Sunday, October 31, 2010

40 Days, and a prayer for life

Today is the last day of the 40 Days for Life event. While today will therefore be the last day I post a "40 Days" post, it will most certainly not be the last time I write about abortion.

We can't really understand the magnitude of the abortion holocaust until we realize that there are 52 million Americans aged 37 or under who are simply missing. To visualize that number, take a look at the Memorial to the Missing, which contains about fifty million pennies to represent the fifty million (and counting) lives lost since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton became our laws.

Another way to visualize the numbers is to think of the nearly 3,000 lives lost on September 11, 2001. If 3,000 Americans died in terror attacks every day for over 17,300 days, or every day for more than 47 years, we would have lost the same number of people as we have lost from legal abortion. In fact, there were several pregnant women among the victims of 9/11, and most counts include the lives of their unborn children in the total number of victims, as they should be counted. But the strange truth is that Americans only count unborn victims as people if their mothers didn't exercise their right to choose to pay someone to kill them; thus we mourn, as we should, the women and their unborn children who perished on 9/11 as we mourn all the innocent who died that day; but we ignore, as we should not, the approximately 3,700 unborn humans who die every single day in abortion clinics in America.

I know that my readers come from different perspectives on abortion; that you would choose to keep reading here when I am unequivocally pro-life gives me some hope for future cooperation. Can we not, at a minimum, agree that 3,700 abortions a day, many of them taking place under duress, pressure, and coercion, are far, far too many? Can't we work and pray together to end this nightmare for women and for the children lost forever?

I pray, on this eve of All Hallows' Day, that we will have the courage to see the intrinsic worth and irreplaceable value of every human life, and that we will work to ensure that ours becomes a culture in which a woman never has to choose to pay someone to kill her unborn child. I want more than that; I've never tried to hide it. But couldn't we all agree on at least that much?

God bless all who work and pray and strive to bear witness to the dignity and worth of all human life, from conception until natural death.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Accidental parenting

One of my saddest childhood memories involves the death of a fourth-grade friend of mine. My friend, aged nine, had gone for a walk by herself in her neighborhood. Well-taught in the art of crossing the street, she stopped at an intersection to allow a van to go by--but the van's driver kindly waved her across. Unfortunately, the car behind the van didn't see the little girl stepping off of the sidewalk, assumed that the van was having some sort of engine trouble, and pulled around it--hitting my friend and knocking her to the pavement. Though paramedics arrived with all speed, they could not save her.

In the past few years or so, the parenting model dubbed "helicopter parenting" has gone to some extremes--so much so that colleges have had to tell parents of newly-arriving freshmen to go home, already. As often happens, when the pendulum swings too far one way, it corrects; sometimes, it may even over-correct, and go too far in the opposite direction.

It is too early to say whether the parenting philosophy dubbed "free-range parenting" will be an over-correction. Perhaps it won't be. But when I hear parents say that nine years old is plenty old enough for a child to learn to navigate neighborhood streets alone within a few blocks' distance of their homes, I recall my friend's tragic death, and I wonder.

Free-range parenting tends to laugh at the cult of child safety and the fixation some parents seem to have on keeping their children from harm. It's true that some parental nightmares are ill-founded; while parents, for instance, fear stranger abductions, such abductions remain relatively rare (and the fact that one happened in this general area, and that the child's killer has never been found, doesn't change the statistics). Helicopter parents' involvement in their children's lives often goes way beyond basic safety questions, too, and into the realm of micromanagement.

But I have one major problem with free-range parenting, with the notion that kids don't need to learn basic safety rules or hold hands or stay close or walk with a parent or check in when they are out alone or take other age-appropriate safety measures. The problem is this:

The leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of two and twenty-four are accidents.

The majority of those are accidents involving cars; collisions between motor vehicles top the list, but accidents in which children are struck by cars go into the "car accident" category too. Drowning, fires, falls, and accidental poisoning are some of the other major causes of accidental death in young people; and there are an alarming number of other accidents, ranging from children killed when they climb on or pull a large piece of furniture or electronics on top of themselves, to fatal accidents involving bicycles or other wheeled equipment, a lack of proper safety gear including a helmet, and a head injury.

Does all of the above justify full-blown helicopter parenting? No; like all parenting extremes the helicopter parents all too easily go too far. But knowing the facts about children and accidents makes me cringe just a little when I hear parents scoff at the idea that a four- or five-year-old needs to hold an adult's hand in a crowded parking lot, or that a child under age ten ought to be with a parent on Halloween.

And that last is what prompts me to write this, even if I get some flack for it. A study done by the CDC a few years ago revealed that children under age fourteen are four times more likely to be hit by a car on Halloween night than on any other night of the year. The combination of excited kids dashing across streets with safety rules momentarily superseded by the thrill of the candy chase, busy adults driving children to parties or even just to neighborhoods where the houses are conveniently close together, dark skies, and so forth leads each year to a rise in the number of children injured or even killed as they seek Halloween loot. Adults are not immune, either, so accompanying one's child isn't a foolproof way to make sure nobody gets hit by a car--but at least adults aren't in danger of letting the evening's excitement suspend their judgment and cause them to dart between parked cars, cross in the middle of the road, or engage in similar risky behaviors.

Halloween is by far the only time when children are at risk of momentary bad judgment leading to accident, though. That's why, as much as I agree that some of the helicopter parenting has gone too far, I don't think replacing this with a totally hands-off approach is wise, either.

It's true that no parents can protect their children from every possible accident or injury; such things, sadly, often happen in the blink of an eye--and with parents close by. But some of the biggest dangers, from being hit by cars to drowning or being poisoned accidentally, can be addressed proactively and reasonably. Though my childhood friend was following safety rules, for example, the driver of the second car simply couldn't see her--but he would have seen a taller adult at her side.

There's a reason for childhood, for there to be time for a child to learn and grow and discover the adult world--and how to function safely and intelligently and rationally within it. There's a reason for parents, too: not "helicopter" parents or "free-range" parents, but just--parents. There is nothing wrong with believing that one's child is old enough to cross the street safely while still insisting that he wait to do so until he is older, taller, more mature, and less likely to act on impulse. Parenting doesn't fit into an easy little box with neat, tidy labels; it's a messy, confusing business, much of the time. But the rewards are as priceless as our children.

40 Days, and regulation

A new law is set to go into effect in Arizona. Oh, wait--it's a law that was passed a decade ago--it has just never been enforced until now:
It's been a decade since the state mandated new regulation on abortion clinics. And unless there is another legal fight, those laws are about to take effect Monday.

They include a mandate that only a doctor can perform a surgical abortion, the doctor must check if the woman is healthy enough for the procedure, and the doctor must estimate the gestational age of the baby. [...]

The law was passed after a woman died following a botched abortion.
Planned Parenthood, which claims to be all about "safe" legal abortion, has been fighting this law for ten years:
A Superior Court judge denied Planned Parenthood’s motion to block a law from taking effect. The law, containing regulations on abortion businesses, was passed by the state legislature 10 years ago after Lou Anne Herron’s tragic death in an Arizona abortion center.
The rules ensure, among other things, that non-doctors may not perform surgical abortions, but Planned Parenthood has held up the health and safety standards ever since.
Judge Donald Daughton denied Planned Parenthood’s emergency motion to amend their complaint late Wednesday, opening the door for the pro-life law to take effect.
“Women’s health and safety is best protected by having a licensed physician involved from the moment they are admitted to a clinic to when they are discharged,” said Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod. “Arizona has witnessed the dangers women face when they are operated on and treated by under-qualified medical personnel.”
You would think that people who really believe that every woman has the right to choose to pay someone to kill her baby for her would also believe that the person responsible for the evaluation of the woman, the surgical death of her unborn child, and any postoperative care should be a doctor; you would be wrong. Planned Parenthood apparently thinks that nurse-practitioners should be able to assist materially at or even perform abortions under little or no supervision from a doctor. And despite the death of Lou Ann Herron from a "safe, legal" abortion, Planned Parenthood has continued to fight against the law that would simply make it mandatory to have a doctor present at all times when a woman is being evaluated to determine the age of her unborn child, when the unborn child is actually being killed, and for the follow-up period to check for heavy bleeding or other complications or to ensure that pieces of bone and other fragments of the unborn child are not still present in her uterus.

