Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear

I read Father Dwight Longnecker’s fine post, Bergoglio’s List, and it sort of pushed me over the edge I’ve been standing on for a while. Be forewarned: There’s a rant coming.

Pope Francis is like Blessed John Paul II in that he has lived through times when the devil was ascendant and incarnate in his country. He has, in the same way that Blessed John Paul II did in World War II and then under Communism, witnessed and lived through times of great evil. Like Blessed John Paul, he responded to these terrors with Christian courage, fealty and love.

As the article Father Dwight quotes says,

In his Argentina, between 1976 and 1983, Jorge Mario Bergoglio lived through the ‘years of lead’ of the military dictatorship. Kidnappings, torture, massacres, 30,000 disappeared, 500 mothers killed after giving birth in prison to children who were taken away from them.

… In front of three judges, Bergoglio was hammered for three hours and forty-five minutes with insidious questions, above all by the attorney Luis Zamora, the lawyer for the victims. A key passage of the questioning comes when Bergoglio is asked to justify his meetings with the generals Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, in 1977.

… The “list” of Bergoglio is a collection of highly diverse personal stories, which make for exhilarating reading, whose common characteristic is that the people in them were saved by him.

… There is Alicia Oliveira, the first woman to become a judge in the criminal courts in Argentina and also the first to be dismissed after the military coup, non-Catholic and not even baptized, who went underground and was taken by Bergoglio, in the trunk of his car, to the college of San Miguel, to see her three children.

There are the three seminarians of the bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli, who was killed in 1976 by members of the military in a staged auto accident, after he had discovered who was truly responsible for numerous assassinations.

There is Alfredo Somoza, the scholar saved without his knowledge.

There are Sergio and Ana Gobulin, who worked in the slums and were married by Father Bergoglio, he arrested and she wanted, both saved and expatriated with the help of the Italian vice-consul in Argentina at the time, Enrico Calamai, another hero of the story.

I posted a pro life homily Cardinal Bergoglio gave in which he spoke of the children in his country who live in the dumps and search these dumps for their subsistence.

Our Holy Father has seen the devil looking at him through the eyes of another person. He has lived through times when the devil had absolute control of the government and military of his country. He has been forced to help people without letting his left hand know what his right hand was doing because secrecy of this degree was the only key to survival.

He has seen small children cast out to fend for themselves in dumps.

I am sick to the marrow of my bones of hearing the carping about the way he does the liturgy or how he dresses. I know that the liturgy and the way it is presented is important to some people, but I think we should all remember that the liturgy is not a show. It is prayer. The mass is an hour-long prayer (half hour on weekdays) in which the sacrifice at Calvary is brought home to us and then presented to us in the body and blood of Our Lord for our strength as we go forward in the faith.

Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, is wholly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.

I respect the hunger of those who love the liturgy for its beauty and draw sustenance from that beauty. But some of the people I’m reading are dangerously close to making an idol of it. The point is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen again and ever present to us on all the altars of all the Catholic Churches of the world.

I think Pope Francis “gets” this. I think he also knows that the mass is prayer and that prayer comes from the heart. There is a whole world out there beyond the borders of the United States, and that world is a butcher shop. The mass, as prayer and re-enactment of the sacrifice of Our Lord, has to speak to people whose reality is far different from ours.

Who knows better what those children in the dumps need; us in our American self-absorption, or the Pope who has walked with them for decades? Who can best address the Church to the people who are suffering and dying for the faith; us, or the pope who has lived with the terror of a killer government himself?

I believe the Holy Spirit gave us this pope for these times because he is the pope we need. He is the pope for those people who are suffering and dying in this butcher shop world of ours.

I think that God gave us this pope at this time because He loves those children in the dumps, those who are unjustly imprisoned, beaten, tortured, raped and murdered. He loves them.

Our problems here in America are — every one of them — things we could solve ourselves if we’d just stop being such cowards. The reason our faith is being successfully attacked from every direction in this country is because Christians are colluding with the attackers by their silence, their tacit support in what they watch and say, and by their actions in how they live their lives.

