What Were You Thinking, Sister Margaret?

Steve Roberts black ink drawing: Woman with big heart and third eye holding umbrella
Then there was the Hugh Grant moment on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  This was 15 years ago now.  It was the actor’s first public appearance since news accounts broke that Los Angeles police discovered him A) in an automobile, B) in the company of a prostitute, and C) “in flagrante delicto” (literally “while the crime is blazing”).  The story, which buzzed not incidentally because at the time Grant was in a rather media-rich romance with English model Elizabeth Hurley, culminated when he is introduced by Leno, comes out, sits down, and the first words out of Leno’s mouth are: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

A bittersweet laugh has been traveling the world ever since.  The question was precisely the thought on the mind of anyone at all familiar with the story.  Plus, there was the collective recognition, “It could have been me.”  Oh, not necessarily the prostitution part, but definitely the capacity to make bonehead moves. 

I’m reminded of Leno’s punch line by a much less amusing story told recently by New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, in his dispatch of 27 May 2010.

Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator described by colleagues as “saintly” at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, was recently excommunicated from the Catholic church by the new local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, for basically following her heart.   

A pregnant patient suffered from a complication called pulmonary hypertension, creating a high probability that continuing the pregnancy would kill her. 

Mr. Kristof notes the hospital’s official statement on the matter saying that, in this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy, a decision made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians and the hospital’s Ethics Committee.  In addition to being a member of that committee, Sister Margaret’s responsibilities had long included making such tough decisions. 

New bishop Olmsted ruled, according to Mr. Kristof, that Sister Margaret was “automatically excommunicated” because she assented to the procedure. 

To me, the essence of this story is not abortion, nor for that matter the Catholic church.  It is, rather, where each of us chooses to place our consciousness no matter what the decision is we are making. 

From Mr. Kristof’s account I infer that when Sister Margaret runs into God and He asks, “Maggie, what were you thinking, love?” she’ll answer, “How do I act in the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of You, Lord?”

To which I hear God reply, “You go, girl.”

My guess is Bishop Olmsted would answer a little differently.  “My job is following church law as I understand it,” would be the nut of his response.

To which I hear God saying, “Good lad, Tommy, but if laws in their application don’t bring about more love, what’s the point, son?”


  1. Your story is an exclamation point on why I have a problem with religion. I don’t have a problem with spirituality, Steve. Religion, yes. I believe the Great Creator is a spiritual being, not a religious one. The Beatles penned this immortal truth: “All you need is love!” If only the powerful heads of religion believed this themselves. *Sigh*

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