There is almost certainly no issue that evokes more anger than the topic of abortion. People on both sides of the issue frequently resort to name-calling and valueless retorts that are meant more to put the other person down rather than to reach any common understanding. When we resort to this path, nothing constructive happens. Instead, we need to look for some common ground and discuss matters calmly and respectfully. I had an example of that very recently. I was in a discussion on Facebook with a woman who was obviously very much pro-abortion and she started out by using many of the well-rehearsed soundbites that are meant only to disparage and not to lead to constructive argumentation. After some back and forth where I refused to follow suit and kept responding to her attacks with calm argumentation, we did end up reaching some common ground. She mentioned how men who take the time to father a child have to also be there for the child once the baby is born. Many times men get a woman pregnant and then run to the hills. I absolutely agree with her on that! Certainly, if you’re going to father a child you better be there to take care of the child as well. I told her I understand that a woman whose baby’s father will not be there for her is in a difficult situation, but when the solution we come up with is to kill the baby, we have to say “Stop! That is not an acceptable solution! find another!” Sadly, the woman chose to end the discussion there, but we were at least on amicable terms by the end. If the conversation had been able to continue I would have wanted to say the following to her: it is certainly true that men have to take responsibility for their actions, but so do women. In the overwhelming majority of abortion situations we are not talking about a woman who was abused or raped or became pregnant after being in involved in sexual activity that was against her will. Most of the time the women were willing participants in the sexual act and thus they must take equal responsibility for what happened. If you’re going to engage in the act that leads to the conception of the new life then you better be willing and ready to accept the ramifications of that decision, which is that you may become pregnant, and if you do become pregnant and did not want to be, then either you raise the baby your choice brought into existence or you give it to someone who will raise it, but the baby should not be asked to pay the ultimate price by giving up its life so that the mother can have an easy solution to her misdeed. I don’t know if she would have agreed with me, but I know that she would at least have been open to hearing me out.
In the above case the woman was pro-abortion for ideological reasons. Other times it is more personal. Let me share with you a conversation I had many years ago with a young woman while I was in college. I had written a letter to the school newspaper against abortion and that evening in my room I received a phone call from a very irate collegiate who was screaming into the phone with venomous comments about all the horrible things I allegedly thought of women simply because I was against abortion. Within a minute or two a friend of hers got on the phone and was a little more levelheaded. She apologized for her friend’s behavior and at least attempted to discuss the issue calmly and rationally. She said to me, “Let’s imagine you go to a party in school and you are drinking and you do some drugs, you end up having sex with a boy and you get pregnant. Do you expect the girl to have that baby?” I said “Absolutely!” She asked, “Why? She didn’t realize what she was doing.” I replied by saying, “There was an awful lot of irresponsible behavior going on there. If you go to a party and you drink and do drugs and you can’t control yourself, you’re responsible for what happens to you in those situations, and asking a child to give up its life just because you were careless one night is totally unacceptable.” She then asked me if I had a girlfriend. “Yes” I responded. “Well suppose you got your girlfriend pregnant, wouldn’t you want her to have an abortion?” I said to her “Well that would never happen because my girlfriend and I are not sexually active. We both believe that the sexual act is the seal of the covenant of marriage and we choose to abstain from sex until we are married.” She then responded “Well then suppose you are married and you wife got pregnant and you didn’t want to have a baby?” I answered “I would never get married if I did not think I could welcome a child, because one of the reasons for marriage is to raise children and have a family. And if I was ever worried about taking care of another baby, I would do whatever it takes to provide for my child, and if I reached the conclusion that I could never be able to provide for it properly, I would give it up for adoption, but I would never kill it!” She then said “Wow! If everyone believed what you believe there would be no need for abortion!”
