‘Our state should do better’: One mom’s journey of choosing life and supporting Prop 115

Lauren Castillo grew up as a pro-life supporter, which was no surprise.  

She was Catholic and her father was even the deacon of her church. But then in Castillo’s senior year of college, her pro-life philosophy was put to a real-life test when she had an unplanned pregnancy. 

“That was a moment I had to say to myself, ‘now you have to walk your talk,’” Castillo said. “It truly rocked my world and made me redefine my relationship with God.” 

God continued to test Lauren. She found herself struggling to fit in the desks in her classrooms and few professors took notice. She was already plugged into awareness groups on campus, but she found herself questioning why the university lacked standardized ways to assist a pregnant student. She was told the university handled it on a case-by-case basis. 

Lauren’s due date was also her graduation date for her double major, honors program, but God had another plan and her son was born five-and-a-half-weeks premature. This challenge came with a whole new set of barriers. 

“I walked into my first pediatrician appointment and they said, ‘you don’t have insurance because your policy doesn’t cover a child, so we can’t see you,’” Castillo said. 

She acknowledges these obstacles are even more intense for women who only speak Spanish. The pressures felt from doctors, family members or even the community can be overwhelming. 

Castillo, who had done homework while in labor, delivered on a Thursday and was back in class the following week. She was trying to figure out where and when she could nurse and change diapers. She leaned on her mom a lot at this point for help with her son, but her mom was also recovering from Leukemia treatment at the time.   

The student mom made it through that challenging time in her life with the grace of God. She went through marriage preparations classes with the Archdiocese of Denver and married her son’s father. Her seven-year-old son now has three younger siblings — the most recent is only a few weeks old. 

Castillo never regretted her decision to give her son life and her unplanned and difficult pregnancy strengthened her family and their faith. It also reinvigorated her pro-life support and her passion to help women who find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy.  

Now, Castillo works with 1,250 college and high school campuses — 41 in Colorado— to let expectant moms know: “There are people who will care for you and your baby and there are many organizations and resources that exist to help.” 

These resources stretch to communities of all sizes throughout the state and they address some of the cultural barriers for Hispanic women, Castillo said. Organizations and government agencies exist that can help with affordable insurance, housing, bill pay assistance, job placement and food.  Lower and no income moms can still have access to high quality OB/GYNs and pediatricians, and these services are not just bi-lingual, they can address cultural differences for pregnant moms in rural Colorado to downtown Denver, Castillo said. 

There’s an unfortunate narrative out there that the pro-life community only cares about the unborn child and it’s just not true, said Castillo, Development Director of Students for Life. We see the mom and baby as equal humans needing our help and support, she added. 

“The moms need to know there are people and groups who will love them, they need to know they are still loved,” Castillo said. “There is no question these women would be met with love and the help they need.” 

That’s why this mom who faced her own unplanned pregnancy is pleading for voters to vote yes on Colorado’s Prop 115 this November. 

“Our mission is to make these supportive services known. There should never be reason that seeking late-term abortions is the answer,” Castillo said. “Our moms and pre-born babies deserve better. Our state should do better.” 

Respect Life ministries and programs supporting moms, like Castillo, and their unplanned pregnancies are supported by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal. Show your support at archden.org/GiveCatholic.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.