Curtail our culture of violence by addressing abortion

Archbishop Aquila

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: The shock of forgiveness

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Every so often, the media will pick up a story that serves as a potent reminder of what it means to be a Christian. That’s because living as a Christian in today’s post-Christian society is an unusual way of living, contrary to what the rest of society might say about it. It is not “outdated.” It is not “irrelevant.” It is radical, countercultural and, to some, even incomprehensible.

On Oct. 2, the trial of Amber Guyger came to a close. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was charged with the murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who lived in the same apartment complex as Guyger. On Sept. 6, 2018, she walked into Jean’s apartment, thinking it was hers, saw Jean sitting there on the couch, and after giving verbal commands, shot him twice, killing him. It was an absolute tragedy and played into the ongoing national conversation about police behavior toward people of color (Guyger is white; Jean is black).

What I want to focus on is a particular moment that came at the end of Guyger’s trial, after she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jean’s younger brother Brandt took to the witness stand to address his brother’s killer directly. He wasn’t planning on saying anything during the trial but changed his mind at the last minute. A prompting of the Holy Spirit? I think yes, based on what happened next.

“I hope you go to God with all the guilt, all the bad things you may have done in the past,” Brandt told Guyger. “If you are truly sorry … I forgive you. If you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” He continued, “I’m not going to say I hope you die … I personally want the best for you … I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want … and the best would be: give your life to Christ. Giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

But it didn’t stop there. Brandt was bold enough to ask the judge if he had permission to give Guyger a hug. He was granted it, and they embraced for over a minute, Guyger weeping into Brandt’s shoulder, just as some of us might do were we to be embraced by Christ.

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing her black neighbor in his apartment, which she said she mistook for her own unit one floor below. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

Brandt has every reason to hate Guyger. This woman gunned down his innocent brother who had his whole life ahead of him and was given a lighter sentence than what she originally faced. Those in the courtroom and watching on TV wouldn’t have been shocked to hear Brandt tell Guyger that he hopes she rots in hell. No, the shock from those in the courtroom – and subsequently, the rest of the nation – came when Brandt did the exact opposite.

With those words and the simple act of embracing his brother’s killer, Brandt gave the world an incredible witness to the forgiveness Christ calls us to live as Christians. Of course, you can count on the bickering voices of social media and pundits to take this powerful moment and exploit it for their own agenda, but that’s because many of them don’t understand. It is not normal in our culture to forgive. It is also not easy. And that’s what makes witnessing something like this so shocking. It was not supposed to happen, but it did. It defied every expectation. Make no mistake about it: Brandt was living his call to be more like Christ in that moment. And it is exactly this moment – this shocking moment – that we are able to get a glimpse of what it is to be a Christian.

Following Jesus does make for quite a shock. And it is that shock that we are called to bring to the rest of the world, just as Brandt Jean did.