I had awakened in her the understanding of taking responsibility for your actions, but she still was not convinced that abortion was wrong. We then continued the conversation with other things and she tried to use the arguments that the fetus is not a human life yet, so therefore abortion is okay. I responded to her “Well, we could argue back and forth as to when life begins and neither one would probably be able to prove the point. But even if I were to grant your point or it could be proven definitively that the fetus is not yet a human life, do you agree that, left to run the course that is already in action, the fetus eventually will become one?” “Certainly!” She responded. I said, “So whether the child is already alive or is in the process of becoming alive, haven’t you taken the child’s life either way?” I then said to her, “Imagine this example: somebody is running in a track meet and they won. They are awarded the medal. But you are not happy that she won the medal and so you come up with a fake reason to have the person disqualified that the judges believe, and she has lost her prize. In another situation the person is running to the finish line and you trip them before they get there so that someone else crosses the finish line first and they don’t win. Either way you have made them lose their prize. Does it really matter much whether the person had already won the prize and you took it away or if you stop the person before they got to the finish line? Either way they’ve lost.” The woman responded “But that person can always get up and run in another race.” I answered “Yes, but the child cannot! That was the only chance the child had at life and you took it away from her.” Afterward she confided in me “Wow I see I see your point.” She then said “Well the reason I gave you that example about somebody doing drugs and drinking is because that’s what happened to me. I did that and got pregnant and I had an abortion.” Gulp! If I’d have known beforehand that she was speaking from her own experience I might have tried to soften my point. Anyway, I found out she was Catholic and told her to speak to our college chaplain who was very compassionate and understanding. I told her he could help give her some peace with her decision. She thanked me and said she was going to. I never spoke with her again but we ended the conversation on very friendly terms and when we avoided the name-calling and the sound byte catchphrases that her friend had used we were actually able to make progress. Perhaps I even changed her mind about abortion, and even if I inadvertently exposed her guilt, she could find healing, which she couldn’t do by yelling worn-out slogans.
No matter what the issue may be, I always urge people to avoid using expressions that are meant only to ridicule and silence discussion and instead engage in constructive dialogue that will help the parties understand each other. We may not come to an agreement and we may not change someone else’s mind, but we will always have a greater understanding of what the person’s concerns are and perhaps be able to address them in a way that may leave room for future progress. Respectful constructive dialogue always leads to a better understanding and increased respect, and maybe will change the other person’s mind . Name-calling and flinging mud never does.
Imagine someone were to go to the doctor and attempt to tell the doctor everything that is wrong with him and every cure that the doctor needs to give him in order to be well again. I think we can all realize that this would be a big mistake. We go to the doctor precisely because we don’t know medicine as well as he does, and we want him to use his expertise to show us how to be as healthy as we can be. Suppose you got angry because the doctor would not give you the medicine you are convinced would be good for you and decided never to go to the doctor again. Whom would you be hurting? You’d only be hurting yourself. The same thing is true of God. Sometimes we make the mistake of going to God with a predetermined diagnosis for what we need in life and if God says no or doesn’t grant us what we’re looking for we decide we’re not going to worship him anymore. But whom are we hurting? Only ourselves! Sometimes it’s helpful for us to step back and look at exactly what God wants to do for us.
