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Not everything is fixable (God have mercy on us all)

black-and-white-forest-trees-branches

A caller once asked radio host Dr. Laura for advice about an impossible situation. I forget the details — something about lots of children and lots of fathers, various addictions, various betrayals, and a family tree that was twisted and ingrown and diseased. Dr. Laura could not offer much hope to the caller, other than to point out that her story shows why it’s so important not to have kids out of wedlock.

“But–” the caller protested.  “What if I can get my boyfriend to go to therapy?” Dr. Laura laughed – cruelly, I thought.
“Therapy?” she said incredulously. “Therapy isn’t magic. It can’t fix everything. Honey, not everything can be fixed.”

I’ve since stopped listening to Dr. Laura. She has some good ideas, but she has a lot of bad ones, too, and she has very little concept of mercy. But boy, she was right about this thing: not everything can be fixed.

Oh, in the long run it can, of course. Despite the anguished mental contortions of Ivan Karamazov, the second coming of Christ will bring about a thorough reconciliation of all things, unimaginable to our limited consciences. But in this world, there are some situations which have become so twisted and ingrown and diseased that they cannot be fixed.

These situations are what we’re seeing as we work through various solutions to “irregular marital situations.” Darwin Catholic points out that some people are speaking as if there are only two ways of describing marriage: either adulterous, and therefore bad, or loving, and therefore good.  He says:

The fact is, there are a lot of people in our current society who are living in relationships which are not what the Church would view as valid marriages (they were married before and their prior marriage has not been ruled invalid, they are living together without having gone through a marriage ceremony, they are Catholics who got married in a non-Catholic ceremony without a dispensation, etc.) and yet who seem to all appearances to care about each other, to be raising children together, to be happy because of the relationship which the Church labels as sinful.

He uses the example of Johnny Cash and June Carter, who began their relationship in adultery — and yet they stayed together for decades, clearly loving and supporting and cherishing each other. Darwin says:

Was that an adulterous relationship or a loving relationship? Who’s to say it wasn’t both?

When we live in sin, with sin, around sin, it becomes entangled with a lot of the good in our lives. That’s one of the reasons we should try so hard not to get into these situations in the first place, because after going far down that path there will be good as well as evil that will be disrupted if we try to end our sin.

Very true. We want to see the world as black and white, good guy vs. bad guy, love vs. H8, so that it’s easy to choose sides — and once you make our stand, we can relax.

Well, we can’t relax. Every day is a struggle to discern the right thing to do in individual situations, which may have changed drastically since yesterday. But also,  every day is a struggle to discern how to treat people who are in a bad situation that they can’t get out of — that they can’t therapize away. How to be loving toward people who are in situations that can’t be fixed?

The other day, I suggested that the best we can do, in some unfixable marital situations, is to treat these couples as part of a larger family — to be welcoming of people living in sin if only for the sake of their children and all the other people their lives affect. This welcome doesn’t really help the couple involved, of course, unless their rightfully-married spouse dies, or unless they receive the grace to muster the heroic resolve to make their adulterous (albeit loving) relationship into a chaste one. One can make a spiritual act of communion and worship God no matter what, but remaining in a state of mortal sin is not a long term plan anyone should be comfortable with.

It would also be a wonderful thing to offer beefed-up  marriage preparation and support after marriage, so that fewer couples find themselves in invalid or impossibly difficult marriages.

I wish, though, that we could move past just repeating, “Not everything can be fixed.”  Okay, not everything can be fixed . . . but this is not a free pass to treat unfixable people like rotten meat, good for nothing, unsalvageable, useful only as a horrible example for the next generation.

I’m so tired, like Darwin, of hearing from people who should know better that the world is black and white. It’s not.

