The commercial below focuses on a mother and daughter as the youngster gets ready for the day. There is the mother’s soft presence and support during the morning routine, but there is also her strength, as she makes sure that her daughter is ready for school on time, remembers her backpack, and promises to call (for some unknown reason). Love is not merely about softness; it is also about demands.
I am grateful that Georgia-Pacific (the manufacturer of Angel Soft) has chosen to feature a young girl with Down syndrome in its advertisement. As we all too sadly know, the overwhelming majority of parents (67 percent to over 90 percent, depending on the study/estimate) whose unborn baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome choose to abort the child. This is tragic. Everyone deserves to live. Life takes softness, but it also takes strength. Parents who have children with special needs deserve the softness of our encouraging love and the strength of our supportive love.
We ponder many things on the Feast of the Transfiguration, among them the pattern of our life. Peter, James, and John saw the glory of Christ there, but only after a difficult climb up Mount Tabor. Peter wanted to remain there, but the Lord said, in effect, “No, we must go down this mountain and eventually up another, Calvary, which is the way to true and lasting glory.” We, too, go through this pattern of climbing (the cross) followed by beholding success and glory (the resurrection). This is the Paschal mystery and it is the pattern of our life, gor we are immersed into the life of Christ.
St. Paul speaks often of the Paschal mystery, the Christian life. Let’s consider one brief example on two levels: the individual and the Church.
Level One: The Individual
We are frequently asked, “How are you?” and often respond by saying, “I’m doing OK,” but consider, fellow Christian, the truest answer to this question, which St. Paul supplies:
Always carrying about in our bodies the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).
As Christians, the Paschal mystery is our life. We are immersed in the dying, rising, and ascending of Jesus. At every moment of our life, the great Easter mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection are at work. With Jesus, we are ascending to the Father.
This cycle may go on several times each day as both good and bad things happen to us or around us. The pattern is also evident in the longer term: there are challenging and difficult years in our life as well as ones that are more serene and joyful. Yes, we die, and we rise with Christ. This is the Paschal mystery; this is our life.
We experience trials, difficulties, disappointments, losses, and even devastation. This is the dying of Christ. That dying, however, leads to new life, and so we rise with Christ. It may take “three days” in the tomb, but if we are faithful, we rise, not just to where we were before, but more alive in Christ Jesus. As the old Adam dies in us, we gradually experience the New Adam, Christ Jesus. The old life that dies is replaced by the fuller life of Christ.
Unless the gain of wheat falls to earth and dies to itself it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it [rises and] produces abundant fruit (Jn 12:24).
Consider how much greater the mighty oak tree is compared to the acorn that fell to earth and “died.” There is hardly a resemblance at all. So it is that the life of the New Adam is incomprehensibly greater than the life it replaces: the dying life of the old Adam.
We are dying, and we are rising, but it is not a simple trade off, for in all of it we are ascending higher and higher with Jesus. The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, surprise him with a paraphrase of St. Paul’s answer: “Always carrying about in my body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in me.” Yes, the Paschal mystery is writ into the life of each one of us.
Level Two: The Church
In the same passage, St. Paul writes on another level, that of the Body of Christ, the Church. Referring to himself and his sufferings, imprisonments, and difficulties, he says,
So death is at work in us, but life in you. … We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; … Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God (2 Cor 4:12, 8-9; 15).
St. Paul views his suffering (and that of others in the apostolic band) as being for the sake of others in the Church. He suffers so that they might have faith and life. Historically this has been the case: The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church (Tertullian). Some in the Church have suffered and died so that others might have faith and life. One of the hard but freeing truths of life is that your life is not about you. The ink of the Creed is the blood of martyrs. We ought never to forget how much others have suffered so that we might have faith.
This is the Paschal mystery writ large: some in the Church are suffering while others are thriving and experiencing growth. The Church, the Body of Christ, is dying and rising. St. Paul says,
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake … (1 Cor 4:9-10).
