A life of miracles

The otherwise inexplicable cure of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease was accepted in early January by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and Pope Benedict XVI as the confirming miracle that clears the way for the beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.

John Paul II’s life was a life of miracles—a life in which radical openness to God’s grace opened channels of grace for others. In April 1990, the new president of then newly-liberated Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, caught this dimension of John Paul’s remarkable life when he memorably welcomed the pope to Prague in these stirring terms:

“I am not sure I know what a miracle is. In spite of this, I dare say that, at this moment, I am participating in a miracle: the man who six months ago was arrested as an enemy of the state stands here today as the president of that state, and bids welcome to the first pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church to set foot in this land…

“I am not sure that I know what a miracle is. In spite of this, I dare say that at this moment I am participating in a miracle: in a country devastated by the ideology of hatred, the messenger of love has arrived; in a country devastated by the government of the ignorant, the living symbol of culture has arrived; in a country that, until a short time ago, was devastated by the idea of confrontation and division in the world, the messenger of peace, dialogue, mutual tolerance, esteem and calm understanding, the messenger of fraternal unity in diversity has arrived.

“During these long decades, the Spirit was banished from our country. I have the honor of witnessing the moment in which its soil is kissed by the apostle of spirituality.”

“Welcome to Czechoslovakia, Your Holiness.”

In its witness to the miracle of Karol Wojtyla’s life, Vaclav Havel’s eloquence was matched by the untutored eloquence of those thousands of people from all over the world who, spontaneously, wrote the Postulation for the Beatification and Canonization of John Paul II, telling their own stories of how this man they had never met had, nonetheless, changed their lives. Many of the letters were from non-Christians, even non-believers. Some were simply addressed, “Pope John Paul II—Heaven”—and found their way to the Postulation’s offices near St. John Lateran in Rome.

Some of those letters reported recovery from illness; others reported even more difficult recoveries from addictions, estrangements, even hatreds. The professor-pope would likely have smiled at the letters reporting success in passing exams through his intercession. The pope who lifted up the vocation of marriage and who was a fierce defender of the right-to-life of the unborn would have certainly been touched by the letters from previously infertile couples reporting conceptions after years of sorrow and prayer.

On the day of John Paul’s funeral, April 8, 2005, the people of the Church spontaneously proclaimed him a saint with their cries of “Santo subito!”—“A saint now!” With the announcement of John Paul’s beatification, it might be said that the judgment of the Church’s leadership has now caught up with the spontaneous judgment of the Church’s people. Yet John Paul’s sanctity was recognized not only by the people of the Church, but by the people of the world—hence all those letters addressed, “Pope John Paul II—Heaven.” Thus the beatification on May 1 will be, in a sense, an ecumenical and inter-religious affair, in that the life of heroic virtue being recognized and celebrated was a life recognized as such far beyond the formal boundaries of the Catholic Church.

The Church doesn’t make saints; God makes saints, and the Church recognizes the saints that God has made. John Paul II was convinced that God was profligate in his saint-making—that there are examples of sanctity all around us, if we only know how to look for them and see them for what they are. His blessedness consisted in no small part of showing us the blessedness of others.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”