The President’s In Town Today

flag and bibleDear President Obama,
I hope you’re enjoying your visit to Chattanooga today. You came to talk about your ideas for helping our economy to recover and to discuss how businesses can continue to create more new jobs. Maybe you’ll have the chance to see a little of the city while you were here. If you do you’ll see a beautiful community surrounded by mountains and the Tennessee River. I hope you have the chance to talk with some ordinary people while you’re here although your events are closed to the public. You see, it’s the people of Chattanooga that make it truly beautiful. I guess you hear that about every city you visit. But let me tell you a story that will show what sets Chattanooga apart.

In 1973 the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade made most abortions legal in our country. Abortion clinics began to open all over America. In 1975 the Chattanooga Women’s Clinic opened in a building very close to the airport where your jet landed. The name made it sound like a health center but it was really just an abortion mill. It was the only one in our area and for many years it did a brisk and terrible business. This abortion clinic was like a rotten place in the heart of our city. You see Chattanooga claims to be a city of great faith. In fact, there’s a church here for about every 220 people. That’s a lot of churches. And we take pride in being a generous and giving community as well. “The average Chattanoogan gives away nearly twice as much of his or her disposable income to charities and religious groups as the typical American”(Chattanooga Times-Free Press, 8/23/12).  And like most Southerners we hold God, family, and country to be our highest loves. I think you called it “clinging to our Bibles and our guns.”  Yet for decades we allowed thousands of our unborn children to be murdered at the Chattanooga Women’s Clinic. But in 1985 a group of area citizens had seen enough. A small group of people began to gather outside the clinic and pray together. That group grew in numbers and in strength. And in 1993 they bought the clinic and established the National Memorial for the Unborn on its former site. The Memorial has become a place of healing and remembrance for the more than 35,000 children who lost their lives there. Women and families come to the Memorial from all across the country each year. They come to pray, to seek forgiveness, to remember and to heal. They come for peace. And they mostly find it. What was once a place of death has become a place of life and of hope.

Mr. President, you’ve spent your entire political career supporting abortion. You believe that a woman has the right to kill their unborn children and you want taxpayers to pay for them. That goes against my faith and I’m thankful that the bishops of my Catholic Church are fighting your mandate in the courts. I pray that we can put an end to abortion and to the rest of your healthcare mandate. You seem to be a man who loves his children. How can you look at your two beautiful daughters and still support programs and centers that would gladly have murdered either or both of them before they took their first breath?  How can a father want to do that? How could any Christian want to do that?

Your visit to Chattanooga will brief and, let’s face it,  it’s a staged media event. You came here to a red state, a right-to-work state with GOP leaders to promote policies which are very unpopular here. I suppose that took some amount of political courage. Could you use some of that same courage to stand up for the sanctity of human life?  Can you at least admit that an abortion kills a human being? That would be a huge step towards protecting ALL of the citizens of this country that you have sworn to serve. The people of Chattanooga stood up to the evil of abortion transformed a place of murder into a place of healing. Our country needs that same kind of healing. Our country needs you to have that same kind of courage. We need you to stand up for life, Mr. President.

“I’ve got two daughters…If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”
            —President Barack Obama

Peace Be With You

dancing-with-godThe doorbell rang and she went to the door for 3 more packages delivered that morning. More of the goodies she’d recently ordered online. She didn’t exactly know which of the stuff this was and she didn’t have time to look inside the boxes just now, so she tossed them into the spare room with the other dozen unopened packages she’d stashed there in the last few days. Right now, she looked at her day’s schedule: ten hours of “nonstop go” ahead of her. She jumped in her car (the latest luxury model) and hit the road. And as she drove, she thought about the next thing she wanted to buy. She bought lots of stuff. She “needed” new clothes (designer labels only) and jewelry and shoes, especially shoes. She had to have the latest. She wished her husband could understand that. She wished he made more money. If he only had a better job, she wouldn’t have to work so hard. If he was more ambitious and aggressive with his business…but she was weary of trying to convince him. Sometimes she thought he really didn’t even know her.

