Reconciling Feminism with Being Pro-Life

Before I converted, I long identified as a feminist, and I still do. However, nowadays I understand that a bit differently than I did before. Here are some excerpts from my recent Truth and Charity Forum piece. Whole article here.

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Erika Bachiochi recently published an essay called “I’m a Feminist and I’m Against Abortion.” She notes the contradiction of feminist support for abortion:

But abortion, which is often the assumed solution to unexpected pregnancy in our culture, attempts to cure that sexual asymmetry: the biological fact that women get pregnant and men don’t. It does this by putting the responsibility to care for — or dispense with — the life of a nascent, developing human being on women alone.

Abortion expects nothing more of men, nothing more of medicine, and nothing more of society at large.

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At the same time, John Paul II’s letter invites us to recall that the Church is truly the ally of all authentic human goods. He thanks all women: mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, working women and consecrated women then offers his explanation of the nexus of women’s value, which, of course, is based in God, in being created in the image of God. After recalling the story of creation, he says:

“The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided, but mutual.… men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.” (7)

This formulation that John Paul speaks on behalf of the Church is truly the best of all the insights of feminism at once. It proclaims the difference of women, which is a certain truth, while affirming the equality in rational nature and value. While every woman and man is different, we are equal without being the same.

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The Case for Children’s Masses

This is not my child or his behavior.

For married Catholics, such as myself, seeking to live the Christian life, staying true to the teachings on sexuality and the family, our experience of the Mass expresses some tension between the Church’s teaching and her lived witness. On one hand, the Church proclaims the good of children and large families and wisely counsels the faithful to eschew contraception. On the other hand, the environment of Mass, the principal sacrament recalling Christ’s death and resurrection, is often quite hostile to children and their age-appropriate behavior.

Of course I affirm the reverence due to the Real Presence of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet at the same time, expecting toddlers and babies to remain silent and immobile for an hour is a tall order. As a result, eager-to-please parents rush out down the aisles with their upset little ones or hide in the cry room. In the case of my family, we believe that our children should be able to benefit from experiencing the Mass and learning to revere it, so we bring the kids. However, the practical result has been that either my husband or myself remain outside the nave for main duration of the Mass and that my two-year-old son squeals this protest: “Don’t like Church!” This is a problem, and I don’t think our family is alone.

The Church affirms children, but in practicality, children and their typical behavior are actually rather unwelcome in both the setting of the Mass and the attitudes of many attendees. How many times have I heard the complaints of single or older people who sigh that the sounds of my babies interrupt their prayer and solitude with God. Now, I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to be able to pray reverently, but I also want to be able to pray reverently and I want my children to learn to pray reverently too. Children learn by watching and repeating. If they don’t see us attending Mass, they won’t want to attend Mass.

I would like to see child-friendly Masses instituted in every parish at least once every Sunday because the other working solutions to this conundrum are inadequate.

  1. Nurseries are inadequate. While they allow the parents to attend Mass without hiring a babysitter, then the children do not benefit from approaching the Real Presence of Christ nor do they receive the opportunity of seeing their parents model Christian practice at this most holy sacrament.
  2. Parents taking turns at Mass is inadequate. The idea that one parent watches the kids at home while the other attends Mass then swap has the same problem as the nurseries–the children do not absorb the spiritual benefits of Mass. Further, the married couple doesn’t receive the spiritual benefits together.
  3. Quiet Church Bags are inadequate. Many a mom on the internet has recommend this strategy of bringing quiet books and toys that special and that the child only gets to play with at church. The reality is that nothing is quiet. Movement itself is what creates that soundwaves that make noise. So any playing inevitable generates noise. Further, I believe the presence of intentionally distracting toys voids the reverence due to Mass in ways that children’s natural and curious behavior does not. Now, books are a good idea but books don’t keep kids younger than 3 or 4 occupied for the full hour.
  4. “Their feet don’t hit the ground and sit up front so they can see.” Many a pious parent have trumpeted this method as the solution which keeps children quiet and instills reverence. I like the sitting up front idea, but the social pressure of marching to front with a row full of babies is enough to deter this introvert. And the idea of holding them the whole time so “the feet don’t hit the ground,” has backfired in my family’s experience. Rather than reverence, it produces a writhing, whining toddler who twists and struggles because he doesn’t understand the purpose of his confinement and disrupts the service by projecting his aforementioned cry of displeasure: “DON’T LIKE CHURCH!” We don’t want our son to hate church; if he hates church, we are failing at Christian teaching.

