Monday, February 29, 2016

Hey, Bob Dylan!

Is "Blowin' In The Wind" what the answer is, or where the answer is?  This has been bugging me for almost fifty years . . .

Seen Any Miracles Lately?

Glory be to God for dappled things –
 For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
 Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
     And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
 Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.       - “Pied Beauty”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

God Is Everywhere
   Believing Catholics see the presence of God everywhere. We see Him (Who created all things and holds them in existence) even in things as ordinary as “trout that swim” and “finches’ wings”.  Sometimes, however, our Lord seems to speak to us through more extraordinary means, through the events we call miracles. The word "miracle" might first make us think of those dramatic Miracles formally recognized as such by the Church, as, for example, those entered as evidence toward the canonization of saints.  These are relatively rare, as the Church has very strict standards of evidence, and insists that there be no available natural explanation.  But there is also a steady stream of less well-attested occurrences in the life of every believer that may not meet the strict standards that official Miracles demand, but still serve as powerful reminders that God’s Providence surrounds us .  . . at least for eyes to see that can.  Even the greatest Miracles, on the other hand, are not enough to sway those who simply don’t want to see.

Miracles in the News

    I came across a couple reports of apparent miracles in today’s news, and they got me thinking.  First, there is this story about a Bible that emerged almost unscathed from a car that rolled over and burst into flame:

The burning car, the Bible that survived ( photo)

 The entire interior, except the Good Book, was consumed in flame (I also heard a report on Catholic radio of a similar occurrence in Brazil, in which a statue of Our Lady of Aparecida was found unscathed in a building that had been gutted in a fire, but I haven’t been able to find any news report about this case online).  Then there is this story, about one of the victims of a serial murderer in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  According to the original news story the 14-year-old girl was pronounced brain dead after she arrived at the hospital, and
the hospital was in the process of preparing her organs for donation when the girl squeezed her mother’s hand . . .
The mother then asked her daughter to squeeze her hand again if she could hear her, and she did . . . The doctor asked the girl to give a thumbs up if she could hear him, and she gave two thumbs up . . .
The hospital then immediately started prepping the 14-year-old for surgery, the lieutenant said.
The girl is in critical condition today, her family said in a statement, saying, "Our daughter’s prognosis is uncertain as she continues fighting for her life."
     The doctors have since claimed that there was never a formal declaration of brain death, so this case would not qualify as an official Miracle using the standards of canonizations or of Lourdes; nevertheless, it still seems to the family that the Lord has brought back to them a child who was gone.  In the case of the un-burned Bible, it could be that there is some natural explanation: perhaps there was something in the car’s interior that protected it  . . . although the article tells us it was simply on the front seat.  It is, at the very least, a nice reminder that God’s is present and active in our world.  Eugene McNiel, for instance, the Good Samaritan who rescued the driver of the burning car, has a very simple, straight-forward explanation for the survival of the Bible: “That is God.”  To which he adds: "You don't believe? (Then) I don't know what to say."

Seeing Isn't Always Believing

   Therein lies a curious fact about miracles great and small.  They seem most often to strengthen and reward the faith of those who already believe, or to encourage those who are willing to believe, but have not quite committed themselves.  Those who refuse to believe, on the other hand, can explain away even the most dramatic miracles.  A classic example is the case of the 19th century French novelist Emile Zola.  Zola was a sceptic who was particularly obsessed with the Shrine at Lourdes, where there had been a number of miraculous cures since the Blessed Mother had appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous there in 1858.  The writer went to the Marian Shrine where, as George Sim Johnston writes in Crisis magazine [full article here], he witnessed:
an 18-year-old girl named Marie Lemarchand who was afflicted with three seemingly incurable diseases: an advanced stage of lupus, pulmonary tuberculosis, and leg ulcerations the size of an adult’s hand. Zola describes the girl’s face on the way to Lourdes as being eaten away by the lupus: “The whole was a frightful distorted mass of matter and oozing blood.” The girl went into the baths and emerged completely cured . . . Zola was there when she came out of the baths. He had said, “I only want to see a cut finger dipped in water and come out healed.” The President of the Medical Bureau, Dr. Boissarie, was standing beside him. “Ah, Monsieur Zola, behold the case of your dreams!” “I don’t want to look at her,” replied Zola. “To me she is still ugly.” And he walked away.

