Archive for August, 2010

Today the Church celebrates the life of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, as in Doctor of the Church. He was certainly no doctor of biology, though the pro-abortion folks love to celebrate his primitive understanding of embryology as somehow an indication that the Church has not always condemned abortion as it does today.

Pro-aborts claim Augustine questioned when the developing human became animated with life, and thus, when ensoulment occurred. The quotes below suggest otherwise. At no time did he ever countenance contraception or abortion. Rather, he condemned both, as the following excerpts attest:

Sometimes, indeed, this lustful cruelty, or if you please, cruel lust, resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born.

-De Nube et Concupiscentia 1.17 (15)

On the undeveloped fetus:

Hence in the first place arises a question about abortive conceptions, which have indeed been born in the mother’s womb, but not so born that they could be born again. For if we shall decide that these are to rise again, we cannot object to any conclusion that may be drawn in regard to those which are fully formed. Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified? But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting, any more than the blemishes which time did bring shall be present: so that the nature shall neither want anything suitable and in harmony with it that length of days would have added, nor be debased by the presence of anything of an opposite kind that length of days has added; but that what is not yet complete shall be completed, just as what has been injured shall be renewed.

-Enchiridion 23.85.4

On therapeutic abortion:

And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man’s power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being. To deny that the young who are cut out limb by limb from the womb, lest if they were left there dead the mother should die too, have never been alive, seems too audacious. Now, from the time that a man begins to live, from that time it is possible for him to die. And if he die, wheresoever death may overtake him, I cannot discover on what principle he can be denied an interest in the resurrection of the dead.

-Enchiridion 23.86

Therefore brothers, you see how perverse they are and hastening wickedness, who are immature, they seek abortion of the conception before the birth; they are those who tell us, “I do not see that which you say must be believed.”

– Sermon 126, line 12

If Augustine questions the formation of the early aborted baby with this line, which is a favorite of pro-aborts:

Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified?

But Augustine makes no doubt about the human identity and status of those unfructified seeds in the very next sentence:

“But who will dare to deny, though he may not dare to affirm, that at the resurrection every defect in the form shall be supplied, and that thus the perfection which time would have brought shall not be wanting… but that what is not yet complete shall be completed, just as what has been injured shall be renewed.”

This is a critical point for pro-life apologists. Augustine demolishes the modern abortion apologia by positing the human essence at the very earliest stages of development, clearly indicating that these human beings will not only be present on the last day, but that their bodily resurrection will be manifest in complete developmental form. It didn’t matter to Augustine whether or not the embryo is just a clump of cells. It is human, fully human if it is to appear at the resurrection of the dead.

Apart from engaging in a bald-faced lie, the pro-aborts also show the illogic of their approach in trying to impute to Augustine a primitive understanding of developmental biology and concomitant lack of human attribution to that entity. If on the one hand the argument goes that spiritual matters are a function of biological knowledge (As they falsely impute to Augustine), then they have destroyed themselves in the modern era. The field of developmental biology has spoken decisively of the human identity and status of the embryo from the moment of conception. By their logic, it follows that the embryo indeed has a soul.

Reaching back to a period of perceived uncertitude as a rationale for abortion is an absurdity when placed alongside the modern certitude of the embryo’s human identity and status.

Priests for Life has compiled a lengthy list of early Church condemnations of abortion, beginning in the First Century. The list makes it clear that the Church has condemned abortion consistently from its very founding.

Augustine was simply one in a long line of Bishops to do so.

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My Column in today’s Headline Bistro.

The FDA’s recent approval of Ella (Ulipristal acetate) as an emergency contraceptive is an action so fraught with lies and incomplete research, that it beggars the imagination. It is a tissue of lies built upon a foundation of lies. Let’s begin with the foundational lies and work our way up.

Ella is marketed as an emergency contraceptive because it can inhibit ovulation for up to five days. It also acts to prevent the implantation of the embryo and destroys the maternal component of the placenta (more on that later). So how is this not considered an abortifacient by the FDA?

The answer lies in the redefinition of both pregnancy and conception.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has for over 25 years accepted a redefinition of both pregnancy and conception as starting at implantation of the embryo, rather than at the fertilization of the egg by sperm. That’s earth-shattering in its effect. The activist attorneys who lobby ACOG saw these drugs coming and worked to get the new definitions put in place well in advance.

The definitions are also tied to the in vitro fertilization industry. Fertilization used to take place solely within the woman’s fallopian tubes, so that conception and pregnancy were respectively both an event and a condition that were simultaneous. When fertilization occurs in a Petri dish, the mother has neither conceived, nor is she pregnant. It was absurd to discard these traditional definitions for those whose pregnancies begin in the natural manner, but then logic is neither the aim, nor the concern of the pro-abortion lobby. Apparently neither is ethics or truthfulness.

