Saturday, January 31, 2015
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Her Mother’s Glory
Robert Harton the Hardest of Abortion Cases
I promised myself that I would not be the stereotypical father of the bride, like Spencer Tracy, who hates to give away his little girl. But as I walked her down the aisle, and approached the moment she would become a full-grown, married lady, I felt everything I had determined not to feel. Very far from my mind was the story of her strange origins. It is always far from my mind, unless something reminds me of it, like the recent news from Poland.
The infamous abortion ship from Holland was daring to stop off a port in Poland in order to make its “services” available to Polish women who do not have “reproductive rights”—as the anti-life crowd call them—in their own country. Polish law restricts abortions to cases in which the mother’s life is threatened, to cases of incest, and to cases of rape. Compared to the ease with which most women in the Western world can obtain legal abortion for any reason, in fact for no reason at all, and at just about any time during pregnancy, Poland is better. But pro-life? No, sadly, no.
His Daughter Alone
Of my four children, my daughter alone is the one I adopted. I never exactly forget the fact; it simply passes out of conscious thought since it does not matter, for she is, in every way that counts, my daughter, my first child. Over the years, I have always felt what a father ought to feel.
When she was eleven, she suffered a staph infection, and Diane and I feared we would lose her. This was the second time in her short life that she was in danger of dying. The first time she was in danger she did not face an impersonal disease, but determined persons: when her mother had to fight against intruding social workers, and the whole system, for the right to make the choice that her baby would be born. After all, when a woman has been made pregnant through rape, it is not only her right, but her duty, to do the “honorable thing.” At least, so it seemed from all the pressure put on her in those months. She was upsetting the expectations and demands that “liberated” women have no right to upset. She was refusing the “sacrament” of abortion.
What a terrible thing she did. For a woman to bear a child when abortion seemed so justified, so necessary, when the pregnancy was the result of rape—well, it was certainly anti-social behavior. She was coerced into seeing a psychiatrist who could help her overcome the obvious defect known to Christians as principle. He might even have cured her of maternal instinct and the malady called love.
But all those years ago I knew nothing of what had happened, only that she was suddenly gone, nowhere to be found. Why had this girl vanished from our hometown in Maryland without a trace? When I discovered her whereabouts, 3,000 miles away in California, I hastened to call her. I had expected, had hoped, to have seen her in those months. “I have a baby girl,” she told me.
“Are you married?”
“I see. Well, as a Christian I hope you have repented of . . .”
“Well, it was from rape, actually.”
I found that she would not put up her child for adoption. She was willing to live as a single mother because she could not be sure that a couple would raise her child to believe in Jesus Christ. She decided to keep the baby; and God rewarded her by giving her a wonderful, not to mention dashingly handsome, husband.
I never think of my daughter’s origins and the strange circumstances of her early life unless something brings them to mind; for example, the disappointing remarks of a “conservative” radio talk-show host. This fellow talks a lot about his Catholic faith and Irish heritage, so it was with some astonishment that I heard him defending his view that abortion in cases of rape may be justified. “After all,” he pointed out, “it’s not the same as when it’s someone’s fault that she is pregnant. I just think it’s different.” He certainly did not get this idea from the Catholic Church.
I remembered back over twenty years ago hearing the same convoluted reasoning from Christians, some Catholic, some Evangelical. I recall a very Evangelical and Charismatic lady asking me, “But if it was rape, why didn’t she get an abortion?” I thought about the king of Judah, the one who would not execute the sons of his father’s assassins because of the Law of God, which says “the children shall not be put to death for the sins of the fathers, nor the fathers for the sins of the children” (2 Chronicles 25:4; Deuteronomy 24:16).
Where did the “conservative” radio talk-show host get the idea that pregnancy is a penalty? If it is a penalty, it might be unjust for the innocent to bear it. But what if it is not a penalty? What if it is the healing that God might give to a woman who has suffered a violent attack? What if the Author of Life takes the opportunity to do good from someone’s evil? The injustice done to Joseph resulted in the saving of his life, and that of millions of people, foreshadowing the good done for the whole world by the unjust crucifixion of a young rabbi from Nazareth. It is ever the way of God to make good come from the evil that men do.
Just who is it that these well-meaning people, such as the very Charismatic lady and the talk-show host, would sentence to death?
I remember the very wide eyes of a ten-month-old baby girl looking up at me, having just arrived by plane from California with her mother. I remember her first steps across my parents’ living-room floor. After her mother and I were married, I remember the first Christmas in our apartment, and her excitement at the wonder of a lit and decorated tree. She had names for us from Winnie the Pooh.I was Pooh, she was Piglet, and as she looked at her mom, now pregnant with the first of our three sons, she said, “And mom’s the kangaroo.”
Her very first day of school I remember watching her bravely walking into the classroom, as a lady laughed at the sight of my perplexity—a feeling of mingled loss and pride that was small compared to what I felt when I gave her in marriage to a fine young man. I remember her saying to him, “I do,” and pledging her life not only to him but also to any children they are blessed with, and to God who blesses them.
She is a young lady who spreads joy wherever she goes. She has a place in the lives of many, not only her new husband, her parents, and her brothers, but many who know her well, and many who have met her in passing—a unique place that no one else could fill. She is happy by nature at 23, married, an avid reader, a good friend, a serious Christian. This is the person that these well-meaning people were willing to sentence to death. Oh, not now, not when they can see her; but when she was in danger the first time, in the womb and hidden from view.
Enough for Her
My wife is not living the life of a tragic victim. She is the happy mother of four children, and would not wish to part with any of them. My daughter learned of her origin after she was over twenty years of age and it became obvious that the truth could not be hidden without confusion. Someone had taken pictures of her as a three-year-old, at the wedding of her parents. I had been warned, “Never tell her, it would devastate her to know.”
Not so. Rather, the mystery was unsettling, and the truth was welcome. You see, it did not matter. She had always known that God is the Author of Life—all life. Every human being is made in his image, and that means everything when a child is raised to understand that the image of God became more than an abstract idea in Hebrew Scripture when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And it was enough for her that she has a mother and a father who love her.
For both Diane and me, the details of our daughter’s early life and strange origins are very much out of mind, far from conscious thought. That is, unless something brings them to mind, such as realizing that it is time to tell our story for the benefit of others who are caught in what seem like desperate circumstances, and who need the courage to make the decision to let the Author of Life do his healing and creative work, bringing light out of darkness and good out of evil: who need to make the decision of love.
Robert Hartis rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Romans 12: 6f * Mark 1:1f
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Romans 12:1-5 * Luke 2: 41-52
What brings all of these scriptures together for this day is the collect, asking for perception and knowledge of God’s will, and for the grace and power to be faithful to it. The collect reminds me very much of what St. Paul said was his prayer for the Church of the Colossian Christians:
“For this cause also, since the day we heard of it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to His glorious power...” (Col. 1: 9-11)
The passages we have heard this day all speak of the mystical charism, the gift, of wisdom by which we know the will of God, and of the grace God gives us to carry it out. The wisdom that we receive is, in a very mysterious way, coming to us from the Person of Christ our Lord, mediated to us by the Holy Ghost. It is the wisdom that the world does not know, for the world does not know God. By this wisdom we know God, and we know His will for us.
Now, that sounds pretty heady and possibly not even very sober. Yet it is very practical.
Before talking about the practical side however, let us look very seriously at what we see in the twelve-year old Jesus, as Luke tells the story. To begin with, He knew Who He was, and He knew the Father. For some reason contemporary commentators have imagined, since some time about the middle of the 20th Century, that Jesus suddenly became aware of His identity when He was baptized, and the heavens opened, the Spirit came upon Him, and the Father spoke. How they come up with this I cannot understand, for the manifestation of each Person of the Trinity was a revelation given to John the Baptist, and to all who stood by at the banks of the
No indeed, for here we see Him quite aware of Who He is at the tender age of twelve. His wisdom is greater than that of all of the Doctors of the Law, and all they can do is marvel at Him. I have heard preachers get this all wrong too, and think that He was getting ahead of Himself, and needed to be “put in His place” by Mary and Joseph. Again, not so. This is a revelation given to us in scripture of the simple fact that this human child, this boy, was at the same time God, One with the Father. He had taken human nature, alien as every created nature is to His Divine Uncreated Person, so that He could become Man, while yet, as St Athanasius tells us, filling the heavens as the Eternal Son of the Father. He did not “empty Himself” of Divine Nature, as some bad theologians have twisted the marvelous Christological passage from Philippians chapter two to mean; but rather, as it says in Psalm 113:5:
“Who is like unto the LORD our God, that hath His dwelling so high, and yet humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and earth!”
Yes, He would go back to
To do the Father’s will required knowledge of that will, and it required wisdom that cannot come from human origin, especially not from fallen and sinful men. The phrase “about My Father’s business” is also translated “in My Father’s house.” In other words, “why were you looking anywhere but here? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Both being in the temple, and then going back with them to be obedient, were all part of His journey to the cross, as He came to do the Father’s will, not His own.
I want to be very careful at this point not to fall into Palagian heresy, and teach as many moderns do, that Jesus is our example, and that if He could do it so can we; the old “pull yourself up by your bootstrap.” This is not the message. No we cannot do it, we cannot pull ourselves up by our bootstrap, and we cannot even follow His example. If we could, we would not be miserable offenders as the Prayer Book has us confess, and that the Bible certifies us indeed to be. Our first father sinned, and we are born with all three strikes already called. True religion does not teach that life is a test. It teaches that life is a shipwreck. We need a Saviour, and no one less than God will do, while also our Saviour must be a Man like us to pull us out of the curse of sin and death. No. That Jesus did it perfectly does not mean that we can do the same. It means, in fact, that we cannot. For though fully Man from the nature of His Virgin Mother, He never ceased to be God, eternally begotten of the Father. This is the Gospel: That God himself came to save us.
So then, am I saying to give up and live in sin? Admit defeat and then “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die?” As
But, all of this is grace, that is, a gift. It is given because we are in Christ, and He is the True Son of the Father. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is (I John 3: 2).” Because He has come into the world, and taken our nature, and taken our death which He did not deserve, and has passed through death into life, we can live. And the life we are given is not of this world, but is the life of Christ Who is One with the Father and the Holy Ghost. This is the change we are given, and our partaking of the Divine Nature.
Now are we the sons of God. So then, how shall we live? We have not the power within ourselves, or by our own effort, to live like sons of God. What we have is the Holy Ghost Who is given to us, Who abides in us. Now, what is the practical side which I have promised to speak about? Indeed, I seem to have gotten as far away from practicality as possible- or have I? Is it not practical to learn to depend upon God, upon His Spirit Who abides with us? How? By what steps?
By the steps given to us in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans just as we have heard it this day. In light of God’s mercies, we must know that we no longer belong to ourselves, but to the One Who paid for us by His very life-blood, the pouring out of His soul upon the cross of death. In light of that unspeakable mercy, we give ourselves as living sacrifices to God. No, we will not be perfect. Anyone who has had a heady conversion experience, no matter how mystical and indeed real, soon learns that he is still a sinner. No, we cannot be perfect, but we can humble ourselves and practice obedience. That is what a living sacrifice does: He carries his own cross daily and follows the Son of Man. Jesus did not carry the cross only on that one Friday, but every day; for He lived always to do the will of the Father Who sent Him. Unlike Him, we will not be perfect, we will not be a sinless sacrifice. All we can do is practice obedience, however imperfectly we practice it. But, the sins of a living sacrifice are those which he discovers within himself; that is, they are not done willfully and deliberately. If we choose to do wrong, we are not living sacrifices- something to consider before saying “amen” to the Eucharistic prayer in which “we offer our selves, our souls and bodies...”
This offering of ourselves to God is our “reasonable service.” In the original Greek it is our logika latre’ia (λογικv λατρεία). Literally, our “logical liturgy.” That is, a liturgy, a service, and one that is logical, reasonable, quite in keeping with wisdom. The Liturgy we offer to God this day must be in the proper sense a very real collect of our lives; for the whole life of each one of us should be itself a liturgy, with every part having its place as an offering of worship to God. Is all that we do done to the glory of God? In the last chapter of Zechariah, we see that even the washing bowls will be inscribed with the words “Holiness unto the LORD.”
Lastly, this means that our minds must be renewed, so that we are not conformed to this world. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” Remember this definition of how the expression “the world” is often used in the New Testament. It does not know Christ, and so to it we must not conform. Christians are supposed to be non-conformists. The renewing of our minds transforms us so that we are able to do His will. This is practical. If we are too lazy to employ our minds, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the scriptures in light of the teaching of the Church, we will not be thinking of doing God’s will.
And, I would suggest that God’s will, for most of us, is not a mystery veiled in thick darkness. Rather, faced with the realities of life, if we are thinking about what it means to live a life that is offered to God, and are thus renewing our minds by His word, the way to do His will should be clear to us. Sometimes it will require effort to recognize that each moment of life has its own calling and purpose; other times a path opens before us that we must choose, not because it is easy, or because it is a way to find what we imagine to be happiness. No. It will be because it is the way that we know, in light of our Christian minds and our consciences, to be the way that is right.
It is not for us to choose the times in which we live, but, as Gandalf said to Frodo: “All we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” It may be quite hard for us to see the time and place in which we find ourselves as the place of God’s call upon us; and yet, often it is that when life is most ordinary and even mundane, we are faced with those choices, opportunities and even inconveniences that are, in fact, the time and place to know and do the will of the Father.
What we can do is possible not because of our cleverness in knowing His will, but because we are in Christ, and given His wisdom: The same wisdom of the twelve-year old Boy Who knew Who He was, where He belonged, and what was the will of His Father.