Photo of the Grotto at Lourdes in the 1890's, crutches of healed pilgrims
can be seen hanging in the upper left corner of the picture.
Zola was more fortunate than most of even the most devout pilgrims: there have been less than one hundred officially confirmed miraculous cures at Lourdes in the past one and a half centuries (although there have been many more unconfirmed cures), and most visitors don't see even one of these. The unbelieving author, however, was allowed to witness two:
Zola subsequently witnessed a second cure at Lourdes, that of a Mlle. Lebranchu, who was suffering from the final stages of tuberculosis. He told Dr. Boissarie, “Were I to see all the sick at Lourdes cured, I would not believe in a miracle.” He put the second cure in his novel Lourdes (1894), but depicted the woman as relapsing into her former condition on her way home, the implication being that the cure was neither permanent nor supernatural, but rather a case of autosuggestion in an hysterical religious atmosphere.
But Zola, who remained in communication with the woman long after her recovery, was perfectly aware that there had been no relapse. When Dr. Boissarie questioned him as to the honesty of his account, pointing out that Zola had said that he had come to Lourdes to make an impartial investigation, Zola replied that he was an artist and could do whatever he liked with his material.
   Miracles have no effect on the Zolas of this world, because such people simply don’t want to believe; they fasten upon any possible technicality, and when all else fails they simply invoke the Science Of The Gaps defense: “Of course there’s a natural explanation, we just don’t know what it is”.  Scripture warns us that there will be intransigent blindness of this sort:
. . .  and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:54-58)

Pass It On
   Those who have already given their hearts to the Lord, on the other hand, see his fingerprints everywhere, not only in the miraculous, but in every detail of creation (as described in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Pied Beauty, above).   It may seem strange that God showers favors on those who, apparently, need them the least, but Scripture helps us out here, as well.  St. Paul says:
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.     (Romans 8: 28-29)
Any gift God gives us (i.e., Grace) is not for us alone, but is for us to share in our turn, for the benefit of others.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit." Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. (CCC 2003, my bold, italics in original)

Fr. Rob Lupo (Portland Press Herald photo)
The Son is the image of the Father and we are to be conformed to the image of the Son ( see Romans 12:2); God’s interventions great and small can help form us in that image, if we let them. Those who refuse to see more direct manifestations of God’s power are sometimes willing to recognize it reflected in his adopted sons and daughters, or are at least willing to be more open to it if they see that it has changed our lives.  It's often the case that people formerly hostile to the Church open their hearts because of the Grace they see in the lives of believers. Fr. Rob Lupo, for example, formerly an angry, anti-Catholic atheist, gradually let go of his hostility because of the example of a good Catholic friend, and today is not only a believer, but a priest in the Diocese of Portland, Maine [article here].  I’ve heard it suggested that perhaps even St. Paul himself was more ready to listen to the voice of Christ on the Road to Damascus after witnessing the faith and courage of the Christians he had been persecuting.

Miracles In All Shapes And Sizes

Most of us never witness first-hand the most dramatic miracles, but not all miracles are of teh dramatic sort. In his Summa Contra Gentiles St. Thomas Aquinas describes three different kinds of miracles [full excerpt here]. There are 1st degree miracles, truly miraculous events which are things which “nature can never do”, such as the miracle of the Sun at Fatima. God seems to reserve these for very special occasions.  2nd degree miracles are things which  “nature can do, but not in the same order”; someone who was dead coming back to life, for instance: it is natural for a human being to live, unlike the Sun dancing in the sky, but in the natural order of things we stay dead once we have died.  Finally, third degree miracles are

what is wont to be done by the operation of nature, but without the operation of the natural principles: for instance when by the power of God a man is cured of a fever that nature is able to cure; or when it rains without the operation of the principles of nature.

