The US Constitution, 150 Years Ago

Capitol Breach Subpoenas

An eventful summer, as far as national news. Recently I have heard two statements, both of which are false.

1. A Senator recently said, regarding the apparently imminent end of Roe v. Wade: “A Constitutional right has never been taken away before.

2. A historian recently said, regarding the violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021: “It was the greatest Constitutional crisis we have ever faced.

I know both these statements are false because I recently read The Broken Constitution by Noah Feldman. The book considers the actual greatest Constitutional crisis we have ever faced, which began in late 1860.

Feldman Broken ConstitutionAnd that crisis had to do with a “Constitutional right” that was ultimately “taken away:” the right to own black people as slaves.

Feldman argues that the U.S. has actually had two constitutions. The first held sway until the Civil War. Then President Abraham Lincoln “broke” that Constitution in order to save the Union by force. Then the amended post-war constitution became the inspiring charter for national life that we revere today.

Fact #1 that Feldman demonstrates with ample evidence: The U.S. Constitution written by the Framers, and adopted by the original thirteen states, not only countenanced chattel slavery, it fortified it as an American institution, giving it extensive protection from any possible abolitionist political movement that might arise.

Those Framers included venerable Virgininians, of course, whose pictures adorn our currency. In the minds of those men, the stability of late-18th-century Virginia required the protection of slavery as an institution. Slaves made up a critical element of the capital in the economy, as they had for nearly two centuries. Abolition would have meant the impoverishment of the governing class. So the Framers set up a federal political system designed to protect the institution, even though those same Framers thought of slavery as immoral.

As did most of Europe, at the time. We Americans rarely recognize this historical fact: when we adopted our slavery-protecting constitution, we were bucking the moral trend of the late-18th-century Western world.

Then the twist of history came, that the Framers did not anticipate. The “Industrial Revolution” was well underway, and the Framers thought that would lead to a gradual transition away from the farm economy, which, in the South, involved slavery.

But the invention of a particular Industrial-Revolution machine, the cotton gin, turned cotton farming into a huge, Industrial-Revolution business. Shortly after the adoption of the slavery-protecting U.S. Constitution, slavery became a bigger business than it ever was before. Since we had a professional Union army (thanks to the Constitution), we used military force to expand the big business of slave-produced cotton into the land that had been the home of the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Natchez, and other tribes (i.e. Tennessee and the Deep-South states).

Feldman’s book focuses on Lincoln and his thinking during the protracted Constitutional crisis called the Civil War. When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863, he knew it would change the country forever. But he justified himself legally with a line of reasoning that we now find quite remarkable.

To paraphrase Lincoln’s thinking, as he put pen to paper to sign the proclamation:

Yes, slaveowners have a Constitutional right to their property, and their slaves belong to them as their property. But we are at war. In wartime, the opposing military force has the right to confiscate the property of the enemy, if the property can be put to any military use. Therefore, I have the right to order the ‘confiscation’ of the slaves in the Confederacy, by emancipating them, so that those freed blacks can fight on our side.

Even at the moment when Lincoln set in motion the chain of events that would spell the end of chattel slavery in America, he still thought of the right to own slaves as a “Constitutional right.” He “took it away” solely as a matter of military necessity. In other words, if the blacks were all Quakers, or some other kind of pacifist, and would not fight, for either side, then Lincoln would not have thought himself legally justified in emancipating them.

Lincoln did not want to act as a dictator. He followed the international law of war, which allows for property confiscation, when the property in question is militarily useful. Now, that same law of war also stipulates that confiscated property should be returned to the owner at the end of the war. But Lincoln reasoned that, in order to get freed blacks to fight hard for the Union, he had to promise them freedom for life. So even that aspect of emancipation was justified, in Lincoln’s mind, by military usefulness.

Because the Confederate states had broken faith with the Constitution and compelled him to use military means to subdue them, Lincoln considered himself justified in substituting the international law of war for the customary provisions of law in the U.S., as long as the war lasted.

Feldman argues that this means that the original Constitution was effectively abrogated during the war. Indeed, Lincoln not only deep-sixed what had been thought of as “property rights” when it came to slaves, he also did away with free speech and the right to a speedy trial.

But you don’t have to go the whole way to agreeing with Feldman–that we have actually had two Constitutions–in order to grasp this: The problems with the presidential transition between the election of November 2020 and the inauguration of January 2021 were not the worst Constitutional crisis we have ever had.

