Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Supers Are Among Us

Just when we thought he couldn’t get any cuter.  He discovered superheroes.

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You may have thought that he was a preschooler, but really he is a defender of justice and freedom.  This is him in his super suit.  Note his power belt, boots and mask (to hide his secret identity).  Bed time has become the most exciting time of day.  Mind you, we spend all day saving people, but at bedtime, properly attired, things really step up a notch.  To say he is obsessed may be an understatement.  And we are happy to encourage him.

This interest of Isaac’s has led him to the inevitable question: are there any real superheroes in this world?  Initially, we talked to him about firefighters and police officers, who are legitimate people-savers.  But recently, as we talked about the sacrament of Holy Orders with our 7th graders, it clicked: who are the real supers among us? Priests!  And not just in a “self-esteem-boosting” kind of way.  Check out these very real parallels:

Superheroes get their powers from some physical change… a spider bite that fuses arachno-DNA to their own, the effect of the Earth sun on alien orphan, etc. A priest is made priest by the act of ordination- an ontological change. An indelible mark on the soul.  Priests are priests forever, even if dismissed from the clerical state.

Superheroes wear “super suits” when performing herioc acts to define what they are doing and hide their identity.  Priests wear vestments when offering the sacraments, especially the Eucharist– also to hide themselves.  When administering sacraments, they are IN the person of Christ.

Superheroes’ jobs of saving the world are very taxing on their personal relationships, especially romantic ones (I love the way the Spiderman movies tackled this topic!).  Priests are celibate for this reason– sacrifice for their Bride, the Church.

Superheroes have, well, superpowers (duh).  Priests’ superpowers are way cooler than x-ray vision, super strength or even the ability to shoot webs from their hands.  Priests can forgive sins, bring people into God’s family, confer upon people the Holy Spirit and turn bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Superheroes save people from death.  Priests can save people from eternal death.

Why do we have a shortage of priests? I think because the vocation is often presented as: Priesthood=be a nice guy who can’t get married and does some nice things for people here and there.  Who wants to sacrifice their whole life for that? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the sense of what’s at stake? We need priests in order that the rest of us may live a sacramental life of grace.  What’s at stake is salvation!  When it comes to saving the world, more is done at the altar of each daily Mass at each little parish than a bazillion fundraising rock stars, or five trillion government programs could ever hope to do.

So, yes, we will encourage our little superhero to pursue the noble pursuits of peace and justice, motivations placed in his heart by his Creator.  And we will teach him to hold in high regard those true “supers” in our midst.

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On Celebrating

I was at the grocery store today with Isaac doing the week’s shopping.  In anticipation of Gianna’s birthday this week, we bought cake mix, ice cream and a (kind of tacky) princess balloon for her grave that Isaac picked out.  (I wanted to get her some tulips, but figured they would still freeze at night. Flowers will have to wait for summer.)

Peter’s first birthday fell on our first night of grad school, and the day itself, which I expected to be some sort of deep, reflective moment, turned out to be a long string of hectic errands.  And by then, I was already pregnant with Gianna.  I kind of had the idea that it was okay that God took Peter, because now we were getting another chance.  We face Gianna’s birthday with no idea of what is ahead for us on any front.  Plus, I just miss her.  I was so looking forward to celebrating with her here.  So, without her I don’t much feel like celebrating.

So, why go through the pretense of celebrating? Why make a cake and invite people over to eat it? The grief books would seem to say, “do whatever makes you feel good” on anniversaries.  If you want to lock yourself in your room and cry all day, do it.  Well, I’m sure I’ll cry, but I also feel compelled to celebrate.  One reason is Isaac.  Cake is what you do for birthdays, and Gianna is his sister and it is her birthday.  But more than that, I have been reflecting on what a birthday is and means.  So, I really hoped Gianna would be born healthy and live a long happy life.  But she didn’t. She got sick and died.  Does this mean that we should not celebrate her?  Does she not deserve to be honored just like the rest of our family on account of the fact that I might cry in front of our closest friends? Are we to celebrate only those things which make us feel good?

