Monthly Archives: January 2009

They Know Not What They Do (I Hope)

My dear sister in Christ, Nancy Pelosi, made a comment yesterday that no doubt you heard: contraception is good for the economy because less kids means more money to go around.  Today at our staff meeting, I heard another interesting comment: our parish school is “beating the bushes” for enrollment because there just aren’t enough kids around to enroll.  Since the health of the school and the health of the parish are intimately linked, it’s trouble on the horizon for all of us.  Tough times are a’comin’ to my corner of the world, and it is in part due to a marked lack of children.

Now, I’m no economist, but it seems to me that an increased demand for goods and services provides a need for someone to provide those goods and services.  Said provider, if I understand correctly, gets compensated for this and results in what we call a “job”.  How, then, could children not be considered to be good for the economy?  Do we not need to buy things for baby? Do our grandparents, neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc, not also buy things for baby?  Do we not need to educate this child? Feed him? Does not this child, when grown to adulthood, get taxed for something called “Social Security”? Does he not, with his siblings, bear the responsibility for the care of the humans who brought him into existence (so that the state does not have to)?  Even sick babies like mine were responsible in part for keeping a whole host of people from parking lot attendants to pediatric intensive care specialists employed. Babies even come with an 18-year rebate: a tax deduction.  They are like little bundles of stimuli dropped by Mr. Stork.

Now, I really hope that people like Mrs. Pelosi are buying into the materialist lie that in order to properly parent a child, you must indulge him in the total excess recommended by our culture.  In that case, I could almost see her point.  If another child dictated a larger house, a whole new set of clothes and toys, and 10 more sets of lessons, etc, then perhaps another would be too expensive.  Of course, there are also legitimate circumstances in which a family simply cannot support another child and should attempt to postpone pregnancy.  But let’s not pretend that limiting our family sizes is somehow patriotic.  I say that I hope Pelosi believes the materialist lie because if that is not her motivation, I can think of only one other.  What type of organization directly benefits from “limiting family size” through drugs or surgery?  Who is it that would get my tax dollars (assuming I still have a job) in the event of some kind of contraceptive stimulus package? Yikes.

From the Cross Jesus shouted, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”.  Let’s hope that this is true for those who are actively promoting Mrs. Pelosi’s agenda.  And even if it is not, let’s pray for hearts like Christ’s, willing to offer ourselves in love for those who hate us.

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Abortion’s Image Problem

I am learning of an unexpected blogging hazard: tag surfing.  This highly addictive form of web surfing connects you to other recent postings that match your own blog’s tags.  One of my tags is “abortion”, so you can imagine the spectrum of ideas presented in various blogs on this topic.  One thread seemed to come up several times in the pro-choice arena is the fact that abortion still gets a bad rap.  Despite the tremendous judicial strides that abortion rights advocates have achieved in the last 36 years, they haven’t been able to shake the stigma.  One article talked about abortionists who keep their profession secret from friends for fear of scorn, who shudder when cars drive slowly past their houses for fear that protesters have followed them home.  Another woman, who had just watched Juno, lamented that the pro-choicers’ lack of such a cool, confident hero likes Juno.  The author of the blog suggested that the author of another blog called “What to Expect When You’re Aborting” might be such a hero for the cause.  I followed the link and read the referenced blog for over an hour.  My conclusion about the abortion image problem? They can’t find a cool, fun poster girl to endorse abortion because there isn’t one.  Abortion isn’t cool, isn’t fun, and people don’t generally like to advertise that they’ve had one.

