Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Sanctity of Human Life: "Precious" and Bishop Tobin

Ah, the day before Thanksgiving. As is typical here in Chicago, the day is raw and overcast. Many people are away from the office today, so it is pretty quiet here on the home front.

I don't usually use this blog as a commentary on issues outside of liturgy, music, and initiation, but today I feel compelled.

This past Saturday, I saw the movie Precious. You can find the trailer here. This is not an easy movie to watch. The language is very rough; there are graphically violent scenes; the story is a difficult one to move through. Yet, I came away thinking that this was a movie that proclaimed the sanctity of human life. You see, "Precious," the main character in the story, is pregnant with her second child. The father of both children is her own father. Her first child is a Downs Syndrome child. Her second is a healthy baby boy. A victim of unspeakable physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, Precious does not give in to patterns into which so many around her fall. Instead, she seeks out an alternative education. She doesn't abuse the country's welfare system. And, despite the fact that her two children are the product of incest, she does not have an abortion. As a matter of fact, this movie is all about a simple motivation on the part of this young woman: she simply wants to protect and love her children. This is such a plain fact in this movie and it spoke so strongly to my own heart about the sanctity of human life. I guess this was because this was in such striking relief to the horrors of abuse and neglect that mark so much of this movie.

Why do I bring this all up? I have been closely following the recent news story in Rhode Island. As you may know, the bishop of Providence, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, has asked Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy "not to take Communion" because of the eight-term Democrat's "consistent actions" that defy the church's "clear teaching" on abortion. You may know that Bishop Tobin has appeared over the past few days on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Chris is a Catholic. He also appeared on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly is a Catholic. You can find these "interviews" all over the web.  What I found striking was that these two Catholic men shared honest confusion about Bishop Tobin's actions in the public arena. The bishop was clearly not ready for the Matthew's interview. As I sat there and watched, I wondered if the bishop had ever actually seen Hardball. How could he not have anticipated what was to come? When I watched the O'Reilly interview, I expected the two men to completely agree on the absolute appropriateness of Tobin's actions. But this did not occur. O'Reilly expressed his own confusion and frustration with the inconsistencies in Tobin's remarks. 

I'd like to suggest that the movie Precious does more to make a statement about the sanctity of human life than do the remarks and actions of Bishop Thomas Tobin. I came away from the movie proud of my own embrace of the late Cardinal Bernardin's "seamless garment" approach to life issues. I was very proud to be a Catholic at that moment. I wish I could say the same about how I came away from the two interviews with Bishop Tobin. I was left with the question: Cardinal Bernardin, where are you when we need you? The absolutist approach espoused by Bishop Tobin, I believe, will do little to turn hearts toward a profound respect for the sanctity of human life. By denying Communion—the premier sacrament of reconciliation—to Rep. Kennedy, Bishop Tobin closes the door to the work that the Eucharistic Lord can accomplish in the heart of the representative. This simply does not make sense to me.

This is a heavy subject, especially on the eve of Thanksgiving, but I felt compelled to write about it. I am taking a few days off from blogging and plan to return to the blogosphere on Monday.

I am grateful for you who so faithfully read this blog. May your Thanksgiving be blessed. May your tables be surrounded by God's presence. And may your hearts overflow with gratitude to our loving God.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

"I came to heal the the healthy need a doctor?" I agree with you 100%.--Margie

Maureen said...

Amen. May Thanksgiving bring healing to us all.

Charles said...

Very good observations about the two divergent interviews, Jerry. I am, of course, grateful that there is a generation of bishops emerging willing to enter (particularly in the Hardball venue) the fray about this most important of social/justice issues. However, I don't feel that either interviewer made an effort to engage the good bishop in articulating about his rightful duty to instruct the congressman regarding the very public instances wherein scandal could be a result of inaction or silence on the part of pastors. When a public figure assumes an agressive public policy posture in opposition to the Church's clearly-stated moral principles, is everyone left to presume that individual has fulfilled his obligation to reconcile his actions sacramentally before presenting his/herself for receiving Christ in the Eucharist? It is ironically a sticky wicket and a slippery slope.
My best to you and your family this blessed season.

Jen said...

Thank you, Jerry, for this and for all your blog entries. Always rich food for thought, and I am grateful.

Anonymous said...

What Charles said...

Everyone wants to concentrate on the words of Bishop Tobin, but there is little commentary about the appaling behavior of Congressman Kennedy. The fact is that such views should cause one to excuse themselves from receiving communion. To not do so then places one in a state of greater sin still, and the circle contnues on to defying Church teaching, defying the orders of an ordinary...etc..etc..until the only defense is to say "I can do what I want and still be TOTALLY Catholic!!" which, as we know, is nonsense.