Friday, 30 August 2013

The Inherent Dignity of the Single State

I'll tell you what this blog isn't: it isn't a guide to getting a husband.

I wish I knew the secrets of husband-getting. Tomorrow I leave for Rome on holiday, and several million Euros would come in handy. I have some general ideas, but not a magic formula.

There is no magic formula. There is human nature, and there is Providence.

Human nature is very much influenced by society. Human beings are by our very nature conformist, and we tend to conform to society around us. In societies that champion premarital chastity, it is easier to stay chaste. In societies that champion early marriage, it is easier to get married. (It is, however, less easy not to be married.)

Catholic women are caught between a rock and a hard place. In the West, society champions premarital sex, and it strongly discourages early marriage.  But Catholicism forbids premarital sex, and it holds up vowed life--as a married person, a priest or a religious--as the ideal.

This means the Catholic woman who wishes to remain chaste and to marry without being "test-driven"  is going to be, in the West, a nonconformist, and men most likely not to be annoyed or unsettled by her failure to conform are going to be other nonconformists. And let me tell you about nonconformists: we can be weird. If we're nonconformists about sex, we can be nonconformists about religion, and if we are nonconformists about religion--I speak as someone who goes primarily to the Traditional Latin Mass--we might be nonconformists about clothing and opinions and social behaviour. Gleefully so. It's hard to find someone who refuses to conform to society's sexual expectations and yet is otherwise entirely "normal."

Incidentally, anyone who wears a Che Guevera T-shirt on a Western university campus is a total conformist. One of the most hilarious things about conformists is how conformist they are when they think they are being edgy. No doubt Miley Cyrus thought she was being edgy last week. In fact, Miley was just going along with the zeitgeist. I've seen similar behaviour in clubs.

The best hope for Catholics then, particularly the vast majority who are natural conformists--which is not shameful in itself, incidentally, as it shows a natural and even enviable openness to community--would be to withdraw from contemporary Western society and create a Catholic-only nation were it not for one thing: Providence.

Before Providence where scientific or social scientific (very dodgy) determinism falls down flat on its face. Atheists can stare at contradictory material data all day long and make pronouncements about how short men have little hope of marriage, and women over 35 can hope only for low-earning 50 year old suitors and how bumblebees can't fly. Catholics don't have the luxury of being so stupid.

Poor old atheists have missed out on the most important Reality of reality which is the existence of a Supreme Being Whose personality and love for us was revealed in and by Jesus of Nazareth. Catholics have not. And therefore, Catholics know Providence means more than the scribblings of sociology. Short men often marry. Thirty-something women occasionally marry high-earning twenty-something men. Bumblebees do fly. Chaste Catholic girls usually do marry.

The fact is that God has a plan for everyone's life, and everyone could figure it out much more easily if we would trust in God, listen for His voice and see where He is in our lives around us right now. God is not just "up there"; He is "down here" and among us. He has revealed His will through the Scriptures and Tradition, and by paying attention to the Scriptures and Tradition, in the way a blind person pays attention to her cane and her dog, we can find our way in the dark.

Yes, there are qualities that are attractive to other human beings--big eyes, shiny hair, a roguish grin and whatnot. The best ones I know are joy and confidence. And the deepest joy and confidence come from joy and confidence in God. And Catholic Single women living chaste (and therefore perhaps uncomfortably un-conformist) lives are a testament to obedience to God; what is needed for flourishing is also joy and confidence in Him.

The Single state, lived in a spirit of chastity, even if it should turn out to be temporary, is inherently dignified because it points to a sustained openness to and trust in the will of God, in Providence. It puts God's will above all else, particularly the Western god of Sex (for whom g*y m*rriage activists are currently the high priests). Sex is only God's servant; godhood sits ill upon it. The chaste Single person gives glory to God by not allowing the servant to usurp God's will for her.

And so the point of this blog is not to get you all married off, although you do seem to get married quite often--long-time reader Med School Girl is the most recently engaged--which does not particularly surprise me, as most people marry eventually. The point of this blog is to show you your inherent dignity as Singles and to encourage you in joy and trust in God.

With that, I am off to pack for Rome. I shall return a week Monday, D.v.  God bless you!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Need Pep Talk

Birthday/Girls' Night. Had sudden flu. Went to Goth club anyway. 
Dear Auntie,

I've written you a couple times before and have always loved your advice. And I love your blog! I was wondering, if you need a topic idea, could you post a pep talk of sorts for the searching singles? Not so much a don't list, but a you're doing okay list? And not so much a "watch out for this type of guy" thing as a "it's not your fault you're pursued by weirdos" thing (two of my roommates have been bombarded with really weird men pursuing them, to the extent that these fellows have made more than a few events awkward and unpleasant). 

All the single women I know (and there seem to be so many of us) are struggling right now: there aren't any weddings, or engagements, or boyfriends. The pool of NCB is limited to just CB, completely missing the N part, and it's really starting to get old. Okay, to be entirely fair, there are a few NCB's here and there, they're just not interested in us, or they have recently announced plans to enter the seminary. To top everything off, it seems like every sermon this entire summer was about being faithful to your spouse, raising children, etc. Nothing for the spinster Aunts! 

We're trying to to keep on trucking, work, be happy and enjoy the privileges of being single (and there are so many! don't get me wrong!), but there isn't much caffeine in our lives and there is a feeling of lethargy in the air. 

Thanks for everything you do!

Need Pep Talk

Dear Need Pep Talk,

You don't mention how old you are, but my usual recommendation for the under-30 set is to scamper straight to the mirror and admire your beautiful under-30 skin. Say, "I love you, beautiful under-30 skin, and I promise to protect you from the wicked sun with hats and sun screen!"

Possibly this is shallow, but I don't care. You 20-somethings have beautifully fresh faces; enjoy them while you have them and preserve them for the future. 

Meanwhile, if there are no men on the scene, you and your friends are in a Golden Era of Singleness upon which you will look back fondly, and one day you will all desperately try to figure out some day you ALL can meet up, even for two hours, or just dream that this could ever have been a possibility. 

This spring, for example, there was a Mostly Married Lady Miracle when five of my old crowd, nicknamed, "Les Girls", managed to meet in a Toronto restaurant, all together for the first time since E's wedding. 

K had recently flown in from the West Coast, bound for a conference. E drove down from the city limits. L couldn't quite get away from it all, so she brought the baby. Half-Pint was... Actually Half-Pint is still only 22 or something and currently still Single, so it wasn't that hard for her. And I was visiting from Scotland. For the first ten minutes, we barely spoke. We just sat looking at each other, grinning foolishly. We were all together!

We spent all our time catching up and eating, so we didn't have an opportunity for "Remember Whens?" But had we the whole night to chat, we would have definitely got to the "Remember Whens." And there is a lot to remember from those days when we sprawled around the "Les Girls" house, moaning "Why are we still Single? Aaaaaaaah!"

There was, for example, the time we went clubbing with the sweet Muslim housemates, who refused to leave us when we got drunk, even though they were somewhat disgusted that we were drunk. And then there was the time E and L planned this amazing Goth Birthday Party for me, and I came down with flu in the middle of it, but made myself sick so my stomach would stop hurting and we could go to the club anyway. And then there was the time E and I went to Montreal with silly old Der Guter (see book), and Der Guter told my brother he was going to marry me. And there was the time.... You see where I'm going with this.

You Single Time is your Single Girl time, and by enjoying it together, you are laying up wonderful memories for the future. The future is there, fixed in the mind of God. You're travelling towards it, and although things you do today help determine it, God already has a Plan for you. So although naturally you are worried about what this Plan may be, or when you're going to see the Truly Life-Changing part of it, make sure you take a break from worry to simply have the fun of being girls together.

Because, you know, that is what I loved best about Single life. It wasn't the travelling--I travel more now! It was just being with the other Single Girls. And our caffeine came from the parties we threw--even if half the boys there were male religious--and from rushing off to clubs in the freezing dark--and from baking muffins and impromptu pyjama parties and checking out sales and discussing our studies. And now, as I sit in my attic in Scotland, I think back on those days, and I am so glad that I had fellow Catholic Single girls to share them with.  

Meanwhile, the absolute best book I ever came across about Single Life is called "Live Alone and Like It" by Marjorie Hillis. It was first published in 1936, so it assumes you're either going to live a chaste life or to have to pretend you are, and it also assumes, as I do, that most Singles are going to eventually marry, so you must seize the opportunities being Single gives you. It has a wonderful tone, so if you need an extra lift, do get this marvellous book

I hope this is helpful!

Grace and peace,

P.S. You're not really responsible for what goes on in the heads of the weirdos. You can, however, head the weirdos off at the pass with firm "No's" as soon as they appear. I don't know what you mean by weirdos, so let us just call them "eccentric or socially awkward men whose advances you wish to reject." A kind but firm "No" in time saves nine. Speak to them loudly and offer them unsolicited advice, like a mother or schoolteacher, nun or aged aunt. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Columnists Don't Get to Choose Their Own Headlines

That is your media awareness lesson for today.

