By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 27, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
I mistook it for a misunderstanding based on poor grammar when I first heard about the controversy over Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican candidate running for the U.S. Senate.
During a debate Tuesday, he said, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to believe that life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
The copy editor in me cringed at his unclear use of the word “it.” As a fellow Christian, I instinctively realized the first “it” referred to the issue of abortion and the second “it” to new life. The second "it" did not refer to rape. No Christian in his right mind believes God desires rape to happen.
I assumed that Mourdock’s poor grammar caused some to misinterpret his statement and the misunderstanding sparked justifiable outrage in Democratic and Republican politicians alike.
I guess I’m a bit naive.
Mourdock clarified and affirmed what he meant at a press conference Thursday, but by Wednesday some politicians had already made it clear they instead took offense at his belief that human life is always a gift from God.
“I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas,” President Obama told talk show host Jay Leno after the host accurately paraphrased Mourdock’s comment.
Obama didn’t need to look any further than scriptures shared by Jew and Christian alike.
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is a reward from him.” (Tehillim/Psalm 127:3)
“For it was you (God) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my embryo (in Hebrew, “golmi” or “golem”). In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Tehillim/Psalm 139:13, 15-16).
Similar messages can be found in the words of the Jewish prophets Jeremiah (1:5) and Isaiah (44:2) along with the complaints of Job (10:8-12).
Since when does such a basic Judeo-Christian belief disqualify a person from governmental office? Wait. Don’t answer. Apparently the answer is: now.
Efforts to denounce and politically isolate Mourdock continue.
While it is difficult to imagine a worse origin for a pregnancy than rape, would any Christian or Jewish politician claim God is responsible for the existence of some human life and not of others? Or that God values some humans but not others?
It seems the Great Recession was worse than we thought if even God’s unconditional love and omnipotence has been downsized.
It has long been said that after God created humanity in his own image we’ve been ever eager to return the favor. But I agree with the great African bishop Augustine (AD 354-430) who said: “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” Or as John, an apostle of Jesus, wrote in a letter: “God is greater than our hearts.” (Cf. 1st John 3:20)
In 2007, Jonathan Torgovnik, a photojournalist for Newsweek magazine, co-founded the nonprofit Foundation Rwanda after hearing firsthand of the terrible hardships of women who had birthed children from rapes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A few of their stories can be read on its website, www.foundationrwanda.org. Don’t expect uplifting tales with happy endings.
An estimated 20,000 children resulted from rape during the genocide.
One woman, Stella, says of her son, “He is my life. He is the only life I have. I love him. I like him. He is my only kid. If I did not have him, I don’t know what I would be.”
Another woman, Valentine, shared how she favored her firstborn girl, born of marital love, over her violently-conceived daughter, who she initially felt no affection towards at all. When the second baby cried she would ignore her. “But,” she said, “slowly I am beginning to also appreciate that this other one is innocent.”
Nevertheless the precious hearts of these women are nothing compared to that of God, who promised through the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget the baby nursing at her breast? Will she have no compassion on the child of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget you.“ (Isaiah 49:15).
I think the above video on the controversial Health and Human Services mandate in the U.S. speaks for itself. :)
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 20, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
At least 2,000 Mohawk tribe members have gathered in Rome today (Oct. 20) in anticipation of the canonization of one of their own, a 17th-century Mohawk maiden named Kateri Tekakwitha. On Sunday (Oct. 21), she will be the first Native American ever canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Her path to world renown wasn't an easy one. Two scientifically inexplicable miracles had to be investigated and approved before the Vatican would officially recognize her as a saint. According to the Associated Press, the second miracle happened when a dying boy of Lummi tribe descent, Jake Finkbonner of Ferndale, Washington, recovered from a flesh-eating strep bacterium infection in 2011 after children across the U.S. prayed for Kateri to intercede with God for his life to be saved.
But long before then Kateri suffered greatly for her love of God as did the tribe of her mother, a band of Algonquins who had converted to Christianity. The following story comes from the research of her distant cousin Norm Léveillée, genealogy websites, and accounts of her life.
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Chief Sachem Carolus Pachiniri had led his Weskarini band of Algonquins, consisting entirely of Christians, for most of a decade. The French called his people the Little Nation, and a French fort and Jesuit mission offered protection. When marauding Iroquois attacked, Algonquin braves and French soldiers would fight back while families sheltered in the fort. But a surprise attack around 1652-1653 left many defenders dead, and women and children enslaved.
Among them would be the mother of the future saint, a woman who may have been called Pittaraskiwassi (Algonquin for “flower of the earth”) among the Weskarini. But the Iroquois renamed her Kahontake (meadow). She became the wife of the Iroquois chief of the Turtle Clan, and bore him first a daughter, in 1656, and then a son.
