Since Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder yesterday afternoon, I’ve been reading and reflecting on the news. There’s no way to make sense of human life taken in such a horrific way, but here are five thoughts that are resonating in my heart.
1) The juxtaposition of Mother’s Day and the verdict’s announcement Monday is powerful. On his Facebook page, Fr. Jim Martin captured this in a really striking way:
Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s conviction on murder comes the day after Mothers Day. Yesterday we honored those women who reverenced the gift of life. Today we read of a man who reviled that same gift, discarding as if it were somehow his to throw away.
Life and death. Blessing and curse. Our lives are lives of moral choices. Choose life.
This leads to my second thought:
2) Our consistent Catholic belief in the value of each and every human life needs to be at the heart of our advocacy in the public square. Both pro-choice and pro-life advocates were hoping for Gosnell to be convicted. Some pro-choicers have argued that the terrifying conditions at Gosnell’s clinic demonstrate the need for increased abortion funding and oversight. The Catholic pro-life response needs to articulate that the Gosnell story shines a light on our common tendency to devalue and commodify human life. This tendency was on grisly display during the Gosnell trial, but it’s on continual display at safer, cleaner clinics where human life is routinely destroyed.
Our unwavering commitment to the protection of all life led to our recent Justice For Immigrants Weekend here in the Diocese of Camden, and it also leads to thought no. 3:
3) The death penalty for Gosnell would not have been a good solution. Since our faith calls us to choose life, even in the most difficult circumstances, we are grateful that Gosnell will not be executed. We are called to pray and work for the abolition of both abortion and capital punishment. Both practices undermine the sanctity of life.
Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.
The preciousness of all humans to God makes the following fact particularly concerning:
4) Poverty and abortion are linked. Gosnell’s patients were primarily women living in poverty. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization cited by people on all sides of the debate, the proportion of abortion patients who were living under the federal poverty line increased by almost 60% from 2000 to 2008—from 27% to 42%. If we want to protect human life, part of our effort must be to ensure that women have better choices than abortion, which must include access to healthcare, employment opportunities, hospitable churches, and more.
Good Counsel Homes, a network of homes for homeless pregnant women, welcomes women and their babies before and after birth. They provide wraparound counseling and healthcare services. Being pro-life means supporting places like Good Counsel Homes. It also means urging our lawmakers to place what the USCCB calls a “circle of protection” around programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty.
Because we believe that the tragic death of children must not be the end of the story, it’s time to…
5) Do something creative. Come to the Good Counsel Homes Walk-a-Thon on June 1. Call your representatives and urge them to protect programs that fight poverty. Gather a new-parents group at your parish and provide babysitting. There are so many creative things we can do to live our belief that all human life is worth celebrating and lifting up. I mean creative in two senses: first, the usual way — fresh and new. Second, I mean an action that cooperates with God in the continuing work of creating a more just and peaceful world. This is one of our ultimate vocations as Christians. It is in this type of creativity we can live the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”
As the tragedy in Boston unfolded yesterday, it felt close and far away at the same time.
Close because of photos and cell-phone videos and Facebook posts from friends who were nearby when the bombs exploded. (“I’m safe. Thank you for the prayers. Keep praying.”)
Far away because, well, Boston is a six-hour drive from South Jersey. I heard no blast, saw no smoke. My day continued more or less as usual, capped off by an evening work meeting.
This morning, I thought of Auden’s brilliant poem “Musee des Beaux Arts,” in which he reflects on Pieter Bruegel’s 1560 painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” (From Greek mythology: Icarus tries to escape from Crete using wings made of wax and feathers that his father Daedulus made. He ignored instructions to not fly too close to the sun. The wax melted, and he fell into the sea. It’s a myth about hubris. Bruegel paints a typical landscape scene, and it’s easy to miss Icarus’ leg sticking out of the water, in the lower right corner.)
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
When faced with unimaginable suffering that doesn’t affect us directly, how can we resist the temptation to “sail calmly on”, to turn away “quite leisurely from the disaster”? As people of faith, how can we respond?
The Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity provides insight here. A major theme in the writings of Pope John Paul II, he describes it beautifully in his encyclical On Social Concern:
“(Solidarity) is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
The oneness of the human family that is at the heart of the principle of solidarity has roots in St. Paul’s letters, in which he writes often and famously that we are all part of the one Body of Christ. This unity has implications. From 1 Corinthians 12: “If one part [of the body] suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.“
So as many parts of the Body of Christ suffer today in Boston (and in Iraq and Syria and Venezuela and Pakistan and in more and more places), we are called to suffer with them. (The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.”)
Here are a few ways (of many) to stand in solidarity with those in need, across state or national borders:
Pray. Pray for those who have died and their families; for those wounded; for those in shock; for the first responders; for whoever detonated the bombs. Pray that we might instruments of God’s peace. If we believe that prayer changes things, then this is our first job. Turn off the TV, the computer, and your phone. Be quiet for a few minutes. Pray alone or gather friends and family. Attend a daily Mass.
Give, especially money and blood. Contribute to Boston’s Catholic Charities, which responds to immediate needs in Massachusetts communities. Give blood — if not for victims of yesterday’s violence, for someone else who will need it down the road.
Thanks to generosity of volunteer blood donors there is currently enough blood on the shelves to meet demand. #BostonMarathon—
American Red Cross (@RedCross) April 15, 2013
Use symbol. When words come up short, symbolic action can be powerful. Like this walk from Boston College to Boston, or this front page of the Chicago Tribune‘s sports section:
On a smaller scale, post a reflective photo on Facebook. Today is the sixth anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech, and a friend of mine who went to VT made this his profile picture today:
If you are a runner, sign up for a race and make your run a prayer offering. If not, attend Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run on May 5 and cheer on the racers, asserting by just being there your belief that there is more good on Earth than evil.
Whatever you do to stand in solidarity with the suffering, spend some intentional time in reflection today, and do something. Our belief in the oneness of the human family demands nothing less.
Sixty-seven people have been murdered as of today, breaking the previous record of 58, set in 1995 – a 15.5% increase. Camden’s murder rate was the highest in the country this year until Friday, December 14, when Newtown, Connecticut passed it on that horrific morning.
The killing in Camden is an urgent pro-life issue in our own backyard. It demands a response from people of faith in South Jersey and beyond.
Four thoughts that swam around my head this weekend, and links worth reading for each: