Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 27, 2010

Bedlam or Bethlehem, My Choice

I cannot remember why or how, but I found my way to an article in the Manchester, NH, “Union Leader” one day last week.  Nor can I recall now what in substance the article said.  I do remember that it was about the recently completed March for Life in Washington, D.C., and possibly had a paragraph or two about the country turning more pro-life, or anti-abortion.  That is about all I remember of the article itself.

I remember most, though, the comments made by readers in little boxes below the actual article.  There were about a hundred comments already appended when I read through them.  There may be as many more gathered during the last several days.  I don’t know.

As I began to read my way down the long line I noticed something taking place inside of me.  I used to be able to read those things and find among them some percentage of the population of opinion with which I could agree.  As time went on, I found that I agreed with no one; not the ones with whom I would naturally have formed some alliance; not the ones with whose point of view I would have found nothing in common.  At the end of my little exercise I stood outside both camps; those in favor of abortion, or as the position has come to be known, those who favor allowing a woman the right to choose abortion, and those who were utterly opposed to it.

Then I remembered some words from a book by Father Tadeusz Dajcer, “The Gift of Life”.  Some few dozen years ago in Poland Father Dacjer, along with a number of university students who were seeking two things, spiritual guidance in their lives, and, while living in a dangerous place (The World), a way which would help them navigate the shoals and storms of life and bring them safely home, founded a movement within the Catholic Church called”The Families of Nazareth” .

Father Dacjer devotes part of his book to something we Catholics call the Mystical Body of Christ.  In that section he speaks about what that means, and devotes some time to a thought of St. Francis of Assisi about that very thing.  He writes: ” Francis never criticized anybody.  He believed that if evil is all around, it is he and not others who must first be converted.  If such great abundance of wealth and debauchery is rife, then it is through his fault.”  A little further on, Fr. Dacjer continues: “…(S)aints turn all the cutting edges of criticism towards themselves, they strive to be converted so that the world can be better.”  (Emphasis in the original.)

In that article I mentioned, and the appended comments, there was very little of the attitude of Il Poverello that Fr. Dacjer refers to.  For the most part it amounted to a pattern of fruitless finger pointing, accusation and anger at the other side for their obstinacy, their wrongheadedness and their selfishness, stupidity, and intransigence.  As I read through them I recalled someone’s description of the inhabitants of hell eternally engaged in a battle on some great hot plain, the heat of their arguments and mutual derision causing actual flames to erupt from the ground; and no one willing to stop for an instant, indeed incapable of stopping so determined and willful were they.  That was their torment, and all of it self imposed.  Bedlam in so many words

I really thought that one could change the sides, switch the writers names, and there would be absolutely no difference in the underlying emotional attitude of either side, the mutual resistance to acknowledge the other’s humanity, the other’s “personhood”.  Isn’t it the case that one of the signs of madness is an inability to recognize anyone outside one’s own self?

I know what the truth is regarding the issue, and I adhere to that position faithfully.  Without changing a single thing in my knowledge about this, nevertheless, I can find in Fr. Dacjer’s words about St. Francis another truth, perhaps a more important truth.  It has to do with the unity of the Body of Christ, which includes simply everyone,  the disease of disunity infecting it, infecting us and the insight of St. Francis that we are all carriers, and all anti-bodies at the same time.

Soon, on February 2,  forty days after Christmas we will celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Christ.  There’s a certain irony in all of this, a bitter humor in the events surrounding the timing of that article, the March, the comments and the reactions of people on all sides of this issue while a helpless infant called the Son of God Incarnate, born in the little town of  Bethlehem, is carried by his parents to Jerusalem.  Soon we will relive a march of another kind to end on a hilltop outside of the city on a Friday afternoon a victim of madness because He was simply asking people to understand that they were, among other things, each of them responsible for what was wrong in the world and should begin to do something about it.

It all makes a kind of crazy sense to me; the way things fall into place around the connection of the name Bethlehem to bedlam and what I discovered last week reading that article and listening to Fr. Dacjer’s words about St. Francis and the way he thought about this, and all evils.

I cannot ignore such seriously evil things as abortion, but I can, at least, begin to understand that, as St. Francis knew, I am responsible for it, too.

I have been sitting quietly with that knowledge for the past few days, who never lifted a hand against, or thought a harmful thought about, a child in the womb.  How could it be?  Yet it is.  From Bethlehem to bedlam, from the quiet manger I take comfort in at midnight to  a burning plain in eternal night which is the stuff of nightmare.

In the same section where Fr. Dacjer writes about the insight of St. Francis he writes these words, “The reformation of the world and the transformation of others must begin with ourselves.”  Because, you see, we are responsible for all of it.


  1. I believe that the great problem in this matter is for us to attempt to understand why abortion has the appeal that it has. Evidently those involved are mightily unhappy about their “choice”. Underlying the wordy defenses of the act, there is a great hysteria; whence the ferocity of the defenders. If we try to begin to understand the underlay, we might arrive at saving the aborters from their actions.

    • Thank you for the comment, Gabriel. As regards why abortion has an appeal…if that can be a word applied to the concept…I do not really know. Or, more precisely, I cannot understand. It seems to me as I think about it to be compounded of a mixture of ignorance (of biology, and a whole lot of other things, ethics, fairness and morality being in there, too), materialism (secular, of course), humanism (ditto), legal fictions and defiance due to pride and a loss of innocence. Now, I am thinking, merely, about those who practice and provide, here, though there seem to have been recent admissions about biology which were not made heretofore. Sort of the “granted, but…” kind of admissions about the humanity of the child.

      I do not begin to understand the , or even speculate that it has one, the “appeal” of abortion for the woman bearing a child who considers one. Along that line, what I recently read in Harry Sylvester’s novel “Dayspring” written in the 1940’s was surprising. Even more recently I learned that Margaret Sanger was no great fan of abortion. She considered it what it was, the taking of an innocent life. She was an advocate for contraception.

  2. Thank you Lord. Thank you Father. and bless you Saint Francis!

    • Thank you, too, Alys. There is, in the mix of things, a teaspoon or two of a lady I know from NZ.

  3. Then there is a side serving of merriment to go with the gravity of all this. I’m sometimes caught between the Act of Mercy and my own moral cowardice. Or is it a different kind of balance, I wonder? Just before Christmas I was using ‘Bread in the Desert’ by Pierre Talec, published in 1973. “liturgic prayer at the kyrie on the third Sunday of Advent. I’ll quote, if I may, it will stop me going on and on..

    Lord, you say, “I want only peace.”
    Everybody can say the sme!
    In each war, on both sides,
    everyone wants peace –
    in his own way . . .
    Forgive us for not wanting peace
    the way you want it.

    Lord, you say, “I leave you my peace.”
    But what do we do with it?
    The folly of war erupts everywhere.
    Though we talk of nothing but peace,
    we do not know how to live in peace.
    Leave us your peace, O Lord;
    do not forsake us.

    Lord, you say, “I give you my peace.”
    You bequeathed it to us
    once and for all;
    and now you offer it to us each day,
    always giving and forgiving,
    never deserting us.
    Forgive us for failing to give peace
    as you give it.

    • Is it a wry smile I have on my face, now? Anyway, I think, I hope, I understand. Understand and have the courage to do the penance and carry on.

  4. You’re a good man, Peadar, and there’s a part of me that shies away from any part of this. I’m an old woman who talks to herself an awful lot, sometimes on paper even.

    The principle is more important than the issue, though the issue, it seems to me, has been central to my own life.

    But that, as they say, is a whole other story..


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