Their kids were doing okay, she thought. But they could always try harder, too. She had always wanted to be a cheerleader and take ballet and piano lessons. So she’d pushed the girls into those activities and made sure they’d taken it seriously. The boys played baseball and football and all the kids were expected to excel in their academics. They had to get into the right schools so they could make the contacts they’d need in order to succeed and find the right career paths and the right spouse to help them. She wished her own parents had pushed her like she was pushing her children. But they had been poor and thought you could get by on love alone. She knew better. They had never given her the things she’d wanted. Which reminded her of that new Marc Jacob’s briefcase she’d seen online and needed to order…

Does this sound like someone you might know?  While the person I’ve described here is a woman, it could just as easily have been portrayed as a man. Perhaps instead of shopping and orchestrating her family’s lives and schedules, he’d be the always-working, mostly-absent businessman whose energies are entirely focused on advancement and achievement–in his career, in the community, in the right sort of country club. In either case, these are driven people who seem to be searching for something, grasping at something that perpetually remains tantalizingly-close and yet always just out of their reach. If either of them would honestly reveal their feelings they might say:  I feel empty. I feel alone. I feel misunderstood and put upon by other people. I’m angry a lot of the time and fly off the handle at little frustrations. I tell people to leave me alone, that I can handle things by myself. But what I mean to say is: I’m lonely. I’m afraid. I’m not “good enough.”  No one would love me if they knew the real me. I have to try harder, work harder, be better. I have to be in control all the time. I’m scared of dying, of getting older, of losing control, and of being at the mercy of other people as I age and become frail.

Some of these thoughts and feelings are shared by most of us at one time or another. But we all know people who are like this who live their lives in a kind of perpetual search for whatever will satisfy their restless hearts. Their wants, which they perceive as needs, rob them of peace and tranquility. Whenever we find ourselves with grasping hands, with neediness in our hearts, our faith must call us back from the allure of the world and the passing things which can never fulfill us. This isn’t because beautiful things are evil. Anything that is beautiful reflects God’s beauty. But we will never be satisfied with the things of the world. Our hearts were made for so much more. We were created to love Him Who first loved us. Only He can give us lasting peace and quiet our seeking neediness.

We encounter Him in the sacraments of His Church where He fills us with His grace. At His altar He gives us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. In the confessional, He gives us His forgiveness and mercy. The peace of Christ, gained for us on the Holy Cross, is freely given and fully satisfies us. He is the calming of our storm-tossed seas, the fulfilling of what (of Whom) we were made for. No matter how big and fancy our house may be, or how powerful our careers may seem, the peace that surpasses all understanding is only (and forever) found in our relationship with Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:7).

“The fool folds his arms and consumes his own flesh.” —                                                                                        Ecclesiastes 4:5

My Crucified Love

crucifixion iconThere’s an old saying that goes no matter what we humans have accomplished on this earth, there are only 5 that are eternal. What are they? The 5 wounds of Christ. All of the Savior’s love for you and for me is revealed in those wounds. His pierced hands and feet and the gash in His side made by the Roman soldier’s spear shout out: “I love you and I forgive you!”  These wounds that we made with our sins are in heaven today. The angels and the saints are gazing upon them now as Christ sits with His Father in glory on the throne. Of all the wonders of this world, Christ chose His wounds to take back home with Him. They are precious beyond price and we should treasure them for what they are.

Catholics have a long and rich devotion to the Sacred Wounds of our Lord. We love the Crucifix of Christ with Jesus’ Body as a holy reminder of His sacrifice and love. We kneel and pray before the Crucifix just as if we were before Him on that Good Friday noon in Jerusalem. Those hours he spent wounded for us on the Holy Cross are the “high point” of His life on earth. As the Servant, He literally poured out His life to save you and me. In His wounds, Christ is most truly and fully- revealed. “For this reason I came into the world (John 12:23).  His wounds are the most intense revelation of His relationship with the Father. In them we see the full unfolding of God’s plan for our redemption, laid before the foundation of the world. The wounds are perfect sacrificial love–agape–which holds nothing back and offer nothing less than everything.

Other Christians sometimes think we Catholics have a kind of morbid fascination with the wounded Christ perpetually hanging in agony on the crucifixes in our churches and on the chains around our necks. They might prefer the bare cross instead. But I think when they do this, they’re missing out. They see the suffering Christ and want to move on to Easter morning, putting Good Friday in the past. But in truth, Christ’s perfect love for us is an ongoing sacrifice—a total and constant giving of the Son to the Father, for our sake. The wounds of Christ are the slaying of the Lamb. He lives in a state of holocaust, not as a mere historical moment in 33 A.D., but as His state of being, inside and outside of time. This is why the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s ongoing sacrifice, not merely a symbolic remembrance of a meal shared with His friends. This is why His wounds, and what they are and what they mean, should be ever-present to us.

His wounds are nothing less than life itself for us for from them spilled His Most Precious Blood, our salvation and our hope. In this way, the Sacred Wounds are the “porta caeli”, the doorway to heaven. St. Paul knew this to be true. When he wrote to the church in Corinth, he emphasized the sacrifice, the woundedness of Jesus.  “When I came to you, announcing to you the testimony of Christ, I did not bring exalted words or lofty wisdom. For I did not judge myself to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). Through His wounds we receive the New Covenant of the Lamb and the graces we need for salvation. From His wounded side flowed the blood and water (the Eucharist and Baptism) and the Church is mystically born in these two Sacraments.

