Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Traditional Catholics Can Learn Much from Pope Francis' Visit. If Our Hearts are Open

All week my enjoyment of the exuberant visit of Pope Francis was marred by arguments from faithful Catholics close to me who were angry at what he did or did not say or do.
Accusations of socialism, moral weakness and just plain wanting to be liked were flying. I begged them to wait and see what transpired after the visit. I  reminded them of the Feast of St. Matthew, which happened earlier that week. Matthew was the sinful, hated tax collector who became a saint and evangelist. In the BBC TV series, "Jesus of Nazareth" his conversion is very instructive to us.
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Notice how the Parable of the Prodigal Son is told by Jesus in Matthew's house, full of sinners while Peter broods in the doorway after railing against Jesus eating in the house of his "Blood sucking enemy!"(earlier scene, Matthew was after him for taxes after Jesus prayed for a miraculous catch). Note how Jesus uses the parable to bring Peter, AND Matthew to repentance and reconciliation. We who love the Church and fight the good fight get angry in our isolation and that does not win hearts to the Kingdom of God. Mother Teresa said, "Joy is the net by which you catch souls." Her ministry of charity was the means of salvation for millions, most of whom were not practicing Catholics.
We "Older Brothers" who are largely obedient to the laws of God and give Him His due worship each week have to work on being charitable when our errant brethren join us at the Lord's supper.

Just because Pope Francis seemed to be more in agreement with non-practicing Catholics and those who are involved in seriously sinful practices such as abortion and homosexual unions, doesn't mean that he approves of their sin. A good teacher, like Jesus, trying to "catch them being good" finding points of agreement on which to build bridges to make sure they listened to him. Jesus used parables to teach so that the listeners could discover the teaching for themselves without raising their defenses. I recall my contentious relationship with a relative over social issues. All the great points I think I scored in our debates did not move her as much as a single kindness I did for her when her worldly friends rejected her over a good life choice she made. Pope Francis has had his share of spirited debates, but he knows how kindness builds bridges.

Some of them will need more prayers and fasting to allow the teaching to take root. When  President Obama referred to "The least of these" he forgot that the Holy Father meant the unborn. Rep Chris Smith takes him to task on that here.

Last week Pope Francis admonished a joint session of Congress to follow the Golden Rule—to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—and said that the Golden Rule compels us to “protect and defend human life at every stage of development,” and that “it is wrong to remain silent and look the other way.” Yet, every day, Planned Parenthood dismembers or chemically poisons to death approximately 900 unborn babies—the “least of these”— and hurts many women in the process."

The task of engaging those sheep outside the flock is very sensitive. We need to be patient and learn from our Shepherd. But in the meantime, it is essential that we stop brooding like St. Peter on how our virtue and fidelity were not being rewarded during the Holy Father's visit. First of all, his texts are full of references to the family, and the rights of the frail, disabled and the unborn. He made it clear that with frequent stops to visit them on the side of the road that they are close to his heart. He visited the Little Sisters of the Poor right after his White House visit. Wasn't that a huge move on his part?

Our most direct reward came after Pope Francis was safely out of US airspace. The Vatican revealed that the Pope met privately with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue same sex 'marriage' certificates. He encouraged her to "stay strong". she reflects on it here.

In his Wednesday Audience, Pope Francis gave faithful American Catholics another pat on the back.

"It was on a religious and moral foundation that the US was born and grew, and on this base it continues to be a land of freedom and welcome. It is not a coincidence that the most advanced economy of the last century has such strong religious roots. Instead, its proof that religion and progress are compatible.
It is not accidental but providential that the message and testimony from the World Meeting of Families was given in the USA. It is the country that has developed the most economically and technologically in the last century without compromising its religious roots. Now they look to the same roots again from the family, to rethink and recharge the development model for the good of the entire human family.
In the family, the individual and society reach a balance. The family will be a basis on which progress in the 21st century continues. "

source; Wednesday Audience translation Sept 30, 2015 Rome Reports

So, fellow elder brothers, lets stop licking our wounds and get going on Pope Francis' charge to set America's future trajectory,  rooted in Gospel values which includes the traditional family, in a way which serves the good of the entire human family.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Having a Daughter with Down Syndrome Changed Our Lives for the Better

This article is my response to Halle Levine's piece at Yahoo news. If I knew my daughter had Down syndrome I would have aborted her; all women should have that right.

Chrstina's sisters love to spend time with her.

