Archive for March, 2008

I AM

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

The Gospel of John records various key statements that Jesus uttered about himself which begin with the words “I am…” These statements reveal basic aspects of who he is and what he does for the world. They also reveal basic foundations of the pro-life movement.

Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life” (Jn.6:35), “I am the Light of the World” (Jn.8:12), “I am the Gate” (Jn.10:7), “I am the Good Shepherd” ( Jn.10:11), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn.11:25), “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn.14:6), and “I am the true Vine” ( Jn.15:1).

These are all images of life. Three of the statements use the word “life” explicitly; others employ the concepts of feeding, growth, protection, and leading us into the arena of life. These statements are the very opposite of darkness and death, decay and destruction, violence and nihilism.

At the root of these various “I am” statements is the “absolute I AM” statement found in John 8:58. The context is an argument Jesus has with the Jews in which he claims that he is the antidote to death. “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews asked how he could dare say that, in view of the fact that Abraham died. Was he claiming to be greater than Abraham? And Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM!”  

The listeners recognized this right away as the very name of God. When God called Moses to set the people of Israel free, Moses asked God his name, and the Lord replied that his name was “I AM” (Ex.3:14).

This name of God can be understood on one level as asserting that only God has life in and of himself. Everything else that lives borrows life from him; he alone is “the living God,” the source of all being, the one who necessarily exists and can never not exist. This truth, of course, is foundational to the pro-life teaching of the Church. All life belongs to God, and to take a human life is to attack God.

But in a more dynamic sense, the name “I AM” means “I AM for you, I AM on your side, I AM rescuing you from death and destruction.” Note the context in which God reveals this name to Moses:  He is calling him to set the people free from slavery in Egypt. Note also the context in which Jesus claims this name in John 8: He is also promising to set the people free. The discourse begins with his assertion, “The truth will set you free” (Jn.8:31), and, as we have seen, includes the promise,  “If any one keeps my word, he will never see death” (Jn.8:51).

God rescues his people from nothingness, and from violence like abortion. That is why the People of God are the People of Life. Rescued by Christ, we rescue our vulnerable brothers and sisters, and he rescues them through us.

Fr. Frank Pavone

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Election Enthusiasm

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

I can’t wait for November 4, because on that day, by voting, I’m going to exercise a key aspect of my citizenship in the United States and in the Kingdom of God.

In many states, people can vote before November 4, thanks to the provisions of “early voting” – which is a very good idea, given the many unforeseen circumstances that could arise on Election Day to get between us and the voting booth. (To see what the rules are in your state, visit http://www.priestsforlife.org/states

Why am I looking forward so eagerly to voting?

Because a lot is at stake. One key example is the makeup of the courts.

The Constitution establishes the Supreme Court, and says that Congress can establish other courts if it so chooses. Now courts are not given the right to create laws; only legislatures do that. Courts are supposed to resolve disputes related to the application and interpretation of laws.

In our day, however, the courts have radically transgressed the bounds of their authority, and have created social policies – such as abortion on demand – to which the people have never consented.

Some politicians think this is just fine, because then they can blame the courts for what has gone wrong rather than take responsibility to fix it. It’s fine with them if judges treat the Constitution as a “living document,” – so “living,” in fact, that it grows new limbs and heads, and can be interpreted to say things that it doesn’t actually say.

Other politicians, however, see the role of judges in a much more accurate and precise way, sometimes called a “strict constructionist” view. The judges are to limit their judicial opinions to what the Constitution and statutory laws actually intend to say, and leave it to lawmakers to change the law if necessary.

These two divergent views of the role of the judge constitute a key electoral issue. When we evaluate candidates, we should not only ascertain their views on the issues of the day, but also their views on the role of judges. Some of these candidates, if elected, will have a role in determining who sits on the courts, including the Supreme Court. The President nominates federal judges and Supreme Court Justices, and the US Senate confirms them. These federal judges normally serve on the court for life.

Courts in the coming years will have much to say regarding the abortion issue, the continuation or demise of Roe vs. Wade, the nature of marriage, the freedom of religion in public life, and much more. Many analysts hold that the replacement of one or two more Supreme Court Justices may pave the way to a reversal of Roe vs. Wade. Those replacements will be in the hands of the next President and Senate.

The choices made on November 4, and during the early-voting weeks just prior to it, will affect our nation and our world for generations. So yes, I’m enthusiastic about this election, and will work like crazy for the best outcome.

Fr. Frank

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Easter 2008

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Dear Friends,

Our Easter celebration has begun! This whole week is considered a single day in the liturgy – Easter Day – and initiates the entire 50-day Easter Season. Our joy in the Resurrection of the Lord overflows in our prayers, songs, and activities. I had a great Easter Triduum, celebrating and preaching these sacred days on Staten Island, then at the Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT (where I was celebrant and homilist for the Easter Vigil), and in Port Chester, NY for Easter Sunday Mass at my home parish of Corpus Christi.

This is the Feast of the Victory of Life. That’s why, of course, the celebration of the Resurrection is a perfect time to intensify our pro-life commitment, and bring the priority of the defense of the unborn higher on our personal list and on the “list” of the Church. It’s not that we need any new teaching. The Church has said eloquently was has to be said about abortion (though we can always come up with new and more effective ways to formulate it to speak to the current culture.)

It is not new teaching that’s needed. There are, instead, two simple ingredients that need to be added to the Church’s pro-life teaching: passion and priority.

We can’t make it seem to the world that abortion is just another issue, or only minimally less trivial as much of the world thinks it is. We have to have some passion in the way we respond to it, in word and deed. Passion does not exclude reasonableness or compassion; in fact, it nurtures them, and makes us all the more determined to grow in those virtues.

And we have to give more priority to fighting abortion. One of my key missions in life, as part of ending abortion, is to raise it on the list of priorities that everyone has – starting with “the Church.” When something is higher on the priority list, we talk about it more, we spend more time and money on it, we allocate more resources and personnel to the task, and we carry it out like we mean business. Those who think the Church gives too much attention to the abortion issue are missing an awful lot of what is and isn’t going on in the Church.

Ultimately, when we have a priority, we stop counting the cost, we stop fearing success, and we’re willing to prove it by martyrdom.

Are you on the same page?

Fr. Frank

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The Church’s Way – Part 2

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Friends,

I want to continue in my blog today talking about ending abortion the Church’s way.

You and I, together, are the “Church.” We are to be united with our leaders, first and foremost the real and living Person of Jesus Christ, who lives in and works through each of us. We are to be in union with his Vicar on earth, and with the bishops in union with the Successor of Peter.

One of the important aspects of being in union with our Church leaders is to read and study what they write. When Priests for Life was established, one of the explicit goals of its mission – to which we have been faithful ever since – was to publicize the documents of the Magisterium regarding abortion. On our website, you can find statements of the Popes and bishops on abortion reaching back for decades.

These documents, of course, are to be read in the context of what our leaders say regarding the respective roles of the laity and clergy. The documents of the Second Vatican Council, for example, are crucial.

Amidst all these writings we learn that the work of the ministry should not be “clericalized.” In other words, we don’t wait for our parish priest to tell us to bring the Gospel into the world. We already received that commission from the Lord when our priest baptized us and when our bishop confirmed us! Of course, we rely on our shepherds for guidance as we carry out the mission. But it would be a big mistake to imagine ourselves as awaiting instructions for every step we take. Our shepherds are not supposed to be micromanagers. Nor do they man “security posts” through which we must pass for every step we take on the Christian journey. 

Rather, we are a family, a community, a body of believers called together in faith, forming relationships with one another, and joining our gifts of grace and nature to work together to advance God’s Kingdom.

The Christian faithful are to take initiative, be creative, and have the freedom to exercise the apostolate of the laity by virtue of their baptism and confirmation. Let’s listen to and learn from our leaders in the faith, but let’s also understand their role properly, and not reduce the Christian apostolate to simply awaiting a series of instructions from our priests. One of the things our priests and bishops appreciate most is the beautiful, creative energy, ideas, and initiatives coming right from you!

Blessings!

Fr. Frank

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Why Catholics Leave the Church

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Friends,

Your pro-life work is a great encouragement to us in the leadership of this movement. Last night I had dinner with Tony Perkins, Dr. Richard Land, Bishop Harry Jackson, and other prominent Christian leaders. We were together for the National Religious Broadcasters convention. We discussed the upcoming election, as well as the various trends in the movement. You are the ones who will make the difference as we continue to work each day to protect life!

I was also asked recently to take part in a forum to answer the question of why Catholics leave the Church. You can see my response, along with the responses of other prominent Catholics who were asked for their opinion by clicking here.

In short, I pointed to the many who leave out of bitter disappointment in the contradiction they see between the Church’s teachings on abortion and the manner in which resources and priorities are allocated. If abortion is murder, let’s act like it, not only individually, but institutionally. In that way, not only will we save children’s lives, but we will save the spiritual lives of so many who are disillusioned.

Thank you for all you are doing, as individuals and organizations, for this cause. We will not fail!

Fr. Frank

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Yes, the Party Matters

Monday, March 10th, 2008

March 10, 2008

Three years ago, I wrote a column called “The Party Matters,” in which I stated, “Voters need to ask how much the election of a particular candidate will shift the balance of power between the parties, and what will happen when a particular party takes control. Voters should know the platform of the party and the official positions of party leadership on the same moral issues on which the individual candidate is evaluated…In short, the party matters.”

Some criticized these statements, complaining that they are partisan. Yet it is time to restate and reaffirm that Yes, the party matters.

This is one of the many elements of the moral evaluation of one’s vote. Morality deals with human actions, and voting is a human action. The first moral consideration, of course, is whether one votes at all. Voting is a moral duty, as the Church has affirmed multiple times.

Whether one’s actual voting choice is morally justified depends on a lot of other factors. After everything is considered, there may be multiple morally acceptable choices, In other cases, depending on who is on the ballot and what positions they take, the morally acceptable choices may be very limited.

The point is this. It is a key role of the Church to teach believers how to make moral decisions. The Church cannot fail in this responsibility simply because the topic touches on politics. On the contrary, as the Second Vatican Council stated, “At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it” (GS n. 76).

Yes, “even in matters relating to politics,” and even when the task of moral teaching appears to be partisan.

One of the aspects of evaluating the morality of an act is to consider its consequences. It’s pretty predictable what the consequences of driving through a red light are, and that’s a key moral factor in evaluating that act.

So with voting, the consequences are that a particular candidate as well as a particular party come into power. Some people don’t think about the consequences of a party taking power. We can either let them forget about it, or we can teach it.

To teach that “the party matters,” as an aspect of the moral evaluation of a vote, is not to endorse a particular party or candidate. Rather, it is to give the believer the tools necessary for a complete moral evaluation of the act they are about to carry out.

Whether in fact that moral evaluation causes them to embrace or reject a particular party is a conclusion the voter will arrive at. But if we are to teach moral principles only when they have no practical consequences, then we render the Church irrelevant. And that certainly is not an option.

Fr. Frank Pavone, M.E.V.

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