Monthly Archives: February 2011

Have a Heart: Me at Various Ages


A Marfan American Spiritual

The leaky tricuspid’s connected to the right ventricle
The right ventricle’s connected  to the leaky pulmonary valve
The leaky pulmonary valve’s connected to the pulmonary artery

So hear the words of the Lord!

The pulmonary artery’s connected to the lu-ungs
The lungs get the asthma and pneumonia.
The lungs are connected to the pulmonary veins

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones are gonna dislocate!
So hear the words of the Lord!

The pulmonary vein’s connected to the left atrium!
The atrium’s connected to the mitral valve!
The prolapsin mitral valve’s connected to the enlarged left ventricle

So hear the words of the Lord!

Left ventricle’s connected to the St. Jude valve
The St. Jude’s connected to the dacron tube
The dacron tube’s connected to the aortic arch

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!
Them bones them bones they gonna dislocate!

So hear the words of the Lord!

The aortic arch connected to the tortuous carotid
The carotid’s connected to the left cranial artery
The cranial artery’s got an aneurysm.

So hear the words of the Lord!

The cranial artery’s connected peri-something vein
The perisomething vein is streching too; it’s insane
The artery and vein are pressing on my brain

So hear the words of the Lord!

Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve
Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve
Them swollen blood vessels gonna pinch a nerve

And that’s called a pin stroke

One more time!

That aortic arch connected to the thoracic aorta
Thoracic aorta’s got an aneurysm
Thoracic aneurysm’s pressing on my spine

So hear the words of the Lord:

Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day
Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day
Them bulging blood vessels gonna burst one day

You’d better obey the Word of the Lord!

Cool story about a 10 year old boy with Marfan syndrome (originally published 5/9/9)

Great, good, OK, not bad in your case, bad, evil: A Crash Course in Catholic Ethical Thinking

In 2000 years of studying human behavior in the light of the Bible and the Natural Law, and drawing from some of the greatest philosophical minds in history, the Catholic Church has developed some rather nuanced teachings about morality.

Sometimes, when issues get discussed, people have a hard time distinguishing between discussion of principles and application of those principles to individuals. Some people point out that a basic difference between how Catholics think and how Americans think has to do with our different concepts of law. Catholic Canon Law is based upon Roman law. In Catholic law, things have to be written out very precisely (though it’s interesting that the 1917 _Code_ was the first ever codification of Canon Law). No law is “absolute” in the sense that there isn’t an “exception.” Catholic teaching has worked out a very good system of how to understand and apply what, for lack of a better term, we might call “exceptions.”

For some people, these nuanced, complicated systems have given rise to a word: Jesuitical–referring to the process of thinking like a Jesuit, a synonym for casuistry.

In Roman law, the law had to be precisely worded. If a person was brought up on charges of violating the law, the judge would see if the individual’s case applied to the law as worded. If the individual’s case did not apply, that individual was innocent. However, in the Anglo-Saxon common law tradition, if an exception can be found that the wording of the law does not apply for, or if a contradiction can be found between different laws, then that law itself has to be thrown out.

A couple generations ago, American Jesuits and the young Catholics they educated apparently decided they didn’t want to be Jesuitical anymore. Instead, they decided to start applying Anglo-Saxon methods to Catholic teachings, and if they could find an exceptional case where the law seemed unjust, then not only was that exception OK, but the Church teaching itself had to be thrown out (a key example of this is contraception).

Furthermore, in a move to emphasize feelings over Truth, the kinds of distinctions I’m going to talk about became uncomfortable to people because the new kind of Jesuitical thinking didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It was not enough to acknowledge that a particular exceptional case took away the personal sinfulness of an otherwise evil action, but you could no longer call that action “evil” because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

This mentality, for a few generations, was limited mostly to “progressive” Catholics. One of the things that distinguished “progressives” on the one hand from “conservatives” and “traditionalists” on the other was this mentality: those on the “Left” wanted to emphasize this knew form of interpreting Church teachings, while those on the metaphorical “Right” of the Church reacted against it often to the point of an overly strict absolutism.

In my own case, my rejection of the inherent flaws in the “progressive” movement led me to embrace the more conservative viewpoint. I always hailed conservatives for not compromising their principles, yet, in recent years, certain rifts have begun forming among conservatives, often on these very questions. With the rise of the Internet, and lay apologetics, more Catholics are thinking seriously about day-to-day moral questions we might have previously just dismissed.

When waterboarding became an issue, it became a hot button–not just because of voting, but because it got to fairly every day situations. If “torture” is intrinsically evil, what does that say about soldiers who are otherwise faithful Catholics? What does it say about police who may use “torture” of some sort in interrogation? What does it say about parents using corporal punishment?

If “lying” is always and in every case evil, what does that say about cops? Spies? Parents? Politicians?

Personally, I think part of the problem is that, since _Veritatis Splendor_, there has been a tendency to emphasize “intrinsic evil,” and that intrinsic evil itself has become a political term. The “Right” likes it because they use it to select certain intrinsic evils as what Catholic Answers called “non negotiables” for voting. The “Left” likes it because a) it takes attention away from personal sin and b) “intrinsic evil” can be used to apply a sort of Lutheran approach to Catholic moral teaching: “See! Lying is intrinsically evil! Abortion is intrinsically evil! Bad work conditions are intrinsically evil! See? They’re all evil!”

No, that’s not how it works. Intrinsic evil has nothing to do with the degree of evil involved in an act, but merely that the act may never be good.

One of the most helpful distinctions I ever learned is suggested by early 20th century theologian Karl Adam in his book _Spirit of Catholicism_: theological truth versus psychological truth. He uses this distinction for various complex issues, and anticipates many “Vatican II teachings”. What Adam calls “theological truths” are concrete, objective theological and moral principles. They’re absolute. However, our souls are limited. We cannot live in a world of absolute, so “psychological truth” is the subjective perspective of the individual and how and whether the theological truth applies.

For example, various Church documents of the passed emphasized that a Jew cannot be saved qua being Jewish: in other words, Judaism as a religion has no power to save. This is theological truth. In principle, no one who is literally outside the Church can be saved (extra ecclesia nulla sancta). Psychological truth, however, is that people have various levels of ignorance, and may not understand, or be able to understand, the truth of the Catholic faith. A person may be a sincere Jew and sincerely think the Catholic Church is wrong but try to follow God as best as possible. On the psychological level, this person is following the religion he thinks is most true, most good, and has made a conscious decision to be a Jew–because his knowledge of the Church is imperfect (if he has chosen Judaism because he *knows* the Catholic faith and rejects it, that’s another story). So, psychologically, he’s good.

Now, I’m about as Traditionalist as one can be this side of the Society of St. Pius X (or, really, this side of the Greek Orthodox Church, because that’s the direction I’d go if I were to go schismatic). Yet I am also a huge admirer of C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. I hope both men are in Heaven. I would love to meet them there. In Lewis’s case, I believe his deep set issues about growing up Protestant in Northern Ireland constitute a kind of invincible ignorance where Catholicism is concerned–though I’ve also heard rumors that Lewis, who had a Catholic view of sacraments, received his final sacraments from a Catholic priest. In Eliot’s case, Russell Kirk says Eliot’s rejection of the Church was purely cultural, part of his embracing all things English, and Eliot himself recognized the contradiction. Again, I hope that Eliot had some kind of death bed conversion, but as far as what is publicly known about him, he consciously rejected the Catholic faith for no other reason than personal choice.

All right, so what does this say about issues? Again, we tend to confuse issues with people, and vice versa. If we admire or love someone, we want to overlook that person’s faults. “My husband’s a cop! How dare you suggest that [lying/shooting weapons at people/whatever] is wrong!” “I love John Paul II! How dare you suggest it’s wrong to kiss the Koran or let pagans have sacrifices in Catholic churches!” It’s that feelings thing again. Or it may be the opposite: “You think that it’s OK for cops to lie. You’re a BAD Catholic!” or “John Paul II kissed the Koran! He’s a heretic!” These are both unacceptable extremes that cross from looking at the act objectively to judging the person who commits the act (either judging them to be “bad” or judging them to be “good”).

Jesus says, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” He doesn’t say which way. I love it when I hear someone say, “My son is living with his girlfriend, but we’re not supposed to judge. And, after all, he’s a *good* man. He still goes to church, and he volunteers, and . . . . ” Judging works both ways, as Jane Austen teaches us in _Pride and Prejudice_.

Anyway, all that said, when the Church looks at a particular action, She takes three things into consideration: the act itself, the intent, and the end. All three must be good for an act to be fully good. If an act is good, it may be merely virtuous, or it may be heroically virtuous–going above and beyond the call of duty.

Our Lord establishes the concept of heroic virtue numerous times in the Gospel. For example, in the incident of the rich young man, the man asks what he must do to be saved, and Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments. The man says he does. Jesus replies, “If you wish to be PERFECT, then sell all you have and give it to the poor.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” And he talks about people who will be “greatest” and “least” in the Kingdom–this implies varying degrees of sanctity.

So, what does all this mean? Most people ought to know the difference between mortal and venial sin (though Vatican II parlance likes to say “grave” sin instead of mortal). They are kind of like mirror opposites of virtues and heroic virtues. Mortal sins completely sever the divine life in us. Venial sins, as Mark Shea says, are like “gateway drugs” to mortal sin. Virtues are good acts, but they require no special grace. They are normally in accordance with the Natural Law as commonly understood: boy scout type morality. We all know it’s a good thing to help an old lady across the street if you can. That’s a virtue. If you help thousands of old ladies across the street for no earthly reward, or if you help an old lady across a particularly dangerous street, in spite of fear, that’s heroic virtue.

