I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.
Dear University Students in Need of a “Safe” Space,
Today is Veteran’s Day. On this particular Veteran’s Day, university students and their professors across the nation are crying that they are traumatized by the results of Tuesday’s election claiming they need “safe” spaces to deal with the horror of Donald Trump’s election (There are dictionaries on campus to help with defining words like horror, tragedy, trauma, pain, and suffering in case they are needed.) Students are not attending classes and their professors are encouraging this infantile behavior by cancelling their classes and “protesting” with them. It is fitting in the face of this adolescent behavior to contemplate what I was doing when I was 18-22 years of age (I served 6 years, but most college students are 18-22).
I enlisted in 1999, during peace-time. I needed to pay for college, and while that was my initial reason for enlisting, that quickly changed as I learned of the real sacrifice of serving in the military. I am thankful that my military service did in fact pay for my Bachelor’s degree and it is now paying for my nearly completed Master’s degree. I am not saddled with $100,000 in debt I can never repay with a BA in Underwater Basket Weaving.
I was a linguist and my position required mainly desk work. That desk work meant that when I was 20 years old I was in charge of complex classified systems at a large government agency. I was doing work graduate students only dream of–I hadn’t even finished college at the time–but I was already fluent in a second language. You are claiming exhaustion and trauma from an election. I worked rotating 12 hour shifts for years without even knowing what day it was while entrusted–along with all of my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines–with the task of keeping this nation safe.
At 20 years of age the unthinkable happened. A real trauma and tragedy: 9/11. Overnight we went from peace-time to war-time. I found myself standing in front of the burning rubble of the Pentagon with 400 grieving family members. We stood in front of the tomb where 184 people had been murdered. Trauma is not when you don’t get your way. Trauma is a response to actual violence. An election going as elections go in a Republic is not a trauma. It’s the electoral process of this nation.
Three years after 9-11 I found myself trapped in the pain and real trauma of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had actual, not made up, PTSD. My relief work proved deeply painful and I had to pay a great sacrifice; one that so many of my fellow Veterans pay and carry today. You don’t have any idea what the need for a “safe” space is when you’ve never woken up from nightmares in a state of sleep paralysis alone in your bed across the ocean from your family or you had to run out of a movie theater, cower in a corner, and have a panic attack at the entrance because you didn’t expect the 9-11 movie trailer. The same goes for combat Vets when they see combat scenes. Hollywood can occasionally get something right, and they are pretty good at portraying flashbacks. You have no idea what it is like to give so much and carry that kind of tremendous weight your entire life. Being an undergraduate at a school where you are coddled, isn’t trauma. War, terrorism, violence, natural disasters, abuse, cancer are real traumas. Those of us with PTSD in the military, kept doing our jobs while getting treatment. We didn’t get to stop acting like adults in the midst of that suffering and neither do the men and women battling the scars of war today.
You and your friends are safe in your warm dorm rooms whimpering about your losses and how this country is going to fall apart and all of those “racist” voters will destroy this country. It’s much easier to label people than engage in actual intellectual debate based on reality and facts. I didn’t vote for Clinton or Trump, I exercised my free right to go third party, but I accept the election results because that is what we do in a free nation. The way you are acting implies your desire for a dictatorship based on your feelings and relativistic beliefs predicated upon nihilism. I know people of all backgrounds and races who voted for Trump. Just because you want something to be true does not make it true.
While you are playing beer pong and comforting one another in response to that “awful” Donald Trump, I have friends who have committed suicide from the trauma of war. I have friends who have died suddenly from injuries that occurred in war zones or on humanitarian missions. I have three cousins who gave years of their lives to war in the Marine Corps. I have friends who have been shot, blown up, and lost friends in IEDs. I have family still serving in the military.
Today we remember the people who serve or have served this great nation and who understand sacrifice in the face of tremendous pain and suffering. So, it’s time to put your big boy or big girl pants on and accept what has happened. It’s time to be an actual adult. You have no idea what a “safe” space is or what real trauma, tragedy, and suffering is like. I do and so do countless others.
A U.S. Navy Veteran
In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:
“Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Spe Salvi 1
Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.
Where does our hope rest?
Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.
One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.
A little over a week ago I reactivated my Facebook account after a year away. I have one of those personalities that gets easily sucked into the news feed. I have been watching the news since I was 5 years old, so old habits die hard. My problem is I become immersed in it. It isn’t good for me or people like me. I knew this a year ago and it is still true today. I am deactivating my account and trusting that God will provide for our adoption through His ways.