Ella, as will now be seen, works as an abortifacient – even under the revised and tortured definitions of conception and pregnancy. In order to understand how it works, we must consider for a moment the processes with which it interferes.

During a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the lining of the uterus to grow and prepare for the implantation of the embryo. At mid-cycle the follicle of cells surrounding the egg in the ovary will rupture and release the egg into the fallopian tube. That follicle of cells becomes a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces the hormone progesterone. Progesterone travels to the uterine lining, binds to it and maintains the structural integrity of the uterine lining throughout the pregnancy, if one happens to occur.

If no baby is conceived, the corpus luteum dies at about 28 days. No corpus luteum, no progesterone. With no progesterone, the uterine lining (endometrium) breaks down and a new cycle begins. If, however, the woman does conceive, the corpus luteum will live for approximately 10 weeks (the first trimester), after which time it will die and the baby will take over its own housekeeping.

Ella acts in three ways to kill an embryonic human being.

First, Ella blocks the progesterone receptors on the surface of endometrial cells in the uterine lining. This is analogous to jamming a piece of metal into the lock on one’s front door. It prevents the key from being inserted and unlocking the door. By blocking the “keyhole” for progesterone (the key), progesterone cannot initiate the complex of events necessary for sustained development and maintenance of the uterine lining. This mimics the onset of a menstrual period with the breakdown of the endometrial lining of the uterus, leaving nowhere for the embryo to implant.

That’s considered “contraceptive” by ACOG and FDA because conception is now defined as implantation. However, the next two steps are abortifacient mechanisms under anybody’s definition.

The second way that Ella works to kill an embryonic human is that it inhibits the ability of the cells of the corpus luteum to produce progesterone, thus mimicking the death of the corpus luteum. Without the progesterone made by the corpus luteum in the first ten weeks of pregnancy, the placenta dies and the baby is starved of oxygen and nutrients. Hence, Ella is effective far beyond the five-day window being touted by FDA.

The third mechanism of action for Ella is that it blocks the progesterone receptors in the endometrial stromal tissue, directly killing the mother’s portion of the placenta. These last two mechanisms are the exact manner in which RU-486 works.

Thus we see that Ella simultaneously blocks the production of progesterone and blocks it from binding to its receptors in the uterine lining, producing a miscarriage. This can happen at any time in the pregnancy. It also acts to destroy the endometrium before the embryo reaches it for implantation.

If this level of outright lying and obfuscation is profoundly disturbing, the safety standards that were deliberately ignored and the clinical trials never performed on the road to approval are nothing less than scandalous. In Part II, the story of how Ella was shepherded past the safety standards in product development, clinical trials and FDA approval.

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There are none so qualified to speak about what goes on in an abortion ‘clinic’ than those who have performed the abortions. We pray for this doctor, for the layers of healing she will undergo as time goes on–and we thank her for her courageous witness to the truth.

HT: Irene van der Wende

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Happy Birthday Mother Teresa!

It seems an odd occasion to engage the spiritual bleakness described by Mother in her personal correspondence. The two portraits of Mother Teresa, one the familiar sister who was motivated by love of God, and the other that looked inward for God and saw only darkness are opposite sides of the sainthood coin.

Certainly the following statements are jaw-droppers:

“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

“Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing.”

“In my soul, I can’t tell you how dark it is, how painful, how terrible — I feel like refusing God.”

“Jesus has a very special love for you, [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

Many have sought to use these, and many similar self-disclosures by Mother to suggest that she was a pious fraud. Many good, faithful Catholics have been shaken by these reports. What do they mean? Were there two Mother Teresas or a well-integrated woman of faith?

Beyond a doubt, the latter.

I know something of Mother’s struggle with faith. In the 1980’s when I worked at Covenant House in Times Square, it was one of New York’s little Calcuttas. The violence done to children’s souls by the sex industry, by the adults of their families and of society whose most sacred charge was their safety and well-being, simply beggared the imagination. The longevity of most workers was two years, so searing was the reality we dealt with daily. I managed to make seven years, having had three major burnout events and not a few crises of faith.

So I understand the blackness that settles into the soul when we decide to go toe-to-toe with Satan. I sometimes experience it in my pro-life advocacy, what Saint John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

Don’t we all at some point?

