Posts Tagged ‘Conversion’

“It is now Christ that lives in you”

In 01 Daily Meditations on 2016/06/04 at 12:00 AM
Your relatives, colleagues and friends have noticed the change, and realized that it is not a temporary phase, but that you are no longer the same. Don’t worry, carry on. Vivit vero in me Christus — it is now Christ that lives in me — that’s what is happening. (Furrow, 424)

“He that dwells in the aid of the Most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of heaven.” This is the risky security of the Christian. We must be convinced that God hears us, that he is concerned about us. If we are, we will feel completely at peace. But living with God is indeed a risky business, for he will not share things: he wants everything. And if we move toward him, it means we must be ready for a new conversion, to take new bearings, to listen more attentively to his inspirations — those holy desires that he provokes in every soul — and to put them into practice.

Since our first conscious decision really to follow the teaching of Christ, we have no doubt made good progress along the way of faithfulness to his word. And yet isn’t it true that there is still much to be done? Isn’t it true, particularly, that there is still so much pride in us? (Christ is passing by, 58)


Becoming a Catholic

In 12 Converts on 2015/04/10 at 12:00 AM

by Father John McCloskey

As the Catechism reminds us, winning converts to our Faith should be a constant concern for all Catholics: “The true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers…or to the faithful” (#905). How should we go about it? People are brought to the Church one by one. God pours out his saving grace in many ways, but He normally requires, and we could even say desires, the willing collaboration of his sons and daughters in this joyful task. Winning converts is your task and there is no more endlessly satisfying and challenging work than that of saving souls. The famous Catholic philosopher (and convert) Dietrich von Hildebrand said that we should look upon all people we encounter as Catholics in re (in fact) or in spe (potentially). I agree.

Admit it. Don’t you from time to time think about sharing with your neighbor, your friend, your family member, your colleague the joy that it is in your heart in enjoying the fullness of our Faith in the Catholic Church? No apologies here (except in the “Pro Vita Sua ” sense), thank you. Perhaps already some of you have had the wonderful experience of being the godparent or sponsor of a friend whom, by God’s grace, you have guided into the Church. You know then the joy that fills the heart in being God’s instrument. The only comparable joys are marriage, becoming a parent, and performing in “persona Christi” the sacraments of the Church as a priest!

This delight in a friend’s baptism or reception into full communion with the Church is always a cause for holy celebration, but it is a particular joy in the present circumstances of our culture and in the present ecclesial moment as we await the third millennium of the Christian era. We see ourselves surrounded in our “culture of death” by so many persons bereft of any real meaning in their lives. Has there ever been in the Christian era a more joyless, aimless, lonely society than our own, a society that is truly “Clueless,” a society that has appeared to have gained the whole world but forgotten the existence of its own soul? On the other hand, has there ever been a Roman Pontiff at the head of our Church who has so incessantly and hopefully proclaimed the Gospel in all its fullness throughout the world, addressing the fallen yet redeemed world’s hopes and anxieties so completely?

The constant growth through the first three centuries of the infant Church up to the Edict of Milan in the early fourth century took place through the witness and personal influence of thousands of Christians and their families. With the passage of more centuries, Christian ideals lived out in the world by persons and families gradually transformed the West into a form of a Christian culture which we know as the Middle Ages. In our own time, following the gradual dissolution of that particular culture through, in part, such historical events as the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the titanic struggles of ideas and ideologies of the last two centuries (Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and so on), we are called to do the same. The partial success of these various heresies and ideologies on the world stage has been due in part to the fact that a large portion of the Catholic laity have been “missing in action” in the apostolic sense through the last several centuries, ignorantly content to let the clergy and religious do the “heavy lifting.”

This article aims to give some insights, largely based upon my own experience, into how we can more effectively spread the gift of faith through example and friendship, or what Cardinal Newman referred to as the “apostolate of personal influence.” As we rapidly draw to our crossing the “threshold of hope” into the third millennium, it is the historical moment to throw off our timidity, our fear, and let our light shine out not only from under the basket but upon the shining hill. Why do you think it is that at the end of this century our Faith, so abused, attacked and vituperated, has drawn to it well known Jewish atheists, Protestant ministers by the dozens, prominent politicians, etc.? Why did the Holy Father in his last pastoral visit to the U.S. in October 1995 virtually conquer the heart of New York, the capital of secularism? Why is it that in the media today when the word “Church” is used, it is always understood to mean the Catholic Church and not pan-Protestantism? Certainly not because membership in the Church is the road to riches, affluence, fame, good health, and a care-free future! It attracts those seeking eternal verities that promise eternal life, “life everlasting.”