I went back on because social media is an invaluable tool in running an online fundraising campaign. My husband and I discerned that we need to humble ourselves and begin an online fundraiser to help us pay the astronomical costs associated with adopting a child, or Lord willing, children. I built our fundraiser and then I reactivated my Facebook account to share it. Upon my first scroll through the news feed I could see why so many of my friends have come to me saying they left Facebook for good. This election cycle has brought out the absolute worst in people on all sides.
The problem with the war being waged in social media is that many Catholics are involved in the constant battles and nastiness. It is true that we are called to take an active role in political life; however, it is hard to tell the difference between believers and non-believers at present. Christ tells us in the Last Supper account in the Gospel of John. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So my question for people is: Can people tell we are disciples by our love for one another? Can they tell our love for others? Christ commands us to love our neighbor. The constant fighting, offensive and overly simplistic memes, and the dehumanizing of one another accomplishes nothing except Satan’s desires for division. And there is a lot of division.
Fear and ideology have blinded so many that common sense has been lost. Catholics are forgetting that there are in fact laws, principles, and virtues to follow. Things are so upside down that a priest can commit sacrilege on an altar harming the pro-life movement while Catholics applaud this abuse of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and violation of the dignity of the dead. Catholics keeping throwing around mortal sin, without fully understanding moral theology or Catholic Social Teaching. The blindness to Clinton’s radical pro-abortion agenda and her constant apathy towards the dignity of the human person is ignored by her supporters. Trump’s waffling and indifference on pro-life issues is supposed to convince me that he is the great harbinger of the culture of life. In reality they both subscribe to intrinsic evils, are are wholly unreliable, corrupt, and bullies. I couldn’t buy the arguments of either side in the cacophonous din.
In full disclosure I have never voted for a Democrat because of their radical abortion agenda and the fact that faith is not divorced from public life. What I do see on both major sides is a lost sense of the good and how fear has come to rule the day; any and all scare tactics can be used to elect someone is the claim of the ideologue. We can do anything as long as she isn’t elected. This is false and immoral.
I just voted–and in full disclosure–I didn’t vote for either major party candidate. For the first time in my life I wrote someone in. I went with the American Solidarity Party. I walked out without the slightest tug at my conscience. I don’t agree with their call for single-payer healthcare, it violates the principle of subsidiarity and eventually the other three principles of Catholic Social Teaching in practice, but I didn’t have to choose between Moloch and Ba’al, as someone put it so well on Facebook. I could not stomach (I actually felt sick to my stomach) voting for either candidate, so I said a resounding “no” to the evil of both candidates. That is what I decided to do based on my conscience, which is properly ordered to the Catholic teachings on faith and morals. Others may arrive at a different conclusion and still be in line with CST.
I don’t expect people to agree with me, but I am fully within my right as a Catholic and acting in line with Catholic Social Teaching. My conscience could no long accept the consequential argument of the lesser of two evils. The “lesser” part kept on tripping me up this time around. I couldn’t see much of a distinction between the two. We reached the point–I knew we would soon after I plugged my nose to vote for McCain and Romney–when my conscience couldn’t do the mental gymnastics anymore. While folks from either side may not agree with my decision, they are required to respect it, which is the problem on Facebook these days.
There is no respect for others and a total dehumanizing and labeling of “other”. I have been accused of committing a mortal sin because I did not vote for Trump. That is the argument of an ideologue. I commit a mortal sin by abstaining from evil? It takes astonishing mental gymnastics to reach that conclusion. An example where this might actually fit might be: I vote for Clinton because she is for partial birth abortion. That violates the moral law and Catholic Social Teaching. Let’s try to keep our facts and theology straight.
The use of “other” to separate people has been in use since the Fall and it is always dangerous. It is used to take away the dignity of another group of people; to forget that they are human beings made imago Dei. The memes demonizing both sides does this task quite easily. Anger, fear, and the irrational are fueled and the volatile situation we now find ourselves in becomes reality. Social media provides an endless onslaught of real-time information, much of it false, anti-intellectual, offensive, or overly-simplistic. Yet, we ingest it and share it en masse without the slightest nod to prudence.
