Tag Archives: Culture of Life

An Indonesian Miracle of Muslim-Catholic Friendship

One of my friends was a Buddhist when she and her family narrowly escaped being raped or killed by riots against the Chinese in the May 1998 riots of Indonesia, which saw over 1000 murdered. She told me about the miraculous survival of a Catholic family living in the vicinity. They tied a rosary to their gate and hid in the house, praying fervently. The rioters looted and burned the homes on either side of their property, but passed by their house as if they could not see it.

My friend escaped to New Zealand to build a new life in safety. After much heartache and struggle to find a job so that she could remain in the country, she knelt before the crucifix in a cathedral, begging God for help. The very next day, her last possible day before she had to leave the country, someone helped her carry her suitcase up the stairs of a hotel, and when he heard of her dire situation, he mentioned that he was the manager and in search of an accountant – which just so happened to be her profession.

Tensions are still high in parts of Indonesia, and Christian clergy are advised not to wear even a cross. Hence it is remarkable to see how a young Muslim lady recently sang a beautiful Ave Maria at her dear friend’s funeral. Indonesia has a policy of assimilation where Chinese have to take on Malay surnames, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the races, when individuals happen to have similar skin tones. People of different religions grow up cheek by jowl in this populous nation of over 260 million souls, and it is always heartening to see acts of friendship and love bridging racial and religious divides.

You can watch the video here.

_____

Image: PD-US

The Beggar on the Bus

One afternoon, I was on a bus to the city when a disheveled young man boarded the bus. He was in gray pajamas, barefoot, and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in awhile.

“Can I please get on? I only need 60 more cents,” he begged the driver.

The driver demurred, probably adhering to company policy.

Being one of the nearest passengers, I rose and fished out the necessary change.

The man sat down. “Thanks,” he said. I decided to start a conversation with him.

He told me that he had no siblings, his mother was overseas, and his father refused to talk to him.

As we neared the next bus-stop, a disheveled lady came up. “Here, have this,” she insisted, pressing ten dollars into his hand. “I’ve been there before, mate. Use it for whatever you like. Look out for me on the streets. I just have to report to the cop shop now!”

Of all the people on the bus, that impoverished lady was the most generous. She was able to see past the grime to the face of a person in need of love. She identified with his situation and did what she could to alleviate his privation.

May we learn from her example and find the face of Christ in the lowliest-looking people we meet.

Please keep Chris and Carla in your prayers.

_____

Image: PD-US

Fatherhood and Redemption in “Pirates of the Caribbean 5”

[Caution: spoilers ahead]

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a moving paean to fatherhood. The entire movie centers around Henry Turner’s quest to release his father Will from a curse damning him to eternal servitude on The Flying Dutchman. The movie opens with 12-year-old Henry locating the sunken ship which holds his father captive. Henry says, “I’ve read about a treasure. A treasure that holds all the power of the sea. The Trident of Poseidon can break your curse. … I want you to come home.” Will tells his son to leave: “Henry. I’m sorry. My curse will never be broken. This is my fate.”

Nine years later, Henry is working aboard a British naval ship, which chases a pirate craft into the Devil’s Triangle. There they encounter Captain Salazar and his crew, who are also accursed and trapped as the living dead. After his father’s death at the hands of pirates, Salazar dedicated his life to cleansing the seas of pirates, hunting down and killing them all until tricked into the Triangle by Jack Sparrow.

Later, Henry meets a young astronomer and horologist, Carina, who has also spent her life seeking her long-lost father. Her father left her the means to find Poseidon’s Trident, and she believes that finding it will lead her to him.

What strikes me about this movie is the three above-mentioned characters’ obsession with freeing, avenging or finding their fathers. With today’s modern Western societies where people believe that two females can parent a child as well as the child’s biological parents, it is refreshing to see a movie which affirms the importance of the father in a person’s life. The father is an integral part of the child’s identity. We find our identity in relationship with others, not as singular individuals. And no-one on earth can fully replace our biological parents. This is demonstrated by people who were adopted or donor-conceived spending years searching for their biological parents, even when they love the people who raised them as their own. We have this need for belonging with people who share our ancestry, especially the people who gave part of their bodies to give life to us.

In the end, Carina and her piratical father meet, and they each verbally affirm that the other means everything to them. Everything. Although they have never really known each other, they love each other to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Carina has sacrificed her entire life for the one purpose of finding him, and he sacrifices his life to save her from the unforgiving Salazar.

