Category Archives: family issues

When denial of Communion is blasphemy

By David M. Knight | United States
Published in La Croix International, 14 Aug 2020

Cardinal Burke and his allies have made many attempts to box Pope Francis into a corner by asking him whether the “doctrine” on denying Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics is still part of the unchanging Catholic teaching.  Pope Francis refuses to boxed in by Burke.  This article by Fr. Knight will demonstrate why Pope Francis will never back down on this position.

Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” But every time I hear confessions I realize many of the sheep are not being fed with what is most necessary for them—the Body and Blood of Christ—because they were taught false doctrines growing up, and are afraid to receive Communion. And one of those errors is what they were taught about mortal sin. It is blasphemy.

When Is Sin Mortal?

The bishops at Vatican II admitted we were taught error (Church in the Modern World 19):


Believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.


This statement has personally poignancy for me, because my 93-year-old brother has been, not an atheist, but an avowed agnostic all his life because of the false teachings we received as children.


We were told God would send a small child to hell for all eternity for things like missing Mass on a single Sunday. My brother drew the obvious conclusion: God is unbelievably cruel — and therefore unbelievable. He has been an agnostic ever since.


A few years ago he wrote me:


Religious belief – which I do not have – provides us with an explanation for our existence. And I do often wonder – Why am I here? Is there any purpose to human existence? The inability to come up with answers makes me uncomfortable.


The Catholic Church provided me with a raison d’être– but, as you know, it was not palatable. Each of us was put on earth to go through an ordeal, to be tested, to run a gauntlet. And if we scrupulously obeyed each and every edict of the Church, we would probably get through life without alienating God and having him consign us to damnation. That never appealed to me.


For my brother, God was like a pitcher standing on the mound, just waiting for him to take one step off first base so he could throw him out and cast him into hell forever. We taught him – yes, the Catholic Church taught him – that God was a monster.


That teaching was blasphemy. It “concealed rather than revealed the authentic face of God.” And every teaching that makes sins “mortal” when they are not is unintentional blasphemy against the true nature of God.


A pastor in my diocese asked an altar server at Sunday Mass where his ten-year-old brother was.


“He didn’t want to come to Mass this morning, Father,” the boy replied.


“Well, when you go home, you tell your little brother he has committed a mortal sin, and if he doesn’t come to Confession, he is going to hell.”


Who committed the greater sin: the boy who missed Mass, or the pastor who blasphemed by perverting the truth about God’s love for that little child?


The most common and destructive single error in the Church may be our centuries-long teaching about mortal sin.


We were given the impression we could easily distinguish mortal sin from venial sin. Mortal sin required three things: serious matter, sufficient knowledge, and full consent of the will.


That sounds clear enough. But in reality, it is almost impossible to identify anything as a mortal sin by using these three criteria.


When is knowledge “sufficient,” and when is consent “full”? More basically, what “matter” is serious enough to make God withdraw “grace,” the gift of divine life? In practice we were taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on one Sunday, or to eat a hamburger on Friday. Every sexual sin was “serious matter”—impure thoughts and touches, passionate kissing, masturbation, and contraception.


Married people were denied Communion for years because of “birth control.” According to the common teaching—and admittedly in the metaphorical language of the time—anyone who did any of these things and died without repenting, would be cast by God into the fires of hell to burn for all eternity.


To “conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God” like this makes our loving Father a monster. Is that not blasphemy?


The truth is, to be “mortal,” a sin has to be, not just bad, not just real bad, but evil; so evil that a normal father or mother whose son or daughter did that act would have to say it would be right and just to burn their child at the stake.


That would be much less than the punishment we say God inflicts in hell.


The truth is, the Church has never defined, with all her dogmatic authority, any particular act as the “serious matter” required for mortal sin. But from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in sacramental preparation, all sorts of offenses are blithely defined as mortal sin. This has to stop.


A good, practical rule of thumb for recognizing mortal sin would be to ask, “If my daughter did this, would I drive her from the house, refuse to let her eat at the family table—and yes, to be consistent with the doctrine we were taught—agree that she deserves to be burned in hell for all eternity?” If you answer “No” to any of these questions you do not really believe the girl is guilty of “mortal sin” as the Catholic Church defines it.

A Current Pastoral Failure

Up until 2016, when Pope Francis wrote his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), approving the findings of the Synod on Family Life, it was almost universally taken for granted that those married “out of the Church”—that is, invalidly, because in a way contrary to the rules—were living in mortal sin, and were not allowed to receive Communion.


But in The Joy of Love the pope declared officially in paragraph 301:

“It can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.”


And in paragraph 243:

“It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union [without an annulment] should be made to feel part of the Church. They are not excommunicated, and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community. These situations require careful discernment and respectful accompaniment.”