Take, for example, the gospel parable Jesus tells about the man who had a great harvest and decided to build extra barns and store all of his goods there. He then says he can relax and take it easy because now he has everything stored for the rest of his life, and Jesus says of him “you fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you, and to whom will all these piled up goods go?” Jesus is showing us something critical for our lives in this little parable. Why did he call the man a fool? It was not because the man had a good harvest and had done well and was wealthy. The problem was that the man thought that as long as he had money in the bank he was good to go and he needed nothing else. And that’s why Jesus said called him a fool because he said that very night he would die and what good would all of that saved up grain do for him? So the Lord is not saying that we should not pray for the goods of earth but that we should not make them our priority. Certainly the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray “give us this day our daily bread”, and it’s certainly fine if we’re financially strapped or somebody is ill and we pray for healing for more money whatever the situation may be, but our primary focus must always be getting to heaven. We call Jesus our Savior. But from what did he come to save us? from poverty? No! He was born and laid in a manger. To save us from ill health? No! He was in terribly poor health as he hung on the cross and eventually died. To save us from lack of popularity? No! His friends all abandoned him. To save us from false judgment? No! He was falsely accused of being the devil himself and when he was crucified those who killed him thought they were doing the will of God. No, Jesus came to save us from sin. But sometimes sin seems to be the last thing we worry about and maybe we don’t even worry about it at all! Sometimes I even hear people joking about sin, making fun of it as if it’s an antiquated notion that we’ve wisely outgrown. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sin is indeed something very deadly. Remember that Original Sin, Adam and Eve turning against God and deciding they could choose for themselves what’s right and wrong and not have to listen to God, is what brought all the evil into the world from which we suffer each and every day. And more importantly Original Sin closed the gates of heaven to us. You and I could try to be perfect and maybe we could live without committing any sin, but even with that we could not get to heaven and we would be condemned to hell for all eternity, because heaven was close to us thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve. There was no human being who could do anything about it, because in order to adequately pay the price – the ransom – for sin one would have to be perfect, and since there was no perfect human being, there was not a single human being who could change anything. We were doomed! Only God – the perfect one – could save us, and that’s what he did: by taking on flesh, suffering and dying on the cross, and rising from the dead. When he rose from the dead he destroyed the power of death and now turned death around completely, so that it is no longer our entrance into condemnation – into hell – but is now our entrance into salvation – into heaven! Jesus now teaches us through the Church how to follow him, to avoid sin, and stay on the path to heaven, to avoid all the pitfalls of this earth which is Satan still trying to lead us back into his clutches. Yet again, sometimes we just don’t seem to care about that and we approach God with the answer already in our minds of what God has to allow us to do. This becomes especially a problem when something that God teaches us through the Scriptures or the Church we don’t want to accept. Instead of accepting it, we either invoke the opinion of society and decide, “well, society accepts it now and so must the Church” or we give ourselves an excuse as to why that teaching doesn’t apply to us. Sometimes people even go further by demanding of God and of the Church that he change things that he’s teaching are sinful and that are harmful to us and tell us it’s good for us, and if the Church won’t tell us what we want to hear, then we search out a denomination of Christianity that will do so. But is that really helping at all?
Going back to our example of the doctor, imagine if someone decided they want to be perfectly healthy except they don’t want to have to exercise or eat properly. They go to the doctor and tell the doctor they want to be able to sleep as much as they want sit on the couch and eat all the rich and fatty foods they want and still be healthy. Obviously the doctor tells the person he cannot do that, that if he wants to be healthy he has to exercise and eat properly. But the person doesn’t like that so he says, “Fine! I’ll find another doctor will tell me it’s okay to do so! And maybe he comes across a doctor who has very few patients – for obvious reasons, that he’s a bad doctor – but this doctor, eager to keep patients, tells him whatever he wants to hear. “Sure! It’s perfectly fine for you to sit on the couch all day eat all the potato chips and junk food you want, and don’t worry about exercising; you’ll still be perfectly healthy!” The patient says to himself, “Great! I finally found a doctor who sees the truth, a doctor who understands my needs and my feelings. This is exactly what I was looking for!” Well, what happens to that person when he follows this doctor’s advice? You know the answer: he gets very sick! The same is true of Christians who look for denominations of Christianity that will tell them that whatever they want to believe is fine just as long as they stay with them, or with Christians who turn to God and say, “Hey God, if you don’t give me what I want I’m not going to church anymore!” Well they’re not hurting God, they’re only hurting themselves!”
Remember that God is not here to give us the life of Riley and he is not Santa Claus, the one who gives us presents if we are good. I know I’ve said this in previous blog posts, but it’s worth repeating. God never said “come follow me and I’ll give you a bed of roses!” He never said that! In fact, he said if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves take up our cross each day and follow in his footsteps. In other words, there will be challenges as we follow the Lord in this world. There are going to be times when we have to go against the flow, where we cannot follow what society says is right and instead must remain faithful to the Lord even if it means going against what is currently socially acceptable. Jesus is not here to make our lives easy and to give us whatever we want. He came to show us the way to heaven, and we should be willing to reject anything in this world – no matter how difficult it may be for us – if it’s going to mean losing our eternal salvation.
And so my friends, when you go to God in prayer don’t go with a preconceived notion that you already know what God should do for you and figure were going to manipulate him and do anything possible to get God to give us what we want. Don’t pre-form your mind as to what you believe is right for you and then just look for the church or denomination that teaches what you want to believe, nor should you decide that that’s okay not to follow God because you don’t like what he’s saying. There’s only one thing for us to do: follow God with all of your heart. Turn to him and say, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Lord what do you want me to do?” God is not here to give us what we want but to lead us to heaven. May we never forget this truth, and may we always remember that we are only here temporarily, just passing through this world on a journey to heaven, which is our true home. May we never sacrifice the glory of heaven and our true home for any comfort or convenience or pleasure here on earth!
Having worked with young people throughout my ministry as a priest, I have discovered that youth spirituality is greatly underestimated. While yes, there are many teenagers that fit the stereotype of being rebellious people only interested in sports, sex, and drugs, that is certainly not true of many of them. Many teenagers are keenly aware of the real issues facing the world today, and some are not afraid of being heard. Witness, for example, the youth flash mob that took on a pro-abortion rally in defense of Planned Parenthood in Chicago. The Church is in good hands with young people like this! Way to go teens!
This week Pope Francis begins a historic visit to the United States. It will be the first time in history that a Pope addresses the joint sessio
ns of Congress, and in New York he will address the General Assembly of the United Nations where it is six estimated that as many as 90 heads of state will be present to listen to him. The highlight of his trip will be presiding over the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which is a Congress sponsored by the Vatican every three years in a different city worldwide to defend traditional family life. This is the first time the World Meeting of Families is being held in the United States.
Many people are wondering what the Pope will talk about during his time in the United States. The Pope has not released the context of his talks, so it’s anyone’s guess. But whatever he speaks about I caution people to listen very carefully to what the Pope actually says, and not what people claim that he said. The media coverage of Pope Francis since his election has been rather skewed at times. Sometimes it is certainly innocent, such as when somebody does not understand all the nuances of the issue that talking about. Case in point is the response to when the Pope talked about granting all priests the permission to forgive the sin of abortion and remove any excommunication that may have been connected with it during the year of faith which is beginning on December 8. For us here in New York and in most parts of the United States it doesn’t affect us because we’ve always had that right. Church law allows regional conferences the right to decide whether or not to permit individual priest to forgive serious sins or withhold it to the Bishop. In most dioceses of the United States the bishops have automatically given that right to priests. It is a right I have always had for 25 years, so it doesn’t affect us here in New York. Only in areas where the Bishop has reserved this right to himself that the Holy Father is saying for one year he by his own authority is overriding the bishops and the bishops’ conferences and allowing every individual priest to have that right.
Another grave error was made in the discussion of what the Pope said about annulments. Pope Francis is not a fan of bureaucracy, and he wants to try to streamline the annulment process, cut through the red tape, and make it easier for people to receive a decision on their annulment. Some people in the press, however, took that to mean that the Pope was easing the reasons for getting an annulment or changing our teachings on it, even to the point that one reporter tried to claim that this was the first step in the church recognizing divorce and remarriage! Totally ludicrous! The Pope never said that! All he said was he wanted to speed up the process. But some in the media decided to create a conflict where there never was one. A few cardinals were a little skeptical of the and stated their disagreement with it, and one news source online ran an article entitled “Dissent in the Vatican” and had a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica with a giant lightning bolt over it, as if the church was an open rebellion! Having a difference of opinion is normal in every aspect of human life and hardly constitutes dissent. Dissent would come into play if the Pope officially declared something and several cardinals said they refuse to follow it. That would be dissent!
