Tuesday, July 24, 2012

John's blogging!

I am at my grandma's house.  It's occupied at the moment by her, my parents, my four younger siblings, my older brother, me, my two boys, my grandpa on the other side, and his friend.  (The latter two staying on an RV ... the house only has four bedrooms!)  Things are busy.  Marko goes between loving every minute and howling and begging to go home.

I'll have to do a real blog post when I have more time, but for now, you should go see John's blog.  He's begun posting again after a long gap.  As usual, he blogs less often, but much better, than I do.  Recent posts include an open letter to homosexuals (expressing ideas I also share about charity and kindness from a Catholic to people who don't share our moral beliefs), a funny post about distractions at Mass, and a post about his dad that made most people who read it cry.  Read it at

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Preparing for travel

Whenever we have a big new experience coming up, I like to talk it over with Marko.  I remember being in something of a fog in some of my childhood experiences just because SO MANY new things were happening and I had no idea what anything was called.  I now know that's partly because I'm highly sensitive, but I'm sure it can't hurt to prepare any child for a new experience.

We'll be flying to Washington State to see my family for the first time in two years.  (They are visiting from Korea, and we'll all get together at my grandma's house.)  John can't come so it's just me and the two kids.  I am either brave or stupid.  But I figured putting this trip off would only make it more difficult ... at least Marko is still in diapers (imagine having to run to the tiny bathroom every hour!) and Michael is still very much a lap baby.

Here are some excerpts, as best I remember them, from my conversations about it with Marko.

Me: Would you like to go on an airplane?

Marko: YES!

Me:  Well, we're going to!  We're going to visit Great-Grandma.

Marko:   YES!

Me:  First, we'll get up early in the morning.  Then, we'll drive to the airport.  Then we'll get out of the car and go inside.  (He's been to the airport before to drop off Daddy, but we don't usually go inside.)  You will ride in your stroller.  Michael will be in the wrap.  We will take our bags to the people at the airport, and they will put them in the plane for us.  Then we will go where there are some chairs, and wait for awhile for our plane to be ready.  Then it will be there, and we will get on it!

Marko: YES!

Me:  And so will all the other people.

Marko (dissolving into tears):  Nooooooo.... no other people .... just Mama and Marko and Michael in the plane.


Me:  When we're on the airplane, there will be seats just for us!  We will sit in them.  You won't have to sit in a carseat, you will get your own seatbelt.  You will have new toys to play with.

Marko:  YES!

Me:  And you will have a snack to eat!  What would you like to bring to eat on the plane?

Marko: Fishes.

Me:  That's a great idea.  We will bring some fishy crackers.  Then the plane will take off -- up, up, up -- high into the sky -- where the clouds are.

Marko: No.  You don't want to go where the clouds are.  The plane will take us to the library.  We will check out books.

Me: How about to Great Grandma's?

Marko:  Yes.


Me:  When we're on the plane, it will land on the ground.  We will get out and be in a different airport.  You will get back in your stroller and we will go to where our bags are.  Uncle David will be there and will help us with our bags.

Marko:  Noooooooooo!


Me:  Are you excited to see Great Grandma?

Marko: Yes.

Me: And Grandpa?

Marko: Yes.

Me: And Grandma?

Marko: Yes.

Me:  And Uncle Joseph?  And Uncle John Paul?  And Auntie Juliana?  And Uncle Charles?

Marko: Yes.

Me:  And Uncle David?

Marko: Yes.

Me:  Maybe we will swim in the pool while we are there.

Marko: Nooooooooo!  (Since our recent trip to the beach, he's been terrified of water.)

Me:  Or maybe we will pick blueberries.

Marko:  Yes.  We will walk outside, and pick blueberries, and eat them!  (He repeats this sentence for the rest of the day, leaving me mortally afraid that the blueberries won't be ripe and I'll have set him up for disappointment.)

We leave early in the morning, and I realize there's one thing I never mentioned.  He probably thinks we're going home the same day.  He's never slept away from home in his memory.  Miiiiight be a good thing to mention before he's exhausted and overstimulated and begs for home the way he does when we're out in the evening.  I think as soon as we get to my grandma's, I'll take him to wherever we'll be sleeping and introduce him to his new bed.  Then he'll know where to go if he gets tired or upset.  (Yes, he does seek out his bed when he's really worn out.  Or just to fling himself on dramatically.  I'm thinking "dramatically throwing oneself on one's bed" is actually a universal human instinct.  We all do it when we're really upset, or have done it when we were younger at least.  Are we seeking safety and security, or do we just know deep down that we're tired?)

