Log in
    

Praying in secret

By Carrie Handy
Respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington

 
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus exhorts His listeners: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them,” and, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray … so that others may see them.” Commenting on this, a priest I know said in a recent homily, “Most of us are pretty good at obeying this part of the Sermon on the Mount; it comes pretty easily for most of us.”
 
Pondering his statement, I wondered why that would be. Is it because in our modern culture, we are perhaps a bit too happy to have an excuse to hide our faith from the world? Here in Vermont, ostensibly the least religious state in the nation, being a Christian is often conflated with being a bigot and a hater. No one relishes that kind of calumny, but shrinking from our responsibility to be Christian witnesses to our faith may be helping to dilute its power in the wider culture and allow such error to flourish. Jesus didn’t intend for us to use His words as an excuse to let our faith disappear from the landscape.
 
Sadly, Catholic principles rapidly are disappearing from the landscape. Where they do exist, they are often the subject of criticism and ridicule. Opposition to abortion is translated into oppression of women; opposition to assisted suicide is framed as indifference to suffering. Believing in the complementarity of the sexes and that our sexuality and our physical bodies have a God-given purpose which must be respected, and which obviates abortion, sterilization, contraception, homosexual acts and same-sex marriage, to name a few examples, makes us judgmental haters.
 
Catholics today are called as never before to become informed about the truths of our faith in order to be able to explain the “why” behind the teachings that seem increasingly at odds with modern society. Unless we can articulate these truths within the wider culture, we run the risk of being swept up into a secular mindset that runs counter to basic Christian principles. As I’ve heard Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne say on more than one occasion, “The number-one purpose of the Church is to save souls.” Saving souls in today’s world means standing for truth, in charity, even when it’s hard.
 
We are called to be salt and light and leaven in the world. Standing for pro-life truths in particular can be extremely challenging in a state where abortion on demand and assisted suicide are legal. It is incumbent upon us to spread the pro-life leaven amid a culture of death and to help reignite our determination to protect the most vulnerable lives among us.
 
How to do that? Here are a few ideas:
 
* Educate yourself. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website has a wealth of material covering a range of topics related to human life and dignity.
 
* Educate others. Bring pro-life speakers to your parish and community. The Respect Life Speakers Bureau can help.
 
* Speak up. If putting yourself out there is uncomfortable, start small: Something as simple as occasionally sharing a pro-life article or quote on social media can signal to others that you are pro-life.
 
When someone in your midst displays ignorance about, or disdain for, your faith or pro-life views, “out” yourself as a believer. Don’t be afraid to let them know you disagree.
 
* Pray. Join or begin a digital pro-life prayer chain such as 9 Days for Life; volunteer for 40 Days for Life or Cenacles of Life.
 
* Participate. The Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January and the Vermont Rally for Life in Montpelier offer opportunities to show the strength and breadth of the pro-life movement.
 
* Help. Donate to Birthright, Carenet or another pro-life pregnancy care center; reach out to an unwed mother in need; become a hospice volunteer.
 
In short, put your toe in the waters: Identify yourself as “pro-life” and follow the Spirit where it leads. Above all, while you pray to your Father in secret, do not be afraid to be a witness for life in the world.
 

Project Rachel

By Tom Grenchik, executive director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
 
For any of us who have joined in a Divine Mercy Chaplet a few times, the response is automatic.  We simply hear: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion…” and our lips are already responding with: “Have mercy on us and on the whole world.” 
 
How consoling it is to embrace our Lord’s Divine Mercy and be confident in His forgiveness.  We know He will forgive any sin, if we are truly sorry. But for some, especially those who have lost a child to abortion, trusting in that forgiveness is not so easy. Even if they trust in God’s capacity and overwhelming desire to forgive them, they still often struggle with forgiving themselves. 
 
Many in our culture are deeply wounded, including many Catholics who are in great need of God’s mercy and healing. Twenty-eight percent of women having abortions identify themselves as Catholic, which translates into as many as 10 million Catholic women affected by abortion. An equal number of men have been involved, even if the extent of their involvement was to abandon the woman on discovering she was pregnant. Then there are the grandparents, other family members and friends who have also been affected. The impact on our culture and our Church is far-reaching.
 
