Posts in Category: NPLC In Action

Why Keep Marching For Life?

 marchforlifeii1By Rev. Paul CB Schenck

 

The March for Life in Washington, DC is now the longest sustained public demonstration in American history. It has drawn between 10,000 and 1,000,000 peaceful, prayerful participants since 1974. The annual procession from the Ellipse to the United States Supreme Court building has now become a Washington fixture. Many government officials strategically schedule themselves and their staff to be out of town, even the President has left Washington the day before the March and returned the day after. In its early days, the March drew national media attention, but not so much anymore. Some major news agencies ignore it altogether. The National Parks Service doesn’t count its numbers, and doesn’t mention it on its day book. Many see in this a deliberate attempt to make the March insignificant and curtail its influence. Others say it’s just because it’s been around so long.

 

The obvious question is “Why March?” If it doesn’t garner the public attention it once did, if it has not persuaded the High Court, Congress or the President to change the law, wouldn’t it be better to try something else?

 

It is still important, perhaps now more than ever before, to march for life. The March and more specifically, the Marchers, have come to serve as a symbol, an expression, a “Sign of Contradiction” if you will, calling to mind the national sin against innocent lives and restating, over and again, the unalienable and inviolable right to life which belongs to every human being, especially the innocent unborn. It is also a sign of the collective conscience. Each of us knows the unfortunate human condition expressed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom 7:19) When we as individuals commit sin, our consciences are alerted, assemble themselves and rise up against the sin, driving us to repentance, amendment of life and reconciliation. The Marchers are like a collective conscience in society. Conscious of the intrinsic evil of abortion, euthanasia and other horrible attacks against innocent life, the Marchers assemble themselves, rise up against the sin of killing innocents and call the nation to reversal, amendment of national policy and restoration of the right to life.

 

Such public demonstrations, which include the extensive coordination and cooperation between so many individuals, social institutions and the Church is a very healthy and much needed exercise in a culture that overemphasizes selfish interests and personal gratification even at the expense of the abandonment, exploitation and suffering of others. The March is an antidote for the toxin of selfishness and ignorance of the plight of the innocent victims and their families. Elected and appointed officials and all those who responsible for public policy are reminded by 50,000 plus students, families, teachers, first responders, health care workers, religious, clergy and many other members of the American family that they have a positive obligation to defend and protect the most innocent and vulnerable members of that family. The Marchers put flesh and blood on an otherwise abstract debate about morality and policy. Every Marcher, after all, was an embryo, a fetus. Many Marchers are members of the “Silent No More Awareness Campaign”, women who were victimized by abortion expressing their regret and calling on others not to make the same mistake.

 

The March for Life remains a very important and meaningful effort to exercise our national conscience and urge everyone concerned to all they can to protect and save as many innocent human lives as possible and save the moral and social fabric that is foundational to a just and enduring society.

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.

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.

President Obama’s Second Inauguration and the Unfinished Work of Freedom for our First Neighbors in the Womb

By Deacon Keith Fournier
First appeared in Catholic Online
WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) – On the day when our Nation remembers Dr Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama will publicly recite his oath of office for a second term. The actual oath and swearing in was administered on Sunday, January 20, 2012, in order to comply with the requirements of constitutional law.
Article II of the US Constitution requires,” Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since 1937, Presidents have been sworn into on Jan. 20th to comply with the 20th amendment which reads, “The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.”
The public Inauguration ceremony is being held on January 21, 2013. In 2013 this is also the National Holiday honoring Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The Holiday is observed on the Third Monday of January in order to be as proximate to the day of his death, January 15, 1968. The symbolism is rich and America’s first African American President will understandably seize the moment.
He will take the public oath of Presidential on two bibles. One belonged to Dr. King and was used in his early ministry. President Obama, known for his lofty rhetoric and strategic use of symbols, will face the Lincoln Memorial as He recites the oath. Fifty Years ago Dr King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before that same Memorial.  Dr. King’s speech which will live on in history as one of the most profound ever given in US history. This President’s speech, no matter how well delivered, will ring hollow.
Dr. King’s speech concluded with stirring words which still bring tears to my eyes. They rise within me every time I witness the denial of freedom and the failure to respect and recognize fundamental human rights. Like millions of people my age, I memorized much of that speech when I was young. It is still inscribed in my aging brain and heart. Here are portions:
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
President Obama will take his oath facing the monument dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. The words of the Gettysburg address are inscribed on the wall behind the statue of the seated President. They include the promise, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The prophetic words of Lincoln’s second Inaugural address, warning the Nation of the consequences of the offense of slavery, are on those walls as well: “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”
This Second Inauguration of President Obama should hold promise and hope, as should every inauguration. The word inaugurate is derived from the Latin verb augurāre, which communicated something to be hoped for based on good signs. Like many words, it’s meaning evolved as it has wound its way into western language. Interpolated through the French and Anglicized, it has come to mean installation and consecration. It is now rendered “to induct into office with suitable ceremony”.
Yet, the signs accompanying the Second Inauguration of President Obama are ominous. He is one of the greatest opponents of the fundamental human right to life in United States History. He has closed his ears to the cry of an entire class of persons, our first neighbors in the first home of the whole human race, children in the womb. His administration has not only allowed the scourge of legal abortion on demand to continue unabated, it has attempted to open the floodgates of federal funding to the practice.

To read this article in full, click here.

Full of Grace. Initiation and Response in the Spiritual Life

By Deacon Keith Fournier
This article first appeared in Catholic Online
As the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord draws near, our Gospel readings over the last few days have recorded several encounters between people and angels. The word angel is from a Greek word which means messenger. Angels communicated God’s messages, His plans – and they invite the people to whom they appear to respond to God’s invitation. Their response matters.
On Tuesday, We heard the Gospel account from St Matthew which told of Joseph’s experience with an Angel. (Mt. 1:18-25) I wrote about the encounter and Josephs response here. Wednesday, we heard the story of another angelic encounter between Zechariah and an angel (Luke 1: 5-25). Zechariah, unlike Joseph, did not initially respond with a full assent of faith. The story is instructive and I hope to write on it later.
This Thursday, we hear of the encounter between the little Virgin of Nazareth named Mary and the Angel Gabriel. (Luke 1:26-38) I will focus in on one verse and use it as a springboard to speak about the way in which we are called to respond to the Lords messengers in our own lives: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28).
The angelic words of greeting from this wonderful biblical passage form the opening words of one of the most cherished prayers in Catholic piety referred to as the “Hail Mary.” In the years that I have served as a Deacon of the Church I have found that these words – and the prayer that they intone – are a source of great comfort especially when people are ill, in trouble, or facing death. They bring tremendous comfort to many.
Sacred Scripture tells us that Mary was “full of grace”, filled with the very life and presence of God. She walked in a deep, abiding and intimate relationship with God. He was with her before she even responded to His invitation. God chose Mary even before Mary chose God. This order is vitally important if we want to grasp the deeper meaning of living the spiritual life.
We sometimes think that we brought God into our lives. This is hinted at in the use of popular language that, even if well intended, can lead us to believe that we do the initiating and somehow control the relationship. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus made this order of invitation and response clear in His words to His disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you” (St. John 15:16).
I was raised as a Catholic Christian. My family practiced the faith until a tragedy shook our foundations. Afterward, we remained cultural – but not always practicing – Catholics. This occurred just as I began my turbulent teenage years. Later on, when I returned to the practice of my faith, I felt as if I had “come home”.  I thought that I had “found” the Lord. In a sense, that was true. However, I would soon come to discover that He had never left me; it was I who had wandered away. It took a while to understand what that meant as His grace unfolded in my daily life.
During that time I also discovered the prayer of the great western Church father, Augustine, which he uttered upon his own return to the faith and recorded in his wonderful “Confessions”: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.”
“Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
St. Augustine understood – like Mary and countless men and women throughout the ages have understood – that it is the Lord who reaches out to us in His love. It is the Lord who offers His grace. We are the recipients of that grace, and it fills us according to the capacity that He has built within us.  This proper order of initiation and response has profound relevance for us if we truly desire to live the spiritual life. God is already there. He awaits our response to His relentless love and grace, which are both within and all around us.
We can learn this and so much more from the Biblical visitation of Mary by the angel or “messenger” of God. Her experience with the Angel Gabriel offers other important lessons for our own daily lives. They can help us to recognize the messengers in our own lives and teach us how to respond. Angels still visit those who believe that grace is real and available, the favor and blessing of God. They come, bearing God’s message to men and women are humble enough to open themselves to its dynamic, sanctifying and transforming action.
Let’s look at just a few.
First of all, the story is time specific. The angel came in the sixth month. Angels still come at the specific moment that God chooses to intervene in our lives. The One who sends them does not wear a watch, keep a day-timer, or use a pocket computer. He is outside of time but always on time. He is never early.  And He is never late.
The angel came to a specific person, “a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph.” Angels appear to specific people in the real circumstances of their daily lives, in the midst of their human relationships.
The older I get, the more I am able to recognize the “angels,” or messengers, the Lord sends into my life. They come bearing His message, speaking to my specific circumstances at a specific time of need. The angelic greeting also tells us about our invitation into a relationship with God.
Gabriel’s greeting was specific. Mary was addressed by her Hebrew name, implying that the God from whom the angel was sent knew Mary personally and had a relationship with her that preceded the visitation. So it is with each one of us. As the Great Hebrew Psalmist David sang:
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be (Psalm 139).
The angel refers to Mary as “full of grace.” Mary was indeed favored and full of grace. The Lord of heaven and earth had prepared and chosen her as a fertile ground into which he planted the seed of His Word.
In a real and substantial way, when we respond to the words of the Lord, we also become filled with grace – and Jesus is formed within us. In that sense, we become favored. An early father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once wrote:
“What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ‘we no longer know Christ according to the flesh’, but He dwells in us spiritually and the father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us”
Perhaps the reason the scriptures tell us so little about Mary was because she was meant to serve as a mirror, a reflection, of “Some- One” who was much more important. It was His grace that filled her. She became the Handmaid of the Lord.
God brings new life to ordinary people who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and pure hearts that are opened to his invitation of love. Like Mary, they become full of grace through their encounter with the Lord.
A profound mystery is made wonderfully simple by Mary of Nazareth’s witness.  She lived a fruitful life, marked by an innocent and childlike spirit. As Jesus said, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth that what you have hidden from the learned and the wise you have revealed to the merest of children” (Luke 10:21). His words help us understand that we, too, are to become “as little children.”
Each of us is now called to become full of grace, by imitating her response. The Lord desires to be with us, to live within us in a world that hungers for His love-a love which can be borne in us and offered through us to others. Mary shows us the way. She heard the promise, believed, was filled with grace, and conceived the Lord who is Love incarnate. We can do likewise if we learn to pray, to listen, to hear, to respond, to say “Yes”.
In doing so we, like Mary, will discover that “nothing is impossible with God.” We will be filled with grace and help to bring Jesus Christ to a world waiting to be born anew.