These are miracles, in other words, in which things develop in an apparently natural way, but whose course is determined by God. The 180 degree reversal in the life of former atheist Rob Lupo, who is now Fr. Lupo, is an example of a 3rd degree miracle.
    I doubt there is any one of us who hasn't had some experience of these 3rd degree miracles, the unlikely events that push us closer to God, or the seemingly impossible favors that follow closely after our prayer (this seems to happen to my wife a lot, most recently yesterday). We shouldn't be deterred by the fact others aren't persuaded; when Christ comes again in Glory I'm sure there will be some who try to dismiss it as a mass hallucination. Faith, however, tells us that God is constantly working to form us in his image, even in the smallest things: "He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Pope Is Catholic Yet Again . . .

One of the constants of the current Pontificate is that we can rely on the secular press (and, sadly, some ostensibly Catholic outlets as well) to misrepresent what Pope Francis is saying, particularly when it comes to his unprepared comments.  Remarks that can be interpreted in such a way that they seem to support the current secular enthusiasms will be presented in that way, while utterances that contradict the spirit of the age will be downplayed or ignored. We've seen it happen again with some of the  Pope's comments during his recent trip to Mexico; the post below is a throwback to last year (February 22nd, 2015), after a papal trip to the Phillipines.  Yet again, the real Pope is much more Catholic than the Pope depicted in the news media.

Who would have guessed that the Pope is Catholic?

     It’s funny that Pope Francis is the most quotable of Popes . . . except when he’s not.  A few weeks ago, when he appeared to criticize couples who were ‘irresponsible” in having children “in a series”, dismissing the idea that, “in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits,” it was big news.  More recently, when he said that “Not to have children is a selfish choice,” and suggested that a culture that “views children above all as a worry, a burden, a risk, is a depressed society,” well, where was the news media?  Where are the “Spirit of Vatican II” Catholics who trumpet every reference to rabbits and every off-the-cuff  “who am I to judge” remark?  Yes, it was reported (mostly in non-U.S. outlets), but given very little play and quickly forgotten, especially compared to the hullaballoo surrounding some other comments from this Pope.
     Not that any of this is a surprise, of course.  Since the revolt against the Church’s teaching on contraception that erupted into public view at the issuance of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, reproduction and sexuality have been Ground Zero in the culture of dissidence that exists within the Church.  Not coincidentally, those are also the issues that animate the drivers of cultural trends in the secular world as well.  The “news” media is a major component in the Spirit of this Age, and so it is happy to run with anything the Pope says that could further its agenda, especially if it can be spun to undercut Catholic moral teaching on their favored issues.
     It may be hard for some of us to believe just how important this last point is to the promoters of the new sexual ethic.  They quite correctly see the Church as the main obstacle in their way.  The Popes agree.  In his encyclical letter Casti Connubii (“Of Chaste Marriage”), published in response to the abandonment by the Anglican Church of the age-old Christian ban on contraception, Pope Pius XI describes:

. . . the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her . . . (Casti Connubii, 56)

     If this description was true in 1930, when Casti Connubii was published, how much more so today?  Not only are the moral ruins around us more widespread than ever, but there is a visible group of people who identify as Catholic actively working to pull down the Church into that debris.  Pope Francis’ remarks on the selfishness of sterility are most unwelcome both to this set of Catholics, and to the media, not only because he is contradicting their agenda, but specifically because he is re-stating long-standing Catholic teaching.  These comments give the lie to the mythical Pope Francis who is freeing the Catholic Church from its judgmental and puritanical past.  And we can’t have people think the Pope really is Catholic, can we?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Tertullian For Our Time

(An earlier version of this Throwback appeared as a part of my Sunday Snippets post on 15 February 2015)