Sweetening or Festering?

An interesting question from Seraphic Alumna Shiraz:

But -- here is my but -- I have a pet theory about this. [My now-husband and I] were both young [when we met] (early twenties) and he was really very sweet and excited to have a nice girlfriend (he had had prior non-religious girlfriends who turned out to be Not Very Nice), so that helped. 

Also, I've found, and friends have found, that as the men you are dating get older, some of this sweetness dissipates. My friends have found that older guys expect more, and faster, whether religious or no. They are also more likely to play games, e.g. texting only after a time lag of a certain length, not signalling whether or not they are dating only you or others too, etc etc. I was wondering: what do you think about this? That yes, it depends on the guy -- you'll find jerks and non-jerks distributed through the religious and non-religious population, but that also that game playing and sexual expectations seem to increase with age? Does this hold true for anyone else, or is it just my friends who've seen this pattern?

Guys playing games sounds like "Game" to me. And "Game" is the plaything of men who are so frustrated by women, they begin to see us as a kind of commodity for which they are in competition with other men. And, unfortunately, some of the psychological tricks of Game work on some women.

Occasionally I try to imagine what it is like to be a man. This isn't as hard to do as you may think as men write so many books--especially novels--about being men. Also, I had brothers and I generally mined boyfriends for stories about their lives. (Poor boyfriends.) Two themes crop up: the beastliness of bigger boys towards smaller boys--the awful violence of childhood that damps down to adult competitiveness--and the mystery and confusion of women.

When I was a child, the boys I knew were very nasty to girls, and so boys seemed to improve as I got older. Although boys in my elementary school class were fond of obscene language and sexual harassment, boys I met in high school were not at all like that. They were rather sweet, now that I think about it. My principal crush objects from that era married shortly after they graduated from university. The only real trouble I had from Men Who Expected Stuff was from someone who assumed all Western women were sexually active and from a Gamer in his late thirties who was very possibly insane.

I suspect I sidestepped a lot of garbage by avoiding non-Catholic dating sites and by usually dating only guys who were Catholics or work buddies.

The reflection on guys I knew in high school gives rise to a hypothesis. My hypothesis is that sweet men--men who believe in love--form attachments at a relatively young age, and hang on like limpets to their beloveds. Most of them get married young, too, or move in with their beloveds in such numbers that, yes, it does indeed look like "All the good ones are taken."  Asses--men who believe they deserve a non-stop smorgasbrod of sex--tend not to form stable, loving attachments when they are young.

However, some of these sweet and tender limpets get scraped off by their beloveds, for not all young women are sweet and loyal (Exhibit A: the young Seraphic, whom I advise all Eavesdroppers to avoid should they ever have access to time machine), which makes them available again. And either they are still sweet, or their broken hearts make them bitter.

If bitter, they are encouraged in their bitterness by the Asses. And the Asses make misogynist jokes which shock but also amuse the Mr Broken Hearts, and if the Mr Broken Hearts admire the Asses, they try to be more like them. And they can do this quite easily if they start reading Pick Up Artist blogs or even shelling out the cash to take notes in Pick Up Artist seminars.

(I've noticed that PUA is never about finding ONE gorgeous woman who will MARRY you and HAVE YOUR CHILDREN and MAKE YOUR HOUSE LOOK NICE and STAND BY YOU when your HAIR FALLS OUT.)

The thing is, though, that there are men who carry on like Asses in their teens or twenties and suddenly, or not so suddenly, feel ashamed of themselves and want to be better men. In short, they grow up and get married--possibly to the women who inspired such grown-up thoughts--and have heart attacks fourteen years later when their little girls appear at the dinner table dressed in stripper wear for their first high school dances.

And those are my thoughts. In short: most sweet men settle down young, some sweet men become available latter, some asses have conversion experiences, and some rejected sweet men fester and join the remaining asses.

My own solution to the problem, were I a merry widow, would be to look for such delightful, unbrokenhearted, unattached and still-sweet young men in their twenties who admire ladies in their forties, and with that I shall now go look up what the PUAs have to say about COUGARS.

Update: Since we are talking about men's experiences, it's okay for Eavesdroppers to leave comments today. However, it's not Gentleman's Day, so I am removing my strict protection and code of conduct. Y'all can fight. No bad words, though.

Update 2: Game for women? Okay, this post is rather, um, frank and, um, coarse. But it has some good points, mostly gleaned from Why Men Love *itches. Incidentally, why do some women think it makes them sound more authoritative to use coarse language? My gym teacher never did, and when she said, "Jump", we darn well jumped.

Update 3: I have been reading another blogpost , which boils WMLB down (up?) to 100 points, and gave up at 37 because the points made me sad. The war between the sexes is, for me,  primary evidences for the lingering effects of Original Sin.  How nice if we just let our yes be yes, and our no be no, and nobody ever needed to tell anyone not to be a booty call.

Update 4: Once I got an email from a Catholic guy who said that Game really helped him, even though he understood that PUA culture was really disgusting. And so my loathing of Game wavered a bit. But today I saw this:
  • Several Heads Are Better Than One – like wolves hunting in packs, this chapter teaches you how to get your friends to "wingman" for you. With these teamwork techniques, the ladies won't stand a chance and you and your friends will be enjoying the results one night after another after another after another!
Wolves hunting in packs. "The ladies" won't stand a chance. You and your friends will be enjoying the results. Hmm, how very gang rapey. Gross, gross, gross.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Mostly an Excuse to look at Young Keanu

There was a seminarian like this in one of my Aquinas classes, no foolin'.

Ripped from Catholic Memes on Facebook.

Learning to Deal with Men

It's too soon to post it up, but this morning all I can think about is an email from a gentle reader who says she has never been alone with a man to whom she is not related. This is not a gentle reader from India or Saudi Arabia but from, I believe, the Good Ol' US of A. And she is in her late 20s.

Now, I did ask in my response if she meant that literally. For example, sometimes one does find oneself alone with a bus driver. Or in the work place with one's boss. Or in the hair salon with the hairstylist. Or in an office with a male prof, the paranoid prof having jammed the door open with several books. Or in  priest's office, weeping into a tissue. This would be much, much better than never, literally never, having been alone with an unrelated man. Because, really, how could one cope on a date, for example, if one had not so much as chatted with a bus driver?

And as a matter of fact, my poor reader did get ambushed by a neighbour, who suddenly popped up behind her car in the dead of night, to say that he had been watching her from his window, and she looked beautiful and like a true lady, and would she go out with him.

Terrified about the idea of being watched by the neighbour every time she got out of her car, my reader told her mother, and her mother gave her a hard time. Turns out Mr Neighbour asked her parents first, and the parents had never told her. And Mom went on to give him a chance and said mean things.

Excuse me? The parents never told their quiet, shy, never-been-alone-with-a-man not to expect the neighbour to come bounding out of the dark with date proposals? What the heck? And why did Doctor Spock never write a book called "How to Parent your Adult Daughter?"  Because, I'm sorry, my poor reader went on to have a nightmare that she had been whisked off in the neighbour's pickup truck against her will.

Someone is not rooted in reality, and it's my poor reader's mother. If your daughter is shy, retiring, and has never been alone with a man in her 25+ years, it is up to you to do something about it. You can't expect her to suddenly trust random neighbours with pick-up trucks just because they live next door and she's 25+ years old!

What Baby Boomers don't seem to get is that by tearing down society and ushering in the Sexual Revolution they have made the sexual realm so much more scary for their children. It's bad enough for girls who have to go to school with sniggering, hyper-sexualized boys; imagine the home-schooled. The girls in co-ed schools have at least learned what to expect and how to deal with it. The home-schooled go to college and discover a guy in a phallic costume shoving condoms at them during "Healthy Sex Week."

My reader's mother would probably wonder what I expect her to do, and first and foremost I expect her to tell her daughter within ten minutes that some guy is was interested in dating her. It's not like the daughter was going to say, "Oh, Mom! You ruined the surprise!"  Second, I expect my reader's mother to realize that her daughter has managed to be as socially sheltered as a well-brought-up 19th century lady and that it is up to her, the mother, to invite suitors into the parlour. It's the freakin' neighbour. It wouldn't even have to be into the parlour. It could be into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

Update: I just asked a young Eavesdropper in the house where his generation learns how to date, which was a silly question, as the Eavesdropper looks not to his own generation for cues as to how to behave but to that of General Piłsudski. Were I his mother, I would probably arrange cotillions and things like that, shoving him at lovely, bashful wallflowers and cutting off married adventuresses at the pass. Well, I suspect his generation learns how to date from television---a horrible thought, but since so many women thought "Sex & the City" a good guide to real life, there maybe a lot of men who think "How I Met Your Mother" is the way things work.

