Sunday, January 22, 2017

Roe and Doe

Today is the anniversary of the legalization of abortion in America. It is the day many pro-life groups march for the right to life and the dignity of the unborn. It is following the day that many women marched for women’s rights. Somehow, the two groups have been cast as enemies of one another. But I can’t take one side to the demonization of the other. I want women to be free from assault and given equal treatment and respect. I also want families to be protected and supported, and basic life honored from conception to natural death. I’ve been thinking about the two marches a lot this weekend, knowing that some women, like me, desire to participate in both. And I think of two women whose voices were silenced for the “greater good” of “women’s rights.”

Norma McCorvey, known as “Jane Roe” in the Roe v. Wade case, was homeless when she got pregnant in 1969. Her two older children were being raised by other people. She got in touch with a lawyer to ask about adoption options. She was referred to lawyers Weddington and Coffee, who were looking for a plaintiff to challenge abortion laws. McCorvey did not have strong opinions on abortion and was not seeking a legal case to obtain one. She signed their affidavit without reading it and only looked up the term abortion afterword.

Sandra Cano, known as “Jane Doe” in the Doe v. Bolton case, was in a bad marriage with three children in foster care in 1970. She was also pregnant. She went to Atlanta Legal Aid to seek a divorce and try to get her children back. She never sought an abortion. Later, she discovered that Doe allegations said she applied to the Abortion Committee of Grady Memorial Hospital and was denied 16 days later. Cano has testified in court and before Congress she never sought an abortion, and that in fact when her mother and lawyer pressed her to abort, she went to Oklahoma until they promised she could keep her child.

The Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, decided on Jan. 22, 1973, struck down many restrictions on abortions and made it legal in the country until the third trimester—and for health reasons even later. Doe v. Bolton specified that “health” as “physical emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age” (so basically, whatever).  The cases rested on the right to privacy between a patient and doctor.

After the Roe decision, McCorvey became an abortion-rights icon. She worked in abortion clinics. She said of her experience, “Early in my abortion career, it became evident that the ‘counselors’ and the abortionists were there for only one reason – to sell abortions. …There was never an explanation of the procedure. No one even explained to the mother that the child already existed and the life of a human was being terminated. No one ever explained that there were options to abortion, that financial help was available, or that the child was a unique and irreplaceable. No one ever explained that there were psychological and physical risks of harm to the mother. There was never time for the mother to reflect or to consult with anyone who could offer her help or an alternative.”

In the early 2000s, Cano filed a motion to overturn her case on the grounds that she never agreed to be a participant in it. She was told the statute of limitations had passed. The District Court denied her on procedural grounds, and the U.S. Appeals upheld the District decision. Cano passed away in 2014.

McCorvey met a pro-life group that moved in across the street from the clinic where she worked. She eventually became pro-life herself in 1995 and began working with pro-life groups. She said, “I long for the day that justice will be done and the burden from all of these deaths will be removed from my shoulders. I want to do everything in my power to help women and their children.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

St. Agnes

Agnes was born into a wealthy Christian family in Rome in 291. She made a promise to God to maintain her purity, and she turned down several marriage proposals. One of the spurned men turned her name into the authorities out of anger. She was arrested for being a Christian.

The governor sent her to a brothel. She remained faithful and pure. She was then sentenced to death. She reported said, "I would offend my Spouse if I were to try to please you. He chose me first and He shall have me!"

One account says that Prefect Sempronius commanded that Agnes be dragged through the streets naked. During the ordeal, her hair grew to cover her entire body. Men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.

She ultimately died by sword on January 21, 304.  A virgin-martyr, she is the patron of young girls, chastity, and rape survivors.

For the past week or so, I kept thinking of St. Agnes, but I wasn’t sure why. She would just pop into my head. I knew she was one of the early Roman martyrs and that she’s associated with a lamb, but I didn’t know much more and I didn’t have a particular devotion.

Today, I woke up at 6 a.m. with an overwhelming urge to go to daily Mass, which I don’t think has ever happened on a Saturday morning before. I went, and it turned out it’s St. Agnes’ feast day. I don’t know why she wants my attention, but she has it now. I certainly appreciate her prayers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gratitude for Bad Popes

The past century has been blessed with holy men in the papal office. It’s easy to get caught up in adoring them, for they have been strong role models and good shepherds of the faith. A pope, or any leader at any level, should be holy and selfless and compassionate. He should have loyalty only to Christ, to the truth, to caring for his people. He should resist his personal temptations and rise above petty distractions of the day.

But leaders are human. Even the ones with the best of intentions make mistakes and have their personal struggles. And not all are best intentioned. There are bad leaders. There are leaders that do the wrong thing and lead down the wrong path. But recently, I’ve realized that that’s ok. Not that I am alright with bad leadership and poor morals, but that the truth can withstand anything, or anyone.

There are some famously bad popes. John XV used the church finances as his family’s personal bank account. John XII reported rape pilgrims, stole church offerings, and prayed to the Roman gods. Alexander VI threw large orgies and promoted his children to power. Because of him, the name Borgia is immediately associated with hypocrisy, political schemes, and sexual immorality. 

It would be very hard to look at the leader of the Church, see a man like that, and believe that the Church represented goodness and holiness. I understand why people turned away from the Church when the pedophilia scandals hit. How can such vile men represent God? How can God’s witness on earth house such evildoers? The Church is supposed to be better than corrupted world. Her leaders are supposed to be building up the kingdom of heaven, not building their own empires.

