Pro-life, or Anti-Abortion?

This is a reprint of the very first column I had published in the East Tennessee Catholic.  Although it appeared in late 2001, I had actually written it over two years before, as one of three sample columns which were rejected by the then-editor. 
What does it mean to have a “consistent life ethic?” You may remember that as Jesus hung on the cross, the soldiers cast lots to decide who should have the robe he was wearing.  They couldn’t split it among them because it had no seams.  Some have referred to the concept of a consistent life ethic as the “Seamless Garment.”  Life is a continuum, and we cannot pick and choose whose lives we are going to care about and protect.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God”(2319).
If we are to be consistent–constant, dependable, invariable, steady, unfailing–in what we believe and do regarding life issues, we must protect and care for all life, not just the lives of the innocent unborn.  Many people have bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming, “We vote pro-life!”  Well, I would love to vote pro-life but I can’t find a pro-life candidate.
Under the topic of “You shall not kill” in the catechism, we read the obvious: abortion, homicide, suicide, and euthanasia are all prohibited.  But we also read that those who contribute to famines are liable for the deaths of the starving, that destroying whole cities in wartime is a crime, and that “the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race” (2329). The death penalty is limited to cases in which it would be necessary to protect other victims from the aggressor–something solitary confinement in a maximum security prison can certainly do.

Photo credit: wht_wolf96653 via Flickr

It is relatively easy to be pro-life when it comes to the slaughtering of an innocent in the womb. It’s harder to care about a serial killer. It’s pretty easy to know it’s wrong to throw a newborn in a dumpster. It’s harder to say that no one, no matter how sick he is or how much he is suffering, has a right to take his own life. It’s easy to decide to support laws which ban abortions. It’s harder to support laws requiring that tax dollars be spent to keep poor children off the street, to provide aid to mothers on welfare, to create programs for job training for unskilled workers.
Being consistent isn’t easy. All human beings are a mass of inconsistencies. Being a truly pro-life Catholic isn’t easy either, but Jesus never claimed that His was an easy road to follow.
“I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to buy a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough to love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please.”   –Wilbur Reese
God, the Giver of life, the Creator of life, calls us to believe in life 100%. If we’re only willing to give $3.00, then we aren’t pro-life. We’re just anti-abortion.

The Feast of St. Bernadette

When I was a little girl, I received The Song of Bernadette as a Christmas gift.  The story of Bernadette and the apparitions at Lourdes captivated me, and I immediately decided that Bernadette would be my Confirmation saint years down the road.

I recently re-read (and who knows how many times I’ve read it already) the book, and found that I am now able to appreciate the adult parts–the political, historical, and ecclesiological parts I used to skim.  Not the least interesting fact about the story is that its writer is not a Christian, but a Jew, who wrote the story after he was hidden from the Nazis in Lourdes before making his escape to the United States.
When I was in high school, my grandmother took me on a 17-day tour of France.  The highlight was our visit to Lourdes (which Sister deLellis, my high school French teacher, had told us reminded her of a Catholic Gatlinburg).  It’s true that cheap Catholic souvenir shops lined the main road to the Grotto, but miracle and mystery existed there too.
Bernadette’s “lady” had asked that “processions come hither,” and every night thousands of pilgrims walk to the grotto carrying candles and singing “Ave Maria.”  I cannot describe how beautiful and powerful it was.
Bernadette was just a simple peasant girl, who retired to a convent and died a painful death from tuberculosis of the bone.  Today is the anniversary of the day she died at the age of 34, and thus her Feast Day.
Years after her death, Bernadette’s body was exhumed and was found to be incorrupt.  It is still on view today at the convent of the Sisters of Nevers, where she lived as a sister.

Above the Grotto where the lady appeared are suspended crutches left behind those who were cured after drinking from or bathing in the miraculous spring.  I took home several bottles of the water to use at home.  My friends and I used to bless ourselves with it in college before we took our exams!
If I had the money to travel, Lourdes would be one of the first places I would go.
St. Bernadette, pray for us.

