Friday, March 23, 2012

Letter to Helena Hahn Basquette - part 4

letter to Helena Hahn Basquette continued...)

So, let me sum up my position. The pill is a disaster because recreational sex is a disaster. Recreational sex destabilizes marriage, it demeans women, it makes men irresponsible, it makes children homeless through the break up of their families. They may have houses, but they don’t have homes. They don’t have brothers and sisters that a large family provides. They are shuttled from day care to school to Dad’s house to Mom’s house, then to Grandma’s and back to Dad’s house then to day care again. They live in their parents’ cars just as surely as the families that I met parked in their broken down old cars in front of the rectory of the church I pastored in Uptown. They are orphans when their parents are alive and twice orphaned when their parents die.

Sex is not recreation. It is a gift that brings a man and a woman together to create the stable, life long relationships that are necessary for the well being of the culture and the security of children. Though it can be a source of joy and of pleasure, it is more importantly the cause of love. Real love. Sacrificial love. That Love which is God. 

In marriage there is meant to be an unbreakable linking of the three loves, eros, philia and agape. The love which is desire, the love which is friendship and ultimately the love which is sacrifice come together in a faithful marriage and family.  Our modern age demands the right to stop at eros, (desire) so it never arrives at friendship (philia) and that love which is God Himself, sacrificial love (agape). 

What a wonder it is to see two old people in love. The fires of youth have cooled to the warmth of friendship and then billows out once again into the passion of sacrifice, a life lived for others, a life lived for one another, for children, a life lived for God. We moderns end the process when eros cools, because we know no other kind of love. We say, “I am no longer in love with you. I have gotten a lawyer. I am taking the house and the kids. Get out.”  We never experience what love can be when we end it unreasonably. 

You may counter with “We practiced birth control and we did just fine, no divorce, close to the kids and the grandkids. It’s all good.” Maybe you did. Most of us didn’t.  You were fine in your lifeboat while the ship sank. Congratulations. You avoided a lot of hard times. Still, hard times are meant to stretch us. Children are the teachers of love, because they demand sacrifice.

My mother was the daughter of privilege. She told me that when she was married she had never cooked a meal nor touched an iron. As a girl, she spent summer on the Canadian shore in a twenty-room “cottage” or sometimes went on summer cruises on the Great Lakes. She went to the best Catholic schools and graduated from college in about 1929. She grew up surrounded by servants when her father was flush, and when he wasn’t they pretended.  She met a boy, a young university graduate at a party. He was her brother’s best friend. They called him “Si”. He wasn’t from prosperous people, but he was ambitious. He sold newspapers to put himself through university. In addition he taught rhetoric and debate to put himself through grad-school. He planned to become a lawyer.

They met at a party on the eve of Easter. He invited her to come along on his paper route with him. Her brother and “Si’s” girl friend, also at the party, were going along. It would be fun. After a while, Dad’s girl friend and mom’s brother got tired and gave up, but mom continued with the paper route and as the sun rose, they went to early Mass together. They were Catholics. Soon they were engaged.

The depression hit, Dad got a real job, left school and they married. My father did well despite the depression. He didn’t make much money, but managed to stay employed. He was an up and coming young stock expert, I think with Dun and Bradstreet. Things were tight in the depression, but Mom was a social worker and they managed to hire a girl to act as nanny and housekeeper and the future looked bright. He and his friends came up with the company through the great depression into the hard times of the war.

In about 1946, the company transferred Dad to Chicago. They found a house they could afford in a parish they liked with a good Catholic school and settled in. The company called again and said that they were going to transfer him one more time. The sixth child had been born. The seventh was on the way. He couldn’t uproot them again. He found a job with Morris B. Sachs. They gave him lots of titles and not much money. They had old furniture and threadbare rugs. The days of privilege and ambition were long gone. 

I can remember Mom on wash day, wearing her old dress and tying her hair back with a shoe string. She had almost no jewelry and no furs. Even the diamond chips had fallen out of her wedding band. My Dad always kicked himself that he had never made a million. All his friends in the “freshman class” at Dun and Bradstreet were millionaires many times over.  I remember our “vacations” back to Detroit where we stayed with Uncle Ed in his very nice home or went to his “cottage” on the Canadian shore. We would visit family and friends from my folks’ youth. I remember they all had such nice things. 

Mom and Dad put all seven of us through Catholic schools including university, and eventually Dad’s very canny investments paid off and they were comfortable. He kicked himself that unlike his old friends form Dun and Bradstreet, he never made a million. He plodded through a job he hated and why? Because he loved his children and his wife more than he loved the security and the things that money could buy.  Every time Mom found out that she was pregnant, Dad would say, “Where will we find the money?” Mom would say “God will provide.” and He did. They were Catholics.