If now is “the age of the laity,” as is incessantly proclaimed, its success will be measured not by the ever-increasing participation of the laity in ecclesiastical “ministries” but rather by the growth and spiritual health of the Church as manifested in an increase both in numbers and in the intensity of laymen’s prayer, sacramental participation and apostolic fervor. This, in turn, will lead inevitably to a gradual transformation of culture into one that reflects faithfully Christ’s teaching as mediated through the Church. As the Pope said in his address to the American Bishops in Los Angeles in l987, “Primarily through her laity, the Church is in a position to exercise great influence upon American culture. But how is American culture evolving today? Is the evolution being influenced by the Gospel? Does it clearly reflect Christian inspiration? Your music, your poetry and art, your drama, your painting and sculpture, the literature that you are producing–are all those things which reflect the soul of a nation being influenced by the spirit of Christ for the perfection of humanity?” To be able to answer in the affirmative may take decades but the effort will start with our own personal conversion which will result in the conversion of others.

The prophetic message of the Council and the present pontificate have led to this thinking about the laity… The Holy Father believes that, as we enter the third millennium, we are crossing the “threshold of hope” into “a new springtime for the Church.” If this is to happen, it will depend ultimately on the apostolate of millions of persons and families. He said in his letter on missionary activity: “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission. Christ, whose mission we continue, is the ‘witness’ par excellence and the model of all Christian witness. The first form of witness is the very life of the missionary, of the Christian family, and of the ecclesial community.”

We may refer to this sharing of our faith as evangelization, giving witness, etc. I prefer the word used most often by the Conciliar fathers in this regard, apostolate: The second Vatican Council tells us: “The individual apostolate, flowing generously from its source in a truly Christian life, is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even of the organized type, it admits of no substitutes (my emphasis). Regardless of status, all lay persons (including those who have no opportunity or possibility for collaboration in associations) are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it.”

In a later encyclical on the laity by John Paul II, the point could not be made clearer: “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization… In fact, the ‘good news’ is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.” In short, the buck stops with each one of us to evangelize those who surround us. No excuses. “Every disciple is personally called by name; no disciple can withhold making a response: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’ (I Cor 9:16).”

Perhaps we should firmly establish our right, as well as our duty to bring our friends to Christ’s Church. First, it is His Church, with the successor of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ. As the Holy Father points out in the encyclicalOn Commitment to Ecumenism, “the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. The Decree of Ecumenism emphasizes the presence in her of the fullness (plenitudo) of the means of salvation. Full unity will come about when all share in the fullness of the means of salvation entrusted by Christ to his Church… The Catholic Church is conscious that she has preserved the ministry of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, the Bishop of Rome, whom God established as her ‘perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity.'”

If we can put it more succinctly, all who are saved are saved through the Church even if they are not aware of it on earth. Everyone in heaven is a member of the Church. Belloc had it right, I think: “One thing in the world is different from all other. It has a personality and a force. It is recognized and (when recognized) most violently loved or hated. It is the Catholic Church. Within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, it is the night.”

Second, there is a mistaken notion that is fairly widespread in our society that the second Vatican Council was about the role of the lay Catholic in the Church. It was not. It was about the role of the lay Catholic in the world. This role can be summed up in the search for holiness that is our baptismal right and duty and consequently in assuming the right and privilege of extending the kingdom of God here on earth through witnessing to our faith through the Christian example of our family and friendships.

A few words of caution. We are not speaking of proselytism (in the pejorative sense). That is to say our sharing, witnessing, speaking, giving, forming, educating and so on has absolutely nothing to do with coercion, or, perish the thought, lack of respect for the “freedom of the children of God,” particularly in that which refers to our “separated brethren” Christians. Quite the contrary. I am in total agreement with the landmark ecumenical statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together in l994, written by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus and co-signed by many other prominent churchmen of both Catholicism and the Evangelical faiths, which says: “It is understandable that Christians who bear witness to the Gospel try to persuade others that their communities and traditions are more fully in accord with the Gospel.” We realize that only God’s grace can effect a conversion and that pressure, other than our prayer, sacrifice, good example, and friendship, would not only in the long-term certainly be counter productive but would also not respect “the dignity of the human person” so central to the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council and of John Paul II.

“Christian witness must always be made in a spirit of love and humility. It must not deny but must readily accord to everyone the full freedom to discern and decide what is God’s will for his life. Witness that is in service to the truth is in service to such freedom. Any form of coercion, physical, psychological, legal, or economic corrupts Christian witness and is to be unqualifiedly rejected….” No, we are interested only in our personal total “gift of self” which is never more complete than when we act as God’s collaborators in communicating the gift of divine life, God’s grace. Cardinal Newman, the proto-convert of the last two centuries, made it clear that “to believe is to love” and that grace of the fullness of faith is only given to those who are freely seeking it.

But now on to more practical matters. How do we “make” converts? First of all, we don’t, God does. Having made that abundantly clear, what is our first step in approaching someone to consider becoming a Catholic? Naturally the desire will flow out of our prayer life. To paraphrase the epitaph written on the tomb of the famous London architect Christopher Wren, If you seek converts, circumspice (look around you). We come into contact with dozens if not hundreds of people in the course of our daily lives each month. They range from dearest family members and intimate friends to the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker. We look at them and ask ourselves “could this person be open to our Faith?” If the answer is yes, on to the next step. It is said that the most effective way to raise money for a good cause is to simply ask for it. The same may be applied to our situation. The question “Have you ever thought of becoming a Catholic?” addressed to many people over the course of our life will certainly produce not only converts but also interesting and thought provoking conversations and new personal relationships. You may have to practice this line in front of a mirror a few times just as you did before asking out your first date. You generally will be surprised at how flattered, if somewhat surprised, people are at the question. Naturally it has to be emphasized that we are not approaching perfect strangers. Indeed, if we are not in the process of developing a deep and lasting friendship with the potential new member of the Church, then our question lacks authenticity and will be rightfully judged as impertinent and insincere. The great majority will say that you are the first person who has ever asked them that question, and more than a few will say they have been waiting for someone to ask them that question all their lives! A few will react negatively, but after all, not all “have eyes to see or ears to hear.” We “shake the dust off our feet” and go on. We are not looking for success. It is the “love of Christ that compels us.” We may also be surprised to see after the passage of time, even many years, people coming back to us looking for answers because we had the courage to offer them at an earlier time our Faith.

We are challenging people to consider making the most significant decision they will ever make in their lives, infinitely more important than the choice of school, profession, or spouse; one that will affect every fiber of their being for the rest of their lives, and have serious consequences in the hereafter. It is essential that you get to know them well, particularly their religious background, if any, so, as is said in the vernacular, you “know where they are coming from.” Of use in this regard would be a thorough reading ofSeparated Brethren (Our Sunday Visitor), a survey of Protestant, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and other denominations in the U.S. by William J. Whalen. By engaging in conversation on this point you will be inviting your friend, and committing yourself, to go deep below the surface of everyday trivialities into the heart of the matter. Why are we here? What is truth? Is there a right and wrong? Is there a God? An afterlife? Is Jesus Christ God? Did he found a Church during his lifetime? If so, which one? Do we need to belong to it to be saved? Of course, you need to be not only willing to discuss and answer these queries but prepared.

“Be ready always with an answer to everyone who asks a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Peter, 3:15). To be an evangelist in today’s world means to be an apologist. This is the work of a lifetime, but that does not excuse us from evangelizing while we learn on the job. Remember, no matter how little we know, our friends knows less. And what is more important, we know where to go for the answers. A lot of our catechetical work with our potential convert friends will be, happily, simply to refer them to the best sources. Obviously we should have a good grasp of the New Testament and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, our fundamental texts. However we should also slowly but surely read and study the great English and American apologists: Newman, Lewis, Chesterton, Benson, and Knox and the more modern masters, Sheed and Kreeft. Many of their works are in print. It is also useful to be familiar with the magisterial teachings of the Pope for the most current teachings on matters of faith and morals.

Reviewing our own preparation leads directly to the question of recommending reading for friends who express an interest in our faith. An increasing number of people simply don’t understand the basic vocabulary of what it means to believe. An excellent brief volume is Belief and Faith by the famous German philosopher Josef Pieper. He draws heavily on Cardinal Newman’s much more complex Grammar of Assent. Many people today need a book to awaken their interest in Christianity or a volume that helps to make Christianity “reasonable” and understandable. Several books come immediately to mind. Both Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man of G. K. Chesterton will stimulate the reader. I am thinking also of a basic primer,A Map of Life (Ignatius) by Frank Sheed, and the famous Mere Christianityof C.S. Lewis. Most fundamental, of course, is the New Testament. An excellent version with ascetical commentary is The Navarre Bible (Scepter Publishers). And we might recommend a good Life of Christ (try Goodier, Sheen, Riccioti, Guardini). Your friends simply must come to know the life of Jesus Christ if they are going to be able to join His Church. Second is a good Catholic catechism so that they may come to know the Church and her teachings. There are many excellent ones in print, by Frs. Trese, Hardon, Lawler, Noll, and the list goes on. Just choose one that you are comfortable with and one that reflects the sound teaching of the Church updated for the Second Vatican Council and the authoritative recent Catechism.

I would recommend that you whet their appetite for conversion by giving them a book or two on stories of conversions: Spiritual Journeys (Pauline Publications) or Surprised by Truth (Basilica Press) come immediately to mind. Our friends will be intrigued to read about the contemporary conversion stories of so many people drawn to the faith from such varied backgrounds and are sure to find at least part of their story in one of these histories. Don’t forget, either, the classic spiritual autobiographies of St. Augustine, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Thomas Merton and Malcolm Muggeridge and the more recent one of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. They have changed millions of hearts and minds.

You should also familiarize your friends with the richness of the history of the Church. They clearly will see the continuity of the Faith through the apostolic succession and read the dramatic story of evangelization through the centuries with its ups and downs. I would recommend Msgr. Philip Hughes’s Popular History of the Church for a short synopsis of Church History, and the first three volumes of the magisterial History of Christendom by Warren Carroll (Christendom College Press). The latter volumes read like novels, are painstakingly researched, and reveal the Church in all its heights and depths, in its saints and sinners.

An important part of our work of introducing our friends to the Faith will be exposing them to the beauty of the Catholic liturgy and to the art, literature, and music of Catholic inspiration. Accompanying them to the Holy Mass and other liturgical events, such as the celebration of solemn Benediction, a baptism, a wedding, the Easter Vigil, an episcopal consecration, or the ordination of new priests, or a Rosary-filled pilgrimage to a Shrine of the Virgin, will bring them to a deep appreciation of the incarnate aspect of our Faith and its sacramental nature. To listen to Gregorian Chant, today so strangely popular, or the great classical compositions centered on the Mass, the Psalms, or various events in the life of Christ and our Lady will also draw them closer to the heart of the Church. Listen with them to the great works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, and to the more contemporary Gorecki and Messiaen for starters. Surely such beauty in music could only be inspired by the Truth.

Introduce them to the great Catholic authors, starting with Dante and continuing on down the centuries to Manzoni and Sienkiewicz in the last century to the Undsets, Waughs, O’Connors, Bernanos’, Mauriacs, and Endos of our own day. They will thus understand that the truth really does make us free and no one so free as the artist who has the standard of a faith-filled metaphysic that gives him full rein of expression in capturing the divine in the human.

Let’s be realistic. Not all of your friends, by any means, are going to be receptive to this heavy “intellectual” approach. You may have to be much more selective in what you recommend to your friends: pamphlets rather than books, Catholic hymns rather than symphonies, a more contemporary (although sound) version of the New Testament rather than the Douay-Rheims, the stained glass in your parish church rather than Chartres. Listen to their needs, their questions and try to satisfy them. A time of prayer spent with them or a visit to poor or elderly people may be much more influential in the process of their movement towards the Church than any possible reading you might give them.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the parish and the priest. After all, our friend wil most probably spend the rest of life normally worshipping in a parish setting. If our friend has not been baptized, the Church normally asks that the budding catechumen be enrolled in the R.C.I.A. program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) in his local parish which will take him through a month by month program of initiation in the Church that culminates normally in Baptism during the Easter Vigil (hopefully with you there as his godparent!) If he has been baptized, he will make his first confession and then receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and first Holy Communion within a Mass on Easter or at another time. It is useful and proper to establish a team approach in dealing with your friends. Find a prayerful, zealous (they really are synonomous) priest with whom you can work and triangulate, which is to say both of you working together can offer your insights and wisdom, your prayer and sacrifice to your friend, The priest may be able, perhaps, to enter better into some areas that you cannot on account of his sacramental power. He will also be able to advise you as to the best way and moment for your friend to be incorporated in the Church, taking careful notice of personal circumstances.

