Monday, February 3, 2020

Don't Complain, Protest

In January, there’s one event that dominates Catholic and other pro-life circles: the March for Life. Before becoming Catholic, I didn’t know about the annual march in D.C. marking the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision and protesting for an end to abortion. Every January for decades, thousands gather in the cold Washington weather for this march. And every year, I hear the same lines about how the crowd sizes are accurately reported and how the news never covers it.

And the complaining as worn thin.

The March for Life is no longer a protest. It’s an organized event featuring conferences, exhibit booths, and dinners. Groups, mainly high school and college-aged, organize trips to go together. It has its own organization to organize and oversee the event.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s good that young people learn about the tradition of protesting or standing up for one’s positions. I think it’s good to see other pro-lifers, especially if one’s coming from an area or culture where that’s a minority. I think it’s good that the organization provides conferences and speakers and other events. But it’s not really the same protest as when it started.

In 1974, organized by Nellie Gray and a few other activists, around 20,000 people showed up to protest the anniversary of Roe v Wade in hopes that the case would be overturned. It was planned as a one-time protest. The next year, the organization was formed to continue the march each year until Roe v Wade is overturned.

The complaints about crowd sizes each year is cumbersome, because each year the proposed number grows larger. The National Park Service hasn’t reported official estimates since 1995 (45,000). So the numbers now come from the organization, which has an interest to inflate those numbers each year. While I think it’s quite possible that the march now hits 100,000, some years have claimed to have 400,000-650,000. And of course, there are always individuals who claim there were a million. If you want to be taken seriously, the appearance of inflating numbers is not helping. And of course numbers are large when it’s an event with lots of rallies and conferences that people attend as groups. How many of the youth attending are so passionate about the cause that they would still attend without it being a youth group trip to D.C.? I don’t know, but I do know many are probably attending more for the field trip opportunity than the issue.

And after the event come the complaints about the news coverage, or rather, lack thereof. Why doesn’t the news cover such large protest every year? Because it happens every year. It’s basically the same format for 45 years; it’s grown and expanded, but the general story is the same. It’s not news. Lot of protests in Washington don’t get national coverage. Lots of conferences host tens of thousands of people every year without much coverage. In 2017, the Women’s March was covered extensively because it was new, grassroots led, and large. The next year, it was briefly mentioned. The past two years, I’ve personally not seen any memorable coverage. Because it’s no longer new and urgent. Because it’s become too organized/bureaucratic. Because an annual event isn’t really new.

So what if it's not heavily reported? Is that why you went? Or did you go to stand in solidarity with others who also want to see change? Are you doing it for likes or are you doing it because democracy demands its citizens be involved? Are you complaining online, or are you protesting in our nation's capital, challenging the seats of power?

I think too much is made from the March for Life. And maybe that’s not the march’s fault (who doesn’t want that kind of impact?), but the fault of those specific pro-lifers who don’t know that protesting is hard, who want attention and adulation for the bare minimum of effort. They are so used to the system being on their side they don’t understand what real fighting takes. The March for Life is not going to change any policy or court decision. It shouldn’t be the face of the pro-life movement. Personal interactions, compassion, and real zeal should be. All in all, it’s…fine. But I’m glad it’s 11 months away.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Not Violent, but Not Quiet

In school, history is often presented as if there was a predetermined outcome: the colonists broke from England formed America. The slaves were freed. Working conditions improved. Women got the vote. Schools were desegregated. This steady march of widening justice. Of course women should vote; it just took 140 years to realize it. Of course black people should be treated equal; it just took, um, 400ish years to realize it.

We’re taught to admire the peaceful protests that lead to these obvious outcomes. Founding Fathers writing patriotic texts on freedom and liberty. Women in white dresses and purple and gold banners marching down the streets. Blacks and white singing as they walk across bridges together. It’s inspirational, but it’s not the whole picture. People suffered and died for freedom. A lot. There were riots and false imprisonments and forced feedings and torture and lynchings and bombings and all-out wars. There was never a single, known outcome; there were multiple, competing positions, fighting for the identity of the nation.

