Graduation Matters


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[Note: I like to post heavily researched articles with long quotations. But this year, my mental energy is spent more on tutoring and a other writing projects, so there are fewer articles, which is fine.

I thought it might still be fun to post shorter, more casual opinions on other topics. The best we can possibly do is to help others through the places that we have been–so I will try to post things that I know about….which is precious little.]

Here’s one: Graduation matters

I didn’t attend my undergraduate graduation exercises, and I regret it. I’ve heard other new graduates express that graduating wasn’t really an accomplishment–getting in was the hard part, and the rest was expected. I said something similar at my own high school graduation–that it didn’t matter because Virginia law required us to graduate. I crankily added that the ceremony was meaningless.

Well–those are wrong. Graduating does matter, and it’s not guaranteed. Yes, getting into college is hard. Yes, graduating high school is required. But it still takes work to get there–real work.

That diploma wasn’t guaranteed in the admissions letter; the law didn’t bestow a sealed diploma upon you because you turned 18. A lot of people drop out–of high school and college. Sticking with it requires discipline, effort, and showing up.

Showing up is highly underrated. Show up enough, and you get places and meet people. Stay home too much and you don’t. Often, it’s that simple.

It’s true that graduating isn’t the end of the road. There is no end. But even if it’s not an end, it’s a still a landmark worth slowing down and savoring. Seriously, if life is road trip, the destination is death–so enjoy the rest stops. Don’t say they don’t matter because they aren’t the end.

Further, by enjoy–I don’t mean total hedonism. I mean, look with gratitude at what you’ve done; what God has accomplished and ponder where he may be calling you next.

Enjoyment is where the ceremony comes in. It’s a ritual. Rituals are not empty, cult events. They are markers of culture and what a culture venerates as meaningful and worth remembering. How do we remember things as a group? Ritual. (That’s what the Catholic Mass is: a ritual that also, miraculously, serves to make present the reality we are remembering).

Rituals are not empty; they are us participating in a long line of tradition and culturally handed down values. No man is an island. Our culture and communities matter; they are not merely external to individuals, but an important component of who we are. The Aristotelian philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote about our interdependence in communities in his book “Dependent Rational Animals,” where he argued that human dependence on each other is an integral but often overlooked (in the Western tradition) aspect of the moral life, or what it means to live well.

The take-away: enjoy graduation. Savor the accomplishment–even while reflecting with gratitude on all the people and circumstances that helped you get there. While no one accomplishes much all on their own, each person’s unique contribution is an integral thread of the tapestry whose current pattern is an accomplishment.

Did you ever skip a graduation ceremony? Why or why not? Are you glad you went or didn’t go? Are rituals really empty?


Local Report: Lay Women Take Up the Cause of Mom Ministry

It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.

I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.

As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.

As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.

I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way. Continue reading

The Frightening Motivations of Mass Murders

When mass shootings happen, as it seems to be happening  more and more frequently, fingers immediately point to guns. And that’s understandable, but the tool is not the cause of the action. The motivations are what we need to look at, and those are far more frightening.

This great article by Peter Turchin explores the motivations and rise of the Indiscriminant Mass Murders. So often, the shooters’ view of themselves as victimized, “moralistic punishers” is overlooked because, I think, it scares us. We have all felt that way at some point: wronged and wanting justice. Now, most of us don’t kill people, and that’s good. And it doesn’t in any way excuse these actions because we can see their motivations.

What it means is that pointing the finger at guns or mental illness won’t get us anywhere but denial. What it will take to stop these is learning to see one another as like us, to lift each other up even (and especially) those who have committed wrongs. But I suppose that response isn’t  not super likely, this side of heaven. But it’s worth a shot.

This article analyzes the motivations of these IMM shooters and looks at some of the factors in society that account for the increased sense of isolation and disenfranchisement that so many people feel (even though most are not violent, of course).

It’s not fun or light reading, but I believe it is pretty insightful and honest.
“The rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice. In a perceptive opinion at New York Times, Adam Lankford writes, “we should think of many rampage shooters as non-ideological suicide terrorists” (I would remove ‘non-ideological’ because many such killers in my database were ideologically motivated). He then points out that a common factor in both rampage shooters and suicide terrorists is “a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him.” I would add that this ‘someone else’ does not need to be a person (a point that Lankford acknowledges elsewhere in his opinion). In fact in the case of IMM (with an emphasis on the I), it is usually a group, an organization, an institution, or the whole society that are held responsible by the killer.”

