A few months ago driving to work, I listened intently to NPR’s special report entitled, Losing Our Religion
. The particular story that caught my attention was a group interview of young “nones,” people who do not identify with any religion. Having written my dissertation on the process of secularization and studied the phenomenon of “nones” extensively, the majority of responses were predicable. Until, they were questioned: do you pray?
To my surprise, every interviewee acknowledged that they pray. With great candor, one admitted hypocritically to praying when hitting rock bottom, yet not believing in God. Others revealed that they often expressed a spirit of gratitude or did a daily examination. While not directed to a personal God, these actions contain many characteristics of prayer.
Reflecting on these responses, I concluded that prayer is a very natural response to certain circumstances. We often pray to God when faced with a great difficultly – a death, illness, or loss of job, or we offer a prayer of thanks when something good happens. It’s intuitive. We don’t even have to think about doing it.
Now, it’s time for my confession. Even though praying is a natural action, I am very bad at it. I went to Catholic schools, attended religious education classes, and heard thousands of homilies, and yet, I struggle communicating with God in a personal and meaningful way.
What did you think of the responsorial psalm from last Sunday? Were you blown away by its profound meaning? If you are like me, then you probably don’t remember it. I am not an expert in body language, but are most people at Mass present only physically? Too often, when I am praying the rosary or night prayers, I am planning the next day or daydreaming about something else. I am merely saying words with no movement of my heart.
(Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)
I feel like I am not alone, and I would argue that it is more a problem with Catholics than members of other denominations and faiths. In today’s Catholicism, there is a strong emphasis on verbal prayers. We teach children to memorize certain prayers, but neglect to instruct them what to do mentally while praying the words.
Communicating with God through prayer has many similarities with interacting with a spouse. It is natural and easy to communicate with your spouse at first, but over time, it takes work to develop and deepen your relationship. You cannot say the same thing over and over again, and not expect the relationship to become stale. You have to create new ways to express your love in order for your marriage to be fresh and vibrant. The same is true with our relationship with God. If we repeat the same prayers while we are zoning out, we will not grow in our love for God.
Most Catholics assume other faiths are more attentive toward mental prayer. Eastern religions, like Buddhism and Hinduism, are focused on meditation, and Protestantism has a rich history of spontaneous prayer. Catholics have even sought to integrate eastern mysticism and revivalism into Catholicism in order to enhance their prayers.
Borrowing or inventing new methods, however, is not necessary as Catholicism has a profound tradition of mental prayer. The church has always encouraged mental prayer, and countless mystics have written on the subject, climaxing in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The current problem is not that Catholicism is opposed to this type of prayer, but that it has been forgotten and neglected.
We need to be part of a movement that restores mental prayer to the forefront by reading and learning from the classical texts. Yet even before exploring the writings of the mystics, we can begin with simple practices like taking a few minutes every day to meditate on the passion and death of Jesus while contemplating a crucifix or reading a passage from the Bible and then silently reflecting on it.
Some of the “nones” in the NPR report were former Catholics. Why did they leave? Perhaps, they were not taught how to properly pray, and therefore, they felt that their prayers were fake and empty, prompting them to leave the faith. It is our responsibility to ensure that does not continue to happen.
Catholic instruction should move beyond memorizing prayers. It should help people develop a deep and living prayer life by building on people’s natural desire to pray and develop and deepen it with proper guidance. Only with this renewed focus on mental prayer will young Catholics see their relationship with God as meaningful and thus remain devoted to the faith.
May 29, 2013 12:25
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Several months ago, the nation came to a halt due the mass killings in Newtown, and rightfully, every news station, newspaper, and the like covered the story for days. It precipitated a national conversation on how to prevent future massacres from gun control to mental health care. It was the innocence of the young children that struck a chord with people. How could anyone hurt a young child?
Currently, the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell is underway. For those unaware, he routinely delivered live babies during the third trimester, and then cut the spine of the baby in order to kill them, decapitating breathing, screaming, moving babies. He even joked that one baby was so big he could “walk me to the bus stop.”
Where is the new coverage? Where is the outrage? Where is the national conversation?
The murder of these innocent children has been greeted by silence.
