Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Gilbert & Me

Yes, I know that legions of you just want GKC back from the dead. So I've done my best to recapture l'esprit Chestertonian here.

Incidentally, getting married sometimes means going to Mass in another language. If you marry a Ukrainian Catholic, that language is Ukrainian. If you marry Benedict Ambrose, that language is....

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Scared Wallflower

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

This weekend, the family ministry in my parish will hold an event for the single, widowed and separated. I confess that I'm not very involved with parish activities beyond attending Sunday's Mass and I fear that if I go, I'll be alone in a corner for awhile and then go away. Moreover, all my friends are either non-practicing or have boyfriends/girfriends and I do not think I'll be able to drag anyone with me. What should I do?

Thanks in advance,
Scared Wallflower.

Dear Scared Wallflower,

You don't have to go. It's as easy as that. You don't want to go? You don't have to go.

I have never been to a "Single, Separated, Divorced, Widowed" event in my almost 40 years.

Wait--I did go to a "Singles" dance when I was 19, and a stranger reeking of sweat and desperation grabbed my arm. That put me off Catholic "Singles" dances forever.

But you've written to me of this event, so I am guessing you actually want to go. And now I am curious about it. Is it just a tea party, or is there going to be a speaker, or what? [Update: there is.] If it will just be a lot of standing around--dire. If there is a talk, then at least you'll have something to talk about. Just zoom up to whoever is pouring the tea afterwards and ask, "What did you think of the talk?"

The good thing about Single, Separated, Divorced and Widowed people is that they're probably all going to be in the same boat as you. They won't be able to drag friends along either. I envision you all retreating to every available corner, each imagining that every other Single there is the belle (or beau) of the ball. But actually every one will be dying for someone to go up to him/her and say "What did you think of the talk?"

Remember that someone is guaranteed to be even more shy than you. Watch them standing alone in their corner, nibbling miserably on a cookie, and walk right up to them. Smile and say, "Hi! I'm [real name]. What did you think of the talk?" When the conversation lags, say "Well, I guess we're supposed to circulate" and go say "Hi! I'm [real name]" to the next lonely-looking person. Give yourself a goal. Tell yourself that you're going to talk to at least THREE people. Once you have spoken to your three people, probably all elderly widows, you can go.

It's hard until you do it. It sure was hard for me back when I was a scared wallflower--which I totally was once, believe it or not. But it gets easier with practise. And you will get so good at it that for the rest of your life, lonely people at tea parties will call you blessed.

Grace and peace,

Monday, 28 June 2010

Save the Selkies

Speaking as someone who knows a selkie personally, I maintain that it is wrong to steal their seal-skins and force them into marriage and child-having. It is dirty pool.

People should respect selkies' desire to stay Serious Singles. Really, it burns me up.

Giving Stuff Up

It was a lousy game against Serbia. The Serbs were sticking to their end of the field like goo at the bottom of a test tube. They seemed determined to do their darndest to get a 0-0 draw. The German team was constantly frustrated, and so was I. Beside me, my husband sighed and shifted and read his book as if what was happening on the screen had no importance whatsoever. Eventually he wandered off, which was a relief, frankly, since there are few people more annoying to football fans watching international football than non-fans, and broke the lid of the coffee pot.

Serbia scored. It was an outrage. It was unfair. It was ludicrous.

"We have to stop putting dishes in the window," said B.A., which sounded a lot like "You have to stop putting dishes in the window." "I opened the window, and it broke the lid of the coffee pot."

"WHAT!" I shrieked. My mother brought the lid to my very best bone china coffee pot (replacement value approx. $300) across the ocean in her handbag. "My good coffee pot?"

"No, the green one."

At least it was only the green one, but it was still a blow. We bought it together; it was a charity shop find. Also irreplaceable.

"Well, don't blame me," I snapped.

"I'm not blaming you," said B.A. and yadda yadda yadda, and then suddenly I remembered that the battered women's shelters fill up during the World Cup and realized why.

I swear that at no time did I want to brain B.A. Even in my boxing days, I never walloped anyone outside the ring, ever. Before the thought could even enter my mind, I thought "Spousal Abuse." I thought of how easy it would be for me to become like one of those guys, one of those guys who gets so angry about a football game that he rips a hole in the air or smacks someone. And then I turned off the game.

It was that simple. I turned off the game.

No hobby or passion is worth getting seriously irritated with your spouse. This means that if you get married, you may find yourself having to take a hard look at your passions and evaluating if they can still have a place in your life. It very may well be that they have to take a much, much lower place or be dispensed with altogether. You may have to turn the TV or the computer off.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

You Don't Have To

I'm in mantra mode tonight. I feel like telling you all the stuff you don't have to do.

You don't have to go all the way on your wedding night. You're allowed to space out the stages of togetherness. You're allowed to do what feels right to YOU.

You don't have to kiss before all your friends and family during the wedding ceremony. There is no "You may now kiss the bride" in the Catholic liturgy. Even if there were, the groom could just say, "Thanks!" "You may" doesn't mean "You have to, right now, like a performing seal."

You don't have to kiss your new spouse because people are banging the crystal with their forks. They can bang until the cows come home; you don't have to do it. Me, I'd have kissed the best man instead. That would have shut them up. (Har, har!)

My little Singles, you never have to do anything romantic or sexual that you do not want to do. Yes, sometimes you may choose (choose FREELY) to humour your boyfriend by carrying around the huge teddy bear he won "for you" at the fair. And sometimes you may choose to be delighted with the big stuffed red valentine heart with arms and legs your girlfriend gave you for Valentine's Day. But you do not have to do anything physical or super-private that makes you feel uncomfortable, ever.

If you don't want to do ANYTHING sexual with your actual spouse, then there's a problem, and you will have to talk to your spouse and (choose one, both or all) a priest/a doctor/a counsellor/a shrink. But, in general, you do not HAVE to kiss/make-out/make love when you don't want to. Hopefully you will want to. But if you don't always want to, do not sweat it. This is the West; I presume you're all free to choose to marry someone who loves you and respects your boundaries.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

First Kiss on Wedding Day

Depending on how my Searching Singles are feeling, you will either LOVE this story or you will fall into a GLOOM.

Being married, and because I know the bride- and groom-to-be, I thought, "Awwwwwww!"

If you fall into a gloom, you should now that my first kiss was in a bus station, delivered by an Afghan refugee, and when I told thim that was my first kiss, he didn't believe me. This is how life is for most girls in the West, if not even more prosaic, so Sheila here is having a rather unique time.

And if you are wondering about a man who wants to wait until his wedding day for his first kiss, I should let you know that he did at least one tour of duty in Afghanistan. And he's in Opus Dei. And I interviewed him once, and I thought he was the cat's pyjamas. If I weren't married to B.A., I would be frothing at the mouth with envy.

But don't you do that. If you are in the mood for a super-sweet NCG love story, read the link and say, "Awwwwww!"

Friday, 25 June 2010

Evangelium 2010

I'm going to Evangelium 2010, and if you are between the ages of 18 and 35, you should go too. Yes, I am too old, but I was asked to go, so I'm going. I shall bring a big box of my books, too, as they are Grade A orthodox and so is Evangelium. My pal Dr. Alan Fimister says so, and if he says so, it is so. Believe me on this.

The conference will be from August 6 to August 8 at the Reading Oratory School, which is a school founded by the future Cardinal Newman in England. There are way more Catholics in England than in Scotland, so I am longing to rush down and check them all out. If you are a British Catholic and you look at the list of lectures on the website, you may see some names you recognize, like "Fr. Aidan Nichols" and "Joanna Bogle."

I am told there will be Mass offered every day in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, and in the Roman and in the Dominican Rite. How accomodating is that?

The fee is £95, which does not sound bad for a weekend mini-break with solid Catholic speakers and a gang of fellow young Catholics. So if you think you can make it, and it should be easy for European Union citizens, fill out the online form and circle the date on your liturgical calendars.

I shall not be officially speaking, but I shall be plugging my beloved book, so if Singles want to talk to little me in person about Singledom, you may. (If you have HFCWG questions, though, there will be lots of priests and a couple who do marriage prep who would LOVE to talk to you!)

Eeee! I'm so excited! There are, like, only 50 people or so in my TLM community, so the prospect of seeing lots and lots of people at a Catholic conference in my new island home fills me with glee.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Magic Mushrooms

This is a fantastic recipe because you can make it for one or you can make it for twelve; there is not much of a difference. This is a recipe I got out of an Elizabeth David book. I served it at a dinner party, with some misgivings at its simplicity, but it was a great success

Grilled Mushroom

one large flat mushroom (like a portobello) from a store

1. Wipe clean your large flat mushroom and gently cut out the stem.

2. Sit it on a thin layer of salt on a plate until 12 minutes before you want to eat it.

3. Set the grill at a medium temperature. (Elizabeth David says you are going to "gently grill".)

4. Put a pat of butter in the centre of the mushroom and put it under the grill for ten minutes.

5. Periodically check the mushroom to see if it is drying out. If it is, add more butter.

6. Serve blazing hot on a little plate. It will have shrunk a bit.

According to Elizabeth David, the culinary apostle to the Anglo-Saxons, this is the very best way to cook mushrooms. It makes a splendid starter.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic and the HFCWG Question

Darlingses, you know I hate chastity questions. This is not because I hate chastity. I love chastity. Chastity is marvellous. There is Single person chastity, priestly chastity, religious life chastity and Married person chastity. I love chastity so much that I don't think I should be trusted with people's chastity questions. The conversation is likely to go like this:

You: Auntie Seraphic, should I do X?

