Since being elected national director of Priests for Life last fall, I have been traveling the country and working full time to help priests become more active in the pro-life movement.
Some people ask: "Why is Priests for Life necessary? Isn't every priest supposed to be pro-life?"
Yes, every priest is supposed to be pro-life; it is essential to priesthood.
Yet, there is an even deeper question here: Why is a "pro-life movement" necessary? Isn't every human being supposed to be pro-life?
We have Doctors for Life. We have Nurses for Life, Pharmacists for Life, Scientists for Life, Lawyers for Life, Athletes for Life, Teachers for Life, Teens for Life, Sisters of Life.
Why do we need any of these? Why, in fact, should we have to call ourselves "pro-life?" Shouldn't that be understood? After all, what's the alternative?
Yes, it should be understood that to be human is to be pro-life. However, that is no longer understood in our world.
We have an emergency on our hands. We have a culture of death. We have the institutionalized, government-approved killing of innocent children. Yes, we need the pro-life movement and every group in it. At the forefront, moreover, we need priests.
We need priests more than ever in this battle, not because abortion is a "Catholic issue," but precisely because it is such a fundamental human issue. It is at the very basis of morality.
If abortion isn't wrong, nothing is wrong. A priest is a teacher of morality. If priests are silent about this massive killing of children, they may as well be silent about everything. If we as a Church and as a nation cannot be roused to respond to abortion, we have lost our soul.
I am often asked by pro-lifers, ''How can I get my priest to be more active in the pro-life movement?" Here are a few suggestions:
1. Praise and thank your priest.
Priests are people. They are affected by praise and by criticism.
Every time he mentions abortion and speaks up for the right to life, go up to him and tell him to keep it up! Write him a note of thanks, and assure him that you are behind him and that you appreciate his moral leadership.
If he never speaks about abortion, write him a kind, clear note encouraging him to do so.
2. Educate, don't criticize.
People easily presume that priests are up to date on all the moral issues of the day. The fact is, however, that active and informed pro-lifers have a lot to offer their priests. Make an appointment with your priest. Bring along one or two other well-informed pro-lifers of the parish.
Do not use the approach: "Father, you're not doing your job." Rather, explain the reasons for your own pro-life involvement.
Educate him. Bring him up to date on the latest developments in the pro-life movement. Suggest possible projects that could be implemented. Tell him you value his leadership and encouragement and that with his leadership in this area, many lives can be saved.
3. Do the groundwork!
If you are going to propose an activity to your priest, do some work on it in advance so you can tell him people are already interested in helping. Have a clear understanding of exactly what it will involve. Inform and mobilize other people ahead of time.
Often, people are afraid to take initiatives. They work from the viewpoint that nothing should be done unless Father comes along and asks them to do it.
On the other hand, priests are often working from the viewpoint that the laity have a calling and responsibility to initiate ideas and projects, which they in turn will promote, as long as they are assured the project is workable and effective.
Not surprisingly, when these two philosophies coincide, everybody ends up waiting for everybody else!
The laity become afraid of taking the initiative because they "feel out of place,'' and priests become afraid of taking the initiative because they aren't sure the people will respond! This dilemma is not universal, but it is happening and needs to be broken by a new spirit of initiative by both priests and laity.
4. Be realistic about your expectations.
Tell your priest that you are not asking him to do all the work. Rather, you are asking him to speak out, to encourage, to call to action, to open doors of opportunity to the local pro-life movement.
5. Ask for your priest's input in discussions on pro-life issues.
Find out what his experience has been in this work and what his present attitudes are.
6. Speak with parish staff members.
Talk about pro-life issues with all the other parish leadership. This includes priests, deacons, religious Brothers and Sisters, and lay leaders.
7. Encourage your priest to join Priests for Life.
We have brochures, sample homilies, a regular newsletter, bulletin inserts, slides and audio tapes, and a wide range of helpful suggestions for priests.
Priests for Life approaches priests on a peer-to-peer level and encourages their pro-life involvement. We will send the material directly to your priest at your request, and we can also send it to you.
Deacons can be members. Laity can join as auxiliary members. You may be especially interested in our brochure, "A Letter to My Priest." Please write to us at: PO Box 141172, Staten Island, N.Y. 10314.
8. Pray for your priests.
Prayer is essential for all those in the pro-life movement.
This is not an exhaustive list of suggestions. You are welcome to send Priests for Life your own insights about this topic. Whatever your experience has been, keep up your efforts.
Imagine what would happen if every priest addressed abortion with the clear and urgent response that it deserves! Catholics have more than 19,000 parishes and 9,000 schools across this nation. If we infuse this vast structure with a fervent pro-life spirit and do it now, we can turn this abortion problem around.
Help that to happen. Encourage your priest today.