Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Am I? Look at Me

My daughter sometimes finds it difficult to look a person in the eyes when she is talking to that person. When she does that to me or my wife, we often say, "Where am I?" or "Look at me."

I was at Eucharistic adoration recently. I did what I usually do: I look at the tabernacle, then close my eyes and bend my head downwards. But then, it felt as though Christ were saying to me those words that I have so often said to my daughter: "Where am I?" and "Look at me." So I raised my head, and opened my eyes, and looked at Him. It felt like a clear reminder of His Real Presence. Of course, the whole reason I was there was because I believe that Christ is really and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament. However, that does not mean I always feel His presence or even that I am intellectually aware of His presence. But He was reminding me of why I came there, reminding me of who He is and where He is, and reminding me of who I am and my relationship with Him.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch. St. Ignatius is a saint everyone should learn about. Ignatius had a deep relationship with Christ that resulted in a joyful spirit as he was led from his see in Antioch to Rome where he was put to death by lions in 107 for being a Christian. His Letter to the Smyrnaeans is the earliest instance we know of the use of the phrase"the Catholic Church" (section 8). I find his Letter to the Ephesians to be especially rich. Here are some excerpts from his Letter to the Ephesians from Early Christian Writings (translation by Mawell Staniforth and revised translation by Andrew Louth):

It is true that I am a prisoner for the Name's sake, but I am by no means perfect in Jesus Christ as yet; I am only a beginner in discipleship, and I speaking to you as fellow-scholars with myself. (Section 3)

Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God. Give them a chance to learn from you, or at all events from the way you act. Meet their animosity with mildness, their high words with humility, and their abuse with your prayers. But stand firm against their errors, and if they grow violent, be gentle instead of wanting to pay them back in their own coin. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers, and try to imitate the Lord by seeing which of us can put up with the most ill-usage or privation or contempt--so that in this way none of the devil's noxious weeds may take root among you, but you may rest in Jesus Christ in all sanctity and discipline of body and soul. (Section 10)

Apart from Him, nothing else should have any value in your eyes; but in Him, even these chains I wear are a collar of spiritual pearls to me, in which I hope to rise again through the help of your intercessions. (Section 11)

Do your best, then, to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded, and in the face of your corporate faith his maleficence crumbles. Nothing can better a state of peaceful accord, from which every trace of spiritual or earthly hostility has been banished. (Section 13)

... for life begins and ends with two qualities. Faith is the beginning, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God. All that makes for a soul's perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred. As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ are known by their actions; for this work of ours does not consist in just making professions, but in a faith that is both practical and lasting. (Section 14)

Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes. (Section 15)

As for me, my spirit is now all humble devotion to the Cross: the Cross which so greatly offends the unbelievers, but is salvation and eternal life to us. (Section 18)

[Ignatius says that he will write to the Ephesians again, God willing, if, among other things, they] ... are ready now to obey your bishop and clergy with undivided minds and to share the one common breaking of bread--the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore. (Section 20)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Forty Days for Life

This past Monday I stood in front of a local Planned Parenthood facility and prayed the Rosary as part of Forty Days for Life. I was part of Forty Days for Life last year, and I found it a moving experience. Last year I was there praying with a friend of mine from our parish. This year, however, I missed the day our parishioners were attending. I didn't know if anyone would be there (I went around 10:00 AM). I was dreading it, frankly. I went to a Communion service at another parish that morning for encouragement. I was feeling a bit like Jonah--I wanted to run in the opposite direction from the place to where God was calling me. Like Jonah, I was a reluctant witness. I went to Planned Parenthood and there was a familiar face--a man who is there most every day. He is a familiar fixture in the neighborhood. He is joyful, encouraging, and compassionate. It was comforting to see him there. I paced up and down the sidewalk, praying on my son's red hand-made twine rosary. I was wondering if this was enough, and tonight I just came across this quotation from St. Francis of Assisi: "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." That gives me some consolation that my timid efforts still have some effectiveness.

I was thinking about how to speak with others who may not agree why abortion is wrong. Here are ten reasons that came to mind:

1) Because whether a fetus is a human being or not should not depend on whether he or she is wanted or not.