Except, of course, the author of “What to Expect…”.  She speaks  flippantly and humorously about her experience in hopes of encouraging other women who have had or are considering abortions.  With her experience, she seeks to disprove the pro-lifers’ assertion that abortion is harmful to women.  Her abortion hasn’t left her wounded, but relieved.  She’s happy to get rid of the “womb squid”.  And yet, I would argue, that her story itself proves my point.  She may have been a happy patient at her local Planned Parenthood, but she describes all the other women there are uncomfortable, distant, angry, even weepy.  She described the men there as “small”, pacing around as if in a kind of reverse maternity room.  In the waiting room, no one spoke, except a few mothers yelling at their daughters’ boyfriends.  The staff she encountered was more interested in paperwork and her sedation preferences, than in her as a person.  Even as nonchalant as the author was, even she, when placed on the table, broke down in tears.  I have never been inside a Planned Parenthood clinic before, but this story sounds just like the ones I have heard from women and men who have been clients there. They seem like cold, desperate places.

This is the “right” they have been celebrating for the last 36 years.  Abortion has an image problem because it is against the natural law for a mother to pay someone to vacuum her child out of her womb.  It’s an ugly choice.  Some women are forced into it, some driven to it by desperation, and others, like “What to Expect”, just simply don’t care- even if the Tumor could read poetry or play piano, it was in her body and if she doesn’t want it, it’s gone.  And yet, there is a strong sense in the pro-choicers’ minds that you should be sensitive and compassionate to women having abortions, because even though abortion is a “fundamental right”, they recognize that it is different than getting a tooth out.  And they are right.  It is a horrible decision to have to make.  Maybe I’m wrong, but impression I get from people like “What to Expect” is that they are trying to justify that decision to themselves.

The difference, then, between pro-lifers and our opponents is that while the Planned Parenthood types try to cheerlead their way into believing that this heartbreaking “choice” is somehow helping women, we are calling a spade a spade.  It isn’t the religious wackos outside clinics that bring down judgment on abortionists: it is the act itself.  It is wrong. It devestates women and families at a fundamental level.  And the truly compassionate thing to do is to insist that it stop.

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An Inspirational Post

I strongly dislike the word “inspirational”.  Maybe it’s a throwback to my angst-ridden, poetry-writing, adolescent days.  Maybe it’s the cavity-inducing Hallmark Hall of Fame or Chicken Soup for the Soul image it conjurs up.  Really, though, I think what bugs me is the idea of some talk or story or movie that fills you with a “warm fuzzy”, then is promptly forgotten.  This is what makes me a little uncomfortable when people apply this word to me and my story.  How exactly are we defining our terms here?

Are we talking about being a nice slogan for a poster with puppies on it, or being someone who people nod their heads at and think, “yeah, she’s really amazing”? Well, that’s hardly worth losing a kid over, much less two.  I remember thinking after Peter died, “people better change their lives because of this!”  Conversion, the radical reorientation of lives away from sin and toward God… the idea that people will stay out of hell because of our suffering, this is about all that seems like it would be worth it.

Yet I don’t get to decide how people will react to my life and story.  I have kept sharing about what I have experienced, about my struggles and my firm belief in God’s plan for my life, because others have told me it has helped them.  I have kept offering up my suffering because I know that this is a powerful way to intercede for others.  God, for His, part,  has promised to be faithful.  He hasn’t promised to let me decide how others react.  I could experience the worst suffering imaginable up in the most perfect way, and others still might think me just an “inspiration”.  Especially since it has happened before.

Jesus, God made man, came down from Heaven to save us and did it by undergoing the worst possible physical pain, betrayal, and feeling of spiritual desolation.  Surely, He desires conversion from us to have made His pain “worth it”.  And yet, He respects our free will so much that He does not require it.  Instead, He patiently endures the further heartache of being considered by so many merely “a good teacher”, or “a revolutionary rabbi”… in short, an  “inspirational figure”.  So, what is good enough for the Master, needs to be good enough for me.

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Mother of Sorrow

One of the great honors of burying a child is the way that others open up to you about their own grief.  It’s like being initiated into a very strange secret society, except that no one joins it on purpose.  Since my initiation two and a half years ago I have heard a lot of stories of loss that as I mentioned on Tuesday, I take more closely to heart than I could have before.  I think what saddens me most is parents who have lost children older than mine.  (This, of course is most of them, since Peter and Gianna were so young when they died.)

