28 March 2008

Sometimes You've Just Gotta Rant...

Every so often in the midst of the bureaucracy to which our liturgical lives can occasionally sink, there comes a moment of grace--perhaps slightly panicky, but laden with blessing. Something like this happened to me during Holy Week. Holy Week was different for me this year; what a surprise! Everything's been different for me in the last year. I did not have to preach this year, not even once; our little church has become very little indeed of late, and there haven't been meetings in a while. But I suspect Spirit will begin doing something about that soon.

So, at a time when I would otherwise have been preparing sermons and attending services at the Episcopal Church where I sing, I was actually packing for a trip to Boston to spend the Holy Weekend with someone I love very much, in the city where I was raised. In the middle of the confusion that packing always brings for me, I received an e-mail from a friend: her infant nephew was in hospital very sick, with two frantic parents talking a need for emergency baptism lest the little fellow shuffle off the mortal coil at a painfully early age. I sent her a note back saying I was headed out of town, but that she could call me if she needed prayer at any point; then I sent news of little Chris's difficulty to every prayer list I know of, and hoped for the best.

Late on Wednesday I got a note back: would I stop at the hospital on the way out of town to baptize Chris? And could I use the RC rites? Well... one answers a pastoral call however one must, it goes with the collar, so I sent a note back to say yes. Then I re-arranged my plans, printed out the appropriate liturgy, and off I went. I feared the worst because my friend told me Chris’s parents were pretty desperate to have the baptism accomplished. The father, a non-practicing Catholic, wanted me to use the RC rite as much as possible. The mother is a non-churched Protestant, and they were both VERY unhappy because the local RC diocesan response to their urgent request had been… *breathes deeply* …less than helpful or loving.

Now, I do not about the world at large, but I know how I would react if a frantic parent called me and said their child was VERY sick and possibly in mortal danger. I spent about an hour counseling the family as we waited for a practicing Catholic in the family who was to serve as godmother. I played with Chris, who is a beautiful little man, and he seemed to take to me very well. He was pale and thin and looked like he’d been through a wringer—and every few moments he gave out with gut-wrenching, deep, hacking, whooping coughs that rattled his poor little form. We spent a nice hour, if somewhat sad and nervous. God-mom-to-be showed up; I told the family what would happen, we went over a few things, then we made a Christian out of Chris. Afterwards I anointed him for healing, then left them with the promise of prayer and a copy of my cell number in case they needed me during the weekend. They didn’t. In fact, by the time I hit ground back at home following my trip, healing blessings had flocked all around Chris like angels: he was much better, the dire diagnosis he had initially received proved to be incorrect, and while he's still sick, he's not dying--and they have found what they needed to know in order to treat him. He's out of the hospital now and recovering nicely, with happy parents. Happy ending, thank you God!

Except that I was still very unhappy (OK, I was livid, when you're Irish, German, Welsh and English you do NOTHING by halves...) at the way they were brushed off by the Institution of the Church. It took a while to calm down--lots of prayer, lots of pep-talking, but eventually I reached a more philosophical state of mind.

Now that I'm calmer and more relieved at how swiftly and happily God moved to alleviate little Chris' suffering and that of his family, I can't help but turn my thoughts to the priests and Diocesan functionaries who have to give these hurtful, bureaucratic responses to human need. I tried putting myself in the shoes of the man who had to look the father in the eyes and basically say look, I understand that your child might be dying, and I get that even though you no longer go to church, we inculcated into your being the idea that a child would go to Purgatory if unbaptised... but the rules state that I must tell you: if you want a proper Catholic baptism for Chris, you're going to have to jump through hoops AND it will take a couple of months, during which we'll hope the little one survives. But hey, know that I'm praying for you all... *slaps forehead* I feel so bad for these folks. I would not be able to do it. I could not look people in the eyes and say these cruel things! And I am constantly reminded to pray for those who must say them... and for the people responsible for making it necessary. :(

I can only imagine how horrible it must have been for that priest, and for the people in the Bishop's office that Chris's dad also called and begged to. And there's little any of them CAN do, save parrot the answers... dear GOD what is wrong with the Church!! How can someone make a rule like this, then call themselves an Alter Christus?? Jesus cut ACROSS hidebound rules like this! He hung out with sinners, let his disciples pull grain off the ear on the Sabbath, and generally did what was needful to meet the needs of people AT the moment, not tell them to jump through a bunch of hoops and hope to heck that everything stays copacetic until such time as the requirements are met! THAT is a bureaucracy, not a Church!

*breathes deeply*

But I do take hope and peace from thinking in the mode of wise friends who have commented on this: thank God there are saner heads out there. Thank God there are sacramental ways to get one's child baptized at the hour of need, and receive a loving response with God's resounding, life-affirming YES! rather than just a list of 'thou must'. But Oh, the pain involved for everyone... How can they not see that anything other that God's response causes people to look away from the Church? Where is the love in telling a father whose child may be dying that they'll baptize his son IF the kid survives while Daddy jumps through hoops?

Thanks for letting me rant. May the God of peace be with us all... and help us to see through the pain to those places of grace He gives us when we need them. And may God have mercy on us all...


Nina said...

And after leaving them high and dry, the functionary did not tell them that it is any Christian's privilege to baptize in an emergency? I thought that was Catholic canon law.

Wait, it is:
And even without that: Canon 861: "in a case of necessity any person with a right intention confers baptism licitly." And by the way, Canon 867 part 2: "an infant in danger of death is to be baptized without delay." But I supposed they were going by 868, 1,2: "There must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason." Funny, you'd think that the pastoral decision would be to decide that hope is never altogether lacking--but is almost sure to be altogether lacking if scared parents get snubbed instead of comforted.

Mind you, I think canon law is hugely flawed--what I am trying to say is that the decision to refuse baptism was hugely flawed even within the bureaucratic framework. What are they afraid of? Baptism inflation?

Why why why do people feel entitled to be stingy with the gifts of God?

Go Rev. Sharon! So glad you were there to do the right thing.

Rae Trigg said...

I find myself stunned that the Church could be so cruel. Shouldn't caring for a child's soul be more important than bureaucracy? I'm glad you were able to baptize him and that things took a turn for the better.

Don Pratt said...

What's even more stunning is such delay happen EVERY DAY!

God bless you Bishop Sharon!

Rev. Sharon said...

:) Thanks for the promotion, Don! And yes, it is stunning that these delays (and others) crop up all the time. Stunning and SO sad...

Rae, I think in their heart of hearts they believe it is more important to minister at the moment and deal with the bureaucracy later... but that is not, alas, what they are able to do unless they want to risk their ministry. They so badly need prayer...

Nina, thanks for the canon attributions! I think I need to get a good book on that topic; if anyone can recommend one, I'm all ears!

Thank you all for your supportive, kind comments! I am so joyful for Chris's ongoing recovery and am humbled at having been a part of this situation, however small. May God continue to work miracles in their lives!

Lyngine said...

Hi Rev. Sharon,

It's stories like this one that always affirm for me the particular charism of Indie Catholics---to minister beyond borders when the mainstream denominations can't or won't. For all the trauma and unfairness in the situation, I am always humbled and grateful for how Indie Catholic priests step in and provide sacraments and pastoral care when others won't--most especially since Indie priests do this without any monetary compensation and generally without institutional support. To bring God's grace to people and place where other denominations can't or won't---that's the gift, charism, and burden---it amazes me every time I see it.

Kate said...

Rev. Sharon, dahling, you kick ass. :)