Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Works of Mercy - A Guide to More Doing

In my last post, Less Talking - More Doing, I called on everyone to really live out the Faith.  Recognizing that many may not know how to start doing this, I wanted to write a post on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  Basically, this is a handy list of all the things we ought to be doing as Christians in our day-to-day lives.  Now don't panic, you don't have to do every single one, every single day(thank God, since one of them is to bury the dead!) but we could all probably do more than we are and I want to make it simple with some suggestions for each one to give you ideas. 

The Corporal Works of Mercy

There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy.  These are the physical ways we need to be taking care of our fellow man.  Most of these will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Gospel since most of them come from the passage in Matthew 25:31-40.  I'll list each one and give you some practical suggestions for how you can incorporate them in your daily life.

#1 and 2:  Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty

These first two go together and there are many ways to live it out.  Most obvious is to physically take someone in need of food and drink and give it to them.  Not everyone is able to do this for a variety of reasons, though, so what are some other ideas?  Many churches have regular collections for outreach missions which provide food to those in need.  Find out what they need most and add it to your shopping list.  You can have items that are a permanent part of your grocery list or buy whatever they are in most need of each month.  Don't have collections at your church or don't go to church?  Find a homeless shelter or food pantry near you and make donations there.  Can't afford to buy extra food on top of your own groceries?  Donate your time instead and help serve food at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or give out items at a local outreach.

#3:  Clothe the naked

Similar to 1 and 2, your ability to live this one out depends on your budget.  Has God blessed you abundantly with wealth and prosperity?  Perhaps you could purchase some items and donate them through your church or to a local shelter.  Have a brood of children at home you can hardly keep clothes on?  Donate any surviving hand-me-downs.  If you're crafty, you could also consider donating hand-made items such as blankets, prayer shawls, and hats for babies in the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit).  

Now if you're especially strapped for time, or just too organizationally impaired to manage regular donations, consider the option of sponsoring a child, youth, or senior in need.  We began sponsoring a child in Guatemala last year through an organization called Unbound.  You can set up automatic payments to a credit card or bank account so there's no need to remember every month.  You get to see the impact your sponsorship has on someone's life through regular pictures and letters.  While I still encourage folks to get down in the trenches and make contact with your fellow man, this is a great place to start if you're feeling a bit timid.

#4: Visit the imprisoned

Now before you throw your hands up at this one, yes, I realize not everyone can go to visit people in prison.  Some churches have prison outreach programs.  If you feel called to help then go for it.  If you don't feel comfortable, you could simply support the ministry.  Do they need bibles for the inmates or rosaries?  St. Benedict Catholic Store collects old Catholic books to pass out to inmates.  And certainly don't forget our imprisoned youth!  

#5:  Shelter the homeless

Again, not everyone can simply pick up homeless people off the street and bring them home.  But could you give someone a ride to the nearest shelter?  How about simply support your local shelter?  If finances do not allow monetary support, there is always the gift of your time.  Ask a shelter how you can help.  Are you a business owner who could help by blessing someone with employment? There are many possibilities if we really search our hearts for what our contribution could be.

#6: Visit the sick

It can be very trying to be sick in such a way that it isolates you.  Beyond being down for the count with a cold for a few days, being seriously ill, aside from the physical suffering, can make you spiritually and mentally miserable.  It feels like the rest of the world is going on without you.  If you have the ability, take time to visit not just loved ones, but strangers too.  My former homeschool group in Wilmington, NC would visit a nursing home once a month and the children would sing songs and bring pictures they had colored to give out.  My girls used to make hearts that said "Jesus Loves You" to give out.  Not only were our visits appreciated and anticipated, one of the more spirited residents would scold us if we missed a visit!  Some hospital nurseries need volunteers to hold babies whose parents are not available.  You can even send a get well message to a child in the hospital through CURE International.  Again, pray, discern, and do what you feel called to do.

#7:  Bury the dead

God willing, you won't have to do this one very often.  Our family went through a difficult time with several deaths occurring close together until I was afraid to answer the phone.  May God bless you and your loved ones with long and happy lives, but when the inevitable time comes, make every effort to attend the funeral.  Hopefully you will have lots of time when there are no funerals to attend, and during those times visit the graves of loved ones and see that they are well-tended.  Don't have any graves close by of family or friends?  Visit local cemeteries and inquire about tending neglected graves.  This might seem a bit morbid, but just imagine the grave of someone you love or  your own grave going untended because nobody was around to care for it.    

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are what we need to be doing to care for the souls of our fellow man.  Like the Corporal Works of Mercy, there are seven.  We can take care of every physical need of our brothers and sisters, but if we do not also do everything in our power to safeguard their souls, then all else is meaningless.  What good is it to be perfectly comfortable in this life if we are to suffer eternally in the next?

#1:  Admonish the sinner

"There will be joy among the angels of God over one repentant sinner."
                                                                                                   -Luke 15:10

Society today has the strange notion that loving someone means accepting their every choice.  Rather, love, as understood from a Christian perspective, means willing the good of the other.  We must want and seek what is truly good for each other and that is not always the same as what we think will make us happy.  So it is our responsibility to charitably and respectfully call to attention the sins of one another.  This is not meant to be self-righteous in any way.  People take such offense these days at calling anything immoral and declare everything a matter of personal preference.  What we must understand is that some choices and behaviors are necessarily and objectively wrong and we aren't doing anyone a favor by pretending otherwise.  Remember that one day we will all be answering to the Lord Almighty for each and every choice we make in this life.  We must call one another back when we go astray.

#2:  Instruct the ignorant

"Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father."  - Matthew 5:16

First and foremost, our actions must show the love of Christ to all.  We can do far more to lead others back to God by setting a good example and showing them the Faith than we can with words alone.  But we must also be ready to share the Good News with others.  Don't assume that someone has heard it already.  Share Jesus with others.  Invite them to come to Mass with you.  I once heard of a man who spent decades attending Mass and helping out in church, but never received Communion.  When someone finally asked him why he explained that he wasn't Catholic.  Shocked, they asked him why not.  He told them because no one had ever asked him before.  He attended RCIA and became Catholic.  Don't be afraid to speak up and reach out.  You never know who is simply waiting for an invitation.

#3:  Counsel the doubtful

"If you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments."  - Matthew 19:17

Sometimes we just aren't sure what we should be doing or whether or not we are following God's will for us.  This work of mercy, I think, is really about making time for one another.  Today more than ever we are always busying ourselves with things we think are so very important but we don't have time to sit and talk with each other.  The Christian path is not an easy one to walk and we need guidance and encouragement to keep on the path to Heaven. 

#4: Comfort the sorrowful

"Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you."  - Matthew 11:28

This one is fairly self-explanatory.  Yet we all need the reminder to take the time and reach out to those who are hurting.  We live in an increasingly self-centered world which encourages us to put ourselves, our comfort, our pleasure, before everything and everyone else.  But I tell you that true happiness comes from sacrificing for others.  Send a card, buy some flowers, make a phone call, or pay a visit to someone who needs comfort and love.  You'll both be happier for it.

#5:  Bear wrongs patiently

"My command to you is: 'love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.' "
                                                                                                               - Matthew 5:44

Up until now I can imagine everyone has been smiling and nodding along in agreement.  This one is probably met with a bit of a grimace.  It goes against everything we feel when someone mistreats us.  We want justice.  Sometimes we want vengeance.  We certainly don't want to exercise patience and understanding.  So how to put this one into practice?  I think the first step is to pause.  Resist that knee-jerk reaction when someone treats you unfairly or impolitely.  Our first reaction in these situations is generally the wrong one.  Take a moment to swallow your pride which tells you to return that rude remark with a snappy comeback.  Remind yourself that underneath the ugliness you just received is a person made in the image and likeness of God.  Remind yourself, too, that you are not always a shining refection of your Creator and muster the strength to share the mercy which has been given to you.  Did your waitress just dump your drink in your lap?  Smile and tell her you didn't like that outfit anyway.  Did somebody just cut you off on the highway?  Pray for them to reach their destination safely.  Did somebody at work just snap at you?  Tell them you're sorry they're having a hard time and you hope their day gets better.  Will your kind words or deeds always be received in the light they are given?  Certainly not, but you will be better for them and they just might plant a seed that will one day turn into something beautiful.  Most importantly, your Father in Heaven will be most pleased with you and that should always be your first concern.

#6: Forgive injuries

"If you forgive the faults of others, your Heavenly Father will forgive you yours.  If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you." 
                                                                                             -Matthew 6:14

We are all in need of forgiveness.  God gives it to us freely if we will only seek it out.  But sometimes forgiving others, or even forgiving ourselves, can feel impossible.  Some pain seems too big to be pardoned.  What we must realize is that when we hold a grudge, when we refuse forgiveness, what we really are doing is holding on to the pain we so desperately want to be free from.  Anything that can be said about forgiveness, was put perfectly into music by Matthew West in his song, "Forgiveness."  Give it a listen, and ask yourself if there is anyone you have been withholding forgiveness from that you could reach out to.

#7: Pray for the living and the dead

At first glance this seems like the easiest of all the Works of Mercy.  Praying takes only a small investment of our time.  It doesn't cost us any money and we can do it wherever and whenever we want.  Now to all the non-Catholics reading this, praying for the dead will seem silly, but the argument for the existence of purgatory and the need to pray for the dead will have to wait for another post.  The point I want to make here is that while praying should come easily and naturally, for some reason it just doesn't.

Perhaps we find it difficult to feel like we are actually accomplishing anything by praying.  We can't see any immediate tangible results from our efforts.  We want things to go a certain way, and we know that it might not be God's will and so we struggle to relinquish control over to Him.  I am speaking from a boat-load of experience here.  I have noticed a pattern in my life that has revealed just how rarely my will coincides with God's.  It is only recently that I am learning to really listen and seek His will and, yes, hand control over to Him rather than try to force things to go my way.  It is only by recognizing that so many times I wanted something and so many times it turned out far greater than if I would have gotten my way.  We can trust that God's will is always what is best for us, even if it doesn't always feel like it.

Now, for any non-believers reading this I want you to understand the purpose of prayer.  I remember all too well when I was an atheist shaking my head at Christians praying.  Over and over I thought, "How about you get off your butt and DO something instead of expecting God to do it for you??"  This is not the purpose of prayer.  We do not pray so that God will solve all our problems.  Prayer does not change God or His will for us, but rather it helps us to align our hearts with His.  Prayer is communion with God, and the more we do it, the more we seek His will for us, the more we are able to submit to it ourselves.  And once His will is clear, then we are able to act and be at peace knowing that we are doing what He wants us to.

The Exciting Conclusion

There you have it: fourteen simple ways you can share the love of Christ with others.  As I said, you don't have to do every one every day.  Keep them in your mind and in your heart.  Keep your eyes open for the opportunities God sends your way each day.  Be watchful for the least of these!  Remember that you don't have to save the world;  Christ already did that.  Give God what you are able and you'll be amazed what He can do with your small offering.  

I leave you with the words of St. Francis of Assissi:  

Start by doing what's necessary;  then do what's possible;  and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Until next time, may God bless you! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Less Talking - More Doing

I was tossing and turning one night, unable to sleep from frustration and discouragement.  Try as I might, I felt like my words of evangelization were the equivalent of spitting on a forest fire.  All of my efforts seemed utterly fruitless and I thought that perhaps I had missed God's will for me entirely.  I thought I should give up, scrap this blog, and admit failure.  My heart cried out to God to just tell me what He wanted from me.  "Lord, I want to do your will, but please, I don't know what you want me to do!  Don't be subtle, I'm too dense for that.  A boot to the head, neon sign, or something of that order is most necessary."  

As usual, when I'm throwing a tantrum like this, God did not give me what I wanted.  Instead, a gentle message worked its way into my heart, two actually.  The first was a reminder of some wise words from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta:  God does not ask us to be successful, only to be faithful.  And: If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers.  Ouch.  I had to realize that my idea of success and God's are not necessarily the same.  I don't know God's plan;  I can only be faithful to what I think He is calling me to do.  If this blog stays relatively unknown forever, and nobody but a stray friend with words of encouragement ever comments on it, then so be it.  It is not for me to decide whether or not this is worthwhile.  I may never know God's purpose in my sitting for countless hours trying to drown out the noise of children to focus long enough to get these thoughts out of my head and on the screen...and I don't need to.

The second message was the title of this post:  less talking, more doing.  Over and over it repeated in my mind and I could feel the start of something.  I could also feel the realization that I wasn't getting anymore sleep because once the gears start going on a new idea it's hard to make them stop, even if it is three in the morning.  But what it turned into, is the idea that we do so much talking and so little doing.  This is true more today than it has ever been.  Thanks to modern technology we are able to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world.  How ironic and sad that we are more capable of communicating now than we have ever been, yet we've never been more out of touch with our fellow man.  We can surround ourselves with everything we like and nothing we don't.  The more we "like" on Facebook, the more we see of what we like.  Don't like what somebody has to say?  You can make it go away!  Somebody getting on your nerves too much?  You can unfriend and block them!  We can create our own little virtual bubble to live in and the effect it is having on society is undeniable.  We feel entitled to never be upset or offended...ever.  We declare the need for safe spaces and healing spaces and trigger warnings when people are going to say things that might upset us.  And finally, we consider it helping our fellow man when we share a post or change our Facebook profile picture to raise awareness.  

Now, I understand the blaring hypocrisy of a blogger calling out the virtual world.  This post will be shared on Facebook, and I'll ask everyone to read it while encouraging people to spend less time on Facebook.  Social media has its purpose and can be a really good tool used to accomplish great deeds which would otherwise be impossible.  But it has a way of taking over our lives and I'm sure most people can acknowledge that.  We need to find a balance of spending just enough time on social media and technology in general to gear us up to get back to real life with focus and purpose.

So what's your point?

Image credit: http://cliparts.co/

What do I mean by "less talking, more doing?"  Let's stop spending so much time broadcasting our opinions and more time putting them into action.  Rather than trying to convince each other that we're right, let's show why.  Speaking directly to my fellow Christians, put your Faith into action.  Don't just tell people what you believe, show them.  Show them the fruit of Christ living within you.  Show people what God's love makes you do and let them know that He is the reason.

Non-believers, you're not off the hook here.  I hear it all the time that we don't need God to be good people.  Let's see it.  What does your love for humanity make you do?  How are you moved to act by what you believe?

Now, do I expect everyone to run out there and adopt twelve kids, end world hunger, and bring about peace in the Middle East?  Of course not.  We have jobs, kids, responsibilities coming out our ears and I get that.  Now, perhaps many of us could be a lot less busy, but let's not go off on that tangent(yet).  The point is, everyone can do something.  Whether you're flat broke, have a brood of children to mind, or whatever else heavy responsibility, we can all do something to help one another, encourage one another, lift each other up.  Dare I say, that cross on your shoulders might actually feel a bit lighter if you take some time to help someone carry theirs.

Let me be clear, that I am not at all suggesting that we all just stop talking about our Faith, opinions, issues and so on.  I applaud my fellow evangelizers and anyone who is willing to carry on civilized discussion and debate with people they disagree with.  It is truly a lost art in our society.  But it seems that too often, talking is all we do.  When I was an atheist, it wasn't the debates I had with my brother that made an impression on me.  It was how he and his wife loved and cared for me unconditionally.  They supported me through a very difficult time in my life and it was such a powerful witness to the love they had in their hearts.  We can all talk until we're blue in the face, but it's through our actions and especially our sacrifices that we will change hearts and minds.   

There's so much to say about this, and I intend to make this an ongoing topic on my blog, but I am determined to keep this post short.  What I want to do today, is just start a little flame burning in the hearts of anyone who reads this.  Let's start something together.  Make it your goal to do something good today.  Find someone who needs help and just help them.  You don't have to save the world, Christ has already done that.  But you can be His hands and feet here and now.  Show someone they are loved.  There are so many possibilities and this will look different for everyone.  Pay for the person behind you in the drive thru.  Tell them God loves them and you hope they have a great day.  Take a homeless person to lunch and sit down and eat with them.  It doesn't have to be a stranger.  So often we look to help those far away and overlook the ones right in front of us.  Put down your phone and give your spouse your undivided attention.  Call up an old friend and catch up.  Read your child a book when you would rather be watching t.v.  Just keep your eyes open and God will do the rest.

