Stay tuned for more miracles

Larry Smith

Since my arrival at Catholic Charities in April 2013, I’ve said that we serve two kinds of people: those with a need to give and those with a need to receive. That was brought home to me in an amazing way at A Beacon of Hope Gala for Lighthouse and Women’s Services, which raised more than $700,000 to help women, children and families in need.

Just before the gala began, I was blessed to introduce a Lighthouse client family to a donor whose advertising project had helped that expectant mom and dad find Lighthouse a year earlier. At the time, the young couple had been driving around Denver, thinking they might be pregnant. Then they saw a bus with an advertisement for Lighthouse Women’s Center and a phone number, which they called. They were treated with respect and compassion at Lighthouse throughout her pregnancy, they said. And at the Jan. 31 gala, they brought their beautiful 3-month-old baby in a carrier.

That story, for me, is what Catholic Charities is all about and what can happen when we give ourselves in faith to serve others, even if we don’t know how it will all turn out. Here’s the background:

Lighthouse Women’s Center had launched an eight-week advertising campaign in late 2013 on buses and light rail trains in the Denver market, intending to reach women in crisis pregnancies. The donor family funding the project had three goals: greater visibility for Lighthouse, ads with a dedicated phone number to track responses, and simple messaging and imagery to reach young women in crisis, such as “Unplanned pregnancy? You are NOT Alone” or “Considering an Abortion? We can help. Free Services.”

In the tally of calls received and services provided, we concluded that several women in various circumstances had a change of heart and did not pursue an abortion as a result of the advertising campaign. And know this: We don’t just ask a woman in a crisis pregnancy not to abort her child. We show her a path to a life with her child through our continuum of care. That includes free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and confidential counseling at Lighthouse—and may also include shelter, diapers, clothing, food, counseling—all that she may need to begin a life with that child. And whether a woman is abortion-minded, in a crisis pregnancy, seeking a pregnancy test or simply happens to see the right sign pointing her to Lighthouse at the right moment, we want to be there.

And so do our donors. At the gala, the donor family who had so generously funded the first transit ad campaign for Lighthouse said they are going to renew—and increase—their funding for that project. Stay tuned for more miracles.

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.