Gospel of Life & Coronavirus

Bethany postcard
postcard of Bethany, in the Holy Land

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. (John 11:25) [Spanish]

The Gospel of Life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who from all eternity receives life from the Father, and who has come among men to make them sharers in this gift. (Evangelium Vitae 29)

That’s a quote from a letter written by a man that we older Catholics remember well. He was born during the Spanish Flu epidemic of the last century.

Here’s another passage from his letter about the Gospel of Life:

Through the words, the actions, and the very person of Jesus, man receives the complete truth about the value of human life. Through Christ, man can accept and fulfill completely the responsibility of loving and serving, of defending and promoting human life. The Gospel of Life has been written in the heart of every man and woman, echoing in every conscience from the beginning, from the time of creation itself.

He then quoted Vatican II:

Christ confirmed with divine testimony that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to life.

Pope John Paul II wrote this letter and coined the phrase: Gospel of Life. This week we marked the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s letter.

Pope Francis has emphasized the Gospel of Life message repeatedly. For example, a couple years ago, Pope Francis said to an international association of Catholic health-care professionals:

Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility, by contributing to the recognition of the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work from the moment of conception. This is a task of the new evangelization that often requires going against the tide. The Lord is counting on you to spread the Gospel of Life.

Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, our nation has had an open wound, literally. Thousands of innocent and defenseless people have bled to death at the hands of abortionists every day. And the wound never heals, because only the truth can heal it.

jp_iiThis is not the reactionary and old-fashioned Church, rejecting something new and modern. It’s the other way around. Roe v. Wade is based on old, debunked ideas. Abortion is nothing new; the ancient pagans practiced it. Violence and cruelty go way back.

The new thing is Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life. Every human being has immeasurable value and dignity. And God has given us a task: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Which means: Love yourself, your own life—because God has given it. And love your neighbor with the same love, for God’s sake.

I think we can see clearly how the Gospel of Life offers us the point-of-view we need to get us through the coronavirus crisis. We suffer social isolation, and we have to make many sacrifices. But we do so serenely. Because we affirm the priceless value of every individual human life.

This principle guides the worthy practice of medicine, as well as the decisions made by public officials to protect and preserve innocent people’s lives.

Yes, a day will come when all of us will have to go to meet the Lord, by dying. We Christians do not fear death. We do not regard it as the greatest possible evil. We commend our deceased loved ones to God, looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. Being pro-life does not involve pretending that death doesn’t come for us all, in God’s time.

But Pope John Paul’s letter explained clearly how the Fifth Commandment binds us. Not only must we refrain from murder. We must also use all the skills we possess, to foster the advancement of every human life. Not only may we never act to destroy anyone’s life, we also may never omit to care for anyone who needs such care.

God has entrusted human life to us, not as something we fully understand and can master, but as a mystery that we humbly attend to and care for. Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life can and will give us the firm foundation that we need to understand our role in this crisis. When we live by the Gospel of Life, we will prosper. That is: we will prosper in the most important way. Morally. We will build up the bonds of trust that hold communities together.

Our job as Catholics is: to stay focused on the message, to stay prayerful about it, and to live always in communion with the good and gentle Savior Who came into this world that we might have life.

Who Will Give the Concession Speech?

Elections usually end with a concession speech. The defeated candidate acknowledges that the voters have chosen his or her opponent. The loser of the election promises to abide by the choice of the voters. The contest ends.

But who will concede the Irish referendum? Can the unborn children whose lives now stand in danger–can these little ones take to the microphones to acknowledge that the voters have chosen to grant abortionists the authority to kill them with impunity?

____

Pope Benedict wrote some penetrating, wise things to the Catholics of Ireland in the spring of 2010. He tried to help them recover from devastating revelations about pervasive child-sex-abuse cover-ups.

Pope Benedict Easter candleSeems like a good day today to consider a couple paragraphs of that letter. We could apply the Pope’s words to ourselves here in the US, too.

In recent decades the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The program of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it.

Young people of Ireland, I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.

A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church… By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

____

We are pro-woman and pro-life. The referendum in Ireland means a crushing short-term victory for unrealistic propaganda and the empty promises of sexual libertinism.

Pope St. John Paul II explained very thoroughly how a Christian must be pro-life. And he explained how a pro-lifer must be kind and sympathetic.

We separate the moral failings that can lead to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy from the simple good of a human life. We say Go to Confession, and start fresh; we stand beside you. The abortion movement offers no helping hand and piles shame on top of shame, saying: Go, Kill the fruit of your dishonest sex.

Love will win in the end. Dear brother and sister Catholics of Ireland, we American Catholics welcome you to the trenches. We will work to build the Culture of Life from the ground up, until the Lord calls us home.

Concession speech? No. We concede nothing.

John 11 Gospel of Life

evangelium-vitae

“I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. (John 11:25) [Click por Spanish]

The Gospel of Life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God who from all eternity receives life from the Father, and who has come among men to make them sharers in this gift.

That’s a quote from a letter written by a great hero. In the letter, the hero repeatedly cited the gospel passage we read at Sunday’s Mass. Any guesses about who the hero is? And what letter? Here’s another passage:

Through the words, the actions, and the very person of Jesus, man receives the complete truth about the value of human life. Through Christ, man can accept and fulfill completely the responsibility of loving and serving, of defending and promoting human life. The Gospel of Life was present in the revelation of the Old Testament and indeed has been written in the heart of every man and woman, echoing in every conscience from the beginning, from the time of creation itself.

Then the hero quoted Vatican II:

Christ confirmed with divine testimony that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to life. (Evangelium Vitae 29)

Pope St. John Paul II wrote to us about the Gospel of Life. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life!” Christ entrusted this solemn declaration to us, and He sustains us in our fidelity to it, by pouring out on us His grace, His life. Pope Francis has emphasized JPII’s message repeatedly. For example, Pope Francis said to an international association of Catholic health-care professionals:

Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility to contemporary culture, by contributing to the recognition of the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work from the moment of conception. This is a task of the new evangelization that often requires going against the tide. The Lord is counting on you to spread the Gospel of Life.

Ok. Ready for a newsflash? We have some problems. As a country, los Estados Unidos. We face profound divisions among ourselves. These divisions make me think of another era. I’ve read quite a few books about the Civil War. And the political divisions we face remind me of the 1850’s.

President James Buchanan
President James Buchanan

Now, on the one hand, we don’t live like they lived in the 1850’s. Almost all of us can drive a car, and we freely drive all over the country. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, few northerners had traveled down south, or vice versa. These days we live in an America much more integrated by commerce and communication, without the distinct regional divide of north vs. south.

But, on the other hand, back in the 1850’s, Americans, in the north and in the south, had more basic assumptions in common than we have now. They disagreed about how to interpret the Bible, but they all regularly read the Bible. Even as they marched off to war against each other, they agreed on things that we can’t find a way to agree on now.

How did we wind up here, then? Profoundly divided as we are, in America? To me, the heart of the matter seems obvious. In 1973 the Supreme Court abandoned the truth and issued a ruling that has poisoned our national life ever since.

Since Roe v. Wade, our nation has had an open wound, literally. Thousands of innocent and defenseless people have bled to death at the hands of abortionists every day. And the wound never heals, because only the truth can heal it. And Roe v. Wade has banished the truth about abortion from our land.

This is not the reactionary and old-fashioned Church rejecting something new and modern. Roe v. Wade is based on old, debunked ideas. Abortion is nothing new; the ancient pagans practiced it. Violence and cruelty go way back.

The new thing is Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life. Our heroic popes have given us 21st-century Catholics the new and invigorating truth of the Gospel. They have articulated our beautiful rallying cry: Every human life has immeasurable value and dignity! And God has given us a task: Love your neighbor! The Gospel of Life looks to me like the one and only thing that could actually heal the dangerous ideological divisions in our country.

john paul ii cardinal bergoglioThis is not Republican over Democrat. The Gospel of Life demands that we revere and love every life–the unborn, the poor, the undocumented immigrant. And the Gospel of Life demands that we make sacrifices in order to protect our environment, our “common home” as Pope Francis calls Mother Earth.

