Pentecost Countdown -- Day 1: Understanding

Protesters asking El Salvador's Supreme Court to save Beatriz's life
Someone from my community posted a suggestion about Ascension Thursday (yesterday): why not use the 9 days until Pentecost to meditate on the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit --Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Fortitude, Counsel, Understanding, and Wisdom?

Today, I ponder "understanding," or how "we comprehend how we need to live as followers of Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes." (source: Wikipedia)

And just in time for this reflection, I received an article from a friend about "Beatriz," a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman facing a grueling, life-and-death predicament:
Nearly one month has passed since lawyers representing Beatriz, a 22-year-old pregnant woman suffering from lupus and renal deficiency, filed a petition to El Salvador’s Supreme Court of Justice requesting an exception to the country’s total ban on abortion. A positive ruling would allow Beatriz (not her real name), who has a young child, access to the procedure she needs to save her life. The Supreme Court has yet to make a decision on the case, despite the fact that doctors at El Salvador’s national maternity hospital determined that Beatriz’s pre-existing medical conditions mean that the threat to her life increases as her pregnancy continues.
The article goes on to discuss how El Salvador's constitution severely restricts (to the point of a total ban) all access to abortion:
The Salvadoran constitution guarantees a secular state, yet the country’s policies on abortion reflect extremist religious views rather than best practices in public health. Not only is abortion prohibited by law in El Salvador, but women suspected of inducing an abortion (including those who miscarry naturally) may be tried for homicide and have been sentenced to as many as 30 years in prison. Doctors and other medical personnel suspected of assisting in an abortion procedure also face jail time if convicted.
You would have to live under a rock not to realize that the Catholic Church considers all abortion to be gravely illicit. In  theory, a person involved in abortion is unable to be absolved (formally pardoned)  from this sin by a parish priest. Only a bishop can do the job. If he chooses to.

But as cases like Beatriz's highlights, an absolute ban on abortion is tantamount, in some circumstances, to a death sentence for the mother. Abortion opponents would say that allowing Beatriz to terminate her pregnancy would put us on slippery slope -- I assume, a slope that leads inexorably to wanton murder, barbarity and cannibalism. Yet, the Beatriz case shows that refusing to place a toe on the slope can lead to dire consequences as well. Some abortion foes solve the problem (of maintaining a pro-life status while ignoring a mother's life) by denying that the mother has a right to her own life. They argue that the mother has had a chance at life, and the fetus must get one too. There are stories from Catholic hospitals of doctors saying that "we can't save all mothers" -- in other words, that adult females are expendable if one has to choose between the life of a mother and her baby.

You have to admit the grim irony in proving your pro-life bona fides by allowing women to die.

The gift of understanding asks us to take a long, hard look at our own motives and at the entirety of the effects of our decisions. In the case of abortion, it means taking the lives of the fetus, the mother, the family and the society into consideration. It means (for clerics especially) asking whether a total ban on abortion is good for one's soul, or just good for one's ecclesiastical career. It should also mean knowledge that the choice to end a life, whether a fetus's or a mother's, may be a weight you may have to carry for the rest of your life.

A life lived in the grace of the Holy Spirit is not guaranteed to be an easy one, free of hard choices. It often means accepting that hard choices are the only ones we have. That is the hard truth of living with the gift of understanding. Perhaps it is those who flee from understanding -- who reject the call to perfect their "speculative reason in the apprehension of truth" -- who are the ones most in need of this gift.