Need Your Help: Stories of Equal Access

I need your help with getting a door unlocked.

I’m a parishioner (and at last check parish council member) at a large and historically-significant parish.   Thanks to renovations over the years, there are three wheelchair-accessible entrances feeding the parish church.  Unfortunately, since November of 2017 all three of those doors have been locked.  The only way to get into the building during Sunday Mass or Saturday Confession is to either walk up a short flight of stairs (seven if I counted correctly) or wait around on the sidewalk hoping to flag someone down who will go unlock an accessible door for you.

Unfortunately, the pastor of the parish doesn’t seem to understand that it isn’t okay for someone with a disability to have to make advanced arrangements in order to be able to get inside the building for Mass or Confessions.  He’s otherwise a fairly stand-up guy, but he seems genuinely shocked that I would be angry about this issue.

I’m not above launching a massive public shame-storm, but that’s a weapon of last resort.  What I’d like your help with is attempting to show Father (and I tell you again: he is otherwise a pretty sane guy) that equal access matters.

Here is a form where you can share your story.  Can you share with him an example (or multiple if you’ve got them — fill out as many entries as you’d like) of how equal access, or lack of it, has affected your life?

My plan is to pass on to him your stories so he can see, person by person, just how painful it is to be the one stuck out on the sidewalk wondering how you’ll get in.  I’ll also put in a Mass intention for the collective intentions of those who share their stories (so Father L. gets to pray for you, cause that’s his job), and of course I’ll pray for you individually and I think he will too.

I’m not looking for angry.  He’s gotten plenty of angry from me, and believe me, I’m not as nice in regular life as I am on the internet.  I’m looking for your personal story of how being able to participate in parish or community life made a positive difference for you or someone you love, or how being excluded by needless barriers did the opposite.

The reality is that barriers keep people out.  After a year and a half of locked doors (in a previously accessible parish), the only regulars with disabilities are the few who are okay with the new status quo as second-class citizens.  Everyone else has disappeared.  If you showed up as a tourist (the parish receives many out-of-town visitors at weekend Masses), you’d follow the signs to a locked door and maybe succeed in waving someone down, or maybe just give up and move on.  As a result, Father L. no longer sees the people who are most affected by his decision: You’re all gone.

I need you to make yourself visible to him again.

Thank you so much.

I’ll post updates as I get them.  Also: If you choose to let me share your story (and only in that case — opt in or your story remains completely private), I’ll pick a few to post here and elsewhere, so that your voice gets heard far and wide.  Thank you!

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Image: No Accessibility Icon, courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain

Towards an Authentic Spirituality of Confirmation

I wrote to the DRE at the start of the school year, explaining that my teen wanted to be confirmed but that I was in the middle of a new job that was requiring 70-80 hour work weeks, so I really *could not* be the hand-holding parent going to a bazillion meetings and all that.  I requested that the parish come up with a formation program my teen could complete without parent attendance, and what with it being she, not I, getting confirmed, it seemed reasonable.

Despite the steady nagging of teens to become “adults in the faith,” the parish struggled intensely with the idea of working directly with a teenager.  I can get this, because I work directly with young persons, so I know that they are not universally organized and conscientious.   Teaching children to become adults requires risk-taking and persistence.  DRE’s thus tend to have an Augustinian wish: Give these teens responsibility, oh Lord, but not yet.

***

Over at the Register, Jason Craig writes “Why Confirmation is Not a Mere Rite of Passage.”  I give it a hearty amen in part because  I have shown up to a couple parent Confirmation-prep things lately, and apparently the indoctrination at religious ed on the “becoming an adult in the faith” is so strong that when I whispered to my teen a corrective to the presenter’s assertion that the sacrament of Confirmation was about you as a teen confirming you wanted to be Catholic, she whispered back, surprised, “It’s not??” I let the deacon feel my ire.  The mother is not amused by pseudo-theology.

The mother is, however, grateful.  If you’re going to lay into the parish staff for their irresponsibility, you have to be willing to do the work to offer something better.  We came home from that dreadful formation meeting with a challenge: What is the point of Confirmation?  It’s all well and good to say it gives you the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but what does that mean?  How is it different from Baptism and the Eucharist?

A few days contemplation bore much fruit.  My husband and I, and hopefully the kids as well, found ourselves moved very deeply as we considered with awe the reality of this sacrament which, described imprecisely, is for your relationship with the Holy Spirit what the Eucharist is for your relationship with Jesus Christ.  That intimate union, that indwelling, that receiving of life . . . to speak of the action of the Trinity is risk material heresy, but whoa!  You want to shake a few shoulders and shout at the bishop with his well-meaning video for teens DO YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS YOU ARE FAILING TO TELL THESE KIDS?!!  Tithing and church service are great, and yeah I’d like more priests too (though I want to find out if there’s a trustworthy seminary first), but seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, guys!  Confirmation is one of the seven great mystical things, and you are missing out terribly if you think it is just a glorified membership drive.

Fortunately, the sacrament doesn’t wear off.  Even if your parish has hidden the glory of the Holy Spirit under the table cloth of mandatory service hours, and your teen’s formation program consists of Catholic-brand career-counseling, God in His humility is waiting, like the preschooler behind the door calling out “I’m hiding come find me!”  Ignore the distractions.  Go into the quiet room where God dwells and find Him there.  He wants to live in you.  He wants to make you His home.  He wants to make His life your life.  You were made for this.

***
The children are taught to list the Gifts of the Holy Spirit when asked what it is they receive at Confirmation.  You’re supposed to say that, instead of “Green light for my quince,”  or “To get my parents off my back,” when they ask why you want to be confirmed.  There’s an awful lot of talking about the gifts, and using the gifts, and of course you had to work hard attending classes and doing service projects and writing papers in order to be allowed to have the gifts.

It is so much noise.  Blather.  Idiocy.  Too smart for your own good.  Ditch the growing-up talk, because it is a childlike faith that our Lord requests.  Children, unsophisticated, believing, accepting, are unafraid to ask for what Confirmation is: I want the Power of God to live inside me.

That’s more than enough.

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Photo by Richard Bartz courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 2.5.

Vatican Clergy Abuse Summit Bingo

From the makers of that evergreen classic Bishop Press Release Bingo comes the game we’ve all been waiting for, Vatican Clergy Abuse Summit Bingo!

Unlike regular Bingo, with Vatican Bingo what doesn’t get said counts too!  Put your chips on the grey boxes at the start of the game, and you get to keep them there until someone starts talking.  Don’t worry, when the Vatican’s playing, you can be sure your chips won’t be extradited any time soon.

And lest you worry: The Vatican shut down the USCCB’s process last fall to replace it with this?  Fear not.  The USCCB wasn’t planning to talk either.

Why Kids Like Sports Better than Religious Ed

I used to be one of those catechists with no patience for kids’ sports.  I believed in the value of athletics, I really did, but disapproved of the modern sports industry’s drain on society.  People who organized their lives around their kids’ games and practices were wrong-headed, period.

Then I had a kid who begged for three years straight to please be allowed to try a team sport — any sport at all, she just really, really wanted to be on a team.  That gateway drug of athletics, free summer practice, fell in our laps.  We committed to two months and no more.  And now I can explain to you why you are wrong-headed when you pit Church vs. Athletics.

Kids Want to Do Hard Things

Do you know another thing my junior athlete did? She co-founded a parish ministry.  At the end of fifth grade she sat on the church playground talking a mom of younger children in the parish, coming up with an idea for having parish families meet once a week for faith formation, academics, Adoration, Mass, and social time, faithfully Catholic but open to all-comers.

If the parents had to work the bureaucracy, it was the elementary schoolers who gave shape to the nuts and bolts of the ministry.

And for this they had to fight.  Over and over and over again my daughter saw how adults at every level of the church administration wanted to shut down a ministry that was operating under the complete supervision of the pastor, was explicitly open to every member of the parish (and got some great inter-generational participation as a result), and was in no way undermining any other parish or diocesan ministry.

Year after year my daughter tried different avenues for getting involved in parish life doing hard things.  Year after year, roadblocks came up.  Eventually she got the message: Kids who are serious about the faith aren’t welcome in the Catholic Church.

In contrast, over in the sports world, hard work and dedication was consistently welcomed and rewarded.  So that’s where she wants to be.

Kids Want to Be Themselves

When pastors and parish staff grumble about “sports,” something they overlook is that “sports” isn’t one single thing.  There are sports for every interest, body type, and personality, and leagues at every level of competitiveness.  You can be an elite ballerina or a rec bowler, and it’s all generic “sports” to the naysayers if it gets in the way of their plans for you.

Year after year my kids have listened to adults in authority tell them how beneficial it will be for them to commit two hours a week to sitting in classes they could literally teach themselves — as one honest catechist used to say with admiration to a child of mine.  These adults do not sit in the classes they so merrily foist on children whose names they can’t keep straight.  Staff time is valuable.  Children’s time is not.

The kids aren’t lazy.  They are choosing to spend their time on activities that are intellectually and physically demanding, often having to skip a friend’s birthday party or go without luxuries other kids enjoy because the family budget will only allow so much.  Trust me: If the only sport on offer was 2nd grade kickball, very few kids would be sacrificing for it.  Kids sacrifice for sports because athletics are one of the few venues where kids can take control of their formation and push themselves to make the most of their own personal talents and abilities and gifts.

Kids Want Competence

Coaches aren’t getting rich in children’s athletics.  Most are volunteers, and even those at higher levels who are getting a stipend have to support themselves with a full-time day job.  The question athletes ask isn’t, “What kind of degrees do you have in this field?” They just want proof you are a good coach.

When a team has a lousy coach, players vote with their feet.  A lousy club or league doesn’t hold onto athletes.

This is exactly like catechesis.  The difference is that because Church culture opposes personal growth and initiative (witness the resistance my daughter faced when she tried to meet with her friends to study the faith outside of the mandated religious-ed program), there aren’t “other teams” to turn to if a given program or instructor doesn’t work out for you.

Sadly, the monopoly of the local parish program’s age-mandated classing system creates incompetence.  It does this because no one teacher can be the best at meeting every child’s needs.  Just like some coaches are better at preparing future Olympic gymnasts and others are better at getting a pile of nervous t-baller’s to look at the ball, every catechist has strengths and weaknesses.  If you were told you had to meet the spiritual needs of every child in your neighborhood who was born in a certain 12-month span, you’d fail too.  It’s an impossible job.

Children Have Bodies

Do you know who is jealous of the human body?  Satan.

Humans use our bodies to express our souls.  We are unlike any other creature, having both a rational immortal soul and a physical body that will be resurrected and endure for all eternity in its glorified form.   What we do with our bodies matters, so learning to use our bodies well is important.  To hate the body is to hate the person.

This doesn’t mean the body is more important than the soul.  It isn’t.  Parishes need to up their game significantly when it comes to caring for children’s souls.  But sports isn’t competition.  We live in a society which offers few options for helping children develop physically.  The era when children grew in strength and endurance and agility by helping out with farm chores or physically-demanding skilled manual labor has largely passed.

As a teacher, I beg my restless students to go out for a sport every season, just so they can get the hours of running-around time they need so they are calm enough to sit still in class.  Kids (and adults) need physical activity in order to function well because we are made for it.

Kids Have Souls

What is the proper response of the Church to “competition” from sports?  The Church needs to do her own job.  Kids and parents don’t take faith formation seriously because parishes don’t take it seriously.

Unfortunately, at every level the credibility of church leaders has been lost.  After enough years of being told they should want to live on a diet of spiritual pablum, children quit believing their pastors.

Teenagers accuse “You don’t trust me!” and parents rightly observe that trust is earned.  Pastors must hold themselves to the same standard.  If your parish has only offered twaddle, kids and parents aren’t going to jump every time you announce a hot new thing is going to be great.  The American youth sports edifice wasn’t born in six months, and the rebuilding of evangelization won’t happen instantly either.

As good as sports are, we should be gravely concerned when parents and children neglect their souls in favor of their bodies.  It is a profound and shameful problem.

But the solution isn’t for parish staff to take children’s bodies less seriously.  The solution is to take children’s souls more seriously.

Related: Are Sports Sabotaging or Strengthening Your Family’s Faith?