The pro-abortion lobby is scared of this case because it shows the true face of abortion. You can dress up the issue with a discussion of privacy and rights, but the reality is a baby loses his or her life in the process. The trial, the grand jury report, and the pictures make this loss of life painfully clear.
Finally, a few honest journalists have picked up the story. Instead of repeating their work, I encourage you to read their articles in USA Today
and The Atlantic
and to share them.
April 12, 2013 12:50
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
“What do you think of the new pope?”
“I like him.”
The verdict is in; the world likes, no loves, Pope Francis.
In the past month, I have slammed the media’s coverage of Mother Teresa
, and the pre-conclave speculation
. Imagine my surprise in the glowing coverage of the new pope. It feels strange to see a pro-Catholic news article, and even stranger, to see pro-Catholic comments after the article.
The press has even gone as far as defending his record in Argentina’s Dirty War, the one area of controversy surrounding his election.
For me, the likeability of the pope ranks fairly low on my desirable characteristics. As we go through the readings during Holy Week, it is clear that Jesus was not well liked. I cannot read Francis’s mind, but I am pretty certain that he does not care if people like him or not.
Pope Francis gives a thumbs up as he leaves St. Peter's Square after celebrating
Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 24.
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The church has often been seen as hypocritical, preaching one thing but doing something else. One of the reasons Francis is so beloved is his authenticity. He lives the message that he preaches. It is disarming to see someone that is meek and humble, which makes it hard to have negative opinion of him.
We need to be held to the same standard as the church. Do you like the pope’s message of helping the poor? Then, make plans to help the poor. Do you like his call for forgiveness and mercy? Then, strive to be more forgiving and merciful.
Francis is delivering a message, a message that has been around for 2000 years. It is important that it’s conveyed in an effective manner, and Francis appears to have a gift spreading Catholic teaching. However, he is not the message.
More than liking the new pope, we need to listen to him, and beyond listening, we to need to live the Christian message. Francis desires that people put his words into practice more than praise his sermons and speeches.
Are you one of those people who likes the new pope? If yes, then it is time to put his message into action.
March 26, 2013 11:43
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
You might be tempted to pull out your Rubbermaid boxes and start packing away your decorations. Don’t do it. Christmas might be over, but the Christmas season is just starting.
After fasting and doing penance for the four weeks of Advent (right?), I am not going to be content with one day of feasting. The church, in her wisdom, understands that the birth of Jesus merits a prolonged celebration, and, thus, the Christmas season lasts until the Sunday after the Epiphany, marking the Baptism of the Jesus. In the old calendar, the Christmas season lasted even longer until the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple or Candlemas on February 2. One, therefore, does not need to rush to tear down the decorations, stop the music, or start the diet.
Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas ran from Christmas to the Epiphany, and these days were filled with gatherings and festivities. Most people today would guess that the twelve days of Christmas precede the holiday, with the countless parties leading up to Christmas. With the secular Christmas season, which is tied to shopping, starting earlier and earlier, it is no wonder that people are exhausted on December 26. This year, I noticed Christmas displays up immediately after Halloween.
The Catholic Church has a reputation as being purely penitential, and suspect of celebrations and having fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church is not puritanical and teaches that God has created many good things, which we should enjoy. Now is the time to celebrate and enjoy all the wonderful things – family, food, music, snow, dance, and the like.
The liturgical year is actually a wonderful balance of feasting and fasting: Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and so on. The church and my own writings, perhaps, emphasize the penitential periods because mortification needs a little more encouragement and reinforcement than celebrating. This emphasis, then, is distorted by some who see Catholics as only fasting, neglecting the feasting.
Additionally, the world has become so centered on indulgence that any message which advocates moderation attracts a great deal of attention. Therefore, the church’s countercultural call for penance creates a more lasting memory than its message to celebrate the great feasts. The church also seeks to place celebrations in their proper context. In the Catholic perspective, a true festival is joyous and fulfilling, not hedonistic. We can enjoy a great meal and good drinks, but not to the point of overindulgence. This limitation actually makes the feast more enjoyable, but some see this view as restrictive.
Beyond the Christmas season, the Catholic calendar is full of feasts. In fact, every Sunday is a day to rest, eat, and gather with family. The penitential days, meant to remove worldly items to focus more closely on our relationship with God, surprisingly make the celebratory days more enjoyable.
