is going from strength to strength lately, then this post is not for you. It would not have been for me either back when I started my formal theological education back in 2002. The brilliant Saint John Paul II was on the papal throne, although terribly ill, and I was positively in love with my new school.

I didn't know about the controversies around the 1986 interfaith Assisi meeting because the only criticism I ever heard about John Paul II was that he was "sexist" and "anti-choice" and "a typical Polish male chauvanist"---insults I could easily dismiss. I guess grown-up pro-lifers thought the dodgier aspects of the Assisi stuff were best not talked about before the impressionable young.

I cannot recall a single anti-JP II word from professors at my Canadian theology school although I have a vague impression that female students of a certain age muttered about sexism. That was a very happy time for the most part. I was rather worried about being single and time running out for baby-having, but I loved the reading, the writing, the lectures and the prayer life. Being me, I ignored prompts to take courses at the Protestant schools under the Toronto School of Theology umbrella, but I also argued with anyone who dared to suggest my Jesuit professors weren't orthodox.

I really loved that time. I'm so grateful for those years. They were truly awesome. Little did I know what disappointment lay ahead, but now I understand that God did not want me to become a professor in a Jesuit university. It seems rather unbelievable now, but I did have the academic chops back then. What I lacked--and still lack--is a go-along-to-get-along attitude towards misrepresentation of doctrine.  As far as I knew, my beloved Canadian profs had not played fast-and-loose with doctrine, so their American confreres shocked and saddened me.

So here I am, having been tipped off to the crisis in the Church by American excesses, worrying about what greater damage it is causing the Body of Christ and what the next startling news out of Rome will be. (As a freelance journalist, I can't just ignore it.) I feel very fortunate that I have the companionship of my close-knit TLM community, and I read with interest this post by Dr. Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society. If you have got thus far, please read it.

It is the Third Part of a series, but I think the summary is excellent, so there's no need to read Parts 1 and 2. The advice is very good, but I think the best part is joining a Traditional Latin Mass community. I would add "Especially one that seems to be growing and has younger people who would rather go to the Novus Ordo than skip their Sunday obligation." A happy community in which people take more delight in Catholic worship than they do in denigrating other Catholics' worship is essential to morale. Nobody takes attendance, so if you pop by your local TLM only once a month, it's okay. Ignore the cranks and look for the smiles.

There is a lot of strength in tradition--as any Muslim or Jew or Free Presbyterian can tell you--and we have jettisoned ours at our peril. Those "empty rituals" were not so empty!  Dr Shaw suggests signing on for the Chartres Pilgrimage, which is so EXTREMELY TOUGH I'm afraid of recommending it to you, for you will blame me very much when slogging through seemingly endless French fields. However, my goodness, it does do something for the spirit.

The Catholics worried about Amoris Laetitiae may be wondering what we can DO. The truth is, as laypeople, there is not all that much we can do except the remedies Doctor Shaw suggests.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Crazy "Trads" and Professional Selfies

Warning: frank thought about p*rn*graphers' interest in dress for Catholic women.

We live in very strange times. Not long ago I was in a conversation about the options open to a Catholic teacher at a Catholic school who finds himself with a male student who identifies as female and wants to be addressed by a made-up female name. The secular world doesn't even blink at such stuff, so it is interesting that it finds this weirdo completely objectionable.

Of course, people in Extraordinary Form of the Mass circles have been circulating warnings about the man for some time. A big part of his danger for innocent (and perhaps naive) people in the Catholic traditionalist movement is that he called his organization (or business) "The Latin Mass Society". This, of course, was confused with England's Latin Mass Society.  Clearly you do not want your daughters to come under the influence of Mr P*rlas. 

I find it amusing that his models now find  Mr P*rlas objectionable for his new interest in N*zism whereas the traditional Mass societies have been having kittens for years about his fetishistic take on chapel veils, for which he used the same models. To be honest, I probably haven't seen the worst of his photos, for I tend to be dissuaded, not encouraged, by warnings that p*rn lies ahead. But any way you look at it, Mr Perlas's interests are looked at askance by all sorts of people.

What I find most odd about the latest story to come out about Mr P*rlas is that a man of Filipino heritage finds N*zis appealing. Or do I? N*zi aesthetic is (or was) a big deal in Toronto's gay subculture, as it was impossible to ignore if you had to walk past "Northbound Leather" to lectures at the university every day. As Mr P*rlas is an erotic photographer (like Vogue's Helmut Newton, incidentally), it is not surprising that the N*zis get a look-in. What is even odder
 is his take on trad Catholic women.

But again--how odd is that? As a Catholic schoolgirl, I was uncomfortably aware that Catholic schoolgirl uniforms were a turn-on for some men and, indeed, men used to sit in their cars outside my high school around 3 PM to watch our skirts swing down the avenue. From Catholic schoolgirl uniforms to Catholic chapel veils is perhaps not such a jump. Ick.

Oddest of all, Mr P*rlas sees no contradiction between his art and his devotion to the traditional Latin Mass.

What the Fox article cravenly ignores is the very likely possibility that Mr P*rlas is mentally ill. Artists very often are. On the other hand, he could be a socially awkward eccentric. Perhaps he is both. And as much as the traditionalist Catholic community would like to deny that he is a traditionalist Catholic, we cannot ignore the fact that mentally ill people, sexual sinners and socially awkward eccentrics do turn up at Traditional Mass and--incidentally--have souls to save. 

One meets all kinds at the TLM--saints, sinners, pro-SSPX, anti-SSPX, social climbers, working-class heroes, aristos, scientists, conspiracy theorists, toddlers, nonegenarians and the occasional wild-eyed nut. Sometimes the nuttiness of the nut is completely harmless: the absolute conviction he can perceive demons making the choir sing out of tune, for example. Sometimes the  nuttiness is deeply embarrassing: wearing religious habit she has no right to, for example. When the nuttiness is dangerous---well, that's what all the parish safeguarding is about. Safeguarding and medication.

But since Mr P*rlas' models have brought him back to our notice, I am interested in the current craze of self-photography. When I was 20-something and felt Life had given me a kicking, I asked a professional photographer to take photos of me that I could "see" who I was from the outside. The artist disliked "normal" work like weddings, but agreed to take the job, as I was sufficiently weird. (My status as an amateur boxer tipped the balance.) We were interested in my psyche, not my physique, so fortunately these photos were all head shots. I wore unflattering shirts and pullovers. My lips were chapped, my hair was prophetic and I looked the way I felt, which was cranky. I was after Reality, and Reality bit. The photos, however, were artistically very good.  

I didn't tell many people about these pictures because I discovered most people thought the project shockingly vain.  

Ha ha! Skip ahead 20 years and nobody talks about vanity anymore. Facebook is littered with self-portraits and overweight girls on British TV explain they want to lose weight for their "boudoir shoot".  A "boudoir shoot" is an appointment in which a woman pays to dress in lingerie, pose on a bed and be photographed in sexy poses. Do not ask me why because that's my question. 

WHY do women want to be models for Mr Eccentric-or-Mental-Ill-or-Both? WHY do women want to be models at all? In my case, I wanted insight, but what do all these other women want? Do they think it is an easy way to make a living, or are they interested in the art, or what? 

So three things: 

1. Avoid coming into contact with Mr P*rlas unless you are a priest who wants to save his soul.
2. Accept that weirdos hang around the fringes of the traditionalist movement.
3. Examine the growing female interest in self-photography and "being a model." What's up with us?

Update: I find this sentence in the Fox report killingly funny: "Kitty worked with Anthony on a shoot in Ohio.  As was Perlas' style, it was a trade deal.  She got the nudes she wanted for her portfolio and Anthony got his photos of her wearing veils." Apparently the nudes were the normal, respectable part of the matter.

Update 2: I have slapped on the combox moderator to prevent further bizarre spam. Thus, there will be a delay before your comments appear for a bit.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Traditional Mass in Scotland

Here's what I wrote for the Scottish Catholic Observer from my bed of sickness. Profuse apologies for having misnamed the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP).  I like the sub-ed's title, and the photo he or she got from somewhere (not me).

I wanted to showcase other--and younger--people's feelings about the Extraordinary Form, and talk about its celebration in far-flung parts of Scotland, so it's not a very intimate piece. That is, it's not an in-depth look at life in a traditional Catholic community. It's my way of introducing a perhaps mysterious group of Scottish Catholics to other Scottish Catholics, just as I attempted with the Ukrainians, the University Chaplaincies, the Syro-Malabars and Poles.

A Better Vision of Womanhood

Call me sheltered, but I had no idea what the pink hats at the American "Women's March" meant until I read Kathy Shaidles' mocking piece in Taki's Magazine. (Trigger warning: if you're even the slightest nudge to the left, you will hate Taki Mag, and the combox is a sewer.)

How can women be so upset by the crudity of the American President's 2005 locker-room comments and then celebrate it?  

I have looked up the context of Trump's remark, and it wasn't a confession: it was a conversation about how [some] women relate to male celebrities.

What struck me is that in his gossipy anecdote, Trump repeated that the woman under discussion was married, and yet she let him take her furniture shopping. He admitted that he did not get as far as he wanted with her, but continued on to marvel at how far [some] women will let a man go. "And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Whatever you want. You can grab them..." We know the rest. We don't know that he ever actually did that, or if he did it to anyone who didn't think it a fair exchange for a suite of furniture or whatever.

For those of you who have seen Sex & the City, I am reminded of the otherwise level-headed Charlotte's bizarre behaviour when she meets a movie star.  And I have not been entirely immune to the glamour of FAMOUS PEOPLE. In my youth I worked in a sandwich shop and when a famous Canadian comedian walked in, my hands shook as I made his sandwich. For some completely irrational reason, I was overwhelmed by the presence of Bruce McCulloch. (Nota bene: All Bruce wanted was a sandwich, and if he had as much as asked for my phone number I would have thrown up from nerves.) On the other hand, after another Canadian celebrity saw my smile and nod (I vaguely and wrongly recalled meeting him somewhere) and he gave me a saucy wink and a megawatt smile in return, I saw his face on a poster, realized who he was and felt vaguely annoyed.

But quite apart from star-befuddlement, there are women who put themselves up for sale to celebrities and merely rich men, and that's just the way it is. It is fashionable to judge these women, or pretend they don't exist, but for all I know it is as natural to female humans who don't believe in chastity as it is to female penguins to cheat on their mates for the price of a few stones. I am not sure which is worse, allowing a man to maul you because you lust after him or allowing a man to maul you because he has bought you a living-room suite. The two justifications aren't mutually exclusive, of course.

Was it in high-school that I bumped into an acquaintance whose adult boyfriend had sent her to the mall with his credit card and permission to spend? I was shocked, mortified and worried for this teenage girl, but she seemed perfectly sanguine about it.  What is the difference between a "relationship" and what Georgette Heyer calls "elegant prostitution"? Frankly, I think it's whether or not the chap is willing to introduce the girl to his mother, just like in the bad old days.

But my subject is not Trump--whose can-ya-believe-it wonderment about what women will allow celebrities makes him sound like a bumpkin or an overgrown teenage boy--but a vision of womanhood which does not include crude shouting about reproductive organs or wearing symbols of them as hats.

There are two documents to guide us in fashioning--or being true to--an authentic, life-affirming femininity: Mulieris Dignitatem by Saint John Paul II and Woman by Saint Edith Stein.  The latter greatly inspired the former, and her respect for femininity is incredibly liberating in that we have been taught to be ashamed of what comes naturally to so many women: a preference to serve, to put oneself second, to support men rather than to lead them. Oh, how shocking, but oh, how true for so many women.

It can be difficult to be true to Saint Edith's teachings. Mea culpa. When a girl tells me she wants to be a nurse, I say "Why not a doctor?" as if being a nurse were second-rate instead of an entirely different profession with its own dignity. (To be honest, though, I wouldn't do this in the USA, where nurses are paid much better than they are in Canada or the United Kingdom.) I really shouldn't do that (and I should have such a useful profession).

On the other hand, it is not so difficult to question man-bashing on Facebook. A woman I know who has been very unhappy in her relationships with men posted a page taken from a 1950s home economics textbook on how a wife should treat her husband when he comes home from work. She held this up for mockery, as the provider of this page clearly expected her to do.

But all the suggestions were quite nice and even insightful. They included such things as a quick final tidy of the house, making sure the children are presentable, taking a bit of care with one's own appearance, offering the chap a drink of something when he gets home, asking him how is day was instead of complaining about your own, and suggesting he take a seat or have a lie-down. Okay, taking off his shoes was a bit much, I admit. But those other things seemed to me possible and kindly. The obvious intent behind them was to make the working-outside-the-home spouse look forward to going home and feeling grateful to his wife for making it so hospitable. After all, we do all those things for guests. 

I wrote something like that on Facebook, and my poor acquaintance argued along the lines of how difficult all those things were and why should the woman have to and her day is hard, too, etc. And indeed I do know young mothers with small children who literally do not have five minutes of freedom to tidy their hair, never mind their sitting-room. I am not sure why they don't stuff all the children in a playpen or lock them in a padded room for the critical hour. Perhaps they are too kindhearted or too tired to think of it.

I also seem to recall that my father came home to a tidy house, dinner in the oven and small children yelling "Daddy's home!" Of course, my mother always did her best to give us the impression that she thought our father was a semi-divine being. Going to great lengths to make the house and children nice for a man you utterly despise must be extremely difficult.

Well,  I do not have children, so I really cannot judge how difficult it is to control their destructive ways and keep their clothes on for their fathers' evening appearances. However, I am married, so I have a pretty good grasp of male psychology, and treating your husband with daily loving-kindness, made manifest partly by providing a pleasant place to sit, the offer of a cuppa, and a listening ear is a really good idea. I am proficient at the listening ear stuff, but I could improve on the housework and the offer of a cuppa, so I will work on that.

Another thing I recommend is to ponder one's own good luck in having such a good husband. I hope all my married readers have good husbands. No doubt it is hard to ponder the excellence of a husband when yours doesn't have any. (But if he doesn't, why on earth did you marry him?)  I had a birthday recently, and so I had ample opportunity to appreciate B.A.   He bought me a mug and a bracelet, took me out for lunch and then fell in with my suggestion we go to a very girly bar for a cocktail. Naturally I told him how extremely splendid he is and how lucky I am. Even the best husband needs to hear that. And, frankly, I think that is more important than that last-minute tidy.

It's important to children, too. Until my dying day, I will remember my mother saying things like "Oh, children, what a clever and kindly father you have!" Years of propaganda convinced me that I am descended from greatness.

Nota Bene: Of course, B.A. did not come by this woman-like respect for birthdays naturally. Men are not women, so it is really important to tell them early on what feasts and festivals are of crucial importance to us. It is also important to be honest about which presents you love and which presents are kind of....although you probably should delay your reaction to the disappointing present until much later, e.g. when he asks you what you want for Christmas. Then you can say, "I most definitely do NOT want a clock shaped like a dog."

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Grand Master is Asked To Resign

In Canada the homely Knights of Columbus are much more of a household name than the Knights of Malta, but the Order is a Big Huge Deal in Europe, including the United Kingdom. Thus, traddy elements in Great Britain have been watching the OM news with bated breath.

The story began as a battle between the British  Fra' Matthew Festing and a German, which swiftly turned into Fra' Matthew versus a lot of Germans and thus, surprise, surprise, the Pope. 

Result: Fra' Matthew resigns.

As usual, Ed Pentin fills in the gaps. 

What does this mean for ordinary Catholics? Well, I imagine there will be a lot of hand-wringing among Catholics who enjoy hanging onto the cloaks of the Knights of Malta, running errands, fetching the coffee, etc. There will also be a lot of talk on the blogs about the autocratic nature of the Supreme Pontiff. Hilary White's theory of "It's a purge" will get a lot of screen time. This is, after all, one more in a wave of "resignations" of the orthodox from Catholic institutions during the past four years. 

But what the trickle down effect will be, I do not know. I suppose what we do is carry on with daily prayer, weekly Mass (at least), frequent examination of conscience and confession, respect for the sacraments, reflection on the Scriptures, and self-education with the vast library of works by saints (including Saint John Paul II) on the Catholic faith. If you wish to marry, be rooted in reality about yourself, the other party and the perennial difficulties of marriage. If you are married, get all the help the Church offers, if you need it, to live a chaste married life. If you are in a state of mortal sin, walk away from whatever is keeping you there, ask around for an orthodox priest (if you don't know one), and go to confession.  

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Athens vs Sparta: Distaff Side

When I had a look at the requirements for England's Ancient Greek GCSE (O-level), I was astonished that students have to know about the role of women in Athenian society. Of all the reasons Greek civilization is perennially worth studying, the Women of Attica are not one. In a nutshell, Athenians thought women were for bearing inheritors, weaving, housework, fieldwork and, if of a Certain Class, entertainment. The Spartans thought Spartan women were for bearing Spartan soldiers, full stop. Everything else could be left to slaves.

As Athenian women's feminine genius was for weaving beautiful cloth--which does not last through the ages, alas--they have left us very little of their work. We have some poetic scraps of Sappho (not a Woman of Attica but of Lesbos) and, thanks to Catullus and other Roman fans, her undying literary reputation, but that's just about it. We have statues (and Roman copies of statues) and paintings (on pottery), so we know roughly what Women of Attica looked like and definitely what they wore. We also know what (a few) men thought of them, and we know this was greatly at odds with Athenian respect for female deities. Why so important for the GCSEs?

Are the GCSEs being used to enforce contemporary feminist ideology?

I ask this question because when I told my students that the Woman of Attica (who was so unpolitical, she was not even called an Athenian) spent most of her time indoors weaving, one piped up that that sounded wonderful. And while I respected that refreshingly pro-weaving point of view, I wondered what grade she would get if she wrote this during her GCSE exams.

Another problem with teaching Catholic girls about Women of Attica is that these represented only a certain percentage of the female population of Athens. From a feminist point of view, and possibly even an empiricist point of view, students ought to know about Athens' female slaves and the teeming throngs of prostitutes: the concubines (mistresses---or live-in girlfriends, for men who didn't want a proper wife), the heteirai (the witty, musical, high-class and expensive entertainment) and the pornai (sex workers).

The big danger here, I always think, is the idea that it might be better to be a heteira than a proper wife of an Athenian, as the heteirai were educated in philosophy and the fine arts, could go to men's parties and the theatre, and could earn and save money. Associating women's education with sexual licentiousness is just awful, but because we have so little evidence of educated wives and daughters of Athenians, that's what we're left with.

Fortunately, the wives and daughters had religious duties and only their children had inheritance rights, so it is not too difficult to communicate to young minds that it was best, should you have been born in Classical Attica, to have been a plain ol' respectable female who married shortly after puberty and spent as much time as possible weaving. (This rather depended on how many slaves your husband had and if he needed you to assist him in his trade or in the fields.)

Sparta is less embarrassing as abstinence was part of the Spartan way of life, and Spartan men had to sneak out of their military barracks to visit their wives. (My pupils thought this must have been great fun.) Spartan women had to spend all their time in athletics because the Spartans thought strong mothers = strong babies. They also had to be emotionally tough, informing their sons that they had to come back from battle with their shields "or on them" and pretending to rejoice when these sons were slain.

Amusingly, Spartan women were also expected to sing songs of praise to Spartan men who behaved well and mock the ones who did poorly, which shows that the Spartans certainly knew all about male psychology.

Unfortunately, while looking up a primary source in my undergrad-era "Women in Classical Antiquity" book, I got stuck reading aaloud about Spartan weddings, which involved kidnapping, the bride having her hair chopped off and being dressed in men's clothes, and then being left on a pallet.

"Well, that's enough now, girls."

Happily, the GCSEs are not so interested in ephebophilia, so I will never have to mention it. Nor will I ever mention the heiteirai & pornai again, except just before the exam, in case it demands a frank discussion of Women's Lot.

The GCSE wants students to know how the lives of the Women of Attica differed from those of Spartan women, and possibly we are supposed to intimate to our students that the lives of Spartan women were better. I'm not convinced. At least in Athens, there was a peacetime and there was no perpetual sense of dread that the slaves might revolt. (Ninety percent of the population of Sparta were slaves, which is why the Spartans trained for war whenever not actually at war.) If you were lucky, you would derive great artistic enjoyment from your ornate and intricate weaving. But on the other hand, it might be more fun to exercise and compete than to weave all day and then at night hear the men downstairs laughing at the witty remarks of the heiterai. Personally I would love to praise men who do well and mock the ones who do badly. I can do the first, but the second is harder to get away with these days--unless you're in Scotland and can call it "banter."

