St. John the Baptist and Religious Freedom

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, otherwise known as the Jesus’ cousin and the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Today is also the first Sunday of ‘Fortnight for Freedom‘, the two week period of prayer, study, catechesis and action regarding the threats to religious freedom. How fitting that the Feast of St. John the Baptist would be celebrated during this Fortnight as St. John the Baptist epitomized the importance of religious freedom and what can happen when an all too powerful government dictates what may and may not be acceptable in terms of religious expression.

St. John the Baptist was first described to us when Mary first goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, upon courageously and obediently saying ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel when he tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear His son. In Luke, we are told

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

The baby to which the passage refers is Elizabeth’s son, John. We learn from various writings that John was a bold man who preached the truth. He lived as a hermit in the desert and was known to be somewhat eccentric. Some time around his thirtieth birthday, he began to preach fervently about the importance of penance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin – even baptizing Jesus. His following grew and grew and was a great threat to Herod Antipas. John was never one to shy away from truth and honesty – and never one to be quiet about sharing this in a very public way. As such, John spoke openly against the adulterous and incestuous marriage of Herod to Herodias, the wife of Herod’s half brother Philip. Herod had John arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against him. John’s life ended at the wish of Herodias’ daughter, Salome, who requested his head be served on a platter to her mother.

While the conditions of St. John the Baptist’s death differ from the threats to religious liberty we face today, there are similarities that can be drawn here in the US and along the lines of what Christians around the world – particularly in the Middle East – face as a result of publicly expressing religion. St. John the Baptist told the truth about Herod and Herodias. Herod didn’t arrest St. John the Baptist only because of what he said, he did so because Herod was a threat to his power and St. John the Baptist had an ever-growing ministry of followers who turned toward truth and honesty and disavowed corruption.

The recent HHS Mandate in the United States which requires that individuals, companies, hospitals – and everyone other than a Church – pay for and provide health insurance plans that cover the free distribution of contraception, as well as include coverage for sterilization and abortion inducing drugs. The only organizations exempt from this mandate are organizations that serve ONLY people of their own religion. The US Council of Catholic Bishops noted that even Jesus wouldn’t qualify for exemption under the requirements as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of this mandate, 43 different religious organizations have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (ironically, headed up by a professed pro-abortion Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius). Many believe the lawsuits are about contraception – but they aren’t. The lawsuits seek to argue that the Department of HHS steps beyond the bounds of the US Constitution by declaring the definition of ‘religious expression’. The US Constitution States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The First Amendment declares is that a) Congress may not establish a religion (keep in mind what had been happening in England at the time the colonists left to settle the United States) and, equally important, b) that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The second part of the statement is extremely broad and what the current lawsuits are using as a basis to fight the Obama Administration and the Department of HHS. Perhaps the best example describing this violation is Marc Barnes’ description he provided here:

The free exercise of religion is violated both by what you take away from a religion, and by what you force a religion to do. If members of a religion are forced by the government to perform actions contrary to their beliefs, they are no more free than dogs.

The second part of his first sentence is key – you violate the free exercise of religion not only by what you take away but always what you FORCE THEM TO DO. In this case, religious freedom is being violated by forcing individuals and organizations to pay for and offer products and services (purchased from a private entity!) against which they have a moral obligation.

Thankfully, we have a court system in the United States against which we can file a grievance and hopefully resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. Following the news in the Middle East and Northern Africa, one can see that we are truly blessed to live in a civil democracy in which religious freedom is, for the most part, respected. We must pray during this Fortnight for Freedom that we continue to be blessed with religious freedom and that our brothers and sisters here in the US understand the importance of awareness and action in keeping our religious freedom safe. We must also pray for the expansion of religious freedom to those Christians currently persecuted and dying as a result of the expression of their religion.

We can all benefit from taking a moment to asking St. John the Baptist to intercede on our behalf for an expansion of religious freedom around the world, as well as a strengthening of religious freedom here in the US. After all, St. John the Baptist knew first hand what happens when the government is free to dictate the definition of freedom of expression.

Its never okay.

Last night before going to bed I read online of the guilty verdict of Jerry Sandusky who was found guilty on 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse of 10 young boys over a period of 15 years. What happened to these young men was horrific and inexcusable. It appears that the jury was convinced of the charges and the evidence must have been overwhelmingly convincing. Sandusky deserves to serve the time he will receive at his forthcoming sentencing. No amount of time served, however, can undo the damage done to the young men at his hands.

Here in Texas, we have had several incidents recently where teachers have been arrested in possession of child pornography. Several are listed below:

Texas Junior High Teacher Suspended After Child Porn Arrest

Feds launch teacher child porn inquiry

And reported this morning in the WSJ

Msgr. William Lynn who served as secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was found guilty on Friday of one count of child endangerment for allowing a priest to take a new assignment involving contact with children after learning of allegations that he had engaged in inappropriate contact with at least one minor.

None of this behavior is acceptable on any level. We must, however, pray for those who have perpetrated as difficult as it might be. We must pray for Mr. Sandusky and for the producers of the pornography. We must pray for their healing – particularly for those who have not yet been caught so that that might cease their behavior and avoid preying on more and more children. Studies have shown that those who perpetrate are by a great majority individuals that have once been victims. This doesn’t mean that everyone who is a victim of sexual abuse goes on to be a perpetrator, but those who have been victims have a much greater risk of becoming a perpetrator later in life if counseling and healing has not taken place. While I have not read anything indicating this to be the case, it is highly likely that Mr. Sandusky was, at one time, a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It is also likely that those producing the child pornography were also victims of childhood sexual abuse at one time. In the case of the teachers, some might argue that the teachers didn’t actually produce the porn, but by possessing it they are complicit in its production by partaking as a consumer of the horrific products.

In the case of Msgr. Lynn, we must also pray that the Church and all of those in positions to protect our children – school administrators, youth ministers etc… be mindful of their responsibility to keep our children safe and to report suspicious behavior.

We must pray for those children whose lives have been changed forever by this behavior. Please pray for their healing from the scars – both physical and mental – that have been caused at the hands of others. Not only do they deserve our prayers for healing for their loss of innocence, but we can also pray for them that the seek the necessary tools to assist in their healing such that we can end the cycle of abuse that exists within society.

Life Lesson # 1,559,342 – During difficult times, prayer can be… difficult.

Life has been full lately and full can be good. Or, full can be challenging. In recent weeks and months, its been the latter. Truth be told, its really been a tough year. Our family has run the gamut of stress and anxiety inducing situations – death of a family member, loss of a job, issues at school with children – the whole nine yards. That said, I didn’t sit down to write this as a pity party. Not at all.

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much. – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

I know in my heart that this too shall pass and that God is working all of these experiences in the life of my family for greater good. At times I’ve stopped and pondered what life might be like during these challenging times without faith. Would I feel despair at the thought that this really is all for nothing and that, at times I would think ‘life sucks’ and not have any hope that there was any purpose in my suffering? Would I feel as though life had its ups and downs, but that there was nothing beyond this earth – no possibility of eternity in the beauty of the afterlife? How would I ever possibly lift myself up at moments of despair if this is what I believed? Why would I ever try thinking that it was just how life was and that I would likely have to deal with difficult times again and again and again.

I am so very grateful for my faith and my belief that God permits things that are challenging to happen to us. He doesn’t ‘make’ them happen – but He does ‘let’ them happen. Being a merciful God, He also provides us with the tools to be able to navigate our way through and beyond our suffering. Not only that, but He also provides us with the wisdom we need to be able to learn of the lesson that is being provided for us. In every challenging experience, there is a lesson to be learned. Both of these ideas provide me with great comfort as it provides a purpose to suffering and difficulties in life.

I have to admit that my prayer life has been lacking – seriously lacking. I say ‘daily prayers’ and pray the morning prayers from the Magnificat, but have been unable to fully concentrate on anything that I’m saying or that comes to my mind. This could be partially due to the fact that I have not had much time to truly stop and slow down. I am being reminded that at the time that I most need to pray, prayer is hard.

It is difficult to pray when one is busy or one’s life is full. It is doubly difficult when one’s life is fully AND one is struggling. During our times of struggle we sometimes ask ourselves, ‘Okay God, why is this happening to me? And when is it going to end or get better?’. That can be indicative of times when we most need Jesus, but when we are most conflicted in our prayers. We *need* to pray, but it can be difficult to want to spend that time in prayer because we may feel abandoned by God. I like to believe that this is part of God’s desire to remind us of His role in our lives. By having us struggle, it requires us to want to lay our struggles at His feet and ask for His favor – not because He wants to see us suffer, but because He wants to remind us that He is there to love us.

That said, for me – right now – its a struggle. These days, I am being reminded of three things as I stumble my way through my challenges. First, I am reminded that God has a wonderful sense of humor. There are moments when I have to stop, look up in the sky and say ‘Really? Are you serious?’. Thankfully, at those moments I remember to stop and laugh. Laughing can be much better than crying. Second, I am reminded that God has faith in me. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says in her quote above, God never gives us more than we can handle. At the moments I’m feeling most overwhelmed, I’m doing my best to stop and remind myself that God must *really* have some serious confidence in my ability – and if He does, then I must be confident of my own ability too. Its very comforting. Finally, I am reminded that we are presented with the same situation over and over and over in our lives until we get it ‘right’. While there is much in my life that is presenting challenges that is beyond my control, there is much that I can manage – and I know that God is presenting that situation to me again in order that I can learn something from my experience.

Through these challenging times, I look around at those I know and at strangers on the street and realize that I am, in spite of this little valley in life right now, truly blessed. This past week has given me the chance to see the beauty in my children’s maturing as they make good choices throughout their day. We have friends who are struggling with financial issues, health issues, divorce and all sorts of other struggles. While running yesterday morning we passed what appeared to be a homeless fellow in a wheelchair with only one leg.

Challenges in life are real, and they can lead to stress and anxiety. Many smaller challenges combined can seem far greater than the true sum of their parts. Life can be difficult. The question becomes ‘How to move forward?’. For me, the solution has been taking small and incremental steps – particularly in my prayer life given that prayer can be a powerful force in moving through the tunnels of which we sometimes feel that there is no end.

Yesterday morning as I was driving to my run, I prayed as I always do in the car. Its not very peaceful or meditative, but I take what time I can these days! During my prayer time in the car, I found myself feeling anxious and unable to focus on my words or anything I was going to say. Usually I am led by the Holy Spirit and I always find that comforting. Yesterday, the Holy Spirit couldn’t seem to find me on the GPS. The best words that I could form in my mind and utter from my lips to pray were ‘God, please help me make it through today.’ That’s it. God, however, knows what I need and understands where my head and my heart are at right now. He understands and knows that, sometimes, that’s the very best I can do for a prayer.

Those few words seemed to sum up my approach these days which is to eat the elephant one small bite at a time. I remind myself that I don’t have to have everything resolved at once, but I can certainly approach those items which are in my control first and work toward moving through the dark tunnel they present with the most simple of prayers.

Blessed Mother Teresa spent a great majority of her life feeling as though Jesus was *missing* in her life – she did not feel His presence. She did, however, persevere in her ministry and continue to pray seemingly unceasingly. She is a wonderful role model for those of us who find ourselves struggling with prayer at the very moment when we need it most as well as a reminder that simplicity and minimalism can often be vastly underrated.

‘Womanhood is not a defect’

There has been much in the news recently regarding a ‘war on women’. Of course, political parties have taken the opportunity to use this meme in there war against one another. The media, of course, has been complicit in its participation. There are, however, other societal behaviors that have been taking place that have indicated that there is, in truth, a ‘war on women’ being waged.

This war is starting in the earliest stages of a girl’s life – in the women. Lila Rose has recently uncovered a widespread gendercide taking place. Is this in India or China you ask? Nope. Its right here in the United States of America. If you don’t believe its real or its a significant issue in this country, think again.

As recently as last week, Congress attempted to make it illegal to abort a baby as a result of its gender through the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act. Sadly, the act was narrowly defeated within the House of Representatives. Even more sadly, President Obama indicated that had it passed, he would have vetoed the bill indicating that

The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.

In other words, “If you want to kill your baby because its a girl, its none of my business and go right ahead. However, remember that if you want to have sex and use contraception – that is my business and I expect others who have a moral objection to such drugs and procedures to pay for it.” Moral relativism goes marching on. We are now no different than China and India in this regard and are on an equivalent moral plane where sex selective abortions are concerned, and we have a highly hypocritical government where the level of their willingness to intrude is concerned.

Today, I stumbled upon this wonderful piece that discusses the idea that the government has diminished womanhood to a defect.

More offensive, however, is the suggestion that women are somehow inherently defective and cannot succeed unless their feminine nature is “corrected” with contraception. This commercial claims that two young girls with lofty career aspirations cannot reach their goals with their fertility intact. It presumes that they will choose to be sexually active at a time when becoming pregnant would derail their professional lives. It paints motherhood as an inferior vocation. And just like President Obama’s other fictional woman, “Julia”, this commercial implies that women must be dependent on the federal government in order to control their fertility.

Please take a moment to read the entire piece. Its a great read and outlines the truth in the idea that the criticisms toward the Catholic Church have it backwards. Not only do they have it backwards, but the government is deliberately misrepresenting the efforts of the Church in fighting for religious freedom. My Church recognizes me as an equal to my husband. It recognizes the beauty of the gift I have been given as a women in my ability to produce life. My government, however, has decided the only way I can succeed in life is if that gift is suppressed – and it can only be successfully suppressed through the use of artificial contraception. Which entity truly respects me as a woman?

Update: Found this while perusing my Twitter feed today after posting this piece – NBC’s Nancy Snyderman indicated that aborting babies where tests indicate a genetic abnormality is ‘pro-science’. Raises a question… if a woman or man is infertile as a result of genetic abnormalities, should they then peruse in-vitro fertilization or would that be ‘anti-sciense’? Would that be ‘pro-science’ in the eyes of Snyderman if it meant that the parents might pass along the genetic abnormality to their children? At least Donny Deutsche had the sanity to question the ethics and where one would draw the line. Of course, Snyderman brushed off that question entirely.

The truth really does set you free.

This past week my family went on a vacation to the beaches along the Florida Gulf Coast. We have driven this route several times and are familiar with the speed limits and also the speed traps along the way. I’ll admit, I’ve never been one to drive slow but have only ever received two speeding tickets in my many many many (far TOO many!) years of driving. I also have friends who are police officers who have given me many suggestions for managing my speed along highways. As a result, I never go more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. I must be getting old, because lately my average has been roughly 5-7 miles per hour over.

As we were on our way to our vacation, we drove along a particular stretch of interstate highway along the Atchafalaya Basin (amazing – I spelled that without having the spell check correct me!) where the speed limit is 60 mph. I know that there are often police along the raised highway so I set the cruise control at a cool 65. There were four cars clumped together with me in the left lane and two immediately behind and the fourth car a bit further back in the right lane. I saw the police car up ahead and as I passed I saw him hit his brake lights and knew that he was going to pull me over. I slowed down and got into the right lane as he drove up behind me. I pulled over to the side of the road and he motioned for me to get out of the car. I did so with my driver’s license and insurance in my hand.

I should note that I have a very healthy fear of the law and shake when I get pulled over. It makes me very nervous. I walked back to his car where he stood in front of his bumper and he said, “Ma’am, I clocked you doing 74 when the posted speed limit is 60 mph.”

It took me a minute to pick my jaw up off the concrete shoulder and I said, “Officer, with all due respect, I promise you that I wasn’t going 74 mph.” The look on my face must have been something he wasn’t used to seeing when pulling someone over because the look on his face changed as well. I think he knew that I was being sincerely honest in my statement.

I told him, “Officer, I know that I wasn’t going 74 because I know that I was going 65 mph – 67 perhaps as I was passing another car, but I promise you it wasn’t 74 mph.”

He paused for a moment while looking at me and knew that I was telling the truth. The odd thing was that I was telling the truth – while also revealing that I had been speeding by 5-7 mph. I think he was somewhat perplexed by this but knew in his heart that there must have been a mistake. He said to me, “Ma’am, I’m going to take your word for it.” and let me go.

I got back in the car and my husband looked at me asking what had happened. As I told him, he put his hand up for me to give him a high five. “Way to witness!” he said.

The whole experience was rather interesting, but it really did make me realize what a great example it had been of the power of telling the truth – even when there is a risk involved. While I was not happy to have been pulled over with my kids in the car and had to explain to them, they were also aware of the significance of how the truth had set me free at that very moment.

The importance of consequences.

There has been much to read in the news recently about pro-life efforts taking place in the US and around the world. One of the things that reading this news online provides is the opportunity to observe a bit of a ‘social barometer’ in reading the associated comments made by readers. Of course, the general leaning of the comments will depend on many things – where the article has been published, from where it has been linked etc… In any event, the comments themselves make for fascinating reading and provide interesting insight into why people believe the things that they do.

What struck me recently was that in the great majority of comments I read from the pro-choice side there was a seeming lack of understanding that sexual behavior would result in the possible outcome of pregnancy. Does this mean that I believe that those who favor abortion don’t understand the biomechanics of sexual behavior? No. I’m not saying that. But there seemed to be a lack of willingness to accept that actions have consequences.

The arguments presented repeatedly were based on the idea that one must have the right to abort their unborn child because it was their body etc… There are comments after comments about the Catholic Church being evil in its trying to control women and how dare they tell women they shouldn’t use artificial contraception. The list of arguments as to why women must have the right to do whatever they want must not be hindered by anyone.

What appeared to be missing in any of the logic provided was the basic and fundamental idea that if one is to engage in sexual activity, the possible outcome is the creation of a new life through pregnancy. Our fifth grade daughter’s class just had a four day session at school regarding ‘responsible social behavior’ and I know that schools across the United States offer these classes, so it would be hard to argue that women aren’t aware of this concept.

This isn’t an awareness issue, its an issue of whether or not we wish to accept, as a society, that our actions have consequences. We have given ourselves a false sense of security by believing that by using artificial birth control varying in effectiveness from 70% – 98% that we will be in that range of success and that the failure rates won’t apply to us. *We* are in control – or so we believe. As someone who practices Natural Family Planning, I tell people who question my sanity for that choice that the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP is 99% successful when practiced properly. I know, however, that the 99% is not 100% and that I could very well be the 1%. I am willing to accept that fact and understand that the only 100% method of birth control is abstinence.

Who are we kidding? Ourselves.

It has been reported that roughly 54% of women who seek abortions report that they were using some form of birth control at the time they conceived. The same study indicated that 46% were not using birth control – and of those, 33% thought they were at ‘low risk’ for pregnancy. So 54% believed that the ‘success rate’ of their method of birth control – though less than 100% actually was 100% for them.

Its as though we have forgotten or refused to believe that the 1% ‘failure’ rate of the most effective forms of birth control – or 30% ‘failure’ rate of some of the least effective forms – results in the ‘failure’ by producing a child. We have become so focused on numbers and statistics that we forget that the risk we take is the risk of of the gift of producing a new life.

At what point did we, as a society, lose sight of the consequences of our actions? Or, did we? We tell our children not to drink and drive because it might result in our getting in an accident and killing ourselves and/or others. We are even warning young people and even adults about the idea of driving just ‘slightly buzzed’. We tell our children not to do drugs because drugs alter our minds and result in lower productivity and that continued use may result in the possibility of addiction. In other words, we share with our children the consequences of a particular action. Why is it, then that we give our children the idea that sexual activity is okay and acceptable provided it is done ‘responsibly’ which involves the use of artificial contraception. Again, ‘responsibly’ doesn’t mean that its 100% fool-proof – and the ‘failure’ rate results in pregnancy.

In looking at the abstinence only success rates versus comprehensive sexual education I came across this quote:

Unlike smoking, which is always bad for you, sexual behavior is a basic human need which can be a positive experience — although it requires maturity and responsibility – Michael McGee, VP Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

 

The quote is absurd because it overlooks the idea that people smoke because it can be a ‘positive experience’ in how it makes you feel. The argument made by Mr. McGee is that ‘kids are already doing it so we better tell them how to be responsible about it’. Kids are already drinking underage and doing drugs too… so let’s just tell them its okay and hope that they are responsible about it? We all know how responsible the average 15 year old is right – especially when it comes to decisions that can vastly affect the direction of one’s life? I, too, was young once and recall that drinking and drugs are also ‘positive experiences’ for young people too. Sex isn’t ‘bad’ for you – he’s right. But he overlooks the most obvious and known consequence of all just as, it seems, the rest of society has in that intercourse was designed by nature to result in reproduction of the species.