I am Catholic because I believe it’s the true faith, but it’s also enjoyable to be Catholic. I love the traditions, the feasts, the liturgies, and the celebrations. It’s not cold, stiff, or boring. We pray hard, but we also know how to have fun.
So, enjoy the twelve days of Christmas. Revel in the company of family and good friends. Don’t even think about diets or new resolutions. At least, wait until after the Epiphany to dust of the treadmill, purge the leftover cookies, and take down that tree.
December 26, 2012 10:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Do you remember gathering around the dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner? Sadly, the next generation will not. In the coming years, Thanksgiving will slowly, but surely, be gobbled up by Black Friday, turning the day designated for giving thanks to God into a shopping bonanza.
Over the past few years, stores have made their Black Friday opening time earlier and earlier, and last year, major retailers, like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us, broke with tradition and opened their doors on Thursday night. This year, it is hard to find a store that is not opening on Thanksgiving or midnight, with Sears, Toys R Us, and Wal-Mart opening at 8pm.
As every Black Friday shopper knows, you cannot arrive when the store opens and obtain the best deals. So while Wal-Mart’s 8pm opening might theoretically allow time for dinner, many shoppers will spend Thursday afternoon waiting in line. At least shoppers have the choice to forfeit a family dinner, whereas millions of workers will be required to work on Thanksgiving afternoon in order to prep the store, a far worse proposition.
What does this mean? Holidays are days we set aside to celebrate what is important to us. As one theorist said, we are what we celebrate. Holidays, in other words, reflect the values of the culture, and therefore, the celebratory calendar is a microcosm of society’s principles as a whole.
At one point, our country valued giving God thanks, and for one day a year, we collectively expressed our gratitude to God for our food, homes, family, and country. The former importance of Thanksgiving is a testament to the Christian heritage of his country, but sentiments have changed, greatly diminishing the significance of the holiday. In its place, Black Friday has arisen.
Black Friday represents America’s obsession with stuff. In a few days, millions of Americans will wait hours in line, trample those who get in their way, and then fight to grab the latest must-have item, all in the name of a bargain. More than another event, Black Friday demonstrates the materialism and greed that has infiltrated our culture.
Is there any way to resist this onslaught? Some workers have pushed back against the decision to open early. Target employees started an online petition that has gathered 100,000s of signatures, and Wal-Mart employees are planning a strike for Black Friday (more over workers’ rights than working on Thanksgiving). With the current economy, many people, however, will flock to fill any vacant positions, making protests and strikes fairly ineffective.
On the other hand, retail chains follow dollar signs. Last year’s experiment was extremely successful, with 28 million shoppers tallied for Thanksgiving 2011, and if the numbers increase this year, which I assume they will, expect stores to open even earlier in 2013. Yet, if customers respond negatively, the hour will most likely be curtailed. Oddly, the future of Thanksgiving lies with consumers.
My question for you is where will you spend this Thanksgiving? Is a cheap, big-screen television more important than giving thanks to God? Is a new tablet more important sharing a dinner with your family? Our nation will jointly answer these questions on Thursday. I am not too optimistic about the response, but at least, we can do our part to save the day that honors God and family.
November 19, 2012 09:24
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
I disagree with most pundits, and perhaps, most Americans. We deserve our politicians and our laws. Candidates feed us a fictitious narrative that Washington is broken (this much is true), but the American people are exceptional. They tell us: send me to Washington, and I’ll fix it by restoring honesty, transparency, and a spirit of cooperation. It is a popular message, resting blame on someone else. Politicians blame each other and citizens blame politicians, no one accepting fault for any of our problems.
If Washington is the problem, the solution is fairly easy. Vote incumbents out. Yet, how many cycles have we seen over the past few decades? How many waves of new politicians have promised change, but Washington seems to have more in trouble than ever?
For a second, consider the current political circle as a reflection of our society. That is to say, the partisan nature of Washington is a reflection of the steep divide in the electorate. The moral confusion of our laws is a reflection of the relativism of contemporary American culture.
When the housing market crashed, causing a major economic recession, politicians were quick to play the blame game. Republicans insisted that government-backed loans distorted the market and helped create an unsustainable bubble, which eventually burst. Democrats countered that the deregulation of financial institutions allowed risky, predatory loans to flourish without any oversight. Government guarantees and deregulation made the housing crisis possible, but these measures did not cause the bubble and subsequent crash. The root cause was greed. Millions of bankers, brokers, real estate agents, and home owners knowingly participated in unsound purchases, but they overlooked this concern in order to reap huge short-term gains.
