Living the Gospel of Life and the Gospel of Love
By Lisa Everett
This past summer at our annual pro-life directors’ conference, we heard a moving story from Dr. John Bruchalski, founder of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
As an OB/GYN, he opened this facility in 1994 for the purpose of providing first-class gynecological and obstetrical care to women, especially those facing crisis pregnancies, in the context of the healing ministry of Christ.
Dr. Bruchalski recounted that he had become ill with cancer several years before, and during his leave of absence from his medical practice, needed to find physicians to cover for him when his patients were due to deliver. The only person he could find who was willing and able to cover for him during a particular stretch of time was a doctor who performed abortions.
Little did either of them know how God was planning to use this unusual arrangement for His purposes. During the weeks when the abortionist was covering for Dr. Bruchalski, one of his patients went into labor who was carrying a child with anencephaly, a condition incompatible with life in which a baby is born without major parts of the brain and skull.
The abortionist delivered the baby, who died within hours surrounded by the love of his parents and siblings.
A few weeks later, the abortionist angrily confronted Dr. Bruchalski for not having given him a “heads up” about the condition of this baby. After all, this was precisely the kind of baby that the doctor-on-call believed should be aborted! Dr. Bruchalski apologized to the abortionist for having neglected to inform him of all the facts regarding his patient’s pregnancy, and didn’t think much more about the incident.
Several years later, the paths of the two men crossed again, and the doctor who had covered for him during those weeks told Dr. Bruchalski that he was no longer performing abortions.
“It all started the day that I delivered that baby with anencephaly for you,” confided the former abortionist. “I had never seen so much love in my life as I saw in the delivery room that day, and I have never been the same.”
As another Respect Life Month begins, it is good to hear real-life stories like this that remind us that no one, not even an abortionist, is beyond the mercy of God and that love is the most powerful force in the universe, stronger than sin and stronger than death.
By God’s marvelous design, each of us is meant to be “loved into life,” as a priest-friend of my parents was fond of repeating. This refers above all to God, of course, but He shares that privilege with us.
The mutual love of spouses expressed through the “language of the body” is not meant to remain closed in on itself, but to give life to another person who is literally the two of them in one flesh. And that child is created not only in the image and likeness of mom and dad, but above all, in the image and likeness of God, with an inalienable dignity and an immortal soul.
No matter how short or long someone’s life on earth happens to last, we are called to surround him or her with love until the moment they draw their last breath and find themselves face to face with God who is Love. As families, we are called to love people into this life, and to love them into the next, and in all the moments in between, to do our best to love all the people God puts on our path into the life of His kingdom.
We never know how God might be working through the circumstances of our life, particularly the painful ones, to give life — His life — to others. Could that couple whose baby had anencephaly possibly have guessed that the love they lavished on their little one for those few hours was, by the grace of God, the means He used to melt the hardened heart of the doctor who had just delivered their baby? Yet it was precisely their fidelity to the Gospel of Life and their love for their dying baby so strong it was palpable to a stranger, that made it possible for them to become spiritual parents that day to a man who made his living taking life.
Dr. Bruchalski confessed that when he was first diagnosed with cancer and needed to take a leave of absence from his medical practice, he wondered what they would do without him. Well, he chuckled, God did wonders without me! If we, too, are faithful to the Gospel of Life, which is ultimately the Gospel of Love, the Lord will no doubt work wonders through us as well.
Add the persecution of Christians to Respect Life Month
By Fred Everett
With the fall of the international communist movement over 20 years ago, there was well-grounded hope that the global persecution of Christians might soon become a thing of the past. There was heady talk back then about the “inevitability” of democracy and a new global birth of freedom that would accompany it. The world, it seemed, was on an upward swing.
Unfortunately, as recent events testify, the promise of that time has proved to have been a pipe dream. Christians are not only still persecuted, but the death of Christians and the destruction of their communities has widened, deepened and multiplied. According to author John Allen, the past year will likely have seen upwards to 100,000 Christians killed for their faith. Unquestionably, the global war on Christians has become a pressing issue for the respect of human life.
Besides giving money to Catholic Relief Services or the Knights of Columbus to help Christian refugees, what is a Catholic Christian to do? One way to respond is to become more educated about the plight of Christians throughout the world. There are several organizations that have websites that deal with these afflicted communities. Catholic Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org), Aid to the Church in Need (www.churchinneed.org) and In Defense of Christians (www.indefenseofchristians.org) are just three examples of agencies helping persecuted Christians.
Unfortunately, even with some increased coverage in the mainstream press recently, this story remains grossly under-reported. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 report found that between June 2006 and December 2012, Christians faced harassment and intimidation in 151 countries. This represented the largest number of any religious group. In addition, Christians are the only religious group that is persecuted in all 16 of the countries highlighted as egregious offenders by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2012.
According to Notre Dame Professor Daniel Philpott, director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, “the persecution of Christians has grown more and more widespread (in recent years). The sad fate of Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq are only some of the latest episodes. The extremist Islamists who control Mosul, Iraq, have told the remaining Christians to convert to Islam, live as second-class citizens or die. The denial of the religious freedom of Christians is one of the largest classes of human rights violations in the world today. Yet, the phenomenon is underreported in the mainstream media and the human rights community.”
At a conference on religious freedom in Rome, Pope Francis stated that “it gives me great pain to see that Christians around the world suffer the (lion’s share) of such discrimination.” The Holy Father went on to say that “the persecution of Christians today is even more virulent than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”
To this claim, Professor Philpott adds the following insight: “To advocate for the religious freedom of Christians is not to claim that their human rights are more important than anyone else’s. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right to which everyone on the planet is entitled. Today, however, Christians constitute the lion’s share of those in the lion’s den.”
One new and very exciting initiative that has started in our diocese under the direction of Professor Philpott has been named Under Caesar’s Sword: How Christian Communities Respond to Repression. In collaboration with the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown, the Notre Dame Center for Civil and Human Rights has been awarded a grant of over a million dollars to discover and draw attention to the ways in which Christian communities around the world are responding to the severe violation of their religious freedom. The center has pulled together a team of 15 top-notch scholars to research and report on repressed Christian communities around the world, including those in China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, India and many other countries.
However, the center does not plan to allow this effort to be merely an academic exercise with a report that will simply be gathering dust on a shelf. One of the project’s main goals will be its extensive efforts to disseminate its findings as part of its efforts to raise awareness of and be in solidarity with persecuted Christians. The project will be producing a documentary on Christian responses to persecution; developing curricula on the topic for churches and schools; and publishing a readable report of the findings to be distributed around the world, including to persecuted churches. The project will also be posing the question about how Christians worldwide can build a culture of solidarity in which the sacrifice of the martyrs will be remembered and honored.
To learn more about this project, visit its website: http://humanrights.nd.edu/research/ucs/.
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