The Patheos Catholic Channel is hosting a Symposium on the Family in light of the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October and the recent release of the working document for the Synod.
We went to Mass on Sunday at a parish outside of Ave Maria. It’s the kind of parish that was totally familiar in Vegas…guitars, responses to everything on screens above the entire circular nave, lots of elderly people, lots of jeans, and lots of comfort. After three years of hating such Masses in Vegas, I find that parish endearingly homey. We don’t go there too often because it’s a solid 40 minute drive, but when you’re used to relying on the 7 pm Sunday “Snoozers, Boozers, and Losers” Mass and Ave discontinues it for the summer because the students have gone home, well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
Last Sunday, on the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, the priest talked about martyrdom. He talked about how right now, across the world, more people are being martyred for their faith than were 1500 years ago. He said (and here I’m paraphrasing wildly, because it was days ago) even us Americans can feel the ramifications in the assault on religious freedom, because our government is trying to force taxpayers to pay for medical treatment that is against our beliefs — treatment that isn’t treatment at all, actually. “Treatment” like abortion, which kills a baby, and contraceptives, which have an abortifacient aspect. Regardless of what we believe individually, our Church teaches us that those things are wrong. She teaches an ideal, and sometimes in our sinfulness we cannot attain it. Nevertheless, we are urged to try, because her ideal is the truth, and she teaches truth out of concern for the utmost good of each human being.
Well, I almost fell out of the pew. It was the last thing I ever expected to hear outside of Ave, and I’ll admit that I beamed like a 15 year old girl who just got asked to the prom by the captain of the football team. I was so happy I wanted to run up the altar and give the priest a hug, right then and there. It was one of the best Masses of my life.
The Church says what she says because it’s the truth. I could explain it in detail (and I have!), but you’ll find better and more coherent explanations here, here, here, and here. The thing is, I believe what the Church teaches not because of what she says, but rather in spite of it.
The Church teaches an ideal as truth because it is true. I can no more turn my back on the Church’s teachings on contraception than I can turn my back on the Church’s teachings that it’s not okay for me to smoke meth forever. The problem is, it’s not the norm for people to smoke meth. It is the norm for people to use contraception.
It’s so much the norm that our society has become avowedly anti-child, and couples who don’t use contraception are seen as uncivilized at best and freak shows at worst. This makes simple things, like going grocery shopping or going to the doctor, a serious trial for the mother of many — especially for the young mother of many. Day in and day out, I’ve had people asking me if we own a TV, if we know what causes that, or if our husbands are going to get snipped — all this, mind you, within earshot of my children.
Meanwhile, the government has cut tax rebates in half — more than in half. Insurance companies have cut maternity benefits, Obamacare has dampened incentives for employers to offer family coverage, breastfeeding in public is practically criminalized, and the cost of childbirth and childcare has become exhorbitant. We have less money and less benefits, with more roadblocks and more criticism. And in the meantime, the Church still sings the same tune — “do this, because it’s right!”
That’s not enough anymore. When doing the right thing becomes doing the well nigh impossible thing, it isn’t enough to just chirp along about how happy I’ll be when I can just figure out *the right* method of NFP, since the first three have gotten me nowhere. It’s a damned lie is what it is, and this mom in the trenches is sick. and. tired. of the same old line. I’m tired of going to confession and alternately being told that “there’s nothing wrong with condoms” and “it’s a sin to delay another pregnancy by any means.” I’m tired of lugging our children into Mass each Sunday only to be glared at by other parishioners and chased into a tiny, dingy cry room that resembles nothing so much as the final scenes in Lord of the Flies. I’m tired of trying to live up the Church’s teaching when the world and the Church herself seem allied in the attempt to punish me for it.
I am feeling alone, with no support from the Church I love, trust, and believe in. I do what the Church says and get maligned for it, even by those within the Church, for doing it wrong or doing it with this mythical “contraceptive mentality.” I am frustrated. I am in doubt. I am angry. And sometimes I am in despair. I need help.
The father of a possessed boy said to Christ, “I want to believe, help my unbelief.” I am saying, “I believe and want to obey. Help me obey.”
I wish I knew of a magic bullet that would help. I believe that an institutional solution is unlikely to solve the problem, for various reasons. Elizabeth Duffy put it best when she explained that:
I’ve been thinking back over the years, and trying to figure out where exactly the Church would have come to my rescue. At the time I needed help the most, my needs were greater than anyone, even my husband, could have supplied–much less a few elderly volunteers. Before that, there were already organizations (not the Church) in place to meet my particular needs, which were pretty shifty from year to year.It’s probably reasonable to look to the Church for help for young mothers, and yet in hindsight, the best help the Church could have provided me, and did provide me, was Sacramental support and a teaching authority that, while challenging on the whole, has led to a richer life than I would have designed for myself. I’m glad I followed it, even at the times I was most tempted to stray.
I wanted to be irritated with her post when she first wrote it…after all, it came on the heels of my own admission that I didn’t know how much longer I could remain faithful to the Church’s teaching, since I was so overwhelmed and desperate and in despair. But everything she said was true, and I knew rationally that there was nothing concrete, nothing tangible, that the laypeople, priests, and bishops could do to help, outside of buying me an au pair in perpetuity.
Even so, what rankles the most is never the lack of material help. I don’t expect the Church to pick up the bill for all the kids she says I should welcome. I do, however, expect the Church to welcome them as well. And that is something I almost never see.
The reality is that obedience costs a young couple something — sometimes it feels like it costs us everything. But it seems to cost the larger Church nothing. So little valued is our obedience and the sacrifice it entails that most Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches on contraception. They’ve never heard it from the pulpit. If they do hear it, they jeer and mock, because the prospect of life without contraception seems so impossible that it’s frankly ludicrous. Equally ludicrous are those who embrace it, willingly or no. We are targets of scorn and derision, while the Church stands silently by and watches us suffer to uphold her teaching. Sometimes she even joins in the fray, building “cry rooms” to put us undesirable, multiplying masses out of sight and out of mind; providing nurseries so our children can in fact NOT come to Christ, but be put aside so the grown-ups can come to Christ in peace and quiet; interrupting homilies to ask mothers to leave the Mass with their babies, since the babies are disturbing the rest of the parishioners; in short, treating us as second-class citizens for the crime of actually obeying her teachings.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry recently posted this picture on his blog. This is exactly the type of thing that parishes could do to welcome, affirm, and celebrate the family in the communal life of the Church. It costs almost nothing monetarily, but the cost of doing it is much higher than money shelled out. It’s a risk, you know? Lots of people disagree, and lots of people would be offended or downright incensed by this. It would mean so much, so very much, to those of us who live with the daily reality of the rest of the world being offended and downright incensed by the existence of our children. It would be an outward sign of fidelity to this teaching, and to those of us who struggle to live up to it.
In much the same way, that homily on Sunday meant the world to me. It gave me hope when hope so often feels beyond reach. It made me feel that our mother Church does care about me, because one of her priests said it, out loud, on a Sunday, in front of a whole congregation: I am doing what the Church asks, and it’s right. Just hearing the affirmation of what I know to be true was enough to make me want to try again another day.
I’m not asking for the Church to carry the weight for me. It’s the cross of Christ, and if I’m not always happy to bear it, I am at least willing. I’m only asking that the Church reaffirm her own teachings publicly once in a while, so that I don’t feel so alone in the bearing. I’m asking the priests and laypeople of the Church to find a way to help me change the heart of the faithful (even if it means changing their own hearts first), so that families are once again embraced and celebrated, rather than ostracized.