Contraception and the Covenant of God

Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Why does the Church continue to teach something allegedly rejected by 80 percent of Catholics? Take a look at Scripture.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical which taught that each and every act of sexual intercourse must be open to new life.

To hear some people talk, one would get the impression that the prohibition of artificial birth control came out of the blue. However, even a brief review of history reveals a strong and consistent ban on all such activities from the earliest days of the Church in a direct line, right into the 20th century, with statements to the same effect by Pope Paul VI’s three immediate predecessors, as well as Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes. As a matter of fact,
at least as early as 1966, Pope Paul VI himself gave clear signals that the traditional teaching would be reaffirmed.

Pope John Paul II has reiterated the case for the teaching of Humanae Vitae with patience and regularity. Two statements, however, are particularly noteworthy because of their forcefulness. In 1983, the Holy Father declared:

“Contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God” (L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1983, p. 7).

In 1987, Pope John Paul II asserted that “the Church’s teaching on contraception does not belong to the category of matters open to free discussion among theologians. Teaching the contrary amounts to leading the moral consciences of spouses into error” (L’Osservatore Romano, July 6, 1987, p. 12). If the polls are correct in observing that more than 80 percent of Catholic women of child-bearing age in the United States ignore this teaching, why not change it, or at least why bother to appear to “beat a dead horse”? Because the truth of the Gospel and the truth about the human person are at stake.

Very often, even people of goodwill find the logic of Humanae Vitae difficult to understand. While they know the pronouncements of the Magisterium in this regard, they may feel the teaching has no basis in Scripture.

I have always wondered why no one seems to ground the core of Humanae Vitae’s teaching in the written Word of God. For me, one passage (which provides a basic theme for the whole of the Bible) is most instructive about the plan of God and the response He expects from those who would wish to be numbered among His chosen people. I refer specifically to Genesis 17:10-13:

“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me. Throughout the ages every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised, including house-born slaves and those acquired with money from any foreigner who is not of your blood. Yes, both the house-born slaves and those acquired with money must be circumcised. Thus my covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting pact.”

As Almighty God began to form a people uniquely His own, He established a covenant with Abraham as the father of that chosen nation. The Lord promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as “the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). And that from a man who was “as good as dead” (Heb. 11:12). All this showed that the Lord was God both in love and in power; He was truly Yahweh (I Am Who Am), who thus revealed Himself to Moses as the very source of life (cf. Ex. 3:14).

And so it was that when God was asked by Abraham to demonstrate His love, God spoke in terms of life; ever since, love and life have been inextricably linked to each other, for they are two sides of the same coin.

In ancient times covenants were the normal means of doing business, and such agreements always had external signs. The Lord God said the sign for Abraham and every son of the covenant thereafter was to be that of circumcision. How strange! Why not a sign that would be visible to all at every moment? Why a sign seen only by the man and his wife? For a reason so simple that it is most profound: The act of sexual intercourse would henceforth speak not only the language of love but equally the language of life, which is to say, that sexual intimacy would speak God’s language.

Therefore, every time a Hebrew man engaged in intercourse, he would be reminded that this particular act had been invested with a new meaning by God Himself, a point literally branded into one’s flesh and as enduring as God’s will, God’s love, God’s gift of life.

Whoever came up with the saying “Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” knew nothing of the God of the covenant; His love is totally unrestricted and completely open. God says, “The more the merrier!” He says that in His own Godhead, in that community of Persons who love each other eternally and expansively in the Trinity; hence, not just one Person, nor two, but three. Thus the Blessed Trinity serves as a model for human love and relationships, in which love between persons necessarily overflows into new life.

The connection between love and life reaches its apex in Jesus Christ, who loves humanity so much that He gives His life that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Like His heavenly Father, Jesus offers a covenantal sign of His love in the life-blood of the Eucharist, that new and everlasting covenant (cf. Mk. 14:24).

Although Christians need not practice circumcision under the New Covenant, they are still called to reflect those same values by which love and life are proclaimed in who we are and what we do, an example provided in a preeminent manner by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on our behalf.

Unlike any faith system before or since, the covenantal way of the Lord makes human sexuality holy by enabling it to reflect God’s own gifts of Himself as Love and Life. We thus encounter the truth of God’s identity and man’s dignity at the same time. No wonder, then, that St. Paul could rhapsodize on the beauty of marital love as a great mystery, indeed the sign of Christ’s love for His Church (cf. Eph. 5:32). Contraceptive intercourse, on the other hand, lies about both the God of the covenant and the children of the covenant.

Thirty-five years after Humanae Vitae, the Church clings to this essential teaching with a tenacity that annoys and astounds most people, but she does so because of some fundamental convictions that underlie the whole vocation of being a part of the chosen people. In a 1966 essay in Triumph magazine, Brent Bozell put it powerfully:

“The world deems the Church mad to have hitched its whole moral authority to this wretched piece of intransigence. Millions of Catholics and near Catholics and apostate Catholics over the years have felt the same way: if only the Church would give ground on this one, the rest would be easy to take. But this wretched piece of intransigence is the key to the mighty mystery of sex, which unlocks the door to the even more awesome mystery of life, which in turn reveals the reality of the supernatural. If the Church does not own this key, it does not own any keys at all.”

Married couples, theologians, clergy-indeed anyone interested in the God-man relationship-would do well to reflect on “the mighty mystery of sex,” and on the “even more awesome mystery of life.”

Fr. Stravinskas is the editor of The Catholic Answer and a member of CUF’s advisory council. He is the author of Lenten Meditations , which can be obtained by calling (570) 839-2185 or by writing to Newman House Press, 21 Fairview Ave., Mt. Pocono, PA 18344.

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Standing Up for the Church

Originally published in the National Catholic Register, January 26, 2003
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr.
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

The pinnacle of Christian living consists in receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion. In what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “so great and so holy a moment” (no. 1385), Jesus Christ comes to each of us personally as the Bread of Life and the Bride-groom of our souls. No wonder, then, that the manner of receiving Communion is so significant to Catholics.

In recent decades the procedure in the United States has generally been to make some sign of reverence, such as a genuflection or bow, and then receive Communion standing. Prior to that time, the long-standing tradition in the Western Church was to receive Communion kneeling.

Now with the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and the Vatican-approved adaptations issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the issue of posture for receiving Holy Communion has gradually elbowed its way amidst the scandals and international conflicts back onto the radar screen of many Catholics. What posture should the lay faithful now adopt when receiving Communion?

The GIRM in layman’s terms is the liturgical rule book for the entire Church throughout the world. It’s where one turns to find directions for celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The new edition of the GIRM provides that the faithful may receive Communion standing or kneeling, as established by the conference of bishops in a given geographical area. It also recommends that if the faithful receive standing, they should first make an appropriate gesture of reverence.