There is an old Yiddish lullaby. “Du, mein Sohn, mein lieber Kaddish..” Kaddish is the prayer said for the dead among the Jews. It is an old custom to call one’s child his Kaddish, because that child is the one who will recite the mourner’s Kaddish at his parents grave. If another Catholic teaching is true, that love goes beyond the grave and that prayer reaches heaven, who will pray for us when we stand at the judgment seat of God? 

 I am the seventh child of two people who sacrificed all their ambitions for me and my brothers and sisters. Friends worried about my mother and her pregnancies. They encouraged her to “do something about it.” I was born a month late. I’m sure my father worried that he was going to lose the woman he loved in a difficult labor. I’m sure my mother worried too, but she never told me. That was all a long time ago. They are dead now. Thirty years after his death, twenty after hers, I still go to their graves to pray. I am so grateful for their sacrifices that gave me life and faith. When I say Mass, at the memorial of the dead, I think of them with love and pray for the repose of
their souls. 

I am their seventh child. I am their Kaddish. 

Rev. Know it all

PS:I know that this letter in 4 parts is pretty rough. And I know that I get pretty personal and paint things in my family life as pretty rosy. Believe me, they weren't. As
anyone who knows me  will tell you, there was at least one screwball in the family, the one who writes this column. 

My parents were convinced by their faith to obey papal authority in the most intimate details of their life, and, as I have pointed out, I didn't really accept or teach these ideas in my early ministry. I was convinced of the easy Catholicism that swept the Euro/American members of the Church and their clergy. If you were convinced by idiots like me to salve your conscience and do what you pleased, don't beat yourself up. 

"Well, isn't it a little late?" It's never too late as long as God gives us life in this world. The goal is sacrificial love. If you are long past the time when Humanae Vitae and artificial birth control are an issue, do a little sacrificial loving. Visit a hospital. Call a sick friend. Volunteer at an orphanage.  Better still volunteer at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center. Tutor at an inner city school.  Bake a cake for a shut in neighbor. Donate to a worthy cause. If you can't do any of those, pray! My wonderfully wise mother once said, as I effusively apologized for something I had done, "Don't just say you're sorry! Do Something!!!   

Again I regret being so blunt and so harsh, but I suspect that there is a grizzly bear just behind us, and I thought I should mention it. Perhaps I am mistaken, but it sure looks like a very hungry grizzly bear who is  going about seeking someone to devour!


  1. Powerful stuff father, thank you. What made you change from being a Catholicism Lite priest to a Faithful priest?

  2. Father, you are not alone! I was studying in Rome during Vatican II. Fortunately, the ‘Spirit of Vat II’ had not yet spread to the Pontifical Universities, though there were incipient shades of things to come on the part of some professors. But for the most part the teaching was still orthodox and theologians like Schillebeecx and Kung came in for strong criticism. The Dutch Catechism was considered scandalous and was soundly repudiated. Even a couple of ‘Vat II liberals’ named Rahner and Ratzinger were still considered ‘suspect’…!

    In the aftermath of Humanae Vitae, with high ranking hierarchs and theologians in open defiance, the ‘pastoral approach’ put forward was to tread lightly. The ‘primacy of conscience’ was seen to have equal authority with the magisterial teaching of Pope Paul VI. It became the “don’t ask, don’t tell” of the time. Don’t preach about it and ‘soft-pedal’ it in the confessional, so as not to “disturb the consciences” of the faithful.

    In Deanery Conferences at the time it was customary to have a topic which one member was designated to expound upon. In one of my first Deanery Conferences Humanae Vitae was the topic and it was assigned to a Polish priest who was in the diocese (this was in England…) to cater to the Polish immigrants - of which there were many at the time.

    The priest gave a very good presentation, completely in line with Pope Paul’s teaching. I was thinking: “Yes! Good for you!” When he finished there was a pregnant pause… No one wanted to be the first to comment. Finally, the Dean – a kindly old white-haired priest who was also the Vicar General of the diocese (it was the Cathedral Deanery…) – spoke…and soundly criticized the Polish priest’s presentation as being ‘old-fashioned’ and not ‘pastoral’. He ended with a joke about telling people to take cold showers…

    I would like to say that I rose to the Polish priest’s defense. But I didn’t. I laughed at the joke with the rest of the assembly. But the Polish priest was right and had the courage of his convictions even in the face of the ‘powers’ of the diocese. I didn’t…for which I will always be ashamed.

    And something else you should be thankful for Father. You have stayed the course. I didn’t...