Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 05, 2023

The Boxes are Just Packed

Darwins, after the funeral.

Are the days just packed? Is it accurate to say that, when I'm sitting here writing on a quiet Monday mid-morning, when one of my children hasn't even tumbled out of bed yet? The cumulative feel of life right now is that there are so many balls in the air, one doesn't even know which one to grab. At most given moments, however, there is time to stop and think, if one will take it.

I type this as I am sitting in a chair in my front hall. This is not where the chair belongs, but it has been dragged there by my almost-6yo, who is performing as The Brownie Band on a stage made of the piano bench, also dragged into the hall. I don't particularly want to watch The Brownie Band at this moment, even though the son is very cute playing guitar on a foam sword and singing about how the brownies are cooking in the oven. (This solves the question of what meaning of "brownie" was implied -- I thought it was the little household elves, and someone else thought it was Girl Scouts, but of course it's dessert.) I am at the tail end of a great household clothing sort, the thing we now call "Kondo-ing", where just about every item of wear has been washed and assessed, and now umpteen bags sit in the hall along with the stage and chairs. 

This great sorting was precipitated by the amount of laundry following our trip to New Jersey for Baby Josh's funeral, but the urge to clean house was in general was a direct result of the AirBnB we stayed at with my sister's family. It was a trick to find a multifamily house in the area on short notice for the Memorial Day weekend, but we found a place in the Poconos that was open. It was suitable for our needs: a place to park our sleeping carcasses within an hour's drive of my brother's house. But as a vacation house, it was DIY hell. "This place looks like a 5-Minute Crafts video," my oldest observed, looking at the cheap glam finishes and the atrocious quality of the work. Every fixture looked like it had been acquired at the last-chance table at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Nothing was level, nothing was even. All trim looked like it had been reused. The neighborhood was a gated mountain enclave of architecturally insignificant houses from the 80s and 90s, and even by the offensive standards of taste on offer, this place was appalling. 

So we returned home with renewed drive to do justice to our lovely old pile with our bathroom renovation. But laundry was an easier task to dive into immediately, and it relies only on my availability. Time is money, friends, and my financial contribution to the household economy is my full-time presence. I don't pay someone to sort clothes or cook meals or clean house or care for children because these things are within my purview as the full-time household-managing member of the family. I am no great shakes as an organizer, but I'm here. And I have the authority to dragoon the non-contributing financial members of the household, otherwise known as my children, to help me by sorting their own clothing. (This is not quite fair to the gainfully employed children, but in the first week of summer break, everyone's time is a bit fluid anyway, so I simply commandeered it.)

The amount of clothing in storage has been vastly reduced, because we also went through all the boxes. There are now two boxes between sons 1 and 2, and one box between sons 2 and 3. There is one box between daughters 3 and 4. Daughters 1, 2, and 3 are in their adult sizes and are stylistically different enough that they don't pass clothes between each other. Daughter 4 can take clothes from 2 and 3, and anything she rejects goes in the donate bag. I don't keep clothing that Daughter 4 or Son 3 have grown out of. This isn't even a fate-tempting strategy any more. If (have mercy, O Lord!) I ever end up needing children's clothes again, I don't know that having a decade-old box of hand-me-downs in the closet will do much. 

I am not a hoarder by nature. I love clearing things out of the house, and the danger I run (and why I don't do wholesale reductions more often) is that I throw out things that have been sitting around for years, and a week later need the one thing I got rid of, or find the missing part that makes the trashed item operational, or discover that I finally need that school book I donated because it had been gathering dust for years. We have a large house and so are privileged to hold on to things against the day of their use. The challenge, as in so much of life, is not to be complacent, but to be always reexamining what we truly need, now or in the future. Do we need to keep this item because of nostalgia, because of inertia, because of a misplaced sense of gratitude? Sometimes the answer is yes (and the gratitude is merited). But often a thing around the house has outlived its usefulness, or requires more work than we have time or ability to give it, before it can be useful again. 

Time is the key word here. We are pulled in many different directions, with obligations to church and to work and to theater and to the Brownie Band. Summer is a season in which some of those daily obligations (to formally educate the Brownie Band) give way to a more freeform use of days (such as a week of clothes sorting). Jobs such as the bathroom renovation, which requires more of Darwin's time than mine, are of their nature prolonged because most of Darwin's productive hours go to the day job that keeps us in tea and crumpets and toilet paper and mortgage payments and college savings. The time we would spend on the job is a function of how much we love our house, and our desire to live with beautiful craftsmanship that does not look like DIY hell. But there are also professionals who could achieve the same fine results, in far less time, for money. A quantity of money, granted, but money that buys us time: another functional bathroom months or even years sooner than we could finish it, while we have a houseful of people who need that right now.

Meanwhile, other boxes sit packed: boxes of elegant subway tile, ready to be applied to walls not ready for it yet. What can I do to hasten this process, what time can I spend? One thing that needs to happen is that a bathtub full of debris needs to be bagged up and dumped in the trash. I can do that right now, instead of writing, or I can set my 14yo son to do this job that requires no special training, only work ethic. Time to get up and get moving, before we hit the evening window in which our time is suddenly packed with dinner, rehearsal, scouts, obligations. The days, and the trashcan, and the donation bags, are just packed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Arc of History -- How 19th and 20th Century Trends led to Joan of Arc's Canonization

 An interesting element of canonization is that it is the result not just of the Church's assessment that someone is now in heaven, but also that the person has a significant following among Catholics. There are, thus, people who are unquestionably holy, but who are unlikely to ever be canonized because they are obscure. Such obscurity can result from various things, and one potential source is simply that the life of a particular person does not speak to the specific concerns of the age.

An even more fascinating aspect of this can be how a saint becomes more relevant to another age, long after his or her life, and thus is canonized long after death. A fascinating example of this, to me, is the story of St. Joan of Arc, who was canonized in 1920, almost 500 years after her death in 1431.

Inspired by the suggestion of my sister-in-law Annie, I got the chance to write about this topic today for The Pillar.  Have a look!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Stopping and Not Stopping

Tonight we stage at our house: three families, seventeen children, to caravan across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to attend Josh's wake on Friday and funeral on Saturday. 

I say seventeen children, but my two oldest are not minors anymore, and indeed, my oldest daughter just turned 21 and could drink if she felt the least desire to consume an alcoholic beverage. We are cousin-heavy on the younger side. I had four children before any of my siblings were married, and so my oldest ones are a bloc, sometimes included with the grown-ups, sometimes shunted off with the babies. My second daughter is the only one of the cousins to have ever seen little Joshua, when she went out to Philadelphia to help the family during his tracheostomy, and then only for a brief moment, long enough to capture a photo of him as he lay in his mother's lap.

It is hard to write about a grief that is not primarily your own. My brother and sister-in-law bear the hardest burden of all, and Joshua's story is rightly theirs to tell, in their own words. But all of us have been praying for him from a distance, and poring over every photo, and waiting through nights for updates to the family text. On Sunday, we were all avidly following the updates as his vital signs gently but inexorably dropped: heart rate 90, heart rate 30. Heart beat was not detected; in the arms of the Lord now. I had thought, somehow, that I would be at home when the message came, ready to receive it, but I was out in public, in the bright sunshine. Joshua never saw the sun in his 4 1/2 months of life, except perhaps as he was being airlifted to Children's in Philadelphia. Except for the moment of his birth, he was never free of wires or IVs or tubes. He was held once by his parents when he was conscious, as a bright-eyed newborn.