If true, that would be very pathetic. Does anyone know if the "Third Date Rule" is still floating around out there? I haven't had to worry about it for five years. But if it is, I shall have to write about it again because I hate the idea of my gentle readers finding out about it the hard way, as I did.

Update 2: And that was extremely pathetic. He was living with his mother, whom he shooed away for the night, and cooked a meal that took simply forever to prepare, so that I was quite starving, and had a special mix tape including "Rainbow Connection", which he sang along with Kermit, and when I finally realized what he was up to and asked what gave, he asked, "Haven't you heard of the Third Date Rule?"

Monday, 26 August 2013

Searching for Mr Good Enough

Occasionally there are persuasive articles in the newspapers, women's magazine and blogs extolling the joys of settling. "Love the one you're with" just about sums it up. I think there is a lot to be said for this in the case of people who are living together and have children. No other "partner" is going to care about those children as much as the "partner" you had them with, so if you're getting along fine, get married already. Your own personal happiness does not matter as much as the children's happiness anyway. You have or had choices. The kids don't. I think "Staying together for the sake of the kids" is fantastic and noble and exactly what I would want my parents to have done, were they not staying together for the sake of each other.

I get a bit nervous, however, about the idea of getting married just to get married or just to have kids. This may have worked out more or less okay for society when society made getting divorced really, really difficult. But nowadays no-fault-divorce has made such thinking really risky. Of course the kids will be glad to be alive, most of the time, but the kids won't thank you if you rip the world out from under their feet by divorcing their dad because he is just so terrifically boring or annoying or lazy or whatever he is that you should have noticed when you were dating. That's what dating is for.

Anyway, I have broken up with men because they were boring, and it is a terribly embarrassing thing to do that. It made me feel like a frivolous, shallow, heartless heel, so why should you be exempt, eh? Why should you have the privilege of going self-sacrificingly to the altar with a boring guy if, should you have been a bit more heartless, you could have been Single for as long as me? It's not like I suffered too much in the long run because now I have B.A., and yesterday at a picnic he made our friends and me laugh so much I had long black streaks on my face from weeping mascara.

Okay, there is the childlessness thing, which is very probably age-related and sucks, but at least if we did have kids, the kids would have a dad who was funny and a mother who laughed a lot.

I got a really sweet email about that the other day, from a reader who said that having a great husband was even more important to her than having kids. She thought maybe this made her weird, but I don't think it makes her weird at all. I think it is a good idea to be pro-husband first and pro-kids second. After all, when you're married you have to put your spouse first and your kids second and then you third, and the same goes for him. Kids who find themselves put before Dad or Mum by Mum or Dad learn to despise Dad or Mum; it's not good.

The email made me wonder exactly how many Single readers would marry Mr Good Enough just to have kids instead of waiting for Mr Perfect-for-Her even if that meant never having kids. Then it occurred to me that I haven't taken a poll in the long time. Admittedly, this would make a scary poll, but surely my readers are not superstitious and do not think they will SEAL THEIR FATE if they vote one way or the other.

You get four five choices:

1. I would settle for Mr Good Enough just to have kids even if later we divorced.
2. I would rather wait for Mr Perfect-for-Me even if we never had kids.
3. I am a happy Serious Single woman and don't see myself getting married/married again.
4. I am an Eavesdropping Male.
5. I am a Married Lurker.

Oh, what a question for a Monday morning! But I'm dying to know what y'all would pick.

Update: A really great post on Orthogals today. Lots of great cheer for Singles.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Honouring Your Identity 2: Single/Wolna/Célibataire

"You can't wear that dress!" shouted my sister as I packed for our brother's wedding, now five years ago. "You'll look like a spinster aunt!"

"I AM a spinster aunt," I replied, but I don't remember if I wore the spinster aunt dress. What I do remember is that two years of blogging about my life as a Single Catholic made it easy for me to be proud to be a spinster aunt.

Besides, I wasn't legally a spinster aunt. Legally I was a divorced aunt, which from a Catholic point of view is much more depressing. Fortunately for my peace of mind, my annulment papers made me spiritually a spinster again. Not a virgin again, obviously, but still a spinster, free to be the me I was supposed to be.

It turns out I was not supposed to be a spinster aunt for very much longer. And the moral of the story, leetle gairls, is that if you flee from a bad marriage and it is quite obviously over and very probably was never sacramental and you have no children whose feelings you have to take time to consider, apply for the annulment as soon as the ink is dry on your divorce certificate. Don't wait until Mr Right turns up. Get the annulment ASAP and return to being a Catholic spinster, so that if Mr Right or Right Convent of St. Right in Rightsville breaks into your life, you will be ready to say "Yes."

In Canada it takes a year's separation to divorce and at least a year after that to get the annulment, if applicable, so that is two years for you to wait out Divorced Person's Insanity. Divorcing young Catholics should be locked away in a convent or monastery for at least a year, but very possibly two, for their own good. It is just so awful. It is so awful the primary purpose of this blog is to make you feel so happy and hopeful as Singles you do not just march into a bad marriage hoping everything will work out just 'cause. In short, I don't want you getting divorced and going off the rails.

I hate divorce even though I am grateful to divorce because it made me free, which reminds me that the proper word for "Single" in Polish is not "Single" (pronounced "SEEN-gluh"), which is sort of an insult, like "hipster" ("HEEP-stair"), but wolny for a man and wolna for a woman. And this is a much better word than Single because it is the same word for FREE.

"Jestem wolna" means "I am Single" or "I am free" and it points to the beautiful heart of Singleness which is that it makes you free for marriage, or for religious life, or for life in a L'Arche community, or as a numerary in Opus Dei, or for any commitment to which God calls you, in His own good time, through the medium of history.

We can only read the history of our lives backwards, so I see in my own life that God inspired me to start my Singles blog, which made me happier to be Single, which came through in my blog, which attracted B.A.'s friends, who alerted B.A., who read my blog and, when I wrote about coming to the U.K., invited me to visit. Hey presto. God working in history, both the history of communications technology and the history of little me, to show me my true state-in-life vocation at the age of 38. And because I had got my annulment almost ten years before, I was wolna, free, to say yes at once.

Incidentally, my writing in the Catholic Register inspired a lovely group of nuns in British Columbia to write to me personally suggesting I try my vocation with them.  Isn't that sweet? At the time it made me a bit cranky, though, as when deep down you really want to get married, religious life really seems second best and just not something you want to embrace. This makes you feel bad, of course, since religious life is the highest form of life, so what is wrong with you for not wanting it? Are you a bad Catholic, etc., etc? No, not necessarily. You probably just do not have a call to religious life.

Therefore I think it's not just the events of history but what God writes on your heart that you must read to understand what God wants you to do, and I apologize to the Vocations Director of the IBVM in Toronto for wasting an afternoon of her time. Oh, and to the VD of the Tennesee Dominicans for wasting some of her time although in her case I am not really sorry because I love to tell people that the Tennessee Dominicans turned me down sight unseen. Hee hee!

Where was I? Oh! The French also have a better word for Single identity, for it is célibataire.

Now, we English-speakers often use the word "celibate" to mean we don't have sex. This is not the proper use of the word "celibate", which in English means what it does in French--an unmarried person, like a priest. However, there is something in the word that makes us think of not-having-sex, so this is also positive, from a Christian point of view.

Why? Because to not-have-sex when you are Single means that you are not a slave to sex, at the mercy of all that sex can throw at you without the safety of marriage. Sex is a fine servant but a really cruel and nasty master, and if you doubt me ask anyone who is addicted, actually addicted, to internet porn. Ask the poor young woman now known as "Slane Girl", or read the British papers about the children of women who let new lovers into the house as if with a revolving door.

"Single" is a problematic word because it suggests that you are alone. However, you are not alone. You are a free and (I hope) celibate woman with a family, friends, community and, most of all, loving Saviour.  And you have nothing to be ashamed about. As a single person, you have the freedom to be there for your family, friends, community and loving Saviour in a way a married woman can't. For example, I could not be at my nephew's birthday dinner in mid-August because I am married and living abroad. Were I still his spinster aunt, I would have been there. And it hurts me a little that I was not there, and even more that I couldn't get it together to get to the post office on time, etc.  However, I have to put my husband and our Old Worldy stuff first, just as St. Paul thought so problematic.

So if someone asks if you are Single or, worse, "still Single", you may say "yes" happily and hopefully instead of feeling terrible. You are not alone but wolna to God's call, whatever it is, and to take care of your family and friends in a way you might not be able to later, and--I hope and pray--you are célibataire in the chaste way that keeps you safe.

Update: I have been wondering whether to write about poor Slane Girl at all, but the one saving grace in the whole awful story is that she isn't known by her name (and please don't look for it, poppets) but simply as "Slane Girl." This should make it easier for her to get on with her life. Meanwhile, thanks for nothing, Sexual Revolution. Now it's got Ireland, with a spandy new permissive abortion law and everything. Is Poland next? I seriously hope not--and there is hope for although Poland has allowed abortion since Communist days, there are comparatively few abortions in Poland. (Still, have some more children, ludzie.)