Me: Well, I don't see a big problem with X, unless Y is involved.

You: Oh my goodness, I hadn't thought of Y! Y never crossed my mind!

Me: Uh oh.

You: (thinking) Y, eh? Hmmm.... Nah. Not going to think about it... Y... Y... Y...

So after this question, I am not answering any more "How Far Can We Go Questions". If someone (not your spouse) is pestering you with sexual demands, you can write in for advice and sympathy. But I am not answering HFCWG. This is a question for you, your sweetie and your confessors.

Update: When I mention doing menial chores to win love, I am not suggesting that this reader was doing that. I am saying that it is the sort of thing I--and many other women--would do, and why it would be important for us not to do it. Meanwhile, my flippant tone about "love language", which I fear has wounded my poor reader, is exactly why you shouldn't send me chastity questions. You should ask a serious, super-chaste person, like a good priest, instead. Or read How Far Can We Go.

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am so excited that, as a long-time reader of your blog and admirer of your great book on the single life, I finally have a question to ask you. That's the good news. The bad news is it's a chastity question! :o

Ok, so as not to prolong the agony, I will try to be brief and to the point. My question is thus: is it all right to give one's boyfriend a back massage? I am smiling at myself even for asking this question, because as a hard-nose and hardline NCG, I've long thought it not appropriate to have that level of physical interaction with someone to whom I am not married. Then why am I asking? Well, my boyfriend [of a short time] is super sweet and serious about me: lately he's bent over backwards to be there for me when I need him, despite the fact that he's going through a rather stressful ordeal himself with his work. We've talked about love languages as well, and I know his main one is physical touch, so all the hugs and hand-holding really mean a lot to him.

Now, having practiced on girl friends in the past, I know I'm a decent massage-giver. At the same time, I also know my boyfriend is a normal, red-blooded male and attracted to me, so I don't want to do anything malapropos on the physical level. So what do you think? Is a massage allowable or verboten?

- Happy Hands Club Member

Dear Happy Hands,

What on earth is a love language? This sounds like something from a women's magazine. Are young Catholic men actually sitting around talking about love languages? I feel really old now. Reality check: most young men's love language is physical touch. But calling it a "love language" is a new one on me. It's usually called business as usual.

Anyway, you should not do anything that might be an occasion of sin for you. Giving an attractive man (who is not my husband) a massage would most definitely be an occasion of sin for ME. I could never do such a thing now; if I were single I would certainly be tempted to. Knowing me, I would plot do it in a schemey way to make the man fall in love with me. Which would probably work just as well as cleaning his kitchen and doing his laundry. You can't actually make men fall in love with you; they just do or they don't. They're binary.

My verdict is Verboten, not because I think a nice backrub through a shirt is necessarily an occasion for sin, but because it reminds me of the menial chores that we are so often tempted to do for men we like and should not do until we are married to them.

Grace and peace,

P.S. For some reason, I keep wondering what girls before WWI did. Sure, they got boxes of candy. But did they give back rubs? Probably not. Did they bake cookies? Hmmm... Probably not. Does anybody know about female courtship behaviour in 1910? Did Frances give Gilbert anything before they were engaged?

Update: Novalis has a nice chastity book called How Far Can We Go; I've met both authors, and although I haven't read their book yet, I think they are solid. Leah and I had a nice chat at a wedding in May.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Update: Is old-school a compliment or an insult? I said insult, Sciencegirl says compliment. Sound off in the box.

When Seraphic Singles was finally in my eager little hands, I didn't bother reading the blurb on the back. I had already proof-read a blurb for the back, so I didn't think about it. But then one day, I read it and my eye fell upon this startling line:

"Dorothy's perspective is old-school Catholic, but it offers lessons for everyone."

"Old-school?" I shrieked. "Old-school?"

In my mind's eye I saw potential buyers, anyone over 45, melting away like ice-cream. I do not know who wrote that line, and I don't remember reading it in the proofs. Maybe I did read it, and that this was a bizarre backhanded swipe at the author's perspective just did not occur to me. So the fault could definitely be mine.

But who says "BUT" on an advertising blurb?

"Crest Toothpaste is old-school dentifrice, but it will clean the teeth of all."

"Pears Soap is old-school cleanser, but it is suitable for all skin types."

If there is something that makes me dance with rage, it's the idea that my Catholicism is in some way odd or stale or out of date. I was born in ninteen-seventy-one; I am a full generation younger than the hippies who wrote "Day by Day".

I sat through the Baby Boom's idea of what good post-Vatican II catechesis was, and by Grade 8 it was cutting symbols out of felt to glue on my Confirmation stole. And I was starting to panic because here was Confirmation looming up, and I knew that there had to be more to Catholicism than I had been taught. It was like not having moved past "The cat sat on the mat" in reading classes. The religious part of my brain was starving to death. I wanted a loaf of bread, and my religion teachers were giving me stones--and felt.

Fortunately, my school was half a block from the parish church, so we all went to First Friday Mass, which I suppose some would consider "old-school". I went to First Friday Mass from September to June for eight years without ever being told that there was a devotion called the Nine Fridays and that there was an indulgence attached. I thought an indulgence was cookies from my grandma or being allowed to eat candy any time between Christmas and Hallowe'en.

Some ancient visiting priest enrolled my entire class in the Brown Scapular. And all the priests at that parish were, miraculously, good solid men until my grade 8 graduation, so I heard a lot of serious, solemn homilies, many a lot more adult than ones I've heard in adult life. They might be why I am still a Catholic.

As far as I can recall, the most religious of my elementary school teachers was a Communist supply teacher who lectured us all on how fantastic the Soviet Union was and how children there were trained to excel what they were best at. She was just as stern and strongminded as our priests. Really, an awesome figure. I wonder how long she got away with going from Catholic school to Catholic school proseltyzing for the USSR.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that there was no New School Catholicism replacing the Old School Catholicism. Yes, the school choir was taught all the new hymns (and any boy with musical talent was whisked away to the Cathedral Choir School to be taught the old good stuff) and we drew pictures of Jesus My Friend, but basically we got scraps of doctrine in pastry of puff. Scraps.

When I was studying for my M.Div., some lecturer mentioned the Baltimore Catechism, and a group of white-haired Boomers whooped with laughter and began to recite it. And I was amazed. They had the basics of the faith memorized. Memorized. Somebody had actually taught them the tough stuff, the strong meat, when they were children, and they still knew it! And, bizarrely, they thought it was funny. Old-school.

If to know and expound the teachings of the Roman Catholic Faith is old-school, then to be Catholic at all is to be old-school. There is no new-school Catholic. There was nothing Catholic to replace the whistling gaps in our religious education after Vatican II. Thomas Merton hared after Buddhism; countless others hared after Gaia. But I don't think Catholicism is old-school. I think it is true.

What is old-school, and by old-school I mean funny and out of date, is Catholicism that tries not to be Catholic. It's been over forty years since Catholic catechesis was turned upside down, inside out and divested of three-quarters of its riches. Those of us who still managed to make it to adulthood as believing Catholics are now onto that dodge. Some of us were taught the fullness of the faith, so carefully hidden from us, by converts, especially refugees from the Anglican communion, who introduced us to G.K. Chesterton and other great modern apologists.

However, I hadn't met any of these missionaries when I was writing the blog that became my book. I had had 15 years of the same Catholic school system as my lapsed Catholic Ontario peers, 5 years in a mainstream Catholic college, an early failed marriage, three years at what some say is a "liberal" theology school and one mind-shattering year at a school known as "barely Catholic" for (A) the mores of the student body (B) the beliefs held by its theological faculty. In short, I should have been as "progressive" as any assistant professor of theology at any Jesuit college in the United States which, indeed, is what I would probably be today, were I not, in fact as well as in name, a Catholic (or, to be honest, a lot tougher-minded). But I wasn't.

That said, I cannot for the life of me see what in my book anyone who regards themself as Catholic would see as out-of-date. It recognizes the existence and omnipotence of God. It assumes it is better to stay celibate than to settle for concubinage. It assumes people would prefer to marry people who agree with them about religion. It decides that, crime rates not withstanding, men are for the most part decent chaps, and some of them are mouth-wateringly tasty-looking. It sees going to Mass not only as a sacred duty and balm for the soul, but as an opportunity to meet cute single men.

I mean, come on. The author sizes up even seminarians. She doesn't reprove a pal for wanting to make out for a stranger. She even leaves open the question of birth control. My sins are scarlet; let the book be read.

Update: Do you get St. Anthony Messenger magazine? There's an interview with me in the very latest issue. Tell me if you see it.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Americans, Know Your Version!

Dear American Readers, the American version of my book has already been released, and my Canadian publisher wants you to buy it from the Americans he sold the American rights to. Here is what your version looks like: You can buy it over, and I bet you can get it at your diocesan bookshop, too.

Everyone else can keep on buying Cute Cartoon Lady instead of Shoe Lady for yourselves, your friends, your siblings, your cousins, your aunts, your parish priests and your publisher pals in central Europe.

Meanwhile, I am delighted by this marvellous review in the Prairie Messenger by Caitlin Ward. British readers should know that in Canada "cow" is not the mortal insult it is in this sceptered isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars (etc).

Auntie Seraphic & Wounded and Wondering

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Given your past (& present) experiences, I'm interested in your thoughts on this. I was an NCG until after college when I met this guy that I thought I wanted to marry. We quickly became sexually involved, but my conscience got the better of me and we stopped. We then tried for a couple of years to salvage the relationship, but in vain. I subsequently learned the "why" behind the Church's teachings on chastity, and in the process I realized that I had used him to satisfy my desire to be loved and he had used me to satisfy his desire for sex.

Sometime thereafter I began to date someone I thought was an NCB and we became serious enough to talk about marriage. (I told him the relevant information about my previous relationship.) At one point I found it necessary to ask, "What's going to happen when we get married and you want to have sex but I don't?" He responded, "Well, your body is my body and my body is your body, and there will be times when you want to have sex and I don't, and I will have to do that for you." I ended the relationship not long after that conversation.

Auntie Seraphic, I want to marry and I want to have sex and I want to have children. But I am really, really afraid of "having to" have sex. Any time I see wives sort of roll their eyes about sex, it stirs that fear in me again. I realize that this is part of the consequences of my sin, but I can't undo the past and I'm not quite sure how to handle the future. I liked your vitamin C perspective, so I wondered your thoughts on my situation.


Wounded and Wondering

Dear Wounded and Wondering,

You don't have to have sex when you don't want to.

I think we should get that out of the way first. Your almost-fiance was a bit of a dork. The correct answer to "What if sometimes you want to have sex and I don't?" is "Well, honey, I guess I'd read for a bit and then fall asleep."

Most men are not selfish sex fiends. Most of them are fundamentally sound at heart, if a little inept at meaningful talks, and would be horrified at the very idea of forcing their sexual attentions on their beloved wives when those wives were really not up for them.

One of the things about falling in love is that you can't really imagine not wanting to sleep with the Perfect Man for You. "I'm going to have sex every single day, man," you rave to your married best friend.

"No, you won't," says your married best friend.

"I so will," you say, pawing among the wedding dresses in the shop.

"No, you won't."

"I will!"

"You won't."

And you don't, but that's okay.

What is not so okay is if, for reasons of diet or depression or fury at your husband for never doing any chores, your libido just dries up entirely or you start thinking that your husband's bachelor brother looks mighty tasty. At that point, you will have to talk to A) your husband and B) your doctor about your sex life. However, don't borrow trouble. You're not even married yet.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest--just suggest because I wasn't there--that not only are you freaking yourself out needlessly about the future, you are freaking yourself out needlessly about the past.

First of all, you can lose your virginity before marriage and still be a Nice Catholic Girl. You are a Nice Catholic Girl who should have known better, made a stupid mistake and is now back on track.

Second of all, men who use women just to satisfy their desire for sex don't work on relationships for two years. I am perfectly willing to believe the man was a jerk or a wimp and ultimately not the Perfect Man for You, but I am less willing to believe he was just using you. Do you not think, in his own flawed way, he probably cared for you? And if he did, how does that change the way you think about men-in-general?

Usually I make up the pseudonyms for people who write in, but I kept yours as-is so I could tell you to stop thinking of yourself as "Wounded." Pace Henry Nouwen (author of The Wounded Healer, a book which I do not recommend) I don't think that is a healthy way to think of oneself.

Not wanting to have sex when you don't want to have sex is not a wound, it's perfectly healthy and normal. And what you wanted from your almost-fiance was assurance that he was going to respect your boundaries. And it kind of looks like he wasn't going to, so good call on dumping him. "I will have to do that for you" indeed! He was going to swallow Viagra on command, was he? Puh-leeze.

WW, my dear, the solution is to not get married until you meet a man who is so jaw-droppingly wonderful that it is hard for you not to simply start kneading him like bread-dough, so badly do you want to touch him. And if he is so truly wonderful, you will find yourself so relaxed around him that you can tease and mock and scold him as easily and affectionately as you do your best friend. Saying "Can I take a raincheck?" will be as easy as pie.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,

Update: Incidentally, many married women find the sight of their husbands washing the dishes or doing any other chore wives usually find themselves doing extremely attractive. This is not something advertisers have yet figured out how to exploit. Diamonds may be forever, but discovering Husband has already done the dishes is... Modesty forbids me to say more.

Update 2: The married-women-eye-rolling thing has been bothering me all afternoon. My guess is that it is usually a facitious, woman-bonding thing that may have very little to do with these women's actual experiences. I don't think married women should make jokes like that, though, especially not around unmarried young women. Once upon a time, well-bred married women were discreet around unmarried women. Meanwhile, if my husband rolled his eyes around about such private things having to do about me, I would go MENTAL.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Talk Amongst Yourselves

Darlings, today I am utterly exhausted. So I'll just take the brakes off the com box and let you chat. The topic of the day is, "Is Catholicism more a personal lifestyle choice or more a commitment to a community of faith?"

I know I've loaded the dice a bit, since I bet none of us really like the phrase "personal lifestyle choice." So really what I mean by that is, "Can you be a Catholic without any other Catholics? Can you just be Catholic on your own? Or do you need to be part of a parish (seminary, etc.) community?"

Apologies to the non-Catholics for this exclusive post. But it's the question that is haunting me today.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic's Brief Sexual Philosophy

The layman Christopher West got mentioned in my combox, and I will say right now that I have read nothing by the layman Christopher West. The hairs on the back of my neck went up when a wonderful Catholic girl I know started spouting the teachings of the layman Christopher West, which was the first time I ever heard his name. She was saying something about the body being trinitarian, or sex being trinitarian, or the Trinity being sexual, and my little heresy-alarm, carefully installed by my Canadian Jesuit masters*, went off. Ee-ee-ee-ee! Catholic thought on sex has hitherto been squarely placed in the Ethics category; what was it doing in Dogmatics, eh?

But as I say, I have read nothing by Christopher West, so the following should not be read as part of the "Christopher West Controversy." It should be read as one of my very brief forays into--eek eek--chastity writing.

Sex is more important to those who aren't having it than to those who are having it. This may be why, in my deplorable youth, my friends and I all eagerly chose the Room A "Sinful Sex; Sacred Sex" lectures during pro-life conferences, leaving Room B ("Media Savvy") completely empty. How we thrilled to the lurid stories of the bad sex that punished and the good sex that was the reward of every Christian boy and girl who kept themselves as pure as a bar of Ivory soap. How the much-experienced chastity speakers knew that the pure would have fabulous sex from their wedding night on was a question I never thought to ask. When this turned out not to be true in my case (the first time I was married), miserable me finally found a book by Dr. Ruth Westheimer on the subject.

Much later, I decided that there really ought to be a Catholic Dr Ruth, and if I ever got married again, perhaps I could be her. I would study Sexual Ethics and have a nice radio show on Ave Maria or wherever. But later I realized that this would really be a job for a medical doctor as well as an ethicist, and that talking about sex all day would be boring. Boring!

I will divide sexual matters into three categories. Keep in mind that I'm doing this without notes, books or any preparation of any kind except vague memories of Sexual Ethics class and a cup of coffee. This is totally on the fly and off the cuff. No bishop in his right mind would stamp this with an Imprimi Potest, let alone a Nihil Obstat. But enjoy.

The three categories are Eros, Concupiscence and Sex Proper. Eros is that laudable impulse in us that draws us out of ourselves to other people and things. Without it, we might as well be boiled potatoes. Eros inspires us to learn, to create, to go outside and see what is there, to approach another mind and see what is in it. Eros inspires us to take a course in art history. Eros inspires us to engage a pleasant-looking person in conversation. Eros inspires us to take a terrible risk and put ourselves at the service of another, whether as a priest or a nun or a spouse or a soldier.

Concupiscence is Eros out of whack, and sadly, as a result of the Fall, Eros is out of whack for almost everybody. We want more than our fair share. We are like little kids who, having been given a portion of good things by God, run to the kitchen to see what else is there.

"Don't eat the pudding," shouts God. "Pudding is for afters!"

"Gobble, gobble," say some of us, covering our faces with chocolate, while others watch from the table, partly afraid, partly envious, and partly excited to see whether the bad kids get a spanking.

In short, you can go outside too much. You can pry into a mind too obsessively. You can study art history too avidly. You can keep the conversation going too long.

One of the more controversial texts in the catechism is how you are not supposed to have an inordinate enjoyment of sex. That, too, is Eros out of whack. St. Augustine said you're not supposed to treat your wife as you might have (as he had) treated hookers; I think what he means is that you cannot treat your spouse as a handy means to a sexual end. Marital sex has to be a mutual conversation or leisure activity (like swing-dancing), not the freaking household god.

So now I have moved onto Sex Proper, which is NOT my favourite subject, because this world is too fond of talking about Sex Proper when Eros is so much more interesting. But, anyway, Sex Proper is the Vitamin C of marriage. No more. No less. It creates babies, too, but I'm talking about the unitive aspect here.