Some Catholics would like to say, “Lower the boom! The Eucharist isn’t for people in mortal sin, and adultery is a mortal sin. Jesus doesn’t care about your stupid feeeeeelings, so hit the road, adulterers, and take your bastard kids with you, if you even bothered to have any, ptui.” And others would like to say, “We’re all sinners, and God is love, so why are we even bothering to talk about  – ptui – sin? Let’s be on the side of love. Here’s a Host for you, and a Host for you, and a Host for you . . . . ”

But that’s not how things really work. Not all couples living in marital sin are honest, virtuous, loving sorts who simply got dealt a bad spousal hand, and now the mean old Church just won’t let them have Jesus because of spite; but neither are all couples living in sin just squalid hedonists who followed their genitals into mortal sin and disastrous home lives. Not all couples in valid marriages are upright, devout cornerstones of society who are holding the Church together with the sheer awesomeness of their sacramental devotion; but neither are all couples in valid marriages are just lucky ducks who happened to stumble across a ready-made, shiny, happy, stable homelife.

Some of us worked hard and still lost; some of us got lucky and skated into something great. Most of us are some combination of lucky and unlucky, hard-working and stupid. What do we all have in common? We all need mercy — from God, and from each other.

Unfixable. Some situations are unfixable. We can work on prevention and we can work on damage control, but not everything can be fixed. But that doesn’t mean that we have a free pass to treat unfixable people like rotten meat, good for nothing, unsalvageable, useful only as a horrible example for the next generation. We can’t say, “Not everything is fixable, so get away from me.” We should say, “Not everything is fixable. I’m so sorry. God have mercy on us all.”

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I just figured out why it was called “The Synod on the Family.”

Keep away the fire at the family hearth

 

I just figured out the entire Synod. Or at least, I figured out something about it! Maybe everyone else already knows this, and I’m just slow, but it kind of blew my mind.

My husband and I were talking about people in really rotten marital situations — say, a Catholic man in a valid marriage to a woman who reacted badly to the trials of life, and turned into a horrible person. When she began to abuse the kids, they got a civil divorce, and he found someone else, and they’re really in love, and she loves his kids, and they had more kids together . . . but they recently met with their priest, and it’s painfully obvious that there is no way he can get an annulment. The old marriage was a valid marriage, awful as it was. This new couple has only two choices: (a) to remain in what is truly an adulterous marriage, and to refrain from receiving Communion indefinitely, because they’re in a state of mortal sin, or (b) to live together as brother and sister and hope the old wife dies.

Either way: awful, awful, awful.

The upshot of the first documents leaking out of the Synod seem to be saying, among other things, that the Church is trying to encourage people who can’t get annulments to be part of the Church in some way — to get them back into the community somehow, without them being officially in communion with the Church.

I wondered why. I mean, why would someone want to be in the Church if they can’t receive the Eucharist?  There are many wonderful things about the Church, but without the Eucharist . . . what’s the point? Who wants to hang around a restaurant if you never get to sit and eat?

And then I realized. The children. People will bring their children to be fed. If they feel welcome, and if they feel like they’re not utterly rejected, even though they can’t receive Communion, they will bring their children to Mass, and will bring their children to catechism class, and will bring their children to the sacraments.  They will make sure their children stay involved in the life of the Church. Or at least they might! And there is hope for the next generation . . . and also for the cousins, who always keep up on the family news, and for the friends of the family, and for the lady in the grocery line who stop and chat about  marriage and want to know all about your personal life . . .

They can tell that lady, “Well, it’s complicated, but I’m still a Catholic.There is still a place for  me. It’s not what I’d wish, but it’s better than nothing. They still want me, and I still need Him.”

Whereas, if all they hear from the Church is, “Sorry. You’re out. Shame on you. Next!” then of course they will not bring their children, and their children won’t go to Mass, or catechism, or to the sacraments. Why would they? Why would anyone be a part of an organization that not only cannot give them the Bread of Life, but won’t even acknowledge that they are trying hard to be loving? And we’ll continue in this horrible cycle where people who are really trying to be decent are barred from the sacraments, but people who waltzed into marriage without thinking it through can get their marriage declared null, and it just seems so unfair, and who wants to be part of that kind of Church that punishes love and gives a do-over for foolishness? And every conversation about the Church will be about how unfair it is, and that’s why We Don’t Go There Anymore.

