Monthly Archives: January 2017


The Catholic Church in the United States has designated today, January 23, as a special day to pray for the legal protection of the unborn.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this intention. But it is not nearly enough.

Unfortunately, our primary problem is not a legal one. To suggest that it is implies that merely changing the law would set everything right when it comes to our relationship with God and ourselves regarding life issues.

The disease in our culture runs far deeper than this. Our problem is not simply a poorly considered legal decision by the Supreme Court in 1973. Rather, Roe v. Wade is but a symptom of an insidious illness that pervades our society, with roots reaching far back into our history and with tentacles stretching into the future of those not yet conceived.

And it is a cultural disease, a community disease, not simply the sin of the individual.

Whether we are killing our wartime enemies, our unborn, our criminals or our elders, we are of a race that kills its own kind. While some of the lower creatures may do this on occasion, none do it to the extent that we humans do – nor do they do it for such varied reasons.

We are so “advanced” in this area that we are quite adept at denying that that is what we do. We convince ourselves that we are killing what is evil (in our wars and executions) so that we do not have to look at the evil in ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are being merciful when ending the lives of those we cannot afford or whose suffering we cannot endure (the unborn, ill and elderly).

Or even worse, we convince ourselves that our actions do not involve killing at all. What we have eliminated is not really a life. Euphemisms take over…a clump of cells; a potential life; an embryo; a pregnancy.

We convince ourselves that ending human life is not really ending a human life.


I do not find it difficult to feel compassion for women who consider or have abortions.

If I found myself in hell and, after looking around, saw a door marked “Exit”, would I not go running to open it? Even if I were in hell as a result of my own misdeeds?

Quite naturally I would. Hopefully, once out, I would beg for mercy. But I cannot say that I would resist opening that door.

In one sense, it might be argued that Roe v. Wade constructed this door marked “Exit”, the escape for the woman or family that does not want, cannot afford or fears having a child. Yet, our culture was slowly building this and other “escapes” long before 1973.

Rather than review all of the wars, lynchings and executions permitted in our history, allow me instead to address the root cause of our disease.

Though we may never articulate it, we have a fundamental belief that we should not have to suffer.

Now this might seem like an odd way to tie together all of the symptoms of our disease. But I believe it is so.

If we examine the course of “progress” in our nation, it is not difficult to see how we have built an economy that revolves around products and services that are designed to make life more comfortable, more convenient and more fun than ever before.

This is not the economy of a culture that accepts suffering. Rather, its subliminal message is clear and constant: I must prevent, avoid and stop anything that might lead to my suffering, that might lead to my death.

And what is origin of our hidden belief?

It is, of course, fear.

And fear is one of the strongest weapons (and greatest lies) that the enemy uses to lead us down the path to believing that it not only acceptable but even necessary to destroy the gift of life given to us by our Creator.

Hence, if I fear that I might suffer, I might die, it becomes necessary – to lynch the black man in the south, to execute the criminal on death row, to kill the enemy before he kills me or my family.

Similarly, if I fear witnessing the suffering of someone I love – for it makes me fear my own suffering – ending it becomes an act of “mercy”.

As a society, we have built “exits” all over to escape our fear of suffering, our fear of death – and we have been doing it for a very long time.

Hence, it should be no surprise that we eventually built one to escape the untimely pregnancy – with all of its accompanying fears of ruined futures, destroyed family relationships or overwhelming responsibility with no support.


Has it become apparent yet how abortion is a cultural sin that we all share in? That it is but one facet of a much broader disease that pervades our lives at every turn?

This does not make it right, of course, or even excusable.

What I intend with this perspective is to broaden our vision, to help us see our need to repent together and resist the enemy, instead of making enemies of those who have fallen.

No change of law can do this for us.

Rather, we must pray for and reach down to lift up the fallen. But even before we do this, we must face our own fallen state – our fear of suffering, our fear of death.

How can we hope to pray for or lift up another if we ourselves are running from our own fear, if we believe the enemy’s lies more than we believe the truth of Christ?

While this might seem like a harsh charge, it is only because we are so accustomed to the ways of sin that have been passed down to us from generation to generation. Can any of us deny that to follow Christ means to follow Him into suffering until we arrive at the Cross?

As long as fear rules, we are not following Him.

This does not mean, of course, that we are never to feel fear. Fear is hard-wired into us, as is the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain.

We shall never be held accountable for having felt the wrong thing. No, we will likely be afraid many times during our human journey.

But we can decide. We can choose the life of Christ, living for the sake of love rather than comfort, for truth rather than lies.

In so choosing, our lives thus become lives of repentance rather than judgment. We are ready to join the suffering and so lift them up with the same grace that we have received.

And if we do, hearts will begin to change. More will “look to Him and be radiant” (Psalm 34:5) and the laws of darkness will cease to have meaning.

This is what we must pray for. This is how we must live.

May it be so.

I have a dream…

“I have a dream today … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

 – Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.                                                                                          

(I’m sure you have heard it before – but it is always worth listening again. Every time I listen, I weep. And tonight was no exception. Let us keep this faith, this hope, this dream alive in our hearts.)

The word that found me…

In the deserts of Egypt, early Christian monastics lived deeply the lives of prayer and asceticism that developed the heart of the Church. Theirs was largely an oral tradition, having little or no printed word. Even the Scriptures were often committed to memory.

Among these hidden souls, some were regarded as “Abbas” (fathers) or “Ammas” (mothers) to whom others from both the world and the desert would come for spiritual guidance.

“Give me a word”, was often what the pilgrim would say. They could not expect to be given lengthy spiritual counsel by those who lived in silence. The word or phrase given often became a focus of prayer and reflection for many months, years or even for a lifetime.

This tradition was shared with me several years ago and it has become my practice to listen for a word as we transition from one calendar year to the next. While I could choose a word, most often I find that a word chooses me.

It is an interesting experience to have a word choose you. Often it has not been a word I would have “liked”, i.e. most of my words have not been comforting or inspiring but rather challenging – and challenging in the ways I most needed and least liked.

How do I know that a word has chosen me? Well, it enters my mind unbidden and takes up residence. One of them even came to me in a dream. But, however it arrives, it makes it clear that it is not going to go away.

Let’s see now…first there was “obedience”, followed the next year by “humility”. Then came “chasten”, a truly frightening word that, like the others, I became quite fond of once I saw it at work in me. This last past year was “mercy”.

Now another word has found me and will not let me go.


An interesting little word is this one. Of course, at the beginning of the year, I cannot know what God has in mind for me. But this word has some interesting potentials – not all of which can be considered pleasant from the human perspective.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that it is a verb. This suggests that something is going to happen or be done with me. I am not going to be allowed to bask in a noun, like “purity” or an adjective such as “pure”.

And, of course, I know that that is what I need. This is not a time for basking.

As I begin my reflections on my word, I am struck by the nuances it has in different contexts.

For example, in the Old Testament, we hear a lot about the need to “purify” in the sense of ritual purity. Various rituals are spelled out in Mosaic law to purify those who voluntarily or incidentally became impure because of disease, menstruation or other bodily discharges, corpse contacts and so on.

Often these rituals for the “unclean” included a temporary isolation from the community where there might be actual washing of the body and clothing, sometimes in special basins. Hair might need to be shaved off. Frequently, animal sacrifices were made at the Temple as part of ritual purification.

In these very tangible examples, I begin to glimpse that to purify is not simply an abstract, spiritual notion. Being purified involves all of me, body and mind, heart and soul.

Viewing more secular definitions and contexts, to purify involves removal or neutralization of contaminants, potentially dangerous substances – such as in the purification systems we build for water treatment.

But the idea remains the same. What is unclean, even dangerous, needs to be removed. What has gone bad needs to be made right.

While the cleansing of purification may sound refreshing if I imagine it as shower, Scripture gives me other images, “silver tried in a furnace…refined seven times” (Psalms 12: 6) and “the fuller’s lye” (e.g. Malachi 3:2).

So I view my word with some trepidation, with an awareness that God’s work in me may be uncomfortable, even quite painful. For there is a great deal in me that needs purifying, cleansing, removing, if I am ever to be open to the fullness of His presence.

But, deep in my heart, this is what I long for – the forfeiting of me to make room for the fullness of Him. And it cannot take place without sacrifice.

Thankfully, I am not in charge. Undoubtedly, I would want to take the easy route – step under the shower and call it finished.

But, knowing this cannot and should be the case, I place my trust in Him.

Let His will be my will and may I have no will but His.

A priceless thing indeed.


(Is there a word seeking you out this year? Feel free to share it here… Let us pray for one another, as always.)