Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Hours

It is the last few hours of Benedict XVI's papacy. I am oddly depressed. Not so oddly, I suppose. Along with a lot of other people, I was surprised and a little dismayed when the pope announced his intentions two weeks ago. But quickly, as the news sank in, and as I later realized what he was doing in retreating to a monastery for a life of prayer, I was happy for him and for us.

This has been my favorite pope, the pope of my adulthood. I was too young to know any others before John Paul II, whom I loved, truly loved, from afar. The "new" pope was a scholarly man, a teacher, someone (like me, I perceived) who would much rather use the gifts God gave him quietly reading and writing and communing with fellow theophiles. Instead, he poured those gifts out to nourish the children God gave him. An unexpected model for an introverted mother.

I am still happy to have him with us, in whatever capacity. And I look forward with joy and trust to whatever the results of the conclave bring us.

But I am realizing afresh that the end of a papacy even in this manner is not so far removed from mourning at a deathbed.

Today, in the final hours of the pope's Petrine ministry, we will attend a mass of thanksgiving. That is, the older kids will attend while I sit outside with the squirmy little ones and pray. Then we will start our brief sedevacantism in the dentist's office, because life goes on.

But I will miss you, Pope Benedict XVI.

A few links:

A tribute: 'night, Papa

Please: for next Pope, an average Joe

The Church is alive

Friday, February 22, 2013

About having a big family

I don't do it to save the world.

I do it out of fidelity to a God who loves us all.

But I admit to getting a self-righteous kick out of reading the recent stories bemoaning the nation's falling fertility rate. Even the secular and liberal bastions of online discourse are starting to talk about it: We are now below the replacement rate, it's actually not a good place to be, and (though they are loathe to say so) our biggest hope is religious, conservative, procreating families like mine. Here's Slate:
In developed countries, childrearing has become a lifestyle option tailored to each couple’s preferences. Maximizing fertility is rarely a priority. My wife and I are a case in point. I’m 46, she’s 39, and we have two toddlers. We waited about as long to have kids as we feasibly could because we were invested in building our careers and, frankly, enjoying all the experiences that those careers let us have. If wanted to pop out another ankle-biter right now, our ageing bodies might just allow us to do so. But we have no intention of trying. As much as we adore our little guys, they’re a lot of work and frighteningly expensive. Most of our friends have just one or two kids, too, and like us they regard the prospect of having three or four kids the way most people look at ultramarathoning or transoceanic sailing—admirable pursuits, but only for the very committed.

That attitude could do for Homo sapiens what that giant asteroid did for the dinosaurs. If humanity is going to sustain itself, then the number of couples deciding to have three or four kids will consistently have to exceed the number opting to raise one or zero. The 2.0 that my wife and I have settled for is a decent effort, but we’re not quite pulling our weight. Are we being selfish? Or merely rational? Our decision is one that I’m sure future generations will judge us on. Assuming there are any.

Heh. Yeah, I guess I'm "very committed." I have been tempted to joke, post a tongue-in-cheek status update on Facebook about how many of the childless people I'm picking up the slack for. But the Church, while counseling in favor of love and generosity, wisely leaves such decisions up to spouses. There are so, so many legitimate reasons for having no, or fewer, children.

(And who would blame a priest or religious for not procreating to replace themselves, or say they are not committed?)

Then there's this piece in The Daily Beast, about how many choose to remain childless, and even stay single, for "legitimate, if perhaps selfish, reasons," and my thoughts get a little more serious. The writer also talks about why it may be good for individuals but it's bad for America. I, on the other hand, can't help but think about how it goes beyond America. I found its treatment of the attitudes behind this choice to be begrudgingly honest, even as the writer seems to affirm them.
Postfamilial America is in ascendancy as the fertility rate among women has plummeted, since the 2008 economic crisis and the Great Recession that followed, to its lowest level since reliable numbers were first kept in 1920. That downturn has put the U.S. fertility rate increasingly in line with those in other developed economies—suggesting that even if the economy rebounds, the birthrate may not. For many individual women considering their own lives and careers, children have become a choice, rather than an inevitable milestone—and one that comes with more costs than benefits.

“I don’t know if that’s selfish,” says Jordan, the daughter of an Ecuadoran and an Ohioan who grew up in the South Bronx, explaining her reasons for a decision increasingly common among women across the developed world, where more than half of the world’s population is now reproducing at below the replacement rate. “I feel like my life is not stable enough, and I don’t think I necessarily want it to be ... Kids, they change your entire life. That’s the name of the game. And that’s not something I’m interested in doing.”