I think that the kind of regulation that is standard for other medical facilities and procedures could shut down more abortion clinics than any number of protests, as valuable as these are. This is because I am convinced that people who kill unborn humans for a living don't tend to expend a great deal of care or concern on their accomplices, those mothers who don't want their children to see the light of day. Forcing abortion clinics to offer minimally standard patient care would probably force a lot of them to go out of business altogether.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Attack ads

Next time someone tells you that today's political ads are just too nasty and negative, show them this:



The more things change...

40 Days and Catholic voters

Cardinal-designate Burke has some timely comments about Catholics, voting, and abortion:



A few quotes made it into the press:

“You can never vote for someone who favors absolutely what’s called the right to choice of a woman to destroy human life in her womb or the right to a procured abortion,” said Cardinal designate Burke.

“You can never justify voting for a candidate who not only does not want to limit abortion but believes that it should be available to everyone.”

According to Archbishop Burke, Catholics have a “very serious moral obligation to vote for those candidates who would uphold the truth of the moral law, which of course also serves the greatest good of everyone in society.”

Something for us Catholics to bear in mind as we head to the polls next week.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What do you think?

A judge in New York has ruled that a four-year-old can be sued for a bicycle accident:
Citing cases dating back as far as 1928, a judge has ruled that a young girl accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk two years ago can be sued for negligence.

The ruling by the judge, Justice Paul Wooten of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, did not find that the girl was liable, but merely permitted a lawsuit brought against her, another boy and their parents to move forward.

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later of unrelated causes.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident — “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” — and was too young to be held liable for negligence.

But Justice Wooten declined to stretch that rule to children over 4. On Oct. 1, he rejected a motion to dismiss the case because of Juliet’s age, noting that she was three months shy of turning 5 when Ms. Menagh was struck, and thus old enough to be sued.
I had no idea children as young as four could be sued for negligence. That parents could be sued for a child's negligence, I did realize--but not that the child herself could be.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of a situation like this. Is it proof of a crying need for more careful parenting and less of the new/old "free-range" approach that lets kids have a lot more latitude for going on ahead of their parents, roaming the neighborhood at fairly young ages, etc.? Or is it merely proof of our hysterically litigious society which seizes on a sad and tragic accident and tries to hold someone accountable, even if that someone was a four-year-old on a bike with training wheels?

What do you think?

UPDATE: Edited to add the NY Times' corrections to the story; the woman died three months, not three weeks, later; the Times now says her death was unrelated to the accident. This makes the idea of suing the little girl even worse, in my mind. (Thanks to reader L. for pointing out the corrections to the original story!)

40 Days, and local news

Old Catholic heretics never die...they just end up in teaching positions (and writing for the National Catholic Reporter).

Case in point is Charles Curran, the priest/theologian who can't teach theology anymore as a Catholic, because his dissident ideas put him at odds with the Catholic Church, leading to a Vatican declaration that he is unfit to teach Catholic theology. Curran teaches at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and today he gave a lecture titled "The U.S. Catholic Bishops and Abortion Legislation: A Critique from Within the Church." I imagine that the substance of the lecture wasn't much different from a pro-abortion lecture Curran gave more than twenty years ago in Ohio, when I had the privelege of joining the sign-carrying protesters outside. Ah, good times.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Dallas diocese didn't let the lecture go by without voicing his disapproval:
Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas is publicly objecting to a Southern Methodist University professor’s upcoming lecture on U.S. Catholic bishops and abortion law. [...]

Farrell issued a statement, saying he had become aware of the lecture.

“The act of taking an unborn life is wrong and has always been wrong,” Farrell said. “This has been the constant teaching of the church.”

Near the end of the statement, Farrell said, “I regret that Father Curran has chosen to criticize the position of the U.S. bishops on this matter.”

In other words: Sorry, Charlie. The Church is pro-life.

I think one of the oddest things about the aging hippie dissident Catholics like Fr. Curran and Rosemary Radford Ruether and their ilk is their position as cheerleaders for abortion. Of all the things one can or can't imagine Jesus doing or saying, I don't see how anyone could imagine Him clapping and cheering as a woman has her tiny unborn human child ripped to death in her womb and discarded as so much trash. The very idea is blasphemous.

Yet cheering for abortion is one of the hallmarks of the Catholic dissident. I'm glad our local bishop had the proper amount of episcopal spine to voice the Church's continued and never-ending objection to the heretical views of Charles Curran.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

For the last time...

...trick-or-treating is not some deeply mysterious ancient Catholic mystic rite laden with drama and meaning by which we don costumes to mimic the shades of the Poor Souls in Purgatory as we ring doorbells and beg for prayers and blessings (and some free candy while we're at it).

It is a relatively modern American secular party-custom by which we dress our children up as Spider Man, Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer, or a Random Disney Princess and send them out to get free candy from the neighbors.

If you do it--hey, enjoy it. Not everything in our lives has to be fraught with Catholic meaning and significance (especially if you have to strain the truth to a ludicrous degree to find that meaning).

If you decide to celebrate the Eve of All Hallows' Day with a party in honor of the saints, instead--hey, enjoy it. There's nothing wrong with adding a little Catholic meaning and significance to our secular parties and celebrations.

But if you start handing me leaflets authored by various Catholic Blogging Experts which argue that really, truly, letting your kid dress up in a Bob the Builder outfit and sending him to get a lot of candy-loot is really a deeply and historically significant Catholic act of the sort which all Catholics under pain of excommunication from the Right Sort of Catholics of the Blogosphere Association must participate in--you're going to get nothing but giggles from me. 'Cause, you know, trick-or-treat may be fun and all that, but it has as much to do with Catholicism as green beer does.

And that, hopefully, will be my last word on the subject.

40 Days, and some ideas

40 Days for Life is almost at an end for this year--it has been amazing to read the official blog and learn about all the good that has been done and that continues to be done by these dedicated volunteers.

I've never been one of those people who thinks that changing people's hearts on abortion is somehow at odds with changing the laws; I think that both should be changed. But I also recognize that changing the laws is a long way away.

With that in mind, what are some things that could be done right now, both legislatively and otherwise, that would cause more women to choose life? I want to get the conversational ball rolling by throwing out a few suggestions, which may or may not be practicable or even possible (and I apologize for not delving deeper, here; I've been battling a migraine all day, and the migraine is winning, so I'm not able to do any heavy-duty blogging tonight).

So, bearing in mind the above, here are a few suggestions. Please add more if you like, or tell me which ones you think would/would not work and why in the combox:
  • Offer an income tax credit of five thousand dollars (or more, etc.) to any woman (married or single) who has had a baby in the previous year; this would be above and beyond any child tax credit(s).
  • Offer an income tax credit of (about) a thousand dollars per year for eighteen years to any woman who has placed a child for adoption.
  • Offer a three-year (again, approximately) student loan deferment to any woman who has a baby while attending college.
  • Establish a college scholarship fund for single women who have placed a child for adoption.
Any more ideas? Let's hear 'em!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The sippy-cup wars

So, Catholic blogging powerhouse Danielle Bean wrote a post for Inside Catholic the other day in which she humorously talked about paying her kids to do various chores. I didn't let my girls read it; they might find out that the going rates for going above and beyond the call of daily chore duty are higher in the Northeast than in Texas.

But I was surprised to read Danielle's follow up, in which she revealed that some of her most negative comments to that piece came--because she admitted to letting her four-year-old take a sippy cup to Mass. The whole question of if, whether, and when to bring a snack, juice, or both to keep a toddler busy in Church is as divisive as ever, it seems, with some people lining up on the side of "no sustenance, ever, and preferably no young children at Mass" side of things, and others shrugging and saying, "Hey, so long as you don't start making breakfast burritos in the pew, it's all good," and, naturally, a whole lot of positions in between these extremes.

Just like the questions of bringing babies and young children to Mass, and the duty to remove said children when their behavior is too loud and disruptive to be ignored, the conversations about whether it's okay to bring a little snack or some juice/water/milk for the youngest member(s) of the family can get people a little heated. I think there are a few main reasons for this:

1. There is a tendency to compare, sometimes unfairly, the past with the present. I hear a lot of older Catholics talking about how their parents never brought food into Church, and how nobody would ever have dreamed of feeding even a soda cracker to a toddler during Mass. What you don't hear is that a) their parents attended split Masses until the oldest children were driving; b) at Mass all the school children were required to sit with their school class under the watchful eye of Sister (which was true for my mom) leaving Mom with only the youngest member of the family to look after; c) it was possible for Mom and baby/babies to go to the shortest Sunday Mass, which might be half an hour or so, instead of having to go to a Mass that lasts at least one hour; d) it was perfectly acceptable for Mom to skip Mass until baby was old enough to be civilized, and e) there were so many Masses on a Sunday that no one would bring a toddler to Mass right in the middle of his/her ordinary meal time. How this relates to a situation in which a mother of, say, three children ages 2.5, 1.5, and newborn, who lives in a rural area and thus has a choice between a Mass a half-hour's drive away at 9 a.m. (the parish's only Sunday Mass) or a Mass at 10:30 a.m. which is one hour and fifteen minutes' drive away is difficult to see; lest you think that situation is too ridiculous even to be a hypothetical, I just mention that it was my situation the year our youngest was born, and for the following year, until we moved to Texas when the girls were aged 3.5, 2.5, and 1. Our usual plan of action was to bring the snacks in the car, and leave them there--but I'm not going to say food never ended up in the Church. I don't honestly remember; I just remember getting glared at by elderly parishioners for not sitting in the cry room or for letting our oldest hold a plastic rosary (I guess the problem was that she wasn't actually praying it, but just piling the beads in her hand?).

2. There is a tendency to assume that everyone's situation is just like one's own. I highly doubt any of the people in our old parish had any idea we were driving over an hour each way with our three little ones. I also think that parents of "good eater" toddlers who diligently eat breakfast at seven a.m. sharp and lunch at noon sharp and who thus are fine at an 11 a.m. Sunday Mass don't realize what it's like to have a child who simply won't eat more than a handful of food on any occasion. On the other hand, the parents who routinely hand each child younger than seven a bag of Cheerios (tm) and a sippy cup as Mass begins may not realize how frustrating that is to the parents in the next pew who are trying to "wean" their toddler from such comforts by telling him those things are "just for babies." There's nothing quite like a dirty look from a disgusted three-year-old who informs his mom, "Hey, those kids aren't babies, and they have juice."

3. There is a tendency to forget that these temporary measures will end. This is true both for the snackers and the anti-snackers; both forget that children grow up all too quickly, and that what seems annoying on the one hand, or vital on the other, will quickly fade away. The goal for all parents is to get their children to behave at Mass and then to participate in it through prayer and active listening and contemplation. When you are sitting in the pew surrounded by toddlers, it feels as though that will never happen; when your former littles lead the Psalm at Mass together you wonder where all the years in between went.

4. There is a tendency to judge. This needs little explanation, but I'd like to recount a story that I think is illustrative: when I was expecting Kitten, I read a newspaper article about a toddler who'd been injured--not seriously, thank goodness--because his parents had momentarily allowed him to play with a coat hanger. "What kind of idiot parent hands his child a coat hanger to play with?" I asked rhetorically.

A couple of years later after a particularly exhausting day, I reminded Thad of that incident, and said, "Okay, now I know. Now I know exactly what kind of parent hands her child a coat hanger to play with. And I know why, too. Because when you're exhausted and it's late and they're all whining at you at once for something that part of your brain that actually stops and thinks, 'Oh, hey, coat hanger, bad idea,' is just gone..."

That's an exaggeration, of course, but here's the thing: if you think four is too old for a sippy cup, but you see the mom of a four-year-old handing her son one at Mass--why not trust her to figure it out sooner or later? I mean, it's not like she's still going to be giving him sippy cups when he's twelve (barring a special-needs situation, of course, but that should go without saying). Somewhere along the line, she'll decide that it's time to retire that particular Mass habit--and chances are she'll do it in such a way that you'll never even see the behind-the-scenes struggle for change, which all children innately hate.

I think those are the main reasons why people get bent out of shape over the issue of bringing food or drinks into Mass for young children. But there is a fifth reason, one that ought to be mentioned:

5. There is a tendency for some people to exploit these situations. Here I refer to the family who comes in to Mass, opens multiple bags of cereal, crackers, candy, and other enticing choices for the child or children, allows the child or children to spill these all over the pew and floor, further allows the youngest child to engage in the game of make-the-people-behind-me-retrieve-my-sippy-cup-seven-or-eight-times, and otherwise cause a huge distraction and leave behind a huge mess, while the parents remain clueless to the effect this is having on everyone around them. There is, in my mind, a big difference between allowing a hungry child an occasional quiet in-church snack, only when this is absolutely necessary and all other distractions have failed, and treating the pew as if it were a booth at a local fast-food restaurant. But because nearly everyone has encountered at least one of these sorts of families, the parents who really do resort to the sippy-cup only when it's most needed will get raised eyebrows, frowns, and criticism, as they get lumped in with the sort of clueless parents I described above.

A little patience and understanding for each other will go a long way, in these perennial parenting questions. But a little politeness and awareness on the side of those who do bring snacks will also go a long way. Like most parental fights, the sippy-cup wars would best be won with a peaceful truce and a plan for compromise.

40 Days, and graphic images

Should a political candidate show images of abortion in her campaign ads? Beliefnet's John W. Kennedy discusses it:
Missy Smith, who is running against longtime Democrat incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton in the race to Washington D.C.'s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, is out with what may be the most controversial ad of this campaign season (and that's really saying something). (Note: The images diplayed in the ad are extremely graphic.)

Smith, a pro-life activist who was motivated to take up the cause after aborting two of her own babies, is using her campaign to drive home her conviction that more Americans will oppose abortion if they are allowed to see it for what it is. And, toward that end, since last Thursday her campaign has been airing TV spots depicting graphic images of post-abortion fetuses/babies.

The 30-second spots have been seen on Oprah, The Tonight Show, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil, Seinfeld, The Office and Saturday Night Live, among several other news and entertainment programs. Several of the ads also ran on African-American led shows such as Judge Joe Brown and Everybody Hates Chris in hopes of reaching an audience Smith believes has been particularly victimized by abortion.

The ads are deemed so shocking that they have been preceded by 15-second warnings that also note that federal law requires that stations do not censor advertising paid for by legally-qualified candidates for public office. YouTube, however, reportedly has pulled the video from its site -- replacing it with a notice that explains that the material presented poses "a violation of YouTube's policy on shocking and disgusting content." YouTube has a policy against shocking and disgusting content? Well, yes it does, though it seems you have to go to some lengths to violate it. [All links in original--E.M.]
The ads are here, if you'd like to see them for yourself; I repeat the warning that they do include images of aborted babies, though I believe most of the images will be familiar to anyone who has spent time looking at similar images at places like Priests for Life's website.

There are many different issues here. Is it a good idea to use graphic abortion images in campaign ads or materials? Does the few seconds' warning preceding the ads ensure that small children or other sensitive viewers will not see them? Is using these images in this way a fair and respectful use of such images?

I'm not entirely sure about all of this, but one thing is clear: if, as Mr. Kennedy writes, serious news programs showed real images of abortion the way they have showed real images of war, torture, the aftermath of genocide, and similar atrocities, we probably wouldn't see a political candidate resorting to using protected political speech to get the pictures into the public eye.

The abortion holocaust remains hidden from view, and "pro-choice" groups routinely attack the images of tiny, bloody hands and feet by lying about them, saying that the children pictured are much older than their young gestational ages, accusing pro-lifers of manipulating the images, and otherwise denying the truth that these tragic and shocking pictures display.

The truth about abortion is that a human life is lost every time a woman exercises her right to choose to pay someone to kill her baby. To the extent that graphic images may sometimes have a role in revealing that truth, the goal should not be to cause gratuitous shock and horror, but to educate, inform, and enlighten those who have become convinced that abortion is nothing but delayed birth control.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What's wrong with Halloween

I really hadn't intended to do a second Halloween post this year, but two things happened. First, I saw several "pro-Halloween" posts like this one, which seem to go out of their way to send a message that says, "Look--all the cool Catholic bloggers take their kids trick-or-treating, so if you're doing some alternative All Saint's thing then you're either a) a silly goose who thinks trick-or-treating is Satanic, or b) a silly goose who thinks that fake severed heads dripping with fake blood hanging from a neighbor's tree are too scary for small children instead of being exactly the kind of totally awesome "memento mori" thing Catholics ought to love, or c) a silly goose who doesn't get the secret but awesome Catholic mysticism involved in dressing up like a Disney princess and getting free candy from the neighbors in an ancient mystical rite that has been around forever--or, well, that only exists in America and only since sometime in the 1930s or so, but we shouldn't let history get in the way of a good story, right?"

And second...but we'll get to that in a moment.

For the umpteenth gazillionth time, I do not think that trick-or-treating is inherently evil. I also don't think that reindeer and popcorn balls are evil, or that candy-shaped boxes full of chocolates are evil, or that leprechauns and green beer are evil, or that Mardi Gras beads and king cake are evil. What I do think is that they are secular add-ons to religious holidays, and as such are totally and completely optional for Catholics. If my brother's Chaldean Catholic in-laws (for example) don't throw a green-themed party on March 17, are they being less than Catholic? Or is it simply the case that St. Patrick's importance to the liturgical calendar depends just a bit on one's own particular cultural heritage? If I don't attempt to bake a king cake on Mardi Gras, does this make me less than Catholic--or is it simply a recognition that my family's traditions don't include this particular part of pre-Lenten preparation?

So, if you'll pardon me, why all the fuss? Why do those who do enjoy trick-or-treating get all bent out of shape when they hear that my girls--who are too old to trick-or-treat anyway, by their own estimation--prefer the All Saint's party their awesome aunt and uncle host? Why do so many Catholics seem to care so much about this one tiny optional activity to celebrate Halloween--an activity which hasn't been around in its present form all that long, historically speaking, and which may or may not be practical depending on where you live, what your neighborhood (if you live in one) is like, and a whole lot of other variables that are going to be different for each family?

I'm not sure I have an answer. But what I do have is an observation.

In our dysfunctional culture, a lot of the secular "add-ons" to real holy days have become corrupted by that culture. We Catholics are very aware of this--we bemoan the disappearance of the word "Christmas" from our culture and the substitution of the ubiquitous and ambiguous "Holiday;" we worry about the commercialization of Christmas and some of the silly extremes to which secular elements have been taken (Mrs. Claus, anyone?); we recognize that people who've never set foot in a Catholic Church agitate for Gay Pride floats in St. Patrick's Day parades; we are aware of the sinful excesses of much of the Mardi Gras events in places like New Orleans; we sigh over St. Valentine's name and memory being used to advertise jewelry, much of it mined, manufactured and obtained in ways that are cruel and unjust from our poor brothers and sisters in countries where existence is a constant struggle--I could go on, but you get the point, I'm sure.

Halloween has not been untouched by the corruption of our culture. Whether it is used as the backdrop for movies featuring graphic violence and gore, or whether it is "claimed" by various neo-pagans, or whether the present fascination with vampires sinks its fangs into the day, or whether it increasingly becomes an excuse for people to dress and act immodestly, or whether it combines all of these negative attributes and adds others I haven't thought of or mercifully don't know about, our culture has not left Halloween alone. Does this mean that Catholics have to reject all secular celebrations of it? No, as I've said umpteen gazillion times already. But what it does mean is that each family is going to have to decide for itself how much "Halloweening" it is comfortable with--and if a Catholic family decides that they'd rather skip the neighborhood trick-or-treating and attend an All Saint's Day party instead, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

And that brings me to that second thing that is making me write this post (remember, way above, I said I'd get to it?). Our dysfunctional culture loves to attack what is good and holy, and it will do this at Halloween just as it does at other times of the year. We took this picture at a local branch of a big-box grocery store last week. My daughters were appalled by this costume being presented quite casually alongside costumes featuring witches, monsters, vampires and the like:



If you can't read the print on the package, the title of this costume is "Playful Nun." As our oldest girl said, "Nuns are supposed to be an example of chastity and piety. Their habits come down to their ankles, and they wear sensible shoes, not sheer stockings and heels. There's no such thing as a sexy nun." She instinctively found this costume disrespectful and insulting to our faith, as I do as well--yet the "sexy nun," "pregnant nun," and "evil/sinister priest" costumes grown in popularity in our sick culture.

However you choose to celebrate Halloween this week, then, our job as Catholics is to serve as salt and light to this culture, not to go along placidly with its worst elements. If we do the "trick-or-treat" thing we can insist on costumes that are modest and that don't pander to cultural sickness, and we can also insist on good behavior, polite attitudes, and moderate candy consumption (because gluttony isn't a virtue, either). If we do the All Saint's party, we can share stories about the saints that inspired the costumes, play saint-themed games, insist on the same standards of good behavior and polite attitudes, and remember that warning against gluttony while in the presence of Aunt Charlotte's famous pumpkin cake roll or any of her other much-anticipated dessert delights.

What none of us can do is pretend that the cultural sickness doesn't exist, or that it isn't a problem for us all. What's wrong with Halloween isn't really Halloween; what's wrong is our post-Christian culture, and its continuing decline into deviance and depravity.

40 Days, and infanticide

Don't know if you saw this terrible story:

READING, Pa. - A woman who conceived several children through an affair with a man unaware of her pregnancies was charged Monday with homicide after tests on remains found in coolers or encased in concrete showed at least four infants were born alive but killed, authorities said.

Michele Kalina, 44, of Reading, kept the remains in her closet until her husband and daughter found them in July, authorities said Monday.

Kalina, a nurse's aide, also bore a daughter from the same affair in 2003 but gave the baby up for adoption, authorities said. She and her husband have a teenage daughter and had a 13-year-old son who died in 2000 after a long illness.

The husband and daughter found five sets of infant remains in a closet this summer in coolers, one of which was filled with cured cement, police said. At least four of the babies were born at or near term, then killed in a manner consistent with asphyxia, poisoning or neglect, authorities determined.

Kalina will be held without bail pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday. She has been in custody since August on abuse-of-corpse charges. Her public defender, Holly Feeney, declined to comment Monday after Kalina was arraigned on criminal homicide, aggravated assault and other charges.

Kalina denied that she had had any other children or pregnancies until confronted with the adoption paperwork, police said.

This is, of course, a sad and disturbing story--but one of the things I always wonder about when I read news stories detailing infanticide is this: would it really be any different if the mother had simply aborted the children legally before birth?

To me, infanticide is a logical extension of the abortion mentality--something that bioethicist Peter Singer has admitted. If you don't think that a fetus at six or seven months' gestation is a person, then there's really very little logical reason to call a neonate, particularly a premature one, a person. Not much changes for a full-term fetus at birth; she begins to breathe air and can hypothetically receive sustenance other than her mother's milk, where before her oxygen and food came via her connection to her mother via the umbilical cord--but she doesn't suddenly and magically sprout limbs, facial features, or brainwaves--those were all present in the womb. If you can legally kill her thirty days (and more) prior to birth, then why shouldn't you be able legally to kill her thirty days afterward, as Singer proposes? In fact, given that you can kill a human being at any time during her nine months' gestation, wouldn't it really be logical to allow for post-birth abortions for nine months after birth, especially since some physical or mental handicaps or abnormalities aren't diagnosed immediately and may not present until a child is three or six months old or later?

As someone who thinks that all human life is intrinsically valuable, I, of course, reject infanticide as immoral. But how do those who support abortion reject it? Isn't Singer's view, that some degree of infanticide ought to be permissible, more in line with the morality of those who favor legal abortion?

And under that idea--shouldn't someone like Kalina just demonstrate the need to make infanticide safe and legal?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

40 Days, and tiny white crosses

There were some in the yard outside of the Catholic parish where my family and I went to Confession yesterday. Rows and rows of them; over five hundred in all.

Tiny white crosses, lined up on the ground. Each representing some of the nearly 1.4 million human beings killed in America each year by what we like to call "choice."

Each of those crosses represents a baby unloved, unwanted, despised enough to be disposed of by a woman who wanted to forget. Most women don't forget, though. And many, no matter what they say in public or write on blogs or forums, were deeply traumatized by the abortion--by the absolute knowledge and moral certainty that what they carried inside of them was their own precious, unique, irreplaceable child, whom they sentenced to death at the hands of a hired executioner.

So many women who do, finally, admit their grief and pain and guilt and horror over having made such a terrible "choice" will also say that while they were in denial over this grief and pain, anything having to do with abortion, or even anything that reminded them of their abortion, could trigger anything from rage to nausea to panic attacks to a whole host of other unexplained emotional responses. Certainly people who put up those tiny white crosses can attest to the number of times the crosses get pulled out of the ground, or run over by cars, or otherwise vandalized--yet the crosses do no harm to anyone; they merely stand in silent witness to the lives lost forever, the little lives that sometimes no one but their mothers and their killers even knew existed.

Still, people who want women to continue to have the right to choose to pay someone to kill their children have a tendency to call displays like this one "anti-choice," betraying in this ugly phrase the simple fact that the only choice they believe in is the one that results in one more dead baby, and one more tiny white cross upon a green and quiet lawn.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

40 Days, and the terrible coldness

The next step will probably be to hand out abortion pills along with condoms in every high school--but for now, this gets pretty close:
Abortion foes pleaded with the Iowa Board of Medicine on Friday to immediately halt Planned Parenthood's use of telemedicine to dispense abortion pills to women in rural communities, but the board said it needs more time to study the issue.

The first-in-the-nation system allows a Planned Parenthood physician in Des Moines to visit with each patient by videoconference, then press a computer button to open a drawer in front of the patient, who could be at a clinic many miles from the doctor. The patient reaches into the drawer and withdraws the pills, taking the first dose as the doctor watches.

About a dozen people raised questions and objections about the practice during the board's public comment session Friday. More than 1,500 Iowa patients have used the videoconferencing system to obtain the drugs over the past two years, and abortion opponents have complained the practice violates a state law requiring that all abortions be performed by a physician.
It's hard to imagine the terrible coldness that exists when the doctor prescribing death for a woman's child doesn't even bother to be in the same room with her when the mother of the soon-to-be dead baby swallows the first dose of poison targeted at the unborn human being inside of her. Leaving aside the fact that the so-called "doctor" obviously doesn't give a damn for the life of one of the two human beings on the other side of the webcam, there's the little reality that the abortion pills have been known to cause complications, including twelve known deaths, and that many women have had to be hospitalized for severe bleeding and other problems after taking the pills designed to kill their babies. One would think that a doctor who cared about his or her patients would at least want to know they were close enough to a medical facility to be treated in the event of an emergency--but apparently that level of concern for patients is not a prerequisite for those medical providers who specialize in killing off unwanted unborn humans.

Maybe someday long in the future, those abortion doctors will sit helpless in some pleasant nursing home while their relatives, eager to inherit all the blood-money from the doctor's long practice in "terminating pregnancies," wait until some medical provider on the other end of a webcam pushes a button to dispense the euthanasia drugs that will end the abortionist's life. Coldness begets coldness, and the danger of teaching everyone around you that human life has no inherent value is that one's future heirs are likely to learn the lesson all too well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Solo marriage: the next battle?

I've been saying for years that after the whole gay "marriage" thing, this would be next (hat tip: Far Above Rubies):

(Reuters) - Chen Wei-yih has posed for a set of photos in a flowing white dress, enlisted a wedding planner and rented a banquet hall for a marriage celebration with 30 friends.

But there is no groom. Chen will marry herself.

Uninspired by the men she's met but facing social pressure to get married, the 30-year-old Taipei office worker will hold the reception next month in honour of just one person.

"Age thirty is a prime period for me. My work and experience are in good shape, but I haven't found a partner, so what can I do?" Chen said.

"It's not that I'm anti-marriage. I just hope that I can express a different idea within the bounds of a tradition." [...]

Taiwanese women are marrying later and less often as their economic status advances, fuelling government concerns about a drop in the birth rate and its impact on productivity.

Only 40 percent of women surveyed earlier this year by the education ministry said they imagined married people could live better than singles, local media said.

"I was just hoping that more people would love themselves," said Chen, who will go on a solo honeymoon to Australia.

Of course, the "bride" can't register her "marriage" to herself, and will have to marry again if she finds a man--but that's just because our bigoted binormative assumptions frown on the idea of single marriage. After all, as this courageous woman says, why shouldn't people love themselves? Why do you have to have a partner to be married?

There's no reason at all, of course, if you're one of those people who thinks that marriage is simply a way for people to express their love. There's no reason at all for it to involve two and only two people. If marriage can be two men or two women, then there is absolutely no logical reason why it can't be one man or one woman, or four or five of each, or a mixed combination of twenty or so brides and grooms all sharing a house, the wedding gifts, and each other.

Because, you see, we've been told time and time again that marriage has nothing to do with the heterosexual relationship between one man and one woman who intend to engage in a certain act that is overwhelmingly likely the vast majority of the time to produce new people sooner or later. No, marriage is all about love and feelings. And if a woman like Chen Wei-yih truly loves herself and plans to enjoy her own company while taking romantic solo walks in Australia, only the coldest, cruelest bigot would tell her she isn't really "married" at all...

...right, gay "marriage" supporters? I dare any of you to oppose this--without simply making the bigoted assumption that just because historically and traditionally marriage has involved at least two people, that it has to stay that way.

40 Days, and a note to Kay

Dear Congresswoman Kay Granger:

I am a voter who lives in your district here in Texas. Most of the time I tend to vote for Republican candidates. However, though you are a Republican, I have never voted for you, and I never will.

You see, Congresswoman Granger, you are pro-abortion. I know, you call it pro-"choice," but by "choice" you mean "a woman's choice to pay someone to kill the developing human being in her womb." It's no wonder that you leave the "...to pay someone to kill her baby..." part off of the phrase "pro-choice;" the choice you're talking about is an ugly, ugly thing.

And while you claim to be a "moderate" on the question of killing unborn human beings, you are actually listed as one of the "stars" of the pro-choice organization The WISH List, an organization which exists to help elect pro-choice-(to-kill-unborn-humans) women to the House and the Senate. You've benefited from this organization's fundraising efforts and serve on the group's honorary advisory board.

Most of the time I think of America's Congress as being comprised of shallow, power-hungry, easily purchased men and women whose self-interest trumps any other consideration, and whose moral principles have the depth of a stick of butter on the sidewalk on a hot Texas August afternoon. That to this charming character sketch some of you have decided to add contempt for human life and the belief that whole classes of human beings are fair game for slaughter by virtue of their ages, condition of dependence, and for the crime of inconvenient existence can only detract from the already low esteem in which I hold politicians generally.

So, Congresswoman, you don't have my support, or my vote. You've never had it--but you've never missed it, either, as the citizens of this area seem content to keep sending you back to the House year after year. Maybe they're just opportunists who realize that keeping you in Washington keeps you away from Texas; it's the most charitable assumption I can make about them, anyway.

One of these years the local Democratic Party will wise up and run a pro-life Democrat against you. I'll look forward to voting for that candidate.

Sincerely,

Erin Manning

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Church in America: a crisis of faith and a call for homiletics

Over on Mark Shea's blog today, we can read about a woman who insists she's a good Catholic...except that she's really into the spirit world and thinks witchcraft is cool (no word on whether she's also a liturgist, but I wouldn't be surprised).

Meanwhile, Larry D explores the reasons ex-Catholics give for leaving the Church, in a thoughtful post which considers all of our duties as lay Catholics to work harder against this phenomenon.

And from our own comment boxes in the rather lengthy comment thread below this post, you can read such gems as:
Part of what I love about the Church is how it has remained true to tradition in some things, but part of what I loathe about the Church is its utter inflexibility in others....

I have been Catholic for almost 20 years. I know how I feel at Mass on a personal level, and that is why I go. So I may be a "catholic, but"...but I daresay, there are a lot of us who would like to see some things grow and change within the church...

Jesus was a revolutionary and bucked the traditions of his day...

If everything was to remain the same, we would be in the same clothes, with the same morality of Jesus' time. We no longer have slaves, women can cut their hair and speak their minds. Yes, the Bible uses Wheat as a metaphor, but many metaphors are used that we don't take so literally...

In all my life as a Catholic, I have never been taught a catechism that even comes close to what you guys are preaching here. My children are following in a Catholic School, and I know that they have only very minimally discussed the Pope. I was never told I had to bow down to the Church's will no matter what, and I was never taught, nor are my children, that there is one way, or the highway (to Hell) as some of you suggest. I have been told by a priest that reconcilliation was not a necessary sacrament. I have also heard a priest say to not worry ourselves too much with the goings on in Rome. I have to say as well, that I cannot recall a homily ever discussing taking everything literally. I know the Catholic community in which I participate, and I don't know anyone who takes everything as seriously and as literally as some people on this blog...

One can't be a good Catholic, a devout Catholic, a Catholic in full communion with the Church unless one what believes what the Church teaches. This is true. One can only be a dissenting Catholic, a "cafeteria" Catholic, a "Catholic, but."...

