Consistency – UPDATED

There is an interesting conversation going on at Inside Catholic now, stemming from the “Down Syndrome Couples” post.  I just left a comment which I thought was (like everything else I’ve ever said) pretty important, and something which I did not always realize or internalize.  This is what makes our beloved Church so very different from every other Church, and so durable.

I don’t mean to pile onto Jason Negri — I really don’t.  It’s just that the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is so central to our times (and maybe to all times), and so horribly misunderstood.  Here’s what I said in my comment:

Negri said in one of his comments on his original post on Inside Catholic:

Church pronouncements on moral issues purport to be universally applicable, but are not exceptions sometimes made for extraordinary circumstances (nuns at risk of rape in Africa are using birth control, people with severely limited mental capacity are not held responsible for some deliberate actions, same for children before the age of reason, etc.)? I’m wondering – and honestly wondering – whether an exception might be made for Monica and David whose developmental disabilities might well put them right between the points of able to marry but unable to care for children.

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the Church does NOT make exceptions. It is incredibly consistent in developing guidelines for specific extraordinary circumstances, without ever departing from the original principle.

The nuns protecting themselves from rape (without risking an abortion) are not violating, or availing themselves of an exception to, the principle that sexual love is to be unitive and procreative — rather, they are protecting themselves from an act which is purely violent. When a mentally disabled person or child is not held morally responsible for hurting someone when he doesn’t know better, it’s not an “exception” to the fifth commandment — it’s just a different act entirely from someone who knows better and hurts someone anyway.

Sterilization of a Down syndrome couple for the purpose of separating sex from children, however, would be an exception. That’s what makes it different from the examples Negri gave, and that’s what makes it wrong.

I just wanted to reiterate that the Church does not “make exceptions” — it is a Rock.

So, come join the conversation.  It’s been a very helpful and eye-opening discussion for me.

EDITED TO ADD:

One commenter, CC, very helpfully posted this:

From the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (http://www.usccb.org/bishops/directives.shtml):

Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.

It seems to me no different from protecting yourself from someone maniac wielding a baster full of sperm, right?  There is no particular reason you should accept being impregnated in the context of an attack.

Why not sterilize the inconvenient?

I don’t know Jason Negri personally, and until his post on Friday I’ve had no reason to think that he isn’t a faithful Catholic.  Maybe he was just playing devil’s advocate or being provocative; but for someone who, according to his Inside Catholic profile, is “Assistant Director for the International Task Force on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide,” he shows a scandalous indifference to the dignity of human life.  Here’s what he said when commenting on a story about the marriage of a high-functioning Down syndrome couple:

My conservative view of child rearing is usually “if you’re not going to take care of your kids, don’t have them”, and for a Catholic, this means don’t have sexual intercourse to begin with.  But it’s hard in cases like these, where a couple is developmentally challenged and might not be able to care for children of their own, but have the need and ability for sexual intimacy.  Forced sterilization?  No.  But voluntary?  Why not?

Voluntary sterilization. . . “Why not?”

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not mentally disabled people ought to be marrying, and let’s focus like a laser on what Negri is implying about the people themselves.  He is implying that, because of their disability, they are not bound and protected by the same principles as the rest of us.

If you can sterilize them, what other assaults on his human dignity might be permissible?  If their bodies aren’t inviolable like the bodies of us Normals, why not keep them as house slaves?  Kind of a win-win situation, by Negri’s logic:  everyone gets taken care of, everyone’s happy according to his capacity, and no one has to shoulder an unfair burden.  Sure, slavery is clearly against Church teaching, but come on — they’re just retards, they don’t really count.

If you are going to start making exceptions to Church teaching based on purely practical terms, then why not voluntary sterilization of the poor, since they need  food stamps or childcare, and “might not be able to care for children on their own”?  Or of people with heart disease, since they might not be around to see their child’s 18th birthday?  Or people with histories of depression?  Or people whose husbands are in the military?  They might need help!  Sterilize ‘em now, before things get messy.