Over the centuries, many saints have venerated the Sacred Wounds, from St. Bernard of Clairvaux to St. Francis of Assissi and his friend, St. Clare. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively about Christ’s wounds. But it’s in “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis where us “struggling” saints can read a valuable lesson. “If you cannot soar up as high as Christ sitting on His throne, behold Him hanging on His Cross.”  Thomas encourages us to rest in Christ’s wounds, to abide in them, to hide ourselves in them. I’m not a philosopher and I’m certainly no theologian. But I can behold Christ on His Cross and when I do, I know how much He loves me. I know my sins wounded Him and I know His loving sacrifice is saving me from what I truly deserve. In His wounds I see His glory and His victory over sin and death. And if Jesus did so much for me and loves me so much that He keeps the wounds I gave Him and has them still in His Body at this moment in heaven—can’t I spend a few moments thanking Him prayer?

“Holy Mother, pierce me through,
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Savior crucified.”
     —Prayer in Honor of the 5 Wounds

“…by His wounds we are healed.”
     —Isaiah 53:5

Future (Im)perfect

baby in the wombWe’re obsessed with perfection. The dazzling white smile. Perfect lush and shiny hair. Zero percent body fat. We need a new car every year and an upgraded house with all the extras. If something breaks, we don’t repair it we just throw it away and get the newest model. If our spouse starts looking old or gets a little impatient with us, we get a divorce and look around for that trophy we’ve always deserved. We don’t tolerate flaws. We demand the people and things in our lives to be without blemish; to be perfect.

Of course, this outlook sets us up to be disappointed because nothing and no one in this broken world is flawless. What looked great in the beginning reveals its cracks and smudges over time. We’re in a constant state of being dissatisfied with what we have and we’re always seeking out more and better stuff. We aren’t content with what we have even when what we have is much more than what 99% of the world may have. We live to consume. And when that is your world view everything becomes a commodity to be bought and sold. And everything has a price.

Last week in Great Britain the government announced it would begin drafting regulations which would allow the use of DNA from 3 people to create a baby. Scientists would take sperm and an egg and some additional DNA from a female donor and combine it to make an embryo. The process, they say, would be used to eliminate certain inherited diseases. They’ve been doing this with mice since 1983 and now want to try it on human babies. Of course there will be casualties each time the procedure is done because there are inevitably embryos that don’t turn out perfectly. And these children will be discarded. At present, this sort of research is prohibited in the United States. For now. But Chinese doctors are said to be actively researching the process. There are long-term implications for this sort of genetic tampering. Any baby allowed to be born would pass on their altered DNA to every one of their descendants for every generation to come. These man made inheritances may have huge impacts in decades to come, but that’s something the scientists don’t know and can’t predict. Still, they insist on doing it.

We can easily imagine the slippery slope down which this science will lead us. Even with the genetic modification of plants we’re currently seeing protests and legal battles all over the world. Does Monsanto regret their genetic experiments now? I’m sure their shareholders wish they’d never have started them. And these were only modifications in wheat and corn plants. How much more importance should we place on tampering with the creation and manipulation of our children?  This 3 parent DNA process reflects our consumer-driven, commodity-based world view where anything (or anyone) that isn’t perfect must be made perfect or discarded. And who decides what “perfect” is? What kinds of physical (or mental, or emotional) problems will no longer be allowed to be born?  This designer baby mentality has an old and ugly history.  It used to be called eugenics and its roots include the Nazi attempts to eliminate those they deemed imperfect like Jews and the mentally and physically impaired. Of course the proponents of 3 parent DNA research will deny that what they want to do us eugenics. Of course they will deny it.

We are becoming a world where people are values because of their biological characteristics and not their inherent dignity as human beings. When only perfect biology is worth saving, you are being guided by eugenics. Don’t be fooled when proponents try to make it sound more palatable. Of course no one wants a child to be born with a disease. We want doctors to ease their pain. But at what point does our science cross a line that can never be uncrossed?  Only through a relationship with our loving God can we know our true value as His child. All our flaws, imperfections, diseases and handicaps make us who we are and our worth is in His great love for us, made in His image. When we allow our pride to guide the physician’s hands we attempt to make ourselves into God. We lose our place, our role in His creation story. We forget that our perfection is found safely hidden within the wounds of Jesus Christ—and nowhere else. A broken world, a broken heart, a broken chain of DNA: all these find their only true healing in Him.

“The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”
                     —C.S. Lewis