Monday, January 30, 2012

My first protest march


Last Monday, I did something that I would never have had the opportunity to do back home in Singapore.  I joined over 200,000 people in downtown Washington DC to march in protest against legalized abortion.  This huge and very organized event takes place every year in January in the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made it legal to procure abortions since 1973.  Apparently, it is one of the largest protests in this place where protests are commonplace activities.  Prior to the protest march per se, there was a Mass that was celebrated in the enormous Verizon centre in downtown Chinatown, and on the night before, in the Basilica right across the street from my residence, a pre-protest day Mass was also celebrated with thousands in attendance.  I only managed to march for a small part of the route, and apparently, it was so huge a turnout, despite the freezing and wet weather, it took almost two hours for the crowd to finish walking by any one spot of Constitution Avenue to end up at the Capitol Hill.
The official March for Life banner stretching across the entire width of Constitution Avenue

What draws so many people, largely Catholics (with pockets of protesters from other denomination, to be sure) to this annual event, many coming by overnight buses and trains from states that are as far away from DC as Singapore is from Thailand and Vietnam?  Mostly, it is our concerted belief that life is sacred, and that abortion is a heinous and murderous act, which must not be legalized.  Did my stand on this issue only appear on my moral compass only because I am currently living in the country where since 1973, an approximate 54.5 million lives (try wrapping your head around that number) had been denied life legally?  No.  I have always held that life is sacred, and that abortion is evil in every way.  It’s just that there has been no opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow pro-life brothers and sisters (at Hong Lim Green back home in Singapore?) to show how strongly we think about this.  Yes, I have preached about this from the Ambo before, but I also do know that it can become very emotional for someone listening in the pew, especially if that person had undergone an abortion before.   Besides, it is because this evil is so rampant and so easily procured that the moral issue is hardly given serious thought about by the people who seek this easy exit from a ‘problem pregnancy’.  Yet, this must not silence us from preaching against this egregious act that it is.  We need to name it for what it is, and murder is its name.  Funding for healthcare that is channeled to abortions in this country is another crazy matter.  How in the world does ‘murder’ come under ‘healthcare’? 

The issue that is before us is much larger than we think.  It has a lot to do with how people (young AND old) approach sex and how sacred a gift it is.  Many, unfortunately, do not see it as a gift from God.  In fact, it is one of the most precious gifts that God ever gave us because in giving it to us, he invited us to be part of the process of creation itself, something that only God has the right to do, and the ability to do as well.  He wants to share life and to share the act of life with us.  That is a privilege that we don’t even think much about.  It was with deep insight that a spiritual writer once remarked that pornography is wrong simply because it puts on public display something that is Godly.  What is happening at every sacred conjugal act is a couple is cooperating with God at the level of creation.  God is displaying himself, and no one (biblically speaking) can see God and live.  Remember Moses, and how his face was brilliantly white and dazzling after he met God?  It was a figurative way of conveying that in such intimate moments of divine encounter, there is something that just needs to be wrapped in mystery and is not meant for public display, and certainly not for entertainment or worse, recreation.  It is certainly not a right, but a gift.  The marital bed is really an altar of sacrifice, where God is present because there is a total giving and a total receiving – of lives to one another, and to God as well.  Imagine Simmons, Serta, or Omazz advertising for their mattresses this way – what prophetic teaching!

When we put aside these thoughts, and think that sex is a rite of passage to adulthood, we distort something beautiful.  When we think that sex is recreation, we adulterate something sacred.  And when we teach our children to be ‘protected’ or teach them ‘protected sex’, we are telling them that sex is dangerous, when in fact, it was (and still is) one of God’s most beautiful gifts that he bestows on humankind because it shares in his divine act of creation.  God doesn’t give us dangerous things.  We have made it dangerous, and have distorted it and disfigured it.  The words “safe” and “sex” put together certainly connotes that it is not a gift, and certainly not something precious to be handled with care and respect.  We have gone so far wrong in this that it seems a herculean task to undo it. 

Yet, we still can rely on the grace of God that we have the hope of good parenting, which dares to be prophetic.  I agree that it seems an uphill task for parents (especially Catholic ones) to speak a different language than what schools and educators tell our children about sex education.  I will continue to pray for courage for both parents and children to not only speak the right thing, but to also dare to do the right thing, and yes, to also march to a different drumbeat of life, for life.

