Monday, March 31, 2008

Quotable Monday

"If ever I love again, I will not wait to love as best as I can. We thought we were young and that there would be time to love well sometime in the future. This is a terrible way to think. It is no way to live, to wait to love."

-Dave Eggers, What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2007 Vintage Books, p.353)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Not so simple

I've been reading The Hand of God by Bernard Nathanson, M.D. and came across a passage I want to pass on. Nathanson was a one of the founders of NARAL Pro-Choice America and at the time ran the world's largest abortion clinic. He has since become a national advocate of the pro-life movement, although I'm not sure how active he is currently. In the book, he deals with the ethics of using aborted fetal tissue for treating medical conditions. I'm sure we've all heard the, "well, they're already dead, so some good might as well come out of their lives" argument supporting the medical use of fetal tissue from aborted babies, but Nathanson provides an alternative perspective: (here he is talking about the hope of reducing the symptoms of Parkinson's disease by transplanting healthy fetal nerve cells into those with Parkinson's)

"...consider that the placement of fetal brain tissue into the brain of a sufferer from Parkinson's disease is not simply a matter of sticking a needle into the skull of the patient and injecting the cells. First patients suitable for the technique must be screened (the doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians necessary for this phase of the operation are all well paid). The abortions must then be performed (five for each patient awaiting the transplant), and of course the abortion doctors, and clinic and hospital personnel are compensated for their services. The tissue must then be immediately iced by a technician standing right at the abortion table (also paid), and then the tissue must be transported to a suitable laboratory where another technician will examine all the fetal tissue under a microscope and winnow out the fetal neurons (nerve cells) appropriate for transplant (that technician is especially well paid since this is critical tedious work). The tissue is then processed and prepared for the actual transplant (another costly operation). Meanwhile the patient is also being prepared for the transplant by the doctors, nurses, nurse's aides, housekeeping personnel, social workers, and counselors to the patient and the family"...and on and on it goes.

Bottom line: there is a lot of money to be made by using fetal cells for research and treatment. New industries would spring up to accommodate demand, and certainly not out of pure altruism. Just food for thought.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I've been feeling lately that I am very rich in children. There's something that feels almost decadent in anticipating the birth of our second child in a few months. Something feels special about having not just one cute child to call our own, but two. It's like eating reeses peanut butter cups-- one is satisfying and delicious, but two feels positively indulgent. It seems pretty clear to me that if you think of children as gifts, they are the most valuable possession one could possibly have. I'm not advocating selfish parenting, just acknowledging that children are something we have in life. I think most parents would agree that their children are what is most important to them. Short of forsaking God, I can't think of anything that would be more painful than losing your own child. There's just nothing in the earthly realm that I care about more than my child. I'm much more concerned over him than I ever could be with an expensive car or a treasured collection.

To illustrate my point, my husband and I got out of town for a short overnight trip recently, and as soon as I woke up in the hotel the next day, I was ready to get home to my baby (who is not so much of a baby anymore). I was irked that my husband wanted to sleep in and watch tv until check-out, which I thought was a complete waste of time when we could be reducing the number of hours standing between being reunited with our son. There's no one else and no thing that I am so attached to. I always miss my husband when one of us travels, but I can't say I'm absolutely dying to see him after a mere 24 hour absence (sorry, honey). But with my son, I just can't stop mothering him when someone else takes over caring for him.

I don't know why, but every time Spring rolls around, I always get the urge to go shopping. Every Spring, I look in my closet and see nothing but shabby clothes--it's rather remarkable how this can happen every year. (I like to tell my husband that I really don't have much to wear because I'm just not much of a shopper, and that it's high time I actually go shopping, but he never, ever believes me.) This spring is proving to be a particularly lean shopping season because of finances, and...I've been feeling sort of, well, cheated. Out of the fulfillment of my feminine desire to know I look pretty, or something like that. So, it's been good to count my blessings elsewhere, and to count them where they really count. After all, I may not have trendy earrings, but I do have a cherub of a child sleeping in the other room, and I get to spend all day with him tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quotable Monday

"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

-Saint Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226, founder of the Franciscans, patron saint of animals, the environment and Italy

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How could a human individual not be a human person?

