Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Catholic Carnival #130

Ready for the fair, everyone? Don't forget to check out the latest Catholic Carnival, hosted by Sarah at Snoring Scholar.

Thanks, Sarah, for putting such creativity into this week's carnival! It was great fun to read.

Women in Art

Mary Kochan at CatholicExchange.com sent me this link to a video entitled "Women in Art." What impressed me most ... besides the breathtaking variety of shapes and forms God created us ... is the fact that, even as they change, their gaze remains steadily on the viewer.

It reminds me of an old hymn I used to sing as a kid:

I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

No matter what our circumstances, the loving gaze of our Divine Keeper never wavers.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New on Catholic Exchange!

I'm happy to announce that my name has been added as a columnist on the Catholic Exchange website. My review of The Girls Who Went Away will appear August 9. Feel free to jump in to the "exchange"! Blessings-- Heidi

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Power of a Name: Review of "Girls Who Went Away" (Penguin)

It took us three years to adopt our two foster children; our first official act as their parents was to have them baptized, so they could be a part of God’s family, too. As we got ready for the big day, we explained that they would each have new names on their baptism certificates (and, a bit later, on their newly issued birth certificates).

“Why do I get a new name?” Christopher wanted to know.

“You’re getting two new names, actually,” I told him. “We kept your first name to honor your birth family; your middle name will be ‘Robert,’ like your dad’s; and your last name will be ‘Saxton’ because you’re a part of our family now.”
Clearly this answer didn't satisfy him. I tried a different approach. “Christopher, do you know that my name changed when I became a part of your dad’s family?”
“It did?” his expression brightened. I nodded.
“And did you know that in the Bible, there are lots of examples where God changed someone’s name when he or she became part of God’s family, or agreed to do a special job for God? Abram became ‘Abraham.’ His wife Sarai became ‘Sarah.’ Jesus’ special friend Simon became ‘Peter,’ our first pope. The apostle Paul’s first name was ‘Saul.’ Each of these people had a special job to do … and each one got a new name to show that something was different about them now.”

It wasn’t until a month later, at their older sister’s baptism, that I realized what an impression this made. As the priest poured water over the little girl’s forehead, my kids leaped up and shouted, “Hurray! Our sister has a new name today!”

The priest turned, startled, then smiled. “Yes, she does. Her name is ‘Christian.’ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us were so excited about it!”

Forever Families

Names are important: “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandpa,” “Nana.” These words are powerful by association, particularly in the hearts of children. And so when it came time for us to “name ourselves” for our children, we put considerable thought to this as well. Christopher and Sarah already had already lost one set of parents; they also had two siblings that were being adopted by other families, and yet our kids were still very much attached to them. How were we going to communicate the permanent and exclusive nature of our family unit?

And so, we became Christopher and Sarah’s “forever family.” It wasn’t until much later that I discovered how much fire this appellation draws in adoption circles, since the biological bond is equally permanent even when a child is raised by someone else.
This was powerfully illustrated in Ann Fessler’s tribute to birthmothers, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (Penguin Press, 2006). The stories in this book reminded me that, no matter what circumstances are that led to a child being placed for adoption, and no matter how young the children were when the adoption occurred, there is a primal connection that can never be completely severed. “Mother” has been forever etched upon their hearts.

“Victim” Souls?

In TGWWA, Fessler vividly portrays what the adoption process was like forty years ago. She captures the horrific plight of the girls shipped off to “maternity homes.” We meet pushy social workers, unfeeling parents, and absentee boyfriends. The author attributes the numbers of out-of-wedlock births to a “lack of information” on one hand, and a “lack of options” on the other. (Rather than, say, a disregard for the consequences of extra-marital sex).
Adoptive parents (and adult adoptees) who read this book will find it easy to empathize with these struggling, suffering women. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel as though the book told only half the story. There was not a single story of a woman who recognized that, painful as it was, adoption was absolutely the best choice for her child. Nor do many acknowledge the debt of gratitude owed to the people who parented her child day and night; several seem to gloss over the sacrifices made for their child in their eagerness to reclaim the title of “mother.”

