Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pope Says Freedom Is Realized in Service

Delivers "Lectio Divina" on Paul's Letter to Galatians

ROME, FEB. 23, 2009 ( Human beings are truly free when we live in the truth of our dependency on God's love, count on him to provide all things, and serve others, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this Friday in a visit to Rome's major seminary, in which he delivered a "lectio divina" on the text of St. Paul to the Galatians: "You were called to freedom."

"At all times," he noted, "freedom has been humanity's great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times."

The Pontiff posed these questions to the seminarians: "What is freedom? How can we be free?"

Referring to St. Paul's exhortation to not use freedom as an opportunity for the "flesh," the Holy Father noted that this "flesh" refers to "the absolutizing of the I, of the I that wants to be all and have everything for itself."

He explained: "In short, the absolute I, which does not depend on anything or anyone, seems really to possess freedom. I am free if I do not depend on anyone, if I can do everything I wish."

However, he pointed out, this is not freedom but rather the "degradation of man."

True freedom

Benedict XVI asserted that "we are free if we become one another's servants."

He added: "To reduce oneself to the flesh, apparently raising oneself to the rank of divinity -- 'I, man alone' -- introduces a lie […].

"This goes against the truth of our being. Our truth is, above all, that we are creatures, creatures of God and we live in relationship with the Creator.

"We are rational beings, and only by accepting this relationship do we enter into truth, otherwise we fall into falsehood and, in the end, are destroyed by it."

The Pope underlined the dependency that we as creatures have on God, who loves us. Thus, he said, "our dependence implies being in the realm of his love, in this case, in fact, dependency is freedom."

He added: "And because of this to see God, to orient oneself to God, to know God, to know the will of God, to insert oneself in his will, that is, in the love of God is to enter increasingly into the realm of truth."

Serve others

The Pontiff turned his focus to the relationship each person has with each other. He said, "In other words, human freedom is, on one hand, to be in the joy and great realm of the love of God, but it also implies being only one thing with the other and for the other."

"Only a shared freedom is human freedom," he affirmed, and "in being together we can enter the symphony of freedom."

The Holy Father stated: "To serve one another becomes an instrument of freedom, and here we can include a whole philosophy of politics according to the social doctrine of the Church, which helps us to find this common order that gives each one his place in the common life of humanity.

"The first reality that must be respected, therefore, is truth: Freedom against truth is not freedom. To serve one another creates the common realm of freedom."

"By participation in the sacraments," he pointed out, "by listening to the Word of God, the Divine Will, the divine law really enters our will, our will identifies with his, they become only one will and thus we are really free, we can really do what we will, because we love with Christ, we love in truth and with truth."

© Innovative Media, Inc.

Nationwide Initiative to Combat Global Poverty


Catholic Relief Services

The Initiative is being launched by catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Bishops and calls upon Catholics to act and advocate for the poor.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) today launched the much-anticipated Catholics Confront Global Poverty initiative. Introduced at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Capitol Hill, the two-year nationwide effort calls upon one million Catholics to confront global poverty by defending the life and dignity of people living in poverty throughout the world and to urge our nation to act and advocate.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace at the USCCB, announced the launch of the initiative, followed by Ken Hackett, President of CRS. Both speakers urged Catholics throughout the country to help educate and mobilize their fellow Catholics in confronting the many faces of poverty around the globe.

“We are part of a worldwide community of faith,” said Hackett. “Both CRS and the USCCB listen carefully to the Church in developing countries as we seek to serve the needs of the poorest members of the human family.”

The Catholics Confront Global Poverty initiative focuses its efforts on seven key areas that require more attention to effectively confront global poverty: promoting comprehensive foreign assistance reform; completing the debt relief agenda; addressing global climate change; promoting reform of U.S. trade and agriculture policies; supporting transparency, participation and consent of local communities in natural resource development; employing significant resources in peace building; and addressing the root causes of migration.

“Catholics throughout the country can help address these very important issues through prayer, learning, advocacy, education and giving, the five main pillars of action for this initiative,” says Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, Chairman of CRS’ Board of Directors. “There are countless stories of poor persons and communities all over the world rising above crushing poverty. Our mission as Catholics is to stand in solidarity with them and help them in this fight.”

The Catholics Confront Global Poverty initiative was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 World Day of Peace Message, Fight Poverty to Build Peace, in which our Holy Father declares: "Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world's poor through globalization will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights."

Background information, sign-up instructions, action alerts, podcasts and other information is all available on the new Catholics Confront Global Poverty website: or The new site allows visitors to take action and access real stories of people harmed by global poverty. The site also includes a variety of resources for use by families, parish youth groups, college campuses, religious communities, catechists and other groups that wish to participate in the initiative.

