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A Catholic's Responsibility as Leader in the Right to Life
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It may seem like a strange title to speak of, "Pro- Life Leadership: The Catholic Way." What is unusual about this title is that we commonly speak about the pro-life movement, period. We do not distinguish between pro-life leaders in general, and Catholics who are leading others in promoting the culture of life.
Let me be clear. It is not only that Catholic leadership is somehow different or distinctive. Catholic protagonists must provide the foundations for the pro-life movement. These foundations are ultimately the Christian faith, whose divinely instituted custodian and interpreter is the Roman Catholic Church.
Another premise that should be stated is that the Catholic faith teaches there are two invisible powers constantly at work to influence the minds and wills of human beings. They are the good spirits, whom we commonly call angels; and the evil spirits who are demons.
In a conversation, I had some time ago with the chief exorcist of Rome. I asked him about the influence of the evil spirit in today's world. "It seems to me." I said. "that Satan is extraordinarily powerful in the world today. God is permitting the devil to tempt and seduce people more than ever nowadays." He replied, "That is not the way I see it. I do not think the devil is any more powerful than he used to be, but people are allowing him more influence in their lives. In my judgment," he concluded, "the widespread preoccupation with worldly things, pleasures of every kind that science makes so easily available to everyone; this immersion in creatures is at the root of the trouble. It gives the devil so much power over people because they are forgetful of God."
I think the lesson is plain. If the devil is so effective in misleading souls, it is because people are too distracted with the pleasures of this life to even realize that they are being misled. Hence the value of looking at the devil for a few minutes, knowing his technique, and preparing ourselves to cope with his deceit.
All of this, I thought, was a necessary prelude to speaking on "Pro-life Leadership: The Catholic Way."
Saint Ignatius explains it all in his Spiritual Exercises. The followers of Christ are in constant conflict with the followers of Satan. Who would doubt that the massive genocide in the modern world is the result of demonic seduction? Not only individuals but whole nations have been seduced by the devil. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews who challenged His claims and wished to kill Him by telling them, "The father from whom you are is the devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning." (John 8:4-1).
So it was in first century Palestine. So it is at the close of he twentieth century in America.
Not to know this is not to know that the devil is behind the global genocide that has spread like an epidemic of death throughout the world.
My plan is to ask four questions and answer them each in sequence, as we examine the kind of leadership that the pro-life movement needs in our day:
Present Day Catholic Leaders
There is one place to start in identifying present day Catholic leaders in the pro-life movement. The chief leader is the Bishop of Rome.
In document after document, lecture after lecture. Pope John Paul II is telling not just Catholics but the whole world: The culture of death must be converted to the culture of life. Otherwise human society will not survive.
His encyclical on The Gospel of Life is a many thousand word plea, especially to Catholics, to become leaders in developing the culture of life on which the survival of humanity depends.
Out of this library of the Pope's plea for leadership in the right to life movement, I thought I would share with you what he said to our own people in the United States in October the fifth of last year.
While a crowd of more than eighty thousand stood in the pouring, rain in Giant's Stadium in New Jersey, the Holy Father reminded all of us of our duty to protect the rights of the unborn.
Sadly, today a new class of people is being excluded (in the struggle for civil rights for everyone). When the unborn child the stranger in the womb is declared to be the only protection of society, not only are America's deepest traditions radically undermined and endangered, but a moral blight is brought upon society.
I am also thinking of threats to the elderly, the severely handicapped and all those who do not seem to have any social usefulness. When innocent human beings are declared inconvenient or burdensome, and thus unworthy of legal and social protection, grievous damage is done to the foundation of democratic liberties and the keystone of the edifice of civil society.
Both as Americans and as followers of Christ. American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition.
Four days later the Pope made a moving plea to Americans to "love life, cherish life, defend life, from conception to natural death."
Evidently the Vicar of Christ realized how important for the survival of America is the militant zeal of American Catholics to lead our nation in the preservation of innocent human life.
Shortly before the Pope's pilgrimage to the United States, Archbishop James Keleher spoke to some two thousand persons including seventy cardinals, archbishops, and bishops. The occasion was the international convention of the Knights of Columbus in Kansas City, Kansas.
Archbishop Keleher began by observing that in The Gospel of Life the Holy Father "points out that modern society cannot speak the truth than did Cain." In other words modern man is rebuilding the world on a lie. He continued:
Today we speak of "innocuous medical procedures," when they really mean dissecting the child in the womb. Instead of calling euthanasia by its real name of direct killing, they prefer to speak about relieving the pain of those who no longer enjoy the appropriate quality of life.