Marriage is called a cure for concupiscence, and indeed it seems to be a cure for sexual concupiscence as married people famously have sex less often than single people who live together in concubinage. But if they are smart, married people keep an eye on how long they go without it because--unless they have made a super-holy and super-mutual agreement (like at the age of 92) to have a Josephite marriage now--their relationship will grow ill without its Vitamin C. It could die of Sexual Scurvy.

So there you go. Celibate people who are dead sick of being celibate think sex is enormously fascinating. Married people think it is a good and healthy thing, like food and drink and gardening. They keep an eye on it like they keep an eye on their diet. But it is not for them a whole different branch of Dogmatics to be ooh-ed and aah-ed over.

I suppose married people can be found at Theology of the Body lectures. I think it a very odd way for married people to spend an evening. For erotic enjoyment, I'd rather go to the opera. For an intellectual challenge, I'd rather read Bernard Lonergan. And for spiritual development, I'd rather go to Mass.

*All my Canadian Jesuit dogmatics profs were solid. Yes, I know. But they really were solid.

Update: FWIW, I found the easiest way to deal with being celibate was not thinking or reading or writing about Sex Proper at all. NO sexy novels.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & Green Goblin Girl

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

A few weeks ago I attended yet another beautiful Catholic wedding. Atypically, however, the couple in question is part of my "secular" friend group. As result, while I was aware of their quiet faith, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty and reverence of the Mass. However, another consequence was that of our group of friends present, I alone knew what was going on at the ceremony.

A few seats away was a handsome young man who, like me and unlike everyone else in the row, knew when to kneel and stand, knew the responses for the prayers, knelt in quiet prayer for a few minutes after the Mass as everyone else ran out, and sang along to the hymns in a charming off-kilter tenor. My little Catholic heart began to race, because it is not often that I meet a Nice Catholic Boy who isn't already married or in religious formation.

At the reception, I was introduced to this NCB by my friend X to whom he is engaged. I'd heard X was engaged but hadn't yet met the fiance. I was quite frankly torn between genuine happiness for my friend and horrendous jealousy. You see, X is a wonderful, hardworking woman of integrity, but she is completely irreligious and her morals concerning relationships/etc are quite opposite of mine. During the dinner X and I had a chance to talk a little bit about her upcoming wedding (planned as a Mass on account of his 'super-religious' family) and about the marriage prep process in our Diocese. She confessed to me that the required NFP course and Theology of the Body segments were upsetting to her because, as she put it, "it's just not what I believe." They plan to contracept, and while the priest who will marry them might not know that, she was very open with me about it.

Seraphic, now Jealousy was overtaken by Pride. I sat stewing for the entire drive home, rather angry. You see, while I spent my early 20s going to daily Mass and helping with mission trips, X spent hers partying and sleeping with many guys... and she's the one who ends up with a Nice Catholic Fiance, while I am still searching? It reeks of injustice.

Now, of course, I know that no one "deserves" a spouse and that husbands are only gifts from God. I know that my going to daily Mass is supposed to be about my growth in holiness, not finding a way to meet Nice Catholic Boys. But it's still frustrating!

I'm happy for X, certainly, to have found a spouse. But I'm still irritated that one of the few NCBs left was snatched up by a very not-Catholic girl. I also realize that putting it that way makes NCBs seem like a sort of rare commodity, like uranium or pro-life Democrats. How do I overcome my own sinfulness and try to be truly happy for her?

Green Goblin Girl

Dear Green Goblin Girl,

Back up a few sentences. Never mind the bit about your own sinfulness. It's the only fake bit of your admirably honest letter. You don't feel sinful. You feel mad. Heck, I feel mad on your behalf. If I were you, I'd be good and mad. I'd be on my way to church, steeling myself for a showdown with the Big Guy, as my brother Nulli calls Him.

"Hey," I'd yell (after doing a quick recce for priests, pious old ladies and napping street people). "Why her, eh? Why not me? HEL-LO? Service trips!"

And then I'd probably hear a silent voice in my head saying, "I thought you liked those service trips."

"Uh, yeah," I'd say. "I did."

"And I seem to remember you thanking Me for the graces and gifts of those service trips."

"Um. Yeah."

"So...what? I'm supposed to give you a big sexy reward now, too?"

And then there'd be a big scene like at the end of Job involving someone repenting in dust and ashes because that's how these conversations tend to end.

Lookit, it sucks. It totally sucks when girls who partied while you prayed get a great guy, and you don't. It totally sucks when girls on the Pill get the nice uber-Catholic in-laws and you don't. I know it sucks. Feel free to say "It sucks!" really loudly. Sucks, sucks, sucks. It sucks that virtue is its own reward with no cute man attached. I know that. You know that. We all know that.

But there is one great rule about men and love. And it is that men love whom they love and not whom we think they should love, especially when it is us. For some reason, this guy looked at Binky the Party Girl and said, "That's for me!"

The good news is that you just met this guy. You've seen him once. You're not in love with him. You barely know him. All you know about him is that he's been to Mass long enough to know when to stand and when to kneel and what to sing, but not long enough to know he is supposed to say, "Binky, the Pill is out of the question." He might be a (contracepting) NCB, but he's not really St. Thomas More, now, is he?

My guess, Green Goblin Girl, is that you would not want a man like this. YOU want a man who would stand up to you if you were tempted to contracept, and say "No! I love you, but I will not allow my marriage to be chemically sterile. I will not lie to God, the priest and all our wedding guests when we say we will accept children lovingly from God. I will explain to you the beauty of marital sexuality until I am blue in the face. I will swear to work my fingers to the bone in the unlikely event that we have more than 7 children. Perhaps you will leave me now, and my heart will break, but Green Goblin Girl, I am a Roman Catholic man and I will uphold the Faith. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Cue violins as you fall into his arms. The camera cuts to his face and, surprise, surprise, he looks nothing like Binky's fiance. Binky's fiance is a wuss.

Now, the teaching against artifical birth control is a hard pill to swallow (har har), so I'm now going to cut Fiance and Binky some slack. It could be that marriage to Fiance is Binky's best chance at salvation. It could be that the Binky's heart is melted on her wedding day. It could be that Binky's heart is melted when she gets preggers anyway. It could be that Binky's heart will be gradually melted by her nice (if wussy) husband and her uber-Catholic in-laws.

So you can be happy for Binky because YOU want a REAL Nice Catholic Boy with GUTS anyway, and this wussy Catholic Boy mysteriously might be (despite his wussiness) Binky's great chance to become friends with our Lord Jesus Christ. At the very least, she'll have to settle down and give up serial monogamy.

That's my Auntie-eye view. Don't be happy Binky's got a great guy. Be happy Binky might have a shot at salvation through marriage to him. Now go read the bit in the Holy Bible about the Prodigal Son, concentrating on the good things the Father says to the Good Son, especially "Everything I have is yours."

Hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,
P.S. You couldn't force me to listen to a Theology of the Body talk. Boring and possibly dodgy. B.A. and I don't enjoy sitting with near-strangers listening to total strangers talk about sex. I know, I know: we're so vanilla.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic & the Kissing Fan

Dear Auntie Seraphic

I have been dating a young man [with a job and of marriageable age]. He is a much better Catholic than I. In fact he attends Mass daily and has a very regular prayer life. He also speaks to his spiritual director regularly. He did his "discerning his vocation" thing through his twenties and is now certain that he is not supposed to be a priest or a consecrated celibate of some kind. Through all this discerning he had very little experience with women or relationships. He did not want to hurt anyone or get their hopes up when he was not ready to marry and so he did not really date.

He has had no experience with physical affection with a woman. He grew up in a family where his parents did now show him any physical affection.

After a few dates he held my hand and that was a pretty big deal for him. He also kissed me that night and it was his first kiss. I noticed his heart was racing when he hugged me and I asked if he was ok.

He dropped me home and we made a plan to go to Mass together the next morning. After Mass we went for a coffee and a chat. He told me that he had not been to sleep all night and had actually called a priest for confession that morning before Mass. He said that while we had not done anything sinful, his reaction to what had happened caused him to struggle with temptation all night. He stressed that it was not my fault and that no doubt other men can cope much better but that because of his inexperience he didnt know how sensitively he would react. He said that he had decided that he didn't think he should engage in passionate kissing again until he was married. He also said that he didn't think he could hold hands with me for awhile either and just needed space to relax.

This is all very new territory for me. I am a very physically affectionate person and I like to be hugged and have my hand held etc. I agree that passionate kissing is problematic and I am willing to forgo that. But as we have been getting to know each other more and more my feelings for him are growing stronger. And as my feelings grow stronger I want to be close to him.

In one sense it is nice because other guys I have gone out with have just tried to push and see how far they could get. [And this man calls almost every day, pays on dates, and takes great care in planning things for us.]

My question is, what should I do about this? I need more physical affection than is there right now. I have also never been the girl to make the first move. Am I being silly? Is this a symptom of the fact that I have been too sexual in previous relationships? I am not a virgin and have slept with more than one man. I have not told him this, and he has not asked! He did say, "I suppose you've had a few boyfriends before?" and I said yes.