There used to be a decree that declared them excommunicated, but it was abolished in 1977. And a 1984 article in US Catholic magazine quoted Father James Provost of the Canon Law Society of America:


Divorced Catholics enjoy the same good status of any other Catholic in regard to the Mass, Eucharist, and any liturgical function. Catholics who remarry without annulment have an irregular status, but “they are not excommunicated, are under no special penalties, and are not excluded from receiving the Eucharist if they believe they should receive it.” Father Edgar Holden, director of the tribunal of the Seattle archdiocese, agrees.”Nothing in Church law forbids a person with irregular status from receiving the Eucharist. This is a personal decision of conscience. We suggest that if people feel unable to reach a decision on their own, they ask their pastor or spiritual director for assistance” (emphasis added).


In other words, the only thing new about the teaching of The Joy of Love is its authoritative promulgation by the Pope and Synod.


No general rule exists or should be made either forbidding or allowing those in irregular marriages to receive Communion. This must be decided on a case-by-case basis. And the most important factor in every case is the conscience of the individual.


But in spite of the fact that the words of Pope Francis are available on the Vatican’s internet site (, this may be one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church. I have yet to meet a Catholic who has heard this teaching of the Synod on Family Life, or the words of Pope Francis about it, proclaimed and explained from the pulpit.


Undoubtedly, there are pastors who have done so, but they must be few and far between. The great majority of Catholics are left in ignorance—and many are deprived of Communion who have a right to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.


This is a serious, serious pastoral failure. The “Great Commandment” of pastoral ministry is what Jesus said to the first pope—and through him to all subsequent popes, bishops, and pastors, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”


The teaching in The Joy of Love should be shouted from the housetops. Why is that not happening?


David M. Knight is a senior priest of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis (USA) and the leader of Immersed in Christ, a movement for spiritual growth based on the five mysteries of Baptism. A former Jesuit, he has a doctorate in theology, 50 years of ministerial experience in 19 countries, and 40 books in print. He speaks four languages.



Here is how things stood in 2014 when the bishops were discussing pastoral options prior to the Synod on the Family:

In February, Pope Francis tapped one of his favorite theologians, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, to address a meeting of all the cardinals.

Kasper argued that the church must show more mercy to people whose first marriages have failed and who want to remain within the church.

“With respect to the divorced and the remarried people, the church does not give them absolution, [does] not give them Holy Communion. And many people say this is not the God of Jesus, because Jesus was very merciful — he forgives us — and the church does not,” he said.

Kasper spoke to NPR after his address. He said it provoked sharp exchanges among some of the cardinals.

“Of course there was a heated debate, but there were not only cardinals who were against it, there were also cardinals who were in favor,” he said. “And so the voices are divided. The pope himself was very grateful for the discourse.”

Many Catholic conservatives rejected Kasper’s proposals. On the eve of the current gathering of bishops, known as a synod, five cardinals published a book of essays, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ.” In them, they described Kasper’s permissive attitude toward Communion as “fundamentally flawed.”

One of the authors is American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s top court. In an interview with Catholic News Service, he dismissed the viability of Kasper’s proposal.

Catholic doctrine stipulates that a second marriage without the complex and often lengthy annulment of the first amounts to adultery, and that anyone married in a civil ceremony is living in sin and therefore ineligible to receive the sacraments.

But Kasper says there is no such single category as “the divorced and remarried.” For example, he says, a woman who is abandoned by her husband is different from the man who abandoned his wife.

“So we have to distinguish the cases,” he says.


Waterbirthing in China

Regarding birthing, here is a very descriptive article in

Mother to Give Birth in Water

Just over a week after China’s first waterbirth, another Shanghai woman is preparing to deliver her baby underwater, perhaps as early as Tuesday.The delivery will once again take place at Shanghai Changning District Maternity and Child Health Hospital.

Ma Nan, a 27-year-old local teacher, was the first to try waterbirth at the hospital on March 1.

Now her 24-year-old friend, a woman surnamed Zhang, wants to follow in Ma’s footsteps.

“I got to know Ma at a training class for pregnant women and we became friends. Since she chose waterbirth and delivered the baby so successfully, I also want to follow her.”

The birth will take place in a semicircular tub with the woman lying in about one meter of water. According to doctors, the tub is filled with hot, disinfected water, in which the mother to be sit during labor.

“Being in water during labor can be very soothing,” said the hospital’s head nurse, who would only giver her surname, Lin.

“Once the woman settles into the warm water, her contractions hurt less and she finds little need for medication. With decreased pain experienced, she will feel less anxious and her adrenalin levels also decrease,” said Lin. “Because muscles are supported in the water, a woman becomes less tense and can cope with the contractions easier.”

