Saturday, March 01, 2008

When Everything's Made to be Broken

Ministry is service rendered out of love, and with a deep respect for the person served, after the model of Jesus. Ministry is never self-seeking; ministry is giving, and it is the kind of giving in which one loves the person one gives to. To bring joy, to bring relief from pain and sorrows, to end anxiety and fear, to share what enriches - this is ministry. Ministry is not an attempt to do someone over in some preconceived pattern. It uncritically respects the individuality, taste, and life choices of the persons served, freeing them to create themselves anew. It urges, inspires, shares, supports; it never forces.

~ Fr. William Bauman, The Ministry of Music (second ed.)

So tired of the straight life,
And everywhere you turn
There’s vultures and thieves at your back.
The storm keeps on twisting
You keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack.

Don’t make no difference
Escape it one last time.
It’s easier to believe
In this sweet madness
Oh, this glorious sadness,
That brings me to my knees.

~ Angel, Sarah McLachlan

“One of our Priests for Life staff brought me an amazing story this morning. He was at an abortion mill over the weekend. A man, whose child was being aborted inside, came back to pick up the child’s mom, and a sidewalk counselor showed him one of the diagrams we distribute that shows the abortion procedure…….[link to graphic images deliberately omitted by blog author]

When he saw what abortion had done to his child, he literally fell to his knees there in the street, and wept inconsolably. Police officers had to help him up.

Friends, we have to break people’s hearts about abortion. We also have to remember, again and again, the power of these disturbing images. Never doubt they work to break denial and to bring repentance and conversion.”

Priests for Life, Gospel of Life Ministries, March-April 2008 Newsletter

“…we have to break people’s hearts….”

Do we? I am going to take issue with that, and with the way this “amazing story” was related. And more, and call it arrogance on my part if you like, I offer you a warning about using such language, and such stories, and about giving people the illusion that they have to hurt those who have already hurt themselves in order to bring about “repentance and conversion.” And as I do, you should remember what drives me; what defines my entire being: it is my own broken and aborted heart, and the memory, not image, but actual memory, of my own broken and aborted child, aborted against my own will when I was a child myself, vulnerable and alone.

First, we should know more about this man, and this “amazing story.” He “wept inconsolably.” Why could he not be consoled? Hadn’t you told him first about the consolation of mercy and forgiveness for sins, and that the Lord still loved him? Was he left in a state of despair? Where is he now? Do you know, or is this evidence of his brokenness enough for you to walk away satisfied? And where is the child’s mother, who was apparently left with an inconsolable partner who could not deny the reality of their child’s murder? Do you know what he has said or done to her, or for her, as his co-conspirator in the killing of their child? Was she told about the Lord, and about mercy, and about forgiveness, or is she now, too, weeping inconsolably, and alone?

Tell us how he was brought to “repentance and conversion,” because surely you don’t intend for us to break hearts without knowing how to help heal the wound. Did he accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior? Is he in your care now, so we can be sure he does not remain in this inconsolable state of mind, and perhaps do harm to himself or others? Why is it that the police had to help him up? Where were the hands of Christ to help him stand, the hands that you say showed him his sin, shattered his denial, broke his heart, and brought him to inconsolable desolation? Why didn’t YOU help him stand up?

Where is the love of Christ in this "amazing story?" Is it Christ-like for us to approach those who have sinned and shove the evidence of sin in their faces until we break them into inconsolable little pieces, because we are so horrified by the little pieces of children we choose to use as weapons to pierce the heart, to break the heart, to shatter the sinner? Do we lead them to despair in order to lead them to Christ? Wouldn’t it be more prudent, and more loving, and more like Christ, to lead them to the Lord first, so they will not despair and weep inconsolably?

You are priests, and friends of priests. And I am Catholic. So let’s turn to the Scriptures. In the Gospel of St. John, coincidentally our Church’s Sunday Gospel reading recently, the Lord meets the Samaritan woman by the well. He asks her for a drink. This is the first thing He does. It surprises her, because Jews did not treat with Samaritans. So the first thing the Lord did was to treat her as a friend. Then He told her about the living water, the water only He could give, the water of salvation: “..but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” (John 4:14). And in what has been called a classic conversion story, the woman asks Jesus to give her this water.

His reply? “Go, call your husband, and come here,” (John 4:16). He knew she had no husband, and that she had been living in adultery with more than one man. But He did not tell her what they already knew. He made no attempt to shatter her denial of sin. He didn’t shove her sin in her face. He didn’t break her heart with accusations or punitive graphic depictions of her sins. He told her about the living water of eternal life that He had to offer her, and with a simple request, gave her the opportunity to either accept Him or reject Him by the truth in her reply – we call this free will, and God will never mess with our free will to choose or reject His love because He wants children, not slaves, and after all, what is water that quenches our thirst forever, if not love?

The Samaritan woman then chooses to accept the Lord, and the living and loving water, and she honestly answers that she has no husband. Now, and only now, the Lord says, “You are right in saying ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly,” (John 4:17-18). After He had offered Himself to her, and she had accepted what He had to offer, and after she herself had confessed her sin before Him – then, He discussed how she had sinned; then, He told her the graphic details, right down to the exact number of men with whom she had committed adultery; but only after He had given her the strength she would need to bear it. And that was the end of it. He spoke of her sins no more. We don’t know that her heart was broken. The Scriptures don’t say the woman wept, inconsolably or otherwise, which might be evidence of that. In fact, His knowledge of her sins led her to more fervent belief in Him, as evidenced by her immediate reply, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet,” (John 4:19). Her words and actions thereafter in going back to her community and talking about Him portray a woman in awe from having met her Savior, not an inconsolable woman in despair over having to face her sins.

Consider two other prominent figures in the New Testament, both of whom had their hearts broken by their own sins: St. Peter and Judas Iscariot. We know that Judas did not love the Lord; he did not accept him as the Messiah, or he would not have conspired against him. Yet we also know that after he had betrayed the Lord, he was sorry: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he [Jesus] was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying ‘ I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself,” (Matthew 27:3-5). Judas died in despair over his sins; there was no consolation for him from the chief priests and elders to whom he confessed. He had no concept of the mercy of Christ, because he had rejected His love. He died by his own hand, broken-hearted, inconsolable, in the despair of sin, and we are taught that he wrought his own eternal damnation.

St. Peter also betrayed the Lord, by denying Him three times. But St. Peter knew who the Lord was, and had already accepted Him as his Lord and Savior: In Chapter 16 of the Gospel of St. Matthew, in reply to the Lord’s questioning of the disciples about who He was, St. Peter said, “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon BarJona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven,” (Mathew 16:16-17). St. Peter knew the love and mercy of Christ; He knew Him as his Savior. Yet, as the Lord predicted, when He was brought before the chief priests and elders, St. Peter denied knowing Him, three times. When the cock crowed, and he realized what he had done, “…he went out and wept bitterly,” (Matthew 26:75). His heart was broken; but because he already knew his Savior, he did not despair in his pain. His tears were the bitterness of repentance and sorrow; but not the inconsolable, suicidal tears of despair.

In the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of St. John, the Resurrected Lord asks St. Peter, three times, if he loves Him. Three times he replies that he does; and with each response the Lord charges him to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” “feed my sheep,” (John 21:15-17). As far as we can see from Scriptures, the Lord never mentions St. Peter’s sin of denial to his face after the fact – His asking three times if He was loved was significant – but note how subtle, again, our Lord is in leading people to be mindful of their own sins, and only after He has offered Himself to them. St. Peter was sorrowful that the Lord asked him again and again and again; but he was not inconsolable. Because with it, here is the Lord’s love, mercy, and instruction to make reparation to ease the pain of St. Peter’s broken heart. Here is the Consolation in which he trusted, which kept him from the despair and suicide that overwhelmed Judas Iscariot.

So now, I ask again, where is the love in what was done to that man outside the abortion mill, when his heart was brutally man-handled, not by the Lord, who can see and know all ends, but by mere humans, who cannot see into his heart, who cannot save him from despair without Christ? And where is the love in directing others to go out and break hearts with no more explanation than what is reprinted above? Do you not realize that some people will take this direction, and actually do it just as you describe?

Christ directs us to love others as He has loved us; where, in this Great Commandment, does He tell us to inflict pain on our brothers and sisters? But you tell us that our job is to bring those who abort to their knees in despair, so that, in their pain, they will then repent and convert. But the Samaritan woman at the well was offered salvation, first and foremost. She was given the freedom to come to the realization of her sins by herself, and by the Lord’s offer of love and eternal life. Some may take your directions, and break hearts, inflict pain, without first offering the post-abortive mothers and fathers the living water that will cleanse them and save them from their sins, and from inconsolable despair.

Why have I been obsessed about this “amazing story” and the command to go break hearts ever since it arrived in my email box? The answer is simple, and erupts from the pain of personal experience: whether we are pro-life or pro-choice - our aborted hearts are already broken. We do not need mere, mortal, fallible human beings to believe they are breaking them for us, when all they are really doing is tearing them out of our chests to show them to us. We have broken our hearts ourselves by killing our own children. It is not, and never will be, you who breaks our hearts – such arrogance. And you are not entitled to demand we show you the evidence of our brokenness, no matter your zeal or your righteous purpose. You are not entitled to jab that spear into our chests until we weep inconsolably, or scream in despair; to rip open our skulls and take out that part of our brains that wants to deny our sins and protect us from the pain; and to do all of this for your own satisfaction so you believe you know the disposition of a man’s soul, which is known only to God. We are the Lost Sheep – He will leave the ninety-nine who do not go astray to find us, and He will not do it by giving us pain; He does it by taking our pain upon Himself; by enduring the scourging and the crown of thorns Himself; by carrying the Cross for us until it drives Him to His knees; by dying for us so that we may live; by loving us, as only God can.

And here’s another news flash, which no one should need to hear from me, a mere broken woman, who chooses to show you her brokenness, and whose unending pain and grief you should hear wailing and keening from this page, which is wet with tears, in defense of all who suffer from abortion: We do not need you to “shatter our denial.” We will use our denial for as long as we choose; we will hide from our pain in our own way until we either die in despair or find the Divine Mercy of God’s forgiveness, because the Lord Himself gave us this free will, to sin or not; to either accept Him or deny Him. Our Church teaches that Faith is a gift: those who have ears will hear; those who have eyes will see; and some will weep and gnash their teeth, of their own free will. Our purpose, and some of you have been ordained for this, is to reveal Him to others; to feed His lambs; to tend His sheep; to feed His sheep.

To tend is to care – to handle His sheep with care, which means to lead them to safe pastures, to salvation, and we do not do this with a cattle prod. Shepherds guide gently; they do not use brutal force, or pain, because sheep are vulnerable, fragile, and dumb creatures who will not understand these tactics no matter how hard they are applied. Feed His sheep – give them the living water when they thirst, and make sure they are fed by Christ. I believe your command to go and break hearts will be abused, and the Lord’s lost sheep will be hurt, perhaps permanently lost, because they will run from you, run from this pain, and run from Him, because they will be hurt by their brothers and sisters in His name.

When I made my first Confession after being forced to abort my child, I, too, fell to my knees, and wept inconsolably, which will satisfy many, I’m sure. But I was driven to the ground by the lead weight of my own sins, my own broken heart, and not because anyone pushed me down. My Confessor had only asked me to speak to him, and did not tell me what to say (even though he already knew what he should hear). And I was consoled. This Franciscan priest who heard my Confession wept with me and, at least for awhile, he carried the burden of my suffering (Father Clare, may you rest in the arms of the Lord for eternity). He told me about the Lord’s infinite capacity for love. He gave me the consolation of the living water; assurances of God’s most merciful and Sacred Heart. And then, by the power of God, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he gave me absolution for my sins. His purpose, your purpose, and our purpose, is to be like Christ, and he fulfilled his purpose with such grace in perfect emulation of the Lord that he pulled me from the despair which had driven me to my knees; he helped me stand again, with the Lord’s strength. This is Love. This is how we deal with sinners, even the ones we are tempted to hate the most; the ones we want to see punished; the ones we want to see driven to the ground; the worst of the worst: the baby killers, like me.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 3:4).