Saturday, December 25, 2010

In Praise of Emmanuel, God With Us

May the peace and tender love of God--who chose to be born in a humble manger in Bethlehem, in a vulnerable human body, with tears to shed and laughter to share with friends as well--be with every person who seeks peace and welcomes true joy.

May God, who loved and still loves without condition, bless those most in need of love.

May the spirit of Christ get carried forward by each of us in quiet, small ways. May each of us, in small, simple ways, be a source of love and peace for those around us.  Yes, us--the ones who are frail and full of flaws.

May the beauty of the incarnation--the birth of Emmanuel, God with us--stay with us long after the trappings of the season are put away.

Edwardsville, Illinois, Christmas Day 2010

Merry Christmas to anyone ("Anyone out there??") who stumbles across this blog!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Open Letter to Bishop Thomas Olmsted -- On a Mother's Life Saved

Many in the Catholic blogosphere have followed, for more than a year, the case of the young woman in Phoenix, a mother of four, whose life was saved in 2009--in St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, a Catholic institution--through surgery that resulted in the death of her unborn child.  The woman's doctors decided, after careful study, that her chance of dying within days or weeks was almost one hundred percent if she did not have the surgery.  Catholic teaching over the years has made room for such a contingency.  That is, if an unborn child dies as an incidental and unavoidable consequence of a procedure that must be performed in order to save the mother's life, the child's death is a tragedy, but not a morally culpable outcome.  Theologically, this situation comes under the concept of the "double effect."

Last May, however, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, head of the Phoenix diocese, decided to excommunicate Sr. Margaret McBride, who served as one of the hospital's administrators and was also in charge of its medical ethics board.

On Tuesday of this week, Bishop Olmsted issued a proclamation that officially stripped the hospital of its Catholic identity.  (I say "officially" because any institution's or individual's genuine, core-deep Catholic-Christian identity is something that no prelate, not even the Pope, can remove.)

I ended up writing a letter to Bishop Olmsted, which I will drop in the mail later today.  (No, it's not much in keeping with the Christmas spirit--but then, neither were the bishop's actions.)  Of course, I realize that my letter will likely have zero influence on the bishop, if he even ends up seeing it.  Yet Catholics in the pews owe it to the church, and to their vocation as the concerned laity, to speak up when they see something seriously wrong happen in the church.  Bishop Olmsted's actions in this case--the logic he uses, even--strike me as profoundly wrong.  The letter, for whatever it's worth:

Dear Bishop Olmsted:
Here's a moral quandary for you, a hypothetical situation:  A small plane is about to crash.  Two people are aboard the plane.  There is only one parachute in the plane.  There is no way that both individuals can be saved.  That outcome, desirable though it certainly would be, is simply impossible.
Should the parachute be thrown overboard?  That is, should both lives be sacrificed because both lives cannot be saved?  Or would you allow that it is better that at least one of the passengers have a chance at life? 
Count yourself fortunate, Your Excellency.  In reading this letter, you have encountered only a hypothetical scenario.  The doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital had to deal with a real, honest-to-goodness woman who was about to die, along with her unborn child.  (As I'm certain you already know, the unborn child was at eleven weeks gestation.  There was no way, based on medical facts that the woman's doctors faced, that the mother would have survived several more months in order to give birth anywhere close to the point of viability.  Plainly put, the woman and her child both would have died if your preferred course of action had occurred in that hospital.)
 I remain Catholic because of Christ's love and compassion, and in spite of (not out of respect for) the example that you have given the Church in your recent actions. 
The bishop's diocesan address, in case anyone else wants to write:  The Most Rev. Thomas Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, 400 East Monroe Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85004-2336.  

Deacon Greg Kandra, over at the Deacon's Bench, has posted excerpts from several articles on this subject as well as primary source documents that verify that the woman's condition was extremely grave--so much so that she stood virtually no chance of surviving the pregnancy, nor of even carrying the unborn child to the point at which he or she might have been viable outside of the womb.  (The pregnancy was eleven weeks along when the woman's condition turned critical.)

