Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued.
Baptisms and Funerals! Here I am really torn. On the one hand, if you say “No” to someone who wants to have a child baptized, they will probably be angry enough to never darken the door of your church again. If you say “Yes” to someone who rarely comes to church and is in no sense a member of the parish, or even a practicing Catholic, they will probably never darken the door of your church again either. That is until it’s time for the kid’s first communion. You will see them again for weddings, confirmations and other photo events.
If you say “No”, it’s goodbye. So most priests want to be pastoral and say “Okay, but you’ve got to start coming to church.” “Okay, Father we will.” And they do come: three times — 7, 13 and about 25 years after the baptism. Here is a typical phone call:
(Bridezilla) “Hello, Are you the priest?”
(Pastor) “Yes I am.”
(B) “I want to rent your church for my wedding.”
(P) “Are you a parishioner? “
(B) “...... (long pause)...yes I am.”
(P) “What’s your name?”
(B) “I’m Diadora Shickelgruber. Certainly you remember me, Father.”
(P) “I can’t say that I do.”
(B) “Well I probably go to the service you don’t celebrate.”
(P)”I say most of the Masses and am always in the vestibule after Mass. Why do you want to be married here at St. Dymphna’s?
(B) “I went to school there and got all my sacraments there. When I was little I always dreamed of walking down that aisle on my wedding day.”
(P) “Are you currently attending another church?”
(B) “Oh yes, Father. When we’re not at your church we go to a church closer to our house.”
(P) What is the name of the church?”
(B) “I can’t remember it right now.”
(P) “Because you live twenty miles away, don’t attend regularly, and are not registered here, I am going to need a letter of permission from the pastor of the church you normally attend.”
(B) “....long silence....How do I get that?”
(P) Introduce yourself to your pastor after Mass and he will tell you how to make an appointment.”
(B) “Oh.” Click. Phone goes dead.
They are either going to have a wedding in the park with the local shaman, or they are going to pester the nearest Catholic priest who has also never met them for a letter of permission until weakened by hunger and fatigue he gives it to them. If not they will write a long letter to the bishop pointing out that their grandfather gave a lot of money to the parish and the priest treated them terribly. Some diocesan functionary will call and Father will give in.
The bride invariably shows up dressed like a frigate in full sail at which point I am tempted to wax eloquent on the beauties of virginity symbolized by the reams of white lace and taffeta in which she is festooned, but that would just evoke another letter to the bishop about how un-pastoral I am and so I preach a few platitudes that will sound inoffensive on the video. And so the cycle starts all over again.
We will see them again a few years later when they want a baptism or something like it; or someone they love, or at least fell guilty about, needs burial. We, the clergy, refer to this sort of religion as “hatch, match and dispatch.” However, this is becoming much less common. Very few, except homosexuals, wedding co-coordinators and divorce lawyers think that it’s important to get married anymore; and most Catholics think birth control is just fine. This abandonment of the sacramental life eases up the pressure for baptisms, weddings and, oddly enough, even for funerals.
Ever since, at the urging of Margaret Sanger (Foundress of Planned Parenthood), Drs. Pincus and Rock invented the birth control pill in the early 1950's, things have been changing. Puerto Rico was selected as a trial site in 1955. I suppose Puerto Rico was chosen because the US government was already trying to reduce the number of Puerto Ricans in the world with a string of birth control clinics on the island. Perhaps Ms. Sanger, former friend of and collaborator with Adolph Hitler, figured there were more Puerto Ricans than anyone wanted or needed. Perhaps she figured if it worked on Catholic Puerto Ricans, it would work on Catholic Mexicans, of whom Ms. Sanger also thought there were way too many, even back then.
Guess what? Puerto Ricans went for it despite their Catholicism and now most Puerto Ricans aren’t Catholic. They are an aging population that has lost much of its beautiful art and culture. Ms. Sanger couldn’t give a fig for their wonderful food, delightful music, beautiful painting and wood carving. They were the wrong color and the wrong religion as far as she was concerned, so let’s test the pill on them. Those who renounced their faith in order to have a more relaxed reproductive morality and a higher standard of living soon also renounced their culture, and eventually renounced their progeny.