Okay, I wrote about Poland again. I just really love Poland. Yes, I know it's not Catholic Disneyland. But it is so much more Catholic than here. Have I mentioned how well the Poles take care of the graves of their dead...? And what Poles do instead of celebrating Hallowe'en....? I don't care how annoying Babcia is, she's right: Poland is almost like heaven compared to wherever she is now--only with, ahem, a lot of car thieves. Married car thieves who use contraceptives. Bad! (I don't care about the cars.)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Honouring Your Identity 1

Ancestral  (i.e. pre-1965) Canadian Flag  
The only way to stay rooted in reality is to tell yourself the truth all the time. This includes cutting through myths or wishful thinking about your own identity. This can be difficult for all kinds of reasons, but usually because of the expectations of other people or even your culture.

For example, as a Canadian born after the 1960s, I was encouraged by state and school not to think of myself as a Canadian without simultaneously thinking of myself as the member of an ethnic group, too, e.g. as an Irish-Canadian. However, like most white Canadians whose first Canadian ancestors arrived before the First World War, I have ancestors from more than one ethnic group.

Meanwhile, my father's family is from Chicago, but nobody ever suggested to me that one of my ethnic group was "American". I was encouraged to ignore my father's experience of Civil Rights days, the American experience of both World Wars, the American Civil War (someone in my family fought for the North) and, heck, the Revolutionary War (my dad's family fought both sides) and even life in the Thirteen Colonies before the Revolution. That's a lot of really cool history, but it didn't count. All who counted were the starving Irish crawling off the boat in 1847 and the adventurous Germans popping up in Chicago in the 1880s, and, on my mother's side, fed-up Scots and an English cook fleeing the stultifying British class system circa 1900.

Because it was too much trouble to say I was an Irish-German-Scottish-English-Canadian, I went with Irish-Canadian because my primary identities were, actually, Catholic and Red-head, traits I associated most with the Irish bunch. This drove my mother nuts, especially as the red hair comes from the Scots and the Germans, and so I tried to swim against the multicultural tide. However, my teachers wouldn't let me. My first-ever published story was a creative non-fiction piece about being humiliated by Sister W for saying I was "just a Canadian" instead of obediently claiming to be Irish or Scottish or German or whatever.

In Canada we are told that "we" are "all" immigrants except for perhaps the First Nations (American Indians), which is literally nonsense. My father is an immigrant from the USA, but my mother wasn't an immigrant, and her parents weren't immigrants, and I am not an immigrant. Well, I wasn't an immigrant. Now I am an immigrant--although that feels like a weird word to use when four of my great-grandparents were born here and, until 1947, everyone born in Canada was a British subject.

"Canadians aren't foreigners," bellowed a very Old School Englishman whose conception of Canada is trés pre-1968. "They're just British who live somewhere else!"

Not true, though it was once (de jure) true. And I wonder why it is that the Powers That Be feel they need to make the descendants of men who built the Ville du Québec, or who fled the American Revolution or slavery to Upper Canada, or who won the day at Vimy Ridge, or who survived Japanese prison camps, or who served in the Korean War feel like we don't really belong to the land where we and those men were born and raised. Maybe it makes us easier to control.

I think the Canadians of the pre-1960s era did a great job building Canada, and I am proud to have ancestors from among them. Ditto for the USA although I feel sorry for the never-ending racial tension nightmare and am so thankful I didn't grow up in it. That fact that we didn't is one thing that made Canadian kids of my generation different from American kids, and meanwhile I have a particular loathing of  the concept of inherited guilt. Again, cui bono?

Anyway, it feels positively revolutionary to say that the history and geography of Canada shaped my identity more than that of Ireland and Germany, and any lingering ideas that I was spiritually Scots got blown up at an Edinburgh Robbie Burns Supper attended by English and Scottish republicans. Apparently serious stuff has gone down since 1900.

And that was nine paragraphs just to state the obvious: I am Canadian. Jeepers.

Canadians are lucky in that nobody thinks about us all that much, and apart from some U-Boats and some crazy Americans who wanted to kidnap the country and trade it for Ireland, we haven't been invaded by an army for 200 years. Conservative pundit Mark Steyn was positively gleeful when a Muslim mob bothered to burn a Canadian flag: "Death to the Little Satan!" chortled Mark.

The only places I have come across anti-Canadianism is among Americans who think Canadians are just Americans who act funny, in northwestern Germany where there is still some lingering resentment about our brief occupation and, of course, from sulky immigrants in Toronto, although rather excitingly from a Dutchman who said that although Dutch women had been safe from Germans during the War, they weren't safe from the Canadians. So much for all that "We love you, our liberators, here's some tulips" stuff.

If Canadians were not so invisible--which is really a wonder, really, when you consider that Canada is geographically the second-largest country in the world, a G-8 nation and home to a cousin of everyone else in the world--people might try to make us feel worse about being Canadian. And I would correctly interpret this as an attack and fight back instead of thinking, "Oh boo hoo. Our terrible sins. I will allow my attacker to make me feel dirty and shameful." Because, once again, cui bono? Not me!

Aside re: anti-Americanism: I really wish every American girl being hassled by some rude Canadian or European had the guts to say, "Pooh to you. I'm proud of my country,"-- preferably in the native language of whoever is insulting her, so as to prove Americans can too speak anything besides English.

I know what my sins are. They're bad enough without me having to take on other people's, e.g. those of Winston Churchill against the Poles. But I wanted to write about where Single identity fits into all this. Hmm. Well, perhaps I'll wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Importance of Girlfriends When You're a Girl

This is should be short because it is B.A.'s birthday and I have to clean, shop, cook, bake and possibly get to Polish Mass because it is also the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland. Not being Polish, I feel no obligation to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland, but I would like to anyway. (Update: Whoops. I am credibly informed that although it is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the Feast of her Queenship of Poland is some other day.)

When I was in Gdańsk I went to Mass every day because my hostess Marta tries to get to Mass every day, and I thought this was very beautiful. It is very easy to get to daily Mass in Poland because there are churches everywhere, and usually at least one person praying in any city church at any time of the day, and the priests show up to say Mass in such a way that you know they would show up even if nobody else did.

This was splendid and heartening, and what was also splendid and heartening was spending four days with a cradle Catholic woman my own age. I know many of my readers really prefer the company of men and feel like fish out of water when with fellow women, but I am definitely the kind of woman who enjoys being around other women. This is not to say I don't like men, but--.

Hmm. How to explain that "but"?

The wonderful thing about being in all-girl groups and activities, like Girl Guides and girls' school, is that although you compete a bit, you also work together and there is no mental adjustment for the presence of men. There is also no competition for men. You can just forget all that for as long as you are in the all-girl environment, learning how to tie a parcel or prepare a slide for the microscope. And you can talk endlessly, effortlessly obeying the social conventions around women's conversation you hopefully have mastered by the time you leave primary school.

But at the same time, for 99% of women, you pin your hopes for romance and family life on men, which means there is (or should be) a certain amount of detachment: you don't go out of your mind with jealousy when your friend falls in love with some guy. Sure, you might feel a bit neglected, but your heart doesn't snap in half. And this means women can relax around each other in a way we probably shouldn't around men. For example, you can tell a woman all about the lingerie your other friend got at her bridal shower and have a good laugh, whereas you can't tell a good male friend all this stuff without him silently asking the perpetual silent man question, "Why is she telling me this?"

From a cradle Catholic point of view, it is relaxing to be around other cradle Catholics because you don't have to talk about Catholicism so much. I spend a lot of time with convert men, including my husband, and I adore them all, but my goodness, do they talk a lot about Catholic stuff. Not usually about Our Lord or Our Lady, but about churches and liturgies and processions and what Pope Francis did and what Pope Benedict said and what convert Catholic wrote what about who.

Cradle Catholics, the ones who try to be faithful, don't have to talk so much. We can silently swim in a great sea of Catholicism, beyond words and sometimes even beyond thought, just believing and praying side by side. And this is what I did in Gdańsk with Marta. I am 100% sure it beat getting drunk with your mates and some Australian blokes on the beaches at Tenerife, the stereotypical modern British mini-break.

I do not, by the way, want to put up any kind of wall between cradle Catholics and convert Catholics. Unless they became Catholics just to please their fiances, convert Catholics have had an amazing experience, an at times painful and frightening adventure, and are often very impressive. Most of my favourite British Catholic writers were converts. There are a lot of leading American Catholic apologists who are converts. But there is something about growing up in a Catholic home and perhaps even a Catholic ghetto or Catholic society that is unique. Many of us North American Catholics are, by the time we leave home, Catholics In Name Only. But a Catholic childhood is a Catholic childhood, and Catholicism is in our cradle Catholic bones and blood and teeth and hair. (But I suppose that is also why cradle Catholics who hold heretical views are so confident in their heresies. You know the drill: "Well, I'm a Catholic, and I think...")

Then there is the generational thing, about which I felt a lot when I was with Marta, especially in front of the shipyard at Gdańsk, the birthplace of Solidarity. When the strikes were going on, Marta was right there. But I was watching them on TV, seeing the photos in Time magazine and observing the Polish priest who suddenly turned up in our parish, out of harm's way, so I remember too.

Generation is about what you remember. Generation gap is about memory as much as it is about "new" ideas and new technology.  

Anyway, it is funny to write so much about the joy of spending a long weekend with a cradle Catholic woman of my own generation when it is my convert Catholic husband's birthday. (Happy birthday again, B.A.!) But the point I am making is that even married women (perhaps especially married women) need female friends our own age who know and remember many of the same things we do.

This is why, perhaps, it is hard to make new women friends when you get older or move to another city: the majority of them, native to the city, are so busy with work and their families that when they have time to spend with friends, they choose their oldest friends, the friends who share the same background, values and memories. Childhood friends. High school friends. College friends.

Hard, though, does not mean impossible.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Marta's Advice & My Advice

It is difficult to be Auntie to all the Singles in the World because the world is so different from place to place. Occasionally readers grumble that I generalize, but what can I do? This is a blog. For specifics, you must read scientific journals.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of truths in generalizations: "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," for example. And "A Single woman should never do housework for a Single man for free," which is not as well known, for I invented it, but for which I would go to the stake. Never, never, never do housework for a Single man for free unless you are not looking for a husband but a son because housework for free = either slave or Mother. (And, come to think of it, who says "What am I, your slave?" more often than a mother?)

My friend Lily and I have been fighting on-and-off for seven years about whether or not "The Rules" are cross-cultural. Lily maintains that they are because they address bedrock human male psychology. I am not so sure. I think "The Rules" work best with men who are traditionally masculine and easily bored and like challenges for the sake of challenge. If you prefer soft, tender, shy men who are dreamers more than doers, "The Rules" will probably not work for you.  

Occasionally I have the humility to admit that I cannot pronounce on every problem, and this is most likely to happen in Poland, as happened at the Cracow Book Fair, as I told you about. One of you Polish girls (I have forgotten your name again, like a confessor, but I know you are reading) asked me how to meet men in Poland, and my brain went absolutely blank. Only later did it occur to me that both of us had been completely surrounded by men in Poland, and that all she had to do was strike up a conversation with one, quite naturally, in a queue.

However, my reader revealed that in Poland young men look at you like you are crazy if you smile at them and make a pleasant remark. And when I told Marta, my hostess in Gdańsk, she said something like "Well, of course."

Marta's advice to Polish women in Poland regarding Polish men is not to smile and say nice things, as this is foreign and weird. What they must do is complain. Complaining is Polish and normal.  Therefore, if my reader and I went back in time to the Targi Książki w Krakowie, I would send her away to stand in a queue behind a handsome man and complain about the crowds, or the building, or the weather (it was raining and snowing).

This would never have occurred to me, as in English-speaking countries men look very nervously upon women who complain and sometimes you can see their shoulders start to hunch up around their ears as if they were thinking how horrible it would be to be married to a complaining woman. However, in Poland complaining is practically flirtation, as in the following conversation, heavily edited, in the outdoor amber market of Gdańsk's Mariacki Street:

Polish Lady: Does Sir have any rosaries for sale?
Polish Vendor: Ah, Madam, I had many rosaries, but they are all sold. A big crowd of [one of Poland's many historical enemies] came and bought them all.
Polish Lady: What! Sir will sell rosaries to [the historical enemies] but NOT TO ME!?
Bystander: Ah, Madam, the [historical enemies] need to pray more than we do.
Polish Lady: Ah! Yes, they SHOULD pray! Sir is quite right! I take back everything I have said.

If you think this conversation is hilarious, you should probably go to Poland and fish for Polish men, for if you marry one you will be diverted for the rest of your argumentative, PC-free life. And actually you non-Poles will have the edge over many Polish girls because of your romantic foreignness, especially your romantic Westernness, should you be Western. Being Western still has some caché in Poland, or so says Marta. Meanwhile, Polish men go to church in droves of their own free will and, Marta says, in general are faithful to their wives. I'm not saying they are better than other men; I'm just pointing out they tend to be Catholics, real Catholics (even ones who behave wickedly and are therefore best avoided), and attractive just for that.

This reminds me that being Single in Poland has special challenges. For one thing, there is not much precedent for Singleness. Until very recently, almost all Polish women were married or in convents or widows by age 30, and almost all Polish men were married or priests or monks. And when I say "until very recently" I mean before the Year 2000. Yeah. This is why Anielskie Single is doing so well in Poland: it is the first book about Catholic Single Life ever to be published in Polish. Before 2010, the need for such a book never really occurred to anyone.

In family-friendly Poland, Singleness is seen as a bad thing, and to be honest, if you terribly want to be married and have children and your parents terribly want you to be married and have children, it definitely feels like a bad thing. Heck, it feels like a bad thing in the West, and the West hates the family. It likes the individual. Individuals are alone and therefore easier to control.

And this is what I always say to Poles if the subject of the West comes up. The West has a lot of cool stuff, and I am sure the West is very exotic if you were born east of the Oder, but Westerners are spiritually poor, just like Mother Teresa and Bł. Jan Pawel II said. When I see how crowded the churches are in Poland and see men, young men even, men in T-shirts and jeans, working men, ordinary tough guys, praying in front of icons or coming into the chapel for confession, I want to cry with happiness.

When I saw Jesteś Bogiem, I laughed at the director because he tried to underscore how poor and pinched these circa 1990 Polish rappers were, how crumbling their neighbourhoods, and how if their Walkmen broke, they couldn't get new ones: their fathers had to fix them. But unlike the great majority of American rappers, THEY HAD FATHERS. Fathers who protected their kids from bullies or who eventually got around to fixing Walkmen. Their fathers were married to their mothers, even after 20 years. And when the hippest rapper of them all got his girlfriend pregnant, they got married, as all their parents wanted them to do. There was no "Don't be tied down young, live your lives to 'the fullest', have you considered abortion" crap. As rappers go, these were the spiritually richest rappers on earth--not that they knew that, of course.

Now, as I have to remind North Americans, too, everyone is born into a family, and that family remains your family for the rest of your life. Although many North Americans like to shuck off their birth families like snakes shuck off their skins, that is not the Catholic way. When you are an adult Single in your family, you sometimes have to fight for your dignity as an adult, but you are still a valuable member of that family. You are a daughter and a sister and a niece and maybe an aunt and definitely a granddaughter. Which brings me to Babcia.

I can imagine how annoying it gets when Babcia feels a need to mention YET AGAIN that you are Single, but Babcia's worry does not have to be your worry. Possibly Babcia enjoys worrying about you; it may be a nice break from worrying about her hip or her heart or the sins of her children. And worrying is what grandmothers do. My own grandmother used to lie awake until two in the morning.

Seraphic: What were you doing? Reading trashy romances?
Grandma: No, I was worrying.
Seraphic: What were you worrying about?
Grandma: Everything.

So don't take Babcia's worries too much to heart, but feel free to complain in the combox.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Home from Gdańsk

I stood at the top of the Ryanair stairs with my overstuffed carry-on suitcase in one hand and my travel journal and a bouquet of dried Assumption Day flowers in the other and decided that I really didn't want to descend in the rain wearing my high-heeled shoes. So a nice bearded man came up the stairs and took my suitcase. Thank you, kindly baggage handler, wherever you are.

On the bus ride from airport to Historical House, I reflected that my comprehension of Polish is much better today than it was on Thursday, but that I have lost my ability to understand Scots.

But now I am home, and B.A. has rearranged the sitting-room furniture, and I am really very tired. I bet my hostess Marta is just as tired, if not more, and is asleep already. Marta took very good care of me, showing me everything, and taking me to Mass every day and making me not only read and speak Polish, but write it too. Then she covered me with amber, Polish foodstuffs and German liqueurs and delivered me up to airport security. But I had one last adventure.

Final Border Guard (in Polish): Good day.
Seraphic (in Polish): Good day.
Final Border Guard (i.P): Why are you in Gdańsk?
Seraphic (i. P): I was visiting my friend in Gdańsk.
Final Border Guard  (i.P.): Where were you before you were in Gdansk? I cannot see the entry stamp. Where is the entry stamp? Did you get an entry stamp? Actually I am not really saying this stuff. You are just guessing at what I am saying, and you should admit it now.
Seraphic (i.P.): I was only in Gdańsk. I'm sorry. I don't understand.
Final Border Guard (smirking with great amusement but absolutely not going to try to speak English because it might sound as bad to me as my Polish does to him, and therefore i.P.): Oh, here is the stamp. Okay. Have a nice flight.
Seraphic: Dzięnkuje. Do widzenia.