May God help all of us as we stand up for all human life--including the life of this young woman, whose four children, thankfully, are not motherless this Christmas.  It is a good thing indeed that she is alive, notwithstanding the death--the unavoidable death--of the child she carried in her womb in 2009.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Roy Orbison's Voice -- Hard Not to Believe in God When You Hear That Man Sing

George Solti once said that he was able to believe in God because Mozart once lived and composed.  How could one not believe in God, after all, after hearing Mozart?

I feel the same way about Roy Orbison.  He died of a heart attack twenty-two years ago tonight, but every time I hear him sing, I inevitably think, Yes, there must be a God, a very benevolent God.  The richness of his voice, the emotion that is constantly simmering an inch below the surface -- passion, or lonesomeness, or glorious admiration, or melancholy -- how can I listen to all that, coupled with what I've read about the tragedies the man endured as a husband and father, and not believe there was something sacred in his voice?

Here's a link to two songs from the album he recorded a month before his death in 1988:  "She's a Mystery to Me" and ""You Got It."  Say a prayer, if you will, for Roy's eternal peace, then go tell someone you love that you love them while you still can.

[I cribbed part of this post from the review I wrote last week on Amazon for Orbison's last album, Mystery Girl.  What a great listening experience that entire album is.]

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Modern Day Martyrs

Greg Kundra, over at the Deacon's Bench, remembers the rapes and murders of four women in El Salvador thirty years ago today.  All four were providing aid to, and advocating on behalf of, the poor.  They were killed by death squads associated with the El Salvadoran government.  (Those are the same government death squads that the Reagan administration would help fund, directly or indirectly, starting in 1981, along with the contras in Nicaragua.)  Their deaths occurred less than a year after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, another advocate for the poor, who was shot while saying Mass.

The martyrs were:

  • Sr. Maura Clark (Maryknoll)
  • Sr. Ita Ford (Maryknoll)
  • Sr. Dorothy Kazel (Ursuline)
  • Ms. Jean Donovan (laywoman, age 27)

May those four women, and all those who died in El Salvador's civil war, rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Progress for Human Rights in Illinois

The Illinois General Assembly (state house of reps) passed legislation yesterday that would legalize civil unions for same-sex (as well as opposite-sex) couples.  The state senate is debating the bill today; it is expected to pass.  Governor Quinn has promised to sign the bill.  Actually, Quinn went to the house floor yesterday to advocate on behalf of it.  (One of the reasons I like the guy.  He has the guts to stand up when he needs to.)

This is much needed legislation.  Gay and lesbian couples have as much right as any other adults to see their legal rights as partners protected.  The civil union bills affects areas such as health care and inheritance of property, among other things.

Opponents claim that couples should just go to an attorney to have legal arrangements made to cover those concerns.  But why should they have to?  Why should gay and lesbian people who have chosen their life partners have to jump through hoops that straight couples are not required to?  This bill is about fairness.  It's about equal treatment for all adults in this state.

Some folks--including the Catholic Conference of Illinois (the Illinois bishops, in other words)--have argued that this legislation will eventually lead to religious institutions being forced to perform weddings and blessing ceremonies for gay couples.  Although I personally would not have a problem with any church (including the Catholic church) choosing to bless gay couples, this bill--and similar laws in other states--deals with only civil law.  No one has ever been able to legally force a Catholic priest (or any other minister) to marry a couple with one or more divorces in their background.  In fact, no one in the United States has ever been able to force any religious institution to marry anyone. (The couple where one or both partners has a divorce in their past is still allowed to go to the courthouse and get married without the help of a priest.  We don't discriminate against them under civil law simply because not every religious denomination is happy about their situation.)  The "danger to America's churches" argument is a non-starter, at least in the United States, where the First Amendment gives religious institutions a wide berth regarding how they implement their faith.

Reasonable people can disagree about many things (including whether this legislation goes far enough in terming the new unions "civil unions" rather than marriages), but in the end this is a civil rights issue.  My belief in Jesus and his teachings leads me to believe that God wants people to have equal rights under the law--yes, that's right, I believe God wants people to be treated fairly.  Radical or moderate or whatever I am, I've finally gone and said it!  I think God wants people to be treated fairly.