1st Jan 2014
Telling the Truth About Life in 2014
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
We like to feel good about things, regardless of whether or not we should. And so we have been known — as men and women, as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues — to overlook some things and look away from certain realities we don’t want to deal with. As societies, we look away from evil, often pretending a particular evil is “necessary” or that it’s the “lesser” of two (or more) evils.
Think right now about what evil is in your life, your house, your community, our nation. It’s not necessary, is it? It’s not a good compromise relative to other evils. It’s evil, after all! It is, perhaps, something we don’t want to confront. It’s complicated. Things will get messy if we go there.
But they already are, if you look at it from a long-term, eternal perspective, aren’t they? And there will be a freedom in naming and confronting evil, and we do, in fact, have the free will to be honest about evil. It might also just be our mandate.
In an interview in 2012, I asked Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia why he opened his ebook on religious freedom that year with a quote from Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man: “Truth is like a threshing-machine; tender sensibilities must keep out of the way.”
“The public discourse of Catholics needs to be guided by charity and respect for others, but above all by truth,” Archbishop Chaput explained in reply. “The truth can be difficult, so we often want to soften its edges. But this just wastes time and compounds our problems. Candor can be uncomfortable in the short run, but it’s much healthier in the long run.”
The archbishop continued: “The point is this: We need to be frank with each other as Christian adults, frank in our public witness, and frank in our own self-criticism. Again, we also need to be prudent and kind — but not at the expense of courage, and not at the expense of speaking the truth.”
Pope Francis was Time’s Person of the Year for 2013. (Time, that is, among others.) People who talk about such things — generally, people who get paid to talk — wondered if Time would dare name a bad actor like Bashar al-Assad, keeping us from looking away from the people his regime killed this year, or Vladimir Putin, who actually managed to broker a temporary “peace” in a smart power play in a vacuum. Over the years no less than Adolf Hitler has made the cover, as has Stalin; more recently, the Ayatollah Khomeini was Time’s selection in 1979.
This year, Time’s choice was not a bad guy, but a holy father. I happen to think it should have been Pope Benedict XVI, whose countercultural act of humility in relinquishing the papacy was as earth-shattering as events go. It’s not every day that a man steps away from power, in all humility, never mind the Chair of Peter. But the media was never very much into B16, so that would have been a surprise on Time’s cover. Pope Francis is a fascinating news story, and I’m delighted the Church is getting some positive coverage as he opens doors — even as some focus on what they hope changes or on what still divides rather than the radical nature of the Trinitarian life to which the Gospel calls Christians. That is the real story of the year — a whole new open window into papal prayer, into the Holy Spirit leading the news!
But there was one man who should have been a contender for Person of the Year but was not, and I might have put him on the cover. Not because he made the headlines he should have, but because he didn’t. Kermit Gosnell was the Philadelphia abortionist who, among other things, was found guilty of first-degree murder in 2013 in the deaths of three babies born alive and of involuntary manslaughter in the death of an immigrant from Bhutan, Karnamaya Mongar, who died as a result of a botched abortion from Gosnell. No mere footnote to this year in history, Gosnell exposes the ugly reality of abortion in America.
The e-book written subsequently by a local journalist, Steve Volk, a reporter for Philadelphia magazine, the result of his exclusive interview with Gosnell in prison, is must-reading for anyone who cares about the future of America. (I wrote about it for National Review Online here.) In Gosnell’s Babies: Inside the Mind of America’s Most Notorious Abortion Doctor, Volk makes clear that Gosnell considers himself a warrior for women, even as he waits for Bill and Hillary Clinton to give him a job at their Global Health Initiative. Why wouldn’t he? In his mind, everything he did was for “women’s health” in desperate situations, and the rhetoric of the industry and its politics had him pretty well covered until he went to jail after a trial which the mainstream media had to be shamed into covering (thank you, Kirsten Powers; thank you, Mollie Hemingway; thank you, for hearing the pleas, Anderson Cooper; thank you, Bret Baier) and has since largely forgotten about. (Instead of condemning him, leading abortion-rights activists including Nancy Pelosi, Cecile Richards, and Wendy Davis have had nothing to say on the matter — although, in fairness, Pelosi used it as an opportunity to stake abortion’s claim to “sacred ground.”)
And speaking of Wendy Davis: I’d add her as a not-insignificant sidebar and 4-alarm story. Davis was the Texas legislator who became a national heroine for standing for 11 hours in pink sneakers in a pro-choice filibuster. She’s since explained how she’s comfortable using the word “pro-life” to describe her politics, even as her cause célèbre is having opposed some restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that would make things safer in abortion clinics for some women in the latest stages of pregnancy and protect some of those children, even as she embraces and is the model of Planned Parenthood/abortion-industry politics.
Are we really for what Lila Rose has shown us that both an inner-city hellhole like Gosnell’s and a state-of-the-art upscale clinic adjacent to a George Washington University dormitory in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the White House is willing to do: Killing a baby if the child winds up being delivered alive? Do we count among our heroes those who would make sure women have the right to a dead baby if they believe this is the only desperate choice they have, or that this is their declaration of freedom, or that abortion is a “necessary” evil to maintain a certain plan, status, career, lifestyle, semblance of sanity? Or will we insist every mother and father see clear through to being a parent — whether to give a family the child they can’t raise or provide a lifetime of love and support, with support? Will we make abortion implausible?
2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. We can’t afford to wait another nine years now to make a big deal of this. And yet, the milestone passed much of the media as it often does. Collectively, we barely noticed the overwhelming enthusiasm for the dignity of human life on display as thousands of young people descended upon Washington, D.C., once again, to protest the decision. In recent years, the crowds are unmistakably larger and younger. This year, it will be even harder to miss with a new generation of March for Life leadership makes savvier use of social media and the precious display that’s natural to a cause that is about saving lives as well as our souls, individually and as a nation. While it’s not a proselytizing rally, anyone who attends knows it will feature much prayer and many parish and school banners. (About 600 students will be travelling to the march from the University of Notre Dame later this January.)
Kermit Gosnell and Wendy Davis were the poster couple of warnings for us in 2013. To look away might be a numbing agent for the short term, but there’s blood on our hands if we do. And it’s not just the blood of the innocents murdered at an altar of choice because we couldn’t be bothered to help with better answers. These better answers, in many cases, mean facilitating connections to people at maternity homes in the business of saving lives and other real help to support life. Such support makes the choice for life seem possible to a mother who has been convinced it’s liberating to pretend she’s not one, even as she knows better. By looking away, we add to the pain and the misery of the walking wounded all around us — those on our train ride home, that distracted driver next to us, members of our families, men and women in our workplaces, fellow worshipers in our churches, and many others who have been affected by abortion somewhere in their lives. We’ll have to answer for looking away from this violence of the most intimate sort — and we look away whenever we vote the wrong way with some indifference, fail to support a maternity home, neglect to dedicate prayer time to mothers and fathers in some crisis, or hesitate to be honest about our words and our laws.
Wouldn’t we rather be part of the solution?
If we are being honest with ourselves before God, there are but two standards: Christ and the Devil. When we knowingly look away, we choosing one over the other. We need to decide this day to choose Christ in all things, and especially so on such grave matters. It’s a matter of human lives and human souls. It’s our stewardship mandate.
The Person of the Year covers don’t mention it so much, but Pope Francis talks about life:
Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.
And he talks about Satan. These are the reality of our lives. Satan craves the dark fog that keeps us from seeing clearly, keeping us from feeling like we can provide clarity, that we can confront his evil. But faith, as we are told in the historic 2013 encyclical of two popes, illuminates everything.
And so it does here, too. Remember the women and children who died in Kermit Gosnell’s clinic. Be honest about what happened there. Be honest about our politics rather than get revved up about pink sneakered delusions about “women’s health” — and even as Satan is openly invoked! Herein lies the making of an illuminating new year in which we can become better about saving lives, building a culture of life and a civilization of love, and steering ourselves away from what has been our grave 4 decade national course of turning our back on the most vulnerable.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.
(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)