Come on, let's start something.  Until next time, may God bless you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Surely They Don't Know: the Ugly Truth of Abortion

Unless you have just returned from a hermitage, you have heard of the recent and ongoing Planned Parenthood scandal.  A group of pro-life activists called the Center for Medical Progress(CMP) has begun releasing a series of undercover videos which demonstrate Planned Parenthood employees haggling over prices for the body parts of aborted children.  This, of course, has thrown fuel onto the fire of the abortion debate which has been raging since Roe vs. Wade.  Abortion supporters are tripping over themselves, offering everything from excuses to flat out denial.  But whether they are sticking their heads in the sand or reasoning that the babies are going to be aborted anyway so we might as well make good use of the scraps, it all misses the point by a mile.  The only people shocked by the revelation that Planned Parenthood sells the dismembered remains of the babies it kills are people who were convinced until now that abortion didn't actually kill babies.  Before being forced to look at a lab technician sifting through a bloody pile of arms, legs, liver, and brain some could snuggle up to the euphemism of "terminating a pregnancy" and continue parroting the nonsensical verbiage Planned Parenthood relies on for its existence.  Those of us in the pro-life camp have been busy dragging the truth out into the light of day while hoping and praying America will wake up from its coma.  The fact that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts is merely an opportunity to help people snap out of it.  Yes abortion is legal, and no, selling body parts is not, but again, this is not the point.  If anyone has broken the law, and anyone thinking clearly can see they have, they should be brought to justice of course.  But, the response to this scandal is not, "Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of the babies it aborts?  That's wrong!  Abortion is one thing, but selling the products of it is just going too far!"  No, America.  The response is, "Dear God!  Abortion is the murder of innocent children, and we have to stop it!"  So if you are one of the people waking up from your long slumber, I invite you to rub your eyes and read on before you start feeling sleepy again.  It's not going to be pretty, but it will be the truth.

Revelation of Truth

The first step in recovering from the comatose state of being pro-choice is to realize that unborn children are, in fact, human beings.  This statement may seem obvious, but it is apparently necessary and must be fully accepted before moving on.  You see, for decades Americans had their consciences lulled to sleep by the constant repetition of such utter nonsense as "It's not a baby, it's just a blob of tissue(clump of cells, etc)."  Quite often the pro-life camp is accused of being a bunch of anti-science, superstitious wackos.  If you want to see anti-science, you can watch this video of a Planned Parenthood representative telling a group of college students to ignore science, and calling scientific facts opinions.  Pardon me, but we have known for many, many years now that it is not a clump of cells.  Pick up any text book about fetal development and you will learn that by the time a woman even knows she is pregnant, the baby's heart is already beating.  Take a look at this video from The Endowment for Human Development.  Follow this link to the video if it does not work below.  
Note that it is taken at 4 weeks and 4 days gestation, a few days before the average woman has even missed her period:

Blobs of tissue do not have beating hearts, folks.  Many people rationalize abortion by saying that the majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester(up to the thirteenth week of pregnancy).  Here is what a baby looks like at eight weeks:

In an effort to seem reasonable, many pro-choice people I speak to will tell me that while they think it's wrong to abort a baby at eight months, eight weeks is perfectly acceptable.  Look at that image.  You see eyes, ears, arms, legs, even tiny ribs.  This is not an amorphous blob, it is clearly a human being.  Now, if you truly have the strength of your convictions, follow this link to an image of the remains of a baby aborted at eight weeks.  Note there is even a medical authentication.  Still think this is okay?

The science is clear, unborn babies are human beings.  It is sad that I even have to offer proof and an argument for that, but there you go.  Abortion takes the life of a human being, and that is murder.

Justifying Murder

Fewer and fewer are those who try to claim babies are not actually people.  They are gradually being replaced by people who acknowledge the humanity unborn, but say it is okay to kill them.  I'm still not certain if I prefer this brazen honesty to delusion or not.  Lesser of evils aside, let's look at some of the justifications used and why they are pure fallacious nonsense.

"It's my body!"

No, no it's not.  That baby growing inside you is a completely separate body.  This really should go without saying.  To make it simple:

Image credit: http://genfringe.com/2014/02/body-choice/

Got it?  Good, let's move on.

"Better Off Dead"

Next is what I call the "better off dead" argument, when people appeal to despair.  They site  hypothetical abuse, neglect and suffering as reasons to kill unborn children.  There are several issues with this argument.  The first is that nobody can predict with certainty that a mother will abuse her children.  When we think of this, we imagine some haggard, poor, miserable sot living in the ghetto and spending her money on drugs instead of formula and diapers.  Do we really think every mother in a difficult circumstance is going to abuse her child?  Do we really think every mother in comfortable circumstances won't?  Which is more anti-woman:  encouraging a woman in her struggles and lifting her up or telling her she can't possibly manage and her child is better off dead?  What we are striving for here seems altruistic.  We can't bear the thought of children abused and suffering.  Tell me, are only lives without suffering worth living?  I surely hope not because there is no such life.  Just because a child is born into poor circumstances does not mean his life will be hopeless or meaningless.  Just because a child is born into ideal circumstances is not a guarantee of no suffering.  Do we really think we can look around at one another and say whose life is worth living and whose isn't?  Surely we must see what folly that is.

Am I saying that I don't care about child abuse and the suffering of children?  Certainly not.  Think about it, when a person is already born, we consider there no greater abuse than to murder them.  Before they are born somehow abuse is worse than murder?  Imagine if we applied this logic elsewhere.  "Sir, I'm sorry, but you have cancer and we don't expect you to make it.  We don't want you to suffer so we're going to take you to the operating room and dismember you now."  Imagine a social worker showing up to remove children from an abusive home.  "I'm sorry your mom isn't very nice, Timmy.  We're going to rip your limbs off now so you don't have to suffer anymore.  Don't worry, there are fates worse than death."  Here it seems like madness, and madness it is.  But tell me, what is the difference?  I'll tell you.  When we kill unborn children, we don't have to look at them until they're already dead.  So long as there is life, there is hope, and either we all have a right to life or none of us do.