The more I learn about movements for justice, the more I become disenchanted with peaceful protests. Would we really have the rights we have without some violent uprisings? Martin Luther King, Jr., who the nation celebrates today, once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we slipping backward, losing our hard-won gains because we’ve been taught to only protest complicitly? Isn’t nonviolent protest “too safe” to create change? Is peaceful protesting effective or must it be accompanied by more violent means to achieve anything?

This article from The Washington Post tries to look at data and finds nonviolence is actually more affective at bringing about change. More people are willing to participate in nonviolent acts, and despite what militia-enthusiasts believe, fighting the military is not an even fight. It will also engender greater third-party support. It’s easier to feel sympathy for a cause whose protesters are enduring violence peacefully than for a cause whose protesters are creating violence and chaos.

However, I think we have begun to think as nonviolent protests too peacefully. That it was people calmly sitting in dinners or making handmade anti-war signs. And while those things are strong, visual messages, there is more to the story. Nonviolent protest is not calm and safe. It is putting oneself in danger, sometimes physical danger. It is breaking an unjust system. It is intended to be loud and uncomfortable and disrupting. King said that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

I have my doubts that social media posting will stop fascism or annual marches of high-schoolers will end abortion. They are in safe, designated places. No one is risking anything by such a protest. It is an expression of free speech, and a necessary part of democracy to be able to do it, but it’s not really a fight. King and other civil rights advocates went to jail multiple times, lost their jobs, had their houses bombed, had the FBI follow them, faced assault and assassination. They protested without inflicting violence, but there was nothing peaceful about it.

What issues am I really willing to suffer for? What will I willingly go to jail for and face harassment for? And if I’m not willing to, can I truly call myself an advocate? There is solace that nonviolence is still an ethical and effective means, but there is fear that it’s been distorted and while hailed in history books, not as championed in our present time. History is not predetermined. It must be fought for and won.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

St. Genevieve, Defensor Civitas

St. Genevieve was born in Nanterre, France around 420 to Gallo-Roman parents. Upon their death, she moved to Paris and took a vow of consecrated virginity. She spent her time doing good works for the city’s poor. She became well-known for her charity and piety, and the bishop of Paris appointed her to look after the welfare of the dedicated virgins of the city.

In 451, Attila was leading the Huns to attack the city. Genevieve convinced the panic-stricken people of Paris not to run away and give their home up to invaders but to remain and pray. The city was spared as the Huns changed their route to Orleans. The people declared Genevieve Defensor Civitas — the protector of the city.

In 476 Germanic king Childeric I sieged the city. As famine set it, Genevieve passed through the siege lines in a boat and brought grain into the city. She also negotiated with Childeric for more favorable conditions for prisoners of war.

She is said to have played a large role in the conversion of King Clovis (and thus the Christianization of France) and was a close advisor of his wife Queen Clotilde. Clovis founded an abbey where Genevieve could minister. She was buried there.

In 1129, when the city suffered from an ergot poisoning epidemic, her relics were processed through the city and became an annual tradition. In 1793, her relics were intentionally destroyed as part of the French Revolution.

St. Genevieve died in 502. She is the patron of the city of Paris. She is commonly depicted with a candle and sometimes with the devil, who is said to have blown out her candle when she went to pray in church at night. Her feast day is Jan. 3.

To commemorate the 1,600th anniversary of St. Genevieve’s birth, the Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit wrote, “The Catholic Church in Paris will be particularly committed in this year of the 1600th anniversary of her birth to share with all the treasure she carried in her heart.”

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

St. Melania the Younger

St. Melania the Younger was born in 383 to wealthy Christians. Her grandmother was St. Melania the Elder. Her father was a Roman senator. At 14, she married Valerius Pinianus. After two of their children died soon after childbirth, Valerius agreed to devote their lives to religious dedication, including celibacy.