You can see from this that there are a lot of things Marko is scared of.  I've always labeled him as "extroverted" and "fearless," but on the other hand he is very cautious about new things.  I have always just assumed this was normal behavior ... I mean, it would be silly to smile or wave at someone you don't know, or to jump into the ocean when you've never been there.  Marko is usually quite different in public than in private -- quieter and more well-behaved (thank goodness).  These are all things he has in common with me.  I talk a mile a minute pretty much always, but I take awhile to scope out new situations and I do get overstimulated with a lot of them.  (Flying has always been the WORST.  It's not the planes, I like those.  But airports are so CROWDED!)  I wonder if Marko has inherited my temperament, or whether he has learned these behaviors from me.  I know kids do pick up on nervousness a good deal more than you'd think.  I know he couldn't possibly have been such an early talker if I hadn't been nattering  his ear off since he came out of the womb.

Anyway, wish us luck.  I'll let you know how it goes.  If I arrive at my grandma's house with both kids intact, I'll think I've done well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Circumcision myths

Circumcision is in the news again, because of a judge in Germany who ruled it was illegal.  I'm still not sure how I feel about banning circumcision legally; on the one hand, I believe it is unjust to alter a child's body without his consent without grave need, but on the other I feel the law is a very clumsy tool for getting what you want, especially when opposed by religion.  That's the libertarian in me coming out.  But on the other hand, libertarianism is about giving liberty to adults, over their own bodies ... not about handing the rights of children over to someone else.  I go back and forth; it's a very tough call for me.

But in reading blog posts about this topic, I found myself getting frustrated for another reason.  The same myths keep getting tossed around about circumcision, and people just accept them.  I guess they assume people wouldn't speak with such assurance if they didn't know what they were talking about.  But ... let me just tell you ... they don't know what they're talking about.

Here are a few myths about circumcision that I saw bandied about.  [Warning: I do discuss medical details in this post.  It's my opinion that squeamishness about circumcision contributes to ignorance about it.  If it's too gross to read about, I think it should be too gross to do.  But I'm giving you fair warning: if you don't want to know the details, stop reading.]

Myth #1: "Better to get it done when they're younger -- circumcision is so much less complicated when done on an infant."

Fact: Circumcision is much more difficult and complicated when performed on an infant.  First, anesthesia is not always given to a baby, and when it is, it is not always effective.  It's unsafe to put the baby under, but with a local, you can't be sure the area is completely numb.  Think about it -- how do they test a local anesthetic?  Normally, touch you with ice and ask you if you felt that.  If you're a baby, you can't answer.  An adult is normally completely numb for a circumcision.

Second, a baby's foreskin is not yet retractable.  It is fused to the glans, in a similar way as your fingernails are fused to the finger.  So in addition to the cutting we think of, there is also the extremely painful procedure of tearing the foreskin from the glans.  An adult's foreskin is retractable and may simply be cut and removed.

Third, a baby's penis is very tiny -- less than two inches long.  It's much easier to make mistakes on such a tiny organ, which is why we occasionally read about baby boys losing their glans or entire penis to a slip of a scalpel.  It's not always clear where the foreskin ends and the rest of the penile skin begins -- so there is a lot of variation in how circumcisions are done: some painfully tight and some rather loose.  On an adult, the demarcation is clear and a man can choose beforehand how much skin he wants removed.

Fourth, an adult man can spend his recovery period keeping the area scrupulously clean and taking vicodin. He will immediately notice any complication.  An infant's surgical site is inside a diaper, which invariably will be wet or dirty sometimes.  His parents may not notice an unusual appearance until some time has past.  And only a few ounces of bleeding is enough to kill a newborn -- an amount easily concealed in a disposable diaper.

There is no risk whatsoever in delaying circumcision till adulthood -- except, of course, the risk that a man wouldn't do that to himself if the choice were left up to him.  In which case it is rather strange to do it on him before he is able to withhold consent, if we suspect he would withhold consent if he could speak.

Myth #2:  "Male circumcision is nothing like female circumcision.  Female circumcision is much more drastic."

Fact:  Actually, it depends.  There are three types of female circumcision.  The most drastic is indeed a more serious affair than male circumcision: the entire clitoris is removed, and often the labia are as well and the vagina is stitched half-closed.  This is extremely brutal and causes pain later in life.  However, the more common form of female circumcision is the removal of part or all of the clitoral hood, which is the same basic body part (called the prepuce) as the foreskin on a man.  This is not done to destroy all sexual pleasure, but for mainly aesthetic purposes.  Some women who advocate it claim it is more hygienic and increases sexual pleasure.  The least drastic form of female circumcision is a "ritual nick" which does not leave any permanent change in appearance.  ALL of these forms of genital cutting are illegal in the US, even though some religions insist on them.  Boys do not have the same protection under the law as girls do.

Myth #3:  "Doctors recommend circumcision for health reasons."

Fact: Some individual doctors may recommend circumcision based on their own opinions.  But no medical association in America recommends it officially.  The AAP's statement on the matter is that there is insufficient medical cause to recommend routine infant circumcision, and that the parents can make the decision for their own cultural reasons.

Myth #4:  "Most Christian men are circumcised, even though our religion doesn't require it."