Advice? You may ask B.A. for a NCB-eye view.

Kissing Fan

Dear Kissing Fan,

Thank you very much for this email. This is a most important issue and affects many more Christian men and women than you could guess.

First of all, congratulations on meeting such a nice man. From a NCG point of view, he sounds fantastic. Very thoughtful and kind.

Second, this is not an unusual situation. I have dated a NCB who was 34 years old and had never kissed a girl. And I know of a 20-something NCB who only ever kissed his NCG on the cheek, and when, worried, she asked him about it, he explained that he didn't want to go too far. Some NCBs think they are sexual werewolves that will not be able to stop themselves from becoming hairy, fanged creatures of lust if they engage in passionate kissing and, hey, maybe they are.

I did check with B.A., and B.A. said "Is she sure he wants to make out?" which is a polite way of asking, "Could he be in the grip of a strong and exclusive Same-Sex Attraction?" This, of course, is always a NCG worry with super-chaste NCBs, but if the guy agonized all night about temptation, I think we can rule that out. He sounds like future husband material. How nice it will be for him when he is married and can stop worrying.

Don't, don't, don't, don't make a new "first move" here. I can not stress this enough. You've suffered from men not respecting your boundaries; now you must respect your boyfriend's boundaries. Forget all about hand-holding, hugs, kisses, making out and whatever else for now. His family didn't hug, so even hugs may be sexual to him. For hugs, hug your parents and your girlfriends. I sympathize about wanting hugs; when I've had too much to drink, I go around patting people I like, and that is a total no-no in Scotland, let me tell you.

But listen up: you do NOT need physical affection. You have no right to physical affection. It is nice that your family and friends hug you (when they do), but you have no right to those hugs. Even more, you have no right to kisses, caresses or any other physical manifestation of affection from a man not your husband.

Sex and sexual behaviour are rather addictive, so I am going to go out on a limb and say that yes, your hunger for physical expressions of affection may be linked to your sexual past. However, you are in control of you, so you can tell your hunger for physical expression to shut up. This desire is called concupiscence--it usually has a sexual connotation, but I think concupiscence is actually a deep, deep hunger for more than our proper share of anything.

Are you going to suffer? Yes. Offer it up in penance for past sins. Like Sister said in my Grade Nine religion class, sin has its own built-in punishment: extramarital sex makes you want more sex, sex that it not yours to have. Meanwhile, you may want to tell this whole story to a good, orthodox priest in the confessional because he might have some additional advice.

Please do not make a first move. And do not discuss your sexual past. (Good for you for resisting that temptation so far. He's SO not ready to hear it.) It's good that he knows you've had boyfriends before, and that is enough for now. Don't forget that your sexual past is in the past. It doesn't have to be your present--or your future.

I hope this is helpful. Enjoy the wonderful times you are having with your chaste boyfriend (for whom half the women reading this would cheerfully murder you), and allow him to keep his peace of mind.

Grace and Peace,
Auntie Seraphic

P.S. I suspect that, after awhile, he will make another attempt at hand-holding. If he gives you that inch, though, don't take a mile or no more hand-holding will you get.

Update: For anyone dying to know how far I think you can go, I have become intensely conservative about this since my marriage, and I think passionate kissing should be reserved to engaged people. Real hardliners will say married people, but I have discovered that that is practically impossible, at least if you're engaged to B.A. (Sniff.) (Hee hee hee!)

UPDATE 2: A Catholic priest writes in: The one thing I would add is...that the boyfriend in question will need to loosen up a little before he's ready for marriage. (I mean loosen up psychologically rather than morally.)

I approve of his chaste behaviour and his moral outlook, but his psychological/physiological reaction to a kiss suggests that there are certain issues of comfort vis-a-vis physicality which will need to be resolved before marriage. I mean, if he still reacts so intensely to being kissed, then marriage itself will have its own difficulties...

As I say, I agree with you 100% in your moral assessment of the situation, but I would suggest to your correspondent that if her boyfriend isn't comfortable holding her hand, hugging her chastely or exchanging a chaste kiss with her, then marriage should wait until he's a lot lot more comfortable and restrained in his sexual impulses. If everything is normal, he'll gradually grow used to dating, etc, and this won't be a problem.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I want a dog. Ideally, I would like a Tibetan Spaniel because my best buddy has one and I think I understand them. But B.A. thinks Tibetan Spaniels are girly, so we are getting a terrier instead. Since pure-bred animals seem to be the norm around here, we looked up prices.

"Four hundred POUNDS!" we shrieked.

"We could get a terrier from a Rescue," I said.

"No, we can't," said B.A. "Those dogs often have serious problems, and we can't have a dog with problems here in the Historical House."

I had a hideous vision of a mad terrier gnawing on 18th century chairs and peeing on the silk Chinese Wallpaper and agreed.

How judgmental.

Occasionally I get emails informing me that I am judgmental. I know this already, but thank you very much. I am glad to be judgmental because I am a Lonerganian, and Lonerganians observe that there are three stages in knowing anything: Experience, Understanding and Judging. After Judging comes Deciding because knowing leads to doing in the Lonerganian scheme of things.

Experience is the raw materials of the world coming at you without you reflecting on them. For example, if you are dozing in the sun and you are dimly aware of sun but you have not put together the thought SUN yet, you are merely on the level of experience.

Understanding (or "insight") comes about as the answer to "What is it?" Hypotheses come bounding into your brain. Sometimes they are wrong. For example, sometimes I wake up unsure of where I am. Then I rightly or wrongly hypothesize that I am at home in the Historical House.

Judgement comes as the answer to "Is it so?" For example, there I am, slowly moving out of the pure, unreflective experience of lying in bed in a sunbeam. "What is it" flashes into my mind, proving that I have moved to the understanding stage. "My bed in the Historical House" I hypothesize. But then my hand touches a wall, and I wonder "Wait, is that so?" And, because I don't have a wall by my bed in Historical House, I think "No." So I make a new hypothesis, which is that I am in bed in my old room in Toronto, and I ask again "Is it so?" I open my eyes and lo, it is so.

Now at this point my critics will have skipped ahead of this philosophical stuff, complaining that's not what they mean when they say that I am judgmental. In fact, they might even argue, if feeling particularly bright, that I am not judgmental at all, by my terms, as I seem to skip right from Understanding to Decision. For that, I think, is what they mean. I do not wait until all the facts are in before saying "Learn, dear Singles, from the story of X. X is a Bad Role Model."

Most recently, I was criticiqued for my discussion of a young lady who, by her own admission, at the age of eleven got drunk at a party, had consensual sex and later found herself pregnant. However, it turns out that the girl lied about this. Apparently she was not made pregnant by the boy at the "booze-filled romp", but by her older brother, with whom she had been in a coersive incestuous relationship for years.

The reader who sent along this information said that perhaps I shouldn't have "blindly judged" this situation before all the facts were in. I don't know how I was supposed to guess that the girl in question had been lying about when she got pregnant, or that she was being abused by her brother. I could judge her only on her word. But at any rate, this incest revelation only proves the point of my post, which was never that the girl was "bad", but that horrible private behaviour has horrible consequences for society.

Incidentally, the 15 year old boy this girl, lying, named as the father of her child was tried for statutory rape. (He convinced the judge that he thought the girl was 14 and got three years' probation.)

But, thanks to my reader, I have more facts before me to help me judge if this girl is a fit influence for her four year old child. And I still say no. I am sorry that she has suffered all that she has suffered; it is truly terrible. But not only has she told (or sold) her baby's story to the tabloids, she has told (or sold) an even ghastlier one because she didn't like how the first story made her look. But now the public knows (thanks to the birth mother and the tabs) that the four year old's uncle is her father, and if the public ever figures out the four year old's name, God only knows what humiliations she will undergo. Thanks, Mum.

I agree that, given her terrible childhood, which we can blame on her brother, whose barrister used the brother's own terrible childhood in his defence, and on her parents, who possibly had terrible childhoods themselves, it might be a bit much to expect this young woman to have good judgement. However, someone with terrible judgement should not be trusted around a four year old child.

Meanwhile, I will continue to say nasty things about men who pressure women into having abortions, men who pressure women into having sex and men who commit mass murder. If that makes me "judgmental", blessed are the judgmental, for rootness in reality shall be ours.

Update: I probably should underscore that this terrible story caught my interest because I live near neighbourhoods that share symptoms of decline with this girl's childhood home. This is a Scottish story about poor people in Scotland, and I live among poor people in Scotland. I am moved by their sufferings and disturbed by cycles of abuse, degradation and poverty.

One possible factor for the continuing misery is that children do not know that it is wrong for children to have sex, either with adults or with other children. They do not know that it is wrong for children to consume alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and cannabis. They do not know it is wrong for people to conceive children out of wedlock. Possibly they do not know because those who are supposed to tell them fear accusations of being judgmental. But judgmental is what we have to be on behalf of those who have no judgement.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Just Friends

One difficulty that Serious Singles have is convincing Searching Singles that they are perfectly happy being Single and are not interested in a romance with a Searching Single. They might enjoy a bit of light, flirtatious conversation, but that is it. Back off.