No politician discusses the pandemic of greed that plagued the housing market crash. If avarice is mentioned, it is reserved for the CEOs of top banks; it is not referred to as a societal issue. Moreover, government cannot effectively deal with some of the problems facing our country. Political leaders cannot legislate honesty or thrift, especially with the current amoral and secular view of the state.
This era should be golden age for the church. People dissatisfied with the government are meandering around, searching for an upright institution which they can trust. In addition, religion offers precisely the answers to many of the problems facing our country. Is not the church best suited to offer a critique of greed and illustrate the importance of charity and moderation?
I am concerned that this moment might be squandered. Church leaders, seeing politics in chaos and experiencing direct attacks from it, have entered the fray, hoping to provide some moral guidance. I have supported the efforts of the bishops, applauding their stance against the HHS mandate, but a more political church could also stand to lose more than it gains.
Politics has toxicity, affecting everything that comes into contact with it. As soon as the church enters a campaign, some individuals are turned off, and that’s fine. The church is meant to stand up for truth and not for what is popular. Problems arise when clerics working with Republicans on traditional marriage are viewed as supporting Republicans or when church leaders allying with Democrats on immigration are seen as backing Democrats. Charges of a partisan church are unfounded, but they are numerous. In many ways, I am not arguing against what the church does, but how it is viewed, especially through the lens of a distrustful media. Non-Catholics and non-practicing Catholics mainly hear about the church through news stories, and the media overlooks its spiritual and charitable activities and focuses exclusively on the church’s scandals and political actions. Many outside observers have expressed the opinion that the church resembles a political party more than a religion.
Practicing Catholics face a different challenge if they have an overly political worldview. If my predictions hold true, the church will face and lose many political challenges in the near future. Some religious institutions have had to reduce services or close down all together due to recent rulings; more will follow. Several religious leaders and schools have faced charges of intolerance and discrimination; this will only increase. If individuals place too much emphasis on political rulings, overturning laws, or getting favorable politicians elected, they could despair in the coming years.
Jesus lived at a time which was not unlike ours in some respects. The Jewish community was at the mercy of the Roman Empire, and they faced severe limitations in the practice of their faith. Jesus, however, had very little to say about the Romans. In his encounter with Pilate he remained uninterested in political power: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18: 36). Numerous political writers speculate if Jesus be a Republican or Democrat. I wonder if we are reading the same Gospels. If Jesus returned today, He would not be seen at conventions or campaign stops. He would be at the back of our churches, asking people as they left: remember me, my teachings, and my commandments? His harsh words were not directed towards the Romans, but members of his religious community that drifted away.
What is the main political problem facing the church? It is not that religious freedom is under attack. It is that many Catholics either support these measures or do not care about them. The elephant in the room is that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who implemented the mandate, is Catholic. The Vice-President, who advised on the matter, is Catholic. The Speaker of the House when the healthcare bill was passed is Catholic. Furthermore, the majority of Catholics voted for the current administration, and they will likely vote the same way again, even after these matters have come to light. If the majority of Catholics upheld the teachings of the church, there would be no political struggle, no attack on religious freedom.
We do not need political reform. We need spiritual reform. We do not need another political party. We need an alternative to politics.
Sadly, we deserve our politicians. Our government has faltered due the lack of morality in our country. New laws or new politicians will not correct the course of this country, only a return to morality. I look expectantly at the church and its leaders to lead the way.
(I am in no way discouraging Catholics to vote or become involved in politics. It is a Catholic duty to perform these actions. I am merely stating the priority of the church to be a spiritual entity over its role in politics, and its primary mission is to lead people to God rather than seek success in politics.)
September 21, 2012 08:19
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Fifty years later, do you remember the liturgy before Vatican II?
We are quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, the most significant event in the history of the modern church, which opened on Oct. 11, 1962. The church has changed substantially since the council and perhaps, no change has been more noticeable than the alterations to the Mass.
As a historian of religious rituals and a practicing Catholic, I am deeply interested in how the Mass changed during and after the council. Surprisingly, only a few years ago, I was unaware of the Traditional Latin Mass, now referred to as the Extraordinary Form. I thought the “Latin Mass” was merely the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form, in Latin.
In college, I joined a schola that sang for a monthly Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. At one point, we were invited to sing for a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. I was in shock. I had attended Mass every Sunday since childhood, but I was completely lost. The priest was facing the altar, many prayers were inaudible, the choir and priest often recited the same prayers at different times, and many prayers were completely different from what I knew; this all beyond the use of Latin.
In addition to confusion, I also felt a profound sense of reverence and mystery, as if I was witnessing an ancient ritual. I am still surprised that less than 50 years ago the Extraordinary Form was the only Mass throughout the world. Even with its historical feel, it was the liturgy that my grandparents knew well and which my parents experienced during their childhood. In many ways, it is not too far removed from us today.
I have often wondered, why did not anyone tell me? Unexpectedly, only a few older Catholics discuss the changes and how people reacted to them. As a historian, I want to learn from these individuals before they are no longer with us. In addition to the lack of oral history, books on the liturgical changes focus mainly on church mandates from above and rarely look at implementation on the parish level.
I recently finished reading Timothy Kelly’s well researched The Transformation of American Catholicism: The Pittsburgh Laity and the Second Vatican Council, 1950–1972 , the sole book that examines the laity during this time period, but even Kelly relied only on church archives, neglecting people that experienced these events.
Through many discussions and review of relevant documents, I discerned that the changes to the liturgy were incremental and took nearly a decade to complete. Starting even before the council was over in 1964, the use of English was introduced for some prayers, such as the Gloria, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer. Shortly after, an altar facing the people was introduced and communion was received standing (1965). Over time more elements of the Mass, the priest’s prayers (1965) and the Canon (1967), were said in English. In 1968, three new Eucharist Prayers were approved and other musical instruments besides the organ were allowed.
The following year, the Vatican approved the missal of the Novus Ordo and a new liturgical calendar. In 1970, new rites for baptisms and weddings were introduced as well as a new lectionary. It took a few years for the American bishops to approve vernacular versions of the Latin texts released by the Vatican, and therefore, it was not until the early 1970s that all the changes were finalized.
The above timeline hides part of what happened in the parishes. In addition to being incremental, the changes were also irregular. They varied from diocese to diocese and parish to parish. Some traditional priests and bishops were reluctant to change and only made adjustments when absolutely necessary. On the other hand, some modernists went beyond the texts of the council and implemented their own ideas of reform.
Church architecture is a visual example of the different directions taken by the clergy after the council. Some historic churches were barely altered, excluding the addition of a new altar. Conversely, new suburban parishes that were built in 1970s hardly resemble churches. The different building styles mirror the varied liturgies held within their walls.
While the records allow us to make some general statements about the alterations to the liturgy, it is difficult to determine how people reacted to the new experience. A vocal minority heartily supported the council, and they found sympathetic church leaders. Another outspoken minority opposed the alterations and overtime, they were increasingly on the outside looking in. The vast majority were silent, accepting the new reality.
The last piece of the puzzle is the rapid decline in church attendance during the 1960s and 1970s. A Gallup roll in 1958 reported that 75 percent of Catholics regularly attended Sunday Mass, but by 1985, it had slid to 50 percent. Which begs the question, why did church attendance drop, if most people accepted the changes?
It is too reductionist to blame Vatican II. First, the 1950s were a highpoint for church attendance. Historically, church attendance was much lower than 75 percent, and it is unreasonable to use it as the sole comparison. In other words, the period between 1930 and 1960 might have been a bubble more than 1960 was a cliff. Second, there were hidden cracks within the late 1950s church even before the council, especially with young people. The openness of the post-council church gave these individuals a venue to express their opinions. That is to say, Vatican II was not the cause of religious dissent but an opportunity. Given these caveats, the new theology which deemphasized mandatory Mass attendance and the irregular and sometime confusing implementation of the new Mass also played a significant role in the decline.
Vatican II is a litmus test for Catholics. Where you stand on the council reveals where you stand on the Catholic spectrum from traditionalist to progressive. Moreover, positions are held in blanket generalizations, sweeping disregard or praise of the modern church. It is far more helpful to have a nuanced view of the changes to the Mass, learning from what elements worked and which ones failed.
