Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Mourning has broken in New York

Too bad New York doesn't seem to know it. The legislators applauded for themselves as if they had done something really worth noting, like a two-year-old who had a successful episode in potty training. Bible thumpers wondered when the fireball was going to come. Before the end of the week, 74 people had been murdered in Chicago alone, and in a completely different part of the country, ten people were killed in two mass shootings by extremely young men, one of whose grandmother five states away fled from her home, thinking she was next (police arrested the suspect, in fact, at Grandma's address).

This got me thinking.

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen 6:9). In the Old Testament, this is a foundational principle for a criminal code based on the value of human life. It is still appealed to, even by some Catholics, as a justification for capital punishment. But I think we are seeing this played out, right before our eyes, on a very different scale. “By man shall his blood be shed” seems to apply on a social, rather than on the individual and legal level. I do not intend at all to get into questions about law, politics, or policy. My concern here is that what we saw in New York last week was the signing of a solemn pact with death, and a few days later we saw the first fruits of that pact: not solely in the death of the unborn, but in the unexpected execution of other innocent people for no reason at all.

This is what we have gotten into as a society. It doesn't matter if I have personally never voted for a “pro-choice” politician or if I have supported every gun control law ever proposed. Society is a body, and what one member does affects us all. When one member ingests poison, the whole body is sickened. And I think the poison here is the notion of absolute individual rights.

In both cases we find an untrammeled, exaggerated understanding of individual “rights” completely unmoored from the common good. Focusing completely on individual rights, extremists in both the abortion debate and in gun control refuse to consider any limits or restrictions. Hence the New York law.

Too many have already died or suffered inexpressible loss because of abortion and gun violence. And I think, given the signs of the times (Massachusetts is aching to follow New York's example) we should ready ourselves for more of the same. Unless, to use St Catherine of Siena's expression, at least we Catholics “become what we are and set the world on fire.” The crime of abortion and the thousands of violent murders in our cities (both mass killings and the daily violence doled out by gang members) call for a powerful supernatural offset: reparation.

If you have something to “offer up,” don't let it go to waste! Let that suffering, pain, disappointment, less-than-ideal situation be taken up by Jesus as his own as your way of tipping the scales ever so slightly in the direction of self-giving love, the self-giving, self-emptying love that is opposite of insistence on one's “rights.” Oh, how St Paul could wax eloquent on that theme! But he was only imitating the self-emptying love of Jesus, who “being in the form of God...took the form of a slave” for our sakes.

This is what the world desperately needs. This is the “apostolate of good desires,” and St Therese is the great example of it. She can show us how to multiply the special intentions for which we offer whatever we have at hand: pain, sorrow, drudgery, even mere inconvenience. It's all precious. And if we allow our life's crosses, big and small, to be claimed by Jesus as his own, we make ourselves, in Christ, bright outposts of the Kingdom of God; blast furnaces of charity; a healing remedy within society itself to counteract the poison that our fellow citizens have so willingly (and for so long) drunk in.

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