I like to use the example of St. Gianna Baretta Molla. People are canonized as capital-S Saints because they exemplify heroic virtue–martyrs exemplify it par excellence.

One of the “gray areas” that comes in when we’re dealing with the psychological truth versus theological truth is what’s called “double effect.” My friend Jennifer Fitz recently wrote the best description I’ve ever read of Double Effect. See here:

There is a popular misconception that the Catholic Church sometimes allows killing. The Church, technically, never allows killing. While the death penalty is a stretch, every case of “justifiable killing” involves double effect. I recently watched a rerun of _Bones_ where the victim had brittle bone disease, and the killer technically killed him in self-defense. The two men were having a fight–the victim initiated the fight–and the “killer” (who went to prison not for the killing but for covering it up) pushed him in self-defense. The pusher was unaware of the genetic disorder, and when the “victim” fell back after being pushed in self-defense, his head shattered. That’s a *great* example of double effect.

Even in war, the Church’s teaching on Just War is extremely nuanced, compared to how it’s usually treated. Not only must the cause be just (and that’s one whole can of worms), but the way the war is waged must be just. There are weapons and methods of warfare which are intrinsically evil, and one of the Church’s teachings is that, even if the War is just because an assailant is invading another country, once the war has started, both sides have a right to self-defense. In other words, the Nazis may be evil, but the individual Nazi soldiers still retain their human rights. Any legitimate method of warfare must give both sides a fair shake at self-defense or escape.

Double effect means that you’re trying to do something good, or neutral, and something bad happens. If you don’t want the bad thing to happen, then the act is not a sin. However, even if double effect is at work, as soon as you will it, it’s a sin.

As Jen Fitz puts it, you can draw a nice warm bath for your enemy in the hopes that the relaxing bath might make him nicer to you–that would actually be very virtuous to do. However, if you set up the bath so your enemy will slip, or drown or be scalded, or if you even *WISH* for one of those things to happen while your enemy is in the bath, that’s a mortal sin.

If double effect is in play, and the action you’re trying to do is morally neutral, and you don’t intended the bad effect, it’s neutral. If double effect is in play, and the action is virtuous (such as doing something nice for an enemy), that’s virtuous.

In Gianna Molla’s case, many people think she refused an abortion to save her child. This is not exactly the case. The Church teaches that it’s OK for a pregnant woman to have a medical procedure to save her own life so long as the baby is not directly killed. For example, in the very tricky situation of tubal ligation, the baby is killed by double effect: the baby is in the tubes instead of the uterus; the tubes are damaged and need to be removed. The fact that the baby is removed with them is an unintended consequence. However, if the doctor did something to kill the baby *first*, that would be morally evil.

St. Gianna chose not just to reject evil but to reject a procedure where double effect came into play. That is what we call “heroic virtue.” It’s sometimes what people call “scruples” (and then accuse most of the Saints of “scruples). It’s choosing the option that most absolutely conforms to the Gospels and the examples of the saints, the option that is the absolute most virtuous, even if it costs material benefit or one’s own life.

A similar “gray area” or modifier of action is culpability. Like the non-Christian who really doesn’t know Christ or the Church, there are lots of reasons why a person might not make a fully informed decision to sin.

In order for a sin to be mortal, the person must fully choose to engage in the act.

If someone holds a gun to your head and says, “Renounce Jesus,” and you say, “I believe in one God, . . ..,” that’s heroic virtue. If a person holds a gun to your head and says, “Renounce Jesus,” and you say something like, “Whatever you say,” you’re not really desiring to renounce Jesus, but you’re justifiably scared for your life. So it’s not mortally sinful. It may not even be venially sinful, but it never hurts to confess something like that.

On the sin side, lack of culpability may reduce mortal sin to venial or even take away all guilt. On the flip side, if a person overcomes a lack of culpability and does the virtuous thing anyway, that becomes heroic virtue.

So, a person may not be culpable because of coercion, or because of ignorance (i.e., a woman who doesn’t know birth control pills cause abortions isn’t guilty of abortion), or because of psychological disorder or even physiological disorder (i.e., a person in extreme pain does something bad because of the pain). There are lots of reasons people may not be culpable, and it’s important to know those reasons. However, the mentality I addressed at the beginning of this piece suggests that the exceptions should be treated as normative.

Even in the case of contraception, John Paul II taught that couples who use artificial birth control because of extreme health circumstances or financial circumstances may not be fully culpable for their actions–and the greater guilt lies with society for not providing them with the support they need.

That is not to say contraception is “OK”, but merely that the sin involved is not as severe for a couple in extreme circumstances. The Church can have compassion for the person in the extreme without saying “this teaching no longer applies because there is this one extreme case, and the rest of you can go on and do whatever you want.”

When someone’s holding a gun to your head, either literally or metaphorically, and you do something intrinsically evil, you’re not a sinner. If the Nazis are at your door, and you lie out of fear, that’s not heroic virtue, but it’s also not a sin.

Again, intrinsic evil just means that the act is always evil and can never be virtuous in and of itself. It does not mean that it’s as bad as something else or better than something else.


1. Means, motive and end are all good? Act is virtuous.

2. Means, motive and end are good, circumstances are extreme? Act is heroically virtuous.

3. Means are neutral or good. Intentions are good. There are multiple ends, at least one bad and one good? This is “double effect”.

4. Means are bad. Intentions are good. Ends are bad. Circumstances are extreme or person is ignorant? The act is wrong, but culpability is reduced, possibly to nothing.

5. Means are bad. Intentions are bad. Ends are bad. Person is ignorant or not acting in total freedom; and/or matter is not grave? Venial sin.

6. Means are bad. Intentions are bad. Ends are bad. Person acts in full knowledge and freedom. Matter is grave. Mortal sin.

It is really crucial to be clear on these distinctions. To say “X is intrinsically evil” is not the same thing as saying “Y is a sinner for doing X” or even to say that “X is always mortally sinful”. It’s just to say that the using X as a means puts the action under categories 4-6 above.

Fantastic testimony of a man whose wife’s a Marfan

Andrew Sullivan relays a very moving, anonymous testimony from a man whose wife has Marfan syndrome.

I’m glad he doesn’t name which “Specialist” at Hopkins tried to force his wife to have an abortion.

I’m already disgusted enough they’re doing ESCR, but this is a case where remote material cooperation is justified, since they’re the only game in town.

I wasn’t 100% sure where he was going till the end.

I’m also glad that Georgetown came out the good guys in this one.

The tough decision was not at Johns Hopkins, where we ignored (foolishly ignored, you could say) this cold research professional with his certitude that pregnancy = death.  The tough decision was at Georgetown, in the few minutes while we were waiting for the MRI results to confirm the aortic dissection and set the wild night of surgeries into motion.  My wife and I discussed what to do if there were complications during the C-Section and it came down to saving her or saving our newborn son.
Our son is now 16, and my wife is fine. So is our daughter, age 21.

New Marfan Syndrome Diagnostic Criteria

The official diagnostic criteria for Marfan syndrome (officially known as the Ghent Nosology) have been changed yet again, but this system seems to be a bit streamlined from the previous versions.

Now, if there are any physicians reading this: DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA ARE NOT THE SAME AS “SYMPTOMS”!!!

One of the perpetual problems is doctors looking at the *diagnostic criteria*, and then looking at some particular problem and saying, “Marfan doesn’t cause that.”  Well, the point of the diagnostic criteria are the things that are more likely to occur in Marfan.  The old Ghent Nosology was based upon a “Major” and “minor” criteria.

What they used to call “minor criteria” are not called “Systematic Features”.  Some of the old ones have been eliminated.

The new Systematic Features:

1.  Wrist AND thumb sign.  These are poplularly misinterpreted.  Officially, the “thumb sign” is that, with the hand in a fist, the person’s thumb can stick out past the palm of the hand.  The “Wrist Sign” is that, with the fingers wrapped around the arm bones of the wrist (not the joint), the thumb can cover the fingernail of the fifth finger. (3 points)
2. Wrist OR thumb sign (1 point)
3.  Pectus Carinatum (2)
4. Pectus excavatum or chest asymmetry (1)
5. Hindfoot Deformity (2)
6. Plain Flat Foot (2)
7. Pneumothorax (2)
8. Dural Ectasia (2)
9. Protrusio Acetubulae.  Hip ball is too far into the socket. (2)
10.  Increased armspan and leg length and decreased torso–in other words, what Marfan originally described (1)
11. thoracolumbar kyphosis or scoliosis (1)
12. Reduced elbow extension (1)
13. 3 of 5 facial features (1)
15. Skin Striae-stretch marks not caused by the usual reasons (1)
16. Myopia (1)
17. Mitral valve prolapse (1)

According to the new criteria, you need a “systematic score” of at least 7.
For conditions I’m diagnosed with according to the descriptions they give, I’ve got an 8.  Jury’s still out on dural ectasia, or whether I”ve ever actually had a pneumothorax, so those would bring it up to 12.

The other thing that matters is the “Z-Score” on the aorta.  For children, it should be a Z-Score of >= 3, or for adults, >=2. 

The criteria are now based upon how to distinguish Marfan from related disorders.  The new system puts the weight of diagnosis on the aorta and ectopia lentis, with or without family history or positive FBN1 gene test.

Now, the key diagnostic criteria are basically:

Aortic root dilation (with the above Z-Scores) OR dissection
Ectopia Lentis (dislocation of subluxation of the lens)
A positive FBN1 test
A “Systematic Score” (above) of 7 or higher.

