Love Them Both
By Marcellino D'Ambrosio | Catholic News Service
In my early high school years, I hung around the hippy crowd. We were all about long hair, rock music and anti-war marches. My English teacher was the coolest teacher at the school. She had us read a new best-seller, "The Population Bomb," that predicted food shortages and wars due to runaway overpopulation.
She also alerted us to the crisis many women face who get pregnant unexpectedly, when they are not ready to raise a child. And then she told us that many of these women, seeking a solution to the crisis, have recourse to back-alley abortionists who kill some of these women and maim others.
This was 1970 and elective abortion was not yet the law of the land. My teacher and her equally cool husband were leaders of a group called Planned Parenthood that led rallies at our statehouse demanding the choice of safe, legal abortion in such circumstances.
I was more than a nominal Catholic at the time -- I'd never miss Mass on Sunday. But I cared about these women in crisis. So I went to one of the rallies. And I bought into the argument that we Catholics "should not impose our religion on others." Thus, I became "pro-choice."
A year later, I had an encounter with Christ that changed me from a Sunday Catholic to a budding disciple. I asked Jesus to become the center of my life, to unlock in me the power of his Holy Spirit, to form my life and perspective by his word. Very quickly, without anyone trying to convince me, I just knew that abortion was wrong.
It became clear to me that abortion is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. The most important role of government is to protect the right to life with special care to protect the most innocent and most vulnerable.
I realized the common sense of Mother Teresa's logic -- legal abortion teaches women and all society that it is legitimate to solve a problem through an act of violence. So clearly, we must work to change abortion law. We need to protect the baby's right to life.
Yet the problem of the woman's crisis pregnancy remains. If abortion is not a solution, what is?
A Catholic OB-GYN in Dallas, Gonzalo Venegas, saw panic and fear in the faces of many of his patients when they found out they were pregnant. Some were unmarried. Others were married but struggling to provide for the children they already had. Some had no money or medical insurance.
Others had no support from their partner, parents and friends. Most felt totally unprepared to be good mothers. Consequently, many of these patients asked for a referral to an abortion clinic.
My friend, Dr. Venegas, got an inspiration. Yes, he showed them a sonogram to convince them that what was inside them was a baby, not a blob of tissue. But also, recognizing their fear and sense of inadequacy, he showed them the kind of compassion and genuine concern that broke their sense of isolation and let them know they were not alone.
He, his wife, his staff and volunteers began to work with these women. They assured the women that the cost of prenatal care and delivery would be covered one way or another. They provided clothing, baby formula, car seats and cribs when the baby was born. Most of all, they affirmed these women, helping them to believe that they were strong and could be awesome mothers.
This work grew into a unique medical center in Farmer's Branch, Texas, called Angels Clinic.
From the beginning, Angels Clinic made the same offer that Mother Teresa used to make to women contemplating abortion -- if, after giving birth, you still don't think you can handle motherhood, give the child to us. We will provide a loving home for your precious child.
Over 1,100 babies have been delivered there over the years, mostly to women who had seriously contemplated abortion. But funny thing ... after being strengthened and encouraged by the new community they found at Angels, only a handful decided to put their children up for adoption.
With others' help, they had overcome their fear and loneliness. Once they had found a new identity as competent women of strength, they were able to embrace their vocation to motherhood with courage, confidence and joy. They had rediscovered their own dignity.
Abortion is not just an affront to the dignity of the child. It is also an attack on the dignity of the woman. It reinforces the fear and sense of incompetence that tells a woman she can't handle it and leaves her weak and riddled with lingering guilt.
To be pro-life is to say to the mother: "Be not afraid! You are not alone -- God and we will walk this journey with you. You are strong! You are beautiful! You be will an incredible mom! You are able!"
A truly pro-life attitude rejects any dichotomy between the rights of the baby and the needs of the mother. The motto of Angels Clinic could be the motto of the entire pro-life movement: "Love them both!"
D'Ambrosio is an author, professor, speaker and media personality. Connect with him at dritaly.com or on Twitter @DrItaly.
Domestic abuse: A parish response
By Maureen Pratt | Catholic News Service
As places of faith, compassion and respect for life, parishes are in a unique position to raise awareness about domestic abuse and support families as they find help. But misinformation and a hesitancy to talk about such a tough issue can make this challenging.
Catholics for Family Peace Education and Research Initiative, housed at The Catholic University of America within the National Catholic School of Social Service, was formed to help parishes respond to domestic abuse in an "informed, compassionate way," said director Sharon O'Brien.
The initiative helps parishes raise awareness about domestic violence through the prism of faith, providing flyers and other materials, clergy and staff training, and clarifying misinformation about the problem.
"Domestic abuse is not a marital disagreement," said O'Brien. "It is when one person assumes control over another person in an intimate relationship. The other person is trying to figure out how to get out of that relationship."
Abusive control can be through physical violence and/or include psychological coercion such as isolation, economic abuse and using intimidation or children as a means to gain and keep control.
O'Brien said, "One in four women and one in seven men will be victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. In families where there is domestic abuse, 50 percent of the time, children are also abused."
Domestic abuse occurs in all socio-economic, cultural and faith groups.
Dominican Father Chuck Dahm, Chicago archdiocesan director of Domestic Violence Outreach, has worked with Catholics for Family Peace and speaks throughout the United States.
To help clergy understand how the statistics translate to parish life, Father Dahm said, "I might say to a priest, 'If you have 500 people at a Mass on Sunday, about one in four are victims of domestic abuse. That's about 125 people. It's rampant in our community."
Speaking from the pulpit on domestic abuse can be the invitation a victim needs to start to seek help.
"Twenty years ago, because I didn't talk about it, not too many people came to me," said Father Dahm. "When I started talking about it, I got inundated with people coming to talk to me."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website includes resources for preaching about domestic abuse. One of these is "Suggestions for Preaching about Family Violence," by Father Tom Johns, pastor at St. John Vianney Church in Mentor, Ohio. He wrote it to help homilists tie in the issue with church teaching.
"Domestic abuse definitely fits in with the Respect Life theme," said Father Johns. "Every life is created in the image and likeness of God. It's also a family issue. Two become one and Christ is the center. Nowhere is this truer than in a marriage.
"You hate to see kids exposed to anger in the house. Parents are teaching how to treat people. If you're not living the faith at home, there's something wrong."
Besides raising awareness, preaching about domestic violence can clarify misunderstandings, some of which prevent victims from seeking help and safety.
"People misunderstand Scripture all the time," Father Johns said, "In any case of domestic violence, a woman has the right to protect herself and her children. In a marriage where there is domestic violence, he needs to get out of the house, then she needs to get help and he needs to get help."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as well as Respect Life Month. Parishes can tie these two issues together through bulletin announcements and flyers (available through Catholics for Family Peace) that provide basic information and details on local shelters, counseling, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE), and focused prayer, especially in the prayer of the faithful at Mass.
"Seeking help does not violate the marriage promise," O'Brien said. "It's an actualization that victims and their children are beloved children of God and deserve to be treated with respect."
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Her website is www.maureenpratt.com.
A celebration of life in the Bible
By Marge Fenelon | Catholic News Service
When we think about the Respect Life cause in biblical terms, we probably recall the phrase from Deuteronomy that has become a popular pro-life slogan, "Choose life" (Dt 30:19). It's a pointed and comprehensive phrase that reflects the pro-life message about valuing all human life. However, the Bible contains other great examples that highlight the value of life.
Consider the moment Elizabeth and Mary met at the visitation. Both women were miraculously pregnant -- Mary, by the virginal conception of Jesus, and Elizabeth after having been declared barren. The recognition of the precious lives within them caused the child within Elizabeth's womb to leap for joy (Lk 1:41).
Abraham's wife, Sarah, also was barren. When three of God's messengers told her that she would soon become pregnant, she laughed. Their response was, "Is anything too marvelous for the Lord to do?" (Gn 18:14). Indeed not. The next year, Sarah gave birth to Isaac and from Isaac sprang forth the 12 tribes of Israel.
There's one biblical mother who often is overlooked -- the mother of Moses, Jochebed. When Pharaoh ordered the slaughter of all Hebrew baby boys, Jochebed made a heroic move to save the life of her baby boy. She crafted a basket out of reeds and set her baby boy afloat in it on the Nile River in hopes that some kind person would find the child and care for him.
The basket was discovered by Egypt's princess, who adopted the boy and raised him as her own. But not before Moses' sister convinced the princess to appoint Jochebed to be his nurse. Consequently, he became a great prophet who led the Israelites out of Egypt and later presented them with the tablet containing the Ten Commandments.
The story of Hannah, wife of Elkanah, is touching. In addition to suffering the shame of her barrenness (large families were considered a sign of God's favor), Hannah was mercilessly taunted by Elkanah's other wife.
In her misery, she went to the temple to pray. She prayed so fervently that Eli the priest accused her of being drunk! Eli was moved by Hannah's explanation and said, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have requested" (1 Sm 1:17).
God did grant Hannah's request, giving her a beautiful baby whom she named Samuel. In her gratitude, she took the boy to the temple and gave him back to God, presenting him to Eli for training as a priest. Samuel became the last of Israel's judges and the first of its prophets. God's goodness to Hannah didn't stop there. After Samuel, she gave birth to five more children -- three boys and two girls.
These examples are only a sample of the way life was not only chosen, but fully celebrated in the Bible. The preciousness of life in the womb and until natural death is a joyful song that echoes throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testament. It's a song we join as we observe Respect Life Month.
Fenelon is a freelance writer from Milwaukee. Her website is http://margefenelon.com.