Leading People to Christ Rarely Begins with Teaching Sexual Ethics

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Image taken from Wiki Commons.

As I scroll through my social media feed looking at the day’s news, I am struck by the sheer commonality of the sin of presumption on display. It appears that far too many of us–myself included at times–do not understand Our Lord’s admonition that we are not to judge other people. I don’t mean this as a form of secular tolerance, which is a form of relativism. I mean that we make actual assumptions and judgments about whole people–not behavior–constantly. This is one of the main reasons that dialogue and discourse devolves so quickly into ad hominem attacks online.

First, we cannot presume that we know someone or what they are going to do who we have only “met” online. Online communication only provides a glimpse into the complex lives of human beings. As I have written recently, authentic friendship requires something that social media cannot provide: presence. There is no way to fully come to know a person without spending time together in person at some point. The Internet provides the illusion of full connectivity, but really is only a shadow of communion.

In reality, we seldom know the deepest and most complex aspects of the people who are in our lives. Spouses, no matter how close, still largely remain a mystery to one another since they are still unique individuals–body and soul–who are united in the one-flesh union. God still works differently in each soul and that means by default that we are shrouded in mystery and depth, even though we assume that we know or understand another person completely. Even in the deepest of relationships both familial and fraternal, there are aspects of each human being that are only known by God.

This is something that should humble us when we encounter each person throughout our day. We are meeting another person made in the image and likeness of God who is capable of the greatest love and the most extreme wickedness. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Our bodies with all of their marvels are also fraught with imbalance, weakness, and decay. Our souls must learn to strive to bring our bodies into right order and to put the spiritual goods above the bodily. We are both body and soul after all. We forget all of the factors at play in each individual’s life and in our own folly, we think we can fully know and understand another person.

This is the type of pride that leads to presumption. I’m not speaking of presumption of heaven here. I’m talking about presuming, or assuming, that we know what another person will do, think, say, or who they are as a person. I have been a part of so many online discussions and situations in person where I have assumed I knew what someone was going to do or that this person or that will always choose this way or that way. This type of thinking is extremely destructive in relationships.

More-often-than-not, our assumptions about other people are our own projections, prejudices, weaknesses, or judgments because we don’t agree with the other person. Disagreement is fine and good, judging a whole person and discarding them based on pre-conceived notions is wrong. Even if someone commits grave evil, we still have an obligation to learn to forgive and love them as ourselves. This doesn’t mean they will necessarily be a close friend or family member, but it does mean that we discard any judgment we harbor that belongs to God. We can say objectively that a behavior is sinful, but we don’t discard people simply because of sinful behavior. By God’s grace, anyone can undergo conversion of heart. We also don’t assume that people will always choose evil, or will always make the same mistakes, or that they are a lost cause. This is to give up hope, which is the sin of despair.

I was reading a thread this morning talking about the friendship between Robert George and Fr. James Martin, which got me thinking about both presumption and how much preaching sexual ethics primarily is a misguided form of evangelization. I largely disagree with the ambiguity in Fr. Martin’s teaching. I think lack of clarity is dangerous and that charity demands that we clearly and proudly proclaim the truth Christ has revealed to us. Even so, my disagreement with Fr. Martin is about his ideas and his teaching. I do not discard him as a person and pass judgment upon him. I have no idea what he will do or say in the future.

As I read this thread, people were complaining that Dr. George’s befriending Fr. Martin was a waste of time. ‘He clearly ignores Church teaching and George will be made to look a fool when Martin comes out openly supporting “same sex marriage.” To be fair to Fr. Martin, his ambiguity has kept him from outright heterodoxy. He makes the typical mistake in a misguided approach to accompaniment in thinking that compassion equates to confirming identity politics and that telling people outright the truth is hurtful. Christ wouldn’t agree with him. Any cursory reading of the Gospels makes this clear.

It is fine to disagree with Fr. Martin–I do–it is another to presume that he will become an outride heretic in the future, which is what I read this morning. He is already being judged by the court of social media. Our Faith should teach us something very important about this life. Our conversion and the conversion of everyone else on this planet is always a work in progress. Saul persecuted Christians and then had a radical encounter with Christ and became St. Paul. St. Augustine lived the live of debauchery and sexual immorality and became a Doctor of the Church. Sexual immorality doesn’t preclude conversion. Just because our sins are not the same as our neighbor’s does not mean that conversion is impossible for them.