That’s what I mean when I say I figured out the Synod. It really wasn’t hidden! It’s all about the family. It’s always been about the family — and the family is about more than the one marriage and the one couple in question. That’s why they didn’t call it “The Synod About Gay People and Divorce” or “The Synod About Just How Popey the Pope Plans to Be, Anyway” or “The I-Don’t-Recall-Jesus-Talking-Much-About-Marriage,-Do-Youuu? Synod” Nope. Every single human being is, for better or worse, part of a family, and because of this, what we do affects lots of other people — and how we’re treated affects lots of other people, too.

It’s about future generations, and also it’s about how the faith of children can affect parents. That’s what the Church means by “mercy.” Not “anything goes, as long as we all feel good,” but “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” We cannot give medicine to the dead, but neither will we sign any death certificates prematurely.

It sounds like the Church intend to make it much harder for people to accidentally or frivolously go through with invalid marriages, and it sounds like they intend to offer support for valid marriages after the wedding, so that people get married for real, and stay married for good.  But what about the generations of people who are already caught in an impossible situation?  There have been, let’s face it, several decades of failure. People have grown up never hearing a word of doctrine from the pulpit, never learning a scrap of catechism in Catholic school, never knowing the first thing about what the Church believes about sex or marriage (or the Real Presence, or anything). They’re caught, and it’s not fair, and it stinks.

But it’s not going to help anyone to pretend that real marriages weren’t real, or that invalid marriages aren’t real. You can’t just change the rules when you feel sorry for people. That will just create more people for whom to feel sorry.

How to serve the people caught in the middle? Make a place for them, and make a place for their children. Make a place for their whole family.

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My Aleteia piece on the suffering faithful…

gesu crucifix

 

 

is spotlighted today:

The Church is full of the obedient wounded. The flock who never strayed have troubles of their own, and some of these troubles come directly from original sin, the effects of which no doctrinal development, pastoral compassion, or rigorously trained professional can completely undo.

Poor family, they need to hear that their sorrows are known to God and to the Church. That the cross still hangs there above the altar because it must be faced, sooner or later, even when we’re inside the walls of the Church. Sacramental marriage is not a safe, cozy nest where no predators can find us. Every marriage includes some element of the cross.

Read the rest at Aleteia.

By the way, have you seen Aleteia lately? It’s gorgeous. They’ve revamped their whole site, and Elizabeth Scalia is bringing on lots of great writers.

Also, I’ve received tons of mail in response to the open letter to the Synod Fathers from Monica More that I posted last week (Married to an Angry Man). I am grateful that so many people took the time to offer responses and help. Please be patient while I work on responding.

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Married to an angry man: An open letter to the Synod Fathers (GUEST POST)

This is a guest post written by the friend of a friend. The writer goes by Monica More, which is a pseudonym. I have bolded some passages for emphasis. Priests, especially, please take heed.

 

sad woman

 

Dear Synod Fathers,

 

Thank you for your prayerful consideration of how the Church can offer better pastoral care to a world in which so many families are broken, and in which so many have lost sight of the true nature of marriage. I wish to offer my voice as a reminder of why you are here, and plead for you to show the faithful the care of the Father that we so desperately need.

 

I am not asking you to change one iota of Church teaching. Marriage as reflection of Christ’s love for the Church, marriage and family as an echo of Trinitarian love, family as a domestic church and first school of sanctity – it is all beautiful to contemplate, and it shall not be taken away from anyone.

 

And yet, I want you to know that, even for those who fully believe, these images can seem a cruel illusion of an oasis. Even though we strive with all our feeble strength to reach it, we still have not been able to grab hold of any soothing water from the sacrament of marriage.

 

Marriage in my experience has been a cross, and nothing but a cross. It is a white martyrdom that stretches past a terrifying long horizon of time. Yes, marriage requires all of us to lay down our lives for our spouses and our children. But when one spouse won’t do that, when one spouse never says “please” or “thank you” or “sorry” as the Holy Father has exhorted, then there is never any joy of resurrection at the end of the Passion.

 

When I married my husband, I was full of joy and hope because I believed the Church’s teachings about marriage, and my husband professed them too. He was chivalrous and faith-filled and a true friend when we courted. But as soon as we were married, all thoughtfulness and self-giving from him ceased, and a burning anger took hold instead.

 

Bewildered, I looked for answers in spiritual direction and Catholic books. Time after time priests turned me down for spiritual direction, saying they were too busy or wouldn’t meet with a woman, so go to the confessional or counselling instead. In the confessional I was told go to counselling. But my husband did not want to go to counselling—it was too hard to make the time with us both working, and it was so expensive we could never afford to attend more than a few sessions. Those few times we went to a Catholic counselor did not change anything.

 

The Catholic books told me to love more, to sacrifice more, to give him affection and build him up with words. All these things I tried to do, but his temper kept burning a hole in my heart and in the heart of our children. I tried to tell him time and again how his words were hurting us, but he ignored me or simply excused himself as “only human” or accused me of thinking I was perfect to shut me down. I asked what he wanted me to change and he said “nothing.”

 

Over time “love” came to mean praying for his conversion and rejecting hate or revenge, continuing to sacrifice my own desires for him and our children. But it could not possibly encompass respect or admiration or enjoying his company, and certainly not feeling affection. I do not withhold my body from him but every intimate touch is a crucifixion for me.

 

I have come to the point where I find only harsh measures get his attention and quiet the rage, at least temporarily. A threat to leave; a slap on the face. I feel horrible doing these things but at least they buy a little space of peace, and the children thank me for “calming” him.

 

I think if we had aggressively treated the cancer of his rage when it was still “Stage 1” it would not have gotten to this point. But no one recommended that. They only recommended a healthy diet of kindness and sacrifice and all would be well. No one offered affordable “healthcare” for our souls in case that didn’t work. Instead it has festered into Stage 4, and threatens to spread to the souls of our children as well.

 

We have also been failed by the preaching and teaching from our parish priests. My husband does listen; he does not want to go to Hell. They say pornography is a grave sin and he does go to Confession when he falls into that temptation. They say you must attend Mass every Sunday and he goes to Confession when from time to time he decides he’s angry at God and stays away a few weeks. They say homosexual activity is a sin and he cut off his friendship with his childhood best friend after he “came out of the closet.” They say abortion is a sin and he votes Republican.

 

But I have never heard one priest preach against temper. I have never heard one reproach from the pulpit for fathers who would curse at or in front of their children. I have never heard one say in Sunday homily, “Men, how are you laying down your life for your wife and children? If you can’t answer that, you are sinning and failing as a father.” Or speak likewise to the women. I have never heard one put urgency behind the words of Pope Francis: spouses must say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” or you are sinning against the gift of marriage, just as surely as when you look at porn.

 

I will never leave the Church, I will never seek succor in another man. The Eucharist is my strength and my life to continue on with this great cross on my shoulders. I can’t even imagine how those who do not have recourse to the Blessed Sacrament can walk along this path. But to the pastors I ask you please, be Simon the Cyrenian for me and help me carry this a while. Hold my hand and help me get over that terrifying horizon, whatever lies beyond. Be John taking me and my children under your care. Exhort my husband again and again to “feed my lambs.” I have the flesh and blood of Christ—please be His voice and hands.

 

I know I am not alone in this. Please, don’t forget to treat your many sick sheep in the fold.

 

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Note: I have closed comments on this post. It was only up for a few minutes before people started criticizing this woman for her behavior. Please pray for her family instead of telling her what to do.

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Everybody knows the Church will change. (Everybody is wrong.)

Rom,_Vatikan,_Petersdom_-_Silhouette_bei_Sonnenuntergang_3

 

Many Catholics believe the Synod on the Family will drive home the final nail in the coffin of orthodoxy. They believe that, when the Synod is over, from that coffin will emerge some hideous new zombie Church, which progressive Pope Francis will envelop in one of his famous Marxist hugs. Together, Frankie and Zombie will personally cater all the gay weddings they can find, and couples who have three or more annulments under their belts can claim a discount on renting the Sistine Chapel for their next few weddings.

