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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XVIII No. 4
Christmastide 2003 - Epiphany 2004
by Sheila Gribben Liaugminas
No matter how bleak current affairs are in the world, our culture, the government, the courts, the schools, the Christian faith and the Catholic Church -- and we do seem to be about one tick away from midnight on that doomsday clock -- how we see the overall picture of our condition in this civilization at this time depends on where we are looking. Or more specifically, on who is presenting the picture, what they're showing you, and how they are interpreting it for you.
This is the Information Age, and news about everything in the world is constantly available and seemingly constantly in your face. To be sure, much -- or most -- of it is shocking and portends the destruction or deconstruction of civilization as we have known it, more or less, for more than 2,000 years. And judging from my own daily news-gathering in the media, most of it seemingly points to a frightening and surreal future. The present is worrisome enough, and our most solid institutions and foundations -- the family, the Church, our democracy, a real justice system, a true education system, a safe and sure health care industry, a free and objective and intelligent press, the very existence of natural law and a moral order - are either in a hostile takeover or have already been redefined out of all recognition from their origins and original intent.
Yes, it's bad. It's as bad as it looks, in most cases. But there is so much that is good and exciting and hope-filled, and you may not be seeing that so readily in most places. We have tried to deliver that here, in these pages, in each issue.
Paying the Price
If you are holding this Voices in your hands right now, it is only through divine intervention, because our regular fundraising efforts produced only enough revenue to print the previous (Michaelmas) issue. We need funds to carry the most basic costs -- and this is what forced the appeal WFF has made in the last two issues.
We are in a financial crisis. WFF operates a very informative web site, publishes Voices and prints materials like brochures, novenas and prayer cards -- all in an effort to evangelize and carry out the teachings of the Church. Free of charge, to all who ask, and significantly to all who sign the Affirmation for Catholic Women (found both on the web site and in the back of this issue of Voices). WFF asks only for donations from those who are able, for whatever they are able, realizing that many of our readers are students, seminarians, women on fixed incomes, in religious orders, or in other situations that render them unable to give. We don't hold fundraisers or charge fees. We absorb the costs.
Without much risk of exaggeration, I think I can say that every day that the US Postal Service is at work, my mailbox receives multiple pleas for donations from more Catholic organizations than I knew existed. Some of them are frequent repeaters, coming monthly. All are in need. For better or for worse, we do not do that. Our very infrequent and rather brief appeal did not generate the funds to continue, support we need on an ongoing basis in order to print Voices, because it is our sole source of income. The letter insert carried in the last two issues appealing for donations asked readers to "please pray with us that we weather this storm". Now, we are storm-tossed.
In working on stories over time, and in general research and news gathering, I have personally encountered so many reasons for excitement about the faith and the Church that I want you to know about them. They generate hope. I have learned from talking to women's groups and individuals that there is some isolation out there -- especially outside metropolitan areas -- and small pockets of the faithful have worried that they are alone in their traditional beliefs and practices of the faith and Catholic family life. These encounters always turn to sheer joy and enthusiasm when we share the riches of a growing orthodoxy and a renewing sense of the sacred.
After one gathering in a woman's house in Ottawa, Illinois, the priest who joined us shared with me his excitement at what he felt certain was the palpable movement of the Holy Spirit through the talk we shared. "During the afternoon, I felt this was what it must have been like in the early Church", he said. "I know this is going to bear fruit".
This priest was one of those behind the "novena for priests" effort (see Voices Pentecost 2003, "Know What You Are Doing"). While the novena ended on Pentecost, the initiative for priestly renewal has continued, in part through their web site, www.novenaforpriests.com.
This is all about encouragement. And the power and joy it produces. For this very purpose, Women for Faith & Family is distributing our new booklet, "About Local Groups (update, no longer in print 9/9/10)" -- guiding faithful Catholic women in forming fellowship and support groups on the parish or diocesan level. It calls women to realize our key roles and tasks in the Church and the culture. It offers materials, program plans, contacts, speakers, support and solid resources. There, alone, is a great ray of hope.
Looking forward, there are many, many more.
The Future is Here
World Youth Day is a phenomenon, every time the event arrives again. The massive swarm of youth who flock to see Pope John Paul II always astounds the world's culture elites. We see these young people as the great promise of the future of the Church, and they certainly are that. But they are wonderfully active in the present, taking the "new evangelization" called for by Vatican II to the streets and the culture right now. I have spoken with and interviewed many of them for different stories, and I'm amazed at how creatively they have turned their zeal and enthusiasm for the faith into apostolates that continue to evolve and spin off into new works of evangelization.
In October, a well-organized international Pope Day celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. It was designed and planned by young adults who had encountered the Holy Father and were enlivened by a love for him and his writings and teachings, and filled with the desire to study and spread them. Pope Day was marked in this country and several others with a variety of activities, but all had three essential elements: Eucharistic Adoration, a Votive Mass, and some sort of street evangelization and study of the teachings of John Paul II.
I interviewed young adults from New York, Illinois, Wyoming, Kansas, Washington, Minnesota, Canada and Trinidad. Their zeal was contagious, and I only wish I had their energy for running apostolates. One had started a network to study the Holy Father's writings on the theology of the body (www.theologyofthebody.net). One started a network to study his book Love & Responsibility, which turned into a foundation (www.catholicculture.com), which was behind the entire Pope Day effort. That was the ever-enthusiastic Peter McFadden, who was tremendously inspired at Toronto's World Youth Day.
"We're always hearing that the youth are the future of the Church", says McFadden. "We're putting the future of the Church on display right now".
In many venues.
It was the student-led effort at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, that, with dogged determination, successfully restored crucifixes to the classrooms of this Catholic school. And student-led resistance that drove the vulgar V-Monologues travesty of a stage production off the schedule of a few Catholic universities. Students are also currently voicing strong protests of the prevailing anti-Catholic (or anti-traditional Catholic) bias in the language and teachings of professors and speakers in the academic world.
Youth and young adults in great numbers are making pilgrimages and doing mission work in other countries, and sending out evangelization teams in our own country -- which is now fertile missionary ground.
In greater numbers, young people are discerning the call to the priesthood and religious life. Some seminaries are enjoying more candidates, and more of them faithful and well-formed in the teachings of the Church. We just received the current issue of Vianney News, the quarterly newsletter of the St. John Vianney College Seminary where my son is in his second year. In the "Rector's Update", Father William Baer wrote what he titled "Rally Time", noting the stronger growth of the seminary this year in every way, including the flourishing ordinations among the SJV alumni. "It's rally time at Vianney", he stated. "The Holy Spirit is still calling young men to the priesthood, and no crisis or scandal can thwart His purposes. The strong families, parishes, and youth movements that are sending so many faith-filled, healthy, talented young men are also responsible for this rally".
New or young religious orders are out there catching the attention of strong young Catholics, each of them directed toward particular charisms. Some are devoted to Eucharistic Adoration, some to teaching in schools, some to serving the poor, some the elderly, some pro-life work. I've corresponded with a young Carmelite sister in California who studied and received a degree in Rome, and does not have enough hours in the day for all of her works -- but is also a modern day Thérèse, so evident is her heroic love and joy.
I want you to know about the wonderful priests out there doing heroic and faithful work, and they, too, are catching attention because they are witnessing to truth. Some of our bishops have been speaking out boldly against the hostile secular culture, judicial corruption, political use or misuse of the Catholic name, media attacks and divisiveness within the Church from dissent and efforts at deconstruction. Their responses and columns and homilies are resonating deeply with a lay faithful listening for the voice of the true shepherd.
Extreme Times, Extreme Measures
Pope John Paul II has given us an exquisite "witness to hope" in his pontificate and the breathtaking collections of his writings. Recall those first words of the new Holy Father, "Be not afraid", echoing the soothing and frequently repeated words of Jesus Christ. In St. Peter's Square, on the eve of the Feast of Pentecost in the Year of the Holy Spirit (1999), half a million people gathered at an event that Pope John Paul II referred to as the "Great Upper Room" -- and it certainly felt that way to those of us who were there. At the end of his address, the Holy Father said: "Do not be afraid. The Holy Spirit is with you! Amen! Amen!" He punctuated the word.
Do not be afraid. We have been witnessing a powerful resistance to the homosexual and feminist agenda in their militant and political forcefulness to deconstruct marriage and the family. We are seeing a growth of programs of awareness that address the human person and the unique issues surrounding the person's inherent dignity and inestimable value and sanctity. With so much threat to life has come the burgeoning movement to defend and protect life.
We now have an impressive array of pro-life initiatives in motion that confront abortion on every possible level. Many states are enacting or considering "Right to Know" legislation, which requires abortion clinics to really give the woman a choice by giving her options, and a waiting period to think it over. "Choose Life" license plates are becoming available in several states. Outreach programs exist for abortion sufferers (www.poorchoice.org), former abortion providers (The Society of Centurions), Feminists for Life (www.feministsforlife.org), and even Libertarians for Life (www.l4l.org), among many others. The annual March for Life (www.marchforlife.org) in Washington, DC from the Mall to the Supreme Court gets better every year, and we have a president who fully backs it and encourages respect for all human life at all stages.
There is an intensifying battle for elderly care and legislation governing end-of-life issues, with high profile cases making daily headlines and calling the public's attention to the truth about euthanasia and organ harvesting efforts and the care of the seriously ill (see About Medicine & Morality on www.wf-f.org). Knowledge is power, and I am personally grateful for the impressive campaigns to inform us all of the rights of patients and their families in critical situations, and for the efforts to broaden those rights.
There has been a rise in and strengthening of faith-based organizations. And an increase in faithful fellowship efforts in sports, Hollywood, police departments, the corporate world and in medicine. The family is under great threat and attack, but great defenders are rushing and rising to protect its institution under and by God. The same for the Ten Commandments. Just look at the groundswell of action and attention directed to something that most Americans had probably forgotten about, that was given to us by God through Moses and never changed over millennia. Now some members of Congress are considering an offer to have the Decalogue monument erected in their halls. Some teachers have brought them into the classroom. Finally.
Laity in Action
In fact, I see great initiatives by the lay faithful, both groups and individuals. Home-schooling is growing exponentially every year, and many private Catholic schools are opening, all offering parents the alternative to navigating the minefields of bad school systems. Lay ecclesial movements are spreading throughout the country and the world, each with their own approach to carrying out the Second Vatican Council's call to personal holiness. There are new bible study groups and several new catechetical series based on the authentic teaching and tradition of the Church. They are undiluted, unchanged, unapologetic and Christ-centered.
Several years ago, I wanted to write about the spread and growth of Eucharistic Adoration in parishes across the country. That devotion has only increased over time. You must read and contemplate Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the encyclical released by the Holy Father last Holy Thursday on the Eucharist in the Church. It abounds in faith, hope and love.
Read his 1988 Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) for a most beautiful teaching of the true role of women. And then read -- and sign -- our Affirmation for Catholic Women, which joins you to the tremendous number of other women who have pledged their loyalty to the teaching of the Catholic Church. I sympathize that you probably don't have time. But you don't have time not to.
For a while now, I've wanted to write an article I perceived as "Three Amazing Women", about individuals who stepped up where they saw a need and put their faith entirely out front and into sweeping action that has had a major impact on countless other people on a national scale.
I'm amazed by Jill Stanek and Monica Migliorino Miller, two pro-life earthshakers who began the astounding things they have done by seeing something very wrong in front of them. I've been blessed to work and pray alongside both of them in my parish and at a local abortion clinic.
In doing a story on Hispanic Catholics in America, I encountered the amazing Cecilia Ochoa Levine, a very successful manufacturing plant owner in El Paso, Texas, who is a humble and committed woman of faith. She started going door to door in her area years ago to shake up Mexican immigrants who were willing to support pro-abortion candidates who made them promises at election time. She forcefully reminded them of their rich religious heritage and their commitment to life and traditional values. She founded the group "Amigos de Bush", which helped elect the former Texas governor, the first time a Republican ever carried El Paso.
I never wrote that article. I have come to realize that you are all amazing women. You are doing what God puts in front of you each day, trying your best to hold onto the faith and live it, and pass it on to your children or family members or colleagues or strangers you encounter. You want to understand it better, grow in holiness, love God, bring others to Him, avoid the traps and pitfalls and snares of the culture and handle the pressing demands of your everyday life. The prayer "protect us from all anxiety" is fittingly in the Communion Rite of the daily Mass. It's a constant struggle.
A woman in my prayer group strikes me as more amazing every time we talk. She's a devoted wife and mother who worries over where to send her young sons to school, seeks spiritual growth and direction eagerly, gets excited talking about the faith and talks about it often to the people she works with and encounters in her job. She is a flight attendant, so imagine the numbers of opportunities that cross her path in a given day. She witnesses to other crew members and to passengers whenever the subject comes up. And because she so frequently encounters misconceptions about the Catholic faith by detractors, she's determined to come back with more answers and solid reading material for them.
The Second Vatican Council, in its Post-Conciliar documents, addressed the importance of the unique role of women in the Church and the world, in all times. "During the life-time of the Savior, women took a full part in the work of evangelization, not only in good times, but in the darkest hours of the passion, death and burial of the Savior. This was but a prelude and a foretaste of many occasions when the Church would appear to be dying and when women would often manifest a greater faithfulness" ("The Role of Women in Evangelization" from the Pastoral Commission of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 1976).
The Holy Father reminded us of this importance of our vocation again in the Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women (June 29, 1995): "Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc." (no. 4).
That is what we strive to carry out in our work at WFF, and it will continue. We will still be writing and speaking and as resourceful as possible on our web site, in person, and in all of the materials we produce and circulate. Write or call us.
When I was young, I remember Walter Cronkite signing off at the end of his CBS news report with the line: "And that's the way it is". I thought, "what if that's not the way it is?" The news media present a picture, but it's even less the full picture of the real story than it was in Cronkite's day. The snapshot you get is one look at something, not always with more angles, and always not everything there is to look at. There's a lot going on out there that you may not see.
Along with all the bad news in the Church and the world, I see a lot of good and exciting and hopeful activity. Besides all the above, I see a growth of Catholicism -- a few places of evidence are the proliferation of Catholic web sites, Catholic publishing houses and publications, and good Catholic bookstores. I see a new appreciation and sense of beauty. I see a renewal of the sense of the sacred. And I see a restoration of the moral order taking place.
Two prayers I want to leave you with. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayer of the Church from ancient times, the Te Deum is said on Sundays, solemnities and feasts, to both glorify and beseech God, to give praise and to petition for mercy. There is comfort in its ending:
Lord, show us your love and mercy; for we put our trust in you.
In you, Lord, is our hope: and we shall never hope in vain.
And somewhere in recent daily prayer, I ran across a note to myself that cited Romans 12:11-12 and had the word "hope" on it. Here is that Scripture:
Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Amen to that.
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is a Chicago journalist, a member of the editorial board of Voices, and a frequent contributor. She is married and the mother of two sons.
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