The transition period between the election of 1860 and the inauguration of 1861 saw the secession of seven states from the Union. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas all seceded between the election and Lincoln’s inauguration.

So even if the secession of those seven states was all that happened 1860-1861, it would still qualify as far worse than 2020-2021. But it was only the beginning, of course. Four more states seceded between April and June 1861. Then there was a war that lasted four long years, costing 600,000 American lives. Then Lincoln was assasinated less than a week after the war ended, as he was just beginning his second term in office.

I’m not trying to make light of what happened on January 6, 2021. I have listened to some of the congessional-committee hearings on the radio. The testimony has painted a compelling picture of serious wrongdoing and grave danger.

But if the purpose of the hearings in enlightenment and understanding, it hardly serves the goal to overstate the case, with historical amnesia. We had a Constitutional crisis from late 1860 through at least 1865, a crisis like we have never had, and which, please God, we will never have again.

And the idea that ending Roe v. Wade would be the first instance of “taking away a Constitutional right?” Another example of obtuse historical amnesia. The “right” to abortion belongs in the same dustbin of history as the “right” to own slaves. Both amount to specious claims to a “right.” Thank God for sober minds finding their way clear to taking those “rights” away.

Reading Feldman’s book is a great way to get perspective on all this. I highly recommend it.

“Legal” Abortion?

John Paul II on the Mall

It’s as if Pope JPII wrote this particular part of the encyclical to help us, right now.

It is almost eerie how perfectly this section of a 1995 letter reflects the state of the question in the US, in June 2022.

[Full podcast website HERE.]

JP II The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Chapter 3 Part 4

Compendium of Posts for the End of Roe v. Wade

Roe v Wade court
The Roe v. Wade court

Two years ago tomorrow, Bishop Knestout issued a decree prohibiting me from preaching and celebrating the sacraments publicly.

He did this to punish me for blowing the whistle on the long-term cover-up of Theodore McCarrick’s crimes. Shortly before then, I had given a homily about the Gospel of Life, the end of Roe v. Wade, and the coronavirus.

Bishop Knestout’s decree prohibiting my giving sermons remains in effect, and I obey it.

As Providence would have it, though, I actually gave a good number of sermons about the end of Roe v. Wade, prior to May 5, 2020.

I share the links with you, dear reader, with some quoted passages. Perhaps you will find the texts helpful now.

1. July 4, 2018: 45-Year Dream Come True.

That Independence-Day Sunday, I anticipated the event that appears to be imminent now, the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Couple quotes:

…Now, suddenly, in the summer of 2018, we find ourselves at a point in our history when we can reasonably hope that this will change. With a new justice, the Supreme Court likely will abandon its claim to govern the country when it comes to abortion…

We Catholics are pro-life. As Pope St. John Paul II explained to us, we simply cannot accept the idea of elective abortion. Accepting it would mean betraying the most central realities of our Christian faith.

That said, we also love, and sympathize with, all mothers who find themselves in situations which might tempt them to seek abortions. The culture of death, the throwaway culture—it poisons many minds, with its hopeless, dark fear of the future. We Catholic Americans fight the culture of death in our country not with anger and judgment, but with love.

Roe v. Wade accorded a “right” to abortion that does not exist. The irony is: this actually short-changed pregnant women of the rights they do, in fact, possess.

Every pregnant woman has the right to love and support, without being judged. Every pregnant woman has the right to the best healthcare available for her and her baby. Every pregnant woman deserves our friendship, our advocacy, our help.

…We know that plenty of people fear what will happen when an abortion case reaches the Supreme Court with a pro-life majority and the whole legal situation changes.

Let’s sympathize with that fear. Let’s acknowledge that something has to fill the vacuum that Roe v. Wade will no longer fill. Something has to occupy the psychological space that the abortion industry has occupied in these last, lawless 45 years.

us_supreme_courtLet’s pledge ourselves: We American Catholics will fill that space with our Christian love. When the tropical storm that is Roe v. Wade finally blows out to sea, away from these shores, and the sun comes back out again: We will stand there with acceptance, support, and tender loving care for every pregnant woman.