So what to do? I would like to request children’s Masses at least once a week with at least one on Sunday. Masses where the normal shufflings and explorations of little people are permitted and not balked at; masses where the songs and preaching and short and simple so the children can understand and partake; Masses where parents can speak quietly to their children to explain what is going on and its significance so that they can actually learn. Maybe even Masses where there is an area set aside with child-sized replicas of the sanctuary and altar so that they can interact with it and learn through modeling and replicating. At the very least, we want to be able to take our kids to Mass without worrying about disturbing someone or being frowned at when our infant frets or our little man chirps: “Applesauce!”
It may seem a remote possibility, but I would like church to be a place my children can look forward to–or least not despise.

So how to you take your children to church/what do you think of children in church?

(new) Book Review: The Princess Guide

The Princess Guide uses fairy tales as jumping off points for theological reflection on various aspects of growing up and life for young women.

It is kind and wise, like a loving and well-versed older sister guiding a younger sister. The princess guide does not condescend to young women by pouring on flattery. Instead, it uses familiar stories to bid them hear their higher calling that comes from God alone.

I will say the author sometimes paints with broad brush strokes, perhaps overlooking some nuance, particularly in the section on the differences between men and women. Nevertheless, the heart is in the right place and the guidance offered to young readers is invaluable.

It discusses the value of work, fear, true beauty, and challenges cultural assumptions on artificial contraception and cohabitation. Terraccino addresses women as women in all their uniqueness and value while drawing on Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Catechism, and personal experience. Rare is the book that draws on such wide theological resources within the Church and presents them in so accessible a way, especially for this audience. Too often, the rich teachings and history of the Church lay buried. Terraccino wonderfully and practically brings them too light.

God gave all women and men a royal calling; all persons are called to imitate Christ in his three-fold office of priest, prophet and king. Read this book and let Terraccino show you how to live the royal vocation in the here and now.

Happiness does not come from getting what we want

“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.” -Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Truth, no?

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I took my one-year-old to the indoor swimming pool, where there was also a hot tub. Upon seeing the hot tub, I desired it greatly. The warm water and the reprieve from the pull of gravity on my watermelon tummy seemed like perfection. But alas, I couldn’t get in because there was no one else to watch my one year old.

I resolved to go back alone and enjoy the perfection promised by the hot tub. A few weeks later, my mom accompanied me and watched my one year old while I got into the hot tub.

And it was okay. It was not earth-shattering; it was not perfect; it was not utter relaxation and unadulterated joy. Nope. Rather, it was a bit pleasant. Just as Tolstoy says, I experienced one grain of the mountain of pleasure that I expected.

This is why achieving the degree, promotion or acquiring the latest, greatest thing *iPad* never delivers the happiness and perfection they promise. They only grant us a tiny grain of brief happiness. There is no moment of “arrival” when happiness is here to stay and everything works out.

Happiness does not come from the fulfillment of desires. Consumerism wants us to think it does, but it isn’t true. And the pursuit of this brings only misery.

Instead, happiness comes from living in accord with our values (being a child of God), in seeing the meaning and the good in life. Happiness comes from excellence in development of virtues both of the self and of work (including the work of child rearing). And happiness comes from sincere relationships with others as we acknowledge and exchange mutual value.

This is why it is possible to be happy even in dire situations and why people without tons of money can be happy. We see this in the lives of the saints who exuded great joy in the midst of great suffering. It’s why rich people can still be miserable.

In short, happiness comes from within ourselves–and even more accurately from God and his grace. No human being on earth owes us anything nor can he or she alone “make” us happy. No one can make us be or do anything. Only we can choose our actions and attitudes; and only we are responsible for our actions and attitudes. (Excluding cases of forced physical coercion of course).

So there you have it. Be happy in the present, in every step, in every action–do not wait for happiness to descend on you from other people or things, because it never will.