What happens if over a reasonable amount of time your friend doesn’t react, he just doesn’t “get it?” He claims he doesn’t see it. His difficulties with Christ and the teachings of the Church still result in doubt. His family, parents, spouse present what appear to be insuperable obstacles. Do you throw him overboard in order to sail off for other prizes? You wouldn’t think of it! The answer is prayer, persistence, and patience. The violence of your prayer (remember Who is in charge of this operation) will eventually bear him away. Your persistence and constancy in your true friendship will eventually win him over by showing that your love is unconditional. Remember you may be the one person in his life who is interested only in his salvation. No ulterior motives of any sort. By patience we show our realization that conversion takes place at God’s pace, not a minute sooner or later. The conversion may not happen until he is is on his death bed, and you may witness it from heaven.

Good, thanks be to God, he finally made it; he is in! What now? Naturally it is on to the next person, or perhaps you are already dealing with several people at the same time. However, don’t forget your new-born Catholic friend. He is just a very young child, taking his first tottering steps into a bright new world that will have its storms and shadows. He will be surrounded by some who regard Catholicism and his conversion to it in Chesterton’s words as “a nuisance and a new and a dangerous thing.” He needs nurturing, your encouragement, your friendship, your support. Blessed Josemaria Escriva says, “Sanctification is the work of a lifetime” and as your friend’s godfather, sponsor, or guide, you have to be with him every step of the way. Perhaps you will introduce him to other institutions and spiritualities of the Church that can further his spiritual progress. He will be eternally grateful to you and you in your turn will echo the words of a famous French convert and poet, Paul Claudel, who said, “Tell him his only duty is to be joyful.”

Reprinted with permission from Catholic City.  First appeared in Catholic World Report.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”

In 01 Daily Meditations on 2014/04/25 at 12:00 AM
The heart has been created to love, do not doubt it. Let us therefore bring Our Lord Jesus Christ into the love that we feel. Otherwise, the empty heart takes revenge and fills itself up with the most despicable vileness. (Furrow, 800)

How are we to approach Jesus, what are we to say, how should we behave?

Christian life is not made up of rigid norms, because the Holy Spirit does not guide souls collectively, but inspires each one with resolutions, inspirations and affections that will help it to recognize and fulfil the will of the Father. Still, I feel that, on many occasions, the central theme of our conversation with Christ, in our thanksgiving after holy Mass, can be the consideration that our Lord is our king, physician, teacher and friend.

He is our physician, and he heals our selfishness, if we let his grace penetrate to the depths of our soul. Jesus has taught us that the worst sickness is hypocrisy, the pride that leads us to hide our own sins. We have to be totally sincere with him. We have to tell the whole truth, and then we have to say: “Lord, if you will” — and you are always willing — ”you can make me clean.” You know my weaknesses; I feel these symptoms; I suffer from these failings. We show him the wound, with simplicity, and if the wound is festering, we show the pus too. Lord, you have cured so many souls; help me to recognize you as the divine physician, when I have you in my heart or when I contemplate your presence in the tabernacle. (Christ is passing by, 92-93)

Pope: Do Not Give In to Temptation to Instrumentalize God

In 07 Observations on 2013/02/15 at 9:11 AM

Vatican City, 13 February 2013 (VIS) – Benedict XVI dedicated the catechesis of today’s General Audience to the season of Lent, which begins today, Ash Wednesday. “Forty days,” he said, “that prepare us for the celebration of Easter. It is a time of particular commitment in our spiritual journey. … Forty days was also the period that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life, when he was tempted by the devil.”