2. May 17, 2019: Pro-Life Turning Point

We can hardly hope that the Supreme Court would ever turn Roe v. Wade completely on its head and make abortion illegal in all fifty states. Rather, it seems like we’re headed towards: red-state/blue-state regional variations in abortion law.

Which means, of course, that here in purple Virginia we will have the pro-life fight of a lifetime on our hands…

Do we want to ‘impose our religion’ on others? Well, did the slavery abolitionists of two centuries ago intend to ‘impose their religion?’ Plenty of people said that they did, including US President and native Virginian John Tyler…

Maybe some people call themselves ‘pro-life’ out of sexism or prudishness. If so, that doesn’t mean that innocent and defenseless unborn children should face death with no legal protection, just because some of their advocates have imperfect motives.

No one thinks that the slaves in the South should have stayed slaves because some northern abolitionists were hypocrites, or because Abraham Lincoln himself had confused, and not altogether humane, ideas about blacks.

Why are we pro-life? Do we have a ‘religious conviction’ that life begins at conception? Actually, we have airtight scientific evidence that it does.

Whatever happens in the statehouses and courts, we have a clear mission. Serenely to love every human being. We do that out of religious conviction. That’s our way of ‘imposing’ our religion—loving our neighbors selflessly, unconditionally, and generously.

3. June 22, 2018: The Place Where Abortion is Illegal.

This is actually not a sermon but an analysis of a magazine article about “accompanying” pregnant women. Quotes:

…Kaveny gets it wonderfully right here. The problem of procured abortion is not, ultimately, a metaphysical matter. We have to focus solely on the simple moral question. Can it be right to choose to have an abortion?

…To countenance the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–that would involve a failure of charity towards both baby and mother. Just like refusing to sympathize with the burdens faced by the mother would involve a failure of charity towards both of them…

Fleetwood Mac RumoursI have argued for most of my life that we do not need faith in order to know that abortion is wrong, since sonograms clearly show us that is is.

But, on the other hand, it is faith that protects us from the hubris that justifies abortion, based on uncertain predictions about the future. Every line of thinking that leads to the idea that abortion could be the right thing to do–all of them start with fear of the future. From that fear of the future comes the compulsive attempt to control it, through violence.

4. January 22, 2018 (45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade): Whose Future Is It?

In this sermon, I tried to address pro-choice thinking and offer a solution. Plus: An essay responding to Stevie Nick’s reflections on her 1979 abortion.

5. December 25, 2016: Christmas, Pro-Life Feastday.

Don’t accuse me of bringing politics into Christmas Eve. Our Catholic adherence to the Gospel of Life runs much deeper than any political affiliations we have. But, of course, being pro-life has political implications. We rejoice in the victories won this past Election Day by candidates with a pro-life message.

nativityThese victories mean that we have to pray all the harder and remain all the more vigilant for opportunities to participate in building up the culture of life. May the year to come see us living out in practice, day in and day out, the spiritual worship that we take part in at Christmas, beside the holy manger of the newborn Son of God…

We find ourselves next to the newborn babe in the manger, we clearly perceive that violence has no place here, in this sublime mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth. As the prophet Isaiah put it, declaring the Gospel of Life: “Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames, because the Prince of Peace has a vast dominion, which is forever peaceful.” The cruel violence of abortion is completely foreign to the peace of God’s kingdom. Visiting Bethlehem spiritually cements this truth into our minds.

6. March 30, 2016: Some Pro-Life Clarity?

This is an essay, not a sermon. It’s about appropriate criminal penalties for abortion.

7. January 28, 2013: My Marching Apologia

…The babies themselves are in the hands of God. But the persons who are morally responsible for their deaths find themselves in an untenable state. The Pro-Life Movement holds that we find ourselves in this untenable state as a nation.

With tears, we lament this collective darkness of soul. We insist that purification and enlightenment can and must be a legitimate object of political activism. We reject the abortion-tolerating status quo as foreign to human decency…

8. August 15, 2008 (the day this blog started): Logic and Voting Pro-Life

Guest Post: Matt O’Herron

Matt O'Herron

Political Musings on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Contemplating the events of the past month, or 10 years, or 48 years since Roe v. Wade, has led me to believe that we who believe in charity, Christ’s divine love, need to distance ourselves from a political mentality. I am not suggesting no longer running for office or abandoning political science or not voting. What I am suggesting is that people who profess a faith which holds that “God is Love” is both the foremost truth and the highest ideal remove themselves emotionally from, and no longer identify with, politics.

