Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Christ and 'Same-Sex Marriages'

Continuing from yesterday’s post, the starting point in understanding the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ. All of the Church’s doctrines, liturgical practices, service, and disciplines are based in the life and teachings of Christ. So, really, I should have started this little series with “Christ and ‘Same-Sex Marriages’”. We need, then, to understand Christ’s teachings on same-sex marriage in order to understand the Church’s teaching. Many people will point to the Gospel only when referring to what Jesus taught and they have done so in the past few days with this issue. But, that significantly short-changes who our Lord is and all that He has revealed to us. Christ teaches us throughout Scripture from Genesis through Revelation. Why do we believe this?

In the Gospel of John, Christ is referred to as “the Word”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1-2, 14). So, Christ is the Word of God. When we speak of the Bible as the Word of God, we are speaking of Christ. Christ is the one speaking to us throughout all of Scripture. The Catechism emphasizes this in #102: “Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word…’You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers’ (St. Augustine)”.

It is the Word who resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers. It is the Word who resounds in the mouth of the author of Genesis, “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; make and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). This is Christ teaching us that every person – no matter what their sexual orientation is – is created in the image and likeness of God. This is the most important point to make about the Church’s teaching on the issue of sexual orientation, in my opinion. Our sexuality does not define us. We are first and foremost children of God made in His image and likeness.

So, the Word reveals to us who we are in Genesis. Then, He reveals to us how we are to live as children of God. He resounds in the mouth of the author of Exodus when He reveals the Commandments which are reminders of right and wrong to us who already bear the natural law in our hearts. Specific to the issue of homosexual relations, He resounds in the mouth of the author of Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination” (Lev 18:22). He resounds in the mouth of St. Paul and reminds us that this (or any) moral law doesn’t change: “"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” ( Rom 1:26-28)

Certainly, Christ’s teachings in the Gospel have primacy because “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. His teachings in the Gospel* take on a deeper meaning by fulfilling his teachings of the Old Testament. Specifically regarding marriage, the Lord fulfills the teaching of marriage that is found in Genesis. He reaffirms what we have read “from the beginning” that marriage is between a man and a woman, and the “two shall become one flesh” in marriage. He thus includes marriage as part of the New Covenant and raises marriage to the level of a sacrament when He says, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19). One person said recently that yes, Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, but He didn’t say that it wasn’t between a woman and a woman or a man and a man. Well, He has already condemned sexual acts between persons of the same sex in Leviticus 19 (and 20, too). Reason tells us that if God condemns homosexual acts, then He condemns homosexual marriage. Also, Christ didn’t have to say what marriage wasn’t because He declared what it WAS. It’s understood that marriage can’t be anything other than between a man and a woman because He reveals it so.

It would be like if He said that the sky was blue. He didn’t have to say it wasn’t red, green, yellow, orange, etc. He would already have said that it was BLUE! Or, if He said that 2+2=4 but didn’t say it wasn’t 3 or 5 or whatever. We would know that it’s 4 and so can’t be 3 or 5 or whatever. And, then when we went to do mathematics, we would see that this is the truth and is the basis for doing so much in math or the sciences. If we redefined what 2+2 is, then so much of mathematics and science gets seriously distorted and doesn’t work. When we look at what marriage is (as defined in yesterday's post), we see that the truth is that it is between a man and a woman and that it is the fabric of our society. If we redefine what marriage is, then so much of our society will get seriously distorted and won't work.

Finally, some people will say Jesus is all about love and not condemnation. Christ is all about love…He is love! He loves every person and creature who has ever been created through Him. And, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17). Christ saves through love and faith. Part of that love through which he saves is the condemnation of sin. Christ loves sinners but condemns sin. He does this throughout Scripture. If Christ is love and Christ condemns sin, then love condemns sin. It is an act of love, then, to condemn sin. It is an act of love to say to someone, “please don’t do that, it will hurt you”. God essentially does this when He gives us the Ten Commandments and the Law. He is like a parent who tells his children not to touch a hot stove because it will burn and hurt them. Love means wanting what’s best for the other. Sometimes, it means telling the other that what they are doing or trying to do (sin) will hurt them.

If Christ didn’t love or want to save us, He would have basically said, “do whatever you want” (which is the mantra of relativism). But, because He loves us, He tells us throughout history what we should and shouldn’t do. Some people in His lifetime didn’t like to be told what to do, so they crucified Him. The same thing is happening today with His Bride, the Church. The Church continues the teachings of Christ. She continues to speak Truth in love. She continues to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. Many people today (is this like 1st century A.D. as some have argued?) don’t like to be told what to do, so they crucify the Church every day. Our Lord promised that this would happen in John’s Gospel: “ If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (Jn 15:18-20)


*In addition, His teachings through the authors of the New Testament are a reflection on how the Gospel fulfills the Old Testament and how they apply to His Church. For 2000 years, He has provided understanding of His teachings through the “theology” of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (theology means in Greek “the Word of God”). The Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture (CCC, #113) and so He helps the Church to interpret the teachings of Christ (the Spirit also inspired the sacred authors of the Bible).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Church and 'Same-Sex Marriages'

There has been much dialogue and debate about same-sex marriage since New York legalized it on Friday night. I have seen the Facebook comments of several GW Catholics on both sides of the issue. It’s been sad to see some people go on the attack, not just against the Church but against their friends. I know that this is an emotionally charged issue and hope that things calm down among friends. I need to address this issue – not so much to those on the far right or far left – but mainly to those in the middle who would simply like to know what the Church teaches and why it teaches it. So, here is part 1 of a series, “The Church and ‘Same-Sex Marriages’”, from “Catholics United for the Faith”.

Male and Female He Created Them: The Church and 'Same-Sex Marriages'

Issue: Why does the Church oppose government-sanctioned homosexual “marriages”?

Discussion: Two men cannot legitimately marry each other, nor can two women, no matter what any earthly judicial or legislative body may say. Marriage is by nature defined by the conjugal act between one man and one woman, a monogamous or exclusive union in which the two become one in a lifelong partnership (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6).

This truth is understandable not only through divine Revelation, but also through natural reason. For by nature, man and woman are made for each other. They complement each other both physically and socially. In contrast, homosexual relationships are unnatural and do not contribute to the growth of society. In fidelity to the teachings of Christ, the Catholic Church opposes homosexual activity and state approval of homosexual relationships.

The Catholic Church teaches that Christ elevated marriage to the level of a sacrament. A husband and his wife are called to imitate and participate in the nuptial union of Christ and His bride, the Church (cf. Eph. 5:21-33), in a communion of life and love that is open to the gift of children (cf. Catechism, no. 1652).