A “Systematic Score” of 7 or higher indicates a connective tissue disorder in general, and requires a differential diagnostic to rule out Sprintzen Goldberg, vascular Ehlers-Danlos or Loeys-Dietz.

A family history of Marfan (MFS) and EITHER Ectopia Lentis OR aortic root dilation is sufficient for diagnosis.
A family history of MFS and a System Score of 7–with the above disorders ruled out–is sufficient for diagnosis.

Without Family History:
Aortic Root AND Ectopia Lentis — Definitely Marfan
Aortic Root AND any FBN1 mutation — Definitely Marfan
Ectopia Lentis AND an FBN1 mutation that is known to cause aortic dilation — Definitely Marfan 
Aortic Root, with a System Score of 7 and related disorders ruled out

“You look like you’ve been clawed by a lion” (originally published 6/4/09

Here are some pointers from an article on what to do about stretch marks/stria:

Soothe the skin. There are a number of creams and oils containing various ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acid, cocoa butter, vitamin E and plant extracts that may help get rid of stretch marks. While their efficacy may vary from person to person, and the products are sometimes costly, their use is probably not harmful. Check with your doctor to see if they may be worth trying in your situation.
Medicate. Your doctor may prescribe a topical retinoid cream to help remove stretch marks. Sometimes topical steroids may be used in combination with other creams or ointments.
See a dermatologist. Skin treatments such as laser therapy, microdermabrasion and chemical peels can help, especially if the stretch marks are relatively new.

A New Review of _Hide Me In Your Wounds_

As of January 13, 2001, there’s a new user review of my audiobook, _Hide Me In Your Wounds: Daily Prayer with the Saints_!

A truly beautiful cd, lovely to listen to and it touches the heart as readings are performed by a real family! I do like my Catholic prayer cd’s, but this is the only one I have found that is not read by a member of clergy. ‘Tis nice to have something different, and I absolutely adore the prayers read by a young child who is so full of charm and character!

So let me say a hearty “Thank you and God Bless” to Amazon user “Love’n’Light” who posed such a nice review.

You know what they say about customer feedback: you only hear from a small fraction of your satisfied customers. I’ve only had 1 truly unsatisfied customer, and his problem was with the manufacturing and shipping end of things, not the CD itself.

Add another one to the growing list of pro-life celebrities

I really had little idea who Justin Bieber was until a few days ago, other than that a) he’s apparently popular and b) people like to make fun of him. The guys a young teenaged singer who was raised by a single mom. His mother is like my age or something.

Well, to sum up the news, here’s what it currently says on his Wikipedia page:

Bieber is a Christian.[66] Bieber’s comments in a February 2011 profile in Rolling Stone sparked controversy.[67] Asked whether a person should wait until marriage to have sex, Bieber responded, “I don’t think you should have sex with anyone unless you love them.” Asked about his opinion on abortion, Bieber said he doesn’t “believe in abortion” and that it is “like killing a baby.”[68] When asked about abortion in cases of rape, he said, “Well, I think that’s really sad, but everything happens for a reason. I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”[68]

Gasp! He’s a Christian!!

So the harpies at _The View_ went wild on this topic, and Joy Behar accused him of being an ignorant kid who needs more life experience. Among the brilliant statements from this pinnacle of Western civilization was, “If I cared what an adolescent mind thinks, I’d turn on Glenn Beck.”

Sadly, a lot of people apparently care what a bitter old man hating hag thinks, because she somehow gets two talk shows.

What I find interesting about this situation is that Bieber is the son of a teen mother. I’d think that gives him a certain perspective on the abortion issue, and it would be interesting to find out the circumstances of his conception.

In any case, doesn’t it make sense that he’d have the attitude that every conception is God’s plan, no matter its circumstances??

Of course, feminazis Susan Boyle say that her mother was urged to abort her, and rather than make the connection, they just call for a boycott of Susan Boyle because she’s a “traitor” to women for being pro-life!

16 year old Marfan raises money for children’s hospital (4/4/9)

Matthew MacDonald is a 16 year old Canadian with Marfan syndrome who has already had two open heart surgeries. Since he was six, he has operated a lemonade stand to raise funds for Halifax’s IWK Health Care Centre, raising thousands of dollars that way over the past 10 years. Last year, he and his dad came up with the idea of organizing 25 fund raising events over 12 months for the children’s hospital.

In December, their house burned down, and his father, Russell MacDonald, died in the fire.

But Matthew has kept on with the plan:

Matthew’s success with turning lemons into cash earned him the title of 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Champion Child and co-hosting duties at the annual telethon last year.

The 25 fundraising events on his schedule include everything from bowling to dances. He has already held a few and a dinner, dance and auction will be held in Sydney on Friday.

Requiem aeternum dona Russell MacDonald, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

For Matthew MacDonald, O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!

A “bucket list” or a “stick around list”?

Surprisingly, only one person that I can think of in the past month has asked me the question, “Do you have a bucket list?”

I said, “Not exactly.” Ultimately, I just want to die a happy death in a state of grace, but as far as what I want to get out of this life, I’ve already gotten most of it.

I suppose that, in principle, everyone should try to make a “big pilgrimage” at least once in their lives–like, the Holy Land or to see the Pope or Fatima or whatever, but I really have no interest in that and never have. If the opportunity arose, I’d take it, but I’d be happy with a good retreat over a pilgrimage any day, and as far as pilgrimages go, we have plenty of shrines here. Maybe the National Shrine of the Infant of Prague. I’ve been to most of the other shrines I’ve ever wanted to visit at least once.

It would be nice if we could afford to go every year to visit our friends in Louisville, and I wish we were better about calling them (the time zone difference always intimidates me).

It’s been years since I’ve been to Pennsylvania. I’d like to see my grandparents and my family and friends in Erie. But in terms of “what would you *really* want to do before you die?” or “What’s the thing you’ve never done that you’d like to do,” that hardly counts.

Those would be more like my “If I’m going to be around a while” list than a “bucket list.” Those desires are about relationships I wish I could do a better job of tending in this life.

But travel with 4 young kids in a van that gets 12 mpg is expensive.

I like to go places, and there are places I’d like to go, but none of them really matter, and I ultimately don’t see the point. All the amazing places and sights in this world that we may desire to see we want to see to help make it easier to get through this “bad hotel room,” as St. Teresa calls it and get to Heaven, which all those worldly experiences merely point us to.

So, if I’m going to die, what does it matter if I haven’t ever been to the Ukraine or Bohemia or New York City or Wyoming? I’ll be able to see them there and more.

Travel doesn’t interest me, except to see family or friends. Now, if I could make it onto the “speaking tour,” that would be one thing. And my dream retirement, if I made it that long, would be to live out of hotels (cheaper than assisted living!) and make money playing the piano for them.

When Mary and I were first corresponding, I think after we’d moved from e-mail to chat, I sent her a link to Annette Kirk’s “Life with Russell Kirk,” saying their life was my dream.

There are things I’d like for my life if I were going to live a long time, but most of those are still pretty “close to home,” and hardly anything I can think of in terms of “you have six months to live.”

The main thing that I want to do in the near future, whether I live 70 years, 7 years or 7 months, is to get something written that will sell, and I’ve been working at that like crazy.

Otherwise, if I knew I only had a few months or less left, there’s only one thing I’d want to do. Ironically, I was thinking of it very much for the last few days before my dissection. It would just be to have a second honeymoon with Mary. I would just like to spend a weekend, even just 36 hours, where it’s just the two of us in a hotel or whatever, with no one else, no kids, and minimal job duties. We didn’t even really do that on our honeymoon because we were trying so many things. We had planned it for the first day after the wedding, but we got bored and went back to my parents’ house for dinner.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to just have a romantic getaway like that, but I’d imagine that, if it it happened, we’d probably get bored pretty quickly.

How many people say “I feel like I’m a teenager again” and mean “I feel rotten”? (8/15/2008)

In an e-mail to a friend who’s husband is a Marfan the other day, I was describing the downturn in my health and said, “I feel like I’m a teenager again.”
After I sent the message, it dawned on me how people normally say that to suggest they feel extra healthy.

Mark Shea, Chris Tollefsen and Dawn Eden hit the nail on the head.

Reluctantly, Mark Shea has written once again on the Controversy of the Day, and hit it out of the ball park:

Let me reiterate, first and foremost, that I think the reward of the Hebrew midwives will (and should) be the reward of Lila Rose and her companions. The big fact here, which must not get lost in all the hurly burly of argumentation, is that Lila Rose fears God and, like the Hebrew midwives, deserves the reward they received from God. I fear that in all my talk-the-hind-leg-off-a-donkey verbiage about the specific question of lying for Jesus, that will be obscured. Indeed, with the passage of the Planned Parenthood defunding bill, I feel gratitude, as much as anybody, for the well-timed blow that she landed against this monstrous organization. Who cannot rejoice when the evil are brought low?

So let me say it up front. My purpose is not to condemn Lila Rose (may God give us a million more like her) but rather to deal with (as my post tried to discuss on Friday) the many, many bad arguments swirling about the blogosphere which are being put forward to defend, not her fear of God, but lying.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason this is such a big debate. The defenders of Lila Rose want to say, “But Planned Parenthood is EVIL! They kill BABIES!” But that is far less the topic than even Lila Rose’s actions. The real debate is the debate. And the real reason so many people are fired up seems to be that they’re mad they’re being accused of making bad arguments, and they’re mad that anyone would say it’s always wrong to lie, which puts their own lies (and possibly their own careers, if they’re cops, soldiers or spies or even salespeople) into question.

