Human life as a disposable lifestyle product

Last week international news outlets like the BBC reported about a famous US TV star and her former partner being in disagreement about what to do with two frozen embryos they had created through IVF procedures whilst they were still together. He, according to the news source, wants to find a surrogate mother to carry out the pregnancy, while she apparently refuses. The words of the father as to the the euphemistically called “frozen embryos” leave no doubt about the true nature of these human beings: “When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?” He also notes that he does not want “the two lives I have already created be destroyed or sit in a freezer until the end of time”. Here we have a situation that is a painful reminder of the cynical culture of death our society seems to be so addicted to: the father openly testifies to the true nature of these frozen embryos, namely that they are human beings created for the purpose of life, but that risk being killed simply because of personal preferences of another human being that happens to have the power to decide over these human lives.

It should be noted here that the often forgotten or deliberately ignored “side effect” of IVF procedures is the freezing and later destruction of countless human beings – as always euphemistically merely referred to as “embryos” – that are deemed unworthy of life for a variety of reasons such as so-called “defects” or there being a “surplus” of embryos (human beings) originating from the same couple. The United Kingdom “Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority” (an institution George Orwell could have invented for his novel “1984”) reported in 2013 that between January 1991 and December 2011 of the 3,546,818 embryos (human beings) created, 1,714,570 were ‘discarded’ (killed). Why are we not up in arms about such chilling facts that show a terrifying disregard for human life? Why does a majority of people seem to have gotten used to and accepted these modern forms of clinical mass killing? Where is our humanity?

Whilst human history is full of examples where humanity gets lost in wars and ideologies that lead to indiscriminate killing by the millions (we have discussed this in previous blog posts), no ideology has caused so many millions of deaths of innocent human beings as indeed our current culture of abortion and the “discarding” of embryos. In mainstream politics and media few people show any concern for the staggering numbers of conceived but unborn lives killed, whilst the general populace has – willingly or unwillingly – accepted this as something they either agree with or can do very little about. The publicity given to the above case and the way in which the topic is being dealt with – namely wholly neutrally – shows where much of society stands when it comes to the life of the unborn: it is a property, a product of medical procedures and personal choices, rather than an ultimate and unrepeatable gift to the world.

What causes this cynical and materialistic attitude in us human beings? The main cause of this lethal culture is easy yet unpopular to identify: contraception. Human life became a disposable lifestyle product when artificial contraception was made the norm of the day, a matter of government policy. Once the coming together of a man and a woman in sexual intercourse is decoupled from their marriage vows and their openness to create and rear a new human life together, and the conception of life itself becomes purely a matter of “family planning”, we automatically treat life exclusively as a product of our own will and preferences. If we only accept a new life that we have ourselves “planned” or “willed” (how often do pregnant mothers hear the question “was this baby planned?”!), the logical consequence is that we “discard” the life we did not plan or will, which is essentially where abortion and IVF is all about. Institutionalized contraception has thus given our societies the idea that human life is a product to be planned and owned. Since every property can be disposed of by its owner, human life has as a consequence itself become disposable.

There is, really, still (since the beginning of human history actually) only one answer to all this: the loving marriage between one man and one woman, open to life and till death do them part. This remains the primary community of mankind where we learn what it means to be human; as the author Michael D. O’Brien says it:

Love is a holy power of the soul. Love never possesses, love never forces, manipulates, or controls, because for love to grow there must be between two souls a mutual gift of the self.


The Globalization of Indifference and Violence

Ever since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken out against the culture of “global indifference” that reigns in many of our societies. He has addressed the issue within the context of a wide variety of problems facing us today, for example the unspeakable drama of boat refugees crossing the Mediterranean and the untold numbers dying when trying to reach the shores of Europe in search of a better life. In his Lenten message the Holy Father commented:

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As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

This is a problem we as Christians indeed must confront, because this indifference not only leads to loneliness and despair of those ignored, it also leads to new waves of violence coming out of our very own societies that claim to be peaceful, tolerant and democratic. The following example illustrates this point: the weekly newspaper “The Economist” reports in its April 18th-24th, 2015 issue that the top nine countries from which jihadists flow to Iraq and Syria are west European. What does this tell us about our Western societies? Despite the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by those in Europe, many thousands of young men and women from Europe are flocking eagerly to the Middle East to participate in ideologically inspired acts of hatred and brutal violence.

