Monday, 18 August 2014

Appendix II: Single Resources

There I was all set to write a whole list of blogs when I realized that I regularly read only one blog about Single Life, and it is by our Eastern Orthodox sisters, the Orthogals!

So here is a link to the Orthogals.

However, a number of regular readers have their blogs, too. For Catholic Single life, see Kate P at Maiden Aunt. For Catholic Polish readers, please go directly to the Brave Women (Dzielne Niewiasty). The foundresses of DN consider me DN's godmother, which is very sweet. They have regular meetings in Warsaw, Wrocław and Kraków.

There are other links on the margins of this page.

And there is also an industry catering to Catholic Singles, especially in the USA. I do not want to knock Professional Catholics, for as a Catholic newspaper columnist, I too am a Professional Catholic. However, I think all Single Catholics should be aware that some people, knowing that what many of you desire above everything else is to stop being Single, will encourage and inflame that desire so that you will buy their products. For example, there is a Catholic online dating service I am thinking of this very moment and its scandalous advertising, e.g. "Why be alone this Christmas?"

But of course you are free to find these people, many of whom must have good intentions, enjoy the work they do, are glad that they can earn money doing it and are glad that they are helping at least some people find spouses/peace. But honestly, if you go the internet dating route, I think you should contact or respond to only those online dating Singles who live in your area. And that you should supplement internet adventures with daring forays into real life, e.g. a night class, a Saturday morning club.

The most enjoyable book I ever read on the Single Life was Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hollis. The most inspiring was The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day. Naturally I am fond of my own book, Seraphic Singles.

Finally, here is a link to my new blog. If you check today (August 18, 2014), you'll notice that there isn't much to see yet. As for my other writing, keep an eye on Catholic World Report, IP Novels and the Toronto Catholic Register.

Be excellent to each other.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Appendix 1: Weirdest Combox Spam

According to Blogger, this blog has had (as of this moment) one million, three hundred and twenty-two thousand, four hundred and thirty-three hits.

There are one thousand, five hundred and forty posts.

Fourteen thousand, five hundred and fifty-seven comments were published

This is the weirdest unpublished comment:


I am Mariam used every single spell worker on the internet, spent untold amounts of money and discovered they are all fakes...i was the fool though; doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In the end, I decided that I wanted a tarot reading to know what my future held for me; I contacted a woman who lives locally to me and she told me about a man named (Priests Abija); he does not advertise on the internet, has another job for income, has no set prices, makes no false promises and refuses to help anyone that cannot be helped and even helps for free sometimes, he will give you proof before taking money. He is a wonderful man and he was the only person who actually gave me real results. I really hope he doesn't mind me advertising his contact on the internet but I'm sure any help/ extra work will benefit him.contact him here as (518) xxx-xxxx or spirituallightxxxxxx@live.com He travel sometimes.i cant give out his number cos he told me he don’t want

Incidentally, I am not offering Priests Abija as a substitute for me. Links up next.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Last Post: His Strange Mercy

Read aloud:

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum: verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.


Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build--but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and breed not one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1889)

Sometimes when I am feeling cheated by life, I reflect that I have a roof over my head, the ingredients of dinner in the fridge and a husband safely toiling away at a job he enjoys. This sets me apart from millions of impoverished widows and wives whose husbands are prisoners, on active military service, in dangerous work, in work they hate, or unemployed. I am not the worst woman alive; I am certainly not the best woman alive. And meanwhile innocent Christian Syrian and Iraqi girls, most of whom are probably my moral betters, who love and trust God and venerate the Blessed Mother, have been raped by wicked strangers who may or may not have also killed their families.

So really I cannot complain to God on my own behalf. All I can do is thank Him for His mercy to me and for His blessings I have certainly not merited and that He will extend His mercy to other Christian women, especially those suffering in the Middle East.

Someone once asked me if I thought he or she was being punished by God for his or her sins. I thought carefully about how I should answer that, for the someone was very intelligent, loathed sentimentality and was feeling miserable. "Oh no, Such-and-such, God LOVES us," though true, was not going to cut it. So instead I said something like, "It could be that your suffering now is God's mercy. We both believe in Purgatory; we both believe we can choose to do penance for our sins now or later. Maybe bearing suffering now as penance is better than doing penance later."

Father Gerard Manley Hopkins suffered a lot. I direct you to his life story. He suffered from psychological and physical illnesses. He struggled with sexual temptation with great honesty. Blessed John Henry Newman, whom he greatly admired, did not admit him to the Oratory. He joined the Jesuits, and the Jesuits didn't much appreciate him. A patriotic Englishman, he was sent to teach in Ireland, where he felt in conflict with his patriotically Irish brethren. He wanted time and energy to do great scholarly work; he often felt like a failure. His siblings lived into their eighties and nineties; he contracted typhoid and died at the age of 45. The Jesuits burned most of his papers. A hundred years later a work party of Jesuit scholastics contemplated his gravestone, where his name was only one of a number, and their solemn silence was broken by a comedian among them who said, "Yah, [expletive deleted], get in line." They all laughed merrily. Tall poppies have a tough time in the S.J. to this day, it seems.

Father Hopkins was also the last great English poet of the nineteenth century, or the first great poet of the twentieth century. Perhaps both. He had no idea that anyone would ever think so; the Jesuits thought his poems were crazy. However, the poems show a brilliant, inventive, blessed mind. They are shot through with evidence that Father Hopkins could see things in nature that very few others can see--or could see, before Father Hopkins pointed them out. He also could hear things in the English language that others did not have the capacity to hear before Father Hopkins invented the rhythms that displayed them. He could really see, he could really hear, and this meant seeing and hearing acutely not only what was good but what was bad.

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wear's man's smugde and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

Forty-five years of the agony and ecstasy of being a deeply devout, often tempted, unusually sensitive visionary, who felt humiliated by the religious order he had pledged his life to, and then mortal illness in a foreign country where Englishmen were despised.

