Politics & Policy

No Silent Night

Pausing for the reason for the season.

All is not calm. All is not bright or right.

ABC’s prime-time show Scandal had lead character Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), D.C. “fixer,” at work. After encouraging the ex-wife of her boyfriend, the president, to finish the filibuster she had begun on Christmas Eve to stand up for continued funding for Planned Parenthood, the flagship of the abortion industry, Olivia went in for her own abortion. The background music for the scene was the Christmas hymn “Silent Night.”

“Heavenly hosts sing ‘Alleluia,’” you heard Aretha Franklin sing, as the abortion began.

It was an incredible juxtaposition. But probably apt. Mary Eberstadt writes in her How the West Really Lost God how foreign Christmas can be to people today. If you did not live as a family with a mother and a father growing up, or if one or the other was a source of pain, what does the Holy Family look like to you? If you never knew your father, what does God the Father and God the Son mean to you? How are you drawn into this? How does Christianity make sense?

And yet, our culture adopts some of the smells and bells. Wreaths and red Starbucks cups. Santa. We argue year in and year out about a “War on Christmas.” The real poverty is a culture that has lost sight of what the day and the season is: the celebration of the gift of God Himself to humanity.

But today, for the Christmas episode of one of the most popular shows on television, the Incarnation is background music to an abortion. A quick Google search finds praise from Salon and Huffington Post and others: “Daring.” “Brave.”

Planned Parenthood issued a statement after the episode applauding the show’s creator for including abortions in her shows (there was a previous one on her Grey’s Anatomy): “We applaud Shonda Rhimes tonight — and every Thursday night — for proving that when women are telling our stories, the world will pause and watch. We just hope those in Congress — and throughout the nation — who are steadfast on rolling the clock back on reproductive health care access are taking note.”

Abortion is far from the only violence on Scandal. A man was shot in the head by Olivia’s ex-boyfriend a moment before we went inside the operating room with Olivia. The show has torture scenes of the likes of 24, for those who remember some of those (I walked out of the room where I was watching that show a time or two, so graphic were they).

A monologue from Olivia’s father narrating as the show transitioned from dead man with hole in his head to Olivia in stirrups with a vacuum about to go on explained further. “Family is a burden . . . a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you.”

#share#Since the murderous attacks in Paris, I’ve been listening not to “Silent Night” but to “Joy to the World.” If that sounds about as jarring a juxtaposition as an abortion set to “Silent Night,” consider for a moment the frequently overlooked or forgotten third verse: “No more let sins and sorrows grow, / Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, / Far as the curse is found.” 

The curse seems overwhelming — so deep into human hearts and family life. And yet, if Christmas is real, on December 25 many still will find ourselves yet again “behold[ing] with nearly breathless wonder,” as Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P., put it in a homily just after the Newtown school massacre in 2012, “the birth of the one who, taking on our humanity, will lay down his life for us in the Sacrifice of the Cross so that we can become sharers in his divinity. This wonderful exchange restores us to life, making possible things otherwise completely beyond our reach and imagination: namely, participation in the divine life, and forgiveness and healing of our sins.

“Born into our human nature, Christ makes it possible for us to be reborn as his brothers and sisters in the communion of Trinitarian love,” Di Noia continued. “By assuming our human frailty, the sinless one is victorious within the very arena of earthly existence where we lay under the curse, condemned to sin and death. Not from outside, but from within the arena of human existence, he comes to make his blessings flow. Like a flowing river, the uncontainable surge of his grace streams into every crevice and corner of our lives, sweeping away our sins and sorrows, and all the thorns that infest the ground.”

How far does God’s grace reach? “Far as the curse is found, deep into the dark fissures of our hearts where the thorns of envy and malice, pride and lust, greed, hatred, and despair would find a niche and thrive. How far then do his blessings flow? As far as the curse is found.”

Knowing that mercy is a solid reason for hope.

There is something appropriate about applauding an abortion on TV just before Thanksgiving, as the Christmas decorations go up, because this is the air we breathe. Murder. Death. In the name of freedom. In the name of religion. But that is not the God of Christmas. That is not the God who freed His people. And family, rather than being the “burden” and “antidote to greatness” of ABC scripts that keep America watching, can be the key to knowing love again.

At the end of that Christmas episode of Scandal, after the abortion, when misery seemed to set in more deeply, “Ave Maria” was the send-off music. We should all pause and watch and listen. To the woman who said “yes” to the child who changed the world.

The world needs fearless women who know hope amidst suffering and open people’s hearts through loving patience. May we celebrate this, too, as we approach a season of gratitude and the greatest love.

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