The “Social Mortal Sins” of My Youth

    Can you picture Julie Andrews singing “These are a few of my most hated things”?    I don’t know how it would fit rhythmically, but perhaps leading the way and certainly worse than bee stings (though dog bites might be worse), could be election year ads by Democrats.   Promoting immorality with regularity is their forte.   In the mail, in newspapers, on TV and radio, there they are telling us how the other candidate would, of all horrible things, limit the birth control options for women and their freedom to abort.    Both these, of course, fall under women’s health care.   Nothing like a good dose of carcinogenic pills and invasive murderous procedures to put that healthy glow on the face of females.

    This may seem disconnected, but I am now going to talk about terrible things I did in my youth.   Could be interesting.

    Littering.   I did it all the time.   I thought one of the most fun things to do in a car next to climbing over the front seat  into the back seat (no car seat restricting me)  was to throw something out the window as we were driving along the interstate and watch it fly away.  In night time driving it was a thrill when the smoker in the car ahead of us threw his cigarette out the window and we could watch it bounce along sparking.   Littering was a way of life – free, easy and pretty awful.

   Secondhand smoke inhaling.    Unlike Bill Clinton, I will admit to inhaling.   Two of my brothers smoked in the house, so I regularly inhaled their smoke.   But the three little kids, I with sisters Kath and Barb, also would go down into the basement and smoke the already used cigarettes of Jim and John.  I don’t know if what we breathed in would be properly called secondhand smoke, but the cigarettes could definitely be called  secondhand smokes.   

    Seatbeltless.  This youthful practice of never wearing a seatbelt carried over into adulthood.  I think the only time I ever wore one was low and tight around my lap on jets.  And when shoulder straps were introduced, I ignored them with equal disregard for safety.

   Now you might be wondering how such vices were ever overcome.  

   Secondhand smoke.    The Three Little Kids were cool, though not all that sanitary, until the day that a chair in the basement was set afire by a particular careless smoker, and Mom’s application of corporal punishment to the careless one made our tobacco parties unfashionable.  Here’s a hint about Mom’s life-changing form of discipline:  “Reading, and writing and ‘rithmetic,  you mind the teacher or you get the ___.”

    Littering.   This practice carried over into high school.   It was at the horrible experience of Boys State after my junior year that I was suddenly cured of this habit by an event that made Boys State profitable.   We were divided up into teams of various sports – I was rejected from the basketball team because the really cool guys were playing basketball, and since I had given up smoking at age 5, I no longer qualified.  I got put on the softball team.  Our best player had his arm in a cast and batted one-handed.   We somehow hung in the tournament while the cool team was eliminated from the basketball courts.  They were so cool,  and some were also cheaters – they invaded our softball team and played out the tournament with us.   I still played first base and the broken arm guy was still our best player.   Some of the guys who had no interest in playing in the first place gladly dropped off the team.   It was preseason as some of us originals were sitting on the grass near home plate, when one of the guys tore open a candy bar wrapper and threw it on the ground.   Another player asked, “What are you doing?”   To which the Mars Bar eater responded, “Does that offend you?”   And the reply came, “Yes.”   I don’t know why that was so eye-opening to me, but it really was the first time that I even considered that littering might be inappropriate.   By the way, we won the softball tournament, though there should be an asterisk by our names since we cheated by having basketball players on our team.  There was no MVP named, but if there had been Broken Arm Guy was it.

    Seatbelts.   It was in the teachers’ room at Seton that I became a seatbelt convert.   Our insurance agent was there going over my policy with me.   Somehow in the conversation the new mandatory seatbelt law came up.   I expressed my disapproval to which insurance lady gave very convincing reasons why I was wrong.   And I wore a seatbelt ever after and would have even if it hadn’t become a law. 

    Secondhand smoke inhaling, littering and going beltless were very common practices.

   Basketball arenas in the nosebleed sections were secondhand smoke paradises.  Smoking in restaurants and, really, in most indoor facilities was just a way of life and nonsmokers breathed it all in without complaint.   How did it all change?

   Medical research, the Surgeon General and public outcry and laws must have all contributed to sending smokers outside to indulge.   It is somewhat amazing how effectively it was done.   I was on an airplane once when some guy started to smoke and a woman nearby started screaming and was ready to attack him before the stewardess intervened.   Anyway, all it really would have taken to end indoor smoking would have been a lot of mothers with sticks.

    Littering was made unfashionable and criminal through the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson.  I remember well the ad campaign on TV that promoted civic responsibility by encouraging us to put trash in trash cans and carry litter bags in our cars.   The toss of trash out the open window was lost, but landscapes became more scenic.

    Seatbelt laws or fines for noncompliance certainly encourage the use of straps and belts.  But laws generally follow some public outcry and sometimes some statistics or research.   I am sure all these contribute to more people wearing them.  

   Now it’s time to make the connection between my youthful sins and current democratic ads.  

    Catholics form a huge block within American society, yet what the Church teaches is routinely and deliberately dismissed, derided and demonized by society at large.   Why are things offensive to us casually thrown about as normal and our beliefs made to seem extreme and ridiculous?  

   There is the problem of bad Catholics – people who call themselves Catholic, but promote what is anti-Catholic.  Joe Biden is a clear example.  But another reason has to be that we are losing the PR battle big time.  The other side is unafraid to promote immorality, while we seem afraid to promote morality.  Recently at my high school a Catholic athletic director was instituting a sex-ed program.   I talked to him about how this was wrong.   He told me that he was having abstinence speakers in.  But he was also having all the wrong stuff taught.  His defense:  “We know teenagers will be teenagers and we’ve got to protect our kids.”  Protect our kids?  How wrong can we get to suggest that protection is procured by promoting immorality?  And the third thing we are up against is false information that is given.   The high school biology book used here in the public schools is factually wrong.  

    Looking back at what caused me to change from a smoker, litter bug and non-seatbelt user, a couple things stand out.   The consequences of smoking for me could have been physical – it wasn’t cancer that was the worry, but the application of a stick.    I changed because I saw that the supposed pleasure of smoking didn’t compare to the harmful effects Mom would levy.   I was convinced not to litter and to start wearing a seatbelt  because people spoke up about these things and made me aware of the poor choices I was making.    When people were not afraid to oppose the prevailing attitude, it made a difference.

   The column by Christopher Stefanik and the article on the Catholic pharmacy in the Denver Catholic Register illustrate what can be done.  The column has some amazing facts, especially the comparison between the Philippines and Thailand.  The article shows how conversions to the Catholic viewpoint can be made in one-on-one discussions. 

   Pope Benedict has talked about the world being a desert and that during this Year of Faith we must bring Christ into the desert.   In the book Chosen, which tells the stories of converts, there were a number of them who were led into the Church when they were presented with the facts about abortion and contraception and natural family planning.   I think many more can be so led and many others at least would see the Church’s position as reasonable.  We need to come up with a plan that would very positively promote what the Church teaches on life issues and marriage, then engage the faithful to bring it into the desert during this  year.   Maybe we can give this some thought.


   Read this week’s Sentinel at to learn about the journey of the blue & gold helium balloon rosary; relive your carpool days by reading ‘Carpool Etiquette’; go through your valuables and bring it to the AAA Women for Choice garage sale; and learn what club an alumnus and alumni parent have begun  at Seton.


Jezu, ufam Tobie.