Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Question for Catholic Economists

I was leaving the hospital this evening after visiting my new born son in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).

The hospital is a Catholic hospital, and I was thinking how amazing it is that the Church runs a high tech hospital serving a diverse urban population.

The thought crossed my mind that I heard a statistic in abortion debates that one fourth of all hospitals in the United States are Catholic hospitals.

And for some reason, it hit me that the Church managed to build this infrastructure at a time when the hospitals were staffed by celibate religious women and men.

The same goes for the vast Catholic school system.

And I started wondering if there might be a connection between the decline in vocations and the rising cost of health care and education in this country?

If this hypothesis has any merit, it would seem to effect the entire American population - not just the Catholics.

As a proponent of married priests, I am certainly not trying to make an argument that cheap labor is a good reason for maintaining mandatory celibacy as a condition for priesthood.

Yet, I have always said that I do not oppose celibacy lived in a healthy way in religious life (ministerial priests do not have to be vowed religious).

For example, it would seem that if my hypothesis has any merit, the decline in the number of nuns and brothers who served in teaching or medical care orders has had more economic impact than the decline in the number of ordained priests.

And if I am on to something with this hypothesis, it would seem that even the atheist or agnostic or pagan has a vested interest in encouraging people to consider religious life.

Of course, this is mere speculation. I haven't examined any hard data on the subject.

Has anyone done a study on this?


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Survivor's Guilt

My new born son continues to do great. From birth, he has been breathing on his own with high oxygenation - which is the number one concern with premature babies.

There has been no heart murmur, which is the number two concern.

His reflexes are good. His vital signs are good. He is gaining weight. All is well.

Thanks be to God!


And this has to do with my "dark night"....

My sister-in-law was pregnant ten weeks behind my wife, and it was discovered today that her baby died in-utero.

Please pray for my sister-in-law.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Faith and Doubt

It's almost ten o'clock at night as I sit to write, and it's been an exhausting past few days after an exhausting thirteen weeks.

First, let me describe the birth of my son.

I sat down to say evening prayer from the liturgy of the hours rather late on Tuesday night (two days ago). It was just a little after nine o'clock when I sat down to pray.

I was through the third canticle, just about to start the reading, when my wife cried out my name from the basement, where she was trying to relax.

I heard a tone of panic in her voice, and got up as she screamed "My water broke."

As I wrote in the post below, we were in week thirty three, which is just shy of two months early.

As frequent readers know, my wife has been on strict bed rest since a scare we had at week twenty.

During this whole time, because my wife has been on bed rest, I have been pretty much acting as a single parent to our two year old while also needing to continue on my full time job, because high risk pregnancy is not an FMLA qualifying event.

If you want my opinion, it should be, but that's not the topic I am choosing to cover in this post.

I also think paternity leave should be mandatory, but that's also another topic for another day.

Indeed, the stress of acting like a single parent is not the topic I wish to cover.

The topic is the "dark night" I have been experiencing, and faith in the midst of doubt.

And it all really began with the scare at week twenty.

I confess a sort of anxiety in writing about this.

The anxiety is this silly superstitious feeling that giving voice to what has been going through my heart and mind is going to "jinx" things for my new born son.

Yet, it is genuine faith that convinces me that a belief in "jinxes" is silly - the voice of a demon in my mind.

But this demon is real and powerful.

At week twenty, I prayed the sort of desperate prayer that any parent might pray for a child and spouse. It's the sort of primal feeling that many of us feel that hardly needs to be described.

I think there is simply a biological hard-wiring in most parent's to experience danger to a child - even an unborn child - as though it were a threat to very self.

And it struck me as I prayed, and especially as I blogged asking for prayers, that these prayers are not always answered the way we expect and want.

I thought of a very like-minded married deacon who once commented on my blog about how he blamed himself for a miscarriage he and his wife experienced.

I thought of uber-Catholic, Elena, and her miscarriage.

And for the last thirteen weeks, almost every minute of every day I have been living with the fact that our prayers are not always answered in the way we expect, or want.

As Rabbi Kushner put it in the title of his famous 1981 book, bad things happen to good people.

On the first day of panic at week twenty, the image of Moses pleading with God on behalf of the Israelites came into my mind from Exodus 32 - the way he argues with God - even trying to shame God into letting the Israelites survive after their idolatry.

I prayed like this on that day: "God,...,If you are real,...,if you are the Lord and giver of life as we proclaim in our creed,...,let this child live."

Like the deacon I mentioned, the thought crossed my mind that I was being punished on that very day at week twenty. Maybe God was exacting vengeance because I did not stick out celibacy to become a priest? Maybe some other deeper sin has led to this crisis?

I begged forgiveness, and then became angry - with an anger I can hardly describe as it dawned on me that any being that would kill a baby over the sins of his parents is not worthy of being worshipped.

But the anger subsided as I realized almost instantaneously that it simply is not the God revealed in Jesus who would do such a thing.

Yet, bad things do happen to good people - perhaps to all people - but maybe it happens especially to the good, or is particularly painful when it does.

After all, Jesus was crucified when he specifically asked his "Abba" not to let that happen. His sinless mother had to watch her only son die.

Catholic Deacons and staunchly pro-life conservative Catholic women like Elena lose babies before term.

Innocent children in Iraq have bombs dropped on them. People in Africa die of starvation when there is enough food for everyone on earth to eat more than three thousand calories per day.

Yet, somehow, the God revealed in Christ seems to oppose all suffering and death.

Jesus never uses his omnipotence except to heal and forgive. He strikes nobody dead, and demands the death of nobody. Even when compassion for the underdog drives him to just anger, he acts violently towards no human person.

And though he bore the cross, his resurrection is the final vindication of the God of life and love!

Which brings me back to Moses pleading for the people in Exodus 32. As frequent readers know, I am deeply troubled by the rest of the story.

After Moses pleads on behalf of the Israelites, he tells the Levites to kill their own kinsmen who committed idolatry, claiming the command was given to him by the Lord.

What a load of crap.

I'm just going to call it like I see it here.

I've said it before in no uncertain terms. The God I worship would not ever under any circumstances, real or imagined, order one human being to kill another.

I believe this image of God I have is the God revealed in Christ.

The God revealed in Moses falls short of that ideal, and in any way that an image of God falls short of the image of God revealed in Christ, that image is a false image.

As frequent readers know, A Roman Catholic priest who comments on this blog rather frequently disagrees with me on this point. He believes that God did order Moses to give a command to kill, and that this is the same God revealed in Christ.

It is not my intention to rehash this specific argument and all the pros and cons on each side of the debate.

Rather, what I am choosing to describe is that there is another image of God than my own that is quite prevalent among Christians - perhaps among religious people of every persuasion, denomination or creed.

Those who believe America had some sort of moral responsibility or duty to invade Iraq share something of this mentality which is entirely opposed to my image of God - an image I think I absorbed from Jesus Christ.

God does not ever demand death. Under any circumstances. Period.

God hates death!

God hates death with an indescribable passion. It is that God who I have been praying to save my new born son with a primal emotion I cannot put into words.

So I had just sat down to say evening prayer some time after nine o'clock, and I had just finished the third canticle of the prayer when my wife cried out that her water had broken.

By nine twenty-six, we were on the road to the hospital.

Our HMO would only cover us in a hospital thirty miles from our house.

I thought of going to a closer hospital anyway, but for the life of me, I could not remember how to get there.

So I sped to the hospital I knew how to get to - the one thirty miles from home.

I sped down the highway blowing the horn and flashing the high beams, almost hoping a cop would follow so that the siren would clear traffic.

My wife cried out in pain as the contractions occurred two minutes apart.

We pulled into the emergency room entrance and I slammed on the emergency brake before the car came to a full stop.

I ran into the hospital and grabbed a wheelchair and cried out as loud as I could that I needed help.

Someone took over the wheelchair, and my wife cried out to me to grab her purse. I turned back to the car and grabbed her purse, and when I turned back around, she was gone.