Medical staff also says women who deliver their babies in water lose less blood and deliver the baby quicker than normal.

The warm water is also helpful for the baby to adapt to the outside world, as it grows in the fluid-filled environment of the womb, doctors said.

Waterbirths have been around for decades in the West, but have never gained large popularity.

Other maternity hospitals in Shanghai question whether their is enough demand for the service to set up a waterbirth delivery room and also fear that it can cause infections if the water and tub are not properly disinfected.

“Delivering a baby in water requires strict disinfection of the water and the facility. Since the woman is so vulnerable when delivering, the water can result in serious consequence if it is not clean enough. In addition, we don’t think many Chinese women and their families will choose waterbirth,” said a spokes-woman for Shanghai International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital.  (source = March 11, 2003)

The conjecture = we don’t think many Chinese women and their families will choose waterbirth–was absolutely wrong.  In the last 20 years, more and more women have deliberately chosen waterbirth in China.
Here is a segment from a research paper:

Women who are seeking water birth and undisturbed birth have usually considered the consequences of interference with the birth process. They may have read about the impact of early childhood trauma, including birth trauma, on the developmental neurobiology, endocrinology, immunology, and epigenetics of this new human being (Karr-Morse, 2010). Many women are not just looking for pain relief but a way to remain drug-free, relaxed, and with some control over the process of letting the baby out. Over the past three decades, I have assisted hundreds of women in the birth pool. I have observed closely, listened carefully, and recorded many actions and characteristics in mothers and their caregivers. I have heard many caregivers and mothers retell their stories to friends, to families, and to their babies. More than 2,500 women have completed surveys about their water-birth experience through Waterbirth International, often using the same words to describe how their babies responded after birth and in the months and years that followed (Harper, 2008). Is it just the water that caused these babies to be alert, calm, responsive, connected, present, and aware? The use of warm water immersion aids and assists the mother in feeling calm, relaxed, nurtured, protected, and in control, with the ability to easily move as her body and her baby dictate. From the mother’s perspective, using water becomes the best way to enhance the natural process without any evidence of increased risk. A calm, relaxed mother is more likely to experience a calm, relaxed baby after birth. (source)

Delayed-breathing and delayed clamping of the placenta as a strong benefit

Immediately after birth, the cardiac output to the lungs must increase from the 8% level in fetal life to a 45% level necessary for neonatal life and adult circulation. Therefore, some of the blood from the fetal “lung,” the placenta, is needed by the neonatal lungs for draining of the fetal lung fluids and adequate expansion and recruitment of lung tissue. Immediate cord clamping eliminates the many benefits of placental transfusion and compromises lung expansion and function. The infant is left with only the blood that was in the body at the time of cord clamping, which is not adequate to create an increase in the circulatory bed at the same time that the infant’s organs (lung, liver, kidney, skin, gut, and brain) begin to assume the functions that had been sustained by the placenta during fetal life (). In other words, the more blood that flows from the placenta into the newborn, the higher the blood volume. The more blood volume and the thicker the blood, the more fluids are able to leave the lung tissue.
The many mechanisms that function to switch the newborn from fetal circulation to newborn status take place over the course of hours and sometimes days. Not all the fluids that were in the lungs prenatally are drawn out into the vascular circulation. The fluids that remain are drawn out of the lung tissue through the lymphatic system, which is stimulated over the following 72 hr by skin-to-skin placement, self-attachment, and breastfeeding.
One of the many benefits of water birth is immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. Water-birth providers have learned so much from observing what normal full-term healthy newborns do in the habitat between the breasts. The neonate who is placed skin-to-skin regulates all his systems very quickly but is usually extremely quiet. The absence of vigorous crying is not indicative of the absence of newborn breathing. Quiet stable newborn breathing happens often without a single peep out of the baby who is immediately placed in the habitat (; ). This is frequently observed of babies who are born in water. (source)


In 1960, Dr. Siegel published a study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology entitled, “Does Bath Water Enter the Vagina?” Pregnant women were put into bathtubs that contained iodine-stained water. Before entering the bath, a sterile, starched white tampon, without a string, was inserted into the vagina. After 15 min of soaking, the women left the bath, the tampons were removed, and not a single one was stained with iodine. Common advice from physicians at that time was to avoid bathing in the third trimester and definitely to not bathe while in labor or after membranes have ruptured. Dr. Siegel concluded,

Thus, the fear that bath water may infect a pregnant or puerperal woman is not founded on fact, since normally no water enters the vagina. Therefore, restrictions on bathing during and after pregnancy are not warranted on this basis alone. Moreover, this teaching represents another classic example of error. (source)

Need for Pain Relief

The Nutter et al. (2014a) review looked at eight studies that included this outcome and found that people who give birth in water use less pain medication than people who give birth on land. This agrees with the findings of the Shaw-Battista (2017) review, which also found that people who labor in water report less pain and anxiety. Four research teams found that fewer people who gave birth in water required any pain relief at all (Otigbah et al. 2000; Geissbuehler et al. 2004; Chaichian et al. 2009; Torkamani et al. 2010), and two research teams mentioned that people who had waterbirths had a 0% epidural rate (Thoeni et al. 2005; Zanetti-Daellenbach et al. 2007a).