Since Roe v. Wade, and perhaps before, Catholics in America have watched and participated in an ideological political battle between two parties that has not helped us love our neighbor. We have poured mountains of time, emotional energy, millions and millions of dollars–and sometimes–ourselves, into trying to create political solutions to moral and philosophical problems that pre-date the 20th century. In practice we have forgotten that there are no temporal solutions and have fallen into the trap of identifying ourselves as supporters of one or the other political party or candidate because they seem to represent more of what we believe our faith asks of us. But there is a reason the Beatitudes make no mention of politics.

unbornSetting aside the fact that neither party comes close to a platform that reflects the Church’s social teaching, we have allowed this errant self-identification to both cloud our overall ability to be charitable and to lull us into thinking we are being “good” Catholics by vehemently espousing particular political views and supporting candidates who have little interest in charity or the truth.

In today’s climate, if we are going to properly foster the mentality Jesus actually asks of us, Catholics in general ought not identify as Democrat or Republican, at least not publicly (unless forced to do so to run for office). We should not find ourselves vociferously supporting deeply flawed candidates or their parties or using their catch-phrases. Stoking political passion both in ourselves or others is not Christian. On the contrary, it is at best a distraction from charity and, at worst, a fanning of the flames of irrationality. There is no search for truth or love in politics today.

We cannot and will not make the United States a Christian country, whatever that means in the 21st century. Half of the positions one side or the other supports are unchristian. Half of what most Christians do is unchristian. If we had poured all the political passion, rhetoric and fundraising into a zeal to actually accomplish face-to-face charitable works, the country would be more Christian than any political crusade could have made it.

We ought to refrain from digital political discourse as well. Conservative catholic and liberal catholic are terms we ought not to permit or identify with. Every Tweet or post that supports a candidate is only read by those who agree with the writer anyway. Who is that helping? Why place ourselves in a camp? Christians have done a  disservice to what should be our cause by identifying politically and becoming cheerleaders for candidates. Doing so separates us. Our identity should be humble and struggling Christians and our communications should reflect that.

It is true that Roe v. Wade is a colossal evil in this country, but it is not the actual killing of a baby. It is a legal decision. Abortions happened before it was handed down and will happen if it is overturned. Would we all get along if it was overturned? Would we actually do anything concrete for mothers and others in trouble if it were overturned? Do we do anything for mothers and others in trouble now?

The effort to overturn Roe v. Wade was and is noble but part of the evil the decision has wrought is sucking Catholics into the vacuity and furor of present-day politics. We find ourselves expending our energy and talents on candidates and parties that do not foster authentic Christianity. For those who recognize abortion is a tremendous evil, it has forced us into painful decisions that we have let identify us politically, instead of as Christians making a hard choice as best we can.

american-flagA person striving to live a charitable and truth-filled life should only begrudgingly accept the fact that a vote has to be cast for someone, whether that someone is from one of the two popular parties or not. The same holds true for Christendom. In today’s America, most of the time, an authentic Christian ought to be holding his or her nose and grimacing when their vote is cast.

Had Catholics, Christians, and “all monotheists who believe in charity” spent all our blood, sweat and tears on charitable works instead of political endeavors, imagine! For 48 years, many Catholics have engaged in a political struggle that has maybe, just now, resulted in a Supreme Court that might overturn Roe v. Wade and return the decision on abortion to the states. Then what, another 48 years? The loss of the Christian culture requires a different solution.

Roe v. Wade serves as the most egregious example of how wrong our system can be. It reveals two points to consider. First, Christians are not going to change the world through politics. Secondly, Christians have allowed politics to drive us apart. Symbolically and practically, what we need are pro-life community centers next door to every abortion provider, staffed and funded by all the money currently being wasted on political and media endeavors supporting this or that, Republican or Democrat, candidate, or this or that “left- and right-” leaning Catholic publication which belittles the other side and trumpets the praises of deeply inadequate political figures.

The time has come for Catholics to fundamentally alter their approach to engaging the problems in the country. While continuing to be civically active, vote, and run for office, we must emotionally and rhetorically leave politics behind. If there is any great political insight to be taken from Scripture, it is that even the greatest empire the world has ever seen could not keep the religious “right and left” from killing Christ (Mark 12:13-17). Politics has become the algorithmic science of screaming as loud as one can to one’s own camp. There is no longer a redeeming reason to identify politically. The only way to keep our country beloved, or make it beloved again, is to focus on charity.