It's tempting, it really is, to think that contraceptives such as the pill and IUDs that sometimes and sometimes often, depending on the type, cause early abortions aren't really all that bad. Does it really matter if a few cells that are in the very early stages of human development might get flushed out of a woman's body every so often? But when examined, this view is not in keeping with the biology of the beginning of human life. At conception a new human being comes into existence-- 23 chromosomes from the female and 23 chromosomes from the male are united into what is a brand new human person, 46 chromosomes, with a unique DNA sequence entirely different from the mother and father. Amazing, just like that; in a moment, a new human being is alive. At conception the complete blueprint of this tiny human is already determined. The texture his or her hair will take on, the shape of his foot, the length of his eyelashes, his future tendency towards observing or exploring, screaming or smiling, it's all there. All it needs is time.

It takes about 5-10 days for a future embryo to implant in the uterus (it's not called an embryo until it implants), and I've always pictured this phase as a lone cell floating down the fallopian tube, just vegetating waiting to implant, so I was surprised to find out that as soon as conception happens, a zygote's cells begin dividing and arranging appropriately. All the while the zygote is traveling towards the uterus, this new human is growing. Once a new human is put into motion, it's all about the business of growing--there is no hanging around idly waiting to find out whether or not it can really get the show on the road, so to speak, depending on its ability to burrow into the womb for nourishment. Growth is already happening.

It's always hard for people to understand others who are not like themselves; people of different religion, race, even gender, are puzzling, and understanding the significance of a zygote or an embryo is no exception. It's especially hard to accept something that doesn't look like us as one of us. But as Pope Paul IV said, "how could a human individual not be a human person?".* From conception, a zygote is human, there is no other species it can be assigned to. Some would argue that while it is human, it is not a person and therefore is expendable, but there is no wisdom in this. There is no biological benchmark for a tiny human that clearly proclaims 'okay, NOW I'm fully a person and have rights'. All the benchmarks people have tried to come to consensus over as to when a human being constitutes a human person that should not be killed--end of the first trimester, viability, etc.--are arbitrary. It's like trying to tack up our own blueprint of development over the one God created in the beginning. We can't figure out the mind of God. We can't. But we can know that from the beginning, God has a plan for every life, and to intentionally disregard the sacredness of his plan is a grave moral error.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16

*Cf. POPE PAUL VI, Discourse to participants in the Twenty-third National Congress of Italian Catholic Jurists, 9 December 1972: AAS 64 ( 1972) 777. As found in Donum Vitae

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is the Birth Control Pill an Abortifacient?

I was going to try to not write anything and just post this video, but there are a few things that should be said. Women do get pregnant on the pill with reported perfect use. Therefore, when a woman experiences breakthrough ovulation (best estimates seem to be from 5-10% of the time), an abortion is not guaranteed--but it is possible. ALL combination birth control pills (the most widely prescribed kind) work in the same way,"Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus) and the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation)." (Taken from the prescribing information of ortho tri-cyclen, but all combo low dose pills say the same thing under 'clinical pharmacology' in the prescribing info). It is the last mechanism that we are concerned with here.

The video was made by referring to Randy Alcorn's extensive research, "Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?" found at (use the search button, I can't link to the article itself)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Quotable Monday

“On the question of relating to our fellowman - our neighbor's spiritual need transcends every commandment. Everything else we do is a means to an end. But love is an end already, since God is love.”

-Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) 1891-1942, Scholar, teacher, Jewish convert, Carmelite nun, victim of the Holocaust

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Had trouble praying for an hour?

I have. I usually ended up with 25 minutes of solid praying and 35 minutes of mind wandering interspersed with little flits of prayer. That's why I'm glad I came across this nice little book last year at a Bible study I went to. I'm usually skeptical of Christian devotion type books, but this book (actually more of a pamphlet) won me over quickly. It breaks down an hour of prayer into twelve 5-minute segments and makes praying for an hour a refreshing plausibility. Most segments contain a prayer the author has written, but it's easy to come up with your own once you are familiar with the 12 topics. It's a nice balance of structured prayer and prayer that gets at what is going on in your heart any given day, and it's geared towards both Protestants and Catholics. The best part? When I posted this, the low man on amazon was selling for $.94. C'mon, ninety four cents!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Essential Lent