We don’t need the pope to excoriate those who attack Christ in this country one more time. How many times do the popes have to reiterate Church teachings on the sanctity of human life, gay marriage and all the other evils our debauched society loves more than Christ? Does each pope have to say it five times? Or is it 20?

Maybe the problem isn’t that the popes haven’t told us, but that we aren’t doing our part. We don’t need more excoriation, and we don’t need more obsession over the details of the liturgy.

We need Christians who will follow Christ and stand up for Him, come what may.

The people who need the Holy Father’s active help are those who can’t do for themselves: The ones who are at the mercy of the evils of this butcher shop world.

Here in America, our problem is our own lack of faith in God, which makes us cowards. Christians all over the world are suffering and dying for Jesus. We need to get on our knees and pray for faith like that. It is the answer to all our problems.

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Father Roderick, Computer Technician

I’m a long-time fan of Father Roderick, the geeky priest who founded SQPN. He has an unaffected joy in all things Catholic that lifts me anytime I watch one of his podcasts.

It seems that Father Roderick had a bad experience with his computer, and like all the rest of us when this happens, began doing everything he could think of to get the thing running again.

Here’s Father Roderick, computer technician.

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Bogus Scholarship and the High Fashion of Attacking Christ the Lord

The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Reza Aslan, the Muslim writer-about-Jesus.

I’m not going to go into the this-guy-is-not-a-Christian-he’s-a-Muslim stuff because I don’t think it really matters. You can find the same garbage he writes in this opinion piece on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other places all over television every Christmas/Easter.

These are the same lies that are trotted out by Christian bashers all over the internet. You can find them repetitively blah-blahed any day of the week at certain portals right here on Patheos. There are also the hyper modernist Christians, such as the Jesus Seminar, who put this stuff out there, feeding the attacks against Our Lord from within.

Mr Aslan lines up the same old bogus arguments in a list of five, labeling them the “Five Myths about Jesus.” These “myths” are, for those who don’t want to click on the thing: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was an only child (Mary is ever virgin), Jesus had 12 disciples, Jesus had a trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was buried in a tomb. Each of these is a myth, according to Mr Aslan.

His reasons for these opinions of his are as flabby and obvious as his motive: He’s not a Christian and he wants to tear down Christianity.

The really great thing in all this is that it points out quite eloquently the fact that Christianity is different by far from other religions, specifically Mr Aslan’s faith. Can you imagine if Mr Aslan had written a similar opinion piece about Islam? What if he had decided to debunk the Prophet Muhammad?

The question here wouldn’t be whether or not those “intolerant” Muslims decided to criticize Mr Aslan’s objectivity or say that he was wrong in his assertions. Rather, the question would be where Mr Aslan would hide to keep from being killed.

Christians have been roundly criticized for criticizing this Christ basher. They have been called bigots for pointing out that, as a Muslim, Mr Aslan just might have an agenda in his “scholarship.” They have, as usual, been labeled bigots and intolerant extremists for standing up for their faith.

On the question of the inevitable calls for death and beheading of anyone who dares to say even one criticism of the Prophet Muhammad, there is a “tolerant,” oozy silence.

But the facts are the facts. Christianity is radically different from any other faith on this planet. There is no other empty tomb. Every good thing we believe today about the value of the individual human being and the individual human life has its foundation in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that the Church is under such attack in the Western world today is a direct consequence of this one thing: Christianity teaches that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and that there are certain moral requirements and consequences attendant to that fact.

We may not kill with impunity. This teaching raises the ire of those who wish to kill through eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell research.

We may not degrade other human beings. This teaching raises the ire of those who wish to degrade through pornography, prostitution, egg harvesting, surrogate pregnancy.

We must use our sexuality as a mutual, life-giving gift between a man and a woman united in the sacramental covenant of Holy Matrimony. This teaching raises the ire of everyone who wants to live outside this boundary.

These things, and not the veracity of the Gospels, are the source of the popularity of the attacks on Jesus.

Mr Aslan is just riding the wave of anger against anyone who tells our nihilistic, narcissistic culture that there are moral limits on what they may do. They are using him with their phonied up “tolerance” to attack what ails them, which is anyone who says their sins are sin. He is using them to attack a faith other than his own in the name of a phonied up scholarship.

This is standard stuff for us Christians. We have to put up with being attacked, defamed and now, blatantly discriminated against as part of our faith.

But we know something that these people refuse to believe: Jesus Christ is the Lord of Life, and those who persist in following Him to the end will live forever.

 

 

For a different take on this same article, check out Joanne McPortland.

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The Public Scandal of Pro Abortion, Pro Gay Marriage Catholics in High Places

Cardinal Burke has issued a bit of advice to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: Don’t take communion.

His reason: Her “public support for abortion is grave sin.”

My guess is that there will be a flurry of blog posts and angry comments in com boxes about this advice, while Congresswoman Pelosi continues to take communion and her bishop says nothing. Then, everyone will go on to the next new thing.

Ta da.

Frankly, I think it’s time our leaders in the Church (the bishops) got their heads together and came up with some sort of consistent way of dealing with situations like this. The paradigm the Church is using is that Congresswoman Pelosi is under the spiritual guidance of her personal religious leader, which would be her pastor, who is acting through her bishop. They are supposed to make decisions such as whether or not she may take communion, I would guess because they are the ones who know her and understand her spiritual situation.

I would guess that things are done this way because the Church is a pastoral rather than a political institution. The purpose of excommunication is not to bash someone over the head and punish them. It is to save their souls by bringing them face to face with the gravity of their sins and giving them a shove to repent and change their ways.

Public admonishments to not take communion such as the one directed at Congresswoman Pelosi are rare, and they should be. I think it’s appropriate only when the person in question is doing what Congresswoman Pelosi is doing: Committing grave sin in a public manner that encourages other people to also commit this grave sin. This is called scandal, and it should be taken seriously.

There will always be temptations, but woe to those who do the tempting, Jesus said. Some translations use the phrase stumbling blocks. What it means is that there will always be people who lead others astray, who lead them away from following Christ, but that those people who do this are in even bigger trouble with God than those they lead.

Public figures of today have a mind-boggling arrogance about the way they tempt others away from following Christ. They assert that their sins are not sins. They proclaim themselves faithful followers of Christ even as they trample all over His teachings and commit the most vile sins in front of everyone. They even twist their sins around and proclaim publicly that these sins are righteousness and that those who disagree with this are the ones who are committing sin.

Whole denominations have thrown in the towel and forsaken the Gospels in their official teachings. They have themselves become tempters to sin.

The Catholic Church has refused to do this. But powerful members of its laity, as well as many of its priests, have joined the other side in the culture wars against the Church, while maintaining that they are, in fact, faithful Catholics. The Church has taken a wink-wink attitude toward this for decades, and now we are all paying the price.

No other denomination is so rife with this particularly egregious form of defiant public sinning as the Catholic Church. Prominent Catholics in all walks of life proudly parade their sins against human life and the sacrament of marriage before the public. They use the bully pulpit of their elected offices, media star positions and many-degreed professorships to proclaim an Anti-Christ Christianity that turns the Gospel on its head and makes it a teaching of death, debauchery and nihilism.

This is not just individual sin. It is a vast cultural rebellion against the Church led by Catholics who occupy positions of power in our society. I agree with Cardinal Burke. Congresswoman Pelosi should not take communion. However, I think that singling out one member of Congress and aiming the discussion at her alone flies in the face of the reality of the situation.

Catholics in public positions, including the clergy leaders of some of our Catholic Universities, are teaching an alternate form of the Gospels that conforms absolutely to the shifting paradigms of our deconstructing society and defies the teachings of the Church with equal absoluteness. This is not just one person, however prominent. It is a widespread, almost universal, defiance of the Church by those of her sons and daughters who sit in the seats of secular power.

These people refuse to humble themselves and follow Christ. They insist that Christ should follow them. They don’t leave the Church. They demand that the Church change its definition of sin to suit them. They admonish the Church with all the arrogance of self-made gods that it should change 2,000 years of consistent Christian teaching to conform to them and their newfound personally created gospels of self-worshipping narcissism.

They teach this to the whole society through their powerful positions in politics, media, education and science. They are as deadly for the soul of the Church as a basket of snakes.

