Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

the truth makes all the difference

The 8th commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” is, at best, an ethical minimum. Can, should, this basic truth—don’t lie—be drawn out more broadly to include such ideas as protecting the dignity of a person, or the duty to represent truthfully what one has seen or what one has heard?

The answer, I would argue, is a resounding yes. The 10 Commandments, presented to us by Moses in the Hebrew Bible, set forth a minimum standard of behavior. Christ came and fulfilled the Old Covenant, and in turn elevated the moral standards first found in the 10 Commandments. In Matthew 5, or the “Sermon on the Mount,” Christ presents these new moral standards.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Matthew 5: 21-22

Christ takes what is a simple commandment—do not kill—and elevates it, elevates us—to a higher standard of behavior. Not only may we not kill our fellow brother—we must not be angry with him or harbor resentment toward him.

Similarly within the command “do not bear false witness against your neighbor” lies the elevated command to present the truth with accuracy, with conviction, and most importantly, with love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2464) draws out this idea further (emphasis added):

“The 8th commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and who wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this case, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.”

So when, during a hearing to garner the truth about the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to a question about the cause of the attack with, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” I thought about this call to witness to the truth. And frankly, I would argue that the truth makes all the difference.

Lately the truth has been difficult to glean from a majority of principal news outlets.

Take, for example, the Gosnell case, which was largely ignored until Kirsten Powers’ courageous article in USA Today. After a virtual outcry on Twitter, more news outlets began to pick up the story; Fox News has even aired a special on the case. The details of the case are horrific, disturbing, nauseating. But the truth is important. The truth is necessary.

There is a similar dearth of coverage regarding the House Committee’s hearing on Benghazi, which took place on Wednesday. Only one of my usual three radio programs mentioned the hearing during my drive to work on Thursday. Senator Marco Rubio was a guest on one news program, and acknowledging the general lack of news coverage, he thanked this particular program for allowing him to speak about the hearing. His comments regarding the hearing were insightful, especially when he thoughtfully noted, “This is not about politics. This is about accountability.”

I applaud Senator Rubio for speaking out. Cases like Gosnell and Benghazi matter. The content is difficult to discuss, because it brings to the forefront all of the worst parts of ourselves that we seek at all costs to cover up. We have created a culture of death, “men without chests” as C.S. Lewis wrote, yet we are shocked when we see evil in our world. Our response to evil is more shocking than the evil itself—cover it up! Don’t talk about it. It’s too disturbing. It’s too political.

So what happens when the usual news outlets, or the people charged with providing the truth, purposefully misrepresent the truth (what seems to be the case in the Benghazi terrorist attack) or simply ignore the story altogether (as was the case with the Gosnell trial)?

Then we must demand the truth. Kirsten Powers’ article shamed the mainstream media into covering, or at least mentioning, the Gosnell trial. The “Break the Gosnell Media Blackout” Twitter campaign was largely effective. We must use whatever tools we have as individuals, whatever platforms, whatever influence, and demand the truth. When these stories aren’t being covered, we should call into the major news outlets and ask why every word of the Jodi Arias case is discussed on the evening program, but not a word is mentioned about the House Committee hearing on Benghazi? And, equally as important, we should take time to thank the news outlets, journalists, and individuals who put their careers on the line to speak the truth. Let them know that we want the truth and that we are grateful when people take risks to bring it to us.

This is about accountability. We need to continue to hold each other lovingly accountable for our wrongs. If we can look evil in the face, if we can call it out of the darkness and name it, then we can move forward and try to ensure that atrocities like the Gosnell clinic and tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Benghazi don’t happen ever again. It is not enough to live out our morality individually. We must demand the truth.

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:31-32

answer teen pregnancy with compassion, not pills

The FDA has made the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill available to all women ages 15 and over without a prescription or parental consent.  Prior to this ruling, anyone under age 17 needed a prescription to obtain this drug.  Proponents of the legislation argue that all women should have timely access to emergency contraception, regardless of age.  Thankfully, the Department of Justice filed an appeal against the ruling late on Wednesday.  Reactions to the appeal were mixed, but perhaps one of the most disappointing headlines I read this morning was, “Women’s groups decry appeal on morning-after pill.”

