Thursday, January 22, 2015

Popes, Planes, and Common Sense






I hesitate somewhat to join the excessive noise over Pope Francis's recent gab-fest on a plane because there is just so much noise about it. But sometimes a girl's just gotta blog.

I wish I could be surprised at people's reactions to the Pope's somewhat off-the-cuff comments. I wish less people were jumping to conclusions, overreacting without reading the proper translation, and taking things so personally. The translation is fairly clear and easy to read.

The Pope was going on a bit of a random tangent as he is prone to do while at cruising altitude, and brought up a women he knew who was having a lot a children via caesarean section contrary to medical advise. A few minutes later he refers to this woman when he is asked about family planning and poverty saying that it is not Catholic teaching for Catholics to act like rabbits. Which is true because we're human beings not animals who are slaves to their instincts. This is something the Church has never wavered on but has only become clearer and clearer about: people must use their sexuality in a way suitable to their nature, they cannot separate the reality of procreation from sexual activity nor are they meant to be procreating cogs in some kind of creation machine. Family planning must reflect the dignity of the human person. We are soul and body, capable of making intelligent decisions when we should further our families and at the same time are capable of restraint from engaging in sex. These concepts go hand in hand; if we're against contraception because it denies life, treats the human person below it's dignity, and lacks respect for our partner then we also should make the connection that we're rational beings who are responsible for our families, for bringing new life into the world, for the lives that we have already brought into the world, and for ourselves and our spouse.

The problem with this teaching as with almost every other Catholic teaching is the extremes. It is so hard to get the teaching of the Church regarding family planning right because orthodoxy (to paraphrase Chesterton) is a precariously thin line between extremes. The extreme of using contraception to "plan" a family is an easy extreme that gives us human beings complete control, or more factually the illusion of complete control, over fertility. While the opposite extreme comes into play when people treat family planning as something that doesn't require human decision and input. God's plan for sex and our fertility is for us to be co-creators with him, to choose to open our hearts and bodies to the possibility of life at each and every act of sex while at the same time using our reason and understanding about when it may or may not be appropriate to be engaging in the activity that may make a baby. This teaching is a two sided coin that helps us understand our roles as co-creators with God while being responsible parents.

But again, it is right in the middle of extremes where orthodoxy resides. The Church's teaching doesn't seek to dehumanize us as cogs in God's people making machine with no choice or use of reason when it comes to parenthood, having as many babies as often as possible. But it is equally dehumanizing to rely on artificial means to stop conception as if we had no control over our sexual instincts.

It's really a good dose of common sense that sees the extremes yet realizes that virtue is found in the mean. The important fabric of Catholic teaching regarding family size is no exception to common sense.

As Catholics we've got to employ a little more common sense to everything else. Like the internet, like the media, like presuming the Pope said something and immediately taking offence or being hurt or getting upset. Because just as it is common sense to know that the media today will give their front teeth to catch the Pope saying something shocking, there is also common sense in believing that the Pope is a wise man who knows his stuff. It's a large leap to think that the Pope would want to offend large families and sacrificial mothers after all the wonderful things he's said about large families. He clearly has a great deal of appreciation for large families and is working hard to make helping all families a priority for the Church as a global whole.

And while I know that Pope Francis is a talkative guy who likes to let it all hang out so-to-speak when talking to reporters in airplanes, I also am sure that he does not intends to change Church teaching on a plane ride. Sure, I think that this most recent plane ride offered a lot of low hanging fruit for a media intent on finding imaginary change on fundamental strongholds of Catholic dogma. I also think that the way the media's portrayal of these comments to our society that is largely completely ignorant to basic Catholic beliefs will probably lead to more misinformation and misbelief across the board. Maybe it'll open up more opportunities for us to more clearly explain the nuances and fine line of what real Catholic orthodoxy regarding family planning is really all about, or maybe it will lead to a lot more strangers in the grocery store making snap judgements about me and my close age range of a handful of kids as being "more Catholic than the Pope."

But what if we use common sense to think about these supposed "gaffes"? The Pope is saying nothing untrue, he is simply saying things in ways our spin-saturated Western ears cringe at. They amount to chances to evangelize at best and annoyances at worst. Annoyances that are very small things to suffer and offer up especially when we realize we don't face forced abortions in our country if we have more than one child, we don't sleep in fear that our whole village will be massacred by barbarians because we are Christian, but that we have been given many gifts including freedom and formed consciences in the gift of the Catholic faith and to live our those truths. The Pope's job isn't to make life as easy as possible for us staying true to the faith in the Western world, or any part of the world, the Pope's job is to lead us all to Christ; the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- and we all know that we reach the truth faster when we use common sense.



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24 comments:

  1. really well thought out, Christy. And a refreshing new angle among the dozens of pieces flooding my newsfeed right now.

    p.s. if the worst thing that happens to me is that the same people whose summary knowledge of Scripture is "judge not" want to call me a rabbit because they're soooo knowledgeable about Humana Vitae, etc., well, bring on the white martyrdom ;)

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  2. This was so very good and held so much truth. Thank you!