The old paradigm of individual bishops dealing with individual sins does not address this new reality. The fact that every single one of these self-made gods has found a bishop who will support them in what they are doing is an indication of how seriously deficient the Church’s response has been.

We need consistent patterns of reaction from our bishops concerning this mass apostasy in the pews from prominent and powerful Catholics. They need to get together on this.

At the same time, they need to follow their own rules themselves. Catholic institutions should inspire us to follow the Church’s teachings by their faithfulness to those teachings. I have had it with hearing about Catholic organizations that pay for contraception in their insurance, Catholic hospitals that do abortions, Catholic universities that ban the Knights of Columbus, or yet another priest who was making passes at boys and it was overlooked.

We are entering tough times. The only way we are going to come through these times is if we begin by facing reality on reality’s terms. We need leadership in this from our bishops.

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Run in Circles, Scream and Shout

When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. 

Based on conversations I have with Catholics in my private life, I’m guessing that what I’m about to say is big, unwelcome news for a lot of active, Jesus-loving Catholics in America today.

But, based on what I know is happening, it is long past time for someone to start saying it, and saying it often.

We are going to have to get used to the idea that the Church is under attack. I know that most Public Catholic readers are aware of this. In fact, I’m overdue in complimenting you on how thoughtfully you responded to last week’s media dipsy doodle over Pope Francis’ interview with America magazine.

Nobody tried to post any of the “run in circles scream and shout” comments I saw elsewhere on the internet. I think that I am blessed that this blog has attracted such an intelligent and thoughtful group of readers.

However, based on the things I read elsewhere, and more to the point, the things I’ve heard from my fellow pew-sitting Catholics, many of whom wouldn’t touch the internet with a stick, I would say that you are an extraordinary group of well-informed believers. That makes you important to the future of our Church.

Since you are the ones who have learned to think things through without taking a reflexive bite of whatever swill the media is dishing, you are also the ones who have the job of going into your parishes, prayer groups and families and setting things straight.

That’s a big job, and it’s going to get bigger as time goes by.

You see, the Church is under attack. As St Paul said 2,000 years ago, we are not dealing with the ordinary gossipy mealy-mouthedness of regular human communication. We are dealing with powers and principalities. In other words, the Church is being attacked by people who, without knowing it at all, are driven by a hatred for the Light that does not grow tired and will not stop until Jesus comes again.

The sad part is that the purveyors of Christian/Catholic/Church bashing claptrap are winning the information wars. People believe these folks, especially when they praise the pope for their false interpretations of his words. They fall right over the cliff of thinking that the Holy Father has pulled the moral rug out from under them.

Let me tell you something simple: That ain’t gonna happen. It won’t happen in my lifetime, or in yours, or in the lifetime of the Church.

The Pope will never obviate 2,000 years of Christian teaching to follow after what Elizabeth Scalia calls the “idols of everyday life.” No matter what bribery they offer him in terms of their praise and adulation for what he didn’t say, he will not do this.

The Church’s written teaching on abortion goes all the way back to the Didache, which is to say, to the beginning. The teaching on the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony goes back to the wedding of Cana, which is to say, to the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. It was the first thing Our Lord did when He began to teach and preach.

The Vicar of Christ is not going to overturn these teachings.

At the same time, the teachings of the unfathomable value of every human being — young or old, gay or straight, man or woman, saint or sinner — goes back to that same Jesus and His words. The Christ Who told us that the very hairs on our heads are numbered by the God Who made us, is the same Christ Who instituted the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

It is all of a whole; one cloth. That is what we have lost in our politicized message. We cannot chose between human beings and say that one is more worthy of life than another. We can not do this about any human life, including our own, for the simple reason that every human life belongs to God. By the same token, we cannot pretend and proclaim that two men or two women are the same as a man and a woman. If it wasn’t for the enormous pressure being exerted by the culture, we would all see this for the fantastical delusion that it is.

That does not mean that two men or two women are any less human and worthy of love than a man and a woman. But it does mean that just because you call it “marriage” that does not make it a marriage. It just makes you a fool when you say it.

