Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Thoughts on the March for Life

First of all, go right now and read Chris Hale’s excellent article on CNN about why progressives should be “pro-life.” It’s a great piece for anyone who thinks being anti-abortion is for only conservatives.

That being said, I think we should reflect on what the March for Life is really accomplishing. It’s a great event; tens of thousands of Catholics from all over the US march from the Mall to the Supreme Court every year. It’s awesome to be in the middle of the largest anti-abortion protest in the world. It’s also incredibly “safe.”

Forty years ago the March started spontaneously, as people marched in reaction to Roe vs. Wade. Twenty years ago in the 90s there were still anti-protestors harassing the Marchers. But today the March is a fixture of Catholic High School calendars. Over half of the people attending are under 18, and you can count the groups by their matching caps and scarves. It’s adorable. Some are there to protest, but it’s not hard to see many of them enjoying an exciting field trip. Everything is organized, scheduled, arranged, and sanitized. If some wonder why there isn’t more coverage for the March, it’s because nothing was ever changed by a high school field trip.

It’s impossible to be at the March and not hear the comparison between abortion and slavery. But abortion is not slavery. Both are/were deeply polarizing issues, and both inspired massive movements to outlaw them. But slavery was a deliberate attempt to monetize a class of people slaveholders considered equivalent to animals. It was systemic, calculated, and brutal.

But abortions are not motivated by gain, but fear. Pregnant mothers don’t want abortions because they get something out of it, but because they are afraid of what the child will bring into their lives. We march every year to ban abortion out of a sense of disbelief that such a moral outrage can be tolerated. We never stop to think that the people fighting us do so out of desperation. As Cardinal O’Malley said last year in a fantastic homily, “The pro-life movement has to be about saving women.”

So much of the March is pro-birth, not pro-life. We look around at the posters and the signs, and see things like: “Defend Life!,” “I’m worth waiting for!,” “Defund Planned Parenthood!,” and hundreds of pictures of aborted children. But we never see one picture of a toddler, one picture of a young mother and her baby (Mary and Jesus don’t count), or one picture of a child in foster care. The March is against abortion, but not one group advocates for mothers.

We don’t need to scare women with pictures of dead babies or thousands of chanting protestors. They’re scared enough already. If we make their choice about fear, we make it shameful, and we force people to make decisions with as little outside support as possible.

We need to stop punishing those considering abortion; things like vaginal ultrasounds and mass closing abortion centers only serve to make vulnerable women more afraid and insecure. When we’re desperate, we cling to whatever promise of safety we can reach. Trying to take that away, or making it less accessible, only makes us hold on tighter. We can’t make someone “Choose Life!” through fear.

We need more support for adoption centers and foster homes. Whether federally funded or as nonprofits, we need to put our money where our mouth is. At the March we are told over and over about the billions of babies who die due to abortions. If we banned abortion outright, there is no way we could handle the influx of children needing homes, assuming the parent chose not raise their child.

If the parent (mother or father!) does decide to keep their child, we need to guarantee they have enough support to raise him or her until they are old enough to go to school. It is incredibly hard to find work and raise a baby single handedly. If we do not make daycare affordable and accessible, then the parent needs enough money or a place to live until they find a sustainable solution. We cannot demand a child be born and then ignore it. We are responsible for a child’s wellbeing if we demand that they be born.

So much of our fear over raising children is about money. If we demand that unborn children be born and raised, then we should ensure a parent can find work they can raise a child on. No one can raise a child alone on minimum wage, yet that is exactly what we expect of mothers without education or experience.

The March for Life is a great event. But it has become safe, repetitive, and ignorant about the consequences should it succeed. Next year I want to see at least one group marching with posters of mothers with young children, demanding we be “pro-life.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

What does it mean to be a prophet? What do we do when God calls to us in our lives?

In 1955 Flannery O’Connor wrote her second and final novel, The Violent Bear It All Away. It describes the young man Tarwater fighting against his calling to be a prophet. For the entire novel the boy literally runs away, and he is determined to do the exact opposite of his duty. Instead of burying his great-uncle he burns the house down with him in it; instead of baptizing his “idiot” cousin he drowns him. But even in the act of drowning Tarwater says the words of baptism, and by the end of the book we discover the great-uncle safely buried despite Tarwater’s arson. He finally realizes he cannot escape his calling and gives in:

He felt his hunger no longer as a pain but as a tide. He felt it rising through the centuries, and he knew that it rose in a line of men whose lives were chosen to sustain it, who would wander in the world, strangers from that violent country where the silence is never broken except to shout the truth. He felt it building from the blood of Abel to his own, rising and engulfing him.

The call of God is compelling. It is impossible to ignore, as anyone who has heard that little voice in the back of their head knows. Tarwater describes it as a hunger, and nothing he eats satisfies him. He feels no peace, no solace until he gives into his call and acts. The mark of a prophet then, is the undeniable call of God that compels them to act.

Their compulsion is impossible for us to ignore. Isaiah prophesied the eventual triumph of Israel, not just its reclamation but its crowning, and his words sustained the scattered Israelites in their exile. John the Baptist retreated to the wilderness, but people burdened with sin flocked to him for hope. Paul converted the world to Christ with his words and his example.

Why are we pulled to these people? Their words still pull us 2000 years away, and their successors strike at our hearts. The mark of a prophet is also the hunger they plant in us. We all know the feeling, when God speaks to us from the Mass, or a book, or a homily, or a friend in conversation. A prophet is not just a man in the wilderness, but one who speaks God’s truth from compulsion. The mark of that truth is its undeniability. The words will compel us to act, compel us to change; to repent and be born again into that strange country, the kingdom of Heaven.

What, then, can we do with the prophets’ words? When they compel us to act, to change, and the call scares us in its compulsion? We are told “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Our fear is honest and justified, because what we are called to is radical. We are called by the prophets, compelled by God, to minister to the poor, heal the sick, to take care of widows and children, and visit the imprisoned. We are called to prioritize the weak and vulnerable in the world over the rich and powerful, and it is terrifying. While we admire those who do so, we know it is risky. To serve them instead of the powerful is to spend our time and money on those who can’t reward us, can’t compensate us. It dooms us to a life on the edges, away from safety. The poor can’t give you fame, or help you save for your children’s college.

The prophets themselves model how we should act, and they point to Christ. Isaiah says in the reading today:

“And I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord, and my God is now my strength!”

It is terrifying to hear the voice of God. It is scary to hear His whisper in our lives, calling us in the quiet moments when we are undistracted by TV or socializing. But we are called. We are called to respond “Yes!,” and the call does not go away because we ignore it. It is compelling in our deepest hearts and secret thoughts.

And if we say “yes,” God will sustain us. That is His promise to the prophets, to Christ, and to us. If we choose to walk with Him we will not be alone. He will give us strength for the journey, and He will help us to do such amazing things!

“It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”