Rare is the individual who has not encountered the trauma of abortion in the suffering of friends and family members.
 
Immediately after the 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion in our land, the U.S. bishops not only condemned that action, but they also prophetically called for the creation of diocesan post-abortion healing ministries as an integral part of the Church’s pro-life response. Being pro-life means being missionaries of mercy to those now suffering from a past abortion.
 
Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s ministry to those who have been involved in abortion, is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. In addition to offering sacramental reconciliation, the ministry provides an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals. For many who struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness, Project Rachel can gently open the door to embracing His forgiveness and mercy, as well as learning to forgive oneself and praying for the forgiveness of one’s child.  
 
In a homily as chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Boston Cardinal Seán Malley stated: “The Good News is that God never gives up on us. He never tires of loving us. He never tires of forgiving us, never tires of giving us another chance. The Pro-Life Movement needs to be the merciful face of God....”  
 
The bishops are firmly committed to extending that offer of God’s infinite mercy. More and more dioceses are increasing their pastoral outreach to women and men who have lost a child to abortion.
 
To find information on the Church’s resources near to you or a loved one, visit HopeAfterAbortion.org or EsperanzaPosAborto.org.
 
For information about the Project Rachel Ministry in the Diocese of Burlington, go
vermontcatholic.org/index.php?sid=5&pid=1050&subnav_id=100009
 
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
 
This article was originally published March 21, 2014, in the USCCB Life Issues Forum.
 
  • Published in Nation

Pro-Woman Is Pro-Life

Recent cultural conversations on the importance of women's advancement have increasingly included abortion access, perpetuating a tragic assumption that 'pro-woman' and 'pro-life' are diametrically opposed viewpoints. This belief ignores the full reality of the beauty and dignity of all human life. To be pro-woman is to be pro-life; one cannot exist without the other.

Abortion has negative outcomes for both a woman and her child, with the two-fold loss including both the destruction of the child's very life and the destruction of the mother's well-being. The aftermath of abortion for a woman often includes psychological traumatization, and sometimes physical harm. Far from promoting dignity and freedom, abortion promotes the lie that a woman must harm herself and her child in order to be free.

The idea that abortion empowers women is one of many lies in society that are, in reality, incredibly harmful to women. How many other areas in culture have women been told to endure pain and a "quick fix" for their own advancement, whether through the fashion industry, eating disorders, or cosmetic surgery? Abortion advocates perpetuate the myth that women must "jump through hoops" and do violence to themselves in order to preserve their equality and the freedom to advance in the world. 

Many women have rightly rejected the myth that they must "jump through hoops" just to be acknowledged and valued as human beings. The authentic, pro-woman position demands a woman be loved and valued for her own sake, exactly as she is—not because she has compromised herself. Abortion is anti-woman because it attacks some of what is most true and beautiful within a woman. Abortion is the very antithesis to a woman's ability to nurture and bring forth new life. 

Abortion advocates treat pregnancy like a problem or a disease. Pregnancy is not the problem; it's the lack of care for the woman—for her own dignity and life-giving ability—that's the problem. When society devalues motherhood and the ability to nurture life, making these things a source of shame and inconvenience, it increases the likelihood of a woman feeling like she has no option other than to abort her own child.

We are called to love. A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy should never feel like she must face it alone. She needs to know that others truly care about her dignity and well-being, and that there is help through a variety of sources, especially from local diocesan resources like the Respect Life office, Catholic Charities office, or local pregnancy help centers and maternity homes. Both mother and child deserve experienced care and compassion; both deserve a future filled with hope. 

As we bear witness to and build the culture of life, in what ways can we show support, both for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and for all women and the unique challenges they face? Society often objectifies women and tells them they need to reject their procreative and nurturing abilities just to be equal to men and to feel respected. But there is much we can do, in our personal witness, to counter these lies. When we celebrate and support women in all their unique gifts and contributions—including their life-giving capacity—they will be encouraged to make life-affirming choices for both themselves and their children.

To be pro-woman is to be pro-life. If we want to change the cultural conversation, we must be a part of it. 


--------------------
Kimberly Baker is Programs and Projects Coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on local help for any woman facing a difficult pregnancy, please visit www.heartbeatinternational.org.
  • Published in Nation

US bishops support Conscience Protection Act

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to both Houses of the United States Congress on February 8, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644, S. 301).

The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the bishops noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.  “The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”

Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government… mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”

The full text of their letter to the Senate.
More information on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights.
 
  • Published in Nation

March for Life

Tens of thousands of pro-lifers filled the grounds near the Washington Monument and marched up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 27 as both a protest of legalized abortion and a celebration of successful pro-life efforts across the country.
 
In years past, the March for Life -- which takes place on or near Jan. 22 to mark the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion virtually on demand -- has been almost a battle cry for the uphill and constant fight faced by those in the pro-life movement hoping for more abortion restrictions and ultimately an end to abortion.
 
This year's March for Life, under mostly sunny skies and 40-degree temperatures, was decidedly more upbeat, in part because one of the first speakers was Vice President Mike Pence; this was the first time a vice president attended the rally.
 
Pence, who has marched at the event before as a participant and addressed it as a congressman, repeatedly told the crowd -- huddled together in winter coats and hats in front of the stage -- that "life is winning" and assured them the Trump administration was behind them.
 
Kellyanne Conway, special adviser to Trump, and the first on the speakers' list to address the group -- holding aloft placards but none of the usual giant banners, which were banned for security reasons -- similarly got plenty of cheers when she said: "This is a new day, a new dawn for life."
 
The scheduled presence of the vice president, only announced the day before, required the rally perimeter to be fenced in and the crowd to enter through long lines that had formed at security checks.
 
Participants seemed unfazed by the required wait, taking it in stride with the day. Some pulled out their pre-packed lunches and started eating, others prayed the rosary. These marchers are used to plenty of hardships from weather conditions alone at the annual march.
 
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, noted that the group has been marching in all types of bad weather over the years. She also pointed out that amid recent discussion about crowd size at events in Washington, it was hard to measure the number of people that day or for the total who have come out for the annual march over the past four decades. "The only number we care about is the 58 million" lost to abortion since it was legalized, she said.
 
As in years past, the crowd was primarily young, with a lot of high school and college-age groups. It was something the speakers took note of, saying this generation would not only keep the pro-life movement going but bring about changes.
 
Mary Ann Vann, a retiree who made the trip from Trussville, Ala., for her sixth march, said the most exciting thing for her each time she has taken part is seeing the young people.
 
Vann, a parishioner at Holy Infant of Prague Parish in Trussville, said she hoped the energy at the march could be channeled into everyday support for the pro-life movement, something she is involved with on a regular basis with sidewalk counseling, volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers and helping young mothers with basic needs. She also said she is disheartened by hearing those who say pro-lifers are only concerned about babies because she and her fellow volunteers not only bring pregnant women to their doctor's appointments but also help pay their medical costs.
 
Jim Klarsch, a member of St. Clement Parish in St. Louis, who came with a busload of eighth-graders, also is involved with pro-life work with the Knights of Columbus at his parish. In Washington on his second march, he said the experience was "empowering."
 
Standing alongside Constitution Avenue waiting for the march to begin, he said the crowd, which was already filling the street to each side and behind him as far as the eye could see, reinforced his feeling that "this is not just a day but a lifelong mission."
 
Many of the march signs were pre-made placards with messages such as "I am pro abundant life" or "Defund Planned Parenthood" and "I am the pro-life generation."
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Sanctuary of the womb

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

"Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother's womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?" he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb "a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother's tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity."

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States -- first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but "clinging within to that 'pearl of great price,' their faith," and today's immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, "should it shock us" that "such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth's environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers," Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine's Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year's March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of "several hundred" seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington received hearty applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included "senior White House officials and a special guest." No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court. 

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond's homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan's in terms how acceptance of abortion is "used to justify" other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day's Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, "Jesus says, 'Let them come to me, let them come to me.'"

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed "the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade." Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but "one was not" mention.

That reason was "the witness of so many people for life," he said. "Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church," he added to applause. "You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life," the archbishop said to still more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers' parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, "we will continue to witness, and with God's help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life."
  • Published in Nation

Hearts go out to women in crisis pregnancies

It didn't take long for Nicky Peters to feel the drama of being a sidewalk counselor outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul.

The 19-year-old sophomore at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and member of St. Ambrose Parish in Woodbury had decided last spring to take her pro-life passion to the streets. She signed up to volunteer with Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul and paired with Ann Redding, the organization's sidewalk counseling coordinator.

This past June, the two showed up hoping to encounter women with unwanted pregnancies. It was Peters' first time.

"That day was amazing," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I met Ann there, and within the first hour, a woman came up to us and told her (Ann) that she had changed her mind about having an abortion, but she had already had part of the procedure done."

The woman told them that clinic workers had inserted laminaria sticks to help dilate her cervix to prepare for the abortion, but she had changed her mind. She jumped off the examination table and left the clinic without having them removed. When she encountered Redding and Peters on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, Redding hustled into action, leading the pregnant woman to nearby Abria Pregnancy Resources. Two months later, a healthy baby boy was born.

Peters, who is studying sign language interpreting at St. Kate's, as her school's known, will never forget that day. In fact, it's what gives her the strength to spend hours alone on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood, sometimes enduring insults and profanity hurled her way by vocal abortion supporters.

"It all goes back to that first day; the passion that I have is about helping these women," said Peters, who does sidewalk counseling twice a month for about two-and-a-half hours each time. "My heart goes out to them, honestly. A child is such a wonderful thing that I'd do anything to help (the pregnant women)."

The seed of her current volunteer role was planted one year ago at the annual March for Life in Washington, marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in all 50 states. She made the trip out on a plane, but rode back on a bus chartered by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis when flights were canceled because of a powerful storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in the mid-Atlantic region.

She rode back with other teens and young adults from the archdiocese, plus three women who belonged to Katies for Life on her campus.

"All these women were talking about how involved they were in the pro-life movement," Peters recalled. "One girl in my college group who does a little bit of sidewalk counseling and is a prayer supporter described what it was, and it really sounded like something that I was called to do. I loved being pro-life and I really, really wanted to be more involved, so I looked into it, did some research and decided that this was for me and I wanted to do it."

After going through a seminar and training, she went to Planned Parenthood with Redding, who has been in her role with Pro-Life Action Ministries since 2000.

"I'm just really glad she's on board," said Redding. "She's out there to be compassionate with people. Whether it's a 'save' or not, we're recognizing the humanity of the child that's (in danger of being) killed. Secondly, we are letting people know that we care about them."

Redding noted that Peters is the perfect age for counseling because most of the women who come to Planned Parenthood for abortions are 20 to 24 years old. She estimates that 30 of the 200 regular sidewalk counselors who volunteer through the pro-life group are in that age group. Many are seminarians who come regularly on Friday afternoons.

"This is the best age group to be out there on the sidewalk," Redding said. "The college-aged have physical strength, idealism and beauty. Young people have that beauty that draws someone to talk to them."

However, the responses can be negative, even ugly, at times. Peters has discovered this, which initially surprised her.

"I do take a lot of heat, especially on the sidewalk, and even from people on campus," she said. "I get profanity, the middle finger. I get anywhere from, 'Oh, you're just totally wrong,' to large profanity statements."

In between the encounters are long periods of silence, in which she sees no one and must figure out useful ways to spend her time.

Her go-to practice on those occasions is prayer. She recites decades of the rosary and calls on the intercession of the saints and Mary. Her words to God and to the people she meets are steeped in a deep faith that believes she is making a difference, and a faith that keeps her coming back for more, even when the coldest days of the year may lay ahead.

"I just love it, honestly," she said. "It can get a little bit discouraging, but I always have to go back to that first day of helping that woman. I just have to go back to that day because I know that that truly was amazing, and I have to keep doing that so I can help more women. Even though people will give me the middle finger, I just have to sit there and pray for them and pray for a change of heart."
  • Published in Nation
Subscribe to this RSS feed
Bishop's Fund Annual Appeal