Pro-Life Turning Point + Pro-Choice Hysteria

President John Tyler
President John Tyler

Many people seem to be talking about state-law ‘challenges’ to Roe v. Wade. You might remember how we talked last Independence Day about how this turning-point in our history was coming.

We acknowledge: Many people fear such a significant change in our national way of life. We have to sympathize with that fear. We commit ourselves to vindicating the rights that every expectant mother has. Those don’t include having someone kill the baby. But they do include: support, without judgment; the best medical care; a helping hand.

Maybe a lot of the pro-choice hysteria of the past couple days springs from fear. Fear of change and fear of the unknown. But we can hardly hope that the Supreme Court would ever turn Roe v. Wade completely on its head and make abortion illegal in all fifty states. Rather, it seems like we’re headed towards: red-state/blue-state regional variations in abortion law.

Which means, of course, that here in purple Virginia we will have the pro-life fight of a lifetime on our hands.

unborn…Why are we pro-life? Do we have a ‘religious conviction’ that life begins at conception? Actually, we have airtight scientific evidence that it does.

Do we want to ‘impose our religion’ on others? Well, did the slavery abolitionists of two centuries ago intend to ‘impose their religion?’ Plenty of people said that they did, including US President and native Virginian John Tyler.

Does prohibiting abortion by law mean ‘going backwards?’ Hardly. It means keeping the unfilled promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Maybe some people call themselves ‘pro-life’ out of sexism or prudishness. If so, that doesn’t mean that innocent and defenseless unborn children should face death with no legal protection, just because some of their advocates have imperfect motives.

No one thinks that the slaves in the South should have stayed slaves because some northern abolitionists were hypocrites, or because Abraham Lincoln himself had confused–and not altogether humane–ideas about blacks.

Whatever happens in the statehouses and courts, we have a clear mission. Serenely to love every human being. We do that out of religious conviction. That’s our way of ‘imposing’ our religion—loving our neighbors selflessly, unconditionally, and generously.

We can and should hope that the turning-point for which we have prayed for two generations will come. And January 22nd won’t mean anymore what it has meant since 1973. And the Pro-Life Movement will step into a new phase.

In the meantime, our job is to pray and stay close to The Life, Jesus Christ.

45-Year Dream Come True

Junipero Serra Mass Monterey harbor

I am sending you as a prophet to a rebellious house.” (cf. Ezekiel 2:3) [Spanish]

This week we keep a double national anniversary. We are American Catholics, with a homeland stretching from sea to shining sea. So we rejoice in the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which took place here on the English-speaking East Coast. And we rejoice in the 249th anniversary of the landing of St. Junipero Serra in San Diego Bay, on what was then the Spanish-speaking West Coast.

As we read in the gospel this Sunday, Lord Jesus went home to Nazareth to speak the truth to His own people. Our own people are the people of America. And we Americans find ourselves at a dazzling turning point in our history right here and now.

Forty-five years ago, the US Supreme Court did something the Constitution never empowered it to do, namely: the Court laid down a national law permitting abortion. It made no sense 45 years ago; it makes no sense now.

For two generations, Roe v. Wade has hung over the life of our nation like a tropical storm front, full of lies. And all our cities and towns have missing people because of it. Sixty million missing friends and neighbors. All sacrificed to a cruel, false god of shame and fear, by heartless pagan priests in ramshackle “clinics.”

flag-mapNow, suddenly, in the summer of 2018, we find ourselves at a point in our history when we can reasonably hope that this will change. With a new justice, the Supreme Court likely will abandon its claim to govern the country when it comes to abortion. Sometime in the next year or two. Lawmaking authority in this area would then return to the normal democratic process. This is something that we have hoped and prayed for, for decades.

We Catholics are pro-life. As Pope St. John Paul II explained to us, we Catholics simply cannot accept the idea of elective abortion. Accepting it would mean betraying the most central realities of our Christian faith.

That said, we also love, and sympathize with, all mothers who find themselves in situations which might tempt them to seek abortions. The culture of death, the throwaway culture—it poisons many minds, with its hopeless, dark fear of the future. We Catholic Americans fight the culture of death in our country not with anger and judgment, but with love.

