Archive for the ‘Sisters of Life’ Category

The Sisters of Life Speak Out

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Today, the Sisters of Life issued a statement against the iniquitous HHS mandate that all health insurance plans cover sterilization and contraception (including drugs that cause abortions).  This is an important contribution to the discussion, because it presents a problem with the mandate (and with the health care reform law in general) that has not adequately been considered — the effect on individual religious sisters, brothers and priests.  Here is the statement, with a particularly important passage emphasized by me:

The Sisters of Life join with the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and leaders of many other religious communities, in strongly objecting to the Department of Health and Human Services rule for “preventative services,” and the “compromise” announced by President Obama regarding religious liberty.  This mandate will gravely violate the individual and collective religious liberties of the Sisters of Life and millions of others by forcing us to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and artificial contraception against our conscience.

The Sisters of Life is a religious community of consecrated women, founded in 1991 by John Cardinal O’Connor. Ours is a religious community founded in the United States of America by a priest who dearly loved this country, and served as a Rear Admiral and Chief of Chaplains in the United States Navy. We, too, love our country. We are grateful to be a part of its proud history, for the generosity and valor of so many who call this nation home, and for the possibilities that arise from living authentic freedom within a pluralistic society. Yet now we are faced with a government decision that is not only a grave affront to the religious liberty and rights of conscience of every citizen of the United States, but also an offense to each Sister of Life in a particular way. Every professed member of our community takes a special vow “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.”

In response to a call from God and to the sheer beauty and goodness of the gift of life, each Sister dedicates herself to God that all people might come to know the precious gift of his or her life, and that every human life be protected and received as an unrepeatable icon of the living God. To this end, we defend vulnerable human life in the womb from the moment of conception, supporting and upholding mothers in need through emotional, spiritual and material support during and after their pregnancies.  Because the gift of life is intrinsically linked to love, we also affirm and fully support the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church regarding marriage and sexuality. This includes an understanding that sterilization and contraception are gravely against God’s plan for human life and love, and we believe, in the end, are false promises that undermine the peace and freedom in commitment that are fruits of authentic human love.

Our special fourth vow, made in a solemn and sacred ceremony and binding on us in conscience and in the laws of the Church, is at the heart of our identity as a religious community, and is a profound expression of the religious and spiritual commitment of each of our Sisters. This new rule pays no heed to our right to live according to our vows.  Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act each of us will be required by law to obtain health insurance, or face fines.  Since this HHS mandate will require every insurer to include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and artificial contraception, we will not be able to obtain any coverage that is free from those “services,” and we will be forced to pay for them directly.  Since we are neither employers, nor employees, of any religious institution, we cannot even take advantage of the “religious exemption” contained in the new regulations or the “compromise.”

As a result, this mandate would coerce each and every individual Sister of Life to betray her religious vows.  We will be forced to pay for “services” that attack human life and deny the truth and beauty of human sexuality.  This would directly contradict our special religious vow to “to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life,” and go against everything we believe in and have devoted our lives to.  To us, it would be comparable to a law requiring a spouse to violate their marriage vows — an unthinkable intrusion upon a sacred promise.

This mandate is an offensive and dangerous infringement upon the natural and Constitutional rights of American citizens. The only just solution to this infringement of rights is to rescind the HHS rule.  We call upon members of Congress and the Executive Branch to reverse this decision as soon as possible, and we invite our fellow citizens to join with us in prayer and fasting that our Nation may be protected from this great threat against liberty.

The statement can be found at the Sisters’ website.  While you’re there, check out the wonderful work being done by the Sisters, and consider — what kind of society have we become, where our government would seek to force such women to be unfaithful to their vows? Can any of us think of a more egregious violation of the fundamental human right to religious freedom?

A Call to Action

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last week, a very important press conference took place, in response to the recent release of statistics on abortion in New York City.

