Catholicism – the original "megachurch"

The Original Megachurch

Imagine 25,000 young Catholics cheering for their bishops, priests, religious and deacons! Imagine a standing ovation at the mere mention of the Holy Father. Then imagine a moment in the Mass when those same 25,000 young people come together in a perfect silence while praying for the safety of the unborn.

That was the scene at the Mass for Life in Washington’s Verizon Center. Here is the really neat part. About four miles away the same thing was happening with another 10,000 young Catholics in the DC Armory building. Now, add the rest of us older folks attending Mass in dozens of parishes throughout the city and you had a pretty exciting day to be Catholic.

I have been to several hockey and basketball games in the Verizon Center but no professional athletic team could excite me more than that many teens worshiping Christ and resolving themselves to fight for the rights of the unborn.

You were created for a purpose

This week, we mark the sad anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized the murder of the unborn. Please continue to pray for and end to abortion. Pray for the women who have suffered an abortion and certainly pray for the children who never got a chance at life.

The Church has a future

Finally, if you get discouraged, please know that future of our Church is brighter than you might think. I know of at least 35,000 young people who are ready and willing to be workers in the vineyard.

To Stand Up for Life is to Experience Life!

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

Life is Worth Living: On the Strength and Resilience of the Human Person

One of the rights our modern age demands is the right to declare that certain lives are not worth living. In utero testing sometimes reveals the possibility or even the certainty of birth defects. Abortion is often recommended to mothers who carry “defective” children and sometimes that recommendation becomes pressure. It is said that almost 90% of families who receive a poor pre-natal diagnosis choose to abort.

And yet there are so many stories of people who have overcome enormous obstacles and who live full and rich lives. Some are missing limbs, others are blind, still others struggle with disease. Some have overcome poverty and injustice, others paralyzing accidents or great tragedies. And they are living witnesses to us that we ought never be the judge of what lives are worthwhile and what lives are “not worth”  living. It is true that none of us would wish to be born missing limbs, or blind or in poverty, or with chronic conditions. But we must reverence those who are, learn to appreciate their gifts, and summon them to courage and greatness.

We must declare with great certitude that there is no such thing as a life not worth living. We say this not as some politically correct slogan but rather with firm conviction that every human life is willed by God. We were willed before we were made for the Scriptures say, “Before I ever formed you in the womb I knew and I appointed you…” (Jer 1:4). None of us is an accident nor are our gifts and apparent deficits mistakes. We exist as we are, the way we are for a purpose, a purpose for us and for others. We all have an irreplaceable role in God’s kingdom and show forth aspect of His glory uniquely. Every human life is intended and is worth living because God says so by the very fact that we exist.

If this past week has taught us anything it is that the human person is sacred and that life is something worth living and worth fighting for. There was death, but there was also heroism. There are also those who, despite serious injury, have fought to come back and seek recovery. Further, there are those who join them in the medical profession and in their families who also struggle and fight to bring them that healing. This is resilience, this is strength, this is the truth that life is worth living.

The following videos show forth the resilience of the human person and give powerful witness to the fact that life is worth living. You may not have time to view them all now but I hope you’ll come back and see them all. That is why I post this over a weekend. Despite trials and setbacks all these individuals show forth the power and glory of God working though our human struggles. We might not choose the struggles they have for ourselves but we need to see that their lives are full and proclaim the dignity and resilience of the human person.

Here is the story of John Bramblitt who, though blind is a fine painter indeed.

Here is the story of Abby & Brittany, Conjoined twins born in 1990. The title of the video is “Joined for Life.” Abby says at the end of the video, “The best thing in the world about being conjoined twins is that there’s always someone to talk to and you’re never alone.”

Here’s the story of Nick Vujicic a man with no arms or legs who is a motivational speaker. He likes to say that he went from having a life without limbs to a life without limits.

I have posted this video of Patrick Henry Hughes before. Blind and crippled from birth he manifests a profound musical ability.

The Conversion of the World Begins with Me. A Pastor’s Reflection On A Brutal Weekend

Every now and then the Lord just has you look at something in depth and experience it to the top. It was that sort of weekend for me and the Lord was clear that he wanted me to meditate deeply and experience personally the tragedy of the taking of  human life.  Put more positively, the Lord wanted me to see the dignity of human life and grieve it’s loss. My lesson came in three stages.