But while some of the differences have been due to honest misinformation, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that many have deliberately distorted the Pope’s words to try to have them meet their own agenda. A classic example of this was the famous “who am I to judge” statement that the Pope made coming back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. We don’t even know what question was actually asked of the Pope to which he was responding, but his response was “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” But many in the media plucked the line “who am I to judge” out of context and passed it off as if Pope Francis was now approving of gay marriage. Even just last week a recent pew research polls that shows that of Catholics who support gay marriage, 49% of them mistakenly believed that Pope Francis also does. The only place they ever have got that impression was from that quote that was deliberately taken out of context by the media. I’ve been thinking of what would’ve happened if the media had been present when the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus who’d been caught committing adultery and when they told him according to the law of Moses such women were supposed to be stoned to death and want to know what he thought about it, when he just wrote on the ground and they persisted in their questioning, he stood up and said to them “let he who is without sin cast the first stone at her.” The Pharisees disappeared one by one leaving the woman alone with Jesus. Jesus then said to her “woman where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She responded, “no sir, no one!” Jesus then responded, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” If the media had been there that day they would have undoubtedly just plucked the line “I do not condemn you” and reported in the newspapers that Jesus was now saying that adultery was okay! You can see where problems come in.
All these errors have led a lot of people to believe all sorts of wrong things about the Holy Father. Many in the media are trying very hard to pit him against conservatives in the church and traditional voices, and sadly they’re doing it very effectively. Even today I read an article in our local newspaper about someone referring to Pope Francis as having socialist leanings. This is absurd! They’re trying so hard to paint him as a liberal socialist deliberately to drive a wedge between him and the traditional voices in the church. But do not be misled! There is nothing at all in the statements of Pope Francis that is not 100% Orthodox Catholic teaching. The only difference is that he’s bringing a more personal effort to try to reach out to people and offer God’s forgiveness to them on an easier basis. He cares very much about the poor and he wants to bring people to the loving and forgiving embrace of Jesus. That is not socialist! That is standard Catholic theology of the past 2000 years.
So my friends, when you look at coverage of the Pope this week, listen to what the Pope is actually saying and do not be misinformed by people who either out of ignorance or out of a deliberate bent of their own deliberately distort the Pope’s words to make a message they are hoping he will make. He did not approve of gay marriage, he will not be saying abortion is okay, he will not be changing any church teachings. He will simply be restating what we have always believed and call us and challenge us to see other areas of the gospel that have been lost in the controversy over the major issues, so that all of us can be faithful disciples of Jesus and follow his call to holiness.
Over the years I have argued with countless individuals who have defended Planned Parenthood as an organization not out to encourage or profit from abortions but simply to help women in crisis pregnancies. They asserted emphatically that my accusations of Planned Parenthood being in the abortion for profit business were unfounded. Well, what I have always known to be true has now been made known publicly: Planned Parenthood does indeed perform the illegal “Partial-birth” abortion and sells fetal body parts. An undercover video has exposed their secret. Please view the video at this link. It should change your mind about Planned Parenthood and help you see what they are really about.
Last week at our teen club meeting I asked a question of the teenagers, and I was a little surprised at the answers I got. I asked the question, “What is the purpose of the Church?” I got back a variety of comments such as to help people, to show people goodness, to teach the gospel, to show people to follow Jesus, but only eventually did I get the answer I was looking for: to lead people to heaven; to save souls. That is the purpose of the Church, and when I said it of course the kids agreed, but it wasn’t what they first thought, and it occurred to me that maybe that is the cause of many of the problems that we have today with people who either do not embrace the Church, do not follow it as fully as they should, or do not understand why we hold the positions we do. Because they don’t understand what the Church is all about, they don’t understand our insistence on certain teachings. This is not the first time that I’ve come across this.
Recently I had a phone conversation with a man who was rather angry because a layperson I invited to speak after Communion mentioned that gay marriage was wrong. He was furious with me because he thought that the Pope had allowed gay marriage when he said “Who am I to judge?” When I explained to him that that’s not exact at all what the Pope said he started giving me his diatribe of “Well, see this is why people don’t follow the Church any more. The Church insists on holding these unpopular opinions and the Church has to change and say what people want to hear if they want to get people to come. When I asked the man, “What is the purpose of the Church?” he couldn’t answer me. He actually said, “I don’t know!” I said to him, “So you really don’t know what the purpose of the Church is, yet you can be firm in telling me that the Church is wrong in teaching that gay marriage is not permissible.” He then just yelled some more insults at me and hung up. Don’t we need to know what the goal of the Church is before we can assert with force that the Church’s teaching is wrong? Sadly, many people have totally lost track of what we’re all about.