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

     You’re probably familiar with the quote above, a favorite of Pope St. John Paul the Great.  It’s author is Tertullian (c. A.D. 160 – c. A.D. 220), one of the foremost Christian writers and apologists of his age, who also gave us such essential terms as “Trinity” (Trinitas) and “Three Persons, One Substance” (Tres Personae, Una Substantia).  Despite his enormous achievements, however, and his lasting influence, Tertullian is not considered a Father of the Church; we don’t even call him “Saint” Tertullian:  he chose, sadly, to follow his own judgment rather than that of the Apostolic Church, and fell into heresy in the latter part of his life.
     I’m reminded of Tertullian by several things I’ve read recently about the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who, were he still with us, would have celebrated his 100th birthday just over a year ago (January 31st 2015).  I don’t mean to suggest that Merton was a figure on a par with Tertullian: the late Trappist made no lasting contribution to the development of Catholic Doctrine, and added no new words to our vocabulary, although he was quite influential in his time (and still is, to a degree).  Like Tertullian, however, he didn’t stay the course: while he never considered himself to have left the Church, his growing involvement with Buddhism seemed to be carrying him outside the bounds of Christian belief and practice.

Thomas Merton
      I resisted reading anything by Thomas Merton for a long time, largely, I confess, because I was put off by certain enthusiasts who were mostly interested in his Zen phase. When I first picked up The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography he wrote shortly after joining the Trappists, I wished that I hadn't waited so long: the story of his conversion was beautiful and inspiring, as was much of his other writing from the 1940's and 1950's.
     Sadly, he didn't stay that way.  He has always reminded me of an image from the Venerable Bede (672-730 A.D), although not in the way Bede meant it.  In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, a retainer of King Edwin of Northumbria convinces him to embrace Christianity by telling him that his life is like a bird that passes through an open window into a well-lit hall, and then out again into the stormy night: his pagan worldview can only explain that brief moment in the light, but what comes before or after is dark.  The Christian Faith, on the other hand, can explain it all.  In Merton’s case, he is the bird.  He flew out of the darkness of his early, unbelieving,  years into the light of the Faith, but appeared to be headed out the far window when he met his end in Thailand in 1968.
     On the Catholic World Report site Karl Olsen has posted a piece (“More on Merton”) consisting largely of excerpts from an earlier piece (“Can You Trust Thomas Merton?”) written for This Rock by Anthony E. Clark that Olsen had  illustrated.  The two pieces highlight the dilemma presented by this conflicted, contradictory monk: yes he was a good Catholic gone bad, but he was also a gifted writer who, in his orthodox period, wrote some wonderful and inspiring things.  Clark’s This Rock article very helpfully includes a list of Merton works to avoid, but also recommended readings, which Clark introduces by saying: “These works represent the early era of Merton’s monastic life, and his views are still quite orthodox.  These books are beautifully written; they are what made Thomas Merton Thomas Merton.” I’ll second that.  We haven’t thrown out the word “Trinity” because Tertullian became a Montanist, and we likewise should not forget The Seven Storey Mountain just because Thomas Merton seemed to lose his way later in life.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Music For Lent: Miserere Mei by Antonio Lotti

"King David Does Repentance" by Albrecht Durer
   As we begin the penitential Season of Lent, it seems a good time to look at some the numerous musical settings for Psalm 51, which is traditionally held to have been written by King David as an expression of repentance after he engineered the death of Uriah the Hittite in order to steal his wife, Bathsheba.  
     The most famous musical treatment of this psalm was composed by Gregorio Allegri in the 1630's, various performances of which I have posted over the last few years (most recently here). Last year I also posted lesser-known (but still powerfully beautiful and moving) renditions by Pergolesi and Josquin des Prez.  I'm continuing that tradition this Lent by posting Antonio Lotti's Miserere below, and Jan Dismas Zelenka's setting of the 51st Psalm on the blog Nisi Dominus.
     Lotti Lived from 1667-1740.  He spent his entire musical career (except for a brief period in Dresden from 1717-1719) at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice as a singer, organist and, eventually, maestro di cappella. may not be well-known today (at least to those of us who, like me, are not experts), but he was an important and influential composer and teacher in his day. His Wikipedia entry tells us that

     Lotti is thought to have influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, and Johann Dismas Zelenka, all of whom had copies of Lotti's mass, the Missa Sapientiae.
     Lotti was a notable teacher, with Domenico AlbertiBenedetto MarcelloGiovanni Battista PescettiBaldassare GaluppiGiuseppe Saratelli and Johann Dismas Zelenka among his pupils.

