Monday, January 27, 2014

Pro-Life and Pro-Francis

Even after more than 40 years, the issue of abortion is still palpably painful in our nation.  Despite efforts of both sides to articulate reasons for their strongly held positions, it has become more and more clear that the issue is ultimately a matter of not of the "head" or of intellectual arguments, but of the heart.  My heart, that is.

From a pro-life perspective, the question of abortion hinges on transforming hearts.  But my heart first. 

This seems to be the broader context for some of Pope Francis' concerns about how and when Christians should talk about abortion, as well as his own staunch defense of legal protection for the unborn:  Are we speaking the truth with love?  Are we expressing our love and concern for women in crisis pregnancies from the perspective of the truth that we all share in common--that is, our own brokenness and sinfulness and need for redemption? 

The abortion issue requires that Christians see life from the perspective of Jesus' heart.  After all, Jesus died of a broken heart.  Yes, physical torture and crucifixion were the proximate causes of his death--the kinds of things that would have made a coroner's report.  However, starting with his agony in the garden, through his betrayal and denial by his closest followers, to his prayer for each of us while hanging on the Cross--"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:32)--, Jesus' heart was torn open by our abandonment and rejection of his love.  My abandonment and my rejection, that is.

Monday, January 20, 2014

American Idols

Ever wonder why the ancient Israelites were so caught up in the whole golden calf thing?  Isn't it curious how the worshipping of false gods has just faded off our religious radar screens?

A guest on Relevant Radio recently raised the question: when was the last time you confessed and repented from breaking the First Commandment?  God continues to call each of us personally--and all of us communally--to live in a covenant relationship with him.  This means, as Jesus reminds us, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Mt 22:37); in other words, as God's Law succinctly states, "You shall have no other gods before me."  And yet the greatest threats to our freedom and to our happiness are precisely the everyday idols we so willingly embrace.

The Catechism defines idolatry as "divinizing what is not God"; it goes on to comment that, "Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc." (CCC, n. 2113).  So what are you tempted to divinize?  It's not likely satanism, but power, pleasure and money cover plenty of ground, don't they?  And how about race, ancestry and the almighty state?

I am deeply inspired by the heroic witness of those who are in recovery from addictions.  Though this may seem like an extreme example of handing over our freedom as children of God to whichever false god has seduced us, the honesty and courage of those who have confronted their inner demons should be a model for each and every Christian.  Moreover, the recognition that only a Power greater than ourselves can free us from our bondage is essential to the Christian life.  Either we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or we have already shackled ourselves to some other god.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Celebrating Baptism

An old friend recently commented that the two most important days of our life are the day we are born and the day we are re-born.  It caught my attention because I assumed the second day was going to be the day we die; it also struck me that I have been quite remiss in appreciating the gift of Baptism.
Perhaps that fact that I love celebrating my birthday has helped compensate for this oversight.  Indeed, I probably owe my family an apology for often stretching my birthday out for many days and periodically even claiming the entire month of March as my own!  My birthday has always spoken of the gift of life.  It hearkens to the love of my parents and to their openness to sharing that love.  It reminds me of the miraculous way that God continues to create unrepeatable and eternal souls in and through the love of man and woman.  Of course, another birthday is also just a good excuse to celebrate!
But what about my Baptism, the day I was re-born?  Jesus clearly states that "no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above," and then he goes on to explain that this means "being born of water and Spirit" (Jn 3:3,5).  I know that I have been "born again" in Baptism through a sheer act of God's grace.  I also understand and appreciate that I have been offered a share in the kingdom of God, through no credit of my own.  However, I've never tracked down my baptismal date, nor have I considered its importance when reflecting upon the countless ways Christ has reached out to me throughout my life. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Merciful Resolution

Pope Francis has identified the phenomenon, and he has named it: a "culture of indifference."  In the face of so much loneliness and brokenness, we tend to wall ourselves off from others, rather than enter into their suffering.  Maybe it's like being afraid of the playground bully as a child; if we get involved, maybe the pain of the other will somehow get turned onto us. 

But when he speaks of a "culture" of indifference, Pope Francis is recognizing that there is something more than our personal fears or failures at work.  Indeed, in countless ways, the culture in which we live shapes how we think and act.  For example, if "only the strong survive," then why would I want to be associated with the weak?  If ending the suffering of others is the new definition for "compassion," then why would I want to "suffer with" someone else, as the traditional understanding and definition would suggest?

In Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Fr. Michael Gaitley advocates what he calls a "merciful outlook"--that is, "responding to the suffering of another's existential loneliness by expressing delight in him" (p. 157).  He maintains that people long to be seen and known and recognized as the gift of God which they truly are, and yet all too often we find ourselves ignored or used or pushed aside.  The indifference of others leads us to question whether we are a gift of God to the world.

Fr. Gaitley proposes a simple yet profound way to reverse this trend.  He calls it the art of the "merciful question"; it is simply a way of asking another person about his or her hopes or joys, fears or sorrows.  It is a path not of prying, but of walking with another person, listening with an open heart, and delighting in the other.  It is also not a pseudo-conversation starter--e.g., "now that I've finished asking you about yourself, let me tell you all about me..."  Rather, it is an invitation to the other person to open up and reveal something meaningful about who he or she is.