Friday, April 4, 2008

I Hope It Is Just My Parish...

I've been thinking a lot lately. Perhaps I've been thinking too much. You can tell me if you think I am over-thinking the subject.

Now, many young mothers nowadays easily recognize our society's hostility to children and family. Before even getting married I had doctors pushing artificial contraceptives at me. Many women who went to college and then choose to stay at home with their children are told they are "wasting" their education. Introduce myself and my children and I immediately get the question, "So what do you do?" Once I point to my 2 year old and 4 month old, the conversation comes to a screeching halt as it seems they do not know what to say next. Having more than two children is often considered having a "large" family and once a woman has two, any subsequent children derive questions such as "Are you going to get fixed now?" or "Don't you know what causes that?" In restaurants, we have had people ask to be seated further away from us simply because we have a young child with us - even if our daughters are behaving perfectly. I've met women who had to give birth via a c-section and during the surgery were suddenly asked if they wanted to have the tubes tied since the doctor was in that area anyway (as a 2-for-1 deal). One woman called her local hospital asking for reference for an OB/GYN because she just found out she was pregnant. Before giving her a name, the reception asked if she wanted to keep or terminate the pregnancy. Not to mention, how often do we hear the word "fetus" now? Whatever happened to "baby" or might that offend the sensibilities of those who strive to dehumanize the unborn?

The world has become frighteningly anti-baby, anti-child, anti-housewife, anti-stay-at-home mother and anti-family. But the world has always been fickle. What about the Church as a support for and defender of the family?

At my parish, I often hear in homilies about politics, economics or theological reflections. The parish provides widely-advertised baby-sitting services. Over a year ago our pastor had difficulty being distracted during his homily by a child who was making noise. He stopped his homily and asked the parents to remove the child. Apparently some other people left at this point as well. Our pastor promptly apologized to the entire parish and said he would figure out a different way to handle the situation in the future. I wrote a polite letter suggesting ideas. I never received any response but ever since that baby-sitting service has been ever present and often advertised. Almost any get-together or meeting is at 7:30 in the evening - I believe for adults who work but with little ones such a time is the most inconvenient. My pastor calls every child in the parish "Noodle," such that I've come to see it as a sign that children's names are not worth learning (although, in fairness, he hasn't learned James' or my name either). On the other hand, our Pastor walks in the March For Life and openly advocates Pro-Life. And I have heard homilies against artificial contraception, homosexual activity and other threats to the family as well as received handouts in the bulletin advocating contacting politicians and condemning legislation that would be anti-family.

This left me a bit confused. Until today. Today I got it. I have to thank an article in the Knights of Columbus Magazine Columbia for making me see it. The article was on His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and his relation to the subject of the family. The article stressed condemnation of assaults on the family via no-fault divorce, artificial contraception, extramarital affairs, and homosexual "unions." But that seemed to be as far as it went. I thought, "But none of that applies to me. What about families like mine? What about the families who live according to the Church's teaching? Where is the ministry to them?" And then it hit me.

Everyone knows the parable of the Prodigal Son. It hit me that the father is like the Church and the prodigal "sons" are the families separating with no-fault divorces, eroding under artificial contraception, dying from abortions, struggling with identity from homosexual activists, or having grave difficulties in some other way. The families that live according to Church teaching are the other son - the one who complains he has never been recognized for his faithfulness except rather than seeking recognition, I would seek ministry and fellowship and simply not being ignored. Is this not our church too? Was the son tempted 1,000,001 ways to leave his father? Suppose the father was so concerned over the missing son, he came to completely ignore the faithful one? Of course, as a parable for God as Father, this is silly, but as a metaphor for the Church, while the Church rightly condemns assaults on the family and strives to bring back the lost sheep, does she ignore or forget the faithful ones that remain by her side? Does concern for the prodigal families blind the Church into neglect of the faithful ones?

In doctrine, I'd say I don't believe so, no. In practice, I'm not so sure. My parish seems fully aware of politics and the moral implications of the issues. My parish seems very concerned with its grade school, music ministry, pilgrimages and ministry to the poor and hungry. I'm all for concern of these things. They are important. I just don't think families with small children unable to attend something at 7:30pm or unwilling to attend Mass without their children or women who stay at home are any less important. It is our church too and we deserve to be ministered to as well.

I sincerely hope my parish is the only parish that seems to forget these families and wish for the future for my parish to remember them and support them in a world already hostile to them. Going in search of the lost sheep does not mean forgetting about the other ninety-nine.


  1. It seems to me like you are lumping several different phenomena together--not necessarily wrongly because in your experience they form a continuum and taken all together create an environment that is unfriendly.
    But in terms of looking for both causes and solutions, it might be more helpful to separate them out a little bit and look at them as different strands in a complex fabric.
    For example, it seems like a major factor in your experience is a personality issue: your pastor is not good with kids and maybe not really that good with people in general, or at least not good with names.) It seems to me from what you've said that if you replaced him with a priest who loves children and encourages parents to bring young children to mass, it would be more than half the battle in making your parish more hospitable.

    Our pastor loves children, absolutely does not mind children at mass, even screaming babies; he knows the names of all the kids whose parents regularly bring them to mass, always stops to chat with our children. Even though I have many other criticisms of our parish life, his warmth makes us feel welcome every Sunday morning and makes our parish feel like home. That said there is very little community at our parish and beyond his personal interest there is little institutional support for families; but there are all sorts of reasons for that I won't get into.

    I hear your complaint about meeting times (Dom's on the parish council which meets once a month at 7:30 pm and that kills our evening family time completely for that day) but am not sure what alternative would work. I'd guess the evening time is what works best for the greatest number but you aren't going to find a time that works for everyone. So many people are so over scheduled nowadays that getting people to show up to anything is difficult to near impossible at our parish. No matter when you schedule things you get the same core group of people and no new blood.

    But as far as ministering to stay-at-home moms, I think the best way for that to happen, probably the only way, is for one of those moms to volunteer to organize something. Really that's how parish life should work, lay people should be the organizers and not wait for a priest to get the ball rolling. Perhaps you could try to start a mother's rosary group or an afternoon playgroup. Often there are others out there experiencing the same frustration and waiting for an invitation. I know there is a rosary group that meets at the home of one of my fellow parishioners, I'm just not a morning person so I never make it. But I bet if you put an announcement in the bulletin, you'd be surprised at the response.

  2. It is true our pastor is more political and less friendly. Though he is about as tall as I am (5'4") and slender, Cecilia is terrified of him. It is a shame too because our previous pastor and previous associate pastor loved children and were really wonderful with them and our parish has many young families. Unfortunately I can't do anything about that and the two other parishes near us are the same or worse. But you have a point...if the priests are not hospitable to children and hence families, half the battle is lost as a parish goes and the only mold to work with is the parishioners.

    My idea was to find a time during the day when stay-at-home moms could meet (in consideration for those homeschooling, I was thinking in the afternoon some time) and bring their children with them if they wanted or needed to. At least that way they would be better able to participate in the parish as a community but at a time better for them. I've contacted one stay-at-home mom via email but haven't heard back from her yet (she has 4 children and is pregnant and I think having some bleeding issues with the pregnancy, so keep her in your prayers, but that might mean she doesn't answer email too quickly). I'm working on contacting others to see how much of an interest there is. We'll see what happens.

  3. Well, good luck. I hope you find some other interested moms whose schedules work with yours. I say some prayers for that intention as well as for the pregnant mom.