Sunday, July 29, 2012

The abortion that gave me life ...

A Facebook friend sent me a picture of a 12-week fetus with the suggestion to “pass this along. It literally might save a life.” Whose life? Might there be unintended consequences of the decision NOT to have an abortion?

I suppose this is what my brother looked like when my mother had an abortion five or six years before I was born.  It was 1933 or 34 in Vienna, Austria. My parents were living with my mother’s sister, a school teacher, in an efficiency apartment. My father, with a Ph.D. in physics, was unemployed. The main Viennese bank had collapsed in 1931.  Austria was bankrupt. Marxists, National Socialists, and Christian Democrats were fighting in the streets. Unemployment was rampant. My parents planned to have only one child, and not until my father could afford an apartment and support a family. Both my father and my aunt considered the pregnancy a disaster. Another mouth to feed. A screaming infant in a tiny space.

Abortions were illegal and against church teachings, but, my parents believed, ending this tragic pregnancy was the only responsible thing to do.  If someone had sent my parents this picture and if they had decided against an abortion, their son could have been born. If he made it through the war, and remained healthy for decades, he would now be close to eighty. He might have become an academic like his father. He might have been a sociopath. Or anything.  He  might have had children and grand children. He might have ... The possibilities are infinite.  BUT, this much is absolutely certain, I would never have been born.  Neither would my children and grandsons and all future generations to come from them.  I would not have taught for all those years. My publications would be unwritten.  And so, ever since my mother told me of my unborn brother when I was in my teens I have thanked him for giving me life and have tried to honor him by doing my best to help build a better world for the future. 

Of course, you might say, my parents could have had a daughter years after their son was born. But that daughter would not have had my genetic makeup; a different ovum and sperm would have merged, and even if, miraculously, my clone would have been born, the girl’s life experiences would have been vastly different from mine, simply because she would not have been an only child, or, if her brother had died before she was born, his remembered presence would have affected her, and in a way very different from my gratitude to him for unknowingly having sacrificed his chance to develop a cerebral cortex which would  allow him to mature into a conscious person, capable of rational thought, memory, and emotion, a person who would be able to ponder the purpose of life and be amazed at the wonder of it all. And so, I can simply thank my unborn brother, my parents, and God for giving all of us a chance.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pentecost message from the Pfarrer-Initiative

When I visited the website of the Austrian Pfarrer-Initiative ( ) a little while ago, I was deeply touched by a powerful message by one of the courageous priests involved in this movement.  I decided to translate it, and post it in this dormant blog. There are aspects of the original that cannot be fully conveyed in English. It is, for example, addressed to a "Jubilarin" -- a female celebrating an event, such as a birthday (in both German and Latin the word "church" (ecclesia) is feminine).  The anonymous author captured what I consider the essence of the true church as reflecting into the world God's radical, unconditional, all-embracing love.


Dear birthday honoree,

Every year at Pentecost, we celebrated your birthday.  At this time, all over the world,  your friends get together in large and small groups. They look back at the varied periods of your life. They tell each other of the violent storms at the time of your birth. They recall  your baptism of fire and the enthusiasm of your early years.

I will now join the large crowd of your well-wishers. Far into your old age you have never lost sight of the life task that had been placed into your cradle:  to proclaim the Gospel to all, to offer them support and comfort, to keep them from losing hope. Thank you for this! However, with due  respect to your accomplishments, I cannot remain silent about the sorrow you are causing me at the present.

Frankly, I am worried about you. You have become pale and colorless. Your heart no longer wants to do its part. Often I notice that you are suffering from certain visual impairments and are increasingly becoming hard of hearing. You barely notice how many of your friends are turning back in disappointment, and you no longer listen to the voices of those who offer advice and assistance.

Therefore, my esteemed honoree, I ask you to determine to undergo intensive treatment. Consider your motto of which I am so fond: "Ecclesia semper reformanda" - the Church should always renew herself!

Remember the rejuvenation therapy of  the Second Vatican Council from which you  emerged with refreshed vitality! Let the texts of the Bible guide you on the path to recovery! Then - I am convinced - you will again have an open ear for the concerns of your friends and the cries for help of the people. Your eyesight will again improve. You will realize, how important it is not only to look back and bask in the glory of the past, but to look ahead and discover new tasks.

Your heart failure can be cured as well. You will receive a great heart, with room for the most diverse people. You will learn to tolerate opposing opinions lovingly,  and the freedom of which you speak can be experienced in yourself.

And so color will return to your face. It will radiate joy and hope; it will reflect something of God’s loving kindness toward people.

Dear honored friend,

As my birthday gift I bring to you my willingness to help in your recovery, and my promise to inspire others to do so as well. For we need you and still expect a lot from you.

Your pastor and spiritual director,


(Sent by a priest)

Translated from the German by Ingrid Shafer

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday

Earlier today I sent the following message to on of my email groups:
By the time I was sixteen or seventeen (in the mid-fifties) I had been pursuing the elusive, slippery specter of cultural antisemitism for years, trying to figure out how ordinary people could possibly have collaborated with the "Final Solution." I remember attending a Good Friday service at a small Franciscan (I think) church in my hometown of Innsbruck and for the first time ever really paying close attention to the words I was supposed to affirm: "Oremus et pro perfidis Judæis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum." The "treulosen Juden" (faithless, perfidious) Jews), the "jüdische Untreue" (Jewish faithlessness/perfidy). There I was supposed to pray that the veil be removed from *their* hearts and I felt that the veil had been ripped off *MY* heart/mind/eyes! How could centuries of demonizing Jews as part of officially sanctioned Christian teaching and liturgy not have poisoned the well and prepared the soil to cradle and nurture the seeds of hatred and grow a harvest of unspeakable EVIL masquerading as civic and religious duty and good? Two millennia ago ONE Jew had given his life for us, a Jew we remember as LOVE INCARNATE. A few years ago *MY* people had crucified millions of HIS people in, supposedly, his name!

I felt sick. I got up and stumbled out of the church, the gloom, the darkness, out into the light of day. I simply could not participate in what at the time seemed an utter travesty. I felt so guilty. Guilty for being alive. Guilty for having been born a non-Jew. Guilty for being part of a generation whose parents didn't rebel against Evil in part because they wanted to protect their children. An yet I knew that my deepest intuition was still right: AT THE COSMIC CORE IS LOVE!
I did not add that this is the reason I am so deeply troubled by the pope's recently rewritten Good Friday prayer which potentially undoes the post-Vatican II 1970 version:
Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption.
Once again, if Benedict prevails, it is permissible to call for the conversion of the Jews:
Oremus et pro Iudaeis ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum.
I shudder.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

first post

March 24 2008 revision: I just discovered that the original date stayed with this entry even though I wrote it over three years after I supposedly started this blog -- with an empty "first post"! Now I am not sure when exactly I did write the post, but it was no more than a couple of weeks ago. Here it starts:

Obviously I wrote absolutely nothing for my first post three and a half years ago. So this is going to be my REAL first post. I discovered this dormant account a few minutes ago. Earlier today it had occurred to me that I might be able to use a blog to keep track of some of the random thoughts that pass through my consciousness every day -- questions and insights that emerge and fade.

A woman said on the Channel 9 (CBS, Oklahoma City) news tonight how unfair it was that several good men had died in a private plane crash (possibly caused by a bird in the engine) and I wondered why anyone would connect an accidental death or any misfortune with the victim's character. That reminded me of another one of my pet peeves, a friend telling me when something good happens to me that "you deserve it," usually adding a comment about the hard times I had experienced in the past!

Fate doesn't reward or punish. As Rabbi Kushner pointed out, bad things happen to good people. And, of course, good things happen to bad people! Nature isn't fair or just. Nature simply rolls along , randomly distributing gooddies, or taking them away. In addition, my good fortune might be another's misfortune. The fact that an ovum is fertilized means that a some 300 million sperm cells lose the race and die and 300 million potential babies are not conceived.

Thirteen years ago, after the Murrah Building bombing, one of my students told me that God had saved his father who had walked away from his desk at exactly the moment that side of the building collapsed and the desk was swallowed up. Obviously, I didn't say so at the time, but all I could think of was the implication of this comment. If one believes in such a direct divine intervention then one must also accept that God chose not to save the dead and injured!

Enough for tonight. I need to get some sleep.