The Octomom Moment

Will we finally start regulating the IVF industry?
February 24, 2009

ivf Some of the more disturbing aspects of contemporary western culture all seem to have converged in the recent birth of octuplets to Nadya Suleman, a single mother in California: voluntary single parenthood via sperm donors, manufacturing of babies in Petri dishes, freezing live human embryos indefinitely, a renegade scientific and medical community. It's hard to get one's head around the situation and address it directly because nothing about it is normal or natural, from beginning to end.

Let me be quick to preface my thoughts, however, by asserting my gratitude to God for the lives of these eight tiny babies, all unique human individuals whose gift of existence we welcome and cherish. We pray for them and for their mother.

That said, a case like this reminds us that in the brave new world, the bizarre is quickly becoming the new normal -- underscored by the fact that countless observers were arguably more stunned by images of Suleman's supersized, pre-birth abdomen than by the consideration of the choices she made.

Space and time limitations don't allow me to touch on all of the aspects of the octomom phenomenon which demand our reflection. I might mention in passing two questions we should be asking.

First of all -- as Kay Hymowitz asked in last Friday's Wall Street Journal -- 'Where in the World is Octodad?' While other countries have banned sperm donor anonymity, the U.S. leaves an easy out, allowing clinics to pay men an average fee of $200 per deposit of ejaculate, to "suggest" that they volunteer to be identified to their eventual offspring, but reassuring them in the end that responsibility ends at conception.

Secondly, why did Suleman, in an interview on the Today Show, describe in vitro fertilization (IVF) as her "only option" for having a "big family"? Traditional marriage did not end up on her short list of options. Call me utterly naïve, but I would like to know her reasons.

Notwithstanding the chaotic plethora of social disarray all combined into the Suleman incident, there is one common thread here that invites vehement and immediate public scrutiny from multiple sectors and across all ideological lines: the billion-dollar artificial reproductive technology (ART) industry.

Suleman was the poster child of Beverly Hills infertility specialist Michael Kamrava. Only 33, Suleman is single and unemployed. She has had six pregnancies resulting from fertility treatment by Kamrava. Four of her pregnancies were of single children, one pregnancy resulted in twins, and the last pregnancy resulted in octuplets. Single women longing to have children are no problem for the ART industry.

Nor is it a problem for the unregulated ART industry to spawn renegade physicians -- like Kamrava -- who take the industry's normal disregard for human life to new extremes. The octuplet birth is about as close as you can get to a medical miracle. Multiple gestation pregnancies are fraught with danger for both the mother and the children: maternal risks include preeclampsia, miscarriage, high blood pressure, and stroke. Fetal risks include premature birth, low-birth weight, cerebral palsy, still-birth, as well as the long-term health problems associated with premature birth or low-birth weight.

According to Nadya Suleman, her doctor transferred six embryos in the procedure that led to her octuplet pregnancy (and if this is true, two of the embryos each gave rise to a twin). Of course, transferring multiple embryos in the face of unacceptable risks is perfectly legal in the wild west of ART medicine. There is no legal regulation on the ART industry beyond physician certification and certain lab standards. There are no professional sanctions, and the "suggested" guidelines certainly do not prevent physicians from doing the unthinkable.

The process begins when doctors hyper-stimulate a woman's ovaries to prompt the release of dozens of eggs at a time (a process that is itself fraught with serious, and potentially deadly, health risks). The eggs are mixed with sperm (either from the woman's partner, or -- in the case of Suleman -- from an anonymous friend) and by the hand of a laboratory technician, a small cohort of living human embryos comes into being. The doctor, in consultation with the mother, determines how many of these to implant, and how many to freeze for potential future implantation.

Some European countries try to minimize the human loss involved in ART by limiting the number of embryos that can be created to two or three, and requiring the transfer of all living embryos, so none are consigned to the absurd fate of being frozen for potential future "use." In the U.S., however, it is not uncommon for doctors to transfer as many as 3 or 4 embryos in fertility treatment in the hopes that one embryo will survive and grow. When two or more embryos implant and grow, the physicians routinely recommend "fetal reduction": abortion of one or more of the growing babies to lessen the compound health risks associated with multiple gestation. (According to Suleman, her doctor implanted six embryos for each of her successful pregnancies.)

It's no surprise that even proponents of IVF are crying foul. "I find it a huge ethical failure that she was even accepted as a patient," University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan told the New York Times, given that Suleman was already a single mom with six children.

The ART industry is fiercely defended on the grounds that it helps desperate, infertile couples bring "wanted" children into the world who otherwise might not exist. This defense wholly embraces the idea that the ends justify the means. In ART, the "means" are the deliberate creation and destruction of some human beings in favor of others. And for this completely unregulated, very powerful, billion-dollar industry -- where "success" is defined as the birth of a child and innovative techniques move quickly to clinical practice without oversight -- no cost, it seems, is too great.