2) Because the weekly growth of an embryo into a fetus into a born child clearly demonstrates the continuity of human development.

3) Because if you can convince yourself that killing an unborn child is not only permissible but a human right, then society can rationalize any atrocity.

4) Because if you do not know when human life begins, then you should err on the side of caution and assume it begins earlier rather than later.

5) Because tearing a sprouting acorn out of the ground and destroying it is the same as cutting down an oak tree.

6) Because abortion comes from the domination of hope by fear.

7) Because aborting an unborn child in cases of rape or incest is like killing a born child for the crimes of his or her father.

8) Because sacrifice is an honorable act, unless the adjective “human” precedes it.

9) Because abortion is an answer to half of a question. If one asks, “What do I do now?” when faced with an unexpected pregnancy, then abortion seems like an option. But if one asks instead, “What do I do now in the best interests of the person I helped to create through my free choice of engaging in an act that by its very nature creates life?” then one’s options appear very different.

10) Because an unborn child is not a problem to be fixed but a gift to be received—or given.

Thanks to Tate for a couple of wonderful resources for talking to others about abortion. The first focuses on how a baby develops:

Diary of an Unborn Child

Chronology of the New Life

1. On day 1, I already have a unique DNA which includes whether I’m a boy or a girl.

2. At 7 days, I implant in my mother’s womb.

3. At 18 days, my heart starts beating

4. At 19 days, my eyes start to develop.

5. At 28 days, my arms and legs are forming.

6. At 30 days, my ears and nasal are developing.

7. At 42 days, my skeleton is complete and my reflexes are present.

8. At 43 days, my brain wave patterns can be recorded. I’m now considered a thinking person.
9. At 7 weeks, I have the appearance of a miniature doll with complete fingers, toes and ears. I’ve even been caught in pictures sucking my thumb.

10. At 8 weeks, all of my organs are complete and functioning. Everything is now present that will be found in a developed adult.

11. At 9 weeks, I can squint, make a fist and move my tongue.

12. At 10 weeks, my sense of touch is working, and I can feel comfort or pain.
13. At 12 weeks, I can smile.

14. At 16 weeks (four months), I’m swimming, kicking and doing somersaults.

15. At 18 weeks, my vocal cords are working, and I can cry.

16. At 20 weeks, I’m approximately 12 inches long, weighing 1 pound.

17. At 22 week, I can live outside the womb.

Then there is this excellent dialogue (of sorts) in 1999 between then-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and California Senator Barbara Boxer on when life begins:

Senator Santorum: I think the issue of where we draw the line constitutionally is very important. And I’m sure the Senator from California [Senator Boxer] agrees with me. I think the senator from California would say that she and I, and the senator from Illinois and the senators from Arkansas and Kansas here, we are all protected by the Constitution with a right to life. Would you agree with that, senator from California -- [would you] answer that question?

Senator Boxer: I support the Roe versus Wade decision.

Santorum: So you would agree any child that’s born has the right to life, is protected under the Constitution? Once that child is born?

Boxer: I agree with the Roe v. Wade decision. And what you are doing goes against it and will harm the women of this country. And I will speak to that issue when I get the floor myself.

Santorum: But I would like to ask you a question. You agree, once that child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?

Boxer: I would make this statement: That this Constitution, as it currently is -- some of you want to amend it to say that life begins at conception. I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born -- and there is no such thing as partial-birth -- the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights. But I am not willing to amend the Constitution to say that a fetus is a person, which I know you would.

But we will get into that later. I would prefer to address --I know my colleague is engaging me in a colloquy on his time, and I appreciate it -- I will answer these questions.

I think what my friend is doing, by asking me these questions, is off point. My friend wants to tell the doctors in this country what to do. My friend from Pennsylvania says they are "rogue" doctors. The AMA will tell you they no longer support you. The American nurses don't support you. The obstetricians and gynecologists don't support you. So my friend can ask me my philosophy all day. On my own time I will talk about it.

Santorum: If I can reclaim my time: First of all, the AMA still believes this is bad medicine. They do not support the criminal penalties provisions in this bill, but they still believe -- I think you know that to be the case -- that this procedure is not medically necessary, and they stand by that statement.

