For Catholics, being pro-life involves more than opposition to abortion. Being pro-life also involves understanding the social, economic, and psychological forces that often impel women to make such a tragic choice and then helping women to overcome these challenges.
In his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II underscored how "tragic and painful" the abortion decision is for many women. Often, he noted, a woman chooses abortion "out of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did not take place.
"Nevertheless," he added, "these reasons and others like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being" (EV, 58).
Shared moral responsibility
But the pope did not stop there, for in the next paragraph he went on to identify others who share moral responsibility for the woman's abortion:
"As well as the mother, there are often other people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb. In the first place, the father of the child may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have an abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by leaving her alone to face the problems of pregnancy . . . Nor can one overlook the pressures which sometimes come from the wider family circle and from friends.
"Sometimes the woman is subjected to such strong pressure that she feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: certainly in this case moral responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or indirectly obliged her to have an abortion" (EV, 59).
A bill currently under consideration in the Assembly (AB 427) is designed to give pregnant women facing a coerced abortion perhaps their first glimmer of hope that they do not have to abort against their will.
The bill would require that a physician who performs abortions determine whether or not a woman is truly consenting to an abortion or is instead being coerced. And if she is being coerced, the physician must provide her with a private telephone so that she may call for assistance.
Not the only option
While the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) urges all Catholics to contact their representatives and ask them to support this bi-partisan bill, the WCC also recognizes that much more will have to be done to help pregnant women who feel that abortion is their only option.
"I do not close my eyes," Pope Benedict XVI said recently, "to the difficulties and the conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the Church herself is doing to help women in trouble."
In the public realm, we as Catholics can help by addressing the many challenges expectant mothers face when trying to find affordable housing, healthcare, and childcare; when trying to earn living wages and pursue further education and training.
In the private realm, we can help by supporting the women we know personally, as well as by supporting the pregnancy help centers, food pantries, and homeless shelters who serve the many women we will never know.
None of us alone can do all of these things, but all of us together can do many of these things and so replace a mother's despair with hope.
Barbara Sella is associate director for Respect Life and Social Concerns advocacy of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference in Madison.
On August 15, 1842, Mass was offered for the first time by Fr. Martin Kundig. The land that the parish buildings and a later parking lot would be built upon was donated by Governor James Duane Doty, who was a close friend of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli.
From 1842 until 1853 the parish did not have a church of its own. Mass was often celebrated in homes and in the state Capitol building.
In 1853 Fr. Francis Etchmann led the construction of the current church building that has been damaged by fire. The cornerstone was laid in 1854. Archbishop John Michael Henni of the Milwaukee Archdiocese dedicated the new building. In 1885 the present bells and spire were added.
On January 9, 1946, Pope Pius XII created the Diocese of Madison from an 11 county area in southern and southwestern Wisconsin. Territory was taken from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of La Crosse for the new diocese. (I remember when this happened.)
St. Raphael Parish was chosen as the cathedral parish for the new diocese. Msgr. William Mahoney was the proud pastor of St. Raphael.
Recently I was delighted to discover that St. Raphael, our patron saint, is also the patron saint of many areas of concern that touch our lives. The archangel is the patron saint of sick persons, travelers, bearers of the good news, happy meetings, the blind, nurses, physicians, and the choice of a good spouse. In addition, St. Raphael is the angel of good health, youth, chaste courtships, and happy marriages.
St. Raphael is also defender of the Church, strong helper in time of need, angel of home life, and guardian of the Christian family. Too, Raphael is the angel of joy, support of the dying, and healer of the sick.
According to the September 6, 2007, issue of the Catholic Herald, the St. Raphael's Pilgrims Marriage Prep Prayer Group has been formed in our diocese. Members of this group commit themselves to some type of daily prayer or sacrifice to support marriage preparation, marriage prep facilitators, and engaged couples in our diocese.
They are also asked to pray a novena to St. Raphael leading up to the weekend. The group has taken St. Raphael as their patron saint not only because he is the patron saint of the Madison Diocese but also because of his role in Sarah and Tobias's marriage in the Book of Tobit.
Providentially, it seems that the Holy Spirit has helped our diocese to wisely choose St. Raphael as its patron saint. As our diocese prepares to rebuild the cathedral and move into the future, let us learn from St. Raphael and ask the archangel's intercession for healing, safe travel, health, support of the ill, dying, family, marriage, and other concerns.
Fr. Don Lange is pastor emeritus of the Diocese of Madison.
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A young woman I know, recently married and very excited about the approaching birth of her first child had all of her new found dreams thrown into confusion when she went into labor some 17 weeks early.
At the hospital the baby was soon delivered, and too early to survive out of the womb, slowly died in the arms and tears of her parents.
When the baby's grandmother arrived, the mother of the child, seeing how emotionally distraught her own mother was, comforted her with these words, "sometimes our plans and God's plans are different. This is one of those times."
God's plan - how open are we to God's plan? This young couple matured greatly, both in their love of God and in each other, because they were open to God's plan in their life.
If we wish to mature in our love, we too want to stay open to God's plan, especially when it is inconvenient, for it is the sacrifices that we make in dealing with these inconveniences that help us mature in love.
The couple just mentioned had the inconvenience of having someone they greatly anticipated and already loved removed from their life. For many people, it is just the opposite; it is the sudden awareness of a little someone that will make things inconvenient for them.
Even the most pious Catholic mother can experience a new pregnancy with less than glowing enthusiasm. It is not that she will not love and accept her child, only that she is not looking forward to the inconvenience of the whole thing.
How important it is then, that we fully realize how much each child fits into God's plan, and how we must strive never to reduce a human being's worth because of the demands they may put on our care.
The fact that God decided to enter into the world as a helpless baby born to a woman says a lot about the dignity of human conception, gestation, and birth. The more we acknowledge this, and the more we are all willing to embrace the inconveniences that God puts in our own lives, the easier it will be for women to find happiness in the inconvenience of their own unplanned pregnancies.
Imagine for a moment the Virgin Mary being told by the Angel Gabriel that she will be the mother of Christ. Her plan was to stay a virgin, she had no idea how to tell Joseph, and according to tradition, her study of Scripture informed her that the Christ would experience rejection and pain. It could very well be that in the appearance of the archangel, Mary was given a premonition of the broad outlines of the crucifixion.
Still, she put her plans aside and accepted what God had in mind. When Gabriel heard the words, "let it be done unto me according to your word," salvation entered the world because a young woman said yes to the inconvenience of an unexpected pregnancy.
March 25th is the feast of the Annunciation. Normally it is celebrated on the 25th, exactly nine months prior to Christmas. It is not a holy day of obligation, but why not go to Mass anyway and pray for any young woman in your community who is suffering because of some situation surrounding her baby?
Most likely that is not in your plans and it will be an inconvenience, but you can offer that up for her as well. Sometimes our plans and God's plans are different, perhaps this is one of those times?
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