Politics & Policy

Defining Divinity Down

Remaking Christ in our mess of an image.

‘This is a loving, caring Jesus,” is how the director of a play involving abortion described a leading man to the New York Times.

The play, written by a Notre Dame grad, recently took to stage at the University of Delaware. The dialogue includes a gal asking Christ: “Did you ever say, ‘I’m Jesus, and I say that stupid girls who let guys talk them into going to the back seat of their cars have to have babies?’ Did you say that ever?”

“No,” Jesus replies.

“All you talk about is, be nice to each other!” the teenager continues. “You never said nobody’s allowed to have an abortion.”

The fictional Jesus confirms her assertion.

“So can I? Can I? Can I?” she asks.

“Honestly, I — I don’t really have an issue with it,” Jesus tells her.

Honestly?

Honestly. Rather than uplift and challenge, the hallmark of great art, this just seems to bring Jesus down to our broken level. Where’s the hope in that?

Recently, I spent a Saturday night in the heart of Washington, just blocks away from the White House, with college kids who were too young to have seen much of Pope John Paul II, but wanted to learn about him. At an event hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) on campus at George Washington University, John Paul’s biographer, George Weigel, talked about the late pontiff’s formation, his faith, and his place in history.

What was most impressive about the event was the questions. The students wanted to know what fed John Paul, what made him who he was, what kept him faithful, where he found his courage.

They wanted to know how they could do it too.

What made John Paul so attractive to so many was his loving, caring courage. That he was able to bring Christ and His teachings to people in a loving, caring, and still rock-solid way. That he was able to stand before world leaders and admonish them, demonstrating a loving, caring concern in doing so. It was the same courage and concern that helped him to face down the evil of Communism in his homeland and beyond.

I don’t want to pick on the Notre Dame playwright. I’m more inclined to want to apologize. Who was it who made her think that mercy means validating abortion? Was it in the education she received? Was it in the fallen witness she saw on campus, in the pro-life movement? In this way, in bringing these questions to mind, her play does inspire, it does challenge.

They’ll know we are Christians by our love, we pray. But sometimes, all too often, what they see is something different. Heaven knows, it’s typically our failures that get more attention.

But the Notre Dame graduate doesn’t have to remake Jesus into a “loving” and “caring” abortion proponent. If it is mercy that she seeks, it is at the heart of Christianity, not in a reinterpretation of “Thou shall not kill.” Those kids may have goofed, but there is a life inside her now. And that life deserves as much mercy as anyone.

We know way too much about the unborn to deny that.

And if she looks around enough, John Paul II and the beloved Mother Teresa were not alone as contemporary witnesses of a loving, caring, pro-life message. Christians abound who are loving and caring in their defense of life: The Sisters of Life in New York, religious women whose charism is protecting the most vulnerable among us — the unborn, and their families, even, yes, past the point of delivery. The young men at the filled-to-capacity North American Pontifical College in Rome and closer to home at its domestic brother, the Josephinum, in Columbus, Ohio, forming “Spiritual Fathers for the New Evangelization.” The young women Oprah noticed on her show, joining a convent in Michigan in shockingly healthy numbers — and they’re not alone. There is a renewal going on, one of service and catechesis. One that, in many ways, defies the last few decades.

Christ asked a little more of us than to be nice to one another. We must do that. But we must also not walk away from other truths just because it can be hard to stand against an evil. We must know what it is we say we believe.

There is actually a lot of love out there for those kids in the back seat. And the best-intentioned abortion activist is actually only affirming and feeding what has become a moral mess.

We sure know the pursuit of unhappiness.

That night at GWU, a young man talked about his “reversion” to the Catholic faith of his family. A lot of what he saw in college was not the recipe for any kind of happiness. Confession changed his life. Knowing he wasn’t the end-all changed his life. There is “freedom,” he said, in seeking to know God’s will. It’s actually a relief to know that we are not one another’s final judge. Now this young man works with college students, helping them sort through their own discernments about their lives. And on Saturday nights in the coed dorms.

On Good Friday, the culmination of the season that began with us going among coworkers and fellow commuters with those outward symbols of our sins — ashes on our foreheads — Christians reflect on our ignorance, on our bad witness, on our fallenness. And take comfort in the mercy of a God who knows us too well to condemn us because of our mistakes, as long as we are contrite, as long as we keep getting up to walk with Him — and helping one another do the same. On campus, in politics, on the stage of the University of Delaware, and in and out of the back seat.

You don’t have to believe (we have free will, in a free country). But those of us who do ought to embrace what we’ve been given. There may be no gift-giving this holiday season. It’s because we’ve got the best gift yet: loving, caring mercy.

I know somewhere at Notre Dame they still teach something about that.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at klopez@nationalreview.com. This column is available exclusively through United Media. 

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