Women Saints: Virgins, Martyrs…and Mothers

Virgin and martyr. These titles are those that the Church has chosen to sum up the crowning achievements of Saint Agatha, whose feast day we celebrated this past Friday. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Catholic traditions surrounding the veneration of saints, labeling a person according to her sexual habits (or lack thereof) and cause of death might seem a peculiar way to extol someone’s holiness. Those who are more familiar, however, likely glance over these designations without giving them a second thought. In fact, it seems like whenever a woman saint’s feast day comes around we are celebrating yet another virgin and martyr.

This preponderance of female virgins and martyrs populating the Church’s liturgical calendar might give one the impression that the only way for a woman to achieve sainthood is to swear off men, die for the faith, or (better yet) both. One might wonder, “What’s up with the Church’s fixation on virginity?” Truth be told, this fascination is not limited to the Catholic Church. In our present day and age, when gratuitous sex is the entertainment industry standard, meeting a virgin—at least for adults in some circles—can seem like the equivalent of encountering an endangered species or perhaps a unicorn. (They do exist!)

Take for example “Jane the Virgin”. This title could easily be lifted from a book on the lives of the saints, but in fact it is a relatively new comedy series. (With witty writing, colorful characters, and hilarious pokes at the telenovela genre, the show is very much worth watching.) Motivated by a childhood promise to her beloved abuela and her desire to avoid repeating her mother’s mistakes, the show’s protagonist has maintained her commitment to save herself until marriage well into her 20s. Needless to say, Jane is quite surprised when she discovers that she is pregnant, as it turns out, on account of an emotionally distraught doctor mistaking Jane for another patient who was supposed to be artificially inseminated.

Throughout the series, other characters are typically shocked when they learn that Jane is a virgin. Even her own mother seems to think it would do Jane good to satisfy her natural desires from time to time. Only her devoutly Catholic grandmother, a relic of an era gone by, unfailingly supports Jane in her (relatively) chaste lifestyle. Despite sometimes feeling like a bit of a freak, Jane is determined to achieve her plans for a perfect life, which she believes would be compromised should she lose her virginity and become pregnant. When she does improbably (miraculously?) become pregnant, Jane is initially distraught. It was all for nothing. Her life is ruined despite all her sacrifices. However, as the series progresses, Jane comes to look upon her motherhood as the greatest blessing of her life. Read More

UN: Assad Regime Guilty of Extermination, Crimes against Humanity

NBC News describes a new report from the United Nations on crimes against humanity in Syria:

Thousands of civilians are being secretly imprisoned, raped, tortured and exterminated by Syria’s government as it wages a bloody civil war, a United Nations commission found Monday.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria lifted the lid on what it called a systematic, country-wide pattern of prisoner abuse by President Bashar Assad’s regime — which it said amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The government’s crimes against prisoners included “extermination, murder … torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts,” according to a report from the commission published Monday.

Tens of thousands of detainees have been arrested in what the commission described as a “countrywide pattern” of arbitrary detention over allegations such as supporting the opposition or being “insufficiently loyal” to the government.

While most prisoners are men, some women and children as young as seven years old have died in regime custody, the report added.

None of this is really news to anyone who has been following the Syrian civil war. But it does shine a spotlight on the costs of the Obama administration’s feckless response to these mass atrocities. And now Assad’s ally Russia has joined the regime in committing war crimes, killing thousands of civilians through the use of indiscriminate weapons and by directly targeting the innocent, mirroring Assad’s tactics. It is all part of a coordinated strategy to leave the two sets of mass murderers—the Assad regime and ISIS—as the only two groups left standing.

The Vatican continues to repeat its persistent calls for a negotiated settlement, while Assad, Iran, and Russia seek a military solution to the war. Unlike the threat of American strikes (in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons), Russia’s indiscriminate bombing has not prompted a special day of prayer or any other direct response from Pope Francis. Nor has the Vatican shown any signs of remorse for siding with the Assad-Putin-Iran-Hezbollah alliance in negotiations, a disgraceful decision, which is magnified with each new report of the alliance’s crimes against humanity. Even with the brutality of the Assad regime and its malignant intentions on full display, we still are not seeing real moral leadership from Pope Francis (or many other Catholic leaders, for that matter), such as denouncing those by name who are committing these crimes against humanity and demanding in the name of God that they stop slaughtering innocent people.

Does the Catholic Church believe that mass murderers, who murder, rape, torture, and disappear innocent civilians, are legitimate authorities? If the Church and its leaders sincerely believes in its teachings—that governments exist to serve the human person and that their legitimacy is intimately linked to this responsibility—then the answer should be clear: mass murderers belong behind bars, not in palaces or presidential suites. But we are hearing silence on the matter. And silence is complicity.