Anyone with a conscience should be shocked by the horrifying numbers in the report:

  • 41% of all pregnancies in New York City ended in abortion — 87,273 abortions;
  • In the Bronx, 48% of all pregnancies ended in abortion;
  • 60% of African American pregnancies ended in abortion;
  • Among Blacks, there are far more abortions  than live births — for every 1,000 live births, there are 1,489 abortions;
  • Among teens of all other ethnic groups, for every 1,000 live births, there are 1,288 abortions;
  • This is not just an issue with teen pregnancy — 54% of abortions were with mothers in their 20′s, 30% were with mothers in their 30′s or 40′s;
  • These statistics were analyzed by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a private group that has committed to working to support pro-life initiatives, particularly pregnancy support efforts. They have set up a website, NYC 41 Percent, to publicize this effort.

    The press conference was most significant because it called together a group of interfaith leaders — Catholics, Protestants, Jews, whites, blacks and Hispanics — who all pledged to work to offer pregnant women real choices.

    For his part, Archbishop Dolan re-issued Cardinal O’Connor’s famous pledge to offer support to any pregnant woman in need.  For his remarks at the press conference, see here.

    Catholic Charities is already doing a great deal to fulfill that pledge, and the Sisters of Life do heroic work to help pregnant women and those who have already given birth.  The various pregnancy support centers in the City, and many faith communities are working miracles.  These efforts are certainly worthy of support.

    But they’re not enough.  More must be done.

    At Mass I attended this morning, the celebrant read the Archbishop’s press conference statement in his homily, and called to mind a story from his earlier days as a construction worker.  When things were slow, and the workers were idle, the foreman would tell them, “This isn’t a spectator sport”.

    Just so.  Preventing abortions is not a spectator sport.  The decision to have an abortion, all too often, is made by a woman who feels afraid and isolated, with nobody to support or help her.  That means that all of us, in our families, parishes, and communities, can prevent abortions by giving practical and emotional support to the women in our lives.  No woman should ever go to an abortion clinic because she feels alone.

    That’s a call to action for us all.

    An Ugly Attack on the Sisters of Life

    Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

    One of the pro-abortion movement’s propaganda websites has put up an attack on the Sisters of Life, of all people.  The crux of the piece is a bizarre accusation that the Sisters are prospering while other Church agencies that care for the poor are suffering for funds.

    (You’ll have to take my word for the content of the piece — I refuse to link to such a thing.  If you want a thorough demolition of the article, though, you should check out this by the invaluable Kathryn Jean Lopez)

    I am offended by this hit-job for several reasons.  First, of course, is that I work with the Sisters and I love them, and so I take it very personally when their honor is impugned.  Second, I was offended by the sheer number of classic anti-Catholic canards that the author managed to fit in one piece.  And finally, the author had the nerve to quote one of my blog posts — including citing me by name — and I just can’t stand the nerve of using my words in the context of any criticism of the Sisters.

    The blind animus of the piece is shown by its indifference to basic facts.

    One big falsehood underlies the piece — the implication that the Sisters of Life  are fat-cat real estate barons. The funny thing is that the Sisters don’t own anything, much less a land empire.  All their convents are owned by parishes or by the Knights of Columbus, who have invited the Sisters to live and work in them. They also live a serious life of poverty.  If you ever want to see the evangelical counsels in real life, just spend some time with the Sisters (or drive with them in one of their second-hand cars!)

    I also found what the article didn’t say about the Sisters to be as revealing as what it did mention.  There was no reference to the wonderful and compassionate post-abortion healing work done by the Sisters — that subject, of course, is totally taboo for the pro-choice crowd, who deny that there are any consequences to abortion.  Nor is there any comment about the Sisters’ Visitation Mission, which gives poor pregnant women the kind of pragmatic help that they need  — referrals to social services, help with medical appointments, diapers, maternity clothes, and just plain friendship.  To do so, naturally, would undermine the absurd “rich nuns are indifference to the poor” meme.

    The oddest thing about the piece was this accusation that the Sisters don’t care about the poor. And the evidence of this is… well, nothing except some mind-reading.  Could it be that there’s a little projection going on here, some guilt by the pro-choice crowd whose only “care” for the poor is to pump them full of contraceptives and kill their babies?  It certainly has no relationship with reality on the Planet Earth, where we see the Sisters caring for economically disadvantaged women every day — not to mention the poorest of the poor, the innocent unborn.

