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St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo
 
To say that St. Charles Borromeo moved in the highest circles of his time would be an understatement.  Born in 1538 into Milanese nobility, he was not only related to the powerful Medici family of Florence, Italy, but was also a nephew of Pope Pius IV, who ruled from 1559-1565. Because of his family connections, Charles became a prominent member of the administration of the Church, even while he was still a layman; the unexpected death of both his father and elder brother, however, set him on a path that would become synonymous not with power and prestige but with charity and reform.
 
The Church of Charles’ time was undergoing a period of great turbulence; Martin Luther had instigated the Protestant Reformation and Rome was responding with a Counter-Reformation. Although many religious orders had been founded to help with Church renewal – the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, being perhaps the most prominent of these – an ecumenical council of the entire Church was necessary to complete needed reforms. The Council of Trent, which convened from 1545 to 1563, thus became known as the Reform Council. Due primarily to political circumstances, the Council met in a series of three periods, and it was during the last one, from 1562 to 1563, that Charles Borromeo proved himself to be such an able leader.
 
Charles was both intelligent and well educated, thus perfectly suited to the weighty responsibilities that were ultimately placed upon him. Although his family pressured him to marry when both his father and elder brother died, he chose instead to become a priest. It was about the time of his ordination (at age 25) that he participated in St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, an experience that changed him radically. From then on, until the end of his life, his purpose became not power but holiness, and he eschewed all luxury, devoting himself instead to charitable works and the poor.
 
Charles was named cardinal-archbishop of Milan in 1561, but because he was so involved in the workings of the Council, he was not permitted to actually live in his diocese until the Council proceedings were concluded. He deserves the lion’s share of the credit for keeping Trent in session, even as internal circumstances threatened to break it up. He conducted all correspondence at the end and guided the drafting of the Roman Catechism.
 
The close of the Council did not mean the end of Charles’ work. Upon returning to Milan, he found his local church much in need of religious education and practical reform. To help address these issues, he established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and founded seven seminaries designed to better educate and reform the clergy. 
 
Not everyone greeted his work with enthusiasm, however. Because he insisted on strict enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline, there was an attempt on his life by a group of disgruntled monks in 1569. Though he was seriously wounded in the attack, he was not killed.
 
Charles believed strongly that if he were to insist on reform, he himself had to lead by example. When famine struck Milan in 1570 and the plague followed from 1576 to 1578, it was the archbishop who fed and cared for thousands of his fellow citizens, even as civil authorities fled the city. Although the circumstances of his birth would have entitled him to wealth, luxury and honors, he did without them all to become as poor as his people. 
 
Worn out with work and the burdens that had been his since his youth, Charles Borromeo died in 1584 at the age of 46. The patron saint of catechists, catechumens and seminarians, his feast day is Nov. 4.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Keogh, William. "St. Charles Borromeo." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 
 
“Saint Charles Borromeo“. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2016.
 
 
 

The Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:9)
 
As Catholics, how we live our faith can have a great impact on the violence and injustice that surround us.
 
The escalation of violence and shooting of unarmed African Americans by police and subsequent retaliation against police have shocked the conscience of the nation.
 
These were not acts of foreign terrorists. In July, two victims were African American men who were killed during an interaction with local police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Five were Dallas police officers fatally shot by a lone gunman expressing anger toward police officers.
 
These incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota are not isolated incidents. They are part of an ongoing nationwide epidemic in which police have shot unarmed African Americans. More recently the tragedy was repeated in Tulsa, Okla.; Charlotte, N.C; and San Diego, Calif.
 
Today, with the ability to capture everything on video via cell phones and police body cams, the public is able to examine these incidents closely, which has led to public protests throughout our country.
 
Police stopped the Minnesota victim because a taillight that was out on his vehicle. In Louisiana, the victim was selling CD’s on the sidewalk. For reasons that are not clear, the interactions escalated to the point of an officer shooting the victim.
 