Given this warning against impulsive statements, I am curious to hear what older Catholics have to add to this discussion. How were the reforms implemented in your parish? How did people react to the changes? Why did church attendance drop in their wake?
September 05, 2012 12:35
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
After seeing my wife going through nine months of pregnancy, I am glad it is something I never have to experience. She started off nauseous and ended up uncomfortable, with a lot of other inconveniences in between. One cool experience, however, was that she was treated like a mini-celebrity at the end of the pregnancy. When we went out, I was always surprised at how many people came up and talked to her, asking about the baby, reminiscing about their pregnancy, guessing the gender, or even touching the belly (that’s a little weird).
Generally, people were moved when they saw my wife’s belly. I remember a heavily tattooed man wearing an A-shirt, coming up to her with a huge smile, and chatting with her about children. Everyone considered my wife pregnant with a child. They spoke in the present tense about our boy with no doubt about his personhood. I image every expectant mother would be wholly offended if anyone referred to their child, who they felt kick and saw in a sonogram, as an “it”, a thing, or not a life. This discourse of expecting mothers is universal, transcending political lines and people’s stance on life issues.
Surprisingly, the same exact situation has a different discourse in the political and legal sphere. Many politicians and judges fail to comprehend that a distinct life was present within my pregnant wife, a point my 3-year-old son understood. They reduce the baby to a less-than-human status, talking about him as a clump of cells, not a person. The most striking aspect of this issue is the contradiction between these two ways of speaking about the same thing. How can expecting mothers and our laws speak so differently about a pregnancy?
Another important lesson that can be gleaned from this review is the power of words. Social scientists define a discourse as the way society discusses a certain principle, including definitions and assumptions about a term. Discourses can change dramatically over time and between different societies. The discourse surrounding “a human being” has changed many times. Every time the definition has been limited; a disaster has ensured. For instance, African Americans were not considered fully human during the early part of American history. Jews in Nazi Germany were labeled less-than-human in the 1930s and early 1940s. We know what happened during these situations.
Recent scholarship on the Holocaust argues that most German perpetrators during the Holocaust, minus their involvement in these crimes, were decent people, not racists or hateful individuals (see Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men). How can ordinary people commit horrible crimes? Part of the answer is the power of discourses. In this case, the dominant discourse spoke authoritatively and constantly that a crime was not a crime, but actually something positive. Germans were instructed that killing Jews was a noble task. Similarly, a dominant discourse existed in America concerning slavery, and many slave owners believed they were helping their slaves.
Additionally, perpetrators had to abstract the imagined universal from real individuals. Many German mass murders during the Holocaust were friends with Jews prior to the war. Speeches from the war that have survived often instruct the soldier to make a distinction between the nice, friendly Jews that they knew back home and the horrible, vicious race that was trying to destroy them. In short, they had to take away the face, the humanness, of the individuals they were killing and replace it with a constructed and false ideal.
I believe that people are generally good. People seek to do good things. When it comes to abortion, advocates definitely believe they are fighting for something that is right. They have created a whole discourse that sounds great. For example, the label “pro-choice” sound good but is not about abortion. When God created us with free will, humans were given the ability to make choices. This ability has nothing to do whether that choice is good or bad, and if there should be ramifications for certain choices. So, pro-choice is a horrible way to distinguish a side in the abortion debate, but an effective slogan. Many other abortion talking points similarly sound good but have no substance: “war on women,” “women’s body,” and “keep government out of reproduction.”
There are many effective ways to advance the pro-life cause. Most importantly, we are called to build up a culture of life, in which all children are loved and supported. This discussion highlights some other means that are also significant ways to end abortion. That is, the words we use and the way we argue is important. If the jargon and the talking points are removed, it is pretty easy to win a debate over abortion. Another significant aspect is to connect the unborn baby with a real face. Like some of the examples above, it is possible to see abortion as a “positive” entity when talking about statistics like health care costs, but when we humanize the baby, these arguments collapse to nothing.
Lastly, what is the end of a discourse that dehumanized unborn babies? We often do not think about the consequences of abortion because society is silent about the remains of the child and the impact on the mother. However, stories often surface which show the true face of the process.