Roe v. Wade accorded a “right” to abortion that does not exist. The irony is: this actually short-changed pregnant women of the rights they do, in fact, possess.

Every pregnant woman has the right to love and support, without being judged. Every pregnant woman has the right to the best healthcare available for her and her baby. Every pregnant woman deserves our friendship, our advocacy, our help.

Before too long, we will, in all likelihood, vote in elections in which laws about abortion in the State of Virginia will be a real campaign issues. So let’s begin to reflect clearly on where we stand.

No one has the right to kill an innocent unborn child. Healthcare does not include abortion. The idea that abortion counts as healthcare is a bald-faced lie. No honest doctor, nurse, or sonogram operator could maintain that lie for five minutes.

unbornOn the other hand, pregnant women can and do experience complications, including grave ones that can threaten the lives of both baby and mother. A good and reasonable doctor, treating a pregnant mother for a life-threatening complication, could apply a therapy or procedure that the baby cannot survive. That would not be an abortion, but rather a tragedy.

Now, we know that plenty of people fear what will happen when an abortion case reaches the Supreme Court with a pro-life majority and the whole legal situation changes.

Let’s sympathize with that fear. Let’s acknowledge that something has to fill the vacuum that Roe v. Wade will no longer fill. Something has to occupy the psychological space that the abortion industry has occupied in these last, lawless 45 years.

Let’s pledge ourselves: We American Catholics will fill that space with our Christian love. When the tropical storm that is Roe v. Wade finally blows out to sea, away from these shores, and the sun comes back out again: We will stand there with acceptance, support, and tender loving care for every pregnant woman.

There’s another irony here–one that I myself take great delight in considering. It’s a fact that the abortion industry kills a disproportionate number of non-white babies. Abortion has suppressed the population growth of non-white America for decades.

Our current President will appoint a justice who likely will tip the balance, and the Roe-v.-Wade abortion regime will end. Then the non-white proportion of the US population will begin to increase at an even greater rate.

So, thank you in advance, President Trump, for giving us more brown, red, and yellow native-born-American fellow citizens to welcome into our beloved nation!

Whose Future is it?

unbornForty-five years ago today: Roe v. Wade.

On the one hand: To many of us it seems obvious that procured abortion involves the snuffing-out of an innocent life. All of us began to be “human” at the moment of our conception in our mothers’ wombs. The more science studies prenatal life, the more Neanderthal does the reasoning of Roe v. Wade appear.

On the other hand: Many others consider it obvious that the freedom to choose for oneself must trump all disagreements about when human life begins. The freedom to choose must trump all disagreements about what God wills. If pregnant women could not procure abortions when they decided to do so, this would not truly be a free country, according to these presuppositions. “Authority” cannot legitimately interfere with family matters.

–But what about the pictures on the ultrasound?! What about the unique and unrepeatable DNA?! What about all the support that pro-life pregnancy centers can and do offer any pregnant woman willing to reckon with the truth?!

None of that touches the point, the other side would say. At least, I think that’s what the other side would say. None of that reaches the heart of the matter. This disagreement doesn’t have to do with scientific facts or practical problems, like who’s going to pay for the diapers. This disagreement has to do with God.

Or, to be more precise: It has to do with, Who is God? Many, many people—the spiritual sons and daughters of the 20th century—these people consider it perfectly obvious that the god of this world is Man. After all, we see no other. Man must control his own future. Man must make life comfortable for himself. Who else will? The realistic person acknowledges that man has no heavenly protector—so man must protect himself!

Problem is that this desperate battle that man fights to make life comfortable for himself inevitably leads to violence. When all we see is a violent cosmos in which life has to fight to survive, then we wind up considering human acts of violence to be par for the course.

Yes, we pro-lifers have science on our side. But, fundamentally, what we stand for is this: God will provide. The future of the human race does not ultimately lie in our hands. It lies in much better hands. We can reckon with the uncomfortable facts of reality–like the fact that many babies face an insecure future—we can reckon with all this, and not have recourse to violence, because we trust in God.

So: May we always trust Him. May we always welcome the strangers and sojourners that He sends. May we never do violence because we can’t find comfort in our future prospects. The future does not belong to us. It belongs to Someone much better.

John 11 Gospel of Life

evangelium-vitae

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. (John 11:25) [Click por Spanish]

The Gospel of Life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who from all eternity receives life from the Father, and who has come among men to make them sharers in this gift.