The central question is: Are police dealing with the African American segment of the population in a manner inconsistent with the treatment accorded the white population?
 
To be true to our vocation as Christians, we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness in our society. We must also be peacemakers and always seek the truth by critically evaluating the facts both nationally and in our own community.
 
While we have not encountered the same type of racial incidents here in Vermont, we have seen an increase in violent crime and three fatal confrontations involving law enforcement since December. A well-publicized report commissioned by the Vermont State Police and conducted by the Institute for Race and Justice and the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research revealed that troopers were more likely to stop African American drivers than white drivers. African American drivers who were stopped were more likely to receive a ticket or to be arrested for relatively similar offenses.
 
Records from the Department of Corrections, Census Bureau and the Department of Justice also show that people of color are incarcerated at a higher rate than the white population. A report from the research and advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, reveals that one in 14 black men in Vermont are incarcerated. In fact, Vermont is one of just five states incarcerating its black population at about 10 times the rate of white residents.
 
Before concluding that racism fully explains the above statistics, we would have to know more about all confounding factors such as the objective behaviors that resulted in a traffic stop and make a thorough analysis of all information pertaining to each encounter. Sentencing decisions are complex and include many variables. However, it appears bias may be a factor.
 
At the same time, society needs to understand that police, in Vermont and elsewhere, have an extremely critical and difficult role. It is essential for the public to be protected from criminal activity, whether violence against persons or property, or crimes such as harassment, or hazards like drunk driving. Every veteran police officer can share accounts of unimaginable tragedies encountered on the job.
 
Yet police officers are human and make mistakes. If these mistakes are motivated or enabled by racial bias, they need to be extinguished.
 
This too is a matter of justice.
 
Race is such a polarizing force in American culture that most of us have at least some tint of racial bias in our thinking. Individual Catholics must first confront their own biases. We must realize that all human beings are God’s beloved children, made in His image and likeness. We need to share that vision in the broader community.
 
With the Year of Mercy nearing an end, now is the perfect time to reinvigorate the spirit of mercy by working to eliminate racism from our culture. Fair, unbiased policing and sentencing and justice in the social and economic arenas are all essential to overcoming injustice. But also getting to know and engage with our neighbors is essential if the racial divide is to be broken down.
 
Those able to break down those barriers and so foster peace -- Jesus proclaims them blessed.
 
 

One Ordinary Sunday: A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass

“One Ordinary Sunday:  A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass.”  By Paula Huston.  Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2016.  256 pages.  Paperback:  $11.84.  Kindle:  $9.99.  Nook: $10.99.
 
In Paula Huston’s latest book, "One Ordinary Sunday," it is obvious from the first page that what she is presenting to the reader is anything but ordinary.  Subtitled “A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass,” this book is both catechesis and prayer, with a good dose of spiritual journey woven throughout. It is like a deep conversation over coffee with a good friend, talking about the things that matter most.
 
Huston is a convert to Catholicism and so came to the Mass somewhat late in life, which is one of the features I found most appealing about this book. Because she is looking at every part of the Mass with “fresh eyes,” even lifelong Catholics can discover new insights into a very familiar form of worship.  By spending significant time reflecting on each prayer and reading and gesture, she emphasizes that everything that takes place is there for an important reason; nothing is accidental.
 
The framework for the book is indeed, one Sunday – specifically the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (from the readings – which she includes in the text – it is Cycle A in the Lectionary.)  As a lector in my own parish, I particularly appreciated the lengthy explanation she gave regarding both the meaning of Scripture and its history.  She weaves in, for instance, a trip to Italy and how Michelangelo’s statue of David allowed her to explain this ancient king’s significance to a young exchange student who had grown up in what amounted to a spiritual vacuum – a vacuum, she points out, which is beginning to pervade all of Western society. In fact, she fills in quite a bit of both the theology and spiritual culture contained in what we know as the Liturgy of the Word.  For Catholics who feel that they are somewhat lacking when it comes to grounding in Scripture, her chapters on the four readings at Mass will be most welcome and informative.
 
