People are starving, not just for food, but for being treated with dignity and for acknowledgment of their wounds. Earlier in #49, Pope Francis talks about preferring a Church bruised and hurting from being out there with people to one that is “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” That description seems uncomfortably apt.
He also names a fear that I think drives a lot of religious people: the fear of “going astray,” which I interpret as the fear that if we go out into a sinful world, we’ll be corrupted by it. (We put our kids in bubbles for this reason, too.)
It occurs to me that if our faith is so weak it can’t survive the challenge of being around temptation, then the solution isn’t to hide from temptation, but to do some good work strengthening our faith.
I freely admit that I am no model for going out into the world and getting my feet dirty. In my case, it’s a result of an introvert’s paralyzing dread of interacting with strangers. But it’s something I’m thinking about a lot these days, and feeling called to address in that intersection of my own faith and the real world I inhabit.
I said before, on a different graphic: Dorothy Day struggled with joining the Church because of the contradiction between Catholic social teaching and the reality of communities whose focus was Bingo and card games. What about us?
Since the Church considers this quote important enough to be underscored in the Catechism, I thought it deserved a graphic of its own, even if I did already write a whole post on the topic. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you tell a kid to put away a piece of clothing, and ten minutes later you look and discover it hasn’t been done. You tell them to do it again, and this time it makes it up the stairs and gets dumped on the floor. By the third time, you’ve pretty well lost your temper, and it’s all downhill from there.
This is my life right now: dishonesty, serial disobedience, and difficulty discerning how much is developmental and how much is spacey personality versus testing behavior. My husband reminds me we’ve been through it before and we’ll get through it this time, but it’s wearying.
Why does this warrant a blog post on a site about living the faith?
Because I’m starting to recognize that this parenting issue has a lot to teach us about love—real, self-giving, sacrificial love. How can we teach such a big concept to our children without starting with small, intimate relationships and small—maybe even petty—examples?
Little kids experience the world in concrete ways, after all. I need my child to learn that love doesn’t just mean cuddles and kisses and being tucked into bed at night and giving me a hug on the way out the door. That’s a tiny child’s version of love, but as they grow, they need to learn that a bare minimum, love means you don’t do things that harm the other.
And since Jesus Christ was never in the business of bare minimum, I’d go a step further and say, as the Catechism says: love means willing the good of the other.
So your actions show your love—or the lack of it.
To wit: if you cause your favorite parent to LOSE HER EVER LOVING MIND because you just don’t feel like doing what she asked you to do, then you’re causing harm and you’re definitely not willing the good of said parent.
In other words: NOT. LOVE.
Okay, it’s petty, I know. But really, if you start spinning out the implications, this is a big deal, and not just for the kiddos, but for us as adult Catholics.
a) everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37), and
b) loving God means loving our neighbor (Luke 10:27-28; Galatians 5:14), and
c) love means willing the good of others (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1766)…
…then we’d darned well better be thinking about willing the good of asylum seekers at the southern border.
And how to erase discrimination (which might mean, for a start, acknowledging that it still exists).
And how to create policies that put the good of workers and society before personal or corporate profit.
And how to protect victims of abuse and assault, rather than shame them and blame them and assume they’re lying for underhanded political reasons.
Because with every word we speak about those issues and every policy solution we advocate (or fight against), we show our love for Jesus Christ.
Or the lack of it.
It seems like everyone these days is focused on “what do we say to the ‘none’s?” and “How do we talk about Jesus?”
I can’t help feeling that those are the wrong questions. Pope Francis’ contention in Evangelii Gaudium is that when we’re filled with the Gospel, it’ll overflow from us automatically.
These days, I’m becoming more and more convinced that simply living the Gospel authentically, holistically, and with joy is the simple, yet difficult part of evangelization that we have to master first. For better or for worse, the world sees an image of God in us–in our words, in our actions, and in the way we approach everyday situations and hot button issues. If the image we present is beautiful and inviting, we don’t have to say anything at all. If it’s off-putting, nothing we say will make any difference anyway.
