Quarterly Review – Winter 2015-2016 Issue
Welcome to our second edition of Salt and Light, the Quarterly Review of St. John Vianney’s Social Service Ministries. Unlike our weekly e-newsletters which include updates and information about upcoming SJV events, our Quarterly Review is meant to be more educational in nature. We invite you to join us in our Quarterly Reviews as we explore contemporary issues that are relevant to the Catholic Church’s social doctrine and the Corporal Works of Mercy, and to review our Church’s rich history in both words and actions in the arena of social justice. In addition to articles on these topics, we will share with you links to additional resources, prayers, action steps, and upcoming events. In this issue, we will also share articles written by our own and extremely talented SJV parishioners with you. Finally, we will share with you our Quarterly Reports, which address the facts and figures of our own social justice efforts and how we are reaching out to and serving the poor and the vulnerable here at SJV.
Secondly, the Jubilee Year of Mercy has officially begun! In the Papal bull “Misericordiae Vultus” or “The Face of Mercy,” Pope Francis declares that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Pope Francis adds that this Jubilee Year is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy” which God “constantly extends to all of us.” The motto of this Holy Year is to be “Merciful like the Father.” Pope Francis writes “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident.”
What does this Jubilee Year of Mercy mean for you and me? How can we incorporate acts of mercy into our daily lives? In “Misericordiae Vultus,” Pope Francis offers us some practical ways to be “merciful like the Father.” Read more of the Papal bull.
One way that we can practice mercy like the Father is by reflecting and practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Pope Francis writes, “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead” (15: 2).
Read on in this issue of Salt & Light to learn more about the Corporal Works of Mercy and the foundation of Catholic Social Teaching, the life and dignity of the human person. We hope that you enjoy this second edition, and stay tuned for much more to come!
Peace & Blessings,
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5: 13-16)
A REFLECTION ON ADVENT
By Andrew Schaeperkoetter, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and SJV Parishioner
We have just read from the book of Genesis and our fall. Every time we walk into a confessional we realize our own fallenness, our own need for salvation. Moreover, every day in the newspaper, we read how fallen the world is- violence, injustice, starvation, and hatred- the world seemingly in a state of rebellion against God. We realize how much the devil has come to dominate our lives and all of creation too. C.S. Lewis described the world as ‘enemy-occupied territory.’
First, we are remembering the anticipation of the world, waiting in darkness for a Messiah. We have just read the passage of the fall, of how humanity fell into darkness, fell into a state of rebellion against God. As Christmas falls near the winter solstice, the liturgical year forces us to live in this state of darkness in literally the darkest days of the year, with the days only becoming darker until Christ’s light finally emerges to push back the darkness on Christmas Day. We recall how the devil seems to have repeatedly prevailed over the People of Israel again and again, maintaining his domination of the world. As C.S. Lewis imagined, we put ourselves within that period of the world being enemy-occupied territory, of Nazi Europe awaiting in hope the beginning of the liberation that would come from D-Day. Christmas is that D-Day, but Advent forces us to remember those days of not yet. We walk with the Jews with their prophets, reflecting on their long-held hope for the Messiah and salvation.
This remembrance in the darkness before the coming of the Messiah helps us to reflect on our own darkness, our own need for deliverance. Advent has traditionally been considered a “little Lent,” a period of fasting and preparation, a time of repentance. This is a period of interior reflection, a discerning of what is most important in our lives, of what should take priority, “of what is of value.” The figure of John the Baptist looms particularly large in Advent, crying out, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John the Baptist was a prophet, dressed in camel hair and eating locusts in the desert, living a radically counter-cultural lifestyle, whose purpose was to shake the shallow and shaky foundations of our world. John the Baptist was intent upon calling into question the false idols and kingdoms that we had built up in this world, intent on preparing the world by bringing her to her foundations so that the coming kingdom of God may arrive. The kingdom of God is nothing more than Christ himself coming as Lord and Ruler, and John the Baptist is proclaiming that when we experience conversion, Christ can come rule in our hearts. This is the middle coming of Christ, the middle Advent, the arrival of Christ into our hearts that we prepare for and make room for. Advent is a time of spiritual renewal and purification, of conversion back to the way of the Lord.
