On Leana Wen’s ouster

Dr. Leana Wen was forced out as Planned Parenthood leader this week, as a result of their board determining that Dr. Wen’s vision of Planned Parenthood as a comprehensive healthcare provider risked compromising their commitment to abortion. Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, issued this statement:

“Planned Parenthood has long claimed that healthcare encompasses the intentional killing of unwanted human persons, and Dr. Leana Wen—despite her brief eight-month tenure—has consistently traded on her training as a physician to perpetuate Planned Parenthood’s falsehood that ‘abortion is healthcare’. The pro-life movement is continuing to rack up legal victories at the state and federal levels, and we have every intention of building on those victories until we reach a post-Roe v. Wade era, and we will do that no matter who is leading America’s deadliest non-profit.”

And I offered the following thoughts on Dr. Wen’s departure, which still strikes me as a strange strategic decision in advance of an election year:

“What Planned Parenthood’s board leadership has done,” stated Tom Shakely, Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, “is simply to confirm that Planned Parenthood is solely and ideologically committed to abortion—not comprehensive care, not patient outcomes, and certainly not authentic medicine. Planned Parenthood is a single-issue organization whose most desired outcome is the ending of the lives of their most vulnerable patients—developing members of the human family.”

“We earnestly hope that Leana Wen herself is led to a conversion of heart on the fundamental human right to life. She would be a powerful witness for the capacity of all persons to recognize the truth of a difficult issue, and serve as advocates and protectors of vulnerable human persons.”


Aloneness and loneliness

Kay S. Hymowitz writes on the decline of family and its role in American loneliness:

Americans are suffering from a bad case of loneliness. The number of people in the United States living alone has gone through the studio-apartment roof. A study released by the insurance company Cigna last spring made headlines with its announcement: “Only around half of Americans say they have meaningful, daily face-to-face social interactions.” Loneliness, public-health experts tell us, is killing as many people as obesity and smoking. It’s not much comfort that Americans are not, well, alone in this. Germans are lonely, the bon vivant French are lonely, and even the Scandinavians—the happiest people in the world, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report—are lonely, too. British prime minister Theresa May recently appointed a “Minister of Loneliness.” …

Still, the loneliness thesis taps into a widespread intuition of something true and real and grave. Foundering social trust, collapsing heartland communities, an opioid epidemic, and rising numbers of “deaths of despair” suggest a profound, collective discontent. It’s worth mapping out one major cause that is simultaneously so obvious and so uncomfortable that loneliness observers tend to mention it only in passing. I’m talking, of course, about family breakdown. At this point, the consequences of family volatility are an evergreen topic when it comes to children; this remains the subject of countless papers and conferences. …

The [20th century social/demographic] transition helped shape a social ecology that would worsen some of our most vexing social problems, including growing inequality. Throughout the Western world, wealthier, more educated parents tend more often to be married before they have children, and to stay married, than do their less advantaged fellow citizens. Their children benefit not just from their parents’ financial advantages, with all the computer camps and dance lessons that a flush checking account can buy, but from the familiar routines and predictable households that seem to help the young figure out the complex world they’ll be entering. The children of lower-income, less educated parents, by contrast, are more likely to see their married parents divorce or their cohabiting parents separate, and then to have to readjust to the strangers—stepparents, boyfriends or girlfriends, step- or half-siblings—who come into their lives. Some children will be introduced to a succession of newcomers as their parents divorce or separate a second or even third time.

Why, after the transition, did the rich continue to have reasonably stable and predictable domestic lives while the working class and poor stumbled onto what family scholar Andrew Cherlin calls the “marriage-go-round”? Observers typically point to deindustrialization and the loss of stable, decent-paying low-skilled jobs for men. True enough. A jobless man, especially one without a high school diploma, is no one’s idea of a good catch. But there’s more to the marriage gap than that. While the loosening of traditional rules gave women freedom to leave violent or cruel husbands, it also changed the cultural environment for couples trying to weather less dangerous stresses and disappointments, including a pink slip. Lower-income men and women are bound to have more financial anxieties, more work accidents, and more broken-down cars and evictions, and they lack the funds for Disneyland vacations, massages, and psychotherapists that might take some of the edge off a struggling marriage. And they see few, if any, long-term married couples who could offer a successful model. With single parenthood and cohabitation both on the lifestyle menu, what they see instead is an easy out.