The profound wrongness of Roe v. Wade does not belong to one political party or another. It’s not one party or another that has sinned against the Gospel of Life. We have sinned against the Gospel of Life as a nation. And it’s not one party or another that needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward. The United States of America needs the Gospel of Life in order to find a way forward.

Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Life can and will give us the firm foundation that we need. Standing on that foundation, we can work out our differences and find a way to prosper.

Our job as Catholics is: to stay focused on the message, to stay prayerful about it, and to live always in communion with the good and gentle Savior Who came into this world that we might have life.

Pro-Life Christmas

cab-calloway-hepstersdictionaryWhose birthday is December 25th? The Lord Jesus! Also: Isaac Newton, Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Rod Serling, Cab Calloway, Anwar Sadat, Karl Rove, Annie Lennox, and Jimmy Buffet, to name a few.

Before all the ages, in the bosom of eternity, the Son of God was, is, and ever will be born of the Father in the Holy Spirit, the undivided Trinity. Today, the Son of God was born a man, a human being, a human child.

Christ’s birth gives every birth meaning. God’s coming into the world as one of us reveals the divine love which moves the heavens and the earth. We call the mystery of God’s becoming man the… Incarnation. Today the Incarnation occurred.

No, wait! That’s inaccurate. And when priests fall into inaccuracies, Santa justly withholds their presents.

God was born a child on Christmas Day, in Bethlehem. But the Incarnation occurred not on December 25th, but on… let’s see: Math. Nine months… March 25th! The Incarnation occurred when the baby Jesus was conceived. Christmas celebrates the beautiful and successful birth of a divine child Who had been human, alive, and growing for nine months.

Now, we of course want to celebrate Christmas in spirit and in truth. And we might as well celebrate Humphrey Bogart’s, and Clara Barton’s, and Annie Lennox’s birthdays in spirit and in truth, too. That means celebrating the Gospel of Life. Christmas is the feast day of the Gospel of Life. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and everybody’s birthday, with holy joy—because we are pro-life.

What does this mean? Well, what does Jesus’ birth teach us? It teaches us that, when a child gets conceived in a woman’s womb, God acts. God reveals a plan, a grand plan that only He fully knows. A child, conceived and growing; a mother selflessly, naturally lavishing her as-yet-unborn child with everything, through the ineffably intimate relationship of the womb—something so complex and amazing that our little human minds cannot comprehend it all: God acts in this process with such a surpassing demonstration of His powerful loving care, that all we can do is revere this holiness with awe and dedicated service.

Who gave us the inspiring phrase “Gospel of Life?” Let me give you a hint. He began a letter he wrote to the whole world with this phrase, “Gospel of Life, Evangelium Vitae.” He had already defined the world-wide pro-life movement by his courageous leadership. In his encyclical letter, he laid out the Biblical and philosophical foundations of the pro-life movement. He explained how the movement actually began way before Roe v. Wade. The pro-life movement began with creation itself, and with God’s reaction after the Fall of Man, when He answered human violence with gentle compassion. The man who gave us the phrase “Gospel of Life,” the undisputed hero of the pro-life movement; from heaven he guides us and aids us still: Pope St. John Paul II.

John Paul II on the MallSomeday historians will look back and take stock of the 20th century, and the 21st, and they will recognize the enormous moral significance of Pope John Paul’s pro-life movement. With the benefit of some perspective, free from the fever of our contemporary political alliances, our children and grandchildren will look back and see the destruction that the culture of death did during our times. All the unnecessary pain and suffering for mothers and fathers, doctors and nurses, whole families; indeed, whole communities. Succeeding generations will look back and see clearly how the culture of death gave rise to terrible economic problems, to hopelessness and guilt on a grand scale, to a spiritual malaise throughout the Western world.

