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The Second Sunday of Advent

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,

 

Yesterday I listened to President Obama at the Willard Hotel in Washington as part of the Saban Forum. The president was defending his recent arrangement with Iran over the development of a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, who strongly disagrees with President Obama, also addressed the Forum, expressing his doubts and dismay over the agreement that Secretary of State Kerry put together in Geneva. Israel fears the US is allowing Iran time to further develop a nuclear bomb.

 

After so much conflict in the middle east, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, it seems impossible that there shall be no harm or ruin on the holy mountain. But that is the 2500 year old promise of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading.  How can this be?

 

We sang with the psalmist today –

 

Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

 

The key to peace, any peace, is justice. In the pledge of allegiance we recite: with liberty and justice for all. Sounds simple, but is it? Justice is complicated. It is defined in the Catholic Dictionary as “A virtue, the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due.”  But what is everyone’s rightful due? That’s where the difficulty is. We talk a lot about rights, the right to worship God (religious freedom), the right to speak our minds (Freedom of Speech), the right to marry (is it only a man and woman, or can a man marry a man and a woman marry a woman?), bear arms and so on. At the Forum yesterday President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the right of the Jewish State to exist, but do the Palestinians also have a right to an Arab state? Here’s where it all gets very complicated. Can we ever know what true justice is?

 

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,

 

Well, we have courts of law to work out the finer points of social justice (when the US Supreme Court was designed by Chief Justice William Taft, he called it a “Temple of Justice”), Jesus gave us a very simple, very basic rule to determine what is just for each other: the Golden Rule –

 

Do to others, as you would have them do to you.

 

In giving this rule, Jesus was very cleverly expanding on a rule already practiced by the Rabbis which said –

 

Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. It’s important to point out that Jesus did not rescind (take back) this rule when he gave his Golden Rule. He left this one in place while adding his new one. So, “Do to others what you want them to do to you and do not do to others what you don’t want them to do to you!”

 

OK: treat the other person just the way you want to be treated.

 

Now that’s a simple rule. While it may not resolve the big questions about peace in the Middle East, or cases at the Supreme Court, it does give to us guidance in our everyday relationships, in our families, among neighbors, church members, classmates, fellow employees, people of different religions, political parties, cultures and so on.

 

…do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’

 

It’s when we imagine that we belong to a special group that is better than another that we get into trouble over justice. When we think that because we’re part of this group or that group, that we should be treated better than the other person, that’s when we wind up violating justice, dividing people and causing strife.

 

So how do we find peace and justice in our relationships?

 

Just treat the other person just the way you want to be treated.

 

Force the Vote! by Fr. Frank Pavone

by Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life, Pastoral Director, National Prolife Center

 

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with a third of his colleagues as co-sponsors, has introduced in the US Senate a bill to protect children from abortion starting at 20-weeks of fetal age (“22 weeks LMP”).

 

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, has been enacted in 10 states, and enjoys the support of close to two-thirds of the American public. This legislation identifies the child’s ability to feel pain as the relevant state interest in protecting that child from dismemberment by abortion.

 

Now it’s time to work to get the Senate to bring this bill to a vote, and to introduce the debate to the general public and urge them to communicate with their Senators about it. This is a top priority for Priests for Life, which has been calling for a focus on late-term abortion for many years.

 

Of course, one of the first things opponents will try to do is to start talking about “hard cases” of parents who find out late in pregnancy that their children have terrible deformities. But before we even explain that these children deserve protection too (just like they have after birth), we need to focus people on the reality of who these babies are, the reality of the violence that abortion represents, and the question as to whether healthy babies of healthy mothers should continue to be dismembered legally in the womb.

 

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is the best source for abortion statistics in the United States, reports, “Sixty-four percent of [abortion] providers offer at least some second-trimester abortion services (13 weeks or later), and 23% offer abortion after 20 weeks. …11% of all abortion providers offer abortions at 24 weeks.” The institute also indicates that of the approximately 1.2 million abortions in the United States each year, some 18,150 are performed at 21 weeks or more. Of the 40 states that reported in 2005 to the Centers for Disease Control, 32 states reported abortions of babies 21 weeks or older.