"I am so happy, so happy," said Father Hopkins and died in obscurity.

One hundred and twenty-five years later, how is he doing? I don't know. I hope he is in Heaven. He may very well be. He might be in Purgatory. I very much doubt he is in Hell. I would not be surprised at all to discover that he is in Heaven already. In life, he really loved God.

He is certainly not getting royalties, nor does he care. But his works serve as contemporary psalms for lovers of poetry, especially if they share Father Hopkin's faith. The one I posted at the top is the one I love the best.

I don't know why sinners prosper, unless it is because the world is indeed ruled by the lord of this world. Sinful ways work in a sinful world. The soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. Yet sin, said Sister Wilfreda to my Grade 9 Religion class, has its own built-in punishment. You might feel the effects of it soon, or you might feel the effects of it later. God in His mercy may let you learn from your hard lesson, or God in His mercy may spare you the hard lesson at all. We cannot without presumption take the mercy of God for granted, but we can and should rejoice when we or someone else experiences it. I have suffered rather a lot from some sins, and only later realized what those sins were in the first place.

Chaste readers, by which I mean readers who do their best not to commit any sexual sins, may feel ripped off that God does not reward them for their chastity with a nice husband. I certainly felt ripped off when God did not reward me for my chastity with a nice husband. I spent my first marriage demanding "Why did You DO this to me? I was a GOOD girl," etc., etc. It has taken me some decades to admit that I wasn't as good as all that. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a "virgin whore" (as my ex said some invisible rival of mine--who, come to think of it, he might have made up--had called me). But I was thoughtless and selfish and wont to think I was well within my rights to dump some guy I had made out with months without a sincere apology. Instead of blaming myself for inchastity ("ME? A VIRGIN? UNCHASTE? HOW DARE YOU!") and getting a grip, I blamed myself for "fickleness" and tried to cure it by quashing my better judgement and just getting married to the next guy I made out with. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. What he was being punished for...Well, I guess Aslan would say that that was his story.

I feel really terrible for virgins who give themselves airs, for I was a virgin who gave myself airs, at least in my head. Now such preening strikes me as pathetic and as touching as the rose in Le Petit Prince proudly flexing her little thorns. Nobody gives you a prize for virginity in this life. If you hang onto it forever, you get a crown in heaven, I believe--at least metaphorically. If you trade it in for marriage, you get the satisfaction of knowing that God is pleased you obeyed Him in this respect.

And that's it, frankly, speaking as one who knows. You don't necessarily win your husband's everlasting love and respect, if you wouldn't have had it otherwise. Oh, if you overcame serious temptation and suffering on the way to becoming a "virgin bride", if serious temptation and suffering come your way again, you may be able to defeat them, thanks to early practice. Of course, if you are grieved you got no tangible reward for your virtue, temptation and suffering may defeat you next time around. Temporarily, of course. Thank God we have stopped thinking of women as breakable glass objects which, if they fall with a smash, are swept up and thrown in the bin.

There is something creepy about wanting punishment to fall on a happy (if sinful) woman who, thanks to the mercy of God, is blessed with a happy (if sinful) husband and children, as I'm sure you all know in your heart of hearts. You don't know what suffering she had in her life before she married, and you don't know what suffering she will have after. You probably don't know her circumstances, either. I remember a Polish reader writing about a cousin who was held up to her as a model of chastity all through the cousin's overlong engagement. It turns out the cousin had been having sex with her fiancé for ages, and my reader was absolutely disgusted with her cousin when she found out.

But from my point of view, I feel awful for the poor cousin, having had to listen to her older female relations going on about how chaste she was, and perhaps even wanting to be chaste, and perhaps crying in the confessional every second Saturday, terrified of offending God, while her fiancé put the pressure on. Even fiancés can be absolute jerks about sex because all men (like all women) are sinners. It's up to the woman to decide if she loves such a sinner enough to marry him. May God be merciful to them both--and to all of us.

And that's it from me. I will write an Appendix (Appendix 2) full of helpful links tomorrow.

God bless you all, my little poppets. I hope all this was helpful.

Grace and peace,
Seraphic

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights of the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Last Week: 5. Rooted in Reality

Human beings come to know through three processes: experiencing, understanding and judging.

Pure experience is the like the moment between suddenly tasting salt on your lips and registering "salt." The question for understanding is "What is it?"

The mind puts forward various hypothesis, e.g. "Blood."

The question for judging is "Is it so?"

The mind then reflects and perhaps rejects the first answer, e.g. "No, it is salt water. The Mediterranean, in which I am swimming, is salty."

Judgment often leads to a third question for reflection, "Knowing that, what must I do?", e.g. "Stop panicking, Lake Ontario person."

These are the basics of the cognitional theory of Father Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984), a Canadian philosopher-theologian whose work I studied for five years. I have found it essential for examining my own mental processes and understanding my various lapses in reason. Father Lonergan wrote very persuasively about "bias" of various descriptions. Bias can prevent you from grasping what is, especially if "what is" seems intolerably painful or inconvenient. "Group bias", for example, can lead you to your refusing to understand a reality about another group. "Dramatic bias", when you have an unusually violent and apparently irrational psychological reaction to something, may point to some buried trauma. Bias leads what Lonergan calls "the flight from understanding." If we don't want to know something, we refuse to know it.

What is it? It's a photo of me serving a cake. And I look overweight.


BIAS: NO I LOOK FINE. I LOOK FINE. IT'S A TERRIBLE PHOTO. I LOOK FINE IN THE MIRROR. SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!


Is it so? Well, I weigh over 141 lbs, and according to the Body Mass Index, I'm overweight.
Knowing that, what must I do? I must darn well stop eating so much and start moving more. Otherwise I'm just going to get fatter and risk getting diabetes and cancer and who knows what.


Now, the human race has been made in the image and likeness of God in this way: humanity can reason. That said, your value is determined by your membership in the human race, not by how smart you are. To honour the image and likeness of God in you, you use your reason as best as you are able.

It can be painful. It's painful because the forces of evil want you to be stupid and live a miserable life in a fog of confusion, seeking relief solely in your passions, in mental and bodily pleasures that erode your capacity for reason, until you die in a state of mortal sin and go to hell. And so the forces of evil whisper all kinds of temptations into your ears to turn off your brain, including, "Don't you want to be popular? Don't you want to be loved and admired? Don't you enjoy despising those the people you admire despise? Isn't being one of these superior folk more important than anything else in life?"

It's also painful because it takes effort. It takes humility. It takes loving truth more than you love your self-image as super-smart, or a victim, or whatever else. It takes revising cherished theories when new data comes in, and asking yourself "Is it so? Is it so?"

Lonergan was a Jesuit, and therefore he very likely reviewed his whole day before he went to sleep at night, to look for any flaws in his behaviour and to apologize to God for them. The influence of Saint Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises on Lonergan was huge. It take exercises to be able to stare at reality--especially the reality of yourself--under the bright light of human reason.

The most painful reality to hit Roman Catholics recently is the knowledge that a number of men unfit for priesthood became priests and used the priesthood as an opportunity to sexually assault children or teenagers or (as in Africa) nuns. Many more have used priesthood as a cover for promiscuity: they pose as shining examples of chaste celibacy lived for others by day, and become stealthy figures trolling certain parks or street corners at night.

We didn't want to know, and when we did know, we ran away from the knowledge. Group bias kicked in: "What will the enemies of the Church say?" It sucks when anti-Catholics who have been fantasizing about wicked priests for centuries turn out to have been partly right. As for bishops' fears that priests and laity everywhere would suffer from public knowledge of pedophile, ephebophile, and sexually promiscuous priests.... Well, they were right about that, weren't they?

However, infinitely worse was the fact that children, teenagers, nuns and other vulnerable women were falling victim to these horrible men and that frightened bishops did little, if anything, to help them. And now that we know, we can DO something about it and HAVE done something about it. For adults, knowing is better than NOT knowing.

However, it doesn't stop there. As all kinds of stories hit the press about abuse-and-cover-up in colleges, care homes, schools, mental hospitals, the BBC, we come to grips with two more truths: 1. that children and teenagers are much more vulnerable to sexual abuse by people in "the caring professions" than we ever imagined, 2. that some people want to keep bringing the conversation back to Roman Catholic priests. One comment I read under an online report about the Walt Disney World employees sneered that someone should alert priests to Disney World.

Now that we know that, what do we do?

In terms of our own lives, being rooted in reality spares us from two extremes of thinking about ourselves and our futures: catastrophizing and wishful thinking. These are really two sides of the same coin. Catastrophizing says, "I'm never getting married! I'm ugly! I'm unattractive!" Wishful thinking says, "When that boy I have a crush on sees me in this dress, he's gonna have to notice me!" In both situations, the thinker does not have enough data to make either judgment with intellectual integrity intact.

Incidentally, men do this too although they are quicker to blame others, especially women, just like Adam in Genesis, for their unhappiness. The guy who says, "No woman will ever look at me because I don't have a car" is just as unrooted in reality as the guy who writes in the personal ad that he is interested in meeting a women who is 5'10", 100 lbs. Both of them lack sufficient data about the reality of women. The first guy either really believes women equate car ownership with desirability and/or he wants to believe women who don't notice him are shallow and therefore his inferiors. The second guy doesn't know how much tall women weigh. His priorities are also a tad messed up, of course.

When it comes to Single Life--and any other kind of life, really--the most important reality you must come to grips with is the reality about yourself. This can be hard to see--a priest-professor once opined that people never seem to know what their real sins are--which is why having friends, family, therapy and spiritual directors around to tell you is pretty important. There are also books that are helpful: Edith Stein's writing about women has certainly helped me. Do I want to get married, or do I want something else, is a good question for reflection. Ideally one should start asking this question after Confirmation, i.e. around age fourteen.

What is it? I want to marry some day.

Is it so? Yes. I really enjoy family life, long for kids and really get a kick out of having a man around. I spend some time discerning religious life and discovered living with women, and only women, in community drives me crazy.

Knowing that, what must I do?

A significant number of copies of Seraphic Singles the Book are about to be pulped. Oh woe is me. My publisher doesn't blame me, though, and indeed I don't blame me either, as the book was picked up by two other publishers, and the Polish one did rather well with it, for various reasons, some cultural, and I promoted it on this blog for YEARS. But that said, in my opinion, formed over seven years of blogging, the vast majority of Roman Catholic Singles in Canada and the United States do not want to know how to love the Single life. They want to know how to END their Single life. Seraphic Singles does not explain how to do that. The Rules, which purports to tell readers how to "win the heart of Mr Right", sold millions of copies and spawned many imitators, including the excellent "He's Just Not That Into You." What do women want? A lot--and (usually) marriage, and (very often) family. How to get them? How? How? How, Seraphic, HOW?

Beyond prayer, be rooted in reality, no matter how much it hurts. Human nature does not change, but the times do. The problems do. After the First World War, there were a lot of Single women (including widows) in Scotland because the men their age had been killed. After the Sexual Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because men don't have to marry to get sex and wife-like companionship anymore. After the Divorce Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because men are terrified of divorce, alimony, child support and family court. In Scotland (to name just one country), most divorces are initiated by women. After the Feminist Revolution, there are a lot of Single women because many men and women are quite terrified of each other. Young women are afraid of being raped or otherwise treated like garbage. Men are afraid of losing their money and being alienated from their children. In reaction, women act tough, and men cry online. O brave new world!

Is it so?Now that we know that, what do we do?

Women should learn about men, reserving judgement. Men should learn about women, reserving judgement. The best way to do this is to ask serious questions and to make careful observations because the people you ask will not always know the answers, or will have the wrong answers, or will be afraid to give the answers. It takes guts and humility for a female PhD candidate to admit that at the literal end of the day, she wants a husband and kids to hug. It takes a verbal finesse that most men don't have to explain without offense that as attractive as the idea of caring for a wife and family, you'll be damned if you spend your life as a human cash machine for ingrates who abuse you, belittle you, and make you look bad in front of other men.

Never underestimate the role of other men in how men think about women.

I know a lot more about men now than I did ten years ago. That's for sure. The upside to dating and breaking up, dating and breaking up, is that you learn a lot about men along the way. But I learned more from having male students, and from having colleagues and mentors who were male religious. And then I learned even more from being married and off the market. Men tell me stuff they wouldn't tell me if I were still Single or, I suspect, under 35. And I am much more detached from what they tell me. Most men are not attracted to fat women? Interesting! Why not? Most men in their twenties are not interested in women in their forties? Fair enough! Young men STILL go around rating women from 10 to 1? Bizarre! Why? Is it a male-conforming thing? And at what age do men stop such shenanigans these days?

I'm not surprised that many men are obsessed with money. What surprises me is that I have finally grown sympathetic to their money obsession. It's not that I think money is what women most highly value in men. (Puh-leez!) It's that I am finally taking seriously the fact that many men worry so much about it, especially in the USA. I'm no longer rolling my eyes about it, or feeling hurt about it. I am asking, do some of us feel entitled to men's money some times? Is this indeed a wider problem ? Has something that ought to be a gift freely given from the heart become an unjust social expectation? But more importantly, from the Single female point of view, Has display of reciprocal financial generosity become attractive to men? And if so, what must we do?

I may discuss other things I think men find attractive tomorrow. That way I'll go out with a bang. Seraphic Singles shuts down tomorrow at British midnight.

On the other hand, that's a mighty hypocritical way to to end a blog about Loving the Single Life. Maybe you can tell me in the combox what the last post should be about. It's the last post, after all. THE LAST POST. From now on, you'll have to pay me to write this stuff. ;-)

****
Lonergan's Four Laws:

1. Be Attentive.
2. Be Intelligent.
3. Be Reasonable.
4. Be Responsible.

Late in life, he added a fifth:

5. Be Loving.

That, unfortunately, was used as an excuse for all kinds of hippy shenanigans.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Last Week 4. The Body in the Soul's Keeping

Heroin is an awful drug. It is seriously addictive and has all the caché of the floor of the men's washroom of your local dance hall at 2 AM. Some people think it is cool, other people (like me) think it is dirty, and hopefully everyone knows it is hideously dangerous. I have never been tempted to touch it, and I have never been offered it, and I know only one person who ever used it, and she said once was enough and it terrified her.

I don't need to try heroin to know that I should stay the heck away from heroin.

Codeine, on the other hand, is a different petal of the poppy, because I have indeed taken codeine, and I have never had such a chemical high in my life. I was so happy, so blissful--and in such terrible pain because it made my rib cage feel like it was coming apart. In memory of my ribs, I have not taken codeine since. Meanwhile, occasionally friends are given morphine at the hospital, and afterwards we giggle over them having being given a highly addictive substance with a darkly glamorous reputation by a respectable doctor.

"How was it?" I say.

"It was awesome," they say.

"It's terribly addictive," we say together.

This is all a metaphor for sex because chastity speakers always have lousy metaphors and similes for sex, so why should I be any different, eh?

I think chastity speakers do as much damage as they do good, and they are at their worst when they try to terrify teenagers into keeping their clothes on my telling them that sex robs them of their intrinsic worth. What crap.

Nothing can rob you of your intrinsic worth. You're a lot more like a hundred dollar bill/50 pound note than a glass of water or whatever the horrible prop is these days. No many how many hands you-the-currency go through, you are still worth a hundred dollars/50 pounds. You might get a bit crumpled and possibly you get covered in germs, but you're still legal tender until some idiot sets fire to you to show off how rich he is.

But of course you're worth a heck of a lot more than a hundred dollar bill or fifty pound note, as you hopefully remember every time you contemplate the life, passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That said, sex is for marriage. Sex outside of marriage is like nasty heroin, sex inside marriage is like the prescription drug. Sex, in short, is the opiate of the married. Did I mention it's addictive? It's addictive.

It is also one of the most powerful natural forces that govern human beings. Reader after reader has written in to say that they NEVER thought they would do the things they have just done with their boyfriends before they got married. NEVER. They were totally committed to being chaste, and they read the chastity books, or they went to Theology of the Body conversation groups, or they actually gave chastity lectures themselves. In short, they did all the theory and now that they are in the field, so to speak, they are screwing up. As are their stupid boyfriends.

Welcome to the Struggle with Chastity. Everyone's first mistake is to think that resisting sexual temptation is easy. Yet how many times did you think about sex today? (I once asked someone how often he thought about sex. He said, "You mean, in an hour?") You're definitely thinking about it now, and I apologize, but it's such an obvious temptation of Single life that I have to write about it.

Singles think about sex way more than Marrieds do. I think much more about food although that may partly be chastity training and partly sublimation, not just it being an ordinary part of ordinary life now. But, aw gee, I cannot imagine anything worse than going to a Theology of the Body talk with B.A. How boring and uncomfortable and how painful to watch the poor Singles in increasing anguish. Blah!

Actually, I did go to one when I was Single, and I was very impressed by the speaker, who was a youngish married guy. (Incidentally, I never listen to anything virgins say about sex. I will read the great intellectual saints on the topic, but that's it from my ontological superiors. Virgins should ask questions and voice fears about sex, not give speeches and advice. On coping with chaste celibacy, okay. It would be fantastic if every virgin priest got up in the pulpit and explained to the whole congregation how he copes with sexual temptation. The churches would be packed.) Anyway, someone asked the Young Married Guy, who had spent at least an hour showing us there was more to Catholic sexuality than "How Far Can You Go?", was asked "So how far can you go?" And he said, blushing to his hairline, that as crazy as it sounded, he honestly thought dating people shouldn't do more than kiss each other on the cheek or give each other a nice hug.

What?! No making out? Oh, the outrage. But for some years I have seen that he is right. Not only did a pope rule that making out before marriage was a sin--and who am I to contradict Alexander VII, eh?--but it quite obviously leads to ... other stuff. Yes, I know it is one of the most fun things in the world. I know that. Knocking back shots of cherry vodka like there's no tomorrow is fun too. I can think of many super-fun things that seem like good and harmless ideas at the time but are actually occasions for sin, if not actually sins themselves. I think I can manage three shots of vodka over an hour without getting drunk, and I think kissing handsome young men on both cheeks is okay, especially if I say "MWAH MWAH" at the same time. But that's it for the vodka and the handsome young men. C'est la vie.

"But you're married," you all say, and I say, "Ha! You just wait until you're married." And indeed, my little poppets, one of the reasons why you have to discipline yourselves to chastity now is because you may need it later,when you are terribly irritated with your husband's bad habits and you become great pals with that funny new guy at work/your golf instructor/your brother-in-law.

But it really is easier for Married people to stay chaste than for Single people to stay chaste because almost all the world still thinks that adultery is wicked, even though a good chunk of it thinks that serial monogamy (or consensual polygamy) is great for the unmarried. The fallout from adultery is a lot more obvious that the fallout from ordinary Single person fornication, unless you live with your parents and they walk in on you. Oh. My.

How glad I am I will not be blogging about this any more. I feel that I need to write a list now.

How to Be Chaste (a List)

1. Always remember that no man can touch you if he is three feet away. The secret of our relatively chaste engagement is that B.A. and I lived three thousand, three hundred and seventeen miles apart.

2. Remind yourself constantly that you are dedicated to a life of chastity. Get a single bed. Hang a cross or crucifix over it. Say your prayers. Read yourself something non-sexy until you feel yourself drifting off to sleep. Do not treat yourself to a sexual fantasy. If you do, you have to go to Confession and tell a priest about it. Sucks to be you.

3. Various saints have written that there is a connection between fasting and chastity. Worth a shot, but don't starve yourselves. Feeling hungry between normal breakfast and normal lunch and between normal lunch and normal dinner is probably enough. Maybe the idea is to get used to saying "No" to your whiny body when it wants something it shouldn't have yet.

4. Various confessors have recommended vigorous sports. Maybe this is because exercise tires you out and helps you fall asleep that night. Maybe it is a salutary reminder of what your body is for. Maybe, like fasting, it trains you to say "No" to your body when it whines "This is hard. I wanna quit."

5. Be humble and honest with yourself. You are probably a sexual sinner. Your sins are probably mild. They are probably mostly things you thought up while you were in a boring lecture or were whiling away the time between going to bed and going to sleep. Maybe you got a thrill from reading that trashy book or watching that sex scene. I'm not throwing stones here. I'm just reminding you that you are a human being and without God's grace you are not stronger than the tsunami of sexual desire that has carried away so many of your formerly devout Catholic friends and relations. John Paul's Theology of the Body is really beautiful, but John Paul never snuggled on the couch in front of the TV late at night with an attractive member of the opposite sex, did he? He was ordained before there was TV.

6. Don't read sexy books or watch sexy TV shows or sexy movies or play sexy video games (I imagine there are sexy video games) or look at porn or write erotic stories or have erotic conversations over the internet. Otherwise you will drive yourself crazy. You may even develop a porn addiction, and this will almost certainly blight your life.

7. If you find yourself going about with an attractive man, have a chastity mantra. "Don't touch the hottie" worked for me for a whole week and a half, and then B.A. grabbed me. (My subsequent post-kissing thought was "You better want to marry me, or I am going to be REALLY MAD.")

8. If you practise making The Speech, imagine that you are making The Speech to someone you are crazy about. I realize that when we imagine making The Speech, it's to some slimy, ugly, arrogant dude. However, when we actually do make The Speech, it's more likely to be to someone we actually would want to sleep with, were we married to them. Oh, and don't feel GUILTY! He should feel guilty for putting you in a position where you have to make The Speech. And the only correct response to The Speech is, "I respect that." If he doesn't call afterwards, he has ceased wasting your time. No big loss.

9. Despite Alexander VII, I do not think it is such a big deal if people who are actually engaged, which means that there is an actual engagement ring and an actual wedding date and his mother actually knows about it, make out. If accidents happen (oops), you're getting married anyway. You'll probably feel bad, and you'll have to go to confession, but otherwise, whatever. Not my business. I don't really care. The affianced are not my bag, baby. (Update: I'm sorry my tone scandalized some folk. The affianced should consult the Catechism--see 2350--and their confessors on such matters.)

10. This reminds me: if you "made a mistake", a phrase many readers use to mean "had sex", that is between you and God. Go to confession, and as part of your penance, you must not tell anyone else except (if applicable) your doctor, your fiance or--it just occurs to me--anyone else you're going to "make a mistake" with before you make the mistake again. Diseases are rife, and your fiance (or future male concubine) has a right to informed consent. "I'm not a virgin, but I have no diseases" is probably enough information. I suppose a Christian fiancé will want to hear "and I'm sorry about that" between "I'm not a virgin" and "but I have no diseases."

This is one of the most controversial things I blog on. One of my ethics profs once said is that that Church can never tell people how to sin more safely. I'm not interested in that myself. But I can tell you that most of the time, you must shut your mouth about your sexual sins and not try to get relief or a feeling of forgiveness by telling multiple people--especially men--about them. Tell a confessor, a therapist and/or a doctor instead. The only other person who deserves such information is the person who has elected to go to bed with you at some point in the future. Hopefully that is your fiancé. And do not give details. Do not admit to numbers. He might say he wants to know, but actually he doesn't. He wants to think he is the best and most important man in your life in EVERY WAY. Never underestimate men's feelings of competition with other men. It's not about control. It's about losing face. And jealousy, naturally.