In the clip below the piece is performed by the UCLA Early Music Ensemble, conducted by Alexandra Grabarchuk.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What Adam Ate Brought Death, The Food Christ Offers Brings Eternal Life

(An earlier version of this Throwback Post was published on 20 February 2015)

Sin Is Our Free Choice

     My family and I attended a beautiful Extraordinary Form Mass on Ash Wednesday.  The holy priest in charge of the Latin Mass Chaplaincy here in Maine (which is to say, the priest who is the Latin Mass Chaplaincy) is a wonderful homilist, and so not surprisingly he provided some food for fruitful thought on this occasion (I hope, by the way, he didn’t think it too odd to see me taking notes during his sermon).
     Father was pointing out that Adam’s first sin isn’t only Adam’s sin: we are asking mercy “for what Adam and Eve did, and what we continue to do.”  We can’t blame Adam, because, like our first ancestor, we also choose time and again to “turn our backs on God and say, ‘I don’t need you.’” Sin is something that we freely choose, and therefore Hell is also a free choice, not something imposed or inflicted upon us.  He pointed out that, in the Garden of Eden, God doesn’t say “Eat this and I’ll kill you,” He says “Eat this and you will die” (Genesis 2:17). 

Be Careful What You Eat

     After Mass, my lovely bride told me that she had experienced the proverbial light going off in her head at that moment: she saw, on the one hand, the first Adam being told “eat this and you will die,” and on the other hand Christ, the Last Adam (Corinthians 15:45) saying to his disciples, in effect, “eat this and you will live forever” (see John 6:47-56). The connection between the two passages seems fairly obvious, and I’m sure it has been noted many times, but it had never occurred to me, and neither of us could remember ever hearing or reading about it before.  But there it is: Adam’s selfish choice brought death to mankind, while Christ’s self-sacrifice brings life; when we eat the Body of Christ, we counteract what Adam ate.
     That, of course, is why Lent is a hopeful season (see “Ash Wednesday, A Symbol Of Repentance, A Sign Of Hope”), but not a happy season.  To return a last time to father’s Ash Wednesday homily, we are to “bring to mind, but not celebrate” the Fall.  Satan tells Adam and Eve that “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5), but he is pretending to offer what they already have: God created them in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27), with the word “likeness” meaning the potential to be like God.  The loss of that potential was a real loss, and a real evil; it brought about true suffering for all humanity, and the tremendous suffering endured by the God-Made-Man Jesus Christ was likewise all too real.

Made in the Image and Likeness of God

     We can’t skip over the reality of that suffering in our haste to get to Easter, and we can misunderstand what is meant by the term Felix Culpa, the “Happy Fault”, which is sometimes applied to Adam’s Fall.  Felix means happy in the sense of “fortunate, lucky,” but certainly not “happy” in the sense of joyful; its opposite, infelix, can mean “accursed.”  Adams’ fall was fortunate in that, in the end, we were rescued from its logical consequence by God’s favor (Grace) in the form of Christ’s sacrifice for our sake on the Cross; it is fortunate in that we were saved from the curse.  We need to remember and acknowledge the curse, but  save the celebration for Christ's saving Love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday - Symbol of Repentance, Sign of Hope

The Repentant King David (artist unknown, c. 1650)

