Know the cracks in the foundation

Archbishop Aquila

Every year we observe October as Respect Life Month, with the goal of spreading awareness of the importance of protecting life at every stage and rededicating ourselves to the cause. To do that effectively, we need to understand the root problems leading to the attacks on life and work to counter them.

Over the last few years, events in our nation such as the decision by the Supreme Court to redefine marriage, have reminded me that the effort to defend life is much broader than we often realize. When we speak about life, what naturally springs to mind is safeguarding the unborn, the elderly and the vulnerable. But the fact is, abortion, sexuality and the family are all intertwined. And the way that we treat the most vulnerable and precious things in life effects how we treat the poor, those on death row, immigrants and refugees.

In 2018 it will have been 50 years since Blessed Pope Paul VI issued his momentous encyclical Humanae Vitae on the transmission of human life. Too few people know that the Holy Father was able to foresee the societal and relational fallout from widespread use of contraception because he understood that contraception separates the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intimacy. He realized that when you tamper with the gift of life, you impact relationships, marriages, the treatment of women and attitudes toward unborn children.

The accuracy of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s predictions is stunning. He foresaw that widespread use of contraception would do four things: 1) “lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality,” 2) that men would lose respect for women and “no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium,” so that he would consider her “a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his respected and beloved companion,” 3) it would place a “dangerous weapon… in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies,” and 4) it would lead man to think that he had unlimited dominion over his own body.

Who can argue that all this and more has come to pass in the last 48 years? We see that around 45 percent of marriages end in divorce, that one-quarter of Millennials will not even get married, that women have become objectified – especially through pornography and sex trafficking – that Colorado and other states have engaged in a campaign to insert IUDs into poor women and teens, and that the sterilization is the leading form of contraception used by Americans.

Abortion itself is also linked with a contraceptive mentality, since the idea that it is acceptable to kill one’s unborn child essentially says, “If a child is too difficult to have right now, I can prevent that from happening.” Sexual intimacy and having a child, in other words, are separable.

By striking at life at its very beginning, the Evil One knew that he would be able to impact not just the child but whole families, countries and even humanity as a whole. In this struggle, the words of God to Adam, Eve and Satan after the fall are born out. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15, RSV).”

This makes what Sister Lucia dos Santos, one of the visionaries from Fatima, wrote to Cardinal Carlo Caffarra all the more relevant. Cadinal Caffarra decided to write to Sister Lucia to ask for her prayers after Pope John Paul II had entrusted him with founding the Pontifical Institute on Marriage and the Family. He did not expect a reply, but he got one. She wrote: “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family.”

Some recent developments in science and law make the impact of casting God aside apparent. These include the creation of human embryos with material from three different parents, the push to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, and the attempts to redefine gender, to name a few. The loss of God in society and the resulting distance from the created order is leading to a further slide down a slippery slope that ends in a profoundly inhumane culture. A culture since it does not believe in God, unwittingly gives reign to the Evil One who desires to remain hidden and destroy the dignity of human life.

In October as we work to defend life, it is important to remember that unborn children – because of their innocence and defenselessness – deserve our special protection and first protection. At the same time, we should also be aware that the ideas behind the attacks on life are impacting relationships, families and whole societies. We must work to counteract this with the loving presentation on the truth about sexuality, and sharing it with others in a merciful and honest way. My heart is always filled with gratitude to the Father when I see young people receive the truth on human sexuality and the joy and happiness that comes to them.

Sr. Lucia told Cardinal Caffarra that he should expect attacks, because “whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.” The devil will always attempt to undermine the family for it is the first society and the heart of every society.

“Nevertheless,” she concluded, “Our Lady has already crushed his head.” Let us take courage and never fail to defend life, especially when it is at its weakest. No matter how dark our times may seem, we must always remember that in Jesus Christ the battle is won!

COMING UP: Voting as a Catholic in 2016

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I have voted in every presidential election since 1972 and I have never experienced an election like this year’s. Both candidates are disliked, lack credibility, and have made comments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The American public is fed up with politics as usual and with the establishment in both parties. So, what should Catholics do when we vote in November?

That question is one that I have been asked by the faithful more this year than in any previous election. Recently in a dinner discussion with a group of Catholics, the conversation turned to politics and became vigorous, as some at the table supported Clinton and some Trump. All eyes turned to me and one of them asked, “Archbishop, what do you think?”

First, I shared my aversion for both candidates. Then I said that they need to reflect on the platforms of both parties, with an emphasis on the human life issues. Everyone at the table knew well the teaching of the Church on life and the dignity of life. They knew that Catholics in good conscience cannot support candidates who will advance abortion.  All pretty much agreed that, when it comes to life issues, Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle have put party ideology before their faith and living their faith in the public square.

This is the most important guidance I can give: allow your ongoing personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the Church to guide your political decisions. I say this because we believe that the truth about ourselves and the world we live in is revealed in and through him. Our society suffers and has suffered for quite some time because too few people live an integrated life – one that does not divide “the personal” from “the public.”

This year there are some critical changes to the two major parties’ platforms that some at the dinner were not aware of.  Most important is that this year the Democratic party platform calls for the overturning of the Hyde Amendment, a provision that both parties have voted to include in the federal budget and on other spending bills for 40 years. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal taxpayer money from being used for abortion. The platform is aggressively pro-abortion, not only in funding matters, but in the appointment of only those judges who will support abortion and the repealing of the Helms Amendment, which prevents the U.S. from supporting abortion availability overseas. Conversely, the Republican party platform is supportive of the Hyde Amendment and just this year strengthened its support for life by calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, banning dismemberment abortion and opposing assisted suicide.

Our conversation then turned to the understanding of the freedom of religion, the freedom of conscience, and the ability for faith-based organizations like the Church to provide charity through shelters, hospitals, homes for the elderly, etc., without fear of government interference and the existence of a respect for religious values.

In that vein, the subject was raised of the Health and Human Services mandate. This regulation requires the provision of contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortifacients through employer’s health plans. Most surprising to me was that all at the table were practicing Catholics who are involved in their faith, and a couple of them had neither heard of the difficulty the Obama Administration has created for the Little Sisters of the Poor, nor the litigation that has occurred trying to force them to violate their consciences.

Catholic voters must make themselves aware of where the parties stand on these essential issues. The right to life is the most important and fundamental right, since life is necessary for any of the other rights to matter. There are some issues that can legitimately be debated by Christians, such as which policies are the most effective in caring for the poor, but the direct killing of innocent human life must be opposed at all times by every follower of Jesus Christ. There are no legitimate exceptions to this teaching.

The health of our nation depends on a deep respect for human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and the future of our society depends on how we protect that right. If we don’t, eventually we will go the way of Rome and Greece and other great civilizations that have risen and fallen.

Some, both in politics and in the Church, have stated that it is the Church that needs to change her teaching to include abortion, same-sex unions, and even euthanasia. Yet, in faithfulness to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and to Sacred Tradition, the Church cannot change her teaching on these issues without denying Christ. She would cut herself from the vine and only wither away, as promised by Christ. The further we move away from Jesus Christ and his teachings, the more will our churches empty.

We are where we are today because too many Catholics and other people of faith have embraced the ways of the world and not the ways of Christ. They have not served as leaven that transforms society, but rather have condoned evil and the throw-away culture that Pope Francis frequently reminds us to reject.

When we fail to do this, the government will step in to fill the void. Indeed, the government will become “god” and impose its beliefs on the citizens. One only needs to look to the Health and Human Service contraceptive mandate, or the attempt by President Obama to force a transgender agenda onto public schools. We may even soon see the federal funding of abortion and the approval of physician-assisted suicide in Colorado. We are witnessing the dictatorship of relativism and the erosion of true freedom. And as Pope Francis often preaches, the devil gets in the mix quickly, especially when people no longer believe in God.

So my advice to Catholics in voting in this presidential election is to first look at who forms you and your conscience. Is it your personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the Church, the voice of God which cannot contradict the truth or revelation, or is it the ideology of some political party? Secondly, look at how you have been a leaven in society. How have you sought the common good and the values of the Gospel, especially by serving the poor, the needy, the unborn and the dying. If you truly live your Catholic faith, you will not find complete alignment with any political party, and that is okay.  Thirdly, look at how each party platform supports human life from conception through natural death, the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience, the family, and the poor. Finally, do vote, as every Catholic has an obligation to participate in the political process.

For many, the presidential election will involve a choice between the lesser of two evils. On the Colorado ballot, we will also face the evil of physician-assisted suicide, known as Proposition 106. In conforming our hearts and minds with the Gospel and its clear teaching on life, all Catholics are called to vote “no” on this issue. A “yes” vote only furthers the throw-away society, and the culture of death. You will be hearing much more on this in the days and weeks ahead. Let us keep our country and state in our daily prayers, praying for God’s protection and blessings in these challenging, difficult times in which we live. And let us in charity pray for the conversion of those who support a throw-away culture of death!