Catholic Schools: Un-rivaled

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Last week our Church joined ecumenical efforts worldwide in praying for and celebrating our Christian Unity. Perhaps Catholic Schools Week will not only be a time to celebrate the great gift and legacy of Catholic education, but also a time to answer our call to Catholic unity, even if that means working with your high school’s arch-rival!

Often times, our Catholic schools may unintentionally compartmentalize our efforts for peace and justice formation. An invitation comes to your high school for your students to participate in a social action. “Oh, stick it his box. He is our peace and justice guy.” Does this sound familiar? That was me. I often had many service or faith-based advocacy invitations from religious congregations, local pro-life and human rights groups, or our diocesan social action office with whom I would have loved for my students to become acquainted. It can sometimes feel like one teacher or campus minister is tasked with a colossal project: introducing our students to Catholic social teaching and the discipleship of living out our faith in society. At least that is how it felt to me.

Until one day about 15 years ago.

It was the run-up to the war in Iraq, and our pope and bishops had been speaking out to slow our nation’s rush to military action. I was a busy high school theology teacher, and my conscience was tugging at me to engage my students with the reality unfolding before our eyes. But I felt somewhat overwhelmed and disconnected – the moral stakes of war were just too big a task for one person to address. Little did I know, I was not alone. The Holy Spirit was about to spark a flame of justice in a new generation, bringing to birth Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice (CSPJ) in the Diocese of Cleveland. A former teacher of mine was feeling the same call to act in his school, so he sent an email to several friends and colleagues from various academic disciplines in high schools across our diocese. He invited us all to meet, and it was this motley collection of mostly teachers and campus ministers who came up with an unrivaled proposal. Eventually, we would approach our bishop and ask if we could gather with students at the Cathedral to pray for peace and continue with a public witness at Cleveland’s Public Square. The collaboration was exhilarating. As adult leaders, we found solidarity with one another in our common struggle to support our students in living out our baptismal call to work for justice and peace. The prayer and witness for peace (2003) exceeded our wildest expectations. We had representative participation from nearly all of the high schools in the diocese, totaling around 750 students and teachers. The collaborative spirit of that event began to spread as an inextinguishable fire. Students and teachers found hope and freedom in joining beyond the parochial boundaries that usually separated us. As in many places, folks from our Catholic high schools in Cleveland most commonly met one another at competitive athletic events or in uncomfortable admissions-related encounters. CSPJ was different. We found common ground in our faith and vocation to live the gospel.

Bishop Anthony Pilla believed in us and guided us to work with our Diocesan Social Action Office to formalize our relationship with one another in this work through renewing annual covenants between the CSPJ adult team and the schools we represented. We have since received the vital support of not only Bishop Pilla, but also his successor, Bishop Richard Lennon. Consequently, CSPJ has been graced with a tremendous cast of partners at each of our schools: encouraging administrators, energetic and emerging student leaders, and a contagiously inspiring mix of both veteran and rookie educators. CSPJ has engaged thousands in the past 15 years through countless events. Our creativity is not bound by the divisive political climate that separates us into “either-or” boxes. Rather, our collective energy arises explicitly from our Catholic “both-and” moral conviction and imagination. We gather annually during Respect Life Month in October for a Mass and public witness where our students courageously share their personal stories and dreams for building a Culture of Life.  This is not a one-issue event. Rather, all life issues in the Consistent Ethic are valued and represented. Following the lead of the Ohio bishops, CSPJ has also advocated for the end of the death penalty through our presence at vigils at the

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility during executions. We have organized public witnesses at the Statehouse, including “Wheels for Justice,” a 3-day, 150-mile bicycle trip from Cleveland to Columbus (2006). Other highlights over the years include:

Some may not think it possible that long-time high school rivals can work together. But when we come together with humble hearts, the Holy Spirit may grant us a glimpse of the unity we seek – realizing we’re all on the same team.augie-pacetti

Augie Pacetti is a co-founder of Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice and serves as Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

 Going Deeper

Read more about Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice on our WeAreSaltAndLight.org website. There, you can also access resources and educational activities to engage high school students in learning about Catholic social teaching and poverty.

 

Moved by Mercy

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On a recent drive home from work, I pushed “play” on my audiobook to pass the time in traffic. It’s not an unusual activity for me, but what I didn’t anticipate was my own bittersweet heartbreak.

As the author shared stories of her visit to Africa, she spoke of one place preserved from the destitution she had witnessed elsewhere. One building in particular, though small and simple, was nicer than others she had seen. But the reason for its better conditions cuts to the heart: it was a hospice home for children.

In this home lived a little girl, with whom the author became fast friends the day they met, each blessing the other with the love they both needed. As the author continued reading, she shared her desire to do something to help the people she’d fallen in love with.

It’s so easy to feel discouraged by the thought of all that is wrong in our world, to feel that our personal efforts wouldn’t really matter or make a difference. But the author’s reflections reminded me of the incredibly personal nature of large-scale issues.

Our world’s tragedies aren’t faceless. They are the experiences of individual people who have faces, names, and their own stories. It’s hard to wrap our heads around large-scale suffering, but its personal nature means that anyone can make a concrete difference—person to person.

One of my favorite parts of Pope Francis’s official Jubilee of Mercy proclamation (Misericordiae vultus) describes God’s mercy as “a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child…It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion.”

Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are called to love as he loves, to be moved as he is moved. Everything we believe and do as Catholics is rooted in this love. Just as God cherishes each person, so too, we are called to cherish one another.

The 2016-17 Respect Life Program, beginning in October with the celebration of Respect Life Month and continuing through next September, explores what this means through the theme “Moved by Mercy.”

New, easy-to-read brochures give practical tips on providing compassionate support that respects and protects life from beginning to end. A resource guide provides tools for Catholics to go deeper into the message of merciful reverence for life—either by integrating it into their respective efforts in Catholic education and ministry, or for personal enrichment. A poster, flyer, folder, and catalog round out the printed materials.

These as well as other online-only resources (downloadable images, a social media toolkit, bulletin inserts, and more), can be ordered or downloaded from www.usccb.org/respectlife.

During Respect Life Month and throughout the year, let’s allow God to move our hearts with mercy for those who are marginalized, ignored, and especially those at risk of losing their lives. How does God want to work through you today?
Anne McGuire, USCCB

Anne McGuire is the Assistant Director for Education and Outreach for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Visit www.usccb.org/respectlife for NEW Respect Life Program resources!

A New Year’s Resolution for Life

9Days-Top-BannerIn his address to Congress, Pope Francis reminded us, “every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity.” These are clearly not empty words. During his visit to the U.S., our hearts were warmed by the Holy Father’s stops to spend time with the most vulnerable, loving them and empathizing with their struggles. Through his words and actions, he challenged us to also care for our brothers and sisters.

Being pro-life is about cherishing and protecting each person and his or her life at every stage and in every circumstance. It means staying up with a sick baby until 2 a.m.; it means supporting families going through a hard time; it means visiting those who are sick and alone. That’s why the U. S. Catholic bishops are asking you to participate in 9 Days for Life—a digital pilgrimage from January 16-24.

Wherever you are, you can join with thousands across the country in praying for increased respect for life, in reaching out to others, and in sharing the joyful truth that every life is worth living.

You can download the novena online, or receive it through Facebook, email, text message or an app. You’ll be able to access new intentions, brief reflections, suggested actions, and more each day. (Sign up at 9daysforlife.com.)

As part of 9 Days for Life, the bishops are also asking you to share with others what it means to embrace a culture of life. One way you can do this is by posting a 5-15 second video of why you are participating in 9 Days for Life, how you participated that day, or what being pro-life means to you. Pro-Life Selfie SignOr, you can print out the customizable sign, fill in the sentence, “Being pro-life means _________,” and post a selfie with your sign. Whether you share a video or picture, use the hashtag #9DaysforLife, and if you’re posting on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, be sure to tag @USCCB—they’ll pick the best to share!

If social media isn’t your preferred way of connecting with others (or even if it is!), you can find some other creative suggestions here. From participating in diocesan or parish events, to holding your own pro-life potluck, these days are a time to reinvigorate our recognition and celebration that every single life is loved and valued by Our Father in heaven.

Of course, the ultimate goal of 9 Days for Life is that these prayers and actions will last well beyond January 2016. As you come up with resolutions for the New Year, ask yourself how you can spread a culture that values every life, from the beginning to the end.

We look forward to seeing what being pro-life means to you! Get started at 9daysforlife.com.

 

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Photo Credit: Renata Grzan / RenataPhotography.com

Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.usccb.org/prolife

 

Integral Ecology and Respect for Human Life

“Everything is connected.”  This phrase echoes throughout the recent encyclical from the Holy Father, Laudato Si.  Pope Francis presents a comprehensive vision.  Our attitude toward our common home is inseparable from our attitude toward the unborn, poor, and all who are vulnerable.  The crises of our age have arisen because we refuse to receive created things in humility, simple joy, and awe at the work of God.

Francis proposes an “integral ecology” – an approach to creation care rooted in the Christian conviction that the earth, and everything in it, is a gift from our gracious Father.  Everything is connected, and so we must resist the temptation to see the problems that we face today as piecemeal. We can’t build a culture of life and trash the planet at the same time. We can’t clean up the mess left by a consumer society if we disregard the preciousness of human life.

Care for creation flows naturally from our commitment to protect all human life.  For example, polluted drinking water causes birth defects.  We who march for life ought also to do our part to make sure that families have clean water for their children.  In our different places in life, we can build up a human ecology by taking account of how our actions affect the lives of the most vulnerable.

Most fundamental is our need to examine ourselves and how we receive God’s good world.  We are immersed in a throwaway culture, which exerts its force on us. In our consumer society, we are prone to think of our surroundings, and even the people in them, as objects to help us fulfill our selfish desires.  The habits formed in the throwaway culture need to be reformed and redirected.  We must tend to our interior life and learn to receive created things as gifts, always remembering the unique dignity of each human being.

Pope Francis reminds us that everything comes from God and can point to God.  A fish or a grasshopper, a prairie or a canyon, each thing has its own loveliness and is to be admired as a creation of our Creator – not only for what benefit it brings us.  When we can behold created things in their own particular glory, we move closer to an integral ecology.  In the throwaway culture, land is only good as an energy resource. In a culture of life, it is seen as an integral ecosystem, pointing to a loving God who delights in making a world filled with diverse creatures and landscapes.

The Pope offers simple suggestions for developing gratitude and reverence.  He suggests that praying before and after meals might help inspire thankfulness for the food we receive.  He notes the importance of resting on the Sabbath.  In this spirit I offer a possible exercise.  Choose some seemingly simple object, and consider the complexity and grandeur of it. Consider doing this with a different piece of creation each day.  Let us take time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and awe at the beauty of the earth, which reaches its pinnacle in that most marvelous of creatures, the human person. Such an attitude animates a culture of life.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is a staff assistant for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the Tsarnaev Case, Will Justice be Served?

Rachel Malinowski

Rachel Malinowski

Justice.

That was the single word at the top of my newsfeed when I opened Facebook after the thirty-count conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. As I continued to scroll, I saw similar cheers for justice and chants of “Boston Strong”.

I must admit that following Tsarnaev’s conviction, I felt a sense that justice had been served. As a native Bostonian, it had been painful to see my city and my neighbors under attack in 2013. I remember frantically texting my mom and being glued to the television during the chase in Watertown. Even from my current home in Connecticut, I felt angry and upset; I cannot fathom the pain, fear and anger that runners, spectators and victims felt when our city was attacked. In light of this, the conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev brought some sense of justice to this tragedy.

But Tsarnaev’s conviction was somewhat expected and thus the real focal point of this case will come with the sentencing phase, which just began. So this begs the question, will justice ultimately be served in the penalty phase of this case?

In the Catholic worldview, justice is not a death sentence for Tsarnaev. Rather, for there to be justice, Tsarnaev’s life should be spared, a position that is rooted in the belief that the application of capital punishment today, unnecessarily violates the inherent dignity of human life. When we as Catholics talk about the inherent dignity of life, we are referring to the sacredness of life that springs from the fact that each and every human has been made in the image and likeness of God; nothing—not even committing heinous crimes—can take this dignity away from a person. Thus, taking a brother or sister’s life as a penalty for a crime violates the image of God among us and as such, is unjust.

But it is not only the dignity of the individual sentenced to death that is violated when the death penalty is utilized; the dignity of the entire society is violated. In a 2005 statement on the death penalty, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed the hope that, “our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill.” More important than the logical flaw with the application of the death penalty, is the fact that the death penalty perpetuates a vicious cycle of violence and death that threatens all human life. By violating the dignity of our brothers and sisters, we necessarily violate our own.

I do not mean to make an anti-death penalty stance sound easy. In fact, it would be much easier to refuse to see the dignity of our enemies and not to worry about the culture of death that we are creating. It is imperative, though, that we resist this culture of violence and death. Violent penalties only breed more violence; they proclaim a disregard for life and express that violence is an acceptable vehicle for communicating ideals. Justice can only be realized when we boldly assert the sanctity of life in the face of horrific destruction.

I invite you to join me in praying that justice will be served and the culture of death and violence will be resisted.

Rachel Malinowski is a third-year Master of Divinity candidate at Yale Divinity School. She received her undergraduate degree at Fordham University. Rachel is an alumna of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development intern program.

Project Rachel: A Ministry of Mercy

Mary McClusky, USCCB

Mary McClusky, USCCB (Photo by Renata Grzan/RenataPhotography.com)

“I felt I had committed the unforgivable sin.”

So many women with abortion in their past have repeated a similar phrase. They feel shame, regret, loss and despair. They cannot accept that God loves them. They stay away from the Church. They avoid the sacrament of reconciliation, which can provide the healing balm of which they are most in need.

But there is a message that all those who have been involved in an abortion need to hear: that great joy can be found in Christ’s unfailing mercy and love.

Pope Francis continues to spread the message of mercy every chance he gets. He recently announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin later this year. In his words:

“I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.

This talk of mercy reminded me of a chance encounter on a muggy day in St. Louis fourteen years ago that taught me a valuable lesson about tenderness, love and mercy toward those involved in abortion.

I was part of a pro-life prayer and witness walk across the country during summer college break. Out for dinner at a pub, I accidentally bumped into a woman. When I apologized, she asked me about our group. At my reply, her indignation was apparent: “What do a bunch of Catholic college kids know about abortion? Have you ever had one?” I admitted that I hadn’t and that didn’t know anyone who had. She said, “Well, it’s easy to preach about something you don’t know anything about. But until you’ve walked in a woman’s shoes, you won’t understand.”

“Haley” opened up to me and told me she’d had three abortions over the course of two long and difficult relationships. I’ll never forget the despondency in her voice as she gripped her half-empty beer glass and asked, “Who’s going to marry me now?” It broke my heart to hear her say that she felt unlovable and unworthy because of her past. Shame and guilt kept her from having any hope of finding love and getting married.

Although we never spoke again, she opened my eyes to the wound that abortion inflicts on a woman’s heart and soul.

Many Suffer From Abortion. The numbers are staggering. Forty-two years after Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, it is estimated that over 56 million children in the United States alone have died from abortion. The number of women who have lost one or more children to abortion could be more than 35 million.

Twenty-eight percent of women who have abortions identify themselves as Catholic. This means that perhaps 10 million Catholic women have had an abortion in the past 42 years. Fathers and grandparents of the deceased child or other family members are often involved in the decision to have an abortion. They, too, may continue to blame themselves for their real or imagined failings that contributed to the fateful decision. So many around us each day are deeply wounded from involvement with an abortion and often suffer in silence.

The Church’s Response: Project Rachel. In 1975, the U.S. bishops expressed the need to help those suffering from abortion to experience Christ’s love and mercy. They committed “the pastoral resources of the Church” to “the specific needs of … those who have had or have taken part in an abortion” (Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities [1975], no. 6). They emphasized that “it is important that we realize that God’s mercy is always available and without limit, that the Christian life can be restored and renewed through the sacraments” (no. 24).

Project Rachel, the diocesan based post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church in the United States, is available to help. The ministry is a network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. The ministry provides an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, confession, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals.

How Can I Help? Pope Francis’ focus on mercy challenges us all to be merciful. What can we do to answer his call and mercifully accompany so many like “Haley” who suffer from abortion?

If someone you know suffers from involvement with an abortion, offer them your attentive listening and non-judgmental attitude. Encourage the person to contact their nearest Project Rachel Ministry. Locate it by clicking on the “Find Help” map on the Project Rachel websites www.hopeafterabortion.com and www.esperanzaposaborto.com. The U.S. bishops want every church-sponsored program and Catholic organization to know where to refer those in need of post-abortion healing.

Each of us can help raise awareness about the painful aftermath of abortion and help others seek help and healing in Christ. We can speak to those who have experienced the pain of abortion lovingly and tenderly of God’s mercy. We can offer them hope for relief of their suffering and provide information about help nearby. And, of course, we can remember their special needs in our prayers.

Mary McClusky is assistant director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more about the bishops’ pro-life activities, go to www.usccb.org/prolife.

Vulnerable, Yet Strong

Kimberly Baker of the USCCB.

Kimberly Baker of the USCCB. (Photo by Renata Grzan/RenataPhotography.com)

As we near the conclusion of Lent with Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum, we enter into deeper reflection on the Passion of Christ. Both God and man, Christ humbled himself to experience very deep suffering and even death. This sacrifice of love ultimately led to triumph over sin and evil and made salvation possible for each of us. Christ’s passion invites us to reflect on the very real connection between vulnerability and strength.

There is something about vulnerability – its humility, its directness, the capacity to be hurt – that is frightening and uncomfortable. Yet, how many human endeavors require vulnerability as a pre-requisite for success? Romantic relationships begin with the risk of rejection. Athletic training carries with it the risk of injury and pain. In wartime, the soldier who faces his enemy is at his most vulnerable, yet also his most courageous. A person who is willing to be vulnerable has a chance at succeeding at any number of things. Vulnerability requires a certain boldness.

And here we see a strange contradiction: a person who refuses to be vulnerable may actually be very fragile inside, whereas a person who knows how to be vulnerable in a healthy way may have a lot of internal strength. This positive kind of vulnerability might be manifested in choosing to face new challenges, giving generously in the different aspects of life, and finding security in Christ’s love and therefore freedom from fear of personal weaknesses or setbacks. If vulnerability can be connected with interior strength and contribute to growth on the personal level, the same is true for our culture, especially in how it views its weak and dependent members.

In his encyclical letter, Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote: “A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society” (no. 38). When we refuse to accept and support the weak and suffering members of society, we lose our compassion as individuals and become less human. Society does not improve by disregarding its weaker members; it instead stifles love and care for others by setting increasingly narrow standards on what lives are acceptable and what lives are ‘burdensome’ or ‘worthless.’

The pro-life perspective does not fear vulnerability in the human condition – it embraces it. A culture of life does not pressure people to live up to an artificial standard of health or physical perfection in order to feel a sense of self-worth and purpose. Rather, each person is regarded as special and unique, as a gift to the community in a profound way, no matter their state of health and mental or physical abilities. A society that reaches out to and accompanies its weaker members in their suffering and vulnerability is a truly strong and courageous one.

Our acceptance of our vulnerability, individually and as a society, is the measure of our humanity. Let us remember how immensely we are loved by God – especially when we are vulnerable – and how greatly we are valued in his eyes, no matter our physical or social condition. As we meditate on the suffering of Christ during Holy Week, let us not be afraid to walk in his footsteps as we spread this beautiful pro-life message to others. For in Christ we have our greatest example of someone who could be vulnerable, yet strong.

Kimberly Baker is programs and projects coordinator for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. For more on promoting a culture of life, visit the Secretariat’s Life Issues Forum.