I do not envy the parents of the Down syndrome couple in the original story.  I can imagine how much they want their children to be happy, and how much they fear having to care not only for their disabled children, but an innocent grandchild, too.  But for Negri to suggest an exception to the Church’s law — saying, “Well, maybe in a situation like this, how bad could it be to just bypass the whole fertility problem?” — that’s not compassion.  That’s condescension to a hellish degree.  That’s reducing the human person to biology vs. desire:  Self-sufficiency as the highest good on one hand, personal satisfaction as the highest good on the other hand.

What’s so terrible about that construct?  It leaves out God entirely.  It leaves out the Incarnate God, who has something to tell us about suffering and sacrifice in the service of love.

The Church’s teaching on sterilization is not a prohibition — it’s a protection.  It’s a humble acknowledgment that man is made in the image of God, and you don’t mess with that.

The Church’s law is there to uphold the dignity of human life.  Not attractive human life, not convenient human life, not self-sufficient human life:  every human life.  When we begin to think of mankind as a two-tiered system, in which only the top tier is fully human in God’s sight — then we are on the road to Hell.

Guest Post: Kristen Herrett on “Raising Daddies”

Kristen Herrett of St. Monica’s Bridge graciously allowed me to repost her sensible and valuable essay about her letting her sons play with baby dolls.  I especially liked the line:  “I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake.”

Raising Daddies

by Kristen Herrett

The images in this post are of my sons. With a baby doll. I posted them on Facebook a few weeks ago to mixed reviews. Most thought they were cute. A few privately messaged me to take them down and stop letting my boys “play with dolls.” The pictures remain and my boys still have access to the doll.

When I became a mother I had certain ideas of how I was going to raise my children. I would venture to guess most mothers do. I quickly found out that some of these ideas I had did not exactly fit my temperament, my mothering style or my kids. I was all about babywearing. My babies, not so much. I thought co-sleeping would be great…but I wasn’t doing any of the sleeping part. Other things, like breastfeeding, were great.

I never set out to raise my children in a “gender neutral” household. And really, they don’t live in one. Yes, when Jeff is home he cooks, but that’s because he is a chef. And I do wear pants. And for a time, I worked while he stayed home with the children. And there have been occasions where emergency or budget have dictated one of my boys have worn a pink pull-up or had a pink pacifier. But, for the most part, boys are boys and girls are girls here.

Shelby has a few “baby” dolls. She sometimes shows interest in them, mostly does not. Real babies hold no interest for her until they are able to sit up. It is only then that she sort of “gets” that this thing that mommy is carrying constantly is a human being. We keep the baby dolls out and praise her when she shows interest, not because it is a girl toy, but because she is behind with her social interactions and encouraging a positive association with infants is important for her to learn.

The phenomenon of the boys and this baby doll is a recent thing. It has only occurred after my brothers began spending time with my best friend’s new-born infant son. Joey likes to “practice” holding the baby so he can hold Baby Ryan and his soon to be born cousin Baby Bella. He also practices how to feed the baby and give it a paci when it cries. He has named the baby “Will” after his brother. For Will, he wants to imitate his big brother and he needs to practice being gentle around babies for sure!

I do not for a minute think I am confusing my boys or emasculating them. After all, they don’t want to wear dresses now and have proclaimed that Barbies are for girls. But I realize that some people very much view it that way. So, I will go ahead and explain why I haven’t ripped the doll out of my boys’ hands.

I am raising children. Some day, my boys may very likely become fathers. I want to raise them to be good Daddies. I don’t want them to fear their children when they are newborns. I want them to approach the task with some kind of confidence. I want them to understand that sometimes we make mistakes, but our love is never a mistake. I want them to be able to support a wife who has difficulty breastfeeding and be able to comfort a crying child. We forget these things are not necessarily traits we are born with. I’ve watched many a father struggle and wish they could have just observed their dads doing some of the parenting things they find themselves doing, let alone been encouraged to do them themselves.

