Thursday, January 22, 2015

There's No Reason to Feel Offended by Pope Francis

I think I've finally been able to pin down why I'm so bothered about the reaction to the Pope's infamous "rabbits" comment.

Hypothetically*, let's say a generic Christian minister made the following comment during a news interview:
"Some women think that, in order to keep a boyfriend, they have to have sex. No. Responsible sexual behavior."  
The next day, the media reports, "[Pastor] states women shouldn't have sex! War on Women!"

It'd be ridiculous, right? Anyone could look at the actual comments in context and see that's clearly not what the pastor said, or meant. He clarified his words with "In order to keep a boyfriend"; clearly, his statement was not directed to all women - only those who believed that they had to have sex in order to keep their boyfriends.

As a woman, I wouldn't be offended by his words, since I agree with him that women shouldn't feel like they have to have sex in order to keep their boyfriends (since any boyfriend who won't respect your choice to abstain from sex prior to marriage isn't worth keeping).

Compare that to what Pope Francis said:
Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. 
Clearly, Pope Francis' comment was not meant to include all people with children across the board; rather, he was only talking about the specific people who believe that in order to be a good Catholic, you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason, just like rabbits do.

That's why I'm so puzzled by all of the parents of many who were so offended by his remarks. I don't know any mom or dad of many who thinks that they HAVE to have a certain number of children in order to fulfill some kind of "good Catholic" quota. They have the number of children that they do because they discerned that they should, and that's precisely as it should be. Unless you're a person who honestly believes that in order to be a good Catholic, you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason, Pope Francis wasn't talking about you or your family. There's no reason to feel offended.

And if you DO believe you have to reproduce without recourse to human reason in order to be a good Catholic (I personally don't know of any Catholic who thinks this, but there are many non-Catholics who are under that impression), Pope Francis was explaining that such a belief is in direct opposition to actual Catholic teaching.

Not to mention that if Pope Francis really thought large families were a bad thing, he wouldn't say this only a day or two later:

"It gives consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift of God. They know that every child is a blessing."

*Not a perfect analogy, obviously, but it's the best I could come up with after a long day at work and a long evening dealing with a three-year-old's histrionics. If you can think of a better one, or if you'd like to buy a three-year-old, please leave a comment!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What the Catholic Church Means by Responsible Parenthood

Forgive me, this is going to be a long one.

Yet again, Pope Francis is being attacked for reiterating the teaching of the Catholic Church. This time, he made the not-so-revolutionary statement that parents are called to both generosity and prudence in discerning their family size.

However, like always, the media interpretation is quite different. According to them, Pope Francis says "Catholics shouldn't breed like rabbits." Which is, of course, not at all what Pope Francis said.

C'mon, media, even we can figure that out*
But I'm not really interested in rehashing what the Pope actually said as opposed to what the media claims he said, as several other bloggers (such as Leila and Simcha) have already done an excellent job doing so. Rather, I'd like to expound upon what the Church means by responsible parenthood, because this seems to be a concept that Catholics on both end of the spectrum don't fully understand.

What is Responsible Parenthood?

Pope Paul VI gave a very clear, concise explanation about what constitutes responsible parenthood in Humanae Vitae (HV), paragraph 10 (all bolding mine):
With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.
If you have a large family, you can practice responsible parenthood. If you have a small family, you can practice responsible parenthood. All families regardless of their size are called to practice responsible parenthood with both prudence and generosity. Like so many other aspects of Catholicism, it is not either/or, it is both/and.

Not prudence (small family) OR generosity (large family). Prudence AND generosity.

What is prudence?

We can turn to paragraphs 1806 and 1835 of the Catechism for that answer:
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; "the prudent man looks where he is going."65 "Keep sane and sober for your prayers."66 Prudence is "right reason in action," writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.  
1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.
Simply put, prudence is applying moral precepts to every day situations. A prudent couple may discern that they are not called to have another baby, and use right means (NFP) to avoid conception. A prudent couple may also discern that they are being called to have another baby, and use right means (the marital act) to achieve conception. Neither couple is "wrong" in what they choose to do, as long as their consciences are properly formed according to the Church, and they have done their utmost to discern God's will for their lives. Some may not know if they have discerned correctly until Judgement Day.

HV 10 continues,
Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.
The Church tells us we need to keep a right order of priorities, and then gives us those priorities AND their proper order!  God, ourselves, our families, and human society. Notice that "having another baby" does not top that list. Nor is it #2. If a woman has a grave health risk in which pregnancy could cause grave harm or even death, she is not required to try to conceive again in the hopes that everything will turn out all right.

For example, look at the story of Andrea Yates. She had severe PPD/PPP after her first several pregnancies, and her doctor had warned her that she needed to get serious treatment before having another baby, but she conceived anyway. The result was tragedy.

