VICTORIA -- Father Denis Wilde, OSA, is a busy man: a man of God, a man of music, a man of life -- pro-life. He's a New Yorker. He visited Victoria recently to take a counseling course from another man of life, local child psychiatrist, Philip Ney.
Father Wilde, who holds a doctorate in music, taught music at Villanova University in Pennsylvania for 21 years. He's also a composer.
Of late, he has been combining his love of music and his love of life in his work with Priests for Life. In fact, he and local guitarist Oscar Clemotte teamed up to give a Celebrate Life concert at St. Andrew's Cathedral.
Priests for Life wants priests to talk with their congregations about the issues of life, but abortion, Father Wilde said, is not the only issue the organization would like to see discussed openly. It is, however, "the biggest crisis at the moment; although the looming issue of euthanasia is also pretty terrible."
Father Wilde sees it as "a question of enabling priests to speak ... freely about issues."
"There's a silence," he said, because priests don't want to "rock the boat," don't want to "divide the congregation," don't want to "upset the woman in the pew who has had an abortion and make her feel ... whatever."
However Father Wilde said, "the priest is not causing that; the priest is simply bringing to the surface what is already present. There is already division. The division is caused by the abortion, not because somebody is bringing up the issue."
One of the problems, he said, "is that people feel that if they address the issue they are condemning the sinner, so here's where ... 'loving the sinner but hating the sin' has to be observed."
Priests and seminarians are taught that, "Sure, there are women who are post-abortive, and we speak to that in this way: we talk about forgiveness as the most beautiful thing that the Lord ever did. It was the most difficult thing that he did because he died as the cost of forgiveness."
"It's not passing judgement on anybody: they have to look at their own lives… (but) forgiveness is the most important point. We need to get that across because it is a very powerful tool ."
Priests for Life is doing this, Father Wilde said, because "we need to reach the people who are going to preach, to reach the people who are going to affect the hearts of those who are attending church.
"In this age," he continued, "when everybody is being tolerant of everything, we fail to realize that there are some things that we have no right to tolerate ... so we need to speak out against those issues ... which destroy families, people, babies, and mothers.
"It is a question of coming to grips with what is morally right versus what is politically correct, and all of us are swimming in the same atmosphere in which we want to do what is [politically] correct, but the Lord tells us to do what is good, not what is politically correct."
Father Wilde emphasized that abortion is a moral issue, not a just political one.
"Christ always talks about defending life, and the Lord tells us that, too, and the Old Testament says, 'Choose life, that you may live.' All of the things that have to do with the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' are reducible to that, and it comes down in many different ways in both testaments, so if we're dealing with priests, and we're dealing with parishes, we have to use the guidebook here, and that, of course, is the Bible and the Church. The Church has always taught that abortion is intrinsically evil."
Besides, he pointed out, "there are many Protestant groups that are struggling and are very courageous in expressing themselves on this, so it is not the religious issue that they want to make it." In addition, he added, there are many pro-life atheists, so it is not an atheist's issue either.
Father Wilde's work goes beyond working with priests and seminarians and giving benefit concerts to working with children and youth.
His work includes "talking to the schools, talking to the grade schools even, because in the grade schools you can" talk "simply about the positive side of life, about the Lord loving us in life, and building from there."
"Boys and girls in high school react differently. Boys? They're not interested; they want to be free to explore. Girls? Girls have a reaction that is sometimes negative: 'This is my body. Don't tell me what to do with it.' They don't say it outright; you can read it on their faces, but it depends on where I go. A lot of times I don't have any of that or very little of that."
"I tell them that it's important to be chaste ... that it's important to abstain because that is the only way that is safe, certainly from AIDS or from other sexual diseases.
"When I talk with young men in high school and college, I put it in the perspective of reverence of the body, because if a boy is going to reverence a girl, he is going to want to do it in a way that is chaste."
Father Wilde likened abortion to a drug, a quick fix. "It's supposed to take care of your problems, and so if somebody doesn't want to be pregnant, she gets 'not pregnant'. Well actually she remains totally pregnant in her mind because the child is supposed to be growing, but it's aborted, it's truncated."
Music is one of his tools, be it classical, be it jazz.
Knowing the kids at Augustus High in New Orleans had two great jazz bands, he opened up a talk with them by playing a Dave Brubeck piece.
Then, he said "I told them, "Well, the music you heard is a beautiful piece of music, thrilling and everybody enjoys it. But you know a composition is a pretty simple concept. It's just a couple of little notes that follow upon another… but these notes are the genetic code of the whole piece; they define it for what it is, and that's the way it is with life.
"You plant a seed in the ground and it becomes a tree. It's inevitable that it's going to become a tree and nothing else but a tree, but you don't see it right away and yet all the info is contained in that seed."
"From there," Father Wilde continued, "it didn’t take much for us to… see that every one of us is unique and each of us is unrepeatable and to see ourselves at week one, week two, week three, and then how little by little we start to accumulate heart beats, brain waves, finger stubs, and on and on through pregnancy to the point of birth…So there is an absolute continuity in life as there is in the music that I played."
He pointed out that music is transcendent: "it transcends language, it transcends the corruption of language." In the abortion battle it’s "a tug of war to get the upper hand in defining works; anti-choice, pro-life. Language, I think determines where the pro-life argument is going…. legally and medically. With music you can go beyond language to speak to the heart and the soul of the listener."
The power of music, he said, can speak to any issue: political, moral, and otherwise. "Think of the late 60's and '70s when songs from the Beatles and beyond were a cry to change things. Music can be very effective in changing the hearts and minds of people ...
"Again I go back to the …anti-Vietnam war songs, or even the songs from much earlier that were against slave labor, Sixteen Tons and so on….Music can change hearts and minds on a moral level, which is a deeper level than the political one. The abortion issue involves politics, but it goes way beyond that to the very moral fiber of a civilization."
Will the pro-life movement ever build up the momentum it needs to order to change the abortion laws?
"It's a wonderful thing,"Father Wilde said, "to see them march in Washington. It's unfortunate that the media never covers it. They block it out. We have 100,000 people down there, and I would say that a good 40,000 of those people are under 25 years of age and maybe its even more than that, but conservatively speaking."
"It's very interesting," he said, "when you ask in church, 'How many here are under 27?' (i.e. born after the American abortion ruling in 1973). They stand.
"You know for the first nine months of their lives, the U.S. Supreme court said to them, 'We really don't know whether you are persons or not.'
"When you see it that way you realize these kids are experiencing their survival of abortion, and they're not just talking about something that is out there. They realize deep down that this is a war that they are going to have to deal with.
"What's their attitude like? Are they sad-sack kind of people? Nope. Filled with joy, because they recognize that they know that there's something that they had to deal with. But they also know that God is in charge, and there's something about them that cuts though the subterfuge that an older generation is trying to feed them in this lie of abortion"
Father Wilde was quick to make it clear that violence is no option in this war. Those who do not use violence "may be anti-abortion, but they are not pro-life, and that is why I like to use the word pro-life. We have to respect life and that means we don't take life into our own hands."