I'm also angry that that statement would be viewed as controversial. I do not care what your personal choice is, nor do I mean to disparage those who could not breastfeed. But having the technology to safely raise healthy babies (intelligence and creativity being wonderful gifts from God) does not negate the fact that we are mammals and mammals feed their young with mother's milk. I have had my own difficulties in breastfeeding (you can search my blog for my many posts on this topic), and I am grateful for bottles, formula and safe drinking water that got me and my daughters through several rough months.
You can read all about Kate's issues on her blog. It started here (long post), continued here with a link to her column at Inside Catholic (this really got the fire going), and has more here and here.
If you have time, I also recommend this article which talks about the Vatican calling for more images of the Blessed Virgin breastfeeding the baby Jesus. Kate linked to it as well.
What's the hullabaloo? Kate confessed that she nurses her babies at Mass.
And now she's getting hate mail. Apparently, she is a stumbling block of sin for those attending Mass with her. I wrote about stumbling blocks of sin one other time. I think I need to expand on that topic.
If you read no other works by G. K. Chesterton, I suggest at least that you read his Father Brown mysteries. Father Brown is a Catholic Sherlock Holmes, solving crimes with reason, humor and, above all, with charity. Packed in each short story are lessons in Church teaching as well as the practical application of the virtues.
In Hammer of God, which I quote in the header of my blog, Father Brown is investigating the death of an evil man, crushed with incredible force by a blacksmith's anvil.
"Look at that blacksmith, for instance," went on Father Brown calmly; "a good man, but not a Christian--hard, imperious, unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak."
But it isn't the blacksmith who committed murder, it was the dead man's brother, a pastor, who loathed his brother's arrogant sins.
After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the plain with his pale grey eyes. "I knew a man," he said, "who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime."
Wilfred's face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.
"He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had been kneeling with other men upon a floor. But he saw all men walking about like insects. He saw one especially strutting just below him, insolent and evident by a bright green hat--a poisonous insect."
Rooks cawed round the corners of the belfry; but there was no other sound till Father Brown went on.
"This also tempted him, that he had in his hand one of the most awful engines of nature; I mean gravitation, that mad and quickening rush by which all earth's creatures fly back to her heart when released. See, the inspector is strutting just below us in the smithy. If I were to toss a pebble over this parapet it would be something like a bullet by the time it struck him. If I were to drop a hammer--even a small hammer--"
Wilfred Bohun threw one leg over the parapet, and Father Brown had him in a minute by the collar.
"Not by that door," he said quite gently; "that door leads to hell."
Bohun staggered back against the wall, and stared at him with frightful eyes.
"How do you know all this?" he cried. "Are you a devil?"
"I am a man," answered Father Brown gravely; "and therefore have all devils in my heart. Listen to me," he said after a short pause. "I know what you did--at least, I can guess the great part of it. When you left your brother you were racked with no
unrighteous rage, to the extent even that you snatched up a small hammer, half inclined to kill him with his foulness on his mouth. Recoiling, you thrust it under your buttoned coat instead, and rushed into the church. You pray wildly in many places, under the angel window, upon the platform above, and a higher platform still, from which you could see the colonel's Eastern hat like the back of a green beetle crawling about. Then something snapped in your soul, and you let God's thunderbolt fall."
In Catholic catechism, we learn the Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- instruct the ignorant
- counsel the doubtful
- admonish sinners
- bear wrongs patiently
- forgive offenses willingly
- comfort the afflicted
- pray for the living and the dead
Too often, it seems that good, holy men and women are willing to stand up and do the first three, but are less noticeable in their practice of the latter four. It seems that those most upset at the concept of women nursing during Mass took personal offense that a woman might arouse lustful thoughts by her actions. Sinner! they admonished. Did they stop to pray first, both for Kate and for themselves that their words would be of the Holy Spirit? Did they patiently accept that Kate was wrong and hope to soften her heart to the Truth, or did they blaze on ahead in full confidence of their position and with no regard for Kate's feelings and those of other mothers?
Good evangelization meets someone where she is and shows her the direction to go. This can never be accomplished in the comments section of an article or blog post. This requires dialogue. Kate, don't you think it would be better to go to the restroom? Aren't you concerned about someone seeing your breast? Aren't you distracted from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? What about those around you?
Interestingly enough, I didn't notice any anecdotal arguments. Nobody said they saw a woman nursing her child and was distracted. Nobody said their teen aged son was gawking at a woman breastfeeding. I wonder if any of these complainers have ever actually seen a woman nurse her child discreetly. My guess is that they have, they just don't know it.
Personally, the few times I am able to attend Mass without the distraction of my own little children, I hardly notice the antics of others. My focus is on the ambo or the altar, or my head is bowed in reverence. I am not looking around, at least I shouldn't be. If I am, it is my problem, and it is up to me to refocus. Yes, the screaming child is difficult to ignore. Yes, the toy banging on the pew is irritating. So, too, are the women whispering through the consecration as they make plans for after Mass. So, too, is the man with the hacking cough. So, too, is the altar serving snoozing through the homily. Deal with it. You can let the distractions keep you from worshipping God by festering anger in your heart toward those around you, or you can thank God for the opportunity to offer an even greater sacrifice than simply your attendance at Mass.
As for me, I did not nurse my first child at Mass. I spent the majority of Mass in the bathroom where there was no chair. I balanced against the wall, holding the baby in my fatigued arms.
I did not nurse my second child at Mass. I went to the bathroom, and my older son threw a fit because mommy was gone. On the frequent weekends when my husband was off serving the country, I tearfully did not attend Mass at all, because I would have to wrangle a screaming infant and a toddler by myself.
I nursed my third child in the pew, and everybody was happy.
To not nurse during Mass means that I miss Mass. And I would have missed most Masses for the last ten years. That just doesn't seem right. In fact, I have been commanded by God and the Church to attend Mass with no excuse for nursing a baby that I see mentioned. Does not that command trump my obligation to avoid causing others the near occasion of sin?
There must be something about the month of July that gets people all in a dander about breasts. Perhaps they recoil from too much skin at the pool, and they take it out on nursing mothers. Last year, there was furor over a magazine cover. I wrote about it here (pretty good stuff, if I do say so myself). I'm tired of the Puritan mindset which seeks not only to label every innocent act as sinful, but which also places the blame of personal sin on the behavior of others. Although I need to be discreet in nursing, I should not have to shut myself off from society to take care of my child. The casual observer has an obligation to put my child's legitimate need for food above his personal standard of modesty. Look away, say a prayer, and get a grip.
And how does one admonish sinners without becoming a stumbling block of sin oneself? That is the power of the virtue of humility. Once we can stop looking down from on high at the annoying bugs committing sins, we can direct our friends' attention to the glory up above.