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Deacons and Culture of Life

What the U.S. bishops and the Church are doing to serve those suffering from abortion

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On Nov. 18, at the conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting, I will complete my three-year term as chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities. I will also complete my seventh term as a member of the Pro-Life Committee. I grew up in St. Louis and served there as a priest and auxiliary bishop for almost 29 years. For 10 of those years, I served as the director of the pro-life office. It has been a tremendous blessing for me to be able to devote a significant portion of my priestly ministry to the Church’s pro-life apostolate.

The renewal of the permanent diaconate has been a tremendous blessing for the Catholic Church. I wish to thank all deacons for accepting Our Lord’s call to serve him and his Church as an ordained minister. The diaconate is the foundation for all of the ordained ministries in the Church because the heart of a deacon’s ministry is to strive to imitate the example of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served. Popes, bishops and priests remain deacons. All of those in the ordained ministry are called to be servant leaders of God’s people, who are willing to make any personal sacrifice for the good of those entrusted to their care.

The deacon, as the ordination rite reminds us, is called to be a herald of the Gospel. It is the special privilege of the deacon to proclaim the Gospel during Mass. Most deacons receive the faculty to preach and thus to break open the Word of God for parishioners by helping them apply its meaning to their everyday lives.

This also allows the deacon to proclaim what Pope St. John Paul termed the Gospel of Life. Preaching the Gospel of Life is first and foremost to remind God’s people, regardless of stage of development, age, gender, race, ethnicity, social status, physical or intellectual capabilities, that every human life is made in the divine image and of such worth in the eyes of God that the Second Person of the Trinity gave his life on Calvary. Every human being is esteemed so highly by our Creator that Jesus endured his passion and excruciating death on the cross for each of us.

It is the pro-life homilist’s first task to make certain that parishioners understand and embrace the foundational principle for the Church’s social justice teaching — namely, the sanctity of each and every human life and the innate dignity of the human person. It is from this first principle that we recognize the sanctity of the lives of unborn children in the wombs of their mothers. At the same time, we must accord this same respect and reverence for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the severely disabled, the elderly, the vulnerable, the death row prisoner and even the abortionist.

With more than 60 million abortions occurring in the United States since its legalization in 1973, the homilist needs to be aware of the high probability within any congregation of the presence of several post-abortive parents as well as other individuals who have been directly impacted by abortion. It is wise to attempt to address and engage these individuals at the beginning of the homily.

Frequently, I will begin a homily by acknowledging that statistically, it is probable there are those in the congregation who have experienced personally the deep emotional and spiritual pain that inevitably ensues after an abortion. I communicate that it is not my intention to elevate or deepen the pain that they have already experienced. I invite them to pray that the Holy Spirit will use my imperfect words to protect others from experiencing the suffering they know so well.

I also encourage those suffering from abortion to avail themselves of Project Rachel and other post-abortive ministries that assist individuals to experience the mercy and healing of God’s love. I usually have Project Rachel literature in the pews. I encourage everyone to take the literature because there is probably someone among their family, friends, neighbors or co-workers who needs this information. This also removes any stigma from taking the Project Rachel information.

In the homily, it is helpful to share with our people the several places in the Old and New Testaments where the Scriptures speak about the life of the unborn (cf. Is 49:1-6; Jer 1:4-10; Ps 8; Ps 139; Lk 1:26-38; Lk 1:39-56), thus dispelling the notion that the Bible is silent about the sacredness of the life of a baby in a mother’s womb.

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Project Rachel Ministry

Project Rachel is a ministry of the Catholic Church in the United States to those who have been involved in abortion. It is a ministry that offers assurance that there is forgiveness, hope and healing. Many women and men who have participated in Project Rachel have been transformed by God’s merciful love.

Project Rachel is a diocesan-based network of specially trained priests, religious, counselors and laypersons who provide a team response of care for those suffering in the aftermath of abortion. In addition to referrals for sacramental reconciliation, the ministry provides an integrated network of services, including pastoral counseling, support groups, retreats and referrals to licensed mental health professionals.

