Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com. (Photo by Renata Grzan Wierczorek, RenataPhotography.com)
Another school shooting. This time in New Mexico. So tragic. And yet, who is surprised? We have seen this before, again and again. We know our culture.
I've recently been reading children's books from bygone eras and marvel at the freedom the children had to be away from their parents. In All of a Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor, the five daughters navigate their 1910 neighborhood of New York City without giving their mother the slightest concern. I can't even navigate Gymboree without that kind of freedom. What has changed?
In 2012, a cold case was finally cracked in the death of 6-year-old Etan Patz. The child went missing in 1979 as he made his way to school. His murderer finally confessing to strangling the little boy back in 1972. Etan’s death is considered the among the first of this kind of child violence and started the missing children's movement, including the use of pictures on milk cartons. There hadn't been task forces like this before. Now there are entire departments of the FBI and police forces devoted solely to investigating crimes against children. And these crimes aren't pretty. One FBI agent told me that you have about three hours to find a missing child and after that, the likelihood of her survival plummets.
What was also happening around the time of Etan’s disappearance in the 1960s and 70s, was the wholesale introduction of contraception and abortion. This set off the new battle against children, who were no longer freely welcomed, but chemically or surgically exterminated by none other than their own parents. All children, then, became something of an open question, particularly in the minds of struggling parents. Should she have been born? What if I had never given birth to him? Ironically, we were promised by all those in the planning parenthood profession that more wanted children would lead to less child abuse, but it has only led to more. Why hasn’t this piece of regnant wisdom held true?
In the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis has a masterful and simple explanation. In the story, Narnia has just been created by Aslan, the Great Lion, but unfortunately, the son of Adam, Digory Kirke who stumbled into the creation story, brought with him the White Witch. In an effort to protect the fledgling nation, Aslan sends Digory to fetch an apple from a particularly magic and healing tree and plant its seeds at the edge of Narnia to ward off the witch because she hates the smell of the apples. After the seeds are planted and the tree grows quickly, Aslan, believing the task to be finished, moves on. But Digory anxiously warns him that the White Witch has already had one of the apples from the original apple tree, so she must not really mind the apple’s smell. Aslan explains:
“Child… that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after.”
“Oh I see,” said Polly, Digory’s friend, “And I suppose because she took it in the wrong way it won’t work for her. I mean it won’t make her always young and all that?”
“Alas,” said Aslan, shaking his head. “It will. Things always work according to their nature.”
Aslan goes on to explain how the apple will do what the apple is supposed to do. But how it is treated will determine whether the outcome is joyful or full of angst. He explains:
“If any Narnian, unbidden, had stolen an apple and planted it here to protect Narnia, it would have protected Narnia. But it would have done so by making Narnia into another strong and cruel empire like Charn, not the kindly land I mean it to be.”
Finally, Digory tells Aslan that he was tempted to steal a healing apple for his gravely-ill mother. “Understand, then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers.”
The apple, then, in our own tale of woe, is not the symbol of the child, but in fact, the nature of sexuality. By its nature, sexuality will produce what it is supposed to produce—a child. But what happens when we grasp at sexuality in the wrong way and or at the wrong time? It will make us hate or resent the natural fruit of it: a child. We have spent decades grasping at sexuality but rejecting the fruit. It should come as no surprise, then, that children suffer. But what we forget is that these children also grow up without the joy proper to a child; they bring their own suffering into the world, the fruit of which we are now growing accustomed to in shootings, suicides, porn, drug abuse, bullying and apathy. “Things always work according to their nature.”