The family is the image of the Holy Trinity, a communion of love, and our parents are the image of God to us; all fathers share in the divine fatherhood of God. God is our true everything, and it is worth it to sacrifice all for Him, just as He did for us (John 3:16). Henry is a Christlike figure, a second Adam who “to the fight/and to the rescue came”. Instead of wielding the Trident, which would have given him control over all the seas, Henry destroys it, as Christ freely laid down his life out of love for us, although as God He could very well have controlled us instead. Henry descends into the ocean depths and frees all the accursed, including his father, and reunites his parents, just as Christ descended into Hell and freed Adam and all mankind from the shackles of sin and death, bringing us to new life and reuniting us with the heavenly family of God.

Let Yourself Be Moved

Every January, pro-life marches and events are held across the country. We talk about abortion in our parishes and homes, and we eagerly attend special Masses that are held to pray for the sanctity of all human life. We look at the adorable babies in our midst and, spurred on by a passion for life, decide that we will take a stand for the unborn children. We will speak up for the voiceless, and we will aid their mothers. We allow our hearts to be touched, and we are moved into action.

We absolutely need to continue spreading awareness about abortion and work to help the unborn babies and their families. However, we need to widen our pro-life scope and talk about another tragic reality that is in our midst: Sex trafficking.

I wonder, at times, why we don’t talk about sex trafficking very often.

Our silence is possibly due to discomfort. It is much more fun to hold pictures of cute babies on street corners and encourage people to choose life than it is to talk about the uncomfortable, grim reality of sex trafficking in our nation.

Maybe our silence is due to ignorance. We don’t know about this common form of slavery—what it is, or how to combat it—and so we don’t discuss it.

Or, perhaps we do not discuss sex trafficking because we have not let the issue touch our hearts. We stand at a comfortable distance with our “Choose Life!” posters, having the faint knowledge that sex trafficking exists, but keeping ourselves far from the issue. We think that other people can become knowledgeable about this slavery. Other people can do something to fight it. Other people are called to help the victims…but not us. We may share an article on social media about “5 Ways to Fight Sex Trafficking,” but that’s the extent of our engagement with the topic.

Originally, I thought that—since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month—I would write an upbeat article about concrete ways that we can fight this industry. Then, I realized that many articles like this exist already. Yet, silence still persists in many of our churches and communities. We know about sex trafficking, but we have not let this knowledge touch our hearts. We have not been moved into action by compassion and a sense of justice.

So, let yourself be moved. Read the stories of sex trafficking victims, and listen as their voices cry out for help—the help that only you can give. Watch documentaries, learn about local anti-trafficking organizations, and open up your heart. Let your heart be touched by the stories you hear, by the plight of thousands of people in our cities and towns. When your heart is touched, you will see that the statistics on trafficking represent adults and children from our communities, people who deserve dignity, respect and love.

St. Teresa of Calcutta is attributed with saying, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Holding this wisdom close, look at your community. Let yourself be touched by the reality of abuse, disrespect, and sex trafficking that affects many people near you. Then, let yourself be moved by compassionate love to do something to help our brothers and sisters in need.

Photo credit: “Human Trafficking” by sammisreachers  via Pixabay. CCO Public Domain.

It’s all about Love

There are a great variety of vocations in life, but all require a deep, persistent love.  Whether we look at our vocation in general terms and consider whether we are called to the religious life or the sacrament of marriage, or else look at the more detailed aspects of our vocation—which includes the place and time in which we live, the people we encounter, the gifts and talents with which we are blessed—every vocation involves love to a deep degree.  But what does it mean to be ‘called to love’?

The word ‘love’ has suffered a terrible expansion of meaning.  One can use this term to express anything from a deep fervent devotion for one’s spouse to a heartfelt desire for chocolate.  A Carmelite Sister once pointed out that, surely, when one says, “I love my dog,” and “I love my husband,” the person cannot possibly intend the exact same meaning for both cases.  Therefore, when we speak of ‘Christian love,’ many get a fuzzy image in their minds of something that ‘feels’ nice and good.  But is that what love means?

Unlike our modern tendency to lump several meanings into the use of the term ‘love,’ the Ancient Greeks had a variety of terms for ‘love’ in order to hone in on classifications of specific meanings they intended.  ‘Agape’ is the term one can best apply to Christian love, because it expresses self-sacrificing love, and Christian love is all about imitating the One Who sacrificed Himself for Love.  Christ on the Cross, Agape Personified, shows us what exactly He meant when He said we must love.

Love is a paradoxical truth because it means self-giving, and in giving up of the self we find our true selves.  God created us in His image and likeness, so there is no greater way for us to find our true selves as we were created than when we love, because the One we magnify in our very natures is Himself Love.  When we practice a little extra patience, when we let a car pass in front of us with a smile, when we say a kind word or share even just a minute with someone in need, we are forgoing our own selves for the sake of others, in imitation of Christ who sacrificed Himself fully for us, and is the greatest of all among Men, for truly, those who “are first will be last, and the last first.”[1]

The vocation of Man, then, is to love.  The greatest and lowest, the first and the last of all the saints of Heaven have found their vocation in this self-giving agape in imitation of their Master, and in mirroring God in Whose image we are created.  Love is not merely an aspect of many vocations: it is truly the heart of every vocation.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Matthew 19:30), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 1 September, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

The Time I Didn’t Evangelize My Doctor

A couple of weeks ago, while traveling for a friend’s wedding, I suddenly developed what can only be described as a mini Mount Vesuvius on my knee. The random, swollen, fluid-filled monstrosity eventually became bad enough (because my “oh, it’ll go away….duh!” mentality didn’t work), that when we got home I went in to see my doctor.

Like a good expectant mom, I told the doctor’s office right away that I am pregnant. I also informed them that I’m taking supplemental progesterone, something I don’t think much about, since its use in NaPro Technology is fairly common. The nurse looked at me strangely when I mentioned progesterone and, after he left, I told my husband, “Ugh. Outside of NaPro Technology, use of progesterone in pregnancy is really rare. I bet they’ll ask me about that.” Since I was tired from traveling and my knee was causing pain I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy, I definitely didn’t feel like having the “NFP talk” with my doctor. I felt myself go on the defensive automatically.

When the doctor came in, sure enough, she asked me “you’re pregnant?”

“Yup.” I replied shortly.

“…But you’re taking progesterone?”

“Yup.” Another quick response on my part.

“…why?” she asked.

I sighed and replied “because I have low progesterone.”

The doctor let it go at that, and satisfied that I wouldn’t have to defend my use of the Creighton Model or NaPro, I settled in for the conquering on Mount Knee-suvius. Half way through the exam, it came up again.

“Who is your OB?” asked the doctor.

I told her. Understandably, her eyebrows rose when she heard I was traveling over an hour away to see my OB.

“Is there a reason you go all the way down there?” she inquired.

Irritated, I quipped “yes.” Again, why the inquisition? Can’t we fix my knee?

The doctor explained that someone traveling that far could indicate a high-risk pregnancy, which would change her course of treatment. No, I reassured her, I’m not high risk. The eyebrows went up again – “then why is this chick traveling so far?” I could see the question in her eyes.

After the exam, I hopped off the table and as I settled into my chair next to my husband the doctor said to me “I’m sorry, this is off topic, but, do you like your OB?”

I quickly responded that I love him, I couldn’t recommend him highly enough, and everyone should go to him. The doctor smiled and explained that she is getting married in 11 days and they want to start a family right away. Since she will be living near that area, she is looking for good OBs and wondered what I thought. Then she asked what had prompted me to drive down there.

The question hit me like a baseball bat on the head and the old expression “third time’s a charm” ran through my head. With a new sense of compassion, I told the doctor about NaPro Technology and the Creighton Model. I explained why it was important to me to have a NaPro trained OB and the basics of the system. She listened with rapt attention as I explained the tenants of NaPro and when I offered her my OB’s card she took it readily.

“This is really cool!” She said, “thank you!”

As we left the office a sense of shame came over me.

“That was a close call,” I told my husband as we got in the car.

“What exactly?” he probed.

Every single person we come into contact with has a right to the truth. Every single person we meet has a right to hear the Lord’s message of love, redemption, and an opportunity to come into contact with the faith. That doesn’t mean we ought to go stand on street corners thumping bibles, but it does mean that when the opportunity for evangelization presents itself we have an obligation and a duty to rise to the occasion and evangelize. It doesn’t matter how tired we are, or how much pain we are in. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve told people something or how many times doctors have told us that “that’s not going to work.” The fact is, that the Creighton Model and NFP in general have brought numerous people into contact with the faith. What if I was the only person who was ever going to tell her about it?

“Maybe she’ll go see our OB, maybe she won’t,” I told my husband. “But what if she does? What if she does and he introduces her to Creighton? What if his practice introduces her to Catholic theology and the faith? What if through seeing our OB, she comes into the Church and it all started because I gave her a business card? This visit could have potentially changed her entire life, and I almost blew it because I was too tired and grumpy to care that the Lord was presenting me with this opportunity.”

I was lucky that day that the doctor asked me one more time “why that?”

But… what if she hadn’t asked one more time?

What about those who don’t?

The new evangelization calls us to be radically aware of those around us and how we can bring them to the Lord. She thought she was healing my knee, and had our conversation been left at that, only one of us would have walked away better. However, because the Lord opened a door, maybe both of us walked away from that encounter better off. Hopefully, we’ll all be more aware than I was and recognize those unique opportunities to share the truth with everyone we meet!

