Monday, June 27, 2022

Great Article on Dobbs Decision. Bodily Autonomy is the heart of the matter.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/26/opinion/dobbs-roe-autonomy.html

Dobbs, Roe and the Myth of ‘Bodily Autonomy’

June 26, 2022, 11:15 a.m. ET

 Tish Harrison Warren    Opinion Writer

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” the Supreme Court declared on Friday in its majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It boggles the mind, really. The fight over abortion that has raged as long as I can remember has taken a decisive turn. The broad spectrum of emotions in reaction to this decision — from outrage to jubilation and everything in between — will be on full display for weeks and months to come. Our feelings about this decision matter. But it is also critical that we continue to examine and clarify the merits of the arguments about abortion.

“Bodily autonomy” has become a chief argument against abortion restrictions. Referring to abortion restrictions as “forced birth” is common among abortion rights advocates. Julie Rikelman, who argued in favor of abortion rights in the Dobbs oral arguments at the Supreme Court, stated that the right to an abortion is grounded in “liberty,” which includes the right “to physical autonomy, including the right to end a pre-viability pregnancy.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs rightly rejects the idea that rights to bodily autonomy are expansive and absolute, and therefore make abortion rights necessary.

Of course, injustice is often writ large on bodies. And injustice against women in particular is often manifest as a lack of power over our own bodies. We see this in myriad ways. A 2021 United Nations report found that nearly half of all women in 57 developing countries are denied bodily autonomy, with violations including rape, forced sterilization, virginity testing and female genital mutilation. In American culture, women’s bodies are often viewed as primarily valuable only for their sex appeal and beauty. Violence is a constant threat to women’s bodies, with one in five women experiencing completed or attempted rape during their lifetime and nearly one in four women experiencing domestic violence. To have a just society, we must have protection of and safety for female bodies, and women — like men — need to be able to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yet the way we understand and define bodily autonomy has profound implications in our debates about abortion and in how we understand what justice for women looks like. The Dobbs Supreme Court decision recognized that there is no inherent right to abortion that flows from a commitment to liberty or autonomy, in part because “abortion is fundamentally different, as both Roe and Casey acknowledged, because it destroys what those decisions called ‘fetal life’ and what the law now before us describes as an ‘unborn human being.’”

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy. One can’t walk down the street naked, even if one really wants to, or go 75 miles an hour in a school zone, even if slowing down poses a burden on the driver.

These limits came up in the Dobbs oral arguments. Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.

2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us.

A child in the womb is dependent on a mother for life in a way that does place a unique burden on a mother. But this burden does not end at birth. Parenthood — at any stage — is an arduous good. A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old. Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.

With this deep interdependence that we all share come obligations to one another. We do not always choose the ways our bodies are dependent on others. And we often do not choose the obligations placed on our lives by others who are dependent on us. Covid threw in sharp relief ways that our bodies and our bodily health depend on the choices of other people. I’ve criticized those on the right for casting a choice about whether to get a Covid vaccine as entirely an individual decision. This kind of individualistic rhetoric is the very logic of autonomy — that people can do what they want with their own bodies without regarding their obligations to others. But human bodies, unlike machines, simply aren’t autonomous. Our choices about our own bodies impact the bodies around us.

3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing “bodily autonomy” requires us to override or undo biological realities. In the Dobbs oral arguments, Julie Rikelman described what women experience if they lack access to abortion: “Allowing a state to take control of a woman’s body and force her to undergo the physical demands, risks and life-altering consequences of pregnancy is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.”

But is restricting abortion the same thing as forced gestation? Is it correct to compare abortion restrictions to a state “taking control” of a woman’s body and a deprivation of liberty?

Whatever one thinks sex is and what it is for — whether a sacred act or a mere recreational pleasure — all of us can agree that sex is the only human activity that has the power to create life and that every potentially procreative sexual act therefore carries some level of risk that pregnancy could occur. (Birth control significantly lessens this risk but does not entirely take it away since birth control methods can fail.) Yet, the state does not impose this risk of producing human life; biology does. Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

Our bodies undeniably place a disproportional burden on women in reproduction. There is an inescapable asymmetry in male and female bodies when it comes to making and carrying life. To address the particular difficulty that pregnancy places on women, we need to hold fathers more responsible through child support laws. And we need to create a culture that does not shame women for unintended pregnancies but supports them through pro-women policies like paid parental leave, access to affordable child care, free health care and other measures. Yet, the state, in the end, cannot and ought not entirely rescue us from the known realities of human biology.

A sperm and an egg unite to grow into a human inside the body of a woman. The state doesn’t force this to happen any more than it forces aging or forces weight loss from exercise or forces lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

To use language of forced gestation or of a state “controlling” women’s bodies is to portray biology itself as oppressive and halting the natural course of the body as the liberative role of the state.

For both men and women, bodily autonomy can’t mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, with our own bodies without natural consequences or obligations to others. If this is what we mean by “autonomy,” then no one can champion bodily autonomy without ultimately advocating harm.

I recently came across a blog post by the literature scholar Alan Jacobs, describing Simone Weil’s insistence that “if we need a collective declaration of human rights  we also, and perhaps more desperately, need a declaration of human obligations.”

I find this beautiful. Speaking as a woman, with a woman’s body, I want safety and freedom for all women. I want women to be full participants and empowered leaders in public life. I believe we, as human beings and image bearers of God, have a right to bodily integrity, protection and liberty.

But these rights also carry obligations to others, perhaps especially to those vulnerable bodies that depend on us. This is the heart of the question about abortion: What are our obligations to one another? We have an obligation to unborn children. We have an obligation to seek women’s safety and flourishing. For too long these obligations have been pitted against each other, but they need not be and, to move forward, we must create a world where they never are.

Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and author of “Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep.”

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

 

   Congrats CRJ Class of 2021!!!

Baccalaureate Homily Cristo Rey Jesuit 

Baltimore  June 2021.

Rick Malloy, S.J.

Remember when you were a little kid, and you did something, and you’d call out, “Look at me!”

Well, we have been looking for you for these past four years.  Today we see you.  Young scholars.  Open to growth; committed to being life-long learners; ready to work hard in all arenas of life; burning with the desire to see a society of Justice; ready to love in ways that will make a world of peace and prosperity, joy and justice, hope and healing, faith and freedom, life and love.

It has been a long and trying year.  Classes online, the never ending Covid crisis, so much of life disrupted and disjointed.  The tragedy and pain of the loss of our beloved Gabby.  But through it all you have persevered.  You have applied to and been accepted by so many wonderful colleges.  From Morgan State to Morehouse, from Notre Dame in South Bend to Notre Dame of Maryland, from Loyola and Johns Hopkins here in Baltimore to Howard University in Washington, DC: on and on!  You are set to go and set the world on fire!

Let me today say something about fires, good fires and bad fires, and something about freedom.

St. Ignatius says, “Go and set the world on fire.”  There are two kinds of fire.  There are fires that burn down and destroy.  And there are fires that transform and give light.  Today, as young men and women for and with others, Go and set the world on fire with the transformative fires of justice and truth, peace and love.

Our faith in liberation begins with the experience of Moses.  He’s out in the desert.  He has run away from Pharoah.  He is living quietly and comfortably.  And he comes upon a burning bush, a good fire that reveals the presence of God.  It is a burning bush that is not destroyed by the flames.

From that good fire comes the communication of our mysterious God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob says, maybe screams, “I have heard the cry of my people.  I have heard them crying out because of the slave drivers.  I am moved by their suffering.  I have come to rescue them.”  And so, Moses knew he stood on Holy Ground.

Holy Ground.  This is Holy Ground today.  Cristo Rey Jesuit, on Chester street, and online, is Holy Ground.  You stand today on the Holy Ground of your future, our future.

Class of 2021, you are poised to go on to college and careers.  You are like Moses.  You are like his sister Miriam.  You are called by God to work today for the liberation and freedom of those who are oppressed and enslaved.

Today, there are a lot of bad fires burning out there.  These bad fires need to be put out.  Some of Baltimore is burning.  Our environment is burning.  Our society is being burned by systemic racism.  Our politics are burning in the fires of polarization, misinformation and outright lies.  The destructive fires of prejudice and hatred directed at LGBTQ persons, Asians, African Americans, and Latinos and Latinas, are burning down norms of civility and truth telling.  There are thousands of fires burning on the Southern Border of the USA, La Frontera.  Thousands of people, many of them little kids, are fleeing for safety.  Their homelands are burning. 

But the good fires, the transformative fires, also burn.  The good fire of the bush that Moses saw still lights the way to God and community.  Out of that burning bush comes the Word.  The Word is transformative fire, the fire of God’s love that lights our paths. 

Go and set the world on fire with the transformative fire of God’s love.  Throw water on the destructive fires of hate and prejudice, injustice and political insanity.  Get busy.  Go and confront Pharoah.  Go and tell Pharoah to let the people go Free.  Go and make a world of Faith and Justice and Reconciliation.  Go and establish Social Justice in the land.  Go and love one another.  Go and worship the God who gives us the grace, the power, to do all these things.

Congressman John Lewis, the great civil rights leader, who was no older than you when he began to work with Rev. Martin Luther King in the early 1960s, said,

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Be hopeful, be optimistic.  Our struggle in not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year.  It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

That’s what Moses did.  He got into trouble with Pharoah.  That led to setting free the enslaved Israelite people.  The second Moses, Jesus, comes and begins his public ministry with the promise and challenge “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” 

St. Paul tells us “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).  Us… all of us… not just the few, not just the rich, not just the mighty…. Us…. all of us, free.  Jesus wants us all to be truly free.

Cesar Chavez, who organized farm workers in California once said,

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Out ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”  Chavez also said, “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

This awesome opportunity is your story.  Michelle Obama says, “Your story is what you have, your story is what you will always have.  Your story is something to own.”  Own the story of freedom, the story of liberation, the story of Moses and Jesus, of John Lewis and Cesar Chavez. 

Mrs. Obama also says,

You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms... you need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation.”

Class of 2021, young scholars, you matter.  You are loved.  Go and Be like Moses and Miriam.  Go and be like Jesus.  Go and be like John Lewis.  Go and be like Cesar Chavez.  Go and add your voice and tell the story of Freedom of which Mrs. Obama speaks.  Go and bless the world, for you are blessed.  You have blessed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.  Thanks for who you are.  Remember: You matter.  Go and make a world wherein we can all grow happy and healthy and holy and free.  God Bless you this day and all the days of your life.

And may our Good and Gracious God grant you all Joy for the Journey, Courage for the Choices, Faith for the Freeing, Hope for the Healing and Love for the lasting.  AMEN.

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

The Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement

 Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.

Jan 18, 2021

Director of Mission and Ministry, Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore

In the wake of the insanity and destruction on the part of right wing terrorists at the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, we must reflect and realize what the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was all about, what it achieved, and how far we still have to go.

Early in his public life, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., just 27 years old, in the midst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, clearly articulated what the movement being born was all about: “The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”[i]

The Civil Rights movement was one of the most startling and transformative social revolutions in history.  I was born in 1955, a few weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  There’s no connection between the two events except in my own mind.  But the point is that I was born into a United States where segregation was legal, lethal and largely unquestioned.  And if you did question the status quo of race relations, racists would too often kill you.  The Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama honors 38 martyrs who gave their lives for the cause. [ii]

The peaceful, non-violent methods of the movement forced white Americans to realize their own morally objectionable beliefs, attitudes and discrimination.  The dignity and courage of the non-violent protesters, many of them young adults of college age, called the white majority to conversion and recognition of the justice of the African American community’s call for equality.

The Civil Rights Act was signed in July of 1964.  I was eight years old.  In less than a decade, the USA went from a segregated land to a community where we moved much closer to “liberty and justice for all.”

Prime beneficiaries of the movement were not just American blacks.  White opponents to the Civil Rights act added “sex” to Title VII of the Bill’s protections, thinking that would increase votes against it.  Along with “race, color, religion and national origin,” discrimination on the basis of sex would now be illegal.  The racists’ plan backfired, and the bill passed, changing the lives of all Americans for the better.

Ruth Ginsberg and the bio-pic, “On the Basis of Sex,” would never have happened without the Civil Rights Act.  Athletic programs for women in colleges across America would not exist.  Laws prohibiting marital rape would not be on the books.  Women would have no recourse if they did not receive equal pay for equal work.  And Kamala Harris would never have been elected Vice President.

Still, today women make only $0.82 cents for every $1.00 men make.[iii]  And racial disparities between different racial groups stubbornly persist.  Median Family Income USA 2019 was $68,703 with Asians/PI: $98,174; Whites: $76,057; Latinos: $56,113 and Blacks: $45,438. [iv] 

African Americans and Latinos/as are dying from Covid at a much higher rate than whites.  Saddest of all is the reality that black women and their babies die at twice the rate of white women and their babies.[v]  “Good!” I can hear some troglodyte racist mutter as he or she reads that sad fact.  Such overt and ugly racism is having a renaissance in the USA these days.  I hope those days are numbered.  But Jan 6th revealed hordes of dangerously misinformed people who will willingly believe lies and the liars who tell them.  They stoke the fires of hate.

True Americans, the majority of the 320 million citizens of the USA, celebrate racial and cultural diversity.  Anyone who strives to know and serve the true and living God welcomes the progress this country has made in the past sixty years.

African American Jesuit George Murry, Bishop of Youngstown Ohio, described the world our loving God desires for all.  It is a world where we not just get along, but form the beloved community envisioned by the Prophet from Atlanta.

“Imagine pulling people in from every neighborhood, from every walk of life, compelling them to sit down and share a meal together. You would have black and white and brown all together, rich and poor, gay and straight, progressive and conservative. Everyone’s mind would be blown when a vegan found a way to share a meal with a carnivore rancher, when a Black Lives Matter activist chuckled at the joke told by a Confederate flag-wearing Harley rider, and when a Trump enthusiast asked an undocumented immigrant to pass the tortillas.  Somewhere in all of the mixing and relating, the Holy Spirit moves! God’s blessed community looks like a smorgasbord of humanity, in heaven and on earth. That’s not to say that it is OK to hold onto our biases, even our moral failings, but we grow past them together.”[vi]

Like the good bishop, Abraham Lincoln, in his first Inaugural address called us to be friends, and not allow our differences to devolve into enmity.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”[vii]

Let’s honor Rev. King who gave his life for justice and truth.  Let’s follow the better angels of our nature and grow past our prejudices.  Let’s reconcile, redeem one another, and bring into being the beloved community.

 


[iii]  AAUW. The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap. The Simple Truth about the Pay Gap (aauw.org)

 

[v]   Linda Villarosa, “The Hidden Toll: Why are Black Mothers and Babies in the United States Dying…”  The New York Times Magazine.  April 15, 2018.  Pp.30-39.   Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

 

[vi]  University of Scranton Graduation.  May 2018.   http://news.scranton.edu/articles/2018/05/news-grad_U2018_BishopMurry_Speech.shtml 

 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Why are People Poor?  No Living Wage. 


“Can I challenge your homily?”

“Sure,” I replied.

She wasn’t disrespectful, but obviously not happy with what I had preached at Mass.  Masks are required, and I had had to ask her to use her American flag kerchief to protect others as she sat in a front pew.  I thought that might be the source of her dissatisfaction, but that wasn’t it.

“First, Teddy Roosevelt had no right to create National Parks and forests.  In the beginning, we were 50 sovereign states.  Read the Constitution.”

I had praised the foresight of Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot in setting aside millions of acres for parks and forests.  I noted and praised their willingness to stand up to the robber barons of their day. 

“We are the United States,” I carefully replied.  “We fought a war in the 1860s over these issues.  We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

I had been preaching on the parables of the merchant who finds a treasure in a field and goes and buys it, and of a merchant seeking a pearl of great price.  Since the parables were about business people, I quoted Pope Francis: “Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (Joy of the Gospel, #203).

Gospel parables are to be understood on personal and societal levels.  Parables are striking stories with surprise endings that tell us about the Reign of God, how things will be when God and all of us are in right relationship, when “Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  The Reign of God is a society of Peace and Prosperity, Joy and Justice, Freedom and Faith, Hope and Healing, Life and Love.

My challenger doesn’t see things that way.  Her vision of rugged individualism and dog-eat-dog crony capitalism is, in her mind, blessed by God and is not to be contradicted by some Jesuit priest.

But her vision is morally suspect.  If minimum wage had kept up with what it was worth when I was working as an orderly in a nursing home in 1975, it would be somewhere around $13.50 to $15.00.  It’s only $7.25 today.  I had also pointed out that we pay minimum wage (or less) to those who care for the most vulnerable among us, our elderly and our children.  Day care workers and those who serve in nursing homes earn so little.  I ask, “Why?”  And I get challenged.

“I run a business in Philadelphia.  I could hire more people if I didn’t have to pay minimum wage.”

I just looked at her.  I could not believe that after hearing me preach on a central idea of Catholic Social Teaching, that a living wage is a wage that can support a family, she is seriously telling me it is moral to pay less than $7.25 an hour.

Some rich Catholics often vociferously pontificate in favor of ending abortion, but have little time for Church teachings on the death penalty or social justice.  And for them a living wage is anathema, ridiculous, “socialist” insanity.  

Some wealthy people are willing to give a small portion of their wealth to help the poor, but when I ask why people are poor, and why wages cannot support a family, I’m a bad priest, a dreaded liberation theologian, and the greatest of all sinners, a “communist.”

But communism is simply a social system in which everyone gives according to their abilities and takes according to their needs.  Every normal American family is a communist society.  We don’t charge two-year-olds for their food, or make teens pay for their cell phones.

Crony capitalism and tax cuts, set up to benefit the top 1 percent, have hurt the vast majority of our fellow citizens.  Since 1980, income for the very rich has more than doubled; the bottom 90 percent’s share has barely risen.  In the 1960’s CEO’s made 20 times a worker; by 2019, they were taking 300 times more than their employees (Reich, 2020, p.15).

As an example, I noted Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, got $31 million in compensation in 2018 (Reich, 2020, p.15).  If Dimon worked 10 hours a day, 300 days that year, he was making $10,333 an hour.  Overall, he’s worth $1.6 billion.

“The market should set wages,” she told me.  (Hmmm… Is there no one who would apply to be CEO at JPMorgan for say $15.5 million a year?)

Jesus would say the market was made by and for human persons.  The market should be made for us.  We are not made for the market.

Even Mr. Dimon knows this.  In his 2018 letter to shareholders he stated, “middle class incomes have been stagnant for years.  Income inequality has gotten worse… More than 28 million Americans don’t have health insurance at all.  And, surprisingly, 25% of those eligible for various types of federal assistance programs don’t get any help. … Simply put the social needs of far too many of our citizens are not being met” (Reich, 2020, pp. 23-24).

The fact that so many share so little in our wealth should challenge us all.


Jesuit Father Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is the director of Mission Integration at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, and author of Being on Fire and A Faith That Frees, both from Orbis Books.

References

Reich, Robert (2020) The System: Who Rigged it. How We Fix It (New York, Knopf).


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Friday, December 25, 2020


Christmas 2020.  Covid Blues.  Christmas: Green Hope & Red Truth

Rick Malloy, S.J.

In 2019 it was, Stay away from negative people. In 2020, it was Stay away from positive people.

In 2020, I was so bored I called Jake from State Farm just to talk to someone. He asked me what I was wearing.

In 2020, The world has turned upside down. Old folks are sneaking out of the house & their kids are yelling at them to stay indoors!

In 2020, I saw a neighbor talking to her dog.  It was obvious she thought her dog understood her. I came into my house & told my cat.  We laughed a lot.

In 2020, Every few days you had to try on your jeans to see if they still fit. Pajamas trick you into believing all is well.

In 2020, we didn’t take showers (parfum de moi…) We just keep washing our hands.

In 2020, the virus did what no woman had been able to do before.  Canceled sports, shut down all bars & kept men at home!

In 2021, I need to practice social-distancing…. from the refrigerator.

 

All kidding aside, 2020 has been a year of years; a time unprecedented; an epoch of chaos, challenge, and change.  The year of the Covid shutdown, the year of Black Lives Matter Protests, the year of deathly dangerous and painful political partisanship.  One White House correspondent on Meet the Press summed up the year as “the year of alternative facts.” As this year ends, what do we really need to give one another?  I suggest we need to give one another the gifts of dialogue, truth and hope.

 

The philosopher Gadamer writes, “To reach an understanding in a dialogue in not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were(1991, p 379.  Italics added). 

 

What a gift.  To really reach understanding with one another.  To listen and learn from one another.  To stop shouting and asininely asserting.  To begin to hear and heal.  Hear one another’s hurts and fears.  Heal our wounds and weariness. 

 

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  So proclaims the Gospel of John.  The WORD, in Greek, the LOGOS, is much, much more than a mere one syllable utterance.  THE WORD means understanding has come to live within us, in our heads and hearts, in our communities and countries, in our cosmos.  THE WORD is the ground of being that undergirds all existence.   THE WORD is wisdom that reality is good and beautiful and true.

 

THE WORD is reason, the awareness that reality makes sense, that our lives have deep and desperately significant meaning.  Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Without George, Mr. Potter destroys social life, for the greedy and selfish do not live according to THE WORD.  The mean and mendacious, the stingy, sad, and sinful lot, live according to the lie, not according to the WORD of truth and faith and hope and love.  When lies rule, all is lost.

 

William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) observes:

 

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were” (Kindle edition, loc 5761 ff.).

 

This Christmas, we need truth and hope more than ever.  THE WORD is truth.  THE WORD is not just in touch with reality, or just corresponding to reality. THE WORD creates and sustains reality, permeates and penetrates all the pulsating beauty and bodacious being of existence.  THE WORD has become human and we see the glory.  THE WORD takes on our human being and transforms us, giving us grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:16).  In Greek, grace is charis, from which we get the word charism, meaning a divine gift, a transcendent power.  Thomas Aquinas says grace is the ability to do what we could not do before.

 

The great grace and gift of Christmas is light.  This year we are all mesmerized by the Star of Bethlehem in the night sky, the closest Jupiter and Saturn have been for 800 years (https://www.space.com/great-conjunction-jupiter-saturn-2020-fun-facts).  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

 

We cannot see light, but light gives us the power to see.  This Christmas, let’s give one another, give our communities and countries, our churches and cosmos, the gift of looking for, seeing and appreciating the light, the light that makes life possible, and pregnant with the possibilities of new birth.  Carl Sandburg once said, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.”  This baby, this light, this WORD, is God’s pledge and promise that life will go on forever.

 

And isn’t that our hope?  That, despite it all, despite the destructiveness of our days, light and life, goodness and grace, faith and freedom, joy and justice, peace and promise, love’s crashing into our stubbornness (Damn it, for God’s sake, wear a Mask!) will win in the end.

 

We need to grace and gift one another with hope these days.  But how?  More than 325,000 in the USA and 1.7 million worldwide lost lives to Covid.  Political tensions can terrify.  Families stressed and strained by months of isolation and/or too much togetherness, now face holidays on Zoom rather than in the warmth of fireside with “fire water.”  No traveling.  No visiting.  No cheer.  A year without Easter and, the final insult, the cancellation of Christmas.  How hope? 

 

“Hope it the thing with feathers // That perches in the Soul // And sings the song without the words  // And never stops – at all” – Emily  Dickinson.

 

How hope? Sing.  Communicate.  Zoom.  Don’t eat too much junk food or drink too much wine, but indulge wisely and well.  Watch the movies. Decorate the tree.  Walk outside on a 15 degree, clear star filled night and let the awesomeness of the universe caress you.  Play with children.  Sit late at night, in a room lit by Christmas lights, and gaze on the manger.  Know God is with us. 

 

Isaiah proclaims: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Isaiah 9:1).  St. Paul attests, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Titus 2:11).

 

Luke reveals, “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:10-14).  And little Linus sagely tells us, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

 

Pope Francis addressed the world in an op-ed article in the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day.


“If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.  … the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

The pandemic has exposed the paradox that while we are more connected, we are also more divided. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.”

 

There’s the hope.  We can dream big.  We can come out of this crisis better.  We can allow ourselves to be less selfish.  We can open our hearts to feel others’ pain.  We can delve into dialogue and come out “transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were.”  To all who receive him he gives power to be sons and daughters of God (cf. John 1:12).

 

Have a Blessed Christmas.  Un Prospero Año Nuevo.  Jesus again begins the Dialogue.  He calls us to live and to love Truth.  He is our Hope.


And may we stay away from the frig in 2021.



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