During the trying days after September 11, 2001, my sense of hope was buoyed by a hidden secret; I was after two births and three miscarriages, at age 39 I was successfully carrying a baby. I was not about to have a pre-natal test shatter my joy, so I told my OB that diagnostic tests were out of the question. I would take whatever baby I was expecting and love him or her with all my heart. In those days, when thousands of people died unexpectedly, we all experienced a renewed reverence for life.
So, when after an emergency C-section was done at eight months due to an inadequate placenta, those in the OR were surprised to find my daughter Christina had Down syndrome. At only five pounds, she was tiny but feisty, scoring a 9.9 on the Apgar scale. No other disabilities were found besides a tiny 2mm hole in her heart, which by age six months, healed itself. So Christina was ready to come home from the hospital before I was, suffering from a C-section scar.
Coming home was a challenge, we had not finished our kitchen renovations due to her early arrival, so I stuffed towels under my bedroom door, plugged in a small fridge in my room and lived off cheese baskets and home cooked meals from friends for two months while I figured out how to nurse a baby with Down syndrome. A bigger challenge, I discovered, was helping my family members adjust to Christina’s diagnosis. From denial to fleeing in outright fear, family members failed to support me. Fortunately I found support in my friends, my parish, and the Early Intervention professionals who frequented my home. Christina soon became the heart of our home. Family members who saw her as something to pity or fear were won over by her toothless grin when she saw them; she became a daddy’s girl, and her grandfather held her hands as she practiced walking across the living room.
School was another matter. Long Island schools do not accept lower functioning children with Down syndrome and Christina’s toileting skills were not advanced enough to be admitted in the local elementary school.  I was not pleased with the inferior facilities offered for those children with special needs, so we picked up and moved to Connecticut where there is full inclusion by law. Soon Christina was taking the morning bus to Kindergarten in rural Eastern CT. She became famous with her peers; everyone in the school knew Christina’s name and she gleefully waved back as they greeted her in school.  I couldn’t be happier, she was reading simple sentences and had wonderful teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals who motivated her, enjoyed her personality and even missed her during vacations.
Homeschooling Christina was easier than I expected.
When I learned about the high rate of abortion following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, I was devastated and wanted to encourage other parents that raising a child with Down syndrome was not overwhelming.   My daughter and I completed a video about her life, and I blogged about everyday life with Christina. In 2011, I published a book of stories from parents who, like me, never expected a child with special needs; yet found them to be their greatest blessing. I met with scientists, the media and members of Congress, while touring the country giving talks about life with Christina and Down syndrome in general. Accustomed to being a classroom teacher, I had vastly expanded my audience. My lesson was simple; if you abandon your previous expectations and allow your child with special needs to transform you, you will be amazed at the result. In 2011 a survey published by Dr. Brian Skotko in the American Journal of Medical Genetics found .. . that among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome. A third study evaluating how adults with Down syndrome felt about themselves reports 99 percent responded they were happy with their lives, 97 percent liked who they are, and 96 percent liked how they looked.

My own older daughters agree with that, both of them chose careers in nursing after being inspired by watching such professionals help their sister.
Just as I became known as a voice of encouragement for those raising a child with Down syndrome, a major challenge emerged in our journey. In 2012, Christina’s speech development began to stall. Her physician recommended that she receive more intensive instruction and the Special Ed Director suggested that she leave inclusion for a full day in a self-contained classroom. It was a tragic mistake; Chrissy hated the restrictive environment and missed her friends. Her overtures to the children in the program, which was designed for children with autism, were largely rebuffed, and she was constantly being trained to reign in her attempts to gain attention by touching others and their belongings. This began two years of conflict between us as I spent hours every day, often with professional help in my home, convincing her to attend school.  I had a dozen professional evaluations done to prove that she needed to be placed in another program outside the school, and retained an attorney to convince the school, but they would not consider it.
 The three psychologists who evaluated her were divided about whether she had a secondary diagnosis of autism, yet the Applied Behavioral Analysis program at her school, which is often recommended for such children, was not meeting her needs. Child Protective Services was called by the district twice because of her spotty attendance, and in both cases, the CPS worker was outraged that she was being denied a proper school placement, and tried to help us advocate for her. In December of 2013, I withdrew Christina to homeschool her.
Being at home with Christina without fighting with her over attending school was a huge relief. We enjoyed one another’s company again. We took trips to local parks, met with homeschooling groups, counted math manipulatives, enjoyed Montessori activities, practiced her writing, did aqua therapy in a local pool, and frequented the library to read stories together. We found a speech therapist who believed in her ability to speak and she made slow but steady progress (the Special Ed Director said, at age ten, that Christina would never speak).  We found an Occupational Therapist who helped her start to overcome her sensory integration disorder which was the cause of much of her attention-seeking behaviors. We are currently working with a behaviorist who helps us help Christina improve her social skills. A state grant provides us with in home support for us so I can have a day off, attend and out of town conference or just catch up with my writing. I am working on a novel whose main character has Down syndrome.
Homeschooling was not new to me, I had schooled Christina’s sisters, but writing, speaking, and advocacy were new fields of endeavor. I have learned more about the exciting research like this new breakthrough
and I have scores of new friends who, like me, never anticipated how our children would turn our lives upside down; for the better.
I hope that there comes a day in which all parents will be able to overcome the anxiety which often accompanies a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, and they are free to welcome their child with open arms, but until then, I support a banning discriminating against an unborn child with Down syndrome. Aborting because of a baby’s physical characteristics is equivalent to aborting a baby girl because she is not a boy. We can help parents who are feeling overwhelmed with a baby with Down syndrome find support, resources, or in truly difficult cases, an adoptive family. What we can’t do is undo the tragic decision to end a life ended because of fear of the unknown and bring back the wonderful potential hidden behind an extra chromosome.