Fear is the word of the day. Far too many people are worried that if she gets elected the world will come to an end. There will be open sacrifices of the unborn on altars around the country, all Catholic Churches will close on Inauguration Day, and the apocalypse is upon us. The problem is, this isn’t an exaggeration of what I have seen. It reminds me of the scene from Ghostbusters where they talk about the End Times as they wait for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Fear is not a reasoned response to evil. Fear makes people do, say, and think stupid things. Yes, stupid. I think stupid things when I am blinded by fear. I will freely admit it. There’s a reason Christ tells us to hope and not fear. I can understand a reasoned argument in favor of Trump, but I do not accept the argument based on fear that if she wins the end is nigh, so I must vote for Trump. I don’t vote for one because of the other. That isn’t a sound evaluation of the candidate as he stands. We are called to use our God-given reason, not succumb to fear of the unknown.
There is a tremendous lack of hope right now, which is the antithesis of the Catholic understanding. Catholics live in present history, but also in the past and the future. There has never been a perfect time in human history since the Fall. Horrors, evils, torment, and intense suffering have always been a part of our experience. Even in that pain the joy of the Paschal Mystery renews all of creation and us. We now dwell in the hope of entering into communion with the Most Holy Trinity. We live in the hope that God will use us in His divine plan. We are called to transform the temporal order within our sphere of influence. Yes, vote, but our system is completely broken. We have to start from the ground up and evangelize the culture. It’s the long view. It’s the Catholic view. We don’t obsess in impending doom. We transform the culture where we are and come what may, even if it is martyrdom. Our eyes must always be fixed on Christ and not the storm:
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.t once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
People who come across us in social media or in person should be able to see that we are Christ’s. We share our political affiliations–if we have any at present–in hope and joy that no matter the outcome, Jesus Christ is King now and forever. We do not rant in irrational fear. We do not overlook evil and call it good. We do not dehumanize others. No matter who is elected this evening, our mission remains the same: to become saints. We can’t do that if we are blinded and attached to ideology. We cannot become holy if we harbor any hatred in our hearts. We cannot become holy if we wallow in fear. Admitting things are broken is not to give up. It is to reassess and figure out how to begin anew. That has been our job in every age. The culture collapses and we are there to pick up the pieces. We cannot pick up those pieces if we are screaming, ranting, or posting obsessively about politics in a doomsday manner.
Fellow Catholics, does our social media presence point to Christ? Is it filled with hope and joy even in the midst of suffering? I am very open about my own pain, grief, and suffering, but I also walk firmly with Christ by my side even as sobs engulf me. Vote today, trust, become holy, love others (including those you disagree with), and ask God for your mission in transforming the culture.
Read these to get started:
P.S. Sometimes it is very hard to tell the difference between sinful anger and righteous anger. Do we know ourselves well enough to tell the difference? Most of us are not developed enough in the spiritual life to truly know the difference. We need to be careful for the sake our souls and the people around us.
By now most of the world knows that this is an election year for the United States. It’s hard to miss the constant reporting at an international level. This piece isn’t about the election. It was inspired by the election, but it is meant to be about something deeper and more long-term than a single United States presidential election.
We all live in a home country with political, economic, social, and other systems at work. Some of them we have control over, others we are able to influence slightly, some we merely offer our duty, others we have very little control. It is our duty to participate as citizens. That participation is left to the faithful to execute through a properly formed conscience. A properly formed conscience is ordered to the moral law as it is understood by the Church in light of Sacred Tradition and Scripture. The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching is a great place to begin to understanding this aspect of the Christian life. I highly encourage people to pick it up and have it alongside the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The call to transform the culture is much more basic and deeper than merely voting, running for office, starting a business, giving to charity etc. It begins at the level of each person. This is the essence–it is the very beginning–of Catholic Social Teaching. Each human being is made imago Dei. Every human being shares the same nature of body and soul and each person is ontologically ordered to goodness and truth. We are made to love and serve God. We constantly seek God whether we are consciously aware of it or not. When we encounter Christ, we enter into the life of faith. Our nature–through the use of faith and reason–helps us to bridge the divide between the material and the immaterial, the spiritual and matter. Through the Paschal Mystery and the direction of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, each one of us is set on the path to holiness beginning at Baptism. We are all called to holiness. Every single one of us is called to be a saint. Sainthood is not solely reserved for lofty souls.
The Church just celebrated the great Solemnity of All Saints. In that great feast, we are called to celebrate and enter into friendship with all of the holy men and women who have gone before us on the path of holiness. Each of them points us towards communion with the Most Holy Trinity. They help us to see in a Fallen world of violence, chaos, corruption, illness, and brokenness that we must conform our lives to God. They also show us that if we truly want to transform the world, then we must become holy. To change a political, social, or economic system, we must be working towards holiness in our own lives and within our families.