I ask the senator from California, again: you believe, you said "once the

baby comes home." Obviously, you don't mean they have to take the baby out

of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree -- completely separated from the mother -- you would agree that baby is entitled to constitutional protection?

Boxer: I will tell you why I don't want to engage in this. You did the same conversation with a colleague of mine, and I never saw such a twisting of his remarks. [Editor’s note: See Nov. 14, 1996 NRL News, page 24, for transcript of an exchange between Santorum and Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wi.).]

Santorum: Well, be clear, then. Let's be clear.

Boxer: I am going to be very clear when I get the floor. What you are trying to do is take away the rights of women and their families and their doctors to have a procedure. And now you are trying to turn the question into, "When does life begin?" I will talk about that on my own time.

Santorum: What I am trying to do is get an answer from the senator from California as to where you would draw the line? Because that really is the important part of this debate.

Boxer: I will repeat. I will repeat, since the senator has asked me a question – I am answering the question I have been posed by the senator. And the answer to the question is, I stand by Roe v. Wade. I stand by it. I hope we have a chance to vote on it. It is very clear, Roe v. Wade. That is what I stand by. My friend doesn't.

Santorum: Are you suggesting Roe v. Wade covered the issue of a baby in the process of being born?

Boxer: I am saying what Roe v. Wade says is, that in the early stages of a pregnancy, a woman has the right to choose. In the later stages, the states have the right, yes, to come in and restrict. I support those restrictions, as long as two things happen: They respect the life of the mother and the health of the mother.

Santorum: I understand that.

Boxer: That is where I stand. And no matter how you try to twist it, that is where I stand.

Santorum: I would say to the senator from California, I am not twisting anything. I am simply asking a very straightforward question. There is no hidden question here. The question is --

Boxer: I will answer it again.

Santorum: Once the baby is born, is completely separated from the mother, you will support that that baby has, in fact, the right to life and cannot be killed? You accept that; right?

Boxer: I don't believe in killing any human being. That is absolutely correct. Nor do you, I am sure.

Santorum: So you would accept the fact that once the baby is separated from the mother, that baby cannot be killed?

Boxer: I support the right -- and I will repeat this, again, because I saw you ask the same question to another senator –

Santorum: All the person has to do is give me a straight answer, and then it will be very clear to everybody.

Boxer: And what defines "separation"? Define "separation." You answer that question. You define it.

Santorum: Well, let's define that. Okay, let's say the baby is completely separated. In other words, no part of the baby is inside of the mother.

Boxer: You mean the baby has been birthed and is now in its mother's

arms? That baby is a human being.

Santorum: Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily in its mother’s arms. Let’s say in the obstetrician's hands.

Boxer: It takes a second, it takes a minute – I had two babies, and within seconds of their birth --

Santorum: We’ve had six.

Boxer: Well, you didn't have any.

Santorum: My wife and I had babies together. That’s the way we do things in our family.

Boxer: Your wife gave birth. I gave birth. I can tell you, I know when the baby was born.

Santorum: Good! All I am asking you is, once the baby leaves the mother's birth canal and is through the vaginal orifice and is in the hands of the obstetrician, you would agree that you cannot abort, kill the baby?

Boxer: I would say when the baby is born, the baby is born, and would then have every right of every other human being living in this country. And I don't know why this would even be a question, to be honest with you.

Santorum: Because we are talking about a situation here where the baby is almost born. So I ask the question of the senator from California, if the baby was born except for the baby's foot, if the baby's foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside, could that baby be killed?

Boxer: The baby is born when the baby is born. That is the answer to the question.

Santorum: I am asking for you to define for me what that is.

Boxer: I don’t think anybody but the senator from Pennsylvania has a question with it. I have never been troubled by this question. You give birth to a baby. The baby is there, and it is born. That is my answer to the question.

Santorum: What we are talking about here with partial birth, as the senator from California knows, is a baby is in the process of being born --

Boxer: "The process of being born." This is why this conversation makes no sense, because to me it is obvious when a baby is born. To you it isn't obvious.

Santorum: Maybe you can make it obvious to me. So what you are suggesting is if the baby's foot is still inside of the mother, that baby can then still be killed.

Boxer: No, I am not suggesting that in any way!