But Mother’s was deep and enduring. Her cries were no different, no more an occasion of scandal than Jesus calling out to the Father on the Cross as He quoted Psalm 22:

“1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8 “He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Still the question remains: Why did Mother not see the face of God when she looked inward? The answer is remarkably simple. She saw that face in the millions of destitute, desperately poor and forgotten in the slums of Calcutta. She saw that face in the BILLIONS of babies aborted worldwide in the 20th Century. She perfected for us the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 25:

34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

The blackness within was God’s greatest gift to Mother Teresa. He meant it when He said that He identified with the poor and the least. This identification is so strong that God came to earth and told us the exact set of criteria by which we shall be judged. It may well be that God forced Mother’s vision outward, not just for herself, but for the benefit of the world.

The Church has had no shortage of saints whose prayer led them into ecstasies. Great stuff if you’re a monastic, but hardly practical for the layperson. Mother led us forward and revealed to us the path to sanctity for the common man and woman. She gave us the means to work at our salvation, consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25.

Most importantly, she never lost faith. She never refused God or walked away. She never ceased praying. There is a lesson in that for all of us, especially in the pro-life movement.

The greatest of all Catholic theologians, Saint Thomas Aquinas was elevated to Doctor of the Church, so profound and prolific was he. One day while saying Mass he had a vision of Heaven. Because of that vision he described his writings as “so much straw” and he never wrote again.

For her fidelity, for her selflessness, for her faith in that long Dark Night of the Soul, Mother now enjoys that beatific vision that so moved Thomas Aquinas. Her struggles teach us more about fidelity than all of her works combined.

Happy Birthday in Heaven Mother!

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When is a snub not a snub?

When it’s the function of a depraved mind.

For those who do not live in New York, the Empire State Building is an extension of every native New Yorker’s soul. It’s as much a part of our identity as Yankee Stadium, Central Park, The Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island and Nathan’s Hot Dogs. When the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were built in the 1970’s, they eclipsed the Grand Old Lady on 34th Street in size, but not in beauty, grandeur, or style. The iconic tower remained first in our hearts. So it was only proper that when we New Yorkers wished to honor people, it has been the Empire State Building that has been lit in the appropriate colors. The top of that building is New York’s megaphone to the world.

This blog has written twice, here and here, of manager Anthony Malkin’s refusal to honor Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s 100th birthday by lighting our spire in blue and white, the colors of the order she founded.

Yes, it’s OUR spire! Malkin has lost sight of that. The honors granted in lighting the Empire State Building have always reflected what we New Yorkers collectively value. In inimitable New York bold and brash, we shout who we are to all the world from the top of the most famous skyscraper in history.

Until recently.

The incredibly shrinking Malkin has forgotten that and co-opted the lighting to reflect his personal predilections; like lighting the tower in red and yellow in honor of Mao’s Chinese Communist Revolution (in which Mao murdered 77 million of his own people). Tiny Tony’s rationale for denying honors for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Teresa is that he will not recognize religious or political leaders.

Fair enough.

So last September’s red and yellow wasn’t recognition of Mao. It was the honoring of a revolution that wiped out 77 million humans, wiped out China’s intellectuals, instituted brutal slave labor for its citizens, instituted the one-child policy that has led to the selective abortions of hundreds of millions of baby girls and left an equal number of young men with no prospects for marriage. It wasn’t Mao who was honored. It was his brigades and their deadly work that were recognized.

Its a good thing Tiny Tony has cleared that up for us.

So why not light the building tomorrow tonight in blue and white? Not for Mother, but for her brigades of sisters who work to restore the human dignity shredded by the likes of Mao’s brigades? Tiny Tony has revealed through his building’s lighting department exactly the sort of man he is, exactly the sort of things he values. The words “warped” and “twisted” come to mind.

Sadly, the lighting of the Empire State Building no longer speaks for New Yorkers. It has become the plaything of a nasty iconoclast who values barbarity over decency and love.

Tomorrow night Tonight, look not to the Grande Dame of 34th Street, whose shame is as large as her visage. Look rather to the homes of New Yorkers who are being encouraged to display blue and white lights in our windows, and if your means allow, perhaps make a small donation to a food pantry or crisis pregnancy center in Mother’s honor.

New Yorker’s hearts are large, and we’ll yet demonstrate the best of what we value by honoring Mother with countless little acts performed with great love.

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Now What?

So, the day has arrived!

There’s something about our fascination with round numbers and the import we assign to them, numbers like…. 50. Numerically, it’s no big deal, really. It comes after 49 and before 51. But we love our round numbers and stop at them to catch our breath and survey the terrain upon which we trod. We look back from whence we came with perfect 20/20 hindsight and see dimly through the mist that is ever before us. So I’ll stop for a moment and do just that.

50 is less an occasion of angst for me than a cause of wonder and rejoicing (except for the 50,000 mile check-up with all of the doctors coming up).