And for the record, my boys do an inordinately large amount of wrestling, shooting each other with water guns, fighting, playing Thomas and rooting for Penn State and Carolina’s football teams.

Parenting is a very difficult task. One that no matter how many books you read you can never fully master. I’ve chosen to try to expose my children to learning through doing. And right now, my sons seem to be proponents of attachment parenting (we say Joey is co-sleeping in the picture above). Will they continue as adults? Who knows, there is a lot of time between now and then…in the mean time I hope and pray that I am raising daddies who will rise to the task of fathering their children in the best ways possible.

A big fat lady just sat on my hat.

So, we celebrate Columbus Day here.  As I’ve mentioned, it’s not because I think he was a perfect man (there was only one of those.  We get His day off school, too), or because I think that his achievement brought unmitigated blessings to mankind.  Still and all, I’m glad to be on this continent, I’m glad to have a three-day weekend, and I love me some eye-talian food.

On the menu is bruschetta with various disgusting toppings that the kids won’t eat, mwa ha ha ha ha hahh (that was the sound of me contemplating eating it all myself), some kind of antipasto with those awful marinated vegetables I can’t get enough of, probably mussels or something, suppli, cannoli with cherries and shaved chocolate, and Italian ices.  It’s possible that some wine might leap into the shopping cart all by itself, too.

As you can see, this is a pretty Americanized Italian feast.  That’s just my way of sticking it to l’uomo.  Take that, Columbus!  If you’re such a hero, how come we’re not eating . . . well, I tried and tried to think of some kind of authentic Italian food which sounds gross, but I really couldn’t.  Maybe something with, like, ox brains or something?  The worst thing I had to eat in Rome was rabbit, and that was only kind of awful because we thought it was chicken, until we realized the legs were bending the wrong way.  Oh, and there were some kind of snack food that was exactly like biodegradable packing peanuts.  Those weren’t very good — or filling, which was terribly important for a student who was living on about 70 cents a day.

Anyway, here is my recipe for suppli, which is what we had for lunch most days in Rome (one semester in college).  They cost 800 – 1,000 lire each, a few years before they switched –sniff sniff– to the Euro.  Normally, I wouldn’t touch a recipe with a secondary recipe in it, but this one is worth it, believe me!

(photo source)

SUPPLI

2 eggs

2 cups risotto (see recipe below)

4 oz. mozzarella in 1/2-inch cubes

3/4 cup bread crumbs

oil for frying

tomato sauce, if you like

Beat eggs lightly until just combined.

Add risotto and stir thoroughly, but do not mash rice.

If you want tomato sauce (this is how they were served in Rome), add it now – just enough to make it tomato-y, without thinning the mixture.

Form a ball about the size of a golf ball, make a little dent in it, stick a cube of cheese in the dent, and then add on another golf-ball sized lump of the rice mixture.  Form it all into a smooth egg shape.  Roll the whole thing in bread crumbs.  Do this until you use up all the rice mixture.

Refrigerate the balls for 30 minutes if you can, to make them easier to fry.

Heat oil to 375 degrees; preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Fry 4 or 5 balls at a time, about 5 minutes until they are golden brown.  The cheese inside should be melted.

Drain on paper towels, and keep the suppli warm in the oven while you are frying the rest — but these should be served pretty soon.

Risotto recipe:

7 cups chicken stock

4 Tbs butter

1/2 cup finely chopped onions

2 cups raw white rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 Tbs soft butter

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Set chicken stock to simmer in a pot.

In a large pan, melt 4 Tbs. butter – cook onions until soft but not brown.

Stir in raw rice and cook 1-2 minutes until the grains glisten and are opaque.

Pour in the wine and boil until wine is absorbed.

Add 2 cups of simmering stock and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed.

Add 2 more cups of stock and cook until absorbed.

If the rice is not tender by this point, keep adding 1/2 cups of stock until it is tender.

Gently stir in the 4 Tbs soft butter and the grated cheese with a fork.

