Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beginning to look with a "new eye"

Gospel Commentary for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, OCT. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- "Love your neighbor as yourself." Adding the words "as yourself," Jesus puts us in front of a mirror before which we cannot lie; he has given us an infallible measure for determining whether we love our neighbor.

We know well in every circumstance what it means to love ourselves and how we want others to treat us. Note well that Jesus does not say: "What the other person does to you, do to him." This would be the law of talion: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." He says rather: as you would like others to treat you, treat them in same way (cf. Matthew 7:12).

Jesus considered love of neighbor "his commandment," that which summarizes the whole Law. "This is my commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Many identify the whole of Christianity with the precept of love of neighbor, and they are not completely wrong. We must try, however, to go a little beyond the surface of things. When we speak of love of neighbor our minds turn immediately to "works" of charity, to the things that should be done for our neighbor: giving him to eat and drink, visiting him, in sum helping our neighbor. But this is an effect of love, it is not yet love. Before "beneficence" there is "benevolence," that is, before doing good there is willing good.

Charity must be "without pretense," in other words, it must be sincere (literally, "without hypocrisy") (Romans 12:9); you must love "from a true heart" (1 Peter 1:22). Indeed, you can do "charitable" acts and give alms for motives that do not have anything to do with love: to impress, to look like a do-gooder, to earn heaven, to ease your conscience. A great deal of the charity that we offer to Third World countries is not directed by love but by a desire to ease our conscience. We realize the scandalous difference between them and us and we feel somewhat responsible for their misery. You can lack charity even in "doing charity"!

It is clear that it would be a fatal error to oppose the heart’s love and active charity, or to take refuge in good intentions toward others in such a way that we use them as an excuse for a lack of active and concrete charity on our part. If you meet a poor person, hungry and numb with cold, St. James says, what good does it do to say "You poor thing, go, keep warm and eat something!" when you give him nothing of what he needs? "Children," St. John adds, "let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18). It is not a matter of devaluing external works of charity, but of making sure that they have their basis in a genuine sentiment of love and benevolence.

This interior charity, or charity of the heart, is charity that can be exercised by all and always, it is universal. It is not a charity that only a few -- the rich and the healthy -- bestow, and others -- the poor and the sick -- receive. All can give and receive. Furthermore, it is very concrete. It is a matter of beginning to look with a new eye upon the situations and people with which we live. What is this new eye? It’s simple: it is the eye with which we would like God to look upon us! The eye of mercy, of benevolence, of understanding, of mercy.

When this happens all our relationships change. As if by a miracle, all the prejudice and hostility that kept us from loving a certain person falls away and we begin to open up to what he is in reality: a poor human being who suffers from his weaknesses and limits, like you, like everyone. It is as if the mask that people and things placed over his face has begun to slip and the person appears to us as he truly is.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

* * *

Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beginning Day 2008

How did Mary Magdalen describe what it was like to have met Christ? What words could Peter use to explain to someone else what happened to him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when Christ cooked him breakfast and asked him three times if he loved him? How did Matthew account for himself when his tax collector friends asked why he'd left the customs post?

What audacity it requires to write the words: I spent the past weekend in close, intimate contact with the Son of the Living God, and I served Him food, watched him eat it and enjoy it, sang with Him, heard Him speak, laughed with Him, was admonished by Him...

We have seen with our own eyes, touched with our hands, the Word of Life.

Not in some "mystical" way. I am not speaking of a feeling. I'm speaking of a literal fact.

How is this thing possible? What am I claiming?

The charism -- this is true for any charism, but I am speaking here of the particular charism I follow, that of Father Luigi Giussani -- is a gift of the Holy Spirit, whose function is to make Christ present, in the flesh of human persons, here and now.

How does this thing happen? What does it mean? I don't know!

Here is what I do know:

  1. I did not make it happen. I worked very hard all weekend, but not one task that I performed made this beautiful thing happen. The hard work may have been a necessary condition for me to be made able to see it happening, but my work did not make it happen.
  2. I cannot make it happen again. No scheme, no plan, no talent, no extraordinary work on my part will conjure this presence that I can touch with my hands, see with my eyes, hear with my ears.
  3. This is all I want in life.
  4. The first three points mean that I am literally reduced to begging, begging for this miracle to happen again and again in my life, in my presence, to me.
  5. I need you. He comes to us when we stay together, when we beg together. I need you. Please, come and see this beauty with me. Let us begin together this experience that is out of this world, in this world.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another visit from my younger self

July 17, 1980

Dear Grandma,

We are now staying in a very nice hotel in the middle of Bangkok. We've been very fortunate (or unfortunate, as my dad thinks) that we know the manager and his family. Right now we are staying in a suite you wouldn't believe, Pia went and counted all of the roses and she said there were thirty-five in Mom's and Dad's room alone! The only problem is who is paying for all of this but I think we'll get it free because we only reserved regular rooms and they took it upon themselves to put us up here so obviously they are going to pay for it.

It is coming close to the time I go to England and I have been training hard even while on vacation. Only this afternoon I ran twice around a race track (horse's) because there was nowhere else to go!

I didn't realize fully how much I had missed Malaysia until I got there. We got in the airport at 8:30 and it was dark already. None the less my sisters and I had our noses plastered to the windows on our way to the hotel recognizing the various sites and smells of Kuala Lumpur. The weather there was hot but not oppressingly so, it was actually hotter in Hong Kong but only because the humidity in H.K. is so outrageous. After three days of renewing acquaintances and eating the monotonous but good Malay food, we traveled to the coast by way of rented car with my 3 sisters and I squashed into a two seating backseat for two hours. We stopped at a place called Kuantan which is in the state of Pahang and for two days we literally roasted ourselves while dad and I traveled to one of the neighboring hotels posing as residents in order to use the tennis courts. The weather was refreshingly clear -- the sky forever blue, a startling contrast to the muggy, smoggy atmosphere of H.K.

The East coast of Malaysia is made up of one continuous beach stretching as far as the eye can see and farther (I think dad said 120 miles but don't quote me). We drove the whole way stopping once at Rantau Abang in Trenggannu to see a museum about the great turtles. We were going to try to stay overnight in order to watch some lay their eggs but it was too expensive and the museum was filled with information, pictures and life-size replicas so it really wasn't necessary to stay up all night on the beach straining our eyes to see a turtle. We continued up the coast to the state of Kelantan to the capital Kota Bharu. This place wasn't nearly as nice as Kuantan but the food was good, only afterwards dad and I both got bad cases of diarrhea -- dad's was more chronic, so I don't know. Then we drove to the border of Malaysia and Thailand. This was the most exciting part of our vacation because guess how we crossed the border... we ran!

Well we got to the border at about 6:30am having driven an hour and arrived at the Goluck River. The weather was nice but we were all terribly rushed because supposedly we were to catch a train at the other side by 7:00am. The first problem which met us though was a slow walking man in a uniform walked up to us and dad told him were in a rush to cross the border because we had to catch a train at seven so could he please show him where we could get our passports checked. Instead of showing us anything he said heavily, "Train at seven. No go," and turned to look at something over his left shoulder. Dad said, "What time train go?"

"Train go nine thirty," he said.

"Where can get passport checked?"

The lazy man pointed to a building which looked like a factory. Dad went in and returned with our passports saying, "I can't believe this. The guy in there said the train leaves at 10:45." We decided to take no chances though and we ran full speed across the river on the Golock bridge with motorcycles and buses tooting. When we got to the other side we decided to take a samur (a three wheeled buggy attached to a bicycle) or three to the train station. We were frantic wondering what time the train really did leave. Finally after a lot of frantic gesturing, the station master declared that the train left at 9:45. We went to one of the neighboring restaurants and had the most delicious fried rice, went back to the train station, got our third class seats (hard wood no cushions, "Look at it this way -- it's good for your back") and took a five hour train journey to Haadyai that started at nine A.M. Oh well. When we got to our hotel it was nice enough with a beach and tennis courts and on those tennis courts I played tennis with a very nice Thai girl. In fact the Thai people are the nicest I think I've ever met. You've never seen a whole race of people so ready to give a smile so ready to buy a drink for a stranger just because he plays tennis with you and is courteous even if he does speak lousy Thai (don't tell dad about the remark about his Thai). I love the Thai people who smile and have meticulous manners.

Thai food is also scrumptious and we had the good fortune to stay in a place five minute's walk from the most spectacular little restaurant you have ever seen. It served Western and Thai food all cooked wonderfully. If you were to order three pieces of toast, two eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and ham with orange juice and coffee it would amount to U.S. $2.00. Compare that to the hotel we are staying in now: U.S. $4.50. It's really hard to believe. The weather there was fine also with clear blue skies and lazy days and we were sorry to leave.

Just yesterday we took a 1st class train trip from Haadyai to Bangkok which lasted 20 hours and just got us here this morning. The train trip was interesting not unlike the 5 hour one but more comfortable. There are miles and miles of rice padis with young people bending over picking stalk by stalk by hand. It is backbreaking labor but they always smile. It's really wonderful. There are cows and goats and water buffalo all slogging around in the mud to escape the heat and really they seem more comfortable than us in our cushioned air conditioned train compartment. There are numerous small towns to pass through which only amount to about four or five houses on stilts to ward off the flood waters and snakes. Towards the end of the ride our conductor liked us so much he came into our compartment and sang us a song. There is an idea about how nice and generous the Thai people are.

Well, I've used up all the hotel paper but one sheet which I'll leave for someone to scribble on. I love you very much, Grandma and I promise to write you about how I find England and an account of Bangkok of which I'm still not sure of, later. Until then I'll miss you a lot.

Love, Suzy

P.S. I hope you like my long letter because mom said you'd be thrilled to get one so long and so I risked getting writer's cramp.

Couldn't resist...

Church is not Wal-Mart...

from Domine, da mihi hanc aquam..., by Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P., Ph.D.

1). The Roman Catholic Church isn't WalMart or Burger King; it's the Body of Christ.

2). Catholic priests, nuns, sisters/brothers and laity aren't employees; we are members of the Body of Christ.

3). The doctrine and dogma of the Catholic Church are not consumer products that the Church's employees sell to those who want them; Catholic doctrine and dogma express the unchanging truth of the faith.

4). Life in a Catholic parish is not a trip to Disney Land or Target or McDonald's where your consumer needs and whims are catered to by the whimpering clergy and lay staff; parish life is the life of Christ for the local Catholic family.

5). You do not come into the Catholic Church b/c you like the building better than you like the Methodist chapel; or because the priest at the Catholic parish is cuter than the Baptist preacher; or because you heard that the homilies are shorter at St. Bubba's by the Lake than they are at the Unitarian Church. You come into the Catholic Church because you believe that the Catholic faith is the truth of the gospel taught by Christ himself and given to his apostles.

6). Leaving the Catholic Church because a priest was mean to you, or because sister whacked you with a ruler, or because the church secretary looked at you funny is as stupid as giving up on the truths of math because you hate your high school algebra teacher. Why would anyone let a crazy priest or a cranky nun or anyone else for the matter drive you out of the faith you believe is true? My only conclusion: you never thought it was true to begin with; or, you have a favorite sin the Church teaches against and crazy priests and cranky nuns is as good an excuse as any to leave and pursue your sin all the while feeling justified b/c Father and/or Sister are such jerks.

7). Anyone who comes in the Catholic Church thinking that they will find clouds of angels at Mass dressed as parishioners; hordes of perfect saints kneeling for communion; seminaries packed with angelic young men burning to be priests; a parish hall stacked to the ceiling with morally pure people eager to serve; and a priest without flaw or blemish, well, you're cracked and you probably need to go back and try again. Telling Catholics that they aren't perfect makes as much sense as telling fish they're wet. We know already. Move on.

8). Of the hundreds of priests and religious I know, I know two who could count as saints right now. The rest of us are deeply flawed, impure, struggling creatures who know all too well that we fail utterly to meet the basic standards of holiness. For that matter: so do you. Get in line.