       I've noticed a curious thing about Ash Wednesday.  We all know people whose connection to the practice of the Faith has become somewhat tenuous.  You will rarely see them darken a church door on an ordinary Sunday, although they will put in an appearance at Christmas, and maybe Easter.  Interestingly, I see a significant number of these occasional Catholics show up in church on Ash Wednesday as well, or encounter them wearing the ashes of penitence on their foreheads as they go about their daily business.
     As I said, it’s curious.  The appeal of the joyous feasts of Christmas and Easter is obvious, but why should someone who is, in all other respects, a rather lukewarm Catholic seek out a public proclamation of unworthiness, a sign in the middle of his face saying “I’m a sinner!”  What is the appeal?
     I think it starts with the fact that, on some level, we all know we’re sinners, we all have moments when, at least in our hearts, we can identify with the voice of King David in Psalm 51:

For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me,
To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee:
That thou mayst be justified in thy words and
Mayst overcome when thou art judged.
For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and
In sins did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5-7)

     We are not all equally willing to recognize the knowledge of our own unworthiness, but even those who consciously reject God have at least a lurking awareness of their own finitude and imperfection (and the rejection of God may itself be an attempt to escape that awareness).  If that’s the end of the story, then a man is a wretched thing indeed.  That’s not the end for King David, however, who goes on to say:

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and
I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me,
And I shall be made whiter than snow.
To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and
The bones that have been humbled shall rejoice. (Psalm 51: 9-10)

He trusts that the God who made him, who is all goodness and all perfection, can save him from his own imperfect self.
     We who are Christians have that and more.  Pope Francis says:

Christian hope is not simply a desire, a wish: for a Christian, hope is expectation, fervent, passionate expectation for the final and definitive fulfillment of a mystery, the mystery of God’s love, in which we are reborn and in which we already live. And it is the expectation of someone who is about to arrive: it is Christ the Lord who makes Himself ever closer to us, day after day, and who comes to introduce us finally into the fullness of His communion and of His peace. (General Audience Catechesis, 15 October 2014)

We know that Christ has already died for our sins and risen to new life.  All we need to do is pick up our cross and follow him.  Ash Wednesday represents the first step on that journey.
     We can see a reflection of this same idea in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (derived from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola), through which an untold number of alcoholics have been rescued from their addiction over the past eight decades.  The first step is to admit that our life is out of control, that we are not in charge. Hiding from our problems and trying to cover up our failings takes up a lot of time and effort, all of it wasted on an impossible task.  When we can stand up in front of a room full of people and say “I am an alcoholic,” or whatever our particular downfall might be, it gives us an incredible feeling of freedom.  Yes, our life is still a mess, but now, at least, we can really begin to do something about it.  In the Twelve Steps, that means coming to believe that a higher power can restore us (step 2), turning our will and lives over to that power (step 3), and so on, through nine more steps which will look very familiar to anyone who knows the Gospels and the Catholic Tradition.
     Ash Wednesday is like that first flush of freedom, our own First Step.  It’s somber, because sin is an ugly reality in our lives, but it gives us a glimpse of Salvation as well: beyond the Via Dolorosa and the pain of Calvary, we can see the Empty Tomb and the glory of the Resurrection.  We know that the long, hard journey ahead need not lead to futility. He know that the Higher Power who loved us so much that he took on our flesh, suffered in it, and rose again can indeed restore us, if we are willing to turn our lives over to Him.
     And so we should be happy to see our less devout brethren in church on Ash Wednesday.  St. Paul tells us:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let  each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.  For Christ did not please himself . . . (Romans 15:1-3)

We should welcome them, encourage them, and pray for them, in the hope that they go beyond that first step.  And we should ask them to pray for us as well, because we, too, are often lukewarm in our faith; we, too, are dust, and to dust we shall return.

(Please see also "Remember, Man, That Thou Art Dust" on Nisi Dominus)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Life Sells Chips (or, Chips Sell Life)

If you want to sell something, what better place than the most-watched television program of the year?  That, as those who follow American football or American pop culture could tell you, would be the Super Bowl, the National Football League’s annual championship game. Small wonder that advertisers spend millions of dollars for a single 30 second ad during the broadcast. Most often these ads are for things like beer, cell phones, cars, insurance, etc., but sometimes something a little different shows up.  Six years ago, for instance, Focus on the Family ran a pro-life ad featuring the mother of college football star Tim Tebow, which created a lot of discussion about the cause of life and, as I detailed in this post last week, saved at least one life.