We are reminded that we have to conform all of our actions to God's will:
From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.
Paul VI had already promulgated this teaching in Gaudiem et Spes, several years earlier:
Let [parents] thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. 
This is what Pope Francis was referring to when he told reporters that the Church does NOT instruct us to "be like rabbits" (and he apologized for using that phrase -- he too understands how demeaning it is toward faithful Catholic couples).

Rabbits do not care about the objective moral order. Rabbits do not stop to question their consciences before engaging in intercourse. Rabbits do not have a right order of priorities.

Rabbits are not bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the creator.

We are not to be like rabbits, mindlessly using our bodies without also engaging our human reason. That soundbyte, however, doesn't garner the amount of clicks that "Pope says Catholics shouldn't breed like rabbits" does.

Large Families and Responsible Parenthood

Finally, I'd like to point out something else Paul VI said in Gaudiem et Spes:
Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.
Note that Paul VI did not say the people who merit special mention are "those who just have baby after baby after baby without any regard to the conditions I just discussed." Catholics are encouraged to have large families, but only if, after "wise and common deliberation," they feel they are called to do so.

Given these precepts, let's look at the example Pope Francis himself used. He spoke of a woman who'd had seven C-sections and was pregnant with her eighth child. Here is exactly what he said:
This doesn't mean that the Christian must make children "in series." I met a woman some months ago in a parish who was pregnant with her eighth child, who had had seven C-sections. But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God. I speak of responsible paternity. This is the way, a responsible paternity.
We don't have all the details because Pope Francis did not give them, but we know he was concerned enough about her situation to use her story as a caution to others.

It seems safe to assume that she had some health problems that made deliberately achieving another pregnancy very imprudent, or lived in an area of the country that made having a C-section much more dangerous and risky than it is in the United States.

I say "deliberately" because I doubt Pope Francis would have used her story if she'd been trying to avoid pregnancy but was victim to the failure rate of NFP; he speaks of "tempting God," which seems to imply that the woman in question became pregnant deliberately, and rationalized her decision by stating she would trust God to save her from the consequences of a poor choice.

It seems also safe to assume, given that he prefaced the remark by stating that Christians do not have to have children "in series," that this woman was of the providentalist mindset (e.g., couples who make no attempt to space pregnancies because they feel it is inherently wrong to do so).

As Pope Francis expressed concern that this woman would lose her own life as well as orphan her seven older children, it seems he was reminding the Catholic faithful that our discernment must, as Gaudiem et Spes says, "...thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring."

Trusting God versus Tempting God

Remember that we have free will. We can choose to have sex, and a baby might result from that decision. That does not mean the decision corresponds to the will of God. To make the claim, "Well, if you do conceive that means God willed it to happen" can set a dangerous precedent. For example, it could lead to claiming that since babies are conceived via immoral means like IVF, or even rape, those means are therefore good. But while the end might be an objectively good thing (a new human life), the means to that end are not always moral or in accordance with God's will.

God's ways are mysterious. He can bring good out of our own bad decisions and bad situations. There are many women who discerned they should not conceive due to grave health reasons but who unintentionally conceived anyway. In cases like these, intent matters. The women were not trying to be reckless or imprudent or tempt God; they were trying to act according to the precepts of responsible parenthood. But that is simply the nature of our fallen world -- sometimes we can act as virtuously as we can and yet things still go wrong. (That's not to say the child is wrong, merely the situation.) In those cases, all we can do is trust God that there is a larger plan, and that He will bring good out of whatever bad situations we find ourselves in, whether or not those situations are the result of our own bad choices. Easier said than done, right?

However, we need to make the distinction between trusting God and tempting God. We trust God to take care of us, but in turn God trusts US to discern wisely and try our hardest to make decisions that are in conformity to His will -- and He trusts us to be both prudent and generous when it comes to our family size.

We tempt God when we make decisions that are reckless or irresponsible, especially if we make those decisions on the basis of trusting God to protect us from the consequences of our actions -- which He doesn't always do. I can't throw myself off a cliff and trust God to save me. He will allow me to suffer the consequences of my own bad choices, even if He chooses to somehow bring good out of them.

In Conclusion

Pope Francis hasn't taught anything new. Many people on Facebook, blogs, etc. are complaining that the media misrepresentation of his remarks means they will be inundated with comments from relatives and others telling them that they don't have to have a large family, the Pope said so! Yes, and those same people probably told you that Pope Benedict said you could use condoms, too. These days, this kind of thing is part and parcel of being Catholic. All we can do is look at it as an opportunity to evangelize to our family and correct misconceptions about Catholic teaching at the same time.

Okay? Okay. Now, go forth and multiply...

....prudently, generously, and in conformity with the will of God.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Shameless Photo Brag

On the day after Thanksgiving, I hired a photographer to do a mini-session with the kids at a local park for Christmas cards (20 minute session and 15 digital pictures for $50 plus a print release). I love how they turned out! Peter was so fascinated with the grass that it was hard to get him to look at the camera, let alone smile, but we managed it for his solo pictures (I started clapping and he thought that was hilarious).

Photos by Beckee Szumski Photography.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Give Yourself the Gift of "A Christmas Carol"!

Have you ever read "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens? I'm not talking about seeing a movie version - have you ever read the classic Dickens novella?

You haven't?

Or maybe you have and it's been a long time?

Regardless, do yourself a favor and give yourself the gift of "A Christmas Carol" this holiday season! It's a perennial favorite that never gets old or tiresome.
"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!" -- Scrooge's nephew, Fred
Here is version that is free on Kindle.

Here are several different text versions from Project Gutenberg.

There is a free, unabridged audiobook version here: Dramatized version of "A Christmas Carol" at Librivox

If dramatized readings (where different narrators play different parts) aren't your style, Librivox has several different solo readings. This is my favorite.
"Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see." - Bob Cratchit
This is an abridged version of A Christmas Carol read by Sir Patrick Stewart. (It's also available on iTunes, which is where I bought my copy.) He traveled around the country doing this as a one-man show at one time, so it's an excellent listening (and very reminiscent of the movie version that he starred in, which is my personal favorite). I just wish it wasn't abridged because the story in its entirety is so delightful.

Here is an audiobook version, unabridged, read by Tim Curry. I've never listened to it but it's on my wish list.

Whichever you choose, enjoy!
"And God bless us, every one!" - Tiny Tim

Friday, December 19, 2014

In Remembrance

You never walked upon the earth,
But I remember you.
We couldn't celebrate your birth,
But I remember you.

We've never seen your little face,
But I remember you.
You're buried in a distant place,
But I remember you.

It's been eight years since you passed on,
But I remember you.
So many friends don't know you're gone,
But I remember you.

And if you'd lived, who would you be?
It must remain unknown.
But God has promised that we'll see
Our saint in heaven grown. 

I hold on to that hope each day
And pray that you will know
That even though I'm far away
Your mommy loves you so.

In loving memory of Noel Wahlund, lost to miscarriage 12/19/2006. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Long Overdue Update

Has it really been more than a month since I blogged? Yikes. I keep meaning to do Quick Takes on Fridays but then I get distracted and it slips my mind.

Here's an update on what's been happening lately at La Casa Wahlund. I promise I'll try to do better!

1. Peter turned 1 on October 7.

He's gotten more mobile, army crawling around and getting into EVERYTHING. 

2. We took a family vacation to Zion National Park in Utah. These pictures don't begin to do justice to how gorgeous it is.

We also stopped by the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

3. William and Violet started T-ball the week of October 20. They have practices every Wednesday and games most Saturdays. 

4. Halloween was a blast! I was so pleased with how the kids' costumes turned out. In September I saw a toddler-sized Scooby-Doo costume at Goodwill for $8, and I thought how cool it would be if all the kids dressed up as Mystery Incorporated (they watch it on Netflix and are big fans). I scoured secondhand shops (both local and online), Wal-Mart, and their closets, and we managed to pull it together pretty well:

Elanor as Daphne Blake, William as Fred Jones, Violet as Velma Dinkley,
Peter as Norville "Shaggy" Rogers, and Gabriel as Scooby-Doo 
5. A few weeks ago, my employer announced that the office had run out of desks and we'd be moving to a desk-sharing program (where two people would work from home on alternate days and share a desk in the office). I asked for and was granted permission to work from home Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays! It's almost like getting a raise (and it probably is similar what with I'll be saving in gas). I'm so thrilled to be getting six hours of my life back every week.

6. I turned 34 on November 3. I had a wonderful day - I took a vacation day off of work and had a whole day to myself. I got a haircut, browsed used bookstores, and had a nice quiet supper all by myself. It was glorious. Thanks to a generous birthday check from my FIL, I bought new hiking boots and $60 worth of books at the used bookstores I went to (yes, I am an addict).

7. And some BIG news... Collin has a new job! He'll be working as a programmer for one of the local school districts (not ours, but one bordering ours). He starts on Monday. We're so happy and thankful to God for this new opportunity!

So, that's what's going on with us. Now we have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and five more birthdays to look forward to (Gabriel, Collin, Elanor, William, and Violet have their birthdays in November, December, January, February, and March, respectively).

Friday, October 3, 2014

7 Quick Takes of Peter! October 3, 2014

Peter turns ONE on Tuesday! Can you believe it?? I can't! His party is this weekend and we are going to have a blast! In his honor, here are some of my favorite pictures of my little guy. (I might do a Part II next week, as I have so many great pictures of him!)

One of my first glimpses of that sweet face

shortly after his (very speedy) birth

First Halloween!

Happy guy

Big smiles for great-grandma Violet

Little tease

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!