Most importantly, these stories illustrate more clearly than any chastity lecture ever could why the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality cannot be separated without harming the individuals involved, and causing a great deal of anguish for all concerned. This was illustrated most poignantly by “Madeline,” who said (p.243):
I always felt like there was a huge scale and that I could never balance it. I held myself responsible [for losing my daughter]. I wanted to keep this baby. I felt powerless to keep this baby. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to go back to being a normal person. I wanted the baby out of my life. I wanted the baby. I didn’t want the baby. I think it’s that ambivalence that is so hard for people to look at and admit. People will say, “Oh, I wanted my baby with all my heart, and they took my baby from me.” And they turn themselves into a victim. Anything you get yourself into a situation like this, you have to see where you are partially responsible for it. It’s a two-way thing. I’ve been in a lot of situations like that. I’ve been in situations where it seems as though I’m the victim but in reality I’m part of the equation.
This book amply demonstrates that, even in purely secular terms, the "right" to engage in sex cannot be divorced from the responsibilities associated with it -- both to one's partner and to any life that comes from that union. However, because an authentic Catholic worldview – which reserves sexual expression to married couples on moral grounds as well as sociological ones – is missing from the book, adoption is portrayed as an unduly harsh punishment inflicted on a girl (most often by her own family), rather than a truly loving and unselfish choice made by two people who take responsibility for their actions, and who do what is necessary to give their child the stable, loving home every child deserves.

The Family Factor

In Donum Vitae (“The Gift of Life,” 1987), the Church affirms the right of every child “to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents” (par 3.) While these rights are explained in the context of the Church’s opposition to surrogate motherhood, these fundamental human rights apply equally to any child conceived (willingly or unwittingly) outside the bonds of marriage.

When this occurs, it is the child – not the woman, as Fessler contends – who bears the “full emotional weight of circumstances” caused by the parents’ actions, since the child is deprived of these rights long before he is born. Sadly, the author is too busy assigning blame on society in general and the girls’ parents in particular to consider the ramifications of the abortion “solution” hinted at in the subtitle of the book through the story of “Nancy I” (p.53).
[E]verytime I hear stories … about the recurring trauma of abortion, I want to say, “You don’t have a clue.” I’ve experienced both and I’d have an abortion any day of the week before I would ever have another adoption – or lose a kid in the woods, which is basically what it is. You know your child is out there somewhere, you just don’t know where.
This statement, perhaps more than any other in the book, reveals the fundamental flaw in the feminist position on sexual expression as a “right,” contraception as a “convenience,” and pregnancy as a “condition” to be cured rather than a gift to be cherished.

Is Single Parenthood the Answer?

This question is one that I’ve considered at close range. One thing is certain: It would be a mistake to suggest that one "solution" can be applied across the board. Each "triad" of birth family, child, and adoptive family is unique.

Having said that, some aspects of single parenthood are seen again and again. I’m related by birth or marriage to three women who have had children out of wedlock. In each case, these women decided to raise their babies on their own (with considerable assistance from grandparents).

Two years later, one of these women became pregnant a second time; this time she attempted to place the child for adoption. The biological father, whose violent criminal record did not stop a judge from granting him sole custody over the Christian couple who had been chosen as the adoptive parents, thwarted her plan.

Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Of these three women, two quickly married men who were not their child’s biological father. Both men mistreated the children; one abused both his wife and her child. (He sued for custody to get back at the mother for leaving him, even though he was not related biologically to the child, and he very nearly succeeded in obtaining custody of her daughter because she had no medical records or police reports to confirm the abuse she and her daughter had endured.)

It is an unfortunate reality that many young women who become pregnant out of wedlock are not ready to be mothers, and are ill prepared to face the challenges of motherhood. This plays out in a variety of ways, with grandparents often caught in a no-win situation. Having offered to help their daughter raise her child, they find themselves in the uncomfortable place of feeling responsible for the child without having the power to make decisions on the child’s behalf. “I’m the mother,” their daughter reminds them … refusing to relinquish any of her “rights,” no matter how much suffering her bad choices cause both her parents and her child.