The call to holiness is repeated most recently in Vatican II, Christifideles Laici, and the teachings of Pope Francis. It is the mission of the laity to transform the culture. We cannot do so if we are not actively pursuing holiness. We are all on the journey and we will fail at times. All of us will stumble and fall daily, but the point is to persevere. The radiance of the saints and their successes comes from their faithfulness to the mission. That mission is holiness.
**I will be on Al Kresta’s radio program, Kresta in the Afternoon, on Wednesday, October 19th at 4pm EST.**
To be a Catholic is to live paradox. We may not be consciously or intellectually aware of this fact, or refer to it as paradox. Our Faith is centered on the greatest paradox of all, namely, the Cross. It is death that brings new life. Christ’s bloody, tortuous self-gift on the Cross brings about salvation for all of mankind. Saint Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
While I study and marvel at the paradoxes of our Faith, it is only recently that I found myself living paradox at a visceral level. In fact, when the world looks at someone in my circumstances it sees either “folly”, envy, or hatred. The truth is always stranger and much more interesting than fiction or perception.
My Cross becomes heavier.
Two months ago I lost my fourth baby in miscarriage. We named him Andrew Thomas. We discovered his death on August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic. We named the baby after my hero, St. Thomas Aquinas, on a Dominican feast day. The pain of the last couple months has been intense and filled with questions, anguish, anger, and confusion. The sorrow of this miscarriage is coupled with the very likely reality that I will not be able to bear any more children to term. The NaPro hormone treatments I was on throughout the pregnancy did not increase my hormone levels at all, and after seeing a beautiful healthy baby with a strong heartbeat twice, our baby boy died. My family and I carry the dual Cross of the death of another child and infertility. We are living proof to a world that thinks it can control fertility that only God decides family size. It should also be a reminder to Catholics who struggle with being self-righteous, that not every family with one child is using contraception.
I just realized that I never posted my most recent article at The Federalist on the blog. Please read it carefully. I am arguing the pro-life position while systematically examining a question that I have been asked many times: Am I envious of women getting an abortion because of my miscarriages? This article takes a very abbreviated Thomistic approach. Honest intellectual inquiry means examining the other side and drawing conclusions, and even, similarities. Here’s the article:
On the surface, it may seem the pain, grief, and suffering a miscarriage causes the child’s parents could blind their ability to serve at abortion clinics or within the pro-life movement in charity and truth. Some have a pronounced emotional reaction to losing a child in miscarriage. Grieving individuals can lash out at others and envy what they do not possess—namely, a child or more children.
It seems logical for a person grieving a miscarriage to turn in hate towards those who choose to abort their unborn children. These individuals of their own free will intentionally kill their unborn babies, and those grieving a miscarriage want a child. While the danger of envy and hatred exists, reality is much more interesting.
To Parents, Children Are People from Conception
From the moment a pregnancy test reveals a positive sign, the mother and father begin to plan and dream about their new child, a specific person. Men and women experience parenthood in different ways, but come together to discuss names, purchase baby items, contemplate how to rearrange the house if necessary, and plan for the future. They start to see their family with the unique person growing in the mother’s womb.
There is great joy in discovering that a new person has entered the world. Pope John Paul II’s letter to women, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” discusses the deep bond formed at conception:
“The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and ‘understands’ with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the ‘beginning,’ the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings – not only towards her own child, but every human being – which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.”
From the beginning, a woman unites to her child in the very depths of her being and understanding. It is possible to suppress this understanding, which occurs in abortion. Those who endure the loss of a child in miscarriage, however, often profoundly experience this understanding. There is no question in their minds that a child, their child, is lost. This is precisely why the grief is so profound, even if it is done largely behind closed doors.
There is a battle raging in our culture between science and faith. This battle is centuries old, as various philosophers and theologians have sought to divorce faith and reason. The Catholic Church has stood firmly in the middle of this battle, calling for a ceasefire. Faith and reason are meant to go together, not be torn asunder. One of the primary issues is based on erroneous interpretations of the Genesis creation account, which scientists rightly point out do not comport with reality.
The error in question is based on biblical literalism. This belief, which came about post-Reformation, is the idea that all of Scripture is to be taken literally (except John 6) and that includes the six-day creation account. This has never been the Catholic reading of Genesis precisely because the Church acknowledges that Scripture is a library of complementary, but different, genres; all of which are divinely inspired. Bishop Robert Barron elucidates:
Once of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text which he is dealing. Just at it would be counter-intuitive to read Moby Dick as history or “The Waste Land” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. In the same way, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as scientific treatise.