The U.S. bishops last year established norms in keeping with their obligation under the GIRM. The bishops specify that “the norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing.” The bishops go on to say that no one should be denied Communion because they kneel, but rather these instances “should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm.”

The bishops also established a bow of the head as the sign of reverence before receiving Communion (under either or both species), and they reaffirm the right to receive Communion on the tongue or in the hand, at the communicant’s option.

On paper this seems straightforward enough, but in some dioceses and parishes and among rank and file Catholics, it hasn’t been quite so simple.

One widespread misinterpretation of the new instruc-tion and American adaptation by pastors has been that the faithful who kneel for Com-munion may be denied the Sacrament on that basis.

The Holy See, using remarkably strong language, has affirmed in recent months that the faithful cannot be denied Communion simply because they kneel. This point is explicit in the Vatican-approved norms adopted by the U.S. bishops, which I just noted. Even more, the Holy See considers the denial of Communion in such instances a serious violation of canon law and an egregious infringement upon the faithful’s right to the sacraments. This Vatican response came from none other than Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez while he was still the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Church’s liturgical governing body that promulgated the GIRM.

This doesn’t let the faithful off the hook, such that they’re free to kneel or stand at their pleasure. While the faithful cannot lawfully be denied the Eucharist when they kneel, they nonetheless are called to stand for Communion in humble, faithful obedience to legitimate Church authority.

From biblical times to the present, kneeling has been considered not merely a penitential posture in the Church, but also a posture of adoration and profound reverence. This is reflected in the U.S. norm of kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, from after the Holy, Holy to after the Great Amen. Cardinal Ratzinger has emphasized that the practice of kneeling for Communion has in its favor a centuries-old tradition and is a particularly expressive means of adoring Our Lord, who is really present in the Eucharist. Those who favor kneeling for Communion can offer many compelling theological and practical arguments to support their position. Yet, standing is also considered a reverential posture in society and in the Church. We stand at several key times during the Mass, such as during the proclamation of the Gospel.

The bishops, then, were left with choosing among two legitimate ways of physically expressing reverence during Communion and selected one of them. The Church desires uniformity in bodily gestures and postures as a sign of unity among members of Christ’s body. We are called to crucify our own individual preferences or inclinations and strive to joyfully embrace the Church’s liturgical norms and directives for the love of Christ.

Those who receive Communion kneeling are supposed to receive “proper catechesis on the reasons for [standing during Communion].” This catechesis is not a license to impose an “anti-kneeling” theology upon the faithful. Rather, it seems that such catechesis would include the importance of a uniform posture, the Church’s authority to regulate liturgical actions, the reverential nature of standing, and the appropriate response of the laity to liturgical norms. Doing one’s “own thing” during Mass—as celebrant or as participant—diverts attention away from Christ and instead focuses attention on oneself.

The best way pastors of souls can foster a uniform practice of receiving Communion is through their own consistent example of fidelity to liturgical norms. Those who kneel for Communion are sometimes singled out for correction, while other more sig-nificant deviations from the rite are ignored or even encouraged and mandated by local Church officials. One example is the Eucharistic Prayer, where the norm in the U.S. is for the faithful to kneel, yet some priests and bishops routinely require the faithful to stand, which inevitably leads to confusion, cynicism, and conflict.

Catholic worship allows ample room for diversity of expression, but when it comes to gestures and postures at Mass, if Simon (Peter) says stand, we stand. If Simon (Peter) says kneel, we kneel. Anything else is a recipe for liturgical anarchy and ultimately a divided Church.

Margaret of Cortona: The Saint of Second Chances

Helen Valois
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

She was still a girl, really, though her form was that of a woman, when her world, long crumbling, finally came crashing down around her. Grieving the death of her mother and made unwelcome by her father’s new spouse, the daughter had little to trade on but her own blossoming beauty. So she accepted a one-way ticket away from home in the form of a young man of means. He was willing to give her the affection she sorely longed for in exchange for carnal intimacy, and the shelter and sustenance she needed in return for her willingness to put the question of sacramental commitment on the back burner. She would get him to come around eventually, she thought as she moved in with him. Maybe, when their child was born.

But the arrival of her son did little to move his thoughts in the direction of marriage. Years passed, and the mother found herself in a situation she hadn’t exactly chosen, but couldn’t very well get out of, either. She had become accustomed to the perks of her privileged way of life, despite the scorn with which she was treated by the proper people of the village. The most piercing mockery, though, the least tolerable torture, was the judgment that was now resonating—daily more deafeningly—from within the hidden courtroom of her own conscience.

Is this the tale of an inner-city girl denied busing and vouchers? A collegiate cheerleader-turned-dropout? Any of the countless abandoned mothers—whether abandoned by means of contraception, abortion, cohabitation, or any combination of the above—with which our affluent society is now crowded? In fact, it is not a Dr. Laura call at all, as commonplace as the plotline sounds. It is the early biography of St. Margaret of Cortona, known as the Mary Magdalene of the Franciscan family. (Margaret of Cortona, incidentally, is not to be confused with Margaret of Castello—the hunchbacked reject of an arrogant pair of parents, who went on to soften countless hearts with her gentle, suffering sanctity.)

Margaret of Cortona is one of the best-kept secrets of our rich Catholic heritage, at a time when her example of conversion and profound holiness is at the height of its cultural relevance. Although she never terminated a pregnancy, Margaret both embodies and offers the fullness of healing of which countless women and men now stand in heartrending need. There is more to each abortion than the abortion itself, as Theresa Burke’s new book Forbidden Grief sensitively brings to light (see review, p. 48).

There are people who have never aborted, yet who undergo the lifecrippling psychological symptoms associated with post-abortion trauma, because abortion is only one “species” of sin, the “genus” being sexual immorality—a subject into which the pro-life movement itself is sometimes culpably reluctant to delve. It is one thing—a wonderful, incalculably good, and supernatural thing—to come to grips with the reality of killing one’s child. It is another equally salvific thing to confront the fornication, contraception, cohabitation, and betrayal under cover of marriage that are associated with abortion itself, and which are quite capable of poisoning hearts and societies entirely of their own accord. What about those whose would-be progeny have been contracepted out of existence or whose potential parents have been sterilized in advance, either surgically or as a result of diseases resulting from promiscuity? What about the marriages that are floundering and unstable because of the emotional complications inherent in premarital sex, the children who cannot imagine encountering an eternal God because their own lives have become invisibly or visibly rootless?

These things too cry out to heaven and its aspirants here on earth for healing, help, and hope. The message of post-abortive suffering is not welcome in our society at large, though it is welcome in that sector which calls itself pro-life. But where is the willingness to hear the whole story of aborting America’s agonized victims— not just the exterminated unborn, not just their mothers and fathers, but every single suffering individual who has been sold Planned Parenthood’s pernicious bill of goods in one way or another, and who now has the rest of his or her life to ponder the con job, to pay for it? Such souls, as well as those undergoing post-abortion trauma in particular, have Margaret of Cortona to turn to, if only they knew it. The rest of her story of healing and heroism goes like this.