The Four Preeminent Political Issues Facing the United States


Bishop Robert McElroy has a new article at America, in which he discusses faithful citizenship:

In Francis’ message he made clear that the core of the vocation of public service, and of all politics, is to promote the integral development of every human person and of society as a whole. It is a vocation that requires special and self-sacrificial concern for the poor, the unborn, the vulnerable and the marginalized. It is a commitment to pursue the common good over that of interest groups or parties or self-aggrandizement. It is a profoundly spiritual and moral undertaking.

This same spiritual and moral identity is also emblazoned upon the most foundational act of citizenship in our society, that of voting for candidates for office. Thus, ultimately it is to the citizens of our nation as a whole that the challenge of Pope Francis is directed. Catholic teaching proclaims that voting is inherently an act of discipleship for the believer. But American political life increasingly creates a distorted culture that frames voting choices in destructive categories that rob them of their spiritual character and content…..

The primary step of moral conversion to the common good requires an ever deeper affective understanding of how the commitment to the dignity of the human person radically embraces each of the issues that Pope Francis identified as constitutive of the common good of the United States at this moment in our history. It requires, in a very real sense, the development of “a Catholic political imagination” that sees the mutual linkages between poverty and the disintegration of families, war and the refugee crisis around the world, the economic burdens of the aging and our societal lurch toward euthanasia….

Bishop McElroy also outlined the “four pre-eminent political issues facing the United States that touch upon life as gift and responsibility in a decisive way”:

The first is abortion. The direct destruction of more than one million human lives every year constitutes a grievous wound upon our national soul and the common good….

The second is poverty. In a world of incredible wealth, more than five million children die every year from hunger, poor sanitation and the lack of potable water. Millions more die from a lack of the most elementary medical care….

A third pre-eminent issue centering upon life as gift and responsibility is care of the earth, our common home. The progressive degradation of the global environment has created increased poverty and death among many of the poorest peoples on earth….

The final pre-eminent question at stake in the political common good of the United States today is assisted suicide. For at its core, assisted suicide is the bridgehead of a movement to reject the foundational understanding of life as gift and responsibility when confronting end-of-life issues.

You can read the full article here.

Around the Web (Part 2)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

As Children Die Reaching for Europe’s Shores, Empathy Fades by AP: “Images of children victims encapsulated the drama. In one, a boy about Aylan’s age is lying on a rocky shore, a pacifier attached to his clothing with a plastic chain, a hat with a pompon on his small head. In another, a Turkish policeman readies an older boy for a body bag. But for many viewers, the moment of awakening had already passed.”

President Carter vs Guinea Worm by Tulip Mazumdar: “There were just 22 cases of the devastating Guinea worm disease in 2015, according to a human rights organisation.  The Carter Centre, which was set up by former President Jimmy Carter, said that represented a 83% drop from the 126 cases reported last year.” Read More

Around the Web (Part 1)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Glamour of Evil by Gerald Schlabach: “If a social diatribe were a sufficient response to the glamour of evil, one could lament many more examples of our culture’s preference for appearance over substance. Increasingly, it seems that advertising has come to evoke ephemeral style over the actual qualities of products; politicians fast-track their candidacies through grandstanding rather than through accomplishments at actually governing; recreation is indoors, two-dimensional and virtual rather than three-dimensional and engaged with the real world of woods and neighborhood; the tenuous commitment of cohabitation replaces the lifelong covenant of marriage; “hooking up” takes the place of courtships, and pornography displaces even the slightest intimacy; and young people face incessant pressure to succeed by branding themselves as though they too were products. Simply to tell a story of cultural decline is itself superficial, however. Nostalgia for the past also tempts us to, yes, glamorize the past. If something is truly new and different about our current situation, it is not that glamour now tempts us but rather that new technologies of media and marketing are perfecting the capacity to project allure and apply patina.”

The diplomatic case for America to create a safe zone in Syria by Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey: “As the talks proceed, Obama and Kerry must also consider stronger measures to protect millions of civilians at risk, including establishing humanitarian corridors to reach those subjected to air assaults by the government and attacks by terrorist groups on the ground. Most important, we believe the Obama team will have to reconsider what it has rejected in the past: the creation of a safe zone in northern Syria to protect civilians, along with a no-fly zone to enforce it.”

What Republicans Should Say by David Brooks: “Cameron called for a more social approach. He believes government can play a role in rebuilding social capital and in healing some of the traumas fueled by scarcity and family breakdown. He laid out a broad agenda: Strengthen family bonds with shared parental leave and a tax code that rewards marriage. Widen opportunities for free marital counseling. Speed up the adoption process. Create a voucher program for parenting classes. Expand the Troubled Families program by 400,000 slots. This program spends 4,000 pounds (about $5,700) per family over three years and uses family coaches to help heal the most disrupted households.” Read More