That’s a quote from a letter written by a great hero. In the letter, the hero repeatedly cited the gospel passage we read at Sunday’s Mass. Any guesses about who the hero is? And what letter? Here’s another passage:

Through the words, the actions, and the very person of Jesus, man receives the complete truth about the value of human life. Through Christ, man can accept and fulfill completely the responsibility of loving and serving, of defending and promoting human life. The Gospel of Life was present in the revelation of the Old Testament and indeed has been written in the heart of every man and woman, echoing in every conscience from the beginning, from the time of creation itself.

Then the hero quoted Vatican II:

Christ confirmed with divine testimony that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to life. (Evangelium Vitae 29)

Pope St. John Paul II wrote to us about the Gospel of Life. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life!” Christ entrusted this solemn declaration to us, and He sustains us in our fidelity to it, by pouring out on us His grace, His life. Pope Francis has emphasized JPII’s message repeatedly. For example, Pope Francis said to an international association of Catholic health-care professionals:

Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility to contemporary culture, by contributing to the recognition of the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work from the moment of conception. This is a task of the new evangelization that often requires going against the tide. The Lord is counting on you to spread the Gospel of Life.

Ok. Ready for a newsflash? We have some problems. As a country, los Estados Unidos. We face profound divisions among ourselves. These divisions make me think of another era. I’ve read quite a few books about the Civil War. And the political divisions we face remind me of the 1850’s.

President James Buchanan
President James Buchanan

Now, on the one hand, we don’t live like they lived in the 1850’s. Almost all of us can drive a car, and we freely drive all over the country. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, few northerners had traveled down south, or vice versa. These days we live in an America much more integrated by commerce and communication, without the distinct regional divide of north vs. south.

But, on the other hand, back in the 1850’s, Americans, in the north and in the south, had more basic assumptions in common than we have now. They disagreed about how to interpret the Bible, but they all regularly read the Bible. Even as they marched off to war against each other, they agreed on things that we can’t find a way to agree on now.

How did we wind up here, then? Profoundly divided as we are, in America? To me, the heart of the matter seems obvious. In 1973 the Supreme Court abandoned the truth and issued a ruling that has poisoned our national life ever since.

Since Roe v. Wade, our nation has had an open wound, literally. Thousands of innocent and defenseless people have bled to death at the hands of abortionists every day. And the wound never heals, because only the truth can heal it. And Roe v. Wade has banished the truth about abortion from our land.

This is not the reactionary and old-fashioned Church rejecting something new and modern. Roe v. Wade is based on old, debunked ideas. Abortion is nothing new; the ancient pagans practiced it. Violence and cruelty go way back.

The new thing is Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life. Our heroic popes have given us 21st-century Catholics the new and invigorating truth of the Gospel. They have articulated our beautiful rallying cry: Every human life has immeasurable value and dignity! And God has given us a task: Love your neighbor! The Gospel of Life looks to me like the one and only thing that could actually heal the dangerous ideological divisions in our country.

john paul ii cardinal bergoglioThis is not Republican over Democrat. The Gospel of Life demands that we revere and love every life–the unborn, the poor, the undocumented immigrant. And the Gospel of Life demands that we make sacrifices in order to protect our environment, our “common home” as Pope Francis calls Mother Earth.

The profound wrongness of Roe v. Wade does not belong to one political party or another. It’s not one party or another that has sinned against the Gospel of Life. We have sinned against the Gospel of Life as a nation. And it’s not one party or another that needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward. The United States of America needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward.

Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life can and will give us the firm foundation that we need. Standing on that foundation, we can work out our differences and find a way to prosper.

Our job as Catholics is: to stay focused on the message, to stay prayerful about it, and to live always in communion with the good and gentle Savior Who came into this world that we might have life.

Birthday Prayer

Cover of English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on environmentIf only I’d had Catholic parents, maybe I’d have the name “Irenaeus…”    But you can’t get any better than St. Mark for a baptismal patron.

Lord Jesus slept. In a boat.  While the storm gathered and began to blow.

Does God sleep?  On duty?

A couple weeks ago, we read at Mass from I Kings about Elijah taunting the pagans about their false god, Baal.  “Perhaps he is asleep!”