Indeed! Of the first thirty-three popes, thirty died as martyrs, two died in exile, and only one died in his own bed. Today’s bishops, at least in the United States, typically live a comfortable life, protected and surrounded by layers of staff; yet many of them are cautious in the face of conflict. St. Paul calls bishops and pastors to be willing to suffer for the flock if necessary.
Many in the Church today are suffering, although this is often goes unnoticed by the vast majority of people (to remedy this, read regularly here: Today’s Martyrs). Through their sufferings the Church obtains mercy and continues to grow. The blood of martyrs is still seed for the Church. In the often-decadent West, we should be somewhat embarrassed at how others are willing to suffer loss, imprisonment, and even death for the faith, while we can barely get ourselves out of bed in time to go to Mass on Sunday.
The Lord has designed His Body, the Church, such that some do suffer, do carry the weight, so that others may thrive and grow. We should be grateful for these sacrifices, often hidden from us, though not from God. From them comes life for the rest of us. It is the Paschal mystery writ large!
As we conclude our mini-series on the Genesis accounts of creation and the fall, I would like to ponder God’s magnificent work. We are not here by accident; God has carefully arranged things so that we can exist and flourish. In this regard, I have written a good bit over the years about what is known as the “Rare Earth Hypothesis.” Let’s review some of the basics of this hypothesis.
While most people, including most scientists, believe that there may be billions of inhabitable planets capable of sustaining complex life, the Rare Earth Hypothesis suggests that such a large number is overstated.
This is because there are not just a few things that come together to support life here on Earth—there are many. Here are some:
Earth is at just the right distance from the Sun so that water is warm enough to melt, but not so hot as to boil and steam away into space. Water is also able, in this habitable zone (the so-called “Goldilocks” region), to both evaporate and condense at lower levels in the atmosphere, thus permitting a more even distribution of water, and the cycle of water over dry land known as precipitation.
For suns to spawn Earth-like planets they must have sufficient “metallicity,” which is necessary for the formation of terrestrials rather than gaseous planets.
Earth is in a “habitable zone” within the galaxy as well. Closer to the center of galaxies, radiation and the presence of wandering planetoids make life there unlikely.
Earth exists in a disk-shaped spiral galaxy (the Milky Way) rather than in an elliptical (spheroid) galaxy. Spiral galaxies are thought to be the only type capable of supporting life.
Earth’s orbit around the sun is an almost perfect circle rather than the more common “eccentric” (elongated) ellipse. Steep elliptical orbits take a planet relatively close to and then relatively far from the sun, with great consequences for warmth and light. Earth’s stable, nearly circular orbit around the sun keeps our distance from it relatively constant, and hence the amount heat and light does not vary tremendously.
Two nearby “gas giants” (Jupiter and Saturn) attract and catch many wandering asteroids and comets and generally keep them from hitting Earth. The asteroid belts also keep a lot of flying rock in a stable orbit and away from us.
Our molten core creates a magnetic field that holds the Van Allen radiation belts in place. These belts protect Earth from the most harmful rays of the sun.
Earth’s volcanism plays a role in generating our atmosphere and in cycling rich minerals widely.
Our sun is just the right kind of star, putting out a fairly steady amount of energy. Other types of stars are more variable in their output and this variance can utterly destroy life or cause it to be unsustainable due to the extremes caused.
Earth’s fairly rapid rotation reduces the daily variation in temperature. It also makes photosynthesis viable because there is enough sunlight all over the planet.
Earth’s axis is tilted just enough relative to its orbital plane to allow seasonal variations that help complex life but not so tilted as to make those variations too extreme.
Our moon also has a good effect by causing tides that are just strong enough to permit tidal zones (a great breeding ground for diverse life) but not so severe as to destroy life by extreme tides.
