“Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity” – Evangelium Vitae, 9
Reflection: If we ask, “How can we eliminate capital punishment?” The answer is, “Eliminate abortion.” After all, as long as we try to solve problems by throwing away the innocent, it is quite hard to convince people that we don’t solve problems by throwing away the guilty.
Prayer: Lord, we confess that so often we think that the way to fix people’s problems is to throw people away. Free us from that way of thinking. May we protect the innocent, and may we not fail to recognize the dignity even of the guilty. Amen.
“Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).
Reflection: Though he was conceived of a virgin, Jesus nevertheless lived as a son in a human family. The family is the sanctuary of life. The family, above all, is where life is to be welcomed, no matter how fragile or inconvenient it may be. One of the many reasons why the Church sees abortion and euthanasia as pre-eminent issues is because these crimes are committed by one family member upon another.
Prayer: O Holy Family, bless our families, and lead us to a Culture of Life. Amen.
So did you see the letter that Susan Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, wrote to President Obama yesterday asking him not to nominate her for Secretary of State? In the first paragraph, she praises the “vision and leadership” of the President, and the Administration’s “successes,” including, in her words, “our bold defense of the equal rights of all human beings regardless of their race, religion, economic status or whom they love.”
This made me wonder if Susan Rice has her countries confused.
The Obama Administration, whether at the U.N. or anywhere else, does not defend the “equal rights of all human beings.” First of all, the reference to equal rights “regardless of…religion” is laughable in the light of the Administration’s ongoing attack on religious freedom. “Regardless of…religion” should mean even religions that would prohibit employers to offer coverage of abortion-inducing drugs in the health insurance plans they offer to employees. Yet instead, the Administration is attempting to force such people to violate their religion – including us at Priests for Life, which is why we launched one of the first lawsuits against the HHS and its unjust mandate.
But even more fundamental than the right to religious freedom is the right to life.
And the Obama Administration fails miserably here as well. The defense of legal abortion is, by definition, a defense of the proposition that Roe vs. Wade made that “the word ‘person’…does not include the unborn.” The first of the “equal rights of all human beings” is the right to life. Every other right depends on it. Equality is not equality if some human beings – those living in the womb – are not recognized and protected as equal.
Susan Rice has been criticized for a lot of things. Unfortunately, she just added to the list. She is apparently unable to tell the difference between a “bold defense of the equal rights of all human beings” and a bold denial of them.
“Life is always a good. …Why is life a good?… The life which God gives man is …a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory” (John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, n.34).
Reflection: Abortion advocates say that the embryo or fetus is “just a collection of cells.” But this is no argument at all. The same can be said of you and me. If someone does not see the dignity of the human person, their view of people is just reduced to cells.
Prayer: Fill us with wonder, Lord, at your glory shining through every human life. Amen.
Lots happening this weekend… It’s Respect Life Sunday (and we have resources at ProLifePreaching.com), it’s Life Chain Sunday (and I’ll be participating in one in Detroit… I hope all the Life Chain organizers are ready to collect names, numbers, and emails of the participants to help engage them throughout the year!), it’s the opening of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization (Priests for Life was pleased to send input to the synod on the connections between new evangelization and the pro-life movement) – but what I want to focus on for a moment here is that it is also “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
Here’s the question: May the government filter, edit, or veto the contents of a sermon? No court has ever heard a case regarding whether the Internal Revenue Service can do so. Yet every day – and especially in these weeks prior to an election – preachers act as if their sermons have to be vetted and approved by the IRS.
Indeed, the IRS issues guidelines saying that in order to retain its tax exemption, Churches and other organizations set up as “501 (c)(3)” entities must avoid any intervention in a political campaign.
But this restriction is not in the Constitution. In fact, it only goes back to 1954, to a provision that has no legislative history and has never been challenged in court.
And the result of the restriction, and the ambiguity often surrounding it (because the IRS says that all the “facts and circumstances” have to be taken into account to determine exactly when a preacher has “crossed the line,” therefore meaning in practice that you may not know that you’ve crossed the line until after the fact), what in fact happens is that speech is chilled and pastors do far less than they are able to do.
Since 2008, therefore, pastors across the nation have begun to rise up with a simple message: No government interference in the pulpit! They have decided, on a designated weekend, to preach sermons outside the usual restrictions of the IRS, and have sent those sermons to the IRS. The hope is that this will lead to a court case that can clarify whether the restrictions are in fact even constitutional.
In 2008, some 33 pastors did this. The IRS did not respond.
In 2009, some 84 pastors did this. Again, only silence from the IRS.
In 2010, a hundred pastors engaged in this project. The IRS raised no complaint.
Last year, 539 pastors sent in their sermons challenging the IRS restrictions. And nothing but silence came from the IRS.
This year’s numbers will surpass all the previous years.
It seems clear that the IRS does not want the 1954 restrictions subjected to court scrutiny. We will report more of what happens as a result of this Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Stay tuned!
Last night I was privileged to gather with a relatively small group of pro-life leaders and activists for the wake service of Nellie Gray. Board members of the March for Life, along with some pro-life leaders from Washington DC-based groups and elsewhere, gathered in a quiet Church of Saint Mary on 5th Street NW. This was Nellie’s parish, where she attended the Traditional Latin Mass. Some family members of Nellie were there, specifically three nieces and a nephew. They had come in from Texas and Georgia, and I very much enjoyed talking with them and reminiscing about Nellie.
I arrived at the Church at the same time the casket arrived, and we had a short initial prayer service at the door. One of the first people I saw there on the sidewalk was Dee Becker, who served for a long time as Vice-President of the March for Life and whom I have known and worked with for many years. Janet Morana and I had spoken with Dee on the phone not long after we got the news about Nellie, and Janet reminded her to make sure that Nellie’s distinctive red coat, which she wore at every March, was preserved. Sure enough, there next to her casket, on a coat stand, was the red coat (with a March for Life button pinned to it), red hat, and red scarf. It brought back many memories.
My friend and colleague Pastor Luke Robinson shared an exhortation during the evening service. He read the Life Principles, reminding us that this is the basis on which Nellie asked us to unite the pro-life movement. Moreover, he pointed out how Nellie made the Silent No More Awareness Campaign an integral aspect of the March, thereby representing her conviction that abortion did not only destroy the baby, but the baby’s parents as well.
Nellie and I had a number of very honest discussions about what would happen with the March for Life after she died. One concern of hers was paramount: that its nature and message be preserved. It is not simply a rally and march; it is an expression of the American people to their elected representatives that all law must conform to the Life Principles, without exception or compromise. It will take a while for all of us to grieve and readjust to Nellie’s absence. But I’m confident that her hope about the future of the March will be fulfilled.
Miss Nellie Gray, Founder of the March for Life, has died.“Nellie Gray and the March for Life had a most profound effect on my life,” said Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life. In 1976, when he was a senior in high school, Father Pavone went to the March for Life with his mother and grandmother. Although he had been quietly considering the priesthood before that, the March cemented both his vocation and his passion for pro-life issues.
“Every year since 1974, Nellie Gray has mobilized a diverse and energetic army for life,” said Father Pavone, who has attended every march since his first one. “Her own commitment to the cause never wavered. She was a tireless warrior for the unborn and her motto was ‘no exceptions.’ “
After his ordination in 1988, Father Pavone was assigned to a parish in Staten Island, NY. Every year he led a busload of parishioners to the March for Life. He took over as national director of Priests for Life in 1993, and the following year, attending the event in his new capacity, Miss Gray invited him to say the opening prayer at the March for Life Convention that annually precedes the March.
In 2008, the National Pro-Life Religious Council, which Father Pavone serves as president, presented Miss Gray with its Pro-Life Recognition Award. Later that day, Miss Gray tripped and fell on the stage at the opening rally for the March and had to be taken to the hospital with a head injury.
“As a colleague in national pro-life leadership, Nellie was always an inspiration to the rest of us,” Father Pavone said. “Her devotion was on display that same year, 2008, when, despite being in the hospital during the March for Life, she nevertheless was present at all all-day meeting of national leaders the very next morning, with a patch on her head.”
Every year since its founding in 2003, Miss Gray invited the women of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign to stand on the rally stage holding signs that said, “I Regret My Abortion,” and she arranged for a larger group of post-abortive men and women from Silent No More to be in the vanguard of the March.
“We are so grateful that Nellie Gray shared our vision of Silent No More, and recognized that the women who have had abortions speak with unquestioned authority about the ways they have been harmed by this choice,” said Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and co-founder of Silent No More. “Every year more women and men come to march and to share their testimony. Nellie Gray helped make that possible for us.”
Miss Gray is also credited for realizing that African-American pro-life leaders had to become more vocal and visible in the fight for life.
“Nellie Gray knew that abortion took a heavy toll from the black community and she urged us to lend our voices to the fight against this terrible injustice,” said Dr. Alveda King, director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life. “She was a visionary.”
Bryan Kemper, founder of Stand True Ministry and director of Youth Outreach for Priests for Life, said: “My heart is broken by the loss of Nellie Gray, a true pro-life hero and role model. At the same time I celebrate that Nellie is with our Lord who she loved so dearly. I have had the honor of working with Nellie for years and every time I March in DC in January, I know she will be watching over us and praying for us. Nellie Gray, I will miss you dearly.
The 2013 March for Life will mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, and the 39th anniversary of the March.
“It was an anniversary that broke Nellie Gray’s heart every year, and every day,” Father Pavone noted. “In January we will march in her memory, in her honor, to save the unborn children to whom she dedicated her life.”
“God did not give us spirit to timidity but rather a spirit of power and of love and of wisdom” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Reflection: Our pro-life work requires constant courage, which is nurtured through Scripture, incessant prayer, and the example of saints and other historical figures who fought against the injustices of their times. When we feel we don’t have courage, we should simply do what we would do if we did.
Prayer: Lord, at times I ask what I should do next, but I already know. I simply need the courage to do it. Grant it to me today. Amen.
“A priest happened to be traveling along that same road, but when he saw him he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31).
Reflection: Perhaps the priest and Levite walked by the victim on the roadside because they thought the robbers were around the corner waiting to attack them. They asked, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” The Samaritan reversed the question and asked, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Prayer: Lord, may I stop calculating the risk to myself, and instead ask what will happen to the vulnerable if I don’t help them.
“Your light must shine so that it can be seen by others” (Matthew 5:16)
Reflection: A preacher once wrote that there is no such thing as secret discipleship. Either the discipleship will destroy the secrecy, or the secrecy will destroy the discipleship. That’s why being pro-life cannot just be a personal, private conviction. If it’s in our heart, it needs to be on our lips and in our actions.
Prayer: Praise to you, Lord God, for you open my mouth in worship and in witness; you reveal my faith through my actions. May I never try to be a secret disciple, but rather be proud to be known as one of yours. Amen.