I was doing some writing a little while ago, and while writing I was listening to Gabriel Faure´'s Requiem, drinking a glass of pretty good Spanish sherry, and smoking a pipe full of "Knightly News", one of my favorite blends from Jon's Pipe Shop of Champaign, Illinois - Jon's is where I first learned the noble art of pipe smoking as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois.
Now what, you are probably wondering, does this little nugget of "Fr. Rob Lore" have to do with anything? Well, it was as a student at the U of I that I first got serious about my Catholic faith, and first contemplated my vocation to the priesthood. It's also where I first got involved with the pro-life movement. When the full horror of abortion struck me, I decided I had to get involved. For a couple of years as an undergraduate, I was the Publicity Chairman for Illini for Life. As such, I and other students manned a weekly information booth at the Student Union. And since those days, abortion has continued apace: approximately 40 million unborn children have had their lives cut short in the womb since 1973. That's more than the Nazis, Stalin, and the Cambodian killing fields managed to wipe out combined.
The scripture readings for yesterday's Mass revolve around the issue of complacency. The prophet Amos chastises the Israelites for being so self-satisfied that they are unaware of their nation's slide into immorality and apostasy. The Gospel's parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is an illustration of the consequences of complacency. I reflected in my homily today that we pride ourselves, and have done a fair bit of collective chest-thumping in the last year or so, on being the most powerful, richest, and greatest nation in the world. And all of those things are no doubt true. But is our justice commensurate with our power? Is our self-donation commensurate with our riches? Is our holiness commensurate with our greatness? I have my doubts. We slaughter 4,000 unborn children every day for the sake of our lifestyles. We countenance all manner of perversion under the name of "alternative lifestyles" and "non-traditional families", for the sake of gratifying our lusts. In Florida, Terri Schiavo is very likely to be starved to death in the name of the fictive "right to privacy", and the lawyers and judges congratulate themselves on having dotted all of the legal jots and tittles.
A nation that can do all of these things, and yet proclaim its righteousness, is one in the throes of complacency.
And so, I've been reflecting on my own complacency. "I have a pretty nice life," I thought. I've had a good education, I'm (overly) well-fed, and have had the leisure and disposable income to learn about and enjoy things like Spanish sherry. I love my priesthood, and enjoy most of what I do in connection with being a priest. I am doing that to which God has called me, and I'm pretty happy as a result. I even have the time to indulge in this avocation of writing. As my former vocation director in the Diocese of Arlington, Fr. Jim Gould, told me many a time, "Johansen, you're the luckiest man on the planet."
What struck me was that at the very time I am writing this, unborn children are having their lives snuffed out in the womb. And what stuck me next was the general lack of urgency about the slaughter of the unborn among many of us who acknowledge the Church's teaching. I include myself in this category: I could be doing much more than I am now. I haven't been out to the abortuaries with other pro-lifers to say the rosary on Saturday morning in years. I give money to various pro-life organizations (and I could do more of that), but not a lot of time. I've been "in the process" of putting together a teen-oriented pro-life presentation for over a year now, but have little down on paper. Has the death of those unborn children become a mere abstraction to me? Is that what it is to those who also in some way acknowledge the Church's teaching, but nevertheless find some rationale for making it OK to support politicians who embrace that slaughter?
The right of the unborn to life is the foundation of any "seamless garment" of the Ethic of Life. I would like to see an end to war, poverty, etc. But there will simply not be any progress in those areas until we restore the foundation of protecting the most innocent and vulnerable among us. Any attempts, apart from that, to build a society that respects the dignity of life, will crumble just as a house built without a foundation. As long as we can find rationales to allow, or stand by and permit, the killing of the most innocent, we are setting ourselves up as the arbiters of life and death. And as long as we do that, we will find ways to rationalize the killing of anyone whom we find inconvenient or unworthy.
Faure´ omitted the Dies Irae, with its language of judgment and wrath, from his Requiem. He did this because he wanted to focus his work on the mercy and generosity of God. And God is, indeed, merciful. But we cannot fool ourselves by simply omitting the uncomfortable truths about Him. God is just, and does not allow injustice to go on forever. I fear great judgment for our society as long as the death toll of abortion continues to mount. I fear great judgment as long as those who claim the name of Christ can continue to justify themselves in receiving the Lord of Life at the altar, while yet mocking Him by advocating, defending, or making excuses for a slaughter simply unprecedented in human history. As one of my commentors once suggested, prayer and fasting are what these times call for. And for those innocents deprived of life while still unseen and unheard, this prayer:
dona eis requiem, sempiternam requiem.
Merciful Jesus, grant them rest;
grant them rest, eternal rest.