The Trouble with Time

“I’m sorry—I just don’t have time!”

How often have we heard words like these—and how often do we express this lack ourselves! At least, I know I constantly sense the pressure of varieties of responsibilities and needs that seem to take up all my time, and more besides. Yet, we are all called to generosity with ourselves, in giving of our talents and treasures, and, even especially, of our time. In such a busy, crazy world, why are we expected to give time to others, and how on earth can we make it possible?

Of the three, giving of our treasures and talents are generally fairly simple to practice in our daily lives, and both involve a sacrifice of our time. Yes, there is sacrifice and self-discipline in setting aside donation money, which is, in essence, a gift of the time we spent working. In giving of our talents, we do have to take a morning of baking to help out at the pastry booth at the parish festival, or take a couple of hours to go to the weekly choir practice to prepare for Sunday Mass. Sharing our talents, too, takes time. In fact, in sacrificing a portion of our treasure and sharing of our talents with others, one of the greatest questions we must answer is: am I willing to take the time to do this?

And so we come to the first issue: why should we give of our time?

On the one hand, our time is clearly invaluable—we are constantly stressing our lack of and need for time. Jesus recognized this anxiety in us when He said: “And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life?”[1] Yet, on the other hand, simply spending time with or for others can also appear to have little or no value, such as instances we’ve waited in the car for someone forty-five minutes longer than we had planned, or watched over a sick child or sibling while he slept. If we have other commitments or responsibilities, such occasions feel like a total “drain” on our time that we simply cannot afford!

But if we sacrifice our time for others, do not such “pointless” times become acts of love? For “Love is patient.”[2] In point of fact, St. Paul tells us this attribute of Love first, though Love has many, for we cannot truly love others if we are never willing to spend time with them. Even just being with others has value, for it is in the midst of daily life that God graces others, and us, if only we take the time to see and participate in His Love.

All of our human existence takes place in the realm of Time, making hope a reality for goodness and virtue since we are not defined eternally by who we are today—as long as we live, there is chance for change through the gift of time. As the vinedresser said to the owner of the vineyard in the Parable of the Fig Tree, when the owner wished to cut down the tree since it bore no fruit for three years: “Let it alone, sir, this year also…and if it bears fruit next year, well and good.”[3] For God saw that there is much good we can achieve, if only we have the patience to wait, within time.

Yet, in the midst of our hurry in the world today, how is this applicable? How can we literally give away our time, when we seem to not even have a second to spare?

Quite often, God asks us for the gift of our time in small and simple ways, such as stopping to answer a child’s question, or holding a door open for a stranger. Just being available to others, with openness and charity, is key to the gift of our time. The Son of God did not just redeem mankind—He spent time here, among men. Christ willingly chose to spend thirty-three years in the world with us, as proof of the Greatness of His Love. For it is truly in the simplicity of the gift of time, given freely, that proves the greatest Love.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Luke 12:25), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 10 April, 2016, https://biblegateway.com.

[2] (1 Corinthians 13:4 RSV)

[3] (Luke 13:8-9 RSV)

Theology of the Body in ‘Friends’

The classic TV sitcom, Friends, is iconic for its long run, humor, and relatable characters that made everyone feel they were part of the “gang.” Friends also pushed the envelope, dealing with themes that America was just beginning to delve into in the 1990s. Taking a supportive and liberal approach to topics such as hook up culture, marriage and divorce, “alternative” families, and homosexual relationships, Friends dealt openly with themes previously considered taboo.

Yet, in the 10 seasons Friends ruled TV, the show made a compelling argument against all the social changes it tried so hard to support. Homosexual relationships, hook-up culture, and the redefinition of the family played prominent roles in each of the characters’ lives, yet, it is apparent that each of these elements were inherently bad for the characters on multiple levels. This ironic social commentary opens the door for a rich engagement with Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the themes of which play out in many of Friends’ characters and episodes. The relationships of the six characters provide an in depth social commentary as their friendships help one another to grow in maturity throughout the show. In the interest of time, I want to focus on the experience of one of the main characters: Chandler. 

We learn early on that Chandler’s parents divorced and his father left to become a drag queen in Vegas. This, understandably, sows many issues in Chandler that are most obviously noticed in Chandler’s inability to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since that was the day he learned of his parent’s separation, it has been irreparably ruined for him. Indeed, we see that Thanksgiving brings up enormous emotional scarring in Chandler that is hard for him to handle at best and completely debilitating at worst.