We said from the very moment we thought we might be pregnant that we were grateful for Gianna’s existence.  She is not here with us to get covered in icing for the obligatory photo op.  But she exists, and will for eternity.  If we had let our fear rule us, she would not.  I have to believe that from where she sits now in heaven, Gianna is certainly glad for this fact.  I’m sure she would be chowing down on cake if she had her glorified body back to eat it! So to celebrate this occasion makes sense.  Even if it hurts like hell.

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Simon’s Burden

passion-low1I was reading a Via Crucis written by JPII recently.  For the Station, “Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross” he mentions that Simon was closer to Jesus than anyone on the Way of the Cross.  Think about that: this random passerby is forced under fear of death to help carry Jesus’ cross, and he is closer to Christ than His own mother or beloved disciple.  He didn’t choose to help Jesus out of compassion, as Veronica did.  He didn’t weep for Jesus as the women of Jerusalem did.  He was just walking along minding his own business and suddenly he finds himself front and center on the stage of human history.  In Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the scene, he makes it very clear that this is not something he chose, and that he is an innocent man, forced to carry the cross of one who is condemned.

What implications for all of us who suffer!  No one wakes up one day and thinks, “Hmm. Maybe today I’ll be in a car accident that will leave me paralyzed.”  No one goes in for that exciting first peek at baby and expects to get a fatal diagnosis.  These are things that strike us out of the blue.  And they hurt like hell.  And we do not choose them.  Yet we are closer in these moments to the Lord than we can ever imagine. Closer, maybe even, than the blue-haired lady in the Rosary group.

I would guess Simon, shouldering the burden, at first was repulsed by Jesus if he noticed Him at all.  Isaiah’s description of Jesus, after all, is that He was beyond all semblance of a man.  Should this not be all of our first tastes of suffering? It entered the world through evil, and therefore should disgust us.  But the fact that Simon and his sons are called by name in Scripture, as well as their place of origin, suggests that the Christian disciples receiving the Gospels would have known who he was.  Which suggests that this encounter with the bloodied, beaten Savior changed Simon.  Again, Gibson’s portrayal of this is very moving.  At a certain point, he begins to shoulder the burden not out of duty but compassion.  Later, as he leaves Jesus at Golgotha, there is something within him that registers: it was really Jesus shouldering  burden.

This is a blueprint for us in our suffering.  Let us behold in our desperate situations the Savior who understands them deeply because He has experienced them.  And let’s not turn away, but instead allow our closeness to Him transform us- not necessarily by changing the circumstance, but by changing our own hearts.

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“Acceptable” Conditions

I have been reading an excellent book this Lent called He Leadth Me by Fr. Walter J. Cizek. It is the spiritual journey of a Jesuit priest who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and work camps during (and after) World War II. Maybe I will share more about it in a later post, but I wanted to share this excerpt:

The tendency to set acceptable conditions upon God, to seek unconsciously to make his will coincide with our desires, is a very human trait. And the more important a situation is, the more totally we are committed to it, or the more completely our future depends on it, the easier it is to blind ourselves into thinking that what we want is surely what God must also want. We see but one solution only, and naturally we assume that God will help us reach it.

As I look back on Gianna’s birth almost a year ago, and especially as I think of how many little friends she had born around the same time, I can see how easy it was for us to fall into a false sense of security. She was going to be healthy, because I had the plan worked out as to how her long and happy life would glorify God. Things didn’t work out that way, needless to say. In some senses, things couldn’t have gone worse. And I wish I could say I’ve got it all figured out now with some months behind me, but I doubt it will be ‘figured out’ on this side of heaven.

It is good to be reading of Fr. Ciszek’s suffering. He was already a missionary priest, faithful and zealous, doing great penances for God. But it took years of solitary confinement, endless interrogations, and constant hunger for God to begin to purify his offerings and bring him to a real place of denying self and total trust in God. I am just at the part where he has come to that deep peace. He still has almost 20 years in prison camps to go, so we’ll see where we go from here! (I am still pretty far from total abandonment to God… so we’ll see what’s in store for me, too.)

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On 24, Maccabees and Martyrs

Note: Brad and I tape 24 and watch it on Wednesday nights. This entry has been rattling around in my brain since last week, but I didn’t watch tonight’s episode. It’s current as of last Monday. Also, don’t comment and give anything away from this week, please!

Some say in this season, 24 has “jumped the shark”.  With that in mind, I have been watching closely.  I don’t think it has.  Sure, there’s the unpredictably-predictable plot conventions, and the minimal suspention of disbelief needed to enjoy the show, but what 24 continues to do (and the reason why I still watch) is make me think.  Previously in this season, as in others, I have been wrestling with the issue of torture.  Obviously, I agree with the Church that torture is an offense against human dignity.  But the show raises some good questions that I am trying to reconcile.  Until that’s settled, I want to focus on one new aspect that struck me during the White House hostage thing: how single-minded Jack is in the pursuit of his goal.

Okay, maybe that’s not new. (Taylor: “Mr. Bauer, you are on trial for committing atrocities. How can I be sure of your loyalties?” Bauer: “With all do respect, Madam President, ask around”.)  We all know that Jack is willing to do whatever it takes to save innocent lives. That’s what’s gotten him in trouble for every season since the first, and why people keep watching.  But I had never looked at his determination in light of the Faith before.  In the last episode, Bill Buchanan is the only one who has access to the prisoner who can tell them the target of the attack, but he is unwilling to “do what is necessary” to get the info.  Now, again, forget for a moment the the moral implications of torture.  Bill’s unwillingness or inability cost them the warning they needed to secure the White House and save lives.  Later, President Taylor, who previously refused to give in to terrorist demands to save her husband, is unable to put her last healthy family member at risk, and gives in to terrorists threatening to torture her daughter.  Jack calls them out to do what needs to be done to accomplish the goal: save lives. To no avail.

Especially the scene with Taylor brought to mind the mother from the book of Maccabees who encouraged all of her sons to keep their faith as they were one by one tortured and murdered before her.  She did not waiver in her belief that the God of Israel alone should be worshiped and the reward she and her sons would receive in Heaven for their sacrifice.  This past week I thought of all the trauma Jack’s character has undergone in the long days of the show– both in acts he has committed and have been committed against him, and how unwavering he is as well in the pursuit of saving innocent lives.  Of course, Jack is a fictional character with questionable moral issues.  But this past week made me think of all those who are very real, worshiping underground wondering when someone will turn them in to the authorities for evangelizing, those whose lives are constantly in danger for the practice of the Faith which we take for granted. Would I have the guts to stand strong? I don’t know.

And further, those who by their faith in God put their loved ones on the line as well.  One of the plot conventions of 24 is the involvement of the families of those characters involved in either terrorism or the defense against.  Hostages are taken to bend the will of those involved.  This is understandably excruitating even to watch in a ficitional setting.  Yet, again, the story of the mother in Maccabees I’m sure is being played out all over the world.  How do we react when it is our loved ones who may be hurt by our practice of the faith?

This was a painful reality for me this summer, watching our families suffer the loss of another baby, this time one we “chose” to have, knowing the risks.  I even missed my sister’s wedding– a wedding I had hoped would go a long way in patching up our relationship.  Needless to say it did not.  Jesus never claimed to bring peace, but the sword, setting father against son, and in my case, sister against sister. Although I will not alter decisions I know in the depths of my heart to be correct, it is a cross I continue to bear.

I always end an episode of 24 grateful that I am not in charge of keeping any cities from getting blown up.  It’s a job I am clearly not cut out for!  But as a baptized Christian, I am called to spread and defend the Faith, whatever the cost.  May I (and all of us), join in the example of the Saints- our own legion of Jack Bauers- in being single minded not in saving lives, but souls.

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PGD: P.S.

When I shared the previous post with Brad he asked a good question (the kind you can tell the asker already has an answer ready for):

“What are people who use PGD really after?”

(The correct answer to such a question is always): “What?”

“Perfection.”

His point was not to condemn those seeking such perfection, but to affirm it.  One of the principles of the Theology of the Body, at least in the way that Brad learned it from the TOB Institute, is that most of the motivations of those actively promoting the culture of death are good.  Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  So, the desire for a baby who is perfect is good.  The motivation for a gay couple wanting to get married? To love and be loved. The motivation for an infertile couple to use a donor egg and sperm and invitro? To be parents. The motivation of a couple who aborts their baby with Downs? To spare the child suffering.  These are good desires!

The trick is, that when we don’t channel our desires properly, they end up getting distorted and ultimately, enslaving us.  It is essential that we keep connected to the Source, so that we can keep our number one desire as God’s will.  It is good for us to remember this principle, though.  When we are dealing with people who are ensnared by the culture of death, we need recognize and affirm the desire of their hearts which is in play.  To scold a man for eating out of a dumpster is not nearly as effective as recognizing his hunger and offering him something more nutritious.  We have the Truth, and He is a living person!  And this Truth, of course, is Jesus Christ, who “reveals man to himself”.  In Him, all our purest and deepest desires will be met.  Let us not settle for cheap imitations, and let’s fast and pray that others may come to know Him, too.

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A Double Grief

Natural Family Planning has done what was promised.  It has been effective in preventing pregnancy, but also for attaining it.  It helps communication, balances out certain aspects of masculinity and feminity, has led to self control and a deeper sense of how our marriage reflects God’s love for the world.  It’s not always easy.  But one thing that was an unexpected blessing of NFP is how it has helped us in our grief.

The outward practice of NFP creates an inner recognition of children as a gift from God.  Christopher West has used the analogy of NFP being like having an understanding that God is always welcome to show up.  Of course, there are times when you specifically invite Him to give a baby, and He can accept or decline.  But when a baby shows up unexpectedly, there is an understanding of welcome there as well. (Contraception, in contrast, is like sending a non-invitation, or a note to God that says specifically, “You are NOT welcome here right now.”)

Okay, so what does this have to do with grief?  I was listening to a discussion on the radio this morning about PGD, the process of identifying characteristics of invitro embryos before implantation, being used more widely for selecting gender and even traits such as eye color or height.  This is symptomatic of a view of “parenthood as a right” that is pandemic in our society.  I couldn’t help but think of the possible tragic situation of a family who, carefully selecting all the traits they desire in a child, perhaps even selectively “reducing” a fetus to optimize results, would end up with a baby in the PICU with unexpected liver failure at 3 months old.  The mitochondrial condition that took our kids was difficult to pinpoint even once we knew they had it.  Both babies were born as healthy as can be, and a doctor who didn’t know Gianna even commented on how healthy she looked just two days before her death.

So PGD can’t predict every disease.  Even if it could, how do you genetically engineer a child not to get hit by a car? Obviously you can’t.  We know there are no guarantees in life.  I think the problem is that someone who approaches parenthood from an illusion of control has a double grief to contend with if a child is lost.  We were by no means flippant at the loss of Peter and Gianna.  We continue to grieve them deeply.  But underlying the process is an understanding that they were gifts from God, and as hard as it is to accept, He has the right to take them back.  I would imagine that for someone who expected that they had covered all their bases, the death of a child comes with underlying anger, bitterness and blame.  Worst of all, I would imagine, would be a resentment toward God.  If I have a right to live my life however I have planned it, then God is the enemy for getting in the way of that plan.  I know from experience that that the grief of losing a child is enough on its own.  The times I have given in to bitterness and anger toward God have made that burden crushingly heavy, since I was cutting myself off from the only source that could heal me.

This is the kind of profound personal trauma that comes from choosing one’s own way apart from God.  Opponents often think pro-lifers like to go around wagging their fingers at heathens because it makes them feel better about themselves.  Perhaps that is true for some, and if so, I hope they repent.  The truth is, an authentically pro-life Christian seeks to help others avoid the same heartache and loss that comes from repeating the sin of the Garden.

For a related post, see “Hunger”.

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