In my post yesterday, I talked about the need to speak with love and listen to those who stand on the opposite side of the abortion issue. I also suggested we should be doing much more than pursuing a legal end to abortion.
Today I’d like to explore that second part in more depth. Because recently, I’ve heard prolifers say that they shouldn’t be criticized for focusing solely on the legality of abortion.
In many ways, that’s a great video, and I encourage everyone to watch it, in part because it shows that there’s much more commonality between pro-life and pro-choice than we think.
But at the same time, I think it’s incredibly shortsighted to focus so narrowly on legality. I would argue that what she describes is not, in fact, pro-life; it is what the pro-life movement is always criticized for being: anti-abortion.
It’s not enough to be anti-abortion, or even anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, anti-stem cell research, anti-euthanasia. If we want to be pro-life, we should be FOR things. We should be actively, publicly advocating for conditions and institutions that support the ability to choose life.
This means recognizing, admitting, and working to replace societal norms and attitudes that enable the divide between rich and poor, between socioeconomic classes. It means advocating for family-friendly policies surrounding working conditions. It means advocating for a health care system that offers equal access. It means working to equalize educational quality. Because all of those things are pressures that lead to abortion.
We need to recognize that the vast majority of these problems, the ones that cause women to feel they have to gnaw their legs off, as the article said, are too big to be dealt with by individual charitable giving. No matter how personally generous we are, we will barely make a dent in the injustices present in the world.
(Did we naturally desegregate through grassroots efforts to change hearts? Did we end slavery that way? No. Not even close.)
That doesn’t means we shouldn’t give charitably—we should.
But we also have to recognize the need for centralized, i.e. governmental, intervention—yes, even if it means expanding programs and higher taxes. Yes, there are potential pitfalls and complex problems to work out to make it happen in a moral way. Yes, it would be simpler if we could leave the government out of it. But a) we already accept the need to have the government involved—we’re working to change the federal law, aren’t we? And b), small government is not actually anywhere on Jesus’ list of characteristics of the Kingdom of God.
Finally, I want to reiterate the primary point of yesterday’s post: we have to STOP using the “abortion is murder” language. It inflames the discussion, and besides, we’re talking out of both sides of our mouths. We talk about compassion for women in crisis situations, and then we turn around and call them murderers? Really?
Those words hit the other side of this issue—and women in crisis—as fire and brimstone judgment. It’s no wonder the other side throws up impenetrable defenses. We call them baby killers, for Heaven’s sake! When we use language like that, we are the ones closing off discussion and putting barriers in the way of conversion.
That is not how God deals with us. He invites us, he brings us along slowly, he speaks to us where we are and gets us, eventually, to where he knows we need to be.
We’ll never do this perfectly, but that should be our goal.
I doubt anyone reading this would argue with me when I say abortion is the central, pivotal issue at the heart of the divide in America today. In recent weeks, with different states passing various abortion bans as test strikes against a new Supreme Court, the magma that simmers uneasily beneath all our toxic discourse has erupted.
Current discussions are excruciating for someone like me, who believes we as Christians have too long taken a facile approach to this issue: A child is a child, a life is a life, end of discussion. Any protest issued by the pro-choice movement does not require answer, because it can’t possibly outweigh that central, fundamental tenet.
Well, a life is a life; it’s true. It’s not that the core belief is wrong. But I heard a quote recently. I haven’t been able to verify it, but it resonates as true to what we as Catholics believe about God:
When God sees sin, he sees wounds.
(For what it’s worth, I heard it attributed to Julian of Norwich.)
What I hear, in the hysteria of those who are pro-choice, is pain.