Chandler’s issues with his parents become more apparent as the show progresses. We see that Chandler is riddled with insecurities regarding his sexuality, social abilities, and worth as a person. He is incapable of maintaining long-term relationships, and finds intimacy threatening. He focuses on casual dating and one-night stands, resulting in a promiscuous and concupiscent character early in the show. This “concupiscence signifies … that the personal relations of man and woman are one-sidedly and reductively tied to the body and to sex” with no deeper intimacy established (TOB 259). This inability to establish long-term relationships is a reflection of Chandler’s “concupiscence [which] brings with it the loss of the interior freedom of the gift [of self]” (TOB 259). In fact, it isn’t until Chandler makes peace with his father that he is able to move forward and prepare for marriage to Monica. By mastering his fear of commitment, history of promiscuity, and the wrong he was dealt in childhood, Chandler is able to be vulnerable to his wife and “become a gift” which is only possible “if [man and woman] each masters himself” (TOB 259-60).

Chandler’s relationship with Monica also helps him engage with his sexuality in a healthy way. This allows him to establish the confidence so drastically undermined during childhood. Just as Adam in the tobgarden, in his original solitude, stood in “search of his own ‘identity’” and “falls into his [sleep] with the desire of finding a being similar to himself” so too does Chandler search for his own identity, only to find it when he awakens from his concupiscent torpor and enters a relationship with Monica (TOB 159). For Adam, it is only in the creation of the female Eve that he is finally able to understand himself as “male”, and rest in “the identity of human nature” (TOB 161). Likewise, Chandler struggles to establish his manhood before dating Monica. Yet, in the context of a woman who challenges Chandler to grow as a person, he does find his masculinity and rests in that knowledge. As Adam understands his “particular value before God [as] male first and … second because he is for ‘woman’” (TOB 161) so also Chandler finds a value in his role of male in his relationship with Monica.

Chandler’s character also makes a strong argument against alternate families. Chandler is dealing with the effects of his father’s homosexuality, his parents’ divorce, and his father being “replaced” with a womanized version of his father as a drag queen. Likewise, Ben, Ross’ son, has a mother who is homosexual, his parents got divorced, and his father is replaced with the woman of Susan. Since episodes focused on Chandler are repeatedly aired in close proximity with episodes focusing on Ben, it seems that, knowingly or not, Friends makes the statement that Ben will be dealing with the same problems as Chandler for a very long time. In many ways, Chandler’s experience prefigures Ben’s and establishes a strong stance against homosexual relationships. Chandler’s parents, “by violating the dimension of the mutual gift of the man and the woman … cast doubt on the fact that [every person] is willed by the Creator ‘for himself,” a doubt that plagues Chandler long term (TOB 259).

Finally, only Ross and Monica’s parents are still married, which is reflected in their children’s relationships. Monica and Chandler are able to get married and stay married only because Monica “coaches” Chandler in the ways of healthy relationships. While Phoebe does get married, it is only after several seasons of observing Monica and Chandler’s marriage and often inquiring into the inner workings of their relationship.

Furthermore, while Monica is able to establish a healthy and long-lasting relationship with Chandler, Ross’ marriage breaks apart and his separation from his wife subsequently causes him to lose his consistency and identity as a man. As the show progresses, we see Chandler’s and Ross’ characters reverse rolls. Chandler grows into the easy-going, good guy that Ross was at the beginning of the show and Ross slowly devolves into an insecure and awkward character.

It is significant that we learn in the first season that at the time of his divorce, Ross had only ever had intercourse with Carol, his wife. Since this fundamental human bond has since been broken, Ross continually tries to return to the married state his soul desires. Since Ross wants to know that the relationship is “for keeps,” every relationship he enters gets too serious too quickly on his part. John Paul II notes that in such situations, the over-sentimentalizing of relationships are often their downfall: “the ideal is more powerful than the real, living human being, and the latter often becomes merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject’s emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person”(L&R 44). Ross becomes progressively more emotionally needy and awkward in relationships and makes a deity out of his idea of the perfect relationship, an effect consistent with the spiritual turmoil that these broken relationships are sowing. However, since Ross is anxious for marriage and many of the women he meets do not share his goals, the relationships Ross begins throughout the course of Friends never result in anything long term since “love between two people is quite unthinkable without some common good to bind them together” (L&R 28). In contrast, we see Chandler become healthier and “more Chandler” as his healthy relationship with Monica progresses, while Ross becomes more and more dysfunctional as relationship after relationship fails.

While Friends presents great food for thought on the Theology of the Body, there are definite week points in the show. For example, the indissolubility of marriage is never truly resolved which is problematic. Nevertheless, there are many other situations in the course of this sit-com that lend themselves to deeper analysis. I’ve only focused on one character and the other five have as much to offer as Chandler. I myself have only scratched the surface!

