Friday, December 12, 2008

Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As Fr. Paul pointed out in his homily this morning, there have been two great Marian feasts within a week of each other: Immaculate Conception on Monday, and Our Lady of Guadalupe today. Advent is a time when we (rightly) focus on Jesus’ First Coming and look forward to His Second Coming. However, Mary can appropriately be thought of as the saint of Advent. Without her “yes,” would Jesus have been born? Who knows? But Mary, like all humans created in God’s image, had free well. She could have said no. She said yes.

A few years ago I was in a class for my minor (in Latino/a studies). We were looking at various works of Chicano/a art, especially focusing on the Brown Power Movement of the 1960s. One of the paintings we studied was Yolanda Lopez’ "Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe." It portrays, unsurprisingly, the artist’s self portrait in the traditional garb of the Virgin as she appeared to Juan Diego in 1531. I’m still unsure of how I feel about it. I wasn’t Catholic then, but I was very close to becoming one, and I’d been praying the Rosary for a few months and drawing closer to Jesus through Mary. My initial reaction was one of discomfort; why would Lopez feel the need to change the image of the Blessed Mother that is beloved and cherished throughout Latin America? What is she trying to say about herself, Mary, or women in general? Many of my classmates reacted positively; they thought that portraying Mary as a “strong, independent” woman (running freely, letting her cloak fly back and reveal her legs, etc.) was a much-needed message of liberation for women. They put a lot of emphasis on the “impossible” and “paradoxical” standard Mary sets for women: in the Catholic Faith (and Latino cultures in particular), Mary embodies true femininity. However, my classmates frowned on this, claiming that Mary’s two roles as a virgin and a mother are conflicting and set too high a standard for women, suppressing their sexuality and discouraging women from having roles other than “virgin” or “mother.”

They’ve got this so totally backwards!

There is a delightful little book about St. Michael the Archangel which contains hymns, prayers, and stories about St. Michael. My favorite part is the first chapter, which opens with an (imagined) account of Mary’s Assumption. Michael greets Mary, his Queen, and tells her the time is coming. The author writes a little about Mary’s memories, and her wry amusement that people will remember her as “Mary, meek and mild.” Meek and mild? Ha! I’ve never met an archangel myself, but based on how the shepherds reacted (they were sore afraid), I’ll bet that they’re not chubby babies with fluffy wings. Angels would be terrifying to an unprepared human! And yet Mary takes Gabriel’s visit totally in stride (Luke 1) when he shows up in her garden/room/kitchen (we don’t know which) and tells her she’s going to become pregnant with the Messiah. Meek and mild? To stand in the presence of a prince of heaven and not freak out? To accept her role as an unwed pregnant mother knowing she could be stoned and her family disgraced? To know that even if she survived the pregnancy and birth that she would have her heart pierced with sorrow when her Son left her home to pursue his mission? Mary had guts! She had moxie! She was brave! When we hear “meek and mild” in our post-modern times, we envision a wilting flower damsel in distress with no personality, brains, talent, or skills. Mary couldn’t be further from this!

Maybe secular feminists (not authentic JPII feminists) have a problem with Mary because her life focused on her role as a mother. But what’s wrong with that? Certainly women aren’t only capable of being mothers, but to belittle women who accept that vocation is immature and arrogant. Recently I read about Rebecca Walker, 38-year-old daughter of (in)famous feminist Alice Walker, who finds motherhood to be a joy and privilege and loves her children with all her heart. This is beautiful! Good for her! Mary, like all other mothers, laid down her life for her son with she was carrying and birthing him. Women die in childbirth all over the world, and even though the rates have gone down as medical care improves, the gift of life and self-sacrifice that mothers make for their children is invaluable.

Mary, as a mother, did this for Jesus. But she’s also our mother; the spiritual mother to all Christians (John 20:26-27) and the mother of the Church. That’s a pretty big job! I know an amazing women who has eleven children (wow!), but Mary, as everyone’s mother, has many billions of children! Can you imagine keeping track of that many children’s prayer requests, soccer practices, food preferences, and ballet recitals? But she does! She is Queen of Heaven, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Angels. Mary fights for her children when we ask her to. She draws us closer to her Son Jesus. Mary isn’t meek and mild, but a strong, independent women who puts others before herself, lives out her vocation to its fullness, and honors God in all of her actions. Why wouldn’t you want her as a role model?