9). The Catholic Church owes no one a revision of her doctrine or dogma. She didn't change to save most of Europe from becoming Protestant, why would you imagine that she would change just to get you in one of her parishes?

10). If you want to become Catholic, do it. But do it because you think the Church teaches the true faith. If a cranky priest on a blogsite is enough to keep you from embracing the truth of the faith, then two things are painfully clear: 1) you do not believe the Church teaches the faith; 2) and you care more about expresssing your hurt consumer feelings than you do for your immortal soul.

Fr. Philip, OP

Fr. Philip adds the following update at the end of this post: "UPDATE: Yes, I am a priest, and a huge part of my ministry is to console, to be present, to advise, and to try my best to shine out the light of Christ. As a Dominican friar, I do all of that first and best by telling the truth! The best pastoral approach is always to tell the truth, so please, forget the notion that 'to be pastoral' is somehow opposed to 'telling the truth' or 'teaching the faith.' The Truth is Always Pastoral."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Still feel this way

Written in 1983. Published in Yankee Magazine, September 1985:

Shopping Mall

Gertie and I.
We went to the supermarket.
We went to the lady with the microphone.
She had on eyelashes and teeth.
We told her we were lost.
We asked her to call our mother.
So she told the microphone that we were lost.
She said, "Miss America?"
Her face was twisted with a wonder.
"Your children are in Safeway.
Please come and claim them."
But she didn't come to claim us.

When the microphone wasn't looking,
we snuck off and cried in the potted plants.

Hard Boiled: Classic Hong Kong Cinema

"Biggest movie body counts: Die, die, die... and die some more!"

From Wikipedia:

Hard Boiled (traditional Chinese: 辣手神探; pinyin: Làshǒu shéntàn; literally: Hot-Handed God of Cops) is a 1992 Hong Kong action film directed by John Woo. It is also known as God of Guns (traditional Chinese: 鎗神/槍神; simplified Chinese: 枪神; pinyin: Qiāngshén). It was the last film Woo directed in his native Hong Kong before relocating to Hollywood. The movie begins as an apparently straightforward film about the bond between a detective and an undercover cop as they fight a triad gang. However, it develops into an over two hour action extravaganza, with a body count of 307. [1] It is structured around four major action setpieces: the opening teahouse shootout, the warehouse betrayal in the middle, the dock shootout, and the climactic thirty-minute hospital shootout.

In a teahouse in Hong Kong, a squad of police officers, led by Officer "Tequila" Yuen and his partner Benny, attempt to arrest a group of gun smugglers during a deal. Ambushed by another gang member, the police and gangsters engage in a fierce gun battle. Although the gangsters are defeated, several police officers are badly wounded, and Benny is killed. Tequila, knowing there are no witnesses, chooses to summarily execute the gangster who ambushed them to avenge Benny, rather than arrest him. This earns Tequila the wrath of his superior officer Superintendent Pang, who reveals the man was a senior member of a local triad gang and could have put all of them away with his testimony. Pang orders Tequila off the case.

Elsewhere in Hong Kong, Alan, a respected hitman working under "Uncle" Hoi, a Triad boss, meets with Johnny Wong, an opposing Triad boss, whose men were involved in the teahouse deal. Wong, looking to replace the senior man he lost there, attempts to recruit Alan. Alan is reluctant to turn against Hoi, who treats him well, but finds he has no choice when Wong conducts a raid on Hoi's arsenal and takes Alan with him. At Hoi's warehouse, Wong's men kill Hoi's workers and destroy his stock, knowing this will bring Hoi to the scene. Hoi arrives, and is taken prisoner, along with his entourage. Wong demands Alan be the one to kill him. Hoi, accepting that he is going to die, asks Alan to kill only him and spare his men. Alan, after much hesitation, finally kills Hoi, but then kills his men as well. Suddenly, smoke grenades explode and Tequila appears, determined to continue with the case against orders. Alan covers Wong's escape as Tequila fights and kills most of the gangsters, leaving Wong's second-in-command, Mad Dog, severely wounded. Having defeated the others, Tequila finds himself confronting Alan face to face in the smoke, where Tequila tries to shoot Alan, but finds he is out of bullets. Alan is free to kill Tequila, but slowly lowers his gun and walks away, smiling.

Tequila is angered to think he nearly killed an undercover cop. He confronts Pang over this, who confirms Alan's identity, but states it sometimes goes with the job, as one of the 'gangsters' Tequila killed at the teahouse was also undercover. Although he does not react, Tequila is horrified by this. Later, Tequila confronts Alan at his boat on the docks, to try to make sense of the situation, but they are suddenly attacked by the remnants of Hoi's gang, seeking revenge. They manage to kill their attackers just before Wong arrives, allowing Alan to keep his cover. Wong realises one of his men, Foxy, is an informant for the police, which is how Tequila knew about Wong's raid on Hoi's arsenal. He has him beaten by Mad Dog, and tells Alan to finish the job. Alan slips a cigarette lighter into Foxy's pocket, where he shoots him, saving his life. A badly wounded Foxy finds Tequila, and is able to inform him that Wong's own arsenal is in the nearby Maple Group Hospital. Tequila takes Foxy to the hospital for treatment, unaware that Wong owns it and is informed of their arrival. Asking to make up for his mistake, Alan goes to kill Foxy at the hospital. Wong, growing suspicious, also sends Mad Dog separately and two other men to cover Alan. At the hospital, Alan and Tequila kill the two others, then Alan confronts Tequila, demanding to know the whereabouts of Wong's arsenal, which has been his mission all along. While they are distracted, Foxy is discovered and killed by Mad Dog.