To be honest, I just spent hours working on an article to post here. I unpacked this issue from a scientific and medical perspective—is this pill an abortifacient? Is this pill safe for young girls? Armed with my facts and my arguments, I presented the article to my faithful editor (read: husband) and he lovingly told me that he thought I had missed the mark. Annoyed, I hung up the phone and sat down at the computer. I prayed. And I realized that he is right.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what science says about this pill.  What matters is that we are treating pregnancy like the common cold.  We are saying to our young women that pregnancy, like cold symptoms, can be treated with a quick trip to CVS.  Even worse, we are saying to our young women that we will not be there for them when they need guidance.

When I was in college, I was an intern at Catholic Charities Pregnancy Plus Medical in Tampa. I met with women daily, gave free pregnancy tests, and talked through next steps with the women once the results were in.  I was 19 years old, single, no children.  What did I possibly have to offer these women?  I had no pregnancy advice, no relationship advice. I had no words about overcoming addiction or abuse. The only thing I could offer was compassion and a shoulder to cry on. My youngest client that summer was 15 years old, and all I remember is that she just needed someone to talk to, someone to reassure her that everything was going to be ok when her pregnancy test came back positive.

This ruling robs us of the ability to support the young women who find themselves in these difficult situations. If a young girl is sexually active and her birth control fails, she can go to CVS and pick up a pill and end her pregnancy.  Did she abort an already conceived child?  Perhaps.  Is this pill safe?  Will this affect her fertility in the future?  We don’t know the answers to any of these questions. We can speculate, but we don’t know.

What we do know is that God calls us to reach out to one another in love. Our call, our purpose, is to love one another.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 31-40

pruning

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of escaping my chilly New England home to visit my parents in bright, warm Florida. I’ve lived away from home now for quite some time, and each time I go back to visit I love to wait for the moment when we turn a corner and my house comes into view.   My favorite tree is right on the corner of the lot; my family planted it when we moved into this house many years ago.  I love this house for everything that it represents and all of the memories that it holds.

But this past visit when we pulled up to the house I did not get to relish that moment that I love. I had just heard a few minutes earlier that there had been two explosions at the Boston Marathon.  My body was there in Florida, but my heart was back in Boston, worried about my family and friends there.

Later that evening when I went out for a walk with my Mom, I noticed that my favorite tree had been completely cut down. At least, that’s what it looked like from my vantage point.  I expressed my shock and sadness to my Mom, who just laughed and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s Knuckles!” She went on to explain that she was gardening over the weekend and decided that the tree needed to be pruned.

The tree post-pruning!

The tree post-pruning!

 

Pruned, yes, I argued. But not completely cut down. Every single one of the tree’s branches was gone. It looked like the Giving Tree at the end of Shel Silverstein’s iconic book.  It was tragic. I couldn’t believe that she had nearly killed this tree.

And my mother—in her infinite wisdom—patiently explained that yes, the tree looked dead.  But it needed to be pruned so that later it would grow even taller, even fuller. Sure, it was ugly. By all outward appearances, it was never coming back. But new life was just waiting to burst forth.  Sure enough, right before I left home a few days later, Mom pointed out the brand new little branches that were springing forth.

These were the memories that were in my heart this morning as I heard today’s Gospel.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

Remain in me, as I remain in you.

Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.”

I suppose, then, that perhaps I should look at challenges, suffering, and pain as a kind of spiritual “pruning.”  Perhaps God is a Master Gardener, up there in the clouds with a giant pair of shears just waiting to cut away anything that hinders his plan for me, for you. It hurts. It’s ugly. By all appearances it doesn’t seem like anything is going to change, or improve. But then when we least expect it, life and beauty spring forth in great abundance.

Prune away.

 

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

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