I think that ricegirl's point... is that many "catholics" are just that...catholics with air quotes. I like being that kind of Catholic, because frankly, if I had been told at RCIA that it was all or nothing. I would've looked somewhere else. I don't recall any homily regarding following Rome. I know that some parishes do things more seriously than others. I would say my parish is middle of the road. So there is a LOT of inconsistency in the Church. How is this "allowed" to happen in the one and only church? You can't deny that if we took a poll of Catholics, VERY FEW would say, "Yes, I take EVERY last bit of the catechism to heart, and if I deviate from it, I am in sin and not truly Catholic". You'd lose lots of the women (and men) right off the bat for using artificial birth control....
There are probably more, but these were the ones that stood out.

Show of hands, anybody: when is the last time you heard a homily on what it means to be Catholic? On the papacy? On what the Catechism has to say about the Church? On the sacraments (including matter and form)? On moral law or the precepts of the Church? On contraception, abortion, or any other serious issue?

I don't mean to pick on our priests, here. They get approximately five to seven minutes a week to tackle 40 years of horrendous catechesis, creeping relativism, a culture which thinks that to be good one must be nice and to be bad one will be judgmental, and a laity comprised of anywhere from thirty to sixty percent functional heretics (in terms of their actual understanding and acceptance of Church teaching). Above and beyond all of this, our priests today must deal with the inconvenient reality that from earliest infancy American Catholics are taught to worship one false god: the god of self. The only criteria for truth is, "Do I like this? Does it fulfill me personally?" and it is the standard by which all other truth is judged.

Thus, you can have people beside you in the pews at Mass who really don't believe a word of the Nicene Creed, for instance (and who are going to go ballistic when one of those words becomes "consubstantial" next year), and who are actually charming pagans instead of Christians because they think of Jesus as a not-divine but rather nice social justice sort of person--and yet these same people will insist that they are Catholics, really, because their only criteria for what the word "Catholic" means is their own highly personal definition.

And our priests, as I said, get five to seven minutes a week in which to address any of this. Which is not nearly enough time--but wouldn't it be nice if this time were actually used for this purpose?

I mean, during my life as a Catholic I've heard countless homilies on our Christian duty to love each other, as in be nice and kind and caring and forgiving to each other. I've also heard countless homilies on how important it is to have a close, intimate, personal relationship with Jesus. In terms of putting the focus on Christ's call to love God and love our neighbor, then, these homilies haven't been all bad.

But like many adult Catholics, I can probably count on one decade of the rosary the number of times in the last ten or fifteen years I've heard homilies about serious moral issues, Catholic teaching on the Church, the papacy, and so forth, or our duty as Catholics to assent to Church teachings. Actually, let me take that back--one pastor of mine probably filled a whole decade by himself each year I was privileged to attend his Masses; but that's one pastor out of a great many. The "Get to know Jesus and be nice to everybody!" homily has been the standard fare.

There's a lot that needs to be done, if the Church in America is going to reach out to those Catholics who are only Catholics by their own lax definition of the word. The laity have an important role to play, too. But if our priests would lead the way by using that five-to-seven minute Sunday homily to address key aspects of Church teaching, pressing issues of morality and virtue, and other topics of similar importance, I think it would help. As the one commenter I quoted above said, "I don't recall any homily regarding following Rome." What would it mean to her and to many others, I wonder, if we all had heard many such homilies?

40 Days, and personhood

Citizens of Colorado will have a chance to vote on a personhood amendment this election--and Tim Tebow's mom supports it:
"A child's right to life begins at conception, not at birth. From conception, all children are people, made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, I support the Personhood amendment and appeal to Colorado voters to vote 'yes' on amendment 62," stated Pam Tebow, mother of Tim Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner who scored his first touchdown in the NFL as a Denver Bronco Sunday.

Pam Tebow made headline news when she and Heisman-trophy-winning son Tim Tebow appeared in a pro-life television ad during the 2010 Superbowl. The advertisement directed viewers to learn more about Tebow's story online, where Pam described her refusal to let doctors take her son's life while she was pregnant. The ad was sponsored by Focus on the Family, which has also urged Colorado voters to vote "Yes" on Amendment 62.
Amendment 62 reads as follows:
Section 32. Person defined. As used in sections 3*, 6**, and 25*** of Article II of the state constitution, the term "person" shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.
Naturally, opponents of the amendment are screaming hysterically that defining personhood as beginning at conception is really, really going to make it hard to kill all the unborn humans we kill now.

(Anybody else find it ironic that the NAACP is one of those groups opposed to this attempt at defining personhood?)

The sad truth is that historically the tendency to exclude some human beings from the definition of personhood has revealed the desire to subjugate, control, or kill those human beings. The same thing is true today: the desire to define unborn humans as "non-persons" reveals the violent hostility against and desire to kill these human beings. Only if you see these human beings as worthless trash can you consider them unworthy of the protections given to the rest of humanity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some Legion of Christ matters

Archbishop Velasio de Paolis writes to the Legion and Regnum Christi. The letter may most charitably be characterized as a call to get back to business as usual, with a brushing aside of the inconvenient fact that the order was founded by a sexually deviant con man who preyed both physically and financially on a whole lot of innocent people, and permitted a culture of abuse to rise up around him, leaving many unanswered questions as to how many other prominent Legion priests knew about Maciel's double life and what they might have done either to facilitate it or to cover up for him.

Life-after-RC expresses some disappointment with the note.

For myself, I find this passage of the archbishop's letter to be all but incomprehensible:
Most of the Legionaries, faced with the situation of the Founder, have reacted positively, reaffirming their gratitude to God for their vocation and discovering so much good the Legion had done and is still doing. Moreover, the Legion has been approved by the Church and it cannot be said that it is not a work of God at the service of his Kingdom and of the Church. The Founder’s responsibilities cannot simply be transferred onto the Legion of Christ itself.
Um...excuse me? What does this even mean?

Are we to take it that most Legionaries, having discovered that their founder really was, as had been disclosed by his victims years ago, a sexually deviant con man with a penchant both for illegal relationships with adult females and the victimization of little boys (allegedly even his own sons) reacted by...wait for it...praising God for the gift of their awesome vocations and all the good that the Legion and Regnum Christi has done for the sake of the Kingdom? Because, if so, that's really, really disturbing. What, no moment of reflection, no sorrow and grief over the founder's sins and betrayals, no weeping for the innocent victims and their great losses, no self-examination to be sure that one's own vocation was not merely the result of a twisted pride manipulated by an organization structured to exploit such pride while hiding bad things from its members? Nothing could possibly be a greater indictment of the whole Movement than this.

And that second bit, about the Legion being a work of the Church and the "...Founder’s responsibilities cannot simply be transferred onto the Legion of Christ itself..." again, what?? A founder of a religious order is not just some guy. He's the one with the charism (and the Legion's remains in grave doubt), the one with the mission, the one from whom everything about the order is taken. And the Legion's founder was a sexually deviant con man/pedophile/womanizer/etc. who lived, according to the Vatican's statement on the subject, "a life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling." But somehow this man managed to receive a genuine charism and found a genuine order anyway?

I realize that things move very slowly in Rome, and that a pastoral concern for those still tied to the Legion (whether canonically as priests, or merely emotionally as "consecrated" women or lay members) may sometimes make letters like this one very opaque to those of us outside of the Legion. And there are bound to be times when things seem to be moving in the wrong direction, too.

But I think the most valuable thing so far to come out of Rome's scrutiny of the Legion has been the statement I referred to above. Should any person be pressured to join, remain in, support, or contribute to the Legion, to Regnum Christi, or to any of its many works and branches, the ability to give an answer which says, in effect, "Why should I have any interest whatsoever in an order founded by a sexually deviant pedophile/womanizer con man whose life was, according to the Vatican, '...devoid of scruples and of genuine religious feeling...'? There are better places to put my talents and treasure to work," is truly invaluable.

40 Days, and strange laws

Did you hear about this? Amazing:

An attempted-murder charge against a man accused of trying to force his girlfriend to have an abortion appears to be the first case of its kind in Franklin County.

"I am not aware of a previous case that is similar to the facts in this case," Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said yesterday in an e-mail to The Dispatch.

Dominic L. Holt-Reid, 28, of Kelton Avenue on the Near East Side, will be arraigned today on the attempted-murder charge, as well as two counts of kidnapping and one count each of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon and having a weapon despite a 2007 drug conviction.

Holt-Reid was arrested Oct. 6 after police say he pointed a handgun at Yolanda Burgess, 26, and forced her to drive to an East Side abortion clinic for a scheduled appointment after she told him she didn't want to go through with the procedure. [...]

"He is charged with attempted murder for the attempt at gunpoint to force her to have an abortion against her will," O'Brien wrote.

"The (state) murder statute was amended a few years back to prohibit 'unlawful termination of a pregnancy' in order to avoid the debate whether an unborn fetus is a 'person' under the law.

"I have tried homicides where the murder victim was pregnant, and we were able to charge and convict for two counts, but this case is the first under these kinds of facts."

So, if Yolanda Burgess had entered that clinic and had the abortion under mere pressure and vague threats from her boyfriend, that would be a perfectly legal "termination of pregnancy,"; but because she entered that clinic after being forced at gunpoint to go there, her boyfriend can be charged with attempted murder--not for pulling a gun on her, but for the attempt to force her to have an abortion.

This incident betrays the strangeness of our laws concerning abortion. A pregnant woman is carrying a baby who can be harmed or even murdered--provided she wants the baby. A pregnant woman is carrying a fetus, embryo, "blob of tissue" or "product of conception" who can not be harmed or murdered--just legally "terminated"--provided she doesn't want the baby.

The child lives or dies at the whim of his or her mother. His or her whole status as a valued member of human society depends solely upon his mother's feelings about his or her existence.

It is not unexpected, then, that fathers of children would start to believe that this situation is vastly, grotesquely unfair. The mother of his child can decide to kill the baby and let him entirely off the hook--or she can decide to have the baby and force him to pay child support for the next eighteen years, which is a pretty steep price for a man to pay for what was supposed to be consequence-free sex. It's no wonder that so many men coerce, threaten, cajole, etc. their children's mothers into abortion.

But when the threats of leaving her don't work, and the threats of other, more dire consequences don't work, and when, perhaps, even violence doesn't work, perhaps it's only logical for a man to decide that his next step is to force the woman at gunpoint to keep the appointment set up for her to eliminate this problem. I'm sure that from the point of view of the perpetrator of this act, he was only exercising his right to choose--to choose not to become a father.

In reality, the choice to become parents is implied in the choice to engage in reproductive activity; in saner days, laws reflected that reality. Now, though, we have a highly unequal and unjust situation in which women get to choose whether to keep or kill their unborn babies--but men have no say whatsoever. Abortion puts men and women at war with each other over the continued existence of a person both of them should be willing to protect at all costs--their child.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

40 Days, and the forgotten

Did you hear about the pro-ESCR poetry contest, won by someone who decided to blaspheme against the Eucharist in his "winning" entry? Larry D has the whole story here.

When we tend to think of Democrats as the pro-death party and Republicans as the pro-life one, we aren't remembering that an awful lot of Republicans support ESCR. True, the Democrats as a party tend to slaver ghoulishly over the prospect of killing as many unborn human beings as possible, and would like to use tax dollars for that purpose; but too many Republicans are just sort of vaguely pro-life in most situations--unless the possibility for a huge financial increase to the Medical-Pharmaceutical Complex is possible, in which case, suddenly, human embryos aren't intrinsically worthy of life anymore.

We don't have a pro-life party in America. What we have, instead, is rather like Yeats' famous quote: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." It is too easy to forget to adhere to pro-life principles when elections come around; it is too easy to brush aside at least some of the unborn and forget them, for the sake of votes and power.

We mustn't forget these little forgotten ones. We should remember them, especially as we prepare to vote in these elections.

A business matter

Sometime earlier today, someone posted a comment beneath the post about the petition regarding rice bread in which the commenter gave the name and mailing address of the parish involved.

I then received an email from the author of the petition, requesting that I remove this information. She wrote that she was careful to keep the name of the parish and school out of her petition, that her family does not intend to leave the parish or the Church, that she is not mad at the parish priests, and that she would like to keep these entities, particularly the school, from becoming part of a media focus.

I have written back to her, and I will share the text of my letter here:

Dear [Name]:

I have been away today and was unable to respond to your request earlier. After considering your request, I have decided to do as you ask and remove the comment containing your parish's information. Of course, as you point out, it is not impossible for people to figure out on their own which parish is involved, and since you have decided to make the whole situation public via a petition posted on the Internet which seeks signatures of support, the ultimate effect upon your parish may be impossible to control at this point.

I am a little puzzled that, having determined to take a course of action which paints your parish's present leadership in what to those on your side of this matter can only seem a most unflattering light, you are still concerned about the reputation of the parish and its priests. Certainly the language of the petition itself appears to denounce those who are keeping your son from receiving the unconsecrated piece of rice bread during Communion time.

I will keep your family in my prayers, particularly that you will receive wise pastoral counsel and instruction as to the Church's teachings regarding the appropriate matter for the Blessed Sacrament.

Sincerely, (etc.)

I would ask readers to join me in praying for this family.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What the Church can't do

An alert reader has sent me something rather disturbing; a group of Catholics has created a petition calling for the Church to do something she simply can't do--consecrate rice hosts at Communion.

The petition's formatting is odd, but here's an excerpt:

Fellow Catholics, we need your support to help raise awareness and hopefully change concerning a Canon Law that in effect discriminates those born with food allergies. The Canon Law centers around the requirements of the ingredients of the communion host. According to Canon 925 of 1983 code of Canon Law, all communion hosts must be unleavened bread made of wheat and water � no exceptions. However, no where in the Bible does it say �of wheat�. It only says unleavened bread. Just like today, there were many grains available in Jesus� time. We simply do not know if the bread at the last supper was wheat, barley, or another grain. And after all, it was Jesus who said, �This is my body which is given up for you. Take this ALL of you and eat it.�

Up until a few months ago, our son who has life-threatening allergies to wheat had been receiving a specially manufactured rice host. We were fortunate that our previous parish priest used his pastoral judgment to do what he and we consider to be the right thing and give our son Holy Communion with the rice host.

However, we were recently told by our new parish priests that our nine-year old son can no longer receive his rice host, as according to the Catholic Church �a rice host cannot be consecrated� (see US Council of Bishops web site). We had to try and explain to our young son why the host was being taken away, which was a tough thing to do, especially when we nor the Church have any good answers. [...]

Now, the Church doctrine holds that full communion is the receiving of either the Body (host) or the Precious Blood (wine). So that is the solution that has been offered to us and is what we are doing now. However, only receiving one is not what the disciples did at the last supper. Jesus washed the feet of others, cured lepers, prayed with sinners � he welcomed all. Now, our son who deals with his food allergies on a daily basis is being separated out from the Church, the one place he should seek comfort.

I have asked many ordained clergy what they thought Jesus would do, since as simple as that may be, that is how we are called by the Church to live. The ones who would give me a straight answer stated they do believe Jesus would give my son the rice host. In my opinion, that should be the end of the conversation, but the Church is a Church of rules. We found a Bible verse that I wish the Church would keep in mind. It is Mark 7: 5-8, �These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.�

You can read the whole petition, which calls for a change to Church law, here; over seven hundred people have signed it so far.

Now, I want to approach this with the utmost sympathy for those who suffer from various food allergies/intolerances which make the receipt of Holy Communion under the appearances of bread and wine difficult or even, in extreme cases, impossible. This is indeed a difficult cross to carry, and many Catholics who suffer from various forms of gluten or wheat allergy deal with it on a weekly basis.

The Church has been doing her best to approach the situation with pastoral care. The option to receive under only one species exists, as the petition's author points out. There are low-gluten hosts, some of them extremely low gluten, which are tolerable for some Catholics who otherwise cannot receive the Body of Christ. Many priests are very sensitive to their parishioners who have special needs, and will ensure, for instance, that a chalice other than that in which the commingling occurs will be available for those parishioners who can't tolerate even microscopic amounts of wheat. Any lack of such sensitivity and willingness to accommodate should be addressed to the proper diocesan authorities.

But there are things the Church simply can't do--and consecrating rice is one of those things.

This excellent article goes into many details about why the Church uses wheat bread, and wheat bread only, as the matter for the Body of Christ. Suffice it to say that there is more than some vague custom behind the idea, just as the use of wine only as the matter for the Blood of Christ is not a mere human tradition. What Christ Himself did, we do; the Church takes care not to alter what should not be altered. The matter of the sacraments comes from Christ Himself; the Church is the guardian of these holy things, but she does not "own" them in the sense of having created them, and she can't change or abolish them, because she has no power to do that.