In the basement, Alan and Tequila discover Johnny Wong's arsenal. Inside, they are confronted by Mad Dog, engaging him in prolonged fight. Wong arrives and, seeing the arsenal has been compromised, locks the hospital down, taking all the patients and staff hostage. Also captured are a disguised Superintendent Pang and Officer Chang, Tequila's girlfriend, along with several undercover police. Mad Dog voices his disapproval of involving innocents, saying the fight should only be between the Triads and police, but Wong dismisses this. After fighting their way to the main lobby, Alan and Tequila liberate Pang and Chang and their squad. Pang evacuates the lobby and begins directing the fight from the outside, while Chang goes to the maternity ward to organise evacuating the babies. The rest of the squad disperse throughout the hospital to assist the fight. As Alan and Tequila continue the fight, Alan accidentally kills one of Pang's squad. He is shocked and unable to fight until Tequila reveals his own feelings of guilt about the undercover cop he killed at the teahouse. Coming to his senses, Alan finds and engages Mad Dog, while Tequila goes to assist Chang with the babies. After a long chase, Alan and Mad Dog find themselves confronting each other with a group of patients caught in the middle. They simultaneously lower their weapons and both order the patients to leave, but Wong appears and begins shooting the patients. An enraged Mad Dog tries to shoot Wong but is out of bullets, and Wong finally kills him as well. Alan escapes in the confusion. Tequila finds the last baby in the maternity unit and carries it to safety while fighting off the last of the gangsters. Alan arrives and they are confronted by Johnny Wong, who has programmed bombs to blow up the building. Wong flees and Alan gives chase as the hospital begins exploding. Tequila escapes the hospital with the baby, barely getting out as the hospital is destroyed. Everyone assumes Wong and Alan are dead.

Suddenly, Wong appears, holding Alan at gunpoint. Calling Tequila out, he forces Tequila to humiliate himself in exchange for Alan's life. Enraged, Alan grabs the gun and in the struggle shoots himself through the stomach. This gives Tequila enough time to shoot Wong dead through the eye. Although the police are victorious, it is a hollow victory as it seems Alan is dead. However, Pang and Tequila are the only ones aware that Alan has survived. As Pang burns Alan's file, Alan sails away from Hong Kong to his new life.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Not fun reading, but required before voting

I should probably shorten this, but I'm putting the whole thing up, as penance. Published by the Witherspoon Institute:

by Robert George
Oct 14, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama's views on life issues ranging from abortion to embryonic stem cell research mark him as not merely a pro-choice politician, but rather as the most extreme pro-abortion candidate to have ever run on a major party ticket.

Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.

Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals - who aggressively promote Obama's candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.

What is going on here?

I have examined the arguments advanced by Obama's self-identified pro-life supporters, and they are spectacularly weak. It is nearly unfathomable to me that those advancing them can honestly believe what they are saying. But before proving my claims about Obama's abortion extremism, let me explain why I have described Obama as "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice."

According to the standard argument for the distinction between these labels, nobody is pro-abortion. Everybody would prefer a world without abortions. After all, what woman would deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion? But given the world as it is, sometimes women find themselves with unplanned pregnancies at times in their lives when having a baby would present significant problems for them. So even if abortion is not medically required, it should be permitted, made as widely available as possible and, when necessary, paid for with taxpayers' money.

The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people - Thomas Jefferson was one - reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.

Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as "pro-choice"? Of course we would not. It wouldn't matter to us that they were "personally opposed" to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were "unnecessary," or that they wouldn't dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said "Against slavery? Don't own one." We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited.

Just for the sake of argument, though, let us assume that there could be a morally meaningful distinction between being "pro-abortion" and being "pro-choice." Who would qualify for the latter description? Barack Obama certainly would not. For, unlike his running mate Joe Biden, Obama does not think that abortion is a purely private choice that public authority should refrain from getting involved in. Now, Senator Biden is hardly pro-life. He believes that the killing of the unborn should be legally permitted and relatively unencumbered. But unlike Obama, at least Biden has sometimes opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, thereby leaving Americans free to choose not to implicate themselves in it. If we stretch things to create a meaningful category called "pro-choice," then Biden might be a plausible candidate for the label; at least on occasions when he respects your choice or mine not to facilitate deliberate feticide.

The same cannot be said for Barack Obama. For starters, he supports legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest. The abortion industry laments that this longstanding federal law, according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, "forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead." In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment. Obama has promised to reverse the situation so that abortions that the industry complains are not happening (because the federal government is not subsidizing them) would happen. That is why people who profit from abortion love Obama even more than they do his running mate.

But this barely scratches the surface of Obama's extremism. He has promised that "the first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act" (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed "fundamental right" to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, "a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined 'health' reasons." In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs. The pro-abortion National Organization for Women has proclaimed with approval that FOCA would "sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies."

It gets worse. Obama, unlike even many "pro-choice" legislators, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice. He has referred to a baby conceived inadvertently by a young woman as a "punishment" that she should not endure. He has stated that women's equality requires access to abortion on demand. Appallingly, he wishes to strip federal funding from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. There is certainly nothing "pro-choice" about that.

But it gets even worse. Senator Obama, despite the urging of pro-life members of his own party, has not endorsed or offered support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies. In fact, Obama has opposed key provisions of the Act, including providing coverage of unborn children in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and informed consent for women about the effects of abortion and the gestational age of their child. This legislation would not make a single abortion illegal. It simply seeks to make it easier for pregnant women to make the choice not to abort their babies. Here is a concrete test of whether Obama is "pro-choice" rather than pro-abortion. He flunked. Even Senator Edward Kennedy voted to include coverage of unborn children in S-CHIP. But Barack Obama stood resolutely with the most stalwart abortion advocates in opposing it.

It gets worse yet. In an act of breathtaking injustice which the Obama campaign lied about until critics produced documentary proof of what he had done, as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist's unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability. This legislation would not have banned any abortions. Indeed, it included a specific provision ensuring that it did not affect abortion laws. (This is one of the points Obama and his campaign lied about until they were caught.) The federal version of the bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate, winning the support of such ardent advocates of legal abortion as John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. But Barack Obama opposed it and worked to defeat it. For him, a child marked for abortion gets no protection-even ordinary medical or comfort care-even if she is born alive and entirely separated from her mother. So Obama has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.