Freddy Carstairs appearing in Doritos Super Bowl Ad (image from youTube)

    A Super Bowl ad promoting human life made waves again last night . . . but not in quite the same way as the Tebow ad did.  The commercial in question was advertising Doritos tortilla chips.  In this one, we see a mother happily looking at an ultrasound image of her late-stage unborn baby on a monitor; the mother then turns to her husband, who is contentedly munching on Doritos.  To the mother’s increasing annoyance, the father waves one of the salty snacks in front of the screen, where we can see the unborn baby reaching for the chip.  Finally, the exasperated mother grabs the chip from her husband’s hand and hurls it at her feet, at which point the unborn baby on the monitor, apparently eager to eat the chip, appears to dive for the “exit”, at which point the mother goes into labor.
    First of all, it’s a pretty sure bet that this ad is not intended (certainly not by Frito-Lay, the producer of Doritos) to make a pro-life statement.  According to an article that ran a couple weeks ago on, the creator of the ad, an Australian filmmaker named Peter Carstairs, came up with the idea when he saw ultrasound images of his unborn son Freddy (who was born last year). There is no indication that Carstairs was looking to make a pro-life statement; he did find the concept funny.  Frito-Lay chose Carstairs’ ad, no doubt because it tested well, and was unusual enough to stand out from the the welter of weird and ridiculous ads striving to make an impression upon Super Bowl viewers.

Ultrasound baby reaching for chip (image from Youtube)
    And make an impression it did, in some cases positive, in some . . . less so.  Apparently, NARAL PRo-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League) found this tortilla-affirming commercial to be guilty of the shameful “antichoice tactic of humanizing fetuses” (see article here), demonstrating yet again that pro-abortion fanatics cannot abide any suggestion that unborn humans are, well, human.  That’s why they insist on using dehumanizing terms like “fetus”.  That is also why they despise ultrasound, because sonograms make unavoidably obvious the already irrefutable scientific fact that unborn babies are not just “clumps of cells”, but little people.  Their objection to this particular commercial is not so much that the “fetus” is doing things that an unborn baby can’t do, but that the ultrasound image is being shown at all.  That’s why they fight tooth and nail against laws mandating that women seeking abortion first be shown an ultrasound of the “product of conception” in their womb: because ultrasound changes minds, even ordinary ultrasounds of unborn humans doing ordinary things.  As I detail in my post “The Truth Is Our Ally In The Fight For Human Life”:

    The abortion providers can only argue that simply requiring them to show truthful, unaltered pictures of what (or more accurately, as the images show, who) is being aborted will dissuade some of their customers.  A federal court, in striking down one of these laws in North Carolina, said in its decision [according to pro-life attorney Howard Slugh] that the law “explicitly promotes a pro-life message by demanding the provision of facts that all fall on one side of the abortion debate.”  Notice that the law does not require the suppression of “facts” that fall on the other side of the debate: it simply requires that the mother know all the facts before undergoing abortion, and the facts happen to be pro-life.  And so the abortionists are reduced to asking the court to help them hide the plain, incontrovertible truth.  As Slugh notes:

All these sources agree that the more a mother knows about her child, the less likely she is to abort him.  This is not because ultrasound images are misleading or politicized; it is because they supply a mother with truthful information necessary for making an informed choice.

Champion of Human Life?
    Last night’s silly little Doritos ad, has (most likely unintentionally) reminded millions of people about the truth of human life in the womb. I doubt that Frito-Lay was trying to make a pro-life statement with their ad: they probably saw it as just a funny take on an everyday experience that would help them sell chips.  It’s quite possible that, if they determine that the unfavorable attention from abortion promoters is hurting the bottom line, they may issue an apology and pull the ad from the internet (if YouTube doesn’t do it first).  Let’s hope not; we shouldn’t allow the abortion industry and its apologists to silence the Truth.  It might even be worth buying a bag of Doritos . . .