Infertility in the Christmas Season

I recently finished weaning my toddler, my second born. When her sister was her age (nearly two and a half) she not only had been weaned for months, but I was also nearly halfway through my pregnancy with my youngest. I had always assumed that I would be pregnant again, by the time that I weaned this child. I had even nursed her a little longer, soaking up her littleness while I could.

Now, that stage in our relationship has come and gone, and my life has been filled with pregnancy and birth announcements that are not my own. Although I’m happy for these dear friends of mine, there is a definite ache – an ache for a child who I have yet to meet.

The ache is stronger at Christmas time. In a time when we are called to reflect on a newborn, my arms long to hold one of my own.

There is another layer to this, too – a fear that I am somehow inadequate. Even my friends who struggle with infertility have conceived again, and are expecting or have given birth to their third born children. And, in a world where most people are more than content to have two children and be “done,” it’s hard to explain why I wish I had more.

I’m brought to Mary, and to her child. When in a similar place (and trying to conceive our second child) I remember finding great solace in Mary, as well as in her mother (St. Anne) and her cousin (St. Elizabeth). Each of these women had had “just one” child, yet no one looks back in time and questions the worth or value of their motherhood. It was not the number of children they bore that mattered, but their yes to the child God gave them.

With each of these women (and women like them, throughout the Scriptures), they are marked with gratitude for the child they’ve been given. Admittedly, I’ve tried to practice gratitude, but that doesn’t make waiting for a child much easier. I simultaneously struggle with the desire for more children, and anxiety about experiencing debilitating nausea for nine months or more.

But Mary’s child is my comfort in all of this. Her motherhood is my comfort in all of this. The message that it is not the number of children you have that matters, so much as whether or not you are giving God your fiat, is a message of great hope for Catholic moms suffering from infertility.

The story of Christmas also gives hope that, although God works slowly, he accomplishes good things in his own time. We can trust him to provide, even if he doesn’t provide in our timeline. Israel longed for the coming of their Savior, and he didn’t come in the time or way that was expected; but God’s timing was perfect.

Mary’s little child offers an even deeper consolation to those of us who suffer from infertility. Mary’s child isn’t just her child, but he belongs to us all. We spent the first Christmas of our marriage childless, and desperately hoping and praying for a baby. It was around that time that I heard the advice for childless couples, struggling with infertility, to love the Christ child as if he were their own. Obviously, this doesn’t erase the pain of infertility, and it doesn’t allow a couple to experience parenthood. That’s not the point. The point is that, for arms aching for a baby to hold, Jesus is a baby that can always be embraced and loved. Jesus is a baby who, in a very real sense, belongs to us all and is meant to be loved and cherished by us all (including those of us who are already parents in the physical sense).

One of my favorite parts of the movie The Nativity Story, comes toward the end of the movie. The shepherds come to adore the Christ child, and one of the oldest and most raggedy among them reaches out to touch the infant. Joseph moves to defend the child, but Mary gives the shepherd a tender look and holds out Jesus, saying, “He is for all mankind.” Although this line appears nowhere in the Gospels, it is easy to imagine Mary saying such a reassurance. Although she alone is Mother of God, she understands that her child isn’t meant for her alone. He is meant to be loved and cherished by all.

We are invited to embrace the Christ child, with all of our love – mothers, fathers, single people, those struggling with both infertility and super fertility. For this little babe has come to bring solace for us all.

On Beauty and Planned Parenthood

WizardofOz1

One of my favorite authors, Dietrich von Hildebrand, makes an interesting argument about the relationship between beauty and virtue.  Essentially, what he said was that we ought to encourage people to attend to beauty, to seek it out in art, music, literature, poetry, and any other venue where it could be found.  We should expose young people to beauty, train them to recognize it and appreciate it, and that if we do this, we will be helping them to grow in virtue.  Why?  Because authentic beauty is itself a participation in the limitless beauty and grandeur of God, the one who creates and bestows beauty.

What I see happening with this current public relations nightmare for Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is, perhaps the inverse of von Hildebrand’s suggestion: people are being confronted with the gruesome truth of PPFA.  They’re seeing the callous disregard for the dignity of human life, and are being awakened to the depths to which that organization regularly stoops.  It’s taken away the clean, well-crafted public image of PPFA.  It’s a look behind the curtain, and what people are seeing isn’t beautiful, it’s grotesque.

This latest mess with the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress is somewhat reminiscent of that iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz when we finally see behind the curtain in the Wizard’s court to reveal the real person behind the Wizard.  What Dorothy and her friends found was not a powerful, mysterious leader, but a cowardly man putting on a show for the residents of Oz.