Santorum: I am asking.

Boxer: I am absolutely not suggesting that. You asked me a question, in essence, when the baby is born.

Santorum: I am asking you again. Can you answer that?

Boxer: I will answer the question when the baby is born. The baby is born when the baby is outside the mother's body. The baby is born.

Santorum: I am not going to put words in your mouth –

Boxer: I hope not.

Santorum: But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby's toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby.

Boxer: Absolutely not.

Santorum: OK. So if the baby's toe is in, you can't kill the baby. How

about if the baby's foot is in?

Boxer: You are the one who is making these statements.

Santorum: We are trying to draw a line here.

Boxer: I am not answering these questions! I am not answering these questions.

The Catholic Church's reasoning for opposing abortion is based on thoroughly logical philosophical methods, not simply divine revelation. I have often said that if I became an atheist tomorrow I would still staunchly oppose abortion merely on the grounds of human reason. Senator Boxer's exchange with Senator Santorum shows how her ideology prevents her from examining the philosophical and logical inconsistencies and gaps of her position.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Rhetoric of Planned Parenthood

Today I attended a local Life Chain. We held up signs along a busy local state route for an hour. As Peter said to Jesus at the Transfiguration, "Master, it is well that we are here" (Mark 9:5). There were a number of motorists who honked in support. It was encouraging to see so many people on the sidewalk and in the cars expressing their concern about legalized abortion.

The other day I was reading through Planned Parenthood's website. I was struck by their rhetoric. Not by their rhetoric's audacity (though there was a little of that) but much more so by their rhetoric's subtlety. I found their use of rhetoric deft but disturbing.

Here are some examples:

Abortions are very common. In fact, more than 1 out of 3 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.

This bit of information is used, not so that the reader will think, "That's awful; we should do something about that," but rather so that the reader will think, "Oh, an abortion is no big deal; many people do it." President Obama has publicly expressed his support for reducing the number of abortions. If that is the President's goal, Planned Parenthood, a vocal supporter of the Administration on abortion issues, does not appear to share his goal.

Most women want to have children. And they want to have children when they are ready and best able to care for them. But millions of women face unplanned pregnancies every year. In fact, half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

We are supposed to think that because half of all pregnancies are unplanned, that also means that they are a problem. And Planned Parenthood wants to present itself as a solution provider. This is a very common marketing strategy: present a problem, and get the consumer to envision your company as the one who can solve your problem.

If you are pregnant, you have three options to think about — abortion, adoption, and parenting. Reading and learning about each one will help you get the facts and may help you decide. It may also help to weigh the benefits and risks of each one. Think about which benefits and risks are most important to you.

Of course, "abortion" is the first option given. That is because Planned Parenthood is in the business of abortion and cannot make money off of the other two options. And then we come to the intellectually dishonest attempt to equalize all three options based on "risk." But what are the "risks" of adoption vs. abortion? Look and see:

Here's what they say about "How Will I Feel After the Adoption"

Many women who make this choice are happy knowing that their children are loved and living in good homes. And they feel empowered in their role as birth mother. But some women find that the sense of loss is deeper than they expected.

You may feel some grief after the adoption is complete. Or you may be reassured by knowing that your child is in good hands. A range of emotions is normal. And your feelings may be complicated for a while.

It's a good idea to find counseling to help you work through your feelings. This can be important during the adoption process as well as afterward. If you work with an adoption agency, they can often provide counseling for you. If you have an independent adoption, you can still receive counseling and guidance through a local adoption agency. No matter which type of adoption you pursue, it's important to find people who will support you during and after your pregnancy.

Now, here's what they say about "If I Have an Abortion, How Will I Feel Afterward?"

A range of emotions is normal after an abortion. There is not one "correct" way to feel. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while. For some women, these feelings may be quite strong.

For some women, having an abortion can be a significant life event, like ending a relationship, starting or losing a job, or becoming a parent. It can be very stressful and difficult. Other women have an easier time after abortion.

Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as uncommon as they are after giving birth. They are more likely to happen for certain reasons — for instance, if a woman has a history of emotional problems before the abortion, if she doesn't have supportive people in her life, or if she has to terminate a wanted pregnancy because her health or the health of her fetus is in danger.