Even trying to find a place to grieve is difficult in a busy house. As I sat in the rocking chair in my bedroom (with the door that does not latch, with the lock that's fallen off and now lives on the mantel) trying to cry somewhere out of the public eye, kids kept coming in, looking for something or wanting to use my bathroom. Darwin had been off on a scout canoe trip. Some older daughters were leaving for work, or getting home from work -- I can't keep straight who's coming or going at what time, no matter how often they tell me their shifting schedules. Life keeps going on.

Even right now, in the silence of the morning (the only time when it is silent), it doesn't seem real that people are descending here tonight, or that we're leaving in the morning. Suits have been mostly acquired for young men, with one holdout who stubbornly falls into a window in which the old First Communion suits are too small, and the Confirmation suit too large. Daughters have taken each other shopping for funeral blacks in their different style essences. I do not have a pair of black dress shoes to go with my dress, having put off looking at Zappos until it was too late, and am pondering whether it's worth it to stage a trip to the mall in the few hours remaining for action. Piano lessons start in half an hour, and no one is stirring. 

It's going to be another beautiful late spring day in Ohio, and Joshua will be buried on Saturday in New Jersey. And then we're into rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof -- did I tell you I'm playing Golde? Maybe we'll stop to breathe in July, after the show, after the Boy Scout canoe trip. Joshua is not breathing, never breathed on his own after January. Life doesn't stop, except for those for whom it has stopped. And even that is only the start of something larger.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Joshua George Egan

 Josh passed away yesterday, very gently as all the medications left his system. His vital signs dropped slowly but inexorably over the course of the weekend until there was no heartbeat detectable.

From my sister-in-law:

2 Timothy 4:7

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

St. Joshua George, pray for us!


Friday, May 19, 2023

Josh on the Verge

From my sister-in-law:

Please pray with us today… we believe Joshua to be actively dying. We will sit vigil with him today and possibly into the weekend.

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

A Baby Josh Update

From my sister-in-law Gail, an update on my nephew Josh from his GoFundMe page:

"This journey with Joshua has had so many ups and downs, sometimes it just feels too exhausting to put an update together.

I apologize for not posting more frequently. The past month has had just that - ups and downs. It seems like just when we were getting to a good spot and Joshua was more stable, a new concern would arise… which brings me the reason for this post.

We have been so eternally grateful for the overwhelming support we have experienced through all this. The care and love we experienced from our friends and family when Joshua first got sick has persisted. Even now - 4.5 months later - we feel just as carried by your prayers and support. And, to be honest, we need them now more than ever.

Last week, Joshua had an adrenal crisis - meaning a chain of events caused his adrenal system to shut down. His blood pressure dropped extremely low, he stopped urinating, and his potassium levels shot super high causing him to have heart arrhythmias. John and I were both in Nj with the kids and the doctor called at 1am and told us Josh had gotten very sick, very fast and she was “very worried his heart could stop at any moment”. We woke the kids at 2am and drove down to Philly to be with him. The days following were scary and unpredictable. They needed to give him an extraordinary amount of different medications to help him. As he stabilized (still on a lot of meds), he started to fight to regulate his body temperature again and his stomach was not responding well to his feeds. Finally over the weekend, he was almost completely at his baseline again and John and I were hopeful.  

I drove the kids home to NJ and John was going to stay with Joshua. By Monday morning, Joshua was having some of these same issues reoccurring. He was showing signs of a potential adrenal crisis again… with his blood pressure dangerously low and his GI tract backing up again, they started him on hydrocortisone again. This has caused him to have dangerously high blood pressure.

The doctors believe that the various systems in his body just might simply be shutting down - a result of the progression of his brain injury. They are running out of options to treat him and we think he may be going home to be with Jesus soon.

We will be having some significant conversations with the doctors tomorrow to determine if any future treatment can help being Joshua to a place of stability or not. We are also meeting with a priest tomorrow so Joshua can be anointed and we can discuss any potential end of life issues that may arise.

Please pray first and foremost for Joshua’s healing. If God’s will is to heal his body earthside, we will joyfully be the recipients of this miracle. Fr. Kapaun pray for us. But if it be God's will that Joshua receive total healing by being reunited to Christ in heaven, then our prayer is just that. To be at peace."

Thursday, May 11, 2023

More Next Things

The Darwins after Saturday's Confirmation, plus Grandma

Today, this very afternoon, we are going to the lake. I have to keep telling myself this, because it seems unreal, and thus the vast list of things that need to be done before the van can pull out of the driveway also seems unreal.

Why am I so tired and checked out? I ask myself. And then I think about my day yesterday.

3:00 -- the previously-unafflicted child dashes into my bathroom and throws up. We blow up the air mattress, only just stowed away from the last bout, and pull out all the bedding that had been laundered the day before.

4:00 -- someone replies to a group text, which I'd slept through at 2:30, which reveals some potentially very bad news.

4:30 -- the child throws up again, but I am attuned to the sounds a sleeping child makes before throwing up suddenly, and am also up saying a rosary (badly), and get there in time with a bowl.

6:00 -- the bad news is somewhat ameliorated, but I haven't been sleeping anyway.

7:30 -- the community college child leaves somberly for her final.

9:00 -- Darwin leaves to pick up the private college girl, who is also the birthday, turning 21! We'd been looking forward to six hours in the car together (three there, three back), but now I need to stay home with the child, who, if the previous pattern holds, will be lethargic, lightheaded, and prone to sudden projectile vomiting.

Morning -- Laundry and Dishes, always. Also, I mopped the kitchen floor, or did I do that the day before? Also, I scrub all the toilets, and the appalling attic shower, or did I do that the day before? I turn off the the TV several times and kick people to various tasks. Darwin's mother and brother, who now live close enough to walk over, drop by to deliver a present for the birthday girl.

12:30 -- Young Mister has not thrown up since 4:30, has slept many hours since then, and is cheerfully quarreling with his brother. I take them both to the store and the car wash. There is minor sadness at the store when it turns out we are NOT buying a package of Spider-Man masks for sister's birthday party, but the car wash is a success. The group text is still active, and worrying.

2:30 -- An older child comes to talk to me privately about a friend facing a life-changing crisis. We keep having to throw out younger siblings who wander in to say irrelevant things. I refuse to let people have computer time because it is a beautiful day.

4:30 -- I start dinner, but I've timed it wrong, so a child goes to work before everything is ready, and another must be run to drama club with a sandwich.

5:30 -- Darwin arrives home with the birthday girl, and the car must be quickly unpacked in the driveway because at 

6:00 -- Drama Club. I get home and have dinner quickly with the family before

7:00 -- I run out to a script reading for a new play that a few of the community theater gang are workshopping for the playwright.

9:00 -- Pick up from drama, home to birthday party. After delightful family fun (everyone is home! At the same time!), Darwin and I walk his mother home and take our own stroll, the first time we've had all day to talk. 

11:00 -- the bed has been cleared of laundry, Miss Chat has finally betaken herself to bed, an insurance situation has been discussed, the private college child has arranged her next semester with her advisor, next Monday's auditions for Fiddler on the Roof have been gamed out, the laptop has been acquired from the attic child, the vacation house has been discovered to come with towels, Darwin has planned to mow his mom's lawn in the morning, the college child's belongings have been tripped over in the hall, the air mattress is left up just in case. One daughter will take another to get a haircut in the morning, and tell the stylist exactly what needs to happen. The birthday child will go renew her driver's license. Piano will be practiced, because the teacher is coming tomorrow at 10:00.