I believe that young priests and male religious often have this problem. They must have done in my theology school where frivolous women like me conversed late at night about who was cute and who was most likely to run off with one of us. I do know that one or two young male religious were seriously bored by the histronics of a woman (not me) who had had an unhappy love affair with another male religious. Och, it's a fallen world, hen, aye.

The solution for young priests and male religious is to make friends with young married couples, and if they are more the friend of Mrs. Layman than Mr. Layman, it really doesn't matter, as long as Mrs. Layman is firmly attached to Mr. Layman and everybody knows this. Of course, there are also serious-minded Single women who would never dream of trying to attach their priest pal. But also thinking back, I seem to remember male religious stringing along such serious-minded pretty Single girls who amused them and then dropping them flat when they moved to another post. Och, it's a fallen world, etc.

Anyway, obviously in the case of male and female religious and priests, there has got to be a lot of prudence. Quite obviously young priests and nuns need friends, and as there are no longer flocks of young priests and nuns around, they are going to have to choose friends from among the laity. And those lay friends had better have their heads screwed on right.

Priests and religious, however, have the advantage of custom: even though the Baby Boom's priests and nuns abandoned ship in great numbers, in general other generations expect that priests and nuns will always be Just Friends. This is not the case for ordinary men and women who are happy Serious Singles, or are happy being Single right now.

So what are you lay Serious Singles to do when it comes to friendship? How can you avoid the agonizing "We're just friends" conversation with besmitten Searching Singles? Well, I am sorry to tell you this, but--short of locking yourselves in a tower with your pets--I don't think you can. And if you think that is hard, imagine being the Serious Single with SSA who has to tell the Searching Single with SSA that they will always be just friends.

Yes, you can minimize the hurt. When the subject of romance comes up, you can and should state your position flatly: You love life, you love people, you love your Serious Single state. You're open to friendship. You're open to flirtation and joking around. You're open to keeping things light. But not every friend is going to believe you because not everybody is rooted in reality. Many people think they can reshape reality according to their will and are gobsmacked when they find out that they can't.

Perhaps then you should look for friends with a high level of social sophistication and maturity. You could find other Serious Singles to befriend: merry widows and contented widowers, calm women with SSA, integrated men with SSA, nuns who are firm in their vocations, priests who are solid in theirs.

But you might even find friends among those who are much younger than you. Some young people are utterly charming in their surprise that "old" people, people whom they do not think sexually attractive, might find them sexually attractive. And therefore they can happily enter into confidential friendships with wrinklies and semi-wrinklies without any expectation of either party wanting to "take this relationship to another level."

Then there are married folk, although I caution the Serious Single woman who very much wants to pal around with a Married Man that the Married Man's wife might not give a damn how Serious a Single the Serious Single woman is: any time spent with the Single Woman is time the Married Man should have spent with her.

This, incidentally, is not just a problem for Serious Singles. Married people also enjoy having friends of the opposite sex and sometimes friends of the same sex who have SSA. I very much enjoy spending time with my husband's friends, and occasionally I have spent time with them without my husband. I suppose it wouldn't do to do this too often, for I might be dubbed The Wicked Mrs M, and how annoying would that be, eh?

Anyway, sound off in the com-box, my little Singles. Tell Auntie your woes.

Monday, 14 June 2010

British Reviews

Two lovely reviews, one Presbyterian and one Roman Catholic, of Seraphic Singles on

I'm very grateful to both reviewers. Thank you!

Baby Dreams

If you are called to marry, you might be called to marry at any age. There is no age limit to marriage. You might fall in love in the sandbox and marry your lifelong love at 18. You might squander your youth on completely unsuitable characters and then marry a pious millionaire when you're 42. You might live a life of blissful solitude until 70 when you marry your best friend's widower. There is no age limit to marriage and there's no saying what can happen in this crazy world.

Not so having babies, not so. Sadly, there is an age limit to having babies.

Now, I know what you're going to say. I too studied the Bible in school from the age of six. I too know that both Sarah, wife of Abraham, and Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, had babies when they were well past their prime. In addition, I sneak peeks at the headlines of the Daily Mail when my husband isn't looking, so I know that from time to time, in China, Uzbekistan and rural parts of Italy, a sixty-something gives birth to a bouncing baby. It ain't over until it's over, and sometimes it ain't over when you think it's over. So again there's no saying what can happen in this crazy world.

However, let's face facts: in general, it's harder to get pregnant after forty than before forty. So if you get married in the 35-45 year old region, you know that, barring miracles, you are in Last Chance for Baby territory.

I'm 39.

So anyway, I have had three baby dreams in the past two weeks. This is not bizarre in itself since I am given to lurid, colourful dreams with plots and zany characters and love affairs.

I once dreamed I went back in time and met Gilbert and Frances Chesterton, and Uncle Gilbert was very excited that I had come from the future, and he wondered where he would be in the 1940s, and I was sad because, of course, he would die before then.

I once dreamed I was in a beautiful, chaste and doomed love affair with HRH the Prince Edward, and the Queen tried to bribe me to end it. She actually wrote out the cheque before me, and I was sad because I revere the Queen and, besides that, it is terrible to be bought off by the mother of one's beloved.

And last night I dreamed I had made B.A. late for Latin Mass, and when we finally got to church, it was a different church and there was some high-minded lecture going on in a hall that had a big environmentalist poster warning us against "The Ten Ton Holiday". The Ten Tons represented our carbon footprint after vacationing somewhere warm, sunny and poor. (I blame the current virulent mural outside St. John's on Princes Street, Edinburgh for this dream.)

But I am not given to anxiety dreams about babies, so I find it significant that I am having them now.

The first baby dream was set in my parent's Toronto home, and I had been handed a baby. I was worried about this baby because he hadn't been baptized yet, and I felt he ought to be baptized, and maybe I should do it. However, this wasn't my baby, and so I didn't have the authority. Anyway, I put this baby down to sleep in a handy laundry basket in my mother's room, and he disappeared.

The second baby dream was even more stressful. I was sitting in a minivan that was careening down the highway. Somebody handed me a baby. I was worried about just holding a baby in my arms while on the highway because in cars babies are supposed to be in car seats. Then I noticed that the baby was gone. I looked around frantically. Where was the baby? He had to be somewhere. On the seat? No. On the floor? No. And then I saw that there was a great hole in the side of the minivan under the window, and I realized that the baby must have fallen through it.

The third baby dream was less stressful, but more personal since in this dream I was actually pregnant. But I think I was only a few weeks pregnant because I dithered over whether I should actually tell anybody. And then I woke up, so I stopped worrying.

So there you go. Although I cannot be in perfect solidarity with the Single, being Married, I can still be in perfect solidarity with those who have no children and feel anxious about it. We are in the same minivan, careening down the highway, wondering where the baby has gone.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Madame est en vacances!

My dear little Singles, it is time for me to take some time away from the internet. So I hope you have a nice week, and I'll see you on Monday.

Grace and peace,
Auntie Seraphic

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Death of Friendship

UPDATE: Thanks to Frank, who sent in this interesting NYT piece about Eve Tushnet.

What do you call your same-sex, not-related-to-you, not-married-to-you, but liked-by-you housemate?

If you're like most men and women, you call him or her your FRIEND.

"Oh, no, we're just friends," satisfies a hundred nosy enquiries.

I mention this today because there was a major scandal in a Catholic diocese in Canada over a fellow with SSA who simultaneously called his same-sex housemate his "partner" while also claiming to be following Catholic teaching about sexuality. (I would not have cared less, but he went on to drag a whole lot of people, including his bishop, before a tribunal into the bargain.) And having written extensively about the case, I really don't want to be having this conversation again. But someone sent me an interesting article about men and friendship, and the whole issue of friend vs. partner came roaring back to mind.

On the one hand, I think it is lousy when people gossip about same-sex housemates and say "Oh, they must be a gay couple, tee hee hee." On the other hand, if you go around calling your same-sex housemate your "partner", your hearers are going to think there's something more than friendship, even deep SS. Cyril-and-Methodius, womb-to-tomb friendship, going on.

Practising Catholics don't have "partners." We have husbands, wives, and friends. We also have relatives, mentors, teachers, employees, employers, doctors, clients, students, proteges, neighbours, flatmates, colleagues, priests, bishops, parishioners and business partners. Some of us have rulers, and some of us have subjects. All of us had parents, and some of us have children. We have co-religionists, and we have co-nationals.

We have an awful lot of relationships, and very few of them are sexual. Sadly, sexual relationships get the lion's share of people's attention. This cheapens all relationships immeasureably. Is there anything more disgusting than someone sniggering over the loving relationship between an uncle and niece, or someone making crude remarks about a boy who is fond of his sister? And isn't it horribly limiting that great and famous friendships, like that between Cardinal Newman and Fr. Ambrose St. John, get read by strangers with axes to grind as long-term erotic affairs? I certainly think so.

The interesting article I've linked to above starts with the feudal relationship between Frodo and Sam, and I too was enraged when teenage boys sniggered their misunderstandings in the darkness of the cinema we shared. On the one hand, education is such that few contemporary teenagers can get their minds around the idea that once upon a time a man might have acknowledged another man as his lord, and that the lord would have felt a paternal responsibility for his servant. But on the other hand, how stupid and how tooth-grindingly disrespectful for the stupider members of Tolkien's audience to read Frodo and Sam--in their terrible danger--as characters out of Brokeback Mountain.

