Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I Have a Seven-Year-Old!

My oldest son turns seven today!

Since this picture was taken, he's lost his two front teeth!
He's gone from a tiny 6lb, 4oz baby (4 weeks early!) to a tall young man who excels in school and loves playing Xbox (as well as classic Nintendo) with his dad. He is sweet, caring, and says he loves God. (Future priest? Let's hope so!)

Happy birthday, William Joseph!

Friday, February 13, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday - Resources for Lent

Ash Wednesday is in less than a week! I've found cheap and/or free Lenten resources around the Internet recently, and I wanted to share the love.

(Full disclosure - I recently joined the Amazon Affiliates program, so if you buy any of the Amazon resources by clicking on their respective Amazon links below, I get a small percentage of the sale.)

1. 2015 Magnificat Lenten Companion (I bought this one!) - 99 cents on Kindle

2. Lenten Meditations with Fulton J. Sheen - 99 cents on Kindle

3. Living Faith: Lenten Devotions for Catholics: Lent 2015 - 99 cents on Kindle


4. Pope Francis: Living Lent with Passion: Encouragement and Daily Prayers - 99 cents on Kindle

5. The Cross and the Beatitudes by Bp. Fulton Sheen - $3.49 on Kindle

6. Free Printable Calendars:

Family Lenten Practices Calendar

Printable Lenten Calendar from Catholic Icing

7. Meatless meal resources:

My Meatless Meals Pinterest Board

Recipes for Lent from

Lenten Recipes for Your Family from

Recipes for Lent from

12 Meatless Lent Meal Ideas from

Read more Quick Takes at This Ain't the Lyceum!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Vaccines Redux

DISCLAIMER: I'm going to be talking about vaccines in this post. A lot. If you are sick of the whole vaccine debate, please feel free to skip this post and instead enjoy this meme in honor of the forthcoming To Kill A Mockingbird sequel (SQUEEEE!):

Now, for those of you who have stuck around...

My latest post at Catholic Stand, Let's Be Reasonable About Vaccines, was well received, but sadly I don't think the people for whom it was meant are taking the message to heart. And some people are accusing both me and Catholic Stand of being "anti-vaccine" or "encouraging people not to vaccinate." They claim to have read the piece but I have to doubt that, given that it says the exact opposite. I even put it in bold and all caps so there would be no doubt whatsoever. Maybe I should have made a cat meme instead? I don't know. At any rate, here are further thoughts of mine for the two or three people who aren't yet sick to death of this topic.

The Moral Question

I had a word limit on my CS post (1500 words max) so I couldn't put in all of the information I wanted to. But I'm getting a lot of comments along the lines of, "It was ONE ABORTION 50 years ago! One! How can you weigh that against the threat to children?!" 

First off, it was more than one abortion. Many more. For those who need proof of how these cell lines were created, see pages 81 and 91 of this document for testimony from Dr. Alex Van Der Eb, the scientist who developed the stem cell lines HEK-23 and PER.C6 (italics mine) This quote is from page 91, where Dr. Van Der Eb is talking about his PER.C6: 
So I isolated retina [cells] from a fetus, from a healthy fetus as far as could be seen, of 18 weeks old. There was nothing special in the family history, or the pregnancy was completely normal up to the 18 weeks, and it turned out to be a socially indicated abortus, abortus provocatus, and that was simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus.
Then there is this article from 1969 about the creation of the rubella vaccine:
Explant cultures were made of the dissected organs of a particular fetus aborted because of rubella, the 27th in our series of fetuses aborted during the 1964 epidemic. 
Chilling how casually this is discussed in the medical literature, isn't it? "the 27th in our series of fetuses aborted..." "socially indicated abortus... simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus." 

And yet I am supposed to hail these vaccines as God's gift to humankind. These vaccines were built upon the backs of murdered children and that is something we should never forget. We MUST protest this atrocity. Scientific research can provide great boons to humankind but we can't throw our morality out the window in the process. Surely scientists can procure ethical sources for the human tissue samples they need to conduct such research. 