11. Don't brag that you're a virgin. Pride goeth before a fall, and virgins who like to go around telling people they are virgins are at risk of virgin-hunters. Young virgins usually know very little about sexual dynamics; clever non-virgins often do. Stay under the radar of the wicked, and refuse to discuss something so personal with anyone other than your doctor or, if you get engaged, your fiancé.

If you're Catholic, your Catholic friends will assume you're a virgin anyway. Your non-Catholic friends will probably assume you're not. Whatever. It is so not anybody's business but your own (and anyone you go to bed with). Incidentally, St. Augustine ruled that you can't lose your spiritual virginity without an act of will. So if you've never consented to sex, you're a spiritual virgin, no matter has been done to you. If you're also a physical virgin, it's because nobody messed with you when you were a kid. Or a teenager. Or yesterday. This should be a sobering thought.

My first husband was obsessed with me because I was a virgin. If I hadn't been one, he would have left me alone. Fact. "I would have pitied you," he said, with all the arrogance of youth. I should NEVER have told him at all in the first place.

Yeah, some scars never heal. On the bright side, here I am happily married to B.A. and living in the Historical House.

12. Try to see chastity within the context of other virtues, like prudence, temperance and fortitude. For example, you probably have other physical disciplines you stick to in the face of temptation. If you are a vegan or celiac, you are very careful about what you eat, and good for you. If you are a non-drinking alcoholic, you avoid drinking and occasions for drink. If you are a runner, you run no matter what the weather and you put up with a lot of discomfort. If you are a boxer, you train and fight. You might even face fear, and win. (For me the most important fight was won when I climbed over the ropes.)

Well, I hope all that was helpful.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Last Week: 3. Focus on Friends

Pals, Not Prey

"I'm going to the Newman Centre to find a husband," I announced to my parents one evening. "Pray to St. Joseph for me."

I was well over thirty at the time, and I remember that my father in particular was amused by my bluntness. While convalescing from grad school in the US, I was given to loud, dramatic statements like that. "I'm a ripe fruit withering on the vine," was another one.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said my kindly father.

It was a rather dull evening at the Newman Centre, I remember. We half-watched the Dorothy Day movie while we talked and I looked in vain for husband material. I was well-behaved and boring, which probably did not stand me in good stead. It's a good thing I was rather blunter with my blog-pal Aelianus and said things like, "I want to get married. Who do you have for me, Aelianus? I'm looking at your Facebook friends..."

I met Benedict Ambrose because of Aelianus, Boeciana and Berenike, who were all blog-friends in the UK, devout Roman Catholics of great intellectual integrity, fans of my writing, beginning with my serial "Why Seraphic Hung Up Her Gloves" (renamed The Flyer's Ring). I came to the UK to meet whatever British blog-pals I could in person, and that is how I met Benedict Ambrose in person. I decided when I first saw his online photo that we were going to be just friends, even though he was smart, devout, had a great sense of humour and was very probably into me, or would be if we met.

Reflections on the first thirty-eight years of my life lead me to conclude that the best way to approach the question of finding a husband is to focus on making friends. Covert husband-hunting is actually a bad idea, quite ruinous to your peace of mind. Although it is morally superior to hunting easy sex, it is in the same acquisitive spirit. And it sounds like a recipe for disaster: women in bars hunting marital conquests among men hunting sexual conquests. Or Catholic women brazenly chasing old-fashioned Catholic men who want to do the chasing themselves, thanks.

So when you go to college or join a club or take a night class or go to a conference, don't look over all the men like a desert sheikh at a slave auction, mentally rejecting the ordinary-looking ones and fixating on the cutest. Just strike up a conversation with whoever is beside you, male or female. Repeat. You're a friendly person, and you want to make friends. That's it. One day, barring falling in love with religious life or deciding you prefer Single life or some unfortunate catastrophe, you will marry one of the male ones. Maybe you'll talk to him first. Maybe he'll see your friendly face across the room and talk to you first. It will all begin with a friendly, perhaps even flirty, conversation. And, in my case, it began online because I enjoy friendly conversations with readers, and B.A. was a friendly reader, and also the friend Aelianus told me about, the one I should meet.

And now I will say something about temporary boyfriends. Read carefully.

Men are not collectibles

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I got it into my head, probably from sheer observation, that dating usually involved being dumped or dumping someone yourself. I started dating at fourteen, probably because my mother thought dating was still just agreeing to go with someone somewhere nice, like the prom, not the beginning of a romantic relationship. I believed dating had built-in obsolescence and was by its very nature a temporary arrangement that would lead to marriage or rejection. The more "relationships" you had, the more popular and desirable you obviously were. Although I liked them a lot and assumed I would eventually marry them, and talked about it seriously, I ultimately had very little sense of loyalty to whichever current boyfriend. Familiarity bred contempt, I am afraid, and when I got bored or fed up and--in one case--warned to flee by a female relation--that was it. In one case, the problem was that I was a disloyal, self-absorbed and spoiled little madam who was not rooted in reality. In the other cases, I should never have let things get started in the first place. After three dates--and only three (not three thousand) meals at his (and then his, and then his) expense--I should have asked myself some hard questions. Unfortunately, nobody ever told me that or gave me a talk about JUSTICE.

We talk a lot about dating and chastity, and we sometimes talk about dating and violence, but we never talk about dating and justice.

Men think about money the way we think about sex

Seraphic at 18: All I owe a man who pays for my dinner is the pleasure of my company.

Seraphic Now: Yeah, I know Mum said that, but what does that actually MEAN?

Seraphic at 18: Uh, he gets to spend time talking to me, and men like talking to women?

Seraphic Now: So he's paying in food to talk to you, like Jake Barnes having dinner with the hooker in The Sun Also Rises?

Seraphic at 18: NO! I guess it means that, uh, I'm a good dinner companion? Um. That he wants to give me a present? To show that he likes me? As a courtship gesture?

