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August 16, 2007 Edition

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Assumption of Mary: Highlights respect for human person
Making Sense Out of Bioethics
A Culture of Life
Grand Mom

Assumption of Mary:
Highlights respect for human person

photo of Sr. Marcia Vinje

Diocese of Madison 
Office of Evangelization and Catechesis 

Sr. Marcia Vinje 
Associate Director 

On August 15 the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Our belief that Mary's whole person, body and soul, were taken to heaven highlights the great respect due to the human person and reverence for the human body.

The 1950 Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus is the most recent of the solemnly proclaimed dogmas of the Church, and one that rose truly from the faith of the people of God.

Oldest Marian feast

The Assumption is the oldest Marian feast of the liturgy which points to the fact that it was a commonly held belief long before the solemn proclamation.

In the 100 years from 1849 to 1950 Rome received petitions for the proclamation of the dogma from more than 8,000,000 lay persons and 84,000 priests and religious, including cardinals and bishops.

In 1946 Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical Deiparae Virginis asking the bishops to consult with clergy and laity as to whether the teaching of the Assumption ought to be defined as dogma. When the results were more than 99 percent in favor, the Holy Father interpreted this agreement of "ordinary teaching authority" as proof that this is a truth revealed by God.

Dignity of persons

The timing of the dogma is also very important. World War II with its infamous concentration and prison camps was still fresh in mind. The degradation of human life and disregard for the dignity of persons was widespread. There was need to emphasize the beauty of the human person as God had created it.

The teaching of the Assumption reminds us of our final destiny in the presence of the Trinity, the creator of all life. Not only did the God-man Jesus rise with his glorified body, but we, too, will be united with our glorified body in heaven at the end of the world.

The Church, in fact, does not clearly state whether Mary actually died or not. As the sinless mother of the Word made flesh, she was not subject to the penalties of original sin, which brought death to the world. Another theory holds that she would want to be like Christ in all things and therefore, she did die.

Living tabernacle

In either case, Mary's body had truly been a tabernacle, housing the divinity in her womb. How could God allow such a temple to deteriorate in the tomb?

Furthermore, the unity of Jesus with his mother was so strong that it continued beyond death. He had the power to preserve her body from corruption and take her to heaven as an integrated human person, body and soul.

"United to the victorious Christ in heaven, Mary is 'the image and first-flowering of the Church as she is to be perfected in the world to come.' She shines forth 'as a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim People of God'" (Behold Your Mother: Woman of Faith, NCCB).

What dignity each of us has through the future transfiguration of our bodies! With what respect and reverence we ought to act toward one another. May Mary be our model and our ideal of this beautiful truth.

Women's retreat

This topic of dignity will be further unfolded at the Diocesan Women's Retreat August 17 to 18. The Diocese of Madison is hosting a women's retreat with the theme, "The Inner Beauty of Women." All women in the diocese are invited to attend.

The retreat will be held 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center. Speakers are Sr. Marcia Vinje, Christine Galvin, and Marcella Colbert.

Cost is $80 for those staying overnight and $45 for commuters. To register, go to www.madisoncatholic.org/oec/ For more information, contact Monica Grant at 608-821-3160.

Sr. Marcia Vinje is associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison.

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Modern bioethics:
We must recapture lost ground

photo of Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Making Sense 
Out of Bioethics 

Fr. Tad 

Modern bioethics seems to be going through a kind of identity crisis. With ethicists available for hire, drug companies and biotech firms have easy access to "experts" who can provide them with the veneer of respectability if they decide to head in the direction of unethical science.

Erwin Chargaff, a pioneer in the field of biochemistry, once quipped that, "Bioethics didn't become an issue until ethics started being breached. Bioethics is an excuse to allow everything that is unethical."

One common approach to allowing the unethical is to claim that, "We have already made certain choices, and now we really must move on to the next step - we must yield to the inexorable progress of science."

Rather than examining and rejecting certain poor choices that may have been made in prior years, and trying to regain lost ground, bioethicists today unwittingly continue to grease the slippery slopes by their lack of courage in disavowing some of the unethical practices they have aided and abetted in the past.

Reining in IVF

Today, for example, we see enormous pressure on the public to support embryo-destructive stem cell research. Where do the embryonic humans come from that are to be destroyed for this research? They come from in vitro fertilization (IVF), a practice very few bioethicists have been willing to confront or challenge.

IVF has become a kind of "sacred cow" that few outside the Catholic Church are willing to question. Yet it requires very little ethical reflection to see, for example, how making "extra" embryos during IVF and freezing them is a grave moral problem.

Relatively few countries (among them Italy and Germany) have legal restrictions regarding IVF. In Italy, it is illegal to freeze embryos, and whenever you do IVF, you are not permitted to make more than three embryos at a time, all of which must be implanted into the woman.

Germany has a similar law, and the country has almost no frozen embryos as a result. Such a law is a straightforward attempt to limit some of the collateral damage from IVF, and any reasonable person can see the benefit of enacting such legislation.

But in the United States, we face what has been termed the "wild west of infertility," where few regulations of any kind exist and close to half a million frozen embryos are trapped in liquid nitrogen tanks in fertility clinics. As couples get older and no longer intend to implant their own embryos, researchers begin to clamor for those embryos to use in their research experiments.

Bioethicists and politicians then further muddy the waters by suggesting that "they are all going to be thrown away anyway," which is neither true nor morally relevant. Even when somebody else will perform the dastardly deed of destroying a group of humans (discarding them as medical waste), that does not suddenly make it okay for me to choose to destroy them with my own hands.

Here we have a perfect opportunity for some serious introspection about the mistakes of the past, an opportune moment to limit some of the collateral damage from IVF through laws like Italy's and Germany's. Yet one finds very few bioethicists willing to step up to the plate to tackle such an unpopular topic.

Supply of embryos

As the biotechnology juggernaut forges ahead with minimal ethical oversight, additional concerns quickly arise. Embryonic humans who will be sacrificed for research can be created not only by IVF but also by cloning (SCNT: somatic cell nuclear transfer).

But in order to clone, you need women's eggs. Currently, women can be paid significant sums of money to "donate" their eggs to infertile couples who will use them for IVF. However, if they donate their eggs to science, for purposes of research cloning, they generally cannot receive payment except for incidental costs like travel expenses to get to the clinic.

Hence, when donating eggs for fertility treatments, a woman can earn as much as $20,000 or even $30,000. If she donates her eggs to science for research purposes, on the other hand, she receives nothing. An article in March of 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine refers to the "central contradiction" of this situation:

" . . . in the United States, we already allow women to 'donate' their eggs for profit. We allow them to undergo the same procedure and to undertake what is arguably a far more emotional endeavor - passing their genes to a child they will never know. How can we conclude that providing eggs for reproduction is less exploitative or dangerous than providing them for research? We can't."

'A form of coercion'

The outcome of this line of thinking is that a growing number of bioethicists are recommending policy changes so that women can also be paid when their eggs are harvested for research. This assures "that science can go forward."

A proper ethical analysis of this question, however, would mean promoting exactly the opposite position, namely, that women (and men) should never be paid for their egg or sperm, as we insist they not be paid for organ donations. This is done to prevent the human body from becoming "commodified" by powerful economic and market forces, and to stave off the prospect of trafficking in human parts.

Additionally, there are known risks associated with harvesting a woman's eggs. Five women are reported to have died as a result of egg harvesting in the United Kingdom, and between 0.5 to five percent may typically have side effects of some kind, ranging from respiratory distress to renal failure. Providing payment for eggs is essentially a form of coercion, encouraging women to be reckless with their own bodies.

Here again, we encounter a unique opportunity to insist on a thoroughly ethical approach for the future, by banning the sale of human gametes and acknowledging that past practices have not been ethical. Yet few bioethicists seem willing to broach the topic.

Critical issues

Bioethics is an exceedingly important discipline for the future of our society, addressing critical issues in science and life. This discipline cannot afford to compromise its integrity as new controversies arise, selling its soul to the highest bidder or playing to powerful special-interest groups like universities or biotech companies.

Only by rejecting the demands of expediency and courageously acknowledging past mistakes can it regain the kind of principled moral foundation and credibility it needs to effectively assist scientists, medical professionals, and researchers in the future.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

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Teaching sons: Be open, set a good example

photo of Fr. Eric Nielsen

A Culture 
of Life 

Fr. Eric Nielsen 

As a boy the most provocative scene I ever saw on television was an episode of Gilligan's Island where Ginger was trying to get the Professor to warm up to her.

I hate to imagine what men years from now will be saying about their childhood television - let alone what can be so easily seen on the Internet.

Eventually something will have to be done because a healthy society cannot coexist with this perverted environment.

Sexual maturity

The sustenance of a healthy civilization requires that boys grow up in control of their sexual appetites, and capable of loving women as human beings rather than as possessions for gratification.

Men who have given themselves over to illicit sexual indulgence tend to go in one of two directions - either they become fearful of women and shy away from them, or they become aggressive and domineering. Neither bodes well for the truly open and loving marital relationship needed to form a healthy family.

So, how are a mother and father to achieve this type of sexual maturity for their growing sons? As I have said before, they first need to insure that the marital relationship is healthy, specifically that they are living marital chastity as spelled out by the Church - that is, no pornography, contraception, sterilization, etc.

Next in importance is that the home have a daily prayer routine that is simple and lived out as a natural part of the day. Grace builds on nature. A forced prayer routine could easily be counter-productive if the home is not a loving environment.

Talk to your children

Now comes the hard part. How are you going to introduce your son to the sexually charged atmosphere he will soon encounter?