And so, the parents keep supporting, keep paying, and keep quiet … afraid that if they alienate their daughter, they may lose their grandchild as well. “At least the baby is here, where we know he’s safe,” they tell each other.

It is this pressure that kept the parents of the third unwed mother in my extended family from “pressuring” their daughter into marrying the baby’s father. Despite the fact that they live together and share expenses, she just isn’t sure he’s “Mr. Right.” And so once again, the rights of the baby – to be raised in the loving embrace of both parents, within a permanent family unit – are sacrificed. For now he has his mother’s name … and we pray that, once he is old enough to understand the reason why his father left, that name will be enough.
Parenthood is inherently a life of self-sacrifice. There is no getting around it. Whether that sacrifice entails the death of a dream, or just a full night's sleep, the self-donation required in order to raise a child and turn him or her into a responsible citizen of the world is nothing short of breathtaking. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to become a parent had I known ahead of time how difficult it was going to be.
In the end, however, it's not about the sacrifice of the parent, but the needs of the child. No matter what the circumstances are that a child is brought into the world, the moment his life begins the paramount question is not, "What do I want?" but, "What does this child need?" Not "What is convenient?" but "What is in my child's best interest?"
What this book shows most clearly is that what is in the child's best interest has very little to do with what makes the parent feel good. That too is the nature of parenthood. Convenience and personal happiness is often the standard by which our culture makes decisions ... but faith urges us to embrace a higher calling.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Donna O'Boyle's prayer request

Please remember in your prayers today two teenage boys, whom Donna features on her blog today. Thank you!

Friday, July 13, 2007

ABC's of Abuse-Proofing Your Child...

... has been posted on CatholicExchange.com. If you know of someone who needs to read it, please pass it on. (To reprint, be sure to include the following credit line: "Copyright 2007 Heidi Hess Saxton. Reprinted by permission. Contact author at hsaxton@christianword.com".
(The young woman on the right is my niece, Kendra.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"You Are God ... and Who Am I?" Reflections on Faith and Identity

I confess my first draft of this article started out very differently. Prior to the release of the Holy Father’s motu proprio, a question weighed heavily on my mind: Would the Latin Mass bring an unseasonable chill to the “Springtime of Evangelization” proclaimed by John Paul II?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Since the Latin form of the rite remains the “extraordinary” form, there are still plenty of opportunities for seekers to experience the holy sacrifice of the Mass in their own language. (And if it happens that a visitor stumbles on a Latin Mass, he or she can still hear the readings in the vernacular.)

Once that issue was settled, I began to ponder the letter that accompanied “Summorum Pontificum.” One word jumped out at me: identity. In its original context, the word was used to describe Bishop Lefebvre’s camp … and yet, the Mass as a “mark of identity” has implications for the rest of us as well.

Identity Crisis
Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder … these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial for ever.” Joshua 4:5-7

In a seminary class on the sacraments, Father Dan Jones introduced me to the writings of Father William Lynn, S.J., S.T.D., who spoke of the “Incarnational Principal.” This principal says that God initiates contact with the human race through the material world.

Moreover, how we interpret what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell profoundly affects how we see ourselves (our personal identity) and how we approach God (our religious identity). Religious identity is formed to a great degree by two things:

1. Previous experiences (especially previous religious formation). For example, someone who was raised on the Latin Mass may continue to have a great devotion to it. (However, not all those who have a devotion to the Latin Mass were raised on it.) Charismatic Catholics have entirely different associations, based on their experiences with the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.

Those who convert from the evangelical tradition, as I did, may appreciate aspects of the liturgical renewal that strike traditional Catholics as “touchy-feely,” Protestant, or irreverent.