Her unhusband had been out hunting that day and was late in returning—far, far too late, come to think of it. Margaret’s restless fears went flaming to full height when his dog came home alone, licking her hand and whining in the beseeching way that concerned canines have. She followed the animal and found all that she had ever feared, and more.

There he lay murdered, a mutilated corpse. With Margaret’s grief came the irrevocable breakthrough of a realization she had long been holding off—that she was like that lifeless wreck herself, that she had given all she had to give and had received in return precisely nothing. Everything she had been living for was gone, but she also understood something else— that she was being given an incomparable second stab at it all. Had he not been murdered, had things just dragged on as they were, she would have had to encounter the reality of her essential bankruptcy at the end of her life, when there was nothing she could do about it. But she was alive, and “until his death, no man can say that everything is over for him,” says her 20th-century Franciscan brother St. Maximilian Kolbe, a message for everyone who feels that it is too late to change.

Margaret immediately set about living a new way. Her lover’s property, she returned to his parents; her son she took with her, only to be turned away at her father’s door. The pair of them traveled on to Cortona, where some kind women took them in. Margaret became a member of the Third Order Franciscans and devoted herself to caring for the sick.

What makes her such a beacon of hope for all forms of “forbidden grief” is something that happened a few years before her death. Apparently, she had a revelation from Our Lord Himself, who told her that her penance had been so sincere and profound that she had reached the level of sanctity for which she was originally destined. The “corpse” she once was had been resurrected; the loss of her very self was made good even in this life.

Women who suffer from postabortion trauma sense that things are not, through their own fault, the way they should be. What keeps them mired in failure and unable to be healed is the demonic suggestion that things can’t be any other way. What Margaret teaches those suffering from toxic unworthiness (Burke, pp. 64, 75), or from a sense of a foreshortened future (p. 137), or a reluctance to make any kind of decision (p. 225) is that, in Christ, they are valuable, and they must never give up. “Remember then from what you have fallen” (Rev. 2:5), Scripture admonishes us— yet keep more firmly in mind that each of us, like Margaret of Cortona herself, must be steadfast and hopeful in our resolution to, once again, approach those heights.

Saints traditionally have an artifact or symbol associated with them. Margaret of Cortona’s is a dog, since this humble creature is what God used (literally) to lead her to a new way of life. On every All Saints Day I make a batch of goodies called “canonization cookies,” decorated with a hagiographical clue which must be identified before it is consumed. Not being much of an artist, I am annually asked whether there is such a person as “St. Snoopy.” One of the things that post-abortive and all fallen people are afflicted with is what Burke calls “connectors” (p. 94)—everyday reminders of a trauma that often send us back into the throes of the trauma itself. Women who undergo suction abortions, for example, oftentimes cannot bear to vacuum their rugs. But God seems to meet us where we are. As a “connector” to His limitless goodness, He has given something as ubiquitous and domestic as “man’s best friend.” St. Margaret of Cortona, pray for us.

Helen Valois writes from Stanley, WI.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

Scott Hahn
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Dr. Scott Hahn is professor of theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. He received his M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in biblical theology from Marquette University. This series explores God’s fatherhood, drawing from Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Tradition. This is the seventh installment.

Dr. Hahn’s numerous books, including  Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God, and Catholic for a Reason II: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God , may be ordered by calling Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

There’s something childlike about the turn we take with the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In the first three petitions, we prayed to God for the sake of His name, His will, His kingdom. Now we turn, like children, to ask Him for “our” bread. It is interesting to note that we ask Him for food as if it already belonged to us—as if He had an obligation to provide it—as if He were our Father.

Bread for Greatness

This is the filial boldness of God’s children. We ask, and we know we shall receive. For what father, “[i]f his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?” (Mt. 7:9).

We ask for our bread because we address our Father, and fathers produce families, not individuals.

It’s interesting, too, that we ask for “our” bread and not “my” bread. Jesus teaches us that, even when we pray in private, we do not pray alone (cf. Mt. 6:6). We pray in solidarity with all the children of God, the Church of the living and of the saints in heaven. And we pray for the whole Church, that all may have the bread they need today. This prayer is something intimate, yet something shared. It’s familial.

In the ancient world, the dispensation of daily bread was a sign of a kingdom’s prosperity. When the nation was doing well, winning its wars, and selling its goods, its citizens received an ample ration of bread, “without money and without price” (Is. 55:1). Even greater was Israel’s vision of the ongoing banquet that would come with the reign of the anointed Son of David, the Messiah (cf. Is. 65:13-14).

The first Christians recognized that the Son of David had begun His reign—and His banquet. Moreover, His banquet had spiritual benefits that surpassed the most sumptuous worldly feast. For all the early Christian commentators, “our bread” meant not only their everyday material needs, but also their need for communion with God. “Our bread,” in common speech, meant the Eucharist. “[T]hey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (Acts. 2:42, 46).

In the generations after the death of the apostles, we find that the common practice of Christians was to receive the Eucharist every day. Tertullian attests to this in North Africa, and St. Hippolytus in Rome.[1] St. Cyprian of Carthage, in 252, speaks at length about the spiritual meaning of this petition:

And as we say “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the Bread of those who are in union with His Body. And we ask that this Bread be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, be prevented from receiving Communion and from partaking of the heavenly Bread and be separated from Christ’s body.[2]

That Says It All

How succinctly this petition expresses all our needs in life, both individual and corporate, both material and spiritual. St. Augustine said that there are three levels of meaning to the bread we ask for: (1) all those things that meet the wants of this life; (2) the Sacrament of the Body of Christ, which we may daily receive; and (3) our spiritual Food, the Bread of Life, who is Jesus.[3]

Our bodies hunger after food; our souls hunger after God. God will fulfill both hungers because He is our Father. He can fulfill both hungers because He is almighty—“Our Father . . . in heaven.” We pray to the God who loves us so much that He has counted the hairs of our heads (cf. Lk. 12:7). This is the God who can “spread a table in the wilderness” (Ps. 78:19), the God who drew water from a dry desert rock.

A child trusts his father to provide for his needs as they arise. A little child has no clear concept of the future, and so has little worry about tomorrow. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to desire a child’s life of humility, trust, and dependence on God. We ask not for riches, but only for what we need for the day. We are confident that God will provide. This is a valuable lesson for us grown-ups to learn. We pride ourselves on self-reliance; we tend to
want to control our lives and the lives of others. But, says St. Augustine, “no matter how rich a man is on earth, he is still God’s beggar.”[4]

Praying this way, we cultivate “a saint-like poverty,” says St. Cyril of Alexandria. “For to ask is not the part of those who have, but of those rather who are in need . . . and cannot do without.”[5]

Unsolved Mysteries

One word of this petition has baffled both scholars and saints since the early days of the Church. It is the word epiousios, which we usually translate as “daily.” Some English translations have us pray for our “daily bread”; others, for our “bread for tomorrow”; still others, for our “supersubstantial bread.” The truth is that the word is impossible to translate, since it appears nowhere else in all of ancient Greek literature; nor does
it appear in personal correspondence, legal documents, or business records that have survived from the time of Christ. The greatest Fathers of the Church wrestled with the mystery—Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome are among the giants who have left us studies—and admitted the possibility of all the modern readings. But they could come to no final agreement about epiousios.

Tradition, however, leaves us with a solution: It’s all true. We pray for our daily bread, for the material needs of the day. We pray for our daily spiritual communion with Jesus. We pray that God will give us grace in superabundance. And we pray even today for our “bread for tomorrow”—our share, right now, in the heavenly banquet of Jesus Christ, every time we go to Mass.

[1] Tertullian, Ad Uxorem (To His Wife), bk. 2, chap. 5; The Apostolic Tradition of Saint Hippolytus, ed. Gregory Dix (London: SPCK, 1937), 58.

[2] St. Cyprian, Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, in Scott Hahn, Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2002), 92-93.

[3] St. Augustine, Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, in Scott Hahn, Understanding “Our Father”: Biblical Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer  (Steubenville: Emmaus Road, 2002), 143-44.

[4] St. Augustine, Sermon VI on New Testament Lessons in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 6, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, Mass.:Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 276.

[5] Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 75, in Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke (n.p.: Studion Publishers, 1983).

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The Assault on Catholic Health Care

Maureen Kramlich
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

What does it mean to be a Catholic hospital? The ministry was established for the purpose of serving those at the margins—the poor, especially women and children. The quality of health care was superb from the start: In the 1940s, the premier polio treatment center in the Midwest was developed by the Franciscan Sisters at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Louis. The Sisters of Charity who founded St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City have provided excellent emergency care spanning two centuries, caring for victims from the Titanic in 1912 to the victims of the September 11th terrorist attack in 2001.

Catholic hospitals treat 80 million patients each year and make up 11 percent of all community hospitals. As abortion advocates are quick to point out, Catholic hospitals are often the only health care facilities in rural communities. This is so because they operate not out of a profit motive but out of charity. Today this legacy and mission are being undermined by abortion advocates. For decades they have attempted to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions or go out of business. In recent years their tactics have become increasingly subtle, and the campaign to deny Catholic health care providers their rights of conscience has met with some success.

After the Supreme Court handed down its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, Congress took the important and necessary step of passing a law to protect health professionals and hospitals with conscientious objections to abortion. The law does not require hospitals that receive federal funds to participate in abortion and sterilization procedures. It also forbids hospitals in these programs to make willingness or unwillingness to perform these procedures a condition of employment.

The year after Roe, 27 states enacted laws protecting health care providers from being forced to participate in abortions. Two years later, five more states passed conscience protection laws. Today, 45 states have laws protecting health care providers who conscientiously object to participating in abortion. Some states also protect providers who object to other kinds of procedures, such as euthanasia and artificial insemination, as well as abortifacient drugs and contraception. It is clear that the principle of the right of conscientious objection is well established—but it is also increasingly under attack.

A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled, “Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights,” aims at requiring all hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide abortions. The report asserts that because Catholic hospitals are involved in delivering a public good they should play by “public rules.”

Today abortion rights activists are implementing a subtle and incremental strategy to undo conscience rights. They have embarked on a campaign to mandate the coverage of contraception in all employer benefit plans for prescription drugs, claiming that contraceptives are “basic health care.” A number of states have adopted contraceptive mandates, most with inadequate protection of conscience or none at all.

Abortion activists have also enlisted the support of state and local governments in discriminating against pro-life health care providers. They have intervened in “certificate of need” proceedings to defeat health care facilities that object to abortion. They have engaged state attorneys general to apply novel theories of law to prevent mergers involving hospitals with pro-life policies. And they have sought to end public financing of Catholic

Abortion advocates are desperate to legitimize abortion, which still carries a stigma in the medical profession and in society at large. Half of Americans consider abortion murder. Fewer than a thousand physicians perform them routinely. Only 7 percent of abortions are performed in hospitals, and they are performed in just 14 percent of all hospitals.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago movingly testified against the American Medical Association proposal to require all hospitals to provide all “reproductive health services”: “Catholic hospitals cannot comply. Effectively, the American Medical Association is being asked to help abolish Catholic health care in this country.”

Because attempts to undermine conscience rights are emerging in the form of mandates for other procedures such as contraception and “emergency contraception,” comprehensive conscience laws are needed to protect health plans and hospitals from being forced to pay for and participate in these procedures. The laws should be comprehensive also in terms of protecting the full range of health care providers: hospitals, physicians, nurses, nursing students, medical students, and nurses’ aides.

Defending such rights is not just a Catholic issue. It is a fundamental human right to refuse to take part in morally evil actions:

To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. . . . Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal, disciplinary, financial, and professional plane

– Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no 74).

Catholics must campaign in support of conscience rights on the state, local, and federal levels. We should support community hospitals and health centers with pro-life policies. We should lobby on behalf of stronger state and federal conscience laws, and write letters to our state and federal representatives opposing contraceptive and “emergency contraception” mandates.

Real freedom and pluralism, as well as the sanctity of human life, will be the casualties if abortion advocates succeed.

Maureen Kramlich, Esq., is a public policy analyst for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro- Life Activities. This article was reprinted from Respect Life, Copyright © 2002, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

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The Benediction of Kate Michelman: A Case Study on Coping with Post-Abortion Trauma

Amy R. Sobie and David C. Reardon
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

As president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), Kate Michelman is one of the most powerful pro-abortion feminists in the nation. Defending abortion is more than Michelman’s job, it’s her passion. In defending the right of women to choose, she is actually defending the choice that she made over 30 years ago.

In her much-repeated personal testimony, Michelman has described how in 1970 she was abandoned by her husband and left all alone to care for her three young daughters. Then, just after her husband left, she found out she was pregnant.

As Michelman describes it, her decision to abort was an agonizing one. As a Catholic, she says, the decision “challenged every religious, moral, ethical, and philosophical belief”[1] she held.

Like so many other women today, Michelman abandoned those beliefs out of desperation and fear. She was on welfare, with three daughters to raise without the support of a husband. She felt that, under these extreme circumstances, abortion was her only option.

Abortion was illegal at that time except in those cases when the mother’s health or life was at stake. This was a broadly interpreted exception, but it required Michelman to appear before an all-male hospital review panel to obtain permission for the abortion on the grounds that she was unstable and incapable of raising another child. The board granted her request—if her ex-husband consented.

During the time she was waiting to get permission for the abortion, Michelman carried with her the name and phone number of an illegal abortionist whom she was prepared to contact if she was thwarted in her quest for a legal abortion. Since her ex-husband agreed to the abortion, however, she never used that number. But she says that having to obtain permission from the hospital board and her ex-husband for the abortion left her feeling “worthless and violated.”[2]

As the spokeswoman for NARAL, Michelman uses her personal story to effectively appeal to the empathy of those who truly care about women. She argues not only that women must be free to choose abortion so they can take control of their lives, but also that America should never return to the days of illegal and restricted abortions that injured, shamed, and degraded women.

A Mother at Risk

Michelman’s story is not an unusual one. Clearly, it is not the story of an intellectual feminist, liberated from sexual, familial, and religious restraints, who simply took control of her reproductive destiny. Hers is the story of a woman caught in a trap.

Michelman and her three daughters were emotionally bruised and financially devastated by the husband and father who had abandoned them. The family was already burdened with poverty, and another child would have increased their expenses and been a further drain on the time Michelman needed to raise her daughters and to earn an income.

“I had to . . . debate my obligations to my children against my responsibility to the developing life inside me,” she has said.[3] Like the woman in Sophie’s Choice who was forced by a Nazi officer to choose which of her children would die so the other could live, Michelman felt she had no choice but to sacrifice one child for the others.

In many respects, Michelman matches the profile of those women who are most at risk for suffering emotional maladjustments after an abortion. She had moral and religious values that were in conflict with the choice to abort, strong feelings of ambivalence in making the decision, strong concerns about secrecy, prior children, a poor or unstable relationship with her male partner, and a lack of social support. She did not feel free to choose what was best, but instead felt that abortion was her only choice if she and her family were to survive.

Given all these risk factors, it is no surprise that Michelman felt worthless and violated after her abortion. It is also not surprising that she, like many women who had abortions prior to Roe v. Wade, has projected the blame for her negative feelings on social circumstances, the attitudes of the day, and the illegal status of abortion.

Judicial Blessing

Perhaps her most revealing comment to date came during a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in January 1998. Michelman said that when she had learned that the Supreme Court had legalized abortion, she was quite overcome: “It felt somehow like a benediction—a retroactive reprieve that helped restore my sense of worth, my integrity.” She described Roe v. Wade as “the promise that emerged from darkness to light. From despair to hope.”[4]

The emotional importance of the Supreme Court’s decision to Michelman is not incidental. Indeed, it is very revealing that a woman who felt alienated from her religion because of her abortion would describe the Court’s approval of abortion as a benediction. To a former Catholic like Michelman, benediction was the highest and most profound blessing by Christ Himself. For her, the Court’s decision was a substitute for the religious blessing she needed to restore her moral identity.

Moreover, the Court’s retroactive reprieve meant that she had done nothing wrong. Therefore, she had no reason to repent. Her shame and guilt had been for nought. Her painful decision to abort was not only accepted by the highest judges in our society, but it was even enshrined as a constitutional right!

When one empathizes with Michelman’s conflict over an abortion decision that violated her “every religious, moral, ethical, and philosophical belief,” it is easy to see why she and thousands of other women like her would cling to the Roe decision as a vindication of their moral selves.

The emotional value of this legal ruling also explains why Michelman and other post-abortive women are so angry at those seeking to reverse Roe. For them, this would be more than a political setback. On an internal, emotional level, overturning Roe would remove the benediction that they have received for choosing what even Michelman admits is a “bad thing.”[5]

Yearning for Acceptance

No one likes abortion, but everyone yearns for approval. The insatiable desire for social approval drives some post-abortive women and men to battle for abortion rights. They will never be content merely with legal access to abortion. What they long for is universal approval of abortion.

By immersing themselves in the political fight over abortion, postabortive women and men are satisfying several basic psychological needs. First, they are surrounding themselves with like-minded activists who reinforce the rightness of their decision. Second, each time they see other women choose abortion, they experience it as a reaffirmation of their own decision.[6] Third, they are diverting negative internal feelings into outward expressions of righteous anger.

As Magda Denes, a post-abortive woman and pro-choice psychologist has observed, it is easier to “regard oneself as a martyr and to battle the world” of anti-abortion enemies than confront the “private sorrows” and the “heartache of self-chosen destiny” which are inherent to abortion.[7]

In other words, in the heat of battle with an outside force, one can avoid examining one’s own self-inflicted wounds.

This is why Michelman honestly does not understand how abortion today is still causing women so much pain and grief. Blinded by the benediction she received in the form of Roe v. Wade, she honestly believes that the shame and loss that is inherent in abortion can be wiped away by social approval. She wants to believe it. She needs to believe it.

The truth, however, is that social acceptance of abortion can never sanitize what is inescapably a lifedestroying experience. As Denes rightly realizes, even if every critic of abortion was silenced, even if every person on earth approved of abortion as a pragmatic necessity, the private sorrows would still remain.

In the end, self-worth that is rooted merely in social acceptance will fail. The only firm foundation for our human dignity lies in the fact that we are children of God. Even when we fail, our one certain hope is that God will never turn away a broken and contrite heart (cf. Ps. 34:18). He loves us. And when we cast aside the straw of our excuses and lift up the gold of Christ’s sacrifice, He will heal us and restore our joy.

There are many former abortion advocates like Carol Everett, Norma McCorvey, Dr. Beverly McMillan, and Dr. Tony Levatino who became converts to the pro-life cause because they experienced the love of pro-lifers. This should remind us that those who are most outspoken in defense of Roe v. Wade are really crying out for acceptance. If we are to convert a nation, we must, as ambassadors of Christ’s mercy and love, accept and embrace others.

[1] Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings for Judge Clarence Thomas. Copyright 1996, NARAL.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Speech to the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco, January 15, 1998. (Transcript provided by NARAL, 1156 15th St. NW, Suite 700, Washington,
DC 20005.)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Howard Kurtz, “Poor Choice of Words from Abortion Rights Advocate?” ,February 7, 1994, in which Michelman told a reporter, “We think abortion is a bad
thing. No woman wants to have an abortion.”

[6] “I found that in talking to other women about abortion, their decisions to abort satisfied something in me. It was almost like I was gloating in their misery. If I’d had an opportunity to work at a counseling center to counsel women before their abortions, I would have done it. It would have strengthened my own decision to abort (Deborah Hulebak).” David C. Reardon, Aborted Women, Silent No More (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 1987, 2002), 85.

[7] Magda Denes, In Necessity and Sorrow: Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1976), xv-xvi.

This article was originally published in
The Post-Abortion Review 7(1) January/March 1999. Copyright 1999, Elliot Institute, PO Box 7348, Springfield, IL 62791-7348.

David Reardon is the author of Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation, and the editor of The Post-Abortion Review. Additional information is posted at

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Sanctuaries of Life

At A Glance
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr.
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

About a year ago I was invited to give a talk on “fostering a pro-life spirituality in the family.” I was excited and honored to give such a talk, so I eagerly sat down and began listing some of the things our family does. I noted our family’s openness to life, our participation in pro-life activities and functions such as the “life chain,” our voting only for pro-life candidates, and our modest contributions to some of the many worthy pro-life apostolates.

But then I asked myself, is this really the essence of a pro-life spirituality?

This question led me back to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, “EV”), in which he says that the Gospel of Life at root is not an agenda or body of teachings or a program for political or societal change. Rather, he emphasizes that it’s about proclaiming the very person of Jesus Christ, who shows us the true value and purpose of our lives and of all human life.

Christ at the Center

So, when we talk about a pro-life spirituality within the family, we’re not talking about something distinct from our own Christian discipleship. “Pro-life” isn’t an optional feature of our personal and familial spirituality. It’s already there, even if we don’t always realize it.

We have to make a decision as Catholic parents to put Christ at the center of our family, beginning with putting Him at the center of our own lives. This is the foundation for building pro-life families. With Christ at the center of our families, the seed of faith that our children receive at Baptism has favorable conditions for coming to fruition. Nothing is automatic, of course, and our children retain their freedom as they reach maturity to accept or
reject the precious gift of faith.

The faith is as much “caught” as it is “taught” within the family. How do families become healthy seedbeds or “seminaries” where the Gospel of Life can flourish? I think the three essential ingredients are faith, prayer (i.e., Christian hope in action), and charity.

Believing Families

Surely we need to believe in Jesus Christ, accept His Lordship and teachings, and communicate these truths to our children. But that’s not all. Faith impels us to foster a Catholic worldview. Let me use a couple analogies to illustrate what I mean.

First, 20 years ago I attended law school, and I remember the dean telling all the first-year students not to get bogged down with all the specific cases and statutes we would be studying. The goal wasn’t so much that we would memorize everything, but rather to teach us to “think like lawyers.”

Second, I think most of us have encountered “3-D” movies where we had to wear special glasses to see the movie the way it was intended to be seen. We miss important aspects of the movie if we tried to watch it without the special glasses. Similarly, that’s why I’m so sensitive to my son Samuel grabbing my bifocals. I know how dependent I am on my glasses to clearly see the physical reality around me.

When it comes to our faith, our families need to “think like Catholics.” This involves knowing our faith, but it also involves seeing reality as Christ sees it. I’d suggest that we need to continually develop an authentically Catholic worldview and vision which coherently brings together all the Church’s teachings. So instead of a “3-D” lens or a secular lens, we need an authentically Catholic lens.

We can know something of the Gospel of Life through reason alone, because the natural law is written on the human heart. Yet, we know that because of original sin our vision is blurry and limited. Faith, then, isn’t “Catholic spin,” but a corrective lens that compensates for the effects of original sin, until that day when we see face to face (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).Faith involves accepting—without seeing—the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It involves docility, or the ability and willingness to be formed and nurtured by the Church. And it enables us to break out of our self-centeredness. What father doesn’t rejoice when he sees his child consider the “big picture”—how his or her actions affect their own and others’ salvation?

Praying Families

In his new apostolic letter on the Rosary (Rosarium Virginis Mariae,“RVM”), Pope John Paul II quotes the familiar maxim, “The family that prays together stays together.” Sometimes I think we understand this maxim in an exclusively negative light, that family prayer is important because it helps us avoid the negative of family disunity. But there’s a positive dimension as well. Families that pray together are spiritual powerhouses. They provide a much-needed leaven in the world today, helping to build what the Pope calls a civilization of life and love. Praying families are the greenhouses where the “new springtime of faith” will first begin to blossom.

The Catechism says that parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God (no. 2226). This means that we are to cultivate a familiarity with God that permeates our family’s entire spiritual life, including personal prayer, devotions, and the liturgical life of the Church. While individual prayer and liturgical prayer are irreplaceable, so is praying together as a family.

Every household has its own daily rhythm. Some naturally good times for family prayer are the beginning and end of the day. Another good time is the family meal, though that presupposes that the family comes together for meals, unfortunately a less common occurrence in our “eat on the run” society. In my own home, family dinner is considered the highest priority after daily Mass, so even if I’m in the middle of a project at the CUF office, I drop everything to go home for dinner.

The Holy Father, in calling this year the “year of the Rosary,” urges families to take the time to pray a family Rosary. He understands the various challenges and obstacles to such practice, but he is also quick to note that “there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it . . . with the family . . . with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to understanding and appreciation” (RVM, no. 42). That’s my experience. While the Rosary can spiritually satisfy saints, mystics, and even secular geniuses like Louis Pasteur, it’s also simple enough to be prayed by my five-year-old. There are so many ways to get the little ones involved, from offering intentions to leading one of the mysteries. They also benefit from the wide array of Rosary picture books to help them “see” each mystery. That’s not to say one of the mysteries won’t be interrupted by Samuel pulling the hair of one of his sisters. But I tend to think that Our Lord, who said, “Let the children come to me” (Mt. 19:14), hears with special solicitude the sometimes chaotic prayers of families with small children.

Loving Families

When we say we’re “pro-life,” we don’t mean that we’re simply “pro-our own life.” Rather, Our Lord tells us, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25). In imitation of Jesus Christ, our pro-life commitment impels us to lay down our lives for others. This gift of self is the antidote for selfishness and is the basis of the great commandments to love God and our neighbor, beginning—but
by no means ending—in the home.

A love-giving family is a life-giving family, as love gives life, love honors life, love celebrates life. A life-giving family is generous, which literally means “full of giving life.” A life-giving family is connected to the source of all life—God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, drawing abundant life from the sacraments, the wellsprings of divine grace. A life-giving family, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, hears the Word of God and keeps it. A life-giving family is welcoming and goes out of itself in helping those in need. A life-giving family puts its finances, energies, and gifts at the service of the Church. A life-giving family embraces Humanae Vitae, welcoming the gift of children and certainly not killing them through abortion or abortion-producing contraceptives. A life-giving family affirms the dignity and value of every family member and helps them on the road to heaven.

Martha is considered a saint, and surely there is enough to be done in the pro-life arena to keep all of us “Marthas” busy. But we also know that Mary chose the better part. May we likewise commit ourselves primarily to sitting at Our Lord’s feet, letting Him change us and, through us, the world.

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Blessing Expectant Mothers

Mary Ann Kuharski
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

I’ve often thought that one of the Catholic Church’s most visible pro-life acts is her blessing for expectant mothers.

Let’s face it, pregnancy and motherhood in today’s anti-child “culture of death,” as Pope John Paul II describes it, has taken a bad rap. In this darkened era, it’s far more fashionable, if not downright nobler and more patriotic, to have no children or at least a “limit of two”!

But here stands the Catholic Church, never wavering in her support of marriage, family life, and the sacredness of motherhood. Not only does she welcome and encourage new life, she has a special rite of blessing for mothers who are carrying God’s precious gifts.

I can still remember the first time I heard of such a blessing. John and I were living in an upper duplex (all we could afford on our meager salaries at the time), and the doctor had just confirmed (yes, this was the age before drugstore kits and instant response tests) what we suspected— we were expecting.

We were ecstatic and scared to death—all at the same time! How can we afford it? Will the baby be all right? Will I ever be able to keep a dinner down again?

We shared our news with Fr. Arnold Weber, O.S.B., who had served as retreat master on the married couples retreat we had recently attended.

“Why don’t I come over and give you the blessing for expectant mothers?” Fr. Arnold called to suggest.

We had never heard of it, but wasted no time setting up a date. Just hearing that the Church offered such a blessing was comforting. Even the title—blessing for expectant mothers—sounded like something that would benefit both our baby and me! And what mother wouldn’t want that?

Several weeks later, Fr. Arnold came over, and after dinner he performed the ceremony in our humble little apartment.

Some have suggested that Fr. Arnold’s blessing brought about the other 12 children—six by “tummy” and six by “airport and adoption” (as the kids say).

Let’s just say, as we tell our kids—“It was all part of God’s plan!”

The words of the blessing are simple but rich with meaning. One short form of blessing provides: “May Christ fill your heart with His holy joy and keep you and your baby safe from harm.”

One of the optional readings is taken from Isaiah 44:3: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.”

How’s that for a blessing?

The blessing itself is a profound reminder that there is more involved than merely husband and wife. This new life waiting to be born is no less than a gift from God Himself. This little someone is a unique individual, from the color of hair and eyes to the fingerprints and footprints gathered at birth. Best of all, God has a purpose that only this child can fulfill.

The focus of the blessing is not limited to the pregnancy or bodily health, but also looks to the hereafter: “Receive with kindness the prayer of your servant as she asks for the birth of a healthy child. Grant that she may safely deliver a son or daughter to be numbered among your family, to serve you in all things, and to gain eternal life.”

What more could a parent want for a child than happiness for all eternity?

Pope John Paul II eloquently describes parenthood in The Gospel of Life as a unique partnership of husband and wife with God: “In affirming that the spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology. Instead, we wish to emphasize that God Himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than He is present in all other instances of begetting ‘on earth.’ . . . Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony become partners in a divine undertaking: Through the act of procreation, God’s gift is accepted and a new life opens to the future” (no. 43, original emphasis).

Think of it. Partners with God.

Pope John Paul II also reminds us: “The family has a special role to play throughout the life of its members, from birth to death. It is truly the sanctuary of life: the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth” (ibid., no. 92).

Of course, we parents may not always feel like a “sanctuary” in the day-to-day goings on of our households, but in God’s eyes, and with His grace, that is what we are meant to be for our children—a haven of love and safety. And the Church wants us to know that this “sanctuary,” this haven, begins before birth!

The blessing for expectant mothers is offered in many dioceses and parishes across the country—a beautiful reminder of the Church’s strong position honoring motherhood and new life. What a sign of contradiction to a society that legally destroys over 4,400 preborn babies each day—1.3 million or more each year—by legal abortion!

In my own parish of St. Charles Borromeo, in northeastern Minneapolis, the blessing is offered once a month and is promoted in our weekly church bulletins. It is a precious sight to see each month, several young mothers and fathers—some with their other children in tow—come up to the altar rail after the 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning Mass to receive Father’s blessing.

Many of us who remain in the pews look on, silently offering our own prayers of support for these young families. They are faithfully living out God’s call to parenthood. Sad to say, their commitment is often met with cynicism and criticism in today’s world, which places more value on the “rights” of animals and the protection of ozones and octopuses than on our greatest natural resource—a new baby!

I urge all Catholic parishes to routinely offer the rite of blessing for expectant mothers. It is not only life-affirming and grace-filled for mother and child, but a public reminder to one and all that human life is sacred and deserves our reverence and respect.

Imagine. In spite of our faults and failings, God is trusting us with one of His precious miracles! That’s worth a blessing and certainly worth celebrating!

Mary Ann Kuharski is a homemaker and mother of 13, six of whom are adopted and of mixed races, most with special needs. She is the author of several books and director of PROLIFE ACROSS AMERICA. For more information on Mary Ann’s prolife work, call (612) 781-0410, or fax (612) 781-5031, or visit

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Donald DeMarco
From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

“HeartBeats” is a regular column on the virtues by popular Lay Witness contributor Donald DeMarco. Dr. DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at the University of St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ontario.

The Many Faces of Virtue, a collection of essays on the virtues by Dr. DeMarco, may be ordered by calling Emmaus Road Publishing at (800) 398-5470. For information on other DeMarco titles, call Benedictus Books toll-free at (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive a 10% discount.

No virtue is more misunderstood than compassion. The truly compassionate person loves so selflessly that he willingly takes on the pain of the sufferer. The person who confuses compassion with pity is repulsed by suffering and distances himself, emotionally and physically, from the sufferer. Today people kill in the name of “compassion,” as the only remedy they can think of is to put the sufferer out of his misery.

“Compassionate killing” belongs to the “culture of death.” True compassion belongs to the “culture of life.” If we are looking for a role model who clearly and inspiringly embodies true compassion, we need look no further than to Jérôme Lejeune.

The world remembers Professor Lejeune as the world-class geneticist who discovered the genetic cause—trisomy 21—of Down’s syndrome. His scientific accomplishments, however, go far beyond that landmark discovery. He was the first to establish folic acid as a preventative for spina bifida. He was a consultant to the United Nations as an expert on atomic radiation. The last of his award-winning publications was devoted to cancer, the very illness that claimed his life.

Man of the Heart

Those who knew Dr. Lejeune personally saw a different side of his nature. They saw his heart and the great compassion he had for all who suffered. His true  vocation was not following the path of a geneticist or a research scientist or a globetrotting lecturer, although he fulfilled all of these avocations admirably. It was, rather, following the path of a physician, a minister to those who suffer. Because he identified so compassionately with the afflicted, he was determined to do the research needed to find new cures and to encourage others to share in his mission. “If I find out how to cure trisomy 21,” he once said, “then that would clear the way for curing all the other diseases that have a genetic origin. The patients are waiting for me; I have to find it.”

We now have, thanks to his daughter Clara, an intimate portrait of Dr. Lejeune: Life Is a Blessing: Jérôme Lejeune, My Father. She tells us that “through love for the sick person, respect for his life and dignity, and compassion in the face of suffering, his practice of medicine was at the service of mankind and uniquely for that purpose.” Lejeune was, above all, despite his impressive intellect, a man of the heart.

Living for Others

He retained his compassionate bond with the suffering even when he was near death and suffering acutely from both the cancer that finally killed him and the massive chemotherapy he was undergoing. As his daughter testifies, he would answer the telephone while exhausted, between bouts of vomiting, in order to discuss a therapeutic hypothesis with a colleague. “His suffering was intolerable at times,” writes Clara, “but he was always considerate of others; he put himself in their place.”

During his last days, when what little strength he had was ebbing from his body, he identified with the motto of the Roman Legionary, “ Et si fellitur de genu pugnat” (“And if he should fall, he fights on his knees”). For Lejuene, life, compassion, and service were all inseparably intertwined.

He passed away, in accord with his presentiment, on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1994. Pope John Paul II delivered a eulogy the next day in which he referred to “our brother Jèrôme,” and stated that “if the Father who is in heaven called him from this earth on the very day of Christ’s Resurrection, it is difficult not to see in this coincidence a sign.”

Feeling His Pain

Lejeune and the Holy Father were close friends. Professor Lejeune and his wife had enjoyed lunch with the Pope on that near-fatal day of May 13, 1981, when an assassin’s bullet rang out in Vatican Square. That night Lejeune experienced stomach pains so severe that he was taken by ambulance to a hospital. “No one understood what was wrong,” writes his daughter, “and he experienced the pain of the Pope’s wound.” He would have surgery, as did the Holy Father. Their temperature curves were similar, and they left the hospital on the same day. Was it “coincidence”? Was it a “God-incidence”? Or was it the result of a compassion between spiritual brothers that passes understanding?

Lejeune could never do enough for his patients. Two images provided him with recurring guidance and inspiration. The first is the final line from Brahms’ Requiem: “Blessed are those who die in the Lord. For their works follow them.” Lejeune’s compassionate work continues under the auspices of “La Foundation Jérôme Lejeune,” which was established in his name to continue his research into the causes and treatments of mental handicaps. The second is St. Vincent de Paul’s reply when the Queen asked him, “What must one do for one’s neighbor?” “More!”

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CUF News – January/February 2003

From the Jan/Feb 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Glaube und Leben

CUF’s critically acclaimed Faith and Life elementary catechism series is now available in German. The “Glaube und Leben” series meets a real need for sound catechesis in Austria, where the new edition was translated and published.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and General Editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, wrote the following in his foreword to the German edition (translated into English by Madeleine Stebbins):

“The appearance of the reworked German edition, ‘Glaube und Leben‘ of the American ‘Faith and Life‘ catechism is a cause of great joy. For the past two decades ‘Faith and Life‘ has proven to be an excellent series for religious instruction in schools and family catechesis in the home. I know families who use this faith series and bear witness to the excellent fruit it has brought forth. To all who wish to transmit the faith to children in schools or in the home, I recommend the ‘Faith and Life‘ series as a textbook of refreshing and high quality. Pray God this catechism series will give a strong impetus to the transmission of the faith and of Christian life in the German-speaking world.”

This strong endorsement from such a preeminent Church official should provide a new impetus for promoting Faith and Life here in the United States, especially with the publication of the new second edition (grades one and two are already available).

For more information on the Faith and Life series, call Ignatius Press at (800) 779-5534.

Courageous Women

Emmaus Road Publishing’s newest women’s Bible study is Courageous Women: A Study on The Heroines of Biblical History. Courageous Women is the much anticipated third book in best-selling author Stacy Mitch’s “Courageous” series. Courageous Love provides the ABCs of holiness for women, while Courageous Virtue focuses on the theological and cardinal virtues as the building blocks for moral Christian living for women.

Now in Courageous Women, Stacy unfolds the stories of biblical figures like Rebekah, Deborah, and Mary Magdalene through insightful reflections and probing questions. Today’s women will identify with these holy heroines and will be challenged by the timeless lessons of fidelity to God and reliance on His grace.

Courageous Women is ideal for individual or group study. Visit or call Emmaus Road Publishing at (800) 398-5470. Ask about our Bible study discounts.

In Print

CUF president Leon Suprenant has published articles recently in This Rock (“The Grammar of Dissent”) and the National Catholic Register (“Thinking Outside the ‘Jesus Box’”). He also appeared on the “Catholic Answers Live” radio program to discuss the issue of gambling.

For copies of the above articles or for CUF’s FAITH FACT entitled “The Book on Gambling,” call toll-free (800) MY-FAITH.

Mr. Nash Goes to Washington

Senior information specialist Tom Nash represented CUF at the U.S. bishops annual meeting this past November in Washington, DC.

The bishops acted on various issues at the meeting: They issued norms to address allegations of clerical abuse of minors and a related charter on the protection of minors; a statement on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade; a pastoral response to domestic violence against women; a Catholic recommitment to overcome poverty and respect the dignity of all God’s children; and a statement on a prospective war between the United States and Iraq. For more information on these and other issues, visit

The annual November meeting of the U.S. bishops provides CUF a unique opportunity to advance its apostolic mission in serving the Church, not only with the bishops, but also with and through the secular and Catholic media, and representatives from other Catholic organizations. As for the much publicized norms and charter regarding the past year’s clerical sex abuse scandal, Tom comments, “The bishops have exercised sound leadership with the charter, publicly committing themselves to report any credible allegation of abuse to public authorities, even if local law does not require such reporting. Over time and with God’s grace, I am confident that the implementation of these initiatives, which the Vatican is scheduled to approve, will contribute significantly to advancing the Church’s mission, not only with the Catholic faithful, many of whom have been shaken by the clerical abuse scandal, but also with Americans in general.”


True or False?

1.The use of painkillers to alleviate the sufferings of the dying cannot be morally justified when there is a foreseeable risk that they will accelerate the
person’s death.

2. A ratified and consummated marriage of two baptized Catholics cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.

3. The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.

4. The Church now teaches that masturbation is part of the normal maturation process and therefore is not an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.

5. Homosexual acts can be morally licit only when performed in the context of a stable, monogamous relationship.

6. Those who are engaged to marry are called to help each other grow in chastity and are called to reserve for marriage the expression of affection that belongs to married love.

7. There is no basis to hope for the salvation of those who commit suicide.

8. With the landmark teachings of Popes Pius XI, Paul VI, and John Paul II, The Church in 20th century began to affirm the moral evil of every procured abortion.

9. All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

10. Legitimate intentions on the part of spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means of preventing pregnancy, such as contraceptives or
direct sterilization.


1.False. The use of painkillers under such circumstances can be morally licit if death is not willed as either an end or a means. Catechism, no. 2279.

2. True. Catechism, no. 2382.

3. True. Catechism, no. 2301.

4. False. The Church has constantly taught—and continues to teach—that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action. Catechism, no. 2352.

5. False. Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can’t be approved under any circumstances. Catechism, no. 2357.

6. True. Catechism, no 2350.

7. False. There may be mitigating factors, and in any event, by ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for repentance. Catechism, no. 2282-83.

8. False. Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. Catechism, no. 2271.

9. True. Catechism, no. 2308.

10. True. Catechism, no. 2399.

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