7 Quick Takes: “The Have-Nots” Edition

7 things it’s kind of weird that we don’t have

The other day, as I was getting all wet, I thought to myself, “Why don’t we have an umbrella?”  I guess the real reason is that you can’t have one or two umbrellas for a family of ten, but who wants ten umbrellas?  Not us, that’s who.

There’s other things that we don’t seem to have, for some reason.  I don’t mean things that we have that keep on breaking, like a vacuum cleaner — or things we keep ontrying to have, but can’t seem to keep in the house, like pens or Band-aids or money (that would spoil some vast, eternal plan).  I’m talking about things that we seem to have opted out of — things our household just doesn’t do.

Okay, so #1 is ten umbrellas.

#2:  A mop.  The last two times I had a mop, the kids used them to stir up the mud puddle at the bottom of the slide.  Then, when I told them I wanted my mop back, they threw it in the swamp, and then it started to snow.  So, the way the kitchen floor looks?  Their fault, 100%.

#3:  Paper towels.  This is a holdover from our super-poor days, when the kids would get one hot dog each, and I would get an empty bun.  Just couldn’t get myself to spend money on paper towels, and I still can’t, even though nowadays we’re so flush I buy hot dogs by the dozen.  I’m pathetically attached to my stack of cloth dish towels, and know what each one is especially good for:  this one for absorbancy, that one for scrubbing power, these two for their lack of funky smell (when you’re drying something for company), etc.  I would take a picture, if I felt like getting up right now.

#4:  Microwave oven.  When we moved here, our adorable kitchen (proportions of a hobbit hole, ambiance of Mordor) had about 5 square inches of counter space — and most of that was taken up by my enormously pregnant belly  which I rested on the countertop while shrieking at the other kids to stop jumping off of the moving boxes (it took . . . a while  . . . to unpack), so I got rid of the microwave (which wasn’t actually a very good one, since I originally found it on the side of the road one rainy day).  So now I just remember to defrost meat in the morning (sometimes I decide what’s for dinner by having a meat race!  Two small chickens, or one large roast — who will it be?  Ready . . . defrost!  It’s so much fun), and have explained to the children that microwaved popcorn causes tooth cancer.

#5:  TV.  I mean, we have a monitor and a DVD player, but no dish or antenna or whatever.  I don’t feel self-righteous about it, because I waste gobs and gobs of precious time rotting my brain with Netflix and the internet.  To give you an idea of the level of cultural purity in our household, my husband and I recently had a startlingly long discussion about character development in the third season of Reno 911.

#6:  SKIRTS!  How many times do I have to tell you, I don’t have any skirts!  Except the long black one I wear to Mass, the brown dress I wear to parties, the blue dotted one I wear on dates, the two denim ones for warm days, the white flouncy one for happy spring days,  the brown one with flowers for happy fall days, the long flowered one for sad fall days, the gray wool one for winter Mass, the straight plaid one for when I want to look smart, the skimpy brown one with gold beads for covering up at the beach, the retro red dress my husband is convinced still fits me, and of course the red satin formal skirt for next time I’m a pregnant bridesmaid.  And the blue, empire-waisted one for the next next time I’m a pregnant bridesmaid.  There, I just wanted to clear that up: I do not wear skirts or dresses, and do not own any.  It’s all part of my strident feminist plan to destroy the institution of marriage.

#7:  Jen, can we just change this to six quick takes?

Thought experiment

Belief in God is for the weak, who are just looking for comfort and an escape from reality.

Some days, yeah.  Probably.  But also:

You beg God for strength often enough, and eventually you will see that you have none yourself.  None.  What you are without God is brittle and empty and cold, like dead coral.  You can’t even make your own heart beat.

You pray for the courage to forgive someone, and you soon notice that you yourself live next to the abyss.  You play next to it — you spend your life fooling around, threatening to throw yourself in, just to get attention — and the communion of saints is forever hauling you back, buckling your safety straps again, teaching you the same old rules of basic decency.

You’re called to love, stupidly, endlessly, outrageously.  You think on the perfections of God, and then you see that you have been pouring your heart into people and things whose whole nature is to let you down.  And after you realize this, your main responsibility is to love some more.

And you’re called to be loved.  He loves you when you don’t want to be loved, and then He leaves you when you don’t want to be left.  And when you don’t like it, that’s when you need to change.

The mercy of God comes like a flood.  Not a warm bath:  a flood.

You can go back and salvage some of your stuff, but you will not be living in that house again.

You must remember this

I spend a lot of time thinking what it must be like to be one of my kids.  Before you say, “Oh, you’re such a good mommy!” it’s not really like that.  If anything, I’m all the more culpable for being so mean sometimes.  I actually can really, vividly imagine what it’s like to be, for instance, so so upset about someone saying that “Catsy Cootsy Tatsy Wootsy” is a stinky name for a robot — and yet I still say, “Oh, don’t be so silly, who cares?  You stop crying and clean up this room.”  Even though I remember what that’s like.

Anyway, I was thinking about those strange, stranded childhood memories that stay with us.  We say, “When I was little, we always used to sit under the lilac tree and play farm using fruit snacks for animals” when really that only happened one time.  Or our entire sixth year of life is represented by a memory of a maple seed helicopter that someone drew on with green marker and put in our hair.  Probably something else happened that year!  But that’s all we can remember, is the helicopter.

I just wonder how these memories stick.  Why?  I drive down the same country road four times a day, five days a week, with the four little ones strapped into their dank car seats.  Sometimes we chat, sometimes we listen to music, sometimes they yell and kick at each other, and fight over the last of the graham crackers.  But most of that time, they’re just looking out the window.

I glance back and see those dark, placid eyes drinking in the golden leaves, the endlessly unfurling stone walls, the occasional thrilling squirrel or cocker spaniel as we rattle down the road — that familiar landscape that ought to be so soothing and reassuring, and the perfect, idyllic setting for a whole year of comfortable childhood memories.  There’s even a funny plaster bull in somebody’s yard.  That would make a nice memory!

But I know perfectly well the strangeness inside a child’s head.  I remember that simmering stew of comfort and confusion, tedium and alarm, affection and sudden spikes of dread.  And I remember all the adults trotting along so callously, so bafflingly unaware of all the terrible dangers in the world, the savage mysteries that grown-ups pretend are nothing at all, just a shadow, just a plastic bag caught in the wind, just the sound of the house settling.

Some of my children are worriers and brooders, and I understand them.  I can tell them, “It’s all right — it’s all right.  You’ll grow up, and you’ll see that the world is not so terrible.  There is a way out of this dark hole, and there is so much to look forward to.  Just hang in there, and you will not always be a child!  You can do it.”  But that doesn’t help them now.  They don’t know what I mean, and they don’t realize that I understand.

I wish I could choose their memories for them.  When I’m feeling up to it, I try and bulldoze them over with poignant, satisfying experiences, so that they’ll have something good for when they grow up.  And really, I know it’s not for their sake — it’s for mine.  It’s so they can tell me, “Remember when you used to sing that song you made up while we were waiting for the eggs to scramble?” and I can say, “Oh, yes, you were such a difficult child . . . but I made you happy, didn’t I?” and they will say, “Yes, Mama, and we appreciate that.  You were a good mother.”

Ridiculous.  That is not what will happen.  When they have their own kids, they’ll wonder why I couldn’t have been nicer, why I had to be so critical, so capricious, so impatient and embarrassing.  They will love me, but it will be love with exasperation, accomplished with fortitude.  I know that whoever my children will turn out to be, it will be because of their own experiences, their own personality, their own genetics, their own little portions of grace that God chooses for them.  So very, very little of who they are will come from me, even though I crack my brain trying to think of everything they will need.

And of that, they will remember – – what?  The time I yelled at them on their birthday; and maybe also the time I made kitten-shaped pancakes for lunch.  Maybe they’ll just remember me brushing their hair.

I hope the time they remember is the time I remembered to be gentle.

