Sunday, July 18, 2010

someone listened

The First Reading at Mass today was Genesis 18:1-10a, the story of heavenly visitors to Abram and Sarai, who promise the couple (at that time 96 and 91 respectively) that when the visitors return at the same time the next year, Sarai will have a son.

This question is really for the Catholic girls, but there may be some others who share this experience - how often have we observed that even when the readings or the feast day or the circumstances of the Mass scream about the topic of infertility, and even though the homily and prayers of the faithful usually draw from the readings or feast day for their topics, infertility is never mentioned? The infertiles hear their own homily, strange musings in dark tones on the secret topic of infertility. The rest of the congregation has fully absorbed the point that Abram and Sarai mourned their childlessness for almost 100 years (and that it's a little odd to conceive a child at 91). But the homilist is mum. And all this is most dramatic, and most problematic, because of the Church's stance on family and openness to life. That's all well and good, but if it's wonderful to have children, and some people can't, it seems like the position of people who can't ought to occupy a large part of the messaging, because they are visible deviants from these important goals. How do they approach this? How does the rest of the Church approach them? The subject is never raised.

This silence has become such a commonplace for me that I didn't even think about the fact that the priest made no mention of Abram and Sarai's infertility in the homily. But I almost fell over when the very first intention in the prayers of the faithful was, "For those suffering with infertility, may they experience God's presence and..." I was going to memorize it verbatim - I'm good at memorizing little things verbatim - but the words jumbled together in my head in a minute. I was in shock.

The lector wasn't glowering or snickering, either; he just continued with the rest of the intentions, as if praying for the infertile (at a Mass whose readings invoked infertility) was normal, like praying for the sick, or the dead, or those in harm's way, or those with any other suffering. As if it were normal to acknowledge that we exist outside the pages of the Old Testament. And I felt a little self-conscious for a moment, as if everyone around might be looking at me when they said, "Lord, hear our prayer." A silly thought, of course, but I could almost feel stares, so unaccustomed was the attention (if not, obviously, directed at me personally).

I don't know whom to thank for this stunning example of the way things ought to be - and, today, were. Jeremiah, are you behind this? We're a diocese over from you, but your powers may well reach this far...

Whatever the reason, I'm grateful.

14 comments:

  1. We had that same petition here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and I almost fell over - I couldn't believe it either! I started to tear up a bit, but didn't want to make a scene. Our homily was about Martha and Mary - it is one of my favorite stories in the Bible so I am always curious what others have to say about it. (And yes, I am way too much like Martha than I should be...but I am slowly, slowly, slowly trying to move more in the other direction).

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  2. I was wondering the same thing at Mass today - why is it never mentioned in the homily when the reading is so obviously about it? That's so great about the intention though. For some reason, I have this weird hope at every single Mass I go to (for the last five years) that it'll be included in the prayers of the faithful and it never is. Except, that is, at my sister's wedding and I cried right up on the altar.

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  3. i've only heard it once at Mass, and it wasn't at my parish. it was so out of the blue it really shocked me. since the parish was in my diocese i thought maybe i'd hear it again on days like today (you nailed it when you said there are times when the readings scream IF, but no one hears it other than us), but haven't since...

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  4. I think that I would burst into tears of joy if I were to hear a petition mentioning IF. My BIL used to pray for our intention to have children whenever we would celebrate mass as a family and it would kill me every time!

    I tried my best to stay composed as we listened to the first reading since we were visiting a parish, but it was hard not to think that I was supposed to to hear a message.

    I wish that I didn't create such shame and stigma around my IF, but I have. Perhaps if we were prayed for more often I wouldn't feel the dame way.

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  5. Ha ha... I wish I could take credit!! Do you remember this topic coming up at the meeting/discussion with Dr. B last November? Two priests were present, so hopefully they will bring it up during their homilies.

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  6. What a moving moment for you, and I'm so glad it happened. I'm not Catholic, but it seems to me like a lot of churches kind of ignore IF. They can scream all day long about abortion and the blessings of children, but when you have not been "blessed" with a child (despite all attempts to the contrary), they don't have much to say except "in God's time." I'm glad that your priest acknowledged what you, and so many others, need.

    Hugs,
    Jo

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  7. Although I'm not Catholic, I've always thought the same thing at church services - IF is always glossed over. I asked a pastor about this once and he said that the topic comes up at women's retreats (which I don't attend). There are a thousand things wrong with this mindset - marginalizing the problem, not to mention that IF is not just a 'woman's problem' - as you and I are all too well aware. So it is shocking to me, as well, that your priest made that particular prayer. It's about time.

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  8. My Priest didn't even mention infertility even though that's what the reading was about. They didn't include anything in the petitions either. However, I did have a mass said for infertility a few weeks ago because I know lots of us couples can use some extra prayers. I'll just continue to have mass said for infertility in hopes that my Priest will eventually say something about it.

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  9. Wow - that's great. Typically, I sit quietly in church and wonder if they have any grasp at reality at all. This is a good example that some do...and you were meant to hear that. Also, if there is one thing I've learned going through this IF mess, it's this: a lot more people than I ever thought are infertile or know someone infertile. We are just quiet about it...and private about it sometimes. Great example of something happening the right way!

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  10. I'll never forget sobbing my eyes out in church the week after we were officially classified as infertile. The pastor was talking about how he adn his wife struggled with unexplained infertility themselves and how they struggled to hear God's guidance, etc...I felt SO alone in that auditorium of thousands - they might as well have shone a spotlight on me! Ugh. I'm glad to know, though, that across the denominational boundaries in all the churches in the world, people are praying for you and me, whether they know it or not.

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  11. that is freakin awesome :) i definitely don't think it is discussed enough in church-based situations :) (now church picnics with activities for your toddlers, that's another story!!)

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  12. That's so great that a petition about IF was included when the readings are screaming for it. I wish more priests would include IF in the petitions (I guess I need to have a talk with ours). The only time I've heard it at our church was when I suggested that they include IF in the Mother's Day petitions.

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  13. Amazing! I got teary eyed just reading it.

    And JBTC, I am a little too much Martha too.

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  14. Yes, I had a similar experience.

    You know, I have a good priest friend who has a good priest friend in DC who was telling my friend that the priests really need to start stepping up to reach out to the inferile crowd. That is encouraging. We've started talking about IF and some of them are actually listening.

    Oh, and I have a cousin who is a lawyer in DC. Would it be crazy if you knew him?!

    OH, AND...I had a dream about you the other night! Weird, huh? I think it is because I have felt guilty for not commenting much...your blog is seriously one of my favorite. I think I spent an hour telling my husband all about your posts the other day. (But to be fair he had just spent an hour telling me about a baseball game....play by play.)
    The dream was weird. I hope you don't have any cats in real life.

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