That’s for future generations to assess fully. Right now, though, we already know the basic answer. We fight the culture of death by rejoicing in the birth of the Son of God, and in every human birth. We fight back by taking our place near the manger, where the pro-life Church gazes with love at the divine mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth.

When we take our place here, celebrating Christmas, we have no choice but to stand up for all innocent and defenseless unborn babies, and for all those who love them: their mothers, fathers, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Because, when we find ourselves next to the newborn babe in the manger, we clearly perceive that violence has no place here, in this sublime mystery of conception, pregnancy, and birth. As the prophet Isaiah put it, declaring the Gospel of Life: “Every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for flames, because the Prince of Peace has a vast dominion, which is forever peaceful.” The cruel violence of abortion is completely foreign to the peace of God’s kingdom. Visiting Bethlehem spiritually cements this truth into our minds.

Now, don’t accuse me of bringing politics into Christmas Eve. Our Catholic adherence to the Gospel of Life runs much deeper than any political affiliations we have. But, of course, being pro-life has political implications. We rejoice in the victories won this past Election Day by candidates with a pro-life message.

These victories mean that we have to pray all the harder and remain all the more vigilant for opportunities to participate in building up the culture of life. May the year to come see us living out in practice, day in and day out, the spiritual worship that we take part in at Christmas, beside the holy manger of the newborn Son of God. May He give us the strength and clarity we need to live 2017 as truly pro-life Christians.

Abortion…

…involves taking an innocent and defenseless life.  Many women who have had abortions never did so with full awareness and deliberation.

God forgives, when we cry out to Him with sorrow. He pours out grace to heal us.

The Church loves her children. So she sternly warns us against doing things that will destroy us from within. One very effective form of warning: “You will be punished severely if you do this…”

Any priest in good standing can absolve any sincere penitent from any sin.

Committing the crime of abortion means excluding oneself from the life of the Church. But I daresay very few, in any, of the mothers who confess abortions have in fact committed the crime. Because to commit the crime you have to understand the full picture of the evil you do.

Now, that doesn’t mean evil of the gravest kind hasn’t been done; it has. And the remorse she feels means that the mother bears some guilt. But the crime has been committed by the abortionist. Only the one who commits the crime incurs the excommunication

That said, it’s a moot distinction in most of the dioceses of the United States, anyway. Almost all American priests have been granted the authority to lift this excommunication. I have–and all the priests I know who have been ordained anytime these past 20 years–all of us have always had the authority that the Pope granted to all priests in the world for the upcoming Holy Year.

Which is not to say that we don’t love the Holy Father for opening the door of mercy even wider–I guess in countries where the bishops have not generally granted priests the faculty to lift censures for the crime of abortion.

The report that I heard by Sylvia Poggioli on NPR lacked the following:

1. A sober recognition of what abortion involves.

2. Any sympathy–even remote sympathy–for what going to confession is actually like.

3. Any background knowledge regarding the discipline of this matter in the dioceses of the United States (on National Public Radio, when the nation in question is the United States).

Ms. Poggioli states: “Until now it’s been a difficult and complicated process for a woman who repents to get absolution…”

This is utterly and totally false in the United States (or, I think it’s fair to say, anywhere else.)

All the sympathy which our Holy Father has expressed towards women who have had abortions was originally expressed by Pope St. John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, twenty years ago. During the Holy Year in honor of the Redemption in 1983, Pope St. John Paul II extended the authority to lift the excommunication for the crime of abortion to all priests. I am not a historian, but I think it is highly likely that his having done that over thirty years ago is what led to the perpetual concession of that faculty to so many confessors.

Pro-Life Focus

caravaggio-call-st-matthew

During my first parish assignment as a seminarian, in 1997, I often found the parochial vicar in the rectory chapel, reading Pope Paul VI’s letter on Evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi.

