I grew up in Kansas. That is the MIDDLE of the country, FAR away from any oceans or gulfs. Because of this, when growing up, I hated seafood. This makes sense when the only seafood I could get in Kansas had been frozen, shipped, then thawed. Yuck. Luckily I’ve spent some time in Houston, right along the Gulf of Mexico. Now I can appreciate how tasty fresh seafood can be. Since living here I’ve sampled many different kinds, but a rare delicacy I enjoy is oysters.
Recently a local news story about oysters caught my eye. As a Kansan, I have VERY little knowledge about oysters, so there was a lot I learned. Oysters begin life as free-floating larvae—tiny, swimming creatures. Soon they settle down and attach themselves to some hard surface. This can be a rock, old shells, debris. This will become their shell. As one oyster grows, others can attach, and they can grow shell upon shell.
This collection of shells becomes a hard rocky reef. This reef not only allows more oysters to grow, but it becomes a habitat for other sea life as well. Humans benefit from healthy oyster reefs too. Oysters filter algae from the water and improve water quality. These reefs can also protect underwater vegetation and waterfront communities from strong weather events like waves, floods, and tides.
They serve a multitude of purposes, and this news story I saw told me that they are disappearing. Thanks to mine and lots of other peoples’ appetite for the delicacy, they’re being harvested from their reefs at too high of a rate. When they’re taken from their home, there are less hard places for the new oysters to attach and grow. Luckily for our area there is a local organization who is working to restore the reef in Galveston Bay. Their program works with local restaurants to collect their used oyster shells. They then take them to a location where they are sanitized to get all of the chemicals off of them. Then they are being returned to the bay so that new young oysters have something to build on, something to support their new life.
Originally when I heard this news story, I immediately thought of parish members who are established and connected reaching out to those who may be new to their church. But with the discussions that started up again last week when the Supreme Court document was leaked, I see that oysters perfectly mirror our churches in another way too. The shells of oysters protect them as they grow. Parents do this for their children. They house them and protect them and then at some point they become an empty nester. Once oysters are empty, that is when the organization puts them back into the sea to help grow new oysters. In this analogy, once parishioners become empty nesters, it’s important for them to take in and care for young families who are raising little ones of their own, help them to grow new life.
One of the biggest attacks on pro-life supporters is the claim that we only care about the child until it is born. Unfortunately, a lot of our efforts have been directed at the fight for birth alone, and this leads to the child and parents being forgotten once the child is born. There are many ways that you can change that, like donating to your local pregnancy crisis center, but even then, they usually only can help the family for 6 months post-birth. Then what?
All families need support. Every single one, those who considered other options and those who have been wanting this child for years. These families need love and support, but they also have actual material needs. I say this as a mother who lives hundreds of miles from her family, and even though I can afford things like food and clothes, help and support through friends and parishioners at my church has made all the difference in mine and my family’s mental and physical health.
We as Christians need to step up. If you are close to a family with kids, offer to babysit so that the parents can have a date night. If one parent is a stay-at-home parent, offer to spend time with them while they take care of the kids so that they have someone to talk to who isn’t asking them for something. Ask the parents what they need, whether it is some time to themselves or some new shoes for the kids for summer. Maybe you could cook their family a meal every once in a while. All of these things mean the world to parents. It helps them feel like they made the right decision to bring this child into the world.
Not all of us are blessed to be friends with young parents. If that’s the case, you can still make it easier for the parents to get out of the house by offering babysitting for events at the church. A parent is much more likely to attend a church function if they don’t have to worry about a screaming kid the whole time. Get together a team of people to make this happen, to help these young families to really stay connected to this community who loves them. We need to show them they matter and are supported.
We humans are social people. We are meant to be in a community, and our families are meant to be supported by everyone in that community. Like the oysters, this is how we foster new life. This is how we make sure that the community continues to thrive. Catholics believe in a consistent life ethic. The saying is “from conception until natural death”, and that definitely includes everything in between. We MUST support that everything in between. We must support the families in our church. Every single one of us is needed for this mission.
If you live in the Houston/Galveston area and are interested in which restaurants are a part of the oyster reef restoration project, here is a link to a list of all who participate. Scroll down to the “Oyster Reef Restoration” and “Oyster Shell Recycling”. If you live on any other coast, please look to see if there is a program near you to help maintain this necessary habitat.