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The Walk of Atonement

June 17, 2015 | By | No Comments

Interesting how often the Lord’s protection is described to be like the mountains.

IMG_4903-0.jpgThis strikes me in particular this morning because last night we finally had the chance to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. The theology of the show, such as it is, should serve as a reminder of what an awesome God we serve. After Cersei’s pride breaks and she confesses her sin, she is sentenced to a Walk of Atonement. She’s stripped naked and forced to walk through throngs of people, with a nun behind her crying out “SHAME. SHAME.”

With echoes of the Via Dolorosa, her hair is chopped off; her feet are bloodied; she’s mocked and spat upon.

What a dramatic contrast to the reality of our faith. We serve a God who took our shame upon Himself. He Himself is our Atonement.

We serve a God who promises to surround us with His protection, who will not allow us to be followed and defeated by Shame. “Those who trust in Him will NOT be defeated.”

I’m sure the analogy is unintentional, but perhaps Game of Thrones doesn’t get it all wrong: after her walk of shame, Cersei is carried away by a character called, The Mountain.

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Happy Mother’s Day

May 10, 2015 | By | No Comments

Anna-Jarvis

Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day

I’ve never really liked carnations. But I may have to change my opinion.

It turns out that the woman who founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, chose the white carnation as the emblem of the day because it was her mother’s favorite. Anna wanted the white flower ‘to symbolize the truth, purity and broad-charity of mother love…”

This weekend is the 101st anniversary of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis’ labor of love in tribute to her own mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis. During the Civil War, Ann Jarvis cared for the wounded from both sides, and after the war organized “Mothers Friendship Days” to work toward healing and reconciliation between families of the North and South. In her honor, Anna Jarvis worked to create Mother’s Day on the anniversary of Ann’s death.

Early feminists embraced Mother’s Day as a celebration of the unique contribution that a mother provides – not only to her family – but to the broader community as well.

At its heart, Mother’s Day is a recognition of the power of motherhood. Tragically, the modern feminist movement has rooted feminine power in abortion, the ultimate destruction of motherhood.

And because motherhood does have such significance for binding together families and communities, this shift in worldview has far-reaching effects. As the abortion mentality has taken hold and metasticized, the value of life in other contexts has eroded as well.

Just a few years ago we witnessed the spectacle of so-called academic “ethicists,” who contended that killing a baby after birth is no different than killing before birth.

Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argued in the Journal of Medical Ethics: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.” Without a right to life, death is an option, and not only for newborns.

The two authors took tremendous criticism for their article on “after-birth abortion.” However, we’re seeing a continuing rise in the implications of the Culture of Death. This year, AUL’s legal team tracked bills in more than 20 states where legislators sought to make it easier to kill the elderly and sick through assisted suicide. Without respect for life, from conception to natural death, all are at risk.

Protecting life begins with showing respect for those who choose every day to do the wonderful and hard work of parenting. Mother’s Day is a lynchpin of rebuilding a Culture of Life.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the mothers in your life. I think I’m going to make a point of buying my mother carnations. They might just become one of my favorite flowers.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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The Colosseum Cross

May 3, 2014 | By | No Comments

Even though it is crumbling, the sight of the Colosseum is still remarkable.  No picture fully conveys the power of the imposing size of the massive structure.  The official name is the Flavian Amphitheatre — in ancient times, the Colosseum was a theatre, intended to entertain the people.  The Roman emperors cannily used it as a political tool.

With tourists cycling in and out wearing tennis shoes and carrying their cameras, it’s hard to imagine tens of thousands of ancient Romans filing into the arena, climbing the steep steps in high spirits for a day of performances.  The Emperor even provided the picnic so that they could settle in and enjoy the show.  The sub-level labyrinths were full of exotic animals and famous gladiators whose purpose was to create an elaborate and entertaining play.

Some of that entertainment included fights to the death.  And the martyrdom of Christians, mauled by wild lions.

All entertainment, set to the soundtrack of the cheers of the people.

With that history, the bustle of tourism that surrounds the Colosseum today cannot fully obscure a poignant and haunting spirit that seems to infuse the vast space.   A simple, rustic cross planted in the center of the arena, provides a moral rebuke, bearing silent witness to a culture and time nearly impossible for the modern person to imagine.

How could they have cheered while people were slaughtered right in front of them?  It seems barbaric.

And yet today we still have a modern amphitheatre of death. Every single day in our country, over 4,000 babies are killed in abortion clinics.  Every day.

One of the exhibits at the Colosseum noted that the people eventually became bored with their gruesome entertainment.  It is worth remembering that even a death pageant can become commonplace.