For example, the music I encountered at those early liturgies was a tremendous source of consolation and hope. As it happened, the parish I first visited sang many of the same hymns I had learned as a child – “Amazing Grace,” “For All the Saints,” and “How Great Thou Art.” And the very songs that so many Catholics are fond of disparaging – “Eagle’s Wings,” “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” and “Be Not Afraid” – reassured me that Catholics also experience intimacy with God. It was an unexpected and delightful surprise.

2. Personal charisms. Have you ever noticed how two people can attend the same liturgy and walk away with very different impressions of the event? Our experiences are always filtered through the lenses of our individual giftings, values, and sensitivities. God made us this way, so that every part of His Body would receive what it needs to serve Him in the world.

One of the things that I have most come to appreciate about the Catholic Church is that, even among the faithful who are fully obedient to the Pope and his Bishops, there is a considerable variety of perspectives, personalities, and gifts represented. There are traditional Catholics and charismatic Catholics, Dominicans and Franciscans and Jesuits, contemplative Catholics and Catholics who see Jesus most clearly when they stand in the serving line of a soup kitchen. Even among religious, there are cloistered orders and orders that focus on education or medical assistance. One that I encountered recently – the Carmelites of Reno – make their living by creating lovely greeting cards from their own original works of art.

The Apostle Paul taught that the Body of Christ contains many members that “though many, are one body, as it is in Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). Just as the human body has multiple layers – an inner core containing vital organs; a skeleton that provides structure, support, and protection; and on outer fleshy covering that facilitates our interaction with the world – so does the Body of Christ. At the center core is the mystical and intercessory charisms, those whose prayers are the very lifeblood of the Church; next the dogmatic and apologetic charisms, which provide structure and direction; finally, the outer core, whose charisms draw to the Church all those still outside, through gifts of empathy, hospitality, and social justice. (Each of these “layers” has distinctive applications to individuals, whether lay or religious.)

Liturgy and Identity

Each individual’s religious identity is built over time, formed from the earliest impressions of childhood to the present day. The Holy Father’s letter reminded me that, for Catholics, the Mass is a crucial part of that identity.

When the liturgical form changed, those changes (particularly the more drastic improvisations) struck at the heart of the religious identity of faithful Catholics around the world. And yet, how they processed these changes may have depended to a certain degree on where they “fit” in the Body of Christ. Those with a mystical/intercessory bent may have relied more heavily on their devotions and personal prayers to help the whole Church through the time of transition. Those with a relational/hospitable charism saw in Vatican II the opportunity to “throw open the doors for Christ,” and make the Church a more welcoming place. Those with more dogmatic or apologetic leanings watched first with concern, then with alarm, as the Mass in some places was “hijacked” (often by well-meaning individuals) and taken to places the Conciliar Fathers never intended.

Even when the new form of the liturgy was implemented correctly, however, some Catholics still craved the reverent and glorious beauty of the Latin Mass. The reason was simple: The Latin Mass was at the heart of their identity as Catholics. In many cases, the individuals in question had not even been raised on the Latin Mass. One friend said to me, “I was drawn more and more to both the new and old Mass in Latin because I found it more prayerful, and more focused on the worship of God. Also, as I studied the Council documents and the writings of various popes, I realized that the Latin was more in line with tradition, as well as with Vatican II. So it is not a matter of nostalgia with me at all. It is something new, and as St Teresa of Avila said about the Mass: ‘This is something that is happening NOW.’”

For this group of traditional Catholics, everything about the Latin Mass – the altar rails and chapel veils, the incense and chant, the ancient murmurings of the universal language of the Church – had a “pride of place” in their hearts. For this group especially, the Holy Father’s rescript was a welcome reminder that this important tradition had not been – was never intended to be – forgotten.

Reflections from the New Kid on the Block

While I cannot pretend to speak for all converts, Vatican II -- and in a special way the papacy of John Paul II -- represents for me an era of unmitigated grace. Because of it, my impressions of the first Catholic Mass I attended bore no resemblance to the soulless institution ex-Catholics (who now belonged to the faith communities in which I grew up) had described to me. Without exception my friends and family had been horrified that I would throw away my spiritual birthright and “take up with those damned papists.”