Potential benefits of waterbirth

  • Less pain and higher satisfaction with the birth experience
  • Less medication use for pain relief—this may be important for people who want or need to avoid epidurals or narcotic medications during labor
  • Less use of artificial oxytocin and possibly shorter labors
  • Higher rates of normal vaginal birth
  • Lower rates of episiotomy
  • Higher rates of intact perineum, especially in high-episiotomy settings
  • Possibly lower rates of severe tears (3rd or 4th degree), especially in high-episiotomy settings
  • Possibly lower rates of postpartum hemorrhage

It is not clear if waterbirth provides any health benefits to newborns. The studies we have are complicated by the fact that care providers help some mothers out of the pool for medical reasons—leaving the more straightforward births to take place in the water.

Potential risks of waterbirth

  • We need more research evidence on waterbirth, so this makes it more difficult to make a truly informed choice.
  • There may be a higher rate of mild labial tears from waterbirth in low-episiotomy environments such as homes and birth centers
  • Umbilical cord snap is a rare but possible occurrence. Care providers need to take care not to place too much traction on the cord when guiding the infant out of the water.
  • There have been several case reports of water aspiration. These cases have not been observed in prospective research since 1999, and almost all of the infants in the case reports made a complete recovery.  (source)

Watch the video of Kaylee and Jordan

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about posting this video.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most intense experience, and the most emotional day of our lives. Some people question how we could share such an intimate moment with the world. Leading up to this day, I watched hundreds of birth vlogs on YouTube, and the ones that truly helped empower and prepare me for this moment were the ones that were the most raw, real and vulnerable. That is why we chose to share our story in this way.  [Aaron: This is why I have chosen this raw, real, and vulnerable video for your viewing.]

Click here to begin the Video.

Should husbands be permitted to take part in the birthing process?

And how about the men?  There has been a movement to keep them out of the birthing room.  One doctor said, “The first person to faint are the husbands.”  Is that true?   Or is it the sentiment of an OB who didn’t want any men in the birthing room (save himself)?

Preparing fathers to assist their wives in the birthing proces

Many first-time fathers do not know what to expect when preparing for the birth of their child. It may seem very overwhelming, intense and complicated when thinking about the birth process. You may have your own worries and concerns outside that of the mother and new baby. Here are some steps on how to prepare for the birth of your child:

1. Join in on a childbirth class. Lovelace Labor of Love offers classes on what to expect before, during and after your baby is born. Mothers love for their partners to join them in these classes because you both can experience this amazing process together. There is much for the both of you to learn. We offer Baby Care Basics, Breastfeeding Basics (Yes dad, this one is for you too!), and Prepared Childbirth. Two free classes for both mom and dad/partner to consider are Loving Families and New Parent Group.

2. Recognizing when your partner is in labor. You will know your partner is going into labor when she starts feeling the onset of contractions. Usually, a woman will start feeling contractions before her water (amniotic sac) breaks. If the bag of waters breaks, she may go into labor shortly after. She may feel lower back pain; this is normal. One thing to remember is your partner might experience false labor, also known as Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are not as intense and may come and go. This is why it is very important to keep time of her contractions. Once her contractions start lasting longer and occurring closer together, it is time to head to the hospital. Be sure to ask your midwife or doctor who and where to call if you think you are in labor.

3. What can you expect during labor? It is important to know all the stages of labor so you can try to understand what your partner is going through in that moment. Consider preparing by watching videos or reading about labor and delivery, as well as, attending classes.

Labor has three stages:

  • The first stage of labor has three phases. In the first phase, also known as the early phase, your partner may start to feel her contractions getting stronger than before. This phase can last from hours to days. In the second phase, which is the active phase, contractions for your partner are a lot more intense. This is the phase where you may want to ask your partner if she will be wanting to receive any pain medications, if she can. In the last phase, transition, your partner is having intense contractions and it is almost time to push! She may be cranky, so don’t get offended if she says anything hurtful to you.  She is in pain, frustrated, and is ready for the baby to be born.
  • The second stage of labor is the actual pushing and birth of your baby. This can takes minutes to hours. Sometimes for first-time mothers, this can take a while, especially if she has had an epidural [pain-killer]. It is very important to support your partner in this stage because it may be when she needs you the most. After your baby is born and whenever possible, your baby will be placed on the mother’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. We call this the Loving hour. It is a time meant for bonding and for mom to help regulate baby’s vitals and to prepare for the first breast feeding. The father is also more than welcome to have skin-to-skin after the Loving Hour.
  • The third stage of labor is the delivery of the placenta. Your partner may have another push or two just so the doctor or midwife can deliver the placenta. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to your baby while he is in the womb. You may be able to take a look at it, some people actually take it with them. The decision is up to you and your partner.

4. How can you provide comfort for your partner? It is very important to comfort your partner before, during and after the birth of your child. Ask her before labor begins so you have a few options that may work depending on how she is feeling. You can help physically by actually giving your partner a massage or getting her something to eat. You can use comforting phrases such as “You’re amazing” or “I am here for you” or “You’ve got this.” She may just need quiet during this exhausting, yet breathtaking experience.

The birth experience is a wonderful process. We want you and your partner to enjoy this very special time. Attending classes together will allow you to be aware of what to expect and what to do when it is time to welcome your child into this world. Please do not be afraid to ask questions of the doctor, nurse, or midwife during your partner’s labor and delivery.  (source)

Story of an expectant mother in the 7th month

“Can you hear me, baby? Can you hear mommy?”
More soft movements as a response. I feel a limb slide against me from inside. The baby’s probably just feeling out its environment for the first time. I rub my belly very very sofly.
“It’s alright, baby. You’re inside me…you’re inside mommy. You’re safe…”
Thump. Another sharp kick. “Ohf! Alright, easy, baby-” But it starts kicking more and moving around a lot. A lot more than I’m used to right now. I just hold onto my belly and leave the bathroom. I’m not sure how to get it to stop, so I slowly pace myself to the living room and sit down on the couch for a bit, rubbing my belly back and forth. “Shhhh…stop…please”
Soon Aarene [her partner] comes in through the door and finds me sitting slumped into the couch. S/he gives me an odd look with an eyebrow raised. “Hey? What’s up?” s/he asks.
“C’mere…” I eagerly motion for him/her to come sit down. “Here, feel.” I place a hand on my belly for him/her to feel.” His/her eyes light up as s/he realizes that our baby is kicking me. Right there, I start feeling more and more connected with this creature growing inside me. Me and Aarene looked at each other and shared a mutual feeling of excitement in our smiles for the first time in a little while.

