When I Was in the Womb: We Must Not Retreat in Building a Culture of Life
upon how it respects human rights and treats the poor.
Rebuild the Walls, Remember our History
I believe that we will see the end of federally protected legalized abortion, at least the protection that followed the Supreme Court's horrid ruling in Roe and its progeny. However, the end of Roe will not be the end of the Pro-Life Mission. The current cultural situation we face as Christians in America is not an unfamiliar one. We need to see it now in terms of Christian history. I do not care how "scientifically advanced" we think we have become, or how "modern" the issues purport to be, we humans do not really change all that much, at least without grace.
The struggle we are engaged in as Christians in contemporary western culture still concerns a clash of worldviews, personal and corporate, and competing definitions of freedom. Remember, in the circles of cultural and social revolutionaries, Christians (at least orthodox, faithful ones) are often presented as unenlightened, forcing "our view" on others. In reality, our positions on the dignity of every life, marriage, family, authentic freedom and the nature of truth as objective.. is what actually frees people from the bondage of disordered appetites. These truths are objectively true for all men and women. We were made for relationship. We were structured for authentic love and human flourishing within family and a society founded upon family.
The early Church, just like you and me, was sent into cultures filled with people who thought they were extremely "advanced" in light of the arts and sciences of their day. Yet, these cultures practiced primitive forms of abortion and even "exposure", a practice of leaving unwanted children on rocks to be eaten by birds of prey or picked up by slave traders. To them, freedom was rooted in a notion of power over others and the right to do as they chose.
One has only to read the ancient Christian manuscripts such as the Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve), the ancient Letter to Diognetus, the accounts of Justin Martyr or many other early Christian sources to read of cultures not unlike the one in which we live today. These were also cultures of "use" where people were treated as property - cultures of excess where "freedom" was perceived as a power over others and unrestrained license masqueraded as liberty, leading many to what the Apostle Paul called the slavery of sin.
Our contemporary age is increasingly pagan. Many of the "gods" and goddesses" of the old pagan regimes promoted lives of selfish excess, homosexual practices, and hedonism masquerading as freedom. The myths they told concerning them had these "gods" acting in much the same way. The arguments have been reintroduced today, only the myths, tributes and statues are different.
The early Christians did not point the finger and rail against the "pagans" of their age when they sought to effect the conversion of those cultures. They did not present a "negative" message. They proclaimed the freedom found in Jesus Christ to all who would listen and demonstrated it in their compelling witness of life. They lived in monogamous marriages, raised their children to be faithful Christians and good citizens, and went into the world of their age, offering a new way to live. This "way" (which is what they first called the early Church) presented a very different worldview than the one that the pagans embraced.
The early Christians, with joy and integrity, spoke and lived a different way in the midst of that pagan culture. As a result, they sometimes stirred up hostility. Some of them were martyred in the red martyrdom of shed blood. Countless more joined the train of what use to be called "white martyrdom", by living lives of sacrificial witness and service in the culture, working hard and staying faithful to the end of a long life spent in missionary toil.
Slowly, not only were small numbers of "pagans" converted and baptized, but eventually their leaders and entire Nations followed suit. Resultantly, the Christian worldview began to influence the social order. The "clash of freedoms" continued, but the climate changed significantly. It was the Christian faith and the practices of these Christians that began to win the hearts of men and women. The cultures once enshrined to pagan practices, such as plural marriage, homosexuality, exposure and abortion began to change dramatically and this dynamic continued for centuries.
It was Christianity that taught such novel concepts as the dignity of every person and their equality before the One God. The Christians proclaimed the dignity of women, the dignity of chaste marriage and the sanctity of the family. It was Christianity that introduced the understanding of freedom not simply as a freedom from, but as a freedom for living responsibly and with integrity. The Christians insisted that freedom must be exercised with reference to a moral code, a law higher than the emperor or the shifting sands of public opinion.
It was the Christians who understood that choice, rightly exercised, meant always choosing what was right and that the freedom to exercise that choice brought with it an obligation and concern for the other. Their faith presented a coherent and compelling answer to the existential questions that plagued the ancients, such as why we existed and how we got here. What was the purpose of life? Questions like how evil came into the world and why we could not always make right choices? What force seemed to move us toward evil and how we could be set free from its power?
Christian philosophy began to flourish and the arts also flourished under the Christian worldview. Philosophies of government and economic theory began to be influenced by these principles derived from a Christian worldview. Now, we are called to transform our own American and western culture from within once again. The results of one Presidential election must not be allowed to distract us from this missionary task.
We must be faithful citizens, run for office, and never give up our struggles in the courtroom, the classroom, or the marketplace of commerce, all for the true common good. Our social and cultural mission is not an option. We cannot retreat to religious ghettos, figuratively or literally. Our mission to the culture lies at the heart of what it means to be "leaven", "light", "salt" and the "soul of the world" as the early Christians taught. However, we do need to remember that the task we face is first, at root, a spiritual struggle that will first be won in prayer, stepped into a new Christian missionary movement by the compelling witness of a vibrant, orthodox, faithful Christianity that is culturally engaging, relevant and compelling to the new pagans of our age.
True marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. They are God's idea and not our own. Marriage is the first vital cell of society and creates the first society wherein children are to be raised so that they can fully develop and flourish. Children have a right to a mother and a father. Yes, there are broken homes and single parent homes and we must always provide a compassionate social framework for those families. True marriage and family are the social foundation and glue of any truly just society. They are now under an assault.
We need to rededicate ourselves to living like Christians in our families, at our workplaces and in our neighborhoods. We need, as the early Church understood so well, to be a visible, palpable reflection of the truth about marriage and family. True marriage and family is the way of the future not the past.The contemporary re-emergence of ancient paganism is not the path to authentic human freedom and flourishing but to misery. The Christian understanding of the dignity of every human life and the truth about marriage and family is not some outdated notion of a past era but the framework for a future of true freedom. We are living in a new missionary age.
The mission field is our own Nation and Western Culture itself.
In 1996, a professor of Sociology and comparative religion named Rodney Stark wrote a compelling book entitled "The Rise of Christianity." Rich in sociological and empirical data it details the growth of Christianity at the beginning of the first millennium. The book chronicles the rise of the Christian faith from a small Jewish sect in the first century to extraordinary cultural dominance 300 years later. Using historical documents, the author demonstrated how the early Christians lived in faithful, heterosexual, monogamous marriages in the midst of a pagan culture, claiming to be "enlightened" while they decayed from within. The lifestyle of the Christians had an extraordinary affect over time.
During the first millennium, in the pagan culture of ancient Rome, fidelity between a husband and wife was uncommon. Sexual promiscuity, "hetero" and "homo" sexual aberrant behaviors were very common. Women (and some men) were considered to be property and used as sexual objects. Abortion, infanticide, and exposure (placing children on rocks to die by the elements or be picked up by slave traders) were not only commonplace practices but also "lawful". Epidemics began to multiply, apparently related to the lifestyle of sexual excess, causing civic and (Pagan) religious leaders to flee the cities, leaving the sick to die.
In contrast to this old pagan culture, the Christian way of life stood out as an alternative. The emphasis of the Christians was upon marrying once. Husbands and wives remained faithful to one another. Children were welcomed, cherished and seen as both gifts from- and the means of serving - the God whom they proclaimed in both word and lifestyle. Christians did not abandon the sick, but cared for them, even the sick pagans, to the point of sacrificing their own health.
According to Stark, Christianity helped to explain "why bad things happen to good people," through the proclamation of the suffering and Cross of Christ. The Christian faith answered the existential questions that were unanswered in classical paganism. The Christians lived the love they proclaimed and had a strong family system that was increasingly attractive to the pagans. This lifestyle also allowed the Christians to live longer. The author wrote that "Christian values of love and charity, from the beginning, had been translated into norms of social service and community solidarity. When disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope, and this resulted in substantially higher rates of survival. This meant that in the aftermath of each epidemic, Christians made up a larger and larger percentage of the population even without new converts."
Stark noted that Christianity in the first millennium brought a new culture: "To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services."
The Christian Way of Life transformed Christianity from being a small sect into becoming the major dominating faith of the age. It transformed the world of the First Millennium.and the Second. It can and it will do the same in the Third Millennium. We cannot - we must not - we will not - retreat from the culture.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: abortion, Obama, Culture of Life, Civilization of love, activism, Gospel of Life, activism, Nehemiah Wall, Deacon Keith Fournier
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