"They'll Do It Anyway": the Coathanger Defense

This is another ridiculous one.  People attempt to justify abortion being legal because if we make it illegal women will still get abortions.  It should go without saying that no matter the law, someone will break it.  If we used that as our go-to logic for lawmaking, everything would be legal.  People are going to do any number of terrible things they shouldn't.  The point is that we, as a society, declare certain actions unacceptable.

This defense is ridiculous for another reason.  The whole back-alley abortion myth is just that: a myth.  While I'm certain there were some cases of less-than-qualified individuals performing abortions in the days before it was legalized(as there are plenty of now too), the idea that this was pervasive is false.  The majority of illegal abortions were performed by doctors.  Take a look at this article.  But what is more important than dissolving the myth of the coathanger abortion, is opening eyes to the fact that legal abortion is no safer than illegal.  There are countless cases of filthy clinics with expired medication, dirty equipment or improper sterilization, unsafe conditions such as faulty elevators that delay emergency medical care, and patient neglect such as leaving a woman to hemorrhage for five hours before calling 911.  I could write a book, and in fact people have, about the horrific conditions found in abortion clinics.  None in recent history were quite so horrific of the case of Kermit Gosnell.  A movie is in the works about his "House of Horrors" as it has come to be called.  What is more disturbing than the facts of his case is knowing there are more out there like him who have yet to be caught.

Yet Planned Parenthood and their supporters are constantly fighting the adoption of regulations that would keep women safe, such as physicians being required to have admitting privileges at hospitals and banning webcam abortions or keeping their buildings up to code.  So who is really waging a war on women here?

Finally, we should adapt "They'll do it anyway" to "They'll do it anyway, and if they don't want to, we'll make them."  See, abortion is supposed to be all about choice.  Yet Planned Parenthood only offers their patients one choice: abortion.  As per the 2013/14 fiscal year report, Planned Parenthood performed 327,653 abortions and referred 1,880 women for adoptions.  This video has a lovely graphic of a non-pregnant uterus to illustrate the abortion procedure.  Planned Parenthood fights ultrasound laws that would require women to actually see their babies before they choose to kill them.  Heaven forbid we tell women the truth and let them actually choose.  This link contains many quotes from both patients and abortion providers on how women are given deceptive counseling and pressured to have abortions.  And here's another link to Planned Parenthood's website where they inform children that they may be able to circumvent parental consent laws:

In some states, you can be excused from involving a parent without going to a judge if you are the victim of abuse or neglect and you or your doctor report this to the appropriate authorities.  If you are facing a medical emergency and require an immediate abortion, most states will not impose their parental involvement requirements.

We wouldn't want those pesky parents getting involved!  After all, a child knows best right?  I imagine they have all sorts of "medical emergencies" that justify bypassing these laws.  Just as long as you don't have an actual emergency after or during your abortion or you might end up like Tonya Reeves, Jennifer Morbelli, Maria Santiago, Lakisha Wilson, Laura Hope Smith, or Alexandra Nunez.  All of those are cases from 2007 on, and specifically cases of negligence.  Where is the outcry for the deaths of these women?  Not a single news network covered their cases.  Where are the feminists screaming that this is not the safe abortion they fought for?  The silence is deafening.

Rape Exceptions and Life of the Mother

This is considered the silver bullet of the pro-choice argument.  This is the point no pro-lifer is supposed to be able to counter.  Along the lines of the "better off dead" argument, this again appeals to despair.  Nobody wants to think about the horrific crime of a woman being raped or the tragedy of something going terribly wrong during pregnancy.  But since when do we consider heaping more horror or more tragedy onto a problem, a solution?  In the case of rape, for what other crime do we execute a child for the crimes of his father?  Does killing a child un-rape a woman?  Abortion or rape taken by themselves are traumatizing, do we really thinking helping a woman kill her innocent child is going to maker her feel better?  Women who have been raped are violated and made to feel helpless and powerless.  Women who turn to abortion do so because they too feel helpless and powerless.  So how will abortion help a woman who has been raped recover her life?  It doesn't.  All of this is in addition to the fact that children conceived in rape are no less human than any other child.  When people want to support pro-life legislation with rape exceptions, they need to consider the following question:  would you support legislation that made exceptions for black babies?  That's discrimination you say?  Indeed it is, and rape exceptions are no different.

A final point to be made about abortion and rape is this.  People think abortion offers a solution to rape, but it doesn't.  Abortion enables rapists and sex traffickers.  Most people think of rape as a one-time, random offense.  That is not always the case.  Rape can often be an on-going case of abuse which is covered up thanks to abortion.  Here is a list of cases in which sexual predators used abortion to cover up their crimes.  Abortion clinics seem all too happy to assist in covering up these crimes; I suppose it's good for business.  See this case in Colorado, and this undercover investigation by Live Action which revealed eight Planned Parenthood clinics in five different states covering up sexual abuse.  There's also this investigation detailing seven clinics in four different states assisting child sex traffickers with confidential birth control, STD testing, and secret abortions for their victims.  Of course sometimes the abuser is the abortionist himself, as was the case here with a convicted sex offender running eight abortion clinics in New Jersey.  And naturally, Planned Parenthood fights legislation that would require all of its employees to report sexual abuse.

Lastly, the point needs to be made that abortion is never necessary to save the life of the mother.  Even as recently as the GOP debate, the question was raised as to whether a pro-life candidate would rather risk a mother's life than allow her to have an abortion.  People rarely seem to know how to respond to this, and it is astonishing how few people realize that abortion is completely unnecessary.  Partly, no doubt, this is because "life of the mother" must remain a talking point for abortion lobbyists.  For the rest of us, it is mere ignorance.  In the case of ectopic pregnancy(when the baby has implanted somewhere other than the uterus, most commonly the fallopian tube) the baby must be surgically removed.  This is not the same as an abortion.  If a woman is diagnosed with a disease such as cancer during her pregnancy, a doctor will not deny her treatment.  In fact, there is a growing list of chemotherapy drugs which do not cross the placenta so there isn't even a risk to the baby.  Plus, this study found that babies with in utero exposure to chemotherapy drugs are not at an increased risk for birth defects.  In any kind of emergent condition, doctors can induce labor or deliver via Cesarean section.  Is the baby guaranteed to live?  No, but it's better than a guaranteed death via dismemberment as with abortion.   

Remember Savita Halappanavar?  Of course you don't.  She was the woman whose death was used by the media to spur mass hysteria and draw a world-wide attack on Ireland's abortion laws.  Reporters falsely claimed that she requested an abortion, was denied, and died as a result.  In reality, Savita never requested an abortion, nor would one have saved her life.  The final report, which no one was actually interested in, showed that hospital staff failed to follow protocol and as a result missed a fatal infection.  Nobody cares about that now, and certainly the media never came out and apologized for acting like a bunch of blood-thirsty lunatics.  They got what they wanted: abortion in Ireland.  Ironically enough, when Ireland was abortion-free, they were the safest nation in the world in which to have a baby.  It seems the standards are raised when doctors do what they are supposed to: preserve life.

"But we NEED Planned Parenthood!"

One thing is certain, we DO NOT need Planned Parenthood.  First of all, here is a map of Federally qualified health centers:

You can see there's a few to choose from.  All of these centers offer the same services as Planned Parenthood, minus abortion.  Just imagine what we could do if we added to them the more than $500,000 in tax dollars that goes to Planned Parenthood every year.  

Now, the other point to be made is this.  Planned Parenthood likes to go on about how abortion only accounts for 3% of their services.  This is an absolute lie, but completely misses the point anyway.  Think about it.  Let's say I run a medical clinic and thousands of people come to me for medication, cancer screenings, and various other important services.  Now let's say I run this clinic with money paid to me by parents who have me kill their unwanted children.  Parents bring me their children, pay a fee, and I take them in a back room and kill them.  Am I still an asset to the community?  Are you still on CNN proclaiming that this country NEEDS me?  Dear God, I certainly hope not.  But this is exactly the reasoning we are using when we justify the existence of Planned Parenthood.  They make obscene amounts of money in profit every year killing unwanted children and we proclaim that the world would stop turning if we got rid of them.  "But, but...abortion is different!"  Really, how?  Mothers go in with unwanted children and Planned Parenthood kills them.  The bodies are smaller, the act is the same.  Conveniently, the murderers at Planned Parenthood don't have to look at their victims until they're already dead.

Final Thoughts

There's no mistaking we have lost our moral compass in America.  We no longer search for truth, but rather look for ways to justify what we want.  This reveals itself with astounding clarity with abortion.  We know abortion is murder - the intentional taking of an innocent human life.  We know this, and we know it is wrong, but it's what we want so we look for ways to justify it.  We make excuse after excuse, and resist every effort made at revealing the painful truth.  When I had my conversion, one of the first issues I had to reconsider was abortion.  I actually took the time to form an opinion rather than parroting the party lines I had learned so well.  When I looked abortion in the face, when I acknowledged what it truly is and looked at the bloody remains of what was once a tiny human being, I cried.  I cried for days and weeks, and felt a near constant pain in my heart for months on end.  "Surely they don't know!", I told myself.  I never stopped to think about abortion and what it really is before, and I thought that many others were probably the same.  We've been taught that women have a right to choose and that abortion is a necessary evil.  This is nothing more than a lie we tell ourselves to relieve ourselves of any obligation to actually dealing with responsibility, consequences of our actions, or facing tragic and painful situations.  But it is a two-fold lie because not only is abortion not necessary, it's not even a solution to any of these things.  If, as a society, we declare the killing of children a solution to anything then, my God, what are we?

I pray that this post will open the eyes of any abortion supporter who reads it.  I pray we will stop hiding from the painful truth of abortion.  I pray for the day the unborn are no longer considered a subclass of humanity.  Fight the temptation to go back to sleep.  Stay awake and fight for the defenseless, for the voiceless, for the least of these.  Until next time, may God bless you.


Want to learn more?  Below is a list a resources to learn more about the ugly truth of abortion, ways to take action, and programs for healing after abortion.

Silent No More(silentnomoreawareness.org):  a group that raises awareness about abortion through the testimonies of men and women who have lost children through abortion, as well as former abortion providers.  They also have information on healing programs for post abortive men and women.

Priests for Life(www.priestsforlife.org):  find ways to take action against abortion, see images and videos of actual abortions, and links to healing programs

Abby Johnson(www.abbyjohnson.org): a former abortion clinic manager turned pro-life advocate

And Then There Were None(abortionworker.com): an outreach run by Abby Johnson to help abortion workers leave the industry with everything from financial assistance to legal representation

Rachael's Vineyard(www.rachelsvineyard.org):  offers healing retreats for post abortive men and women

The Endowment for Human Development(www.ehd.org):  an astounding collection of in utero images and videos throughout all nine months of pregnancy

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Agonizing Joy: the Conversion Experience

When most people think about conversion, especially folks outside of Christianity, we tend to think of extremes.  We think conversion is typically born out of desperate circumstances like a brush with death or hitting rock bottom in life.  Now I don't doubt that many authentic and inspiring conversions have come about in this way, but these stories are not the only kind of conversion and they tend to give people a very common misconception about conversion: that faith is something people put on like a warm and fuzzy blanket to comfort themselves.  Certainly there is a joyful component to any conversion, but it's not the whole story.  Being a Christian is a lifelong journey, and a rather difficult one at that.  In this post I hope to paint a more accurate picture of what conversion is like.