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  3. As someone who has had two c-sections so far, I felt kind of validated that the pope used that example. Just sometimes in Catholic culture big families are put on a pedestal of sorts and it's nice to know that even the pope thinks it's dangerous to push your body's limits like that.

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    1. I was a little relieved to hear it just after having 6 kids (no c-sections) - like my thoughts that enough's enough (right now) are ok!

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    2. Me too Caitlin, after one c-section and multiple D&C's for loss I have an OB who is watching me like a hawk. She's not against us trying again, but is very clear in helping us to weigh the pros and cons. If we have more loss and more to-term-babies there might come a point that I risk a lot of damage to my body (one of the worst for me being that I could loose my reproductive system before my reproductive years are up) and we have to proceed with a lot of caution. I really think (because I don't think we know the woman's full story) he was trying to address the idea that we HAVE to sacrifice our health for the sake of having lots and lots of kids. Some women have made that beautiful sacrifice, but it's not something that is asked of everyone.

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  4. I almost cried two days ago when I read (even full transcript) of the Pope's words. I didn't think at any moment he was saying anything new or untrue to the Catholic teaching, i just think that the way he expressed his opinion was wrong. I honestly believe he did not want to offend anyone on purpose, rather that he just used wrong words accidentally. Many times, my friends have been called out as rabbits for having close to age children and it was used in very mean and offensive way to them. To hear the same thing from Pope, was just heart breaking. And I just couldn't stop thinking of the women he spoke about regarding those C-sections (and a family I know who had 6 children all by C-sections). Did she (they) deserve to be so publicly judged (called out) by the Pope? Was that the only way to explain "responsible parenthood"?

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    1. Kate, I'm sorry all this caused you so much pain. This article from a Catholic Filipina mommy blogger really helped me understand the context so much better. He was talked about women in 3rd would countries who do not have access to decent medical care. He wasn't talked about our lives in North America.

      He was speaking about a culture where "Many men still think it is their right to have on-demand sex and many women still think they are obligated to comply."

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  5. Virtual high-five, Christy! This is awesome! "The Pope is saying nothing untrue, he is simply saying things in ways our spin-saturated Western ears cringe at." This!

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  6. You're right. OK, someone at the grocery store may accuse me of acting like a rabbit. At least I have cute bunnies. :)

    I like how you mention virtue is found in the mean. I so often think, for example, the end to my sinful indulgent behavior will come when I quit eating All Sugar. But maybe God is actually calling me to just enjoy sugar once in awhile? Why go whole hog over everything. My holiness will come in the middle. I hope anyway...

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  7. This is the best commentary I've read on this subject so far! I love this Pope. And he sure gets people talking ;) I know many people who aren't Catholic who really enjoy him, and read what he has to say and give him more credit than any other Pope before him.

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  8. I just really really like you.

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  9. I agree that this is the best, most balanced commentary on the issue I've read. Very well written, Christy.

    While I don't love the way he said what he said, he still did not say anything wrong or off base. You're totally correct in stating that the words he used made us cringe in the West, but that does not make us wrong in following Church teaching on sexuality and family.
    I've got five small children and am massively pregnant, I am not immune to commentary from the general populace, but I feel a little bit like I need to put on my big girl panties and not get all upset and offended at his (totally correct) commentary if anyone says anything to me about it. Jesus never promised us this would be easy, he in fact tells us in the Gospels several times that it will NOT. This is not Eden. We are kidding ourselves if we expect human accolades for doing what's right. St. Josemaria Escriva says in 'The Furrow' that Christians have an obligation to drown evil in good.
    When I'm called out for what others perceive as "breeding like rabbits," it's my job to put a smile on my face, invite them gently into conversation, and express the joy I feel about each of my children. When I hear, "oh *you've* got your hands full!" with sarcasm and an eye-roll (which is a pretty tame comment...), it's MY job to avoid the snark, stand up straight, smile into their eyes, and say, "yes, they are each such a wonderful blessing." It's my job to go out into public looking presentable and treating my children with kindness.
    We're simply not going to win any awards here. Even in our own churches sometimes. That's ok. And it's also why your line, "The Pope's job isn't to make life as easy as possible for us staying true to the faith in the Western world, or any part of the world, the Pope's job is to lead us all to Christ; the Way, the Truth, and the Life..." is so exactly spot on!

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  10. Well put Christy. So many quotable lines from this post! I appreciate too after having 4 c-sections and 5 pregnancies.