Various stabs have been made at saying that since it’s not a lie to deflect, mislead, or evade when the Nazis show up looking for the Jews, it’s also not a lie to walk up to somebody you deem to be doing evil, and give a false name, occupation and purpose. According to this theory, you aren’t “leading people into error” (i.e. you aren’t lying to make money, gain power, take vengeance or teach a false conclusion like “Satan is God” but are instead trying to show that PP is evil and stop sex trafficking), so it’s not lying. But this is as persuasive as saying it’s not lying to falsely claim you were miraculously healed of cancer in order to lead a gullible occultist out of his error and to the ultimate good end: Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life. Good ends don’t make lies into “not-lies” just because we are trying to do a good thing by lying. . . .

But these do not exhaust our options. For one can also note that, in our panic about being accused of idiotic callousness toward innocent victims we have failed to notice that the notion that lying will save the Jews from the Nazis is dubious to start with. In other words “Lie or die!” is a false dilemma. Does anybody think that if I lie, the Gestapo will say, “Oh! Okay! Sorry to bother you! Have a nice day!” and not look in the attic anyway? Clearly the *real* trick is not to lie well but to *hide your Jews well*. Then you can say, “Look for yourself”, offer the Nazi a nice cup of tea, and speed him on his way with a “Seig Heil” without rousing suspicion, looking sweaty and guilty, and having to remember what you said. In short, a little forethought about what is morally permissible can actually help you do a better job of protecting your wards than just seat-of-the-pants “Let’s lie!” gut responses. Does this cover every possible situation? I doubt it. But it tends to get overlooked in the rush to create the dilemma for the sake of defending Lying for Jesus.

If they suspect you, they suspect you. If you say “yes,” as the parable I heard years ago on EWTN suggested, they’ll think you’re lying, anyway. If you lie, they’ll be able to tell. I personally maintain that the best response is to refuse to answer at all and stand there in prayer–preferably loudly–or else start preaching Jesus to them.

On the charge that those who are questioning or criticizing Lila Rose’s actions are somehow damaging the pro-life movement or don’t care about the work, etc:

It’s a peculiar sort of courage to anonymize oneself for the purpose of recklessly calling others cowards. I hope my readers will do me the kindness of giving the names of the many Catholic theologians who possess their gift of clairvoyance by which they know the personal histories of the critics of Lying for Jesus? Please do tell me about how I, William Doino, Dawn Eden, the New Theological Movement bloggers, and the solidly orthodox priests and philosophers who have questioned LA’s tactics in these very comboxes and across St. Blog’s have “not taken any real action” against abortion. I would like to share the fruits of my readers’ soul-reading with the folks I have supported and stood with at abortion clinics during 40 Days for Life, not to mention the many prolifers troubled by Lying for Jesus who have made great sacrifices and worked for years on behalf of the unborn.

On the point that Lila Rose’s actions aren’t going to do that much good in the long run, anyway:

C.S. Lewis once remarked that the devil is quite happy to concede a little ground if he can win the battle, to cure our chillblains if he can give us cancer. Embarrassing PP for a few days—indeed, passing a defunding bill (good as that is)—is curing chillblains (for, of course, the bill will either die in the Senate or most certainly be vetoed by Obama) and our feel-good moment will pass. Embracing the notion that ordinary resistance to abortion is “not taking any real action” and that the prolife movement can only survive by Lying for Jesus is cancer.

On civility:

One last point.  Passions tend to run high on this and it’s easy for people to break into factions.  I’ve watched in horror on Facebook and in comboxes as some people who agree with me have adopted the pose of the prophet Elijah and stridently denounced anybody who even slightly disagrees as a “cafeteria Catholic” and worse.  I’ve seen people say absurd things of Peter Kreeft (whose sandals I am unworthy to untie) like “I’ve read some of his books with what I thought was profit to myself and have used one of them as instructional material in RCIA instruction.  Now I wonder if I can trust anything he says.”  And, conversely, I’ve gotten hate mail from folks suggesting or saying that I am not merely mistaken, but an evil Pharisee and legalist secretly bent on supporting Planned Parenthood, destroying the Church, and killing the unborn.  And so forth.

Some perspective.  Everybody involved in this discussion—Lila Rose, Peter Kreeft, Dawn Eden, William Doino, The New Theological Movement, Frank Beckwith, Fr. Pavone, John Zmirak, Christopher Tollefson and the host of prolife Catholics chewing over this problem—are friends of the unborn, serious disciples of Jesus Christ and lovers of the Catholic Faith. We all want what’s best for both the Church and the unborn. Hurling epithets like “Pharisee” and “Cafeteria Catholic” or presuming malice instead of honest moral disagreement is destructive.  So: a word to those who agree with me: These matters are *hard*.  Everything is *not* cut and dried.  Those with grave misgivings about my points are good people, not fifth columnists bent on subverting the Church.  Peter Kreeft ended his essay (which I urge you to read) by saying, “I could be wrong.”  Permit me to say the same.  I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am and I am therefore obliged to speak my conscience as best I can just as those who disagree with me are.  For that reason, I also ask those who disagree with me: cut some slack to those with moral qualms about lying and don’t presume we are stupid or evil.  . . .

But (mark this) though I think Drs. Kreeft and Zmirak make bad arguments in this case, I think they are—like St. Thomas rejecting the Immaculate Conception—great men making bad arguments. Indeed, I think all the people I mention above are great people in whose company I am not worthy to sit.  I also think several of them are wrong on this point.  It does not follow that they are wrong about everything, untrustworthy, bad, etc.  I love them as brothers and, particularly in Dr. Kreeft’s case, as mentors—and I remain the loyal opposition who pledges them my prayers and beseeches theirs and the prayers of all people of good will.

This brings me to the fantastic piece by my friend Chris Tollefson.  One of my own attempted arguments in favor of Lila Rose is that, perhaps, completely adopting a false identity does not constitute lying.  However, Tollefson argues this is the worst kind of lie, because, as Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”:

In so presenting himself, the “pimp,” and all those who abetted him, did damage to his own integrity, creating for himself an appearance in the world deliberately at odds with his inner self. But integrity—a unity of one’s acting self in all its aspects—is a great good, and we destroy that unity in a lie only at a great cost to our wellbeing (this cost is recognized in feelings of guilt and in our attempts to ensure that we do not present a false face to the world).

Chris’s piece is fantastic, but too brainy for short snippets.  However, his summary, like Mark’s piece, hits the nail on the head:

So, while the increased scrutiny of Planned Parenthood is a good thing, and will conceivably lead to the even greater good of a general defunding of this morally bankrupt organization, I can take no joy in Live Action’s approach. They seem to have “fought fire with fire,” combating deceit and lack of charity with more of the same. The pro-life movement must be better than that, always, and it must be willing to engage in self-criticism when it fails to meet its own exacting standards.

Now, to some interesting points.  Last summer, Matt C. Abbott interviewed Fr. Thomas Euteneuer about a movie called 12th and Delaware, which is apparently a pro-choice “documentary” and hit piece on crisis pregnancy centers.

Fr. Euteneuer applied a very baffling double standard:

“The tactics [of Ewing and Grady] are different from Lila Rose’s investigative work,” said Father Euteneuer in an e-mail. “Heidi and Rachel said directly that they would not film the abortion industry. Their stated intent was to create a documentary on the ‘untold story’ of crisis pregnancy centers, and it was only under that rubric that the Pregnancy Care Center entered into an agreement to film with them.”

Father says that if the filmmakers had been “forthright about their intentions from the beginning, we would never have worked with them because, as everyone in the pro-life movement knows, there is never a ‘fair’ presentation of our work. That is exactly what happened.”

Wait.  So a documentary crew comes in and says, “We’re doing a documentary on CPCs.”  You let them in the door, and then say, “If we knew it was a hit piece, we never would have let them in.  They came in under false pretenses.”  Yet it’s OK for Lila Rose, who is under a legal trespass ban from Planned Parenthood, to sneak in in disguise and illegally videotape conversations *without* presenting herself as a filmmaker, and that is somehow *not* false pretenses?

;He calls them “liars and deceivers” and says it confirms “everything that we know about pro-aborts,” whereas Lila Rose “is looking at one side only and exposing something categorically evil. There is no comparison.”


Guy definitely needed a break.

Abbott has also posted some commentary from Dawn Eden.  Apparently, some young activist named James O’Keefe used similar tactics to Lila Rose’s Live Action to help “bring down” ACORN –indeed, like Lila Rose and her partner, O’Keefe and his dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute.  O’Keefe was explicitly playing from the book of Obama mentor Saul Alinsky.  Initially, Eden said that Live Action’s work was different in part because they did not specifically evoke Alinksy.  Yet then she corrected herself after finding this speech, in which Lila (I’m never sure if “Rose” is her last name or she goes by first and middle to stay “anonymous”) specifically quotes Alinsky (albeit claiming he’s “right about a few things”):

Further, in a rather long piece called “Building a Culture of Lie,” Eden and collaborator William Doino, Jr. argue that Lila Rose also misunderstands Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Lila Rose’s public statements show her to be a highly gifted young woman of sincere Catholic faith. In interviews and speeches , she often cites Martin Luther King’s promotion of “creative extremists” in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail ” as an inspiration for her undercover work. We laud her desire to use her gifts to defend the unborn — but would invite her and her supporters to delve deeper into the quotation’s context.

