Posts Tagged ‘Sisters of Life’

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?

In My Neighborhood

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

The Chiaroscuro Foundation recently put up on its website an interactive map that displays the abortion statistics for residents of every zip code in the City of New York.  I recommend that everyone in the City look up their neighborhood — you’ll definitely learn something.

I looked at my own neighborhood.  I’ve lived my whole life in a neighborhood split between Yonkers and the Bronx.  The Bronx part is Woodlawn, which shares the 10470 zip with a small portion of Wakefield.  Woodlawn is considered to be a very good neighborhood — solidly middle class, dominated by Irish immigrants (some of long-standing, some more recently).   Wakefield is a largely African-American and West-Indian neighborhood, but also mainly middle class and blue-collar.

The zip code is two-thirds white, with the remainder being a mixture of African-American, West Indian, and Latino.  Over 75% of adults have a high school education or better, and 20% have at least a bachelor’s degree.  Both neighborhoods have economic problems — unemployment is pretty high thanks to the crash of the construction industry, and the poverty rate is not great (although far better than the rest of the Bronx).  We have four good schools — a Catholic elementary school and high school, a  Lutheran school, and two public elementary schools.

There are lots of vibrant families and children, and lots of churches –  Woodlawn alone has five churches.  We even have a convent of the Sisters of Life.

But the abortion statistics in my neighborhood are horrible.

There were 267 pregnancies in this zip code in 2009, the most recent year reported.  115 of them ended in abortion. That’s a 43% abortion ratio — even worse than the overall number for New York City.

There are lots of reasons for this tragedy.  I am convinced that a great number of abortions happen because a mother in crisis thinks that she won’t be supported by the baby’s father, their families, or the community.  This abortion ratio in my neighborhood is wake-up call to our families, churches, and community.

So what can we do?  Preaching in the churches and teaching in the home are obviously the foundation.  We also need to promote chastity, so that women don’t have unexpected pregnancies, especially out of wedlock.  We need to make sure that every woman knows that she is not alone, that she will have the support of her family and community to make the choice for life, or that she can turn to one of the many pregnancy support centers in our area.  We need to make sure that more women know that help is out there, from Catholic Charities Maternity Bureau, and from the wonderful Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life.

In the end, it will come down to decisions made by individuals and families.  And for that, much grace is needed.  Mary, Mother of Life, please pray for women contemplating abortion in my neighborhood, and everywhere.  And obtain for me the grace I need to be there for the women in my life and my neighborhood, if they ever are in crisis.

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.

    Why Did I Answer the Phone?

    Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

    I have to start out by saying that I resent the telephone.  It sits there on my desk, interrupts my train of thought, and brings nothing but trouble.  It requires me to engage with real, live people, which makes me uncomfortable.  I much prefer to deal with email, because it’s more efficient, and because I can do what I am comfortable with — looking intelligent, answering questions, and solving problems.  The phone makes me face my shyness with people, my insecurity, and my fear of emotional involvement.

    So, why did I answer the phone the other afternoon?

    I was rushing — as usual — between one meeting and another, from one task that I considered very important to another I thought was just as important.  That’s me, Mr. Too Busy and Important to Answer the Phone.  When it started to ring, and I didn’t recognize the number, I knew that answering it would make me late, and would throw me off my train of thought.  It was a most inconvenient time for a phone conversation of indeterminate subject and length.

    So, why did I answer the phone?

    When I picked up the receiver, the young lady started out with a very relieved sound in her voice.  She explained that she had happened upon one of my earlier blog posts, in which I mentioned how we need to do more to help pregnant women in crisis, for example by providing more day care.

    She then went on to tell me that she was in exactly that position.  She was pregnant, alone, and was having a hard time figuring out how she was going to take care of her child and return to work.  She wasn’t sure if I could help her, because she didn’t live in the Archdiocese, but instead was in upstate New York.   But she was scared, and a little bit at the end of her rope.  She was asking me for help — real, concrete help, in the here and now.

    So, why did I answer the phone?

    I talked to her for a while, telling her how there was definitely help out there for her.  I then gave her the best advice I could think of.

    I suggested that she call the Sisters of Life.  Their Visitation Mission specializes in helping women and men deal with the difficulties of a pregnancy, and they have innumerable connections all around the nation.   I have heard stories about their work that have moved me to tears.  So that was the first smart thing I did.  I told her about the Sisters.

    The second thing I did was to tell her that she should get in touch with her local diocese’s Catholic Charities.  Here in the Archdiocese, our Catholic Charities helps hundreds of pregnant women every year.  I know this, because their Maternity Services office is on the same floor as mine, and I’m constantly seeing moms, dads and babies.  They also work miracles.

    I then told her how great it was that she was doing the right thing, and that she would be able to do this with a little help.  I told her “God bless”, we said goodbye, and I offered a small prayer for her.  Afterwards, I realized that I never even asked her name.  But I believe she’ll be alright.

    So, why did I answer the phone?

    I don’t know.  But I think that the Holy Spirit, who moved my heart and will, and my guardian angel, who was whispering in my ear, know the answer to that one.  And maybe, someday, I’ll meet a young lady and a baby, and I’ll know the answer too.

    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.

    More Causes for Hope

    Friday, April 16th, 2010

    In these embattled days, it’s all the more important that we look for reasons to hope, and to be optimistic.  Fortunately, God being so good, there have been several such signs thrown my way in recent days.

    First was the special Family Life Conference sponsored by the Respect Life Office.  The theme this year was to honor the legacy of John Cardinal O’Connor, and all that he did to defend and promote the dignity of every human life.  It was a wonderful day, with great speakers — Archbishop Dolan, Helen Alvare, Mother Agnes of the Sisters of Life, and Fr. Charles Connor.  The large crowd was filled with fond memories of the Cardinal, and we were reminded of his indomitable commitment to the cause of life.  Despite all the battles he fought, he never wavered, and never lost his well-founded confidence in the rectitude of our cause.  It was an uplifting day.

    The second event was a pro-life legal symposium at Columbia University last week, sponsored by (believe it or not) the Columbia Law School’s pro-life group.  Yes, you read that correctly — a thriving group of committed pro-life law students at one of the most liberal institutions in the nation.  The line-up of speakers was outstanding — experts in constitutional law, attorneys who were actively litigating pro-life cases in the courts, law professors who are teaching and mentoring the next generation of pro-life legal crusaders. The best part of the day was how dynamic and hope-filled the law students and young attorneys were.  For old warhorses like me, it was a breath of fresh air, and another uplifting experience.  I felt as if the cavalry was on the way.

    The final cause for hope was the most recent Witness for Life — the prayerful vigil that is held outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion mill in lower Manhattan every first Saturday.  After praying outside the clinic in the cold and benediction at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we return to the basement of the school for a hot coffee and a doughnut, and a bit of fellowship.  Part of the social is a sharing of stories by some of the participants.  Some of the men in the group shared their experiences in doing the sidewalk counseling — taking for a few moments with the women on their way into the clinic, handing them brochures from the Sisters of Life offering alternatives to abortion, and then talking at greater length with the men who bring the women there and then wait outside.

    One of the sidewalk counselors reported that, after talking to one of the men, the man decided to go back into the clinic to try to convince his friend not to have the abortion.  We all prayed that he would be successful.

    But the most amazing story of all was one told by one of the Sisters of Life assigned to the Visitation Mission, which helps women in crisis to make the decision for life.  Recently, the Sister was called to speak to a young lady who had gone into the same Planned Parenthood clinic that we pray in front of, to make arrangements for an abortion.  While sitting in the examining room, the young lady happened to look at the pamphlet rack, which was filled with all the usual horrible material about contraception, STD’s, etc.

    But what did she find instead?  One of the very same brochures from the Sisters of Life, offering hope instead of abortion, that our sidewalk counselors hand to the women who are going into the clinic — someone must have put it into the pamphlet rack, and the clinic staff hadn’t removed it.  This young lady read the brochure, had a change of heart, left the clinic and went right to see the Sisters.  After talking to them, she made the decision to keep her baby.

    The Holy Spirit is a very inventive fellow, always looking for ways to open our hearts to God’s will and His love.  He works through our memories of great leaders, he buoys our mood by raising up new warriors, and he reminds us of the wonderful mysteries that the world would call coincidences, but which we know as the handiwork of God.  How can we not be hopeful with such an ally?

    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.