Fact: Worldwide, circumcision is religiously based.  In Muslim countries and in Israel, nearly all men are circumcised.  In Africa, certain tribes practice circumcision as well.  Aside from these countries, hardly any men are circumcised.  Rates are low in Europe and are easily accounted for by assuming Jews and Muslims are circumcised, and Christians are intact.  Routine infant circumcision among Christians is mostly limited to English-speaking countries, and rates are falling fast even there.  Circumcision is becoming uncommon in Canada, Britain, and Australia.  Even in America, less than half of baby boys are circumcised now.

Seriously, I have no problem with people debating the role of government and the rights of religious groups.  That's a valid debate and I hope to continue following it in the hopes of coming to some opinion myself.  But I wish people would stop spouting ignorance about circumcision.  The whole internet is wide open -- it's not hard to find this stuff out.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Recently I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Stop Talking.  I had read about it online and was looking for some help with two things: first, understanding my introverted husband; and second, figuring out once and for all whether I'm an introvert or not.

Honestly, I had no success with the second one.  Some of the descriptions of introverts sounded like me, and some didn't.  I did find out there's a type called "ambivert" that's in between, but not much was said about this.  I mainly lean toward the idea that I'm a little more extroverted than otherwise, but I'm still not sure.

I have to say right out that I LOVED this book.  I plowed through it in a few short days and kept reading passages out loud to my husband.  It's full of actual studies of various kinds: from experiments in the world of business to neurological studies.  So there is little the author allows to stand without proof.

Here are a few of the neatest things I learned from this book.

First, I learned that introversion is at least mostly genetic.  Because of this fact, and the further fact that extroverts are the most likely members of a tribe or group to leave home and explore new lands, introverts are not evenly distributed worldwide.  There are significantly more introverts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asian, and fewer in Europe and the New World.  America is the most extroverted country in the world, with only one in five of us being introverted.

Partly because of this fact, and partly because of developments in the last century that have favored those with "magnetic, outgoing personalities" (think of how many jobs today are based on sales or customer service, compared to the farming economy of 150 years ago), our country is mainly run by extroverts.  Business favors extroverts, but this is to its detriment.  Introverts are more cautious, so their input might have been very helpful in preventing the recent economic collapse.  (Warren Buffet's cautious introversion is cited as the reason he didn't lose his shirt in 2008 as so many others did.)  And when businesses use group meetings and brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas, an unfortunate effect occurs.  The extroverts, using their charisma and readiness to think and speak quickly, get their ideas heard and drown out the ideas of introverts.  As a result, eight people have fewer, worse ideas when working together than they would have if they worked separately.  Workplaces are also arranged for extroverts, with more and more offices switching to an "open plan" and having frequent meetings to interrupt the workday. 

The internet has been hugely instrumental in fixing this.  Online, introverts and extroverts can meet on an equal footing, so that the combined efforts of many result in true synergy instead of the selected opinions of a few.  Open-source programming and social media are good examples of this.  The author gives more ideas for how businesses can harness the power of their introverted workers before spending a chapter pointing out similar problems in evangelical churches.  (Here, I feel Catholics get a free pass.  Catholicism seems the ideal church for introverts ... you honestly can attend church for years without anyone intruding on your personal space or demanding you interact more.  In some ways we might be too introverted, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion.)

After that came the really cool part -- the neuroscience portion of the book.  We all assume we know what introversion is: it's when people are quiet or shy or prefer to be alone.  However, she argues that introversion is really better defined by a neurological sensitivity called "high reactivity."  This is drawn from a long-term study that followed children through their lives.  As babies, the children are exposed to strange smells and balloons popping.  As children, they see unfamiliar people or people in strange costumes.  Their reaction is measured -- did the babies laugh or watch passively, or did they go into hysterics at an unfamiliar sound?  Did the toddlers go up to the stranger, or melt down into sobs?  The ones who cried were labeled as "high reactive."  This strong reaction to the unfamiliar lasted throughout childhood and up into high school (when the study ended).  By that point, the "high reactive" children were almost exclusively recognizable as introverts.

Introverts don't hate talking or people.  They simply have a strong reaction to busy environments and unfamiliar stimuli.  That makes them choose to limit their exposure to strange or highly social experiences.  Some, in fact, might sell things or speak in public for a living -- but at the end of the day, they recharge with silence.  What keeps them away from crowds and parties isn't fear -- it's overstimulation.  Some might also be shy, but it is possible to be a shy extrovert, or an introvert who isn't shy at all.  When introverts are in busy situations, they tend to be quieter because they are spending all their energy observing the situation, not thinking of things to say.  Some introverts, however, learn with practice to appear extroverted and seem as social as those around them.  (Which is why people have exclaimed, "What?!  John is an introvert?"  I guess I'm perceptive that way ... I knew when I first met him that he wasn't as outgoing as he was making himself look, and I resolved to get to know him.  Look how that turned out.)

What are the special skills of introverts?  One is that they tend to listen and think carefully before making a decision.  On-the-spot judgments of extroverts may sound good when they describe them, but they may not always be the most prudent choice.  Extroverts should listen carefully to the introverts around them to find flaws in their thinking.  Introverts also tend to be good at practicing diligently.  The best way to acquire any skill is by practicing it over and over, alone so that you can focus on the areas you have trouble with.  This is something that introverted violinists, athletes, and even computer programmers benefit from.  They have the patience to put in the lonely hours of practice required to get really good at something.  (At this point I think of my college roommate and dear friend, who thought nothing of practicing piano for hours and hours, or editing the same essay over and over.  Her hard work always paid off in superlative results.)  In social situations, introverts have the skill of listening, which can result in introverts who are excellent therapists or even salesmen.

There was a chapter spent on a concept called "sensitivity," which sounded very similar to high reactivity to me.  The highly sensitive person is both sensorily and emotionally sensitive.  They literally feel things more intensely than others -- from pain to noise to joy.  Most are introverted, but about a third are extroverted.  This group actually did sound a lot like me.  Highly sensitive children have such a strong sense of conscience they may feel guilty about very small things (for instance, as a child I felt guilty for liking my right foot more than my left, and tried to reassure my left foot that I still did love it too).  They attribute emotions to animals, plants, and even objects (like I did with my feet, and also pretty much every toy I ever owned).  They are so perceptive of emotion that they become strongly upset when anyone around them is sad or angry.  In the past I have described this as being "empathetic to a fault."  When anyone around me was fighting, when I was a kid, I would go to my room and cry, regardless of whether it had anything to do with me.  Lately I've seen Marko do it too ... he will break into sobs if he sees an angry look on anyone's face.  (I am not sure yet if he's sensitive or if it's just a stage he's currently in.)  As an adult, I now can moderate or just hide my own emotions, but I am still extremely perceptive of the feelings of others.  I believe this makes me a better mom, as I really do feel the way my children feel, so that it's easy for me to empathize and help them work through those feelings.

There were more character traits discussed as well.  For instance, there was a section on motivation.  Some people are motivated by reward (they will do anything to get a prize), some by threat (they will work hard out of fear that something bad will happen), some by both, and some by neither.  I myself am not strongly motivated by either reward or threat; for me it's all about the journey and if I don't find a way to enjoy something, it's very hard to get myself to do it.  Luckily I do have the ability to enjoy almost anything.  Marko, on the other hand, I can tell is motivated by reward.  When he is bored, being yelled at by me or scratched by the cat is a reward to him, because it alleviates his boredom.  The risk that he might be hurt is negligible to him.  Which is one reason why I don't think spanking would do a lick of good for him, if you pardon the pun.

Another interesting dichotomy was the ability or inability to self-monitor.  A person who can self-monitor is able to realize what he looks like to others and adapt his behavior accordingly.  He can see himself as if from the outside.  These people have the ability to argue in favor of an opinion they don't actually hold, or appear to be a different personality type than they are.  John has this ability in spades.  I have basically zero.  I never know how I'm coming across to people, and I wear my heart on my sleeve.  When I'm with others, I don't really have the ability to step back, pause, and consider how I appear ... I get overwhelmed and caught up in the moment and often end up putting my foot in my mouth.  I was inspired a little by this part to work on this skill (it is a skill one may acquire based on effort or circumstances, not necessarily an inborn trait).  But there was a warning given that self-monitoring is tiring.  An introverted person who uses this skill to do an extroverted job, like teaching or acting, should plan for lots of downtime to relax and return to his more comfortable mode of being.  (I see now why John was always so exhausted working as a bank teller, and never wanted to talk much when he got home.)

The section on raising introverted children was especially interesting to me.  If the experiment on reactivity holds true for my kids, Marko is extroverted and Michael is introverted.  I suppose time will tell with those two, but Michael is definitely much more reactive to stimuli like an unfamiliar noise or environment.  Marko loved going to school with me and seeing dozens of unfamiliar faces every day.  Michael bursts into sobs if the dog rattles his kennel or Marko drops something.  (The sound of Marko wailing in a tantrum, however, is so familiar to him we might as well put it on a white noise machine to help him sleep, haha.)  The author's advice was to encourage introverted kids to try new things, but not to push them into them before they're ready.  Go ahead and take them to play groups, but don't worry if they hang back on the edge of the group for awhile.  Let them practice and master a skill before being expected to show it off.  Don't give them grief for not being hugely popular or hanging out with friends every afternoon; accept their need to unwind with some quiet after school or social events.  She talked a little about how schools are catering more and more to extroverts, through constant group work and a very busy environment.  That made me glad we're homeschooling.  We can help our kids find the balance of social and quiet time that works for each of them.

That is only the tip of the iceberg of cool stuff I learned from this book.  I'd highly recommend it to everyone, because if you're not an introvert, odds are you know several of them either in your family or at work.  And our society needs the special contribution of introverts.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

My past, part X

Previous post here.

The next year and a half I spent going through my old experiences and actually letting myself question and doubt them.  I had, in the past, googled "Legionaries of Christ" to try to find my favorite meditation pages... only to find that several of the top ten links were anti-Legion websites.  At the time I had been horrified to find out that "we had so many enemies."  It seemed then that it would be a sin of doubt to click on those links.  But now, with RC no longer having any hold on me, I went back and found all those sites.  I read testimony after testimony on the various forums I found.  And it all made so much sense.  Every negative experience I had had wasn't an isolated problem, or a problem with me.  It was an institutional problem, happening over and over to various people.  Former consecrated told of physical and mental breakdowns they'd had, after years of being driven to the breaking point, and how the second they were no longer able to work, they were sent home and told "you do not have a vocation."  Years and even decades of their lives were gone, with nothing to show for it ... not even a hundred dollars to find a place to stay while they looked for a job.  Former legionary priests told worse stories, stories of physical and sexual abuse ... things I never would have believed before, but told with such simple straightforwardness I felt inclined to trust what they said.  Many, many of these people had left the priesthood and their faith.

I joined the forums and started to admit, quietly, in bits and pieces, that I had been mistreated in various ways too.  Before I had thought of everything as "just being really strict," but I began to see that the way I was treated was a methodical attempt to "form" me in the Regnum Christi way.  I also saw that this method of formation had been really damaging, and not respectful of me as a person.  True, no one had ever laid a hand on me.  But they hadn't had to.  They manipulated me through the rationing of emotional comfort -- lots of "love-bombing" in the summer program, isolation from my companions, dependence on one spiritual director for any approval or consolation, and having that one person tear me down mercilessly if I failed to fit the mold they had planned for me.  And this is what they did to everyone.  They methodically deconstructed our personalities in order to build a new thing, the "Woman of the Kingdom."  And if, after having destroyed us, they found we were not fit material for what they wanted to build, they tossed us out, broken.  And every bit of it was just so that a Mexican philanderer could surround himself with the sort of people who would raise money and wouldn't ask questions.

Facing this reality was very hard for me.  I looked at what I had been before going in -- happy-go-lucky, vivacious, outgoing -- and at what I was now: indecisive, a little shy, waiting for others to tell me what I was supposed to be, do, and think.  I didn't want to change this much! I wanted to shout.  But I didn't know how to go back to what I had been before, especially because I didn't want to go back to being thirteen.  I had missed a normal adolescence, and had developed in a totally different direction than I probably would have otherwise.  And yet, for better or for worse, it had made me into the person I was.  Did I really want to change that?

At this time, John and I were engaged, and I felt I really had to sort through all this before getting married.  Our engagement was rough.  I was terrified that maybe I wasn't myself, that John had fallen for someone who wasn't really me, and that maybe we would be miserable together once I got in touch with my "real self."  I was scared he would boss me around like my formators had, try to make me into something else, and I would go along with it because I no longer had the sort of boundaries that would keep that from happening.  Every time he made the slightest criticism of me or gave me any advice, I would fall to pieces because I felt like I was back in high school ... powerless, incapable of answering back.

A few things helped me through.  One of them was finding, through Facebook, a girl I had very much liked and looked up to back in the day.  We made a phone date, and ended up talking for hours.  She was able to help me revise so many of my memories.  I would tell her, "I was sure you all looked down on me," and she could answer, "No, we all liked you a lot!  We just wondered why the consecrated picked on you so much, because it was obvious you were sweet and were trying so hard."  Or I would say, "I was so lonely, I thought no one cared," and she would say, "I tried so hard to keep you from feeling that way.  I would make your bed and bring up your laundry for you, because I knew you were feeling sad."  That was incredibly healing.

The other thing was the ex-legionary forum I had discovered.  I spent a ton of time on it, reading the stories, sharing my own.  No one around me understood my obsession.  They felt it was unhealthy and that I should just get over it.  But I felt a deep need to really pick my experience to pieces, to let myself be angry about it, to find out the reasons for things.  I went into a very dark place for awhile, but awhile before my wedding, I did pull out of it again, feeling much better than I had in years.  I still wasn't sure what I wanted to be.  But I was okay with figuring that out one bit at a time.

Sadly, the forum was shut down around that time.  They had posted excerpts from the Legionary statutes, which were secret and not released to anyone outside the order.  (And for good reason.  A reading of the statutes would turn anyone off of joining.)  The Legion sued to prevent them from releasing the "confidential" material, and the forum didn't have the money to survive in court against them.  I feel fortunate that I was able to learn all I did from it when I did.  Many of my old companions had no one to talk to about their experiences until we started our Facebook group two months ago.

Currently, the Legion and Regnum Christi are undergoing a visitation by the Vatican to determine what steps need to be taken to reform them.  Many have left, but many still remain inside, convinced that they will be able to remove from their organization everything that Maciel put into it.  I myself have my doubts.  For one thing, how do you reform something that is rotten to the core, that only existed as a cover for a sociopath?  And for another, the voices I'm hearing from inside still sound like the voices from the past.  No one wants to speak up, to say anything remotely negative, to admit to the bad.  They just want to be done with this reform so they can get back to work ... whatever their work is to be.  I can hardly blame them.  They've been "formed" just like I was, to ignore criticism, to speak positively, to keep their eyes facing forward, to squash all doubts.  They're insulted if you call it brainwashing, but having undergone it, I think that's pretty much what it is.  On top of all this, the leadership, apart from Maciel, hasn't changed.  The same people are in charge as always were.  And if you believe that Maciel abused at least 20 boys, kept two mistresses, and made off with millions in donation money without anyone ever finding out about it or helping cover it up ... well, I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.

My opinion is simple: I want to see the Legion and Regnum Christi disappear.  It doesn't have to be overnight.  Have them stop accepting new vocations, and shut down their schools.  Give them work to do in the parishes, supervised by others outside the movement.  Remove the current leadership and replace it with someone from outside.  Allow anyone who wants to, to leave and join a new order.  In a few decades, it will have died out.  Without the patina of being the "perfect Catholic order" with no sinners and no flaws, it isn't going to attract so many people or so much money anyway.

Of course the Vatican has not asked for my opinion.  They're keeping their cards close to the chest for now, and we'll see what happens.  I hope they make the right call and do not allow this movement to lead anyone else astray.

But as for me -- I'm enjoying life as a plain old Catholic, trying to re-learn how to pray, and loving the vocation that I'm in.  Being a mother has healed me in so many ways.  I no longer get too upset about my past.  It was what it was, it made me who I am today, but it doesn't predict who I will be tomorrow.  That is of my own choosing.  I am free now.


My past, part IX

Continued from here.

I arrived at college as avid an RC member as ever.  My roommate was RC also, and we intended to support each other.  That was tested right away, as we found out that our college had banned Regnum Christi from campus and would not allow Legionary priests on campus either.  (At the time this was very puzzling to me.  Who could possibly object to RC, especially on   Our nearest RC center was hours away.  And worst of all, when we called the consecrated there and asked if they would be willing to come to our area ever, they told us, "Start a team yourselves.  When you have a flourishing team, we'll come do a retreat for them.  But it's not worth it to come out for just you two.  Don't ask us to do anything for you -- ask what you can do to start RC on your campus."

That was yet another nail in the coffin for me.  Ever since I'd arrived home, I'd been discovering more and more that all that about being "special" or "extra valuable" was a lie.  My value was determined by what I had already done, without help.  I had expected to be given some training or guidance before being given an apostolic responsibility, but that never happened.  Instead I would be told "Start a girls' club" or "Start an RC team."

My roommate and I batted the idea around of starting a team, but both of us are a little shy, we were new on campus, and we didn't want to make waves.  Neither  of us "recruited" anyone.  So no consecrated ever came.

I spent a little time trying to impress a boy who was rumored to be in Regnum Christi, but it didn't really work out.  He was a nice guy, but not at all sure what he wanted to do with his life, and not actually involved in RC either.  Besides, I was too busy hanging out with a guy in whom I was emphatically NOT interested in, but couldn't seem to stay away from, named John.

I was delighted to find that one of my old classmates had arrived at the same college as I had.  That brought the total of former precandidates I knew up to two (another I had run into at a retreat, and we emailed from time to time).  We talked a bit about our experiences, but weren't really sure what else to say except "Those were the good old days."  My email buddy kept telling me I should join this website called "Face Book" where I might be able to get in touch more of us.  I put it off for over a year, though.  I was just busy having a good time at college.

A "good time" in my dictionary meant studying hard, waking up at six to do my prayer commitments, going to bed at 10 p.m., and being friends equally with everyone.  "Particular friendships" are bad, right?  By my second year of college, I had slacked off on my prayer commitments (shoving them in in the bare minimum of time right before bed), was staying up till midnight, and decided that particular friendships were a good thing after all.  My attempts to befriend an entire college class, even at a small college like mine, just wore me out and left me feeling that I had no real friends.  I didn't need any for myself, but it upset me to find out long after the fact that this or that "friend" of mine had been going through a hard time, and I hadn't been there for her because I was too busy with one of my other fifty friends.  I really only had two friends still -- this lanky, sarcastic guy I couldn't stop hanging out with, and my roommate.  So in sophomore year I chose a group of friends I got along with well and stopped trying to keep up with everyone.  It worked better.

John was kind of the opposite of everything I'd ever been taught in Regnum Christi.  The cardinal rule, don't say negative things, didn't even matter to him.  He freely criticized everyone he wanted -- the college administration, bishops, his friends.  His criticism was always true and often very well-reasoned, so I couldn't exactly argue.  But it made me uncomfortable.  I was also uncomfortable with his traditionalist views.  He went to the Latin Mass, and I was sure there must be something wrong with that.

Meanwhile, he was rather edgy about my involvement with Regnum Christi.  For a long time he didn't bring it up, but finally he asked me about it.  He told me he was suspicious of them because of a bad experience a family friend had had at a Legionary school.  I listened to the story, and all I could say was, "I'm sure it wasn't that bad, someone must have misinterpreted something."  Because obviously the Legionaries never lied.  Still, it made me uncomfortable, because the story (which I'm  not sharing here because it's not my story) did seem kind of credible, and John was quite sure of the facts of it.  I just shrugged it off.

Another year went by, as I reached my junior year.  I went to Rome, saw the Pope, and learned a lot.  But I was getting tired of being in Regnum Christi.  It offered me nothing, while I had nothing to give it.  My prayer commitments were the only thing left, and I found them exhausting.  It wasn't a lot -- 15 minutes of meditation, a daily rosary, and a couple of brief prayers.  But I had gone through the whole Gospel in my meditations at least twice, and found myself coming up dry when it came to finding something to pray about.  And I couldn't pray with others, despite the many opportunities to pray in the Rome program.  RC teaches very specific forms of prayer, down to a special way of saying the Rosary, so that my prayer commitments weren't fulfilled by what my classmates were doing together.  I could do both, but didn't have the energy, so I would bow out and pray alone.  And that was just depressing.  I longed to leave, but felt I had the duty to stay because I had made a promise.

When I came back from Rome and spent Christmas at home, I went on my required yearly RC retreat.  It was balm to my soul, being around all these nice girls.  But it didn't do away with my doubts.  In spiritual direction, I confided to the consecrated, whom I'd never met before, that I wished I had never incorporated.  She told me to spend a year praying about it, which I agreed to do.  But in my heart, I already had one foot out the door.  Regnum Christi just felt like a millstone around my neck at that point -- though I still believed it was great for other people.  It just didn't feel right for me.  I didn't talk with others about it much.  If my boarding school experiences ever came up, I'd just say, "It was great, strict, but made me who I am today.  The vocation just wasn't for me, I guess."  As time went on, I felt very thankful that I hadn't gotten consecrated, because I could clearly see how much happier I was outside of that environment.  But I was sure the "kind of hard time I had there" was just because it wasn't for me, and that everyone else had been happy.

The only person I told about my decision right away was my roommate.  Though she was still happy in Regnum Christi, she didn't judge me at all.  She was happy for me and we stayed as good friends as ever.  This was a huge relief, because it seemed to me RC people kept to themselves a lot.  (And all my other RC friends pretty much dropped me once I stopped showing up to retreats.  But it wasn't a big deal to me because we hadn't been close.)

During my year of discernment, a news story came out that Pope Benedict, almost immediately after taking office, had disciplined Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries and Regnum Christi.  There had been accusations of misconduct, but there wouldn't be an inquiry because of his advanced age.  He was asked to retire from public life and live a life of prayer and penance.

The accusations weren't a surprise to me.  I had been told many times that Maciel had been accused of "horrible things" by "jealous people."  He'd been kicked out of seminary more than once, and only managed to be ordained because his uncle was a bishop.  (Jealous bishops who didn't like him standing out by his extraordinary sanctity.)  And he'd been suspended from leadership in the 50's (a time we called the Great Blessing) while the Legion was investigated.  (Those jealous people strike again.)  Nothing bad was discovered at all -- the saintly seminarians virtuously didn't let a negative word about Maciel pass their lips, and they snuck out of the city to have spiritual direction with him in secret.  (Why did this not give me red flags?!)  Maciel had been accused of breaking every one of the ten commandments (said with a little laugh).  Surely if the accusers had wanted to be even remotely credible, they wouldn't have made such extreme claims.  If he had done all those bad things (not specified, because we were tender plants and shouldn't hear such scandalous slander), surely someone, in all those years, would have noticed.

John, who had been silent on the matter of Regnum Christi since our conversation over a year before, pointed the article out to me.  "Oh, I knew there had been accusations," I said.  "And it doesn't say he's guilty."  John pointed out that this was Pope Benedict -- who had been head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for years.  He was a smart guy.  He knew what was what in the Vatican.  And he wouldn't make this sort of move lightly.  There had to be at least a credible accusation for him to do something like this.

I admitted that he was right.  There must be some new information Benedict had that I didn't.  My next visit home was coming up, and I had a Regnum Christ retreat planned.  Surely the whole thing would be explained to everyone's satisfaction.

There was definitely an anxious atmosphere in the air as we waited for the consecrated to explain everything.  But all they did was tell us the press release the Legionary leadership had published: "Facing the accusations made against him, he declared his innocence and, following the example of Jesus Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way. . . . Fr. Maciel, with the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him, he has accepted this communique with faith, complete serenity and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement."

I was flabbergasted.  Weren't we owed at least an explanation?  The whole rest of the talk was dedicated to how we would deal with this new "persecution" and how hard it was to have to hear our beloved founder slandered.  There were hints that John Paul II would never have done something like this, and that while we respect the Pope as Pope, we don't have to agree with everything he does.  Someone must have been influencing him, so that he didn't know the whole story.

The whole thing looked to me like a load of BS.  Pope Benedict, back when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger, knew everything that was going on in the Vatican.  And word on the street was that he had planned this for a long time.  There had to be an explanation of some kind.  But Maciel wasn't giving one.  I felt that we were owed an explanation.  Not defending himself was a cop-out.  With thousands of followers looking to him, he owed us more than that.  I didn't think he was guilty.  But I had to admit that his response sounded guilty.  It didn't sound right.  In my mind, I began to consider that he might actually have done something wrong.

I caught my spiritual director immediately after the talk.  "Can we talk -- even for five minutes?" I asked.  "No," she said right away, "I just came for this talk and have to leave right away."  Disappointed, I turned away, but I was still close enough to hear someone else approach her.  "Do you have a minute?" this other woman asked.  "Sure, come over here," the consecrated woman answered.

I felt that sinking feeling again.  Yet again, I was getting the impression that I wasn't of any value to these people.  They had ranked me as a second-class RC member and I wasn't worth their time.  Especially now, when I'd already talked about leaving ... they assumed I was already out the door and there was no point talking to me anymore.

Which, by that point, there wasn't.  I was out of there.  I stopped doing my RC prayer commitments right after that.  At the end of the year, I called my spiritual director and told her I was leaving RC.  She said that she was happy for me, and that RC wasn't for everyone.  The call lasted ten minutes, and I hung up with a feeling of great relief.  I was supposed to write a letter to the general director, but I didn't bother.  I didn't feel I had to ask permission of anyone anymore.  I was free.

It was only a few months after this that Maciel died.  I didn't really care much about that; he wasn't "my" founder anymore.  But I soon heard the news that, after his death, his illegitimate children came forward and the Legion was forced to confess that their founder had lived a double life.  He had mistresses, several children, and luxurious houses and apartments.  When he would randomly not show up where he was expected, or go on long "fundraising trips" by himself ... he was visiting them.

No one was admitting yet to the pedophilia accusations, or the accusations of drug addiction.  But at that point most people acknowledged that these were probably true too.  If he was a liar of that degree, why not?  At this point I guess the Legion has admitted to those charges too, and has apologized to the victims for the decades of slander and attempts to discredit them.

Regnum Christi members around the world were shocked, scandalized, horrified.  They met together to try to sort out what had happened to them; how they were led to regard this man as a living saint, only to be betrayed by him.  But I only felt a huge sense of relief.  I was right, I thought.  I did the right thing.  

To be continued ...

A few summer treats

Is it just me, or does everyone suddenly have more zucchini than they know what to do with?

I got two big zucchini from a friend a little bit ago, so I've been testing different recipes with it.  I don't actually like zucchini, as a general rule, so it's been fun trying to see how I do like to eat it.

First was zucchini falafel.  You just take shredded zucchini (shredded on a box grater or in the food processor) and sub it in for chickpeas in falafel.  I added salt, garlic powder, and cumin, plus enough flour to make it a doughlike consistency.  (For a mid-size zucchini, maybe 1/4 cup.)  Then I cooked it in my hot cast-iron pan in a bit of olive oil.  It wasn't as delicious as real falafel -- more chewy, less crunchy -- but it was quite good.  Especially considering it's zucchini!

Then this morning, I adjusted my applesauce cookie recipe to make zucchini cookies.

Zucchini Cookies

1 cup shredded zucchini
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour (whole wheat or white)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
(1/2 cup chopped nuts)
(1/2 cup raisins)

First mix the wet ingredients together, then the dry, then mix together.  Cook in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.  To make applesauce cookies instead, use 1 cup applesauce in place of the zucchini AND the sugar.  I think applesauce is sweet enough as-is.

Another new development is my first cucumbers.  I am so excited because I love cucumbers.  I wasn't quite sure when to harvest them, because they kept getting bigger and less green, but they still had little spines on them.  Eventually I just picked them, spines and all, and peeled them.  My first bite of the first cucumber made me think, "Uh-oh, it must be overmature," because it was bitter.  But once I got past the stem end of the cucumber, it was the sweetest cucumber I'd ever tasted.  The variety is called Delicatesse.  I'd better save seed from them -- they're a keeper.  Took no particular effort to grow, either.

With that first cucumber I made a cucumber-mint smoothie.  It reminded me a bit of a Starbucks green tea frappecino ... which happens to be my favorite drink ever.  I grated the cucumber and stuck it in the freezer a couple hours to get half-frozen.  Then I blended it with several mint leaves and about 1/4 cup of plain yogurt, with a little squirt of honey to sweeten it.  Now I'm thinking I want to make another one, but with green tea added.  Doesn't that just sound delicious and summery?

Now if only my tomatoes will get ripe ... I have dozens of green ones and check them every day, hoping I can stop eating grocery-store softballs and actually eat a REAL tomato again!
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