If you or someone you know is suffering after an abortion, confidential, nonjudgmental help is available from Project Rachel Ministry. Visit the Find Help map on HopeAfterAbortion.org to find the nearest diocesan ministry. Spanish speakers may visit EsperanzaPosAborto.org.

— From www.usccb.org/topics/project-rachel-ministry

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Pope Francis

It is important to remind the congregation that the Church’s teaching on the serious evil of abortion goes back to the earliest days of the Church. However, as Pope Francis counseled bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska during our ad limina visit in January 2020, abortion is first and foremost not a religious matter, but rather a human rights issue.

Pope Francis shared with us how he attempts to frame the abortion issue in discussions with those who support legalized abortion. The pope poses two questions: (1) Is it ever right to kill a child to solve a problem? and (2) Is it ever right to hire someone to kill a child to solve a problem? In contextualizing the abortion issue in this way, it makes clear that we are talking about the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life.

Public Policy

The bishops of the United States identified abortion as a preeminent priority in our public policy advocacy for three reasons: (1) Abortion attacks human life when it is most vulnerable and defenseless; (2) abortion harms families because it takes place within the family and attacks the most fundamental human relationship, the bond between a mother to her child; and (3) the sheer number of abortions (more than 60 million since 1973 in the United States, annually almost 1 million a year). If our nation cannot find the ethical clarity to protect the lives of our own children, then no human right is safe or secure.

With the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, or at least giving states more latitude in protecting the lives of unborn children, there could be tremendous opportunities in many states to restrict abortion and thus save lives. At the same time, proponents of legalized abortion have become much more radical. In recent years, abortion advocates have attempted to portray the killing of children by abortion as health care.

Extrapolating from this erroneous and bizarre categorization of the destruction of innocent human life, it appears logical to conclude: If there is a right to health care and abortion is health care, then there must also be a right to abortion. The false characterization of abortion as health care provides the foundation to insist on taxpayer-funded abortion as well as forcing health care institutions and individual medical professionals — for example, doctors, nurses, administrators, etc., — to provide and participate in abortions.

It is important as leaders in parish communities to help educate our people about the terrible harm that abortion does not only to the unborn child but to all the adults who participate in abortion. Every abortion results in the death of a child and the emotional, psychological and spiritual wounding, at the least minimally, of the mother, father and the abortion providers. We must step up our educational efforts and form better our people in the truth and beauty of the Gospel of Life.

At the same time, the Church is called to rescue with love children that society is unwilling to protect by the law. Part of the special charism of the deacon is to bring the love, mercy and compassion of Jesus to the vulnerable of our society.

Walking with Moms in Need

In 2020, the bishops of the United States began an initiative called Walking with Moms in Need. Our goal is to surround every mother experiencing a difficult or untimely pregnancy with a community of support and love.

The bishops Pro-Life Committee has asked every diocese as well as every parish to assess in their local community the resources available to assist a mother amid a difficult pregnancy. The vast majority of parishes are not able to operate their own crisis pregnancy clinic, but parish leadership and staff should be well acquainted with the resources already available in their local community. Those who are experiencing a difficult pregnancy or who know someone with a crisis pregnancy should be able to come to any Catholic parish in the United States and receive help in connecting with the resources and support available in their community.

Polls of post-abortive mothers reveal that the majority, if they had received encouragement and help from just one other person, would have chosen life for their child. Pregnancy resource clinics and crisis pregnancy centers have done an amazing job of saving the lives of millions of children. These pro-life heroes and heroines also protect mothers and fathers from the emotional and spiritual scars of abortion.

We need to rally even more support for crisis pregnancy clinics’ staff and volunteers who are bravely and selflessly on the front lines of the abortion battle. We need to do our best to provide them with the resources needed to support the women who come to them frightened and overwhelmed by a difficult pregnancy.

