This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

March 24 -- Feast of Saint Catherine of Sweden

Saint Catherine of Sweden
There's no dodging the peril that today's post brings.  Sure, Saint Catherine of Vadstena is the patron to be invoked against miscarriage.  I could leave it there and write a pleasant post, noting her filial piety and devotion to God.  I could (and will) even relate the story about the miraculous deer.  But to dodge the fact that she is also the patron saint invoked against abortion would go overshoot tact and reach cowardice.  The fact that something is one of the most divisive issues of our time is not a good reason to avoid it on a saints blog.  In fact, that's probably a reason to consider it, even if it upsets some readers. 

To begin, I have no idea why Catherine became the patron against abortion.  Saint Gianna Beretta Molla (April 28), who shares the assignment, is a clear choice.  She was a surgeon and pediatrician who, when diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, declined to abort so she could receive treatment.  She died a week after giving birth; her daughter also became a physician.  Her choice need not make sense to you, me, or anyone else -- it was her choice.  And yes, I know that many (though far from all) Christian churches do not seek to make that a matter of personal choice.  Religious instruction works that way, and folks who live in free societies can choose to follow a religious principle or not to follow it.  Religious organizations can expel folks who fail to adhere; that too is part of the freedom of association.  It's all good.

But Catherine, one of eight children of Swedish aristocrats, took a vow of chastity just after her wedding.  She was thirteen at the time of her marriage, which I mention only to remind us once more that the good old days may not have been so good for everyone.  Her husband, Eggard Lydersson von Kürnen, gets some points for agreeing to the chastity, even if it may have been driven by his declining health.  Then again, maybe I'm more appreciative of his decision because the Stieg Larsson novels, so rich in grisly sexual crimes, are also Swedish. 

Catherine cared (yes, I'm delaying the decision on what to say about the patron against abortion) for her husband for years.  In return, he supported all her religious devotions, which apparently were many.  When her father died, Eggard permitted his wife to go to Rome to visit her mother, Saint Birgitta of Sweden.  Eggard died shortly after and the beautiful young widow declined all subsequent invitations for marriage.  She cared for her mom, and then, following her mom's death, took over as the abbess of the convent that Birgitta had founded in Vadstena.

Her mom, St. Birgitta
None of that explains how she became associated with abortion, but since she is, the subject cannot be ignored.  President Clinton's wish that abortion be "safe, legal, and rare" was clever and appealing, but didn't resolve our national debate.  The US Supreme Court's thirty-nine year old decision that access to abortion cannot be totally denied by law but can be restricted certainly did not end the debate.  Rather, it has given rise to hundreds of bills nationwide that seek to impose various types of restrictions.  I have friends who consider the operation legalized murder, and others who consider restrictions on it legalized slavery.  Like the rest of the country, I despair of finding a way to resolve those positions. 

I wish that the Americans would agree to these things: 1) as a secular, pluralistic society, we have agreed that abortion will not be made illegal; 2) all legislators and policy makers will not use regulatory authority to set up hurdles to make an individual's decision about abortion more difficult than it is already; and 3) all citizens will respect that people of faith, guaranteed freedom or religious practice, can agree that the operation is anathema within their denominations.  If one group wants to buy ads suggesting that the practice is immoral, I do not think that makes them evil.  If another group wants to subsidize access to it, I do not think that makes them evil.  If we removed it from the legislative arena and debated it as a matter of morality and theology, we might never be closer to resolution, but we might step a little closer to civility in Congress.

I don't know that Saint Catherine would agree with President Clinton's formula of safe, legal, and rare, but she might be persuaded that individual decisions by moral people will prevent more abortions than legislation.  She might agree with the conservative principle that the government won't be as effective at stopping a behavior as people themselves, choosing not to engage in it.  And if so, perhaps she will pray for the USA to be guided past this division.

Whew!  That's a pretty high horse I climbed up on.  I'd better get down and tell about this deer.  I mentioned these suitors who were pursuing the young widow Catherine. Some were more insistent than others.  In fact some wanted to kidnap her and force her into marriage.  It got so bad that she took to wearing shabby clothes to make herself less appealing.  Still some persisted, like the guy who was miraculously blinded just as he was about to jump her.  Serves the creep right.  A luckier would-be rapist (I'd say abduction and marital coercion is rape) was about to grab her when he was surprised by the sudden appearance of a deer. She got away, and then the deer did too.  The medal at right shows the deer protecting her. 

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