A friend is not a partner, but friendship is a many-splendoured thing. Friendship is often something great and noble, and many a woman has cried and felt brokenhearted over the death of (or betrayal by) a female friend. I imagine men are the same way, although these days, of course, they would be in great danger of having their platonic love misunderstood by both fans and opponents of the gay revolution. Perhaps women will be fitted for this beloved friend=partner straitjacket, too, one day, but I darn well hope not.

Love your friends boldly, and call them your friends. Friendship is glorious enough without you needing to aggrandize your friend, even your best friend, by calling him or her your "partner." Like it or not, that word no longer means what it did. And neither traditional Catholics nor other traditional Christians are to blame for that.

Update: Read the whole article, seriously. Then the fact that I flee the dinner table when the port goes around might make a little more sense. It's not just that I need a break; it's that the men deserve a chance just to be men friends together. And, man, do I miss my girlfriends back home right now.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

But What About the Children?

A kind reader sent along this fascinating link to an article by Naomi Schaeffer Riley about interfaith marriage in the Washington Post. In short, interfaith marriage is a high-minded, tolerant, multicultural, spiritual route to divorce.

Now I do know people who are the fruit of interfaith marriages (usually Catholic mother and Protestant dad), and their mums and dads are still together, alleluia. I also know people whose Protestant dads became Catholic dads eventually, much to the joy of their Catholic mums (and probably resigned indifference of their Protestant grandparents). However, I, Seraphic, had a miserable short marriage with an Anglican, got a divorce and got an annulment within a year of the divorce. That is quick in annulment land, let me tell you. And what did we fight about most, eh? We fought about religion. It was like Belfast on speed. By the end, I was calling the ex a Sassenach, and he was telling me the Irish were all murderers. Really, it was hell.

As for those of disparate cults, I dated a Muslim guy and Jewish guys from time to time in my tender youth, and post-Protestants quite often in my overly exciting twenties. It took me until the ripe old age of 32 or so to realize that I would only ever be happy with a Catholic guy. I felt a bit ashamed about that, as if it proved an embarrassing inner bigotry. But I grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood, and I understood that it was important to my neighbours that their kids marry other Jews. And it occured to me that the idea that marriage is at the heart of religion (or religion at the heart of marriage) was true and good.

(Interfaith dialogue note: The Jews and Muslims taught me the importance of preserving your sacred language, too.)

When I heard, as a college student, that if you married a Ukrainian Catholic guy, you'd have to become a Ukrainian Catholic, too, I decided that was okay. (No idea if you really do, by the way.) The important thing was being in communion with Rome. So it was not really hard to give up going to the Novus Ordo every week and just pin a black mantilla to my head and become a Triddie like Benedict Ambrose. I do draw the line at anything that carries a whiff of Anglicanism, though, except (huge concession) the Anglican version of the Psalms, sung loudly, often (by B.A.) in the shower.

Anyway, I think in general, and with the Catholic Church before 1963, that interfaith marriages are risky and to be avoided. However, if one party is not so enamoured of their childhood faith, it might work out okay.

And sometimes accepting that you can't (or shouldn't) marry into another faith is a way of RESPECTING that faith. I had a lot of respect for a very talented Jewish friend named Y--. (Ah, Y--! He was a cantor at a conservative synagogue. Last I heard, he was a successful opera singer.) And so I called it off before it became serious. He had a Slavic soul, and so he complained bitterly to our mutual Catholic friend. He too had a Slavic soul, and so upbraided me for my hard heart. But it all worked out. Well, it all worked out for me. I hope Y-- found someone nice, too.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic and ARRGH!

(Letter heavily changed and messed around with to protect the innocent.)

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Are there any men out there who DON'T look at women as a mere sexual object?? Recently I have encountered a few supposedly "practicing" Christians whose conversation and outlook on relationships in general and women in particular have thrown me into a pit of relational despair.

I'm not afraid of the sexual side of married life, and I like men. But these supposedly Nice Christian Boys have taken the wind out of my sails. I try to tell myself that they must come from dysfunctional families where there are "mother issues." But it's discouraging to hear them speak so disrespectfully of women nonetheless. And if I object, I'm labeled a femi-nazi and that I just need to accept that this is how men are.

Any advice? Words of hope? A Catholic guy in my circle said something so nastily hateful about women to me recently, that I just don't know how to deal.



Suddenly I remembered the good old days when I was a teenage pro-life activist, and these two teenage pro-life guys wrestled away from me my student ID (which I needed for the train) and howled at my photograph because it was so ugly. Another teenage pro-life guy, furious at a friend of mine for some reason, told her that women wear jewellery to give themselves worth. And more recently, I heard of a young guy in a conservative Christian think-tank who said something really nasty to a shy young girl who works there.

Ah, the Nice Catholic Girl's big secret: some Nice Catholic Boys sound like sexist bastards at least some of the time, just like anti-Catholics allege.

Yes, ARRGH!, some (not all, not most, but SOME) young Christian men--Catholic, Protestant and, for all I know, East Orthodox--do have severe issues about women. Why, I do not know. It probably changes from man to man. My hunch is that these issues are usually about (A) sexual frustration, (B) struggles with sexual sin, (C) confusion over what is expected of men today, (D) envy, (E) this girl who hurt them, (F) Teacher, (G) Mother.

But, in my experience, most Catholic men (and most men in general) are not sexist jerks. Of course, most men I know these days are over 25. But even thinking back to my university days, I remember a dozen or so young men whom any girl would be proud to know and introduce to her granny. The rest have probably grown up a lot since then.

When any woman is totally fed up with men-in-general, I recommend the blessing exercise. The blessing exercise is to say silently, every time you see a man, "Bless his little heart." That's it. You do it for at least a day (but try three), and your attitude towards men improves amazingly.

Now, in the case of the guy who was gratuitously horrible to you, I recommend asking him WHY he doesn't like women--or, better, why he doesn't like you. Here is the conversation I am hearing in my Mind's Ear:

You: So why don't you like me?

Mr Horrible: What?

You: Why don't you like me?

Mr Horrible: What are you taking about? I like you. Sure, I like you.

You: Then why did you make that horrible remark about women to me?

Mr. Horrible: Aw, lighten up.

You: No, seriously. I'm curious. You seem like a nice man, you're Catholic, you must love Our Lady, but you make remarks like that. So I'm assuming that you don't like me, or you have a problem with women-in-general. And since you're a Catholic, and Catholicism stresses the Dignity of Women, my guess is there's something going on with you.

Mr Horrible: You know what I don't like....?

And then Mr Horrible pours out his wounded masculine soul because most young men with a grievance can't help talking about it when given half a chance.

There is also, of course, the chance that Mr Horrible's anger goggles are so firmly glued to his head that he will just call you a "crazy bitch" instead of explaining himself or apologizing. In this event, I suggest you avoid him at all costs, and if others in your set ask why, you tell them, word for word.

Another thing I recommend is to read Mulieris Dignitatem by John Paul II. John Paul II totally loved us women. And you can find it on

Grace and peace,

Friday, 4 June 2010

Two Other Books of Note

As I was browsing Waterstone's yesterday, I found on a clearance table The Complete Book of Aunts by Rupert Christiansen for a mere £3.99. It cost less than the fashion mag I was going to wastefully spend my money on and is much more salubrious. It was first published in 2006, so we need not feel sorry for Mr. Christiansen that his book is on the clearance table. Instead, any Single woman in Britain should rush out and by it, for it is immensely cheering.

So far I have read only Christiansen's first two chapters, plus his etymological discussion of aunts, plus an amusing poem about aunts by Virginia Graham. But I am convinced that the whole work is chicken soup for the auntly soul, equally attractive to both Serious and Searching Single women.

The second book I discovered by way of Yahoo News, which (like MSN) reprinted a Maclean's article about Whom Not To Marry: Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority. The Higher Authority is 81-year-old Father Pat Connor of New Jersey, but speaking as an author, I think we can charitably assume the subtitle was not his choice. The phrase "Time-Tested" was ripped straight from the subtitle of The Rules.

The media seems to love books written about sex and/or marriage by priests: such a fuss last year over a Polish priest who wrote a sex manual. I suppose they still think priests know squat about marriage, despite most of them preparing hundreds of couples for marriage and then listening to our subsequent complaints for years. But I have to say that I am a wee bit annoyed that Fr. Connor has scooped the topic of my next book. How vexing. Fortunately, the market is big enough to handle several simultaneous books about whom-not-to-marry. Persuasion, for example, still sells very well.

But I am longing to read what Father Connor has to say, so I am going to get his book, and I bet all you Searching Singles would find it interesting, too.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A Cumbria Single

"Why," ask both telly and radio. "Why? Why? Why?"

"But we may never know," they say next. "Let's talk about our gun laws."

"No," I say from the pillow. "Back up. There are non-terrorist killing sprees in Britain only once every ten years or so. Guns do not jump out of the cupboard and start shooting randomly. Let's go back to 'why'--or would that be too scary for you?"