You may be thinking, it can't get worse than that. But it does.

For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President's restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents' decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This "clone and kill" bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.

Can it get still worse? Yes.

Decent people of every persuasion hold out the increasingly realistic hope of resolving the moral issue surrounding embryonic stem-cell research by developing methods to produce the exact equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using (or producing) embryos. But when a bill was introduced in the United States Senate to put a modest amount of federal money into research to develop these methods, Barack Obama was one of the few senators who opposed it. From any rational vantage point, this is unconscionable. Why would someone not wish to find a method of producing the pluripotent cells scientists want that all Americans could enthusiastically endorse? Why create and kill human embryos when there are alternatives that do not require the taking of nascent human lives? It is as if Obama is opposed to stem-cell research unless it involves killing human embryos.

This ultimate manifestation of Obama's extremism brings us back to the puzzle of his pro-life Catholic and Evangelical apologists.

They typically do not deny the facts I have reported. They could not; each one is a matter of public record. But despite Obama's injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.

They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! "pro-choice"-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.

This is delusional.

We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt. Often enough, the abortion lobby itself confirms the truth of what these scholars have determined. Tom McClusky has observed that Planned Parenthood's own statistics show that in each of the seven states that have FOCA-type legislation on the books, "abortion rates have increased while the national rate has decreased." In Maryland, where a bill similar to the one favored by Obama was enacted in 1991, he notes that "abortion rates have increased by 8 percent while the overall national abortion rate decreased by 9 percent." No one is really surprised. After all, the message clearly conveyed by policies such as those Obama favors is that abortion is a legitimate solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies - so clearly legitimate that taxpayers should be forced to pay for it.

But for a moment let's suppose, against all the evidence, that Obama's proposals would reduce the number of abortions, even while subsidizing the killing with taxpayer dollars. Even so, many more unborn human beings would likely be killed under Obama than under McCain. A Congress controlled by strong Democratic majorities under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would enact the bill authorizing the mass industrial production of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed. As president, Obama would sign it. The number of tiny humans created and killed under this legislation (assuming that an efficient human cloning technique is soon perfected) could dwarf the number of lives saved as a result of the reduced demand for abortion-even if we take a delusionally optimistic view of what that number would be.

Barack Obama and John McCain differ on many important issues about which reasonable people of goodwill, including pro-life Americans of every faith, disagree: how best to fight international terrorism, how to restore economic growth and prosperity, how to distribute the tax burden and reduce poverty, etc.

But on abortion and the industrial creation of embryos for destructive research, there is a profound difference of moral principle, not just prudence. These questions reveal the character and judgment of each man. Barack Obama is deeply committed to the belief that members of an entire class of human beings have no rights that others must respect. Across the spectrum of pro-life concerns for the unborn, he would deny these small and vulnerable members of the human family the basic protection of the laws. Over the next four to eight years, as many as five or even six U.S. Supreme Court justices could retire. Obama enthusiastically supports Roe v. Wade and would appoint judges who would protect that morally and constitutionally disastrous decision and even expand its scope. Indeed, in an interview in Glamour magazine, he made it clear that he would apply a litmus test for Supreme Court nominations: jurists who do not support Roe will not be considered for appointment by Obama. John McCain, by contrast, opposes Roe and would appoint judges likely to overturn it. This would not make abortion illegal, but it would return the issue to the forums of democratic deliberation, where pro-life Americans could engage in a fair debate to persuade fellow citizens that killing the unborn is no way to address the problems of pregnant women in need.

What kind of America do we want our beloved nation to be? Barack Obama's America is one in which being human just isn't enough to warrant care and protection. It is an America where the unborn may legitimately be killed without legal restriction, even by the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. It is an America where a baby who survives abortion is not even entitled to comfort care as she dies on a stainless steel table or in a soiled linen bin. It is a nation in which some members of the human family are regarded as inferior and others superior in fundamental dignity and rights. In Obama's America, public policy would make a mockery of the great constitutional principle of the equal protection of the law. In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: "that question is above my pay grade." It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator's pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy - and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.

In the end, the efforts of Obama's apologists to depict their man as the true pro-life candidate that Catholics and Evangelicals may and even should vote for, doesn't even amount to a nice try. Voting for the most extreme pro-abortion political candidate in American history is not the way to save unborn babies.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

Copyright 2008 The Witherspoon Institute. All rights reserved.

The moral obligation to vote and other forms of torture

I have been reading. And reading. Usually at this point in a presidential election, I am so sickened by the campaigns that when the subject of the election comes up in conversation, I tune out and go to my happy place.

This year has been different, due to the intervention of several friends. I am up to my eyeballs in opinions and judgments from various wide-ranging sources, in an attempt to educate myself. I am planning to vote in the upcoming election, for the first time in at least a decade. The only trouble is that I still don't know who I will vote for.

At In Umbris Sancti Petri, Andrew Haines provided a copy of Alasdair MacIntyre's The Only Vote Worth Casting in November and asked for comments. In his analysis of the circumstances and questions that voters face in trying to select between two candidates, neither of whom represents what they hold most dear, MacIntyre argues:

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are likely to be rejected out of hand. For it has become an ingrained piece of received wisdom that voting is one mark of a good citizen, not voting a sign of irresponsibility. But the only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between Bush's conservatism and Kerry's liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target... [read the rest here]

As those who know me have probably guessed, this argument is quite seductive to me!

Meanwhile, over at my friend Justine's blog, Justinspired, in a post titled Voices of reason, she makes a very strong case for not sitting out the election and moreover, voting for one candidate in particular:
Listening to the presidential debate on the radio while nursing a little girl who is awfully cute, (but too old to still be waking up to nurse, in my opinion) Senator Obama told me that if my health had been too fragile when she was born, I could have just delivered her body, and then had scissors jammed into her skull.

