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.
Happy Memorial Day to my U.S. readership! It’s been a crazy May for me, so if I take a hiatus next week, bear with me. I have a lot of catchup to do, and now the kids are out of school–time to get some healthy summer habits set up!
On that topic…Yesterday, some friends and I were chatting about what it takes to get our children to really connect the faith with the real world. There was discussion about whether working at the soup kitchen might be just as effective as formal religious education. Perhaps not a substitute, but definitely food for thought as summer break begins and parents have a little time to breathe, to live intentionally with our families…
One of the hardest things about harvesting quotes from Church documents is that, taken out of context, we don’t always appreciate the magnitude of what we’re reading. This quote, for instance, is in the middle of a passage on goodness. Goodness, Pope Francis says, spreads outward by its very nature. What goodness we receive wants to expand out to others.
Is this really how we receive goodness? Do we desire to take what has filled us and spill it over to others? If so, what does that mean for the way we interact with others?
Yesterday morning my son and I took a bike ride along a trail near our house. Along the way we crossed paths with two people, one of whom I think was homeless and the other I’m sure of. I said hello and waved as I do with everyone I encounter on the trails, but where most people respond with “beautiful morning!” or “good morning!” these two men appeared guarded. I got to thinking about how we, the with-homes crowd, react to homeless people. I can list off a series of things I’ve heard or thought myself, and none of them are charitable. All of them focus on the fact that the homeless are an inconvenience, they make us uncomfortable, or they got themselves into their own messes and thus they are Not Our Problem.
These people, who are not beneficiaries of the good things you and I have, have to know that this is how they’re viewed. No wonder they feel a need to be on the defensive whenever they cross paths with us. They’re probably bracing for being reported to the police and kicked out, when they have nowhere to go.
Where is the evidence, in these instances, that goodness desires to spread outward? If we are truly receiving goodness–in other words, if we are cognizant of it, if we are truly grateful for all we have been given–why do we default to judging those less fortunate based on assumptions about their situations? Are we truly free from sin? Because if we are, shouldn’t we be more willing to acknowledge and responsive to–not just individually but as a society–the needs of others?
Returning to Open Wide Our Hearts for a day or two, as the subject of immigration comes back up in the national news. This quote really stuck out at me when I first read it, because so much of our national discourse these days involves firing shots over opponents’ shoulders, without ever actually pausing to listen “with open hearts,” as the US Bishops said. The obvious application of this quote is to black-white race relations. How often do we dismiss the experiences of our African American brothers and sisters, thinking, whether we admit it out loud or not, that they’re overreacting, or reading into situations things that aren’t there? Open hearts, indeed.
But black-white relations aren’t the only instance where this quote applies. How much of the immigration debate these days is framed around the belief that people coming from south of the border are out to get us? Whole swaths of the country have bought, hook, line, and sinker, the idea that most of those seeking entry to the U.S. are criminals, even though research shows the opposite to be true.
The other thing we aren’t talking about, nationally, is the fact that the violence that is causing the mass migration that has created a crisis at the border came from the U.S. in the first place. MS-13 originated in Los Angeles. (Given the above paragraph, I take a moment to acknowledge this example of crime within the immigrant community, but also–it has to be seen within the larger context; the gang came into being to protect the immigrant community from gang violence from American-born criminals. So hey, Americans taught immigrants to be criminals.) This 2005 article from the L.A. Times illustrates that the seeds of the current crisis were sown by our own failures decades earlier.
And yet now, we choose to ignore our own role in this crisis, and try to blame others?
Open hearts, indeed.
The problems at the border are real. The questions are real–the ones posed by people on both sides of the debate. But the hysteria and demonizing done on both sides does not reflect the heart of Christ. How are we supposed to bring people to Christ if we’re not even reflecting him?
Words that should skewer us all in these polarized times…they certainly made me squirm. This quote reminds me of the adage “assume the best of the other.” I believe this passionately, yet so often, I do the opposite.
When I read this, all I could think was: wow! How much food goes to waste in the United States, again? A third of what’s available? Even today, years after first reading this quote and making changes to make sure we waste as little as possible, there is a bag of lettuce going bad in my refrigerator. Stolen from the poor, indeed.
This is the first of many places where this encyclical challenges us to examine our habits and make changes, because stewardship of creation goes hand in hand with care for “the least of these.”
My parish sits near the intersection of a major interchange along a major cross-country interstate. My husband and I lead a music ensemble at church, and every so often at practice on Wednesday nights, we find ourselves facing people coming in off the interstate asking for help: out of gas, out of work, broken down…
It happened last night, and it underscored how unprepared we are, both as individuals and as a parish, for such situations. We tried to find someone from St. Vincent de Paul but weren’t successful, and this gentleman eventually left, apologizing for bothering us because we clearly couldn’t help him. And though he was polite, it felt like he was pointing out the disconnect between our self-satisfied perception of ourselves as people of faith and the reality of how unprepared (unwilling?) we were to help a person in need.
Situations like this always disturb me. I find myself caught between a desire to help and a gut-level suspicion that said seeker is preying on the hearts (and guilt) of those of faith. And of course, the answering twinge of conscience, because how is that attitude compatible with a Christian world view?
For forty-plus years, every time I’ve confronted this situation, good and faithful people have responded with something like, “Hey, it’s the way of the world. This is reality. You have to be suspicious or you’ll get taken advantage of by scammers.”
But is it really okay for suspicion and world-weary jadedness to be our first, let alone our final, reaction? I mean, how are we ever actually to know whether a person is genuinely in need or being lazy/irresponsible/reaping the harvest s/he has sown? We are never actually going to know that. More importantly, is it really our business? Isn’t our call to give, and let God sort out the recipients? And if the answer to those questions has anything to do with the words “it’s my money,” then aren’t we intrinsically putting mammon ahead of God? How does it damage me in the slightest to give the benefit of the doubt to those asking for aid, even if I do end up supporting the occasional scammer?
This morning, Bishop Barron’s Gospel reflection zeroed right in on this same issue: “God is not pleased with this kind of economic inequality, and he burns with a passion to set things right. …Even though it makes us uncomfortable—and God knows it does, especially those of us who live in the most affluent society in the world—we can’t avoid it because it’s everywhere in the Bible.”
It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would come into a church at night, put themselves in the face of such humiliation, if they didn’t actually need help.
So today, this is the puzzle I’m wrestling: What is the right and proper balance of prudence with Christian charity? How do I keep from twisting the faith, in situations like these, to make it more comfortably align with worldly values—like, for instance, the attachment to the idea of “my money, my way”? Isn’t it just as likely that we react with suspicion because it absolves us of the responsibility to respond to the face of Christ in people who come to us for help?