Stage One: At the Abortion Facility Early on Saturday morning I went to St. Matthews Cathedral here in DC to celebrate the 8:00 am Mass. The Mass was sponsored by the Archdiocese and was a “Witness To Life Mass.” After the Mass, thirty of us walked several blocks and stopped to pray in front the Planned Parenthood Abortion “Facility” (I will not call it a clinic), just up the street from the White House on 16th Street. It was a cold and snowy morning but we prayed and prayed. Twenty decades of the Rosary and over twenty hymns were sung.  Sadly, despite the snow, it was a brisk business at Planned Parenthood. I saw over a dozen women enter the facility in just over an hour.

It really is a devastating experience to pray in front of abortion facilities. I have done it many times before and always leave drained and deeply sad. Most of the “women” were not really women at all. Most of them were young girls and very young women, most were minorities,  and most of them were scared. Most of them were also led there by a parent or a “boyfriend.” Pro-Choice “escorts” would surround them and lead them to the door. Our presence was one last attempt to beg them to consider adoption and to not give up on life.  What a tragedy this steady procession was, for both mother and child. Yes, most of them look very scared. And why not? Something awful was about to happen, something awful. Deep down they know.

And so we prayed. We prayed for a last minute change of heart. And even if the worse did happen it was somehow important for us to pray for the children who were lost. Perhaps somehow they will know, and the Lord will reveal to them that someone was praying for them as they lost their life. Someone knew, someone wept, someone prayed.

For those young women we also prayed. They may not have understood that. In fact, we may have seemed like their worst nightmare. Perhaps they hoped to slip into the facility unnoticed, but  there we were. But though we seemed like a bad dream, I pray that one day they will know that we prayed for them too. We prayed in love, prayed for their strength to choose life.  And those pro-choice escorts may have seemed friends, but true friends don’t lead friends into abortion facilities. Yes, we prayed that these young women will know that, long after Planned Parenthood has collected its money, and the escorts have gone home, the Church will remain to offer healing and acceptance as  the weight of what took place Saturday morning remains.  Yes we prayed for them and Project Rachel waits for them.

The most difficult moment came for me when one mother, after having left her daughter behind for the abortion, came back out and rebuked us saying that “My daughter has a future career to think about, forget you!” I doubt she knew that the final line of the epistle at Mass said  Children, be on your guard against idols (1 John 5:21). It echoed eerily in my mind as she breezed by and I prayed for her too.

A Sacrifice of pain – Yes, praying in front of an abortion facility is devastating and difficult. But just as the prayers had their effect, so too does the Lord allow us to suffer and to offer that suffering in sacrifice. The pain is deep, but surely no deeper than the pain of Jesus as he beheld our sins and died for us.

Stage Two: Agony in ArizonaThe rest of the morning featured parish meetings. But the morning took its toll and a nap was necessary before the evening Mass. Yet I awoke depressed, and soon found out why. It was not just the morning, that was awful enough, but my radio had been on during my brief nap and it broadcast news of the terrible shootings in Arizona. Surely this news had entered my dreams for I awoke knowing something awful had happened. Indeed it had, six were dead, twelve critically injured. A crazed killer, more death, more disregard for human life. It was like two bookends to a bloody Saturday.

Stage Three: Bomb ThreatAnd yet, if all lessons are perfect in threes, the Lord gave me a final lesson today. Mass was wonderful and as the last of the parishioners prepared to leave the police ordered us back into the building. A bomb threat was received in a building near the parish and it was not safe to leave the Church. Two members of Congress live in the building and this would seem the likely cause for the threat. The Arizona carnage had reached East Capitol Street. Human life again, under threat and many more lives disrupted. After an hour and a half the all clear was sounded. No further information was available.

I can only tell you what I told the faithful this weekend. Human life is sacred. No one on this planet is a mistake, no one is an accident. All of us are directly intended and willed by God. We exist because He thought of us, loved us, and personally created us. Every attack or threat on human life is an attack on us all for,  if one life can be disregarded or thought to have no worth, then any human life can be considered in this way. Even the troublesome among us are loved by God.