A similar thing is beginning to happen, I think, with regard to PPFA and its current president, Cecile Richards.  Mrs. Richards likes to portray herself as a great champion of health care and, above all, the rights of women.  Yet her organization’s operations stand in direct contrast to that mission.  They can be considered a health care organization only when termination of an unborn life is considered a positively good thing.  They often bemoan the regulations different states have put in to limit abortions, such as the 20-week ban, waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc.  Based on their actions and their budget, the story PPFA tries to tell the media and dupe women into believing is an all out lie.  They sell abortions incredibly well, and they account for over half of their annual budget.

Whatever the reasons for those abortions, they inherently involve the killing of a small child.  A great deal of those aborted every year by PPFA (which performs in excess of 300,000 abortions every year) are women.  Yet instead of being empowered and defended, they are bought at a price: $470.  That is what a woman’s life is worth to Cecile Richards.  However sanitary the public image of PPFA has been, it is slowly being shown to be a farce.

In the view of von Hildebrand, the human heart always longs for beauty, and has a natural capacity to recognize it and, in that very recognition, we know God.  For instance, he said that

“…the beauty of the dome of Florence or of St. Peter’s, the beauty of the first chorale in St. Matthew’s Passion, or of Mozart’s Figaro—all these are, to be sure, immediately attached to audible and visible things; they are not connected with beauty of form merely by thoughts; they are not ideas that these express thereby, but in their quality they speak about another, higher reality—they make God known.”

Hildebrand also knows the beauty of marriage and human sexuality to be moments which take the goods of the human experience and transfigure them to a divine plane.  The fruit of sexual union, the birth of a new human life, is without question one of the most beautiful and essentially awe-inspiring moments in the world.  It is a time which calls to mind all of the grandeur of creation and points to the joy we hope to experience in the heavenly reward awaiting the end of our life.  Human life, which develops during pregnancy, calls for that same joy, respect, and awe.  It is beautiful, and it points to the author of beauty, God himself.

But PPFA and their supporters would have us think that there’s nothing mysterious and beautiful in pregnancy.  Or, at the very least, nothing which can’t wait until next time.  Nothing which deserves protection.  No, for PPFA, the developing life can be cast aside, then dismembered and repackaged for the honorable cause of scientific research.  This is a perversion and a twisting of beauty into the grotesque.

This encounter with beauty’s polar opposite can, I think, in a way awaken them to the beauty of the pro-life position and hopefully to the goodness of the Creator, the only one on whom we can call to really put an end to the holocaust that our country has legally sanctioned since 1973.

Pax,

Luke

First, Do No Harm

Since the beginning of the practice of medicine, the Hippocratic Oath has been used to ensure that medicine remains oriented toward its true purpose: “First, do no harm.” This oath presupposes that medicine itself is not a boundless good, that it must be kept in check. Often we forget that it is possible for medicine to cause harm, because it brings us so much good. It is the solution to so many problems and brings healing to those who are suffering. But it is not the solution to every problem. The definition of what constitutes harm has changed through different centuries and cultures. How does our society define harm, and how should we as individuals define it?

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, discusses the implications of new technologies for three-parent embryos:

While cloning involves swapping out the nucleus of a woman’s egg with a replacement nucleus to create an embryo, three-parent embryos are made by swapping out additional cellular parts known as mitochondria through the recombination of eggs from two different women. Even more baroque approaches to making three-parent embryos rely on destroying one embryo (instead of an egg) and cannibalizing its parts so as to build another embryo by nuclear transfer.

We risk trivializing our human procreative faculties and diminishing our offspring by sanctioning these kinds of “eggs-as-Lego-pieces” or “embryos-as-Lego-pieces” approaches. Ultimately there is a steep price to be paid for the ever-expanding project of upending our own beginnings and rupturing the origins of our children.

How can a procedure which treats children as items to be modified and disposed of, if necessary, be justified under the Hippocratic Oath? The reality is that the definition of “harm” in our society has become gradually skewed over the past several decades, to the point where doctors believe they are helping people by performing such a procedure. They do not see the children they are mutilating as people. They see them as commodities. They do not perceive the effects that this will have on families. In trying to respond to someone’s desire for a child, they try to bring that child into existence through whatever means possible, even if that comes at the detriment to the child in question.

This mentality extends to many other procedures as well: physician-assisted suicide devalues the life of a sick and suffering individual; it assumes that life is only meaningful if one is healthy. Embryonic stem cell research seeks to benefit certain people by killing others; it treats unborn children as expendable. The removal of hydration and nutrition from an incapacitated patient who is not dying “has become all too common,” according to the NCBC, and it considers the sick to be as good as dead. Instead of bringing care and healing to those in need—which is supposed to be the aim of medicine—it leaves the vulnerable out to dry.