 

The Last Angel

I deliberately made this image too small so you’d have to click on this link to see it bigger!

My brother Joe Prever, who recently started writing for Catholic Phoenix, pointed me in the direction of the artist, Nicholas Roerich, a Russian painter of the early 20th century.  A fascinating guy with varied interests, he did a number of religious paintings.  I’m always on the look-out for new religious art, just to reassure myself that you can combine theology with modernity and come out with something other than the standard issue “my hands are bananas” clip art:

(image source)

I mean, there’s nothing terribly wrong with this kind of picture, except for its pernicious ability to teach bored children flipping through the missalette that religion is for, you know, neanderthals.  Duhhh.   What’s the deal with that, anyway?  Why did 20th century art start showing modern men looking like stodgy, doughy, immobile cave men, while actual cave men were painting elegant, funny, snappy portraits?

(image source)

Why, huh?

Now the original picture again:

Oh, you can’t see that — you better click on the link.  It’s called “The Last Angel.”  I’m trying to wake up the art part of my brain after a long, long sleep, so be patient with me.

Part of what makes this picture so alarming is the aggressive combination of different styles, isn’t it?  The flowers in the foreground are almost primitive, the mountains in the background are Chinese, and those wild, roiling clouds are something like a combination of Cezanne and Rouault.

But the city, the flames, and of course the angel have the flat perspective, the brushwork, and the stylization of a Russian ikon.  The contrast tells you what is going on here:  something really different, SLAMMING into the world.  Days of wrath.  I don’t think this one is saying “Be not afraid.”

Or, as I saw it phrased on a bumper sticker once:  Angels are just teddy bears with wings.

Sorry, I got nothing.

Yesterday, I was less of a person and more of a heap of pulverized bits of exhaustion.  So, while my husband took seriously my explanation that everything was horrible, there was no hope, and nothing was ever going to go well ever again no matter how hard we tried, he also figured out that I should get some sleep. So he got up with the kids, got them breakfast, made sure they were dressed and brushed and had all their various bags and papers and snacks and permission slips, and did the hour-long drive to school and back.  And I slept.  When he got home, he made coffee and started pumping out the flooding basement.  And I slept. This is his only day off this week.

The five stages of exhaustion

THE FIVE STAGES OF EXHAUSTION

Stage 1: You wake up feeling tired.

You stumble around the house all day, misplace your keys, and go to bed early.

Stage 2: You wake up feeling lousy.

You stumble around, maybe drop a few things, and find it hard to finish sentences. You go to bed early.

Stage 3: You wake up feeling dead.

You fall asleep on the baby while you’re changing her. You give the kids cereal for supper because you’re too weak to lift a pound of chop meat. You go to bed late, because if you don’t get caught up on the housework, someone is going to arrest you.

Stage 4: You don’t wake up.

You walk around the house, make meals, drive to the library, and answer the phone, but you’re not really awake. But you dream that you are, and in your dream, you’re very tired. You go to bed, probably. Whatever.

Stage 5: You wake up feeling great!

Some of your noses are a little numb, and you keep forgetting where your feet feet, but you seem to have outlasted the need for sleep! You’re a champion! There are only a few problems:

~You make a tuna noodle casserole (ingredients: tuna, noodles) and forget to put in the noodles. Your only clue that something is awry is a nagging feeling that supper looks awfully low today.

~You ask your husband to pick up some cereal bowls, and carefully explain that they are to be not ceramic, and not glass, but a particular sort of smooth, non-porous material that is rigid like unto glass, and yet not so breakable. And he says, “yeah, I’m familiar with plastic.”

~You wander around the house searching for AA batteries. You spot a book of matches, and think, “That’ll work!”

~Your husband comments that your new yard has enough space to keep a horse, and you reply, “What we really need is one of those horses with horns. That gives milk.”

~You ask your mother, “Can the kids sleep at your house, or are the rooms too full of cheese?”

Everything in this post is true.

Being tired may not kill me, but no one else is safe.