Sometimes it is not one or the other, but rather both/ and. I have been thinking and praying about this a lot over the last two weeks. I live on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and have witnessed some of the largest marches and demonstrations that I have seen in the last twenty years. I’ve also been reading a lot of signs that the marchers and protesters carried. If you looked only at the signs, you would think we live in a world defined by competing principles and all of us are being called to take sides and battle it out until one side goes down in defeat. This serves no one well.Some of our most volatile issues of the day are not a battle of competing goods, but rather a battle that accepts no middle ground. We often lack the humility to recognize we might actually be talking about complementary principles and goods. For example, take the question of immigration. Most people would agree that a country has a right to secure its borders and most people agree that we have an enormous problem at present where many people’s homelands have become unlivable. Most people would agree that people have a right to seek justice and peace, in a safe community. It seems the discussion we should be having is how we manage to control our borders and respond to the need for safe passage to safer communities for millions of refugees who are displaced from their homelands. Who is having that conversation? Well, the Catholic Church, for one!
Our faith is grounded in balancing in a life-giving creative way the tension of both/and. After all, we talk about how belief is rooted in faith and reason. We believe that justice should be wrapped in mercy. We know that with sin, there is always the possibility of grace. This ability to see the complementary goods has never been on bigger display than this past week.
The week began with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing a strongly worded statement opposing President Trump’s executive order on Immigration. They write “We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.”
Here the Church draws on its principles of Catholic Social Teaching which holds both the right of people to migrate to “sustain their lives” and the right of a country to “regulate its borders and control immigration” (Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration and the Movement of Peoples).
In the same week, many bishops and Catholic Pro-Life marchers welcomed the presence of Vice-President Pence who supports the work of the Pro-Life Movement. The Church both preaches against the sin of abortion and the right of every woman to have all the support she needs from the government and community to bring her child into the world. The Church will continue to advocate against abortion and, through ministries like Project Rachel, offer healing and hope to women and men touched by the experience of abortion.
These two issues in the span of a week, highlight what many people find so confounding about the advocacy of the Catholic Church on behalf of social issues. We seem to some to be “always changing sides.” And that is just it, we don’t take sides. We stand in the truth of the Gospel of Life. Rather than getting tied up in political platforms and ideologies, the Church looks to the Gospel and in the harmony of truth and reason seeks always and everywhere to protect the dignity of the human person through the exercise of mercy and justice.
Now, more than ever, our country needs the wisdom of a church that can navigate toward the common good by exercising both/and. We need to identify the common good within the issues on which we are so quick to take sides– and work together toward a shared good.
What does a country look like that has a secure border and the ability to welcome people seeking peace, a job, a place for their children to thrive. What do support networks look like that would say we are a community who know women deserve better than having to choose an abortion and can provide for their care. What does a country look like that can promote the dignity of the human person and the common good of the community? These are questions that the Church has thought about for centuries and has some wisdom to share.
Pope Francis believes that sharing that wisdom is part of our mission to the world today. He writes in The Joy of the Gospel, “Despite the tide of secularism which has swept our societies, in many countries – even those where Christians are a minority – the Catholic Church is considered a credible institution by public opinion, and trusted for her solidarity and concern for those in greatest need. Again and again, the Church has acted as a mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, the land, the defense of life, human and civil rights, and so forth. And how much good has been done by Catholic schools and universities around the world! This is a good thing! (65).
Today, we all have an opportunity to bring this good thing to bear in our conversations and in our advocacy. Let’s be one of those schools!
This post was originally published on the St. Joseph's College of Maine Theology Blog and was re-published with permission.
This year, my fellow CUA students and I have the honor of helping lead the hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates participating in the 43rd Annual March for Life in Washington, DC. The March for Life is one of my favorite events of the year. While the hope remains that one day we won’t need to march, the event remains a beautiful witness of women and men, clergy and religious, various peoples of culture and faith, the old and the young alike.
Throughout high school, I remember identifying more as “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life” (the former focusing on fighting attempts to normalize abortion; the latter upholding the dignity of all human life, from cradle to grave). I was all too aware of the evils of abortion, such as the exploitation of women for money, the promotion of sexual promiscuity, and the intentional termination of the life of the unborn child. Even more so, I resented the continuous attacks on the dignity of the human person— whether in utero or with physician-assisted suicide—and found myself compelled to and justified in fighting back with a passion similar to that of those I deemed my opponents. After all, the God-given rights of the human person were at stake, and demanded a strong defense— I perceived anything less than that as scandalous of a human being.
When I attended my third March for Life as a freshman in college, however, I experienced a shift in the focus of my pro-life activism; it was just that— pro-life— in short, recognizing and promoting the wondrous beauty, goodness, and dignity of life itself. While attending the March for Life affords you the amazing opportunity to meet many, many others who are energized (in spite of the cold and often snowy weather) to make their pro-life witness heard, that year I recall paying closer attention to the speakers on stage during the rally prior to the March. In a recurring theme, speaker after speaker stressed to the crowds the importance of not only standing firm despite perceived setbacks or difficulties, but to also continue to love, especially if none is being offered back.
“Love is not passive,” I remember hearing, “If you’re passionate about loving life, then that love is what moves you— it’s the driving force behind your actions.” Authentic love demands recognizing all of humanity as good— even those opposing pro-life work. Now, pro-life work also includes issues pertaining to end-of-life care, the death penalty, and so on, but here I’m focusing on the life in the womb. All of humanity has this incredible dignity because our Lord Himself became human, sharing in our earthly life. All of humanity, then, is connected to Christ: “By His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human being” (Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 2).
Just as Jesus exemplified in His ministry, we must seek out souls and love them. To truly become promoters of life, we must fearlessly speak the truth, not just to win an argument, but out of love for each unique and irreplaceable person. For example, we have to look with compassion on those who are facing difficult situations with pregnancies, end of life care, and facing the death penalty. We must love those who speak with hatred toward us. Above all, we must witness with lives of love to a society enthralled by the “culture of death.”
It is out of love for the beauty and gift of human life that we stand up against the evils that are offenses against it. Being pro-life is not about a personal agenda or political stance. Each life is a miracle created by God and continuously loved into existence by Him. Being pro-life isn’t about marching one day, writing a blog, or having a debate. It is about being humbled by the miracle of life, recognizing the dignity of each person, and living in a way that witnesses and defends the love of Christ:
“At this stage of history, the liberating message of the Gospel of Life has been put into your hands. And the mission of proclaiming it to the ends of the earth is now passing to your generation. Like the great Apostle Paul, you too must feel the full urgency of the task: “Woe to me if I do not evangelize” (1 Corinthians 9:16). Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life. The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love. Now more than ever, in a world that is often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, people need the fresh, vital spirituality of the Gospel” (Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 1993).
That is why we march.
Today, the largest pro-life movement in the world will occur as thousands march the National Mall in Washington, DC, peacefully and passionately for the sake and sanctity of human life. Every year, the March for Life occurs on the anniversary of the historic Roe v Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Despite the sorrow that fills the memory of this day, we have been called, as a community of life, to stand with zeal (word choice) for everyone’s right to life, not just this day, but every day of our lives.
I have never participated in the March for Life before, but I am very excited to finally take part in some of the activities that are occurring this week in our nation’s capital. From hosting eager pilgrims coming from Texas to march, to pro-life talks and dinners, and the National Prayer Vigil for Life, it has been an inspiring week so far. The pro-life community is strong and vibrant and it is a joy to be a part of that spirit. However, as I’ve been reflecting on the meaning and beauty of this week, I am realizing the vital call that is bestowed upon us to witness the beauty of life every day of our lives. During this week and beyond, we must take the time to see the value in every life and how we can share that with others.
I want the world to know that the beauty of life is all around us: the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and those in-between. It is in those risking their own life for the sake of others. The beauty of life is all around the world in different races, cultures, and experiences. The beauty of life is in the day to day interactions of our community, at home, work, and school. The beauty of life is in experiencing nature. The beauty of life is in sharing our own lives with others. Most vividly, as Catholics we know that the beauty of life exists in the Church, as Jesus Christ who teaches us how to love perfectly: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To love perfectly is truly selfless. Those committed to a culture of life live as selfless witnesses, caring for the sanctity of each human soul through love. In our culture where instant pleasure and satisfaction are the façade for human happiness, we must teach others that there is authentic joy in protecting and standing for those who may not have a voice of their own.
So many have come before us and instructed us in Christ's example, in the way of life. Blessed Mother Teresa, who devoted herself to the Cross by serving Christ in the slums of India said, “Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor” and that, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. "Not only as Americans, but as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called to protect the preciousness of every life created by God.
These thoughts are my prayers, especially today, as we reflect on the Right to Life, particularly that America and our world will come to embrace a culture of life for all peoples, and I hope that you will live these prayers with me wherever you are marching. Whether you are in our nation’s capital today, at home, or at a march in spirit, know that your witness matters and is essential to stamping out a culture of death and living a culture of life. In order to bring life to the world, we must live in love. Let us ask God to bless this week that He may touch the hearts of many who need to hear his words of love and mercy, and that together we can increase the culture of life.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington D.C.
If someone were drowning, whether you knew how to swim or not, would you save them?
This is one of the sayings that Irena Sendlerowa’s father told her to remember and use as a model for her life. As a young Catholic social worker living in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, “Irena Sendler” made this question her life’s testament by saving Jewish children and orphans from the Warsaw Ghetto.
January 27 is designated by the U.N. as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day of remembrance is appropriate for National Sanctity of Life Month. We may first think of respecting life in terms of the unborn, but being pro-life means honoring life in all stages. The horror of the Holocaust violated a respect for life. Many Catholics during this period of time understood the threat anti-Semitism brought to humanity. It’s not surprising many Catholics aided in protecting Jews and other targets of the Nazi Party.
Irena Sendler was not a commonly known hero of the Holocaust until nearly a decade ago when four high school girls from rural Kansas created a 1999 National History Day (History Fair) performance focusing on the heroine. “We saw a 1994 U.S. News & World Report that was five years old [at the time we read it] with a clipping entitled, ‘Other Schindlers,’ and Irena Sendler was listed as saving at least 2,500 children,” said Megan Stewart-Felt, one of the four students who created Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. “ ‘Irena Sendler’ received one hit on Google in 1999,” said Felt. “Today I type in her name and have more than 767,000 hits.”
Sendler’s work in saving Jews didn’t start with her efforts in saving children in the Warsaw Ghetto. As a young university student, Sendler made false documents for Jewish friends and others in the Warsaw area from 1939 to 1942 before she joined the underground Zegota, a Polish underground group to assist Jews.
“Life in a Jar” describes perfectly the actions Sendler used to save Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto. Sendler, along with 10 others under her direction, implemented various tactics of getting children past Nazi guards. Several of these tactics included Sendler posing as a nurse taking “sick” or “dead” children out of the ghetto, smuggling a five-month-old baby in a carpenter’s box and using a barking dog to conceal the crying children, hindering Nazi guards from thoroughly examining the cargo vehicle.
Sendler then adopted the children into homes of Polish families or hid them in Catholic convents, orphanages, and parish rectories. Priests and monks provided some Jewish children and adults with false baptismal certificates to pose as Catholics. AmericanCatholic.org quotes Szymon Datner, a Jewish historian, as saying about Catholic nuns, “No other sector was so ready to help those persecuted by the Germans. This attitude, unanimous and general, deserves recognition and respect.” To ensure the children would one day discover their true identity, Sendler made lists of the children’s real names and family information and concealed them in jars she buried in her garden.
Nazi’s did capture Sendler. She was beaten severely and even scheduled for execution, but the Polish underground bribed a guard to release her and she entered into hiding. Sendler passed away at the age of 98 on May 12, 2008. Just one year before, Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for her courage and valor in saving Jewish children. Additionally, Yad Vashem recognized Sendler in 1965 as Righteous Among the Nations.
During National Sanctity of Life Month and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it’s important to reflect and gain inspiration from everyday heroes, such as Irena Sendler, whose actions saved many lives, often at great risk to their own.
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”
-Romans 8:24-25 (full passage found here)
In this passage and throughout his letters, St. Paul directs us through (not around) the darkness of suffering into the great light of faith that brings hope to those who know and love Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Philippians, he urges us to offer everything, especially our sufferings, with the hope of conforming our lives to Christ’s own sufferings so that we might in turn be conformed to His resurrection.
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
- Philippians 3:8-10
My wife and I recently suffered through the pain-filled loss of a miscarriage. When we first heard the news we were absolutely devastated, heart-broken to say the least. Living through this experience, made me painfully aware of the fragility of life, especially life in the womb.
In fact, later that evening I was scheduled to direct a pro-life youth rally for the 40 days for life. I couldn’t fathom how someone would actually voluntarily take a life from the womb of its mother. I believe this experience has caused me to suffer twice as much heart ache. I am terribly saddened because of our loss and terribly saddened because of the realities of abortion. With nothing save our Faith to comfort us and in holy surrender, my wife and I offer up our baby’s life for the conversion of hearts, especially for those considering abortion.
A few weeks ago, I was praying across the street from a Planned Parenthood abortion facility when I noticed a young woman sitting in her car that was parked next door in front of the pro-life pregnancy resource center. However, I knew on this particular day of the week, the center was closed so I wondered who she was and if she needed help. After a brief interior struggle as to whether or not I should approach her car and speak with her I started walking towards her.
I had been to Mass earlier that morning and I remember asking our baby, whom we named “Charlie,” to intercede for women in crisis pregnancies. I didn’t put two and two together while I was experiencing all of this but my prayer was about to be answered. The young woman in the car was in crisis and nobody, except me (and Charlie), was around to help her. I introduced myself, told her who I was (pro-life advocate) and that I was there to help her find the assistance she needed. I was able to lead her to another resource center that was nearby and assured her that there were people in this community that would be with her and support her every step of the way. I thanked her for choosing Life!
For St. Paul, it is through the great acceptance of or rather surrendering to (and patiently enduring) life’s suffering, that we obtain the imperishable and eternal crown of victory (c.f. 1 Cor 9:25); a victory in his faith-filled eyes incomparable to the passing experiences of a lifetime no matter how grave. For it is true, no-thing compares to the glory that awaits us; for eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him (c.f. 1 Cor 2:9).
Bart Zalvetta is a member of the Theology Department of Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska
This past Sunday, October 6th was “Respect Life Sunday,” a day designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to kick of their Respect Life programming for the year. When I went to Mass this weekend, I offered extra prayers for the protection of the unborn and the protection of life until natural death. I did not really think about it any more than those few minutes at Mass.
Later in the evening however I had a general meeting of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas on my campus. Our chaplain spoke briefly about Respect Life Sunday and offered this group a challenge. He spoke about the good things that the pro-life ministry does (March for Life, sidewalk prayers, raising awareness, etc), but also pointed out the need for more resources for women actually in the position to be making decisions about whether or not to end their pregnancies. He spoke about how too often, the decision to end a pregnancy is made because it is the easiest. He challenged us to re-think our views on the pro-life ministry.
In the United States, the pro-life ministry in the mainstream focuses a great deal on the changing of laws that allow abortion. This goal is a good one, a necessary step to ending the practice of abortion in the United States. But what our chaplain said when he gave us this challenge resonated with me and made me think. There should be a larger goal of not only trying to amend laws to prohibit abortions, but also trying to offer resources to pregnant women. I firmly believe that abortion should not be legal, but until there is a time where that is the case, shouldn’t we work just as hard to make abortion not as common?
Of course this still leaves the question of how: how do we as Catholics strive to make abortion something less common? On the large scale this involves better counseling resources for pregnant women unable to care for their unborn children, showing these women that there are options available that are alternatives to abortion. But how do we, on a smaller, individual scale help reach this goal? That question I do not have an answer to quite yet. But it certainly will be on my mind and in my prayers.
For an inspiring story of one man’s change of heart about his daughter with Down’s Syndrome, watch this video below:
Rebecca Ruesch is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center
My name is Alex, and I’m a pro-life Catholic. Am I simply pro-life because I am a Catholic? That is a question that I have pondered over these last few days as our nation commemorates the 39th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. My conclusion is that my Catholic faith informs my conscience (as it does on issues of morality), but that I believe that I would still be pro-life if I were an atheist or agnostic.
In his homily at last night’s Opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas spoke to a swelling crowd of bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and laity:
“The sad anniversary recalled each year on January 22 has become an invitation to you, one that calls for prayer and vigil, marching and testifying, and a joyous love for human life that is unable to be defeated.”
The “joyous love for human life” that Cardinal DiNardo spoke of echoes the pleas of hundreds of thousands of Americans who march, walk, and pray today for an end of legalized abortion in the United States.
I suppose that my views on the pro-life movement (abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and all other forms of ending human life prematurely) are grounded in my belief in the Ten Commandments (“You shall not kill”) and the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”). I am pro-life because I am Catholic and American. The Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence really tap into human nature because they both capture something transcendent and universal, moving beyond the boundaries of nations, beyond the boundaries of self and the familiar. Lawmakers will not protect an unborn child, but are quick to outlaw euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
But how does the abortion issue relate to the New Evangelization? In Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper establishing the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, the Holy Father explains the mission of the New Evangelization: “Although this task directly concerns the Church’s way of relating ad extra, it nevertheless presupposes first of all a constant interior renewal, a continuous passing, so to speak, from evangelized to evangelizing.” The task of evangelization is directed both ad extra (to the world) and ad intra (to the Church). The Church’s renewed mission is to proclaim the same gospel message of Jesus Christ in the modern world.
Legalized abortion is certainly one of those issues that all people, both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, need evangelization in order to continue a conversion of heart and conscience. In the same decree, Pope Benedict XVI writes that “there has been a troubling loss of the sense of the sacred, which has even called into question foundations once deemed unshakeable such as … a common understanding of basic human experiences: i.e., birth, death, life in a family, and reference to a natural moral law.”
In an attempt to reclaim the sacred, let us join today in prayer for the unborn. May we continue to pray for the evangelization and re-evangelization of all people, so that all people, born and unborn, can enjoy life to the fullest.
Alex R. Boucher is the Program & Operations Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexBoucher.