Deal W. Hudson
Published March 25, 2010
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Rev. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., on the phone from his Trinity Retreat Center in Larchmont, New York. Father Groeschel is recovering from a nasty cold, and we were speaking about other matters, but I couldn’t resist keeping him on the phone long enough to hear his thoughts on the health-care vote.
This is a priest who has worked with, and for, the poor all his life. Given the prominence of the health-care reform proponents’ appeals to “helping the poor” during the many months of debate, I was interested in the opinion of the nationally known and prolific 77-year old Franciscan. (One of his latest books is After This Life: What Catholics Believe about What Happens Next.)
I remember the many times Father Groeschel has spoken to me about the wisdom of the poor, even their happiness. I still remember my puzzlement and amazement while listening to his stories of friends from the worst streets of the South Bronx.
On the subject of health-care reform, Father Groeschel had this to say: “Well, there is no doubt we should be concerned about the 30 million Americans without health insurance, but there were so many other ways to address that.” He went on to speculate that the Democrats would pay a big political price for forcing legislation with abortion funding through the Congress against the wishes of the Catholic bishops.
Father Groeschel had good things to say about the consistency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ message to the Congress and the White House, although he didn’t disagree with me when I remarked that the message could have been broadcast at a higher volume.
Then the discussion turned to President Barack Obama, and I asked him what he thought. “I think it’s a mistake to impute any kind of invidious intent to Obama – he’s from Chicago, he’s a pragmatist, a man who learned to be tough growing up.” There was something cathartic for me in hearing Father Groeschel speak about Obama without any of the rancor that has become common among many pro-life Catholics – including myself.
It’s as if he were saying to me, “Deal, I’ve been around a long time, and known a lot of people; and this kind of man and these kinds of events are nothing new – take a deep breath.”
Father Groeschel has explored the depths of the culture of death as deeply as anyone, yet he is neither tragic nor apocalyptic; laughter comes much more easily to his lips than condemnation. His mirth begins with the recognition of our human fallibility and the evil we do, but it ends with the hope of finding our redemption through faith. As the Christian playwright Christopher Fry once wrote: “Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith.”
In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard many sighs of despair, cries of desperation, and claims that it’s time to quit the fight because “it’s over.” Perhaps the reason for all the drama is not merely the passage of the disastrous health-care bill but our attitude of tragic finality about it. History does not work in only one direction, in spite of what Hegel, Marx, and the Catholic progressives claim.
What history takes away it can give back. However, nothing will be given back if we are consumed by anger toward a group of politicians who, as Father Groeschel pointed out about Obama, are mostly pragmatists rather than characters out of Rosemary’s Baby.
Yes, there are committed ideologues out there who must be fought and defeated another day. But I am taking Father Groeschel’s hint and refraining from an angry chest-beating that, let’s be serious, will only hurt my chest and gain us no advantage in the struggle going forward.
When the anger wanes, hope will remain. Therein lies our future.