(This is not a comprehensive list of the day, because there are also plenty of situations, small and large, that children would not care to have discussed online --nothing bad, but just life shaking itself out.)

For once, I sleep all night, and no one interrupts me. The Lord be thankit!

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

The Next Thing

I breathed deeply as I looked through the diamond pane window at the washed sky, fresh after last night's storm. The houses across the street showed charmingly through the branches of the big tree down by the sidewalk, and neatly tucked by its trunk were the blue bins ready for this morning's pickup: two recycling bins, and a sturdy square trash can, lid hanging open to accommodate the living room rug folded so that it mostly fit inside.

The rug was the final casualty and culmination of a stomach bug that swept through and threatened to disrail this weekend's Confirmation. When I called up our DRE Saturday morning, after the Confirmand spent all night throwing up, she said ruefully that there were three options: find another parish having Confirmation later, wait until next year, or muscle it out. We muscled it out, the correct option as Miss Confirmand was on the way up. But her brother spent all evening throwing up, and subject to diarrhea. As he slept it off, another brother succumbed, more violently than the other two, and lightheaded to boot. But even he began to recover, finally fortified with a sleeve of crackers, and 7-Up, and Gatorade, and was well enough to come down to the living room, where he sat watching Wild Kratts with the subtitles on, as the sound remote wasn't working and no one felt compelled to walk over to the speaker and turn it physically, like we had to do back in my day. And then he sat up and vomited explosively all over the living room rug, and the afghan, and a library book, and his sister's shoes. The afghan could be washed, and the shoes, at the outskirts of the blast zone, wiped down, but the library book will have to be paid for, and the rug -- well, I'd been thinking about replacing it anyway.

There was no warning, and hence no saving the library book, but my reflexes were slow anyway because I'd been awake all night, listening to the child on the air mattress in my bedroom for the first sounds of retching. We'd run three loads of bedding already, and the last was the worst, since the boy had sneaked a portion of mac and cheese from his cousin's first communion party in Cincinnati and had eaten it in the car on the way home. We'd arrived home at midnight, and by 1:30 Darwin was in the back yard, shaking the chunks out of the comforter and sheets while I scrubbed the groggy, weeping boy. I was determined not to miss the next bout, especially as the child was now on the air mattress, and so I turned on the lamp and read Georgette Heyer all night, pausing at intervals to hold the bowl for the heaving lad. This was a three book illness, spanning Cotillion (quite good) and The Unknown Ajax (highly recommended, one of her finest), and The Grand Sophy (an enjoyable lark), though the last was a recovery read throughout Monday as I slogged through my day in pajamas and ran laundry. 

Monday had been slated for preparations. We're going on vacation this weekend! to a lakehouse! a block from Lake Erie! The eldest Miss Darwin is coming home from college on Wednesday, which also happens to be her 21st birthday. Then Thursday it's off to the lake with the whole family plus the boyfriend of the second Miss Darwin, a fine fellow who is living and working in town for the summer. Living, I say, in our attic in a bachelor pad with the eldest Mr. Darwin, a strapping lad of 14. These living arrangements were all settled out shortly before the Confirmation, but they weren't the only moving-in we were assisting. Darwin's mother and brother have just moved a block away from us, relocating from Los Angeles, and so the last month has been prep work on their new house, and getting settled, and waiting for the moving truck to arrive, and introducing to town and such. They arrived in town a week and a half after our final performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, just as we'd finished sorting the costumes and moving all the tech equipment up to storage in the attic. 

All of which is to explain why there hasn't been much posting here lately. Life seems to keep happening, one thing after another, all good things (except vomit maybe, but that's not evil, just chaotic). Stillwater, by the way, is out with a proofreader, and we hope to make strides on that front over the summer. And I've just learned that our parish is changing up the way it does Confirmation prep, making it a two-year program, which means that next year I won't be needed to run 7th-grade Bible Study. Every year I pray, "Lord, give me a sign that I can stop teaching," and here we are! I'll only have two children in religious education, and they'll be in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which has other volunteers. And no one is making sacraments next year! 

Darwin and I have promised ourselves to do more writing than is physically possible over our three days at the lake. What will really happen is that we'll read our books some, and walk by the lake some, and spend lots of time chatting with the kids. As soon as we get back, it's auditions for the summer musical (Fiddler on the Roof, July 14-16, be there or be square). After that, perhaps, it will be time to breathe -- until the next thing. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

No, Sex is not a Spectrum

 National Catholic Reporter had a recent piece in which the author tries to pull a big "but ACTUALLY!" on Pope Francis on the topic of what the pope called "gender ideology", and what might be more bluntly called transgender ideology. There's little new ground broken in their piece. The most notable thing about it is that it is so typical a recitation of the claim that modern understandings of biology show that sex is a spectrum not a binary, and that it then goes from there to urger the Church to reassess her understanding of sex in light of this modern biological "insight". However, the NCR piece is a useful jumping off point in that it's claims are so very typical of this line of argumentation, and so it's a good place to start from in showing how these claims simply do not follow.

To extract the piece's line of argument, here are the relevant milestones:

"I was trained to believe that it was. In my college philosophy classes, I was taught that there can only be two sexes, that gender identity was based exclusively in biological sex, and that the male/female distinction was not only about physical characteristics but also about immutable essences of "masculine" and "feminine," rooted in the unchanging mind of God, and informing all of nature.


So I began reading about how maleness, femaleness, sex and reproduction occur across different species and kingdoms in the natural world, and what I found was that the "truth" I had felt obligated to defend was a simplistic fantasy. The categories of male and female, as they exist in nature, are not an either/or, nor an absolute binary. Rather, they reside on a spectrum. Maleness and femaleness manifest in different ways depending on the species. It is difficult to pin down any set of conditions or characteristics we could point to as the sine qua non for identifying an organism as one or the other. Additionally, some species can change sexes. Others are hermaphrodites.

In the human species, male and female categories also exist on a spectrum. There is no singular cluster of necessary or sufficient conditions for male versus female identity. So sex organs can't be used as absolute determinants for gender identity. Chromosomes also won't work as determinants, because individuals can be chromosomally male or female while presenting characteristics typically associated with the opposite sex. Intersex people exist, and some researchers argue that intersex conditions are more common than once believed.

The gender binary I had long considered a way of categorizing all living beings was, I realized, more like a general taxonomical marker signaling a fluctuating set of characteristics on one side of a scale. As a kind of organizational shorthand, it is useful. But this does not mean that "male" and "female" are fixed and immutable metaphysical categories, or even fixed and immutable natural categories. What people refer to today as "gender ideology" is closer to accurately reflecting reality than the traditional binary view I grew up with.

The debate over gender is framed by traditionalist Christians as a struggle between "reality" and "ideology." But the church already has a preferred ideology of gender, which is complementarian, essentialist and committed to a rigid binary view of the entire natural world. The real debate is not over whether gender ideology is bad but over which ideology about gender aligns better with reality.

There's still a lot we don't understand about sex and gender, in the natural world and in humans. But a view of gender as existing on a spectrum and allowing for flux and change more closely corresponds to what we do know."