Seraphic Now: I think we are getting somewhere. So how many courtship gesture dinners should he have to pay for?

Seraphic at 18: Well, all of them, I guess. If he wants to have dinner with me, he'll have to pay for it. I don't want to spend my own money having expensive dinners!

Seraphic Now: You wouldn't spend your own hard-earned cash having dinner with this man?

Seraphic at 18: No! I'm saving for something IMPORTANT.

Seraphic Now: In that case, I think you should call it quits.

I have eaten way too many free dinners in my time. (I don't expect much social fallout for saying that for the male reaction will be "SUCKERS" to the unfortunate men involved and "Finally some woman admits it" to me.) And this is why I now hold that after coffee (it's just coffee, more anon) and two subsequent dates, a woman should decide if this guy is worth spending her own hard-earned money to see. She may have already been saying "Let me get part of this" and "Well, at least let me get coffee afterwards", which is just good manners, especially when he is still a student. But after the third date, if you continue seeing this man, you must contribute to your outings--at least a third, or whatever seems fair to you, based on your income. Otherwise, if it all goes belly-up, he is going to resent the vast sums he spent. I am beginning to believe that men feel the way about money women feel about sex. Women worry that men will take sexual advantage of them (and some men do), and men worry that women will take financial advantage of them (and some women do).

All this said, when a Single man asks you for coffee, and you have no reason to believe he is a bad man, like a habitual PUA or sex tourist, have the coffee. It's just coffee. Your coffee and his coffee, plus two pieces of cake will cost, max, 10 pounds, ten pence in expensive Edinburgh, a whole lot less in Poland or the USA. He can handle that. It's no big deal. It is so psychically good for him that you say yes, that you really are doing him a favour. So let him pay for the coffee if he insists. He may never ask you out again, for whatever reason, but you will have improved his confidence as a man an eeny weeny bit, and that is a very good thing, especially if he is a Catholic man looking for a Catholic wife. Your generosity and subsequent loss could be another Catholic girl's gain.

If he does ask you on a "proper" date afterwards, unless you now have reason to believe that he is a bad man, I think you should go. It's just dinner. One dinner, or even one dinner and a show will not break him. And if he completely makes an idiot of himself, but has the guts to ask you out a third time, I think you should go (unless he has proved himself to be a bad man), but take charge of the venue. Choose somewhere unpretentious and inexpensive yet not, you know, somewhere that screams "break up" like McDonalds or Tim Hortons. Just somewhere easy on the wallet, like a diner. But if he insists that the third date be at his place or your place, say no. Whereas I think three dates the correct number of times to decide if you want to continue encouraging a courtship or not, I am also aware that "three dates means sex" for the segment of the world who take their social cues from "The Big Bang Theory." Proposing sex on the third date is a deal-breaker. On the bright side, it's an opportunity to share the Gospel of Life. If he whines later to his pals, "I spent $50 over two dates and all I got was a sermon," he's the jerk, not you, as I hope his friends all tell him.

Any authentically good guy deserves an hour of your time over a cup of coffee, just for being an authentically good guy. Any Nice Catholic Boy who really is one deserves two dates after that. Let him do the asking, so you know he is willing to put his ego on the line for you. And let him pay if he really wants to. But after those three outings, you either have to tell him there is "no spark" or you are going to have to pay your way, at least most of the time, like you do with your other friends.

Meanwhile, when you are hanging out with male friends, going somewhere together but not as "a date", you have to pay, or at least offer and even insist most of the time. If he really wants to pay, you could raise an eyebrow and ask "Is this a date or a friend thing?" Boys talk (and how), and if you assume a male friend should pay for non-dates, he will complain to the other boys, and you may get a reputation as a gold-digger, alas. One of my vengeful ex's told mutual friends that I was cheap. Listen, I was worse than cheap. I felt entitled. He should have dumped ME.

With male friends, as with female friends, you are well within your rights to ask how much a proposed plan will cost you. And if you are the man friend who wonders why you end up paying for female friends all the time, you are going to have to speak up and say things like, "Tickets are $20, ladies; the cash machine is over there." Women are told so often that men have more money than us that we tend to believe it, even when the poor guy is a student who works in a coffee shop, if at all.

A nice young man told me the other day that what women value most in men is money. I thought that was hilarious. He expressed it in the same spirit in which women tell each other what men value most in women is sex. It's both true and not true at the same time. Women want to feel loved/protected, and men want to feel loved/respected. Women feel loved by men when they are given presents (even something as cheap-in-money as a letter or a handful of wild flowers), and men feel loved when they get physical expressions of affection, from hugs (female relations and friends) to the marital act (wife or mistress, er, partner). In general, I mean. Some men and women want respect even more than love (not that they are opposed), and I had a Jesuit classmate who hated being hugged by anyone. He would literally flee from women who chased him with arms outstretched. I can't think of any woman I know who hates presents, though.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Not a Cure for Depression

As a survivor of full-blown depression, I thought I should write something in relation to the death of actor Robin Williams. My first brother and I are old enough to have watched "Mork and Mindy" as kids, and my brother, were he still a kid, would have taken news of his death really hard.

I don't know how it was for Robin Williams, but depression has never removed my ability to make serious moral decisions. It has made me cry a lot, and feel like a huge failure, and to suddenly escape conversations at parties to fall dead asleep on the hostess's bed. It prevents me from bouncing back from disappointments all that easily, and it urges me to quit just about any difficult endeavour. And like tens of thousands of people, I take prescription anti-depressants. But the one and only time I ever said anything remotely suicidey--and it was at a really bad time--it was to my best friend who indirectly, and in the nicest way possible, i.e. by talking about another friend, told me she would never, ever forgive me or anyone she loved who did that. And I'm glad she did. It was the spine-stiffener I needed at a moment of moral weakness.

