Jane The Virgin is complicated…like real life

So, after being bombarded with ads for it all summer on the CW, I watched the premiere of Jane the Virgin last night. It fit nicely into my viewing schedule between Gotham and Castle (which interrupts my Blacklist viewing, but thankfully NBC lets me watch that online).

If you’ve seen the previews you know that Jane promised her Abuela to keep her virginity as a gift to her husband in marriage after a stern talk Abuela gives her as a child. Jane keeps her vow despite being in a two year relationship with Michael. Jane becomes inseminated accidentally and now finds herself pregnant.

That’s the overview. The show is much more complicated than that. Jane loves Michael who is a police detective. Jane also takes her vow very seriously as well as the “timeline” she and Michael have set out. She is working full time as a waitress at a resort to pay for her education, she plans on being a teacher. She want to marry Michael after establishing a career and paying down her debt.

Jane goes into the doctor for a routine pap smear. Now, this is where a lot of the internet blew up about “why does she need a pap smear when she’s not having sex!” Getting regular pap smears are an important part of female health whether married, single, sexually active or not and even menopausal. Jane was just being a good steward of the temple God gave her. Anyway, Jane’s regular doctor is out so her partner sees Jane. Her partner who is emotionally distraught over her personal life. So emotionally distraught that instead of a pap smear, she inseminates Jane with a sample intended for a different patient.

And it gets more complicated from there. Jane’s pregnancy is discovered when she passes out after standing up on a bus to give her seat to some nuns and she is rushed to the hospital. Jane is distraught. The news of this pregnancy is not welcome for many reasons, not least of which is the way it occurred.

Jane is not full of prolife resolve despite the fact that her mother, Xiomara, gave birth to her as a sixteen-year-old without the help or support of Jane’s father. She accepts the prescription for an abortion drug given to her by the OB-GYN who inseminated her in error. Jane admits readily, she’s not ready to be a mother. She doesn’t want to be a mother yet, not this way, which is why she wasn’t having sex to begin with.

Jane goes through a range of feelings about the pregnancy. Particularly when Michael proposes and she has to tell him she’s pregnant instead of “yes.” Michael confronts Jane and tells her he won’t raise a child that is not his biologically making her life infinitely more complicated. Jane confronts Xiomara about why Xiomara chose to have her. Jane has grown up believing that Xiomara wanted an abortion, and Abuela forced her to have the baby. But when Abuela finds the abortion drug in Jane’s room and confronts her, Jane finds out it wasn’t the truth. Abuela wanted Xiomara to abort the baby, Xiomara refused and then lied to Jane to protect her and Abuela.

Jane’s pregnancy brings out a series of revelations both about her life and her feelings on motherhood. It forces her to be brave, something she never expected. Yes, Jane decides to have her baby, but it is even more complicated than just giving birth.

I’m going to leave out some major plot elements, including the number one reason Jane decides to give birth. Because I don’t want to give it away and because I want people to watch it. Jane had a plan. Jane stuck to her plan but sometimes, life has surprises. While God is not explicitly mentioned, Xiomara does being praying a Hail Mary when the doctor at the hospital tells Jane she’s pregnant. Not to mention Michael’s initial rejection of Jane and the baby is turned around rather magnificently. Jane begins to realize that plans beyond her own are at work here. Jane matures even in the course of one episode from someone who lives only for herself, to someone who realizes she others who depend on her to. Her mother, Abuela, Michael, her unborn child and the child’s father…who she does meet in the episode.

Jane’s decision to give birth to her child was not easy, it was agonizing and in light of various complications I’ve left out here, won’t be getting easier as time goes on. What Jane faces is what many young women who find themselves in unexpected pregnancies (although through more conventional means for the most part) face. While Jane does not have to face the consequences of actions she herself set into motion, she still has to deal with the very real consequences her pregnancy brings on. And there are a lot of those.

Motherhood is never an easy thing, and it is especially difficult for many who find it thrust upon them, whatever the circumstances. Jane The Virgin promises to take us to place where we understand some of the real difficulties women face in unplanned pregnancies. And to understand why many may make the choices they do (that doesn’t mean we have to or get to agree with any or all of those choices). Like Juno, Jane has love and support, but Jane takes things one step further is showing us a more mature decision making process.

Will I tune in next week? You bet I will. Because besides the realism, the show is exceptionally written and brilliantly acted. And there is nothing else quite like it on television today.

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Being Thankful and Not Throwing Our Formation Under the Bus

A blogger I’ve occasionally visited has this really annoying habit. Annoying enough that I can’t “follow” her in my feed reader. Whenever she mentions a fun activity with her kids or a new resource she’ll mention being a “cradle Catholic” then define what that means and then say that’s why she didn’t know about a, b, c or d. Her formation was inadequate despite going to an excellent Catholic school and living in an active Catholic home because they didn’t “live the Liturgical year” and celebrate every Marian feast day etc, etc.

Today Simcha Fisher asked this on facebook

I used to think that, in order to be a good Catholic, I had to ________________________, but now I know better.

And immediately I was inundated with thoughts of various posts by the blogger mentioned above and some others and how they lament they grew up after Vatican II and how their parents weren’t enlightened enough and sent them to the “awful Diocesesan run parish school” or “evil public school” and then threw them on the mercy of the parish CCD program. And they didn’t even say a family Rosary nightly. And inevitably their parents get thrown under the bus.

Okay, so a lot of us had formation that was less than spectacular and had to grow up deprived of Tridentine Latin Mass, but that doesn’t mean we need to constantly point the fact out. Nor does it mean we throw our parents who were doing the best they had with what they had most of the time, even if it wasn’t great. But it was a foundation. A foundation that’s led some of us to create beautiful domestic churches. A foundation that’s helped us to discern liturgical abuse from just ugly liturgy. A foundation that we’ve built on in our adulthood.

Our parents didn’t have the benefit of the internet and 3000 bloggers telling us what the real, real Catholic church teaches. So they worked with what they had. Local parishes. Parish schools and when they didn’t have those public schools and their trusty Bible and Catechism. And some of them didn’t have much or any familiarity with the Bible, so they did what they could. Sure some of us might have sang  Kum Ba Yah in CCD or done liturgical dance but most of us survived with our faith in tact and even were able to rise above the short-comings.

So, why dwell on the fact that maybe the beginning wasn’t all it could be. But we can still be thankful. Those of us who are “cradle Catholics” were not deprived. No, we were actually given the building blocks at the very beginning. We were born into the inheritance. We’ve known about God’s mercy and forgiveness from day 1. And we’ve had that to fall back on when we’ve strayed. And we got to where we are because we’ve had formation. Whether it was in Latin or English. Had a home Atrium or barely said grace before meals, we don’t need to constantly remind the world of the martyrdom of our early formation. We can celebrate the faith we have now. We can be grateful that a small seed was planted and we’re making it grow.And that’s a lot to be thankful for.

When It Feels like Our Faith May Not be Enough

Praise God, Mary and her family are experiencing miracles!

But as I rejoice, I think of my friend who we’ll call “Joy” and a phone call we had last year. Joy and her family have had more than their fair share of bad breaks. They are strong Catholics and they have weathered innumerable storms. Just in the last 2 years, multiple job losses, death of a parent, loss of a house due to foreclosure, numerous utility shut-offs, one of the grandparents literally being pushed out of a nursing home because of a Medicare clerical error to name a few. Joy and her husband maintain faith in God and His plan, but last year around Christmas time when her son was being turned out of his dorm for Christmas break and couldn’t get a ride home and they couldn’t afford to get him or put him on a plane, train or anything else, she called me in tears.

“I feel like we have so many challenges because God feels our faith is not enough.” My heart broke. I could only offer my prayers in her current and all her situations. She went on,”I read all the time about these last minute reprieves, these miracles that happen because of prayer. It never happens that way for us.” She was right. When her husband lost his job of 30 years, we prayed for a new position to open up immediately. It took about four months and then a week into training, the company declared bankruptcy and he never got a check for his time put in. Instead he got a part-time job with no benefits that couldn’t pay their bills while he looked for a second job or another full time one. Joy went back to work meaning her mother had to go into a nursing home. Two months later because of a clerical error with Medicare, Joy got a call that her mother and her mother’s belongings were being literally put out on the front porch (it goes without saying they couldn’t afford the nicest place for her mom) and her daughter and a friend had to go get her and bring her home while things were sorted out. Joy lost hours and nearly her job fixing that situation and her water got cut off despite the water company’s promise not to in the process. Yes, there were blessings mixed in there, but man it was tough. There was no last minute reprieve, there was no deposit in their account.

Our prayers were being answered, but never in ways we understood. Joy’s husband is still seeking full time employment and each interview I pray for it to be “the one” and inevitably the company “goes in another direction” or “found a better fit.” Joy has told me that she no longer gets worked up or excited about a prospect. She says she believes God is teaching her not to depend on man at all.

That phone call though. I know that feeling. The feeling that God’s will is always contrary to our own. That family and friends who are not believers throw in our faces, “Where’s your God now,” when we don’t get the call for an interview or don’t have the money to pay the bill in time. Like, the people who have those last minute reprieves have stronger or better faith. It’s not reasonable, but it’s a real feeling. Did we misread God’s signals? Did we get the wrong playbook? Why doesn’t anything work out for us like it does for Mrs. X? Everyone prayed and her situation had such a beautiful ending!

Most people don’t get those beautiful endings. We give so much credence to these wonderful stories. And they are great, but in comparison to the small miracles we have, they can make us feel less than if we allow them to when our own miracles don’t measure up. And the devil can use this comparison to tear our faith down. To make us lose trust in God because our miracles aren’t as “great” as someone else’s. And I don’t know how to fight this except with prayer. And more prayer. And Scripture and talking to other believers.