Before using the term “creative extremists,” King specifies that he is not referring to extreme sin, but, rather, extreme goodness: “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

The extension of justice, for the Church as well as for King, is an extension of Christ’s kingdom — a kingdom founded not on lies, but on the highest truth. Pope Benedict has written that “missionary work” — like that of building a culture of life — “requires, first and foremost, being prepared for martyrdom, a willingness to lose oneself for the sake of the truth and for the sake of others.” If workers for life are truly to extend the kingdom of Christ, such willingness to suffer temporary defeat or even death, rather than sin, is — or, rather, should be — the true live action.

This debate has been compared to the debate on torture, with many of the battle lines being the same. However, with Eden’s participation, and a few others, it makes me think of another debate: the debate a couple years ago over Christopher West’s interpretations of the Theology of the Body.

It is noteworthy that West, like Lila Rose, is hugely popular. In the case of Lila Rose, we have a debate over whether a particular practice (undercover work) that the Church has never directly addressed is either moral or immoral: in other words, an undefined issue. In the case of Christopher West, it’s debate over interpretation and teaching of John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality. Both are the kinds of things well open to interpretation, and the debates among the “big names” mostly remained scholarly (though the West debates between the scholars were actually a bit more bitter), while the combox wars in both cases are extremely heated.

Last year, West went on a sabbatical for 6 months to consider the criticisms and make revisions to his course curriculum. That’s humility.

Other than guidance on whether it’s OK to support her work or use her videos, and other than clarity on the morality of some kinds of acts that all of us do from time to time (such as in my old job, where I was asked at times to pretend to be a college student and call around to other colleges), the most any of Lila Rose’s “critics” have said is that they hope she shows some humility and introspection and considers the ethics of her actions, and perhaps makes some changes about how she does things. Why people are getting so worked up about this, accusing Shea, Tollefson, Hargrave, Eden, etc., of being agents of Satan and so on, is beyond me. If Lila Rose can show the same amount of humility that Christopher West did, I think that’s all anyone’s asking for.

Having shared these quotations, which nicely sum up many of my thoughts on this admittedly complex issue, I’m going to await the response from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.

“You’ve got an aortic aneurysm–want some Vicodin?” (6/25/2008)

Good news is, I’m definitely getting my electric wheelchair (it’s just a matter of how soon).

Bad news is, I have the beginnings of an aneurysm in my descending thoracic aorta.

Of course, He comes like a thief in the night, just when you are saying “peace and security.” I just saw Dr. Stavrou, my cardiologist since 1989 (save 4 years in VA). Iroincally, I was going on and on about how, for the most part, I’ve felt better than ever (though, when I feel bad, it’s lousy).

Yesterday afternoon, I kind of overdid it. Started feeling really bad.
Finally, at 9 PM, I decided to go to the ER, mostly because our Medicaid ends on Saturday, and my last appointment for review for the electric wheelchair was this morning, so I figured that, if a valve was leaking (sometimes they leak; sometimes, they don’t), I could catch it in a test.

Ironically, for all the times I’ve gone to the ER *concerned* about my aorta, I *wasn’t* this time.

Of course, from an ER perspective, they just want to make sure you’re not dying, or bleeding, or whatever.
In terms of “bedside manner,” it was one the worst hospital visits I’ve ever had. At the triage review, I was trying to explain Marfan syndrome. They kept interrupting and asking questiosn about heart attack, which I answered “no” to. The one guy took my pulse and whispered, “his pulse is normal,” and they’re like laughing and casting looks at each other like I’m some hypochondriac.

Then I get back there, and everyone’s aloof at best, if not downright grumpy. The guy who took me to my CT Scan never said a word; no “hello”; didn’t even tell me where he was taking me. If they responded to my “standard hospital jokes” at all, they took them seriously.

So, I laid there alone till around 1:15 AM, when the doctor walked in and said, “Well, your CT was fine. You have a little dila. . . dilitation . .. dilation in your uh descending thoracic aorta.” He stumbled with the words and then tried to explain it to me. I said, “I know what it is. What size is it?” “3.5 cm” (last I’d heard, it was 2.9).

On his way out, he said, “Oh, would you like some Vicodin?” I said, “I have Tramadol at home. I don’t like the side effects of Vicodin.””OK.”

Then, from 1:15 to 4:15, when the cab finally came to pick me up, I got to contemplate my life and my situation. In one sense, grateful to God that, for all the pain I’m in, He’s given me something to show to Medicaid, etc. On the other hand, it’s the proverbial “shoe” I’ve been waiting to drop for the past 12 years, and, since the discoveries about Cozaar, I’d been seriously entertaining the thought that I might live to see my grandchildren, that I might able to do some of those wild and crazy things I’d always dreamt of doing, like teaching high school or moving to some third world country and being a missionary.

Life in this world never mattered much to me, except as an avenue to sainthood. It goes to figure that, once it started mattering, God would pull the rug out from under me.

In practice, it doesn’t mean much. The main thing is we’ll have to throw out any ideas of me working full-time, unless it’s online.
Thank God that He’d already provided a wonderful situation: great new FT job offer for Mary (with another possibly in the wings); I’ll be making $25000 a year online with Kaplan, and I already arranged with Midlands for the most stress-free schedule possible. We’ve been talking about hiring some kind of PT domestic help (my job at Midlands would pay for it), and now that’s a necessity.

I’m gonna need to get a car lift and an outside ramp for the wheelchair, but it looks like Providence and some good advanced planning have arranged that all is happening at the right time.

In related news, Allie had her first subluxed kneecap on Sunday, so we bought her a knee brace. I announced a massive living room cleaning earlier, and she said to Gigi and Joe, “You two will have to do most of the work, because Daddy and I can’t do as much with my knee and his aorta!”

My letter to the CDF

I just wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, asking for some clarification on the Lying versus Lila debate:

Your Excellencies,

There is currently a debate raging among Catholics here in the United States over the morality of the actions of a group known as “Live Action” and its founder “Lila Rose”. This group, as you might have heard, goes around to Planned Parenthood clinics. Their members pose as pregnant women, prostitutes, potential donors and others, asking Planned Parenthood questions and filming or recording what the Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers say. They have done a great deal to expose many things such as covering up of child prostitution.

Some have pointed out, however, that Catechism 2464-2499 is pretty clear on lying and the obligation to truth. They also argue that if the so-called “sting operations” are moral to begin with, some of the dialogue on the videos or recordings indicates entrapment, such as an early recording when Live Action person called a Planned Parenthood donation center and said, “I’d like to make a donation to pay for abortions for black babies because I hate black people,” or something to that effect, and a clearly confused worker said they’d accept the donation.

Lila Rose has become quite the celebrity, and her videos have gotten a lot of attention. So recently, people have been raising the question of how her actions can be “squared” with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teachings of the Saints, and the Gospels. Most of the arguments raised in her defense seem rather weak or consequentialist. One of the common things people say is “Undercover cops,” but part of the point of those raising the question is that the Church has never made a clear statement on whether the work of undercover police or spies is morally acceptable. Another common response is to compare the situation to people trying to save Jews in Nazi Germany, and “lying” to the Nazi soldiers. This discussion is really generating a lot of anger and confusion, and I thought I might as well just go ahead and ask at the top.

I see no way in which Lila Rose’s actions can be considered virtuous, and certainly not heroically virtuous, and the only case that can be made that they are not intrinsically evil is that there is some method of justification at work.

My own reflections on the matter, after paragraphs 2464-2499, is to reduce the debate to the following questions:
a) Is there a form of falsehood that is not, technically, a lie? Not every killing is murder, and not every act of taking something from someone else is stealing.
b) Is it a lie to assume a different identity and then act in accordance with that identity? In other words, ontologically, if Lila Rose walks into a Planned Parenthood clinic and says, “I’m a prostitute,” and acts and speaks in accordance with being a prostitute, could it not be argued that she is, within that context, a prostitute, and that she’d only be lying if someone asked her, “Hey, aren’t you Lila Rose?” and she denied it.

Of course, ultimately, the discussion really boils down to the following, and I think that is why so many people are mad, because they’re concerned about family and friends (and selves) who are police or soldiers or intelligence agents:

c) Is “undercover” work or espionage work morally licit at all?

I appreciate your time and consideration.

Pax et bonum,

John C. Hathaway, OCDS, MA

Is there a Falsehood that isn’t a lie?

A few posts ago, I laid out the recent debate over Lila Rose’s “Live Action” sting operations and the question of their ethicality. Reactions range from “I’m pretty sure they’re wrong because lying is always wrong” to “they seem OK but I’m trying to reconcile them to Church teaching and I can’t figure out how” (where I stand and where Mark Shea stands), to “Of course they’re OK; why are you wasting time talking about this?” to “Anyone who thinks their wrong has an ill formed conscience and can’t understand the nuances of Catholic moral teaching.”


OK, so here’s what I’ve come up with, and I wanted to hash this out for an idea. The Catechism says “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned” (2485). That’s hard to get around. People can only get around it with examples, but examples are not Magisterial declarations. That, as Mark Shea says, is what we have the Magisterium and the Catechism for.

At *best*, what Lila Rose is doing is justifiable evil, like self defense, as opposed to a virtuous or heroically virtuous act. Now, to be justifiable, the question is one of compulsion. As Mark Shea also points out, Lila Rose apparently has no authorization or credentials to be in this situation. People compare her to an undercover cop, but she’s not a cop.

At worst, it may be sinful, but I don’t think anyone thinks she intends sin by it, and if she does, that’s her business, but it is an important question because it concerns our potential material cooperation for profiting from her videos.

Now, here’s what I hit on: lying is intrinsically evil. Lying is an act of telling someone a falsehood in order to make them believe something that is not true (“lying to deceive”). There is both an act “telling a falsehood” and an intent (“to deceive”). For an act to be fully moral, according to Catholic teaching, the end, intention and means must all be moral or neutral.

Now. Let’s look at the act of stabbing someone with a knife. A surgeon may stab a person with a knife to perform surgery. A murderer may stab a person with a knife to kill him. A victim may stab an assailant with a knife in order to stop him. If the patient or the assailant dies, the surgeon or victim is not guilty of murder because no murderous intent was involved.

If a police officer undercover commits a crime, and the crime is authorized as part of the undercover operation, the officer is neither legally nor morally guilty (setting aside the issue of undercover work itself).

So, what about the act of telling falsehoods? Is every falsehood a lie? *THAT* is the salient question at stake in this debate, and the one which hardly anyone is addressing, and certainly not in the way I’m phrasing it.

Let’s consider some falsehoods, particularly the ones that have been used frequently in this discussion.

For example, what does a husband say to a question like, “Does this dress make me . . . ?” Hopefully, a husband and wife have an honest enough relationship that they can talk about such matters. Funny that wives can stereotypically criticize their husbands, but a husband can never say anything about his wife. That debate, however, really gets to the question of constructive criticism. “I like the other dress better” or something is a far more effective approach and does not involve lying.

Then there is the whole “Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny” thing. Now, I for one am very much looking foward to finding out that the Easter Bunny does exist. However, there really is no point in these falsehoods that parents tell children. They have more to do with Madison Avenue advertisers than anything else. More importantly, a lot of people grow up and abandon religion because they discard God with “Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny” as “lies my parents told me.” The whole reason the Catechism condemns lying so strongly, besides that God is truth and we should live the truth and speak the truth always, is that lying destroys relationships.

But Santa Claus is based upon the real Saint Nicholas. Now, here’s a key point. Stripping away the reindeer, North Pole, etc., is it a lie to tell children “Saint Nicholas gave you this present”?

Well, the whole tradition of St. Nicholas actually started as an equivalent of the modern day St. Vincent de Paul Society. In the middle ages, people would sneak past the homes of poor people and put money or gifts in their windows on the night of December 5 and say the gifts came from St. Nicholas. Is that a lie? No. It’s not entirely a falsehood, either, since St. Nicholas inspired them to give the gifts. That would be a kind of inversion of C. S. Lewis’s “sixpence none the richer” principle. If you ask someone to buy someone else a present for you, the present still comes from you. So it isn’t a lie to say “the present came from St. Nicholas,” if you’re doing it in honor of St. Nicholas.

Now, what about undercover police work? That gets into a second question, an ontological one, which I will raise in another post: is assuming a false identity a lie? For the time being, I”ll let the police go with the point that they are authorized by the government.

Another one is surprise parties and surprise gifts. I don’t understand what there is to lie about, and I definitely know why it’s wrong. Think about every TV show about a surprise party, where the character goes around totally depressed because everyone seems to have forgotten his or her birthday, just to find out at the end of the day they’re planning a surprise party. It’s just stupid. Why ruin a person’s birthday and make him or her depressed just for an hour or two of partying? A man tells his wife “I have to work late.” We can see why that’s wrong if he’s lying about going to the bar or going out with his mistress. But if he’s buying her an anniversary present, why lie about it? Why not say, “I have to run some errands after work pertaining to a surprise for you” or “pertaining to our anniversary”? Why does it have to be a lie??

Most of these are examples of telling a falsehood in order to deceive. The deception seems innocent enough, and it’s probably not mortally sinful, but it’s still a lie. However, the Church also teaches in the Catechism that a seemingly venial “white lie” can become mortal if its unintended consequences are severe: if the wife, for example, suspects her husband of lying and thinks he’s cheating on her, or if the person with the surpriese party gets horribly depressed about the birthday.

So, what about telling a falsehood for a good?

Let’s get to the big bugaboo that everyone raises. The Nazis are at your door, asking if you’re hiding Jews, and you’re hiding Jews. Oh, no!
Now, what I’ve always heard is you’re supposed to say something like, “There are no Jews here (for you to kill)” or “I am not hiding any Jews” because they’re not hidden; they’re sitting in the upstairs bedroom.
I heard a great homily on EWTN once where an African bishop said to always tell the truth, because if you always tell the Truth, Jesus will protect you, and he talked about some fugitives who were fleeing soldiers. He claimed it was a true story. They hid under a bushel of hay. The soldiers asked the farmer where they were. The farmer said “under the hay.” The soldiers beat the farmer and said, “How dare you lie to us, Old Man!” Then they left. The fugitives got out and said, “Why did you tell them the truth?”
“I knew they wouldn’t believe me. . . . ‘The Truth will set you free!'”

That’s heroic virtue. I realize why some may not have the faith to be so blatantly honest, but I think that plan works. In any case, silence or obfuscation is always better than a lie. However, I don’t think a person who lies in that situation is necessarily sinning, either. The person *is* putting himself at risk of less protection of God by not doing the most virtuous thing.

“What about when X hid from Y by disguising himself as a Z?”
Well, it depends upon what he did. Often, in fiction, when people disguise themselves (as Henry V in Shakespeare’s play disguises himself as a common soldier in a hood), they never explicitly lie. Henry identifies himself as a fellow soldier (which is true), and he talks to the soldiers as one of them. He refers to the king in the third person, but he never says he *isn’t* the King.

In theory, there could be an example of a falsehood that is told with good intent, with the intent of the recipient’s betterment, which bears no chance of causing long term pain. Sometimes, parents tell children falsehoods to protect them from greater traumas or to get them to do something good. If the consequences are not bad, and the intention is not to deceive or lie, then is that even a lie?

Then there’s Obi Wan Kenobi’s “in a manner of speaking.” On the day Darth Vader comes to exist, Anakin Skywalker ceases to exist. Therefore, Darth Vader “betrays and murders” Anakin Skywalker. Again, if the gift is given in the name of St. Nicholas, St. Nicholas gives the gift, just as if a charity check is written by a millionaire in my name, it comes “from me.” Or what about when the Church says, “Fr. X has been sent away on a sabbatical for health reasons” and the “health reasons” are that he’s been shipped off for some transgression? Technically, his “health” is involved, though it may be his spiritual or psychological health.

So, a lie is always to be condemned, but I don’t know if every falsehood is necessarily a lie: the intention to deceive must be there for it to constitute a lie, and if the intention is to bring out a bigger truth or to bring a good, then is it really a lie? That is not the same as consequentialism any more than self defense, since I’m emphasizing that the falsehood must be one that will not cause negative consequences, either. It should ideally involve representing the truth “in a manner of speaking” or leaving out some key fact or speaking the truth with the expectation that the other person will *think* you’re lying. In some ways, it can be more manipulative than a real lie, but it’s technically a truthful statement in some way, while also false, or the falsehood is extremely minor.

That ought to pave the way for the ontological question about assumed identities.

Cuddly Robot Daddy (8/28/2006)

Getting ready for bed in our hotel room this evening, Allie looked at my chest and asked, “Daddy, what’s that big pink stripe over your heart?”
I asked her to listen to my chest. I proceeded to explain about my heart surgery, explaining to her the mechanism of the heart, the circulatory system, and how Marfan syndrome causes problems with the arteries and valves. Then I explained how they took out the bad part and replaced it with an artificial graft, which is kind of like a little robot part.

Then she asked me to explain belly buttons. I did, and, when I finished, she asked, “Hey, Daddy, can you show me a cuddly robot?”
I said, “Right here!”
She smiled and gave me a hug.

Of Lila Rose, Abby Johnson, and Westboro Baptist

OK, there’s an interesting debate raging in Catholic circles over the tactics used by Lila Rose’s “Live Action” group to expose the various evils of Planned Parenthood by use of “undercover sting operations.” I’ve been reading some of the recent debate, and participating in it, and I have some thoughts, but it’s interesting how it ties into this week’s readings and some other items in the news.

The debate actually started over a year and a half ago. My friend Joe Hargrave was the first to raise the issue in his post “My Problem with Lila Rose” on _The American Catholic_.

My first problem is that lying is a sin. On the scale of things, what Planned Parenthood does to innocent unborn children is worse – far worse – than what Lila Rose does to Planned Parenthood. But that does not make what Lila Rose does morally acceptable. And it is all the more relevant for us since Lila Rose has recently joined the Catholic Church!

At first, Joe was just broaching the question. He asked, mostly rhetorically, if it was at all possible to argue from the context of Catholic morality that what Lila Rose is doing is intrinsically disordered. More importantly, he expressed surprise that no one had mentioned this question at all, even Archbishop Charles Chaput!

He also pointed out that he wasn’t sure Lila Rose’s work was doing that much good:

For instance, I do not believe that the nervous responses of low-level flunkies, or even high level representatives on the telephone can honestly be used to indicate a national conspiracy of racism and endorsement of statutory rape. Attempts to link such responses to the racist philosophy of Margaret Sanger, as if everyone who works at a Planned Parenthood is a willing and conscious participant in a racist conspiracy, only count as more deception in my eyes (I think they just wanted the promised donation).

These are usually clear cases of entrapment, which goes beyond undercover work (which I am still not clear on) and crosses over into something I find highly immoral when the police do it, and even worse when someone claiming to be a Catholic Christian does it.

In the end I believe the truth of abortion is more powerful than the efforts of Planned Parenthood and other institutions involved in providing and propagandizing for abortion to suppress that truth. Let us support courageous men like the Reverend Walter Hoye, who have gone to jail for telling the truth to women, informing them that there are alternatives to abortion and people who care enough about them to help them make use of them. Or the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which tours college campuses with large displays of aborted fetuses and engages in lively debate with the students who come by.

Lately, Lila Rose has been getting a *lot* of press, particularly about her exposes on Planned Parenthood covering up child prostitution and nasty stuff like that. For these exposes, her “actors” went in pretending to be pimps, prostitutes, child sex slave merchants, etc.

A few weeks ago, New Theological Movement posted a blog on the topic, arguing that it’s always a sin to lie, period.

Someone asked Mark Shea for his opinion. This is where things got interesting. First, Mark’s position was rather nuanced, and right along the lines where I thought to begin with and do now, having gone the rounds on the subject:

I hate to say it, because my loathing for Murder Inc. is so deep, but I basically tend to agree that it is wrong to take even a butcher down with lies.

That said, I wonder if some moral theologian could make a reasonable (as distinct from sophistical) case for videos like these under the same sort of logic that allows for feints, ruses and similar strategems in Just War theory.

He said there *might* be a case, but he hasn’t seen it.

So, so far, what we have is a few people asking a very legitimate question about Catholic moral teaching. No one has condemned Lila Rose, judged her soul, called her evil, expressed “outrage” or anything. People are just asking honest questions about how this tactic can be reconciled with Catholic moral teaching expressed in the Catechism.

Before I continue, this is where Westboro Baptist comes into play. This weekend, an “Open Letter” came out in which the cyberterrorist group “Anonymous” supposedly threatened Westboro Baptist Church. They threatened to bombard WBC’s web servers, email addresses, members, etc., with “denial of service” attacks and such. Then WBC issued some response to the effect of “bring it on.” You may know that Westboro Baptist is that crazy group who picket funerals and carry signs like “God Hates …” The media usually emphasize their anti-gay positions, but they apparently are anti-war, as well, as they frequently picket military funerals.

People seem to agree that WBC’s tactics are repulsive, but it’s hard to see why they’re repulsive and PETA’s tactics aren’t. And WBC, while obnoxious, isn’t really hurting anyone, versus some of the things PETA and “gay rights” groups do to people, and what Anonymous itself–a hacker terrorist group that attacks the web-based services of groups it disagrees with–does.

In any case, Anonymous is now claiming the whole thing is a hoax arranged by WBC.

The whole thing raises the point that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, that we should not return evil for evil. Thinking homosexual acts are wrong is not the same thing as hating people who suffer from Same Sex Attraction. Saying “God hates fags” is not the same thing as saying “I love and pray for homosexuals and hope they convert” (though some people think it is). Agreeing with Family Research Council about the dangers of the homosexualist agenda to our culture and trying to fight that agenda does not require the picketing of funerals or violent rhetoric of WBC. Similarly, I’d hope that even those who hate WBC’s beliefs and tactics alike would not support cyberterrorism.

So, it’s a relevant debate. I’m sure many of those supporting Lila Rose unconditionally would balk at the comparison of Lila Rose to the Topeka, KS, based group led by “Rev.” Fred Phelps. Yet Phelps is doing an intrinsic evil to fight an intrinsic evil. I’m not even sure if holding up nasty signs in and of itself constitutes intrinsic evil. Yet most people consider Phelps’ actions to be offensive and wrong.

That gets to Peter Kreeft’s rather puzzling defense of Lila Rose. On Friday, Kreeft post ed what he admitted were cursory thoughts on the subject. This is where things get puzzling. I have a lot of respect for Kreeft, but this article had me seriously wondering if old age is getting to him. This article doesn’t sound like Kreeft, in style or theme. We’re talking about a guy who usually writes that Catholics should have the fervor of faith and virtue of Muslims (though I also recently learned how he was trounced in a very public debate on this subject relatively recently).

Yet here he’s arguing, basically, that Lila Rose’s actions are right because the consensus is that they’re right–so morality can be decided by vote? And he’s arguing basic consequentialism: it’s right because she’s fighting a greater evil. Yet the whole point of the Church defining something as intrinsic evil is that it’s always wrong to do it, even if it’s for a good cause.

Someone named Gerard Nadal, whose name rings a bell but I don’t really know what he’s famous for, chimed in with a similar piece.

Nadal actually makes some good points, but he’s really the one who’s stoked the fires. The very title of his piece is: “The Lila Enigma: Selective Outrage?” Nadal begins by talking about “outrage” against Lila Rose, of which, as I have documented, there is none. So far, all that we’ve had are some people raising their hands and saying, “Excuse me, but isn’t this intrinsically evil? I’d like to approve of what she’s doing, but how’s this OK?”

This is taken as “outrage”. All of a sudden, people are “condemning” Lila Rose! “How dare they attack Lila Rose when there are so many babies getting killed!” You can see how this has gone downhill quickly. Nadal basically argues that we shouldn’t be talking about it at all.

In an earlier piece, Nadal says he doesn’t want to “fan the flames,” yet he excoriates the heroic virtue of approach of “I’d never lie” and he uses all the rhetoric of “the horrors Lila Rose is exposing are so evil that it’s stupid to question what she’s doing.”

Then as the controversy got bigger, Mark Shea wrote another post, responding to some of the main arguments.

I urge you, if you have a stake in this issue, and have any interest in sincerely studying it, to at least read the link I just posted. Shea does a good job of refuting many of the arguments that have been raised, but people still keep making them.
For example, any comparison to war doesn’t count, since this isn’t a war. Comparisons to under cover cops don’t count because Lila Rose is not an undercover cop.

We can ask about undercover investigative journalists, but that will get into the debate about what constitutes an undercover investigative journalist or consumer rights advocate. Even then, Shea points out that Lila Rose has no authorization from on high: she claims to be representing the women who’ve been to abortion clinics, but does she have some signed legal authorization?

I’m not going to rehash all of Shea’s arguments here, but he does a great job, and it shows how disingenuous many people are being on this topic that they are not acknowledging Shea’s arguments at all. They’re merely attacking him with ad hominems, repeating the same arguments he refutes, etc. I’ve been thoroughly debating the topic on various Facebook threads today, and finding the same kinds of rhetoric used in the debates on torture and other subjects recently. I’ve been told I don’t have a nuanced understand of Catholic moral teaching, that I need to reread the “obvious” words of the Catechism (I thought it was pretty obvious: ‘Lying is always to be condemned’), that I have an ill formed conscience, that I’m a danger to the Church, that I have no right to talk because I’m not “on the front lines,” etc.

It’s tiresome to see the bad will being shown by people who claim to be pro-life, who say “what Lila Rose is doing is saving lives,” yet if you say, “Well, then is it OK to shoot abortionists?” they get mad and say that’s “crossing the line.”

And they keep misrepresenting what people are saying. For example, Mark Shea points out:

First, isn’t it interesting how things that appear to be “elementary” moral teaching (“Don’t lie”) suddenly get complex when it’s Us and not Them who are pondering the problem. Case in point, not long ago we were all being told how peculiarly immoral Muslims were for their concept of Taqiyya or lying in defense of some sacred truth and how almost inhumanly different these barbarians are from us good Christian folk. Now we are rediscovering once again the ancient problem (common to all the great ethical monotheistic traditions) of trying to square the plain words against lying with the real world problem of how to speak the truth in a world that can visit horrendous punishment on honest people and their loved ones. Remember this discussion that next time you are tempted to harshly judge some Muslim who thinks you can lie in a good cause. We’re not so very different after all.

Second, please remember that the question I have been trying to treat is simply and solely the morality of lying in a good cause, not the question of whether Lila Rose, undercover cops, spies, wartime strategists, and husbands who don’t give forthcoming answers to “Does this dress make me look fat?” are going to hell. I take it for granted that a) there are all sorts of levels of gravity and culpability in lying and that the overwhelming number of lies we tell are fibs and white lies, not huge and grave ones.

Third, I’m still thinking this one through and I’m not entirely happy. But I don’t see how to avoid the conclusion that lying is, in fact, intrinsically immoral given that the Church says it is (CCC 2485 “By its very nature, lying is to be condemned.”) The whole point of having a Magisterium is not that it is right where we are right, but that it is right where we are wrong. “By its very nature” means what it means, whether I like it or not.

Yet people still insist he’s “condemning” Lila Rose, even though he says he’s not. They insist on pointing to the example of undercover cops, even though he’s saying “that’s not even the question yet.”

The questions are:
1) Is it ever OK to lie for a good cause? The Church says it’s wrong to lie for a bad cause. Maybe it’s OK to lie for a good cause? Probably not, but can anyone make the argument?
2) Is what Lila Rose is doing lying?
3) Does Lila Rose have any kind of authorization, the way a cop or journalist does, to go into Planned Parenthood under false pretenses and ask questions and make recordings?
4) What constitutes a journalist in our day and age?

People could be grappling with these important questions, but instead they’re calling each other names and saying the topic is a distraction from the “real evil” of Planned Parenthood.

Yet I’m sure if we were talking about Westboro Baptist, and not Lila Rose, people wouldn’t say that condemnation of Westboro Baptist is a distraction from the “real evil” of the homosexualist movement. The two are not mutually exclusive, as Shea says above.

Now, that gets us to the third item in the list: Abby Johnson.

