Today’s Gospel seems to tell a Tale of Two Peters. Jesus asks his disciples the pivotal question: “Who do you say that I am?” It is Peter who proclaims in reply: “You are the Christ!”
Peter is able to see supernaturally, beyond the humanity of Jesus to His divinity. God will continue to reveal to him what is more than human, and so give him the grace to lead the Church.
But like yesterday’s story of the blind man whose ability to see comes in two stages, Peter is still blind to the full mission of the Christ he has just professed.
Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this He turned around and, looking at His disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mark 8:31–33)
It is easy with 21st-century hindsight to scoff at Peter’s blindness. We who know the good of Good Friday, the joy of Easter Sunday, the promise filled at Pentecost—we can accept the mangled God on the cross, perhaps a little too easily. We can shrug off the scandal of suffering. We wear the cross around our necks, hang it above the doorway, see it every Sunday on the altar at Mass.
One of the most powerful, but deeply dark and disturbing, stories that I have ever read is told by Stephen Mosher in A Mother’s Ordeal. The book follows the story of Chi An, who comes of age during the Communist Revolution in China, and whose life later becomes entangled with China’s brutal One-Child Policy.
It is not an easy story to read, not just because of the shocking cruelty and violence, but because it lacks a comfortable division between victim and perpetrator. Chi An was both.
Following the birth of her son, Chi An became pregnant a second time, in violation of the population agreement she had been forced to sign on her wedding day. When her pregnancy was discovered, population control officers compelled her to go to the hospital to have an abortion. She and her husband were heartbroken, but reluctantly complied. “How can an egg break a rock?” her husband asked sadly.
In her pain, however, (or perhaps in part because of it?) she went on to implement the very policies which had cost her her child—and which had now become the infamous One-Child Policy. “By now my envy of women with more than one child had hardened into something akin to resentment,” she admits. Her primary role was to convince women to agree to abortion or sterilization voluntarily—but if they did not agree, more drastic measures were taken.
She became a primary enforcer of both mandatory sterilization and abortion. The stories that she tells are deeply horrifying. Women were subjected to extreme pressures to give in to “remedial measures” but when they did not comply, abortions were done anyway by force—even in the ninth month, even during labor. When one baby boy survived even that, she watched as the doctor quickly took care of it.
At one low point, Chi An’s own best friend Ah Fang went into hiding to protect her unborn child. Chi An ruthlessly tracked her down, finding her in her last month of pregnancy. When labor began, Ah Fang begged Chi An not to call anyone, to look the other way until her child was safe. Chi An did not.
Later, her doings caught up with her, as Chi An herself became pregnant with an illegal child. She sought asylum in America (where she was living temporarily due to her husband’s work). Even from afar the Chinese government exerted pressure to abort, threatening not only her but those she loved back in China with all sorts of punishments. She became again a victim of the same policies she had worked to enforce. As she fought to save her daughter, the guilt and grief over all of the horror that she had participated in began to fill her life. “‘What right do I have to have this child,’ I thought bitterly, ‘while so many others have lost theirs?’”
Chi An found no way to escape the pain of her past: “‘What good is your regret?’ I sneered at my newly awakened conscience. ‘How does it help the troubled and despairing women, now forever barren, who you tortured, aborted and sterilized?’”
One day, to her surprise, her husband suggested they go to church. She had no experience with Christianity—her family was atheist, and her husband’s family had been either atheist or Buddhist. Yet one Sunday she found herself in Saint Michael’s Catholic Church and, for the first time, was confronted with the crucifixion.
I was fascinated by the painful figure on the cross above the altar. Why would anyone worship a dead god? I thought to myself. Chinese gods were always robust and happy…the idea of a dead God was simply absurd. Surely the fact that this man had been killed proved that he wasn’t a God at all. Who would want to kowtow before a defeated creature, I thought, unless he was not a mere a creature at all but the Creator? But then why had he allowed himself to die? It was almost beyond belief, certainly beyond the human imagination. The wildest dreams of human beings, I was sure, could not have begun to conjure up a dead God. Perhaps there was something to this after all.
I remembered the hundreds of women who I had forced to have abortions, how they had writhed and screamed and cried. I remembered my own abortion, how I had writhed and screamed and cried. If this tortured figure was God, then surely he felt and understood the pain I had felt and caused. Was there in his death some larger meaning?
…Months later, I made my first confession—and felt at peace with myself for a long time. The little hands that had been clawing at me could no longer reach me in the new place where I lived. My mind laid the little-boy-who-would-not-die to his rest. From now on the only cries that would wake me at night were that of my newborn daughter.
I was forgiven, but justice demanded that I do more…how could I help women still in China? I resolved to begin by telling Steve my story, however painful that might be, so that he might write it.
*You can read Chi An’s story in its entirety in A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy by Stephen Mosher, published in 1993. For those readers who have Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, this book is currently available as a free selection.