HOW CATHOLICS SHOULD VOTE

The two-party system in American politics tends to divide the country in halves, creating a polarized electorate and an “us against them” way of thinking.  Heavily biased news reporting seems to exacerbate the situation. Sadly, this sharp controversy sometimes enters the Church, igniting suspicions and pitting Catholics against each other.  Partisan politics has tried to pit “social justice Catholics” against “right to life” Catholics, a strained and contrived division which actually doesn’t exist in Catholicism.

Catholic Social Doctrine embraces both issues of the sanctity of human life and of social justice. In Church teaching, these two concerns with human wellbeing are complimentary, not mutually exclusive; the one is reliant on the other. To listen to some political commentators (not to mention candidates), one must be chosen over the other. Not so. For Catholics, these two concepts, the sanctity of every human life and the just treatment of all people are inseparable, one necessary leads to the other; they are two parts of a whole.

This being the case, there is an essential progression beginning with the sanctity of human life and eventuating in matters of social justice such as fair wages, housing, education, health care, immigrant rights and so forth. In their instructive document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops write -

The right to life implies and is linked to other human rights-to the basic goods that every human person needs to live and thrive. All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life. The moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors-basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work-is universally binding on our consciences and may belegitimately fulfilled by a variety of means. Catholics must seek the best ways to respond to these needs. As Blessed Pope John XXIII taught, “[Each of us] has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and, finally, the necessary social services”.

Plainly stated, without the right to human life, there are no other human rights. What right to education does an aborted child have? What right to health care does a euthanized elder have? What right to mental health care does a suicide have?