But we get these taunts, too. Has God slept since the Ascension of Christ?  Or since the New Testament got finished?

Near the beginning of his encyclical on Mother Earth, Pope Francis explains something crucially important about the meaning of two words.  The word “nature” refers to: plants, animals, the earth, the sea, the weather, sharks, us (the human animals)—“nature” refers to all this, an orderly system governed by scientific laws.

But the word “creation…”  “Creation” means that “nature”—the beautiful system operating according to laws—exists for a reason.  A Person has willed that all of it exist.  And He continues to will that it exist, and He moves it toward a goal.  The great God, Who transcends nature, has created nature, for His reason.  And St. Irenaeus teaches us the reason—or rather, St. Irenaeus expresses the reason as taught by Christ, the Son of God:  The Creator receives His greatest glory by our reaching eternal life.  The Creator created that we might live.

St. Irenaeus
St. Irenaeus

The divine Trinity does not sleep.  He has laid down laws, and those laws require that human beings sleep sometimes.  Lord Jesus, a man, took a nap.  Forty-six-year-olds need naps sometimes, too.

But God, Who wills the existence of everything that is, at all times, does not sleep.  He works His perfect plan of peace and reconciliation.

Speaking of which…  Somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of my generation never had the chance to walk the earth and contemplate the beauty of nature as God created Her—because they got killed in the womb by abortionists.

May God gather all those souls to Himself, the classmates, friends, brother priests, companions in life I never had—because of the cruel abortionist’s knife.

Now that I’m on the downward slope of life, God can take me home when He wills.  But on my birthday, I pray: may He let me live to see the day when the nonsensical nightmare of Roe v. Wade gets taken off the books and put into the Museum of Human Evil and Folly, where it belongs.  May every baby have a birthday, like we, dear brothers and sisters, all had the wonderful privilege of having.

Some Pro-Life Clarity?

Chris Matthews Donald Trump

A confusing afternoon for pro-life news junkies. If I might point out a few things…

A “ban” on abortion?

Everyone finds him- or herself bound by the fundamental moral law, “do good; avoid evil.”

Doctors and other healthcare workers can and do get confused about how this law applies sometimes. Like when a pregnant woman asks for an abortion. But honest moral reflection leads you to recognize that abortion is certainly an evil prohibited by the fundamental moral law, since it involves killing an innocent person.

The first punishment for breaking the moral law is the pangs of conscience. No punishment devised by man could ever really be worse. We can only escape the punishment of a troubled conscience by 1. repenting and seeking truth and reconciliation, or 2. engaging in acts of self-destruction which serve to deaden conscience.

Civil law cannot really “permit” killing an innocent person, since man does not have the power to render the light of conscience null and void.  So, even now, abortion is only “legal” in a limited sense–just like slavery was once “legal,” but never truly so, because no one’s conscience could fully make peace with it.

Criminal punishment for abortion?

Every pregnant woman, just like every human soul, must grapple with her conscience. Some pregnant woman have, by act or omission, precipitated a miscarriage. Conscience will punish such an act or omission, according to the truth of the situation. But of course no civil law could ever touch this realm, since it is altogether private.

“Abortion,” meaning a surgical procedure, however, involves a third party–someone with some kind of technique and expertise.

Again, because it involves killing an innocent person, there actually isn’t any way to make performing an abortion altogether ‘legal.’ It is prohibited by the inner law that governs the conscience of anyone who possesses the technique and expertise to do it.

That performing abortions is ‘legal’ in the Roe v. Wade regime means:  the law of the land contributes to the confusion and distortion of many consciences, especially the consciences of healthcare workers who perform or participate in abortions.

I think it’s fair to say that any true pro-lifer would advocate something like this:

1. A period of five or ten years of some kind of public penance, where government officials help to purify the nation of the lies about abortion by regular ceremonies acknowledging how the Roe v. Wade regime has been a horrible mistake.  We as a nation have the blood of many innocents on our hands.  (May the Lord have mercy on us!)

2. Simultaneously, we work to re-organize the healthcare system, to remove abortion and artificial contraception.

3. Then, after this five or ten year period, once the air has been cleared about what abortion is, allowing everyone to reach a state of tranquil conscience on this matter, then we could re-open the political debate about appropriate criminal penalties for abortionists.  (Which would not involve re-inventing the wheel, since these debates occurred all over the country prior to Roe v. Wade.)