Putting aside the fact that "Won't somebody please think of the children?!" does not dispense us of our obligation to engage in moral reasoning, one of my most serious objections to these unethically-sourced vaccines is the fact that this type of research, creating and sustaining cell lines derived from the cells of aborted fetuses, is still going on. For example, attempts to create an HIV or Ebola vaccine utilize these unethically-derived stem cell lines (specifically, the HEK-293 and PER.C6 lines). These scientists don't HAVE to use these cell lines; there are ethical ones available -- lines that are in use by other organizations also trying to create a vaccine. 

Debi Vinnedge of Children of God for Life wrote to the FDA expressing her concern about the use of these unethical stem cell lines, and in their response (in which they basically said, "So what?") they were several factual errors. She pointed out these errors in a second letter but, as of yet, there is no response. 

I quoted the article Immunity from Evil?: Vaccines Derived from Abortion by Dr. Jameson Taylor in my CS article, but here are some excerpts I didn't have room to include: 
The bishops were forced to address the question [of vaccines] when President Bush used the abortion-tainted chicken pox vaccine to justify federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Using abortion-tainted vaccines encourages abortion just as does purchasing any other product derived from fetal tissue. Indeed, these vaccines were the first fetal tissue therapies to gain widespread acceptance, and their popularity is frequently cited to promote fetal tissue research agendas. Over the past 10 years, numerous congressmen have referred to the vaccines to garner support for federally subsidized research on fetal tissue. The University of Nebraska likewise excused its fetal tissue program by invoking both the vaccines and the Church's toleration of their use. In Forbes v. Napolitano (2001), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals used the polio vaccine, among other things, to strike down an Arizona law banning experimentation on aborted fetal tissue. The court specifically ruled fetal tissue research must be legal to guarantee women the fullest possible range of "reproductive decisions." [bolding mine]
So, this is going to keep happening until those responsible for creating and manufacturing vaccines decide not to use them anymore, or they decide to make ethical alternatives available. My problem is, as I stated in my article, they have no incentive to do so if everyone just uses the unethically-sourced ones anyway.

I wish all of the Catholics (and others) who have called me names and accused me of wanting to kill children would take the time they use to abuse me and instead spend it writing letters of protest to Merck et al. As Phil Lawler pointed out in his article, Conscientious Objection to Vaccinations (bolding mine):
This is not a call for passive acceptance of the vaccines derived from fetal remains. (And by the way, chicken-pox vaccine falls into that category as well.) It is a clear call for action to remedy an injustice. If Catholics mobilized to demand ethical vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry would be forced to respond. If Catholics are content to say that they can be justified in using these vaccines, the injustice will continue.
We can't simply say, "The Vatican has said these vaccines are licit to use. If you object to them you're being scrupulous." We have a duty to object to them even if we use them, and having serious moral reservations about their use is not being scrupulous per the document itself, which acknowledges that the creation and use of the vaccines pose ethical problems.

Also, I saw this article just as I was about to hit "Publish" on this post, and it's excellent. The Pontifical Academy for Life did NOT argue it is morally obligatory to use tainted vaccines. As the author, Dr. Jeff Mirus, said in the combox, "Please, everyone, note this principle: While cooperation with evil is sometimes permissible, it can NEVER be mandatory!"

That Being Said

Despite my moral objection I am considering having Peter (and perhaps the other kids as well) vaccinated with the MMR. I'm still not convinced that the risk (9 confirmed cases in my state of 6.6 million people) is worth the hysteria, but I see the logic of the argument that measles is a very contagious disease, and by the time the outbreak is serious it could be too late to vaccinate (due to supply and demand issues with the vaccine).

Also, Peter visits Phoenix Children's Hospital once every 3-4 months due to his clubfoot, so he is in greater proximity to the immunocompromised (or those who may be carrying the measles virus, if they are at the hospital for treatment) than the other kids. (Generally I take time off work on a weekday to take him to his appointments; the other kids don't come with us.)

I also read this on the CDC website: "For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it."

You know what the United States incidence of clubfoot is? One in 1,000.

Yeah. When you've already won the lottery in that regard, so to speak, it makes you think.

Principle of Double Effect

Recently I've been mulling over if the Principle of Double Effect would apply in this instance.

1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent. It is morally good, or at least morally neutral, to vaccinate people against serious illness.

2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary. I don't will the bad effect (promotion of abortion) and right now there is no way for me to procure ethically-sourced vaccines (i.e., attain the good effect without the bad effect).

3. The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed. The abortions themselves are not what cause the vaccines to be effective. The abortions themselves didn't produce the vaccines - it was research on the tissue taken from the baby that created the vaccine, not the abortion itself. Nor were the abortions performed for the explicit purpose of making a vaccine (although they may have been encouraged, which seems likely, especially in the case of the 27 abortions performed due to rubella exposure. We really have no way of knowing).

4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect. The Pontifical Academy for Life stated in their document that the danger of disease was an acceptably proportionate reason to allow the remote material cooperation with evil.

Seems to me double effect would indeed apply here, which goes a ways toward assuaging my conscience, but I might hunt up an actual Catholic moral theologian and get their take on it.

So, that's where I'm at.

Note: Since this is my personal blog (unlike Catholic Stand), I'm going to delete comments at my discretion. If you can't say anything charitable, don't say anything at all. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

There's No Reason to Feel Offended by Pope Francis

I think I've finally been able to pin down why I'm so bothered about the reaction to the Pope's infamous "rabbits" comment.

Hypothetically*, let's say a generic Christian minister made the following comment during a news interview:
"Some women think that, in order to keep a boyfriend, they have to have sex. No. Responsible sexual behavior."  
The next day, the media reports, "[Pastor] states women shouldn't have sex! War on Women!"

It'd be ridiculous, right? Anyone could look at the actual comments in context and see that's clearly not what the pastor said, or meant. He clarified his words with "In order to keep a boyfriend"; clearly, his statement was not directed to all women - only those who believed that they had to have sex in order to keep their boyfriends.

As a woman, I wouldn't be offended by his words, since I agree with him that women shouldn't feel like they have to have sex in order to keep their boyfriends (since any boyfriend who won't respect your choice to abstain from sex prior to marriage isn't worth keeping).

Compare that to what Pope Francis said:
Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. 
Clearly, Pope Francis' comment was not meant to include all people with children across the board; rather, he was only talking about the specific people who believe that in order to be a good Catholic, you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason, just like rabbits do.

That's why I'm so puzzled by all of the parents of many who were so offended by his remarks. I don't know any mom or dad of many who thinks that they HAVE to have a certain number of children in order to fulfill some kind of "good Catholic" quota. They have the number of children that they do because they discerned that they should, and that's precisely as it should be. Unless you're a person who honestly believes that in order to be a good Catholic, you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason, Pope Francis wasn't talking about you or your family. There's no reason to feel offended.

And if you DO believe you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason in order to be a good Catholic (I personally don't know of any Catholic who thinks this, but there are many non-Catholics who are under that impression), Pope Francis was explaining that such a belief is in direct opposition to actual Catholic teaching.

Not to mention that if Pope Francis really thought large families were a bad thing, he wouldn't say this only a day or two later:

"It gives consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a blessing."

*Not a perfect analogy, obviously, but it's the best I could come up with after a long day at work and a long evening dealing with a three-year-old's histrionics. If you can think of a better one, or if you'd like to buy a three-year-old, please leave a comment!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What the Catholic Church Means by Responsible Parenthood

Forgive me, this is going to be a long one.

Yet again, Pope Francis is being attacked for reiterating the teaching of the Catholic Church. This time, he made the not-so-revolutionary statement that parents are called to both generosity and prudence in discerning their family size.

However, like always, the media interpretation is quite different. According to them, Pope Francis says "Catholics shouldn't breed like rabbits." Which is, of course, not at all what Pope Francis said.

C'mon, media, even we can figure that out*
But I'm not really interested in rehashing what the Pope actually said as opposed to what the media claims he said, as several other bloggers (such as Leila and Simcha) have already done an excellent job doing so. Rather, I'd like to expound upon what the Church means by responsible parenthood, because this seems to be a concept that Catholics on both end of the spectrum don't fully understand.

What is Responsible Parenthood?

Pope Paul VI gave a very clear, concise explanation about what constitutes responsible parenthood in Humanae Vitae (HV), paragraph 10 (all bolding mine):
With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.
If you have a large family, you can practice responsible parenthood. If you have a small family, you can practice responsible parenthood. All families regardless of their size are called to practice responsible parenthood with both prudence and generosity. Like so many other aspects of Catholicism, it is not either/or, it is both/and.

Not prudence (small family) OR generosity (large family). Prudence AND generosity.

What is prudence?

We can turn to paragraphs 1806 and 1835 of the Catechism for that answer:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going."65 "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."66 Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.  
1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.
Simply put, prudence is applying moral precepts to every day situations. A prudent couple may discern that they are not called to have another baby, and use right means (NFP) to avoid conception. A prudent couple may also discern that they are being called to have another baby, and use right means (the marital act) to achieve conception. Neither couple is "wrong" in what they choose to do, as long as their consciences are properly formed according to the Church, and they have done their utmost to discern God's will for their lives. Some may not know if they have discerned correctly until Judgement Day.

HV 10 continues,
Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.
The Church tells us we need to keep a right order of priorities, and then gives us those priorities AND their proper order!  God, ourselves, our families, and human society. Notice that "having another baby" does not top that list. Nor is it #2. If a woman has a grave health risk in which pregnancy could cause grave harm or even death, she is not required to try to conceive again in the hopes that everything will turn out all right.

For example, look at the story of Andrea Yates. She had severe PPD/PPP after her first several pregnancies, and her doctor had warned her that she needed to get serious treatment before having another baby, but she conceived anyway. The result was tragedy.

We are reminded that we have to conform all of our actions to God's will:
From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.
Paul VI had already promulgated this teaching in Gaudiem et Spes, several years earlier:
Let [parents] thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. 
This is what Pope Francis was referring to when he told reporters that the Church does NOT instruct us to "be like rabbits" (and he apologized for using that phrase -- he too understands how demeaning it is toward faithful Catholic couples).

Rabbits do not care about the objective moral order. Rabbits do not stop to question their consciences before engaging in intercourse. Rabbits do not have a right order of priorities.

Rabbits are not bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the creator.

We are not to be like rabbits, mindlessly using our bodies without also engaging our human reason. That soundbyte, however, doesn't garner the amount of clicks that "Pope says Catholics shouldn't breed like rabbits" does.

Large Families and Responsible Parenthood

Finally, I'd like to point out something else Paul VI said in Gaudiem et Spes:
Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.
Note that Paul VI did not say the people who merit special mention are "those who just have baby after baby after baby without any regard to the conditions I just discussed." Catholics are encouraged to have large families, but only if, after "wise and common deliberation," they feel they are called to do so.

Given these precepts, let's look at the example Pope Francis himself used. He spoke of a woman who'd had seven C-sections and was pregnant with her eighth child. Here is exactly what he said:
This doesn't mean that the Christian must make children "in series." I met a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant with her eighth child, who had had seven C-sections. But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God. I speak of responsible paternity. This is the way, a responsible paternity.
We don't have all the details because Pope Francis did not give them, but we know he was concerned enough about her situation to use her story as a caution to others.

It seems safe to assume that she had some health problems that made deliberately achieving another pregnancy very imprudent, or lived in an area of the country that made having a C-section much more dangerous and risky than it is in the United States.

I say "deliberately" because I doubt Pope Francis would have used her story if she'd been trying to avoid pregnancy but was victim to the failure rate of NFP; he speaks of "tempting God," which seems to imply that the woman in question became pregnant deliberately, and rationalized her decision by stating she would trust God to save her from the consequences of a poor choice.

It seems also safe to assume, given that he prefaced the remark by stating that Christians do not have to have children "in series," that this woman was of the providentalist mindset (e.g., couples who make no attempt to space pregnancies because they feel it is inherently wrong to do so).

As Pope Francis expressed concern that this woman would lose her own life as well as orphan her seven older children, it seems he was reminding the Catholic faithful that our discernment must, as Gaudiem et Spes says, "...thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring."

Trusting God versus Tempting God

Remember that we have free will. We can choose to have sex, and a baby might result from that decision. That does not mean the decision corresponds to the will of God. To make the claim, "Well, if you do conceive that means God willed it to happen" can set a dangerous precedent. For example, it could lead to claiming that since babies are conceived via immoral means like IVF, or even rape, those means are therefore good. But while the end might be an objectively good thing (a new human life), the means to that end are not always moral or in accordance with God's will.

God's ways are mysterious. He can bring good out of our own bad decisions and bad situations. There are many women who discerned they should not conceive due to grave health reasons but who unintentionally conceived anyway. In cases like these, intent matters. The women were not trying to be reckless or imprudent or tempt God; they were trying to act according to the precepts of responsible parenthood. But that is simply the nature of our fallen world -- sometimes we can act as virtuously as we can and yet things still go wrong. (That's not to say the child is wrong, merely the situation.) In those cases, all we can do is trust God that there is a larger plan, and that He will bring good out of whatever bad situations we find ourselves in, whether or not those situations are the result of our own bad choices. Easier said than done, right?

However, we need to make the distinction between trusting God and tempting God. We trust God to take care of us, but in turn God trusts US to discern wisely and try our hardest to make decisions that are in conformity to His will -- and He trusts us to be both prudent and generous when it comes to our family size.

We tempt God when we make decisions that are reckless or irresponsible, especially if we make those decisions on the basis of trusting God to protect us from the consequences of our actions -- which He doesn't always do. I can't throw myself off a cliff and trust God to save me. He will allow me to suffer the consequences of my own bad choices, even if He chooses to somehow bring good out of them.

In Conclusion

Pope Francis hasn't taught anything new. Many people on Facebook, blogs, etc. are complaining that the media misrepresentation of his remarks means they will be inundated with comments from relatives and others telling them that they don't have to have a large family, the Pope said so! Yes, and those same people probably told you that Pope Benedict said you could use condoms, too. These days, this kind of thing is part and parcel of being Catholic. All we can do is look at it as an opportunity to evangelize to our family and correct misconceptions about Catholic teaching at the same time.

Okay? Okay. Now, go forth and multiply...

....prudently, generously, and in conformity with the will of God.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Shameless Photo Brag

On the day after Thanksgiving, I hired a photographer to do a mini-session with the kids at a local park for Christmas cards (20 minute session and 15 digital pictures for $50 plus a print release). I love how they turned out! Peter was so fascinated with the grass that it was hard to get him to look at the camera, let alone smile, but we managed it for his solo pictures (I started clapping and he thought that was hilarious).

Photos by Beckee Szumski Photography.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Give Yourself the Gift of "A Christmas Carol"!

Have you ever read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens? I'm not talking about seeing a movie version - have you ever read the classic Dickens novella?

You haven't?

Or maybe you have and it's been a long time?

Regardless, do yourself a favor and give yourself the gift of "A Christmas Carol" this holiday season! It's a perennial favorite that never gets old or tiresome.
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!" -- Scrooge's nephew, Fred
Here is version that is free on Kindle.

Here are several different text versions from Project Gutenberg.

There is a free, unabridged audiobook version here: Dramatized version of "A Christmas Carol" at Librivox

If dramatized readings (where different narrators play different parts) aren't your style, Librivox has several different solo readings. This is my favorite.
"Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see." - Bob Cratchit
This is an abridged version of A Christmas Carol read by Sir Patrick Stewart. (It's also available on iTunes, which is where I bought my copy.) He traveled around the country doing this as a one-man show at one time, so it's an excellent listening (and very reminiscent of the movie version that he starred in, which is my personal favorite). I just wish it wasn't abridged because the story in its entirety is so delightful.

Here is an audiobook version, unabridged, read by Tim Curry. I've never listened to it but it's on my wish list.

Whichever you choose, enjoy!
"And God bless us, every one!" - Tiny Tim