23 comments:

  1. Pondering @ HongLimJanuary 30, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Life is indeed sacred.
    Interestingly this morning, a friend of mine posted a pro-life poster by Fr Pavone only to be questioned by her friend "Pro-life or Pro-quality of life"? I guess this is the new slant in this century. After having the ability to take life away at the start, we are now in the process of taking life away at the end too. This is inevitable conclusion of pro-choice.
    Fr, perhaps in your next blog, you would like to comment on pro-life at the end of one's life journey. How to see our death as a gift to the living...

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  2. We live in a modern secular state: take religion out of politics!

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  3. Au Contraire.... Let's take politics out of religion first!

    sharon

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  4. Your repetitive line that " life is sacred" reminds me again of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (#38) which I read some time back which states that " human life is '' the place' where God manifest himself, where we meet Him and enter into communion with Him" this statement literally ' blew me away ' coz I ve never thought about life in that way - s meeting place with God ? Yet on reflection - how very true - its that beautiful and meaningful!

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  5. As an American, I can say this: The crucial difference between Singapore and America is that Americans have the right, and moral courage to stand up for what they believe in. Singaporeans do not.

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  6. Thank you for your comment, Taylor, but moral courage isn't only defined by physically standing in a protest line. Moral courage is also about being prophetic in our living, and I am sure that many Singaporean Catholics will be ready to take umbrage with this sweeping statement about us Singaporeans being cowardly. And besides, this is not a protest blog page about having rights and courage to stand for what one believes in. In my reflections, I am offering food for spiritual thought and growth to precisely encourage Catholics to be prophetic and courageous in their daily living, whether in or out of Singapore.

    But I do want to thank you for commenting. God bless you and love you.
    Fr Luke

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  7. Dear Fr Luke
    It is difficult for me to accept a general argument that abortion should not be legalized. It is a fact that not all pregnancies occur within loving and stable relationships. I have encountered unwanted pregnancies in victims of rape, and in persons incapable of giving valid consent to sexual intercourse, like the under-aged and mentally handicapped. There are also medical situations where the life of the mother is in danger. Who are we as Catholics to insist that these vulnerable victims keep the baby come what may? Making abortion illegal would close off a real avenue of hope for the truly desperate. In Singapore, abortion has been legal since 1970, where the ‘whip’ was raised in Parliament for the first time to allow Catholic MPs to vote according to their conscience. One of the reasons and effects was to drastically reduce the rate of unsafe and unhygienic ‘back street’ abortions. Apart from medical care, a person contemplating an abortion will get proper advice about the procedure and in many cases, underaged females were identified and received proper counselling. The practical effect of making this illegal is to drive many desperate underground and to more drastic measures. This is a sensitive issue, and it does make us as Catholics think about how we can be true to our faith, while respecting the policy behind the Termination of Pregnancy Act.

    Sf.

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    1. You seem entirely ignorant of abortion. It kills babies. Neither can you be "true to (y)our faith" and believe that abortion is ever licit. Your concept of right and wrong is misplaced in your total reliance on civil law. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

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  8. Straight to the point about separating religion and politics. Well said Sf!

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  9. This response comes in two parts, as there is a limit of 4000 characters for each response. This is part one.

    Dear Sf

    Who are we as Catholics to insist that these vulnerable victims keep the baby come what may? Please allow me to rephrase that very leading question that you posed. Who are we as Catholics to determine when life begins, what a ‘good quality’ life means, what a ‘meaningful life’ is demarcated by, and to say when life is worth living, and when it is worthless and a bother?

    While I can see your point of view, it is only that, and a bit larger, perhaps. It is the view of the freedom of a woman (ok, maybe in some cases it is a couple’s freedom, but let’s face it, most of the time it is the woman’s freedom) that we are talking about. I am not saying that these unplanned pregnancies are not a fact of life. The way that we humans have been extremely libertine in our misuse and casual (mis)treatment of the gift of life and sexuality has brought this to cause. But just because there have been cases of ‘back street’ unsafe and unhygienic murders does not for one moment make it justified to legalise it via a Parliamentary vote. It’s akin to taking a piling machine to kill an ant.

    Think of the funding that could have been re-channeled to set up a solid system where these babies could be cared for and given an environment to be brought up. Yes, it seems to be a far-fetched idea because our selfish humanity doesn’t want to go that far in inconveniencing ourselves and put this kind of humanitarian aid within the ambit of our civil horizons. Instead, we have taken the easy way out, and the basis for this is, for many many cases, is to give the individual the right to live life as he/she wants, how he/she wants, and how he/she determines is what is best, without an overarching guiding principle of respecting a greater objectivity called Natural Law, written in the hearts of men and women that the life of the unborn is to be protected and respected and given as much. By the way, Natural Law is not just in the hearts of Catholic men and women. It is inscribed in every human being, but as you can see, this has been desensitized or ignored by many, who have learnt to not listen to the deepest promptings of the heart.

    (please continue in the next comment response)

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  10. (Continued from above)

    I agree it is a sensitive issue, and as you said, Sf, it does make us Catholics think about how we can be true to our faith. The problem is that I as a confessor-priest, have yet to hear any confession from a man who has persuaded, condoned and supported his wife/girlfriend to go for an abortion. And this is incredibly sad. We are NOT true to our faith. Our faith tells us that we must not be complicit in any way to such murderous acts, and by being complicit, it includes persuading, permitting, suggesting, and providing for it (yes, that may even include a Catholic Minister’s tacit approval at Parliament voting sessions). It also means that parents of daughters who have suggested that their charges go for abortions are complicit, their siblings who have told them that ‘it is better if you do it’ are complicit, and that could also be as simple as driving one’s daughter/wife/girlfriend to the clinic. It’s all part of a ‘rotting tree’ where each part is rotting from the root. In almost every confession that I have heard, it was only the woman who has admitted of the sin. I have not heard siblings admitting their part, and I have only heard of one parent coming to admit that they had encouraged this sin. The truth is, it is not just the woman’s alone. The more the abortive mentality is spread in the country by having it legalized, I am afraid, the more many will be silently tacit in agreeing with it. And I am also sad to say that my brother priests who have not spoken about this from the ambo before may also be silently guilty through lack of prophetic courage.

    It is a larger, bigger and uglier picture as you pull out from the one individual concerned, because the fact is that it is not just about the one individual. We are all parts of the body of Christ, and that is how we should be thinking as Catholics. The policy that you speak about behind the Termination of Pregnancy Act, is, unfortunately, very ‘pregnant’ with problems that law makers don’t often bring into their ambit of conscience. And I can understand why, because it takes moral courage to do so, and it is going to be very challenging in Parliament to live out their Catholic Prophetic call. We have not much problem living out our Kingly call, and our Priestly call. But a prophet is not recognized in his home, and unfortunately, a prophet is hardly appreciated in Parliament too.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Fr Luke

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  11. Thanks Fr Luke for taking the time and effort to develop the Catholic conscience. I do appreciate that abortion is intrinsically a heinous act, but to me, the taking of a life may not always be entirely unjustifiable. Sigh. Sorry to be not kingly, nor priestly and non prophetic.

    Sf.

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  12. To weigh in, Father, I don't see why Sf should apologize. He has already listed categories of women who may need the choice. We live in a secular society. Be practical. No need to add to the stigma and guilt of the ones who chose abortion, as a society we should offer practical support and not the far fetched idea of forcing tax payers to pay for the consequences of refusing to allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy. What point in revist an issue already decided on so long ago. Let's move on.

    Samuel

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  13. Dear Father, I would like to thank and congratulate you for participating in March for Life, however briefly. I would also like to thank you for having the courage to speak up on this issue, which is, literally, a matter of life and death. Abortion is the killing of innocent human life. It is murder. It can never be justified. So, please continue to speak up, Father, in the defense of Life. Thank you.

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  14. Agree with Anthony. The words of a prophet are always hard to accept as they go against the grain of human logic and the current ways of life.

    I strongly believe in the Church's stance to be pro-life. The Church has to be God-centered.

    Having said that, I also believe it is the priests' role to fill the gaps between Church's pro-life stance and the circumstances of the victims (some of which are mentioned above). Our priests have to be filled with charity and love and compassion (which is the image of God who is full of charity, love and compassion) when dealing with individual victims.

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  15. tks Fr Luke..

    Ive been receving Fr pavone email almost daily for the last few days.. Fr those who do not know who is Fr Pavone.. He is the president? for this catholic assn "Priests for Life". He is trying to stop almost abortions thru prayers and actions thruout all across america. His website is www.priestforlife.org

    While we do have not "march for life" in singapore.. nevertheless we are also seen an increasing no. of abortions here.. legally .. of course. In fact, There's and O&B specialist cheerfully advertised in his website that he perform abortions. the no. of abortions is on the rise.. and so is the rest of the other vices.. excessive materialism, lust, greed etc.. If we are not careful, we are just a few steps away from "culture of death"
    The culture here (singapore) is very materialistic inclined.. so much so that most of us have lost our sense of differentiating btw good or bad morals. The discernment approach (to morals) is almost lost except that only if it has a tangible benefits or not.. One fine example..is a young married couple thoughts of having a baby or not.. More often than not..its not the upbringing of baby.. but often the couple would think "does having a baby restrict me from carrer promo.. or freedom lifestyle?? what abt the non tangible benefits like joy, peace, love etc.. comes into mind.. I'm not saying that bring up children is easy.. but consider this as Godgiven gifts of joy and love.. So if career prospect is obstructed.. what does the wife do?? unless her conscious is properly formed i.e you shall not murder.. the next thing is to abort the child if conceived. This is one of the many reasons why so many abortions in singapore. The enjoyment of married couples having sex is ok.. but it must come with responsibilty cos sex is a gift from God.. and anything that is given by God.. one must take care of it and nourished it and grow in faith.

    g

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  16. Hi Fr Luke..

    The Church is america is under great spiritual attack. The HHS is going to be a problem btw catholics and the Obama Govt. How could the govt do such an evil thing.. This is not right.. it's an attck on faith..

    Also.. same sex marriage.. Maryland gov Martin O'malley (likely irish american) is going to sign into law legalised ssm (same sex marriage) soon. How come these many american catholic politicians are in the wrong side ?? Gov Cuomo of New york already sign in law the ssm..

    I'm a sporean and i'm been folllowing such events almost every other day.. I'm only worried that SSM will not happen in spore when i'm alive.. God forbid!

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  17. Let's move on? Yes, we can see how the society has moved on, with a staggering figure of between 12,000 - 13,000 abortions a year in Singapore (and this involved a huge number of teenage pregnancies). Are we moving on for the better or for the worse I wonder.

    Jack

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  18. And you think the figures will reduce even if you ban abortions? Drive people underground or to our neighbouring countries to do it? This is not just about abortions but our society values. We move on and try to help and show compassion within what is lawful.

    Samuel

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  19. It's sad to see how the value of a human life has reduced to mere 'politics' and 'law'. Abortion is the killing and removing of a foetus; that is a fact. As catholics, we believe that from the moment of conception, it is a life formed already - a child. Science have yet to decide when the actual moment of life is form, and really it can be subjective when you argue philosophically. However, if you don't yet know when the foetus becomes a baby (which really sounds ridiculous even as i type it) how can we even think about killing it at any time? You can't be sure you're not taking a life!

    Abortion is never a solution to a problem pregnancy. I agree whole heartedly that it seems like the only way out especially to women who were raped or young. But really, it's just using another wrong to try and fix a wrong. The objective might be right (to free the woman) yet the means is wrong (to kill the child). That is just against our human ethical code (which, may i add is NOT based on religion.)

    Like what Fr Luke said, maybe the solution should be to re-educate people on the value of sex as a gift. Unwanted pregnancies only arise because of people distorting and diminishing the immense gift that sex is. If everyone is brought to the truth of sex being something treasured and sacred, abortions for unwanted pregs will not arise. Of course that's only a hope in a perfect world. So all we can do is try. Try to spread the word, try to teach the people around us, try to save this one gift in our humankind that many do not realize. We should not keep silent; whether about sex or abortion.

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    1. I applaud everything you write here. Except "you don't yet know when the foetus becomes a baby" From the moment of conception at entry of the sperm into the ovum, a new individual is formed with his own set of genes controlling his autonomous development through intrauterine life, childhood, puberty and adulthood. How can an individual human not be a human person?

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  20. "If a person is killed, of what use are all the other rights to him or her?" Cardinal Francis Arinze (http://www.zenit.org/article-33067?l=english)

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  21. Fr Luke,

    Read this article from Fr Robert Barron and smile.
    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/290600/hhs-mandate-anti-catholic-and-un-american-rev-robert-barron

    ...The secularist state wants Catholicism off the public stage and relegated to a private realm where it cannot interfere with secularism’s totalitarian agenda. I realize that in using that particular term, I’m dropping a rhetorical bomb, but I am not doing so casually...

    ...I would hope that American Catholics would argue against the Obama administration’s move, not only because they are Catholics, but also because they are Americans.

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