We must not be afraid to confront our society with the truth about life about the beautiful gift that it is, how it cannot be taken for granted or taken away by whim.
Western materialistic thought must hear us say that life is beautiful because it is made in God's image and likeness, it is precious because it comes from Him.
It is not ours to manipulate, only to receive with gratitude, enhance what we can, and respect from beginning to end.
Our generosity in the face of the selfish individualism of our culture is a powerful way of proclaiming the Gospel of Life.
Last December on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Bishop James Moynihan, the new bishop of Syracuse, New York, led a procession of four hundred pro-lifers from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to the offices of the Planned Parenthood Association. Planned Parenthood representatives expressed their alarm that the new bishop is involving himself so quickly with pro-life activities.
Some Catholics in the pro-life movement tell us they are dreaming about what would happen if all other bishops were to be so publicly identified with the pro-life movement. It is clear, they say, that the press would take notice and alert our nation of the bishops' stance. Local priests would be encourages to address the life issues forthrightly in their parishes. The laity would follow their newly identified leaders. The culture of life would be advanced immeasurably. Bishop Moynihan, it is claimed, exemplifies what the pro-life movement is starving for in this century: leadership.
I personally believe that we do have members of the hierarchy who are strong promoters of the culture of life. My main concern is to awaken the potential leadership among the laity.
Let me begin by saying that we have very few Catholic lay leaders in the Church today. To answer the question in one sentence, these potential leaders in the Catholic pro-life movement are those who satisfy three conditions:
Let me go over each of the three parts of my definition of the potential lay leaders in the Catholic pro-life movement.
Watch the adverbs, they are Catholics who deeply believe in eternal life, they are Catholics who heroically live out what they believe. And they are Catholics who zealously, militantly promote their own faith in eternal life.
I may go on to say that one reason for the massive anti-life movement throughout the world is that Catholics have not fully lived up to their God-given responsibility.
Among the early Fathers of the Church, Christians were called the soul to the world. The world is made evil by human beings, but what gives life to this world, what gives this world a reason for living must be, watch the imperative verb, must be provided by Catholics. Only we, only we have the full possession of revealed truth. Let's then be clear in what we are saving. We are saying that the world, in one nation after another is legalizing abortion and is now legalizing euthanasia. These nations need strong deeply believing Catholics. This is not a cliché. I know. I know only heroic bishops will survive in today's world, only heroic priests, religious, fathers, and mothers, young men and women will survive. As I have been telling audiences over the years, we are. living in the Age of Martyrs. During their seventy years of domination in Russia, the Communists murdered more Christians for their faith than in all the wars of history since the beginning of time.
We are speaking of potential leaders. By implication I am saying that we do not have the kind of lay leadership the world needs, hence .the adjective "potential." Leaders by definition inspire others. Leaders enlighten. Leaders direct. Leaders lead. I mean it, most human beings are followers. They not only want, they need to be led. But sadly many leaders in our age are misleaders, leading the masses away from the truth into error, from virtue into sin, and from sin into a chaos, that has no counterpart in previous history.
In teaching, for example, Babylonian religion which I have for several years, I would quote from Babylonian Hammurabi. Abortion was punishable by execution of the women who had the abortion and all her accomplices. Date 1800 B.C., place Babylonia. And we call the Babylonians pagan! My God! What shall we call our American abortionists?
And then we say that Catholic leaders in the pro-life movement are to live, believe, and promote eternal life. We include persons in every position of life. First the bishops, priest, and those living a consecrated life. But my main concern is the Catholic laity: those in married life, the single, even children, should be taught from infancy that they are made for eternal life and have explained to them the conditions for reaching eternal life after bodily death. Notice that these leaders are people who deeply believe. Their faith is an intelligent faith. I mean it, most Americans are educated in everything about the temporary life in this world. How little they understand their faith. The faith of pro-life leaders must be a clear and not a confused faith. If we are to have a clear Catholic faith, we should, and start today, examining our consciences on what we are reading, listening to, and watching in the mass media. We must mortify our mind and imagination and not expose them to the rampart error that saturates our atmosphere. Otherwise, we can patiently listen to a conference on the pro-life movement, be an activist, and pro-life rescuers, but God bless you, you are not real leaders in the Catholic pro-life movement.
The second part as we said, of an authentic leader in the Catholic pro-life movement, is that the person believes heroically. I keep on repeating words like heroic and martyrdom, and I say to myself; "I wonder if most of the people who hear me realize what I am saying." There are almost two thousand extinct Catholic dioceses in the world that used to be and no longer exist. Please God, we will not add to the extinct dioceses of the Catholic Church.
To heroically live out what we believe is not child's play. It means that our lifestyle reflects our faith which does not believe that we have here a lasting home.
Those who are potential leaders in the Catholic pro-life movement are not slaves of human respect. They live as their faith teaches them. No matter how easy it is for me to say these words, how hard it is for me and you to live them. I use the words "slaves" deliberately.
Most people are slaves of human respect. What will so and so say, what will so and so think'? This so and so may be your family member, wife, husband, or child.
Those who live out what they believe, are willing to be opposed in living out their faith. I would never have the gall to say what I am about to say unless I had tasted a sliver of what I am sharing with you. Those who are willing to live heroic Catholic lives are literally happy to suffer in the following of Christ. Why? Because like Christ, they know that suffering is the language of charity. Those who love Jesus Christ are to live like Christ. None of us knows whether we will meet again except, praise God, in eternity. We read and meditate on the eighth beatitude where Christ promises happiness. "Blessed are they who suffer prosecution for justice's sake. for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
One more quality of these potential leaders of the Catholic pro-life movement. They zealously promote human life among those with whom they live. Notice the emphasis on promotion. This means being missionaries of eternal life. Let us be honest, the only people with whom we are gong to live in eternity, joining us in the heaven for which we were made, are the people like us. I know I am talking to the right audience, to people who are willing to gain eternal life at any cost to their life here on earth. The price of eternal life is the practice of charity. The highest charity we can practice on earth is to share our faith, faith in eternal life, with others.
Training Pro-Life Leaders
You notice the word potential. I admire the work that is being done, the zealous, dedicated, pro-lifers, but clearly something more is needed. By asking ourselves how are these potential leaders to be trained, I make three recommendations.
On the level of screening. Not everyone has the grace to become a leader in the pro-life movement which is authentically unabashedly Catholic. Consequently prospective leaders must be found. While screening apostles is fundamental, its purpose is to find out who are the future Catholic pro-life apostles, because they have the grace. Anger at the murder of so many children is not enough. Having pity over the now millions of children who will never be nursed by their mothers is not enough. Anger and pity are not enough. It must be a deep faith and among Catholics, some have a deep faith, and others do not. Not everyone has the grace and the most fundamental grace needed in the Catholic pro-life movement is the grace of a deep, strong, unshakable faith. Faith in what? Faith in eternal life.
Teaching potential candidates is absolutely necessary because the Catholic pro-life movement is essentially the re-evangelization of one supposedly developed country after another. America needs to be re-evangelized, re-Christianized. To re-evangelize is more difficult than to Christianize pagans who have never had the true faith. The leaders must be given sound Catholic teaching. They must understand their faith in order to be a match for the evil geniuses who are masters of legalized murder.
These Catholic leaders must be taught to combine study with prayer because the knowledge that a person acquires of the faith is mainly through the help of divine grace and that comes mainly from prayer. No one, I repeat, no one will be a successful Catholic pro-life leader unless he or she is a man or woman of prayer.
Finally, still on the training level, Catholic pro-life leaders are to be trained to motivate others. I suggest centers for training Catholic pro-life leaders in strategic parts of our country. In case you did not know, the abortionists have been doing this for years.
Some time ago I told a gathering of Catholic physicians. "In Gods name, realize the blessing you have to become trained leaders in the Catholic pro-life movement, to make reparation for your fellow physicians and to instruct others that the role of the medical profession is not only or even maybe to relieve pain in this world, or prolong human life here on earth, but to provide people with bodily health so they may serve God and achieve the everlasting life for which they were made."
The Apostolate of Eternal Life
The eternal life apostolate is a worldwide program of re-evangelization. Its purpose is to restore the true faith to the millions who have abandoned their Catholic heritage because they were seduced by the errors of the modern media. St. Paul tells us, ""Where sin has abounded, there grace will even more abound."
Can anyone doubt that our homicidal age abounds in sin? But for that very reason, abortion and euthanasia are meant by God to become the occasion for such conversion to the true faith as Christianity has not witnessed in two thousand years. However, though God's grace will abound because sin has been so abundant, there must be deeply believing, heroically living, and zealously promoting apostles who call themselves pro-life.
In order to counteract the agents of death, whose numbers today are enormous. there must be agents of life who are deep believers in eternal life. The living martyrs in today's Christ-less world are zealous promoters of eternal life. Why? Because they know that only those wi11 enter heaven who have helped others reach eternal life with them.
"Mary, Mother of God, Author of eternal life, obtain for us something of your deep faith in believing that the child that you carried and gave birth to was your God. Obtain for us something of your heroic faith. Obtain for us the grace of that eternal life for which your Son died on the Cross, because like you we shared our faith with everyone who has entered our lives. Amen."
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