Monday, February 28, 2011

Sometimes the Truth is Offensive

"I think it was the right thing to do," said Rev. Al Sharpton. "We have a right to our personal views, but we don't have a right to offend people."
Last week a billboard went up in New York's SoHo district that said, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." The purpose of the campaign was to draw attention to the high abortion rate in the African American community across the country, but particularly in New York City. According to the New York Department of Health, 59.8% of African American pregnancies ended in abortion in 2009; there were more induced abortions than live births. Since 1973, more African Americans have died from abortion than heart disease, HIV/AIDS, accidents, cancer and violent crime combined. According to the statistics, the womb is in fact a very dangerous place for African Americans to be as many of them do not make it out alive.

Despite the statistics, this billboard upset many people in New York and around the country. Lamar Advertising, the company who owns the billboard space, said employees at the restaurant below the billboard were being harassed by people angered by the advertisement. Lamar also reports receiving threats of violence if the billboard was not removed. Al Sharpton planned to hold a press conference speaking out against the billboard on Friday, but it was pulled down before the end of last week.
Council Member Letitia James said, "It is misguided to use Black History Month as a tool to promote this message. Every woman has the right to make personal choices in regards to her body, and I respect many different points of view, but to compare abortion to terrorism and genocide is highly offensive."
Why are so many people offended by this ad? It is simply a statistical truth, where is the offense in that? Many people who champion reproductive rights talk about wanting to reduce the need for abortion. Shouldn't they be offended by the reality that in our society so many people are still choosing abortion as it usually means they feel that they have no other option?
Rev. Michel Faulkner of the New Horizon Church of New York City said in a statement, “While this billboard causes a visceral reaction from many African-Americans, it addresses a stubborn truth that 60 percent of black babies do not make it out of the womb. Instead of challenging the design of the ad, we should ask why the message is true and how can we change the fact that the leading cause of death for African-Americans is abortion.
Sometimes the truth offends people, but even Jesus did not back down from the truth, let us learn from His example:
Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day...This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe."...

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

-John 6:53-66

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blessings or Burdens?

I saw a this commercial a couple of months ago and I can't get it out of my head, but not in the way that the advertisers would like. The commercial is for an IUD called Mirena and they're marketing it as "when your life is so hectic, you can't keep track of taking a pill everyday, use this instead." They show a mom with so much going on in her life that "the last thing on her mind is having another kid right now", but really it seems to me that having another kid is her greatest fear. She goes to grocery store and her kids run around and destroy the produce, she comes home to unload the groceries and her kids have made a huge mess in the hallway with a water balloon.She's at her wit's end with her two elementary aged kids and cannot imagine adding another child to their family. What I can't stop thinking about though is what does this commercial have to say about our attitude towards children? Are they a blessing or a burden? What I see here is that two children are uncontrollable hellions and too much for a normal mother to handle. My mother had two children, I know many people with two-plus children and I'm not sure this is actually the case. Obviously everyone raises their kids differently, but I've never seen children act the way they are portrayed in the commercial. It seems to me that there is a warning underlying this commercial that if you think this is bad don't even think about having three or four or ,god-forbid, five children!

I picked up a Jane Austen book I hadn't read before and the first page caught my attention and I can't help contrasting it with this commercial. The novel is Northanger Abbey and the main character is a country girl who is the 4th of 10 children. The way that Jane Austen speaks about her heroine's family is so different from the way that a family of ten children would be considered today. She praises the heroine's mother for the accomplishment of bringing ten children into the world and not dying in childbirth. She also acknowledges, "A family of ten children will always be called a fine family" which speaks of the way large families were perceived in her society. In order to be a large family today you only need 4 or 5 to qualify. According to the CIA World Factbook, in the U.S. our birth rate is 2.06 so the "average" family is about 2 children. The attitude of the commercial is that having two children is extraordinary not average.

I recently came across a similar French commercial promoting condoms. It is a similar situation to the one above, a dad and his son are shopping and the son throws a temper tantrum in the store. Unlike the above commercial though it seems to say that the dad regrets not using birth control to prevent having his son. The mom in the Mirena commercial is happy with her two children, but in this commercial the dad seems to wish he had never had kids and is warning others of the heavy, unnecessary burdens kids are.

I hope that we as a society can come to understand the blessing that children are to our lives. Thankfully, many people already understand this. The Quiverfull movement welcomes children as gifts from God and are open to large families. Also, the Large Families of America association has a website with a social media aspect where large families can connect with one another to share stories and advice. Below is a testimony from the site. It is so beautiful to watch their family grow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Addition to Live Action Will Bring Insider Prospective On Planned Parenthood Corruption

Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood clinic director, is now the Chief Research Strategist at Live Action. Abby Johnson has been very busy since she left Planned Parenthood in the fall of 2009. She has successfully defended herself against a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood, traveled around the country giving her testimony, written a book about her experience at Planned Parenthood, and spoken at many pro-life gatherings including the West Coast Walk for Life, and now she has joined forces with Lila Rose and the team at Live Action to uncover the abuses that often occur at Planned Parenthood facilities.

Abby Johnson has seen the abuses inside Planned Parenthood with her own eyes and confirms the danger its clinics pose to women and young girls,” stated Live Action President Lila Rose. “She is a courageous trailblazer despite Planned Parenthood’s desperate attempts to attack her and silence the truth. We are thrilled and very thankful to have Abby join our team and are confident that her first-hand experience, conviction and guidance will provide invaluable counsel to Live Action as we advance our common goal of protecting women and children from the abuses of Planned Parenthood.

This announcement comes on the heels of Live Action's release of multiple videos from three states of their undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood's response to the trafficking and prostitution of underage girls. You can watch the shorter edited videos and the full unedited footage on their website. I am very excited to see what Abby Johnson brings to this marvelous organization as I can tell from her own words that she has a unique perspective on this issue:
I can tell you from experience that Planned Parenthood often turns a blind eye to sexual abuse and trafficking – what you see in Live Action’s videos is not a rare occurrence. But ignorance is no defense, especially when it has turned their clinics into a safe haven for those who sexually exploit women and girls. This is not a training problem so much as it is an ideology problem. I am humbled and eager to begin this partnership with Live Action so that together we can expose the serious harm Planned Parenthood poses to the most vulnerable among us.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How long has it been since my last confession? There's an app for that!

How many people are familiar with this scenario: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has 6 months since my last confession." I know, I have. Six months is my default answer because I usually go to confession at least that often. Now, I recognize, that I should go much more often, but it's a catch-22. Confession makes me nervous so I don't go very often even though I would like to, and if I were to go more often it wouldn't make me nervous! It's a crazy cycle.

Thankfully, I feel like Little i Apps understood my predicament and has provided some help. They have created a new iPhone app titled, "Confession: A Roman Catholic App", which has received an imprimatur from the bishop of Fort Wayne/South Bend, IN. This application provides an examination of conscience, a walk through of what to say at confession, 7 possible Acts of Contrition and it remembers the date of your last confession for you. It also remembers your examination of conscience so you could enter sins when you realize you've sinned and it will be there when you review it before your next confession. This is another problem I have when I wait so long in between confessions, I don't feel confident that I have remembered everything during my examination of conscience.I am very excited that I have an easy way to make the sacrament of confession less daunting and I hope that this will lead me to a higher frequency of partaking in this wonderful sacrament.

While I see this application as useful and enriching in my relationship with God, the media is struggling to understand it. Some people think that the Catholic Church is performing sacramental confession via iPhone. This misunderstanding was such a problem that the developers quickly updated the app to include the following disclaimer, "This app is intended to be used during the Sacrament of Penance with a Catholic priest only. This is not a substitute for a valid confession." Others have reported that the Vatican has warned against this app, when in reality, a representative from the Vatican reminded people that the app was not to be used in lieu of an actual sacramental confession.

The most recent uproar has occurred over one of the explanations listed under the Sixth Commandment, "Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?" Wayne Bensen, of Truth Wins Out, condemns the app as, "cyber spiritual abuse that promotes backward ideas in a modern package" and says, "Gay Catholics don’t need to confess, they need to come out of the closet and challenge anti-gay dogma."

Now, let's be honest here, this new app is not espousing new church teaching, it is simply displaying it in an easy to use format. So I struggle to understand where people are finding issue with the app itself. The Church's teaching on the sinfulness of homosexual actions are no different today than they were two weeks ago before the app was released. If anyone is upset by the inclusion of homosexual activity in the list of sins, they shouldn't criticize the authors of the app, they should take the issue to the leaders of the Church. Just like if I created an iPhone app displaying the constitution of the United States and someone took offense to some of the content, it would do them no good to criticize me, they should take the issue to the legislature. However, while our country is a democracy, thankfully, our church is not. It is a monarchy, led by our King and Savior, Jesus Christ. So if we have a problem with a teaching of the Church we should take it all the way to the top; we should take to Christ in prayer, asking Him to help us understand and accept the truth of His teachings.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Solving the Mystery of St. Valentine

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet
And so are you!

Today is Valentine's Day, dedicated to showing the loved ones in your life how much you care for them. Like many feasts or holy days of the Church, the origin of St. Valentine's Day or who St. Valentine was has been obscured by a secularized version of the holiday devoted to greeting cards, chocolate, roses and romantic love.

Let's rediscover the original purpose of this feast day. Who is St. Valentine and how did his feast day become associated with displays of romantic love?

Multiple saints share the name of Valentine and three of them it seems share the feast day of February 14th. One of them is St. Valentine of Rome. The details of his life have been blurred by time, but what we know is that he was a priest during the early Christian persecutions probably around the end of the second century, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II. Some stories that have survived are that he was imprisoned by the emperor for declaring his faith in Jesus Christ and denouncing paganism, while in prison he ministered to those imprisoned and even helped bring the jailer to conversion when he healed the jailer's blind daughter. One thing we know for certain about St. Valentine of Rome is that he was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. On Febrary 14th, he was beaten then beheaded on order of the emperor outside the Flaminian Gate of Rome.

Another St. Valentine who is associated with the feast day of February 14th is St. Valentine of Terni. St. Valentine of Terni was a bishop who was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded during the reign of the Emperor Aurelius, around A.D. 175. It seems he was murdered in secret at night to avoid angering the people of Terni to whom this bishop was beloved.

A third St. Valentine is attributed to this feast day, but even less is known about him. He was martyred along with his companions in Africa in the early centuries of the Church.

Do you see a pattern here? All three of the St. Valentines associated with today's feast day are martyrs for their faith in Jesus Christ. So how did the celebration of this holy day come to be associated with romantic love? Again, history is not quite clear, but some possibilities arise. One story of St. Valentine of Rome is that he was initially arrested for performing the sacraments, specifically presiding over marriages, which was illegal at that time in Rome. So over time the link between St. Valentine and love and marriage could have originated from that. Another possibility is that some historians claim that there was a pagan celebration on February 15th where boys would draw girls names in honor of a Roman fertility goddess and to dissuade people from this the Church began a practice of having people draw the names of saints on the day before, which just happens to be St. Valentine's Day. So it is possible that there was an early connection between St. Valentine's Day and the drawing of names by boys and girls.

What is more clear in history is that by the time of the Renaissance St. Valentine had become associated with romantic love in popular culture. In the 15th century, Charles, Duke of Orleans wrote a letter to his wife while he was imprisioned in the Tower of London and in this letter he calls her, "Ma tres doulce Valentinée", My very sweet Valentine. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, written at the turn of the 17th century, Ophelia mentions Valentine's Day linking it to romantic love:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine. - Act IV scene v

By the early 19th century, the tradition of sending handmade greeting cards to your beloved on Valentine's Day had arisen. Since this time, the celebration of St. Valentine's Day has become consumed with showing others how much we care for them, usually by material means. Many people feel pressured to make a grand gesture of love because it is what is expected of them.

Today, while we may still celebrate the feast day, St. Valentine is no longer on the universal calendar of saint feast days. Universally, February 14th celebrates the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, brothers, born around A.D. 825 who spent their lives evangelizing the people of Eastern Europe. They are considered the Patrons of the Unity of the Eastern and Western Churches. While we spend today (and hopefully everyday) showing our loved ones how much we care for them, let us also take some time to remember St. Valentine of Rome, St. Valentine of Terni, St. Valentine of Africa and Sts. Cyril and Methodius:

God, thank you for the gift of your grace in the sacraments and through this grace give us the strength and courage to stand for you even to the point of death.We also pray for further unification of the East and West Church so that the Church may once again breathe with both lungs.
St. Valentine, pray for us.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pray for us.