I have many reflections from my time in Gdańsk including a whole sermon about the difference between freedom and slavery to sin. Yeah, Marta knows what I am talking about. I started working on this homily on Saturday night when Marta and I were walking along the Motłąwa River listening to a 22 year old European girl explain in English, international language of youth, to a South Asian guy that she is sexually liberated.

Meanwhile, the South Asian guy, though vaguely interested, looked by his body language more interested in the silent Polish-looking girl on his right. Thus, the first girl's overly loud hints were rather pathetic, and what was even more sad was that she was speaking English as though everyone else around were deaf.

(Attention European Students of the World: Everyone speaks English now, including 360+ million native speakers. You are not THAT special. Meanwhile, your English might not be THAT good. When you tell men on the street in English how sexually liberated you are, e.g. that you don't want to get married and you have boyfriends (plural), and that you "believe in freedom", you might be sounding more pathetic [not to say sluttish] than cool to everyone around. It's the nuances, you know? Have some dignity.)

Poor thing. All she did wrong (I hope) was to suddenly say dumb stuff in front of two ladies by a river, and now she will be immortalized by my blogging. On the other hand, I bet Marta prayed for her. Everyone send up a quick prayer for the European (possibly Italian) bespectacled girl in the black skirt who scandalized Seraphic on Saturday night. She was only 22, poor sweet, as I know because she mentioned it. I don't know  what other personal information she broadcast to the good people of Gdańsk, for Marta turned left and I followed after, tak jak baranek.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Going to Gdańsk

I leave for Gdańsk tomorrow, so of course I am pondering my death. I always ponder my death before I travel. Pondering your own death is a good, traditional Catholic thing to do. And it reminds you to update your will, as I did last week by ripping up a codicil.  I am a terrific will-changer. Nobody will ever want to murder me for a legacy.

In the event of death, I will not leave you orphaned, for there are a number of women tilling in the Single Solidarity field.  Some of them are readers, and prominent among you are the Orthogals. who blogister (my portmanteau of blog and minister, get it?) for Single women of the Eastern Christian persuasion, aka the GREEKS. There there's Christian Grace from The Evangelista. On a completely different, and not explicitly Catholic note, there's newcomer Postum Scriptum, who writes about all kinds of traddy and vintage stuff, like the lost art of letter-writing.

Then of course there are the Professional Writers for Singles who are farther afield and either taking money from the Catholic Dating Websites or are just better than me at marketing what I give for free. And I don't have a problem with that. Just because my conscience says "donations, speaker's fees and book sales only" doesn't mean that's what their consciences say. Occasionally my conscience does twinge a bit when I point to the balance of my student loan, but it just really refuses to get involved with Catholic Dating Websites. And, yes, I know they do some good.

Which reminds me. Somehow my name has been attached to the idea of dating websites because I did a fellow freelancer a favour by answering questions about  internet dating and meeting B.A. online.  But I did not meet B.A. through a dating website; I met him through my blog. Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers: it's not that journalists lie, it's that whoever makes up the headlines and the captions doesn't know how to, or just doesn't have time to, read the actual article.

I had insomnia last night after watching the Sherlock episode, "A Scandal in Belgravia."  I don't often watch violent or suggestive stuff, and "A Scandal in Belgravia" was both.  Also, I have a deep loathing of sexually sophisticated people who try to take advantage of sexual innocents, so I did not enjoy watching Irene Adler's attempts on Sherlock's virtue. Sherlock is an arrogant twit, but he does not use his intellectual prowess to bamboozle people into bed. The farthest he goes is to flirt mildly with poor Molly in the morgue so that she will let him see the latest corpse or what have you.

The writers depict Sherlock and his brother Mycroft as cold fish without feeling, and seem to say coldness is why Sherlock, at least, is largely proof against sexual temptation. But as a matter of fact, Sherlock is intensely loyal and protective of the few people who are intensely loyal and protective of him. It's a great plot device: when the writers need us to feel pity and fear, they put Watson in danger of certain death and Sherlock's blue eyes positively blaze with rage. In contrast, Watson's angry, jealous girlfriends, with whom he presumably, to quote him, "gets off", are just figures of fun.

Despite themselves, the writers have hammered home the idea that in itself sex means nothing next to chaste, self-sacrificing love. Still, I don't think they would go so far as to extol Sherlock's chastity as normal and another example of his formidable powers of reasoning. But I would.

There is a quality of mercy in Sherlock. As blunt and thoughtless as he can be, and as capable of throwing baddies out the window, he takes pity on people when he realizes that they seem to love him. And this is most unlike the kind of  sociopath who punishes most those who seem to love him.

Because, to move from television to real life, there are indeed men who punish, rather than protect, those who love them because their victims love them. Perhaps there are women like that, too. But I have met at least two men like that. Their own mothers were afraid of them. And although only one of them actually said, "I enjoy making the people who love me suffer", the same was true of both.

These were not seedy gangsters. They did not have criminal records. These were mildly good-looking, charismatic, clever men with intellectual interests who attracted less intelligent but nicer men as loyal friends. Possibly one was much nicer when he was younger; the other was a sadist by 17, and by sadist I don't mean all that silly sexual game-playing so-called "sophisticated" people think so daring. I mean that even at seventeen he enjoyed making the people who loved him suffer agonies of mind and heart. I cannot for the life of me understand why, or if he could have been improved by psychiatric help.  I wonder what a priest would have said to him; I wonder how often parish priests in comfortable countries have to look squarely at evil and see a soul in palpable danger of hell.

I am quite sure that as painful as it is, it is much better to love someone like that and to suffer innocently than to be someone like that and make innocents suffer. So if these were to be my last ever written words, I would want to say, not "Look out for someone like that" but "Don't be someone like that." Satan, handsome, clever, attractive, arrogant Satan, makes a lousy role model.

Deactivated Facebook Account

This is just a note for the 150 or so people who wonder if I have Defriended them on Facebook. I haven't. I have deactivated my Facebook account for now.

Incidentally, with only one or two exceptions, I have added only people I have met in person to my Facebook page. The same goes for other social media sites although I really do not keep up those sites.

If you want a shock of reality, see what any stranger on Facebook can see if he calls up your "Timeline."  He'll see some updates. He'll see your photos. He'll see a list of your friends--and then have a look at their Timelines. This is fantastic news for investigative journalists, but not necessarily so great for you.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Stuff People Say

I was moved today by a comment in yesterday's combox by a Single twenty-something whose feelings were hurt by a wedding photographer. And I cannot say I am surprised because weddings, especially sibling weddings, can make Singles feel supremely left out. Under those circumstances, it is not astonishing that someone as marginal to my reader's life as a wedding photographer could make her feel so bad. However, at the end of the day, this wedding photographer, eight months pregnant, was a stranger.

My editor hasn't spiked it yet, so I think my latest CR column is going into the paper, and I suspect it will cause a big fuss. I am not sure--I often think my column will cause a big fuss, and then it doesn't. But this time, I think there will be a fuss, and a few people will write letters and possibly even make phone calls to inform my editor that I am lacking in charity.

This happens only occasionally, and not as often as people just snarl about me to each other. When I still lived in Toronto people told me about it. There was some book beloved by Oprah and, it turns out, some Toronto Catholic schoolteachers, that I ripped the guts out of and danced a tarantella on in my book review, for it was the most heretical, cheesy nonsense I had read for quite a while. Anyway, yours truly got a pounding in a staff room, about which I would know nothing, had not one of the teachers seen fit to tell me when she encountered me on a subway platform.

You'll notice that I didn't jump.

The fact is that speaking your mind or just being a little different--like being the only Single woman in the family--gets you noticed, and if you get noticed, people either say insensitive things to you or talk about you behind your back, and that's just the way it is. The only way to cope is to not care, or to sort out whose opinion should matter to you. And this is not easy to do, and it is particularly not easy for a woman to do, or so I gather from complaints that so few women write Opinions-Editorial (Op Ed) or are willing to go on TV in  expensive suits to be screamed at by other people in expensive suits.

I can give you a breakdown of whose opinion I most care about. It sort of depends on what I am writing or doing.

This blog, for example. When I write this blog, I care most about the feelings of my husband, my family and my friends, so I try not to write stuff I think might upset them. Then I care about the feelings of Single women over 20 whose religious faith instructs them not to whoop it up like the ladies on Sex and the City.  I don't care what Sex and the City wannabes think, and I am mostly indifferent to the eavesdroppers, not because I don't like them, but because if I worried about what men thought my brain would seize up. Happily, I am married, so I no longer have to care about attracting any other man besides B.A.

When I write my CR column, I care most about the ladies in my mother's parish Catholic Women's League. On the other hand, I also care about the Filipina student who worked the desk at the nuns' infirmary when I dropped by to visit my infirm high school Latin teacher. When I gave my name, she said "Aaah! O my God. I love you!" with such fervour I fell chastely in love with the Filipina student who worked the desk at the nuns' infirmary. So I care most about the St. X CWL, who tell my mother what they think, and devoted fans. I also care about my editor, and the retired editor, and the books editor, who is theologically and probably politically opposite to me, but he is my friend and a very good egg.