Having reflected upon the darkness in the world into which we await Christ’s breaking, both in the Old Testament and in our own lives, we look in joyful hope for the final coming of Christ, commonly called the Second Coming, the end of the world. The earliest Christians prayed earnestly for Christ to return to the earth to bring his peace and justice, and in modern times we seem to have lost much of that yearning and earnestness. We seem to have presumed in our modern technological pride, human programs and political agendas, and self-confidence in human progress that we can construct for ourselves our very own utopia, often not even including God in our planning. But the war is not won yet, the D-Day of Christmas and Christ’s Pascal Mystery have arrived but the final victory over Satan we still await. Satan still continues to assault the People of God and will continue to battle us until the end. We are still a pilgrim people waiting for Christ’s final arrival, awaiting Christ the Lord’s final victory banner, awaiting the final arrival that will definitely banish all the darkness that seems to constantly surround our lives. Thus Advent, while forcing us to acknowledge that darkness is still present, is a time that we more intentionally pray for Christ to come soon and very soon, that Christ may display His glory and definitively defeat the forces of evil in this world. Thus we wait in hope and in joy in full confidence of how great is our God.
Let us pray this Advent that we may enter into the Advent journey of the Jews as they awaited in darkness their Messiah more fully realizing our own need for a Savior, that we may undergo our own repentance to make room for Christ to rule in our hearts, and that Christ may urgently come to establish His kingdom over the entire world that His glory and love be established over all.
Andrew Schaeperkoetter is a proud native St. Louisan who has been teaching engineering, physics, and theology for the past 3 years at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. He graduated with a B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Kansas and Texas A&M University respectively, before earning an M.T.S. at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. Andrew is also a promised member of the lay movement, the Family of the Apostles of the Interior Life, possessing the charism of building the spiritual life in himself and others. Andrew is also frequently active in St. John Vianney’s Young Adult Ministry. Most importantly, Andrew has had the most blessed vocation of being the husband of the wonderful Elizabeth Schaeperkoetter.
LIVING A TRULY HOLY YEAR OF MERCY
The Holy Year of Mercy began on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In keeping with this Holy Year’s motto, we would like to begin our section on the Year of Mercy with a reflection on the subject. Father Michael Della Penna shares his thoughts with us on what it means to be ‘merciful like the Father and how we can incorporate acts of mercy in our daily lives.
Merciful Like the Father
By Father Michael Della Penna, OFM.
What exactly does being ‘merciful like the Father’ mean and what am I called to do during this Jubilee Year of Mercy that began on December 8th? While Mercy is essentially a personal characteristic of care for the needs of others, the biblical concept of mercy, which is considered the greatest attribute of God, is much richer and constitutes a relational dimension that always involves help to those who are in need or distress. The Year of Mercy challenges us to not only reflect on but to LIVE what the Catechism (CCC 2447) speaks of in doing the works of mercy; defined as charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. The motto of this Holy Year, Merciful Like the Father (Lk 6:36) serves as more than an invitation, but rather as an obligation to follow the merciful example of the Father who asks us not to judge or condemn but to forgive and to give love and forgiveness without measure.
“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”
Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy are charitable actions oriented especially to feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:
“He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise…If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?”
With an estimated 795 million people undernourished around the world (just over 1 in 9) we seek to alleviate poor nutrition, which causes nearly half of the deaths in children under 5—more than 3 million children annually. Pope Francis commented “If there are children in so many parts of the world with nothing to eat, that is not news, it seems normal. It cannot be so!” The Letter of James challenges each of us:
“My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, ‘God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!’—if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.” (James 2:14-16)
Mercy is, therefore, not only a virtue that influences a person’s compassion for another and inspires the will to ease another’s misfortunes or suffering in either body or soul, it is a MEANS of extending God’s compassion and mercy to those in need. Why must we rediscover the works of mercy, which give Christians a concrete way to live according to Jesus’ Great Commandment? Because it is the very heart of the Gospel, the hinge on which our very salvation depends, serving as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-45). We as the Church therefore are called above all to be authentic and credible witnesses of her primary task of convincingly professing the mystery of mercy and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. The poignant words of Saint John XXIII at opening the Council pointed out the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity…” The walls of the Church, which for too long have made it a kind of fortress, must be torn down in order to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, especially to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates.
Mercy is the force that can reawaken us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope, empowering us to heal the wounds of the brokenhearted, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. The Holy Father exhorts us with a heartfelt plea:
“Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!”
Born in Boston, Fr. Michael Della Penna, OFM completed Bachelors’ degrees in Psychology and Philosophy and a Masters of Divinity degree from Weston Jesuit School of Theology before being ordained a priest in 1999 as a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate Conception Province. He studied at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto, and later completed a licentiate and a doctorate degree in Franciscan spirituality from the Pontifical University Antonianum in Rome. He has served as Associate Pastor, Retreat Director, Formation Director and Definitor for his province. He is currently the Director of Valley of the Angels Orphanage in Guatemala, the Director of Ongoing Formation for his province and leads pilgrimages to Assisi for the Franciscan Pilgrimage Program. Fr. Michael finds joy in leading others to come to a greater knowledge and love of Christ through retreats and pilgrimage, and he has generously agreed to share with us some thoughts on the Holy Year of Mercy.
Living Mercy in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
As Fr. Michael has pointed out, we are faced with a challenge to “not only reflect on, but to LIVE what the Catechism speaks of in doing the works of mercy.” And so we ask ourselves: how do we extend God’s compassion and mercy to those in need? How do we live mercifully during this Jubilee Year? A good starting point for both reflecting on and living mercy during the Jubilee Year and going forward is the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development’s handout on the very subject: Living Mercy in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Finally, John Fahy invites us with this very interesting reflection to reconsider, and indeed redefine, what it means for us Catholics to be “Christmas People” in the newly begun Jubilee Year of Mercy.
MERCY Incarnate: what makes us Christmas people?
By John Fahy, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and SJV Parishioner.
Are you a Christmas person? What does the question call to mind? Lights and tinsel? The ceremonial Christmas goose? Christmas carols? Santa in the shopping mall? (And all of it starting just after Halloween, it seems?) In this short reflection, I’d like to see if we can’t take advantage of this special time in history—Christmas days away, a Jubilee Year of Mercy having just begun—to redefine the concept of Christmas People.
I think most people remember this about Scrooge—he was a grouch, with grouchy tastes about Christmassy things. Much more central in the story, I contend, is his profound selfishness. When asked to donate for their cause, Scrooge refers the poor to prisons instead, claiming that he “can’t afford to make idle people merry.” On hearing that the brutal conditions in English workhouses cause their workers to prefer death, he actually encourages them to die and “decrease the surplus population!” It’s clear that Scrooge has chosen his own welfare, and laid up treasure for himself only.
When Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his old companion, Jacob Marley—the two were “kindred spirits”—Marley reveals the fundamental reason that Christmas is so contrary to the misers’ liking. “At this time of the rolling year,” he says, “I suffer most.” Importantly for our purposes, this is not merely a matter of taste! He laments, “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me! No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!”