I suspect Fr. Martin is making the same evangelical mistake that those who oppose him on the right make in trying to convert the culture. That is, assuming that talking about sex is going to lead to conversion. Nobody reads the Bible and thinks “I get it. I need to temper my sex life!” to borrow from the thinking of Bishop Robert Barron, whose understanding of evangelization is similar to my own. You don’t lead with sexual ethics. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work and there’s a reason why it doesn’t work.

Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics. It is about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who has given the world a Church, the Catholic Church. This encounter with Christ draws people into the life of the Church, which requires each person to completely upend their lives. Becoming a Christian is deeply demanding and enters into every single aspect of our lives. Conversion starts with an encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, once we are in love with Him and desire to give our lives to Him, we can begin to see where we need to change our lives to be conformed and in communion with Him.

Without this encounter and deep friendship with God, our faith becomes stale, oppressive, and heavy. Our love of God will show us how to live sexual morality and to do it in self-emptying love, even though it can be difficult. Without this encounter Christianity becomes a list of rules to check off, which often is an empty shell. Faith is dynamic. It dramatically changes our lives for the better, but we can’t convince people of this truth unless they come to know Christ first and sexual ethics in light of the love they have for Christ.

Everyone who obsesses about Fr. Martin and who presumes to be able to read his soul–which is a rather large sin–gets pulled into this same mistake. Reaching people who are struggling with all forms of sexual sin–homosexuality is not somehow worse morally than other sexual sins such as adultery or heterosexual fornication–is never going to happen if we aren’t leading with Christ. He is the only one who can help us conquer the darkness and weakness within each one of us. Falling in love with Him is what gives us the strength and grace we need to move past our sins. It’s a life-long process, but if we never introduce people to the saving message of the Gospel, then they can’t see a way out and it seems impossible to overcome something that appears at first glance to be so tied to our identity.

Christ is risen! We have been saved by the power of the Paschal Mystery and we are spiritually fed in the Holy Eucharist, which is Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we fall–which we will do repeatedly–we can go to the Sacrament of Confession to be forgiven, to learn more about ourselves, and to be made new. Everyone can in fact be a saint by God’s grace. That is the universal call for each and every single person and that desires is enkindled by coming to love God and to accept the infinite love that He pours out on each one of us day-in-and-day-out.

Sometimes our sins seem impossible and the battles we wage spiritually and bodily are so intense that we think we cannot get back up ever again, or we have convinced ourselves that we are incapable of change or progress, and that God made us a certain way and that’s the way it is. These are the lies of the Enemy and the lies we tell ourselves. He is the radiant Truth in the face of these lies. Christ is the answer. He is the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the One who leads us through the storms of life and who strengthens us in the battles we must wage.

This life is the Cross, but it is lived in the hope and joy found in Him. In the immense joy and peace He offers. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, hurt, have dry spells or dark nights, be greatly tempted, sin and fall, but it does mean we will persevere and that one day we will enter into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. It means that we will become who He made us to be. Our weaknesses, sins, temptations, proclivities, etc. have been washed in His blood and in the end we will be as pure as snow if we follow Him. That’s the hope we offer to a dying world. Teaching sexual morality is essential for helping people to learn how to live as a Catholic, but we need to lead people to Christ first. Nobody died a martyr purely for sexual ethics. They died for love of Jesus Christ, so why aren’t we lifting Him up and drawing people to Him?

I Will Not Be Joining the New Pro-Life Movement Anytime Soon

I will not be jumping on the New Pro-Life Movement bandwagon anytime soon. Mainly because I find the constant bandwagons of the Catholic blogosphere tiresome and intentionally divisive. I have studied moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching in-depth. The two are intimately linked with the dignity of the human person grounding all other aspects of her teaching. That means the right to life holds supremacy and we work from there to achieve the common good through the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. There is a hierarchy and “seamless garment” arguments only work if the dignity of the human person is at the top of everything else.

Like most movements like this, it seems to be predicated largely upon straw men. The idea that the Republican Party is evil (of course it is, it is run by Fallen men, sin is a part of secular institutions just like the Church. The only thing that keeps the Church from collapsing under the weight of our sins is the Holy Spirit sent by the Glorified Christ) and the folks in the movement clearly support the sacrilege of someone like Fr. Pavone fuels their arguments. Never mind that there are fringes of all movements both inside and outside of the Church.

In reality, a great many of us left the Republican Party years ago sensing the immorality of both parties and decided to begin truly living CST and our mission–as explained in Christifideles Laici–on the ground rather than relying on an immoral and corrupt system in need of major change. We can only change the system from the ground up and that means evangelization, charity, and sacrifice. In-fighting doesn’t accomplish much at the ground level.

What many of these folks forget is that in bringing the Culture of Life to the world, God calls people to different missions under that umbrella. We cannot be stretched across the vast deep that is the Culture of Life. For instance, I have had four miscarriages and suffer from secondary infertility. I understand the gift of motherhood at an ontological level in a way many do not. I know what it is like to lose a child, four children. I also study philosophy and theology, so I can swim deep into the reality of motherhood, as a gift from God, and share it with others. God called me directly to the abortion fight, much like he calls others to slow the tide of euthanasia or other “medical” issues, soup kitchens, refugee ministries, inner city programs, prison ministry, etc.

The idea that those working against abortion–and are in need of saving from more “enlightened” Catholics–do not live CST is a straw man at best and malicious at worst. Our community lives the four pillars of Catholic social teaching by praying in front of PP in order to share the dignity of the human person made imago Dei with everyone. When someone comes into our care (whether a pregnant woman, boyfriend/husband, child, or abortion worker), we employ the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity with an eye on the common good by coming together to find these men and women work (many in our own businesses), medical assistance, childcare, adoption options, education programs, baby and needed items for living, food, financial assistance for debts, bills, or other issues, working with women newly out of prison, friendship and community to those from broken families with poor social networks, and any other need that arises well after the child is born.

I myself am in the middle of walking a journey with a mother who has the same due date that I would have had if Andrew had not died. Yeah, hardcore entering into the Cross and offering it up. I do it regardless of the pain and continue to do it through a lot of tears, but that is what Christ asks us to do. Self-sacrifice. Bloviating in social media does not equate to entering into the suffering of the poor, lonely, and struggling within our communities. And the figureheads of a movement do not automatically point to reality on the ground. I am also a writer, but I am under no illusions that my writing equates to works of mercy.

The idea that the pro-life movement on the ground is out of touch with CST is utter bunk. Many of us help the homeless, do prison ministry, and help in other ways as time allows us outside of the mission given to us by God. We can’t do everything and others have been called to work in different areas of poverty. We have an extensive Haiti mission in our church that I would love to join, but God has called me where He has called me. I see poverty up close and personal with my service to single mothers. Most of these women come from broken and dysfunctional homes, so the healing of marriage is essential, since CST goes from the individual to the family to the local community on up to the federal government and international community. That’s subsidiarity. We are trying, and failing at times, to be the hands and feet of Christ within our communities. I will happily continue to do work in the pro-life movement as we live it here in solidarity and I will continue to study and pray with the Church’s social encyclicals, documents, and the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching.

Public Discourse: Abortion’s Miscarriage Problem

The topic of miscarriage is one that is still largely taboo in our culture. It has only been in recent months that women and men have come out of the woodwork to publicly share their grief and anguish at the loss of an unborn child. Their bravery is often met with scorn, derision, or apathy.

I know, because I am one of these women. I have had four miscarriages. The most recent occurred just a month ago.

The sad reality is that many people are either afraid or unprepared to deal with the grief of miscarriage publicly. In a culture that lauds abortion on demand and dehumanizes the unborn child, this is understandable. Why talk about it? Until our society acknowledges the humanity of the unborn child, the pain of parents who lose their children before birth will continue to be ignored.