Melania inherited land in Sicily, Britain, IberiaAfricaNumidiaMauretania and Italy. She used her wealth to endow monasteries Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, as well as donate to churches and monasteries in Europe, often anonymously.

In 408, the couple moved to Sicily to live a monastic life. When barbarians invaded in 410, Melania, her husband, and her mother fled to Numidia. They founded a convent, led by Melania, and a cloister, led by Valerius. They met and befriended Augustine. In 417, they made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and wound up settling in a hermitage there. Melania met Jerome, and they became good friends. 

Though blessed with vast wealth and familial support, Melania spent her life giving away her possessions and seeking an ascetic life. After her mother died in 431 and her husband died in 432, she built a convent and served as its abbess until her death on Dec. 31, 439. She is regarded as one of the Desert Mothers. Her feast day is Dec. 31 (Julian calendar).

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Lenten Gaudete Sunday

I have trouble showing gratitude. I know how to say “thank you,” and acknowledge my privileges, but I’ve always struggled with expressing gratefulness, even privately. A couple years ago, my penance, regardless of priest or parish, was always to reflect on what I’m grateful for, as if each could hear my melancholy and struggle in each confession.

I’ve worked at it. I try to tell my friends what I appreciate about them. I don’t take friendships for granted, but I’m not one to normally express such gratitudes.

Part of this I think is that I’m better at seeing problems. I’ll nitpick something even if I love it. I’m a perfectionist who wants to everything and everyone to be working at full potential. I don’t expect perfection, but I expect to be moving toward it, be it lining up pens in the “right” order or beating myself up for the one sentence I should have said in the meeting but didn’t. I see the flaws everywhere— the injustices, the diseases, the evil. I focus on those instead of looking at how much is right. 90% is an A to some; it’s 10% short to me. I can like and enjoy something but still only comment on its flaws.

I’m learning that expressing gratitude increases joy. I have so many blessings; of course it does me good to count them. I like receiving compliments; of course I should give them to others. There are terrible things in the world and depressing parts to life, but there is also love and beauty and God’s unceasing patience.

There is a benefit to see the flaws—to push for change, fight for justice, and strive to be closer to perfection. But I have to see the good too, lest I fall into despair. I have to let in joy. I have to let light into the darkness.

It’s been a gloomy Advent for me. I’ve wanted to feel peace and hope and joy and struggled to do so. Advent is traditionally a penitential season, yet we treat it with much more joy than Lent. It’s joyous because we’re waiting the coming of Jesus. Things may be bad now, but the good is coming.

Gaudete. I need the command. Rejoice, let in joy; all will be well.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Dear Philothea

While I’ve read Introduction to the Devout Life several times, I’ve only recently begun diving into St. Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God. One thing that immediately struck out to me was stance that women and men were equal, in the eyes of God and in the ability to study and know God. His writings are not just for the laity, but both men and women, and he relies on women saints just as much as men, particularly St. Teresa of Avila. In the introduction, he cites her as well as Sts. Catharine of Genoa, Angela of Foligno, Catharine of Siena, and Mechtilde.

Then he even discusses how women often accept communications written to men when it’s applicable to them, yet men refuse to accept communications written to women that are applicable to them:

A great servant of God informed me not long ago that by addressing my speech to Philothea
in the Introduction to a Devout Life, I hindered many men from profiting by it: because they did not esteem advice given to a woman, to be worthy of a man. I marvelled that there were men who, to be thought men, showed themselves in effect so little men, for I leave it to your consideration, my dear reader, whether devotion be not as well for men as for women, and whether we are not to read with as great attention and reverence the second Epistle of S. John which was addressed to the holy lady Electa, as the third which he directs to Caius, and whether a thousand thousand Epistles and excellent Treatises of the ancient fathers of the Church ought to be held unprofitable to men, because they are addressed to holy women of those times. But, besides, it is the soul which aspires to devotion that I call Philothea, and men have souls as well as women.

Nevertheless, to imitate the great Apostle in this occasion, who esteemed himself a debtor to every one, I have changed my address in this treatise and speak to Theotimus, but if perchance there should be any woman (and such an unreasonableness would be more tolerable in them) who would not read the instructions which are given to men, I beg them to know that Theotimus to whom I speak is the human spirit desirous of making progress in holy love, which spirit is equally in women as in men.

This Treatise then is made for a soul already devout that she may be able to advance in her design.

I didn’t expect to see such a callout of sexism in the early seventeenth century, but was delighted to see it. It makes me love St. Francis de Sales all the more, and each time I see Theotimus, I know the treatise belongs just as much to Philothea.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Suffering Woman

My Bible study has been studying women of the Old Testament. Over and over, I’m struck by how much these women suffered. Some were great examples of faith; some were not. Yet each in her own way experienced suffering. Women of that time, like most times, were treated as lesser to men—somewhere between second class and property. Most had no agency in her life. That makes the stories of individual women that have remained to be handed down that much more powerful—even the men could not ignore these women.

One of the stories that has stuck with me most is that of Leah and Rachel. Leah was the eldest. When Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, he served their father seven years, but Laban insisted the eldest be married off first. So Jacob married Leah, then negotiated for Rachel in return of seven more years. Within a month, the two sisters now shared a husband.

Leah was stuck in a marriage where her husband loved another woman more. She longed for her husband’s love, and it wasn’t repaid. She did nothing wrong, and she gave him several children, yet she could not win his affection, instead watching it be poured onto another. Meanwhile, Rachel had the love of her husband, but she could not bear children—the primary duty of a wife. Her desire to give her husband children and to bear her own children probably weighed on her every month, especially as she watched Leah bear children.

I don’t think the sisters were jealous or competitive. But they each suffered their own heartbreak while having to live alongside another woman who had what they desired, compounding their pain.

And isn’t this the story of woman? Desire to be loved and share love, disappointment, carrying our burdens, carrying on. The courage and strength of women are the intangible victories won in the heart—getting up each morning to suffer and keep going.

Leah never received the favor of Jacob. Rachel did eventually bear two children, but she died in childbirth, naming the son Benoni, “son of my mourning.” Jacob renamed him Benjamin. There is not a happy ending for the mothers of the Twelve Tribes. But their suffering is acknowledged and remembered. They are seen.

And even for the women not chronicled in the Old Testament, they do not suffer forgotten. God sees their pain; he hears their cries. He seeks love and justice and consolation for them. Women are not secondary to God. He knows our longings and their strengths. He knows our obstacles and their weaknesses.

We will suffer. But we can suffer together. We can suffer and remember. We can suffer and love. We can suffer and keep the faith.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

St. Mary of Edessa

St. Mary of Edessa was born in Syria in the 4th century. Her parents died when she was young and she went to live with her uncle Abraham Kidunaia, a hermit. She followed her uncle’s example and lived as an anchoress for 20 years.

One day when she was visiting her uncle, a monk caught sight of her and sought to seduce her. He spent a year befriending her until she gave herself to him. Horrified by her own sin, Mary tore her tunic and was terrified of facing her uncle in disgrace. She ran away, thinking that she could not be redeemed. In despair, she assumed she was a tarnished woman and might as well go live in a brothel.

Her uncle did not know what had happened. All he could do was to pray for her return. Two years later, he received news that she was a prostitute. He hadn’t left his hermitage in years, but he immediately went to the brothel where Mary lived and begged her to come home. She had thought he would be angry and disgusted by her, but he showed only love and concern.

She returned to her home and began a life of penance and prayer. People were drawn to her spiritual zeal and visited her cell.

October 29 is the feast day of St. Mary of Edessa and her uncle St. Abraham Kidunaia.  She is a patron against sexual temptation.