I’ve seen good people like Joy suffer immeasurably and never really seem to not suffer. I’ve seen people who’ve had bad breaks and get incredible blessings. And I’ve seen people who are just chugging along with no bumps in the road. No one knows what God has in store. We just have to trust our faith will carry us, keep praying and remember now is not the final goal. Eternity is.

Supporting Parents of Young Children in Mass

So, Bonnie at A Knotted Life, asked on facebook if it would be so incredibly terrible if there were a nursery for young toddlers at a couple of masses a weekend. I decided I was in need of penance so I read the comments. Click over at your own risk, it’s just…a lot.

I like Bonnie’s page because just about everyone there is charitable in their comments, so it’s a nice break from “You’re an ISIS Catholic!” “NO! YOU are an ISIS Catholic!” (And yes, that really did happen, I will not link to it.) And true to form, people were pretty nice to one another. Lots of opinions were expressed.

So, yeah, I’ll wade into it here.

1. A nursery is not a bad thing.

There, I said it. There is nothing inherently evil about having a nursery during one mass at your parish for toddlers. If done correctly, it can be a great thing. I’ve been to parishes where it has been run sort of like a pre-school Catechism. Or ones where it was informal but they played quiet hymns in the background and had mostly religious toys and books for the kids. I’ve seen it be a terrific ministry for helping young parents who are at their wits’ end (and too upset to receive the Eucharist by the time that came around) about having their loud and sometimes misbehaving toddler at mass. However…

2. There is a wrong way to run a nursery.

And that is to make all parents of toddlers feel as though their child must be in there strictly because of his or her age. I remember a family at my parish as a teenager who had two wonderfully behaved little boys at mass. I was aghast at the ripe old age of fifteen when the mother told my mom that as she was sitting down at mass one day, an older woman tapped her on the shoulder and pointed and said “the cry room is over there.” Unacceptable. The existence of a cry room or nursery should not be used to remove all children from mass. Yes, I understand there is an “age of reason” and before that children are not expected to be at mass, but neither should they be banished. Several people in Bonnie’s comments come from Protestant backgrounds where a segregation between children and adults exists in services and were worried that the mere suggestion or introduction of a nursery would relegate their parish to that norm. Recently, Katherine of Having Left the Altar, was trying out new parishes in her new home state and found one that segregated families of small children to the back few rows of the church. Families could move up if their children could “behave” during mass. So, it can happen even without a nursery or cry room present. So, yes, their fears could be realized, but I do believe that if the expectation up front is that this is only one option (and put it in the bulletin if you have to!) it can be avoided. Obviously a segregated parish is problematic in many ways and is to be avoided. Just in Katherine’s situation, what constitutes behavior good enough to move up? What if a family has older children who can behave like angels but toddlers and infants too? Is the family required to split up? Are the older children allowed to sit alone? So, yes, this is NOT how we want a nursery to go in our parishes for sure. An option, NOT a requirement.

3. A Nursery CAN be a ministry

Yes, you read that right. For the parents who need this, dialogue could be encouraged between families, fostering community. Also, volunteers from youth ministry or grandparents whose grandchildren live far away can be encouraging to these families. Those teens can be proof to parents that these times do end and the child who couldn’t sit through mass can one day be a guiding light for others.

4. Parents who put a child in the nursery should not be made to feel guilty.

Not every kid can sit through mass. Not every child should be in mass all the time. Yes, for some of us, having a child in mass becomes a near occasion of sin. I have an eight-year-old who cannot make it through mass. She sits with her father in the vestibule and they can see and hear but she also has her freedom to move and occasionally make a little joyful noise unto the Lord. While many of us love seeing families and children in mass, we should be understanding of families that can’t all go to mass together or who need to have a member in the vestibule/cry room/nursery and be sensitive to that need. On the flip side…

5. Parents who bring toddlers to mass should not be made to feel guilty. Or be asked to leave.

For most children, I would say that the only way to learn to behave in mass, is to be in mass. And for my boys, it has largely worked that way. Yes the screaming toddler or crying baby is distracting, to say the least. However, I would that child is our future. Literally. He is not just carrying his families genes forward, he’s carrying the Church that way. Shutting him out for being who he is at that point in his life, does not help. When I say that a nursery should not be considered mandatory, that means for all children. Some parents who have reasonably well behaved children may choose to put them in the nursery and some parents with less than spectacularly behaved children may choose to bring them into mass. When the disciples shooed away the “annoying children” did Jesus applaud their work. No, the Gospels record that this way:

but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14

Notice Jesus didn’t specify, “the well-behaved pious children.” If my boys had been in that crowd, one of them probably would have hit the other for something. Yes, in front of Jesus and all. And let us not forget is the the holy sacrifice of the mass we are taking part of. Sometimes sacrifice means we don’t get to hear every word of Father’s homily.

Mass can be difficult with young children. Is it a terrible thing for us to offer something that might make it easier for some families? No, in fact, it could be quite a blessing. To take it one step further, a parish may see a need for families like mine with a child with a disability to offer respite service for the family during mass. We should see these as acts of charity, however, and not make them rock-solid rules nor criticize those they were intended for for not using them or using them too often.