Over the next few months Aarene and I just sit around feeling my belly and doing research on our baby’s movements. It becomes so much fun that we lose track of time and before we know it I’m seven months along. I’m really starting to waddle now, and my hips are widening a fair bit. I’m getting used to walking with this new shape of mine, which is difficult since the baby is able to shift positions inside me so much. My belly changes shape a lot. I’ve been wearing mostly dresses and baggy shirts I used to wear to hide myself. Now they’re the only thing that will fit.
“You look great in that dress!” Laura tells me one night while at our place for dinner. I blush slightly less than usual, as I’ve been getting more and more flattering comments about my appearance from Aarene as I’ve gotten bigger.
“No really,” Laura continues, “some women just end up with an uneven sagging belly. Yours is so round!”
“Yeah, you actually have a really good body for this,” Aarene adds.
Okay, so these comments make me laugh and blush a little bit. I’ve been having this strange juxtaposition of feeling thrilled and embarrassed about my body over the past couple months. I feel another firm kick from inside me and softly caress my belly from under the table. Over dinner Laura tells us stories from her pregnancy experience, many of which I can relate to.
“Walking became so embarrassing! Up to a few weeks before the birth I was waddling half the time wherever I went around the house. Sam loved it, though,” she laughed. “He thought it was adorable.”
“I remember that!” Aarene giggled, “I made fun of you so much!”
“You did! I was hoping I would be able to get back at you this time around!” Laura smiled. The three of us laugh together, me and Laura exchanging a look of mutual respect. Aarene looks over at me and smiles.
“You will eventually.”
I’ve usually been pretty quiet during social occasions, as conversation over the last seven months often turned to focus on me. I’ve become less shy about it it seems, but that may be because I’m with Aarene and Laura, two people whom I’m quite close with.
“How’s walking been for you?” Laura asks me.
“Uh, it’s usually not that bad when I’m carrying high up, but sometimes the baby descends downward and lays right in my pelvis. Those times are the worst because I always end up waddling to the bathroom in a hurry.”
“Oh man, that’s where mine rested all the time. There was so much pressure down there toward the end of it,” Laura says.
I smile and blush a little, once again happy that I know someone who can relate to what I’ve been going through.
“Have you guys thought about the birth yet?”
I freeze. No, I haven’t thought about the birth.
“You’re right!’ Aarene jumps in. S/he turns to me. “I think we should have a home birth! Maybe a water birth with that,” s/he says almost between gasps.
Suddenly all the embarrassment came straight back. I’ve learned to get used to waddling, throwing up every morning, and getting distracted by movements inside my belly, but this is too much now. My fantasies of pregnancy and childbirth haven’t been matching the real experience. I realize now that it was a very private and personal thing for me, and exposing it to the people I care about has been just too embarrassing. If I didn’t want this I wouldn’t have gone through with the coin toss. They know part of me wanted this.
She had to say birth. Not delivery or due date.
“I had mine in a pool,” Laura goes on. “It was incredibly comforting. I’d recommend it to anyone. I’m totally up to help you guys out if you need it. I am a midwife, after all.”
“Yes!” Aarene exclaimed. “It’ll be just the three of us, right here as well!”
Oh great. Now one of my best friends is going to see me go through this as well.
“What do you think?” Aarene suddenly turns to me.
“Uh…” I completely draw a blank. I think I wasn’t totally prepared for this.
“What’s wrong? You seem tense now. Are you scared?”
“No, I…”
“Don’t be scared! You’ll be great, trust me!” Aarene smiles.
“Yeah, somehow I think you’re going to do quite well at this,” Laura says.
Suddenly this conversation has turned into Aarene and Laura cheering me on. Do well at this? She said it as if giving birth were a sport or something. It’s not a sport, I tell her, trying to playfully hide my embarrassment.
“Meh,” she shrugs with a loose smile, “I like to think of it as one, now that you say that. Some girls do really well at it and stay calm the whole way through. Some girls panic and need a lot of extra help.”
Yup. Sounds like me. I can see it now.  (source)
Further Resouces
Mei X, Mei R, Liu Y, Wang X, Chen Q, Lei Y, Ye Z. Front Psychiatry. 2022 Dec 15;13:1091042. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.1091042. eCollection 2022. PMID: 36590638 Free PMC article.
  • Buddhism provides abundant healing resources for dealing with childbirth on the practical level. Overall I contend that Buddhist healing resources for childbirth served as an effective channel through which Buddhist teaching, worldview and concepts of gender and body were conveyed to its supplicants. Through this investigation, this dissertation contributes to the understanding of the association of Buddhism with medicine, the influence of Buddhist discourses and practices of reproduction on China, and the transmission of Buddhist views of gender, the body, and life to China through its healing activities related to childbirth.

Lin, Hsin-Yi, Dealing with Childbirth in Medieval Chinese Buddhism: Discourses and Practices.  2017 Doctoral Thesis, Columbia U.

#1 My Mother

My dear playback Friend,

I wrote out the first story I shared with you.  If you carefully read this story, you will understand how my heart was broken at the age of eight.

How does one love a man who has a broken heart???

[After you read my story, please try to answer this question in the comment box below.  I await your response.]

Affectionately yours, aLong

The Small Comfort of my Teddy Bear

I held my warm and fuzzy Teddy Bear tight against my chest.  I waited for hours, crumpled on the floor in front of my mother’s door.  Sadness overcame me.  My dear Teddy Bear was my only comfort and joy.

I could not understand why my mother did not come to tuck me in at night and why she didn’t hold me tight as I recited my nightly “Angel of God” prayer.  I missed the lilac scent of her as she listened to me reading stories from my third-grade reader while she washed dishes in her crisp, starched apron.  She would tell me daily, “I do like your stories, my dear Son.”  I’m sure my stories could help her get well now—if only she would invite me in.

I remember when Dad got his tools and removed the normal bed from my parents’ room.  Then huge men came into the house and installed a huge bed with lots of steel bars.  My Dad said, “This bed will make your Mom more comfortable.”  But that bed was of no comfort to me.  And my mother was not “more comfortable” as my Dad had said.  I knew what it was to get sick.  And I knew what it was to get well.  Why then was my Mom taking so long to get well now that she has her new bed?

When I get sick, it’s always a joy to have my Mom fuss over me—taking my temperature, placing a cold washcloth on my forehead, running her hands through my hair, singing me her little songs.  Hey, these are the very small comforts that I could bring to my mother now.  Why, then, doesn’t she call me to jump onto her big, new bed?

Why has Mom forgotten me?  Why doesn’t she call me and ask me to read a story to her?  Why doesn’t she allow me to place a cold washcloth on her forehead?  Couldn’t she just silently wrap me in her arms and gently rock me for a while?  Would this be too much of a comfort to ask?

The hired nurse notices me sulking in the hallway and says, “Go outside and play.”  “I want to see my Mom,” I whined.  “Your mother is too sick today to have visitors,” she replied.  I couldn’t understand this at all.  I wanted to yell out, “I’m not a visitor.  I live here.  I’m her Son.”   I was plenty angry.   But there was no one to whom I could tell such things save my Mom.

So I made plans on how I might be able to tunnel into her room and bypass the nasty nurse who locked Mom in her bedroom.  On another day, I tried to figure out how I might be able to fly through her open window.  But my sadness was so heavy that it held me down and prevented me from taking flight.  So I settled with crushing my Teddy Bear against my chest.

Then the nasty night of lies arrived.  I awoke when I heard strange men talking outside my bedroom door.  I got up, grabbed my Teddy Bear, and walked in the darkness toward the sliver of light that seeped out from under my door.  When I opened it, I saw two huge men carrying a large and long basket out of my mother’s room.  “What’s going on?” I called out to my Dad.  “It’s nothing, Son.  Go back to sleep.”

The next morning, my Mom’s door was wide open, and the nasty nurse was gone.  Seeing my chance, I tossed my Teddy Bear aside and rushed frantically to my Mom’s bed, but I found it empty.  I was scared, confused, and angry.  I was never to see my dear Mom alive again.

All I would have now is the small comfort of my Teddy Bear.


Some events from my childhood are long forgotten. Others are seared into my memory.  Telling you this story, for example, I could recall with a visceral certainty the comforting feeling of my Teddy Bear and visually see the hallway where my bedroom was off to the right and my mom’s bedroom off to the left. Our interior doors were stained dark-oak and the framing matched. The doorknobs were round and made of brass. The wallpaper showed pastel floral designs.

I can close my eyes while writing this story and actually see the wicker basket that was being carried on the men’s shoulders. In a lineup, I could never finger any of the morticians, but I definitely could pick out the wicker basket that they carried from my Mom’s room.

I left out “wicker” in my story because, as a boy, I would not have used this word. On the other hand, I can audibly hear the matter of fact tone of voice that my Dad used when he said, “It’s nothing, Son. Go back to sleep.” I’m 80% certain that these were his exact words.  It’s curious that some aspects of the events are very clear while others are fuzzy and THAT I CAN NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE.

My fantasy of flying through the window is also part of this memory. I haven’t told anyone this story until now. Hence, I am quite sure that I didn’t just make this up in order to fill in the story. The fact that the fantasy of flying would never occur to an adult is perhaps a confirmation that even my fantasy life was being seared into my memory.

Most of the activities of my childhood are entirely forgotten. But the events leading up to the death of my mother were so unusual and so traumatic that I cannot ever forget them. To forget them would be to forget who I was and who I came to be.

The Lies Told and the Terrible Silences

My Mom was dying for roughly six months in our own home.   As an adult, I discovered that the cancer had spread throughout her internal organs, and no surgery was ever contemplated.  Hence, following the medical practice of that epoch,  my mom was sent home to die.  Morphine was used to take the edge off her pain.  This usually led to drug addiction and the dossage had to be increased to the point that my Mom was living in a continuous mental fog.   My suspicion is that she entirely forgot her children.

My Dad, meanwhile, decided to keep all of this secret from his own children.  He didn’t even have the presence of mind to say anything of significance to his first-born Son.  He could of, for example, taken me in his arms and said to me, “Your Mom loves you very much, but, because she is so ill, she is unable to tell you this herself.”  He might even have said something as simple as this: “I talked to your mother last night, and she told me that she loves you dearly.”

Even after Mom’s death, my Dad never had the presence of mind to communicate key messages coming from my mother beyond the  grave.   “Your Mom would have been proud of how well your doing at school” [or “how well your doing with your paper route” or “how well your doing in scouting.”].  Nothing.  Total silence.   With the death of my mother, I had effectively lost both my parents.  I felt that I was orphaned and that I needed to pull myself together and to manage things on my own.

So, there you have it,  I invite your reflections in the comment box below: How do you love a man who has a broken heart???

aLong = Aaron

PS: In a few days, I would invite you to tell me a story of tragedy in your own period of growing up.  You can copy and paste your story in a comment box below.  If you wish, ask me a special question as well.




Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail

Five reasons the synod on the family is doomed to fail

  • Pope Francis speaks with a cardinal as he arrives for a session of the Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican Oct. 15. At right is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Faith and Justice
The synod on the family has created a lot of interest in the church and spilled a lot of ink (or electrons) in the media, but there are five reasons that it was doomed to fail before the bishops even gathered in Rome Oct. 4. Perhaps Pope Francis can perform a miracle and save it, but the odds are against him.
First, the topic of the synod, “the family,” is too broad.
The family touches everything and is touched by everything. Anything bad in the world affects families, and any problems in families affect the societies in which they live.
Social and economic factors impact families: unemployment, housing, war, terrorism, climate change, interreligious differences, consumerism, social media, education, and on and on. Every problem in the world has an impact on families, from addictions to political corruption.Scores of moral issues surround the family, everything from the sexual act itself to fidelity, abortion, contraception, surrogate mothers, homosexuality, divorce, gender equality, child abuse, spousal violence, and so on.