I read the letter then, too. And I could see how Father might draw inspiration for his long hours of labor from it. What does it mean to be Catholic? To be a priest? Evangelii Nuntiandi offers a pretty solid answer.

It seems to me that something very important gets lost in the shuffle of the world-wide reaction to His Holiness Pope Francis’ famous magazine interview. To be honest, I haven’t been able to get through the whole thing. He lost me when he got into St. Ignatius’ style of discernment. I honestly just don’t know what he is talking about.

If you ask me what papal letter answers the fundamental questions, it is John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.

Yes, one can talk too much about abortion. In truth, I prefer not to discuss such an ugly subject at all.

But is there a way to understand following Christ that does not involve being a part of the Pro-Life Movement? Is the Pro-Life movement concerned with “small rules?” No. Really it’s quite the contrary. To be pro-life is to embrace the awesomely large power of God.

Will God forgive an abortionist who repents? Yes. A mother who had an abortion? Yes. Someone who drove a woman to the abortion mill, or who paid for it, or who in any way impelled her to have one? Yes, He will forgive the repentant sinner. And He can do wonders with the lives of repentant sinners, as we see illustrated so meaningfully above.

But is there any possible way to conceive of genuine Christian discipleship which does not involve the indefatigable application of one’s energies to the pro-life cause? Maybe my mind got warped by Evangelium Vitae. But I can’t see any way.

Catholic. Christian. Pro-Life. Inseparable, from my humble point-of-view. I honestly don’t think I’m going out on a limb on this one. I will gladly stand corrected, if need be. But I’m pretty sure our Holy Father would agree with me here.

Nain Dance?


When the Lord Jesus raised the young man in the little hamlet of Nain—when He raised this young man from the dead, it caused quite a stir. Understandably so. Doesn’t happen every day. I’ve celebrated a lot of funeral Masses myself, and I can tell you that I’ve never had one like that. Where the dead person got up and walked home.

So the event became the talk of the entire surrounding region. They heard about it in the Lord’s hometown of Nazareth, on the other side of the valley. They heard about it down south in Jerusalem. And John the Baptist, languishing in prison—even he heard about it.

What in the name of holy Moses is going on here? The carpenter is going from town to town, and now he has raised a young man from the dead!

We might think that people would respond to such news with joy. Certainly, many people did. “God has visited His people!” they shouted. And they danced for joy, maybe like Jacoby Jones in the endzone.

john_paul_ii_pencil_drawingBut not everyone reacted that way. Surprisingly enough. A lot of people who had known Jesus since He was a boy thought to themselves: “This man has gotten too big for his britches!” A lot of other preachers and religious charlatans gnashed their teeth with jealousy. And people who don’t like surprises—no matter how wonderful the surprise is—they did not like it.

In the beginning, the Lord had said to His people: Two paths stand before you. One leads to life, one to death. Choose life, then! said the Lord. Before many of you young uns were even born, Bl. Pope John Paul II said to us and to the world, The Gospel of Christ is the Gospel of Life!

Everyone must face the choice. Do I choose in favor of Jesus Christ, Who came to give life? Or do I choose in favor of breaking life down? Hurting myself, hurting others. Do I have faith that life is a gift that leads to eternal happiness? Or do I doubt the power of God?

We read that, when they saw Christ raise the dead man, “fear seized them all.”

If it isn’t scary–if it isn’t bigger than me, and awesome, truly awesome—if I don’t see that it demands my all, my love, my self-sacrifice—if it isn’t wonderfully scary, then it isn’t life. It isn’t the power of God. Fear seized them all because they realized: This life thing is bigger than I ever thought it was. God is real. And that is scary.

To believe in the life-giving power of the crucified Christ is not easy. It was much easier for people to scoff and try to dismiss it. Much easier to stick with smaller potatoes, like keeping my belly full and looking cool to my friends.

But let’s make a choice to step out into the scary territory of true life. Let’s follow the path of obeying God, following Christ, choosing love, kindness, and truth. God has visited His people. And there’s an endzone we can get to, where we will dance for joy forever.