And lo, this morning I check the Telegraph and discover that the Cumbria shooter was not actually a "nice, quiet" pillar of the community. He was involved in a family feud over his mother's will, he never married the mother of his children, and he apparently broke up with her because she wouldn't abort their second child. Okay, this was a man who wanted to wipe out his own unborn son, a son he had begotten on his long-term partner. Hmm.

Here follows what I found most interesting in the article, only with the killer's name removed. I have a policy that I will never name serial killers. Sometimes fame is their motive. If newspapers had a policy of calling all serial killers "X", there might not be so many of them.

X’s younger son Jamie, 16, still lives at home in nearby Lamplugh with his mother Linda Mills, 48, who has long been separated from X. They never married.

Miss Mills left X and moved to Lamplugh with Graeme in early 1994, around the time she gave birth to Jamie.

A neighbour described Miss Mills, who works as a house keeper at Center Parcs in Penrith, as ''a lovely lass’’.

One friend laid blame for the break-up squarely with X. “When Linda fell pregnant with Jamie, he wanted her to have an abortion and she refused,” the friend said.

“It put a big strain on the relationship and they broke up soon after.

“X and Linda didn’t speak at all afterwards.
But Jamie spent a lot of time with his dad.”
One of Miss Mills’s friends alleged that while typically being unassuming, X showed darker moods to those close to him.

“If you saw him in the street he would say hello to you but he was always down and moody,” she said.

“He was really tight with his money, too. He would even charge his own family the taxi fare.”

Now here is the only motive being given out yesterday:

A fellow cab driver said they thought that X may have been upset after recently being teased by colleagues about his lack of success with women.

They used to wind him up because he was a really quiet lad and kept himself to himself,” the driver said.

They would tease him about lasses and say they have had better runs than him. It’s just friendly banter, but somebody has said something to him and he has taken it to heart.

My borrowed computer just lost everything I had to say subquent to the above. It was very brilliant, IMHO, so I am very miffed.

In short, Cumbria Single seems to have been an enormously self-absorbed, selfish and bitter man. He was also quite the foot-soldier for the Culture of Death. He got his girlfriend pregnant twice without, apparently, even asking for her hand in marriage. He put pressure on this lady to kill their second child. He fought over his mum's will before his mum was even dead. He killed his own twin brother, a 60-year-old solicitor and then his friends. Then some innocent strangers. Then himself.

Why did he do all this? Was it because of some loophole in Britain's stringent gun laws? No. It was because he was a bad man.

Are we allowed to say that? Absolutely no one on telly last night said that. But I say it. I have no problem saying this serial killer was a bad man, and that very likely the Cumbria killer is in hell, whatever hell turns out to be. Maybe if he had thought a little more about hell, he would not have killed twelve people and himself.

I know perfectly well that none of my regular Single readers are going to haul off and shoot anybody. The reason I bring all this up (other than to come up with a better explanation than Our Gun Laws Are To Blame) is that Cumbria Single is a very bad model of how to live the Single Life. He seems to have exhibited the bad qualities that I discovered firsthand are the perennial temptations of the Single Life: self-absorption, selfishness and bitterness. So, my dear little Singles, I say to you, look out.

I also encourage you to keep on fighting the Culture of Death. Mother Teresa pointed out the direct relationship between the mental capacity to have one's own unborn child killed and the mental capacity to kill, or have killed, complete strangers.** I can understand why a woman, in a blind panic, might wish to do away with her unborn baby, but why a man would... Ugh! What an utter failure of manhood.

Manhood lies precisely in this: that a man wishes to protect and sustain women, children and weaker elderly folk. (You don't have to be married to do this, boys. Every time you give up your seat on the bus, you are behaving like a real man. Every time you send a cheque to a charity, you are behaving like a real man. Every time you take your nephew or niece to the park to give your sister a break, you are behaving like a real man.) Christ was THE man, incidentally.

The Culture of Death, though, is not just the big things like abortion, suicide and murder. It is also enjoyment of violence and becoming a slave to the glamour of evil. It is one thing to fire off a gun because you enjoy target shooting. It is quite another thing to play violent video games because you think blowing off heads (with gruesome graphics) is so cool. Given the widespread popularity of such games, I find it significant that the Cumbria killer shot so many people in the head.

(How sad I am I lost my much better end to this post.)

Update: To those wondering, I now have no regular access to facebook. Sorry! It's because my computer died, and BA's computer is a work-controlled one.

**Update 2: Mother Teresa said this over and over again, including in her acceptance of the Nobel Peace prize. Here is one version--and remember, I do sympathise with women who are in an utter panic: most of the world is not kind to pregnant women in distress, even if that distress is only feeling sick on the bus and no-one will give them seats--If we can accept that a woman can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill each other? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.

And that's my last word, my dears. Although I am pro-life, this is not "a pro-life blog" per se. And this is not a post about abortion: it about a man on the island where I live who yesterday killed twelve people and wounded 25 others. I seek to cut through the "He was the nicest man; he just snapped" crap.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Decency Makes A Difference

Yesterday I had coffee with Cath, and I brought up (once again) the subject of The Girl Who Spat On My Hair. Really, I still can barely believe it happened. There I was on the bus, not saying a word in any accent whatsoever, not wearing anything particularly noticeable, and a girl in her teens, sitting directly behind me, spat in my hair.

Now this was, of course, the Rough Bus, and the girl did, of course, get out in a neighbourhood notorious for povertycrimedrugabuseteenpregnancy. But--how do I put this--she was Scottish. Since when do Scottish teenagers spit on adult women, eh? When half-Scottish I was her age, I could barely SEE older women on the bus, unless they were pregnant, and then I gave up my seat.

So I go about asking Scottish people how this incident might have come about. First I asked my husband, who suggested that I previously had a romantic view of poor Scottish girls. Then I asked the son of a labour organiser, who suggested that it was a result of the collapse of heavy industry. And then I consulted Cath, suggesting that it might have come as a result of the loss of religion, and Cath agreed. And whatever the reason, we decided, moral degredation was the result.

The problem with private behaviour is that it so rarely is, or remains, private. Unless you're a hermit, what you do affects everyone else. If you snigger and sneer at chastity as a bourgeois value, then simple people, those who have the most to lose by unchastity, are going to start devaluing chastity, too. And apparently the girls who are most likely to submit to underage sex are girls whose friends have already submitted to underage sex.

Yesterday the story of a poor Scottish child appeared in the Daily Mail. She got pregnant at the age of 11, after a booze-fuelled consensual romp with a boy. She gave birth at 12, and both she and her infant were taken into care.

Authorities decided that the baby would be better off with a married adult couple, and now, age 16, the child-mother would like access to the baby. She swears she's off booze and drugs--well, drugs, anyway. Still a bit of booze. No mention if she's off romps with boys. Pardon me if, having read her interview, I suspect that she is still not a particularly fit influence for a four year old girl. The one thing I can say for her is at least she had the moral gumption not to have the baby killed before she was born. And having an adoptive mum and dad means baby is likely to have a better childhood than the birth mother did.

This is where my husband would observe that this story could very well have been the story of a poor Scottish girl in any decade going back to 1790. But before 1960 (the collapse of heavy industry, the breaking of the Scottish Sabbath), most girls in Scotland were taught that premarital sex, drug-taking and boozing would make them unhappy. These activities were not held out to them as glamorous pursuits. They were described as sure routes to hell, both literally and figuratively. A self-protecting society frowned.

Now society smiles indulgently but finds its hospital wards packed with dangerous people out of their minds on drink and drugs every Friday and Saturday night. In some communities, more babies are born out of wedlock than in, which means that increasing numbers of children never know the absolute security of going to sleep as their father and mother companionably watch telly together. And increasing numbers of teens and adults have their hearts broken because they think A) sex is a just a bit of a laugh or B) "a piece of paper won't make us love each other more than we do." No wonder so many turn to drink and drugs.

So I am feeling particularly fond today of Single people who do not get drunk or drug or have sex. Drinking, drugging and having sex are all fun things, but legions of decent people eschew these pleasures for the greater values of sobriety and chastity, values that nourish society. In addition, I am also feeling fond of people who sit up straight, who dress with dignity, who keep their voices down on the bus so as not to disturb others, who do not spit in public and who watch their children like hawks, to make sure that they will grow up as decent people.

Cath and I were giggling over some American neo-Calvinist who is trying to promote Calvinism as cool.

"Cool is the problem," I said. "Christians should be against cool. We should be decent, dull and buttoned-up to the neck."

Death to cool. Long live decency!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Money For Singles?

I do not know what to say about this article about Singles, other than it does not exactly work within the Catholic worldview.

Whatever else we can say about the gifts of Singles (and there are many), keeping down the numbers of new babies is not one of them. Chastity among Singles does, of course, prevent children from being conceived in the less-than-ideal circumstances of Single parenthood. But babies are good. Having babies is good. Not having babies should not be rewarded with cash handouts. In fact, how much nicer to have a Baby Bonus (as my mother used to get) than a No-Baby Bonus. If I got a No-Baby Bonus, I would save it up and use the money to adopt a Baby, just to spite the social engineers.

Single people have just as much interest in the next generation being happy, healthy and plentiful as parents do.