Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dear Barb...

While many people were busy marching around for their causes, I happened to come across your story.

I heard that after your abortion, some "pro-life" people shouted in your face and followed you down the sidewalk, until you were forced to hide in a stoop.

This made me cry.

I wished I was there to put my arm around your shoulders and help you into my car. I wished I could have taken you home and tucked a clean, comfortable quilt around you. I wished I could have made you some broth and toast. I wished I could have brewed you a cup of tea and listened if you wanted to tell me your story. Or been a quiet presence if you did not. I wished I could have stayed with you to make sure your recovery went smoothly and so that you wouldn't have to feel alone.

I do not know you. I do not know anything about your life. But, I do know that what you went through at the hands of the "pro-life" people is something you should not have had to endure. And I am so very sorry.

Marla <3

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


...stood in the bathroom stall, staring at the toilet paper in her hand, at the water in the toilet.  There should be blood.  That monthly reminder of her blossoming womanhood, her femininity, her fertility.  The promise of future babies to hold.  But, there was no blood.  There really should have been -- at least a couple of days ago, actually.  And she wished for it and prayed for it -- for that blood.  Because -- really -- now was no time for babies.

The job was new.  She was young.  And she had just endured soul-crushing loss, for which there hadn't been much comfort.  So, she had sought comfort in arms around her which really had no business being around her.  She had known it, too, at the time -- that his arms really had no business being around her, that there was no real love.  But, bone-weary, gut-wrenching loneliness can sometimes cloud the judgement.  And so she hadn't pushed those arms away.  She had allowed herself to feel the closeness -- the only closeness to another person that had seemed available to her at that moment, at that time in her life.

The man was gone now.  And she was glad.  He was in no way someone she would choose to be the father of her child.  Too late now, though, for wise decisions that should have been made on one lonely night.  There were only the decisions that had been made.

And so she stood in that bathroom stall, panic flooding through her, barely able to stand, barely able to breathe, wishing for blood that was not there, that would not come.  What would she do, if she were pregnant?  She had always been "pro-life," a Christian.  She never thought abortion was an answer -- never thought it to be an acceptable alternative.  But, here she was, all alone.  Yes, she had parents.  The thought of telling them, though...  She didn't know if she could.  The sound of the crying and the shouting and the name-calling that she knew would come rang in her head, as real as though they were actually happening.  Yes, there would be much shaming, many accusations, relentless judgments about her lack of judgment.  And this horror, she knew, would not last for just a couple of days or even a couple of months, but would last all through a pregnancy -- and beyond.  She did not know if she could face it.  She didn't think she could bring herself to face it -- the red-faced anger of those who "loved" her.  But, how could she have an abortion?  But, how could she not?  Because, even if she survived the horrible confrontations with those who "loved" her without becoming suicidal -- and becoming suicidal, she knew, was a distinct possibility -- how could she care for a baby?  She barely made enough to support herself.  And everyone would demand to know who the father was -- and she could never tell, would never tell, because she would never want him to know.  Because she knew he was not a good person.  She knew he could never be fit to be a father.  And adoption?  There was that.  But, even if she could bring herself to do that, she knew she would forever face being shamed by those who "loved" her.  Of that, she was quite sure.  And that seemed just too much to bear, at that time, at that age, after already enduring soul-crushing loss.

So, she prayed.  She prayed, "Please, PLEASE God, don't let me be pregnant.  I can't be pregnant.  Don't let me be.  PLEASE."  She also prayed, "If I am pregnant, let me have a miscarriage.  I just want to have a miscarriage.  I can't have a baby.  Not now.  PLEASE.  NOT NOW.  Not this way.  PLEASE."

And she walked out of that bathroom stall and went back to work at her new job and smiled at her co-workers and prayed for the blood to come.  Prayed for days.

And finally it did.  And it didn't seem to be a miscarriage.  Just a normal period.  And she breathed freely for the first time in what seemed like a long time.  And she wondered, for the rest of her life, what she would have done if she had really been pregnant.  And she never really knew. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sad Day...

Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It should be a happy day.  But, as I peruse various media outlets, I am just getting sad.

Because it seems to me that there are still so many of the same problems in the world as there were on the day Dr. King died.  So much misunderstanding, prejudice, hatred, strife, injustice, poverty.  So much greed.  So little cooperation.  So little willingness to HEAR, to just close our mouths and LISTEN a little bit.

And I am not thinking here about just one issue, or just one side of any given issue.  This is a problem with every issue of our day, and with every side of every issue.  I'm not saying there aren't good people.  Of course, there are.  But, there is also a lot of angry noise out there, and a lot of disrespect.

Take for example, the issue of abortion.  The two sides, whatever you want to call them -- the pro-lifers vs. the pro-choicers, the lifers vs. the choicers, the anti-choicers vs. the pro-aborts -- often seem to dig up and flash about for public consumption the very worst things about each other.  For example, there are the stories from Lila Rose; and there are the stories of "pro-life" centers posing as places where women can get abortion referrals.  There are accusations of misinformation being given out by both sides.  In short, both sides can come up with plenty of tales of alleged misdeeds by the other side.  And this, in my opinion, keeps both sides from actually having to deal with the sincere and real concerns of the other.  It's kind of like the "straw-man" argument -- you keep the attention on the easy-to-criticize stuff and you never have to deal with the hard stuff, the stuff that's not so easy to face.  And, again, I'm speaking about both sides here.  I have spent most of my adult life in the company of those who would describe themselves as "pro-life."  And I haven't heard many respectful things said about the pro-choice people.  And I bet the pro-choice people don't have a lot of good things to say about the pro-life people. 

Some of you may already know this, because I have mentioned it before.  There was a woman I worked with -- years ago -- who had been a counselor in an abortion clinic.  I could not have been described as "pro-choice," and she knew it.  But -- wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles -- we got along well.  I respected her greatly.  She was a kind, soft-spoken, caring woman.  She was the absolute opposite of how many pro-life people would have you think about a person who is employed as a counselor in an abortion clinic.  So, when I hear the rhetoric of the "abortion wars," I think about this woman.  I think about her concern for women who felt they had absolutely no other option.

Of course, things are somewhat different now.  There are many more resources for people in "crisis pregnancies" than there were back then.  And this is good.  My point is, though, that we should not demonize the pro-choice people.  Instead of that, let's work to build a culture where no woman feels like she has "no other option" than an abortion.  This type of culture has to have not only pregnancy centers that provide baby supplies and financial assistance for medical care for the mothers.  This type of culture must also have a true social safety net that can help these mothers (and fathers) actually raise these children to adulthood in a successful and dignified way.  But, I think it also needs to be a culture where a woman who is seeking a legal abortion should not have to make her way past (or through) a crowd of people (sometimes angry people) with signs (sometimes ugly signs).  That is not respectful of the woman.  And I believe she deserves respect.  Although, I know there are those who don't think she does.

As a case in point, I will tell this little tale:  

A lovely young woman I know attended the Walk for Life in San Francisco one year.  This young woman actually cares very much about other women who face unintended pregnancies.  She does not judge women who have abortions.  And as she told me of her experience, she said that there were "mean, old, white men" at the Walk.  She said that she was appalled by their lack of compassion toward women who have abortions.  She had never experienced this type of attitude before, and it upset her greatly.  She also spoke of the pro-choice women who were standing along the route.  She recounted that when the organizers of the Walk asked for the women to be in front (something which apparently annoyed some of the "old, white men"), the pro-choice women shouted, "Yes!  Put the women in front!  Let the women go in front!"  And this delighted the "pro-life" woman who was appalled at the "mean, old, white men." 

So, it just seems to me that there are people on both sides of this issue who might be willing to show some respect for each other.  And I guess that gives me a little hope, on this MLK Day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Did I Go To Breakfast?

Providentially, no.

The next morning, my son awoke with a high fever.  The flu had struck.  I don't normally rejoice when my kids get sick, but I did on that particular day.

I did call the parish to let the rather caustic priest know that we wouldn't be able to come to breakfast, but there was no answer.  I think I did leave a voicemail, although I can't exactly recall.  If there was an answering machine, I'm quite sure I left a message.  I just don't remember if there was an answering machine.  There probably was.

When my son recovered from his illness, we again showed up at the daily Mass.  I was again excoriated from from the altar by the rather caustic priest for irresponsibly not showing up for the breakfast.  When I tried to explain that my son had woken up with a fever, but that I had tried to call in order to let him know we wouldn't be coming, he replied, in a very withering tone, "Oh, SURE you did."  Again, I prevented my opinions from making their way from my head out of my mouth.

We now attend a different parish.  And I never talk to any of the priests.  I just say my prayers and try not to be noticed. ;-)

An Awkward Catholic Moment

There is this thing that happened to me at Mass one time.  I thought I would tell about it.  I was reminded of it because of all the "birth control mandate" lawsuit stuff that is happening right now. 

There was this retired priest that was "in residence" (for lack of a better word) at the parish we used to attend.  He would say Mass and help the pastor out in other ways.  He was a bit older and had a few health problems, so he could be a little "difficult," at times.  I know that he often didn't feel well.  But, from the stories he told about his life, I don't think he could ever have been described as possessing an "easy-going" personality.  I don't mean to be too hard on him in this little anecdote.  But, whatever.

As many of you know, I homeschooled my kids for many years, so this gave us the opportunity to attend daily Mass.  We didn't go every single day, but we went often.  My son, an altar server for many years, would frequently serve at these weekday morning Masses. 

Anyway, one day, the priest described above announced -- at the end of Mass -- that he had been given a rather large gift certificate to a local restaurant.  He kindly offered to have some of us go to breakfast with him the following day.  This was a very nice offer, and illustrates the truly kind and generous nature lurking beneath his sometimes caustic exterior. So, when he asked for a show of hands of those who would like to accompany him, I foolishly stuck mine into the air.  He asked how many kids I had, so that he could include them in the count.  Now, this was a rather odd question, as he had been seeing and interacting with my family for years.  But, whatever.  "Three, but two are away at college," I told him.  From his perch upon the altar, he fixed me with a rather withering gaze, and made the following comment:  "THREE???  You're CATHOLIC.  How come you only have THREE KIDS???"  I can't remember exactly how I responded.  I was rather taken aback.  Thankfully, the rest of the daily Mass crowd gave me many sympathetic glances, and after Mass they greeted me with many sympathetic words and hugs.  Because -- after all -- that was a highly inappropriate question.  Especially for a priest who is standing on the altar (dressed in all his vestments) to ask a 40-something mom standing in the congregation.  I pretty much wanted to say, "It's none of your f***ing business."  But, I controlled myself.  And -- for those of you who know me well -- you realize what an effort that was.  I tried to just chalk the whole thing up to the side effects of his medication.

When I hear people complain, though, about the all-male clergy/hierarchy of the Catholic Church behaving insensitively toward the crosses women must bear in their sexual lives, I think about this incident.  And I think about other incidents, as well.  I understand the feminists marching around with their signs, and I have a lot of sympathy for Kathleen Sebelius.  Don't get me wrong.  There is much truth and beauty in many of the Church's teachings on sexuality.  But, where the rubber hits the road -- at the intersection of the actual women and the actual priests -- there is often something left to be desired. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Church Usually Figures It Out

Figures what out?

How to cope with curve balls.

The Church has had to cope with many curve balls -- like Galileo, for example.  And Protestantism and Democracy and evolution and public schools and the Hippies and inter-faith marriages and many other things.

And -- after stepping all over herself for a while and leaving some messes in her wake -- she learns to act graciously.  Usually, anyway.

Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not trying to excuse her messes.  In fact, one of my favorite things that Pope John Paul II did was make a grand apology for all her screw-ups through the ages.

Sometimes, when I think of the Church, I see in my mind an aircraft carrier trying to navigate a narrow, swiftly moving river.  And this does not always go well.

As I was growing up, my father used to tell stories of the "old days" in the Church (a.k.a. when he was growing up).  He attended Catholic schools through high school, and was taught by many old-time Irish nuns and priests.  He said that the nuns instructed them to make the Sign Of The Cross when passing a Protestant church, because "the devil was in there."  It was also quite frowned upon to attend a Protestant wedding, and it was pretty much forbidden to attend the wedding of a Catholic marrying outside of the Church (and God help you if you were actually a member of the wedding party).  You were also never, EVER allowed to attend a Protestant church service, for any reason.  And divorced Catholics had to wait for years and years for their annulments to become finalized.  This happened to one of my aunts.  She had been married at 16 or 17.  That marriage did not last.  She then met my uncle, but they dated for over five years because of the length of time it took for her annulment to go through.  For Catholic women who had abortions, things were quite hairy.  Just going to Confession wasn't considered adequate.  There was some long, involved, clerical process one had to go through in order to be fully reconciled with the Church.  This is no longer the case (at least in America.)  All priests have been given the authority to absolve women who confess abortion.  Now, some of you might get mad at this, as you believe women shouldn't have to feel guilty about having abortions.  But, my point is that -- out of mercy and a desire to show Christ-like love -- the Church decided that women shouldn't have to undergo a rather humiliating process in order to be considered formally forgiven for what the Church does consider to be a serious sin.  And my general point is that as new phenomena occur in our culture -- phenomena that the Church considers to be, shall we say, "problematic" -- the words and actions and attitudes which emanate from the hierarchy can tend to be rather harsh and seemingly insensitive.  Then, over time, out of merciful love, the Church kind of "changes its tune," if you will.  Words and attitudes and actions become gentler and more charitable. 

I understand that this is not enough for many people.  There are those who wish the Church would actually change her actual teachings regarding such things as the all-male priesthood and contraception and same-sex marriage.  To be honest, I don't think the Church is EVER going to change her teachings in these areas, because they are based on a theology of the Trinity and a certain philosophy of Natural Law that's not going to change.

I personally don't have an issue with having an all-male priesthood.  I know there are many who do, because they feel that this means that women are left out of key decision-making positions in the Church, that their voices aren't heard or acknowledged.  And I understand this.  There are times when I have felt this way.  One thing that encourages me is that Pope Francis seems to get this, also, and has spoken of developing a more formal Theology of Woman in order to begin to address the legitimate concerns of women who are both inside and outside of the Church.

Concerning the issue of contraception, the Church has also softened her voice over the years.  No, contraception is not "approved of" theologically, but people who practice it -- especially married couples in difficult situations -- aren't treated harshly (in my experience, at least).  There are no "witch hunts," no midnight condom raids,  no threat of excommunication if you are on The Pill.  Of course, the Church does exhort and teach about this issue.  There are some good reasons -- in my opinion, anyway -- why the Church views contraception negatively.  I would encourage you, if you haven't already, to read "Humanae Vitae."  I would ask you to consider what this document says, if you feel there is any wisdom contained therein.  This is what we call, in Catholic circles, "informing your conscience."  You are still free, in the end, to make up your own mind. 

Same-sex marriage is probably the most recent curve-ball thrown the Church's way.  And her reaction to this cultural phenomenon has caused much hurt amongst LGBT people.  For example, having your marriage and family described as a "danger" to our society would probably be painful.  I think, though, that as the reality of having same-sex couples and their children in our communities sinks in, the Church will recognize the need to behave graciously toward them, to not inflict suffering on them by using rather incendiary language to describe their relationships and family lives, and to extend Christ's love to them.  There is a saint (I forget which one) who said something to the effect that, when all is said and done, it is "important to get along with one's neighbor."  And the Church, usually and eventually, comes around to that.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Oh, And One More Little Thing...

If you are a well-educated Catholic person who read my last post and are now thinking to yourself how you can CRUSH my poor logic with your Socratic-like reasoning, I just have one little thing to say to you:



Catholics and Birth Control and Legal Circuses

Here are some rambling, probably rather disconnected, thoughts about current events.  And I'm probably going to get excommunicated, or in trouble.  Whatever...

That being said, I am willing to admit that maybe I am wrong about many of these things.  These are just my opinions and observations, based on my own 50 years of experience.

I guess I'm the kind of person who doesn't really worry about what others think of me.  That probably stems from my childhood.  I was rather bullied in elementary school, because my mother had some rather interesting ideas about "fashion," which did not particularly conform to the trends at my Catholic school.  So, I learned, at a rather early age, to stand in my own truth (or whatever that expression is).

I do respect the Church.  I feel that it is a good thing when people actually read the actual teachings of the Church (as in the official documents) before making their own decisions about the merits of these teachings.  There is a lot of misinformation out there -- a lot of misunderstanding.  And some of this misunderstanding is the Church's own fault, as when it uses terms like "inherently disordered" -- which sounds a lot more frightening and harsh than it is really meant to be.  "Inherently disordered" is a term which causes many people to totally freak out unnecessarily.  In fact, when most of us read things that come from the PTB's of the Catholic Church, it is kind of like reading medical textbooks with no medical education.  So, now I have just contradicted myself.  I have recommended reading the official documents of the Church, and then I went and said that this will cause misunderstanding if you don't have the background to understand them properly.  I guess it's just that you have to realize that when you read the documents, there will be things you might not completely comprehend.  But, it may be good to go ahead and do some self-study, anyway -- without relying completely on Fox News.

The Catholic Church in our country is currently engrossed in the issue of contraception -- specifically, should Catholic institutions be required to provide medical coverage which includes contraception?  Much legal back-and-forth is going on.  One thing that amused me is the much-feared (by conservatives) liberal activist Judge Sonia Sotomayor is the one who granted the emergency stay (or whatever it's called) so that these Catholic institutions didn't have to start providing this coverage as of January 1st.  Now, maybe she didn't have any choice.  Maybe it was her turn to grant stays and it was a foregone legal conclusion that such a stay should be granted.  Maybe she just is a nice lady, who agreed to spend her New Year's Eve doing this, while Judge Alito went to a party.  I have no idea.  The whole thing just caused me to smile.

I guess we just like to talk about sex and fight about sex a lot in our country.  And while all this is going on, I have a lovely young friend with a lovely new baby.  This little baby has eczema and needs a prescription.  The anti-eczema prescription is not covered by my friend's insurance.  But, she as she exclaimed, "Birth control is free!."  Maybe my friend would rather go down to the corner drug store and pay cash for some condoms (after all, I don't believe she is Catholic) and have the anti-eczema prescription covered by her insurance.  But, it is not to be.  This is America, so my friend can just eat it while we all debate whether or not a school that has a total of about six female employees (including two who are most definitely past reproductive age) should have to provide coverage for the "morning-after pill" for these ladies.  I know, I know -- it's the principal of the thing.

And this leads me to some other thoughts.  (I told you this would be rambling.)

My mother -- when I was a teenager -- told me that a group of nuns in some Central or South American country (I forget which) got raped by some bad guys.  It was a terrible situation.  And guess what?  The "Powers That Be" in the Church down there allowed them all to take that era's version of the "morning-after pill."  At least, that is what my mother said.

Also -- and this is just me wondering -- what about women who take birth control pills for reasons that are other than contraception?  The Church does allow this.  I myself was treated for an extreme hormonal imbalance after my last child was born with birth control pills.  Basically I felt like crap.  I felt like I was going nuts.  And my family was paying for it.  I went to my wonderfully kind ob-gyn and told him my plight.  I said, "I feel like I'm going insane."  He put me on The Pill, saying, "It will even out your hormones and you'll feel better."  And he was right.  Those little pills were like a miracle.  I stayed on them for about a year and then stopped taking them.  All was well again.  So, would the Church allow for this type of "birth control" to be covered by insurance plans?  And if so, wouldn't it be unnecessarily intrusive if the doctor had to explain on the prescription form WHY he was prescribing a certain medication for a woman who was employed by a Catholic institution?  Then people who do not need to be -- and should not really get to be -- privy to her medical condition suddenly would become privy.  The Church -- in this case -- kinda starts looking a little like Big Brother.

I don't know.  Maybe I'm over-thinking this.  Maybe there are things I don't understand.  There probably are.  I guess I can just see it all both ways.  I don't like to see the Church being forced into acting in a manner that is in direct contradiction to its long-held moral teachings.  But, on the other hand, maybe women need to be respected and trusted to make medical decisions that are in their best interest.  Of course, Catholic women can study the moral views of the Church.  That is called "informing one's conscience."  And then -- perhaps -- they can be left alone to make their own decisions, in consultation with their spouse and/or doctor and/or pastor. 

This reminds me of another thing my mom told me when I was growing up.  She said that many Catholic doctors -- of her generation -- performed hysterectomies on women after they had 5 or 6 kids.  She said that -- in her conversations with these women -- she wondered if they really needed the hysterectomies.  She said that these women tended to be "rather overwhelmed" by all their children.  My mom told me -- she actually said -- that she had a sneaking suspicion that the Catholic doctors felt they were doing the women a kindness by telling them they needed hysterectomies.  Now, of course, many women need hysterectomies.  But, the circumstances of these particular hysterectomies caused my mother's very keen detective-like instincts to be aroused.  My mother was nobody's fool.  What does this have to do with all the legal battles going on?  Maybe nothing.  It just seemed like a good time to tell this story.  I guess this is the thing.  Catholic women have always had a lot to bear when it comes to sex.  I have heard many stories from many women concerning this.  And I feel kind of bad for them as their decisions and rights are debated publicly, vociferously, and -- sometimes -- without much sensitivity. 

Because -- you know what? -- Natural Family Planning can be hard.  Really hard.  And sometimes, this fact is not acknowledged.  The brochures and books on NFP are often graced by pictures of smiling, happy, healthy couples and their smiling, happy, healthy babies.  All is made to look romantic and beautiful.  Well, let me let you in on a little secret.  That ain't always the case.  I could go on and on about the difficulties inherent -- for many couples -- in NFP.  But, I won't do that right now.  I'll just tell another little story illustrating one aspect of this issue.

One of the most difficult times to use NFP is after you have a baby.  The hormones of nursing can cause you to have fertile-looking cervical mucus, and you can't get a good basal body temperature because your new baby won't let you sleep enough hours in a row to make that possible.  And "ecological breastfeeding" -- which is supposed to stave off your fertility for at least six months -- does not work for all people.  Like me, for example.  I practiced all the principles of "ecological breastfeeding" religiously and my fertility returned after one month.  ONE MONTH.  So, there I was with a new baby, my mucus signs were all screwed up, and I couldn't get a good BBT because my baby was an insomniac.  Believe me, nobody would have wanted to put a picture that accurately illustrated my state of mind on the cover of any Natural Family Planning booklets.

Admittedly, the difficulties of NFP are not directly related to the current legal circus regarding "the birth control mandate."  But, I can admit to seeing both sides of things.  To me, it's not necessarily a "religious freedom" issue.  It's more of an issue of personal rights (of the woman) versus the rights of an employer (albeit a religious one).

And another thing that comes to my mind is this.  The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions.  Does that mean that employees of this church's institutions (or businesses owned by Jehovah's witnesses) should not have to provide insurance coverage for blood transfusions.  Now that I think of it, though, most insurance plans don't cover blood transfusions.  Is this why?  Was there a Jehovah's Witness lobby?  I don't know.  But, the point is this:  What if a particular religion found a particular medical practice objectionable?  Like vaccines, for example?  What if a church was founded by people who did not believe in vaccines for ethical reasons?  Could that church move to have vaccines excluded from the insurance it provided its employees?  I think you can see my point here.  It starts to get tricky when churches can object to medical practices based on their religious beliefs, and have those practices excluded from insurance plans.

Of course, there are those who say that birth control is not really necessary for life or health.  Using myself as an example (see above), I pretty much disagree with that, at least to a certain degree.  And frankly, most of the medical profession does view contraception as legitimate medical care. 

But, anyway, I'm done rambling for now.  If you have hung in there with me until this point, I thank you.  And I don't mean to anger anybody or act like a "bad Catholic."  These are just some of the thoughts that go through my mind as I go about my laundry and dishes.  I also realize that the legal issue in this case basically centers about religious institutions being "compelled" to do something more than it really has to do with contraception, per se.  Although, many people are compelled by the government to do things that go against their moral views.  Some people, for example, don't think the income tax is Constitutional.

Oh, well.  I'm going to shut up now.