Similarly 50 million babies lost to abortion since Roe v. Wade is just a number.  For the cynic, it is just a statistic, signifying nothing.

Nevertheless the abortionist is on the wrong side of history.  Today it is the cross, not the sword, that speaks into the silence of the Colosseum.

And someday, the cheers will end for abortion too.  This gruesome barbarism will join gladiatorial contests, and slavery, in the category of those things that are unimaginable.

The Colloseum Cross

The Colosseum Cross

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Ambassador in Chains

May 2, 2014 | By | No Comments

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.

From Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, verse 28.

Just a quick post from Rome to share a 30 second video from the Mamertine Prison where legend has it the Apostles Paul and Peter were held prisoner.  Paul called himself an “ambassador in chains” and yet still called us all to “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice!”  Philippians 4:4

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Feminine Genius

May 1, 2014 | By | One Comment

We were walking through the Roman Forum, trying to take in the enormity of the ruins surrounding us.  Glancing around, a beautiful young woman walking nearby happened to catch my eye.  I watched her as she approached, and was stunned when I overheard her conversation:  she and her companion were discussing which one of them was thinner.

Surrounded by one of the world’s great wonders, her mind was consumed with an utter banality.  Made particularly grievous by its falsehood.

I wasn’t really surprised.  But very saddened.

None of the things I would have wanted to say about being young, beautiful and in Rome would have made a dent in her negative self-perception.  Reality for young women (and young men) is shaped by a culture that has made a shimmering and photo-shopped representation of physical perfection omnipresent.

There are other women walking the streets of Rome this week who are striking in their radiant happiness.  Groups of nuns from all over the world have been here.  All different ages and nationalities, and even apparent personalities, but strikingly similar in the joy they project.  Without exception, the nuns that I have met are winsome and engaging.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the concept of “feminine genius” that I mentioned in my speech on Friday. What does it mean to be fully feminine?  To be joyful in being a woman? 

What does it mean to be fully feminine?  To be joyful in being a woman?

  So much of today’s conversation around “feminism” is hostile and argumentative.  There’s a sense of accusation and finger-pointing.

By contrast, the nuns seem at peace and utterly self-possessed.  I am sure there are nuns who struggle with normal human emotions of depression and fear and anger.  And perhaps a more serene personality is drawn to a cloistered life.  Nevertheless I am challenged and inspired by the beauty I see in their faces, that reflects a life centered on service, a mission focused outside the self, and a passion directed toward praise.

I snapped the picture above of these beautiful nuns who were marching together down St. Peter’s Square the night before the canonization Mass.   Just after I snapped the picture, one of the nuns saw me, and I was instinctively afraid she would express disapproval.  Instead she looked directly at me and grinned infectiously.   I felt warmed and cheered. . . and knew I had witnessed a moment of true feminine genius.

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We Still Need Heroes

April 30, 2014 | By | No Comments

We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of bells across the city. Then followed by helicopters overhead. The city of Rome was preparing for the canonization ceremony for Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII.

The night before we’d walked through St. Peter’s Square to see policemen welding manhole covers closed for security, and young people roaming in groups strumming guitars and singing hallelujahs. The city was alive with celebration. The joy was palpable, and most impressively among students. While my feet were sore from walking all day, one group of young people had formed a large circle and were dancing.

I’ve come to see that we live in a world hungry for true heroes.

Sunday morning as we walked toward St. Peter’s Square, we saw a series of RV’s parked along the Tiber River, with their radios blaring the sounds of the lead-up to the Canonization Mass.

So many different languages! Probably the most memorable image in my mind is the little boy on a bridge, still a mile away from St. Peter’s, kneeling next to his mother, hands folded, eyes tightly shut in prayer.

What is an evangelical to make of this adoration? As I’ve listened to my Catholic friends talk about the canonization of these two men over the last several days and observed the celebrations, I’ve come to see that we live in a world hungry for true heroes. photoIn lifting up these two men, the Church gives us examples of people who lived lives of devotion to God and service to mankind. I want to set aside differences in theology and the question of what it means to be a saint for this reflection: I am impressed by the elevation of someone based on a spiritual measurement, rather than the temporal ones of power and beauty with which we are oh so far more familiar.

We still need heroes. Men and women of faith and selflessness whose example calls us to make hard choices. People who demonstrate that a deep joy exists in a life invested in learning and committed to spiritual discipline.

That kind of inspiration leads a small boy on a bridge to dream of being a great man. And that could change the world.

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25 Apr

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Be Not Afraid

April 25, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

Here’s the speech I gave earlier today at the Building a Global Culture of Life: The Legacy of St. John Paul the Great at the UN conference in Rome.

In the airport on the way to this conference, a group of students were wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Be Not Afraid.”  If we are to talk of being inspired by Pope John Paul II, there can be no better tribute than that of young people carrying forward his inaugural admonition on their backs.  Be Not Afraid.  It is a simple anthem.  A powerful one that has particular resonance for our conversation today about Pope John Paul II’s legacy in defending life.

The Pope’s first words to the faithful were these:

Be Not Afraid! Open up, no; swing wide the gates to Christ. Open up to his saving power the confines of the State, open up economic and political systems, the vast empires of culture, civilization and development… Be not afraid!”

One of Pope John Paul II’s great legacies was his focus on the nature of the State and its potential to confine – even destroy – human freedom, human dignity and, at its worst, human life.

And so his inaugural words to us here, coming from Isaiah, are intrinsically words of comfort appropriate to a weary movement looking for courage to persist and endure in the face of entrenched opposition:  Fear not, for I am with you, I will strengthen you with my strong right hand.

But in this context, in which the Pontiff goes on to indict the State, the words challenge us as well.  Be Not Afraid! Do not fear to challenge the state when it works to destroy life.

This simultaneous comfort and challenge provides particular inspiration for the prolife movement as we are confronted with established and powerful regimes that are committed to advancing the right to abortion and other anti-life practices like euthanasia.

Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on the importance of the State is an antidote to those who would like to see the fight for life constrained within the boundaries of “culture.”

Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on the importance of the State is an antidote to those who would like to see the fight for life constrained within the boundaries of “culture.”  It is a gentle rebuke to those who view a politically-oriented confrontation as somehow intrinsically tainted and less holy.

From the very start of Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II sets aside this narrow view that diminishes the scope of the defense of life.  In fact, he writes that “every human community and the political community itself are founded” on the “recognition of the sacred value of human life.”

And he puts a particularly fine point on the essential tutelary effect of the law in shaping the political community and informing the governing values of a civilization.

“Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life,” he said, “nevertheless, they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior.” 

I find this straightforward defense of work in the law inspiring because Americans United for Life was founded two years before Roe v. Wade was decided, out of concern for the increasing hostility to life that was even then becoming entrenched in American law.  As the legal architects of the prolife movement, Pope John Paul II’s recognition of the key role of the law has been a true source of inspiration and encouragement.

His explication of the foundational importance of human dignity provides the antidote to the pernicious idea that abortion is a purely personal and private act.  In fact, he argues that a “collective conscience” – one that is ennobled by an understanding and a recognition of the imperatives of natural law –  this conscience is the protector of the dignity of the human person. Without this societal mooring, peace becomes “illusory” and democracy itself becomes “an empty word.”

It is here that Pope John Paul II is speaking directly and prophetically to a culture whose conscience has been deadened by millions of lives lost by abortion.  The skeptic asks:  why should we care?  The weary warrior asks:  why should we persist?  Pope John Paul II answers both simultaneously when he reminds of us the words of Paul VI who said, “Every crime against life is an attack on peace.”

Without the defense of the least of these, we have a defense of none.  And in a beautiful and stirring passage, he calls the influence of the moral law on civil law “part of the patrimony of the great juridical traditions of humanity.”

Pope John Paul II was not just bold and consistent in speaking out in defense of life, he was also penetrating and rigorous – confronting the shallow twin platitudes of choice and privacy with a powerful explication of why the law must engage and oppose abortion.

“To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law,” he said, “ means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance:  that of an absolute power over others and against others.  This is the death of true freedom.”

He goes on later to draw the logical conclusion, arguing that a state that sanctions the destruction of innocent human life has crossed over into tyranny.  A tyranny that no “democratic” majority can legitimize.

Let us pause and linger a little on Pope John Paul II’s connection between the aggrandizement of sheer power and the death of authentic freedom.  This is a piercing indictment of the feminist mythology surrounding their advancement of the right to abortion.

We now live in a world where abortion is posited as essential to feminine freedom.  In fact, the absolute power over others that Pope John Paul II cites as the perverse outcome of abortion is, in fact, embraced by feminist ideology as “bodily integrity.”  Our Bodies, Our Selves. . . to hearken back to a classic from the feminist canon.

But this formulation of “rights” by necessity stringently avoids the duality inherent in pregnancy.  An ideology that prides itself on respect for The Other averts its eyes.

In Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul II looks directly where they will not, and sees the power they miss.