The Bishops quote Blessed John Paul II, perhaps the foremost Christian philosopher of modern times -

Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture-is false and illusory if the right tolife, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

All moral claims are not equal in magnitude – some are more important and imperative than others. For illustrative purposes, let’s make a comparison between the right to life, and the rights of immigrants. In its twin decisions, Roe V Wade and Doe V Bolton, the US Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is legal for nearly any reason throughout all nine months of pregnancy. More than one million preborn children, and even some babies during delivery, are aborted every year. Imagine firing squads mounted on bluffs in the Southwest desert shooting Mexicans illegally crossing into the US and killing over a million a year. Who could legitimately champion the cause of undocumented aliens, arguing for education, health care and employment rights, while approving of such a lethal policy? Their legitimate human rights necessarily rest upon their fundamental right to their lives.

Catholics must take into consideration this hierarchy of morality when casting a vote for candidates who will shape the law and public policy. In the words of the Bishops -

Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity:

The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed.

The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity. Racism and other unjust discrimination, the use of the death penalty, resorting to unjust war, the use of torture, war crimes, the failure to respond to those who are suffering from hunger or a lack of health care, or an unjust immigration policy are all serious moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act.

The political divisions perpetrated by opposing parties may be incompatible with the unity within Catholicism, but so is moral equivalency. Catholics must respect the logical progression from the right to life to the other human and civil rights, while doing all they can to advance both.

We Must Triumph Over the ‘Dictatorship of Relativism’

By Father Paul C.B. Schenck
Founding Director and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center
August 14, 2012: Feast of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan friar, who gave his own life in the place of a stranger in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe: Catholic priest, writer and publisher. Born January 8, 1894. Martyred August 14, 1941.

Some years ago I took our firstborn son with me to visit his Jewish ancestors’ homeland of Belarus, on the outskirts of the city of Minsk in the western pale of old Russia. There we met a young scientist named Levin, my uncle’s family name.

We went to his meager apartment for dinner with his elderly mother. His mother did not understand English, and our host told us that when the Nazis invaded Minsk, they buried all the Jewish children alive – including his four siblings – and his mother and father were forced to watch. It was a time of enormous evil.

We’re living in a time of terrible doubts: doubts about what is right and wrong, good and evil. Even doubts about whether we can know what is right or wrong, good or evil. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has called this the “dictatorship of relativism” – and it might as well be called the tyranny of agnosticism.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and death demonstrate the falsehood of this proposition –  that we can’t really know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

No one doubts that Hitler and his Nazi party epitomized evil – that their campaign of genocide was flat out wrong. No one with a conscience questions the immorality and evil of killing innocents. Notice that in the current debate over abortion and euthanasia, it is the “personhood” of the unborn child or the disabled or the terminally ill that is questioned because it is necessary to disprove their humanity in order to justify their deaths.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s life and sacrificial death demonstrates what we all know to be true and right: that all human life is precious, to be cherished and respected and protected at law. Anything else is immoral and wrong.

In a time when our society is desperately in search of the true value of human life, we need to turn to great souls like Saint Maximilian Kolbe to remind and inspire us to work for a truly moral and just community in which all human life, born and unborn, is respected and protected.

Prayers for Life: Pray for Everyone!

By Father Paul C.B. Schenck
Founding Director and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center

August 2012

Saint Paul writes: “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.” (I Timothy 2:1-3)

“At Mass we are united with the whole company of Heaven” by Elizabeth Wang. (Courtesy of RadiantLight.org.uk)

The Prayers of the Faithful, or petitions, are a very important part of the celebration of the Holy Mass. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal says: “In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is desirable that there usually be such a form of prayer in Masses celebrated with the people, so that petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world.”

In their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphatically states: “In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death,’ there is need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.”

Quoting Blessed John Paul II, they observe: “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life.

“In Westminster Cathedral, and in every Catholic church, the Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented for our salvation at the Mass” by Elizabeth Wang. (Courtesy of RadiantLight.org.uk)

In response to the current crisis of respect for the sanctity of human life and the dignity of all persons, the bishops call for pro-life petitions (prayers of the faithful) at every Mass.

Typically, when I am leading the prayers, I will pray for the entire Church, which means:

- For our Holy Father, our Bishop, all the bishops in communion together, the clergy, the religious, the consecrated and the lay faithful, that we may be witnesses to the gift of life and love to the world.

- For all elected and appointed officials, and all those responsible for public policy, that they may keep before them the sanctity of every human life, the dignity of every person and the common good of all people.

- For the sick and the suffering; the weak and vulnerable; those without advocates or voices; the pre-born, their mothers and fathers; the aging; those deemed terminally ill; the disabled; the incapacitated; subjects of scientific experiments that injure and destroy life; those who feel hopeless and helpless; the mentally and emotionally ill; the homeless; those without a nation or country to defend and protect their rights; victims of violence; those condemned to death and victims of war.

- For the dying and those who have died, that they may see the face of God and enjoy Him forever.

The Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes the Word of Life series (online and in hardcopy) as an easy way to follow their instruction that a pro-life petition be prayed at every Mass. While their stated purpose is to “develop a deep critical sense” of the respect for all human life and the dignity of all persons, it is not necessary to always mention abortion. The whole range of concerns for human life may be included over a reasonable course of time, weekly, monthly or seasonally. Still, the bishops have called for some expression of the aspirations of the Gospel of Life in the petitions at every Mass.

In the words of the bishops, in this waywe proclaim that human life is a precious gift from God; that each person who receives this gift has responsibilities toward God, self, and others; and that society, through its laws and social institutions, must protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence.”

Lord, hear our prayer, amen!

THE WORD OF LIFE pro-life petitions can be found at http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/resources-for-the-eucharist/word-of-life/
Pro-life prayers can be found at http://www.priestsforlife.org/prayers/index.aspx

Calling All Catholics: Join Our Urgent Mission!

July 24, 2012

Dear Friends,

While much of the nation bakes in summer heat, at the National Pro-Life Center our work among our elected and appointed officials in defense of Life is heating up as well. And you play a critical role in our efforts!

  • I am honored to announce I’ve been invited to address the sitting members of state supreme courts on the subject of religious liberty and the defense of conscience.

  • In addition to parish and diocesan responsibilities I’m traveling extensively in parish churches, commenting on the Supreme Court healthcare case and preparing Catholics to prayerfully and actively engage in the political process. I’m also assisting church ministries in passively resisting ANY healthcare action that violates our conscience as Catholics.

  • Every week our staff plays an important role in a values action team that meets in the U.S. Senate offices. This important team of key leaders prays for and strategizes about the issues impacting our nation and through these meetings our staff offers spiritual guidance and strategic consultation to our national policymakers.

But there is so much more that needs to be done – and we can’t do it without you! The abortion lobby in the U.S. still receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal taxpayer subsidies that allows them to channel millions into abortion and birth control propaganda.

We receive no public funding whatsoever. We are entirely dependent on your contributions to continue our work of giving lawmakers and federal judges the information, education and inspiration they need to better form their consciences so they will make better decisions.

At the National Pro-Life Center we are preparing a Friend of the Court brief against the federal mandate forcing Catholic and other ministries and missions to buy insurance that includes abortion inducing drugs, birth control and sterilization procedures.

We are also joining one of our National Pro-Life Center missionary partners in an unprecedented national effort to replace Planned Parenthood abortion mills with pro-life healthcare centers, offering women a true alternative to abortion. Stanton Healthcare Center in Idaho is the first clinic of its kind located right next to a Planned Parenthood center – and we directly support the Stanton effort.

But none of this is possible without you! We’re counting on you to help us carry out our vital missionary outreach by contributing now to our SUMMER MINISTRY FUND. Your special gift of $15 or more will help us enormously.

Quite frankly, these next two weeks will predictably be the lowest income weeks of our entire year – just at a time when our need is greatest. This is always a difficult time for us as so many of our friends enjoy vacations, travel, and have extended family time. We understand how important that is to everyone. At the same time, there’s never been a moment in history when ministry to our national leaders was more necessary.

That’s why I’m asking you to help us during these critical summer weeks as we work hard to build up our SUMMER MINISTRY FUND. We simply cannot do what we do without you!

In the next 8 days I must raise $18,000 to carry out our missionary programs. Your gift of $15, $25, $50, or $100 or more WILL MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE in how much we can accomplish. Will you help us right now?

 To make your much needed, tax-deductible contribution of $10, $25, $50, or even $100 or more, click here.

I need you to stand with us during these summer months. With the nation baking in record heat, your generous gift will be like an oasis in the wilderness to us.

Thank you for your friendship, prayers, and support. As St. Paul said to his friends at Philippi, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).

Sincerely serving the Lord of Life,

Fr. Paul C.B. Schenck
Chair, The National Pro-Life Center on Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C.