There are many more items on the list (see the first video below), but allow these to suffice. The conditions that come together on this planet such that it is capable of sustaining complex life are complicated, remarkable, and some argue rare in the universe. The ability to support life here is the balance of many fascinating things. We cannot but be amazed at the complexity of life and the intricacies required for it to flourish here. It would appear that for complex life to be sustained, many factors must come together in just the right way. The sheer number of these factors sharply decreases the number of possible Earth-like planets, despite the billions of galaxies and stars.
All this background information leads us to a blog at discovermagazine.com: Earth-is-a-1-in-700 quintillion kind of place. (700 quintillion is 7 followed by 20 zeros!) The blog references a study by Astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson from Uppsala University in Sweden.
Here are some excerpts:
Zackrisson’s work suggests an alternative to the commonly held assumption that planets similar to Earth must exist, based on the sheer number of planets out there …. Current estimates hold that there are some 100 billion galaxies in the universe containing about 10^18th stars, or a billion trillion …. Probability seems to dictate that Earth-twins are out there somewhere.
But according to Zackrisson … Earth’s existence presents a mild statistical anomaly in the multiplicity of planets …. Most of the worlds predicted … orbit stars with different compositions—an important factor in determining a planet’s characteristics. His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist …. Researchers are confident in the broader implications of their model: Earth is more than your garden-variety planet.
I write on this topic more in wonder and awe than anything else. Our faith does not require that we believe ourselves alone in the universe. God can, and even might have, created intelligent beings on other planets, beings with whom He interacts and whom He loves.
Neither should we too quickly assume that Earth is not a rare jewel. Statistically, it would seem that we and Earth are rare jewels. Humble amazement at all that it takes to sustain life on our planet is a proper stance at this stage of the evidence. The more we learn, the more it seems that the convergence of all the factors we enjoy on Earth is rare rather than commonplace. Consider well all that God and nature—sustained by God—have done so that you and I can exist. Be amazed; be very amazed!
I have received many requests to republish a post from several years ago. The following five truths from that essay are indeed hard. They rock our world and stab at the heart of some of our most cherished modern notions. If they can be accepted for the truth they convey, however, they bring great peace. These truths are not only good medicine for our collective self-absorption but they also help us to have more realistic expectations as we live out our lives in this imperfect and limited world. Study these truths well. If they irritate you a bit, good; they’re supposed to. They are meant to provoke thought and reassessment.
I did not originate the following five principles, but the commentary is my own. So thank the one to whom the Holy Spirit first spoke them and tolerate my meager commentary.
1. Life is hard. We live in times of comfort and convenience. Medicine has removed a lot of pain and suffering from our lives. Consumer goods are readily available and we have a wide array of choices. Entertainment comes in many varieties and is often inexpensive. Hard labor is something that few of us are familiar with. Obesity is common due to overconsumption and underactivity.
All of these creature comforts have led us to expect that life should always be just peachy. We become outraged at the slightest suffering, inconvenience, or delay.
Our ancestors lived lives that were far more “brutish and short,” to borrow a phrase from Thomas Hobbes. Life was a “vale of tears.” They understood that suffering was a part of life. When we suffer today, we start thinking about lawsuits and who is to blame. Suffering seems obnoxious to us and hard work unreasonable! We are angered and flung into anxiety at the mere threat of suffering.
This principle reminds us that suffering and difficulty are part of life; they should be expected. Accepting suffering does not mean we have to like it. Acceptance of the fact that life will be hard at times means that we get less angry and anxious when it is; we do not lose serenity. In fact, it brings a strange sort of peace. We are freed from unrealistic expectations that merely breed resentment. We also become more grateful for the joys we do experience.
2. Your life is not about you. If you want to make God chuckle, tell Him your plans. If you really want to give him a belly laugh, tell Him His plans! We often like to think that we should just be able to do what ever pleases us and maximizes our “self-actualization.” However, we do not decide alone what course our life will take.
In this age of “nobody tells me what to do,” it is important to remember that our true happiness comes from getting not what we want, but what God wants. Our destiny is not to follow our star; it is to follow God. True peace comes from careful discernment of God’s will for us.
It is sad how few people today ever really speak ahead of time with God about important things like careers, entering into a marriage, or pondering a large project. We just go off and do what we please, expecting God to bail us out if it doesn’t go well. You and I do not exist merely for our own whims; we have a place in God’s plan. We have greater serenity when we discern that place and humbly seek God’s will. Accepting the fact that we are not the masters of our own destiny, not the captains of our own ship, gives us greater peace. It also usually saves us a lot of mileage.
Humbly accepting that our life is not simply about us and what we want is a freeing truth. We often don’t get what we want; if we can allow life to just unfold and not demand that everything be simply the way we want it, we can be more serene and free.
3. You are not in control. Control is something of an illusion. We may have plans for tomorrow but there are many things between now and tomorrow over which we have no control. For example, we cannot even control or guarantee the next beat of our heart. I may think I have tomorrow under control, but tomorrow is not promised; it may never come.
Because we think that we control a few things, we think that we can control many things. Not really. Our attempts to control and manipulate outcomes are comical, sometimes even harmful.
Thinking that we can control things leads us to think that we must control them. This in turn leads to great anxiety and often anger as well.
We usually think that if we are in control we will be less anxious. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the more we think we can control, the more we try to control, which increases our burdens and anxiety. We end up getting angry because we discover that there many things and people we cannot control after all. This causes frustration and fear.
We would be freer and less anxious if we would simply accept the fact that there are many things—most things, in fact—over which we have no control. Our expectation of everything being under control is unrealistic. Life comes at you fast. Brooding over unpredictable and uncontrollable things amounts to bondage. Simply accepting that we are often not in control is freeing.
4. You are not that important. This one hurts. We often think that the whole world should revolve around us. We think it is only our feelings that matter and our wellbeing that is important. We are loved by God in a very particular way, but that does not change the fact that we must often yield to others who are also loved by God in a very special way.
Sometimes other people are more important than we are. We might even be called upon to give our life so that others may live. We must yield to others whose needs are more crucial than our own. The world doesn’t exist just for us and what we want.
There is great peace and freedom in coming to accept this. We are often made so anxious if we are not recognized while others are, or if our feelings and preferences are not everyone’s priority. Accepting the truth that we are not that important allows us to relax and enjoy caring about other people and celebrating their importance.
5. You are going to die. We get all worked up about what this world dishes out, but just take a walk in a cemetery. Those folks were all worked up too. Now their struggles are over. If they were faithful, they are with God; they are now experiencing that “trouble don’t last always.”
This truth also helps us to do the most important thing: get ready to meet God. So many people spend their lives clowning around and goofing off, ignoring our most urgent priority. In the end, this is freeing because we are loosed from the many excessive and often conflicting demands of the world; we can concentrate on doing the one thing necessary. Our life simplifies and we don’t take this world too seriously because we understand that it is passing away. There is great peace and freedom in coming to accept this.
So there you have them, five hard truths that will set you free. Think about them. Memorize them. Pull them out when life comes at you fast and hard with its agenda of control, self-importance, and empty promises of perfect comfort here on earth. A simple, sober, humble, and focused life brings great serenity.
We in the West live in a place and at a time in which almost every burden of manual labor has been eliminated. Not only that, but creature comforts abound. Everything from air conditioning to hair conditioning, from fast food to high speed internet, from to indoor plumbing to outdoor grilling, from instant computer downloads to instant coffee machines. You don’t even have write letters anymore, just press send and a text or email is delivered nearly instantaneously. Yet despite all this it would seem that we still keenly experience life’s burdens, demonstrated by the widespread recourse to psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs.
It is increasingly clear that serenity is “an inside job.” Merely improving the outside and amassing creature comforts is not enough. A large fluffy pillow may cushion the body, but apparently not the soul.
Jesus wants us to work on the inside and presents us a teaching in today’s Gospel on being increasingly freed of our burdens. He doesn’t promise a trouble free life, but that if we will let Him go to work we can grow in freedom and serenity. Jesus gives a threefold teaching on how to do this: by filiation, imitation, and simplification.
I. Filiation – At that time Jesus exclaimed, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Note how Jesus contrasts the “wise and learned” from the “little ones.” In so doing, Jesus commends to us a childlike simplicity before our heavenly Father, our Abba, our “Daddy-God.” This is the experience of divine filiation, of being a child of God, of being one of God’s “little ones.” The wise, learned, and clever often miss what God is trying to do and say, and because of this, they feel anxious and stressed.
It is possible for a person to study a great deal, but if he doesn’t pray he isn’t going to get very far. The Greek word translated here as “revealed” is ἀπεκάλυψας (apekalupsas), which more literally means “to unveil.” Only God can take away the veil and He does so for the humble and simple. Thus Jesus commends to our understanding the need for childlike simplicity and prayerful humility.
Half of our problem in life, and the overwhelming cause of our stress, is that we think too much and pray too little. We have big brains but small hearts, and so we struggle to understand God instead of just trusting Him. Though our reason is our crowning glory, we must never forget how to be little children in the presence of God our Father. No matter how much we think we know, it isn’t really very much. Jesus’ first teaching is filiation, of embracing a childlike simplicity before our Daddy-God.
What does it mean to be childlike? Consider how little children are humble. They are always asking “Why?” and are unashamed to admit that they do not know. Children are also filled with wonder and awe; they are fascinated by the littlest and biggest of things. They know they depend on their parents and run to them instinctively when they’ve been hurt or at any sign of trouble. They trust their parents completely. Children are always asking, seeking, and knocking.
Thus Jesus teaches us that the first step to lessening our burdens isto have a childlike simplicity with the Father, wherein we are humble before him, acknowledging our need for Him and complete dependence upon Him. He teaches us to have a simplicity that is humble enough to admit that we don’t know much and want to learn from Him, a wonder and awe at all that God has done, and an instinct to run to God when we are hurt or in trouble. Above all, Jesus teaches us by this image to grow each day in our trust of Abba, and in our confidence to ask Him for everything we need. Scripture says, You have not because you ask not (James 4:2). An old spiritual says, “I love the Lord; he heard my cry; and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise; I’ll hasten to his throne.”
Yes, run, with childlike simplicity and trust.
So here is the first teaching of Jesus on letting go of our burdens: grow in childlike simplicity and trust before God, your loving Father and Abba.
II. Imitation – “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” Jesus commends to us two characteristics of Himself that (if we embrace them) will give us rest and relief from our burdens. He says that He is meek and humble of heart.
What does it mean to be meek? The Greek word used is πραΰς (praus), but there is some debate as to how it is best interpreted. Aristotle defined “praotes” (meekness) as the middle ground between too much anger and not enough. Hence, the meek are those who have authority over their anger.
However, many biblical scholars contend that Jesus used this word most often as a synonym for being “poor in spirit.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means to be humble and dependent upon God. By extension, it means that our treasure is not here. We are poor to this world; our treasure is with God and the things waiting for us in Heaven. This is a source of serenity for us, for when we become poor to this world, when we become less obsessed with success, power, and possessions, many of our anxieties go away. To the poor in spirit, the wealth of this world is as nothing. You can’t steal from a man who has nothing. A poor man is less anxious because he has less to lose, less at stake. He is free from this world’s obsessions and the fears and burdens they generate. Jesus calls us to accept his example and to grow in our experience of being poor in spirit.
Jesus also says that He is humble of heart. The Greek word use is ταπεινός (tapeinos), meaning lowly or humble, and referring to one who depends upon the Lord rather than himself. We have already discussed this at length above, but simply note here that the Lord Jesus is inviting us to learn this from Him and to receive it as a gift. The Lord can do this for us. If we will learn it from Him and receive it, so many of our burdens and so much of our anxiety will be lifted.
Here, then, is the second teaching Jesus offers us so that we will see life’s burdens lessened. He teaches us to learn from Him and to receive from Him the gifts of being poor in spirit and humble of heart. The serenity that comes from embracing these grows with each day, for we are no longer bound by the shackles of this world. It cannot intimidate us because its wealth and power do not entice us; we do not fear their loss. We learn to trust that God will see us through and provide us with what we need.
III. Simplification – Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. The most important word in this sentence is this one: “my.” Jesus says, my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
What is a yoke? Essentially “yoke” is used here as a symbol for the cross. A yoke is a wooden truss that makes it easier to carry a heavy load by distributing the weight along a wider part of the body, or by allowing the weight to be shared by two or more people or animals. In the picture at left, the woman is able to carry the water more easily with the weight across her shoulders rather than in the narrow section of her hands. This eases the load by involving the whole body more evenly. Yokes are also used to join two animals and help them work together in pulling a load.
What is Jesus saying? First, He is saying that He has a yoke for us, that is, He has a cross for us. He is not saying that there is no burden in following Him. There is a cross that He allows, for a reason and for a season.
Easy? Jesus says that the cross He has for us is “easy.” The Greek word χρηστὸς (chrestos) is better translated as “well-fitting,” “suitable,” or even “useful.” The Lord is saying that the yoke He has for us is suited to us; it is well-fitting; it has been carefully chosen so as to be useful for us. God knows that we need some crosses in order to grow and He knows what they are. He also knows what we can bear and what we are ready for. Yes, His yoke for us is well-fitting.
Note again that little word: “my.” The cross or yoke Jesus has for us is well-suited and useful for us. The problem comes when we start adding things of our own doing to the weight. We put weight upon our shoulders that God never put there and did not intend for us. We make decisions without asking God. We undertake projects, launch careers, accept promotions, and even enter marriages without ever discerning if God wants this for us. Sure enough, before long our life is complicated and burdensome; we feel pulled in many different directions. But this is not the “my yoke” to which Jesus referred; this is largely the yoke of our own making. Of course it is not easy or well-fitting; Jesus didn’t make it.
Don’t blame God, simplify. Be very careful before accepting commitments and making big decisions. Ask God. It may be a good thing, but not good for you. It may help others, but destroy you. Seek the Lord’s will. Ask advice from a spiritually mature person if necessary. Consider your state in life; consider the tradeoffs. Balance the call to be generous with the call to proper stewardship of your time, talent, and treasure. Have proper priorities. It is amazing how many people put their career before their vocation. They accept promotions and special assignments, thinking more about money and advancement than their spouse and children. Sure enough, the burdens increase and the load gets heavy. This is what happens when we don’t ask God or even consider how a proposed course of action might affect the most precious and important things in our lives.
So stop “yoking around.” Jesus’ final advice to us is to “take my yoke,” but only that. Forsake all others. Simplify. Take only His yoke. If you do that, your burdens will be lighter. Jesus tells us to come and learn from Him. He will not put heavy burdens on us. He will set our heart on fire with love. And then, whatever yoke He does have for us will be a pleasure for us to bear. What makes the difference is love. Love lightens every load.
There’s something about the commercial below that reminds me of this Scripture passage:
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and he is gone,
and his place knows him no more.
but the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:15-19).
In this video we watch a young boy age before our very eyes and then vanish.
I’m not crazy about the Santa figure; in my opinion, something more edifying would have been better, but at his best, Santa means Holy One and as such can represent God. Although the “places” of the man forget him, the Santa figure does not. As the commercial ends you might see the man’s grandchildren (his “children’s children”) in the background.
The world has a cruel indifference to us, but God remembers us as the apple of His eye.
If you have ever had the exciting privilege of being in Washington for the Pro-Life March you how true it is that you always leave exhausted, but more alive than you came. The Pro-life March, for a Catholic especially, is really more than just the March, it is a series of activities. In the days immediately before the March there are usually seminars and other focused gatherings around life and bio-ethical issues. Then there is the great Vigil Mass for Life, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the night before the March. The Great Upper Church of the Basilica can comfortably seat about 4,000 people. But the Vigil Mass for Life brings often 8,000 or more. People are standing in the aisles, the side chapels, in every nook and cranny. The Sanctuary around the High Altar is packed with Bishops, priests, deacons, and seminarians from all over the country. Visible in the Church are Religious men and women in consecrated life showing a magnificent display of diversity in their habits. The congregation is filled with men an women and young people of every age group, and every ethnic and racial diversity imaginable. If you want to know how catholic (universal) the Catholic Church really is, just come to the Basilica for the Vigil Mass for Life!
The bigger picture – There are some who want to describe the Church as aging and of declining numbers. Some want to describe the Church as not being able to connect with the young, or with peoples of non-European descent. Some say her clergy and religious are aging. But come to the pro-life vigil Mass and behold the youthful diversity of the Church! And even if you can’t go, watch, as the EWTN cameras pan the congregation. Most of the religious in traditional habits are young. And there are hundreds and hundreds of them! Watch as the seemingly endless procession of clergy and seminarians enter, again, by the hundreds. And there too, youthful vigor is in strong display! So many are the priests and seminarians that they overflow the sanctuary into the side chapel for the Blessed Sacrament and into the ambulatory behind and around the High Altar. Here is a Basilica, one of the ten largest churches in the world, filled to overflowing with life, joy and worship! Yes, the Church is a bride, she is not a widow! Indeed, she is the joyful mother of multitudes.
Rally Riches – And this is just the Vigil Mass. The next day, of your pro-life pilgrimage features a youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The doors open early for music and praise. 28,000, mostly young people, pack the place. Music, inspired talks, the wave and ten trillion watts of youthful energy fill the center in one of its largest functions of the year. A reverent but energetic Mass follows, celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl. One of the younger priests of the Archdiocese usually preaches an energetic and youth oriented homily. And then, after the reception of Holy Communion, concluding prayer and praise, the youthful congregation bursts forth onto the streets of Downtown Washington to head for the March line-up on the Mall.
Overflow! The number of young people vastly outsizes the capacity of the Verizon Center. This year an alternative overflow site at the DC Armory hosted an additional 10,000 young people. There too, after prayer and praise and the celebration of the Holy Mass the young people and their adult chaperons headed for the Mall to begin the March.
And march itself is also a remarkable display in diversity. The balance is wonderfully tipped toward a youthful appearance. Here, Catholics join non-Catholics, fellow believers and even non-believers to march in six-figure numbers. The joy, the prayer, the hope and the experience of how right and just it is to support life all fill the air. It is usually cold, but the warmth within the crowd is tangible. And again, it is the youth who so often set the tone. They have zeal and zest as they lead chants and celebrate life.
The only angry people I met today were the pro-choice counter demonstrators I spoke with. There were about a dozen of them in front of the Supreme Court and I went to each one of them and individually said, as I looked into their eyes, “In your heart you know better, you know abortion is terribly wrong.” I spoke as softly as I could in the outdoor environment with a lot of background noise. I was trying to go right for their conscience, which, though suppressed, is still there. For the voice of God ultimately echoes in every human person according to the Catechism (cf CCC # 1776). Deep down they DO know that abortion is wrong.
I only got about half way through the group before they surrounded me and began to engage me. Their primary accusation against me seemed to be that I was not a woman. Of this I am guilty, but suggested to them that to determine the wrongness of abortion did not require a womb but, rather, a mind and a heart, something both men and women have! 🙂 They grew angrier with me as I didn’t easily go away but continued down the line suggesting to each one that they knew, deep down, that it was wrong to abort babies. I wanted to speak this to each one personally. I wanted to try and reach their conscience. Difficult, but worth trying.
In the end they chose to serenade me! And here was the song they sang:
Hey Hey, Ho, Ho! Pro-life men have got to go!
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! If YOU got pregnant then you’d know!
Even here, Life! Well, I just smiled and prayed, and the ladies in the rosary group behind me redoubled their prayers and I stood there and waited for the counter-protesters to grow tired of singing. I was grateful to suffer for the sake of the Name and to be a “fool for Christ” (1 Cor 4:10). Yes, even this was life giving for me. Dr. King had once said, “If you find a good fight, get in it!” And here I was on the front line, in the forward trench.
Just in the nick of time reinforcements arrived! A parishioner and friend JJ, (and a reader of this blog), arrived. And she’s a woman! I explained how they were singing this lovely song for me and suggesting, in a rather bigoted way, that my mere maleness rendered me incapable of having a valid understanding. Their song, (intended to give me the bum’s rush), eventually gave way to exhaustion. I restated my case, appealing to their conscience and introduced JJ, my friend, and pointed out, by the way, that she is a woman. She went to work and gave them the “Come to Jesus” talk!
Yes, even here there was life and the paradoxical joy of being able to suffer accusation and be thought a fool (for Christ).
In the end, to stand up for life is to experience life and to experience it to the top! The March for Life shows the Church fully alive, youthful, joyful, numerous and diverse. We have discussed before on this blog with sobriety some alarming trends and numbers in the western branch of the Church. But this weekend shows once again that the Church is a bride, not a widow. That she remains alive and strong, prophetic and enthusiastic. It shows that her young are still numerous, that vocations are rebounding. It shows that zeal for the truth is still deep in a faithful remnant that is glad to be alive, glad to celebrate life, glad to be Catholic and experience that the Church is catholic (universal). To stand up for life is to experience life. Come next year to Washington.
This video shows some glimpses of the Pro-Life Youth Rally at the Verizon Center. The footage is from Catholic.tv
In the video below you will see a visual representation of Worldwide Airline Traffic in a 24 hour period. Each plane is represented by a small dot of yellow light.
As you view the video consider some of the following:
Every dot is a plane that carries hundreds of people.
Each individual has a story.
Some are joyful and flying out to attend a wedding or family event.
Some are sad and flying to funerals.
Each dot is a plane filled with people who have both gifts and struggles.
Their lives intersect with hundreds of other people.
Some are influential and well known.
Others live more hidden lives but are very precious to others.
There are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, spouses, young and old.
Some of the people on those planes represented by those dots will die soon.
Others are just beginning their lives.
All of the people on these planes have lives that are swept up into the great mystery of God’s unfolding plan.
None of them are accidents, or surprises to God.
Each have the dignity of being an intentional creation of God.
Each is known to God more then they know themselves.
God knows everything about every person on every plane represented by every tiny dot.
He knows their past, their present and their future.
He sustains every fiber of their being.
Before they were ever formed in their mother’s womb God knew them, loved them, intended them.
Every one of their days was written in God’s book before any of those days came to pass.
Each dot a plane. On each dot a gathering of people. Each person with a history and a destiny unfolding, known to God, loved by God, sustained by God.
Behold the mystery:
O God, Who did cause the children of Israel to traverse the Red Sea dryshod; Thou Who did point out by a star to the Magi the road that led them to Thee; grant us we beseech Thee, a prosperous journey and propitious weather; so that, under the guidance of Thy holy angels we may safely reach that journey’s end, and later the haven of eternal salvation.
Hear, O Lord, the prayers of Thy servants. Bless their travels. Thou Who art everywhere present, shower everywhere upon them the effects of Thy mercy; so that, insured by Thy protection against all dangers, they may return to offer Thee their thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord.