January 29, 2017 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Jan 292017

I’ve been intrigued by the bumper sticker: Well behaved women seldom make history, so I decided to track down its origin. Evidently it is from the writing of Laura Thatcher Ulrich, a prominent professor of Early American History at Harvard. The line is from a 1976 scholarly article about Puritan funeral services, specifically those of pious women. These women were virtuous and demure. Professor Ulrich wrote of them: Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been. Well-behaved women seldom make history…”

It went viral. Some entrepreneur figured out there was money to be made off this line, so it was put on T-shirts and bumper stickers and a lot of iconoclastic women bought them.

As I pondered this, I couldn’t help thinking about the current marches around the country supporting women, and the pro-life march in Washington D.C. this past week which is reportedly to have been the largest in quite awhile. And I also couldn’t help but think of the best behaved woman of all time, a woman who has made a good deal of history, our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary.

This brings me to an article I read in a recent addition of National Catholic Register. It’s written by a woman named Carrie Gress and it is entitled: If There is an Antichrist, What About an Antimary?

She writes: “While researching my latest book, The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis (Tan Books, May 2017), I was struck by a new theological concept. I kept running across the notion that Mary is the New Eve, an idea that goes back to the early Church Fathers. Mary as the New Eve is the female complement to Christ, the New Adam. In Scripture, St. John speaks of an antichrist as a man, but also as a movement that is present throughout history (1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). This got me thinking: if there is an antichrist, perhaps there is a female complement, an antimary?”

Dr. Gress continues: “What, then, would an antimary movement look like, exactly? Well, these women would not value children. They would be bawdy, vulgar, and angry. They would rage against the idea of anything resembling humble obedience or self-sacrifice for others. They would be petulant, shallow, catty, and overly sensuous. They would also be self-absorbed, manipulative, gossipy, anxious, and ambitious. In short, it would be everything that Mary is not.”

I had to pause and think that this is something a man could not write if he were to be effective and not offensive. And even still, I feel as if I’m treading a fine line by even presenting it. But I kept thinking of the phrase—“Well behaved women seldom make history.” Hmm.

Dr. Gress goes on to say: “While behavior like this has been put under a microscope because of the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., the trend of women-behaving-badly is nothing new. There is, however, ample evidence that we are witnessing something, because of its massive scale, quite different from run-of-the-mill vice seen throughout history.”

She continues: “The treatment of motherhood is one of the first signs that we are dealing with a new movement. Mothers (both spiritual and biological) are a natural icon of Mary, to help others know who Mary is by their generosity, patience, compassion, peace, intuition, and ability to nurture souls. Mary’s love (and the love of mothers) offers one of the best images of what God’s love is like, unconditional, healing, and deeply personal.”

Upon reading this, I immediately flashed on one of my former colleagues in the Episcopal Church who accidently became pregnant and had an abortion so that she would not be encumbered by a child. One of her friends posted this about her on facebook: “If the Reverend Anne Fowler had not had access to an abortion when she accidentally became pregnant after enrolling in Divinity School, she would never have been able to graduate, to serve as a parish rector, or to help the enormous number of people whose lives she has touched.” Oh my…

I return to the article by Carrie Gress: “The last few decades have witnessed the subtle erasing of the Marian icon in real women. First through the pill, then the advent of abortion, motherhood has been on the chopping block. Motherhood has become dispensable, to that point that today the broader culture doesn’t bat an eye when a child is adopted by two men.”

“Every culture until ours has known how critical a mother is (even in her imperfection) for healthy adulthood and spiritual maturity and no culture can renew itself without spiritual maturity. Yes, there are many people who have been motherless. Most would agree that truly, there are few things as tragic. But these sad realities only strengthen the argument that children need mothers, instead of diminishing their importance. It can be no accident that we are witnessing unprecedented emotional and mental trauma and brokenness in every segment of our population when motherhood has been so devalued.”

She concludes: “Another striking clue that we are in an antimarian age is that, for all the so-called progress women have made, there is precious little evidence that any of it has actually made women happier. Divorce rates are still staggering, with 70% initiated by women; suicide rates are up; drug and alcohol abuse is soaring; depression and anxiety are everywhere. Women are not getting happier, just more medicated.”

That was a pretty strong statement, but one that I think is worth pondering. And although I don’t agree with everything she wrote, Carrie Gress has a good point. There is a general coarsening in our culture that is both explicitly and implicitly anti-marian. But it concerns men as well as women. Vocabulary that once would have been shocking, is now common on our airwaves. As an aside, one of the things about vulgarities and swearing and cursing is that they are acts of laziness. By using these words, one need not think about wit or statements that actually would require some thought.

To be a vulgarian, especially if one is in a position of trust, influence and power, is inexcusable. I must say that President Trump disturbs me greatly because he is setting a very poor example. Here, I join with many women who have been offended by his language and his attitude and his behavior. He ought to know better. However, we Christians, especially we Catholic Christians ought not to respond in kind.

And we need to look to our Blessed Mother for both example and intercession in difficult times. There is no record of her ever being vulgar. She embodies all that is strong and good and gracious and generous and kind. She demonstrates those things which are required of us who would be faithful disciples of Jesus. All we need to do is look at the Beatitudes which were the subject of today’s Gospel lesson and we can see that she is an exemplar of all those attitudes and actions.

She embodies humility, which is the essence of being “poor in spirit.”

She knows the great depth of grief, witnessing her son’s scourging and crucifixion. Oh how she mourned.

As Queen of Heaven she is meek, not timid, powerful but not imperious as she reigns.

She hungers and thirsts for righteousness and she is merciful and clean-hearted and a peacemaker.

There is no doubt she suffered great persecution from both her own people and from Roman authorities. But she did so for the sake of righteousness.

Oh, yeah. She is a well-behaved woman. And she did make history.




January 22, 2015 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Jan 222017

This is the 44th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, and in light of the current rancor in our country over almost everything, I thought I’d offer what I hope are helpful suggestions about making the Pro-Life argument to those who are Pro-Choice. Much of the material is from an article by Eric Paviat written in InsideCatholic.com some time back. (“How to Talk to Democrats about Abortion: Five Strategies for Making the Pro-Life Case” October 29, 2009)

Of course the whole conversation with pro-abortion folks must be undergirded with prayer. As Catholics we are to pray for mercy, forgiveness and conversion. The more authentically we pray, the more love and compassion we feel for those with whom we so strongly disagree and consequently the chances of being successful in changing minds and hearts are much greater.

In engaging the pro-abortion folks, we need to seek common ground. Now it is imperative to note that common ground is not synonymous with compromise. However, it’s important to lower initial expectations because of the strong emotions that are involved in the abortion debate.

Our arguments are most effective if we first make some concessions, such as rejecting anti-abortion violence or promoting increased funding for women’s health care. If we do this, then we come across as reasonable and it helps lower defenses.

1.We Need to Actively Oppose Violence Against Women.

In an article in the April 23, 2003 edition of the Journal for the National Organization for Women (NOW) , it’s reported that the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the US is murder. The most frequent murderer of a pregnant woman is the father of her child.

Connected to this troubling statistic, we see that in post-abortive interviews, between 30 and 60 percent of abortions are described by the abortive mothers as ‘coerced,’ most often by parents or, again, the child’s father.

By legalizing abortion, our country has created an instant, societally approved, escape hatch for irresponsible males who aren’t willing to accept the consequences of their actions and who pressure women into unwanted abortions.

We have formed an expectation among males that if a mistake comes along, the woman has an obligation to ‘fix it.’ And they’re all too often willing to enforce this decision with violence. In 2004, the Washington Post reported that an estimated 295 pregnant women were murdered per year, with another 4 to 8 percent of pregnant women suffering physical violence at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, or partners.  While exact numbers are hard to obtain, it’s probable that several thousand non-surgical abortions per year are performed by male partners who simply pummel the abdomens of women until miscarriages occur. This not only kills the child, it leaves the bereaved mother without the ability to prosecute the murderer for any crime beyond simple assault and battery. Legally the child is not a person in most states. The connection between abortion and domestic violence is unmistakable. It must be said that there are occasions when the father wants the baby and the mother does not, but this happens rarely.

All too often, threats and intimidation from male partners, as well as from parents, play a role in a woman’s choice to abort. According to a statistic in David C. Reardon’s book Aborted Women: Silent No More (Acorn Books, 2002) 80% of post-abortive women say that if they had received support, instead of intimidation from loved ones, they would have preferred to keep the baby. As it was, they felt they had no choice but to abort.

No solution to the problem of intimidation and violence against pregnant women can be achieved without the dual solutions of legally removing the availability of abortion while simultaneously taking steps to protect threatened women.

  1. We Need To Be Kind To Women Who Have Had Abortions, Especially Those Who Have Been Coerced.

For women who have had abortions, especially those who have been coerced, we must be especially compassionate and express solidarity with them. Post-abortive women, as well as their families and friends, are often extremely defensive. What they need is sympathy for their crisis, not judgment. Part of this involves avoiding inflammatory language. While it is absolutely true that abortion is no less than the killing of a baby, the post-abortive woman hears only judgment in that line of argument. Her mind will immediately close, and our chance to make a convincing case is gone.

Secondly, it’s important to acknowledge that simply overturning abortion laws will not end the abortion crisis. Even if Roe v. Wade were reversed, abortion would still be legal in most states. (As such any decision would probably leave the question up to individual states). And even if abortion was made illegal on the state level, many abortions would continue on the black market.

What is needed is a culture in which no woman feels there’s a need to have her baby aborted. This requires government programs to expand health care and child support and for there to be increased support from private charities. We Catholics in particular need to “step up to the plate” and extend ourselves for pregnant mothers and their unborn children. We need to be both more supportive as well as seeking to make abortions illegal. It’s a carrot and stick approach.

  1. We need to Explain the Harmful Health Effects of Abortion

Research has shown that abortion represents a grave threat to women’s health: physically, mentally and spiritually. A study in Finland showed that abortion is substantially more dangerous than childbirth. A 2004 article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology relates how researchers from Finland’s National Research and Development Center for welfare and health looked at the death certificate records from 1987 to 2000 for all women ages 15-49 (i.e. the reproductive years). Their findings show that post-abortive women are 3 to 5 times more likely to die within twelve months after an abortion than women after childbirth within the same period. In addition, abortion is a risk factor for future miscarriages and premature births, as well as for breast cancer.

Further, abortion which is sometimes promoted as reducing women’s stress, actually leads to increased rates of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and even psychiatric hospitalization. In fact, according to the British Medical Journal, women who procured an abortion had an almost 500 percent greater risk of suicide than women who had given birth, as measured within the twelve months following either abortion or the birth. (For further information on the harmful effects of abortion on women’s health, see How Abortion Hurts Women: the Hard Proof by Erika Bachiochi.)

  1. We Need to State that Abortion Is Inherently Discriminatory

Abortion is inherently discriminatory against the weakest, most vulnerable members of society: unborn children. The right to life is the fundamental human right, without which all others are meaningless. How will we practice the right to free speech or to follow any religion (or no religion), the right to assemble, the right to pursue happiness, if we don’t first have the right to be alive? All other rights are secondary to and dependent on the right to life.

Again, I have to point out that there’s a strong parallel between abortion and slavery. The Supreme Court declared both slavery and abortion to be constitutional. Slavery denied the personhood of African Americans; abortion denies the personhood of babies in the womb. The defense of slavery rested on a person’s right to do what he wants with his own “property;” the defense of abortion rests on a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body. The parallels are hard to ignore.

Shockingly, abortion in the United States was promoted partially to control the growth of “undesirable” people. PBS’s American Experience quotes Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as saying abortion and other forms of birth control are “nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit and preventing birth defectives [sic].”

Even today, Planned Parenthood clinics are most common in inner cities. Thirty-five percent of all abortions are performed on African American women, even though African Americans comprise only 12 percent of the American population.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more African Americans’ lives have been ended by abortion since 1973 than by AIDS, cancer, heart disease, accidents and murder combined.

  1. We Need to Make Clear That She’s a Baby, Not a ‘Choice.’

Groups such as Planned Parenthood, RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice), and NOW like to claim that the fetus or conceptus is merely extraneous tissue in the woman’s body that can be disposed of easily. However, any medical textbook on fetal development clearly shows that the little one she is carrying under her heart is a distinct person from the mother:

The baby has unique DNA, different from the mother’s, from the moment of conception.

The baby has a heartbeat 18 days after conception, which is usually before the woman even knows she’s pregnant.

The baby often has a different blood type than the mother.

The baby has measurable brain activity less than 45 days after conception, well before most abortions in America.

The baby has a soul from the moment of conception.

The Catholic Church is clear. She is a baby, not a choice.

As I wind this down, I want to acknowledge such groups as “Project Aurora” and “Rachel’s Vineyard” who do wonderful jobs in providing grace and healing to not only post-abortive women, but for all people whose lives have been damaged by abortion. And I also must commend “First Way” here in Eugene for doing a tireless job in encouraging and supporting pregnant women to opt not to abort their babies. These groups deserve our ongoing financial and prayer support.

So in closing, I want to share this poem with you. It’s entitled:

How to Have an Abortion

Don’t think about the freckles he, or she, Might have, or how much hair, how big a grin, Or whether swimming would come naturally, Or whether” it? ”might play the violin. Don’t think of prom, don’t think of puppy love Or calculus, or snow, or spring in bloom, Or anything that might remind you of The future now contained within a womb. Don’t feel anxiety, don’t feel regret, Don’t fret about some otherworldly guilt. Don’t feel the bond of parenthood, don’t let Insane outmoded Don Quixotes tilt At private windmills, don’t spill any ink Examining yourself. Don’t feel. Don’t think.

Bryce A. Taylor “First Things” November 2013









January 15, 2017 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Jan 142017

I’ve been doing some reading lately about the English martyrs during the time of the Reformation, and it got me to thinking about martyrdom’s close relationship with the sacrifice of Jesus. In today’s Gospel lesson St. John cries out “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He is the atonement that is sufficient to countermand all the wretched perversity of the human condition. In very mysterious ways, martyrdom is integrated with Christ’s sacrifice.

Much of the following comes from the writings of Fr. Dwight Longnecker, another Anglican who came home to the Catholic Church. (Blog: Jul. 2, 2015:Lessons From the English Martyrs)

He writes:  I’ll never forget an experience on the recent pilgrimage to England I conducted with biographer Joseph Pearce. We were visiting Oxborough Hall, the 15th-century moated manor house owned and occupied by the recusant Bedingfeld family. Recusants are English Catholics who remained faithful to this day in spite of terrible persecution.

The house has a famous “priest’s hole,” an ingenious hiding place for Catholic priests to escape Elizabeth I’s internal security police. The secret chamber was built into the walls of the tower in the ancient house. The access was through a trap door built beneath a latrine, down a narrow tunnel and up into a tiny, low room, with built-in seats just big enough for two men.

Fr. Lonecker continues: Joseph and I huddled there in awestruck silence. Without a doubt, priests had sat in that very place, holding their breath and waiting for the dreadful moment of discovery that would lead to imprisonment, torture and the gruesome fate of being publicly [hanged until almost dead and then], drawn and quartered. 

We recited the Lord’s Prayer, and Joseph said, “Let’s sing the Salve Regina.” So we sang together that sweet Catholic hymn with tears in our eyes; and after we clambered out, we found a dumbstruck audience. The other tourists and pilgrims had heard us singing and one whispered, “That was amazing! A chill ran down my spine!”

Fr. Longnecker writes of visitng several of the monastaries that Henry VIII confiscated as gifts and bribes to powerful gentry and nobility with whom he wanted to curry favor. It should be remembered that England at the end of the Middle Ages was considered the most devoutly Catholic country in Europe. Called “Mary’s dowry,” the English were respected across Europe for their deep faith.

Within a few short years, however, everything was reversed. The English authorities became deeply and rabidly anti-Catholic. It’s hard not to make a correlation with the United States.

Today we have a higher proportion of believers and church-going Christians than any other developed country. The English example is a reminder that political expediency can cause a once deeply religious nation to do an about-face.

The persecutions in England were harsh, but they were not sudden. Under Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry’s henchmen who held several royal offices, simply started to “investigate” the monasteries, with the intent of closing those that were small and bankrupt, consolidating and making things more efficient. The propaganda was subtle. The suppression of monasteries was presented as an attempt at reform, cleaning up corruption and abuse.

Ironically, Henry VIII actually despised Protestantism. His title, Defender of the Faith was given to him by the Pope as a reward for a scathing attack on Martin Luther.  Henry and Britain were going to stay Catholic, but with him as the head of the Church in England instead of the pope.

We should also remember that Henry’s “reforms” were incremental and rather innocuous. At first, the Oath of Supremacy, acknowledging Henry as head of the Church in England, was only required of court officials and others in legal or administrative positions. Even then an accommodation was allowed. One could take the oath affirming Henry’s supremacy with the added loophole phrase “insofar as the law of God allows.” Therefore, those who were worried about denying their Catholic faith could take the oath with their fingers crossed. Many, if not most, did.

Then the oath was extended to include all priests, teachers and minor officials. Eventually, the loophole phrase was removed, and those who had taken the oath previously had to swear again. Sadly, those who had already compromised their faithfulness took the next step, rationalizing their actions.

After Henry’s death, there was a tumultuous swing between his very Protestant son Edward, followed by his Catholic daughter Mary. And then Elizabeth I came to the throne.

Elizabeth’s persecutions were similarly gradual. Ascending the throne, it seemed at first that she would tolerate or even endorse Catholicism, allowing each of her subjects to enjoy religious freedom in their worship choices. As the political pressure increased, however, her persecution of Catholics became more draconian.

The Oath of Supremacy was extended to everyone. Attendance was required at the state church services and roll was taken, and if one missed, there were consequences. Offenders who actually attended Mass were fined heavily and had property and lands confiscated; finally, they were imprisoned. Catholic priests were under automatic sentence of death, and to shelter a priest was a capital crime.

Could the persecution of Catholics become that bad in the United States in the 21st century? One hopes not, but we can observe certain parallels.

Government pressure on Catholics to go against their consciences and provide abortion and contraception as part of health care is a reality, and the conscience clauses that provide loopholes feel uncomfortably like the elbow room of “insofar as the law of God allows” in Henry VIII’s oath. Note that after Catholics accepted the loopholes and made the oath, the accommodation was rescinded.

Could Catholics in the United States have their property confiscated and suffer pecuniary fines for not conforming to the wishes of the state?

In the debate on same-sex “marriage” in the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia asked the advocates of same-sex unions if approval could lead to a “Bob Jones situation.” (He was referring to the case of Bob Jones University being deprived of its tax-exempt status because it held that interracial dating was contrary to its religion.) The advocate admitted, “That is a possibility.”

Now that same-sex “marriage” has become the law of the land, a Catholic school, charity or apostolate that refuses to comply could lose its tax-exempt status. This not only means it would have to pay taxes. Additionally, donors would no longer receive tax benefits, and such organizations would be classified as businesses not charities thus incurring huge costs to comply with all business regulations and requirements. This would amount to pecuniary fines by stealth. And there are currently a lot more blatant things. Think of Aaron and Melissa Klein. They were the bakers in the Portland area who, because of their faith, were fined $200,000 for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

Could Catholics actually be imprisoned, tortured and martyred for their faith in today’s America? It’s difficult to imagine how things could become that bad, but, then, English Catholics at the beginning of the 16th century would never have dreamt that within 50 years priests would be tortured, garroted and gutted simply for being priests.

We shouldn’t be deluded. Given the right circumstances and conditions, these horrors can happen anywhere.

All we have to do is look at the recent numbers put out by the Center for Study of Global Christianity. They released a report of the persecution of Christians in 2016. The findings are tragic:

  • In 2016, about 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith.
  • Every six minutes, a Christian was killed somewhere in the world.
  • 63,000 died in tribal conflicts in Africa.
  • Most refused to take up arms for reasons of conscience.
  • 27,000 died in terrorist attacks, the destruction of Christian villages and government persecution in nations, including North Korea.
  • More than 500 million Christians cannot freely profess their faith.
  • Christians are now the most persecuted religious group in the world.

The steadfastness of the English martyrs like Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher is a bright light within a tumultuous history. We do well to learn about them, remembering that those who don’t remember the horrors of history are doomed to repeat them. We need to pay attention.

I close with a question and a word of comfort. The question is one we pondered in seminary some 45 years ago. Here it is— “During the time of persecution of the faithful, if they come to arrest you, would there be enough evidence for you to be convicted?” The answer is, “I certainly pray to God that there would be.”

The word of comfort comes from the Optional Closing Prayer from the Chaplet of Mercy: Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.