In my opinion, it would be a mistake to completely shelter him from it. At best you will raise a child who lives separated from most people and incapable of engaging in the battle to convert the world to Christ. Most likely, his first taste will draw him over a precipice. Your goal then is to shelter him as long as reasonably possible.

A father will be sure that his son knows that some of his sexual desires, feelings, and thoughts are just that, things outside of his control, and not to be feared. While perhaps shameful in themselves, they are only sins when we give in to them. Dreams, random thoughts outside the heart, and uncontrolled feelings are not sins; and the only thing we should really be ashamed of is sin.

But, if one does sin by encouraging sexual desires, thoughts, and feelings, then we have a remedy called confession. In confession we need to be completely honest about what we have done without going into unnecessary detail.

The priest is not there to accuse, but to listen, help discern the truth, give counsel, and in the name of Christ offer forgiveness and the strengthening grace of Christ.

Set a good example

It is next to impossible to live chastity without custody of the eyes, and this a father will teach to his sons by both example and instruction. A son should experience his father turning off certain shows, looking away from certain commercials, and refusing to view certain programming.

For those of you who enjoy the dramatic, try throwing the television into the trash one day. Just tell yourself, "When my oldest son turns 12, I'm throwing out the TV at the first bad scene we witness together."

It will become a family legend used to teach the grandchildren. If our Lord told us that we should "gouge out our eye" if it causes us to sin, throwing out the television can't be all that radical.

Fr. Eric Nielsen is pastor of St. Paul Parish on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. This column is syndicated by www.OneMoreSoul.com

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Awake in Seattle:
Awaiting and blessing a new grandchild

photo of Audrey Mettel Fixmer

Grand Mom 

Mettel Fixmer 

We have a new grandson. True we have four great-grandkids already in school, but our younger son John and his wife Janine started their family late, so this is their second son. When they announced that they would name him after his grandfather, Robert, my husband beamed with pride.

According to Janine, when John first held his newborn son, he said, "Now let me tell you about the first Robert Fixmer." Then with tears streaming down his cheeks he extolled the virtues of his father. A fine tribute, indeed.

All of this drama took place in far-off Seattle, while all of us were busy moving me to a new condo here in Wisconsin. So we had to be content with picking up a photo of our newborn by e-mail. When I printed it and showed it to Bob, he immediately said, "Well, he looks just like me!"

Doing your best

I told that to John when he called that night, and he said, "Well, he may look like Dad but he has your temperament." When I asked what that was supposed to mean, he replied, "Well, he was 10 days late and made his dramatic entrance at seven minutes before midnight on 7/7/07, crying lustily as if to say, 'I'm here, now let's get this show on the road.'"

And that is supposed to describe me? Dramatic? Moi? While that blessed event was going on, I was sitting out on my little patio praying a rosary for them. Does that sound like a drama queen? An OLD drama queen, maybe.

At my age I wonder about raising a child in today's world. Most of my friends say that it was hard enough when our kids were young in the '60s and '70s: the tumultuous age of hippies and flower children and drugs.

How could anyone do it now with all of the secular values, the violence and sex everywhere? How did we and our kids survive those years? It was surely faith and the grace of God that pulled us through those years. And today's parents still have that on their side.

Twelve gifts

If I could hold my new grandson in my arms right now, I would like to tell him this story which is making the rounds on the Internet.

"Once upon a time, long ago, when a prince or princess was born they were visited by 12 fairy godmothers who offered gifts. As time went on the wise women came to understand that the 12 royal gifts of birth belong to every child. Here is the secret they wanted you to know:

"At the wondrous moment you were born, a great celebration was held in the heavens and 12 magnificent gifts were granted to you:

"The first gift is STRENGTH. Remember to call upon it whenever you need it.

"The second gift is BEAUTY. May your deeds reflect its depth.

"The third is COURAGE. May you speak and act with confidence.

"The fourth is COMPASSION. May you be gentle forgiving with yourself and others. May you forgive those who hurt you and yourself.

"The fifth is HOPE. Through each passage and season, trust in the goodness of life.

"The sixth is JOY. May it keep your heart open and filled with light.

Inner resources

"The seventh is TALENT. Discover your special abilities and contribute them toward a better world.

"The eighth is IMAGINATION. May it nourish your vision and dreams.

"The ninth is REVERENCE. May you appreciate the wonder that you are and the miracle of all creation.

"The 10th gift is WISDOM. Wisdom will lead you through knowledge to understanding. May you hear its soft voice.

"The 11th gift is LOVE. It will grow each time you give it away.

"The 12th gift is FAITH. May you believe.

"It is good to know that you and each child born into this world has access to these 'gifts' Surely each time you use them you will discover others and find those that are uniquely you."

It is a never-ending story, a never-ending miracle, the miracle of birth. And you, little Robert Joseph, are the newest blessing, the newest miracle added to our family. God be with you.

"Grandmom" likes hearing from other senior citizens who enjoy aging at P.O. Box 216, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538.

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