‘Were we led all that way for birth or death?’
By Quentin de la Bédoyère
Ihave a friend, a young teenager. And she is pregnant. While she is engaged to be married, her fiancé, who is considerably older, has not abandoned her. He is not the father of the child, and he had to think long and hard before deciding to go ahead with the wedding. The couple are very poor, and live in the countryside. But they decided, even though it was deep midwinter, that it would be better to get down to the capital in order to have the baby. It’s a long way from the North, if you haven’t even the money to take a coach. So they hitchhiked, sleeping overnight wherever they could – often in barns. This took considerable courage because her doctor and her friends had assured Mary that she would have no trouble in terminating her pregnancy, on almost every legal ground. Her material circumstances, effective homelessness and her age made this very desirable. There is certainly evidence of mental instability because she has had hallucinations, and indeed her fiancé is subject to hallucinations too. But she is determined to have the baby, although she has got it into her head that the child will have a difficult life, and that she will have much pain as a mother. In her determination she has been encouraged by her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, although in more regular circumstances. It hasn’t been easy for her either because Elizabeth’s husband has suddenly lost the power of speech – although the doctors say this is psychological, and he may spontaneously recover. I did have the opportunity of a brief meeting with the true father of the child. And it was brief, because he was decidedly non-committal. When I challenged him as to whether he was the father, he merely answered: “I Am.” Talking of conception, I have, like most people, to rely on the experts. And so I do. We have heard much of the featureless blob of undifferentiated cells which is the early result. Who could possibly regard this as a human being with rights? But it seems that this simply does not accord with the facts. It’s worth reminding ourselves of the article published in Nature , an authoritative periodical, in April 2002. It showed
The author’s drawing: ‘The spirit of Christmas is bittersweet’
that, from the very first division into two cells, the axis along which the embryo and foetus will grow is defined. The position of my legs, my arms, my front, my back were settled at this moment. There is even good evidence, though not so certainly established, that this axis is set by the point at which the sperm enters the egg. The very moment of conception defined my future. It calls into question the dangers of in vitro fertilisation – to say nothing of removing “undifferentiated” cells for analysis or other purposes.
I liked the answer given to someone who objected that the conceptus didn’t look like a human being: “Yes, that's what human beings always looks like when they start.” But perhaps the biological minutiae are not so important. It seems to me that there are only two options. First, we can assess the rights we accord to a human being, by judgments of quality. Thus the conceptus has fewer rights than the adult, the stupid than the intelligent, the poor than the rich, the disabled than the able, the young than the senile. Or,
second, we can hold that the value belongs intrinsically to the human being as made in the image of God, irrespective of any system of relative judgment. As my fable above suggests, it would be a pity to get this wrong. This will be a strange Christmas for us. For 47 years, since my mother died, we have held the family Christmas in our home. But this year, in the absence of house guests and with some children abroad, we will be driven down to Brighton for Christmas Day to spend it with our daughters and their families at the seaside. We are looking forward to it immensely, and the welcome saving of work is considerable. But there is a tinge of sadness, too. It will be a rite of passage through which we abdicate our place as the centre of the family and hand it over to the next generation. It had to come: “Generations have trod, have trod...” Of course, there will be some more Christmases at home from time to time, but the turning point will have been reached. But the young are still insisting on coming here for Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition they will not drop. So there will be holly-picking on the Common, followed by the nativity play in a church so crowded that no member of the cast can actually be seen or, for that matter, heard. Then the mince pies, the erection of our home-made crib and the dressing of the tree. Heaven knows why we have a tree: we are neither druids nor German. But so it must be. The crib will survive until the Magi arrive at Epiphany, but I doubt if the tree will survive Boxing Day, when the young have departed. Imake no apology for drawing you a sad picture for this Christmas Day. The goldfinch was used in nativity scenes as a symbol of the Passion because it ate thorns and thistles and, according to legend, pulled out a thorn from Christ’s head, thereby spotting its face with blood. And Wilde, immured in Reading Gaol, came to realise that love and sorrow were the two necessary sides of the same coin. “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” asked Eliot’s Magi. And so do we. For the spirit of Christmas is bittersweet.
DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Fr Ronald Rolheiser The Last Word
Bethlehem in the soul
Nearly 20 years ago the renowned educator, Allan Bloom, wrote a very provocative book entitled, The Closing of the American Mind . As its title suggests, this isn’t a book that flatters contemporary culture. Part of our mind is darkening, he suggests. Our sophistication is making us smarter but less wise. Something inside of us is narrowing. What? What's narrowing inside of us? How are our minds closing? His basic idea can be captured in one image, this autobiographical piece: When he was a young undergraduate student in university, one of his professors walked into class on the first day and said this to the students: “You come here from your parochial backgrounds, full of your childish beliefs; well, I am going to bathe you in the great truths and set you free!” Bloom wasn’t impressed. He remarks that the professor reminded him of a little boy who had solemnly informed him at age seven that there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. However, Bloom adds, he wasn’t bathing me in any great truths, just showing off, like the professor. But still the lesson wasn’t lost on him. From this, Bloom resolved to teach in the opposite way. He would, on the first day of his classes, walk into the lecture room, look at his young students, and begin his class in words to this effect: “You come here with a lot of experience, already having tasted life, having been to a lot of places, and seen a lot of things, so I'm going to try to teach you how to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny again – then maybe you'll have a chance to be happy!” This invitation, to learn how to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny again, is one of the many challenges of Christmas. And the challenge is not so much to come back to the innocence of a child (something we could never do, even if we tried) but to see the knowledge and maturity that we've gained from all our years of learning and experience not as an end but as a stage, a necessary one, on the journey to a still deeper place, wisdom, fuller maturity. What that means is that it is not just important to learn and become sophisticated, it is equally important to eventually become post-sophisticated; it is not just important to grow in experience and shed naiveté, it is equally important to eventually find a certain “second naiveté”; and it is not just a sign of intelligence and maturity to
stop believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny, it is a sign of even more intelligence and deeper maturity to start believing in them again. An old philosophy professor of mine used to express this is a series of adages: If you ask a naive child if she believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny, she will say yes. If you ask bright child if she believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny, she will say no. But if you ask even a brighter child if she believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny, she will say yes, for a deeper reason. Almost everything about Christmas, from its deep real meaning to the piety and even (ironically) the commercialism we surround it with, invites us to be that third child. But that’s not easy. To be an adult is precisely to be experienced, complex, wounded. To be an adult is to have lost one's innocence. None of us, unless we die very young, carries the dignity of our person and of our baptism unstained through life. We fall, we compromise, we sin, we get hurt, we hurt others, and mostly we grow ever more pathologically complex, with layer after layer of emotional and intellectual complexity separating us from the little girl and little boy who once waited for Christmas in innocence and joyful anticipation. And that can be painful. Sometimes, if we're sensitive, the innocence of children can be like the stab of knife to the soul, making us feel as if we’ve fallen from ourselves. But, in the end, that’s an unhealthy over-idealization, the false nostalgia of J D Salinger’s, Catcher in the Rye . We’re not meant to be children forever and innocence will always be lost. Sometimes, more positively, we get to experience our old innocence and youthful wonder vicariously in the eyes of our own children, in their joyful anticipation and gleeful celebration of Christmas. Their belief in Santa and the wonder in their eyes as they look at the baby Jesus in the crib help us find a certain softness inside again; not at the same place where we once felt things when we were children and still believed in Santa (because that would only bring the painful stab of nostalgia) but at a new place, a place beyond where we defined ourselves as grown-up (because that’s the place where wisdom is born). That’s also the place where Jesus is born. That’s Bethlehem in the soul.