Let’s look at what Lila Rose has done. She and her compatriots have made phone calls to Planned Parenthood, or gone into PP “Clinics” in costume. Sometimes, they’ve just asked questions. Sometimes, they’ve presented themselves as pregnant women, or prostitutes, or pimps or whatever. Sometimes, they’ve called up and said things like, “I’d like to give money to Planned Parenthood to pay for black abortions because I don’t like black people.” Some of this, as Hargrave pointed out in his original piece in 2009, constitutes not just lying but entrapment. Since entrapment is wrong for an undercover cop, the “what about undercover cops” argument doesn’t hold water on those examples.

Lila Rose’s videos and recordings have exposed some horrible truths about Planned Parenthood. These are things that have been long talked about by people who’ve *left* Planned Parenthood, and that’s where Abby Johnson comes in.

Abby Johnson is the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who converted practically overnight and is now not only pro-life but a Catholic and has published a book on her experiences through Ignatius Press.

We know how the Left is about evidence. “The Swift Boat people were thoroughly discredited.” I’ve never seen anything that discredits the claims of the “Swifties” about John Kerry. I did hear Rush Limbaugh play recordings of Kerry speaking and telling conflicting stories about his Vietnam record. I did hear Rush Limbaugh read pages out of Kerry’s memoirs or clips of Kerry’s speeches where he made claims about things in Vietnam that were historically impossible (like talking about Nixon as president when Johnson was president). Yet if you look at Huffington Post and stuff, they say “the Swift Boat vets were discredited.”

So, too, there apparently is some secret message circulated among Pro-abortionists that shows how Jill Stanek is a liar. They apparently have all sorts of evidence that discredits every former abortionist, abortion nurse, clinic director, high level Planned Parenthood executive or pro-abortion activist who has converted and told stories about what really goes on at “clinics.” In spite of Kremit Gosnell and so many others, they still insist abortionists are great humanitarians.

See where I’m going? First, people will believe whatever they want. We have first hand testimony from real people who’ve worked at abortuaries, and yet their testimony is discredited. Supposedly, the importance of Live Action’s work is that the group is providing recordings to document the truth. Yet the recordings so often come close to, and cross the line of, entrapment that the mainstream media, the liberals, and perhaps the average person just take the view that they’re not accurate in representing what really goes on at Planned Parenthood.

I’d like to say that Live Action’s work is exciting, that it’s doing great things for the pro-life movement, and somewhat it is. But it’s also opening an inherent flaw, that it makes us all look like deceptive liars. If Lila Rose is a liar, then is the rest of our evidence lies? The Left already has people convinced that Jill Stanek and Gianna Jessen and others are liars. Our president even called Gianna Jessen a liar. Lila Rose *is* lying to obtain this information then expecting us to believe her about the information.

Isn’t that the very evil of lying? That you can never tell if a dishonest person is telling the truth?

Jesus says so many things on this topic, such as “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.” This week’s Gospel is the “turn the other cheek” Gospel, “Never return evil for evil,” and the Old Testament reading from Leviticus says not to incur guilt because of an enemy. Is Planned Parenthood really worth incurring gulit?

I can acknowledge that, in our fallen world, it’s sometimes sadly necessary to have anti-heroes who commit lesser evils to stpo greater ones. Yet I refuse to accept that as a normative position. It’s a morally justified position, but not a virtuous one. We must always strive for the highest standard of behavior in a given question.

Yet, rather than acknowledging that, those who are trying to support Lila Rose are engaging in calumny and detraction and ad hominems and misrepresentation. Kind of makes the concerns that Mark Shea has raised more valid that people are lying about what he’s said in order to promote their cause.

There are so many layers to this issue, but I just wonder if Lila Rose’s actions are even necessary when we have people like Abby Johnson.

Rather than lying, why not go to women in trouble and ask to accompany them to the abortuary, and help them through their experiences?

There are plenty of books where post abortive women share their experiences. I’ve had students who wrote essays about their abortions–often without any particular ideological slant–who confirmed, in their sadness, what it’s like. I used to teach out of a textbook with an essay by an abortion nurse who was talking about how wonderful abortion clinics supposedly are. The student wrote, basically, “The one I went to wasn’t anything like what she described. I just wanted counseling, but I went there, and it was creepy, and they were mean, and they didn’t talk about adoption or any help, and they told me I had to have an abortion, and maybe if I’d been to a clinic like the one she describes, I’d have had my baby now.” Of course, my student didn’t make the connection that this nurse was lying. . . .

Wouldn’t our cause be better served to collect real experiences like that?

My parents’ book is better (2/8/2005)

February is the NMF’s “Have a Heart for Marfan” month (don’t ask me why everybody has to choose February as their awareness month; the fact that it’s heart disease month would lead me to put Marfan someplace else, anyway). . . .
So the NMF has added an online shopping cart system to their website. Previously, to order materials, you had to just print out the form or call.
In 1984, my parents wrote a book called How John Was Unique, a children’s story to help springboard families’ discussions of the hard facts of Marfan syndrome: the pros and the cons, etc. It was published by the NMF (US) as a coloring book, both to save money and to make it more interactive.
Well, somewhere along the line, the Canadian Marfan Foundation as put out a book called A Very Special Mouse.
Last week, among other items, I ordered a copy of the mouse book and “my book” (also 2 t-shirts and some informational materials to give to people).
They came on Saturday, and, without bias, I can say that my parents’ book is much better.
The mouse book basically says, “There once was a family of mice. One mouse was taller and slower than his brothers and sisters. He couldn’t see very well, either. One day he went to the doctor, and the doctor said he had something called Marfan syndrome. That’s why he was so tired all the time, so tall and he had to wear glasses. We’ll tell you more when you’re older.”
It’s almost like they wanted an alternative to my parents’ book for those parents who like to stick their heads in the sand.

Why not talk to your kids honestly and openly. My parents tell the story of when I was something like 5 or 6 and I demanded total honesty about my health issues, because “It’s my life.”

So I sat down with my little hyperactive 3-year-old and tried to read her the book. She was about as impressed as possible, for a child of the computer and video camera era, that there was this little book written by Nana & Papa about daddy, and that the drawing of the boy in the book was daddy.
But when I got to the core parts, about the hospitals and tests and glasses and such, I was able to say, “Remember when you had this test done?”
And she said, “Yeah.”
And I said, “Well, this is about when I had it done when I was little.”
“Oh!” she said with a smile.

Now, if only I could get her to wear her glasses. . . . .

In the vein of “Only Nixon could go to China . . . “

OK, so it was a nice day, and I suggested we go to the park. Mary had scheduled an appointment with our PCP’s office that’s open on Saturdays, and we found the nearest park to that office.

It wasn’t very handicapped accessible, and, in spite of my best efforts, I ended up getting the wheelchair stuck in the sand. Then the kids needed to go potty. I called the police for help, and Mary drove the kids off to find a restroom. This African American gentleman was walking down the road wearing a football jersey with a rosary around his neck.

He kind of waved, and Mary pulled the van up, and he said he needed a ride to church. Mary said, “I don’t want to say no, but I need to get my kids to the restroom, and my husband’s wheelchair is stuck down there.”
So he came down the hill and started helping. Then the police arrived, and the one officer’s brother uses a wheelchair, so he was used to wheelchairs getting stuck, and the three of them got it out and back onto the grass for me.

So we drove the fellow to his church. Then Mary asked if she could take the kids to the restroom there, and he invited us to join their Saturday evening service.

I was hoping that somehow, as he was giving us directions through Augusta, he was going to take us to Most Holy Trinity.

So we end up at this little Pentecostal ecclesial community, and he invites us again to join his service. We of course both hesitated.

I was going to say, “We have to get to our own Saturday service,” thinking there was still time to get to confession, but it was already 5:30, and I knew we weren’t going to Mass, so I didn’t want to lie.

I decided that God wanted something to come from this, and I didn’t want to scandalize the young man, so I went in to be polite, but the kids were balking, so Mary watched them play outside while I went in. I felt like I was in a Flannery O’Connor story.

So I was sitting there in the pentecostal church, saying the rosary and observing how their service was basically make-shift Sacraments:
“Anyone with something on their hearts they need forgiven, please come forward.”
“Anyone with sickness, come forward and receive the oil.”
So this fellow asks if I’d like them to pray for me. I said, “I could go either way. Up to you guys.”
So he asked me to come forward. I came forward. The woman put her hand on my head and prayed, “Lord, please heal this man from head to toe.” I prayed, “Lord, please stop this woman from pushing my head and breaking my neck.”
Then she stopped, took her hand off my head, and got really quiet and serious. She looked me in the eyes, and said, softly, “The Lord just spoke to me and said He wants you to know He’s very pleased with you.”

Then she went back to hooting and hollering. I went back to the back of the church and said the Office, then I came out.
The original fellow and the guy who led me up both followed me out and talked to me.
The second fellow said, “Brother John, may I ask you for a favor?”
I said, “Sure.”
“Could you give me a hug?”
The original fellow was talking to someone else about living providentially and had some great things to say about prayer. He recommended a formula very similar to what Neal Lozano talks about in _Resisting the Devil_, embracing the power of Christ’s name. He said it’s something he’s just been trying this week, and gave discovering us as an example of those prayers, because he had been trying to get to church, and no one would give him a ride, and right after he surrendered it to the Lord was when he found us.
Then he said, “I really think you folks are special and the Lord has great plans for you.”
Another person came out and walked up to me and said, “It looked like you received a word when she prayed over you. Did you?”
And I said I had.

I did tell them we were Catholic, and I talked to them about being a Carmelite and stuff.

Then Mary went in (I don’t know how long the whole thing lasts, but people were kind of coming and going, or coming outside to talk to each other).

Her experience wasn’t quite as profound as mine, but it was definitely an interesting evening, and it made me feel much better about missing confession two weeks in a row.