Posts Tagged ‘Family’

This morning I’ll be the keynote speaker for the annual communion breakfast at Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Mount Kisco, New York. I was asked by the pastor, Fr. Steven Clark, to deliver a few appropriate remarks concerning where we are in the mushrooming autism epidemic.

This isn’t a clinical seminar, it’s a communion breakfast, and so I plan to share our story of Joseph’s autism and its impact on our lives in every dimension: family, marriage, sibling, professional, etc.

Autism occurs within the context of family life and radically alters every single aspect of that life. It exposes the strengths and weaknesses of the marriage and family dynamic. It calls for a different dimension of parental love, and full-time involvement. I’ve thought much over these past seven years of Joseph’s autism and what it has done for us, for me.

It has taught me depths of love and devotion, of ferocious advocacy that I never would have thought that I had a capacity for. It has slowed me down as I was on a rapidly rising professional escalator, and taught me how to encounter Joseph in the inner sanctum of his fragile existence. He can’t just fall into line with the plans I had so neatly mapped out. This has been a derivative benefit for my wife and daughters.

Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov writes:

“Brothers, love is a teacher, but a hard one to obtain: learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, for it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.”

No words so completely capture the challenge of parenting an autistic child. Loving behavior doesn’t come to an autistic child the way it comes to ‘normal’ children. It needs to be handwired bit by bit. In teaching love, we learn love. In suffering with and for our children, we learn depths of love unfathomable but for the experience.

So why so many autistic children?

I believe that in His infinite Love and Mercy God is permitting this to happen as a means of rescuing us from ourselves. We are aborting 93% of all Down Syndrome babies, engaging in sex selection, experimenting with cloning, etc. We need to stop this, and soon.

Autistic children are Love’s answer to our designer approach for offspring, especially as there are no clear genetic markers or physical attributes to pick up in pre-natal testing. We are being given one last chance as a civilization to get it right, to learn the meaning of sacrificial love through a condition that strikes at the very heart of social communication, to walk ourselves back from the precipice of the abyss of narcissistic annihilation. We are being given the chance to learn the true meaning of human dignity and marital love, a love that creates new life and is large enough to swallow any imperfection that comes with that new life.

Such capacity results from being at peace with our own imperfections and having allowed ourselves to be the recipients of God the Father’s healing love. If we haven’t, we must begin there. Our hearts certainly have that capacity. We need to empty them first of the clutter that we amass when we turn from God, seeking instead fulfillment with things and egocentrism.

This may be our last chance.

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The host of life issues, riotous and varied as they are, share a very simple common thread. We have forgotten who we are and what it is we are supposed to be about. Perhaps the most lost among us are the men. That’s a tough one for me to choke out, but fearfully accurate.

We have replaced one extreme, characterized by male dominance, with another characterized by female dominace. Both are hateful in God’s eyes. A look at 90% of TV sit-coms and advertisements shows men to be dumb, clueless, weak, homosexual (of the effeminate stripe, which is not characteristic of all gays), and for the most part aloof. Television both reflecting and sculpting reality.

Of course, any males exhibiting testosterone’s effects are usually males shown to be suffering from testosterone poisoning, blowing up half the world and having sex with half its women in the process. Where are the men in the middle? Where is marriage presented as something more than the extremes of gauzy romance or divorce court fodder?

Children don’t thrive on the margins. The men on the extremes harm children through their abdication of authentic masculinity. It is the men in the middle who appreciate their true dignity and that of their wives and of their marriages. It is the men in the middle who provide the genuine strength of character that nurtures children with firmness and principle.

Pope John Paul II saw that twenty-nine years ago when he wrote on the family. Here an excerpt directed at men.


Men as Husbands and Fathers

25. Within the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.

In his wife he sees the fulfillment of God’s intention: “It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him,”(67) and he makes his own the cry of Adam, the first husband: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”(68)

Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that a man have a profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: “You are not her master,” writes St. Ambrose, “but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife…. Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love.”(69) With his wife a man should live “a very special form of personal friendship.”(70) As for the Christian, he is called upon to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting towards his wife a charity that is both gentle and strong like that which Christ has for the Church.”

Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance.(72) As experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the phenomenon of “machismo,” or a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships.

In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God,(73) a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife,(74) by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church.

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