The pain of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. The pain of discrimination. A thousand pinprick wounds (and plenty of traumatic ones, too). The pain of deep wounds not healed. People who encounter a hardline “life is sacred, and there’s no more to talk about” stance—a stance which fails to address their pain—will experience a further ripping of wounds they might not even recognize they have. Wounds they have no idea how to heal, because the God that could heal them has been too often represented by people who don’t acknowledge their pain, and in some cases are the cause of it. Which means they dig down and become even more entrenched and unable to hear.
We are not changing hearts when we focus our efforts in this way. And if we want to create a culture of life, we have to change hearts.
So how do we change hearts? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and I’ve realized that not one of the moments of conversion in my life ever happened because I was scolded, hammered with a truth I wasn’t ready to receive, or told my concerns were irrelevant. It always happened slowly, organically, through insights that grew from truths I already recognized.
If we want to change hearts, we have to learn to speak in such a way that the people who need to hear the message are actually able to receive it.
If we who believe in the sanctity of life can only answer the sincere, heartfelt anguish of people who are pro-choice with a “mic drop” argument that means nothing to them (no matter how true it is), then we are tone deaf. We are noisy gongs, clanging. We are without love.
So the next question is: what pain, what concerns, of the pro-choice movement are we ignoring, to the detriment of our goal of creating a culture of life?
My spiritual director once said that the intersection of faith and politics is a mess, because it’s like a bowl of spaghetti. Tug on one thread/issue and you dislodge dozens of others. Abortion simmers beneath everything else because it’s connected to almost everything.
An author in the National Review recently wrote that something she wrote years ago has been quoted both pro-choice and pro-life writers: “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
This resonates with both sides because it’s true. Women really don’t go around looking for excuses to kill their children. They seek abortion because they truly feel they have no other choice.
Now why would that be?
It can be because they’re in abusive relationships, and they simply feel they’re not capable of bearing one more burden. Or because they are in poverty, and can’t bear one more burden. And yes, a child is a burden. A joyful burden, we hope, but a burden nonetheless. We all complain about parenthood too much to pretend otherwise.
It can be because health care (before and after ACA) is astronomically expensive and handled by private companies in a callous and punitive manner, in which profit counts more than the good of the customer.
It can be because mothers know the system is stacked against them. If they don’t have a support network, how can they care for a child and also work?
It can be because schools in poor areas are a pale shadow of what more affluent families (i.e., us) demand as a given. Or because discrimination still exists, in ways we can’t fathom, because we won’t accept the word of those who experience it, preferring to think they’re overreacting.
The upshot is that women seeking abortion feel—with reason—that they are simply birthing a child into a desperate life of discrimination and struggle and pain.
And again, we know any life is better than no life. But is that facile response going to cut it when we face God? I can’t help thinking God’s going to say, “Thank you for working so hard to protect the unborn ‘least of these,’ but what did you do for all those OTHER ‘least of these’?”
The upshot is: it’s not that we’re wrong to say the baby’s right to life outweighs all other concerns. Of course it does.
But that doesn’t erase the need to address all those other concerns. And my entire life, the prolife movement has been singlemindedly focused on the legal question of abortion, while actively working against attempts to address these other issues at the level of society.
I have more to say about this, but this post is too long already, so I’ll close for today and pick up again tomorrow.
This quote may seem shocking, but it speaks to the larger prolife issue. To be truly pro-life, we have to be thinking beyond the legality of abortion; we need to think about the larger issues that exert societal pressures. Why is the abortion rate so much higher among black women, do you think?
I have a lot of thoughts on the current state of the debates around abortion, but I will leave this for now and hope that it encourages many to click through and read the whole pastoral letter.
I think all of us intend to do as the US Bishops urge in this quote. I think, in fact, that all of us think we *are* doing it. This is one of those areas in which I believe it will benefit us all to simply be more intentional–more self-analytical–to pull off the blinders and recognize when we aren’t, in fact, keeping the human dignity of others front and center…when we brush aside their protests because to take them seriously would require us to make uncomfortable changes. It’s certainly not a problem that’s isolated to issues of race, but it’s a place to start.