    The whole piece is perfect evidence of the totalitarian mindset of the Cult of Moloch, particularly their absolute intolerance of anyone who disagrees with their dogma of child sacrifice.  The irony is that, as always, every accusation they make against pro-lifers is actually true about themselves.

    The Cult of Moloch must be feeling a little desperate these days, if they’re resorting to attacks on the Sisters of Life, on the eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

    A Gala Event, and Why It Matters

    Monday, April 19th, 2010

    On Friday night, my wife Peggy and I had the privilege of being the guests of the Sisters of Life at their annual Dinner Gala at the Union League Club.  It was a black tie affair, organized by the Friends of the Sisters of Life, and its goal is both to raise some money for the Sisters’ efforts, and also to offer an evening of fellowship for those who share and support their mission.  But it has a significance far beyond being an enjoyable evening on the town with my lovely wife.

    It’s not news to anyone that our society is deeply mired in what Pope John Paul called a “culture of death”.  The threats to human life from the moment of conception until natural death are everywhere for us to see.  Just in the newspaper today we read of the terrible imbalance between boys and girls in China, the result of sex-selection abortion.  And we have reviews of an upcoming special movie on cable TV,  a favorable profile of Dr. Kevorkian, the killer of dozens of elderly and sick people, under the duplicitous charade of “assisted suicide”.

    The Sisters, because of their special charism to protect and defend human life, are a significant counter-sign to the culture of death.  And their friends at the Dinner, who share this mission and love for life, joined them in proclaiming the truth of the dignity of every human life.

    We also see throughout our culture a trivialization of sex and a denial of the values of authentic femininity and masculinity.  Nobody can turn on the television or pick up a magazine or newspaper without having distorted sexual images and values thrust upon them.  And daily we see the consequences of sexual nihilism.

    The Sisters, because of their open witness to religious life, are a powerful counter-sign to the culture of libertinism.  Their commitment to virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of God helps us to clarify our own understanding of authentic sexuality.  Their beautiful testimony to authentic femininity makes it easier for women to be what they are called to be, and men to be what we are called to be.  We certainly saw this at the Dinner, with so many wonderful young men and women who were living lives of virtue and joy.

    At this time in particular, our Church is under attack, not least because of the sins of Her children.  As at many times in history, the weaknesses of fallen men and women are a scandal, contradicting the message and mission of the faith.  Sadly, our sins are driving others away from the only Person who can heal them, Jesus Christ himself.

    And here is, in my opinion, the greatest significance of the Sisters.  At every point in Her history, when reform and renewal have been necessary, the proper and essential response has never been to simply enact more laws and more procedures.  The answer has never been to change the gender of those in high Church offices, or to open up positions of authority to lay people as such, or to relax some disciplinary rules like celibacy for the clergy.

    The only answer to the need for reform and renewal, today as always, has been sanctity.  Holiness is the only way for the Church to restore her bridal beauty, so that She may be presented to Christ the Bridegroom “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5: 27).

    And this is why the Lord has called forth the Sisters of Life, and other dynamic religious communities like them — to be beacons of sanctity, to encourage all of us to holiness, and to pray for an increase in devotion and fidelity among God’s people.

    So, yes, it was a gala event, and everyone had a wonderful time.  But nobody could miss the deeper meaning, and why it matters so much.

    The First Principle is God

    Saturday, March 13th, 2010

    On Tuesday, over a thousand Catholics from across the state traveled to Albany for the annual Catholic Conference Public Policy Forum Day.  The goal of the day is to give witness to our faith in the public square, and to advocate for some important issues of concern to the Church and to individual Catholics.

    It’s a long and frustrating day, and it would be easy to get cynical and give up on our State government.  But for me, there were two highlights of the day that are worth reflecting on, that keep me hopeful and optimistic.

    In the morning, Archbishop Dolan led a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching.  There have been many outlines of the social teachings of the Church, in an attempt to make them more accessible to people.  (Full disclosure:  I even wrote a small book about this subject)  And the Archbishop did an excellent job, in just a few minutes, to lay out the basic principles:  the innate dignity of every individual human person, made in the image and likeness of God;  the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; and the duty to bring God’s truth into the public square.

    But what was striking was how he started the discussion.  He said that “the first principle is God”, and that we must always remember that God’s way, and His law, must have dominion over our lives and our world.

    That is a truly radical proposition, and it’s the heart of what we as Catholics must do when we stride into the public square.  We are never there to advance a purely partisan agenda, or to act on a theory of economics or social organization.  We’re there to convince the world of the dominion of God, that He must always be our guiding star, and that we are His servants.  It was the perfect way to kick off a day in which we would be going to the Capital Building to talk to our representatives about legislation.

    The other highlight, for me, was the privilege of walking the halls of the Legislature with the Sisters of Life.  We went on a tour of the Capital Building, which is a whitewashed tomb, outwardly beautiful but filled with corruption within.  But we were there not just to see the sights, but so that the Sisters could be seen.   They don’t have to say a word to a legislator or to an aide, give a quote to a reporter, or have their picture taken.  Their presence alone is a witness to the King of Kings.  Merely walking through the hallways was an evangelizing moment.

    And everyone there recognized it.  One thing about walking anywhere with the Sisters — you have to be patient, because they’re stopped every ten feet by people who want to talk to them and they stop to give Miraculous Medals to everyone they see.  What they saw, of course, was not just a small group of women in habits.  They saw a visible sign that people should commit themselves to God, and serve him with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths.

    The first principle is always God.  That was why over a thousand Catholics went to Albany.  That’s the source of our hope.

    Prayer Warriors

    Sunday, November 1st, 2009

    In the final stages of the health care debate, we turn our attention to all the techniques of Advocacy 101. The USCCB has encouraged all parishes to publish in their bulletins a call for all Catholics to contact their Congressional representatives, to urge them to ensure that human life is respected in the health care bill. Our bishops are being asked to contact key legislators, to let them know of our concerns. Our professional lobbyists are working long hard hours behind the scenes to advance our concerns.

    At the same time, we all must turn to the ultimate weapon — prayer.

    Across the nation, people are lifting their minds and hearts to God, asking Him to guide our nation along the right path. Religious communities and seminarians are fasting, praying, and spending time in Eucharistic adoration. We are imploring Our Blessed Mother to intercede for our nation, that the hearts of our elected officials will be converted, and that we will be saved from the expansion of abortion and euthanasia.

    Many years ago, John Cardinal O’Connor, looked out at the deplorable situation in the United States, where unborn lives are vulnerable to abortion at any time, for any reason. He called to mind the words of Our Lord, that some demons can only be case out by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29). Cardinal O’Connor understood the fundamental truth that Our Lord was speaking to our time — that abortion cannot ultimately be fought by political means alone, but all our efforts must be rooted in personal prayer and sacrifice.

    That insight led Cardinal O’Connor to found the Sisters of Life, but it has also led to the continual re-vitalization of the pro-life movement. Even as so many of us devote our efforts to the public square, we all realize that the spiritual battle is by far the most important, and that the most effective and productive efforts in our movement are the ones that are so counter to conventional wisdom — they are the efforts of prayer and fasting.

    And so, initiatives like the “40 Days for Life”, which involves people in prayerful witness outside of abortion clinics, has saved thousands of life, and has excited the intense hostility of the forces of the Culture of Death. Here in our own city, the First Saturday of every month has a Witness for Life in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in lower Manhattan.

    And in convents, seminaries and private homes around our nation, prayer warriors are engaged in the real struggle. They realize, as St. Paul did, that

    “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 9:16)

    So, my friends, let us pray, and let us fast.

    The Priest, the Sister, the Playboy Playmate and Me

    Sunday, October 18th, 2009

    This is going to sound like the beginning of a strange joke, but here goes anyway.

    A priest, a sister, a married man and a Playboy Playmate got on the elevator the other day… and I wound up learning a lesson about the theology of the body.

    Allow me to explain.

    Last week, Sr. Lucy of the Sisters of Life and I were invited to appear on a radio show that is broadcast on the Catholic Channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. The show is called Word of Life, and it’s hosted by Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, O.P., a very accomplished Dominican priest. We were being invited on his show so that Sister Lucy could talk about some of the activities of Respect Life Month, and I was going to give people an overview of public policy advocacy and the health care reform issue.

    When we arrived at the building where the radio station is located, Sr. Lucy and I were greeted by Fr. Aquinas, and while we were standing at the security checkpoint, we encountered a very glamorous, shapely young woman who looked like a model.

    One couldn’t help but notice that her health was in very grave risk, because her blouse was suffering from a serious shortage of fabric. That’s putting it mildly. But she was dressed for the occasion, since she was a Playboy Playmate, on her way to appear on a radio show run by a “men’s magazine”. Being a normal male human being, I found this all very, very distracting. Every other man in the vicinity certainly did, too, because she was the center of attention, to say the least.

    What happened next taught me the lesson.

    We went to the elevator to go upstairs to the studio, and all got on the same car. Sr. Lucy and Fr. Aquinas were standing on either side of the young lady. So here we were: a priest, a sister, a Playboy Playmate, and a married man who was struggling to maintain custody of his eyes and thoughts, and who was thinking about what an odd collection of people he was with. The elevator stopped, and a man got on. He was taken aback by this scene, and immediately remarked, “You’re not going to the same place”. One of those classic “only in New York” kind of remarks.

    But in a way, this all made sense thanks to the theology of the body. Our bodies have a deep meaning, which Pope John Paul called its “nuptial meaning”. The natural physical complementarity of man and woman reveals to us that we are meant to enter into the loving, faithful union of marriage. Our natural sexual desire for the opposite sex is a call to that union of persons, and is not all about using others for personal pleasure. It is a call to be a gift of self.

    And each person in the elevator illustrated something important about this. A priest, a man who has been sacramentally conformed to Christ, and gives us the Body of Christ in Communion, so that we could see in vivid reality that true love is a total gift of self. A sister, a woman who gives herself fully to Christ and His Church as a powerful living sign of the mutual gift in the heavenly marriage of the Lamb and His bride. A married man, who is committed to his life-long faithful and fruitful covenant with his wife, and who is struggling to see this beautiful woman not just as a body to be coveted for my pleasure, but to regard her instead as a person. And the Playboy Playmate, whose body is being displayed by our debased culture as an object to be lusted after, a commodity to be used so that money can be made from the weakness of men.

    This didn’t come to me all at once, but only later, as I reflected on my own feelings and reactions to that elevator ride. But now, I wish I could go back to that time. I wish I had the courage to tell her that her body is beautiful not because it gives men pleasure but because it’s a sign that she is a person made in the image of God. I wish I could introduce her to my wife, or some of the other women I know who are trying to put all of this into practice in real life.

    I wish I could get her, and all the men she encountered that day, to see the deeper meaning of the priest, the sister and the married man on that elevator.

    “Are You Going to Abandon Me, Too?”

    Sunday, October 4th, 2009

    There are all too many times when the Culture of Death seems to have the upper hand.

    We look to our political capital, and see legislators — even Catholics — turning their backs on the unborn and denying them legal protection. The culture mocks religious belief and believers, and celebrates those whose irresponsible behavior, especially sexual behavior, leads others into situations of grave crisis. Professions whose missions are dedicated to the arts of healing, instead use their skills to take life. The poor, the immigrant, the elderly, are cast to the side of society, and the affluent and powerful speak of them as burdens.

    At these times, the piercing question is asked of each of us: “Are you going to abandon me, too?”

    Last Saturday, I once again drove to lower Manhattan to participate in the monthly Witness for Life. This is a prayerful event, starting with Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and centered on the recitation of the Rosary across the street from the abortion facility run by Planned Parenthood. It is a time when the Culture of Death and the Civilization of Love come into stark conflict, a spiritual battle.

    The brave sidewalk counselors approach the men and women entering the clinic, offer them literature, and show them that there is another “choice”. The clinic staff mocks us. Many passersby make derogatory comments, or photograph us as if we were mere curiosities. Others walk by, averting their eyes, pretending that nothing is happening. The men and women heading for the clinic, fearful, abandoned or even pressured by those they love and rely on, enter the facility seeking answers, only to emerge some time later with an even heavier burden and no solutions. We stand in prayerful vigil, hoping with all our might that these young women will turn away from the facility, and choose life.

    And we hear the question, posed directly to each one of us: “Are you going to abandon me, too?”

    After the Witness, we gathered at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School for a cup of coffee and a little fellowship. One of the Sisters of Life spoke to us of the needs and work of their Visitation Mission, which helps women in crisis pregnancies. She told the story of one young lady who turned away from the abortion facility, and came to the Sisters for help. After the Sisters worked with her to find the assistance she needed, the young lady asked the Sisters that question.

    “Are you going to abandon me, too?”

    She wasn’t asking for more material help. She was asking for someone to walk with her in her travails, to be her friend and companion, to be Christ to her. Our Lord asked the same question, from the Cross. But even at that time, he was not abandoned — his mother, one disciple, and a few friends still stood by his side. And the Father and Holy Spirit were always with him. Just as the Sisters continued to be with that young woman, and never abandoned her.

    The Culture of Death is powerful and seductive. The Evil One has his fingers tightly gripped on the hearts of many people. He wants us to stand alone, to turn fearfully away from the choices that God wants us to make, to mock those who do God’s will, or to walk by with heads down and ignore the struggle between good and evil. Many fall for his deceptions.

    But not all. Many are haunted by that question: “Are you going to abandon me, too?” And they answer that question with quiet acts of service and prayer, saying “No, we will never abandon you, we will be with you to the end.”

    Thus is the Civilization of Love built up, by small deeds done with great love.

    A Beautiful Wedding

    Sunday, August 9th, 2009

    I went to a wedding the other day. But it wasn’t the kind of wedding that you’d think.

    Let me explain.

    On the Feast of the Transfiguration, several hundred people gathered in beautiful St. John’s Church in Stamford. Sr. Catherine Marie and Sr. Shirley Ann knelt before the altar of God, and took perpetual vows in the Sisters of Life. They surrendered their lives in order to gain it, by marrying their Spouse, Jesus Christ, and by promising to serve his most vulnerable people.

    Three other women, Sr. Brigid Ancilla Marie, Sr. Maris Stella and Sr. Mary Aquinas, took their first vows, committing themselves to live for three years in dedication to promoting and defending the cause of human life, while they further discerned their vocations.

    This was a spectacular occasion. The music was heavenly, the Mass was profound, and the presence of Archbishop Collins of Toronto was a blessing. The Sisters were brimming over with joy as they watched their sisters move forward in their service to God. You couldn’t have asked for a more grace-filled event.

    As a married man, I was particularly struck by the nuptial aspects of the profession. On the day of my marriage to Peggy, we committed our entire selves to each other, with no conditions or strings attached. We offered ourselves on the altar as a sacrifice to each other, in the presence of God, who was to be an indispensable partner in our covenant. We knew that this adventure would be hard sometimes, but we were confident that we could do it if we stuck together and let God help us through.

    And here now were five women, doing the same thing — offering themselves on the altar of sacrifice, confident that their community and God would bring them through any rough waters. They were embracing their own nuptial union with Jesus Himself.

    When Jesus walked among us, he asked us, very plainly, “Follow me”. Each one of us, as disciples of Christ, has to figure out what that means in his or her own life. For me, following Christ means to be a good Christian husband and father, and a missionary in my everyday life.

    For Srs. Catherine, Shirley, Brigid, Maris Stella and Mary Aquinas, the path of discipleship has led them to a different kind of marriage. While we ordinary married people are trying to be witnesses of the Kingdom of God in the here and now, the Sisters are pointing us to the end of the story — the actual nuptial union of God and his people in the New Jerusalem.

    On the Feast of the Transfiguration, the commemoration of the day when Christ revealed His heavenly glory, we in Stamford saw a hint of that same glory.

    At the opening of the Mass, the Sisters processed in, singing the nuptial Psalm 45, with the response, “The Bridegroom is here; go out and welcome Him”. We might as well have been listening to the heavenly choir, their voices were so beautiful.

    And in the vows of these humble Sisters, we saw a preview of the final wedding, the marriage of the Lamb and His Bride described in Revelation 21-22.

    I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.”

    The Sisters Go to Albany

    Saturday, March 14th, 2009

    On March 10, I travelled with three of the Sisters of Life to attend the New York State Catholic Conference’s Forum Day in Albany. The purpose of the day is to bring Catholics from around the state to the Capitol to lobby our legislators on behalf of Catholic interests — pro-life issues, Catholic schools, charitable works, and health care.

    And, on its own terms, the day went pretty much as planned. There was a convention first, at which two Catholic legislators addressed the crowd, speaking about how their faith works in public life. This was followed by Mass celebrated by the Cardinal, together with almost all the other Catholic bishops of New York State. There were legislative visits going on all throughout the morning, as people visited their representatives’ offices and presented our positions to them and their staffs. A well-deserved award was given to Dr. Catherine HIckey, the former Superintendent of Schools here in the Archdiocese, for her lifetime of work on behalf of Catholic education.

    Albany is a tough place to do this kind of grassroots lobbying. The system is so opaque and difficult, the process so Byzantine, that it is hard to get a straight answer from anyone about what’s going to happen, and nobody can really predict very far into the future. For me, the day was in many ways the same as it always has been. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve met with many legislators and their staffs. Let’s just say that all of this has left me a bit cynical and jaded.

    Visiting Albany with the Sisters of Life, however, is an entirely different kind of experience. To begin with, the Sisters don’t lobby. That’s not why they’re there. They’re there to witness. And during the convention, people flocked to the pro-life table to speak to the Sisters, to shake their hands, to take their literature, to tell them about what they’re doing for the cause, and just to spend time with them. One of them, Sr. Mary Loretta, spent most of the morning hanging out with the students from Lourdes High School, chatting with them, encouraging them, and she even went along with them to their legislative visit to lend moral support. The legislators who visited the convention went out of their way to meet the Sisters, and one even sat with them during Mass.

    Later, our pro-life lobbyist in Albany, Kathy Gallagher, took us over to the Capitol building. Walking anywhere with the Sisters of Life is an exercise in patience — you have to pause every ten feet becuase people are constantly stopping them to talk. Eventually, though, we got to the Capitol and Kathy took us on a tour. It’s a beautiful building, and we saw all the right things — the Senate and Assembly chambers, the magnificent stairways, etc.

    And it was here that the Sisters did their real work in Albany. Just by walking the corridors in their simple and beautiful habits, they made a strong statement that the busy staff members couldn’t help but get. They spoke to the clerks, the guards, and to the legislators we met. The best moment came on the floor of the Senate chamber, to which we had been admitted at the request of one of the Senators. While Sr. Lucy and Sr. Aquinas spoke to the Senator, Sr. Loretta talked to one of the clerks, a very nice man who was giving us a short tour. When she found out that he was Catholic, she pressed a small Miraculous Medal into his hand and, holding his hand, prayed for him. He was deeply moved — as was I — and tears came to his eyes.

    Here we were, on the floor of the New York State Senate, in the seat of political power, where decisions are made that affect people’s property, liberty — and even life itself. And here were the Sisters, who own no property and have no power, but they have something more important. They brought Jesus to the Capitol, to the Senate chamber, and to the people they encountered.

    When the Church steps into the public arena, we all too often speak the worldly language of power and influence. What the Sisters taught me, yet again, is that the voice of God is different. It is soft and still, and spoken quietly from person to person, from heart to heart.

    And it speaks not of power, but of love. That’s what the Sister of Life brought to Albany that day.