 

This means that every day in America, 50 babies the size of a large banana are dismembered and decapitated – and these include healthy babies of healthy mothers…and it’s happening legally.

 

These are babies that the mother can already feel moving. According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, these babies are storing fat on their bodies, their heartbeat can be heard with a stethoscope, they can hear, they have eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails and toenails. Incidentally, MedlinePlus calls them “babies.” (See www.nlm.nih.gov/MEDLINEPLUS/ency/article/002398.htm).

 

I took part in a meeting of Senator Graham with other pro-life leaders the day before he introduced the bill. We all agreed with the Senator when he said that this is the next chapter in the effort to end abortion. It is. And just like the decade-long effort to ban partial-birth abortion, this will take time. The goal right now is to force the vote in the Senate. Raise the issue. Get people on the record about it. Start the debate. It is one that we will win — and so will the babies.

Critical Days at the US Supreme Court

United States Supreme Court

United States Supreme Court

I need to share with you an urgent matter! We are facing the most critical and demanding US Supreme Court term in many, many years. There are three cases I am personally associated with: Greece v. Galloway, which will determine whether overtly Christian prayers will be banned at legislative sessions, McCullen v. Coakley, which will determine whether pro-life sidewalk counselors will be allowed to present alternatives to abortion to women going into or leaving abortion clinics and Hobby Lobby v. Sebellius, which will determine whether the birth-control and abortion mandate in Obamacare will be struck down.

 

The Greece case involves the pastor of the first church my brother, Rev. Rob Schenck and I preached a sermon in. The pastor gave the opening prayer for the town council and concluded in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. An atheist sued to have such overt Christian prayers banned from public legislative sessions. If the Court strikes down the prayers, it could end the noble tradition of opening state legislatures, Congress, the Presidential inaugural and yes, even the US Supreme Court in prayer! The McCullen case explicitly uses my US Supreme Court case, Rev. Schenck v. ProChoice Network (1997) to challenge a Massachusetts law prohibiting pro-life sidewalk counseling around abortion businesses in that state. My brother and I worked very hard, and went to prison to challenge a similar restriction on pro-life speech in New York, and we plan to join the challenge to the Massachusetts restrictions. The Hobby Lobby case involves our friends the Greenes, founders and owners of the Hobby Lobby chain (and to whom my brother and I gave the Ten Commandments Award) who have challenged the Constitutionality of the HHS Mandate requiring the purchase of birth-control and abortifacient drugs  through Obamacare. These three cases will determine our religious freedom and freedom of speech for years, even generations to come.

 

Joining these cases through the filing of official Amicus Briefs, media statements and press conferences and educating the public is very, very expensive. We simply do not have the funds on hand to cover the costs of one case, let alone three at one time. You know I don’t ask very often, in fact I rarely write to you for your financial assistance. But now I must ask you to please assist me in preparing for these cases. I need to raise at least $25,000.00 to properly prepare and present I support in these three momentous US Supreme Court cases.

 

If ever you have considered a large contribution to the National Pro Life Center on Capitol Hill (the only pro-life mission located on Capitol Hill and the only one situated next to the US Supreme Court) please, please do so now! There are three ways you can give: safe and secure online by clicking here, or you can call us at the Faith And Action office at 202-546-8329 or you can send us a check or money order at NPLC, 113 2nd Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. DC mail takes about 2-3 weeks to reach us so you might choose the method that helps right away.

 

Your donation of $500, $300, $150, $25 or more will allow us to properly prepare for these three cases that will change the direction of our laws and our country. Thank you for hearing me out, and for your generous contribution for our work.

Fr. Paul Schenck on Edith Stein: Daughter of Israel, Daughter of the Church

This article first appeared in Catholic Online.

Edith Stein wrote her forward to her autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, in the month of September, 1933, six months after Hitler assumed power and the first concentration camp, Dachau, was opened. In a prescient observation, a most prophetic one, she invokes the word that would decades later come to convey, in a compact, yet massively potent way, the calamity that befell the Jews of Europe.

 

In an almost passing phrase, she reflects, “In one of those conversations by which one seeks to arrive at an understanding of a sudden catastrophe [katastrophe] that has befallen one, a Jewish friend of mine expressed her anguish, ‘If only I knew how Hitler came by his terrible hatred of the Jews.’” (1)

 

In calling the phenomenon of anti-Semitism catastrophe she predicted just what the Jewish people would come to call it, Shoah, a Hebrew word encompassing disaster, calamity, catastrophe. (2)  Though millions of non-Jews suffered and died at Nazi hands, the Jews embraced the Shoah in a unique way.

 

It was visited upon them because of their identity as Jews, and its memory became a part of their identity. Edith would share that realization in the fullest sense, being persecuted, hunted and ultimately murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. That she did so as a Catholic, a cloistered nun destined to become a saint, makes her Jewish identity compelling.

 

Edith’s Jewish identity played a significant formative role in her life, her pursuit of philosophy, her conversion and in aspects of her Religious life. She explains, “I would like to give, simply, a straightforward account of my own experience of Jewish life.” She does this particularly to counter the anti-Jewish propaganda of “the new dictators”, and the “racial hatred” spawned by it.(3)

 

It was important to Edith that the characteristics of her Jewish family show that Jews shared all the common human traits of their non-Jewish neighbors, and were conscientious citizens who loved their families, their country and practiced a religion with high moral and ethical aspirations.

 

In a letter she wrote to Pope Pius XI in the Spring of 1933 in which she begs for the Church to protest Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Germany, she wrote, “As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans.” (4)

 

By defining herself as both “a child of the Jewish people” and “a child of the Catholic Church” she simultaneously embraces both a Jewish and Catholic identity, something not ordinarily understood by Catholics. Conversion is more often seen as a renunciation of one’s former religious beliefs and practices, and therefore aturning away from that identity and taking on a new identity as a Christian, a Catholic.

 

Edith did not understand her identity as mutually exclusive. This is important to understand if we are to get an appreciation of the influence of her Jewish experience on her formation as a philosopher, a Catholic and a religious.

 

Though Edith was raised in a religiously observant (albeit liberal, or reformed) family, she herself was not a deeply religious Jew. She lost her faith in God at fourteen, when she deliberately stopped praying. Though she never spoke of herself as an atheist, she said she found God irrelevant to the challenges of life.

 

She eventually pursued philosophy, and became a student and then assistant to Edmund Husserl, the founder of the school of phenomenology, which seeks to determine the true meaning of things by examining the person’s perception of them.

 

It is important to note that several of Edith’s mentors and peers, including Husserl (whom she always referred to as “the master”) were baptized Jews. This meant that Edith would be exposed to a Christianity that was not inimical to Jewish identity.

 

Throughout her life, Edith never renounced or denounced her Jewish identity. Rather, as demonstrated in her memoir, her participation in Jewish customs at home, her letter to the Pope and in her correspondences, she spoke of her Jewish roots as intrinsic to her self-identification, to her views and even to aspects of her vocation. In a letter to Mother Petra Bruning, OSU, written from the Cologne Carmel, she intimates that part of her mission as a Carmelite was redemptive toward the Jews.

 

She wrote, “I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken from among her people precisely that she might represent them before the king. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. That is such a great comfort.” (5)  This reveals that she saw even her Religious life as containing a mission on behalf of her Jewish people.

 

Edith’s ultimate martyrdom resulted directly from her Jewish identity. In her canonization homily, Blessed Pope John Paul II said, “Because she was Jewish, Edith Stein was taken with her sister Rosa and many other Catholic Jews from the Netherlands to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, where she died with them in the gas chambers.” (6)

 

In her last testament, drafted long before her martyrdom would be realized, she wrote, “I joyfully accept in advance the death God had appointed for me, in perfect submission to his most holy will. May the Lord accept my life and death for the honor and glory of his name, for the needs of his holy Church – especially for the preservation, sanctification and final perfecting of our holy Order and in particular for the Carmels of Cologne and Echt - for the Jewish people, that the Lord may be received by his own and his kingdom come in glory, for the deliverance of Germany and peace throughout the world, and finally, for all my relatives living and dead and all whom God has given me: May none of them be lost.” (7)

 

This shows that her identification with the Jews is at the very core of her being.

 

In his introduction to her biography by Waltraud Herbstrith, Jan Nota wrote of Edith’s “deep sense ofJewishness and her love and commitment to Judaism” which caused him to conclude, “Christ was a Jew, and Edith Stein felt proud to belong to his people.”  From her birth on Yom Kippur to her death in Auschwitz, Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, retained a deep sense of her Jewish identity and that identity endures.

 

Our case is still making a difference…

 

As Washington, DC swelters under the summer heat, at the National Pro-Life Center we’re doubling our efforts to challenge our nation to embrace a culture of life. And every day we see hopeful signs that our efforts are bearing fruit.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, announced that the US Supreme Court will apply its finding in the case involving our National Pro-Life Center chairman, Rev. Schenck V Pro-Choice, as well as two other cases to a Massachusetts law restricting speech around abortion businesses. Fr. Schenck has also been asked to participate in a Bar Association event discussing my case, for which we thank God.

Please pray more opportunities will come about as a result of this unique opportunity to defend the premier human right to live and our right to publicly defend life.

Now, to a great need we are facing this summer. Everything we do at the National Pro-Life Center only happens because our friends and supporters prayerfully stand with us. And right now we need your help more than ever. Summer is always the most difficult season we face financially, and this summer is no different.

Will you  prayerfully consider a special summer gift of $25, $35, $50, or even $100 or more to help us as we prepare for this unexpected and potentially groundbreaking opportunity at the Bar Association?

To make your fully tax-deductible gift online, please click here.

Thank you for your stalwart defense of Life. And thank you for standing with us right now during these difficult summer months. Together, we are making a difference in restoring the respect for all human life to our nation.

In Response to Justice Kennedy and the Supreme Court Same-sex Marriage Decisions

Fr. Paul Schenck and Rev. Rob Schenck meet with the press outside the US Supreme Court

Fr. Paul Schenck and Rev. Rob Schenck meet with the press outside the US Supreme Court

Wednesday, June 26 I concelebrated Holy Mass at the altar in St. Joseph on the Hill Church in Washington, DC. A sparse congregation was in attendance, making it easy to notice a sitting Justice of the United States Supreme Court. That was of particular interest since the Court would be my next stop. I was invited to join my brother, Rev. Rob Schenck, in the High Court as a guest of the Justice. The day before, the Chief Justice, John Roberts had announced that the Court would hear a Massachusetts case related to my 1997 First Amendment case, Rev. Schenck V Pro-Choice, in which I successfully challenged a federal court order prohibiting pro-life sidewalk counseling.  I did not know then that the two recent cases touching on the state of marriage in America would be read that very morning by the Chief Justice and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, both Catholics.

 

Justice Kennedy began in somber tones outlining the elements of the case: a woman who obtained a civil marriage in Canada to another woman sued after her companion’s death for inclusion in the federal estate tax exemption for married persons. At the time of Thea Speyer’s death, the two women lived together in New York, which by then registered same sex couples as married. Her surviving partner was denied the estate tax exemption due to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 bi-partisan measure signed into law by President Clinton. Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage as between a man and woman for purposes of federal law. The petitioner, Edie Windsor, sued the US government under the due process clause of the 5th Amendment. Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan found that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional (Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito filed strong dissents). Justice Kennedy stated for the majority -

 

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

 

In so stating, Justice Kennedy invalidated a legislative consensus defining marriage as a unique social institution reserved for two persons of different genders. The US Congress, and President Clinton, had sought to permanently recognize in law an obvious arrangement which coincides with essential human nature, assures the enduring bond between the sexes, and creates the best conditions for the pro-creation and development of children — who have a right to a mother and a father. The Act further had the de facto effect of recognizing that marriage between a man and woman long preceded the United States, and every state that has ever existed.

 

What was so deeply troubling about the opinion read by Justice Kennedy is the deprecatory language used to describe the purpose of the DOMA, which has the unmistakable effect of stigmatizing its proponents and defenders.

 

According to the Majority, the definition of marriage as only belonging to a woman and man is to “disparage and to injure” those who choose conjugal life with a member of their same sex. He further states that the defense of [traditional] marriage “tells those [same sex] couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples…”

 

The language used to describe the defense of traditional marriage is derogatory and berating towards the communities within American society – religious, conservative, traditional – which hold to beliefs and practices that view marriage as belonging only to a man and woman who have the natural potential to bring into being new human lives. Outstanding among them is the Catholic Church.

 

In the document “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (in Rome) states, “a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of homosexuality is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.” Same-sex couples are not able to fulfill this vision of human destiny; only the complimentary sexes are capable of realizing this.

 

The document on homosexual persons goes on to say, “The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.” And yet, the document states emphatically, “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.” As to personal identity, the document observes that, “The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.” This is a beautiful and respectful understanding of the human person.

 

The condemnatory tone of the Supreme Court majority’s opinion seriously misrepresents the doctrine of the complementarity of the sexes in marriage and as such it is dangerous. While the ruling does not per se force any community, church or individual to accept same-sex marriage or to solemnize one, what it does is precisely what Justice Kennedy claims the law the Court struck does – it vilifies and stigmatizes defenders of heterosexual marriage as holding an undesirable doctrine that injures, demeans and humiliates their fellow citizens.

 

Vociferous language such as this might well be used to marginalize and possibly even penalize the Catholic Church and other faith communities for their beliefs, practices and advocacy of complementary-sex marriage. I for one am very concerned that accrediting and licensing agencies as well as school curricula and media outlets might co-opt this disparaging attitude and then discredit and disqualify schools, social service agencies and health care services administered by faith communities such as the Catholic Church.

 

Justice Kennedy and the majority were wrong to misrepresent the defense of heterosexual marriage as an indignity towards same-sex couples. If only he and Justice Sotomayor better understood their Church’s respect and benevolence towards homosexual persons, and its sublime teaching on marriage, his words might have been more temperate and his opinion more accurate.

Benedict the Builder Pope Resigns His Office. His Work Will Continue in a Restored Church and a New Missionary Age

 First published on Catholic Online: http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=49679&page=1
by Deacon Keith Fournier, John Paul II Fellow, National Pro-Life Center
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome (Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI will resign his office on February 28, 2013. He will be 86 years old on April 16, 2013. Some early observers indicated his age would make him some sort of caretaker Pope. His pontificate has demonstrated the observers were wrong. He has been an indefatigable and tireless missionary of a Pope.
With the humility which has characterized his extraordinary papacy, the announcement was simple and straightforward. It was made to a consistory of his brothers in the episcopate, cardinals who had gathered in Rome where he will soon approve over 800 causes for canonization. He will become the first Pope since 1294 to resign his office. Here is his complete statement:
*****
Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013 
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
****
I must confess – I was not surprised. I had been sensing, in that strange “baptized hunch” way – which is sometimes from the Holy Spirit and sometimes not – that he was not to be with us much longer.  I watched closely for word on his declining health. Like many I have noted his frailty over the last year as he took to using assistance in his mobility. But nothing emerged. Then today came this honest and humble announcement from this Successor of Peter who so appropriately demonstrates that title “Servant of the Servants of God”.
I vividly remember the day in 2005 when the announcement of his own election to the Petrine ministry was made. “Habemus Papem”, “We Have a Pope!” the Cardinal announced. Pope Benedict XVI stepped forward onto the balcony overlooking St. Peters Square calling himself “a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” The applause was uproarious. The joy filled not only that Square but the hearts of millions throughout the entire world who had prayed for this moment.
He continued “. that the Lord can work and act even with insufficient means consoles me, and above all I entrust myself to your prayers. In the joy of the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent help, we go forward.”  Then the questions began. All of them related to one singular question “Where will the Pope lead us?” Morning papers and television commentaries were besieged with alleged answers. They ranged from ecstatic commentary to morose complaint, depending, as if often the case, on the speaker or writers positions on the so called hot button issues that the dominant media culture seems to be obsessed about.
However, like his beloved predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI was never so obsessed. In fact, he approached the world in an entirely different way. That way is the ever ancient but ever new way of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as lived, loved, proclaimed and taught by the Catholic Church for two millennia. He, like John Paul, could not be fit into the tired labels that so many try to fit him into. He is simply a faithful Catholic Christian.
I was overcome with joygratitude and profound hope for the future when I heard the news while I was visiting with a priest friend in Richmond, Virginia. We were immersed in an intense conversation when another friend, then still a Bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, called me on my cell phone to tell me the news. “Have you heard?” he asked, “Habemus Papem, We have a Pope!” he proclaimed, hardly able to contain his own joy. My priest friend and I immediately turned the television on and, with the entire world, witnessed history.
One day later, I realized how significant it was that a Christian from another community told me, a Catholic Deacon, the “we” had a Pope. I believed it was a seed and sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit toward the coming full communion of the whole Christian Church. Now today, while I was still engaged in my morning prayer, that same man informed me of this news of a papal resignation!
However, he is a fruit of the ministry of Benedict the Builder Pope. Shortly after the announcement in 2005, my friend resigned his ministry and began the process which led him into full communion with the Catholic Church. He had no assurance of any ordained ministry; he was just drawn by the splendor of truth which is the ancient but ever new Catholic faith and could not resist its pull.
“How very fitting” I thought to myself this morning “that Fr Randy Sly would inform me of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI”. He did so while he was on his way to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Fr Randy Sly was one of the first to be ordained to the holy priesthood for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter and now serves as a Catholic priest. As I write, he stands at the altar as fruit of the extraordinary pontificate of Benedict the Builder Pope!
I believed from the beginning of his papacy that Benedict XVI would be a builder. He is one of the most brilliant, insightful and fecund theologians of the age. He knew the need for a New Evangelization and he understood the challenges that the Church faced as she walked forward to the Third Christian Millennium. He was present at and participated in the Second Vatican Council. He understands the authentic teaching of that Council and has led the way in its proper implementation in many areas of life, both within the Church and in her mission to the modern world.
He also understands the way that the Council was hijacked in some circles, disregarded in others and absolutely misinterpreted in still others. He has been a voice for dynamic orthodox and faithful Catholic Christian faith, practice, worship and life. In his homily prior to the convening of the conclave where he was chosen to fill the Chair of Peter, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a prophetic insight: “How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth.
“Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. “Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching,” looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Some attempted to misuse this insight to paint him as rejecting the modern world. That was nonsense. What he rejects is the emptiness of modernity and what he aptly referred to as the dictatorship of relativism. What he proposes is a different path, not to the past, but to a future of hope and authentic freedom. It is the reassertion of saving and liberating truth that paves that path to authentic human flourishing and freedom. It is to be found in Jesus Christ who proclaimed that He is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus reminds every person in every age, that we can “know the truth” and that “the truth will set you free.” Benedict has been his mouthpiece and Vicar.
His choice of the name Benedict was a sign of his pontificate. One of the young priests who commented on his election noted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger visited Subiaco before all the events in Rome began. He prayed and rededicated himself to the work of the Church for the future. Benedict the great monk helped to rebuild the Church of his age and spread the influence of Christendom. Pope Benedict XVI has laid the seeds for a similar work in the Third Millennium.
I remember that first homily: “Dear Ones, this intimate recognition for a gift of divine mercy prevails in my heart in spite of everything. I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II. It seems I can feel his strong hand squeezing mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and listen to his words, addressed to me especially at this moment: ‘Do not be afraid!’
He emphasized the work of authentic ecumenism proclaiming: “Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty.”
Pope Benedict XVI has been anything but a caretaker. He has been a rebuilder of foundations. I believe he will go down in history as one of the great popes. He continued the pastoral visits of his predecessor with amazingly fruitful travels around the world. The youth of the world flocked to World Youth days and his genuine love for them – and they for him – was evident. He pastorally and decisively dealt with serious matters concerning the need for a purification of the Church.
He has been exactly what he told us he was when he began his service, a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord” Notice how little fanfare accompanied his historic resignation! Clearly, to this successor of Peter, it is simply not about him, but about the Lord whom he serves. His diminutive size and humble manner reveal the holy heart of this man totally given over to the Lord. He is so refreshingly counter cultural in this age of narcissism and self love.
He is a scholar of the highest order, yet has been able to communicate with simplicity and beauty because he is a man of deep prayer. He has given continual teaching to the faithful – including some of the finest hagiography in centuries – during his Wednesday Catecheses. He made Church history, when Motu Propio, he released of the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of Anglicans which has begun the healing of the divided Western Church. The fruits of these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.
He earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church and made progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which could make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion. He championed the re-christianizing of Europe and passionately promoted the New Evangelization of the Church – even establishing a new Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. He has been a champion of the New Ecclesial movements and helped to ensure that they are rooted in the heart of the Church and received as gift for the missionary work of the Church in this hour.
He has doggedly defended the Christian roots of the West and defended religious freedom as a fundamental human right. He has engaged the Islamic world with great charity and courage on the ground of dialogue in truth. He began the Courts of the Gentiles outreach engaging atheists and agnostics.
The Church has been truly blessed to have Pope Benedict XVI at the helm of the Bark of Peter as she sails into the Third Christian Millennium. I am sure that as the news of this historic resignation sinks in I will return to write and reflect, along with many others. For now, I ask all of our readers to pray for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church which he has led with such beauty, simplicity, depth and grace. But even more importantly, I ask you to pray for His Successor.
How desperately the Church, and the world into which she is sent, needs another Champion at the helm. I know that the Lord will hear these prayers because, after all, this is His Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. (Matt. 16:18) And, Benedict the Builder Pope secured the Firm Foundations so that the work of Jesus Christ may continue through His Mystical Body on earth.

A Colleague and a Friend Passes Away

Michael Schwartz, a good friend and a colleague to me and to the National Pro-LIfe Center passed away over the week-end after a difficult battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Mike was the chief of staff to Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. He was a devout Catholic.  In spite of the strident opposition he often faced, Mike continually fought for the sanctity and dignity of all human life, from conception to natural death. Mike was politically engaged and loved  conversations about the role of the Church in society.  As many of his good friends have stated, “He was a friend of the high and mighty and the lowly and powerless alike.  He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather.”
All of us at the National Pro-Life Center will miss him, but find solace in the hope that he will be forever with the Lord, and we will see him again.
Last year on the Senate floor, Senator Coburn delivered this tribute to Mike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nH8_0Hmwrc

Family Life

The US Catholic Bishops recently stated, “Marriage, understood as the union of one man and one woman, is not an historical relic, but a vital and foundational institution of civil society today,” and  “No other institution joins together persons with the natural ability to have children, to assure that those children are properly cared for. No other institution ensures that children will at least have the opportunity of being raised by their mother and father together.” They said this, not in a catechetical publication, but in a legal brief submitted to the United States Supreme Court! Furthermore, they warn, “Societal ills that flow from the dissolution of marriage and family would not be addressed—indeed, they would only be aggravated—were the government to fail to reinforce the union of one man and one woman with the unique encouragement and support it deserves.”

The family as it has been known throughout human history, as a man joined with a woman, open to children, is in trouble. The number of couples living together without marriage and temporarily, the percentage of marriages ended by divorce and those rejecting children is steadily rising. The Bishops have said, “We are troubled by the fact that far too many people do not understand what it means to say that marriage—both as a natural institution and a Christian sacrament—is a blessing and gift from God.” And that “We are alarmed that a couple‘s responsibility to serve life by being open to children is being denied and abandoned more frequently today.” They “note a disturbing trend today to view marriage as a mostly private matter, an individualistic project not related to the common good but oriented mostly to achieving personal satisfaction.”

The suffering that ensues includes poverty stricken one parent households, psychological and emotional disturbances rooted in feelings of abandonment and alienation, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and a tendency to criminal behaviors. These are proven to result from a culture that has widely rejected the ideal of the life-long, monogamous union of a man and woman open to children. In a phrase, the natural family.

The Catholic Church has a deep, broad and rich tradition of catechesis on the family. She has the example of the married saints to both inspire and demonstrate faithful family life. And, above all, she has the exemplar of the Holy Family to emulate. Christians see in these models the ideal of love, commitment, fidelity and generosity that should define the loving union of a man and woman who freely choose one another for life and together bring forth, or adopt, the new life God gives them as the superlative gift.

As we work to turn our society away from a culture of death – which disposes of lives perceived to be unfulfilling, inconvenient or counterproductive, we must turn our hearts and efforts towards this family. The Church vigorously advocates for the status and rights of the natural family because, as Blessed John Paul II so vividly declared, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family.” Catholics especially must work together to foster a family friendly and supportive society which guides young people into the joyous realization of the love of husbands and wives, their openness to children, the celebration of the Sacraments within the family and the prayerful dedication of young men to the discernment and reception of Holy Orders. Such dedication is essential to all pro-life work. We need to pray, work and sacrifice on behalf of the family.

Later this year, I plan to bring members of my family on a holy pilgrimage to the shrines of Fatima, Lourdes and Sagrada Familia. At Fatima, the Blessed Mother proposed the spiritual remedies for the ills that now plague families. At Lourdes, she nurtured the virtues of faith, hope and love which are essential to family life. The beautiful Shrine of the Sagrada Familia in Spain is perhaps the most beautiful temple to the Holy Family in the whole world. My hope is that our pilgrimage will inspire and guide us in our work on behalf of the Family and of Life. To join us on our holy journey, please email me at frpschenck@hbgdiocese.org.

National Memorial for the Pre-Born At the DAR Constitution Hall

 

Friday was the 19th Annual National Memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers, and it took place just before the annual March for Life. The Memorial is a solemn remembrance of all those lost to abortion and the injury done to their parents—as well as a joyous celebration of God’s good gift of Life! Some 60 clergy from almost as many denominations led and hundreds of dedicated pro-lifers participated. We were close to the White House, we literally shouted out a respectful message to the President!

Please continue to pray with Fr. Paul Schenck, his twin brother, Rev. Rob Schenck, Rev. Pat Mahoney, Fr. Frank Pavone and many others for an end to the 40 years of wilderness wandering under Roe v. Wade—and the hope of God’s leading us into the promised land of Life! Pray also that the hundreds gathered with us served as a prophetic pro-life Christian witness to all of our top-level government officials, including President Obama—at his home across the street!

Following the National Memorial Service was the Annual March for Life where hundreds of thousands of people, mostly under 20, will trek from the Mall down Constitution Avenue all the way to the Supreme Court. Pray that this march to proclaim the sanctity and dignity of all human life served as a powerful prophetic witness not only to our national leaders but to all of America.