Monday, 23 January 2017

"Lady Columnist"

When I posted my most recent CR column on Facebook, two friends asserted that I was "brave." This reminded me of the time I mentioned the right to life during a "Classics of Christian Spirituality" lecture, and a  male classmate muttered the same thing to me after class. At first I had no idea what he was talking about, but he explained that there had been middle-aged women tutting and sighing at the back of the classroom. However, my thought was that if you can't express pro-life sentiments in a Roman Catholic theology school, where CAN you express them?

The same goes for defending Catholic doctrine on the sacraments in a Catholic newspaper and there comparing our modern laissez-faire attitude regarding sexual sin with the beliefs of the Fatima seers. You would not think that this would shock the Catholic readership, but lo. I have been sneered at on Facebook by someone who feels I have "skipped over Jesus" to focus on "visions and sin." Whoa. Is that how we talk about Fatima now?

Naturally I clicked on my critic's name and discovered that he is a recently retired schoolteacher who is very interested in a number of causes associated with the left. This amuses me, as this stalwart of social justice referred to me as a "lady columnist." Not a columnist, mind you, but a LADY columnist. You know, a conservative or traditionalist Catholic would think twice about using the expression "lady columnist", for fear of being thought sexist.

The feminist revolution swiftly followed the sexual revolution for a reason. I suspect this reason is that men drawn to left-wing causes treated women so much worse than ordinary conservative men who wanted to get married and have kids that women figured that they had nothing left to lose.

Anyway, I suppose "lady columnist" is a relatively minor insult although it certainly grabbed my attention. Of all the aspects of my writing--and I have been writing a biweekly column in that paper for nine years--why focus on my sex?

Is it still unusual for a woman to be a columnist? You would think not, but apparently only 10%-20% of opinion pieces in  "legacy" newspapers are women. This rises to 33% in "new media outlets." There are various theories as to why this is so. I once read somewhere that women don't like putting ourselves out where other people will criticize us. That I can believe. My career more-or-less began with a spirited review of a tome of feminist theology I really hated, and the (female) writer went berserk.

Of course, the reader may have focused on my sex because the column features a (relatively) pretty, nine-years-out-of-date photograph and he's a guy. Maybe not a very intellectual guy because if I were a guy, and I were uncomfortable with something I had written, I would call me a "reactionary" or a "spiritual terrorist who wants to drag us back to the days of dread of God and fear of hell." But on the other hand, what do I know? If I were a guy, I might focus on the pretty photo.

Not that I am anywhere  near the Martha Gellhorn class, but I am reminded of what an amazing journalist she was and how now mostly she is remembered for being Hemingway's third wife. I was thinking about her--and other female war correspondents--when I forced myself to wriggle through thousands of Polish nationalists to confront the one carrying an American flag. As a matter of fact, if you're going to be a foreigner at a right-wing Polish rally, it's a good idea to be female because Poland, for good and ill, is still a chivalrous country. Being a young and pretty female would be ideal, but if you can't swing that, female is enough.

All the same, I was terribly frightened until I faced the chap with the American baseball cap and the American flag and saw that he was, if anything, even more afraid of me. Some tense situation had broken out around him, and so I wriggled back to my de facto bodyguard instead of smiling brightly and asking "Amerykański?"  Thinking about this adventure makes me feel better about being called a "lady columnist" although I wouldn't say I am a tower of physical courage. For one thing, I'm too chicken to learn how to drive. For another, I'd never try to get a story out of makeshift migrant camp in France.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Grandma's Birthday

Love is stronger than death, and I dearly love my grandma Gladys. Of your charity, please pray for her soul. I really miss her, but I don't think she would have enjoyed being 102. She wasn't Catholic, but she loved much. As a widow, she was an excellent model for the Single Life.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Return of Polski Piątek

When I came back from Poland in late November, I regarded my Polish language obsession from a
critical distance. My self-esteem was bruised back and blue by my inability to have proper conversations in Polish when I really needed to do so. Okay, yes, I muddled through, but I have spent so much time and money, I feel I should not still be at the muddling stage. 

So I wrote to my Polish teacher in Polish without a dictionary (so as to put any mistakes on full display) and asked if I shouldn't be busted down to a more introductory class. (I later sent this letter to a Polish friend, so that he could explain to me all the mistakes.) However, my teacher thought I should go into the most advanced class, so to 3.2 I went last night. 

It was good to be back. I had missed 3.1 so as to save the money towards my Polish trip, and I discovered that I really missed the classroom routine. Yesterday's class was a review of 3.1, so there were a range of exercises, beginning with a conversation about the Christmas holidays and what dishes we found most delicious. 

I prepared for class by writing a composition about my adventures in Poland. This forced me to "think in Polish" for two hours before class began. Although I have read Polish--emails and letters mostly--I haven't spoken a word of it since I bought a festive bottle of krupnik from a polski sklep on Christmas Eve.

However, it became clear to me in class that although I can get words down on a page relatively quickly and can understand most of what the teacher says, accessing Polish words I have known for years and speaking them is really my weakest skill. I mean, we're talking forgetting how to say, "Nie rozumiem" ("I don't understand"), which was on of the first phrases I ever learned. 

Another difficulty is repeating multisyllabic words the teacher has just said. It's as if I have a verbal form of dyslexia, for I mix up the order of the letters. I do this in English, too, driving B.A. to distraction by calling the Artisan Roast  coffee company "Artisian Roast" and the Penhaligon perfumers "Penhaglion." This makes me feel a bit better about my most obvious and public Polish errors.

My tangled tongue made my classmates laugh last night, and so I suppose my most notable improvement is that for once I did not feel angry and embarrassed.  And when our task was to assemble scraps of a conversation in a shoe store, my seatmate and I finished it first. Although I may sound ridiculous, there is nothing wrong with my reading and deducing skills. 

Oh dear. I wonder how best to train my brain to faster recall and my tongue to tripping out the syllables in the correct order. Perhaps I should start chatting to a tape recorder. Although certainly not ideal, that would be better than nothing. 

Malta or Fatima?

Although these opinions will not be new to you, they may be novel to my Toronto audience. Imagine my surprise this morning when I discovered they had slipped out from behind the firewall. This is putting my head over the parapet with a vengeance. But I don't think any faithful Catholic can sit on the fence regarding Amoris Laetitia and its toxic fallout, and the more of us who speak out, the better.

(Sorry about the clichés there.)

In case you are curious, I have a family member who married without permission of the Church. She lived outside the Church her entire adult life and then was reconciled to the Church on her deathbed thanks to a visiting priest. Despite her defection, she has eleven Catholic descendants.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Worst Hymn Evah!

You know how we sometimes have to tell our separated brethren that we don't worship the pope? We don't like it when they sings songs at football games about hanging him from the chapel door, but we don't worship him either. Nor do we count living popes among the canonized saints. We do not consider a living pope worthy, for example, of praise and worship music addressed to him.

But it turns out that we have to tell certain Catholics this, too.  I present you with, yes, a hymn to Pope Francis. Please listen until at least the refrain.

I haven't laughed so much in days. I will now forsake my sickbed and get ready for tonight's Polish class. H/T Eccles.

Update: I'm laughing at papolatry, by the way, not the pope. I don't think any pope is a laughing matter.

My New Year's Resolutions in the SCO

Me on the subject of me in the Scottish Catholic Observer. But perhaps I may be forgiven, for I talk about Ignatian spirituality, recycling, the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions and Robbie Burns' famous poem "To a Louse".

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A Short Rant on DNA "Tests"

Still confined to bed, I've been spending too much time on Facebook. Today I clicked on a high school pal's posting of this video:

My high school pal thought this had world-changing possibilities. I was disturbed by the sight of two strangers breaking down the volunteers ' identities so that they could replace them with new ones. These new identities are no longer based on family, communities, shared places, shared values or belief in God. They are based quite literally on spit and dodgy science.

It would be nice to believe that  DNA tests provide a road map to all the countries your ancestors have hailed from. But this is not how they work. They can only guess and give probabilities, not certainties like "Genetically you are 50% French and 20% Icelandic, Miss Saoirsa O'Reilly."

Even DNA tests looking for health problems---never mind a Cherokee great-grandma--may be wrong.  Ancestral search DNA tests are next to useless. Actually, they may be worse than useless, if they cost you a lot of money or an authentic identity based on faith, family, near ancestors, neighbourhood and other aspects of lived experience. 

Everybody on earth has been scientifically proven (for now) to have descended from one woman. The current scientific belief is that she was from East Africa. That did not make us all part Zulu. However, it is a nice bolstering of the Christian belief that all human beings have the same "first parents". And perhaps it is a nice reminder that all human beings are human beings, if we needed one. 

Occasionally I have been tempted to get a DNA test--and to pay for one of my brothers to get one, too--so as to find out if my mother's mother's mother (etc.) was either a Pict or a Gael, and to discover if my father's father's father (etc.) was a Gael or a Norseman of some sort (Viking or Norman).  But unfortunately, that's not how it works and, besides, there are better uses for money. 

As a matter of fact, my mother's mother's mother's mother's house is still standing in Edinburgh, and my father's father's father's father took out an ad in the Boston Pilot on August 19, 1854 to look for the brother who followed him from Ireland. Various of my female relations on my father's side have been keen genealogists, so I already know a lot about my ancestry. I also know rather a lot about migration patterns in Scotland, so if I discovered a genetic "cousin" in Poland, for example, I would put the phenomenon down to the 30,000 Scots who settled in Poland between 1400 and 1706 instead of joining the local Polish dance troupe.

The film features a rather offensive Icelandic supremacist, who seems to think he is more valuable than the British scientists, which no doubt he is to Iceland. It also features a proud working-class Englishman who, like the newspapers written for him, doesn't like Germans--presumably because of his ancestors' experience of the First and Second World Wars. (Germans of a certain generation in north-western Germany are not necessarily super-keen on Canadians, I discovered.)  The beliefs of the Icelander and Englishman may be irrational, but they are not more irrational than the idea that they are world-citizens because people in other parts of the world may share their ancestral DNA. You mean, Vikings traveled a lot? You mean, Anglo-Saxons are genetically similar to .... wait for it.... Saxons? Holy moly! My worldview is shattered!

Bad science, bad science, bad science, and all with an eye to breaking down identity based on family bonds and lived experience. I have English given names, an Irish maiden name, a Scottish surname, an anglophone Canadian family, mixed ancestry including Revolutionary War Americans, an east-coast Scottish husband, an Eastern European sister-in-law, an Edinburgh-area address, much-loved relatives in the Estrie and a Toronto upbringing. Spitting into a test tube would not change any of that. The story of me would not be in that tube.

Update: I have just thought of unpleasant or at least embarrassing reasons why the DNA of ethnic English and Scots may be shared by a lot of otherwise ethnic French, Germans, Dutch and Italians. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Lazy Christians, Parked Christians...

Lazy Christians, parked Christians
Little balls of fur....
Insured Christians, still Christians
Grr! Grr! Grr!

“Lazy Christians, Christians who do not have the will to go forward, Christians who don’t fight to make things change, new things, the things that would do good for everyone, if these things would change. They are lazy, “parked” Christians: they have found in the Church a good place to park. And when I say Christians, I’m talking about laity, priests, bishops… Everyone. But there are parked Christians! For them the Church is a parking place that protects life, and they go forward with all the insurance possible. But these stationary Christians, they make me think of something the grandparents told us as children: beware of still water, that which doesn’t flow, it is the first to go bad.”

Pope Francis, 17 January  2017

The Importance of Being Rigid

When I was an undergraduate and learned that all priests weren't singing from the same hymn book, I was introduced to the term "solid". "Solid" described a priest who knew and proclaimed the faith and didn't bend the rules or, rather, warp the truths. This was the kind of priest you could trust with your soul.

I realize that this is not the most popular topic in Catholic circles and that some of us rosary-counters do need to do more regarding the corporal works of mercy, but the object of all our striving is not heaven-on-earth but saving our souls. Every human life that lasts beyond age 7 is a cosmic, all-or-nothing drama: either we will go home to heaven and be happy, or we will find ourselves in hell and suffer eternal misery. 

Please don't shoot the messenger. This is good news. The Ancient Greeks didn't believe they had a shot at happiness in the afterlife. They conceived of souls flitting about disconsolately in Hades, deeply envying the poorest of the living. And so it likely was before the Harrowing of Hell. I don't think St. Joseph spent his stretch being grilled by demons, do you? 

Anyway, solid priests are not as interested in our earthly happiness (which they still hope for and may fight for) as they are in our eternal happiness. If you are a believing Christian, you don't think 60 years of a great sex life are worth the price tag of unending aeons of misery.  You also believe that  60 years of suffering, bravely born, will all be worth it when you see God face-to-face. It's the atheists who think 60 years of a great sex life is all one can hope for. It's the atheists who think a life of suffering is meaningless. 

Don't get me wrong. I am not an enemy of happy marriage (au contraire), and I don't think people should be left in their suffering.  The Christian Church is quite clear on the importance of the first and the need to alleviate the second. How achieving the goal of eternal happiness and avoiding the fate of eternal grief is to be accomplished on earth can also be found in the deposit of Christian teachings, expounded and protected by the Catholic Church (and to a certain extent the Eastern Orthodox Churches, I think). 

Some of these teachings sound very tough, especially now that they no longer shape popular culture. The most obvious ones concern marriage, particularly acts proper to marriage. As popular culture is now so out of step with traditional Christian teachings, these doctrines will shock the stuffing out of Catholics who don't hear about them until it's too late. I was 15 or older before I discovered that the Church forbade the use of artificial contraception. I was so surprised: why then were there so few Catholic families even as big as mine? However, I had divined from a very early age that premarital sex was wrong and shameful, so I accepted the Church's prohibition on artificial birth control cheerfully. I accepted it with the trust of a child until I was old enough to read and understand Humanae Vitae, which was the second Bible of the pro-life movement. 

Humanae Vitae is very solid--rigid, even. Having understood its contents from the age of 18 makes it that much easier to refuse the free IVF treatments my British health care providers keep offering. I would  love  to have  a baby--but not at the expense of my soul. The rigidity of Church teaching against IVF gives me a lot of peace. Not only that, it sanctifies my (probably age-related) infertility in a way impossible for women 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, childless women had no right or wrong choice to make. I, however, have the opportunity to refuse IVF, which may add a little something to my "offering it up."  The down side, of course, is that other married Catholic women succumb and have IVF babies, and may never regret their sin: how would they, when the end result was their babies?

I used to resent them, but now I feel sorry for them. They have their heart's desire--and now they're stuck in unrepentance. Why didn't their priests explain it to them? Or did they just proceed from the starting point of "An all-loving God wouldn't stop loving me if I helped create a number of embryos in a dish so that I might bring at least one of them to term and thus have the baby I want so much." I am not sure where they would have got this from Scripture or Tradition, mind you. Oh dear.

Sometimes earthly happiness is a bad thing, and sometimes earthly suffering is medicine for the soul. I am quite fascinated by my deformed foot as a vehicle for penance. Who needs a hair shirt who has a bunion? Whenever my foot hurts, I can offer it up!

Anyway, if I went to the wrong kind of priest, I possibly could get "permission" to dabble in IVF. However, my devout Catholic husband would never consent, so that's a mercy too. (Don't forget, we're talking about mortal sin and hell here.) Poor man, what a martyrdom it would be for convert him to have his cradle Catholic wife begging and pleading and cajoling him to participate in objective evil. I am sure he wouldn't cave. However, say I took him to this wrong kind of priest and the priest convinced him through some sigh or clever argument or assurance that there's a wideness to God's mercy that includes joyful and unrepentant IVF, and B.A. submitted... Oh poor chap.

Actually that the above scenario could  happen in the Historical House is so ridiculous, there is no point in continuing.

Here's a recent article about hell in the Catholic Herald. It includes verses from Scripture and, appropriately for 2017, Fatima material.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Thomas Peters Breaks His Silence

Well, this is a red letter day in the Catholic Blogosphere. American Papist, aka Thomas Peters, has blogged for the first time in 600 days  to beg the John Paul generation to protest Amoris Laetitia and its shocking implimention by the Maltese bishops.

It has been 600 days since I last composed a blog post, but this is so important I am breaking my hiatus.
Almost exactly 1600 years ago, in the midst of the Pelagian heresy which threatened to engulf the Church, St. Augustine wrote that when Rome has spoken, the case is closed (paraphrased: “Roma locuta est, causa finita est”).
Today, precisely because the pope has not spoken, the Church is facing a crisis, and the case remains open.
He's begging the priests, religious and theologians under 40 in particular to speak up. 
You were formed under the papacies of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. You went to school for this. You serve as pastors, teachers and counselors. So, speak up!
My dear boy, the people who would speak up against this nonsense are precisely the sort of people who do not graduate or get ordained, except from solidly orthodox teaching institutions. Unless they are tough. I am admit that I am not that tough, and many orthodox students have been much much tougher and braver than I. Still, the glorious thing about having deep-sixed my "career" is that I cannot lose it again. What would I be feeling were I teaching systematic theology at Berkeley right now? Giving up Californian sunshine, and professorial privilege, and all that lovely money would have been a wrench.... 
Anyway, appealing to those who have positions to lose may not be the best course of action. It might make more sense to  appeal to teenagers--especially ones whose lives have been blighted by their parents' divorces. Nobody hates hypocrisy more than teenagers, and teenagers, in my experience, are the people most likely to throw themselves on the ramparts. When I was a teenager, I had friends who chained themselves to operating theatres in you-know-what clinics and were dragged down the stairs by the cops, bumpity, bumpity, bump.  (They were also tougher and braver than I.) 
Still, you never know. If enough of us freelance professional Catholics start yelling our lungs out, people with a little more worldly stuff to lose will take courage, and if enough of them start yelling, those a little higher up will take courage, too. Although I have to admit that the 13 Cardinals, Archbishop Gądecki, the 45 Theologians and the 4 Cardinals have led the way, the silence or hostility of the rest of bishops plus the other theologians does suggest that this is going to be a down-up movement. 
We all know that Cardinals wear red to show their willingness to be martyred. But guess how many Cardinals were martyred during the English Reformation. Guess! Guess! One.  He was also the only bishop.  (In Scotland, Cardinal Beaton was assassinated, but errr....)
Lots of abbots and priors were killed, dozens of priests, hundreds of lay-folk, but all the other bishops got with the tyrannical program so that Henry VIII could have sex and babies with |Anne Bolyn and feel good about it. 

So far I have offered up the pain in my sinuses for the doctrinal integrity of the Church, prayed, cried and written an article about the Maltese bishops that I hope is coherent. I'm still sick in bed, after all. Oh, and I have linked to Catholic Papist, so toddle over and think about how you can do your bit. 

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Notes from the Time of the Great Apostasy

Sorry for the hysterical tone of yesterday's post. Unfortunately for my recovery, I found out about the Maltese bishops around 11 PM, when I ought to have been in bed, and I couldn't sleep. Result: anguish and relapse. I fell asleep around 6 AM after much praying and weeping, and I spent yesterday flat on my back, dozing in two hour snatches. When I woke up, I applied microwaved washcloths to my aching face.

"If I'm in so much pain with just a cold, how am I going to cope with cancer?" I asked B.A.

"You're not going to get cancer," said B.A.

Given family history, I'm more likely to have a stroke, as I thought whenever yet another coughing fit caused a throbbing in my left temple. I banished the computer from the guest room and forbid B.A. from discussing Church news. The only Church news I wanted was that the Cardinals and bishops had risen up to correct the Maltese heresiarchs, and I didn't want to brood on how unlikely this was.

When B.A. came back from the mall with groceries and eucalyptus oil, he took up residence in the armchair by the empty fireplace at the end of this long but narrow room. This was very kind and companionable of him, as was his preparation of a bowl of steaming eucalyptus. This nursing stuff is more frequent to men in romance novels than to men in real life, so I must have looked as sick as I felt.

"May God bless you for your care of your wife," said I.

A Christian therapist once told me that the most authentic prayer is "Help!" When I think of the family emergencies that knocked me to my knees---once while I was washing dishes--I believe that. As we didn't pray nightly rosaries in my family, the rosary seems like more of a private devotion or--because I only really began to pray it when I joined the local teen pro-life movement--spiritual warfare. If we believe Sister Lucia of Fatima, however, we believe that we should pray the rosary every day. In the small hours of Saturday morning, I finally turned to the rosary, but not after some time with my childhood prayer book. "Prayer for the Church" really made me cry.


I strive in my blogging and other writing not to come across as the legendary "Mad Trad". However, the Church is in such an emergency that all believing Catholics--trad, neo-con, liberal--should be tearing our hair and rending our garments. Mad, no. Sad, yes. When Saint John Paul II was elected in 1978, he began to cope with the terrible mess caused by the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. Over almost 30 years he created a wonderful edifice of papal doctrine that addressed contemporary life and problems. Now this brilliant work has been thrust aside--or, worse, pillaged for half-quotes-- in favour of craven banalities.

It's not an original thought--bear with me, for I am still in bed--but it seems that there are at least two different Catholicisms out there. The one that seems most prominent is the world-focused one, which is all about creating heaven on earth and making everyone feel as happy and comfortable as possible. In this Catholicism, the Eucharist is primarily a symbol of community. This Catholicism has a lot going for it: the corporal works of mercy are very important, after all.

The next most prominent one is focused on God, the Mother of God, heaven, purgatory and hell. In this Catholicism sin is not a trivial human weakness that should not be judged but a personal calamity with the most awful consequences. And in this Catholicism, the Eucharist is primarily the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, worthy of our adoration and--scandal to the Protestants--worship.

The Marian piety of this Catholicism is strongly influenced by the incidents and personalities involved in the apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima. Saint Bernadette died young, but Sister Lucia of Fatima lived to a ripe old age, and so arguably had greater influence. (St Bernadette, like the Little Flower, seems to have belonged to a different age entirely.) There is also an obsession around her "secret"--there was but one "secret" originally--which became three "secrets", two revealed after they had come to pass, and one that seems to have disappointed many people.

Personally, I am less interested in the Secret than in Lucia's concern for souls going to hell. By her account, her two infant cousins were also very worried about souls going to hell. They were so worried about this, they apparently spent most of the rest of their young lives praying and doing penance in the hope that they would save these souls. Lucia reported that the children even hurt themselves with rope cilices. (Their father said he knew nothing about that, which is to his credit.)

It would seem that these two children were a lot more worried for the souls of their fellow human beings in general than the Maltese bishops are for the souls of Maltese Catholics who commit serious sexual sins. Instead of investigating thoroughly whether or not sexual sins really do send souls to hell---and Sister Lucia was very firm in saying that they did--the Maltese bishops have instead encouraged these people to risk receiving the Eucharist, which---let me tell you--in equally Catholic Poland sexual sinners do not do.

It's interesting, you know. In some countries, the Catholics are so honest about their sins and yet so respectful of the Holy Eucharist that they do not receive the Eucharist until they have made their confession and promise of amendment. For many this may be when they stop using birth control. In Canada I  knew a Polish lady who had married a divorced man, and although she went to Sunday mass every week, she did not approach the Sacrament. I thought her situation was very sad, but I honoured her for her respect and love for the Eucharist and refusal to use it as a symbol of "I'm okay, you're okay".

Although it is obviously far from the idea that large numbers (most?) Catholics use birth control or commit other long-term sexual sins, it is surely better that they have a reason to give them up than an excuse to keep doing them. It is also better that the Church teach the truth in and out of season than to be the cool uncle who invites you to smoke pot with him.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Falco Explained

Normally I do not regret that that there was no internet in the 1980s. However, as there were no liner notes to our Falco singles and CDs, youtube would have come in handy. These go out to my German-learning, fellow Falco fan Nulli Secundus:

(See notes for lyrics to "Nie mehr Schule")

And a Nena bonus:

Roused by Song

Well, maybe not song, exactly. (That's the motto of one of my clans, by the way.) More like roused by love of teaching. Having postponed Wednesday's Ancient Greek class to Friday, I was determined to be well enough to teach today. When I woke up at 2 AM with a splitting headache, I groaned with disappointment.

However, I reread parts of Lalka until I fell asleep again, and when I woke up at 9, I waited out my first four hours of misery to see if I would feel well enough to take a shower, get dressed and walk to the train station. Happily I did. I left early enough to walk slowly.

Baby, it was cold outside. However, the important thing is that the whole adventure--walk 20 minutes - train - walk 15 minutes - teach - walk 15 minutes - train - walk 20 minutes--took only 3 hours, and it has been a dry day, so I never felt damp. Now I shall wait and see if I feel even better tomorrow or have another relapse.

I am not usually that interested in my health, but it has been an interesting six weeks from a tissue manufacturer's point of view. My glasses are still firmly on my nose, as I have felt too poorly to find out if I can wear contact lenses again. And I am certainly not going to anything strenuous until this cold is clearly over.

Today's class included the Present Tense of (most) verbs and the first declension feminine and second declension masculine, nominative and accusative, singular. Hopefully that was not too much to introduce all in one hour. Fortunately, my charges know Latin and are keen.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

"Lalka" (The Doll)

My companion in illness has not been B.A. as much as Lalka ("The Doll") by Bolesław Prus (1890, translated by David Welsh), because Prus--who I see was also Głowacki (hence all those Polish cultural things called  Głowacki this or that)--cannot catch this hideous cold. He died in 1912.

It is a testament to the genius of Głowacki/Prus that I have read his 676 page book almost non-stop, taking breaks only for meals, naps, Endeavour, and pacing the floor of the guest room, in which I am quarantined. One charming aspect of this illness is that it allows me only two hours of sleep at a time, and when I awake I feel quite wretched. However, four hours after giving up on sleep, I feel rather better and can read again. Such an absorbing doorstopper of a nineteenth century book has been just the thing. 

Sadly, it is the most misogynist book I have ever read. Thank you, Polish Romantics. Really, the only likeable woman in all of Lalka is a 70 year old duchess, and that is quite something, as the book is also an acid attack on the old Polish class system, especially the aristocracy.

Between them, the Germans and the Soviets liquidated most of the Polish aristocracy during the Second World War, which arguably ended in Poland only in 1989. While researching an article on Poles in Scotland, I was saddened by the information that the Polish soldiers marooned here by Britain's betrayal of the Free Polish government in London in favour of the Slave Polish government in Warsaw were told that they might be called into active service to liberate Poland. Goodness knows how long the true believers waited for the call that never came. The generals took up menial jobs and returned only after the Berlin Wall fell.... It's a very sad story, and something for the British to feel guilty about should they ever tire of feeling guilty about their great and glorious Empire.

Anyway, back to Lalka. Lalka is highly reminiscent of  the works of Dickens, Henry James, and Dostoyevsky. The blurb on the cover says Chekhov, but Chekhov was a short story man, so I myself am thinking Feodor. Also, the book is highly moral with lots of conversations about virtue and vice. But the more I read, the more I thought about The Portrait of a Lady, only the Isabel Archer character is a brilliant businessman named Stanisław Wokulski. You will not find any women like Isabel Archer in Lalka, that's for sure.