Why do these young men and women choose violence and death over a relatively comfortable life in prosperous Europe, where mainstream society promises them instant pleasure and material bliss with the latest smartphone and a cradle to grave social welfare state? Aside from the many useful explanations sociologists and politicians may give us about radicalization of certain youths, there is a much more profound cause at work here, which is the institutionalization of indifference towards the good, the true and the beautiful. When a society and its laws become dependent on mere feelings, opinions and preferences, rather than the pursuit of what is right and the avoidance of what is wrong, emptiness and desperation are the logical consequences.

This is the problem we Christians in Europe and other Western nations need to confront. We need to win back our youth for Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. We cannot win young men and women back to Christ merely by doing good deeds, by being nice people, or by staying within the walls of our parishes and communities. It is important, but it is far too little. We need to go out, leave our comfort zones, and follow the Gospel call to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28, 20). We need to speak about the love of God the Father, in private and in public, and we need to show and proclaim at every suitable occasion that living a life in Christ is good, and beautiful, and true – even if at times quite a challenge (but we all know that noting truly good and lasting comes easy). As Pope Francis says, we should not be afraid of being rejected but rather be assured that God’s love will redeem the world:

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God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded.

He then concludes this thought by reminding us that “God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves”. When we Christians withdraw into ourselves and become indifferent to what happens in the world, we risk becoming silent bystanders of the many grave injustices that take place around us every day, near and far. Many courageous Christians are giving the example by their initiatives to spread the Gospel and do good around the world, others even by their martyrdom. But so much more witness is needed, especially to turn the ever growing tide of institutionalized indifference towards the sanctity of life; whether it be the life of the unborn, the elderly, the refugees or fellow human beings professing a different faith. Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead out of love for every human being to be redeemed and to live.

The makers of this video show how radical Christ’s love – and thus ours – needs to be.


History and the Pope of Justice and Mercy

Mercy Sunday 2015 (12 April) will go into history as a little noticed but all-important day in the life of the Catholic Church, when Pope Francis showed courageous leadership by speaking in no uncertain terms about the genocides and mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with the Armenian Genocide of 1915, then the genocides planned and executed by Nazism and Stalinism and drawing a line all the way to the mass slaughter of ethnic groups and Christians for their faith today, especially in the Middle East and Africa:

On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction.  Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenseless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.

Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen  4:9; Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).

The Holy Father, whom we have all come to know as the Pope of Mercy, and whose words are often misunderstood or misused by those failing to see the unique charisma and calling of Pope Francis, has done something very important: he has spoken the uncensored truth about facts of history that certain governments and political leaders are trying to cover up and silence. Whether it is the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the extermination campaigns by Lenin. Stalin and Mao, or the systematic uprooting, torture and killing of Christians and other groups in the Middle East, Asia and Africa today, leaders East and West are all too often engaged in campaigns of organised forgetting. Where this organised forgetting leads to, Pope Francis tells us as well:

(..) for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!

We need the living memory of history, not as a political tool to condemn others, but as a constant reminder of our ever recurring human frailty and tendency to do evil, even very great evil. Real mercy, therefore, is not – as many today would like to suggest the Catholic Church to do – to look away when sin or evil occurs, but to have the courage to be merciful in truth and justice. As the Catholic author Michael O’Brien puts it so well “Without justice, human mercy all too easily dissolves into sentimentalism and false compassion, leading to an increase of sin and error.” We have seen this mechanism occur in the history of humankind again and again. The Holy Father refers to this tragic cycle of sin and error leading to senseless slaughter:

It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).

And let there be no mistake: this continued senseless slaughter is not only caused by war in the classical sense, by means of guns and knives in the hands of brutal terrorists and armies, it also takes place globally almost unheard and unseen in clinics at the hands of men and women who are convinced that the unborn child in the womb of the mother has no independent right to live. Also here there is a complicit and an even highly organized silence and covering up in the face of a brutal practice that kills more human beings every year than all the other mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries combined (over 40 million by official UN estimates). Whilst we cannot and should not make a comparison between the people and the motives behind these forms of killing, the undeniable fact remains that no other slaughter of innocent human life is so vast and so systematically – even industrially – organised as abortion is today. Whilst we rightly condemn the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries, let us not forget and remain silent about the mass killing of unborn life that takes place in our cities every day. It is still, as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta rightly said, the biggest threat to world peace.

The great tragedy of history is that the killing of certain groups of people by other groups of people always seems perfectly justified for the perpetrators – they always think and openly proclaim that they are doing a service to society. Sadly, no mass killing in the history of mankind – whether it be the many genocides or even abortion – escapes this deadly error of judgment. It is here that the words of Pope Francis on Mercy Sunday 2015 turn out to be so vital, because he reminds the world of the foolishness of forgetting. He warns in clear wording, rarely heard from world leaders, that this attitude leads to ever more horror and death:

It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity. Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences. All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.

It is then, our duty as Christians to speak about and speak out against all these horrors of yesterday and today and not let political or economic expediency blind us for the truth. If we Christians in the West – whether in academia, politics or elsewhere – would start speaking with the same courage and respectfulness as Pope Francis does, it would very likely lead to less of these horrors for our children.

Deported Armenian Children 1915 Deported Armenian children in 1915


Mercy and Truth in a Confused World

The Gospel reading on Easter Monday relates the story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and is a powerful reminder of the role of the Christian in a world where much confusion reigns. This Gospel reading gives – more than we might realize – a detailed explanation of how we ought to deal with those inside and outside of the Church that do not follow Christ’ teaching or do not believe in Him at all. The lack of faith and faithfulness to the Gospel can be found as much in the Church as among non-Christians.

We read in the last chapter of Luke (24, 13-35, cf. www.usccb.org):

“13. Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14. and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. 15. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16. but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. 18. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19. And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people 20. how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23. and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” 25.  And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 28. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 33. So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34. who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” 35. Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The risen Christ, whose disciples do not even recognize him because of their confusion and lack of faith, must have been disappointed by their blindness. But He is patient, and before explaining to them the scriptures – something especially theologians love to do – Jesus takes the time to walk with them and listen to them. Jesus does not commence his journey with these men by condemning them for their inability to recognize him and understand the truth of his suffering, cross and resurrection. No, Christ himself went in search of his confused children to be with them and to let them express all their sorrows and questions. Only after the disciples had spoken and Jesus had listened did He guide them through the scriptures explaining God’s plan. And still they did not see. Even the words spoken by the risen Christ himself did not right away lead the two disciples to understanding and seeing. Their hearts remained closed although “burning within them”, meaning that even more was needed to finally overcome their blindness. Their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread and said the blessing – when Christ brought them into union with him through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the summit of our faith.

What does this mean for us Christians, for those teaching or studying at the ITI, at theological faculties, or otherwise serving the Church? What does this Gospel tell us about our relationship with lukewarm Christians and non-Christians alike? What does this mean for our approach to an increasingly non-religious and anti-Christian mainstream world, where now the targeted persecution and killing of Christians is rising dramatically in the face of a largely silent political leadership?

Mercy in Truth. We need to go out and look for those rejecting Christ the Son of God and His teaching, we need to walk with them and listen to them ever so patiently and only then without compromise but with great charity and clarity teach the Gospel in its fullness and bring them to the sacraments; and still we should not expect “success” in our own lifetimes or for us to see, knowing that only Christ himself can convert hearts. This requires much courage and the willingness to come out of hiding, whether it be hiding in worldliness or in self-righteousness, two sides of the same coin. As Pope Francis said to the millions of young people gathered on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero during World Youth Day 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

If we Christians in the West do not rise up and stand for our faith and diligently proclaim the Gospel in deed and word, which means active evangelization by all on all levels of society, then we are withholding the greatest treasure from our fellow human beings that do not know or follow Christ. Distorted ideologies will then also continue to immerse and reshape our culture that are not human but ever more barbaric in their extreme violence – whether physical or psychological – towards the sacredness of life, the family and religious freedom.

We have no choice but to do like Jesus did on his way to Emmaus: to actively seek the confused and the unbelieving and to journey with them with patience, mercy and in truth so as to lead them to Christ – to bring them to the point where the two Emmaus disciples said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” The fire of faith burning in our hearts should ignite a fire in the hearts of those we journey with, which can be achieved by following Jesus’ example of seeking, accompanying, listening and speaking. How fitting and bitterly true are the words written in the spiritual testament of the martyred Pakistani Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, who died in a hail of bullets for defending Christians in his country as Minister for Minorities in 2011:

“I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life.”

All areas of our life should reflect Christ brightly. Every Christian should work to lead others to Christ, which also has to be the primary goal in life for every theologian, whether lay or clergy. If not, we will allow ourselves to be further led into a culture that is directed by disruptive and violent ideologies where Man and its many falsehoods, and not God his Creator, is the measure of all things. History tells us how such societies end.

 


How to re-Christianize the West

In a recent tweet of Pope Francis we can read a clear exhortation: “The laity are called to become a leaven of Christian living within society“. This is indeed what our deeply confused society needs very much today and it still seems to be little understood by many Christians themselves. Is the Christian life sufficiently visible in Western societies to the point where Christians are a leaven? As Christians we often complain about aggressive secularization and about the many evil laws that are crowding the statute books – like those legalizing abortion or euthanasia -, yet we fail to see that these laws and policies have been developing for decades under our very own eyes as we live our comfortable lives of either being just lukewarm Christians or those hidden behind walls of self-righteousness, who certainly do many good works in society but who too often still refuse to be in that same society what Christ has called us to be: a sign of contradiction.

For example, let us take a look at the Christian democratic parties in Western Europe. They can be held largely (co-)responsible for the introduction over the past decades of a wide variety of laws that diametrically oppose the core tenets of Christian doctrine on life, marriage, family and education. Mostly the argument being used in defense of Christian politicians voting in favor of such ‘laws’ is that by doing so they are “avoiding a bigger evil”, for example by legalizing abortion to avoid women dying from illegal abortions in shady clinics. Now whilst such tragedies indeed need to be eradicated, this common defense of abortion liberalization ignores a fundamental principle of Christian theology: that doing one evil in order to avoid another evil is still evil and thus morally unacceptable. The end does not justify the means; even a good end does not justify evil means.

As Christians, we have increasingly lost our voice in democratic society, and we are mostly ourselves to blame for it. We have chosen to constantly compromise and seek consensus, rather than to explore common ground based on core principles. From leading the culture throughout centuries, we have been allowing more and more to be led by the culture, a culture that has now become openly hostile towards the reality of the created order and the Christian defense thereof.  Out of fear or out of expediency, a majority of Christian politicians and other policy-makers has stopped defending the natural and unchangeable order of God’s creation, the God they however still profess to believe in. A recent example here in Austria underlines this point: the Austrian parliament last month passed a controversial law further liberalizing reproductive medicine including destructive practices in cases of malformed human beings in the embryonic stage. The law also answers a claim that same-sex couples have “the right to a child” – thus essentially ignoring the rights of the child. The non-discrimination argument in favor of same-sex couples now trumps the natural physical and emotional need of every child to be brought up by a father and a mother, preferably the biological parents. The law furthermore liberalizes access to “pre-implantation diagnosis”, effectively widening the scope for destroying the life of human beings in the embryonic stage that show genetic disorders and are therefore deemed ‘unworthy of life’. Out of the 47 members of the supposedly Christian democratic ÖVP party, only 4 members voted against the law. This in spite of the fact that extensive evidence highlighting the severe ethical problems posed by the law was made public and the public debate asked for by many was never held.

A society that sheds its Christian bearings and cuts the life-giving roots to the objective reality of the natural created order ultimately also sheds its humanity and becomes barbaric. We have seen enough examples of this in the history of mankind, where laws that are meant to be the guardians of justice in fact become the instruments of mass killing and human destruction. The rejection of natural law along with the expulsion of Christian theology from society is always followed by de-humanization – when positive law is decoupled from the transcendent and focuses only on the individual or group desire of any given time. The Jewish agnostic writer Hannah Arendt masterfullly expressed this truth in her 1946 book “The Origins of Totalitarianism” where she writes:

“A conception of law which identifies what is right with the notion of what is good for – for the individual, or the family, or the people, or the largest number – becomes inevitable once the absolute and transcendent measurements of religion or the law of nature have lost their authority. And this predicament is by no means solved if the unit to which the ‘good for’ applies is as large as mankind itself. For it is quite conceivable, and even within the realm of practical political possibilities, that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically – namely by majority decision – that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof. Here, in the problems of factual reality, we are confronted with one of the oldest perplexities of political philosophy, which could remain undetected only so long as a stable Christian theology provided the framework for all political and philosophical problems, but which long ago caused Plato to say: “Not man, but a god, must be the measure of all things.”

Indeed, God is the measure of all things, not the majority opinion nor the minority pressure group. The way we have to re-Christianize the West is to bring back to society, whether it be in education, politics or elsewhere, a correct understanding of this measure of all things. This first of all requires us to accept one thing: we are not God. Understanding the measure of all things is a life-long journey. Christians should first and foremost take this journey by living a visible Christian life that attracts others by its clarity and charity – and that is also necessarily a sign of contradiction where it refuses to bow to the pressure of mass conformity and the dictatorship of relativism. The Christian life, and the necessary active involvement of Christians at all levels of society, does not come with self-righteousness and condemnation of those living different lives, but with the humble yet radiant witness of a life lived with a deep inner conviction – like those merciful and forgiving oriental Christians we discussed in the previous blog. They do not condemn their perpetrators and those that refuse to believe in Christ – but they also do not water down in any way their faith in Christ but instead proclaim it publicly and act upon it for all to see. Their vibrant faith is the measure by which they live. This is a true leaven in society.


The Sheer Power of Faith and Forgiveness

On Sunday, in the city of Lahore in Pakistan, we saw yet again how the persecution of Christians around the world is intensifying as two churches were bombed during Sunday services and 17 people died and many more were wounded. In his Angelus message on Sunday, Pope Francis prayed fervently for those affected and commented: “May this persecution against Christians, which the world is seeking to hide, end and may there be peace.” Indeed, who still speaks about the up to 70 Christian churches burned down in Niger only last month by orchestrated mobs? Who speaks about the Christian children routinely being beheaded in Syria and Iraq? Does any Western politician or news outlet still pay attention to the plight of over 200 mostly Christian schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria over a year ago and who are now living a life as sex slaves? Did political leaders from around the world march in Paris after the public beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians last month? Pope Francis is right, the world is still seeking to hide the harsh reality that Christians are by far the most persecuted people in the world and that the situation is becoming worse by the day.

We have to speak out, we have to form alliances worldwide to deal with these injustices and stop them – and we have to finally bring into the corridors and media of international politics the most potent weapon a Christian has at his disposal: the Gospel of Life and its message faith, hope and love. These three Gospel virtues are the foundation of what our broken world is most in need of today: the mercy of Christ our Redeemer. On Friday, March 13th, Pope Francis took the lead when – for many by surprise – in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome he announced a Year of Mercy, a Jubilee Year, which in the Christian tradition is a time of special graces. As a witness to mercy, the Pope said, the Church has to render this her primary mission more evident so that all Christians learn to ‘Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful’ (cf. Lk 6:36). Especially in the times of merciless killing that we are experiencing today, Christ’s mercy is the only answer we can give that may lead to reconciliation, healing and peace.

The utter moral confusion, not only in the West but equally in those countries where ideologies persist thriving through hate and revenge, leads to a profoundly wounded world. This causes broken lives, broken families, broken communities, broken nations and the escape into a wide range of “isms”: militant secularism, consumerism, materialism, terrorism and ideological extremism, to name but a few. It is especially during the past months and weeks – and on Sunday again for all the world to see – that we have been witnessing the horrifying results of ideologically inspired violence, of fellow human beings whose hatred has become so intense that it consumes them entirely and leads to ever more grotesque acts of killing, aimed at creating fear and a violent response which would justify more violence.

But there is a much better answer: In recent weeks, some extraordinary examples of mercy, resulting from an unshakable faith in Christ and leading to heroic acts of forgiveness, have been publicized in response to the violence and killings in the Middle East. There is real hope: this destructive cycle can eventually be stopped through what Jesus makes very clear in Matthew’s Gospel:

Then Peter went up to him and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

Three videos that will be shown below show the true meaning of the forgiveness Jesus refers to and are the best introduction to the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. When one sees the faith and ability to forgive of these persecuted brethren, what more do we need to learn about mercy? Mercy is first of all seeing and speaking the entire truth, but then instead of remaining with the question of guilt, to forgive the guilty one.

The first video shows an interview with a Christian child refugee from Iraq, Myriam, who tells us how she has forgiven her persecutors. This 10-year old girl who has lost almost everything…except her faith in Jesus Christ…

“We have to forgive, to let the grace transfer from generation to generation. If not, the pain and the hate will close the way to the grace of God (..) We have to take care of our children, they are our future, if not the next generation of ISIS will be from our side.”, says Father Douglas Al-Bazi, an Iraqi Catholic priest who was shot in the leg during Mass, whose church was bombed and who was kidnapped and tortured by Daish. When miraculously released, he returned immediately to his flock, knowing the dangers…

The impressive televised testimony of one of the brothers of the the 21 Coptic martyrs beheaded for their faith in Christ by Daish in Libya last month shows the power of faith, forgiveness and redemption in ways that we can hardly begin to imagine…

There is a lot for us in the West to learn from oriental Christians, especially when it comes to their faithfulness to Christ, their willingness to embrace their suffering whilst openly forgiving those that have harmed them. We Christians in the West have not been put to the test of faith as have the Christians in the East – they are the living examples of Christ’s mercy. Let them be our guides as we prepare for a truly Holy Year of Mercy.


The Good Argument and the Better Example

At the conclusion of the last week’s meeting of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference in Bregenz, the Conference Chairman, His Eminence Cardinal Christoph Schönborn – who is also the Grand Chancellor of the ITI – gave an interview during which he explained how the Catholic view on life is increasingly being regarded as a minority ‘opinion’, and what our response as Christians to this situation should be. We need sound arguments to explain why the Church is defending the humanity of society here, the Cardinal underlined, and even more we need the most credible argument of a life in Christ lived by example. In the future, “we will recognize Catholics by what they will not do”, Schönborn said, referring to a host of ‘medical’ procedures ignoring the inviolability of human life and dignity. The Cardinal specifically referred to the Church’s opposition against the selective (and massive) destruction of human beings in the embryonic stage during in-vitro fertilization procedures, as well as state-sanctioned assisted suicide. These Church positions have only one thing in mind, he concluded, and that is the preservation of a humane society.

The history of the 20th Century should have taught us enough lessons showing what happens to a society where the inviolable right to life and respect for the dignity of every human being, from the moment of conception onward and regardless of any human-made categories or labels, is not upheld in full and without exceptions. The moment one group in society starts making exceptions with regard to another group, we are already moving towards new forms of mass killing. This is the tragedy of human history: ever since we human beings discovered the power to kill, we have found reasons to explain to ourselves and to others why it is good to kill this person or that group. Endless exceptions have been created to God’s clear commandment “thou shall not kill”.

How true were the words of the Cardinal was shown this week on Tuesday when the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted the so-called “Tarabella Report”. Meant to report annually on the development of equality between women and men in the EU, as so often happens the report was cleverly twisted by those wanting to introduce a “right to abortion”. For years efforts have been underway at the EU, the UN and other international organizations to introduce abortion as a fundamental human right. This report was part of this ongoing effort. EU reports have no legislative status, but they strongly influence policy making. The European Parliament approved the report with 441 to 205 votes and 52 abstaining. More such “reports” are in the pipelines. It is useful to analyze more closely some of the wording used to promote abortion, because those promoting it are of the – seemingly majority – opinion that this killing of innocent human life actually makes sense and is perfectly justified, and therefore should even be included in the international catalog of human rights.

Paragraph 45 of the “Tarabella Report” states:

“Maintains that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, not least by having ready access to contraception and abortion; supports, accordingly, measures and actions to improve women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and inform them more fully about their rights and the services available;”

The last part of the quote “inform them more fully about their rights and the services available” is particularly problematic because it not only equates the possibility to end the unborn life with a “right” the woman can insist upon at the cost of the taxpayer, it also presents it as a service that should be provided by the State. Language promoting abortion has thus developed to a point where the procedure of deliberately terminating an innocent life in the mother’s womb is seen as a service to women and to society as a whole. When before in the history of mankind has the possibility to kill a defenseless human being been called a service the State should provide? What is our understanding of human life when the State becomes the provider of life-ending “services”?

As Cardinal Schönborn said in his press conference, we need sound arguments and good examples to show why those promoting such procedures are wrong. We should show how these procedures destroying human life disregard the most fundamental reality of human life, so well expressed by the writer Michael D. O’Brien:

“Each human life, no matter how “small”, is miraculous, infinitely more valuable than an inanimate object. Each and every person is a word never before seen, never to be repeated, inexpressibly beautiful in the eyes of God.”

This simple yet profound truth is our most powerful argument, and is now increasingly being publicly confirmed by those testifying by example to the uniqueness and beauty of each and every human being by their own lives, even in the most painful of situations: abortion survivors and rape victims. Claire Culwell is a young woman who survived an abortion but lost her twin sister in the procedure. She is now a voice for the unborn and tells her story in this video. Three women in another video give testimony of their horrendous ordeals and how they still chose for life, where one of the women says:

“My daughter is just the absolutely greatest gift for me. I think that the biggest problem I have had in recovering from my rape is that for so long I wanted to go back and be the person I was before the rape. And, what my daughter taught me is that there is value to who I have become after my rape, and the value is in being a mother to her and learning to love in an absolute unconditional way, to start seeing the innocence and the beauty in life again. She has taught me all that… I have absolutely no doubt that my daughter was a gift from God to help me to overcome and survive this experience. She will forever know that she changed her mother’s life for the better.”

They are the best examples of what it means to answer evil not with evil, but with charity and generosity, and how this is the only right answer, because only love generates and regenerates life, even in the most difficult of circumstances. This is the hope by example and good arguments Christians are called to live, and this is also what we teach our students here at the ITI.

Redemption

“Memorial for Unborn Children” by the Slovakian sculptor Martin Hudácek


The only true Theologians are the Saints

Last week, on February 25, the ITI had the great privilege of an evening lecture on the Prima Pars Quaestio of the Summa theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, held by our Grand Chancellor Cardinal Dr. Christoph Schönborn. Before being appointed bishop many years ago, Fr. Christoph Schönborn, O.P. was a professor of theology and a very good one at that. Not only does the Cardinal have a vast teaching experience and many publications on his name, he is above all a teacher with a great love for teaching, who also has a deep knowledge of the great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the patron Saints of the ITI.

Essential for understanding the call of the Christian in today’s world, and thus also the call of each of the ITI graduates, is the point the Cardinal started his lecture with: only the Saints are true theologians, because the Saints lived in full – rather than merely study and discuss academically – the Word of God and the teachings of His Church. They are our best teachers because we can see through their lives what it means in the daily realities of our broken world to live a life in Christ. The Saints did not hide from the world, nor despise it; they actively engaged with it and so through their living example of love, redemption and the overcoming of their human weaknesses make it possible for us to see what our call in this world is, and how to humbly pursue it. Theology, therefore, before anything else, should be pursued to serve. The Cardinal here spoke some vital and humbling words for all of us:

“The fundamental task of any science should be to serve, knowledge has to serve. If not, it becomes pride, it becomes dangerous, very dangerous, it inflates, as St. Paul says. Theology should serve the faithful, and (..) if you feel superior of the simple faithful, you are already on the wrong track. All the science you acquire through studying theology academically is to serve the faith of the faithful. St. Thomas always speaks about the vetula – old woman, a simple old woman. For St. Thomas she is the measure; we have to serve the faith of the faithful and of the simple ones. If your theology pretends to be superior of the faith of the simple faithful then you are already agnostic and not a Christian theologian.”

The task of Theology thus is to serve the Kingdom of God that is being established on Earth through the faith of the faithful. At the ITI we do this by forming the minds and the hearts of men and women that can engage with the world and show it the light of Christ in all its brightness. It easily becomes clear when we look at the great suffering all around us, near and far, how much a serving theology is called for to heal the many wounds and to give hope. As St. Thomas says: “..yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things..” It is the hope that lies in these highest things that Theology is called to provide to all people of all nations.

 

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A Turbulent World and the Call of the Christian

We live in turbulent times, and as Christians in Western nations we could easily fall into despair in the face of multiple sustained attacks on the foundations of our societies, whether it be the intensifying persecution and martyrdom of our brethren in the Middle East and many other parts of the world, the tsunami of policy efforts in our countries that undermine marriage and the family, or the now institutionalized disregard for the sanctity of human life in all its stages. Human life today is being quietly but effectively destroyed on an industrial scale never before seen in the history of mankind. As is the case with the ever growing persecution of Christians, the truth about abortion and its dramatic consequences is mostly left unmentioned. We merely call it: “freedom of choice”. Killing innocent human life has simply become a matter of free choice. Where is the moral outrage of the West here?