Can any pro-lifer honestly believe that it is not their moral obligation to vote against this man? The one who just looked us in the eye and said he believes Roe vs. Wade was a good decision? And when I say vote against, I mean vote FOR John McCain, the only candidate who has a chance to beat him. Who cares that he's not the guy you'd choose for your fantasy executive office, or for your patron saint. Voting third party, at this point in the election, is like watching a tug of war, but pulling on a tree branch instead of joining in. Some team is going to end up with their faces in the mud, and you won't have done a thing about it!
Wow, Justine! Somehow I think, though, that there is more to voting for a third party candidate than wishing for a "fantasy executive" or "patron saint" as president. In my case, I get a very real, physical case of nausea when I think about voting for John McCain, though I do concede that a) the thought of voting for Obama also nauseates me; and b) following my inner "nausea meter" is not a reasonable way to decide anything!

Here's the thing: Abortion rates in this country have been declining steadily (apart from a small spike in 1988, toward the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency) since 1981, when they peaked at 434.6 per 1000 live births. The current rate is 291.5 per 1000 live births (see the table at the bottom of this post, taken from here). This decline cannot be explained by legal action or social welfare policies, since, as a country we have fiddled with both of those variables and still obtain the same result.

So, why are some pro-life conservatives so certain that legal action is the answer to the problem of abortion in this country? And why are some pro-life liberals so certain that social policy changes will solve this problem? Both the legal and the social policy solutions represent steps that those in power can take in an attempt to influence or even potentially force the free decisions of individuals. While both recourses are good (legal action because then our laws will reflect the documents our nation was founded on, particularly the Declaration of Independence, "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"; and social policy reform because it will improve the conditions needed in order for these rights to flourish), neither is a solution to the problem of abortion.

The problem of abortion is one of orientation. Do we share, with the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the certainty "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"? Because much has been done to educate the public about when a person ("men") becomes a person -- at conception, but how about the idea that our unalienable Rights were endowed by God? By overemphasizing legal reform, conservative Catholics risk implying that it is up to the legal system to endow us with these rights.

Here is an example of the kind of orientation we need: Yesterday, in the Level III atrium, we began our study of Moses by reading the first chapter of Exodus. It describes how Pharoah ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all the male Hebrew babies at birth. The midwives, however, did not do as Pharoah ordered because they "feared God." Not only was infanticide legal, it was mandated by the state, yet the midwives refused to carry out the law. And as we noted in our discussion yesterday, the Ten Commandments hadn't even been given yet! Where did this fear of God come from, and how did it bring the midwives to understand that infanticide is wrong? If we are going to put an end to abortion in this country, we should really try to understand how this works. We also need to understand that a legal system devised by human hands is never going to end injustice and suffering. The two Hebrew midwives (who were so esteemed as protagonists within sacred history that their names, Shiphrah and Puah, are recorded) lied to Pharoah; they didn't openly defy him. Still, the Bible tells us that "God dealt well with the midwives" (Exodus 1:20a). Eventually, he dealt with Pharoah, as well. We need to help one and all come to the share this "fear of God." Only then will each citizen (born and unborn) of this country be able to exercise his or her Rights, endowed by the Creator.

Meanwhile, at a rally to support his wife's bid for the Democratic nomination, former president Bill Clinton visited our town. Pro-life protesters showed up and managed to irritate Clinton to such an extent, that he shouted at them:
You wanna criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. I reduced abortion. Tell the truth, tell the truth, If you were really pro-life, if you were really pro-life, you would want to put every doctor and every mother as an accessory to murder in prison... Now, the issue is who, the issue is, you can't name me anybody presently in politics that did more to introduce policies that reduce the number of real abortions instead of the hot air putting out to tear people up and make votes by dividing America... (published on What's Wrong With the World -- along with the video of the event)
He seems (if you watch the video) really sincere as he accuses pro-life activists of wanting "to put every ... [abortion provider] and every mother [who has an abortion] ... in prison." Now, I have never heard anybody, not even the most passionate pro-life activist (and I have been in places where I was most likely to hear such things should they come up) say or imply or otherwise disclose a desire to put anyone in prison. What the pro-life movement wants is for the abortions to stop. End of discussion. Making abortion illegal does raise the question, though, of what should happen to those who persist in offering and receiving abortions, should they become illegal. Then one has to ask: What sort of prison reforms should be demanded by those who recognize the sanctity of life?

And here's another question for Catholics who believe that John McCain is the only possible candidate a Catholic can vote for, based on his stance on abortion: Just how pro-life is John McCain? What are his true political priorities? When given the opportunity to select a Supreme Court justice, will the candidate's views on abortion be the deciding factor? Or would McCain be willing to compromise that point in favor of other qualities he would like in a justice? His position on stem cell research seems to indicate that he does not share the Catholic passion for embrionic human life. What does he really stand for?

And this morning, on Clairity Daily, I saw this:
It has been an agonizing presidential campaign for the conscientious Catholic voter faced with two bad bad choices. The Republican party, which has been identified with the pro-life cause since Roe v. Wade, has flaunted the basic human rights which we have cherished in our democracy, particularly during the George W. Bush administration. These breaches include the Iraq War waged under false pretenses, the denial of habeas corpus and manipulation of legal procedure at Guantanamo Bay, the torture perpetrated at Abu-Gharaib and elsewhere including the "justifications" for same, the Patriot Act and other unconstitutional incursions on our freedoms. [read the whole thing, here]

"Agonizing" has indeed been the word! Clairity also writes, "We are being strong-armed through fear and pro-life loyalty again as four years ago to make what is for some of us a repugnant and irrational choice."

The President of the United States has many powers, but no one has yet been able to convince me that the power to put an end to abortion in this country is one of them.

What we should really be trying to determine is how each candidate will act in difficult, or even crisis situations. We need to judge his power of judgment, his consistency, his temperment, his moral fibre. Who will advise him? What are his priorities? What does he hold most dear?