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, ora pro nobis!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

ZPG Thinking Reaps What It Sows

When my mother was in college, she signed a "Zero Population Growth" pledge: she planned to have only two children, so that the population wouldn't continue "growing wildly out of control." I find it beautiful - and hilarious - that she's the mother of three, one of whom (me) is a Catholic who will hopefully raise a large family (if God allows me that privilege). However, millions of other people raised in the sexual revolution era made good on their promises and had only one or two children. My generation isn't doing much better, delaying marriage and children until the late twenties or thirties and often frowning upon couples who have more than two (or, God forbid!) three children. After forty-odd years of this behavior, there were bound to be some consequences. The Demographic Winter is coming, and it isn't going to be pretty.

Last week my long-awaited copy of Demographic Winter arrived. The film was excellent. Disturbing, but excellent; the scholarship was well-informed and presented the argument for the dangers of depopulation from many angles: economic, sociological, environmental, etc. They didn’t touch on the morality-based reasons population is declining, but neither did they sugarcoat the truth about how the sexual revolution was pretty darn horrible for family stability and world population maintenance. My only critique of the film is that it doesn’t really offer a solution to our problem; rather, the experts seem to all throw up their hands with a sort of “Yup, we’re screwed” attitude.

The mainstream media is really good at ignoring crucial issues if they’re politically incorrect, but, as usual, this will eventually come around to bite them from behind. It’s kind of a beautiful irony, if you ignore the whole pesky “denying-the-inherent-dignity-of-human-life” aspect.

World birth rates are declining. Rapidly. This will eventually come to everyone’ attention when our Social Security system goes (completely) bankrupt, but until then, it’s a silent but deadly snake in the grass. If it weren’t for immigration, the populations of both Western Europe and the United States would already be far below replacement rate (2.1 children per woman). Even developing countries are seeing vast declines in population. This has all sorts of catastrophic consequences explained in the film. However, I’m going to find a silver lining.

In the U.S. at least, some of the only people having more than two children per family are…. Practicing Christians, specifically, NFP-using faithful Catholics. (and Mormons, apparently, though I’m not aware if Mormonism has a specific teaching about family planning). While it’s tragic that the remaining 98% of the population isn’t experiencing the joy of fertility appreciation, eventually they’ll die out. Look at the numbers:
Say there are 200 people, or 100 couples, in an imaginary model society. 98% of them contracept and have, at most, two children per family. For the sake of an easy model, if they replace themselves each generation with 2 children per family, there will always be 98 contracepting couples, or 196 people born each generation. The remaining 2 couples are faithful Catholics who use prayer and discernment to let God decide family size, via NFP. They have, on average, five children per family and instill in their children the same pro-family values.

Generation 0: 196 people, or 98 contracepting couples, plus 4 pro-family people = 2 pro- family, pro-fertility couples.
Generation 1: Contracepting Postmodernists(CPMs): 196 children born, who grow into 98 couples. Pro-family faithful Catholics (PFFCs): First generation of 2 couples yields 10 children, or five couples.
Generation 2: CPMs: same number: 196 born, 98 couples. PFFCs: 25 children born to five couples, and those 25 children grow into 12 couples (one will be a priest, of course!).
Generation 3: CPMs still going strong at 196 children born. PFFCs have 60 children who grow into 30 couples.
Generation 4: CPMs are at 196 children. PFFCs closing in with 150 children or 75 couples.
Generation 5: CPMs staying at 196 children. PFFCs have 375 children or 187 couples (plus a priest).
Generation 6: CPMs still have 196 children. PFFCs have taken a commanding lead, 935 children or 467 couples (and another priest! No vocation shortage in this model!)

Within five generations (and especially by the sixth), contraceptors have become a minority group- literally culling themselves out of existence. Wow! So if a generation is usually about 25-30 years long, within 150-180 years the anti-family crowd should die out. However, that’s assuming that none of the pro-family children jump ship and start contracepting. But in my own anecdotal experience, the people I know (at least the other young adults I know) who come from large, faithful Catholic families are NFP-using pro-family advocates. Thus, there’s some truth to this little fable. Of course, it’s just a model, and doesn’t account for things like acceptable, serious reasons to limit family size via NFP, so not *every* PFFC family will have the “average” of five children.

It’s been two generations since the introduction of widespread contraceptive use. And things are already pretty messed up because of it. It’s only going to get worse, I’d imagine, but in the end, the truth will prevail (which it has a funny way of doing): Mess with procreation and you open a pretty nasty Pandora’s box.