The Case for Children’s Masses

This is not my child or his behavior.

For married Catholics, such as myself, seeking to live the Christian life, staying true to the teachings on sexuality and the family, our experience of the Mass expresses some tension between the Church’s teaching and her lived witness. On one hand, the Church proclaims the good of children and large families and wisely counsels the faithful to eschew contraception. On the other hand, the environment of Mass, the principal sacrament recalling Christ’s death and resurrection, is often quite hostile to children and their age-appropriate behavior.

Of course I affirm the reverence due to the Real Presence of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet at the same time, expecting toddlers and babies to remain silent and immobile for an hour is a tall order. As a result, eager-to-please parents rush out down the aisles with their upset little ones or hide in the cry room. In the case of my family, we believe that our children should be able to benefit from experiencing the Mass and learning to revere it, so we bring the kids. However, the practical result has been that either my husband or myself remain outside the nave for main duration of the Mass and that my two-year-old son squeals this protest: “Don’t like Church!” This is a problem, and I don’t think our family is alone.

The Church affirms children, but in practicality, children and their typical behavior are actually rather unwelcome in both the setting of the Mass and the attitudes of many attendees. How many times have I heard the complaints of single or older people who sigh that the sounds of my babies interrupt their prayer and solitude with God. Now, I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to be able to pray reverently, but I also want to be able to pray reverently and I want my children to learn to pray reverently too. Children learn by watching and repeating. If they don’t see us attending Mass, they won’t want to attend Mass.

I would like to see child-friendly Masses instituted in every parish at least once every Sunday because the other working solutions to this conundrum are inadequate.

  1. Nurseries are inadequate. While they allow the parents to attend Mass without hiring a babysitter, then the children do not benefit from approaching the Real Presence of Christ nor do they receive the opportunity of seeing their parents model Christian practice at this most holy sacrament.
  2. Parents taking turns at Mass is inadequate. The idea that one parent watches the kids at home while the other attends Mass then swap has the same problem as the nurseries–the children do not absorb the spiritual benefits of Mass. Further, the married couple doesn’t receive the spiritual benefits together.
  3. Quiet Church Bags are inadequate. Many a mom on the internet has recommend this strategy of bringing quiet books and toys that special and that the child only gets to play with at church. The reality is that nothing is quiet. Movement itself is what creates that soundwaves that make noise. So any playing inevitable generates noise. Further, I believe the presence of intentionally distracting toys voids the reverence due to Mass in ways that children’s natural and curious behavior does not. Now, books are a good idea but books don’t keep kids younger than 3 or 4 occupied for the full hour.
  4. “Their feet don’t hit the ground and sit up front so they can see.” Many a pious parent have trumpeted this method as the solution which keeps children quiet and instills reverence. I like the sitting up front idea, but the social pressure of marching to front with a row full of babies is enough to deter this introvert. And the idea of holding them the whole time so “the feet don’t hit the ground,” has backfired in my family’s experience. Rather than reverence, it produces a writhing, whining toddler who twists and struggles because he doesn’t understand the purpose of his confinement and disrupts the service by projecting his aforementioned cry of displeasure: “DON’T LIKE CHURCH!” We don’t want our son to hate church; if he hates church, we are failing at Christian teaching.

So what to do? I would like to request children’s Masses at least once a week with at least one on Sunday. Masses where the normal shufflings and explorations of little people are permitted and not balked at; masses where the songs and preaching and short and simple so the children can understand and partake; Masses where parents can speak quietly to their children to explain what is going on and its significance so that they can actually learn. Maybe even Masses where there is an area set aside with child-sized replicas of the sanctuary and altar so that they can interact with it and learn through modeling and replicating. At the very least, we want to be able to take our kids to Mass without worrying about disturbing someone or being frowned at when our infant frets or our little man chirps: “Applesauce!”
It may seem a remote possibility, but I would like church to be a place my children can look forward to–or least not despise.

So how to you take your children to church/what do you think of children in church?