Last month, local residents in a small Russian town found 248 fetuses dumped in an isolated part of the forest. The 5- to 6-month-old fetuses are fully recognizable as human remains. The case sparked outrage in Russia, but why? Procedures producing similar results happen thousands of times a day. Is it only morally wrong when it is seen?
Earlier in the year, news surfaced about pills made from aborted babies. Korean custom officials seized thousands of these pills coming from China, and an investigative report by a South Korean news program further detailed the production of the pills and the vast trading network. The grotesque practice involves cutting fetuses into small pieces, drying them out, microwaving them on low heat, grinding the remains into a powder, and then placing the powder into small capsules. The pills supposedly can cure anything and are more potent if the fetuses are older.
Lastly in February, two ethicists published an article in the respected Journal of Medical Ethics arguing that “killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.” They correctly reason that very little separates a newborn from an unborn baby, but instead of seeing the newborn as a valuable life and therefore the unborn baby as a living human, they maintain that if society permits killing an unborn baby with abortion, we should be able to kill a newborn. In short, if the parents do not like the baby after birth, they should be able to kill it for any reason.
These stories are shocking, but they are the direct conclusion of a society which values one life more than another. They might get us motivated to do something, but too often, it is only for a moment. Then we return to drinking our latte and carrying on with our life. As I hold my newborn son every day, I cannot help but think that life is not a privilege for those that are wanted or healthy. It is a right for all.
August 10, 2012 05:20
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Guess how much media the average teenager consumes every day. You might want to sit down for this one. According to a study by The Kaiser Family Foundation, the answer is ten hours and 45 minutes! My first thought is how is this even possible? Excluding time at school and sleeping, teens must spend every moment connected to some form of media.
The extensive study used surveys and media-use diaries of individuals aged 8 to 18, and it included only recreational use of media; using a computer or reading a book for school assignments, for instance, was not counted. The research was conducted in 1999, 2004, and 2009, and the evidence shows a steady increase of media use over time. The breakdown in hours and minutes is: four hours and 29 minutes watching TV, two hours and 31 minutes listening to music, one hour and 29 minutes on computers, one hour and 13 minutes playing video games, 38 minutes reading print and 25 minutes watching movies. Teens are adept at media-multitasking – watching TV and surfing the internet at the same time – and therefore, are able to consume all of this content in seven hours and 38 minutes per day, slightly more tenable, but still over 53 hours per week.
There is a lively debate about the merits or problems of media in the lives of young Americans, but I think one overlooked issue is the question of influence. Parents like to think they are the most influential individuals in their children’s life, and if not them, perhaps an inspiring teacher or dynamic priest. What parents fail to realize is that a short dinner conversation, one hour class, or weekly homily is dwarfed by ten hours and 45 minutes of TV shows, music lyrics, and YouTube videos.
Parents need to acknowledge that their teens are most influenced by people their children have never met in person. Everything from the way they dress to their values are most likely acquired from what is coming off a screen or flowing through their earphones. What are the messages being sent to our children? Like most parents, I am not really sure, but I am fairly confident that they are at odds with Christian ideals.
The high numbers are driven by young Americans’ nearly constant accessibility to media and little parent oversight. The study reveals that few parents, only 30%, set rules about media use. Many teens also have access to mobile devices that give them immediate access to media. In the last five years, the number of eight- to-18-year-olds who owned cell phones jumped from 39% to 66% and those who owned iPods or mp3 players rose from 18 to 76 percent. Responders also documented that 70 percent have a TV in their room and 50 percent have a videogame system in their room. In short, parents give their children these devices and then walk away, leaving teens to determine appropriate time limits and content.
In addition to this statistical evidence, I have noticed a shift in children’s behavior. I was always perplexed by the large number of children at our local bus stop and the lack of anyone playing outside or at the playground after school. Now I know why they are not outside. They’re watching TV. I have also observed a change in college-aged students. Not long ago, students would talk to each before class, but now they sit silently in their seats, listening to music or playing with their phones. I have seen similar behavior in adults on the metro, waiting in line, or walking on the street, all connected to media, oblivious to the person next to them.