The Catechism has this to say:

The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society or the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.

 The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.” (CCC # 2273)

Change begins with me: We live in times in which human live is seriously threatened by huge numbers of abortion, by violence, unjust war, and euthanasia. We may, as individuals feel powerless to stop it. But, truth be told, the conversion of this world has to start with us. We cannot simply lament. We must pray and act. The conversion of the whole world begins with me as I learn to be less reactive and violent, less anger-prone, less ridiculing, less bigoted, less fearful. The conversion of the world begins when I ask God for the miracle to help me to deeply love everyone, even the difficult people in my life. The conversion of the whole world begins when I ask God for the miracle to forgive people who have harmed or hurt me. The conversion of the world starts when I begin to more deeply experience the dignity of every person, especially the most vulnerable, the poor and the troubled.

No, I can’t change the world, But I can change myself by God’s grace. And when I get better, others get better too.

A bloody weekend for this pastor. But a newfound commitment to ask God for a deeper love and reverence for every human person.

Here’s a video I put together some time ago. The song text is Psalm 139 and focuses especially on the love of God despite even our sins. The photos use 3D imagery to show the stages of development in the womb.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

All Creatures of Our God and King – On the Dignity of God’s Creation and the Special Dignity of the Human Person

I was recently challenged by a reader to saysomething about cruelty to animals. At first I thought this sort of topic was secondary but as I prayed I thought I’d like to offer a thought or two here on animals and humans.

Avoiding Extremes – As Human beings we seem to have exhibited some extremes in how we have regarded animals. At one extreme was the concept that they were mere brutes with no real sense or “feelings” at all. My own experience with the pets I have had over the years is that animals are more than mere instinct or devoid of feelings. The cats and dogs I have had seem to experience some degree of real feelings: happiness when I return home or hint at food, sadness or fear, even anger when I had to scold them, stress and anxiety when it was necessary to confine them. They also seemed to be able to interact with me at some level, knowing some of the words I used and exhibiting reaction to them. I could ask my dog to sit and he did, tell him to bark and he did. I could announce that we were going for a walk and he’d leap for joy and head for the door. The cat I currently have is less responsive to verbal interaction but he does meow and scamper about upon my return and reacts when I announce food, his tail swishes and he heads for the bowl. He is also able to express desire for a back rub or food. So it seems that animals, at least the higher mammals are not brutes. They seem to have something of an “inner life.”

But the other extreme is to regard animals as no different than us. This extreme does not really exult the animals, rather,  it diminishes us. We are clearly in a wholly different category than animals, even the higher mammals that exhibit a certain intelligence. Animals do not write poetry, build cities, fight for justice, build shrines and churches to worship God. They do not seem to form lasting governments or have a culture that builds upon the wisdom of previous gernations. They have not acquired medical or scientific advancement, gone to the moon, and do not seem to ponder higher things such as the meaning of life, truth, and the looming fact of death. Indeed, we human beings are clearly unique and have a highly developed inner life. We manifest a longing for things outside ourselves. We have what the philosophers call capax Dei (a capcity for God).

So, it is not wrong to insist that animals be treated with some respect and that we refrain from cruelty due to the fact that they experience pain and stress etc. But it is wrong to say there is no difference between them and us.

The Unique Dignity of the Human Person – Scripture confirms that God gave man dominion over all living creatures  and instructed us to fill and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28-29). God  also supplied man with a special dignity by breathing his own Spirit into man making man “a living soul” (Gen 2:7). He did not do this for any other living being. Hence our soul has a special capacity, a spiritual nature (capax Dei) that opens us to God and the things of God. Further, no other living creature is said in Scripture to have been created in the image of God (cf Gen 1:27).

Reverencing the Gift and the Giver is Key – Therefore we are to make use of the plants, animals and resources of creation with reverence for God who gave them and with respect for nature and limits of the animals and resources involved.  Cruelty to animals is dehumanizing for us. If we are sensitive we note that animals are NOT mere brutes. They experience physical pain as well as mental stress and that they do seem manifest at least rudimentary feelings. It is wrong for us to merely disregard this. Even if we must employ them as “beasts of burden” we ought to care well for their needs, feed them well, tend to their injuries and allow them proper rest. That we use animals for food is allowed by scripture (cf Gen 9:1-5). However we ought to kill them as quickly and painlessly as possible. Recent reports have sometimes indicated that slaughter houses are deficient in this manner and we ought to improve our methods, making them swifter and more merciful.

So, in the end a balance is necessary. Humans have a unique dignity that must be recognized. Yet it is also true that animals are a gift from God and they ought to be treated with respect by that very fact. It would be wrong for me to take a gift from you and misuse it, that would not only be wrong for me, it would be offensive to you. However, if you give me a gift you also expect me to make use of it. You might well be offended if I just cast it on the shelf or under a bed and made no use of it. Hence we do well to make use of the animals in ways God intends. As for cruelty, there is absolutely no place for it. Rather, we should imitate God who richly provides and cares for all his creatures.

By the way the Cat at the top of this post is my rectory cat “Daniel.” He’s a great mouser and a good friend and was curled up on my desk next to the computer as I typed this post!

This video show the capacity even for certain birds to interact with us. It is of a Parakeet with an incredible vocabulary. God really does remarkable work. Enjoy this video.

Why Anne Rice is Wrong: The Intersection of the Church and Politics Cannot be Reduced to Simplistic Labels.

The recent and public proclamations of two prominent women, one Catholic the other Protestant, highlight the growing conflicts at the intersection of faith, politics and culture. Author, Anne Rice, who had returned to the Catholic Faith in 1998, recently “renounced” her Christian Faith. And Kirsten Powers, a Fox News analyst and former Clinton Administration official, has written in her defense. The comments of both women show how increasingly difficult it is for the Church to negotiate the delicate balance of proclaiming moral truth and yet not transgressing  political and cultural boundaries by “taking sides” or forging alliances with parties and movements.

Here are some quotes from these women:

  1. Anne Rice from her Facebook Page –   “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
  2. Kirsten Powers writing yesterday in The Daily BeastI feel your pain, sister. Like Rice, I developed a deep faith later in life and, like her, I brought with me liberal views that aren’t normally associated with devout Christians….American Christianity is suffering from a hangover from decades of indoctrination by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and a host of other religious leaders who falsely cloaked right-wing Republicanism in biblical principles. Worse, these leaders modeled the decidedly un-Christian behavior of treating certain groups with contempt. Even if Robertson et al. were actually justified in viewing liberals, gays, feminists, and Muslims as their enemy, their response is simply not rooted in Scripture. (See, for example, “love your enemies” and “bless those who persecute you.”) A popular bumper sticker—”I love Jesus but I hate his fan club”—reflects this growing frustration with the church among devout Christians. Something needs to change, or more Anne Rices are going to walk away. The full article by Ms. Powers is here: Kirsten Powers on Anne Rice’s Christianity Crisis

Now there are any number of things I personally object to in Ms. Rice’s comments. Referring to us as “infamous” borders on Religious bigotry. In her “anti”  list I particularly object to the anti-science, and anti-gay labels. The Church has a very nuanced and smart position viz. science wherein we respect science’s role and only object when certain scientists  transgress into philosophical and religious pronouncements. As for being “anti-Gay:”  It is difficult when an individual or group wants to insist that its entire identity be described by particular form sexual activity which the Scriptures we revere and must obey call sinful, it is unreasonable to expect approval from the Church. But disapproval does not equate to hate as many claim or simple and crude “anti-gay” agenda. The Catholic Church is not anti-gay, we simply cannot approve of any sexual activity outside of marriage and have a principled, Biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. What is demanded of us is unreasonable. In fact her whole diatribe is simplistic in that it lacks any proper distinctions or respect for the nuances of Catholic and Christian views.

As for Ms. Powers’ comments she too uses words that are unnecessary. Why must she describe Christians as treating certain groups with “contempt?”  Is it now contempt to disagree or stand opposed to the seismic cultural shifts that have taken place in West?  And why the word “enemy?”  Is the fact that Christians oppose aspects of the gay agenda, for example,  mean that Christians necessarily see Gays as enemies? Why are such words used and do they not express the contempt for us that they criticize? Is it not possible for Christians to have principled differences with advocates of the new morality without being charged with contempt and being told we are treating people as enemies, that we are unloving and refusing to bless others?

But the deeper issue I want to explore is the implied critique that Catholics and Traditional Christians are wrong to build alliances in the political and secular realm. The simplistic form of the charge is that traditional Christians (to include Catholics) are just an arm of the Republican Party. I want to suggest that this is both simplistic and inaccurate. I also want to address the charge that it is wrong for the Church to develop alliances.  Let’s begin with a little history.

There is a long history of alliances – While the Church has never officially embraced a political party, political alliances have historically been evident. In the past, until the emergence of the Regan Democrats, Catholic voters were  a reliably  Democratic voting block. There were also many alliances forged between Church leaders and Democratic leaders. Issues such as labor, and labor unions, justice, minimum wage, and care for the poor forged deep alliances between Catholics and Democrats at all levels in the Church. In the years of the Civil Rights Movement the Christian Churches were the central pillar of that movement and a large number of Catholic Clergy, Sisters and lay leaders were active in the movement. The Civil rights movement forged important alliances with civic and political leaders to evoke lasting change. There were also countless alliances that developed between the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations and civic and political leaders to address a wide variety of local issues such as education, economic justice and development in poor neighborhoods, crime, traffic hazards and the like. So there is nothing new about the Church being out in the community and in the political realm forging alliances for matters deemed important.

Now in the first 70 years of the 20th Century the social and moral issues of abortion, euthanasia, homosexual activity, stem cell research and the like were not largely disputed and some didn’t even exist yet. Most Americans agreed essentially on such matters and that they were wrong. Generally then in these years the alliance was strong between the Democratic Party and Catholics due to the issues involved and the politics of the time.

After 1973 and the Roe v. Wade decision the alliance began to experience its first rifts. But not at first. In the initial years after Roe many prominent Democrats were against Abortion. For example Al Gore, Harry Reid, Jessie Jackson and others protested abortion. Abortion was not at first a strongly partisan issue. But in the decade following Roe, the pro-Choice position began to become Democratic orthodoxy. Pro-life democrats were increasingly hard to find and the party’s platform became officially pro-Choice. Little by little the Republican Party stood forth as increasingly pro-Life and this position was adopted as the official position of the GOP platform. One by one the other moral issues began to divide out along party lines as well.

And here we are today with a host of critical moral issues of which the Church cannot remain silent but in which political divisions are sharp. So sharp are these political divisions that when the Church speaks on what ARE plainly moral issues (eg. Abortion, Homosexual marriage, contraceptives and abortions to minors, stem cell research etc.) she is said to be getting too political, or to talking politics from the pulpit, or promoting a Republican Agenda. And yet these are clearly moral issues which fair minded individuals realize the Church cannot simply ignore.

And hence, new alliances are forming between the Church and the world of politics. Since most all these matters involve public policy, public funds, legislation and the like, the Church cannot be part of the discussion and seek to influence outcomes without bumping up against legislators who, by the way, also happen to be politicians. So the Church and other Christians do what we have always done, we form alliances to address these issues and influence their outcome. It is not just the Church that does this, everyone does this.

Now the point thus far is that political alliances are nothing new in Catholicism. While not being a partisan faith, it is just a fact that strong partnerships have been formed over the past 100 years between the Church and the Democrats in the past, increasingly the Republicans now. Seismic shifts in the culture have led to seismic shifts in the political landscape and led to shifting alliances.

Now that some of these alliances are seen as conservative or Republican some say, “tisk, tisk.”  But such scolding did not come from these same people or  secular media when the alliances were more left of center.

But what of the charge that the Catholic Church is merely an outpost of the Republican Party? It is true,  as has already been stated, there are more alliances withthe right of center and the Republican Party than in the past. This is for the reasons stated. But the fact is, the Catholic Church holds many positions that do not conform to “right-wing politics” and has alliances far broader than one party. The Church is generally pro-immigration, opposes the death penalty, and insists on proper care for the poor. The Pope and most of the Bishops opposed our initiation of the Iraq War. More locally my own parish and most other parishes in the City of Washington belong to a non-partisan group called the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN). Together with Protestant congregations, we number over fifty congregations who develop partnerships with City government and civic organizations to ensure the availability of affordable housing, redevelopment of blighted neighborhoods, restoration of public libraries and recreation centers. Most recently we gathered the Candidates for Mayor and City Council Chair and  secured their promise to work with us on a detailed and multi-faceted jobs initiative to get people back to work. Every month, I along withother clergy and Church leaders in WIN are down at the District Building holding their feet to fire and developing alliances to ensure that these promises are fulfilled.

It is also true outside the Interfaith Network that we Catholic Clergy, along with some Protestant Ministers worked hard to fight the Gay “Marriage” Bill. We have also fought hard for opportunity scholarships for inner city kids and opposed any expansion of Abortion funding.

So what are we? What is the Church? Is it really true to say that we are just shills for the Republican Party? That hardly seems fair. What if we are just Christians who fight for what we value? And the truth is, those values aren’t so easily categorized as Anne Rice and Kirsten Powers think.  We, like everyone else in this country form  alliances, to fight for what we value. But in the Catholic Church those alliances are not as monolithic as some of our critics claim.

Perhaps a personal litany to end: I am against abortion and they call me a Republican. I oppose Capital Punishment and they call me a Democrat. I am against Gay Marriage and many aspects of the Gay agenda and they say, “O see he’s a Republican!” I work for affordable housing and insist that jobs be the priority for the City agenda and they say, “See he’s a Democrat.” And all this time what I was trying to be is a Christian.

Protecting a Pregnant Woman’s Health

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who accuses the Church of sentencing pregnant women to death because it doesn’t allow abortion? Or someone who is against abortion “except in the case of the mother’s health”?

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about the teaching, especially for those of us who aren’t medical doctors.

“Abortion is never permitted…Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.”

This one-page article from Zenit clarifies the teaching and offers concrete examples, and I highly recommend reading it.

Even Catholics who have heard bits and pieces of the story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla might not understand why she is a saint.

At two months pregnant, she found out that she had a uterine fibroma. The doctors gave her three choices:

– have an abortion to end the pregnancy which was increasing the pain of the fibroma and later have it removed; have a hysterectomy to remove the entire uterus, including the fibroma and her unborn child; or have a myomectomy to remove just the fibroma.

Abortion is never permitted. A hysterectomy would have been permissible if it could not have been safely postponed until the unborn child was viable. Being a doctor herself, she knew that it was possible to carry the child to viability, so she chose a myomectomy to preserve the life of her child.

When it came time to deliver her child by C-section, she knew there would be complications. She was very clear that she wanted her child’s life preserved over her own, if the choice needed to be made. Though she made it through the pregnancy, she died a week later.

Gianna’s sainthood stems from her acceptance of suffering for the sake of her baby’s chance at life. Sadly, in 1973, the U.S. court said of abortion, “Medical judgment may be exercised in light of all factors–physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age–relevant to the wellbeing of the patient…All these factors may relate to health.” This practically means that if the mother is suffering in any way, a doctor can decide whether it would be “healthier” for her to kill her child.

We must continue to pray that we ourselves accept the suffering in each day (as Christ suffered for us) and that, like Gianna, pregnant mothers and medical doctors value human life over comfort.

Despite Her Pain, She Chose Life

The video below is a very moving story about a child who was conceived as the result of a rape. But his mother, despite her pain chose life. She brought him to term and the child, Ryan, was adopted by a large family of what became 13 Children, 10 of them adopted.

It is thought by many that rape and incest should be exceptions to the opposition to abortion.  But the more radical and true position of the Christian faith is that no child is unwanted or unplanned by God. We may not always understand the reasons and circumstances of every conception,  but God wills every human life, even those conceived by rape. This video beautifully depicts that God can draw good even from unspeakable and heinous acts.

Many centuries ago Joseph was sold into slavery by his envious brothers. He wound up in Egpyt and by his sheer giftedness became the Prime Minister of that Land. His position enabled him later to save the very brothers who had sold him into slavery. As Joseph stood before his brothers he said, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives  (Gen 50:20).

As for Ryan’s mother, in 1970 she experienced a great evil, but God drew good from it, and despite her pain she chose life.

Enjoy this moving video that depicts the potential and beauty of every human life, no matter how we are conceived. Behold what follows from one woman’s selfless choice.