Jesus Is My Uncle

Well, maybe he’s not.  Actually, I don’t believe it at all, because I’m Catholic and our tradition denies that Jesus had any siblings.  This is some of the suspicious information you run into doing internet-based genealogy.  I was investigating my family history on one day.  They have this neat little “hint” feature that will suggest missing members of your tree based on the “research” of other members.  So I was happily clicking and adding branch after branch until people like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion Hearted and Charlemagne and Joseph of Arimathea started appearing in the tree.  First I was excited to be descended from such luminaries, but soon I learned that although some people wish to prove descent from antiquity, most experts don’t really believe that’s possible.
The above screen shot comes from, which is a collaborative project in which all users can add to each others’ trees.  That means that sometimes you get useful information and find new relatives, and other times, you end up with Uncle Jesus. 
I’ve found a lot of good information on Rootsweb, where users post ancestry and descent.  You can search by name, and compare trees, and pick the one that looks the most authentic.  That’s where I went to find out if Con Hunley really was my cousin–he is!  For years, people would ask me if we were related and I would say no, but I was wrong.  He’s my father’s fourth cousin, which I was able to figure out by finding an article that listed his father’s name and then plugging that into Rootsweb.  I quickly found his branch and added him to my tree. 

Cousin Con

The Genforum boards, organized by the family names that you are researching, have also been fun and useful places to ask other researchers questions about those elusive people at the top  of the tree. 
Of course, using the internet is a lazy way to do genealogy, and I feel guilty when I think of my cousin Laurie, who has spent years doing actual research by going places and looking at historical records.  I’m lucky that she shared all her authenticated information with me, so I had a place to start on my mother’s side of the family.  So far, the only field trip I have been on was to visit graveyards in Union County to look at the final resting places of ancestors on my father’s side. 
My great-great-great grandfather's grave in Carr Cemetery, Maynardville

Well, except for several trips to Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, to visit the grave of our most illustrious ancestor, my great-great-great grandfather General James D. Hagan, who served in the Confederate Army. 
For me, right now, genealogy is a hobby, so accuracy isn’t paramount.  In the future maybe I will actually try to verify everything I’ve learned.
I guess I’ll have to wait until I get to Heaven to check with Jesus about the uncle thing, though!

Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia, Alleluia!

I loved Easter long before I appreciated its religious significance–the excitement of the Easter Bunny, the new clothes, the family dinner, the egg hunt, and most of all the springtime.  It’s my favorite holiday as an adult, not just because for Christians it is the climax of the Church year, but because it is a fun family time that is not as demanding as Christmas and which takes place at the time of year that makes me happiest.
This was our first Easter in a new home, and we had a wonderful time.  We put the kids at our new outside table, and later we all sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful day.  But it was an emotional day, too.  The evening before, both my mother and my youngest sister were present at the Easter Vigil service at our church, Immaculate Conception.  There was a freakish accident involving the sacred fire from which the Easter Candle was to be lit.  My mother saw our deacon and two altar servers catch on fire.  My sister and my niece, just arriving, heard the screams and knew that something was terribly wrong.  We have known Patrick, one of the servers, since he was born, and he is in my son’s class at Knoxville Catholic High School, so we were particularly upset and worried about him.
I haven’t been to the Easter Vigil in years, as much as I loved it as a child, because a service that lasts from nine until midnight just doesn’t work well with five children.  So I got my first inklings of the news from a Facebook post, more from WBIR’s Twitter feed, and the rest from a phone call to my mother who had stepped out of Mass (which did go on, and how our pastor did it is a miracle itself).  As you might imagine, we thought of little else the rest of the evening, even as we went about the usual holiday preparations, filling baskets, rolling out dough.
Father Joe rose to the occasion again at Mass the next morning, encouraging us to sing out those alleluias, upset as we all were.  Then during the Prayers of the Faithful came another blow when we were asked to pray for the soul of Bob DeWine, who had died just an hour before.  His death was not tragic–he was 90 years old, and died surrounded by his family on Easter Sunday morning, surely a significant and blessed day for a Christian to enter New Life.  But how the church will miss him!  How difficult it was that morning, to celebrate and sing the joyful songs while death and tragedy were still so near.
The three people injured in the blaze are going to be O.K.  The deacon and his daughter are still being treated at the burn center at Vanderbilt; Patrick has been released and is recovering at home.  Bob DeWine is celebrating Easter in Heaven this year.  Resurrection takes on a new meaning for all of us this Easter season.

bob dewine 1
Here’s one view of a memorial set up in the back of our church for Mr. DeWine, who was an usher at the 10 a.m. Mass for many years.

bob dewine 2
He always had a big smile and a “good morning” as he held open the church door.

What's in a Name?

The following is a reprint of a column that ran in The East Tennessee Catholic newspaper on August 11, 2002.  It explains the name of my former column, which is now the name of this blog.
Names are important.
Think of the time we spend choosing the names we give our children, the hours poring over baby-name books, making lists, asking opinions, only to be told years later by an unappreciative adolescent, “I hate my name!”
Now, any writer or artist will tell you that his creative product is something like “offspring” to him.  So when it was time–past time–to name this column, I agonized over the choice for days.  Then, coming up blank, I followed my usual procedure for titling my work:  I stole.
Image result for bartlett's familiar quotations
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations with its handy index is an old friend that has proved its worth to me many times.  I looked up life in the back of the book, and voila, the works of far better writers than I were at my disposal.
The phrase “life in every limb” sounded perfect at first reading, and once I investigated the source became even more so.
First, the author:  William Wordsworth, famed English poet of the Romantic Period, and as it happens, an old favorite of mine.  My first college English professor, later my advisor, is a preeminent Wordsworth scholar who spends summers at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District.  By virtue of his enthusiasm almost as much as Wordsworth’s talent, he taught us to love Wordsworth too.  This seemed like an omen.
Image result for wordsworth
Next the poem whence the line came: We Are Seven. The poem’s narrator encounters a “little maid,” who in answer to questions about her family asserts again and again that there are seven children, even though two have died.  This inclusion in the family’s number of two who are unable to speak for themselves resonated with me as I thought of the voiceless unborn and their need for similar champions.
Finally, the enire quotation:  “A simple child/That lightly draws its breath/And feels its life in every limb/What should it know of death?” I thought of the unborn child, alive in every way, in every part of its tiny body, heart beating, blood pumping, at the very beginning of its life doomed so often to a premature and violent death.
I wonder what Wordsworth might add to the abortion debate if he were with us today.  My first child’s godmother (a fellow student of the aforementioned professor) created a beautiful cross-stitch as a gift for Emily when she was born from a paraphrased Wordsworth quotation: “Children come trailing clouds of glory from God who is their home.”
This comes from his Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, in which he expounds upon his belief that children are closer to God because they remember glimpses of heaven that are more and more lost to us as we grow older.  His own heavenly visions, the “spots of time” he celebrates in his long autobiographical narrative poem The Prelude, were a continuing source of inspiration to Wordsworth.  I have a feeling that he would have viewed the killing of the innocent unborn, fresh from God’s hand, as the worst kind of sacrilege.
Moving to a different sort of literature, the phrase “life in every limb” calls to mind St. Paul‘s metaphor of 1 Corinthians 12: ” . . . [T]he body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body . . . .”  Each person, born or unborn, is a part of that body and has a unique role to fulfill.
In valuing all members of the body equally, our church espouses a consistent ethic of life.  Although abortion is the focus of this column, I plan to write about many other life issues, such as the death penalty and euthanasia.  We might think of the abortion issue as just one of the many limbs of the church’s pro-life teachings.  For we are a church that embraces and celebrates and protects all life, that of the innocent unborn equally with that of the convicted murderer, of the ill and disabled along with the healthy, of the non-Christian along with the Christian–life in every limb of the Body of Christ.