Families are the place where one learns or does not learn the Christian faith, to say nothing of simple moral habits and virtues.

And we have not even gotten to the theological and canonical issues surrounding families: marriage as a sacrament, annulments, liturgical ceremonies, the family in the church, etc.

It is simply too much to deal with in a three-week meeting.

Second, the membership of the synod makes dealing with the topic of the family difficult.

The 270 synodal fathers come from many different cultures and as a result have very different priorities and concerns, not to mention different cultural conceptions about family life.

Bishops in the Middle East and Africa see their families facing the constant threat of violence and death that forces them to become refugees fleeing their homes. How can you have a family under these circumstances?

Many bishops in the developed world are concerned about how to respond to high divorce rates. But outside the wealthy, industrialized nations, the issues may be human trafficking, arranged marriages, interreligious marriages, child brides, polygamy, female genital mutilation, and cultural customs where marriage is seen as taking place over time, not in the instant when the couple says their vows.

Can so many people from such varied backgrounds have any common understanding of the problems facing families and how to deal with them?

The third problem facing the synod is the synodal process itself.

Synods are paper factories. They produce lots of speeches, recommendations and sometimes even a final document, but do they make a difference? In 1980, I covered an earlier synod on the family that faced almost every issue that this synod faces. Did it make any difference? If it did, I don’t see it.

The 1980 synod made many of the same recommendations that this synod will make: better marriage preparation, better formation of clergy so they can help families, better education programs, greater support from governments for families, less violence, more love.

New programs and ideas are not generated at synods. Bishops can only share what they bring. New programs are created by entrepreneurs who have an idea, experiment with it, and improve it through trial and error.

The fourth reason the synod is doomed to failure is that it is seriously divided on the question of what can and cannot change.

This clash is most obvious over the question of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion.

One side sees only the law — the marriage contract is permanent and can be terminated only by death. The other side sees millions of people suffering from broken marriages that cannot be put back together.

One solution to this crisis is the annulment process, whereby the church declares that, even though there is a signed contract, the contract is not valid because of some failure at the time the wedding took place. There was much support at the 2014 synod for making the annulment process easier and faster, and Francis acted on this between synods.

The attitude of the bishops toward annulments is the greatest change since the 1980 synod on the family, when the American bishops were fiercely attacked by curial cardinals for making annulments too easy.

Francis has gone way beyond the American procedures by allowing bishops to declare a marriage annulled through an administrative process rather than a judicial process. Even canon lawyers are scratching their heads wondering how this will work.

But the fundamental problem faced by the synod is the same one faced by the Second Vatican Council: What can and cannot change in the church?

The pope and the bishops are constantly saying that the synod will not change church doctrine, but only pastoral practice. Bishops appear to even be afraid to talk about the development of doctrine, lest they be seen as wishy-washy on doctrine.

The conservatives see the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion as violating a doctrine of the church — the indissolubility of marriage. To them, it would be an admission that the church was somehow wrong in its teaching in the past.

Any student of the Second Vatican Council recognizes that this was the same complaint of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and his conservative colleagues who fought changes in church teaching on ecumenism, religious liberty and other matters.

So for the bishops to allow divorced and remarried Catholics — who don’t have an annulment but are civilly married — to receive Communion, they must somehow explain it as only a change in pastoral practice and not a change in doctrine.

The fifth reason the synod is doomed is the absence of theologians at the synod.

One conservative curial cardinal complained of the “schoolboy theology” being presented in episcopal speeches. There is some truth in that complaint. There is little evidence in their talks that bishops consulted theologians in order to understand contemporary thinking in Scripture, ethics or doctrine.

The bishops would have been better off spending the first week listening to theologians do an exegesis of scriptural passages on marriage, explain the concept of the development of doctrine, recount the history of the church’s treatment of marriage, and propose resolutions to controversial questions.

The reason that Vatican II was successful was because an alliance was forged between the theological periti and the council fathers that was capable of defeating the Roman Curia’s intransigence. Tragically, this alliance was broken after Humanae Vitae, when theologians were cast into the outer darkness as dissidents whom the bishops were to avoid at all costs.

The result has been disastrous for the church. It is as if the management of a major corporation is not on speaking terms with its research and development division. Would you invest in such a company?

Is there hope for the synod? Yes. Francis has begun a process; he has opened the windows closed after Vatican II. It will take more than three weeks to move the church forward, but he is moving it in the right direction.

Perhaps the synod is not doomed to fail but simply to be unfinished.

[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]