There is a spirited proto-feminist character named Mrs Wąsowska. The women in the book are either stupid, stupid and wicked, or clever and wicked. Mrs Wąsowska is clever and wicked, so rather interesting. She does her best to defend the bad behaviour of Polish aristocratic women who flirt with every man alive, marry horrible old men for money and have affairs. The cool thing here is that Prus levels the playing field between the two combatants----his hero married an older woman (now dead) for her money (or, rather, for a job in her shop) in his youth, so he he knows all about selling oneself. The difference is that he kept his side of the bargain, unlike the silly girl he and Mrs Wąsowska are arguing over.

As I read hundreds of pages of a nouveau riche chap's misery over the entitled snob with whom he was infatuated, I felt rather impatient with him for being quite so stupid. However, I have had two-year long crushes myself, so I know they can be hard to escape. But I was very interested in his sulkiness over aristo women flirting with every man around, for it struck me that I knew the philosophy behind this activity first hand.

When I was in elementary school, there was a pecking order among the girls based on whether the boys "liked" us or not. By "like" we didn't mean, "thought was one of the boys"--indeed I knew only one girl like that: all the boys liked her sincerely without "liking" her.  By age 11, I knew that it was a shameful thing not to be "liked" by any boy and by age 14, that it was shameful to be "liked" by the wrong boy. My first cavalier, whom I met on a two-school retreat, took quite a shine to me, but his classmates told my classmates that his father was a garbage collector (i.e. bin man) and this caused great hilarity.

When I was in high school, there was neither a pecking order nor boys most of the time, but I still got the message that the more boys who "liked" you, the better it was. My frivolous heart sang with joy when the Candygram lists were posted, and multiple marks appeared after my name. It's funny that our grades were never posted, but any girl could see how many billets-doux had arrived for the others.

There was also my mother, who was very interested in my tales of high school dances and took an obvious satisfaction in the number of boys who asked me to dance. She was not at all interested in the number of boys I asked to dance; she said that they didn't count, which implied that the ones who asked did. Again: the more, the better.

There were also most books written for girls and women before 1970, which implied--or said flat out--that it was a good thing to have many suitors to choose from. Well, look at Scarlett O'Hara. The whole point of Scarlett's pre-war existence was having a gazillion men around. And I must say, that there is no woman men seem to take more interest in than a woman all the other chaps take an interest in.

Now here's a thing. There were girls in my elementary school class it was okay for a chap to have a crush on, and there were girls (including me) whom it was de rigeur to scorn. I did not have a flirtatious bone in my body until high school when I was so happy to be out of that milieu, I somehow found my Inner Scarlett and did what she said. Result: a mild popularity, i.e. boys enough to dance with. No doubt I confused a lot of already confused high school boys and I definitely hurt some adolescent feelings, but Society had told me from the age of eleven that being found unattractive to boys and men was shameful, so what was I to do?  Nobody handed me Lalka and said "Here, read this highly disapproving Polish novel."

Besi the iddes,ea that you can win the love of a good man (let alone a prom date) with modest clothing, downcast gaze and high ideals about men is rather amusing. It does happen--and I know a woman that happened to before she was too old to have babies--but more frequently it does not. What wins a man most frequently is being a washed and healthy average woman who goes along with the current social norm. If the social norm is sex-on-the-third-date, then chaste Catholic girls are at a serious disadvantage in that society.* Heavens, the one under-70 woman in Lalka who does not flirt and flutter like a demented sparrow is positively miserable.

Anyway, the wickedness of flirtatious women is only a quarter of the book. There is also an exploration of the relationships between the Polish aristocrats, the Polish Jews and the Polish Everybody Else. There is also the most amazing pen portrait of Paris in the 1870s that I have ever come across. My one disappointment is that the hero never does go (as promised) to Moscow, for I longed for a Polish-eye-view of 1870s Moscow, too.

And now I feel rotten so I am going back to bed. Ugh.

*Update: One solution, of course, is to frequent Catholic circles as much as possible and not dismiss boring-looking Catholic guys as actually boring until adequate research has been done. Another solution is to concentrate on your studies or money-making until men your age have grown up. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

So Sick

I've cancelled everything and am lying in bed. I will turn off the computer and spend the rest of the day reading Lalka by Boresław Prus. To be precise, the English translation of Lalka, i.e. "The Doll."

Now to make a hot toddy. I do not want a hot toddy. I want orange juice, chicken soup and buttered toast. However, whiskey, sugar and lemons is what I have.

I feel wretched and want my mother. And a new toaster. And some bread.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

'O Didaskalos

Here am I in bed with a cold again. Whatever bug is going around the UK, it is a real doozy. I am not sure whether I have had a relapse of the same cold or, in my weakened state, have caught a different one.

If I am sick from simply going out of doors, it was worth it, for yesterday I taught my first class in Ancient Greek and remembered how much I love teaching. Besides that, it's wonderful to be getting to grips with Ancient Greek, which is not as much a passport to the minds of the ancients--for their greatest works have been translated into English--as it is to the experience of those young men of the European ruling/educated classes who studied Ancient Greek as a matter of course.

Sadly, I told my pupils a whopper about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and the German general he kidnapped  in Greece during the Second World War becoming firm friends over a shared knowledge of Homer. I have just looked up the story, and it wasn't Homer, it was Horace. From the Telegraph obit:

Gazing up at the snowy peak, Kreipe recited the first line of Horace's ode Ad Thaliarchum – "Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte" (See how Soracte stands white with snow on high). Leigh Fermor immediately continued the poem to its end. The two men realised that they had "drunk at the same fountains" before the war, as Leigh Fermor put it, and things between them were very different from then on.

Now I shall have to tell my pupils I misremembered. Oh, alas. I was also a bit vague on the location of Ancient Phoenicia. I was right that the Phoenician empire included Carthage, but it turns out Phoenicia itself was on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. Now I shall have to tell them that, too. Oh, for the dusty pull-down maps of the classrooms of my youth.

One splendid aspect of my new job is that my charges very much want to learn Ancient Greek. When I taught English writing skills at a community college, I was fortunate that the majority of my students really wanted to be there and desperately wanted to do well. They were usually mature adults who had struggled in high school and were glad to have a second chance. The most difficult students were permanently bored, time-wasting adolescents who wanted to get through their college educations ASAP and get jobs as cameramen for the CBC, or whatever.

How these graduates were going to be effective in media without learning from their mandatory "Communications" class was not a question they seemed to ponder much.  Fortunately this was before the era of the smartphone, and even more fortunately, such students were in the minority and only appeared in the summer courses. They did make me question whether I wanted a life of teaching adolescents, however.

Highly preferable was each term's "class hard-ass", whom I always liked. I respected his or her attitude of "Prove to me you have the chops to teach me anything", and all I had to do to prove this was worst him or her in a bit of banter. The class hard-ass then used his or her natural high spirits to make class fun and he or she wrote his or her compositions with great energy and humour.

The biggest difference between teaching English writing skills and Ancient Greek is that the latter takes an awful lot of prep. However, it is worth it. I am determined that my students will ace their GCSEs and, what's more, get all the intellectual and spiritual advantages of a Classical education.