family lessons from “call the midwife”



In my latest Prairie Messenger column I explore the many family lessons one can learn from watching “Call the Midwife”. The series follows the work of midwives in the East end of London in the late 1950’s and the families that they serve. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the stories are heart-warming and often uncomfortably realistic. This is, after all, what real family life is like. It can raise you to moments of great joy, or mire you in its messiness and challenges. Children are welcomed as a much desired gift, or as an unwanted addition to an already over-burdened family.

Bishops from around the world are preparing for the upcoming Synod on the Family in October. Questionnaires were distributed (though not with equal success) in order to measure the pulse of family experiences and church teachings. One of the big questions, of course, revolves around the issue of birth control.

“Call the Midwife” takes place in the years before the dawn of the birth control pill. Humanae Vitae and it’s prohibition against any unnatural forms of family planning caused guilt-ridden grief to many women and men of my parent’s generation. Here was an answer to all their worries about unwanted pregnancies, only to be followed by threats of eternal damnation if couples chose to regulate births by artificial means. Today, even while most Catholics ignore the teachings of Humane Vitae, some bishops continue to make headlines fighting against easy or free access to birth control.

This week, the Supreme Court in the Philippines approved a controversial birth control law which will give women free access to birth control. The law faced fierce opposition from the Catholic bishops in a country where 80% of the population is Catholic. In the USA, Catholic bishops denounced Obama’s healthcare plan because of its access to birth control. Do bishops really understand the reality of family life? Do they really understand the deep fear of an unwanted pregnancy? Are they truly being pro-life if they expect women to have baby after baby with no regard for the health or welfare of the mother or family?

(A wee bit of trivia…I was birthed by a mid-wife in England during the same era as “Call the Midwife”!)

Close canon law books and open doors of love | National Catholic Reporter

Divorced and remarried Catholics remind us of something the church doesn’t understand about Eucharist. It is Christ’s gift to all of us, especially to those whom life has hurt and whom the church punishes for being hurt. If there is not food at the great feast for “the crippled, the blind, and the lame” Luke 14:15-24, the church is not a family but a country club.

via Close canon law books and open doors of love | National Catholic Reporter.

Michael Leach’s Aunt Mary, Uncle Louie, Ronald and Genevieve in 1948

Michael Leach has a gift for getting to the heart of the matter. The above article for the Soul Seeing column at National Catholic Reporter shows how cruel and unjust the letter of the Canon Law can be in the midst of a life lived. The story of his Aunt Mary describes the suffering of divorced and remarried Catholics in a more effective way than any theological treatise ever could. The ensuing discussion board has several heart-wrenching and thought-provoking personal stories and reflections on this issue.

Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy | National Catholic Reporter

If a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace, it follows that relationships that are signs of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and faithfulness are sacramental. These signs of grace are part of the new life that married couples are called to bring into the world, with or without children.

via Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy | National Catholic Reporter.

I support civil unions for gay couples. I believe it from a legal point of view, so the rights of couples in life-long relationships can be supported and upheld.

I have slowly learned to accept the unions from a relational and not only legal point of view. Why can’t we call it a legal marriage, if it is a loving commitment for life? As a Catholic, I rationalized this view by differentiating from a civil marriage and a sacramental marriage. A union of two women or two men will never be a sacramental marriage in the eyes of the Church, so why should we get our shorts in a knot over a marriage on purely legal terms? There. I satisfied my liberal heart and my Catholic conscience.

Until I read Jamie L. Manson’s NCR article Sacramental marriage beyond anatomy. Now I have to rethink my whole view of sacramental marriage.

Jamie shares her own family experience of marriage, which included hardships and divorce. It wasn’t until she was in grad school that she observed the marriages of friends as being truly sacramental.

What made my straight friends’ marriages sacramental wasn’t the fact that their anatomies matched up in a particular way or that they could procreate. As I learned from my childhood, complementing genders and an ability to reproduce in no way guarantees that a marriage will be graced or sacramental. Their marriage was good and holy because it helped both partners to grow in generosity, compassion, mercy, and faithfulness.

She now believes that

the sacramental nature of marriage should be judged by whether there is equality and mutuality between spouses, whether the relationship helps both spouses to flourish individually and as a couple, and whether their relationship brings the love, mercy, and faithfulness of God more fully into our world.

If this is the case, is it so inconceivable to dare to see a loving, committed union between two women or two men as a sacrament?

Of course, this is getting into dangerous territory for it would force us to rethink our entire sacramental theology. If we accept this logic, that the efficacy of a sacrament shouldn’t depend on anatomy, then the reasoning behind the male only priesthood would also have to be thrown out the window.

We have to be careful about opening the windows of our minds and hearts. For one wee breeze can quickly turn into a freely blowing wind of change.