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