Scripture and science will never be at odds as long as both are properly ordered to truth. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the Archbishop of Vienna and well versed on the science-religion problem, remarked:
The Catholic position on [scientific creationism] is clear. St. Thomas [Aquinas] says that “one should not try to defend the Christian Faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the Faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6,000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the Faith to the scorn of unbelievers.
If we are not meant to read the creation account in Genesis literally, then what was the intention of the inspired author?
Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.
Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.
The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.
G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.
When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life), and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.
I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.
There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.
My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.
There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.
When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.
When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.
We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here. If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….
In moral theology there is a form of hierarchy in which certain acts are considered to hold supremacy over others. This allows for distinguishing between moral acts. Those things that directly violate the dignity of the human person hold pride of place. These include violations against the right to life and the livelihood of a person. Meaning the intentional killing of any human person is egregious and gravely evil, but so is poverty, sex slavery, the intentional killing of civilians, etc.:
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator”.
Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 3
Abortion, in being the direct killing of a child at the hands of their own mother, is seen in all of its horror when one considers that it is a mother’s job to love and nurture their child. The unborn are incapable of defending themselves, and yes, it is abortion that is the supreme human rights issue of our day. Any truly intellectually honest Catholic recognizes and submits to this aspect of Church teaching (we are called to submit or assent to all, by the way).
The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
The reason I begin this blog with portions of Evangelium Vitae is merely to point out the obvious evils of abortion and why it is the primary human rights violation of our times. There is no question that abortion is supremely evil. I myself pray before Planned Parenthood through 40 Days for Life and work in the pro-life movement in other capacities. So no one can accuse me of being for abortion.
My concern is the propensity for tunnel vision by some within the movement. This is not only found in those who are openly battling abortion. It is often found in Catholics, to include clergy, who combat poverty or work with refugees or the sick and dying. There is a propensity to become completely focused on our own mission while denying the proper due of other missions.
Each of us is called by God to serve in certain capacities. This is one of the reasons there are so many kinds of religious orders. There is a need for Catholics to focus in various areas in order to work towards the common good. God calls some to be missionaries in poor countries. He calls others to fight abortion. Others are educators, doctors, lawyers, writers, artists, and the list goes on. Without taking away from the gravity of abortion, we must be cognizant that there are other tremendous evils going on around the world on a daily basis. Acknowledging those evils does not lessen the need to fight abortion. I think this was part of Pope Francis’ point when he mentioned pro-lifers a few years ago. I didn’t agree with his approach and I was incensed by his reference, but if we parse his words a bit, we might be able to discover something about ourselves.
If we cannot recognize evil elsewhere without comparing it to the abortion fight, then we have become disordered and obsessed with our mission. There is no reason why we cannot look to the poor, the refugee, or the sick with compassion without thinking of abortion in that moment. We do not contemplate the great suffering of a hungry child while brushing it off and saying, “Well it isn’t as bad as abortion.” We do not confront the great evil, violence, and horror of terrorism and compare it to abortion. Each evil needs to be acknowledged within itself, devoid of our tunnel vision. No orthodox Catholic who is free of this tunnel vision, would argue that abortion is not the greatest tragedy to befall humankind at this point in time. One billion unborn babies have been murdered worldwide. The sheer scope of this evil is breathtaking and horrifying.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we do not look to the other evils of the world and recognize their devastating impacts on countless people made imago Dei. Those people are also worthy of great dignity and charity. The Church’s social teaching does not focus solely on abortion. It may hold it up higher in the hierarchy than other issues, but the Church does not tell us to abandon the poor, displaced, and sick in order to battle abortion. Instead, she recognizes that there are members within the Mystical Body who have the call to go out and fight abortion and that every Catholic should do their part through voting, educating others, and providing for poor mothers. We must all be evangelizing. This a part of our baptismal promises . We are to help in bringing the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity.
We cannot all perform every mission needed in the world. It is impossible to be dedicated if we are spread too thin. We must be willing to accept and even praise God’s desire to have his Mystical Body working in so many different areas of the world. Our Lord uses us to minister to others. There is so much suffering and Christ uses us to enter into the Crosses of others, where He calls us. Let’s stop comparing everything to abortion and look at each evil for what it is: A grievous violation of the dignity of the human person and God’s call for each individual. We become ideologues when we blind ourselves to the widespread suffering in the world. Yes, abortion is the greatest evil of our times, but there are also a lot of other evils that need to be confronted. We live a more vibrant Culture of Life when we are open to the whole of Catholic Social Teaching.