Watering the Seeds of Faith

by Kathryn Jean Lopez
A journalist beheaded in Iraq, suicide and divorce at home — and yet, there is good news too.

The beheading of an American journalist — news out of Iraq alone is enough to tempt many Americans to never turn to the news pages again. Although, if you go to the celebrity pages for some kind of escape — as obviously many do, or Kim Kardashian’s seemingly every move wouldn’t be chronicled — that doesn’t necessarily lighten the mood. Too often, the headlines tell of disaster, death, divorce, confusion, and family disintegration.

Those headlines aren’t confined to celebrities, of course. The male suicide rate in the U.S. is something we shouldn’t tolerate as mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers. We have an imperative to reach out to someone who might feel alone — or who is obviously ostracized or otherwise on the margins.

But then I see a woman walking a homeless man from the back of an urban church to a restaurant for lunch. You read the stories of courage and faith under actual fire. To Westerners living fairly free and comfortable lives, the story of elderly Iraqi Christians refusing to convert to Islam under threat of death should be a clarion call to do more with our own lives. And yet there is that tendency to look away out of indifference to their plight or complacency about the gifts we’re stewards of (in this case, religious freedom) here at home.

And then, of course, there is the here at home. Marriage is the bedrock institution of a healthy society, the place where children get their start at being good citizens, learning about love and giving and sacrifice. But, well, marriage is a lightning rod of an issue today, to say the very least, and is so often talked about only as a matter of political debate. But our marriage problem is so much more than that. As a recent report from the Heritage Foundation on leading social indicators points out, since the 1960s, the marriage rate in the U.S. has dropped by about 50 percent. As W. Bradford Wilcox notes in his chapter in the report, “The nation’s retreat from marriage means that only about half of the nation’s adults are currently married, and that about half of the nation’s children will spend some time outside an intact, married home.”

We don’t like to talk about these things because they do get into some of the most personal of choices, but building a culture where men and women and children are encouraging one another is in many ways a more pressing problem than what we spend the most time debating. 

Still, here at home, it isn’t entirely bad news. In that same Heritage report, there is something you probably wouldn’t have in mind given some of the events of the last few weeks: From 2002 to 2012, “the violent crime rate declined by 107.5 crimes per 100,000 people, or 21.7 percent.” Among the explanations Heather Mac Donald points to is what New York City implemented in 1994: “rigorous data analysis, strict accountability for local commanders, the enforcement of quality of life offenses, and proactive pedestrian stops intended to avert crime before it happens.” At the same time, prison reform and ministries help both with all-around accountability and with humanity — if we have an environment where a man who has been convicted and imprisoned has no sense of his own dignity and becomes hardened in order to survive, we’re both inhumane and asking for trouble. These are matters we can’t afford to be indifferent to, for the life of our souls and that of our society.

The Heritage report also points to the drop in the abortion rate over the last decade. In 2011 it was the lowest since 1973, when abortion became legal nationwide with the Supreme Court’s overreaching Roe v. Wade decision. Most of us, whatever we think of the legality of abortion, know it is not a good — remember Bill Clinton famously saying it should be “safe, legal, and rare,” even though he later vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion not once but twice during the years he was president. Presumably the former president could join us in celebrating the fact that, although we have among the most permissive abortion laws in the world, still, abortion is on the decline.

Here, too, we could afford to step away from all of the same old debates and come together and support the work of maternity homes.

James Foley, the journalist ISIS beheaded, had written an essay for his alumni magazine about the power of prayer. Not prayer that we direct with our own agendas, but that we really humble ourselves to. Writing about being held in prison in Libya in 2011, he said: “I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour, to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.” He had been given a treasure by his family, and he kept his faith.

Immaculée Ilibagiza will tell you how praying the rosary saved her life and strengthened her heart while she was in hiding during the Rwandan genocide. A rosary or the Lord’s Prayer — for the untying of the knots in our lives and in thanksgiving when good things do happen and endure — is a pointer to higher things and to destinations and ambitions beyond ourselves. Even in the midst of terror, if we keep watering the seeds of faith, hope, and love, grace abides and light can be seen. As long as we keep looking, and keep from looking away.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute , editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She is a contributor to the Heritage Foundation’s 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity: The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America.