It’s clear that Marley is no “Christmas person,” but it’s not for dislike of pageantry or jolliness. Christmas reminds Marley of who he could have been, who he was meant to be. St. John Paul II wrote that “Christ is the definitive incarnation of mercy.” Christmas is the birth of God’s mercy incarnate. What does this mean? When we contemplate the birth of Jesus, mercy is its plainest significance: that we who were dead might come to life, because the gap between men and God, impassable by our powers, was closed for good when God “crossed over” and became man. Christmas is not presents, hams, and carols: Christmas is the feast of our reunion with love itself, the end of humanity’s broken heart, our salvation from death. The birth of God’s mercy incarnate.
Now, by itself, mercy might have consoled Marley! He was a sinner like all of us, and mercy is just what sinners need. But God’s grace, though freely given, is not cheap. God’s mercy calls out to us for conversion, and this was Marley’s grief. On Christmas, the perfect mercy of God became human, so that we might become perfected in mercy. The Incarnation is a two-way street: God’s mercy comes to us to show us to come to him by our own merciful living. Christ taught us this: Blessed are the merciful. If you have mercy on others, so the Father will have mercy on you. Whenever you show mercy to others, you show it to Me.
Having died, Marley now sees these heavenly possibilities with clarity. So when Scrooge tries to offer Marley an earthly consolation—by complimenting his business acumen—Marley’s rebuke is swift. “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
The real reason, then, that Marley is no Christmas person is not his taste in holiday food, caroling, or décor. Marley (and Scrooge) are not Christmas people because they lacked mercy. This was a fundamental refusal of the very meaning of Christmas—the birth of mercy incarnate. Because at Christmas God gave us one, final, irrevocable, and unending work of His mercy, so likewise we are called to work out small mercies with one another. We become properly Christian when we become a mercy people.
That conversion is the rest of the story, of course. Scrooge learns empathy and becomes a mercy person. Dickens tells us that Scrooge became “as good a man as the good old city knew… and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well.” That’s the spirit of Christmas people—not loving carols and trimming the tree, but serving those who are afflicted. During Christmas in this Year of Mercy, let’s pray to become Christmas people in that sense—to become mercy people. We live in an era increasingly hostile to such a mission: the world wants us to believe that Christmas is about materialism, inwardness, and gluttony—and that the season of selfishness can go on all year. But Mercy Incarnate taught us to go far outside ourselves: feed, clothe, and shelter the poor; visit the sick and the imprisoned. This Christmas, let us recognize the depths of God’s big work of Christmas mercy, and ask God to strengthen us in small works of mercy, so that like Scrooge, we can learn to keep Christmas well all year long. God bless us, every one.
John Fahy has a Master’s degree in Theology, and he is a member of the theology faculty at Strake Jesuit College Prep. With his wife Angelica and their three children, John is grateful every day to live and work in holy communities like Jesuit and St. John Vianney, full of authentic Christmas people.
Back to Basics: Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching
LIFE AND DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
A Story for All of Us
A Message from our Respect Life Ministry Leader
By Diane Davis, Coordinator for St. John Vianney’s Respect Life Ministry
As part of our focus on Life and the Dignity of the Human Person, we deemed it appropriate to include a brief message from our Respect Life Ministry Leader, Diane Davis:
Our mission in the Respect Life Ministry is to eradicate abortion – the greatest sin of our generation and a modern-day holocaust – and to respect all forms of life, only given to us by God, from conception to natural death. The protection of the sanctity of life and the most vulnerable, the Holy Innocents, is of utmost importance to me and my family. I try to emphasize the importance and power of prayer.
Only God can intervene, and that is why it is crucial at this time for us to bombard heaven with our prayers and fasting, and by communicating with people (beginning with our families, friends and acquaintances) what Planned Parenthood stands for and what their business is really all about. We are called by God as Christians to raise awareness of God’s presence and triumph over evil, and we must continue to do His work to end this horror in our society.
Jim and I are also entering a new phase in our lives, taking care of a parent in-between our children and grandchildren. Providing assistance and support to my mother, whom we moved here this past summer, has really changed our lifestyle. Whereas Mom is still very independent, she does rely on me to help her navigate doctors’ appointments, shopping, making various decisions with her healthcare, insurance, home issues, etc., etc. It’s a form of service that I expected would impact my life, but now that I’m experiencing it first-hand, I realize that I am living my faith by following Fr. Troy’s preaching on ‘Family First!’
God calls us in many ways to serve, and I feel blessed that I am able to give of myself wherever I am needed. Many of us are called to serve in other capacities – it’s all good, especially when we’ve recognized our calling and work together for the common good and the respect for human life from conception until natural death.
Diane and her husband, Jim have been parishioners at St. John Vianney since June 2001. Through the years she has been involved in multiple groups and ministries. In addition to leading St. John Vianney’s Respect Life Ministry, Diane is also an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, a Sacristan, a Joseph’s Coat volunteer, and an all-around go-to volunteer at Social Services; ready to step up and help whenever it is needed. She also makes a weekly Holy Hour of Adoration at our Chapel, and she has attended numerous bible studies through the parish.
EVERY LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
An Excerpt from the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities’ 2015 Respect Life Month Statement
Respect Life Month is observed in October, and although multiple activities take place to commemorate it and to raise awareness for the dignity of the human person, it actually marks the beginning of a new, year-long cycle of the USCCB’s Respect Life Program. This Program continues through the following September, and it is a time dedicated by the U.S. bishops for the Church nationwide to bring attention to, celebrate, and work and pray for the protection of the gift of human life. The theme for this year’s program is “Every life is worth living.”
Whether it lasts for a brief moment or for a hundred years, each of our lives is a good and perfect gift. At every stage and in every circumstance, we are held in existence by God’s love.
Our relationships on earth are meant to help us and others grow in perfect love. We are meant to depend on one another, serve each other in humility, and walk together in times of suffering.
An elderly man whose health is quickly deteriorating; an unborn baby girl whose diagnosis indicates she may not live very long; a little boy with Down syndrome; a mother facing terminal cancer – each may have great difficulties and need assistance, but each of their lives is a good and perfect gift.
Experiencing suffering – or watching another suffer – is one of the hardest human experiences. But we are not alone. Christ experienced suffering more deeply than we can comprehend, and our own suffering can be meaningful when we unite it with his.
Jesus is with us every step of the way, giving us the grace we need. God invites us to embrace the lives we have been given, for as long as they are given. Every life is worth living.
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap. Chairman
USCCB Committee on Respect Life Activities
2015 Respect Life Month Statement
A REFLECTION ON THE CHOICE OF LIFE
By Richard E. Clinton Jr., Strake Jesuit College Preparatory and SJV Parishioner
As someone who was adopted as an infant, I owe my very existence to my biological mother’s decision to “choose life.” As such, one might reasonably assume that for this very personal reason, I have always been a staunch pro-life advocate. But this is not the case.
Not surprisingly, my indifference to the issue of abortion coincided with my estrangement from the Catholic Church. My freshman Philosophy professor was an avowed pro-choice atheist, and most of my friends and classmates were hostile toward Christianity. To be openly pro-life – or even openly religious for that matter – was certainly not “cool.” What was cool, however, was bashing authority, mocking religion, and espousing Marxist platitudes. Like many college students – both then and now – I abandoned my faith all too easily when challenged by the secular world.
It wasn’t until many years later that I would recognize that the intellectual climate in which I found myself at that time was one of moral relativism. In the name of tolerance, I had embraced what Pope Benedict XVI would later call the “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
But God is merciful, and just like the Prodigal Son in St. Luke’s Gospel, I found my way back to the Catholic Church and in the process began to take a much more thorough and prayerful look at the abortion issue. There is a great deal of excellent pro-life literature available for those who are willing to approach the issue of abortion with an open mind and open heart. In the process, I discovered that there is no fundamental conflict between science and faith when it comes to the often-polemical topic of abortion.
Much of the abortion debate centers on the question of sanctity of human life, and, more specifically, when that human life begins. On this issue, both science and faith concur. Thanks to advancements in modern medical technology, human fetuses can be viable as early as 22 or 23 weeks, and survival rates skyrocket at the beginning of the third trimester. So how can someone argue that a fetus is not a human at say, 23 weeks and 6 days, but is human one day later? The answer, of course, is that human life begins at conception. Although that unborn baby cannot live outside his or her mother’s womb until some six months later, the unborn baby is still intrinsically human. Sacred scripture is unequivocal on this point: the Bible is replete with references to human life in the womb. Two of the better known passages are Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” and Psalm 139:13, “you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” Isiah 44:2 also speaks to this point: “Thus says the Lord, who formed you from the womb.”
Once one accepts the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, there is no other conclusion but that abortion is murder. Human beings are created in the image of God, and His commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should be the definitive word on the matter. Despite the propensity of the abortion industry to employ euphemisms (“pro-choice,” “termination of pregnancy,” etc.) to obfuscate the horrific nature of their business (and it is a very profitable business, as the recent Planned Parenthood videos gruesomely attest), the reality is that abortion is, as St. John Paul II concluded in his magisterial Evangelium Vitae, a “grave moral sin.” “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever,” the Holy Father went on, “can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.”
It is only fitting that as we approach Christmas, we recall the explicitly pro-life themes that underscore the birth of Christ. Our Blessed Mother Mary embodies the decision to choose life with her unequivocal “yes” to God’s call to sacred motherhood. Shortly thereafter, a pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is herself pregnant with John the Baptist. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” The birth of our Savior should serve as the ultimate reminder of the pro-life message of this joyous season, for as St. John Paul II notes in Evangelium Vitae, “Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfillment of joy at every child born into the world.”
Richard Clinton is a college counselor and AP U.S. History teacher at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish, and also holds an M.A. in International Relations and a Ph.D. in History from Ohio University. Richard also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 1988-1990. Richard’s greatest blessings are his wife, Vivian, and daughters Gabriela and Samantha.
Our Church’s teaching on Life and the Dignity of the Human Person, however, goes well beyond the issue of abortion. It encompasses a plethora of other topics as well: natural family planning, biotechnology, capital punishment, end of life care, euthanasia, and assisted suicide just to name a few. Although it would be impossible to thoroughly cover each and every subject in this issue, it is our desire to begin with just a few of these topics and gradually work through the rest in the following issues.
A good place to begin is to read the USCCB’s 2015 – 16 Respect Life Program Articles. These seven articles show us through brief anecdotes and life lessons why “every life is worth living.” For now, let us focus on two of the pro-life topics that are seldom talked about: capital punishment and end of life care.
ONLY BY FORGIVING ARE WE FORGIVEN:
A reflection on capital punishment
By a St. John Vianney Parishioner
Pope Francis asked that 2015 be “a year of love and mercy.” With the celebration of Christmas and New Year fast-approaching, we must not only keep in mind the birth of our Savior, but His death on the cross as well – “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
After receiving an email from the Office of Justice at the Diocese of Galveston-Houston regarding a legislative conference on the death penalty in Texas, I knew that our Lord wanted me to attend. The conference was being held at the State Capitol in Austin, and, try as I might, I was unable to get anyone from the Houston area to join me.
We are called to respect the dignity of all persons, because we are all “children of God,” and only He can and will judge us for the life paths we have chosen. The Omnipotent is the one who has walked with us on our journey. He taught us that “to err is human, to forgive is Divine.”
Looking back in Texas history to the days of the Alamo brings to mind the neighborhood movie theater and watching old black-and-white movies about the vigilantes of the time. Good guys wore white hats and rode white horses. Bad guys had dark hats, dark horses. Are we stuck in the past, or are we on the “journey to mercy?” Words to a song: “There aren’t no good guys, there aren’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me…” provoke thought.
As Christians, we recite our Lord’s Prayer, “… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we mean what we pray? In the Bible there is the story of a woman who was to be stoned to death, according to the Law of Moses, for her transgression. Jesus confronted her accusers, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast the stone.” Do we follow the example of Jesus?
Being a Catholic parent, I told my young son, “We can judge a person’s action, but not the person.” We do not know what causes a person to do what they do – Sickness? Anger? Hatred? Vengeance?
Little by little, states are doing away with capital punishment. People have been put to death after wrongfully being accused of having committed a crime. According to one of the speakers at the Conference, 140 inmates, including twelve in Texas, have left death row since 1973 after their convictions were overturned. These individuals were exonerated from death row due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. The speaker also mentioned that “Texas holds the highest number of DNA exonerations, with 52, since 1994 – 45 exonerations since 2001.” Even so, “Texas accounts for more than one-third of executions nationwide since 1977 (528 out of 1,416), which includes 3 executions by the federal government.” The cost of capital punishment must also be considered. The average death penalty case in Texas “costs nearly three times more than life imprisonment.”
I shall not forget the legislative luncheon guest speaker at the Conference. Marietta Jeager-Lane gave us a vivid account of when her family had driven from Michigan to Montana for their vacation, a camping trip. While they were sleeping in their tents, “an immensely ill man” kidnapped and later murdered the youngest child. Susan was only seven years old.
Through the grace of God, Marietta was able to forgive the man who murdered her daughter. Her husband was not holding on to his anger, and he died young. The sick murderer committed suicide in prison. Marietta visited his mother, embraced her, and said: “We have both lost a child.”
Another panel speaker was Deacon Richard Lopez, a former death row chaplain who spoke about administering to the incarcerated. In time, he notices a positive change among those convicted to die. The inmates had developed “God-centered relationships.”
The root causes of crime include unsafe housing, unemployment, lack of education, and lack of mental health services. Rather than treating a symptom, we need to focus on those root causes for this problem. As a society, we must seek to restore a sense of civility and responsibility to everyday life, and promote crime prevention and genuine rehabilitation.
St. Maria Goretti, only twelve when she was attacked and stabbed with a dagger, forgave the young man on her deathbed. More recently, the Robert Kennedy family forgave Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of the U.S. Senator. While Pope, St. John Paul II went to the prison and forgave the man who nearly killed him. Yes, only by forgiving are we forgiven.- An SJV Parishioner.
Just as he has done on multiple occasions, Pope Francis made it a point to address the topic of criminal justice during his first visit to the United States. Coming as a “messenger of God’s love for a broken world and as a beacon of hope, mercy, and justice,” he leads the way by example, washing the feet of adult and juvenile prisoners. To further follow his example, let us refer to the USCCB’s position on restorative justice, sentencing reform, and countering recidivism.
The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death also presents us with very compelling arguments on why we, as Catholics, need to promote and uphold the respect for the dignity of every human being even in the most difficult of circumstances. In their publication, “What Every Catholic Should Know About the Death Penalty”, they provide us with the facts and statistics as to who is affected by capital punishment, its cost ($118.5 million per year over and above the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life), how “just” the Justice System really is, and what we can do to change things. In addition, they also enlighten us as to what Scripture and Catholic Teaching have to say about the death penalty. Finally, just like the account about forgiveness from a victim’s family in our parishioner’s reflection, this article provides us also with some sobering and lasting words from another victim’s family:
“By the time Shannon’s murderer was captured four years later, we had learned that pursuing the death penalty would not be the way we would want to honor our daughter’s life, nor would that decision have helped us deal with the painful reminders of her unfulfilled hopes and dreams… Facing the reality of her death made us realize that the sacredness of life was not an abstract concept. Ultimately we concluded that if we couldn’t stand by our principles when it was excruciatingly difficult, then they were not our principles at all. We took a stand to oppose the use of capital punishment for our daughter’s murder.”
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘DISPOSABLE PEOPLE’
We live in a world obsessed with perfection – a superficial perfection, that is. An entire industry exists to make us believe that everyone we see on television, magazines or social media looks (and is) perfect. We measure personal success through economic standards, and we consider those with abundant wealth to have a “perfect life.” As the article A Perfect Gift states, though, “God calls us to seek perfection too. He does not call us, however, to perfection of appearance or abilities, but to perfection in love.”
Even though caring for a loved one with a disability or for an elderly relative comes with multiple challenges, this is precisely what the Lord asks us to do through the Corporal Works of Mercy. And yet, our society seems intent on doing the complete opposite. When a family is given a prenatal diagnosis, when a tragedy leaves a loved one with no apparently detectable brain function, or when an aging loved one is no longer able to take care of himself, the trend in the medical field seems to be one of ‘compassion’ by putting an end to the suffering. Families are left wondering what to do when those charged with the care of their loved ones fail to recognize the value of every human life. Abortion, discontinuing the administration of life-sustaining treatment and euthanasia are presented as ‘the best option.’
As Catholics, though, we are called to advocate for life from conception until natural death. The first step we need to take is to educate and inform ourselves. With that purpose, we have selected a few articles that tackle these difficult issues from a Catholic perspective.
In Supporting Families Who Receive a Prenatal Diagnosis, we learn from those families why, even when faced with such a challenge, life is the best and only option. We also learn what we as friends and parish community can do to support them.
When it comes to euthanasia (direct killing of patients by physicians) and assisted suicide (providing lethal drugs so patients can take their own lives), the argument in favor of these tragic measures is that “these practices will only affect a narrow class of terminally ill patients who are expected to die soon… But there is ample evidence of a ‘slippery slope’ toward ending the lives of patients with chronic illness or disabilities, or even those who are vulnerable or marginalized in other ways.” The USCCB sees in the United Sates a trend where “the assisted suicide movement… has shown that this agenda will not be limited to cases where a voluntary request is made by a competent patient.” Cardinal O’Malley has called California’s legalization of assisted suicide “A Great Tragedy for Human Life,” and Richard M. Doerflinger explains to us in his article Flirting with Death how all of us could be at risk of being deemed ‘disposable.”
Our healthcare system is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to defending life, especially that of the most vulnerable in our society. In addition to educating ourselves, we need to discuss these issues with our loved ones and not assume that they know our wishes. As Diane stated in her message, prayer is another powerful tool for us. Let us pray for those in the medical field, that Our Lord may touch their heart and guide them to see the value of every human life. Let us also pray for those who are suffering right now because of severe or terminal illness, a difficult diagnosis or simply being told they are ‘a burden.’ May the Holy Spirit strengthen and comfort them and their families, so that they can come to affirm the indisputable truth that every life is worth living.
“A population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise.” ~ Pope Francis
To conclude our section of life, we wish to share with you one final video. Life and Dignity of the Human Person is part of a collaborative video series presented by the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services. As part of our ‘Back to the Basics’ theme, we hope to bring you all seven videos relating to the key themes of Catholic Social Teaching through our Quarterly Review.
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: ONE PERSON AT A TIME
Quarterly Report from SJV Social Service Ministries
SJV’s Social Service Ministries Department, through its Emergency Assistance Ministry, provides food, clothes, financial, and other types of assistance to those in need. Working in conjunction with the Food Pantry, Joseph’s Coat Resale Shop, our Employment Ministry, other ministries within Social Services, and partnering with ministries such as Memorial Assistance Ministries and Catholic Charities, our volunteer interviewers meet with those in our neighborhood who are facing financial crises. These difficulties are often due to unemployment, low income, rising medical costs, higher food prices, or unforeseen family crises. Acting on their commitment to the Corporal Works of Mercy and through the donations of our very generous parishioners, the volunteers are able to compassionately respond to the needs of our clients and help them overcome the ‘bumps on the road.’ READ MORE…