I do not care as much about what my family or friends think of my CR column, and I pray nobody holds what I write against them because it is not their fault and no, they couldn't stop me. I once had a big row with my dad over a column I wanted in, but my editor it spiked anyway, so that was that.

But in personal life, I do care about what my family thinks, as I should because what I do with my personal life is indeed going to affect them if they find out about it. For example, I have to be careful with my health and safety because there are little people who will suffer if I die, especially if it is for a stupid, non-heroic reason that makes no sense. And I have to be good to B.A., first of all because he can't escape me, poor man, and second because my family will give me a Very Hard Time if I'm not. And then there are little people who would suffer if he ran away from my bad behaviour.

Those little people wield incredible emotional power. Bless their little hearts.

Outside of my immediate family, I care about the good opinion of my brother's parents-in-law and a few friends, although this is Scotland, so I also have to forget a lot of stupid stuff the men say, like, for example, "Hey Seraphic, you can make some extra money here" while driving past the row of warehouses where the local tarts troll for custom.

"I think I'm a bit long in the tooth for that," I said mildly, although inwardly annoyed enough to remember it three days later.

But that is only because he is a friend. If I've gotten any of those dumb "Hey, how much?" comments in Scotland, I've forgotten them. At any rate, my therapist of auld lang syne once asked me why I cared so much about what people I didn't even know thought or said about me, and I thought that such a good question, I pass it on to y'all:

Why care so much about what people who you don't even know think about you or say to you?

Monday, 12 August 2013


Sometimes when I hear about the experience of Singles, I get really angry. People tell Singles the most preposterous things, and virgins tell other virgins the most preposterous things about sex, too. Not always, of course. But, honestly, I wish unmarried people would stop talking to unmarried people, in mixed groups, about sex. If older Catholics have to lecture younger Catholics about sex, I recommend training widows and widowers (of all ages) to make the remarks. First, they will know at firsthand what they are talking about. Second, they will not be betraying anyone by talking about it.

Here's the experience that has most recently made me really angry. It belongs to Bernadette, who wrote it in the combox:

Once I was listening to a Theology On Tap on the topic What Celibate People Do To Have Fun. I think it was supposed to be a "it's fun to be holy and chaste" sort of thing. The speaker was a young-ish (under 40) priest, who had discerned his vocation before he was 21, entered the seminary at 23, and was ordained at I think age 26 or 27. He proceeded to tell a whole bar full of mostly single Catholics that the very best fun in the world, the only thing that's really 100% fun, is either having married sex, or concelebrating the Eucharist if you're a priest. 

When he was challenged on this during the Q&A (specifically, is there any hope for fun for the audience members, some of whom may never get married, and most of whom will never be priests), he basically said no. He then went on to say that if you weren't happy being single, then clearly you haven't prayed enough about your vocation. 

When he said that, I looked at the other ladies sitting at the table with me: beautiful, holy, accomplished, intensely prayerful, who have discerned their vocation to the married life twenty ways from Sunday (literally), and almost all currently single. And that's when I decided that maybe I should go home early that night so that I didn't have to go to Confession for punching a priest. 

Bless his little heart.

I am at somewhat of a loss to state what St Thomas Aquinas would have said to this priest, but I will give it a try. I think he would have blinked in the bright indoor light and wondered what on earth a young priest was doing in a common alehouse. Then he would wonder why on earth a priest that young was talking to women about sex. Then he would realize that the priest was talking about married sex as FUN and, not being able to find a burning brand in a handy nearby fireplace, he would grab a chair and make a rush at the young priest. Exit young priest, pursued by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Somebody please explain to me how it is an aid to chastity to tell twenty-somethings that sex (oh, excuse me, MARRIED sex) is that best fun you can ever have, and if you can't have it you have missed out on the greatest fun in the world.

First of all, we already have a serious spiritual problem around "fun," fun being defined as somewhat mindless enjoyment. Too many of us have been dissuaded from getting real work or making real sacrifices that will pay off in the long run or having more than 1.8 children all in the name of "fun." Parenting is not "fun." Work is very rarely "fun." Prayer is not "fun." Going to Mass is not "fun." If concelebration is "fun" for the young priest in the story, then there is something seriously wrong with the way the young priest concelebrates.

Second, we have to get away from the idea that sex--oh, excuse me, married sex--is "fun". (Scene shifts to St. Thomas raining blows on young priest as they run down the street away from the pub.) Hopefully there is an element of mindless enjoyment in sex, but if you think of sex merely as "fun", then you are the sort of person who thinks of dinner merely as a great opportunity for a food fight.

Married sex is necessary. It is basically the only activity that can heal up all the emotional bruises and bumps and scratches and scrapes that naturally occur when a man and a woman who are unrelated to each other by blood live in the same house and share the same bed and occasionally the same towel because who can tell the towels apart and, by the way, who used up my shampoo? I call it the Vitamin C of marriage so often you should quote me in your Sexual Ethics papers.

It is also, to paraphrase St. Thomas as he yells and wallops, where babies are suppose to come from. First and foremost, babies are what sex is for. That's why nature makes men and women fall in love with each other and want to live together when, let's face it, we are so different in some ways we're almost different species. That's the procreative part of marriage. The unitive part, the Vitamin C part, is the part that helps us to bear the craziness of two opposites living in one space. We don't get married to have sex; humans get married to make babies (whether or not we know or agree with that), and we have sex to stay married. Does that make sense?

I am trying to think of what the very best fun in the world is, or what the very best fun I ever had was. For some strange reason, I keep thinking of the time at a pyjama party when I, your extremely immature Auntie, then aged approximately 34, bounced to my feet on my friend Lily's bed and sang "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."  I suppose this points to my true belief, which is that the best fun anyone can ever have, is to just be silly with your friends and make them laugh.

Yes. That's it. Most of my friends in Edinburgh are Single, and I don't want to say I know what their experience of The Very Best Fun is, but I have my very best fun when we are all together at a party, and have eaten well, and have drunk well, and are sitting or standing around the piano and Benedict Ambrose is on a roll. When B.A. is on a roll, everyone laughs and sometimes he reaches such heights of comic genius, we laugh so much tears roll down our faces while he sits (or stands) there looking smug.

So that is my answer to the "What Celibate People Do to Have Fun" question. To have fun, Celibate and Married People alike should eat and drink and laugh with the people they like best. If inspired, they can sing songs around the piano and, if doubly inspired, they can spontaneously dance waltzes or polkas around the sitting-room. I am not sure if this is what the Communion of Saints get up to in heaven, but I suspect such unself-conscious communal merriment provides us with a clue.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Auntie Seraphic & Vocations Victim Part 2

I don't usually post replies to my replies, but this touches on a subject that I bet is near to many of your hearts: Catholic women in ministry. There are many unmarried Catholic women doing jobs that nuns, brothers or only priests used to do, many earning a salary that barely keeps a roof over their heads and food in the larder. I remember my own official ministry placements (mostly unpaid as  it was part of my M.Div. study) with feelings ranging from joy to abject horror.

Dear Auntie Seraphic

Thank you for this very extensive and helpful reply! I appreciate it a lot. I too (as a theology student myself, missionary and parish worker) have spent a lot of time around priests and seminarians, so I am learning some of the confidence you describe. 

It is very affirming to hear that it's OK to treat priests as people -- ie. respectfully but still expressing one's own opinion and not having to feel like they always know more than you (I think they usually do -- just not necessarily about my own life/personal experience). 

Others who have not had the same experience however, continually tell me to "be more respectful" (ie. shut up). And sometimes I feel like I don't know where the line is anymore. 

I will share your comments with some very dear friends. We all experience it a lot and aren't sure what to do. 

Feel free to use any of this (without names of course! :-) for your blog if you think other readers would find it helpful. At least here in the USA it is a very common situation for those of us who are practicing Catholics/work in the Church/volunteer/go to retreats etc. 

Thank you for everything!  

God bless,
Vocations Victim

Dear Vocations Victim,

I'm sorry to read that you are being told, in so many words, to shut up , especially if you are in your mid-20s.  I wonder if anyone told St. Catherine of Siena, who wasn't even a nun and yet told the pope what to do, to shut up. I hope not, but I bet she probably was. Many people feel intimidated by young women speaking their minds. 

(And not so young, too. I just found a "thank goodness Jesus isn't as judgmental as you" comment on the internet version of the Catholic newspaper I write for--signed with a pseudonym, of course. Did I care? Yeah, for half a second.)

Anyway, don't shut up. You are a Daughter of God. The best way to respect a priest is to treat him like an intelligent human being who can handle truthful, reasonable adult conversations, and maybe make sure you aren't exposing any cleavage or too much leg when he's around. (I throw that in because sometimes I discover a priest across from me at a dinner party and I am, like, "Oooh. Could I borrow a lacy hanky to stuff in my dress?")