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Manliness and a Perfect Funeral

Hathaway’s funeral was perfect.  Chanted Extraordinary Form Requiem Mass at the old but not old-old St. Mary’s church in Aiken, then procession to the graveside for a Melkite burial.  Nothing says “four last things” like a Dies Irae in the hands of a good cantor.

As our line of cars, lights on, hazards flashing, police escort, ambled down US 1 towards the cemetery, traffic of course made way.  But this is a land where funerals are still taken seriously, and even on the four-lane highway where there was no practical need to do so, most vehicles coming the other direction pulled to the side, stopped, and put on their lights, paying their respects.  You have no idea of it, I thought as I passed driver after driver putting life on hold for two minutes of stillness in honor of a complete stranger, but you are witness to the funeral of one of the world’s great men.

***

John’s daughter asked (shortly after his death) if I could speak at the funeral meal.  After the perfection of the funeral homily and the solemnity of the mass and burial, what I had prepared seemed woefully inadequate.  It also was not very gentle, but fortunately there was a line-up of nice friendly people to follow, including a dear friend with the gift for coming across as a big, chummy teddy bear while he reminded the audience of the value of redemptive suffering and the need for masses and holy hours of reparation.

I’m sure most people did not like what I had to say, but the one person it was written for thanked me for saying it.  Below is the text, with most of the typos removed.

***

When we try to explain the difference between men and women, we tend to resort to stereotypes.  We know that men possess, on average, more physical strength than women, so we use examples of large, muscular men performing heavy manual labor.  We know that men have an inborn, undeniable vocation as providers and protectors, so we reach for clear examples of those.  When we think of providers, we might give the example of a successful business owner, or an accomplished professional; or we might think of an ordinary workman or farmer putting in long hours at physically grueling labor in order to provide a simple but decent living for even a very large family.  We know that men are created to be protectors of the family and community, and thus we look to the sacrificial life of men who have careers in the military or as law enforcement officers.  These are not bad examples.  But they don’t get to the heart of what it means to be a man.

John Hathaway had the rare and excruciating vocation of showing the world what it means to be a man.

You could not look at John and think “typical big strong muscular man.”  (Though at times he astonished me at how strong he was.)  But what is a man’s strength for?  It is for serving God and serving his family.  John Hathaway used every ounce of his physical strength in fulfilling his vocation as husband, father, and Christian.  I remember him telling me the story of literally crawling to Holy Communion one time, so determined he was to receive Our Lord despite whatever parish he was visiting not noticing he needed the sacrament brought to him in the pew.  John was a wealth of medical knowledge – if I had a difficult medical question, he was on the short list of people I’d go to with such questions – because he was utterly focused on husbanding his strength, as the expression goes, so that he would be as strong as he possibly could be in order to serve his wife, his children, and God.

As a provider, John fell in the terrible predicament of those who are extremely talented but not in financially lucrative ways.  He was an English professor in a nation where adjunct professors sometimes literally live out of their cars because they cannot afford rent.   Many men find themselves in this position, willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their families, but thrust into overwhelming circumstances beyond their control.  The despair this can cause men is at times deadly.

John Hathaway deployed extraordinary determination and perseverance and ingenuity in figuring out, day after day, year after year, how to provide for his family.  And he did provide.  He absolutely embodied what it means for a husband and father to be a provider.

As a protector I want to talk about John’s role in defending his children’s very lives.

We live in a time when it is legally and politically and socially acceptable to say that John and Allie and Gianna and Josef and Clara should simply be killed.  They should never have been allowed to be conceived, for fear they not measure up to some ideal standard of human health.   Allie, the same Allie who has been a pillar of strength and a fount of practical help to Mary over this past harrowing week; the same Allie who is delightfully talented and devoted to sharing her talents with the community . . . is someone that even Christians will sometimes say, “it would have been better if she’d never been born.”

I would say John’s life work was one steady, undying protest against that evil.  He tirelessly spoke and wrote and worked to persuade the world that his children deserve to live.

This vocation of his was painful.  It was physically and spiritually exhausting. He deployed every spiritual and physical weapon at his disposal against the constant and at times overpowering despair and darkness that descended on his life.