My sons, three-weeks-old and three-years-old, are too young to fall within the parameters of the study, but my older son has revealed to me how even young children can feel the pressure of media. It is scary how adroitly he can use a tablet, selecting games, playing videos. Perhaps, the closest I have gotten to locking up our only TV was after my son’s third birthday. I assembled his present, a sandbox, for half a day, and then after five minutes of playing, he said: “Can we go inside and watch a TV show.” I feel like I am fighting a losing battle. With the start of school, my children will feel the pressure of keeping up with the latest shows and songs, and I am sure the demands for new devices and more time to use them will only increase. Looking ahead, I can understand many parents’ frustrations and also their disappointments in regards to teens and media use.
There are some positive elements to media. Watching a good movie is a great release. The internet is a treasure trove of information. Yet, 10:45 of daily media consumption is excessive, unhealthy, and sadly, the new norm. Too many parents have forfeited their role as parents. They let the media entertain, instruct, and distract (effectively, raise) their children. It’s no wonder that it is hard to relate to teenagers and that they appear so different from their parents. Parents need to regain control of their children’s use of media, limit the time, observe the content, and most importantly, replace it with more face to face interactions.
July 28, 2012 08:59
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi
Today in the mail, I received an invitation to my little sister’s first profession of vows with the Sisters of Life. I am delighted that she has found her vocation and am moved by her commitment to the religious life.
Unfortunately, my sister, as a young nun, is an anomaly. One of the saddest chapters of the modern church is the decline of female religious. Their number has dropped from 179,954 in 1965 to just 55,000 today, and the decline will only continue with 91 percent of women religious with final vows over the age of 60.
As an historian, I have been thinking about the huge impact women religious had on development of the American church, working with the poor, establishing hospitals, staffing Catholic schools, and most importantly, praying for the nation, and how desperately we need more young women, like my sister, to continue their good work.
Actually, I have two sisters who are nuns. Having sisters who are sisters provides many opportunities for horrible puns and bad jokes. They’re my sisters squared. My nieces join in, too: “She’s my aunt, but I call her sister.” My brothers-in-law are often the butt of the jokes: “You’re a great husband. That’s nice, but Sister Faustina is going to marry the second person of the Trinity. No pressure!”
Slightly more important than providing some comic relief, my two sisters have had a huge spiritual impact on our family. Every letter, phone call, and visitation is like a little spiritual retreat. They are an endless source of theological lessons and inspirational stories. Additionally, their daily denial of worldly pleasures – a house, career, nice clothes and family – motivate me to seek a simpler and more devoted life.
The older of the two, Sister Mareja joined the Missionaries of Charity seven years ago, an order founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata, but even before becoming a religious, she inspired me to be more open about my faith. For two years, we went to the same public high school. I was shy and very self-conscious, and I did not want anybody to know that I was a Catholic. My sister, on the other hand, had pictures of Jesus, Mary and the saints plastered all over her locker, handed out religious pamphlets to all her classmates, and was constantly inviting friends to church and youth group meetings. She was not preachy or judgmental in her evangelizing. Rather, she had found something so great that she could not help but share it.
After college, she worked as a nurse at a local hospital, but found time to start a youth group and young adult group at the local parish. I was not surprised when she quit her job, and started doing missionary work in Mexico and Belize, and she finally fulfilled her life’s dream when she joined the Missionaries of Charity. Following her first vows, she was sent to West Africa, and she has worked with orphans, the sick and the dying in their houses and in mobile health clinics. I know it’s hot here, but I cannot imagine living in Africa (where it’s always hot and humid) with no air conditioning and wearing a habit. Not to mention, she’s already had malaria and typhoid fever. Yet, she never complains and is happier than ever. I can only surmise the joy of serving the poor, bringing Christ to strangers, and living as a spouse of Jesus is more than enough to overcome any physical discomforts.
Sister Mareja, left, with Pope Benedict XVI at her convent in Cotonou, Benin.
My younger sister, Sister Faustina, joined the Sisters of Life, a New York-based order founded by the late Cardinal O’Connor, three years ago, and in August she’ll complete her formation and take her first vows. The order is dedicated to doing pro-life work and they take a special fourth vow to “protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.” Instead of sharing her story, you can watch the video below, in which she recounts her journey to religious life. Think about forwarding it to any restless young man or woman who is not fulfilled with his or her current life. Perhaps, they have a religious vocation, and without a doubt, the church needs them.
July 19, 2012 04:16
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By Dr. H. P. Bianchi