All Are Welcome
As a mother of five children, four of whom have A.D.H.D. and two of whom also have an autism spectrum disorder, I am grateful for the welcoming attitude in Brian Doyle’s “Suffering Children” (10/6).
I was a squirmy, talkative young child and more than once had to be spoken to (or got that little pinch) in attempts to quiet me. On one occasion, an older parishioner made some comment to my parents about my behavior. My father never returned to church.
I always make an attempt to help other parents or give them a welcoming look as they try to wrangle their little ones. My youngest are 7-year-old twins, and we continue to work on improving their behavior as they prepare for first holy Communion.
It would be nice if everyone remembered that not all disabilities can be detected with the naked eye. If everyone would give others the benefit of the doubt, that people do the best they can, we would all get along so much better!
Outside the Box
Re “Sacred Silence,” (Current Comment, 10/6): When I was a young, canonically active priest summoned in a custody case, I pled on a witness stand that I had no memory of the suitability of a parent because I could not remember how I knew what I did about the individual involved and whether it was through the internal forum or another means. I completely respect the “confessional seal” in that context. The case in Louisiana, however, seems quite different in at least two ways.
First, the girl was not confessing a sin but rather being “sinned against”—and doing so in possibly the only context she knew to approach a priest in so delicate a matter. Thus, in my mind, reporting her remarks would not violate any seal of “confession.” Second, if it is accurate that the advice she was given was to “sweep it under the floor,” that was both pastoral dereliction and extremely poor judgment. As the editors suggest, she should at least have been encouraged to bring the allegations of abuse to an external forum with the priest’s assistance.
Jesus said those who abuse a child “should have a millstone tied around their necks.” This spirit is hardly reflected in an attitude that says, “If you speak of suffering in this box, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Re “Revisiting Remarriage,” by Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M. (10/6): I was troubled as I read the working document prepared to guide the discussion among the bishops at the Synod on the Family. It states the problems clearly, but its answer to almost every one is that lay people are ignorant of the church’s teachings and rules and all we need is more and better education and catechesis to solve the problems.
To point fingers at society and the laity and blame them for the problems of premarital sex, divorce, same-sex marriage, use of contraceptives, dysfunctional families, etc., is, in my opinion, the wrong place to start an open discussion among the bishops, even if the facts bear that out in many instances. I see a lot of judgments being meted out but not much talk of mercy or acceptance for part of the blame.
Re “Voting on Trial” (Current Comment, 9/29): It’s disappointing that no consideration is given to the expenses of early voting in Ohio. The Republicans wanted to reduce the early voting from 35 days to 28 days. Why isn’t four weeks of early voting sufficient? Why is it discriminatory? If it truly is a matter of discrimination (as opposed to simply a change of habit), then the factual elements of the discrimination should be noted.
Virtually all of America’s readers are against any discrimination because of a clear sense of social justice. But unsubstantiated claims of discrimination in our present politically correct society have by now reduced their own credibility. This result can only be changed by rigorously discussing true discrimination. Frankly, having only four weeks of early voting doesn’t seem discriminatory to me, but I am open to the factual discussion of how it is. Regrettably, the editors failed to do that.
An Author Responds
In “Building an ‘Ethnocracy’” (9/29), Drew Christiansen, S.J., gives a thoughtful overview of my book Contested Land, Contested Memory and presents my arguments regarding the exclusion of the “other” in the construction of Israeli collective identity and the damage this has inflicted. What I feel is missing from the review, however, is my accounting of why this process occurred. I believe that the collective memory of trauma played, and continues to play, a significant role in shaping Israel’s development. This is a key aspect of my book.
The Zionist movement did not merely grow out of the discrimination that Jews experienced in 19th-century Western Europe. Its roots lay deeper, in the centuries of persecution and violence inflicted on Jews throughout Christian Europe, which continued to manifest themselves in state-sanctioned pogroms in the late 19th-century Russian Empire and which were later to reach their most horrifying culmination in the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”
What I have tried to do in my book is to examine how two tangled histories of suffering, Jewish and Palestinian, and the traumatic collective memories they have engendered are woven through the political and physical landscapes of Israel and inform Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli lives today.
As we seek to understand these histories, we must be prepared to look unflinchingly at the role played by the church for centuries in fostering or condoning the anti-Semitic persecution that eventually gave rise to Zionism, and that paved the way for the Holocaust.
I currently have in my garden that “fairytale” image of St. Francis that Jon M. Sweeney speaks of in “The Real Francis” (9/22). My hope is that it is merely a starting point for what will be a lively discussion of St. Francis in years to come.
I occasionally watch my grandchildren. The littlest, Isabel, early on was quite taken with the statute of St. Francis, which she could see from our breakfast room table. At just 18 months she would squeal with joy and point her finger, tipping her head to the side as if to say, “Who is that, Grandma?” When we had a nice enough afternoon to go outside, I opened the back door and Isabel ran straight for the statue. Their exchange appeared so sweet and genuine, though on the final embrace she knocked him clean off his feet and was quite distraught.
As the months and years go by, I am obliged to offer Isabel a St. Francis that is more than just a statue in “a quiet garden among the flowers,” the Francis who “saw the sacred in everyone and everything.”
I respect the truth of the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, but I think we have not looked long enough at how rarely a sacramental marriage really exists. Often a Catholic couple comes to my office and wants to arrange a marriage. But it is not the level of their faith or readiness to make a mature commitment that is important, but only their baptism. Their baptism seems to exist in the objective order, like some kind of vaccination, with automatic effects as soon as they consummate their marriage. So often, one or both are indifferent Catholics who manage to ignore the real demands of their wedding preparation—all they want is the church and the ceremony. If it ends in divorce, they must face the torture of a formal annulment case because, technically, they are “sacramentally married.”
It is even sillier when we talk about Protestants, who don’t even believe marriage is a sacrament. But because of their baptism, no matter the level of their faith, their marriage is assumed to be a sacrament. I find myself trying to convince a skeptical fiancée why they have to put off their marriage until they finish with the long agony of a formal case.
Re “Faithful Aspirations,” by Frank DeSiano, C.S.P. (9/1): Too often the ideal for who is a true disciple or a true Catholic has been judged in the same way that the world judges: the more busy, the more involved, the better the Christian, i.e., the extroverts win the prize. This is negating the value and self-donation of all those whose call is to the hidden way of contemplation. Perhaps we should take to heart Mt 7:1 ff., “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.”
Readers respond to “Suffering Children,” by Brian Doyle (10/6):
A favorite family story: my niece had to be taken out of Mass when she was about 3. As her dad carried her out, she screamed, “But I love God!” Everyone in church cracked up!
I have three small children, and I appreciate the author’s main point. But I think parents can draw more lines than simply “no extended fist fights.” Squished grapes are a mess to clean up; crushed Cheerios only slightly less so. And your kids’ snack isn’t helping me teach my child that she can wait. Children ought to be able to survive a 25-minute Mass without food. They aren’t just soaking in the reverence; they’re also learning how to behave (or not to).
There was a time I was embarrassed when my own children didn’t “pay attention” at Mass and was bothered by how other people’s children “misbehaved.” It wasn’t until I became a chaplain resident at our local children’s hospital that my opinion changed. It was there that I saw many sick and suffering children, many with terminal illness, who could not run and play and do things that other children do—including going to church. I began to praise God when a child would cry out, run out in the aisle or sleep in the pew. That’s what healthy children do! Once I “got it,” my Sunday church experience was more fulfilling and blessed. I learned it was I who needed to change, not God’s precious little ones.