Suleman's doctor profits from her "success" because his clinic gets to report successful pregnancies that result from treatment. The information about clinic success rates is public, gathered and reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The higher the success rates, the more attractive the practice. Therefore, in the highly competitive, highly lucrative and completely unregulated field of ART, there is tremendous incentive to implant multiple embryos to increase the chances of a pregnancy.

In the United States, out of the more than 138,000 treatment cycles reported in 2006 (the most recent data available), almost 90% of treatment cycles involved the transfer of more than one embryo; 44% involved the transfer of three or more embryos. Clinics are supposed to report the number of embryos that implant along with the subsequent number live birth babies that result from the treatment. But the CDC doesn't publish information on number of babies in the established pregnancy, so the number of babies that are destroyed by "selective reduction" -- likely thousands a year -- is not publicly available.

Taking a step back, it's hard to deny that the ART industry is almost solely responsible for the current social climate where a living human embryo is now regarded more as a product or resource than as the individual human being that it is. Through ART, the scientific and medical community has been able to create, manipulate, study, and destroy hundreds of thousands of human embryos. And currently, about 400,000 are frozen indefinitely in the United States alone, according to the most recent, reliable data. Additionally, these frozen individual human embryos have been targeted for years now by researchers who want to cull new lines of human embryonic stem cells from them.

To say that ART has opened a Pandora's Box of cultural ills is among the grossest of understatements. But perhaps the octomom episode will constitute a watershed moment ushering in the long overdue era of regulation for an industry that feeds on innocent human life in the name of fostering it, thinly concealing unbridled greed with a veneer of putative compassion

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pelosi's mouse slated for $30M slice of cheese

Talk about a pet project. A tiny mouse with the longtime backing of a political giant may soon reap the benefits of the economic-stimulus package.

Lawmakers and administration officials divulged Wednesday that the $789 billion economic stimulus bill being finalized behind closed doors in Congress includes $30 million for wetlands restoration that the Obama administration intends to spend in the San Francisco Bay Area to protect, among other things, the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents the city of San Francisco and has previously championed preserving the mouse's habitat in the Bay Area.

The revelation immediately became a political football, as Republicans accused Democrats of reneging on a promise to keep so-called earmarks that fund lawmakers' favorite projects out of the legislation. Democrats, including Mrs. Pelosi, countered that the accusations were fabricated.

See related story: Deal reached on historic stimulus

Politics aside, the episode demonstrates that no matter how hard lawmakers argue that they technically lived up to their pledge to keep specific projects from being listed in the bill, there is little stopping the federal money from going to those projects after the legislation passes and federal and state agencies begin deciding where to spend their newfound dollars.

Programs for sexually transmitted diseases, smoking prevention, a clean-burning power plant and a computer center also appear ready to get infusions of money once the bill becomes law, congressional offices told The Washington Times.

"One of the proudest boasts of Democrats supporting their trillion-dollar spending plan is that it doesn't contain earmarks. But it seems like powerful Democrats will still find a way to bring home the bacon," said a frustrated Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who took direct aim at the mouse.

"This certainly doesn't sound like it will create or save American jobs," Mr. Steel said. "So can Speaker Pelosi explain exactly how we will improve the American economy by helping the adorable little" critter?

A spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi said Republicans "fabricated" the claim.

"The speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. This is yet another contrived partisan attack," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. "Restoration is key to economic activity, including farming, fisheries, recreation and clean water."

Republican lawmakers said they learned of the marsh money when asking about how various agencies plan to spend stimulus money. The vitality of the mouse has been an issue for Mrs. Pelosi and other California Democrats since the early 1990s.

President Obama boasts that the stimulus plan contains no earmarks because Congress technically did not use the earmark process for lawmakers to request and drop in specific spending items. Congressional leaders were putting the finishing touches on a $789 billion final version of the bill Wednesday night. It was not clear how many of the programs criticized by Republicans remained in the package.

Some of those items that Republicans are calling earmarks include $200 million for a clean-burning power plant in Mattoon, Ill., and $750 million for the National Computer Center and $500 million for the National Institutes of Health offices, both located in Maryland.

Other spending questioned by Republicans -- but not considered on the chopping block -- are $275 million for flood prevention, $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges and libraries, and $650 million for the digital TV converter-box coupons.

The list goes on: $1 billion for administrative costs and construction of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office buildings, $100 million for constructing U.S. Marshals office buildings, and $1.3 billion for NASA, including $450 million tagged for science.

Then there is the $300 million for hybrid and electric cars for the federal government. The funding includes golf carts for federal workers.

For more political news, check out the latest Washington Times blog posts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan: Betsy McCaughey

Commentary by Betsy McCaughey

Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Republican Senators are questioning whether President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill contains the right mix of tax breaks and cash infusions to jump-start the economy.

Tragically, no one from either party is objecting to the health provisions slipped in without discussion. These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle, until recently the nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Senators should read these provisions and vote against them because they are dangerous to your health. (Page numbers refer to H.R. 1 EH, pdf version).

The bill’s health rules will affect “every individual in the United States” (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.

But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”

Keeping doctors informed of the newest medical findings is important, but enforcing uniformity goes too far.

New Penalties

Hospitals and doctors that are not “meaningful users” of the new system will face penalties. “Meaningful user” isn’t defined in the bill. That will be left to the HHS secretary, who will be empowered to impose “more stringent measures of meaningful use over time” (511, 518, 540-541)

What penalties will deter your doctor from going beyond the electronically delivered protocols when your condition is atypical or you need an experimental treatment? The vagueness is intentional. In his book, Daschle proposed an appointed body with vast powers to make the “tough” decisions elected politicians won’t make.

The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.

Elderly Hardest Hit

Daschle says health-care reform “will not be pain free.” Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt.

Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost- effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council (464).

The Federal Council is modeled after a U.K. board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis.

In 2006, a U.K. health board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. It took almost three years of public protests before the board reversed its decision.

Hidden Provisions

If the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill passes the Senate in its current form, seniors in the U.S. will face similar rationing. Defenders of the system say that individuals benefit in younger years and sacrifice later.

The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined (90-92, 174-177, 181).

Hiding health legislation in a stimulus bill is intentional. Daschle supported the Clinton administration’s health-care overhaul in 1994, and attributed its failure to debate and delay. A year ago, Daschle wrote that the next president should act quickly before critics mount an opposition. “If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it,” he said. “The issue is too important to be stalled by Senate protocol.”

More Scrutiny Needed

On Friday, President Obama called it “inexcusable and irresponsible” for senators to delay passing the stimulus bill. In truth, this bill needs more scrutiny.

The health-care industry is the largest employer in the U.S. It produces almost 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Yet the bill treats health care the way European governments do: as a cost problem instead of a growth industry. Imagine limiting growth and innovation in the electronics or auto industry during this downturn. This stimulus is dangerous to your health and the economy.

(Betsy McCaughey is former lieutenant governor of New York and is an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Betsy McCaughey at

Last Updated: February 9, 2009 00:01 EST

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Legionaries Acknowledge Founder’s Behavior


Catholic News Agency

“We can confirm that there are aspects of his life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.'

NEW HAVEN (CNA) - Responding to unconfirmed revelations of misconduct by the Legionaries of Christ Founder Fr. Marcial Maciel, the U.S. spokesman for the Legionaries of Christ has acknowledged unspecified actions that “weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.” However, he insisted that Fr. Maciel “was and always will be the father of the Legion.”

The blog “Exlcblog” claimed that Fr. Scott Reilly, the Legionaries of Christ Territorial Director in Atlanta, Georgia announced to those in the Territorial Direction that Fr. Maciel had a mistress, fathered a child, and lived a double life. The blog claimed that the Legionaries of Christ is therefore renouncing Father Maciel as their spiritual father.

CNA contacted Legionaries of Christ spokesman Jim Fair, but received no specific confirmation of any allegations.

“We’ve learned some things about our founder’s life that are surprising and difficult to understand,” Fair told CNA on Tuesday.

“We can confirm that there are aspects of his life that weren’t appropriate for a Catholic priest.

“Obviously he had human feelings but it remains true that through him we received our charism, which has been approved by the Church.

“Our commitment remains and we‘re going to go forward and love Christ and serve the Church,” he remarked.

Asked to verify the specific allegations, Fair replied:

“Fr. Maciel died over a year ago and obviously whatever has happened is between him and God and God’s judgment and mercy, so we’re going to let him take care of that.”

CNA asked Fair to verify whether the Legionaries of Christ were distributing information on the allegations through their regional directors.

“We communicate internally, but I can’t make any comment beyond that,” Fair replied.

“I know that there have been rumors about are we somehow denouncing him. Obviously we are not. Fr. Maciel was and always will be the father of the legion.

“One of the mysteries of our faith is that God sometimes works through flawed human beings.”

In 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, citing Fr. Maciel’s advanced age and declining health, decided to forgo a hearing into allegations he sexually abused around 20 different teenage recruits to the Legionaries of Christ as far back as the 1980s. The Congregation invited Fr. Maciel “to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.”

Fr. Maciel died on January 30, 2008.