Any decision affecting the care of a vulnerable individual—whether that person is too young, too old, or too ill to be able to speak up for themselves—mustn’t disregard the fact that their life is just as deserving of protection as anyone else’s, even if they don’t have a voice to remind us. Anything less would be taking advantage of the weak and defenseless. We must not be too quick to consider someone “beyond help”; even if we cannot fix their situation entirely, if we can do something to ease their pain or extend their life, then we should.

Technology has brought all kinds of new possibilities to our fingertips, but we would be foolish to assume that they come without a cost. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should. Life is not a commodity, and a person cannot be measured by their usefulness.

Becoming Confidently Pro-Life

Regardless of your stance on abortion, it’s safe to assume you would agree that it is a hot button topic.

What’s a person to do when faced with this topic in the workplace? Or at a social event with mixed opinions?

The knee-jerk reaction for many Catholics would be to defend the sanctity of life, regardless of the setting. After all, we’re called to stand firm in Truth, no matter how uncomfortable….right?

Right. Except, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Believe me, I get it. I work full-time for Students for Life of Illinois, after all. But even after years of experience “outing myself” as pro-life simply by telling someone where I work, it’s not easy. The struggle is real, my friends. But allow me to assure you that discussing abortion does become more comfortable with practice.

Here are a few tips to help increase confidence the next time you’re faced with an opportunity to present a pro-life perspective.

1. Know why you are pro-life.

Many people can discuss at length about the science and politics of why abortion is wrong, yet have little insight into where their passion comes from. In order to make your perspective more than facts and figures, it’s essential to get to the core of why you care about this. Your testimony doesn’t have to be a spectacular story like some you may have heard – every testimony is valid. Perhaps you know someone who experienced an unplanned pregnancy and chose life. Perhaps you know someone who has been impacted by abortion. These experiences don’t have to be linked to the moment you realized you’re pro-life – perhaps it’s simply something that reminded you of why you believe that women deserve better than abortion.

I struggled with this when first asking college students to identify why they are pro-life. I realized that I’d never thought about this; I always just thought: “I’m pro-life because I was raised Catholic and taught this viewpoint by my parents” … and that’s not very convincing, is it? Digging deeper into why I am pro-life – beyond science and religion – has given me more ownership of my pro-life identity. Allow yourself the opportunity to figure out why you are pro-life and own it! This will help to build your confidence in this stance and a firmness that no opposition can budge. In learning to give your authentic pro-life testimony, you’ll be able to show that this issue is not simply philosophical or political, it is personal.

2. Educate yourself.

Following the discovery of your pro-life testimony, it’s helpful to educate yourself on the subject and current abortion debate. One of the keys to feeling confident in discussing any topic is ensuring that you’ve taken the time to educate yourself. Know the impact abortion has had on women, men, and society. Understand the implications of legal action. Become familiar with the tangible resources available to women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant – and also where gaps exist.

You don’t have to be an expert on everything, but learn responses to common arguments! With the internet, many resources are at your (literal) fingertips. I suggest WhyProLife.com for starters. It’s important to be able to pair your personal testimony for being pro-life with an understanding of the scientific and factual truth of abortion. Each are important and can stand alone, but you’ll be better equipped when utilizing both facts and personal stories.

3. Dialogue with Dignity.

There’s a philosophy SFLI teaches called “Dialogue with Dignity”. The idea behind this is to ensure that whenever defending the dignity of all human life, we remember to respect the dignity of the person in front of us. Without respecting those who disagree with us, the “Respect ALL Life” stance crumbles. We must honor those we stand for – mothers and children – by respecting the people we’re discussing with.

Dialogue with Dignity is practiced through active listening, asking questions, responding respectfully, and being mindful of the language utilized. As noted before, this is a hot button topic where emotions easily come into play. This can be dangerous territory if we allow ourselves to focus on “winning” rather than having a productive discussion of different perspectives. Going into each conversation about abortion with the mindset that you desire a discussion rather than an argument will help to set your tone throughout. Additionally, being aware of your own boundaries is important. Know when you need to walk away from a discussion to maintain respect for others and yourself.

Overall, I advise making an effort to learn how to be confident and compassionate in your stance for life. You might be the first pro-life person someone encounters – when you part ways, how will they remember you? Perhaps they will be surprised by the way you shared your personal reasons for being pro-life, responded to their objections with patience, or expressed your confident passion for serving women and children. You never know who might be impacted by your witness.