Curtail our culture of violence by addressing abortion

Many people are worried about the increasing levels of violence in our country, and over the past week, three states passed laws that address a key contributor to our culture of violence. I am speaking about what Saint Mother Teresa called the “greatest destroyer of peace today” — abortion.

This past week, three states moved ahead with bills that recognize this reality by limiting abortion. I applaud these laws, which attempt to deliver justice to the most vulnerable among us — defenseless, unborn children. Every child has the right to life and should not have this right cast aside by his or her mother or father, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception. We must not accept the illogical argument that unborn children do not have the same human rights as those of us who are born. It is an easy step to say that other classes of people have lesser rights if we accept this flawed reasoning.

When St. Mother Teresa addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, she boldly decried abortion. She told the assembled lawmakers, “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child ….”

Instead, mother and fathers, she said, should be helped to love, which involves being “willing to give until it hurts,” including by respecting “the life of their child.” The Christian community should be the first in line to help expectant mothers and fathers, but all of society has a stake in this matter.

Many people today rightfully lament the plague of gun violence that has taken the lives of so many innocent people. We have reacted with horror to the tragedies that have cut short young lives, but we have not examined the reasons this is happening. There are many complex factors behind the violence that has gripped our country and many other places in the world, but one factor that must not be overlooked is what our laws and society teach people, especially the young. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

Abortion violently takes the life of an unborn child, and it introduces death into our hearts and the heart of our society. Murdering an adult does the same thing. To a lesser degree, turning away someone in need harms us and those we disregard. Big and small, sin impacts us and everyone else. We must ask, “What are we teaching our people when we allow the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the defenseless unborn to be harmed?” Laws that sanction this only reinforce what Pope Francis calls “a throwaway culture.”

Rather than enabling mothers and fathers to choose not to love their children, our states and country should be leading the way in providing parents every opportunity to welcome them with love. At its core, the issue of abortion is about either choosing to love — to give until it hurts — or to not love.

One person who understood this in a profound way was Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community, who died on May 7 at the age of 90. Vanier never married but dedicated his life to giving the gift of friendship to the intellectually disabled.

Vanier realized that, “Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.”

What Vanier discovered in his work with the disabled is also true of the unborn and of any person. We need to love others and to be loved by others; without this exchange, we wither, and society is weakened.

“I strongly believe,” Vanier wrote, “that God is hidden in the heart of the smallest of all, in the weakest of all, and if we commit ourselves to him, we open a new world.” Unless the laws of our society value the smallest of all, we will continue to teach the next generation that only certain people deserve love and dignity, while others can be killed.

Pope Francis noted in a recent interview when questioned about abortion and civil law, “My question comes before civil law, before Church law, to the human: Is it just to eliminate a human being to solve a problem? Is it just to hire an assassin to solve a problem? Everything else stems from that. That is the basic question.”

The basic question is: Do we respect the dignity of human life from the moment of conception until natural death? A culture that has embraced abortion up to the time of birth has only deteriorated to accepting physician-assisted suicide on the other end of life. Essentially, society communicates with its laws that life has little meaning or value. Therefore, it is certainly also blind to the inherent God-given value of every human life.

May God give our country the grace it needs to turn away from the evil of abortion and accept all life as a gift from him, regardless of the circumstances. May the hardened hearts of those who support abortion up to birth, be open to the truth of the dignity of human life and the unborn child.

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.