By Chris Feetenby
QUICK ACROSS 1 Not realistic or pragmatic (6-4) 6 Speck or dirt (4) 10 Greek equivalent of goddess Diana (7) 11 Axle (7) 12 Cub scout leader (5) 13 Fresh, innocent (4-4) 15/17 Our wish to you (5,9) 18 Study of forces and their effect (9) 20 Follow as consequence (5) 22 Take garments from (8) 24 Famous make of violin (5) 26 Roman comic dramatist (7) 27 Hold spellbound (7) 28 Feast (4) 29 Rich old man favouring young woman (5,5) QUICK DOWN 1 Going out little (4-2-4) 2 Belgian province (7) 3 Afro-Cuban dance (5) 4 Made more comfortable (5) 5 To rising sun (9) 7 Half way through session (3-4) 8 Restricted (4) 9 One holding authority to sell drink (8) 14 Notably (10) 16 12-month old animal (8) 17 Liqueur (9) 19 In middle (7) 21 Having sign of healed wound (7) 23 Excess of fluid in body (US spelling) (5) 24 Took part in play (5) 25 Male (4)
CRYPTIC ACROSS 1 Following afternoon meal has late one on ship - it’s not rough? (10) 6 A shot coming up over all else (4) 10 Shipmaker who will engross you? (7) 11One instance used to be enough (7) 12 Made no effort as one's daughter came first (5) 13 Not factory producing waste product but a sapling used as a walking stick (8)
15 Dwarf is very quiet in country dance (5) 17 Now we can see our Saviour with Mother and Saint (9) 18 Outstandingly bad debts taken on, say, by man (9) 20 Some womanising foreigner (5) 22 About to succumb in tennis this could describe the crowd? (5-3) 24 Talk about right plan (5) 26 Royal daughter in rings could be a dishy item (7) 27 Coming from Nimes we could be the Magi (4,3) 28 A weaving machine is to come into view (4)
29 Pollute tea brewed after mature hesitation (10) CRYPTICDOWN 1 Right neat’s the possible outcome when you do this? (10) 2 Wrap up pen love has sent off (7) 3 Archaic fruit given to daughter (5) 4 Irritating fool gets a salmon (5) 5 “In the countryside close by there were ---“(Luke 2) (9) 7 Place name coming from Thomas grabbing a small horse (7) 8 Happiest yielding pastries (4) 9 Satellite of Jupiter included in
topical list often (8) 14 Clot with one way of standing needs help (10) 16 Valerie, thus with chap, returned as one from Belgrade once? (8) 17 Dora suggested a place for meeting (9) 19 Outstanding thing which nun takes up in SA port (7) 21 A name I corrected, one applied to medical condition (7) 23 Almost getting to place for water you’ll need something to dry your hands (5) 24 Chuck English class (5) 25 Cook at 100? (4)
By Chris Feetenby
Use digits 1-9 to complete all rows, columns and 3x3 boxes
69 3 5 8 5 1 6 1 7 8 3 4 4 9 8 7 2 29 6 4 3
Cryptic answers to No. 3018 Across: 9 Akaba, 10 About-turn, 11 Finishing, 12 Theta, 13 Extant, 14 Nursling, 16 Historic present, 19 Sideslip, 21 Spot-on, 23 Tilth, 25 Implement, 27 Nanometre, 28 Idiot. Down: 1 Raffle, 2 Magnetised, 3 Bassanio, 4 Pali, 5 Long jump, 6 Status, 7 Cute, 8 On target, 15 In extremis, 16 Hesitant, 17 Initiate, 18 Euphemia, 20 Schema, 22 Notate, 24 Land, 26 Plea.
3 5 8 4 6 9 1 7 2 6 1 7 5 2 8 9 3 4 9 4 2 1 3 7 5 6 8 2 9 5 3 4 6 7 8 1 4 8 6 7 1 2 3 5 9 7 3 1 9 8 5 2 4 6 8 6 9 2 7 3 4 1 5 5 7 4 8 9 1 6 2 3 1 2 3 6 5 4 8 9 7
Quick answers to No. 3018 Across: 9 Ostia, 10 Ukrainian, 11 Unit trust, 12 Anent, 13 Extend, 14 Orcadian, 16 Creature of habit, 19 Abstract, 21 Ascent, 23 Pagan, 25 Unheard-of, 27 Repressed, 28 Dinge. Down: 1 Module, 2 Strictness, 3 Martinet, 4 Lulu, 5 Oratorio, 6 Tirana, 7 Tile, 8 Instinct, 15 Inbreeding, 16 Champers, 17 Recourse, 18 Husbands, 20 Rinses, 22 Tuffet, 24 Gape, 26 Hide.
Winners of 3017 Cryptic and 3017 Quick crosswords to be announced next issue.
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All crossword quotations are from the Jerusalem Bible (1966), as used in the Lectionary
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