God created man in His image and likeness. He created them male and female, so that through marriage they might reflect the communal love of the Holy Trinity (cf. Gen. 1:26-28). From all eternity, the Father pours His entire being into His Son, and the Son into the Father. The eternal bond of love between Father and Son is the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. This is an oversimplified explanation of a most profound mystery, the community of Persons in whose image we were created.

A man and a woman become one in marriage in a mysterious way that reveals the unity shared by the Father and the Son (cf. Jn. 17:22-23). As the infinitely loving bond between the Father and Son constitutes the Third Person of the Trinity, so in a similar way a child embodies the love of a husband and wife. The union of husband and wife is so profound that nine months later the couple often have to give it a name when a child is born! That is why the Church teaches that marriage is a communion of life and love ordered toward the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children, and that there is an unbreakable bond between the love-giving and life-giving aspects of marital love (cf., Catechism, nos. 1660, 2366).

God’s Plan for Marriage

Some people mistakenly believe that the Church has revised her teaching on homosexuality in recent years. On the contrary, the Church has never taught that suffering from the disorder of a homosexual inclination is in itself sinful. But the Church has always taught that homosexual acts are “intrinsically” and “objectively” disordered (ibid., nos. 2357-58) and “gravely contrary to chastity” (ibid., no. 2396). Further, having an “innate impulse” (not “instinct”) does not mean such a condition is normal or good, just as fallen man’s inclination toward sin is not normal or good.

God’s wonderful plan for marriage allows husband and wife to make up for each other’s deficiencies and thereby complete each other (cf. Gen. 2:18). This is known as complementarity, in which the husband and wife become one through the mutual giving and receiving of marital relations. This unity is reflected in the crowning fruit of their union: children. Although some married couples unfortunately cannot have children, they still complete one another through the expression of mutual love.

In contrast, homosexual activity lacks complementarity, but rather involves an illusory and vain attempt at communion. Under no circumstances can it be approved (Catechism, no. 2357).

If we abandon the monogamous union of husband and wife as the standard of marriage, there will be no logical argument against “marriages” between homosexuals as well as between polygamous heterosexuals. Government endorsement of homosexual “marriages” necessarily implies the acceptance of decadent polygamy and will only further undermine the moral fiber of our society.

As is the case with every dysfunction within the home, children suffer the most from the homosexual relationships of their parents. For some children, pain and confusion results when one parent leaves the other for a homosexual “union.” Others adopted into a “family” of homosexual “parents” will probably never experience the example and natural beauty of a true marital relationship. Furthermore, homosexual unions often promote the development of reproductive technology to the exclusion of procreation according to God’s design. Such technology makes the child a mere product of technology and denies the child the natural dignity and respect he deserves. Further, this technology denies the child his right to be born of a mother and father known to him (cf. Catechism, nos. 2376-77).

Teaching of Bishops

The U.S. Bishops’ Committees on Marriage and Family and Domestic Policy likewise affirm this perennial teaching:

The Roman Catholic Church believes that marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman joined as husband and wife in an intimate partnership of life and love. This union was established by God with its own proper laws. By reason of its very nature, therefore, marriage exists for the mutual love and support of the spouses and for the procreation and education of children. These two purposes, the unitive [love-giving] and the procreative [life-giving], are equal and inseparable. The institution of marriage has a very important relationship to the continuation of the human race, to the total development of the human person and to the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family and of society.

Furthermore, we believe the natural institution of marriage has been blessed and elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament…. Because they are married in the Lord, the spouses acquire a special relationship to each other and to society. Their love becomes a living image of the manner in which the Lord personally loves his people and is united with them. Living a Christian, sacramental marriage becomes their fundamental way of attaining salvation.

Because the marital relationship offers benefits unlike any other to persons, to society and to the church, we wish to make it clear that the institution of marriage, as the union of one man and one woman, must be preserved, protected and promoted in both private and public realms. At a time when family life is under significant stress, the principled defense of marriage is an urgent necessity for the well-being of children and families, and for the common good of society.

Thus, we oppose attempts to grant the legal status of marriage to a relationship between persons of the same sex. No same-sex union can realize the unique and full potential which the marital relationship expresses. For this reason, our opposition to “same-sex marriage” is not an instance of unjust discrimination or animosity toward homosexual persons. In fact, the Catholic Church teaches emphatically that individuals and society must respect the basic human dignity of all persons, including those with a homosexual orientation. Homosexual persons have a right to and deserve our respect, compassion, understanding and defense against bigotry, attacks and abuse.

We therefore urge Catholics and all our fellow citizens to commit themselves both to upholding the human dignity of every person and to upholding the distinct and irreplaceable community of marriage.[1]

Courage to Be Chaste

If you know of someone who engages in homosexual activity... we must love the sinner and hate the sin (St. Augustine). We must not neglect any opportunity to witness in charity the truths of the faith. We must reach out to them in love to affirm their human dignity but not their sin. Most importantly, we must pray for them, that their hearts would be softened to accept their trial with courage and avoid any occasions of sin.

If you yourself struggle with the trial of homosexual inclinations, do not despair. The Church stands willing to strengthen you in your efforts to remain chaste. Through frequent reception of Confession and Holy Eucharist, and through the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture, you can identify and avoid occasions of sin and root your life solidly in Christ. Additionally, there are many people who have the same struggle and who win. Several organizations within the Church assist people with homosexual tendencies to live according to the teachings of Christ. If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance from one of these groups, do not hesitate to call Catholics United for the Faith’s Catholic Responses department toll-free at (800) MY-FAITH (693-2484). The staff will refer you to organizations that can help you.

Questions for Reflection and Group Discussion:

1. Why is marriage reserved only for a husband and a wife in a monogamous relationship? How would I explain this to someone who is not Christian? How would I explain this to someone with homosexual tendencies?

2. Do I understand the important distinction between loving the sinner and hating the sin? Is it possible to live this balance? Am I concerned about showing Christ-like compassion as well as not compromising the truth?

3. Do I truly strive to love homosexual persons, even when they are not at present willing to abandon an openly homosexual lifestyle? Do I understand that for most homosexuals, the inclination to engage in homosexual acts usually constitutes a trial (Catechism, no. 2358)? What can I do to help people who are going through such a trial? What can I do to help their family members?

Recommended Reading:
Holy Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Vatican II Documents
Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics; Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons; Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Humanae Vitae; Pope Paul VI
Familiaris Consortio; Pope John Paul II
Letter to Families; Pope John Paul II
Mother and Infant; Fr. William D. Virtue
Sex and the Marriage Covenant; Dr. John Kippley
Brave New Family; G.K. Chesterton
Précis of Official Catholic Teaching on Marriage, Family, and Sexuality
Biotechnology and the Assault on Parenthood; D. DeMarco

To order, call Benedictus Books toll-free: (888) 316-2640. CUF members receive 10% discount.

Faith Facts:
Answers to Catholic Questions; Suprenant and Gray
Catholic for a Reason; Hahn, Scott, et al.
Courageous Love; Mitch, Stacy
Mission of the Messiah; Gray, Timothy

To order, call Emmaus Road Publishing toll-free: (800) 398-5470.

Related Faith Facts:
• Marriage in God’s Plan
• God or Goddess?: Our Heavenly Father Knows Best
• Why Not Women Priests?
• No Bull: Papal Authority and Our Response

© 1999 Catholics United for the Faith, Inc.

Last edited: 8/20/99

[1] Origins (August 1, 1996), 133.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Feast of Corpus Christi - Homily

Today is my favorite feast of the liturgical year: the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate God's amazing gift to us of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. I wish I could give an exposition or deep reflection of the beauty and richness of the Eucharist. But, I need to address a big problem in our Church regarding the Eucharist: Sunday Mass attendance. The drop in Mass attendance is staggering, to say the least. In 1958, a Gallop poll found that about 75% of Catholics went to Mass every Sunday. Now, less than 25% go every week. That is incredible. It is incredibly sad. Consistent with those numbers is the results of a survey from years ago that 70% of Catholics don't believe in the Eucharist. I believe that people don't believe because they don't know the Gospel passage we just heard, John 6...they don't know the teaching on the Eucharist.

There are a variety of reasons why Mass attendance has declined so dramatically in the past 50 years. The first one I offer is the sins of the Church…of bishops, priests, and religious. The Eucharist has hardly been preached about for the past 30 years or so; we just haven’t heard it talked about. I mention the Eucharist every time because it always relates to the readings and to our lives. Then, we have the sins that we've been reading in the papers the past ten years - the sexual abuse scandals. Priests and religious have also committed verbal abuse that have driven people away. I have worked with many people who came back after being away because they had had a bad experience with a priest. One of the first things I do is to apologize to them on behalf of the Church and beg for forgiveness. It is heroic that they and anyone who has been abused in any way are back.

Another percentage of Catholics stop coming to Mass because of some of the teachings of the Church. It's like the scene in today's Gospel where Jesus lays out the teaching on the Eucharist (and by the way, He teaches more on the Eucharist than any other teaching). Many of the disciples quarrel or grumble about the Lord's teaching. Then, they leave Him over the teaching, as if to say that they know better than God. Many Catholics have done the same thing. They have quarreled or grumbled about the Church's teaching on abortion, contraception, homosexuality, or other moral issues. They have left the Church over these teachings, as if to say they know better than the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Then, there are a percentage of Catholics who have simply fallen away. I'm convinced that there are many Catholics at GW who have simply fallen out of the habit of going to Mass. We are trying to invite them back.

The scariest part of all this for me as a priest - the thing that is foremost in my mind when it comes to Catholics who don't go to Mass - is what Christ says in today's Gospel, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you". He is talking about grace...sanctifying grace that we need to get to Heaven. We need the grace of the Eucharist to have life now and forever. We need to receive the Eucharist if we want to go to Heaven. I worry about Catholics who don't receive the Eucharist. I worry about their salvation. I worry that their souls are in grave danger.

So, this is the problem. What is the solution? The Eucharist. The solution to the problem is to re-present the teaching on the Eucharist. When parents ask me how to get their big kids back to Church, I tell them to talk to their kids about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is when it gets personal and real. It is not just bread and wine, it is the Body and Blood of Christ! It is a person! When people get it about the Eucharist, it changes everything. It changes the way they approach Mass. If they've left the state of Grace due to mortal sin, they go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion. They dress appropriately for Mass. They arrive on time and maybe even early. They stay until the final blessing and maybe even a few minutes after Mass to give thanks. And, they actually pray during Holy Communion, realizing that they have Jesus in them.

The Real Presence affects their whole lives. They realize that the Eucharist is real, that Christ is really there. If He is there in the Eucharist, He is there in Confession and all the sacraments. He becomes a real part of their moral lives. Living charity, chastity, and all the virtues becomes even more real. They have heard Him say to them, "this is my body", and so they try to give their bodies to Him. They try to make Him a real part of their lives as He has made Himself such a real part of their lives in the Eucharist.

So, I ask you to help me and all priests in inviting people back to Mass. You can do a bigger and better job of this than we can. Don't be afraid to tell them that the Mass is mainly about the Eucharist, and that they need to receive the Eucharist if they want to get to Heaven. I have done this with many, many people -including 10 year old kids- and they get it. It is an invitation to receive eternal life...NOW and forever. It is an invitation to receive the happiness, joy, and peace that the Eucharist brings. It is an invitation to thank God for all of our blessings, especially Christ on the Cross and present in the Eucharist.

Friday, June 24, 2011

God dissed on Father's Day

Those of you who saw my Facebook status on Sunday know that I went to the U.S. Open golf tournament.  I mentioned that I went wearing clerics (Roman collar and black garb) and a GW hat.  I was able to do this because it turned about to be a rather cool day (as June days in DC go).  My buddy who invited me really wanted me to wear them...and ultimately, so did I.  My motivation wasn't entirely pious and today I will confess vanity in my intentions.  Sure, I wanted to make a good witness, but wasn't sure if a prestigious golf tournament at a posh country club with an expensive ticket  (provided by my friend) was the best setting for that.  But, I also had the notion that a TV camera might catch a different kind of father on Father's Day and I could do a little advertizing for GW Catholics!  Also, I just thought it would be fun and different. After praying about all of this, I decided to go with wearing black.

Man, did I get a bunch of looks!  I wasn't looking for this, but knew it would probably happen.  I had a blast talking to different people who came up to me and made comments in passing.  One man thanked me for helping Rory McIlroy's ball just clear the water on hole #6.  A young woman said to me that she liked seeing a priest who like golf.  But, then, she told me that she missed Mass that day.  I talked to her for a bit and eventually offered to hear her confession on the practice putting green which was vacant.  Oddly enough, she walked away at that point..!  I ran into several people I knew that probably wouldn't have happened if I wasn't wearing the collar.

The biggest realization I had about the looks I got had to do with Sunday Mass.  There were 50,000 people there at Congressional for the final round.  So, most likely, there were over 10,000 Catholics.  Current stats suggest that about 70% of Catholics don't go to Mass on Sundays, so there were about 7,000 Catholics who missed Mass last Sunday.  With as much walking around that course as we did, I probably was visible to most of them!  My thought coming away from the day, then, was that over 5,000 people saw me and thought, "I didn't go to Mass today".  This was one of the first things that that young woman said to me. I didn't intend this when I dressed for the event, but maybe God did.  He writes straight with crooked lines, you know.  Sunday Mass was probably the last thought that folks would have at the final round of the U.S. Open, but maybe it's been one of the first thoughts afterwards for some of them, who knows!

Obviously, I didn't see the TV coverage live.  But, when I got home to catch some highlights, one of the predominant stories was about something NBC did in one of its segments.  The video below is the introductory segment to the final round.  They assembled a moving tribute to the tournament and to American virtue and patriotism given that the national championship was being played in the nation's capital.  They showed golfers, soldiers, and children reciting the national anthem with inspiring instrumental music as a backdrop.  What the piece lacked was a complete national anthem.  The phrase "under God" was omitted...not just on the first playing of the anthem, but also on the second.

I have seen many video collages for sporting events, some of which have inspired patriotism.  I don't remember ever hearing the recital of our national anthem included in them, so this appeared to be a new approach.  It seemed awkward to have kids reciting the anthem (which is pretty long for a short video) with all of the images and music going on.  To me, it just seemed a bit much...for a golf tournament!  Anyway, my guess is that the anthem wasn't inserted in the piece for artistic reasons.  It wasn't expected or necessary, and again, seemed to make the whole piece too busy. 

Then, we get to the omission of "under God" and we start to see what's going on here.  Someone at NBC decided to delete a part of the national anthem that the kids had recited and that countless Americans have fought to include.  I don't think it was the NBC president or executives, although the apology they offered never included the words "under God" when they talked about deleting a portion of the anthem.  That would have been nice. Nevertheless, they wouldn't be that stupid to offend most of America, no matter what their political persuasions are. It's just bad business.  They have probably lost many viewers through this, including me.  It was most likely a rogue producer who they hired.  He (or she) decided not just to omit "under God" in the anthem, but to include the anthem in the piece for the sole reason of omitting "under God".  He wanted to make a political statement from the get-go.  The problem is - other than ticking off millions of Americans - that the omission defeats the whole purpose of the video (American patriotism).  Whatever political points he tried to score canceled out any professional points made in the video. Looks like God never straightened out his crooked lines.  That'll happen when you dis Him on Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Here's an impressive article about one of the best Catholic campus ministry programs in the country, Texas A&M, from the National Catholic Register.  Wow, they have a great program. God is good!

Saying 'Howdy' to the Faith

At Texas A&M, Mass and the Sacraments Draw Students

by Anthony Flott, Register correspondent Friday, May 27, 2011 12:11 PM

Even with 46,000 students on campus, Texas A&M has always had a small-town feel.

“It’s a very open and friendly campus,” said Father David Konderla, who grew up in nearby Bryan, Texas, and whose ties to the university date to a part-time job there in high school.

Yet a long-standing and official Aggie tradition — greeting everyone with a “Howdy!” — seems to be dying a slow death.

Students “all have iPod buds in their ears and they’re all texting away as they walk across campus,” Father Konderla said. “People don’t see each other.”

But while one tradition fades, another is thriving down in College Station: Catholicism. That’s mostly due to the efforts of A&M’s St. Mary’s Catholic Center, which Father Konderla directs. Well known in Catholic campus-ministry circles, it’s now drawing attention outside Texas and among laypeople. Most recently, George Weigel sang its praises in his nationally syndicated column.

“Texas A&M is a special place, culturally; in many respects, it seems to have skipped the ’60s, such that its 21st-century life is in palpable continuity with its past,” Weigel wrote in February. “That’s a deeply Catholic cultural instinct, which St. Mary’s has seized to build a program that is a model for the entire country.”

The program ministers to about 15,000 students. Father Konderla oversees a staff of 30, a $2.1 million budget and a 30,000-square-foot campus center that opened in 1998 and includes a 5,000-volume library and 850-seat church.

Big numbers, but they all start with the One.

“The most important aspect of the center, of the whole thing, is bringing these students face-to-face, if you will, with Jesus,” Father Konderla said. “Putting them into a real, integrated, intimate and personal relationship with Jesus, the very center of everything that is: the center of history; the center of every subject they study on campus.”

No wonder how he identifies the center’s most important programs.

“Mass and the sacraments,” Father Konderla said. “Apart from that, everything else we do coming out of the Mass is getting ready to go back into it.”

There are 14 Masses offered weekly at A&M. Weekend Masses attract 4,000 to 5,000 students. Confession is offered six days a week and also draws lines of penitents.

“The students have a hunger for and a love of the teachings of the Church,” said Douglas Jeffers, a 2010 graduate from Sugar Land, Texas. “All of the various activities — educational programs, service programs, evangelization, etc. — are thus able to be sustained by the grace flowing from the sacraments and are able to refer the students back to the worship of God in the Holy Sacrifice.”

‘High-Energy Encounter’

The most popular program outside Mass is Aggie Awakening, a student-led retreat program held for 100 students three times a year.

“A very high-energy encounter with Christ through their peers” is how Father Konderla describes it. There’s a waiting list of more than 400 students to attend. Six slots are reserved for students from other schools who want to model their retreat program after Awakening.

Father Brian McMaster, a 1995 Aggie grad and now vocations director for the Diocese of Austin, Texas, attended an Awakening as a freshman, then helped staff 10 more.

“It has three main impacts,” Father McMaster said. “One is that it’s a solid expression of the Catholic faith. Secondly, it’s done in a dynamic way, and it’s led by the college students. They are witnessing to the faith themselves. Thirdly, it’s a great introduction into a spirituality of communion, of really receiving charity and love from your fellow students. It’s a way of being drawn into the larger community of the student center.”

Awakening is one of seven retreat programs. There are retreats for incoming freshmen or transfers, for women and a “Busy Student Retreat.” St. Mary’s students each semester also host up to six retreats for confirmation and/or junior-high/high-school students within a 100-mile radius of campus.

“Ask a Catholic a Question” is another popular program. Students are positioned on campus in booths or standing at busy locales while wearing bright-colored shirts that say: “Ask a Catholic a Question.”

“Even when a student’s question cannot be fully answered right away, promoting positive discussion about our faith is a great way to correct false pretenses and fallacies about the teachings of the Church,” said Suzanne Simpson, a senior biology major from Kingwood, Texas.
Conversions and Vocations

St. Mary’s offers numerous other faith-based programs and activities. A sorority, Kappa Theta Beta, has about 90 members. Knights of Columbus Council No. 10624 is in its 20th year on campus and has won several awards for its work. There are groups for weekly Bible study, apologetics, praise and worship, community prayer and devotion, and a weekly Rosary. There are programs for young professionals and graduate students and for A&M faculty and staff. Students can join a social-justice committee, pro-life group or jail ministry. There are opportunities to serve Lenten soup kitchens, attend domestic and international service and mission trips or receive spiritual direction or help with vocational discernment. There’s a Catholic radio station and an institute for non-credit theological studies. And more.

Programs are frequently evaluated and new ones occasionally added. A recent addition, “Revolution,” introduces students to Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. Small study groups form after introductory presentations.

“The students at St. Mary’s really walk the walk,” Simpson said. “They practice their faith by living it and leading by example.”

That example bears fruit through a striking number of conversions and religious vocations. Father Konderla said an average of 60 converts enter the Church through St. Mary’s, up to a dozen via baptism and the rest from non-Catholic Christian denominations.

Jeffers, a former Church of Christ member, had begun moving toward conversion prior to his involvement with St. Mary’s. His experience in the ministry and its RCIA program sped along his entrance into the Church at the 2007 Easter vigil.

“St. Mary’s was the place where I was first exposed to its being lived out,” Jeffers said. “The faith was very vibrant there, and I was drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ and with his holy Church through my time at St. Mary’s.”

He’s also among the many A&M students to enter or progress toward religious life. He’s a first year pre-theology student at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas, studying to become a priest for the Diocese of Austin.

Father McMaster, another vocation fostered through St. Mary’s, calls the Catholic campus-ministry program a “powerhouse to our vocations.” According to Father Konderla, St. Mary’s has about eight students enter formation for the priesthood or religious life each year. More than 130 have been ordained or professed final vows in the past two decades.

How’s it all managed? The “Howdy Culture” might be specific to Texas A&M, but Father Konderla says a vibrant Catholic campus ministry can happen anywhere.

“There’s not some magic here that makes this the only place this can be done,” Father Konderla said. “It is being done in a number of other places around the country, and it is terribly important that all of us do it and do it well, because we have 90% of our Catholic students at secular schools like A&M.

“It’s too important to the mission of the Church in the United States not to do this well.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Varsity Catholic!

Earlier this summer, I emailed all of the GW athletic coaches I could. Basically, I introduced myself and offered any kind of help to them and their players. I had lunch with one of the coaches yesterday and hopefully will help his team out in some way next season. I began the email with:

“A few years ago, a Catholic chaplain to a struggling girls’ volleyball team in Nebraska started a Bible study with some of the young women. Not long after that, the whole team adopted a quote from Scripture as their theme: "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). Later that season the team won the state championship.”

The GW website has stated that about 4,000 students are involved in athletics here. Wow! Among so many other talents, GW students are athletic. I would very much like to be involved with our sports teams (huge sports fan here) and hope to attend many more games than I have in the past two years. It would be great to personally get to know the athletes, give talks to the teams, or lead Bible studies for athletes. But I have done the math and am guessing that I would need some help…! So, that has led me to look into another program that FOCUS offers: Varsity Catholic.

From what I understand, Varsity Catholic works the same way FOCUS does. If we wanted Varsity Catholic at GW, we would bring in more missionaries (in addition to the regular missionaries we have now) who would work mainly with athletes. They would establish relationships with GW athletes, lead Bible studies with them, and engage in mentoring them. Check out the VC website by clicking on today's title.  Here’s what their "What We Do" section states:

“In our hope to serve the formative needs of student-athletes, we seek to have a consistent presence, always wanting to be available for them. We offer them an opportunity to learn how to live as Christian athletes on the college campus. In Bible studies, they have a chance to encourage teammates and fellow athletes while being instructed in teachings consistent with the Catholic Church.

In one-on-one coaching/mentoring, we give them an opportunity to go deeper in their walk with Christ and help them become a leader among their peers (c.f. 2Tim 2:2).

Seeking to impact the local community, we host service events with the athletes at soup kitchens, homes for the elderly, hospitals and schools.

Seeking to impact the world, we host Mission Camps. These provide high caliber instruction in sport for impoverished youth, while also proclaiming our faith through our witness and instruction.”

Also on their site is this video about Cameron Meredith, a Nebraska football player who became Catholic in college and is part of Varsity Catholic. Cool stuff!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Solemn Feast of the Most Holy Trinity - homily

Today is another Sunday of much celebration. We celebrate the glorious feast of the Most Holy Trinity. God is three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We should never take for granted that we know who God is and that He invites us to know Him and His love. It is also Father's Day. Happy Father's Day to all our dads, granddads, goddads (godfathers), and our spiritual dads. Please call or send an email to your priest and thank him for being your spiritual father. Pray for priests today.

Today is also the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. It is the national championship...a big tournament which is right up the road at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. The Open was first held at Congressional in 1964 and was won by Ken Venturi. I saw a story about him on TV the other night. It is compelling. He struggled in his career even though he had immense talent. So much of his story, though, was about his father. His dad sounded tough...and that he was hard on Ken. He never seemed to affirm Ken even after he won the Open. Years later, Ken was ready to bag the game altogether but then, his father said to him, "son, you were the best I ever saw". Ken was telling this story as an old man, and this statement of his dad's seemed to make his life! He told the interviewer, "my dad said I was good". This was a huge statement to him that went deeper than golf, I believe.

It's a huge statement for any of us to hear from our fathers that we are good. Approval from our parents is so important for all of us and our self-worth. They are the first to define us. We bond with our mothers in the womb and they usually overwhelm us with love and approval. So, it's really the approval of our fathers that we seek. If our parents, especially our dads, show and tell us that we are good at an early age, then we are set for life believing that we are good. But, if not, then we might go most of our lives like Ken Venturi doubting our self-worth.

Fatherhood is so important; I am so grateful to fathers who are faithful and loving toward their kids. But, many are not even there. I looked up the stats on this and about 30 percent of homes in the U.S. are fatherless. Abandonment is the ultimate rejection. Additionally, there is a percentage of fathers who might still reside at home but are too busy for their kids. They don't go to their games, don't tell or show them they love them, are harsh with them, or might even abuse them. There are many people in this church and walking the streets of Washington today who have a "father wound". I work with several GW students who seem on the outside to have it all together but are a total mess inside because their dads never told them they loved them or that they are proud of them.

It's not just with how we view ourselves that fathers play an enormous role. It's with how we view God. Even psychologists tell us that how we view God is based on how we view our fathers. Many people with a "father wound" see God as mean, strict, or harsh. But, our readings today paint a different picture. In the first reading - from the OLD testament- God is "merciful and gracious...slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity". Yes, this is from the Old Testament. Throughout Scripture, God is merciful and slow to He is rich in fidelity always! God is always with His people and constantly offering His mercy. He is a God of "love and peace", the second reading says. God loves us!

For people who have a "father wound", this news of who God is is shocking and fresh. They come to know real healing by coming to know God their Father. They come to know that God loves them, not for winning the U.S. Open or anything they've done or haven't done, but just for who they are. God loves us! If we really believed that in our hearts, our worlds would be different. If everyone believed that, the world would be different.

The greatest sign that the Father loves us is the Son. God sends His Son into the world, the Gospel tells us, to save that we will be with Him forever. This is why He created us. He continues to send His Son to us in the Eucharist by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we receive God's love in the Eucharist today - as His love comes within us - may we realize His love. May each one of you know deep in your hearts that you are good and you are loved by God the Father.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's all about Christ

Last week I went to Illinois for a conference with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).  Many of us university chaplains who have FOCUS at our schools attended "Chaplains days" which is part of the five week training for new FOCUS missionaries.  First of all, it was held at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois which has been called a "Catholic Disneyland".  It is immense.  Several years ago, they built the Center to consist of a Catholic dorm (for about 600 students), a large Church, cafeteria, courtyards, offices, Institute of Catholic Thought, and a Newman Center.  What a complex!  They have a huge staff which includes seven priests.  Being there was an experience itself.  Here's a pic:

GW Newman Center someday (!)

The conference was a chance for us chaplains to be with each other and the missionaries and to learn current FOCUS philosophy and strategies.  We had to go to "class" several times during the three days (my attendance was not perfect).  I was able to meet two of our three new missionaries who appear to be excellent and cool: Bryce and Julie.  Cassandra is on a FOCUS mission trip in Calcutta and Dan is returning this year.  I think we have another great team, thanks be to God!

Most of you know FOCUS and were involved in one way or another last year with the program.  For those of you who don't, FOCUS is an outreach to Catholic college students at mostly non-Catholic universities like GW.  It is an incredibly fruitful program that is in its 14th year.  FOCUS is now at 60 universities in the U.S. with over 200 missionaries.  Most of the missionaries were there in Illinois.  What an impressive group of young men and women who are just out of college and are giving two years in service to the Church.  The missionaries mainly start up Bible studies with college students in their dorms or elsewhere on campus and work with the chaplain to help bring students to the sacraments and programs of the Newman Center.  Last year, FOCUS helped to double our Mass attendance at Sunday student Masses, increase confessions dramatically, and bring more students to Eucharistic Adoration. 

These missionaries don't just sacrifice two years of their lives.  They sacrifice income.  I don't just mean the money they would have made in the world with a primo job out of college (one of our missionaries last year could have made $60 k on Wall Street).  I mean that they don't get paid by FOCUS.  They have to raise their own income!  This is the biggest challenge for many of them.  God provides for them through generous donations of family members, friends, and supporters of FOCUS.  Pretty radical stuff!

So, while I was with the missionaries in "class", Mass, or Adoration, I was thinking to myself, what motivates them to do all of this?  Why have they given two years of their lives, endured the criticism or mockery of others in doing so, have to fundraise their income, follow the intense structure of FOCUS, put themselves out there in bold and oftentimes zany ways on campus (e.g., last year our missionaries dressed up in a hippo costume on campus to draw the attention of students), and be willing to step onto the front lines to preach the Gospel?  They are so talented and can do pretty much whatever they want to be successful in the world.  So, why are they doing this?

There's really only one answer: Jesus Christ.  They are doing all of this for Christ.  It is such a beautiful witness!  The missionaries that I saw in Illinois are happy, cheerful, kind, and filled with peace and joy.  Christ becomes so visible in and through them.  It is so obvious that He is the reason they are there.  It is so obvious that He is the reason for FOCUS in the first place.  FOCUS is not about a program; it is about a person, Jesus Christ.  I brought them to GW so that more of our students would have a deep relationship with Christ, primarily in the Eucharist.  It is all about Christ for Curtis Martin (the inspiring founder and president of FOCUS) and all of the men and women who work for and with him.  This was the main thing I learned in "class" last week.  It's pretty much the same thing that GW students have taught me these past two years.  Why are such talented young Catholics so generous with their time and gifts?  Jesus Christ.  It's all about Him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are you praying?

This is a pretty common question of mine around the Newman Center and parish.  It often catches people off guard as they try to put their finger on what is missing in their life.  They are struggling with sin or anxiety or minor depression and can't understand why.  When I ask them, "are you praying?", they give me a look of embarrasment if they haven't been praying and also relief because the light just went on in their mind.  After saying "duh!" to themselves, they launch into an all-out explanation of agreement with me that prayer is what is missing in their lives.  Sure, they say grace before meals and do their prayers as they go to bed...but they aren't really praying...I mean, really praying. 

Of course, there are many GW Catholics who pray and pray hard.  They are really coming to know Jesus Christ through a daily conversation with Him.  They are speaking to Him from their hearts each and every day and this is changing their life.  They have an academic life, a social life, and a prayer life.  The more their prayer life grows (like the mustard seed), the more it begins to shape the rest of their life. 

So, wherever you were this past school year in your prayer life, are you praying this summer?  I know that some of our biggest pray-ers don't have the opportunity for daily Mass as they do at GW.  I know that many of you are much more isolated in living out your faith now at home.  And, it's much more difficult to be outward as a devout Catholic at home than it is here for many of you (I know that some are hiding their devotionals from even their parents!). 

In whatever situation you find yourself right now, you can and should pray every day.  Don't worry about for how long you pray: quality is more important than quantity to God.  Sure, holy hours have a special significance in our faith and more time with God brings more fruits, but it's more important right now to have consistent prayer. Of course, be as generous with God as you can, but even that's aonly five minutes a day, that will be enough.  "If but a pin is given in homage, and given with a good heart, it would be enough for Jesus, who loves only the good will" (St. Louis de Montfort).

Go to your "Catholic bunkers" (chapel, bedroom, nature) and pray for at least five minutes every day. If you can do more than that, great.  But, this will be your starting point if you don't already do this.  You can pray the rosary or at least portions of the rosary (you should be praying at least a decade a day), read the Psalms or Gospels, go to for today's Mass readings, spend a few minutes in Adoration if possible, or just enter into a silent conversation with the Lord (God speaks to us in silence).  Do one of these each day this summer, and the next thing you know... you have a prayer life.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pentecost - homily

Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. (Psalm 104)

In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited his native Poland one year after becoming the first Polish Pope ever. While this was a very meaningful trip personally for His Holiness, God planned it to be more than a sentimental nine day tour. In fact, He used the visit as a way to bring the fall of communism. In your study of the fall of communism in Europe, have you ever seen the Holy Spirit’s name mentioned in a history book? And, yet, He should get the most credit. At one of the early Masses on the trip, the Holy Father began his homily with our psalm: “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. This wasn’t just a nice prayer that the Pope thought sounded nice; he was actually calling down the Holy Spirit upon that gathering…upon the million people there...upon the whole nation of Poland. His prayer was that the Spirit would renew the face of the earth in Poland. He called the Spirit to renew the people in freedom and in truth.

It worked. There would be evidence that the powerful and awesome Spirit of God descended upon the Polish people and renewed the face o f their country. Millions of people came to see the Pope; the rest of the country listened to him on the radio or watched him on TV. And, they took to his message…big time! He connected with them about Christ…about freedom…about the Cross…about truth. During those incredible nine days, the Polish people were so inspired to work toward living freedom that the Solidarity movement arose not long after. Communism fell first in Poland and then throughout all of Europe by 1989, ten years after the Pope’s visit. Looking at that incredible turn of events, we see that the Pope’s prayer was answered: the Spirit renewed the face of Poland and all of Europe.

It was really like Pentecost. It wasn’t as dramatic as “tongues of fire” as we heard in the first reading. But, ultimately, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall is pretty dramatic stuff. It’s all the same Spirit. It was the Spirit who renewed the Polish people. It was the Spirit who renewed the Apostles. They were cowering in the upper room, afraid to even be seen in public because people might identify them as followers of Jesus. Then, the Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire and they went out preaching the risen Christ to no end. 3,000 Jews were baptized that day and the Catholic Church officially began. The Spirit has been renewing the face of the earth through the Church ever since.

We should pray that prayer often. “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”. Renew the face of our family. Renew the face of our marriage… of my priesthood…of my life…of this campus. We began last school year at the GW Newman Center with a Mass to the Holy Spirit and asked Him to come upon us and renew the face of the campus. Boy, did this happen this year! The Spirit gave us definite signs that He has begun to renew the face of our campus for the better. Pretty incredible stuff from the Spirit at GW.

The Spirit is often imaged as the “breath” of God. Another translation of today’s psalm says, “Lord, send forth your breath”. God breathes His Spirit on us and in us (at Baptism). He breathes life on us. He creates life through His breath of the Spirit. He re-creates life through the breath of the Spirit. We are recreated…renewed by the Spirit. We are made new again. In today’s Gospel which is John’s Pentecost, Jesus breathes on the Apostles and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. What He says next is very significant for us as Catholics. He says, “ Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” We know it’s the Spirit who renews us. Now we know how: through the forgiveness of sins. The Spirit makes us new by forgiving our sins and wiping them clean. He does this primarily through the Sacrament of Confession; Confession renews us. Every person who comes out of the confessional is made new…a “new creation”, as St. Paul would say. Even if we confess the same sins over and over again…the person who confesses sexual sin walks out of the box a chaste person! Jesus gives priests the power to forgive sins (and this Gospel – John 20:19-23 - is the main Scriptural basis for the Sacrament of Confession) so that His people are made new again. I offer confessions so often to GW students and to the parishioners here when I can so that you will be made new.

Finally, in a few moments, I will call down the Spirit on our gifts of bread wine, and ask Him to make them holy. It is through the Spirit that they become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is at this and every Mass that we are renewed by the Spirit in the Eucharist. As we approach Holy Communion today, let us say this prayer in our hearts so that we will be renewed: “Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth”.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Welcome, St. Luke's Episcopal!

Bladensburg Episcopal church to become Catholic

An Episcopal church in Bladensburg has decided to become the first in the country to convert to Roman Catholicism, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington announced Monday.
Read the entire story by clicking on today's title.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Feast of the Ascension - homily

"I am with you always, until the end of the age".

Many people who come to me for counseling or spiritual direction ask for evidence or proof, and it's most often about this point the Lord makes here. They want to know that He is, in fact, with us. They want to know that He is real. Just yesterday, a very devout woman demanded evidence, not exactly that the Lord is with us, but not too far off. It's a great desire of all of us to know that the Lord is with us. So, I will give you two points of evidence - two "proofs" - that the Lord is with us always.

The first proof is the Church. Look at the history of the Church from the Ascension 2000 years ago until now. At the time of the Ascension, there were 11 Apostles and a few disciples. It was a small group of people. And, then, the leader of the group left! He ascended to glory at the right hand of the Father. How in the world did it go from a small group of followers to now over a billion Catholics? How did the Church not just survive, but actually thrive? The only reasonable explanation is that the Lord has been with us. He did not leave us orphans when He ascended. There's no way we could have gotten to this point on our own.

In fact, He has been with us as head of the Church. Ten days after the Ascension, He sent His Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. This event officially started the Catholic Church. The Spirit has been guiding and leading the Church ever since. It is the Spirit of Christ. The Catechism says that Christ communicated the Spirit to the Church in such a way that our communion with Him is even more intense now. As our second reading says, Christ is the head, the Church is the body. The New Testament says this constantly: that Christ and the Church are one. He is with us always. He did not leave us orphans at the Ascension.

So, He is still present in His mystical body, the Church. He is still present in a mysterious, unseen way. He is one with all disciples of all nations….to the ends of the earth. Christ is the bridegroom, the Church is the bride. The Church is the fullness of Christ on earth. That word “fullness” is key to understanding the Catholic Church. While the Lord is present in Protestant denominations, the fullness of Christ is found in the Catholic Church. In the Church is the fullness of Christ, the fullness of the Spirit, the fullness of Truth.

The second proof is the Eucharist. Many of us who have a relationship with the Eucharist will think that the Lord is mainly talking about the Eucharist in this line at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: "I am with you always, until the end of the age”. He remains visibly present to us in the Eucharist as He was visibly present for forty days before the Ascension. It is in the Eucharist that many of us have seen our “proof” or evidence that He is with us. This can happen at Sunday Mass, but for many of us, it has happened at daily Mass or in Eucharistic Adoration.

If you are looking for evidence that the Lord is with you, try going to a daily Mass. It is much more intimate than Sunday Mass, there are less distractions, and, well, it’s shorter (with no collections!). And, if you spend even a little time in Adoration each week, you will have an experience that so many of us have had: that there IS a presence there. It’s not just bread. There is something supernatural going on there, just like there’s been something supernatural going on in the 2000 year history of the Church. It’s hard to put into words, but the best way for me to describe the experience in the Real Presence is peace. You have an experience of peace…you have an experience of something being there. You have an experience that the Lord is with you always, until the end of the age.

Friday, June 03, 2011

"Light of the World - the Steven Tyler and Julia Holcomb story"

Last week, I received the following email from a GW Catholic: “Not sure if you saw this, or are familiar with this story, but I came across it today and thought I would share it with you. It's kind of a long read, but it's a really touching story about a woman who was pressured to have an abortion at 5 months at a very young age (by Steven Tyler), has lived with the regret for her entire life, and eventually joined the Catholic Church because of the sacrament of Confession and defense of life.”

Here are excerpts from this powerful and possibly even shocking story given that it involves a popular musician, Steven Tyler, who is finding even more fame with “American Idol”. This woman, Julia Holcomb, has become a true American hero. To view the full story, please click on today’s title.

The Light of the World - the Steven Tyler and Julia Holcomb story

The Abortion

The doctor left the room and Steven came in. He told me that I needed to have an abortion because of the smoke damage to my lungs and the oxygen deprivation I had suffered. I said “No,” I wanted the baby. I was five-months pregnant. I could not believe he was even asking me to have an abortion at this stage. He spent over an hour pressing me to go ahead and have the abortion. He said that I was too young to have a baby and it would have brain damage because I had been in the fire and taken drugs. I became very quiet and repeated the answer “No” more than once. I said I should not be asked to make that decision while still in the hospital. He said I had to have the abortion now. He said I was too far along to wait because it would be illegal for me to get an abortion in another week.

He sat beside my hospital bed, but we did not look at each other. I said no again. Finally he gave up and said, “OK, you can go home to your mother’s and have the baby there.” I was worn out and began to feel hopeless. My mother and stepfather would not be happy to have me return home pregnant. I believed they would also want me to have an abortion. I began to feel like life was caving in on me. I had no health insurance or money and did not believe Steven intended to help provide for our baby or me. He had not been providing medical care for me up to that time. I believed he was abandoning me as my father and my mother had. I began to cry and agreed to have the abortion. Steven was relieved and happy. He reassured me that he cared for me and that after the abortion everything would be fine.

I was moved to another part of the hospital and a different doctor performed the abortion. It was a horrible nightmare I will never forget. I was traumatized by the experience. My baby had one defender in life; me, and I caved in to pressure because of fear of rejection and the unknown future. I wish I could go back and be given that chance again, to say no to the abortion one last time. I wish with all my heart I could have watched that baby live his life and grow to be a man.

The doctor did not explain what the procedure would be like. Steven watched when the doctor punctured my uterus with a large needle. Then I was taken to a room to wait for the contractions. Steven sat beside me in the hospital until it was over. When the nurse would leave the room he was snorting cocaine on the table beside my bed. He even offered some to me once, but I just turned away, sick inside. Steven, high on cocaine, was emotionally detached, witnessing the procedure but cut off from the normal reaction and feelings of horror you would expect. At the time I was shocked and hurt by his behavior.

But I know now that on an unconscious level, he must have been traumatized witnessing the death of his first-born son in such a horrific and direct way. Steven watched the baby come out and he told me later, when we were in New Hampshire, that it had been born alive and allowed to die. (I was not allowed to see the baby when it was delivered.) Steven told me later that it had been a boy and that he now felt terrible guilt and a sense of dread over what he had done. I did not know that such a thing could be legal. I could not imagine a world where a tiny baby could be born alive and tossed aside as worthless without ever seeing his mother’s face.

Nothing was ever the same between us after that day, though I did not return home for over a year. I became very quiet and withdrawn after the abortion. I was grieving the loss of my baby and I could never look at Steven again without remembering what he had done to our son and me. I had just lived through a horrific fire that nearly claimed my life, but the abortion made me feel like part of me died with my baby. I felt cheated and betrayed, and angry with myself for agreeing to something that I knew was wrong. I felt deep anger and almost hatred for the doctor who performed the abortion.

Everyone around me seemed to be moving on with life, but I was carrying a wound that would not go away. Steven was already involved with other women at that time. The fact that he was my guardian complicated things for him because he was legally responsible for me. I was young, had dropped out of high school, and did not understand my legal rights at the time. I felt completely powerless.

I left Steven in February 1977 and returned to live with my mother and stepfather. Steven called a few times after I returned home and then I never heard from him again.

Rising Out of the Ashes

The road to recovery was a slow process. When I returned home to my mother I was a broken spirit. I could not sleep at night without nightmares of the abortion and the fire. The world seemed like a dark place. My mother and stepfather now had a handsome little boy. He was a joy and I could not help but be happy when I was with him. My love for my half brother opened my heart toward my stepfather and I began to see that he was trying to be a good husband and father.

Mother had found that she missed the church and they were attending a United Methodist church in our area. I began attending with them and I remember a turning point for me was a week-long church retreat in the summer at the Oregon coast. There were young adults my own age, sing-alongs, campfires, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and I left there with a renewed sense of hope that God existed; He loved me in spite of my sins, and I could find forgiveness and a measure of real happiness within a family of my own if I began to rebuild my life.

Soon I was baptized. Mother helped me to get my GED, and I got my first job working as a receptionist. I began to attend youth activities, and the church became a lifeline that pulled me out of the fog of grief, sorrow, and guilt after my years with Steven. I found forgiveness in Jesus. I forgave myself, I forgave my mother and stepfather, and I prayed for the grace to forgive Steven.

I gained the confidence to move out and enroll in college. I rented a room of my own from an elderly widow who lived near the campus. That is when I met Joseph, who is now my husband.

My husband is my true hero. He has been a loving husband, a generous father, and hard-working provider for our family. My husband loves me and has forgiven me from his heart and has not let my past define his understanding of who I am as a person. If I had kept my baby I believe Joseph and I would still be married today, and our lives would be richer because of his presence in our family. God has been generous in giving us the joy of children and grandchildren who are a constant reminder of God’s presence in our life. I am amazed at the way God has protected me over the years.

Today I am a pro-life Roman Catholic, the mother of seven children, and this year my husband and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Joseph and I have six children of our own, and I give thanks for each of them, as they are truly a gift from God. We are also legal guardians to a beautiful little girl whose young mother made the choice for life in a difficult pregnancy, and then entrusted her to our care.

Joseph and I joined the Catholic Church, as adults through the RCIA process in 1992. The Catholic Church’s teaching on respect for life, as well as the sacrament of confession, has brought me an even deeper level of healing and peace. We have been active in ministries within the church that support the family, marriage and respect for life.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"Please slow down, Your Holiness!"

We have a new logo for next year. This will be on all of our stuff – cups, posters, t-shirts, etc. You can view the new logo on our GW Catholics website - just click on today's title to go there.

Now, we just need a theme…mainly for the back of our t-shirts...

Last year: “To Jesus Through Mary”

This year: “Grace Happens” (my suggestion)

Any ideas from bloggers, especially GW Catholics?


After getting all of Pope Benedict's luggage loaded into the limo, the driver notices that the Pope is still standing on the curb

'Excuse me, Your Holiness,' says the driver,

'Would you please take your seat so we can leave?'

'Well, to tell you the truth,' says the Pope, 'they never let me drive at the Vatican, and I'd really like to drive today.'

'I'm sorry but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! And what if something should happen?' protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning.

'There might be something extra in it for you,' says the Pope.

Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 105 mph.

'Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!' pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. 'Oh, dear God, I'm gonna lose my license,' moans the driver.

The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio.

'I need to talk to the Chief,' he says to the dispatcher.

The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going a hundred and five.

'So bust him,' says the Chief.

'I don't think we want to do that, he's really important,' said the cop.

The Chief exclaimed, 'All the more reason!'

'No, I mean really important,' said the cop.

The Chief then asked, 'Who ya got there, the Mayor?'

Cop: 'Bigger.'

Chief: 'Governor?'

Cop: 'Bigger.'

'Well,' said the Chief, 'Who is it?'

Cop: 'I think it's God!'

Chief: 'What makes you think it's God?'

Cop: 'He's got the Pope as a chauffeur!'