That might evoke the response, "Well, if that's the way you are, yeah, it's better that a person like you doesn't have children." Selfish people shouldn't have kids, right? (That's an argument I hear people make of themselves when choosing to abort. "I'm too irresponsible, I'm horrible with kids, I have major issues. I shouldn't be having a baby.") And when it comes to passing down values to future generations, these, one might argue, are not the ones we want perpetuated.

But when a child is born, there is the chance that that new soul will make different choices, rise above tragic circumstances. There is the chance that the parents themselves will be drawn by their children and their heartstrings closer to Love. "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on" goes the saying, credited to Carl Sagan of all people. Children are a sign of hope; they are an embodiment of hope. Are people abandoning hope? Or are they just short-sighted, seeing nothing but themselves and their own interests?

I can sympathize with fearing the "costs" of having kids. The expense, lifestyle changes, bodily changes, opportunity costs—I get it. Better than they do, I'd say. It's worth it. But that's a hard sell to a lot of people, and the best change—what happens to your heart, your soul when you have a child—is probably their greatest fear. They are afraid of becoming someone other than "who they are." They don't want to lose themselves. But you have to lose yourself in order to find yourself. To save yourself.

As far as movements go, people have no idea how close the "childfree by choice" one is to hell. You can see it in the rejection of marriage, as well as children. For what is hell but a rejection of communion? Increasingly hell is understood to be not the will of God but a choice the soul makes, seeking itself over God. An overarching desire for control. A rejection of others, a refusal to love. Choosing not to have children for selfish reasons is a failure to love. God is a family; Satan looked out for number one. God made the sacrifice and loved, unto death and beyond. Satan made the choice to serve himself.

Ultimately, it is a self-consuming choice.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Some Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Life always seems to be full to the brim with nine kids running around, even if it's full of the same crazy shenanigans everyday. (What's that joke about that crazy habit kids have of needing to be fed several times a day?) Before I let another momentous day go by, I thought I'd check in with some hurried thoughts.

Goodbye, Papa

I can't go without mentioning the astounding news of Pope Benedict's renunciation of the Petrine ministry, effective at the end of the month. Like many others, I thought someone was pulling my leg when I first heard the news. Perhaps I'll go more into my own thoughts on the occasion when I have more time. Right now, I'll direct you to the Anchoress, who has to my knowledge the best round ups of links about the papal announcement.

What Are You Giving Up?

I only half-resolved on anything for the new year. (More on that in a minute.) Lent is clearer to me. I'm giving up the Internet.

Not entirely. I depend on it too much on a day-to-day basis to do that just yet. I'm always surprised by how much even some of the most mundane things are somehow reliant on an Internet connection. But I'm plugged in way more than I need to be—than is good for me—and I feel the need to fast. I've set some parameters that limit and direct my Internet use to one hour a day, max. I doubt you'll see less of me, though, given my sporadic posting routine so far. In fact, since I may have more time to actually write, you may even see more of me.

Unless you're doing an Internet fast too.

Another Resolution

A month and a half into 2013, I finally have my thing. Oh, I chose a word, and then never did anything about it. (Publicly, I mean. It's still been a source of personal inspiration.) I had lots of ideas, but that in itself seemed a bad sign. Last year I made twelve resolutions, one for each month. I worked on them all, but actually checked off as done... not one.

This year I couldn't decide what was important enough, inspiring enough, and possible enough to raise to the status of a resolution. This afternoon it hit me while I was making some bread for dinner. I'm going to try at least 40 new bread recipes.

And now you will laugh.

But it's really quite inspired for me. It requires forethought, planning, and creativity—all things I need and crave. It's budget-minded. It's loads more doable than 365 days of crockpot dinners (which I would love to do, by the way). I'm using a bread machine (which came with lots of great recipes) so it's kid-friendly, beginner friendly, and quasi-educational (because I am not a baker). And there's even a spiritual component to mine.

French bread loaves

Have you made your Lenten resolutions? What are your thoughts this Ash Wednesday?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shining a light

In the bustle of life, we did not get to the church for Candlemas this morning. I am always sad to miss it, but the truth is that I miss it more often than not in this season of raising little ones. I had this consolation, though—Neal Obstat's spotlight on the Brotherhood of Hope.
I will not attempt to do any justice to their life and charism, their mission and history. I simply wish to say that this — never in my life have I encountered a religious community that contained men of such high caliber. They are thoroughly real flesh and blood men, overflowing with gifts and talents, who love Jesus in a most manly way; who love others in a most remarkably Jesus way; who pray like the ancients but are savvy to all things contemporary; who live their fraternity in a way that raises up the dignity of family life; who honor women in a way few men bother to any more; who manifest the truth that true diversity deepens unity and that true unity is the most effective means of evangelization.
I'm always glad to see a shout-out for the campus ministers who guided me into a more genuine faith and equipped me for its continuing maturation.

God bless you, brothers!


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