I ran into the hospital, and was told by the security person that I needed to move my car. I tried to hand her the keys and told her to move it herself.

She told me that my wife was in good hands, and I need to move my car.

I drove backwards with my foot to the floor and whipped into the closest spot I could see.

I ran back into the hospital and was directed up a flight of steps and through a long corridor. I sprinted the whole way.

My wife was being rolled out on a stretcher surrounded by masked people. One of them grabbed me and told me to go into a room.

My wife screamed, "Joe. Just pray. Please. Just pray."

I did have a rosary with me, and I began to pray.

And as I prayed, I kept thinking of all the people in a similar situation who lose their children, or even their spouse, or both and I realized it could happen to me.

Bad things happen to good people.

And maybe I'm not good anyway.

But the God I worship hates all death, and does not kill children for the sins of the parents.

Yet, bad things do happen to good people. That's an empirical observation. It just does happen.

And my mind kept going back and forth on this as I prayed that rosary, as it has been for the last thirteen weeks in a manner more intense than ever before.

As I prayed that rosary, I also thought of all the people who have promised to pray for us. I thought of all the people who have helped in one way or another during these past thirteen weeks - such as parishioners who cooked a meal to lighten my load, or offered to drive my wife somewhere.

I thought of compassionate health care professionals we've encountered, or understanding bosses at work, and so forth.

And in my mind, this is where God has been most obviously present: in people helping people, no matter how cliche that sounds.

And I also "meditated" on the mysteries of the rosary. Mary's "Be it done unto me according to your word". Jesus', "Not my will, but your will be done"....

And I cried with out from the very depths of my being....


"If your will is to kill my child, no. I won't have it. You aren't worthy of worship if you would kill this child or harm my wife. No. Not your will, if that is your will. My will be done if you really want my worship."

And in that moment, as in so many moments during this "dark night" I have been experiencing, I felt at one with so many atheists and agnostics.

And I felt at one with Jesus in a way.

For Christ did cry out "Let this cup pass." And he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

And Christ was vindicated.

Maybe not for saying "They will be done."

Maybe, for saying "Let this cup pass" and praying honestly through his abandonment in the face of certain death.

Even in Exodus 32, which troubles me so deeply, after the Levites slay three thousand people on Moses' command, the chapter ends with Moses asking God to strike him from the book of life rather than any more people.

Saint Paul says somewhere that he would give up his own salvation on behalf of his Jewish people.

Do we draw closest to God when we're willing to risk eternal separation from God on behalf of people?

Is this what Christ really shows us in undergoing the cross?

Was Jesus an atheist in a sense?

Is the real idolatry of our times a belief in a God who kills babies and crucifies innocent people?...A belief that we are supposed to accept this as God's loving will?

I was in the fifth decade of my rosary when the nurse came to get me and take me to see my baby.

We left our house at 9:36 PM, and our baby was born at 10:04 PM.

As of tonight, when I sit to write, Mom and baby Joseph are doing better than should be expected.

I do not claim that it was my faith in a God who does not kill little children that saved this baby or my wife.

There is no rhyme or reason to why my baby lives and Elena's did not,..., or the deacon's,..., or anyone else's.

I do not know why bad things happen to good people. I do not know why good things have happened for me this week. I am grateful they have, but I don't have a clue why.

My prayers did not save this baby.

The God revealed in Christ saved this baby, and if this baby had not lived, it would not be the God revealed in Christ who killed him.

That's about all I can say, as simply as I can say it.

I do not know why this God cannot or does not save every baby. I won't attempt to solve such a mystery.

All I will say that is that a God who would have killed my baby is not worthy of my worship.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's a Boy!!!

I don't really have time to blog, and won't be reading comments till much later. I just stopped by home to pick up our two year old daughter.

At 10:04 PM last night, my wife gave birth at 33 weeks to a premature, but healthy boy. He's four pounds and ten ounces, and 17 and 3/4 inches long.

Please keep mom and baby (and dad too) in your prayers.