Dioceses and parishes are also encouraged to identify gaps in the services available in their communities and to work intentionally to fill those gaps. We need to Walk with Moms in Need not just through their pregnancy but as long as it takes to ensure that both mother and child not only survive but thrive.

I challenge every deacon in the United States to become involved with the Walking with Moms in Need initiative in your parishes and dioceses. If your parish has not yet become involved with Walking with Moms in Need, please encourage your pastor to become part of this crusade of love. Make it easy for your pastor to agree by helping him identify and recruit key lay leaders who are eager to help implement this initiative.

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Walking with Moms in Need

Mom and baby
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While not trying to turn Catholic parishes into pregnancy centers, we can support local pregnancy centers and share other resources with pregnant and parenting women. That is where the U.S. bishops’ initiative, Walking with Moms in Need, steps in.
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, in a USCCB statement on March 23, 2021, stated:

“While the pandemic disrupted much of our initial momentum, it has also provided us with opportunities to adapt and expand this important initiative, and it reaffirmed the need for the Church to accompany mothers facing difficulties, especially in these trying times.

“Tragically, our nation’s legislators have exploited this crisis to expand taxpayer-funded abortion. In a recent USCCB statement, bishops asked the president and leadership on Capitol Hill ‘not to force upon Americans the wrenching moral decision whether to preserve the lives and health of the born or unborn, all of whom are our vulnerable neighbors in need.’

“The Church will seek to help fill the gaps in services and resources to mothers facing challenging pregnancies and those parenting young children in difficult circumstances. We encourage even more dioceses and parishes to implement Walking with Moms in Need in their local area, as we work toward a society where mothers and children are protected in law and welcomed in love.”

For additional tools, ideas, prayers and reflections visit the website walkingwithmoms.com.

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Prayer

Finally, the foundation of the life of every deacon must be prayer. It is also the foundation for every apostolate and ministry in the Church. Please pray for the Church’s pro-life efforts and develop a network of pro-life prayer warriors. The battle in our society between a culture of life and a culture of death is a spiritual battle.

In our pro-life efforts, we have no enemies, only those who have not yet heard or been able to receive the Gospel of Life. We are in the business of conversion. We have witnessed the pro-life conversions of many former abortionists and abortion-clinic personnel — for example, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Dr. Beverly McMillan, Abby Johnson, Ramona Treviño, etc. We must intercede for those involved with performing abortions that the Holy Spirit will touch their hearts, giving them the grace to flee the abortion industry and its culture of death.

The forces of death in our nation appear strong and formidable. We cannot overcome them with our own ingenuity and determination. We must seek divine assistance and remember the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the time when Jesus was conceived in her womb — with God all things are possible.

Key Role of Deacons

Deacons are called to play a key role in building a culture of life and a civilization of love. In your role as a herald of the Gospel, you have the opportunity to assist with the education and formation of your parish community.

Deacons have the special charism of serving those in need and protecting the vulnerable. The Church needs your leadership and assistance in rallying our parish communities in our efforts to walk with moms in need. Your leadership and hard work can help our Church save thousands, even millions, more lives and protect more mothers and fathers from carrying the heavy burden of abortion.

Deacons are leaders of prayer. The Church needs your prayers as well as for you to engage many others to pray that the Lord can use our humble efforts to change our culture, one baby, one mother, one family at a time. The Church needs your help to vanquish the culture of death and to foster a vibrant culture of life.

ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH F. NAUMANN is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and serves the USCCB as the chair of the Pro-Life Committee. He is also a member of the Administrative Committee, Religious Liberty Committee and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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Meet Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was ordained a priest in 1975. He served as the archdiocesan pro-life coordinator from 1984 to 1995 and as vicar general in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before being ordained as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis/Titular Bishop of Caput Cilla in 1997.

He was appointed administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 2003 and became the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in 2005.

Archbishop Naumann currently serves the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops as the chair of the Pro-Life Committee and as a member of the Administrative Committee, Religious Liberty Committee and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

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