---------------------------------------------------------------

United States abortion rates, 1960-2005

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 17 February 2008
Note: data is scaled relative to 1990 (1990 value=100).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Father Carron's Intervention at the Synod on the Word of God


Rev. Julián CARRÓN, President of Communion and Liberation (from Catholic.net):

Interpretation of the Bible is one of the most worrisome problems in the Church today. The essence of the challenge brought up by the problem of modern interpretation of Sacred Scriptures was identified years ago by the then Cardinal Ratzinger: “How can I come to a comprehension which is not based on the judgement of my suppositions, a comprehension that permits me to understand the text’s message, giving me back something that does not come from my person?”

Regarding this difficulty, today’s Magisterium of the Church offers us elements to avoid any possible reduction.

It was the Second Vatican Council’s merit to have recuperated a concept of revelation as the event of God in history. In effect, Dei Verbum permits understanding the revelation as the auto-communication’s event of the Trinity through the Son “the mediator and the fullness of all Revelation” (DV 2). It is Christ who “perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth” (DV 4).

This event does not belong only to the past, to a certain moment in time and space, but remains present in history, communicating itself through the totality of the Church’s life that receives it. In fact, “Christ’s contemporaneity to each human being of any time is realized through his body which is the Church” (VS 25; cf. FR 11).

The encyclical letter Fides et Ratio characterizes the impact, that the revealed truth provokes in each person that encounters it, with two folded impulse: a) it widens one’s mind to adapt it to the subject; b) it facilitates the comprehension of its deep sense. Instead of mortifying the person’s intellect and liberty, the revelation leads to developing both the highest level of their original condition.

The experience of the encounter with Christ present in the living tradition of the Church is an event and therefore becomes the determining factor of the interpretation of the biblical text. It is the only way to be in harmony with the experience witnessed by the Scripture’s text. In fact, “the right knowledge of the biblical text is therefore accessible only to whom has a lived affinity with what is stated in the text” (PcB 70). Saint Augustin summarizes it realistically: “In manibus nostris sunt codices, in oculis nostris facta”.

[Original text: Italian]

Poll: Most Americans Want Abortion Restricted

From Zenit:

Over 90% Favor Limits

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, OCT. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A U.S. nationwide poll shows that almost all Americans thing abortion should be restricted.

The poll was conducted for the Knights of Columbus by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion between Sept. 24 and Oct. 3. It aimed to enable comparisons of the views of Catholic voters with those of the general electorate.

The poll asked respondents to state which of six statements came closest to describing their opinion on abortion.

Only 8% of U.S. residents chose the statement saying abortion should be available to a woman any time she wants during her entire pregnancy.

That same percentage said abortion should be allowed only during the first six months of pregnancy. Twenty-four percent moved the abortion limit to the first three months of pregnancy.

The largest percentage -- 32% -- chose the statement saying abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Fifteen percent chose the fifth option: that abortion should be allowed only to save the life of the mother.

And 13% affirmed that abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance.

The poll also indicated that even among those who describe themselves as pro-choice, 71% favored restricting abortions. Of these, 43% would restrict abortion to the first trimester and 23% would restrict abortion only to cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the poll results are "indicative of the fact that the term 'pro-choice' -- when applied broadly -- needlessly polarizes the discussion of abortion and masks the fact that there is broad consensus among Americans that abortion should be significantly restricted."

Let's shake things up a little!

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, a Scripture scholar and former president of the Nigerian bishops association told the National Catholic Reporter that he'd "obviously" back the Democratic nominee:

Known as a strong advocate for social justice, Onaiyekan said Obama’s pro-choice record wouldn’t stop him from voting for the Democrat.

“The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life,” Onaiyekan said in an interview with NCR. “You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.”

A past president of the African bishops’ conference, Onaiyekan is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa. During the synod, he was tapped to deliver a continental report on behalf of the African bishops.

Onaiyekan said the election of an African-American president would have positive repercussions for America’s image in the developing world.

“It would mean that for the first time, we would begin to think that the Americans are really serious in the things they say, about freedom, equality, and all that,” he said. “For a long time, we’ve been feeling that you don’t really mean it, that they’re just words.”

Onaiyekan said he’s aware that many American Catholics have reservations about Obama because of his stand on abortion, but he looks at it differently.

“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.

“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.

“It’s a whole package, and you never get a politician who will please you in everything,” he said. “You always have to pick and choose.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Please grant me humility and availability and freedom from presumption

Jesus' own instructions for entering the Kingdom of God are valid for Paul in regard to the justification by faith: Both require an attitude of great humility and availability, free of presumptions, to receive the grace of God.
• Pope Benedict XVI

A truly educational response

Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy, here.

Missing premise or not, Prof. Lee's response is too narrow, too abstract, and too prone to misinterpretation to be truly educational- I know a thing or two about being too abstract- and is not likely to persuade anyone who does not already agree with him... (from Deacon Scott Dodge's post, Inherent complexity defies reduction)
While it might be argued that Prof Lee's letter to the editor, which appeared in a local newspaper, The Herald Star, only aimed to refute the claim that he and other Catholics are "single-issue" voters, I think that Deacon Scott's point is valid, because at this critical juncture in our history, all that we say or do publicly on the subject of abortion must also attempt to persuade others to the truth.

Our call, as Catholics, is not simply to communicate the truth. We must be concerned with the question of method: How we communicate the truth is much more important than most pro-life activists and apologists realize. Moreover, it is not enough to craft arguments that please and impress those who agree with us. Christ gives us a clear directive when he says, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation..." (Mark 16:15).

Let's pay attention! What we are called to communicate is good news! Before we open our mouths, pick up a pen, or sit down to our keyboards, it had better be very clear to us that our first job is to proclaim something new, something tremendously good. If we're not up to this task, we would do better to remain silent.

Our method, then, is to find the good news, wherever it may be located (buried or overlooked), and lift it up. This is the heart of fraternal correction and Christian witness.

I myself am guilty of expressing discouragement and waxing polemical when it comes to political questions. This conversation is a good reminder to me that the very first premise, the one that informs all the others, is that I have been preferred, chosen by God to bear his good news -- and not as a result of any good deed I've done or special talent I possess -- God's preference for me is purely gratuitous. From this recognition flows the awareness of another fact: other persons have also been preferred, chosen by God, as well. This dynamic was beautifully described in a witness, given during a CL Summer vacation, a little over a year ago; it is also summed up by Christ's assertion that all the hairs of our heads are counted; and it was articulated in the film, Greater: Defeating AIDS, by Emmanuel Exitu, when Vicky recounts that Rose asked her, "Vicky don't you know that the value in you is greater than the value of this disease?"

Before we speak or write a single word about abortion, or any other evil we encounter, let's remember the infinite and irreducible value of each person. Those who desire the "freedom" to choose abortion are forgetting their own irreducible value. Before they can begin to appreciate the dignity and value of the lives of the unborn, they will need to discover a much deeper affection for themselves and a much broader understanding about where their own value comes from. They will never discover these things if we shun them, insult them, or even deliver fine logical arguments in their general direction.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Chosen" people

Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy.

Deacon Scott Dodge's recent remarks about Abraham Lincoln (Inherent complexity defies reduction) and the problem of abortion are very helpful. While he does not make any parallels between Lincoln's pre-presidential stance on slavery and that of Barack Obama on abortion, my own discovery (through Deacon Scott's work) that Lincoln's stance evolved, shines new light on questions I have been grappling with. And let me be very clear: Deacon Scott has been consistent (on his own blog and here) in his repudiation and condemnation of Obama, Biden, and Pelosi when it comes to abortion.

For some time, I have wanted to know why, in the end, politicians are "pro-choice," particularly when a majority of voters polled have responded on multiple occasions that they are pro-life, and when "
47% of all Democrats agree, 'abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter'" (Democrats for Life, by Kristen Day). The political process is supposed to guarantee that when a majority of Americans are opposed to a particular policy or law, politicians will shy away from supporting it, right?

It is tempting to think that money is the culprit, and perhaps it is. I tried to do some research on-line to discover just how much money Obama receives from pro-abortion organizations, but I wasn't able turn up any easy-to-find figures. This work will have to fall to someone more competent in this area.

Meanwhile, the problem of Abraham Lincoln's "nuanced" position on slavery, as documented by Deacon Scott, offers a fresh angle of approach to my own question. Lincoln, it can be presumed, did not practice politics within the same money-saturated political climate we find today. So, why did he, at one time, support slavery, albeit within limits? The answer to this question could go further toward answering the question that concerns me: How is it possible for a candidate to be personally opposed to something while exercising his or her political power to make the "regrettable" more likely to happen more often, even while those who have elected him or her have expressed their opposition?

Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery evolved over time. It may be that his personal opinion about slavery never changed. Perhaps he began with the belief that the overthrow of that loathsome institution would be impossible, given the cultural and economic situation of the country. Then, when he saw possibilities open up, he reached toward them.

It may be that Obama likewise supports the practice of abortion because he believes it is a regrettable given in our society. His voting and public statements, however, don't leave much room to hope that this is the case.


But, even more likely is the possibility that Abraham Lincoln was a man of his time and culture, that slavery was an evil he, like his compatriots, had grown accustomed to. When a great evil is legal and widely practiced in a given country, it is easy for citizens to make room for it, even if they recognize its evil. Rationalization (it may be wrong, but how else could our economy/culture/all that's good in us survive?) and relativism (not right for me, but for others...) sometimes seem to us the more intelligent, "nuanced," and urbane responses to social ills.

Let's put cynicism aside and assume that Obama means it when he says,

“I'm in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade… That's why I'm running, Democrats — to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality.”

Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, November 10, 2007

Statements like this one reveal Obama's real concern for his fellow human beings, particularly those who are weak or disenfranchized. So, why doesn't he fight, with the same passion, for the lives of those who are weakest and least capable of ensuring their own opportunity and equality? Perhaps he, like Lincoln, believes that while abortion may be evil, the alternative could be worse.

Or he has bought into a mentality that goes largely unarticulated, but which says that unless babies are wanted, let's say chosen, by their parents, then their lives do not carry the same value as the lives of others who are "chosen" by their parents. This line of thinking assumes that it is in the act of being "chosen" by one's parents that a person acquires value.

Of course, this notion, that human value derives from having been chosen, comes to us from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The difference is that for the Jew and for the Christian, human beings are valuable because each has been chosen by God. But in this new understanding of "being chosen," the people who choose are mere humans. The "pro-choice" stance is first of all a rejection of God as the One who gives each one of us value; it is an attempt to emancipate oneself from having been chosen by a power beyond us.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The parable of God's vineyard

Gospel Commentary for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap:
[...] Human beings do not plant vineyards and dedicate themselves to its care for the love of the vines but for their own benefit. God is different. He creates man and enters into a covenant with him, not for his own benefit, but for man’s benefit, out of pure love. The fruits that are expected from man are love of God and justice toward the oppressed: all things that are for the good of man, not God.

This parable of Jesus is terribly relevant to our Europe, and in general to the Christian world. In this context, too, we must say that Jesus has been “cast out of the vineyard,” thrown out of a culture that proclaims itself post-Christian, or even anti-Christian. The words of the vineyard tenants resound, if not in the words at least in the deeds, of our secularized society: “Let us kill the heir and the inheritance will be ours!”

No one wants to hear anymore about Europe’s Christian roots, of the Christian patrimony. Secularized humanity wants to be the heir, the master. Sartre put this terrible declaration into the mouth of one of his characters: “There is nothing in heaven, neither good nor evil, there is no one who can give me orders. [...] I am a man, and every man must invent his own path.”

What I have just sketched is a “broadband” application of the parable. But Jesus' parables almost always have a more “narrow band” application, an application to the individual: they apply to each individual person, not just to humanity or Christendom in general. We are invited to ask ourselves: What fate have I prepared for Christ in my life? How am I responding to God’s incomprehensible love for me? [...]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Try not to cry...

We saw Wicked again last night. The song begins at around 3:15



This is one of the most beautiful duets I have ever heard -- it's also one of the most amazing expressions of friendship.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."