I can recall at times literally thanking John for still being alive.  I thanked him for the depths of the agony he endured by dint of continuing to pursue medical care in order that he might, for as long as possible, be present in this life to his family.  I thanked him selfishly: I knew that death would be easier and more pleasant for him, and I knew that when that time came I would feel his absence profoundly.  John was a delightful person to know and to talk to and to be with.

In closing I want to commend Mary for her choice of a husband.  She has faithfully withstood no end of criticism for marrying a man who lacked the superficial traits that are idolized by our society.  But she has known what others don’t see: That she married a man who truly embodied manliness to its fullness.  He cherished her, he sacrificed daily for her and the children, and gave his life and every ounce of his strength to providing for and protecting his family.  He made his own and by extension their relationship with Jesus Christ his number one priority.  He was everything any man could ever aspire to be.

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The pale and fleeting beauty of the Shadowlands, as seen in the Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.

Ableism Entrenched

Up at the Register: Are People with Disabilities Welcome at Your Parish?

Ableism is the counterpart to “racism” or “ageism,” the often-insidious discrimination against people with disabilities.  Ableism is happening when a parish that has three wheelchair-accessible entrances decides to lock all doors except the one with the stairs.  No malice, just complete indifference.

When you park in the handicap spot even though you don’t need it, that’s ableism.  It’s also ableism when you assume the person with the tag must be faking just because you can’t identify an obvious disability.

Here’s an example of how pervasive ableism is:

We’re at the “atrium” of the children’s hospital today, a big sunny play space where kids can do fun stuff.

Children's Atrium, MUSC Children's Hospital

L. is in the teen corner doing arts and crafts, and it gets to be a few minutes before closing.  The other family there is a patient with her dad and a sister.  The dad calls clean-up time, and I get up and go help with putting away all the craft supplies.  I’m not really paying attention to who is doing what, other than that I start with putting away the things we personally got out (because I know where they came from) and also I tell L. to go sit in her wheelchair and hold all our junk for the trip up.

Here’s the entrenched-ableism mindset: In my brain I compose an explanation for why my kid is not helping clean up.

My child has a broken sternum from open-heart surgery less than 3-days earlier, and I am feeling the need to be ready to explain why she can’t walk around putting things away.  In a children’s hospital.  Where everyone else is there with a kid (or is the kid) who also can’t do all the things.

Mind you, not a person batted an eye.  But you know you are used to living in an abelist world when you just automatically prepare to fend off stupid accusations against a kid with an invisible (and thankfully temporary) disability.

Which is why we have parishes that lock people out of Mass if they can’t climb stairs.  And that’s a problem.

Can Goodness Fix Abuse?

In conversation surrounding Simcha Fisher’s piece on why the Fr. Luke Reese criminal trial is something the community needs to know about, a related topic came up: What role do victims play in their abuse?

For some perspective, Fr. Reese is charged with carrying out an 18-hour ordeal in which, at its peak, he dragged his wife in front of the altar (Fr. Reese is a married priest, yes the Catholic Church has them) and beat her there.

There are no counter-charges that Mrs. Reese was in some way abusing her husband and he was merely physically defending himself.  This is not a case of brawling.  This is assault and battery.

And yet — and the argument is even more deeply entrenched in cases of emotional abuse — some people labor under the idea that abusive behavior is “provoked” by the victim.

This is false.

Why the confusion?

We know a few things about healthy relationships:

  • You can make your relationship stronger by being kind, considerate, and generous.
  • You can help each other grow in virtue and avoid sin by making an effort to avoid tempting yourself and others.

So, for example, if you want to get along better with your workmates, greeting them cheerfully and completely your work promptly can help you all form a better team.

If you and your date are determined to remain chaste, choosing to avoid actions the other finds alluring can make it easier to abstain.

If you and your neighbor want to live on good terms, observing quiet hours can make it easier to get along.

These things work when everyone involved wants a healthy relationship.

It is the nature of abuse to try to pretend there is a “good reason” for the abuser’s behavior.  But there isn’t.

It is normal to get a little frustrated at other people’s faults.  A normal married couple might argue over who should do the dishes.  A normal married couple will not physically assault each other over who should do the dishes.

That’s what makes abuse different from normal behavior: The action or reaction in no way matches the circumstances.

How to Have a Better Marriage

If you and your spouse are both desiring a happier, more joyful marriage, there are things you can do to help with that.  You can pay attention to your spouse’s preferences, and find little ways to show consideration.  Maybe that is by taking on a chore your spouse finds tedious, or by giving attention to some detail that other people might not care about, but which especially pleases your spouse.

She likes tulips not roses, so you bring her tulips.  He hates cilantro, so you serve it on the side.  Of course you do these things, because you love each other and you want to please each other.  You might go so far as to choose an outfit that your spouse particularly admires (and which you agree is becoming on you and fitted to the occasion), even though left to your own devices you yourself wouldn’t spend so much time on your appearance.

An abusive person is not abusive because you brought the wrong flower or served the wrong meal.  An abusive person isn’t going to be “cured” by your selecting a nicer outfit next time.   Healthy people don’t beat their spouse over failing to coordinate the day’s plans, or failing to keep the house clean, or failing to make the children settle down.  Healthy people don’t kidnap, rape, and beat their spouse even over suspected infidelity.

Healthy Responses to Very Bad Behavior

If you thought your spouse was cheating on you, healthy, proportionate reactions might include:

  • Asking your spouse to explain his or her behavior.
  • Attending counseling, with or without your spouse (or both).
  • Asking your spouse to cut ties with a specific person he or she committed adultery with previously.
  • Refraining from intercourse if there is reason to be concerned about sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Insisting your spouse be transparent about internet and social media use.
  • Considering whether a civil divorce or other legal action is a necessary way to handle the fallout from marital infidelity.

Some of these actions are very serious responses to very serious concerns.  None of them involve assaulting your spouse.

 

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

Solemnity on a Friday!

December 8th is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In addition to being a holy day of obligation (translation: Go to Mass!), its status as a solemnity means that on years when the day falls on a Friday, the usual obligation to do penance on Fridays is lifted:

Can.  1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can.  1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can.  1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Let the bacon be served.

If you live in the US, your bishops already gave you the bacon-option, but it’s penitential bacon:

Can.  1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

Way back in 1966, the US bishops determined that if abstaining from meat isn’t penitential enough for you, outside of Lent you are free to substitute some other penance:

28. In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance. Rather, let it be proved by the spirit in which we enter upon prayer and penance, not excluding fast and abstinence freely chosen, that these present decisions and recommendations of this conference of bishops will herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion, by both of which we become one with Christ, mature sons of God, and servants of God’s people.

The whole document is worth reading.  But not tomorrow!  On solemnities, we feast.

Other Immaculate Conception Links

In 2015 I wrote What My Dog Knows About the Immaculate Conception.  Get the whole story at the original post, including the bit about why my dog, when she wants to go outside, comes to the one person who is not going to get up and let her outside.  But here’s the thing:

My dog and I, therefore, are no typological figures of Marian intercession, get that idea out of your head right now.  Yes, Jesus would let the dog out if Mary told Him to.  But no, Jesus isn’t too busy showing St. Joseph the Russian Priests with Cats Calendar that he fails to notice the dog needs to pee, that’s not what it’s about.  There are other reasons asking Mary to intercede for you is a good, noble, worthwhile part of a healthy Christian lifestyle, and we’ll leave it at that for now.

The Immaculate Conception, which we commemorate today, is about this:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854

The Immaculate Conceptions is about the order of things.  It is about the re-ordering of broken humanity.  For the new Adam we have a new Eve.  Curiously, the new Eve isn’t the wife of the man about to fall, but the mother of God-made-man who’s going to save you from your fall.

Humans, fallen as we are, tend to overlook the order of things.  We have a picture in our heads of how things stand, and when reality doesn’t match that picture, we tend to elbow aside reality and stick with our imaginary world, the one we made, not the one God made.  The one we prefer, because we’re at the center of it, little gods with our little fake worlds.

The dog, in contrast, lives in no such imaginary world.  She needs to be let out at night, so she has a pressing interest in understanding the real order of things.

I’ve written about the Immaculate Conception at least one other place: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion.  At this writing, Google Books is including what I have to say in the preview-pages for that book.

When I was searching for “Jennifer Fitz Immaculate Conception” two other links came up that caught my attention:

If you know a catechist who’s about to quit in despair, you might consider investing a few dollars in my purple book of how not to die in agonies teaching religious ed to a room full of hooligans.  The publisher gave it a more formal title, but you can call it that.

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Our Lady of Visible Forebearance is my preferred image for this week’s feast. Via Wikimedia, Public Domain. Her whole life she never ate bacon, and now she rejoices in heaven with many crowns, and presumably also all the bacon she wants.

2 Things You, Your Friends, and Your Family Need to Know About Dysautonomia

It is the time of year when I get flooded with reminders about Dysautonomia Awareness Month.  I’m aware, thanks.  I’m not a big fan of colored ribbon empathy-signalling for any disease, so we can skip that.  I’m going to save the “How’s it going, Jen?” post for another time, too.  Let’s skip this year straight to the info that is useful for anyone headed to the doctor about those weird symptoms.

Refresher: What is Dysautonomia?

You can skip this part if you already know.

Your autonomic nervous system is the part of your body that makes things work without you having to think about it.  Your heart beats, your innards digest, your temperature regulates, and your blood pressure presses, even if you completely ignore them.

Autonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is when that system doesn’t work right.   When your blood pressure fails to compensate when you stand up.  When your stomach declines to empty.  When your heart decides to beat to the rhythm of its own drummer.

It’s complicated (we’ll get into that again in the next section) because of course you might have problems with these symptoms due to some other disorder.  It’s double-complicated because you can have autonomic dysfunction as a complication of an ordinary disease (like diabetes), a horrendously complicated disease (like certain inherited mitochondrial disorders), or just cause.

So “dysautonomia” is a bit of an umbrella.  It’s like saying “I have stomach problems” or “lady troubles” except more scientific sounding.  But just like you need to know that your digestive and reproductive tracts sometimes require medical attention, it is important to know that your autonomic nervous system is a part of your body that can malfunction.

What happens when you don’t know about this is what I’m writing about today.

Problem 1: Don’t Be So Nervous!

If you’ve ever felt your heart race, your stomach churn, or your hands sweat when you were nervous, you’ve felt your autonomic nervous system doing one of its things.

This creates a tricky dilemma: Say you go to the doctor because you are short of breath, and all the tests show your heart and lungs are just fine.  Are you just really anxious?

Maybe you are.  You’ll probably get referred for a psychological evaluation.  What you need to know is that many forms of dysautonomia have surface similarities to the physical side of anxiety disorders.   How do you know the difference?  For one thing, anxiety disorders involve being anxious.

So here’s the layman’s differential diagnosis:

If your stomach churns every time you walk past your boss’s office, regardless of the time of day or what you’ve eaten or how much sleep you got or whether your boss is wearing way too much cologne or not — if there is no physical reason for your boss’s office to make you ill — and you feel fabulous otherwise, it’s probably anxiety.

But if your stomach sometimes churns while you’re chilling out watching your favorite movie, or relaxing with your family on a vacation you genuinely enjoy (don’t lie), or on the day when you and your boss whom you love are on a roll achieving great stuff . . . that doesn’t sound like anxiety.   It is highly unlikely you are secretly anxious and have no idea.    The physical symptoms of anxiety tend to correlate with anxiety.  The physical symptoms of dysautonomia are not dependent on your emotional state.

Some minor complications to remember:

  • You can be a person with a known anxiety disorder, but also have a dysautonomia.  There’s no numerical limit on how many diseases you are allowed to have.
  • You can be a person with dysautonomia who develops anxiety symptoms related to the stress your illness causes.   People with cancer or typhus or foot-and-mouth disease sometimes get anxious about their condition, so if you worry about your life sometimes, you’re not exactly a pioneer there.

Therefore do some reality checking.  If you get faint with prolonged standing, that’s probably dysautonomia.  If you get faint at the sight of blood, that’s probably anxiety.  If you get faint under both instances, it’s probably two different problems that have similar symptoms.

(Or maybe you have a pathological fear of standing, and also a latex allergy you’re unaware of, because you think it’s just fear of needles.  But it’s more likely you have POTS than a pathological fear of standing, despite the thirty-seven physicians who looked you straight in the face and told you to get a hobby, because it never occurred to them to do a tilt-table test.  Tell me about your childhood . . . did you have to stand a lot?  How did that make you feel?  Did your mother do a lot of standing around you? . . . )

Problem 2: You Just Need to Exercise!

Your body works better if you use it regularly and well.  Lots of people are overweight and out of shape, and when they make the decision to eat sensibly and get out for a walk every day, they find they feel much better.

What you need to know is that some forms of dysautonomia can present like you just need to get more exercise, but actually they are a disease process that inhibits your ability to exercise.

In my case, my diagnosis of IST (Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia) hinged on the fact that my treadmill testing looked like a basic model “she needs to work out more” case, except that I didn’t actually need to work out more.

I presented with shortness of breath on exertion, but every test came back normal.   If I had been overweight, I would never have been diagnosed, period.

The only clue we had that I had a tachycardia and not a fitness problem was that (a) my symptoms came on too suddenly to be deconditioning and (b) I wasn’t fat enough.  I “passed” all tests with three different specialists, because I was healthier than any of their usual heart-attack or COPD patients.  Because of my underlying fitness level and experience as an athlete, I had the ability to push myself on a treadmill despite feeling horrible, so I’d score in an “acceptable” range.  (Even if I was gasping for air in order to do it — they didn’t chart that.  Just the number.  Hmmn.)  It took a really fat doctor who knew his own numbers and who liked to geek out on technicalities to pick up that something wasn’t right in what he was seeing.

So here is my firm advice: If you are tired and intolerant of exercise, and you try taking the usual steps to improve your health but it seems like it’s just impossible, or like you just can’t do it and you keep falling off the wagon, dig deeper.  There are a number of endocrine disorders that can cause this problem, there are some dysautonomias that can cause this problem, and there are who knows how many other things as well.

You’ll have to go through all the other first-line tests looking for obvious stuff  (if you have a pulmonary embolism, you need to know that ASAP, so rule it out, please). But if that all that comes back normal and you are still pretty sure there’s something wrong, start looking at dysautonomia as a possibility.

“Failure as a human being” is not a medical diagnosis.  Find a doctor who doesn’t shove you off, and keep looking until you figure out what’s wrong for real.  After you’ve addressed the underlying health problems that are sabotaging your efforts, you’ll find that the triad of healthy diet, exercise, and stress management actually starts to work for you.

And that’s why you should be aware of dysautonomia, and some of the other ribbons in the rainbow as well.

Follow-up Reading: Here’s a post from a health care professional who didn’t believe in dysautonomia until  it happened to her.

 

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Artwork: Mihály Munkácsy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Who Owns “Social Justice”?

One of the news sources I flip through occasionally is Al Jazeera It’s not the only place I’d turn for information (goodness gracious!), but for coverage of Middle Eastern politics it’s a bit more thorough than the average American paper, go figure.  Al Jazeera also has good human rights coverage sometimes, such as this investigation into Britian’s modern-day slave trade.  Catholics are big into human rights.

The most painful fallacy I see among Catholics is the false dichotomy between “social justice” and “life issues.”  It’s moldering baggage from the Church’s political divisions over the last fifty years or so: We know that a branch of dissenting Catholics labeled themselves “social justice” warriors, and so our alarm bells go off whenever we hear someone talking in vague terms about peace and justice and not much clear doctrine.

We have to cut this out.

Catholics who believe the entirety of the Catholic faith are not obliged to hand over a portion of our faith to agnostics-in-Catholic-clothing.  We get to own the whole package: the Trinity, the Church, the Sacraments, Scripture, and the entire Christian moral life.  We don’t have to settle for our slice of the “pelvic issue” pie and doggedly shun any topic we fear might have somehow, somewhere, been enjoyed by a Democrat.  We certainly don’t have to swallow the line that justice with regards to immigrants, the environment, workers, prisoners, or any other category popular on the Left can thereby only be solved by the Left.

The Church proposes a beautiful, sensible, logical, theologically-sound way of looking at social issues, and it’s ours to love and cherish.  Enjoy it.  Own it.  Don’t let anyone deny you your right to the entirety of the Catholic faith.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]