Speaking From Experience

So the obvious place to start is with my own conversion.  If you haven't read my first post which tells my story you can check it out here to see how my conversion came about, but as I said, that is only the beginning.  It all started with that moment of revelation.  I stared  in bewilderment at the words in front of me pointing out what had eluded me all my life: I had to make a choice about Christ.  His own words declared that He was not just another nice man with some nice advice.  He either is who He says or He's a bad man.  The temptation is always to create the "domesticated Jesus" because the true figure of Christ is a very dangerous one.  The reality of God become man is actually quite terrifying if you think about it.  We want Jesus to be just another wise man in the long history of wise men because if He is who He says He is, we owe our whole life to Him and that is not something easily come to terms with.

It certainly wasn't easy for me.  As I said in my first post, the first book I read after that revelation was C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.  Before reading this and before having any feelings other than disdain for Christianity, I was like most people in that I thought I was a decent person.  In fact, I imagined myself morally superior to Christians because I was being good and kind for the sake of it and not because I was trying to reach some candyland in the sky.  But while the revelation of the existence of God is initially euphoric, it brings with it some other realizations that are not so pleasant.  The beginning of my conversion played out something like this:

"Christ is who He says or He's a bad man.  Hey, nobody ever put it like that before.  I need to think about this a moment.  Um...I'm not sure I like where this is going.  This is just stupid, God become man?  God doesn't exist!  Wait a minute, did she say C.S. Lewis?  I think I have that book...I DO have that book.  I have to go find it!

*days pass as I read the most intelligent, logical argument for God I had never heard in my life*

"I was wrong.  All this time I was wrong.  God does exist...God DOES exist...and He loves me!  He became man and died for me, and rose from the dead, and this is so amazing and ooooooooooooooohhh, dear God I'm a horrible person!!!"

My whole life I thought Christians were a bunch of self-righteous snobs staring down their noses at all of us Godless heathens.  The truth is, when you understand who God is and who Christ is you see how desperately you fall short of His glory and how woefully inadequate and unworthy you are.  The best analogy I've ever heard is one from, you guessed it, Father Robert Barron.  Think of a windshield.  When you are facing away from the light, your windshield looks great, all is as it should be.  But when you are driving toward the sun, you see every last speck and smudge and you see clearly what a mess it really is.  Having realized the truth about God and that Christianity is true, I also had to come to terms with the fact that for all of my adult life I had been spreading lies and leading others astray.  How many souls did I lead away from Christ in that time?  How many people did I convince that what is good is evil and what is evil is good?  I was, and still am, sick at the thought.

Of course all of the above is played out in super warp speed to make a point.  Anyone who has read C.S. Lewis knows it's not exactly leisure reading, and anyone who has converted from Atheism to Catholicism (or Christianity in general) knows how uncomfortable it is.  I can't tell you how many obnoxious remarks I made in my years as an atheist about Christianity, or how many disrespectful arguments I had with Christians.  Imagine for a moment you've been arguing with someone that they took your pen.  For the last seventeen minutes you've laid into them, called them every name in the book, insulted their intelligence and possibly even their mother.  Now imagine you suddenly realized you were wrong and it wasn't actually your pen.  That's right, let that hypothetical feeling of total humiliation sink in a bit.  Now imagine it wasn't seventeen minutes, but years and over something far more important than a pen.  You can now start to imagine how I felt upon realizing the truth about Christ.

And that was only the beginning.  Once the initial shock wore off I had another startling revelation: my new-found faith left me having to reconsider every position, every stance, every decision about everything imaginable.  I realized that I didn't know what I thought about anything.  You see, being a Christian isn't just about where you spend your Sunday morning.  It influences every part of your life.  Some people think that's extreme, but think about it - wouldn't it be worthless if it didn't?  If what you believe about the very nature of our existence, where we came from and why we're here, doesn't have an impact on how you live your life, what good is it?  On the flip side of that you could also say that if you think what you believe about the very nature of our existence doesn't influence how you live your life, you're fooling yourself.  Some people have this silly idea that if we just take religious beliefs out of everything it will solve all the world's problems and disagreements.  The truth is, that's impossible.  What you believe influences everything, even if you claim to believe in nothing.

Next we need to consider that I was not going through this conversion in a vacuum.  I was married with three children when this happened to me.  I still can't imagine how my husband must have felt when his staunchly atheist wife of five years suddenly did an about face and declared she wanted to return to the Catholic Church.  You mean the Catholic Church she previously despised with every fiber of her being?  Yep, that's the one.  Seriously, I owe that man a case of beer and tickets to the Daytona 500 just for not dragging me off to the nuthouse.  That's not to say it all came up roses.  Our discussions about the Faith brought out a side of my husband I had never seen before - an angry side.  We fought pretty much every time I brought it up and there were times I was pretty sure this journey was going to end with our divorce.  I prayed and cried and cried and prayed...and cried.  I realized the pain in my heart was nothing compared to the pain I caused God and offered up my oceans of tears to Him.

And what about our children?  This whole journey came about because of our decision to homeschool them.  There I was, newly committed to my children's education and now this.  What was I to teach them about the Faith?  Would this be another fight?  How do I even begin to teach them all this stuff when I barely understand it myself?  But, as any Christian homeschooler will tell you, when you teach children the Faith, they really end up teaching you in the end.

By and by we figured it out.  The fights turned to serious discussions and heart-felt honesty.  In the end, it was actually our children who brought my husband back to the Church.  But that's his story and I'll let him tell it if he wants.

A Lonely New Existence

The dust settles and your head stops spinning and you wake up in a whole new world.  You get back to your normal life, but it's never the same.  More than once, when discussing the Faith and my conversion with my husband, I described to him the best analogy for conversion I could think of.  Imagine you've been sleeping and when you wake up you're inside a burning building.  You want to run for your life, but you realize that all around you are others who are still sleeping.  You desperately want to wake them up.  You shake them and scream, but they simply won't wake up.