But I think there is hope in these bad leaders. The office is bigger than the man. He will serve a purpose whether he desires to or not. A lot of the nepotism and corruption led to reforms in the papacy. And even with bad men in power, the Word still spread. People still found God and worshiped him sincerely. The Church can flourish under good leadership, but she can withstand bad leadership too. There is waxing and waning, but she is eternal.

I think the fall of the Papal States has helped produce good popes. It does seem that when the Church has secular, political power, she draws more of those bad leaders. Men who want to use her for worldly gain and personal glory. A suffering Church produces humble leaders. Men who are willing to risk their lives for God. To me it becomes a dichotomy: end persecution and have influence on society but risk becoming a worldly power with corrupt politicians at the helm or suffer persecution and be belittled in society but have godly men lead us through the suffering?

I’m not going to be able to control how much power the Church welds. I’m not going to be able to control who is in charge. But I can speak out against injustice when I see it. And I can continue to place my trust in Christ and his Bride instead of mortal men.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Something Happens and I'm Head Over Heels

I love Jesus. I always have. Some sects say that one has to make a conscious decision to accept Jesus and become Christian. But I was born into a Christian home, raised Christian, and have never considered myself unacquainted.

But the relationship has evolved over the years, as any relationship will. I remember being confirmed at age 11 and thinking that I was making this decision to join the church with the most sincerity and with the fullest understand that I could. I took my faith seriously; I took my vows seriously. But even at 11, I knew that my faith wasn’t complete, that getting older would mean my understanding would deepen or change. That fact didn’t lessen my sincerity or the meaning of my confirmation. After all, God meets us where we are.

And God’s mostly met me in the library. I love studying the theology, the history, the literature. I know God intellectually. I think about Him a lot. And sometimes, I feel the emotions. The overwhelming love, gratitude, and desire for Him.

Lately, the emotions have come more often. It’s like my heart has been split and compassion poured in. It’s painful and scary and hard to analyze. But it’s also wonderful. Much of my adult life has been slowly integrating feeling and risk into my natural pragmatic personality. It’s indescribable, though I’ve tried. I’m learning to embrace the emotional side, to use it to better connect with others, and to still check it against my intellectually foundation.  

There is no conclusion. It’s still something I’m adapting to. And it’s something that will undoubtedly wax and wane and evolve. But it is a change. Something is different. God has always been there. I’ve always loved Him and tried to follow Him. But when you travel a path, the scenery is bound to change.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Motivation Monday: BROTUS

Obama/Biden memes added some light-heartedness to this nasty election cycle. It was truly endearing to see two politicians who genuinely liked each other and to see that friendship could endure even the highest office. So this is both a motivator and a salute to the Bromance of the United States.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Winter Wheat

In the fall I saw a play on the passage of the 19th Amendment titled “Winter Wheat.” It followed the true story of how the passage of the amendment rested on Tennessee being the 36th state to ratify it (giving it 2/3 of states). Harry Burn, a young (only 24) representative from East Tennessee initially planned to vote against the amendment. He wore the red rose that signified his opposition to ratification (a yellow rose signified suffrage). The vote in the state legislature looked to be tied. Burn received a letter from his mother urging him to change his vote; he did. With a quick “aye,” he changed the nation. He later said, “I believe we had a moral and legal right to ratify…I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” 

The title of the play comes from a quote by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton who said, “I never forget that we are sowing winter wheat, which the coming spring will see sprout, and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.” Stanton didn’t live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment. And I doubt she ever thought a young conservative in rural Tennessee would accomplish what she started.

Often we want to be the hero. We want to make the moving speech, the nation-changing vote, the final blow. We want to see our efforts change the world. But it takes a lot of people setting the stage, laying the foundation. And it's a long process. The majority of 35 other legislatures voted for suffrage before Burn did. Women were arrested, assaulted, and tortured for the cause before the amendment was even drafted. Most of the time, you don’t see the result of your work. You are just a part of a bigger movement.

There are Christians that focus on “saving souls.” Like a car salesman, it’s all about the numbers. They’ve brought X amount of people to Christ. But how could one even determine such a number? First, the Holy Spirit is the one who brings people to faith. Second, while Christians have a role and duty in spreading the faith, I don’t believe that one person is there for steps 1 through 10 of another’s faith journey.

Someone plants a seed. Someone else feeds that interest. Someone else is at the right place at the right time. The Spirit uses multiple people in several ways to help an individual’s journey. That person who planted the seed might never know that a seed was planted or that it resulted in harvest. And that’s ok, not to know. If you share the faith earnestly, focused on the Gospel and not the numbers, you will plant lots of seeds. It is not important that you’re there for the harvest, only that the harvest is reaped.

It’s an important lesson for two reasons. One, you cannot see yourself as the lone hero. You have a role in life, and maybe it will earn acclaim, and maybe it won’t. It is still important. Do something because it is right, not because you will be acknowledged for it. Two, sometimes you will lose. Your efforts, your movement, your people, your Church will fail. Evil will be stronger, swifter, more popular. But you must plow the hardened earth. Faith can grow in the most adverse environments.

Pope Emeritus Benedict said, “The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, His name will continue to resound throughout the world.” We don’t all have the luxury of living in the moment of victory or in a post-war period of peace. Some of us live during the war, during the plague, during the persecution. We are unsure of how long the suffering will last. We have no guarantee that we will see good triumph over evil, only the hope that ultimately, evil will be defeated. And so we continue to resist it. We plant seeds so that future generations will have a harvest, “and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.”