CARRYING THE CROSS
My heart goes out to the anonymous mother who wrote “My Two Abortions” (September). I struggle a lot with how to approach the issue of abortion. She is very right to point out that many women do not have (or do not feel they have) a choice in their abortions, and that some abortions would happen regardless of legality. I think that we as Catholics have room to discuss the question of whether legislating abortion is a valuable or effective way to reduce it. I wasn’t sure about writing this letter because I sympathize so deeply with Anonymous due to my own experiences, and the recognition that any critique of your moral choices, no matter how loving and gentle, will be extremely painful.
Regardless of the current state of the law, it is imperative that we as Christians do our best to live the fullness of the faith. I’m not writing to discuss Anonymous’s first abortion, which occurred at the intersection of several issues that I am not equipped to unpack. But her second abortion is different; she had the freedom to choose an abortion or not. She is spot-on with her observation that we are to follow Jesus to his cross. We are to bear the sufferings of the world, even unto death, for the glory of God and the salvation of the world. There is no “but” or “unless.” That is our calling.
We often cannot see why God would ask us to carry the burden we do. We cannot imagine that God would let us leave behind spouses and children who desperately need us. It is especially hard to imagine that this could be asked of us when it is in our power to stop it. And yet, he tells us in Luke 14:26–27, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Clearly then, we are not to put our own lives, or the comfort of our families, over obedience to God. We cannot kill an innocent, no matter how strong the utilitarian case for doing so. I cannot think of a single parent who would be willing to sacrifice their child, once born, to save their own life—even for the sake of their family. Why should we be willing to sacrifice a child in the womb? In fact, most parents would not hesitate to risk their lives to save one of their children, like the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. I do not wish to make life harder than it already is for this mother, who I am sure is trying to follow Christ. But I wish to make life better for many other mothers who may be faced with similar situations and still can make a better choice.
A final word must be said on sin. The author describes sin as “something we choose when we are not fully free.” This definition is accurate, but not complete. Without attempting to give an exhaustive definition, I will raise one other relevant point about sin. It has consequences, and often terrible ones, that play out in the temporal realm even if we have repented, but especially when we have not. I made the decision to get an IUD before my husband and I were Catholic. That IUD did not prevent me from conceiving, and it penetrated our child before we even knew he or she was there. We didn’t realize that we had a baby until that baby was dead. I would gladly give my life to restore the baby’s life, even though my other child would be without a mother and my husband would be alone. But I accept the path that ultimately led me closer to God. The spiritual and emotional consequences of that lost pregnancy were what led us to natural family planning, and then, due in part to a recognition of the church’s wisdom on that issue, to the Catholic faith. Like Anonymous, I have serious health problems that make hormonal birth control potentially life-threatening, require that I take dangerous medications, and make pregnancies hard—typically mandating C-sections. My role is not to question my cross, but to walk on and die to myself everyday, so that I, my family, and the entire world may one day be made whole.
As I read Anonymous’s piece “My Two Abortions” (September), it seemed to me that the second abortion, given the scant details, may have been a reason for regret but not for feelings of guilt. I recalled a principle I had learned as a young man while studying moral theology: the principle of the double effect. If the doctors had to remove the IUD floating in her abdomen, and the child died as an indirect effect of the procedure, wouldn’t that be considered a classic application of double effect? If so, feelings of guilt would be misguided as there would be no objective sin.
Haddon Township, N. J.
WHO IS THE CHURCH?
I finished reading John O’Malley’s article (“Does Church Teaching Change?” August 9) a few days ago, and I’ve been walking around with it in my head and heart ever since. I found it to be thoughtful, painstaking, and compassionate as it reviewed the subject of change in the church through the prism of several significant councils. It got me to thinking about myself. I am seventy-one years old, a “cradle Catholic” twice lapsed, a compensated sex-abuse survivor, and yet I am contemplating coming back to the church for a third time. In my life I have gone through myriad changes. I’ve been on the right and the left and now I find myself leaning both ways from the center. I was a middle-school teacher for thirty-five years. I have been married to my childhood sweetheart for fifty years. We have three wonderful children and six fantastic grands. I’ve worn all kinds of clothes and different haircuts along the way of my journey. I’ve gone through many permutations and transformations, but one thing has always stayed the same: me. I’ve pretty much been who I’ve always been throughout my life. I’ve had the same basic outlook, values, and ethics despite all of my changes. So, too, the church. Regardless of over two thousand years of changes of all kinds, the church is still and has always been the church. We trace our lineage and discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth. We always have, and I pray, we always will.
Please allow me one more thought—a question. That is, who or what is “the church”? Is it just the ordained clergy that has sat at all of the councils O’Malley mentions? Or is it them and the rest of us? I think it’s the latter, and until and unless we all get a seat at the table—both male and female—we’re never going to really know what “the church” stands for at any point in time. Until then any changes are suspect at best.
East Islip, N. Y.
THE PAIN OF ANNULMENT
Thank you for David Bentley Hart’s “Divorce, Annulment & Communion” (September). Hart identifies the moral knots the church ties itself into as it denies the reality of divorce, something he says it didn’t used to do. My decision not to seek an annulment had nothing to do with the opportunity for remarriage. It had everything to do with not wanting to, quite literally, disavow my two children, their father, and the family we had for seventeen years.
Asheville, N. C.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
I found the story about Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Kaya Oakes interesting (“Last of the Beats,” September). For what it’s worth, I’d like to pass along that, when I interviewed Ferlinghetti for the Chicago Tribune in 1999, he asserted that he wasn’t a Beat poet, even though he’d published many of the Beats, including Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” He told me:
My poetics are totally different. The Allen Ginsberg school of poetry: The poetics really is “first thought, best thought,” and whatever goes through your mind at any particular moment, you transcribe it, with as little interference as possible, onto the paper, then date it. And that’s the poem. Just like that. Which is great when you have a genius mind like Ginsberg—a fantastic, very strange, interesting mind. When he did that—when the mind is comely, anything that comes out is comely—well, it’s great. But then you get thousands of followers using this technique, people who don’t necessarily have very interesting minds, and you really get boring poetry.
Ferlinghetti, who did his doctoral dissertation at the Sorbonne about the city as a symbol in modern poetry, said his approach to poetry-writing, influenced by French writers, was more classical than the Beats, and his poems more crafted.
For all that, I suspect that, when he dies, Ferlinghetti’s obit will list him as a Beat.
Patrick T. Reardon