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In the likeness of God

The human, unlike other creations, is distinctly made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26-27). Though we can forever discuss exactly what that means, I propose that at least part of what that means is that in a way which is far more complex than in any other creature, the self-aware human being possesses the ability to make decisions informed by reflecting on the past and reasoning through the possible future. The presence of the human within the rest of the created world makes a huge difference because human beings can know the effect of our own existence.
 
What effect is humanity having on creation right now? No human has made a greater impact on the world of life (and death) than the Spirit made flesh, the human being called Jesus of Nazareth. Some may argue that glorifying all creation diminishes the significance of the Incarnation in the form of human flesh. But, the significance of the Incarnation is in no way lessened by glorifying all creation. In
fact, employing the capacities for reflection and self awareness that are indicative of humanity, we see that the Incarnation of God as human further supports glorifying creation in its entirety.
 
The Word made flesh manifested itself in the specific flesh of the human, but that human did not exist in a vacuum. That human existed in and among and in relation to the rest of the created world. Jesus “was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it attention full of fondness and wonder” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
By stating that God became human, one states that God became part of the intricate
web of life that exists on this planet and in which humanity takes part. God became
subject to the ecosystems and relationships of this world — whether they were in right relation or whether they were crooked, broken and disturbed. “One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross” (“Laudato Si’”). Not only did God dwell among creation, but in the person of Jesus Christ, God became embedded in the genetic, scientific history of life on this planet.
 
Pope Francis reflects on the cosmic significance of Christ as exemplified in the Eucharist: “The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to
reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter … he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist … is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life…. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. ... Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation
for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
Motivated by our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and in the world, we must utilize our unique, human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility” (“Laudato Si’”) to have an effect on the world that is truly life-giving. Being made in the image and likeness of God demands nothing less.
 

Fatima’s message still relevant

In 21st-century arrogance, some might say, “Seriously! You are bringing up Fatima when there is strife around the world; when there is incredible division in the country; when poverty and problems in the healthcare system abound! And moral standards are deplorable.”
 
Yes. That is right. Are we any different from the world a century ago toward the end of  “The Great War?” The message of Fatima, given to three children tending sheep in a town in Portugal beginning in May 1917, is really quite simple: Pray and repent; do penance. Without such a conversion, there would be another great and tragic war. That prophecy surely was fulfilled in World War II.
 
The world has not undergone the conversion that was called for at Fatima. In fact, conflict and hostility have grown. Terror attacks happen somewhere in the world almost daily. A number of nations now have at least some nuclear weapons capability. Sporadic use of chemical weapons has continued despite international treaties banning them. Conventional anti-personnel weapons have been directed at civilian populations. Multiple genocides have plagued the world over the last century. Disrespect for the sanctity of human life and human dignity abound in most parts of the world. Rather than an increase in prayer, repentance and conversion there has been a significant apostasy throughout the world, especially in the industrialized West.
 
Accompanying that apostasy have been pervasive exploitation of persons through social and economic systems that enrich a small segment of the world population and impoverish others. The natural environment has undergone significant devastation, increasing the burden on the poor.
 
So what does Fatima have to do with us today? In a word: Everything! And Fatima still beckons us, as a world, to repent. It will only be with prayer, repentance and conversion that the world will realize peace.
 
Questions of justice and peace were prominent themes in the prophets. Isaiah wrote, “Justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security” (Is 32:17). These themes appear throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament, along with charity, truth and freedom.
 
Church teaching has repeatedly pointed out the inextricable links among truth, justice, charity, peace and freedom. Pope Paul VI said it very succinctly and directly: “If you want peace, work for justice.” (1)
 
Vatican Council II teaches, “The social order…must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day.” (2) And the U.S. bishops have affirmed: “We are all called to be a Church at the service of peace, precisely because peace is one manifestation of God’s word and work in our midst.” (3)
 
Some, very properly, might ask what concrete things they can do to have a positive impact on a world in turmoil. I suggest four specific steps:
 
1. We can pray daily for peace, justice, truth and charity and for the conversion of sinners. We can do some penance, some sacrifice in reparation for our own sins and those of others.
 
2. We can model moral behaviors in our own lives through truthfulness, justice, love, peace and purity.
 
3. We can share our faith with others.
 
4. As citizens, we can communicate with our elected representatives, senators and other public officials regarding specific matters of justice, peace and the common good; and we should hold them accountable if they fail to deliver.
 
Finally, we need to bear in mind that it is 100 years since The Blessed Mother’s Fatima messages. God may bless us with a profound transformation in the direction of world peace or with a series of incremental improvements over a period of years, culminating in a more peaceful and secure world. Our participation in all of this simply requires that we remain true to our prayer and our other efforts.
 
Ultimately, the outcome is in the hands of God.
 
      _________
 
 
1 Message of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, for the Celebration of the Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1972.
 
2 “Gaudium et Spes” #26.
 
3 “God’s Promise and Our Response,” U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1983

-- Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

An invitation to meet and grow

Imagine if the combined populations of Rutland City and Colchester Town – about 34,000 people – were forced suddenly to relocate from their Vermont communities due to an outbreak of war or an impending ethnic cleansing. This might sound like the storyline of a dystopian novel.
 
But tragically this exact number – 34,000 people per day – forcibly are displaced from their homelands, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We are now witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record, an unprecedented 65.3 million people worldwide.
 
This humanitarian crisis veers in and out of consciousness, confined mostly to heart-breaking images on our social media feeds. Despite your personal politics about how the U.S. immigration issue should be solved, the reality is that human beings with the “right to dignified life,” according to Catholic social teaching, are fleeing to survive.
 
A passage from Leviticus reminds Christians that “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” We recall that our own Holy Family roamed as refugees for a time, forced to skirt persecution by King Herod after Jesus’ birth.
 
Pope Francis weighed in on the refugee crisis recently saying, “Migration, if handled with humanity, is an opportunity for everyone to meet and grow.…The defense of human beings knows no barriers: We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.”
 
The pope’s characterization of an interaction with “the stranger” as an opportunity for meeting and growing heartens me. He articulates my own 13-year experience of walking alongside a Somali-Bantu family through the challenges of resettlement.
 
The ways in which I have stretched and grown are vast, but here are just two:
 
 I no longer take my privileged life for granted, even for a moment. The fact that I can close my eyes each night in a peaceful, safe neighborhood with no fear of violence above or around me is the greatest of gifts in an increasingly chaotic world. (In a Kenyan refugee camp, my Somali friends endured brutality, drought and food shortages.)
 
 I now see community and the experience of belonging as prime ingredients for my own emotional and social wellbeing. Many American families are largely self-sufficient today, making it easier to live solitary lives hyper-focused on the successes of nuclear family members. While financial stability is an admirable goal, it can have the unintended consequences of keeping us siloed in our comfortable worlds and less likely to embark on new and diverse relationships that enrich and enliven.
 
(New Americans depend on immigrants who came before them for information, childcare and even food, thus they exist within a vibrant, interconnected community that provides deep solidarity.)
 
As Vermont prepares to resettle more Syrian families this summer (and other immigrant groups continue to assimilate in the Burlington area), I remind us of Pope Francis’ invitation to step out of our comfort zones. We have robust gifts to offer these New American friends. In turn, they will offer us life-changing insights about what it means to live as authentic disciples of Christ.
 
-- By Marybeth Christie Redmond, a writer-journalist living in Essex.

-- Originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of
Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
 

The importance of Jackie Robinson

In the history of the modern American civil rights movement, three iconic moments are typically cited:
 
• May 17, 1954: The U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, declaring segregated — “separate but equal” — public schools unconstitutional.
 
• Aug. 28, 1963: Two hundred thousand Americans participate in the March on Washington and hear Martin Luther King Jr. proclaim his dream of a country in which his children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin; 10 months later, Congress enacts the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
 
• March 3, 1965: Civil rights marchers are assaulted by police tear gas and Billy clubs on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Ala.; five months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Voting Rights Act, vindicating the Selma marchers’ cause.
 
These were noble moments, worth remembering; I certainly cherish my memories of encounters with Bayard Rustin, who organized the march that made Dr. King a national eminence.
 
But I believe there was a fourth iconic moment in America’s journey from a land fouled by segregation to the most racially egalitarian nation on the planet. The man at the center of that fourth dramatic moment was an American legend whose accomplishments should rank as high as anyone’s in the pantheon of civil rights heroes.
 
On April 15, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers opened their National League season against the Boston Braves at Ebbets Field. The Dodger first baseman that day was Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in a major league game since the infamous “color line” was drawn in the 1880s.
 
At UCLA in 1939-41, Robinson was perhaps the greatest amateur athlete in the country, a star in track and field, football and basketball.
 
After service as an Army officer in World War II, he was playing shortstop for the
Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League when he was signed to a minor
league contract by Branch Rickey, a cigar-chomping Methodist and the Dodgers’ general manager.
 
Rickey was determined to break the color line, and he deliberately chose Jack Roosevelt Robinson to do so.
 
And not because Jackie Robinson was a mild-mannered wallflower. Robinson was to be a warrior with a difference, however: Rickey, an adept psychologist who believed in the essential fairness of the American people, wanted a man with the courage not to fight back against the racist slurs, beanballs and spikings that were sure to come his way — except by giving an unforgettable performance on the field.
 
Which is what Jackie Robinson, the immortal Number 42, delivered.
 
Grainy black-and-white videos today remind us of a truth the baseball world learned 70 years ago: There has never been anything more exciting in baseball, including the majestic home run and the overpowering no-hitter, than 42 stealing a base, especially home. Rather than hollering back at bigots during his rookie year, Robinson beat them with games that helped lift the Dodgers to the National League pennant and brought them within one game of a World Series victory over the
Yankees (who didn’t sign an African-American player until Elston Howard in 1955).
 
It was a performance for the ages. And it changed America.
 
In this entertainment-saturated 21st century, it may be hard to recall the grip baseball had on the national emotions and imagination in 1947. But as the late
Columbia University cultural historian Jacques Barzun used to say, whoever wants to understand the heart and mind of America had better understand baseball.
 
On April 14, 1947, that nation-defining pastime still embodied the nation’s original sin. The next day, Jackie Robinson began to accelerate a change in America’s heart and mind. That change made possible Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights
Act and the Voting Rights Act.
 
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the GW Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
 
This article has been published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

 

Movie review: 'Despicable Me 3'

Director Pierre Coffin's animated comedy "Despicable Me 3" (Universal) -- the second direct follow-up to the 2010 original -- turns out to be something of a disappointment, falling short when compared to its predecessors.
 
There is good news about the film, though, because its weak central plot is offset not only by amusing side stories but by strong values as well.
 
This time out, Gru (voice of Steve Carell), the once slightly wicked villain who turned good guy over the course of the first two films, is up against an unlikely opponent. Balthazar Bratt -- an ex-child actor whose 1980s TV show, "Evil Bratt," was abruptly canceled when his voice began cracking and he developed acne -- is out to wreak delayed vengeance by destroying Hollywood.
 
As Gru battles to thwart this plan, he also discovers that he has a brother named Dru (also voiced by Carell) that his unnamed mother (voice of Julie Andrews) never told him about. Predictably, the siblings quickly bond, though Dru tries to convince Gru to return to the dark side, citing their father's career as a criminal as precedent for a family tradition.
 
Along with the newfound brothers' mutual affection, clan closeness is celebrated through scenes of Gru's interaction with his supportive wife and crime-fighting partner, Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), and their shared nurturing of their trio of adopted daughters, Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voice of Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).
 
Jokes riffing on Reagan-era fads and fashions -- shoulder pads and the like -- generally fall flat. But Agnes' determination to find and take in a live unicorn -- and Gru's reluctance to tell her the truth about her favorite creatures -- are endearing. So too is her bedtime prayer on the subject.
 
Additionally, the pixilated minions (voiced by director Pierre Coffin) who once carried out Gru's bidding -- and who featured in their own 2015 film -- are on hand to get things back on track.
 
The references to puberty involved in Bratt's show biz downfall might provoke some uncomfortable questions from young children. Beyond that, Gru winds up in an embarrassing state of undress at one point and there's some bathroom and body-parts humor.
 
Since there's also some danger portrayed along the way, parents of the smallest, most easily scared tykes may not find this a good cinematic choice. For everyone else, it makes acceptable if not outstanding summer entertainment.
 
The film contains characters in peril, brief partial nudity played for laughs, mild scatological and anatomical humor and a couple of vaguely crass slang terms.
 
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
 
 

‘Hail Mary’ is a relationship

By Mary Morrell
 
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”
 
Not all relationships get off to a good start.
 
That was my relationship with Mary, our Blessed Mother. She was ever virgin, ever holy and, seemingly through religious art, ever young – about as far away as possible from whom I saw myself to be as a woman, wife and mother, especially as I got older.
 
But a friend pointed out to me that my problem was really in not knowing Mary well enough. He advised me to mediate on her life, to learn more about what it was like to be a woman, wife and mother in her culture and time, to imagine her joys and her pains and to think of her as someone who would have a deep empathy for my own struggles.
 
I made him a promise that I would try, and so, little by little a relationship grew, perhaps not the same kind so many other Catholics might have, but a relationship nonetheless. We didn’t talk much, Mary and I, in the way I often talked to God, but I found that when I was troubled, fearful or in need of prayers for someone I would say “Hail Mary.” Sometimes that is all I would say, other times I would say the entire prayer. It became second nature.
 
I found a statue of Mary someone had given me as a gift and put it on my kitchen counter. I put a small votive holder in front of it, and every night I would light a candle, thanking Mary for listening to my prayers and lifting them up to God, and then I would go through the litany of prayers still needed for family members. I still do this every night, and when things get really crazy, during the day as well. It is a ritual that brings me comfort and, for the most part, gives me peace of mind.
 
But recently one of my sons was diagnosed with pneumonia, and on top of it, was hit with one crisis after another in the space of 24 hours – a pattern that is frequent in his life, contributing to often overwhelming stress for him, and, subsequently, for me.
 
I felt like I was coming unraveled and decided he needed a St. Benedict medal to serve as a constant silent prayer for God’s blessing and protection, and for peace, which has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. I was searching online for what seemed like an hour for a medal that came with a chain, was affordable and would arrive within two days – since anything could happen in my son’s life within 48 hours.
 
Then, as we often do in times of extreme stress, I lost my composure and good sense. I had to get ready for an appointment, couldn’t find what I was looking for and exclaimed out loud, “I need help! Please, someone help me find the medal I want for my son. He needs it.”
 
A moment later, as I hit the page button one more time, the perfect medal showed up on the screen. It was for a man, on a chain and would be delivered in 48 hours. I burst out in tears when I saw the name of the company that was offering the medal: Hail Mary Gifts.
 
I realized in that moment what a gift Mary has been to me, and to my son, who is the one most often lifted up in prayer. I realized that through my daily requests to Mary for prayer, I was moving through each day, no matter how difficult, with a renewed sense of hope. I realized that relationships take many forms, and while I do not yet pray the rosary daily or preach Mary to the crowds, or even to family or friends, the relationship I have with her is still meaningful and fruitful in my life, especially in the absence of my own mother who died so many years ago.
 
I realize, also, that in the grand scheme of things, especially with so many people experiencing tragedy and profound struggles, wanting a medal for someone is not a cause for divine intervention. But I do believe that God intervenes, whether it is through the saints or angels, other people, or especially through Mary, when He wants us to have faith in His desire to be in a relationship with us.
 
In a recent general audience, Pope Francis offered some inspiring words on our relationship with Mary: “We are not orphans: We have a mother in heaven, who is the Holy Mother of God. She teaches us the virtue of waiting, even when everything seems meaningless. She always trusts in the mystery of God, even when He seems to be eclipsed by the evil of the world. In times of difficulty, may Mary, the Mother Jesus has given to us all, always support our steps. May she say to our hearts: ‘Get up. Look ahead. Look to the horizon. For she is the Mother of Hope.’
 

Mary: a model for every stage of life

By Mary Morrell

When my first granddaughter was about two years old, she loved to climb, jump and swing – always from the highest point she could manage. Anything a worried grandma like me would fear she loved to do, and my son happily obliged her.
 
One day he had her by the ankles and was spinning her around as fast as he could. She was screaming and laughing, and I was just plain screaming, “Stop!”
 
I was worried that his hands would slip or he would trip over his own feet or some other catastrophe would happen. My granddaughter, on the other hand, wanted one thing: “Do it again, Daddy!”
 
While I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, she wasn’t the least bit afraid. She had complete faith in her father. How like Mary and her unfailing trust in God, I thought.
 
Mary could have easily thought her life was beginning to spin out of control when the Angel Gabriel visited her to tell her she was going to have a child and not just any child: God’s child.
 
Just think of the circumstances: She was a teenager, engaged but not married, having to tell her future husband about her pregnancy. How would he respond? Would there be a wedding or would she be ostracized or maybe stoned to death? If, like so many other young women, Mary had imagined her future, this probably wasn’t how she saw her life unfolding.
 
Then there was the prophecy of Simeon shared when Mary and Joseph presented the infant Jesus in the temple: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many may be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
 
These words warn a very young Mary that she will suffer along with her son as He fulfills God’s work.
 
It has not always been easy for me to relate to Mary. Every image of her I had ever seen was one of youthful, radiant beauty, and holiness far beyond my reach. For us, time quickly takes away the bloom of youth, and our imperfect nature sometimes makes holiness seem inaccessible.
 
Then, as an adult, I discovered an image that resonated with me and my relationship with Mary blossomed.
 
On a visit to one of our Catholic schools, I saw a life-size bronze statue of an aged Mary -- as she might have looked as she stood at the foot of the cross, watching her son die a painful death.
 
She was seated in a chair. Her face had aged, her hair was pulled back in a bun, her hands reflected a life of hard work, but she emanated a beauty that came from wisdom and the experience of living life with all its joys and sorrows.
 
This is the Mary who persisted, who was resilient in the face of circumstances that she could not control. The Mary I saw before me was a woman of grace who must have gotten tired as we all do when we age, who probably had aching bones and muscles and who sometimes felt overcome with weariness.
 
Finally, I had found the Mary I could truly relate to.
 
As I began to see my life in line with Mary’s, I began to see that Mary’s holiness can be our holiness as we try to live our ordinary lives with extraordinary faith.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic.
 

Summer reading list

I recently met the good people of St. Benedict Elementary School in South Natick, Mass., which offers classical Catholic education to some very fortunate youngsters. The extensive summer reading lists the school suggests to those kids’ parents put me in mind of my high school English teacher, the late Father W. Vincent Bechtel – who did not, however, do suggestions and made sure that his charges kept their noses to the grindstone from June through August by assigning us at least a half-dozen novels every summer. Some of them – like Paul Horgan’s “Things As They Are” – I still re-read with pleasure, a half-century later.
           
So herewith, in honor of the Bechtel tradition as continued at St. Benedict Elementary and other classic Catholic schools, are some summer reading possibilities:
           
Peter Cozzens’ “The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West” (Knopf) is the finest piece of narrative history I’ve read in some time. It’s rigorously honest, appalling and instructive, without a whiff of political correctness.
           
My friend Joseph Epstein is a great read 365 days a year; his crisp prose and ready wit make him an especially appropriate summertime companion. Try Joe’s “Wind Sprints” (Axios), a collection of shorter pieces on everything from the pleasures of life in Chicago to the perfidies of contemporary waiters; or “Masters of the Games” (Rowman and Littlefield), in which Joe explores the addiction to sports he and I share; or “Essays in Biography” (Axios), 41 pointillist sketches of personages great and obscure; or “The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff” (Mariner Books), a bundle of short stories of which the title piece is especially fine. Or all of the above.
           
William F. Buckley Jr. was, arguably, the most politically influential Catholic in 20th-century America. Alvin S. Felzenberg tells the story of Buckley’s political journey, and its impact on history, in “A Man and His Presidents” (Yale). Bill was a friend and I’ve heard a lot of Buckley stories over the years, but Al Felzenberg’s diligent mining of both the vast Buckley correspondence and the secondary literature on WFB brought to light some facets of the story of which I was insufficiently aware: not least the raw and blatant anti-Catholicism that marked elite WASP response to Bill’s first bombshell book, “God and Man at Yale.”
           
Diplomatic history doesn’t often lend itself to able storytelling, but Michael Doran happily provides an exception to that rule in “Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East” (Free Press). It’s a tale with numerous lessons for today, a portrait of a president whose greatness involved a willingness to change his mind if reality proved previous assumptions mistaken, and a reminder of just how fractious the post-colonial Arab world has always been – and how poorly the Arabs have been served by their leaders.
           
Of the making of Wavian biographies there seems to be no end, but I thoroughly enjoyed Philip Eade’s “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited” (Henry Holt). Unlike some of Waugh’s biographers, Eade does not start from the premise that the 20th century’s great master of English prose was a fiend in human form: a wise decision that allows him to see, and portray, a complex personality in full. For those who want to explore Waugh’s still-immensely-readable oeuvre, Douglas Lane Patey’s “The Life of Evelyn Waugh” (Blackwell) remains the gold standard; those more interested in the man than in his literary accomplishment will be well served by “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited.”
 
Robert Harris uncharacteristically whiffed (and badly) with his recent “Conclave,” but his Cicero Trilogy – “Imperium,” “Conspirata” and “Dictator” (Vintage) – offers a fine portrait of late republican Rome and brings to life an exceptionally able man, not without flaws, who helped cement into the foundations of the West the notions that the rule of law is superior to the rule of brute force – and that civil law should be accountable to the moral law we can know by reason. Harris’s trilogy inevitably raises the question, where are the Ciceros among us today?
           
And finally, Frank Hanna’s “A Graduate’s Guide to Life: Three Things They Don’t Teach You in College That Could Make All the Difference” (Beacon) offers those just getting started in life nuggets of wisdom, drawn from the experience of a successful Catholic entrepreneur and generous philanthropist.
 

Virtual prayer groups

By Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington
 
How many times have you told someone, “I will pray for you,” after learning of a troubling diagnosis, a bereavement or a worry on that person’s mind? Prayer is something we Catholics do, for and with one another — from the highest form of prayer, which is the Mass, to private devotionals for particular intentions.
 
When it comes to building a culture of life, prayer may be considered the most powerful tool we have. Especially in a state like Vermont where abortion is widespread and assisted suicide is legal, movements like 40 Days for Life (40daysforlife.com) and Cenacles of Life (cenaclesoflife.org) offer tangible opportunities to pray and fast in solidarity with others who are committed to promoting the sanctity of human life. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for some people to find time to gather physically to pray.
 
Thanks to the tools of our modern age, however, a solution has emerged: virtual prayer groups. These take many forms, but their common feature is that members connect digitally around shared prayer intentions, allowing them to pray “together” wherever they are and whenever they can.
 
Many Vermonters participate in Nine Days for Life, a United States Conference of Catholic Bishops-sponsored novena for pro-life intentions that takes place nationwide during the nine days leading up to the annual March for Life each January in Washington, D.C. Participants register at 9daysforlife.com and are sent daily reminders and prayers via email, text or social media apps.
 
Social media platforms like Facebook also offer myriad public and private prayer groups devoted to specific causes. Informal prayer groups can arise organically and take a variety of forms; not all require members to be tech-savvy.
 
Lori Daudelin, who helps coordinate the diocesan post-abortion healing ministry known as Project Rachel, developed a prayer ministry called “Friends of Project Rachel Prayer Partners,” a community of volunteers who pray for participants in the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat as well as those who call Project Rachel for support.
 
Daudelin sends requests to members using both email and surface mail outlining prayer requests. “Members’ time commitment is whatever they want it to be,” Daudelin explained. “They offer the prayers they feel led to.” She always is looking to add new members to this prayer community.
 
Pam King of Swanton, co-director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Church in St. Albans, leads a virtual prayer group which began spontaneously more than two years ago when a handful of friends agreed to pray a novena for a mutual friend who was experiencing troubled times. King sent daily reminders via text message to connect participants and to formalize their effort. Members texted “Amen” after they finished praying. The group continues with some 30 participants who receive either text or email reminders.
 
With input from the members, King identifies prayer intentions and searches out appropriate prayers to support them. “We have developed a kind of spiritual family where we support each other in times of need,” King explained, adding that it is a format that is easy to adapt to suit the goals of any prayer ministry. She often consults the website praymorenovenas.com to find suitable prayers for the group.
 
“Catholic Apptitude” (catholicapptitude.org/mission) is another online resource offering reviews of many digital apps devoted to prayer and devotions.
 
There are no limits to when individuals can pray, and now, with the availability of digital media, there are fewer limits to how and when we can pray together. 

Originally printed in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

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.
 
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