Firstly, I didn’t know when I agreed to come preach today that I would have to preach on the passage about submissive wives. Lucky for me, I’m not married. Don’t have a dog in that fight. So I’ll just mention in passing that any time you are inclined to look at a passage of scripture and dismiss it as obsolete, then you need to take a much longer, much more thorough, far more honest look at that passage, because all Scripture is true. Every single line. Either you’re hiding from the truth or your misinterpreting it. So…what does Saint Paul really mean when he says, “wives should be subordinate to their husbands”? I’m not getting in the middle of that one. Not why I’m here tonight. You’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.
In 2005, Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, completed a twenty-year study on predictions. “Tetlock interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends.” He asked them to assess the probabilities that certain events would occur in the not too distant future, both in areas of the world in which they specialized and in regions about which they had less knowledge. Would Gorbachev be ousted in a coup? Would the United States go to war in the Persian Gulf? Which country would become the next big emerging market? In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that
“The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.” (Thinking Fast. Thinking Slow, Daniel Kahneman)
The reason I’m starting my homily with this disconcerting lesson in human error is because I’ve spent the last several weeks making my own predictions: when a vaccine will be found, what will happen if so-and-so gets elected, whether or not we’ll get a supreme court justice, where the next riot will break out…what will happen to my senior Theology students if they don’t start turning in their blasted homework…. None of this makes me feel any better. Yet I keep doing it, because in “these uncertain times” making confident predictions about the future calms me. Admittedly, the calm doesn’t last long. I know deep down that human predictions are about as dependable as dart-throwing monkeys—and perhaps more dangerous.
Our gospel this evening offers a prediction of a different sort: The Kingdom of God is at hand. And we are to spread out through that kingdom like yeast in dough while Christ himself gently, quietly, imperceptibly transforms it. And herein lies the difference between prediction and prophecy: that the first puts frail and fallible humans in charge of our future, while the second entrusts that future to God. It’s very similar to the difference between magic and miracle; it’s a question of where we put our trust.
We’re a part of it. But we’re not in charge of it. God expects us to be faithful, not successful. And that’s what happens when you submit in humble docility to God’s will: you get peace and joy—but not necessarily comfort or happiness. “If I did not simply live from one moment to another,” wrote Saint Therese of Liseux, “it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I look only at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”
Last week, in an interview with Elle Magazine, Sen. Gary Peters, claimed in an interview with Elle magazine that his then-wife (He has a new wife now, of course.) underwent an abortion 30 years ago and she nearly died "based on politics."
In the late 1980s Peters' then-wife Heidi was in the fourth month of her pregnancy when her water broke, leaving the baby without amniotic fluid. The doctor recommended an abortion because he said the child had no chance at survival, but hospital policy prohibited the procedure.
"The doctor told her the situation was dire," the Elle story said. "She could lose her uterus in a matter of hours if she wasn't able to have an abortion, and if she became septic from the uterine infection, she could die."
To make a long story short, Peters' wife got to another hospital and had the abortion. "If it weren't for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life," Peters' former wife said.
I’d like to counter that with a very similar story. It will never get the sort of circulation that Elle Magazine has, but maybe you can tell it to someone some day. My friend is married with three kids. About seventeen years ago, and sixteen weeks pregnant, her water broke. Ultrasound revealed that the amniotic sac had completely ruptured, that there was no more fluid around the baby. She was told that she would go into labor within the next forty-eight hours, and that there looked to be amniotic bands within the womb. These pieces of tissue would begin to wrap around the baby's limbs and amputate them. She was sent home after a two day hospital stay with instructions to return weekly to have an ultrasound so that they’d know when the baby was dead. Weeks passed and still she had not gone into labor. At this point the doctors became adamant that she should—in the chillingly antiseptic language of the business—“terminating the pregnancy.” The diagnosis was that the baby, they told her, was severely mentally and physically handicapped , would be born with no lungs. A second doctor informed her that there was a less than 1% chance of the baby's survival She also said that the baby had severe club feet. The doctor said to her, and I quote, "You have a moral duty to finish what God has started." Five different doctors told her to "terminate" the pregnancy. They told her that this child was a threat to her life. What's more, they assured her that the child was already mentally and physically worthless. Even if it could be brought to term, they assured her. It would die in her arms. Even if it could survive delivery, it would be crippled and profoundly retarded. "Have an abortion." they told her. One doctor even set up an appointment for her against her wishes. "Do it now," this doctor said, taking her by the arm, "Put a period at the end of this sentence." So much for pro-choice.
When my friend broke the news to her husband, this is what he said: "How lucky for this child that she would be born into a family which could love her for who she is! What better family than ours to raise a disabled child?" I tell you, that is the kind of courage that deserves an award. I told my friend, if your husband leaves toilet seat up for the rest of his life, let it go, because he has earned it.
For two months, my friend lived with the knowledge that she would, at best, bear a child who would die in her arms. She decided to name the child Mary. In the meantime, she prayed, her husband prayed, and Rachel, Mary’s older sister, she prayed too. She didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but she knew her sister was in trouble, and I wonder sometimes if perhaps it was the profound innocence of her prayers that reached into the great well of God’s grace and extracted a miracle. I 25th week of her pregnancy another ultrasound revealed something extraordinary. "We need to call the Pope” said the doctor, "not only has the amniotic sack resealed itself, but all the fluid has returned." He called in all the interns, all the nurses, the assistants, random people standing the hallway. The amniotic bands had disappeared. The baby was in perfect health.
By now, a few of you will have guessed that I’m talking about my sister. Jessica Decker is her name, and Mary Decker, the Miracle Baby, is now an eighteen-year-old honor student at John Paul II Prep with a 4.2 GPA and has her heart set on being a pediatric surgeon.
In closing, I’m going to give you a homework assignment. A provocative, controversial homework assignment: but probably not controversial the way you’re expecting. I’m going to ask you to do something that’s going to make you uncomfortable. The Carmelites here are doing battle one-on-one with Satan right here in the cloister, but if you want to be part of this fight, then you’re going to have to be willing to be that leaven that Jesus was talking about in the Gospel—to go out into the world, mix in with the dough, and quietly cause the bread to rise. And in preparation for that, I want you to go onto Planned Parenthood’s web site, and find something you agree with.
Now I’m not suggesting that you open your heart to evil. Make no mistake: Planned Parenthood is a genocidal, racist, bastion of evil. But I am not convinced that everyone who supports Planned Parenthood understands this. And the next time you wind up in a conversation with one of these people, I want you to be able to say to them something along the lines of, “You know, I was on the Planned Parenthood web site the other day, and I thought they got this exactly right.” And maybe—just maybe—they will then visit a Pro-Life web site and find something they agree with. And maybe—just maybe—if we don’t dismiss them offhand as murderous, godless barbarians, they won’t dismiss us offhand as closed-minded, bible-thumping rubes. But we have to model for them the behavior we want to see. As hard as it is, we have to come to them with open hearts. And maybe--just maybe--there will be an alliance of two hearts that we never expected.