For me, the decision to enter the Church represented a different kind of identity crisis. It was a lonely journey, full of misgivings and incessant questionings. Ironically, many of the same “irregularities” faithful Catholics most often rail against, shed a ray of light for me at times when I most urgently needed it.

Early in my Catholic formation, for example, I attended the closing liturgy of a religious education conference that made a deep impression on me. I watched with open mouth as sacred dancers in full national costume followed a long line of celebrants of every race and color processing down the center aisle. I’ve since learned that the bishops have declared “sacred dance” to be unsuitable within a liturgical event, at least in the West, and willingly assent to this teaching. At that time, however, it was an unforgettable reminder of the meaning of “catholic,” that the Church I was preparing to enter has a truly universal character.

Another, far more common, example happened every week at Holy Family – the parish in Southern California where I was brought into the Catholic faith. We always held hands and sang the “Our Father.” Now, some Catholic apologists express strong reservations about this custom, and some even denounce it entirely. However, as far as I know the bishops themselves have not definitively settled the issue. As for me, this custom of holding hands touches upon my own sense of religious identity. (Just as for some, refusing to participate is important to them. It is perhaps fortunate that I did not encounter this latter group early on in my formation; what they no doubt see as “correct,” to others can seem cold and dismissive.)

In 2003, Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, wrote about this issue, stating that the posture of the people for this prayer is not specified in the rubrics, and the bishops have not passed a measure that would preclude this custom by the required two-thirds vote.[1] (If there have been more recent or definitive rulings of which I am not aware, I would be grateful if someone would send me the citation.)

Fr. McNamara writes, "The U.S. bishops' conference debated a proposal by some bishops to allow the use of the orantes [arms extended] posture while discussing the 'American Adaptations to the General Instruction to the Roman Missal' last year [2002]. Some bishops even argued that it was the best way of ridding the country of holding hands. The proposal failed to garner the required two-thirds majority of votes, however, and was dropped from the agenda."

Speaking as one whose entering the Church resulted in the estrangement of most of my friends and family, I sincerely hope that one day the “Our Father” custom is officially recognized as an “organic development” and the sign of unity, rather than an awkward distraction. In the meantime, I urge those who are disinclined to participate to find other ways to express kindness to the person sitting next to you. He or she may be someone who desperately needs a reminder that we do indeed stand together as one family in Christ.

The reason I mention both these instances in my formation process is not to generate a lot of heated debate about the liturgy (though doubtless there will be some). I simply want to demonstrate how people, based on their particular religious identities, can have different impressions of the same event – and still be faithful Catholics. Moreover, that these different perspectives are needed in order for the Body of Christ to function properly: the “kitchen police” who keep the troops fed; the soldiers who resist the enemies of the Church; and the medics who rescue those caught in the crossfire, and tend to the wounded.

Together, we are truly the Body of Christ. And it will be because of this “spirit of the liturgy” – the Spirit in whom we are united despite our differences – that those who are not yet a part of us will want to take a closer look. Doubtless there is room for improvement in many parishes, both in how we worship and how we evangelize. And yet, in the words of the great Latin hymn:

Ubi caritas, et amore. Ubi caritas, deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.[2]

Heidi Hess Saxton is the editor of Canticle magazine.

[1] http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=508
[2] http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/UbiCaritas.html

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's the difference?

Have you been wondering what the differences are between the two forms of the Roman Catholic liturgy (1962 and 1970 forms, respectively)? Here's an excellent article to explain it:

And for those who are interested, here is an article that sets the record straight on the rumor that the Holy Father uses the Tridentine form of the rite when he says Mass privately. (Thanks, Mary-Eileen, for passing it along!)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy July 4th!

Today on "Mommy Monsters" I blogged about my nephew, Ryan, who left earlier this week to start basic training in the Army.

I'd like to offer a prayer in honor of all our troups, many of whom will be seeing fireworks that are much more like those that inspired our national anthem than ours will be.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.