First off, it's important to note that this piece, performs a subtle change of terms part way through its argument.  First it claims that biological sex is itself a spectrum rather than a binary, saying that this is based in the findings of modern science about the natural world.  Then it introduces another topic which sounds similar but is in fact totally distinct and argues that therefore male and female "identity" are also on a spectrum, and that there is not "gender binary".

Let me start by talking about the question of whether science has broken down the biological sex binary.  Is that true?  No.

Consider how it is that organisms on earth reproduce. There are two models: sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction. 

In asexual reproduction, the animal is capable of splitting off (or being split external forces) into two distinct organisms with the same genetics aside from any copying errors from the process of the split. 

In sexual reproduction, an egg is fertilized by a sperm (to use the relevant terms in human reproduction) with the result that the genetics from both are combined to produce the new organism. 

Some organisms can reproduce both through sexual and asexual reproduction. An example many of us have practical experience with is plants which can both be reproduced through cuttings (which essentially produces a clone of the original plant) or through flowering and politization (one of the plant solutions to the problem human organisms solve with egg and sperm) which results in sexual reproduction and the combination of genetics from both parent plants.

However, although science fiction authors have imagined all kinds of complicated ways in which three or more sexes might exist in some imaginary biology, on earth we find these two basic means of reproduction, asexual and sexual, and sexual reproduction involves the combination of a small (male) sex cell and a large (female) sex cell to produce a single offspring which combines the genetics of the two.

Around this basic duality of sexual reproduction, there is a lot of variation between species. Some organisms can have individuals capable of producing either kind of cell (for example, plants that are self fertilizing) and some individual organisms can produce only one kind of reproductive cell at a time but can change which type they produce over the course of their lives. So while a clown fish or a copperhead snake may at one point in its life produce sperm and at another produce eggs, it always functions as one of the two sexes. There is not spectrum of sex on which they exist. Rather, they oscillate due to time and circumstances between the two binary points.

When we talk theologically and philosophically about how humans interact with sex, we are looking at how the human experience is shaped by the way this sexual reproduction binary is expressed in the human species.  And while there is wider variety in the animal and plant kingdoms, humans do not oscillate between the sexes. Not only does our reproduction follow the same sex binary as other species on Earth, but a given individual will be able to provide only one half of the that sex binary (or in some cases of sexual disability, none at all.)

I think it's useful to think about human sex in terms of what sex actually accomplishes in biology (reproduction) rather than in terms of other characteristics, because it helps us avoid the types of confusion that can spring up.  For instance, a Scientific American piece which the NCR piece links to attempts to obscure the nature of human sexuality with this opening example:

A 46-year-old pregnant woman had visited his clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia to hear the results of an amniocentesis test to screen her baby's chromosomes for abnormalities. The baby was fine—but follow-up tests had revealed something astonishing about the mother. Her body was built of cells from two individuals, probably from twin embryos that had merged in her own mother's womb. And there was more. One set of cells carried two X chromosomes, the complement that typically makes a person female; the other had an X and a Y. Halfway through her fifth decade and pregnant with her third child, the woman learned for the first time that a large part of her body was chromosomally male. “That's kind of science-fiction material for someone who just came in for an amniocentesis,” says James.

This is fascinating in terms of what can happen to a human being over her lifespan, but it's important to note that while the woman in question did carry some cells which had both X and Y chromosomes (and indeed, which had different DNA than her own, being the result of a second embryo which fused with her at a very early stage of development) she was still functioning completely normally as a human female in terms of reproduction.

Saying that human sexuality is a spectrum rather than a binary is somewhat like saying that the number of hands a human has is a spectrum. Yes, there are some human individuals who due to injuries or genetic defects have less than two hands, or perhaps even more than two, but these pretty clearly represent cases where the individual has some injury or disability. Indeed, if anything, in terms of sex the human organisms is even more rigid than in number of eyes or number of limbs. Each human either 1) produces sperm and has the ability to deliver it to a female, 2) has eggs and the ability to carry a pregnancy, or 3) is incapable of reproducing.  Thus, in the blunt terms of biological reality, there are three types of human: male, female, and evolutionary dead end.

And yet all of this is in fact a bit of a sideshow to the real argument. As I noted, the NCR piece slides from one argument to another which appears in some sense to be related but does not in fact follow.  It starts with trying to argue that modern biology has discovered that sex is not a binary but a spectrum, but then moves sideways and asserts that therefore gender identity is also fluid and a spectrum.

But does "gender identity" actually have anything to do with these questions of whether biological sex is on a spectrum?

It does not seem so. When someone claims that they are "gender non-binary" does the person they are consulting proceed to order up medical tests to see if he has some XX and some XY tissue in his body?  Do they check to see if he might have an extra sex chromosome? Do they, indeed, validate the claim with any sort of test of his biological sex?  No. Claims to be non-binary or trans-sexual all have to do with what sexual identity the person feels.

Treatments which are described as "gender affirming" do not successfully transform the patient into a functioning member of the other sex. Rather, they consist of to some degree simulating the appearing of the other sex, while sometimes destroying the person's ability to continue to function as their sex at birth. For instance, a male who seeks surgery and hormone treatment to make him into a female does not become capable of conceiving and bearing children. The treatments can reproduce some of the secondary sexual characteristics of a female, but he remains a male, though a mutilated one who may no longer be capable of fathering children.

Whether it is morally right for a person comport or even modify himself to assume the appearance of the other sex is a question worth pursuing (and the Church provides answers to the question, which the author of the NCR piece perhaps does not like.) But one thing we can say with certainty is that sex itself is not a spectrum, and that the attempt to make it look like a spectrum does not in fact further the argument for transgender identity or for gender reassignment.  Discussions of sexuality which attempt to portray sex as a spectrum rather than a binary are simply a smoke screen deployed to obscure the issues at play and then to slide sideways and assert wholly unrelated claims about gender identity which it not itself a question of biological sex.

Perhaps a more fruitful area of inquiry, and one which would indeed to be rooted in the biological realities which the NCR author purports to consider important, would be to interrogate our notions of gender identity and see to what extent they actually conform to the realities of being a human person who functions either as one sex or the other in the reproductive sphere (or suffers a sexual disability such that he or she is unable to reproduce.)  It may well be the case that much of what people describe as sexual identity does not necessarily relate to being a human with one set of sex organs or the other.

But on the core issue: yes, sex is binary and sex is complementarian. It will only achieve its function of reproduction through the combination of male and female sex cells (sperm and egg).  To claim otherwise is to break with biological reality.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

A Midsummer Night's Dream

O faithful readers who are so patient with our radio silence, I am delighted to offer you the video evidence of our busy spring. Please enjoy all two hours and fourteen minutes of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by me and tech directed by Darwin. If you are tracking young Darwins, look for Helena, Francis Flute, one of the fairies, and small Robin Starveling (the Moon).

This performance is our last show, in which actors were getting punchy. By Sunday afternoon I was worn to a frazzle, and as I watched things happen on stage that I'd never seen before, I thought, "I've lost control of this production." But the energy was big and fun, especially in Act 3.2, which we dubbed "the fight scene.

Theater is a temporary medium, and sometimes one feels a bit melancholy when a show is done and dismantled, never to be seen again. I'm glad to have a memento of our production, and so pleased to be able to share it with you.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

A Vita Nova

 All couples have their catch phrases.  One I remember from my parents was the oft repeated exchange, "Do you know what we need?"  "What?" "A vita nova."

Vita nova.  A new life.

It's a common enough Latin phrase.  It was the part of the motto of Mom's college: Incipit Vita Nova. A new life begins.  But the era when I remember my parents exchanging the phrase often was their middle age.  At the time, it seemed like one of those weird parental tics.  If you want to turn things over, why not do so?  Why always talking about a new life when it seemed like things were so often the same.

Middle aged myself, the exchange makes a great deal more sense.  

Here we are on Holy Saturday, the day in the tomb, looking forward to the resurrection.  I have a list of things, daily and long term.  The house needs some degree of Easter cleaning, because small people trash it with impunity every day.  And because even after I cleared out a bunch of stuff yesterday there is still the wreckage of having directed a play scattered around our house.  And I want to get a workout in, because in my 40s I'm reconning with the fact that having both profession and avocations which involve sitting (doing work on a computer, reading, writing) do not lend to a very healthy body as one approaches the point in life where one's body becomes an increasingly intrusive presence, reminding you that the point when things end on this earth will be when that body decides to stop cooperating with your will to live.  And then I have the longer term projects: the bathroom rebuild that needs to be finished. The novel that remains stubbornly unfinished for the simple reason that it will not finish itself without me sitting down to spend hours at a time on it. The articles which need to be planned and written. The children on the threshold of adulthood who need some degree of help and support and some degree of freedom as they consider educational paths and jobs and relationships which may become permanent. The career choices which seem to become more tricky as one faces the possibility that one has topped out in terms of how high a position one will hold in a company, and yet it's still another ten to twenty years till one has any prospect of stepping back.

All these things suggest a great deal of need to overhaul one's life, to do better and choose better and focus on the most important things.

And yet all the things already in progress hem one in. There seems to be so little ability to change while meeting all the obligations already present. The need to begin a new life seems the stronger because there is so little room to change.

Jesus Himself, whom today we remember in the tomb, had little patience with these constraints.  Sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.  Leave the dead to bury the dead.  Christ himself leaves no room for the plea, "I want to follow you, but I have a lot of obligations already."

And so the drive to move on to a new life is constant.  And important.  And yet difficult.

You know what we need?  A vita nova.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Coming out of the Dream

 Today is the last performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I would love to discuss concept and theme and art direction, but I am 100% swamped and have to be at the theater in half an hour. So here, have a link to a Google album of show photos. And some gorgeous fairies singing my arrangement of You Spotted Snakes:

We have had such fun, and our headaches have been minor and easily resolved with patience and good will. All in all, it has been an ideal community theater experience, a perfect first show, and a lot of fun for the old-timers. And I am completely exhausted and ready to stop having stress dreams about bizarre theater mishaps. Thursday I spent all day learning to be a sound engineer, so we could play clips of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream as sound cues for the opening performance. Friday I completely redecorated Titania's bower because the old flowers weren't catching the light the right way. This afternoon, after our matinee, we strike. We have to be completely out of the theater so the next group can move in tomorrow. By this time tomorrow, A Midsummer Night's Dream will be just that, a happy and quickly fading dream.

So goodnight unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sneak Peak at A Midsummer Night's Dream

It's production week! We open A Midsummer Night's Dream in five (5) days. In lieu of a lot of directorial bloviating about vision and theme, have some photos as we pull our set and costumes together.  And then, if you're in the Columbus, OH area next weekend, buy tickets and come see us!

Friday, March 17, 2023

Somber News for Josh


UPDATE from my sister-in-law Gail: 

I so wanted to share only good news with all of you tonight… I finally got to hold Joshua yesterday - the first time since his surgery. I was able to lift him out of bed myself and hold him without pillows or blankets propping him up. He even got to lay on my knees as I just gazed upon his chubby cheeks!

Unfortunately, we received a somber update from neurology this afternoon. Josh has not been moving, even after the sedatives have worn off. The doctors have also noticed that the cleft in his skull has grown more pronounced. They did an ultrasound - which showed that cysts have been growing where his brain should be, and that brain tissue is actually disappearing. The doctor explained this is not unexpected to them because the injury was so severe and so much of the brain tissue was damaged. So, the portions of the brain that die essentially get reabsorbed into the body and something needs to fill that space.

It seems that his lack of movement after coming off the surgery sedatives/paralytics is one indicator that he could be considered completely brain dead soon - and have nothing but cystic fluid where brain matter once was. 

They're going to give the meds a little more time to leave his body completely and see if he has any possibly purposeful movements. Similar to when they removed him from the ECMO machine and first discovered how pervasive the bleed was, if they don't see movement, or any signs of neural responses they could conduct a test that would declare him "brain dead" at which point they would remove support. They are not pursuing this avenue yet. They need to be absolutely sure that medications are not causing his lack of response. 

He has started showing some basic reflexes, the question remains is are those movements rooted in the spinal cord or are they directed by the brain.

In January, they were considering pursing this same test. It was after that that John anointed Joshua’s whole body in holy water from Lourdes. The next day, Joshua surprised all the doctors by kicking his legs - showing us that, though minimal, there was some communication between his body and brain. We are asking you to storm heaven with us these next several days. Pray that God’s divine intervention would heal sweet Joshua. Pray for a miraculous healing through the intercession of Fr. Emil Kapaun. 

Tonight, our hearts are a little heavier than they were before. But we are trying to place our trust completely in the Lord. We know that God has the final say on Joshua’s life. This may be God’s way of preparing our hearts to say good bye. Or it may be God’s way of preparing the world to see His miraculous healing. And until one of those things is made known to us - we will cherish our time with Joshua now - loving on those sweet baby cheeks and cute little baby toes!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Repost: π with Jesus

Originally posted March 14, 2017.

It's the second week of Lent, which means that observance has lost its zest. I don't know about you, but I'm yearning for a bit of chocolate. Not a bright, hopeful yearning; a dry, intellectual, arid yearning, because I know I'm not going to eat chocolate anyway. I just want it because it's better than not-chocolate.

So we search for a reason to celebrate, and not the corny-beef celebration of St. Patrick's Day dispensations (which St. Patrick would have disdained) but something rounder, to bring us full circle. And lo! It is Pi Day, 3.14. But we cannot fudge on Pi Day without bringing it into some greater religious context. And not just the context of "God made it, and it is good," because God made chocolate too, and we're not eating that.

Of course, the key question is: would Jesus have known about Pi? Not known-known as God knows all things, but as a person growing up in a first-century Jewish culture, in the course of his human knowledge would he have been likely to encounter the concept of Pi?

Dr. Google offers us thoughts on "mathematics in ancient Israel pi", presenting The Secret Jewish History of Pi:
The relationship between a circle’s diameter — a line running straight through cutting it into two equal halves — and its circumference — the distance around the circle – was originally mentioned in the Hebrew Book of Kings in reference to a ritual pool in King Solomon’s Temple. The relevant verse (1 Kings 7:23) states that the diameter of the pool was ten cubits and the circumference 30 cubits. In other words, the Bible rounds off Pi to about three, as if to say that’s good enough for horseshoes and swimming pools. 
Later on, the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, who knew that the one-third ratio wasn’t completely accurate, had a field day with the Bible having played fast and loose with the facts, arguing in their characteristic manner that of course it depended on whether you measured the pool from the inside or the outside of the vessel’s wall. They also had fun with some of the Gematria – the numerical value – of the words in the original passage, which when you play around with them a bit indeed come a lot closer to the value of Pi, spelling it out to several decimal points.
"Secret" here might be a bit sensationalistic, seeing as 1Kings is not exactly an occult piece of literature. The Journal of Mathematics and Culture May 2006, V1(1) offers us a more scholarly explanation via Lawrence Mark Lesser's article "Book of Numbers: Exploring Jewish Mathematics and Culture at a Jewish High School":
A value of π can be obtained from I Kings 7:23: 
“He made the ‘sea’ of cast [metal] ten cubits from its one lip to its [other] lip, circular all around, five cubits its height; a thirty-cubit line could encircle it all around.” 
It appears the value of π implied here is simply 30/10 (an error of 4.5%) until a student asks if we need to consider the tank’s thickness -- given three verses later as one-handbreadth, so the inner diameter is 10 cubits minus 2 handbreadths. (Of course, this is also a chance to discuss issues of measurement!) Using the Talmudic value of 1/6 cubit for one handbreadth, the inner diameter becomes 9 2/3 cubits and dividing 30 by 9 2/3 yields more accuracy (error: 1.2%). Applying a more subtle and technical approach to I Kings 7:23 (see Posamentier & Lehmann 2004 or 20 Tsaban & Garber 1998), the ratio of gematrias for the written and spoken forms of a key Hebrew word (for “line”) in that verse is 111/106, which when multiplied by 3 yields a very refined approximation for π : 333/106 (error: 0.0026%). Very few words in the Torah have different oral and written forms. 
By Jewish Encyclopedia [Public domain or Public domain]

Jesus was well versed in the law and the prophets, and it is not a stretch to assume that the account of the building of Solomon's Temple and the fashioning of the great pillars and vessels of bronze was known to him. Could he have known about pi? Could he? Should we doubt his scriptural knowledge? Listen to this.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:46-50)
Do you not understand? Jesus, in the Temple itself, astounding the teachers with his knowledge and his answers, and talking of his Father's house -- the very house for which the bronze vessel was created*? Even his parents could not understand Pi, as happens with so many parents dealing with their children's math.

My friends. The Scriptures themselves proclaim Pi. Take and eat.

*Not actually the very house, since it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and not the very basin, since 2 Kings tells us that the Chaldeans destroyed it. But still.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Help for Baby Josh and the Egan Family

Kind readers, many of you have reached out to me and asked how you can offer practical support for my nephew Josh and my brother's family. I'm hosting a GoFundMe for the family, where they can post updates and photos. The current medical costs my brother and his wife are facing are astronomical, and the ongoing costs for Josh's care will be intensive and lifelong. Your prayers are of course the greatest aid you can give, but if you feel moved to contribute, that help is much needed and deeply appreciated.

Please feel free to share this!

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Josh's Surgery

UPDATE from my SIL: 

Joshua’s surgery was successful! He has remained stable both through the surgery and since coming back to the NICU for recovery. He will remain on paralytics and heavily sedated until Tuesday. On Tuesday, they will change out his trache for the first time and then slowly start to bring him out from sedation. In the meantime, he remains on IV fluids and will have his first taste of momma’s milk through his new g-tube tomorrow afternoon.

The name of the game is: rest all weekend long! And while he rests in bed, I’ll just stare at those sweet chubby cheeks and take in all the cuteness of his heart shaped lips and squidgee little nose!

Surgery for Joshua Today

An update from my sister-in-law on Joshua's surgery today:

We have a big day ahead of us. Joshua will receive a tracheotomy with ventilator and g-tube today. Doctors anticipate he will need the support of a ventilator and trache for the rest of his life. 

They will place a tube directly into his trachea (his throat) that will both protect his airway and help him continue to breath. They will also place a g-tube directly into his stomach for him to receive food. While this surgery is life-altering and will require a great deal of ongoing care, it will also provide more stability for Joshua. It also means we will be able to see Joshua’s sweet face, unobstructed by tubes and wires and tape. I will be able to hold him without nursing support. Currently, when I hold Joshua, it requires 2 nurses to place him in my arms and I need to stay still in the chair with him for at least an hour. Then it takes 2 nurses to put him safely back in bed.

After Joshua’s surgery, he will remain heavily sedated (I won’t be able to hold him) for about a week while the site of the surgery heals and they do the first tube change. His trache tube needs to be replaced once a week. Eventually, John and I will be trained on how to care for and change his tracheotomy.

Today, included lots of snuggles with mommy and some quality sibling time. A Child Life Specialist at the hospital met with Ben, Sam, and Hannah to show them what a tracheotomy looks like and talk about how it works. They each received a doll that has a tracheotomy. All the children (Benjamin especially) are very excited for this next step in Joshua’s journey. They can’t wait to see his sweet baby cheeks. And Benjamin is eager to hold his baby brother in his lap!

Joshua’s surgery is scheduled for 1:00pm today and should last about 4 hours. Please pray for Josh and his whole team of surgeons.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

An Accompaniment of Lies

Cardinal McElroy of San Diego has made his fair share of news lately by penning a pair of pieces for America Magazine. 

In the first, he writes about what he calls a synodality of inclusion. He espouses several controversial views, including suggesting that the Church use the Synod on Synodality as an opportunity to reexamine the question of ordaining women as priests, though he admits that this reexamination will likely still result in deciding not to move forward.

However, he wraps up with a section on what he calls the Christological Paradox in which amidst a great deal of word salad he calls for "a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord". Although the cardinal apparently later clarified on a podcast interview that despite the plain meaning of his words, he was not in fact endorsing intercommunion with baptized Christians who are not members of the Catholic Church, what he was very much doing was arguing that people not be encouraged to hold back from receiving the Eucharist when they know themselves to be in a state of unrepented mortal sin.

Since America Magazine can be rather finicky in terms of allowing people to read their articles without paying for the privilege (and I managed to use multiple browser profiles to get both articles up without paying for this pair of articles which are clearly not worth money to read) I'll quote that section at length.  Feel free to skim.

The report of the synodal dialogues from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops points to an additional and distinct element of exclusion in the life of the church: “Those who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the church.” These include those who are divorced and remarried without a declaration of nullity from the church, members of the L.G.B.T. community and those who are civilly married but have not been married in the church.

These exclusions touch upon important teachings of the church about the Christian moral life, the commitments of marriage and the meaning of sexuality for the disciple. It is very likely that discussions of all of these doctrinal questions will take place at the synodal meetings this fall and next year in Rome.

But the exclusion of men and women because of their marital status or their sexual orientation/activity is pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one. Given our teachings on sexuality and marriage, how should we treat remarried or L.G.B.T. men and women in the life of the church, especially regarding questions of the Eucharist?

“Enlarge the Space of Your Tent” cites a contribution from the Catholic Church of England and Wales, which provides a guidepost for responding to this pastoral dilemma: “The dream is of a church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment.” In other words, the church is called to proclaim the fullness of its teaching while offering a witness of sustained inclusion in its pastoral practice.

As the synodal process begins to discern how to address the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics, particularly on the issue of participation in the Eucharist, three dimensions of Catholic faith support a movement toward inclusion and shared belonging.

The first is the image that Pope Francis has proposed to us of the church as a field hospital. The primary pastoral imperative is to heal the wounded. And the powerful pastoral corollary is that we are all wounded. It is in this fundamental recognition of our faith that we find the imperative to make our church one of accompaniment and inclusion, of love and mercy. Pastoral practices that have the effect of excluding certain categories of people from full participation in the life of the church are at odds with this pivotal notion that we are all wounded and all equally in need of healing.

The second element of Catholic teaching that points to a pastoral practice of comprehensive inclusion is the reverence for conscience in Catholic faith. Men and women seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ struggle with enormous challenges in living out their faith, often under excruciating pressures and circumstances. While Catholic teaching must play a critical role in the decision making of believers, it is conscience that has the privileged place. Categorical exclusions undermine that privilege precisely because they cannot encompass the inner conversation between women and men and their God.

The third element of Catholic teaching that supports a pastoral stance of inclusion and shared belonging in the church is the counterpoised realities of human brokenness and divine grace that form the backdrop for any discussion of worthiness to receive the Eucharist. As Pope Francis stated in “Gaudete et Exultate,” “grace, precisely because it builds on nature, does not make us superhuman all at once.... Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively” (No. 50).

Here lies the foundation for Pope Francis’ exhortation “to see the Eucharist not as a prize for the perfect, but as a source of healing for us all.” The Eucharist is a central element of God’s grace- filled transformation of all the baptized. For this reason, the church must embrace a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the eucharist. Unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy.

It will be objected that the church cannot accept such a notion of radical inclusion because the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist flows from the moral tradition in the church that all sexual sins are grave matter. This means that all sexual actions outside of marriage are so gravely evil that they constitute objectively an action that can sever a believer’s relationship with God. This objection should be faced head on.

The effect of the tradition that all sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin has been to focus the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity. The heart of Christian discipleship is a relationship with God the Father, Son and Spirit rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church has a hierarchy of truths that flow from this fundamental kerygma. Sexual activity, while profound, does not lie at the heart of this hierarchy. Yet in pastoral practice we have placed it at the very center of our structures of exclusion from the Eucharist. This should change.

In his follow-up post (just published on March 2nd), Cardinal McElroy seeks to respond to his critics and expand on his thinking.  While there is some incredibly wrong-headed material in there in which McElroy attempts to argue that the Church has for the last three hundred years treated sexual sins as being uniquely sinful among all sins, including this gem of a section:

It is automatically an objective mortal sin for a husband and wife to engage in a single act of sexual intercourse utilizing artificial contraception. This means the level of evil present in such an act is objectively sufficient to sever one’s relationship with God.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to physically or psychologically abuse your spouse.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to exploit your employees.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to discriminate against a person because of her gender or ethnicity or religion.

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to abandon your children.

This is one of those frustrating examples where Catholic critics of the Church's teaching end up sounding a lot like anti-Catholics, asserting that the Church teaches things which the Church does not and never has taught.  Not only is "objective mortal sin" not a category (he seems to be conflating "objectively sinful" as in some act which is always by its nature wrong, such as lying, and "gravely sinful", as in some sin serious enough that if done with full intent and knowledge it constitutes a mortal sin, and imagining that there is some set of sins, apparently including only sexual sins, which are automatically damning regardless of knowledge or intent) but all the other things he mentions would very clearly be considered very grave matter.

But eventually McElroy gets around to laying out his argument for why the Church should get rid of any idea of mortal sin (or at least, sexual sin) being a barrier to receiving the Eucharist:

I proposed that the Eucharist is given to us as a profound grace in our conversion to discipleship. As Pope Francis reminds us, the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” To bar disciples from that grace blocks one of the principal pathways Christ has given to them to reform their lives and accept the Gospel ever more fully. For all of these reasons, I proposed that divorced and remarried or L.G.B.T. Catholics who are ardently seeking the grace of God in their lives should not be categorically barred from the Eucharist.
The pastoral theology of Pope Francis requires that the liturgical and sacramental life of the church be formed in compassionate embrace with the often overwhelming life challenges that prevent men and women at some periods in their life from conforming fully with important Gospel challenges. And the pastoral theology of Pope Francis rejects a notion of law that can be blind to the uniqueness of concrete human situations, human suffering and human limitation.

There are three fundamental foundations for this pastoral theology.

The first foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is pointing to lies in the recognition that the church should mirror the pastoral action of the Lord himself. It is the pattern of Jesus Christ who walked the earth that we are to incorporate into every element of ecclesial life. First, the Lord embraces the person, then he heals them. Then he calls the person to reform. Each of these elements of the saving encounter with the Lord is essential. But their order is also essential. Christ first reveals the overpowering merciful and limitless love of God. Then he moves to heal the particular form of suffering that the person is experiencing. And only then does he call the person specifically to a change in that person’s life.

This pattern must become ever more deeply the model for the church’s proclamation of the faith and healing action in the world. This must be the imitatio Christi for a pastoral church in an age that rejects abstraction, authority and tradition. The clear recognition of sin and the call to change one’s life to conform more fully with the Gospel is essential to Christian conversion and the achievement of true happiness in this world and the next. But that call must be expressed in the tender, compassionate welcome of a church that patiently ministers over time, as Christ did.

The second principle of Pope Francis’ pastoral theology is that the church must be committed to true accompaniment. In “The Gospel of Joy” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), Pope Francis expresses both the depth of commitment and the openness that must suffuse pastoral life and action in the church. “The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” The challenge of this is to come to see others as God sees them, incredibly precious souls, individual in nature and identity, yet equally treasured by the Lord.

The final foundation for the pastoral theology that Pope Francis is delineating for the life of the church is the assertion that the church’s identity, teaching and action must be rooted in the life situations that men and women actually experience in the world today. Every disciple encounters certain enormously complex circumstances that consistently prevent him or her from living out the teaching of the church in its fullness. Those who are divorced and remarried or sexually active members of the L.G.B.T. communities are among them. Pastoral theology and accompaniment seek to recapitulate and replicate the saving encounter of Jesus Christ with the saint and the sinner who resides in every human soul, touching every dimension of human existence in the real world, inviting all striving disciples to the eucharistic banquet in this world and the next.

All right, having given the cardinal his say, let's try to look at what's wrong with all this.

McElroy proposes that the Church change both how he alleges the Church defines the gravity of sexual sin (though since his representation of Church teaching here is so wrong, it's hard to tell how seriously to take this) and whether people who are living in situations of grave sin should receive communion, because he says that if all the baptized are welcomed "to the table of the Lord" the medicine of the Church's sacraments will work on those people and they will grow in their love of Christ.

He says that this is how Christ worked in the Gospels: He says that first Christ embraced the person, then He healed him, and finally He called him to repent.

As a factual matter, this is not Christ's order of operations in all Gospel encounters.

For instance, the first incident that occurs to me from the Gospels when people are arguing about the requirements of the moral life would be the story of the rich young man (Mk 10:17-31 or Lk 18:18-30).  In that example, a young man approaches Jesus and asks Him how he may get to heaven. Jesus first lists off the commandments. When the young man says that he does indeed obey all these commandments, Jesus tells him that the one additional thing he must do is sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and then come follow Him. When the young man is discouraged by this difficult demand and "went away sad", Jesus does not embrace him or accompany him, he turns to others nearby and observes, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  When His own disciples are discouraged by this, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first.”

Or to consider another oft cited passage, about the woman caught in adultery. There, Christ first rescues the woman from stoning. Next He tells her that He does not condemn her -- perhaps we might take it from that that He forgives her, or perhaps McElroy would describe this as Christ embracing her. And last of all He tells her to go and sin no more.

