Unhelpful Lines Part 2

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March 23, 2013 by lucieromarin

1. Our love is so great it has given rise to a new life…

This, and its many variants, appears from time to time in articles written by someone expecting his or her first child and is given as part of the reason for loving the Church’s teaching apropos life and family.

Now, I do understand that those who express themselves in these terms are not actually trying to say that childless couples have an inferior love, but the inference is there all the same. I also understand that the line is a well-intentioned attempt to re-weave the torn threads of love, marriage, sex, and procreation, which I do see as a worthy aim. However… it’s still the wrong thing to say. It is true that love and procreation are meant to go together; it is also true that love does not make babies, and to even, in the slightest bit, imply that it does, must be hurtful to a great number of women and men. I’m certain there are any number of more productive ways to connect the ideas of love, sex and babies in the modern mind!

It also really surprised me to find this sentiment in an article written by someone who knew two women who had given birth to children concieved in rape. I couldn’t help wondering if she’d really thought through how those women would feel when they read that line.

2. God is all you need.

This is the line given to people seeking some kind of pastoral care when they are mourning the loss of their hopes. The person expresses loneliness, disappointment, and so on, and is told that God’s love is the only important thing, and that, therefore, they should not mourn (and should probably spend more time helping other people).

Now, I’m not actually disputing the truth of this – that God is all we need is the reason that those who died in Auschwitz with St Maximilian Kolbe were able to die singing hymns of praise. However, there is a time and place for this advice, and this line, when delivered to someone who has spent twenty or thirty years listening to sermons about the need for good families, sounds like a fob-off.

See, the person seeking comfort isn’t stupid; she (or he, I suppose; I don’t really know about men’s experience here) knows full well that if a couple presents themselves for marriage, the priest is not going to say, “You crazy people! What are you doing? Don’t you know that God is all you need?” When that couple presents a child for Baptism, the priest is also not going to sigh, and say, “Oh, if only you’d understood that God is all you need…” No, we know he’s not going to do this, so we know that this just a line held in reserve for confused or suffering people. I’m sure it’s not meant as it sounds, but what it sounds like is that it’s easier to try to blame the victim (this suffering is your fault for not being detached enough and not loving God sufficiently) than to ask whether or not the pastor himself is implicated in that suffering (say, by delivering ‘Vocation or Doom’ sermons to a regular schedule.)

3. Pre-born

Some persons devoted to the protection of unborn children will refer to said children as ‘preborn.’ I once read an article which contained a few sentences along these lines: “A passerby stopped and looked at my sign, and suddenly asked me what I meant by preborn? So this gave me a chance to talk about human life.’

The writer obviously thought that the passer-by (yes, I’m hedging my spelling-bets here) was confused by an unexpected revelation about unborn human life. He was not. He was confused by the grammar.

See, ‘pre’ can have two different nuances. (ESL teachers – feel free to explain this better in the combox if I get it wrong!) Before a noun, ‘pre’ means something that happens before that noun. ‘Pre-dinner drinks’ are drinks that are imbibed before the dinner. Before a verb in the past tense, ‘pre’ means something that has already happened. A ‘pre-cooked meal’ is a meal that has already been cooked by the time you get to popping it in the microwave. The passer-by instinctively applied that rule to the sign, and wondered what on earth was meant by a baby that had already been born. If the signster had written ‘pre-birth’, the reader would have understood it.

But guess what? We already have a word for that; it’s ‘pre-natal.’

Now, I’ll admit that ‘unborn’ has its own problems, and that some words sometimes feel a bit like verbs and nouns mashed into one, so for all I know, my explanation here might be up the creek. What I do know, however, is that we need a single word for ‘not yet born’ and ‘preborn’ isn’t it.

Don’t say ‘preborn’!

4. How’s your vocation going?

A religious sister told me that she gets this question routinely enough to be annoyed by it. She always wants to say, “Great. How’s your marriage going?”

5. Would you like us to leave you here to be a nun with the other Sisters?

Well, in fairness, this is not a typical question at all. I’ve only heard it once. It issued from the lips of a man who brought his family to dinner at a religious house where I was on retreat. During the dinner, he turned to the Prioress and said, “Jane Smith is 18 years old now. Why aren’t you on the phone telling her to come join you?”

I thought, um, because a vocation is a call from God – not a call from Sister Mary? And because you can’t stalk people into convents?

At the end of the meal, he nodded to his daughter – who was not ten years old – and asked her if she’d like to be left behind. She shrank into her chair and shook her head. I do not know what he thought he was achieving. I did think at the time that he’d be better off noticing that his nine-year-old son was holding hands with another boy under the table, but that’s as it may be.

Well – in six hours…Holy Week! (I promise I’ll be charitable throughout.)

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