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January 20, 2013

Faith respects human life

Bishop Timothy DohertyBy Bishop Timothy Doherty

The first “Star Wars” opened in 1977. Decades later, I learned that it was to have received an “R” rating because the Storm Troopers were killed in large numbers. I remember that I had stopped counting in the 140’s.

The movie’s producers could not market an “R” movie to youngsters. This would have meant fewer ticket sales and less profitability. The Ratings Board in Los Angeles pointed to the graphic deaths as a reason to withhold a “PG” rating. The producers invented an alternative scenario, and told the board that the white-armored Troopers were not humans. Problem solved.

The movie appeared about four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 1973 pronouncement on Roe v. Wade. That high-court decision, positing a right to privacy for pregnant women, opened the way for abortion-on-demand. Much has been said over the past 40 years, but the court got around its own rating problem much the same as the movie producers.

As a man and as a priest, I am horrified and saddened that many millions of lives continue to be taken by abortion-on-demand. Rational arguments to protect unborn human life do not seem to matter much. Advocates of sexual self-discipline are mocked and marginalized. So what can a Catholic or Christian do? A couple of things.

First, we can note that human intelligence, powers of anticipation, and responsibility for behavioral consequences have become casualties. Whether our society began pretending with abortion, or with sexual promiscuity and pornography, environmental contamination, armed warfare in our cities, or pretending about the scope of drug and alcohol abuse, they are related. We have accepted certain damages and the abandonment of unifying moral standards as the cost of doing business. Very often we — you and I — cannot sense our sins because they are armor-plated by our pretenses.

Second, I welcome Christ’s constant grace that refines my discipleship. I am not finished. Like the beggar, I ask Jesus to restore my sight. (“Kyrie eleison,” the beggar’s cry at the beginning of Mass, is precisely this.) I stop pretending that “mostly good” is morally acceptable —I don’t want an eye surgeon, plane pilot or school bus driver who is mostly good at what she does. I stop waiting for the whole culture to change and take responsibility for my own life and behavior. I develop an internal alarm that confirms when a false prophet presents counterfeit teaching that excuses me from Gospel love and behavior. Come to think of it, if the phrase “false prophet” is missing from my vocabulary, it’s hard to admit that I can be misled.

In this Year of Faith, I suggest that we expect too little if Christ only takes away our sins. Jesus was crucified for exposing pretenses. A disciple has to trust the Lord a lot to know that such exposure hurts, but that it does not harm. It heals and makes us whole.

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