When so many marriages melt into thin air, lower-income kin networks, a source of job connections, child care, and family meals, attenuate as well. Your mother’s sister’s husband—your uncle by marriage—might give you a tip about a job opening at a local machine shop; an uncle separated from your aunt and living with a girlfriend with her own kids in the next town over, maybe not. Communities flush with fatherless households tend to be troubled. In his landmark study of county-level social mobility, economist Raj Chetty discovered that places thick with married-couple families created more opportunity for kids, regardless of whether they were living in a married or single-parent household; places with large numbers of single-parent homes, on the other hand, pulled kids down—including those living with married parents. It’s hard to imagine more concrete evidence of the truth of the old cliché that family is the building block of society.

Constitutional persons

Calvin Freiburger writes on Joshua Craddock’s 2017 piece in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Protecting Prenatal Persons: Does the Fourteenth Amendment Prohibit Abortion?”:

Pro-lifers and honest pro-abortion legal scholars agree that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. But just how wrong is it? Is it bad law solely because it declares a right to something the Constitution is silent about, or does its judicial malpractice run deeper? …

The first key point of Craddock’s work, critiquing the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia from the right, is an audacious undertaking, but here it’s warranted. You see, while Scalia was a committed originalist and clear opponent of Roe, he was also of the opinion that the Constitution is neutral toward abortion – that its use of the word “persons” “clearly means walking-around persons,” and therefore, states should be left free to set whatever abortion laws they want. Craddock notes several other pro-life judicial originalists who hold (or held) this view, though Scalia is the most recent and most revered modernly.

Craddock concedes that there is some basis for this thinking because “natural rights were not exhaustively enshrined in the federal Constitution” and “states have traditionally decided the question of personhood.” However, he rightfully maintains that a truly originalist answer to the question has to consider what the word “persons” was understood to mean when the Fourteenth Amendment was written and ratified.

He proceeds to explain that layman’s dictionaries treated the concepts of humanity and personhood interchangeably, and so did legal terminology – more explicitly so, in fact. As we’ve discussed in the past, Craddock notes that Blackstone expressly recognized that personhood and the right to life existed before birth with a simple and clear legal standard: “where life can be shown to exist, legal personhood exists”…

Ignatius of Loyola on finding your purpose

Fr. Michael Rennier writes on St. Ignatius Loyola:

Asking questions about why you’re here and what will make you happy is too often neglected. When planning for the future, there can be significant pressure to obtain the highest paying job or get into the most prestigious school. The result is that we forget to examine why we want to pursue these options in the first place and never ask the most important questions. Will being a lawyer make me happy, or should I be a stay-at-home father instead? Is it worth it to go to Yale if the love of my life, the person I hope to marry, cannot go there with me and our relationship comes to an end?

Failing to consider our purpose in life isn’t a new problem. As a young man 500 years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola never took the time to consider his future. Instead, he spent his time chasing women and obsessing over fancy clothes. He also loved the bravado of shiny swords and military exploits. Eventually his way of life caught up with him when he was seriously injured by a cannonball during a battle. While in bed healing, he had time to think about his life and discover his purpose: to begin a new religious order. From that moment on he was a different man.

In hopes that it would help guide others, Ignatius wrote down some of the steps he took to discover his purpose in life. Here is some of his advice based on a chapter titled “Making a Good Election,” from his book of Spiritual Exercises.

Fr. Rennier elaborates on each of these:

  1. Pick the right time to think about it
  2. Imagine yourself in the future
  3. Ask the people who know you best
  4. Think about how the rest of your life is affected
  5. Pretend you are another person giving advice to yourself
  6. Imagine you are living your last moments

‘We have to love our way out of this’

I went to mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle at lunchtime today. I had seen earlier that today is the Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, and his life was spoken of during the homily. Bishop Barron’s Gospel reflection (on Matthew 10:34-11:1) speaks to anyone with a wounded heart:

Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus lays down the conditions for discipleship: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

There is line from the illuminator of the St. John’s Bible that states: “We have to love our way out of this.” There is nothing wimpy or namby-pamby or blind about this conviction. When we love extravagantly, we are not purposely blinding ourselves to moral realities—just the contrary. Love is not a sentiment, but “a harsh and dreadful thing,” as Dostoevsky said.

This is just what Jesus shows on his terrible cross. And this is just what we, his followers, must imitate…

“We have to love our way out of this.” If we want intimacy with God, and to learn from and imitate the lives of the saints, we can “love our way” in the most authentic sense—in striving for heroic virtue.

Potomac at sunset

What do you do in times when you feel absolutely alone?

I think we all have times where we feel this way—sometimes as a part of daily life, sometimes as a result of heartache, sometimes as a result of trauma, sometimes from a sense of failure or inadequacy, or other longing. I think most of us can identify on some level with C.S. Lewis’s observation that, “Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” A common part of aloneness is probably that feeling of “going nowhere.”

In reading Philip D. Halfacre’s Genuine Friendship today, I’m reminded that our way out of this terrible aloneness is, at its heart, in the striving for heroic virtue. It’s been said that “virtue is its own reward,” and I realize that doesn’t simply mean “doing good is good,” but that, because it is in our nature as human beings to relate to one another, virtue inherently involves right relating to those around us. Virtue is its own reward because it is the basis from which other goods flow.

In Genuine Friendship, Philip D. Halfacre writes:

There is a likeness, a similarity between God and us, and that similarity is found in our personhood. We have personhood in common with God; and persons, because they are persons, seek interpersonal union. The personalist philosophy of Pope John Paul II provides fresh insights into the way we look at God and into the way we look at ourselves. It is part of the personalist philosophy that we acquire insights about ourselves by reflecting on the personhood of God and that we acquire insights about God by reflecting on human persons.

Because we were made in God’s image, we desire at our deepest level to live in union with other persons. The human person grasps long before the age of reason that possessing the good to the fullest cannot be done in solitude. As we grow and mature, our understanding of the role that people have in our lives develops more fully. This is more than saying that we humans are social beings. We desire to live in union with others not simply because it helps us meet biological needs, but as the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said, “man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

A principal theme of this book is that love is the gift of one’s self, a gift that brings about interpersonal union. This is how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love each other. It is a love that unites. And, though not always felt, it is real. We must not make the mistake of reducing all love merely to the experience of feeling love. Love is the gift of self, and we can give a small gift or a large gift. When I was a boy, there was a retired gentleman who lived several houses down the street. I was about seven-years-old, and he was in his seventies. In the summertime, I would often go down to his house and sit outside with him. I even had my own little pint-sized chair. We would sit and visit. Though we did not think of it in these terms, we each made a gift of self to the other. It was a small gift—but a gift nonetheless. The experience of the gift of self and the interpersonal union that is created thereby is what I call intimacy.

Imagine two friends who have known each other for many years. They have reached the point where they have no fear of revealing their deepest secrets. Besides feeling free to speak about very private things, they are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the other and are willing to make personal sacrifices for the other’s well-being. Here we see a greater gift of self than in the previous example. The union is deeper, and so is the intimacy. Intimacy must not be thought of in an exclusively sexual or romantic way. There is certainly intimacy in sexual love—but non-sexual relationships can be intimate as well. The experience of intimacy is the feeling of being connected with another. It is the sense that somehow my life is a part of your life, and vice versa.

What happens when one experiences intimacy with no one? Then one has the experience, the feeling, of aloneness.

This is one of the most important graphs in the book:

Finally, healthy relating—the kind found in healthy friendships and happy marriages—is a matter of virtue. Great friends, great spouses, begin as great men and great women. It is hard to be a really good friend all the time. That is why we seldom see it. Great lovers love even when their love is not reciprocated. That is hard to do, especially over the long haul. And loving people well means loving them virtuously, which means that all love must be based on and rooted in truth.

Breathing on Mount Nittany

I spent today in Happy Valley for Arts Fest, driving up from Washington in the morning and back home in the evening. Despite seeing Ben Novak and others, the trip was a horrible one, for reasons I won’t get into. It’s always people, and never places or things, that matter.

But if you’re not with friends or loved ones, being alone in God’s creation with the space to breathe isn’t necessarily the worst place to be. This has turned out to be a small way, and certainly not the most important way, to appreciate God’s presence, but it’s something.

Catholic University scenes

It’s been a beautiful week at Catholic University of America for the Civitas Dei fellowship, which has been taking place in Maloney Hall—the home of the Tim & Steph Busch School of Business. I haven’t been able to attend every session, but those I’ve been present for have helped me think more deeply and more seriously about the commitments we’re making (or not making) to advance the common good in our society.

What I haven’t captured here is the torrential rain that kicked off the week on Monday morning, that caused flash flooding across the city. But even when it has rained, it’s been that warm-ish summer rain that leaves you wet, but not miserable.