Early in my conversion, I knew that the rest of my life must be dedicated to helping others see the truth.  While I realized that my conversion would come as a shock, I was not prepared for the number of friends I was about to lose and the number of enemies I was about to gain.  Surely, I thought, the words of such an unlikely convert would carry more weight than a so-called cradle Catholic.  I honestly believed my friends would be eager to hear the story of my conversion and perhaps they would want to consider for themselves the case I found so convincing.  Rather I found many people stopped speaking to me without so much as a word, and others stopped speaking to me after a handful of rather harsh words.  More and more I realized I was living in a world that, quite frankly, hated me and everything I stood for.

Among all the books I've read since my conversion, I've read nothing that so perfectly describes how it feels to be Christian these days than the following passage from Michael D. Obrien's Father Elijah:

"These are not easy times, Father Elijah.  One needs the wisdom of Solomon just to get through an ordinary day around here.  Much depends on keeping our wits about us." 
Elijah reached out and traced the letters of Severa's name. 
"I know what you're thinking", said the cardinal.  "You think we should march straight to the Colosseum and tell the guards to turn the lions on us." 
Elijah said nothing. 
"A heroic martyrdom is fast, simple, glorious, isn't it?  Blood washes away all ambiguities.  Death breaks the intolerable tensions.  You would like us to braid a rope and drive the moneychangers from the Temple, then go to the cross.  Correct?" 
"Is that so wrong?  Isn't that the pattern our Savior has shown us?" 
"Indeed it is.  And I tell you that we are going to the cross.  But it is not our right to hasten that day.  We must work while the light lasts.  We must strengthen what remains.  This is the long and lonely martydom.  It is the most difficult of all."

A Little Help From My Friends

If you still don't believe me that conversion is a rather painful and difficult process, let's take a look at some more noteworthy converts shall we?  I'll start with my favorite: Saul.  Now if you're not Christian you're saying, "Saul who?"  You might know him better as Paul...as in Saint Paul.  You mean the Saint Paul who had his head cut off for love of Christ?  Yep, that's him.  Check this out:

Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.  On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He said, "Who are you, sir?"  The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do."  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;  so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.  For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank. 
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias."  He answered, "Here I am, Lord."  The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.  He is there praying, and [in a vision] he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay hands on him, that he may regain his sight."  But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.  And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name."  But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name."  So Ananias went and entered the house;  laying his hands on him, he said, "Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit."  Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.  He got up and was baptized...He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus, and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.  - Acts 9:1-20

So one moment Saul is riding along uttering murderous threats and heading to bring Christians back to Jerusalem in chains and next thing you know he's proclaiming Christ as the Son of God in the synagogues.  But surely he traded up right?  Surely there was something in it for him.  Oh you be there was:

Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep.
                                                                                                - 2Corinthians 11:24-25

Now doesn't that sound like a swinging time?  Conversion is a blast!  This is not to mention the many times he was thrown in prison and of course, the grand finale of his beheading.  Now you tell me, what is worth all of this?

Let's have one more for good measure, but this one is short and sweet.  C.S. Lewis, if you didn't already know, was not just one of the best modern Christian evangelists, he was also a former atheist.  And just like me, he wanted very little to do with all this God business and especially all this Christianity business.  I mean, wouldn't it be easier to just throw on some deism and say, "Yep, God's there.  He made all this and now he's doing his deity thing out there in the universe somewhere, but he doesn't need me to do anything.  So...thanks for the sweet digs, God!"  The quote from Lewis I'm about to share with you about his conversion is one I didn't discover until a bit later in my conversion, but I loved it then and years later it still makes me laugh every time I read it:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.  That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.   - Surprised by Joy, page 229

Dejected and reluctant?  It sounds like a child who just lost a long and weary struggle with a parent over bedtime doesn't it?  This is not a man who went looking for meaning and happiness wherever it best suited him.  This is a man who fought relentlessly to avoid Truth. He didn't want this and yet he went on to be one of the most renowned Christian writers of our time.  What's more, he did this in the shadow of World War I and held strong to his faith through the horrors of World War II.   A measly pair of rosy colored glasses can't do that, folks.

So what?

You could spend the rest of your life reading conversion stories thanks to the internet, but in the end what is the point?  What does all of this mean?  Do I expect everyone to read this post and fall on their knees repenting?  No.  Perhaps some will.  I pray that even one person would read my story and be converted, but that's not up to me.  Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit alone and can only occur with consent.  What I hope everyone can take away from this is the understanding that there is nothing glamorous about conversion to Christianity.  There never has been and there never will be.  Authentic Christianity is gut-wrenchingly painful at times.  Yes, there is joy.  There is joy beyond all the wonders of this world, but until we leave this world it will always be tempered by suffering.

Now, are there "fake" Christians out there?  Sure.  Are there "bad" Christians out there?  Absolutely, just like there are bad doctors, lawyers, cops, teachers, mothers, and...hey wait, there's a common denominator here: PEOPLE.  Perfection is not to be found in this world.  But look to the ones who point to the Truth.  Look to the ones who point us to God.  How joyfully they suffer!  Why?  What do they know that you don't?  Where else can you find people willing to be beaten, whipped, crucified, burned alive, and beheaded rather than denounce a claim?  Can we posit with a straight face that for some two thousand years people have gone willingly to their horrific deaths for the sake of a delusion, for the sake of a lie?  No, there is more.  There is so much more.

Won't you consider it, my friends?  Won't you wake up, sleepers?

 "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be watchful! Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man traveling abroad.  He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.  Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!' "   - Mark 13: 32-37