My Battle with Recurrent Miscarriage

My husband and I have one living daughter, and we have lost four unborn children in the first trimester. Each time, we have shared our pregnancies with family and friends immediately upon receiving positive pregnancy tests. It seemed completely natural to share the joy of our pregnancies, since a new life was created each time. A unique person of great dignity and worthy of celebration was coming into the world. Yet our openness meant that we shared the heartbreaking news of losing a child on four different occasions.

I cannot say that I knew the risks of miscarriage with my first pregnancy. It did not become a reality until we lost our daughter’s twin, and then we began down the path of recurrent miscarriage. Most doctors do not begin testing until two or three miscarriages occur. This makes it difficult for families to get answers early on in order to prevent recurrent miscarriage. After my third miscarriage, I went through a myriad of tests with a Catholic physician trained in Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) and discovered that I have estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which are usually treatable. For me, however, the treatment has not yet made a difference. I lost my most recent child while on natural progesterone and HCG injections.

Read the rest over at Public Discourse.

The Federalist: Are Pro-Lifers Who Grieve Miscarriage Merely Envious of Abortive Women?

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.

Read the rest over at The Federalist.

Miscarriage and Abortion: To my Interlocutors

I know that it is hard to understand me. Things I say and do are maddening. It is easy to push me away and to reduce my actions, words, and love, yes love, to hatred or envy. Often when we make choices out of fear, power, ignorance, or even apathy, we turn on others because they reveal those choices to us in some way. This is why when someone like me honestly shares the truth about pain and loss, I am accused of hatred or envy. I get it. In openly discussing the reality of miscarriage and the loss of a real person, I am implicating abortion. This implication is abhorrent to some, ignorant to others, and a long awaited sense of freedom and healing for so many.

I was supposed to grieve silently and on my own. I am supposed to take my cues from the abortion culture and pretend that I didn’t lose a child, or if it was a child, to grieve behind closed doors. I won’t grieve silently anymore, and neither should anyone else. In doing so, my desire to share my suffering in the service of others was greatly misunderstood by many. I knew this would happen, but I am not who you say that I am.

It has been a painful road, but that is the nature of this life. Suffering is an aspect of being human that comes to us all. It is what we do with the pain that matters. I choose to share it, not only for mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents who grieve miscarried children, but for women and men who have had abortions or who are contemplating an abortion. My bringing to light the miscarriage-abortion problem is not a condemnation. I condemn no one, but I have an obligation to save women, men, and unborn babies from abortion. This obligation is not born of envy and hatred. It comes from love. I want to address two accusations from my interlocutors. First, that I am envious of women having abortions and second, that I hate abortion supporters and those who choose to have an abortion.

First, envy by its very nature will not drive a person outside of themselves in the service of others. Envy is to covet, desire, or want to take something that is not ours. It is to hold what someone else has in such a high regard, that we do damage to ourselves. We no longer see the good within us, because we want what someone else possesses. Envy is deadly for a reason. It causes us to cave in on ourselves and to focus on what we have not been given or earned. Envy steals gratitude and robs us of happiness. I do not pray at abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood in these parts, out of envy. How could I? Why would I want to share anything with a person of who I am envious?

It is true that for a woman like myself, and I know countless other women, it is difficult for us at times to be present at a clinic where women are choosing to deliberately end the lives of their own children. We live in a world where I apparently can only have one child, who I am eternally grateful for, but where millions of women who can keep a pregnancy kill their children and their own motherhood of their own free will. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt me, but I am not envious. Their children, your children, are not mine, although my husband and I would adopt them in a heartbeat. I do not have a claim to them and I know this, so I am not driven by envy. I would stay home and write angry articles and blogs, rather than go pray in front of an abortion clinic. I wouldn’t share my own suffering in the service of others, instead I would rant and rave about what I don’t have in my own life. Some of you took the sharing of my pain as complaining, but you completely misunderstood my desire to help others who suffer as I do. Reducing me to a whiner is to completely disregard my purpose and my point, and quite frankly, it is to let yourself off-the-hook in trying to understand me.

