This Holy Week, innocents are at risk

This week, as we recall the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the theme of innocence has been on my mind and in my heart.

Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied, oppressed and afflicted, “yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7).

An address that Pope Francis gave this past week to representatives of the Italian Pro-life Movement also brings innocence to mind. He warned the group about the growth of a “throw-away culture” that discards even innocent life.

Therefore, he said, “it is necessary to confirm the firmest opposition to every direct attempt against life, especially innocent and vulnerable life, and the unborn in the maternal womb is the innocent one par excellence.”

Recent events at our state Capitol have brought home the theme of innocence even more strongly. For those of you who haven’t heard, this past week, Senate Bill 175 was introduced under the misleading title of the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act.”

But this is not a typical bill by any means. NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), which is supporting the bill alongside Planned Parenthood, describes the bill as “the first of its kind” in the country and “ambitious” because it establishes a “fundamental right” to anything deemed “reproductive health care” and prevents the state from creating any laws that deny or interfere with accessing those things.

The potential scope of this bill, if it becomes law, is vast. And its ability to keep crucial information from women in difficult situations, to throw away those children who are inconvenient or unwanted, is equally worrisome.

This bill would prevent legislators from enacting laws such as ultrasound requirements, certain health code regulations for abortion facilities, or waiting periods for those considering an abortion.

It also has the potential to do away with Colorado’s parental notification law, which requires that parents be notified when their child is thinking about having an abortion. Beyond that, if the sex education in public schools is considered “reproductive health care,” then parents could forfeit their right to opt their children out of the classes.

On April 11, Pope Francis voiced his support for parents’ rights to decide their children’s moral and religious education and rejected “any kind of educational experimentation with children.”

He further stated, “The horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the 20th century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals and, with the pretense of modernity, push children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of ‘only one form of thought.’”

This bill would protect that “one form of thought” which Pope Francis warns against and undermine everyone’s freedom to promote the dignity of human life and the unborn child.

Proponents of SB 175 argue that their ability to access contraception and abortion will be in danger if this bill is not passed. But during testimony on the bill, not a single person in favor of it could cite an instance of not having access to contraception or abortion. In other words, this bill is not needed and will only serve to strengthen the hand of those who want to strengthen their bottom line at the expense of the innocent.

During this Holy Week, I urge you to beseech the Lord on behalf of the innocents who would be threatened if this bill becomes law. But do not stop there. Get in touch your senator, the media and those who are willing to stand up for those who cannot speak, who cannot open their mouths.

The Colorado Catholic Conference can help you learn more about this bill or get contact information for your senator. You can call 303-894-8808 or visit their website: www.cocatholicconference.org.

May the words of the prophet Isaiah penetrate your hearts, “yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” so that you may see the innocence of Jesus and protect “the innocent one par excellence” in the unborn!

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.