Many Catholics look at the Synod, and they know that the Church is going to change. They know it.

Are they right? Let’s step back a few decades, to the last time everybody knew what would happen in the Church.

In 1963, Pope John XXIII called a Pontifical Commission to examine the Church’s ban on artificial birth control. After he died, Pope Paul VI expanded the commission to include doctors, theologians, lay women, bishops and cardinals.

The members of this committee were chosen by the Pope, and everybody knew what that meant: the Church was obviously revving up for something big, something new. The commission members debated, studied, and solicited testimony for several years; and then in 1966, they came out with a report that concluded exactly what everyone was expecting: It said that the Church should do a 180 and allow artificial birth control. The official report said that birth control was not intrinsically evil, and that the Church’s ban on it should be lifted.

There was rejoicing in some quarters, wringing of hands in others, as everyone assumed that the Pope would agree. Everyone assumed that life as a married Catholic would be dramatically different from then on, in keeping with the times. Laymen thought so. Priests thought so. Everyone thought, “This is it. This is the big change we’ve all been [hoping for/dreading].”

And what happened?

Humanae Vitae happened. BOOM. Rather than assenting to the Commission’s recommendation, Paul VI issued the glorious encyclical which firmly and passionately reasserts the Church’s constant teaching on human sexuality, almost miraculously predicting the societal ills that would follow if the world embraced artificial contraception. The encyclical thrilled some, enraged others, and immediately began sowing the seeds for John Paul II’s flourishing Theology of the Body, which is only now beginning to take root in the hearts of many Catholics.

In 1968, everyone knew the Church was going to change.

Everyone was wrong.

I expect — no, I believe with all my heart — that the same will happen in the next few years regarding the issues of divorce and civil remarriage, and same sex marriage. The Pope has reaffirmed countless times that he is a “son of the Church” and will uphold and defend her doctrine, no matter what the rumors imply (and Cardinal Kasper — CARDINAL KASPER — says so, too).

Now, this is not to say that everything will be fine. Most Catholics, including those present when Humanae Vitae first came out, ignored and continue to blithely ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception. It’s likely that Catholics who are in favor of same sex marriage will continue to be in favor of same sex marriage, no matter what happens at the synod, and no matter what the Pope says, infallibly or otherwise.

But will the Church change her teachings on marriage? No, she will not. I would bet my life on it. Sometimes when everyone knows something, everyone is wrong.

So, listen to rumors if you like. Debate about the ins and outs of various meetings and interviews, and feel free to wince, as any normal human being would do, as we witness sausage being made. Above all, pray — pray for the pope, pray for the bishops, pray for a change of heart for those in dissent, and pray for courage for those who are faithful. Pray for the Church. Pray for all of us. Prayer is always the appropriate response. But as you pray, don’t panic.

Remember, everybody knew what was definitely going to happen in 1968.  Everybody was wrong.

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Shush. Your mother is trying to listen.

kids fighting

 

If you came in in the middle of the process, you’d think I was being totally unfair. You’d see me letting one kid stand there and have center stage, while everyone else has to just stand around and listen to half-truths, exaggerations, and self-pity. You’d think I was a fool for listening gravely and seriously to what is obviously a biased, self-serving version of what happened.

Or maybe you’d see me letting one kid stand there and having center stage, while everyone else has to just stand around and listen to a bullying, overbearing, jerk.  You’d think I was a tyrant for listening gravely and seriously to what is obviously a harsh and inhumane version of how we should treat each other.

This is what it would sound like if you saw only part of the process. But I hope you’d have a different point of view if you tried to understand what I was actually trying to accomplish.

Read the rest at the Register.

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No earthquake here. At the Synod, the Church teaches us how to dress for the feast.

pastoral earthquake

Yesterday’s second reading at Mass had two major ideas:

(1) God wants everyone.
(2) Not everyone wants God.

In this parable, the king has invited all the expected, honored guests to his son’s wedding, but they not only refused his invitation, but abused and killed the messengers who invited them.

