Tribulation compounded by blasphemy

As the Revised Standard Version renders the 14th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas remind the proto-Christians of Antioch that it is only “through many tribulations” that we enter the Kingdom of God. The New American Bible translation drives the point home even more sharply: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Christians in the United States who imagined that, whatever tribulations or hardships they have to endure, they would not include speeches by the president of the United States and the policies of the United States government had better reconsider, in light of President Barack Obama’s April 26 address to the annual Planned Parenthood Gala at Washington’s Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

It was an appalling speech that had the sole benefit of clarifying the last-ditch commitment of the present administration to the most open-ended abortion license possible. And it drew a line in the sand that those committed to the biblical view of the sanctity of human life cannot ignore—and must challenge.

Planned Parenthood is a multimillion-dollar industry, funded in no small part by the federal government, that has been directly responsible for the deaths of millions of unborn children and is currently responsible for over one thousand such deaths every day; yet the president described Planned Parenthood’s work as “providing quality health care to women all across America.”

Pro-life advocates’ efforts to craft state laws requiring Planned Parenthood clinics and other abortionists to follow the minimal sanitation and safety standards required of true medical facilities are, according to the president, a matter of “shutting off communities that need more health care options for women, not less.”

The clinic-regulation laws that have been passed in states across the country are, the president charged, part of an “orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women’s health”—as if abortuaries that do not meet the health and safety standards required of your local McDonald’s are contributing to anyone’s “health.”

Moreover, such laws are an attempt to mandate “government injecting itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor”—as if a butcher like Philadelphia’s Kermit Gosnell, who severed the spinal cords of infants born alive in botched abortions, was any woman’s personal physician.

Perhaps because the Obama speech to Planned Parenthood coincided with Gosnell’s homicide trial, the president did not utter the word “abortion” once. But the timing notwithstanding, that omission was hardly surprising in an address that may have set a new standard for deliberate misrepresentation of reality. For it requires willful moral blindness about reality to say that “what Planned Parenthood is about” is helping “a woman from Chicago named Courtney” make sure she could start a family, by providing “access to affordable contraceptive care to keep her healthy” in the face of a fertility-threatening disease. Today, President Obama noted to applause, “She’s got two beautiful kids. That’s what Planned Parenthood is about.”

About the millions of “beautiful kids” (many of them African-American) who were never born because of Planned Parenthood, the president of the United States had not a word to say. Not a word of remorse. Not a word of compassion, for either the slaughtered innocents of our time or the mothers suffering post-abortion trauma. Just a celebration of “your right to choose,” without the slightest moral pause over the question, “Choose what?”

But there was worse. For President Obama concluded his remarks as follows: “Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you…”

And that is nothing short of blasphemy.

Too harsh? No. For in its discussion of this grave sin against the Second Commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2148) teaches that “it is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to … reduce people to servitude, to torture persons or to put them to death.” That is precisely what happens in Planned Parenthood abortuaries. And on that, the president of the United States called down the divine blessing.

Pray for him. Pray for the United States, which is in very, very serious trouble.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.