In our culture, civil public discourse has been completely abandoned. Social media has become a place for people to spew vitriol in a vile manner because it is easy to hide behind apparent anonymity on the Internet. We should know by now that nothing we do or say on the Internet is ever truly anonymous or private. This has created an environment where anyone who disagrees with us automatically hates the other person or a group of people. This is a way to discard, discredit, or label a person. More often than not, however, this charge is false and it betrays the accuser’s own anger and inability to listen to opposing viewpoints. In the case of someone like myself–and the vast majority of those who pray diligently in front of abortion clinics, provide resources or time to crisis pregnancy centers, who gather items for poor women in crisis pregnancies, or who even write or speak on this topic–it is to confuse hatred and love.

Like envy, hatred does not drive us outside of ourselves. If we choose to publicly unleash our hatred on a particular issue, our message is automatically ineffective and revealed for what it truly is: An impotent clanging gong. Hatred is not accompanied by charity. Hatred is not sustaining and it consumes us, not the people we are trying to attack. I do not hate you. I honestly do not hate anyone, not even terrorists, and I saw the horrors of 9-11 in person as a relief worker. Hatred destroys us and I know that, so I do not fall for that trap. No, I love you, your baby, the father of the baby, and your family and friends. I don’t stop to ask whether or not that love is deserved. I love the people who have screamed at me. When I pray at the local Planned Parenthood the sign I hold is one I made and it says “You and your baby are loved beyond measure” and my daughter holds a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help holding the baby Jesus. I am not there to condemn you, but to be a loving and peaceful presence during a time of fear and confusion.

Love is not a feeling. Feelings may accompany love, but love in itself is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and change from moment-to-moment. Love is to will the good of another. It is to desire the genuine good for someone else and to go outside of ourselves in the service of that good. My miscarriages have taught me the deepest compassion and love for women seeking an abortion. It may seem “logical” to the culture for my pain to turn to hatred and envy, but it has not. The opposite has occurred. My pain has been transformed into a deep desire to help those women I see walking in and out of Planned Parenthood in my community.

As I said, love is to desire the good of another. That means my desire in love, the reason I am in front of our abortion clinic, is because I want those women to know that fear does not have the ultimate say. Whether it is fear of poverty, motherhood, dropping out of school, anger from family and friends, pressure from the boyfriend, husband, or parents, fear of medical conditions or whatever it is driving that choice, we all have the ability and courage to stand up to fear and pain. What is lost in choosing an abortion is tremendous. It is not only the loss of a child, your child, it is the loss of motherhood. It is a loss of the greatest opportunity to love and be loved.

Motherhood transforms a woman into the greatest person she can be, whether it is through biological, adoptive, foster, or even spiritual motherhood, for those women who cannot have children, those who have chosen chastity in the service of God, and those women who serve children in a variety of ways. In having children, our lives move away from being so much about ourselves, and they are changed into the service of another. This may sound daunting and burdensome, but we were made to and for love. In truth, the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return. There is a profound joy in motherhood that cannot be attained anywhere else. We only have to be open to love, sacrifice, pain, and joy.

I would never say that choosing motherhood is easy. It is not. It comes with tremendous sacrifice. There is nothing that has taught me more about my selfish nature, a nature we all have, than motherhood and marriage. Yes, my career path changed drastically when I became a mother. I did a lot in my Twenties. I served in naval intelligence, went to college, interned at The Heritage Foundation, lived in Europe, and the world was my oyster, but even with all of my accomplishments I knew that I wanted something more. My daughter is that more.

My daughter is greater than anything else I have ever done or been given. She teaches me daily in the art of wonder, beauty, self-sacrifice, and innocence. There is nothing in this world like hearing someone call you “Mommy” and in hearing your child tell you they love you each day. It is this joy, mingled with immense suffering through the four babies I have lost in miscarriage, that drives the compassion inside of me to pray at abortion clinics, collect supplies for women in need, and write about this topic knowing that I will be attacked for my honesty.

I know what lost motherhood feels like. I know what it is to lose an unborn child. I also know the abundant love of motherhood. No, I don’t hate you or envy you: I love you. I know that love can seem unbearable, unwanted, or burdensome. At the deepest level of our existence, we are made for love, genuine love, and that is what I am doing at Planned Parenthood and in my writing alongside the countless others striving to build a Culture of Life. I am striving, imperfect as I am, to will the good of another.