I am not trying to minimize my grief or anyone else’s.  The grief of a parent who loses a baby to miscarriage or early infant death grieves more for what could have been. For their hopes. For the things they did not get to do with the child.  Of course we miss our babies.  They are real people no matter how long they lived and we suffer because they should be with us and they aren’t.  But I think it is also safe to say that the longer someone is around, the more we invest in them and the more it hurts when they are absent.  And I am careful not to say we “get attached” to them.  While that is true, I think the matter is love, not mere affection.  The more we give of ourselves to someone, the more of us they take with them when they go.  Even the parents I know who cared for their children for just a year or so poured out their hearts in dedicated service to their child for four times longer than we did.  Again, not to minimize.  Just to make the point that the more we love the more we grieve.

And that brings me to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  This woman, saved through her Son, was preserved from the stain of Original Sin, and did not commit apietany personal sin in her lifetime.  Since sin is a failure to love, then we can safely say that Mary never passed up an opportunity to make a gift of herself fully to anyone.  And who could this woman love more fully than the only One capable of surpassing her own ability to love?  Jesus, of course.  Can you imagine their relationship? How deep, how tender, how intimately pure and beautiful?

How, then, must this dear woman have felt at the foot of the Cross? She loved with her whole heart as perfectly as any human being could.  More than any purely human creature, before or since.  And her Divine Son, whom she had cherished for 33 years, hung bloodied and rejected before her.  There is a reason she is called Our Lady of Sorrows.  And if we sinners can see our own capacity for authentic compassion grow with our own losses, what a bottomless fount of mercy she must be.  Let us not hesitate to take to her our own deepest sorrows, doubts or even anger.  She knows what it means to grieve, and as our Mother, she grieves with us.

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided…

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Snakes on a Pole

Note: the entries listed with a back date on them are getting pasted over from Gianna’s site and refer to the date listed.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2008 08:12 AM, CDT
Today in the Catholic Church it is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It’s one of those feasts that at first glance leaves us scratching our heads. Doesn’t Good Friday cover this? Why bring it up again in September? My women’s group prays with the scripture for the coming Sunday on the Monday prior, so I have been mulling over this Sunday’s readings all week. For me, they have been an answered prayer.

Like the Israelites in the first readings, I have had my “patience worn out by the journey” the last few weeks (Nu 21:4). I have been on the brink of self pity as I mourn the family I desired to have. No matter what happens with our family in the future, Isaac will not have a sibling close in age, which is something I had wanted for him since he was born. There is nothing like comparing yourself to the Israelites in the desert that can rescue you from that brink! In this reading, they had just been rescued by God from certain death in battle, and then get tired again and begin complaining that God “brought us up from Egypt to die in the desert”. Clearly, they knew that God could save them. He had already made that clear. He had promised he would care for them. But, after walking for all that time, eating “that wretched food”, “their patience was worn”, and they complained.

I can understand how they feel. Tired, hungry, not knowing where they were going or what God’s plan was. It was a tough life, to be sure! I know it must have felt like God had played some cruel trick on them, liberating them from slavery, then parading them through the sand, day after day. But their weariness was not their sin. I think the reason they were punished was because in their frustration, they got nasty with God, insulting him by forgetting that he was doing all of this for their good. Instead of crying out for help, (“Lord, please give us water and food in this desert. We are losing heart!”) Their complaint assumes an evil intent on the mind of God, and a marked lack of gratitude for what he was in the process of doing (ie saving them from slavery and preparing to make of them a great nation).

This is not to say, of course, that people who get angry with God in their grief are going to be bit by fiery serpents. One of the reasons God sends us suffering is to get us to face the tough questions, and to dialogue with him. He knows us very well and he can take it. But I don’t think anger with God should be a default setting. It is something that ultimately must be overcome in order for healing to take place, for it is from him that the healing comes. Indeed, this reading is chosen for this feast because the healing of the Israelites through the brass serpents on the pole foreshadows Jesus’ own “lifting up” on the Cross. He himself is offered for us as the antidote to that self pity. God, on the Cross, pouring out his blood to the last drop says to all of us, “You can believe it now. I am Good. You can trust me. The road to your freedom will be hard, like mine, but don’t give up. I have a plan. And I will be suffering along with you.” Who can grumble against that?

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Unleashing Love

My heart has been heavy the past week or two with the sorrow of others.  A friend’s dad died unexpectedly.  I stumbled upon the blog of a woman whose 7 year old drowned this past summer. A columnist at our diocesan newspaper died, the young mother of two kids under 3.  A woman whose care site I follow will most likely lose her second son to an unknown disease soon.  My husband is away for the week (maybe it’s morbid, but it makes me think of what life would be like as a widow).  And on and on and on…

John Paul II in Salvifici doloris speaks about suffering ‘unleashing love’.  I don’t think I would have understood that at a base level if I hadn’t lost my kids.  I mean, obviously, when someone is suffering you want to comfort them, help them, do something to aleviate their pain.  But I am talking about something which takes place in the heart.  Before Peter died, I felt bad for people who were suffering, but could more easily keep that pain at a distance.  Now when I hear of parents losing children, spouses losing spouses, job loss, chronic illness… it strikes a chord in my chest.  I get a hint of it in my very core. Perhaps on the outside, there is little difference in the response- a card, a call, a meal, a prayer.  But inside me the charity is deeper, more sincere, more authentically compassionate.

In my own grief, God has gifted me with others who have had a place in their hearts hollowed out by such pain.  One such woman discovered Gianna’s site through a mutual friend almost immediately after it went up.  Though we live many miles apart and have only met once in person (she and her family came to the funeral), it was to her that I felt compelled to first share the joys and trials of Gia’s short medical drama.  She had been through a similar situation and was facing it from an almost identical spiritual perspective.  Her support has consisted of nothing more than prayer, example and emails, but it has made all the difference in the world.  Our friendship has unleashed love.

I am convinced that this is one of the reasons that God allows suffering.  In a busy world where it is all too easy to get wrapped up in practice and dinner and junk mail and TV suffering jars us out of trivial concerns and moves us to be gift to others.  As beings made in the image and likeness of the One who is Love, it is here that we become who we are meant to be- both now and in eternity.

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Pernicious Jello

Brad is attending a conference this week out in PA, so he flew home on Friday. He told me that on the way out to PA, the security people confiscated the 4 oz pre-packaged jello cup he had brought along as a snack, since it was above the 3 oz limit.  Could he just eat it? Not without stepping outside of security and re-entering the line. He cut his losses. Ironically, his razor was left untouched in his carry-on.

This is not a rant about the TSA. These folks are just doing their job, and we have learned that there are bigger concerns in life than gelatin.  I bring it up because I know you have a similar story about the airport security people.   They are the people we love to hate… how they bark impatiently at us to have our boarding passes out, how they look dispassionately at the businessmen struggling to replace their shoes and belts while retaining some dignity.  I think what irritates us the most about the TSA is the gaping disconnect we perceive between quart sized ziplock bags and keeping people from blowing up our planes.  We are afraid that they are so busy making sure our toiletries are in order that they will totally miss the bad guys slipping in from behind.

Yet don’t we do this in our own lives? The TSA’s big picture is to keep terrorists off airplanes. What’s ours? Being as it concerns the way we will spend all of eternity, I would like to suggest our big picture should be getting to heaven.  Yet how often do we call that to mind? We get so upset about things that ultimately do not contribute to our salvation: weather, traffic, our diminishing 401K, what people think of us, getting stuff done.  And we neglect things that will prepare us to meet our maker: prayer, sacraments, learning about our faith, growth in charity.  This is not to say that our day to day concerns can’t sanctify us.  After all, Jesus spent 30 of His 33 years at an ordinary job.  For those of us not called to the cloister, our holiness will come through dishes and diapers and commuting and email.  But if we do not keep our eyes on eternity we will get consumed by the cares of the world.  And when we do that we are just as ridiculous as the folks waving us through the metal detector.

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