This  is old news — as old as Adam and Eve, as old as the War in Heaven — and would not even be a story at all if the king didn’t then decide to do something scandalous and unexpected:  he invites people who normally don’t get invited to the king’s house:

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.

Good and bad alike, meaning cohabitating couples, second-marriaging couples, and people in love with a gay partner (not to mention people in “irregular” situations less familiar to first world Catholics! Remember, the Synod is for everyone, not just the Northern Hemisphere). People who aren’t living up to Church teaching, but who nevertheless want in to that gorgeous, beautiful, nourishing, splendid party hall, because they know a good thing when they see it.

The feast is ready. The king has got all this good stuff, and he wants to share it with someone, so why not open the doors wider? This is exactly what the king in the parable does does.

But then there’s this:

But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This is the second part of what the Church has always taught: God invites, and we decide how far we want to respond to that invitation. What is implied in the story is that the guest knew very well that he wasn’t dressed properly, and doesn’t even have an excuse. He chooses  not to come prepared, or to make any changes. When we make no effort, show no signs of being willing to change or even defend our actions, then why should you be there?

This, too, is the message coming out of the Synod. An invitation is for something. It’s a beginning, and way to get people to put their foot in the door so we can figure out what they need next, and what is needed from them. If you do not invite them, you will never get to that point.

The mid-term report described as an “earthquake” is nothing of the kind. It’s a reassertion of the constant, consistent teaching of the Church, and even the constant, consistent teaching of God the Father toward His wayward people: Come to Me. Please, come to me. Yes, I want you to change, and I will demand things of you. But we can’t get anywhere unless you come to Me.

And once you do accept the invitation, the Synod is saying that pastors and deacons and RCIA directors and anyone involved with catechesis are to explain fully what it means to be a member of the Church — keeping in mind that probably the majority of Catholics in the world have almost none of even a basic understanding of what marriage is for, what sex is for, or what life is for. But a good many of them have good intentions, want to be good to each other, want to raise healthy families, and want to be loved. So that’s where you start: with the invitation.

The  Archdiocese of Philadelphia has published an official teaching document calledLove Is Our Mission.  It’s a short book designed to prepare us for the upcoming World Meeting of Families, and illuminates contentious issues like gradualism and the pastoral care of divorced Catholics. According to Archbishop Chaput, this catechetical document has ten steps:

 It starts with the purpose of our creation and moves into the nature of our sexuality; the covenant of marriage; the importance of children; the place of priesthood and religious life in the ecology of the Christian community; the Christian home as a refuge for the wounded heart; the role of the Church; and the missionary witness of Christian families to the wider world.

So, this is what the Church is doing: it is inviting people to the feast, and it is instructing them in how to “dress” the soul, how to behave as an honored guest so they can participate in the feast — so they can follow up on the invitation. In short, it is teaching us how to be a Catholic.

The Church, at the Synod, is doing its job, its one and only job of inviting and instructing. Tell me again how this is a problem — how it ought, instead, to be skipping straight to the “waling and gnashing of teeth” part that so many Catholics seem  to favor.

If a cohabitating couple shows up for a baptism, what do we do? Or if a couple with an un-annulled second marriage, or if a gay couple turns up wanting to lead some ministry, what do we do? Do you slam the door? No, we say, “Come in, and let’s talk about what you have right so far. Then we can figure out what’s  next.”

In other words, practice basic human psychology, never mind basic human decency.

I am well aware that people can twist the document to mean whatever they want to mean. If they think the Church should just be nice and friendly and not be so picky about all those stupid rules, then that is what they will see in the Synod. If they think the Church should be stern and exacting and spend most of its time driving people away because they’re not holy enough, then that is what they will see in the Synod.

This twisting of words, too, is constant and consistent. People have twisted the words of Jesus Christ from the moment the sound waves were still dissipating into the atmosphere of Jerusalem. But if you read the entire document, if you pay close attention and don’t get all your information from one ideological side or the other, it will be clear that all the Synod is saying is what the Church has always said: invite whomever you find, so you can teach them how to be good guests, so we can all enjoy the feast together.

Tell me again how this is a problem. And while you’re at it, tell the king.