I recall a woman who once called me asking if I could do her wedding even though she needed an annulment. She told me she knew that technically she needed an annulment. I said to her, “No, truly you need an annulment.” “Well, Father,” she asked, “can’t you just marry me anyway without it? The way I look at it God just wants me to be happy and marrying this man will make me happy so, why won’t you do it?” I tried to explain to her that she had it all wrong, that God doesn’t just want us to be happy. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die on the cross to help us figure out whatever is going to make you happy and then do it; that was Original Sin! In fact he’s called us to quite the opposite: not just to listen to what you think is right and what you feel is right but to listen to and follow what God teaches us. That was the whole temptation from Satan. God had warned Adam and Eve not to try to listen to their own hearts and heads and what they think is right, because they can be wrong, but God can’t. Basically God was saying, “I am God and you are not. I am all-knowing, you are not. If you follow your own heart and mind you can be wrong, but I can never be wrong. So do and follow all I tell you and your life will be perfect.” Of course, they didn’t listen to God, and when they decided to choose for themselves what was right and wrong instead of listening to God they destroyed Paradise. When I told the girl on the phone this she didn’t want to hear it and abruptly hung up the phone on me.
But that’s the problem we’re facing: in so many situations people somehow got the got the idea that the Church is here just to make people happy. No, the Church is here to show people the way through a fallen world to return to what we lost by Original Sin. It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the will of God that lost that unity – that Paradise – that we once had. Christ, by his obedience to the Father even unto death, reversed the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and now, when we are obedient to him we allow him to lead us to union with him – which is what “going to heaven” means – to be one with God. Our beliefs are not arbitrary and they are not decided by vote or opinion but by the truth revealed to us by God and preserved through the Church, what we call the Deposit of Faith.” Just because the majority of people don’t agree with it does not make it all of a sudden wrong, or because now a majority of people accept it doesn’t automatically make it in fact a means to union with God.
If you want to have a healthy body, you know that you can’t eat junk food. Well, imagine if people were to say “We like junk food; therefore, we think we should be allowed to eat all the junk food we want!” Nutritionists are simply going to tell you you’re wrong, that junk food doesn’t make you healthy. They tell you you have to severely limit your intake of it, perhaps even avoid it all together. You don’t like it. You want to be able to eat all the junk food you want and still be healthy, but your opinion or desire doesn’t change the fact that junk food is not healthy. Even if nutritionists should decide to appease people and tell them, “Okay. Since you believe there’s nothing wrong with junk food and a majority of you feel that way, then we’ll now declare that junk food is good for you,” does that now make junk food healthy? Your opinion can’t change the truth. In just the same way, when God reveals that something such as gay marriage, contraception, abortion, whatever it may be, is not healthy for your soul and does not lead us into union with him, all the opinion to the contrary doesn’t change the truth that these activities do not make us healthy but are harmful to that union with God, which is the definition of a sin.
Moral teachings tell us what leads us to union with God (salvation) and what harms that union (sin). If we were to say that something that was once revealed as a moral absolute has now changed, that what was once sinful is now holy, that would imply that God had changed, and that’s a metaphysical impossibility! We know that drinking rat poison would kill us. For rat poison to now be good for us there would have to be a complete metabolic change in the very structure and essence of the human body. If 96% of people now believe rat poison is okay and we should now be allowed to drink it, that doesn’t change the fact. Opinions don’t change truth.
And so, my brothers and sisters, if you feel concerned or confused about what the Church teaches and don’t understand one thing or another, remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a social club. Our purpose is not to try to win in as many people as we can by promising anything that will make people join us. Our purpose is to save souls, and the only way we do that is by teaching the truth, by pointing out what is sinful and calling people to avoid sin and embrace what is holy. No opinion, no changes in popular acceptance of an idea can ever change that. To do the work of the Church means simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus, the good news that calls us away from sin and to union with him, and nothing else. Lies destroy and kill. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That life is only found in obedience to the truth, the truth that will set us free.