Depression is not an excuse for suicide, although suicide may come to look like the only way out if the depressed person isn't careful with their thoughts. Perhaps in some people's case depression so interferes with their moral freedom that they really aren't culpable of their self-murder. But I am not aware of myself ever being THAT sick, even at my loopiest. I have always known (A) that sudden death of a family member is absolute hell on the rest of the family and (B) that one suicide can lead to other suicides and (C) that things ALWAYS get better eventually and (D) that suicide is a mortal sin.

Now Father Ron Rolheiser writes in his syndicated column once a year every year to say that suicide is not necessarily a mortal sin, and we should not put away the photographs of our loved one's who commit suicide, but accept their suicide as the sad result of a bout of depression and celebrate their lives. I think the idea is that suicides have "lost their battle" with depression the same way cancer victims "lose their battle" with cancer. Instead of being shunned as murderers, as they once were, suicides are bathed in a heroic glow. And I can most definitely see the appeal of that, especially as someone who "battles depression" myself.

However, whenever I read Father R's annual suicide piece, I get the impression he is writing to us merely as family members and friends of suicides, not as potential suicides ourselves. In fact, I often wonder what the cumulative effect of Father R's suicide column might be, not on a grieving family member, but on an unhappy and trusting mind in a very bad moment. One way to read Father R is that he thinks we can just jump from this world straight into the arms of Jesus, for Jesus will never, ever let us fall. So why not jump?

I believe it is salutary to hope and pray that God forgives the serious sins of others while never assuming that he will forgive one's own serious sins without contrition, confession and penance. And I certainly hope that God will forgive the serious sins of Robin Williams (as I hope he will forgive the serious sins of Auntie Seraphic), particularly this shocking last one. Poor man. There may indeed have been a staggering lack of moral freedom in his case. Certainly he seems not to have taken comfort in the thought that at the age of 63 he had amassed an impressive catalog of life's work, had sired three children, had proven himself to be a great comedian and a good actor, and had touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

So there you have it. Like many other people, I am saddened that Robin Williams is dead, particularly because he killed himself. And as a fellow sufferer of depression, I understand that depression is a physical condition, not a moral failing, that attacks your grip on reality. But at the same time, I feel it necessary to state, for the sake of readers tempted to do what he did, and for their families, that suicide is a sin, and although we can hope and pray that God will forgive it in another, we can never assume God will forgive it in us. Although depression is not a moral failing in itself, and it may attack one's freedom to make moral decisions, one is not morally off the hook. You can say "No" to evil and "Yes" to good: it's just harder.

Update: I've just been talking with someone whose life was saved by some very tough talk from a dear friend. It really costs a lot for someone to tell someone they deeply love, "If you commit suicide, you will go to hell" and mean it. It is an incredibly compassionate thing to do, especially as it leaves the poor Christian vulnerable to accusations that he/she WANTS his/her beloved friend to go to hell. And thus the compassionate person is labelled a "judgemental" and "hateful" person--and he or she doesn't care, just so long as his or her beloved friend doesn't kill him or herself.

When someone commits suicide, they are sinning against everyone who loves them. How culpable they are when they do that can only be determined by their therapist, or the courts, or God. Those sinned against may do some serious mental gymnastics to excuse the person who hurt them for their sin. "I forgive you, I forgive you, may God forgive you," seems to me the most natural reaction of a panicked, grief-stricken Christian who still loves his or her loved one and hopes against hope the loved one is okay. The thought of a loved one being in hell is awful--intolerable! Indeed, there are people tortured by the idea of anyone at all in hell, and they find the easiest way to cope is to turn off their brain and pretend there isn't a hell after all. However, the authentic Catholic response is to pray for the dead, to do penance on their behalf and to hope, not assume, that God will have mercy on them. Turning off our brains and parroting "He's looking down from heaven smiling" and "He's at peace now" is a sin against reason, however comforting it might sound.

I don't think I am a cruel or insensitive person, and like anyone who suffers from depression, I think about depression and how to cure it a lot. It takes prevention, medication, all kinds of effort usually invisible to others. Depression is a common complaint; apparently one in four American women in their 40s and 50s take anti-depressants. Imagine if they all just ended it. What a bloodbath! Imagine if I just ended it. You regular readers would feel unsettled, hurt, angry, disappointed, betrayed. "How DARE she call herself Auntie Seraphic," you would harrumph, and rightly so. Let's not even imagine what my family would think, especially the little ones. I would rather suffer from a painful disease for forty years than hurt my little loved ones like that. My uncle's (natural if too-young) death when I was nine hurt my brother and me terribly, and I will never, ever forget my grandmother weeping through Mass that Christmas.

The fact is that "mental illness" does not necessarily make us adults as incapable of sin as three year old children. It's not a comfy moral place where we can do whatever we want, safe in the knowledge that our self-appointed nannies will scold anyone with the brass to "judge" us. Those of us who are catatonic or living in heightened states of irrational terror or anger, okay. Those of us who know what we are SUPPOSED to do to live normal, rational lives but from laziness or whatever do not do it are, however, culpable of sins of imprudence or whatever else. (That reminds me; I must take my pill. Gulp. Okay.)

Today I am annoyed not at suicides but at people who are getting high from their public expressions of compassion and approval for people who commit suicide and their scoldings of those who think suicide is a rotten thing to do. These nanny-types seem to think we are adding to the suffering of the suicide's loved ones, but if anything we are pointing out the real harm done to these loved ones and dreading any future suffering of the suicide. ("To die, to sleep - To sleep, perchance to dream," said Hamlet. "Ay, there's the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come...') Really, the only thing anyone can say to the loved ones without sounding like a twit is "I'm so sorry for your loss." But when talking generally about suicide, and its implications, I think it is best to use our reasoning faculties.

The whole world seems to be talking about the Robin Williams suicide (probably because suicide is such a contrast to his funny, life-giving persona), so the forces of intellect and truth are being forced once again to engage the army of cheap sentiment and woolly thinking.