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  11. Thank you for this! As a Momma who has had 6 c-sections, the last 3 with less than 2 years between each, I felt no offense by what Pope Francis said because I know my husband and I used...get this....COMMON SENSE. We weighed our risks with each one. My body heals well after each sugery. My scar tissue after #6 was less than a woman who has had one c-section. We were confident that we made the right decision. When serious health issues began 6 months after our 6th baby, common sense told us that we needed to prepare ourselves for #6 being our last baby and be thankful for the blessings we had be given.
    I feel that my story would be similar to the woman Pope Francis was speaking of, but I didn't find anything offensive in his words. It looks like the people most offended are the ones who have no knowledge of Church teaching other than what they hear from the media.

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  12. If I knew how to use any emoticons, it's be the clappy hand one right now! Well done on this.

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  13. Love this Christy. And I totally agree.... he technically didn't say anything wrong, he just said it in a way that made a lot of people emotional and used an example that we only know a small part about. Lovely.

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  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Geez, was I ever losing faith in the general Catholic community on the sudden lashings at our Holy Father! Phew. Phew. You are awesome for writing this!

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  15. Sorry, I just can't get behind this constant defense of Pope Francis and his refusal to use common sense when HE speaks. No, he's not usually saying anything wrong - and of course he's not going to go changing Church teaching. But that's not the point. He's careless with words that affect billions.

    Every time this pope speaks I have to decode it. I have to find his original words, in a good translation, get the context, etc. - and then hope he wasn't just winging it anyway, making a major error in the process (he IS human - most of us don't get it right when speaking off the cuff). I don't care if it's his culture or whatever other excuses people make for him - I think it's wrong. The West, the cradle of civilization and Christianity, is in serious danger - society itself is crumbling. Europe is dying. The moral foundations upon which civilization thrives are threatened and I'm speaking as a historian, not a hysterical conspiracy theorist. His words aren't just 'annoyances' - they are doing nothing to provide leadership to parts of the world where these things are happening. This is especially foolish when he is speaking to reporters from the First World, not to congregations or groups of people who are facing wholly different issues. Past popes realized that one of the many, many struggles that their flock faces is the threat of secularism and fought it boldly - fought it in the communist bloc, where it took it's most treacherous form. Of course, the whole world is suffering - we are all struggling with our own issues in our own countries. But it serves none of us to dismiss any of our battles.

    We who are engaged in the battle for the soul of the West are not unreasonable to long for a leader who cares what battle cry he issues.

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    1. I have those same worries about our society, but I think that blogging outrage will only make a bad situation worse - I'm already viewed as a rabbit, being an angry rabbit won't help. Speaking clearly and precisely about Church teaching are not his strengths. The media totally misses the message again and again. BUT one thing the media has correctly latched onto is that Francis has a message of LOVE. And that really is the most important part. No amount of precise teaching will do more for the health of our Church and the world than love. He absolutely does make me angry and worried, but by talking bad about him to the world, we may be making the teachings of the church clearer, but we're not making them more appealing - or demonstrating that love part. I pray that when I screw things up over and over again, people can still correct me in love, because even then the truth hurts. So God bless our Church, please give the pope teach the truth in love clearly and help us to teach the truth in love as well.

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    2. I certainly don't think blogging outrage is constructive - I don't write about him at all on my blog. It's family business, to my way of thinking and I don't want strangers in my dirty laundry. :)

      He does say some lovely things and I know he has an amazing heart for his flock. I repeat often to myself that "a shepherd should smell like his sheep!" It's helpful in my parenting and my ministries. I think many of his phrases have helped us see beyond 'culture wars' to truly offering people a way home - to love in the arms of the Christ in his Church.

      Yet I still stand by my critiques of his impromptu interviews and carelessness in his words. It's not to dismiss the good he does, but there are valid critiques to be made.

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  16. I think we really must trust the Holy Spirit. He is not pope because he was elected by men, but discerned prayerfully by men who sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis deserves our respect and consideration of his words by the virtue of the fact that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit. God's ways are not our ways. Just because we don't like something doesn't make it wrong or necessarily harmful - we really must trust in His will and have peace.

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    1. The Holy Spirit also allowed men like Pope Paul III (murdered his relatives to come to power) or Pope Alexander VI (bigamy, siring children openly while pope) to become pope. The men elected to be pope are given grace to become saints - but they must decide whether or not to cooperate with it, and some have really refused it in a big way.

      Thankfully, Pope Francis is nothing like those men! But I use those examples to show that popes are not infallible in all their deeds or words. Simply because a man is pope doesn't mean that he is above error and it doesn't mean that we cannot observe his mistakes with concern. It doesn't disturb my peace or trust in the will of God - I hope it doesn't do that for anyone! But I don't think it serves anyone to gloss over the harm his words cause and act as if these things are actually good. Can God make good come of them? Undoubtedly. And I pray he will - just as I pray he makes good come out of my own mistakes.

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  17. I think we really must trust the Holy Spirit. He is not pope because he was elected by men, but discerned prayerfully by men who sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis deserves our respect and consideration of his words by the virtue of the fact that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit. God's ways are not our ways. Just because we don't like something doesn't make it wrong or necessarily harmful - we really must trust in His will and have peace.

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