Ultimately, most women feel relief after an abortion. Women tend to feel better after abortion if they can talk with supportive people in their lives.

So there you have it. If you read these two options carefully, clearly adoption is the greater risk. Adoption may cause "grief" and may be "complicated for a while." Abortion, on the other hand, may result in "regret" but only "for a little while." However, "ultimately, most women feel relief" after an abortion while only "many women" who decide on adoption "are happy knowing that their children are loved and living in good homes."

But here's my favorite bit of propaganda:

Family planning clinics, like your local Planned Parenthood health center, have specially trained staff who can talk with you about all of your options. But beware of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers". These are fake clinics run by people who are anti-abortion. They often don't give women all their options. They have a history of scaring women into not having abortions. Absolutely no one should pressure you or trick you into making a decision you're not comfortable with.

If you are anti-abortion, you are a "fake" provider of care and counseling. "Beware."

Beware, indeed. But rather, beware of manipulative rhetoric that subtly tries to make women focus on their fears rather than the entire picture, which includes another human life that has the power to immeasurably enrich either their own lives or the lives of others in a better position to raise these children.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Feast of the Guardian Angels

(Angels Swinging Censers, ca. 1170. French; Made in Troyes. Pot-metal, white glass, vitreous paint, silver stain; 18 1/2 x 17 5/16 in. (47 x 44 cm). Gift of Ella Brummer, in memory of her husband, Ernest Brummer, 1977 (1977.346.1) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.)

Today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels, the patronal feast day of my parish.
St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews (ca. 403 A.D.) talks about angels:

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” [Hebrews 1:14.] What marvel (saith he) if they minister to the Son, when they minister even to our salvation? See how he lifts up their minds, and shows the great honor which God has for us, since He has assigned to Angels who are above us this ministration on our behalf. As if one should say, for this purpose (saith he) He employs them; this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation. So that it is an angelical work, to do all for the salvation of the brethren: or rather it is the work of Christ Himself, for He indeed saves as Lord, but they as servants. And we, though servants are yet Angels’ fellow-servants. Why gaze ye so earnestly on the Angels (saith he)? They are servants of the Son of God, and are sent many ways for our sakes, and minister to our salvation. And so they are partners in service with us.

Consider ye how he ascribes no great difference to the kinds of creatures. And yet the space between angels and men is great; nevertheless he brings them down near to us, all but saying, For us they labor, for our sake they run to and fro: on us, as one might say, they wait. This is their ministry, for our sake to be sent every way.

And of these examples both the Old [Testament] is full, and the New. For when Angels bring glad tidings to the shepherds, or to Mary, or to Joseph; when they sit at the sepulcher, when they are sent to say to the disciples, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” ( Acts i. 11 ), when they release Peter out of the prison, when they discourse with Philip, consider how great the honor is; when God sends His Angels for ministers as to friends; when to Cornelius [an Angel] appears, when [an Angel] brings forth all the apostles from the prison, and says, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people the words of this life” ( Acts v. 20 ); and to Paul himself also an Angel appears. Dost thou see that they minister to us on God’s behalf, and that they minister to us in the greatest matters? wherefore Paul saith, “All things are yours, whether life or death, or the world, or things present, or things to come.” ( 1 Cor. iii. 22.)

Well then the Son also was sent, but not as a servant, nor as a minister, but as a Son, and Only-Begotten, and desiring the same things with the Father. Rather indeed, He was not “sent”: for He did not pass from place to place, but took on Him flesh: whereas these change their places, and leaving those in which they were before, so come to others in which they were not.

And by this again he incidentally encourages them, saying, What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us. (Homily 3, Section 4)
(Available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

St. John has so many meaningful things to say here. It is good to think of ourselves as "heirs of salvation" -- not so that it leads us to presumption, but that it feeds us with hope. "...this is the office of Angels, to minister to God for our salvation" -- the word translated as "office" is the same Greek word from which the English word "liturgy" comes (λειτουργία [leitourgia]). We are told that we are doing "angelic work" when we work for the salvation of others; like angels, we have an important "ev-angelizing" role. Like angels, we are servants. I particularly like the last part: "What fear ye? Angels are ministering to us."