“A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness.  Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person:  a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health.  This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women.  And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.”

Abortion destroys not just the new life, it destroys something that Pope John Paul II called “the feminine genius.”  He called on women to promote “a new feminism” which he described as “unique and decisive.”

For many women, Abortion comes at the end of a desert of fear.  It shimmers for them as a false oasis in a parched land of desperation.

In laying out this vision and making this call, he brings us back to “Be Not Afraid.”  He acknowledges that motherhood, while sacred is also scary.  Pope John Paul II reminds us that the angel Gabriel began his greeting to Mary with these words:  “Do not be afraid, Mary.”

For many women, Abortion comes at the end of a desert of fear.  It shimmers for them as a false oasis in a parched land of desperation.

Be Not Afraid.

Be Not Afraid.  These three simple words signify the triumph of hope over death.

Pope John Paul II reminded us that “life is always at the center of a great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness.”  Being at the pivot point of such a titanic struggle, we might be forgiven a certain trepidation.  But Pope John Paul II’s simple admonition rings sure and true, and inspires us still today to remain strong and courageous in defense of life.

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Michelangelo’s Pieta: Inspiration for LIFE

April 16, 2014 | By | No Comments

This Easter, as I’m preparing to travel to Rome for an international pro-life conference, I find myself drawn to the Pieta, perhaps Michelangelo’s most famous work, that is on display in the Vatican.

It occurs to me that in that extraordinary work, we can be inspired for life, and the potential that all of us born and unborn carry in us.

And you can’t always imagine, in those dark days, how brighter days lie ahead.

The anguished face of Mary, holding her son Jesus, crucified and dead, reminds us that motherhood does hold sorrow and difficult days. But Mary’s most difficult day was not the end of the story. It was not the only day of her motherhood. Easter is a celebration of life, of Jesus raised from the dead with a message that we have hope and a future. Mary’s love for her son, physical even spiritual, is mirrored in the passion that we can have for own children, no matter what comes.

And you can’t always imagine, in those dark days, how brighter days lie ahead.

Even the story of how the Pieta came to be inspires with life’s potential. Michelangelo came from a family of modest mean, of no real prominence, carving the Pieta at only 24. He received that commission from a French Cardinal known to live a very faithful life during dark days in Rome, who wanted to leave behind in that great city something of beauty, something inspired. He took a chance on a young unknown… but not he alone.

A man named Jacopo Galli guaranteed the wonder of the Pieta as he drew up the contract between the man of God and the unknown artist. Galli put his reputation on the line, for the hope of something great to come. And it did.

We in the pro-life movement share that message with the world that every life has potential; that taking a chance with hope is worth it. People’s extraordinary potential comes from inside, not bound by family of origin or circumstance, and not diminished by the realities of hard times and dark days.

I will have the great opportunity to visit the Pieta in the Vatican later this month, thankful that a few took a chance on a young man, believing he could be great. And thank you for supporting the work of Americans United for Life, where we believe the same of every child.

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Margaret Mead quoted in “Hippocrates and Medicine in the Third Millenium”

July 29, 2013 | By | No Comments

The following excerpt is from HIPPOCRATES AND MEDICINE IN THE THIRD MILLENNIUM, by Dr. John Patrick, an Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Pediatrics at the University of Ottawa.

It is published by the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and deserves a wide audience.

Sanctity of Life

The main reason for the modern dismissal of the Oath of Hippocrates by those who know its content is its commitment to the absolute sanctity of life. Neither abortion nor mercy killing find any place in the thought of Hippocrates.

Why was this commitment so central?

Margaret Mead, the libertarian anthropologist, clearly understood, when she wrote;

“For the first time in our tradition there was a complete separation between killing and curing. Throughout the primitive world, the doctor and the sorcerer tended to be the same person.

[Doctor and sorcerer] with power to kill had power to cure. . . .

With the Greeks, the distinction was made clear.  One profession, the followers of Asclepius, were to be dedicated completely to life under all circumstances, regardless of rank, age, or intellect – the life of a slave, the life of the Emperor, the life of a foreign man, the life of a defective child…

This is a priceless possession which we cannot afford to tarnish, but society always is attempting to make the physician into a killer – to kill the defective child at birth, to leave the sleeping pills beside the bed of the cancer patient…

It is the duty of society to protect the physician from such requests.

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Today, the abortion clinician is both physician and sorcerer in the same person.

Originally published by Jack Yoest: December 18, 2012

Notes:

Mead M. quoted in Marker R et al.  Euthanasia: a historical overview. Maryland J Contemporary Legal Issues. 1991;2:257-298.

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