The petition's author illustrates the harm that can be done when a well-meaning but, perhaps, undereducated pastor sets a precedent that later leads to a grave misunderstanding. The child in question was receiving, for some time, a piece of rice bread when everyone else was receiving Jesus. The priest never had the power to consecrate the rice host, and so it remained merely bread. If the child was also receiving from a chalice, he was receiving Holy Communion--but if not, he was not.

The new pastor has quite rightly suspended the odd practice of feeding the child rice bread at Communion--and now his parents appear to believe that he is being deprived of Holy Communion. It's not possible to illustrate better the harm being done--because, again, the child never received Holy Communion under the appearance of rice bread--he only received bread. But the hurt feelings and sense of entitlement persist; the parents appear to believe that their son has a right to receive Communion under both species, not only the Precious Blood. Yet there are many people who cannot or who choose not to receive under both species at every Mass--and not one of them is being deprived in any way of Holy Communion. Should a person who is allergic to alcohol demand that the Church consecrate grape-flavored soda for him, so that he can receive under both species? Of course not (and I don't know anyone who would do that). But having come to believe that their son was receiving the Eucharistic Lord when he was only receiving rice bread, the parents now see the withholding of this as a deprivation.

I am sometimes asked why I have reservations about the prevalence of Holy Communion under both species, and why I think it would be better if, on ordinary Sundays, only one species were to be used. This whole situation illustrates one of my reasons: because when people are accustomed to receiving under both species, they begin to think that this is something to which they have a right, and that being asked to receive only under one species is somehow a lesser experience of Holy Communion. In fact, as Catholics should know, the smallest portion of the Host or the smallest drop of the Precious Blood contains the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus; it is not necessary to be able to receive under both species to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. But the authors of this petition, and indeed, perhaps many of the signers of it as well, seem to think that those who cannot receive the Host because of a wheat allergy or intolerance are somehow being kept away from the fullest encounter with Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament--which is so clearly wrong that it is painful to contemplate it.

It is my hope that the archbishop to whom this petition is being addressed, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, will use the opportunity to educate the faithful in his flock about the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, and about the Church's inability to change what Christ Himself has ordained. No efforts by any Catholic priest can suffice to consecrate invalid matter--and what a pity it was that the innocent boy at the center of this controversy was, for years, given a piece of mere unconsecrated rice bread in place of the Blessed Sacrament, when it has been possible all along for him to receive Christ--Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity--by receiving the Precious Blood.

The veto power of public universities

Here's a story that has some chilling implications (hat tip: Cheeky Pink Girl):

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Tuesday from Christian schools that want the University of California to grant college-prep credit for courses with religious viewpoints - using textbooks, UC says, that replace science with the Bible.

The justices, without comment, denied a hearing to the Association of Christian Schools International, which accused the university of violating freedom of speech and religion with its policy on the classes applicants take in high school.

UC requires certain high school courses for admission and says it reviews their content to make sure they cover subjects that incoming students need. University officials said some of the Christian schools' classes in biology, history, English and religion didn't pass the test - a conclusion that the schools blamed on discrimination.

The association's 800 high schools in California teach "standard course content" and "add a religious viewpoint in each subject ... as an integral part of their reason for existence," the group's lawyers said in their Supreme Court appeal.

But a federal judge said experts testifying for the university refuted those claims in reviewing textbooks.

Biology texts, one professor concluded, teach students to reject any scientific evidence that contradicted the Bible. A history text declared the Bible to be the "unerring source for analysis" of past events, in the view of another expert, and gave short shrift to women, non-Christians and some ethnic groups.

Another UC evaluator said an English literature course did not require students to read novels or plays, but instead presented an anthology, "Classics for Christians," that "insists on specific interpretations" of excerpted works.

Why should this bother anybody aside from fundamentalist Christians? Essentially, the United States Supreme Court agreed that a public university holds veto power over the curricula of private high schools--and that should worry Catholics, even if we don't believe that the Bible trumps science, or that students shouldn't read entire classics.

What, for instance, would stop a public high school from refusing to accept science credits from Catholic schools which teach in their biology programs that abortion destroys human life? Or to insist that students study a certain amount of gay and lesbian fiction in their literature classes, for these credits to be accepted? Or to use history materials which teach that the Catholic Church is the enemy of indigenous peoples throughout history? Nothing that I can see would prevent any of this from happening.

If public universities can refuse to accept high school courses solely because these courses contain religious content, then it should be obvious that public high schools do not really want religious students to attend. Perhaps the best thing we believers could do would be to start taking them at their word.

40 Days, and good news

The 40 Days for Life blog reports that 317 babies have been saved from abortion so far this year!

And here's a lovely picture: a young woman last year thought she was calling Planned Parenthood to confirm her abortion appointment. Instead, she dialed a wrong number and reached a 40 Days for Life volunteer. She chose life for her baby, who was born this fall.

May God bless all women who choose life--and all those who work so hard to be a witness for the value of life!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

40 Days, and a requiem

A giant of the pro-life community has died. I'm one of many who didn't know this great lady's amazing story:
Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the first female surgical intern at Boston City Hospital, broke many race and gender barriers during her long career as a doctor. But it was when she turned to politics, emerging four decades ago as a eloquent leader of the antiabortion movement, that she began to win a following.

Dr. Jefferson died Friday at 84, according to Anne Fox, a close friend and the president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. The exact cause of death is unclear, but Fox said Dr. Jefferson’s health had declined two weeks before her death. [...]

Dr. Jefferson was small in stature — Fox believes she often wore hats so she would not disappear into a crowd — but she did not shrink from controversy. And she was not afraid to use blunt analogies to state her views. In a 2003 profile in the antiabortion magazine American Feminist, Dr. Jefferson said the antiabortion movement was “second only to the abolitionist movement’’ in the way it changed American thinking.

“I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live,’’ she told the magazine.

Read the rest of her story here.

The pro-life website Black Genocide (caution: graphic picture at link) has many facts, links and statistics about how abortion disproportionately and tragically impacts the African-American community. I'd almost be willing to bet that when African-American History month is taught in schools in February, Dr. Jefferson's name doesn't come up--or if it does, only her achievement as the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School is mentioned. Her long connection to the pro-life movement and her role as co-founder and past president of National Right to Life is probably kept quiet.

It should not be. All of us in the pro-life movement who have benefited from the pioneering leadership of great women like Dr. Jefferson should take a moment to reflect on her tireless commitment to the unborn. May God grant her eternal rest, and may we who remember her ponder those eloquent words of hers quoted above, and strengthen our own resolve that America will not become a land of the perfect, the privileged, and the planned.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

40 Days, and extremism

A new law in Nebraska that bans abortions after 20 weeks, when science shows that unborn children can react to painful stimuli, has taken effect.

You would think that nobody would oppose this kind of law--but you'd be wrong:
"Planned Parenthood of the Heartland believes that LB1103 is a bad law for women. We will however, continue to serve the health and well–being of women within the confines of this regulation."
Pro-life Americans are accused of being "extremists" on abortion. But who, really, are the extremists here? The people who managed to build a consensus that abortions after 20 weeks aren't really necessary, or the people who see any restrictions at all on abortion as being "bad" for women?

Planned Parenthood stands in the way of any pro-life/pro-abortion consensus that might arise to enact reasonable restrictions on abortion. Many people who are not against abortion are in favor of sane, sensible restrictions, like parental notification for minors, waiting periods, mandatory offers of ultrasounds and fetal development information, measures to ensure that women aren't being coerced into abortion, and outright bans on third-trimester abortions. Planned Parenthood, along with most pro-abortion politicians, opposes all of these possible restrictions to abortion and more. They really seem to think that it should be easier for a scared, pressured fifteen-year-old to get an abortion than it is (in many states) for her to have her ears pierced.

The real extremists are the ones who won't accept any limits at all on abortion. While I, as a pro-life Catholic, would prefer for all abortion to be illegal, I am happy to work with like-minded people to decrease the number of abortions. Sadly, those who call for abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare," usually only want them to be legal--they aren't concerned about safety (because clinic health inspections are too burdensome to women!) and they certainly don't want abortion to be rare, either (not when they can make $350-$900 and up for every one!). They're not just "pro-choice;" they're rabidly pro-abortion, and they really don't care about fetal pain or maternal coercion, so long as the customers keep pouring in.