This blog has certainly catalogued the disastrous course of self-destruction that we are on as a civilization and outlined some of the remedial steps necessary. It will continue to do so going into the future. I won’t wax elegiac over the world of my youth and how life was simpler then. It was. And it wasn’t.

JFK, Vietnam, Watergate, Race Riots, assassinations, Jonestown, Roe v. Wade… The list is endless. It was anything but placid.

I tend not to sit and look back very often, because I find myself laughing and grimacing by turns at how every one of my best laid plans has NEVER come to pass in the way I intended it to.

I plan, God laughs.

Looking back though, I can see how the many tributaries of my life have all converged at the pro-life juncture. It is without a doubt that I have been led here to this point. Seminary, College, graduate school, teaching, social services work, retreat ministry, campus ministry all have illuminated and informed a different aspect of the anthropological picture now being torn asunder by some pretty bad people.

Looking back at the Civil Rights Movement, who could have imagined that contraception and abortion would have been used to such tremendous effect in tearing apart the Black family, Black Community in ways that the KKK would have envied?

Looking back, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan made the prediction.

Looking back to 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted with deadly accuracy what would become of women and society with the adoption of contraception.

Looking back, Pope John Paul The Great predicted as much as Pope Paul, but then laid out the roadmap for us to reclaim our tattered human dignity in his stunning pontificate that lasted for 26 years. It’s all right there.

Looking back over the scientific literature of the past 50 years we see that the scientific and medical communities both show the disastrous effects of abortion and contraception. Many would love to come forward in support of the literature, but fear the loss of grant funding in retribution for so doing.

And that for me is the way forward. It is all but impossible to “play the game” in science and witness to life. So I decided not to play, to step out in faith and just start witnessing to the truth of science by linking to it in my posts, in my public speaking. I’m not hiding out.

God has stopped laughing at my plans. I’m where He has led me.

The way forward? I’m not making any more plans. He’ll lead.

His Grace is sufficient for me.

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Every Day A Cana

Tonight as we were sitting with the children and showing them our wedding album and discussing the events of 18 years ago today, we came to the picture that was never taken, the one I’m so sorry was missed, the one of the angel sent to remind Regina and me of our mission as a married couple. The angle’s name was Dottie, and she was a familiar fixture in the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

She was homeless, and as is so often the case, weathered and aged beyond her years. How she came to be there at Saint Vincent Ferrer in New York, I cannot say–save for the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Regina and I put a great deal into the Mass: the music, the musicians, the readings, the three priests and deacon who were so close to us, our family and friends’ participation. We spent more time on the Mass than the rest of the day’s events, by far. It was glorious.

Then after Mass, as we were halfway down that very long aisle, past most of our family and friends, it happened.

Dottie appeared out of nowhere, directly in front of us.

She grabbed my arm and told me how beautiful Regina looked, how beautiful we looked, how happy she was for us both, how our wedding was the most beautiful she ever attended. Then she inclined forward to kiss me. And so we did. In a long intimate moment in the aisle she kept assuring us that we had God’s very special blessing and that we would have a good marriage. Regina and I took it in stride, and actually enjoyed the warmth and spontaneity of the moment. After working with homeless youth for seven years, it was as natural as walking.

Then, a friend leaned out and ushered her into the pew with him, and we were off to the steps for photos. Dottie stayed out front, waving at us in the limo. I never saw her again.

Eighteen years have presented us with a great many challenges. Making two into one has had its better moments, and some we’d rather forget. But just as Jesus came to the rescue at Cana, He has made us new many times over, each time perfecting in us some element of ourselves that needed the covenantal love of marriage and its attendant graces in order to grow.

With our son’s autism came a whole new dimension of vocation as a married couple. Though Regina as a pediatric nurse, and I in ministry to the homeless worked at our pro-life convictions, Joseph’s autism would open entirely new vistas in working within the movement to rebuild a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love. The plight of the handicapped, the abortions of 93% of all Down Syndrome children have become very personal. It has seasoned us both for dedicating our marriage to furthering the Gospel of Life, for advocating for the poor and the least among us.

Dottie’s apparition in the aisle was no mere fluke. It was a prophetic call to a young newly married couple. The beauty of the radiant bride that gently received the loving wishes of the weathered old woman without a home; uninvited, yet warmly and lovingly received. It has become the metaphor for our marriage, replete with the many who laughed with scorn at the moment–missing its import and beauty.

I think of Dottie whenever we take out the wedding album. I’ll never forget her face, her voice, that moment in the aisle. She was the first to greet us as a newly married couple, to kiss me and wish her blessings on us. She was elevated, as Jesus promised:

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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