Modern Catholics sometimes preen ourselves on our stealthy infiltration of the secular world, by which we are constantly evangelizing our unchurched friends, when if fact all we’re doing is sitting around drinking beer and making butt jokes, which religious and secular people do in perhaps slightly different ways, but there is a lot of overlap. In other words, maybe your stealth evangelization is so subtle, there isn’t actually any.
Here, I will not discuss the question of parental vs. state authority in life-or-death decisions. I only want to talk about the life-or-death decisions themselves, and I want to challenge the brutally simplistic narrative that there are two sides: People who want to treat Charlie further, who are good, and people who want to withdraw Charlie’s life support, who are bad.
It’s not so simple.
If you have ever looked in the mirror and thought with shame and distress that you could never die for your faith, think again. Life in Christ is a life of a thousand, million little deaths: deaths to old ways of thinking, death to false security, death to complacency, death to trivial comforts. Any time you inquire about your Faith, you are whispering to Christ, however reluctantly, that you are open to killing off some part of yourself that does not deserve to live.
Photo: By nieznany – Polish Righteous awarded with medals for bravery by the Holocaust Remembrance Authority. Cropped and color managed by Poeticbent (dyskusja · edycje), Domena publiczna, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7130230
Last week, pop science entertainer Bill Nye set off a wave of righteous indignation by asking, “Should we have policies that penalize people for having extra kids in the developed world?”
The only response is, of course: What the hell do you mean, ‘extra?'” What is an extra child? Who is disposable and extraneous, and who gets to decide? Are you “extra,” Bill Nye? Am I?
Last night, I saw for myself what an extra child looks like. An Australian company called Baby Bee Hummingbirds will take your extra, unused IVF embryos, preserve and cremate them, and then encase them in resin as “keepsake jewelry.”
The founder asks, “What a better way to celebrate your most treasured gift, your child, than through jewellery?”
Well, you could let him live, I suppose. You could allow him the basic dignity of spending time in the womb of his mother, to live or not, to grow or not, but at least to have a chance. You could celebrate the life of your child by giving him some small gift of warmth and softness, however brief, rather than letting him travel in an insulated pouch from lab to lab, frozen and sterile from beginning to end. You could conceive a child so as to give him life, and you could rise like a human should above the blind proliferation of biology.
I have not experienced the anguish of infertility. I can easily imagine how the ancient, unquenchable desire for a child would drive a couple to consider IVF. Who would fault a loving couple for wanting a child?
I can imagine, if I had no guidance, seeing IVF as a way of simply bowing to the inevitable awkwardness of life. We’d rather do things the natural way, but sometimes nature fails us. If science offers us a workaround, and we end up in a place of love, what does it matter? I can imagine thinking this. It is natural to want children.
And it is natural to want our children to remain with us even if we can’t hold their plump, warm baby bodies in our arms. We want something we can touch. I can imagine this: Knowing, no matter who thinks they’re just “extras,” that these embryos are more than just specimens. I can imagine wanting to keep them safe, or something like it.
And so the mother does the thing that makes the most sense to a pagan, when nature fails her: She bows to artifice, and finds a way to bring her children with her, clumsily, sentimentally, but grasping at something that seems true: We are made to be with the ones we love. We are supposed to be able to give them life, and to keep them safe.
She knows they are her children. But does she know what children are?
In order to turn embryos into jewelry, one must believe that all children, and all people, can be made safe. One must believe there is such a thing as safety in this world.
But mothers, and fathers, and you barren ones, listen to me. You cannot have any loved one forever. Don’t you know that they all go? Don’t you know this?
Sometimes it happens before we even knew they existed; sometimes it happens when they are old and feeble, frightened and crying for death. But they all go. No one is safe. No one can be preserved. Why are you lying about it? Haven’t you been through enough springs to know that winter always comes? Haven’t we been through this? No one is with us always, until the end of time.
Anyway, hardly anyone.