There is probably some example in the Gospels in which Jesus acts in the manner and order that McElroy describes, though off the top of my head I can't think of one.

But whatever we take this three step order of encounter (embrace, heal, call to repentance) to mean, McElroy insists that it must be the first foundation of how the Church ministers to people in modern times.

He then says the second foundation is accompaniment.  And the third foundation is recognizing that in this world everything is so hideously complicated that: "Every disciple encounters certain enormously complex circumstances that consistently prevent him or her from living out the teaching of the church in its fullness."

McElroy is oddly hesitant to state clearly what his program is, but if we may take these three foundations to sum it up, it would seem it is roughly speaking: 

1) embrace first, heal second, call to repentance last

2) accompany people

3) recognize that the world is just so complex that some people just can't live morally in it

McElroy seems to be saying that if we embrace people (by which he means not simply knowing and caring for them as people, but encouraging them to receive the Eucharist) and if we accompany them (while realizing that their lives may simply be too complex for them to live according to Christ's moral laws) that eventually there will come a time when they will want to repent of their sins because they have come to love Jesus.

Now first off, I think this is a huge distortion of what Jesus's interactions with people were actually like. While it's true that one thing that stands out in the Gospels is that Jesus is willing to devote personal time to people who are considered outcasts by the rest of society, the other thing that really stands out is that He is constantly making huge and sudden demands of people. He demands that the apostles abandon their occupations and follow Him -- not after some lengthy period of accompaniment where He spends time with their families and joins them in fishing, but the moment He meets them. This is indeed one of the really shocking things about Jesus in the Gospels.  He'll approach someone He's never interacted with before and immediately ask that they follow Him. And He's willing to leave people behind who won't follow that call.  In Matthew 8:21-22, right after Jesus heals the leper and the Centurian's servant, Jesus calls someone who says that he wants to follow Him but just needs to take time to bury his dead father first. Does Jesus accompany him through the mourning process and get him ready to leave the community he's been living in all this time?  No, Jesus just says, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”

I'm not suggesting that the correct course for Christians today is to abruptly demand that people they barely know drop everything and come follow them. One of the things to recall when modeling oneself on the scriptures is that Jesus is God, and we are not God. There are modes of behavior which God can perform credibly and virtuously that we cannot. (Which is why people who want to cite Jesus flogging the money changers out of the temple are almost always trying to get away with something they shouldn't.) But it's worth noting that the actual Jesus of the Gospels constantly asks people He barely knows to do really difficult things. 

So McElroy's first foundation for this approach to pastoral morality is based on a pattern of behavior which Jesus does not in fact follow. The second and third foundations, I think, consist of a huge and dangerous misreading of the times we live in.

McElroy notes that people who are in a sexual relationship which is not a marriage recognized by the Church (whether they are cohabiting, civilly but not sacramentally married, divorced and remarried, or in some sort of same sex relationship) feel estranged from the Church due to Church teaching on sexuality and the application of that teaching to reception of the Eucharist. His proposed solution is that we "accompany" people by changing teaching on reception of the Eucharist and also that we recognize that the huge complexity of modern life may mean that some people simply aren't able to live in conformity to Church teaching -- at least not yet. 

It's important to ask, would this proposal (setting aside whether it is in keeping with Catholic doctrine) even solve the problem which he is setting out to fix? I don't think it does.

The issue that we face in modern society is not that there are lots of people who say, "I know that the sexual relationship I'm living in is wrong.  I want to resolve that at some point, but I find myself unable to resolve it now, because of the kids it has produced or because I can't afford my own place or because my partner is too controlling, and so what I really wish is that the Church would nourish me with the graces of the Eucharist until I can gain the resources and strength to make a change."

No. The issue we face is that there are lot sof people who say, "I am in a sexual relationship which is good and beautiful and God and the Church need to recognize that it is good and beautiful."

Ah, but McElroy might rejoin, of course there are elements of the relationship which are good and beautiful. Even in a relationship which is sinful because it's a sexual relationship outside of marriage, people often find ways to express love for one another, and the Church should recognize and celebrate that.

Okay, fine. It's true that even in a relationship which is sinful in its sexual dimension, people will also be loving in other areas. Our lives are indeed complex, and just as often in a good marriage people still at times sin against one another, so too in a bad relationship people find ways to express love towards one another.

But still, the demand which we see from modern society is not that the Church recognize that while sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong, that within their context people sometimes perform some virtuous actions. Rather, the demand is that the Church recognize those relationships as right.

This whole set of proposals around accompaniment presumes that people would be fine with the Church saying that their relationships are sinful, so long as the Church did so in a more consequence-free fashion.

Picture a world in which the Church effectively says, "Welcome! Welcome! We are so glad that you are here! God loves you. We celebrate you. We welcome you to receive communion. BTW, your key life relationship is sinful, we can't bless it in church, and perhaps through the grace you receive from the Eucharist which you are welcome to, you will abandon that relationship and move closer to Christ by following His commandments more perfectly. But don't worry, in the meantime you are welcome and we celebrate you!"

Would people respond by saying, "Wow, that makes me as a person who is [cohabiting/divorced and remarried/in a same sex relationship] feel so valued and welcome. Now I no longer feel estranged from the Church."

I don't think we even have to stretch our imaginations on this one. We can look to the German Synodal Way, where the demand for the Church to actually change church sexual teachings and bless same sex relationships is open and clear. 

So there are two possibilities: The first is that Cardinal McElroy is proposing that we change Church teaching which dates back to the Bible itself, where St. Paul writes about the worthy reception of the Eucharist, in order to offer a compromise accompaniment-based approach which would not in fact satisfy anyone. The second is that this talk of accompaniment is really just a step along the way, and that McElroy and those like him already fully intend that if they could change teaching on reception of the Eucharist the next step would be demanding blessings on unmarried relationships and the next step would be saying it was unfair to have blessings for some people and marriage for others, with the end state always being that the actual teachings on divorce and remarriage, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, etc. be changed.

This latter possibility frankly strikes me as far more likely. I can't imagine that someone as well educated and familiar with the world as Cardinal McElroy really imagines that telling people, "We believe your relationship is sinful, and it should eventually end or become non-sexual, but in the meantime we welcome you to communion" would be satisfactory to those who feel estranged from the Church because of moral teachings. 

And I've also seen this play out before. Growing up, most of my friends were Episcopalians, and so I got the chance to watch as people first argued that they weren't really saying that moral teaching should be changed, they weren't really saying that the Episcopal Church should have same sex weddings, they were just saying that everyone was equally a sinner and everyone equally needed God's mercy, and then without missing a beat turned around and said supported changing their teachings and celebrating same sex weddings.

Progressives within Catholicism have often taken plays directly out of the mainstream Protestant book, and the similarities between what the Cardinal McElroys and Fr James Martins of the present moment are saying and what was said by progressive Episcopalians back in the 1990s and early 2000s (who knew very well they were steering their communion towards fully changing its teachings on sexual morality) seem like they could not be accidental.

If Cardinal McElroy wants to see Church teaching on sexual morality reversed, he should at least have the decency to say so openly. Lying is, after all, another thing which is objectively sinful. And if he does not want that, he needs to wrestle with the question of whether changing Church teaching on the nature of worthy reception of the Eucharist (something which would in itself be a rejection of the Church's very nature dating back to the apostles) would even achieve the objectives he claims to have.