This Lent, I've been reflecting on Jesus' answer to the Pharisee who asked what the greatest commandment is. Jesus answered, " the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22). Observing Lent has a tendency to boil life down to what is spiritually essential, and I love the simplicity of Jesus' teaching here; the main goal of life is to accomplish two things, loving God and loving man. But the simplicity can be deceitful. It's a really, really difficult commandment to follow, and to do well requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. If that doesn't register with you, go ahead, try to give over one entire day to loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to treating everyone around you exactly as you wish to be treated. It's possible it might be easy for a day or two. You might hit one of those days where you get such a good night's sleep that you wake up early to pray, the kids are at grandma's, there are no homeless men standing outside your window at long red lights, and your husband volunteers to clean the kitchen after dinner. But those days are flukes. It won't be easy the next day, or the day after that when you spend your whole day exhausted and positively certain the universe is set up to demand you satisfy the wants and needs of others as long as they directly contradict with your own wants and needs.

It's a given that we can't follow Jesus' command to the letter, otherwise we wouldn't need him--we would already be perfect. So I can't help but wonder, how much loving God counts as loving God with all my heart? Can I love him just a little in the morning, not at all in the afternoon, but make it up in the evening? I'm not really prepared to answer that question, but as I've been thinking about the answer over Lent, it has occurred to me that this is why we need to observe Lent--because we are really bad at loving God and our neighbor completely with every deed and word when it requires personal sacrifice. We need times of penance such as Lent to train ourselves to love and obey God all the time.

The fact is, loving God and humanity is so often a discipline, and not something that just comes naturally from an inner ever-flowing spring of affection. You have to make yourself do it, and what is Lent but practicing making yourself do (or not do) something? Jesus likes to compare his relationship with his church to a marriage, and in marriage, you don't constantly feel enamored with your spouse; you often have to choose to love them with actions that are a personal sacrifice. It can seem pointless to deny ourselves whatever small pleasure in life we've decided to give up during Lent. It's so tempting to negate the value of giving up sugar, or movies, or whatever, and think 'oh, but what Jesus wants is my heart, not this arbitrary sacrifice, and he has my heart I'll just skip the penance thing'. But sacrifice is an essential discipline in following Jesus, and I think Lent trains us towards a sacrificial lifestyle. So much of loving God and fellow human beings really goes against our nature- we tend to love when it's convenient. Lent is inconvenient, and I think if we give up some of our personal vices and pleasures with the idea that we will be molded into a closer likeness of Jesus, God will honor our choices and give us what we desire.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quotable Monday

"Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger."

-CS Lewis, 'The Problem of Pain', 1898-1963 Irish scholar and author

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The world is not my home

Over the last few years I've increasingly felt that as a follower of Christ, the world really is not my home. There's just so much ugliness to deal with when we choose, in ways big or small, to live apart from God. I love my little family and my life, but sometimes the darkness of the world is overwhelming and I wish I were done with the mess down here already. I wish I could shazam! myself away from sin and suffering, but I know the only complete way to do that is to die and spend eternity in heaven.

I read in CS Lewis' The Problem of Pain, "Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom His words are addressed." At this point, God will have no trouble convincing me that humanity is inherently sinful. I do read the newspaper, I do live in the world, I do sin more than I wish. Oh sure, I can play my little game of impressing myself with how short my current list of sins is, but it never lasts--I always go out and do something really stupid and wrong, or I don't do anything when I should do something holy and good. And my oh-so charitable attitude to the perpetrators of the world's ills is often to want to slap people upside the head with the Bible and yell something like "you blind idiot! Can't you see the havoc your sin is causing?!"

The problem for me is finding peace in this life in the midst of so much darkness. But I've realized that there is good in recognizing 'that men are bad': the good is that it distills ones love for God. The despair of sin is only found apart from God, and joy in life is only found in God. When we find God, we find joy, and when we experience joy in God, we want more of it. Our lives ideally become trained around the pursuit of God. We are awakened to what he and only he offers, and nothing else can satisfy. CS Lewis also famously writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

Friday, March 7, 2008

I'm still here

I'm sorry it's been almost 2 weeks since I posted anything original, I'm not quitting this blog! I've been quite sick twice and have had a hard time getting over my tiredness, and my brain feels a bit scrambled because we are deciding between two out of state moves for the summer. So basically I've been sleeping and researching potential homes A and B instead of blogging, but I'll have a real post up tonight or tomorrow...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Quotable Monday

"If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."

-Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian, bishop of Hippo