In 1660, the deadly virus smallpox ravaged the Iroquois village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville, New York) and Kahontake, her husband, and her son died. Her daughter survived but pockmarks scarred her face and her eyes became oversensitive to sunlight, which earned her the name Tekakwitha ― “she who gropes for her way slowly.”
Tekakwitha’s uncle became both clan chief and her guardian, and he detested Christianity because of the way French settlers treated natives, the rise of European diseases, and other bad omens. Yet Jesuit missionaries, who natives called Black Robes, would nonetheless visit the Iroquois after the clan moved across the Mohawk River to form a new village, Caughnawaga. The Turtle Clan had relocated only after French soldiers and hostile braves crushed several fortified Mohawk villages, including Ossernenon, in 1666.
Tekakwitha’s uncle never permitted her to listen to the Black Robes until 1667 when circumstances forced him to show them hospitality for three days. During that time 11-year-old Tekakwitha, an excellent cook, prepared their meals as hostess of the longhouse. The visit surely stirred thoughts of her mother’s faith, which she knew about through her mother’s friend Anastasie.
In 1674, Rev. Jacques de Lamberville, SJ, accidentally came to the chief’s longhouse for information, and 18-year-old Tekakwitha seized the opportunity to ask about the Black Robe’s God. She explained that her mother had been a Christian, and she wanted to learn more.
The encounter gave first voice to the desire that would become her lifelong quest and catchphrase: “Who will teach me what’s most pleasing to God so I may do it?”
The priest agreed to teach her, but did so in secret for fear of the chief. In time, Tekakwitha revealed her growing devotion to the Christian God to her uncle, and pressured him to allow her to become a Catholic. He eventually consented so long as she never tried to leave the village.
His dark-haired niece would be baptized on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, at St. Peter’s Mission near her village. She adopted a new name, Kateri, after Saint Catherine.
Her public commitment to a foreign god would not be welcomed in her village. Children mocked her with words and stones if she left the chief’s longhouse, and adults referred to her as “the Christian” or “the Algonquin.” Some beat her. Because she refused to work on Sundays, her uncle would not allow her to eat all day as punishment for her “laziness.”
Once a young brave raised his tomahawk to kill her, but when she quietly knelt, ready to die for her God, her behavior so confounded him that he left her.
In July of 1677, Kateri slipped away from Caughnawaga. For the next two months and more, she walked more than 200 miles across woods and swamps to the mission of St. Francis Xavier, near Montreal. She received her first Eucharist on Christmas that year.
For years she would spend hours daily in prayer and ministry in her new village of native Christians, Kahnawake. Though illiterate, she remembered everything she’d been told about the life of Jesus and his disciples, and frequently held others spellbound as she shared those stories.
Kateri Tekakwitha died of poor health in 1680 at age 24, and her last words were “Jesus, I love you.”
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 13, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
My mailbox recently revealed that the U.S. presidential election has finally arrived — or at least my Vote By Mail ballot had. The sight of its companion, a thick gray Official Voter Information Guide, made me cringe. Oh joy. Homework ahead.
Yet who needs to bother with studying the facts when one has television to tell you what is so. For example:
“Apparently a large branch of (candidate) Mitt Romney’s family lives in Mexico… His grandfather in the late 1800s moved his whole family to Mexico… Mitt can use that to show that he’s tough on immigration. His family kicked themselves out of the country,” joked late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.
“A man in Florida has been arrested for wearing a President Obama mask while robbing a McDonald’s. To show you how good this guy’s disguise was, instead of a holdup note he was reading from a teleprompter,” said host Jay Leno.
“This Obama robber made some pretty scary threats to the McDonald’s employees. He said, ‘Give me your money, or else my economic plan will have you working here for the rest of your life.’”
Then there was the most laughable comment of all during the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, which coincidentally featured two Catholic politicians.
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “No religious institution — Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital — has to either refer contraception, … pay for contraception, (or) … be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
Okay, I guess I didn’t laugh when I heard that “fact” and I was relieved when U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan responded, “(Then) why would they keep suing you? It’s a distinction without a difference.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops must have felt the same shock at Biden’s inaccuracy as I did. On Friday they replied: “This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
“HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as ‘non-exempt.’ That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.’”
The biweekly business magazine Forbes expressed the situation surprisingly well in February. If President Barack Obama “forces the Catholic Church to comply with the Health and Human Services ruling to provide its employees with insurance that covers activities the Church has long held sinful — abortion via the morning after pill, sterilization and contraceptives — then the precedent is clear: when religious beliefs conflict with government decrees, religion must yield,” wrote Charles Kadlec, a non-Catholic.
What is at stake this election is nothing less than the U.S. principle of religious liberty.
Are there other issues this election? Certainly. But few rise to the same level of importance in my mind.
Two that do so are abortion and same-sex marriage. Both issues divide U.S. voters nearly in half — except when religion is factored in. People of faith in the U.S. tend to oppose both, which puts them in disagreement with Obama.
Several years ago a Gallup analysis of polls found that only 20 percent of U.S. Christians share Obama’s stance that abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Only 28 percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly support same-sex marriage, according to a survey this July by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
The problem is that U.S. adults are increasingly less committed to what we claim to believe. The Pew Research Center published research Tuesday entitled: “‘Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation.” It reported “a gradual decline in religious commitment,” especially among younger generations. Only 37 percent of adults attend religious services weekly and 33 percent only do so monthly or yearly.
It is no wonder religious liberty and more is under attack.
This election, as always, those of us who claim to follow the person and teachings of Jesus should defend life, marriage, and liberty of conscience, which are the fundamental building blocks of any civilization.
By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Previously published October 6, 2012, in The Madera Tribune
Few people today remember the magnitude of the so-called “mercy killing” by the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, which created about 15,000 concentration, labor, and death camps in Europe from 1933-1945.
Their target was human “life unworthy of life.”
Camp occupants included Jews, gypsies, the handicapped, political prisoners, trade union supporters, the mentally ill, criminals, pacifists, the homeless, prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, street vendors, homosexuals, Polish and Soviet civilians, and Christian clergy, seminarians, monks, and nuns.
Approximately 17 million people, including as many as 5.7 million Jews, were murdered in those camps and in organized anti-Semitic massacres, such as the Night of Broken Glass attacks by paramilitary units throughout Nazi Germany in November 1938.
Concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel said, “Not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims… They were doomed not because of something they had done or proclaimed or acquired but because of who they were.”
The Nazi attempt to systematically exterminate Judaism is often called the Holocaust (Greek for a totally burnt offering to God) or the Shoah (Hebrew for catastrophe). That atrocity is seared on the pages of history and the hearts of many.
Two out of three European Jews died in those days. As did about 6 million (22 percent) of Poland’s general population and about 10 million people of nearby Ukraine. Both nations suffered under Nazi Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but nearly all of the Polish victims were non-combatants.
In various parts of Poland, 31 to 80 percent of Catholic clergy were deported to Nazi concentration camps in 1939 alone. Nuns and monks were also; 60 convents and monasteries would be closed in the Silesia area. In the Cieszyn region, all Protestant clergy were sent to death camps.
That year, Cardinal Augustine Hlond, Catholic archbishop of Gniezno-Poznan in Poland, wrote: “The cathedral has been turned into a garage at Pelplin; the bishop’s palace into a restaurant; the chapel into a ballroom. Hundreds of churches have been closed. The whole patrimony of the Church has been confiscated, and the most eminent Catholics executed.”
In such harsh circumstances, Hlond secretly fled his flock without warning. He was the only Catholic bishop in Poland who abandoned his post during the Nazi persecution, and he met with an initially chilly reception at the Vatican when he later surfaced in Rome. Strengthened in resolve, he turned back towards Poland and was arrested. Offered freedom if he’d urge cooperation with the Nazis, he refused.
Yet Christian convents, monasteries, and houses of ministry and worship were not only grabbed in Poland, Austria, and other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. Germany also would see it. Its clergy too would go to the camps.
On July 13, 1941, the outraged bishop of Münster, Germany, let out the first of several of his most famous roars. That Sunday he preached of the deportation of priests and cloistered nuns, the seizure of their houses, and other acts of the secret police, the Gestapo.
“None of us is safe,” Count Clemens von Galen said, “not even whether he be in conscience the most honest citizen, safe from not being one day taken from his own house, stripped of his freedom, imprisoned in the concentration camps of the State’s secret police.”
He concluded with a demand for justice, and a witness reported, “The men and the women rose to their feet, voices lifted in agreement and also in terror and indignation, something that is generally unimaginable here amongst us, in church. I saw people burst into tears.” (Positio, op.cit. Vol. 1 Summarium, p. 418)
His words spread everywhere. The following Sunday the church would be packed, and not just with locals. Some came from far off. Again he spoke plainly against the Gestapo, who had continued their work that past week.
He then urged: “Harden yourselves, do not yield; stand firm like the anvil beneath the strokes of the hammer. It may be that obedience to God and conscience will cost us our lives, our freedom, and our homes. But let us die rather than sin. May God's grace, without which we are powerless, give us and preserve in us this unshakable firmness.”
He ended by asking for prayers for relatives, “all those who suffer unjustly,” and many others. When he finished, the congregation spontaneously shouted back in response: “And for our bishop!”
Wisely said. For the Gestapo persisted in confiscating local monasteries and convents, and exiling nuns and priests in the weeks to come.