Imagine, a body encased in glass, made portable, made consumable. But not jewelry. Instead, a sunburst, a fountain of life, a wellspring, the maker of worlds somehow contained, first in His mother’s womb, and now on our altars, through springs and winters and then through springs again.
The body inside is a willing victim. Not preserved in death, but alive forever, immortal. Here is the difference between the scandal of the Incarnation and the scandal of sentimentality. The Incarnation invites us to accept forgiveness, bought for us through His death. Sentimentality puts our sin always before us, but tells us we can be comforted through everlasting death.
I do understand. We want the body. We grieve when the beloved one is lost to us, even if, like the parents who make “extra” embryos, it’s entirely our fault that our children are cold and dead. We want to heal our grief, to control it, to contain it.
That is not how sin is healed. That is not how death is conquered. Healing comes when we send our dead to be with Him, not preserved forever in death, but to be restored forever in His life.
I commend all the dead, all my beloved ones who are passing away like the grass: Go and be with Him. You don’t need to stay here with us, to comfort me in my weakness. Go and be with Him.
Yesterday, my friend Leticia Adams shared the devastating news that her oldest son, Anthony Gallegos, committed suicide at her home. He had long struggled with depression. He was the father of two young girls.
If you care to, please join me in praying the novena to St. Michael the Archangel for Anthony, Leticia, and their whole family. You can find the novena here and sign up for daily reminders.
Leticia would be very grateful to have Masses said for the soul of her son. His full name is Francisco Antonio Gallegos. You can request online for Masses to be said with Marians of the Immaculate Conception and at St. Michael’s Abbey in CA. (Those are just a few suggestions; many other places accept online requests for Masses to be said for particular intentions.)
Gift cards for cash and fast food would also be very helpful as they deal with the immediate aftermath of this tragedy. You may use the PO Box of the Catholic Sistas blog, and note that your gift is for Leticia Adams:
Leticia Adams c/o Catholic Sistas
PO BOX 71
McNeil, TX 78651
If you are local to the family, please consider donating a meal to help. CareCalendar lets you sign up to bring meals on specific days. The Calendar ID is 251799 and the security code is 7880.
There is now a YouCaring page set up to raise funds for funeral costs. If the goal is reached, any extra funds will go for college funds for Anthony’s two little girls.
There is a separate YouCaring page set up for Ariana, Anthony’s girlfriend, to help her pay bills and to care for their two daughters.
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We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognised and called by name back home by their Father who made them.
Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths.
Ever taken a look at those cave-dwelling, bottom-lurking creatures that have adapted to the dark? They are interesting beyond belief. Their standard-issue organs go dormant, to be replaced with specialised appendages, antennae, and adaptive organs to make their way around.
The same thing happens to our souls, to our understanding of what life and love, childbearing and sexuality mean, if we spend too many generations shutting out the light. We sprout cumbersome appendages to our consciences; we develop outlandish workarounds to facing the truth. We have eyes still, but they no longer function. A sense of right and wrong is still graven in our hearts, but layer after layer of scar tissue forms over it until our hearts appear blank. Whatever we want to write on them, we may: we call it “our truth”, and it passes, in the dark. It passes.
Image by Mark Basarab via Unslplash
To my protestant friend: You say that depictions of Christ’s suffering in the centre of worship makes you feel worried. It should. It should shake you to the core.
Note: I’ve been posting for The Catholic Weekly at the beginning of each week. Here are my posts from the last two weeks:
These are all topics we discussed yesterday during Mark Shea’s radio show,Connecting the Dots, where I am a co-host every Monday. I keep forgetting to remind people about this show, but it’s lots of fun! Here is a podcast of yesterday’s show, where we answered reader’s questions, including “Should we pray for the conversion of Satan?”
Whether you call it a defect in our understanding of tragedy, or a defect in our understanding of comedy, it amounts to the same thing, because a society that avoids tragedy is a society that does not understand comedy — and so it has no idea when to laugh and when to cry.