Her teaching background remains evident in the rest of the book as well. Nothing is mentioned which is not explained fully. For instance, when talking about preparing the altar for the Consecration, she includes a short vocabulary “lesson” about everything the priest will use.  When talking about the offering of bread and wine, she explains how these elements “represent a cooperative effort between God and man” and why the Eucharistic prayer is formed the way it is. 
 
From beginning to end, her grasp of history is thorough and her grounding in theology is sound. In spite of that, however, she is not afraid to share with readers her own struggle to understand and live out the faith she so strongly professes.   There is always the sense that she could be the lady sitting next to you in the pew.
 
Which brings me to the final strength of this book; everything she says takes place in the context of a real Mass celebrated by real people. By the end, we feel as if we know her fellow parishioners almost as well as she does. Not only does she share their names with us, but their individual ministries, a bit of their personal history and why she feels so close to them. Consequently, when she reaches the epilogue, written a year after the rest of the book comes to an end, we can both feel at home with those who are still at St. Patrick’s and mourn those who have passed on.
 
“'One Ordinary Sunday' began as an attempt to explain the mysterious power of the Mass in my own life,” Huston says in the preface to this book. In doing this so splendidly, she has helped us reflect on its meaning and power in our own as well.
 
About the author
 
Like many converts to Catholicism, Paula Huston’s journey to the faith was long and not always straight.  “The first time I attended Mass I was nearly 40,” she admits in the preface to "One Ordinary Sunday." “And, like a lot of Sixties’ kids, for 20 years before that, I’d been away from church entirely.” But the “Hound of Heaven” she added, quoting from Francis Thompson’s famous poem of the same name, “was clearly after me.”
 
Huston eventually became, not only a Catholic, but a vowed oblate of the Camaldolese Benedictines.  The fiction writing she pursued as a National Endowment for the Arts fellow grew into spiritual non-fiction, and her first project was "Signatures of Grace," for which she was both contributor and co-editor.  She has also written "Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit," "A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life," and "Forgiveness: Following Jesus into Radical Loving."
 
She and her husband, Mike, own a small, four-acre farm on the central coast of California.  She divides her time between that, her four young grandchildren, mentoring MFA students in creative non-fiction at Seattle Pacific University and the Camaldolese.
 
 
 
 

St. John Leonardi

St. John (or Giovanni) Leonardi was born about 1541 into an interesting time in European history.  The Protestant Reformation was underway, and the Church, though disagreeing with the separation that had occurred, acknowledged that reforms within Catholicism needed to be undertaken.
 
The youngest of seven children, Giovanni at first studied to be a pharmacist, but by the age of 27 had decided that his true vocation was to the priesthood.  Ordained in 1572, Giovanni soon attracted a small group of men who were also interested in religious life.  He became their spiritual director, and the communal form of life they lived eventually led to the formation of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God.
 
Becoming a recognized order did not go smoothly, however; the political pressures of the time forced Giovanni and his fellow priests into a kind of exile outside their native town of Lucca.  When they were finally approved in 1595, Giovanni sought to aid the efforts of the Church’s Counter Reformation by educating both the clergy and the laity, emphasizing the need for holiness for all.  His work laid the foundation for the Vatican department now known as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
 
St. Giovanni Leonardi died in 1609 of disease contracted while tending the victims of plague.  His feast day is Oct. 9, and he is the patron of pharmacists.
 

St. Faustina Kowalska

Sometimes that which seems most ordinary is, in fact, the hiding place of something truly extraordinary.  Such was the case with Maria Faustina Kowalska, who is known today as the saint through whom God chose to communicate His Divine Mercy to the world.  Her humility was such that most people didn’t realize what a remarkable soul they had had the privilege of encountering until after her death.
 