Reflecting on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, is “an invitation to each of us to respond to a fundamental question: What is truly important in our lives? … The core of the three temptations that Jesus faced is the proposal to instrumentalize God, to use Him for personal interests, for self-glory and success. In essence, it is putting oneself in God’s place, eliminating Him from our existence and making Him seem superfluous. … Giving God the first place is a path that each Christian has to undertake. ‘Conversion’ … means following Jesus, so that His Gospel becomes the practical guide of our lives. … It means recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, on His love …This requires us to make our decisions in light of the Word of God. Today it is no longer possible to be a Christian as a simple consequence of living in a society that has Christian roots. Even those who come from a Christian family … must renew daily their decision to be Christian, to give God the first place in the face of the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, in the face of the criticism of many of their contemporaries.”

“The tests that Christians are subjected to by society today are numerous and affect our personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, to practice mercy in our everyday lives, or to leave space for prayer and inner silence. It is not easy to publicly oppose the decisions that many consider to be obvious, such as abortion in the case of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in the case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to avoid hereditary diseases. The temptation to set one’s faith aside is always present and conversion becomes a response to God that must be confirmed at various times throughout our lives.”

The Holy Father recalled that in history there have been “great conversions such as St. Paul’s on the road to Damascus or St. Augustine’s. But also in our age, when the sense of the sacred is eclipsed, God’s grace acts and works wonders in the lives of many people … as was the case for the Orthodox Russian scientist Pavel Florensky who, after a completely agnostic education … found himself exclaiming, ‘It’s impossible without God.’ He completely changed his life, even becoming a monk.” The Pope also cited the case of the intellectual Etty Hillesum (1914-1943), “a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin, who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she discovered Him by looking deep within herself, writing: ‘There is a well deep within me. And God is that well.’ … In her scattered and restless life, she rediscovered God in the midst of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah.”

“In our age, there are more than a few conversions that are seen as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, have turned away from the faith for years, then later rediscover Christ and His Gospel. … In this time of Lent, in the Year of Faith, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, overcoming the tendency to be wrapped up in ourselves and to make room for God, seeing our everyday reality with His eyes. Conversion means not being wrapped up in ourselves in the search for success, prestige, or social position, but rather of making each day, in the small things, truth, faith in God, and love, become what is most important,” the Pope concluded.

VIS 130213

The 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Dr. Nathanson the Prophet

In 04 Fr. John McCloskey on 2013/01/18 at 9:15 AM

by Father John McCloskey

In 1973, the infamous Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized the crime that would take the lives of over 50 million innocent unborn humans, who were made in the image and likeness of God. As a result of this unspeakable decision and its aftermath, the United States of America has plunged into a moral chasm that no longer respects the dignity of the human person from conception until a natural death. In my opinion, this will inevitably destroy our country, unless America returns to its Christian roots in recognizing the natural law written in our hearts as children of God.

However, there is always hope.

Part of the hope is the story and witness of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, whom I came to know well during our many years of friendship. Nathanson was the co-founder in 1969 of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL, later renamed the National Abortion Rights Action League), and former director of New York City’s Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, then the largest abortion clinic in the world. In the late 1970′s he turned against abortion to become a prominent pro-life advocate.

I played a small part in bringing him into the Catholic Church where he found peace and happiness. Nathanson served as a prophet for life, as he engaged in a heroic worldwide effort through tireless travel to deliver pro-life speeches in foreign countries. He continued his work through his writings and video productions until his death in 2011.

When the heinous decision of the Supreme Court is overturned and the Holy Innocents are saved again from the atheistic American Herods, Dr. Nathanson’ conversion to life and to the Catholic faith will be seen as a very important part of the possible resurgence of respect for life at all stages.

After his conversion, Dr. Nathanson became a target for the cultural anti-life forces in America, the subject of ridicule and satire in comic strips, news commentary, and for television comedians because he had the audacity to change his mind regarding the objective reality of abortion. Since then, along with a distinguished obstetric medical practice and teaching in a university, he gave hundreds of lectures throughout the world in defense of the unborn.

Upon the verge of retirement he wrote his autobiography, which contains searing personal revelations about how a man could possibly become an abortionist, yet also a powerful witness to the possibilities of divine grace as he draws near to the final step of Baptism and incorporation into Christ’s Church.

Later this year, Regnery Press will be republishing an updated edition of Nathanson’s powerful autobiography, The Hand of God with a new forward by yours truly. Keep an eye out for it. It can change minds and hearts.

Now read below for a taste of its contents so as to understand the horrors that Dr. Nathanson had to overcome, including his family background and his complicity in the death of over 75,000 children. Indeed, in some ways we can see in him another St. Paul:

A warning to the reader: this is not an easy or pleasant book to read because it tells the truth about evil acts that are truly repugnant. What is remarkable and praiseworthy is that the doctor does not make excuses for his behavior. The reader certainly has many reasons at least to understand without condoning his behavior after reading about his childhood and adolescence in a familial setting that can truly be described as loveless. Nathanson recounts in painful detail his bringing up in New York by a family that appears to have been seriously dysfunctional for at least a couple of generations without the slightest semblance of religious faith or familial loyalty or affection.

The first chapter is entitled “The Monster,” referring to his father, and spells out very clearly the young Nathanson’s relationships with his Jewish Canadian physician father and his family. “We would take long walks together, he and I, and he would fill my ears with poisonous remarks and revanchist resolutions concerning my mother and her family and. I remained his weapon, his dummy, until I was almost seventeen years old, when l-as-he rebelled and told him I would no longer function as his robotic surrogate assassin.” About his sister, “her mental health destroyed, her physical health intact but–to her befuddled mind–suspect, her children rebellious, fallen in with bad company and truant, my sister killed herself one sunny August morning with an overdose of a powerful sedative.” Regarding himself, “And l? I have three failed marriages and have fathered a son who is sullen, suspicious but brilliant in computer science.”

In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled “To the Thanatoriums” he prophesies about what Pope Paul VI presaged so clearly in his Encyclical Humanae vitae, that once the respect for human life at its inception is lost the way will lead inevitably to euthanasia. “Drawing largely from my experience with a similar brand of pagan excess I predict that entrepreneurs will set up multiple small, discreet infirmaries for those who wish, have been talked into, coerced into, or medically deceived into death…. But that will only be the first phase. As the thanatoria flourish and expand into chains and franchised operations, the accountants will eventually assume command, slashing expenses and overheads as competition grows. The final streamlined, efficient, and economically flawless version of the thanatorium will resemble nothing so much as the assembly line factories that abortion clinics have become and–farther on down the slope–the ovens of Auschwitz.”

However, he ends the book on a note of hope in Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and offer of salvation. As is often the case in a story of conversion, it is the prayers and personal example of so many of his pro-life friends and coworkers that over time melt down the resistance of a hardened atheistic sinner so that he can see that there might be room in God’s heart even for the likes of him.

Speaking of the witness of pro-lifers at a demonstration at an abortion clinic: “They prayed, they supported, and encouraged each other, they sang hymns of joy, and they constantly reminded each other of the absolute prohibition against violence. They prayed for the unborn babies, for the confused and pregnant women, and for the doctors and nurses in the clinic. They even prayed for the police and media who were covering the event. And I wondered: how can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible, and unable to thank them?”

Witnessing these pro-life demonstrators who were willing to go to jail and suffer bankruptcy for their belief made such a powerful impression on Nathanson that “for the first time in my entire adult life, I began seriously to entertain the notion of God, a God who problematically had led me through the proverbial circles of hell, only to show me the way to redemption and mercy through His Grace.”

As we can see, if with God’s grace, Dr. Bernard Nathanson could overcome such obstacles, well, then so can the other citizens of our country. With the sorrowful anniversary ofRoe v. Wade around the corner, we need the witness of prophets like Nathanson to inspire us to continue our work for a culture of life. We can never underestimate the power of the example of our prayer and love.

Author’s Note: Part of the article above is adapted from a review I wrote for the Vatican Newspaper, Le Osservatore Romano in 1996.

First appeared at The Truth and Charity Forum on January 14, 2013.

St. Augustine

In 13 History on 2012/02/03 at 9:11 AM

• A while back we celebrated the conversion of the infamous Saul to St. Paul while he was on the road to Damascus. That moment of grace that took place nearly 2000 years ago is perhaps the most famous conversion of all time.

• If St. Paul’s is the most famous conversion of all time, perhaps the second most famous conversion in our Church’s history is that of St. Augustine.

• St. Augustine was born in 354 in the north African city of Tagaste, which is located in modern day Algeria. While his father was a pagan, Augustine’s mother was the ever-patient and long-suffering St. Monica.

• As Augustine was a very bright student, his parents made sure he was well educated. Sadly, Augustine wasn’t drawn to the religion of his mother as a youth. Instead, he ascribed to various philosophies and Gnostic religion (Manichaeism) for guidance in how to live his life.

• Ultimately, Augustine’s moral life suffered – particularly in the area of chastity – and in his late teens he fathered a son out of wedlock.

• St. Augustine eventually left Africa, moved to Rome, and then to Milan, where he came under the influence of the brilliant St. Ambrose. It is under the tutelage of St. Ambrose that Augustine was converted to our Catholic faith at the age of 31.

• In his autobiographical Confessions, St. Augustine records that he was walking and praying in a garden one day when he heard the voice of a small child saying: “tolle et lege” – “take and read,” and so Augustine opened the Scriptures and began reading.

• By providence he happened to turn to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 13, and he read: “let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

• And it was at that moment that Augustine, knowing his sinful past, made up his mind to be converted, and soon after he and his son were baptized into our Catholic faith. God’s grace had finally won out, and Augustine went on to become perhaps the most influential theologian in Church history.

• Augustine had lived a life of youthful depravity, but our Lord never gave up on him. And God never gives up on us, no matter how sinful our lives may be. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done wrong in our lives; God’s grace and mercy are always available.

• This is a point that is made clear by our first reading. 2 Chronicles tells us that even though the Israelites practiced all sorts of abominations, the Lord had compassion on His people.

• While God allowed the Israelites to be overthrown and deported to Babylon by their enemies, He eventually delivered them from their captivity and returned them to their rightful land.

• This is because of all of God’s attributes, what stands out is His mercy. And it is of utmost importance that we remember that He is merciful, most especially in the face of our great sinfulness.

• Even when the Lord allows us to suffer for our sins, as he did with the Israelites, He still desires to take us back to Himself. God desires to save us, and He wants us for Himself.

•We also because God is rich in mercy! We rejoice because God desires to save us from our sins! This is exactly what we hear in the readings today.

• Today’s Gospel reading includes the famous verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

• This verse is so important because it’s a summation of the entire Bible. Truly, this verse encapsulates in a nutshell the basic Truth that is conveyed by Sacred Scripture: that God loves us so much that He’ll go to any lengths to save us from our sins.

• And St. Paul teaches us today about the nature of our salvation. Namely, he tells us that salvation is a free gift from God, for we are saved by grace, and grace alone.

• St. Paul goes on to tell us that our works cannot save us. All the same, we cannot ignore doing good works. In fact, St. Paul tells us that as God’s handiwork, we have been created for good works. Good works are the sign of our faith.

• In fact, our cooperation and participation in the work of salvation through prayer and good works is really a matter of allowing God’s grace to take root and work within us. Prayer and good works are the fruits of our faith in God’s saving grace.

• But there is more to our salvation than simply cooperating with God’s grace through good works. Like St. Paul and St. Augustine, we actually must turn away from our sins and be converted!

• The 10 Commandments, which remind us that certain actions are incompatible with Christian living. Sadly, because of the original sin that we inherited from our first parents, we all struggle with concupiscence to some degree.

• Concupiscence is our desire to indulge our lower appetites. It is the yearning for sin that we all struggle with from time to time, and it is why we must constantly seek to turn away from sin. Moreover, in looking to God’s mercy, we must be wary of the sin of presumption.

• The Old Catholic Encyclopedia defines the sin of presumption as: “the condition of a soul which, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it, or for pardon of sins without repenting of them.”

• Presumption is a trick the devil uses to lull us into a false sense of security when it comes to the state of our souls. It is the attitude that entices us to go ahead and sin when faced with a temptation because we know of God’s mercy.

• However, if we are so quick to fall into sin, how truly sorry are we for our sins?

• The point, my friends, is that God is indeed merciful – even more merciful than we can imagine.

• Yet He cannot be fooled. If we are not truly sorry for our sins, we cannot hope to be forgiven of them. God never gives up on us, but we must be contrite if we wish to be forgiven. We have to turn toward God with integrity of heart if we want to be saved by Him!

• So as we make our way through the second half of the Lenten season, let us earnestly seek to be converted, as was St. Augustine. Let us turn toward God and live in the light, leaving behind whatever deeds of darkness we may have committed in the past.

• Let us trust that our Lord, in His great love for us, will bring us to eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2009 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC