Last week, the U.S. government made a decision that threatens its citizens’ religious freedom. Below is a courageous response from the U.S. Catholic Bishop from the diocese in which I reside.

Bishop Loverde on HHS Contraceptive Mandate 2012-01-24

ARLINGTON, VA (January 24, 2012) – The Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde, Bishop of Arlington and spiritual leader of Northern Virginia’s nearly half million Catholics, today commented on the decision by the Obama Administration to mandate sterilization and contraceptive coverage, including abortifacients, in health insurance plans offered by religious institutions, such as colleges and hospitals. He released the following statement:

“The decision by the Department of Health and Human Services is a direct attack against religious liberty. This ill-considered policy comprises a truly radical break with the liberties that have underpinned our nation since its founding. I have just returned from Rome, where I and my brother U.S. bishops discussed with Pope Benedict XVI and other Vatican officials the vital importance of religious liberty to human freedom and the proper functioning of a just society. While there, I was deeply troubled to learn of this terrible lapse in judgment by our civil leadership here at home.

“I am absolutely convinced that an unprecedented and very dangerous line has been crossed that goes to the heart of the freedom of religion, and that this action does intolerable violence to our First Amendment rights. Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations, colleges and other Church-affiliated entities, as well as individual Catholic employers who seek to follow their consciences in the provision of healthcare to their employees, will be required to cover sterilizations and artificial contraception, including abortifacients, in insurance plans, violating the clear teachings of the Church. The meager religious exemption grudgingly allowed by the Obama Administration is structured so narrowly that any Church institution that serves a considerable number of non-Catholics would not be protected, directly harming our various ministries throughout the community.

“I will speak out consistently in the weeks and months ahead on this gravely important struggle for the freedom to practice our faith as full citizens of this great nation. I urge the faithful of Northern Virginia and all citizens of good will to understand what is at stake in this unavoidable confrontation, which has been thrust upon us, and to be prepared to engage in a strong defense in the civil arena of the basic human right of religious liberty. I have been gratified to see the strong reaction so far against this outrageous decision in newspapers and among Americans of all faiths. For now, we should all be united in prayer that President Obama and Secretary Sebelius will reconsider the action they have taken.”

The Diocese of Arlington includes 454,000 registered Catholics, 68 parishes and six missions, located in 21 counties and seven independent cities from Fredericksburg, Va., to the Washington, DC suburbs, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. www.arlingtondiocese.org.

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After reading the Bishop’s message during his homily, our pastor also shared this appropriate quote from Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German citizens to stop the Nazis horrific behavior:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

We need to act NOW To let our government know that this mandate is unacceptable!

One of my husband’s favorite stores is our neighborhood Catholic bookstore, and he could easily spend an entire afternoon browsing the shelves. I enjoy visiting the store as well, but usually have to prod him to make a selection and ask him if he’s ready to go a few times. Most of the time when I’m there, I’m either shopping for him (one of his favorite Valentine’s Day gifts was Life with Christ by Fulton Sheen) or shopping with him. But on one occasion, I find a book for myself. The Hidden Power of Kindness by Fr. Lawrence Lovasic was one of those books. I was browsing the books while waiting for my husband, and the title jumped out at me. As a commuter, I’m guilty of hustling through the subway station to connect to my train and being so focused on getting home that I’ve bumped into the arm of the occasional bystander and pushed my way onto the escalator or out of the subway car ahead of someone else. Recognizing that my behavior in these situations and others could use some improvement, I bought the book.

Of course it took a few months for me to actually begin reading the book, but now that I have, I’m even happier that I found and bought it. The book, which was originally written in 1962, then updated and shortened in 1999 by a relative of the now-deceased author, contains brilliant nuggets of information. So far, I’ve only quoted the book on Twitter once, but thought about it several other times, and of course quoted it in a previous blog post. Fr. Lovasic’s approach is quite simple – God loves us and created us all, so we should love one another and live by the Golden Rule by being charitable, courteous, patient, and forgiving.

In chapter seven, “Found Your Thoughts on Virtue” – which I just completed – he outlines a number of actions and attitudes we can take to help us in our journey toward kindness to our neighbor. The first suggestion he made on how to practice patience reminded me of a conversation my husband and I had earlier this morning on our way to Mass. We often have to park a short distance from the church because we attend a crowded service and rarely arrive more than 5-10 minutes before Mass. This morning, as I was looking for on-street parking, I noticed the same Mercedes parked over the white line taking up two spaces as I have on many occasions. I always assumed that the driver purposely parked in two spaces to protect the precious car from being dinged. However, when we walked past the car this morning, my husband observed that the passenger door was perfectly lined up with one of the walkways between the grass. I said that perhaps the driver was being a caring husband by parking in line with their walkway to make it easier for his elderly wife to get out of the car and walk up to their home rather than purposely taking a spot away from someone else. I had actually come to the conclusion on my own that Fr. Lovasic recommended in chapter seven: “Look for or presume excusing causes.” He went on to say, “You must have your eyes open to the whole truth, lest hasty judgments and prejudices close them to a part of the truth.” So today’s advice is to reserve judgment, give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that their motives are either pure or misguided rather than malicious.

Earlier this spring, my husband and I discovered a bird’s nest containing a few eggs in a hanging flower basket over our front porch. We were extremely excited at the prospect of new life at our doorstep – which was only rivaled by our disappointment and sadness when we found a few of the eggs broken on the sidewalk and the nest devoid of eggs a few days after that.

But this weekend, we were pleasantly surprised to find 3 newborn chicks in a nest in the same basket of snapdragons. We immediately put the basket back and kept watch on it from the front window. We were relieved and excited to see one of the parents, which we identified as a house finch, return to the nest with food for its babies.

The Newborn House Finches

Ever since the discovery of life at our doorstep, we’ve been diligently keeping watch over the nest and basket. We carefully water the flowers as far away from the nest as we can, but still make sure to water it so the flowers flourish and keep up their cover for the finch family. I even take caution when opening the front door to give the parents a chance to fly over to our pear tree. Yesterday, instead of taking the basket down to check on the babies, we stood on a step ladder so we could look in on the family without disturbing them.

As my husband and I celebrate this gift of new life, it makes me sad to think of all those who are not open to life and seek to prevent God’s creation through the use of contraception or purposely destroy life through abortion. I hope that all who read this post join me in praying for building up a culture of life in our country and throughout the world.

“You are a poor listener if you are solely interested in leading every conversation and showing no interest in anything that is said by others…” – Fr. Lawrence Lovasik, The Hidden Power of Kindness

I’ve always thought of myself as a good listener, but I was put to the test this weekend. My husband and I volunteer one Saturday a month for our St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store – and that was where I was challenged twice this weekend. The store serves a wide variety of customers – from those who like to hunt for a bargain to those who can’t afford to pay even Wal-Mart prices for clothes, household items or furniture.

This Saturday, I encountered two people who came in to the store to shop, but really just needed someone to listen to them. The first was an unemployed woman whose diabetic husband was on disability. Although she was bubbly and cheerful, bouncing along as she reminisced about her job and participating in parades and community events, she obviously had a greater need than a t-shirt. I learned a lot about her life in the 10 minutes she was talking to me and another volunteer.

I admit I wasn’t as good or sympathetic of a listener as I could have been – for I wondered to myself more than once if she would ever leave. However, I remembered Fr. Lovasik’s emphasis on smiling as a way to “Practice the Elements of Kindness” (the title of the first chapter of his book) and I forced myself to pay attention, smile and respond. A great quote from the chapter is “Nobody needs a smile so much as the one who has none to give.”

Perhaps I didn’t pass the first test, because later in the day I had the opportunity to listen to a man talk about his walk in faith, falling in with the wrong crowd, and serving time in jail, where he often sung a hymn that his uncle had taught him. Again, I wanted to escape the fairly one-sided conversation, but I listened and gave a little more than the one-word responses I had given to the woman earlier. Although it was a difficult one, I had a conversation with the troubled man and even gave him some religious pamphlets and medals to keep or share with others.

The experience was a bit humbling as it made me realize that I’m not as good listening to the problems of strangers as I am to the problems of my family and friends. Hopefully as I continue reading The Hidden Power of Kindness, I’ll learn additional ways to enrich the lives of others as I put them in to practice. Indeed, the core mission of the St. Vincent de Paul Society is to help those in need, and sometimes their needs aren’t always material ones.

I doubt historians will be able to pinpoint when human beings lost respect for one another and eventually themselves. The evidence is everywhere. In our society, people defend a “choice” to end a life that has started in the womb, but no one talks about the earlier choice that was made – the one to engage in sexual intercourse. Of course in our presently oversexed society, the “right” to sleep with whoever we want whenever we want is implicit – but it shouldn’t be.

If people actually thought about the long-term consequences of their actions rather than indulging in instant gratification, our society would be a lot better off. Our society is rampant with problems like treating others as objects that only serve to pleasure ourselves. Instead, we should focus on expressing love. 

St. Paul gives us great insight into the true meaning of love in this often-quoted passage:
“If I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13: 3-8)

Pornography, pedophilia, teenage pregnancy, contraception, abortion, cohabitation, premarital sex, and homosexual acts are societal ills caused by a lack of respect for other human beings and often oneself, as well as acts of hedonism, or self-pleasure.

Making the right choice isn’t always easy. I can tell you from personal experience that waiting until marriage to give yourself fully in mind, body and spirit to another person is utterly worth the wait.

In celebration of the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ this past Sunday, the homily by our parish’s pastor focused on Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. 

In addition to reinforcing why Catholics believe that Jesus is truly present in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist (which I admit I still struggle to grasp and “see” each Mass), he discussed the active role we must play in receiving the Eucharist.

The term “real presence” should be applied to us as well – we need to focus on the moment and be open to receiving Jesus and the Holy Spirit within our heart and soul. It is all too easy to fall into a routine and take Mass and Communion for granted – but something that we should actively avoid.

As my husband wrote in his blog post at Cecil’s Second Lunch on Sunday, a good book to help us stay on track is 7 Secrets of the Eucharist by Vinny Flynn. The book provides a solid explanation of this Catholic tenet that helped this cradle Catholic have a better understanding of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist.

My great-aunt, who’s in her late 80’s, amazingly has recovered from recent brain bleeding and swelling. At one point, her condition had deteriorated so much that she was on a feeding tube. But thanks to many prayers and good care, she is on the mend. Unfortunately, her health insurance (Medicare, probably) and doctors are limiting her ability to fully recover. Despite much fighting from two of her children, my great-aunt’s physical therapy to be able to walk was stopped. While being bed-ridden to recover from the brain bleeding weakened her body, it did not weaken her spirit. But apparently the dollar signs say she’s too old and can’t be helped by further physical therapy. Because of the heartless decision made on paper, my great-aunt is bound to a wheelchair and now residing in a nursing home because she wouldn’t be able to move about her home of many, many years. Interestingly enough, when she asked her son when she’d be going home and he told her she wouldn’t be because she can’t walk, she pushed herself out of the wheelchair and took a few steps with a walker. Doesn’t sound to me like someone who can’t be helped by physical therapy. My great-aunt still has a strong will to live, as evidenced by surviving brain bleeding and swelling, and has always been a tough and determined woman (just like her sister, my grandmother. Guess that’s where I get it.) It’s too bad that health care administrators can’t take the time to learn her character and make a decision based on that, plus her health and age.

 My great-aunt’s situation certainly doesn’t make me any happier about the new health care laws that will soon be sweeping the country.

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