The reason I am writing this is because I think most of the people who read it see this already. I want you to understand that you are graced by that understanding and that this grace carries a responsibility. Our brothers and sisters are being whipped around like flags blowing in the wind by media flimflam about the Church.

They absorb the constant dribble of malicious criticism without giving it perspective or taking the time to learn what is fact, what is exaggeration and what is an outright lie. By the same token, they buy the whole deal when the press tells them that the Pope has overturned bedrock teachings of the Church.

What I want for you is two things.

1. Do not lose track of the fact that the Holy Father will never repudiate Christ and His teachings. He will not do it. So when you hear the next new whatever that the press says about him, judge it by that simple fact.

2. Communicate this to the people around you. Evangelize a bit by telling the truth. It won’t be easy. The American public has been so beaten up by constant manipulation and propaganda that they behave like a 300,000,000-member herd of spot-lighted deer. But if I have learned anything in 18 years of public life, it is that steady persistence and consistency win out over lies. They don’t right at first. But in the long run, the truth floats and lies sink.

We’re going to have to get used to this. Things will get worse before they get better.

But that isn’t a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. It’s our chance to stand for Jesus.

My advice to you is, don’t miss it.

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Planned Parenthood: No Matter What

 

This enlightening video is from Students for Life.

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Gay Marriage and Abortion: In His Own Words

 

I’ve put together a few bits and pieces of Pope Francis’ living testimony on gay marriage, abortion and the sanctity of human life.

These homilies, letters and actions form a consistent, faithful, Catholic message going back years and extending up to yesterday morning. The Church is going to be attacked. We need look at these attacks with discernment instead of hysteria. There is no reason to allow ourselves to be blown this way and that by every bit of hype and spin that the media uses to try to manipulate us.

We are standing on the Rock of Peter. We should stand firm.

Here is Pope Francis, in his own words.

At the Vatican yesterday, from Vatican Radio:

Pope: Spread the Gospel of life




(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday received members of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations who are in Rome on the occasion of their 10th International Conference on Catholicism and Maternal Healthcare. Lydia O’Kane reports
 Following a greeting to conference participants, Pope Francis went on to address those gathered in three succinct points.

Firstly, he described what he called the paradoxical situation facing the medical profession today. On the one hand, the Pope said we see the progress of medicine, and those dedicated to the search for new cures. But, on the other hand, he noted, there is the danger that a doctor might lose his identity as a servant of life.

Pope Francis explained, that “if you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”

He continued by saying that the acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber, before adding that the final objective of the doctor is always the defense and promotion of life.

In his second point, the Holy Father underlined that “the first right of the human person is his life”.

He spoke of a “culture of waste”, which he said, now enslaves the hearts and minds of many. The cost of this, he continued, is the elimination of human beings, especially if they are physically or socially weaker.

The Pope stressed that every child that is not born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted and very elderly person who is sick or at the end of his life bears the face of Christ.

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/09/20/pope:_spread_the_gospel_of_life/en1-730182 of the Vatican Radio website

Pope Francis’ Pro Life Homily, when he was a Cardinal:

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Pope Francis attends a March for Life. YouTube Preview Image Pope Francis talks about the sanctity of human life. YouTube Preview Image Pope Francis on gay marriage (emphasis mine):

[Letter of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Carmelite Nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires (June 22, 2010)]

Dear Sisters,
I write this letter to each one of you in the four Monasteries of Buenos Aires. The Argentine people must face, in the next few weeks, a situation whose result may gravely harm the family. It is the bill on matrimony of persons of the same sex.
The identity of the family, and its survival, are in jeopardy here: father, mother, and children. The life of so many children who will be discriminated beforehand due to the lack of human maturity that God willed them to have with a father and a mother is in jeopardy. A clear rejection of the law of God, engraved in our hearts, is in jeopardy.
I recall words of Saint Thérèse when she speaks of the infirmity of her childhood. She says that the envy of the Devil tried to extort her family after her older sister joined the Carmel. Here, the envy of the Devil, through which sin entered the world, is also present, and deceitfully intends to destroy the image of God: man and woman, who receive the mandate to grow, multiply, and conquer the earth. Let us not be naive: it is not a simple political struggle; it is an intention [which is] destructive of the plan of God. It is not a mere legislative project (this is a mere instrument), but rather a “move” of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.
Jesus tells us that, in order to defend us from this lying accuser, he will send us the Spirit of Truth. Today, the Nation [patria], before this situation, needs the special assistance of the Holy Ghost that may place the light of Truth amid the shadows of error; it needs this Advocate who may defend us from the enchantment of so many sophisms with which this bill is being justified, and which confuse and deceive even people of good will.
That is why I turn to you and ask from you prayer and sacrifice, the two invincible weapons which Saint Thérèse confessed to have. Cry out to the Lord that he may send his Spirit to the Senators who are to place their votes. That they may not do it moved by error or by circumstantial matters, but rather according to what the natural law and the law of God tell them. Pray for them, for their families; that the Lord may visit, strengthen, and console them. Pray that they may do great good for the Nation.
This bill will be discussed in the Senate after July 13. Let us look towards Saint Joseph, to Mary, the Child, and let us ask with fervor that they will defend the Argentine family in this moment. Let us recall what God himself told his people in a time of great anguish: “this war is not yours, but God’s”. That they may succour, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.
Thank you for what you will do in this struggle for the Nation. And, please, I beg you, pray for me also. May Jesus bless you, and may the Blessed Virgin protect you.
Affectionately,
Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio s.j., Archbishop of Buenos Aires
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Pope Francis and the Devil

Mention of the devil offends people.

They don’t like to hear about him, any more than they want to hear about hell. The devil and hell are not a real entity and a real place we are told. They are the boogeyman and the boogeyplace that we Christians use to scare people into conversion.

Many Christians also dismiss the devil and hell. Back when I was a protestant, I was often corrected by my various pastors about my belief in both a literal hell and a literal devil. “Hell is separation from Christ,” I was told. “It is, simply the grave with no resurrection.”

“The devil is not an actual personality,” I heard another time. “There is no such thing.”

But the truth is, Jesus spoke often and graphically about both hell and the devil. There is no indication in any of His words that hell is a state of mind or that the devil was a figment of religious imagination. On the contrary, Jesus gave us our most clear portrait of both these realities.

Pope Francis, far from being politically correct, goes against this modern tide and speaks often of the devil and his works in our lives.

Why?

Maybe because, as a pastor of souls, he has met the devil many times. I’ve said before that it is a scalding, life-changing thing to look into another person’s eyes and see the devil looking back at you. Perhaps Pope Francis has had this experience. If he has, it would explain a lot.

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Albuquerque Puts Vote on Municipal Abortion Ban on November Ballot

Albuquerque became the first city to put a ban on late-term abortions on the ballot Monday. The Albuquerque city council voted to place a referendum outlawing abortion after 20 weeks within the city limits on the ballot.

The ballot initiative is a result of the lobbying of the pro life group Operation Rescue. It will be voted on November 17.

From Reuters:

(Reuters) – A bill banning abortions in Albuquerque after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be put to voters in New Mexico’s most populous city in November and could become the first municipal abortion ban in the nation.

The city council voted 5-4 late on Monday to put on the ballot the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Ordinance,” which contains few of the standard abortion exceptions seen in many states.

In the latest salvo in the national debate over abortion, the city council was forced to act after abortion foes gathered enough signatures on a petition to require the council to either approve the law outright or put it to voters.

Local polling has shown the measure has enough support to pass. Activists on both sides say it would be the first municipal ban on abortion, and possibly a template for similar actions in other cities around the United States.

“It is a new strategy. There is more than one way to close an abortion clinic,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a leading U.S. anti-abortion group that helped get the measure on the November 19 ballot in Albuquerque.

“If you can’t get anything done in a state legislature … you look at what is going on in a city. They say all politics is local. This is a great example of that.” (Read more here.)

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Book Review: Coming Home to Wholeness

To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here

BC AtchisonBlue 1

Life is hard. 

Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic. 

We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning. 

Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.

Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day. 

Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting. 

Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life. 

Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness. 

It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself. 

There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this. 

Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity. 

My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that. 

Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.

I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them. 

For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home. 

Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet. 

Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers. 

Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own. 

In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery. 

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The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right. 

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