by Angelo Stagnaro
When I was a child, and spake like a child, I learned that the Church's seven sacraments were all instituted by Christ during His ministry on Earth. As I examined this idea at that very early age, I recall being convinced as to the validity of that claim in regards to the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation. Baptism and Holy Orders only made sense. By extrapolation, one can see the need for Confirmation and Extreme Unction.
But the one stumbling block I had had at that precocious age was the Sacrament of Marriage. Was I to believe unquestioningly that Christ's mere presence at the Wedding at Cana constituted an acceptance and endorsement of marriage?
Certainly He performed a miracle at the wedding, albeit reluctantly, but He performed many such miracles throughout His time in Palestine. Should His mere attendance at a friend's wedding constitute a sacrament? If so, can we likewise say that Christ's presence on a friend's fishing boat be sufficient cause to sacramentalize large-scale, commercial fishing efforts?
I belong to a Pro-Life group at my parish. It is an involvement that I had avoided for a very long time. Not because I was accepting of abortion but because I wasn't sure as to the personalities and politics of the more emphatic members of that movement. I've been involved with my parish group for some time now and feel I am making a positive contribution to the effort to end abortion in America.
As my involvement and commitment grew with the group, I was asked to attend several regional meetings as a representative. One such meeting happened earlier this month. It was at this meeting that my earlier concerns and perceptions of the Pro-Life movement came alive for me in very vivid and very disturbing manner.
The meeting progressed like all other committee meetings around the world, regardless of the issue at hand: it was long, dry, boring, a bit heavy-handed and decided upon long in advance of the actual meeting. Just when I gave myself up to simply sitting there in prayerful silence, the meeting took a dangerous turn and I woke up immediately.
The people at the meeting began their laments of American society (O tempora! O mores!) forgetting completely the topic that called us together. Instead, they whined about former President Clinton and his concerted (and apparently continuing) efforts to overthrow Christendom and, at the same time, closed their eyes to the mistakes caused by the current administration including Bush's mind-numbing, and yet oddly predictable, flip-flopping on the issue of stem cell research.
They complained about how anti-abortion groups were not allowed to demonstrate as they wished in front of abortion clinics but they completed supported the proposition that anti-war demonstrators should be sequestered miles away from any place through which Bush was scheduled to pass. To be anti-war or anti-Bush was equivalent to being anti-American and anti-patriotic. For them, the only way the war in Iraq would be considering a complete, unadulterated and unprecedented debacle would be if a Democrat had started it.
Well! what can one expect from a party that touts "family values" whose leaders serve their wives divorce papers as they lay dying in hospital beds, or who sleep with their black servants while simultaneously decrying miscegenation, or demand life sentences in prison for drug abusers while simultaneously swallowing enough OxyContin and hydrocodone to down a racehorse! But I digress.
The diatribes at the Pro-Life meeting continued unabated. I was told in no uncertain terms that any vote for anyone other than a Republican would be a vote for millions of more abortions in America. I was required, under penalty of sin, to vote for a president who expresses sympathy for the families of those killed in an immoral, unpopular and illegal war but who simultaneously cuts their benefits; a president who makes fun of Kerry's French and yet does so in stumbling English; a man whose Vice-President refused to reveal the proceedings of his meetings with top energy advisers, some of whom are implicated in serious crimes; a president who claims to want to protect the environment while lowering pollution standards and allows others to drill for oil on pristine land; a man who believes that rocker Ozzy Osborne is a good example of competent and sober fatherhood; a president who denounces the excessive cost and waste of Clinton's proposed health care bill and simultaneously touts his own while lying about the program's real cost. This is a president that supports outsourcing of jobs and who simultaneously claims to be a "regular workin, Joe" interested in the "plight of the unemployed." Other equivocations abound in this particular administration.
"Rich boy draft-dodger" means "patriot." "Ravaging the environment" translates to mean "protecting it." "No child left behind" means "good luck finding the money for the program." Senior citizen's health bill" means "Cost? What extra costs? I don't see any extra costs!" "Mission accomplished means "700 Americans killed while looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction." "Pro-peace" means gutting the peace process in Israel within weeks of taking office. Hemming & hawing about appearing in front of a 9/11 Commission is apparently an act of "patriotism." This doublespeak would make Orwell cringe: Democracy means blind acceptance. Dissension is bad. Questions are bad. War is good. All is well. In a related point, according to a recent televised interview, Bush admits that neither he nor God have made mistakes in the past two years. It's good to know that we have such a competent, non-native English-speaker as our leader.
After twenty-minutes of incessant lambasting, I could no longer contain myself. I announced that I was unwilling to vote for a Republican especially considering their whole-hearted and even gleeful acceptance of capital punishment and for their dogged pursuit of war in Iraq. I argued that Pro-Life will have to mean exactly that: anti-war, pro-peace, pro-reconciliation, pro-environment (Creation, after all, is alive also and desperately needs our help,) anti-euthanasia, anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research and pro-gun control (because guns, especially automatic weapons, kill people just like abortion kills people.) For the sake of logical and moral consistency, being Pro-Life means being so even when we don't want to be; even if the human being is still a blastocyst, an Iraqi combatant or a mass murderer. If God is the Author of Life, then none of us have the option to rewrite His demands.
It would seem to me that if Christ instituted the Sacrament of Marriage with nothing more than an invitation to the party, then I'd dare say that Christ actively spoke out against capital punishment by what He did in front of the hypocritical Pharisees. In John's eight chapter, (John 8:7) Christ physically interposes Himself and stops one of the most infamous incidences of capital punishment (other than His own) mentioned in the Bible. Christ allows for the possibility of putting the adulterous woman to death only if a single sinless person could be found to accuse her. When none could be found, God forgave her and she was let free. How, in the name of logical and moral consistency and in Name of God, can we do less? How can we say without shame that God was incorrect in stopping the planned execution of the adulteress? She was, after all, guilty of a capital offence. Did she not willingly commit the crime in question? Have we decided as a believing community that redemption actually doesn't exist for the sinful? Is this to be yet a new modern heresy?
My opponents couldn't see the dissonance in their own eclectic, misguided beliefs. This is a new twist on the concept of "Buffet-line" Catholics; Catholics who pick and choose which rules and guidelines they wish to accept and flagrantly disregard the rest. I'm not proud of the Democrats, unthinking acceptance of abortion (and its even more horrific permutations such as partial-birth abortions) but we shouldn't lose sight of the larger picture. Life is precious because God created it. Because He choose to be a blastocyst at one point. Because He inserted Himself into our lives via the same process that saw each of our own incarnations. If He would stay the execution of a woman who had committed an unfortunate crime, certainly He would have us do the same. The sacrament of Marriage was instituted because of Christ's presence at a party but the sacramentality of Life is never dubious. That's why we are Christians. We are Pro life. Life is to be respected in all of its forms and shapes.
Ultimately, I believe that intelligent, rational and educated people can come to an agreement even on disparate topics. If this wasn't true, no war would ever end; no progress would ever ensue. Let us mutually, regardless of our political stripe, resolve to not put our trust in princes (Ps. 146:3) and to judge all politicians by our mutual and historical Christian ethical standards. Let us agree to not be blinded by empty promises and politically-correct sound-bytes. Instead of partisan politics destroying our church and mudding up our ethics - a system of ethics that has existed for two-thousand-years - let us stand up as Christians, committed to Christ's Love, Christ's Compassion and Christ's Promise. Basta cosi! Isn't that enough?
By attending a wedding of a friend, our Lord sacramentalised the weddings of Christians from then onwards. At that wedding, He chose to start His ministry of the Way; The Way of Life. At the adulteress' anticipated execution, He fought to spare the life of a sinner. Then, as always, He sets before us the choice between life and death, between His blessing and His curse, and He calls upon heaven and earth to witness the choice we make. If Christ Himself, could choose to stop an execution and to bestow new life to a sinner, can we not do the same? Shouldn't we also choose life? Basta cosi!
Angelo Stagnaro is a stage magician, teacher and writer currently living in New York City. He has written extensively on Catholic issues and stage magic. His two published books, Conspiracy and Something from Nothing have been well received by the professional magicians community in both Europe and in the United States. His most recent Catholic-themed article will appear in the Jesuit magazine America in July 2004. He has been the Editor-in-chief of the on-line magicians' monthly electronic magazine Smoke & Mirrors since 1997.