Having devastated the Puerto Rican family, Planned Parenthood went on to devastate the families of the USA proper. Catholic faith had not stood in the way of modern narcissism in Puerto Rico and it would not stand in the way of the reduction of the European American population of the United States, even though the birth control pill had been designed by Sanger to get rid of all those brown and black people cluttering up our lily white shores.
How, you may ask does this take the pressure off for funerals in Catholic churches? We just had an example here at St. Dymphna’s in Frostbite Falls. An elderly woman died who had been active here as long as her health held out. After that, the family put her in a very nice home. The woman had only one daughter. The daughter didn’t seem very interested in having a large family and so there were only two resultant grandchildren. Like their mother, they had little use for grandma. I don’t think she got a lot of visits.
When I heard that she had died, I was curious that no one had requested a funeral. It turns out that she had died a while ago and no one had told us. The daughter said that they thought it foolish to go to the bother and expense of a funeral. They cremated grandma and went their merry ways. They all had lives to live. So it is, that there are fewer and fewer funerals because there are fewer and fewer left to grieve and even fewer to pray for the dead.
Our small families have relieved us of the economic and financial burden of former times. The one or two children we thought optimal were given everything except faith. Why should the little narcissists mourn the dead? We gave them everything but never mentioned that they in turn should be generous. The death of a grandparent is cause for rejoicing. The few descendants are freed from the guilt of never visiting Grandma and now they get all her money. Having not wasted her money on a brood of demanding little rug rats, Grandma had amassed a tidy sum, which her one or two heirs, or their lawyers will divide. Why waste any of it on a funeral that no one wants? No one but Grandma, that is.
Remember that scene in Dickens’ Christmas Carol? Having used his finances very prudently, old Scrooge is un-mourned by anyone. The ghost of Christmas future shows him his own overgrown grave. That poor dear woman I mentioned above does not even have an overgrown grave. I imagine her ashes were scattered, or maybe they are somewhere in the basement to be thrown out with the rest of her stuff.
When there are still enough people who remember religion in some form, they schedule a funeral in a church where the deceased may have more or less gone. They want the choir, the eulogy, the sermon, the wake, the grave side, the whole nine yards and a video of the proceedings... The most crazy-making thing that I get asked at funerals is about scheduling. I have actually had people request a funeral months in advance. When I looked confused and asked isn’t that a long time to wait? They responded, “Oh no Father, she’s not dead yet, but she will be by then. We have to get everybody on the same page as to the best date of the funeral. We have to check our calendars and we won’t take her off life support until we have a tentative date picked.” I thought I was dealing with a family of vampires.
It is now very common to put grandma on ice, or if it’s going to be a really long time before the calendars open up, Grandma will be burned and there will be a “Memorial Service” whatever that may be. The modern mourners haven’t a clue what Mass is about especially if they are born in the USA. They want the whole enchilada and they darn well better get it. After all, they are paying for it! And these are people who know the value of a dollar! They certainly haven’t wasted any of it on having large families.
Of fifty Americans at many funerals, perhaps two of them will be under the age of 30. Do you really think those two remnants of once Catholic large families will bother to have funeral masses for the childless multitude around them? When I offer a funeral Mass, my grief is very real. I don’t however grieve for the departed whom I have probably never met; I grieve for a way of life, a culture and a community of faith that has died.
The Church is growing: Africa, China, the Philippines, South America, Korea and so many emerging cultures are on fire with faith. There has never been a time when so many Muslims converted to Christianity. The faith is made glorious by those made martyrs by their Muslim neighbors.
The faith is not dying, the culture is. We have chosen ourselves over the God who made us and loves us. We are now 60 years, give or take, after the invention of the little golden pill, (as the singing nun called it). We have been born into the birth-controlled, baby boomer consumerist revolution and are reaping the reward of our own narcissism: extinction.
Next week: So what do we do?