Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity–thus, he worked as a tentmaker wherever he went. After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because, as I learned tried to learn from him . . . .
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:13
Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, “I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.” And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.)
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a bishop in the early church says about Paul in the divine office for today . . . .
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.”
I never paid much attention to Paul until my later years. And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m writing this blog in his honor, despite the passages that show his Hebraic attitudes toward women and the misuse of his words about gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .
Chrysostom goes on to say that the most important thing of all that St. Paul knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and yet the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love than be among the great and honored. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.
A few years ago, a priest-friend of mine sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and still sits on my dining room table that I often glance at. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for in weakness power reaches perfection.”
And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord–or rather to deeply and richly realize in tears of joy that Jesus loves me–as I am, weak and sinful. He has raised me up and heals me, granting me the wonderful grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor, if in no other way.
And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not. Our God is love! Know that–despite whatever else you’ve been taught, despite how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are. YOU ARE LOVED! THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE! And if you want, call me and I’ll try to help ~ 904-315-5268.
We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word that really grabbed me, Paul “became a vessel of love filled with fire to carry and preach God’s Word. Amen. Amen!
And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.” It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for the slide show that accompanies it.
And here are all of today’s mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
I’d like to follow up yesterday’s blog on a Nine Days of Prayer for Life with two stories I found today on the online Catholic news site Crux. The first one has some very good news . . . .
According to a new Marist College/Knights of Columbus poll, a strong majority of Americans and even a narrow majority of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” support substantial restrictions on abortion, including limiting abortion to the first trimester or not using taxpayer money to fund abortions.
Overall, the poll found that 74 percent of Americans support one or more such restriction, including 54 percent of those who call themselves “pro-choice.”
“The labels really don’t get at people’s actual positions” in abortion debates, said Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, in a Monday conference call with reporters.
“Generally people are only given two options,” Carvalho said, referring to identifying as either pro-choice or pro-life, “but the reality is more complicated.”
The poll was conducted Dec. 12-19, 2016, in English and Spanish among a random sample of American adults.
The poll found that 83 percent of Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to support abortion in other countries, and more than six in 10 oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortions in the United States. This includes almost nine in 10 Trump supporters, 87 percent, and even nearly four in 10 Clinton supporters, 39 percent.
In terms of limiting abortion to the first trimester, a majority of Clinton supporters, 55 percent, and more than nine in 10 Trump supporters, 91 percent, say they would approve.
Nearly six in 10 Americans say limiting abortion to the first trimester is either an immediate priority or an important one. That total includes 78 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Democrats. Among those who say they’re pro-choice, 44 percent say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important.
Among those who want restrictions, 74 percent also want the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of those restrictions. According to the poll-takers, this equates to about 55 percent of Americans who support such action by the Court.
“There is a consensus in America in favor of significant abortion restrictions, and this common ground exists across party lines, and even among significant numbers of those who are pro-choice,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson.
“This poll shows that large percentages of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, are united in their opposition to the status quo as it relates to abortion on demand. This is heartening, and can help start a new national conversation on abortion.”
The Knights of Columbus are Crux’s principal partner.
The findings are broken down by multiple categories, including religious affiliation. For Catholics, results are further refined to distinguish between “practicing” Catholics, meaning those who attend Mass at least once a month, and non-practicing.
Among Catholics, 60 percent of practicing Catholics identified as pro-life, as opposed to 37 percent who said they’re pro-choice. For non-practicing Catholics, the totals were inverted – 64 percent said they’re pro-choice, and 31 percent pro-life.
Among both practicing and non-practicing Catholics, large shares support abortion restrictions, especially the idea of limiting abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy. Seventy-four percent of practicing Catholics, and 68 percent of those who are non-practicing, also would like to see the Supreme Court rule to allow such a restriction.
Seventy-one percent of practicing Catholics, and 57 percent of the non-practicing, either oppose or strongly oppose using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and more than 80 percent of both groups oppose using public money to fund abortions overseas.
Practicing Catholics overwhelmingly believe that abortion does more harm than good for the woman involved, 62 to 18 percent with the remainder unsure, while the margin is much narrower among the non-practicing – 40 percent say abortion improves a woman’s life, while 42 percent say it does more harm than good.
Seventy-five percent of practicing Catholics agree that, apart from whether it should be legal, abortion is morally wrong, with 51 percent of non-practicing Catholics saying it’s morally wrong and 48 percent saying it’s morally acceptable.
There’s strong support among both groups for the idea that government regulations should not require businesses and their insurers to cover abortions, with 66 percent of practicing Catholics and 59 percent of the non-practicing saying the government should not have that power.
Andrew Walter, Vice President for Communications and Strategic Planning for the Knights of Columbus, argued the results point to a “real groundswell of support” for limiting, if not eliminating, abortion rights.
“The labels don’t correlate with the policy positions,” Walther said. “Many people who identify as pro-choice support what’s usually seen as pro-life legislation.”
When it began in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, the March for Life turned the nation’s conscience toward the particular horror of abortion and the taking of human life that it entails. The four decades since have seen millions of deaths from abortion in the United States alone.
In each of those deaths, the world lost a unique and irreplaceable person.
Unfortunately, the loss of those lives to abortion is not the only casualty of Roe. Rather, the callous acceptance of – and, in some quarters, celebration of – the right to abortion has also planted the seeds for a broader disrespect for vulnerable human life.
Those seeds are now bearing bitter fruit in the way in which the lives of those who are disabled, ill and elderly are being treated in fact and in law.
The new legislative year brings the question of physician-assisted suicide to the legislative docket of several states, which will consider whether or not the lives of those who are ill, elderly or otherwise vulnerable should be protected or not.
Sadly, even the nation’s capital recently joined the small but growing number of jurisdictions that have answered that question with a resounding “no, those lives shouldn’t be protected.”
These legislative proposals that are brewing would allow physician-assisted suicide with such scant safeguards that they would be laughable if they were not tragic. However, the arguments in favor of these legislative initiatives have their roots directly in the soil of Roe.
They reflect Roe’s legacy that some lives are worth defending and others are not. In the context of abortion, an infant who is eagerly anticipated by loving parents is celebrated, fought for, and loved months before birth. Yet, a similar infant who is not so fortunate and who is not wanted is easily discarded as a matter of right.
In the context of those who are ill, those who have access to health care, a loving, supportive family, treatment for pain, and access to emotional and psychological care are encouraged to fight against deadly diseases.
However, those who are impoverished, who believe that they burden loved ones, or who are not well treated for physical and emotional pain, are given the opportunity to end their lives. In many cases, they are encouraged to do so by circumstances in which insurance may cover the costs of their suicide but not their medical treatment.
In the context of those with disabilities, a similar inconsistency reigns.
Nationally and internationally, advocacy groups celebrate the passage of legislation, the enactment of programs, and the funding of initiatives to enhance the lives of those who live with disabilities. Yet, these advantages apply only to those who have survived a prenatal diagnosis that indicated the presence of the disability.
Just when legal protections for those living with disabilities increases, the sad reality is that more advanced prenatal diagnosis techniques condemn many with disabilities to an early death. Stunningly few children with Down syndrome are born each year, and this is a result likely to be replicated as prenatal testing for other conditions increases rapidly.
Ironically, even some fierce pro-life advocates who would defend the lives of healthy infants have been willing to concede an exception for those children who will live with a disability.
They reflect Roe’s legacy that personal autonomy is to be valued at all costs – even over life itself.
The circumstances that may lead to an abortion are complex, often heart-breaking, and agonizingly difficult. The circumstances that may lead someone who is struggling with advanced illness, living with a painful disability, or suffering from the limitations brought on by age are also complex, often tragic, and frequently accompanied by an understandable despair.
Yet, the rhetoric of those who advocate for the end of life in these circumstances argues that the autonomy of the woman carrying the child or the suffering patient should be the value that prevails.
There is much to be said for autonomy, and in most circumstances it is a value to be cherished and protected in a nation that values freedom.
However, in the context of abortion, this autonomy does not take into account the autonomy of the child. It ignores the fact that what appears to be free choice is, all too often, a “choice” compelled or influenced by others – including the father of the child, the family of the woman, or the circumstances of the pregnancy.
In the context of those who are ill or elderly, the celebration of personal autonomy in a decision to end life does not take into account the financial pressures that often drive that decision or the overwhelming desire not to burden others that leads to the ending of life.
Contrary to common perception, it is not physical pain that drives the decision to take advantage of physician-assisted suicide. It is fear of being a burden or losing autonomy that tops the list. More importantly, an exaggerated sense of personal autonomy belies the fact that the individual is not the only one with an interest in his or her life.
Autonomy notwithstanding, the world is the poorer for all those who have not been born. The world is the poorer when those who are not young and strong are devalued. And the world is at risk when autonomy is allowed to justify the taking of life. Indeed, autonomy is often restricted when far lesser things are at stake than life itself.
They reflect Roe’s legacy that legal requirements, procedural protections, and seemingly detailed guidelines can legitimize acts that, for the vast majority of human history, were recognized as wrong. Perhaps they reflect the way in which Roe can dull the conscience into believing that legality can create legitimacy and that a society can satisfy itself that there can be a regulated, rational way to do a wrongful act.
Abortion statutes split hairs over the meaning of a partial birth abortion and assisted suicide statutes feign certainty about the disinterestedness of witnesses or the absence of depression. Yet, the veneer of legality in both cases belies the fact that the underlying and irreversible acts that they facilitate raise grave moral concerns.
Roe’s legacy of devaluing unwanted human lives, misconstruing autonomy, and dulling the conscience with legalisms is one that has left four decades of lost lives in its wake.
However, it has also laid the groundwork for more tragedies to come.
But let’s not end this Blog on a negative note. This has also been a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Pope Francis will conclude it in Rome with an ecumenical Vesper service on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul this Wednesday. So in honor of that celebration we will conclude with a word from St. Paul followed by a hymn.
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [ . . . .]
And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16)
And now, before you go, here’s a Catholic hymn inspired by this text. Click here.