St. Maria Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village in western Poland in 1905.  The third of ten children in a poor family, Helena received only three years of formal education before going to work as a housekeeper in the homes of more well-to-do families.  She had had a desire early on to enter religious life, but her parents were reluctant to give her permission to do so.  Consequently, it was not until she was 20 that she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, Poland, where she took the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
 
The Order to which Maria Faustina belonged was devoted in particular to the care and education of troubled young women.  Although her place within the congregation was very unpretentious – Maria was a cook, gardener and porter in various houses during her 13 years as a nun – it was not long before she began to receive visions and revelations.  These she recorded in a diary which her confessors – and God – requested her to keep.
 
The essence of these messages to Sister Maria and the world was the incredible extent of God’s Divine Mercy.  It was a time when many Catholics harbored an image of God as such a strict judge that some were tempted to despair of ever being truly forgiven by Him.  What God revealed to Sister Maria was quite the opposite:  “Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world,” Jesus once said to her.  “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart” (Diary, 1588).
 
Outwardly, Sister Maria did not seem to be anything special.  She went about her work within the order with kindness and serenity, observing its Rule and treating those around her with mercy and love.  In her heart, she grew in child-like trust in God, offering her own life in imitation of His for the good of others.
 
In the 1930’s, Sister Maria was directed by Jesus to have a picture painted of Him containing the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  The image, which she commissioned in 1935, also has a red and white light emanating from Christ’s Sacred Heart and is the portrait of Divine Mercy which hangs in many chapels and churches throughout the world today.
 
Sister Maria Faustina died in 1938 of tuberculosis.  Although she had a reputation for holiness, it would be three decades before her beatification process would begin.  Her diary, written as it was by a barely literate woman, was composed phonetically with no punctuation or quotation marks, so when a bad translation of it reached Rome in 1958, it was initially rejected as being heretical.  However, when a later and more accurate translation was undertaken, the Vatican realized that Sister Maria had actually left the world, not a heretical document, but a beautiful work proclaiming God’s love.  Called “Divine Mercy in My Soul," it has been translated into more than 20 languages. 
 
Sister Maria Faustina was canonized in 2000, and her feast day is commemorated on Oct. 5; Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter.
 
 
 

Thomas of Villanova

St. Thomas of Villanova would never have been accused of being a practical man.  Given his habits and proclivities, some might have termed him “eccentric,” and considered that a kind judgment.  But so often what the world considers impractical, God declares to be holy.  So it was with Thomas of Villanova, who lived from 1488 until 1555.

Thomas was an intelligent and well educated man — he graduated from the University of Alcala and stayed on to become a professor of philosophy there — but he also suffered from absentmindedness, which was probably the result of his poor memory.

When he became an Augustinian friar, he continued to teach but became better known for his embrace of personal poverty and love of the poor.  Throughout his life, he wore the same habit he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself year after year.  The poor flocked to his door in droves and he never refused them, even when others said he was being taken advantage of.   He took in orphans and dealt mercifully with sinners.  All of these things resulted in criticism from his contemporaries, including members of his own order, but Thomas never wavered from what he felt God was calling him to do.

He died peacefully at age 77, his last words being, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”  His feast day is Sept. 10.    


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.

Teresa of Calcutta

When Pope Francis officially pronounces Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint this month, he will be confirming what many have believed for decades — that those who lived in the 20th century were privileged to watch and learn what a living saint had to teach.  So sure were most people of her sanctity that her name has entered the lexicon as a synonym for holiness.  All of this Mother Teresa would have eschewed, of course.  She once said of herself that she was merely “a pencil in the hand of God,” but she was a pencil that wrote in large letters what an often indifferent world needed to hear.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in what is now Macedonia in 1910.  Even as a young child she showed an interest in foreign missions and, at age 18, she left her home and her mother (her father had died when she was nine) to join the Loretto Sisters of Dublin.  From there she was sent to India to teach history and geography in a wealthy girl’s school in Calcutta; but even within its sheltered walls Teresa could not avoid the suffering and destitution that surrounded her.

 In 1946, while on her way to her annual retreat in Darjeeling, she heard what she would later term “the call within the call.”  The message was clear, she said.  “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them…to follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor.”

After receiving permission to leave Loretto and found a new congregation, Mother Teresa began to prepare herself for her new vocation.  She took a nursing course and then moved into the slums, where she opened a school for poor children.  She adopted as her “habit” a simple white sari and sandals, because this was the clothing worn by ordinary Indian women.  Visiting her neighbors, she began to learn of their needs and worked to help provide for them.

She was soon joined by other young women, some of them girls she had taught, and the core of the Missionaries of Charity began to take shape.  As more and more people began to learn of what she was doing, they helped as they could with donations of food, clothing and whatever else the sisters needed.  By 1952, the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) gave Mother Teresa a hostel to use as a home for the dying and destitute.

Mother Teresa spent the rest of her life caring for those she called “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”  She became known around the globe and traveled extensively, seeking support for the work of the Missionaries of Charity and encouraging others to see the poor as God saw them.  “Find your own Calcutta,” she said.  “Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”

In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize.  She died of natural causes on Sept. 5, 1997, and the process for her canonization began soon after. At her beatification in 2003, Pope St. John Paul II called her “one of the most relevant personalities of our age…an icon of the Good Samaritan.”

Mother Teresa’s feast day is Sept. 5.


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.

God and Brexit

Ever since the United Kingdom decided in June to leave the European Union, contending (and sometimes overlapping) explanations have been offered for a vote that stunned the world’s opinion-makers: a perceived loss of national sovereignty to a transnational organization; concerns over current EU immigration policy and the effect of open EU borders on jobs and the rule of law; aggravations with petty bureaucratic regulation by EU mandarins in Brussels. Together, these amount to what’s often called the EU’s “democracy deficit,” which seems to me real enough.

I’d like to suggest another, perhaps deeper, answer to the question of the EU’s current distress, though: to put it bluntly, the “democracy deficit” is a reflection of Europe’s “God-deficit.” Let me connect the dots.

The founding fathers of today’s European Union – which began with the European Coal and Steel Community before morphing into the European Common Market and then the EU – were, in the main, Catholics: Italy’s Alcide de Gasperi, West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer, France’s Robert Schumann. Appalled by the self-destruction that Europe had wrought in two world wars, they sought an answer to aggressive nationalism in economic partnerships that would bind the West Franks (the French) to the East Franks (the Germans) so that war between them would be inconceivable. It was a practical idea, it worked, and it was understood to be the first step toward forms of political partnership and integration.

The wager underlying this project, as these men conceived it, was that there was enough of Christian or biblical culture left in Europe to sustain democratic pluralism in a “union” of sovereign states that would respect national and regional distinctiveness. And that Christian or biblical “remainder” involved the Catholic social-ethical principle of “subsidiarity:” The idea that decision-making should be left at the lowest possible local level (as in classic American federalism, where local governments do some things, state governments do other things and the national government does things that local and state governments can’t do). 

“Subsidiarity” is a check against the tendency of all modern states to concentrate power at the center: which explains why the principle was first articulated by Pope Pius XI in 1931, as the shadow of totalitarianism lengthened across Europe. Respect for the social-ethical principle of “subsidiarity” also implies respect for cultural difference. And that, in turn, assumes that human beings get to universal commitments – like respect for basic human rights – through particular experiences, not through generalized abstractions. Or as Polish editor Jerzy Turowicz said to me 25 years ago, John Paul II was a “European” because he was a Cracovian, the heir of a particular experience of pluralism and tolerance, not despite the fact that he came from a unique cultural milieu. 

When biblical religion collapsed, as it manifestly has in most of Old Europe and too much of New Europe after 1989, commitments to subsidiarity and its respect for difference imploded as well. The vacuum was then filled by a monochromatic, anti-pluralist notion of “democracy.” Embodied in EU law and enforced by unaccountable bureaucrats and EU courts, the results of this decayed democratic idea went far beyond idiotic regulations on the shape of tomatoes and bananas to include a concerted attempt to impose a single political culture in Europe, best described as the culture of personal autonomy – the Culture of the Self. That pseudo-culture is the hollowed-out shell of the Christian personalism that once inspired de Gasperi, Adenauer, Schumann, and the mid-20th-century Christian
Democratic parties of Europe. And its political by-product is the EU’s “democracy deficit.” 

Forty years ago, German constitutional scholar Ernst-Friedrich Boeckenfoerde argued that the modern, liberal-democratic state faced a dilemma: It rested on the foundation of moral-cultural premises – social capital – it could not itself generate. Put another way, it takes a certain kind of people, formed by a certain kind of culture to live certain virtues, to keep liberal democracy from decaying into new forms of authoritarianism – more pungently described in 2005 by a distinguished European intellectual, Joseph Ratzinger, as a “dictatorship of relativism.” The Boeckenfoerde Dilemma is on full display in the European Union, which is in deep trouble because of a democracy deficit that is, at bottom, a subsidiarity-deficit caused by a God-deficit. 

Americans would be very foolish to think ourselves immune to a similar crisis of political culture.

     

The eugenic mindset today

Seldom discussed in Vermont’s history is the Eugenics Project of the early 20th century. While only formally in practice during the 1920s and 1930s, there is clear evidence that the eugenic mindset survives today. In fact, eugenic thinking has expanded beyond the dictionary definition of controlling who is born to also include the act of controlling who dies.

The Eugenics Project was actively promoted by University of Vermont Professor of Zoology Henry Perkins, who undertook to cleanse the Vermont gene pool of people he called “feebleminded, stupid and shiftless,” characteristics he attributed to their “defective genes.” His work led to a program of surveys to identify families that met Perkins’ criteria; they tended to be poor and belong to ethnicities he considered undesirable, with a focus on people of Abenaki and French-Canadian descent. The project began under private funding but expanded with the direct participation of state government to remove those persons from the reproductive population by forced sterilization. 

Perkins, who later served as president of the American Eugenics Society, used his survey data to persuade the Vermont Legislature to expand the Vermont State School for the care and training of feebleminded children (5-21 years old). It soon assumed the eugenic function of segregating from society “feebleminded women” of childbearing age and coercing their consent for sterilization in exchange for their release from the school.  

The project earned national and international attention from early eugenics advocates, including Margaret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood.  Sanger went on to publish and edit a volume of articles on the eugenic aspects of birth control, including, “Sterilization: A Modern Medical Program for Human Health and Welfare,” (June 5, 1951), which advocated for a program of sterilization of the vulnerable and disabled.     

The Catholic Church and Catholic Daughters were vocal opponents of this movement, yet, in 1931, the Vermont legislature passed “A Law for Human Betterment by Voluntary Sterilization.” Section 1 read:

“Henceforth it shall be the policy of the state to prevent procreation of idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons, when the public welfare, and the welfare of idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons likely to procreate, can be improved by voluntary sterilization as herein provided.”

What does “eugenic thinking” look like in our culture today? Consider Vermont’s recently-passed Act 120 (formerly House Bill H.620), the contraceptive mandate law of 2016 which expands Vermont’s existing contraceptive mandate to include sterilization.  Under this law, women will be offered sterilization during the highly vulnerable time immediately after giving birth, a strategy designed to encourage Medicaid subscribers to stop having children, and a goal lauded by Gov. Peter Shumlin in his January Budget Message. The term “Medicaid subscriber” in this context appears to be a code phrase for “poor woman.”  To achieve control of Medicaid expenditures by demeaning the rights, the dignity and the status of a relatively powerless group, is simply wrong. 

Another example of eugenic thinking can be found in Act 39, the Vermont Legislature’s Physician Assisted Suicide law, passed in 2013, which mandates that physicians raise the option of assisted suicide with their terminally ill patients. Vulnerable people, contending with the financial and emotional burdens their illnesses may have on their families and others, must be “educated” about the option to end their lives. Intended or not, this “education” comes with the implicit suggestion that perhaps their lives are no longer worth living – that their humanity no longer matters. How is that a dignified way to die?  

The abuses of assisted suicide and euthanasia laws in other countries are enormous and include involuntary euthanasia of mentally challenged and disabled persons. In April 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Although the law’s intent was to end the suffering of terminally ill patients, a growing number of physically healthy people with psychological illnesses have been granted “the right to die.” According to the Royal Dutch Medical Association, 13 patients suffering from mental illness were euthanized in 2011; by 2013 this number had risen to 42 patients. Even more disturbing, in 2013, as many as 650 babies were killed by doctors because they were deemed to be in pain or facing a life of suffering. Even in the United States, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are killed by doctors through abortion procedures.

Regardless of the frugal or humanitarian intent, the underlying eugenic thinking is unmistakable.

When government disregards the rights and the dignity of any marginalized community, we all become vulnerable to arbitrary decisions of the powerful. We all become complicit in the evil that is done in our name. The Church must continue to be vigilant in speaking for the marginalized, including the terminally ill, the unborn and the poor. We must advocate on behalf of the voiceless for the inherent dignity and worth of every single human life.

Article written by Deacon Pete Gummere and Carrie Handy.

Young People: Talk to Your Grandparents

For many young Catholics the defining moment of the summer took place in Poland, where Pope Francis joined over a million teens and young adults for World Youth Day. Although we Little Sisters of the Poor spend our lives in the service of the elderly rather than the young, we followed the festivities in Krakow with great interest. For us, the most exciting moment of the event came at the very end when Pope Francis told young people that the best way to prepare for the next World Youth Day is to spend time talking to their grandparents!

This is not the first time that Pope Francis has spoken to the young about the old. He did so at his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. “At this moment, you young people and you elderly people are condemned to the same destiny: exclusion. Don’t allow yourselves to be excluded.... Make yourselves heard; take care of the two ends of the population: the elderly and the young. Do not allow yourselves to be excluded and do not allow the elderly to be excluded,” he exclaimed in 2013. 

Speaking in Rio on the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, Pope Francis continued with the same theme: “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family .... Children and the elderly build the future of peoples - children because they lead history forward, the elderly because they transmit the experience and wisdom of their lives. This relationship and this dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened!”

Echoing these sentiments in Krakow, our Holy Father told the youth that if they want to be hope for the future they must talk to their grandparents because “a young person who cannot remember is not hope for the future.” As Little Sisters, we would like to offer young people some suggestions about how to talk to their grandparents and elders. 

First, keep in mind that the elderly are not really very different from you. Although the means of communication and other technologies have changed since they were young, deep down your grandparents probably had interests very similar to your own when they were your age. Ask them about their greatest challenges in school, what they did in their free time, their memories of family life or, for those who are immigrants, what it was like adapting to a new culture.

If you are facing important decisions, ask your grandparents’ advice. How did they discern what college to attend or what career to pursue? How did they know that their future spouse was the right one for them? How did they navigate the ups and downs of married life, raising children and other important relationships? What advice can they offer you about getting a job, finding an apartment or buying a car?

Ask your grandparents about their joys, accomplishments and even their disappointments and failures. Invite them to share their values, their personal heroes, how they got through the tough times and the role of faith in their lives. Confide to them your hopes and fears, your dreams and anxieties and ask them to pray for you – the elderly are powerful intercessors!

Pope Francis seizes every possible opportunity to encourage young people to reach out to their grandparents because, as he says, “they have the wisdom of life and can tell you things that will stir your hearts.” He speaks from personal experience, often referring to the profound influence of his grandmother on his life. “I still carry with me, always, in my breviary, the words my grandmother consigned to me in writing on the day of my priestly ordination,” he confides. “I read them often and they do me good.”

As Little Sisters, we are happy to help youth connect with their grandparents and other elders by offering volunteer opportunities to individuals and groups. We are sure that, like our Holy Father, you will learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

Article written by Sister Constance Veit, director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.
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