Despite these horrendous facts, Christ has already redeemed us and the world by his cross and resurrection, and therefore we may not despair. There is a great need however, for Christians to rise up and be heard, to be what Christ calls us to be: a sign of contradiction. This we are doing far too little as we tend to talk ourselves into saying it is not all that bad and that there is really nothing we can do. It is so much more comfortable, even within the Church, to keep focusing on our own little communities and problems and disregard the wider – and burning – world in which each one of us is called by the Gospel to be engaged. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has some harsh words for this attitude:

“In the consciousness of the Church (…), a massive narrowing has taking place. We look only at ourselves, we are concerned only with ourselves; we lick our wounds; we want to construct a nice Church for ourselves and hardly see any longer that the Church doesn’t exist for herself but that we have a word that has something to say to the world and that ought to be heard, a word that could give something. We are too forgetful of our real tasks.”

We have a word, Benedict says, The Word, and this is best heard and seen when Christians live out their lives among their fellow human beings, making it visible what it means to follow Jesus, the Son of God.  This is our real task, of which we are so often forgetful. The Word lived shows us the dignity of each and every human life from the moment of conception, it shows us the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage and the beauty of a family springing from it and holding together. The World lived is like a city on a mountain; it is visible for all. The task of the Christian is indeed to bring the Word to the world! This line of thought is continued by Pope Francis, who told the three million Catholic youth gathered on Copacabana Beach in the summer of 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

So what are we waiting for?

Here at the ITI, our aim is to form young men and women from every continent to answer this call to bring Christ everywhere, and to do so with conviction. We do this with a specific focus on strengthening Christian marriage and the family in our societies. Our alumni all over the world provide compelling evidence that the profound Catholic formation they have received here prepares them for this most important task of our times.

Let us also pray at the intercession of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs who were recently so brutally killed in Libya for their faith and who have now been beatified by Coptic Pope Tawadros II. That we all may be equally faithful to Christ as these men were.

The Copt New Martyrs

Christian Martyrdom and Our Response

These days the horrific images went all over the world of the beheading of yet another group of Christians by black-clad men, this time 22 Coptic Christians from Egypt abducted in Libya some time ago. They died calling “O God, Jesus Christ, Jesus my Lord”. They are not the first, and also not the last in a daily growing number of Christian martyrs in the Middle East and Africa at the hands of those for whom it is our duty to pray fervently for their conversion to Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Pope Francis, in an impromptu reaction to this event on Monday, said that “the blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a blood that cries out to the Lord.” It is therefore the Lord that we have to ask for intervention through his love and mercy. As so many Christian martyrs throughout the ages have taught us: hate can only be overcome by charity and forgiveness.

Our response to the daily growing threat from ideologically inspired  persecution and violence is not revenge, neither an ever more militant secularism, nor the rejection of religion in general. All this will only severely weaken us, something which our political elites still fail to see, even in the face of the crumbling order in our so-called “enlightened” democracies. As much as an army can only fend off the attacker when it is run through order and discipline and based on solid principles, so a culture can only survive and fend off those that aim at its destruction when it is embedded in a moral order and unchangeable principles that are like the roots of a tree that give water and nourishment whilst offering an anchor in times of heavy storms. Our answer today therefore must be to live he Gospel in full. Living the Gospel starts with prayer. This centuries’ old prayer by St. Francis of Assisi will be a good start:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 AMEN

At the ITI, we already pray daily for our persecuted Christian brethren around the world, and for their persecutors as well. We will intensify this effort, as we will be asking students to devote a special weekly Holy Hour for this intention. We will also pray especially, as Pope Francis has asked us to do, for our Coptic Christian brethren, and all Christians, in Egypt.

May the souls of our martyred fellow Christians rest in peace, may their families receive consolation, and may those that killed them see the light of Christ the Savior.

More information can be found here:

http://www.aleteia.org/en/world/article/islamic-state-carries-out-mass-beheading-of-christians-5774719080988672

http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/their-blood-cries-out-to-the-lord-says-pope-francis-of-beheaded-copts-5858854269091840

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/For-pope,-Copts-killed-in-Libya-simply-for-the-fact-that-they-were-Christians-33478.html

2014-06-19 11.05.04