The song, One Less Bell to Answer, was written in 1967 by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. In 1970, it was recorded and included on the debut album of the group The Fifth Dimension. That year, the catchy tune made its way to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieved platinum status. Its memorable lyrics lament the loss of a relationship:
One less bell to answer…
One less egg to fry
One less man to pick up after
I should be happy
But all I do is cry
Regarding bells, nothing certain is known as to the date of their introduction; however, some scholars have attributed them to St. Paulinus of Nola and Pope Sabinian. “In his celebrated book on the divine offices, written about the middle of the ninth century, Walafrid Strabo speaks of the use of bells as not very ancient in his time, and as having been introduced from Italy.” Prior to the Church setting aside bells for sacred purposes, “she blesses them with solemn ceremonies. The form prescribed in the Pontifical is headed the blessing of a bell, though it is popularly called the baptism of a bell, a title by which the office is mentioned as early as the eleventh century. The bishop washes the bell with blessed water, signs it with the oil of the sick outside, and with chrism inside, and lastly places under it the thurible with burning incense. He prays repeatedly that the sound of the bell may avail to summon the faithful, to excite their devotion, to drive away storms, and to terrify evil spirits. Of course, this power is due to the blessings and prayers of the Church, not to any efficacy superstitiously attributed to the bell itself. Thus, consecrated bells become spiritual things and cannot be rung without the consent of the ecclesiastical authorities.” (Adapted from A Catholic Dictionary, William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold, pp. 74)
While human persons are not bells, I believe that a strong argument may be made that each human person, having been created in the image and likeness of God, is a form of a bell. Whereas no two bells sound alike, no two persons are alike with respect to their God-given gifts. In the lives of the Saints, for example, St. Anthony of the Desert (251-356 A.D.) is known as a founder of monasticism while St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231 A.D.) is known as the patron of miracles, lost things and missing persons. Given this, we might say that no two Anthonys are exactly alike!
In the Rite of Baptism, the minister asks parents two pointed questions: What name do you give your child? What do you ask of God’s Church for N? After the second anointing, at the Clothing with the White Garment, we then pray: “N., you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
Through baptism, we go forth on our journey— in God! Now joined to the Body of Christ, our lives are meant to ring out within our families, parishes, communities, and world! Believe it or not, without each of our unique rings, our world becomes different than God has intended.
Which brings me to a recent article (Having One Less Child is Best Way to Reduce CO2 Emissions, Campus Reform, June 25, 2019) that has been brought to my attention. There, University of Washington professor emeritus, Stephen Warren, disagrees with a Seattle Times column arguing that intercontinental flights are the peak contributors to carbon emissions. The professor notes that there is something worse: “Having a child.” By choosing to reproduce, he reminds that “the average child adds the carbon equivalent of 2,700 round-trip flights from Seattle to Europe to their parent’s carbon legacy.” As such, by having a child, “you’re responsible for some fraction of the carbon-dioxide emissions of your children and grandchildren, and all their descendants. This is your ‘carbon legacy.’”
After discussing this with a retired professor emeritus friend of mine, he remarked: “If such individuals all pledge to have no children, in time we’ll have a double benefit: first, a slowing of climate change and second, a significant reduction in the nitwit population. Sounds like a win-win.”
And so, we might ask: Moving forward, with continued declining U.S. fertility rates, for who will bells ring? Well, that’s an easy one. Bells will ring for and bless those who welcome life at all stages, from conception to natural death. But with fewer bells ringing, I worry about society as a whole. As we become an increasingly childless society, one in which the individual reigns supreme, is not our destiny selfishness rather than selflessness?