The media, both Catholic and secular, are all abuzz about the Pope’s baptism of 32 babies in the Sistine Chapel. And we’re all talking about two things that happened during that mass. 1. The baptism of a child whose parents have an “irregular” marriage. and 2. The Pope allowing women to breastfeed a) in front of him b) during mass c) in the Sistine Chapel and d) by extention allowing that at any mass in any church at any time.
First off, we’ll address the breastfeeding. And let’s not forget, this is not the first time in his papacy that Pope Francis has encouraged a mother to “feed her child.” In this interview in La Stampa in December, Pope Francis shared this story:
At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing.
In the context of the article, Pope Francis was addressing hunger and world hunger. People are starving, literally, in this world. Our babies are sometimes starving and it is not right to allow pride to get in the way of that, nor fear of judgment. As Erin Manning says in her post today:
as a former nursing mom I can state emphatically that those who believe nursing babies can be put on a strict schedule so they won’t ever need to eat during Mass, or will happily take a bottle instead of nursing, etc. are people who have never breastfed a baby. I think it is possible to nurse discreetly anywhere, even at Mass, and that “nurse discreetly” doesn’t necessarily mean, “cover your shoulder, nursing equipment, and baby’s entire body with a heavy blanket when it is 110 degrees outside in a Texas summer and the a/c in church has only produced the weakest accidents of cooling without any substance.” I think most nursing or former nursing moms would agree with me.
Read Erin’s post, she has some excellent points about not just nursing babies at mass, but children there too. Now, as for what Pope Francis said in his homily regarding breastfeeding was this:
He continued, “Some are crying, because they are uncomfortable, or because they are hungry. If they are hungry, mothers, give them something to eat… they are the central figures, the protagonists [of this celebration].”
Now, he was speaking directly to the mothers of these 32 infants and the specific case of this mass being their baptism. So, can or should be extrapolate this beyond this particular instance? For that, I refer you to Jimmy Akin’s post on this event:
Despite the fact that Pope Francis doesn’t explicitly mention breastfeeding, he’s certainly including it in his invitation.
As a result, he doesn’t have a problem with women breastfeeding their children even in one of the most famous places of worship in the world.
It’s scarcely likely that he would draw the line at the Sistine Chapel and say, “You can breastfeed here, but don’t do it in the main area of St. Peter’s Basilica itself.
It thus seems fair to say that Pope Francis doesn’t have a problem with women breastfeeding in church. Period.
Again, read Jimmy’s entire post. Just as Erin’s post did a great job of explaining how Pope Francis is also welcoming children at mass through his endorsement of allowing infants to be breastfed there, Jimmy’s post also explains that Pope Francis did not explicitly mention breastfeeding which would allow for babies to be bottle fed.
Now, moving on to the “irregular marriage.” I’ve read a lot about this too. As I’ve stated above, we don’t know why the marriage is referred to as “irregular” or what makes it that way. So it’s hard to throw any kind of specific criticism is rather presumptuous be it toward the parents, the Pope or whomever selected these families for this honor. Simcha Fisher gives this commentary as to why this a) can be allowed and b) perhaps should be:
We do know that Canon law states that, for a baby to be baptized in a non-emergency situation,
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 [Can. 868 §1].
It doesn’t say, “The priest must be 100% sure that the child will never miss a CCD class.” It doesn’t say, “The parish secretary has visited the parents’ home, and is satisfied, based on the number of rosaries lying around, that the home is sufficiently Catholic.” It doesn’t say, “These parents deserve to have their baby baptized” (as if anybody deserves salvation!). It acknowledges that baptism is something real, something profound, an opening of a door that had been closed by original sin. Baptism is supposed to be the start of something: the start of a life that moves toward Christ, with the guidance of Mother Church. All she asks is that hope of such a life may not be “altogether lacking.” An astonishingly low bar!
Baptism is not a sign that all is well: it’s a sign that we are looking for something, that we are requesting help. It is a beginning. As so many of us can attest, that beginning point takes many different forms. Some people are pulverized with a desire to know Christ. Some people are snuck up upon (wouldn’t you kill to see an icon of Christ the Sneaker Upper?). Some people wend their way through their Catholic lives like a giant game of Mother May I: one baby step forward, ten giant steps backward.
And, again, this is not the first time we’ve ever heard of Pope Francis baptizing or offering to baptize an infant whose conception was perhaps, less than ideal. And way back in May of 2013 Pope Francis gave a homily on baptizing the children of unwed mothers. And as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Pope made news with his statements that were critical of priests refusing baptism, in particular to the children of single mothers back in 2012.
I have to admit, I’ve been confounded by the people with hearts of stone in light of both of these supposed controversies stemming from this one mass. For a lot of reasons. In the first controversies, babies are hungry. We have to meet that basic need in order for other needs to be addressed. In the second, babies are still hungry only not for food, but for the Bread of Life, the Bread come down from Heaven. And their parents are doing the best they can to ensure these children receive that Bread. That they receive the Body of Christ. Could these things perhaps be done under better circumstances? Sure, but you know what, this is what God gave us so maybe we should work with it rather than lament it isn’t the way we wanted it to happen.
And I guess I’m even more perplexed by people being surprised that Pope Francis puts his money where his mouth is. He made statements in 2012 about the baptism of infants, he encouraged a woman at a general audience to feed her child, so why is it so strange that these events of this past Sunday happened? Moreover, as we’ve seen time and again, Pope Francis is simply asking us to live our lives the way Jesus commanded. Or maybe we all need to do more study of the Gospel of Matthew:
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous– will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
Are these little infants not the least among us? Are they not hungry and being fed both by physical food and the spiritual? When they are being fed during mass whether by breast-feeding or bottle-feeding and being baptized no matter the circumstances of how they came into this world, are we not seeing the face of Christ in them? If we are going to refuse a sacrament in this way, if we are going to scream about the indignity of a breast-feeding mother at mass, we need to seriously examine the consequences of our actions. And again, I ask of you, why are we surprised that Pope Francis, who took the name of Francis in honor of Francis of Assisi, the saint most commonly known for living a life as much like Christ as he possibly could, who modeled his life on Christ, would say or do these things at this mass?
But, I guess what it all comes down to is that we don’t want to be around those who make us uncomfortable or we’re willing to change who we are falsely based upon our new station in life. And Pope Francis, well, he’s going to keep being the man and priest God made him. He will continue to see the face of Christ is every face he looks into, just as he did when we didn’t know who Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal of Buenos Aires was when he washed the feet on Holy Thursday of unwed mothers and their infants, some of whom were breastfeeding.