Grace and peace,

Now that I think about it, I don't know what "missionary" or "parish worker" means in VV's context. But I do know that it can be a very tough situation when your faith is also your job. 

One of my most horrible memories of parish work is standing next to the priest and the seminarian after Mass to shake hands with the People of God, and the People of God, terribly embarrassed, mostly avoided me. I was hurt  and envious of the seminarian, whom they embraced and patted and made much of, even though he was politically and socially to the right of Generalissimo Franco and possibly drank the blood of slaughtered liberation theologians.

But I now think, of course they did. The People of God dread the imposition of "lady priests" (to quote a man who ordered me away from his hospital bed), and I looked suspiciously like a "lady priest." I honestly believe the People of God draw the line at lady priests. They want real priests, young priests, even (or especially) priests like Semininarianissimo Franco.

Every time a soi-disant "womanpriest" gets ordained, life gets worse for ordinary Catholic women in the ministry trenches. I heard so much moaning about clericalism in my pre-Trid days, but thinking that only clerics are first class Catholics, and therefore women are doomed to the second class, is a pernicious form of clericalism. It just isn't true. What is true, however, is that many priests are scared of women, not so much now because they are afraid of women tempting them into sexual sin (as some women have always tried to do), but because they are afraid of women--or laypeople in general--taking over and bossing them around.  

This can leave the young woman doing what used to be nun-work or even priest-work (like chaplaincy) in the difficult position of having to prove all the time that she does not secretly harbour a desire to be a priest, or in some cases, e.g. she reports to an older woman, to pretend that she does. And of course she does not get all the perks and shortcuts that the priest's collar or the nun's habit brings when dealing with people. Collars and habits make all but the most militantly progressive churchgoing layfolk smile. 

Personally, I could not hack an official church-approved ministry career, unless the new archbishop of Edinburgh wrote to me asking that I become the Official Auntie to Singles in the diocese. That would be extremely awesome, and I would do my job rather like how I did my college chaplaincy internship: basically I hung out with Catholic undergrads and a Muslim undergrad, drank tea, listened to their problems and gossip and talked about their theological interests. I think my boss (female) wanted me to be more pro-active, whatever that means, but I know the undergrads just liked having me around to talk to.  I would turn my office into a sitting-room: an overstuffed Victorian one with comfy battered couches.

However, I know some of you girls are indeed in church careers, so please feel free to chime in about how to be you and how to be taken seriously in your ministries without frightening Father Sensitive or being ground down by Father Snarly and Wannabe Womanpriest Wanda.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Saint Edith Stein's Day!

Yeah, yeah. I know she is officially Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, but I think of her as Saint Edith Stein. It's like how she was both Catholic and Jewish at the same time, like the apostles.

Anyway, I just found out now because the calendar in the hall is a traddy one, which means the only one St Edith would have known.

Happy Feast of Saint Edith Stein/TB of the C! If you don't know much about her, google her immediately, for she is marvellous. I wonder if I should stop asking St. Margaret of York to send me a baby and ask St. Edith instead.

Auntie Seraphic & the Vocations Victim

I spent some time this morning answering this letter, so it is the only Single topic on my mind. Hopefully it will not be a shock to the letter writer if she finds my answer here before she finds it in her in-box.

Dear Auntie Seraphic, 

Hi! I enjoy your blog very much. I just shared it with a friend of mine who appreciated it too! 

So, I'm wondering what to do when priests cannot seem to find another topic to talk to young women (people) about than "Wow, you would make a good nun. OR maybe you should find a boyfriend. Have you LISTENED to God about what he wants for your life?" 

In all respect to their (probably) kindly and fatherly intentions ,I find this insulting  because it seems to imply 1) that I'm in my mid-twenties and haven't even THOUGHT about what God wants from me or 2) that somehow I am weird and less a person/Catholic/devoted to God because I'm not in some kind of life-long commitment yet. 

So how does one respectfully and yet abruptly end such conversations without appearing rude/getting angry/bursting into tears? 

I'm of the opinion that even priests don't need to know your whole life story unless they are your confessor/spiritual director or close friends. It just makes life too complicated when you have to answer off the cuff "Yes I have thought about it but discerned X was not for me and was then dating Y but he broke up with me to join the seminary" etc etc. 

How does one kindly and respectfully but firmly end such conversations? 

Does that question imply in it the hopelessness for our generation that it seems to? 


God bless,
Vocations Victim 

Dear Vocations Victim,

As someone who married at 25 and divorced at 27 and got an annulment at 28 and didn't marry again until 38, I do not like the panicky climate of vocation angst that has prevailed since the 1980s. 

I think it stems from the loss of thousands of priests and nuns in the 1960s and 1970s, who abandoned their responsibilities, communities and vows, either to get married or, in some cases, to have a good time. Somehow subsequent generations are expected to pick up the slack. And I suspect we are are expected to pick up the reproductive slack for two generations of Catholics on the Pill, too. And all this without the wider, confident culture of the pre-1963 era that honoured priests, religious life and large families.

If you restate this in your own words to the next priest who gives you a hard time for not being a nun or a married lady, that might give him pause for thought.  

I see that you are worried about having appropriate respect for a priest. As a fellow Catholic I understand this. However, as a fellow Catholic who has been around priests quite a lot, in theology school, for example, I understand that the best way to respect a priest is to speak to him as truthfully as you would to any other adult. Say exactly what you think, and make it short and snappy, with no hemming and hawing or life story.  Anger--which can be a virtue (see Thomas Aquinas)--is useful here. 

If you think you would love to be married, but the men of your generation all seem to expect premarital sex as a normal part of dating, tell him. 

If you think you would love to be a nun, but your parents despise nuns, tell him that.

If you think he is being terribly rude and inappropriate, tell him you think he is being terribly rude and inappropriate. 

If you wonder why he would assume you have not thought about your vocation, ask "Why do you assume that I haven't?" If you feel insulted, say "I feel insulted."

If you feel like bursting into tears, there are few things men hate more than women bursting into tears. I think women underestimate the power of our tears. Of course, this can be manipulative, so only do it if you can't help it or it is the only way to express yourself without shrieking. Crying is okay; shrieking is not.

You might also ask him what he personally is doing to help his young Catholics meet each other or religious communities. Has he thought of organizing a parish dance? Has he thought of organizing a parish visit to the local monastery? How old was he when he was ordained? Were his parents supportive? What if they hadn't been?

What I am suggesting takes an awful lot of confidence. However, part of becoming an adult--and how the post-Vatican II era bangs on about the laity "becoming adults"--is asserting oneself before officious adults. 

I realize what you want to do is stop the conversation without rocking the boat, but acting as though a priest were just an ugly but precious piece of china you'd prefer to keep at a respectful distance is not the Christian, Catholic way. It's his job to help you, and if he's doing it all wrong, it is respectful--and loving--to tell him that. 

I hope this is helpful. 

Grace and peace,

Sociologists would have a field day if they examined the ways priests and young people, especially young women, interact. (Actually, that would be a field day for a sociologist.) If a middle-aged man you barely knew told you you would make a good nun or asked why you didn't have a boyfriend, I very much hope you wouldn't feel you had to tell him your life story. Of course you don't. And, indeed, you shouldn't. In fact, I bet the average Scottish twenty-something lassie  would look at such a man with venom and say, "P*** off." And off would toddle the middle-aged man with his tail between his legs. 

Now, obviously we can't say "p*** off" to a priest because a priest does not deserve such a curt (but effective) dismissal just for doing his job. His job is saving our souls, and he has been taught that the way to do this is to get us to hear God's voice calling us to religious life or marriage, not just to love Him with all our hearts, all our souls and all our minds, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. And, to give the seminaries credit, both marriage and religious life do indeed free us up for the Commandment of Love because once we get the Sex and Marriage Questions settled, we can stop worrying about them.  

As Catholics who want to have our souls saved, we have to help priests do their job. And the only way to do that is to speak to them honestly, as adults. That does not mean telling them our life stories. That does not mean apologizing for ourselves. That certainly does not mean uttering a few platitudes as if stuck with our father's most boring friend at a cocktail party.   

By the way, one of the most simple and devastating questions in the whole world is the word "Why?" If any priest, inspired by my obvious and perhaps distressing lack of children, told me that I would make a good mother, I would say, "Thank you. Why?" I would not feel I had to tell him how I old I was when I married, or how old I am now, and what the doctor said, and if I have considered adoption, and blah blah blah. 

That reminds me, "You would make a good nun" is not in itself a bitter insult in Catholic circles and should not be regarded as such. It is not the same thing as saying "You look like a sexless being no man would ever want." That is not what a nun is, no matter what pop culture says. If anyone tells you that you would make a good nun, say, "Thank you. Why?"  Unless, of course, it is a complete stranger whose advances you have rejected, in which case, if he looks too old or timorous for violence, consider your local version of "P*** off."